Christmas Books

H.L. Mencken

Baltimore Evening Sun/December 21, 1910

Discoursing yesterday upon books suitable for Christmas presents, I gave the names of a score or more of new novels of sound merit—H. G. Wells’ “Mr. Polly,” Locke’s “Simon the Jester,” Henry Milner Rideout’s “Dragon’s Blood,” Jack London’s “Burning Daylight,” David Graham Phillips’ “The Husband’s Story” and others after their kind. To these might be added Locke’s “A Christmas Mystery,” one of the best Christmas tales in English; May Sinclair’s “The Creators,” Henry James’ “The Finer Grain,” a collection of short stories; Dr. S. Weir Mitchell’s “The Guillotine Club,” Charles Marriott’s “Now” and A. S. M. Hutchinson’s “Once Aboard the Lugger.” There is good work in every one of these books. They are worth reading. Some of them are even worth reading twice.

My little list, you will notice, does not include the latest compositions of Robert W. Chambers, George Barr McCutcheon, the Williamsons, Grace MacGowan Cooke, Winston Churchill, Meredith Nicholson, E. Phillips Oppenheim, Anthony Hope, Rider Haggard, Gertrude Atherton, Mrs. Humphrey Ward, Katharine Cecil Thurston, Anna Katharine Green and other such manufacturers of best-sellers. These omissions are not due to oversight. I have looked through most of the books I deliberately leave out Chambers’ “Ailsa Page,” for example, and Mrs. Cooke’s “The Power and the Glory,” and Nicholson’s “54-40 or Fight,” and Mrs. Ward’s “Lady Merton, Colonist,” and Mrs. Atherton’s “Tower of Ivory,” and Oppenheim’s “The Lost Ambassador,” and Mrs. Thurston’s “Max,” and Hope’s “Second String.” They are empty and clumsy books, all of them, and I do not advise you to give them to any friend you esteem.

Good Work By Americans

Rather give some novel of older vintage—any of Conrad’s or George Moore’s, for example, or Frank Norris’ “McTeague,” or Phillips’ “The Hungry Heart,” or Theodore Dreiser’s “Sister Carrie.” “Sister Carrie” is one of the best novels ever written by an American, and yet most novel readers seem to be unaware of its existence. Norris’ books are better known, but not so well known as they should be. Death cut short the career of this young man when he seemed to be on the point of doing really remarkable things. As it is, we have half a dozen novels from his pen, and at least three of them—“McTeague,” “The Pit” and “The Octopus”—are of a high order of merit. Also, let us not forget Stephen Crane’s excellent collections of short stories, particularly that called “The Monster and Other Tales.” George Ade’s “In Babel” is another book that will do honor to any American’s library.

If you have a friend who leans toward poetry, send him the two thin volumes of Lizette Woodworth Reese—“A Wayside Lute” and “A Branch of May”—both of which have been reprinted of late in beautiful form by Thomas R. Mosher, of Portland, Maine. The price of the first, if I make no mistake, is $1.50 and that of the second, $1.25. Miss Reese, who is a Baltimorean, by the way, has here gathered the best fruits of her fancy—her memorable sonnet, “Tears,” a half dozen other splendid sonnets and two score of fine songs and ballads. Other excellent recent books of poetry are Alfred Noyes’ “The Enchanted Island,” Madison Cawein’s “New Poems,” Father Tabb’s “Later Poems” and the new collections of Theodosia Garrison and Richard le Gallienne. But in William Watson’s “Sable and Purple” there is little worth reading.

Printed Plays Are Numerous

I gave yesterday a brief list of printed plays that may be counted on to interest all intelligent lovers of the theatre. Scores of additional titles might be added, for the publishers have been giving a great deal of attention to the drama of late. Most of the plays of A. W. Pinero are now to be had in well-printed pamphlets at 50 cents apiece. There are 25 or 26 of them in all—enough to make 7 or 8 sizable volumes. The plays of Jones, for many of them are published by the Macmillans in cloth, with paper labels, at 75 cents each. There is also another edition of Jones, somewhat larger and with the detailed stage directions, but costing no more.

Five or six of Clyde Fitch’s plays, identical in form with the Jones plays, are on the Macmillan list. So are the poetical dramas of Percy Mackaey—“Sappho and Phaon,” “Jeanne d’ Arc,” “Fenris the Wolf,” “The Canterbury Pilgrims” and “The Scarecrow.” The price of each is $1.25. The set would make a splendid present for one who likes good blank verse. Mackaye’s two plays in prose, “Mater” and “Anti-Matrimony,” are also published, the first by the Macmillans and the second by Stokes, and both at $1.25.

A large number of translated plays from the German, French, Russian, Swedish and Italian have appeared of late. Franz Wedekind’s “The Awakening of Spring” is one of them—a searching study of adolescence. It is strong stuff, and you had better not give it to your pastor. Other plays for the tough-minded only are August Strindberg’s “The Creditor,” “The Father” and “Motherlove.” Less alkaline are the one-acters of Hermann Sudermann, the foremost living playwright of Germany. They appear in two volumes, one called “Roses” and the other “Mortituri,” and both volumes are published by the Scribners at $1.25. Rostand’s “Chantecler,” in French and English, and Maeterlinck’s “The Blue Bird” and “Mary Magdalene” are on all of the book counters. So are the Ibsen plays, in their familiar maroon covers, and the plays of Shaw, in their dark blue.

 Critics And Their Work

Many excellent critical works in English are coming from the presses. Huneker’s “Iconoclasts” is now six or seven years old, but its chapters upon Ibsen, Strindberg, Sudermann, Becque and Nietzsche are still interesting and valuable. Of more recent date are Percival Pollard’s “Their Day in Court,” an acute study of latter-day literature, particularly American; Walter Pritchard Eaton’s “At the New Theatre,” a book of sound and informing criticism, and the various volumes of A. B. Walkley, dramatic critic of the London Times. Among recent stage memoirs the most important are Paul Wilstach’s life of Masnfield, Ellen Terry’s volume of recollections and the late Mme. Helena Modjeska’s. “Memories and Impressions.” The last named is a beautiful book copiously illustrated, and sells for $4.

(Source: University of North Texas, Microfilm Collection)

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