Life and I: An Autobiography of Humanity

by Gamaliel Bradford. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co. 1928. 8vo. viii+306 pp. $3.50.
HAVING in previous psychographs so sympathetically clothed himself with his personalities, Mr. Bradford now assumes the ampler mantle of humanity, his justification therefor being the human spirit’s community of experience which allows an easy shift between its various localized body I’s. Disclaiming instruction, metaphysics, theology, scientific psychology, or reform as its matter, the book aims at a dramatic presentation of the ‘doings of the I’ in its persistent efforts both to affirm and to escape from itself in Love, Power, Beauty, Thought, and Religion.
An empirical, anthropomorphic psychologist, Mr. Bradford renounces formal exactness in favor of human interest., and perhaps conserves values which the laboratory cannot accommodate to its schemes and must therefore neglect. His analyses are never destructive disintegrations implying exhaustiveness. He always admits a generous area wherein human ‘novelty’ disports itself; and his capacity for amazement, despite modern sophistication, is as rare as it is graciously infectious — thanks to his insinuating ‘American.’
No preacher, yet an ‘adjuster-to-life’— the two have much in common. And undoubtedly a salty, tongue-in-cheek ‘reciter’ of real, or imaginary, persons, devoid of microor macrocosmic grudges as Mr. Bradford seems to be, who holds the mirror up to nature, to-day unconsciously appropriates unto himself spheres of influence inaccessible to the too deliberate, obvious, and hence ineffective efforts of clergy condemned to artificial situations.
The first four chapters strike one as being more adequate to their themes, however, than those on religion, and from the admissions of the author one might expect this to be the case. The protective armor, ‘purely personal impressions,’ applied to his psychograph of Jesus will probably serve to deflect the slings and arrows of justly enraged higher critics, and his philosophic and psychological disclaimers those of rigorists who might scout the idea of ‘a general human I that fills and makes the world,’ or who might exclaim ‘psychologist’s fallacy.’ As for his illustrations, some might suggest that Mr. Bradford grant an honorable discharge to many a wrinkled campaigner, and enlarge and modernize his forces.
Others might object that his generalizations at times come a bit too easily, and sound unconvincing. (Yet oftener how uncomfortably convicting they are!)
Curiously enough, although a libertarian, the author goes to experience with a formula, touches many regions, and, looking for the lurking I, finds it; and builds a book about the formula—admittedly a very comprehensive one. But since with fine inconsistency he makes certain exemptions (p. 271), he will doubtless grant to others the same privilege.
Religionists may find the presentations of Jesus and Christianity too literal, wooden, negative, frequently flippant, unsympathetically un-Bradfordan. Justice would require some mention of these as inspirers of beauty, and of their total expansive effects in history whether directly or indirectly produced. As drama, the tale is unresolved tragedy, brightened by grateful splotches of comic relief, but leaving the hero, humanity, still finally racked by his dilemma, asking from the universe only illimitable hope.
Out of the book emerge three problems of tremendous modern import: —
1. What are the prospects of relief from the smothering effects of our conscious ignorance, mounting in increasing acceleration with the advance of knowledge? Conversely there is the problem of the promiscuity of knowledge.
2. Considering the altered cultural climate, may we ever again expect a sweeping emotional revival of Christianity?
3. What is the outlook for personal theistic religion? And finally the question as to the greater survival potency of Roman Catholicism as against Protestantism.