THE usual obligations of life were not Arnold Bennett’s business. He was an artist, and his art was based on a knowledge of millions upon millions of definite, accurate, concrete facts. Facts, facts, facts — he was forever jotting them down, endlessly inconsequential, yet, when the time came, each dropped into its place like linotype on a Mergenthaler. He never felt a melancholy responsibility for the universe, like Hardy, nor, like Galsworthy, sought to distill an epoch into a few generations of Forsytes. Life to him was a concatenation of atoms piled God knows how or why. He liked to pick up a handful of the universe and, understanding every molecule of it, to set it perfectly and beautifully before the world. And best of all, he liked to be well paid for doing so.
Money was precious to him, and the frugality of his early life made oysters and champagne delicious to his palate, but his cockney soul needed beauty and battened on it. A ‘ripping’ aquarelle of Winslow Homer, the Chavannes of the Boston Public Library, ‘the most beautiful things in America,’ the ‘ thrill ’ of a chance chapter of Turgenev, a casual Bonington in the British Museum — his businesslike pulse leaped at the thought of them.
These Journals of his are formless and desultory, but the secrets of remarkable men are among the most interesting things in the world, and here are Bennett’s secrets. He may have meant to publish them, for he never wasted copy, but there is no ‘front’ here, no window dressing, nothing literary or artificial. He jots down the world precisely as he sees it. Nothing is sacred. Anguish and heartbreak are generalizations and a little abstract. What he wants is a picture to see and record — not a feeling of vague and useless sympathy. A railroad train is smashed, crushing passengers and crew: ‘ I had no desire of any sort to help. I held my bag and stick and did n’t want to be any more impressionné than I could help.’ When in 1914 the world exploded, Bennett notes that his electric light is in danger. A little later his mother lies dying: ‘ I remained with her for about an hour. She looked very small, especially her head in the hollow of the pillow. The outline of her face very sharp; hectic cheeks; breathed with her mouth open and much rumor of breath in her body.’ He might have been making a study for Hilda Lessways.
One would think, then, that his blood ran thin and cold. Not so. He felt the warmth of life in him, the exquisite savor of it in his nostrils. He enjoyed the appraising eye and the judicious mind. He liked many things, but Nature taught him to like nothing too much, and the daily chastisement of his desire to loaf, the inexorable discipline with which he drove his pleasureloving nature to the daily desperate task of his stint, might be a lesson to many sterner moralists than he.
Slight as they are, mere shorthand notes of a life too full to chronicle, these Journals are true records of genius. It is worth remembering, too, that genius is genius and that there will not be another Arnold Bennett.
To Think of Tea,by Agnes Repplier
[Houghton Mifflin, $2.75]
THE tea table needed a classic, and Miss Repplier has written it. kike buttered toast, it is the perfect complement of tea, and to all devotees whose perceptions are delicate enough to detect the difference between fragrance and smell, between overland Souchong and Pekoe from the corner grocery, it should be a companion and a friend. The bond between letters and tea is prettily tied by anecdote and comment, for Miss Repplier’s mind is perfection amongst anthologies. Invariably she can quote the perfect aphorism, miraculous to remember and tragedy to forget, but it is her own discourse that tea’s true lovers will longest cherish. More than one, closing the book, might well take his cue from Matt Prior:-
‘He thanked her on his bended knee,
Then drank a quart of milk and tea.’
Then drank a quart of milk and tea.’
The Life and Letters of Archibald Cary Coolidge,ed. by Harold J. Coolidge and Robert H. Lord
[Houghton Mifflin, $4.50]
USEFUL men are not always good, nor good men invariably useful. ‘Archie’ Coolidge was both, and to be both is an achievement. Singularly modest, exceptionally competent, it can be said of him that where he was needed, there he was surely to be found. This memorial volume, made up in largest measure of his letters, shows how his perfect unconsciousness of self made him as much at home in Moscow or the Balkans or at the Peace Conference as in the great library he served and loved. Coolidge was the type of scholar which England knows better than America, to whom books are the broad avenue to life. He will be remembered by his friends with love, and by a larger world in gratitude. This book about him has its deserving place.
Amid These Storms,by Winston Churchill
ONE Winston Churchill gives so much more joy on earth than ninety-nine whose names are also advertised that we should be grateful even for a little of him. Yet those who pounce upon Amid These Storms in ardent hope of a sequel to the marvel of A Roving Commission will find a thing of shreds and patches. The book is made up of hit-or-miss sketches which have too obviously already done their duty in newspapers or magazines. Several of them hardly deserve the compliment their author pays them, but the hits are palpable, and this reviewer would buy a dozen copies rather than miss the chronicle of paint with which the volume ends. None from Vasari to Whistler and beyond can write of paint as Churchill does. One might — I speak in ignorance — shudder at his results on canvas, but his advice to painters is a burst of glory.