IN the subject of his latest story, Before Adam1, Mr. Jack London shows no diminution of his characteristic audacity. The hero is an ape-man of the Mid-Pleistocene period, by name Big-Tooth, who through the mouth of his latter-day descendant tells of his life among the Tree Folk and the Cave Folk and the Fire People.
That life was not destitute of adventure. One of his earliest memories is of being rescued by his mother—“she was like a large orang-utan, my mother, or like a chimpanzee, and yet in sharp and definite ways quite different”—from the ravenous tusks of a wild boar that had come upon him in the fern-brake. Clutching her with hand and foot he was borne to safety in the tree overhead. Some years later, as soon as his age permitted, he was cast, forth to shift for himself. He joined the community of the Cave Folk. He foraged for roots and eggs and berries. He lived in terror of darkness and snakes, of Red-Eye,—who it seems “was an atavism,” — and of the mysterious North-east whence appeared the smoke of the Fire People. He went on a journey with Lop-Ear, his cave-mate, through strange morasses and along unknown rivers, and finally, after an ardent if simple courtship, he was united to Swift-One.
Perhaps the most provocative passage in the book is that which describes the devotion of Lop-Ear to his comrade at a moment of danger. Big-Tooth had been pierced below the knee by one of the arrows of the murderous Fire-People, and his flight was cruelly impeded.
“ Once again Lop-Ear tried to drag the arrow through the flesh and I angrily stopped him. Then he bent down and began gnawing the shaft of the arrow with his teeth.... I often meditate upon this scene — the two of us, half-grown cubs, in the childhood of the race, the one mastering his fear, beating down his selfish impulses of flight, in order to stand by and succor the other. And there rises before me all that was there foreshadowed, and I see visions of Damon and Pythias, of life-saving crews and RedCross nurses, of martyrs and leaders of forlorn hopes, of Father Damien, and of the Christ himself, and of all the men of earth, mighty of stature, whose strength may trace back to the elemental loins of Lop-Ear and Big-Tooth and other denizens of the Younger World.”
This is a brave endeavor to enlist our interest in these dim denizens; but it falls short of complete success. The story occasionally stirs our curiosity, but never our sympathy. We shudder a little before the exhibitions of Red-Eye’s ferocity, much as we might in visiting a shambles; we admire the ingenuity and plausibility of Mr. London’s psychology, his capacity for realizing primitive states of mind; but farther we do not go.
It may be that the very nature of his effort precludes this. The imaginative process in the present instance has not been that of investing brute life with human attributes, but that of divesting humanity of its human attributes. In interesting us in wolf-dogs and B’rer Rabbits Uncle Remus and Jack London have followed essentially the same process: they have made them seem human. They have brought them into the pale of affinity, given them a psychology in which we may share. But in the present instance the differences must be emphasized all the time rather than the likenesses. It may be possible to see in the fidelity of Lop-Ear a foreglimpse of lifesaving crews and Red-Cross nurses; but such telescopic vision does not greatly stir the heart. The affair of Big-Tooth and Swift-One is the inversion of romance, The most valued products of life are not greatly to be valued in their origins: the rudiments may have technical or scientific interest, and the author would doubtless claim some special merit for his story upon the score of scientific plausibility; but that is obviously a matter apart.
Mr. London’s story is simply one further step — one could hope the last — in the development of a type of fiction with which of late we have been adequately supplied. It would be interesting to examine the publishers’ announcements of the last two or three years with a view to computing the frequency of such phrases as “life drunk to the dregs,” — “strong, primitive emotions,”—“thrilling with fierce passion and the heat of it,” — “human nature stripped naked, by salt, water alchemy reduced to its rudiments ”—whatever that may mean. The thing that impresses one most forcibly after perusing a successive half-dozen of these “red-blooded ” novels (it seems superfluous to name them) is the sheer vulgarity of them, or perhaps, more definitely, their materiality. In them passion is no longer a fire for the annealing or fusing of character; it seems to have become an object in itself, hardly to be distinguished from appetite. The promoters of the type, in a noisy effort to get at “realities,” have flung away the choicest and most significant of life’s possessions, and the realities are discovered to be little more than raw sensations.
With the elimination of each subtler and more spiritual ingredient, personality is stripped of its distinctions. Men’s bodies do not greatly differ from one another; neither do their elemental emotions. As we go downward the field is restricted instead of enlarged, for we have sacrificed what is of chiefest importance in fiction: the individual. Lop-Ear and Big-Tooth are practically interchangeable, save for the mere accidents of physique which denominate them; and the love of Swift-One signifies little, as it is only the crude satisfaction of an instinct. And since the repetition of a raw sensation soon palls, if it does not become actually painful, the use of the primitive for its own sake — just because it is “redblooded”—is sure to involve its own defeat.
Fortunately this is not the only end to which the primitive may be used. True though it be that elemental character lacks a degree of sharpness and individuality, it is also true that, seen in its relations, it often gains a certain largeness and dignity which are impressive. In looking at the sower at nightfall, Victor Hugo saw his shadow extending mysteriously across the face of the world. Millet felt that reverence too, and imbued humble things with the same augustness.
Our modern approach to nature is one which especially favors this use of the primitive subject. To the poets and romancers of an earlier generation Nature was a benignant friend, clad in beauty and goodness; she was man’s best teacher in high things. The moralistic and decorative uses of nature were chiefly emphasized. But with the triumph of evolutionary philosophy the shores were struck from under this conception. Parasite and host were seen to be produced by the self-same process; there was no distinction in nature between good and bad; there was no mercy, no benevolence. Irresistibly and irrevocably the activities of life were borne forward; types appeared, struggled, disappeared, were forgotten. The whole process in its first shock upon the imagination seemed cruelly impersonal. Reverence had been attacked in her very temple; it was gloomily predicted that the scalpel of science would bring death to imagination.
Undeniably the old gods are gone; and it can hardly be asserted that we are as yet fully assured of the new. But imagination is too integral a human function to be eradicated by a change in philosophy. The nature-worshiping instinct holds its place in the heart against all comers; only it expresses itself in different forms. One means, and perhaps the most promising, by which nature has been reclaimed and revitalized for the imagination is through the recognition of its genetic relationship with all life. We are also her offspring. Our landscape setting, our social environment (the notion of “nature” must be extended beyond fauna and flora and rurality), has a vital rôle in the drama; is no longer a mere moral for it, or a pictured curtain let down behind it and removable at will. This interplay of personal and extra-personal forces is most apprehensible of course where neither “environment”nor “individual” is overcomplex. A simple personality is in more clearly perceptible ways the product of its circumstances — akin to them — than a highly-developed personality. In this fact lies, I think, much of the characteristically modern appeal which the primitive in human life makes to the poetic imagination.
The appearance of three fairly remarkable novels, each of which expresses in its special way this sense of relationship between man and nature, is the justification for this — I fear too protracted —■ generalization. The reference is to The Whirlwind, by Eden Phillpotts, The Call of the Blood, by Robert Hichens, and The Turn of the Balance, by Brand Whitlock.2 In each of them the synthesis is distinctively of to-day. In the first the external force always playing its secret but vital part in the drama is the open country of Dartmoor; in the second it is the sundrenched hills, the happy indolence, of Sicily; in the third, the organized society of a present-day American city.
Mr. Phillpotts has never given us anything so effectively composed as the present novel. Aside from the comedy scenes where a group of loquacious villagers interminably discuss the construction of a water-leat and other unprofitable matters (the comedy is laborious), the story gives one a sense of constructive mastery quite unusual: sure, deliberate, and impressive. Dartmoor, the land of his heart, has never been rendered by Mr. Phillpotts so intimately and at the same time so robustly.
“Dartmoor has been chosen by Nature for a theatre of worship and of work — a hypæthral temple, wherein she ministers before the throne of the sun, nurtures life, ripens her harvest, and buries her uncounted dead. Each year springtime breaks the bud joyfully and lifts the little lark into the blue; each year the summer builds and the autumn gleans; each year when the sun’s lamp is lowered, when the curtain of cloud is drawn, sleep and death pass by together along the winter silences. Thus the punctual rite and round are accomplished century after century, and at each year’s end arise immemorial threnodies of many waters and fierce winds. Rivers roar a requiem; and their inevitable dirge is neither joyful nor mournful, but only glorious. The singers also are mortal; the wind and the wave are creatures, even as the perishing heath, crumbling stone, and falling foliage; they too rise and set, triumph and expire; they too are a part of the only miracle of the universe: the miracle of matter made manifest in pomp and wonder, in beauty and mystery, where Nature rolls her endless frieze along the entablature of Time. ”
Here is a nature-worshiper in truth; but he is a nature-worshiper after the newer type. There is something of the universal genetrix about his nature which fills the imagination quite as effectively as was ever possible with the older conceptions.
The children of the moor — the moor’s true children — are simple, candid, large-natured beings, richly endowed by instinct, yet always consciously living in the presence of primeval things. Prehistoric cairns link them backward with an undiscoverable past, and the elemental forces of nature, so unimpeded and irresistible, make thought of death and change familiar to them.
Daniel Brendon combines in his personality the more rugged and passionate aspects of the moor. Tremendous of frame and muscle, ardent in labor, fiercely devoted to his God who is the Jehovah of Sinai, baffled by any intellectual problem, but swift in action when the issue is clear, Daniel makes, despite all the homely circumstances of his life, an almost august figure. He is a laborer on the farm of Hilary Woodrow, and Hilary Woodrow is in love with Daniel’s wife, Sarah Jane.
Sarah Jane is devoted to her husband; but she cannot care greatly for his God. She is so much the laughter and sunshine of the moor, with all its mellowness and various beauty, its sweet impulsiveness and rich maternity, that there seems to be no place in her life for a grim and exacting deity. Undisciplined by the ordinary social relations, she is instinctively true to herself; convention is non-existent for her. She admires Hilary because of his learning, she likes him as a friend because of his liberal and candid mind, she pities him because of his poor health and isolation. Though in the end she yields to his passion, she is never in her heart disloyal to Daniel, — only glad that she may have a part in assuring his promotion. The issue is not presented to her chiefly as a moral issue; and it is impossible to feel that her character is sullied by her one act of faithlessness. Years later she denies to Hilary that she had a sin to repent of. “Never,” she said. “I wept fire for a week after; I was half raving for joy and half raving for misery — mad like. Then I put it all behind me.
Things stronger than me — or you — worked that deed.”
The secret was kept for a long time. Daniel’s affairs prospered. With Hilary, failing strength (Mr. Phillpotts tells us) brought a gradual weakening of intellectual independence. He was drawn into the shelter of formal religion with its sure hope and its forgiveness of sins. He longed to confess his offense to his friend Daniel; but the woman restrained him, knowing that her husband’s fiery nature could not endure it. Thus Hilary dies before the secret is discovered. When Daniel finally learns the truth the inevitable thing happens: his God is a God of vengeance—“He who once drowned every little child in the whole world ... who slew Uzzah for steadying his ark; who killed seventy thousand innocent men because David numbered the people.” The biblical penalty for the sin that had been committed was axiomatic to his passion-rent intelligence.
But we are saved that. Sarah Jane was told that her husband had made the discovery, and she knew what he would do. Without a shadow of fear or hesitation she climbed the moor toward the cairn. “Like a dream picture painted in milk and gold, rich with magic light even in the pearly shadows, overflowing with the lustre and fervor of June, Devon spread before her feet and rolled in sunlit leagues to the horizons of the sea. There lacked no gracious beauty proper to that scene. It rose beyond perfection to sublimity, lifting her watching spirit higher than any praise; begot the serene still sadness that reigns above all joy.” Her life was ended by her own hand before the avenger reached her. Later Daniel sold all his property, burned the notes of payment, and entered the Salvation Army.
Mr. Phillpotts gives one the impression of constantly growing power; more than ever it is out of the question to look upon him as a literary paysagiste. There is not a landscape in The Whirlwind that seems external to the movement of the story. And through his unremitting intensive study of the land he loves and its people, there is an authenticity about his work which puts its spell on the reader. Highly localized as is his material, the spirit of it is as far as possible from parochiality. Mr. Phillpotts’s point of view, his spiritual discernment, the human relations that lure his consideration, are almost ultra-modern.
In the present story the development of the triangular situation, though fastidiously presented, is in conception extremely daring. Here is no arraignment of society for the condemnation it metes out to those who infringe its code; the woman is perfectly ready to accept all that; she takes social retribution gladly it has no part in the real significance to her — the ultimate meaning — of the experience. No malign president of the immortals is stage manager in the career of Sarah Jane; there is no petty perversity of fate; God does not make nettles grow in churchyards. In its culminating situation the action moves serenely upon the heights of real tragedy, and leaves one with the same richly complex yet elevated sense of peace.
As for Mr. Hichens, one could easily think of him as by nature a sun-worshiper. The impression made by The Garden of Allah is no less vigorously reconveyed by The Call of the Blood. He revels in exotic and tropical luxuriances. His temperament is a sort of “suspended lute” upon which every motion of the fragrant and sun-heated breeze strikes its distinct harmony. His delight in things of sense is almost riotous.
“They were drowned in a sea of odor as they passed some buildings where lemons were being packed for shipping. This smell seemed to Maurice to be the very breath of the island. He drank it in eagerly. Lemons, lemons, and the sun! Oranges, lemons, yellow flowers under the lemons, and the sun! Always yellow, pale yellow, gold-yellow, red-gold yellow, and white, and silver white, the white of roads, the silver white of dusty olive leaves, and green, the dark lustrous polished green of orange leaves, and purple and blue, the purple of sea, the blue of sky.”
But this is something more than a bombardment of sensations: it is the heady atmosphere in which Maurice, the lovable, high-spirited, eager young hero of the story, finally loses control of himself and yields to the temptation he has been irresolutely staving off.
The story in brief is this: Maurice Delarey and his wife, Hermione, have come to Sicily from London for their honeymoon. Mental alertness and beauty of spirit are the qualities Maurice reverences in his wife; while Hermione, conscious as she has always been of her own lack of physical charm, seems to have found in this adorable and lithe-limbed youth — in whose veins runs a trace of southern blood — the outward complement of her personality. Sicily she had herself always loved; but its effect upon her husband was a revelation to her. It was as if he had then first come to his own. She was gazing in rapture upon that “mask of spring; but he had instinctively taken his place in it. . . . She had traveled out to be in Sicily; but he, without knowing it, had traveled out to be Sicily.”
Hermione is called across the Mediterranean to attend her lifelong friend and comrade, Artois, in a dangerous illness; and Maurice is left alone among the friendly and admiring peasants, to whose impulsive nature his own is so dangerously akin. The very day of Hermione’s return is the day that Maurice yields to the call of the blood. But she never learns that. Maurice meets his death at the hands of Maddelina’s father; but Hermione is led to believe that his death was accidental. “I want to tell you,” she says to Artois, “I want you to know, how perfect he always was to me. . . . He loved life and the sun — oh, how he loved them! . . . He was the deathless boy. . . . He was like my youth and my youth has gone with him.”
It is impossible, I think, not to wish that Mr. Hichens had shown a little more boldness in his conclusion. That Hermione should be kept from a knowledge of the facts is, one would say, a questionable mercy, especially since her ignorance might be at almost any moment shattered,— a mere scrap of paper or a chance word could do it. Such sheltering may be a necessity to weakness; but Hermione is a woman of uncommon spiritual calibre. She sees things in their just relations. If Maurice was the deathless boy, his faults were faults of boyhood, and, so considered, were fitter to arouse tenderness and pity than bitterness. The author goes so far as to suggest that in the great scheme of things the underlying reason for those powerful appetites “which are not without their glory, but which wreck so many human lives,” may be found in the “sacredness of pity.” Surely the truth, if the truth can be borne, keeps its immemorial right of making free. The fact, however, that such a question as this should insist upon statement, is a testimony to the admirable reality with which the author has endowed his characters.
Mr. Hichens writes out of his abundance, and in the result there is great unevenness. When the emotional impulse is lacking, his ideas become singularly dull and his manner quite without distinction. But at the first sting of sensation, the style leaps into vitality; and if always deficient in a certain finality of touch, it continually delights with its resiliency and exuberance.
The impression I find persisting most distinctly a month after a perusal of The Turn of the Balance — and a re-reading only confirms it — is of the fullness with which Mr. Whitlock envisages the life of a modern metropolis. I do not know where else in American or British fiction, with the possible exception of Frank Norris’s The Pit, the city has been so keenly realized as an organism — an organism at war with itself, wasteful of energy, reckless of the individual life, yet somehow, through endless processes of readjustment, working toward an integration of its multifarious functions.
Not that Mr. Whitlock gives us all aspects of the city’s life with equal veracity. He is too much a special pleader for that. So intense is his sympathy for those who unjustly suffer that it has aroused in him an almost perverse indignation against all the traditional machinery of society. Against the Common Law, hoary and anachronistic, the conservator of barbarity, he directs his most fiery attack. Institutional justice and philanthropy are bitterly arraigned. His hospital nurses are obsequious to wealth and station, neglectful of poverty; his charity organizations are mercenary and professional; society is utterly trivial (and more than insipid, too, if his specimens of drawing-room dialogue are to be accepted); the church is pharisaical; servants of the commonwealth are brutalized by the business of injustice; judges, jurymen — but why prolong the tale ? Such distortion would be fatal were it not for the burning human sympathy and fine idealism which are its reverse aspect. To have perceived out of a passionate sense of brotherhood all the steps of the slow, inveterate destruction of character under the “normal” working of the machinery of society, may certainly excuse a certain intolerance of those forces that seem acquiescent in the hideous procedure.
It is Archie Koerner in whom we are chiefly interested. After three years of service in the Philippines, where army life has given him a distaste for hard work, he has returned home with the reputation of being a good fellow and a clever marksman. Always delaying the unwelcome day when he must settle down to a steady job, he becomes implicated in some petty lawbreaking frolic, and is “sent up” for fifty days. This settles his future. No doors of self-respecting employment are any longer open to him; policemen eye him suspiciously; old friends of the better class have dropped him. But he is welcomed into the freemasonry of another social level, and eventually, through irrevocable stages, becomes a professional yeggman. For a murder he did not commit, society takes its final revenge on Archie. The same society has in the meantime driven his sister Gusta to ruin, and through the eternal delays of a damage suit wrecked the life of his old German father and mother.
There is much in this story which is worthy of the author of L’Assommoir. There is the same astonishing knowledge of the obscurer life of a great city, the same faculty of seeing relations, — everything strangely bound up with everything,—and the same poetic apprehension of the city as a whole, possessed of its million voices, teeming with beauty and ugliness, love and tears and hatred. Mr. Whitlock has a vigorous pictorial sense. He knows not only how to throw strong colors effectively upon a tremendous canvas, but also how to add detail to detail with deliberate and painstaking accuracy, into a cumulative whole that deeply stirs the imagination. Something in Zola’s later manner is his use of a special group of characters to express his own intellectual “reaction” upon this baffling phenomenon; and it must be confessed that he shows quite as serious an inability to give actuality to them. This is of course the familiar failure of naturalism, whatever the explanation of it may be. It is the broader moulding forces —the drift and measure of the whole — that Mr. Whitlock senses most clearly; and grim as his story is, it must claim attention both for its passionate devotion to an ideal of mercy and charity, and for its profound recognition of the organic and indestructible unity of human life.
Whether or not in her most recently published novelette Mrs. Wharton gives a just evaluation to the ideals of another race, there can be no two opinions of the story’s literary merits.3Madame de Treymes is marvelously well executed. At a time when American fiction seems more and more generally to be produced according to correspondence-school standards, it is an especial delight to contemplate the work of a master-craftsman, one who retains the older pride in the temper and delicacy of tools and to whom marketability is no test of excellence. Workmanship means so much after all. The acquisition of it is not to be whiffed up, like trench-water by a locomotive under full headway. Mrs. Wharton has put herself through a long and ardent apprenticeship, and her masters have been of the best, each in his sort.
It surely is not going too far to discover, in the present instance, an acknowledged indebtedness to the one from whom she has perhaps learned most. What Mr. Henry James has done more amply, with his careful distribution of light and his strange penumbral iridescences, Mrs. Wharton has successfully attempted on a restricted surface and through the more refractory medium of dry point. What we lose in repleteness and nuance we gain in focus, brilliancy, and definition. There is not a negligible sentence in Mrs. Wharton’s story. With an ease which is the perfection of conscious art, with the conciseness of an Ibsen first act, the situation with all its essential antecedents is brought before us; and once established in its sharply-demarcated milieu, the story proceeds directly, neither dawdling nor hurrying, to its striking conclusion. The criticism of the intimate standards of another people is a bold undertaking. The Americans in Madame de Treymes we recognize as in their various ways representative, and — especially after Lily Bart’s irresolute lover — it is gratifying to have for hero a man whom we may look upon as at once typical and worthy of respect. Americans of this type, as a French critic recently asserted, “chivalrous in their relations with all women, fraternally devoted in circumstances where other men would be merely gallant ... do exist: they even make up the majority;” and we like to meet them. The accuracy of portraiture is of less importance to us in the case of Madame de Treymes herself, whose infinite variety, subterfuge, coquettishness, and pathos, all part of a preordained scheme, and in the final analysis possessed of a certain dignity, are manifestly an effort at interpretation from an alien point of view. Though one’s instinctive feeling is that Mrs. Wharton must have done it right, French comment indicates that there is at least plenty of room for question. Madame de Treymes seems actual enough; in the Faubourg that the author constructs for us she surely lives in flesh and blood; but Mrs. Wharton has away of sharpening the boundaries of her action until the break between it and the unconsidered world outside is as sudden as between the edge of a chess-board and the table it lies on. One feels quite certain that, once the parts had been assigned, the game would have been played by the same moves and to the same conclusion that we find in this story.
In Miss Wilkinson’s novel, The Silent Door,4 one recognizes the promise rather than the achievement. The story taken as a whole is unimpressive. The plot is mildly preposterous, and none of the characters, not even little Rue herself, seems ever quite detachable from the printed page. But the details of Miss Wilkinson’s work are a constant delight. You keep remarking the graceful sentence, the shrewd or naive or spirituallydiscerned observation, the single word that gives a sudden poetic outlook. If the style often strikes one as a little overconscious, it at least avoids smartness; indeed its consciousness is no more than the result of an unremitting endeavor to say the thing in the best way. Miss Wilkinson is eager to perfect herself in her tools. She has a faculty of seeing things at first hand,—a sign of the poet in her: you remember her Jerusalem River and the country through which it meanders; you remember the theatrical employment agency; the snapshots of New York “L” trains, of Broadway, and of the old house in Greenwich Village with its “purple-hung wistaria vine and the stone steps worn in grooves by generations of visiting feet.”
Little Rue Penrith, the heroine of The Silent Door, can scarcely be called a “temperamental ” child, because in spite of all the untoward fruits of her imagination, she has a counterbalancing abundance of plain childishness. Yet Miss Wilkinson trims her sails close enough to those risky shoals to make one hope that she will not venture any closer — at least for the present. The temptation might naturally be strong, for she clearly is interested in the special problems that beset the path of the highly sensitized and self-conscious individual. There is a time, I imagine, in the development of every artist, whatever his medium, when he is especially alive to these problems; and the fact that he must meet them so constantly himself may lead him to believe that they have an equal interest and significance for the world at large. But whether for better or worse, the world at large is incorrigibly normal: it does not bother itself greatly with “temperament;” and frankly there is no very effective reason why it should. The widely significant conflicts of life are for the most part to be found elsewhere. An authoritative and unpartisan study of temperament must of course claim attention always; the trouble is that in most cases studies of temperament are undertaken by the very persons least fitted for them — by those who lack perspective through the fact of their being themselves so deeply submerged; and this often gives to their work the guise of special pleading or helpless protest. Such illiberality tries one’s patience.
I do not see how any one can be greatly drawn to Mrs. Wilkins Freeman’s latest novel. By the Light of the Soul.5 It seems to me to exemplify all that the temperamental novel should not be. One stands almost dazed by so gratuitously painful a plot: the futility of it, its barrenness of spiritual meanings. To be sure, everything might really have happened that way; each of the crucial incidents is very carefully protected. Maria Edgham, hyperæsthetic, self-conscious, forced by circumstances to be at odds with the world in which she lived and in which her girlhood was just beginning to blossom, might have been suddenly bound in a secret and merely nominal marriage with a boy under twenty, through the clumsy misunderstanding of a city parson; and if she had been, no doubt her life would have been shipwrecked much in the way Mrs. Freeman describes; yes, and the ultimate solution of it might have been Maria’s deliberate disappearance from the scene under cover of pretended suicide, so that her younger sister might marry the liberated husband; but this seems a needlessly perverse and uninstructive complication. Suppose — and suppose — and suppose — what would have happened then ? The conditions are too fantastic to have any important bearings, despite the author’s endeavor to make the situation illuminate the meaning of sacrifice. It is useless to speak in this connection of Mrs. Freeman’s gifts, — of the direct and uncompromising way in which she presents her characters, of her impatience with mediocrity, of the stinging satire which she occasionally uses so effectively,—the pity is that she should not have put her ability to a more profit - able employment.
A study of temperament which, if lacking in a certain full-bodied realism of treatment, has the advantage of being conceived in a humane and winsome spirit is Felicity,6 by Clara E. Laughlin. The sub-title, “The Making of a Comedienne,” and the dedication “To lonely folk, on the heights or otherwheres,” indicate the atmosphere in which the story has its being. It follows the steps of Felicity’s development from the days when, still a small girl, she played the leading rôle in a home-made version of Mary, Queen of Scots, in the barnloft, to the time when she stood at the head of her profession, surrounded by every luxury, talked of, courted, and envied. Yet always she must carry with her, under cover of a gay exterior, the unsatisfied longings of genius ; she must suffer the loneliness of publicity, the fear of successes that pass, and the irreconcilable dualism of a personality in which the actress is always present to observe the woman, even in moments of the most sacred grief. The character of Felicity is very charmingly conceived; one would have liked to see her act. “She makes you feel ” (said a woman coming out of the theatre) “as if she had . . . showed yourself to you,—yourself and herself and the fat woman beside you in the purple waist, and the thin girl in front with the plain face and the passionate eyes, and — all human nature; so you never can look at any of it again and see it single, in its meanness or its might, but always see it double, in its weakness and its strength.” The story is told with an unassuming fluency and simplicity, and it leaves you with the pleasant feeling that the world is full of gentle and brave people; that suffering is accounted for by the sweetening of character under its ministry; and that love will not pass by on the other side if one’s heart is ready to receive it. No one would think of calling Felicity an important novel; but it is one of those books for which a welcome is always sure because they make people feel happy. Such books rarely call for extensive comment. Once their special purpose has been accomplished, “ther is namore to seye.”
The New Chronicles of Rebecca,7 by Kate Douglas Wiggin, is eminently to be listed in this pleasant class. You do not concern yourself to inquire whether Rebecca is not just the least bit too nice to be true; whether she would really have written that wonderful Thought-Book with all its delicious absurdities. The stories are brimming with mirth and kindly sentiment; and to find fault with them for not being what they do not pretend to be were more than ungrateful.
In something the same spirit — surely not to carp at its rather too conspicuous defects — one should approach O. Henry’s new volume of stories, The Trimmed Lamp.8 O. Henry seems to possess the happy gift of picking up gold pieces from the asphalt pavement. If occasionally his finds turn out to be tobacco-tags instead, you easily forgive him, it’s so clearly a part of the jubilant and irresponsible game he is playing. It is the unpremeditated element that lends half the characteristic charm to O. Henry’s writing. His faculty of vernacular observation rarely fails him, “Eight months,” he tells us, “went by as smoothly and surely as though they had ‘elapsed’ on a theatre program.” To Raggles, the tramp who was a poet, other cities had yielded their secrets as quickly as country maidens, “but here was one [New York] as cold, glittering, serene, impossible, as a four-carat diamond in a window to a lover outside, fingering damply in his pocket his ribbon-counter salary.” O. Henry’s stories are as disorderly as the streets of the city he loves so well. This newer collection shows not the least growth in the quality of his perceptions (always shrewd, but never deep), nor any hoped-for attention to good workmanship. Having learned a trick or two of construction,— the three-line surprise ending, for example, — he seems quite satisfied to go no further. Yet there is something irresistible about the stories, with all their crimes upon them; they are so buoyant and careless, so genial in their commentary, and so pleasantly colored by a sentiment which, if as sophisticated as Broadway itself, is still perfectly spontaneous and sincere.
Miss Edith Rickert’s novel, The Golden Hawk,9 coming as it does after the rather blasé trivialities of Folly and the grimness of The Reaper, proves at least an unusual versatility in the author. It is a merry open-air romance of Provence — the sort of thing that could be easily turned into operetta. Trillon, who calls himself the Golden Hawk, because (though his grandmother keeps a sausage shop in Avignon) he will entertain no baser ambition himself than to fly straight into the sun — Trillon would wed Madeloun, whose harsh, intractable, and avaricious mother is patronne of the inn at Castelar, near the famous ruin. Trillon’s passion is of the kind that alternately blazes and grows cool: he is a reckless, arrogant, gayhearted, fascinating ne’er-do-well, ready to cut the gilt buttons from his new coat to pay his lodging, and then to go singing on his way, certain that his luck will not play him false. Madeloun has her adventures, too, as she waits behind, faithful— that is, faithful within reason, for you cannot risk everything on a vagrant’s promise — to her absent sweetheart. And there are persecutions for her, and lovers’ jealousies, and packings-off to a convent, and moonlight wooings; and in the end Trillon carries her away in triumph, balin-balant on his long-eared steed — “away from that grim ruin on the height, built by men who achieved their purpose a thousand years ago, out into the world that is a-making to-day. And everywhere they will have sunshine and love and hope; and what more do men need ? ” Facility, cleverness, and a certain literary bravura are scarcely defects in a creation of this type; and whether or not Miss Rickert has given us a picture of the real Provence, she has introduced us to a land where we are wellcontent to sing and sigh and sit i’ the sun — never forgetting that one is “playing the comedy,” rather than having a part in the dull business of actual life.
It would be unfair to close this review without a reference to a little story by Miss Tarbell which has recently been brought out in book form: He Knew Lincoln.10 — “Did I know Lincoln ? Well, I should say. See that chair there ? Take it, set down. That’s right;” and the speaker, who, one learns, is an old Springfield pharmacist, launches forth upon a rambling and anecdotal account of his acquaintance with the Lincoln of the earlier provincial days and with the Lincoln of the times that tried men’s souls. There is an appearance of artless spontaneity in the story, which will not be dissipated until, considering it retrospectively, one discovers how adequate and well-rounded is the impression it has conveyed of that greatest, most human figure in our history. It is a reverent and at the same time a singularly idiomatic piece of portraiture, more authentic somehow in its quality than any merely first-hand likeness of similar proportions could have been; and it is sure to take its place among the permanent and valued tributes to the memory of its hero.
- Before Adam. By JACK LONDON. New York: The Macmillan Company. 1907.↩
- The Whirlwind. By EDEN PHILDPOTTS. New York : McClure, Phillips & Co. 1907.↩
- The Call of the Blood. By ROBERT HICHENS. New York and London : Harper and Brothers. 1900.↩
- The Turn of the Balance. By BRAND WHITLOCK. Indianapolis : The Bobbs-Merrill Company. 1907.↩
- Madame de Treymes. By EDITH WHARTON. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons. 1907.↩
- The Silent Door. By FLORENCE WILKINSON. New York: McClure, Phillips & Co. 1907.↩
- By the Light of the Soul. By MARY E. WILKINS FREEMAN. New York and London : Harper and Brothers. 1907.↩
- Felicity. By CLARA E. LAUGHLIN. New York : Charles Scribner’s Sons. 1907.↩
- New Chronicles of Rebecca. By KATE DOUGLAS WIGGIN. Boston and New York: Houghton, Mifflin and Company. 1907.↩
- The Trimmed Lamp. By O. HENRY. New York : McClure, Phillips & Co. 1907.↩
- The Golden Hawk. By EDITH RICKERT. New York: The Baker and Taylor Company. 1907.↩
- He Knew Lincoln. By IDA M. TARBELL. New York : McClure, Phillips & Co. 1907.↩