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ON January 27, 1940, Franklin D. Roosevelt signed a contract to become a contributing editor of Collier’s magazine, at a salary of $75,000 per year, as soon as his second term as President expired. F.D.R. was to be supplied with several assistants and he would write twenty-six articles a year, “subject to editorial control,” for a period of three years. A few days after signing the agreement, Roosevelt entertained the editor of Collier’s at the White House and introduced him around as “my future boss.”
The foregoing item — a telling contribution to the continuing post-mortem on Roosevelt’s thirdterm intentions-is one of the disclosures in the substantial body of new material contained in John Gunther’sRoosevelt in Retrospect: A Profile in History (Harper, $3.75). Books about Roosevelt have been pouring out at a great rate, but, as Gunther reminds as, “it is a fact that no reasonably full biography exists in print today.”Gunther’s attempt to fill this gap makes no claim to being much more than “a preliminary sketch.”But though the author is a master of compression he has covered whole countries in a brief chapter, whole continents in a digestible volume — his “sketch” of Roosevelt runs to 379 pages.
Dividing his book into three parts — The Character, The Life, The Death Gunther has profiled Roosevelt in the somewhat helter-skelter and incomparably lively manner of his “inside” reports; there is the same alertness to intriguing trivia, the same profusion of effective anecdotes, and the same remarkable inclusiveness. Roosevelt in Retrospect performs at least two valuable services. It furnishes a timely and well-documented riposte to the postwar diatribes of the 100 per cent Roosevelt-haters. At the same time—though Gunther is a staunch admirer of F.D.R., and also because of this — his book should give readers in the Roosevelt camp a sharpened and heightened sense of the late President’s failings. One gets a very clear picture of F.D.R.’s prodigious deviousness; his tendency to ingratitude and his tendency to be grandiose; his maddening garrulousness; his overweening self-confidence (just before Yalta, he boasted: “Stalin?— I can handle that old buzzard”); and other weaknesses. Sometimes Gunther steps squarely into the role of apologist, but he also delivers such blunt judgments as, “The plain fact of the matter is that Roosevelt did not like to think. . . . It has been aptly said [he] ‘played everything by ear.'”
The book’s primary emphasis, of course, is on the qualities that made Roosevelt so commanding a figure. The chief of these, Gunther suggests (in diametric contradiction to the main charge of Roosevelt’s enemies), was F.D.R.’s uncanny sensitivity to the feelings and desires of the nation“the whole energy of the country Mowed into him and through him.” Perhaps the thing that stands out most vividly in Gunther’s portrait is the phenomenal affirmativeness of Roosevelt’s temperament: his zest for life and, no less, for the roughand-tumble of politics and the stupendous burdens of the Presidency; his courage, resilience, and deepseated optimism.
On the “human interest” side, Gunther has assembled a stunning amount of material. We learn that F.D.R.’s favorite movie star was Myrna Loy, his favorite cartoon that of a little girl who scrawls his name in the snow and is told not to use dirty words. Among Roosevelt’s special likes, Gunther lists: going on trips, charts, trees, archives, politicians of every sort (even bad), islands, seersucker bedcovers, the word “pipelines,”a cocktail made of gin and benedictine, and the future. Among his pet hates were air conditioning, gloves, and the term “bureaucrat.” His reading consisted of American history, nautical books, and trash; there is no record of his ever having read a page of Darwin, Marx, Freud, Tolstoy, or Proust.

“No man is an Iland”

Roosevelt’s strong hope that international cooperation could be achieved on a lasting basis had its roots in what Gunther calls his “central belief”: namely, that man is fundamentally good — a notion not much in evidence today. The disillusionment caused by events since the war has led to a conspicuously increased emphasis on the fundamental no-goodness of man: the irrationality and basic aggressiveness of human nature — or, in theological terms, its sinfulness. The predominant intellectual tendency, it would seem, is to stress the feebleness of reason: to question man’s ability to remedy his basic ills through social action; and to doubt that science, even if it does not blow us to pieces, is going to make the world much pleasanter.
This whole line of thought is challenged in a little book written not by an expert in uplift but by a distinguished anthropologist, Ashley Montagu, who has held posts at Harvard and the British Museum and is now Chairman of the Department of Anthropology at Rutgers University. Drafted specifically for the layman, On Being Human (Schuman, $1.95) presents the thesis, based on “the facts of biology as we know them today,”that the natural law of life is not conflict but coöperation; and it claims that “science is in a position to teach man . . . that his problems in human relations can be solved.”
Dr. Montagu’s book, which integrates the findings of a number of scientists, is a rebuttal of the doctrine popularized in Darwin’s name — “the gladiatorial conception of evolution,” which dominated a whole generation of sociologists and has bequeathed to us the tradition of “rugged individualism.” Certainly aggressiveness exists in nature, says Montagu, but the evidence strongly indicates that “the survival of the fittest” actually means the survival of the most cooperative; natural selection favors the most socially oriented organisms. The resulting view of man which Montagu develops is suggested by the famous line of Donne, “No man is an Hand, intire of it selfe.”
“There is not a shred of evidence,” Montagu writes, “that man is born with ‘hostile’ or ‘evil’ impulses. . . . The impulses toward coöperative behavior are already present in him at birth” — in the infant’s drive to receive love (security) from its mother and in its responsiveness to love. If deprived of love, the infant is, in effect, deprived of experience in cooperation, with lasting antisocial consequences. Social, cooperative behavior is simply the continuation of the parent-offspring relationship, and thus has its origins in the reproductive process itself — in the very basis of life. The trouble with our society (besides the fact that babies don’t get enough loving) is that, being inordinately competitive, it runs counter to the laws of natural survival.
This drastic summary, of course, conveys at most the general direction of Montagu’s thinking. I recommend his book to anyone interested in the matter at stake, even though the final prescriptive chapter is a bad letdown. Here the author seems suddenly to be standing on a soapbox. It may conceivably be true that human relations can only be bettered by so educating the next generation that it sets about changing the competitive pattern. But this is the kind of utopian idea which an author should wistfully murmur and not brandish as a formula for salvation.

“The World’s Rejected Guest”

Turning from Dr. Montagu to Richard Aldington’s new biography of D. H. Lawrence, one finds a striking instance of correspondence between the findings of the scientist and the intuition of the artist. “I think societal instinct much deeper than sex instinct,” Lawrence once said. “What ails me is the frustration of my primeval societal instinct.” The burden of Lawrence’s savage complaints about society was not that man was essentially an unsocial animal. hut that modern society itself was unsocial - that it heightened man’s “separateness.”
The Lawrence legend has pictured him as a passionately antisocial individualist, and not without cause. The central contradiction of Lawrence’s endlessly self-contradictory personality, the conflict which colored all of his life and energized his work, was between a deep hostility to “merging” and a counterimpulse to shed his painful sense of separateness. In his life, Lawrence tried to solve the problem by projecting himself beyond its reach: by seeking to become, Aldington points out, a kind of godhead.
It is primarily with the man’s life that Aldington’s D. H. Lawrence: Portrait of a Genius But . . . (Duell, Sloan and Pearce, $3.75) is concerned — the odd subtitle is explained as being the phrase customarily applied to Lawrence. Aldington has given us a biography which seeks “to avoid literary criticism and . . . quasi-philosophizing”; a very admirable and absorbing book with one limitation. Its great merit is that it is both intimate — Aldington knew Lawrence well — and marvelously objective, a thoroughly realistic portrait which rescues Lawrence from his legend (among other things, Aldington shows that, contrary to legend, Lawrence was not at all badly off after his first few years as a writer).
A monument of inconsistency, Lawrence was consistent in one thing, his “great religion,” his belief in “the blood and the flesh as being wiser than the intellect”; in the absolute virtue of “spontaneous” living. He insisted that it was healthier to throw a plate at one’s wife than to reason with her, and it is well known that he acted accordingly. When Huxley, in the course of an argument, said, “But Lawrence, look at the evidence,” Lawrence answered, tapping his solar plexus: “Evidence doesn’t mean anything to me. I don’t feel it here.” Assertive, quarrelsome, perverse (as he himself remarked) “to the point of insanity,” he was also often gentle, charming, and reckless with his friendship. And always he generated an extraordinary radiance which made everything around him seem to live more vividly.
The limitation of Aldington’s common sense approach is that the crucial insights about Lawrence have to be wrested from a region which is beyond the ken of common sense. For as Huxley has observed, “Lawrence inhabited a different universe. . . . His special and characteristic gift was an extraordinary sensitiveness to what Wordsworth called ‘unknown modes of being.’ ” Aldington never quite comes to grips with the new form of consciousness, the wholly new way of feeling, which is the great experience that Lawrence offered in his work.

The witch of Cool Clary

In The Summing Up, Somerset Maugham hazarded the opinion that the drama took a wrong turning when the demand for realism led it to abandon verse—“Verse has a specific dramatic value. It enables the drama to achieve a beauty that is out of the question in a prose play. . . . It delivers a play from sober reality.” There have been signs, lately, of a renewed interest in poetic drama. It is a long time since any straight play has caused such a stir in New York as The Cocktail Party, and there has been a much greater stir in London over the plays in verse of Christopher Fry. Completely unknown eighteen months ago, Mr. Fry has had four plays produced with resounding success, and the London drama critics have chorused that he is the brightest hope of the British theater. After reading The Lady’s Not For Burning (Oxford University Press, $2.50), which is due to be produced on Broadway, I should say that Mr. Fry is without doubt one of the most exciting talents now writing for the theater in the English language. Along with The Lady’s Not For Burning comes a slighter play by Fry, A Phoenix Too Frequent (Oxford University Press, $1.75), a one-act comedy based on Petronius’s story of the widow of Ephesus.
The dramatic values of verse mentioned by Mr. Maugham — the possibilities of beauty and the deliverance from sober reality — are shiningly apparent in Christopher Fry’s work; also a further quality which is the special feature of his talent, the startling humor that can be achieved in poetic drama.
The Lady’s Not For Burning is set in the year 1400, and the scene is the mayor’s house in the market town of Cool Clary. Thomas Mendip, a soldier, returns from the wars to find that a witch hunt is about to start. Without knowing who the witch is, he sets out to save her by creating a diversion: he claims to have murdered two villagers and demands to be hanged without delay. He is struggling with the mayor — a Colonel Blimp who has strayed into the fifteenth century, carrying with him an expert knowledge of bureaucratic fussiness — when the witch herself appears, an exquisite young girl called Jennet Jourdemayne. By the time it has been decided that Jennet shall burn and Thomas shall hang on the morrow, the two have begun to discover that they are in love. The lady, however, is not for burning and Thomas, naturally, breaks his date with the gallows.
Fry does not seek, like Eliot in The Cocktail Party, to keep his verse fairly close to prose. Fry’s is full-blown poetry, and it is nourished by a superb vocabulary. At times the language is unabashedly sumptuous and at times wonderfully beautiful. Fry produces startlingly funny effects through the intrusion of colloquialism into the poetry, or by the juxtaposition of the modern (phrase or idea) and the medieval. His wit ranges from bold puns to flashing epigrams and elegant irony. There is nothing in the least pretentious or elusive in Fry’s appeal: his play is most enjoyable to read. The Lady’s Not Far Burning introduces a writer who has restored to language a richness and delight which we haven’t been treated to for a long time.

“The Dark and Bloody Ground”

Robert Penn Warren, whose three novels— Night Rider, At Heaven’s Gate, and All the King’s Men - have established him as one of our leading writers, has again given us a big, tumultuous story of political life in the South. World Enough and Time (Random House, $3.50), a Literary Guild selection, has as its setting Kentucky in the early nineteenth century, the “Dark and Bloody Ground" where the frontier was gradually pushed back in the great Western expansion movement, and where a man’s right to vote had often to be asserted by force. The novel’s underlying concern is with the idea of justice; with man’s perennial longing for justice and with the corruption that proliferates in the name of justice; with the perennial conflict between the just end and the means of attaining it.
World Enough and Time traces the brief and stormy career of Jeremiah Beaumont, who grew up in a backwoods log cabin. At eighteen, Jeremiah was taken into the office of a prominent and respected Kentucky politician, Colonel Fort. Two years later young Beaumont’s idealism caused him to break with his patron: ho learned from a friend, Willkie Baron, that Fort had seduced a wellborn and beautiful young woman and abandoned her when she bore him an illegitimate child. Jeremiah sought out this Rachel Jordan and in due course married her, having first promised that he would kill the Colonel. Hereafter Beaumont’s five-year-long vendetta is the central thread in an intricate drama of Kentucky politics.
Warren brings into his novel a host of minor characters who typify the era — figures such as the backwoods doctor-schoolmaster, Leicester Burnham, a scholar who wrote Latin poems celebrating the natural beauties of Kentucky and chaste couplets in the style of Pope giving advice on diet, and who was also adept at banishing distempers with a dose of his “elixir vitriol in wine”; the itinerant preacher, Corinthian McClardy, whose spellbinding revival meetings drew the frontiersmen and their wives by the thousands; the radical newspaper editor, Percival Skrogg, a firebrand who found it advisable to wear a chain-mail undershirt.
The detail which Warren lavishes on some of his secondary personages gives the book vividness and breadth as a tapestry of the period; but it has its drawbacks in a novel that goes far beyond being a period piece. I found the regional historian intruding on the artist, who interested me much more; and the author’s diffusiveness puts a slight damper on the reader’s emotions. This is my one reservation about Mr. Warren’s fine, superbly written novel.