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A Reviewer's Notebook Post by :kashman7 Category :Essays Author :Heywood Broun Date :November 2011 Read :2155

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A Reviewer's Notebook

There is an amazing simplicity about great events. Creation week was clear, calm and quiet. Hardly a ripple was on the Rubicon the afternoon that Cæsar crossed. Even Babylon fell softly and bounced only once. In the same spirit Pierre V. R. Key started John McCormack: His Own Life Story.

"It was a summer's day, with the sun shining," writes Mr. Key, "when we began. McCormack sat on the veranda of Rocklea, his Noroton, Connecticut, villa, gazing out upon the waters of Long Island Sound. He had sat that way for some minutes, in a suit of tennis flannels, his stalwart body relaxed in an armchair. I waited for his opening words. 'What a debt a man owes to his mother and father,' he said."

* * *

Mr. Key's admiration for McCormack we found later on rests on unassailable grounds. "He began to sing," Key writes, "he sings to-day--and will go on singing until he dies--for just one reason alone: God meant that he should sing."

We trust it will not be considered an impiety if we express a curiosity as to whether the nasal quality was included in God's intention.

We have forgotten what Aristotle or Clayton Hamilton or any of the others have set down as the first rule for playwrights, but it seems to us that it ought to be: Get O. P. Heggie. It makes no difference what the part may be, court dandy, early Christian or conjuror, Heggie is your man. The only disturbing factor is that into every rôle this actor brings a sort of spiritual animation. If you chance to call upon him to fall down stairs he will do it splendidly, missing not a single bump, and the audience will laugh its bellyful, but it will also have the feeling that in some curious way the thing has become exalted, that after all it may be the heart instead of the gizzard which is breaking under the emotion of the moment. Giving sawdust to this man is dangerous business, for the first thing you know he has changed it into blood.

Heggie was by all odds the outstanding figure in Ian Hay's pleasant farce-comedy, Happy-Go-Lucky. He was cast as Samuel Stillbottle, a bailiff's man, made up like Fields, the tramp juggler, and called upon to perform all the antics dear to low comedy. He did them with gusto, but there was something more. Heggie is almost the only actor we know who can trip over a door sill and keep his performance in two dimensions. The playwright may spread him into as broad a character as you please, but he cannot flatten him. Depth remains. When Heggie sets all the dishes to crashing or guzzles stage whisky till he chokes we laugh first and then pause to wonder whether or not the soul of man is immortal.

All this should be a part of the best clowning. The great clown is for us all the symbol of man's defiance to the great spaces and the wide darkness. Perhaps we die to-morrow, but to-day we are fellows of infinite jest. No matter what happens, we have laughed. To see O. P. Heggie is to be reminded of all the clowns that have ever been and are to come in the eternal succession of the brave and brazen.

* * *

Nothing in the world dies quite as completely as an actor and the greater the actor the more terrifying becomes the sudden transition from radiance to darkness. One day he is there with all his moods and complexities and curious glints of this and that, and the next day there is nothing left but a few wigs and costumes; perhaps a volume of memoirs, and a scrapbook of clippings in which we learn that the dead player was "majestic in presence" that "the poise of his head was stag-like" that he had "a great voice which boomed like a bell," that he was "regal, subtle, pathetic," and that "every one who was ever associated with him loved and respected him."

Ask some veteran theatergoer "What was Booth like as Hamlet?" and he will say "Oh, he was wonderful." Perhaps the face of the old theatergoer will grow animated and Booth may live again for a moment in his mind, but we who have never seen Booth will never know anything about him. Nobody can recreate and explain the art of a dead actor to the next generation. Even men who do tricks and true magic with words are not adept enough to set down any lasting portrait of an actor on the wing.

* * *

A good deal of whitewash has flowed past the fence, but Tom Sawyer's trick still holds good. Even to-day it is possible to get hard work done by making people think of it as a privilege. In looking over an autumn catalogue, we came across a series of books for young persons in which we were struck by the titles, When Mother Lets Us Help and When Mother Lets Us Cook. We trust that the series will be extended along these lines. If so, we intend to use as birthday gifts for H. 3rd, When Father Lets Me Stoke the Furnace, When Father Lets Me Shine His Shoes, and When Father Lets Me Lend Him Money.

* * *

A great number of persons for whose opinions we have the highest respect have assured us that Woman, by Magdeleine Marx, is an absorbing and well-written novel. We have done our best but we can't go through. At the last attempt, under whip and spur, we reached page 46 and there we found, "A gentle pearl-gray breeze was stirring the curtains." We can go no further. There is nothing for us to do but lie down and wait for the St. Bernards.

* * *

We rushed in blithely the other day to talk to a woman's club up New York State on how to bring up children. Quoting from W. H. Hudson, we said firmly that they should never be spanked or even chided very much. "Let them run about and shift for themselves," we said airily. "The instinct of the child is often more sound than that of the grown-up. He is closer to old race instincts and memories than his parent." Then we finished up with our mule story and asked for questions.

We expected that somebody would ask whether Ethel Barrymore was a good actress, and did we like the novels of H.G. Wells, or one or two other easy questions like that, to which a lecturer need say nothing more than "yes" or "no" or "assuredly." Instead of that somebody said, "How many children have you brought up?"

We could only answer that there was one, and that he wasn't very far up yet, nor had we been trusted with complete charge of him. At that point objections and questions became general and exceedingly difficult. Probably we gave some ground. There was, as we remember it, the admission that there were times in which a spanking might seem a very tempting solution of a difficult problem, although we did qualify it by urging that no moral interpretation be introduced into the punishment. We once knew a mother who used to say, "Gladys, you have been a bad girl, and so to-morrow at half-past eleven I'm going to spank you." That pose of cool and calm deliberation, of even-handed justice, of godlike inflexibility, has always seemed to us unbecoming in a parent. If he spanks a child he ought to be frank enough to say that he does it because he is angry and can't think up anything better.

However, it is probable that we were too much flustered to develop our position at any great length. We felt uncomfortably as if we had agreed to talk to a G. A. R. Post on the Battle of Gettysburg. One mother told us that she had raised four children with frequent spankings and that one was now a college professor while the other three were exceedingly successful in the wholesale hardware business. She said she had never regretted it. All four had grown up God-fearing and dutiful.

A still more devastating revelation of experience in child raising was yet to plague our confidence and complacency. "I'm an old woman," said one hearer, as we started to retire in none too good order, "and I can talk to you frankly. I have a daughter now who is old enough to have children of her own. I brought her up on that go-as-you-please system you have been talking about, and do you know what has become of her?"

We blanched a little and wondered just how frank she was going to be before we said "No."

"She calls herself a Socialist," said the old lady, and our lines broke away into full retreat at all points.

* * *

Some of the political friends insist dolefully, a few gleefully, that if certain candidates, laws, economic schemes, or what not, fail of speedy adoption we shall have a revolution. We are even told that the scenes of the French Revolution will be enacted here. We don't believe it for a moment. At any rate, not if Dickens painted a true picture in A Tale of Two Cities because none of the radical ladies of our acquaintance could possibly perform the required knitting.

* * *

"For no man can be free," writes the author of The Book of Marjorie, "unless he despises pain and heat and cold and fatigue, unless those things mean no more to him than the patter of rain outside his room, unless he does succeed in keeping them so outside himself that they never enter at all into the calculations of the thinking part of him. If we can bring up our child like this he will have nothing to fear, because he will know that no real hurt can be done to him except by himself." And in another portion of the book we read, "I should hate for my son to be afraid, because there are so many things that hinder him and check him that he must take into consideration."

But we are not at all sure that fear is to be set aside as one of the destructive emotions of mankind. All our fearless ancestors were eaten by ichthyosauri and other ferocious and primitive monsters. Indeed, there would be more ichthyosauri than men in the world to-day if certain of our progenitors had not learned that it is an exceedingly healthful thing at times to run for dear life. Of course, we admit that some fears are ignoble. We shall make no attempt, for instance, to justify our abiding distrust of cows, but the fact remains that a little decent fear is part of the proper portion of man.

Man is a weak and pitiful dweller in a violent world and nothing has done so much to sharpen his wits as fear. Probably he found fire because he feared the dark. Surely he instituted law through distrust of his fellows. And fear must have been the first prompting toward religion. Then, too, it seems more than likely that there would never have been a literature but for fear. Primitive peoples liked to hear the stories of great heroes who did mighty deeds because such things served to cheer and inspirit them.

Fear of his own frailties made man seek wisdom. To wish a child to grow up without fear is almost to wish him to be devoid of imagination. And more than that, if there was no such thing as fear courage would be without meaning and significance.

And yet we could wish that H. 3rd was not so frankly terrified at the sight of Ajax, who is not more than three months old or a foot long. Of course, Ajax attempts to bay, but it doesn't sound like much in a soprano. When the thin and piping voice of the dog sounds in agonized protest at being shut in the kitchen H. 3rd will throw both hands over his face and hide his head, as if he were Uncle Tom with a whole pack of bloodhounds on his trail. Moreover, he showed such abject fear when taken out to have his hair cut that we had to desist and let him keep his curls. Still a little such trepidation on the part of Samson might have been set down as a virtue.

* * *

Not the least interesting part of William Byron Forbush's seven volumes in The Literary Digest Parents' League Series is the section devoted to questions and answers.

"I have a child," writes Esther P., "who already seems to be cut out for a business man. He refuses to play with dolls, balls, or even soldiers. This seems to restrict the range of toys for him. What can I provide?"

And Mr. Forbush answers: "There is an inexpensive 'toytown bank.' Also an outfit of tickets and uniform with which to play ticket-agent. Encourage him to print paper money and checks and buy him some toy money...."

If he is to be a real business man he'll not have anything to do with tickets bought directly at the box office. It would be better we think to get him a bright vest and a derby hat and let him pretend to be a sidewalk speculator. He might be encouraged to demand one pin a day from each of his parents for admission to the nursery and two pins, of course, on Saturdays and holidays. Also, arrangements could be made with some reliable brokerage house to have him supplied with the ticker tape each day.

* * *

We like John Galsworthy a great deal better than we ever did before after reading his Addresses in America, 1919, for it seems to us that this man of lofty wisdom shows in this book a certain human tendency to fall into poppycock occasionally, like all the rest of us. In urging a closer comradeship between the English-speaking nations Mr. Galsworthy writes: "For unless we work together, and in no selfish or exclusive spirit--Good-by to Civilization! It will vanish like dew off the grass. The betterment not only of the British nations and America, but of all mankind, is and must be our object."

We suppose the dewdrops in each particular meadow get together occasionally and tell each other that when they are gone there will be no more dew. But then there comes another morning. We are not anxious to see Anglo-English civilization pass away, but after all there are other civilizations in the world, and there have been others, and others will come. Some, we suppose, may be worse, but there is at least a possibility that others may be better. Nor are we fond of hearing the English-speaking peoples talking about "the betterment of all mankind." It has at least a savor of a German heresy which put the world into a four years' war. Next to maltreating foreign nations, almost the worst thing that any powerful country can do is to set out to better them.

* * *

Germany, in all truth, has enough to answer for without also being made responsible for the charges implied in humorous anecdotes. Margaret Deland, in rounding off her case against the Hun in Small Things, writes, "And I recall here the revealing remark of a German, a member of a commission which, before the war, was traveling in America: 'Yes,' he said, 'we found your railroad cars very comfortable--except the sleeping cars. Our wives don't like to climb into the upper berths.'"

It may be remembered that one of the attacks made against England during the war by a famous German propagandist was contained in the story of the English woman who went to the hospital with a badly wounded face and upon being asked whether she had been bitten by a dog, replied, "No, another lady."

Then, of course, the honor of the United States is called into question by the yarn about the man from Chicago who took his wife to a big New York restaurant and ordered two broiled lobsters. The waiter returned to report that only one remained. "Only one lobster!" exclaimed the man from Chicago, "but what's my wife going to eat!"

Still again a number of persons in America cannot bring themselves to sympathize with the Sinn Fein movement because of the well-known meeting between two Irishmen at which one inquired, "Who was that lady I seen you walking down the street with?" to which the other replied, "That was no lady, you chump; that was my wife."

The Irishman's offense was not alone one of taste but of brutality as well, for we all know that as he said "You chump," he hit his friend violently over the head with a dull, blunt instrument. All this, in addition to the Ulster problem, makes the solution of the difficulties of Ireland seem insurmountable to many students of international affairs.

Moreover, the success of the proposed league of nations is questioned by many persons on account of the revelation contained in the story about the Jugo-Slav who said, "Yes, but ain't we going to give any to dear old mother?" We have forgotten the exact details of the story, but as we remember, it was equally damning to the national aspirations of the Slovenes.

The Russian writer Dmitry Mereshkovsky has called Roshpin's The Pale Horse "the most Russian book of the period," according to the introduction in the new edition. We are not disposed to dispute that statement after reading the first chapter, in which we found: "The hotel bores me to weariness. I know so well its hall porter in his blue tunic, its gilt mirrors, its carpets. There is a shabby sofa in my room and dusty curtains. I have placed three kilograms of dynamite under the table. I have brought it from abroad. The dynamite smells of a chemist's shop. I have headaches at night."

* * *

He should have tried the dynamite. We understand that it is an excellent cure for headaches when used internally.

* * *

In his introduction to Madeleine: An Autobiography, Judge Ben B. Lindsey writes of the book, "It ought to be read and pondered over. It is true." For our part, we doubt whether the book will prove of any vital aid in solving what newspapers are fond of referring to as "white slavery"; for, although much of the book is convincing and seemingly veracious, it is hard to grasp its intent. Indeed, there is such a mass of informative detail in this life story of a woman of the underworld that it almost seemed to us as if it were intended to be a companion book to such works as How To Be a Boy Scout or Golf in Fifty Lessons. It is true that the author of the book takes great pains to dwell frequently on the way in which her whole physical and spiritual nature revolted against the life which she was leading, but at other times there is a very evident intimation of her satisfaction in having been at any rate a leading member of her profession. Certainly, she writes with a good deal of gusto of the manner in which she and her friend Olga succeeded in selling the same bottle of champagne seven times to a befuddled gentleman, and undeniable pride in her accounts of how well she succeeded professionally in an executive capacity.

And yet, though we are not very much concerned with seeking for morals in books, there is one telling sermon in the volume, and all the more telling because it does not seem to have been within the plan of the writer. "Madeleine" ought to do something to clear away the mist in minds which confuse prudery and virtue. Even in her most degraded and sinful moments, Madeleine remains a proper person. In telling of her conversation with an associate in the life of shame Madeleine writes, "I felt sure that human degradation could go no further; when she took a box of cigarettes from under her pillow and offered me one I was speechless with indignation." A year or so later, while Madeleine still has both feet set in the primrose path, she violently upbraids a girl who wants her to use rouge. "I would not have my face painted, and that settled it! Not only for that day but for all of the succeeding days in which I remained in the business. I had to draw a line somewhere." Again she rails at present-day fashions, and observes, "If a girl had come into Lizzie Allen's parlors wearing some of the present-day street styles she would have been told to go upstairs and put on her clothes."

But we were even more impressed by the chapter in which Madeleine goes to Butte to open a brothel and takes a dislike to the town because of its loose observance of the Sabbath. "Clothing stores, groceries, saloons, small drygoods shops, cigar stands, dance halls and variety shows elbowing one another and wide open for business, gave a shock to my sense of the fitness of things."

* * *

There are persons to whom a preposition is as inspiring as a trumpet call. Dangle an "on" before a dying essayist and he will get up and dash you off something entitled "On an Old Penwiper," or "On the Delights of Washing Before Breakfast." It is essential that an essayist be an enthusiast about more things than prepositions. They are merely his springboards. He ought to be a man who wears his Corona on his sleeve, for there is no moment of the day or night in which he is safe from the onrush of ideas. I once knew a man who was a complete essayist at heart but a city editor by profession. He came into the office one July afternoon and called me over. "As I was walking downtown," he began, "I saw a little piece of ice in the middle of Broadway. Write me a funny story about it."

The assignment floored me completely. I idled over it for an hour and then reported back that I couldn't see a story in the suggestion. "What suggestion?" said the city editor. The thing had gone from his mind. He was of the mold from which great men are made. Having said of anything "Let it be done" he at once felt not only that it was accomplished, but that he had done it himself. The matter never came to his mind again. At the moment I spoke to him he was already deeply engrossed in a scheme for a story computing the value of all the lobster salad sold in the City of New York, exclusive of Brooklyn, the Bronx and Staten Island, in a single evening.

I have noticed that most essayists are like that. Their enthusiasms are intense, but not of long duration. It is just as well. After all, there probably is no great field for expression in the subject of penwipers. The essayist does it once in a fine spirit of frenzy and then goes on to something else. If he were faithful to the one theme there's no telling when he might exhaust his market.

Sometimes I am inclined to distrust the enthusiasm of the essayist. Being a man much moved to write, he comes to be so sensitive that even a puff of wind will propel him into an essay. And then sometimes on dead calm days he will begin to write under the pretense that a breath from some far corner of the world has touched him. Perhaps it has. But then again it may be that he, too, is among the fakers.

"It is time, I think," writes Alpha of the Plough, in Windfalls, "that some one said a good word for the wasp. He is no saint, but he is being abused beyond his deserts."

But why is it time? Fabre has said some hundreds of thousands of good words about wasps, but even if he hadn't, whence comes the cry of "justice for the wasp"? The wasps themselves haven't complained. Nor is there much persuasion in what Alpha sets down.

"Now the point about the wasp," he writes, "is that he doesn't want to sting you." Of still less moment to the world than the wrongs of the wasp are his motives and intentions. Any wasp who stings me will be wasting his time if he lingers around after the deed to explain, "I didn't want to do it."

Still, the whole trick of the essayist is to pick side-alley subjects. Selecting at random from Windfalls, there are On a Hansom Cab, Two Glasses of Milk, On Matches and Things. Few of them, it seems to me; are better than pretty good. That is hardly good enough. The essay is a stunt. Either the writer can balance his theme on the end of his nose or he can't.

What with the various new jobs which are being created, some enterprising university should found a School of Censorship. It might, most fittingly, be a Sumner school, and the college yell without question will be "Carnal I yell! I yell carnal!"

* * *

At first we were inclined to look at prohibition with tolerance, because it meant a release from all the books which described what would happen to a guinea pig if he were inoculated with Bronx cocktails. The relief was temporary, for we find that it takes just as much time to read the heartrending accounts of the effect of one drop of nicotine placed on the tongue of a dog.

In Habits That Handicap, by Charles B. Towns, we find the following ailments attributed directly or indirectly to the use of tobacco: Bright's disease, apoplexy, chronic catarrh, headache, heart disease, lassitude, dizziness, low scholarship, small lung capacity, predisposition to alcoholic excesses, hardening of the arteries, paralysis of the optic nerve, blindness, acid dyspepsia, insomnia, epilepsy, muscular paralysis, cancer, lack of appetite, insanity and loss of moral tone. Mumps, measles and beri-beri are slighted in the present edition.

"There is nothing to be said in its favor," writes Mr. Towns, "save that it gives pleasure."

"It seems," he adds in another portion of the book, "to give one companionship when one has none--something to do when one is bored--keeps one from feeling hungry when one is hungry and blunts the edge of hardship and worry."

Suppose, then, that every ailment which Mr. Towns has traced to tobacco actually lies at its door--even then is the case for the prohibition of smoking persuasive? Of course, low scholarship is a fearful and humiliating thing, but we wonder whether it is more devastating than loneliness. It is better, we think, to have a little lassitude now and then, or even a touch of acid dyspepsia, than to be without the weed which gives "one companionship when one has none." And consider the tremendous testimonial in favor of tobacco which Mr. Towns has written when he says that it gives "something to do when one is bored." Although we haven't the statistics for last year yet, we venture the guess that about 63 per cent of all the people who die in any one year cease living because they are bored. Boredom is the cause of 85 per cent of all actions for divorce. It fills our jails. Nations make war because of it. Social unrest, bedroom farces, tardiness, rudeness, blasphemy, crime, lies and yawning in the presence of company all rise because of it.

And so we are disposed to sit defiantly shoulder to shoulder with other smokers and to cry out against the foe who creeps ever closer through the haze, "Bring on your 'lack of appetite.'"

It may be true, as Mr. Towns says, that smoking causes a loss of moral tone, but if the smoker will save his coupons religiously at the end of a few months he will be able to exchange them for a book on character building.

* * *

It seems to us that Booth Tarkington belongs at the top or thereabouts in American letters. We will be surprised and disappointed if Penrod does not persist for a century or so. And yet much of Tarkington's work is flawed by a curious failing. Almost invariably the novels are carefully thought out to a certain point, and then they weaken. This point occurs, as a rule, within a chapter or so of the end. The story "hangs," as the racetrack reporters express it, in the last few strides. In Ramsey Milholland, for instance, it seemed to us that Tarkington, after a minute development of a theme, cut it off abruptly. He was, according to our impression, a little tired and anxious to have it over with before he had actually reached the finishing mark. To-day we received a story which may provide an explanation. "Booth Tarkington," says a publisher's note, "probably uses more lead pencils than any other writer in America. Always he has disdained a typewriter.

"He works at an artist's drawing table, and," the story continues, "with a little stock of paper before him he then sets about the actual business of composition very slowly, very carefully. Every phrase--almost every word--is pondered, balanced, scrutinized before it is permitted to pass. As often as not a dozen phrases have been rejected before the final one, which seems to readers to come so trippingly, has been arrived at. Individual words are scored out again and again."

All this makes the slackening of vigor toward the end of a long novel comprehensible. Though a man begin with a dozen well sharpened pencils catastrophes are sure to occur in the course of fifty or sixty thousand words. Finally, the author finds himself with an aching wrist and only one pencil, which has grown a little dull. If he is to add another chapter he must pause to find a safety razor blade and sharpen up. And so instead he rounds off the tale while lead remains.

* * *

On the other hand, we feel certain that Harold Bell Wright composes on a typewriter, pausing only once every twenty-four hours to oil the machine with a little treacle.

* * *

Robert W. Chambers uses an adding machine and Theodore Dreiser favors an ax.

* * *

"Man is a machine," writes Dr. David Orr Edson in Getting What We Want, "with the directions for use written on his physiognomy--which society in general neglects to read. Through this omission much of the unrest in the world has developed, and psychologists have been forced to recognize and attempt to cope with the protests of the psychophysical against unendurable conditions of life."

To us these seem true words. It isn't only that society neglects to read, but also that it reads awry. Again and again our legible physiognomy has been taken to mean, "Shake well before using," when anybody with half an eye ought to know that it says, "Lay on its side in a cool, dry place."

* * *

We were discussing the education of H. 3rd the other day, and when we were asked where he was to go, of course we said, "The Rand School."

"No," said the friend who put the question, "I don't believe it. By the time H. is ready to go to school you'll be saying that the Rand School is a reactionary institution and full of snobs."

* * *

Perhaps, since he is to be a book reviewer, H. should go to a Montessori school. They teach the children to skip.

* * *

Gerald Cumberland's Set Down in Malice reveals the interesting fact that Mrs. Shaw calls him "George." Moreover, she is quoted as saying "Don't be absurd, George."

There are limits to the success of the most adroit literary advertiser the modern world has known, as we learned from a trip to the British front two years ago. Our conducting officer had been Shaw's guide a few months before, and we were anxious to learn how he had impressed the army.

"Oh, he was no end of nuisance," replied the young officer. "When I got him out to our mess I found out that he was a vegetarian, and I had to hop around and get him eggs and all sorts of truck."

* * *

If Gerald Cumberland is thirty-one or less, Tales of a Cruel Country is an exceedingly promising collection of short stories. If, on the other hand, he has gone beyond that age we see only a doddering literary future for him. There are twenty-two stories in Tales of a Cruel Country and three of them are excellent. One, in fact, seems to us a superb short story, but many of the other nineteen are rot. Now, they are the sort of rot which a young man may turn out by the bushel and still go on to great things. "Her eyes are pits of darkness," "a beautiful animal," "whiter than the paper on which this little history is written," "he pulled his body together sensually," "his teeth bit more deeply into his lower lip," "brutally I tore her arms away and flung her from me as a man would fling away a snake that had coiled around him in his sleep"--that is the sort of rot we mean.

It has its place in the work of every young writer. In fact, if he writes honestly there is no skipping this period, which must be passed before he is ready to do more important work. Fortunately, there are several easy tests by which one may determine whether a writer is still in his salad days, in which he does as the romaines, or whether he is ready to go on and deal with hardier grasses. Ask him what the word "mirror" suggests to him and note whether he replies "a man shaving" or "a slender woman disrobing." Try him with "model" and see whether he replies "artist's" or "tenement," and finally, if he can meet your "bed" immediately with "eight hours' sleep" you may put him down as among those who have finished their literary stint of "half insane gleam of desire," "her eyes swooped into his," and "vermouth on purple trays."

* * *

We are particularly interested in the publication of Clarence Buddington Kelland's The Little Moment of Happiness, because we made a dramatization of the novel last year which failed of production partly because of the deplorable lapse in morals which Mr. Kelland allows to his hero. The story concerns a Puritanical young American officer who is stationed in Paris during the war and falls in love with a beautiful French girl named Andrée. Now, Andrée is not like the girls whom Kendall, our hero, has been accustomed to meet in America. "A young man love a young girl," says Andrée, "and a young girl love a young man.... They marry, maybe. That is well. But maybe they do not marry. It is expensive to marry. Then they see each other very often, and he gives her money so she can live.... That is well, because they are fidèle."

Naturally, we were as much shocked by this doctrine as Kendall, the hero; but, since Mr. Kelland's story was largely concerned with the young man's eventual decision to make shift without benefit of clergy, we could see no way open for us to act about the reformation of Andrée's character. As a matter of fact, owing to the exigencies of dramatic action, we were compelled to make the affair much more precipitate than in the book. We gave the hero an order to return to the front. We had off-stage bands of soldiers wandering up and down singing "Madelon," in the most heartrending way, and, finally, we introduced an air raid to shut off the Metro so that the heroine should have no available means of transportation to go home even if she desired to leave the apartment of the hero.

It was not enough. A manager read the play and at first seemed favorably inclined. Then he began to think it over and finally he summoned us to a conference.

"Suppose you had been an American officer in France during the war," he said.

We accepted the supposition.

"And then suppose after you came home you took your wife, or your mother, or your fiancée, to see this play."

We nodded again and he paused for dramatic effect.

"At the end of the third act when they found that this girl was going to stay all night in the apartment of this American officer, suppose they had turned to you and said, 'Heywood, did you live like that in Paris?' Or, even if they said nothing, but just looked at you accusingly, what would you say to them?"

We suggested, "Isn't it rather stuffy in here? Do you mind if I go out to smoke?" But that did not seem wholly satisfactory, and so our version of The Little Moment of Happiness never reached the stage.

* * *

The office force got started on a discussion of what character in fiction each of us would take out to dinner if he had his choice. Most of the men spoke for Becky Sharp, although there were scattering bids here and there for Thaïs. But the night editor, who had put in a long evening of it, said, "My choice would be little Eva."

"Why?" we asked tactfully.

"Because she'd probably have to go home early!" he answered.

Brian Kent, the hero of Harold Bell Wright's new novel, The Re-Creation of Brian Kent, is first introduced to us as a defaulting bank clerk. Later he is reformed by the influence of "dear old Auntie Sue" and becomes a novelist. His first book sells so well that in six months he is able to pay back all the money he stole and have something left over. This would seem to prove that Brian was an unusually successful novelist. Or, again, it may merely indicate that he had no real gift for embezzlement.

* * *

It rather seems to us that the distinct failure of political radicalism in America may be explained in part by its devotion to the concrete as opposed to the abstract. "We are going to make the world over anew at 12:25 o'clock p. m. next Thursday," says the concrete radical. And then Thursday comes and it rains and nothing is done about fixing up the world, and all the followers of the young radical are disappointed, and they go home firmly convinced that the world never will be fixed up. The man who realizes the value of the abstract ideal is shrewder. He says: "The world ought to be scrubbed up a lot, and if we can make a start next Thursday some time after breakfast we will. But if we can't do it then we've just got to keep on plugging away, because the job must be done."

In other words, the man with abstract ideals makes the job the important thing. The concrete man is impressed more by the date of the doing.

* * *

A little abstraction is an excellent thing for the reformer or the revolutionist. It provides, we should say, a sort of reinforced concrete purpose.

* * *

At the worst, an abstract ideal is pemmican to carry the voyager through the long nights until the ice begins to break.

* * *

Some writers are hardly fair to women, but not so Julian Street. In his new novel, After Thirty, he describes marriage as a canoe trip beginning in the Rapids of Romance, and later he observes: "Presently they come to the first cataract--the birth of their first child--a long, hard portage, with the larger portion of the burden on the wife."

Generous, we call it.

* * *

"Mr. Seton's new book of the outdoors," says the jacket of Woodland Tales, "is meant for children of six years and upward. But in the belief that mother or father will be active as leader, those chapters which are devoted to woodcraft are addressed to the parent, who throughout is called 'The Guide.'"

So far we have found the business of being a father hard enough without assuming the responsibilities of "The Guide" as well. The only piece of woodcraft within our knowledge which we can pass on to H. 3rd comes from Harvey O'Higgins, who says that he can always find his way about in London by remembering that the moss grows on the north side of an Englishman.

* * *

"This history of Wells," said our friend Rollo, "seems to me to confirm the story of creation as told in Genesis. The impression which I gather is that the Creator attempted various life forms again and again, and each time wasn't satisfied and swept them all away. Apparently he was experimenting continually through the ages until finally he got to me and said, 'That's it,' and stopped."

"But you don't know that he's stopped," objected A. W. "What seems to you a pause is only a fraction of a second in infinity. It seems to me more likely that the Creator is just shaking his head and saying, 'Well, I suppose I'd better go back to the Neanderthal man and start all over again.'"

* * *

A magazine editor is a man who says "Sit down," then knits his brows for five minutes, and suddenly brightens as he exclaims, "Why don't you do us a series like Mr. Dooley?"

In his book Average Americans, Theodore Roosevelt comments on the fact that all classes and conditions of men were to be found in the ranks of the American army--waiters, chauffeurs, lawyers. He adds:

"A lieutenant once spoke to me after an action, saying that when he was leading his platoon back from the battle one of his privates asked him a question. The question was so intelligent and so well thought out that the lieutenant said to him: 'What were you before the war?' The reply was 'City editor of The Cleveland Plain Dealer.'"

The story does not surprise us. Years before the war we maintained that if ever a catastrophe great enough to shake the world came along a certain appearance of intelligence might be jarred loose even in city editors.

* * *

Henry Ford, so the story goes, called upon the editor of his magazine The Dearborn Independent to ascertain how things were going.

"We're too statistical, I'm afraid," said the editor. "Of course we can try and get that sort of stuff over by putting it in the form of how many hours it takes to turn out enough end-to-end Fords to reach from here to Shanghai and back, but that sort of thing has been done before. It doesn't take the curse off. What we need is some good, live fiction."

"All right," replied Mr. Ford, "let's have fiction."

"It's not as easy as all that," objected the young editor. "There's very keen competition among all the magazines for the fiction writers, and I'd need a pretty big appropriation to get any of them."

"Why not get some of the bright young men on the magazine to write us some fiction?" suggested Ford.

"That's not feasible," said the editor. "Fiction's a highly specialized product. Nobody on our magazine has the complete equipment to turn out successful fiction."

"Ah, but that's where efficiency comes in," interrupted Ford triumphantly. "Get one of the young men to think up an idea. Then let another outline the general structure. A third can do the descriptions and another one the dialogue. And then you--you're the editor--you assemble it."


(The end)
Heywood Broun's essay: Reviewer's Notebook

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