The Peripatetic Reviewer
ON a family expedition it’s the little things that count. Since they occur at unpredictable moments, they are seldom recorded by the camera; but what is better, they are photographed by the mind and stored away in imperishable color, ready for recalling.
As we hummed north on the Maine Turnpike to Portland, a huge duck hawk zoomed up from the brook where he’d been feeding beneath the level of the road. We were doing sixty — so for an instant was he — and as he hung there with his beautiful wingspread and the crescent of his tail feathers less than a foot from our side window, it was breathtaking whether we’d collide. Then he swerved into the trees.
Later that afternoon, in the Maine uplands, in the yard of one of those blue-gray, long-unpainted farmhouses, we caught a glimpse of a wrestling match, the farmer with his pitchfork trying to uproot the porcupine and porky bristling fiercely as he tried to retreat to his cellar hole.
We have been over this road before, and the landmarks— the glass hearse in the yard of an antique seller, Perry’s Nut House (where we always lake food aboard), and the house with the captain’s walk in Camden — are old friends.
There are family jokes which we carry on as we drive. A family joke, unlike most others, gains on repetition. I, for instance, am on the lookout for a place of retirement when I’ve earned enough scars from editing. “Well, there it is, at last,”I say, as we pass over a blue, fast trout stream, with an abandoned farm on the knoll above, “that’s my place. ‘Boats for Rent, Bait for Sale, Try Weeks’s Trout Chowder.' ” “Haven’t you had enough of New England winters by this time?” asks the Lady. “Don’t be silly. You can sell bait just as effectively in Virginia.” Young Ted, on the other hand, has his eye on the little motels and diners and he keeps a tally of the fancier names: “Chick-Inn,” “Sail Inn,” “Better Duck Inn.” “When we have ours,” he remarks, “we’ll call it ‘Auto-Stop-Here.’ ”
In the woods we make a conscious effort to share the burdens — and the pools. Every city-pent angler yearns for the first cast over unfished water, but when there are three rods to take turns — father, mother, and son — the predatory is disciplined by the parental instinct. Our fishing is best when the competition in it is tempered by affection, for it is almost as much fun to watch one of the family net a good fish as to net it yourself. In this delicate adjustment the philosophy of John, our guide, is helpful. He has fished these pools for fifty years, he has known them when the trout were larger and more plentiful, but his faith is undiminished. “You’ve whaled that pool long enough,” he decides. “If there was a trout there, he’d have shown long before this. They ought to be dancing on their tails this early in the morning. Now you take Charlie’s Pool and we’ll try the Outlet.” Thus he rouses anticipation as we wait our turn. So, too, at the portages John’s resourcefulness at seventy calls out the voluntary spirit in his juniors and there is no argument about sharing the pack, the pots, the ponchos, and the gear as we file through the woods.
For the second year in succession the Lady present has caught the biggest fish. Last year of course it was just luck — we haven’t too much respect for her casting — but this time what happened at Thomas Pool can’t be laughed off. Luncheon was over; the fried trout, the big slabs of homemade bread toasted over the embers, the canned peaches, and John’s thick black coffee (“That coffee really is able!” John remarks as he passes the enameled cups) had reduced Ted and me to the horizontal. We lay on our backs, resting those shoulder muscles unused to so much paddling. John leaned back against a tree, lit a cigarette, and sighed. “Well,” he said, “if I had a farm I’d sell it and go guiding.” Out of the corner of our eyes we saw Ma take the light rod and head down the piney corridor toward the pool, unruffled in the bright sun. “ Watch your back cast,” I murmured. Poor Ma, with those overhanging trees, she’d be lucky to get out fifteen feet, the leader and line all splashing down with a galump. Our smoke was broken by a shout that meant business; and as we ran, there, framed in bright light, was the picture — the bowed rod throbbing to the down pull, the big squaretail and the black back breaking water. Ted and I shook hands silently when at last Gargantua had been netted, but it wasn’t until that night that he expressed himself. “I didn’t compliment you on your fish this afternoon,” he said to his mother as he climbed into his blankets. “But I do. He’s a great fish. Only I wish you wouldn’t catch the biggest one every year; it embarrasses me when the boys ask who got the big one! ”
Candor and consolation, the Lady contributes both. As on the following day when, having caught my favorite blue fly in a high branch, I elected to mount from the canoe to a steep rock from which I hoped to tip down the branch. To reach the rock I had to edge in over the birch branches of a beaver house, a fussy business which made me impatient. As I got a firm footing with one sneaker on the rock, all unconsciously I thrust away with my retaining foot in the canoe. The further the canoe retreated the further I stretched until, rather than split, I lunged into the water and scrabbled for the rock. No word was spoken until I had salvaged the fly. Then, “With all that commotion,” remarked the Lady, “you shook down a dozen caterpillars. I wonder if a trout would take one.” My wetness, stupidity, and barked knee were forgotten in the new possibility. She handed me one of the gray, silky, blue-lined caterpillars, and from the tip of my paddle I dropped it in the run. It drifted twenty feet; there was a sudden snack and it was gone. The little things that count.
Outcast ship and crew
The early novels about the war followed the pattern of experience: in form they were either a group of short stories or related episodes governing a single detachment. This was true of A Walk in the Sun by Harry Brown, the story of an infantry company inching its way beyond an Italian beachhead, and that other novel of Italy, The Gallery, by John Horne Burns; it was true of Mister Roberts and Tales of the South Pacific. The Caine Mutiny by Herman Wouk (Doubleday, $3.95) has the same fundamental authenticity which recommended these others, and something more. It has the time sense, the enormous boredom, the sense of being hopelessly isolated and cut off from home, which every veteran remembers; it has the scope and the skill to reveal how men are tested, exposed, and developed under the long routine of war; finally, it has the slow-fused but inevitably accumulating tension of the Mutiny which gives both form and explosive climax to the story.
The story takes place aboard the U.S.S. Caine, an old four-piper from World War I, which had been converted into a destroyer-minesweeper and which by miracles of patchwork survives four years of hard usage in the Pacific. We get our first impressions of the Caine from Willie Keith, an ensign who gravitates into the Naval Reserve by way of Princeton, Broadway night clubs, and Furnald Hall, Columbia. Willie, when he comes aboard, is a chubby, good-looking youngster, gay, casual, at his best composing ribald songs at the piano. Nothing in his training had prepared him for such a slovenly ship, nor for his berth in the clip shack, temperature 105°, ventilation straight from the funnel. De Vriess, his skipper, whom he first sees without a stitch of clothes on, seems to him a sardonic bully. It isn’t until the ship has left Pearl Harbor that Willie begins to find an approximate evaluation of the other officers in the wardroom.
There are three themes which the novelist has woven together for his story. First, the life aboard ship with the community frictions and loyalty, with its pecking order as the strong men assert themselves, and with its instinctive reaction to the skipper. De Vriess with his competence and drive got a prodigious amount of work out of the crew when in action and was wise enough to ease up on them when in port. Captain Queeg who follows him runs the ship “by the book.” His nagging and vindictive discipline, his antagonism of crew and wardroom, and his eccentric seamanship are the outward manifestation of a man who is inwardly a paranoiac and a coward. The ship is under Queeg’s command for fifteen months: it does escort duty at Noumea and at Kwajalein, takes part in the assault on Saipan, gets caught in the very center of a typhoon in the Philippine Sea, and is hit by a Kamikaze off Okinawa. This life becomes an infinity of sleeplessness, querulous temper, and taut nerves under the insufferable Queeg.
The second theme is an ironic scrutiny of the whole Naval system as it is mocked, hated, but obeyed by the civilian officers who did not graduate from the Academy. Lieutenant Keefer, the communications officer, is the spokesman for the wardroom in this: a novelist in private life, he is very articulate in damning the Caine and the system. But Keefer, as events prove, is neither a fair judge nor a reliable officer when the crisis comes. And the third theme, and the most personal, is the development of men at sea, particularly the character of Willie Keith. Willie at first is so casual that for three days he forgets to decode an action dispatch which he thrust into a hind pocket in a moment of excitement. But it is a different Willie who emerges from the long ordeal under Queeg. In the process of his self-possession Willie frees himself from his mother’s domination and comes to value his affection for May Wynn, an Italian night club singer, but these are minor incidents in a story of men, one of the best designed and best developed novels of the war yet published by an American.
Walpole and Strawberry Hill
It was in his twenty-ninth year, and when he had about $5000 a year to spend on books, that Wilmarth Lewis first began to think seriously about Horace Walpole. He had had some mild flirtations as an amateur collector before this: odds and ends of the English classics, Bruce’s Travels, a fourth edition of Robinson Crusoe, and the complete firsts of John Masefield. Then he caught a tantalizing glimpse of some manuscript notes by Lady Louisa Stuart, the granddaughter of Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, and before he knew it he was following her home to the eighteenth century. Like all courtiers, Mr. Lewis was at first hesitant to get in too deep. He had to convince himself that Walpole had not been the cause of the poet Chatterton’s suicide. Satisfied that Walpole was blameless, he then turned to his best friend, Professor Chauncey Brewster Tinker, for the clinching encouragement. “ Instead of being just a gossipy little dilettante, isn’t Horace Walpole one of the major figures of the eighteenth century?” “Yes,” replied Tinker. “And hasn’t he been greatly undervalued?” “Yes.” So begins one of the greatest quests in book collecting, a pursuit Mr. Lewis has described with disarming pride, charm, and perspicacity in his Collector’s Progress (Knopf, $5.00).
To his quest Mr. Lewis brought the indefatigable energy of American business and the dedication of a lover. It was his early hope that his collection would be “unrivaled,” and today after twenty-five years it is precisely that. To his white Colonial farmhouse in Farmington, with its ells and its two new libraries, he has brought the books, the heirlooms, the manuscripts which Horry Walpole once owned. The newest is a capacious room, holding as it does all the editions of Walpole’s works and eight hundred volumes from his library at Strawberry Hill; six thousand originals or photostats of the estimated seven thousand letters to and from Walpole still in existence; manuscripts, and thousands of index cards including a record of what is known of every day in Walpole’s life from his twentieth year to his eightieth. Money alone could not have done this: it took persistence and ingenuity, great tact in dealing with people; it took the patience of a detective when he recovered copies of Walpole’s plays which had been ripped apart from their bindings and distributed through the secondhand shops. All this he did in the clear, growing light of scholarship.
Collector’s Progress is quite the best we have had about book collection since A. Edward Newton. Mr. Lewis is more single-minded and less capricious than the Pickwick of Philadelphia. He catches the spirit of the eighteenth century as he writes about Walpole and his friends just as he catches the character of the twentieth as he writes about himself and that goodly company of booksellers and scholars, Mr. X, Evans, “Tink,” Paget Toynbee, and R. W. Chapman, who helped him so loyally on his way.