by Maurice Baring. New York, Doubleday, Page and Company. 1924. 2 vols. 8vo. xxv+355+383. $5.00.
C is a leisurely, very readable sketch of the life of the Honorable Caryl Bramsley, an English youth of much promise and of no fulfillment. The author, distinguished as diplomat, journalist, traveler, and man of letters, has the pleasant manner of one accustomed to view the world not too enthusiastically yet with absorbed interest in the way in which it affects a sensitive, willfully reserved nature. Whether the work is autobiography, biography, or fiction matters little. The overelaboratc alibi sought in the Introduction cannot prevent a reader from recognizing. in the first volume at least, a certain sympathy and closeness of interpretation which would seem to indicate a vital share in the experiences described.
C is an imaginative, repressed boy whose natural development as a writer was tragically thwarted, partly by temperamental inhibitions, but more through the calamity of being dominated by women — nurse, governess, mother, sisters, aunt, and others. His mother, with a maximum of Victorian standardization and a minimum of tenderness, directed the lives of her children. His aunt, sympathetic and generous, handicapped him by a somewhat irresponsible fondness. At first an infant rebel, C’s life was darkened by such barbarity as having to memorize Delphic passages from Shakespeare, Dryden, Pope, and La Fontaine. He was destined for diplomacy, which in England demands much preparation in the languages and in general culture. Though the impoverished condition of his noble family limited his scope of action, he had varied, enviable opportunities — and what is more appealing than a record of the way in which a bigh-thoughted youth reacts to poets and places?
We see, most vividly, the boy discovering Shelley and the romantic poets, at Eton; studying French at Versailles, with holiday excursions into Paris, where among many delights he had the thrill of hearing Madame ‘Lapara’ recite Racine to an ecstatic audience. He had glimpses of Germany and Wagner; Oxford for a year, with books, friends, sports, and first love; Rome and separation; Florence, when the wild tulips were seen in the ‘live, translucent air’; and finally London, where hopes and plans dwindled to a government clerkship.
The second volume is undoubtedly true to life, but it lacks the glamour of volume one, being a trifle tedious in its detail of minor circumstance in relation to C’s vague, desultory existence, soothed by the semicelestial Beatrice and tormented by the mundane siren, Leila.
All who care for youth and art and problems of character will find this ‘biography’ fascinating. England is there, in its nineteenth-century form, a place where titled folk — casual, external, childish — extinguish the ardent, delicate spirit of a gifted, apathetic youth. But the failure of C is partly self-induced, for he intentionally retreated behind walls he had erected around his tastes and wishes. Life turned to hollowness for one endowed with love of beauty but incapable of creative loyalty to his own finer feeling,