THE biographer who would give us his frank and honest estimate of notable men or women still walking this planet with eyes to read and ears to hear has undertaken perhaps the most difficult of literary feats, for he must consider not alone the possible sensitiveness of his subject, but even more the critical unreason of a public which may savor witty malice at the expense of a dead hero, but is all chivalry and good taste for the living victim; which will be swift to suspect the indiscrimination of praise, and at the same time will not endure hedging. R. L. Duffus, is therefore to be congratulated upon a triumphant achieveE. KYEtD ment. Daring, from an enthusiasm that never falters, to write of Lillian Wald with unshadowed admiration, he yet carries the reader along with him from start to finish, in a mounting conviction of the truth and soundness of this sympathetic interpretation of a great American woman.
Mr. Duffus, in the first lines of his foreword, disarms criticism by acknowledging that the book has not Miss Wald’s complete approval. She did not see why it need he written; and she protests that it reminds her too much of Theodore Roosevelt’s story of the Rough Riders, which Mr. Dooley thought should be called ' Alone in Cubi-a.’ It is true that her life, the part she cared about, was already recorded in her two books, The House on Henry Street and Windows on Henry Street, but Mr. Duffus has for his purpose the presentation of a personality.
Two quotations illumine for us her power and her charm. In the early nineties, when she was a girl of twenty-six, on fire with her twofold plan which was to have such far-reaching effects through the Henry Street Settlement and the Public Health Nurses, Lillian Wald went, to see Mrs. Solomon Loeb, to enlist her interest in the enterprise; and Mrs. Loch’s daughter — later Mrs. Paul Warburg — has remembered how her mother exclaimed, after the visitor’s departure: ’I have had a wonderful experience! I have talked to a young woman who’s either crazy or a great genius.’
And in the spring of 1938, when Professor Einstein met Miss Wald ‘and the two conversed like old friends, though not about the universe,’ he said, as he turned to go, ’I want to thank you for your smile.’
In the pages between these two episodes, her biographer unfolds in fullest detail the life of a noble and dedicated woman of action — an extrovert, if ever there was one. We follow her as she spends herself in unconscious self-giving, through vivid and burning years, for peace, for freedom, for public health, for the world and the streets of New York. Starting with the unconquerable and single-minded assurance that, health, of body and spirit, is the cornerstone of a vital and enduring civilization, she has profoundly influenced the social and economic life of her generation. The springs of her power are intuition rather than a reasoned philosophy; conviction rather than theory; and a religion ethically Christian. Less introspective than Jane Addams, more spontaneously joyous in temperament, she has given herself to the loving service of her fellow men with an equal consecration.