By BRAND WHITLOCK. New York: D. Appleton & Co. 1919. 2 vols. 8vo. $7.50.
THESE volumes are fourth in the series of reminiscences of our war-time ambassadors and ministers in Europe, but they are easily first in importance. They are a literary and diplomatic event.
In spite of all that has been written of Belgium, the cumulative effect of these leisurely, discursive volumes makes an old story seem like new. It is this effect, indeed, which is the merit of Mr. Whitlock’s book: it finally presses upon the reader with the remorselessness of nightmare, as horror is piled on horror, with chapter and verse meticulously cited. The scale of the narrative is epic.
Yet this cannot wholly excuse the author for what seems complete indifference to his reader’s patience. The preliminaries are much too long, and, it must be admitted, too personal. Quotations are plentiful and erudite. And every quotation from the French is given in French, and quotations from the Flemish in Flemish.
When the narrative is at its height; when the river is in flood, the lightning flashing and thunder rolling, and we are about to be swept over the dam, our pilot has a disconcerting habit of rising to his feel in the stern of the boat and quoting to us from Talleyrand (always in the original), or from Thomas Hardy’s poems. Talleyrand’s bon mot, for example, — on peut militariser un civile, mais on ne peut pas civiliser un militaire, — is brought into the story on six separate occasions, the last five of which add nothing to its original charm. Then, to those who know Mr. Whitlock’s earlier work, there will be visible here some of the same faults of writing in vacuo which disfigured Forty Years of It.
Mr. Whitlock is not superior to sorrow, else he could never have written the story of Miss Cavell in terms which make if a classic. No man who is superior to sorrow could have written the chapters on the Belgian and French deportations, or the full story of how Von Bissing divided the Belgian patrimony, so that Flemings and Walloons were made strangers in their own land. Mr. Whitlock is not trying to be superior to sorrow: he is only trying to avoid his bête noire — the dramatic in literature.
Mr. Whitlock is frankly disappointing in his treatment of the great Commission for Relief in Belgium, although he gives it plenty of space; but he tells more adequately the tale of an international friendship whose implications have reached far: the friendship of Mr. Whitlock and the Spanish Minister in Brussels, the Marquis of Villalobar.
The spirit of Villalobar pervades much of the story. He is more real than Mr. Whitlock’s King Albert, Cardinal Merrier. Hoover. Von Bissing, Francqui, or Von der Lancken. His gallant, humorous, eminently skillful and diplomatic figure is in the foreground whenever the American Minister appears in public; and there is a grace, a generosity, and a devotion in I he comradeship of the two men which convinces one of the beauty of life. They were allies as well as friends; there was complete ‘unity of command’ in the Brussels chancelleries long before Foch took charge on the Western front; and for this inestimable boon, we and Belgium should lie grateful. Villalobar, like Mr. Whitlock, was a patron of the Relief Commission, and these books prove that his services were beyond praise. E. E. H.