The Splendour of Asia: The Story and Teachings of the Buddha

by L. Adams Beck. New York: Dodd, Mead and Company. 1926. 12mo. xiv+267 pp. $2.50.
WITH modest wisdom the author places this, the most ambitious of her books, among her novels, but the reader who turns to the Buddhist Scriptures in the Pali writings —as they are found, for example, in Henry Clarke Warren’s Buddhism in Translations (Volume III, Harvard Oriental Series, edited by Charles Rockwell Lamnan) — will be impressed by the insight, the constructive delicacy and creative illumination with which L. Adams Beck invokes for us the spirit of the Enlightened One. To choose with intelligence from so bewildering a mass of material, to reject with discrimination, to arrange with inevitable taste, and to interpret with a mind open to correction — these are the qualities of the acceptable biographer and historian; to them our author adds the charm of a literary style at one with her theme, and the novelist’s magic gift of making a hero come alive.
For the uninitiate of the West, to whom the Buddha is a mouthpiece for gnomic sayings and an impassive golden-bronze image in a museum, this book will be a talisman. In the midst of an Oriental fairy tale of pleasure-palaces and dancing girls, a human spirit wanders on quest for the secret of the universe; demanding an answer to the great mysteries of age, pain, death; seeking union with the Ultimate, the greatest mystery of all; and not for himself only, but for the suffering world’s sake; seeking, and finding — to his own satisfaction and the comfort of some millions of present-day believers.
It is said that the story of Siddartha, profoundly influencing the East for centuries before the birth of Jesus, had its effect upon the Christian Scriptures. Certainly the parallels are arresting, to mention only the birth tradition of the star and the singing angels; the coming of the rich young man to the Teacher; the conversion of the beautiful harlot. But the contrasts are no less impressive: the Buddha born to wealth and material satiety; the Christ, to the life of the common man. The Buddha solving the problem of pain, age, death, by calling them illusion; the Christ accepting them as reality, as a part of process, undisturbed by them, disturbed only by sin. The Buddha dying in old age, of a natural breaking-down of the bodily functions, a great, renowned, beloved teacher looking back upon a lifetime of adulation and success, surrounded on his deathbed by adoring followers; the Christ dying in young manhood the death of a political criminal, well-nigh solitary in the midst of a taunting multitude. But comparison of this kind has no place in the book; it is hardly even implicit.
Two qualities L. Adams Beck shares with her distinguished contemporary, E. Barrington: a keen historic sense — making the past come alive — and an instinct for style. The style of The Splendour of Asia is fragrant of the East, an authentic and native fragrance. One finds this same floriated richness in the work of a genuine Oriental, Dhan Gopal Mukerji, writing in English. It would be interesting to place unsigned and unfamiliar passages from these two authors side by side, and distinguish the East from the West. There is no question of imitation, for L. Adams Beck was publishing her Oriental stories before Mukerji emerged into print. This Englishwoman’s power to present and to interpret the soul of the East would seem to rise from depths of spiritual kinship and sympathy unexplainable in terms of psychology or of race.
The format and binding of the volume are so conveniently harmonious that it is most unfortunate to be obliged to add that there are inexcusable errors in the typesetting and proofreading.1
  1. Since corrected by a new printing. — THE EDITORS