The Peripatetic Reviewer

THE S.S. Espagne, which took me to France in the summer of 1917, will always float in my mind as the most glamorous steamer imaginable. This was my first trip abroad, and every impression was as fresh as paint. I was nineteen; I was shy, and in my gawky, ill-fitting uniform I tried to be as inconspicuous as possible in this gay, valorous ship’s company.
There were French officers in their gray-blue and scarlet kepis; a detachment of American nurses, all trim and some very pretty; pilots returning to the Lafayette Escadrille wearing their Croix de guerres with palms, each palm for a Boche shot down; there was a long, emaciated Belgian officer stretched out in his steamer chair, a victim of one of the first gas attacks, now returning from Tucson to die at home; there was Cole Porter, with his harmonica on which he played his latest hit, “I’ve a Shooting Box in Scotland, I’ve a Castle in Touraine”; there was the glamorous Red Cross worker who seemed to enjoy life in a lifeboat; and, youngest of all, there were several hundred of us volunteers to the American Field Service, on our way to drive ambulances or ammunition camions for the French Army.
I was painfully conscious of my uniform. I had always been neat about my clothes, and now here I was decked out in a caricature of khaki. My father’s shirtmaker was to blame. Dad had taken me up to him to be measured for four khaki shirts of the warmest flannel; but the shirtmaker had got drunk, and instead of cutting the flannel to my small dimensions (I weighed exactly 100 pounds), he made them to fit Dad, who was a sixfooter with a 15½-inch collar. The results were appalling. I had to double the cuffs back, and the folds of extra cloth made my tunic bulge and my neck gape. I knew I could remedy all of this as soon as I got to Paris. Meantime I suffered acutely even when standing in shadows.
Our ship was unescorted, and when we came within range of the U-boats we all went on the alert. There were lifeboat drills, and at night every porthole and companionway was blacked out. Those of us who patrolled the deck were cautioned against lighting cigarettes, and we were ordered not to wear luminous wrist watches lest their rays betray us to a submarine. We strained our eyes to scan the dark, heaving water, and it seemed a shade theatrical — though in fact the Espagne was torpedoed and sunk on her next trip.
There was something strange and toy-like about Bordeaux Harbor as we marched ashore; but the people who paused to watch us smiled and obviously meant us well in their incomprehensible French. I remember the hard wooden benches of the third-class compartment, and the chocolat Meunier and tough, chewy bread which we munched as we jogged along; I remember the vast trainyards of Paris, and the full-bloomed beauty of the city itself as we glimpsed it on our way to headquarters at Rue Raynouard and as we took it in more fully in the days that followed.
I had carried a tennis racket, a Slazenger, over with me to be used on leave, and this I parked at the University Club. I ordered a whipcord uniform and light cotton shirts (sitting in my underwear in the shirtmaker’s dressing room while the first of them was stitched); I had my first dinner and my first champagne at the Hotel Continental, and two tables away sat Guynemer, the French ace, his pale face the more striking because of his black uniform, the ribbons on his breast attesting his forty victories; afterwards, with Harry Crosby and Tote Fearing, I spent my first evening at the Follies. The uniforms, the fantastic women, the color and vitality of the stage where the argot was quicker than we could follow; the bar during intermission where I had my first drink with an Australian (“Hi, digger, what’ll you have?”); this hypnotic experience of sound and sex and laughter was bound together and made real by a sense of exhilaration, by the feeling that we were all in this show together.
The French educated us in many things: to speak French (since they manifestly had no intention of speaking English); to cat horsemeat, which was our main ration at the training camp; to drive our ambulances with a respect for shattered men; and at Verdun, where we served that July and again that November, to do our work by night over roads muddy and potholed beyond belief. Our real instructors were the brancardiers, the stretcher-bearers, men in their late forties and fifties who had been pulled out of the infantry and assigned to the tender but hazardous task of conveying the wounded in their pousse-pousses from the front line to the poste de secours. These men were old enough to be our fathers; they had seen more than they wanted of death, and yet they were endlessly patient in their teaching of these raw Americans, to whom a pile of stiffs under a tarpaulin in the shed behind the poste was still something of a grizzly curiosity. They taught us their card games and how to enjoy pinard at their popote. They taught us the humor and irony of the French newspapers; they taught us tenacity and, in their handling of the wounded, compassion. And finally, in those perilous days of March, 1918, when the Germans had broken through, they showed us the anguish which is in every Frenchman’s eyes when his country seems dreadfully in peril.
Clemenceau and Foch and Papa Joffre were the great leaders then, but the men who taught us France, and whose lessons after forty years I still remember, were those weary but tenacious old bleus.


There has long been a special affinity between the French and the Americans. It began indeed during our Revolution with our gratitude for such volunteers as Lafayette, and for the weight of ships and arms which turned the tide at Yorktown. Then and repeatedly thereafter, Frenchmen who have come to our shores have been eager to size us up and to draw the parallels between the two democracies. Tocqueville, Andre Siegfried, and Raoul de Roussy de Sales were three such observers, and now speaks a fourth, JACQUES MARITAIN, who has lived amongst us for nearly a quarter of a century and whose it REFLECTIONS ON AMERICA (Scribner’s, $3.50) is a statement ol faith in us which is penetrating, hopeful, and at times profound.
Me begins by describing the love at first sight which he underwent on his arrival, and he stresses the sharp, far-reaching contrast which was uppermost in his first impressions, a contrast between the people on the one hand and what he calls “the structure of civilization” on the other. He speaks of the kindliness in the American character, of the multiplicity of our communities, of our circles within circles, and of how the feelings and instinct of such communities are much stronger in this country than in Europe. He remarks that America is “a country entirely turned toward the future, not toward the past.” He is impressed by Frederick L. Allen’s statement that “the reform movement of this century . . . the revolt of the American conscience which was kindled by Theodore Roosevelt, the elder La Follette, and Woodrow Wilson, brought about an automatic redistribution of income from the well-to-do to the less well-to-do. . . . We had discovered a new frontier to open up: the purchasing power of the poor.”
This brings M. Maritain to the keynote of his book, to the belief that by a strange paradox the American people are exercising a steady unsystematic pressure upon their industrial civilization, and that they are transforming this huge material structure from capitalism into a new phase, which he terms “economic humanism.” The friendliness of his words and the revelation which he gives us of the evolution so steadily at work here is at once tonic and reassuring.


The instinct which prompted KENNETH ROBERTS in his mid-thirties to turn away from a most profitable journalism and devote himself to the writing of historical novels about the American Revolution in the north country resulted in a permanent contribution to our literature. Before his death last summer, Mr. Roberts completed a brilliant episode which was to have been a part of a new novel about the fighting in the South.
THE BATTLE OF COW PENS (Doubleday, $3.50) is the evaluation of one of the great turning points in our struggle for independence. It came late in the war, when the patriot cause, as Washington told Congress, was in a “ruinous and deplorable condition.” The Continental currency was worthless, and the fighting in the North had reached such a stalemate that Washington was seriously concerned lest he might have to dissolve the Army for a year until our strength recuperated. It was at this crisis that Clinton sent Lord Cornwallis and his dashing cavalry leader, Banastre Tarleton, South to mop up Savannah and Charleston in what might prove to be the final stroke of the war. Tarleton had a superb striking force — field guns, light dragoons. Highlanders, and three battalions of British regulars, augmented by such Loyalists as he picked up along the way. He made fast time in that almost impassable country: he hit hard, and his sabers were dreaded.
Opposed to him was a rugged little force under Brigadier General Daniel Morgan. Morgan had served as a wagoner in General Braddock’s march on Fort Duquesne, and as a result of one interchange with a British lieutenant, he had been sentenced to receive 499 lashes. It did not kill him, and it did not improve his liking for the British. The matching of these two men — the professional cavalry officer and the rugged mountaineer — the pursuit and the desperate stand which brought their two forces together on the hidden slopes at Cowpens, is a clash which Mr. Roberts delights to tell. He prepares for this battle with the forethought of the participants; he studies every shred of evidence for motive and tor mischance. Probing and irascible, sparing in his praise, he shows the courage and the meanness which were both part of this forgotten fight, and he reminds us in his stirring prose of what the victory, achieved in one hour, meant to the Colonies.


FANNY KEMBLE WISTER has performed a valuable service for all lovers of Americana in her editing and presentation of the journals and letters of her father, Owen Wister, OWEN WISTER OUT WEST (University of Chicago Press, $5.00).
Owen Wister was a Philadelphian who was born with a silver spoon in his mouth and endowed with most of the graces. He loved music and played the piano exceptionally well. At Harvard, where he had a host of friends, he was seemingly destined for a career in either music or the law.
In the summer of 1885 he went West for his health to a ranch in Wyoming, at that time still a territory. Here he tasted air he had never breathed before; he lived with ranchers and studied the Indians; he shot elk and he caught rainbow trout. He also caught a glimpse of the hard, ruthless cruelty which accompanied the wastefulness in this frontier land, and in more tranquil moments he caught glimpses of what the future might hold.
Six times in the ensuing decade he was to come back to this wildness, and the more he saw of it the less he wished to practice law. He began to make notes about the men he encountered at bars, in the ranches, and on the roundups; and these men became the prototypes for his big novel, The Virginian, the grandfather of all Westerns, which was to establish him for life as an author.
In his journals one can see how this sensitive Philadelphian was swept by the beauty of the dawn and the prairie night, how he was shocked by such brutality as he was compelled to witness at Tisdale’s ranch, and how he was attracted by such men as Corporal Skirden of the Second Cavalry, with whom he rode over miles of desert and mountain. “He, more definitely than any frontier character I had met,” writes Owen Wister in his preface to The Virginian, “continually realized and ratified my imaginary portrait, made me sure of my ground, confident that I was keeping well inside the actualities of frontier characters; so that, within six months after the book’s appearance, letters — half a dozen at least had come to me, in which each writer was quite sure he knew who the ‘original’ of the Virginian was — and it was never the same original, nor were any of them known to me.”
He took discomfort and exposure as they came, and lie wrote with an unrestraint, with a force and realism rare for that time, “This is the country without eyebrows,” he noted. “Can I apply acid to my English, tell nothing till the sharp cutting metal is left?”


MARTHA GELLHORN, who received the O. Henry award last year for her story “The Smell of Lilies,” which originally appeared in the Atlantic, is one of our very best writers. To the swift and vibrant medium of the short story, she brings a richness of experience, a tenderness and a depth of feeling, and a power of characterization which I believe have never shown to better effect than in her new book, TWO BY TWO (Simon and Schuster, $3.50).
There are four long stories in this book with one central theme: the sinews which bind but do not always hold men and women together; call them the sinews of love. There is thus in each a dual portrait, with sometimes the shadow or presence of a third person looking over the shoulder.
The stories are remarkably diverse in their settings: in the first, we are taken to the Italian castle of the Ferentino family at the moment of its liberation by the Americans — a liberation so true and spontaneous to read about, and so pathetic in that it does not last. Here the tendons which bind Kitty, once of Chicago, to Prince Andrea have a sensitivity which keeps one dwelling in the narrative from the very first page.
In the second story, Miss Gellhorn is writing of London society and of Rose Answell, a political climber, as ruthless with her husbands as she is with her women friends.
The third story is the Atlantic prize winner, re-titled to fit in with the title scheme of the book; and the fourth — perhaps the most vivid and powerful of the book is about Bata, the famous war photographer. Miss Gellhorn makes him dominant, magnetic, and endearing as he comes to us through the eyes of his mistress and his most understanding friend, Lep, the Pole. This is good writing; it is also very good entertainment.