The Peripatetic Reviewer

I HAVE been making plans for an editorial trip to England. “Which way do you want to go?" asked mY friend in the travel agency. ‟By air, or on one of the Queens?” To save time I chose the plane, but I thought to myself that one of these days I really would like to make a more leisurely crossing. In the past my boat trips across the Atlantic have been strictly utilitarian. I remember as yesterday my preparation for the first in February, 1917 I remember how the clerk who was filling out my passport asked, “Color of eyes? Cray,” I said. “Nose?” “Long,” I suggested. “No,” he said, “Roman.” Lord, I thought, a Roman nose like Caesar’s! To a boy who had been called “Beakstein” straight through school and freshman year because of the length of his beak, it was something to hear that he had a Roman nose.
But even with that Roman nose I could not look happy in my shirts. I had volunteered as an ambulance driver with the French Army; my pay was to be a sou a day, and I was to supply my own uniform. There was some hurry, so my father had his shirt maker rush me half a dozen Army blouses of khaki flannel. The shirt maker, who went on a bender once a month, was a little dim at this period and made them to my fathers measurements. My collar was size 14, his 15⅛; when those shirts arrived you could have thrust your wrist down between the collar and my Adam’s apple, and as for the tails — they reached to my knees. there they were, six of them, and there wasn’t time to make them over.
No volunteer (I was just nineteen) ever felt more gawky than I as I went up the gangplank of the S.S. Espagne. She was a French liner, crowded and keved to excitement — British and French officers, pilots of the Lafayette Escadrille, three sections of the Field Service, and two Field Hospitals complete with nurses. I inspected my stateroom, a stuffy little closet four decks down, found that I had drawn as my roommate an ex-Harvard oarsman named Wiggins (who was soon to save my life), and with him returned to the deck.
After we passed the Statue of Liberty I went down for an early supper, and looking through the port at the sunset I had the sensation that we were rising and falling. The vibration also seemed to discourage my appetite, and after yawning fifteen times, I retired. We won’t go into details, but late the following afternoon Wiggins came to my rescue with a quart of champagne and two glasses; he propped me up, made me drink my half, and helped the ghost of me into my clothes and up on deck. So I came back to life.
On my return trip in June, 1919, I was not nearly so vulnerable. Fifteen days from Saint-Nazaire to Hoboken on an Army transport. We slept in canvas bunks, four layers to each deck; we took our meals in relays standing up at long trestles, and when the motion was bad it would be a race between the mess kit and the rail. I remember the long hours lying stipped in the sun, the crap games on the Army blankets, with the Kentuckians cleaning up until they each had a roll that, would choke a horse; I remember the shell shock cases m wire cages at the stern of the boat deck, and I remember how. having grown six inches and put on forty pounds. I came down the gangplank and passed my parenls. who didn’t recognize me at first glance.
I was outward bound again in the autumn of 1922, this time with a scholarship at Trinity College, Cambridge. I had to work my way over, and the easiest berth I could find was on a cattle boat. Disguised in an old suit, I arrived at the ship’s office in Montreal, signed over my pay to the foreman as a bribe for getting on board, and then went back to the hotel for my luggage. The taxi deposited my steamer trank, suitcase, and portable typewriter on the long dock and departed.
Leaning on the rail above me, watching me without comment, were a number of the Scotch crew. It was obvious to me that I needed the help of at least one of ihem to get my stuff aboard, so I went up the gangway and added myself to the end ol the line. Silence. Finally the nearest Clydesider shifted his weight my way. “Wc’el he said, in a brogue too rich to reproduce, “an’ I suppose you write for the papers?” I admitted as much. “Aye. An’ you’ll be looking for local color;” Again it seemed easier to agree. “We’el” he said, you’ll line! it and it’ll all be brown.”
It was lucky for us that our passage down the St. Lawrence to the Strait of Belleisle was smooth, for there had been no time to tie up our cattle — 280 steers and 11 bulls — before we caught the tide. For two days and a half they milled around while one by one we reached for their headropes and snagged I hem to the stanchions. The steers did not enjoy the motion any more than I did. Their malady took the form of an ever increasing thirstiness, and twice a day I heaved the wooden buckets out of the wooden tuns, six buckets to a beast. After three days of emptiness I began to munch on a slab of cold mutton as thick as the sole of a shoe, which I had cadged from the galley. This and coffee kept me upright until the sea air revived me. I had two other consolations: H. M. Tomlinson’s superb collection of seascapes, Old Junk, which I read lving on the bales of hay, and on the ninth day that green and golden moment of dawn as we passed the bell buoy at the mouth of the Clyde and I saw the sheep on I he distant uplands and realized that we were close to shore.

Lord Nelson in the flesh

Captain Russell Grenfell is to the British Navy what Captain Samuel Eliot Morison is to the American. Each is a historian, quick to perceive and frank to criticize, and each is possessed of a power of narration which makes the most complicated maneuver an action as exciting as it is open to human fallibility. In The Bismarck Episode, which was serialized in the Atlantic, Captain Grenfell wrote the fearless, unsparing chronicle of one of the greatest sea hunts in naval history. Now in Nelson the Sailor (Macmillan, $3.00) he has produced a biography which is remarkable for its terseness, for the vividness of its action, and for the fairness of its criticism. We see young Horatio, a boy of twelve, shipping as a midshipman muter his uncle,
Captain Suckling; we see his deep-sea schooling, how he was transferred for a year to the Merchant Service, and how on his first cruise to the West Indies on a Merchant ship, he acquired his lifelong intolerance of disciplinary subordination. A boy of lifteen, we see him bound on a Naval Arctic Expedition where, on a hunt for a polar bear, his musket misfired and his life was saved by the recall cannon, which luckily frightened his opponent. When his ship took him to the East Indies we see him winning £300 in one night at cards — which, if you multiply it by five, is big money for a lieutenant of seventeen. We see his hatred of cold (he infinitely preferred the Mediterranean to the North Atlantic) and his recurring bouts of seasickness, which he hoped to live down but never did. We see him made Post Captain and appointed to a 28gun frigate at the age of twenty.
The times were in Horatio’s favor. The month Nelson was made Captain, Spain followed the example of France and declared war against Fngland. In his frigate commands and as he rose in rank to the bigger ships, he was eager to be on his own, and since victory went with him he received ‟the plum commands,” the detached service with prize money and prestige which won him the attention of the Admiralty and the envy of his less gifted contemporaries. The more rope he was given, the more he proved his independence &emdash breaking out of line at the battle of St. Vincent, where he outfought and captured two of the enemy ships, including the Santissima Trinidad of 130 guns; putting the telescope to his blind eye and refusing to see the signal of recall al Copenhagen; discarding the century-old line of battle for his two-pronged surprise assault at Trafalgar.
The beauty of this book is its understanding of the man within the seaman. It brings out Nelson’s singleminded aggressiveness and how, when he was intent on the kill, he had no concern for the longrange strategy of others. It shows where his intuition failed him and where his originality was most profound. It shows why the men of the fleet loved him, why the ships like the old Agamemnon were happy ships; it shows how he trusted as no British Admiral before him the individual initialive of his picked Captains; in short, it tells what Nelson meant by that phrase of his, “The Nelson touch.”

Nelson’s younger brother

In his hero, Captain Horatio Hornblower, C. S. Forester has created a character who rose to greatness in the Napoleonic Wars and who in his personal lineaments might be taken for Nelson’s younger brother. It is fascinating to trace the resemblance in that fine trilogy about Captain Hornblower in his maturity, Beat to Quarters, Ship of the Line, Flying Colours, and now in the stories which tell of his apprenticeship, Mr. Midshipman Hornblower (Little, Brown, $3.00). I feel for
the Midshipman as the waves of nausea overcome him while he is still at anchor in Spithead on his first ship; I feel for him as he stands up to the brutal ill treatment which a boy among men was then likely to receive in training; I applaud his skill at whist and I the desperation with which he challenges his half-drunken tormentor Simpson to the duel. Young Hornblower, like young Nelson, is best when hardest pressed. Inaction makes him fret, but emergency makes him think and act with surprising force. Midshipman Hornblower as he learns to command is a resourceful, likable, and very consistent youngster.
The Indefatigable could so easily be taken for Nelson’s beloved Agamemnon; the landing at Quiberon reminds me of Nelson’s failure at Santa Cruz; that foggy morning in which young Hornblower, in command of the captured sloop Le Reve, finds himself sailing unnoticed in the midst of the Spanish fleet has its parallel in fact. Enjoying as I have every episode in Lord Hornblower’s career, I am now grateful to Mr. Forever for having turned the clock back to show us the gawky, spunky boy as he first went up the chains.

Homes that vanish

I think of my first visit to Tintagel and of my first impressions of the Cornish coast as read The Feast by Margaret Kennedy (Rinehart, $3.00). This is the story of a fateful week in a little summer boardinghouse which lies open to the sea and under the threatening shoulder of an overwhelming rock. To earn the money for her boy’s education, Mrs. Siddal has had to take in paying guests, and a motley company they are — Canon Wraxton, whose uncontrollable temper has given his daughter the jitters: Anna Leehene, the sexhungry novelist; Lady Gifford, the hypochondriac, and her conscience-ridden husband, the Judge: Miss Ellis, the gossipy housekeeper; Mrs. Cove and her three daughters whom she would so gladly drown.
They don’t sound very attractive, but this story is told by a skillful dramatist: a third of the way along, you begin to realize that the most offensive of these people are the Seven Deadly Sins in modern dress, and you begin to hope that the most arrant of them will be in the house when that rock face falls, as fall it must. Here are no characters as sprightly or endearing as those in The Constant Nymph, yet Miss Kennedy lifts The Feast out of the merely macabre by her treatment of the innocents— Gerry, the pimply-faced medical student; Eva Wraxton, the intimidated daughter; little Blanche with her bad back; and the silent Mrs. Paley, who suddenly sees the light. These are the Virtues who carry our sympathy to the end.
Old houses of beloved memory have a way of disappearing overnight in America. The steamroller of the metropolis and the change in family fortune suddenly leave the old property exposed, and before you know it a landmark has been replaced by a fire station. New England is more fortunate than most areas. The Alcott House and the Old Manse in Concord, the House of the Seven Gables in Salem, and the Adams houses in Quincy have become national monuments. In 1940 the flooding of the Santee-Cooper Project in South Carolina inundated Belvidere Plantation, the lovely and legendary country home of the Sinkler family for more than a century. Now, from the family papers, Anne Sinkler Fishburne has woven together a charming reminiscence, Belvidere University of South Carolina Press, $3.50), an easy-flowing chronicle of the family life and its special events in the days of serenity— the horse racing, the tournaments, the fancy dress balls, the summers spent in the pine lands, the wonderful shooting in the fall, and the weddings which drew the family together with such affection. An unpretentious reminder of how happy a plantation could be.