Modern Essays: Second Series, Selected by Christopher Morley
Selected by Harcourt, Brace and Company. 1924. 12mo. xiv + 457 pp. $2.00.. New York:
MR. MORLEY has cornered and captured these thirty-one animated essays with one reader particularly in view, the college undergraduate, that ‘bright-eyed phantom’ to whom, he says, his ‘heart and conscience, such as they are, are engaged.’ His own preface, instead of hashing over the definition of the essay, stirs up the perfect essay state of mind — that questing, halfunsettled, wholly wakeful mood in which one is ready to read an essay, or to write one.
The pieces chosen for the book hardly overlap at all upon the index of any other anthology; the well-known prime favorites are not here. This collection comes from hither and yon, most of it highly enlivening selections from writers famous but not dead, bits of it snatched out of current magazines, part of it never before published, and all of it the kind of reading that agitates not only the imagination but also the ink-glands of the human squid. Almost every essay in the book calls for an answer.
The thing is so aptly put together that it made at least one ex-dragon of the classrooms have an instant vision of rushing back hotfoot to the campus with the book. I should like to open the year with it, in a certain airy classroom that I used to know, with windows open to a frosty hillside, and a band of brisk students sitting warily before me in three rows. Of course one never can tell, but I think it would go to the spot, as Morley’s earlier collection has already done. The first volume introduced the reader to more exquisite and more important things; this one makes him argue with more opinionated zeal.
The length and heft of the selections range from a clipping from the Bowling Green to a work on Aristotle thirty-six pages long. The topics range from Fido to Montaigne. One or two minor effusions seem to have been included for the purpose of showing off a little to the plastic age. Remembering with panic the rigid undergraduate standard of good taste for elderly persons over twenty-eight, one wishes that Mr. Morley had left those two offerings in the editorial wire-tray. But even these are buddingoff places for invective or realism of one’s own.
Each essay is launched with an engaging note about the author by the editor himself, done with the hilarious benevolence of old Br’er Rabbit who, attending the water-sports at Mr. Terrapin’s millpond, ‘sot out on the bank he did, and praise ‘em up.'
Taken together with the earlier series, the collection is booked for a larger audience than the college group. All summer, in a great public library far from Vesey Street, the first volume had a waiting-list to its credit, an achievement which for a book of essays is no small thing. But it is primarily the undergraduate target that Mr. Morley has aimed for, a difficult flying target which he probably has hit.
FRANCES LESTER WARNER.