The Art of Reminiscence

I AM glad that Memories and Vagaries by Axel Munthe (Dutton, $3.00) in not a continuation of The Story of San Michele. That book was a beginning and end in itself — or so at least the casual reader believed. It was really not a beginning. In 1898 the first English edition of Memories and Vagaries was published, and within its pages appeared a number of the San Michele characters: Archangelo Fusco, the street sweeper of Quartier Montparnasse, the Salvatore family, Don Gaetano, the organ grinder, and Sceur Philomène. The book is now reprinted in the I nited States. Dr. Munthe, in what is styled ‘Preface to the third English edition,’says that benevolent readers of San Michele ‘have come forth with a gallant attempt to rescue this little book from oblivion. I fear I have not done very well for myself by consenting to a reprint of these small sketches or stories, or whatever they are to be called. They were all written long, long ago by an inexperienced hand in rather indifferent English.'
We have met this theme before. The new illustrated edition of The Sea and the Jungle, by H. M. Tomlinson, contains his own account of rereading it after nearly twenty years. He feels that it was written by a younger man, out of a mood and circumstances irrecoverable, and all but disclaims its authorship. It is true: Dr. Munthe is two authors in one. But the style of his earlier volume is not perfected. Here is a younger doctor who has not yet climbed the tower beyond tragedy. The reader will find apparent a certain recklessness and jocular ease utterly absent in his later book. His adventures are of the same sort: but in the recounting there is not much subtlety, and not tlie first trace of that calm resignation. Perhaps the account of Monsieur Alfredo is the most striking. The older writer would have done it better, and that is the best critical estimate one can offer for the book as a whole. Supplement to The Story of San Michele, is it not? Or perhaps, more simply, intimations of a great book.
Mr. E. F. Benson has joined a long line of Victorian reeolleetors with a loosely written volume entitled As We Were (Longmans, Green, $4.00). We have had a good deal of this: usually critical, like The Beardsley Period, and occasionally anecdotal, like the luxuriant reminiscences of Richard Le Gallienne. Mr. Benson’s book is something of both, and any student of the English Victorian writers will find there many of the old familiar quips and more or less the old familiar estimates. I wish there were more about the Benson family, to which the early part of the book is devoted; but the personal contact seems early to have been lost, and the sketches of Tennyson, Oscar Browning, Gladstone, Robert Browning, Lady Londonderry, Oscar Wilde, Swinburne, Whistler, and other notables are a middling mixture of personal opinion and accidental gossip. The interesting things are nearly all occasional. Does Mare Connelly remember that Salomé was banned from the London stage because it presented Biblical characters?
The treatment of Swinburne as a whole seems to me but a poor echo of Max Beerbohm s ’No. 2, the Pines,’ but in the chapter on Cambridge there occurs an interesting anecdote about him and Dr. Jowett: ‘Strangely enough, in a man [Dr. Jowett] who had spent so many years in studying Greek, be was by no means accurate, and knowing his frailty in this regard, he had his translation carefully revised by other scholars. Among these (though I think the Master does not mention him by name) was the poet Swinburne: probably Swinburne was only an occasional reader of his proofs, when he was staying with the Master at Balliol. But, there was a certain humour about the situation, for Swinburne had left Oxford without taking a degree. . . .
‘One morning the Master was in his study going through with their authors the English essays which the undergraduates had sent in for his perusal and criticism: Swinburne was sitting, with proofs of a Platonic dialogue, in a small adjoining room, the door between the two being open. It was the Master’s habit sometimes to make rather withering remarks to these young essayists, and today one of his most biting observations was interrupted by a joyful crow of laughter from the next room and Swinburne’s exultant voice exclaiming, “Another howler, Master!” “Thank you, Algernon,” said the Master meekly, and gently closed the door.’
Things like that are valuable in any book, and I should gladly read through ten old saws to come upon it. The trouble with Mr. Benson’s volume is that it does n’t penetrate. What was under it all? What was behind it? It is too much like Mr. Gladstone’s criticism of George Eliot’s Life: ‘a reticence in three volumes.’
DAVID MCCORD
A. MODERN architect was recently inveighing against publishers generally for manufacturing books too large for the contracted walls of our city apartments. Pianos and libraries, he said, would soon be things of the past. But what is the publisher to do when an author sends in a manuscript of 225,000 words?