The Smart Set/August, 1911
ON the depressing stupidity and vulgarity of New York first nighters my colleague, Mr. Nathan, has lately discoursed with great eloquence. As for me, I am no New Yorker, save intermittently and unwillingly, and so I do not have to sit beside such animals very often; but they have thousands of relatives, of the first, second, third, fourth, fifth and sixth nights, in the provinces, and the fair city I inhabit has its full share of them. They may be distinguished from truly civilized theatergoers by various signs. In the first place, their women always smell of unearthly coal tar perfumery; in the second place, they themselves always wear dinner coats; in the third place, they break into explosive laughter whenever the word “damn” is uttered on the stage; in the fourth place, they make a peculiar, indescribable, throaty sound whenever the proceedings become what they call “suggestive”; in the fifth place, they always speak of a play as a ‘ show,” and in the sixth and last place, they distinguish but two classes of “shows,” to wit, good “shows” and rotten “shows.” In the former class—I speak especially of the provincial species—they put all plays with rubber stamp plots, all plays of bullring buffoonery and all plays of frank obscenity; and into the latter class they put all plays of ideas.
Because of the presence of these simple folk, playgoing in our fair land is often a trying adventure. Not only do they make it necessary for our managers to give us far more bad “shows” than good ones, but they also have a habit of spoiling the “show” whenever it happens, by any chance, to be good. In the presence of such a drama as Ibsen’s “Hedda Gabler,” Shaw’s “Man and Superman” or Walter’s “The Easiest Way” their one thought seems to be to smell out indecencies. Compared to their covert snickering, their incessant shuffling, their asinine whispering, the frank booing of the English gallery god is soothing as a sound and intelligent as a criticism. The less boorish theatergoer, trying to get himself into the mood for receiving and enjoying a work of art, is constantly annoyed and exasperated by the proximity of these killjoys. The actors on the stage, following the custom of their trade, always do their best to make the play absurd; the overdressed hinds in the auditorium complete the crime. To see Hervieu’s “ Connais Toi” as I have seen it in Baltimore, with bad actors obfuscating it and a fat entrepreneur beside me sighing, “Oh, hell!” at intervals of three minutes, is not unlike hearing the funeral march of the Eroica Symphony done by honest union men at the “lodge of sorrow” of some barroom fraternal order.
Fortunately there is no need for the partisan of the drama to submit himself to such assaults from stage and stalls. When the theater itself becomes unbearable he may flee to his own home, and there, in peace and quiet, read the plays which the vileness of man makes it painful, if not downright impossible, for him to see. Time was when Shakespeare was the only dramatist read by Americans—if, indeed, even he was read—but that time is happily no more. We have been taught, by enforced familiarity with the printed pages of Ibsen and Shaw, to visualize costumes and scenery, false whiskers and talcumed noses, in the library. We have learned a new trick and we joy to perform it. Not so many years ago the printing of a contemporary play of any value was a rare occurrence. Today they pour from the presses in a steady stream—English plays, translated Continental plays, even a few American plays—and the fact that they do so is proof that there is a public waiting for them. I have, in a collection by no means exhaustive, more than four hundred modern plays, and fully two hundred of them, I believe, are good plays. Of good plays the theaters of my town, taken together, offer about ten a year. It would thus take me twenty years to see two hundred there. But stretched at ease in the old homestead, a pillow under my head, I may read two hundred on two hundred nights, and then begin all over again and enjoy a hundred and sixty-five a second time before the year runs out.
Here, for example, is Gerhart Hauptmann’s very impressive drama, “The Weavers” (Huebsch), done into English by Mary Morison. So far as I know, “The Weavers” has never been played in English in our theaters. Hauptmann’s “Hannele” has been seen (the first time it was produced in New York the moral ferrets of that town demanded that it be prohibited by the police), and his “The Sunken Bell” was once presented by Sothern and Marlowe; but “The Weavers,” undoubtedly the greatest of all his works and one of the most striking and influential of modern German plays, remains a stranger to our stage. For a dollar, however, one may now have it in a pretty little book, to read and study at one’s leisure, and without having to hear bad actors mouth its lines or to sit among donkeys who find it incomprehensible. Mr. Huebsch’s edition is a reprint of the London edition of William Heinemann. Let us hope that he will also reprint the other plays in the series—“Hannele,” “The Sunken Bell, and “Lonely Lives.”
Better still, here comes an American edition of the plays of John Millington Synge, beautifully printed and bound and extremely modest in price. Synge, like Hauptmann, is practically unknown to our theatergoers, and yet he wrote, during his short life, at least two dramas of the first rank; and they were written, not in German or French or Norwegian, but in honest English. Reading his “Riders to the Sea” and “The Tinker’s Wedding” (Luce), you will make acquaintance with the one undoubted genius of the Neo-Celtic movement—not a fantastic, pale green mystic like W. B. Yeats, or a maker of crude folk plays like Douglas Hyde, but a noble poet plus a great dramatic craftsman, a man who got the universal note into scenes from the lives of simple Irish peasants, an Irishman who wrote an Irish tragedy so poignant that it lifted his people to a Grecian dignity, and a comedy so searching and merciless that it made his people scream. That tragedy is “Riders to the Sea,” a mere fragment, a thing of twenty-eight pages, and yet, if I do not err, a work of art of the very highest quality. I have never seen it on the stage, and if ever it is given in my vicinity I shall apply to be jailed during the performance, for it is impossible to imagine such marvelous prose coming from the mouths of actors, those sworn foes of all beauty. It is prose that enchants the ear with queer rhythms and exquisite cadences—prose that, for variety and movement, freedom and color, has been unapproached in our time. Synge once said that he had learned to write it by listening to West Coast Irishmen through a crack in the floor of his inn chamber. I don’t believe it. As well imagine Marlowe getting Faustus’s great speech before Helen from the horseboys of the Bankside!
Synge wrote, in all, but six plays—the two mentioned, “The Playboy of the Western World” (a masterpiece of comedy), “The Shadow of the Glen,” “The Well of the Saints” and “Deidre of the Sorrows,” which last I have yet to read. In addition he wrote two books of travel, “The Aran Islands” and “In Kerry and Wicklow”—notebooks, as it were, for his plays. Strangely enough, the incomparable Synge prose, which appears in such magnificent flower in the speeches of his stage characters, is almost missing from his accounts of his own wanderings. Here and there one encounters a glowing page of it, but for the most part his descriptions are commonplace and sometimes even clumsy. Synge died in Dublin on April 1, 1909, at the early age of thirty-eight. He had been writing less than five years. What he would have come to had he lived fifteen years longer no man can tell. But once you have read his plays you will agree, I think, that his was one of the most original and arresting talents of our day and generation.
Another Irishman of parts—George Bernard Shaw, no other—comes before us with a new book of some four hundred pages, containing three plays and three long prefaces. In the case of “Getting Married” and “The Showing-Up of Blanco Posnet” the prefaces are far more important than the plays. “Getting Married” shows, in spots, a plentiful cleverness, but elsewhere it shows mere smartness—and smartness, once its quality is reinforced by quantity, begins to grow tedious, like the kisses following the first dozen. As for “Blanco Posnet,” it is a somewhat cheap effort to shock the pious, in the course of which Mr. Shaw reveals the abysmality of his ignorance of spoken American. Where he got the dialect of his unearthly Westerners I don’t know, but I venture to suspect some German version of the Italian libretto of “The Girl of the Golden West.” There remains “The Doctor’s Dilemma,” an amusing and well constructed piece, in which fun is poked at the medical fellows on the one hand, and that puzzling thing, the artistic temperament, is studied on the other. Shaw’s hero is a great artist who is also a shameless scoundrel. To serve his art he preys upon all available game—his wife, his friends, mere strangers. At the very gates of success he falls ill, and eminent physicians are called in to wrestle with the bacilli which infest him. One of these physicians, the only one who can cure him, falls in love with his wife. What to do? Kill the scoundrel and get the wife, or save the artist and lose the wife? You may rest assured that Shaw neglects none of the opportunities that this amazing problem offers. The play, indeed, is the best he has done since “Man and Superman.”
But in the preface, in which he undertakes to dispose of medical experimentation, the brilliance of his rhetoric does not conceal the weakness of his cause. Not that he employs the old, old arguments, depends upon the old, old false testimony, wrings the old, old tears. Far from it, indeed. With characteristic originality he seeks ammunition in the very latest discoveries of the pathologists—particularly in Sir Almroth Wright’s discovery of opsonins and of the so-called negative phase in the process of immunization. But after reading fifty pages of his engaging paralogy, one suddenly finds at the end that it is mere nonsense, after all—that Shaw, like every other anti-vivisectionist, is merely a sentimentalist who strains at a guinea pig and swallows a baby. In brief, the wild Irishman sinks to the level of a somewhat ridiculous crusader. The trouble with him is that he has begun to take himself seriously. When he was content to write plays first and discuss them afterward, he was unfailingly diverting. But now that he writes tracts first and then devises plays to rub them in he grows rather tedious.
Of the other plays before me the best are the twenty-one one-acters which Maurice Baring calls “Diminutive Dramas” (Houghton-Mifflin). Here we have an amusing dialogue between Henry VIII and Catherine Parr, another between Socrates and Xantippe, a delicate burlesque upon Maeterlinck’s “The Blue Bird,” a rehearsal scene at the Globe Theater in 1595, a grotesque version of the story of King Alfred and the oat cakes—and many another fine piece of wit and humor, exquisitely wrought. Few of these little plays are for acting. They were fashioned for reading—and for reading they are delicious. Upon “The Woman and the Fiddler,” by some mysterious Norwegian who hides behind the pen name of Arne Norrevang (Brown), I can heap no such praises. As a matter of fact, the aim and purport of this fantastic piece are beyond me. I can only say that it deals with Norwegian folklore, that it suggests the more extravagant scenes of “Peer Gynt” and that it is happily impossible of performance on the stage. “Rust, “ by Algernon Tassin (Broadway Pub. Co.), is a dramatic sermon against the over-coddling of women. Mr. Tassin yet shows an amateurish prolixity, but his dialogue often has vivacity and plausibility, and no doubt he will one day write a better play. Finally comes “A Lesson in Marriage” (Brandu), a somewhat inept English version of Bjornstjerne Bjornson’s “De Nygifte” (The Newly Married), an old-fashioned two-acter first published so long ago as 1865, and in which one encounters the sound doctrine that it is dangerous for a young couple, lately spliced, to live with the bride’s parents. To Bjornson such homely matters were always of interest. Even before Ibsen he felt the dramatic pull of the commonplace.
Not only new plays, but also new books of stage history and dramatic criticism grow plentiful. Here, for example, are volumes of reminiscence by Daniel Frohman and Seymour Hicks, the one an American manager who stands in the front rank of his profession, and the other an English comedian and librettist. Mr. Frohman’s book is called “Memoirs of a Manager” (Doubleday-Page), and in it he tells the story of the Lyceum Theater Company, the last of the great American stock companies. His anecdotes I leave for your enjoyment without preparation; of his serious chronicle it is sufficient to say that it shows him to have been, so far back as the eighties, an eager experimenter in the new drama that was then struggling so desperately against the old drama of balderdash. Mr. Frohman, in twenty years, saw such puerile things as “Hazel Kirk” and “Esmeralda” give way to the excellent comedies of Pinero and Jones, the middling comedies of Carton and Jerome and the passable comedies of Marshall and Fitch, and if he helped that progress in no other way he at least dared its box office risks and hazards. The Hicks book is “Twenty-Four Years of an Actor’s Life” (Lane), a light-hearted account of light-hearted adventures in the lesser drama which hangs upon the edges of vaudeville. Mr. Hicks is not a great artist—perhaps, indeed, he is not an artist at all—but it may be justly said for him that his nimble cavortings have helped the good folk of London to digest many a ton of suet pudding and many a lowing herd of kine.
Finally come the dramatic critics—two of them, and both very entertaining and instructive fellows. In his “Masks and Minstrels of New Germany (Luce), Percival Pollard deals with the so-called Uberbret movement of a decade ago, a brave effort to rescue vaudeville from pothouse wit and tinpan music. Imagine Robert Loveman and Percy Mackaye writing comic ballads for Eva Tanguay and Nat Wills, and such musicians as Horatio Parker and Dr. Chadwick doing the music! Well, that is exactly what a group of hopeful young poets and composers attempted in Germany—Detlov von Liliencron, Otto Erich Hartleben and Otto Julius Bierbaum among the former, and Paul Lincke, Oscar Straus and Viktor Hollaender among the latter. A twofold aim inflamed these ardent youngsters. In the first place, they would make the varieties fit for civilized human beings, and in the second place they would revive the minstrelsy of the Golden Age—that most-low-flying, as the Germans might say, of all the arts—that art par excellence of the people. Naturally enough, the scheme failed. The German vaudeville audience, like the American vaudeville audience, feared and fears all true beauty. Its thirst is ever for the banal, the vulgar, the gross, the silly, the squalid. So it snickered idiotically and the Uberbret movement went to pot.
But out of the wreck something came, after all—and that something was a new school of German writers. Frank Wedekind, falling under the influence of Hartleben and the rest, wrote “Fruling’s Erwachen,” that most daring of latter day German plays; Hartleben himself, beginning as a minor poet, ended by revolutionizing the German short story; Bierbaum, graduating from the little Trianon Theater under the railway arch in Berlin, became a master of half a dozen forms—a poet recalling the minstrels of an elder day, a novelist of insight and humor, a writer of delightful sketches of travel, a hospitable and courageous critic. And by the efforts of these men and their followers a change came over the whole face of German letters. Formalism fell into decay; in every direction experiment took the place of imitation; there was a wholesale shaking-up of old bones, a massacre of ancient gods; for the first time since Goethe’s death the clear note of truth was sounded. To date Bierbaum’s “Irrgarten der Liebe” has had a sale of 45,000 copies. Truly an extraordinary book of verse! Truly an extraordinary man! Truly an extraordinary movement! And in this little volume of his, Mr. Pollard chats of the books and men of that movement with unfailing understanding and sympathy. He is no solemn pundit, no ponderous reciter of critical formulas. Going behind the printed page he shows us the man—and often the man, as in Hartleben’s case, is even more interesting than his creations. And the thing is done in that free and easy, confidential, ever surprising Pollard style which seems so easy to imitate—and is yet so abominably difficult.
E. Montague is the other critic. He serves the Manchester Guardian, an esteemed public gazette of the English hinterland; and for two or three years past his weekly articles, aided by discriminating editorial shears, have been making their way in the world. Now a few score of them have been recast into sixteen chapters and published as “Dramatic Values” (Macmillan), a slim green book. Here we have a man who has given hard thought to the theater and its problems and has arrived at a number of original and intelligible ideas. His chapter on Shaw, for example, is the most sensible discussion of that wild Irishman that I have ever seen—an estimate which hits the bull’s-eye exactly in the center—a little masterpiece of friendly but straightforward criticism. And his chapters upon Ibsen, Synge, Masefield, Wilde and other dramatists are almost as good. Altogether this Mr. Montague is a critic whose work rises far above the customary newspaper drivel—a student of the current drama whose very first book makes him a respectable competitor of Walkley and Archer. Like Pollard, he is far from solemn, but like Pollard again he has something to say.
“The Long Roll,” by Mary Johnstone (Houghton-Mifflin), the first of two prose epics of the Civil War, must be set down a glorious failure. Miss Johnstone, as every habitual user of American fiction is well aware, is an accomplished craftswoman. The little tricks and devices of her art are at her fingers’ end; she writes gracefully and well; she is never guilty of the cheapness of the best seller manufacturers. And in the present case a genuine enthusiasm fortifies her; one feels that the drama of the great conflict has long stirred her blood, that she has long breathed its drifting smoke, that its heroes have been her heroes. But something more than facility and enthusiasm is needed to manage so stupendous a chronicle as that she has sought to write. Her volume covers the whole course of the war, from the early recruiting in the Valley of Virginia to the death of Stonewall Jackson. Now and then there is a vivid flashlight portrait of Jackson—urging his tired men along frozen roads, praying on the night before a battle, paralyzing subordinates with his sudden wraths, wounded and dying in the Wilderness. But a rounded, living, breathing figure does not emerge. The narrative is too much overlaid with detail, too smoky, too chaotic. The impression one gets from it is that of a vast welter of men and horses, struggling aimlessly, rolling over one another, suffering abominably and to no purpose. I have no doubt that this is an accurate picture of the war. No man who was in it has ever been able to reduce it to a well ordered tragedy, with acts and scenes, plausible characters and logical climaxes. Stonewall himself remains a maze of contradictions. Who knows what sort of human being he really was? Who has ever explained him, accounted for him? Certainly not Miss Johnstone. She has left him fabulous, preposterous, inexplicable. And here we come upon her artistic sin in “The Long Roll,” which is not the sin of failing to accomplish the impossible, but the sin of attempting the impossible. What the book lacks is artistic selection; it is not a novel at all, but the crude material of a novel—the copious and confusing notes and sketches out of which a novel might have been made. In “Lewis Rand” artistic selection was visible on every page; the clear metal of the story ran cleanly from its mountain of ore. But in this later novel there is only, or at least chiefly, the ore.
When Thrysis, the absurdly named hero of Upton Sinclair’s new novel, “Love’s Pilgrimage” (Kennerley), takes the manuscript of his masterpiece to Prof. Osborne, who once tried to teach him English, the Professor says, gently: “The thing is sincere, perhaps even exalted, but it’s overstrained and exaggerated.” I wonder if Mr. Sinclair put that speech into poor old Osborne’s mouth as a sort of hint to reviewers—a hint and a challenge? It actually describes “Love’s Pilgrimage” with great accuracy—and it gives the last touch of audacity to a book already notable for the frankness of its palpably autobiographical passages and its bloody realism elsewhere. Mr. Sinclair, as usual, writes with a great show of profundity. Like all other Socialists he is a painfully serious man; the only humor he permits himself is that grisly brand affected by medical students. But here, as in no other work of his that I know, his pose is justified by his achievement, for he has written an extraordinarily acute and interesting study of the conflict between the artistic impulse and the commonplace responsibilities of life—between the artist and the man of family. Poor Thrysis, afire with literary ambition, commits the blunder of getting him a wife, and thereafter, for rather more than six hundred pages, the influence of that wife and of the ensuing infant upon his dreams and doings is set forth with appalling particularity. If it be urged against Mr. Sinclair by those of squeamish stomach that he dwells with damnable iteration upon the physical facts of life, it may be answered for him that the physical facts of life are the very ones most apt to impress and obsess a fellow so unworldly as his hero. The poets who sing of love make no mention of anesthetics, colic, teething, soothing syrups and other such inevitable sequela. These things, centring to the hymeneal neophyte as surprises, must be surprises of a far from agreeable variety. Mr. Sinclair, in “Love’s Pilgrimage, “ deals with them frankly. I have no room here to consider such frankness in the abstract or in the light of our tawdry national prudery. All I can say is that I myself am a violent believer in it, and that the present example of it has vastly increased my respect for an author I have often belabored for the good of his soul.
What could make better reading for the good old summertime than a brisk tale of love and daring? And where will you find a better such tale than “The Sovereign Power,” by Mark Lee Luther? (Macmillan.) Mr. Luther is not only up to the minute, but even a bit ahead of the minute for his hero, young Oliver Page, la 1 3of the Engineer Corps, U. S. A., amazes Italy with an airship which goes so fast that it makes those of MM. Latham, Bleriot, Paulhan et Cie. look like lumbering tramp steamers. But navigating the air is one thing and winning Ann Milburn is quite another thing, for on the latter job there is a rival more dangerous than all the Lathams and Bleriots, to wit, the Prince Michel-Alexandre-Constantin-Stephen Paul de Rodoslav-Nemanya, Duc de Kronsbourg, Comte de Felsheim, grandee of Spain, relative of the Hapsburgs, the Bourbons, the Hohenzollerns, the Wittelsbachs and the Guelfs, and pretender to the throne of Servia. The Prince, at the start, is not actually in love with Ann, but he wants the world, and particularly the crafty Baron Saccarello, watchdog of Europe, to think that he is; for, once that notion prevails, it will be assumed as a corollary that he is too busy to play tricks in the Balkans, and so he will be able to play those tricks all the better. Unluckily, the poor Prince is elevated by his own mine. That is to say, he falls in love with Ann in dead ear nest, and poor Ann, who has been getting a lot of fun out of the pretense, now flies from the reality. As for the Prince, he goes up into the air—not figuratively, but literally. That is to say, he departs for Servia, glory and forgetfulness in his new aeroplane. What happens to him I am not going to tell you, for I have already told you enough of Mr. Luther’s galloping and diverting story. It is a story which differs much from the common run of light fiction, for it is written gracefully and persuasively and with considerable painstaking. The one fault I have to find with it is that the Prince is far more interesting than young Oliver Page—and the Baron Saccarello more interesting than either. We must have the Baron again, in some other tale. He is too engaging an old devil to part with so soon.
Diaries of neglected wives have engaged a number of authors of late—I have read fully half a dozen during the past two years. The latest is “When Half-Gods Go,” by Helen R. Martin (Century Co.). Here we learn how Robert and Edith Newbold drift apart, Robert being ensnared by Dorothea Worthington, an artful conversationalist. Now enters Eliot Newbold who seeks to save his brother by making love to Dorothea. The plan works admirably, but when Robert suddenly dies, it is not Dorothea, but the widowed Edith that Eliot leads to the altar. The scene is a small town in Pennsylvania. Another such town gives a setting to “Esther Demon,” by Mrs. Fremont Older (Scribner), in which the heroine, stepping aside from virtue, is driven from home by her anthropophagous Methodist father. Later on she and the town drunkard save each other. A story full of merits in detail. In “Phrynette,” by Marthe Troly-Curtin (Lippincott) and “An Ardent American,” by Mi’s. Russell Codman (Century Co.) the same idea appears, and in both books it is worked out with humor and ingenuity. In the first named, the fair Mile. Phrynette Chodor, daughter of a French father and a Scotch mother, goes to London at eighteen to visit her late mamma’s relatives, the MacGuinnesses, and there she has a merry time exploring the British metropolis and the British mind, and incidentally she sights, tracks and captures a British husband. In “An Ardent American,” the fair Yvonne Carrington, American in blood but German by birth and breeding, makes her first visit to the United States at eighteen—and, like Mlle. Phrynette, proceeds by a devious and hilarious way to the sacrificial altar. Make your choice between the two books. Either one of them will keep you awake and contented on a gummy afternoon.
The title of “Conrad in Quest of His Youth, “ by Leonard Merrick (Kennerley), neatly reduces an excellent story to six words. Conrad Warrener, suddenly made opulent at thirty-seven by the lamentable death of his Aunt Tryphena, comes back from the colonies, where he has been exiled for fifteen years, to London town, and proceeds to look up the loves of his nonage. Alas, what cruel things old Father Time will do! Little Mary Page, that angel of the long ago, is now the hulking and hideous Mrs. Barchester-Bailey, with a baroque drawing room and four smeary little Barchester-Baileys in Hyperion Terrace, Upper Tooting. And Mrs. Adaile, sweet memory of the lonely years—what of her? “She had altered certainly—even pathetically. . . . A shade too stout. Yes, a shade too stout for his taste. And—and had her hair been copper color in Rouen?”
Nothing new in this sad story, of course. Most of us have read it before. Many of us have lived it. But Mr. Merrick tells it so capitally, with so many graces, with so much delicacy and wit and charm, that you will follow it to the end without thought of its antiquity. And before getting to the end you will find out how Conrad, for all his agonies of disillusion, yet does get back his youth.
More English novels. “The Early History of Jacob Stahl,” by J. D. Beresford (Little- Brown), is in the biographical, cold-blooded, realistic manner of H. G. Wells and Arnold Bennett. Jacob’s heart pumps Irish, German and Jewish blood, and he is a fantastic mixture of dreamer and climber, poet and blackleg. When the beautiful Madeline Felmersdale, his first love, confesses to him that she is not chemically pure, his first impulse is to commit suicide—but what he actually does it to become the partner of her deviltries. Later on he marries another girl, or rather a lady with a past, and she first ruins him and then deserts him. At thirty-one he starts life all over again, and it is then that we bid him good-bye. Perhaps he will bob up again in another volume. Worse things might happen. This J. D. Beresford, indeed, has chosen good models and does them no dishonor. His writing rises far above the common place. In over five hundred pages he is never dull.
Not so Sir Arthur T. Quiller-Couch. His “Brother Copas” (Scribner) is not without its incisive humor, its mordant touches of characterization, its scenes of high comedy; but it is also full of rather tedious discussions of various depressing subjects, chiefly ecclesiastical. The ancient English cathedral town of Merchester is the scene, and theological dons are to the fore. “People of Position,” by Stanley Portal Hyatt (Wessels-Bissel), belabors British respectability. Jimmy Grierson, after ten years of knocking about the world, goes back to England to find the customs and ideals of his relatives unbearable. His criticism of their oppressive and insincere virtue takes the form of an overt act. That is to say, he picks up a woman from the Piccadilly procession, lives with her for a year or so, and then marries her. A “strong” story but withal one suavely told. The English know how to do such things. In “Jane Oglander,” by Mrs. Belloc Lowndes (Scribner), it is not Jane herself but the satanic Athena Maule who most engages us. Athena, married to Richard Maule the great Hellenist, finds life with that ancient pundit extremely fatiguing, so she seeks relaxation by pursuing other men, including the celebrated General Lingard, whose heart really belongs to Jane. Old Maule stands that sort of carrying-on, as they say in the South, for years. Then, growing impatient at last, he drops an overdose of chloral into the merry Athena’s evening cup of chocolate, and in the morning the way is open for Jane to get back her General. A tale in the “Dodo” manner—clever enough, but rather depressing.
Of “Demeter’s Daughter,” by Eden Phillpotts (Lane), I can tell you little, since I suffer from a constitutional antipathy to Phillpotts, as other folk suffer from constitutional antipathies to tobacco, marriage or the pollen of the golden rod, and so the reading of his books gives me unbearable agony. In lieu of a personal opinion, which would be plainly unjust, let me quote the opinions of two newspaper critics for whom I have high respect. One of them says that “in this story the characteristic powers of the author are displayed in unabated excellence”; the other says that the book is, in plan and execution, “a work which falls, as of right, into the first rank of modern fiction.” Let me add further (to show how powerful and unreasonable are prejudices) that I am unable to read the tales of Edgar Allan Poe without snickering, or the heartbreaking pathos of Charles Dickens without swearing, or the romances of Sir Walter Scott without snoring. Such prejudices baffle the psychological investigator. Their origin is in little things—often in ultra-microscopic things. Apparent cause and real cause may be miles apart. For instance, the temptation is strong to say that I snore over Scott because he is prolix, but against that fine theory two facts stand, one being the fact that Scott is less prolix than Joseph Conrad, and the other being the fact that I do not snore over Conrad.
In view of all this, I make no effort to justify, upon reasonable grounds, my antipathy to Phillpotts. All that I can say is that it exists, that I deeply lament it and that I hope to be saved from Gehenna in spite of it.