Home
  By Author [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Title [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Language
all Classics books content using ISYS

Download this book: [ ASCII | HTML | PDF ]

Look for this book on Amazon


We have new books nearly every day.
If you would like a news letter once a week or once a month
fill out this form and we will give you a summary of the books for that week or month by email.

Title: Prejudices, First Series
Author: Mencken, H. L. (Henry Louis)
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Prejudices, First Series" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.



Internet Archive (https://archive.org)



Note: Images of the original pages are available through
      Internet Archive. See
      https://archive.org/details/prejudicesfirsts00menc


Transcriber’s note:

      Text enclosed by underscores is in italics (_italics_).



PREJUDICES
FIRST SERIES


------------------------------------------------------------------------

                           _By H. L. MENCKEN_


 PREJUDICES: FIRST SERIES

 A BOOK OF PREFACES

 IN DEFENSE OF WOMEN

 A BOOK OF BURLESQUES

 THE PHILOSOPHY OF FRIEDRICH NIETZSCHE

 THE AMERICAN LANGUAGE
   [_New edition in preparation for fall of 1921_]


 _With George Jean Nathan_

 THE AMERICAN CREDO

 HELIOGABALUS


 _Out of Print_

 VENTURES INTO VERSE

 GEORGE BERNARD SHAW: HIS PLAYS

 THE ARTIST

 A LITTLE BOOK IN C MAJOR

 A BOOK OF CALUMNY

 MEN VERSUS THE MAN
   [_With R. R. La Monte_]

 EUROPE AFTER 8:15
   [_With Mr. Nathan and W. H. Wright_]

------------------------------------------------------------------------


PREJUDICES
FIRST SERIES

by

H. L. MENCKEN



[Illustration]

Published at the Borzoi · New York · by
Alfred · A · Knopf

Copyright, 1919, by
Alfred A. Knopf, Inc.

Published September, 1919
Second Printing January, 1920
Third Printing April, 1920
Fourth Printing March, 1921

Printed in the United States of America



                                CONTENTS


     I CRITICISM OF CRITICISM OF CRITICISM,                            9

    II THE LATE MR. WELLS,                                            22

   III ARNOLD BENNETT,                                                36

    IV THE DEAN,                                                      52

     V PROFESSOR VEBLEN,                                              59

    VI THE NEW POETRY MOVEMENT,                                       83

   VII THE HEIR OF MARK TWAIN,                                        97

  VIII HERMANN SUDERMANN,                                            105

    IX GEORGE ADE,                                                   113

     X THE BUTTE BASHKIRTSEFF,                                       123

    XI SIX MEMBERS OF THE INSTITUTE,                                 129
       1. The Boudoir Balzac,                                        129
       2. A Stranger on Parnassus,                                   134
       3. A Merchant of Mush,                                        138
       4. The Last of the Victorians,                                139
       5. A Bad Novelist,                                            145
       6. A Broadway Brandes,                                        148

   XII THE GENEALOGY OF ETIQUETTE,                                   150

  XIII THE AMERICAN MAGAZINE,                                        171

   XIV THE ULSTER POLONIUS,                                          181

    XV AN UNHEEDED LAW-GIVER,                                        191

   XVI THE BLUSHFUL MYSTERY,                                         195
       1. Sex Hygiene,                                               195
       2. Art and Sex,                                               197
       3. A Loss to Romance,                                         199
       4. Sex on the Stage,                                          200

  XVII GEORGE JEAN NATHAN,                                           208

 XVIII PORTRAIT OF AN IMMORTAL SOUL,                                 224

   XIX JACK LONDON,                                                  236

    XX AMONG THE AVATARS,                                            240

   XXI THREE AMERICAN IMMORTALS,                                     246
       1. Aristotelean Obsequies,                                    246
       2. Edgar Allan Poe,                                           247
       3. Memorial Service,                                          249

------------------------------------------------------------------------



                        PREJUDICES: FIRST SERIES



                 I. CRITICISM OF CRITICISM OF CRITICISM


Every now and then, a sense of the futility of their daily endeavors
falling suddenly upon them, the critics of Christendom turn to a
somewhat sour and depressing consideration of the nature and objects of
their own craft. That is to say, they turn to criticizing criticism.
What is it in plain words? What is its aim, exactly stated in legal
terms? How far can it go? What good can it do? What is its normal effect
upon the artist and the work of art?

Such a spell of self-searching has been in progress for several years
past, and the critics of various countries have contributed theories of
more or less lucidity and plausibility to the discussion. Their views of
their own art, it appears, are quite as divergent as their views of the
arts they more commonly deal with. One group argues, partly by direct
statement and partly by attacking all other groups, that the one
defensible purpose of the critic is to encourage the virtuous and oppose
the sinful—in brief, to police the fine arts and so hold them in tune
with the moral order of the world. Another group, repudiating this
constabulary function, argues hotly that the arts have nothing to do
with morality whatsoever—that their concern is solely with pure beauty.
A third group holds that the chief aspect of a work of art, particularly
in the field of literature, is its aspect as psychological document—that
if it doesn’t help men to know themselves it is nothing. A fourth group
reduces the thing to an exact science, and sets up standards that
resemble algebraic formulæ—this is the group of metrists, of
contrapuntists and of those who gabble of light-waves. And so, in order,
follow groups five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten, each with its theory
and its proofs.

Against the whole corps, moral and æsthetic, psychological and
algebraic, stands Major J. E. Spingarn, U. S. A. Major Spingarn lately
served formal notice upon me that he had abandoned the life of the
academic grove for that of the armed array, and so I give him his
military title, but at the time he wrote his “Creative Criticism” he was
a professor in Columbia University, and I still find myself thinking of
him, not as a soldier extraordinarily literate, but as a professor in
rebellion. For his notions, whatever one may say in opposition to them,
are at least magnificently un-professorial—they fly violently in the
face of the principles that distinguish the largest and most influential
group of campus critics. As witness: “To say that poetry is moral or
immoral is as meaningless as to say that an equilateral triangle is
moral and an isosceles triangle immoral.” Or, worse: “It is only
conceivable in a world in which dinner-table conversation runs after
this fashion: ‘This cauliflower would be good if it had only been
prepared in accordance with international law.’” One imagines, on
hearing such atheism flying about, the amazed indignation of Prof. Dr.
William Lyon Phelps, with his discovery that Joseph Conrad preaches “the
axiom of the moral law”; the “Hey, what’s that!” of Prof. Dr. W. C.
Brownell, the Amherst Aristotle, with his eloquent plea for standards as
iron-clad as the Westminster Confession; the loud, patriotic alarm of
the gifted Prof. Dr. Stuart P. Sherman, of Iowa, with his maxim that
Puritanism is the official philosophy of America, and that all who
dispute it are enemy aliens and should be deported. Major Spingarn, in
truth, here performs a treason most horrible upon the reverend order he
once adorned, and having achieved it, he straightway performs another
and then another. That is to say, he tackles all the antagonistic groups
of orthodox critics seriatim, and knocks them about unanimously—first
the aforesaid agents of the sweet and pious; then the advocates of
unities, meters, all rigid formulæ; then the experts in imaginary
psychology; then the historical comparers, pigeonholers and makers of
categories; finally, the professors of pure æsthetic. One and all, they
take their places upon his operating table, and one and all they are
stripped and anatomized.

But what is the anarchistic ex-professor’s own theory?—for a professor
must have a theory, as a dog must have fleas. In brief, what he offers
is a doctrine borrowed from the Italian, Benedetto Croce, and by Croce
filched from Goethe—a doctrine anything but new in the world, even in
Goethe’s time, but nevertheless long buried in forgetfulness—to wit, the
doctrine that it is the critic’s first and only duty, as Carlyle once
put it, to find out “what the poet’s aim really and truly was, how the
task he had to do stood before his eye, and how far, with such materials
as were afforded him, he has fulfilled it.” For poet, read artist, or,
if literature is in question, substitute the Germanic word
_Dichter_—that is, the artist in words, the creator of beautiful
letters, whether in verse or in prose. Ibsen always called himself a
_Digter_, not a _Dramatiker_ or _Skuespiller_. So, I daresay, did
Shakespeare.... Well, what is this generalized poet trying to do? asks
Major Spingarn, and how has he done it? That, and no more, is the
critic’s quest. The morality of the work does not concern him. It is not
his business to determine whether it heeds Aristotle or flouts
Aristotle. He passes no judgment on its rhyme scheme, its length and
breadth, its iambics, its politics, its patriotism, its piety, its
psychological exactness, its good taste. He may note these things, but
he may not protest about them—he may not complain if the thing
criticized fails to fit into a pigeon-hole. Every sonnet, every drama,
every novel is _sui generis_; it must stand on its own bottom; it must
be judged by its own inherent intentions. “Poets,” says Major Spingarn,
“do not really write epics, pastorals, lyrics, however much they may be
deceived by these false abstractions; they express _themselves, and this
expression is their only form_. There are not, therefore, only three or
ten or a hundred literary kinds; there are as many kinds as there are
individual poets.” Nor is there any valid appeal _ad hominem_. The
character and background of the poet are beside the mark; the poem
itself is the thing. Oscar Wilde, weak and swine-like, yet wrote
beautiful prose. To reject that prose on the ground that Wilde had
filthy habits is as absurd as to reject “What Is Man?” on the ground
that its theology is beyond the intelligence of the editor of the New
York _Times_.

This Spingarn-Croce-Carlyle-Goethe theory, of course, throws a heavy
burden upon the critic. It presupposes that he is a civilized and
tolerant man, hospitable to all intelligible ideas and capable of
reading them as he runs. This is a demand that at once rules out
nine-tenths of the grown-up sophomores who carry on the business of
criticism in America. Their trouble is simply that they lack the
intellectual resilience necessary for taking in ideas, and particularly
new ideas. The only way they can ingest one is by transforming it into
the nearest related formula—usually a harsh and devastating operation.
This fact accounts for their chronic inability to understand all that is
most personal and original and hence most forceful and significant in
the emerging literature of the country. They can get down what has been
digested and redigested, and so brought into forms that they know, and
carefully labeled by predecessors of their own sort—but they exhibit
alarm immediately they come into the presence of the extraordinary. Here
we have an explanation of Brownell’s loud appeal for a tightening of
standards—_i. e._, a larger respect for precedents, patterns,
rubber-stamps—and here we have an explanation of Phelps’s inability to
comprehend the colossal phenomenon of Dreiser, and of Boynton’s childish
nonsense about realism, and of Sherman’s effort to apply the Espionage
Act to the arts, and of More’s querulous enmity to romanticism, and of
all the fatuous pigeon-holing that passes for criticism in the more
solemn literary periodicals.

As practiced by all such learned and diligent but essentially ignorant
and unimaginative men, criticism is little more than a branch of
homiletics. They judge a work of art, not by its clarity and sincerity,
not by the force and charm of its ideas, not by the technical virtuosity
of the artist, not by his originality and artistic courage, but simply
and solely by his orthodoxy. If he is what is called a “right thinker,”
if he devotes himself to advocating the transient platitudes in a
sonorous manner, then he is worthy of respect. But if he lets fall the
slightest hint that he is in doubt about any of them, or, worse still,
that he is indifferent, then he is a scoundrel, and hence, by their
theory, a bad artist. Such pious piffle is horribly familiar among us. I
do not exaggerate its terms. You will find it running through the
critical writings of practically all the dull fellows who combine
criticism with tutoring; in the words of many of them it is stated in
the plainest way and defended with much heat, theological and
pedagogical. In its baldest form it shows itself in the doctrine that it
is scandalous for an artist—say a dramatist or a novelist—to depict vice
as attractive. The fact that vice, more often than not, undoubtedly _is_
attractive—else why should it ever gobble any of us?—is disposed of with
a lofty gesture. What of it? say these birch-men. The artist is not a
reporter, but a Great Teacher. It is not his business to depict the
world as it is, but as it ought to be.

Against this notion American criticism makes but feeble headway. We are,
in fact, a nation of evangelists; every third American devotes himself
to improving and lifting up his fellow-citizens, usually by force; the
messianic delusion is our national disease. Thus the moral
_Privatdozenten_ have the crowd on their side, and it is difficult to
shake their authority; even the vicious are still in favor of crying
vice down. “Here is a novel,” says the artist. “Why didn’t you write a
tract?” roars the professor—and down the chute go novel and novelist.
“This girl is pretty,” says the painter. “But she has left off her
undershirt,” protests the headmaster—and off goes the poor dauber’s
head. At its mildest, this balderdash takes the form of the late
Hamilton Wright Mabie’s “White List of Books”; at its worst, it is
comstockery, an idiotic and abominable thing. Genuine criticism is as
impossible to such inordinately narrow and cocksure men as music is to a
man who is tone-deaf. The critic, to interpret his artist, even to
understand his artist, must be able to get into the mind of his artist;
he must feel and comprehend the vast pressure of the creative passion;
as Major Spingarn says, “æsthetic judgment and artistic creation are
instinct with the same vital life.” This is why all the best criticism
of the world has been written by men who have had within them, not only
the reflective and analytical faculty of critics, but also the gusto of
artists—Goethe, Carlyle, Lessing, Schlegel, Saint-Beuve, and, to drop a
story or two, Hazlitt, Hermann Bahr, Georg Brandes and James Huneker.
Huneker, tackling “Also sprach Zarathustra,” revealed its content in
illuminating flashes. But tackled by Paul Elmer More, it became no more
than a dull student’s exercise, ill-naturedly corrected....

So much for the theory of Major J. E. Spingarn, U. S. A., late professor
of modern languages and literatures in Columbia University. Obviously,
it is a far sounder and more stimulating theory than any of those
cherished by the other professors. It demands that the critic be a man
of intelligence, of toleration, of wide information, of genuine
hospitality to ideas, whereas the others only demand that he have
learning, and accept anything as learning that has been said before. But
once he has stated his doctrine, the ingenious ex-professor,
professor-like, immediately begins to corrupt it by claiming too much
for it. Having laid and hatched, so to speak, his somewhat stale but
still highly nourishing egg, he begins to argue fatuously that the
resultant flamingo is the whole mustering of the critical _Aves_. But
the fact is, of course, that criticism, as humanly practiced, must needs
fall a good deal short of this intuitive recreation of beauty, and what
is more, it must go a good deal further. For one thing, it must be
interpretation in terms that are not only exact but are also
comprehensible to the reader, else it will leave the original mystery as
dark as before—and once interpretation comes in, paraphrase and
transliteration come in. What is recondite must be made plainer; the
transcendental, to some extent at least, must be done into common modes
of thinking. Well, what are morality, trochaics, hexameters, movements,
historical principles, psychological maxims, the dramatic unities—what
are all these save common modes of thinking, short cuts, rubber stamps,
words of one syllable? Moreover, beauty as we know it in this world is
by no means the apparition _in vacuo_ that Dr. Spingarn seems to see. It
has its social, its political, even its moral implications. The finale
of Beethoven’s C minor symphony is not only colossal as music; it is
also colossal as revolt; it says something against something. Yet more,
the springs of beauty are not within itself alone, nor even in genius
alone, but often in things without. Brahms wrote his Deutsches Requiem,
not only because he was a great artist, but also because he was a good
German. And in Nietzsche there are times when the divine afflatus takes
a back seat, and the _spirochaetae_ have the floor.

Major Spingarn himself seems to harbor some sense of this limitation on
his doctrine. He gives warning that “the poet’s intention must be judged
at the moment of the creative act”—which opens the door enough for many
an ancient to creep in. But limited or not, he at least clears off a lot
of moldy rubbish, and gets further toward the truth than any of his
former colleagues. They waste themselves upon theories that only conceal
the poet’s achievement the more, the more diligently they are applied;
he, at all events, grounds himself upon the sound notion that there
should be free speech in art, and no protective tariffs, and no _a
priori_ assumptions, and no testing of ideas by mere words. The safe
ground probably lies between the contestants, but nearer Spingarn. The
critic who really illuminates starts off much as he starts off, but with
a due regard for the prejudices and imbecilities of the world. I think
the best feasible practice is to be found in certain chapters of
Huneker, a critic of vastly more solid influence and of infinitely more
value to the arts than all the prating pedagogues since Rufus Griswold.
Here, as in the case of Poe, a sensitive and intelligent artist
recreates the work of other artists, but there also comes to the
ceremony a man of the world, and the things he has to say are apposite
and instructive too. To denounce moralizing out of hand is to pronounce
a moral judgment. To dispute the categories is to set up a new
anti-categorical category. And to admire the work of Shakespeare is to
be interested in his handling of blank verse, his social aspirations,
his shot-gun marriage and his frequent concessions to the bombastic
frenzy of his actors, and to have some curiosity about Mr. W. H. The
really competent critic must be an empiricist. He must conduct his
exploration with whatever means lie within the bounds of his personal
limitation. He must produce his effects with whatever tools will work.
If pills fail, he gets out his saw. If the saw won’t cut, he seizes a
club....

Perhaps, after all, the chief burden that lies upon Major Spingarn’s
theory is to be found in its label. The word “creative” is a bit too
flamboyant; it says what he wants to say, but it probably says a good
deal more. In this emergency, I propose getting rid of the misleading
label by pasting another over it. That is, I propose the substitution of
“catalytic” for “creative,” despite the fact that “catalytic” is an
unfamiliar word, and suggests the dog-Latin of the seminaries. I borrow
it from chemistry, and its meaning is really quite simple. A catalyzer,
in chemistry, is a substance that helps two other substances to react.
For example, consider the case of ordinary cane sugar and water.
Dissolve the sugar in the water and nothing happens. But add a few drops
of acid and the sugar changes into glucose and fructose. Meanwhile, the
acid itself is absolutely unchanged. All it does is to stir up the
reaction between the water and the sugar. The process is called
catalysis. The acid is a catalyzer.

Well, this is almost exactly the function of a genuine critic of the
arts. It is his business to provoke the reaction between the work of art
and the spectator. The spectator, untutored, stands unmoved; he sees the
work of art, but it fails to make any intelligible impression on him; if
he were spontaneously sensitive to it, there would be no need for
criticism. But now comes the critic with his catalysis. He makes the
work of art live for the spectator; he makes the spectator live for the
work of art. Out of the process comes understanding, appreciation,
intelligent enjoyment—and that is precisely what the artist tried to
produce.



                         II. THE LATE MR. WELLS


The man as artist, I fear, is extinct—not by some sudden and romantic
catastrophe, like his own Richard Remington, but after a process of
gradual and obscure decay. In his day he was easily the most brilliant,
if not always the most profound, of contemporary English novelists.
There were in him all of the requisites for the business and most of
them very abundantly. He had a lively and charming imagination, he wrote
with the utmost fluency and address, he had humor and eloquence, he had
a sharp eye for the odd and intriguing in human character, and, most of
all, he was full of feeling and could transmit it to the reader. That
high day of his lasted, say, from 1908 to 1912. It began with
“Tono-Bungay” and ended amid the last scenes of “Marriage,” as the
well-made play of Scribe gave up the ghost in the last act of “A Doll’s
House.” There, in “Marriage,” were the first faint signs of something
wrong. Invention succumbed to theories that somehow failed to hang
together, and the story, after vast heavings, incontinently went to
pieces. One had begun with an acute and highly diverting study of
monogamy in modern London; one found one’s self, toward the close,
gaping over an unconvincing fable of marriage in the Stone Age. Coming
directly after so vivid a personage as Remington, Dr. Richard Godwin
Trafford simply refused to go down. And his Marjorie, following his
example, stuck in the gullet of the imagination. One ceased to believe
in them when they set out for Labrador, and after that it was impossible
to revive interest in them. The more they were explained and vivisected
and drenched with theories, the more unreal they became.

Since then the decline of Wells has been as steady as his rise was
rapid. Call the roll of his books, and you will discern a progressive
and unmistakable falling off. Into “The Passionate Friends” there crept
the first downright dullness. By this time his readers had become
familiar with his machinery and his materials—his elbowing suffragettes,
his tea-swilling London uplifters, his smattering of quasi-science, his
intellectualized adulteries, his Thackerayan asides, his text-book
paragraphs, his journalistic raciness—and all these things had thus
begun to lose the blush of their first charm. To help them out he heaved
in larger and larger doses of theory—often diverting enough, and
sometimes even persuasive, but in the long run a poor substitute for the
proper ingredients of character, situation and human passion. Next came
“The Wife of Sir Isaac Harman,” an attempt to rewrite “A Doll’s House”
(with a fourth act) in terms of ante-bellum 1914. The result was 500-odd
pages of bosh, a flabby and tedious piece of work, Wells for the first
time in the rôle of unmistakable bore. And then “Bealby,” with its
Palais Royal jocosity, its running in and out of doors, its humor of
physical collision, its reminiscences of “A Trip to Chinatown” and
“Peck’s Bad Boy.” And then “Boon,” a heavy-witted satire, often
incomprehensible, always incommoded by its disguise as a novel. And then
“The Research Magnificent”: a poor soup from the dry bones of Nietzsche.
And then “Mr. Britling Sees It Through”....

Here, for a happy moment, there seemed to be something better—almost, in
fact, a recrudescence of the Wells of 1910. But that seeming was only
seeming. What confused the judgment was the enormous popular success of
the book. Because it presented a fifth-rate Englishman in an heroic
aspect, because it sentimentalized the whole reaction of the English
proletariat to the war, it offered a subtle sort of flattery to other
fifth-rate Englishmen, and, _per corollary_, to Americans of
corresponding degree, to wit, the second. Thus it made a great pother,
and was hymned as a masterpiece in such gazettes as the New York
_Times_, as Blasco Ibáñez’s “The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse” was
destined to be hymned three years later. But there was in the book, in
point of fact, a great hollowness, and that hollowness presently begat
an implosion that disposed of the shell. I daresay many a novel-reader
returns, now and then, to “Tono-Bungay,” and even to “Ann Veronica.” But
surely only a reader with absolutely nothing else to read would return
to “Mr. Britling Sees It Through.” There followed—what? “The Soul of a
Bishop,” perhaps the worst novel ever written by a serious novelist
since novel-writing began. And then—or perhaps a bit before, or
simultaneously—an idiotic religious tract—a tract so utterly feeble and
preposterous that even the Scotchman, William Archer, could not stomach
it. And then, to make an end, came “Joan and Peter”—and the collapse of
Wells was revealed at last in its true proportions.

This “Joan and Peter” I confess, lingers in my memory as unpleasantly as
a summer cold, and so, in retrospect, I may perhaps exaggerate its
intrinsic badness. I would not look into it again for gold and
frankincense. I was at the job of reading it for days and days,
endlessly daunted and halted by its laborious dullness, its flatulent
fatuity, its almost fabulous inconsequentiality. It was, and is, nearly
impossible to believe that the Wells of “Tono-Bungay” and “The History
of Mr. Polly” wrote it, or that he was in the full possession of his
faculties when he allowed it to be printed under his name. For in it
there is the fault that the Wells of those days, almost beyond any other
fictioneer of the time, was incapable of—the fault of dismalness, of
tediousness—the witless and contagious coma of the evangelist. Here, for
nearly six hundred pages of fine type, he rolls on in an intellectual
cloud, boring one abominably with uninteresting people, pointless
situations, revelations that reveal nothing, arguments that have no
appositeness, expositions that expose naught save an insatiable and
torturing garrulity. Where is the old fine address of the man? Where is
his sharp eye for the salient and significant in character? Where is his
instinct for form, his skill at putting a story together, his hand for
making it unwind itself? These things are so far gone that it becomes
hard to believe that they ever existed. There is not the slightest sign
of them in “Joan and Peter.” The book is a botch from end to end, and in
that botch there is not even the palliation of an arduous enterprise
gallantly attempted. No inherent difficulty is visible. The story is
anything but complex, and surely anything but subtle. Its badness lies
wholly in the fact that the author made a mess of the writing, that his
quondam cunning, once so exhilarating, was gone when he began it.

Reviewing it at the time of its publication, I inclined momentarily to
the notion that the war was to blame. No one could overestimate the cost
of that struggle to the English, not only in men and money, but also and
more importantly in the things of the spirit. It developed national
traits that were greatly at odds with the old ideal of Anglo-Saxon
character—an extravagant hysteria, a tendency to whimper under blows,
political radicalism and credulity. It overthrew the old ruling caste of
the land and gave over the control of things to upstarts from the lowest
classes—shady Jews, snuffling Methodists, prehensile commercial gents,
disgusting demagogues, all sorts of self-seeking adventurers. Worst of
all, the strain seemed to work havoc with the customary dignity and
reticence, and even with the plain commonsense of many Englishmen on a
higher level, and in particular many English writers. The astounding
bawling of Kipling and the no less astounding bombast of G. K.
Chesterton were anything but isolated; there were, in fact, scores of
other eminent authors in the same state of eruption, and a study of the
resultant literature of objurgation will make a fascinating job for some
sweating _Privatdozent_ of to-morrow, say out of Göttingen or Jena. It
occurred to me, as I say, that Wells might have become afflicted by this
same demoralization, but reflection disposed of the notion. On the one
hand, there was the plain fact that his actual writings on the war,
while marked by the bitterness of the time, were anything but insane,
and on the other hand there was the equally plain fact that his decay
had been in progress a long while before the Germans made their fateful
thrust at Liége.

The precise thing that ailed him I found at last on page 272 _et seq._
of the American edition of his book. There it was plainly described,
albeit unwittingly, but if you will go back to the other novels since
“Marriage” you will find traces of it in all of them, and even more
vivid indications in the books of exposition and philosophizing that
have accompanied them. What has slowly crippled him and perhaps disposed
of him is his gradual acceptance of the theory, corrupting to the artist
and scarcely less so to the man, that he is one of the Great Thinkers of
his era, charged with a pregnant Message to the Younger Generation—that
his ideas, rammed into enough skulls, will Save the Empire, not only
from the satanic Nietzscheism of the Hindenburgs and post-Hindenburgs,
but also from all those inner Weaknesses that taint and flabbergast its
vitals, as the tapeworm with nineteen heads devoured Atharippus of
Macedon. In brief, he suffers from a messianic delusion—and once a man
begins to suffer from a messianic delusion his days as a serious artist
are ended. He may yet serve the state with laudable devotion; he may yet
enchant his millions; he may yet posture and gyrate before the world as
a man of mark. But not in the character of artist. Not as a creator of
sound books. Not in the separate place of one who observes the eternal
tragedy of man with full sympathy and understanding, and yet with a
touch of godlike remoteness. Not as Homer saw it, smiting the while his
blooming lyre.

I point, as I say, to page 272 of “Joan and Peter,” whereon, imperfectly
concealed by jocosity, you will find Wells’ private view of Wells—a view
at once too flattering and libelous. What it shows is the absorption of
the artist in the tin-pot reformer and professional wise man. A descent,
indeed! The man impinged upon us and made his first solid success, not
as a merchant of banal pedagogics, not as a hawker of sociological
liver-pills, but as a master of brilliant and life-like representation,
an evoker of unaccustomed but none the less deep-seated emotions, a
dramatist of fine imagination and highly resourceful execution. It was
the stupendous drama and spectacle of modern life, and not its dubious
and unintelligible lessons, that drew him from his test-tubes and
guinea-pigs and made an artist of him, and to the business of that
artist, once he had served his apprenticeship, he brought a vision so
keen, a point of view so fresh and sane and a talent for exhibition so
lively and original that he straightway conquered all of us. Nothing
could exceed the sheer radiance of “Tono-Bungay.” It is a work that
glows with reality. It projects a whole epoch with unforgettable effect.
It is a moving-picture conceived and arranged, not by the usual
ex-bartender or chorus man, but by an extremely civilized and
sophisticated observer, alert to every detail of the surface and yet
acutely aware of the internal play of forces, the essential springs, the
larger, deeper lines of it. In brief, it is a work of art of the
soundest merit, for it both represents accurately and interprets
convincingly, and under everything is a current of feeling that
coordinates and informs the whole.

But in the success of the book and of the two or three following it
there was a temptation, and in the temptation a peril. The audience was
there, high in expectation, eagerly demanding more. And in the ego of
the man—a true proletarian, and hence born with morals, faiths,
certainties, vasty gaseous hopes—there was an urge. That urge, it seems
to me, began to torture him when he set about “The Passionate Friends.”
In the presence of it, he was dissuaded from the business of an
artist,—made discontented with the business of an artist. It was not
enough to display the life of his time with accuracy and understanding;
it was not even enough to criticize it with a penetrating humor and
sagacity. From the depths of his being, like some foul miasma, there
arose the old, fatuous yearning to change it, to improve it, to set it
right where it was wrong, to make it over according to some pattern
superior to the one followed by the Lord God Jehovah. With this sinister
impulse, as aberrant in an artist as a taste for legs in an archbishop,
the instinct that had created “Tono-Bungay” and “The New Machiavelli”
gave battle, and for a while the issue was in doubt. But with
“Marriage,” its trend began to be apparent—and before long the
evangelist was triumphant, and his bray battered the ear, and in the end
there was a quite different Wells before us, and a Wells worth
infinitely less than the one driven off. To-day one must put him where
he has begun to put himself—not among the literary artists of English,
but among the brummagem prophets of England. His old rival was Arnold
Bennett. His new rival is the Fabian Society, or maybe Lord Northcliffe,
or the surviving Chesterton, or the later Hillaire Belloc.

The prophesying business is like writing fugues; it is fatal to every
one save the man of absolute genius. The lesser fellow—and Wells, for
all his cleverness, is surely one of the lesser fellows—is bound to come
to grief at it, and one of the first signs of his coming to grief is the
drying up of his sense of humor. Compare “The Soul of a Bishop” or “Joan
and Peter” to “Ann Veronica” or “The History of Mr. Polly.” One notices
instantly the disappearance of the comic spirit, the old searching
irony—in brief, of the precise thing that keeps the breath of life in
Arnold Bennett. It was in “Boon,” I believe, that this irony showed its
last flare. There is a passage in that book which somehow lingers in the
memory: a portrait of the United States as it arose in the mind of an
Englishman reading the _Nation_ of yesteryear: “a vain, garrulous and
prosperous female of uncertain age, and still more uncertain temper,
with unfounded pretensions to intellectuality and an idea of refinement
of the most negative description ... the Aunt Errant of Christendom.” A
capital whimsy—but blooming almost alone. A sense of humor, had it been
able to survive the theology, would certainly have saved us from Lady
Sunderbund, in “The Soul of a Bishop,” and from Lady Charlotte Sydenham
in “Joan and Peter.” But it did not and could not survive. It always
withers in the presence of the messianic delusion, like justice and the
truth in front of patriotic passion. What takes its place is the oafish,
witless buffoonishness of the chautauquas and the floor of Congress—for
example, the sort of thing that makes an intolerable bore of “Bealby.”

Nor are Wells’ ideas, as he has so laboriously expounded them, worth the
sacrifice of his old lively charm. They are, in fact, second-hand, and
he often muddles them in the telling. In “First and Last Things” he
preaches a flabby Socialism, and then, toward the end, admits frankly
that it doesn’t work. In “Boon” he erects a whole book upon an
eighth-rate platitude, to wit, the platitude that English literature, in
these latter times, is platitudinous—a three-cornered banality, indeed,
for his own argument is a case in point, and so helps to prove what was
already obvious. In “The Research Magnificent” he smouches an idea from
Nietzsche, and then mauls it so badly that one begins to wonder whether
he is in favor of it or against it. In “The Undying Fire” he first
states the obvious, and then flees from it in alarm. In his war books he
borrows right and left—from Dr. Wilson, from the British Socialists,
from Romain Rolland, even from such profound thinkers as James M. Beck,
Lloyd-George and the editor of the New York _Tribune_—and everything
that he borrows is flat. In “Joan and Peter” he first argues that
England is going to pot because English education is too formal and
archaic, and then that Germany is going to pot because German education
is too realistic and opportunist. He seems to respond to all the varying
crazes and fallacies of the day; he swallows them without digesting
them; he tries to substitute mere timeliness for reflection and feeling.
And under all the rumble-bumble of bad ideas is the imbecile assumption
of the jitney messiah at all times and everywhere: that human beings may
be made over by changing the rules under which they live, that progress
is a matter of intent and foresight, that an act of Parliament can cure
the blunders and check the practical joking of God.

Such notions are surely no baggage for a serious novelist. A novelist,
of course, must have a point of view, but it must be a point of view
untroubled by the crazes of the moment, it must regard the internal
workings and meanings of existence and not merely its superficial
appearances. A novelist must view life from some secure rock, drawing it
into a definite perspective, interpreting it upon an ordered plan. Even
if he hold (as Conrad does, and Dreiser, and Hardy, and Anatole France)
that it is essentially meaningless, he must at least display that
meaninglessness with reasonable clarity and consistency. Wells shows no
such solid and intelligible attitude. He is too facile, too
enthusiastic, too eager to teach to-day what he learned yesterday. Van
Wyck Brooks once tried to reduce the whole body of his doctrine to a
succinct statement. The result was a little volume a great deal more
plausible than any that Wells himself has ever written—but also one that
probably surprised him now and then as he read it. In it all his
contradictions were reconciled, all his gaps bridged, all his shifts
ameliorated. Brooks did for him, in brief, what William Bayard Hale did
for Dr. Wilson in “The New Freedom,” and has lived to regret it, I
daresay, or at all events the vain labor of it, in the same manner....

What remains of Wells? There remains a little shelf of very excellent
books, beginning with “Tono-Bungay” and ending with “Marriage.” It is a
shelf flanked on the one side by a long row of extravagant romances in
the manner of Jules Verne, and on the other side by an even longer row
of puerile tracts. But let us not underestimate it because it is in such
uninviting company. There is on it some of the liveliest, most original,
most amusing, and withal most respectable fiction that England has
produced in our time. In that fiction there is a sufficient memorial to
a man who, between two debauches of claptrap, had his day as an artist.



                          III. ARNOLD BENNETT


Of Bennett it is quite easy to conjure up a recognizable picture by
imaging everything that Wells is not—that is, everything interior,
everything having to do with attitudes and ideas, everything beyond the
mere craft of arranging words in ingratiating sequences. As stylists, of
course, they have many points of contact. Each writes a journalese that
is extraordinarily fluent and tuneful; each is apt to be carried away by
the rush of his own smartness. But in their matter they stand at
opposite poles. Wells has a believing mind, and cannot resist the
lascivious beckonings and eye-winkings of meretricious novelty; Bennett
carries skepticism so far that it often takes on the appearance of a
mere peasant-like suspicion of ideas, bellicose and unintelligent. Wells
is astonishingly intimate and confidential; and more than one of his
novels reeks with a shameless sort of autobiography; Bennett, even when
he makes use of personal experience, contrives to get impersonality into
it. Wells, finally, is a sentimentalist, and cannot conceal his
feelings; Bennett, of all the English novelists of the day, is the most
steadily aloof and ironical.

This habit of irony, in truth, is the thing that gives Bennett all his
characteristic color, and is at the bottom of both his peculiar merit
and his peculiar limitation. On the one hand it sets him free from the
besetting sin of the contemporary novelist: he never preaches, he has no
messianic delusion, he is above the puerile theories that have engulfed
such romantic men as Wells, Winston Churchill and the late Jack London,
and even, at times, such sentimental agnostics as Dreiser. But on the
other hand it leaves him empty of the passion that is, when all is said
and done, the chief mark of the true novelist. The trouble with him is
that he cannot feel with his characters, that he never involves himself
emotionally in their struggles against destiny, that the drama of their
lives never thrills or dismays him—and the result is that he is unable
to arouse in the reader that penetrating sense of kinship, that profound
and instinctive sympathy, which in its net effect is almost
indistinguishable from the understanding born of experiences actually
endured and emotions actually shared. Joseph Conrad, in a memorable
piece of criticism, once put the thing clearly. “My task,” he said, “is,
by the power of the written word, to make you hear, to make you feel—it
is, above all, to make you _see_.” Here seeing, it must be obvious, is
no more than feeling put into physical terms; it is not the outward
aspect that is to be seen, but the inner truth—and the end to be sought
by that apprehension of inner truth is responsive recognition, the
sympathy of poor mortal for poor mortal, the tidal uprush of feeling
that makes us all one. Bennett, it seems to me, cannot evoke it. His
characters, as they pass, have a deceptive brilliance of outline, but
they soon fade; one never finds them haunting the memory as Lord Jim
haunts it, or Carrie Meeber, or Huck Finn, or Tom Jones. The reason is
not far to seek. It lies in the plain fact that they appear to their
creator, not as men and women whose hopes and agonies are of poignant
concern, not as tragic comedians in isolated and concentrated dramas,
but as mean figures in an infinitely dispersed and unintelligible farce,
as helpless nobodies in an epic struggle that transcends both their
volition and their comprehension. Thus viewing them, he fails to
humanize them completely, and so he fails to make their emotions
contagious. They are, in their way, often vividly real; they are
thoroughly accounted for; what there is of them is unfailingly
life-like; they move and breathe in an environment that pulses and
glows. But the attitude of the author toward them remains, in the end,
the attitude of a biologist toward his laboratory animals. He does not
_feel_ with them—and neither does his reader.

Bennett’s chief business, in fact, is not with individuals at all, even
though he occasionally brings them up almost to life-size. What concerns
him principally is the common life of large groups, the action and
reaction of castes and classes, the struggle among societies. In
particular, he is engrossed by the colossal and disorderly functioning
of the English middle class—a division of mankind inordinately mixed in
race, confused in ideals and illogical in ideas. It is a group that has
had interpreters aplenty, past and present; a full half of the
literature of the Victorian era was devoted to it. But never, I believe,
has it had an interpreter more resolutely detached and relentless—never
has it had one less shaken by emotional involvement. Here the very lack
that detracts so much from Bennett’s stature as a novelist in the
conventional sense is converted into a valuable possession. Better than
any other man of his time he has got upon paper the social anatomy and
physiology of the masses of average, everyday, unimaginative Englishmen.
One leaves the long series of Five Towns books with a sense of having
looked down the tube of a microscope upon a huge swarm of infinitely
little but incessantly struggling organisms—creatures engaged furiously
in the pursuit of grotesque and unintelligible ends—helpless
participants in and victims of a struggle that takes on, to their eyes,
a thousand lofty purposes, all of them puerile to the observer above its
turmoil. Here, he seems to say, is the middle, the average, the typical
Englishman. Here is the fellow as he appears to himself—virtuous,
laborious, important, intelligent, made in God’s image. And here he is
in fact—swinish, ineffective, inconsequential, stupid, a feeble parody
upon his maker. It is irony that penetrates and devastates, and it is
unrelieved by any show of the pity that gets into the irony of Conrad,
or of the tolerant claim of kinship that mitigates that of Fielding and
Thackeray. It is harsh and cocksure. It has, at its moments, some flavor
of actual bounderism: one instinctively shrinks from so smart-alecky a
pulling off of underclothes and unveiling of warts.

It is easy to discern in it, indeed, a note of distinct hostility, and
even of disgust. The long exile of the author is not without its
significance. He not only got in France something of the Frenchman’s
aloof and disdainful view of the English; he must have taken a certain
distaste for the national scene with him in the first place, else he
would not have gone at all. The same attitude shows itself in W. L.
George, another Englishman smeared with Gallic foreignness. Both men, it
will be recalled, reacted to the tremendous emotional assault of the
war, not by yielding to it ecstatically in the manner of the unpolluted
islanders, but by shrinking from it into a reserve that was naturally
misunderstood. George has put his sniffs into “Blind Alley”; Bennett has
got his into “The Pretty Lady.” I do not say that either book is
positively French; what I do say is that both mirror an attitude that
has been somehow emptied of mere nationalism. An Italian adventure, I
daresay, would have produced the same effect, or a Spanish, or Russian,
or German. But it happened to be French. What the Bennett story attempts
to do is what every serious Bennett story attempts to do: to exhibit
dramatically the great gap separating the substance from the appearance
in the English character. It seems to me that its prudent and
self-centered G. J. Hoape is a vastly more real Englishman of his class,
and, what is more, an Englishman vastly more useful and creditable to
England, than any of the gaudy Bayards and Cids of conventional war
fiction. Here, indeed, the irony somehow fails. The man we are obviously
expected to disdain converts himself, toward the end, into a man not
without his touches of the admirable. He is no hero, God knows, and
there is no more brilliance in him than you will find in an average
country squire or Parliament man, but he has the rare virtue of common
sense, and that is probably the virtue that has served the English
better than all others. Curiously enough, the English reading public
recognized the irony but failed to observe its confutation, and so the
book got Bennett into bad odor at home, and into worse odor among the
sedulous apes of English ideas and emotions on this side of the water.
But it is a sound work nevertheless—a sound work with a large and
unescapable defect.

That defect is visible in a good many of the other things that Bennett
has done. It is the product of his emotional detachment and it commonly
reveals itself as an inability to take his own story seriously.
Sometimes he pokes open fun at it, as in “The Roll-Call”; more often he
simply abandons it before it is done, as if weary of a too tedious
foolery. This last process is plainly visible in “The Pretty Lady.” The
thing that gives form and direction to that story is a simple enough
problem in psychology, to wit: what will happen when a man of sound
education and decent instincts, of sober age and prudent habit, of
common sense and even of certain mild cleverness—what will happen,
logically and naturally, when such a normal, respectable, cautious
fellow finds himself disquietingly in love with a lady of no position at
all—in brief, with a lady but lately of the town? Bennett sets the
problem, and for a couple of hundred pages investigates it with the
utmost ingenuity and address, exposing and discussing its sub-problems,
tracing the gradual shifting of its terms, prodding with sharp insight
into the psychological material entering into it. And then, as if
suddenly tired of it—worse, as if suddenly convinced that the thing has
gone on long enough, that he has given the public enough of a book for
its money—he forthwith evades the solution altogether, and brings down
his curtain upon a palpably artificial dénouement. The device murders
the book. One is arrested at the start by a fascinating statement of the
problem, one follows a discussion of it that shows Bennett at his
brilliant best, fertile in detail, alert to every twist of motive,
incisively ironical at every step—and then, at the end, one is
incontinently turned out of the booth. The effect is that of being
assaulted with an ice-pick by a hitherto amiable bartender, almost that
of being bitten by a pretty girl in the midst of an amicable buss.

That effect, unluckily, is no stranger to the reader of Bennett novels.
One encounters it in many of them. There is a tremendous marshaling of
meticulous and illuminating observation, the background throbs with
color, the sardonic humor is never failing, it is a capital show—but
always one goes away from it with a sense of having missed the
conclusion, always there is a final begging of the question. It is not
hard to perceive the attitude of mind underlying this chronic evasion of
issues. It is, in essence, agnosticism carried to the last place of
decimals. Life itself is meaningless; therefore, the discussion of life
is meaningless; therefore, why try futilely to get a meaning into it?
The reasoning, unluckily, has holes in it. It may be sound logically,
but it is psychologically unworkable. One goes to novels, not for the
bald scientific fact, but for a romantic amelioration of it. When they
carry that amelioration to the point of uncritical certainty, when they
are full of “ideas” that click and whirl like machines, then the mind
revolts against the childish naïveté of the thing. But when there is no
organization of the spectacle at all, when it is presented as a mere
formless panorama, when to the sense of its unintelligibility is added
the suggestion of its inherent chaos, then the mind revolts no less. Art
can never be simple representation. It cannot deal solely with precisely
what is. It must, at the least, present the real in the light of some
recognizable ideal; it must give to the eternal farce, if not some
moral, then at all events some direction. For without that formulation
there can be no clear-cut separation of the individual will from the
general stew and turmoil of things, and without that separation there
can be no coherent drama, and without that drama there can be no
evocation of emotion, and without that emotion art is unimaginable. The
field of the novel is very wide. There is room, on the one side, for a
brilliant play of ideas and theories, provided only they do not stiffen
the struggle of man with man, or of man with destiny, into a mere
struggle of abstractions. There is room, on the other side, for the most
complete agnosticism, provided only it be tempered by feeling. Joseph
Conrad is quite as unshakable an agnostic as Bennett; he is a ten times
more implacable ironist. But there is yet a place in his scheme for a
sardonic sort of pity, and pity, however sardonic, is perhaps as good an
emotion as another. The trouble with Bennett is that he essays to sneer,
not only at the futile aspiration of man, but also at the agony that
goes with it. The result is an air of affectation, of superficiality,
almost of stupidity. The manner, on the one hand, is that of a highly
skillful and profoundly original artist, but on the other hand it is
that of a sophomore just made aware of Haeckel, Bradlaugh and Nietzsche.

Bennett’s unmitigated skepticism explains two things that have
constantly puzzled the reviewers, and that have been the cause of a
great deal of idiotic writing about him—for him as well as against him.
One of these things is his utter lack of anything properly describable
as artistic conscience—his extreme readiness to play the star houri in
the seraglio of the publishers; the other is his habit of translating
platitudes into racy journalese and gravely offering them to the
suburban trade as “pocket philosophies.” Both crimes, it seems to me,
have their rise in his congenital incapacity for taking ideas seriously,
even including his own. “If this,” he appears to say, “is the tosh you
want, then here is another dose of it. Personally, I have little
interest in that sort of thing. Even good novels—the best I can do—are
no more than compromises with a silly convention. I am not interested in
stories; I am interested in the anatomy of human melancholy; I am a
descriptive sociologist, with overtones of malice. But if you want
stories, and can pay for them, I am willing to give them to you. And if
you prefer bad stories, then here is a bad one. Don’t assume you can
shame me by deploring my willingness. Think of what your doctors do
every day, and your lawyers, and your men of God, and your stockbrokers,
and your traders and politicians. I am surely no worse than the average.
In fact, I am probably a good deal superior to the average, for I am at
least not deceived by my own mountebankery—I at least know my sound
goods from my shoddy.” Such, I daresay, is the process of thought behind
such hollow trade-goods as “Buried Alive” and “The Lion’s Share.” One
does not need the man’s own amazing confidences to hear his snickers at
his audience, at his work and at himself.

The books of boiled-mutton “philosophy” in the manner of Dr. Orison
Swett Marden and Dr. Frank Crane and the occasional pot-boilers for the
newspapers and magazines probably have much the same origin. What
appears in them is not a weakness for ideas that are stale and obvious,
but a distrust of all ideas whatsoever. The public, with its mob
yearning to be instructed, edified and pulled by the nose, demands
certainties; it must be told definitely and a bit raucously that this is
true and that is false. But there _are_ no certainties. _Ergo_, one
notion is as good as another, and if it happens to be utter flubdub, so
much the better—for it is precisely flubdub that penetrates the popular
skull with the greatest facility. The way is already made: the hole
already gapes. An effort to approach the hidden and baffling truth would
simply burden the enterprise with difficulty. Moreover, the effort is
intrinsically laborious and ungrateful. Moreover, there is probably no
hidden truth to be uncovered. Thus, by the route of skepticism, Bennett
apparently arrives at his sooth-saying. That he actually believes in his
own theorizing is inconceivable. He is far too intelligent a man to hold
that any truths within the comprehension of the popular audience are
sound enough to be worth preaching, or that it would do any good to
preach them if they were. No doubt he is considerably amused _in petto_
by the gravity with which his bedizened platitudes have been received by
persons accustomed to that sort of fare, particularly in America. It
would be interesting to hear his private view of the corn-fed critics
who hymn him as a profound and impassioned moralist, with a mission to
rescue the plain people from the heresies of such fellows as Dreiser.

So much for two of the salient symptoms of his underlying skepticism.
Another is to be found in his incapacity to be, in the ordinary sense,
ingratiating; it is simply beyond him to say the pleasant thing with any
show of sincerity. Of all his books, probably the worst are his book on
the war and his book on the United States. The latter was obviously
undertaken with some notion of paying off a debt. Bennett had been to
the United States; the newspapers had hailed him in their side-show way;
the women’s clubs had pawed over him; he had, no doubt, come home a good
deal richer. What he essayed to do was to write a volume on the republic
that should be at once colorably accurate and discreetly agreeable. The
enterprise was quite beyond him. The book not only failed to please
Americans; it offended them in a thousand subtle ways, and from its
appearance dates the decline of the author’s vogue among us. He is not,
of course, completely forgotten, but it must be plain that Wells now
stands a good deal above him in the popular estimation—even the later
Wells of bad novel after bad novel. His war book missed fire in much the
same way. It was workmanlike, it was deliberately urbane, it was
undoubtedly truthful—but it fell flat in England and it fell flat in
America. There is no little significance in the fact that the British
government, in looking about for English authors to uphold the British
cause in America and labor for American participation in the war, found
no usefulness in Bennett. Practically every other novelist with an
American audience was drafted for service, but not Bennett. He was _non
est_ during the heat of the fray, and when at length he came forward
with “The Pretty Lady” the pained manner with which it was received
quite justified the judgment of those who had passed him over.

What all this amounts to may be very briefly put: in one of the
requisite qualities of the first-rate novelist Bennett is almost
completely lacking, and so it would be no juggling with paradox to argue
that, at bottom, he is scarcely a novelist at all. His books,
indeed,—that is, his serious books, the books of his better canon—often
fail utterly to achieve the effect that one associates with the true
novel. One carries away from them, not the impression of a definite
transaction, not the memory of an outstanding and appealing personality,
not the after-taste of a profound emotion, but merely the sense of
having witnessed a gorgeous but incomprehensible parade, coming out of
nowhere and going to God knows where. They are magnificent as
representation, they bristle with charming detail, they radiate the
humors of an acute and extraordinary man, they are entertainment of the
best sort—but there is seldom anything in them of that clear, well-aimed
and solid effect which one associates with the novel as work of art.
Most of these books, indeed, are no more than collections of essays
defectively dramatized. What is salient in them is not their people, but
their backgrounds—and their people are forever fading into their
backgrounds. Is there a character in any of these books that shows any
sign of living as Pendennis lives, and Barry Lyndon, and Emma Bovary,
and David Copperfield, and the George Moore who is always his own hero?
Who remembers much about Sophia Baines, save that she lived in the Five
Towns, or even about Clayhanger? Young George Cannon, in “The
Roll-Call,” is no more than an anatomical chart in a lecture on modern
marriage. Hilda Lessways-Cannon-Clayhanger is not only inscrutable; she
is also dim. The man and woman of “Whom God Hath Joined,” perhaps the
best of all the Bennett novels, I have so far forgotten that I cannot
remember their names. Even Denry the Audacious grows misty. One
remembers that he was the center of the farce, but now he is long gone
and the farce remains.

This constant remainder, whether he be actually novelist or no novelist,
is sufficient to save Bennett, it seems to me, from the swift oblivion
that so often overtakes the popular fictioneer. He may not play the game
according to the rules, but the game that he plays is nevertheless
extraordinarily diverting and calls for an incessant display of the
finest sort of skill. No writer of his time has looked into the life of
his time with sharper eyes, or set forth his findings with a greater
charm and plausibility. Within his deliberately narrow limits he had
done precisely the thing that Balzac undertook to do, and Zola after
him: he has painted a full-length portrait of a whole society,
accurately, brilliantly and, in certain areas, almost exhaustively. The
middle Englishman—not the individual, but the type—is there displayed
more vividly than he is displayed anywhere else that I know of. The
thing is rigidly held to its aim; there is no episodic descent or ascent
to other fields. But within that one field every resource of
observation, of invention and of imagination has been brought to bear
upon the business—every one save that deep feeling for man in his bitter
tragedy which is the most important of them all. Bennett, whatever his
failing in this capital function of the artist, is certainly of the very
highest consideration as craftsman. Scattered through his books, even
his bad books, there are fragments of writing that are quite unsurpassed
in our day—the shoe-shining episode in “The Pretty Lady,” the adulterous
interlude in “Whom God Hath Joined,” the dinner party in “Paris Nights,”
the whole discussion of the Cannon-Ingram marriage in “The Roll-Call,”
the studio party in “The Lion’s Share.” Such writing is rare and
exhilarating. It is to be respected. And the man who did it is not to be
dismissed.



                              IV. THE DEAN


Americans, obsessed by the problem of conduct, usually judge their
authors not as artists, but as citizens, Christians, men. Edgar Allan
Poe, I daresay, will never live down the fact that he was a periodical
drunkard, and died in an alcoholic ward. Mark Twain, the incomparable
artist, will probably never shake off Mark Twain, the after-dinner
comedian, the haunter of white dress clothes, the public character, the
national wag. As for William Dean Howells, he gains rather than loses by
this confusion of values, for, like the late Joseph H. Choate, he is
almost the national ideal: an urbane and highly respectable old
gentleman, a sitter on committees, an intimate of professors and the
prophets of movements, a worthy vouched for by both the _Atlantic
Monthly_ and Alexander Harvey, a placid conformist. The result is his
general acceptance as a member of the literary peerage, and of the rank
of earl at least. For twenty years past his successive books have not
been criticized, nor even adequately reviewed; they have been merely
fawned over; the lady critics of the newspapers would no more question
them than they would question Lincoln’s Gettysburg speech, or Paul Elmer
More, or their own virginity. The dean of American letters in point of
years, and in point of published quantity, and in point of public
prominence and influence, he has been gradually enveloped in a web of
superstitious reverence, and it grates harshly to hear his actual
achievement discussed in cold blood.

Nevertheless, all this merited respect for an industrious and
inoffensive man is bound, soon or late, to yield to a critical
examination of the artist within, and that examination, I fear, will
have its bitter moments for those who naïvely accept the Howells legend.
It will show, without doubt, a first-rate journeyman, a contriver of
pretty things, a clever stylist—but it will also show a long row of
uninspired and hollow books, with no more ideas in them than so many
volumes of the _Ladies’ Home Journal_, and no more deep and contagious
feeling than so many reports of autopsies, and no more glow and gusto
than so many tables of bond prices. The profound dread and agony of
life, the surge of passion and aspiration, the grand crash and glitter
of things, the tragedy that runs eternally under the surface—all this
the critic of the future will seek in vain in Dr. Howells’ elegant and
shallow volumes. And seeking it in vain, he will probably dismiss all of
them together with fewer words than he gives to “Huckleberry Finn.” ...

Already, indeed, the Howells legend tends to become a mere legend, and
empty of all genuine significance. Who actually reads the Howells
novels? Who even remembers their names? “The Minister’s Charge,” “An
Imperative Duty,” “The Unexpected Guests,” “Out of the Question,” “No
Love Lost”—these titles are already as meaningless as a roll of Sumerian
kings. Perhaps “The Rise of Silas Lapham” survives—but go read it if you
would tumble downstairs. The truth about Howells is that he really has
nothing to say, for all the charm he gets into saying it. His psychology
is superficial, amateurish, often nonsensical; his irony is scarcely
more than a polite facetiousness; his characters simply refuse to live.
No figure even remotely comparable to Norris’ McTeague or Dreiser’s
Frank Cowperwood is to be encountered in his novels. He is quite unequal
to any such evocation of the race-spirit, of the essential conflict of
forces among us, of the peculiar drift and color of American life. The
world he moves in is suburban, caged, flabby. He could no more have
written the last chapters of “Lord Jim” than he could have written the
Book of Mark.

The vacuity of his method is well revealed by one of the books of his
old age, “The Leatherwood God.” Its composition, we are told, spread
over many years; its genesis was in the days of his full maturity. An
examination of it shows nothing but a suave piling up of words, a vast
accumulation of nothings. The central character, one Dylks, is a
backwoods evangelist who acquires a belief in his own buncombe, and ends
by announcing that he is God. The job before the author was obviously
that of tracing the psychological steps whereby this mountebank proceeds
to that conclusion; the fact, indeed, is recognized in the canned
review, which says that the book is “a study of American religious
psychology.” But an inspection of the text shows that no such study is
really in it. Dr. Howells does not _show_ how Dylks came to believe
himself God; he merely _says_ that he did so. The whole discussion of
the process, indeed, is confined to two pages—172 and 173—and is quite
infantile in its inadequacy. Nor do we get anything approaching a
revealing look into the heads of the other converts—the
saleratus-sodden, hell-crazy, half-witted Methodists and Baptists of a
remote Ohio settlement of seventy or eighty years ago. All we have is
the casual statement that they are converted, and begin to offer Dylks
their howls of devotion. And when, in the end, they go back to their
original bosh, dethroning Dylks overnight and restoring the gaseous
vertebrate of Calvin and Wesley—when this contrary process is recorded,
it is accompanied by no more illumination. In brief, the story is not a
“study” at all, whether psychological or otherwise, but simply an
anecdote, and without either point or interest. Its virtues are all
negative ones: it is short, it keeps on the track, it deals with a
religious maniac and yet contrives to offer no offense to other
religious maniacs. But on the positive side it merely skims the skin.

So in all of the other Howells novels that I know. Somehow, he seems
blissfully ignorant that life is a serious business, and full of
mystery; it is a sort of college town _Weltanschauung_ that one finds in
him; he is an Agnes Repplier in pantaloons. In one of the later stories,
“New Leaf Mills,” he makes a faltering gesture of recognition. Here, so
to speak, one gets at least a sniff of the universal mystery; Howells
seems about to grow profound at last. But the sniff is only a sniff. The
tragedy, at the end, peters out. Compare the story to E. W. Howe’s “The
Story of a Country Town,” which Howells himself has intelligently
praised, and you will get some measure of his own failure. Howe sets
much the same stage and deals with much the same people. His story is
full of technical defects—for one thing, it is overladen with melodrama
and sentimentality. But nevertheless it achieves the prime purpose of a
work of the imagination: it grips and stirs the emotions, it implants a
sense of something experienced. Such a book leaves scars; one is not
quite the same after reading it. But it would be difficult to point to a
Howells book that produces any such effect. If he actually tries, like
Conrad, “to make you hear, to make you feel—before all, to make you
_see_,” then he fails almost completely. One often suspects, indeed,
that he doesn’t really feel or see himself....

As a critic he belongs to a higher level, if only because of his eager
curiosity, his gusto in novelty. His praise of Howe I have mentioned. He
dealt valiant licks for other débutantes: Frank Norris, Edith Wharton
and William Vaughn Moody among them. He brought forward the Russians
diligently and persuasively, albeit they left no mark upon his own
manner. In his ingratiating way, back in the seventies and eighties, he
made war upon the prevailing sentimentalities. But his history as a
critic is full of errors and omissions. One finds him loosing a fanfare
for W. B. Trites, the Philadelphia Zola, and praising Frank A.
Munsey—and one finds him leaving the discovery of all the Shaws, George
Moores, Dreisers, Synges, Galsworthys, Phillipses and George Ades to the
Pollards, Meltzers and Hunekers. Busy in the sideshows, he didn’t see
the elephants go by.... Here temperamental defects handicapped him. Turn
to his “My Mark Twain” and you will see what I mean. The Mark that is
exhibited in this book is a Mark whose Himalayan outlines are discerned
but hazily through a pink fog of Howells. There is a moral note in the
tale—an obvious effort to palliate, to touch up, to excuse. The poor
fellow, of course, was charming, and there was talent in him, but what a
weakness he had for thinking aloud—and such shocking thoughts! What
oaths in his speech! What awful cigars he smoked! How barbarous his
contempt for the strict sonata form! It seems incredible, indeed, that
two men so unlike should have found common denominators for a friendship
lasting forty-four years. The one derived from Rabelais, Chaucer, the
Elizabethans and Benvenuto—buccaneers of the literary high seas, loud
laughers, law-breakers, giants of a lordlier day; the other came down
from Jane Austen, Washington Irving and Hannah More. The one wrote
English as Michelangelo hacked marble, broadly, brutally, magnificently;
the other was a maker of pretty waxen groups. The one was utterly
unconscious of the way he achieved his staggering effects; the other was
the most toilsome, fastidious and self-conscious of craftsmen....

What remains of Howells is his style. He invented a new harmony of “the
old, old words.” He destroyed the stately periods of the Poe tradition,
and erected upon the ruins a complex and savory carelessness, full of
naïvetés that were sophisticated to the last degree. He loosened the
tightness of English, and let a blast of Elizabethan air into it. He
achieved, for all his triviality, for all his narrowness of vision, a
pungent and admirable style.



                          V. PROFESSOR VEBLEN


Ten or twelve years ago, being engaged in a bombastic discussion with
what was then known as an intellectual Socialist (like the rest of the
_intelligentsia_, he succumbed to the first fife-corps of the war,
pulled down the red flag, damned Marx as a German spy, and began
whooping for Elihu Root, Otto Kahn and Abraham Lincoln), I was greatly
belabored and incommoded by his long quotations from a certain Prof. Dr.
Thorstein Veblen, then quite unknown to me. My antagonist manifestly
attached a great deal of importance to these borrowed sagacities, for he
often heaved them at me in lengths of a column or two, and urged me to
read every word of them. I tried hard enough, but found it impossible
going. The more I read them, in fact, the less I could make of them, and
so in the end, growing impatient and impolite, I denounced this Prof.
Veblen as a geyser of pishposh, refused to waste any more time upon his
incomprehensible syllogisms, and applied myself to the other Socialist
witnesses in the case, seeking to set fire to their shirts.

That old debate, which took place by mail (for the Socialist lived like
a munitions patriot on his country estate and I was a wage-slave
attached to a city newspaper), was afterward embalmed in a dull book,
and made the mild pother of a day. The book, by name, “Men vs. the Man,”
is now as completely forgotten as Baxter’s “Saint’s Rest” or the
Constitution of the United States. I myself, perhaps the only man who
remembers it at all, have not looked into it for six or eight years, and
all I can recall of my opponent’s argument (beyond the fact that it not
only failed to convert me to the nascent Bolshevism of the time, but
left me a bitter and incurable scoffer at democracy in all its forms) is
his curious respect for the aforesaid Prof. Dr. Thorstein Veblen, and
his delight in the learned gentleman’s long, tortuous and (to me, at
least) intolerably flapdoodlish phrases.

There was, indeed, a time when I forgot even this—when my mind was empty
of the professor’s very name. That was, say, from 1909 or thereabout to
the middle of 1917. During those years, having lost all my old superior
interest in Socialism, even as an amateur psychiatrist, I ceased to read
its literature, and thus lost track of its Great Thinkers. The
periodicals that I then gave an eye to, setting aside newspapers, were
chiefly the familiar American imitations of the English weeklies of
opinion, and in these the dominant Great Thinker was, first, the late
Prof. Dr. William James, and, after his decease, Prof. Dr. John Dewey.
The reign of James, as the illuminated will recall, was long and
glorious. For three or four years running he was mentioned in every one
of those American _Spectators_ and _Saturday Reviews_ at least once a
week, and often a dozen times. Among the less somber gazettes of the
republic, to be sure, there were other heroes: Maeterlinck, Rabindranath
Tagore, Judge Ben B. Lindsey, the late Major-General Roosevelt, Tom
Lawson and so on. Still further down the literary and intellectual scale
there were yet others: Hall Caine, Brieux and Jack Johnson among them,
with paper-bag cookery and the twilight sleep to dispute their
popularity. But on the majestic level of the old _Nation_, among the
white and lavender peaks of professorial ratiocination, there was
scarcely a serious rival to James. Now and then, perhaps, Jane Addams
had a month of vogue, and during one winter there was a rage for
Bergson, and for a short space the unspeakable Bernstorff tried to set
up Eucken (now damned with Wagner, Nietzsche and Ludendorff), but taking
one day with another James held his own against the field. His ideas,
immediately they were stated, became the ideas of every pedagogue from
Harvard to Leland Stanford, and the pedagogues, laboring furiously at
space rates, rammed them into the skulls of the lesser _cerebelli_. To
have called James an ass, during the year 1909, would have been as fatal
as to have written a sentence like this one without having used so many
_haves_. He died a bit later, but his ghost went marching on: it took
three or four years to interpret and pigeon-hole his philosophical
remains and to take down and redact his messages (via Sir Oliver Lodge,
Little Brighteyes, Wah-Wah the Indian Chief, and other gifted psychics)
from the spirit world. But then, gradually, he achieved the ultimate,
stupendous and irrevocable act of death, and there was a vacancy. To it
Prof. Dr. Dewey was elected by the acclamation of all right-thinking and
forward-looking men. He was an expert in pedagogics, metaphysics,
psychology, ethics, logic, politics, pedagogical metaphysics,
metaphysical psychology, psychological ethics, ethical logic, logical
politics and political pedagogics. He was _Artium Magister_,
_Philosophiæ Doctor_ and twice _Legum Doctor_. He had written a book
called “How to Think.” He sat in a professor’s chair and caned
sophomores for blowing spit-balls. _Ergo_, he was the ideal candidate,
and so he was nominated, elected and inaugurated, and for three years,
more or less, he enjoyed a peaceful reign in the groves of sapience, and
the inferior _umbilicarii_ venerated him as they had once venerated
James.

I myself greatly enjoyed and profited by the discourses of this Prof.
Dewey and was in hopes that he would last. Born so recently as 1859 and
a man of the highest bearable sobriety, he seemed likely to peg along
until 1935 or 1940, a gentle and charming volcano of correct thought.
But it was not, alas, to be. Under cover of pragmatism, that serpent’s
metaphysic, there was unrest beneath the surface. Young professors in
remote and obscure universities, apparently as harmless as so many
convicts in the death-house, were secretly flirting with new and red-hot
ideas. Whole regiments and brigades of them yielded in stealthy privacy
to rebellious and often incomprehensible yearnings. Now and then, as if
to reveal what was brewing, a hell fire blazed and a Prof. Dr. Scott
Nearing went sky-hooting through its smoke. One heard whispers of
strange heresies—economic, sociological, even political. Gossip had it
that pedagogy was hatching vipers, nay, was already brought to bed. But
not much of this got into the home-made _Saturday Reviews_ and Yankee
_Athenæums_—a hint or two maybe, but no more. In the main they kept to
their old resolute demands for a pure civil-service, the budget system
in Congress, the abolition of hazing at the Naval Academy, an honest
primary and justice to the Filipinos, with extermination of the Prussian
serpent added after August, 1914. And Dr. Dewey, on his remote Socratic
Alp, pursued the calm reënforcement of the philosophical principles
underlying these and all other lofty and indignant causes....

Then, of a sudden, Siss! Boom! Ah! Then, overnight, the upspringing of
the intellectual soviets, the headlong assault upon all the old axioms
of pedagogical speculation, the nihilistic dethronement of Prof.
Dewey—and rah, rah, rah for Prof. Dr. Thorstein Veblen! Veblen? Could it
be—? Aye, it was! My old acquaintance! The _Doctor obscurus_ of my
half-forgotten bout with the so-called intellectual Socialist! The Great
Thinker _redivivus_! Here, indeed, he was again, and in a few
months—almost it seemed a few days—he was all over the _Nation_, the
_Dial_, the _New Republic_ and the rest of them, and his books and
pamphlets began to pour from the presses, and the newspapers reported
his every wink and whisper, and everybody who was anybody began gabbling
about him. The spectacle, I do not hesitate to say, somewhat
disconcerted me and even distressed me. On the one hand, I was sorry to
see so learned and interesting a man as Dr. Dewey sent back to the
insufferable dungeons of Columbia, there to lecture in imperfect Yiddish
to classes of Grand Street Platos. And on the other hand, I shrunk
supinely from the appalling job, newly rearing itself before me, of
re-reading the whole canon of the singularly laborious and muggy, the
incomparably tangled and unintelligible works of Prof. Dr. Thorstein
Veblen....

But if a sense of duty tortures a man, it also enables him to achieve
prodigies, and so I managed to get through the whole infernal job. I
read “The Theory of the Leisure Class,” I read “The Theory of Business
Enterprise,” and then I read “The Instinct of Workmanship.” An hiatus
followed; I was racked by a severe neuralgia, with delusions of
persecution. On recovering I tackled “Imperial Germany and the
Industrial Revolution.” Malaria for a month, and then “The Nature of
Peace and the Terms of Its Perpetuation.” What ensued was never
diagnosed; probably it was some low infection of the mesentery or
spleen. When it passed off, leaving only an asthmatic cough, I read “The
Higher Learning in America,” and then went to Mt. Clemens to drink the
Glauber’s salts. Eureka! the business was done! It had strained me, but
now it was over. Alas, a good part of the agony had been needless. What
I found myself aware of, coming to the end, was that practically the
whole system of Prof. Dr. Veblen was in his first book and his last—that
is, in “The Theory of the Leisure Class,” and “The Higher Learning in
America.” I pass on the good news. Read these two, and you won’t have to
read the others. And if even two daunt you, then read the first. Once
through it, though you will have missed many a pearl and many a pain,
you will have a fairly good general acquaintance with the gifted
metaphysician’s ideas.

For those ideas, in the main, are quite simple, and often anything but
revolutionary in essence. What is genuinely remarkable about them is not
their novelty, or their complexity, nor even the fact that a professor
should harbor them; it is the astoundingly grandiose and rococo manner
of their statement, the almost unbelievable tediousness and flatulence
of the gifted headmaster’s prose, his unprecedented talent for saying
nothing in an august and heroic manner. There are tales of an actress of
the last generation, probably Sarah Bernhardt, who could put pathos and
even terror into a recitation of the multiplication table. The late
Louis James did something of the sort; he introduced limericks into
“Peer Gynt” and still held the yokelry agape. The same talent, raised to
a high power, is in this Prof. Dr. Veblen. Tunnel under his great
moraines and stalagmites of words, dig down into his vast kitchen-midden
of discordant and raucous polysyllables, blow up the hard, thick shell
of his almost theological manner, and what you will find in his
discourse is chiefly a mass of platitudes—the self-evident made
horrifying, the obvious in terms of the staggering. Marx, I daresay,
said a good deal of it, and what Marx overlooked has been said over and
over again by his heirs and assigns. But Marx, at this business, labored
under a technical handicap: he wrote in German, a language he actually
understood. Prof. Dr. Veblen submits himself to no such disadvantage.
Though born, I believe, in These States, and resident here all his life,
he achieves the effect, perhaps without employing the means, of thinking
in some unearthly foreign language—say Swahili, Sumerian or Old
Bulgarian—and then painfully clawing his thoughts into a copious but
uncertain and book-learned English. The result is a style that affects
the higher cerebral centers like a constant roll of subway expresses.
The second result is a sort of bewildered numbness of the senses, as
before some fabulous and unearthly marvel. And the third result, if I
make no mistake, is the celebrity of the professor as a Great Thinker.
In brief, he states his hollow nothings in such high, astounding terms
that they must inevitably arrest and blister the right-thinking mind. He
makes them mysterious. He makes them shocking. He makes them portentous.
And so, flinging them at naïve and believing minds, he makes them stick
and burn.

No doubt you think that I exaggerate—perhaps even that I lie. If so,
then consider this specimen—the first paragraph of Chapter XIII of “The
Theory of the Leisure Class”:

    In an increasing proportion as time goes on, the anthropomorphic
    cult, with its code of devout observances, suffers a progressive
    disintegration through the stress of economic exigencies and the
    decay of the system of status. As this disintegration proceeds,
    there come to be associated and blended with the devout attitude
    certain other motives and impulses that are not always of an
    anthropomorphic origin, nor traceable to the habit of personal
    subservience. Not all of these subsidiary impulses that blend with
    the bait of devoutness in the later devotional life are altogether
    congruous with the devout attitude or with the anthropomorphic
    apprehension of sequence of phenomena. Their origin being not the
    same, their action upon the scheme of devout life is also not in
    the same direction. In many ways they traverse the underlying norm
    of subservience or vicarious life to which the code of devout
    observances and the ecclesiastical and sacerdotal institutions are
    to be traced as their substantial basis. Through the presence of
    these alien motives the social and industrial régime of status
    gradually disintegrates, and the canon of personal subservience
    loses the support derived from an unbroken tradition. Extraneous
    habits and proclivities encroach upon the field of action occupied
    by this canon, and it presently comes about that the
    ecclesiastical and sacerdotal structures are partially converted
    to other uses, in some measure alien to the purposes of the scheme
    of devout life as it stood in the days of the most vigorous and
    characteristic development of the priesthood.

Well, what have we here? What does this appalling salvo of rhetorical
artillery signify? What is the sweating professor trying to say? What is
his Message now? Simply that in the course of time, the worship of God
is commonly corrupted by other enterprises, and that the church, ceasing
to be a mere temple of adoration, becomes the headquarters of these
other enterprises. More simply still, that men sometimes vary serving
God by serving other men, which means, of course, serving themselves.
This bald platitude, which must be obvious to any child who has ever
been to a church bazaar or a parish house, is here tortured, worried and
run through rollers until it is spread out to 241 words, of which fully
200 are unnecessary. The next paragraph is even worse. In it the master
undertakes to explain in his peculiar dialect the meaning of “that
non-reverent sense of æsthetic congruity with the environment which is
left as a residue of the latter-day act of worship after elimination of
its anthropomorphic content.” Just what does he mean by this
“non-reverent sense of æsthetic congruity”? I have studied the whole
paragraph for three days, halting only for prayer and sleep, and I have
come to certain conclusions. I may be wrong, but nevertheless it is the
best that I can do. What I conclude is this: he is trying to say that
many people go to church, not because they are afraid of the devil but
because they enjoy the music, and like to look at the stained glass, the
potted lilies and the rev. pastor. To get this profound and highly
original observation upon paper, he wastes, not merely 241, but more
than 300 words! To say what might be said on a postage stamp he takes
more than a page in his book!...

And so it goes, alas, alas, in all his other volumes—a cent’s worth of
information wrapped in a bale of polysyllables. In “The Higher Learning
in America” the thing perhaps reaches its damndest and worst. It is as
if the practice of that incredibly obscure and malodorous style were a
relentless disease, a sort of progressive intellectual diabetes, a
leprosy of the horse sense. Words are flung upon words until all
recollection that there must be a meaning in them, a ground and excuse
for them, is lost. One wanders in a labyrinth of nouns, adjectives,
verbs, pronouns, adverbs, prepositions, conjunctions and participles,
most of them swollen and nearly all of them unable to walk. It is
difficult to imagine worse English, within the limits of intelligible
grammar. It is clumsy, affected, opaque, bombastic, windy, empty. It is
without grace or distinction and it is often without the most elementary
order. The learned professor gets himself enmeshed in his gnarled
sentences like a bull trapped by barbed wire, and his efforts to
extricate himself are quite as furious and quite as spectacular. He
heaves, he leaps, he writhes; at times he seems to be at the point of
yelling for the police. It is a picture to bemuse the vulgar and to give
the judicious grief.

Worse, there is nothing at the bottom of all this strident
wind-music—the ideas it is designed to set forth are, in the
overwhelming main, poor ideas, and often they are ideas that are almost
idiotic. One never gets the thrill of sharp and original thinking,
dexterously put into phrases. The concepts underlying, say, “The Theory
of the Leisure Class” are simply Socialism and water; the concepts
underlying “The Higher Learning in America” are so childishly obvious
that even the poor drudges who write editorials for newspapers have
often voiced them. When, now and then, the professor tires of this
emission of stale bosh and attempts flights of a more original
character, he straightway comes tumbling down into absurdity. What the
reader then has to struggle with is not only intolerably bad writing,
but also loose, flabby, cocksure and preposterous thinking.... Again I
take refuge in an example. It is from Chapter IV of “The Theory of the
Leisure Class.” The problem before the author here has to do with the
social convention which frowns upon the consumption of alcohol by
women—at least to the extent to which men may consume it decorously.
Well, then, what is his explanation of this convention? Here, in brief,
is his process of reasoning:

    1. The leisure class, which is the predatory class of feudal
    times, reserves all luxuries for itself, and disapproves their use
    by members of the lower classes, for this use takes away their
    charm by taking away their exclusive possession.

    2. Women are chattels in the possession of the leisure class, and
    hence subject to the rules made for inferiors. “The patriarchal
    tradition ... says that the woman, being a chattel, should consume
    only what is necessary to her sustenance, except so far as her
    further consumption contributes to the comfort or the good repute
    of her master.”

    3. The consumption of alcohol contributes nothing to the comfort
    or good repute of the woman’s master, but “detracts sensibly from
    the comfort or pleasure” of her master. _Ergo_, she is forbidden
    to drink.

This, I believe, is a fair specimen of the Veblenian ratiocination.
Observe it well, for it is typical. That is to say, it starts off with a
gratuitous and highly dubious assumption, proceeds to an equally dubious
deduction, and then ends with a platitude which begs the whole question.
What sound reason is there for believing that exclusive possession is
the hall-mark of luxury? There is none that I can see. It may be true of
a few luxuries, but it is certainly not true of the most familiar ones.
Do I enjoy a decent bath because I know that John Smith cannot afford
one—or because I delight in being clean? Do I admire Beethoven’s Fifth
Symphony because it is incomprehensible to Congressmen and Methodists—or
because I genuinely love music? Do I prefer terrapin à la Maryland to
fried liver because plow-hands must put up with the liver—or because the
terrapin is intrinsically a more charming dose? Do I prefer kissing a
pretty girl to kissing a charwoman because even a janitor may kiss a
charwoman—or because the pretty girl looks better, smells better and
kisses better? Now and then, to be sure, the idea of exclusive
possession enters into the concept of luxury. I may, if I am a
bibliophile, esteem a book because it is a unique first edition. I may,
if I am fond, esteem a woman because she smiles on no one else. But even
here, save in a very small minority of cases, other attractions plainly
enter into the matter. It pleases me to have a unique first edition, but
I wouldn’t care anything for a unique first edition of Robert W.
Chambers or Elinor Glyn; the author must have my respect, the book must
be intrinsically valuable, there must be much more to it than its mere
uniqueness. And if, being fond, I glory in the exclusive smiles of a
certain Miss —— or Mrs. ——, then surely my satisfaction depends chiefly
upon the lady herself, and not upon my mere monopoly. Would I delight in
the fidelity of the charwoman? Would it give me any joy to learn that,
through a sense of duty to me, she had ceased to kiss the janitor?

Confronted by such considerations, it seems to me that there is little
truth left in Prof. Dr. Veblen’s theory of conspicuous consumption and
conspicuous waste—that what remains of it, after it is practically
applied a few times, is no more than a wraith of balderdash. In so far
as it is true it is obvious. All the professor accomplishes with it is
to take what every one knows and pump it up to such proportions that
every one begins to doubt it. What could be plainer than his failure in
the case just cited? He starts off with a platitude, and ends in
absurdity. No one denies, I take it, that in a clearly limited sense,
women occupy a place in the world—or, more accurately, aspire to a place
in the world—that is a good deal like that of a chattel. Marriage, the
goal of their only honest and permanent hopes, invades their
individuality; a married woman becomes the function of another
individuality. Thus the appearance she presents to the world is often
the mirror of her husband’s egoism. A rich man hangs his wife with
expensive clothes and jewels for the same reason, among others, that he
adorns his own head with a plug hat: to notify everybody that he can
afford it—in brief, to excite the envy of Socialists. But he also does
it, let us hope, for another and far better and more powerful reason, to
wit, that she intrigues him, that he delights in her, that he loves
her—and so wants to make her gaudy and happy. This reason may not appeal
to Socialist sociologists. In Russia, according to an old scandal
(officially endorsed by the British bureau for pulling Yankee noses) the
Bolsheviki actually repudiated it as insane. Nevertheless, it continues
to appeal very forcibly to the majority of normal husbands in the
nations of the West, and I am convinced that it is a hundred times as
potent as any other reason. The American husband, in particular, dresses
his wife like a circus horse, not primarily because he wants to display
his wealth upon her person, but because he is a soft and moony fellow
and ever ready to yield to her desires, however preposterous. If any
conception of her as a chattel were actively in him, even unconsciously,
he would be a good deal less her slave. As it is, her vicarious practice
of conspicuous waste commonly reaches such a development that her master
himself is forced into renunciations—which brings Prof. Dr. Veblen’s
theory to self-destruction.

His final conclusion is as unsound as his premisses. All it comes to is
a plain begging of the question. Why does a man forbid his wife to drink
all the alcohol she can hold? Because, he says, it “detracts sensibly
from his comfort or pleasure.” In other words, it detracts from his
comfort and pleasure because it detracts from his comfort and pleasure.
Meanwhile, the real answer is so plain that even a professor should know
it. A man forbids his wife to drink too much because, deep in his secret
archives, he has records of the behavior of other women who drank too
much, and is eager to safeguard his wife’s self-respect and his own
dignity against what he knows to be certain invasion. In brief, it is a
commonplace of observation, familiar to all males beyond the age of
twenty-one, that once a woman is drunk the rest is a mere matter of time
and place: the girl is already there. A husband, viewing this prospect,
perhaps shrinks from having his chattel damaged. But let us be soft
enough to think that he may also shrink from seeing humiliation,
ridicule and bitter regret inflicted upon one who is under his
protection, and one whose dignity and happiness are precious to him, and
one whom he regards with deep and (I surely hope) lasting affection. A
man’s grandfather is surely not his chattel, even by the terms of the
Veblen theory, and yet I am sure that no sane man would let the old
gentleman go beyond a discreet cocktail or two if a bout of genuine
bibbing were certain to be followed by the complete destruction of his
dignity, his chastity and (if a Presbyterian) his immortal soul....

One more example of the Veblenian logic and I must pass on: I have other
fish to fry. On page 135 of “The Theory of the Leisure Class” he turns
his garish and buzzing search-light upon another problem of the domestic
hearth, this time a double one. First, why do we have lawns around our
country houses? Secondly, why don’t we employ cows to keep them clipped,
instead of importing Italians, Croatians and blackamoors? The first
question is answered by an appeal to ethnology: we delight in lawns
because we are the descendants of “a pastoral people inhabiting a region
with a humid climate.” True enough, there is in a well-kept lawn “an
element of sensuous beauty,” but that is secondary: the main thing is
that our dolicho-blond ancestors had flocks, and thus took a keen
professional interest in grass. (The Marx _motif_! The economic
interpretation of history in E flat.) But why don’t _we_ keep flocks?
Why do we renounce cows and hire Jugo-Slavs? Because “to the average
popular apprehension a herd of cattle so pointedly suggests thrift and
usefulness that their presence ... would be intolerably cheap.” With the
highest veneration, Bosh! Plowing through a bad book from end to end, I
can find nothing sillier than this. Here, indeed, the whole “theory of
conspicuous waste” is exposed for precisely what it is: one per cent.
platitude and ninety-nine per cent. nonsense. Has the genial professor,
pondering his great problems, ever taken a walk in the country? And has
he, in the course of that walk, ever crossed a pasture inhabited by a
cow (_Bos taurus_)? And has he, making that crossing, ever passed astern
of the cow herself? And has he, thus passing astern, ever stepped
carelessly, and—

But this is not a medical work, and so I had better haul up. The cow, to
me, symbolizes the whole speculation of this laborious and humorless
pedagogue. From end to end you will find the same tedious torturing of
plain facts, the same relentless piling up of thin and over-labored
theory, the same flatulent bombast, the same intellectual strabismus.
And always with an air of vast importance, always in vexed and
formidable sentences, always in the longest words possible, always in
the most cacophonous English that even a professor ever wrote. One
visualizes him with his head thrown back, searching for cryptic answers
in the firmament and not seeing the overt and disconcerting cow, not
watching his step. One sees him as the pundit _par excellence_,
infinitely earnest and diligent, infinitely honest and patient, but also
infinitely humorless, futile and hollow....

So much, at least for the present, for this Prof. Dr. Thorstein Veblen,
head Great Thinker to the parlor radicals, Socrates of the intellectual
Greenwich Village, chief star (at least transiently) of the American
_Athenæums_. I am tempted to crowd in mention of some of his other
astounding theories—for example, the theory that the presence of pupils,
the labor of teaching, a concern with pedagogy, is necessary to the
highest functioning of a scientific investigator—a notion magnificently
supported by the examples of Flexner, Ehrlich, Metchnikoff, Loeb and
Carrel! I am tempted, too, to devote a thirdly to the astounding
materialism, almost the downright hoggishness, of his whole system—its
absolute exclusion of everything approaching an æsthetic motive. But I
must leave all these fallacies and absurdities to your own inquiry. More
important than any of them, more important as a phenomenon than the
professor himself and all his works, is the gravity with which his
muddled and highly dubious ideas have been received. At the moment, I
daresay, he is in decline; such Great Thinkers have a way of going out
as quickly as they come in. But a year or so ago he dominated the
American scene. All the reviews were full of his ideas. A hundred lesser
sages reflected them. Every one of intellectual pretentions read his
books. Veblenism was shining in full brilliance. There were Veblenists,
Veblen clubs, Veblen remedies for all the sorrows of the world. There
were even, in Chicago, Veblen Girls—perhaps Gibson girls grown
middle-aged and despairing.

The spectacle, unluckily, was not novel. Go back through the history of
America since the early nineties, and you will find a long succession of
just such violent and uncritical enthusiasms. James had his day; Dewey
had his day; Ibsen had his day; Maeterlinck had his day. Almost every
year sees another intellectual Munyon arise, with his infallible peruna
for all the current malaises. Sometimes this Great Thinker is imported.
Once he was Pastor Wagner; once he was Bergson; once he was Eucken; once
he was Tolstoi; once he was a lady, by name Ellen Key; again he was
another lady, Signorina Montessori. But more often he is of native
growth, and full of the pervasive cocksureness and superficiality of the
land. I do not rank Dr. Veblen among the worst of these haruspices, save
perhaps as a stylist; I am actually convinced that he belongs among the
best of them. But that best is surely depressing enough. What lies
behind it is the besetting intellectual sin of the United States—the
habit of turning intellectual concepts into emotional concepts, the vice
of orgiastic and inflammatory thinking. There is, in America, no orderly
and thorough working out of the fundamental problems of our society;
there is only, as one Englishman has said, an eternal combat of crazes.
The things of capital importance are habitually discussed, not by men
soberly trying to get at the truth about them, but by brummagem Great
Thinkers trying only to get _kudos_ out of them. We are beset endlessly
by quacks—and they are not the less quacks when they happen to be quite
honest. In all fields, from politics to pedagogics and from theology to
public hygiene, there is a constant emotional obscuration of the true
issues, a violent combat of credulities, an inane debasement of
scientific curiosity to the level of mob gaping.

The thing to blame, of course, is our lack of an intellectual
aristocracy—sound in its information, skeptical in its habit of mind,
and, above all, secure in its position and authority. Every other
civilized country has such an aristocracy. It is the natural corrective
of enthusiasms from below. It is hospitable to ideas, but as adamant
against crazes. It stands against the pollution of logic by emotion, the
sophistication of evidence to the glory of God. But in America there is
nothing of the sort. On the one hand there is the populace—perhaps more
powerful here, more capable of putting its idiotic ideas into execution,
than anywhere else—and surely more eager to follow platitudinous
messiahs. On the other hand there is the ruling plutocracy—ignorant,
hostile to inquiry, tyrannical in the exercise of its power, suspicious
of ideas of whatever sort. In the middle ground there is little save an
indistinct herd of intellectual eunuchs, chiefly professors—often quite
as stupid as the plutocracy and always in great fear of it. When it
produces a stray rebel he goes over to the mob; there is no place for
him within his own order. This feeble and vacillating class, unorganized
and without authority, is responsible for what passes as the
well-informed opinion of the country—for the sort of opinion that one
encounters in the serious periodicals—for what later on leaks down, much
diluted, into the few newspapers that are not frankly imbecile. Dr.
Veblen has himself described it in “The Higher Learning in America”; he
is one of its characteristic products, and he proves that he is
thoroughly of it by the timorousness he shows in that book. It is, in
the main, only half-educated. It lacks experience of the world,
assurance, the consciousness of class solidarity and security. Of no
definite position in our national life, exposed alike to the clamors of
the mob and the discipline of the plutocracy, it gets no public respect
and is deficient in self-respect. Thus the better sort of men are not
tempted to enter it. It recruits only men of feeble courage, men of
small originality. Its sublimest flower is the American college
president, well described by Dr. Veblen—a perambulating sycophant and
platitudinarian, a gaudy mendicant and bounder, engaged all his life,
not in the battle of ideas, the pursuit and dissemination of knowledge,
but in the courting of rich donkeys and the entertainment of mobs....

Nay, Veblen is not the worst. Veblen is almost the best. The worst
is—but I begin to grow indignant, and indignation, as old Friedrich used
to say, is foreign to my nature.



                      VI. THE NEW POETRY MOVEMENT


The current pother about poetry, now gradually subsiding, seems to have
begun about seven years ago—say in 1912. It was during that year that
Harriet Monroe established _Poetry: A Magazine of Verse_, in Chicago,
and ever since then she has been the mother superior of the movement.
Other leaders have occasionally disputed her command—the bombastic
Braithwaite, with his annual anthology of magazine verse; Amy Lowell,
with her solemn pronunciamentos in the manner of a Harvard professor;
Vachel Lindsay, with his nebulous vaporings and chautauqua posturings;
even such cheap jacks as Alfred Kreymborg, out of Greenwich Village. But
the importance of Miss Monroe grows more manifest as year chases year.
She was, to begin with, clearly the pioneer. _Poetry_ was on the stands
nearly two years before the first Braithwaite anthology, and long before
Miss Lowell had been lured from her earlier finishing-school doggerels
by the Franco-British Imagists. It antedated, too, all the other salient
documents of the movement—Master’s “Spoon River Anthology,” Frost’s
“North of Boston,” Lindsay’s “General William Booth Enters Heaven,” the
historic bulls of the Imagists, the frantic balderdash of the “Others”
group. Moreover, Miss Monroe has always managed to keep on good terms
with all wings of the heaven-kissed host, and has thus managed to exert
a ponderable influence both to starboard and to port. This, I daresay,
is because she is a very intelligent woman, which fact is alone
sufficient to give her an austere eminence in a movement so beset by
mountebanks and their dupes. I have read _Poetry_ since the first
number, and find it constantly entertaining. It has printed a great deal
of extravagant stuff, and not a little downright nonsensical stuff, but
in the main it has steered a safe and intelligible course, with no
salient blunders. No other poetry magazine—and there have been dozens of
them—has even remotely approached it in interest, or, for that matter,
in genuine hospitality to ideas. Practically all of the others have been
operated by passionate enthusiasts, often extremely ignorant and always
narrow and humorless. But Miss Monroe has managed to retain a certain
judicial calm in the midst of all the whooping and clapper-clawing, and
so she has avoided running amuck, and her magazine has printed the very
best of the new poetry and avoided much of the worst.

As I say, the movement shows signs of having spent its strength. The
mere bulk of the verse that it produces is a great deal less than it was
three or four years ago, or even one or two years ago, and there is a
noticeable tendency toward the conservatism once so loftily disdained. I
daresay the Knish-Morgan burlesque of Witter Bynner and Arthur Davison
Ficke was a hard blow to the more fantastic radicals. At all events,
they subsided after it was perpetrated, and for a couple of years
nothing has been heard from them. These radicals, chiefly collected in
what was called the “Others” group, rattled the slapstick in a sort of
side-show to the main exhibition. They attracted, of course, all the
more credulous and uninformed partisans of the movement, and not a few
advanced professors out of one-building universities began to lecture
upon them before bucolic women’s clubs. They committed hari-kari in the
end by beginning to believe in their own buncombe. When their leaders
took to the chautauquas and sought to convince the peasantry that James
Whitcomb Riley was a fraud the time was ripe for the lethal buffoonery
of MM. Bynner and Ficke. That buffoonery was enormously
successful—perhaps the best hoax in American literary history. It was
swallowed, indeed, by so many magnificoes that it made criticism very
timorous thereafter, and so did damage to not a few quite honest bards.
To-day a new poet, if he departs ever so little from the path already
beaten, is kept in a sort of literary delousing pen until it is
established that he is genuinely sincere, and not merely another Bynner
in hempen whiskers and a cloak to go invisible.

Well, what is the net produce of the whole uproar? How much actual
poetry have all these truculent rebels against Stedman’s Anthology and
McGuffey’s Sixth Reader manufactured? I suppose I have read nearly all
of it—a great deal of it, as a magazine editor, in manuscript—and yet,
as I look back, my memory is lighted up by very few flashes of any
lasting brilliance. The best of all the lutists of the new school, I am
inclined to think, are Carl Sandburg and James Oppenheim, and
particularly Sandburg. He shows a great deal of raucous crudity, he is
often a bit uncertain and wobbly, and sometimes he is downright
banal—but, taking one bard with another, he is probably the soundest and
most intriguing of the lot. Compare, for example, his war poems—simple,
eloquent and extraordinarily moving—to the humorless balderdash of Amy
Lowell, or, to go outside the movement, to the childish gush of Joyce
Kilmer, Hermann Hagedorn and Charles Hanson Towne. Often he gets
memorable effects by astonishingly austere means, as in his famous
“Chicago” rhapsody and his “Cool Tombs.” And always he is thoroughly
individual, a true original, his own man. Oppenheim, equally eloquent,
is more conventional. He stands, as to one leg, on the shoulders of Walt
Whitman, and, as to the other, on a stack of Old Testaments. The stuff
he writes, despite his belief to the contrary, is not American at all;
it is absolutely Jewish, Levantine, almost Asiatic. But here is
something criticism too often forgets: the Jew, intrinsically, is the
greatest of poets. Beside his gorgeous rhapsodies the highest flights of
any western bard seem feeble and cerebral. Oppenheim, inhabiting a brick
house in New York, manages to get that sonorous Eastern note into his
dithyrambs. They are often inchoate and feverish, but at their best they
have the gigantic gusto of Solomon’s Song.

Miss Lowell is the schoolmarm of the movement, and vastly more the
pedagogue than the artist. She has written perhaps half a dozen
excellent pieces in imitation of Richard Aldington and John Gould
Fletcher, and a great deal of highfalutin bathos. Her “A Dome of
Many-Colored Glass” is full of infantile poppycock, and though it is
true that it was first printed in 1912, before she joined the Imagists,
it is not to be forgotten that it was reprinted with her consent in
1915, after she had definitely set up shop as a foe of the _cliché_. Her
celebrity, I fancy, is largely extra-poetical; if she were Miss Tilly
Jones, of Fort Smith, Ark., there would be a great deal less rowing
about her, and her successive masterpieces would be received less
gravely. A literary craftsman in America, as I have already said once or
twice, is never judged by his work alone. Miss Lowell has been helped
very much by her excellent social position. The majority, and perhaps
fully nine-tenths of the revolutionary poets are of no social position
at all—newspaper reporters, Jews, foreigners of vague nationality,
school teachers, lawyers, advertisement writers, itinerant lecturers,
Greenwich Village posturers, and so on. I have a suspicion that it has
subtly flattered such denizens of the _demi-monde_ to find the sister of
a president of Harvard in their midst, and that their delight has
materially corrupted their faculties. Miss Lowell’s book of exposition,
“Tendencies in Modern American Poetry,” is commonplace to the last
degree. Louis Untermeyer’s “The New Era in American Poetry” is very much
better. And so is Prof. Dr. John Livingston Lowes’ “Convention and
Revolt in Poetry.”

As for Edgar Lee Masters, for a short season the undisputed Homer of the
movement, I believe that he is already extinct. What made the fame of
“The Spoon River Anthology” was not chiefly any great show of novelty in
it, nor any extraordinary poignancy, nor any grim truthfulness
unparalleled, but simply the public notion that it was improper. It fell
upon the country at the height of the last sex wave—a wave eternally
ebbing and flowing, now high, now low. It was read, not as work of art,
but as document; its large circulation was undoubtedly mainly among
persons to whom poetry _qua_ poetry was as sour a dose as symphonic
music. To such persons, of course, it seemed something new under the
sun. They were unacquainted with the verse of George Crabbe; they were
quite innocent of E. A. Robinson and Robert Frost; they knew nothing of
the _Ubi sunt_ formula; they had never heard of the Greek Anthology. The
roar of his popular success won Masters’ case with the critics. His
undoubted merits in detail—his half-wistful cynicism, his capacity for
evoking simple emotions, his deft skill at managing the puny
difficulties of _vers libre_—were thereupon pumped up to such an extent
that his defects were lost sight of. Those defects, however, shine
blindingly in his later books. Without the advantage of content that
went with the anthology, they reveal themselves as volumes of empty
doggerel, with now and then a brief moment of illumination. It would be
difficult, indeed, to find poetry that is, in essence, less poetical.
Most of the pieces are actually tracts, and many of them are very bad
tracts.

Lindsay? Alas, he has done his own burlesque. What was new in him, at
the start, was an echo of the barbaric rhythms of the Jubilee Songs. But
very soon the thing ceased to be a marvel, and of late his elephantine
college yells have ceased to be amusing. His retirement to the
chautauquas is self-criticism of uncommon penetration. Frost? A standard
New England poet, with a few changes in phraseology, and the
substitution of sour resignationism for sweet resignationism. Whittier
without the whiskers. Robinson? Ditto, but with a politer bow. He has
written sound poetry, but not much of it. The late Major-General
Roosevelt ruined him by praising him, as he ruined Henry Bordeaux,
Pastor Wagner, Francis Warrington Dawson and many another. Giovannitti?
A forth-rate Sandburg. Ezra Pound? The American in headlong flight from
America—to England, to Italy, to the Middle Ages, to ancient Greece, to
Cathay and points East. Pound, it seems to me, is the most picturesque
man in the whole movement—a professor turned fantee, Abelard in grand
opera. His knowledge is abysmal; he has it readily on tap; moreover, he
has a fine ear, and has written many an excellent verse. But now all the
glow and gusto of the bard have been transformed into the rage of the
pamphleteer: he drops the lute for the bayonet. One sympathizes with him
in his choler. The stupidity he combats is actually almost unbearable.
Every normal man must be tempted, at times, to spit on his hands, hoist
the black flag, and begin slitting throats. But this business, alas, is
fatal to the placid moods and fine other-worldliness of the poet. Pound
gives a thrilling show, but—.... The remaining stars of the liberation
need not detain us. They are the street-boys following the calliope.
They have labored with diligence, but they have produced no poetry....

Miss Monroe, if she would write a book about it, would be the most
competent historian of the movement, and perhaps also its keenest
critic. She has seen it from the inside. She knows precisely what it is
about. She is able, finally, to detach herself from its extravagances,
and to estimate its opponents without bile. Her failure to do a volume
about it leaves Untermeyer’s “The New Era in American Poetry” the best
in the field. Prof. Dr. Lowes’ treatise is very much more thorough, but
it has the defect of stopping with the fundamentals—it has too little to
say about specific poets. Untermeyer discusses all of them, and then
throws in a dozen or two orthodox bards, wholly untouched by Bolshevism,
for good measure. His criticism is often trenchant and always very
clear. He thinks he knows what he thinks he knows, and he states it with
the utmost address—sometimes, indeed, as in the case of Pound, with a
good deal more address than its essential accuracy deserves. But the
messianic note that gets into the bulls and ukases of Pound himself, the
profound solemnity of Miss Lowell, the windy chautauqua-like nothings of
Lindsay, the contradictions of the Imagists, the puerilities of
Kreymborg _et al_—all these things are happily absent. And so it is
possible to follow him amiably even when he is palpably wrong.

That is not seldom. At the very start, for example, he permits himself a
lot of highly dubious rumble-bumble about the “inherent Americanism” and
soaring democracy of the movement. “Once,” he says, “the most exclusive
and aristocratic of the arts, appreciated and fostered only by little
_salons_ and erudite groups, poetry has suddenly swung away from its
self-imposed strictures and is expressing itself once more in terms of
democracy.” Pondering excessively, I can think of nothing that would be
more untrue than this. The fact is that the new poetry is neither
American nor democratic. Despite its remote grounding on Whitman, it
started, not in the United States at all, but in France, and its exotic
color is still its most salient characteristic. Practically every one of
its practitioners is palpably under some strong foreign influence, and
most of them are no more Anglo-Saxon than a samovar or a toccata. The
deliberate strangeness of Pound, his almost fanatical anti-Americanism,
is a mere accentuation of what is in every other member of the
fraternity. Many of them, like Frost, Fletcher, H. D. and Pound, have
exiled themselves from the republic. Others, such as Oppenheim,
Sandburg, Giovannitti, Benét and Untermeyer himself, are palpably
Continental Europeans, often with Levantine traces. Yet others, such as
Miss Lowell and Masters, are little more, at their best, than
translators and adapters—from the French, from the Japanese, from the
Greek. Even Lindsay, superficially the most national of them all, has
also his exotic smear, as I have shown. Let Miss Lowell herself be a
witness. “We shall see them,” she says at the opening of her essay on E.
A. Robinson, “ceding more and more to the influence of other, alien,
peoples....” A glance is sufficient to show the correctness of this
observation. There is no more “inherent Americanism” in the new poetry
than there is in the new American painting and music. It lies, in fact,
quite outside the main stream of American culture.

Nor is it democratic, in any intelligible sense. The poetry of Whittier
and Longfellow was democratic. It voiced the elemental emotions of the
masses of the people; it was full of their simple, rubber-stamp ideas;
they comprehended it and cherished it. And so with the poetry of James
Whitcomb Riley, and with that of Walt Mason and Ella Wheeler Wilcox. But
the new poetry, grounded firmly upon novelty of form and boldness of
idea, is quite beyond their understanding. It seems to them to be
idiotic, just as the poetry of Whitman seemed to them to be idiotic, and
if they could summon up enough interest in it to examine it at length
they would undoubtedly clamor for laws making the confection of it a
felony. The mistake of Untermeyer, and of others who talk to the same
effect, lies in confusing the beliefs of poets and the subject matter of
their verse with its position in the national consciousness. Oppenheim,
Sandburg and Lindsay are democrats, just as Whitman was a democrat, but
their poetry is no more a democratic phenomenon than his was, or than,
to go to music, Beethoven’s Eroica Symphony was. Many of the new poets,
in truth, are ardent enemies of democracy, for example, Pound. Only one
of them has ever actually sought to take his strophes to the vulgar.
That one is Lindsay—and there is not the slightest doubt that the yokels
welcomed him, not because they were interested in his poetry, but
because it struck them as an amazing, and perhaps even a fascinatingly
obscene thing, for a sane man to go about the country on any such
bizarre and undemocratic business.

No sound art, in fact, could possibly be democratic. Tolstoi wrote a
whole book to prove the contrary, and only succeeded in making his case
absurd. The only art that is capable of reaching the _Homo Boobus_ is
art that is already debased and polluted—band music, official sculpture,
Pears’ Soap painting, the popular novel. What is honest and worthy of
praise in the new poetry is Greek to the general. And, despite much
nonsense, it seems to me that there is no little in it that is honest
and worthy of praise. It has, for one thing, made an effective war upon
the _cliché_, and so purged the verse of the nation of much of its old
banality in subject and phrase. The elegant album pieces of Richard
Henry Stoddard and Edmund Clarence Stedman are no longer in
fashion—save, perhaps, among the democrats that Untermeyer mentions. And
in the second place, it has substituted for this ancient conventionality
an eager curiosity in life as men and women are actually living it—a
spirit of daring experimentation that has made poetry vivid and full of
human interest, as it was in the days of Elizabeth. The thing often
passes into the grotesque, it is shot through and through with
_héliogabalisme_, but at its high points it has achieved invaluable
pioneering. A new poet, emerging out of the Baptist night of Peoria or
Little Rock to-day, comes into an atmosphere charged with subtle
electricities. There is a stimulating restlessness; ideas have a
welcome; the art he aspires to is no longer a merely formal exercise,
like practicing Czerny. When a Henry Van Dyke arises at some college
banquet and begins to discharge an old-fashioned ode to _alma mater_
there is a definite snicker; it is almost as if he were to appear in
Congress gaiters or a beaver hat. An audience for such things, of
course, still exists. It is, no doubt, an enormously large audience. But
it has changed a good deal qualitatively, if not quantitatively. The
relatively civilized reader has been educated to something better. He
has heard a music that has spoiled his ear for the old wheezing of the
melodeon. He weeps no more over what wrung him yesteryear.

Unluckily, the new movement, in America even more than in England,
France and Germany, suffers from a very crippling lack, and that is the
lack of a genuinely first-rate poet. It has produced many talents, but
it has yet to produce any genius, or even the shadow of genius. There
has been a general lifting of the plain, but no vasty and melodramatic
throwing up of new peaks. Worse still, it has had to face hard
competition from without—that is, from poets who, while also emerged
from platitude, have yet stood outside it, and perhaps in some doubt of
it. Untermeyer discusses a number of such poets in his book. There is
one of them, Lizette Woodworth Reese, who has written more sound poetry,
more genuinely eloquent and beautiful poetry, than all the new poets put
together—more than a whole posse of Masterses and Lindsays, more than a
hundred Amy Lowells. And there are others, Neihardt and John McClure
among them—particularly McClure. Untermeyer, usually anything but an
ass, once committed the unforgettable asininity of sneering at McClure.
The blunder, I daresay, is already lamented; it is not embalmed in his
book. But it will haunt him on Tyburn Hill. For this McClure, attempting
the simplest thing in the simplest way, has done it almost superbly. He
seems to be entirely without theories. There is no pedagogical passion
in him. He is no reformer. But more than any of the reformers now or
lately in the arena, he is a poet.



                      VII. THE HEIR OF MARK TWAIN


Nothing could be stranger than the current celebrity of Irvin S. Cobb,
an author of whom almost as much is heard as if he were a new Thackeray
or Molière. One is solemnly told by various extravagant partisans, some
of them not otherwise insane, that he is at once the successor to Mark
Twain and the heir of Edgar Allan Poe. One hears of public dinners given
in devotion to his genius, of public presentations, of learned degrees
conferred upon him by universities, of other extraordinary adulations,
few of them shared by such relatively puny fellows as Howells and
Dreiser. His talents and sagacity pass into popular anecdotes; he has
sedulous Boswells; he begins to take on the august importance of an
actor-manager. Behind the scenes, of course, a highly dexterous
publisher pulls the strings, but much of it is undoubtedly more or less
sincere; men pledge their sacred honor to the doctrine that his
existence honors the national literature. Moreover, he seems to take the
thing somewhat seriously himself. He gives his _imprimatur_ to various
other authors, including Joseph Conrad; he engages himself to lift the
literary tone of moving-pictures; he lends his name to movements; he
exposes himself in the chautauquas; he takes on the responsibilities of
a patriot and a public man.... Altogether, a curious, and, in some of
its aspects, a caressingly ironical spectacle. One wonders what the
graduate sophomores of to-morrow, composing their dull tomes upon
American letters, will make of it....

In the actual books of the man I can find nothing that seems to justify
so much enthusiasm, nor even the hundredth part of it. His serious
fiction shows a certain undoubted facility, but there are at least forty
other Americans who do the thing quite as well. His public bulls and
ukases are no more than clever journalism—superficial and
inconsequential, first saying one thing and then quite another thing.
And in his humor, which his admirers apparently put first among his
products, I can discover, at best, nothing save a somewhat familiar
aptitude for grotesque anecdote, and, at worst, only the laborious
laugh-squeezing of Bill Nye. In the volume called “Those Times and
These” there is an excellent comic story, to wit, “Hark, From the Tomb!”
But it would surely be an imbecility to call it a masterpiece; too many
other authors have done things quite as good; more than a few (I need
cite only George Ade, Owen Johnson and Ring W. Lardner) have done things
very much better. Worse, it lies in the book like a slice of Smithfield
ham between two slabs of stale store-bread. On both sides of it are very
stupid artificialities—stories without point, stories in which rustic
characters try to talk like Wilson Mizner, stories altogether
machine-made and depressing. Turn, now, to another book, vastly praised
in its year—by name, “Cobb’s Anatomy.” One laughs occasionally—but
precisely as one laughs over a comic supplement or the jokes in _Ayer’s
Almanac_. For example:

    There never was a hansom cab made that would hold a fat man
    comfortably unless he left the doors open, and that makes him feel
    undressed.

Again:

    Your hair gives you bother so long as you have it and more bother
    when it starts to go. You are always doing something for it and it
    is always showing deep-dyed ingratitude in return; or else the dye
    isn’t deep enough, which is even worse.

Exactly; it is even worse. And then this:

    Once there was a manicure lady who wouldn’t take a tip, but she is
    now no more. Her indignant sisters stabbed her to death with
    hatpins and nail-files.

I do not think I quote unfairly; I have tried to select honest specimens
of the author’s fancy.... Perhaps it may be well to glance at another
book. I choose, at random, “Speaking of Operations—,” a work described
by the publisher as “the funniest yet written by Cobb” and “the funniest
book we know of.” In this judgment many other persons seem to have
concurred. The thing was an undoubted success when it appeared as an
article in the _Saturday Evening Post_ and it sold thousands of copies
between covers. Well, what is in it? In it, after a diligent reading, I
find half a dozen mildly clever observations—and sixty odd pages of
ancient and infantile wheezes, as flat to the taste as so many crystals
of hyposulphite of soda. For example, the wheeze to the effect that in
the days of the author’s nonage “germs had not been invented yet.” For
example, the wheeze to the effect that doctors bury their mistakes. For
example, the wheeze to the effect that the old-time doctor always
prescribed medicines of abominably evil flavor.... But let us go into
the volume more in detail, and so unearth all its gems.

On page 1, in the very first paragraph, there is the doddering old joke
about the steepness of doctors’ bills. In the second paragraph there is
the somewhat newer but still fully adult joke about the extreme
willingness of persons who have been butchered by surgeons to talk about
it afterward. These two witticisms are all that I can find on page 1.
For the rest, it consists almost entirely of a reference to MM. Bryan
and Roosevelt—a reference well known by all newspaper paragraphists and
vaudeville monologists to be as provocative of laughter as a mention of
bunions, mothers-in-law or Pottstown, Pa. On page 2 Bryan and Roosevelt
are succeeded by certain heavy stuff in the Petroleum V. Nasby manner
upon the condition of obstetrics, pediatrics and the allied sciences
among whales. Page 3 starts off with the old jocosity to the effect that
people talk too much about the weather. It progresses or resolves, as
the musicians say, into the wheeze to the effect that people like to
dispute over what is the best thing to eat for breakfast. On page 4 we
come to what musicians would call the formal statement of the main
theme—that is, of the how-I-like-to-talk-of-my-operation motif. We have
thus covered four pages.

Page 5 starts out with an enharmonic change: to wit, from the idea that
ex-patients like to talk of their operations to the idea that patients
in being like to swap symptoms. Following this there is a repetition of
the gold theme—that is, the theme of the doctor’s bill. On page 6 there
are two chuckles. One springs out of a reference to “light
housekeeping,” a phrase which invariably strikes an American vaudeville
audience as salaciously whimsical. The other is grounded upon the
well-known desire of baseball fans to cut the umpire’s throat. On page 6
there enters for the first time what may be called the second theme of
the book. This is the whiskers motif. The whole of this page, with the
exception of a sentence embodying the old wheeze about the happy times
before germs were invented, is given over to variations of the whiskers
joke. Page 8 continues this development section. Whiskers of various
fantastic varieties are mentioned—trellis whiskers, bosky whiskers,
ambush whiskers, loose, luxuriant whiskers, landscaped whiskers,
whiskers that are winter quarters for pathogenic organisms. Some hard,
hard squeezing, and the humor in whiskers is temporarily exhausted. Page
8 closes with the old joke about the cruel thumping which doctors
perform upon their patients’ clavicles.

Now for page 9. It opens with a third statement of the gold motif—“He
then took my temperature and $15.” Following comes the dentist’s office
motif—that is, the motif of reluctance, of oozing courage, of flight. At
the bottom of the page the gold motif is repeated in the key of E minor.
Pages 10 and 11 are devoted to simple description, with very little
effort at humor. On page 12 there is a second statement, for the full
brass choir, of the dentist’s office motif. On page 13 there are more
echoes from Petroleum V. Nasby, the subject this time being a man “who
got his spleen back from the doctor’s and now keeps it in a bottle of
alcohol.” On page 14 one finds the innocent bystander joke; on page 15
the joke about the terrifying effects of reading a patent medicine
almanac. Also, at the bottom of the page, there is a third statement of
the dentist’s office joke. On page 16 it gives way to a restatement of
the whiskers theme, in augmentation, which in turn yields to the third
or fifth restatement of the gold theme.

Let us now jump a few pages. On page 19 we come to the old joke about
the talkative barber; on page 22 to the joke about the book agent; on
the same page to the joke about the fashionableness of appendicitis; on
page 23 to the joke about the clumsy carver who projects the turkey’s
gizzard into the visiting pastor’s eye; on page 28 to a restatement of
the barber joke; on page 31 to another statement—is it the fifth or
sixth?—of the dentist’s office joke; on page 37 to the katzenjammer
joke; on page 39 to the old joke about doctors burying their
mistakes.... And so on. And so on and so on. And so on and so on and so
on. On pages 48 and 49 there is a perfect riot of old jokes, including
the nth variation of the whiskers joke and a fearful and wonderful pun
about Belgian hares and heirs....

On second thoughts I go no further.... This, remember, is the book that
Cobb’s publishers, apparently with his own _Nihil Obstat_, choose as his
best. This is the official masterpiece of the “new Mark Twain.”
Nevertheless, even so laboriously flabby a farceur has his moments. I
turn to Frank J. Wilstach’s Dictionary of Similes and find this credited
to him: “No more privacy than a goldfish.” Here, at last, is something
genuinely humorous. Here, moreover, is something apparently new.



                        VIII. HERMANN SUDERMANN


The fact that Sudermann is the author of the most successful play that
has come out of Germany since the collapse of the romantic movement is
the most eloquent of all proofs, perhaps, of his lack of force and
originality as a dramatist. “Heimat,” Englished, Frenched and
Italianized as “Magda,” gave a new and gaudy leading rôle to all the
middle-aged chewers of scenery; they fell upon it as upon a new
Marguerite Gautier, and with it they coaxed the tears of all nations.
That was in the middle nineties. To-day the piece seems almost as
old-fashioned as “The Princess Bonnie,” and even in Germany it has gone
under the counter. If it is brought out at all, it is to adorn the death
agonies of some doddering star of the last generation.

Sudermann was one of the first deer flushed by Arno Holz and Johannes
Schlaf, the founders of German naturalism. He had written a couple of
successful novels, “Frau Sorge” and “Der Katzensteg,” before the
_Uberbrettl’_ got on its legs, and so he was a recruit worth snaring.
The initial fruit of his enlistment was “Die Ehre,” a _reductio ad
absurdum_ of Prussian notions of honor, as incomprehensible outside of
Germany as Franz Adam Beyerlein’s “Zapfenstreich” or Carl Bleibtreu’s
“Die Edelsten der Nation.” Then followed “Sodoms Ende,” and after it,
“Heimat.” Already the emptiness of naturalism was beginning to oppress
Sudermann, as it was also oppressing Hauptmann. The latter, in 1892,
rebounded from it to the unblushing romanticism of “Hanneles
Himmelfahrt.” As for Sudermann, he chose to temper the rigors of the
Schlaf-Holz formula (by Ibsen out of Zola) with sardoodledum. The result
was this “Heimat,” in which naturalism was wedded to a mellow
sentimentality, caressing to audiences bred upon the drama of perfumed
adultery. The whole last scene of the play, indeed, was no more than an
echo of Augier’s “Le Mariage d’ Olympe.” It is no wonder that even Sarah
Bernhardt pronounced it a great work.

Since then Sudermann has wobbled, and in the novel as well as in the
drama. Lacking the uncanny versatility of Hauptmann, he has been unable
to conquer the two fields of romance and reality. Instead he has lost
himself between them, a rat without a tail. “Das hohe Lied,” his most
successful novel since “Frau Sorge,” is anything but a first-rate work.
Its opening chapter is a superlatively fine piece of writing, but after
that he grows uncertain of his way, and toward the end one begins to
wonder what it is all about. No coherent idea is in it; it is simply a
sentimentalization of the unpleasant; if it were not for the naughtiness
of some of the scenes no one would read it. An American dramatist has
made a play of it—a shocker for the same clowns who were entranced by
Brieux’s “Les Avariés.”

The trouble with Sudermann, here and elsewhere, is that he has no sound
underpinnings, and is a bit uncertain about his characters and his
story. He starts off furiously, let us say, as a Zola, and then dilutes
Zolaism with romance, and then pulls himself up and begins to imitate
Ibsen, and then trips and falls headlong into the sugar bowl of
sentimentality. Lily Czepanek, in “Das hohe Lied,” swoons at critical
moments, like the heroine of a tale for chambermaids. It is almost as if
Lord Jim should get converted at a gospel mission, or Nora Helmer let
down her hair.... But these are defects in Sudermann the novelist and
dramatist, and in that Sudermann only. In the short story they conceal
themselves; he is done before he begins to vacillate. In this field,
indeed, all his virtues—of brisk, incisive writing, of flashing
observation, of dexterous stage management, of emotional fire and
address—have a chance to show themselves, and without any wearing thin.
The book translated as “The Indian Lily” contains some of the best short
stories that German—or any other language, for that matter—can offer.
They are mordant, succinct and extraordinarily vivid character studies,
each full of penetrating irony and sardonic pity, each with the chill
wind of disillusion blowing through it, each preaching that life is a
hideous farce, that good and bad are almost meaningless words, that
truth is only the lie that is easiest to believe....

It is hard to choose between stories so high in merit, but surely “The
Purpose” is one of the best. Of all the latter-day Germans, only Ludwig
Thoma, in “Ein bayrischer Soldat,” has ever got a more brilliant reality
into a crowded space. Here, in less than fifteen thousand words,
Sudermann rehearses the tragedy of a whole life, and so great is the art
of the thing that one gets a sense of perfect completeness, almost of
exhaustiveness.... Antonie Wiesner, the daughter of a country innkeeper,
falls in love with Robert Messerschmidt, a medical student, and they sin
the scarlet sin. To Robert, perhaps, the thing is a mere interlude of
midsummer, but to Toni it is all life’s meaning and glory. Robert is
poor and his degree is still two years ahead; it is out of the question
for him to marry. Very well, Toni will find a father for her child; she
is her lover’s property, and that property must be protected. And she
will wait willingly, careless of the years, for the distant day of
triumph and redemption. All other ideas and ideals drop out of her mind;
she becomes an automaton moved by the one impulse, the one yearning. She
marries one Wiegand, a decayed innkeeper; he, poor fool, accepts the
parentage of her child. Her father, rich and unsuspicious, buys them a
likely inn; they begin to make money. And then begins the second chapter
of Toni’s sacrifice. She robs her husband systematically and steadily;
she takes commissions on all his goods; she becomes the houri of his
bar, that trade may grow and pickings increase. Mark by mark, the money
goes to Robert. It sees him through the university; it gives him his
year or two in the hospitals; it buys him a practice; it feeds and
clothes him, and his mother with him. The months and years pass
endlessly—a young doctor’s progress is slow. But finally the great day
approaches. Soon Robert will be ready for his wife. But Wiegand—what of
him? Toni thinks of half a dozen plans. The notion of poisoning him
gradually formulates itself. Not a touch of horror stays her. She is, by
this time, beyond all the common moralities—a monomaniac with no thought
for anything save her great purpose. But an accident saves Wiegand.
Toni, too elaborate in her plans, poisons herself by mischance, and
comes near dying. Very well, if not poison, then some more subtle craft.
She puts a barmaid into Wiegand’s path; she manages the whole affair;
before long she sees her victim safely enmeshed. A divorce follows; the
inn is sold; her father’s death makes her suddenly rich—at last she is
off to greet her lord!

That meeting!... Toni waits in the little flat that she has rented in
the city—she and her child, the child of Robert. Robert is to come at
noon; as the slow moments pass the burden of her happiness seems too
great to bear. And then suddenly the ecstatic climax—the ring at the
door.... “A gentleman entered. A strange gentleman. Wholly strange. Had
she met him on the street she would not have known him. He had grown
old—forty, fifty, a hundred years. Yet his real age could not be over
twenty-eight!... He had grown fat. He carried a little paunch around
with him, round and comfortable. And the honorable scars gleamed in
round, red cheeks. His eyes seemed small and receding.... And when he
said: ‘Here I am at last,’ it was no longer the old voice, clear and a
little resonant, which had echoed and reëchoed in her spiritual ear. He
gurgled as though he had swallowed dumplings.” An oaf without and an oaf
within! Toni is for splendors, triumphs, the life; Robert has “settled
down.” His remote village, hard by the Russian border, is to his liking;
he has made comfortable friends there; he is building up a practice. He
is, of course, a man of honor. He will marry Toni—willingly and with
gratitude, even with genuine affection. Going further, he will pay back
to her every cent that ever came from Wiegand’s till. He has kept a
strict account. Here it is, in a little blue notebook—seven years of
entries. As he reads them aloud the events of those seven years unroll
themselves before Toni and every mark brings up its picture—stolen cash
and trinkets, savings in railroad fares and food, commissions upon
furniture and wines, profits of champagne debauches with the county
councilor, sharp trading in milk and eggs, “suspense and longing, an
inextricable web of falsification and trickery, of terror and lying
without end. The memory of no guilt is spared her.” Robert is an honest,
an honorable man. He has kept a strict account; the money is waiting in
bank. What is more, he will make all necessary confessions. He has not,
perhaps, kept to the letter of fidelity. There was a waitress in Berlin;
there was a nurse at the surgical clinic; there is even now a Lithuanian
servant girl at his bachelor quarters. The last named, of course, will
be sent away forthwith. Robert is a man of honor, a man sensitive to
every requirement of the punctilio, a gentleman. He will order the
announcement cards, consult a clergyman—and not forget to get rid of the
Lithuanian and air the house.... Poor Toni stares at him as he departs.
“Will he come back soon?” asks the child. “I scarcely think so,” she
answers.... “That night she broke the purpose of her life, the purpose
that had become interwoven with a thousand others, and when the morning
came she wrote a letter of farewell to the beloved of her youth.”

A short story of rare and excellent quality. A short story—oh,
miracle!—worth reading twice. It is not so much that its motive is
new—that motive, indeed, has appeared in fiction many times, though
usually with the man as the protagonist—as that its workmanship is
superb. Sudermann here shows that, for all his failings elsewhere, he
knows superlatively how to write. His act divisions are exactly right;
his _scènes à faire_ are magnificently managed; he has got into the
thing that rhythmic ebb and flow of emotion which makes for great drama.
And in most of the other stories in this book you will find much the
same skill. No other, perhaps, is quite so good as “The Purpose,” but at
least one of them, “The Song of Death,” is not far behind. Here we have
the tragedy of a woman brought up rigorously, puritanically, stupidly,
who discovers, just as it is too late, that love may be a wild dance, an
ecstasy, an orgy. I can imagine no more grotesquely pathetic scene than
that which shows this drab preacher’s wife watching by her husband’s
deathbed—while through the door comes the sound of amorous delirium from
the next room. And then there is a strangely moving Christmas story,
“Merry Folk”—pathos with the hard iron in it. And there are “Autumn” and
“The Indian Lily,” elegies to lost youth—the first of them almost a fit
complement to Joseph Conrad’s great paean to youth triumphant.
Altogether, a collection of short stories of the very first rank. Write
off “Das hohe Lied,” “Frau Sorge” and all the plays: a Sudermann remains
who must be put in a high and honorable place, and will be remembered.



                             IX. GEORGE ADE


When, after the Japs and their vassals conquer us and put us to the
sword, and the republic descends into hell, some literary don of Oxford
or Mittel-Europa proceeds to the predestined autopsy upon our Complete
Works, one of the things he will surely notice, reviewing our literary
history, is the curious persistence with which the dons native to the
land have overlooked its emerging men of letters. I mean, of course, its
genuine men of letters, its salient and truly original men, its men of
intrinsic and unmistakable distinction. The fourth-raters have fared
well enough, God knows. Go back to any standard literature book of ten,
or twenty, or thirty, or fifty years ago, and you will be amazed by its
praise of shoddy mediocrities, long since fly-blown and forgotten.
George William Curtis, now seldom heard of at all, save perhaps in the
reminiscences of senile publishers, was treated in his day with all the
deference due to a prince of the blood. Artemus Ward, Petroleum V. Nasby
and half a dozen other such hollow buffoons were ranked with Mark Twain,
and even above him. Frank R. Stockton, for thirty years, was the delight
of all right-thinking reviewers. Richard Henry Stoddard and Edmund
Clarence Stedman were eminent personages, both as critics and as poets.
And Donald G. Mitchell, to make an end of dull names, bulked so grandly
in the academic eye that he was snatched from his tear-jugs and his
tea-pots to become a charter member of the National Institute of Arts
and Letters, and actually died a member of the American Academy!

Meanwhile, three of the five indubitably first-rate artists that America
has produced went quite without orthodox recognition at home until
either foreign enthusiasm or domestic clamor from below forced them into
a belated and grudging sort of notice. I need not say that I allude to
Poe, Whitman and Mark Twain. If it ever occurred to any American critic
of position, during Poe’s lifetime, that he was a greater man than
either Cooper or Irving, then I have been unable to find any trace of
the fact in the critical literature of the time. The truth is that he
was looked upon as a facile and somewhat dubious journalist, too
cocksure by half, and not a man to be encouraged. Lowell praised him in
1845 and at the same time denounced the current over-praise of lesser
men, but later on this encomium was diluted with very important
reservations, and there the matter stood until Baudelaire discovered the
poet and his belated fame came winging home. Whitman, as every one
knows, fared even worse. Emerson first hailed him and then turned tail
upon him, eager to avoid any share in his ill-repute among blockheads.
No other critic of any influence gave him help. He was carried through
his dark days of poverty and persecution by a few private enthusiasts,
none of them with the ear of the public, and in the end it was Frenchmen
and Englishmen who lifted him into the light. Imagine a Harvard
professor lecturing upon him in 1865! As for Mark Twain, the story of
his first fifteen years has been admirably told by Prof. Dr. William
Lyon Phelps, of Yale. The dons were unanimously against him. Some
sneered at him as a feeble mountebank; others refused to discuss him at
all; not one harbored the slightest suspicion that he was a man of
genius, or even one leg of a man of genius. Phelps makes merry over this
academic attempt to dispose of Mark by putting him into Coventry—and
himself joins the sanctimonious brethren who essay the same enterprise
against Dreiser....

I come by this route to George Ade—who perhaps fails to fit into the
argument doubly, for on the one hand he is certainly not a literary
artist of the first rank, and on the other hand he has long enjoyed a
meed of appreciation and even of honor, for the National Institute of
Arts and Letters elevated him to its gilt-edged purple in its first
days, and he is still on its roll of men of “notable achievement in art,
music or literature,” along with Robert W. Chambers, Henry Sydnor
Harrison, Oliver Herford, E. S. Martin and E. W. Townsend, author of
“Chimmie Fadden.” Nevertheless, he does not fall too far outside, after
all, for if he is not of the first rank then he surely deserves a
respectable place in the second rank, and if the National Institute
broke the spell by admitting him then it was probably on the theory that
he was a second Chambers or Herford, or maybe even a second Martin or
Townsend. As for the text-book dons, they hold resolutely to the
doctrine that he scarcely exists, and is not worth noticing at all. For
example, there is Prof. Fred Lewis Pattee, author of “A History of
American Literature Since 1870.” Prof. Pattee notices Chambers, Marion
Harland, Herford, Townsend, Amélie Rives, R. K. Munkittrick and many
other such ornaments of the national letters, and even has polite bows
for Gelett Burgess, Carolyn Wells and John Kendrick Bangs, but the name
of Ade is missing from his index, as is that of Dreiser. So with the
other pedagogues. They are unanimously shy of Ade in their horn-books
for sophomores, and they are gingery in their praise of him in their
innumerable review articles. He is commended, when at all, much as the
late Joseph Jefferson used to be commended—that is, to the accompaniment
of reminders that even a clown is one of God’s creatures, and may have
the heart of a Christian under his motley. The most laudatory thing ever
said of him by any critic of the apostolic succession, so far as I can
discover, is that he is clean—that he does not import the lewd
buffooneries of the barroom, the smoking-car and the wedding reception
into his books....

But what are the facts? The facts are that Ade is one of the few
genuinely original literary craftsmen now in practice among us; that he
comes nearer to making literature, when he has full steam up, than any
save a scant half-dozen of our current novelists, and that the whole
body of his work, both in books and for the stage, is as thoroughly
American, in cut and color, in tang and savor, in structure and point of
view, as the work of Howells, E. W. Howe or Mark Twain. No single
American novel that I can think of shows half the sense of nationality,
the keen feeling for national prejudice and peculiarity, the sharp and
pervasive Americanism of such Adean fables as “The Good Fairy of the
Eighth Ward and the Dollar Excursion of the Steam-Fitters,” “The
Mandolin Players and the Willing Performer,” and “The Adult Girl Who Got
Busy Before They Could Ring the Bell on Her.” Here, amid a humor so
grotesque that it almost tortures the midriff, there is a startlingly
vivid and accurate evocation of the American scene. Here, under all the
labored extravagance, there are brilliant flashlight pictures of the
American people, and American ways of thinking, and the whole of
American _Kultur_. Here the veritable Americano stands forth, lacking
not a waggery, a superstition, a snuffle or a wen.

Ade himself, for all his story-teller’s pretense of remoteness, is as
absolutely American as any of his prairie-town traders and pushers,
Shylocks and Dogberries, beaux and belles. No other writer of our
generation, save perhaps Howe, is more unescapably national in his every
gesture and trick of mind. He is as American as buckwheat cakes, or the
Knights of Pythias, or the chautauqua, or Billy Sunday, or a bull by Dr.
Wilson. He fairly reeks of the national Philistinism, the national
respect for respectability, the national distrust of ideas. He is a
marcher, one fancies, in parades; he joins movements, and movements
against movements; he knows no language save his own; he regards a
Roosevelt quite seriously and a Mozart or an Ibsen as a joke; one would
not be surprised to hear that, until he went off to his fresh-water
college, he slept in his underwear and read the _Epworth Herald_. But,
like Dreiser, he is a peasant touched by the divine fire; somehow, a
great instinctive artist got himself born out there on that lush Indiana
farm. He has the rare faculty of seeing accurately, even when the thing
seen is directly under his nose, and he has the still rarer faculty of
recording vividly, of making the thing seen move with life. One often
doubts a character in a novel, even in a good novel, but who ever
doubted Gus in “The Two Mandolin Players,” or Mae in “Sister Mae,” or,
to pass from the fables, Payson in “Mr. Payson’s Satirical Christmas”?
Here, with strokes so crude and obvious that they seem to be laid on
with a broom, Ade achieves what O. Henry, with all his ingenuity, always
failed to achieve: he fills his bizarre tales with human beings. There
is never any artfulness on the surface. The tale itself is never novel,
or complex; it never surprises; often it is downright banal. But
underneath there is an artfulness infinitely well wrought, and that is
the artfulness of a story-teller who dredges his story out of his
people, swiftly and skillfully, and does not squeeze his people into his
story, laboriously and unconvincingly.

Needless to say, a moralist stands behind the comedian. He would teach;
he even grows indignant. Roaring like a yokel at a burlesque show over
such wild and light-hearted jocosities as “Paducah’s Favorite Comedians”
and “Why ‘Gondola’ Was Put Away,” one turns with something of a start to
such things as “Little Lutie,” “The Honest Money Maker” and “The
Corporation Director and the Mislaid Ambition.” Up to a certain point it
is all laughter, but after that there is a flash of the knife, a show of
teeth. Here a national limitation often closes in upon the satirist. He
cannot quite separate the unaccustomed from the abominable; he is unable
to avoid rattling his Philistine trappings a bit proudly; he must prove
that he, too, is a right-thinking American, a solid citizen and a
patriot, unshaken in his lofty rectitude by such poisons as aristocracy,
adultery, _hors d’œuvres_ and the sonata form. But in other directions
this thoroughgoing nationalism helps him rather than hinders him. It
enables him, for one thing, to see into sentimentality, and to
comprehend it and project it accurately. I know of no book which
displays the mooniness of youth with more feeling and sympathy than
“Artie,” save it be Frank Norris’ forgotten “Blix.” In such fields Ade
achieves a success that is rare and indubitable. He makes the thing
charming and he makes it plain.

But all these fables and other compositions of his are mere sketches,
inconsiderable trifles, impromptus in bad English, easy to write and of
no importance! Are they, indeed? Do not believe it for a moment. Fifteen
or twenty years ago, when Ade was at the height of his celebrity as a
newspaper Sganarelle, scores of hack comedians tried to imitate him—and
all failed. I myself was of the number. I operated a so-called funny
column in a daily newspaper, and like my colleagues near and far, I
essayed to manufacture fables in slang. What miserable botches they
were! How easy it was to imitate Ade’s manner—and how impossible to
imitate his matter! No; please don’t get the notion that it is a simple
thing to write such a fable as that of “The All-Night Seance and the
Limit That Ceased to Be,” or that of “The Preacher Who Flew His Kite,
But Not Because He Wished to Do So,” or that of “The Roystering Blades.”
Far from it! On the contrary, the only way you will ever accomplish the
feat will be by first getting Ade’s firm grasp upon American character,
and his ability to think out a straightforward, simple, amusing story,
and his alert feeling for contrast and climax, and his extraordinary
talent for devising novel, vivid and unforgettable phrases. Those
phrases of his sometimes wear the external vestments of a passing slang,
but they are no more commonplace and vulgar at bottom than Gray’s “mute,
inglorious Milton” or the “somewheres East of Suez” of Kipling. They
reduce an idea to a few pregnant syllables. They give the attention a
fillip and light up a whole scene in a flash. They are the running
evidences of an eye that sees clearly and of a mind that thinks
shrewdly. They give distinction to the work of a man who has so well
concealed a highly complex and efficient artistry that few have ever
noticed it.



                       X. THE BUTTE BASHKIRTSEFF


Of all the pseudo-rebels who have raised a tarletan black flag in These
States, surely Mary MacLane is one of the most pathetic. When, at
nineteen, she fluttered Vassar with “The Story of Mary MacLane,” the
truth about her was still left somewhat obscure; the charm of her
flapperhood, so to speak, distracted attention from it, and so concealed
it. But when, at thirty-five, she achieved “I, Mary MacLane,” it emerged
crystal-clear; she had learned to describe her malady accurately, though
she still wondered, a bit wistfully, just what it was. And that malady?
That truth? Simply that a Scotch Presbyterian with a soaring soul is as
cruelly beset as a wolf with fleas, a zebra with the botts. Let a spark
of the divine fire spring to life in that arid corpse, and it must fight
its way to flame through a drum fire of wet sponges. A humming bird
immersed in _Kartoffelsuppe_. Walter Pater writing for the London _Daily
Mail_. Lucullus traveling steerage.... A Puritan wooed and tortured by
the leers of beauty, Mary MacLane in a moral republic, in a Presbyterian
diocese, in Butte....

I hope my figures of speech are not too abstruse. What I mean to say is
simply this: that the secret of Mary MacLane is simply this: that the
origin of all her inchoate naughtiness is simply this: that she is a
Puritan who has heard the call of joy and is struggling against it
damnably. Remember so much, and the whole of her wistful heresy becomes
intelligible. On the one hand the loveliness of the world enchants her;
on the other hand the fires of hell warn her. This tortuous conflict
accounts for her whole bag of tricks; her timorous flirtations with the
devil, her occasional outbreaks of finishing-school rebellion, her
hurried protestations of virginity, above all her incurable
Philistinism. One need not be told that she admires the late Major
General Roosevelt and Mrs. Atherton, that she wallows in the poetry of
Keats. One knows quite as well that her phonograph plays the “Peer Gynt”
suite, and that she is charmed by the syllogisms of G. K. Chesterton.
She is, in brief, an absolutely typical American of the transition stage
between Christian Endeavor and civilization. There is in her a definite
poison of ideas, an æsthetic impulse that will not down—but every time
she yields to it she is halted and plucked back by qualms and doubts, by
the dominant superstitions of her race and time, by the dead hand of her
kirk-crazy Scotch forebears.

It is precisely this grisly touch upon her shoulder that stimulates her
to those naïve explosions of scandalous confidence which make her what
she is. If there were no sepulchral voice in her ear, warning her that
it is the mark of a hussy to be kissed by a man with “iron-gray hair, a
brow like Apollo and a jowl like Bill Sykes,” she would not confess it
and boast of it, as she does on page 121 of “I, Mary MacLane.” If it
were not a Presbyterian axiom that a lady who says “damn” is fit only to
join the white slaves, she would not pen a defiant Damniad, as she does
on pages 108, 109 and 110. And if it were not held universally in Butte
that sex passion is the exclusive infirmity of the male, she would not
blab out in meeting that—but here I get into forbidden waters and had
better refer you to page 209. It is not the godless voluptuary who
patronizes leg-shows and the cabaret; it is the Methodist deacon with
unaccustomed vine-leaves in his hair. It is not genuine artists, serving
beauty reverently and proudly, who herd in Greenwich Village and bawl
for art; it is precisely a mob of Middle Western Baptists to whom the
very idea of art is still novel, and intoxicating, and more than a
little bawdy. And to make an end, it is not cocottes who read the
highly-spiced magazines which burden all the book-stalls; it is
sedentary married women who, while faithful to their depressing husbands
in the flesh, yet allow their imaginations to play furtively upon the
charms of theoretical intrigues with such pretty fellows as Francis X.
Bushman, Enrico Caruso and Vincent Astor.

An understanding of this plain fact not only explains the MacLane and
her gingery carnalities of the chair; it also explains a good part of
latter-day American literature. That literature is the self-expression
of a people who have got only half way up the ladder leading from moral
slavery to intellectual freedom. At every step there is a warning tug, a
protest from below. Sometimes the climber docilely drops back; sometimes
he emits a petulant defiance and reaches boldly for the next round. It
is this occasional defiance which accounts for the periodical
efflorescence of mere school-boy naughtiness in the midst of our
oleaginous virtue—for the shouldering out of the _Ladies’ Home Journal_
by magazines of adultery all compact—for the provocative baring of calf
and scapula by women who regard it as immoral to take Benedictine with
their coffee—for the peopling of Greenwich Village by oafs who think it
a devilish adventure to victual in cellars, and read Krafft-Ebing, and
stare at the corset-scarred nakedness of decadent cloak-models.

I have said that the climber is but half way up the ladder. I wish I
could add that he is moving ahead, but the truth is that he is probably
quite stationary. We have our spasms of revolt, our flarings up of
peekaboo waists, free love and “art,” but a mighty backwash of piety
fetches each and every one of them soon or late. A mongrel and inferior
people, incapable of any spiritual aspiration above that of second-rate
English colonials, we seek refuge inevitably in the one sort of
superiority that the lower castes of men can authentically boast, to
wit, superiority in docility, in credulity, in resignation, in morals.
We are the most moral race in the world; there is not another that we do
not look down upon in that department; our confessed aim and destiny as
a nation is to inoculate them all with our incomparable rectitude. In
the last analysis, all ideas are judged among us by moral standards;
moral values are our only permanent tests of worth, whether in the arts,
in politics, in philosophy or in life itself. Even the instincts of man,
so intrinsically immoral, so innocent, are fitted with moral
false-faces. That bedevilment by sex ideas which punishes continence, so
abhorrent to nature, is converted into a moral frenzy, pathological in
the end. The impulse to cavort and kick up one’s legs, so healthy, so
universal, is hedged in by incomprehensible taboos; it becomes stealthy,
dirty, degrading. The desire to create and linger over beauty, the sign
and touchstone of man’s rise above the brute, is held down by doubts and
hesitations; when it breaks through it must do so by orgy and explosion,
half ludicrous and half pathetic. Our function, we choose to believe, is
to teach and inspire the world. We are wrong. Our function is to amuse
the world. We are the Bryan, the Henry Ford, the Billy Sunday among the
nations....



                    XI. SIX MEMBERS OF THE INSTITUTE


                                   1
                          _The Boudoir Balzac_

The late Percival Pollard was, in my nonage, one of my enthusiasms, and,
later on, one of my friends. How, as a youngster, I used to lie in wait
for the _Criterion_ every week, and devour Pollard, Huneker, Meltzer and
Vance Thompson! That was in the glorious middle nineties and savory pots
were brewing. Scarcely a week went by without a new magazine of some
unearthly _Tendenz_ or other appearing on the stands; scarcely a month
failed to bring forth its new genius. Pollard was up to his hips in the
movement. He had a hand for every débutante. He knew everything that was
going on. Polyglot, catholic, generous, alert, persuasive, forever
oscillating between New York and Paris, London and Berlin, he probably
covered a greater territory in the one art of letters than Huneker
covered in all seven. He worked so hard as introducer of intellectual
ambassadors, in fact, that he never had time to write his own books. One
very brilliant volume, “Masks and Minstrels of New Germany,” adequately
represents him. The rest of his criticism, clumsily dragged from the
files of the _Criterion_ and _Town Topics_, is thrown together ineptly
in “Their Day in Court.” Death sneaked upon him from behind; he was gone
before he could get his affairs in order. I shall never forget his
funeral—no doubt a fit finish for a critic. Not one of the authors he
had whooped and battled for was present—not one, that is, save old
Ambrose Bierce. Bierce came in an elegant plug-hat and told me some
curious anecdotes on the way to the crematory, chiefly of morgues,
dissecting-rooms and lonely church-yards: he was the most gruesome of
men. A week later, on a dark, sleety Christmas morning, I returned to
the crematory, got the ashes, and shipped them West. Pollard awaits the
Second Coming of his Redeemer in Iowa, hard by the birthplace of Prof.
Dr. Stuart P. Sherman. Well, let us not repine. Huneker lives in
Flatbush and was born in Philadelphia. Cabell is a citizen of Richmond,
Va. Willa Sibert Cather was once one of the editors of _McClure’s
Magazine_. Dreiser, before his annunciation, edited dime novels for
Street & Smith, and will be attended by a Methodist friar, I daresay, on
the gallows....

Pollard, as I say, was a man I respected. He knew a great deal. Half
English, half German and wholly cosmopolitan, he brought valuable
knowledges and enthusiasms to the developing American literature of his
time. Moreover, I had affection for him as well as respect, for he was a
capital companion at the _Biertisch_ and was never too busy to waste a
lecture on my lone ear—say on Otto Julius Bierbaum (one of his friends),
or Anatole France, or the technic of the novel, or the scoundrelism of
publishers. It thus pains me to violate his tomb—but let his shade
forgive me as it hopes to be forgiven! For it was Pollard, I believe,
who set going the doctrine that Robert W. Chambers is a man of talent—a
bit too commercial, perhaps, but still fundamentally a man of talent.
You will find it argued at length in “Their Day in Court.” There Pollard
called the roll of the “promising young men” of the time, _circa_ 1908.
They were Winston Churchill, David Graham Phillips—and Chambers! Alas,
for all prophets and their prognostications! Phillips, with occasional
reversions to honest work, devoted most of his later days to sensational
serials for the train-boy magazines, and when he died his desk turned
out to be full of them, and they kept dribbling along for three or four
years. Churchill, seduced by the uplift, has become an evangelist and a
bore—a worse case, even, than that of H. G. Wells. And Chambers? Let the
New York _Times_ answer. Here, in all sobriety, is its description of
the heroine of “The Moonlit Way,” one of his latest pieces:

    She is a lovely and fascinating dancer who, before the war, held
    the attention of all Europe and incited a great many men who had
    nothing better to do to fall in love with her. She bursts upon the
    astonished gaze of several of the important characters of the
    story when she dashes into the ballroom of the German Embassy
    _standing upon a bridled ostrich_, which she compels to dance and
    go through its paces at her command. She is dressed, Mr. Chambers
    assures us, _in nothing but the skin of her virtuous youth,
    modified slightly by a yashmak and a zone of blue jewels about her
    hips and waist_.

The italics are mine. I wonder what poor Pollard would think of it. He
saw the shoddiness in Chambers, the leaning toward “profitable
pot-boiling,” but he saw, too, a fundamental earnestness and a high
degree of skill. What has become of these things? Are they visible, even
as ghosts, in the preposterous serials that engaud the magazines of Mr.
Hearst, and then load the department-stores as books? Were they, in
fact, ever there at all? Did Pollard observe them, or did he merely
imagine them? I am inclined to think that he merely imagined them—that
his delight in what he described as “many admirable tricks” led him into
a fatuity that he now has an eternity to regret. Chambers grows sillier
and sillier, emptier and emptier, worse and worse. But was he ever more
than a fifth-rater? I doubt it. Let us go back half a dozen years, to
the days before the war forced the pot-boiler down into utter
imbecility. I choose, at random, “The Gay Rebellion.” Here is a specimen
of the dialogue:

    “It startled me. How did I know what it might have been? It might
    have been a bear—or a cow.”

    “You talk,” said Sayre angrily, “like William Dean Howells!
    Haven’t you _any_ romance in you?”

    “Not what _you_ call romance. Pass the flapjacks.” Sayre passed
    them.

    “My attention,” he said, “instantly became riveted upon the
    bushes. I strove to pierce them with a piercing glance. Suddenly—”

    “Sure! ‘Suddenly’ always comes next.”

    “Suddenly ... the leaves were stealthily parted, and—”

    “A naked savage in full war paint—”

    “Naked nothing! a young girl in—a perfectly fitting gown stepped
    noiselessly out.”

    “Out of what, you gink?”

    “The bushes, dammit!... She looked at me; I gazed at her.
    Somehow—”

    “In plainer terms, she gave you the eye. What?”

    “That’s a peculiarly coarse observation.”

    “Then tell it in your own way.”

    “I will. The sunlight fell softly upon the trees of the ancient
    wood.”

    “_Woodn’t_ that bark you!”

And so on, and so on, for page after page. Can you imagine more idiotic
stuff—“pierce and piercing,” “you gink,” “she gave you the eye,”
“_woodn’t_ that bark you?” One is reminded of horrible things—the
repartees of gas-house comedians in vaudeville, the whimsical editorials
in _Life_, the forbidding ghoul-eries of Irvin Cobb among jokes pale and
clammy in death.... But let us, you may say, go back a bit further—back
to the days of the _Chap-Book_. There was then, perhaps, a far different
Chambers—a fellow of sound talent and artistic self-respect, well
deserving the confidence and encouragement of Pollard. Was there,
indeed? If you think so, go read “The King in Yellow,” _circa_ 1895—if
you can. I myself, full of hope, have tried it. In it I have found
drivel almost as dull as that, say, in “Ailsa Page.”


                                   2
                       _A Stranger on Parnassus_

The case of Hamlin Garland belongs to pathos in the grand manner, as you
will discover on reading his autobiography, “A Son of the Middle
Border.” What ails him is a vision of beauty, a seductive strain of
bawdy music over the hills. He is a sort of male Mary MacLane, but
without either Mary’s capacity for picturesque blasphemy or her skill at
plain English. The vision, in his youth, tore him from his prairie plow
and set him to clawing the anthills at the foot of Parnassus. He became
an elocutionist—what, in modern times, would be called a chautauquan. He
aspired to write for the _Atlantic Monthly_. He fell under the spell of
the Boston _aluminados_ of 1885, which is as if one were to take fire
from a June-bug. Finally, after embracing the Single Tax, he achieved a
couple of depressing story-books, earnest, honest and full of
indignation.

American criticism, which always mistakes a poignant document for
æsthetic form and organization, greeted these moral volumes as works of
art, and so Garland found himself an accepted artist and has made shift
to be an artist ever since. No more grotesque miscasting of a diligent
and worthy man is recorded in profane history. He has no more feeling
for the intrinsic dignity of beauty, no more comprehension of it as a
thing in itself, than a policeman. He is, and always has been, a
moralist endeavoring ineptly to translate his messianic passion into
æsthetic terms, and always failing. “A Son of the Middle Border,”
undoubtedly the best of all his books, projects his failure brilliantly.
It is, in substance, a document of considerable value—a naïve and often
highly illuminating contribution to the history of the American
peasantry. It is, in form, a thoroughly third-rate piece of
writing—amateurish, flat, banal, repellent. Garland gets facts into it;
he gets the relentless sincerity of the rustic Puritan; he gets a sort
of evangelical passion. But he doesn’t get any charm. He doesn’t get any
beauty.

In such a career, as in such a book, there is something profoundly
pathetic. One follows the progress of the man with a constant sense that
he is steering by faulty compasses, that fate is leading him into paths
too steep and rocky—nay, too dark and lovely—for him. An awareness of
beauty is there, and a wistful desire to embrace it, but the confident
gusto of the artist is always lacking. What one encounters in its place
is the enthusiasm of the pedagogue, the desire to yank the world up to
the soaring Methodist level, the hot yearning to displace old ideas with
new ideas, and usually much worse ideas, for example, the Single Tax and
spook-chasing. The natural goal of the man was the evangelical stump. He
was led astray when those Boston Brahmins of the last generation,
enchanted by his sophomoric platitudes about Shakespeare, set him up as
a critic of the arts, and then as an imaginative artist. He should have
gone back to the saleratus belt, taken to the chautauquas, preached his
foreordained perunas, got himself into Congress, and so helped to save
the republic from the demons that beset it. What a gladiator he would
have made against the Plunderbund, the White Slave Traffic, the Rum
Demon, the Kaiser! What a rival to the Hon. Claude Kitchin, the Rev. Dr.
Newell Dwight Hillis!

His worst work, I daresay, is in some of his fiction—for example, in
“The Forester’s Daughter.” But my own favorite among his books is “The
Shadow World,” a record of his communings with the gaseous precipitates
of the departed. He takes great pains at the start to assure us that he
is a man of alert intelligence and without prejudices or superstitions.
He has no patience, it appears, with those idiots who swallow the
buffooneries of spiritualist mediums too greedily. For him the
scientific method—the method which examines all evidence cynically and
keeps on doubting until the accumulated proof, piled mountain-high,
sweeps down in an overwhelming avalanche.... Thus he proceeds to the
haunted chamber and begins his dalliance with the banshees. They touch
him with clammy, spectral hands; they wring music for him out of locked
pianos; they throw heavy tables about the room; they give him messages
from the golden shore and make him the butt of their coarse,
transcendental humor. Through it all he sits tightly and solemnly, his
mind open and his verdict up his sleeve. He is belligerently agnostic,
and calls attention to it proudly.... Then, in the end, he gives himself
away. One of his fellow “scientists,” more frankly credulous, expresses
the belief that real scientists will soon prove the existence of spooks.
“I hope they will,” says the agnostic Mr. Garland....

Well, let us not laugh. The believing mind is a curious thing. It must
absorb its endless rations of balderdash, or perish.... “A Son of the
Middle Border” is less amusing, but a good deal more respectable. It is
an honest book. There is some bragging in it, of course, but not too
much. It tells an interesting story. It radiates hard effort and earnest
purpose.... But what a devastating exposure of a member of the American
Academy of Arts and Letters!


                                   3
                          _A Merchant of Mush_

Henry Sydnor Harrison is thoroughly American to this extent: that his
work is a bad imitation of something English. Find me a second-rate
American in any of the arts and I’ll find you his master and prototype
among third, fourth or fifth-rate Englishmen. In the present case the
model is obviously W. J. Locke. But between master and disciple there is
a great gap. Locke, at his high points, is a man of very palpable merit.
He has humor. He has ingenuity. He has a keen eye for the pathos that so
often lies in the absurd. I can discover no sign of any of these things
in Harrison’s 100,000 word Christmas cards. They are simply sentimental
bosh—huge gum-drops for fat women to snuffle over. Locke’s grotesque and
often extremely amusing characters are missing; in place of them there
are the heroic cripples, silent lovers, maudlin war veterans and angelic
grandams of the old-time Sunday-school books. The people of “V. V.’s
Eyes” are preposterous and the thesis is too silly to be stated in plain
words. No sane person would believe it if it were put into an affidavit.
“Queed” is simply Locke diluted with vast drafts from “Laddie” and
“Pollyanna.” Queed, himself, long before the end, becomes a marionette
without a toe on the ground; his Charlotte is incredible from the start.
“Angela’s Business” touches the bottom of the tear-jug; it would be
impossible to imagine a more vapid story. Harrison, in fact, grows more
mawkish book by book. He is touched, I should say, by the delusion that
he has a mission to make life sweeter, to preach the Finer Things, to
radiate Gladness. What! More Gladness? Another volt or two, and all
civilized adults will join the Italians and Jugo-Slavs in their headlong
hegira. A few more amperes, and the land will be abandoned to the Jews,
the ex-Confederates and the Bolsheviki.


                                   4
                      _The Last of the Victorians_

If William Allen White lives as long as Tennyson, and does not reform,
our grandchildren will see the Victorian era gasping out its last breath
in 1951. And eighty-three is no great age in Kansas, where sin is
unknown. It may be, in fact, 1960, or even 1970, before the world hears
the last of Honest Poverty, Chaste Affection and Manly Tears. For so
long as White holds a pen these ancient sweets will be on sale at the
department-store book-counters, and they will grow sweeter and sweeter,
I daresay, as he works them over and over. In his very first book of
fiction there was a flavor of chewing-gum and marshmallows. In “A
Certain Rich Man” the intelligent palate detected saccharine. In “In the
Heart of a Fool,” his latest, the thing is carried a step further. If
you are a forward-looker and a right-thinker, if you believe that God is
in His heaven and all is for the best, if you yearn to uplift and like
to sob, then the volume will probably affect you, in the incomparable
phrase of Clayton Hamilton, like “the music of a million Easter-lilies
leaping from the grave and laughing with a silver singing.” But if you
are a carnal fellow, as I am, with a stomach ruined by alcohol, it will
gag you.

When I say that White is a Victorian I do not allude, of course, to the
Victorianism of Thackeray and Tennyson, but to that of Felicia Hemens,
of Samuel Smiles and of Dickens at his most maudlin. Perhaps an even
closer relative is to be found in “The Duchess.” White, like “The
Duchess” is absolutely humorless, and, when he begins laying on the
mayonnaise, absolutely shameless. I daresay the same sort of reader
admires both: the high-school girl first seized by amorous tremors, the
obese multipara in her greasy kimono, the remote and weepful farm-wife.
But here a doubt intrudes itself: is it possible to imagine a woman
sentimental enough to survive “In the Heart of a Fool”? I am constrained
to question it. In women, once they get beyond adolescence, there is
always a saving touch of irony; the life they lead infallibly makes
cynics of them, though sometimes they don’t know it. Observe the books
they write—chiefly sardonic stuff, with heroes who are fools. Even their
“glad” books, enormously successful among other women, stop far short of
the sentimentality put between covers by men—for example, the aforesaid
Harrison, Harold Bell Wright and the present White. Nay, it is the male
sex that snuffles most and is easiest touched, particularly in America.
The American man is forever falling a victim to his tender feelings. It
was by that route that the collectors for the Y. M. C. A. reached him;
it is thus that he is bagged incessantly by political tear-squeezers; it
is precisely his softness that makes him the slave of his women-folk.
What White gives him is exactly the sort of mush that is on tap in the
chautauquas. “In the Heart of a Fool,” like “A Certain Rich Man” is
aimed deliberately and with the utmost accuracy at the delicate gizzard
of the small-town yokel, the small-town yokel _male_, the horrible
end-product of fifty years of Christian Endeavor, the little red
schoolhouse and the direct primary.

The White formula is simple to the verge of austerity. It is, in
essence, no more than a dramatization of all the current political and
sociological rumble-bumble, by Roosevelt out of Coxey’s Army, with music
by the choir of the First Methodist Church. On the one side are the Hell
Hounds of Plutocracy, the Money Demons, the Plunderbund, and their
attendant Bosses, Strike Breakers, Seducers, Nietzscheans, Free Lovers,
Atheists and Corrupt Journalists. On the other side are the great masses
of the plain people, and their attendant Uplifters, Good Samaritans,
Honest Workingmen, Faithful Husbands, Inspired Dreamers and tin-horn
Messiahs. These two armies join battle, the Bad against the Good, and
for five hundred pages or more the Good get all the worst of it. Their
jobs are taken away from them, their votes are bartered, their mortgages
are foreclosed, their women are debauched, their savings are looted,
their poor orphans are turned out to starve. A sad business, surely. One
wallows in almost unendurable emotions. The tears gush. It is as
affecting as a movie. Even the prose rises to a sort of gospel-tent
chant, like that of a Baptist Savonarola, with every second sentence
beginning with _and_, _but_ or _for_.... But we are already near the
end, and no escape is in sight. Can it be that White is stumped, like
Mark Twain in his mediæval romance—that Virtue will succumb to the
Interests? Do not fear! In the third from the last chapter Hen Jackson,
the stagehand, returns from the Dutchman’s at the corner and throws on a
rose spot-light, and then an amber, and then a violet, and then a blue.
One by one the rays of Hope begin to shoot across the stage, Dr.
Hamilton’s Easter-lilies leap from their tomb, the _dramatis personæ_
(all save the local J. Pierpont Morgan!) begin “laughing with a silver
singing,” and as the curtain falls the whole scene is bathed in
luminiferous ether, and the professor breaks into “Onward, Christian
Soldiers!” on the cabinet-organ, and there is a happy, comfortable
sobbing, and an upward rolling of eyes, and a vast blowing of noses. In
brief, the finish of a chautauqua lecture on “The Grand Future of
America, or, The Glory of Service.” In brief, slobber....

It would be difficult to imagine more saccharine writing or a more
mawkish and preposterous point of view. Life, as White sees it, is a
purely moral phenomenon, like living pictures by the Epworth League. The
virtuous are the downtrodden; the up and doing are all scoundrels. It
pays to be poor and pious. Ambition is a serpent. One honest Knight of
Pythias is worth ten thousand Rockefellers. The pastor is always right.
So is the _Ladies’ Home Journal_. The impulse that leads a young yokel
of, say, twenty-two to seek marriage with a poor working-girl of, say,
eighteen, is the most elevating, noble, honorable and godlike impulse
native to the human consciousness.... Not the slightest sign of an
apprehension of life as the gaudiest and most gorgeous of spectacles—not
a trace of healthy delight in the eternal struggle for existence—not the
faintest suggestion of Dreiser’s great gusto or of Conrad’s penetrating
irony! Not even in the massive fact of death itself—and, like all the
other Victorians, this one from the Kansas steppes is given to wholesale
massacres—does he see anything mysterious, staggering, awful,
inexplicable, but only an excuse for a sentimental orgy.

Alas, what would you? It is ghastly drivel, to be sure, but isn’t it,
after all, thoroughly American? I have an uneasy suspicion that it
is—that “In the Heart of a Fool” is, at bottom, a vastly more American
book than anything that James Branch Cabell has done, or Vincent
O’Sullivan, or Edith Wharton, or even Howells. It springs from the heart
of the land. It is the æsthetic echo of thousands of movements, of
hundreds of thousands of sentimental crusades, of millions of ecstatic
gospel-meetings. This is what the authentic American public, unpolluted
by intelligence, wants. And this is one of the reasons why the English
sniff whenever they look our way....

But has White no merit? He has. He is an honest and a respectable man.
He is a patriot. He trusts God. He venerates what is left of the
Constitution. He once wrote a capital editorial, “What’s the Matter With
Kansas?” He has the knack, when his tears are turned off, of writing a
clear and graceful English....


                                   5
                            _A Bad Novelist_

As I have said, it is not the artistic merit and dignity of a novel, but
often simply its content as document, that makes for its success in the
United States. The criterion of truth applied to it is not the criterion
of an artist, but that of a newspaper editorial writer; the question is
not, Is it in accord with the profoundest impulses and motives of
humanity? but Is it in accord with the current pishposh? This accounts
for the huge popularity of such confections as Upton Sinclair’s “The
Jungle” and Blasco Ibáñez’s “The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.”
Neither had much value as a work of art—at all events, neither was
perceptibly superior to many contemporary novels that made no stir at
all—but each had the advantage of reënforcing an emotion already
aroused, of falling into step with the procession of the moment. Had
there been no fever of muck-raking and trust busting in 1906, “The
Jungle” would have died the death in the columns of the _Appeal to
Reason_, unheard of by the populace in general. And had the United
States been engaged against France instead of for France in 1918, there
would have been no argument in the literary weeklies that Blasco was a
novelist of the first rank and his story a masterpiece comparable to
“Germinal.”

Sinclair was made by “The Jungle” and has been trying his hardest to
unmake himself ever since. Another of the same sort is Ernest Poole,
author of “The Harbor.” “The Harbor,” judged by any intelligible
æsthetic standard, was a bad novel. Its transactions were forced and
unconvincing; its central character was shadowy and often
incomprehensible; the manner of its writing was quite without
distinction. But it happened to be printed at a time when the chief
ideas in it had a great deal of popularity—when its vague grappling with
insoluble sociological problems was the sport of all the weeklies and of
half the more sober newspapers—when a nebulous, highfalutin Bolshevism
was in the air—and so it excited interest and took on an aspect of
profundity. That its discussion of those problems was superficial, that
it said nothing new and got nowhere—all this was not an influence
against its success, but an influence in favor of its success, for the
sort of mind that fed upon the nebulous, professor-made politics and
sociology of 1915 was the sort of mind that is chronically avid of
half-truths and as chronically suspicious of forthright thinking. This
has been demonstrated since that time by its easy _volte face_ in the
presence of emotion. The very ideas that Poole’s vapid hero toyed with
in 1915, to the delight of the novel-reading _intelligentsia_, would
have damned the book as a pamphlet for the I. W. W., or even, perhaps,
as German propaganda, three years later. But meanwhile, it had been
forgotten, as novels are always forgotten, and all that remained of it
was a general impression that Poole, in some way or other, was a
superior fellow and to be treated with respect.

His subsequent books have tried that theory severely. “The Family” was
grounded upon one of the elemental tragedies which serve a novelist most
safely—the dismay of an aging man as his children drift away from him.
Here was a subject full of poignant drama, and what is more, drama
simple enough to develop itself without making any great demand upon the
invention. Poole burdened it with too much background, and then killed
it altogether by making his characters wooden. It began with a high air;
it creaked and wobbled at the close; the catastrophe was quite without
effect. “His Second Wife” dropped several stories lower. It turned out,
on inspection, to be no more than a moral tale, feeble, wishy-washy and
irritating. Everything in it—about the corrupting effects of money-lust
and display, about the swinishness of cabaret “society” in New York,
about the American male’s absurd slavery to his women—had been said
before by such gifted Balzacs as Robert W. Chambers and Owen Johnson,
and, what is more, far better said. The writing, in fact, exactly
matched the theme. It was labored, artificial, dull. In the whole volume
there was not a single original phrase. Once it was put down, not a
scene remained in the memory, or a character. It was a cheap, a hollow
and, in places, almost an idiotic book....

At the time I write, this is the whole product of Poole as novelist:
three novels, bad, worse, worst.


                                   6
                          _A Broadway Brandes_

I have hitherto, in discussing White de Kansas, presented a fragile
dahlia from the rhetorical garden of Clayton Hamilton, M.A. (Columbia).
I now print the whole passage:

    Whenever in a world-historic war the side of righteousness has
    triumphed, a great overflowing of art has followed soon upon the
    fact of victory. The noblest instincts of mankind—aroused in
    perilous moments fraught with intimations of mortality—have surged
    and soared, beneath the sunshine of a subsequent and dear-bought
    peace, into an immeasurable empyrean of heroic eloquence. Whenever
    right has circumvented might, Art has sprung alive into the world,
    with the music of a million Easter-lilies leaping from the grave
    and laughing with a silver singing.

With the highest respect for a _Magister Artium_, a pedagogue of
Columbia University, a lecturer in Miss Spence’s School and the
Classical School for Girls, and a vice-president of the National
Institute of Arts and Letters—Booh!



                    XII. THE GENEALOGY OF ETIQUETTE


Barring sociology (which is yet, of course, scarcely a science at all,
but rather a monkeyshine which happens to pay, like play-acting or
theology), psychology is the youngest of the sciences, and hence chiefly
guesswork, empiricism, hocus-pocus, poppycock. On the one hand, there
are still enormous gaps in its data, so that the determination of its
simplest principles remains difficult, not to say impossible; and, on
the other hand, the very hollowness and nebulosity of it, particularly
around its edges, encourages a horde of quacks to invade it,
sophisticate it and make nonsense of it. Worse, this state of affairs
tends to such confusion of effort and direction that the quack and the
honest inquirer are often found in the same man. It is, indeed, a
commonplace to encounter a professor who spends his days in the
laborious accumulation of psychological statistics, sticking pins into
babies and platting upon a chart the ebb and flow of their yells, and
his nights chasing poltergeists and other such celestial fauna over the
hurdles of a spiritualist’s atelier, or gazing into a crystal in the
privacy of his own chamber. The Binét test and the buncombe of mesmerism
are alike the children of what we roughly denominate psychology, and
perhaps of equal legitimacy. Even so ingenious and competent an
investigator as Prof. Dr. Sigmund Freud, who has told us a lot that is
of the first importance about the materials and machinery of thought,
has also told us a lot that is trivial and dubious. The essential
doctrines of Freudism, no doubt, come close to the truth, but many of
Freud’s remoter deductions are far more scandalous than sound, and many
of the professed Freudians, both American and European, have
grease-paint on their noses and bladders in their hands and are
otherwise quite indistinguishable from evangelists and circus clowns.

In this condition of the science it is no wonder that we find it wasting
its chief force upon problems that are petty and idle when they are not
downright and palpably insoluble, and passing over problems that are of
immediate concern to all of us, and that might be quite readily solved,
or, at any rate, considerably illuminated, by an intelligent study of
the data already available. After all, not many of us care a hoot
whether Sir Oliver Lodge and the Indian chief Wok-a-wok-a-mok are happy
in heaven, for not many of us have any hope or desire to meet them
there. Nor are we greatly excited by the discovery that, of twenty-five
freshmen who are hit with clubs, 17¾ will say “Ouch!” and 22⅕ will say
“Damn!”; nor by a table showing that 38.2 per centum of all men accused
of homicide confess when locked up with the carcasses of their victims,
including 23.4 per centum who are innocent; nor by plans and
specifications, by Cagliostro out of Lucrezia Borgia, for teaching poor,
God-forsaken school children to write before they can read and to
multiply before they can add; nor by endless disputes between
half-witted pundits as to the precise difference between perception and
cognition; nor by even longer feuds, between pundits even crazier, over
free will, the subconscious, the endoneurium, the functions of the
corpora quadrigemina, and the meaning of dreams in which one is pursued
by hyenas, process-servers or grass-widows.

Nay; we do not bubble with rejoicing when such fruits of psychological
deep-down-diving and much-mud-upbringing researches are laid before us,
for after all they do not offer us any nourishment, there is nothing in
them to engage our teeth, they fail to make life more comprehensible,
and hence more bearable. What we yearn to know something about is the
process whereby the ideas of everyday are engendered in the skulls of
those about us, to the end that we may pursue a straighter and a safer
course through the muddle that is life. Why do the great majority of
Presbyterians (and, for that matter, of Baptists, Episcopalians, and
Swedenborgians as well) regard it as unlucky to meet a black cat and
lucky to find a pin? What are the logical steps behind the theory that
it is indecent to eat peas with a knife? By what process does an
otherwise sane man arrive at the conclusion that he will go to hell
unless he is baptized by total immersion in water? What causes men to be
faithful to their wives: habit, fear, poverty, lack of imagination, lack
of enterprise, stupidity, religion? What is the psychological basis of
commercial morality? What is the true nature of the vague pooling of
desires that Rousseau called the social contract? Why does an American
regard it as scandalous to wear dress clothes at a funeral, and a
Frenchman regard it as equally scandalous _not_ to wear them? Why is it
that men trust one another so readily, and women trust one another so
seldom? Why are we all so greatly affected by statements that we know
are not true?—_e. g._ in Lincoln’s Gettysburg speech, the Declaration of
Independence and the CIII Psalm. What is the origin of the so-called
double standard of morality? Why are women forbidden to take off their
hats in church? What is happiness? Intelligence? Sin? Courage? Virtue?
Beauty?

All these are questions of interest and importance to all of us, for
their solution would materially improve the accuracy of our outlook upon
the world, and with it our mastery of our environment, but the
psychologists, busily engaged in chasing their tails, leave them
unanswered, and, in most cases, even unasked. The late William James,
more acute than the general, saw how precious little was known about the
psychological inwardness of religion, and to the illumination of this
darkness he addressed himself in his book, “The Varieties of Religious
Experience.” But life being short and science long, he got little beyond
the statement of the problem and the marshaling of the grosser
evidence—and even at this business he allowed himself to be constantly
interrupted by spooks, hobgoblins, seventh sons of seventh sons and
other such characteristic pets of psychologists. In the same way one
Gustav le Bon, a Frenchman, undertook a psychological study of the crowd
mind—and then blew up. Add the investigations of Freud and his school,
chiefly into abnormal states of mind, and those of Lombroso and his
school, chiefly quackish and for the yellow journals, and the idle
romancing of such inquirers as Prof. Dr. Thorstein Veblen, and you have
exhausted the list of contributions to what may be called practical and
everyday psychology. The rev. professors, I daresay, have been doing
some useful plowing and planting. All of their meticulous pin-sticking
and measuring and chart-making, in the course of time, will enable their
successors to approach the real problems of mind with more assurance
than is now possible, and perhaps help to their solution. But in the
meantime the public and social utility of psychology remains very small,
for it is still unable to differentiate accurately between the true and
the false, or to give us any effective protection against the fallacies,
superstitions, crazes and hysterias which rage in the world.

In this emergency it is not only permissible but even laudable for the
amateur to sniff inquiringly through the psychological pasture, essaying
modestly to uproot things that the myopic (or, perhaps more accurately,
hypermetropic) professionals have overlooked. The late Friedrich Wilhelm
Nietzsche did it often, and the usufructs were many curious and daring
guesses, some of them probably close to accuracy, as to the genesis of
this, that or the other common delusion of man—_i. e._, the delusion
that the law of the survival of the fittest may be repealed by an act of
Congress. Into the same field several very interesting expeditions have
been made by Dr. Elsie Clews Parsons, a lady once celebrated by Park Row
for her invention of trial marriage—an invention, by the way, in which
the Nietzsche aforesaid preceded her by at least a dozen years. The
records of her researches are to be found in a brief series of books:
“The Family,” “The Old-Fashioned Woman” and “Fear and Conventionality.”
Apparently they have wrung relatively little esteem from the learned,
for I seldom encounter a reference to them, and Dr. Parsons herself is
denied the very modest reward of mention in “Who’s Who in America.”
Nevertheless, they are extremely instructive books, particularly “Fear
and Conventionality.” I know of no other work, indeed, which offers a
better array of observations upon that powerful complex of assumptions,
prejudices, instinctive reactions, racial emotions and unbreakable vices
of mind which enters so massively into the daily thinking of all of us.
The author does not concern herself, as so many psychologists fall into
the habit of doing, with thinking as a purely laboratory phenomenon, a
process in vacuo. What she deals with is thinking as it is done by men
and women in the real world—thinking that is only half intellectual, the
other half being as automatic and unintelligent as swallowing, blinking
the eye or falling in love.

The power of the complex that I have mentioned is usually very much
underestimated, not only by psychologists, but also by all other persons
who pretend to culture. We take pride in the fact that we are thinking
animals, and like to believe that our thoughts are free, but the truth
is that nine-tenths of them are rigidly conditioned by the babbling that
goes on around us from birth, and that the business of considering this
babbling objectively, separating the true in it from the false, is an
intellectual feat of such stupendous difficulty that very few men are
ever able to achieve it. The amazing slanging which went on between the
English professors and the German professors in the early days of the
late war showed how little even cold and academic men are really moved
by the bald truth and how much by hot and unintelligible likes and
dislikes. The patriotic hysteria of the war simply allowed these eminent
pedagogues to say of one another openly and to loud applause what they
would have been ashamed to say in times of greater amenity, and what
most of them would have denied stoutly that they believed. Nevertheless,
it is probably a fact that before there was a sign of war the average
English professor, deep down in his heart, thought that any man who ate
sauerkraut, and went to the opera in a sack-coat, and intrigued for the
appellation of _Geheimrat_, and preferred German music to English
poetry, and venerated Bismarck, and called his wife “Mutter,” was a
scoundrel. He did not say so aloud, and no doubt it would have offended
him had you accused him of believing it, but he believed it all the
same, and his belief in it gave a muddy, bilious color to his view of
German metaphysics, German electro-chemistry and the German chronology
of Babylonian kings. And by the same token the average German professor,
far down in the ghostly recesses of his hulk, held that any man who read
the London _Times_, and ate salt fish at first breakfast, and drank tea
of an afternoon, and spoke of Oxford as a university was a _Schafskopf_,
a _Schuft_ and possibly even a _Schweinehund_.

Nay, not one of us is a free agent. Not one of us actually thinks for
himself, or in any orderly and scientific manner. The pressure of
environment, of mass ideas, of the socialized intelligence, improperly
so called, is too enormous to be withstood. No American, no matter how
sharp his critical sense, can ever get away from the notion that
democracy is, in some subtle and mysterious way, more conducive to human
progress and more pleasing to a just God than any of the systems of
government which stand opposed to it. In the privacy of his study he may
observe very clearly that it exalts the facile and specious man above
the really competent man, and from this observation he may draw the
conclusion that its abandonment would be desirable, but once he emerges
from his academic seclusion and resumes the rubbing of noses with his
fellow-men, he will begin to be tortured by a sneaking feeling that such
ideas are heretical and unmanly, and the next time the band begins to
play he will thrill with the best of them—or the worst. The actual
phenomenon, in truth, was copiously on display during the war. Having
myself the character among my acquaintances of one holding the
democratic theory in some doubt, I was often approached by gentlemen who
told me, in great confidence, that they had been seized by the same
tremors. Among them were journalists employed daily in demanding that
democracy be forced upon the whole world, and army officers engaged, at
least theoretically, in forcing it. All these men, in reflective
moments, struggled with ifs and buts. But every one of them, in his
public capacity as a good citizen, quickly went back to _thinking_ as a
good citizen was then expected to think, and even to a certain
inflammatory ranting for what, behind the door, he gravely
questioned....

It is the business of Dr. Parsons, in “Fear and Conventionality,” to
prod into certain of the ideas which thus pour into every man’s mind
from the circumambient air, sweeping away, like some huge cataract, the
feeble resistance that his own powers of ratiocination can offer. In
particular, she devotes herself to an examination of those general ideas
which condition the thought and action of man as a social being—those
general ideas which govern his everyday attitude toward his fellow-men
and his prevailing view of himself. In one direction they lay upon us
the bonds of what we call etiquette, _i. e._, the duty of considering
the habits and feelings of those around us—and in another direction they
throttle us with what we call morality—_i. e._, the rules which protect
the life and property of those around us. But, as Dr. Parsons shows, the
boundary between etiquette and morality is very dimly drawn, and it is
often impossible to say of a given action whether it is downright
immoral or merely a breach of the punctilio. Even when the moral law is
plainly running, considerations of mere amenity and politeness may still
make themselves felt. Thus, as Dr. Parsons points out, there is even an
etiquette of adultery. “The _ami de la famille_ vows not to kiss his
mistress in her husband’s house”—not in fear, but “as an expression of
conjugal consideration,” as a sign that he has not forgotten the
thoughtfulness expected of a gentleman. And in this delicate field, as
might be expected, the differences in racial attitudes are almost
diametrical. The Englishman, surprising his wife with a lover, sues the
rogue for damages and has public opinion behind him, but for an American
to do it would be for him to lose caste at once and forever. The plain
and only duty of the American is to open upon the fellow with artillery,
hitting him if the scene is south of the Potomac and missing him if it
is above.

I confess to an endless interest in such puzzling niceties, and to much
curiosity as to their origins and meaning. Why do we Americans take off
our hats when we meet a flapper on the street, and yet stand covered
before a male of the highest eminence? A Continental would regard this
last as boorish to the last degree; in greeting any equal or superior,
male or female, actual or merely conventional, he lifts his head-piece.
Why does it strike us as ludicrous to see a man in dress clothes before
6 P. M.? The Continental puts them on whenever he has a solemn visit to
make, whether the hour be six or noon. Why do we regard it as indecent
to tuck the napkin between the waistcoat buttons—or into the neck!—at
meals? The Frenchman does it without thought of crime. So does the
Italian. So does the German. All three are punctilious men—far more so,
indeed, than we are. Why do we snicker at the man who wears a wedding
ring? Most Continentals would stare askance at the husband who didn’t.
Why is it bad manners in Europe and America to ask a stranger his or her
age, and a friendly attention in China? Why do we regard it as absurd to
distinguish a woman by her husband’s title—_e. g._, Mrs. Judge Jones,
Mrs. Professor Smith? In Teutonic and Scandinavian Europe the omission
of the title would be looked upon as an affront.

Such fine distinctions, so ardently supported, raise many interesting
questions, but the attempt to answer them quickly gets one bogged.
Several years ago I ventured to lift a sad voice against a custom common
in America: that of married men, in speaking of their wives, employing
the full panoply of “Mrs. Brown.” It was my contention—supported, I
thought, by logical considerations of the loftiest order—that a husband,
in speaking of his wife to his equals, should say “my wife”—that the
more formal mode of designation should be reserved for inferiors and for
strangers of undetermined position. This contention, somewhat to my
surprise, was vigorously combated by various volunteer experts. At first
they rested their case upon the mere authority of custom, forgetting
that this custom was by no means universal. But finally one of them came
forward with a more analytical and cogent defense—the defense, to wit,
that “my wife” connoted proprietorship and was thus offensive to a
wife’s _amour propre_. But what of “my sister” and “my mother”? Surely
it is nowhere the custom for a man, addressing an equal, to speak of his
sister as “Miss Smith.” ... The discussion, however, came to nothing. It
was impossible to carry it on logically. The essence of all such
inquiries lies in the discovery that there is a force within the liver
and lights of man that is infinitely more potent than logic. His
reflections, perhaps, may take on intellectually recognizable forms, but
they seldom lead to intellectually recognizable conclusions.

Nevertheless, Dr. Parsons offers something in her book that may
conceivably help to a better understanding of them, and that is the
doctrine that the strange persistence of these rubber-stamp ideas, often
unintelligible and sometimes plainly absurd, is due to fear, and that
this fear is the product of a very real danger. The safety of human
society lies in the assumption that every individual composing it, in a
given situation, will act in a manner hitherto approved as seemly. That
is to say, he is expected to react to his environment according to a
fixed pattern, not necessarily because that pattern is the best
imaginable, but simply because it is determined and understood. If he
fails to do so, if he reacts in a novel manner—conducive, perhaps, to
his better advantage or to what he thinks is his better advantage—then
he disappoints the expectation of those around him, and forces them to
meet the new situation he has created by the exercise of independent
thought. Such independent thought, to a good many men, is quite
impossible, and to the overwhelming majority of men, extremely painful.
“To all of us,” says Dr. Parsons, “to the animal, to the savage and to
the civilized being, few demands are as uncomfortable, ... disquieting
or fearful, as the call to innovate.... Adaptations we all of us dislike
or hate. We dodge or shirk them as best we may.” And the man who compels
us to make them against our wills we punish by withdrawing from him that
understanding and friendliness which he, in turn, looks for and counts
upon. In other words, we set him apart as one who is anti-social and not
to be dealt with, and according as his rebellion has been small or
great, we call him a boor or a criminal.

This distrust of the unknown, this fear of doing something unusual, is
probably at the bottom of many ideas and institutions that are commonly
credited to other motives. For example, monogamy. The orthodox
explanation of monogamy is that it is a manifestation of the desire to
have and to hold property—that the husband defends his solitary right to
his wife, even at the cost of his own freedom, because she is the pearl
among his chattels. But Dr. Parsons argues, and with a good deal of
plausibility, that the real moving force, both in the husband and the
wife, may be merely the force of habit, the antipathy to experiment and
innovation. It is easier and safer to stick to the one wife than to risk
adventures with another wife—and the immense social pressure that I have
just described is all on the side of sticking. Moreover, the indulgence
of a habit automatically strengthens its bonds. What we have done once
or thought once, we are more apt than we were before to do and think
again. Or, as the late Prof. William James put it, “the selection of a
particular hole to live in, of a particular mate, ... a particular
anything, in short, out of a possible multitude ... carries with it an
insensibility to _other_ opportunities and occasions—an insensibility
which can only be described physiologically as an inhibition of new
impulses by the habit of old ones already formed. The possession of
homes and wives of our own makes us strangely insensible to the charms
of other people.... The original impulse which got us homes, wives, ...
seems to exhaust itself in its first achievements and to leave no
surplus energy for reacting on new cases.” Thus the benedict looks no
more on women (at least for a while), and the post-honeymoon bride, as
the late David Graham Phillips once told us, neglects the bedizenments
which got her a man.

In view of the popular or general character of most of the taboos which
put a brake upon personal liberty in thought and action—that is to say,
in view of their enforcement by people in the mass, and not by definite
specialists in conduct—it is quite natural to find that they are of
extra force in democratic societies, for it is the distinguishing mark
of democratic societies that they exalt the powers of the majority
almost infinitely, and tend to deny the minority any rights whatever.
Under a society dominated by a small caste the revolutionist in custom,
despite the axiom to the contrary, has a relatively easy time of it, for
the persons whose approval he seeks for his innovation are relatively
few in number, and most of them are already habituated to more or less
intelligible and independent thinking. But under a democracy he is
opposed by a horde so vast that it is a practical impossibility for him,
without complex and expensive machinery, to reach and convince all of
its members, and even if he could reach them he would find most of them
quite incapable of rising out of their accustomed grooves. They cannot
understand innovations that are genuinely novel and they don’t want to
understand them; their one desire is to put them down. Even at this late
day, with enlightenment raging through the republic like a pestilence,
it would cost the average Southern or Middle Western Congressman his
seat if he appeared among his constituents in spats, or wearing a
wrist-watch. And if a Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States,
however gigantic his learning and his juridic rectitude, were taken in
crim. con. with the wife of a Senator, he would be destroyed instanter.
And if, suddenly revolting against the democratic idea, he were to
propose, however gingerly, its abandonment, he would be destroyed with
the same dispatch.

But how, then, explain the fact that the populace is constantly ravished
and set aflame by fresh brigades of moral, political and sociological
revolutionists—that it is forever playing the eager victim to new
mountebanks? The explanation lies in the simple circumstance that these
performers upon the public midriff are always careful to ladle out
nothing actually new, and hence nothing incomprehensible, alarming and
accursed. What they offer is always the same old panacea with an
extra-gaudy label—the tried, tasted and much-loved dose, the colic cure
that mother used to make. Superficially, the United States seems to
suffer from an endless and astounding neophilism; actually all its
thinking is done within the boundaries of a very small group of
political, economic and religious ideas, most of them unsound. For
example, there is the fundamental idea of democracy—the idea that all
political power should remain in the hands of the populace, that its
exercise by superior men is intrinsically immoral. Out of this idea
spring innumerable notions and crazes that are no more, at bottom, than
restatements of it in sentimental terms: rotation in office, direct
elections, the initiative and referendum, the recall, the popular
primary, and so on. Again, there is the primary doctrine that the
possession of great wealth is a crime—a doctrine half a religious
heritage and half the product of mere mob envy. Out of it have come free
silver, trust-busting, government ownership, muck-raking, Populism,
Bleaseism, Progressivism, the milder forms of Socialism, the whole
gasconade of “reform” politics. Yet again, there is the ineradicable
peasant suspicion of the man who is having a better time in the world—a
suspicion grounded, like the foregoing, partly upon undisguised envy and
partly upon archaic and barbaric religious taboos. Out of it have come
all the glittering pearls of the uplift, from Abolition to Prohibition,
and from the crusade against horseracing to the Mann Act. The whole
political history of the United States is a history of these three
ideas. There has never been an issue before the people that could not be
translated into one or another of them. What is more, they have also
colored the fundamental philosophical (and particularly epistemological)
doctrines of the American people, and their moral theory, and even their
foreign relations. The late war, very unpopular at the start, was “sold”
to them, as the advertising phrase has it, by representing it as a
campaign for the salvation of democracy, half religious and wholly
altruistic. So represented to them, they embraced it; represented as the
highly obscure and complex thing it actually was, it would have been
beyond their comprehension, and hence abhorrent to them.

Outside this circle of their elemental convictions they are quite
incapable of rational thought. One is not surprised to hear of Bismarck,
a thorough royalist, discussing democracy with calm and fairness, but it
would be unimaginable for the American people, or for any other
democratic people, to discuss royalism in the same manner: it would take
a cataclysm to bring them to any such violation of their mental habits.
When such a cataclysm occurs, they embrace the new ideas that are its
fruits with the same adamantine firmness. One year before the French
Revolution, disobedience to the king was unthinkable to the average
Frenchman; only a few daringly immoral men cherished the notion. But one
year _after_ the fall of the Bastile, obedience to the king was equally
unthinkable. The Russian Bolsheviki, whose doings have furnished a great
deal of immensely interesting material to the student of popular
psychology, put the principle into plain words. Once they were in the
saddle, they decreed the abolition of the old imperial censorship and
announced that speech would be free henceforth—but only so long as it
kept within the bounds of the Bolshevist revelation! In other words, any
citizen was free to think and speak whatever he pleased—but only so long
as it did not violate certain fundamental ideas. This is precisely the
sort of freedom that has prevailed in the United States since the first
days. It is the only sort of freedom comprehensible to the average man.
It accurately reveals his constitutional inability to shake himself free
from the illogical and often quite unintelligible prejudices, instincts
and mental vices that condition ninety per cent. of all his thinking....

But here I wander into political speculation and no doubt stand in
contumacy of some statute of Congress. Dr. Parsons avoids politics in
her very interesting book. She confines herself to the purely social
relations, e. g., between man and woman, parent and child, host and
guest, master and servant. The facts she offers are vastly interesting,
and their discovery and coördination reveal a tremendous industry, but
of even greater interest are the facts that lie over the margin of her
inquiry. Here is a golden opportunity for other investigators: I often
wonder that the field is so little explored. Perhaps the Freudians, once
they get rid of their sexual obsession, will enter it and chart it. No
doubt the inferiority complex described by Prof. Dr. Alfred Adler will
one day provide an intelligible explanation of many of the puzzling
phenomena of mob thinking. In the work of Prof. Dr. Freud himself there
is, perhaps, a clew to the origin and anatomy of Puritanism, that worst
of intellectual nephritises. I live in hope that the Freudians will fall
upon the business without much further delay. Why do otherwise sane men
believe in spirits? What is the genesis of the American axiom that the
fine arts are unmanly? What is the precise machinery of the process
called falling in love? Why do people believe newspapers?... Let there
be light!



                      XIII. THE AMERICAN MAGAZINE


It is astonishing, considering the enormous influence of the popular
magazine upon American literature, such as it is, that there is but one
book in type upon magazine history in the republic. That lone volume is
“The Magazine in America,” by Prof. Dr. Algernon Tassin, a learned
birch-man of the great university of Columbia, and it is so badly
written that the interest of its matter is almost concealed—almost, but
fortunately not quite. The professor, in fact, puts English to paper
with all the traditional dullness of his flatulent order, and, as usual,
he is most horribly dull when he is trying most kittenishly to be
lively. I spare you examples of his writing; if you know the lady
essayists of the United States, and their academic imitators in
pantaloons, you know the sort of arch and whimsical jocosity he ladles
out. But, as I have hinted, there is something worth attending to in his
story, for all the defects of its presentation, and so his book is not
to be sniffed at. He has, at all events, brought together a great mass
of scattered and concealed facts, and arranged them conveniently for
whoever deals with them next. The job was plainly a long and laborious
one, and rasping to the higher cerebral centers. The historian had to
make his mole-like way through the endless files of old and stupid
magazines; he had to read the insipid biographies and autobiographies of
dead and forgotten editors, many of them college professors, preachers
out of work, pre-historic uplifters and bad poets; he had to sort out
the facts from the fancies of such incurable liars as Griswold; he had
to hack and blast a path across a virgin wilderness. The thing was worth
doing, and, as I say, it has been done with commendable pertinacity.

Considering the noisiness of the American magazines of to-day, it is
rather instructive to glance back at the timorous and bloodless quality
of their progenitors. All of the early ones, when they were not simply
monthly newspapers or almanacs, were depressingly “literary” in tone,
and dealt chiefly in stupid poetry, silly essays and artificial fiction.
The one great fear of their editors seems to have been that of offending
some one; all of the pioneer prospectuses were full of assurances that
nothing would be printed which even “the most fastidious” could object
to. Literature, in those days,—say from 1830 to 1860—was almost
completely cut off from contemporary life. It mirrored, not the struggle
for existence, so fierce and dramatic in the new nation, but the pallid
reflections of poetasters, self-advertising clergymen, sissified
“gentlemen of taste,” and other such donkeys. Poe waded into these
_literati_ and shook them up a bit, but even after the Civil War the
majority of them continued to spin pretty cobwebs. Edmund Clarence
Stedman and Donald G. Mitchell were excellent specimens of the clan; its
last survivor was the lachrymose William Winter. The “literature”
manufactured by these tear-squeezers, though often enough produced in
beer cellars, was frankly aimed at the Young Person. Its main purpose
was to avoid giving offense; it breathed a heavy and oleaginous piety, a
snug niceness, a sickening sweetness. It is as dead to-day as Baalam’s
ass.

The _Atlantic Monthly_ was set up by men in revolt against this reign of
mush, as _Putnam’s_ had been a few years before, but the business of
reform proved to be difficult and hazardous, and it was a long while
before a healthier breed of authors could be developed, and a public for
them found. “There is not much in the _Atlantic_,” wrote Charles Eliot
Norton to Lowell in 1874, “that is likely to be read twice save by its
writers, and this is what the great public likes.... You should hear
Godkin express himself in private on this topic.” _Harper’s Magazine_,
in those days, was made up almost wholly of cribbings from England; the
_North American Review_ had sunk into stodginess and imbecility;
_Putnam’s_ was dead, or dying; the _Atlantic_ had yet to discover Mark
Twain; it was the era of _Godey’s Lady’s Book_. The new note, so long
awaited, was struck at last by _Scribner’s_, now the _Century_ (and not
to be confused with the _Scribner’s_ of to-day). It not only threw all
the old traditions overboard; it established new traditions almost at
once. For the first time a great magazine began to take notice of the
daily life of the American people. It started off with a truly
remarkable series of articles on the Civil War; it plunged into
contemporary politics; it eagerly sought out and encouraged new writers;
it began printing decent pictures instead of the old chromos; it forced
itself, by the sheer originality and enterprise of its editing, upon the
public attention. American literature owes more to the _Century_ than to
any other magazine, and perhaps American thinking owes almost as much.
It was the first “literary” periodical to arrest and interest the really
first-class men of the country. It beat the _Atlantic_ because it wasn’t
burdened with the _Atlantic’s_ decaying cargo of Boston Brahmins. It
beat all the others because it was infinitely and obviously better.
Almost everything that is good in the American magazine of to-day,
almost everything that sets it above the English magazine or the
Continental magazine, stems from the _Century_.

At the moment, of course, it holds no such clear field; perhaps it has
served its function and is ready for a placid old age. The thing that
displaced it was the yellow magazine of the _McClure’s_ type—a variety
of magazine which surpassed it in the race for circulation by
exaggerating and vulgarizing all its merits. Dr. Tassin seems to think,
with William Archer, that S. S. McClure was the inventor of this type,
but the truth is that its real father was the unknown originator of the
Sunday supplement. What McClure—a shrewd literary bagman—did was to
apply the sensational methods of the cheap newspaper to a new and cheap
magazine. Yellow journalism was rising and he went in on the tide. The
satanic Hearst was getting on his legs at the same time, and I daresay
that the muck-raking magazines, even in their palmy days, followed him a
good deal more than they led him. McClure and the imitators of McClure
borrowed his adept thumping of the tom-tom; Munsey and the imitators of
Munsey borrowed his mush. _McClure’s_ and _Everybody’s_, even when they
had the whole nation by the ears, did little save repeat in solemn,
awful tones what Hearst had said before. As for _Munsey’s_, at the
height of its circulation, it was little more than a Sunday “magazine
section” on smooth paper, and with somewhat clearer half-tones than
Hearst could print. Nearly all the genuinely original ideas of these
Yankee Harmsworths of yesterday turned out badly. John Brisben Walker,
with the _Cosmopolitan_, tried to make his magazine a sort of national
university, and it went to pot. Ridgway, of _Everybody’s_, planned a
weekly to be published in a dozen cities simultaneously, and lost a
fortune trying to establish it. McClure, facing a situation to be
described presently, couldn’t manage it, and his magazine got away from
him. As for Munsey, there are many wrecks behind him; he is forever
experimenting boldly and failing gloriously. Even his claim to have
invented the all-fiction magazine is open to caveat; there were probably
plenty of such things, in substance if not in name, before the _Argosy_.
Hearst, the teacher of them all, now openly holds the place that belongs
to him. He has galvanized the corpse of the old _Cosmopolitan_ into a
great success, he has distanced all rivals with _Hearst’s_, he has
beaten the English on their own ground with _Nash’s_, and he has
rehabilitated various lesser magazines. More, he has forced the other
magazine publishers to imitate him. A glance at _McClure’s_ to-day
offers all the proof that is needed of his influence upon his inferiors.

Dr. Tassin, apparently in fear of making his book too nearly good, halts
his chronicle at its most interesting point, for he says nothing of what
has gone on since 1900—and very much, indeed, has gone on since 1900.
For one thing, the _Saturday Evening Post_ has made its unparalleled
success, created its new type of American literature for department
store buyers and shoe drummers, and bred its school of brisk,
business-like, high-speed authors. For another thing, the _Ladies’ Home
Journal_, once supreme in its field, has seen the rise of a swarm of
imitators, some of them very prosperous. For a third thing, the
all-fiction magazine of Munsey, Robert Bonner and Street & Smith has
degenerated into so dubious a hussy that Munsey, a very moral man, must
blush every time he thinks of it. For a fourth thing, the moving-picture
craze has created an entirely new type of magazine, and it has elbowed
many other types from the stands. And for a fifth thing, to make an end,
the muck-raking magazine has blown up and is no more.

Why this last? Have all the possible candidates for the rake been raked?
Is there no longer any taste for scandal in the popular breast? I have
heard endless discussion of these questions and many ingenious answers,
but all of them fail to answer. In this emergency I offer one of my own.
It is this: that the muck-raking magazine came to grief, not because the
public tired of muck-raking, but because the muck-raking that it began
with succeeded. That is to say, the villains so long belabored by the
Steffenses, the Tarbells and the Phillipses were either driven from the
national scene or forced (at least temporarily) into rectitude. Worse,
their places in public life were largely taken by nominees whose
chemical purity was guaranteed by these same magazines, and so the
latter found their occupation gone and their following with it. The
great masses of the plain people, eager to swallow denunciation in
horse-doctor doses, gagged at the first spoonful of praise. They
chortled and read on when Aldrich, Boss Cox, Gas Addicks, John D.
Rockefeller and the other bugaboos of the time were belabored every
month, but they promptly sickened and went elsewhere when Judge Ben B.
Lindsey, Francis J. Heney, Governor Folk and the rest of the bogus
saints began to be hymned.

The same phenomenon is constantly witnessed upon the lower level of
daily journalism. Let a vociferous “reform” newspaper overthrow the old
gang and elect its own candidates, and at once it is in a perilous
condition. Its stock in trade is gone. It can no longer give a good
show—within the popular meaning of a good show. For what the public
wants eternally—at least the American public—is rough work. It delights
in vituperation. It revels in scandal. It is always on the side of the
man or journal making the charges, no matter how slight the probability
that the accused is guilty. The late Roosevelt, perhaps one of the
greatest rabble-rousers the world has ever seen, was privy to this fact,
and made it the corner-stone of his singularly cynical and effective
politics. He was forever calling names, making accusations, unearthing
and denouncing demons. Dr. Wilson, a performer of scarcely less talent,
has sought to pursue the same plan, with varying fidelity and success.
He was a popular hero so long as he confined himself to reviling men and
things—the Hell Hounds of Plutocracy, the Socialists, the Kaiser, the
Irish, the Senate minority. But the moment he found himself on the side
of the defense, he began to wobble, just as Roosevelt before him had
begun to wobble when he found himself burdened with the intricate
constructive program of the Progressives. Roosevelt shook himself free
by deserting the Progressives, but Wilson found it impossible to get rid
of his League of Nations, and so, for awhile at least, he presented a
quite typical picture of a muck-raker hamstrung by blows from the wrong
end of the rake.

That the old appetite for bloody shows is not dead but only sleepeth is
well exhibited by the recent revival of the weekly of opinion. Ten years
ago the weekly seemed to be absolutely extinct; even the _Nation_
survived only as a half-forgotten appendage of the _Evening Post_. Then,
of a sudden, the alliance was broken, the _Evening Post_ succumbed to
Wall Street, the _Nation_ started on an independent course—and
straightway made a great success. And why? Simply because it began
breaking heads—not the old heads of the _McClure’s_ era, of course, but
nevertheless heads salient enough to make excellent targets. For years
it had been moribund; no one read it save a dwindling company of old
men; its influence gradually approached _nil_. But by the elementary
device of switching from mild expostulation to violent and effective
denunciation it made a new public almost overnight, and is now very
widely read, extensively quoted and increasingly heeded.... I often
wonder that so few publishers of periodicals seem aware of the
psychological principle here exposed. It is known to every newspaper
publisher of the slightest professional intelligence; all successful
newspapers are ceaselessly querulous and bellicose. They never defend
any one or anything if they can help it; if the job is forced upon them,
they tackle it by denouncing some one or something else. The plan never
fails. Turn to the moving-picture trade magazines: the most prosperous
of them is given over, in the main, to bitter attacks upon new films.
Come back to daily journalism. The New York _Tribune_, a decaying paper,
well nigh rehabilitated itself by attacking Hearst, the cleverest
muck-raker of them all. For a moment, apparently dismayed, he attempted
a defense of himself—and came near falling into actual disaster. Then,
recovering his old form, he began a whole series of counter attacks and
cover attacks, and in six months he was safe and sound again....



                        XIV. THE ULSTER POLONIUS


A good half of the humor of the late Mark Twain consisted of admitting
frankly the possession of vices and weaknesses that all of us have and
few of us care to acknowledge. Practically all of the sagacity of George
Bernard Shaw consists of bellowing vociferously what every one knows. I
think I am as well acquainted with his works, both hortatory and
dramatic, as the next man. I wrote the first book ever devoted to a
discussion of them, and I read them pretty steadily, even to-day, and
with endless enjoyment. Yet, so far as I know, I have never found an
original idea in them—never a single statement of fact or opinion that
was not anteriorly familiar, and almost commonplace. Put the thesis of
any of his plays into a plain proposition, and I doubt that you could
find a literate man in Christendom who had not heard it before, or who
would seriously dispute it. The roots of each one of them are in
platitude; the roots of _every_ effective stage-play are in platitude;
that a dramatist is inevitably a platitudinarian is itself a platitude
double damned. But Shaw clings to the obvious even when he is not
hampered by the suffocating conventions of the stage. His Fabian tracts
and his pamphlets on the war are veritable compendiums of the
undeniable; what is seriously stated in them is quite beyond logical
dispute. They have excited a great deal of ire, they have brought down
upon him a great deal of amusing abuse, but I have yet to hear of any
one actually controverting them. As well try to controvert the
Copernican astronomy. They are as bullet-proof in essence as the
multiplication table, and vastly more bullet-proof than the Ten
Commandments or the Constitution of the United States.

Well, then, why does the Ulsterman kick up such a pother? Why is he
regarded as an arch-heretic, almost comparable to Galileo, Nietzsche or
Simon Magnus? For the simplest of reasons. Because he practices with
great zest and skill the fine art of exhibiting the obvious in
unexpected and terrifying lights—because he is a master of the logical
trick of so matching two apparently safe premisses that they yield an
incongruous and inconvenient conclusion—above all, because he is a
fellow of the utmost charm and address, quick-witted, bold,
limber-tongued, persuasive, humorous, iconoclastic, ingratiating—in
brief, an Irishman, and so the exact antithesis of the solemn Sassenachs
who ordinarily instruct and exhort us. Turn to his “Man and Superman,”
and you will see the whole Shaw machine at work. What he starts out with
is the self-evident fact, disputed by no one not idiotic, that a woman
has vastly more to gain by marriage, under Christian monogamy, than a
man. That fact is as old as monogamy itself; it was, I daresay, the
admitted basis of the palace revolution which brought monogamy into the
world. But now comes Shaw with an implication that the sentimentality of
the world chooses to conceal—with a deduction plainly resident in the
original proposition, but kept in safe silence there by a preposterous
and hypocritical taboo—to wit, the deduction that women are well aware
of the profit that marriage yields for them, and that they are thus much
more eager to marry than men are, and ever alert to take the lead in the
business. This second fact, to any man who has passed through the
terrible years between twenty-five and forty, is as plain as the first,
but by a sort of general consent it is not openly stated. Violate that
general consent and you are guilty of _scandalum magnatum_. Shaw is
simply one who is guilty of _scandalum magnatum_ habitually, a
professional criminal in that department. It is his life work to
announce the obvious in terms of the scandalous.

What lies under the horror of such blabbing is the deepest and most
widespread of human weaknesses, which is to say, intellectual cowardice,
the craven appetite for mental ease and security, the fear of thinking
things out. All men are afflicted by it more or less; not even the most
courageous and frank of men likes to admit, in specific terms, that his
wife is fat, or that she seduced him to the altar by a transparent
trick, or that their joint progeny resemble her brother or father, and
are thus cads. A few extraordinary heroes of logic and evidence may do
it occasionally, but only occasionally. The average man never does it at
all. He is eternally in fear of what he knows in his heart; his whole
life is made up of efforts to dodge it and conceal it; he is always
running away from what passes for his intelligence and taking refuge in
what pass for his higher feelings, _i. e._, his stupidities, his
delusions, his sentimentalities. Shaw is devoted to the art of hauling
this recreant fellow up. He is one who, for purposes of sensation, often
for the mere joy of outraging the tender-minded, resolutely and
mercilessly thinks things out—sometimes with the utmost ingenuity and
humor, but often, it must be said, in the same muddled way that the
average right-thinker would do it if he ever got up the courage.
Remember this formula, and all of the fellow’s alleged originality
becomes no more than a sort of bad-boy audacity, usually in bad taste.
He drags skeletons from their closet and makes them dance obscenely—but
every one, of course, knew that they were there all the while. He would
produce an excitement of exactly the same kind (though perhaps superior
in intensity) if he should walk down the Strand bared to the waist, and
so remind the shocked Londoners of the unquestioned fact (though
conventionally concealed and forgotten) that he is a mammal, and has an
umbilicus.

Turn to a typical play-and-preface of his later canon, say “Androcles
and the Lion.” Here the complete Shaw formula is exposed. On the one
hand there is a mass of platitudes; on the other hand there is the air
of a peep-show. On the one hand he rehearses facts so stale that even
Methodist clergymen have probably heard of them; on the other hand he
states them so scandalously that the pious get all of the thrills out of
the business that would accompany a view of the rector in liquor in the
pulpit. Here, for example, are some of his contentions:

    (a) That the social and economic doctrines preached by Jesus were
    indistinguishable from what is now called Socialism.

    (b) That the Pauline transcendentalism visible in the Acts and the
    Epistles differs enormously from the simple humanitarianism set
    forth in the Four Gospels.

    (c) That the Christianity on tap to-day would be almost as
    abhorrent to Jesus, supposing Him returned to earth, as the
    theories of Nietzsche, Hindenburg or Clemenceau, and vastly more
    abhorrent than those of Emma Goldman.

    (d) That the rejection of the Biblical miracles, and even of the
    historical credibility of the Gospels, by no means disposes of
    Christ Himself.

    (e) That the early Christians were persecuted, not because their
    theology was regarded as unsound, but because their public conduct
    constituted a nuisance.

It is unnecessary to go on. Could any one imagine a more abject
surrender to the undeniable? Would it be possible to reduce the German
exegesis of a century and a half to a more depressing series of
platitudes? But his discussion of the inconsistencies between the Four
Gospels is even worse; you will find all of its points set forth in any
elemental treatise upon New Testament criticism—even in so childish a
tract as Ramsden Balmforth’s. He actually dishes up, with a heavy air of
profundity, the news that there is a glaring conflict between the
genealogy of Jesus in Matthew i, 1-17, and the direct claim of divine
paternity in Matthew i, 18. More, he breaks out with the astounding
discovery that Jesus was a good Jew, and that Paul’s repudiation of
circumcision (now a cardinal article of the so-called Christian faith)
would have surprised Him and perhaps greatly shocked Him. The whole
preface, running to 114 pages, is made up of just such shop-worn stuff.
Searching it from end to end with eagle eye, I have failed to find a
single fact or argument that was not previously familiar to me, despite
the circumstance that I ordinarily give little attention to the sacred
sciences and thus might have been expected to be surprised by their
veriest commonplaces.

Nevertheless, this preface makes bouncing reading—and therein lies the
secret of the continued vogue of Shaw. He has a large and extremely
uncommon capacity for provocative utterance; he knows how to get a touch
of bellicosity into the most banal of doctrines; he is forever on
tiptoe, forever challenging, forever _sforzando_. His matter may be from
the public store, even from the public junk-shop, but his manner is
always all his own. The tune is old, but the words are new. Consider,
for example, his discussion of the personality of Jesus. The idea is
simple and obvious: Jesus was not a long-faced prophet of evil, like
John the Baptist, nor was He an ascetic, or a mystic. But here is the
Shaw way of saying it: “He was ... what we call an artist and a Bohemian
in His manner of life.” The fact remains unchanged, but in the
extravagant statement of it there is a shock for those who have been
confusing the sour donkey they hear of a Sunday with the tolerant,
likable Man they profess to worship—and perhaps there is even a genial
snicker in it for their betters. So with his treatment of the Atonement.
His objections to it are time-worn, but suddenly he gets the effect of
novelty by pointing out the quite manifest fact that acceptance of it is
apt to make for weakness, that the man who rejects it is thrown back
upon his own courage and circumspection, and is hence stimulated to
augment them. The first argument—that Jesus was of free and easy
habits—is so commonplace that I have heard it voiced by a bishop. The
second suggests itself so naturally that I myself once employed it
against a chance Christian encountered in a Pullman smoking-room. This
Christian was at first shocked as he might have been by reading Shaw,
but in half an hour he was confessing that he had long ago thought of
the objection himself, and put it away as immoral. I well remember his
fascinated interest as I showed him how my inability to accept the
doctrine put a heavy burden of moral responsibility upon me, and forced
me to be more watchful of my conduct than the elect of God, and so
robbed me of many pleasant advantages in finance, the dialectic and
amour....

A double jest conceals itself in the Shaw legend. The first half of it I
have already disclosed. The second half has to do with the fact that
Shaw is not at all the wholesale agnostic his fascinated victims see
him, but an orthodox Scotch Presbyterian of the most cocksure and
bilious sort—in fact, almost the archetype of the blue-nose. In the
theory that he is Irish I take little stock. His very name is as Scotch
as haggis, and the part of Ireland from which he springs is peopled
almost exclusively by Scots. The true Irishman is a romantic. He senses
life as a mystery, a thing of wonder, an experience of passion and
beauty. In politics he is not logical, but emotional. In religion his
interest centers, not in the commandments, but in the sacraments. The
Scot, on the contrary, is almost devoid of romanticism. He is a
materialist, a logician, a utilitarian. Life to him is not a poem, but a
series of police regulations. God is not an indulgent father, but a
hanging judge. There are no saints, but only devils. Beauty is a
lewdness, redeemable only in the service of morality. It is more
important to get on in the world than to be brushed by angels’ wings.
Here Shaw runs exactly true to type. Read his critical writings from end
to end, and you will not find the slightest hint that objects of art
were passing before him as he wrote. He founded, in England, the
superstition that Ibsen was no more than a tin-pot evangelist—a sort of
brother to General Booth, Mrs. Pankhurst and the syndics of the Sex
Hygiene Society. He turned Shakespeare into a bird of evil, croaking
dismally in a rain-barrel. He even injected a moral content (by dint of
herculean straining) into the music dramas of Richard Wagner—surely the
most colossal sacrifices of moral ideas ever made on the altar of
beauty! Always the ethical obsession, the hall-mark of the Scotch
Puritan, is visible in him. His politics is mere moral indignation. His
æsthetic theory is cannibalism upon æsthetics. And in his general
writing he is forever discovering an atrocity in what was hitherto
passed as no more than a human weakness; he is forever inventing new
sins, and demanding their punishment; he always sees his opponent, not
only as wrong, but also as a scoundrel. I have called him a
Presbyterian. Need I add that he flirts with predestination under the
quasi-scientific _nom de guerre_ of determinism—that he seems to be
convinced that, while men may not be responsible for their virtues, they
are undoubtedly responsible for their offendings, and deserve to be
clubbed therefor?...

And this is Shaw the revolutionist, the heretic! Next, perhaps, we shall
be hearing of Benedict XV, the atheist....



                       XV. AN UNHEEDED LAW-GIVER


One discerns, in all right-thinking American criticism, the doctrine
that Ralph Waldo Emerson was a great man, but the specifications
supporting that doctrine are seldom displayed with any clarity. Despite
the vast mass of writing about him, he remains to be worked out
critically; practically all the existing criticism of him is marked by
his own mellifluous obscurity. Perhaps a good deal of this obscurity is
due to contradictions inherent in the man’s character. He was dualism
ambulant. What he actually _was_ was seldom identical with what he
represented himself to be or what his admirers thought him to be.
Universally greeted, in his own day, as a revolutionary, he was, in
point of fact, imitative and cautious—an importer of stale German
elixirs, sometimes direct and sometimes through the Carlylean branch
house, who took good care to dilute them with buttermilk before
merchanting them. The theoretical spokesman, all his life long, of bold
and forthright thinking, of the unafraid statement of ideas, he stated
his own so warily and so muggily that they were ratified on the one hand
by Nietzsche and on the other hand by the messiahs of the New Thought,
that lavender buncombe.

What one notices about him chiefly is his lack of influence upon the
main stream of American thought, such as it is. He had admirers and even
worshipers, but no apprentices. Nietzscheism and the New Thought are
alike tremendous violations of orthodox American doctrine. The one makes
a headlong attack upon egalitarianism, the corner-stone of American
politics; the other substitutes mysticism, which is the notion that the
true realities are all concealed, for the prevailing American notion
that the only true realities lie upon the surface, and are easily
discerned by Congressmen, newspaper editorial writers and members of the
Junior Order of United American Mechanics. The Emerson cult, in America,
has been an affectation from the start. Not many of the chautauqua
orators, literary professors, vassarized old maids and other such bogus
_intelligentsia_ who devote themselves to it have any intelligible
understanding of the Transcendentalism at the heart of it, and not one
of them, so far as I can make out, has ever executed Emerson’s command
to “defer never to the popular cry.” On the contrary, it is precisely
within the circle of Emersonian adulation that one finds the greatest
tendency to test all ideas by their respectability, to combat free
thought as something intrinsically vicious, and to yield placidly to
“some great decorum, some fetish of a government, some ephemeral trade,
or war, or man.” It is surely not unworthy of notice that the country of
this prophet of Man Thinking is precisely the country in which every
sort of dissent from the current pishposh is combated most ferociously,
and in which there is the most vigorous existing tendency to suppress
free speech altogether.

Thus Emerson, on the side of ideas, has left but faint tracks behind
him. His quest was for “facts amidst appearances,” and his whole
metaphysic revolved around a doctrine of transcendental first causes, a
conception of interior and immutable realities, distinct from and
superior to mere transient phenomena. But the philosophy that actually
prevails among his countrymen—a philosophy put into caressing terms by
William James—teaches an almost exactly contrary doctrine: its central
idea is that whatever satisfies the immediate need is substantially
true, that appearance is the only form of fact worthy the consideration
of a man with money in the bank, and the old flag floating over him, and
hair on his chest. Nor has Emerson had any ponderable influence as a
literary artist in the technical sense, or as the prophet of a
culture—that is, at home. Despite the feeble imitations of campus
critics, his manner has vanished with his matter. There is, in the true
sense, no Emersonian school of American writers. Current American
writing, with its cocksureness, its somewhat hard competence, its air of
selling goods, is utterly at war with his loose, impressionistic method,
his often mystifying groping for ideas, his relentless pursuit of
phrases. In the same way, one searches the country in vain for any
general reaction to the cultural ideal that he set up. When one casts
about for salient men whom he moved profoundly, men who got light from
his torch, one thinks first and last, not of Americans, but of such men
as Nietzsche and Hermann Grimm, the Germans, and Tyndall and Matthew
Arnold, the Englishmen. What remains of him at home, as I have said, is
no more than, on the one hand, a somewhat absurd affectation of
intellectual fastidiousness, now almost extinct even in New England,
and, on the other hand, a debased Transcendentalism rolled into pills
for fat women with vague pains and inattentive husbands—in brief, the
New Thought—in brief, imbecility. This New Thought, a decadent
end-product of American superficiality, now almost monopolizes him. One
hears of him in its preposterous literature and one hears of him in
text-books for the young, but not often elsewhere. Allowing everything,
it would surely be absurd to hold that he has colored and conditioned
the main stream of American thought as Goethe colored and conditioned
the thought of Germany, or Pushkin that of Russia, or Voltaire that of
France....



                       XVI. THE BLUSHFUL MYSTERY


                                   1
                             _Sex Hygiene_

The literature of sex hygiene, once so scanty and so timorous, now piles
mountain high. There are at least a dozen formidable series of books of
instruction for inquirers of all ages, beginning with “What Every Child
of Ten Should Know” and ending with “What a Woman of Forty-five Should
Know,” and they all sell amazingly. Scores of diligent authors, some
medical, some clerical and some merely shrewdly chautauqual, grow rich
at the industry of composing them. One of these amateur Havelock Ellises
had the honor, during the last century, of instructing me in the
elements of the sacred sciences. He was then the pastor of a fourth-rate
church in a decaying neighborhood and I was sent to his Sunday-school in
response to some obscure notion that the agony of it would improve me.
Presently he disappeared, and for a long while I heard nothing about
him. Then he came into sudden prominence as the author of such a series
of handbooks and as the chief stockholder, it would seem, in the
publishing house printing them. By the time he died, a few years ago, he
had been so well rewarded by a just God that he was able to leave funds
to establish a missionary college in some remote and heathen land.

This holy man, I believe, was honest, and took his platitudinous
compositions quite seriously. Regarding other contributors to the
literature it may be said without malice that their altruism is
obviously corrupted by a good deal of hocus-pocus. Some of them lecture
in the chautauquas, peddling their books before and after charming the
yokels. Others, being members of the faculty, seem to carry on medical
practice on the side. Yet others are kept in profitable jobs by the
salacious old men who finance vice crusades. It is hard to draw the line
between the mere thrifty enthusiast and the downright fraud. So, too,
with the actual vice crusaders. The books of the latter, like the sex
hygiene books, are often sold, not as wisdom, but as pornography. True
enough, they are always displayed in the show-window of the small-town
Methodist Book Concern—but you will also find them in the back-rooms of
dubious second-hand book-stores, side by side with the familiar
scarlet-backed editions of Rabelais, Margaret of Navarre and Balzac’s
“Droll Tales.” Some time ago, in a book advertisement headed “Snappy
Fiction,” I found announcements of “My Battles With Vice,” by Virginia
Brooks—and “Life of My Heart,” by Victoria Cross. The former was
described by the publisher as a record of “personal experiences in the
fight against the gray wolves and love pirates of modern society.” The
book was offered to all comers by mail. One may easily imagine the
effects of such an offer.

But even the most serious and honest of the sex hygiene volumes are
probably futile, for they are all founded upon a pedagogical error. That
is to say, they are all founded upon an attempt to explain a romantic
mystery in terms of an exact science. Nothing could be more absurd: as
well attempt to interpret Beethoven in terms of mathematical physics—as
many a fatuous contrapuntist, indeed, has tried to do. The mystery of
sex presents itself to the young, not as a scientific problem to be
solved, but as a romantic emotion to be accounted for. The only result
of the current endeavor to explain its phenomena by seeking parallels in
botany is to make botany obscene....


                                   2
                             _Art and Sex_

One of the favorite notions of the Puritan mullahs who specialize in
this moral pornography is that the sex instinct, if suitably repressed,
may be “sublimated” into the higher sorts of idealism, and especially
into æsthetic idealism. That notion is to be found in all their books;
upon it they ground the theory that the enforcement of chastity by a
huge force of spies, stool pigeons and police would convert the republic
into a nation of incomparable uplifters, forward-lookers and artists.
All this, of course, is simply pious fudge. If the notion were actually
sound, then all the great artists of the world would come from the ranks
of the hermetically repressed, _i. e._, from the ranks of Puritan old
maids, male and female. But the truth is, as every one knows, that the
great artists of the world are never Puritans, and seldom even
ordinarily respectable. No virtuous man—that is, virtuous in the Y. M.
C. A. sense—has ever painted a picture worth looking at, or written a
symphony worth hearing, or a book worth reading, and it is highly
improbable that the thing has ever been done by a virtuous woman. The
actual effect of repression, lamentable though it may be, is to destroy
idealism altogether. The Puritan, for all his pretensions, is the worst
of materialists. Passed through his sordid and unimaginative mind, even
the stupendous romance of sex is reduced to a disgusting transaction in
physiology. As artist he is thus hopeless; as well expect an auctioneer
to qualify for the Sistine Chapel choir. All he ever achieves, taking
pen or brush in hand, is a feeble burlesque of his betters, all of whom,
by his hog’s theology, are doomed to hell.


                                   3
                          _A Loss to Romance_

Perhaps the worst thing that this sex hygiene nonsense has accomplished
is the thing mourned by Agnes Repplier in “The Repeal of Reticence.” In
America, at least, innocence has been killed, and romance has been sadly
wounded by the same discharge of smutty artillery. The flapper is no
longer naïve and charming; she goes to the altar of God with a learned
and even cynical glitter in her eye. The veriest school-girl of to-day,
fed upon Forel, Sylvanus Stall, Reginald Wright Kauffman and the Freud
books, knows as much as the midwife of 1885, and spends a good deal more
time discharging and disseminating her information. All this, of course,
is highly embarrassing to the more romantic and ingenuous sort of men,
of whom I have the honor to be one. We are constantly in the position of
General Mitchener in Shaw’s one-acter, “Press Cuttings,” when he begs
Mrs. Farrell, the talkative charwoman, to reserve her confidences for
her medical adviser. One often wonders, indeed, what women now talk of
to doctors....

Please do not misunderstand me here. I do not object to this New Freedom
on moral grounds, but on æsthetic grounds. In the relations between the
sexes all beauty is founded upon romance, all romance is founded upon
mystery, and all mystery is founded upon ignorance, or, failing that,
upon the deliberate denial of the known truth. To be in love is merely
to be in a state of perceptual anæsthesia—to mistake an ordinary young
man for a Greek god or an ordinary young woman for a goddess. But how
can this condition of mind survive the deadly matter-of-factness which
sex hygiene and the new science of eugenics impose? How can a woman
continue to believe in the honor, courage and loving tenderness of a man
after she has learned, perhaps by affidavit, that his hæmoglobin count
is 117%, that he is free from sugar and albumen, that his blood pressure
is 112/79 and that his Wassermann reaction is negative?... Moreover, all
this new-fangled “frankness” tends to dam up, at least for civilized
adults, one of the principal well-springs of art, to wit, impropriety.
What is neither hidden nor forbidden is seldom very charming. If women,
continuing their present tendency to its logical goal, end by going
stark naked, there will be no more poets and painters, but only
dermatologists and photographers....


                                   4
                           _Sex on the Stage_

The effort to convert the theater into a forum of solemn sex discussion
is another abhorrent by-product of the sex hygiene rumble-bumble.
Fortunately, it seems to be failing. A few years ago, crowds flocked to
see Brieux’s “Les Avariés,” but to-day it is forgotten, and its
successors are all obscure. The movement originated in Germany with the
production of Frank Wedekind’s “Frühlings Erwachen.” The Germans gaped
and twisted in their seats for a season or two, and then abandoned sex
as a horror and went back to sex as a comedy. This last is what it
actually should be, at least in the theater. The theater is no place for
painful speculation; it is a place for diverting representation. Its
best and truest sex plays are not such overstrained shockers as “Le
Mariage d’ Olympe” and “Damaged Goods,” but such penetrating and
excellent comedies as “Much Ado About Nothing” and “The Taming of the
Shrew.” In “Much Ado” we have an accurate and unforgettable picture of
the way in which the normal male of the human species is brought to the
altar—that is, by the way of appealing to his hollow vanity, the way of
capitalizing his native and ineradicable asininity. And in “The Taming
of the Shrew” we have a picture of the way in which the average woman,
having so snared him, is purged of her resultant vainglory and bombast,
and thus reduced to decent discipline and decorum, that the marriage may
go on in solid tranquillity.

The whole drama of sex, in real life, as well as on the stage, revolves
around these two enterprises. One-half of it consists of pitting the
native intelligence of women against the native sentimentality of men,
and the other half consists of bringing women into a reasonable order,
that their superiority may not be too horribly obvious. To the first
division belong the dramas of courtship, and a good many of those of
marital conflict. In each case the essential drama is not a tragedy but
a comedy—nay, a farce. In each case the conflict is not between
imperishable verities but between mere vanities and pretensions. This is
the essence of the comic: the unmasking of fraud, its destruction by
worse fraud. Marriage, as we know it in Christendom, though its utility
is obvious and its necessity is at least arguable, is just such a series
of frauds. It begins with the fraud that the impulse to it is lofty,
unearthly and disinterested. It proceeds to the fraud that both parties
are equally eager for it and equally benefited by it—which actually
happens only when two Mondays come together. And it rests thereafter
upon the fraud that what is once agreeable (or tolerable) remains
agreeable ever thereafter—that I shall be exactly the same man in 1938
that I am to-day, and that my wife will be the same woman, and intrigued
by the merits of the same man. This last assumption is so outrageous
that, on purely evidential and logical grounds, not even the most
sentimental person would support it. It thus becomes necessary to
reënforce it by attaching to it the concept of honor. That is to say, it
is held up, not on the ground that it is actually true, but on the
ground that a recognition of its truth is part of the bargain made at
the altar, and that a repudiation of this bargain would be dishonorable.
Here we have honor, which is based upon a sense of the deepest and most
inviolable truth, brought in to support something admittedly not true.
Here, in other words, we have a situation in comedy, almost exactly
parallel to that in which a colored bishop whoops “Onward, Christian
Soldiers!” like a calliope in order to drown out the crowing of the
rooster concealed beneath his chasuble.

In all plays of the sort that are regarded as “strong” and “significant”
in Greenwich Village, in the finishing schools and by the newspaper
critics, connubial infidelity is the chief theme. Smith, having a wife,
Mrs. Smith, betrays her love and trust by running off with Miss
Rabinowitz, his stenographer. Or Mrs. Brown, detecting her husband, Mr.
Brown, in lamentable proceedings with a neighbor, the grass widow Kraus,
forgives him and continues to be true to him in consideration of her
children, Fred, Pansy and Little Fern. Both situations produce a great
deal of eye-rolling and snuffing among the softies aforesaid. Yet
neither contains the slightest touch of tragedy, and neither at bottom
is even honest. Both, on the contrary, are based upon an assumption that
is unsound and ridiculous—the assumption, to wit, that the position of
the injured wife is grounded upon the highest idealism—that the injury
she suffers is directed at her lofty and impeccable spirit—that it
leaves her standing in an heroic attitude. All this, soberly examined,
is found to be untrue. The fact is that her moving impulse is simply a
desire to cut a good figure before her world—in brief, that plain vanity
is what animates her.

This public expectation that she will endure and renounce is itself
hollow and sentimental, and so much so that it can seldom stand much
strain. If, for example, her heroism goes beyond a certain modest
point—if she carries it to the extent of complete abnegation and
self-sacrifice—her reward is not that she is thought heroic, but that
she is thought weak and foolish. And if, by any chance, the external
pressure upon her is removed and she is left to go on with her alleged
idealism alone—if, say, her recreant husband dies and some new suitor
enters to dispute the theory of her deathless fidelity—then it is
regarded as downright insane for her to continue playing her artificial
part.

In frank comedy we see the situation more accurately dealt with and
hence more honestly and more instructively. Instead of depicting one
party as revolting against the assumption of eternal fidelity
melodramatically and the other as facing the revolt heroically and
tragically, we have both criticizing it by a good-humored flouting of
it—not necessarily by act, but by attitude. This attitude is normal and
sensible. It rests upon genuine human traits and tendencies. It is
sound, natural and honest. It gives the comedy of the stage a high
validity that the bombastic fustian of the stage can never show, all the
sophomores to the contrary notwithstanding.

When I speak of infidelity, of course, I do not mean only the gross
infidelity of “strong” sex plays and the divorce courts, but that
lighter infidelity which relieves and makes bearable the burdens of
theoretical fidelity—in brief, the natural reaction of human nature
against an artificial and preposterous assumption. The assumption is
that a sexual choice, once made, is irrevocable—more, that all desire to
revoke it, even transiently, disappears. The fact is that no human
choice can ever be of that irrevocable character, and that the very
existence of such an assumption is a constant provocation to challenge
it and rebel against it.

What we have in marriage actually—or in any other such contract—is a
constant war between the impulse to give that rebellion objective
reality and a social pressure which puts a premium on submission. The
rebel, if he strikes out, at once collides with a solid wall, the bricks
of which are made up of the social assumption of his docility, and the
mortar of which is the frozen sentimentality of his own lost
yesterday—his fatuous assumption that what was once agreeable to him
would be always agreeable to him. Here we have the very essence of
comedy—a situation almost exactly parallel to that of the pompous old
gentleman who kicks a plug hat lying on the sidewalk, and stumps his toe
against the cobblestone within.

Under the whole of the conventional assumption reposes an assumption
even more foolish, to wit, that sexual choice is regulated by some
transcendental process, that a mysterious accuracy gets into it, that it
is limited by impenetrable powers, that there is for every man one
certain woman. This sentimentality not only underlies the theory of
marriage, but is also the chief apology for divorce. Nothing could be
more ridiculous. The truth is that marriages in Christendom are
determined, not by elective affinities, but by the most trivial
accidents, and that the issue of those accidents is relatively
unimportant. That is to say, a normal man could be happy with any one of
at least two dozen women of his acquaintance, and a man specially fitted
to accept the false assumptions of marriage could be happy with almost
any presentable woman of his race, class and age. He is married to Marie
instead of to Gladys because Marie definitely decided to marry him,
whereas Gladys vacillated between him and some other. And Marie decided
to marry him instead of some other, not because the impulse was
irresistibly stronger, but simply because the thing seemed more
feasible. In such choices, at least among women, there is often not even
any self-delusion. They see the facts clearly, and even if, later on,
they are swathed in sentimental trappings, the revelation is not
entirely obliterated.

Here we have comedy double distilled—a combat of pretensions, on the one
side, perhaps, risen to self-hallucination, but on the other side more
or less uneasily conscious and deliberate. This is the true soul of high
farce. This is something not to snuffle over but to roar at.



                        XVII. GEORGE JEAN NATHAN


One thinks of Gordon Craig, not as a jester, but as a very serious and
even solemn fellow. For a dozen years past all the more sober dramatic
critics of America have approached him with the utmost politeness, and
to the gushing old maids and auto-intoxicated professors of the Drama
League of America he has stood for the last word in theatrical
æstheticism. Moreover, a good deal of this veneration has been deserved,
for Craig has done excellent work in the theater, and is a man of much
force and ingenuity and no little originality. Nevertheless, there must
be some flavor of low, barroom wit in him, some echo of Sir Toby Belch
and the Captain of Köpenick, for a year or so ago he shook up his
admirers with a joke most foul. Need I say that I refer to the notorious
Nathan affair? Imagine the scene: the campus Archers and Walkleys in
ponderous conclave, perhaps preparing their monthly cablegram of
devotion to Maeterlinck. Arrives now a messenger with dreadful news.
Gordon Craig, from his far-off Italian retreat, has issued a bull
praising Nathan! Which Nathan? George Jean, of course. What! The _Smart
Set_ scaramouche, the ribald fellow, the raffish mocker, with his praise
of Florenz Ziegfeld, his naughty enthusiasm for pretty legs, his
contumacious scoffing at Brieux, Belasco, Augustus Thomas, Mrs. Fiske?
Aye; even so. And what has Craig to say of him?... In brief, that he is
the _only_ American dramatic critic worth reading, that he knows far
more about the theater than all the honorary pallbearers of criticism
rolled together, that he is immeasurably the superior, in learning, in
sense, in shrewdness, in candor, in plausibility, in skill at writing,
of—

But names do not matter. Craig, in fact, did not bother to rehearse
them. He simply made a clean sweep of the board, and then deftly placed
the somewhat disconcerted Nathan in the center of the vacant space. It
was a sad day for the honest donkeys who, for half a decade, had been
laboriously establishing Craig’s authority in America, but it was a glad
day for Knopf, the publisher. Knopf, at the moment, had just issued
Nathan’s “The Popular Theater.” At once he rushed to a job printer in
Eighth avenue, ordered 100,000 copies of the Craig encomium, and flooded
the country with them. The result was amusing, and typical of the
republic. Nathan’s previous books, when praised at all, had been praised
faintly and with reservations. The fellow, it appeared, was too
spoofish; he lacked the sobriety and dignity necessary to a True Critic;
he was entertaining but not to be taken seriously. But now, with foreign
backing, and particularly English backing, he suddenly began to acquire
merit and even a certain vague solemnity—and “The Popular Theater” was
reviewed more lavishly and more favorably than I have ever seen any
other theater book reviewed, before or since. The phenomenon, as I say,
was typical. The childish mass of superstitions passing for civilized
opinion in America was turned inside out overnight by one authoritative
foreign voice. I have myself been a figure in the same familiar process.
All of my books up to “The American Language” were, in the main,
hostilely noticed. “A Book of Prefaces,” in particular, was manhandled
by the orthodox reviewers. Then, just before “The American Language” was
issued, the _Mercure de France_ printed an article commending “A Book of
Prefaces” in high, astounding terms. The consequence was that “The
American Language,” a far inferior work, was suddenly discovered to be
full of merit, and critics of the utmost respectability, who had ignored
all my former books, printed extremely friendly reviews of it....

But to return to Nathan. What deceived the Drama Leaguers and other such
imposing popinjays for so long, causing them to mistake him for a mere
sublimated Alan Dale, was his refusal to take imbecilities seriously,
his easy casualness and avoidance of pedagogics, his frank delight in
the theater as a show-shop—above all, his bellicose iconoclasm and
devastating wit. What Craig, an intelligent man, discerned underneath
was his extraordinary capacity for differentiating between sham and
reality, his catholic freedom from formulæ and prejudice, his
astonishing acquaintance with the literature of the practical theater,
his firm grounding in rational æsthetic theory—above all, his capacity
for making the thing he writes of interesting, his uncommon
craftsmanship. This craftsmanship had already got him a large audience;
he had been for half a dozen years, indeed, one of the most widely read
of American dramatic critics. But the traditional delusion that sagacity
and dullness are somehow identical had obscured the hard and accurate
thinking that made the show. What was so amusing seemed necessarily
superficial. It remained for Craig to show that this appearance of
superficiality was only an appearance, that the Nathan criticism was
well planned and soundly articulated, that at the heart of it there was
a sound theory of the theater, and of the literature of the theater no
less.

And what was that theory? You will find it nowhere put into a ready
formula, but the outlines of it must surely be familiar to any one who
has read “Another Book on the Theater,” “The Popular Theater” and “Mr.
George Jean Nathan Presents.” In brief, it is the doctrine preached with
so much ardor by Benedetto Croce and his disciple, Dr. J. E. Spingarn,
and by them borrowed from Goethe and Carlyle—the doctrine, to wit, that
every work of art is, at bottom, unique, and that it is the business of
the critic, not to label it and pigeon-hole it, but to seek for its
inner intent and content, and to value it according as that intent is
carried out and that content is valid and worth while. This is the
precise opposite of the academic critical attitude. The professor is
nothing if not a maker of card-indexes; he must classify or be damned.
His masterpiece is the dictum that “it is excellent, but it is not a
play.” Nathan has a far more intelligent and hospitable eye. His
criterion, elastic and undefined, is inimical only to the hollow, the
meretricious, the fraudulent. It bars out the play of flabby and
artificial sentiment. It bars out the cheap melodrama, however gaudily
set forth. It bars out the moony mush of the bad imitators of Ibsen and
Maeterlinck. It bars out all mere claptrap and sensation-monging. But it
lets in every play, however conceived or designed, that contains an
intelligible idea well worked out. It lets in every play by a dramatist
who is ingenious, and original, and genuinely amusing. And it lets in
every other sort of theatrical spectacle that has an honest aim, and
achieves that aim passably, and is presented frankly for what it is.

Bear this theory in mind, and you have a clear explanation of Nathan’s
actual performances—first, his merciless lampooning of the trade-goods
of Broadway and the pifflings of the Drama League geniuses, and
secondly, his ardent championing of such widely diverse men as Avery
Hopwood, Florenz Ziegfeld, Ludwig Thoma, Lord Dunsany, Sasha Guitry,
Lothar Schmidt, Ferenz Molnar, Roberto Bracco and Gerhart Hauptmann, all
of whom have one thing in common: they are intelligent and full of ideas
and know their trade. In Europe, of course, there are many more such men
than in America, and some of the least of them are almost as good as our
best. That is why Nathan is forever announcing them and advocating the
presentation of their works—not because he favors foreignness for its
own sake, but because it is so often accompanied by sound achievement
and by stimulating example to our own artists. And that is why, when he
tackles the maudlin flubdub of the Broadway dons, he does it with the
weapons of comedy, and even of farce. Does an Augustus Thomas rise up
with his corn-doctor magic and Sunday-school platitudes, proving heavily
that love is mightier than the sword, that a pure heart will baffle the
electric chair, that the eye is quicker than the hand? Then Nathan
proceeds against him with a slapstick, and makes excellent practice upon
his pantaloons. Does a Belasco, thumb on forelock, posture before the
yeomanry as a Great Artist, the evidence being a large chromo of a
Childs’ restaurant, and a studio like a Madison avenue antique-shop?
Then Nathan flings a laugh at him and puts him in his place. And does
some fat rhinoceros of an actress, unearthing a smutty play by a
corn-fed Racine, loose its banal obscenities upon the vulgar in the name
of Sex Hygiene, presuming thus to teach a Great Lesson, and break the
Conspiracy of Silence, and carry on the Noble Work of Brieux and
company, and so save impatient flappers from the Moloch’s Sacrifice of
the Altar—does such a bumptious and preposterous baggage fill the
newspapers with her pishposh and the largest theater in Manhattan with
eager dunderheads? Then the ribald Jean has at her with a flour-sack
filled with the pollen of the _Ambrosia artemisiaefolia_, driving her
from the scene to the tune of her own unearthly sneezing.

Necessarily, he has to lay on with frequency. For one honest play,
honestly produced and honestly played, Broadway sees two dozen that are
simply so much green-goods. To devote serious exposition to the badness
of such stuff would be to descend to the donkeyish futility of William
Winter. Sometimes, indeed, even ridicule is not enough; there must be a
briefer and more dramatic display of the essential banality. Well, then,
why not recreate it in the manner of Croce—but touching up a line here,
a color there? The result is burlesque, but burlesque that is the most
searching and illuminating sort of criticism. Who will forget Nathan’s
demonstration that a platitudinous play by Thomas would be better if
played backward? A superb bravura piece, enormously beyond the talents
of any other American writer on the theater, it smashed the Thomas
legend with one stroke. In the little volume called “Bottoms Up” you
will find many other such annihilating waggeries. Nathan does not
denounce melodrama with a black cap upon his head, painfully
demonstrating its inferiority to the drama of Ibsen, Scribe and
Euripides; he simply sits down and writes a little melodrama so
extravagantly ludicrous that the whole genus collapses. And he does not
prove in four columns of a Sunday paper that French plays done into
American are spoiled; he simply shows the spoiling in six lines.

This method, of course, makes for broken heads; it outrages the feelings
of tender theatrical mountebanks; it provokes reprisals more or less
furtive and behind the door. The theater in America, as in most other
countries, is operated chiefly by bounders. Men so constantly associated
with actors tend to take on the qualities of the actor—his idiotic
vanity, his herculean stupidity, his chronic underrating of his betters.
The miasma spreads to dramatists and dramatic critics; the former drift
into charlatanry and the latter into a cowardly and disgusting
dishonesty. Amid such scenes a man of positive ideas, of civilized
tastes and of unshakable integrity is a stranger, and he must face all
the hostility that the lower orders of men display to strangers. There
is, so far as I know, no tripe-seller in Broadway who has not tried, at
one time or another, to dispose of Nathan by _attentat_. He has been
exposed to all the measures ordinarily effective against rebellious
reviewers, and, resisting them, he has been treated to special treatment
with infernal machines of novel and startling design. No writer for the
theater has been harder beset, and none has been less incommoded by the
onslaught. What is more, he has never made the slightest effort to
capitalize this drum-fire—the invariable device of lesser men. So far as
I am aware, and I have been in close association with him for ten years,
it has had not the slightest effect upon him whatsoever. A thoroughgoing
skeptic, with no trace in him of the messianic delusion, he has avoided
timorousness on the one hand and indignation on the other. No man could
be less a public martyr of the Metcalfe type; it would probably amuse
him vastly to hear it argued that his unbreakable independence (and
often somewhat high and mighty sniffishness) has been of any public
usefulness. I sometimes wonder what keeps such a man in the theater,
breathing bad air nightly, gaping at prancing imbeciles, sitting cheek
by jowl with cads. Perhaps there is, at bottom, a secret romanticism—a
lingering residuum of a boyish delight in pasteboard and spangles, gaudy
colors and soothing sounds, preposterous heroes and appetizing wenches.
But more likely it is a sense of humor—the zest of a man to whom life is
a spectacle that never grows dull—a show infinitely surprising, amusing,
buffoonish, vulgar, obscene. The theater, when all is said and done, is
not life in miniature, but life enormously magnified, life hideously
exaggerated. Its emotions are ten times as powerful as those of reality,
its ideas are twenty times as idiotic as those of real men, its lights
and colors and sounds are forty times as blinding and deafening as those
of nature, its people are grotesque burlesques of every one we know.
Here is diversion for a cynic. And here, it may be, is the explanation
of Nathan’s fidelity.

Whatever the cause of his enchantment, it seems to be lasting. To a man
so fertile in ideas and so facile in putting them into words there is a
constant temptation to make experiments, to plunge into strange waters,
to seek self-expression in ever-widening circles. And yet, at the brink
of forty years, Nathan remains faithful to the theater; of his half
dozen books, only one does not deal with it, and that one is a very
small one. In four or five years he has scarcely written of aught else.
I doubt that anything properly describable as enthusiasm is at the
bottom of this assiduity; perhaps the right word is curiosity. He is
interested mainly, not in the staple fare of the playhouse, but in what
might be called its fancy goods—in its endless stream of new men, its
restless innovations, the radical overhauling that it has been
undergoing in our time. I do not recall, in any of his books or
articles, a single paragraph appraising the classics of the stage, or
more than a brief note or two on their interpretation. His attention is
always turned in a quite opposite direction. He is intensely interested
in novelty of whatever sort, if it be only free from sham. Such
experimentalists as Max Reinhardt, George Bernard Shaw, Sasha Guitry and
the daring nobodies of the Grand Guignol, such divergent originals as
Dunsany, Ziegfeld, George M. Cohan and Schnitzler, have enlisted his
eager partisanship. He saw something new to our theater in the farces of
Hopwood before any one else saw it; he was quick to welcome the novel
points of view of Eleanor Gates and Clare Kummer; he at once rescued
what was sound in the Little Theatre movement from what was mere
attitudinizing and pseudo-intellectuality. In the view of Broadway, an
exigent and even malignant fellow, wielding a pen dipped in _aqua
fortis_, he is actually amiable to the last degree, and constantly
announces pearls in the fodder of the swine. Is the new play in
Forty-second Street a serious work of art, as the press-agents and the
newspaper reviewers say? Then so are your grandmother’s false teeth! Is
Maeterlinck a Great Thinker? Then so is Dr. Frank Crane! Is Belasco a
profound artist? Then so is the man who designs the ceilings of hotel
dining rooms! But let us not weep too soon. In the play around the
corner there is a clever scene. Next door, amid sickening dullness,
there are two buffoons who could be worse: one clouts the other with a
_Blutwurst_ filled with mayonnaise. And a block away there is a girl in
the second row with a very charming twist of the _vastus medialis_. Let
us sniff the roses and forget the thorns!

What this attitude chiefly wars with, even above cheapness,
meretriciousness and banality, is the fatuous effort to turn the
theater, a place of amusement, into a sort of outhouse to the academic
grove—the Maeterlinck-Brieux-Barker complex. No critic in America, and
none in England save perhaps Walkley, has combated this movement more
vigorously than Nathan. He is under no illusion as to the functions and
limitations of the stage. He knows, with Victor Hugo, that the best it
can do, in the domain of ideas, is to “turn thoughts into food for the
crowd,” and he knows that only the simplest and shakiest ideas may
undergo that transformation. Coming upon the scene at the height of the
Ibsen mania of half a generation ago, he ranged himself against its
windy pretenses from the start. He saw at once the high merit of Ibsen
as a dramatic craftsman and welcomed him as a reformer of dramatic
technique, but he also saw how platitudinous was the ideational content
of his plays and announced the fact in terms highly offensive to the
Ibsenites.... But the Ibsenites have vanished and Nathan remains. He has
survived, too, the Brieux hubbub. He has lived to preach the funeral
sermon of the Belasco legend. He has himself sworded Maeterlinck and
Granville Barker. He has done frightful execution upon many a poor mime.
And meanwhile, breasting the murky tide of professorial buncombe, of
solemn pontificating, of Richard-Burtonism, Clayton-Hamiltonism and
other such decaying forms of William-Winterism, he has rescued dramatic
criticism among us from its exile with theology, embalming and
obstetrics, and given it a place among what Nietzsche called the gay
sciences, along with war, fiddle-playing and laparotomy. He has made it
amusing, stimulating, challenging, even, at times, a bit startling. And
to the business, artfully concealed, he has brought a sound and thorough
acquaintance with the heavy work of the pioneers, Lessing, Schlegel,
Hazlitt, Lewes _et al_—and an even wider acquaintance, lavishly
displayed, with every nook and corner of the current theatrical scene
across the water. And to discharge this extraordinarily copious mass of
information he has hauled and battered the English language into new and
often astounding forms, and when English has failed he has helped it out
with French, German, Italian, American, Swedish, Russian, Turkish,
Latin, Sanskrit and Old Church Slavic, and with algebraic symbols,
chemical formulæ, musical notation and the signs of the Zodiac....

This manner, of course, is not without its perils. A man so inordinately
articulate is bound to succumb, now and then, to the seductions of mere
virtuosity. The average writer, and particularly the average critic of
the drama, does well if he gets a single new and racy phrase into an
essay; Nathan does well if he dilutes his inventions with enough
commonplaces to enable the average reader to understand his discourse at
all. He carries the avoidance of the _cliché_ to the length of an _idée
fixe_. It would be difficult, in all his books, to find a dozen of the
usual rubber stamps of criticism; I daresay it would kill him, or, at
all events, bring him down with cholera morbus, to discover that he had
called a play “convincing” or found “authority” in the snorting of an
English actor-manager. At best, this incessant flight from the obvious
makes for a piquant and arresting style, a procession of fantastic and
often highly pungent neologisms—in brief, for Nathanism. At worst, it
becomes artificiality, pedantry, obscurity. I cite an example from an
essay on Eleanor Gates’ “The Poor Little Rich Girl,” prefaced to the
printed play:

    As against the not unhallow symbolic strut and gasconade of such
    over-pæaned pieces as, let us for example say, “The Blue Bird” of
    Maeterlinck, so simple and unaffected a bit of stage writing as
    this—of school dramatic intrinsically the same—cajoles the more
    honest heart and satisfies more plausibly and fully those of us
    whose thumbs are ever being pulled professionally for a native
    stage less smeared with the snobberies of empty, albeit
    high-sounding, nomenclatures from overseas.

Fancy that, Hedda!—and in praise of a “simple and unaffected bit of
stage writing”! I denounced it at the time, _circa_ 1916, and perhaps
with some effect. At all events, I seem to notice a gradual
disentanglement of the parts of speech. The old florid invention is
still there; one encounters startling coinages in even the most casual
of reviews; the thing still flashes and glitters; the tune is yet upon
the E string. But underneath I hear a more sober rhythm than of old. The
fellow, in fact, takes on a sedater habit, both in style and in point of
view. Without abandoning anything essential, without making the
slightest concession to the orthodox opinion that he so magnificently
disdains, he yet begins to yield to the middle years. The mere shocking
of the stupid is no longer as charming as it used to be. What he now
offers is rather more _gemütlich_; sometimes it even verges upon the
instructive.... But I doubt that Nathan will ever become a professor,
even if he enjoys the hideously prolonged senility of a William Winter.
He will be full of surprises to the end. With his last gasp he will make
a phrase to flabbergast a dolt.



                  XVIII. PORTRAIT OF AN IMMORTAL SOUL


One day in Spring, six or eight years ago, I received a letter from a
man somewhere beyond the Wabash announcing that he had lately completed
a very powerful novel and hinting that my critical judgment upon it
would give him great comfort. Such notifications, at that time, reached
me far too often to be agreeable, and so I sent him a form-response
telling him that I was ill with pleurisy, had just been forbidden by my
oculist to use my eyes, and was about to become a father. The aim of
this form-response was to shunt all that sort of trade off to other
reviewers, but for once it failed. That is to say, the unknown kept on
writing to me, and finally offered to pay me an honorarium for my labor.
This offer was so unusual that it quite demoralized me, and before I
could recover I had received, cashed and dissipated a modest check, and
was confronted by an accusing manuscript, perhaps four inches thick, but
growing thicker every time I glanced at it.

One night, tortured by conscience and by the inquiries and reminders
arriving from the author by every post, I took up the sheets and settled
down for a depressing hour or two of it.... No, I did _not_ read all
night. No, it was _not_ a masterpiece. No, it has _not_ made the far-off
stranger famous. Let me tell the story quite honestly. I am, in fact,
far too rapid a reader to waste a whole night on a novel; I had got
through this one by midnight and was sound asleep at my usual time. And
it was by no means a masterpiece; on the contrary, it was inchoate,
clumsy, and, in part, artificial, insincere and preposterous. And to
this day the author remains obscure.... But underneath all the
amateurish writing, the striving for effects that failed to come off,
the absurd literary self-consciousness, the recurrent falsity and
banality—underneath all these stigmata of a neophyte’s book there was
yet a capital story, unusual in content, naïve in manner and enormously
engrossing. What is more, the faults that it showed in execution were,
most of them, not ineradicable. On page after page, as I read on, I saw
chances to improve it—to get rid of its intermittent bathos, to hasten
its action, to eliminate its spells of fine writing, to purge it of its
imitations of all the bad novels ever written—in brief, to tighten it,
organize it, and, as the painters say, tease it up.

The result was that I spent the next morning writing the author a long
letter of advice. It went to him with the manuscript, and for weeks I
heard nothing from him. Then the manuscript returned, and I read it
again. This time I had a genuine surprise. Not only had the unknown
followed my suggestions with much intelligence; in addition, once set up
on the right track, he had devised a great many excellent improvements
of his own. In its new form, in fact, the thing was a very competent and
even dexterous piece of writing, and after re-reading it from the first
word to the last with even keener interest than before, I sent it to
Mitchell Kennerley, then an active publisher, and asked him to look
through it. Kennerley made an offer for it at once, and eight or nine
months later it was published with his imprint. The author chose to
conceal himself behind the _nom de plume_ of Robert Steele; I myself
gave the book the title of “One Man.” It came from the press—and
straightway died the death. The only favorable review it received was
mine in the _Smart Set_. No other reviewer paid any heed to it. No one
gabbled about it. No one, so far as I could make out, even read it. The
sale was small from the start, and quickly stopped altogether.... To
this day the fact fills me with wonder. To this day I marvel that so
dramatic, so penetrating and so curiously moving a story should have
failed so overwhelmingly....

For I have never been able to convince myself that I was wrong about it.
On the contrary, I am more certain than ever, re-reading it after half a
dozen years, that I was right—that it was and is one of the most honest
and absorbing human documents ever printed in America. I have called it,
following the author, a novel. It is, in fact, nothing of the sort; it
is autobiography. More, it is autobiography unadorned and shameless,
autobiography almost unbelievably cruel and betraying, autobiography
that is as devoid of artistic sophistication as an operation for
gall-stones. This so-called Steele is simply too stupid, too ingenuous,
too moral to lie. He is the very reverse of an artist; he is a born and
incurable Puritan—and in his alleged novel he draws the most faithful
and merciless picture of an American Puritan that has ever got upon
paper. There is never the slightest effort at amelioration; he never
evades the ghastly horror of it; he never tries to palm off himself as a
good fellow, a hero. Instead, he simply takes his stand in the center of
the platform, where all the spotlights meet, and there calmly strips off
his raiment of reticence—first his Sunday plug-hat, then his long-tailed
coat, then his boiled shirt, then his shoes and socks, and finally his
very B. V. D.’s. The closing scene shows the authentic _Mensch-an-sich_,
the eternal blue-nose in the nude, with every wart and pimple glittering
and every warped bone and flabby muscle telling its abhorrent tale.
There stands the Puritan stripped of every artifice and concealment,
like Thackeray’s Louis XIV.

Searching my memory, I can drag up no recollection of another such
self-opener of secret chambers and skeletonic closets. Set beside this
pious babbler, the late Giovanni Jacopo Casanova de Seingalt shrinks to
the puny proportions of a mere barroom boaster, a smoking-car Don Juan,
an Eighteenth Century stock company leading man or whiskey drummer. So,
too, Benvenuto Cellini: a fellow vastly entertaining, true enough, but
after all, not so much a psychological historian as a liar, a yellow
journalist. One always feels, in reading Benvenuto, that the man who is
telling the story is quite distinct from the man about whom it is being
told. The fellow, indeed, was too noble an artist to do a mere portrait
with fidelity; he could not resist the temptation to repair a
cauliflower ear here, to paint out a tell-tale scar there, to shine up
the eyes a bit, to straighten the legs down below. But this Steele—or
whatever his name may be—never steps out of himself. He is never
describing the gaudy one he would _like_ to be, but always the
commonplace, the weak, the emotional, the ignorant, the third-rate
Christian male that he actually is. He deplores himself, he distrusts
himself, he plainly wishes heartily that he was not himself, but he
never makes the slightest attempt to disguise and bedizen himself. Such
as he is, cheap, mawkish, unæsthetic, conscience-stricken, he depicts
himself with fierce and unrelenting honesty.

Superficially, the man that he sets before us seems to be a felonious
fellow, for he confesses frankly to a long series of youthful larcenies,
to a somewhat banal adventure in forgery (leading to a term in jail), to
sundry petty deceits and breaches of trust, and to an almost endless
chain of exploits in amour, most of them sordid and unrelieved by
anything approaching romance. But the inner truth about him, of course,
is that he is really a moralist of the moralists—that his one
fundamental and all-embracing virtue is what he himself regards as his
viciousness—that he is never genuinely human and likable save in those
moments which lead swiftly to his most florid self-accusing. In brief,
the history is that of a moral young man, the child of God-fearing
parents, and its moral, if it has one, is that a strictly moral
upbringing injects poisons into the system that even the most steadfast
morality cannot resist. It is, in a way, the old story of the preacher’s
son turned sot and cutthroat.

Here we see an apparently sound and normal youngster converted into a
sneak and rogue by the intolerable pressure of his father’s abominable
Puritanism. And once a rogue, we see him make himself into a scoundrel
by the very force of his horror of his roguery. Every step downward is
helped from above. It is not until he resigns himself frankly to the
fact of his incurable degradation, and so ceases to struggle against it,
that he ever steps out of it.

The external facts of the chronicle are simple enough. The son of a
school teacher turned petty lawyer and politician, the hero is brought
up under such barbaric rigors that he has already become a fluent and
ingenious liar, in sheer self-protection, at the age of five or six.
From lying he proceeds quite naturally to stealing: he lifts a few
dollars from a neighbor, and then rifles a tin bank, and then takes to
filching all sorts of small articles from the storekeepers of the
vicinage. His harsh, stupid, Christian father, getting wind of these
peccadilloes, has at him in the manner of a mad bull, beating him,
screaming at him, half killing him. The boy, for all the indecent
cruelty of it, is convinced of the justice of it. He sees himself as one
lost; he accepts the fact that he is a disgrace to his family; in the
end, he embraces the parental theory that there is something strange and
sinister in his soul, that he couldn’t be good if he tried. Finally,
filled with some vague notion of taking his abhorrent self out of sight,
he runs away from home. Brought back in the character of a felon, he
runs away again. Soon he is a felon in fact. That is to say, he forges
his father’s name to a sheaf of checks, and his father allows him to go
to prison.

This prison term gives the youngster a chance to think things out for
himself, without the constant intrusion of his father’s Presbyterian
notions of right or wrong. The result is a measurably saner philosophy
than that he absorbed at home, but there is still enough left of the old
moral obsession to cripple him in all his thinking, and especially in
his thinking about himself. His attitude toward women, for example, is
constantly conditioned by puritanical misgivings and superstitions. He
can never view them innocently, joyously, unmorally, as a young fellow
of twenty or twenty-one should, but is always oppressed by
Sunday-schoolish notions of his duty to them, and to society in general.
On the one hand, he is appalled by his ready yielding to those hussies
who have at him unofficially, and on the other hand he is filled with
the idea that it would be immoral for him, an ex-convict, to go to the
altar with a virgin. The result of these doubts is that he gives a good
deal more earnest thought to the woman question than is good for him.
The second result is that he proves an easy victim to the discarded
mistress of his employer. This worthy working girl craftily snares him
and marries him—and then breaks down on their wedding night, unwomaned,
so to speak, by the pathetic innocence of the ass, and confesses to a
choice roll of her past doings, ending with the news that she is
suffering from what the vice crusaders mellifluously denominate a
“social disease.”

Naturally enough, the blow almost kills the poor boy—he is still, in
fact, scarcely out of his nonage—and the problems that grow out of the
confession engage him for the better part of the next two years. Always
he approaches them and wrestles with them morally; always his search is
for the way that the copy-book maxims approve, not for the way that
self-preservation demands. Even when a brilliant chance for revenge
presents itself, and he is forced to embrace it by the sheer magnetic
pull of it, he does so hesitatingly, doubtingly, ashamedly. His whole
attitude to this affair, indeed, is that of an Early Christian Father.
He hates himself for gathering rosebuds while he may; he hates the woman
with a double hatred for strewing them so temptingly in his path. And in
the end, like the moral and upright fellow that he is, he sells out the
temptress for cash in hand, and salves his conscience by handing over
the money to an orphan asylum. This after prayers for divine guidance. A
fact! Don’t miss the story of it in the book. You will go far before you
get another such illuminating glimpse into a pure and righteous mind.

So in episode after episode. One observes a constant oscillation between
a pharisaical piety and a hoggish carnality. The praying brother of
yesterday is the night-hack roisterer of to-day; the roisterer of to-day
is the snuffling penitent and pledge-taker of to-morrow. Finally, he is
pulled both ways at once and suffers the greatest of all his tortures.
Again, of course, a woman is at the center of it—this time a
stenographer. He has no delusions about her virtue—she admits herself,
in fact, that it is extinct—but all the same he falls head over heels in
love with her, and is filled with an inordinate yearning to marry her
and settle down with her. Why not, indeed? She is pretty and a nice
girl; she seems to reciprocate his affection; she is naturally eager for
the obliterating gold band; she will undoubtedly make him an excellent
wife. But he has forgotten his conscience—and it rises up in revenge and
floors him. What! Marry a girl with such a Past! Take a fancy woman to
his bosom! Jealousy quickly comes to the aid of conscience. Will he be
able to forget? Contemplating the damsel in the years to come, at
breakfast, at dinner, across the domestic hearth, in the cold, blue
dawn, will he ever rid his mind of those abhorrent images, those
phantasms of men?

Here, at the very end, we come to the most engrossing chapter in this
extraordinary book. The duelist of sex, thrust through the gizzard at
last, goes off to a lonely hunting camp to wrestle with his intolerable
problem. He describes his vacillations faithfully, elaborately, cruelly.
On the one side he sets his honest yearning, his desire to have done
with light loves, the girl herself. On the other hand he ranges his
moral qualms, his sneaking distrusts, the sinister shadows of those
nameless ones, his morganatic brothers-in-law. The struggle within his
soul is gigantic. He suffers as Prometheus suffered on the rock; his
very vitals are devoured; he emerges battered and exhausted. He decides,
in the end, that he will marry the girl. She has wasted the shining
dowry of her sex; she comes to him spotted and at second-hand; snickers
will appear in the polyphony of the wedding music—but he will marry her
nevertheless. It will be a marriage unblessed by Holy Writ; it will be a
flying in the face of Moses; luck and the archangels will be against
it—but he will marry her all the same, Moses or no Moses. And so, with
his face made bright by his first genuine revolt against the archaic,
barbaric morality that has dragged him down, and his heart pulsing to
his first display of authentic, unpolluted charity, generosity and
nobility, he takes his departure from us. May the fates favor him with
their mercy! May the Lord God strain a point to lift him out of his
purgatory at last! He has suffered all the agonies of belief. He has
done abominable penance for the Westminster Catechism, and for the moral
order of the world, and for all the despairing misery of back-street,
black bombazine, Little Bethel goodness. He is Puritanism incarnate, and
Puritanism become intolerable....

I daresay any second-hand bookseller will be able to find a copy of the
book for you: “One Man,” by Robert Steele. There is some raciness in the
detail of it. Perhaps, despite its public failure, it enjoys a measure
of _pizzicato_ esteem behind the door. The author, having achieved its
colossal self-revelation, became intrigued by the notion that he was a
literary man of sorts, and informed me that he was undertaking the story
of the girl last-named—the spotted ex-virgin. But he apparently never
finished it. No doubt he discovered, before he had gone very far, that
the tale was intrinsically beyond him—that his fingers all turned into
thumbs when he got beyond his own personal history. Such a writer, once
he has told the one big story, is done for.



                            XIX. JACK LONDON


The quasi-science of genealogy, as it is practiced in the United States,
is directed almost exclusively toward establishing aristocratic descents
for nobodies. That is to say, it records and glorifies decay. Its
typical masterpiece is the discovery that the wife of some obscure
county judge is the grandchild, infinitely removed, of Mary Queen of
Scots, or that the blood of Geoffrey of Monmouth flows in the veins of a
Philadelphia stockbroker. How much more profitably its professors might
be employed in tracing the lineage of truly salient and distinguished
men! For example, the late Jack London. Where did he get his hot
artistic passion, his delicate feeling for form and color, his
extraordinary skill with words? The man, in truth, was an instinctive
artist of a high order, and if ignorance often corrupted his art, it
only made the fact of his inborn mastery the more remarkable. No other
popular writer of his time did any better writing than you will find in
“The Call of the Wild,” or in parts of “John Barleycorn,” or in such
short stories as “The Sea Farmer” and “Samuel.” Here, indeed, are all
the elements of sound fiction: clear thinking, a sense of character, the
dramatic instinct, and, above all, the adept putting together of
words—words charming and slyly significant, words arranged, in a French
phrase, for the respiration and the ear. You will never convince me that
this æsthetic sensitiveness, so rare, so precious, so distinctively
aristocratic, burst into abiogenetic flower on a San Francisco sand-lot.
There must have been some intrusion of an alien and superior strain,
some _pianissimo_ fillup from above; there was obviously a great deal
more to the thing than a routine hatching in low life. Perhaps the
explanation is to be sought in a Jewish smear. Jews were not few in the
California of a generation ago, and one of them, at least, attained to a
certain high, if transient, fame with the pen. Moreover, the name,
London, has a Jewish smack; the Jews like to call themselves after great
cities. I have, indeed, heard this possibility of an Old Testament
descent put into an actual rumor. Stranger genealogies are not unknown
in seaports....

But London the artist did not live _a cappella_. There was also London
the amateur Great Thinker, and the second often hamstrung the first.
That great thinking of his, of course, took color from the sordid misery
of his early life; it was, in the main, a jejune Socialism, wholly
uncriticised by humor. Some of his propagandist and expository books are
almost unbelievably nonsensical, and whenever he allowed any of his
so-called ideas to sneak into an imaginative work the intrusion promptly
spoiled it. Socialism, in truth, is quite incompatible with art; its
cook-tent materialism is fundamentally at war with the first principle
of the æsthetic gospel, which is that one daffodil is worth ten shares
of Bethlehem Steel. It is not by accident that there has never been a
book on Socialism which was also a work of art. Papa Marx’s “Das
Kapital” at once comes to mind. It is as wholly devoid of graces as “The
Origin of Species” or “Science and Health”; one simply cannot conceive a
reasonable man reading it without aversion; it is as revolting as a
barrel organ. London, preaching Socialism, or quasi-Socialism, or
whatever it was that he preached, took over this offensive dullness. The
materialistic conception of history was too heavy a load for him to
carry. When he would create beautiful books he had to throw it overboard
as Wagner threw overboard democracy, the superman and free thought. A
sort of temporary Christian created “Parsifal.” A sort of temporary
aristocrat created “The Call of the Wild.”

Also in another way London’s early absorption of social and economic
nostrums damaged him as an artist. It led him into a socialistic
exaltation of mere money; it put a touch of avarice into him. Hence his
too deadly industry, his relentless thousand words a day, his steady
emission of half-done books. The prophet of freedom, he yet sold himself
into slavery to the publishers, and paid off with his soul for his
ranch, his horses, his trappings of a wealthy cheese-monger. His volumes
rolled out almost as fast as those of E. Phillips Oppenheim; he simply
could not make them perfect at such a gait. There are books on his
list—for example, “The Scarlet Plague” and “The Little Lady of the Big
House”—that are little more than garrulous notes for books.

But even in the worst of them one comes upon sudden splashes of
brilliant color, stray proofs of the adept penman, half-wistful
reminders that London, at bottom, was no fraud. He left enough, I am
convinced, to keep him in mind. There was in him a vast delicacy of
perception, a high feeling, a sensitiveness to beauty. And there was in
him, too, under all his blatancies, a poignant sense of the infinite
romance and mystery of human life.



                         XX. AMONG THE AVATARS


It may be, as they say, that we Americanos lie in the gutter of
civilization, but all the while our eyes steal cautious glances at the
stars. In the midst of the prevailing materialism—the thin incense of
mysticism. As a relief from money drives, politics and the struggle for
existence—Rosicrucianism, the Knights of Pythias, passwords, grips,
secret work, the 33rd degree. In flight from Peruna, Mandrake Pills and
Fletcherism—Christian Science, the Emmanuel Movement, the New Thought.
The tendency already has its poets: Edwin Markham and Ella Wheeler
Wilcox. It has acquired its romancer: Will Levington Comfort....

This Comfort wields an easy pen. He has done, indeed, some capital
melodramas, and when his ardor heats him up he grows downright eloquent.
But of late the whole force of his æsthetic engines has been thrown into
propaganda, by the Bhagavad Gītā out of Victorian sentimentalism. The
nature of this propaganda is quickly discerned. What Comfort preaches is
a sort of mellowed mariolatry, a humorless exaltation of woman, a flashy
effort to turn the inter-attraction of the sexes, ordinarily a mere
cause of scandal, into something transcendental and highly portentous.
Woman, it appears, is the beyond-man, the trans-mammal, the nascent
angel; she is the Upward Path, the Way to Consecration, the door to the
Third Lustrous Dimension; all the mysteries of the cosmos are
concentrated in Mystic Motherhood, whatever that may be. I capitalize in
the Comfortian (and New Thought) manner. On one page of “Fate Knocks at
the Door” I find Voices, Pits of Trade, Woman, the Great Light, the Big
Deep and the Twentieth Century Lie. On another are the Rising Road of
Man, the Transcendental Soul Essence, the Way Uphill, the Sempiternal
Mother. Thus Andrew Bedient, the spouting hero of the tale:

    I believe in the natural greatness of Woman; that through the
    spirit of Woman are born sons of strength; that only through the
    potential greatness of Woman comes the militant greatness of man.

    I believe Mothering is the loveliest of the Arts; that great
    mothers are handmaidens of the Spirit, to whom are intrusted God’s
    avatars; that no prophet is greater than his mother.

    I believe when humanity arises to Spiritual evolution (as it once
    evolved through Flesh, and is now evolving through Mind) Woman
    will assume the ethical guiding of the race.

    I believe that the Holy Spirit of the Trinity is Mystic
    Motherhood, and the source of the divine principle is Woman; that
    the prophets are the union of this divine principle and the higher
    manhood; that they are beyond the attractions of women of flesh,
    because unto their manhood has been added Mystic Motherhood....

    I believe that the way to Godhood is the Rising Road of Man.

    I believe that, as the human mother brings a child to her husband,
    the father—so Mystic Motherhood, the Holy Spirit, is bringing the
    world to God, the Father.

The capitals are Andrew’s—or Comfort’s. I merely transcribe and
perspire. This Andrew, it appears, is a sea cook who has been mellowed
and transfigured by exhaustive study of the Bhagavad Gītā, one of the
sacred nonsense books of the Hindus. He doesn’t know who his father was,
and he remembers his mother only as one dying in a strange city. When
she finally passed away he took to the high seas and mastered marine
cookery. Thus for many years, up and down the world. Then he went ashore
at Manila and became chef to an army packtrain. Then he proceeded to
China, to Japan. Then to India, where he entered the forestry service
and plodded the Himalayan heights, always with the Bhagavad Gītā under
his arm. At some time or other, during his years of culinary seafaring,
he saved the life of a Yankee ship captain, and that captain, later
dying, left him untold millions in South America. But it is long after
all this is past that we have chiefly to do with him. He is now a young
Monte Cristo at large in New York, a Monte Cristo worshiped and gurgled
over by a crowd of mushy old maids, a hero of Uneeda-biscuit parties in
God-forsaken studios, the madness and despair of senescent virgins.

But it is not Andrew’s wealth that inflames these old girls, nor even
his manly beauty, but rather his revolutionary and astounding sapience,
his great gift for solemn and incomprehensible utterance, his skill as a
metaphysician. They hang upon his every word. His rhetoric makes their
heads swim. Once he gets fully under way, they almost swoon.... And what
girls they are! Alas, what pathetic neck-stretching toward tinsel stars!
What eager hearing of the soulful, gassy stuff! One of them has red hair
and “wine dark eyes, now cryptic black, now suffused with red glows like
the night sky above a prairie fire.” Another is “tall and lovely in a
tragic, flower-like way” and performs upon the violoncello. A third is
“a tanned woman rather variously weathered,” who writes stupefying
epigrams about Whitman and Nietzsche—making the latter’s name Nietschze,
of course! A fourth is “the Gray One”—O mystic appellation! A fifth—but
enough! You get the picture. You can imagine how Andrew’s sagacity
staggers these poor dears. You can see them fighting for him, each
against all, with sharp, psychical excaliburs.

Arm in arm with all this exaltation of Woman, of course, goes a great
suspicion of mere woman. The combination is as old as Christian
mysticism, and Havelock Ellis has discussed its origin and nature at
great length. On the one hand is the _Übermensch_; on the other hand is
the temptress, the Lorelei. The Madonna and Mother Eve, the celestial
virgins and the succubi! The hero of “Fate Knocks at the Door,” for all
his flaming words, still distrusts his goddess. His colleague of “Down
Among Men” is poisoned by the same suspicions. Woman has led him up to
grace, she has shown him the Upward Path, she has illuminated him with
her Mystic Motherhood—but the moment she lets go his hand he takes to
his heels. What is worse, he sends a friend to her (I forget her name,
and his) to explain in detail how unfavorably any further communion with
her would corrupt his high mission, _i. e._, to save the downtrodden by
writing plays that fail and books that not even Americans will read. An
intellectual milk-toast! A mixture of Dr. Frank Crane and Mother
Tingley, of Edward Bok and the Archangel Eddy!...

So far, not much of this ineffable stuff has got among the best-sellers,
but I believe that it is on its way. Despite materialism and pragmatism,
mysticism is steadily growing in fashion. I hear of paunchy Freemasons
holding sacramental meetings on Maundy Thursday, of Senators in Congress
railing against _materia medica_, of Presidents invoking divine
intercession at Cabinet meetings. The New Thoughters march on; they have
at least a dozen prosperous magazines, and one of them has a circulation
comparable to that of any 20-cent repository of lingerie fiction. Such
things as Karma, the Ineffable Essence and the Zeitgeist become familiar
fauna, chained up in the cage of every woman’s club. Thousands of
American women know far more about the Subconscious than they know about
plain sewing. The pungency of myrrh and frankincense is mingled with
_odeur de femme_. Physiology is formally repealed and repudiated; its
laws are all lies. No doubt the fleshly best-seller of the last decade,
with its blushing amorousness, its flashes of underwear, its obstetrics
between chapters, will give place to a more delicate piece of
trade-goods to-morrow. In this New Thought novel the hero and heroine
will seek each other out, not to spoon obscenely behind the door, but
for the purpose of uplifting the race. Kissing is already unsanitary; in
a few years it may be downright sacrilegious, a crime against some
obscure avatar or other, a business libidinous and accursed.



                     XXI. THREE AMERICAN IMMORTALS


                                   1
                        _Aristotelean Obsequies_

I take the following from the Boston _Herald_ of May 1, 1882:

    A beautiful floral book stood at the left of the pulpit, being
    spread out on a stand.... Its last page was composed of white
    carnations, white daisies and light-colored immortelles. On the
    leaf was displayed, in neat letters of purple immortelles, the
    word “Finis.” This device was about two feet square, and its
    border was composed of different colored tea-roses. The other
    portion of the book was composed of dark and light-colored
    flowers.... The front of the large pulpit was covered with a mass
    of white pine boughs laid on loosely. In the center of this mass
    of boughs appeared a large harp composed of yellow jonquils....
    Above this harp was a handsome bouquet of dark pansies. On each
    side appeared large clusters of calla lilies.

Well, what have we here? The funeral of a Grand Exalted Pishposh of the
Odd Fellows, of an East Side Tammany leader, of an aged and much
respected brothel-keeper? Nay. What we have here is the funeral of Ralph
Waldo Emerson. It was thus that New England lavished the loveliest
fruits of the Puritan æsthetic upon the bier of her greatest son. It was
thus that Puritan _Kultur_ mourned a philosopher.


                                   2
                           _Edgar Allan Poe_

The myth that there is a monument to Edgar Allan Poe in Baltimore is
widely believed; there are even persons who, stopping off in Baltimore
to eat oysters, go to look at it. As a matter of fact, no such monument
exists. All that the explorer actually finds is a cheap and hideous
tombstone in the corner of a Presbyterian churchyard—a tombstone quite
as bad as the worst in Père La Chaise. For twenty-six years after Poe’s
death there was not even this: the grave remained wholly unmarked. Poe
had surviving relatives in Baltimore, and they were well-to-do. One day
one of them ordered a local stonecutter to put a plain stone over the
grave. The stonecutter hacked it out and was preparing to haul it to the
churchyard when a runaway freight-train smashed into his stone-yard and
broke the stone to bits. Thereafter the Poes seem to have forgotten
Cousin Edgar; at all events, nothing further was done.

The existing tombstone was erected by a committee of Baltimore
schoolmarms, and cost about $1,000. It took the dear girls ten long
years to raise the money. They started out with a “literary
entertainment” which yielded $380. This was in 1865. Six years later the
fund had made such slow progress that, with accumulated interest, it
came to but $587.02. Three years more went by: it now reached $627.55.
Then some anonymous Poeista came down with $100, two others gave $50
each, one of the devoted schoolmarms raised $52 in nickels and dimes,
and George W. Childs agreed to pay any remaining deficit. During all
this time not a single American author of position gave the project any
aid. And when, finally, a stone was carved and set up and the time came
for the unveiling, the only one who appeared at the ceremony was Walt
Whitman. All the other persons present were Baltimore nobodies—chiefly
schoolteachers and preachers. There were three set speeches—one by the
principal of a local high school, the second by a teacher in the same
seminary, and the third by a man who was invited to give his “personal
recollections” of Poe, but who announced in his third sentence that “I
never saw Poe but once, and our interview did not last an hour.”

This was the gaudiest Poe celebration ever held in America. The poet has
never enjoyed such august posthumous attentions as those which lately
flattered the shade of James Russell Lowell. At his actual burial, in
1849, exactly eight persons were present, of whom six were relatives. He
was planted, as I have said, in a Presbyterian churchyard, among
generations of honest believers in infant damnation, but the officiating
clergyman was a Methodist. Two days after his death a Baptist gentleman
of God, the illustrious Rufus W. Griswold, printed a defamatory article
upon him in the New York _Tribune_, and for years it set the tone of
native criticism of him. And so he rests: thrust among Presbyterians by
a Methodist and formally damned by a Baptist.


                                   3
                           _Memorial Service_

Let us summon from the shades the immortal soul of James Harlan, born in
1820, entered into rest in 1899. In the year 1865 this Harlan resigned
from the United States Senate to enter the cabinet of Abraham Lincoln as
Secretary of the Interior. One of the clerks in that department, at $600
a year, was Walt Whitman, lately emerged from three years of hard
service as an army nurse during the Civil War. One day, discovering that
Whitman was the author of a book called “Leaves of Grass,” Harlan
ordered him incontinently kicked out, and it was done forthwith. Let us
remember this event and this man; he is too precious to die. Let us
repair, once a year, to our accustomed houses of worship and there give
thanks to God that one day in 1865 brought together the greatest poet
that America has ever produced and the damndest ass.


                                THE END



                                 INDEX


 Ade, George, 98, 114 _et seq._

 Adler, Alfred, 170

 _Ailsa Page_, 134

 American Academy of Arts and Letters, 115, 138

 _American Language, The_, 210

 _Androcles and the Lion_, 185 _et seq._

 _Angela’s Business_, 139

 _Ann Veronica_, 25, 31

 _Another Book on the Theater_, 211

 Archer, William, 25, 174

 Arnold, Matthew, 194

 _Artie_, 121

 _Atlantic Monthly_, 52, 134, 173, 174

 Augier, Emile, 106

 _Avariés, Les_, 107, 201


 Bahr, Hermann, 16

 Balmforth, Ramsden, 186

 Balzac, H., 50

 Barber, Granville, 219

 _Bealby_, 24, 32

 Beck, James M., 33

 Beethoven, L. van, 18, 72, 94

 Belasco, David, 213, 219

 Belloc, Hillaire, 31

 Bennett, Arnold, 31, 36 _et seq._

 Beyerlein, F. A., 106

 Bierce, Ambrose, 130

 Bierbaum, O. J., 131

 Blasco Ibáñez, 24, 145

 Bleibtreu, K., 106

 _Book of Prefaces, A_, 210

 _Boon_, 31

 Boynton, H. W., 14

 Brahms, Johannes, 18

 Braithwaite, W. S., 83

 Brandes, Georg, 17

 Brieux, Eugene, 61, 107, 201, 219

 Brooks, Van Wyck, 34

 Brownell, W. C., 11, 14

 _Buried Alive_, 46

 Bynner, Witter, 85


 Cabell, James Branch, 144

 _Call of the Wild, The_, 236

 Carlyle, Thomas, 12, 16, 191, 212

 Cather, Willa Sibert, 130

 _Century, The_, 174

 _Certain Rich Man, A_, 140

 Chambers, R. W., 73, 117, 129 _et seq._, 148

 _Chap-Book, The_, 134

 Chesterton, G. K., 27, 124

 Childs, George W., 248

 Churchill, Winston, 37, 131

 Clemens, S. L., 52, 57, 97, 114, 115, 118

 Cobb, Irvin, 97 _et seq._, 134

 _Cobb’s Anatomy_, 99

 Comfort, W. L., 240 _et seq._

 Conrad, Joseph, 11, 34, 38, 40, 44, 56, 97, 112, 144

 _Cosmopolitan, The_, 175 _et seq._

 Craig, Gordon, 208

 Crane, Frank, 46, 244

 _Criterion, The_, 129, 130

 Croce, Benedetto, 12, 212

 Curtis, George W., 114


 Dewey, John, 61 _et seq._

 _Dial, The_, 64

 _Doll’s House, A_, 22, 23

 Dreiser, Theodore, 14, 34, 38, 47, 54, 97, 116, 119, 130, 144


 _Ehre, Die_, 105

 Ellis, Havelock, 244

 Emerson, R. W., 115, 191 _et seq._, 246

 _Everybody’s Magazine_, 175


 _Family, The_ (Parsons), 155

 _Family, The_ (Poole), 147

 _Fate Knocks at the Door_, 241

 _Fear and Conventionality_, 155 _et seq._

 _First and Last Things_, 22

 Fletcher, J. G., 92

 _Forester’s Daughter, The_, 136

 _Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, The_, 24, 145

 France, Anatole, 34, 131

 _Frau Sorge_, 105

 Freud, Sigmund, 151, 170, 199

 Frost, Robert, 84, 89, 92

 _Frühlings Erwachen_, 201


 Garland, Hamlin, 134 _et seq._

 _Gay Rebellion, The_, 133

 George, W. L., 40

 Giovannitti, Ettore, 90, 92

 _Godey’s Lady’s Book_, 174

 Goethe, J. W., 12, 16, 194, 212

 Grimm, Hermann, 194

 Griswold, Rufus, 19, 172, 249


 H. D., 92

 Haeckel, Ernst, 45

 Hagedorn, Hermann, 86

 Hale, William Bayard, 34

 Hamilton, Clayton, 140, 148 _et seq._, 220

 _Harbor, The_, 146

 Hardy, Thomas, 34

 Harlan, James, 249

 _Harper’s Magazine_, 173

 Harrison, H. S., 117, 139 _et seq._, 141

 Harvey, Alexander, 52

 Hauptmann, Gerhart, 106, 213

 Hazlitt, Wm., 16

 Hearst, W. R., 175 _et seq._

 _Hearst’s Magazine_, 176

 _Heimat_, 105

 _Higher Learning in America, The_, 65, 67, 71, 81

 _His Second Wife_, 147

 _History of Mr. Polly, The_, 25, 31

 _Hohe Lied, Das_, 107

 Holz, Arno, 105

 Howe, E. W., 56, 118, 119

 Howells, W. D., 52 _et seq._, 97, 118, 144

 _Huckleberry Finn_, 53

 Huneker, James, 17, 19, 57, 129, 130


 Ibsen, Henrik, 12, 106, 107, 119, 219

 _Imperial Germany and the Industrial Revolution_, 65

 _Indian Lily, The_, 107 _et seq._

 _Instinct of Workmanship, The_, 65

 _In the Heart of a Fool_, 140


 James, William, 60 _et seq._, 154, 193

 _Joan and Peter_, 25 _et seq._, 31, 32, 33

 _John Barleycorn_, 236

 Johnson, Owen, 98, 148

 _Jungle, The_, 145, 146


 _Katzensteg, Der_, 105

 Kauffman, R. W., 199

 Kilmer, Joyce, 86

 _King in Yellow, The_, 134

 Kipling, Rudyard, 27

 Kreymborg, Alfred, 83


 _Ladies’ Home Journal_, 53, 126, 143, 177

 Lardner, Ring W., 98

 _Leatherwood God, The_, 54

 Le Bon, Gustave, 154

 Lindsay, Vachel, 83, 84, 89, 92, 94, 96

 _Lion’s Share, The_, 46, 51

 _Little Lady of the Big House, The_, 239

 Lloyd-George, David, 33

 London, Jack, 37, 236 _et seq._

 Lowell, Amy, 83, 86, 87, 92, 96

 Lowell, J. R., 115, 173, 248

 Lowes, John Livingstone, 88


 Mabie, H. W., 16

 McClure, John, 96

 McClure, S. S., 175

 _McClure’s Magazine_, 175

 MacLane, Mary, 123 _et seq._, 134

 Maeterlinck, Maurice, 61, 79, 219

 _Magazine in America, The_, 171 _et seq._

 _Magda_, 105

 _Man and Superman_, 182

 Marden, O. S., 46

 _Marriage_, 22, 34

 Marx, Karl, 66, 238

 _Masks and Minstrels of New Germany_, 130

 Masters, Edgar Lee, 83, 88, 92, 96

 Meltzer, C. H., 57, 129

 _Men vs. the Man_, 60

 _Mercure de France_, 210

 Mitchell, D. O., 115, 131

 Monroe, Harriet, 83, 91

 Moody, Wm. Vaughn, 57

 _Moonlit Way, The_, 131

 More, Paul Elmer, 17, 53

 _Mr. Britling Sees It Through_, 24, 25

 _Mr. George Jean Nathan Presents_, 211

 Munsey, Frank A., 175

 _Munsey’s Magazine_, 175


 Nasby, Petroleum V., 114

 Nathan, G. J., 208 _et seq._

 _Nation, The_, 32, 64, 179

 National Institute of Arts and Letters, 115, 116, 129 _et seq._

 _Nature of Peace and the Terms of Its Perpetuation, The_, 65

 _New Leaf Mills_, 56

 _New Machiavelli, The_, 31

 _New Republic, The_, 64

 _New Thought_, 192, 245

 Nietzsche, F. W., 18, 24, 28, 32, 45, 61, 155, 182, 185, 192, 194, 243

 Norris, Frank, 54, 57, 121

 _North American Review_, 123

 Norton, Charles Eliot, 173


 _Old-Fashioned Woman, The_, 155

 _One Man_, 224 _et seq._

 Oppenheim, James, 86, 92, 94

 O’Sullivan, Vincent, 144


 _Paris Nights_, 51

 Parsons, Elsie Clews, 155 _et seq._

 _Passionate Friends, The_, 23, 30

 Pattee, F. L., 117

 Phelps, W. L., 11, 14, 116

 Phillips, D. G., 131

 Poe, E. A., 19, 52, 97, 115, 247 _et seq._

 _Poetry_, 83

 Pollard, Percival, 57

 Poole, Ernest, 145 _et seq._

 _Popular Theater, The_, 209

 Pound, Ezra, 90, 92, 94

 _Pretty Lady, The_, 42, 48, 51, 129

 _Putnam’s_, 173


 _Queed_, 139


 Reese, Lizette W., 96

 Repplier, Agnes, 56, 199

 _Research Magnificent, The_, 24, 33

 _Rise of Silas Lapham, The_, 54

 Robinson, E. A., 90

 Rolland, Romaine, 33

 _Roll-Call, The_, 42, 50, 51

 Roosevelt, Theodore, 61, 119, 124, 142, 178


 Saint-Beuve, 16

 Sandburg, Carl, 86, 92, 94

 _Saturday Evening Post, The_, 100, 176

 _Scarlet Plague, The_, 239

 _Scribner’s_, 174

 _Shadow World, The_, 136

 Shakespeare, 19, 201

 Shaw, G. B., 181 _et seq._, 199, 218

 Sherman, S. P., 11, 14, 130

 Sinclair, Upton, 145

 _Sodoms Ende_, 106

 _Son of the Middle Border, A_, 134, 135

 _Soul of a Bishop, The_, 25, 31, 32

 _Speaking of Operations_—, 99

 Spingarn, J. E., 10 _et seq._, 212

 _Spoon River Anthology, The_, 83

 Stedman, E. C., 95, 115, 173

 Steele, Robert, 226 _et seq._

 Stockton, F. R., 115

 Stoddard, R. H., 94, 115

 _Story of a Country Town, The_, 56

 Sudermann, Hermann, 105 _et seq._


 Tassin, Algernon, 171 _et seq._

 _Their Day in Court_, 131

 _Theory of Business Enterprise, The_, 65

 _Theory of the Leisure Class, The_, 65, 67, 70, 71, 76

 Thoma, Ludwig, 108, 213

 Thomas, Augustus, 215

 Thompson, Vance, 129

 _Those Times and These_, 98

 _Times_, New York, 13, 24, 131

 _Tono-Bungay_, 22, 25, 29, 34

 _Town Topics_, 130

 Towne, C. H., 86

 _Tribune_, New York, 33, 180, 249

 Trites, W. B., 57

 Tyndall, John, 194


 _Undying Fire, The_, 33

 Untermeyer, Louis, 88, 91, 92


 _V. V.’s Eyes_, 138

 Van Dyke, Henry, 95

 Veblen, Thorstein, 59 _et seq._, 154


 Wagner, Richard, 238

 Walker, J. B., 175

 Ward, Artemas, 114

 Wedekind, Frank, 201

 Wells, H. G., 22 _et seq._, 36, 37

 Wharton, Edith, 57, 144

 White, William Allen, 139 _et seq._

 Whitman, Walt, 86, 92, 93, 115, 243, 247, 249

 _Whom God Hath Joined_, 50, 51

 _Wife of Sir Isaac Harmon, The_, 23

 Wilde, Oscar, 13

 Wilson, Woodrow, 33, 34, 119, 178

 Winter, William, 173, 214, 220, 223

 Wright, Harold Bell, 141


 Zola, Emile, 50, 106, 107



------------------------------------------------------------------------



Transcriber’s note:

1. Silently corrected typographical errors.

2. Retained anachronistic and non-standard spellings as printed.

3. Changed ‘Athanæums’ to ‘Athenæums’ on p. 78.

4. Changed ‘at’ to ‘as’ on p. 103.





*** End of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Prejudices, First Series" ***

Doctrine Publishing Corporation provides digitized public domain materials.
Public domain books belong to the public and we are merely their custodians.
This effort is time consuming and expensive, so in order to keep providing
this resource, we have taken steps to prevent abuse by commercial parties,
including placing technical restrictions on automated querying.

We also ask that you:

+ Make non-commercial use of the files We designed Doctrine Publishing
Corporation's ISYS search for use by individuals, and we request that you
use these files for personal, non-commercial purposes.

+ Refrain from automated querying Do not send automated queries of any sort
to Doctrine Publishing's system: If you are conducting research on machine
translation, optical character recognition or other areas where access to a
large amount of text is helpful, please contact us. We encourage the use of
public domain materials for these purposes and may be able to help.

+ Keep it legal -  Whatever your use, remember that you are responsible for
ensuring that what you are doing is legal. Do not assume that just because
we believe a book is in the public domain for users in the United States,
that the work is also in the public domain for users in other countries.
Whether a book is still in copyright varies from country to country, and we
can't offer guidance on whether any specific use of any specific book is
allowed. Please do not assume that a book's appearance in Doctrine Publishing
ISYS search  means it can be used in any manner anywhere in the world.
Copyright infringement liability can be quite severe.

About ISYS® Search Software
Established in 1988, ISYS Search Software is a global supplier of enterprise
search solutions for business and government.  The company's award-winning
software suite offers a broad range of search, navigation and discovery
solutions for desktop search, intranet search, SharePoint search and embedded
search applications.  ISYS has been deployed by thousands of organizations
operating in a variety of industries, including government, legal, law
enforcement, financial services, healthcare and recruitment.



Home