The Peripatetic Reviewer
IN THE early years of this century, when there were very few mechanics in any square mile of America, the gasoline motor was an object of skepticism, curiosity, and blind trust. I saw it first at close hand in the form of a two-cylinder, two-seater buckboard in which Philip Latourette came courting my pretty Aunt Lucy. It was a low-slung contraption which looked as if it had been built of bed slats and whose coughing, cranky motor generally made it self-propelled. Uncle Phil (as he was destined to become) in knickerbockers, with goggles on his cap, drove over of a morning from Bayonne to Elizabeth, a roundabout ten miles. It was really something to be there at Grandmother’s when he drew up in that dusty, maple-shaded street; to be allowed to climb into the seat which Aunt Lucy would soon occupy, to squeeze the rubber ball of the horn, and to hear the owner dilate on the special virtues of his runabout. “The great thing about two cylinders,”he would explain with pride, “is that you always have one to fall back on if the other goes dead.”But when both cylinders quit, a stubborn stillness settled over the little backboard which no amount of priming and cranking could overcome. Spectators would gather; comments would drift down from the rocking chairs on the neighboring porches; some smart aleck would sing out “Get a horse! ‘ — and that eventually was what Uncle Phil had to do.
Uncle Phil knew where to look for trouble, whereas mv father, who was one of the worst drivers ever at large in the state of New Jersey, drove with blind trust. Al Capp, the cartoonist, once remarked that he didn’t want to take care of a car, he wanted a car that would take care of him. Well, that was Dad. He trusted what was under the hood, and while operating the machine he was a law unto himself. He preferred the left side of the road — it gave him a clearer view of what was coming and on the left he was difficult and dangerous to pass, fellow motorists were enemies and all pedestrians chickenheaded: he issued instructions to them through the windshield with imprecations and angry gestures.
I took my first drive with Dad in a rented car. The expedition was planned for a Sunday afternoon; we would drive up to the Mushroom Farm in Plainfield, a distance of sixteen miles, buy a mess of fresh mushrooms, and bring them back with us for a chafing-dish supper. To make it more fun, we invited the Churches: Uncle Allan, Aunt Hattie who was Dad’s sister, Katherine who was a year older than I, and young Allan who was two years my junior — seven of us in a Rambler tonneau. Dad cranked her up, took the wheel, and we rolled away. We had our first blowout passing through Roselle, and luckily we found a mechanic who knew where the tire tools were and how to use the jack. Our second occurred on the outskirts of Cranford. This used up a lot of time since we had no spare; Dad said strong words about the owner, and after paying for the new tire and tube he had barely enough cash left for those mushrooms.
Then coming into Rahway the engine went dead. That was the last straw; we all got out and the car was pushed to a garage. I remember how dejected we children were as we sat in that garage, and how hungry; I remember Dad blustering, and the fuss over cashing a check; I remember Mother taking us across the street to soothe us with an ice cream soda; and I remember the long and silent trip home through the dark night.
The really reliable carrier of my youth was the trolley car. In my home town the trolley car marked “North Broad” came the nearest to our home on Clinton Place. This was a big, burly crasher which was raced by the dogs and got up considerable speed on the open parts of its run. It. swayed so violently that I used to get seasick on the trip to Newark. The trolley that gave me the most fun in life was the jouncy open car which ran between Bay Head and Point Pleasant, New Jersey. It was operated, if I remember rightly, by a crew of one. He ran the motor, rang the bell, and collected the fares when we paused on the siding in the marsh, waiting for the down car to pass. There we would sit with the red-winged blackbirds whooping it up in the marsh mallows until the relay clanged its way by. Some of the college boys liked to smoke on the back platform, and once the car was in motion again they did more than smoke. They began bobbing up and down in a concerted rhythm, and with their weight they could make that tiny trolley seesaw until the motorman was fit to be tied.
These memories are revived by my perusal of Trolley Car Treasury by Frank Rowsome, Jr. (McGraw-Hill, $5.95), the most nostalgic picture book of this Christmas season. The photographs recall an era and what a pleasure a trolley could be: “Take a trolley to Coney or Rockaway,” or a cable car up the steeps of San Francisco — or, indeed, the private parlor car “Mabel" that could be chartered in St. Louis for weddings, anniversaries, or even funerals. They are all here and many more besides. Who wanted 300 horsepower then?
Bertrand Russell at eighty-four
It is startling to realize the span of the living memory. Bertrand Russell was brought up by his grandparents. His grandfather was born in the early days of the French Revolution; had gone to visit Napoleon on Elba; led the fight for the Reform Bill in 1832; and, as Prime Minister, occasionally rebuked Queen Victoria for being too imperious. These two men between them have influenced and observed Britain’s course from Napoleon to the hydrogen bomb.
Politics had been the habitual pursuit of the Russells since the sixteenth century, and Bertrand broke the tradition when he insisted on studying mathematics and philosophy. In his shy, loveless boyhood he dwelt in books, and that he was a penetrating and brilliant scholar was attested by Whitehead, who examined him for Cambridge. At Trinity he was happy and appreciated. His thinking and his writing, his friends and his aspirations, are crisply and skillfully evaluated in his autobiographical essays, Portraits from Memory (Simon & Schuster, $3.50). These essays, seldom running more than nine pages, are a measure of the man and of his concise and beautiful style. “I like precision,” he writes. “I like sharp outlines. I hate misty vagueness. . . . The more I am interested in anything, the more I wish to know the truth about it, however unpleasant the truth may be.” Mathematics, he hoped, would satisfy his quest for certainty; philosophy, “my thwarted desire for a religion.” The war of 1914 he thought a fateful mistake; he opposed it and was jailed for his pacifism. His visit to Russia in 1920, he tells us, was the turning point in his life. He held long talks with Lenin and other prominent men and came away detesting all that Communism stood for. For this he was ostracized by the left wing as, earlier, he had been ostracized by the right.
Sixty-one years ago, “walking alone in the Tiergarten through melting snow,” he determined to write two series of books: “one abstract, growing gradually more concrete; the other concrete, growing gradually more abstract.” This volume is the most personally concrete of the second series. It is alive with sharply etched portraits of his friends and dons at Cambridge, of his grandfather, of Conrad whom he loved and of G. B. Shaw whom he liked to tease, of Whitehead who was his partner for ten great years, of Wells whom he respected, and of D. H. Lawrence whom he distrusted. His characterization can be deft and pointed, as when he says of Shaw: “Shaw’s contempt for science was indefensible. Like Tolstoy, he couldn’t believe in the importance of anything he didn’t know. . . . As an iconoclast he was admirable, but as an icon rather less so.” In his self-portrait, since these papers were written at different periods, he is repetitious, though he says things a little differently each time. Only in his remarks on America does his judgment seem out of date.
Rawhide and romance
Montana as it was in the 1880s when the cattlemen first began to fence it off and settle down — this is the setting for A. B. Guthrie, Jr.’s new book, These Thousand Hills (Houghton Mifflin, $3.95). Lat Evans, whose parents had gone clear to Oregon in ‘45, has reached an age when he has to get away. His father’s stern God-fearing ways are more than he can stand, and now that he is nearly twenty-one he knows that the fruitlands on the Willamette hold no future for him; at the first chance he signs on with Ram Butler, the Texan trail boss, and with him rides east and south to join the cattle train. Lat’s job is to break horses. He finds a partner in Tom Ping and a friend in Mike Carmichael. With his lean strength and young courage he wins the men’s respect. And there is something else about him that soon shows — his determination to get some cattle and stake out a decent place of Ins own. How Lat gets ahead is the story.
Mr. Guthrie tells it with rawhide and romance. There is plenty of punishing masculine detail here, as in the hot dusty struggle with the cattle; plenty of raw, numbing cold, as when Lat is trapping and skinning wolves; plenty of fear and suffering, as when he and Tom are captured by the band of Indians and held in captivity until Lat’s desperate operation on Hole-in-the-Leg. The romance begins with Callie, Lat’s girl in the fancy house in Fort Benton. Lat’s ingrained morality keeps telling him that he should never be there, but her curiously virginal girlishness appeals to him; she makes him welcome in tender ways, she gives him her savings when he needs money most, and she comes closer to him than he will ever admit. This is the conflict in the book, the conflict which brings out that same streak of hardness in Lat which so repelled him in his father. I find Callie more believable than Lucy, Lat’s wife, but neither of them as lifelike as the men. What I like best are the scenes Charles Russell might have painted: Butler riding at the head of the cattle; Lat breaking in Sugar; the race against the Piegan; the range after a blizzard; the campfire at night with Carmichael talking.