The House of Baltazar

by William J. Locke. New York: John Lane Company. 1920. 12mo, 312 pp. $1.90.
THE machinery of the Locke novel has become one of the most perfectly standardized units known — so perfectly standardized that others than its inventor not only use it, but actually use it without knowing that they have done so. Yet probably no one has made the contrivance run with so even and frictionless a rhythm as that achieved by its original patentee.
The principal cog in Mr. Locke’s mechanism is always the personal history of some impractical, rather lovable eccentric, who is at length converted to reality — a being who, seen at the outset in a rose-colored mist of his own remote dreams and desires, is then suddenly propelled into the clear light of awareness that other lives exist, whose very existence is a silent but powerful assertion of claims on his own life. John Baltazar, of the ‘House’ of that ilk, is a mathematical genius of Cambridge. Also, he is a quixotic and impulsive man, subject to uncontrollable idealistic rages. Falling in love with a young girl, — he is wedded to a shrew, — he runs honorably away from his career and his identity, and buries himself for eighteen years in the heart of China, where he prosecutes his mathematical researches, at the same time achieving an exalted position in Chinese society and becoming the most accomplished of Sinologists. Then, with a Chinese servant and student, Quong Ho,
— here is the recrudescence of Mr. Locke’s favorite master-and-servant motif, — he lives for two years on an isolated English moor, teaching Quong Ho all mysteries and all knowledge, translating unique copies of ancient Chinese manuscripts, and completing a treatise which is to revolutionize mathematics.
He remains unaware that his wife, now long dead, had given birth to a son just after he left her. He also remains unaware that, during his English exile, the Great War has broken out. This second fact is literally exploded upon him, in the form of an incendiary bomb dropped upon his house from a lost Zeppelin. It destroys in a night, all but irretrievably, his life’s work. But it also precipitates Baltazar into the midst of affairs. He discovers his son, maimed in the war, being nursed by the woman from whom he, the father, had fled twenty years before. He helps run the war, as an authority on Eastern problems and as the editor of a new weekly. And — ultimate mathematical justice of the true romantic idiom — he prepares Quong Ho, also a genius, to restore and consummate his lost life’s work.
All this is entertainment for the groundling and relaxation for the high-brow. Moreover, for popular romance, it is uncommonly void of irritation to persons who have, or think they have, ‘ideas.’ F. T. H.