The Contributors' Column--October Atlantic

The letters entitled ‘The American Spirit,’ with which this number opens, are an interesting revelation of the service career of their author, Briggs Adams, the son of Major W. I. Lincoln Adams of Montclair, New Jersey. An editorial note on page 447 tells all that is known of the circumstances under which he met his death.Ralph E. Cropley is a New York business man. now absorbingly engaged in the military relief (hospital) service of the American Red Cross. His devotion to things of the sea and his well-justified admiration of the gallant conduct of the British merchantshipman in the war inspired his paper, ‘Only the Naval Reserve,’which we printed in the April number. M. A. De Wolfe Howe, accomplished editor, essayist, and poet, needs no introduction to the readers of this magazine. Horace J. Bridges is leader of the Chicago Ethical Society.

An Elderly Spinster, the fourth of whose tales of the Polygamous City we print in this number, was for many years a volunteer worker in a hospital in Northern India, where she was thrown into relations of peculiar intimacy with Indian women of all castes and kinds. William Beebe’s ‘SeaWrack,’ like ‘The Convict Trail ’ in the last Atlantic, will be included in his forthcoming volume, Jangle Peace.

Henry Osborn Taylor, whose Mediæval Mind is a monument of contemporary scholarship, is one of the few American scholars unconnected with an institution of learning. Katharine Butler, a young writer of few and distinctive stories and poems, lives at Danvers, Massachusetts. Her last contribution to the Atlantic was ‘The Black Pearl: a Gossamer Tale,’in the June number. Miss Hearty Earl Brown, a new contributor, sends us the little sketch, ‘The Marrying Time,’ from Lawrence, Kansas. Professor Edgar J. Goodspeed is a member of the faculty of the University of Chicago.

Wilson Follett, late of the faculty of Brown University, is now headmaster of the Roxbury School, Cheshire, Connecticut. The discriminating discussion of the work of various masters of the art of fiction, in which Mrs. Follett collaborated with such happy results, will be remembered by our readers. The last was ‘The Historian of Wessex,’published in the September, 1917, Atlantic.Margaret Sherwood, Professor of English Literature at Wellesley College, is one of the most familiar and welcome of Atlantic contributors. ‘Temple Bar Then and Now’ is the last of Mr. A. Edward Newton’s charming essays on Book-Collecting and allied subjects which we shall print in these pages before the publication of his Amenities of Book-Collecting and Kindred Affections.Anne Ueland Taylor is an American woman living in Paris, whence she sends us the spirited little picture of one episode of the American ‘invasion.’ Our readers are already familiar with the mystical lyrics of Gretchen O. Warren.

Charles Dawbarn is special diplomatic correspondent of the London Chronicle. We may not reveal the identity of the writer of the letters of An Officer’s Wife. Gino Speranza, a native of Connecticut, is a practising lawyer in New York. He went to Italy early in the war and his last letter to us was from Fiesole. Unavoidable delays have prevented the printing of this paper in which Mr. Lewis R. Freeman collaborates with Mr. Speranza, although the Atlantic laid plans for it more than a year ago. In the interim, notices of Toti and his exploits have appeared elsewhere, but his whole story is so heroic and unusual that we venture to print it, even at this late day. Albert Kinross has had his captain’s commission since January. At the date of his last letter, he was in hospital at Cairo, with malaria.

The Egyptian summer and a 7-day week have been too much for me, and I suppose there’s a mosquito in the case. . . . There’s a kid in my ward whose servant, a Tommy, seems to own him. They chat or sit silent by the hour. It struck me as unusual till I said something to the kid about his luck in having so good a servant. ‘He’s saved my life twice,’ was part of the answer. No wonder the Tommy — himself a kid — seems to look on his subaltern as his special property. There are lots of such relationships, and I cannot see how the ‘class war’ can make headway among the men who’ve been here or in France, or on the other fronts. It may do among the men who’ve stayed at home, but certainly never among us.

You [Americans] seem to have got well under way now, and it’ll mean a lot morally as well as

physically. Out here, of course, we don’t see anything of you except occasional Red Cross workers who, I suppose, are going up to Palestine, to disinfect the slinking place. One of life’s hitter disillusions is the gorgeous East. For every patch of gorgeousness you find 1000 acres of squalor people who put up with lice as a mat ter of course, and have the impertinence to think their religions the only revelations that have been granted to mankind. Your ‘Elderly Spinster’ knows them well, and one can’t, help liking the dogs just as one likes other and cleaner animals.

A letter from Madame Ponafidine, of a later date than those of the remarkable series which we published in the July Atlantic, will interest our readers. It is written from Bortniki, in the government of Tver, the great estate where the writer lives, with her blind husband, in the midst of dangers extraordinarily reminiscent of 1793 in France.

April 4, 1918.
I sent you a card the other day, when we thought the crisis had come, but again it is put off till next Sunday. Peter says he now understands the relief that persons feel when sentence is at last pronounced, even if the worst.
For three days council sat most of the day and late al night. There are three parties. One for extermination, root and branch; one for turning us out ‘forever,’ with hand-luggage, but alive; and the other for letting us remain under conditions; and this party is again split into two: one for giving us monthly just the rations that the central committee gives out (2-5 pounds of flour a month); others vote for giving us 20 pounds a mouth (per head). Three weary days dragged by, with constant news of the violent altercation going on. At last, day before yesterday, as I was reading to Peter by the window, I saw Alec coming through the yard, surrounded by armed peasants, some with swords, but most with rifles and fixed bayonets. At first my heart fell, but I saw Alec was talking with them cheerfully. It proved to be our new committee (the 7th or 8th), militia men, and about 10 of the worst inclined towards us of the neighbors. The committee was very correct. They searched the whole place, weighed everything eatable, and called a meeting of our three villages for the evening. The worst is a persistent accusation against me that is very serious. They declare that all winter I have taken food-supplies, flour, etc., to town, which is an absolute lie. We have sent our valuables to Moscow, and I took clothing to hide in Oshtashkov, but brought it all back (unfortunately, now) when Oshtashkov was being pillaged. The members of the committee, being from a distance, left horses here and said they would come back here to sleep; so I prepared their supper and waited for them and for Oka, for whom we had sent a horse to town. At eleven Oka came, so thin and gaunt, with a tiny canvas bag worth 2 to 3 roubles, for which he paid 45, and in which was the meagre supply of linen he had been able to buy at an exorbitant price. His good English valise, all his books and clothing, had been taken from him. We estimated the loss at 2000 roubles. He and his two classmates, with whom he stayed in Petrograd (a very rich family), used to study in bed until noon, as they felt the hunger less lying down. Three quarters of a pound of bread was given each for two days. They had tea in the morning, without sugar or milk, and half of this bread. I asked Oka how he divided his portion, and he said laughingly, ‘ I looked at it, mostly.’ Dinner and supper were so meagre that they were all constantly hungry, and that because nothing could be had.
At midnight, the committee came back, in a very depressed mood. When I asked them the result, the leader replied, ‘It could not be worse. The assembly was so violent and so one-sided that the committee closed it, giving orders that each village in the entire parish ( I think there are 16) send fixe representatives Sunday to headquarters; and there our fate will be settled. The next day they brought us some supplies into the house, and put their seals on pur barns, storehouses, etc., and took the keys. The night the committee was here we all undressed, and thought we would have such a good sleep, with so many armed men in the house; but Peter never shut his eyes all night. To-day is Thursday, and we must wait till Sunday. To-morrow Alec and I go to town. leaving Oka with Peter, to try to find a place if we have to go. I think starving is worse than being killed outright, and if they turn us out and take all our bread, I don’t see how we can live. Even at the best, if we stay here, next autumn will bring starvation. They say I have ‘been a lady long enough and must work,’and have taken away my cook, who was cook and maid-ofall-work. I cook now (and I don’t know a thing about it, more shame to me!), and have a little girl who helps. You see, all the water has to come in and out of the house, and so many stoves to heat this bitter cold. Alec and Oka do the outside work, chopping and bringing wood, water, hay, etc. Not sleeping well, I am getting so weak and tired, I am in constant dread of breaking down. If I can ouly hold out so long as Peter needs me, then I have no desire to continue.
No news from George. His last letter was dated two months ago. in former times one could always get news through the staff, but now nothing can be done but wait and hope. If the worst happens and any of them escape, they will try to get to America, where they can find work. I get absolutely no letters from America or England. I doubt if you get mine, but I must write the loneliness is awful. We all send much love to you all. Lovingly, EMMA.

P.S. Poor Madame Tolstoi is in great need. She lives on horsemeat, as all our friends do, and is now being turned out of Moscow and does not know where to go. We may come to it, but so far we prefer doing without meat to eating horsemeat, though Alec and Oka did in Petrograd.

In connection with his paper on the ‘Education of Henry Adams,’Mr. Taylor writes us that he thought it wiser to leave it to others to pass judgment on Mr. Adams’s scientific position and his handling of the data of natural science. But he has sent us a letter written by Mr. Adams to him in 1905, bearing upon such matters. It is in Mr. Adams’s unique epistolary vein. Having thanked his correspondent for some references, he proceeds:—

My own interest in the subject is scientific to such an extent that my play with it is awkward, like a kitten in walnuts. I am trying to work out the formula of anarchism; the law of expansion from unity, simplicity, morality, to multiplicity, contradiction, police. I have done it scientifically, by formulating the ratio of development in energy, us in explosives, on chemical energies. I can see it in the development of steam power, and in the various economies of conveyance. Radium thus far is the term for these mechanical ratios. The ratio for thought is not so easy to fix. I can get a time ratio only in philosophy. The assumption of unity which was the mark of human thought in the Middle Ages has yielded very slowly to the proofs of complexity. The stupor of science before radium is a proof of it. Yet it is quite sure, according to my score of ratios and curves, that, at the accelerated rate of progression shown since 1600, it will not need another century or half century to tip thought upside down. Law, in that case, would disappear as theory or a priori principle, and give place to force. Morality would become police. Explosives would reach cosmic violence, disintegration would overcome integration. . . .

Your work is of a totally different kind. I have no object but a superficial one, as far as history is concerned. To me, accuracy is relative. I care very little whether my details are exact, if only my ensemble is in scale. You need to be thorough in your study and accurate in your statements. Your middle ages exist for their own sake, not for ours. To me, who stand in gaping wonder before this preposterous spectacle of thought, and who can see nothing in all nature so iconoclastic, miraculous and anarchistic as Shakespeare, the Middle Ages present a picture that has something to be brought into relation with ourselves. To you, there is no difficulty in transferring ourselves into the Middle Ages. You require serious and complete study, and careful attention to details. Our two paths run in a manner parallel in reverse directions, but I can run and jump along mine, while you must employ a powerful engine to drag your load. I am glad to know that your engine is powerful enough.

Time is very short, but at any rate our middle ages are long, and the rest matters little to us now. What I most want is an intelligent man of science, a thing I shall never find.
Ever Yrs.

The following rejoinder speaks for itself.

SAGAMORE HILL, August 10, 1918.
Three gentlemen have written the Contributors’ Column about my comment on Mr. Scully’s article concerning the ostrich.
One is evidently not in the least concerned with the truth of the statements, but has eager hopes of a controversy between Mr. Scully and myself. This amiable apostle of altercation looks on the matter in the spirit of the philosophical backwoodsman, who, finding his wife engaged in conflict with a bear, remarked, ‘Go it, old woman! Go to it, b’ar!’ His interest in the truth is as tepid as the backwoodsman’s interest in domestic felicity. There is no use in dealing with him, because our minds do not meet.
Another writes of an awesome adventure, which a friend of his related to him. The point of the anecdote with which the guileful friend entertained the overtrustful Atlantic contributor rests on the entirely groundless assumption that the ostrich does not hurt a man who is lying down, because it thinks he is dead. This belief is without a shred of foundation. The ostrich is physically unable to damage a man lying down, and his shamming death has nothing to do with the matter. Mr. William Beebe, who has written much in the Atlantic, is a field-naturalist of exceptional experience and exceptional accuracy of observation. He has himself undergone the experience of being attacked by an ostrich, and escaping by lying down. He informs me that, not only is it unnecessary to sham death or remain motionless, but the man can and does, if he knows his business, work his way to a place of safety by grasping the ostrich by the neck and upsetting it; I think he said he had done this himself, or else seen it done. He says that, the ostrich is not only unable to hurt the man who is lying down, but is so silly and awkward that it is easy to grasp its neck and upset it. Whereupon it struggles clumsily for some seconds before it can rise, giving the man a chance to run fifty yards or so before he is overtaken; and he can repeat the experiment until he reaches the point he is aiming at. And this is the creature said to be ‘as dangerous as a lion’ to an unarmed man!
The third gentleman says the peacock was domesticated, not for its beauty, but to eat; and as proof points to the fact that occasionally, at the ostentatious feasts of the mediæval mighty, a peacock was served (with its train of brilliant feathers complete). By parity of reasoning, the fact that wealthy and vulgar Roman epicures, in a similar spirit of ostentation, served dishes of nightingales’ tongues, should be accepted as proof that the ancients did not regard the nightingale primarily as a singer, but as possessing an edible tongue. Of course, in each case the explanation is the direct reverse. As the nightingale was a wonderful singer, persons with a desire for expensive and tasteless extravagance thought it fine to eat the tongue. As the peacock was an expensive and beautiful rarity, the unwashed social elite of the Middle Ages believed that it added distinction to their gross feasts to serve the old cock bird with its tail-feathers. Incidentally, if the desire had merely been for good food, the hens, and the young cocks not yet in full plumage, would have been chosen.
Again: I have seen African savages eat part of the heart and fat of a lion, with the idea that, by something akin to sympathetic magic, they t hereby acquired the valor and vigor of the beast. To suppose, therefore, that the savage hunted the lion primarily because he was edible, would be substantially similar to supposing that the peacock, a symbol of splendor from the earliest times, was domesticated because it could at a pinch be eaten. Monkeys can be eaten; I have eaten them. Ivory tusks can be used, and have been used, for building stockades, in place of logs. But when Solomon imported peacocks, apes, and ivory, he no more intended to use the apes and peacocks in his kitchen than to use the ivory instead of bricks in the foundations of his temple. He imported them all alike for purposes of splendor.
I am not in the least interested in controversy. I am immensely interested in scientific truth. Some statements about alleged scientific truth can be shown to be unscientific and untruthful; and accordingly this ought to be shown. In other cases, seemingly conflicting statements may or may not both be true; and it is desirable to find out which is the case. As an illustration, take Mr. Scully’s statement in a recent article about the lion’s charging with his tail erect. I have once or twice seen a lion throw his tail erect before charging. In the few cases where I have seen a lion charge, it has come on with its tail straight out; and if there was a sudden change of direction, the tail was slewed to one side, like a rudder. I should much like to know from competent observers which is the ordinary rule, and whether there are exceptions to it, and if so, whether these exceptions are common or very rare.

From any experienced hunter or observer, whether a trained naturalist or not, the Atlantic will be glad to hear further on this subject.

Truly, ‘out of the mouths of babes and sucklings cometh’ the call to service! Witness the following, printed exactly as written.

I have been reading mothers Atlantic Monthly and saw where the soldiers were anxious to obtain copies of it, so if you will send me the name of one I will forward the Atlantic Monthly to him each month.
I am ten years old, and would like very much to have this soldier as a brother during the course of the war.
My own brother is only fourteen and too young to go into the service, but is going to a military school, my daddy entered the service May 1917. I sincerely hope you will be able to find a war brother for me.
Very truly yours,
August 13, 1918.

We hope that many Americans who picture Paris in the colors of novels they read in their college days followed the Abbé Dimnet’s papers in the August and September Atlantic, on the ‘Real Paris.’ In this connection, we may quote a letter just received from a distinguished Frenchman: —

You tell me that it seems extraordinary to you that every Frenchman you see to-day in the U.S. ‘preserves the same calm demeanor.’ Be quite sure that this calm demeanor that you have an opportunity to observe in my countrymen beyond the sea is the one of each of us here. This calmness results from our common feeling about the situation. Urgent necessity, on which it is not useful to debate, prescribes to us a very simple duty, a very clear fate: to die or to win. People are easily calm when they do know their duly and their fate.

It is ind eed extraordinary to see how much two friendly nations are unaware of their respective character. How could we know your American soul? How could you know ours? You saw France and the French people through our newspapers and novels; newspapers, novels and plays showed to you a wholly fictitious people; our French families, our Frenchwomen are as different from the fa milies and ladies spoken of by the authors as the common type of French citizen is from a Parisian journalist. War is a good school for each of our nations. We appreciate the moral qualities of each other. You find out our calmness and strength of mind as we find out your own high idealism.

Our readers will be glad to hear the latest news from Captain Hall, ‘Prisoner of War, No. 44705/II, Staumlager, Reserve Lazaretto No. 2, Saarbrücken, Germany,’ received as we go to press.

You may have heard by this time that I have had the misfortune to be taken prisoner of war. During a combat on May 7th, one wing of my aeroplane broke and almost at the same minute a shell from an anti-aircraft gun struck my motor, a direct hit. I was some distance in German-held territory and had no chance to fall in our lines. Had another very lucky fall. Only one sprained ankle and another broken one. Have been in hospital ever since, but can walk quite well now with crutches.

Have been very courteously treated. Not the slightest complaint to make. Food is sufficient to keep one in health. I am hungry for books, though. I should like to read 18 hours out of the 24. Here there are no English books.