Prose Fiction Ad Infinitum

H.L. Mencken

The Smart Set/September, 1912

First of all, let me offer my circular answer and apology to those dear publishers who bombard me with pained and copious notes, asking why the devil I haven’t reviewed this book or that. Truly a publisher, whatever his lack of virtue, has a just complaint when he goes to the trouble to swathe his latest best-seller in armor of corrugated cardboard, and then to paste an elegant label on the facade of that cardboard, and then to write my name, learned degrees and studio address on that label, and then to deposit the whole in the United States mails, with sixteen cents in stamps affixed, or in the care and keeping of some immoral express company, paying twenty-two cents in advance—truly he harbors legitimate annoyance when that is the last he ever hears of it in this world. But what would you, messieurs? How can I help it? I am but one reviewer—and there are a thousand novelists. I have but one oesophagus —and there are a thousand cooks. Believe me when I tell you that I do my darndest and recall to you that angels could do no more. For four years I have averaged a novel a day. On many a rainy Sunday I have read two or three, and in one week, incommunicado and on my back, I actually got through twenty-four. But that, of course, was extraordinary, unparalleled, a unique collocation of bravura and bravado. I do not say I’ll ever do it again. With one such exploit in a life time the average man must rest content. It is not given to mortals to work incessantly upon such high gears, to rise so stupendously above the common level of achievement. I look back upon the deed with undisguised pride, and even with a touch of wonder. It ranks me with astounding and inordinate fellows—Hobson the oscillator, Holmes the homicide, Home-run Kelly, Butcher Weyler and Brigham Young the matrimoniac.


Say I’m weary, say I’m sad;

Say that health and wealth have missed me;

Say I’m growing old, but add—


—that I once read twenty-four novels in a week—not, perhaps, from cover to cover, skipping not a word, cutting every page—but still diligently and even thoroughly, and to the end that the ensuing reviews, composed on my discharge from hospital, were pretty fair and comprehensive, as reviews go in this vale of crime, and so pleased half of the publishers and almost one of the novelists.

But what I started out to do was not to boast about my Gargantuan appetite for prose fiction—an appetite so insatiable that in the intervals between best sellers it sends me back to “Huckleberry Finn” and “ Germinal” and “Kim” and “Vanity Fair”—but to apologize to the dear publishers for occasionally overlooking a single novel, or even a whole flock of novels. I try to have a glance at every one they send me, and to go through at least thirty every thirty days, but after all I have only two hands, and thus it sometimes happens, when nine or ten come bouncing in together, that I muff three or four of them. And again it sometimes happens that I am utterly unable, with the best intentions in the world, to read far enough into a given volume to find out what it is about. And yet again it sometimes happens that, having found out, I am unable to describe the contents without violating the laws against the use of profane and indecent language. And finally it sometimes happens—more often, indeed, than merely sometimes—that my toilsome surmounting of all these difficulties is rendered null and vain by assassins in The Smart Set office, who reduce me from eight pages to six without warning, or pi a couple of galleys of my arduous type, or send their devil to me with orders to let novels alone for a month and give them something sapient and racy about the latest published dramas or the new treatises on psychotherapy or the lilts and la-de-las of Mr. Badger’s sweating bards. All this by way of explanation and apology, not only to the Barabbases who publish, but also to those kind readers who protest in courteous terms when I happen to neglect their favorites among the Indiana genii. The whole thing, I must admit, is rather a muddle. I do not review upon any systematic, symmetrical plan, with its roots in logic and the jus gentium, but haphazard and without a conscience, and so it may occur that a fourth-rate novel gets a page, or even two pages, while a work of high merit goes inequitably to my ash-barrel and is hauled away in the night, unwept, unhonored and unsung, along with my archaic lingerie and my vacant beer bottles.

Which brings us at once to “Julia France and Her Times,” by Gertrude Atherton (Macmillan), the thickest and juiciest novel of the current crop, if not the most subtle and sagacious. The heroine of this singularly lavish fiction, when we first encounter her, bears the name of Julia Edis and is living with her mother at the ancestral home on the little island of Nevis, in the West Indies, a godforsaken and spooky place. Julia, at this stage of her career, is eighteen years old and as innocent as the average girl of eight. When her mother tells her that she is to marry Harold France, an officer in H. M. Navy and heir to a dukedom, she expresses the ingenuous hope that he has some babies for her to play with, or, at any rate, that he will get some for her as soon as possible. Alas, Harold himself is no such virgin. On the contrary, he is a man of really extraordinary iniquities, even for a sailor—a devotee, it would appear, of outlandish, levantine vices, too terrible to be mentioned—a voluptuary so all-fired voluptuous that even the captain of his ship, certainly no prude, thinks it only decent to warn Mrs. Edis. But that Spartan mother will have none of the captain’s friendly advice. A dabbler in the black art of divination, and pupil of the grandson of the seeress who “so accurately cast the horoscope of Josephine Beauharnais,” she has herself platted Julia’s future with astrological compasses, and the fact that Julia must one day be a duchess is as plain to her as the rising of the sun. Julia must be a duchess—and Harold France is heir to a duke. What pair of premises could carry a more obvious conclusion?

But the moral captain, even as the wedding bells ring, yet makes a last, heroic effort to save Julia. That is to say, he recalls Harold to his ship and sails away for the Spanish Main. And after that the gods step in and Harold is laid low by typhoid fever. Thus Julia, for a while at least, suffers not the appalling caresses and illuminations of that unspeakable monster. But none the less the seven veils of her innocence slip from her one by one, and within the space of a few weeks. Before Harold gets to England, whither she has gone to wait for him, she is already a shrewd, self-reliant and somewhat blasé little baggage, and soon she is carrying things with a high hand. She boldly sauces the old duke, she invites his enemies to his house, she runs up astonishing dressmakers’ bills, she forces Harold to give her money, she flirts shamelessly with Nigel Herbert, the eminent society Socialist and uplift novelist. Worse still, she encourages the worship of young Dan Tay, an American youth of fifteen, who is all for carrying her off to California, Harold or no Harold. And when, after many years, Harold dies insane, after having first lost the dukedom by the sudden marriage and incredible prolificity of the old duke, it is Dan that she marries. But not until near the end of their honeymoon!

So much for the bald story. In its detail it is as prodigal and catholic as the Diary of the eager Pepys. One gets glimpses of every great event and mania of the last two decades, from the invasion of Cuba to the rising of the Suffragettes, from the San Francisco earthquake to the revival of mysticism, from parlor Socialism to the Boer War. Julia, once Harold is in a madhouse, goes off to the East for a long rest and there she meets Hadji Sadra and is made privy to all the recondite secrets of Hindoo “philosophy.” One of the things she learns is how “to switch thought off and on”; another is how to “relegate her femaleness to the depths.” Her mother’s astrology, it appears, was merely tantalizing buncombe, but this Oriental magic really works. And then, home again, Julia is converted to the suffrage, and takes up with Mrs. Pankhurst, and goes through the country spellbinding, and is presently thrown into jail. A dizzy whirl of movements, arguments, combats, deviltries; a phantasmagoria of newspaper dippings. Not only Julia herself, but all the others, grab eagerly at every fresh novelty—political, philosophical, sociological or metaphysical. Nigel Herbert wins a Nobel prize, consecrates himself to melancholy celibacy and reaches the House of Lords a Socialist! Dan Tay takes a hack at the grafters in San Francisco, goes honeymooning with Julia before Harold is dead and resolves to enter Congress as a Progressive of the extreme left. And Lady Ishbel Jones, Julia’s dearest friend, hurls the millions of her Welsh husband into his teeth and opens a millinery shop in Bond Street. Not a yell for recruits goes unanswered by that crowd of valiant experimenters. They touch Babaism on the one side and Rooseveltism on the other. They go in for deep breathing, hunger strikes, hypnotism and blackmail. They are for peace and they are for war. One hears in their discourse the discordant and amazing echoes of Marx and Tolstoi, Nietzsche and Link Steffens, Dr. Krafft-Ebing and Mary Wollstonecraft, Regiomuntanus and William T. Stead.

And yet—and yet—when all the powwow is over, it does not appear that Mrs. Atherton has manufactured a first-rate novel, nor even a respectable second-rate novel. Not all the movement and color, not all the borrowing from current history, not all the extravagance of detail can conceal the weakness of the principal characters, the improbability of the central events. The trouble with her method, in brief, is that it leaves her people unaccounted for, that it describes them too much and explains them too little. She shows them doing all sorts of amazing things, and in the showing she is infallibly brisk and entertaining, but she seldom gets into their acts that appearance of inevitability which makes for reality. The effect is there—but where is the cause? Is it credible, after all, that a girl as extraordinarily ingenuous as Julia, after a brief schooling by silly women, should become an intellectual match for such a serpent as Harold, or even for such an old orang-outang as the duke? And supposing her to be actually inoculated with this sagacity by some convenient miracle, would it not save her later on from the New Thought rumble-bumble of Hadji Sadra, that repatriated Regent street sorcerer? Is the Julia who goes to jail for an idea the same Julia who cherishes the calf love of a boy of fifteen? And is the Dan Tay whose calf-love, with all its best-seller extravagances, remains unquenched from fifteen to thirty the same Dan Tay who has made millions in the stock market and won his way in politics? Alack, I fear me not. The truth is that in describing all of these folk Mrs. Atherton has gone little deeper than the surface—that she has neglected the first business of a serious novelist, which is to interpret and account for her characters, to criticize life as well as describe it—that she has shown them doing things without making us feel that they had to do them. In a word, she has left them mere dummies, with the sawdust of the theater in their arteries. Harold is a villain out of Drury Lane melodrama; Tay is the electric young American of English satire and our own best-sellers; the duke is a dear old friend; Ishbel is another; Julia herself is nothing more than a mixture, mechanical rather than chemical, of three or four conventional heroines—the ordinary sentimental heroine, the rebellious wife heroine, the “advanced” heroine, the heroine knee-deep in transcendental asphodel. Thus the story, on close inspection, begins to go to pieces. Immeasurably better written than most of our common romances, for Mrs. Atherton is an indubitably clever artisan, it yet deserves to be ranked with such confectionery, and not with the genuine novels of its generation. Put it beside “Ann Veronica” or “Evelyn Innes” or “Jennie Gerhardt” or “The Old Wives’ Tale” or any other serious study of feminine psychology and at once its external tinsel and internal vacuity become painfully apparent.

Another current fictioneer who strikes somewhat lower than he aims is Samuel Merwin, who gives us, in “The Citadel” (Century Co.), a glimpse of the Progressive Movement, that fantastic compound of sentimentality and buffoonery. The Hon. John Garwood, congressman from Illinois, rises one day in the House of Representatives and is delivered of the somewhat obvious thought that the Constitution of the United States swears as loudly at democracy as all the grand dukes in Russia. This remark, as I say, scarcely drips with originality, but all the same John’s forthright manner of putting it into words vastly shocks the audience of bad lawyers, petty bosses and mountebanks that he addresses, and so he goes upon the first page of the newspapers for three days and is marked for butchery by The Interests. Appalled by his own daring and more so by the impending axe, he is in a rather humid state of mind when Margaret Lansing drops in to see him. Margaret is a biologist in the Agriculture Department and a Progressive to her fingertips. It is she that stills John’s fear of himself and inspires him to go back to Illinois and do battle with The Interests, and to her he owes the sweet taste in the bitter cup when The Interests fall upon him and massacre him and a groveling Scandinavian is sent to Congress in his place. Finally, of course, John marries her—but not until he has first withdrawn honorably from his engagement to Ethel Buchanan, daughter of Richard H. Buchanan, local head and archfiend of The Interests aforesaid.

If it was Mr. Merwin’s aim to give us a slice of the Progressive life in These States—and I have no doubt whatever that it was—the result must be set down a failure, for he neglects altogether to show us the genesis of the divine frenzy in John Garwood’s veins. We see a representative of a safe and rotten borough suddenly run amuck, and are left wondering wherefore and why. Progressivism, in brief, is depicted as a disease of sudden and devastating onset, and even the long discussions between John and Margaret and the speeches of John in his district fail to illuminate the period of incubation. But if we accept John as we find him and do not cross-examine him too severely, it must be admitted that he gives a very good show for the money. He leads us through a realistic and exciting political campaign, he makes excellent speeches, he shows a decent toleration for his enemies, he refrains from playing the messiah, he leans upon Margaret very humanly, and in the end he takes his defeat like a man. It is in the last act, indeed, rather than in the first four, that Mr. Merwin is most skillful and convincing. John and Margaret have an old-fashioned honeymoon, with a good deal more kissing and cuddling in it than Progressivism, and when at last they get back to Washing ton and the dashed John finds his dusty office table covered with letters from admirers in “more than a score of States” and “scores of offers for lectures and addresses” and “dozens of requests for magazine articles”—when we come to this final tableau, with hope rising in the breast of the defeated John, and pretty Margaret there to help it with a conjugal buss, then it is that Mr. Merwin does his best writing and makes excuse enough for his story. Not a story of much depth and beam, to be sure, but still a pleasant one, and not as pontifical as it might have been.

As for Edith Macvane, she comes with two stories—and not a breath of serious purpose in either. One of them, called “Tarantella” (Houghton-Mifflin), shows us how Mrs. Cynthia Godfrey goes to Rome to petition the Pope to release her from her unspeakable husband, Mr. W. R. Godfrey, and how she there falls head over heels in love with the Duca Alessandro di Fiorestanni, the handsome nephew of the Signor Marchese Cardinal di Roccabella, and how that love, by arousing animosities, works against her petition, and how she is set free in the end by the murder of her husband, who is mistaken for another man, and how she then falls into Alessandro’s arms. Dashing stuff! And so is the other tale, “Her Word of Honor” (Little-Brown). Here we observe the flight of Mlle. Elise-Florence-Marie de Vauquieres de Clugny, orphan of the late Marquis Etienne de Vauquieres de Clugny, from Brent Castle, the ancestral dungeon of her English uncle and aunt, the enormously fashionable Duke and Duchess of Porthaven, and of their six gawky daughters. Lili (for so they call her) decides to seek her fortune in America, but all she knows of America is the fact that her dead papa loved in youth an American girl named Harriet, whose home was then at 14 East Tenth Street, Manhattan. Is Harriet still alive? And will she welcome Lili? Mrs. Ethelbert V. Cobb, who cultivates Lili aboard the Kaiser Wilhelm der Grosse, has grave doubts of it. But why worry? Mrs. Cobb herself is a better fairy godmother than the half-mythical Harriet. She has $50,000,000 and a son called Victor, whose hot blood beats for a chorus girl. If Lili will marry Victor and so save him from the chorus girl, Mrs. Cobb will settle $25,000,000 upon bride and groom. All she asks for herself is that Lili introduce her to the Porthavens and the de Vauquiereses.

Done! Lili can’t find Harriet at 14 East Tenth Street, which is now occupied by the families of Lubliner, Markowitz, Zadolowski, Feigenbaum, Lombroso and Ferrandini—and as for Victor, his description is taking and she hasn’t seen him . . . But the marriage, of course, never takes place! No need to tell you that! You are, as I am, an old hand at novel reading, a veteran of many an amatory field, an ancient of romance. You know that heroines never marry such louts as Victor Cobb—Victor with his fat hands, his xanthous freckles, his gross appetite for spangles. And so you are not at all surprised when Lili falls in love with Henry Stuart, the daring young airman and rising barrister, son of the intensely aristocratic Mrs. Mecklenburgh Stuart, nor do you more than lift a sophisticated eyebrow later on when it turns out that Mrs. Mecklenburgh Stuart is the long-lost Harriet and that she still dreams of her Etienne. Ha, ha! We know!—we browned and battle-scarred campaigners! Fool us O novelists, if you can! We are privy to your tricks! We penetrate your am bushes! Even all of Lili’s fine talk about her sacred word of honor and the motto of the de Vauquiereses—Vauquieres tient parole—even all that doesn’t lead us astray. From the very start we suspect that loathsome Victor will bolt with his Broadway Camille and that Lili will marry the brave and sightly Henry. . . . Well, well, why not? At ease in a hammock, who asks for better fare? An orthodox and harmless tale, fashionable without being lascivious.

But we had better hurry a bit if we are to get through many more novels, for space runs out and they keep on bouncing in. Here, for example, is a group of no less than eight historical romances—eloquent proof that the day of swashbuckling in fiction is not yet past, that readers still like to be taken back to the good old, far-off, spacious times—


When the muscles swelled in strain,

As the steel found rest in a brave man’s breast

And the axe in a brave man’s brain.


I quote from dithyrambs of my own, composed in some lamented yesteryear, under the combined influence of youth, the cheaper narcotics and “The Helmet of Navarre.” Much of the lost thrill came back this hot Sabbath morning as I idled through “The Touchstone of Fortune,” by Charles Major (Macmillan), a first-rate yarn of Restoration days, with Jack Churchill, James Crofts and the Jennings girls making liars of the historians at every turn. Mr. Major does that sort of thing with truly admirable skill—and not since “When Knighthood was in Flower” has he been in better form. The other romances of the octette are “Beggars and Sorners,” by Allan McAulay (Lane), a gay tale of plotting and grafting among the Jacobins who infested Amsterdam in the late 1 740’s;” The Minister of Police,” by Henry Moutjoy (Bobbs-Merrill), a galloping chapter out of the France of Richelieu; “The Shadow of Power,” by Paul Bertram (Lane), the diary of a Spanish governor in the mauled and bleeding Netherlands; “The Prison Flower,” by Romaine Callender (Badger), a Napoleonic tale; “A Plaything of the Gods,” by Carl Gray (Sherman French), which takes us to the California of the warring Spaniards and Gringos; and “The Knightly Years,” by W. M. Ardagh (Lane), wherein we taste the strange and invigorating air of the Canary Islands in the reign of Isabella the Catholic of Spain. I said there were eight of these sagas altogether, but a more careful count shows only seven. Very well, let us throw in two Zenda books to balance the reckoning. One is “The Last Try,” by John Reed Scott (Lippincott), which introduces us anew to Queen Dehra of Valeria and her American consort, Major Armand Dalberg, U.S.A., retired, old friends of every connoisseur. The other is “The Greater Joy,” by Margaret Blake (Dillingham), in which no less than one hundred and eighty-three pages are required to describe the seduction of Miss Alice Vaughn, an American girl, by Baron Ulrich von Dette, a fascinating German. An extremely tedious business. Later on Ulrich becomes King of Hohenhoff-Hohe, “the most important of the kingdoms of the German empire, except Prussia and Bavaria,” and it is suggested to him that he retire Alice on a pension and marry a royal wife. Even Alice herself speaks for the plan. That is to say, she proposes, in her delicate, diplomatic way, that he “insure the succession” and then return to her. But Ulrich still loves her so madly that all other women disgust him, and so he abdicates and marries her. Luscious stuff!

Whether “The Story of a Ploughboy,” by James Bryce (Lane), is a novel or an attempt at romantic autobiography I can’t tell you. The thing is written in the first person, the author constantly uses the name of Bryce in referring to his hero, and the general plan, with its vagueness, its blind alleys and its anti-climaxes, strongly suggests reminiscence. But against these evidences set the incredible copiousness and accuracy of dialogues that no man could remember across twenty years—and you have a pretty problem. Fortunately, there is no need to solve, nor even to attempt to solve it. The book as it stands carries its own justification. It is a remarkably acute and persuasive study of a second-rate personality, weak in most of the principal affairs of life, and yet curiously obstinate under it all. Maltreated and neglected as a boy, this James Bryce gets his start by awakening the sympathy of his betters, and soon he is on the road to security as assistant factor of a large estate in Scotland. But for all his ardent wooing of advantage a sentimental sympathy for the underdog lingers in him, and in the end we find him throwing up his post and going back to the fields, a sort of muddled, parochial Tolstoi. His best girl loses a very promising beau in the process, but after all it is probably her own fault, for not until she has accused him of toadying to his rich employer does his obscure unrest begin to take definite form. A picture, crudely drawn, but still wonderfully like, of a half-baked, moony fellow, a victim of mental dyspepsia, of flying pains in the conscience. If you are for novelty, if you tire of the obvious psychology of the orthodox novels, don’t miss this book.

Another such weak and shallow fellow is to be found in “The Candidate for Truth,” by J. D. Beresford (Little Brown). He is none other than our old friend, Jacob Stahl, whose “Early History” we all read with interest and edification last year. In this second volume of what is to be a trilogy, Jacob is rescued from despair by the Rev. the Hon. Cecil Barker, a bizarre and amazing fisher of men, and set going as a writer of advertisements. The Rev. Cecil makes a gallant effort to reconcile Jacob and his wife, the unspeakable Lola of Vol. I, but Lola declines without thanks, and soon Jacob is engaged upon those adventures of amour that have been his drama and his curse since his nonage. A girl named Freda Cairns, daughter of an anarchist and herself an apostle of free love, catches his roving eye; the immoral Madeline Felmersdale, now Lady Paignton and the scandal of a not-too-squeamish peerage, swoops down upon him again and nearly carries him off; and the impossible Mrs. Latimer, a fading widow with money in the bank, does her best to snare him. But it is Betty Gale, half-owner of his boarding-house in Bloomsbury, that finally wins him—Betty with her plump arms, her steady blue eyes and her matter-of-fact outlook upon the world. As the curtain comes down the two are preparing to join fortunes, Lola or no Lola. Luckily, there is to be a third act. Mr. Beresford has made Jacob so real that it would be cruel to leave him thus. Will the capable Betty make a man of him? After half a lifetime of shilly-shallying, of purposeless groping, of wasted effort, will he make his way in the end? Certainly we guests at the clinic want to know. And meanwhile, let us thank Mr. Beresford for another excellent piece of writing.

There is merit, too, in “The Brute,” by Frederic Arnold Kummer (Watt), particularly the merit of simple, straightforward writing. Mr. Kummer disdains the common tricks of best-seller rhetoric, just as he disdains the common best-seller heroics. The result is a tale that will undoubtedly hold your attention, whatever your dissent from its ultimate preachment. The central character, Edith Rogers, is a pretty and unstable woman married to a plodding and unromantic engineer. Eight years of this marriage, with its sordid struggles and hopes deferred, disgust her beyond endurance, and so she is ripe for deviltries when an old suitor, Billy West, comes out of Colorado with half a million. Billy is honorable enough, as men go in this indecent world, and for a while he is loyal to Donald Rogers, who is an old, old friend, but the palpable willingness of Edith breaks down his defenses and they finally decide to bolt. Before they can do so, however, Billy falls ill, and death is upon him in a week. He leaves his half million to Edith, and Donald, seeing only old friendship in the matter, permits her to take it. But not for long. Accident reveals the whole unpalatable truth, and there ensues the struggle that is the main business of the little drama. Donald orders Edith to give up the money, and Edith, inflamed by the luxury within her grasp, refuses to do so. Thereupon Donald takes their joint infant and departs. Sobriety now falls upon the erstwhile defiant Edith. Her child is gone, her husband is gone, her lover is gone. Setting the first two against the money, she enters upon that doubt which is the beginning of disaster. After all, she was never in love with Billy: it was only the dream of ease, of magnificence, of surcease from struggle, the vision of a silly and shallow woman, that lured her. Without Donald and the boy her world is suddenly empty. Woman-like, she now attempts a compromise. She will give up the money—but to the boy. He, at least, is innocent of wrong-doing, and it would be a shame to make him lose by his mother’s folly. But when she goes to Donald with this plan his disconcerting and saving answer is to knock her down. And there, on her knees and at his feet, the truth penetrates and saves her. Here is a man—her man. Set him against the money and it straightway shrinks to a heap of dirty metal. Weak and vacillating, she needs a master, a hero, a boss. So the good ship Rogers, if not actually unbattered, at least weathers the storm. “There is still hope for you,” says Donald, “and for me.”

A somewhat difficult story to manage, for the mental processes of Edith are dark and devious, but Mr. Kummer manages it admirably. He makes credible the treason of West, the easy surrender of Edith and the fatuous ignorance of Donald, and he makes credible later on the whole play of emotion between husband and wife. That a mere blow with the fist should change a foolish woman into a woman of sense, a shame less rebel into a loyal wife—this, surely, is hard to believe. But we are not asked to believe it. The actual blow is the mere climax, the final sforzando, of a struggle which begins much further back, and is foreshadowed, indeed, from, the very start. The chief defect of the book is not in the structure, but in its detail. One feels that Mr. Kummer would have made a much better story if he had gone in for a greater particularity. As it is, he has frequently sacrificed the due elucidation of character to the less important business of getting on with his plot. But even as it stands, it reveals a genuine capacity for the art and science of hypothetical psychology, and gives plain promise of good work to come.

In “The Mainspring,” by Charles Agnew MacLean (Little-Brown), a somewhat elemental fable is dignified by clever handling. Jessup Craven, a giant of finance, is dying at his home on Long Island Sound, and his associates are trying to keep the fact dark until his son, Larry, can get back from Europe and take charge of the family cheque-book. But it gets abroad nevertheless, at least as far as the camp of Craven’s foes and the office of one New York newspaper, and so the former kidnap Larry, who is a weak and besotted fellow, and the latter sends Lawrence Ashmore, a sharp reporter, to worm his way into the Craven house and find out what is going on. Ashmore succeeds—but only to find himself a prisoner. What happens to him afterward—how he is forced to impersonate the missing Larry and afterward does it willingly and finally finds himself in the midst of astounding and romantic adventures—for all this you must go to the book. It is an unpretending thing, with more than one frank concession in it to the league rules for best-sellers, but it also has its moments.

Finally we come to the month’s masterworks by McCutcheon, Vance, Oppenheim and the other tried and true virtuosi. The McCutcheon volume is called “Her Weight in Gold” (Dodd Mead), and tells of an impecunious young man who agrees to marry a fat girl for that consideration. Just before the wedding she falls ill and loses a hundred pounds—and he loses $21,911. Comical stuff, I have no doubt, at all events to persons who enjoy the comic supplements. The Vance and Oppenheim stories are “The Bandbox” (Little Brown) and “The Lighted Way” (Little-Brown), respectively. In each, so far as I have got into them, there is an incessant flow of hazards. Neither author takes himself seriously for a minute, and neither is dull for half a minute. Still more excitement in “The Saintsbury Affair,” by Roman Doubleday (Little-Brown) and “A Chain of Evidence,” by Carolyn Wells (Lippincott), the one dealing with a murder and the other with a murder plus blackmail, and both ending upon the sweet note of love. And so on down the row—“The Marriage of Captain Kettle,” by C. J. Cutcliffe Hyne (Bobbs-Merrill), in which we peer back into the past of that immortal mariner and see the genesis of his fame; “A Man and His Money,” by Frederic Isham (Bobbs-Merrill), in which a beautiful American girl is kidnapped by a rascally Russian and rescued by the heroic Horatio Heatherbloom; “He Comes Up Smiling,” by Charles Sher man (Bobbs-Merrill), in which a hobo of superior mind steals a millionaire’s clothes, goes into society in them and so wins the love of a beauteous girl; and “His Worldly Goods,” by Margaretta Tuttle (Bobbs-Merrill), which I have found less engrossing, despite its headlong movement, than a publisher’s note about the author, who is said to put in her time “writing one complete story a month for a magazine, turning out an occasional novelette of from twenty-five thousand to thirty-five thousand words for the same publication, doing special work to order for a score of periodicals, writing novels, giving personal attention to her husband and two children, overseeing the details of the work in a big house, and meeting the requirements imposed upon her by her position in the social life of Cincinnati.” Let that astonishing testimonial go for a review.