The Contributors' Column
PHOTOGRAPHS of the trim little Tagua at her moorings in San Francisco show her to be hardly bigger than a cockleshell, while pictures of Robert Dean Frisbie, Captain Andy Thomson, and their Kanaka shipmates suggest that there must have been good nature aboard even in the roughest weather. E. Bax writes of the American Embassy in London from intimate experience of many years. William Preston Beazell says of himself: ‘I took my first newspaper job the day after I was graduated from college thirty-two years ago. As reporter, city editor, editorial and political writer, I spent thirteen years in Pittsburgh. Twenty years ago this spring I came to New York, and the World, where I spent eleven years as a reporter and eight and one-half years as day managing editor. For seven years I have been a teacher of journalism at Columbia University — and I loved every day I spent as a newspaperman!’
Emilio Lussn describes a unique escape, for, up to the present, Captain Lussu, Francesco Nitti, and their party have been the only prisoners to elude the Fascist guards on Lipari. Dr. Herbert Busher writes from St. Paul, Minnesota. ∆ The initials R. S. guard the literary personality of one who seems to us indisputably a poet, although eminent in a quite different profession. Joseph Wood Krutch, whose well-remembered papers on the Modern Temper brought him to the front line of contemporary critics, has recently been awarded a Guggenheim fellowship. M. Roy Ridley writes as a fellow and tutor of Balliol College, Oxford. Sherry Mangan formerly edited a small magazine of modernist tendencies, but in ‘Thirteen’ writes a story of universal humanity. Eleanor Risley concludes the adventure of the abandoned orchard with appropriate triumph. ∆ Daughter of a mural painter and wife of a professor of history, Helen Garnsey Haring writes of an experience that will touch the lives and sympathies of many. An accomplished classicist, Anne C. E. Allinson pays homage to the immortal Mantuan in the year of the two thousandth anniversary of his birth. Summerfield Baldwin — somewhat tongue-in-cheek, we suspect — applies the Spenglerian method to America. ∆ We feel especially privileged to present to Dallas Lore Sharp’s many devoted Atlantic friends this last paper from his pen. M. A. DeWolfe Howe is acting as Consultant in Biography at the Library of Congress in Washington. Anna Louise Strong has been an intimate observer of the Soviet régime in Russia, Central Asia, and China. William Ernest Hocking is Professor of Philosophy at Harvard and a keen student of current affairs.
Readers of Miss Vida D. Scudder’s paper on ‘The Franciscan Adventure’ in the June Atlantic may have been startled to learn that the Zealots ‘ransacked the Church Fathers in support of their wives.’ The sentence stood correctly in the galley proof which was read by Miss Scudder and by the Atlantic’s proofreader. But in the later processes of printing, a word dropped out, and its separate letters were restored in a new order by the printer. The Zealots, of course, did not have wives, but they had views, and it was their views that they ransacked the Fathers to support. The Atlantic hopes that the unfortunate error will not perpetuate a misapprehension about the more austere division of the Franciscans, and very much regrets the misrepresentation to which Miss Scudder’s distinguished scholarship was unwittingly subjected. _
Mrs. Langer’s terse imperative, ‘Just Think,’ seems to have accomplished its object in some quarters at least, although, with the characteristic anarchism of the truly thoughtful, her commentators disagree.
SAINT STEPHEN’S COLLEGE DEAR ATLANTIC, - Cheers! Cheers!
Mrs. Langer’s article in the May issue is worth a whole year’s subscription money. There are others of us who in the colleges must deal with the myriads of victims of current educational malpractice and do our best to revivify intellects long narcotized by the project methods and orientation courses and other rubbishy devices characteristic of the painless education increasingly common in the schools. We have been listening with increasing anger to the chants of those ‘educational scientists’ who are rapidly taking over and making over the training of our young, and who regard all who respect the human reason, or human intuition, as hopeless mediævalists to be dismissed with a tolerant smile. Almost nobody in public retort has been calling these ‘experts’ the names they so richly deserve. Mrs. Langer’s article is the more refreshing for the long delay. At the sound from the trumpet the seven thousand who have not as yet bowed the knee to Baal may with more courage rise up to approach Mount Carmel, in the name of Reason and the Absolute!
But let all those who would join the cohorts of the Lord and His prophet consider well what would happen were we again seriously to promote thinking among the people. Suppose that we were able to turn out into America ten thousand persons a year capable of thinking and skilled in the same. What would they not do to the tariffmongers, for instance, and to the pseudo-philosophical dogmatism of Professor Harry E. Barnes, and to prohibition, and to that humanitarian and sentimental benevolence which has in most Americans replaced religion, and to the antics of demo-plutocracy! Would it be good for America to have trained intellects? Might that not result in our being like those wanderers of yore who found themselves in Circe’s domain, recognizing that their environment, while luxurious, was indeed a little piggy, restless to escape the enchantment?
No, there is too much dynamite in thinking, the dynamite of discontent with a Ford-Hooverized world. We have right now the very best sort of education for the security of things as they are. There is no help for it: Mrs. Langer and the rest of us absurd people should be blacklisted by all true patriots.
BERNARD IDDINGS BELL
PHILADELPHIA, PA. DEAR ATLANTIC, - Mrs. Susanne K. Langer in the May Atlantic accuses secondary teachers of dealing too much with facts and not enough with abstract thinking. I wish to offer a defense.
We do teach — or try to teach — facts. After all, are they not the raw material of thought? On what else is abstract thinking to be based if it is to have any validity? Does n’t any scientist worthy of the name establish his facts first and draw his conclusions later? Does n’t any other method lead to the loosest kind of thinking? As to opinions, my students have the most definite and all but unshakable ones on political questions, frequently — I might almost say generally — hardly even colored by the faintest trace of authentic information. It is this very difficulty that I am struggling to correct. If I can open their minds to a few facts, even if they are only ‘alleged’ ones, and then teach them to modify their thinking in the light of them, I shall feel that I have succeeded in a worthy cause.
Adolescence is the age when the students’ interests are wide rather than deep. At its beginning it is a collecting age, whether of information or of postage stamps. As he grows intellectually, the student reaches a stage where he can make an orderly arrangement of his material; but philosophy is generally understood to belong to a later age.
I was interested to note the type of general problem that Mrs. Langer thinks should be considered in high school: ’Where do historians get their information?’ Why, by the time our students are juniors, if not before, they have been introduced to the difference between source and secondary material. ‘How far back does history go? ’ Any student of early European history finds himself exposed to the earliest known date and is probably given a liberal dose of anthropology just for good measure. The main purpose in teaching history, it seems, should be to make the student realize that the world we live in is an inheritance from the past. Why, bless us, that is just what we thought we were doing. Any student of mine who thinks that history begins with Columbus or even with the Greeks and Romans had better keep it a deep, dark secret from his teacher. We call all that just simple information, not abstract thinking.
There is a difference to-day between conservative and progressive schools. Perhaps the unsatisfactory students mentioned in the article were trained in schools where lists of dates and names of kings still make up the daily diet. Progressive teachers begin with facts and have the greatest respect for them, but continue from these in an effort to teach the student how to use them. Our results are feeble, perhaps, because no one yet seems to have invented a reliable formula for teaching people to think; but at least we realize that a collection of facts, valuable as we consider that to be, is, after all, only a beginning.
His head bloody but unbowed, the Office Iconoclast stands aside to let Mr. Griswold have the last word.
DEAR ATLANTIC, - It is almost beyond human nature to let the Office Iconoclast, despite his much appreciated compliment concerning my article, ‘ Pseudorealism,’ go unscathed for the criticism he took three columns to expound in the May Atlantic. What particularly annoyed the writer of the article with regard to this criticism was to be hauled over the coals for not having discriminated between writers of undoubted literary merit and mere popular scribblers. He felt he had guarded himself against this particular criticism by saying he had chosen his illustrations ‘haphazardly,’ without regard to literary merit and wholly from the point of view of what seemed to him their unjustified indecent passages.
Perhaps the writer should have made it still more clear that he was concerned with certain fairly widely read authors, good and bad, from a single aspect. He would be delighted, if the Atlantic were disposed to pay for his opinions, to pen an appropriate eulogy, for example, of Marcel Proust; but the point remains that, delightful as much of Proust’s work is, he obtrudes needless scenes now and again (and even in the lauded Swann’s Way) that are dirty beyond dispute, and throughout his entire series he displays a morbid fascination for unwholesome morals that makes his books profoundly distasteful. Also, no amount of learned commentary will render palatable to a healthy taste certain pages of James Joyce’s Ulysses.
It is silly nowadays to pretend to be shocked by anything; and the whole point of the paper on Pseudo-realism was merely to protest, not that these ‘daring’ modernists are shocking anybody with regard to moral problems that are matter of common discussion, but that they are offending good taste by needless indecencies.
‘What has become of Hilda Rose?’ is a perennial inquiry. The following messages received by her faithful friend Dr. Hobart paint a telling picture.
FORT VERMILION, ALTA.December 11, 1929
DEAR DR. LADY, - The letters are piled up and I have so little time, as Daddy is in such poor health and takes hours every day of patient nursing when he has his poorly spells. Between these he is quite chipper, though gradually failing in strength. Karl and I do the work and the chores. They keep us busy. I try to teach Karl something new each day. To-day we learned about the Koran and how it came to be written, and this evening he is writing to a boy in far-away Hawaii who wrote to him.
This winter is more lonely than ever, as only two trappers are still on this side of the Fort, with 150 miles to themselves. They are catching nothing to speak of and live on wild chickens and squirrels.
The four dogs keep us company. When the cold came they begged to come in, and now they sleep beside the heater, while the thermometer drops so it takes me a couple of minutes to figure out how cold it is as the mercury creeps into the bulb at the bottom. It is only 46 degrees below zero to-night and the stove is very hot and comforting, while the percolator is perking me a nice cup of hot coffee.
My grubstake is ample for our needs and we eat tremendously in this cold place. It is hard sledding yet for me, and I am often discouraged, but not for long. Karl is such a comfort and a wonderful boy, so different from other boys in many ways. He is more mature than is usual at his age, and so much depends on him that he acts and talks more like a man than a child.
Though the pups are only a little over eight months old, they are big dogs and Karl is training them this winter. Two of them pull real well already. They will make a dandy team.
No henhouse yet. Had to put the twenty hens and two roosters in the little well-house. It is made of logs with a dirt roof. The well is in one corner and the rest of the space fenced off with chicken wire for the hens. The hens are warm, dry, and comfortable, though the place is small. They are not laying, but they are happy to be in out of the cold. They talk to me when I feed them and I tell them I will make them a better henhouse by and by.
When Karl and I were doing up the chores this afternoon he went to the cabin frequently to put wood in the big heater so Daddy would be comfortable. When he came back to me I was in the well-house with my hens. He said, ‘Mother, it’s nice to have Daddy — like talking to a visitor. We have good times talking to Daddy, don’t we?’
December 18. — Christmas mail is not in yet. We think that perhaps settlers who have horses may be traveling with the carrier. Several settlers have been at the end of rail for months, as the big steamer was wrecked on a sand bar and no one could bring them down. The mail should not take so long now that one third of the road is finished. The mail leaves on the first of December and has been on the way nearly three weeks. It will be a break in our lives when we hear once more from the outside.
December 22. — No mail yet. Extremely cold and growing colder. We live from day to day and keep the stove roaring night and day. It is quite comfortable in the cabin, though not so easy to do the chores.
From the Warden of Smith College.
DEAR ATLANTIC, - Mrs. Lee’s article in the April Atlantic on ‘ Censoring the Conduct of College Women ’ is of interest — for one reason because of the presumption behind its appearance that people outside are interested in the inside problems of colleges, and for another because it testifies to the fact that in women’s colleges more than in men’s the social life is still in transition. The restrictions of the female seminary are past, — sometimes still casting a shadow? — but the freedom of the men’s colleges has not been reached.
To understand the regulations of the conduct of women students, the past and future have to be reckoned with. How soon and how safely can the colleges emerge from society’s timorous hold over girls? How much can they use the growing freedom of women in the world to set the standard for girls in the colleges? It is easy to say there are too many regulations, and doubtless it is often true. But no one generation of college students alone, however equipped with training in psychology and mental hygiene, is ready to handle the discard. The difference in the social life in men’s and women’s colleges, the claims of individual versus group, the preparatory nature of college life for future work, all have to be studied if haste is to be made wisely. Happily, two people with complementary points of view are at the task — the student and the dean. Where they are working together progress is hopeful.
The conduct of women in the colleges is, one recognizes, a part of the whole current question of refashioning of women’s work and freedom.
LAURA W. L. SCALES
‘I too have been in Arcadia.’
TORONTO, ONTARIO DEAR ATLANTIC, - Bradford K. Daniels’s delightful story of his boyhood, which appeared in the April number, aroused nearly forgotten memories.
Mr. Daniels does not say in so many words where his birthplace is, but from his description of places, people, and customs it seems to me that I have little difficulty in recognizing it. It is the beautiful and historic Annapolis Valley of Western Nova Scotia. I might even venture so far as to hazard a guess that the scene of his boyhood was in the western part of the Valley, probably in the vicinity of Bridgetown, or between there and Annapolis Royal.
I, likewise, spent a considerable part of my early life in that Arcadian region, but, unlike Mr. Daniels, was not born there. He is a true son of the Valley, whereas my family were aliens, in a manner of speaking. We were newcomers mainly of Scottish Jacobite ancestry, while our neighbors were descended from New England Loyalists who came there after the American Revolution and whose attachment to kings dated no farther back than the House of Hanover.
The Valley, as I remember it in the nineties, might be described as a New World Arcady. It had the historic background of a romantic past. The landscape had a touch of the idyllic charm we associate with that idealized land of ancient Hellas. The summer and autumn were delightful and the winter not too cold; the spring inclined to be rather rainy, and was the most unpleasant season.
Nobody was rich; the possession of eight or ten thousand dollars constituted wealth in those days, and no one was destitute of the necessities of life. Everyone worked, but not too hard, and could always find time to attend a camp meeting, a horse race, or a fair, as his fancy might dictate. The people were strongly religious, but time had mellowed the rigid puritanism of their forefathers and religious bigotry was unknown in that favored land.
It was truly a happy valley in those now distant times, and may be still for aught I know, for, like Mr. Daniels, I have long since left it.
In closing I thank him, for, in re-creating his own boyhood, he has given me back also something of my own.
J. A. REID
POULTNEY, VERMONT DEAR ATLANTIC, - I was so interested in what one of your recent contributors had to say with regard to old New England speech that it set me thinking of some of the old phrases that I had learned from my forbears, who have lived and died New Englanders since the first among them was ‘a yeoman of Massachusetts Bay Colony under His Majesty King George.’
One terse word descriptive of a very lazy, dirty, neglectful housewife is ‘slutchikin’.’ Never having seen the word in print, I may not be correct in my spelling, but about the sound of it on the lips of an energetic forceful old Yankee housekeeper I am very sure. In direct contrast there is the woman who has ‘gumption’ or ‘faculty,’ the two words expressing much the same meaning.
When a real old Yankee says ‘clever’ he does n’t mean ‘brilliant’ or ‘witty.’ He says, ‘That’s a clever dog, he won’t bite anybody,’ or ‘That’s the cleverest horse I ever had’ — meaning that the animal in question is docile and gentle.
I have heard a husband described as ‘kine of a meechin’ clever man,’ and very likely the wife of that same man might be characterized as a ‘Mrs. Step-an’-Fetch-It,’ which name probably needs no explanation.
Do modern city dwellers know that to many an old farmer green vegetables are ‘gardin-sass’? Or that ‘ sparrow-grass ’ and ‘ pussley ’ are two of those same ‘sasses’?
Old Vermont farmhouses had no refrigerators or pantries. Instead were the spring-house and the buttery. Over the ell or the woodshed of such a house would be an open space usually called ‘up-chamber.’ There all sorts of things might be stored, including great bunches of dried herbs. And from the herbs ‘up-chamber’ it is only two flights ‘down-sullar,’ where the switchel, the mead, and the cider barrel were often found.
About the first two drinks I can only say that they accompanied the haymakers into the field in stone crocks, being sunk in a spring or brook to keep cool, and that the chief ingredient of the one was molasses, and of the other honey.
EMMA WILLARD LITTLE
Perhaps apropos of a reference to metheglin in our columns, St. Julien R. Childs sends us these unsigned verses, copied from the South Carolina Gazette of September 13, 1735, ‘containing the freshest Advices Foreign and Domestick.’
‘FOR THE HONOUR OF OLD ENGLAND’
The Indian rum most mighty;
The Welch man sweet metheglin quaffs,
The Irish aquavitae.
The French extol the Orleans-grape
The Spaniard tipples sherry;
The English none of these escape,
For they with all make merry.
The Spaniard’s constant to his plume,
The French inconstant ever;
But, for the best old hats of all,
Give me your English beaver.
Some love the rough, and some the smooth,
Some great and others small things;
But, oh! your liquorish Englishmen
They love to deal in all things.
The Italian with her siren voice,
Scotch lass, and Holland fro too;
The Spanish ruff, the French madam,
They will not fear to go to.
Nothing so strange or dire they dread,
Tho’ lodg’d within the centre;
No fashion, health, no wine, or wench
On which they will not venture.
Was Richardson a great man? Few people, seeing him so pleasantly demolished by Mr. Krutch, would say so. A prude, with a tradesman’s conception of virtue, proud of the humility with which he looked up to the world of fashion, whose glittering wickedness he lovingly tried to depict even while arrogating the right to pass moral censure on it, he stands exposed, when Mr. Krutch has polished him off, with little to cover his nakedness. Was he a great writer? If a writer cannot be great who goes unread, then it was well that Richardson did not have to wait for posthumous flattery. Can a noise be a big noise if no one hears it, or even a noise at all? If not, then the once authoritative thunders of more of our classic English novelists than Richardson have shrunk to silence, for it must be admitted that their fulminations now go off largely in vacuo. How many to-day are acquainted with the sound of Scott or George Eliot, or — but no, it would be unkind, ungenerous, to continue the list. At least we may say that under the proper circumstances the potential detonation is terrific.
And so with Richardson. It is easier to expose the faults of the man than the merits of his books. It takes at least as much courage to stop reading him as to begin. When all is said and done, the spell that sustains us in the round of human life is the spell of trivialities. Men will labor valiantly day after day at tasks on which important consequences hinge, but what really interests them is the freedom to hit a ball or tease a fish over the week-end which they have gained by their toil. If other interests were lacking, life could be kept from extinction by watching a fly to see whether it would cross a crack in the floor or turn aside. Richardson filled his books with a multitude of trivialities and petty expectations, and so paralyzing are the toils in which he gradually winds the reader that presently only a strong and brave man can burst his way out and fling the story aside. Of course Richardson had an advantage that life seems frequently compelled to do without. He kept a major climax always in reserve, and made his trivialities an obstacle race through which the reader had to toil with increasing fury to win the grand award. It is part of the spell of his books to see how long the man can keep from doing what he is obviously, from the outset, going to do. Even this has the drawback of allowing the reader to skip two volumes and find the situation unchanged.
A writer is great who has a large control of life, and, reluctant as one is to admit it, an astonishing amount of life is contained in Richardson’s volumes. It seems intolerable that the miserable little prig should have had the stuff in him to make books with life between their covers. But it was so. Even his gross and palpable misrepresentations have life. They are the sort of misrepresentations that abound in every age of society, and make up the sentimental transcript of the world that informs the simple with delusions of grandeur.
It is nothing new for a great man to be a prig. Bearing in mind the lessons of modern biography, a great man might be defined as a notably disreputable, inconstant, or eccentric fellow who, for reasons that do not appear, produced large and lasting effects on the course of the race. But a satisfactory criterion of greatness is not an easy thing to propound. Fundamentally, perhaps, the test is this one of effects. That man is great whose acts or thoughts have widely and profoundly influenced his fellows. But this would admit inventors of all sorts of devices that have transformed industrial or social life, and often these men are neither great men, in common opinion, nor perhaps even great mechanics. For another test of greatness is preeminence in a given science or pursuit. Archfiend and archbishop are simply preëminent specimens of their kind. Not many people would deny that Keats was a great poet, but the question whether he was a great man would bring divided opinions. It depends, among other things, on one’s view of the value of poetry. But however greatness is to be judged, it has never been a foe to idiosyncrasy. Men may be great and yet be tight with their money, obsequious, vain, timid, jealous, or what you will. They may even be prigs. Byron was a great poet, and a man with admirable and charming qualities. Yet he had a vein of depravity that worked cruelties past, belief on others and on himself. Goethe was bland and complaisant with petty princelings; Beethoven rough and a boor. If there is no opinion so fantastic that it has not been upheld by some philosopher, there is no quality so inconsistent that it has not been exemplified by greatness. It is all part of the charm and oddity of a diverse world. Worshipful readers of biography sometimes indignantly deny this to them embarrassing fact, or if they cannot deny it, put the blame on the biographer as a sneering, iconoclastic fellow who presumes to criticize his betters without first learning to respect them. Often enough cheap use is made of the oddities or vices of the great for the sake of a succès de scandale. But the biographer who denies his readers a knowledge of the rich and varied spectacle of human behavior as it displays itself in all its delightfully shocking spontaneity is denying them the whole color and truth of history. There is no need to be alarmed or distressed because the past can show its peccadillos and the great their eccentricities. These all belong to the proportions of the world as it is, and so many of us pass our whole lives without ever an unprejudiced look to see what really exists on earth that it would be a pity for those who have it in their power to enlighten us merely to blind us further.
No, it is hard to deny, despite the débris which Mr. Krutch makes of his personal qualities and his moral ideas, that Richardson was at least in a qualified sense a great writer. But then, it is about equally hard to maintain that he is much worth reading.
THE OFFICE ICONOCLAST