The Glass of Fashion, Some Social Reflections

by A Gentleman with a Duster. New York and London: G. P. Putnam’s Sons. 1921. 8vo, xxiv + 176 pp. Illustrated. $2.50.
THIS book has several penalties to pay. The first is the penalty of a sermon that is too long; for it is both a sermon and, in spite of the fact that the author refers to it as a ‘pamphlet,’ its length affects one as protracted preaching almost always does. Another penalty is that of the inartistic, here taking the specific form of the disproportionate. Cases in point are the long ' Study in Contrast’ between Mrs. Asquith and Mrs. Gladstone and the elaborate chapter on ‘The Other Side,’presenting a veritable catalogue of ships in the names of British matrons of high position who have nothing in common with ‘The Grandmother of the Flapper,’ and who notably ‘measured up’ to their responsibilities in the war-time. Greater brevity in the treatment of these topics would surely have yielded greater impressiveness. So too would the removal of a certain effect of repetition — not so much of words as of ideas, Such are the obvious blemishes.
On the other hand, the book, essentially an expansion of the admirable final chapter of The Mirrors of Downing Street, has positive and distinctive merits. The utter verity of much that it contains is one of them. There can be no question that the state of fashionable society, as revealed and documented by passages which the Gentleman with a Duster has drawn from the recent books of Colonel Repington and Mrs. Asquith, is deplorable both in itself and in the effect it is capable of producing upon thoughtless persons in every walk of life. It is a grave question whether any amount of preaching will convert the class of offenders against which the preacher inveighs. But his standpoint of ‘the central classes,’ his deliberate purpose to ‘regard the summit of Nobility from the middle-distance of the Gentry,”places him where it is entirely possible to accomplish something. The gentry of England and her dominions and occupants of the vast corresponding social stratum in the United States are susceptible to the vary sort of influence which the author tries to exert; and if they will yield themselves to it, only to the extent of seeing that ‘fashion ’ is setting an example which it is ruinous to follow, much will have been done.
The author feels that, through the two books which provide the chief text of his sermon, ‘ there are numbers of educated Americans whose affection for England has been weakened, and who have perhaps ceased to believe that the privileged classes in England have any contribution to make to the higher life of the human race’; and this at a time when ‘a deep affection and a profound confidence between the Republic of the United States and the British Commonwealth’ might lead far toward disarmament and world-peace. His own chapter on ’ Womanhood may fairly be said to extend the causes of anxiety beyond the conduct of the privileged classes. But his hope and his appeal, which are fundamentally religious, are not concerned with classes. They look toward a spiritual regeneration of men and women how ever placed in the world. ‘ I feel,’ he says, ' that distracted man would now welcome one who made plain to him that the gate of existence still stands wide open, that human life is no cui-tle-mc, but a thoroughfare, and that across the gray ocean of morality there lies an undiscovered New World of spiritual adventure,’
Into this New World there are, indeed, many who are waiting and eager to be led.