The Contributors' Column--September Atlantic
“ Pure satire is not irritating. It belongs not to medicine, but to surgery. When the operation is done skillfully, there is little shock. The patient is often unaware that anything has happened to him.”
Thus the spokesman of Samuel McChord Crothers’s “A Literary Clinic.” And no better exemplification of this genial truth can be found than in Dr. Crothers’s own work. He has the happy gift of being penetrating without being cutting; of holding up the mirror of truth and making us laugh at our own reflections. Whenever he can spare time from his work as pastor of the First Unitarian Church, Cambridge, to address the Atlantic audience, he is sure of a host of attentive hearers.
Shrewd observer of the American Commonwealth and kindliest of its critics, James Bryce needs no introduction: his name is as the name of a personal friend to most readers of the Atlantic. From the time of the publication of his masterly analysis of our governmental processes to the present day, his record in this country has been one of progressive popularity. Our national affections went out to him as they have gone out to no other Englishman, and in the years when he was accredited as Ambassador to Washington, we strove to do him all honor.
It was during this period that he contributed to the Atlantic the notable essay, “What is Progress?” in which his fine optimism strode forth, head high and eyes flashing. Since then civilization, as we knew it has seemingly been overthrown; Europe has bowed her head to the ordeal by fire, sparing none of her sons. To Viscount Bryce, the optimist, it fell to investigate and sift to the last particle of horror that grimmest and most unrelievedly evil harvest of the Great War: the Belgian Atrocities. It was his name, and our firm trust in it, that brought home to Americans, more than any other thing, perhaps, the full realization of Belgium’s agony, and forced us to believe the incredible.
Many a lesser man’s faith in his kind has broken down and perished before the testimony of the Bryce Reports. It is inspiring to know that Viscount Bryce’s own faith, grounded and steadied by the acquaintance of a long life-time with the highest and noblest ideals of humanity, has survived the ultimate test. His paper in this month’sAtlantic is printed much as it was delivered before the University of Birmingham, omitting some personal references to the late Professor Huxley, in whose honor the lectureship was founded.
Protected by a slight literary disguise, the author of “ Golgotha and the Acropolis ” has described an intimate personal experience which resulted in a change of mind — a conversion, if you will. She is willing to give it over to print because she believes that it is typical of what happens to many people as they are wrested from theories by the teachings of life itself. In her own case, the “theories" were largely the result of years devoted to a study of the Greeks. She talked about them in the college class-room; she now writes about them in books. “ Certainly they inspire one to truthfulness about the facts of human life,” she says, “and I am not denying Hellenism in confessing reverently to a fresh enlightenment concerning Christianity.”
Why is it that a first story has a certain living quality too often lost with practice and literary experience? “Marya,”by Elsbeth Hesse Andrae, is made of the very stuff of life in a factory town. Truth is stamped on it, as any social worker will tell you.
Born in Constantinople and reared in the Levantine civilization of which he writes so tenderly and understandingly, H. G. Dwight has not been blinded by recollections of the Golden Horn to the less sophisticated charms of the New Jersey scene. In the original manuscript in the Atlantic’s collection, “ Newark Bay is dedicated
Waste Paper Baskets and a Violin
who got off at Elizabeth and
winked agreeably through the Window.
We trust that the pleasant young gentleman reads his Atlantic.
Frank M. White, a personal friend of Thomas Mott Osborne, is a well-known New York journalist. R. K. Hack, a member of the faculty of Harvard University, whose enthusiasms are steadied by a deep acquaintance with the great classics, makes his first contribution to the Atlantic in this number. Father Bell is Dean of the Protestant Episcopal Cathedral at Fond du Lac, Wisconsin.
The tender and melodious verses of John Drinkwater, a young English poet who writes from Birmingham, are already appreciated by a large American public.
To Havelock Ellis, journalist, man of letters and authority on abnormal psychology, no field of speculative research is barred by limits of courage, curiosity, or penetrating intelligence. However, from the time of the publication of his noted “Man and Woman: A Study of Human Secondary Sexual Characteristics,”some twenty years ago, his chief preoccupation has been with the complexities of sex. No one is better fitted to reopen the discussion of the Intelligence of Women which, in the artful hands of W. L. George, stirred so many readers of the Atlantic to vigorous self-expression.
Mary Lerner is a writer of stories new to the Atlantic.M. A. De Wolfe Howe, the familiar biographer of Charles Eliot Norton, and author of many books, has long been identified with the magazine.
Charles Johnston, an Irishman by birth, served for some time in the Civil Government. of India before his retirement was made imperative by a serious breakdown. His home is now in New Jersey, though his extensive travels have made him a worldcitizen. He is particularly familiar with Russia and its literature, and it was the result of relations formed in that country that he met and married Mlle. Jelihovskaya, elder sister of the wife of General Alexei Brusiloff, the most commanding figure of the concerted offensive of the Allies in July. This connection has enabled Mr. Johnston to give an intimate and circumstantial portrait of the great Russian strategist.
Lewis R. Freeman, a Californian War Correspondent seasoned by many campaigns, has at the Atlantic’s request made use of his international acquaintance to get together a unique collection of vivid personal experiences in the Great War. Mr. Freeman is at this writing aboard one of the units of Jellicoe’s Fleet talking with officers and sailors of details of the Jutland battle.
J. B. W. Gardiner, formerly an officer in the regular army, is a serious and competent critic of military affairs.
Dr. E. L. Fiske’s important papers on Alcohol, announced for immediate publication, have been postponed for a month or two.
Will some professor in the Atlantic circle tell us why when letters are anonymous they are commonly written by women? Were we to hazard another psychological remark we should state with firmness that anonymous diatribes are bitter almost in exact proportion to their misstatement of the premises from which they argue. One kind letter discussing the Atlantic’s “abominations,”which emerge, it seems, from “ the lowest depths,”takes it for granted that the magazine’s past has always been proof against Anti-Victorian offense. We are glad our correspondent has never chanced in less sophisticated days to read Mrs. Stowe’s paper on the real life of Lady Byron, which in 1869 cost the Atlantic a goodly fraction of its subscription list.
George Moore’s entertaining comments on Whistler in last month’s Atlantic call from one of our subscribers this other anecdote of the Great Eccentric.
Whistler was standing bareheaded in a hat store while his hat was being ironed into shape. An irate customer enters, tackling the imperturbable “Jimmie" with “Here ’s a hat you made for me. It does n’t fit me in the least.”Whistler regarded him calmly. “You ’re quite right,” he answered calmly. “It does n’t. But as for that, neither does your coat. Your trousers need pressing and your waistcoat is a crime.” And, turning on his heel, Whistler went to the back of the store in quest of his hat. It took time, tact, and perseverance to convince the ruffled gentleman that his critic was a customer and not a salesman!
Not a word more about our literary friend too much discussed in these pages, but we may print here a tale like his (but more remarkable) sent us by a friendly professor interested in Tolan’s story.
“ More than twenty years ago,” he writes, ” I had charge of the old ’Commencement Pieces and of much theme work. On one occasion, a senior handed me his ’piece’ to approve and make such suggestions as I saw fit. The man’s theme work had been mediocre, but this was an unusually good essay. I, however, much against his will, insisted on cutting out certain paragraphs and adjectives and made other changes.
“ The essay was spoken at Commencement. A few days later I received a letter from a former graduate in which he said, ‘I was at Commencement for the first time since my own graduation many years ago; imagine my astonishment at hearing one of the orators repeat my own “ piece ”! At first I could not think how the young man — a perfect stranger to me — could have obtained it. I then recollected that at my Commencement the Editor of the college paper had been present and was so pleased with what I said, that he requested a copy for publication. If you look at the bound volume for 18— you will find it late in June or early in July. This is a clear case of stealing and deception — the man should be exposed.’
“I found the ‘ piece ’ as stated, and wrote to the culprit giving an account of the matter. I received a speedy reply acknowledging everything, and begging us not to expose him. The young man pleaded that he had just secured a position, that his means were extremely limited, and that if this should become known he would be ruined, etc. The essayist seemed honestly repentant and sorry. He went on to say, that he had had great difficulty in writing his ’piece,’ and that one day while in the Library he had picked up a volume of the Weekly which some one had left on the table, and in idly turning over the leaves had come upon this Commencement Part and was tempted to use it, thinking it had been given so long ago that no one would remember it. Being a prudent youth, he also found out that the author was residing in the Far West, so he thought he was safe. By way of further extenuation, he said that he had made additions, and changes, but that I in correcting it had struck out all his additions, and in several places had actually restored the original adjectives and phrases, and insisted upon his adopting my suggestions.
“The tone of the letter seemed so genuinely penitent, that I wrote to the original author enclosing the apologia, and stating my belief in his repentance and expressing my opinion that the young man had already received sufficient punishment, and that nothing would be gained by exposing him. To this my correspondent agreed. I have neither seen nor heard directly from him since, but have reason to believe that his subsequent life was exemplary.
“It certainly was singular that the only time the author of the paper returned for a Commencement, should be the very day his ’piece’ was repeated; and also that the only changes I should have insisted upon in the manuscript were the additions and alterations which the plagiarist had made.”
The savage little sketch, “Heroes.” in the August Atlantic was not published to be popular. We printed it with all its apparent bitterness and cruelty because it served, as only the truth can, to show the artificial standards which war creates. The virtues which war extols are not the normal virtues; a soldier’s faults may be a citizen’s salvation. People are too apt, under stress of the well-nigh unbearable strain of the war, to believe that after this martyrdom there will be a resurrection of nations glorified and made perfect. Yet look back on our own Civil War; realize once again the passionate hopes and expectations that all men felt when the black shadow rolled away— and then re-read the history of the next twenty years, of the revenge which was the inspiration of our politics and of the dishonest greed which was the evil genius of our business.