Conversations in Ebury Street

by George Moore. New York: Boni and Liveright. 1924. 8vo. vi+314 pp. $2.50.
THE line that divides the fastidious from the supercilious is indistinct at best, but such as it is it traces an uncertain way through the pages of this latest, and possibly last, book of Mr. George Moore; indeed one might go further and say that Mr. Moore is himself the least common multiple of the two qualities. In these frank and intimate conversations between himself and such well-known persons as he may use to point a moral and adorn a tale, we find always the same clear and delicate English for which Mr. Moore is so justly esteemed and which marks the fastidiousness that is so frequently in peril of superciliousness. There is much else besides: keen comments and estimates—not infrequently of a kind that would be caviar to Main Street — and epigrammatic heresies that produce the chuckle of unexpected endorsement of unavowed convictions. To some it will be a real pleasure to hear that ‘Mr. Hardy popularized pessimism and coaxed his readers into drinking from an old tin pot a beverage that had hitherto only been offered them in jeweled goblets,’ and that while Shelley wrote the best prose of the nineteenth century Mr. Hardy has written the worst, or again that ‘The Lady of Shalott’ is ‘the one poem whereby poor Tennyson justified his existence.’
Not the least refreshing are some of the comments on education in the conversations with the American ‘Mr. Husband’ and with Granville Barker. ‘To admit that one man brings a gift into the world and that the next man does not would amount to an admission that the Liberal Party cannot rectify Nature’s mistakes. And what would become of the constituencies if such a thing were admitted?’
’Martyrs are beginning to appear; not long ago a mother said she would prefer to go to prison rather than send her son to school after he was fourteen, urging on the magistrate that the time to learn a trade was between fourteen and sixteen. Whilst admitting her contention to be reasonable, the magistrate could not avoid sending her to prison, for such is the law. She accepted prison, heroic woman, and it is heroism such as hers that may in the end redeem us from a system that comes between man and his instincts.’ ‘A man cannot be taught. But though he cannot be taught he can learn, meaning thereby that he may discover a self within himself.’ In the end he does not hesitate to say that for himself he would even ‘welcome a reawakening of theology’ if by that he could compass that ‘renaissance of illiteracy ‘ he holds to be necessary if we are to escape from false standards and bring in an era of right living.
These and the like are pale flashes of the bitter, critical mood of an earlier day. In general the book is surprisingly gentle, with a certain mellowness of warm autumn. When Mr. Moore writes of Saint Paul, as he does only too briefly, he is at his best, and one need not accept his exegesis to give full value to his delicate appreciation. It is in the last few pages, however, when in the midst of memories of Moore Hall, but recently burned by the Irish Republicans, he speaks of his grandfather, that this gentleness and unfamiliar sweetness show in the clearest light. Neither this, nor really any material part of the book, is ‘the egregious Mr. George Moore’ of a decade ago. Instead it is the portrait of a sad and thoughtful and somewhat fastidious gentleman, revealing itself through mental portraits of many lifelong friends who are treasured very dearly, and are used, not as foils to another’s wit, but as copartners with him, for friendship’s sake, in matured estimates of many things. One finishes the book with a feeling of gratitude that another and undoubtedly truer George Moore has come into view through the calm and mellow light of a matured experience.