Getting Rid of the Actor

H.L. Mencken

The Smart Set/September 1913

Why waste a whole evening, once or twice a week, in a stuffy and over-red theater, breathing zymotic air, sniffing discordant perfumery, looking at idiotic scenery, listening to the bleeding English of ignorant and preposterous actors? Have you ever, in all your life, seen five leading men who actually looked like civilized gentlemen, or even like the authentic valets, head clerks or unburied corpses of civilized gentlemen? Have you ever sat through a whole performance without wishing it were possible to take at least one of the actors out into the alley, there to do execution of the lex non scripta upon him? Eheu, Postume, what all of us have suffered at the hands of such strutting mummers and mountebanks! How we have writhed and squirmed beneath their astounding outrages upon the vulgate! How we have leaped and squealed under their broad “a’s,” their fearful renderings of proper names, their obscene attempts at boarding school French! How our paws have itched to grab them by the collars of their advanced coats, and to strangle them with their futurist shirts, and to anatomize them with the razor edges of their superbly ironed pantaloons! . . . What is worse than an actor? Two actors? Three actors? A whole stage full of actors! An endless succession of actors! . . .

There are, of course, such things as good actors. Let us be just and admit it. I have seen and known a few myself, and have heard of a few more. There are half a dozen in England and as many in France. In Germany, I dare say, the police have the names of twenty. (One memorable night, in that strange land, I saw two on the stage at once!) But is the good actor, either at home or abroad, the normal actor, the average actor? Of course he is not. He is the rare actor, the miraculous actor, almost the fabulous actor. Examine a hundred bartenders and you will find that fully sixty of them actually know how to tend bar: they can mix a cocktail that, whatever its faults, is at least fit to drink, and they have the craft needed to draw a seidel of Pilsener and to beat the cash register. But in the allied art of acting there is no such general dispersion of talent. A handful of outstanding super-actors have it all. The rest of them not only don’t know how to act, but they don’t know that they don’t know.

Argue with them for years, and you will never convince them that the mushy jargon they speak is not English. Chain them to mirrors until they die, dry up and blow away, and they will never notice that the clothes they wear are not worn by cultured white men, and that the way they walk, gesticulate, make love, blow their noses, commit murders, crawl, lope, die, eat, trot, pace, jump out of a window, climb up a rainspout, sing, sneeze, roar, whoop, swear, pray, sit down and get up is not the way affected by the free citizens of any Christian commonwealth. No; the average actor never notices these things. He never notices anything—saving only the doings of other actors. These rivals, whom he despises (and usually with reason), he devotes himself to imitating. The result is the so-called art of acting— an art as thoroughly dehumanized as that of cutting tombstones.

But how to escape these assassins of English, these libelers of dramatists, these pestiferous gnats and gadflies of our hours of ease? The thing is as simple as marrying a widow! Don’t see plays; read them. Don’t go to a theater for your dramatic entertainment, but to a bookstore. Don’t pay two dollars for a seat between two fat women; seventy-five cents will buy you the play, and you may read it in comfort and at your leisure, spread out in your own quiet library, miles away from plush and perfumery, a jug and a siphon at your side, your nose untortured, your mind untroubled, your soul ripe for adventures among masterpieces.

Time was when it was difficult. Time was when it was almost impossible. But no more. The Ibsen plays led the way and the Shaw plays followed after. Today a new play is published almost as soon as it is performed—and sometimes even before. And if, now and then, it is not published—if a dramatist or a manager, growing wise, fears to let your eyes compete with his actors—then don’t let it worry you. You will not be missing much. All of the good plays, with very few exceptions, are being printed today. Most of the bad ones—the cheap and tawdry melodramas, the machine-made sentimental comedies, the “strong” variations upon borrowed themes, the tedious adaptations of French and German farces, the Aztec Romances” and “Master Minds,” the exquisite confections of David Belasco and Charles Klein—are not being printed.

You can now get, in any bookstore, all of the dramas of Henrik Ibsen, John Millington Synge, John Galsworthy, Lady Augusta Gregory, William Butler Yeats, Granville Barker, Leo Tolstoi, Maxim Gorki, Alfred Sutro, St. John Hankin, Stephen Phillips, Percy Mackaye, Maurice Maeterlinck, Oscar Wilde, Israel Zangwill and Henry Arthur Jones, and all save one or two of George Bernard Shaw, Arthur Wing Pinero and Arnold Bennett. A complete edition of Gerhart Hauptmann, admirably translated, has now reached its second volume and seventh play, and several other Hauptmann plays are to be had separately. Of the dramas of August Strindberg, at least fifteen have been translated—twice as many as have ever been acted in English—and two or three further volumes are announced. The principal plays of Eugene Brieux have been in English for two years or more, and his complete canon is soon to follow. So with the plays of Hermann Sudermann: I read his “Heimat” (Magda) in the vulgate so long ago as the year 1900. So with Frank Wedekind. So with Arthur Schnitzler. So with Bjornstjerne Bjornson. So with Jose Echegaray. So, to finish the foreigners, with Anton Tchekoff, Leonid Andreiff, Paul Hervieu, Edmond Rostand and Hugo von Hofmannsthal.

All the best plays of the late Clyde Fitch, including “The Climbers,” “The Truth” and “Nathan Hale,” are now to be had in pretty little cloth-bound books at seventy-five cents apiece. For the same price you can get most of the pieces presented by the New Irish Theater Company, and such excellent things as Stanley Houghton’s “Hindle Wakes,” and Melchior Lengyel’s “Typhoon,” and Jerome K. Jerome’s “The Passing of the Third Floor Back,” and Franz Adam Beyerlein’s “Lights Out” (Taps), and Nikolai V. Gogol’s “The Inspector General,” and Herman Heijermans’s “The Ghetto,” and Laurence Housman’s “Pains and Penalties,” and the amusing light comedies of Hubert Henry Davies, W. Somerset Maugham and R. C. Carton. For a dollar or $1.25 you can get Edward Sheldon’s “The Nigger,” Paul Heyse’s “Mary of Magdala,” John Masefield’s “The Tragedy of Nan,” Charles Frederic Nirdlinger’s version of Jose Echegaray’s “El Gran Galeoto” (The World and His Wife), Edward Knoblauch’s “Kismet,” Rudolph Besier’s “Don” and “Lady Patricia,” Arthur Schnitzler’s “Anatol,” William Vaughn Moody’s “The Great Divide,” Githa Sowerby’s “Rutherford and Son,” and Josephine Preston Peabody’s “The Piper.” And if your taste is for more elemental things, there are “Arizona” and “Alabama,” the best plays of Augustus Thomas, not to mention “As a Man Thinks,” his worst; and Anthony Hope Hawkins’s “The Adventures of Lady Ursula,” and Richard Harding Davis’s “The Dictator,” and B. McDonald Hastings’s “The New Sin,” and Charles Rann Kennedy’s “The Servant in the House,” and Louis N. Parker’s “Disraeli,” and most of the pieces of Haddon Chambers, Sydney Grundy and Madeline Lucette Ryley. In England, as on the Continent, practically all of the living dramatists now print their plays. So far as I know, indeed, there is but one of distinction who refuses to do so, and that one is Sir James M. Barrie.

Glance through the current publishers’ announcements and you will find ten plays for every one printed five years ago, or even two years ago. The Duffields labor with an ambitious series called “Plays of Today and Tomorrow”; the Scribners, having given us Ibsen in three different editions, now devote themselves to Strindberg, Tchekoff and Bjornson; the Boston firm of Luce & Company publishes Synge, Lady Gregory and the rest of the Neo-Celts, beside Strindberg, Sudermann and a number of Englishmen; the Macmillans give us the new things of Phillips, Jones, Zangwill and Sheldon; Mr. Huebsch tackles Hauptmann in five volumes of more than six hundred pages each; and Mr. Kennerley, having tried his hand with Schnitzler, Hankin, Barker and Masefield, proceeds bravely to Becque, Lange, Wied, Giacosa and Bergstrom, and announces that he is going to print the unacted dramas of a number of outreaching Americans. And on my desk at the moment, despite the fact that the late summer is a poor, poor time for publishing anything, I find no less than a dozen volumes of plays, including Mrs. Katrina Trask’s “In the Vanguard” (Macmillan), Harry Kemp’s “Judas” (Kennerley), George Moore’s “Esther Waters” (Luce), the second volume of the Luce Strindberg, the same volume of the Huebsch Hauptmann, Elizabeth Baker’s “Chains” (Luce), Stanley Houghton’s “Hindle Wakes” (Luce), and several contributions from Irishmen who follow Synge and Lady Gregory.

The best of all these current plays, I think, are “Chains,” “Hindle Wakes” and the “Mary Broome” of Allan Monkhouse (Luce). The first named, when it was presented in London two years ago, made a small sensation, and no doubt it would have succeeded in this country, too, had not Charles Frohman, that incomparable patron of dramatic art, hired a Broadway dramatizer to denaturize it and write a happy ending for it. In the original there is no happy ending. It is plain tragedy—the sodden, greasy tragedy of everyday. Charlie Wilson, an underpaid London clerk, revolts against the narrowness and emptiness of his life. He is tired of sitting at a desk all day and of looking at his wife across a table all evening. Fired by the example of a boyhood friend, he resolves to break the chains, go out to Australia, and there seek a man’s work and a man’s opportunities. Easier planned, alas, than done! His wife and his wife’s relatives are solidly against it. They accuse him of wanting to desert his responsibilities; they denounce him as if he were some fugitive from justice. But Charlie clings to his plan; if they will not let him go with their blessing, he will sneak away and prove them wrong. Then destiny plays him her inevitable joke. His wife has a weapon left—the news, to wit, that she is to become a mother. Poor Charlie surrenders. A map of Queensland is on the wall. Resignedly he pulls it down and tears it into bits.

An excellent play for reading, well constructed and well written. Of almost equal merit is “Hindle Wakes,” whatever its misadventures in the theater. Here the story is a cynical reductio ad absurdum of the ancient fable of the seduced virgin. Fanny Hawthorn is the girl, and the young man who “plays her false” (with her full knowledge and enthusiastic consent) is Alan Jeffcote, son of her father’s employer. Old Jeffcote, getting news of the adventure, resolves to enact the magnificent role of the Spartan father. That is to say, he sends for Fanny and orders his son to marry her. But Fanny is a modern! The tears of the Magdalen are not for her. She refuses flatly to marry the reluctant Alan, or even to discuss the matter. He was good enough for a light-hearted week end, but the thought of being tied to him for life appalls her. Thus the ancient Jeffcote is flabbergasted and another familiar moral tale is stood on its head. Much the same story is told in “Mary Broome,” and with equal skill. Both plays, indeed, belong assertively to the new drama of ideas. You may object to them in certain details, but you cannot escape rejoicing over their clear and straightforward thinking, their freedom from conventional rumble-bumble, their obvious honesty of purpose.

Mrs. Trask’s “In the Vanguard” has been getting an enormous amount of notice in the newspapers, like her “King Alfred’s Jewel” before it, but I am unable to discern any merit in it, either as a play or as an argument. It is, in fact, a very commonplace and platitudinous tract against war, and all of the characters are stuffed with mush. Specifically, it tells us how one Philip, a young lawyer, is urged to go to war by his sweetheart, Elsa, and how he is converted to the Lake Mohonk doctrine by a wounded enemy, and how he thereupon refuses a commission and leaves the camp, and how Elsa, seeing a great light, loves him for his desertion as she once loved him for his daring, and how the public odium visited upon him is made up for by the rich Mr. Greart, who gives him a permanent and lucrative job and so enables him to marry. From end to end of this highly artificial piece the dialogue is stilted and the action is laborious. The arguments it presents are old and full of moth holes, and the way in which they are presented does not give them any air of newness. In brief, a clumsy and stupid composition.

Equally dull, I regret to report, are “Judas,” by Harry Kemp (Kennerley), “The Ice Lens,” by George Frederick Gundelfinger (Shakespeare Press), “Jacob Lisler,” by W. O. Bates (Kennerley), and “The Americans,” by Edwin Davies Schoonmaker (Kennerley). The first is an attempt to explain Judas’s betrayal of Christ; the second is a tin pot melodrama in a college setting; the third is a historical tragedy of seventeenth century New York, and the fourth—but the fourth I have been unable to read at all, and so I can’t tell you what it is. The chief trouble with each of these plays is that the author has little skill at writing natural dialogue. Such a lack, it must be plain, is bound to be fatal to a stage play, even to a stage play planned for reading. The long and bombastic speeches of Mr. Gundelfinger ‘s heroes and villains amuse the reader at first, but pretty soon they begin to bore him; and the vapid, singsong blank verse of Mr. Schoonmaker is worse still. Of the four, Mr. Kemp comes nearest to genuine dramatic writing. For contrast, compare the lively and picturesque dialogue in “The Drone,” by Rutherford Mayne, and “Patriots,” by Lennox Robinson (Luce), two brisk little Irish pieces. All the followers of Synge have caught something of his craft in this department. Their characters do not speechify; they talk. And it is this very fact which makes them real, and gives to the whole of the Neo-Celtic drama an ingratiating plausibility and intimacy. The slightest of Lady Gregory’s one-acters, for example, is full of a genuine humanness. It may be as short as the Dogberry scene in “Much Ado About Nothing,” but like the Dogberry scene it leaves a vivid memory behind it. One almost smells her clodhoppers.

The Rev. Dr. Price Collier’s book on “Germany and the Germans” (Scribner), so eagerly awaited by readers of his “England and the English,” is a decidedly less vivid and interesting volume than that great success of four years ago. For one thing, it is too large, too puffy and too loose-limbed; and for another thing, the author’s attitude toward the German people, as opposed to their rulers, is too often that of half-amused contempt: an attitude offering hopeless difficulties to the man who seeks to explain one race of men to another. The first-named defect is constantly visible. Some of the chapters in the book are of intolerable length and swing around the whole circle of German habits, ideals, traditions and aspirations. The same facts are presented over and over again, in slightly varied forms; a strange effect of tediousness, so memorably absent from “England and the English,” creeps into more than one of the six hundred or so pages. In brief, the book is a very poor successor to its forerunner, both as entertainment and as a record of fact. One somehow expected from Mr. Collier a striking and satisfying piece of writing. As it is, one finds a volume that is distinctly inferior, in more than one important respect, to Miss I. A. R. Wylie’s “The Germans” and to Ray Stannard Baker’s “Seen in Germany.” I have found clearer thinking and better reading, indeed, in a bookstall pamphlet, “Our German Cousins,” issued two or three years ago by the London Daily Mail.

Mr. Collier’s fundamental error, I believe, lies in his assumption that all the progress of modern Germany, or at any rate nine-tenths of it, has come from above —that the German people have been hauled up to civilized grace by their hereditary lords and masters. On the surface this seems to be true enough: the outstanding figure of Bismarck shows how much they owe to intelligent, farseeing, and, what is more important still, domineering and ruthless leadership. But it is not to be forgotten that this leading would have been impossible without willing and enthusiastic following, nor is it to be forgotten that a manifest selective quality has always marked that following. That is to say, the Germans have made their leaders as much as their leaders have made the Germans, and even so dominating a personality as Bismarck had to take his tune from the people behind him. He was successful so long as he gave strict heed to public opinion; he came to swift grief on the two great occasions when he sought to hammer it into unwelcome patterns. So with his successor, the present Emperor. The Germans follow Wilhelm willingly for the sole and sufficient reason that they agree with him. He has been able to build up a huge army and a powerful navy because nine Germans out of ten have supported him. Whenever he has outraged national opinion—as in the case, for example, of his London Daily Telegraph indiscretion—he has seen his “divine right” go glimmering overnight, and has had to submit himself to his lieges as docilely as any constitutional ruler in Christendom.

The Germans suffer a bureaucracy because they believe in a bureaucracy: more than any other people on earth they have respect for the trained man, the professor, the expert. Our American doctrine that the consensus of opinion among ordinary men is worth more than the individual opinion of the extraordinary man is one that they reject as absurd and indefensible. They would regard it as imbecile to allow a lay board of health to determine highly technical questions of quarantine and public hygiene, and by the same token they regard it as imbecile to allow amateurs to determine other professional problems. The mayor of a German city is not an ignorant and grasping politician—he is a man trained to a definite and difficult profession, and practicing it with professional self-respect. His aim is not to please ward heelers, but to give efficient service. And it is the peculiarity of the Germans that they understand and value such service. They are willing to submit to an expert, even at some personal inconvenience, because they believe that an expert, all things considered, is likely to know more about his business than the man in the street. This is not lack of spirit—it is merely sound sense. And the cause underlying all the progress of modern Germany—progress even more healthy and notable than our own—is just that talent for discipline, that genius for social organization, that intelligent division of labor.

Naturally enough, the puerilities of party politics do not interest the German. He does not waste his time intriguing that this or that herder of voters shall be rewarded with this or that place at the trough. Such a system seems to him to be wholly childish and evil, for all its alleged benefits as a “training” in government. The time that Americans waste in jockeying one numskull out of office and another into it he devotes to more civilized and profitable enterprises. Nor does he give ear to quacks with sure cures for all the sorrows of the world. Such a mountebank as the Hon. William Jennings Bryan, with his astounding repertoire of bogus remedies, would be almost unimaginable in Germany. Even the wildest anarchists and Socialists there are more moderate and intelligent men. As for our vice crusaders and prohibitionists, our Parkhursts and Comstocks, the Germans would not even do them the honor of laughing at them. The German newspapers devote no space to the gyrations of such perunists; the German people are not interested in their bellowing; the German government does not grant them any share in the making of laws. . . .

But enough of this tedescan rhapsody! A lot of books remain. For example, three describing human existence in godless, outlandish places: the Canal Zone, Mattawan, Broadway. At once the liveliest and the most instructive of them is “Zone Policeman 88,” by Harry A. Franck (Century Co.), a truly delightful chronicle of observation and adventure at Panama. This Mr. Franck attracted attention three or four years ago with an unconventional book of travel called “A Vagabond Journey Around the World,” and a bit later he published a volume describing a jaunt through Spain on shank’s mare. He arrived at Colon in his customary condition of fiscal decrepitude and enlisted as a high private in the Zone constabulary. But first he was farmed out for a month to the Census Bureau—and in these two offices, naturally enough, he had a prime opportunity of seeing all that was worth seeing on the Isthmus. His book is not at all like the other current Canal books. There is not a table of statistics in it from end to end; it deals entirely with people —the brisk young Americans who are bossing the great job, the chromatic roughnecks who are digging the actual dirt, and the lazy Panamans who are watching it fly. And they are all presented with sympathy and good humor, even the human trombones whose snores make the night hideous in bachelor quarters, and the stupid officials who try to make twenty nationalities understand English by bawling it fortissimo. Dr. E. H. Williams’s “The Walled City” (Funk-Wagnalls) is written with much less skill than Mr. Franck’s book, but its pictures of life in an asylum for the criminal insane are full of curious details, and must needs be interesting to those of us who expect to end our days there. Julian Street’s “Welcome to Our City” (Lane) is a somewhat labored guidebook to that portion of New York in which headwaiters rank above archbishops, and the Sunday school superintendents of Allentown and Zanesville take their annual flings. Alas, for the chroniclers of such imitation Gomorrahs: fashions in deviltry change even faster than fashions in piety! Mr. Street confesses, indeed, in his preface, that a good part of his story was out of date before he could have it set up in type.

Of the novels that have reached me since our last meeting, the most interesting, and by long odds, is “The Inside of the Cup,” by Winston Churchill (Macmillan). I say interesting, and yet two-thirds of its 513 pages of fine print are given over to theological disputations, and in one place there is a report of a sermon running to 4,783 words. Well, why not? Is theology, in itself, an uninteresting subject? Not at all. Some of the most engrossing books ever written in the world are full of it. For example, the Gospel According to St. Luke. For example, Nietzsche’s “Der Antichrist.” For example, Mark Twain’s “What is Man?” St. Augustine’s Confessions, Haeckel’s “The Riddle of the Universe” and Huxley’s Essays. How, indeed, could a thing be dull that has sent hundreds of thousands of first-rate men—the very flower of the race—to the gallows and the stake, and made and broken dynasties, and inspired the greatest of human hopes and enterprises, and embroiled whole continents in war? No, theology is not a soporific. The reason it so often seems so is that its public exposition has chiefly fallen, in these later, degenerate days, into the hands of a sect of intellectual effeminates, who begin by mistaking it for a sub-department of etiquette, and then proceed to anoint it with butter, rose water and talcum powder. Whenever a first-rate intellect tackles it, as in the case of Huxley, or in that of Nietzsche, or in that of Leo XIII, it at once takes on all the vigorous fascination it had in Luther’s day, and if men, grown soft, are no longer willing to die for it, they are at least willing to dispute over it, and to get into rages about it, and to damn their opponents to hell with the utmost ferocity and enjoyment. I am not going to flatter Mr. Churchill by comparing him to Huxley and Leo, but all the same his book shows that he has given sober and diligent consideration to the principal problems of latter day Christian theology, and that he has come to conclusions which, whatever their defects, are still intelligible and workable. The central figure of his chronicle is the Rev. John Hodder, a priest of the Protestant Episcopal Church. John goes from a sleepy New England village to a large and rich parish in a Middle Western city, presumably St. Louis, and immediately all of the said problems descend upon him and begin to beset him sorely. The leading folks of that parish are very opulent and enormously orthodox. They have no doubt whatever that a benign, well-bred and sagacious God rules the universe, and that he has the highest regard (not to say actual veneration) for them. Hasn’t he proved it by giving them money, ease and power? And by making them his agents in the distribution of alms and good advice to the lowly? Their jealousy for the authority and reputation of that God amounts to a sort of class feeling. They look upon it as a gross indecency to question the least of His mandates, or any of the glosses and variations of His ordained agents and interpreters. It is the proper and dignified thing, in their view, to believe that Jonah was swallowed by a whale, and so they believe it with great unction.

John, at the start, is disposed to acquiesce in this affecting fidelity to the faith. He, too, is orthodox. But in a short while a number of messengers from the devil begin to shake up his pious cocksureness, and all of those messengers, naturally enough, are women. One is a fair parishioner who balks at supernaturalism—and supports her balking with disconcerting logic. Another is the daughter of the leading pillar of the church—a contumacious young woman who regards her papa as a whited sepulchre and is not bashful about saying so. The third and last is a woman of the streets, one of the beneficiaries of the parish uplift. From this woman the astounded John learns how hollow and idiotic that uplift really is— how small its harvest, how cheap its methods, how pharisaical its tone. And the three streams of doubt, flowing together, presently make a roaring torrent, and the Rev. John finds his faith slipping away. He no longer believes in revelation. He no longer believes in the uplift. He no longer believes in his flock. All that is left of his old orthodoxy is a firm belief in the Beatitudes—the one element of Christianity that his parishioners choose to overlook.

What to do? Compromise, temporize, make the best of it—as thousands of earnest clergymen do every year? Or go into the pulpit and tell the truth as he sees it? John chooses the latter course. He denounces his principal vestrymen as Pharisees and hypocrites. He takes them publicly to task for their commercial and political swinishness. He points out definite offenses against the laws of common decency and fair play, mentioning names and dates. He exposes the vacuity and insincerity of the Christian charity which takes rent from dive keepers and then builds hospitals for their victims. He goes through that congregation of frauds and mountebanks, that typical camorra of rogues and uplifters, with a rhetorical sandbag—and presently he is before the bishop to answer charges of heresy and slander. But the bishop, who has seen the light too, is with him. He keeps his church, even if he loses his congregation. Out go the money changers and publicans, and in come the ragtag and bobtail. The gentlemanly idol of the departed flock is overturned. In its place John tries to set up a living God—a God who judges human beings by their striving and good intent, and not at all by their bank accounts and millinery. And the daughter of the whited sepulchre joins him as his wife and prime minister.

A long and deadly serious story, but one marked by so much thoughtfulness and sincerity that every reader whose taste is above puerile intrigue and sentimentality must find much of interest in it. Its fundamental defect, of course, is that it does not show us how John makes out. He has an expensive church on his hands, with a whole archipelago of parish houses, soup kitchens .and moral stockades attached to it, and though the exiled Pharisees have not succeeded in deposing him from the ministry, they have at least succeeded in cutting off his revenues. How will he win his way in the heartbreaking future? Perhaps Mr. Churchill will tell us in a second volume; as it is, he leaves all save the first and second acts of his drama unplayed. A number of lesser defects are also visible in the story. For one thing, the ready approval of the bishop is difficult to imagine. Bishops are not in the habit of offending laymen as rich as those of John’s flock, even for the glory of God. Again, the love affair of the bold dominie is a shade too fortunate, a shade too well made, as the French would say. But even admitting all these blotches on the canvas, it is a dignified work that Mr. Churchill has given us. In the midst of a vast emission of piffle, he is one novelist who takes his business seriously and gives to it the reflection and painstaking that it deserves.

The other novels are of vastly smaller bulk and beam. Arnold Bennett’s “The Old Adam” (Doran) is a sort of second boiling of “Denry the Audacious,” and reveals the light humor and pervading improbability of that already-forgotten work. It shows us how Edward Henry Machin, now an alderman and with $30,000 a year, is lured from the Five Towns to London by the glamour of the footlights, and how he there invests a small fortune in a fantastic theater, and makes money out of the enterprise by fabulous feats of press-agenting. The thing is bouncingly written and may be read without much fatigue, but it has few points of contact with “The Old Wives’ Tale” and “Clayhanger.” W.B. Trites’s “Barbara Gwynne” (Duffield), like his “John Cave,” reveals a fresh viewpoint and a considerable enthusiasm, but it is chaotic in plan and gets nowhere, and most of the characters —notably the hero, Jerome S. McWade, a grocery boy become king of Wall Street—have far more excelsior in them than blood and bones. This Mr. Trites would have been better off today had a few emotional critics not overpraised him yesterday. As it is, his advance notices manufacture expectations which his merchandise cannot half fulfill.

“Harlette,” by Marion Polk Angelloti (Century Co.), you read in The Smart Set lately as “When the Devil Ruled.” A diverting little piece in the Hewlett manner. “Toya the Unlike,” by Eleanor Mercein Kelly (Small-Maynard), is a new variation upon the standard Japanese- American romance. “The Scarlet Rider,” by Bertha Runkle (Century Co.), is the tale of a noble highwayman, redolent of the romantic musks of yesteryear. “The Abysmal Brute,” by Jack London (Century Co.), is a wholly improbable fable about a miraculous prize fighter. “His Love Story,” by Marie Van Vorst (Bobbs-Merrill), tells the story of a brave French officer’s virtuous passion for a rich American girl, and is distinguished by a dog that is even more heroic than the hero. “The Making of Thomas Barton,” by Anna Nicholas (Bobbs-Merrill), is a book of short stories, not one of them very striking, but all showing careful workmanship. “The Candid Adventurer,” by Anna Coleman Ladd (Houghton-Mifflin), is the tale of a young artist’s osculations between two women. Finally comes ”The Mask,” by Arthur Hornblow (Dillingham), a thriller of adventure and villainy so solemnly ludicrous that I commend it with confidence to all lovers of unconscious burlesque.