Atlantic Shop-Talk

IN May, 1921, the Atlantic Monthly Press published The Founding of New England, by James Truslow Adams. In May, 1922, this book won for its author the Pulitzer Prize of $2000 for the best work on the history of the United States produced in the course of the preceding year.

The Shop-Talker proclaimed the unusual merits of this book when it first appeared, and has not scrupled to refer to them, in that subdued manner which is natural to him, on several later occasions. As one authoritative scholar and critic after another, both in America and in England, confirmed the opinion of Mr. Adams’s book held in this office from the time it was first seen here in typewritten pages, it is needless to say that our confidence in it as a genuine contribution to historical literature suffered no shrinkage. Now that three such responsible judges as Mr. Worthington C. Ford, of the Massachusetts Historical Society, Professor John Bach McMaster, of the University of Pennsylvania, and Professor Charles Downer Hazen, of Columbia University, have united in honoring it with the Pulitzer Prize award, the Shop-Talker would be hardly human were he not heard to whisper at least, ‘ I told you so.’ Since The Founding of New England was the first and is still the only historical work published by the Atlantic Monthly Press, who will wonder at our pleasure in Mr. Adams’s success?

The circle of readers he had already made is obviously destined to extend. It will, therefore, be good news in many quarters that he has been working hard on a second volume which will carry the history of New England through the War of the Revolution, and that he has already written a considerable portion of it.

Boston Common! What varied thoughts, we wonder, will come to the N. E. A. visitors who are to have this month their first sight of this historic spot. Almost three hundred years ago, its forty-eight acres of pasture land cost the town of Boston about a hundred and fifty dollars. Who is there who would now be so bold as to place a financial value upon this field, enriched beyond price by all the historic and literary associations that have been accumulating since 1630? The one person in Boston who can tell you most about Boston Common is Mr. M. A. DeWolfe Howe, who has vividly and accurately recorded it all in his book, Boston Common, with its historic illustrations and its truly descriptive subtitle, Scenes from Four Centuries. There is no more appropriate souvenir of a visit to Boston than this little volume on the Atlantic book-list.

In last month’s comment on the award of prizes in the Atlantic Short-Story Contest for college and high-school students, no mention was made of the fact that the winning stories are to be printed in a pamphlet for distribution among the schools and colleges represented in the competition. Besides the many who will thus receive it automatically, there may be more who would like to see it, and copies will be gladly forwarded to these on application.

There is nothing more comforting to a publisher, who naturally adds to his list only the books in which he believes, than to find his belief supported by those who know. Of course he thinks he knows — and sometimes he does. But his confidence is materially reënforced when, for example, a little book on Shakespeare calls forth from Mr. Horace Howard Furness. Jr. of Philadelphia, son, namesake, and successor in scholarship of his father, the most eminent of American Shakespeareans, such an expression as the following: —

‘I cannot speak too highly of John Jay Chapman’s A Glance Toward Shakespeare. The whole work is so clear in exposition, so lacking in all dogmatic assertion, that the reader feels his interest grow with each chapter, Particularly notable is the chapter on ‘The Sonnets.’ That these need not necessarily be regarded as the keys with which Shakespeare unlocked his heart, Mr. Chapman demonstrates by reasons both sound and logical.’

Another Philadelphian, Mr. Owen Wister, has been writing about Mr. Chapman in the Yale Review — apropos of his William Lloyd Garrison, of which the Atlantic Monthly Press published a new edition some months ago. ’Mr. Chapman,’ says Mr. Wister, ‘ stands alone among our present generation of writers, by far the most gifted and least realized of all. Even disagreement with him, which befalls at times, is more awakening than agreement with most authors. His shelf of thin volumes is known but to a few, and he is more justly valued in Europe than here.’

Of course ‘the most gifted’ will not remain permanently ‘ the least realized’ — unless there is something hopelessly the matter with American taste and its arbiters. The Shop-Talker does not happen to believe in the permanence of what Sir Thomas Browne liked to call Pseudodoxia. If there are mistaken ideas with regard to Mr. Chapman’s place among contemporary writers, A Glance Toward Shakespeare will contribute to their removal. Shall we then be called upon to pity the few for their submergence in the many?

Here is the kind of thing we rejoice to read about one of our new books. It is taken from a notice of Wild Folk, by Samuel Scoville, Jr., in the Chicago Daily News: ‘We heartily recommend this book of talks about wild animals to all who care for well-written stories that are free from cant and trite situations. The imprint of the Atlantic Monthly alone would be a guaranty that they are unusual, were not the author’s name itself a guide.’

Since the author is not at hand to rise and bow for himself, may we execute an obeisance of double profundity?

When you choose a title for a book, you try your best to make it express the drift of that book’s intention. One measure of your success is to have the title and the book so completely identified in the public mind that nobody will ever think of one without thinking of the other. Another measure is to convey an idea, even if the word with which you sought to express sometimes goes astray. For example, the Atlantic office knows perfectly well what is meant when one correspondent writes to order a copy of ‘ Reconciled, and another calls for ‘Machine Tools.’ In the first instance, it was evidently Consolation, a reprint of an Atlantic article which has truly consoled and reconciled many readers, that was wanted. In the second, there was no doubt that The Iron Man, by Arthur Pound, was meant. Of this book, by the way, the Shop-Talker learns that its final chapter, ‘God and Man,’ has so impressed one of the secretaries of the International Committee of Young Men’s Christian Associations that he is calling Mr. Pound’s volume to the attention of the Y.M.C.A. secretaries in the industrial field. From many employers and industrial managers who read the portions of it which appeared in the Atlantic, the office received such expressions of interest as to establish a firm confidence in the breadth of its appeal. The early reception of the book is fully bearing out this expectation.

The English publishers of Mr. Charles Boardman Hawes’s story, The Great Quest — for this book by the author of The Mutineers is now on the list of William Heinemann—have sent to the Atlantic office a little essay, or composition, by a seven teen-year-old English boy after reading the book. The circumstance might pass unnoticed but for the fact that the boy happens to be the son of the late Sir Ernest Shackleton, and may therefore be regarded as possessing, through all the rights of inheritance, a good instinct for adventure. It is accordingly significant to find this youth declaring: —

‘Those of us who love an adventure story will find in The Great Quest the epitome of all our desires. . . .

‘The main theme of the story is adventure, pure and simple; it is well told and the style is that of a man who loves his subject. There are many people who draw a distinction between style and subject matter, but it often seems, as in this case, that the two elements are indivisible; for a story sincerely and clearly told by a writer who believes in his creations must of necessity have good style; for style is sincerity.... It is a refreshing yarn, and will not be put down till read from cover to cover.’

Incidentally, the young critic’s command of thought and language can hardly help provoking comparison between the English and American schoolboy.