German After-War Problems/France
by Harvard University Press. 1927. 12mo. x+l26 pp. $1.50.. Cambridge:
by Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1927. 8vo. xi + 604 pp. $5.00.. New York:
PROBABLY no person in America is better qualified than Professor Francke to describe and interpret to the people of his adopted country the after-war aspects of the Germany where he was born. Within the field that appeals primarily to his interest — that of thought and morals — he has done this in a volume that can be read without fatigue in a single sitting, but that justifies more than one perusal. He writes in a mood mellowed by age and scholarship, and in what might be called a spirit of detached self-analysis: detached because American, yet self-analysis because consciousness of kinship with the nation whose fortunes form his theme never fades from his pages. Three of the four essays in the book have appeared in the Atlantic Monthly. It represents the garnerings of visits to Germany, in 1920, when she still bore numerous evidences of her unhealed wounds; in 1923, when the inflation crisis seemed to be dragging her into the abyss; and in 1926, when she was restored to the fellowship of Europe at Geneva.
Yet one must not expect to find here much about the physical and material features of German life, or even about politics and social movements. These must be conjectured from manifestations of the German mind, which is Professor Francke’s specific theme. Friedrich Wilhelm Foerster, the valiant Catholic teacher, whose voice was lifted courageously for peace in the very midst of his country’s war madness; Rudolph Steiner, who tried to wed mysticism to modern science in the anthroposophist cult; Hermann Keyserling, the globe-circling philosopher who needs no introduction to Americans; and Oswald Spengler, who has left a new and probably permanent imprint upon our conception of history, are noted as beacons marking great currents in the nation’s thought. These men and their doctrines, and lesser but still brilliant lights in her intellectual and literary firmament, serve as points of relation for illuminating observations that in their total give the reader a not inadequate picture of contemporary Germany.
Sisley Huddleston’s book is of an entirely different character. Written as a member of a series designed to describe the modern world, by an Englishman who knows France better than almost any other foreign writer, it conforms to a general model, and is presumed to embrace all the outstanding topics that the idea of the modern world evokes. Therefore it is mildly encyclopædic, though by no means to the point of dullness. The author dips back into history, but mainly to trace to their sources, in the earlier life and experience of France, traditions, institutions, and national traits conspicuous to-day in the country and its people. This theme, which occupies about one half of the volume, is interestingly treated, but it is likely to engage the average reader’s attention less than the following chapters, which focus, from both before and after, on the World War. We should hasten to say, however, that this is not a war book, The author does not range beyond his topic, which is France —and France primarily as a subject of to-day. Here, however, he enriches his narrative with a wealth of information such as only one of the best-informed and most scholarly journalists in Paris could possess, and his pages abound in keen and critical but not unkind passages, where insight gained from long and intimate acquaintance with the French, and above all with the working of their government, comes to the support of the kind of factual knowledge that might be gathered from books and from a more superficial familiarity with the country.
Mr. Huddleston is at his best in dealing with France’s public men and public affairs of to-day and the recent past. Not only does he write with first-hand authority upon these topics, which come closest to his personal experience and interests, but he has a knack for sorting out the tangled skeins of Parisian political intrigue and winding them on neat little bobbins where they can be inspected with a comprehending eye. Although he has had to subordinate somewhat such displays of skill in the present volume, they are not absent, and they add much to the lucidity and interest of his later chapters.
What is the impression of France that the book leaves on the reader? Perhaps one not radically different from that which has insensibly formed itself in the minds of most of us, but clarified and defined by ampler specifications than we have hitherto possessed. We see a nation handicapped by a misfit government, where ‘democracy as we understand it may have to find new channels of expression’; characterized intellectually by ‘a surprisingly widespread love of “general ideas, which differentiates the French from the AngloSaxons, and accounts for very much in their national life’; producing ‘the best soldiers in the world when they feel that they are fighting for a cause’; possessed of ‘a curious capacity for rejoicing,’ so that paradoxically ‘with the nimblest brains in the world goes an irrepressible need of enthusiastic manifestations’; thrifty and industrious, but lacking a certain gift for efficiency, so that ‘everywhere there is misemployment,’ and even the great emporiums of trade in Paris, masterpieces of commercial inspiration though they are, ‘indulge in an excess of unproductive labor.’ Nevertheless we carry away a vision of a grand and admirable nation, still Vigorous despite her cruel bloodletting, and promising continued greatness in the future,
VICTOR S. CLARK