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Title: Gods of Modern Grub Street: Impressions of Contemporary Authors
Author: Adcock, Arthur St. John
Language: English
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[Illustration: THOMAS HARDY]








  _Copyright, 1923, by_

  _All Rights Reserved_

  _Printed in the United States of America_



  THOMAS HARDY                                                         3

  HILAIRE BELLOC                                                      13

  ARNOLD BENNETT                                                      23

  JOHN DAVYS BERESFORD                                                33

  JOHN BUCHAN                                                         43

  DONN BYRNE                                                          53

  WILLIAM HENRY DAVIES                                                63

  WALTER DE LA MARE                                                   73

  SIR ARTHUR CONAN DOYLE                                              83

  JOHN DRINKWATER                                                     93

  JEFFERY FARNOL                                                     103

  JOHN GALSWORTHY                                                    113

  SIR ANTHONY HOPE HAWKINS                                           123

  ARTHUR STUART MENTETH HUTCHINSON                                   133

  SHEILA KAYE-SMITH                                                  143

  RUDYARD KIPLING                                                    153

  WILLIAM JOHN LOCKE                                                 163

  STEPHEN MCKENNA                                                    173

  COMPTON MACKENZIE                                                  183

  JOHN MASEFIELD                                                     193

  ALFRED EDWARD WOODLEY MASON                                        203

  WILLIAM SOMERSET MAUGHAM                                           213

  WILLIAM BABINGTON MAXWELL                                          223

  LEONARD MERRICK                                                    233

  ALAN ALEXANDER MILNE                                               243

  ALFRED NOYES                                                       253

  E. PHILLIPS OPPENHEIM                                              263

  MAY SINCLAIR                                                       273

  FRANK SWINNERTON                                                   283

  HUGH WALPOLE                                                       293

  HERBERT GEORGE WELLS                                               303

  ISRAEL ZANGWILL                                                    313

  INDEX                                                              323


  Thomas Hardy                                            _Frontispiece_

                                                             FACING PAGE

  Hilaire Belloc                                                      12

  Arnold Bennett                                                      22

  John Davys Beresford                                                32

  John Buchan                                                         42

  Donn Byrne                                                          52

  William Henry Davies                                                62

  Walter de la Mare                                                   72

  Sir Arthur Conan Doyle                                              82

  John Drinkwater                                                     92

  Jeffery Farnol                                                     102

  John Galsworthy                                                    112

  Sir Anthony Hope Hawkins                                           122

  Arthur Stuart Menteth Hutchinson                                   132

  Sheila Kaye-Smith                                                  142

  Rudyard Kipling                                                    152

  William John Locke                                                 162

  Stephen McKenna                                                    172

  Compton Mackenzie                                                  182

  John Masefield                                                     192

  Alfred Edward Woodley Mason                                        202

  William Somerset Maugham                                           212

  William Babington Maxwell                                          222

  Leonard Merrick                                                    232

  Alan Alexander Milne                                               242

  Alfred Noyes                                                       252

  E. Phillips Oppenheim                                              262

  May Sinclair                                                       272

  Frank Swinnerton                                                   282

  Hugh Walpole                                                       292

  Herbert George Wells                                               302

  Israel Zangwill                                                    312


Those who dissent from Byron’s _dictum_ that Keats was “snuffed out by
an article” usually add that no author was ever killed by criticism;
yet there seems little doubt that the critics killed Thomas Hardy
the novelist, and our only consolation is that from the ashes of the
novelist, phœnix-like rose Thomas Hardy the Poet.

As a novelist, Hardy began and finished his career in the days of
Victoria, but though he has only been asserting himself as a poet
since then, his earliest verse was written in the sixties; his first
collection of poetry, the “Wessex Poems,” appeared in 1898, and his
second in the closing year of the Queen’s reign. These facts should
give us pause when we are disposed to sneer again at Victorian
literature. Even the youngest scribe among us is constrained to
grant the greatness of this living Victorian, so if we insist that
the Victorians are over-rated we imply some disparagement of their
successors, who have admittedly produced no novelists that rank so high
as Hardy and few poets, if any, that rank higher.

Born at Upper Bockhampton, a village near Dorchester, on the 2nd June,
1840, Mr. Hardy passed his childhood and youth amid the scenes and
people that were, in due season, to serve as material for his stories
and poems. At seventeen a natural bent drew him to choose architecture
as a profession, and he studied first under an ecclesiastical architect
in Dorchester, then, three years later, in London, under Sir Arthur
Blomfield, proving his efficiency by winning the Tite prize for
architectural design, and the Institute of British Architects’ prize
and medal for an essay on Colored and Terra Cotta Architecture.

But he was already finding himself and realizing that the work he was
born to do was not such as could be materialized in brick and stone. He
had been writing verse in his leisure and, in his twenties, “practised
the writing of poetry” for five years with characteristic thoroughness;
but, recognizing perhaps that it was not to be taken seriously as a
means of livelihood, he presently abandoned that art; to resume it
triumphantly when he was nearing sixty.

His first published prose was a light, humorous sketch of “How I Built
Myself a House,” which appeared in _Chambers’s Journal_ for March,
1865. In 1871 came his first novel, “Desperate Remedies,” a story more
of plot and sensation than of character, which met with no particular
success. Next year, however, Thomas Hardy entered into his kingdom with
that “rural painting of the Dutch school,” “Under the Greenwood Tree,”
a delightful, realistic prose pastoral that has more of charm and
tenderness than any other of his tales, except “The Trumpet Major.” The
critics recognized its quality and, without making a noise, it found
favor with the public. What we now know as the distinctive Hardy touch
is in its sketches of country life and subtle revelations of rural
character, in its deliberate precision of style, its naked realism, its
humor and quiet irony; and if the realism was to grow sterner, as he
went on, the irony to be edged with bitterness, his large toleration
of human error, his pity of human weakness, were to broaden and deepen
with the passing of the years.

It is said that Frederick Greenwood, then editing the _Cornhill_,
picked up a copy of “Under the Greenwood Tree” on a railway bookstall
and, reading it, was moved to commission the author to write him a
serial; and when “Far from the Madding Crowd” appeared anonymously in
_Cornhill_ its intimate acquaintance with rural England misled the
knowing ones into ascribing it to George Eliot--an amazing deduction,
seeing that it has nothing in common with George Eliot, either in
manner or design.

“A Pair of Blue Eyes” had preceded “Far From the Madding Crowd,” and
“The Hand of Ethelberta” followed it; then, in 1878, came “The Return
of the Native,” which, with “The Mayor of Casterbridge” and “The
Woodlanders,” stood as Hardy’s highest achievements until, in 1891 and
1896, “Tess of the D’Urbervilles” and “Jude the Obscure” went a flight
beyond any that had gone before them and placed him incontestibly with
the world’s greatest novelists.

Soon after Hardy had definitely turned from architecture to literature
he went back to Wessex, where he lived successively at Cranbourne,
Sturminster, and Wimborne, until in 1885 he removed to Max Gate,
Dorchester, which has been his home ever since. And through all those
years, instead of going far afield in search of inspiration, he
recreated the ancient realm of the West Saxons and found a whole world
and all the hopes, ambitions, joys, loves, follies, hatreds--all the
best and all the worst of all humanity within its borders. The magic of
his genius has enriched the hundred and forty square miles of Wessex,
which stretches from the Bristol Channel across Somerset, Devon,
Dorset, Wilts and Hampshire to the English Channel, with imaginary
associations that are as living and abiding, as inevitably part of it
now, as are the facts of its authentic history.

A grim, stoical philosophy of life is implicit alike in Hardy’s poetry
and stories, giving a strange consistency to all he has written, so
that his books are joined each to each by a religion of nature that is
in itself a natural piety. He sees men and women neither as masters
of their fate nor as wards of a beneficent deity, but as “Time’s
laughing-stocks” victims of heredity and environment, the helpless
sport of circumstance, playing out little comedies or stumbling into
tragedies shaped for them inexorably by some blind, creative spirit
of the Universe that is indifferent to their misery or happiness and
as powerless to prolong the one as to avert the other. The earlier
pastoral comedies and tragi-comedies have their roots in this belief,
which reaches its most terribly beautiful expression in the epic
tragedies of “Tess” and “Jude the Obscure.”

I am old enough to remember the clash of opinions over the tragic
figure of Tess and the author’s presentation of her as “a pure woman”;
how there were protests from pulpits; how the critics mitigated their
praise of Hardy’s art with reproof of his ethics; but the story gripped
the imagination of the public, and time has brought not a few of the
moralists round to a recognition that if Hardy’s sense of morality was
less conventional, it was also something nobler, more fundamental than
their own. He will not accept the dogmas of orthodox respectability,
but looks beyond the accidents of circumstance and conduct to the real
good or evil that is in the human heart that wrongs or is wronged. The
same passion for truth at all costs underlies his stark, uncompromising
realism and his gospel of disillusion, his vision of men as puppets
working out a destiny they cannot control. If he has, therefore,
little faith in humanity, he has infinite compassion for it, and
infinite pardon. The irony of his stories is the irony he finds in
life itself, and as true to human experience as are the humor and the
pathos of them. Other eyes, another temperament, may read a different
interpretation of it all; he has honestly and courageously given us his

The outcry against “Tess” was mild compared to the babble of prudish
censure with which “Jude the Obscure” was received in many quarters,
and it is small wonder that these criticisms goaded Hardy to a
resolve that he would write no more novels for a world that could
so misunderstand his purposes and misconstrue his teachings. “The
Well-Beloved,” though it appeared a year later than “Jude,” had been
written and published serially five years before, and it was with
“Jude,” when his power was at its zenith, that Thomas Hardy wrote finis
to his work as a novelist.

Happily his adherence to this resolve drove him back on the art he had
abjured in his youth, and the last quarter of a century has yielded
some half dozen books of his poems that we would not willingly have
lost. Above all, it has yielded that stupendous chronicle-drama of the
Napoleonic wars, “The Dynasts,” which is sometimes acclaimed as the
highest and mightiest effort of his genius. This drama, and his ballads
and lyrics, often too overweighted with thought to have any beat of
wings in them, are at one with his novels in the sincere, sombre
philosophy of life that inspires them, the darkling imagination with
which it is bodied forth, and the brooding, forceful personality which
speaks unmistakably through all.

Hardy, is, and will remain, a great and lonely figure in our
literature. It is possible to trace the descent of almost every other
writer, to name the artistic influences that went to his making, but
Hardy is without literary ancestry; Dickens and Thackeray, Tennyson
and Browning, had forerunners, and have left successors. We know, as a
matter of fact, what porridge John Keats had, but we do not know that
of Hardy. Like every master, he unwittingly founded a school, but none
of his imitators could imitate him except superficially, and already
the scholars are going home and the master will presently be alone
in his place apart. His style is peculiarly his own; as novelist and
poet he has worked always within his own conception of the universe as
consistently as he has worked within the scope and bounds of his own
kingdom of Wessex, and “within that circle none durst walk but he.”


[Illustration: HILAIRE BELLOC]

So long and persistently has Hilaire Belloc been associated in
the public mind with G. K. Chesterton--one ingenious jester has
even linked and locked them together in an easy combination as the
Chesterbelloc--that quite a number of people now have a vague idea that
they are inseparables, collaborators, a sort of literary Siamese twins
like Beaumont and Fletcher or Erckmann-Chatrian; and the fact that one
appears in this volume without the other may occasion some surprise.
Let it be confessed at once that Chesterton’s omission from this
gallery is significant only of his failure--not in modern letters, but
to keep any appointments to sit for his photograph.

I regret his absence the less since it may serve as a mute protest
against the practice of always bracketing his name with that of Hilaire
Belloc. The magic influence of Belloc which is supposed to have colored
so many of G. K. C.’s views and opinions and even to have drawn him at
length into the Roman Catholic community, must be little but legendary
or evidence of it would be apparent in his writings, and it is no more
traceable there than the influence of Chesterton is to be found in
Belloc’s books. They share a dislike of Jews, which nearly equals that
of William Bailey in “Mr. Clutterbuck’s Election”; Chesterton has
illustrated some of Belloc’s stories, and Belloc being an artist, too,
has made charming illustrations for one of his own travel volumes. All
the same, there is no more real likeness between them than there was
between Dickens and Thackeray, or Tennyson and Browning, who were also,
and are to some extent still, carelessly driven in double harness.
Belloc’s humor and irony are hard, often bitter; they have none of
the geniality, nimbleness, perverse fantasy of Chesterton’s. The one
has a profound respect for fact and detail, and learns by carefully
examining all the mechanical apparatus of life scientifically through
a microscope; while the other has small reverence for facts as such,
looks on life with the poet’s rather than with the student’s eye, and
sees it by lightning-flashes of intuition. When Chesterton wrote his
History of England he put no dates in it; he felt that dates were of
no consequence to the story; but Belloc has laid it down that, though
the human motive is the prime factor in history, “the external actions
of men, the sequence in dates and hours of such actions, and their
material conditions and environments must be strictly and accurately
acquired.” There is no need to labor the argument. “The Napoleon of
Notting Hill” is not more unlike “Emanuel Burden” than their two
authors are unlike each other, individually and in what they have

Born at St. Cloud in 1870, Belloc was the son of a French barrister;
his mother, an Englishwoman, was the grand-daughter of Joseph
Priestley, the famous scientist and Unitarian divine. She brought him
over to England after the death of his father, and they made their home
in Sussex, the country that has long since taken hold on his affections
and inspired the best of his poems. I don’t know when he was “living
in the Midlands,” or thereabouts except while he was at Oxford, and
earlier when he was a schoolboy at the Birmingham Oratory and came
under the spell of Cardinal Newman, and I don’t know when he wrote “The
South Country,” but not even Kipling has crowned Sussex more splendidly
than he crowns it in that vigorous and poignant lyric--

  “When I am living in the Midlands,
    That are sodden and unkind,
  I light my lamp in the evening;
    My work is left behind;
  And the great hills of the South Country
    Come back into my mind.

  The great hills of the South Country
    They stand along the sea,
  And it’s there, walking in the high woods,
    That I could wish to be,
  And the men that were boys when I was a boy
    Walking along with me....

  If ever I become a rich man,
    Or if ever I grow to be old,
  I will build a house with a deep thatch
    To shelter me from the cold,
  And there shall the Sussex songs be sung
    And the story of Sussex told.

  I will hold my house in the high wood,
    Within a walk of the sea,
  And the men that were boys when I was a boy
    Shall sit and drink with me.”

Nowadays, he has to some extent realized that desire, for he is settled
at Horsham, in Sussex again, if not within a walk of the sea. But
we are skipping too much, and will go back and attend to our proper
historical “sequence in dates.” His schooldays over, he accepted the
duties of his French citizenship and served his due term in the Army of
France, as driver in an Artillery regiment. These military obligations
discharged, he returned to England, went to Oxford, and matriculated at
Balliol. He ran a dazzling career at Oxford, working assiduously as a
student, carrying off the Brackenbury Scholarship and a First Class in
Honor History Schools, and at the same time reveled joyously with the
robust, gloried in riding and swimming and coruscated brilliantly in
the Union debates. His vivid, dominating personality seems to have made
itself felt among his young contemporaries there as it has since made
itself felt in the larger worlds of literature and politics; though in
those larger worlds his recognition and his achievements have never, so
far, been quite commensurate with his extraordinary abilities or the
tradition of power that has gathered about his name. In literature,
high as he stands, his fame is less than that of men who have not
a tithe of his capacity, and in politics he remains a voice crying
in the wilderness, a leader with no effective following. Perhaps in
politics his fierce sincerity drives him into tolerance, he burns to
do the impossible and change human nature at a stroke, and is too far
ahead of his time for those he would lead to keep pace with him. And
perhaps in literature he lacks some gift of concentration, dissipates
his energies over too many fields, and is too much addicted to the use
of irony, which it has been said, not without reason, is regarded with
suspicion in this country and never understood. Swift is admittedly our
supreme master in that art, and there is nothing more ironic in his
most scathingly ironical work, “Gulliver’s Travels,” than the fact that
Gulliver is only popular as an innocently amusing book for children.

Belloc began quietly enough, in 1895, with a little unimportant book of
“Verses and Sonnets.” He followed this in the next four years with four
delightfully, irresponsibly absurd books of verses and pictures such
as “The Bad Child’s Book of Beasts,” “More Beasts for Worse Children,”
publishing almost simultaneously in 1899 “The Moral Alphabet” and his
notable French Revolution study of “Danton.” In a later year he gave us
simultaneously the caustic, frivolous “Lambkin’s Remains” and his book
on “Paris,” and followed it with his able monograph on “Robespierre.”
It was less unsettling, no doubt, when “Caliban’s Guide to Letters” was
closely succeeded by the first and most powerful of his ironic novels,
“Emanuel Burden,” but serious people have never known where to have
him. He collects his essays under such careless titles as “On Nothing,”
“On Anything,” “This and That,” or simply “On”; and the same year that
found him collaborating with Cecil Chesterton in a bitter attack on
“The Party System,” found him collaborating with Lord Basil Blackwood
in the farcical “More Peers,” and issuing acute technical expositions
of the battles of Blenheim and Malplaquet.

His novels, “Emanuel Burden,” “Mr. Clutterbuck’s Election,” “A Change
in the Cabinet,” “The Mercy of Allah,” and the rest, satirize the
chicanery and humbug rampant in modern commerce, finance, politics, and
general society, and are too much in earnest to attempt to tickle the
ears of the groundlings.

For four years, in the first decade of the century, Belloc sat in
Parliament as Member for Salford, but the tricks, hypocrisies,
insincerities of the politicians disgusted and exasperated him; he
was hampered and suppressed in the House by its archaic forms, and
instead of staying there stubbornly to leaven the unholy lump he came
wrathfully out, washing his hands of it, to attack the Party system
in the Press, and inaugurate _The Witness_ in which he proceeded to
express himself on the iniquities of public life forcefully and with
devastating candor.

No journalist wielded a more potent pen than he through the dark
years of the war. His articles in _Land and Water_ recording the
various phases of the conflict, criticizing the conduct of campaigns,
explaining their course and forecasting developments drew thousands
of readers to sit every week at his feet, and were recognized as the
cleverest, most searching, most informing of all the many periodical
reviews of the war that were then current. That his prophecies were
not always fulfilled meant only that, like all prophets, he was not
infallible. His vision, his intimate knowledge of strategy, his mastery
of the technique of war were amazing--yet not so amazing when you
remember his service in the French Army and that he comes of a race
of soldiers. One of his mother’s forbears was an officer in the Irish
Brigade that fought for France at Fontenoy, and four of his father’s
uncles were among Napoleon’s generals, one of them falling at the head
of his charging troops at Waterloo. It were but natural he should
derive from such stock not merely a love of things military but that
ebullient, overpowering personality which many who come in contact with
him find irresistible.

As poet, he has written three or four things that will remain immortal
in anthologies; as novelist, he has a select niche to himself; “The
Girondin” indicates what he might have become as a sheer romantist, but
he did not pursue that vein; his books of travel, particularly “The
Path to Rome” and “Esto Perpetua,” are unsurpassed in their kind by
any living traveler; as historian, essayist, journalist, he ranks with
the highest of his contemporaries; nevertheless, you are left with a
feeling that the man himself is greater than anything he has done. You
feel that he has been deftly modeling a motley miscellany of statuettes
when he might have been carving a statue; and the only consolation is
that some of the statuettes are infinitely finer than are many statues,
and that, anyhow, he has given, and obviously taken delight in the
making of them.


[Illustration: ARNOLD BENNETT]

If his critics are inclined to write Arnold Bennett down as a man of
great talent instead of as a man of genius, he is himself to blame for
that. He has not grown long hair, nor worn eccentric hats and ties,
not cultivated anything of the unusual appearance and manner that
are vulgarly supposed to denote genius. In his robust, commonsense
conception of the literary character, as well as in certain aspects of
his work, he has affinities with Anthony Trollope.

Trollope used to laugh at the very idea of inspiration; he took to
letters as sedulously and systematically as other men take to farming
or shopkeeping, wrote regularly for three or four hours a day, whether
he was well or ill, at home or abroad, doing in those hours always the
same number of words, and keeping his watch on the table beside him to
regulate his rate of production. He was intolerant of the suggestion
that genius is a mysterious power which controls a man, instead of
being controlled by him, that

  “the spirit bloweth, and is still,”

and the author is dependent on such vagrant moods, and he justified his
opinions and his practices by becoming one of the half dozen greater
Victorian novelists.

I do not say that Arnold Bennett holds exactly the same beliefs and
works in the same mechanical fashion, but that his literary outlook
is as practical and business-like is apparent from “The Truth about
an Author,” from “The Author’s Craft,” “Literary Taste,” and other
of those pocket philosophies that he wrote in the days when he was
pot-boiling, and also from the success with which, in the course of his
career, he has put his own precepts into practice.

The author who is reared in an artistic atmosphere, free from monetary
embarrassments, with social influence enough to smooth his road and
open doors to him, seldom acquires any profound knowledge of life
or develops any remarkable quality. But Bennett had none of these
disadvantages. Nor was he an infant phenomenon, rushing into print
before he was out of his teens; he took his time, and lived awhile
before he began to write about life, and did not adopt literature as
a means of livelihood until he had sensibly made up his mind what he
wanted to do and that he could do it. He was employed in a lawyer’s
office till he was twenty-six, and had turned thirty when he published
his first novel, “A Man from the North.” Meanwhile, he had been writing
stories and articles experimentally, and, having proved his capacity
by selling a sufficient proportion of these to various periodicals,
he threw up the law to go as assistant editor, and afterwards became
editor, of a magazine for women--which may, in a measure, account
for his somewhat cynical views on love and marriage and the rather
pontifical cocksureness with which he often delivers himself on those

In 1900 he emancipated himself from the editorial chair and withdrew
into the country to live quietly and economically and devote himself
to ambitions that he knew he could realize. He had tried his strength
in “A Man from the North,” and settled down now, deliberately and
confidently, to become a novelist and a dramatist; he was out for
success in both callings, and did not mean to be long about getting it,
if not with the highest type of work, then with the most popular. For
he was too eminently practical to have artistic scruples against giving
the public what it wanted if by so doing he might get into a position
for giving it what he wanted it to have. He expresses the sanest,
healthfulest scorn for the superior but unsaleable author who cries
sour grapes and pretends to a preference for an audience fit though few.

“I can divide all the imaginative authors I have ever met,” he has
written, “into two classes--those who admitted and sometimes proclaimed
loudly that they desired popularity; and those who expressed a noble
scorn or a gentle contempt for popularity. The latter, however, always
failed to conceal their envy of popular authors, and this envy was a
phenomenon whose truculent bitterness could not be surpassed even in
political or religious life. And indeed, since the object of the artist
is to share his emotions with others, it would be strange if the
normal artist spurned popularity in order to keep his emotions as much
as possible to himself. An enormous amount of dishonest nonsense has
been and will be written by uncreative critics, of course in the higher
interests of creative authors, about popularity and the proper attitude
of the artist thereto. But possibly the attitude of a first-class
artist himself may prove a more valuable guide.” And he proceeds to
show from his letters how keenly Meredith desired to be popular, and
praises him for compromising with circumstance and turning from the
writing of poetry that did not pay to the writing of prose in the hope
that it would. I doubt whether he would sympathize with any man who
starved for art’s sake when he might have earned good bread and meat in
another calling. The author should write for success, for popularity;
that is his creed: “he owes the practice of elementary commonsense to
himself, to his work, and to his profession at large.”

Bennett was born in 1887, and not for nothing was he born at Hanley,
one of the Five Towns of Staffordshire that he has made famous in
his best stories--a somber, busy, smoky place bristling with factory
chimneys and noted for its potteries. How susceptible he was to the
spell of it, how it made him its own, and how vividly he remembers
traits and idiosyncrasies of local character and all the trivial detail
in the furnishing of its houses and the manners and customs of its
Victorian home-life are evident from his books. He came to London with
the acute commonsense, the mother wit, the shrewd business instinct
and energy of the Hanley manufacturer as inevitably in his blood as if
he had breathed them in with his native air, and he adapted himself to
the manufacture of literature as industriously and straightforwardly
as any of his equally but differently competent fellow-townsmen could
give themselves to the manufacture of pottery. He worked with his
imagination as they worked with their clay; and it was essential with
him, as with them, that the goods he produced should be marketable.

There is always a public for a good story of mystery and sensation so,
in those days when he was feeling his way, he wrote “The Grand Babylon
Hotel,” and did it so thoroughly, so efficiently that it was one of the
cleverest and most original, no less than one of the most successful
things of its kind. In the same year he published “Anna of the Five
Towns,” which was less popular but remains among the best six of his
finer realistic tales of his own people. He followed this with three
or four able enough novels of lesser note; with a wholly admirable
collection of short stories, “The Grim Smile of the Five Towns”; was
busy with those astute, provocative pot-boiling pocket-philosophies,
“Journalism for Women,” “How to Become an Author,” “How to Live on
Twenty-Four Hours a Day,” and the rest; writing dramatic criticisms;
plays, such as “Cupid and Commonsense,” “What the Public Wants”; and,
over the signature of “Jacob Tonson,” one of the most brilliant and
entertaining of weekly literary causeries.

Then, in 1908, he turned out another romance of mystery and sensation,
“Buried Alive,” and in the same year published “The Old Wives’
Tale,” perhaps the greatest of his books, and one that ranked him
unquestionably with the leading novelists of his time. A year later
came “Clayhanger,” the first volume in the trilogy which was continued,
in 1911, with “Hilda Lessways,” and completed, after a delay of five
years, with “They Twain.” This trilogy, with “The Old Wives’ Tale,”
and the much more recent “Mr. Prohack,” are Arnold Bennett’s highest
achievements in fiction. The first four are stories of disillusion;
the romance of them is the drab, poignant romance of unideal love and
disappointed marriage, and the humor of them is sharply edged with
irony and satire. In “Mr. Prohack” Bennett returns to the more genial
mood of “The Card” (1911). Prohack is a delightful, almost a lovable
creation, and the Card, with his dry, dour humor, for all his practical
hardheadedness, is scarcely less so.

Unlike most men, who set out to do one thing and end by doing another,
Bennett laid down the plan of his career and has carried it out
triumphantly. He is a popular novelist, but, though he cheerfully
stooped to conquer and did a lot of miscellaneous writing by the
way, while he was building his reputation, the novels that have made
him popular are among the masterpieces of latter-day realistic art.
And with “Milestones” (in collaboration with Edward Knoblauch) and
“The Great Adventure,” to say nothing of his seven or eight other
plays, he is a successful dramatist. His versatility is as amazing
as his industry. It may be all a matter of talent and commonsense
perseverance but he seems to do whatever he chooses with an ease
and a brilliance that is very like genius. His list of nearly sixty
volumes includes essays, dramas, short stories, several kinds of novel,
books of criticism and of travel; he paints deftly and charmingly in
water-colors; and if he has written no poetry it is probably because he
is too practical to trifle with what is so notoriously unprofitable,
for if he decided to write some you may depend upon it he could. He
has analyzed “Mental Efficiency” and “The Human Machine” in two of his
little books of essays, and illustrated both in his life.



There seems to be something in the atmosphere of the manse and the
vicarage that has a notable effect of developing in many who breathe
it a capacity for writing fiction. Not a few authors have been cradled
into literature by the Law, Medicine and the Army, but as a literary
incubator no profession can vie with the Church. If it has produced no
poet of the highest rank, it gave us Donne, Herrick, Herbert, Crashaw,
Young, Crabbe, and a multitude of lesser note, and if it has yielded
no greater novelists than Sterne and Kingsley, it has fostered a vast
number that have, in their day, made up in popularity for what they
lacked in genius.

Moreover, when the parsons themselves have proved immune to that
peculiarity of the clerical environment, it has wrought magically upon
their children, and an even longer list could be made, including such
great names as Goldsmith, Jane Austen and the Brontes, of the sons and
daughters of parsons who have done good or indifferent work as poets or
as novelists.

Most of the novelists moulded by such early influences have leaned
rather to ideal or to glamorously or grimly romantic than to plainly
realistic interpretations of life and character, and J. D. Beresford
is so seldom romantic, or idealistic, so often realistically true
to secular and unregenerate aspects of human nature, that, if he did
not draw his clerical characters with such evident inside knowledge,
you would not suspect that in his beginnings he had been subject
to the limitations and repressions that necessarily obtain in an
ecclesiastical household.

He was born in Castor rectory, and his father was a minor canon and
precentor of Peterborough Cathedral, and, if it pleases you, you can
play with a theory that the stark realism with which he handles the
facts, even the uglier facts, of modern life is either a reaction from
the narrow horizon that cramped his youthful days, or that the outlook
of the paternal rectory was broader than the outlook of rectories
usually is.

After an education at Oundel, and at King’s School, Peterborough, he
was apprenticed, first to an architect in the country, then to one
in London; but before long he abandoned architecture to go into an
insurance office, and left that to take up a post with W. H. Smith &
Son, in the Strand where he became a sort of advertising expert and was
placed at the head of a bookselling department with a group of country
travellers under his control.

Before he was half-way through his teens, he had been writing stories
which were not published and can never now be brought against him,
for he is shrewdly self-critical and all that juvenilia has been
ruthlessly destroyed. He was contributing to _Punch_ in 1908, and
a little later had become a reviewer on the staff of that late and
much lamented evening paper the _Westminster Gazette_. Among the
destroyed juvenilia was more than one novel. In what leisure he could
get from his advertising and reviewing, he was busy on another which
was not destined to that inglorious end. For though “Jacob Stahl” was
rejected by the first prominent publisher to whom it was offered,
because, strangely enough, he considered it old-fashioned, it was
promptly accepted by the second, and its publication in 1911 was the
real beginning of Beresford’s literary career. Had it been really
old-fashioned, it would have delighted the orthodox reading public,
which is always the majority, but its appeal was rather to the new
and more advanced race of readers, and though its sales were not
astonishing, its mature narrative skill and sound literary qualities
were unhesitatingly recognized by the discriminating; it gave him
a reputation, and has held its ground and gone on selling steadily
ever since. One felt the restrained power of the book, alike in the
narrative and in the intimate realization of character; its careful
artistry did not bid for popularity, but it ranked its author, at once,
as a novelist who was considerably more than the mere teller of a
readable tale.

“Jacob Stahl” was the first volume in a trilogy (the other two
being “A Candidate for Truth” and “The Invisible Event”)--a trilogy
which unfolds a story of common life that might easily have been
throbbing with sentiment and noisy with melodramatic sensation; in
Mr. Beresford’s reticent hands, however, it is never overcharged
with either, but is touched only with the natural emotions, subdued
excitements, unexaggerated poignancies of feeling that are experienced
by such men and women as we know in the world as we know it.

Meredith, in “The Invisible Event,” rather grudgingly praises Jacob
Stahl’s first novel, “John Tristram,” as good realistic fiction of
the school of Madame Bovary. “It’s a recognized school,” Meredith
continued. “I don’t quite know any one in England who’s doing it, but
it’s recognized in France, of course. I don’t quite know how to define
it, but perhaps the main distinction is in the choice of the typical
incidents and emotions. The realists don’t concentrate on the larger
emotions, you see--quite the reverse; they find the common feelings
and happenings of everyday life more representative. You may have a
big scene, but the essential thing is the accurate presentation of the
commonplace.” “Yes, I think that is pretty much what I _have_ tried to
do,” commented Jacob. “I think that’s what interests me. It’s what I
know of life. I’ve never murdered any one, for instance, or talked to
a murderer, and I don’t know how it feels, or what one would do in a
position of that sort.”

That is perhaps a pretty fair statement of Beresford’s own aim as
a novelist; he prefers to exercise his imagination on what he has
observed of life, or on what he has personally experienced of it. And
no doubt the “Jacob Stahl” trilogy draws much of its convincing air
of truthfulness from the fact that it is largely autobiographical.
In the first volume, the baby Jacob, owing to the carelessness of
a nursemaid, meets with an accident that cripples him for the first
fifteen years of his existence; and just such an accident in childhood
befell Mr. Beresford himself. In due course, after toying with the
thought of taking holy orders, Jacob becomes an architect’s pupil. “A
Candidate for Truth” shows him writing short stories the magazines will
not accept, and working on a novel, but before anything can be done
with this, the erratic Cecil Barker gets tired of patronizing him and,
driven to earn a livelihood, he takes a situation in an advertising
agency and develops into an expert at writing advertisements. Then,
having revised and rewritten his novel, he is dissatisfied with it
and burns it. He does not begin to conquer his irresolutions and win
some confidence in himself until after his disastrous marriage and
separation from his wife, when he comes under the influence of the
admirable Betty Gale, who loves him and defies the conventions to help
him make the best of himself. Then he gets on to the reviewing staff
of a daily newspaper, and writes another novel, “John Tristram,” and
after one publisher has rejected it as old-fashioned, another accepts
and publishes it, and though it brings him little money or glory, it
starts him on the road to success, and he makes it the first volume of
a trilogy.

Where autobiography ends and fiction begins in these three stories
is of no importance; what is not literally true in them is so
imaginatively realized that it seems as truthful. Philip of “God’s
Counterpoint,” who was injured by an accident in boyhood is a
pathological case; there are surrenderings to the morbid and abnormal
in “Housemates,” one of the somberest of Beresford’s novels, and
in that searching and poignant study in degeneracy, “The House in
Demetrius Road”; but if these are more powerful in theme and more
brilliant in workmanship they have not the simple, everyday actuality
of the trilogy; they get their effects by violence, or by the subtle
analysis of bizarre, unusual or unpleasant attributes of humanity,
and the strength and charm of the Stahl stories, are that, without
subscribing to the conventions, they keep to the common highway on
which average men and women live and move and have their being. This
is the higher and more masterly achievement, as it is more difficult
to paint a portrait when the sitter is a person of ordinary looks than
when he has marked peculiarities of features that easily distinguish
him from the general run of mankind.

Although, in his time, Mr. Beresford was an advertising expert he has
never acquired the gift of self-advertisement; but he found himself and
was found by critics and the public while he still counted as one of
our younger novelists and had been writing for less than a decade.

He has a subdued humor that is edged with irony, and can write with
a lighter touch, as he shows in “The Jervase Comedy” and some of
his short stories; and though one deprecates his excursions into
eccentricities of psychology, for the bent of his genius is so
evidently toward portraying what Meredith described to Stahl as the
representative “feelings and happenings of everyday life,” one feels
that he is more handicapped by his reticences than by his daring. He is
so conscious an artist that he tones down all crudities of coloring,
yet the color of life is often startlingly crude. An occasional streak
of melodrama, a freer play of sentiment and motion would add to the
vitality of his scenes and characters and intensify their realism
instead of taking anything from it; but his native reticence would seem
to forbid this and he cannot let himself go. And because he cannot let
himself go he has not yet gone beyond the Jacob Stahl series, which,
clever and cunninger art though some of his other work may be, remains
the truest and most significant thing he has done.


[Illustration: JOHN BUCHAN]

I have heard people express surprise that such a born romantist as John
Buchan has turned his mind successfully to practical business, and been
for so long an active partner in the great publishing house of Thomas
Nelson & Sons. But there is really nothing at all surprising about
that. One of the essays in his “Some Eighteenth Century Byways” speaks
of “the incarnation of youth and the eternal Quixotic which, happily
for Scotland, lie at the back of all her thrift and prudence”; and in
another, on “Mr. Balfour as a Man of Letters”, he says, “the average
Scot, let it never be forgotten, is incorrigibly sentimental; at
heart he would rather be ‘kindly’ and ‘innerly’ than ‘canny,’ and his
admiration is rather for Burns, who had none of the reputed national
characteristics, than for Adam Smith, who had them all.” He adds that
though Scotsmen perfectly understand the legendary Caledonian, though
“in theory they are all for dry light ‘a hard, gem-like flame,’ in
practice they like the glow from more turbid altars.”

Having that dual personality himself, it is not incongruous that
John Buchan should be at once a poet, a romantic and a shrewd man of
affairs. But he is wrong in thinking the nature he sketches is peculiar
to his countrymen, the Scots; it is as characteristically English.
Indeed, I should not count him among practical men if he had not
proved himself one by doing more practical things than publishing; for
publishing is essentially a romantic calling as you may suspect if you
consider the number of authors who have taken to it, and the number of
publishers who have become authors. Scott felt the lure of the trade,
in the past, and in the present you have J. D. Beresford working at
it with Collins & Sons; Frank Swinnerton first with Dent, now with
Chatto & Windus; Frederick Watson, a brilliant writer of romances and
of modern social comedy, with Nisbet; Michael Sadleir with Constable;
C. E. Lawrence, most fantastic and idealistic of novelists, with John
Murray; Roger Ingram, writing with authority on Shelley and making
fine anthologies, but disguised as one of the partners in Selwyn and
Blount; Alec Waugh, joining that admirable essayist his father, Arthur
Waugh, with Chapman & Hall; C. S. Evans, whose “Nash and Others” may
stand on the shelf by Kenneth Grahame’s “Golden Age,” with Heinemanns;
B. W. Matz, the Dickens enthusiast and author of many books about him,
running in harness with Cecil Palmer; you have Grant Richards writing
novels that are clever enough to make some of his authors wonder why
he publishes theirs; Sir Ernest Hodder-Williams, an author, with at
least half-a-dozen successful books to his name; Herbert Jenkins, a
popular humorist and doing sensational detective stories; Sir Algernon
Methuen developing a passion for compiling excellent anthologies of
poetry--and there are others.

But here is enough to show that Buchan need not think he is
demonstrating his Scottish practicality by going in for publishing. As
a fact, I have always felt that publishing should be properly classed
as a sport. It is more speculative than racing and I do not see how any
man on the Turf can get so much excitement and uncertainty by backing
a horse as he could get by backing a new book. You can form a pretty
reliable idea of what a horse is capable of before you put your money
on it, but for the publisher, more often than not, it is all a game of
chance, since whether he wins or loses depends less on the quality of
the book than on the taste of the public, which is uncalculable. So
when Buchan went publishing he was merely starting to live romance as
well as to write it.

A son of the manse, he was born in 1875, and going from Edinburgh
University to Brasenose, Oxford, he took the Newdigate Prize there,
with other more scholarly distinctions, and became President of the
Union. Even in those early days he developed a love of sport, and found
recreation in mountaineering, deer-stalking and fishing. His enthusiasm
for the latter expressed itself in the delightful verses of “Musa
Piscatrix,” which appeared in 1896, while he was still at Oxford, his
first novel, “Sir Quixote,” a vigorous romance somewhat in the manner
of Stevenson, who was then at the height of his career, having given
him prominence among new authors a year earlier. I recollect the
glowing things that were said of one of his finest, most brilliantly
imaginative romances, “John Burnet of Barns,” in 1898, and with the
fame of that going before him he came to London. There he studied law
in the Middle Temple, and was called to the Bar, but seems to have been
busier with literary and journalistic than with legal affairs, for
two more books, “Grey Weather” and “A Lost Lady of Old Years” came in
1889; “The Half-Hearted” in 1900, and meanwhile he was occupied with
journalism and contributing stories to the magazines.

Then for two years he sojourned in South Africa as private secretary
to Lord Milner, the High Commissioner. Two books about the present and
future of the Colony were the outcome of that excursion into diplomacy;
and better still, his South African experiences prompted him a little
later to write that remarkable romance of “Prester John,” the cunning,
clever Zulu who, turned Christian evangelist, professes to be the old
legendary Prester John reincarnate, and while he is ostensibly bent
on converting the natives, is fanning a flame of patriotism in their
chiefs and stirring them to rise against the English and create again
a great African empire. Here, and in “John Burnet of Barns,” and in
some of the short stories of “The Watcher by the Threshold” and “The
Moon Endureth,” John Buchan reaches, I think, his high-water mark as a
weaver of romance.

After his return from South Africa he joined the staff of the
_Spectator_, reviewing and writing essays for it and doing a certain
amount of editorial work. At least, I deduce the latter fact from the
statement of one who had the best means of knowing. If you look up “The
Brain of the Nation,” by Charles L. Graves, who was then assistant
editor of the _Spectator_, you will find among the witty and humorous
poems in that volume a complete biography of John Buchan in neat and
lively verse, telling how he came up to town from Oxford, settled down
to the law, went to Africa, returned and became a familiar figure in
the _Spectator’s_ old offices in Wellington Street:

  “Ev’ry Tuesday morn careering
    Up the stairs with flying feet,
  You’d burst in upon us, cheering
    Wellington’s funereal street....

  Pundit, publicist and jurist;
    Statistician and divine;
  Mystic, mountaineer, and purist
    In the high financial line;
  Prince of journalistic sprinters--
    Swiftest that I ever knew--
  Never did you keep the printers
    Longer than an hour or two.

  Then, too, when the final stages
    Of our weekly task drew nigh,
  You would come and pass the pages
    With a magisterial eye,
  Seldom pausing, save to smoke a
    Cigarette at half past one,
  When you quaffed a cup of Mocha
    And devoured a penny bun.”

The War turned those activities into other channels, and after being
rejected by the army as beyond the age limit, he worked strenuously in
Kitchener’s recruiting campaign, then served as Lieutenant-Colonel on
the British Headquarters Staff in France, and subsequently as Director
of Information. The novels he wrote in those years, “The Power House,”
“The Thirty-nine Steps,” “Greenmantle,” and “Mr. Standfast,” were
written as a relief from heavier duties. They are stories of mystery
and intrigue as able and exciting as any of their kind. “Greenmantle,”
he says in a preface, was “scribbled in every kind of odd place and
moment--in England and abroad, during long journeys, in half hours
between graver tasks.” He was present throughout the heroic fighting on
the Somme, and his official positions at the front and at home gave him
exceptional opportunities of seeing things for himself and obtaining
first-hand information for his masterly “History of the War,” which
will give him rank as a historian beside Kinglake and Napier.

With “The Path of the King,” and more so with “Huntingtower,” he is
back in his native air of romance, and one hopes he will leave the
story of plot and sensation to other artists and stay there.

Like all romancists, he is no unqualified lover of the democracy; it is
too lacking in picturesqueness, in grace and glamor to be in harmony
with his temperament. He belongs in spirit to the days when heroism
walked in splendor and war was glorious. He has laid it down that the
“denunciation of war rests at bottom upon a gross materialism. The
horrors of war are obvious enough; but it may reasonably be argued that
they are not greater than the horrors of peace ... the true way in
which to ennoble war is not to declare it in all its forms the work of
the devil, but to emphasize the spiritual and idealist element which
it contains. It is a kind of national sacrament, a grave matter into
which no one can enter lightly and for which all are responsible, more
especially in these days when wars are not the creation of princes and
statesmen but of peoples. War, on such a view, can only be banished
from the world by debasing human nature.”

That is the purely romantic vision. Since 1914, Buchan’s experiences of
War and the horrors of peace that result from it may have modified his
earlier opinions.

Anyhow, it is a wonderful theme for romance when it is far enough
away. It shows at its best in such chivalrous tales of adventure and
self-sacrifice as have gathered round the gallant figure of the Young
Pretender. You know from his books that John Buchan is steeped in the
lore of the Jacobites and sensitive to the spell of “old songs and lost
romances.” Dedicating “The Watcher by the Threshold” to Stair Agnew
Gillon, he says, “It is of the back-world of Scotland that I write, the
land behind the mist and over the seven bens, a place hard of access
for the foot-passengers but easy for the maker of stories.” One owns
to a wish that the author of “John Barnet of Barns” would now set his
genius free from the squabble and squalor of present-day politics (by
the way, he once put up for Parliament but fortunately did not get in)
and write that great story of the ’45 which he hints elsewhere has
never yet been written.


[Illustration: DONN BYRNE]

There are more gods than any man is aware of, and there is really
more virtue in discovering a new one, and catching him young, than in
deferring your tribute until he is old and so old-established that all
the world has recognized him for what he is. You may say that Donn
Byrne is not a god of modern Grub Street, but you can take it from me
that he is going to be. He has all the necessary attributes and is
climbing to his due place in the hierarchy so rapidly that he will have
arrived there soon after you are reading what I have to say about him.

There is a general idea that he is an American; unless an author stops
at home mistakes of that kind are sure to happen. People take it for
granted that he belongs where he happens to be living when they find
him. Henry James had lived among us so long that he was quite commonly
taken for an Englishman even before he became naturalized during the
War. The same fate is overtaking Ezra Pound; he is the chief writer
of a sort of poetry that is being largely written in his country and
in ours, and because he has made his home with us for many years he
is generally regarded here as a native. On the other hand, Richard
Le Gallienne left us and has passed so large a part of his life in
the United States that most of us are beginning to think of him as an

The mistake is perhaps more excusable in the case of Donn Byrne, for
he was born at New York in 1889, but before he was three months old he
was brought over to Ireland which ought to have been his birthplace,
since his father was an architect there. He was educated at Trinity
College, Dublin, and when he was not improving his mind was developing
his muscles; he went in enthusiastically for athletics, and in his time
held the light-weight boxing championships for Dublin University and
for Ulster. He knows all about horses, too, and can ride with the best,
and has manifested a more than academic interest in racing. In fact, he
has taken a keen interest in whatever was going on in the life around
him wherever he has been, and he has been about the world a good deal,
and turned his hand to many things. There is something Gallic as well
as Gaelic in his wit, his vivacity, his swiftly varying moods. He is no
novelist who has done all his traveling in books and dug up his facts
about strange countries in a reference library. When he deals with
ships his characters are not such as keep all the while in the saloon
cabin; they are the ship’s master and the sailors, and you feel there
is a knowledge of the sea behind them when he gets them working; and
if he had not been an athlete himself he could not have described with
such vigor and realistic gusto that great fight between Shane Campbell
and the wrestler from Aleppo in “The Wind Bloweth.”

How much of personal experience has gone into his novels is probably
more than he could say himself. But when he is picturing any place that
his imaginary people visit, you know from a score of casual, intimate
touches that he, too, has been there, and is remembering it while he
writes. Take this vivid sketch of Marseilles, for example:

“Obvious and drowsy it might seem, but once he went ashore, the
swarming, teeming life of it struck Shane like a current of air. Along
the quays, along the Cannebière, was a riot of color and nationality
unbelievable from aboard ship. Here were Turks, dignified and shy. Here
were Greeks, wary, furtive. Here were Italians, Genoese, Neapolitans,
Livornians, droll, vivacious, vindictive. Here were Moors, here were
Algerians, black African folk, sneering, inimical. Here were Spaniards,
with their walk like a horse’s lope. Here were French business men,
very important. Here were Provencals, cheery, short, tubby, excitable,
olive-colored, black-bearded, calling to one another in the _langue
d’oc_ of the troubadors, _’Te, mon bon! Commoun as? Quezaco?_”

There is that same sense of seeing things in the glamorous description
of the Syrian city where Shane lived with the Arab girl he had married;
and in the hasty outline of Buenos Aires:

“Here now was a city growing rich, ungracefully--a city of arrogant
Spanish colonists, of poverty-stricken immigrants, of down-trodden
lower classes ... a city of riches ... a city of blood.... Here mud,
here money.... Into a city half mud hovels, half marble-fronted
houses, gauchos drove herd upon herd of cattle, baffled, afraid. Here
Irish drove streams of gray bleating sheep. Here ungreased bullock
carts screamed. From the bluegrass pampas they drove them, where the
birds sang and waters rippled, where was the gentleness of summer rain,
where was the majesty of great storms.... And by their thousands and
their tens of thousands they drove them into Buenos Aires, and slew
them for their hides....”

That was the Buenos Aires of Shane’s day, in the Victorian era; but in
essentials it was probably as Donn Byrne saw it. For when he was about
twenty-two he quitted Ireland and went back to America, and presently
made his way to Buenos Aires to get married. His wife is the well-known
dramatist Dolly Byrne who wrote with the actress Gilda Varesi, the
delightful comedy “Enter Madam,” which has had long runs in London and
in New York.

It was during this second sojourn in the States that Donn Byrne settled
down seriously to literary work. He says he began by contributing to
American magazines some of the world’s worst poetry, which he has never
collected into a volume; but he is given to talking lightly of his
own doings and you cannot take him at his own valuation. One of the
poems, at least, on the San Francisco earthquake, appropriately enough,
made something of a noise and was reprinted in the _United Irishman_,
but Ireland had not then become such a furious storm-center and an
earthquake was still enough to excite it. Before long he was making a
considerable reputation with his short stories, and a collection of
these, “Stories Without Heroes,” was his first book.

But he will tell you he does not like that book and will not have it
reprinted. He says the same about his first novel, “The Stranger’s
Banquet,” though it met with a very good reception and had a sale that
many successful authors would envy. Then followed in succession three
novels that are original enough in style and idea and fine enough in
quality to establish the reputation of any man--“The Wind Bloweth,”
“Messer Marco Polo,” and “The Foolish Matrons.” These were all written
and published in America, and America knew how to appreciate them. The
third enjoyed such a vogue that we became aware of him in England and
the second, then the first, in quick succession, were published in this
country, and “The Foolish Matron” is, at this writing, about to make
its appearance here also. And with his new-won fame Donn Byrne came
home and is settled among his own people--unless a wandering fit has
taken him again before this can be printed.

The beauty and charm of that old-time romance of the great Venetian
adventurer, “Messer Marco Polo,” are not easily defined; different
critics tried to shape a definition of it by calling it fascinating,
fantastic, clever, witty, strangely beautiful, a thing for laughter and
tears, and I think they were all right; and that the book owes its
success as much to the racy humor, the vision and emotional power with
which it is written as to the stir and excitement of the story itself.
Half the books you read, even when they greatly interest you, have a
certain coldness in them as if they had been built up from the outside
and drew no warmth from the hearts of their writers; but “Messer Marco
Polo” glows and is alive with personality, it is not written after the
manner of any school, but it is as full of eager, vital, human feeling
as if the author had magically distilled himself into it and were
speaking from its pages.

That is part of the secret, too, of the charm of his more realistically
romantic “The Wind Bloweth.” You are convinced, as you read, that
those early chapters telling how the boy Shane gets a holiday on his
thirteenth birthday and goes alone up into the mountains to see the
Dancing Town in the haze over the sea, are a memory of his own boyhood
in Ireland. From the peace and fantasy of that beginning in the Ulster
hills, from an unsympathetic mother and his two quaint, lovable uncles,
Shane, at his own ardent desire, goes to knock about the world as a
seafarer, and, always with the simplicity and idealism of his boyhood
to lead and mislead him, is by-and-by tricked into marrying the cold
southern Irish girl who dies after a year or so, and, his love for
her having died before, he can feel no grief but only a strange dumb
wonder. Then, while his trading ship is at Marseilles, he meets the
beautiful, piteous Claire-Anne, and their lawless, perfect love ends
in tragedy. After another interval, comes the episode of his charming
little Moslem wife, and he loses her because he never understands
that she loves him not for his strength but for his weakness. Thrice
he meets with disillusion, but retains his simplicity, his idealism
throughout, and is never really disillusioned; and it is when he is in
Buenos Aires again that the kind, placid, large-hearted “easy” Swedish
woman, Hedda Hages, gives him the truth, and makes clear to him what
she means when she says, “No, Shane, I don’t think you know much about

And it is not till his hair is graying that he arrives at the true
romance and the ideal happiness at last. The story is neither planned
nor written on conventional lines; you sense the tang of a brogue in
its nervous English, which is continually flowering into exquisite
felicities of phrase, and it lays bare the heart and mind of a man with
a most sensitive understanding. It is a sort of Pilgrim’s Progress, and
Shane Campbell is a desperately human pilgrim, who drifts into danger
and disasters, and stumbles often, before he drops his burden and finds
his way, or is led by strange influences, into the City Beautiful.

I daresay Donn Byrne will laugh to discover that I have put him among
the gods; he is that sort of man. But it is possible for others to know
him better than he knows himself. Abou Ben Adhem was surprised you
recollect, when he noticed that Gabriel had recorded his name so high
in the list of those that were worthy; and though I am no Gabriel I
know a hawk from a handsaw when the wind is in the right quarter.



The lives of most modern poets would make rather tame writing, which is
possibly why so much modern poetry makes rather tame reading. It is a
pleasant enough thing to go from a Public School to a University, then
come to London, unlock at once a few otherwise difficult doors with the
_open sesame_ of effective introductions, and settle down to a literary
career; but it leaves one with a narrow outlook, a limited range of
ideas, little of personal experience to write about. Fortunately W. H.
Davies never enjoyed these comfortable disadvantages. He did not come
into his kingdom by any nicely paved highroads, but over rough ground
by thorny ways that, however romantic they may seem to look back upon,
must have seemed hard and bitter and sufficiently hopeless at times
while he was struggling through them.

There is nothing to say of his schooling, except that it amounted to
little and was not good; but later he learned more by meeting the hard
facts of life and by desultory reading than any master could have
taught him. Born at Newport, Monmouthshire, in 1870, he was put to the
picture-frame making trade, and went from that to miscellaneous farm
work. But work, he once confessed to me, is among the things for which
he has never had a passion, and a legacy from a grandfather gave him
an interval of liberty. This grandfather, with a sensible foresight,
left him only a small sum in ready cash, but, in addition, the interest
on an investment that produced a steady eight shillings a week. With
the cash Davies went to America, and saw as much of that country as
he could as long as the money lasted. Then he subdued his dislike of
manual labor and did odd jobs on fruit farms; wearied of this and went
on tramp, and picked up much out-of-the-way knowledge of the world and
of men from the tramps he fell in with during his roamings. Presently,
he got engaged as a hand on a cattle-boat, and as such made several
voyages to England and back.

At length, getting back to America just when the gold rush for Klondike
was at its height, he was seized with a yearning to go North and try
his luck as a digger. The price of that long journey being beyond his
means, he followed a common example and tried to “jump” a train, fell
under the wheels in the attempt and was so badly injured that he lost
a foot in that enterprise and had to make a slow recovery in hospital.
When he was well enough, his family sent out and carried him home into

But he could not be contented there. Although he says himself that he
became a poet at thirty-four (when his first book was published), the
fact is, of course, he has been a poet all his life and through all
his wanderings was storing up memories and impressions of nature and
human nature that live again now in vivid lines and phrases of his
verse and prose. He had already written poems, and sent them to various
periodicals in vain, and had a feeling that if he could be at the
center of things, in London, fortune and fame as a poet might be within
his reach.

So to London he came, early in the century, and took up residence
in a common lodging-house at Southwark, his eight shillings a week
sufficing to pay his rent and keep him in food. The magazines remaining
obdurate, he collected his poems into a book, and started to look for a
publisher. But the publishers were equally unencouraging, till he found
one who was prepared to publish provided Davies contributed twenty
pounds toward the cost of the adventure. Satisfied that, once out, the
book would quickly yield him profits, he asked the trustees who paid
him his small dividends to advance the amount and retain his income
until they had recouped themselves. They, however, being worldly-wise,
compromised by saying that if he would do without his dividends for
some six months, when ten pounds would be due, they would pay him that
sum and advance a further ten, paying him no more till the second ten
was duly refunded.

This offer he accepted; and he tramped the country as a pedlar, selling
laces, needles and pins, and occasionally singing in the streets for
a temporary livelihood. When the six months were past he returned to
London, took up his old quarters at the lodging-house, drew the twenty
pounds, and before long “The Soul’s Destroyer and Other Poems” made
its appearance. But so far from putting money in his purse, it was
received with complete indifference. Fifty copies went out for review,
but not a single review was given to it anywhere. No publisher’s name
was on the title page, but an announcement that the book was to be had,
for half-a-crown, “of the Author, Farmhouse, Marshalsea Road, S.E.,”
and possibly this conveyed an impression of unimportance that resulted
in its remaining unread. After a week or so, seeing himself with no
money coming in for the next few months, the author became desperate.
He compiled from “Who’s Who,” at a public library, a list of people who
might be expected to take an interest in poetry, and posted a copy of
his book to each with a request that, if it seemed worth the money, he
would remit the half-crown.

One of the earliest went to a journalist who was, in those days,
connected with the _Daily Mail_. He read it at once and recognized
that though there were crudities and even doggerel in it, there was
also in it some of the freshest and most magical poetry to be found
in modern books. Mingled with grimly realistic pictures of life and
character in the doss-house were songs of the field and the wayside
written with all Clare’s minute knowledge of nature and with something
of the imagination and music of Blake. Being a journalist, he did not
miss the significance of this book issuing from a common lodging-house
(and one, by the way, that is described in a sketch of Dickens’), could
easily read a good deal of the poet’s story between the lines of his
poems, promptly forwarded his remittance and asked Davies to meet him.
Not sure that he would be welcome at the doss-house, he suggested a
rendezvous on the north of London Bridge, and a few evenings later the
meeting came about at Finch’s a tavern in Bishopsgate Street Within.
“To help you to identify me,” Davies had written, “I will have a copy
of my book sticking out of my pocket”; and there he was--a short,
sturdy young man, uncommunicative at first, as shy as a squirrel,
bright-eyed, soft of speech, and with a general air about him of some
woodland creature lost and uneasy in a place of crowds. By degrees his
shyness diminished, and in the course of a two hours’ session in that
bar he unfolded the whole of his story without reserve. Then said the
journalist, “If I merely review your book it will not sell a dozen
copies, but if you will let me combine with a review an absolutely
frank narrative of your career I have an idea we can rouse public
interest to some purpose.”

This permission being given, such an article duly appeared in the news
columns of the _Daily Mail_, and the results were more astonishing
than any one could have foreseen. Not only did the gentle reader begin
to send in money for copies, but ladies called at the doss-house and
left At Home cards which their recipient was much too reticent to act
upon. Editors who had ignored and probably lost their review copies
sent postal orders for the book and lauded it in print; illustrated
papers sent photographers and interviewers; a party of critics, having
now bought and read the poems, made a pilgrimage to the Farmhouse, and
departed to write of the man and his poetry. After a second article
in the _Mail_ had recounted these and other astonishing happenings,
a literary agent wrote urging Davies to entrust him with all his
remaining copies and he could sell them for him at half-a-guinea and a
guinea apiece.

His advice was taken, and the last of the edition of five hundred
copies went off quickly at these prices. So enriched, the poet quitted
his lodging-house and went home into Wales for a holiday, and while
there began the first of his prose books, “The Autobiography of a
Super-Tramp,” which was published in 1908 with an introduction by
George Bernard Shaw. Meanwhile, Davies had written two other volumes
of verse, and his recognition as one of the truest, most individual
of living lyrists was no longer in doubt. Mr. Shaw notes of his prose
that it has not the academic correctness dear to the Perfect Commercial
Letter Writer, but is “worth reading by literary experts for its
style alone”; and much the same may be said of his poetry. It is not
flawless, but its faults are curiously in harmony with its unstudied
simplicity and often strangely heighten the beauty of thought and
language to which verses flower as carelessly as if he thought and said
his finest things by accident. He has the countryman’s intimacy with
Nature--not for nothing did he work on farms, tramp the open roads,
sleep under the naked sky--knows all her varying moods, has observed
trivial significances in her that the deliberate student overlooks; and
he writes of her with an Elizabethan candor and fantasy and a natural,
simple diction that is an art in Wordsworth. He has made a selection
from his several volumes in a Collected Edition, but has published
other verse since. For some years after his success he lived in London,
but never seemed at home; he has no liking for streets and shrinks from
crowds; and now has withdrawn again into the country, where our ultra
modern Georgian poets who, despite the fact that he is in the tradition
of the great lyrists of the past, were constrained to embrace him as
one of themselves, are less likely to infect him with their artifices.


[Illustration: WALTER DE LA MARE]

Except in the personal sense--and the charm of his gracious personality
would surely surround him with friends, whether he wanted them or
not--Walter de la Mare is, like Hardy, a lonely figure in modern
English poetry--no other poet of our time has a place more notably
apart from his contemporaries. You might almost read an allegory of
this aloofness into his “Myself”:

  “There is a garden grey
  With mists of autumntide;
  Under the giant boughs,
  Stretched green on every side,

  “Along the lonely paths,
  A little child like me,
  With face, with hands like mine,
  Plays ever silently....

  “And I am there alone:
  Forlornly, silently,
  Plays in the evening garden
  Myself with me.”

only that one knows he is happy enough and not forlorn in his
aloneness. You may trace, perhaps, here and there in his verse elusive
influences of Coleridge, Herrick, Poe, the songs of Shakespeare, or,
now and then, in a certain brave and good use of colloquial language,
of T. E. Brown, but such influences are so slight and so naturalized
into his own distinctive manner that it is impossible to link him
up with the past and say he is descended from any predecessor, as
Tennyson was from Keats. More than with any earlier poetry, his verse
has affinities with the prose of Charles Lamb--of the Lamb who wrote
the tender, wistful “Dream-Children” and the elvishly grotesque,
serious-humorous “New Year’s Eve”--who was sensitively wise about
witches and night-fears, and could tell daintily or playfully of the
little people, fairy or mortal. But the association is intangible; he
is more unlike Lamb than he is like him. And when you compare him with
poets of his day there is none that resembles him; he is alone in his
garden. He has had imitators, but they have failed to imitate him, and
left him to his solitude.

It is true, as Spencer has it, that

  “sheep herd together, eagles fly alone,”

and he has this in common with the lord of the air, that he has
never allied himself with any groups or literary cliques; yet his
work is so authentic and so modern, so free of the idiosyncracies of
any period, that our self-centered, self-conscious school of “new”
poets, habitually intolerant of all who move outside their circle, are
constrained to keep a door wide open for him and are glad to have him
sitting down with them in their anthologies.

But he did not enter into his own promptly, or without fighting for
it. He was born in 1873; and had known nearly twenty years of

  “that dry drudgery at the desk’s dead wood”

in a city office, before he shook the dust of such business from his
feet and began to win a livelihood as a free-lance journalist. One is
apt to speak of journalism as if it were an exact calling, like that of
the watchmaker; but “journalism” is a portmanteau word which embraces
impartially the uninspired records of the junior reporter and the
delightful social essays and sketches of Robert Lynd; the witty gossip
of a “Beachcomber,” and the dull but very superior oracles of a J. A.
Spender. Not any of these, but reviewing was the branch of this trade
to which de la Mare devoted himself, and his reviews in the _Saturday
Westminster_, _Bookman_, _Times Literary Supplement_, and elsewhere,
clothed so fine a critical faculty in the distinction of style which
betrays his hand in all he has written that, his reputation growing
accordingly, the reviewer for a time overshadowed the poet; for though
he did much of it anonymously his work could be identified by the
discerning as easily as can the characteristic, unsigned paintings of a

Too often, in such a case, the journalist ends by destroying the
author; dulls his imagination, dissipates his moods, replaces his
careless raptures with a mechanical efficiency; makes him a capable
craftsman, and unmakes him as an artist. But de la Mare seems to
have learned how to put his heart into journalism without letting
journalism get into his heart; I have seen no review of his that has
the mark of the hack upon it; his mind was not “like the dyers hand”
subdued to what it worked in. Fleet Street might echo his tread, but
his spirit was away on other roads in a world that was beyond the
jurisdiction of editors. He was not seeking to set up a home in that
wilderness, but was all the while quietly paving a way out of it; and
in due season he has left it behind him.

A good deal of what he wrote then bore the pseudonym of “Walter
Ramal,” a transparent anagram; and throughout those days he went
on contributing poems, stories, prose fantasies to _Cornhill_, the
_English Review_, and other periodicals. In 1902 he had published
“Songs of Childhood,” a first revelation of his exquisite genius for
writing quaint nursery rhymes, dainty, homely, faery lyrics and ballads
that can fascinate the mind of a child, or of any who has not forgotten
his childhood--a genius that flowered to perfection eleven years later
in “Peacock Pie.”

“Henry Brocken” (1904) showed another side of his gift. It is a
story--you cannot call it a novel--that takes you traveling into a land
unknown to the map-makers, that is inhabited by people who have never
lived and will never die. You go with Brocken over a wild moor and meet
with Wordsworth’s Lucy Gray; you go further to hold converse with Poe’s
Annabel Lee, with Keat’s Belle Dame, with Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre,
with Swift’s Gulliver, with Lady Macbeth, Bottom, Titania, with folk
from the “Pilgrim’s Progress,” and many another. It is all a riot of
fancy and poetry in prose, with an undercurrent of shrewd commentary
that adds a critical value to its appeal as a story.

This fresh, individual note is as prevailing in all his prose as in his
verse. It is in the prose and verse of his blithe, whimsical tale for
children, “The Two Mulla-Mulgars,” and in that eerie, bizarre novel,
“The Return”--where, falling asleep by the grave of old Sabathier,
Arthur Lawford goes home to find his family do not know him, for, as
he slept, the dead man’s spirit had subtly taken possession of him and
transformed his whole appearance. And the spiritual adventures through
which Lawford has to pass before he can break that grim dominance and
be restored to himself are unfolded with a delicate art that never
over-stresses the beauty or significance of them.

By common consent, however, de la Mare’s prose masterpiece is “The
Midget.” One can think of no other present-day author who might have
handled successfully so _outre_ a theme; yet the whole conception
is as natural to de la Mare’s peculiar genius as it would be alien
to that of any of his contemporaries, and he fashions his story of
the little lady, mature and sane in mind and perfect in body, but so
small that she could stand in the palm of an average hand, into a
novel, a fable, a romance--call it what you will--of rare charm and
interest. The midget’s dwarfish, deformed lover, and the more normal
characters--Waggett, Percy Maudlin, Mrs. Bowater, Pollie--are drawn
realistically and with fleeting touches of humor, and while you can
read the book for its story alone, the quiet laughter and pathos of it,
as you can read Bunyan’s allegory, it is veined with inner meanings and
a profound, sympathetic philosophy of life is implicit in the narrative.

It was two years after his 1906 “Poems” appeared I remember, that
Edward Thomas first asked me if I knew much of Walter de la Mare, and,
in that soft voice and reticent, hesitating manner of his, went on
to speak with an unwonted enthusiasm of the work he was doing. Until
then, I had read casually only casual things of de la Mare’s in the
magazines, but I knew Thomas’s fine, fastidious taste in such matters,
and that he was not given to getting enthusiastic over what was merely
good in an ordinary degree, and it was not long before I was qualified
to understand and respond to the warmth of his admiration. The “Poems”
were, with a few exceptions, more remarkable for what they promised
than for what they achieved, but they had not a little of the unique
magic that is in his “Songs of Childhood”; and “The Listeners and Other
Poems” (1912), and “Motley and Other Poems” (1918) more than fulfilled
this promise and brought him, at last such general recognition that in
1920, after a lapse of eighteen years, his poems were gathered into a
Collected Edition.

He began late, as poets go, for he was nearly thirty when his first
book came out, and about forty before he began to be given his due
place among the poets of his generation. He was so slow in arriving
because he came without noise, intrinsically unconventional but not
fussily shattering the superficial conventions of others, making no
sensational approach, not attempting to shock or to startle. I don’t
think his verse ever had the instant appeal of a topical interest,
except such of it as grew out of the War, and nothing could be more
unlike the orthodox war poetry than that strange, poignant lyric of
his, “The Fool Rings his Bells”--

  “Come, Death, I’d have a word with thee;
  And thou, poor Innocency;
  And love--a lad with a broken wing;
  And Pity, too:
  The Fool shall sing to you,
  As Fools will sing....”

Its quaintness, sincerity, tenderness and grim fancy are spontaneously
in keeping with the lovely or whimsical dreamings, the wizardries
and hovering music of his happier songs. He may not have lived in
seclusion, unfretted by the hard facts of existence but the world has
never been too much with him, so he can still hear the horns of elfland
blowing over an earth that remains for him

  “a magical garden with rivers and bowers,”

haunted by fays and gnomes, dryads and fawns and the witchery and
enchantment that have been in dusky woods, in misty fields, in twilight
and midnight places since the beginning of time. Howbeit, even the
ghostly atmosphere of “The Listeners” is pierced with a cry that is
not of the dead, for in his farthest flights of fantasy he is not out
of touch with nature and human nature, and it is a glowing love of
these at the heart of his darkling visions and gossamer imaginings that
gives them life and will keep them alive.



If Sir Arthur Conan Doyle were more of a conventional man of
letters--had he been just “a book in breeches,” as Sidney Smith said
Macaulay was--it would not be so difficult to know where to make a
beginning when one sits down to write of him. But no author could be
farther from being “all author”; he is much too keenly interested in
life to do nothing but write about it, and probably shares Byron’s
scorn of “the mighty stir made about scribbling and scribes,” and his
preference of doers to writers. He has read much, but lived more, as a
novelist ought to, giving freely of his time and thought and sympathy
to lives outside his own. He has no fretful little moods of morbidity,
cynicism, pessimism, but is essentially a big man and writes always
like himself, with a complete freedom from affection, a naturalness, a
healthy vigor and breadth of outlook that cannot be developed within
the four walls of a study.

Characteristic of himself, I think, is this reflection in “The Tragedy
of the Korosko”: “When you see the evil of cruelty which nature wears,
try and peer through it, and you will sometimes catch a glimpse of a
very homely, kindly face behind.” And this, which he puts into the
mouth of Lord Roxton, in “The Lost World”; “There are times, young
fellah, when every one of us must make a stand for human right and
justice, or you never feel clean again.”

You may depend he felt that time had come for him when he took up the
cudgel for George _Edalji_ and would not rest or be silent till the
case had been reopened and _Edalji_ proved innocent and set at liberty;
it came again when he threw everything else aside to render patriotic
services in the Boer War (which were to some extent recognized by the
accolade), and again in the later and greater War; it came for him
when he resolutely championed the cause of the martyred natives in
the Belgian Congo; when, believing in Oscar Slater’s innocence, he
wrote a masterly review of the evidence against him and strove to have
him re-tried; and it came once more when, risking his reputation and
in defiance of the ridicule he knew he would have to face, he openly
confessed himself a believer in spiritualism and has persisted in that
unorthodoxy until he has become one of the most powerful and insistent
of its apostles.

These and other such activities may seem outside a consideration of
Doyle’s work in literature, but they are not, any more than are his
medical knowledge or his love of sport, for you find their influence
everywhere in his books. There were ghosts in his fiction before ever
he began to raise them at the seance. Some find it hard to square his
absorption in spiritualism with his robust personality, with the sane
philosophy of his stories, and the fact that he is so much a man of
action, a lover of the open air and all the wholesome human qualities
that keep a writer’s blood sound and prevent his ink from getting muddy
and slow. But it is just these circumstances that add weight to his
testimony as a spiritualist; he is no dreamer predisposed to believe in
psychic phenomena; he is a stolid, shrewd man of affairs who wants to
look inside and see how the wheels go round before he can have faith in

He has played as strenuously as he has worked. He has tasted delight of
battle with his peers at football, cricket, golf; he has made balloon
and aeroplane ascents; introduced ski-ing into the Grison division of
Switzerland; did pioneer work in the opening up of miniature rifle
ranges; can hold his own with the foils and is a formidable boxer; he
is a fisherman in the largest sense, for he has been whaling in the
Arctic Seas, he used to ride to hounds and is a good shot, but has a
hearty hatred of all sport that involves the needless killing of birds
or animals.

Born at Edinburgh, in 1859, Conan Doyle commenced writing tales of
adventure when he was about six, and it was natural that he should
illustrate these with drawings of his own, for he was born into a very
atmosphere and world of art. His grandfather, John Doyle, was the
well-known political caricaturist who for over thirty years concealed
his identity under the initials “H. B.”; his father, Charles Doyle, and
three of his uncles were artists, one being that Richard Doyle whose
name is inseparably associated with the early days of _Punch_. The
remarkable water-colors of Charles Doyle, which I have seen, have a
graceful fantasy that remind one of the work of Richard Doyle, but at
times they have a grimness, a sense of the eerie and the terrible that
lift them beyond anything that the _Punch_ artist ever attempted; and
you find this same imaginative force, this same bizarre sense of the
weird and terrible in certain of the stories of Charles Doyle’s son--in
“The Hound of the Baskervilles,” in some of the shorter Sherlock Holmes
tales, in many of the “Round the Fire” stories and in some of those in
“Round the Red Lamp.”

In 1881, by five years of medical studentship at Edinburgh University,
Doyle secured his diploma and, after a voyage to West Africa,
started as a medical practitioner at Southsea. But all through
his student days he was giving his leisure to literary work, and
in one of the professors at Edinburgh, Dr. Joseph Bell, a man of
astonishing analytical and deductive powers, he found the original
from whom, in due season, Sherlock Holmes was to be largely drawn.
His first published story, a Kaffir romance, appeared, like Hardy’s,
in _Chambers’s Journal_. That was in 1878, and it brought him three
guineas; but it was not until nine years later, when “A Study in
Scarlet” came out in _Beeton’s Annual_ for 1887, that Sherlock Holmes
and Dr. Watson made their first appearance in print, and laid the
foundation of his success.

During ten years of hard work as medical student and practitioner Doyle
had gone through the usual experience of the literary beginner; he
had suffered innumerable rejections, had contributed short stories to
_Cornhill_, _Temple Bar_, _Belgravia_ and other magazines, never in any
year earning with his pen more than fifty pounds. His first long novel,
that brilliant romance of the Monmouth rebellion, “Micah Clarke,” after
being rejected on all hands, was sent to Longmans and accepted for
them by Andrew Lang, whom Sir Arthur looks upon as one of his literary
godfathers, James Payn, who encouraged him in _Cornhill_ being the

“Micah Clarke” was followed in the same year (1889) by another Sherlock
Holmes story, “The Sign of Four.” In 1890 Chatto & Windus published
“The Firm of Girdlestone,” and “The White Company” began to run
serially in _Cornhill_. Then it was that, taking his courage in both
hands, Sir Arthur resigned his practice at Southsea and came to London.
He practised there for a while as an eye specialist, but the success of
those two last books decided him to abandon medicine and devote himself
wholly to literature.

He has written a score or so of novels and volumes of short stories
since then; one--and an admirable one--of literary criticism, “The
Magic Door”; two of verse; a History of the Boer War, and three or four
volumes embodying his gospel and experiences as a spiritualist. This is
to say nothing of his plays--“A Story of Waterloo,” the Sherlock Holmes
dramas, and the rest.

“Sir Nigel” and “The White Company” are, in his own opinion, “the least
unsatisfactory” of all his books, which is to put it modestly. I
would not rank the latter below such high English historical romances
as “The Cloister and the Hearth” and “Esmond,” and think it likely
Doyle will be remembered for this and “Sir Nigel,” and perhaps “Micah
Clarke,” long after the sensational, more resounding popular Sherlock
Holmes books have fallen into the background. Howbeit, for the present,
there is no getting away from the amazing Sherlock; not only is he the
most vivid and outstanding of all Sir Arthur’s creations, but no other
novelist of our time has been able to breathe such life and actuality
into any of his puppets.

Not since Pickwick was born has any character in fiction taken such
hold on the popular imagination, so impressed the million with a sense
of his reality. He is commonly spoken of as a living person; detectives
are said to have studied his methods, and when it was announced
that he was about to retire into private life and devote himself to
bee-keeping, letters poured in, most of them addressed to “Sherlock
Holmes, Esq.,” care of Conan Doyle, expressing regret at this decision,
offering him advice in the making and managing of his apiaries, and not
a few applying for employment in his service. It is on record, too,
that a party of French schoolboys, sight-seeing in London, were asked
which they wished to see first--the Tower or Westminster Abbey, and
unanimously agreed that they would prefer to go to Baker Street and see
the rooms of Mr. Sherlock Holmes.

As for the imitators who have risen to compete with him--there are so
many there is no guessing off-hand at their number; their assiduity
has brought into being a recognized Sherlock Holmes type of story, and
though some of them have been popular, none of them has rivaled the
original either in popularity or ingenuity.

Obviously, then, for his own generation Doyle is, above everything
else, the creator of that unique detective. But with him, as with
Ulysses, it is not too late to seek a newer world, and he may yet do
what nobody has done and fashion from his latter-day experiences a
great novel of spiritualism.


[Illustration: JOHN DRINKWATER]

From his essays and some of his poems you gather an idea that John
Drinkwater was cradled into poetry by natural inclination but grew to
maturity in it by deliberate and assiduous study of his art. He set out
with a pretty definite idea of the poet’s mission, which is, he lays
it down in one of his essays, “not to express his age, but to express
himself”; and though he has largely lived up to that gospel, he has
from time to time gone beyond it and, perhaps unwittingly, expressed
his age as well. He subscribes to Coleridge’s rather inadequate
definition of poetry as “the best words in the best order,” but
improves upon it elsewhere by insisting that they shall be pregnant
and living words. He has all along taken himself and his function with
a certain high seriousness, believing it was for him and his fellow
artists to awaken the soul of the world, and conceiving of himself
and them as beset on every side by “prejudice, indifference, positive
hostility, misrepresentation, a total failure to understand the
purposes and the power of art.”

There may be a touch of exaggeration in all this, but it is the lack of
some such intense belief in themselves that makes so many of our modern
poets trivial and ineffective, and the possession of it that gives a
sincerity and meaning to much of Drinkwater’s verse and atones for
the austerity and conscientious labor with which he fashions the lofty
rhyme after the manner of a builder rather than of a singer. But there
is magic in his building, and if he has not often known the rapture of
spontaneous singing he has known the quiet, profounder joy of really
having something to say and, as Alexander Smith says, the joy, while he
shaped it into words, of

  “Sitting the silent term of stars to watch
  Your own thought passing into beauty, like
  An earnest mother watching the first smile
  Dawning upon her sleeping infant’s face,
  Until she cannot see it for her tears.”

During the twelve years in which he served as clerk in divers Assurance
Companies, he was serving also his apprenticeship to the Muses. His
first book of verse, published in 1908, when he was twenty-six,
contained little of distinction or of promise, and much the same
may be said of his second. If he was a born poet he was not born
ready-made, and in those books he was still making himself. His third
and fourth showed he was succeeding in doing that, and when the best
things in those first four were gathered into one volume, in 1914,
it was recognized that not merely a new but an authentic poet had
arrived. One might have recognized that if this little collection had
contained nothing but the four poems, “January Dusk,” “In Lady Street,”
“Reckoning,” and “A Prayer,” in which he has finely expressed so much
of himself, his own outlook and aspirations:

  “Lord, not for light in darkness do we pray,
  Not that the veil be lifted from our eyes,
  Nor that the slow ascension of our day
                Be otherwise.

  Not for a clearer vision of the things
  Whereof the fashioning shall make us great,
  Nor for remission of the perils and stings
                Of time and fate....

  Grant us the will to fashion as we feel,
  Grant us the strength to labour as we know,
  Grant us the purpose, ribbed and edged with steel,
                To strike the blow.

  Knowledge we ask not--knowledge Thou hast lent,
  But, Lord, the will--there lies our bitter need,
  Give us to build above the deep intent
                The deed, the deed.”

He has little of the delicate fantasy, the eerie atmosphere, the
gracious humor of Walter de la Mare, and little of the grim, stark
realism of Wilfrid Gibson. He cannot write of the squalors of a
Birmingham street, with its trams and fried-fish and rag shops without
touching it to loveliness in the dreams of the old greengrocer who,
among the colors and scents of his apples, marrows, cabbages, mushrooms
and gaudy chrysanthemums, sees the sun shining on lanes he had known in
Gloucestershire. And when he takes a slight and elusive theme that can
only be made to dance to the airiest pipings it dies on his hands and
is cold and stiff and formal, an embodied idea, that should have been
a thing all music and light or it is nothing. Drinkwater’s genius is
more didactic, descriptive, narrative than lyrical. He is heavy and
not happy on the wing; he is more at home when he feels the earth under
his feet, and walking in the Cotswolds or in the streets of the city it
is the visible life and beauty around him, the human joys and griefs,
strivings and visions in which he can share that are his surest sources
of inspiration.

There is enough dramatic and rhetorical power in several of his
poems--in “Eclipse,” “Uncrowned,” “Reckoning,” “A Prayer”--to make it
nothing strange that he should turn to the stage. Moreover, he is more
prophet than minstrel, more preacher than singer, and though the dogmas
he has formulated about art and “we” who are artists, with the claim
that the renewal of the world rests with “us,” may seem confident and
self-assertive, he is a very modest egoist and, I think, of a sort
that must have felt he could express himself with greater freedom
and force through the medium of imaginary characters than in his own
person. Anyhow, in his early days, he joined in founding the Pilgrim
Players who have since developed into the Birmingham Repertory Theater,
and he proceeded to write plays to be produced there under his own
direction. These were written in blank verse--“Cophetua,” “Rebellion”
(not without hints of his practical idealism, for all its romance),
the three one-act pieces he published in one volume with the title of
“Pawns,” the best of which is that poignantly dramatic sketch “The
Storm”--and they gave him the beginnings of a reputation as dramatist,
but none of them was particularly successful from a business point
of view; and even later “Mary Stuart” was not that. By some irony of
circumstance, after devoting his life whole-heartedly to poetry he
scored his first big success with a play that was done in prose, and
the success of “Abraham Lincoln” was so big and so immediate that it
carried him straightway into a full tide of popularity on both sides of
the Atlantic.

I doubt whether anybody who read it can have foreseen for “Abraham
Lincoln” such a triumphant reception. You might say it is completely
artless, or most subtly artistic in design and workmanship with
an equal chance of being right. Its structure is so simple, its
dialogue cast in such natural, everyday language that you easily may
overlook its bold originality of invention, overlook that it ignores
theatrical technique and traditions and in the quietest way makes a
drastically new departure. It is a chronicle play, but attempts none
of the beauty and harmony of poetry that clothes the chronicle plays
of Shakespeare in magnificence, nor is it alive with incident as his,
nor even knitted up into a continuing story. It is a chronicle play
in the barest meaning of the term; the dialogue is pieced out, where
possible, with Lincoln’s recorded sayings; each scene presents an
event in his career; there are more committee and cabinet meetings
than exciting episodes, far more talk than action throughout. Yet
because of the essential nobility of Lincoln’s character, his unique
personality, his quaintnesses, his brave honesty of thought and
intention, this unadorned presentment of the man and his doings
becomes curiously impressive, profoundly moving--the more so since
it strove to reincarnate what had happened with an exact and naked
realism unheightened by the conventional artifice and tricks of the
stage. The whole thing gained something undoubtedly by being produced
in 1918 when the shadow of the Great War that was upon us gave a
topical significance to Lincoln’s heroic struggle with the South, his
passion for freedom, his humanitarian but practical attitude toward
war in general. His vision and his ideals were at that time those of
the better part of our own people; the play largely voiced the minds
of the multitudes that crowded to see it, so that in writing “Abraham
Lincoln,” despite his artistic faith, Drinkwater was expressing his age
no less than himself.

Already he has had imitators; his method looked too easy not to be
imitated; but it must be harder than it looks for none of them has
succeeded. Perhaps he cannot do it twice himself, for his “Oliver
Cromwell,” fashioned on similar lines, does not, in my thinking, reveal
so true and convincing a portrait of the man. Nearly ten years earlier
Drinkwater had tried his hand on the great Protector in a blank verse
poem sympathetically and dramatically conceived but not altogether
rising to the height of its subject. Like “Abraham Lincoln,” the later
“Oliver Cromwell” is a chronicle play, but he has allowed himself
more latitude in this than in that. He has less warrant for some of
his incidents; the pathos he introduces into Cromwell’s home life is
occasionally just a trifle stagey, and he has sentimentalized Oliver
himself, made him less of the sturdy, bluff, uncompromising Roundhead
that we know from his letters and speeches and the researches of
Carlyle; but it is a vivid, vital piece of portraiture and so often
catches the manner and spirit of the original as to leave a final
impression of likeness in which its unlikelier aspects are lost.
I am told it does not act so well as it reads, but if it does not
rival “Lincoln” on the boards one has to remember that it has not the
advantage of timeliness that “Lincoln” had.

I have said nothing of John Drinkwater’s excursions into criticism;
his studies of Swinburne and Morris, of “The Lyric,” “The Way of
Poetry”; for what he has written about poetry and the drama is of small
importance in comparison with the poetry and the dramas he has written.
As poet and dramatist he has developed slowly, and it is too soon yet
to pass judgment on him. Plenty of men spend their lives in trying
vainly to live up to a brilliant first book, but he began without
fireworks and has grown steadily from the start, and is still young
enough not to have done growing.


[Illustration: JEFFERY FARNOL]

Had it been, as some believe it is, an irrevocable law that a man’s
mind and temperament are naturally moulded by his early environment,
Jeffery Farnol ought to have been an uncompromising realist. Plenty
of good things come out of Birmingham, but they are solid things; you
would not suspect it was the native city of any peddler who had nothing
but dreams to sell.

Scott, Ballantyne and Stevenson were all born in Edinburgh, a very haunt
of romance; Mayne Reid came from Ireland which, though Shakespeare
does not seem to have known it, is where fancy is bred; Stanley
Weyman hails from just such a quaint little country town as he brings
into some of his stories; Manchester nursed Harrison Ainsworth, and
even Manchester carries on business as usual against a shop-soiled
background of fantasy and the black arts. But Birmingham--well,
Birmingham forgets that it was visited by the Normans and sacked by
the Cavaliers; it has made itself new and large and is as go-ahead and
modern as the day after to-morrow; a place of hard facts, factories,
practical efficiency, profitable commerce, achievement in iron and
steel, and apparently has no use for fancy and imagination except on
strictly business lines, when it manufactures idols for the heathen
and jewellery that is not what it seems.

Nevertheless, a fig from a thorn, a grape from a thistle, in Birmingham
Jeffery Farnol was born, and it would not have been surprising if he
had grown up to put present-day Birmingham and its people into his
novels, as Arnold Bennett has put the Five Towns and their people into
his; but instead of doing that he has perversely developed into one
of the most essentially romantic of modern novelists. He was writing
stories when he was nineteen, and some of them found their way into
the magazines. For a while, feeling after a source of income, he
coquetted with engineering, and there is some romance in that, but not
of the sort that could hold him. He experimentalized in half a dozen
trades and professions, and presently looked like becoming an artist
with brush and pencil rather than with the pen. In those uncertain
years, when he was still dividing his leisure between writing tales
and painting landscapes and drawing caricatures, he came to London
and spent his spare time at the Westminster Art School, where the
now distinguished Japanese artist, Yoshio Markino, was one of his

Then, in 1902, he cut the painter in one sense, though not in another,
and grown more enterprising went adventuring to America; where, having
married the youngest daughter of Hughson Hawley, the American scenic
artist, he took to scene-painting himself and did it diligently for two
years at the Astor Theater, New York. When he was not busy splashing
color on back-cloths, he was working strenuously at the writing of
fiction, and if his first novel smacks somewhat of the conventions and
artificialities of the theater in whose atmosphere he was living, his
second, “The Broad Highway,” is as untrammeled by all such influences
and as breezily, robustly alive with the wholesome, free air of the
countryside of eighteenth century England and the native spirit of
romance as if he had never heard of Birmingham or been within sight of
a stage door.

With “The Broad Highway” he found himself at once; but he did not at
once find a publisher with it. Often enough an author who has been
rejected in England has been promptly received with open arms by a
publisher and a public in America; then he has come home bringing his
sheaves with him and been even more rapturously welcomed into the
households and circulating libraries of his penitent countrymen. But in
Farnol’s case the process was reversed. America would have none of “The
Broad Highway”; her publishers returned it to him time after time, as
they had returned “Mr. Tawnish,” which he had put away in despair. It
had taken him two years to write what is nowadays the most popular of
his books, and for three years it wandered round seeking acceptance or
slept in his drawer between journeys, until he began to think it would
never get out of manuscript into print at all.

It was looking travel worn and the worse for wear, and had been
sleeping neglected in his drawer for some months, when his wife rescued
it and, on the off chance, sent it over to England to an old friend of
Farnol’s who, having read it with enthusiasm, passed it on to Sampson
Low & Co., and it came to pass that “The Broad Highway” was then
published immediately and as immediately successful. That was in 1910;
and in the same year Jeffery Farnol came back to his own country and
settled in Kent, which has given him so many scenes for the best of his

Strange, you may say, that a novel so wholly and peculiarly English
should have been written so far away from its proper setting and in
such unpropitious surroundings, especially while Farnol had all the
glamorous adventure and lurid, living romance of the American outlands
waiting, as it were, at his elbow. But

  “The mind is its own place, and in itself
  Can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven,”

and an eighteenth century England of a twentieth century New York;
otherwise he might have been among the pioneer revivalists of the
riotously romantic novel of the Wild West. Stranger still that when
“The Broad Highway” recrossed the ocean it was no longer rejected and
had soon scored an even larger success with American than with English
readers. The magazines there opened their doors to the author without
delay and made haste to secure the serial rights in his next stories
before he had begun to think of them. Within the next three years,
“The Money Moon” and “The Amateur Gentleman” had increased and firmly
established his reputation, and the earlier “Mr. Tawnish” came out on
the strength of their abounding popularity, which was more than strong
enough to carry the tale of that elegant and honourable person much
farther than it might have gone if it had not had such best sellers and
long runners to set the pace for it.

Romance is Farnol’s native air, and he does not breathe happily in
any other. When he tells a story of the trousered, railway-riding
life round him he is like a wizard who has turned from his spells and
incantations to build with mundane bricks and mortar instead of with
magic--he does the ordinary thing capably but in the ordinary way. “The
Chronicles of the Imp” is an entertaining trifle, and “The Definite
Object” is a clever, exciting story of a young millionaire’s adventures
in New York’s underworld, but they lack his distinctive touch, his
individual manner; he is not himself in them. He is the antithesis of
Antaeus and renews himself when he reaches, not the solid earth, but
the impalpable shores of old romance. He can do wonders of picturesque
realism with such charming latter-day fantasies as “The Money Moon,”
but give him the knee-breeches or strapped pants and the open road
and all the motley, thronging life of it in the gallant days of the
Regency and he will spin you such virile, breezily masculine, joyously
humorous romances as “The Broad Highway,” “The Amateur Gentleman” and
“Peregrine’s Progress”; give him the hose and jerkin, the roistering
merriment and rugged chivalries of the Middle Ages and he will weave
you so glowing and lusty a saga as “Meltane the Smith”; and you will
have far to go among recent books before you find more fascinating or
more vigorously imaginative romances of piracy and stirring adventure
on land and sea than “Black Bartlemy’s Treasure” and its sequel,
“Martin Conisby’s Vengeance.”

He gives away the recipe for his best romance in that talk between
Peter Vibart and another wayfarer which preludes “The Broad Highway”:

“As I sat of an early summer morning in the shade of a tree, eating
fried bacon with a tinker, the thought came to me that I might some
day write a book of my own; a book that should treat of the roads and
by-roads, of trees, and wind in lonely places, of rapid brooks and lazy
streams, of the glory of dawn, the glow of evening, and the purple
solitude of night; a book of wayside inns and sequestered taverns; a
book of country things and ways and people. And the thought pleased me

“‘But,’ objected the Tinker, for I had spoken my thought aloud, ‘trees
and suchlike don’t sound very interestin’--leastways--not in a book,
for after all a tree’s only a tree and an inn an inn; no, you must tell
of other things as well.’

“‘Yes,’ said I, a little damped, ‘to be sure there is a highwayman----’

“‘Come, that’s a little better!’ said the Tinker encouragingly.

“‘Then,’ I went on, ticking off each item on my fingers, ‘come Tom
Cragg, the pugilist----’

“‘Better and better!’ nodded the Tinker.

“‘----a long-legged soldier of the Peninsula, an adventure at a lonely
tavern, a flight through woods at midnight pursued by desperate
villains, and--a most extraordinary tinker.’”

The tinker approves of all these things, but urges that there must also
be in the story blood, and baronets, and, above all, love and plenty
of it, and though Peter Vibart is doubtful about these ingredients
because he lacks experience of them, as he goes on his journey he
makes acquaintance with them all, and they are all in the story before
it ends. The tinker was only interpreting the passion for romance
that is in Everyman when he pleaded for the inclusion of picturesque
or emotional elements that Peter was for omitting, and the instant
and continuing popularity of “The Broad Highway” shows that he was a
correct interpreter.

Born no longer ago than 1878, Farnol is younger than that in everything
but years. If he is seldom seen in literary circles it is simply
because the country draws him more than the town; he is the most
sociable of men, and his intimates will tell you that the geniality,
the warmth of feeling, the shrewd, humorous philosophy that are in his
books are also in himself; that his love of romance is as genuine and
inherent as every other sense belonging to him, and, consequently, when
he sits to write on the themes that naturally appeal to him he merely
follows Samuel Daniel’s counsel and dips his pen into his heart.


[Illustration: JOHN GALSWORTHY]

In attempting a personal description of almost any living poet or
novelist it is becoming such a customary thing to say he does not look
in the least like an author that I am beginning to feel a consuming
curiosity to know what an author looks like and what can cause him
to look so entirely different from men of other professions that you
can tell him for one at a glance. In my own experience, the worst
poetry nowadays is written by men of the most picturesquely poetical
appearance, and the best by men who are stout, or bald, or of an
otherwise commonplace or unattractive exterior. Nor among the many
literary persons I have met do I remember meeting even one novelist of
genius who looked it. How this myth of the ideal author, the splendid
creature carrying his credentials in his face, came into being is not
within my knowledge. An old gentleman of my acquaintance who had, in
his time, set eyes on Dickens assured me that he was an insignificant
little person who might have passed for a retired sea-captain.
Thackeray rather resembled a prize fighter who had gone flabby.
Trollope, with his paunch and massive beard suggested the country
squire. Browning would not have seemed out of place as a bank manager,
and though Tennyson was said to look a typical poet, he really looked
much more like a typical stage brigand.

The fact is that while other trades and professions have developed
recognizable characteristics in such as follow them, literature has
naturally failed to do that. For men are drawn into it from all
sections of the community and there is no more reason that they should
conform to a family likeness than that they should each write the same
kind of books. They do not even, in appearance, live up to the books
they write. Stanley Weyman looks as unromantic as Austin Chamberlain;
that daring realist George Moore gazes on you with the blue-eyed
innocence of a new curate; and the mild and gentle aspect of Thomas
Burke does not harmonize with the violence and grim horrors of his
tales of Chinatown.

In a word, no two authors look alike; as a race, they have even given
up trying to achieve a superficial uniformity by growing long hair
and, when they have any, cut it to an orthodox length. A few cultivate
the mustache; not many indulge in whiskers; the majority are clean
shaven; and in this they are not peculiar, for the same, in the same
proportions, may be said of their readers. Therefore, when at a recent
dinner a lady sitting next to me surveyed John Galsworthy, who was
seated opposite, and remarked, “You could guess he was an author--he
looks so like one,” I anxiously enquired, “Which one?” and was, perhaps
not undeservedly, ignored.

If she had said he looked like an indefinite intellectual; that
his countenance was modeled on noble and dignified lines; that it
expressed at once shrewdness and benignity, I could have understood
and agreed with her. But these qualities are so far from being
infallibly the birthright of the author that they are seldom apparent
in him. With his firm, statuesque features, his grave immobility,
his air of detachment and distinction, the calm deliberation of his
voice and gesture, Galsworthy embodies rather what we have come to
regard as the legal temperament. It is not difficult to imagine
him in wig and gown pleading earnestly, impressively, but without
passion, or, appropriately robed, summing up from the bench sternly,
conscientiously, and with the most punctilious impartiality.

Consequently, it was without surprise I heard the other day, for the
first time, that he had studied for the Bar and became, in his early
years, a barrister, though he did not practice. Nor is this legal
strain to be traced only in his personal aspect and bearing; it asserts
itself as unmistakably and often with considerable effectiveness
throughout his novels and plays. He has the lawyer’s respect for fact
and detail; he must have the truth, the whole truth and nothing but
the truth; and this gives his stories a certain aridity; a hardness as
well as clearness of outline. The ways of the impressionist are not
his ways; he omits nothing, but is as precise, as exact in developing
plot and character as a lawyer is in getting up a case. He is not
satisfied merely to paint portraits of his men and women, he analyses
them meticulously, tells you every little thing about them and their
families and friends, their taste in food and dress and furniture,
shows them in their domestic relations, in their business activities,
inventories their virtues and vices and material surroundings with a
completeness that leaves nothing unexplained and affects the reader
with an extraordinary sense of the reality of it all. If he is
recording a funeral he will take care to tell you “the hearse started
at a foot’s pace; the carriages moved slowly after.” You might have
been trusted to assume that this would be the order of the procession,
but nothing is assumed, the thing has got to be described just as it
happened. You are then told who was in each carriage, and note is made
of the thirteenth carriage which follows at the very end “containing
nobody at all.” That is the Galsworthy method. When he relates, in
“The Man of Property,” that the young architect, Bosinney, is building
a house in the country for Soames Forsyte he does not slur things and
content himself with generalities but acquaints you with the size,
design and cost of the house, its architectural peculiarities, and the
point is that all these particulars are strictly relevant and serve to
reveal more intimately the characters and idiosyncrasies of Bosinney
and of Soames, and have their significance in the unfolding of that
poignant tragedy of Soames’s wife.

As the historian of later Victorian upper middle-class life in England,
Galsworthy is the legitimate successor of Anthony Trollope. He is
as true a realist as Trollope without the reticence imposed on the
Victorian writer by his period; but Trollope’s style was exuberant,
slipshod, obese, like himself, and Galsworthy’s, like himself, is lean,
subdued, direct, chary of displaying emotion; he observes a close
economy in the use of words, despite the length of his books. In common
with most of his contemporary novelists, Trollope was something of a
moralist; he handled from a sensible, man-of-the-world point of view
divers religious, financial and domestic problems of the time that lent
themselves to his purposes as a teller of stories. But the problems
that interested him were those that had to be faced by the well-to-do
and the respectable; he had no particular sympathy for the lower orders
and little contempt, good-humored or otherwise, for the vulgar folk
who had earned their own money, climbed up from the depths, and were
awkwardly trying to breathe and flutter in the refined air of good

He had a nice feeling for sentiment, and lapsed carelessly into
sentimentality. Galsworthy is generally too controlled and
self-conscious to do that. But if his irony and satire are keener-edged
than his predecessor’s, his sympathies are broader and deeper. He is
a humanitarian whose sense of brotherhood extends to birds and the
animals described as dumb. On the one hand, he understands and has
compassion for the under-dog, the poor, the humble; and on the other,
though he can smile, as in the three novels that make up his greatest
achievement, “The Forsyte Saga,” and elsewhere--and smile with a
sardonic humor--at the outlook and pretensions of those old prosperous
families who move in the best circles and, comfortably materialistic,
have, in place of a sense of brotherhood, acquired an ineradicable
sense of property in their wives, money, houses, he is not blind to the
finer human qualities that underlie their inherited social conventions.
In two of his dramas, “Strife,” and “The Skin Game,” he handles the
eternal struggle between capital and labor, and the conflict of
interests between a wealthy _parvenu_ and an impoverished patrician
with such an honest balancing of wrongs and rights, such sedulous
impartiality, that you can scarcely say at the end which side retains
most of his sympathy.

He takes life too seriously, it seems, to be able to write stories or
plays for their own sake; he writes them to expose moral or economic
evils of his time, to advocate reforms in our social organization;
the crude barbarity of our prison system; the tyranny of the marriage
law; the hypocrisies of religion and orthodox morality; the vanity of
riches; the fatuity of all class inequalities--with him the creation
of character, the fashioning of a tale of individual love, rivalry,
ambition, triumph or disaster are generally more or less subordinate to
communal or national issues such as these.

It is characteristic of Galsworthy’s reticence that he issued his
first three or four novels under the pseudonym of John Sinjohn; and
of the genuineness of his democratic ideals that when he had built
up a reputation and was offered a knighthood he declined it. It is
characteristic, too, of his restrained, deliberate habit of mind that,
unlike the generality of writers, he does not seem to have rushed
into print until he was old enough to have acquired enough personal
experience to draw upon. He was thirty-one when his first novel,
“Jocelyn,” was published; and thirty-nine when, in the one year, 1906,
he made another and a real beginning as a novelist in his own name
with “The Man of Property,” and as a dramatist with “The Silver Box.”
The keynote of his work is its profound sincerity. Art and the zeal
for reform seldom run in double-harness, but they do when Galsworthy



The dawn of the present century brought with it what critics, who like
to have such matters neat and orderly, delight to call a romantic
revival in fiction. As a matter of fact, it also brought with it a
revival of realism, and both had really started before the century
began, and have continued to advance together ever since on pretty
equal terms. In the 1890’s Gissing was nearing the end of his career,
but the torch of realism was being carried on by Hubert Crackanthorpe
(who died too soon), by Arnold Bennett, Arthur Morrison, Pett Ridge,
Edwin Pugh, George Moore, Oliver Onions, Kipling, Wells (who divided
his allegiance between both movements), George Egerton, Elizabeth
Robins, Mrs. W. K. Clifford, and many another.

The romantic revival, which had started earlier, was well afoot during
the same period. Stevenson died in 1894. Rider Haggard’s best romances
were out in the 1880’s; Doyle’s “Micah Clarke” and “The White Company”
belong to 1888 and 1890; Sir Gilbert Parker came soon after; Stanley
Weyman and Anthony Hope arrived in the movement together, when the
century was still in its infancy. All these were in the same boat but,
to adopt Douglas Jerrold’s pun, with very different skulls; how they
are to take rank in the hierarchy of letters is not my concern at the
moment--I am only saying they were all romantics. That Weyman might
have been something else is indicated by the strong, quiet realism of
his second book, “The New Rector,” and the much later novels he has
written, after an inactive interval of ten years, “The Great House,”
and “The Ovington Bank”; and that Anthony Hope Hawkins might have been
something else is the inference you draw from nearly all his work after
“The Intrusions of Peggy.”

His father was the Vicar of St. Bride’s, Fleet Street, and he was a
nephew, or some other near relation, of the famous “hanging Judge,” Sir
Henry Hawkins. From Marlborough he passed to Balliol, Oxford, where he
took his M. A. degree and was president of the Oxford Union Society. He
seems to have set out with an eye on a career at the Bar which should
lead him into the House of Commons. But though he was, like Stanley
Weyman, duly called to the Bar, like Weyman, he did not do anything
much in the way of practising. Once he put up as a Parliamentary
candidate, but was not elected; yet one can imagine him as an ideal
Member--he has the distinguished presence, the urbane, genially
courteous manner, the even temper and nimbleness of mind that ought to
but do not always go to the making of an Attorney General and, as any
who have heard him take part in after-dinner discussions will know, in
addressing an audience he has all the gifts of clarity, ease and humor
that make the successful public speaker.

But law and politics piped to him in vain, and his ambition took the
right turning when he wrote his first novel, “A Man of Mark.” It was
a deft and lively enough tale; it was read and talked about, and
was considered promising, but caused no particular excitement. The
excitement was waiting for his next book. When “The Prisoner of Zenda”
burst upon the town, in 1894, it leaped into success at once. Stanley
Weyman’s “Under the Red Robe” was issued almost simultaneously and the
two ran a wild race for popularity and both won. Both were dramatized
promptly, and repeated on the stage the dazzling success they had
enjoyed between covers. Each inspired a large school of imitators,
which increased and multiplied until the sword and cloak romance, and
stories of imaginary kingdoms were, in a few years, almost as plentiful
as blackberriers and began to become a drug in the market. But,
meanwhile, the spirit of romance was awake and abroad, and any capable
novelist who rode into the library lists wearing her favors was pretty
sure of a welcome.

In the same bustling year, 1894, we had from Anthony Hope “The God in
the Car,” a tale of a South African Company promoter, and “The Dolly
Dialogues.” These were not in a direct line of descent from “The
Prisoner of Zenda,” and were possibly written before that; they were,
at all events, written before the enormous vogue of that could prompt
the author to follow it with another of the same desirable brand. But
“The Dolly Dialogues” soared to an independent success of their own.
Those crisp, neat entertaining chats of that adroitest of flirts,
Dolly Foster, with her husband, with Mr. Carter, and others of her
fashionable circle, were not without a certain distant likeness to the
bright, irresponsible talk of “Dodo,” and repeated the triumph that had
been “Dodo’s” a decade earlier. The “Dialogues” set another fashion,
and generated another school of imitators. Whether people ever talked
with such consistent brilliance in real life was of no consequence; it
was amusing, clever, it was often witty, and when it was not it was
crisp and smart and so like wit that it could pass for it. And in so
far as such acute remarks and repartee were too good to be true they
only brought the book into line with the airy, impossible romance and
inventive fantasy of “The Prisoner of Zenda.”

With “Rupert of Hentzau” Anthony Hope was back in his imaginary kingdom
next year; if the sequel was not so good as “The Prisoner” it had as
good a reception; and “The King’s Mirror,” and a romantic comedy, “The
Adventure of Lady Ursula,” not dramatized from one of his books but
specially written for the stage, followed in quick succession. For
those were days when he was working strenuously and systematically
at his art; to cultivate the habit of work he left home every
morning, like any lawyer or stockbroker, and went to a room off the
Strand--wasn’t it in Buckingham Street?--where he wrote steadily for a
fixed number of hours without interruption. The notion that an author
can only do his best by fits and starts as the mood takes him is a
romantic convention dear to the dilettante, but Hope was never that;
he kept his romance in his books as sedulously as Scott did and was as
sensibly practical as Scott in his methods of making them.

But he had to pay for his first popular success, as most novelists do.
Jerome has more than once complained that the public having accepted
“Three Men in a Boat” with enthusiasm and labeled him a humorist would
never after allow him to be anything else. His “Paul Kelver” is worth
a dozen of the other book, but it has withdrawn into the background
and “Three Men in a Boat” is still selling freely. “Quisante” (1900)
marked a new departure, suggested that Hope was turning from romance to
reality. That study of the political adventurer and the aristocratic
wife who realizes she has made a mistake in marrying out of her order,
is, as literature and as a story, a stronger, finer piece of work than
any Hope had done before, but it was not what his readers had expected
of him, and it did not win the new reputation it ought to have won for
him, though the critics did not fail to recognize its quality. To the
general world of readers he was the author of “The Prisoner of Zenda”;
that was the type of novel they wanted from him; they continued to
ask for it and would not willingly take any other. He humored them at
intervals with “The Intrusions of Peggy,” and “Sophy of Kravonia,” but
on the whole he had done with such light entertainments and settled
down to the serious interpretation of modern life and character.
Next to “Quisante,” I would place his poignant and dramatic handling
of the marriage problem in “Double Harness,” the study, in “A Servant
of the Public,” of a temperament that is only baffling by reason of
its elemental simplicity; the masterly realistic presentment of a
capable, courageous, unconventional, attractive woman in “The Great
Miss Driver,” and the brilliant treatment again of the problem of
marriage and disillusion in “Mrs. Maxon Protests.” These five--subtle
in characterization and fashioned of the comedy and tragedy of actual
human experience--these and not his more notorious trifles are the true
measure of Anthony Hope’s achievement as a novelist.

But they are obscured by the flashier glory of “The Prisoner of Zenda”
and “Rupert of Hentzau,” which are now renascent and appealing mightily
on the films to the romantic susceptibilities of a new generation of

The novels he has written since the honor of knighthood was conferred
upon him in 1918 are sufficient to show that his invention and skill in
narrative are by no means failing him, though neither “Beaumaroy Home
from the Wars” nor “Lucinda” reach the level of “Quisante” or “Mrs.
Maxon Protests.” But “Beaumaroy” has touches of humor and character
that are in his happiest vein, and if I say that “Lucinda” is an abler
and more notable piece of work than is either of the dazzling fairy
tales that established his position, it is not that I would belittle
those delightful entertainments but would emphasize that so far from
representing his capacity they misrepresent it; they stand in the way
and prevent his better work from being seen in its just proportions,
so that though at first they may have secured a prompt recognition for
him, it looks as if, at last, they will, in a larger sense, prevent him
from being recognized.



Success is good for people, when they do not get too much of it too
soon. Failure is even better for them, when they do not get more than
enough of it for too many years. Hardship, difficulty, failure--these
knock the nonsense out of a man and teach him his art or his business;
there is something lacking from the character and work of one who has
never known them. Many authors recover at last from their failures, but
an instant and early success is generally fatal; it makes them take
themselves too seriously and their work not seriously enough; their
vogue dwindles, in consequence, and the publishers who began to run
after them begin to run away from them. There is little more difference
between a too triumphant beginning and an unending failure than between
a drought and a deluge.

The two extremes are equally devastating, and A. S. M. Hutchinson is
among the luckier ones who have been destined to a middle course. He
has not won his pearl without diving for it; but he has not had to dive
and come up empty-handed.

Those who imagine, as some do, that, with “If Winter Comes,” he simply
came, and saw, and conquered, imagine a vain thing. He had come three
times before that, and had, moreover, toiled at the oar as a very
miscellaneous journalist, a writer of articles and short stories that
editors too frequently rejected. If he never exactly lived in Grub
Street, he sojourned for a few years in a turning out of it.

He had no literary or journalistic ancestry, and was originally
dedicated to another profession, but he did not “drift into
journalism”--that not being his way; he walked into it deliberately,
having made up his mind to go there. His father is a General in
the Indian Army, and A. S. M. was born in India, in 1880. But his
grandfather was a doctor of medicine, and at an early age Hutchinson
was settled in London, beginning a career of his own as a Medical
student. To this day, he has a quiet, kindly, sympathetic bearing that
would have served him as an excellent bedside manner, if he had taken
his M. D. and put up a brass plate. But he is one of the shyest, most
retiring of men; you cannot associate him with any sort of brass; and
even while he was trying a ’prentice hand in medicine and surgery at
St. Thomas’s Hospital a private ambition was drawing him in another

“I always intended to earn my living with my pen,” he told me, some
years ago. “I was writing then in my leisure, sending out all kinds of
MSS. and getting most of them back, and at length I took the plunge
when I had about one short story accepted by a magazine, two articles
by _Punch_ and some verses by _Scraps_. I did not know a soul who had
the remotest connection with literary work, but I chanced it.”

And threw physic to the dogs. He did not limit himself to any working
hours, but by writing hard all day contrived to pick up a regular five
shillings a week from _Scraps_ for comic verse, and, augmenting this
from a precarious sale of articles and tales to various publications,
compiled a weekly income of about one pound sterling. He had done this
for three months or so, when a letter came from _Pearson’s_ accepting a
story and asking for more; and he has related how this sent him crazy
all day with excitement. A few days later he was asked to call at the
office and undertake a small, special job, and, one thing leading to
another, was presently engaged on the staff at £2 10s. a week. By
the time he had gained experience as assistant editor of the _Royal
Magazine_ and been made co-editor of the _Rapid Review_, he felt the
hour had come for another plunge.

A friend of those days describes him as “a slight, almost boyish young
man of middle-height, who gazed at you with intense concentration
through the powerful lenses of his glasses.” This still describes him,
if you touch in an elusive twinkle of genial humor about the mouth and
eyes, and add that his slightness, despite something of a stoop, gives
him an appearance of being actually tall. Already he had started on
his first novel, “Once Aboard the Lugger,” and wanted to cut adrift
from too much editing and escape into other fields. He resigned from
_Pearson’s_ and hearing that the _Daily Graphic_ was looking for a
leader-note writer, posted specimens, and secured the appointment as
a stand-by. In 1907 he was sub-editing that paper, and edited it from
1912 to 1916.

Meanwhile, “Once Aboard the Lugger” being finished, he offered it to
one publisher who declined it, because “humor was not in his line,” and
to another who published it, in 1908; and it scored what counts for a
considerable success, if you do not compare its sales with those of
his fourth and fifth books. That out of hand, he commenced “The Happy
Warrior,” but when it was done, was dissatisfied with it, and being,
as he confesses, “an appallingly, vilely conscientious” worker, he did
it all over again. It swallowed the leisure of four years, but when it
came out, in 1912, added not a little to his reputation.

His first book was a lively mingling of comedy and burlesque; his
second, a realistic romance of humor and pathos, struck a deeper note,
was fired with a fine idealism, and revealed him as a shrewd observer
and one subtly acquainted with the complexities of human character.
Then in 1914 came “The Clean Heart,” the tragedy of a life that lost
its way, of one who had to learn through folly and suffering that
self-sacrifice is the secret of happiness. It was as successful as its
predecessors, and I am not sure that they are wrong who hold that it
is the best of all Hutchinson’s work; but the War overshadowed it and
left it no chance of anticipating the phenomenal popularity that was
waiting for his later books.

For nine years he published no more. He was serving as a lieutenant of
the Royal Engineers, attached to the Canadian forces, and, after the
peace, went as a Captain of the R. E., with the Army of Occupation,
into Germany. Before he was demobilized he had planned his fourth
novel, and when he could, at length, return to civilian life, he
decided not to hamper himself again with journalism but to stake his
prospects on his new book, and in 1921 “If Winter Comes” more than
amply justified him of his decision. Not more than one or two novels
within my remembrance have leaped into such instant and enormous
popularity. For a few weeks it was praised by the reviews, but there
was no particular stirring of the waters till a “boom” broke out in
America. The noise of it soon woke us over here, and the story got
rapidly into its stride; Hutchinson suddenly found himself famous as
a best-seller of half a million copies in America and half as many in
his own country. The furore it created had scarcely showed signs of
subsiding when “This Freedom” followed in its wake and brewed another
storm. A storm of mingled eulogy and censure; for the critics this
time were largely hostile. The story handled the problem of woman’s
emancipation, and Hutchinson stood for the old ideals of femininity,
the sanctities and traditional duties of womanhood; he believed that a
mother has positive and inalienable responsibilities, and set himself
to demonstrate that she could not put them by and arrogate to herself
a share of what is known as man’s work in the world without neglecting
her children, losing their affection, and bringing tragic disaster
on them and on her husband. He was accused of exaggeration; of being
out of sympathy with the modern spirit; but if, instead of giving the
novel this general application, you take it, as a work of imagination
should be taken--as a story of what happened when one woman strove
to break away from conventions and be herself at all risks--it is a
powerful and poignantly suggestive narrative and one that may well be
temperamentally true of such a woman and of such a family.

Here, as in his other books, Hutchinson is so in earnest and realizes
his characters so intensely, that he becomes, as it were, this
character and that in succession, slips involuntarily into writing from
their standpoints as if he personally felt the wrong, hope, pain or
passion each experienced, and this misleads some of his critics into
taking for mannerisms what are nothing but his intimate realization of
his people and the outcome of his complete sincerity. He is so closely
interested in them himself that he cannot play the showman and stand
apart exhibiting his puppets; to him they are not puppets but have
burgeoned and become living realities and their emotions are his no
less than theirs.

On the stage “If Winter Comes” did not capture the public so completely
as it did in the book, but it ran well in London and the provinces and
here and in America still keeps its place on tour. It has got on to
the films, of course and “This Freedom” is following in its footsteps.

Hutchinson took his first successes with a tranquillity that seemed
like indifference, and his later and larger triumphs and the
denunciations he has endured, have I think, moved him as little. He has
aimed at doing his own work in his own way, and his popularity is an
accident; he is not the sort of man that finds success, but the sort of
man that success finds.


[Illustration: SHEILA KAYE-SMITH]

Talking of Charlotte Bronte, in a novel of Sheila Kaye-Smith’s that
goes back to mid-Victorian days, a hairy young man, with a mustache,
in addition to the whiskers of the period, agrees that she is crude
and outlandish, and adds, “That always comes when women write books.
They’re so frightened of being called feminine that they bury what
talent they may have under a mountain of manliness--and manliness for
them consists entirely of oaths and violence and scarlet sin.”

Whether you agree or disagree with him, the hairy young critic was
expressing an opinion that was common among his contemporaries, who
have handed it down to a large number of their successors. It was
probably half true, and is not so true now as it was. The women
novelists now who specialise in scarlet sin have no particular use for
oaths and violence. Moreover, though it would be easy to name several
who have a tendency to color their pages with sin of all colors, there
is nothing exclusively masculine in that and their novels remain
essentially feminine. It would be easy to name others who are much
addicted to violent scenes and characters, but I doubt whether that is
any conscious attempt on their part to be manly--on the contrary, it
arises from an inherent, very feminine admiration of that barbaric
strength and muscular vigor which the average woman is supposed to
find so splendid and so attractive in the average man. It is such an
orthodox feminine conception of the ideal male that its presence in a
story almost inevitably betrays the sex of the author.

All which means no more than that the woman novelist quite legitimately
does her best to draw a man, as the man novelist does his best to draw
a woman, and she succeeds nearly as often; and no woman novelist, past
or present, has been more uniformly and extraordinarily successful
in this difficult application of her art than Sheila Kaye-Smith. It
is usual for the male author to excuse his artistic shortcomings by
insisting that woman is a mystery and it is impossible to comprehend
her; but it seems likely that he may himself be as much of a mystery to
woman and that is why, in fiction, the men she depicts so often seem
like women in masquerade. Two of our leading women writers, who can
analyse and reveal characters of their own sex with an almost uncanny
insight, lose that power when they try to exercise it on the male of
the species and he thinks, feels and talks in their pages more or less
after the manner of women. They are brilliantly clever in every other
way, but can only make man in their own image.

But the men in Miss Kaye-Smith’s novels are the real thing; they are
the unqualified male in whom male readers unhesitatingly recognize
their kind. Not because they are harsh or brutal, though some of them
are that; not because they are susceptible to the lure of the other
sex and masterfully override the laws of conventional morality, though
some of them do that; not because they are heavy drinkers and lusty
fighters with their fists, though some of them are this and some that;
but simply because in their general habits, their ordinary everyday
behavior, in what they say no less than in what they think, they are
obviously of the masculine gender. It is easy to create an illusion
that your character is a man if you call him a soldier and describe him
as acting with vigor or daring; but take this fragment of conversation,
chosen at random from “The Challenge to Sirius,” between Frank Rainger
and the retired studious Mr. Bellack. Frank is the son of an embittered
gentleman who has withdrawn from the struggle of life; he works, from
choice, on the farm where he and his father live, and goes daily to
the Rectory to take lessons with Mr. Bellack, but has come to hesitate
between his love of working on the land and a desire to go away
somewhere and know more of life, and asks his tutor to advise him:

“‘The question is which is the best: happiness or experience? If it’s
experience, you had better get out of this hole as quickly as possible;
if it’s happiness, you had better stay where you are.’

“‘Which do you think it is, sir?’

“‘My good boy, how can I tell you? Personally I would rather you did
not go to London and take your chances there, as I feel that, though
you have brains and certain rudimentary gifts, it is not the kind of
life you are cut out for, and that you will probably fail and be
wretched. On the other hand, never renounce what seems to you a good
opportunity and a fine experience because an old chap like me hints at
trouble ahead. Besides, your father would rather see you starve as a
journalist than grow fat as a farmer. Perhaps he is right--perhaps I

“‘Did you ever have to make a choice of your own, sir?’

“‘Certainly I did, and I chose to be Rector of Wittersham with an
income of two hundred a year, no congenial society, a congregation of
hop-sacks, and for my sole distraction the teaching of a muddle-headed
boy who, at the age of nineteen, is still undecided as to how he shall
live the rest of his life.’

“‘So you chose wrong, I reckon.’

“‘How do you reckon any such thing? You don’t know what my alternative
was. Besides, you may be sure of this, no matter which way you choose
you will never definitely know whether you were wrong or right. The
great question of all choosers and adventurers is “Was it worth
while?”--and whatever else you may expect of life, don’t expect an
answer to that.’”

Now if there had been nothing to indicate who the boy was talking
with you would know at once he was not talking to a woman, for there
is a man’s way of thinking, a man’s manner, even a man’s voice in all
that Mr. Bellack says. There is always this subtle, easy, truthfully
realistic presentation of Miss Kaye-Smith’s male characters, of the
mild, unassertive, commonplace, as well as the aggressive and more
virile of them. Her rustic clowns are as roughly human and racy of the
soil as Hardy’s. Robert Fuller, half animal, half saint, in “Green
Apple Harvest”; Monypenny, the practical idealist of “Tamarisk Town,”
who, ambitious to develop and popularize a seaside resort, triumphs
over all obstacles, carries his schemes through, rises to wealth and
dignity, and, sacrificing to his ambition the woman he loves, finds
himself lonely and unhappy on his height and turns remorsefully
and madly to destroy all he has so laboriously built; Miles, in
“Starbrace,” with his strangely varying moods, his strength and pitiful
weaknesses; the stern, harsh, ruggedly heroic Reuben Backfield, in
“Sussex Gorse,” wholly given over to his desperate, indomitable fight
for the possession of a wild unfruitful common; Mr. Sumption, the dour,
pathetic Baptist minister in “Little England,” a graphic, poignant
revelation of what the war meant in a rural community, and one of the
two or three great novels of that era--these and, in their differing
class and degree, all the men who belong to her stories are real,
authentic, humans--are men in flesh and bone and spirit, easy, natural,

Her women are drawn with a knowledge that is apparently as minutely
exact and is certainly as sympathetic. If I had to single out her most
remarkable study in feminine temperament and psychology, I think I
should say Joanna Godden; but her explicit interpretations of women are
not so unusual as her understanding of men. She knows their businesses
as thoroughly as she knows them. If, like Coalbran or Backfield, they
are farmers and working on the land, she is not contented with vivid
generalities but makes the varied, multifarious circumstance of farming
and cattle raising, and the whole atmosphere and environment that has
moulded their lives part of her story. When Monypenny devotes himself
to the development of Tamarisk Town you are not asked to take anything
for granted but are shown how he financed his scheme, acquired land,
carried out his building operations, how the borough was formed, and
the elections conducted--you follow the growth of the place through its
various stages, and Monypenny’s own story grows with and through it.
It is this acquaintance with practical detail, this filling in of all
essential surroundings that help to give the novels their convincing
air of realism.

You would not suspect such broad and deep knowledge of humanity and the
affairs of the world in the quiet, soft-spoken, grey-eyed, dreamy, very
feminine person you discover the author to be when you meet her. At a
little distance, too, with her slight figure and bobbed hair, you might
take her for a mere school-girl. Little more than a school-girl she was
when she wrote her first novel, “The Tramping Methodist,” which, after
being rejected half a dozen times, was published in 1909. She had no
further difficulties with publishers, however, for this and her second
book, “Starbrace,” next year, put her on sure ground with critics and
public, though she had to wait for the beginnings of popularity until
“Tamarisk Town” came out in 1919.

She was born at Hastings, her father being a doctor there, and has
passed all her life in Sussex. Her first two novels are of the
eighteenth century; one or two are of mid-Victorian times; the rest
are of our own day. Occasionally she brings her people to London, but
nearly always they are at home in Kent or Sussex. In “The Challenge to
Sirius” and “The End of the House of Alard” they are on the borderland
of the two counties; but mostly her scenes are in the county where she
was born. In her books she has become its interpreter and made it her
own. She has put something of her love of it and of the rugged lives
and passions of its folk into the poems in “Willow Forge,” and “Saints
in Sussex”; but her best poetry is in her novels. If you can compare
her with some of her leading women contemporaries you have a sense of
as much difference between them as there is between the collector of
insects and the hunter of big game. Those others take you into a study
and scientifically exhibit curious specimens under a microscope; she
is too warmly human for such pendantries and takes you where there is
sky and grass and a whole ordinary world full of mortal creatures and
shows you them living and working in the light of common day. I believe
the secret of her power is largely in her complete unselfconsciousness;
she has no affectations; the charm and strength of her style is its
limpid simplicity; she seems, while you read, to be merely letting her
characters act and think; to be thinking of her work and never of her
own cleverness; as if she were too sure and spontaneous an artist to be
even aware of the fact.


[Illustration: RUDYARD KIPLING]

It is usual to write of the 1890’s as the days of the decadents; but I
never see them so labeled without being reminded of the Hans Brietmann

  “Hans Brietmann gif a barty:
  Vhere is dot barty now?”...

For though Wilde and Beardsley remain, the rest of their hectic
group have either gone home or are going, and, from this distance
it is possible to focus that decade and realize that its prevailing
influences were Henley and Stevenson, and that the true glory of the
90’s is that they were the flowering time of Shaw, Barrie, Wells and

Kipling, indeed, began his literary career in the 80’s, and by the end
of the 90’s was the most popular, the most belauded and decried of
living authors. After being sent home to Westward Ho! in Devon, to be
educated at the school he has immortalized in “Stalkey & Co.,” he went
back to India (where he was born in 1865), and served successively on
the staffs of the Lahore _Civil and Military Gazette_ and the Allahabad
_Pioneer_ from 1882 to 1889. The satirical verses, sketches of native
character, stories of Anglo-Indian life, with their intriguings and
their shrewd understandings of the shabbier side of human nature,
that he contributed to those papers between the age of seventeen and
twenty-five, rather justified Barrie’s _dictum_ that he was “born
_blasé_.” But when they were collected into his first eight or nine
small books--“Departmental Ditties,” “Plain Tales from the Hills,”
“In Black and White,” “Soldiers Three,” “Under the Deodars,” and the
rest--they capped an instant boom in India with an even more roaring
success in England and America. The vogue of the shilling shocker was
then in its infancy, and Kipling’s insignificant looking drab-covered
booklets competed triumphantly with that showy ephemeral fiction on
our bookstalls for the suffrage of the railway traveller. From the
start, like Dickens, he was no pet of a select circle but appealed to
the crowd. While his contemporaries, the daintier decadents, issued
their more perishable preciosities in limited editions elegantly bound,
he carelessly flung his pearls before swine, and the maligned swine
recognized that they were pearls before the critics began to tell them

And when he came to England again, a youth of five-and-twenty, his
fame had come before him. He settled down from 1889 to 1891, on an
upper floor of a gloomy building squeezed between shops, at 19 Villiers
Street, Strand, and in that somewhat squalid London thoroughfare
were written some of the best stories in “Life’s Handicap,” and two
of his comparative failures--“The Record of Badalia Herodsfoot,” and
his first novel, “The Light that Failed.” Stevenson in his letters,
about then, deplored his “copiousness and haste,” said, “He is all
smart journalism and cleverness; it is all bright and shallow and
limpid, like a business paper--a good one, _s’entendu_; but there’s
no blot of heart’s blood and the Old Night ... I look on and admire;
but in a kind of ambition we all have for our tongue and literature,
I am wounded.” But, naturally, Stevenson, conjuring fastidiously with
words, like a lapidary with jewels, felt that his literary ideals
were outraged by this exuberant, amazing young man who, coming with a
banjo for a lyre, took the sacred temple of the Muses by violence and
disturbed it with raucous echoes of the music hall; who brought the
manners and speech of the canteen into the library, made free use of
slang and ugly colloquialisms with the most brilliant effectiveness,
and in general strode rough-shod over so many accepted artistic
conventions. It was easy to say his verse was meretriciously catchy,
but its cleverness, the bite of its irony and humor were indisputable;
that his Anglo-Indian stories were marred by vulgarities and crudities
of characterization; that the riotous humors of Mulvaney and his
soldier-chums showed nothing but a boisterous, schoolboyish sense of
fun; but there was no denying the originality of mind, the abounding
genius that was experimentally at work in all these things.

Not only had Kipling broken new ground; he had defied conventions
and broken it in a new way of his own, and through the following ten
years he was justified of his daring by the maturer, more masterly
poems and stories in “Barrack-Room Ballads,” “The Seven Seas,” “Many
Inventions,” the two “Jungle Books,” and, above all, by “Kim”--that
wonderful story, steeped in the magic of the Orient, with its rich
gallery of characters, native and European, and its intimately pictured
panorama of the strange, motley life that flows along the Grand Trunk

He was a born story-teller, and could interest you as keenly in ships,
bridges, machinery and mechanical objects as in the human comedy and
tragedy. He could take his tone with an equal mastery, as occasion
served, from the smoke-room, the bar or the street, and from the golden
phrasing and flashing visions of the biblical prophets. However much
the critics might qualify and hesitate, the larger world of readers,
men and women, cultured and uncultured, took him to their hearts
without reserve. Never since Dickens died had any author won so magical
a hold on the admiration and affection of our people.

In those days, at the height of his fame, when he lay dangerously ill
in New York, the cables could not have flung more bulletins across the
world, nor the newspapers followed his hourly progress more excitedly
if it had been a ruling monarch _in extremis_. The Kaiser cabled
enquiries; all England and America stood in suspense, as it were, at
the closed door of that sick chamber, as those who loved Goldsmith
lingered on his staircase, when he was near the end, waiting for news
of him. Yet, curiously enough, in the personality of Kipling, so far
as it has revealed itself to his readers, there is little of the
gentleness and lovableness of Goldsmith, nor of the genial, overflowing
kindness that drew the multitude to Dickens. It was the sheer spell and
brilliance of his work, I think, that drew them to Kipling more than
the lure of any personal charm.

During the Boer War he developed into the poet and apostle of
Imperialism; became our high-priest of Empire, Colonial expansion,
commercial supremacy and material prosperity. You may see in some
of his poems of that period and in his recently published “Letters
of Travel” how he has failed to advance with the times, how out of
touch he is with the spirit of modern democracy. A certain arrogance
and cocksureness had increased upon him; his god was the old Hebrew
god of battles, his the chosen race, and even amid the magnificent
contritions of the “Recessional” he cannot forget that we are superior
to the “lesser breeds without the law.” He is no idealist and has no
sympathy with the hopes of the poor and lowly; there is scornfulness in
his attitude toward those who do not share his belief that the present
social order cannot be improved, who do not join him in worshipping
“the God of things as they are,” but pay homage rather to the God of
things as they ought to be. And yet I remember the beauty, the wisdom
and whimsical understanding there is in his stories for children--I
remember that children’s song in “Puck of Pook’s Hill”--

  “Teach us the strength that cannot seek,
  By deed or thought, to hurt the weak;
  That, under Thee, we may possess
  Man’s strength to comfort man’s distress.”

--I remember stray, poignant things in this book and that, especially
in “The Years Between,” and am ready to think I misjudge him when
I take his intolerant Imperialism too seriously, and that these
rarer, kindlier moods, these larger-hearted emotions are at least as
characteristic of him.

Someday somebody will gather into one glorious volume “The Finest
Story in the World,” “Without Benefit of Clergy,” “At the End of the
Passage,” “The Man Who Would Be King,” “The Brushwood Boy,” “They,” and
a score or so of other short stories; and with “Kim,” and a book of
such poems as “Sussex,” “Tomlinson,” “To the True Romance,” “M’Andrew’s
Hymn,” “The Last Chantey,” those great ballads of “The Bolivar” and
“The Mary Gloster,” and half a hundred more, there will be enough and
more than enough to give him rank with those whose work shall endure
“while there’s a world, a people and a year.” After all, most of his
Imperialistic verse and his prose essays into political and economic
problems were mainly topical and are already pretty much out of date;
he is rich enough to let them go and be none the poorer.

If his popularity has waned it is chiefly, as I have said, because he
has not advanced with the times--he has lost touch with the real spirit
of his age; and I believe that is a result of his having withdrawn too
much from contact with his fellows. Dickens did not immure himself at
Gads’ Hill; he was always returning to those planes where ordinary
folk do congregate and found inspiration, to the last, out among
the stir and business of the world. Shakespeare’s work was done in
the hurly-burly of London--he stagnated, after he settled down at
Stratford, and wrote no more; and one feels that if Kipling would only
come out from his hermitage at Burwash and mingle again in the crowded
ways of men, as he did in the fulness of his powers, he has it in him
yet to be “a bringer of new things,” that shall add new luster even to
his old renown.


[Illustration: WILLIAM JOHN LOCKE]

You can account for almost every other sort of sudden outbreak, but why
an author of W. J. Locke’s unquestionably popular appeal should have
had to write eight novels in nine years and only achieve popularity all
of a sudden with a ninth in the tenth is one of those mysteries that
baffle even the wisest. There is no reason why any one out of six of
those earlier books should not have done as much for him, for they have
the same distinction of style, the same wit and humor, gay romance and
charming sentiment that captivated the reader so effectively in “The
Morals of Marcus Ordeyne”--indeed, I still think that its immediate
predecessor, “Where Love Is,” at least equaled that novel in all those
qualities, and in delicacy and finish of workmanship went beyond it. So
I put the problem and make no pretence to offering a solution of it but
cast myself for the safer, humbler role of the chronicler of facts.

The fact that nearly all his stories are sweetened with a gracious
human kindness and a full allowance of love and sentiment might be
traced by subtle psychologists to some benign influence that the place
of his nativity had upon him, for he was born in British Guiana, at
Georgetown on the Demarara, where the sugar comes from. There may or
may not be something in such a theory; anyhow, that is where he was
born in 1863 and after an interval in England, he was sent to school
at Trinidad, where his father was a banker. Returning to England, when
he was eighteen, he matriculated at Cambridge, took the Mathematical
Tripos, and, having completed his education at St. John’s College,
departed from it with his B. A. degree.

Thereafter, he lived for a while in France; he has lived there a good
deal, from time to time, since then, and if you were not aware of this
you would guess as much, and that he had a warm regard for the French
people, and a wide acquaintance with the literature of France, from
the sympathy and intimacy with which he draws the French characters
in his stories, and from a certain airy, sparkling wit and laughing,
good-humored cynicism that belong to him and are commonly accepted
as peculiar to the Gallic temperament. It has been said that he has
affinities with Anatole France. He has none of Anatole’s daring
irreverencies; nor his passionate revolt against the existing order of
society, nor his power in social satire; but he has the sure touch that
is at once light and scholarly, an abounding sense of fantasy, and a
tolerant, worldly-wise philosophy that he edges with an irony often as
delicately shrewd though never so bitter, so devastating as that of the
great French master.

But we are going ahead too fast. When Locke quitted Cambridge he was
still a long way from the beginning of his literary career. I believe
he was already writing stories in those days, and am told that he
wrote at least one novel--one, moreover, of a highly melodramatic and
sensational kind--but he was too severely self-critical to attempt
to publish it and it remains hidden away in manuscript to this hour.
Feeling it was time to turn to something for a livelihood, he put an
end to holidaying in France and became for some years mathematical
tutor at a school in the North Country. I have seen it suggested
that his mastery of mathematics has been as valuable to him in the
construction of his novels as Hardy’s practical knowledge of the
principles of architecture has been to him, but you are at liberty to
doubt this after reading the opinion of that science which he allows
Marcus Ordeyne to express. “I earned my living at school-slavery,”
says Marcus, “teaching children the most useless, the most disastrous,
the most soul-cramping branch of knowledge wherewith pedagogues in
their insensate folly have crippled the minds and blasted the lives
of thousands of their fellow-creatures--elementary mathematics.” From
which you may gather also that he took little joy in those years
of labor in the school up North, and the wonder is that his native
urbanity and gracious personal charm should have remained completely
unruffled by those uncongenial experiences.

He had escaped from schoolmastering and published four novels before he
was appointed secretary of the Royal Institute of British Architects,
and he did not relinquish that post until after his two most successful
novels had made him famous and his position in literature was more than

Not as a precocious genius, but as a man of thirty-two who had
seen enough of life to know something about it, Locke entered the
publisher’s list in 1895 and challenged the world at large with his
first book, “At the Gate of Samaria.” It was by way of being a problem
novel, for the problem novel was then having a day out. It was done
in rather somber, more realistic colors than he was going to use in
his succeeding stories; has little of the gaiety, glancing fancy
and idealistic sentiment that have now become characteristic of his
work. But it was a sound, capable piece of craftsmanship, the critics
were on the whole appreciative, the public interested, and the sales
respectable without being exciting.

Following this in steady succession came “The Demagogue and Lady
Phayre,” “A Study in Shadows,” “Derelicts,” “Idols,” “The Usurper,”
“Where Love Is”--and the reviewers went on handing out laurels to him
(most of them), his circle of readers remained loyal, and it began
to look as if he were settling down among the many novelists whose
unfailing public is large enough to make an author’s life worth while
but has done growing. Yet by the time he had written “Derelicts” he had
discovered the formula that was presently to carry him far beyond such
quiet success into a roaring popularity; he had discovered his gift
for transfiguring the commonplace world and its people, conjuring them
into a fairy-tale and still making his men and women seem amazingly
lifelike and his tale all true. Nor is there any hint of disparagement
in saying this. Hasn’t Chesterton eulogistically declared that Mr.
Pickwick is a fairy? Doesn’t he insist that all Dickens’ characters
are fairies, gnomes and his scenes laid in a fairyland of his own
invention? There is a sense in which this is simple truth; a sense
in which it is the simplest truth of Locke. He is an idealist, and
sees that soul of goodness in things evil which remains invisible to
your superficial, short-sighted, unimaginative realist. He has the
imagination that creates, and therefore is not contented merely to
observe and describe what any of us can see for himself, but rightly
treats the visible existences around him as raw material for his art,
chooses his clay puppets and somewhat etherealizes them, touches them
with ideal qualities that most of us have but only exercise in our
dreams, as a magician might take a dull peasant and turn him into a
prince, not making him less human but more finely human in the process.

For ten years he wove his spells adroitly and that circle of the
faithful was susceptible to them; then he did it once again and, in
1905, with “The Morals of Marcus Ordeyne,” did it so triumphantly that
Marcus was soon the talk of the town, the book of the year, and not
only a special section but a wide world of all sorts and conditions was
at his feet. Yet there is nothing in the story to justify the miracle.
It is a typical Locke fantasy, and certainly not superior in theme or
treatment to its immediate forerunner. Sir Marcus, you remember, meets
on the Thames Embankment the lost, helpless, pretty Carlotta, who has
been brought from a Turkish harem by a rescuer who has deserted her; he
takes pity on the child, adopts her, devotes himself to her training
and upbringing with, after many tribulations, the only ending that
could have pleased everybody. Nothing here for which one would prophecy
a “boom.” But the book was full of character; its various characters
were all alive, such human traits were touched into them so subtly that
you could not disbelieve in them while the author had his spell on
you; and the whole thing was told with a wit and humor so lively and
so delicate, a sentiment so irresistibly alluring that you surrendered
yourself to the sheer delight of it without thinking what you were
doing. I recollect how one critic began by saying the plot was crude
and ridiculous, and ended by confessing his enjoyment, his admiration
of the artistic finish with which even the slightest characters were
drawn, and praising without stint the cleverness and brilliant ease of
the narrative throughout. That was the kind of hold it took upon its
readers. It gave Locke a vogue in America too, and being dramatized
filled a London theater for many nights and toured the provinces for

Next year Locke clinched his success with the greatest of his
books--“The Beloved Vagabond,” which eclipsed “The Morals of Marcus”
as a novel if not as a play, and still remains the high-water mark of
his achievement. It is the outstanding picaresque romance of our day.
Mr. Locke has a special weakness for such delightful, irresponsible,
romantic, golden-hearted rascals as Paragot, who could so easily have
been a squalid, unmitigated bounder in the hands of a plodding realist.
Sebastian Pasquale, in “The Morals of Marcus Ordeyne,” is a lesser
member of the same family; so is that later, slighter, joyous heathen
Aristide Pujol; and there are other such in other of his books.

The driving force behind his stories is their sincerity; their sympathy
with the sins, follies, vanities, errors of the motley human multitude
is his own; they are idealistic because he is himself an idealist and
in some ways almost as quixotic as any of his favorite heroes. He puts
himself into his books, and you find him there, scholarly, kindly,
witty, unaffected, and so much a man of the world that he no more feels
it necessary to write like one than a millionaire feels it necessary to
prove he is rich by talking all the time about his money.


[Illustration: STEPHEN MCKENNA]

You would think it should be easy--far easier than writing a novel--for
any man of literary capacity to sit down and write the story of his
own life, bring into it, instead of imaginary characters, the real
men and women he has known, and so make a great Autobiography. Yet
there are fewer great books in autobiography than in any other form of
literature. Some years ago I was remarking on this to Keble Howard, and
he accounted for the deficiency by laying it down that hardly any man
started to write his memoirs till his memory was failing and he was
getting too old to work. It is supposed to be presumptuous, a little
self-conceited, for a celebrity of any sort to publish his private
history until he is so far advanced in years that, even if he has done
nothing else respectable, he can claim to be respected on account of
his age. Howard contended, and I agree with him, that a man of seventy
or so has generally forgotten as much of the earlier half of his life
as he remembers, and often misinterprets what he does remember because
he looks back on it from a wholly different standpoint, misses the
importance of things that were important when they happened, feels for
his young self now as he did not feel at the time, makes tragedies of
what then seemed comedies, and comedies of what seemed tragedies, and
gets the whole picture out of focus.

I have lived long enough since then to have been able to prove for
myself that all this is accurate; for I have read divers memoirs of men
whom I knew when they were middle-aged and I was youthful, noting how
much they omitted, incidents they have warped in the telling, events
to which they have given an emotional significance that never really
belonged to them. To remedy such a state of things Keble Howard’s idea
was that anybody who had done anything and meant to do more, should
write the first volume of his autobiography when he was under thirty,
while he was still near enough to his youth not to have lost all the
freshness of its feelings, still near enough to his childhood to be
able to revive in his thoughts the actual magic of its atmosphere; he
should write his second volume when he was about fifty, and his third
when he was so far from the beginning that the end could not be much
farther on. That is the only way, I believe, to do the thing perfectly.
We have so few great autobiographies because most of them are more or
less imaginary, so few of them are true.

Possibly Stephen McKenna arrived independently at the same conclusion,
for in 1921, when he was thirty-three, he published “While I Remember,”
which is in effect the first volume of his autobiography. But he
reveals less of himself in this than of his surroundings. He is too
much of what is commonly described as a gentleman of the old school
to indulge in personalities and give away unpleasant facts about his
friends, or even about his enemies; he will criticize their public
life with devastating wit and epigrammatic satire, but he betrays no
intimacies, will have nothing to say of their private characters or
conduct, and he is almost as reticent in talking of himself as of
others. You gather from his first autobiographical fragment that before
he went to Oxford, of which he gives some delightful impressionistic
sketches, he went to Westminster School, and was for a while, a
teacher there, and perhaps the most personal note in the book is in
a greeting to some of his old pupils, which owns that he blushes to
recall the lessons he taught them. “My incompetence was incurable,”
he says. “I should be well pleased to think that your memories of me
are a hundredth part as kindly as my memories of you. Does it comfort
you to know that my awe of you continued for three terms? If ever the
prayer-bell had not rung before I showed that I could not solve some
diabolical equation! If you could have seen into my mind during the
first week when I ranged you in alphabetical order and guided myself
despairingly by the two red-heads in the form!”

If he does not fill his pages with careless and indiscreet gossip of
all sorts of well-known people it is not for lack of material, but
simply that he has a conscience and a strict code of honor that make
such chatter impossible to him. He will tell you of his experience,
during the War, in the Intelligence section of the War Trade
Department, and, briefly, of his experiences with the Balfour Mission
in America, but though he has mixed largely in modern society and the
world of letters and, as nephew of one of the ablest of latter-day
Chancellors of the Exchequer, has been a good deal behind the scenes
in political circles, he does not, after the manner of the usual
sensational Diaries and Memoirs, now-a-days, scarify individual members
of any circle, but reserves his commentary and condemnation for the
changes and degeneration that have come over our general social habits
and behavior, limits his discussion of contemporary writers to their
works, and his criticism of famous politicians, and this is drastic
enough, to their doings and misdoings in the political scene.

All which reticences are natural to him and exactly characteristic.
They seem to denote an austerity that is in keeping with his somewhat
ascetic appearance. But if in profile, as somebody has suggested,
he curiously resembles the portraits of Dante, there is more of the
graciousness than of the gloom and bitterness of the somber Florentine
in his composition. You may realize that if you read “Tex,” the
charming memorial volume he produced after the death of Texiera
de Mattos. It is a collection of his dead friend’s letters linked
together with explanatory notes of his own, and in these letters, and
indirectly in the notes, I think you get more intimate glimpses of the
real McKenna than anywhere else, and find him, behind the polite mask
and settled air of restraint, often irresponsibly outspoken, always
sympathetic, warm-hearted, and with a very genius for friendship.

If he has studiously avoided personalities in his memoirs, he has,
of course, drawn freely in his novels on his knowledge of political
and social life and people, though even there nobody has, so far,
pretended to recognize living originals of any of his characters. He
began his career as a novelist with two artificial comedies. “The
Reluctant Lover,” in 1912, and “Sheila Intervenes,” in 1913. They
had some affinity with the romantic fantasies of W. J. Locke and the
sparkling talk of “Dodo” and “The Dolly Dialogues.” The story in each
was told with the lightest of light touches, and the conversations
were punctuated with smart epigrams. Their cleverness was undeniable,
and already, in “Sheila,” he was making play with his knowledge of
political affairs. They were brilliantly clever, but ran entertainingly
on the surface of things. He was learning to use his tools; feeling his
way. In “The Sixth Sense” he was beginning to find it, and he found it
triumphantly in “Sonia, or Between Two Worlds.”

“Sonia” is one of the notable things in fiction that came out of the
War. It appeared in 1917, when we were all uplifted to high ideals and
sustained by a fine belief that a new and nobler world was to rise,
phœnix-like, out of the ashes and chaos into which the old world had
been resolved. The atmosphere of that time, all its surge of altruistic
emotion, are so sensitively and realistically preserved in the story
that one cannot re-read it now without a sense of regret that we have
forgotten so much of our near past and failed so meanly to realize
the better state that, in those dark days, we were all so sincerely
confident of building. Beginning in the decadent world of the late
’nineties and the dawn of the century, the story comes down, or goes
up, into the miraculously new world that the war made, and glances
optimistically into the future. Most of its characters are drawn from
the higher classes of society, and the love romance of Sonia and David
O’Rane, the most charming and glowingly human hero McKenna has ever
given us, has the social and political history of the period for its
setting. Never before or since has he shown himself so much of an
idealist nor handled great issues with such mastery and imaginative
insight. “Sonia” has been ranked with the great political novels of
Disraeli, and I doubt whether Disraeli ever did anything so fine in
poignancy of feeling and delicacy of style.

“Ninety-Six Hours’ Leave,” his other war novel, was a lively tale
written for amusement only; and “Sonia Married” maintained the
tradition attaching to sequels and did not rise to the level of
“Sonia.” The biggest of his other novels are, I think, “Midas and Son,”
a masterpiece of irony, a mordant satire on the vanity of riches; and
that brilliant study of the snobbishness, shallowness, cynicism, social
ambition of the unpleasant Lady Ann Spenworth, “The Confessions of a
Well-Meaning Woman.” It blends a maturer philosophy of life with the
vivacity and sparkle of his early conversational novels. It exposes
without mercy the squalid little soul of a person who is or has been
of importance in society, and if her self-revelations make her seem
abhorrent it is because she herself seems so abhorrently alive and so
minutely true to certain morbid, unlovely sides of human nature.

You would not guess from the abounding vitality he puts into his novels
that McKenna was by no means of the robust kind. In winter he generally
escapes from our unsatisfactory climate, and you hear of him voyaging
to remote parts of Asia or South America, or somewhere where the sun
shines. But when he is at home, there is an hour before lunch, at the
end of the morning’s work, that is given over to any friends who may
drop in at his pleasant Lincoln’s Inn chambers, to find him the most
genial and interesting and interested of hosts, with as neat a hand for
mixing a cocktail as any in London.



From a literary and dramatic point of view, Compton Mackenzie may
almost be said to have been born in the purple. Even a quite modest
minor prophet who had stood by his cradle at West Hartlepool, in
January, 1883, might have ventured to predict a future for him. For his
father was the well-known actor Edward Compton, author of several plays
and founder of the Compton Comedy Company, and his aunt was “Leah”
Bateman, one of the most famous Lady Macbeth’s who ever walked the
stage; his uncle C. G. Compton was a novelist of parts; and he numbers
among his distant relations the poet and critic John Addington Symonds
and that brilliant and, nowadays, too little appreciated novelist and
playwright “George Paston” (Miss E. M. Symonds). Nor did he absorb
all the gifts of the family, for that distinguished actress Miss Fay
Compton is his sister.

From St. Paul’s School, Mackenzie went to Oxford in the early years
of this century, and if he did not break any scholarship records
at Magdalen, he edited “The Oxford Point of View,” which he helped
to found, and became business manager of the Oxford Union Dramatic
Society, and on occasion showed himself an actor of distinction. After
leaving Oxford he married and withdrew into the wilds of Cornwall,
where he seems to have written industriously for some years with no
immediate results, beyond the publication of a book of verse in 1907,
and a play, “The Gentleman in Grey,” which was produced at the Lyceum
Theater, Edinburgh, but did not stay there long enough to matter. Also
in his Cornish retirement he wrote his first novel, “The Passionate
Elopement,” but it took him longer to get it published than to write
it. When it had been up to London and back again three or four times
it began to look so worthless and he grew so indifferent toward it
that he would not waste more money than necessary on it but let it go
wandering unregistered up and down and take its chance of being lost in
the post. Seven publishers had rejected it before, in a happy hour, he
sent it to Martin Secker, who was then about setting up in business,
and when he published it, early in 1911, it sold so well that within
three weeks it had to be reprinted. The story is of the eighteenth
century; the scene is laid at Curtain Wells, a gay and fashionable spa,
where Beau Ripple reigned supreme as Beau Nash used to reign at Bath.
The characters are as gracefully artificial as if they had walked out
of an eighteenth century pastoral--the pretty blue-eyed Phyllida, the
chivalrous Charles Lovely, who loves her in vain, and the dashing,
rascally card-sharper, Vernon, who wins her and carries her off in
the end--they live gracefully, and their tale is all told, and they
smile and sigh and mince and bow their ways through it, with the charm
and fragile daintiness that belongs to old minuets and Dresden china
shepherds and shepherdesses. Mackenzie has never done another such
light and exquisite caprice though he had every encouragement to repeat
the experiment, for “The Passionate Elopement” pleased the public as
well as the critics and had run through four editions by the end of the

Just before or immediately after this success, he came from his Cornish
fastness up to London, settled in Westminster, and turned his hand
to potting plays, writing lyrics and reviews for Pelissier, whose
“Follies” were then at the height of their popularity. But in spite
of these distracting employments he found time for a good deal of
more important work during the brief period that Westminster’s staid,
old-world North street numbered him among its tenants. There he wrote
his second novel, “Carnival,” and had prepared a dramatic version of it
before it was published in 1912; he collected a second volume of his
verse, “Kensington Rhymes” (since when he has done no other) and it
appeared in the same year; and he had begun on the writing of “Sinister
Street,” but had to lay it aside to cross the water and superintend the
production of “Carnival” at a New York theater.

He never set up his tent again in London; partly, I believe, because
its atmosphere had affected his health unfavorably; partly, I
suspect, because the social interruptions to which a town-dweller is
subject interfered too much with his working arrangements. Anyhow,
he transported himself to the Gulf of Naples and discovered an ideal
retreat in a delightful villa on the Isle of Capri. In these latter
days, as if the love of solitude had grown upon him, he has acquired
one of the smaller of the Channel Islands and made himself lord of
Herm, and now divides his year between that remote and rocky islet and
his villa at Capri.

At Capri he finished “Sinister Street,” one of the longest of modern
novels and much the longest of his own. Some of De Morgan’s were
nearly as long, and some by Dickens and Thackeray were longer, but
a book of two hundred and fifty thousand words is apt to daunt the
degenerate reader of to-day so “Sinister Street” was published in two
volumes with half a year’s interval between, and nobody was daunted.
No book of Mackenzie’s had a more enthusiastic reception. His readers
are uncertain whether this or “Guy and Pauline” is his highest, most
artistic achievement, and I am with those who give first place to
“Sinister Street.” If there has ever been a more revealing study of the
heart and mind and every-day life of a boy than that of Michael Fane,
I have never read it. He and his sister Stella, the Carthew family and
the miscellaneous characters gathered about them in their early years
are drawn with such sympathy and insight, such a sense of actuality,
that not a few have professed to identify living originals from whom
certain of them were modeled.

The War had broken out between the appearance of “Sinister Street” and
“Guy and Pauline” and Mackenzie had gone on the Dardanelles Expedition
as a Lieutenant (shortly to be promoted to a captaincy) in the
Royal Marines. He was invalided out of this business and presently
made successively, Military Control Officer at Athens, and Director
of an Intelligence Department at Syria, and in due course received
various honors for his War services. There is little or no trace of
the War in his subsequent books, unless you ascribe to its disturbing
influences the facts that neither “The Early Life and Adventures
of Sylvia Scarlett” nor “Sylvia and Michael,” admirable and vivid
picturesque stories as they are, will compare, either in subtlety of
characterization or in grace and strength of style, with the best
of his pre-war work. Neither “Rich Relatives” nor “Poor Relations”
marked much of a recovery, and “The Vanity Girl,” in which he uses the
war for the purpose of getting rid of a bad character, is not saved
by occasional flashes of narrative power and brilliant descriptive
passages from being an essay in picturesque and rather cheap melodrama.
But with “The Altar Steps” in 1922, he returned to higher levels--his
hand was never more cunning in the portrayal of character, and there
is enough in this story of the growth of Mark Lidderdale’s soul and
his progress toward the religious life to indicate that the author of
“Sinister Street” and “Guy and Pauline” is not yet to be put aside with
those whose future is behind them.

I have seen it said that two or three of Mackenzie’s novels are largely
autobiographical. Certainly he puts into them scenes and places that
were associated with his youth and early manhood, life at Oxford,
Cornwall, the theater and theatrical people, and goes on handling,
developing three or four of his characters in successive novels,
bringing them into this, that and the other story as if he were giving
them their proper place in episodes that had really happened. Sylvia
Scarlett reappears in “The Vanity Girl”; Maurice Avery of “Carnival”
flits through “Sinister Street,” and Guy Hazlewood, who is at Oxford in
that novel, is the hero of “Guy and Pauline,” in which also, Michael
Fane, the principal figure in “Sinister Street,” plays a very minor
part. Thackeray, Trollope and others practised the same device, and
there is no reliable significance in it, except that it helps the
reader, and probably the author himself, to an easier sense of the
reality of such persons. Something of Mackenzie’s childhood has gone,
no doubt, into his “Kensington Rhymes”; and he, like Michael Fane,
spent his boyhood at Kensington, attended a big public school in
London, and, like Michael, went to Oxford, and may have given Michael
throughout some of his own experiences. You may fancy resemblances
between his withdrawing into Cornwall and publishing a book of verse,
and Guy Hazlewood going, as his father has it, “to bury yourself in a
remote village where, having saddled yourself with the responsibilities
of a house, you announce your intention of living by poetry!” There may
be personal touches in this, and in Guy’s effort to find a publisher
for his book of poems, but who shall say where autobiography ends and
fiction begins? Naturally, every novelist works with his experience as
a potter works with clay, but he usually transfigures that raw material
and moulds it into new shapes of his own invention. The truest, most
living characters in fiction are those that draw their vitality from
the author’s self. No doubt if we knew enough about him, we could find
a good deal of Shakespeare in his most masterly characterizations.

There is a lot of solemn and pretentious nonsense talked in the name
of psychology. It is possible to make shrewd guesses, but no man can
positively analyse the mind of another.

When we think we are making a marvelous study of another’s motives,
we are studying the motives that would have been ours in his
circumstances. Professor Freud, with his doctrine of psychoanalysis,
has turned the head and choked the narrative vein of many an otherwise
capable novelist who has felt a spurious sense of superiority in trying
to graft the art of medicine on the art of fiction.

There is truer psychology in Mackenzie’s novels than in the precious
novels of most of our professed psychologists. He has done bigger work
than theirs with a more modest conception of the novelist’s function.
“I confess that I like a book to be readable,” he once wrote; “it seems
to me that a capacity for entertaining a certain number of people is
the chief justification for writing novels.” He deprecates this as “a
low-browed ambition,” but it was high enough for the great novelists of
the past, and the pseudo-medical methods of Freudism do not look like
producing any that are greater.


[Illustration: JOHN MASEFIELD]

Were I put to select the four or five poets who are most typically
modern--most essentially of our own time, I think I should name
Kipling, Hardy, Wilfrid Gibson, Siegfried Sassoon and John Masefield,
and Masefield perhaps before all. There are others who have written
poetry as fine, or even finer, but nearly all of them, had they been
contemporary with Tennyson, Wordsworth, Keats, Blake, might have
written very much as they are writing now without seeming to have been
born out of their due period. The five I have named could not have done
this: either in theme or manner their poems are too intimate a growth
of our own generation, as unmistakably of to-day as the motor-bus
or as wireless is. I am not forgetting Crabbe, the father of modern
realistic poetry, but he mitigated his unorthodoxies by observing a
respectable reticence of phrase, by subscribing to poetical conventions
of language, and clothing his newness in the old-fashioned mantle of

The philosophy of my chosen five may be sometimes akin to that of
Fitzgerald’s Omar, but the old wine is in aggressively new bottles. And
I am not forgetting that Hardy was Tennyson’s contemporary, and not a
little of his poetry was written in the 60’s and 70’s, though it was
not published then. If it had been published, the tastes and standards
of that formal age would have found it so wanting that it never would
have won for Hardy then the fame it has given him now. Think of
Tennyson, with his conviction that

  “the form, the form alone is eloquent,”

trying with his hyper-sensitive ear the wingless, rugged lyrics of
Hardy, setting himself to read them aloud, like the poet in his own
“English Idyls,”

  “mouthing out his hollow oes and aes,”

and finding it couldn’t be done, for here was a poetical nonconformist
who sacrificed verbal beauty to naked truth and was more earnest about
what he had to say than about mouthing it in grandiose orotundities of

Certainly, by the time Tennyson had done with it, poetry was becoming
too much a matter of phrase-making; the poet himself was contracting
a sort of sentimental snobbery, segregating himself from the crowd,
losing touch with common life, and for their own sakes and that of
their art, many of us felt, as Dixon Scott put it, that we wanted
to “flatten out Parnassus. For poetry has been looked up to far too
long; it is time the reader looked down on it; nothing is doing its
dignity more damage than the palsying superstition that it is something
excessively sublime. The reader picks out his prose-men; he is familiar
with philosophers; but the moment he mentions verse he remembers the
proprieties; up go his eyes and down drops his voice; and from what
is no doubt just a nice, natural desire to do nothing offensive to
refinement, he invariably speaks of the specially simple, jolly, frank
and friendly souls who make it as though they were wilted priests.
Whereas, in reality, of course, they are of all writers, exactly the
men whom it is most needful to see as human beings; for of all forms
of writing theirs is the most personal, intimate, instinctive--poetry
being, after all, simply essence of utterance--speech with the artifice
left out.”

To this it now approximates, but it was not this, nor were the poets
such simple, unaffected souls until Kipling had begun to outrage their
delicacies, shock their exquisite, artistic refinements with the noise
and dazzle of his robust magic, and others, like Hardy, Gibson and
Masefield, had brought poetry out of her sacred temple and made her at
home in inns, and kitchens, and workshops, cottages and mean streets
and all manner of vagabond places, restored her to plain nature and
human nature and taught her to sing her heart out in the language of
average men--sometimes in the language of men who were quite below the
average. But even this was better than limiting her to expressing her
thoughts and emotions in artificial elegancies that no man ever uses
except when he is posing and perorating on public platforms.

In his beginnings Masefield was not unaffected by the Kipling
influence; you can trace it in the lilting measures of some of his
early “Salt Water Ballads”; perhaps here and there in his early prose
stories and sketches, “A Tarpaulin Muster,” “A Mainsail Haul.” He was
realizing and naturalizing the seamen there, as Kipling had realized
and naturalized the soldier. But he was already doing more than that;
he put into those first Ballads, and the “Poems and Ballads” that soon
followed them, a grace of fancy, a charm and beauty, also true to
the life he pictured, that do not come within the range of Kipling’s
genius. He was feeling after and foreshadowing there, too, his own
special mission as a poet--if one may use so portentous a word as
mission without having it taken in any but its artistic significance.
His business was not to be with dignitaries and classical heroisms,
he says in “Consecration,” but with sailors and stokers and men of no

  “Not the rulers for me, but the rankers, the tramp of the road,
  The slave with the sack on his shoulders pricked on with the goad,
  The man with too weighty a burden, too weary a load ...
  Of the maimed, of the halt and the blind in the rain and the cold--
  Of these shall my songs be fashioned, my tales be told.”

And of this purpose have come that most poignant and effective of his
dramas, “The Tragedy of Nan,” his stories, “The Street of To-day,”
“Multitude and Solitude,” and those narrative poems that are his
highest and most distinctive achievement, “The Everlasting Mercy,” “The
Widow in the Bye Street,” “Dauber,” and “The Daffodil Fields.” In these
he is still on that quest for beauty--

      “that one beauty
  God put me here to find--”

to which he consecrated his gift at the outset, when he claimed as his

  “the dirt and the dross, the dust and scum of the earth,”

though he is following it here less obviously than in the statelier,
noble sonnet sequence of “Lollingdon Downs.” In the narrative poems he
is seeking for the soul of beauty in things evil, in things common and
sometimes unclean, in lives that are broken and that the world’s rough
hands have soiled. His passion for realism, for the stark truth of
life as it is lived, is transparently sincere; it is absurd to object
that his stories are melodramatic, since they are not more so than
life itself is, but there is reason in the protest that he pushes the
crudities of his dialogue too far, is apt to be overviolent in language
and uses ugly expletives so freely that, instead of adding to the
reality of his characters and incidents, they detract from it, come to
seem artificial, till one suspects an affectation in them and is more
irritated than impressed. Take, for example, the close of that squabble
between Saul Kane and Billy Myers, in “The Everlasting Mercy”--

  “You closhy put.”

                                “You bloody liar.”

  “This is my field.”

                                “This is my wire.”

  “I’m ruler here.”

                                “You ain’t.”

                                             “I am.”

  “I’ll fight you for it.”

                                “Right, by dam.”

Whether such a man would say “I’m ruler here” is of small consequence,
but no man swears “By dam,” and you feel that the word is either
used arbitrarily for the sake of the rhyme, or with an idea of being
forceful at all costs. And though a man might say, “I’ll bloody well
put him in a bloody fix,” and “I’ll bloody well burn his bloody ricks,”
there is the same sense of desperate straining after effect in making
him say,

  “I’ll bloody him a bloody fix.
  I’ll bloody burn his bloody ricks,”

because no ruffian was ever heard to speak so elliptically, and you
feel it is only done in order that the meter may be made to accommodate
a startling plethora of profanity. Such excesses sound a false note and
are out of tune with the general truth, the vivid reality that give the
stories their authentic power and greatness.

I have heard it said that these aberrations represent the efforts
of one who is naturally reticent and fastidious to present with due
forcefulness certain brutal and lawless types of character that are
not within his personal knowledge; but I doubt this. He may have
exercised his imagination, and if so he exercised it potently, in
writing “Reynard the Fox” and “Right Royal,” for I should guess he
never went fox-hunting or steeple-chasing, but for “Dauber” and the
raw human creatures of “The Everlasting Mercy,” “The Widow in the
Bye Street” and “The Daffodil Fields” he may very well have drawn on
memory and experience of people he has known. For he was not reared in
cotton-wool nor matured among the comparative decorums of office-life.
From a training vessel, he went to sea in the merchant service, knocked
about the world on sailing-ships and has put some of his old shipmates
into his ballads and some of them and some of their yarns into “A
Mainsail Haul” and his first novel, “Captain Margaret.” Quitting the
sea, he went tramping in America, picking up a livelihood by casual
work on farms, and after a while settled down to serve behind a bar in
New York, escaping from the noise and squalor and drudgery of it at
night to solace himself with the “Morte d’Arthur” after he had gone up
to his garret to bed. It was a harsh apprenticeship, that on sea and on
land, but it broadened his outlook and his sympathies, and fitted him
to be, as he was presently resolved to be, the interpreter of “the men
of the tattered battalion”--

  “He had had revelation of the lies
  Cloaking the truth men never choose to know;
  He could bear witness now and cleanse their eyes;
  He had beheld in suffering; he was wise.”

His work as a critic is in a certain newspaper where he used to review
new poets before he was recognized as one, and in his scholarly,
revealing study of “Shakespeare”; but his finest, most imaginative
prose is in that poignant book “Gallipoli” which he wrote after he came
home from serving there in the Great War.



It is interesting, and a little saddening, to look through a list
of living novelists and pick out the names of those who were well
in the first flight of popularity ten or fifteen years ago but have
since fallen back steadily, year after year, into the second, third
and fourth flights, until now they are almost absorbed into the
multitudinous rearward ranks where the unpopular and the mediocre rub
shoulders with survivors who still ruffle it obscurely on the strength
of a past reputation. For it is easier to become popular than to
remain so. No author can take the public by surprise a second time.
A novel that has some freshness of fable or style, though it be in
some ways crude and in no way great, may do the trick once; but if an
author follows this with a succession of books in a too-similar vein,
showing no ripening of his mind, no growth of knowledge or invention,
nothing but a sprightly repetition of that same morning freshness,
which was well enough when the day was new, his public begins to yawn
and go away. A juggler, when he has exhausted his little repertoire
and finds the plate coming back to him almost empty, can roll up his
scrap of carpet, walk around the corner, and in another street collect
a different crowd to whom all his old conjurings are new; but no writer
can attract a fresh public for each fresh book he produces--his only
way is to keep sure hold on his first readers and add to them, and
this he cannot do unless he matures in his books as he does, or should
do, in himself. His public is all the while growing older, and the
pathos and humor and general outlook on life that satisfy a young man
or a young woman will rarely make the same appeal to them when they
arrive at maturity. The humor that tickles you to-day will scarcely
move you to a smile when you have lived, enjoyed, worked and suffered
for another decade or so in such a world as this; the pathos that once
melted you to pleasant tears jars upon you when you re-read it now
and seems but shallow, youthful sentimentality; what you had used to
think a dashingly romantic incident or character bores you now and
seems tinsel unreality. You have been growing up, and if the growth of
your favorite novelist does not at least keep pace with your own, you
naturally pass on and leave him behind. Had “David Copperfield” been
simply another “Oliver Twist,” Dickens would have been but the novelist
for an age, and that not the middle-age.

Largely, I think, because he went on with a broadening vision of life,
a ripening knowledge of the world, a deepening sympathy with human
character, the books of A. E. W. Mason have retained for him the
popularity he won about a quarter of a century ago with “The Courtship
of Morrice Buckler.” Read “Morrice Buckler” again, and then “The Four
Feathers” and “The Broken Road,” and you will recognize how he grew
up with his readers. You can still take delight in “Morrice Buckler,”
but the later books yield you a fuller enjoyment--they have put off
the careless glamor and reckless gallantries of gay romance, and have
put on the soberer, more enduring garb of more familiar humanity, that
does not wear its romance upon its sleeve, but more poignantly, more
wonderfully, at the troubled heart of it.

Born in 1865, Mason is an old Dulwich College boy, and took his B. A.
degree at Oxford. At Oxford, too, he showed a strong predilection for
the drama, and was one of that University’s notable amateur actors.
Later, he took to the stage in earnest, and toured the provinces with
the Benson Company and the Compton Comedy Company, and played in London
as one of the soldiers in Shaw’s “Arms and the Man.” But the ambition
that called him on to the stage presently called him off, and in 1895
he commenced his career as a novelist.

It was not a very promising beginning. His first novel, “A Romance of
Wastdale,” was well enough received by the critics, but the public did
not rise to it, and Mason seems to have suppressed it with unnecessary
rigor. Competent judges have assured me it was a story of more than
ordinary distinction and merited a better fate. However, its author
had not long to wait for his due meed. A year after, in 1896, “The
Courtship of Morrice Buckler” was published, and its publication gave
Mason his place forthwith as an extraordinarily popular novelist. It
was the novel of the day; it was read and talked about everywhere,
ran through I don’t know how many thousands, and still goes as a safe
seller into any series of popular reprints.

“The Philanderers” appeared in 1897, and in quick succession came
“Laurence Clavering,” “Parson Kelley” (written in collaboration with
Andrew Lang), “Miranda of the Balcony,” “The Watchers,” “Clementina,”
that has all the dash and headlong movement of Dumas and a grace and
pathos that Dumas had not, “The Four Feathers,” “The Truants,” “Running
Water,” “The Broken Road,” “At the Villa Rose,” “The Turnstile,” and
“The Summons.”

But Mason was never one of the authors who are all authors; he is not
of the sedentary breed who are contented to study life in books or from
their study windows; the noise and business of it have always appealed
to him irresistibly; he has roamed the world rubbing shoulders with
all sorts and conditions of humanity everywhere, and his later books
mirror much of his personal experience and the countries and people he
has known. He blends the appearance of a writer of romance with the
restless energy of a man of action, and in 1906, his superabundant
energies seeking a new outlet or a new ambition prompting him, he
turned his attention to politics, threw for Parliamentary honors, and
was elected M. P. for Coventry. He signalized his advent in the House
with a notable maiden speech; did not speak there often but proved
himself shrewd and eloquent in debate, and if he had not escaped we
might have been the richer by a sagacious, sympathetic Cabinet Minister
and one brilliant novelist the poorer. Fortunately, however, the
fascinations of the Mother of Parliaments could not subdue him, and
after some three years under her shadow he did not offer himself for
election again.

Fortunately, because the air of the House of Commons is not healthful
breathing for poets or novelists. For them it is a soporific and
suffocating air. You may note that when a writer of imaginative
literature has sat in the House for more than a limited period his
spirit puts on flesh, dulness settles on his faculties and communicates
itself to his pen. What plays did Sheridan write after he took his seat
there? And who shall say that Lytton might not have written with fewer
capital letters and less of the manner of the big bow-wow if he had
never ventured into that fatal atmosphere? Mason’s sojourn in the House
had no influence on his fiction, unless it was his stay there that
turned his thoughts toward India and the grave problem of the education
of its native Princes in England and so resulted in his writing one of
the most powerful of his books, “The Broken Road”; in which case he has
brought more good out of it than any novelist who ever went into it,
except Disraeli, and Disraeli was really a politician in his romances
and a romancist in his politics, so he can hardly be counted.

I could never imagine the author of “Miranda of the Balcony” sitting
out interminable debates, or trooping with his party into the voting
lobby. He must have felt much more at home in uniform when he became
in the first days of the war a Captain of the Manchester Regiment, and
later, a Major on the General Staff. If he wrote no more romance for
a time (his only book through those years was a collection of short
stories, “The Four Corners of the World,” in 1917) it was because he
was too busy living it. For with all its squalors and horrors and
agonies, the Great War is beginning, in remembrance, to take on the
color of romance by comparison with the tameness and monotony of
ordinary everyday life.

You would gather from his stories that Mason was much given to boating,
traveling and mountaineering, for a love of the open air blows
through nearly all of them. The Alps and the enormous shadow of them
dominate “Running Water”; and the skies and landscapes and peoples of
present-day Egypt, Italy, India fill the pages of “The Four Feathers,”
“The Broken Road,” and “At the Villa Rose.” Latterly, too, his new
novels have become few and far between and he has given himself again,
more and more, to the stage. He never quite severed himself from it.
Soon after the novel appeared, he dramatized “Morrice Buckler,” in
collaboration with Miss Isabel Bateman, and it was very successfully
produced at the Grand, Islington, and had a long run in the provinces;
1901 saw a dramatic version of “Miranda of the Balcony” staged in
New York; in 1909 he produced two comedies, not founded on his books
“Colonel Smith” and “Marjorie Strode”; and in 1911 the most successful
of all his dramatic ventures, “The Witness for the Defence.”

Since then, we have had “Open Windows,” and dramatized versions of “At
the Villa Rose” and “Running Water,” and one hears rumors of other
plays that he has in preparation. The indications are that in future he
will appear more often on the boards than between them, and nobody need
regret this if he only offers us as much pleasure in the stalls and the
pit as we have had from him in our arm-chairs at home.



On the whole, I incline to the orthodox belief that if an author wants
to find a short way to success he should not be too versatile. Nearly
all our famous writers have been contented to do one thing well--have
seemed to say with Marvell,

  “Let us roll all our strength and all
  Our sweetness up into one ball.”

I could name authors of our day who have dissipated their energies
in half a dozen or more directions. They are journalists, novelists,
poets, essayists, critics, dramatists, writers of books for children
and editors of all manner of books. They have no settled reputation,
the public does not know where to have them; they are all sorts of
things to all sorts of readers and nothing in particular to any. They
win some vague popularity, perhaps, and an income, but not fame. Fame
comes to the man who concentrates on the one kind of work for which he
has special gifts, puts all his heart and all his skill into the doing
of that.

You may say that Somerset Maugham is versatile; but he has written
no verse, no essays, no criticism, no tales for children. He wisely
exercised his versatility within the range of a single art until he
turned his attention to the stage, and if he has been versatile since,
it has been only inside the limits of these two arts, a versatility as
legitimate in the artist as it is sagacious in the man who has to earn
a livelihood with his pen and hopes to go on pleasing his audience with
many books. For there is no virtue in the opposite extreme to which
some novelists go nowadays, who concentrate so conscientiously that
they narrow their outlook to one phase of life, one type of character,
and never shift their scenery. By this means they ensure that their
stories are graphically accurate, meticulously true, but by the time
they have told four or five the reader becomes aware of a sameness,
a monotony in them, pines for a change, goes after new gods, and the
old shrine begins to lack worshippers. If Maugham’s circulation ever
dwindles it will not be for this reason.

Happily he has a sense of humor which prevents him from adopting
anything in the nature of a pose; but, however unassuming, he is not
diffident; he is without affectations, and assured me once he was
without ideals, by which I believe he meant no more than that he was
not too idealistic to be a practical man. It was when he had succeeded
as a novelist and was starting on his successful career as a dramatist
that he told me he felt there was a tremendous amount of nonsense
talked about the serious drama. “All this high falutin chatter about
ideals!” said he. “A playwright’s and a missionary’s calling appear to
me to be two distinct and quite separate callings which should not be
permitted to overlap. I cannot understand why a serious play should
be held to be pre-eminently greater or more important than a humorous
play, a comedy, for instance. Nor do I admit for a moment that the
former is more difficult to write or demands a consideration peculiar
to itself.” Briefly, he protested that his one aim as novelist or
dramatist was to amuse; he thought that was the first business of all
authors, adding, “I would excuse almost anything but dullness.” No
book fails because its literary quality is too high, but because the
writer who can write literature does not always know how to write it
interestingly. And I found that Maugham, in the broad sanity of his
judgment, had no sympathy with the egotistical talk of unpopular but
superior persons who ascribe their failure to a fine inability, a noble
disinclination to “write down” to the presumably lower apprehensions of
the vast majority of mankind.

His practice, through the many years since he emerged as a new author,
has always squared with his precepts. Somebody writing of him a
little while ago said he got his intimate knowledge of men and women,
particularly of the London poor, while he was working as a doctor, but
this is scarcely accurate. After completing his education at King’s
School, Canterbury, and Heidelberg University, he became a student at
St. Thomas’s Hospital, and in due course took his M.R.C.S. and L.R.C.P.
degrees, but he never put up his brass plate and worked as a doctor.
He had never seriously intended doing so. His family wished him to
study medicine, and he yielded to that wish, but his own ambition
from the first had been to write for the stage. He was convinced that
stage-craft was a knack he could acquire if he made up his mind to
it; but he had a saving leaven of common sense and had seen enough
of things to know that it was infinitely harder to worry through all
the difficulties between writing a play and getting it produced than
to find a publisher for a novel, so he resolved to turn novelist as a
means of earning bread and butter and winning a large enough reputation
to move theater managers to feel that it was at least worth their while
to look at his dramas.

That was in the 90’s--the glamorous 1890’s when some would persuade
us the whole world of letters in this country was dominated by Oscar
Wilde and his circle. But Maugham was one of the many authors of
the period--I have referred to others already--whose work shows
little trace of that influence. There is nothing much of romance in
the story of his literary beginnings; he did not cast himself upon
the town and drudge in the byways of journalism, nor did he undergo
the disheartening experience of having his manuscripts persistently
rejected by the magazines. While he was still a student at St. Thomas’
he sent Fisher Unwin a collection of stories that eventually appeared
under the title of “Orientations,” and that astute publisher at once
accepted it, but strongly advised Maugham that it would be much better
for himself that he should make a start with a novel; and he accepted
the advice and went away to act upon it.

Just then the slum story was all in the air--so much so that
“slumming” had become a popular pastime with young ladies of leisure.
The vogue of Gissing was at its height; Arthur Morrison had written in
“Tales of Mean Streets” and “The Child of the Jago” some of the most
powerfully realistic of any pictures of London low life; Edwin Pugh
had revealed the same underworld in “A Street in Suburbia” and “The
Man of Straw”; Pett Ridge’s “Mord Em’ly,” showing something of the
happier side of that drab underworld, was running serially, and various
other writers were finding themes for fiction in those ugly facts of
existence that the city keeps as much out of sight as possible. In any
case, the slums of Lambeth lay beside St. Thomas’s Hospital, their
inhabitants came into it as patients, so Somerset Maugham knew them,
their homes, their habits, their manner of speech, their manner of
living, and fashioned his first novel out of such personal experience.
He called it “A Lambeth Idyll”; Fisher Unwin accepted it and, in 1897,
published it as “Liza of Lambeth.” Its stark, violent realism roused
a good deal of protest; we were not so tolerant in such matters then
as we have now become; and though there were not wanting those who
praised the stern faithfulness with which it depicted certain phases
of London life, more and louder voices denounced it as unpleasant,
brutal, repellant, extravagantly squalid. Crude and raw it may have
been, somewhat obviously out to shock the delicate, omitting too much
light and massing too much shadow, but there was truth if not all the
truth in it, Liza and her mother and her barbaric lover, Jim, were
alive and real, and the controversy that raged round the book served,
at least, the good purpose of obtaining for it a measure of the success
it merited.

But if any imagined that, like so many of his contemporaries, Maugham
was going to devote himself to the exploitation of the slums, or of
low life, they soon found they were mistaken. He finished with the
slums in “Liza of Lambeth” and never wrote another novel about them.
He moved through average society in “The Making of a Saint” (1898);
then his actual first book, the short stories “Orientations,” made
its appearance; on the heels of this followed “The Hero”; then came
what I still feel to be the strongest and ablest of his novels--“Mrs.
Craddock.” Good as it is, the times were not ripe for such frank
handling of sex mysteries and the book was rejected by every publisher
of consequence. Even Heinmann declined it at first; then, on a second
consideration, accepted it and published it in 1903. The study of
that elemental, passionate, intensely female creature, Mrs. Craddock,
is an aggressively candid, extraordinarily subtle essay in feminine
psychology; her story is touched with satire and irony and inevitably
clouded with tragedy, wherefore the general reader, who prefers
pleasanter things, did not take to it kindly. Maugham has never since,
perhaps, been so somber, though the sex element has continued to play
a potent part in most of his novels and stories, which have had their
scenes in middle-class and high society, at home, at the North Pole, in
the South Seas and, with those wonderful sketches of character, “On a
Chinese Screen,” in China.

Meanwhile, as everybody knows, his triumphant progress as a novelist
had not diverted Somerset Maugham from his original bent. In 1902
he had a one-act piece, “Schiffbrüchig,” produced in Germany. Next
year he wrote “The Man of Honor” for the Stage Society, but instead
of attracting theatrical managers to him it frightened them off, for
there was no laughter in it, and they appear to have taken for granted
that it fully represented what he could do and meant to do, and that
consequently nothing of his was likely to appeal to the playgoing
public or could be made to pay.

But they reckoned without their host. Maugham set to work and wrote
three comedies, “Lady Frederick,” “Jack Straw” and “Dot,” which were
destined to establish him as a dramatist whose plays had money in them.

His later plays have not gone begging for producers--producers have
gone begging for them. And the plays of Maugham have been as varied
in theme and manner as his novels. From gay, witty, frivolous, ironic
comedy, he has passed to sentimental or romantic drama; but he has
learned to touch in his realism more deftly, more cunningly, and is no
longer faced with the task of having to placate a public obsessed by
the mid-Victorian gospel that the plain truth about men and women is
not respectable and must not be told.



It has passed into a sort of proverb that famous men never have sons
who equal them in fame. There are, of course, exceptions. Benjamin
Disraeli has eclipsed that delightful bookworm, his father Isaac, who
wrote the “Curiosities of Literature”; Henry James, having a father who
was a distinguished novelist and theologian, used to describe himself
on his earlier books as “Henry James, Junr.” but the use of “Junr.” as
a means of identifying him has long ceased to be necessary. There are
others; but half a dozen swallows do not make a summer, and a dozen
such instances would not falsify the proverb.

Perhaps what is true concerning fathers is not so true about mothers.
Nobody now reads the once popular novels of Mrs. Frances Trollope,
mother of the greater Anthony; Gilbert Frankau, to come at once to our
own times, looks like outshining that clever novelist, his mother,
“Frank Danby”; Shaw has gone far beyond his mother’s fame as an
operatic star; the novels of W. B. Maxwell surpass those of his mother,
M. E. Braddon, in literary art, and though he is not so enormously
popular in his day as she was in hers, he is widely read now when she
is scarcely read at all.

He began to write while she was still writing; her vogue had declined,
but remained considerable, and she was still writing as well as
ever--in fact, in her two or three latest books, notably in “The
Green Curtain,” I think she was writing better than ever. There were
disadvantages for a young novelist, no doubt, in having a popular
novelist for his mother; but there were also advantages. His father
was the publisher, John Maxwell, whose business developed into that
of Messrs. Hurst & Blackett. He grew up in a literary atmosphere; the
very men who could open doors for a beginner, and make his way easier,
were friends of the family; moreover, he had a critic on the hearth
who could prompt his first steps and check his ’prentice errors with
knowledge drawn from a long and very practical experience.

“Most of the knowledge I possess of how to write,” Maxwell once told
Clive Holland, “and, indeed, the fact that I commenced to write at all,
I owe to my mother. She was never too busy, or too immersed in her work
to discuss my literary ambitions, or work of my own. She did not always
know the way any story of mine was going, for I wished neither for it
to be an imitation of hers nor in any way to trade upon her own great
and worldwide reputation.” He confessed, however, to a frequent feeling
that however difficult he might find it to master his art, he had an
even more difficult task in the attempt to follow her and necessarily
challenge comparison with her work and her unqualified success. “I
remember,” he added, “the son of a great man saying in my hearing that
the fact that he was so situated had, in a measure, spoiled his life.
‘People expect too much,’ he remarked pathetically, ‘and sometimes
get so little. I might have been quite a success if I had not been
overshadowed by my great father.’”

But he broke

  “his birth’s invidious bar”

and without grasping either his mother’s skirts or those of happy
chance (unless Grant Richards was wearing them on the occasion I will
presently mention), he became a novelist in his own way and up built
his own reputation. Considering the influences that must have been
round him in his childhood, taking it that he inherited his literary
gift from his mother and that she, as he tells us, taught his young
idea how to shoot, if his stories had been more or less of the M. E.
Braddon pattern, it would not have been surprising. But, unlike those,
his novels are much less concerned with sensational happenings or plot
of any kind than with intricacies of character and the mysteries of
human psychology. Even from the beginning he struck out in independent
line for himself, and his first book, published in 1901, when he was
thirty-five, was (to give it its full title), “The Countess of Maybury:
Being the Intimate Conversations of the Right Honorable the Countess
of Maybury. Collected with Sedulous Care and Respectful Admiration by
W. B. Maxwell,” a series of satirical, light comedy dialogues of high
society which preceded the “Dolly Dialogues” by a year or two but did
not, as they did, set a fashion. His second book, two years later, was
a volume of short stories called “Fabulous Fancies,” and this revealed
him as a realist--one not without idealism and a sensitive feeling for
the romance of life, but a realist none the less, and that quality of
realism predominates in all the novels and stories he has written since.

He was late in making this beginning, when he was over thirty,
especially considering how his environment favored his development,
but he was not hastened by the spur of necessity; he had found a
sufficient outlet for his energies in a healthy love of hunting and
outdoor sport, and traveled a good deal. Also he has said that he only
turned to literature after he had failed in other directions. What
those directions were I do not know, except that he was bitten with a
young ambition to be a painter and studied on and off for some years at
certain art schools in London. On the whole, and despite his ancestry,
he thinks himself he might never have taken seriously to the writing
of fiction if he had not happened to meet that enterprising publisher
Grant Richards who, with characteristic courage and fore-sight,
commissioned him to write him a novel, “an arresting novel,” of modern
life. Not many publishers would have risked giving such a commission
to an almost untried author, but the result amply justified the
publisher’s prescience, and with “The Ragged Messenger,” in 1904,
Maxwell scored the first and one of the biggest of his successes. Its
success was the more remarkable in that it was a story of tragedy, and
there is a tradition that the public shrinks from such, but it was its
reality, the understanding and poignant truth to human experience with
which its characters were drawn and their lives laid bare that caught
the reader’s sympathy and gave the book its power of appeal.

“Vivian” was a readable successor to this, but “The Guarded Flame”
(1906) rose to an altogether higher level. So far as my judgment goes,
“The Guarded Flame” shares with the brilliant satirical story of the
middle-class, self-reliant “Mrs. Thompson” and that grim and powerful
study in degeneracy, “In Cotton Wool,” the distinction of representing
the highest reach of Maxwell’s art, with not far below them “The
Devil’s Garden” and “The Mirror and the Lamp.”

“The Devil’s Garden,” which was published in the year before the
War burst upon us, brought Maxwell into trouble with our unofficial
censorship and was banned by the libraries. I remember it as a vivid,
uncompromising story of a self-made man whose life and the lives of his
associates do not smack of the innocence of Arcadia and are portrayed
with a conscientious exactitude, but the morality of the novel was
implicit, and why any one should object when an artist faithfully
pictures the unpleasant facts of life, why we should be shocked to find
in a novel things that we go on tolerating in the world around us is
one of those little eccentricities of the moral sense in man that I
have left off trying to understand. The only effect of the ban was that
“The Devil’s Garden” was more talked of and sold better than any other
of his novels, and it is this perhaps that has led many to accept it as
the best he has done; but I would rank it at most with his second best.

For five years after that event, from September 1914 till the end of
the war, he turned his back on literature and served as subaltern and
as Captain in the Royal Fusiliers. He says that during the war he felt
that when peace came we should witness the uprising of “a new and
vigorous school of romantic novelists”; that a world so long oppressed
“by hideous realities must crave for the realm of pure imagination,”
for gaiety, joyousness, for something more akin to the charm and
happiness of the fairy-tale.

But when the war was over, he confesses, he soon found he was mistaken.
No such complete change entered even into his own stories. A note of
idealism is sounded in “The Mirror and the Lamp,” in “A Man and his
Lesson” and “Spinster of this Parish,” but so it was in the books he
wrote before the war, and otherwise, as in those, he still handles,
with a subtle mastery of atmosphere and detail, the dark problems of
character and temperament, the ugly but real facts of human experience
that are still the spiritual inheritance and material environment of
real men and women.

He did, in one of his post-war novels (“A Little More”), experiment
in what was for him rather a new vein. It was the story of a once
well-to-do family that was reduced to squalid poverty, and the
father and one daughter faced their altered circumstances with more
resolution than resignation, though the father had more courage than
competence. I think Maxwell was trying his hand at the kind of grown-up
fairy-tale toward which a reaction from the grim realities we had just
come through inclined him; but the sentiment softened at times into
sentimentality, his scenes and characters of poorer life were not so
convincing as they are in some of his other novels. The spirit of the
time had too thoroughly subdued him; but he made a quick recovery and
with “Spinster of this Parish” triumphantly found himself again and
proved that his hand had not lost its earlier cunning.


[Illustration: LEONARD MERRICK]

Until a collected edition of his novels and stories appeared in 1918,
Leonard Merrick had been writing for thirty years without receiving
a tithe of the recognition that was over-due to him. I doubt whether
even now he has such popularity as is enjoyed by many novelists who
have not half his capacity, his sure and delicate art, his supreme
gift as a story-teller. I can only explain this with a theory I have
sometimes played with that a book draws its life from its author, and
most books that are immediately and noisily successful are written by
men of robust and pushful personality; they impart these qualities to
what they write and so give their books an impetus that carries them to
success, makes them as pushful and aggressive in the reading world as
the personality behind them is in the world at large.

This may be purely fantastic, but the fact remains that Leonard Merrick
is a personality of a gracious and retiring order; he is seldom seen
in literary circles, and has no skill in self-advertisement. Once,
not long ago, I told him I had often wondered that such stories as
his had not from the first taken the public by storm, and asked if he
could to any extent help me to understand why they had not done so. He
accepted the implications in my question with a smile and said, in
the quietest, most impartial fashion, “I don’t know. Of course I have
been disappointed when my books were freely praised by the critics
and did not meet with the large circulations I had hoped for them,
and sometimes, when I have thought about it, I have had a suspicion
that perhaps I wrote too much of artists--of novelists, journalists,
actors--and, moreover, too much about artists who failed. I fancy the
public are not particularly interested in the artist; they prefer to
read about people more like themselves--people with whom and whose
ways they are more familiar. Or if they are to be told of the artist,
they want him to be a hero--they want to be told how he struggled
through thrilling trials and difficulties to happiness and prosperity
at last--they don’t want to be saddened by a tale of his failure; they
don’t want to know about him unless he was the sort of man who could
conquer fate and circumstance romantically and, as the Americans say,
make good in the end. And I have seen a good deal of the artist’s life,
and seen how there is bound to be far more failure than success in it,
and I suppose I have tried to picture it truthfully. Perhaps that was
a mistake and I ought, in the language of the theater, to have kept my
eye on the box-office. I don’t know. That is merely a casual notion of
mine, and may not account for anything.”

However that may be, and whatever it was that kept the large public
that has come to him by degrees from promptly appreciating him,
Merrick’s greatness as a novelist has from the beginning been fully
realized by his fellow-craftsmen; he has all along been the novelists’
novelist, somewhat as Keats was the poets’ poet, and the collected
edition of his works bore testimony to this in prefaces to the various
volumes by Barrie, Wells, Locke, Chesterton, Neil Munro, Neil Lyons,
and other distinguished authors. None was more generous in his acclaim
than Barrie, who had long before greeted him as a master of fiction
and, in his introduction to “Conrad in Quest of his Youth,” said, “I
know scarcely a novel by any living Englishman, except a score or so
of Mr. Hardy’s, that I would rather have written.” Allowing for his
very different angle of vision, Merrick is as true a realist as Hardy,
but he touches in his characters and incidents with a lighter hand,
and has as shrewd a sense of the comedy--the piteous comedy it may be
at times--as Hardy has of the tragedy of existence. He does not show
his men and women as the foredoomed and helpless victims of a blind,
indifferent, implacable life-force, but simply tells his story of
them, what they did and what they felt and said, and any spiritual,
moral, or social problem involved in their doings and sufferings is
implicit in his dramatization of their lives and characters; he does
not take you aside to expound it or dogmatize about it: there it
is--that is how things happen, and he is a showman, not a preacher.
His prevailing qualities are a Gallic sparkle and effervescence of wit
and gaiety--especially in such tales as make up “While Paris Laughed”
and “A Chair on the Boulevard”--a limitless charity and pity for
the follies, weaknesses, caprices of mankind, a charm of sentiment
that just stops short of sentimentality, a quick sensitiveness to the
humor and pathos of common life, the anxieties of living by precarious
employment; the tragedy of straitened circumstances; the sheer joy of
living in spite of everything.

He has experienced much of the life he has depicted, and has put
not a little of his personal experiences into “The Worldings,” into
“Laurels and the Lady,” one of the stories of “The Man Who Understood
Women,” and into other of his books. Usually there is nothing to tell
of a novelist’s early days, except that he went to certain schools,
practiced journalism for a while, then wrote a book or two which found
acceptance sooner or later and thereafter took up permanent residence
in the literary world. But Merrick’s career has been less orthodox and
more varied.

A Londoner born, he went with his people to South Africa when he was
eighteen and, entering the South African Civil Service, became clerk
in the Magistrate’s Court on the Diamond Fields. But he had not the
smallest intention of settling down to that. He was, as he told me,
born “stage-struck,” and his one ambition as a youth was to tread the
boards and achieve fame as an actor. In 1884 he returned to England and
obtained an introduction to Augustus Harris, who gave him an engagement
to act in a touring company that was traveling the country with one of
the big Drury Lane autumn melodramas. He proved himself a thoroughly
capable player, yet would have lost his part, because the touring
manager was bent on pushing him out and supplanting him with a friend
of his own, but for the voluntary intervention of another member of the
company who wrote privately to Harris urging him to go down and see
Leonard Merrick’s acting for himself before making any change. Harris
did so, with the result that Merrick retained his position in the
company for two years, at the end of which period, his enthusiasm for
the actor’s life being cooled, he retired from the profession for good.
Not until some years later did he discover by chance that the member of
the company who, without his knowledge, had befriended him and saved
him from dismissal, was Arthur Collins, who, in due season, was to
succeed Augustus Harris as Drury Lane’s managing director.

When the disillusioned mummer strutted his little hour before the
footlights for the last time he was twenty-three, and “The Position of
Peggy Harper” is by no means the only one of his books to which his two
years in motley have yielded a rich harvest. Since then, except that
he wrote “The Free Pardon” with F. C. Phillips and some very popular
dramas in collaboration with George R. Sims, the stage has ceased to
lure him and he has devoted himself to the writing of stories.

Nor did he lose much time in passing from the one calling to the other,
for his first book appeared when he was twenty-four. His second novel,
“Violet Moses,” was rejected by Chatto & Windus, but accepted by
Bentley; and his third, “The Man Who Was Good,” was rejected by Bentley
as not up to the level of the other, but promptly accepted by Chatto
& Windus; one of life’s lighter ironies that nobody--certainly not
Merrick--would have wished to evade. He had published some half dozen
novels before he began to write short stories. He confesses that he
prefers to write these, and there are stories in at least two of his
volumes that for delicate satirical comedy and subtle art of narration
have not been surpassed by any of his contemporaries.

From the outset, Merrick met with a more popular reception in America
than in this country; his books enjoyed a considerable vogue there,
and his short stories were soon in great demand with the American
magazines. This has happened to so many other of our writers that
one merely mentions it as a biographical fact and not as matter for
surprise. His first real success with short stories over here came when
his agent, A. P. Watt, handed one of his books to the editor of the
_Bystander_, urging him to read it and see whether its stories were not
of the sort he wanted. He read it, and commissioned six, and before
these had all appeared commissioned a further twelve. Thereafter, the
trouble was not to place such stories but to write as many as were

While he was in his thirties Leonard Merrick lived for some time in
Paris, and Paris still draws him at intervals from the retirement of
his English home, for he finds there ideas and stimulation, and can
work there as he never can in London. As a rule, the Londoner born has
a sneaking regard for his city and cannot be long away from it without
feeling its intangible human hands plucking at his heart and its
multitudinous voices calling him back, but in spite of the fact that he
is a true-blue Cockney, born, in 1864, at Belsize Park, on the skirts
of Hampstead, Merrick tells you he does not love London. It is the
most comfortable of cities, he admits, but he finds it uninspiring and
can work better and more easily when he is almost anywhere away from
it--especially when he is in Paris.



The tradition that the Scot has no humor still lingers among
old-fashioned people who don’t like changes, but of recent years
Barrie, Neil Munro (as Hugh Foulis), J. J. Bell, Ian Hay, A. A.
Milne, and some others have shaken it to such an extent that only the
incurably obstinate now attempt to maintain it.

But while the humor of the others smack finely of the north of the
Tweed, the humor of Milne seems to indicate that his spiritual home
is a much more frivolous place. There is something Irish or English
about its airy gaiety, its blithe, amusing flippancy. Dr. Johnson once
spoke slightingly about the art of carving faces on cherry-stones, but
if he had tried his hand at that work he would have realized that to
accomplish it successfully one must be born with a gift that is as rare
as the more impressive gift for writing serious prose. Our ancestors,
as a whole, realized that, and would exclaim with admiration at the
marvelous facility of Swift who could write you an essay off-hand
on anything or nothing. I remember how, when I was a small boy, a
bookish old gentleman informed me of this in his library and went on
to tell with bated breath the familiar yarn of how, to test the Dean’s
limitless capacity, a lady challenged him to write an essay on a
broomstick, and he at once sat down and did it. But we should think
little of that nowadays. Milne would not need so much as a broomstick;
he could do it on one of the bristles.

So could E. V. Lucas or Chesterton, or Belloc. But in the matter
of slightness of theme and the capacity for writing charmingly and
humorously on next to nothing at all Milne has closer affinities with
Lucas; they not only can do it but make a habit of doing it. Both write
light verse as well as light prose; both contributed to _Punch_ (Lucas
contributes to it still), and as Anstey and many another, in various
forms, had practiced the same volatile literature in those pages, it
seems possible that the influence of _Punch_ may have been more or less
responsible for developing likewise in them a delightfully neat and
sprightly vein of humor.

However that may be, Milne had begun to exercise his characteristic
style while he was at Cambridge, where he was made editor of the
_Granta_. He came to London in 1903, and settled down, first in Temple
Chambers, afterwards at Chelsea (where he still resides, but not
in his original two rooms) to make a living as a free-lance author
and journalist. His earnings through the first two years were far
below the income-tax level, but in the third year he was appointed
assistant-editor of _Punch_, to which he had already been contributing
largely, and the world in general began to be aware of him from seeing
the initials A. A. M. appearing in that periodical with significant
regularity. It not only saw them, but looked out for them, and was
soon betraying curiosity in public places as to the identity of the
person who owned them; an infallible sign that a writer is giving the
public what it wants as well as what it ought to want.

Between 1910 and 1914 he collected his _Punch_ contributions into three
volumes, “The Day’s Play,” “The Holiday Round,” and “Once a Week,” but
was no sooner so established as an entertaining and popular essayist
than the War intervened to take him to fresh woods and pastures that
were new but not desirable. It is impossible to unfold the record of
any of our younger and few of our older contemporary authors without
coming up against the War. Milne promptly withdrew from _Punch_,
joined the Royal Warwickshire Regiment, and was sent out to France.
Here, in odds and ends of leisure from military occupations, he found
opportunity and the moods for writing that quaint, whimsical story
“Once on a Time,” which was published in 1917; and then, too, he made a
first experiment as a dramatist with his shrewdly, cleverly satirical
comedy of “Wurzel-Flummery.” There is a new depth and maturity under
the humor of these things, and he said that in writing the story he for
the first time wrote in earnest.

By-and-by, after a breakdown which had put him in hospital for a while,
when he was sent to act as signaling instructor at a fort on Portsdown
Hill, he had an impulse to continue playwriting, and would spend a long
day at the fort teaching his class how to signal, then go home to the
cottage where he and his wife were living, a couple of miles away, and
dictate to her, until he had produced in succession, “Belinda,” “The
Boy Comes Home” and “The Lucky One.” These were in due course presented
on the London stage, and if they had no success comparable with his
later plays, they were successful enough before the footlights, and in
the book into which he gathered them in 1919, to demonstrate that a new
dramatist had arisen, and one to be reckoned with.

There are plenty of signs of the potential dramatist in the pre-war
essays--in their easy and natural use of dialogue, and their deft,
vivid handling of incidents: and there is a bite of realism in their
genial satire and burlesque irony, which foreshadows the keener, riper
irony and satire of “Bladys.” For instance, there is the sketch of “The
Newspaper Proprietor,” that “lord of journalism,” Hector Strong, who,
to oblige a lady, saves her play from failure and forces it into a
raging success by the adroitness with which he booms it in his numerous
newspapers. It may seem ridiculous, and Milne may have invented it all,
but take away a few farcial details from his narrative, and there are
those behind the scenes who will assure you that this deed was actually
done. As for “A Breath of Life,” in which the actor who plays the young
hero falls really in love with the actress who plays the heroine and
on a passionate impulse finishes the play triumphantly at the end of
the third act to such thunders of applause from the audience that the
fourth is cut away for good--ask any dramatist and he will tell you
that his own plays suffered worse than that at the hands of their
producers until he became successful and important enough to insist on
the piece being acted exactly as it was written.

Always there was this germ of truth in Milne’s earlier trifles and
flippancies. “A Trunk Call” is by no means such an irresponsible farce
as some may think it. Here, the dainty Celia buys a fancy knocker and
puts it on the door of her husband’s study, in order that she may give
him warning at any time before she comes to interrupt him. He wants her
to try it forthwith, but she demurs:

“‘Not now. I’ll try later on, when you aren’t expecting it. Besides,
you must begin your work. Good-bye. Work hard.’ She pushed me in and
shut the door.

“I began to work.

“I work best on the sofa; I think most clearly in what appears to
the hasty observer to be an attitude of rest. But I am not sure that
Celia really understands this yet. Accordingly, when a knock comes at
the door I jump to my feet, ruffle my hair, and stride up and down
the room with one hand on my brow. ‘Come in,’ I call impatiently, and
Celia finds me absolutely in the throes. If there should chance to be a
second knock later on, I make a sprint for the writing-desk, seize pen
and paper, upset the ink or not as it happens, and present to any one
coming in at the door the most thoroughly engrossed back in London.

“But that was in the good old days of knuckle-knocking. On this
particular morning I had hardly written more than a couple of thousand
words--I mean I had hardly got the cushions at the back of my head
comfortably settled when Celia came in.

“‘Well?’ she said eagerly.

“I struggled out of the sofa.

“‘What is it?’ I asked sternly.

“‘Did you hear it all right?’

“‘I didn’t hear anything.’

“‘Oh!’ she said in great disappointment. ‘But perhaps you were asleep,’
she went on hopefully.

“‘Certainly not. I was working.’

“‘Did I interrupt you?’

“‘You did rather; but it doesn’t matter.’

“‘Oh, well, I won’t do it again--unless I really have to. Goodbye, and
good luck.’”

The knocker may be an effort of the imagination, otherwise this reads
as if it were taken from life. It may even be true about Milne himself,
for he has said in print that his work comes easy to him; and if you
show the complete sketch to the wife of any literary man of your
acquaintance the chances are she will wonder how Milne got to know so
much about her husband. But his trim figure and alert, clean-shaven
face, apart from the quantity of work he has placed to his credit,
belie any suggestion that since he finds his work easy he takes his
ease, except when it is finished. He is restlessly alive, and gives
you the impression of being something of an out-door man, a golfer
probably, perhaps a cricketer, though you need not believe he looks
forward to the opening of the cricket season quite so enthusiastically
as he suggests in “The First Game”--

            “It is the day that I watch for yearly,
              Never before has it come so late;
            But now I’ve only a month--no, merely
              A couple of fortnights left to wait;
              And then (to make the matter plain)
              I hold--at last!--a bat again:
  Dear Hobbs! the weeks this summer--think! the _weeks_ I’ve lived in

When he was demobilized, his old post of assistant-editor of _Punch_
was waiting for him, but he had formed other plans for his future
during the war, and arranged not to go back. He did not just then
intend to abandon the light essay, and in “If I may” (1920) his hand
for it is as cunning as ever; but the theater had got into his blood,
his ambition was taking higher flights, and “Mr. Pim Passes By” (he
wrote it also into a novel as quaintly humorous and sentimental as the
play) and the mordantly ironic “Truth About Bladys” soared at once
and almost simultaneously to such heights of popularity that if the
dramatist has not presently absorbed the essayist altogether, it won’t
be for want of an excellent excuse.


[Illustration: ALFRED NOYES]

Early in his career, being rash as well as young, Alfred Noyes made the
tactical mistake of writing poetry that became popular. He was crowned
with eulogy by leading critics who, naturally, could not foresee that
he would also win the applause of the multitude or, no doubt, they
would have been more careful. Meredith helped to mislead them; he
praised the beauty and finely restrained pathos of “Michael Oaktree,”
a narrative poem in Noyes’s very first volume, “The Loom of Years.”
But it was his third and fourth books, those exquisite fairy tales in
verse, “The Flower of Old Japan” (1903) and “The Forest of Wild Thyme”
(1905), that carried him right into the popularity which disillusioned
those self-centered experts who cling to a narrow faith that poetry
cannot be poetry if it makes a triumphant appeal to the large world
that lives and works in outer darkness beyond the limits of their own
select, small circle.

Noyes has always been reckless in these matters. He never took the
precaution to attach himself to any of our little groups of poetasters
who ecstatically give each other the glory the common public with-holds
from them. Before he made a book of his great epic, “Drake”--and
it is great not only by comparison with what has been done by his
living contemporaries--instead of treating it as something too rare
and delicate for human nature’s daily food, he ran it serially in
_Blackwood’s Magazine_, as if it had been a new novel. No poem had ever
appeared in that fashion before. I believe he had not written more than
half when the first instalment of it was printed, and the orthodox
could not be expected to approve of that sort of thing. They began to
say Noyes was too facile; wrote too hurriedly and too much; began to
take it for granted that no man who wrote thus copiously and fluently
could be an authentic poet, when they might more reasonably have
assumed that he did by a certain native gift what was only possible to
themselves by the slower, sedulous exercise of an average talent.

Howbeit, from being lauded freely, Noyes is now more misrepresented,
by a group of poet-critics, whose judgments are too often sound in
the wrong sense, than any other poet of our day. Whether anything
less respectable than a restricted poetical outlook can account for
this misrepresentation I shall not attempt to guess, but, noticing
it, I have sometimes been reminded of lines he puts into the mouth of
Marlowe, in his “Tales of the Mermaid Tavern”--

  “I tell thee ’tis the dwarfs that find no world
  Wide enough for their jostlings, while the giants,
  The gods themselves, can in one tavern find
  Room wide enough to swallow the wide heaven
  With all its crowded solitary stars.”

Unprofessional lovers of poetry read Noyes not because it is the
proper, high-brow thing to do, but solely because they enjoy reading
him. It is an excellent reason; and for the same reason Tennyson and
Browning are famous; so, in these times, are Masefield and Davies;
de la Mare and William Watson. Noyes differs from most of his
contemporaries in being at once, like Chaucer, a born story-teller
and, like Swinburne, an amazing master of meter and rhyme. He is not
alone in being able more readily and adequately to express himself in
meter and rhyme than in prose, and it is ridiculous to assume that this
ability indicates any shallowness of thought; it indicates, rather,
that he is really efficient in an art he has taken pains to acquire.

It is equally ridiculous to dub him old-fashioned, as some of our
superior persons do, because he accepts the classical tradition in
poetry. He has not accepted it unintelligently or slavishly; if you
look through his books you will note how cunningly he makes old meters
new again, and that he has invented enough new meters or variations
in accepted metrical forms to give him a place even with those who
claim to be rebels against authority. One such rebel, a prominent
American poet, included the other day in his collected works a goodly
proportion of _vers libre_ from which one of our advanced critics chose
two passages for admiring quotation. The ideas in these passages were
a mere repetition of two that are expressed with higher art and deeper
feeling in “In Memoriam,” yet that advanced critic is one who dismisses
Tennyson as out of date and has hailed the American poet as the last
word in modern thinking. Perhaps he and his like have not troubled to
read what they consider old-fashioned. I mention the circumstance by
way of showing to what a pass some of our critics and poets have come.

If Noyes has any theories of poetry, I gather they are that the poet
is essentially one endowed with the gift of song; that all the great
poets, from Homer downward, have been great singers; and that when he
utters himself in meter and rhyme he is but putting himself in tune
with the infinite order of the universe--with the rhythm of the tides,
of the seasons, the recurring chime of day and night, the harmonious
movement of the stars in their orbits. He once confessed to me that he
was so far from fearing the possibilities of metrical invention were
exhausted that he was convinced we are still at the beginning of them;
they were exhausted, according to the first disciples of Whitman, sixty
years ago, but Swinburne arose and invented so many new meters that
he was considered more revolutionary in his era than Whitman’s later
disciples are in ours.

There is a virility and range of subject and style in Noyes’s work
that make a good deal of modern verse seem old-maidish or anæmic by
comparison. It is a far cry from the grace and tenderness and dainty
fancy of “The Flower of Old Japan”, “The Forest of Wild Thyme”, and
some of the lyrics in “The Elfin Artist”, and elsewhere, to the
masculine imaginative splendor in thought and diction, the robust
energy of his epic, “Drake”, or, though gentler moods of pathos,
humor, wistful fantasy are never absent from any of his books, to the
series of narratives that make up “The Torch Bearers”--an ambitious
succession of poems that reveal, with dramatic power and insight
and a quick sensitiveness to the poetry of science, the progress of
scientific discovery in the life-stories of the great discoverers.
None has pictured War in more terribly realistic terms or with a more
passionate hatred of its inhumanity than he has in “The Wine Press”;
and you have him in the breeziest, most riotously humorous of his moods
in “Forty Singing Seamen.” But if I should single my own favorite from
his books it would be the “Tales of the Mermaid Tavern.” Here he finds
full scope for his many-sided gift; you can turn from the rollicking
yarn of “Black Bill’s Honeymoon” to the dignity and poignance of “The
Burial of a Queen,” from the anecdotal picturesqueness of “A Coiner of
Angels” to the fervor and glittering pageantry of “Flos Mercatorum,”
from the suspense and tragedy of “Raleigh” to the laughter and lighter
tears and buoyant tripping measures of “The Companion of a Mile,”
telling how Will Kemp, the player, danced from London to Norwich for a
wager, and passing through Sudbury met a young butcher who offered to
dance a mile with him--

 “By Sudbury, by Sudbury, by little red-roofed Sudbury,
   He wished to dance a mile with me! I made a courtly bow:
 I fitted him with morrice-bells, with treble, bass and tenor bells,
   _And ‘Tickle your tabor, Tom,’ I cried, ‘we’re going to market now.’_

 And rollicking down the lanes we dashed, and frolicking up the hills we
   And like a sail behind me flapped his great white frock a-while,
 Till with a gasp, he sank and swore that he could dance with me no
   And over the hedge a milk-maid laughed, _Not dance with him a mile_?

 ‘You lout!’ she laughed, ‘I’ll leave my pail, and dance with him
     for cakes and ale!
   ‘I’ll dance a mile for love,’ she laughed, ‘and win my wager too.
 ‘Your feet are shod and mine are bare; but when could leather dance on
   ‘A milk-maid’s feet can fall as fair and light as falling dew.’

 I fitted her with morrice-bells, with treble, bass and tenor bells:
   The fore-bells, as I linked them to her throat, how soft they sang!
 Green linnets in a golden nest, they chirped and trembled on her
   And faint as elfin blue-bells at her nut-brown ankles rang.

 I fitted her with morrice-bells that sweetened into woodbine bells,
   And trembled as I hung them there and crowned her sunny brow:
 ‘Strike up,’ she laughed, ‘my summer king!’ And all her bells began to
   _And ‘Tickle your tabor, Tom,’ I cried, ‘we’re going to Sherwood

This, and the rest of it, is very typical of Noyes in his lighter vein,
and if you can’t see the poetry that twinkles through the deft, airy
gallop of the verse we won’t talk about it; typical of him too is the
pathetic aftermath of the dance, so delicately touched in that the
pathos is almost lost in the beauty of it, till the motley epilogue
strikes the deeper note of sadness through the loud laughter of the

Noyes was born in Staffordshire in 1880, and I know nothing of his
doings at Oxford, except that he rowed in the Exeter College Eight. He
is nowadays an Hon. Litt. D. of Yale University, and since 1914 has
been Professor of Modern English Literature at Princeton University,
in America, and divides his time between that country and this. He is
the most unassuming of men, looking much younger than his years, and of
a sturdy, robust, serious aspect that (till his genial laugh, when he
breaks silence, spoils your calculations) seems more in keeping with
the vigor of his epic narratives, or with the noble rhetoric of such
as that most impressive of his shorter poems, “The Creation,” than
with the fairy fancies, the butterfly blitheness and laughing music
of “Come down to Kew at lilac time” and other of his daintier lyrics.
Like most true poets who have not died young, he has become popular in
his lifetime; and if he were not so versatile less versatile critics,
instead of panting after him in vain, would be able to grasp him and
get him under their microscopes and recognize him for the poet that he



Even if we grant that there is a wide world of difference between
imaginative and inventive fiction, and that the way to immortality is
only open to the former, there is still so much to be said in praise of
the latter that, if the verdict rested with his contemporaries instead
of with posterity, the inventive author would often go permanently
crowned with the fame that is now reserved for his more imaginative
rival. Within my own recollection Wilkie Collins was the most popular
novelist of his day; Meredith and Hardy had their thousands of readers
and Collins his tens of thousands; everybody read him then, but hardly
anybody reads him now. He used to complain, as Hall Caine records in
“My Story,” that the reviewers were all along disposed to sniff and
qualify their appreciation, but he boasted that the public always
received him with enthusiasm and overwhelmed him with grateful and
adulatory letters. Moreover, his brother novelists admired and lauded
his amazing ingenuity; Dickens collaborated with him, and his influence
is perhaps traceable in “The Mystery of Edwin Drood”--in the unusual
dexterity and subtlety with which its plot is constructed.

His own formula for holding the reader’s attention was “make him
laugh; make him weep; or make him wait”; and he devoted himself almost
exclusively to the third of these methods. Character is of quite
minor importance in his stories--Count Fosco was his one masterly
creation; the only one of all his _dramatis personæ_ you recall without
effort--there is little humor in them, and little pathos. For him, the
plot was the thing, a cunningly contrived, carefully dovetailed plot,
with a heart of mystery and sensation that should hold the reader in
suspense till it was unraveled and cleared up in the last pages. His
justification was that he thrilled and delighted enormous multitudes.
It is enough that he did triumphantly what he set himself to do; the
best and most precious things in life are not often the most lasting;
and whether or not his work is immortal, it was great in its kind and
an art beyond the genius of novelists who seem destined to outlive him.

And, as a form of literature, the novel of sensation, crime, mystery
is immortal if its authors are not. Collins has been dethroned, but
his successors are legion, and none has made out a stronger title to
the inheritance of his mantle than Phillips Oppenheim. For the skill
with which he constructs a baffling plot, intrigues his readers from
the opening, and keeps them in suspense till it is time, at last, to
give away his secret, none of them excels--I am not sure that more
than one of them equals him. I don’t think he aims to be anything but
entertaining, and how many of our novelists who claim to be much more
are not even that! Two of our most distinguished critics have, at
different times, confessed to me that with the passing of years they
have lost their taste for fiction; the modern psychological novel
seems pretentious and bores them; they are no longer young enough
to be susceptible to romantic adventure; they can learn nothing and
get no amusement from the crudeness and boyish or girlish naïveté of
the latter-day sex novel, but they do find interest, excitement and
a tonic recreation in novels such as Oppenheim writes. “I suppose I
have seen too much of actual life,” said one of them, “to be startled
or particularly interested in what I am told about it by a novelist
who knows no more of it than I know myself. I like Oppenheim because
he takes me outside my personal experiences; he does not appeal to
my memory but to my imagination; he tells me a tale that is new to
me, that rouses my curiosity, keeps me guessing, makes me forget
everything else in my keenness to follow up the clues to his mystery
and see how he solves it. I don’t care whether it is good literature,
I know it is a good story, and that’s what every novel ought to be
and few are. I sometimes think we take our novelists and they take
themselves and their function too seriously. The old troubador, when
he sang his ballads and told his yarns in the street, didn’t do it for
glory but for the coppers the crowd, if he pleased them, would throw
into his hat. He was nothing but an entertainer; people didn’t want
him to be anything else--it is all I want his modern representative,
the novelist, to be, and it is what Oppenheim emphatically is. He
simply writes for the time, and the time is promptly rewarding him with
popularity and hard cash, while so many of our little artists will not
stoop to the present and are writing neatly for a future that will
never read them.”

He has written some sixty novels and books of short stories, having
seen his first novel published in 1886, when he was twenty. I do
not pretend to have read them all, but since I read “Mysterious Mr.
Sabin,” a good many years ago, I have never missed reading any Phillips
Oppenheim story that has come within reach of me. Read “The Amazing
Partnership,” “The Plunderers,” “A Prince of Sinners,” “Mr. Lessingham
Goes Home,” and you will find that while he is as ingenious as Wilkie
Collins at fashioning a plot that captures your interest in its
complexities, he gets more rapidly into his story, handles dialogue
more skillfully, unfolds his incidents as vividly but with a lighter
hand and loses no time on the way.

After he left school Phillips Oppenheim went into his father’s leather
business at Leicester, but he had started writing stories for his own
amusement before that. The leather business was so successful that
Blumenthals, the big American and Paris leather firm, bought it up,
and appointed Phillips Oppenheim their director at Leicester. His
experience in that trade has proved immensely useful to him. It has
not only helped him to material for his tales, but it was through the
American head of Blumenthals that he had his chief incentive to the
writing of the type of story that has brought him such success as
a novelist. This gentleman introduced him to the proprietor of the
Café de Rat Mort, the once famous Montmartre haunt, for Oppenheim was
frequently in Paris on the affairs of his leather company, and at the
Café he acquired his taste for the mysteries of those international
intriguings and rascalities that figure so largely in several of his
books, for the proprietor used to tell him all manner of thrilling
yarns about political and international adventurers, some of whom had
been among his customers, and his listener formed a habit of weaving
stories round the more striking personalities in the cosmopolitan crowd
that he met in the Rat Mort. He assured me that however ingenious I
might think them, he never really constructs his stories but simply
lets them grow. “Two or three people in a crowded restaurant may arouse
my interest, and the atmosphere is compelling,” says he. “I start
weaving a story round them--the circumstances and the people gradually
develop as I go on dictating to my secretary the casual thoughts
about them that arose in me while I was looking at them and their
surroundings. First of all I must have a congenial atmosphere--then the
rest is easy.”

Easy, that is, to him, partly from long practice but chiefly because
it was the method that came natural to him and suited his temperament.
There is no use in telling any one how to write a novel, in laying down
rules for doing it as if it were a mechanical trade. James Payn’s plan
was to prepare an elaborate synopsis, divide this into chapters, then
write down a description of each character, and keep these details
pinned on a screen where they were handy reference while he was
working. William De Morgan would start with little more than a general
idea of what was going to happen in future pages; he would get his
characters together and give them their heads and let them develop the
story as it went along. Every way is the best way--for the author who
finds it for himself and can do as well in it as Phillips Oppenheim has
done in his.

He has traveled considerably; spent much of his time in America,
where he was married (and, by the way, large as his vogue is in Great
Britain, he is another of our authors whose vogue is even larger in
America); but for the most part he divides his days of work and leisure
now between his home in London and his other home by the sea, in North

He is fond of the country, and of golf and all kinds of sports; he is
an equally keen theater-goer, but gets more enjoyment out of writing
stories than out of anything else, and since he draws more inspiration
for these from the town than from the country, he is never happier than
when he is in town. “The cities for me!” he said to an interviewer.
“Half a dozen thoroughfares and squares in London, a handful of
restaurants, the people one meets in a single morning, are quite
sufficient for the production of more and greater stories than I shall
ever write.” He wrote “Mr. Laxworthy’s Adventures” while he was staying
at a hotel in Paris; but though Paris and New York attract him, London
is his spiritual home and, with its endless streets and motley crowds,
is the chief begetter of his sensational romances.

Yet his appearance is less suggestive of the city than of rural life.
Ruddy, genial, smiling, with his sturdy figure and bluff manner, it
is easier to fancy him, in gaiters, carrying a riding whip, as a
typical country squire, than as a brilliant imaginative author creating
fictitious villains and preoccupied with dreams of strange crimes and
the mysterious doings of lawless and desperate men. Which is to say
only that he no more gives himself away to the casual observer than he
gives away the secret of any of his plots in the first chapter of the


[Illustration: MAY SINCLAIR]

In a rash moment, recently, Michael Sadleir committed himself to the
retrospective and prophetic assertion that there never had been a great
woman novelist and never would be. The first part of that statement is,
of course, open to argument; the second cannot be proved. If he had
said the greatest novelists, so far, have been men, he would have been
on safe ground; for I don’t think even the most politely complaisant
master of the ceremonies would suggest that Fielding, Dickens and
Thackeray should step back and allow Jane Austen, Charlotte Bronte and
George Eliot to lead this particular procession of the immortals. Which
is not to say that these last are not great, but only that there have
been greater.

Turning to living authors, if, so far as this country is concerned (and
here we are not concerned with any other), the same order of precedence
still obtains, the distance between the men in the first rank and the
women in the second has, at least, sensibly diminished. Leaving Hardy
apart in his incontestible supremacy, have we any novelists alive who
are, on the whole, superior to Wells, Conrad, Bennett, Galsworthy? It
is a question Time alone can decide with certainty, but fallible men
must needs, meanwhile, make up their separate minds as best they can,
and, for my part, I would answer in the negative. But should any one
claim that there are four women novelists who, if they do not surpass,
are equal in achievement with the four men I have named, I could not
begin to deny it until I had read them all over again. So nice, so
delicate a matter is not to be settled off-hand. Even such godlike
judges as Gosse and Squire might well lay aside their thunder and
lightning in face of it and be disposed to temporize.

For, relegating to outer darkness (where many of us would be willing
to join them) all whose glory is nothing but a vast popularity and
its accessories--think what a galaxy of women novelists there are and
what sound and notable work the best of them have done. Of course
who have been longest before the public, you have Lucas Malet, Sarah
Grand, George Colmore, Mary Cholmondeley, Mary and Jane Findlater,
Mrs. W. K. Clifford, Mary E. Mann; of those who began somewhat later,
Elinor Mordaunt, Dolf Wyllarde, Violet Hunt, Mrs. Henry Dudeney, M. P.
Willcocks, Peggy Webling, Mrs. Dawson Scott, Beatrice Harraden, Mrs.
Belloc Lowndes, Phillis Bottome, Rose Macaulay, May Sinclair, Sheila
Kaye-Smith; and of a still later day, Viola Meynell, Ethel Sidgwick,
Dorothy Richardson, Virginia Woolf, Mary Webb, Clemence Dane, Rebecca
West, G. B. Stern, Storm Jameson, M. Leonora Eyles, Stella Benson....
This by no means completes the list, and there is no reason for ending
it here except that it is long enough and contains a sufficient number
of names for whomsoever will to select from it four whose work may
fairly challenge comparison with the greatest that has been done by
contemporary novelists of the other sex.

Any adequate survey of the modern English novel would, at all events,
have to take into account most of the women writers I have mentioned,
but for my present less ambitious occasions I am contented to limit my
record to two--May Sinclair and Sheila Kaye-Smith--whom I take to be
generally representative of such of them as are still in the full tide
of their careers: the latter as having acquaintance with the larger
variety of human character and giving breadth, color and fullness
of life to her stories out of a wider, robuster interest in the
multifarious affairs that absorb so much of the thought and activities
of men; the former as being the subtler artist both in psychology and

As long ago as 1916, the distinguished American critic, Dr. Lyon
Phelps, described Miss Sinclair as “to-day the foremost living writer
among English-speaking women.” He rightly dated her rise to this
eminence from the publication of “The Divine Fire,” in 1904, and as
rightly reminded us that “the British audience for whom it was intended
paid no attention to it” till it had been acclaimed by critics and
read with enthusiasm by thousands of readers in America. Why Miss
Sinclair had to wait eight years for that recognition I cannot explain.
She adventured into literature in orthodox fashion by publishing two
volumes of verse early in the ’nineties. Her first novel, “Audrey
Craven,” appeared in 1896. Then came, with longish intervals between,
“Mr. and Mrs. Nevil Tyson” and “Two Sides of a Question.” These three
books were touched with something of the grey realism that prevented
Gissing from becoming popular with a public which, then more than now,
disliked novels of that hue and preferred its fiction to be either
elevating or pleasantly entertaining. But if there was no run on these
three books at the libraries, they did not pass, unless my memory
misleads me, without due meed of praise from the more discriminating
reviews; and, as Miss Sinclair has done far finer work since “The
Divine Fire,” so I think she did truer, finer work before that in, at
least, the second of her three earlier volumes. It were harder to say
why the laurels fell upon the fourth than why they missed the second.

Rock Ferry, in Cheshire, was Miss Sinclair’s birthplace, but when
fame discovered her she had been living some years at Hampstead, in
London, and “The Divine Fire” moves among London literary circles,
sketches cleverly various literary types of character and life in
boarding-houses round about Bloomsbury, with for central figure a young
Cockney poet, a kind of new Keats, who worked as a shop-assistant,
wrote exquisite verse, had all the instincts of a gentleman, but was
afflicted with a deplorable habit of dropping his aitches. So much
is made of this weakness (which was really only as superficially
significant as was Stevenson’s inability to spell certain words
correctly) that the frequent insistence on it comes by degrees to seem
a little finicking, a little irritating. I do not share Dr. Phelp’s
fancy that Charlotte Bronte returned to earth to write “The Divine
Fire.” Miss Sinclair may have learned things from Charlotte Bronte;
she has written ably and searchingly of her in “The Three Brontes”;
but influence from that source--even from the Charlotte of “Shirley”
days--is scarcely traceable in any of her books and certainly does not,
in “The Divine Fire,” dominate her own quietly distinctive personality.

Few authors owe their popularity to their best work, and, at the
risk of appearing heretical, I will admit I have always counted “The
Divine Fire” as one of Miss Sinclair’s unsuccessful experiments, and
“The Helpmate” as another. Both have charm and distinction of style,
but they have not the insight, the clearness of vision, that mark her
later novels. She is, especially in the second, like an artist drawing
without models and erring in small details, getting the anatomy of
her characters here and there out of proportion. The cleverness and
the interest of “The Helpmate” are undeniable, but its people do not
wear flesh about them; they are seriously presented, but one feels
they are as outside the world of actual humanity as are the brilliant
creations that play so deftly in some of the artificial comedies of the

“The Creators” is another tale of literary life, and one in which you
are not always sure whether the author wishes you to take her poets
and novelists in dead earnest or whether she is secretly laughing at
them and touching off their idiosyncrasies with a covert irony, the
latter suspicion finding encouragement in the neat realism and hard-cut
brilliance with which the whole thing is done. Some have complained
that several of her novels are too preoccupied with the mysteries and
intimacies of sexual relationship, but you might as reasonably complain
that other authors exclude these from their scheme of things and are
too preoccupied with other and less vitally human experiences. There
is no forbidden tree in the garden of literature; all the world is the
artist’s parish and he is justified of any theme so long as he can
handle it with such artistic success as Miss Sinclair does in “Kitty
Tailleur,” in “The Combined Maze,” and in that tragically poignant
short story “The Judgment of Eve.”

Perhaps she reaches the highest expression of her genius in this
and other of her short stories (“The Wrackham Memoirs” is a little
masterpiece of ironic comedy) and in the shortest of her novels, “The
Life and Death of Harriet Frean”--the detached pity, the insight,
the minute, illuminating realism with which the whole feeble,
self-sacrificing, sentimental little soul of Harriet is revealed, and
the perfect technique with which it is all set down, give power and
beauty to what in less skilled, less sensitive hands might have been a
frail, wistful story of no particular significance.

Miss Sinclair is more erudite than the majority of novelists and,
outside the world of fiction, has proved herself a suggestive and
original thinker in such philosophical subtleties as “A Defence of
Idealism.” She worked, during the early stages of the War, with the
Red Cross, recording her experiences in “A Journal of Impressions in
Belgium,” and she drew on those experiences for scenes in some of her
novels, notably in “Tasker Jevons” and in that finer story of the same
period, “The Tree of Heaven.”

Literary characters, the literary life, and sex problems enter pretty
largely into Miss Sinclair’s novels, but she has never like so many of
the successful settled down to run in a groove; she does not repeat
herself. She has not accepted ready-made formulas of art but has been
continually reaching out for new ways of advance. She was quick to see
virtue in the literary method of James Joyce and Dorothy Richardson
and the possibilities inherent in the novel which should look on
everything through the consciousness of a single one of its characters,
and proclaimed it as the type of novel that would have a future. She
may not have convinced us of this when she applied the method in
the ejaculatory, minutely detailed “Mary Olivier,” but its maturer
development in “Harriet Frean” demonstrated that it was a manner which
could be used with supreme artistic effectiveness. All the same, the
method is not so new as James Joyce; you may find the beginnings of it,
employed less self-consciously, with more reticence and more humor, in
the first and last novels of that very old-fashioned novelist William
De Morgan.


[Illustration: FRANK SWINNERTON]

When his first novel, “The Merry Heart,” was published, in 1909, Frank
Swinnerton was still so youthful that I remember persons of my own
age had a way of referring to him, with an avuncular air, as “young
Swinnerton.” He was twenty-four, but his smooth, boyish face, his
unassuming manner, that hovered between a natural vivacity and a sort
of shyness, made him look and seem younger than he was. In the fourteen
years since then he has done work, as novelist and as critic, that has
made him famous on at least two continents, he has grown a moustache
and a trim, pointed reddish beard that with the lurking twinkle in his
eyes, give him somewhat the appearance of an acute Frenchman (though
nobody could, in general, be more thoroughly English), and, so far from
being shy, he will now rise on a platform or at a public dinner and
make you an admirably serious or witty and humorous address with the
completest self-possession.

In fact, he has so matured, in himself and in his knowledge of life,
that he makes those who once called him young feel as if they had not
kept time with him and he had become their senior. Yet in the best way
he is still as young as ever. He has that tonic streak of frivolity
in him which is better than any monkey-gland for saving a man from
getting old. He can be as serious as most people on occasion, but his
joyous gifts for telling a droll anecdote or mimicking the voice,
manner and peculiarities of an acquaintance are gifts not so commonly
shared. He takes his art seriously, but unless you catch him in the
right mood he is not ready to talk seriously about it. Some authors
appear to be so in love with their work that they will tell you they
are never happier than when they are driving the pen and putting
their thoughts on paper, but Frank Swinnerton is not one of those. He
protests that he writes slowly; with difficulty; that he does not like
work; finds it irksome; that he finds pleasure in thinking out an idea,
but once he has thought it out he has a feeling that it ought to be
all done with, and puts off shaping it into words as long as he can,
and then can only bring himself to do it by fits and starts or with
intermittent bursts of energy. But if you took him too literally in
this I think you would misunderstand him. It would be truer to say of
him, as he has said of Gissing, “Conscientiousness was the note of his
artistic character.... The books are full of steady and sincere work.
Only when they were written with joy (which does not signify gaiety)
they were of original value.” For if his own books were not written
with that same joy in creation (which may co-exist with a dislike of
the mechanical act of writing) they could not be so intensely alive as
they are.

You might almost guess from his novels that Swinnerton was a Londoner,
or at least, like Dickens, had been made a naturalized citizen of the
“dear, damned, delightful, dirty” town when he was a child. He was born
at Wood Green, no such ideally rural suburb as its name suggests, and
has lived in London all his life. A severe illness when he was eight
years old made going to school out of the question for some time,
and continued delicate health and recurring break-downs rendered any
education so fragmentary as to be pretty well negligible. But he was
all the while, without knowing it, educating himself in ways that were
fitting him for the career he was to follow. Books were his teachers,
and his literary ambitions took an active form so early that at the
age of ten he was running an amateur magazine--one of the kind that
years ago (and probably still) used to circulate in manuscript among
subscribers who were all contributors and usefully, and sometimes
mercilessly, criticized each other’s effort.

He was about fourteen when he turned his hand to real business
and became a clerk in the London office of some Glasgow newspaper
publishers. After an interval, he worked for a few years in the
publishing house of J. M. Dent & Co.; then transferred himself to the
firm of Chatto & Windus, whose literary adviser he has since remained,
dividing his time between writing books of his own and reading and
passing judgment on the books of others, to say nothing of his doings
as a reviewer or as the writer for an American magazine of one of the
best monthly literary letters that go out of London.

At twenty he wrote his first novel, and it was rejected by every
publisher to whom it was offered. Two more novels shared the same
discouraging fate, and I believe their author has now destroyed all
three. But a happier fate was reserved for his fourth, “The Merry
Heart,” which was promptly accepted and published; and if neither in
story nor in characterization this buoyant, quietly humorous romance of
a London clerk will compare with his maturer fiction, it has a charm
and morning freshness of feeling and outlook to atone for what it may
lack in finish.

“The Young Idea” marks a great advance in his mastery of the type of
novel to which he was particularly devoting himself. This “comedy of
environment,” traces with a wonderfully sympathetic understanding
the mental and moral development of Hilda Vernon, who is a clerk
in a London office. She shares a flat with her boorish brother and
delightful younger sister, and disillusioned and disheartened by her
everyday experiences of the meanness and squalor of the life around
her, longing still to believe “in the beauty of something, in the
purity of some idea, or the integrity of some individual,” but giving
up hope, she meets with a man, a clerk like herself, who by his clean,
courageous personality and strength of character saves her from despair
and revives her old faith in humankind.

The novel is remarkable for its insight and subtle analysis of
character no less than for the interest of its story; but henceforth
in Swinnerton’s work the analysis of character grows and the story
itself declines in importance. It is so in “The Casement,” “The Happy
Family,” “On the Staircase,” “The Chaste Wife,” “Nocturne,” until with
“The Three Lovers,” the story begins to reassert itself. I have seen
“The Chaste Wife” described as his one failure, but to me it seems one
of the ablest and most poignant of his books and Priscilla Evandine one
of the most gracious, finely simple women he has ever drawn. “Shops and
Houses” is perhaps less satisfactory, though it follows his favorite
method and studies very skillfully and with a shrewd irony the various
members of a middle-class family. It is in “September,” a brilliant
handling of the marriage of incompatible temperaments, in “The Happy
Family,” “The Casement,” “On the Staircase,” and, more than all, in
“Nocturne” that Swinnerton’s art is at its surest and highest. There
are only five characters in “Nocturne,” and from the time when Jenny
Blanchard is riding home in the tram to her going out and returning
from a covert visit to her lover in his yacht on the Thames, the
action occupies less than six hours. Jenny, her sister Emily, their
pitiful, tiresome, amusing old father, and the homely, dull Alf Rylett,
who pursues Jenny with unwelcome attentions--they and their whole
environment are revealed with a most graphic and intimate realism, and
Jenny’s impetuous rebellion against the squalor and narrowness of her
lot, the spiritual tragedy of her brief, passionate self-surrender
are touched with an emotional power and sense of pity that make a
story which easily might have been drab and gross a thing strangely
beautiful. Few who read it will wonder that H. G. Wells should have
declared it is a book “that will not die. It is perfect, authentic, and

One of his American critics (and his vogue is larger in America than
in this country) has described Swinnerton as “the analyst of lovers.”
He is that in most of his books, but he is a good deal more than that.
It is loosely said that he is a disciple of Gissing, but so far as I
can see he is one of the most original of living novelists and derives
less from his predecessors than do most of his contemporaries. He deals
with the gray, swarming London streets, and with middle and lower class
London life, but that life has changed radically since Gissing’s day,
and Swinnerton is true to its modern developments. Moreover, he is no
pessimist; he writes with a genial sympathy of the people whom Gissing
despised, and there is a prevailing sense of humor in his pages that is
never in Gissing’s. His mental attitude, his style, his realistic art
are altogether different.

In his book on Gissing (I have not read his book on Stevenson, which
they tell me is unorthodox, and gave offence to Stevenson’s admirers)
he says that in Gissing’s time realism was regarded as “something
very repulsive and unimaginative ... he did not see in realism very
much more than laborious technical method. We are all realists
today, trying very hard to see without falsity and to reproduce our
vision with exactitude. Realism, I think, is no longer associated
with the foot-rule and a stupid purposeless reproduction of detail.”
It is not so associated in the reticent, imaginative realism he
practises himself. I fancy, too, that he is getting back to his
earlier manner--to the making of the story as important as the study
of psychology. “The Three Lovers,” as I have said, moves in that
direction, and if it goes so far as to be occasionally melodramatic
there is no falsity in that, for life itself is full of melodrama. He
recognized in “The Casement” that love is not the whole of life, that
“work of any kind seems to absorb the faculties, and some business men
do, I suppose, live for their work”; and recently he has owned to a
feeling that in its next development the novel will be a definite and
plain tale, that there will be a revival of realistic romance which
will pay less attention to men’s intermittent amorous adventures and
more to the business and general affairs that preoccupy most of the
time of the majority. And the signs are that he is of those who are
beginning to travel on those lines.


[Illustration: HUGH WALPOLE]

Without reading anything of an author’s works, or anything that was
written about them, you might form a practical notion of his value and
follow his progress along the path to glory by merely watching the
growth of his reviews and the extent to which they climbed up from the
obscurer into the more prominent parts of the papers. Unless he breaks
the precedents and is a roaring success from the first, and that seldom
happens, he will start by receiving short, inconspicuous notices some
weeks or months after his book is issued, or be grouped with four or
five others in a collective article, on the sardine principle. Perhaps
he will never escape out of that limbo; but if he is destined for
success, you will presently note that he is promoted to the dignity of
long reviews with a special heading to himself; and when you find him
topping a column, discussed at considerable length, with a breathless
announcement bracketed under the title, “Published Today,” you may be
sure that, if you have not yet started to read him, it is time you

Hugh Walpole has been through all those stages; he went through
more rapidly than most authors do, and has gone beyond them, for he
was still three or four years short of forty when a leading London
publisher sealed him of the elect by producing a collected edition of
his works. So as far as I can recall, he is the youngest novelist who
ever had that mark of distinction bestowed upon him. And, by way of
corroborating the significance of this, a selection of passages from
his books has been published in a special “Hugh Walpole Anthology,” and
two years in succession, with “The Secret City” and “The Captives,” he
has taken the Tait Black Prize awarded by the University of Edinburgh
for the best novel of the year.

His father was vicar of a church at Auckland, New Zealand, in 1884,
when Hugh Walpole was born. In 1887 the family removed to New York,
where Dr. Walpole had accepted an appointment as Professor in a
Theological College; and seven years later they migrated to England,
where, in the fulness of time, the son was to become a famous novelist,
and the father Bishop of Edinburgh. After completing his education at
King’s School, Canterbury, and Emanuel College, Cambridge, Hugh Walpole
worked for a year or so as teacher at a boy’s school in the provinces.
Then he went to London, settled in cheap lodgings at Chelsea, and
reviewed books for the newspapers, to provide for his present needs,
and wrote novels with an eye on the future.

He had written his first, “The Wooden Horse,” while he was at
Cambridge, but discouraged by the friend to whose judgment he submitted
it, laid it aside for about five years, and only offered it for
publication and had it accepted in 1909, after he had taken the plunge
and entered on that journalistic career in London. It was well enough
received and put a little money into his purse, and “Maradick at
Forty,” a much maturer work which followed within a year, met with a
reception from critics and public that made it clear he had found his
vocation; then with “Mr. Perrin and Mr. Traill,” a brilliant, somewhat
bitter, study of the boys and masters at a dreary, lonely school in
Cornwall (reminiscent, no doubt, of his own teaching days) he fairly
established himself. That was in 1911, and thence-forward his story
is the story of the successive books he wrote, until the War came to
interrupt his career.

In the earlier days of the war he worked with the Red Cross on the
Russian front; later, he was put in charge of British propaganda
at Petrograd, and lived there throughout the chaos of the first
Revolution, keeping a full diary of his experiences which has never
been published. People he met, things he did and saw while he was
serving with the Red Cross went into “The Dark Forest,” the sombrest
and one of the most ably written of his books. It came out in 1916,
while he was in Petrograd. He made a finely sympathetic study of the
soul of the Slav, and pictured Petrograd in the days of the Revolution,
in “The Secret City,” which has been described as the truest novel
of Russian life ever written by an alien, and was published toward
the close of the war, when he was home again and working here in the
Ministry of Information.

But these two books, though they rank with his best, are not
representative. Hugh Walpole is probably as near to being a typical
Englishman as any man can be, and of his dozen other novels, “The
Golden Scarecrow” and “Jeremy” show how wonderfully he can enter into
the minds of children, and the rest are stories of lower-middle,
middle and higher English society in town and country. “The Duchess of
Wrexe,” with its vividly realistic drawing of the dreadful old Duchess,
enshrines an essentially English _grande dame_ of the old-school
that is rapidly becoming extinct; there are no better pictures of
English family life than the pictures of the Trenchards in “The Green
Mirror,” and a later novel; and you guess that personal observation
and experience have gone into “The Captives,” “The Cathedral,” and
other of his stories concerned with the clergy and schoolmasters, and
into the narrative in “Fortitude” of how Peter Westcott ran away from
his Cornish home to face poverty in London and embark on a successful
career as a novelist; for though Walpole has stated that he never draws
his characters from living models, he owns that living persons suggest
themes and characteristics to him.

He reveals an English trait, I think, by his confession of faith in the
outlook and methods of Anthony Trollope, the most thoroughly English of
all our novelists. It is curious how in writing of present-day fiction
I am continually coming up against Trollope. His style is easygoing,
undistinguished, often slipshod; he did not pretend to be an artist;
rarely troubled much for a plot, never worried about psychology, never
heard of psychoanalysis, but wrote simply of people as he saw and
knew them, put them into a loose sort of story of things that were
happening round about him, and now we are more and more recognizing
that in his unassuming tales of the social, political and business life
of his period he was a closer observer, a greater realist than were
some of his contemporaries who surpassed him in humor, imagination and
in literary genius. I come up against him so often that I suspect his
quiet influence is growing more potent with our younger writers than
that of Dickens, or Thackeray, or Meredith.

Not long ago, both W. L. George and Douglas Goldring announced that
they would write no more psychological novels; they had arrived at
a conclusion that the novelist’s real business was to tell a plain
tale in which his characters should be left to express themselves in
action. Compton Mackenzie had preceded them with a declaration that
the novelist’s function was not to analyse states of mind and emotions
but to dramatize them, that the novelist should before everything else
be an entertainer, a teller of tales; and since the war Hugh Walpole
has laid down his own views on this subject in a statement that was
published by Meredith Starr in his book on “The Future of the Novel.”

“A novel seems to me,” says Walpole, “quite simply a business of
telling a story about certain people whom the writer attempts to make
as living as possible. Probably behind the lines of these people there
would be some philosophy of life either stated definitely or implied
in the attitude of the author.... If I were to make any prophesy
about the future of the novel, I would say that many of us are growing
tired of the thirst for novelty and are turning back with relief to
any simple presentment of real people in a real way. A good instance
of this is the wonderful recrudescence of Anthony Trollope, who cared
nothing about form or technique or style, and had, indeed, the smallest
pretensions of himself as a novelist. But he kept his eyes fixed on
the characters about whom he was writing and tried to tell the truth
about them as he saw them. He was indeed too deeply interested in their
adventures to think about anything else. And I believe that it is this
kind of simplicity of interest on the part of the narrator to which we
will return.”

The Trenchards are a kind of family Trollope might have created had he
been living now; “The Cathedral” is a kind of story he might have told,
with its realistic melodrama and its clerical atmosphere, but Walpole
tells it with a subtler art in the writing and the construction, with
a conciseness and charm of style that are outside the range of the
earlier novelist. Trollope was fat, ponderous, bewhiskered; Walpole
is tall, well-knit, clean-shaven, looks even younger than his years,
is nimble-witted and modern-minded; and the two do not differ more in
personality than in their manner of telling a tale. The tale, and the
truth of it, may be the law for both, but though they row in the same
boat, to apply the pun to Douglas Jerrold, it is with very different

Most of Walpole’s work is done at his cottage by the sea in Cornwall;
he retires to that seclusion when a new idea has taken hold upon him,
stays there for some months at a stretch, then, with another novel
completed, returns to London for recreation, and is a very familiar
figure again at all manner of social functions, and one of the
cleverest and most popular of after-dinner speakers. “We love him out
yonder,” an American assured me; “none of your author-lecturers who
come over to us has larger or more delighted audiences.” A cousin of
the Earl of Orford, I have seen it said that he indirectly inherits
no little of the wit and shrewd worldly wisdom of his distant kinsman
Horace Walpole; but the realism and haunting mysticism of “The Dark
Forest” have nothing in common with the crudely romantic terrors of
“The Castle of Otranto,” and his wit and perspicacity are mitigated
by a genial human kindness that is no part of that conjectural



H. G. Wells made one of his mistakes--even the wisest of us have to
make a few--when, during a controversy with Henry James, he breezily
denied that he was an artist and proclaimed himself a journalist. I
think he must have said it with his tongue in his cheek; anyhow, it was
a mistake to put that opinion into anybody’s mind and those words into
anybody’s mouth, for there are always critics and artists, mainly of
the lesser breeds, ready enough, without such prompting, to belittle
any greatness that gets in their way.

Undoubtedly, Wells is a journalist, and a mightily efficient one;
but he is also as subtle and fine an artist as you shall find among
our living men of letters, and something of an authentic prophet,
to boot. I hope his ideal state will never be realized; it is too
dreadfully efficient, too exactly organized, so all mechanical, with
human beings clicking in as part of the machinery that, if it ever
came to pass, life in it would be reduced to such monotony that I
am quite certain he would himself be one of the first to emigrate.
You may say the journalist is uppermost in his social and economic
gospels, such as “A Modern Utopia” and “New Worlds for Old,” in those
wonderful imaginative, inventive scientific romances, “The First Men
in the Moon,” “The War of the Worlds,” “The War in the Air,” “Men
Like Gods,” and in novels so given over to problems of religion,
morals, sex, education and general contemporary life and conduct as
are “God the Invisible King,” “Joan and Peter,” “Ann Veronica,” “The
Soul of a Bishop,” “The Undying Fire,” and “The Secret Places of the
Heart,” yet in all these it could be demonstrated that the artist and
the prophet collaborated with the journalist. It has been said that
when in those early romances he foresaw the coming of the Great War
and the part the aeroplane would play in it he was no prophet but a
clever prognosticator who had followed the progress of invention, noted
certain tendencies and calculated their developments as one might work
out a problem in mathematics, and that a prophet needs no such guides
to knowledge but speaks by inspiration and is concerned only with the
things of the spirit. However that may be, it is with the things of the
spirit that he is mostly preoccupied in at least three of the six later
novels I have just mentioned and, to name but one, his vision of “God
the Invisible King” is more like prophetic utterance than any we have
had in our time.

But he is before all else an artist in the greatest of his novels--in
“The Wheels of Chance,” “Love and Mr. Lewisham,” “Kipps,” “The History
of Mr. Polly,” “Tono Bungay” and “The New Machiavelli,” in “The Country
of the Blind” and nearly all the other short stories in the same
volume. That book epitomises Wells’s versatile genius; its stories
represent in little nearly every variety of his work. They are by turns
fantastic, humorous, supernatural, visionary, grimly terrible and
sternly or sympathetically realistic. Personally, I like him best here,
as in his larger works, when his stories are all of ordinary men and
women living average human lives in the light of common day; but his
bizarre studies in psychology, his short tales of the eerie, nightmare
order and those that grow out of surprising scientific discoveries are
fashioned with an art as sure and as strong and as finished. If the
author of “The Country of the Blind” and “Kipps” is not an artist but a
journalist the sooner our other writers of fiction take to journalism
the better, both for them and for us.

He is one of those exceptional authors who are in themselves exactly
what they seem to be in their books. Unaffected, alive with energy,
sociable, genially talkative, it is an amusing object lesson to see
him seated at a public dinner next to some distinguished but orthodox
philosopher of less learning than himself, younger but looking
older, with none of his imaginary power, his far-seeing vision, his
originality and suggestiveness as a thinker, who is yet clothed in the
gravity, reticence, aloofness that are supposed to denote superior
wisdom. There is nothing so impressive in Wells’s manner, his quick
gestures, his high, not unpleasant voice; but his keen gray eyes, with
a humorous twinkle in the depths of them, look out from under a broad,
massive forehead that prevents his appearance from being commonplace.
Sidney Dark has called him “The Superman-in-the-Street.” He is a great
deal more than that, but he owes his deep knowledge of humanity, his
broad sympathy with its sufferings and aspirations to the fact that he
did at the outset share the homely satisfactions, the limitations and
disadvantages that are the lot of the man-in-the-street, grew wise in
those experiences, and carried the memory of them with him into the
study. A far more profitable proceeding than to arrive in the study
ignorant and learn of the outer world from hearsay or from what others
have written.

Socialist, scientist, practical idealist, immensely interested in
men and affairs, insatiably curious about all life, its origins,
implications, possibilities, restlessly delving into the history and
mystery of the past for truths that would light his guesses at the
darker mystery of the future, it was natural for Wells to put his
latest interests into each new book that he wrote, whether it was a
matter-of-fact philosophical treatise or romantic or realistic fiction.
If this habit of using as material for his work whatever was readiest
to hand led to his scandalizing friends and acquaintance by putting
even them, under thin disguises, into certain of his novels, he has, at
least, put himself into them also and no little of his autobiography.
You may trace the growth of his mind, the development of his ideas
through his successive books. He has been accused of inconsistency by
those who fancied his opinion had changed because it had matured, that
he had acquired a new root when he had merely grown new branches. All
his life, as somebody once said, he has been thus educating himself in
the public eye, but he was educating himself strenuously and in face of
many difficulties long before the eye of the public became aware of him.

He was born, in 1866, at Bromley, Kent, where his father, a noted
cricketer who played in the County team, kept a small glass and china
and general shop. But the business failed; his father had to find
employment; his mother went as housekeeper to a great house near
Petersfield and Wells, then about thirteen, was apprenticed to a draper
at Windsor. Before long, he left there to go to Midhurst as assistant
to a chemist, and presently abandoned that profession to resume his
interrupted schooling at Wimblehurst. Thence, in 1881, he went to be,
for a brief period, pupil teacher at his uncle’s school in Somerset,
and gave that up to take to his first trade again in a draper’s shop at
Southsea. After two years of this, he emerged as assistant teacher at
Midhurst Grammar School, till, having won a scholarship at the South
Kensington School of Science, and taken his B.Sc. degree with honors,
he secured an appointment to teach Science and English at Henley House
School, St. John’s Wood. To increase his income, he passed from that to
work as lecturer and tutor to some University Correspondence Classes,
and the incessant and arduous labor this involved resulted in such a
complete breakdown of health that he had to resign his appointment and
go away to the south coast to rest and recuperate.

But before he was fairly convalescent the irksomeness of doing nothing
and the need of getting an income prompted him to try his luck with his
pen. So far his literary work had not gone beyond what I am told was an
admirable biological text-book, contributions to technical journals,
and a few occasional newspaper articles. He turned now to writing
essays and sketches of a light and humorous kind, and found a ready
market for them in the _Pall Mall Gazette_, and other papers. Once in
the lists as a literary free-lance, he rode from success to success
with astonishing deftness and energy. In 1895 he published “Select
Conversations with an Uncle,” but it was eclipsed by the appearance in
the same year of “The Stolen Bacillus and Other Stories,” and two of
the most original and characteristic of his early imaginative tales,
“The Time Machine” and “The Wonderful Visit.” Next year, hard on the
heels of that grim fantasy, “The Island of Dr. Moreau,” came the most
charmingly humorous, realistic-idyllic of his novels, “The Wheels of

No man with a serious purpose should, in this country, retain a sense
of humor. If nature has afflicted him with one, he should do his best
to have it removed; it is more inimical to his well-being than an
appendix. But Wells seems to be incurable, and that he has carelessly
broken through all manner of prejudices to almost universal acceptance,
in spite of his handicap of humor, is in itself a testimony to the
power and quality of his work. If Darwin had followed “The Origin
of Species” by writing “Three Men in a Boat” I doubt whether the
pundits would have taken him seriously enough to have him buried in
Westminster Abbey. Wells, having published a novel and three searching
and profoundly earnest books on the Great War in 1914, burst forth next
year with the farcical, bitingly satirical “Boon” and the irresponsibly
laughable, “Bealby,” and immediately after appealed to us with his
prophetic “What is Coming?” and one of his finest novels, and certainly
the finest novel of the War, “Mr. Britling Sees it Through.”

All which is, of course, as it should be. It is your little man who
has only one mood for all occasions, and dare not laugh and unbend
from his pose and come down from his pedestal lest he should seem
no bigger than those who had looked up to him. While other scholars
are toiling laboriously to write the record of a single nation, or a
single reign, Wells sandwiches between novel and novel that stupendous
survey, “The Outline of History,” which is not only a scholarly and
vastly comprehensive chronicle of the evolution of man and the progress
of humanity the world over from the dawn of time to the day before
yesterday, but is, as Macaulay rightly said all history ought to be, as
easy and fascinating reading as any work of fiction.

No English author has a wider vogue outside his own country--he is
popular in America, and in Russia, Germany, Scandinavia, where many
other of our famous writers are unknown; and who was that Frenchman
that, on a visit to London, expressed himself as agreeably surprised to
discover that Wells is nearly as much appreciated over here as he is in


[Illustration: ISRAEL ZANGWILL]

Although I don’t think I ever exchanged a dozen words with him until
recently, since the days of my youth I have felt a special personal
interest in Israel Zangwill. With the passing of time, as it became
possible to know him from his books and his public doings, that
interest has strengthened to admiration and a real regard alike for
the great qualities of his work and the courageous sincerity of
his character; but I fancy it had its beginnings in quite trifling
associations. We were both born Londoners, and started in the same
way: when we were twenty, or less, we were competing against each
other for prizes in a weekly paper called _Society_, and I believe his
first appearance in print was with a prize story in that long deceased
periodical. I am a little uncertain of the exact dates, but he was
still in his twenties when he started _Ariel_, a brilliant rival to
_Punch_, and I sent him some contributions for it which he did not
use. About the same time I ran another short-lived rival to _Punch_
myself, but he sent me no contributions for it, or, without desiring
to heap coals of fire on his head, I should have used them. Then we
both became members of the New Vagabond Club, and used to meet at
its dinners occasionally and sometimes nod to each other, but never
spoke. As a matter of fact, I don’t suppose he knew who I was and
cannot have suspected that I entertained such warm and proprietorial
sentiments toward him. For many years now, since his marriage (his
wife, the daughter of Professor W. E. Ayrton, is herself a novelist of
distinction), he has made his home at East Preston, in Sussex, and his
visits to London have been few and far between. But when he was up on
business, staying at his chambers in the Temple, I used to come across
him at long intervals careering down the Strand or Fleet Street, and
always felt I was meeting a sort of old friend, though, until recently,
we passed without recognition.

It was in 1864 that he was born, his father being an exile who, lying
under sentence of death for a trivial military offence, had escaped
to this country from a Russian prison. He was educated at the Jews’
Free School, in East London, where, a year or two before taking his
B. A. degree, with triple honors, at the London University, he became
a teacher. But teaching, though he proved extraordinarily successful
at it, was not to be his career. In 1888, he wrote in collaboration
with Louis Cowen a farcical political romance, “The Premier and
the Painter,” and presently resigned his scholastic engagement and
proceeded to earn a livelihood by free-lance literature and journalism.
That success did not come to him till he had paid for it in hard work
you may know by the moral he drew from his memories of those days when
he wrote (as J. A. Hammerton records in his “Humorists of To-Day”), “If
you are blessed with some talent, a great deal of industry, and an
amount of conceit mighty enough to enable you to disregard superiors,
equals and critics, as well as the fancied demands of the public, it is
possible, without friends, or introductions, or bothering celebrities
to read your manuscripts, or cultivating the camp of log-rollers,
to attain, by dint of slaving day and night for years during the
flower of your youth, to a fame infinitely less wide-spread than a
prize-fighter’s and a pecuniary position which you might with far less
trouble have been born to.”

But in the first two years of the 90’s he had established himself as a
humorist with “The Bachelor’s Club,” “The Old Maid’s Club,” and “The
Big Bow Mystery,” an ingenious burlesque of the popular detective story
which was as exciting as the real thing; and as a new novelist of high
and original achievement with “The Children of the Ghetto.” Just then
Jerome and Robert Barr started _The Idler_, with G. B. Burgin as their
assistant editor: a year later Jerome launched _To-Day_, and Zangwill,
who, on the strength of his earlier books, had been branded by the
superior as a “humorist,” was among the notable group of young writers
that J. K. J. collected on his two magazines. Many of his short stories
appeared in the one, and to the other he contributed a causerie,
“Without Prejudice” (which re-emerged in due course as a book), and his
novel, “The Master,” as a serial.

“The Master” is a sustained and revealing study of a single
character--the story of a young painter, Matt Strang, who comes from
Nova Scotia to London, self-centered, afire with ambition, but it is
not till, broken by disillusion and failure, he withdraws from the
babble and dazzle of art circles and social swaggerings, returns to
the obscurity of his own home and subserviates his hopes to his wife’s
happiness that he finds himself and is able to do the great work he had
dreamt of doing. There is more of the ironic, satirical Zangwill in
“The Mantle of Elijah”; he places his scenes in the days of Palmerston,
but drives home a big-minded gospel that is as badly needed in the
politics of these days as it was then. Broser, a strong, self-confident
political leader, rises to power by breaking his promises and changing
his convictions as often as necessary and is acclaimed the savior of
his country, but he has a wife, Allegra, whose conscience is not so
accommodating, who cannot abandon her principles whenever he abandons
his, and in the hour of his triumph she leaves him, to devote herself
to working for the cause that, in the interests of his career, he had

Nearly twenty years later Zangwill gave us “Jinny the Carrier,” a very
charming story of mid-Victorian life and character in rural Essex;
but his finest, most memorable work in fiction has been done as the
interpreter of his own people. This he is in “Children of the Ghetto,”
in the whimsical grotesque, broadly and grimly humorous tales of “The
King of Schnorrers,” that glorious Hebrew mendicant Manasseh Bueno
Barzillai Azevedo da Costa, and in the masterly little stories of light
and shadow that make up the “Ghetto Tragedies” and “Ghetto Comedies.”
He has his unique place in letters as the novelist of London’s modern
Jewry. Aldgate, Whitechapel, Hoxton, Dalston, all the roads and byways,
mean lanes and squalid squares there and thereabouts are a world large
and varied and crowded enough for his purposes. His pride of race glows
as surely in such stories of the children of his fancy, the poor of the
Ghetto, their profoundly simple piety, their patience, self-sacrifice,
humble endurance, human kindness, as in his subtle studies of those
real, yet scarcely more real in seeming, “Dreamers of the Ghetto,”
Heine, Lasalle, Spinoza, and other such seers and prophets of
latter-day Israel. But he is too much of an artist to suppress anything
of the truth, and dealing with his own people, actual or imaginary, he
shows them starkly as they are, their vices as well as their virtues,
their avarice, meanness, hypocrisies, as well as their generosity and
loyalties. He is steeped in the Jewish tradition, and fills in the
atmosphere and intimate detail of his pictures with most meticulous
realism; he is ready enough to ridicule obsolete racial bigotries
and ancient customs that have lost their meaning, but is sensitively
reverent to the beauty and mystic significance of all old ceremonies
and practices that still embody the essential spirit of the faith.

Nowhere has the soul of the London Jew (and the rich Jew who lives
in the West has not been overlooked) been more sympathetically or
impartially unveiled than in Zangwill’s novel and tales of the Ghetto.
His tragedies are touched with comedy, his comedies with tragedy; if
I were limited to three of his short stories, I would name “They that
Sit in Darkness,” “Transitional” and “To Die in Jerusalem,” for their
delicate art and simple directness of narrative, among the greatest in
the language.

How many plays Zangwill has written altogether I do not know; but he
began in 1892 with “Six Persons,” a comedy, and in the last decade or
so has written more plays than stories. “Merely Mary Ann,” a tale of a
quaint little lodging-house slavey, came out first as a short novel,
then was adapted to the stage and had a popular success in both forms.
He dramatized “Children of the Ghetto”; and “Jinny the Carrier” was
a domestic drama before it was a novel. But his bigger work in this
kind is “The Melting Pot,” “The War God,” “The Next Religion,” “The
Forcing House” and “The Cockpit.” Each of them is inspired with a high
and serious purpose. The first is a moving plea for race-fusion: the
Jews are not a nation but a race; they become absorbed into the nation
where they make their home, and you are shown how David Quixano, in
America, “God’s crucible, where all the races of Europe are melting and
re-forming,” is moulded into a patriotic American with a passionate
ideal of freedom. “The War God,” with its appeal for international
goodwill and its scathing indictment of the crime and folly of war
is a prophetic commentary on much that has befallen the world since
1912; “The Forcing House” is a tragi-comedy of revolution, which has
its parallel in Bolshevik Russia; “The Cockpit” is the tragi-comedy,
edged at times with bitterest satire, of the restoration of a Queen
who, bent on ruling by love, is thwarted and brought to disaster by her
ministers, who have a family likeness to ministers everywhere; and “The
War God” (1911) was recognized as the noblest, most impressive drama
that had been seen on the London stage for years.

If Zangwill’s road has sometimes been difficult, one reason is that
he has never gone with the crowd, never been afraid to go against the
view of the majority. More than once he has got himself into trouble
through championing unpopular causes. When it needed courage to come
out openly in favor of Woman’s Suffrage, he supported it in the press
and on the platform; for he is as witty and can be as devastating with
his tongue as with his pen. And with all these activities he has found
time to do a lot of spade work as President of the International Jewish
Territorial Organization, which aims at establishing Jewish Colonies
wherever land can be found for them, and time to give practical service
in Leagues and Committees that are doing what is possible to build up
the peace and universal brotherhood that politicians are too busy to do
more than talk about. From which you may take it that he does not put
all his sympathies into the printed page, does not write one way and
live another, but that his books and his life are of a piece, and if
you know them you know him.



  Ainsworth, W. Harrison, 103

  _Ariel_, 313

  Austen, Jane, 33, 273


  Ballantyne, R. M., 103

  Barr, Robert, 315

  Barrie, Sir James, 153, 235, 243

  Bateman, Miss Isabel, 208

  Bateman, Leah, 183

  “Beachcomber,” 75

  Beardsley, Aubrey, 153

  Beaumont and Fletcher, 13

  _Beeton’s Annual_, 86

  _Belgravia_, 86

  Bell, J. J., 243

  Bell, Dr. Joseph, 86

  Belloc, Hilaire, 13, 19, 244

  Belloc-Lowndes, Mrs., 274

  Bennett, Arnold, 23-29, 104, 273

  Benson, Stella, 274

  Beresford, J. D., 33-39, 44

  _Blackwood’s Magazine_, 254

  Blake, William, 67, 193

  Blomfield, Sir Arthur, 4

  _Bookman_, 75

  Bottome, Phyllis, 274

  Braddon, Miss, 223, 225

  Brontë, Charlotte, 76, 273, 277

  Brown, T. E., 74

  Browning, 8, 113, 255

  Buchan, John, 43-50

  Bunyan, John, 78

  Burgin, G. B., 316

  Burke, Thomas, 114

  Burns, Robert, 43

  Byrne, Donn, 53

  Byron, 3, 83

  _Bystander_, 238


  Caine, Sir Hall, 263

  Carlyle, Thomas, 99

  Clare, John, 66

  Clifford, Mrs. W. K., 123, 274

  Crabbe, George, 33

  Crackanthorpe, Hubert, 123

  Chamberlain, Austin, 114

  _Chambers’s Journal_, 4

  Chaucer, 255

  Chesterton, Cecil, 18

  Chesterton, G. K., 13, 14, 167, 235, 244

  Cholmondeley, Mary, 274

  Coleridge, 73, 93

  Collins, Arthur, 237

  Collins, Wilkie, 263, 264, 266

  Colmore, George, 274

  Compton, Edward, 183

  Compton, G. C., 183

  Conrad, Joseph, 273

  _Cornhill Magazine_, 76, 87

  Cowen, Louis, 314

  Crashaw, 33


  _Daily Graphic_, 136

  _Daily Mail_, 67, 68

  Danby, Frank, 223

  Dane, Clemence, 274

  Daniel, Samuel, 109

  Dark, Sidney, 305

  Darwin, 309

  Davies, W. H., 63-69, 255

  de la Mare, Walter, 73-80, 95, 255

  de Mattos, Texiera, 176

  De Morgan, William, 186, 268, 279

  Dickens, 8, 66, 113, 154, 157, 158, 167, 186, 204, 263, 273, 284, 297

  Disraeli, Benjamin, 178, 208, 223

  Donne, 33

  Doyle, Sir Arthur Conan, 83-89

  Doyle, John, 85

  Doyle, Richard, 86

  Drinkwater, John, 93-99

  Dudeney, Mrs. Henry, 274


  Edalji, George, 84

  Egerton, George, 123

  Eliot, George, 5, 273

  _English Review_, 76

  Erckmann-Chatrian, 13

  Evans, C. S., 44

  Eyles, M. Leonora, 274


  Farnol, Jeffery, 103-109

  Fielding, Henry, 273

  Findlater, Mary and Jane, 274

  FitzGerald, Edward, 193

  France, Anatole, 164

  Frankau, Gilbert, 223

  Freud, Professor, 189


  Galsworthy, John, 113-119, 274

  George, W. L., 297

  Gibson, W. W., 96, 193, 195

  Gissing, George, 123, 284, 288, 289

  Goldring, Douglas, 297

  Goldsmith, 33

  Gosse, Edmund, 274

  Grahame, Kenneth, 44

  Grand, Sarah, 274

  _Granta_, 244

  Greenwood, Frederick, 5


  Haggard, Sir Rider, 123

  Hammerton, J. A., 314

  Hardy, Thomas, 3-10, 73, 193, 194, 195, 235, 263, 273

  Harraden, Beatrice, 274

  Harris, Augustus, 236, 237

  Hawkins, Sir Anthony Hope, 123-129

  Hawley, Hughson, 104

  Hay, Ian, 243

  Henley, W. E., 153

  Herbert, George, 33

  Herrick, 33, 74

  Hodder-Williams, Sir Ernest, 44

  Holland, Clive, 224

  Howard, Keble, 173, 174

  Hunt, Violet, 274

  Hutchinson, A. S. M., 133-139


  _Idler, The_, 315

  Ingram, Roger, 44


  James, Henry, 53, 223, 303

  Jameson, Storm, 274

  Jenkins, Herbert, 44

  Jerome, J. K., 127, 315

  Jerrold, Douglas, 123

  Joyce, James, 279


  Kaye-Smith, Sheila, 143-150, 274

  Keats, 3, 8, 74, 77, 193

  Kingsley, Charles, 33

  Kipling, Rudyard, 15, 123, 153-159, 193, 195, 196

  Knoblauch, Edward, 29


  Lamb, Charles, 74

  Lang, Andrew, 87, 206

  Lawrence, C. E., 44

  Le Galliene, Richard, 53

  Locke, W. J., 163-169, 177, 235

  Lucas, E. V., 244

  Lynd, Robert, 75

  Lyons, A. Neil, 235

  Lytton, Lord, 207


  Macaulay, Lord, 83, 309

  Macaulay, Rose, 274

  McKenna, Stephen, 173-179

  Mackenzie, Compton, 183-189, 297

  Malet, Lucas, 274

  Mann, Mary E., 274

  Markino, Yoshio, 104

  Marlowe, Christopher, 255

  Marvell, Andrew, 213

  Masefield, John, 193-200, 255

  Mason, A. E. W., 203-209

  Matz, B. W., 44

  Maugham, W. S., 213-219

  Maxwell, John, 224

  Maxwell, W. B., 223-229

  Meredith, George, 253, 263, 297

  Merrick, Leonard, 233-239

  Methuen, Sir Algernon, 44

  Meynell, Viola, 274

  Milne, A. A., 243

  Milner, Lord, 46

  Moore, George, 114, 123

  Mordaunt, Elinor, 274

  Morris, William, 99

  Morrison, Arthur, 123, 217

  Munro, Neil, 235, 243


  Nelson, Thomas & Sons, 43

  Newman, Cardinal, 15

  Noyes, Alfred, 253-259


  Onions, Oliver, 123

  Oppenheim, E. Phillips, 263-269


  _Pall Mall Gazette_, 308

  Palmer, Cecil, 44

  Parker, Sir Gilbert, 123

  Paston, George, 183

  Payn, James, 87, 267

  _Pearson’s Magazine_, 135, 136

  Phelps, Dr. Lyon, 275, 277

  Phillips, F. C., 237

  Poe, 76

  Pope, Alexander, 193

  Priestly, Joseph, 14

  Pugh, Edwin, 123, 217

  _Punch_, 34, 86, 134, 244, 245, 249, 313


  _Rapid Review_, 135

  Reid, Mayne, 103

  Richards, Grant, 225

  Richardson, Dorothy, 274, 279

  Ridge, W. Pett, 123, 217

  Robins, Elizabeth, 123

  _Royal Magazine_, 135


  Sadleir, Michael, 44, 273

  Sassoon, Siegfried, 193

  Scott, Mrs. C. A. Dawson, 274

  Scott, Dixon, 194

  Scott, Sir Walter, 103

  _Scraps_, 135

  Shakespeare, 97, 159, 183

  Shaw, G. Bernard, 68, 153, 223

  Sheridan, R. B., 207

  Sidgwick, Ethel, 274

  Sims, G. R., 237

  Sinclair, May, 273-279

  Slater, Oscar, 84

  Smith, Adam, 43

  Smith, Alexander, 94

  Smith, Sydney, 83

  Smith, W. H. & Son, 34

  _Society_, 313

  _Spectator, The_, 47

  Spender, J. A., 74

  Spenser, Edmund, 74

  Squire, J. C., 274

  Starr, Meredith, 297

  Stern, G. B., 274

  Sterne, Lawrence, 33

  Stevenson, R. L., 103, 123, 153, 155

  Swift, 17, 77, 243, 244

  Swinburne, 100, 255, 256

  Swinnerton, Frank, 44, 283-289

  Symonds, John Addington, 183


  _Temple Bar_, 87

  Tennyson, 8, 74, 113, 193, 194, 255

  Thackeray, 8, 113, 186, 188, 273, 297

  Thomas, Edward, 78, 79

  _Times Literary Supplement_, 75

  _To-day_, 315

  Trollope, Anthony, 23, 113, 117, 188, 223, 296-298

  Trollope, Frances, 223


  Walpole, Horace, 299

  Walpole, Hugh, 293-299

  Watson, Frederick, 44

  Watson, Sir William, 255

  Watt, A. P., 238

  Waugh, Alec, 44

  Waugh, Arthur, 44

  Webb, Mary, 224

  Webling, Peggy, 274

  Wells, H. G., 123, 153, 235, 274, 288, 303-310

  West, Rebecca, 274

  _Westminster Gazette_, 35, 75

  Weyman, Stanley, 103, 114, 124, 125

  Whitman, Walt, 256

  Wilde, Oscar, 153, 217

  Willcocks, M. P., 274

  Woolf, Virginia, 274

  Wordsworth, 69, 76, 193

  Wyllarde, Dolf, 274


  Young, Edward, 33


  Zangwill, I., 313-319

Transcriber’s Notes

Obvious errors in punctuation have been fixed.

Page 107: “a like wizard” changed to “like a wizard”

Page 137: “old ideals of feminity” changed to “old ideals of femininity”

Page 159: “where ordinnary folks” changed to “where ordinary folks”

Page 259: “under their miscroscopes” changed to “under their

Page 278: “short shory” changed to “short story”

Page 285: “critized each others” changed to “criticized each other’s”

Page 286: “this bouyant” changed to “this buoyant”

Page 295: “the successsive books” changed to “the successive books”

*** End of this LibraryBlog Digital Book "Gods of Modern Grub Street: Impressions of Contemporary Authors" ***

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