WE LIVE in the time of raised voices — voices raised in anger, accusation, and denial; and yet the quiet truths in the lowered tone are still being uttered if only we will listen intently. Who are they, these quiet voices? To pick a few: in England, Gilbert Murray, Sir Richard Livingstone, and Barbara Ward; in the United States, Judge Learned Hand, Bishop Shell, George F. Kennan, Walter Lippmann; in Germany, Thomas Mann and Martin Buber; in France, Paul Claudel and Abbe Pierre; in Africa, Albert Schweitzer, the most remote of all.
Dr. Schweitzer is an Alsatian, and I think it significant that the Alsace he knew as a boy, a province of hotly divided loyalties, should have produced leaders — Schuman, Munch, the Doctor himself — who transcend national divisions in their striving for a more harmonious society. As a student, young Schweitzer was a triple-first: he became a Doctor of Music, a Doctor of Philosophy, and in 1900 he took his theological degree magna cum laude. On his twenty-first birthday he determined that he would live for science and art until he was thirty, and after that enter some form of public service. Accordingly, in 1905 he turned away from scholarship and music to prepare himself as physician and surgeon bound for Africa. This meant six more years of study, another doctorate, and books to be written. In 1913 he was ready to go. He had raised the money by his organ concerts, the royalties from his books, and from gifts. With his wife — they had been married a year — seventy packing cases of equipment, and 2000 gold marks, lie set sail for Equatorial Africa.
The philosophy he held to during the trying years in which he built the jungle hospital at Lambarene is of three words, “Reverence for Life.” “In putting it into practice in hot, humid Africa,” writes Eugene Exman in the introduction to The World of Albert Schweitzer (Harper, $5.00), “he has become a symbol throughout the world of man’s belief in man — an example of compassion for persons, in a day of mass hatreds.” This volume is a biography in pictures of Dr. Schweitzer’s ceaseless activities in Africa and of his more contemplative and musical life when he returns to his hillside home in Giinsbach, Alsace; the man at work, the artist in thought, so truly delineated by the superb photography of Erica Anderson and by the text and quotations, well chosen by Mr. Exman.
The hospital story is the heart — these patients (500 a month) speaking ten languages, victims of elephantiasis, leprosy, malaria, and what else; their superstitions changing to trust, their sores to scars. The carpentry, the building, the surgery; the Sunday service, out of doors: the handwritten notes on the desk he built from packing cases, the pet pelicans and antelope, the jungle that had to be cleared for the new leper ward, the tueking-in of the old; and Bach, after dark, on the piano with zinc lining — here is that quiet, indefatigable spirit, whose radiance has traveled so far.
In one of the best of John Marquand’s novels, Point of So Return, the hero, Charles Gray, rebels against his success in finance, and the reluctance with which Charles returns to his job in a Manhattan bank is typical of many others in mid-life who had been dislocated and given fresh perspective by the war. Charles, it may be remembered, had spent his formative years in Clyde, Massachusetts, a small elm-shaded town north of Boston, and so docs the hero of Mr. Marquand’s new book, Sincerely, Willis Wayde (Little, Brown, $3.95). The difference is that Willis is infatuated with success and not so troubled by the ride up on the escalator. Willis’s father, Alfred, is a roving engineer who has come to Clyde to put new life into the Harcourt Mill. The mill is a family affair operated in a fine paternal way by Henry Harcourt of the third generation; with his astuteness and with Alf Wayde’s improvements the Harcourt Mill, on which the town depends for its livelihood, survives the crash and the Depression.
Willis was fifteen when he and his family moved into the garden house which stands in the shadow of the big Harcourt place, close by the mill. Hero worship is always natural in a boy, and Willis soon falls under the spell of Mr. Henry Harcourt. He admires everything about the elder — his style, his clothes, the antiques with which ho surrounds himself, the case with which he manages people. Willis is swift to emulate Mr. Harcourt, and with his proximity to the big house it is also natural that Willis should be drawn to Mr. Harcourt’s granddaughter Bess. She is vital, outspoken — she should have been the man of the family — and not sure how to take this large, freckled, fair-haired boy from the West, who is obviously so much more competent than her brother Bill. Bess and Willis come together when she is away from society and when they have the pine woods to themselves.
After the Harvard Business School, Willis becomes indispensable to the mill, and after his training as an industrial consultant in New York it is only a matter of time before he amalgamates the Harcourt Mill with Rahway Belting in the first of a series of combines. What Willis once learns he never forgets; he has a way with people, his gambles pay off, he makes money breed, and he is only flicked by his father’s advice, “Just don’t get too smooth, or you’ll turn into a son of a bitch. A lot of people do before they know it, son.”
The story is written in Marquand’s favorite mood, the interplay of reverie and the present. It is as if Willis were talking to himself, and in the beginning his candor has the edge on Bess. But as Willis matures, his candor evaporates and the account of his success shifts into business English studded with words like “contacted,” “set-up,” “angle,” “basic,” “encapsulated.”
It is a novel which will be remembered for its sharply contrasted scenes: the annual June meeting of stockholders at the llarcourt house contrasted with that burly convention at Pinehurst where, over the bourbon, Willis sells out to good old “P.L.” Nagel, while the mockingbird sings outside the window: or again, Willis’s arrival with his new luggage at Professor Hodges’s camp on Lake Sunapee in contrast to that scene in which he and Sylvia take their first look at what is to be “Waydeholm.”
What Willis does to the Harcourt Mill, big business has consistently been doing to the independents, and there is very little morality involved; not old Mr. llarcourt with his standards, nor Alf with his profanity, nor Bess with her candor, nor Sylvia with her protests can engender in Willis the loyalty which he is forever and “frankly” preaching. His self-deception and his barren interior make Willis an ignominious, not a tragic, figure; and it is here that I think we detect a failing in the novel. Mr. Marquand can satirize with devastating effect, but he cannot evoke a praiseworthy contemporary. They exist even in big business, and the contrast between Willis and an enlightened “operator” would have supplied a conflict and a depth which are lacking.
Short and sweet
Sir Henry by Robert Nathan (Knopf, $3.00) is a blithe, absurd parody, a book written to enter-
tain by a master of provocative dialogue and the light touch. Sir Henry himself is an ordinary, working knight of middle years with a reluctant hound named Manfred and a disgruntled horse called Ponderer. The knight’s armor is old, his sword is blunt, and despite the length of his service as knight-errant, Sir Henry has accumulated very little of the world’s goods, not even a lady fair or a castle.
Our story takes hold just as Sir Henry seems to have reached the end of his tether, the last of his cheese and hard bread. A little bird passes the word to Manfred that a dragon is ahead, and at that point the comic tapestry begins to unroll. In the course of time Sir Henry acquires two maidens — not one — a feather bed, and a green cart lined with cherry silk. All this sounds tempting, but our boy is very set in his ways, and the pleasure he has in his cortege is never what you might expect. The rivalry between the two maidens is predictable, but very little else is, in this charming light-minded book. It reminds me of The Saracen’s Head by Osbert Lancaster; if you liked that, you will like Sir Henry.
This is the season when New England anglers begin to oil their reels, tie some new flies, pore over catalogues, and exercise those piscatorial reflexes which have been too long in cold storage. There is one thing more I proscribe: the bedside reading of Fisherman’s Winter by Roderick Haig-Brown (Morrow, $3.50), an enchanting book to dream on. In the winter of 1951-52, Mr. Haig-Browm left his familiar British Columbian waters to investigate the trout fishing of Chile and Argentina. He was passed from host to host, shown the best streams, provided with the best guides, and in true Latin-American hospitality given all the time he wanted. On one prodigious day he fished for eight hours, broken in the middle by a scrumptious picnic and a nap; by actual count he had forty “incidents” in that span, including of course the fish he lost or released and the twelve rainbows and browns he brought in whose weight ranged from two to four pounds. These were fast streams coursing down from the Andes and out of lakes which had been stocked originally in 1904. The fish had grown to phenomenal size, and the water was so fierce that in many places they could be reached only by boat; but he insisted on wading wherever possible, and he always used the fly rather than the crayfish or the spinner.
Mr. Haig-Brown is an observant writer with an eye for the birds — the torrent ducks, the black cormorants — for the Chilean rain forests, for the great peaks, and most of all for the courage and skill of his companions. North America could hardly have sent a better ambassador, and what he has brought back is an authentic, invigorating account of a promised land.