And Gladly Teach

by Bliss Perry
[Houghton Mifflin, $3.00]
BLISS PERRY’S delightful autobiography is the chronicle of a gentleman and a scholar who has taught English for almost forty years and who, despite his modest disavowal, is teaching some of us still, by precept and example. The oldest son in the brilliant family of the eminent political economist, Professor Arthur Latham Perry, of Williams College, he was born and trained in an academic atmosphere. Graduating at Williams in 1881, he was at once engaged as an instructor, studied two years in Germany, was promoted to a professorship, was called to Princeton and served there seven years, was lured to Boston in 1899 to be successor to Walter Hines Page as editor of the Atlantic Monthly, accepted in 1909 a professorship at Harvard, and retired in 1930, at the age of threescore and ten, having resolved not to emulate the Oxford don who was said to possess all the Christian virtues except resignation. He has led, he confesses, a sheltered life, and his day’s work has been with gentlemen. As an ’old-fashioned free-trade goldstandard Grover Cleveland Democrat,’ he has voted very often with the minority. But few living persons have made and held more friends, or have a finer gift of friendship.
Bliss Perry has had a rich experience. He has used his outdoor recreations — first baseball, and then golf and fishing — to keep himself perennially young; he has been a member of intimate social groups, including the Saturday Club, the Tavern Club, and that exclusive body called The Club, because its members during sixty-six years could never agree on any other name; he has contributed to American literature some excellent novels, essays, and biographies: He has had his full share of intellectual adventures and durable satisfactions; and he has never lost his optimism or that spicy humor so distinctive of all the Perrys.
One notable feature of this book is the author’s skill in characterization, shown in little sketches: of his father, ‘Old Peri,’ a combination of Don Quixote and the Vicar of Wakefield, with his unique profane ejaculation, ’Fush to Bungtown!‘; of Irving Babbitt, ‘a stark uncompromising dogmatist, a Peter the Hermit, leading a crusade’; of James Bryce, ensconced in the smoking car of a railroad train, with his ‘dusty frock coat, black skullcap, and very black short pipe’; of Woodrow Wilson, whose tragic fault lay ‘in the excess of that self-confidence which was one of the most fascinating of his virtues.’ But it is almost superfluous to quote from pages which no Atlantic reader will miss. No one can spend an hour with this book without respecting Bliss Perry’s balanced, tolerant spirit, his astonishing fund of literary knowledge, his keen intelligence, his urbanity, his blessed common sense. After struggling through the neurotic, distorted outbursts of our contemporary wild young men, one turns with relief to a book like this, so gracefully written, so wise, so full of sweetness and light. For myself, I wish that it had been three times as long.