The Smart Set
MORE and more unearthly grow the heroes and heroines of our current Thackerays and Dostoevskys. A while back, as you may recall, the Hon. Will Levington Comfort, a clever fellow, was asking us to listen to the melancholy, metaphysical harangues of one Andrew Bedient, ship’s cook and New Thoughter—all about Mystic Motherhood, the Third Lustrous Dimension, the Big Deep, the Bhagavad Gita and other such trappings and delusions of the Zeitgeist. Then came John Masefield, with a bacteriologist fighting the sleeping sickness on the shores of the upper Congo. And then came A. E. W. Mason, with an explorer homesick for the pemmican and chilblains of the Antarctic. And after Mason came H. G. Wells, with a millionaire physicist laid up with a broken leg in the Labrador hinterland; and A. Conan Doyle, with a mad, rip-snorting Barnum of pterichthyidae and mastodontinae; and Edith Wharton, with a soiled maiden who blabbed the story of her own folly; and Gerhart Hauptmann, with a German stage-door Johnnie; and Alfred Ollivant, with a Cockney tanner dying of tuberculosis; and George Moore, with himself. Finally, no longer than a month ago, there was Elizabeth Robins, with a heroine trapped by White Slavers and sold into gilded but hideous captivity.
And yet no rest, no escape from this bizarrerie, no blessed return to the safe and sane old key of C major! In most of the new books, indeed, we fare even further from the John Smiths and Mary Browns of everyday. Here, for example, comes T. Everett Harre, a debutante, with a half-caste Eskimo heroine named Annadoah, loved by young Ootah and debauched by the terrible Olafaksoah. And here comes E. Hofer, another novice, with a heroine who is a trained nurse in a lunatic asylum. And here is Nina Wilcox Putnam, with a heroine who wears pantaloons and suspenders, and takes to the highway with a trained bear. And here is Jeffery Farnol, he of “The Broad Highway,” with a hero who is the only son and heir of a heavyweight champion of England. And here is Frances Newton Symmes Allen, with a hero named Stefan Posadowski. And here is Delia Campbell MacLeod, with a hero who falls in love with a frock he sees in a cleaner’s show window—a frock of “pale blue ribbon and lace, a row of lace alternating with one of ribbon,” and breaking into “a perfect sea foam of lace about the bottom.” And here is Oliver Kent, with a heroine who stakes her all on Eugenics, that fashionable successor to the Emmanuel Movement, ping-pong, Babaism, I’art nouveau, the Montessori Method and such-like raves of yesteryear. And here is the anonymous author of “To M. L. G.,” with a heroine who serves ten years in prison for murder. And here is Stephen French Whitman, with a hero who is a Nietzschean, making mock of God and man. And here, to come to an end, is William Dean Howells, with a hero who is a Swedenborgian.
This Howells hero is the most fearsome of them all, at least to my private taste. Given a lonely heath and a dark night, I would rather meet a Christian Endeavor leader or even a Vice Crusader than a Swedenborgian. I do not defend this dread intellectually; I know very well, in fact, that the average Swedenborgian is a harmless fellow, that the average Dunkard or hard shell Baptist is ten times as dangerous. But there falls upon me from my lost youth the shadow of Swedenborg’s “Heaven and Hell,” read dutifully by a boy too eager to believe in all apparently serious books, and the lingering relic of that cruel perplexity and stupefaction is the aforesaid skittishness. A man bears forever the scars of such early tortures. If I revile Chopin today, denouncing him absurdly as a perjurer, a fop and a sucker of eggs, then blame it on my struggles with the banal scales of the Valse du petit chien, Op. 64, No. 1, in the year 1890—so long, long ago! And if I am cold to Poe, then blame the Poeomaniacs who haunted my school days in Poe-ridden Baltimore, mixing pifflish local pride with more pifflish literary criticism. And if I am unjust to the Swedenborgians, then collect the fine from Swedenborg.
But for all this, I am free to admit that the Howells book, “New Leaf Mills” by name (Harper), is the best, and by long odds, of all the fictions of this current boiling, if only because it shows the ease and fluency of a veteran hand. The ancient Howells, indeed, has every virtue that one demands of a first-rate journeyman. He lays out his work with precision, he selects the proper tools with care, and he proceeds to the actual labor with calm and confidence. There is never any sense of difficulties slowly battered down; there is never any heaving and blowing; there is never any wasted effort. The less experienced craftsman, however talented, seldom produces any such effect of perfect facility, of magnificent adroitness, of ready virtuosity. You can feel that lesser fellow laboring damnably in spots; you can see him overburdened with inspiration in other spots. He is never content to let well enough alone: he is always impatient to put in everything he can think of, to gild his lily until it shines like a set of false teeth. Not so the venerable and consummate Howells. He doesn’t waste upon one book the stuff that might serve for two books, or three books. He never surges over the strict limits of his frame. He never drags in extraneous persons and events, merely because he knows about them and is eager to show it. In brief, he composes prose fiction (not to mention other things) much as old Johann Sebastian Bach used to compose fugues—with the end in sight from the very beginning, and a straight line connecting the two points. Not, of course, that he is as towering a genius as Johann Sebastian —nor, indeed, as relentless a formalist. But there is still something suggestively Bachian about his stark, sophisticated method, and particularly about his careful economy of materials.
The scene of “New Leaf Mills” is the rural Ohio of the year or two following the Mexican War, and the Swedenborgian hero is one Owen Powell. Scratch an Emmanuel Mover and you will find a Psychical Researcher; scratch a Psychical Researcher and you will find a Vegetarian, and if not a Vegetarian, then a Eugenist. So with the Swedenborgians: their interest in archangels is always accompanied by other enthusiasms. This Powell is also an Abolitionist and a Communist. His dream is of a little Utopia in the wilderness, a pastoral Paradise of a dozen or more families, with plenty of hams in the smokehouse, plenty of children in the dooryards, and a friendly welcome for all strangers, white or black, free or fugitive. He interests two of his brothers in the enterprise, and with money supplied by one of them—he is a pathetic bankrupt himself—he buys a small flour mill. This is to be the beginning and cornerstone of his roseate colony. Until things settle a bit, he will keep on grinding wheat, but eventually he will change the flour mill into a paper mill, and paper-making will become the central industry of a busy and happy community—a community spread out over a whole countryside and basking in the plenty of the Lord. Thus the dream of Owen Powell, Swedenborgian.
Alas for its fulfillment! Fate is against it, indeed, from the start. The rude hinds of the vicinage are but little impressed by communism, and even less by Swedenborgianism. They laugh at Owen behind his back, and mingled with their guffaws is a subtle distrust of one dissenting from the prevalent theology. In the case of one of them, Overdale, the practical miller at the mill, this distrust takes the form of open hostility. Overdale is a gloomy and churlish ignoramus, eternally full of bad whiskey, and it is only accident that keeps him from an actual attempt upon Owen’s life. But even worse than these outward handicaps upon the great enterprise are handicaps within. Owen is not the man to carry such things through. He lacks the hard sagacity, the unsentimental common sense. Working day and night, he yet accomplishes nothing. His wife and children wallow in a three-room hut while their new house progresses by inches—and then stops progressing altogether. The paper machinery never arrives; the necessary converts are never made; the desert refuses to blossom. In the end, poor Owen goes back to the city, hopeful still, but a failure unutterable. As he passes from the scene he is preparing to take over a Swedenborgian bookstore and start a Swedenborgian monthly.
The perfect type of the fantastic visionary and chronic incompetent. We of today are prone to forget the part played by such benign asses in the early history of the republic. We remember only the pioneer who was successful—the flinty, indomitable fellow who faced the sunset and tamed the wilderness. We forget the vast company of dreamers and impossibilists who hung at his heels—founders of empires that come to nothing, preachers of outlandish and incomprehensible religions, believers in brummagem millenniums, the grotesque white crows and black swans of the humdrum East. Their bones are scattered from end to end of our West Country; they pushed over the Alleghenies but a few miles behind the trappers and railsplitters. Something of their childish faith in the incredible still lingers in our people; nowhere else on earth is it so easy to launch a new political panacea or a new invention in theology. Our progress, in its main current, may be wholly materialistic and even sordid, but upon that current there has always floated a froth of divine folly. Only in the United States is it possible to imagine such a puerile thing as the New Thought becoming a widespread and important cult, with a whole literature to interpret it, and agents to defend it upon the floor of the national legislature, and millions of fools trying to live according to its gratuitous and incoherent tenets, and thousands of prophets and mad mullahs fattening upon the fools.
It is this typically American weakness for the sonorous, this national defect of character, that Mr. Howells has sought to describe and illumine in “New Leaf Mills,” and his success is unmistakable. True enough, he has not gone very far; he has not ploughed too deeply and scientifically into the psychology of Owen Powell. But so far as he has actually gone, he has carried sympathy and understanding with him. He has made the man real, and what is more, he has made him pitiful. One somehow leaves the chronicle with a fellow feeling for this preposterous amateur theologian, dreaming his vain dreams, groping through his endless shadows, bruised and beaten by the oafs of his gray world. And there is poignancy, too, in the picture of the dreamer’s wife, for Ann Powell shares all of the penalties of Owen’s dreaming without quite sharing his dream. Her feet are ever on the earth. She knows the precise difference between a stony hillside and the Elysian Fields. And yet she sticks to the poor fool, her lord and master, to the very end, easing the agonies of his disillusion, bravely striving for a way out. A pair of careful, lifelike, appealing portraits. A tale with something of youth’s freshness and earnestness in it, for all the author’s three score and sixteen years. A useful model for those young novelists who have not yet learned the value of careful planning, ruthless selection and straightforward, simple writing.
The Nietzschean invented by Stephen French Whitman bears the dark, forbidding name of Sebastian Maure, and his deviltries are set forth at length in “The Isle of Life” (Scribner). Not Nietzsche himself, nor even Zarathustra, was more assiduously immoral than this Mr. Maure. Rich, handsome and a social favorite, he divides his leisure into two sections. The first section he devotes to the composition of frightfully improper novels, and the second section he gives over to living their plots. There is not a capital in Europe that he has not staggered with his studied debaucheries, his stupendous feats of wine-bibbing and amour; there is scarcely a town in which he has not left some poor girl ruing a delirious, fatal day. Once, in the distant Caucasus, he dragged a proud beauty from her father’s castle and went galloping over the mountains, her relatives in hot pursuit. Another time—in Cairo, was it? Or Warsaw? Or Edinburgh? Or Munich?—But let us come at once to his diabolical kidnapping of Ghirlaine Bellamy, the beautiful young American girl, rich like himself, but as pure as the driven snow. Ghirlaine, of course, is not exactly a backfisch. She has made the Grand Tour; she has been wooed by dukes and men; she has seen something of ballrooms, and even of the adjacent cozy corners and conservatories. But these fleeting descents into the abyss have not “affected her ideas of love and marriage” in the slightest. She still believes that “there must be, in this life, but one man for one woman.” To quote:
“They two should meet, at last, as if on a wind-swept mountain-top, all the world’s ignoble rumors inaudible far below, their souls full of reverence for the God who had brought them heart to heart.”
Such is Ghirlaine when she gives her young heart to Lieut. the Hon. Vincent Pamfort, brother and heir to the dying Earl of Lemster. And such is Ghirlaine when she rivets the rolling, licentious eye of Sebastian Maure. Ah, sweet Ghirlaine, how little thou knowest what it meaneth to be desired by that soulless voluptuary, that moral sarcophagus! Ah, honest Vincent, how little thou suspecteth the fate of thy beloved! . . . It is night. The ship has set sail from Naples. Ghirlaine is lured to the deck by a forged letter. A hairy, prehensile arm encircles her waist. She is dragged to the rail. A moment’s struggle, tense and silent. She ceases to move. “Death!” she gasps. “Or life!” adds Sebastian Maure. And with that he leaps forth into space, and the two of them are engulfed by the Mediterranean Sea. . . .
Drowned? Not on your popping orb, your pale, pale cheek! Can’t you hear the fishing boat galloping up, its crew ready with the grapples? Can’t you see, through the inky night, the dim outlines of L’Isola da Vita, the mysterious Isle of Life, where Sebastian Maure has his secret den, and will betray Ghirlaine at his leisure? Of course you can! You are an old hand at novel-reading; you know the tricks of seducers; not even a Nietzschean can fool you! And you know, too, that Sebastian Maure, once he gets Ghirlaine to his moral shambles, will stand before her abashed, that his better nature will be awakened by her innocence, that he will leave her unsullied. And you know, finally, that she will see through his surface deviltry and into his manly heart, that she will respond to his renascent honor, that she will end by loving him madly, that she will forget the Hon. Vincent Pamfort completely. So, indeed, it falls out. As we part from them, Ghirlaine and Sebastian are on their “wind-swept mountain-top,” with “all the world’s ignoble rumors inaudible far below,” and “their souls full of reverence for the God who has brought them heart to heart.”
Such is the mad, glad story of Sebastian and Ghirlaine. And such is the sad, sad story of Stephen French Whitman. A year or so ago this Mr. Whitman made his bow with a novel called “Predestined,” an incisive and painstaking character sketch, serious in plan and execution, bright with promise. It got the sort of reception that it deserved. The reviews, as I recall them, even had a note of jubilation in them. Every critic in the land was eager to welcome a newcomer with courage enough to rise out of the conventional rut, and skill enough to do it gracefully. And now, as his thank-offering, Mr. Whitman comes forward with this absurd and irritating melodrama, this tawdry piece of trade goods, this trifling, intolerable bosh! Such is his fashion of justifying the kind things said of him, the hearty encouragement he got! Such is his ironic answer to those who hailed him with joy! I know of no more astounding defeat of promise, even in this land of one-book men. I know of no more lamentable collapse of a talent clearly pledged to serious and dignified things.
But in this falling short of his, Mr. Whitman, unluckily enough, is in good company. For example, here is William J. Locke, he of “Septimus” and “Simon the Jester,” with “Stella Maris” (Lane), a labored and disappointing piece of sentimentality. Not a trace of Lockian humor is in it from end to end: it has a crippled heroine from the Sunday school books and two prigs for heroes. The saving rascality of Aristide Pujol is not there; one waits in vain for the smile that never comes. What is more, there is tin-pot melodrama in place of Lockian intrigue, usually so ingenious and delightful. One of the heroes has a low-caste wife who goes to prison for maltreating a servant girl. He tries to make it up with the girl by taking her into his house and treating her as his daughter. She falls in love with him, of course, as soon as her skirts touch her ankles. The convict wife, discharged about this time, essays to blackmail him. One day the girl calls on the wife, shoots her dead, and then commits suicide. The crippled heroine, restored to her legs by some unexplained magic, marries the other fellow. . . . Well, well, let us forgive good Locke for this single transgression. If “Stella Maris” proves insupportable, there is always “The Beloved Vagabond” to go back on, not to mention “The Glory of Clementina” and “The Morals of Marcus Ordeyne.” And here and there, I dare say, there even lurks a reader who will enjoy “Stella Maris.” There are readers, indeed, who still enjoy “Soldiers of Fortune.” A soft, susceptible world!
Another flopper is Prof. Dr. Robert Herrick, of the University of Chicago, for the realism in his “One Woman’s Life” (Macmillan) leans heavily upon the grotesque and improbable, and he seldom gets beneath the externals of his heroine. Her name is Milly Ridge and her face is all her fortune. She has, however, a very active social talent and so she makes quick progress in the hospitable Chicago of World’s Fair days. She is received in the best houses; she is wooed by the opulent and ichthyoid Clarence Albert. But it is not Clarence who marries her, but Jack Bragdon, the promising young artist. Alas, for poor Jack! Muly has tasted social success: she is no wife for a poor man. Bit by bit she forces her husband into degrading money-making; one by one his ideals wither and perish. And so, in the end, he dies, bankrupt and obscure—and Milly is forced to scratch for herself. She grafts upon Jack’s relatives and friends, she becomes housekeeper to a low-comedy German woman, she opens a pastry shop in Chicago. Finally she marries an old lover, Edgar Duncan, and goes with him to his ranch in California. “Let us assume,” says the author, “that she lives happily ever after.” The last and least assumption of a tale that gives the general effect of superficiality. The things that Prof. Herrick has to tell us about his heroine are things that give us no surprise, and what is more, that seldom touch our emotions. It is not that she is trivial in herself—for so is Emmy Moran in “A Song of Sixpence” —but that she is presented trivially.
Books of amour! For example, “The Amateur Gentlemen, ” by Jeffery Farnol (Little-Brown), an old-fashioned, sentimental story about a pugilist’s son who inherits $3,500,000, goes to London to see life, is taken in hand by a very human duchess, and passes from our vision in the arms of his beloved. This Mr. Farnol is an accomplished romancer—not a Stevenson, perhaps, nor even an R. N. Stephens—but all the same he gives entertainment to those who love honest sentiment and derringdo, and are shocked by the complex adulteries of our pseudo-psychological novels. More sweet stuff in “The Impossible Boy,” by Nina Wilcox Putnam (Bobbs-Merritt), a tale of disguise and tender adventure. And yet more in “The Invaders,” by Frances N. S. Allen (Houghton- Mifflin), a story of conflict between hunkerous native and pushing immigrant in decadent New England, with love bringing peace. And yet more in “The Maiden Manifest,” by Delia Campbell MacLeod (Little- Brown), and “The Lovers of Skye,” by Frank Waller Allen (Bobbs-Merrill). And if you like to be shocked and thrilled, if your taste is for mysteries and bafflements that lift the pulse to 150, then I direct you to “The Crystal Stopper,” by Maurice Leblanc (Doubleday-Page), with its unparalleled guillotine scene; and to “Miss Mystery,” by Etta Anthony Baker (Little Brown), a tale of lost identity; and to “The Woman in Black,” by Edmund C. Bently (Century Co.), a detective yarn; and to “The Life Mask,” by the anonymous author of “To M. L. G.” (Stokes), in which the beautiful heroine, after serving ten years in prison for killing her husband, discovers that she didn’t kill him after all!
“Her Right Divine,” by Oliver Kent (Dillingham), is bound in brilliant scarlet, which is sufficient indication to the connoisseur that there is passion within. Even so. The beautiful Daphne What’s-her-name, lured into an alliance with the dark, fascinating Richard Lambert, discovers during the retreat from the altar that he is what M. Brieux denominates damaged goods. So she gives him a pension and goes to live alone. But happiness is not hers: her craving is for a child. Enter Gordon Hilary, handsome, agreeable, pure. A row of stars. . . . Extra! Extra! Richard Lambert Killed in Auto Crash! Daphne and Gordon are married in time for the christening. . . . Beth Manning, in “The Souls of Men,” by Martha M. Stanley (Dillingham), has a more orthodox conscience—and a better husband. But all the same, she is dragged to the very brink by Captain Reeves, a polished scoundrel. (“He would strive for a thing desired, even to the point of consulting seers, when his own scheming ability and intuition failed.”) Not until page 341 is it certain that she will return to her husband unscathed. . . . In “Jack Norton,” by E. Hofer (Badger), nothing happens at all. Jack, who is married, middle-aged and well-to-do, spends 211 pages making love to a trained nurse in a lunatic asylum, but in the end she resists him. And why? Because she is patriotic! “An unlawful relation,” she argues, “is in violation of the Constitution. You are dragging in the mire the flag of our country.” So Jack gives it up.
“The Eternal Maiden,” by T. Everett Harre (Kennerley), takes us far afield—to wit, to the bleak shores of Greenland, where little Annadoah, the half-caste Eskimo maiden, falls in love with Olafaksoah, the terrible white whaler. A bitter day for little Annadoah! When Olafaksoah responds, the other Eskimo girls grow jealous, and spread the story that she is a witch. And when her baby is born, after Olafaksoah has sailed southward and for gotten her, it is blind. (The eugenics motive!) Blind babies, among the Eskimos, are strangled and thrown overboard. But young Ootah, who loves Annadoah despite her erring, decides that this one must escape. Vain Ootah! The baby is duly drowned —and he himself with it. Then Annadoah kneels in the snow and is frozen to death. . . . A novel and interesting tale, for all its burdening with such gruesome words as ookiah, qiligtusset, nannook, ahttee, tornarssuit and ilistok. The one trouble with Mr. Harre is that he occasionally falls into a stilted, brummagem sort of eloquence. Writing more simply, he would obtain far better effects.
A difficult style is also a handicap to “War,” by John Luther Long (Bobbs Merrill). Mr. Long tries to tell all save the last chapter of a long story in the uncouth speech of a German farmer, and the result, in many a passage, is the breaking down of the illusion. The scene is Western Maryland at the time of the Civil War and the usual thrills of a war novel are all there. A beautiful Southern girl, living with Northern relatives, plays the hazardous role of a Confederate spy. When she is at the point of detection, one of her two lovers diverts suspicion to himself, and is forced to flee to Lee’s army. The other lover, his brother, shoulders a musket on the Federal side. At Gettysburg both are colonels, the one in blue and the other in gray. They meet in battle, face to face. One is killed. The other disappears and is never heard of again. More war is in “The Heart of the Hells,” by John Fox, Jr. (Scribner)— not the war between the States this time, but the even more savage conflict between incomprehensible factions in the Kentucky hills. The shooting of Goebel is an important incident: the young mountain hero is accused of the crime. But the charm of the story is not in any such melodrama of the towns, but in its picture of the hills and their people. This remote and mysterious region Mr. Fox has marked out for his own. He has made the feudists human. He has led us to understand their point of view, and even to grant it something of excuse and reasonableness.
“An Affair of State,” by J. C. Snaith (Doubleday-Page), is so wholly English that not many American readers, I fear, will find it interesting, despite the abounding vitality of the characters. It deals with a political crisis and is full of the minutiae of British politics. The opposing giants are James Draper, a Progressive with reservations, and the Duke of Rockingham, leader of the stand-patters. Draper’s wife is in love with the duke, and the duchess is sweet on Draper. No wonder the King himself has to step in at one stage of the combat! And no wonder a duel between Draper and the duke is narrowly averted! And no wonder the duke commits suicide in the end! In “The Daughter of Brahma,” by I. A. R. Wylie (Bobbs-Merrill), we are again among British officials of a high mightiness, but this time the scene is India, and so the political element is overshadowed by the romantic. Young David Hurst, son of a murdered subruler of that strange land, starts out in life with a heavy handicap—his mother’s contempt, no less. Jean Hurst admires strong, clean-limbed men : David is weak and crippled. She likes dominating, even brutal personalities: David is diffident and a dreamer. But this very contempt, ruthlessly rubbed in, is really the boy’s salvation, for it goads him on to reckless daring, and when he passes from the scene at last, it is as a heaven-kissing hero. Moral: Lay on, Macduff!
Short stories—a few volumes only. “Finerty of the Sandhouse,” by Charles D. Stewart (Century Co.), is a mere collection of anecdotes, humorous enough, in their extravagant, Dooleyish fashion, but scarcely worth lingering over. “The Green Bough,” by Mary Austin (Doubleday-Page), is a clumsy attempt to retell the story of Christ’s appearance after the Crucifixion, with the supernatural element left out. For poetry and charm, I prefer the accounts in Matthew xxviii, Mark xvi, Luke xxiv and John xx and xxi. For logical persuasiveness, I prefer the famous speculation of Thomas Henry Huxley. (You will find it under the title of “Agnosticism: a Rejoinder ” in the fifth volume of his Collected Essays.) Which brings us to “The Nest,” by Anne Douglas Sedgwick (Century Co.), a collection of five tales of widely varying merit. The best of them, I think, is that one which gives the book its name. Nicholas Holland, an Englishman approaching middle age, receives two staggering shocks in a single day. The first comes when his physician tells him that he has but a month to live; the second when he discovers his wife in the arms of Sir Walter Jones-Jones, a neighbor. But Nicholas makes no scene. Instead, he merely begs the erring Kitty to defer the elopement until after his death, to avoid a needless scandal. Kitty replies with protestations of fidelity. It is Nicholas that she really loves, and not Sir Walter: her one craving is for husbandly devotion. So there begins a new honeymoon—sad, soft, dripping with honey. In two weeks, of course, both are thoroughly tired of it. And when, at the end of the month, Nicholas fools his doctor by living on, they return to their old life of mutual avoidance and suspicion. An amusing story, told with considerable skill. But what a masterpiece Henry James would have made of it!
Enough of fiction! More interesting than the best of the current crop, and by far, are such serious books as “Human Quintessence,” by Sigurd Ibsen (Huebsch), and “The Discovery of the Future,” by H. G. Wells (Huebsch). Dr. Ibsen is the son of old Henrik, and suffers, like all such sons, from the blinding fame of his father. Because he has never written a play better than “Ghosts,” nor, indeed, any play at all, it is commonly assumed that he is a commonplace, and even stupid fellow. But nothing could be further from the truth, as you will quickly find on reading any one of the essays —say ” Nature and Man,” “Of Great Men,” or “Why Politics Lags Behind”—in his present book. Here, indeed, are the well-ordered reflections of a man of alert and penetrating mind, a sharp critic of popular delusions, a subtle psychologist, a resourceful analyst. The essay on politics is of particular vigor and sagacity: I know of no other discussion of the problem of government which gets closer to fundamentals and is less corrupted by false assumptions and conventional poppycock. But every one of these discourses is full of sense. The least of them will give you new points of view and stimulate you to profitable thought. So will the little book of Mr. Wells. Its aim is to show how the scientific progress of the past century has changed completely the outlook of man—how it has enabled us, for the first time, to peep into the future with seeing eyes—how the solution of the great problems that remain is ceasing to be a clumsy groping and fast becoming an organized and measurably exact enterprise, with success growing more certain year by year.
You will find much thoughtful stuff, too, in Havelock Ellis’s “The Task of Social Hygiene” (Houghton-Mifflin), though here the sweep of the author’s vision is so wide that he sometimes passes over interesting subjects a bit too hurriedly. One of the essays, however, is thoroughly worked out. Its title is “Immorality and the Law,” and it deals acutely with that snouting puritanism which is one of the chronic nuisances of life in the United States. There is scarcely an American city, large or small, without its well-organized posse of professional moralists, devoted frankly to ordering the private morals of the whole population. Sumptuary and intolerable legislation is proposed and put through; evil-doers of all sorts are raided and rowelled; the police and other public officials are given impossible tasks and denounced as scoundrels for not performing them. As Mr. Ellis shows, the one effect of this pious mountebankery is to destroy all respect for the laws. The average healthy citizen cannot get through a week without violating the more preposterous of them, and so he gradually grows indifferent to all of them. And the secondary effect is to paralyze and corrupt the police. They know by experience that it is wholly beyond their power to stamp out gambling, prostitution, Sunday liquor selling and other such purely artificial crimes, and so they end by making compromises with the offenders. However honest their efforts at the start, they are called grafters for their pains. No wonder they so often become grafters in reality! I wish every militant moralist could be forced to read Mr. Ellis’s extraordinary discussion of the problem.
Two more books, and I let you go. One of them is “The Stock Exchange from Within,” by W. C. Van Antwerp (Doubleday-Page), a clear explanation of the purposes and modus operandi of the exchange by one who understands it thoroughly and is a firm believer in its usefulness. The other is “Syndicalism, Industrial Unionism and Socialism,” by John Spargo (Huebsch), an equally clear explanation of the aims and methods of the three warring factions into which the saviors of the osseocaputs are now happily divided.
(Source: Hathitrust.org, https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=njp.32101076380425;view=1up;seq=339)