The Contributors' Column
Mr. Sedgwick, editor of the Atlantic, has just returned from several months of interesting travel in the Orient. ∆ While The Deserter’s identity must remain a secret, the Atlantic has satisfied itself that the facts of his story are as he relates them, and that he speaks sincerely. ∆ A Tourist in Spite of Himself, appropriately illustrated, will soon be published by the Atlantic Monthly Press to take its place among the works of A. Edward Newton. It will contain all the pilgrimages recorded in the magazine, and more besides. The illustrations, by Gluyas Williams, are not from photographs, as you can see.
Alma Lutz has always been interested in the woman’s movement. Her preoccupation with the economic side dates back to discussions regarding the minimum wage law for women many years ago in North Dakota with her father, a former legislator. After graduating from Vassar in 1912, she worked for suffrage, and is a veteran member of the Council of the National Woman’s Party. ∆ The fires of India were fanned to white heat when
Katherine Mayo published her Mother India. Miss Mayo criticizes, but does not rail. This paper is no ‘attack’ on Mahatma Gandhi, but an informed and careful commentary upon his recent activities.
Howell Vines comes from the Alabama he writes of. Ernest Poole is a New York novelist and short-story writer. Robert Hillyer’s eighth book of poems is to be published this fall by the Viking Press. Lillian Brand has taught a great variety of children, white and black, in a number of schools, but her work has largely been with delinquents. At present she is teaching in the Negro section of Los Angeles. ∆ Alpine climbers are a race as distinct as book collectors or anglers. Elizabeth Knowlton has tried to give, for those who do not belong to the select company, a picture of a typical climb as seen by the performer. ∆ We leave Robert Dean Frisbie and his fellow voyagers in midPacific until another month. The Reverend William Orchard states that he speaks for no group, but a large number of the so-called Catholic party in the Anglican Church are accustomed to look to him as a leader.
In his story of the lamp, Alexander Irvine reverts to his early years in Ireland, other episodes of which he related in the remarkable autobiography which Atlantic readers of recent months will remember. Ellis Parker Butler has for many years rendered valued service as an officer of the Authors’ League. ∆ The passage of the Hawley-Smoot Tariff Bill at a time of widespread depression, when the value of foreign trade was becoming more and more obvious, gives especial point to the study of Europe as a market by Francis P. Miller and H. D. Hill, who gathered their material during several years’ residence abroad. Lieutenant Melvin F. Talbot (S.C.), U. S. N., writes as follows: —
I have always been struck by the conflict between the only point of view which the honest and faithful soldier can take, preparation for immediate victory, and the equally sincere human point of view that seeks eventually to rid the world of the menace and the symbol of war. It seems to me that the London Treaty is a broadly conceived via media between the inherently hostile conceptions, for it gives defense to all nations, preponderance for victory to none. Soldiers everywhere seem fated to be forever straining for victory with the statesmen of the world holding on to their coat tails.
The thesis which I wanted to bring to the public is that the honest soldier cannot, in his competitive war preparations, be bound by treaties, that he usually ‘beats the game’ by technical advances despite any limits, and that the road to peace lies in some form of armed internationalism, rather than in trying to restrict the armaments which are part and parcel of unrestricted nationalism.
If this be treason, let them make the best of it. I am on the side with many famous men, whose names wall live long after the present United States Senate is forgotten.
Los ANGELES, CALIFORNIA
The man has been murdered. Mr. Hergesheimer says so. He is dead. The reader, the novelist, the two women, and the friend who brings them the terrible news, all know he is dead. But the author, putting the wife, now the widow, in the third person, paraphrases her grief-stricken words thus: ‘She must be with her husband. If he were dead, he was still her husband.’ And so on. Now, what is wrong with this, with the English of it? If you cannot see the error of syntax, this letter is especially for you, though I hope it will meet with the sympathy of those that do see it. For my part, the error halted me and greatly diminished for me the force of the passage. It implies that the dead man is not dead and creates an absurd conflict of ideas, making the widow’s distress fantastic, because she is not a widow after all; her husband is alive and perhaps not even hurt. With one little word the author has turned a tragic scene into a farce. What the woman said was, ’If he is dead, he is still my husband’; and the author should have written, ‘If he was dead, he was still her husband.’ By saying ‘were’ he has created an imagined condition, not a real one.
Not only Mr. Hergesheimer but most other writers spoil the sense in just this way, and it is a heavy loss to the English language to part with what little distinction it still makes between the indicative and the subjunctive mode. It is a useful distinction, very useful if the passage is important; and I beg the reader to observe the distinction and preserve it. A real condition should be expressed in the indicative mode, an unreal or imagined one in the subjunctive. In A Dictionary of Modern English Usage, H. W. Fowler tells us that the subjunctive ‘is entirely out of place in an if-clause concerned with past actualities and not answered by a were or would [should] be in the apodosis’ or result-clause. Yet so distinguished and penetrating an observer as Mr. John Galsworthy (in The Freelands) writes, ‘If the temper of this talk were trying to him, hardened at a hundred dinner-tables, what must it be to a young and ardent creature!’ The temper of this talk is a past actuality and the verb should be was.
’It is therefore as clear as any point of constitutional law can be that James the Second was not competent to appoint a commission with power to visit and govern the Church of England. But if this were so, it was to little purpose that the Act of Supremacy empowered him, etc.’ The King’s incompetency was a fact, and Macaulay’s verb should be was.
‘M. Berthelini walked through life like a child in a perpetual dramatic performance. If he were not Almaviva after all, it was not for lack of making believe. And he enjoyed the artist’s compensation. If he were not really Almaviva, he was sometimes just as happy as though he were.’ (‘Providence and the Guitar,’ Robert Louis Stevenson) Here we have a particularly clear example of the misuse of the subjunctive for the indicative, contrasted, in the same sentence, with the correct use of the subjunctive. M. Berthelini was not Almaviva, and R. L. S, should have written so as to show it, especially since that is the whole point of the charming tale.
But nearly all wrong uses of the subjunctive mode to express an indicative idea are found in indirect questions or questions placed in past time, generally introduced by ‘whether’ or ‘if.’
’He found the prompt-book, which he laid aside while he looked to see if his own copy of the play were all there.’ (The Story of a Play, W . D. Howells)
‘She wished to know if he were a nice young man and had any particular profession.’ (‘Louisa Pallant,’ Henry James)
‘One day a messenger arrived at her gate with the intelligence that Sir William Hervey was again at Casterbridge and would be glad to know if it were her pleasure that he should wait upon her.’ (‘The Lady Penelope,’ Thomas Hardy)
Why does this misuse occur? It is easy to understand the opposite misuse, of the indicative for the subjunctive, which is unpremeditated lowbrow, and not without justification. But what is the meaning of this pathetically careful highbrow blunder? What is the cause of the blind spot? Answer collect.
HOMER P. EARLE
What is a will-o’-the-wisp?
NEW HAVEN, CONNECTICUT
DEAR ATLANTIC, —
The April number of the magazine contains a very interesting story, ‘A Pagan Boyhood,’ in which Mr. Daniels describes the light which his mother saw moving across the fields toward a corner of the graveyard. He also states that the light appeared shortly after midnight and was always followed by another death in the B— family. He further says that he would like a hard-boiled explanation of what his parents saw.
I was born and brought up one mile north of the small village of South Britain, Connecticut. Frequently I walked from the village to my home in the evening, after the fog had begun to rise, passing a cemetery just at the edge of the village. Below the cemetery lies a sunken stretch of spongy land, partly enclosed by a broken embankment, and now used only for pasture of cows and horses. My father and others sometimes spoke of this depression as the basin of Lake Disappointment and told me of a time when the village built the embankment and harnessed a small lake in the expectation of making the village a manufacturing centre; but the embankment broke one night and the lake escaped, leaving only a swampy hole behind.
Invariably, on foggy nights, this basin is white with mist, and its chill penetrates the clothing of the pedestrian who passes by. My father has told me that one evening, while walking past the scene of Lake Disappointment, just below the cemetery gate, he saw a ball of light rise and float toward him across the road, within a few feet of his face, and then over an adjoining meadow. Whether it vanished there or floated out of sight I do not recall, but my father knew it must be a ball of fog called by the name of will-o’-the-wisp. Perhaps a scientist could tell us just what gives the peculiar light to this ball of fog.
ANNA HARRIET PIERCE
In Mr. Cram’s delightful paper, ‘The Last of the Squires,’he paid a deserved tribute to Metheglyn. Now Mr. Dienst, of Mexican Texas, tells us it is a name his county delights to honor.
Metheglyn Creek of Hell County [he writes] is the only creek, so far as I can learn, in the United States bearing its name. The account of how it got its unique name I have derived from old-timers familiar with the naming, and just this year the facts as given below were confirmed to me by the son of the pioneer Morrison.
One of the oldest pioneer settlers of Bell County was a ranchman named Morrison. He settled in the extreme northwest part of Bell County, and his land extended into Coryell County. His home was close to an unnamed creek. Like many other pioneers of unexceptionable character, he was inclined to imbibe too freely at times. His wife never called him by any other name than ' Honey,’ a fact well known to the neighbors. One day his wife asked ‘Honey’ to fetch her a bucket of water from the creek. He was pretty well ‘shot when he leaned over to fill the bucket and fell into the creek. A waggish neighbor who witnessed the accident instantly christened the creek ‘ Metheglyn,’ — a mixture of honey and water, — and Metheglyn Creek has been the name ever since.
Metheglyn was a favorite improvised drink of Texas pioneers. It was a mixture of honey and water, boiled, fermented, and then spiced to suit.
What we can learn from medicine abroad.
NEW YORK CITY
DEAR ATLANTIC, —
Dr. Reynolds’s article, ‘How Necessary Is Illness?’ in the June Atlantic, is decidedly suggestive. In like manner we may turn to New Zealand, where infant mortality has been so markedly reduced through government leadership, and where they are now taking up a definite constructive study of maternal mortality.
The problem of the country district versus the hospital and the physician is always a moot question. In experienced eyes its handling has best been met by the organization in the state of Victoria, Australia. With the Melbourne Hospital acting as the organizing and administrative head, base hospitals are districted throughout the state, the size depending on the population of the community, and staffed from headquarters. In this way there is a close connection with the medical centre, so necessary for up-todate work, thus relieving the problems of making country practice sufficiently interesting to ambitious young doctors and caring for the patient by modern methods. Another system of preventive health work which has developed exceedingly well for the far-outlying districts is that of the ‘Flying Doctor.’ This airplane service has been particularly successful in Queensland, catering to a heretofore uncared-for group on the big sheep stations.
America has similar conditions which could be met in the same fashion.
Very truly yours,
E. F. WELLS
IN an appreciative letter to Mrs. Allinson, author of ‘Anima Candida,’ Mrs. Rudolph Altrocchi, herself an accomplished scholar, makes this interesting gloss on an allusion to the cone of Vesuvius.
In suggesting any correction in your beautiful paper I feel like the crass critic who wrote to Tennyson in an attempt to correct his line, —
Every moment one is born.
‘In future editions of your estimable poem I would suggest that you revise the line to read, with scientific’ correctness, —
For I have one slight revision to suggest. In Virgil’s sky line at Naples there was no ‘Vesuvian cone.’ A long talk with the seismologist who lives in his shack on the top of Vesuvius, and a drawing of his to illustrate his points, remain vividly in my mind. The volcano, at Virgil’s time, had been dead for over a thousand years, and with the gentle moulding of time had come to look like any other hill—a little higher, a little sharper, perhaps, but a quiet, green, innocuous hill on which unsuspecting flocks and herds grazed. In my notebook at home I have the Roman name for Vesuvius. Was it not Mons Besbius? It was, of course, the eruption which destroyed Pompeii that turned the hill into a half-hill, blowing off its top. The cone that we see has gradually been built up from the ejections from the crater.
This is all stupid and useless — but the explanations of the Neapolitan scientist interested me at the time, and I enjoyed, at that same time, picturing the bay as it must have looked to Lucullus in his villa on the site of ’Castello dell’ Ovo,’ to Horace and Virgil and to all the less learned habitués of Naples and frivolous Baia. Please forgive me!
Mrs. Haring, who so courageously set forth in our pages her own difficult problem for the help and encouragement of others, has received the appreciative and devoted thanks of many mothers.
STOCK BRIDGE, MASSACHUSETTS
DEAR ATLANTIC, —
Mrs. Helen Garnsey Haring’s article, ’Deficient,’ which appeared in your July number, rouses my sympathy and applause. She has succeeded in couching a tragically difficult situation in terms of intelligence, dignity, and pride, and her earnest intent to stir the general public to comprehension of such children should be encouraged. Out of what seems to be an identical experience I should like to range myself by her side, adding to her story the fact that the unawakened public in the home towns of deficient children have it unconsciously in their power to mar still further these helpless dwarfed natures, and to undo in an hour, by thoughtlessness or deliberate unkindness, the carefully built work of years; for such children, though deficient mentally, are not by any means insensitive. Unfortunately, the only ones who can make this appeal for tolerance are the parents themselves, who, before they can do this, must first rid them-
selves of the idea that any shameful stigma attaches itself to them for their misfortune, and must also reach the point of quiet acceptance of their problem.
My own experience has taught me that a frank and open explanation of facts, given with directness and simplicity wherever and whenever possible, changes an instinctive withdrawal from any abnormality, which by its strangeness is repellent or fearful, to interest, and brings to my son the sympathy he needs for his best development. He moves now quite readily about, the streets of his home town, meeting, instead of curiosity and jeering laughter, the protecting watchfulness of friends. The matter of explaining the situation to children presented difficulties at first until I asked them if they would laugh at a blind boy stumbling about the streets, or a boy who must hobble about on crutches. ’Ted’s illness, I learned to say, ’is not something you can see, but it exists, nevertheless, within his mind, and he should be helped and protected just as much as the cripple or the blind boy.’
ALICE ROSS COLVER
Pacifism is usually adopted for noble motives, or motives that the pacifist, at least, considers noble. The deserter who tells his story in this month’s Atlantic is a pacifist for motives that many will regard as ignoble. But those who are tempted to look on him with abhorrence had best make burnt offerings and purify themselves before sitting in judgment. Motives are the eels in the Noah’s Ark of human nature; they are not easily caught and held for inspection. If it. is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven, it is harder for any man to know what really prompts him to a given action.
All the men in the trenches were seared; not all who ran away did so from nothing but cowardice, and not all who stayed did so from nothing but courage. There is point in the deserter’s remark that he would rather be a physical coward than a moral one. But the pacifist is usually a humanitarian. In the course of his argument to the public, he may appeal to common sense, and cite the pure foolishness of wholesale destruction. He may point, out that the growing economic interdependence of the world demands peace no less than the conscience of mankind. Hut the roof of his appeal is emotional and idealistic. Common sense and practical necessity are brought in as means of persuasion. The deserter seems to reverse this course. He begins with common sense, and humanitarian feelings follow later if they follow at all. It is plain foolish to shoot or be shot. Carnage is flatly without a use or purpose. Argal, the sensible man turns his back on it.
In the last dozen years the common-sense view of war has made great progress. Large numbers of people — in some nations, perhaps, a majority — now believe in the abstract that it is foolish to shoot or be shot, that carnage serves no good end. Knowledge of the mutual economic dependence of all peoples has considerably spread, adding its preëminent influence to the campaign of peace. Now if ever the deserter should be able to find sympathetic readers. Sympathetic with his premises many of them will be; yet it is doubtful even to-day if more than a few will carry their sympathy to the point of approving of his act. Pacifists are supposed to be willing to lay down their lives for their belief, or, since the crown of martyrdom is not their usual reward, and never in public, to vanish quietly into jail for twenty years. If they object to shooting their fellows, they may hope for a qualified respect. But if they object, however honestly or courageously, to being shot, then their case is hard.
Yet a man has as much right to believe that others ought not to kill him as that he ought not to kill others, and there is no reason why one belief should be less honest than the other. The deserter’s position is unassailable, and if it is somehow disturbing and shocking, even after the general growth of sentiment against war, it must be because of deep-seated emotional attitudes and prejudices that have come down time out of mind through the human generations.
Some of the disturbance aroused by the deserter’s story may be, so to speak, historical. If war were to break out to-morrow, a vastly larger number of men would take his view of it, and act appropriately. The case arising afresh in this way, such men would command a much greater share of public sympathy. But in 1914 or 1918, the common-sense view of war had scarcely been heard of. In a real sense, international morality has changed since the experience of those years, and war would be a greater crime to-day, when knowledge of it has transformed our views, than it was then, when few questioned its place in the policy of nations, however sincerely they may have been shocked by its outbreak. In 1914, it did not seem foolish to shoot or be shot, and perhaps even the pacifist, realizing that the race must advance by historic lessons, may admit that it was not altogether so. In 1914, however vast grew the carnage, it was thought to be serving some purpose in civilization. Even now it is hard to read without a sense of shock the words of one who, at that time and in circumstances that are still fresh in our memories, took the flat, cold view that the struggle was more than anything else hideous foolishness and that the sensible man’s course was to use any means he could to preserve his life in the hope that it might be of some use to him later.
But there is perhaps a deeper and more genuine cause of uneasiness which the deserter’s story arouses, a lack or peculiarity of his character readily felt but not so readily identified. Perhaps, fundamentally, it is a lack of gregariousness. Most men have a rooted sense of belonging to some group, and are profoundly sensitive to the social reflections of their acts. This is not all mere conventionality and herd instinct. The sense of association with human beings we like and approve is to most of us infinitely precious, and without it life would hold little prospect of happiness. It is almost impossible that this sense of solidarity with others should fail to extend in some measure to the nation. Even those who think themselves most indifferent to the emotional spasms of patriotism cannot avoid some profound response to national tides of feeling. If thought and conscience compel a man to reject such national passions as false and injurious, a period of stress and bitter struggle sets in. He feels torn and distressed by the necessity of a choice that will set him apart from his fellows. From such conflicts has come the pacifism of noble motive, for which men were willing to sacrifice personal freedom or even life. Feeling a sense of community with the race, even in the violence of his disagreement, the pacifist sought to preserve as much as he could of the respect of his fellows, and was constrained at least to undergo suffering for his convictions as a measure of his sincerity.
The deserter seems to have felt remarkably little sense of belonging to any group; perhaps this was his tragedy. His individualism was carried to an extreme probably impossible for most men, and no doubt much of it was due to the conditions of his life. He tells us that he belonged to no school or university group whose traditions might have influenced his character. Born to the shop-keeping class, he longed from the beginning to break free from it. Apparently he had no family through which he might have felt the pressure of general opinion. His individualism was not altogether a divine gift. Circumstances had their hand in it.
If we may judge by his record, the deserter felt few bonds of association even with the men of his own class, men who had never played on the fields of Eton or taken the King’s shilling, and who yet accepted their conscription philosophically, allowed themselves to be hurried to the trenches, and fought it out doggedly until the job was finished. Had he felt any sense of community with them, he might not have worn his service button in applying for his first job after the war. This of all his acts most invites contumely.
Yet after all it was consistent with his whole position. He chose to run away, and felt no shame in saving himself. His mates chose to stay and fight it out, but they would have lost none of his respect if they had followed his course instead. Indeed, they would have gained in his esteem as sensible men. Why, therefore, should he defer to them in the later business of life, since in his own view he had as much right as they to make his way in the world?
Doubtless the deserter’s apologia would take something like this form; but what we look for in him and miss, what it might have been for his own happiness to possess, is loyalty. Loyalty is an instinctive virtue, and when examined in detachment it often enough seems full of absurdities. But we feel a deficiency in any man who is not loyal to some group, some friend, or at least some principle that transcends himself. The deserter seems to reject loyalty even to principle. He is true only to the instinct that tells him that his life is his own and that he is entitled to use it according to his own tastes and judgment. He easts doubt on the old saw of Polonius: —
And it must follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man.
The world owes an inestimable debt to the pacifists of noble motive who suffered for their belief that war is inherently wrong and that civilized men should not participate in it. If it had not been for men and women of this persuasion, who endured all sorts of penalties, from petty annoyances and serious disadvantages to actual loss of liberty and life, the pacifism of common sense and economic necessity would never have got its start and made its headway.
In the present world our chief security against war probably lies in this pacifism of common sense and growing knowledge of economic realities. Yet pacifism must always retain its humanitarian core to enlighten and to scourge the conscience of the race. We must always have those who see that if human life has any meaning or value at all of any kind, its organized destruction is a crime that we cannot permit. Probably no course can be so effective, so final, and so morally consistent as the plain refusal to participate in war, however its causes or ends may be beguilingly dressed.
But perhaps we owe a debt of some kind to the deserter as well. His flat, uncompromising common sense toward war helps to strip it of its deceits, to reduce the sense of its importance, and to bring it into still further discredit by adding one more chapter to the picture of its actualities. There is value in a candid picture of desertion, showing that the earth does not gape to swallow the offender, that it may be a course honestly chosen, that it is only an incident in a lifetime which may later be recalled and viewed with critical interest in the perspective of years. Other men could not have done as he did without making a breach with their own best beliefs, with the general sense of obligation to their fellows and to society which most men feel, and with their courage. But. the deserter had the defect or distinction of not sharing instincts that are the common property of others. His act was for him a fulfillment of his best perceptions and the destiny framed for him by his own character. In the gallery of human conduct his portrait occupies a useful place.
THE OFFICE ICONOCLAST