The Peripatetic Reviewer

HAVE women a special aptitude for teaching English? If I think they have — and I do — it is because, of all those who struggled to instruct the runt I was, I remember most affectionately three who taught me English. The first was a little sparrow of a woman and so nicknamed by the school; she taught us public speaking. The whole grade would line up before her, hands on diaphragms, and with mouths thrust forward like feeding robins, we would follow her lead as between sucks of breath we audibly pushed the vowels out of our centers in short explosions: “a!" — “e!" — “i!" — “o!" — “u!” The Sparrow could achieve the most amazing explosions for so small a person, and she was so earnest about it that we never thought to giggle. To make sure that our bellows were in working order, she would pass down the line adjusting our hands to the proper spot and urging us to “ Force it out! Force it out!” She taught us to enunciate, and although we had small liking for the poems she made us memorize, the exercise of learning them by heart and spouting them aloud taught us, without our knowing it, the beauty of the vowels and the rhythm of good English.
Six of us were picked for the Prize Speaking in June, and for that ordeal the Sparrow managed to drill out of us the fear of reciting in public. We felt the butterflies all right, but somehow without prompting we finished what we started. If selfconfidence is the goal of education, the Sparrow gave us a strong push in the right direction.
Miss Harriet Budd had us when we were twelve, in that transitional year before we moved into the upper school. She drilled us in syntax and colored chalk much as did the famous Mr. Somervell who taught young Winston Churchill. “Mr. Somervell had a system of his own,”wrote Sir Winston. “ He took a fairly long sentence and broke it up into its components by means of black, red, blue and green inks. Subject, verb, object : Relative Clauses, Conditional Clauses, Conjunctive and Disjunctive Clauses! Each had its colour and its bracket. It was a kind of drill. We did it almost daily. As I remained in the Third Fourth (B) three times as long as anyone else, I had three times as much of it. 1 learned it thoroughly. Thus I got into my bones ihe essential structure of the ordinary British sentence — which is a noble thing.”
Like Mr. Somervell, Miss Budd made us respect the rules of grammar. Since we were at the outset of the automotive age and every member of the class was infatuated with the new cars, she drew an analogy we were not likely to forget. “A sentence without a verb,”she would suggest, “is like an auto without a motor; you need the verb to make it run, and now like good mechanics I want you to strip down a great many sentences until you can tell without hesitation the words which make them run.” This drilling in syntax was made endurable because Miss Budd would invest with her own spirit the most prosaic of assignments.
To reward us she would read aloud. She picked the books and they were good ones; she made occasion to read to us a little of them each day, so we came to live with The Virgrnian, The Scottish Chiefs, and Captains Courageous. She interpolated when she thought it would help, and on days when we were especially alert she would turn away from the blackboard before the hour was up, and seating herself would resume reading the reward book as a mark of her approval. Her voice was cultivated and firm; there was nothing affected about the way she read, and she laughed when we did. In making those books come alive, she took the curse off required reading. Miss Budd was too wise to force such books into her incentive system. Instead, in the most natural way, she gave us a daily reminder that reading could be fun.
Miss Warner, who taught us Senior English in high school, had less juice than Miss Budd, but in her dry, exacting way she made us aware of perfection, and of why one should strive for it. Her comments on our themes had just enough encouragement mixed in with corrections. Nothing can take the place of theme writing, and in my judgment the slump in the performance of entering freshmen which has been discernible on every campus since the war is directly attributable to the discontinuance of the essay requirements during the war. Miss Warner could be savage about slovenly writing, but the eagerness showed like sparks behind her spectacles when she found freshness that she liked. And she gave us latitude. I happened that year to be greatly taken with George Ade’s Fables in Slang. I read them and took them to heart. Now I was the smallest boy in our class — I weighed ninety pounds when I graduated — I was no good in athletics, and my only way to compensate was to be the comedian in the school play, manage the football team, and write for the school paper. What I wrote, and Miss Warner gave it an A, was a shameless fable in slang. It was a short story about a runt and the indignities he suffered, and of course I didn’t invent a single thing. The style was borrowed from George Ade, and the details came from myself.

Light in darkness

If a native American has to struggle for ten years to acquire a proficient knowledge of his own tongue, think how much more difficult such an acquisition must be for the foreign-born. I have watched a number of our contributors as they made the long difficult transition from their native French or Russian or Hungarian to that point where they could trust themselves to write in their adopted tongue. At Pomona College three years ago I was introduced to a young Hindu student, Ved Mehta, who I was soon to learn had undertaken an even more audacious writing assignment. Ved was then in his junior year, a member of Phi Beta Kappa, and one of the brightest students on campus. He had been blind since the age of three, but his education in the United States had given him an independence and mobility, and most of all a compulsion to clear his mind about his own country and about ours. He had dictated the beginning of a book to a classmate the previous summer. Now he asked if I would read it and help him to go forward.
Face to Face (Atlantic-Little, Brown, $4.50) is the testament of Ved’s coming of age. It is the story of his boyhood in India — felt, not seen. It is the story of his happiness and loneliness in a large family, and of his despairing efforts to be educated with the others. It is a story of his love for India and of his belief that the fracture between India and Pakistan need not have been and can be healed. It is the story of his persistent belief that America could give him the education India denied and of the courage which brought him here alone at the age of fifteen and kept him afloat. Courage and humility, gratitude and aspiration — these are the qualities which Ved Mehta has expressed so characteristically in this book with its undaunted search for self-knowledge.

The world of Arthur Winner

Seven years of writing have gone into James Gould Cozzens’ new novel, By Love Possessed (Harcourt, Brace, $5.00), and it was time well spent. This spacious story covers exactly forty-nine hours in the life of Arthur Winner, the leading lawyer in a small tow n in Connecticut. He is a man of scrupulous integrity with a sort of understanding which leads people to bring him their troubles. We find him on a September afternoon as he pauses to placate his aged, absent-minded mother; we follow him to the courthouse, where a young nitwit is being locked up for having murdered her illegitimate child; thence to his law office, where we are introduced to his partners and the lawsuits in hand; then to Roylan, where his old fieldstone house is a landmark with its long lawn and old sycamores; and on again to his summer camp, where his second wife, Clarissa, and his daughters are having a swimming picnic — all this in a span of an afternoon. And yet so revelatory is the writing as it shuttles from the present to retrospect, and so natural the encounters by which people enter and exit from his thinking, that by that first evening we have come to a sympathetic appreciation of the man himself and a growing apprehension about the tawdry rape case which — opposing as it does the Catholic and Protestant elements in the community — will certainly put Arthur Winner, who is to defend the accused, on the spot.
Love in its many different aspects is the theme of the novel: filial love; the love of man for man, such as exists between the three partners, old Noah Tuttle, Julius Penrose, the polio victim, and Arthur, the central cog; the fierce protective love of Helen Detweiler for her weakling brother Ralph; the concupiscence that passes for love in Ralph’s mind; Marjorie’s self-love, which she is about to offer to the Church; Arthur’s familiar affection for his first wife, Hope, and his more possessive and passionate feeling for Clarissa the Juno — such revelations as these impinge either through friendship or through practice upon the heart of Arthur Winner.
The strong current of his personality carries the reader forward, and again and again there are vignettes, scenes of such truth or loveliness that we pause to reread them: Ruth Shaw at the picnic apologizing to Arthur for her hard-drinking husband and, as she confides, suddenly flashing up to him in her broad smile the face of the pert, cool girl she once had been; Clarissa with her fine free body as she undresses after her swim; old Noah in his fury as he lashes out at the assistant district attorney; Harriet Carstairs with her list of imaginary worries and her resolute will-not-to-know; the old Ponemah oak and all that its shade evokes in those who have known it since they were children.
This is a wise and compassionate novel, and I will not mar its enjoyment if I add that Mr. Cozzens dismisses the children in it rather perfunctorily and that his sentences, particularly where he is tempted to overindulge in the parenthetical, are sometimes confusing.