Lord Raingo

by Arnold Bennett. New York: George H. Doran Co. 1926. 12mo. x+383 pp. $2.00.
WISE in the world’s ways, Arnold Bennett’s wisdom has its fountainhead in human sympathy. He never liked the upper dog. His heart, or whatever may be the novelist’s substitute for that friendly organ, is always responsive to the suffering and difficulties of Little People; and when the Grand and Great have their own troubles with a grander and greater Providence, then Bennett, enlisted for the war, is all for human nature and all against the blundering justice of blindfold fate.
Until he began his own unequal battle with Providence, Lord Raingo was a very great man indeed. He had fought a poor boy’s fight for money and won. And the novelist, finding him rich and cynical, and with time on his hands, makes a politician of him, a cabinet minister and a lord; backs him to win against the shrewdest and sharpest in politics, gives him the mistress he covets and the popularity he craves, and finally fights an Homeric battle over his body against the damnedest that double pneumonia can do. If death could be balked, Bennett would balk it. He brings to his hero’s bedside every trick that science knows, and through a hundred pages fights over the prostrate Raingo as manfully as ever Achilles battled over the body of Patroclus. But death is strong.
As a man, Lord Raingo leaves much, no doubt, to be desired. Cynical, furtive, selfish, his door, pulled to, is not bolted against the generous fervor of patriotism, or even proof against the intensity of political loyalty. In the language of his age, he is a cool proposition. His real and adequate excuse for being is that he serves his creator as a perfect laboratory specimen of human nature. Bennett gets at the heart of him and into his marrowbones. Nothing of him that the reader does not perfectly understand. With him, as with the rest of us, to understand all is first to pardon and then almost to like.
Ten years ago, when the Great War turned even novelists out of their profession, Bennett served as a confidential secretary in the anteroom of the War Cabinet. Never document so secret he did not see it. Never debate in the lowest registers whose whisperings did not reach his intelligent ear. Always a connoisseur of human nature, there and then political human nature yielded up to him its last secret. You have but to talk with him to-day to meet as lucid a political intelligence as England holds. And how perfectly the political portraits in the book bear this out. We have known the originals in Punch these ten years past. Andy Clyth, the Prime Minister, with his business grip on the present and his mystical forecast of the future; his benevolent gray head as familiar to us as his eloquence, his energy, and the gross realism of his political creed. The book is a gallery of portraits, sometimes composite, sometimes almost individual. No wonder that it roused a temporary ruction! But behind, there is much about it that is enduring.
’I had a silly idea,’ remarked His Lordship, ‘that war would change human nature. For all human nature cares, a world war is just like company promoting.'
It was a big business which that war promoted, and the men who ran it were magnified diameters enough for us to see them very clearly indeed. And Bennett’s microscope tells the whole human story.