Anything But Novels!

H.L. Mencken

Smart Set/February, 1914

A WELCOME hiatus, by the gods! A pleasing surcease! A suave, caressing interregnum! I reviewed thirty-two novels in this place last month, and not one of them was a first-rater, nor even a good specimen of second-rater. Imagine reading them, reading at them, struggling through their thousands of tedious pages in the service of Truth and Beauty, those twin vestals — imagine such a job for a man grown girthy and sclerotic, a sitter in easy chairs, a post-prandial napper! Believe me, it left me all tattered and torn, and so I make no apologies for the suety, unappetizing quality of the ensuing article — an article with far too much of human suffering in it to have any room for joy. But, as I have said, now comes relief. The geyser of prose fiction slackens, grows feeble, is turned off. The great majority of novelists slink back to their dens to labor upon their spring offerings. And the few that remain in view turn aside from their major vice to cultivate minor ones.

For example, Theodore Dreiser, who makes his non -fictional debut with “A Traveler at Forty” (Century Co.), a chronicle of observations in Darkest Europe. For example, Arnold Bennett, who lifts the alert eyebrow with “Paris Nights” (Doran). For example, H. G. Wells, who describes some very ingenious monkey-shines in “Little Wars” (Small-Maynard), a book of games for the middle-aged. Three novelists in large practice, three specialists in the novel — and yet not one with a novel in his hands!

Dreiser’s volume is an astounding mixture of the commonplace and the unprecedented. On the one hand he fills a long and gloomy chapter with the story of the Borgias, apparently under the impression that it is news, and on the other hand he enters into highly intimate and diverting discussions of the persons he encountered in his wanderings, not sparing either the virtuous or the aged. The children of his English host at Bridgely Level strike him as fantastic little creatures, even as a bit uncanny — and he duly sets it down. He meets an Englishman on a French train who pleases him much, and the two become good friends and see Rome together, but the fellow’s wife is “obstreperous” and “haughty in her manner” and “so loud-spoken in her opinions” that she is “really offensive” — and down it goes. He makes a mash on a Mlle. Marcelle in Paris, and she accompanies him from Monte Carlo to Ventimiglia, and there gives him a parting kiss and whispers, “Avril — Fontainebleau” — and lo, this sweet one is duly spread upon the minutes. He permits himself to be arrested by a fair privateer in Piccadilly, and goes with her to one of the dens of sin that suffragettes see in their nightmares, and cross-examines her at great length regarding her ancestry, her professional ethics and ideals, and her earnings at her dismal craft — and into the book goes a full report of the proceedings. He is entertained by an eminent Dutch jurist in Amsterdam — and upon the pages of the chronicle it appears that the gentleman is “waxy” and “a little pedantic,” and that he is probably the sort of “thin, delicate, well-barbered” professor that Ibsen had in mind when he cast about for a husband for the daughter of General Gabler. In brief, a boyish and innocent frankness runs from end to end of the book — that curious naiveté which is half the charm of “Sister Carrie” and “Jennie Gerhardt.” Dreiser had never crossed the Atlantic when he set out upon this pilgrimage; he had forty long and hard-lived years behind him before he saw his first cathedral and took his first sniff of Paris air and got his first glimpse of the Italian sun. One might reasonably look for a certain immovable calm, even for a downright emotional anesthesia, in so mature a traveler; but there is no trace of it in the record. He reacted wholly youthfully to the stimuli of a new world, and out of that fact, perhaps, arose the obviousness which gives so quaint a flavor to parts of his story. That English houses are chilly, that the Thames at London is “utterly delightful,” that the gaming tables at Monte Carlo are piled high with glittering coin, that the Italian hill towns are lovely at sunset, that Paris guides are a fraudulent and verminous lot — one scarcely looks for such immemorial facts in a book otherwise the very antithesis of hackneyed. But, after all, such empty impressions of the touring novice do not obtrude; outnumbering and outweighing them are the pregnant observations of an old hand at looking, the sharp remarks and annotations of the creator of Hurstwood, Cowperwood and Pere Gerhardt. Here the book rises completely out of the commonplace, and becomes something new, illuminating and heretical. It differs enormously from the customary travel books: it is not a mere description of places and people, but a revelation of their impingement upon an exceptional and almost eccentric personality. Whoever has got civilized pleasure out of the Dreiser novels will read it with joy. It is, in a sense, a free commentary upon those novels, a sort of epilogue in mufti. It makes a bit clearer the Dreiser philosophy, the Dreiser view of life.

That philosophy, incidentally, has a curious likeness to the creed set forth by Joseph Conrad in “A Personal Record.” In brief, it is a magnificent agnosticism, a refusal to take the world too seriously. “For myself,” says Dreiser, “I do not know what truth is, what beauty is, what love is, what hope is. I do not believe anyone absolutely and I do not doubt anyone absolutely. I think people are both evil and well-intentioned.” From such a standpoint, of course, life appears as utterly meaningless — which is probably what it actually is. The theologians have been trying to read a meaning into it for unnumbered centuries, but all of its most salient phenomena still defy their ticketing. What is the lesson to be drawn from the downfall and break-up of Lord Jim? Conrad not only fails to draw a lesson, he specifically denies that it is to be drawn. And so with Carrie Meeber. Her career is a joke upon all the copybook maxims. Her very guilt, so-called, is a pathetic form of innocence. She is as helpless and as blameless as a sparrow in a gale, a twig in the Gulf Stream. To read any divine plan into her life is simply to argue that divinity is unintelligent. And yet who will deny her reality? Who will deny that she is genuinely a human being? Who will hold that Dreiser misunderstood her?

Bennett’s book differs vastly and for the better from his “Your United States,” a piece of trade goods that he had better left unwritten. The first half-dozen chapters give us delightful pictures of life in Paris, and, as in Dreiser’s book, there is a total absence of polite reticences. One feels that the French family depicted in “Bourgeois,” for example, is made up of actual persons, and what is more, that they are typical of the best that France has to offer. Bennett lived in Paris and thereabout long enough to get into the homes of such folk, an enterprise obviously impossible to the casual visitor, or even to the persistent besieger of ambassadorial and faubourg society. When he describes that groaning dinner table, with old Marthe passing the soup, and old Tante commanding her, and the good Doctor beaming upon his guest, and the Dupres on the walls, one feels that it is a table under which he has actually stretched his legs. And there is the same note of authenticity, the same complete and genial familiarity, in the English portions of the book — the sketches of the Five Towns, the history of the Smith family, the extraordinarily fine chapters on London. Even Italy, Switzerland and the Riviera are drawn with this sure stroke. But Bennett saw the United States too briefly, and in the worst possible fashion. He was gaped at too much himself to do any profitable seeing. The result is that his American book bears no sort of relation to this brilliant and fascinating ” Paris Nights.”

The Wells book, despite the show of tin soldiers on the cover, is anything but a guide to nursery sport for sucklings. The “little wars” it describes, indeed, are so inordinately complex and scientific that even the adult will need a considerable military experience to understand their finer points. But the way to simplify them is clearly indicated, and, once simplified, they should be a good deal more interesting than card games, tenpins, or billiards as she is commonly played. They make their demands, not upon manual dexterity, nor even upon the talent for dissembling, but upon foresight and shrewd calculation. Once the ground for a battle has been chosen — and it may be either a backyard or an ordinary room — and the tin soldiers and toy guns have been properly arrayed, all the subsequent moves have a likeness to real war. Guns may be captured, beaten back or put out of action; cavalry may be unhorsed or surrounded; infantry may be mowed down or forced to retreat. I can well imagine two fat old fellows playing this boylike but far from boyish game on a rainy Sunday afternoon — and forgetting their lumbagos, their wives and their bills payable. What if Mr. Wells should be the herald of a renaissance of toys for men? Women never get over the taste for such things: the great majority of them make dolls of their babies, and even of their husbands. Why should men pass out of their nonage so completely? George Nathan and I, meeting occasionally in taverns to discuss the pretty arts, end by challenging each other to bouts at piano playing, yodling and sauerbraten eating. Why shouldn’t we also meet at marbles, at hopscotch, at blowing soap bubbles, at top spinning, at kite flying, at tying tin cans to the tails of dogs?

Did I promise you a surcease of novels? Well, here is an exception, and only one, though it comes double-barreled. It is a vague, windy tale by August Strindberg, called “On the Seaboard” in the translation of Elizabeth C. Westergren (Slewart-Kidd), and “By the Open Sea” in that of Ellie Schleussner (Huebsch). The two versions reached me, by one of the incredible coincidences of life, on the same day. I prefer that of Mr. (or is it Miss, or Mrs., or Herr, or Frau, or Fraulein, or Fru, or M., or Mme., or Gospodin, or the Hon., or Dr., or Prof.?) Schleussner, though, truth to tell, there is little difference between them. The tale concerns one Axel Borg, a very Strindbergian (i.e., moony and quackish) young Swede. He is an ichthyologist by profession, and he goes out to the East Skerries, in the Baltic, to teach the natives how to catch the stromming, a succulent clupeoid of those parts. This Axel has a very low opinion of women. He regards them as vicious and inferior creatures — “the intermediary form between man and child” — and is full of a Nietzschean determination to make them eat out of his hand. But the moment a fair visitor, at thirty-three, appears on his island, he succumbs to her charms. Not, of course, without a struggle. He mocks her, lords it over her, pictures her in toothless old age, even takes drugs to dull the thought of her. But inch by inch she conquers him — and then she gets her revenge by boldly playing the wanton with a young assistant, and directly under his nose! Poor fellow! What is this low comedy Superman to do? He adopts a double course. First he pays off the young assistant in his own coin, and then he gets into a rowboat and rows straight out to sea. When the curtain falls he is still rowing. Row on, thou worst of Strindbergian numskulls! Row on, Axel, old top! And beware of the Fool Killer in a motorboat!

Nietzscheism without the Strindbergian ginger pop will be found in two volumes just published by Dr. Oscar Levy, the distinguished editor of the English Nietzsche and an ardent propagandist of the terrible Friedrich’s ideas. One is a fine translation of “The Renaissance” of Arthur, Count Gobineau, by Paul V. Colin (Putnam), and the other is an English version of Heinrich Heine’s “Atta Troll,” by Herman Scheffauer (Sidgwick-Jackson). To each Dr. Levy contributes a critical preface, and in each case I have found the preface even more interesting than the work following. The Heine poem, despite its bouncing humor, is but little known to English speaking admirers of the poet’s lyrics, and so far as I know, indeed, Mr. Scheffauer’s excellent translation is the first ever published. The piece is a burlesque epic in miniature, and on the sur face it seems to be no more than a comic fable about a trained bear which escapes from a circus and takes refuge in the Pyrenees, and is there tracked down and shot by one Lascaro, son to the old witch Uraka — a comic fable full of unintelligible reference to mid-century German politics and forgotten esthetic duels. But, as Dr. Levy shows so clearly, it is really far more than this — to wit, a devastating satire upon both the aroused and loutish democracy of Europe and the doddering feudalism. Atta Troll, the dancing bear, is the former, and Lascaro and his mother represent the latter. So understood, the poem resolves itself into a pre-Nietzschean travesty in the best Nietzschean manner, a riotous attack upon all the pet ideals of the Philistine, a clown show recalling some of the later chapters of “Also Sprach Zarathustra.” No wonder Heine is not to be mentioned in the presence of the German Emperor: there is not a royal platitude that he does not demolish with a bludgeon. And Mr. Scheffauer has put no damper upon his extravagant humor in the process of Englishing: the translation is a racy and amusing piece of verse.

The Gobineau book is made up of five long dramas upon Renaissance themes — not connected plays for the theater, but merely groups of vivid scenes. All the great actors of that superb epoch move through them — the Borgias, Michael Angelo, Machiavelli, Savonarola, Raphael, Charles V, Charles VIII and a host of others. I know of no work which makes the Renaissance more brilliantly real, whether in its glory or in its hoggishness, nor any which better reveals the essential spirit of the time. Here was human progress, indeed — a magnificent leap from barbarian darkness to the most gorgeous civilization the world has ever known. No wonder it fascinated Gobineau, with his lifelong interest in the larger interplay of human forces. He was a figure out of more spacious days himself — a descendant of Bourbon aristocrats, a believer in race and breeding, the natural antithesis of his early friend and benefactor, the mob-revering De Tocqueville. De Tocqueville had faith in the melting pot; Gobineau believed only in the uncorrupted Aryan. As Dr. Levy shows, many of his ideas have been borrowed by Wagner’s son-in-law, Houston Stewart Chamberlain, and watered for German consumption in the borrowing. Chamberlain thought it necessary, after his “Foundations of the Nineteenth Century” had lifted the Germans to an ecstasy of self-admiration, to deny that he owed anything to Gobineau. The denial has not survived examination, but it remains clear nevertheless that there is a wide difference between Gobineau ‘s Aryan and Chamberlain’s half-imaginary Teuton. And there is an abyss between Chamberlain’s petty piety and Gobineau ‘s sturdy paganism, and another no less deep between Gobineau’s picture of the Semite-blanc primitif corrupted and handing on corruption and Chamberlain’s “patriotic” anti-Semitism. Dr. Levy’s preface, which runs to the length of a pamphlet, goes into all these differences very carefully, and is an admirable exposition of Gobineau’s true ideas, as opposed to the sonorous stuff that German vanity has read into them. This Gobineau is one worth better acquaintance. Like Max Stirner, he sent out ripples that are still widening.

Brieux, Hervieu and Arnold Bennett are the playwrights of the month. Two of the Brieux plays appear in a single volume, intelligently translated by Frederick Eisemann. They are “Blanchette” and “The Escape” (Luce), the first a solemn reductio ad absurdum of free education, and the latter a devastating attack upon the eugenics buncombe. “Blanchette,” which goes back to 1892, is the play that got Brieux his first hearing in Paris, and “The Escape” (L’ Evasion), which followed four years later, was crowned by the Academy and paved the way for the author’s subsequent election to that sacrosanct body. Both plays, as their popular success indicates, are somewhat conventional in structure, and both would probably seem old-fashioned to an audience today. But all the same, both of them are full of those qualities which we have come to associate with the work of the author of “Damaged Goods.” They tilt furiously at everyday shams; they are often more expository than dramatic; they show a diligent effort to get away from the worst tricks of the theater. Brieux’s faults are also in them: his failing for overstating his case, his subordination of character to thesis, his oppressive Philistinism. But for a discussion of all these matters I refer you to the preface to the volume. I wrote it myself and am thus able to recommend it unreservedly. In the main, it is a very judicious estimate of Brieux’s abilities, which have been vastly overestimated of late by the clerical press agents of “Damaged Goods.” But in it the true cognoscenti will discern a staggering bull, a thumping misstatement of fact, a ghastly slip of the pen. I leave you to discover that slip for yourself. To the first reader who finds it I promise a genuine five-cent cigar. Thus I cunningly promote the sale of the book, and at the same time diminish by one unit (as the serum-therapeutists have it) a Christmas present that is slowly eating into my vitals.

The Hervieu play is “The Labyrinth” (Huebsch), a translation of “Le Dedale,” by Barrett H. Clark and Lander MacClintock. It had its first performance at the Theatre Francais on December 19, 1903, with Le Bargy in the principal role, and two years later an English version by Dr. W. L. Courtney was presented at the Herald Square Theater by Olga Nethersole, that high priestess of passion. The piece revolves around the connubial misadventures of M. et Mme. De Porgy, a young French couple of wealth and position. M. De Porgy is given to the more extreme forms of gaiety, and after forgiving him many times Mme. De Porgy finally divorces him, and marries M. Guillaume Le Breuil, an honest fellow. The child of the first marriage, little Louis, bounces between its sundered parents — six months with papa and six months with mamma. One day, while in mamma’s custody, little Louis falls seriously ill, and papa is summoned to the bedside. You begin to guess what happens! Well, well, it really happens — and there is the deuce to pay. What to do? It would be wrong to kill Le Breuil and let De Porgy five; it would be banal to kill De Porgy and let Le Breuil five; and it would be senseless to kill Mme. De Porgy-Le Breuil and let both husbands live. So Hervieu compromises by killing the husbands. That is to say, he has them meet at fisticuffs and roll over a precipice together. A melodramatic ending to a play that is otherwise a very respectable piece of work. In most of his other pieces Hervieu has avoided such obvious devices. Let us hope that the present translators will give us English versions of those other pieces — particularly the satirical “Connais-toi,” which Arnold Daly once did as “Know Thyself,” and the ironical “Le Reveil,” and the Brieux-like “La Loi de l’Homme” and “Les Tenailles,” and the wholly Hervieu-like “L’Enigme” and “La Course du Flambeau.” Anatole France once called Hervieu “the greatest author of our time” — overpraise, true enough, but still proof that the man is worth hearing.

The Bennett play is “The Great Adventure” (Doran), a dramatization of “Buried Alive,” and inasmuch as the sagacious Nathan will probably see it on the stage before these presents reach you, I pass over its pretty humors without anatomizing them. Other current dramatic books are “The Fall of Ug,” by Rufus Steele (Howell); “The Influence of the Drama,” by Granville Forbes Sturgis (Shakespeare Press); “The Facts About Shakespeare,” by William A. Neilson and Ashley H. Thorndike (Macmillan); “Fifteen Years of a Dancer’s Life,” by Loie Fuller (Small-Maynard), and “The Russian Ballet,” by A. E. Johnson (Houghton-Mifflin).

“The Fall of Ug” is the masque presented last August by the Bohemian Club of San Francisco in the open air theater among the giant redwoods. It shows passable blank verse and some fair lyrics, but that is all I can say of it. As for Mr. Sturgis’s critical work, it oscillates between the obvious and the ridiculous. In one place he speaks of “the very highest type of drama, from Shakespeare to the latest output of Mrs. Frances Hodgson Burnett ” In another place, he sets it down gravely that “more theaters have been burned when ‘The Two Orphans’ was being presented than have burned during the presentation of other plays.” You will turn with relief to the intelligent, if somewhat ponderous scholarship of “The Facts About Shakespeare,” a truly comprehensive review of all that is known about the Bard and his plays. The volume brings to completion the admirable Tudor Shakespeare and is by the general editors of that work.

La Loie’s book is an entertaining account of her struggle up from slavery — mostly true, as Huckleberry Finn would say, but probably with a few stretchers here and there. Success came to her, it appears, only after great suffering. The managers had little faith in her theory that the electric light could supplant old-fashioned foot and leg work, and rival artistes played many sad tricks upon her. But bit by bit she conquered, and in the end came her great triumph in Paris. Thereafter it was easy sailing: she became the friend of princesses, geniuses and millionaires, and progressed through Europe in almost regal splendor. In Chapter XXI she ascends to the heights of prose fiction, telling how she once kidnapped a French reporter, brought him to the United States, lodged him in a Brooklyn hotel, and then watched the menials torture him. “All the attendants,” it appears, “are negroes in American hotels.” The bellboy who served this poor Gaul was a “huge” one of savage habits. He stole the visitor’s boots, rifled his pantaloons, and then “backed up against the wall and unconcernedly whistled a cake walk.” Marvelous doings! “The Russian Ballet” sticks closer to dancing. It is a sumptuous folio volume, magnificently illustrated in colors by René Bull and bound in white buckram, with gilt stamping. Mr. Johnson discusses the origin of the new Russian dancing in his introduction, and then proceeds to tell the stories of the principal ballets — “Le Lac des Cygnes,” “Scheherezade,” “Cleopatre,” “Les Sylphides” and so on. At the end there is a brief chapter upon Anna Pavlowa.

Following Dreiser and Bennett come various other adventurers, male and female, each with a tale of wandering and derring-do. Perhaps the most amusing of them is Oliver Madox Hueffer, a brother to Joseph Conrad’s collaborator, who calls his book “A Vagabond in New York” (Lane). Hueffer, like John Masefield, tried bartending in a lower West Side barrel house, but he quickly gave it up for the post of chicken embalmer in a delicatessen store, and from that he graduated into supering for moving pictures, and thereafter, in quick succession, he became a Brahmin guru at Coney Island, mahout with a one-ring circus, lecturer on a rubberneck wagon, and roustabout on a Long Island steam boat. Most of the time, however, he seems to have been without any profession at all, and so he made acquaintance with the benches of City Hall Park and with the decayed English baronets who infest them. On the whole, he found the accommodations satisfactory. The one serious objection to the benches is that they do not fit the small of the back. Those on the London Embankment are far better in that respect, but they have the alternative defect of being too sloping. As for the benches of Paris, they are so uncomfortable that refreshing sleep is almost impossible. Where, alas, is perfection in this botched old world? Hueffer’s observations upon New York and the New Yorkers are generally accurate and amusing, but now and then he makes a strange error. For example, when he says that the “native-born New Yorker” always pronounces “th” as “d.” He even gives a specimen: “Dree dousand Despian dieves” for “Three thousand Thespian thieves” — and ascribes the mangling to German influence! The eyes of this young Englishman, I fear, are sharper than his ears. And even his ears outdo his etymology, for he derives the word “boob” from the German word bub (boy), forgetting entirely the good old English word “booby.” He has been to sea: has he never heard of the booby hatch?

Mrs. Alec-Tweedie’s “America As I Saw It” (Macmillan) is an ill-written and chaotic mixture of platitudes and puerilities — in brief, the sort of stuff that fills the “home” pages of our afternoon newspapers. I quote a few of the fair traveler’s gems of ratiocination:

Money lightly earned is often lightly spent.

Sex is the greatest force in life, for life itself is dependent on it.

Lectures properly and conscientiously prepared yield useful information.

The art of listening graciously is a gift.

All women cannot be workers any more than all men can be soldiers.

To be well dressed is to be suitably dressed.

America is a land of surprises.

And so on, and so on, for nearly five hundred pages! Not, of course, that the whole book is made up of such high school philosophy: there are also passages of description, and some of them are full of the charm of the marvelous. It is common, it appears, for American judges to invite the litigants before them to remove their coats, and even to sit in their shirtsleeves themselves (page 44). Again, the custom prevails among us of using the Star-Spangled Banner as a pocket handkerchief (page 22). Yet again, the American home is without doors (save, perhaps, the front door), and “if Tom proposes to Mary every member of the family and every domestic in the place can hear their sweet nothings…” (Page 20). Finally , our stage is wholly unharassed by a censorship (Page 256). (Shades of Comstock! What stage in all the world is worse beset by snouters and smuthounds?) For the rest, Mrs. Alec-Tweedie (can this be a real name?) devotes herself largely to giving lists of the magnificoes who entertained her while she was studying our civilization. Among them I note Col. Roosevelt, Mrs. Taft, the late J. Pierpont Morgan, Dr. Andrew Carnegie, Thomas A. Edison, Mrs. O. H. P. Belmont and Miss Jane Addams. Obviously she had a pleasant visit, for the tone of her book is very friendly. But nevertheless it remains a superficial and preposterous piece of reporting.

Another chronicler who seems to be a favorite of the great is Frederick Townsend Martin, whose “Things I Remember” (Lane) introduces us to many persons of title, including even an emperor or two. Lying ill at Beyrout of chills and fever, Mr. Martin was visited by the late Dom Pedro of Brazil, who stood by his bedside and urged him to take heart. Obeying the royal command, he lived to attend the funeral of Lord Lovat, to be photographed with Lord Leigh (facing page 236), and to appear as “a gentleman of the period” at the famous Bradley Martin ball, Bradley being his brother. In late years, it seems, Mr. Martin has devoted his money and talents to various philanthropies. For one thing, he has tried to induce Congress to build American embassies in all the capitals of Europe. For another thing, he has made encouraging speeches to the residents of the London East End. For a third thing, he has “let a certain selfish section of society know that the wealth which they inherited could open the gates of untold pleasure to others,” thus “unhesitatingly” becoming, as he says himself , a traitor to his own class. Many anecdotes of a highly amusing and even instructive character are scattered through Mr. Martin’s book. Persons of the highest consideration have bombarded him with their choicest epigrams, and he himself has often come back with hot ones. On page 205, for example, he records a brief but thrilling wit combat that he once had with Mrs. Hamilton Fish.

“Don’t you get bored dining out night after night?” asked Mrs. Fish archly. “What’s the use of it?”

“Well,” replied Mr. Martin, with devastating promptness, “the use of it is that we can get fresh thoughts from one another.”

But Mrs. Fish was not to be floored by this sally. Quick as a flash she replied:

“Perhaps. But, Fred Martin, I’ll just tell you right away that I didn’t come here to listen to one of your sermons.”

Whereupon, I suppose (though he here closes Chapter IX abruptly, and doesn’t say so), the hon. Gent. went down for the count of ten, and had to be revived by the scandalized butler.

From such empty nonsense it is refreshing to turn to the penetrating observations of Anne Warwick in “The Meccas of the World” (Lane), a series of sketches of New York, London, Paris, Madrid and Vienna. I know of no recent vivisectionist who has more deftly explored the American character, and so far as I can judge, she is equally skillful and accurate with the French, the English, the Austrian and the Spanish. Moreover, this “Miss Warwick” knows how to write as well as how to observe. Her picture of Vienna in carnival week is a vivid and charming piece of description, and she does equally well with the shoddy splendors of the Spanish capital, and with the mysteries of fashion in Paris. But why does she pile domino upon nom de plume by posing as a man in her Vienna chapters, and as an Englishman at the end (page 258)? Unless my spies lie shamelessly, she is actually a very attractive female of the genus Homo Americanus — the daughter, in fact, of an American bishop. But perhaps the sheer extent of her travels has made her forget her nationality: she has been on the go since childhood, and seems to know all countries and all tongues. I drop the problem, and, in parting, recommend the book. It is an extremely interesting volume and it shows an honest effort to tell the truth.

Various publishers seek to destroy my peace of mind by sending me solemn tomes upon economic and sociological subjects — for example, “Financing the Wage Earner’s Family,” by Prof. Dr. Scott Nearing (Huebsch), a thing of cabbages, underwear and kindling wood all compact; “The Progressive Movement,” by S. J. Duncan-Clark (Small-May nard), a laborious statement and defense of the Roosevelt quackeries; “Votes for Men,” by some anonymous foe of the suffragettes (Duffield), and “Marriage and Divorce,” by John Haynes Holmes (Huebsch). Plowing through a dozen or more of such volumes, I find actual stimulation in but one of them, to wit, in “The Larger Aspects of Socialism,” by William English Walling (Macmillan). Mr. Walling chiefly devotes himself to proving that the social reorganization demanded by the Socialists is not a consummation that must wait upon the slow steps of evolution. It may conceivably come, he argues, with great speed, and he makes no effort to conceal his hope and belief that it will. This theory, of course, involves a destructive criticism of the evolutionists, particularly Spencer, and of the scientific attitude of mind.

It is absurd, says Mr. Walling, to assume that the laws which account for the evolution of man from the primordial protoplasm will be sufficient to account for all of man’s future progress. A new force is now at work, to wit, the will of man himself, and while this force cannot halt the operation of the laws of nature, it can at least direct them, as it were, by playing one against another. In brief, consciousness is something which defies the sun and the lightnings, and goes far toward making its own rules. No need to say, after this, that Mr. Walling is an eager partisan of the pragmatism of William James and of the dualism of M. Bergson. Following the invariable Socialist habit, indeed, he seeks to show that Marx and Engels, far before James, were privy to the chief secrets of pragmatism. I think you will find entertainment and instruction in this highly original volume. It will show you a keen mind at work.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s