An Innocent Abroad

No one will dispute the fact that Ellis Parker Butler knows his guinea pigs. And, also, that he is apt to know when a thing is funny. His enthusiasm for his quizzical associate, A. Edward Newton, is an agreeable confirmation of the fact that experts do not always disagree.
WHEN I picked up this copy of A Tourist in Spite of Himself (Atlantic Monthly Press & Little, Brown, $3.50), I knew I was going to enjoy reading again a group of essays that gave me pleasure when I read them in a certain magazine. I had said to a friend but a day or two before, ‘There’s one thing you must read — “In Standardland,”‘ because the author, A. Edward Newton, had said in that essay such amusingly common-sense things about the United States with such a good-natured smile.
I found this and nine other of the essays in this book. It is hardly necessary to tell Atlantic readers anything about the Newtonian style and method. His method — he has n’t any, by the way — is that of a well-nourished and well-read gentleman named A. Edward Newton who starts out on a walk with a serious brow and a smile in his eyes, and with a cane hung over his arm, and stops to look in shop windows, stops to turn over a stone to see the human bugs scramble, stops to listen to a bird. He pokes things with his cane, goes into the first inn for refreshments, talks to aged night-watchmenporters, and returns with the seriousness off his brow and the smile on his lips as well as in his eyes. And he probably reaches home with a first edition in his pocket, picked up in a dusky bookshop.
In this way A. Edward Newton cheerfully perambulates through London and Paris and other foreign places, — ‘perambulate’ means ‘to inspect by traversing,’ — so that you hear of Dr. Johnson, Corona cigars, Woodrow Wilson, and the Folies-Bergère in Jerusalem, and the Pennsylvania Railway and Mr. Bryan in Rome. Nothing could be more pleasant than walking behind this unhurried Mr. Newton, seeing what he sees, getting glimpses of what he thinks, and hearing what he says to old ladies, vicars, policemen, and himself. And what they say to him.
I have always felt that the prime requirement of the essay, even more than of any other form of writing, should be readability, and these are essays that are readable whether taken from start to finish, from finish to start, from the middle both ways, or by scattered pages or paragraphs. This pleasant gentleman with the cane has any number of interesting things to say, some of them quite important, but — important or not — he makes them interesting. The way I felt about it was ‘Why, here is a book that can be read!’ and I felt it with relief after so many books that seemed to have been made to slam me in the face, gag me in the gullet, or jounce me up and down and leave me with a fractured cerebrum.
‘Why,’ I felt, ‘here is pleasant literature once more!’ But, since I had read most of the essays before, that did not fully account for the new pleasure they gave me in this book form, and it was not until I suddenly realized that the type and the page and the spacing of the lines were those of my favorite and excellent set of Thackeray that I knew why I was feeling this especial delight. It is a beautiful book in both type and paper, and as— probably — A. Edward Newton is not as ready with the pencil as Thackeray was, Gluyas Williams has been called in to do the amusing drawings scattered through the book in true Thackeray manner. They are delightful pictures, and, believe it or not, not one of the faces depicted is Bob Benchley’s. The illustrations become, by their appropriateness, a part of the book, and for that Mr. Newton should make Mr. Williams a suitable present — I would choose Mr. Newton’s cane if I were Mr. Williams; it has poked into many interesting corners and clicked on many amusing pavements.