by George H. Doran Co. 1927. 8vo. xiv+290 pp. Illus, $3.50.. New York:
SOME thirty years ago, just as Gamaliel Bradford was entering upon the long and honored career which has brought him the distinction of being the dean of American biographers, Marcel Schwob published a little essay on the art of biography. Not Marcel Schwob, but SainteBeuve, was Mr. Bradford’s master; but SainteBeuve himself I think could have expressed no better the peculiar genius that Gamaliel Bradford has perfected during these thirty years.
‘Les biographes ont malheureusement cru d’ordinaire qu’ils étaient historiens, Et ils nous ont privé ainsi de portraits admirables, ’ Marcel Schwob wrote. ‘L’art du biographe serait de donner autant de prix à la vie d’un pauvre acteur qu’à la vie de Shakespeare.’
As the subject of a human narrative, D. L. Moody might be worth at a maximum fifty of the three hundred pages Mr. Bradford devotes to his theme. Neither an innovator like Finney nor an organizer like William Booth, Moody in the long view of history is of no importance. Even granting him his own thesis and assuming that every one of the hundred million people be preached to was thereby saved, Moody’s utmost achievement would still be only a drop in the ocean of the human race through the ages.
But Gamaliel Bradford’s D. L. Moody: A Worker in Souls by no means depends either upon Moody’s greatness or upon the enduring value of his service. It does not depend upon Moody at all. It depends upon Mr. Bradford. The evangelist is merely the base line from which the author can fire, without too great a deflection, at targets of real and permanent significance. Here is Mr. Bradford’s charm, and more than charm, indeed — his priceless contribution to his generation and beyond. For he uses D. L. Moody, as before now he has used others, to illustrate with consummate aptness the point of a number of rare and penetrating essays upon topics thus directly related to life.
Foremost among those in this particular work is an invaluable study of the uses and perils of words which enjoys a section apart in Mr. Bradford’s chapter on ‘Moody the Preacher.’ ’It would be easy to maintain that words are the greatest power in the world, ’ says Mr. Bradford. And right he is. Nor is he exclusively concerned with the enchantment words put upon those to whom they are addressed. He is aware, too, of their terrible power over those who employ them. They beguile and betray; they tempt and corrupt. And if Mr. Bradford’s Moody stands out clear for any one especial virtue it is that the intoxication of words never overcame him.
On the whole, this study of an evangelist not only embodies an exposition of Mr. Bradford’s admirable biographical method, but is at the same time its justification. For only in a work of this detached and scientific character could an author write of the subjects under his microscope as Gamaliel Bradford writes of Moody and Sankey: —
‘We hear over and over again that they had no thought of self, and were only anxious to do something for the Lord. It may be so. Very likely they believed it was entirely so. All I can say is, if it was entirely so, they were very different from all the men I have been familiar with and profoundly different from me.’
From even so brief a citation it is clear, I think, that Mr. Bradford’s Moody is no mere biography in the usual acceptance. It is, instead, interpretation of the highest order. It is what Marcel Schwob said biography should be: the creation of human attributes out of chaos.