A Hot-Weather Novelist

H.L. Mencken

Smart Set/August, 1911


WHEN George Moore looks at human life he sees it as a conflict between the flesh and the spirit, the impulse to have a high old time and the yearning to get to Heaven; when Thomas Hardy looks at it he sees it as a hopeless tragedy; when Joseph Conrad looks at it he sees it as a meaningless and insoluble riddle. I might go on thus for pages, pointing out the differences in point of view which set off author from author, school from school, philosophy from philosophy. Rabelais and Thackeray were cynics and so they saw life as a great game of make-believe, with all of the participants wearing grotesque cloaks and masques; Dickens was a maudlin sentimentalist and so he saw it as an affecting morality play, with hymns by the choir and a collection for the orphans; Sterne and Congreve were liquorish revelers and blacklegs and so they saw it as a wild carouse. Our American manufacturers of best sellers, having the souls of fudge-besotted high school girls, behold the human comedy as a mixture of fashionable wedding and three-alarm fire, with music by Francois Frederic Chopin; the pornographic lady novelists of England, having the outlook of elderly and immoral virgins, see it as a Paris peep show. Finally, there are the happy fellows who see life as a joke — not as a hollow and mirthless joke, but as one of innocent merriment all compact, with a faint undercurrent, let us say, of honest sentiment. To that select and genial congregation belongs W. J. Locke, author of “Simon the Jester” (Lane, $1.50).

Upon Locke’s delightful foolery there is no need to discourse at length. You are all familiar with it; you have all read his “Septimus” — or these dissertations of mine have been in vain. Well, “Simon the Jester” is cut from the same sort of cloth, but from a bolt of different and even more attractive pattern. That is to say, it is just as amusing as “Septimus” but a bit more plausible, just as ingenious but a bit more human. I know of no better book to read upon a lazy summer afternoon in hammock or deck chair or spread out upon a shady river bank, carefree and shirtless. You will chuckle through it from cover to cover, forgetting the mosquitoes and the cost of high living, and when you have done you will pass it on to someone you really like. The orthodox critical vocabulary doesn’t do justice to it. One must borrow from the vulgar argot of Presidents and say that it is “bully.”

The story itself is of the simplest — and most incredible — variety. Simon de Gex, M.P., warned by the first pathologists of Harley Street that he is suffering from a rare and extremely interesting disease and that he has but six months to live, resigns his seat in Parliament and resolves to devote his fortune and his remaining time on earth to doing good. At once a candidate for his philanthropy appears in the person of Dale Kynnersley, his dashing young secretary. Dale is as good as engaged to Maisie Ellerton, of the excellent Ellerton family, but he has become enmeshed in the toils of Madame Lola Brandt, a retired circus performer. How is he to be saved? Simon resolves to begin operations by calling upon Mme. Brandt, which he does at her home in Cadogan Gardens — and finds her a most extraordinary woman indeed. She smokes atrocious cigarettes; her house is a museum of ornamental horrors and she discourses in astonishing slang; but Simon notes, beneath her strange exterior, the heart of a good, and even civilized woman. Next day he comes back to have speech with her again, and the day following and the day after that.

Well, you have probably guessed the end of the story. Simon, of course, marries Lola himself, and thus saves Dale, by heroic philanthropy, from destruction at her hands. But before that comes to pass there are all sorts of barbaric adventures, including a trip to Algiers to find Lola’s recreant and scoundrelly first husband, and a score of disconcerting encounters with Professor Anastasius Papadopoulos, dwarf and dreamer, cat king and murderer. The Professor, in truth, is one of Mr. Locke’s most diverting creations. He is a dapper little fellow of three feet six inches, with a Napoleon III imperial and a fatherly affection for Lola. His conversation is made up of an earthly mixture of English, French, German and Italian. He couples German adjectives with Italian nouns, French subjects with English predicates. And in the end he plunges a dagger into the brisket of Lola’s abominable first husband, thus clearing the way for her alliance with Simon — and going to an Algerian lunatic asylum for his pains.

The soothsayers of Harley Street, of course, were wrong. Simon does not really die. He is, however, just on the point of doing so when a French surgeon in Algiers, a brisk, pushing young fellow, kidnaps him, etherizes him, saws into his interior — and cures him. Simon is really much disgusted. He has resigned his seat in Parliament; he has lost all his friends by his scandalous cavortings with Lola, he has given away all his money, and he is under a moral obligation, if he ever gets back to London a well man, to marry another girl. But all of these difficulties are surmounted, one by one. Kind friends find the melancholy jester a job; the other girl washes her hands of him, and he takes Lola to wife.

A string of impossibilities? Of course it is, from Chapter One to the end. But somehow you feel that Simon himself is not impossible nor even improbable, that Lola is altogether too human and delightful to be impossible, that even Professor Anastasius Papadopoulos, gold and silver medallist, the Cat King — le Roi des Chats — der Katzen König, is as real as the barber who shaved you this morning. Such is the magic of W. J. Locke. Let us thank the good Lord for so clean and stimulating a comedian! Such fellows deserve three cheers!

“The Girl from the Marsh Croft,” by Selma Lagerlof (Little-Brown, $1.50), is a collection of short stories by the Swedish woman who recently arrested the attention of the whole world by capturing one of the Nobel prizes. I do not venture to quarrel with the award of the learned judges, for my acquaintance with Miss Lagerlof’s work is confined to the present volume, but this I do know, that the short stories here printed are, in the main, of an exceedingly commonplace sort. There are, indeed, a score of writers in the United States today who could do as well, and who, in point of fact, have actually done as well. The best thing in the book is an autobiographical note at the close, in which the author describes her early doubts and difficulties and tells of the help given to her, with open-handed generosity, by another Swedish woman, the Baroness Adlersparre.

“The Unseen Thing,” by Anthony Dyllington (Luce, $1.50), is an English thriller of conventional cut, but showing a great deal of fluency and plausibility in the writing. Guy Hilmour. a young Englishman, is obsessed by a vague fear of the abnormal and deformed. A black eye or broken nose sets him to trembling; the sight of blood sends him galloping to the woods. One day his sweetheart breaks her leg. and when news reaches him that she will be lame, he promptly deserts her, going to the Riviera to visit his parents, Lord and Lady Francheville, who have been living there in mysterious retirement for thirty years. The cause of their strange exile soon appears; they have another son, born a monster, and he has been imprisoned since birth in a room of their house. Lord Francheville tells Guy the secret and insists that he go up to the room and have a look at his gibbering brother, but he shrinks back in horror. And then Lord Francheville dies, and Lady Francheville after him, and Spense, their faithful butler, after her — and Guy is now the only person in the world who knows of the unearthly prisoner. Has he courage enough to face that horror, to go up alone and feed his brother? He has not. But the real Lord Francheville, of course, does not actually starve to death. To let him do so would be altogether too barbarous and disgusting. I am not going to tell you how he escapes — you must go to the book for that. You will find it a book with a great deal more merit in it than such thrillers commonly show.

In “The Winning Game,” by Madge Macbeth (Broadway Pub. Co., $1.50), we come upon the sad story of a charming young American girl married to a drunken and dissolute Englishman. How to save him from his highballs and his hussies — here is a tough problem indeed ! But his fair young wife solves it. Against his intolerable polygamy she proceeds by disguising herself as one of his harem beauties. When in pursuance of his routine he drags her to his den of iniquity, she strips off her disguise and sears his soul with the hot flash of her indignant eye. His lesson learned, he promises to break the seventh commandment no more. But he is still a drinking man — a lusher, in fact, with one foot constantly upon the rail. How to cure him? Again that resourceful wife of his is equal to the task. What would be easier than feigning drunkenness? She is familiar with the outward symptoms of that condition, and she gives an astonishingly realistic performance. He is horrified, disgusted — cured! Such a story!

In two of the new novels, “The Right Stuff,” by Ian Hay (Houghton-Mifflin, $1.20), and “The Man Higher Up,” by Henry Russell Miller (Bobbs-Merrill, $1.50), there are heroes who fight their way up from poverty and obscurity to honor and eminence in the State. Mr. Hay’s hero is a sturdy Scotch lad, a feeder upon that potent oat which makes marvelous horses in England and marvelous men beyond the Tweed. The story of his slow climb up the ladder to the dizzy heights of the House of Commons is told with unfailing skill and good humor. There is, indeed, something hearty and wholesome about the whole book. The scene of “The Man Higher Up” is apparently Pittsburg, and its hero is a runaway who has the rare good fortune to be adopted by a policeman. From his foster-father he gets two things, a deep respect for the law and a considerable knowledge of ward politics. The combination makes his fortune. He goes up, up, up. He becomes mayor, governor, a great man. Mr. Miller’s literary manner, it must be confessed, leaves much to be desired, but somehow he contrives to avoid many of the worst faults of the best seller manufacturers. The illustrations by M. Leone Bracker are of unusual merit.

“Whirlpools,” by Henryk Sienkiewicz (Little-Brown, $1.50), is a grimly realistic study of modern Poland, that most demoralized and decadent of civilized nations. One feels from the very start that the actual personages of the tale are of much less importance than the background, that it is the pitiful story of a racked and ruined people and not the mere history of individuals that one is asked to attend. Sienkiewicz is no painter of miniatures, no dealer in subtleties. He lays on his colors with a whitewash brush; his canvas is as large as all outdoors. But the effects he achieves justify his Brobdingnagian sweep and fury. He has attempted here an epic of lost hope, and it must be said for him that he has made it dignified, poignant and impressive. The faults of the book arise out of the author’s emotional absorption in his tale. A Pole is not quite the right man to tell the story of Poland’s decay.

In “The Burnt Offering,” by Mrs. Everard Cotes (Lane, $1.50), we visit India and are making privy to desperate conspiracies against the British invader. Vulcan Mills, a member of Parliament, and his daughter Joan are the principal Caucasians involved. Mills sympathizes with the nationalistic aspirations of the Babus and visits their land to tell them so. When one of them acquires a yearning to marry his daughter, he offers her upon the altar of brotherhood, nobly throttling his quite human aversion to a black and tan son-in-law. But the marriage never comes to pass, for on its eve the bridegroom-elect hurls a bomb at the Viceroy and has to commit suicide to escape the gendarmes. A long and depressing story, with a great deal of Anglo-Indian politics in it.

There is not much action in “Franklin Winslow Kane,” by Anna Douglas Sedgwick (Century Co., $1.50). It is the slow-moving tale of an intellectual wooing, in the course of which both hero and heroine wander far afield, only to come together again at the end in a passionless, despairing sort of embrace. Not until page 84 does the hero actually appear upon the scene. But if Mrs. de Sélincourt thus fails to provide us with the thrills to which, by reason of the assiduity of the Indiana school, we have become accustomed, it must be urged in her defense that she offers us writing of a quality entirely unknown and perhaps even unsuspected on the Wabash. She has, in a word, something to say, and she says it with quite unusual clarity and charm. A book to be read slowly, and, as the Spaniards have it, with the head.

More novels: “Anne of Treboul,” by Marie Louise Goetchius (Century Co., $1.20), a graceful and sympathetic little tale of the Breton fisher folk, with plenty of color in it; “The Pursuit,” by Frank Savile (Little-Brown, $1.50), an exciting chronicle of love making and adventure along the Mediterranean, in which a boy millionaire, his fair young guardian and a dashing British officer are the principal personages; and “The Calendared Isles,” by Harrison Jewell Holt (Badger, $1.50), a tale with a newspaper reporter for its hero and Casco Bay for its chief scene.

Finally, there is a slim volume of “Letters to My Son,” by an anonymous Englishwoman (Houghton-Mifflin, $1.00). The son has yet to make his appearance in this accursed world, and now and then one is tempted to wonder, maliciously, what will happen if he turns out to be a girl; but meanwhile there is plenty of naive self-revelation in these sentimental epistles. One becomes convinced, somehow, that the dreams of a woman approaching motherhood for the first time must be such and so. These high hopes have something of nobility in them; these little vanities are intensely human. Altogether, the book rings true and is worth reading.

A very amusing little volume is “Modern Woman and How to Manage Her,” by Walter M. Gallichan (Lane, $1.50), but I regret to have to report that it will probably be of small value to downtrodden and baffled husbands. What such poor wretches stand in need of is a book setting forth the secret of wife management in a series of brief and understandable rules — rules as clear, let us say, as those laid down by Johann Sebastian Bach for playing the Jew’s harp, to wit: 1. Find a Jew who has a harp; 2. Borrow it; 3. Play it. Mr. Gallichan shows no such directness, no such clarity, no such mastery of his subject. Every now and then one feels that he is on the point of revealing the secret, but always that expectation is disappointed, and so one comes to the end of his book without having gained much information. But meanwhile one has soaked up many interesting ideas borrowed openly or by stealth from the writings of Havelock Ellis, Oscar Wilde, George Bernard Shaw, Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche, Arthur Schopenhauer, Edward Bok, William Shakespeare, Francois Rabelais, Dr. R. Krafft-Ebing, Dorothy Dix, Sir Francis Galton, Dr. J. H. Kellogg, Prof. Karl Pearson, the Bishop of Hippo, John Stuart Mill and sundry other philosophers, sane and insane, he and she, dead and alive.

After all, why should any man want to have his wife under his thumb? What a dull world it would be if women were as docile as guinea pigs! The man of true efficiency enjoys the duel of sex, as he enjoys every other hazardous game. As a bachelor, he delights in the society of the anthropophagous fair. The more ingenious the ambuscades they prepare for him, the more pleasure he gets out of evading them; the more savagely they gallop after him, the more swiftly and dexterously he retreats to his monastic cell. It is kingly sport, indeed! There is always the dizzy danger that the player may lose — that, soon or late, some unusually determined virgin or abnormally accomplished widow will snare him. And suppose he does so lose? Does he then beat his breast in vain grief or tear his hair or jump into the river? Not at all. On the contrary, he marches up to the sacrificial altar with the smile of an honorable sportsman upon his face. He has lost the first inning — but there is another to play! Henceforth, instead of a hundred antagonists, he will have but one. Let her beware! Against her feminine chicanery he will pit his masculine craft against her insidious cajolery his solid sense, against her tears his guffaw. And out of the contest he will get constant stimulation. It will brace him, test him, keep him at concert pitch. He will be the better for the battering he receives.

Mr. Gallichan’s book, as I have said, is useless, for it fails to set forth a comprehensible recipe for managing the dear girls; but it would be just as useless, save to mollycoddles, if it did. The true dionysian doesn’t want to attack his antagonist unfairly, with secret and magical formulas. He wants a run for his money, an equal battle, a chance to prove his mettle.

A pair of autobiographies. The first is “From the Bottom Up,” by Alexander Irvine (Doubleday-Page, $1.50), a gentleman who plainly regards himself with considerable admiration. Mr. Irvine was born a pauper in Ireland; he has since been a British sailor, a Bowery evangelist, a magazine muckraker, an amateur theologian, a sociologist; he is now a Socialist spellbinder. I am unable to see anything remarkable in this career or to discern anything worth hearing in Mr. Irvine’s remarks upon it; but his book, of course, has something of that interest which attaches to all biography. The other book is of far better quality. It is called “Confessions of Boyhood” (Badger, $1.50), and it is a most delightful account of the writer’s life in a remote New England village sixty years ago. His name is John Albee and he writes the English language in the fashion of one who loves it and senses its beauty. It is a long while, indeed, since a more agreeable book of reminiscences has come to me. It has sentiment without the slightest trace of sentimentalist; it is altogether fragrant and refreshing and human.

“Self Help and Self Cure,” by Elizabeth Wilder and Edith Mendall Taylor, is called “a primer of psychotherapy” and is full of the naivete so characteristic of the professors of that occult and incredible “science.” Opening it at random, I find, for example, on page 77, the astonishing statement that “sleep is almost wholly under the control of the will.” This in a book designed to aid the tortured and despairing victim of insomnia! More specific directions are on the next page. The sufferer, tossing upon his couch, is solemnly advised to “shut out thought.” But how? Apparently by thinking hard that he is not thinking!

On Page 129 there is more magic, to wit: “Affirm that those whom you would wish (sic) to help will fight, will conquer, will be well in body, mind and spirit, will rise to spiritual uplifts (sic). Night is the special time to accomplish this, when you have reason to believe that the sufferers in question are asleep or about to go to sleep. At that time the thought sent out makes a deeper impression for permanent effects. In the case of young children, stand by them as they are dropping off to sleep, assert that they will grow in spiritual grace, affirm that certain known evil tendencies will disappear, and that more and more they will be led by the Spirit. The result is sure if the practice is persisted in.”

Did you ever hear the like of that nonsense — that mixture of vague quasi-science and theological balderdash? Believe me, it is not a matter for mirth. There is something depressing in the spread of psychotherapy. For a thousand years brave and honorable men have been fighting to free the science of medicine from the clutches of superstition and magic. Heroes without number have given their lives to the cause; it has enlisted the very flower of the human race. I need not call a long roll of names; you know them as well as I: Vesalius, Jenner, Boylston, Pasteur, Huxley, Haeckel, Hunter and a thousand more, great and small. And now in the twentieth century, with that long struggle beginning to bear its splendid fruit, with plague after plague yielding to exact knowledge and the span of human life lengthening as the burden of human suffering lightens — in these glorious days of achievement there arise crusaders who call upon us to go back to prayer and pestilence, to place medicine within the clutches of the theologians once more, to put our faith again in cabalistic formulas, empty affirmations and idle dreams, in vague spiritism and intolerable priestcraft! And hundreds of Americans, presumably sane, give solemn heed to these preposterous prophets! It is to weep.

Books about the theater show a gratifying tendency to increase in number as the years chase one another down the dim corridors of time. A generation ago we of English tongue got our dramatic criticism, as we got nearly all of our contemporary plays, from the Continent. That was the heyday of Sydney Grundy, Bronson Howard, Augustin Daly and other such honest union men on the stage itself, and of William Winter, Clement Scott and other such gallery gods in dress suits at the critical desk. Our native plays were so hopelessly childish that no sane man would dare print them in books, and our native criticism was a compound of empty rhetoric and paleozoic ideas, of fustian and flapdoodle. A happier day has dawned. We have now in England and America fully a score of dramatists whose plays are worth studying and preserving, and we have, too, a small but growing corps of critics of learning and intelligence. As a result the reading public has begun to take the theater seriously once more. The dramas of Pinero, Jones, Shaw, Sutro, Phillips, Mackaye, Galsworthy, Barker, Moody, Yeats and Kennedy are printed almost before they are played, and all of us have learned to turn with eager expectancy to the reviews and studies of Archer, Walkley, Gosse, Shaw, Huneker, Beerbohm, Fyfe and Moses.

One of the men who has helped to bring about this change, at least in America, is Professor Brander Matthews, of Columbia University. Professor Matthews, I am well aware, is not the most profound critic that ever lived. He is, indeed, far more the journalist than the philosopher, and most of his critical canons are merely reports from France. Not a few professed journalists, such as Walkley, Archer and Shaw for example, have greatly surpassed him in their personal contributions to the theory of the theater. But for all that, his life work has been of notable value to the American stage. He has done much to arouse public interest in the drama as an art form; he has given us the best account in English of that mid-century French stage from which the latter-day play of ideas has sprung; and the doctrines that he has preached, if not often original, have at least been reasonably sound.

His latest book, “A Study of the Theater” (Houghton-Mifflin, $1.50), is a collection of essays more or less connected, and dealing in the main with the mechanics and conventions of play making. There is, for example, an acute and interesting paper showing how the modern stage acquired its present form, and how that form limits and handicaps the dramatist; there is another, of equal value, defining the various species of drama and pointing out their interrelation; and there are yet others upon the poetic play, the half-forgotten dramatic unities, the influence of the actor, the part played by the audience and the differences which separate the drama of Shakespeare’s day from the drama of our own time. Finally, there is an excellent chapter upon theatrical devices, current and extinct — the confidante, the screen, the chorus, the soliloquy and their like. Altogether, it is a book that should be read by every intelligent theatergoer — a book showing keen observation, wide knowledge, profitable reflection and good sense.

In “Three Plays” (Kennerley, $1.50), a new English dramatist, Mrs. W. K. Clifford, makes her bow. Of the three the most important is the first one, “Hamilton’s Second Marriage,” a very suave and workmanlike bit of writing. Hamilton is an English man who marries early in life and takes his young wife out to India, where his neglect of her drives her into the arms of another man. When the play opens it is fifteen years afterward. Hamilton comes back to England, rich and sentimental, and promptly falls in love with Sylvia Callender, a somewhat commonplace young woman. When his long lost wife bobs up, repentant but still handsome, Sylvia gives him the mitten — and he is caught on the rebound by Mrs. Hamilton No. One, who straightway becomes Mrs. Hamilton No. Two. The chief fault of the play is that it has a broken back. That is to say, the principal interest is diverted near the middle of the action from Sylvia to Hamilton, and in consequence it presents the effect, not of one homogeneous drama, but of two dramas joined together. But there are abundant merits in detail, and one puts down the play and the two following with the conviction that Mrs. Clifford has a true vocation for the theater and will give us very good work later on.

“Children of Destiny,” by Sydney Rosenfeld (Dillingham, 50 cents), is of far less consideration. Mr. Rosenfeld, indeed, is a dramatic craftsman of extremely archaic method. In the early eighties the incredible characters and mechanical situations that he here sets before us would have been received with tears of joy, but a great deal of water has gone under the bridges since the day of “Hazel Kirke” and “The Young Mrs. Winthrop.” Today the maudlin story of Rose Hamlin and her brand of dishonor, of Edwin Ford and his melancholy devilishness, strikes us as merely comic, and we reward the perspiring dramatist with a cruel guffaw.

A book which well proves that growth of interest in the theater of which I have discoursed is “The Dramatic Index for 1909.” (Boston Book Co., $3.50.) Here we have a folio volume of over two hundred pages in which an effort is made to record under one alphabet every book or article upon the stage printed in English during 1909. Even photographs of stars in the illustrated magazines are indexed, and there are also references to all foreign plays of importance published during the year. The book was undertaken by F. W. Faxon, with the help of twenty-four librarians, and other volumes upon the same plan will follow year by year. Let us commend these hardy adventurers for their enterprise, industry and accuracy.

The admirers of Alfred Noyes, that astonishing young Englishman, will find delight and disappointment in almost equal measure in his latest volume, “The Enchanted Island” (Stokes, $1.25). There are here a number of truly striking poems, with the roar of great music in them, and there are here, too, a number of very commonplace poems, with little in them but tedious words. Mr. Noyes stands in constant peril of overwriting. Too often he keeps on singing after he has sung his song. The result is that the shorter poems in the collection are far more satisfying than the longer ones. One of the most striking of the former is an apostrophe to the city of Edinburgh—twenty-four lines of ringing, electric verse. A ballad on Nelson shows almost equal merit, and there is great beauty in a carol for May Day. Mr. Noyes, at his best, is a poet of the first consideration, and even at his worst he deserves a respectful hearing.

Madison Cawein’s book of “New Poems” (Richards, 55 cents) comes from London. There are all sorts of things in the collection, including two sonnets on moonshining, a somewhat elemental attempt at a rhymed satire and a sonnet sequence on the night riders of Kentucky (!), but Mr. Cawein’s thoughts turn most often to Nature in her varying moods. It may be said for him that his wanderings in field and forest are not without their very agreeable discoveries. More than one stanza of haunting beauty is in this little book. But in other places there are poems with no more poetry in them than a college yell — three amateurish sonnets to Lincoln, for example. An air of melancholy is over all.

No melancholy is visible in John Kendrick Bangs ‘s “Songs of Cheer” (Sherman-French, $1.00). Here we have, on the contrary, the glad songs of a bard who is firmly convinced that the world is a very pleasant place and its people very pleasant folk. The verse is always suave and soothing, graceful and unpretending. More ambitious stuff is to be found in “The Frozen Grail,” by Elsa Barker (Duffield, $1.25). The poem which gives the collection its title was written and dedicated to Commander Peary before his last departure northward, and he liked it so well that he carried a copy of it, he says, to the Pole. The dispassionate reader will probably find greater merit in some of the other verses in the book — particularly in some of the songs, which have no little melody and beauty.

Finally, comes “Thysia,” a sonnet sequence by an anonymous poet (Kennerley, $1.00). The note in these is that of sorrow and resignation: the poet is a husband bereft and his sonnets constitute a sort of elegy upon the death of his wife. The danger here, of course, is that of growing maudlin, but it is a danger to which the nameless singer never succumbs. It is a long while, indeed, since I have happened upon a more beautiful series of poems. There is in them nothing of the lush richness of William Watson’s sonnets, with their barbaric piling up of figures and images; instead, they show the fine simplicity, the leaning toward the homely Anglo-Saxon monosyllable which marks the exquisite sonnets of Miss Reese. I recommend the book to all who love true poetry. Sincerity and beauty are upon every page of it.

An Epic of Heaven —

by Edward S. Creamer.

(Broadway Pub. Co., $1.00) A book of “poems” by an elderly bard. A diligent examination fails to disclose the faintest sign of merit in them.

The Dream Adventures of Little Bill —

by Edmund K. Goldsborough, Jr.

(Broadway Pub. Co., $1.25) Fantastic tales for the youngsters, with plenty of action and humor.

Modern Banking Customs —

by Humphrey Robinson. (Small-Maynard, 50 cents)

A concise explanation of the mysteries of banking, of particular value to women.


(Source: Hathitrust.org,, https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=njp.32101076426152&view=1up&seq=705)










(Copyright, 1U03, I WISH that learned astronomer and charming writer, Mr. Garrett P. Serviss. whose articles, I am sure, every reader of this paper reads before he reads anything else, would persuade himself to give us one on “changes of the moon.” Public ignorance of this matter appears to be the eighth wonder of the world. Many persons, it is painful to note, cherish the ancient error that the moon has something to do with the weather which they think changes at. about the time that the moon does. As a matter of fact, it commonly does, for the moon “changes” about once a week, and w.?!r nL?Ll ” : .weoZ s in believing that the two phenomena have he relation of cause and effect. (As to hat respectable philosophers bold that here aw no such things as cause and effect; some things always occur after certain other things have occurred, and that’s all that can be Intelligently said about it). If a person of the opposite belief had never seen a dog except in pursuit of a rabbit, nor a rabbit except In flight from a dog, he would Indubitably think that the rabbit was the cause of the dog. Why nobody has conceived and expounded the theory that changes of the moon are caused by changes of the weather is one of those things “that no fellow can find out.’ Now, an article bylr. Serviss, explain-, lng Just what a “change of the moon” has the distinction to be, and illustrated with diagrams, could do no harm and might convince many now In error that they had known all about It from Infancy, and thus scatter self-respect o’er a smiling laud. An arucie oi enai ki .u wou.u lie uoou and a blessing to artists and hvrUers, most ol u,.;. -uuc i.uu ‘ .XZ , In one of this month’s leading matdnes I -, ” V ‘ , for example, the new moon is shown hang- ing in the western sky with her “horns” toward the west. That ts to say. her visible side that Is to say. her illuminated side-opposite the sun! Artists draw the crescent moon that way as frequently as the oth?r m-ay. If astronomers ever go mad it must be from looking at a picture Ijke thtst: and that must be te way the n:oon looks to them ever aficriard. a I Writers are no better than artists. In her “Songs of the Night Watches.” Jean, lngelow mclus “a slender, moon” “float up from behind” the rim of the moorland in the eveuing, whereas it is in the early morning (hat it .does that.’ “” ” Longfellow professes tr have’ seen the moon at ubonuay. ‘Sailing higb,!but fali)Lnnd white As a schoolboy’s paper kite.’.’ But night, camp on, .and- “Then the moon in all her-pride, Like a spirit glorified, Filled1 and overflowed the-night With revelations of her tight.” . The lints are, so good (fcat .one Is dls- Poed. to give their author -the benefit of J dou” “at there rnaybp; so let us suppose that it w?s not a Very new moon “j ” TV’ T en.UrnJy full moon nt Sotin tb “ailed ?nI mo,,or;tely High tradn the second htL iu tfrfle e.atjgoraf ed. In “The Idiot Roy.” Wordsworth haB h8 mon “obove-ihe head” of Johnny at 8 o’clock in the TV&nlng; mid’ Ht 5 o’clock the next mornng, when,’ .'(he day was breaking, that remarkable, .orb was near her setting. It had taken her nine hours to make less thpn’ the ‘distance from the zenith to the horizon. ,’ . The most magnificent ignoramus of the lot Is that incomparable poet, Coleridge, whot,e crescent moon In” “The Ancient Mariner,” has “One bright star- Within the nether tip.1′–That is to say, there wa a star between the earth and the moon.! That could hardly be true. If It be -urged in reply ,nat co1hing rplafp(1 ltl the poem could be lrue , haye t a vm Bay 0ut P’0S8 writers are no better ground-. ed in lunar lore than our poets. I could . , M . . . . , I. f 111 , 1 A “l,”. alZ XI’ . 7″”” ul , ” ,TY ‘.. Awv a , A . .1 Be a’ midnight) and .n- order that there may be no doubt, about the- time compels a castle clock to strike the hour. After a fuli coHsiderction of the subject I feel justified in asking. -M-p. Serviss to tell us- someriitog about the moon what It is nflrt why the dlcketisMt acts as it does end lcol;s so funny. . .


A Gifted Millionaire

Ambrose Bierce

May 27, 1903


If one have the misfortune to open a metropolitan newspaper and not see the name “Vanderbllt” in conspicuous type on the first page one may find consolation in the consciousness that one is blind. Having many Vanderbilts, we who see have many pleasures, but, alas for the others, there Is only one blindness! The balance of advantage is with those who see.

Apparently, too, there are as many kinds of Vanderbilts as there are Vanderbilts. Multitude cannot wither, nor publicity stale, their infinite variety. It does not appear that any naturalist has ever adequately catalogued them; perhaps life in these degenerate days is not long enough to do so. Let us not repine, but gratefully accept the imperfect record in the faith that half a Vanderbilt is better than none.

If some members of this illustrious and insistent family are distinguished by a conspicuous conformity to the type, one at least is equally noted for talent. He is known as W. K. Vanderbilt Jr.

At Great Neck, Long Island, is a body of water called Lake Success. It appears to be on, or near, land belonging to Mr. Vanderbilt; but unlike most things thereabout and elsewhere, the lake is not yet his. “From time Immemorial,” says the historian from whose account these facts are gathered, “the villagers about Great Neck have looked upon it as bottomless.” That made it an interesting lake. A lake that Is bottomless goes clear through the earth, and is of course full of water all the way. Where does this one come out? What manner of people at the other surface “lave in it, drink of it”? Upon its thither end, eight thousand miles from Great Neck, what kind of painted native impels the light canoe, the while bewooes his dusky sweetheart, who trails her slender fingers in the tide and speaks of other things? Or is the other surface of Lake Success a part of the circumclusive sea? To questions such as these proud Science gave an evasive answer and passed on, in maiden meditation, fancy free.

Not so the ingenious Mr. Vanderbilt He had long wanted to know the worst about the bottomless lake, but as he did not own it what could the poor man do? But was that active mind to lie down and curl up? Did it weakly accept the picturesque local view of the matter? Not it.

Mr. Vanderbilt took his head in his hands and thought. Little by little, a gleam here and a flash there, the light came to him and lay upon his path. In the headlight Illumination of his own genius he saw his way clear. He went to the village authorities and persuaded them to drain the lake.

The lake, when drained, was found to have been a singularly shallow body of water, with an uncommonly hard bottom, but that is neither here nor there. What is both here and there and wherever it is needful to prove the superiority of man to the beasts that perish is the amazing fact that the unaided human mind could think out so effective a way to resolve so dark a doubt. Even the highest anthropoid ape would have thought of nothing better than to take soundings with a weighted line.


(Source: https://www.newspapers.com/image/457466683/?terms=Ambrose%2BBierce)


Habitual Criminals and What to Do With Them

Ambrose Bierce

San Francisco Examiner/June 11, 1903



The genial gentleman who is said to introduced into the Michigan legislature a bill providing for the destruction of feeble-minded children is a stride or two in advance of the procession moving from the darkness toward the light. His shadow as it lies along the roadway, is not pretty to look at, and one does not like to step in it. He is a shining example of the unreformable reformer, who, having caught a truth, doesn’t know what to do with it, yet has not the sense to let go.

If this reformer will not reform himself and really wishes to do something worthwhile in the way of bettering this world by removing some of its inhabitants to another, let him advocate the death penalty for incorrigible criminals. Society has an indubitable moral right to remove those of its members who will not live in harmony with its just and necessary requirements. We recognize this right by shutting them up for a few years, but we weakly renounce it when we release them to resume their offensive ways. A first term of imprisonment may be reformatory; a few scattering instances of persons who have “lived down” their past show that it sometimes is. Even a second conviction has been known to open the convict’s eyes to the advantage of limiting his pernicious activity to allowable offenses, cheating, for example, in place of theft. For a “third termer”‘ there is no future but one of alternating crime and punishment; he can enter prison without the fear that it will do him good.

The first or the second felony is the felon’s fault; for the third and all subsequent ones the state is to blame. If we had a sensible regard for the interest of all, the just and the unjust alike, there would be no such thing as “life of crime”; no such thing as the “criminal class.” Occasional offenses against the laws there will always be—offenses committed by uncontrolled impulse under powerful temptation or provocation, but of planned and calculated crime we could rid ourselves in two generations. There should be nobody having the disposition to commit them.

Surely the most astonishing phenomenon of nature is the patience with which good citizens. endure the outrages of the bad. In every age and every country the awful warfare between them gees on, class against class, the good always victorious, yet never pushing the fight to a finish, never compelling a final peace. Century after century we suffer this rabble of degenerates, fully identified and avowedly impenitent, to conduct their irritating hostilities against property and life, while we have it in power to put an eternal end to the aggression by the simple, easy and merciful method of putting an end to the aggressors.

There are other methods besides exterminatlon, but none so effectual. If it were not for the soft-hearted and soft-headed “executives” and “boards of pardons” perpetual imprisonment would be possible. But that would mean an expensive remedy. It would mean so great a multiplication of prisons and their personnel as to entail a crushing rate of taxation. This generation, not itself conspicuously benefited, would hardly undertake to do so much for posterity. The criminals have no right to so lenient treatment. They have no right to anything, not even, as this proposal assumes, to life.

Other plans for bringing this immemorial “class war” to an end cannot be discussed here. Nor is there much hope that discussion of any plan will do any good. The war with the criminals, “bequeathed from bleeding sire to son,” is so familiar a condition of human existence as to be respected. Like other established things, its ceasation cannot without difficulty be conceived as possible, nor felt as desirable. Sub-consciously the average man is no doubt somewhat attached to it as one of the trials which it has pleased the Creator to send upon a sinful world. Nevertheless I venture to declare my individual belief that there should be no such person living as an “habitual criminal.”

(Source: https://www.newspapers.com/image/457388630/?terms=by%2BAmbrose%2BBierce)


The Curmudgeon Philosopher and What Ails Him

Ambrose Bierce

San Francisco Examiner/August 10, 1903

“HAVE I seen the proposal to transport Plymouth Rock about the country for a show?” said the Curmudgeon Philosopher.

“Yes. In the morning papers, one of which I had the bad luck to pick up while at breakfast. Hate the morning papers!”

The Timorous Reporter signified his regret.

“I hope it will not be done,” continued the Curmudgeon Philosopher, ignoring the apology. “In the first place, the Rock is devoid of authenticity. It is indubitably a rock, and it is at Plymouth, but its connection with the landing of the Pilgrims was supplied by imagination. That is all right; by imagination we demonstrate our superiority to the novelists. Historians and scientists are credentialed by imagination; through imagination the philosopher attains to a knowledge of the meaning and message of things. Without imagination we should be as the magazine poets that perish.”

With obvious satisfaction in his character as cynic the Curmudgeon Philosopher executed a long, bright, smile, distinctly Opperian. “The main objection to this project of toting Pilgrim Rock about the country to draw the homage of patriots is that it will give a new impetus to fetish worship. That form of religion has already been greatly encouraged and promoted by the several ‘progresses’ of the ‘Lib- erty Bell.’”

The Timorous Reporter asked what fetish worship might have the hardihood to be. “Fetish worship,” replied the Curmudgeon Philosopher, “is the most primitive of religion. It is the form that belief in the supernatural takes in our lowest stage of intellectual development—the adoration of material objects. A stone or a tree supposed to possess supernatural powers of good or evil, or to have some peculiar sanctity, is a true fetish. Idolatry and the worship of living things are not uncommonly confounded with fetish worship, but in reality are another and higher form of religion, belonging to a more advanced culture.”

The Reporter edged himself nearer to an open door and ventured to express a conviction that a crude and primitive religion like fetish worship could have no devotees among so enlightened and cultivated a people as ours.

“Sir,” thundered the Adversary of Presumption, turning a delicate purple, “races are like individuals; along with the vices and virtues of maturity they have those of infancy. No people ever is sufficiently civilized and enlightened to have laid aside any of its early superstitions and absurdities. To these it adds better things. It overwrites its primitive ideas with ideas less crude and reasonless; but nothing has been effaced. The latest text of the palimpsest is most in evidence, but all is there, and, to a keen enough observation, legible. Did you never see a whole concourse of moderns uncover to a flag?”

The reporter confessed that those whom he had seen performing this religious rite were mostly moderns.

“”They will say when detected,” continued the oracle, “that what they uncover to is not the flag, but the sentiment that it represents. If ingenious enough the idolater would make the same defence. So would the shagpated chap that prostrates himself before the sacred moo-goo tree. We have seen bands of children taught to march about a cracked bell, throw flowers upon it, sing hymns to it. If this new project is carried out we shall see them made to do homage to a stone. True, the stone weighs five tons.”

Proud of his generosity in making so great a concession the Curmudgeon Philosopher looked over the top of his spectacles for the applause that came not to his hope. The Reporter had fallen asleep.

(Source: https://www.newspapers.com/image/458155524/?terms=by%2BAmbrose%2BBierce)


Gangland Reporter Slain by Lone Gunman

Decatur (IL) Herald/June 10, 1930


Tribune Newsman Shot Down in I. C. Terminal

“Jake” Lingle, Investigator of Latest Gang Murders, “Put on Spot” Because He Knew Too –Much; Eleventh Victim in 10 Days

An assassin’s bullet cancelled “Jake” Lingle’s assignment as gangland reporter for the Chicago Tribune Monday.

The afternoon newspapers were still churning out the story of an early morning murder when a gunman crept up behind the veteran newspaperman as he strode through the underground tunnel toward the Randolph Street Illinois Central terminal, his revolver barked, and Lingle fell, a bullet through the back of his skull. In the panic of the scores of commuters the killer dropped his weapon, fled to Michigan Boulevard, and was gone.

Friend of Thugs, Police

Lingle was 40 years old, police and crime reporter for the Tribune for 18 years and an intimate alike of police chiefs and hoodlums. A year ago he was the house guest of “Scar-face” Al Capone at his Miami estate, and for years he had known William F. Russell, police commissioner, and the detective bureau heads.

Three witnesses, looking through the detective rogues gallery, pointed out the picture of Sam Hunt as strongly resembling Lingle’s killer. Hunt recently was pulled from the running board of an automobile speeding away after a man had been killed on the west side. He was thought to be one of the killers and is now out on bond.

Marked to Go

Last week Lingle was sent out to get the “in” of the latest succession of gang murders—his own the 11th in 10 days attributed to a hoodlum’s trigger, and last week the gossip sifted down the line that Lingle was marked to go.

He had not been threatened so far as members of his family knew. Tuesday he was to have gone with his wife and two youngsters to a newly purchased vacation home at Long Beach, Mich.

Knew Too Much

If he was slain because he knew too much, he was the second of that ilk to fall in recent months. Revolvers spat death some weeks ago to Julius Rosenheim, who had stayed too long in that dangerous half-world between the gangster and the tipster—tipster for the crime commission and the press.

Commissioner Russell and John Stege, chief of detectives, took personal charge of the investigation and ordered an immediate roundup of hoodlums. A squad was dispatched to the Washington Park race track to gather in every known gangster. Lingle was bound for the races, like scores of others in the subway leading to the Illinois Central special trains, when his slayer—apparently trailing him there from his usual luncheon place at a “loop” hotel—felled him.

Three Arrested

The revolver found at the scene was an ancient model .45 calibre weapon with but one bullet discharged.

In connection with the slaying of Lingle a detective squad raided the headquarters of Joe Aillo and arrested Domino Aillo, Joe’s brother, Dominic Tripoli and Frank Pezzo. They found two pistols and a pump gun in the place.

Armour la Panzr, a young taxi-cab driver, told police that just before the shooting he saw three men get out of a car at the entrance of the I. C. tunnel. Two wore straw hats and one a cap. One of the men looked like Lingle, he said.

Cue for Killing

Before the three entered the tunnel, Panzr related, a man drove a roadster near to the curb and shouted.

“Hey, play Hy Schneider in the third.”

“We got him.” One of the men called back. The three then continued into the tunnel.

Police were inclined to connect the incident with the shooting. They believed Lingle may have been one of the three men, that the other two were putting him on the spot there. “We got him” being the signal that all was ready for the killing.

 $30,000 Posted

For the capture and conviction of Lingle’s slayer, the Tribune promptly offered $25,000 reward, and the Chicago Evening Post added $5,000 to the sum.

Henry Barrett Chamberlin, operating director of the Chicago crime commission, commented:

“I am deeply shocked over the slaying of Lingle. I am gathering information and will submit it to Frank J. Loesch, president of the commission, when he returns to Chicago Tuesday.”

The second week of intensive gang retributions had opened earlier in the day with the killing of Aloysius Kearney, collector for the National Garage Owners association. The police dallied about with theories but gained little headway in their inquiry.

A coroner’s jury meanwhile was putting an official end to its own phase of the Eugene. “Red” McLaughlin killing with the usual verdict—death at the hands of persons unknown. The inquest developed nothing to shed light on the fatal shooting of the gangster, whose body was churned to the surface of the drainage canal, into which it had been tossed after being trussed and weighted down.

Will Do All Possible

“I’d give my two eyes to solve the murder of Lingle,” Police Commissioner William F. Russell said. “Nothing that I can do will be left undone to solve it. I have known him for more than 20 years and I was as fond of him as I would be of my own son.”

Shot Three Times

At the morgue, it was learned that Lingle had been shot three times –once in the chest and twice in the head. Police also were investigating reports that one or two other men accompanied the assassin.

 Wore Silk Glove

A laborer, working in the path of the slayer’s flight, saw him take off a black silk glove and throw it into an alley. The laborer, Harry Komen, retrieved the glove and gave it to police who said it was evident the killer was an experienced criminal who sought to avoid leaving finger prints.

Soon after Dominick Aiello and Pezzo were arrested, another detective squad seized three more leaders of the near northside gang: Carlo Aiello, Frank Grundotzo and Vito Botitto.

 Challenge by the Gang

George E. Q. Johnson, United States district attorney, considered the slaying of Lingle “a challenge thrown down by the gangs to all Chicago.”

“Either Chicago must conquer them or it will suffer even more in its reputation,” Mr. Johnson added. “The only power they have is the power of money and they can be deprived of that by constant and determined action. This means a continuous and persistent war.”

Late Monday detectives arrested John “Boss” McLaughlin,” head of a road material company, for questioning in the case. They explained their action by saying that he was reported by friends of Lingle to have threatened the reporter when the latter refused to help him get a permit to open a gambling house.

(Source: https://www.newspapers.com/image/94283832/)



Police Hunt For Ghastly Device

Manhattan (KS) Mercury/June 4, 1930

State Officials Seek Crematory Used By Gangsters

Reliable Information Given That North Side Gang Is Cremating Its Murder Victims—Another Gang Murder

A crematory for gangster dead—an ingenious and ghastly device for removing the evidence of wholesale murder—was hunted by state’s attorney’s men today while police puzzled over another and particularly brutal gangland assassination.

Pat Roche of the state’s attorney’s office said he had reliable information that a north side gang was cremating its murder victims, thus getting rid of the “corpus delicti.” The disappearance in recent weeks of William Higgins, St. Paul, Minn. racketeer, and Ben Bennett, New York whiskey dealer, has given credence to the crematory report, Roche said. He pointed out further that within a week there have been two gang gun attacks in Chicago in which the victim after being shot down has been carried away in the automobile of his attackers.

Another Murder

The latest gang murder—the tenth in the Chicago area within three days—was discovered last night. The victim was Thomas Somnero, 33 years old, who was tried and acquitted of complicity in the election day (1928) slaying of Octavius Granady, Negro lawyer.

Somnero’s body was found late last night in an alley at the rear of the 800 block on Harrison Street. The body was cut and bruised, indicating torture. The wrists were wired. A welt around the neck indicated Somnero had been garrotted.

Indicted and tried with Somnero for the Granady murder were Louis Clemente, aligned with the Capones and Rocco Belcastro, reputed expert in bomb making.

Police are certain that Somnero’s murder was in reprisal for the “little massacre” of three Druggan associates at Fox Lake early Sunday. They say it is just another episode of blood in the renewed gang war precipitated six weeks ago with the slaying of Joe Blue, ex-convict and friend of Terry Druggan, one-time beer baron.

Blue, if the police theory is correct, came here from New York and entered the beer business, defying the warning of that group of Sicilians still identified as members of the Genna gang. Blue felt secure, police reasoned, with the backing of Terry Druggan and George Druggan, brothers.

A Defi to Druggan

But Blue was slain. This, in effect was a defi to the Druggan followers. It led, police said, to the slaying last, Saturday morning of Philip Ganolfo, a Genna man and the wounding of two companions. The Genna group, as police reconstruct it, wasted no time in retaliation, for early Sunday three of the Druggan group were machine-gunned to death in the “little massacre” of Fox Lake. George Druggan himself was so severely wounded that he may die.

(Source: https://www.newspapers.com/image/422410140/?terms=Chicago%2Bgang%2Bmurder%2BProhibition)



Prosecution Of Gangsters May Explain Death

Hutchinson (KS) News/April 28, 1926

Young Chicago Prosecutor Is Assassinated While Driving With Three

 William H. McSwiggin, youthful assistant state’s attorney, known as the “hanging prosecutor” because of his zeal in conducting criminal trials, was slain last night in a blast of machine gun fire poured by gangsters into an automobile in which he and three other men were riding.

Two of his companions also were killed. They were James J. Doherty, reputed leader of beer runners of Cicero, a suburb, and Thomas Duffy, owner of a saloon.

The hail of lead came from an automobile which drew up beside the car in which McSwiggin and his companions were driving on the boundary line between Chicago and Cicero.

A Marked Man

While authorities were delving in a maze of possible motives for the shooting, John Stege, veteran captain of detectives, said that the assistant prosecutor was marked for death because of his prosecution of John Scalise and Albert Anselmi, Genna gangsters, under sentence to 14 years in prison for the slaying of two policemen.

“The word was passed along the line that he was on his way to Cicero, plans were quickly made and the slayers with their machine gun were soon on the scene,” Captain Stege asserted.

In connection with this theory, the Chicago Tribune said that only two days ago McSwiggin had told a reporter for the Tribune that he had been offered $30,000 to neglect his duty and aid the two gunmen in gaining their freedom.

McSwiggin and his companions were driving toward Chicago when the car which had been following them drew alongside to place the machine gun in range. After the first volley the occupants of the attacked car deserted their machine and as they ran away they were sprayed with bullets.

Duffy fell and died several hours later in a hospital. The other three staggered back to the automobile and sped away.

Put Up A Fight

A mile and a half from the scene, the bodies of McSwiggin and Doherty were found. The police believe that the fleeing car was overtaken, but whether the victims were given their death wounds in their own car or in that of the attackers was a matter of speculation. Indications were that McSwiggen had put up a desperate struggle to escape or overpower his captors.

The fate of the fourth member of the McSwiggin party is a mystery and the automobile has been found.

Three general theories for slayings were advanced by investigators. McSwiggin may have been the victim of a beer war, with the attackers not knowing that he was with Doherty and Duffy; he may have been slain for his prosecution of several recent cases, he having obtained five hanging verdicts in the last year; or it has been suggested he may have become involved in election disputes. Duffy was a precinct captain for the faction with which the prosecutor was aligned.

A Huge Toll

The assassinations last night of William McSwiggin, assistant state’s attorney, and two companions brought the roster of three years of slayings in Chicago gang warfare and illicit liquor running rivalry to nearly 100.

Gang slayings and murders because of liquor handling have become so frequent of late that even the city’s experienced detectives have failed, apparently, to differentiate.

The most popular method in disposing of enemies has been to “take him for a ride.” In three recent attacks, however, machine guns have been used. When the “ride” was resorted to, the man to be killed was invited or forced into an automobile, driven to the city’s outskirts, riddled with bullets and dumped out of the machine.

(Source: Newspapers.com, https://www.newspapers.com/image/7823667/?terms=Chicago%2Bgang%2Bmurder%2BProhibition)