A Magnificent Farce, and Other Diversions of a Book-Collector

WHEN Mr. A. Edward Newton published The Amenities of Book-Collecting, some of his business friends regarded it as an amiable eccentricity. It was held to be odd and amusing that a busy electrical manufacturer should sally into the field of belles lettres and carry all before him with such triumphant good nature. Mr. Newton’s new book, I Magnificent Farce, shows that the eccentricity is going to be a habit. We hope so, at least, for there is no habit we can think of that will give more pleasure to the devotees of that tenderest passion, the love of old books.
However Mr. Newton’s business friends may have regarded his dramatic foray into literature, there was never any doubt in the minds of competent critics that in his inkwell were dissolved some of the genuine ingredients of the English essay at its best. Mr. Newton, just because he writes for the sheer fun of it, writes with unique charm. There is a monstrous deal of nonsense uttered about the art of writing. As a matter of fact — as far as prose is concerned, anyway — it should be the easiest thing in the world, simply thinking in ink. The only proviso, of course, will be a serious one: to write interestingly one must be an interesting person.
That is exactly the ground of Mr. Newton’s delightfulness. The A. in his name stands, undoubtedly, for Amenity. How happily is he gifted with just those qualities that are essential to the personal essay! Shrewd, humorous, quickwitted, impulsive, confident, affectionate, with a vast capacity for enjoying life, such is this Caliph of Ink. To Atlantic readers his new book certainly requires no very detailed description. It is the worthy successor to his delicious A. B. C., and perhaps in some ways of even wider appeal, for it seems to be addressed less definitely to book-collectors, but to the whole world that revels in the printed word. Warren Hastings, Pepys, Defoe, Leigh Hunt, Keats, Walt Whitman, and William Blake are among those of whom Mr. Newton chooses to discourse; and, as always in the work of this cunning author, there is a thrilling lovestory — the tale of his long worship of ' My Old Lady, London.’ Mr. Newton’s essays let us say, in passing, are not the least effective influence in building up and strengthening the Anglo-American affection and understanding which seems to some of us one of the most important things in a rather troubled world.
This reviewer hopes that the publisher has taken good care to print a generous first edition of A Magnificent Farce. Santa Claus, we fear, may get a bit weary of delivering copies, for it is sure to be a favorite Christmas present; we doubt not that, among the bookishly inclined, there will be many who will have several copies given them. Bat that will do no harm; they can use the duplicates for lending. Some of us will feel just a little regret that Mr. Newton speaks of Woodrow Wilson with rather less than his accustomed urbanity; but one of Mr. Newton’s idiosyncrasies, for which we love him, is that he has decided views. It must never be forgotten that his spiritual ancestor is a certain Dr. Johnson. By the same token it becomes the present reviewer to discount a certain number of his remarks about his personal friends.
It is essential to add that those who have read some of Mr. Newton’s essays in Lhe Atlantic must not conclude that they do not need the book. The remarkable illustrations and facsimiles are not the least of its abounding richness.
CHRISTOPHER MORLEY.