WHEN that glib proverb, ‘God made the country, but man made the town,’ was first put into words, towns were far less menacing and imposing than they are to-day. One could live in town and still get a sufficient, though diminished, share of blue sky and oxygen. The proverb was a prophecy rather than an affirmation. We are living in the day of its fulfillment.
That modern cities have solved vast problems of sanitation, water-supply, lighting, transportation, housing, education, with skill and with something like adequacy, cannot be imputed unto them for righteousness until they have also solved the subtler, more fundamental problems of vitality and character with which they are now struggling. They still take the strong, placid, deepbreathing, clear-eyed country boy, and turn him and his children into restless, excitable, shallow-lunged folk who have given up their peace and their vitality for increased nervous activity, and have exchanged their intuition of the divine for a profound spiritual indifference.
The rush of population to those hardand-fast, stiffling spots that are now our cities plays a large part in producing a new type of character, a new philosophy. Other elements enter into it, of course. The most conspicuous of these, perhaps, is a negative t hing — the lack of a vital religion. How far the spiritual life is actively discouraged by urban conditions is too complicated a problem for offhand solution. But we may not ignore the age-long testimony of the saints and sages that one must go apart from men to find God.
Current fiction offers its own reflection of these new types of character, this new philosophy, and it also reflects a wholesome reaction against them. The reaction is usually more or less conscious and intended, while the dessicating modern tendency itself is more frequently exhibited with great naïveté in the author’s own attitude toward life.
The case for the country requires no proving to those of us past forty. When industry engaged fewer folk, and agriculture proportionately more, there was something in the world which is being lost out of it. To say that agriculture tends to make men, and industries tend to make animals, has a shocking sound. No doubt it is a statement quite open to attack, yet it looks toward truth.
If we say, instead, that work chiefly in the open air, close to the soil, and the association of men in small and not too homogeneous groups are the only conditions under which large numbers of human beings fit to possess and improve the earth can be bred and reared continuously over long periods of time, we shall come close to a statement impossible to deny. Undeniably, also, life under the latter conditions is more valuable to the individual as well as more hopeful for the race. Possessing, as it does, all the elements that give interest and develop personality, it is eternally worth while.
Now and again we find a work of fiction which is consciously explicit as to the country’s case. Whenever such a book is thus definite, and adds grace to its conviction, the present reviewer is glad to give audible thanks for that book. Hillsboro People,1 by Dorothy Canfield, is such an one. Read it! Especially read that gripping of reality, Petunias — That’s for Remembrance, and learn from it how dark realities have been well met!
Miss Canfield’s tales of the Vermont country justify themselves first of all by being good stories; but they have body, unity, efficiency given them by the author’s preliminary declaration of faith in country living. She quotes in well-justified derision the statement (from Pritchell’s Hand-book of Economics) that the rush of population to the great cities is no temporary movement. ‘It is roused by a final revolt against that malignant relic of the dark ages, the country village, and by a healthy craving for the deep, full life of the metropolis, for contact with the vitalizing stream of humanity.’ It is doubtless well that city-dwellers should feel thus — if they can; but such statements should have small place in handbooks of economics until the professors of that inexact science have disproved what physicians have long told us, — that no family can endure steady contact with ‘the vitalizing stream of humanity’ for three successive generations, so hard is it on blood and brawn and brain alike.
‘People thrive in country villages,’ says Miss Canfield, ‘ because they crave human life. . . . In the phantasmagoric pantomime of the city we forget that there are so many real people in all the world, so diverse, so unfathomably human, as those who meet us in the little post-office on the night of our return to Hillsboro.’ City folks cannot ‘feel themselves live,’ she tells us. Ceaseless activity protects them from the undesired consciousness that they are themselves. ‘They cannot conceive the bitter-sweet, vital taste of that consciousness as we villagers have it; they cannot understand how arid their existence seems to us without this unhurried, penetrating realization of their own existence and of the meaning of their acts. We do not blame city-dwellers for not having it; we ourselves lose it when we venture into their maelstrom . . . but we do not stay where we cannot feel ourselves live. We hurry back to the shadow of Hemlock Mountain, feeling that to love life one does not need to be what is usually called happy, one needs only to live.’ — Here is an adequate philosophy in a nutshell, but it is not always acceptable to the intensely urban modern mind!
In the past, English novelists have acknowledged liberally the debt character owes to the soil. Some of them do so still. For instance, weight is given to the pleasant story-making of Mrs. Skrine, author of Billie’s Mother,2 by her avowed intention to celebrate the abiding virtues of English peasant stock. The chief of these she finds to be that mass of personality which we call force of character, showing itself in stability, honesty, justice, and limitless devotion to its own.
Eden Phillpotts has long been concerned with these able-bodied virtues and their counterbalancing defects. Always he adds power and the artist’s mastery of subject to his consideration of them. In Brunel’s Tower,3 his best book since the incomparable Widecombe Fair, he deals as well, in the character of Harvey Porter, with the stimulus of environment and its power to modify natural tendency. The scene of the story is a West Country pottery, and the book is as refreshing to the spirit as a week in Devon. It is large, sane, able, and in spite of tragedy, amusing.
The author of Mrs. Martin’s Man,4 St. John G. Ervine, a new British writer of power and distinction, deals with this weight of personality as shown in Scotch-Irish stock in a North-of-Ireland village. In its simplicity and humanness, this book is almost extravagantly good. Mrs. Martin is one of those slim Irishwomen who hide under a frail exterior the force to accomplish gigantic tasks. Captivated by the boisterous, masterful James Martin, she marries him against the will of her family. At his best James is an indecent brute. When he finally deserts his wife, after an intrigue with her sister under her own roof, the reader is delighted to be rid of him. Mrs. Martin picks up the pieces and makes a life. She establishes a shop, earns money, brings up her children, supervises the erring sister, all with a balance and broad-mindedness that are actually disconcerting! What she suffers she keeps to herself, in the decent, oldfashioned way. Her life is made up of corrupt, unlovely things. She endures them steadfastly, and by grace of her endurance, they lose their hideousness. To walk through slime without disgust, to suffer wrong without anger, is somewhat of a feat, even for North-of-Ireland character. She handles with equal capacity the complications arising from her husband’s return as a dirty unattractive prodigal, and from her son’s discovery of the father’s character. Her head is level, her hand strong. It is not fitting that she should publicly disgrace her Jamesy’s father, though to her he can only be ‘a man in my house that does things around the shop, that’s all.’ Neither will she allow her son to show his resentment against his father and his aunt. ‘I’d be the poor woman if I was to wander about thinkin’ o’ my troubles an’ my pride, an’ how I was hurt by this one an’ that one. I’m too ould to be hatin’ people, Jamesy, an’ when you’re my age, son, you ’ll not be hatin’ people unless your mind’s a rotten mind. Your wee hates ’ll drop off you just like an ould shawl that slips from your shoulders when you’re not lookin’, an’ you’ll be knowin’ well your pleasure is to be goin’ about with as good a heart as you can.'
Such big, broad-minded folk as Martha Martin and Phillpotts’s George Easterbrook and Paul Pitts are fine representative specimens of what country living, the old religion, and the old philosophy wrought out of the raw stuff of human nature. Over against them in sharp contrast are the neurasthenic, light-weight heroes and heroines who swarm in some of the recent city-made novels, illustrating unintentionally but vividly the deterioration worked by modern life and theory. Some of these novels are English, some American. The neurasthenic, perhaps, belong chiefly to us. When the English get off the track of life, they are maniacal rather than neurasthenic, and apt to run amuck even in their fiction.
Angela’s Business,5 perhaps the best of these city-made stories, is a most amusing tale, written with greater dexterity and smoothness than Mr. Harrison has heretofore achieved; but it is a very one-sided presentation of that problem which confronts the young of both sexes — how, namely, to achieve a satisfactory marriage. Angela is a tremendously clinging vine; Mary Wing is a fine, up-standing, overworked schoolteacher; Donald is a young cousin whom Mary supervises and plans for with sisterly devotion; Charles King Garrott is a nice, but not over-baked, young man who tutors a little and writes a little and tries to get a line on Woman. He admires Angela until he perceives she is out for capture, when he hastily sneaks round the corner, throwing Donald in her way to protect himself. Mary, meanwhile, is vainly throwing another girl in Donald’s way, a ‘new’ girl with a rich father, who would be such a sat isfactory match for Donald! Angela carries off—not the prize exactly, but just Donald. Donald can’t be a prize: the term is inapplicable to any man who could live for years under the ægis of a Mary Wing without developing wit enough to avoid an Angela. By this time Charles King Garrott has learned to appreciate Mary Wing, whom he once suspected of being too hard and too busy to love or be loved. Fortunately Mary can earn a living for two, as the reader sees no ground for faith that Charles King will be able to do so. As to earning a living for four —!
The reader asks himself, as he closes the book, why it is any better for a man to be a clinging vine than for a woman ? This is not at all the question Mr. Harrison means to raise, but it faces us none the less. Probably the author only intended his hero to seem young and uncertain about life and women, but he actually does seem rather knock-kneed and do-nothing. The stony-hearted reader reflects as follows: Angela is weak and ‘feminine’; Mary Wing, strong and womanly; Angela’s man has vigor enough to conquer a place in the world; Mary’s hasn’t; the strong, womanly women usually attract the men who need protection; the weak, ‘feminine’ women mate with able men. This seems to be Nature’s little way of keeping the balance. But if we are to pity Donald ensnared by Angela, no less must we pity Mary Wing stooping to Charles King Garrott. His intentions are much better than Angela’s, — we cheerfully grant him that, — but he is likely to prove an impediment to Mary, even as Angela to Donald. Mr. Harrison pities Donald tremendously and despises Angela quite viciously. Why, then, does he refuse to pity Mary Wing and despise Charles King? The astute reader, too old to be caught with chaff, demands even-handed justice here!
If Charles King, girlish, sentimental, enthusiastic, clinging, is the New Man, what shall we call Waldo Strong, the " Reluctant Adam ” 6 in whom we have Shaw out-Shawed ? Is he the last word of modernity in man? If so — alas for man! His romantic adventures are all due to feminine initiative. From his earliest years, the fair sex frankly hurl themselves at Waldo’s head. He repulses them gently but firmly, never condescending to take a kindly interest in any of them, though he marries one and conducts a brief intrigue with another. It is not his passionless estate that worries the reader, but this inability to feel ordinary human liking. His blood-ties bore him. He seems to have no men-friends, no steady playmates; he sees even his business associates through the small end of an operaglass. All life is as remote to him as sexemotion is. Only music is intangible enough to interest him. Obviously a character so arid must be well described in order to hold the attention, and A Reluctant Adam is written with unusual delicacy, skill, and wit. It is clever, conscientious work. But if Waldo is merely a freak, he is not worth the pains, while if he is the Coming Man, the prospect is too painful to consider.
Turning momentarily from the work of young Americans to that of young Englishmen, we come upon characters and philosophy which are devastating rather than painful. Consider Gilbert Cannan’s Young Earnest.7 It is the most flagrant example current fiction has to offer of work which is off the track of life — that track to which Mrs. Martin, for instance, adheres with such marvelous balance. Mr. Cannan has now written enough to make it clear that anarchy in the individual life is his main subject. And if one may judge from editorial comment in this book, it has become his creed also. This is a surprise, for one had inferred — somewhat too hastily, no doubt — that Mr. Cannan was an artist. ‘Jump the track!’ seems to be his advice to his characters, no matter what track it is, or whether one is the engine pulling the load or only the caboose that will hardly be missed. Under any and all circumstances, follow your will and jump the track! Christian morality has ‘obscured the sun’ for the Western world. Down with it then! —Mr. Cannan is a writer of ability, but no ability can long make headway thus handicapped with an insane doctrine. René Fourmy’s life is merely a search for something that will not disgust him. Responsibility, energy, continuity — these words are not in his lexicon. But the tale is not simply an adequate picture of a talented youth yielding to one distaste after another. Our complaint is that the author does not stand outside the picture, painting it, but seems to travel hand in hand with the hero, sharing his confusion.
The book is as chaotic in incident and characterization as in philosophy. René Fourmy, who deserts first his wife and afterward the slum-girl who befriends him and is about to bear him a child, is as nebulous as a cloud. So is that Cathleen with whom he finally forms a permanent liaison. So is not Ann Pidduck, the slum-girl. Ann is doing the best she can according to her light, and her reward seems to be the possession of a soul. She is the only clear-cut personality in the book except René’s mother, who is also doing her best though she refuses to talk about it. The superior clarity of these characters is the author’s involuntary tribute to the power of consistency and a definite code— things of which, one judges, he entirely disapproves.
The ethical topsy-turviness of the book produces a slight, steady nausea in the general reader, who feels as if he were in an aquarium watching the motions of lower forms of life — creatures of the sea-ooze sliding through an alien element, staring at one with glassy eyes, perpetually opening and closing ghastly mouths, yet emitting no sound. It is like a nightmare or a drug-dream. Only in occasional speeches of the artist Kilner, hopelessly pursuing a beauty he sees but cannot represent, does one come in contact with comprehensible life. It is all very curious and modern; it is interesting symptomatically, but it is horribly full of ptomaines.
Until you have read Young Earnest, The Second Blooming8 seems a depressing, carnal, and characteristically urban product. Afterward, it appears suddenly clear that there are depths beyond depths, like the circles of the Inferno, in the work of these young Englishmen condemned to the life and outlook of towns. By comparison with Cannan, Mr. George’s new book suddenly takes on the startling and incongruous aspect of a struggle for the higher life! Undeniably the most illuminating part of The Second Blooming is its dedication to H. G. Wells, whom the author hails as ‘one who turned the strongest light upon the complexities of his day, showed me my fellow man struggling through endless misunderstandings and pains toward a hidden good; restored to me a trust I had thought dead in the good that will not die; shook scales from my eyes and filled those eyes with dreams; bade me harbor no illusion and yet nurse hope; showed me I might love that which I despised, because men must not bear the burden of my arrogance.’
This sincere and noble ascription gives us pause. If we are accustomed to think of Wells as reflective and clever but much at sea and quite without a vital doctrine, we perceive there is a Cimmerian darkness to which the gray glimmers of Wells seem light indeed. And from Young Earnest one may learn where that darkness lies.
Mr. George sees humanity mainly as caught in the net of the flesh, and, in general, not struggling. He looks forth upon a world of human creatures at the mercy of their leaping blood and utterly without data of conduct wherewith to judge and rectify impulse. The present novel deals with three sisters, one of whom invests the surplus vitality of the late twenties in political work for her husband; the second takes a lover, and the affair is treated at length in the Gallic manner; the third adds to an already large family. Discussing these various activities in the last chapter, they agree that everything, even mistakes and sins, makes one bigger in the end and fitter for more life. Mary, the domestic character, sums up this wisdom in talking of marriage. ‘We’ve got to take it as it is and see what we can do. Anyhow, not to be lazy and have a good time.’ — If this sounds inadequate as a principle, consider that it means that life is what we make of it and should be spent in service, not in self-indulgence. This is enough light to live by — but decent folk learned these things in their cradles! It seems no tremendous discovery; yet when you consider the absolute anarchy of Mr. Cannan’s people, you perceive that Mary, Grace, and Clara have really gone some distance on an upward path. Hereaft er, apparently, we must estimate character and achievement by the degree of its removal from entire personal lawlessness and self-seeking. If Cannan’s René Fourmy has no other distinction, he at least marks the absolute zero of moral perception and effort. As a type for representation, this is as legitimate as another; as an example for imitation, it is obviously anti-social. Assuredly one gets from the book, fevered and confused as it is, the notion that it is intended for propaganda. We need not be afraid that Christian morality and altruism cannot take care of themselves, but we are justified in supposing that literature may suffer if many promising talents follow this path.
What emerges from the consideration of these books is the existence of a school of young novelists who, having assumed, perhaps hastily, that there is no God in the world, are ransacking life for some kind of a substitute, conducting their investigations, still incomplete and rather crude, before our eyes. Mr. Cannan believes in following the individual will wherever it leads. May one infer him on this evidence a disciple of Nietzsche? It is but a poor philosophy for any Englishman in this year 1915! Mr. George believes that life itself will teach us how to live — as indeed it will, but unhappily too late for our great profit in this world.
In The Good Shepherd9 we have a much more genuine account of a young man’s first encounter with life than in Young Earnest. Edwards, a young American surgeon, becomes involved in a scandal at home and exiles himself on account of it to Austria, where he does post-graduate work. He seeks an appointment as communal doctor in a remote Tyrolean village because he needs work as well as the healing which work brings. Restless, unhappy, tormented in body and mind, blundering along, making both medical and moral ‘breaks,’ he nevertheless finds the healing he so sadly needs — because you can’t honestly try to be of a little use to other people without getting far more than you give. This is a fact as basal as gravitation. Why should it not be as widely acknowledged? One does n’t like to speak of the two youths in the same breath, but Edwards undergoes the mental fevers, the disgusts, that shake René Fourmy. He rids himself of them, not by disregarding every human tie but by the diametrically opposite method. We call Mr. Cannan’s attention to that method, not because it is Christian, not because it is decent, not because it has the authority of two thousand years of experiment behind it, but because it is the only way that works. The book, while at one point too spectacular, is powerful, human, sane. John Roland, whose name is new to our fiction, has done a vital piece of work.
The Child at the Window,10 by William Hewlett, seems to mark him of the same school of thought as Mr. George, and the Fidelity11 of Miss Glaspell gives a similar impression. One regrets the vanished charm of this young writer’s earliest work. The heroine, a nice girl in a pleasant town, goes away with a married man whose wife refuses to divorce him for some twelve years. When she finally does so, the overwhelming emotion which had justified the elopement in the girl’s own mind has long since vanished. She refuses to marry the man and leaves him in order to remain faithful to the feeling once experienced. Her philosophy is that what she has undergone lives in her — that she is not throwing away her past, but is preserving it, by breaking with it and moving on to find whatever else life holds in store. Conceivably a great book might be written around this theme, but to produce it would require great detachment as well as insight. Miss Glaspell’s sympathies are too strictly limited to the under-dog to allow her to give a justly proportioned picture of human life.
The atmosphere of depression, of spiritual and mental squalor, that broods so thickly over these novels in which men and women no longer know blue skies, green grass, and the grace of God, is in itself enough to condemn their reasoning! Taking the matter by and large, the great novelist is one who says ‘Yea!’ to life unfalteringly, while lesser men say ‘Nay!’ or ‘But—’
Of course it would be absurd to imply that the line of cleavage between t hose novelists who have the courage to assent to life and these others who refuse to do so, imagining vain things, is wholly a matter of country or city living — even though we find the mass of city and country dwellers lined up in the same way upon the same issue. There are other ingredients of immense importance in the situation. Still, certain facts become distinct as we contemplate the question. The problems of the city and of malignant industrialism are fatally interwoven — that is one fact. And even under most favorable urban conditions, men are indubitably shut off from a ‘ something’ that affects their poise and well-being favorably — that is another fact. Whether this ‘something’ is a mere matter of more oxygen in the air, or whether life in the open also favors the inrush of that something-not-ourselves without which our spirits become stagnant and poisoned, one dares not affirm. The matter is hardly one for dogmatic assertion.
The propagandist says ‘Nay!’ with differing degrees of violence, according to the amount of true artist in his composition. The Harbor,12 by Ernest Poole, is a propaganda very gracefully mitigated by a clear perception of the visible world, of which Mr. Poole makes very admirable pictures. Where The Harbor deals with the outer world it is imaginative, vivid, charming; where it deals with the soul of man it is inexpert, almost bungling; yet it is sincere always, candid and restrained. The hero is brought up on Brooklyn Heights, and New York Harbor obsesses his fancy from his earliest years. He sees it in a hundred different aspects and always with direct effect upon his inner life. All these aspects pass vividly before us. The Harbor is by turns mysterious, grim, revolting, wonderful, glorious, organized for efficiency, organized for slavery, as the years move by. The boy grows up, becomes a free-lance journalist, goes to Paris to ‘learn to write’; comes home to do ‘glory-stories’ of the Harbor, its life, energy, and wealth; marries an unusually fine woman, daughter of the man who had taught him that efficiency will save the world if you give it time; takes part in a strike of dock-laborers. He feels the ‘crowdspirit’ in the strikers and finally casts in his lot with them. He tells us that all his gods have passed: the god of religion, of art, of efficiency, each one of which in turn he believed could save the world. Last of all comes the god of the crowd-spirit. Perhaps this too may pass, he admits, but this is where we leave him. He is a con vinced syndicalist because his contact with the crowdspirit has made him feel that where men are brought together in a unity of purpose such as the strikers felt, there evolves from them an intelligence swifter than their individual intelligences, which — he trusts — will guide them safely where they wish to go.
The amount of faith involved in this belief is rather tremendous! We know no religion that demands so much. This infallibility of the crowd-spirit upon which the hero of the Harbor leans the whole weight of his last religion does not at all accord with the investigations of those scientists who have specialized upon the psychology of crowds. They, indeed, affirm that the crowd functions upon a distinctly lower and more brutal plane than does the individual. However, the weakness of the young man’s final conversion does not lie so much in this undeniable fact as in that other fact that none of the religions he professes to have had, and lost, have ever gripped his spirit. The reader sizes him up on abundant evidence as an emotionalist, — a nice fellow but rather shallow, rather neurotic, highly excitable. He will always, one sees, be converted by the thing t hat has the most ‘thrill’ in it at the moment. He seeks to be played upon by life, never to shape his own share of it in the image of his living will — yet this alone is worthy living, and to this every unit of the crowd must come before its salvation can deserve the name.
While the syndicalism of Mr. Poole’s hero does not carry conviction or look like the path of salvation, it nevertheless appears a more wholesome react ion to life than the individualism of Young Earnest. It may be equally impossible, but it is not equally disgusting.
One may affirm that while the American novelist, no less than his English contemporary, is searching for a new morality, a new religion, he has in general greater resilience and greater hopefulness. His work may be more superficial but it is also — even when, like The Harbor, it is most a product of the city and its problems — more oxygenated, less oppressive.
In The Turmoil,13 distrust of the city, its bigness, soot, prosperity, and their effect on modern man, again rises into articulate, forcible statement. For Mr. Tarkington’s book as for Miss Canfield’s, there is first of all the justification of the tale well told. The Turmoil is distinctly the author’s strongest and best work. If he goes on doing things as large, as romantic, as real, we shall have little more to ask. Whatever faults the book may have, it is certain that the reader will be too much absorbed in it to notice them — which is another way of saying that it exhibits the story-teller’s gift in greater degree than any other novel of the year. This gift and the art built upon it often seem nowadays to be traveling rapidly toward extinction. Novels are numerous; good stories exceeding rare. You have only to compare The Turmoil with The Harbor to see the inherent and everlasting differences between a ‘born’ novel which sets forth certain very strong convictions, and a brilliant piece of reporting plus propaganda. The former is unified, integral; the latter is not.
Bibbs Sheridan of The Turmoil, born a poet, is also the son of a manufacturer who wants him to learn the business ‘ from the ground up.’ His brothers embrace this life happily, but the first six months send Bibbs into prolonged nervous prostration, to his father’s vast disgust. Old Sheridan is really a tremendous piece of characterization. The big, self-made man of thirty years ago — powerful, boasting, blustering, full of tender affection, ability, vulgarity, and vituperation — is set before us as he lived. The thing is a masterpiece. The other characters live also, but not with this robust completeness. Sheridan’s native town was once a kindly place where grass grew and gardens blossomed and humanity flourished as it used to in those old-fashioned towns our fathers innocently called ‘cities.’ Sheridan did more than one man’s share to make it huge, noisy, smoky, hideous, and he desires his sons to do as much as he for ‘bigness’ to blight the town still further. The book tells of the harnessing of Bibbs to serve the city’s gods. Bibbs who wants to possess his soul, Bibbs who wants the beautiful, the serene, is forced into business again, and learns that one can feed zinc to a clipping-machine crashing sixtyeight times a minute quite happily if only one is encouraged to imagine that a friend — Mary Vertrees to wit — is standing at one’s side. With the death of one brother and the collapse of another, Bibbs is forced to take his place in the business, as a Sheridan indeed. He solves the problem of his individual life, but the problem of Bigness is left unanswered save by the hope that out of the turmoil will finally come better things. In the turmoil the gods are working, — that the whole world feels just now as never before, — but dare we believe they are indeed working to produce our promised land, a ‘noble and joyous city, unbelievably white? ’
Red Fleece14 is pacifist propaganda. But for all that it is full of fire, and it comes curiously near greatnessin places, by virtue of the utter sincerity of its author. He takes a young war-correspondent in the present struggle and converts him to peace doctrines through the horrors of war on the Russian frontier. So far, so good. It is what ought to happen, and probably is happening, times without number. But when the young correspondent casts in his lot with those Russian revolutionists who go to and fro among the soldiers urging them to throw down their arms, few readers follow him. For it does not take more than a grain of the saving salt of common sense to know that all soldiers will not do this. What is bound to happen is that the soldiers of the most militant nations will not heed the insidious whisper. Should the soldiers of the less militant nations listen, the result would be to fasten very firmly on the bent shoulders of the world, the yoke of militarism and autocracy. Even a pacifist should be willing to die fighting to prevent this! For it would be the final thwarting of the long human hope.
‘Propaganda’ is, of course, a very convenient rock of a word to fling at the young writer eagerly desiring to instruct us in his creed while he tells us a story. But is it not probable that art and instruction are at variance only when the instruction is inadequate? Great art and the perfect propaganda may well join hands some far-off day. We do not know what the perfect propaganda is, nor when it will appear. We only know by reading the fiction offered by advocates of this or that panacea that it is not yet present with us. In our experience thus far, the good novel has been the novel that confined its solutions to the individual case. Thus far, the novel that attempted solutions of the general case has always failed as a novel. Yet should the day come when I read something I recognize as a great novel and find it promulgating social doctrine — in that day I expect to become a convert to that doctrine. But, clearly, its hour is not yet!
One does not feel disposed to say ‘propaganda’ to Mr. Winston Churchill, yet any consideration of A Far Country15 must admit that it is not a novel in any strict sense of the word. And it is distinctly instructive. It is the inner history of Hugh Paret, born idealist and artist, who willingly invests his mental capital in the work of a corporation lawyer of the venal type. Yet he never loses the possibilities inherent in his real self, and after years of eating indigestible, gilded husks and consorting with particularly plutocratic swine, he reverts, with the slow, prodigious push of events, to a simpler, worthier life. Paret, who tells his own t ale in the first person, announces it as the biography of his soul. This removes it at once from the usual category of novels. We know — from Coniston and Mr. Crewe’s Career — that Mr. Churchill is amply able to write vigorous, closely woven, absorbing novels in which he handles corporate greed and kindred sins scathingly enough. This time he is not doing that kind of book. Frankly, however, that kind is more influential, because it interests more keenly the greater number of readers. But the author has obviously reached that period of middle life w hen he feels the need to express his philosophy more fully than the strict novelform permits. We accept what he offers gladly — for he has earned the right to choose his own mode of expression. The book is mature, thoughtful, — perhaps too thoughtful, — hopeful. Hugh Paret’s reaction against materialism is not clearly spiritual throughout, but he is played upon and moved about and converted by life — and life is definitely spiritual in all its final implications.
Hermann Krebs, the despised antagonist who does more than any other human agent to lure Paret from his husks, is less consistent than one believes such a man would be. He announces reason as man’s only guide — yet he himself leans heavily, confidently, explicitly, upon the power of what he calls ‘that Thing-Other - Than - Ourselves ’ which gave us reason and gives us momentum toward good. Does one apprehend that Thing solely by the searching of reason ? the reader asks as Job asked long ago, — and the answer can never be Yes. Mr. Churchill apparently believes the doctrine of intuition too easily abused to proclaim. This does not impair the value of his thoughtful, broad-minded work, but it suggests that he himself has not yet gone to the end of that road which the thoughtful must travel.
The summer’s fiction is not all serious; yet books for the tired business man, heretofore such staples in the trade, are sparsely offered this season. He who has long demanded excitement, adventure, gore, has no need to-day to seek those things in fiction, and the supply has suddenly fallen away. The Lone Star Ranger,16 tale of a ‘bad man’ who became one of the Texas Mounted Police, is almost the only one of its kind. There are a few detective stories. The Valley of Fear,17 by Conan Doyle, seems to be based upon the remote exploits of the Molly Maguires; and G. K. Chesterton contributes The Wisdom of Father Brown.18 Chesterton is always worth while, but these stories fail to develop his most characteristic and approved flavors. It is rather like putting mayonnaise on spice-cakes. Why squander such perfect mayonnaise? The truth is that there is too little Chesterton in this world for any of the precious stuff to be wasted. Let other folk do detective stories.
There are three interesting novels inspired by that great, and still inchoate, region, the Farther West. The Rim of the Desert,19 Mrs. Anderson’s carefully worked out and most romantic story, centres in a dead man’s dream of the redemption of a certain arid but wonderful valley in the Columbia River country. It is of such dreams that the West is made, and Mrs. Anderson’s instinct for the ideal elements in her material is quick and certain. Sundown Slim20 is another lovable hobo hero from the hands of the maker of Overland Red.
Mr. Knibbs has had the inspiration to make Slim peaceful to cowardice and then to entrust to his hands the tangle of a feud between ‘sheep-men’ and ‘ cattle-men ’ in Arizona. Still Jim21 deals with the problems of the Reclamation Service in the great Southwest, as well as with those of the hero. Still Jim is a young engineer nursing the fine ambition to set the mark of the New England Puritan on the face of that wonder-country near the Mexican border, so that all men may know it in ages to come. He comes near failing in his work, and is told quite frankly and, one fears, with much truth, that the reason the New Englander has failed to stamp the America of the future indelibly as his own, is that he is out of touch with the mass of humanity and will not take pains to teach them his ideals. It is to be hoped that a good many of the old blood will ponder Mrs. Willsie’s conclusion. It is worth it.
I am thinking there will be a rising demand for idyls, tales of home and peace and love, to counteract the sterner things the world is forced to read of. Some publishers have begun to prepare for that demand. August First22 is a pretty love-story which has absolutely nothing to do with the war. A Cloistered Romance23 is a truly charming tale whose action takes place in the house of The Little Sisters of the Poor,
where the hero is carried after an accident. The Seven Darlings,24 by Gouverneur Morris, might have been written by Robert Chambers. The author of Martha of the Mennonite Country25 has the unusual gift of actually vitalizing an old-fashioned plot. The story contains a maltreated step-daughter, a millionaire disguised as a country schoolteacher, a rich uncle who comes home to die and conceals his wealth to test the affection of his relatives. These are faded properties, but Mrs. Martin’s people really live, and therefore can convince us of almost anything. The authors of The Rose Garden Husband26 and The Diary of a Beauty27 have something of the same dexterity, the same belief in the dear old miracles.
The quality of most of the novels that we have been considering inevitably implies that the need of the Englishreading world just now is felt to be philosophy rather than art. But as the philosophy offered us in fictional form is for the most part acrid and irritating, it accomplishes little. One may say that the frivolous fiction of the season is too meagre for entertainment; the serious fiction, too inadequate for salvation. There remains a mere handful of books whose preoccupation is art. We should, doubtless, be thankful that any such are left, instead of being querulous that they are few. It is good to turn from the heat and conflict of the day to tales that aim to mirror life rather than to dogmatize about it. The Great Tradition28 may be classified among these. This second volume of Mrs. Gerould’s admirable stories again shows us the distinction of her style as a thing to be savored at leisure. The title-story, The Weaker Vessel, and Leda and the Swan are equal to her best. If The Miracle seems a little tenuous, not so much in thought as in handling, and if the observation of the squalid domestic comedy in Wesendonck is too faintly tempered with sympathy for the embittered participants, these are, after all, slight complaints to make of one who herself faithfully carries on in literature, as one of her heroines in morals, the great tradition of a worthier day.
Maurice Hewlett goes far afield for the material of A Lovers’ Tale29 He shows us a Sentimental Tommy born in Iceland during Viking days. He says he has merely retold the original saga of Cormac and Stangerd, interpreting a little the human nature found in it. Stangerd inspires Cormac’s songs, which is Cormac’s chief demand of a lady-love. When his emotions thicken and humanize, he grows less and less joyous, until he finally refuses to appear on his wedding-day. No one understands his case, least of all Cormac himself. But we have advanced in selfanalysis, if in nothing else, these last fifteen hundred years. Cormac could now learn in any circulating library that poets make poor lovers, because of their overwhelming interest in the play of their own emotions. Miss May Sinclair, Barrie, and many lesser lights have described all the phenomena. The matter is, on the whole, more interesting to the poets than to any one else.
Whether one cares, or does not care, for any given tale by James Lane Allen, one must accord to all of them a virtue sadly rare. His stories have been thought about, worked upon, to such an extent that any movement made by any character has its significance, its content of emotion. This content of emotion is extracted to the last drop. The trivial, the unconsidered, is given no place. You may not be in accord with his interpretation of life — you do not have to be — but if you are an honest workman yourself, you are bound to be in accord with his workmanship. And it is bound to impress you the more as you contrast it with the mass of novel-writing. Its clear-cut outlines, its polished surfaces, its rounded edges, take on, somehow, the dignity and lovableness of old mahogany. This circumambiency of thought — what Henry James calls the author’s ‘saturation’ — gives atmosphere and mellowness, and it is the only thing which can impart these qualities. They are present to an unusual degree in The Sword of Youth.30 The story is of a ruined Kentucky home whose last son leaves his mother, in anger, to enlist in the Confederate army, yet returns when she sends for him in her final illness, at the cost, as he believes, of both life and honor. Dealing with the Kentucky of which he wrote at the beginning but has somewhat neglected of late, the novel should be classified with Mr. Allen’s most characteristic as well as his ripest work.
Though George Agnew Chamberlain has not the definite art, the mastery of material, possessed by Mr. Allen, Through Stained Glass31 associates itself with the foregoing tale by virtue of an atmosphere, an aroma. It also is a book with a bouquet. The gist of it lies in the way a father educates his only son by epigrams hammered out of his own past experiences. And by education, ‘ a gentleman means skill in the handling of life.’ The story has plenty of incident, but it is all subordinate to the philosophy of the old aristocrat. This philosophy, it is worth noting, is far more spiritual as well as more finely flavored than that of any of the young democrats and reformers whose work we have been pondering. Alcoholic comparisons have gone out in this day when nation-wide prohibition has so nearly come in; nevertheless one is tempted to say that the utterances of Leighton père, when compared to these others, are as old Amontillado to raw spirits.
So we come at last, somewhat heavyfooted, to the finest thing that the season offers. It is Joseph Conrad’s Victory.32 Since Henry James has ceased to write novels, Conrad is the ablest exponent of the great method in English fiction. He lays hold of any subject that pleases him — one might almost say, of any subject that happens along. In this case it is the lonely life and tragic death of a man and woman on an inconsiderable isle in the South Seas. To the ordinary observer, Axel Heyst and the girl Lena seem to matter as little in the scheme of things as two human creatures possibly can. One might consider their lives and deaths ‘ worth ’ two inches of newspaper space at the most. They are even as the two sparrows sold for a farthing, in their unimportance and obscurity. Conrad takes these negligible folk, their remote beginnings, their horror-smeared end, and soaks himself in the subject till he can give off nothing about them that is not loaded with absorbing interest, with profound significance. He makes a great drama, charged with pity and terror, of these few weeks of their hidden life moving swiftly to its end. He sees them somewhat as one may reverently hope the Creator sees us all. At least, he sees them with crystal clearness, with absolute detachment, yet with a yearning pity, a vast gent leness. To be able to project one’s self thus into this or that human situation, to saturate one’s self with it, to give it forth again completely, is art indeed, but art at such a marvelous pitch that it deserves some other, some yet greater name.
- Hillsboro People. By DOROTHY CANFIELD. New York: Henry Holt & Co.↩
- Billie’s Mother. By MARY J. H. SKRINE. New York: The Century Co.↩
- Brunel’s Tower. By EDEN PHTLLPOTTS. New York: The Macmillan Co.↩
- Mrs. Martin’s Man. By ST. JOHN G. ERVINE. New York: The Macmillan Co.↩
- Angela’s Business. By HENRY SYDNOR HARRISON. Boston and New York: Houghton Mifflin Co.↩
- A Reluctant Adam. By SIDNEY WILLIAMS. Boston and New York: Houghton Mifflin Co.↩
- Young Earnest. By GILBERT CANNAN. New York: D. Appleton & Co.↩
- The Second Blooming. By W. L. GEORGE. Boston: Little, Brown & Co.↩
- The Good Shepherd. By JOHN ROLAND. New York: F. A. Stokes Co.↩
- The Child at the Window. By WILLIAM HEWLETT. New York: Duffield Co.↩
- Fidelity. By SUSAN GLASPELL. Boston: Small, Maynard & Co.↩
- The Harbor. By ERNEST POOLE. New York: The Macmillan Co.↩
- The Turmoil. By BOOTH PARKINGTON. New York; Harper & Brothers.↩
- Red Fleece. By WILL LEVINGTON COMFORT. New York: George H. Doran Co.↩
- A Far Country. By WINSTON CHURCHILL. New York: The Macmillan Co.↩
- The Lone Star Ranger. By ZANE GREY. New York: Harper & Bros.↩
- The Valley of Fear. By A. CONAN DOYLE. New York: George H. Doran Co.↩
- The Wisdom of Father Brown. By G. K. CHESTERTON. New York: John Lane Co.↩
- The Rim of the Desert. By ADA WOODRUFF ANDERSON. Boston: Little, Brown & Co.↩
- Sundown Slim. By HENRY H. KNIBBS. Boston & New York: Houghton, Mifflin Co.↩
- Still Jim. By HONORÉ WILLSIE. New York: F. A. Stokes Co.↩
- August First. By M.R.S. ANDREWS and R. I. MURRAY. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons.↩
- A Cloistered Romance. By FLORENCE OLMSTEAD. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons.↩
- The Seven Darlings. By GOUVERNEUR MORRIS. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons.↩
- Martha of the Mennonite Country. By HELEN R. MARTIN. New York: Doubleday, Page & Co.↩
- The Rose Garden Husband. By MARGARET WIDDEMER. Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott Co.↩
- The Diary of a Beauty. By MOLLY ELLIOT SEAWELL. Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott Co.↩
- The Great Tradition. By KATHARINE F. GEROULD. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons.↩
- A Lovers’ Tale. By MAURICE HEWLETT. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons.↩
- The Sword of Youth. By JAMES LANE ALLEN. New York: The Century Co.↩
- Through Stained Glass. By GEORGE AGNEW CHAMBERLAIN. New York: The Century Co.↩
- Victory. By JOSEPH CONRAD. New York: Doubleday, Page & Co.↩