Golden Yesterdays

By Margaret DelandHARPERS
THIS charming book affords an excellent corrective to The Last Puritan and The Late George Apley. For here is authentic Boston, not quite contemporary, since the book ends with the death of Lorin Deland in 1917, but none the less the Boston familiar to many of us in memory and experience. True, the experiences of the satirist are doubtless authentic too; he may well have found in New England a ‘depressed area,’ controlled by desiccated conventions, where the ghosts of traditions dead or dying, unvisited by the breath of the future, now fan, now suffocate the languid life of the inhabitants. But to Mrs. Deland and her husband Boston was a very living city, where eager loving-kindness abounded, where countless opportunities were offered to enrich life, extend fellowship, and serve good causes, and where increasing liberalization of thought drew from newly revealed springs of spiritual refreshment. The book is not a novel, but it is the work of a novelist, and it has the light and shade, the sensitive humor, the delicate insight into varied and dramatic human values, that mark the author’s fiction. She looks at life with eyes loving as well as discerning. Both reticences and revelations witness to intellectual high breeding. It is reassuring in these days to realize that a perfect marriage can not only exist, but be interesting to describe.
For the book is not plain autobiography. Mrs. Deland’s avowed purpose, beautifully fulfilled, is to tell her husband’s story as well as her own. The picture of two youths passed in very different strata of American life is followed, when the ‘brooks’ have ‘flowed together,’ by the tale of gay adventures during early married years, of widening contacts here and in Europe, of constant new interests and excitements. Many of those adventures of the eighties and nineties, like the brave hospitality of the young couple to unmarried mothers, witness to the rise of social concern. True, there was no such deep ploughing as today, searching the roots of social evils; no talk (Dare we say ‘Thanks be’?) ot ‘a New Social Order.’ Philanthropy was moving in rather hesitant fashion toward mild reforms; good will, rather than revolution, was still the watchword of hope. But philanthropy, however the Marxist may sneer at it, can be rich in lovely human values when true to etymology as it was with the Delands.
Despite the stir of social compunction, despite the religious restlessness of a serious generation desperately struggling to escape from its formalisms, the record here is of a civilization pleasantly at peace. It was far from stagnant, however. Apart from the two main characters, fullest light streams from the benignantly impressive figure of Phillips Brooks. Here too is his parish: that Trinity, sure spiritual centre of the city, which drew anxious Congregationalists, Unitarians, agnostics, whom you will, to its hospitable hearth (‘altar’ was an unpopular word). But here too are Edward Everett Hale, Julia Ward Howe, Major Higginson, and many others: those wholesome, high-minded men and women, almost absurdly remote from the sad, petrified figures the satirist loves to depict. Mrs. Deland and her husband belonged with people like these. Theirs was a good city to live in.
Many ambitious and clever books have no aroma. This book, like the little relic of former days, the wee flask found by the Delands in an old cupboard, diffuses fragrance. V. D. S.