An Overdose of Novels

H.L Mencken

The Smart Set/December, 1911

HAVING just completed the reading of thirty works of fiction in thirty days, I sit up in my little white hospital cot and beg leave to inform you, in a quavering, exhausted voice, that “Ethan Frome,” by Edith Wharton (Scribner), and “Abe and Mawruss,” by Montague Glass (Doubleday-Page), are the best of them. A queer pair of books, to be sure. The one is grim, humorless, tragic; the other is a literary scherzo, a thing of shameless mirth. And yet why not? I am not one who perceives any inherent virtue in tragedy, or any inherent vice in comedy. Between “Othello” and “Much Ado About Nothing” there is no actual choice. The first is a masterpiece and the second is a masterpiece. One inclines to “Othello” when the skies are dark and to “Much Ado” when the skies are blue—or vice versa, according as one goes to art to foster or to blast a mood, for toxin or for antitoxin. And so with “Ethan Frome” and “Abe and Mawruss.” I can imagine a man reading the two volumes on two successive days, and getting civilized entertainment, and even a certain rare exhilaration, out of both of them. The feat, indeed, is very easy for me to picture, for I have actually accomplished it. If I work in bed today, with a talcumed nursegirl feeding me lemon and albumen through a bent tube, the blame is upon other and lesser books—some to be mentioned before I am done, others already burned and forgotten.

The virtue of “Ethan Frome” is the somewhat uncommon virtue of dignity—of that dignity which belongs to sound, conscientious, thoughtful execution. In design the thing is far from impeccable. Mrs. Wharton, in truth, begins downright clumsily. The narrative proper is hidden behind a sort of prologue—a device unnecessary and fruitful of difficulties. But once she gets into that narrative, once the bad start is over, the rest of the tale is managed with such grace and skill, with such nice balance and care for detail, that one quickly forgets the artificiality of its beginning. We have here, in brief, an excellent piece of writing. Mrs. Wharton has seldom given better evidence of her craftsmanship. The dismal story of Ethan Frome, the lorn New England farmer; of his silent sacrifices for his insane mother, his hypochondriac wife; of his pitiful yearning for little Mattie Silver; of his endless, hopeless struggle with the unyielding soil; of the slow decay and death of his hopes, his ambitions, his lingering joy in life—this story, as it is set down, gathers the poignancy of true tragedy. One senses the unutterable desolation of those Northern valleys, the meaningless horror of life in those lonely farmhouses. A breath of chill Norwegian wind blows across the scene. There is in Ethan some hint of Alfred Allmers, of Hjalmar Ekdal. He is the archetype of an American we have been forgetting, in our eagerness to follow the doings of more pushful and spectacular fellows. He is the American whom life has passed over like the lightnings, leaving him hurt and mute by the roadside.

In “Abe and Mawruss” there are eleven of Mr. Glass’s irresistible tales of the battles and philanthropies, the chicaneries and disputations, of Potash and Perlmutter, the most amusing fellows sent into the world since Kipling sent Mulvaney. No need to recall more than a few of them—you have read them all if you have two eyes, a movable diaphragm and a nickel a week to waste upon literature. One is the hilarious story of Abe Potash’s trip to Paris with Moe Griesman, Leon Sammet and Hymie Salzman, and of the unexpected and staggering ratification of Maurice Perlmutter’s genius as a designer. Another is the story of Max Koblin the raincoat king and his prodigal son Sydney. Another is the story of Felix Geigermann and the fake Amati violin. Yet another is the story of B. Gurin, the Yiddo-American Adonis, and the beauteous widow Gladstein. Make your own choice. I have howled over every one of them—and I have howled even louder over “Object: Matrimony,” the story of OneEye Feigenbaum and of Bertha the mustached. “Object: Matrimony” is not in the present collection. It was not in the earlier Glass book, “Potash and Perlmutter.” A lamentable oversight, for “Object: Matrimony” is one of the best comic tales in English. To find a better you must go pretty far back—far beyond O. Henry—all the way to 1888 and “The Taking of Lungtungpen.” Our short story writers, as a rule, do not run to humor. More often they are for the intense, the alarming, the affecting stuff. You will find twenty imitations of “Gallagher” and “The Man Who Would be King” to one of “The Jumping Frog.” But here at last is a man who drags laughs out of us until we ache—laughs little and laughs big, laughs which stop with a zigzagging of wrinkles and laughs which shake the whole frame.

And yet, for all that riot of mirth, Mr. Glass is no mere literary scaramouch. Unlike the late O. Henry, he never lets farcical and irrelevant details spoil his comedy. The trouble with Henry was that he could not resist the temptation to add one more touch, to gild the lily. His desperadoes and his revolutionists, his vaudevillains and his thieves, his cowboys and his bartenders—all spouted a slang that was just a bit too fantastic, just a bit too funny—and it was always the same slang. The result was that these folk faded into one another, that they were ill differentiated and unreal. When you think of an O. Henry story today you always think, not of a character in it, not of some flash of illumination, but of some startling, impossible metaphor, some incredible situation. Not so with the stories of Glass. They are essentially character sketches, and the humor in them grows out of character, and is not forced into it or superimposed upon it. In the dialogues between Abe and Morris there is nothing strained, nothing artificial. Its truth is even more assertive than its humor. It is the speech of the veritable Russian Jew, half Americanized and climbing fast, just as the dialogue of “The Playboy of the Western World” is the speech of the veritable Irishman. In each case an artist has exercised that selection which is art itself. But in neither case has he gone beyond his models, nor sought to bedizen them with outlandish gauds.

The chronicles of Abe and Morris have a deceptive appearance of facility. It seems easy to spin such droll colloquies, to devise such simple plots. But those of us who have poured out our sweat upon the making of short stories know just how much careful planning, just how much hard effort goes into every one of them. The machinery always runs with watchlike smoothness; every line of dialogue helps to the effect intended; there is never any clumsiness, never any misuse of materials. And always the personages of the tale stand out in the round. Not only Abe and Morris have the blood of life in them, but also Morris’s Minnie and Abe’s Rosie, Henry D. Feldman and DeWitt C. Feinberg, OneEye Feigenbaum and Felix Geigermann, Banker Feder and Uncle Mosha Kronberg, Moe Griesman and Miss Cohen the bookkeeper. Jews all, but Jews individualized and accurately drawn, each set off sharply from all the others, each a vivid portrait. Not that all are equally successful—far from it. To me, at least, Morris always seems a shade more real than Abe. One-Eye Feigenbaum stands out from the crowd, a comic masterpiece. So does Henry D. Feldman, though he is talked about oftener than seen. But taking the group as a whole, it is one which few other fictioneers of the day can match. Mr. Glass has made a genuine contribution to American comedy. He is a genuine humorist. He has made us roar over Abe and Morris—and he has somehow made us like them while we roar.

Whether “Rebellion,” by Joseph Medill Patterson (Reilly-Brilon), is the novelization of a drama or a novel that has been dramatized, I can’t tell you. As I compose these few lines a play bearing the same name and by the same author is on view in New York, and my spies bring me news that it follows the main plan of the book. I incline to the theory that the book was written first, or at least planned first, for there are a number of things in it which cannot be in the play, and they happen to be the very things which lift it above the commonplace and give it a sound excuse for existence. For instance, the staggering, accidental meeting between Mason Stevens and Georgia Connor, after Georgia has dismissed Mason and gone back to her drunken husband, and motherhood is upon her. For instance, the occasional swift, illuminating glimpses into the philosophy and ethics of Mason—into the philosophy and ethics of a diligent American business man, fearing women because they are distractions from trade, fearing nothing else, not even dishonor, so long as it feeds and fattens trade. Mr. Patterson makes Mason and Georgia extremely real, and that air of reality is achieved not so much by what he has them do as by what he has to say about them—by his discussion of their motives and habits of mind. Such a discussion, such an attempt at objective criticism, always rings false on the stage; it is possible only indirectly, and by devices of extraordinary ingenuity, and to play wrights of a high and mighty talent. But it is the very blood and substance of the novel, properly so called—the novel as opposed to the mere story. “Rebellion” is a genuine novel, a novel in all its essentials. It may be a bad novel, but in a land where novels, good or bad, are outnumbered by mere stories in a ratio of fifty to one, and not many persons notice either the fact or the difference, it is well to welcome an honest specimen, whatever its short comings, with a considerable hospitality.

Unluckily for Mr. Patterson, most of his effort is spent upon situations which show the defect of overfamiliarity. The divorce question was long ago torn to tatters by our native moralists. Not much that is new is to be said about it at this late day. We have heard all the arguments pro and con; we have wallowed in the obvious drama of the thing; we know its platitudes by heart. And so when Georgia turns from her drunken husband in disgust and falls under the eye of Mason Stevens, and slowly formulates the notion that it would be intensely agreeable to be Stevens’s wife, and admits it to Stevens himself, and then faces the awful anathema of the Church, and goes back to Jim and rues it almost instanter and turns to Stevens once more, and finally declares open rebellion against the Church, to the joy of Stevens and the horror of good Father Hervey—in all this there is no stimulating shock of surprise. It is an old, old story. Its end is in sight from its beginning.

But if we turn from this bare chronicle to what may be called its embellishment, from its facts to their interpretation, we find that Mr. Patterson has something to add to it—that he can create living characters and arouse our interest in their agonies; that he is a fellow who looks at life with alert and seeing eyes; that he himself is a personage in his tale, and a personage ingratiating and entertaining. He has thought about many things, as Max Beerbohm once said of George Bernard Shaw, deeply and indignantly. He is no mere spinner of idle tales, no mere phonograph of standardized wisdom. He is a definite, differentiated personality. His angle of vision may be too acute or too obtuse—but it is his own.

But why is he so lazy, so careless? In fifty places in “Rebellion” his narrative shows signs of a too hot haste. It needs elaboration, polishing, what the makers of hand paintings call “teasing up.” The very English in which it is written is a loose and ribald English. We are told that Georgia’s levity of behavior “undoubtedly got past Stevens at times”; that if he “never has a Panno Six it wasn’t her fault”; that it “would surprise her greatly if that was so”; that “when their meal was finished they matched for the check, and L. Frankland was stuck.” Little things; Shakespeare was guilty of worse—but Mr. Patterson is not a Shakespeare. He is simply a young American who has taken the trouble to examine the Americans about him, and who has interesting reports to make. His first story, “A Little Brother to the Rich,” suffered from a lack of humor—not so much in the story itself as in the teller. It was just a shade too pontifical, a shade too indignant. “Rebellion” shows a very noticeable improvement. It is a novel full of defects, but nevertheless it is a novel with more than one touch of genuine merit. Let us hope that Mr. Patterson will bring a little more care to his work next time. If he does he should produce a book worth serious consideration.

Lloyd Osbourne takes a madman’s chance in “A Person of Some Importance” (Bobbs-Merrill), for he makes the hero of that Homeric tale, young Matthew Broughton, an undertaker. Imagine an A. B. Wenzell hero, six feet eleven and a half inches in height, with shoulders as broad as a trolley car and a chin as square and as hard as the stone whiskers of an Assyrian effigy and legs as straight as shafts of light; a hero with the mouth of Julius Caesar, the nose of James K. Hackett, the eyes of Romeo Montague, the curly hair of Godfrey de Bouillon —imagine that god, that colossus, clad incremental and shiny sable, a crape around his hat, black gloves on his hands, a white rosebud, its stem wrapped in tinfoil, in his left lapel—imagine him, thus bedizened, worming his way on velvet, insinuating feet through the dense horde of mourners in the front parlor! Imagine him giving his swift, silent eyebrow signals to the officiating clergy men, to his corps of promoted piano movers, to the First and Second Gravediggers! Imagine him playing the cat like scene shifter in that most bizarre and obscene of all human spectacles, an American funeral! And yet Mr. Osbourne has the face to put poor Matthew through the awful adventure. A mere piece of bravura, I am convinced—a journeyman’s somewhat brazen display of virtuosity—an effort to drive MM. Locke and McCutcheon, McGrath and Chambers into envious rages and drunkards’ graves.

The worst of it is that Mr. Osbourne, to speak plain American, gets away with it. But only by disingenuous evasion, only by discreetly dodging the scenes a faire. One awaits breathlessly the meeting between Matthew in his gauds of grief and the beauteous Christine Marshall—and it never comes. One pictures him torn away from her side at the thou sand and first kiss to boss the embalming of some extinct plumber—encountering her on the road near her father’s palace, he in his undertaker’s buggy, at the head of a fraternal order funeral, with the corpse wrapped in an American flag and the pallbearers wearing white aprons, vermilion baldrics and green rosettes, and already comfortably in liquor—but such pictures never flash across the screen. All the while that Matthew is busy with shrouds and black mittens Christine is far, far away. By the time she comes back the villains have intrigued him out of his job and are pre paring to blow him up with dynamite. She never knows. When she left him he was looking for work, and when she returns he is looking for work. And then they are married and go to San Francisco, and the villains lure them into the South Seas, and there the Emperor of Austria, passing in a battleship, sends for Matthew and gives him an island and $100,000, all of which is the reward of virtue, as you will duly discover for yourself when you read this galloping, this absorbing, this unprecedented tale. If the diamond belt doesn’t go to Mr. Osbourne at once I shall murder the next barber who hands me the Police Gazette. Where are Locke’s fantastic heroes now? Who will ever beat Matthew the undertaker?

After the first few chapters, which are abominably dull, the story of “The “Judgment,” by Mary R. H. King (De Mille), is chiefly physiological. Eleanor Howard, married to the rich and wicked William Manning, finds herself in danger of losing him, and his negotiable securities with him. The trouble is that William craves a son to carry on his crimes after he is gone—and has been refused that boon by the gods. Not believing in the gods, he blames it all on Eleanor, and threatens to sue her for divorce. As for Eleanor, she has a private theory that the calamity is otherwise explicable, and to test that theory she departs from the strict monogamy which, according to another and more widespread theory, is the duty of every wife. There ensues the son craved by William, to his genuine astonishment and no less genuine joy. He lavishes his riches upon Eleanor and the boy, ran sacking the bazaars of the world, searching for gifts of unprecedented magnificence and value. The first tooth keeps him sober for twenty-four hours; the first tottering footstep brings him to the awful brink of actual respectability. But meanwhile Eleanor yearns for the Other. She can never forget the real papa of her darling. Why then, you may ask, doesn’t she call a taxicab and have herself hauled into his presence? Alas, she doesn’t know where he is, doesn’t even know his name, wouldn’t recognize him if she met him on the street! Do such marvels excite your curiosity, your incredulity? Do you opine that things so wondrous may not be? Then buy “The Judgment” and see for yourself. This is not a medical journal, and therefore I can tell you no more. But I can tell you, and so do with a sense of duty honestly performed, that I have found this one of the cheapest and silliest, one of the most stupid and clumsy and preposterous novels I have ever read. It lacks even the one redeeming virtue of healthy, human indecency—of indecency hearty and unashamed. Its very nastiness is infantile and ludicrous.

There are novels that I simply cannot read, trying my honest damndest. Of such sort, for example, are the compositions of Eden Phillpotts. I am perfectly willing to grant that they have merits. I am even willing to grant, upon sound, sworn testimony, that they have few if any faults. And yet their drab yokels floor me. In the midst of the suffering and striving, the calving and expiring of such remote and unearthly folk, my thoughts go drifting to Port Antonio harbor, ghostly in the dawn—to the first night of “Florodora” at the old Casino—to the eternally marvelous fact that two twos are four—to a dim, half-mythical girl I loved in 1902, or 1903, or some time thereabout—to some other spectral, far-off event, person, scene, meal, treachery, indignity, guffaw, dream, emotion. To the tomes of the lugubrious Phillpotts now add “The Miller of Old Church,” by Ellen Glasgow (Doubleday-Page). The majority of American reviewers have cast their votes for it enthusiastically. One of them calls it “Miss Glasgow’s strongest book”; another says that it proves beyond a doubt that “her hand is sure”; a third maintains that it is the best Southern novel written in ten years; a fourth compares it to the works of the great Victorians. I wish I could join in this chorus, but I could not do so without gross deception, for the good reason that I have been unable, after earnest effort, to read the story. I have tried and tried and tried. But I can’t. I don’t know why. Prejudice? I think not. Temporary insanity? Perhaps. But whatever the cause, the obstructive fact remains. So I pass on to you the kind words said of the tale by those who have read it and enjoyed it.

The same vicarious praise must suffice for “The Likable Chap,” by Henry Davenport (Sturgis-Walton); “The Sultan’s Rival,” by Bradley Gilman (Small-Maynard); “The Young Timber Cruisers,” by Hugh Pendexter (Small-Maynard), and “The Second Boys’ Book of Model Aeroplanes,” by Francis A. Collins (Century Co.). I put these volumes into the hands of a connoisseur of fourteen, accompanied by a modest honorarium and a request for judgment. His report was as follows:

“ ‘The Likable Chap’ is a bully book and also very comical. I wish there were more such books written. ‘The Sultan’s Rival’ is also a bully book, and full of interesting adventures among the Moroccans. ‘The Young Timber Cruisers’ is one of the best books I have ever read. The cover says there will be five more in that series. I hope you will get them. The book about aeroplanes has many pictures showing aeroplanes made by boys, and tells how to do it. Much obliged for the dollar.”

I tried to foist “Harmony Hall,” by Marion Hill (Small-Maynard), upon this same literary youth, but he would have none of it, for the cover gives plain warning that it is “a story for girls.” Alas, it so happens that my circle of friends in this present desolate year includes no maiden in the pigtailed decade between linen books and best sellers. I know one or two faintly, formally, at a distance, but not one well enough to burden her with my labors. So I have gone through the book myself, and emerge from it with the report that it is a pleasant story about an angelic big sister and a household rescued from trouble by her industry. Another such: “Patty,” by Jean Webster (Century Co.), a collection of merry boarding-school tales. Finally, there are “The Dutch Twins,” by Lucy Fitch Perkins (Houghton-Mifflin), and “The One-Footed Fairy,” by Alice Brown (Houghton- Mifflin), two very inviting collections of stories designed for reading aloud to kids too young to read themselves, each with pictures of quite unusual merit.

“The Dangerous Age,” by Karin Michaelis (Lane), is the sad, sad story of a Marie Bashkirtseff of forty-two bitter years. Why does Frau Elsie Lindtner, thus standing at the very gates of antiquity, desert her good husband, Herr Richard Lindtner, the Copenhagen grosshandler, and her luxurious home in the Old Market place, and go to live in that lonely villa on the Danish coast, with only her maid, Jeanne, and her scullion, Torp, to mitigate her solitude? A mysterious matter, indeed! “Apparently,” she writes home to Richard, “I was not meant for married life. . . . I wish in my heart of hearts that I had something to reproach you with—but I have nothing against you of any sort or kind.” And later on, writing to Frau Lillie Rothe, her cousin and confidante : “One day the impulse—or whatever you like to call it—took possession of me that I must live alone—quite alone and all to myself. Call it an absurd idea, an impossible fancy; call it hysteria—which perhaps it is—I must get right away from everybody and everything.” Even when the exile’s thoughts begin to turn wantonly to Jorgen Malthe, the young architect— even when she confesses flatly that she has loved him for ten years—one feels somehow that it was not Jorgen who lured her from her Richard. That feeling is reinforced when, after a year’s meditation, she sends for Jorgen. Her plan appears to be that he shall hang up his hat for an indefinite visit. He arrives one morning . . . and departs the same evening! Oh, lamentable! But there is still Richard, good old Richard. Alas, the pardon comes too late. Richard has just married a new wife—a new one, and what is worse, a young one. All the flabbergasted Elsie can do is to attempt a feeble and somewhat indecent joke about proud papas and baby carriages.

But it is not the plot that gives excuse for “The Dangerous Age,” and has sent it through forty editions in Germany, half a dozen in France and goodness knows how many in its native Scandinavia—but the alkaline philosophy of Elsie. She is a specialist in the perfectly dreadful, a virtuoso of ladylike impropriety. She conducts an extensive correspondence upon obstetrical and psychiatrical themes. She and Jeanne swap amazing confidences. She composes elaborately devilish apothegms. For example: “If a woman took pains to reveal herself to a husband or lover just as she really is, he would think she was suffering from some incurable mental disease.” Again: “Who does not think well of mother and sister? But who believes entirely in mother or sister?” Yet again: “Women’s doctors may be as clever and sly as they please, but they will never learn any of the things that women confide to one another.” And so on and so on. Banal stuff! Nietzsche in gelee—with chocolate and zwieback! And yet, when I first read it, in the awful German language, it seemed racy enough. Can it be that German shows off such things to better advantage than English, that its stately cacophony gives a certain dignity to thin ideas, even to silly ideas? Can this be the secret of German profundity, of German heroics, of German pathos—which last, in English, so often becomes mere beeriness? I wonder? Meanwhile I offer my affidavit that “Das Gefahrliche Alter” was extremely saline, while “The Dangerous Age” is merely brackish. And while I am upon the subject, I may as well tell you that in “Elsie Lindtner,” the sequel—as yet unclawed into English—Elsie goes upon a jaunt around the world, adopts a tough boy in New York and takes him back to Denmark to civilize him—while Jeanne the maid marries Jorgen Malthe. Such is the sardonic ending of the Elsiad.

Which discourse of salinity and sequels recalls the fact that a new edition of “The Story of Mary MacLane” (Bitfield) has just come from the press— a new edition with an epilogue by the Mary MacLane of today, twenty-eight by the family Bible and considerably dephlogisticated by the harsh winds of the world. Let me confers a frank partiality for that extraordinary book—a partiality grounded upon the notion that it is very respectable as a work of art—perhaps as respectable as any other the Western steppes have yet yielded. When it was first published, in 1902, the yellow journalists fell upon it with a whoop. Mary became famous overnight—but in the way that Cesare Lombroso, Camille Flammarion, Hall Caine, Marie Corelli and other such gladiators of the Sunday supplements were famous. The fact that one living in Butte, Montana, should have a horror of codfish balls, colored underwear, tapeworms, fried beef steak, nice old ladies, unripe bananas, gentlemen, false teeth and the works of Archibald Clavering Gunter, and that, having this horror, she should mention it in company—this caused the whole American people to stop, look and listen. But besides the fact that Mary’s phobias were vastly less remarkable than her way of defending them; that she not only had something to say, but knew how to say it with quite amazing effectiveness—there was a fact that got lost in the excitement. If you are one of those who failed to find it, my advice is that you gallop to the nearest department store for this new edition, with its epilogue in B flat minor and its two portraits of Mary at twenty-eight. And if, after reading that epilogue, you will kindly send me upon a postcard the names of six living American scriveners who could have written it, or any other piece of prose comparable to it for barbaric color, for bizarre individuality, for the skillful extraction and compounding of toxic verbal juices, alkaloids, miasmas—then I shall be very glad indeed to present you with a lock of my hair.

The lady author of another volume, “The Autobiography of an Elderly Woman” (Houghton-Mifflin) is beyond all great rages or tragic glooms. The one thing left to her is senile querulousness. She objects to the immobility of age, to the isolation of age, even to the dignity of age. It wounds her that her middle-aged children should pay large heed to her comforts and small heed to her opinions. She denies petulantly the bitter fact that their experience of life is now actually greater than her own—that it has covered substantially the same ground, from the great adventures of childhood down to the time of fixed values, of mere repetition—and that it has, in addition, the enormous advantage of being close to its events, of holding the vividness of the recent. An unhappy, a somewhat waspish, a more than half absurd old dame. Alas, that the years should make tragic comedians of us all! Old dames—doctors; the mind makes the leap automatically. And here is the doctor, in “The Corner of Harley Street” (Houghton-Mifflin), a collection of reflections and speculations, wabbling rather timorously around the obvious, upon a great multitude of subjects, from dietetics to auricular confession, and from the miracles at Lourdes to the novels of Mrs. Humphrey Ward. The good doctor has little to say, but he says that little suavely.

“Her Roman Lover,” by Eugenia Brooks Frothingham (Houghton-Mifflin); “Dividing Waters,” by I. A. R. Wyke (Bobbs-Merrill), and “Awakening,” by Maud Diver (Lane), all deal with the perils and pitfalls of exogamy. Of the three, the first named is by far the best, both in design and in workmanship. Anne Warren is not a millionaire’s daughter, and Gino Curatulo, whom she meets and loves in his native Rome, is neither a prince nor a pauper. No question of money or of rank enters into their relations. They are both merely well bred, well-to-do, highly civilized individuals of their respective races. It is precisely because she has thus put aside all the customary machinery of international romance that Miss Frothingham is able to devote herself to a keen and searching study of racial differences. For Anne and Gino differ and part—part before they have ever come to the irremediable folly of marriage. And why? For the good and sufficient reason that, to an American woman, an Italian man is eternally outlandish, disconcerting, amazing, inexplicable. For the good and sufficient reason that, to an Italian man, an American woman is of the same mysteries, the same perplexities all compact. The story is well planned and well written. It has distinction.

“Dividing Waters” would be worthy of high praise, too, were it not that Miss Wylie drops now and then into unconvincing melodrama. Her heroine is an English girl who marries a German officer. England and Germany fall out, preparations for war are begun—and the bridegroom is in the forefront of the fray. The bride flees to England and her own people. Later on, of course, she comes back; the curtain falls upon pathos and a platitude. It is not, however, its play of events so much as its intimate picture of German life that gives the story whatever value it may be said to possess. In “Awakening” the man is an Englishman and the woman is a high-caste Hindoo. They love and wed. Difficulty after difficulty is overcome. But, after all, the greatest difficulty remains: what of the children-to-be—“unearthly, hybrid waifs of the world, neither white nor brown, the sport of their father’s race, the curse of their mother’s?” Miss Diver solves the problem sentimentally.

There are five short stories in the book called “The Man Who Could Not Lose,” by Richard Harding Davis (Scribner), and four of them are silly beyond description. The hero of the title story, young Champneys Carter, is one of those fashionable and fascinating beings who give a tone of manly elegance, of valeted dignity, to the whole of Mr. Davis’s works. But Champneys, alas, is not rich—not, at least, when he marries Dorothy Ingram, the exquisite and only daughter of Mrs. Ingram the billionaire widow. He was born rich and he is destined to die even richer, but at the moment we first meet him he is leading the life of a struggling literary man and Mr. Davis confesses frankly that he is poor. And yet, despite this poverty, despite the fact that bilious editors shun his fiction, he manages to pay off the debts of honor of his defunct and bankrupt father, to go in for dinners and week-end parties, golf and tennis matches upon a considerable scale, and to save the sum of three thousand dollars cash. How does he do it? The answer must be that of Mr. Taft to the Cooper Union Socialist: God knows! But no need to ponder such recondite problems. Champneys, soon after he elopes with Dorothy and gets rid of his three thousand, discovers a way to make money fast. A cheque for one hundred comes in from Plympton’s Magazine. He lays it upon Dromedary, a nag scorned by the talent. That night he deposits twenty-five hundred in the Night and Day Bank. It is page thirty-three. On page thirty-eight he has twenty-two thousand; on page forty-four he has a handbag full of thousand-dollar bills; on page forty-nine he wins seventy thousand more. Just how much he has got on page sixty-five, when the curtain comes down, I don’t know. And neither do I know why Mr. Davis stops so soon. Surely a story of such sapience and plausibility, of such intense interest to civilized human beings might have been spun out to the length of a novel. When an author hits upon so good an idea it is his duty to his readers to make the most of it. The waste of valuable products, whether of the soil or of human genius, must inevitably give distress to the cultured observer.

 

(Source: Hathitrust.org, https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=njp.32101076380292;view=1up;seq=762)