by G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1921. 8vo, xii+256 pp. Illustrated. $2.50.. New York and London:
THE author of The Mirrors of Downing Street signed himself ‘A Gentleman with a Duster.’ The Mirrors of Washington, to complete its status as an American counterpart to the earlier volume, might well have been signed, ‘A Gentleman with a Scrubbing-brush.’ He uses nothing so delicate as a duster to brighten the reflections of the fourteen figures in the contemporaneous public life of America with whom he deals. Nevertheless, he has produced a much better book than so obvious an attempt to repeat the success of somebody else might have been expected to achieve. It is written with considerable skill, with touches of real penetration, and a genuine, though somewhat hard, humor, and with that almost indecent candor of which only anonymity is capable.
To whatever extent the subjects of the several memoirs may enjoy the book as a whole, there is hardly one of them who will not find the chapter about himself an unpalatable bit of reading; for the book is concerned almost entirely with the vanities and weaknesses, the negligences and ignorances, the manifold shortcomings, the positive achievements of evil imputed to the men who are studied in its pages.
By the same token, it is not a book which any thoughtful American can read with much satisfaction; the sorry procession of personages who have stood, and now stand, high in the conduct of the nation seems but a Falstaff’s regiment in the raggedness of character with which its members, almost without exception, are clothed. There is perhaps a comforting symbolism in the scheme of illustration adopted for the book: every authentic portrait in its pages is preceded by a relentless caricature of the real man. This method has not been wholly avoided in the text.
The author, unless he is an inventor of imaginary conversations, quotes too many remarks addressed directly to himself to escape identification. Republicans and Democrats— Tros Tyriusque — fare equally ill at his hands. If there is not a meanness or a vice to picture, there is a weakness or a folly, and any one of these qualities, as etched by the unsparing pen of ‘Anonymous,’ may be as damning as almost any other.
Admirers of one after another of the dissected personalities will insist that the author has failed to render justice to the objects of their admiration. It is quite apart from the purpose of this brief notice to pronounce ‘lastly on each deed’; but it should be said that, when the author presents, not his own theories of a man’s life and character, but recorded facts susceptible of proof, he effects the largest measure of conviction.
As an index of hope for the Republic, the book cannot be called encouraging. It brings its own contribution, at this disheartening time of disillusion, to the belief that the capacities of men have not grown at the same rate with the problems they are now called upon to solve. It does not convince one, however, that it is vain to hope for a younger race of statesmen possessed of those higher qualities of brain and character which have led to greatness in every human pursuit since the world began. Even if you accept the author’s mean opinion of all his subjects, you will observe that it is the lack of one elemental decency or virtue after another that places a man under condemnation. Unless these qualities are irretrievably excluded from public life, the opportunities for a new leadership are fairly obvious.
M. A. DEWOLFE HOWE.