He taught and he lectured. One reason why his lectures, ot which lie delivers some eighty a year, are so supremely popular is that he acts throughout them, pouring out, with his hand at the back of his head as if to tilt the flow, a blend of parody, witticism, and interpretation. He gives unsparingly of himself on stage and off, knowing that a lecturer is paid for both, and his perception of this country, which he lightly discloses in Accustomed. As I Am, has been growing at the rate of 40,000 miles a year.
FAIR, auburn-haired, with a Scopas profile, he was the best talker of us all; he had an outrageous wit and he emphasized his points with his chin, lifted when he was in earnest, lowered when in doubt or in mirthful acknowledgment that he had been scored on. He had come to Harvard with the purpose of studying English literature and, more particularly, the theater (an avocation of which President Lowell did not approve). With Donald Oenslager to design the sets, he became the leading spirit in the Dramatic Club, and with the late Philip Barry he became one of the shining lights in Professor George Pierce Baker’s famous 47 Workshop (of which President Lowell also did not approve). Since he hailed from Kentucky and was master of every variation of the Southern accent from Lady Baltimore cake to the sugar cane of Louisiana, he was constantly being cast for ColonelMassa parts and as constantly walking out of them into something better in G. B. Shaw, Sheridan, or Galsworthy. The Signet table was never happier than when he was at the center of it, and the mischief he made with Louis Allard, Wheeler Williams, “Petty” MacVeigh, Ira Williams, and Dave AleCord I grin to remember. When he graduated sunnna cum laude in 1923 and went abroad to study theatrical production in Scandinavia and the Continent, John Mason Brown was at the point in his career when he could have been actor, author, or dramatic critic. But not for him “the road not taken.” He has lived to be all three.
The Theatre Arts magazine claimed him first as a dramatic critic. He entered a field dominated by Percy Hammond, Bobert Benchley, Brooks Atkinson, and Alexander Woollcott, and he hit with laughable metaphor — Tyrone Power, Sr., as Cassius, was “a set of vocal cords wrapped up in a toga” and with hearty appreciation. His standards were high and central, and so they remained despite the vituperation and dead cats aimed at him in the 1930s because he remained middle-ofthe-road when it was fashionable to espouse the left.
“I still recognize that art and life are imperatively different,” writes Mr. Brown in his new book, Through These Men (Harper, $4.00). “But the Second World War changed my attitude toward both drastically.”In his service in the Navy under Admiral Kirk, he became the voice of a great ship in action, and the amphibious adventures which he accounted for in To All Hands and Many a Watchful Night changed and readied him for a fresh undertaking on his return. I do not mean that he lost zest for his younger loves; he can still write about Agnes tie Mille or Sir Laurence Olivier with the old flame, or tell of taking his sons to see the circus in the Garden—with repeated visits to the men’s room—with laughter irrepressible. I mean that he came home with a greatly enlarged curiosity about the men who run this country, and that this is what he seeks to discover in his new book. The Conventions of 1952, the Republican in particular, were an eye opener, and thereafter he rode the trains with Stevenson and Ike, heard the talks at the whistle stops, watched the nominees in action, drew his comparisons, and finally went back to Washington to live behind the White House portieres during Truman’s last week of occupancy.
Once started he went on to record the consistent development of Henry Cabot Lodge, “that superb public servant” (the words are Vandenberg’s); to study the embodiment of law, Mr. Justice Frankfurter; the scientist-in-government, Dr. J. Robert Oppenheimer; and our leading political analyst, Walter Lippmann. Mr. Brown’s approach is eager, fair-minded, and sympathetic. The defect is an overkindliness which at times blurs his judgment. His remembrance of Ike’s Guild Hall Speech leads him to excuse the splintery Eisenhower semantics. He is too credulous in his acceptance of Vice President Nixon’s capabilities. It does not seem to occur to him that Ambassador Lodge’s schooling in domestic politics has not always yielded diplomatic results in the United Nations. His scrutiny of Mr. Lippmann focuses too much on the early years and does not come to grips with the philosopher in his maturity. But Mr. Brown is disarming about this; his intent is to show you what he felt, and in perception as in verbal brilliance these essays hold much to delight one. His power of metaphor is unrivaled and acrobatic. He speaks of F.D.R., Jr., as “a personable and gifted, if over-camerafond, young man,” and of Secretary Humphrey as “a driving, smiling turbine of a man.” He says of Truman that “the world was aware that he enjoyed the central heating of temper.” And he gives us this infectious description of Ike: “But his face was as open as a sunflower, his manner direct, and his goodness as hearty as his laughter.” That sunflower is perfect.
No college administrator in our time has had more perspicacity and courage than James Bryant Conant. Very early in his presidency at Harvard he expressed concern for those talented students who were too often plowed under, and his installation of the National Scholarships was an effort to meet this situation insofar as one institution might. His apprehensions about our overcrowded and undernourished high schools led him to write that forthright and provoking book Education in a Divided World, a book which brought down on his head the coals of wrath from every independent schoolmaster. But the accuracy of his warning was attested last autumn at the White House Conference on Education, which voted by a resounding majority to devote federal aid exclusively to the public school.
Now, as our Ambassador to Germany, he has had the chance to compare the education discernible behind the iron curtain with that which he knows at first hand in the Western world; he has been compelled “to sum up for Europeans American education in terms of American idealism" and to ask himself, faced as he is with the European example, whether education for all American youth is more important than the professional education of a select few. His findings are now to be read in his clear, Calvinist prose, The Citadel of Learning (Yale University Press, $2.00).
In his opening paper he describes the sovietization of the universities in East Germany, and translates a most ominous directive from Stalin: —
In front of us stands the citadel of learning. This citadel we must capture at any price. This citadel must be taken by our youth, if they wish to be the builders of a new life, if they wish, in fact, to take the place of the old guard.
However much Stalin may be repudiated, it is doubtful if this objective will be altered; and in the pages which follow, Dr. Conanl tells what such capture and paralysis have meant to students and to learning. “No one,” he warns, “would want to minimize the capacity of the Soviet Union to proceed with speed and effectiveness in technological affairs.” But that controversial undertakings and freedom of research are the lifeblood of a healthy academic community he can testify better than most.
From this comparison, drawn at such close range, he turns back to reconsider our new problems here at home: the unexpected, forced expansion of schools and colleges; the financing of research in pure and applied science; and the type of education beyond the high school to be provided for those who do not intend to enter a profession. “Equality of opportunity for all children,” he writes, “and equality of respect among all occupational groups are two doctrines that are as significant for our future as for our past.”
A master of light comedy and the inventor of that incomparable butler Jeeves, P. G. Wodehouse has finally gotten around to writing about himself. In his opening pages he is as coy and fidgety as a second-rate English lecturer, but when he settles down and plays it straight he is fun to listen to. He claims he hasn’t the nerve to undertake a full-dress autobiography. “To do that, you have to be somebody in the big league, one of those who have done the world’s work, like Polly Adler. . . .”Instead of an autobiography, Mr. Wodehouse has written America, I Like You (Simon & Schuster, $3.95), a book about the zany things that have happened to him during his many years in this country.
Tucked in among explanations of how Mr. Wodehouse came here in the first place, and why he elected to write about butlers (“I was raised on the fringe of the butler belt”), is much fascinating and useful information for the young author. How to collect from a literary agent whose check has bounced on you, for example; how to detect the saga habit before it becomes hopelessly entrenched (which Mr. Wodehouse himself never contrived to do); how to avoid being a celebrity; how to write a letter to the reviewer who has just panned the daylights out of your book: “Your opinion, may I add, would carry greater authority with me, did I not know, having met people who (with difficulty) tolerate your society, that you still owe your tailor for that pair of trousers he made for you in the spring of 1946 and that the lady who presides over the boarding-house which you infest is threatening, if you don’t pay six weeks back rent soon, to throw you out on the seat of them.” The cream of this Wodehousian jest is just at the turning point.