The Peripatetic Reviewer

BY EDWARD WEEKS
THE phrase “across the tracks” conveys a mean picture of American life. Yet it is the first picture which a visitor to this country is obliged to look at, and one which any American who sits at a Pullman window can never forget. Traveling is my specialty, and I love it, but I wish that our trains did not remind us so insistently of the quick spoliation of American life. Those tree stumps tell the story of vanished forests, and who gives a damn for the billboards that stand in their place? When a river comes within reach of the city, it becomes a drab, brown affair, banked with tin cans and ashes. Into our creek beds we shove the blackened hulks of old cars. And bed springs. And bottles. The houses past which the Streamliner glides wear that weary, sooty resignation of Western Pennsylvania; and a stranger, say a Russian fresh from Stalingrad, might well wonder whether, save for our church steeples and skyscrapers, we had built anything to show for our three hundred years of domesticity.
We Americans have been very callous in blotting out the past. In my home country in New Jersey, which the English named for the Virgin Queen, exactly two noble buildings now stand which were built before the Revolution. New England does a little better in this respect; so does Charleston, S.C. — but only because the wave of expansion has not rolled their way recently. A month ago I stood at a bend of the Ohio River (Ohio meaning “beautiful”) at a spot where, so said the tablet, Audubon had often seated himself to paint the water fowl. Well, he would not sit there today. When we are building, nothing can stand in the way. It was our mission to clear a continent, and we have been doing it ahead of schedule. Not until we look back at the Old World do we realize how poverty-stricken we are for things of the past. Then the realization makes us a little lonely.

Souvenirs

We pulled down our old trees, our bricks, and our clapboards because we were in a hurry. But now we are part of a larger wrecking crew. “And shall we really bomb Rome?” said James Bone to me last summer. “How better could we do the Huns’ bidding!”
Yet if Rome stands in the way, as Monte Cassino did, I suppose we must. As the bombs fall, and the roof of the nave crashes in, and the Crusader’s Tomb melts away, and the great oak topples, and the château slumps down, momentarily the thought hits us that, in our struggle for liberty, again and again we have had to kill the beauty of the past.

IN THIS ISSUE

UNFINISHED BUSINESS • By STEPHEN BONSAI. Reviewed by Allan Nevina
THE ELIZABETHAN WORLD PICTURE BY E. M. W. TILLYARD . . . Reviewed by George X. Shuster
CONE OF SILENCE • BY A. FLEMING MACLIESH Reviewed by Lucy Tompkins
CAMILLE PISSARRO: LETTERS TO HIS SON HJCIHN. EDITED BY JOHN REWALD . . . . Reviewed by Leo German
THE LOOM OF LANGUAGE - BY FREDERICK BODMER. EDITED BY LANCELOT HOGBEN . . . . Reviewed by I. A. Richards
BLESSED ARE THE MEEK * BY ZOFIA ROSSAK. Reviewed by Leo Lermau
With us the word souvenir has acquired an Atlantic City flavor (“Wish you were here. X marks my room”). But it has a deeper meaning which I shall try to apply.
A souvenir is something which recalls the past. Listen: —
For a German, Nuremberg is the city which makes his heart swell because there he finds the ghosts which are dear to his soul. Every stone is a reminder of those who made the glory of the old Germany. I think the French must feel the same thing before the Cathedral of Chartres. There they too must feel the presence of their ancestors beside them, the beauty of their spirit, the greatness of their faith, and all their graciousness. Fate led me to Chartres. Oh, truly, when it appears over the ripe corn, blue in the distance, transparent, ethereal, it stirs one’s heart. I imagined the feelings of those who used to go there on foot, on horseback or by wagon in the olden time. I shared their feelings, and I loved those people. How I wish I could be their brother!
A German officer is speaking, a character in that mysterious little book which has come to us from the French Underground, The Silence of the Sea.This long short story was first published in Paris in 1942, at the expense and peril of a Frenchman who calls himself Vercors. The paper was procured and the printing done by an Underground publisher known as Les Editions de Minuit. “Silence” is the key word in the title of this dramatic story — not the silence of defeat, but the silence of will power that can be by turns oblivious, contemptuous, and even tolerant of the invader. There are three people in this book: a French man of letters, elderly, chair-borne, and dogged; his niece, whose beauty and resistance are symbolic of France; and the lame German officer, once a composer, who is billeted with them. To say more is to lift the curtain.
I should call this book patrioteering, for the narrative is charged with the same national pride that one remembers in Daudet’s “La Derniere Classe.” Only here the anguish is not for Alsace-Lorraine, but for a France threatened with spoliation. About one point I am still in doubt. The German officer has been drawn charitably — he is such a sensitive soul, so eager for sympathy and even forgiveness, that one is instantly impressed by the magnanimity of the French state of mind in 1942. He is not the typical Nazi, but is of the minority we are trying to reach.

Souvenirs of England

When I was studying in England, I made a number of literary pilgrimages on my push bike. In the rucksack were books of the county, the lightest I could carry, and when you read Chaucer along the Pilgrims’ Way and Dickens in Kent, and Wordsworth in Westmorland, you take in literature not only through the eyes but through the pores. In Literary England I find that Christopher Morley covered much the same ground a decade ahead of me. In his Introduction to what he calls “this album of symbols” Chris writes: “The shabbiest sentimentality is to be ashamed of honest emotion toward things of noble memory.” Those are five-dollar words for a $3.75 book. What lie really means is that you should not be ashamed to enjoy these beautiful pictures of old England while the new is being forged.
The photographs are the work of David E. Schcrman, who took them for Life, and they have been framed in thin but adequate prose by Richard Wilcox. With one exception they are of exteriors, and for that reason I find them lacking in personal warmth. My New England conscience (acquired) tells me that the price is high and the amount of paper wasteful. The way to get the best out of a book like this is to look at it while you are reading Puck of Pook’s Hill. For there is the real remembrance of times past .
The British, having less paper and pence, do the thing more economically. Their Britain in Pictures series, published by William Collins of London, strikes a happier balance between text and illustra tions, and in such volumes as British Dramatists (edited by Graham Greene) and English Women (ed. Edith Sitwell) and English Poets (ed. Lord David Cecil) and English Country Houses (ed. V. Sackville-West) and English Novelists (ed. Elizabeth Bowen), you certainly get your shillings’ worth.

Souvenir of extravagance

Extravagance is always tempting to the American mind. Our appetite for champagne or T-bone steak is sharpened as we have to do without them, and that same appetite is aggravated by the sight of aliens — French and German exiles, wealthy South Americans, and our own spenders — who can be seen in cafe society not doing without either. It was high time for someone to write a satire of extravagance, and this Ludwig Bemelmans has done in Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep. His pages are highly seasoned, sensuous, and sardonic. You enter the story as if you were entering a New York night club of the flush ‘20’s, and for a time it seems altogether out of keeping with our present temper. But then Bemelmans’s humor begins to take you by surprise and you laugh with him at the monstrous extravagance. He has the art of insinuation down to a fine point. The South American general and the irascible French chef are much too alive to be preposterous; the English governess and the Spanish beauty are both of them women within reach of the mind though they, too, do the most preposterous things. I shall tell nothing of the story, for to uncork Bemelmans’s humor is to let some of the bubbles escape. There will be readers who will lay the book down in disgust, thinking it trivial, and there will be others — like me — who read it first with suspicion, then with snorts of delight and recognition as the shafts go home. For with his malicious and irreverent wit the author is telling you that here are the extravagances of that superfluous and graceful society, — people who had money to burn and are now burning for their carelessness.

From the Ritz to the Underground

It is in much the same atmosphere of extravagance, or more precisely in the world of English extravagance, that Louis Bromfield begins his new novel, What Became of Anna Bolton. We are in London in the giddy, lovely, mesmerizing June of 1937, a London “in season” such as we shall never see again, a London which one war had undermined and which was now threatened by a worse. We have our eyes on an American widow, thirty-five, easy to look at and with all the money of Detroit. She is throwing a big party, and as the lions roar and the violas sob, Dave Sorrell, the Times foreign correspondent, whom she has just cut, quietly reminds us that the generous, talked-about Mrs. Bolton (why had she no lover?) was really Annie Scanlon, born Shanty Irish on the wrong side of the tracks, in Lewisburg, Ohio, and that all this glitter was just her way of “showing Lewisburg" how far slic’d come. From that challenging first scene Mr. Bromfield, writing now forward, now back, in the easy conversational tone of an expert journalist — for Dave tells this story — proceeds t o show us just how far Annie has really traveled and how much farther she has the character to go.
Mr. Bromfield never writes a dull page; his style has the “come hither” of Somerset Maugham. Deeper than the surface vivacity is his ability to charge his books with the strong electricity of his own experience. Ruby Hillyer, the London “ hostess,” and Madame Ritz, the grand duchess of all hotels, are characters drawn naturally from his affection for Paris and London; so his feeling for France adds force to his picture of the bombed road, just as his glimpses of the sad ghosts in the brickyard (a concentration camp for men without a country) draw authenticity from the work he did in rescuing American volunteers in Spain. But Mr. Bromfield is by nature a swift narrator, sometimes too swift for loving attention. Anna Bolton is too locked up for our sympathy to reach her; we never share in the deaths that hardened her, or fully believe in the love that was her release. In short, she has not lived as long or as well as Mrs. Parkington.

Will they trust us?

The worst to be feared is not the destruction of timber and brick. The cynic can no longer say that this war will be won by Russian blood, British time, and American production. For this year our blood is in a common pool and the time has brought us all to ihe attack. The worst to be feared is first the casualties among our men, next the slow corrosion of our soldiers’ minds, and lastly the growing distrust of ourselves and of our allies. In Men on BataanJohn Hersey showed us how Americans stood up to their first and bitterest defeat. In Into the Valley he followed a single company of Marines as the tide turned on Guadalcanal. Now in A Bell for Adano he tells in fiction form (the only form, I believe, which would pass the censor) the first story to come home about AMG, the story of a Civil Affairs Officer, Major Joppolo, born in New York and fluent in Italian, who does his best to bring order out of the village chaos in Italy. Mr. Hersey writes; “America is on its way into Europe. You can be as isolationist as you want to be, but there is a fact. Just as truly as Europe once invaded us, with wave after wave of immigrants, now we are invading Europe, with wave after wave of sons of immigrants. Therefore I beg you to get to know this man Joppolo well. We have need of him. He is our future in the world.”
As you might suspect, A Bell for Adano is a morality story. It. is a story of American morality in which Major Joppolo stands on the side of the angels. He is a good guy who has been trained in city administration by La Guardia, and not only is he good, but he is also efficient. Yet a telegram soon reaches you that no matter how conscientious the major may be, his work is going to be rubbed out by the swashbuckling, profane, mule-shooting American general to whom all Italians are Wops and a centuries-old mahogany table simply a target for spurs, or spit, or a jackknife.
As is always the case in morality stories, the chief characters are oversimplified. They are all black, or all white, and so you must accept them. The humanity, the rich humor, and the occasional pathos in A Bell for Adano are to be found in the lower ranks, in men like Sergeant Borth and Captain Purvis, and in the Italians like the obsequious Zito, the stubborn fisherman Tomasino, and the painter Lojacono. These people are as real to us as an Italian fruit stand, and to watch them react to the ruthless and destructive impersonality of the war machine is to realize what a long, tortuous road lies ahead of us in Europe.

A world we never knew

In our preoccupation with the war in Europe, most of us (the West Coast excepted) have too little knowledge with which to estimate the changes in Asia. For seven years China has been fighting the battle of the Western democracies, and in the long run Owen Lattimore is probably right when he says that “the most important consequences of victory may yet be the consequences in Asia rather than the consequences in Europe. We ought to stand back and examine, in good time, ourselves and our prejudices, our pre-formed opinions.”
For two decades Mr. Lattimore has been blazing a trail for our closer approach to China. The journeys that began in Turkestan and High Tartary carried him at last to Chungking, and of all our liaison officers, I cannot think of a better. His short book, America and Asia, published by the Claremont Colleges, is a powerful stimulant and mindopener. Here is the prediction that “the future of China, will be firmly built in the heart of the country and from there it will expand back to the coast.” Here is what the Arctic will mean (as access to Asia) to Russia, Canada, and ourselves; here is the White Peril as contrasted with the Yellow Peril; and here is the appreciation that “Asia in our time is an area in which decisive events can originate which determine our own course of conduct before we can determine it for ourselves. ” Here, in short, is what is meant by reorientation. Such thinking as this is reconstructive.