The two volumes of THE DIARY OF BENJAMIN ROBERT HAYDON (Harvard University Press, $20.00), edited by Willard Bissell Pope, represent the start of a sizable publishing project. There have been previous versions of the painter’s garrulous memoirs and journals, but all cut to the taste of his descendants. Professor Pope, having come into possession of the whole packet of Haydon’s manuscripts, is now in a position to present the full text.
The Haydon diaries are no such unexpected coup as the Boswell papers, but the first two volumes, covering the period from 1808 to 1824, are fine stuff in their own way. Haydon was one of the lesser eccentrics on the fringe of the English romantic movement, a man who knew practically everybody well enough to quarrel with and who gossiped at length about those he didn’t know. He has long been a mother lode for biographers of Keats and Byron, was well and unhappily acquainted with Leigh Hunt, painted the standard portrait of Wordsworth meditating in crabbed age, and is an invaluable informant on the conversational habits ol the period.
All this would be of small interest to the general reader if Haydon were not a notable fellow in his own right. Fortunately, he was one of the oddest ducks who ever took to the brush. A wildly enthusiastic, exceptionally clever, touchy, determined, and courageous youth of middleclass origin, he became a painter despite the outcries of his father, remarkably poor eyesight, and a lack of talent that would have discouraged any sane man in six months. On the subject of painting, which he always calls “the art,”Haydon was not sane. He was superbly mad and remained so until the age of sixty, when poverty and public indifference, or possibly a sudden attack of clear vision in regard to his work, drove him to suicide.
Haydon’s passion was the large canvas — nine by sixteen feet suited him perfectly — devoted to some morally uplifting historical or literary subject: the raising of Lazarus or the murder of King Duncan. In Haydon’s youth, Benjamin West owned this field and had been tilling it successfully for years. It never occurred to Haydon that his predecessor might have exhausted the public tolerance for historical painting. Stubbornly slashing away at his acres of canvas, Haydon waited in vain for patrons and public acclaim. He pursued the rich, the titled, and the fashionable; he squabbled with the Royal Academy; he wrote puffs for his friends and was puffed in return. Nothing did any good. He was trying to ride a dead horse.
Haydon was an emotional type and convinced of his own right judgment. He despaired of public taste, complained of being hung in a bad light, wept like Job among the ashes, and arose, praying furiously, to continue with yet another Gargantuan sack of Troy or entrance into Jerusalem. The truth is that, while he had mild merit as a painter of heads, Haydon was perfectly terrible at figures, and a large canvas full of them inspired him to excesses which, to quote one of his favorite authors, cannot but make the judicious grieve.
This bad painter was nevertheless a sensible and generous critic of other men’s work, an admirer of the Elgin marbles at a time when their worth was strongly disputed, and a talented, though undisciplined, writer. His diary is full of sharp observation and intelligent analysis. His theories and speculations on art are always interesting, and his descriptions of the pictures he intends to paint are dramatic.
These descriptions, dashed down in the first fever of inspiration, are always of a scene imagined as a split-second pause in a continuing, and usually violent, action. They suggest that Haydon was born a century too soon. He should be in Hollywood today, directing Technicolor spectacles, for what his pictorial conceptions required for their effect was precisely the quality that painting cannot provide — motion.
If there was something of Gully Jimson in Haydon, and a trace of Baron Corvo, there was also a conscientious and able man who, prompted by perverse demons, devoted himself to the worst possible profession. Those who make this mistake usually keep quiet about it. Haydon recorded his experiences in detail, and they make a pitiful but fascinating story.
ENGLAND’S AMIABLE DELINQUENTS
In ABSOLUTE BEGINNERS (Macmillan. $3.75), COLIN MACINNES demonstrates that behind England’s Angry Young Men lurks a crowd of amiable juvenile delinquents. If Mr. MacInnes’ hero and narrator can be taken as typical, things should go off like a fireworks display when these brats get old enough to vote.
The particular brat in this novel is reluctantly approaching twenty, self-supporting, thanks to ability with a camera and a compliant attitude toward pornographic pictures, and magnificently intolerant of his elders. They are, in his intricate tribal language, taxpayers, and he keeps them firmly in their place. Barring this one fixed prejudice, the boy is descended straight from Sir Gawain, being a kindly and tactful youth and peaceable as a kitten full of cream unless confronted by injustice or cruelty, when he sallies out at once to break a lance. Given his habits and temperament, his strength can hardly be as the strength of ten, but it generally proves to be about that of eight and a half.
Most of the book concerns his conversations with associates of his own lighthearted stamp, but there is an underlying plot about race relations which finally boils to the surface. It is almost eerie to find the standard American motif of race riot cropping up in an English novel, and Mr. MacInnes’ treatment of it strikes me as frivolously optimistic, but perhaps he is right in assuming that in England the problem of white and black hostility, having only recently arrived, will shortly go away.
Absolute Beginners is a fast, amusing story with a considerable surge of excitement once the riot starts. It has no remarkable intellectual content, but skill and vitality make it engaging, if sometimes alarming, reading, and it is a pleasant surprise to come upon a young English novelist who is neither whining nor belligerent, and upon a novel in which the dreary phrase “workingclass" never appears.
MR. BUCKMASTER’S WIRES
POYNTZ TYLER’S A GARDEN OF CUCUMBERS (Random House, S3.95) is simply a funny novel, with no more subtlety or significance than a lollipop. It has a plot that would delight P. G. Wodehouse and very likely has, since improbably devoted servants and impossibly respectable crime are at least as old as Puss in Boots.
The chief ornament of this romp is Mr. Buckmaster, a butler of the old school with the combined talents of Raffles, Billy Sunday, and Alexander the Great. His employer. Miss Victoria, has been flat broke since the early thirties but remains quite unaware of it, thanks to natural stupidity and Buckmaster’s philosophy of life, which he sums up as “Take it easy-but take it.”Ensconced in a New York mansion (tax-free, because he has made it the headquarters of a nice little religious charity that is as honest as any swindle in history), sustained by champagne and pressed duck, Mr. Buckmaster directs a staff of twenty-odd people, all of whom double as shoplifters, highjackers, and sucker catchers. The take suffices to keep Miss Victoria in the manner to which she and Mr. Buckmaster are accustomed and to do the rest of the establishment very well indeed until love, infiltrating the ranks, brings his empire of refined crime crashing about Buckmaster’s pantry.
Mr. Tyler’s writing rattles along with tart gaiety, and his ingenuity in thinking up plausible ways of transferring money from the undeserving rich to the less deserving poor seems inexhaustible. Buckinaster’s masterpiece is the tying up of the whole New-York subway system in order to facilitate the removal of $800,000 from Macy’s, an affair reported by Mr. Tyler in a slightly cockeyed imitation of newspaper prose that is in itself a superb invention. It is bettered only by Buckmaster’s conversation, a mixture of creamy pomposity, counterfeit piety, misapplied quotation, and ingenuous depravity. Mr. Buckmaster is a most delightful rascal, and if he doesn’t wind up in a musical comedy, I shall be much surprised.
THE SHACKLES OF WEALTH
AFTER SUCH KNOWLEDGE (Houghton Mifflin, S3.50) is a first novel whose author, unlike so many beginners, has not elected to play it safe with a neat little theme and a tight little setting. SALLIE BINGHAM has undertaken to investigate the characters and ideas of three generations of women in a wealthy New York family and has succeeded remarkably well, particularly since she is dealing with a milieu in which change is slow, slight, and obscured by surface formalities, and with a period covering forty years.
Miss Bingham’s heroine is a debutante of the 1930s, a pleasant but undistinguished girl brought up exactly as her mother was brought up twenty-five years earlier. Since she is less carefully chaperoned, convention no longer demanding it, she ambles into a love affair in Paris and then recoils into a safe but dismal marriage. Permanently unnerved by the one dramatic experience of her life, she suffers the buffeting of her resentful husband and supercilious daughter until the girl gets into similar difficulties. The lady then summons up, on behalf of her child, the courage she never exercised for herself.
Summary makes the story sound like soap opera. It is nothing of the sort, for the delicate differences in knowledge and enterprise between mother and daughter, daughter and granddaughter, are very deftly revealed, while the heroine’s husband is an exceptionally effective study of a blamelessly horrible man. Miss Bingham’s style is detached and quietly ironic, with witty similes scattered over it like sequins on starched gingham. She presents her unsentimental conclusions about female emancipation with elegant stoicism.
DE GAULLE’S MEMOIRS
SALATION (Simon and Schuster, $6.00), the latest volume of the memoirs of CHARLES DE GAULLE, translated by Richard Howard, covers the months between the Allied invasion of Normandy in 1944 and the author’s withdrawal from public office in 1946. General de Gaulle’s intransigent dedication to what he believes to be the best interests of France has been well established by history and his earlier books; Salvation offers no surprises on this topic. It does provide a valuable record of French participation in the last period of the war and detailed reasons for General de Gaulle’s actions in pursuit of his great objective, the re-establishment of his country as a major European power.
To achieve this end, General de Gaulle was prepared to annoy, obstruct, or defy both France’s allies and its citizens. His account of the proceedings would be unendurable if it contained any element of satisfaction in his contrary ingenuity. It is remarkable, and curiously appealing, that the general seems to have derived no pleasure at all from his own nuisance value and to have seen nothing in the least comic in the spectacle of the head of the French state firmly biting the hands that had so recently fed him. On occasion, however, “I” — the narrator — reveals something resembling wistful astonishment at the performance of De Gaulle the Public Figure.
These two -“I” and De Gaulle — are most carefully differentiated. It is “I”who observes Marshal Stalin’s drinking habits with amazement and records his swaggering conversation with dry humor; “I” who chuckles quietly over the French army’s success in scrounging equipment from the British and Americans; “I" who decides what must be done for the good of France. Once “I” has decided, that fellow De Gaulle, Olympian and imperturbable. goes out and does it.
It seems likely that much of De Gaulle’s success depended on his ability to keep the two characters separate and that the task was neither easy nor comfortable. What will happen if they ever merge, or if De Gaulle gets the upper hand of the partnership, necessarily remains uncertain. The story is not ended yet, and as the general, a man fond of aphorisms, remarks, “The future lasts a long time.”
TWO STUDIES IN MURDER
In THE MIND OF THE MURDERER (Farrar, Straus & Cudahy, $4.50), DR. MANFRED GUTTMACHER, a veteran psychiatrist who, among other activities, serves as chief medical officer to the Supreme Bench of Baltimore, discusses the reasons that drive men to murder, the nature of criminal insanity, the position of medical witnesses in court, and possible improvements in the interaction of law and psychiatry. His book is precise in its material and cautious in its conclusions.
Dismissing rather brusquely what he calls the “normal” murderer — that is to say, the nervous holdup man, the hotheaded drunk, and their ilk-Dr. Guttmacher proceeds to a list of abnormal murderers, ranging from a boy who shot three schoolteachers to a gentle soul whose sister married him off to a singularly unsuitable spouse. The wife proved to be a retired tattooed lady, but Dr. Guttmacher was unable to obtain any more information on the matter because her husband “had been too gentlemanly to make detailed observations.”Unfortunately, he was not too gentlemanly to strangle her when she became obstreperously drunk. Dr. Guttmacher suggests, but does not insist, that this was a case where an untoward crisis released the pent-up hostilities of a lifetime. The murderer, as surprised as anybody by his crime, got off with manslaughter.
Although Dr. Guttmacher offers no blanket formula to account for abnormal murderers, he does report that a considerable percentage of those he has dealt with had previous records of mental illness. He then discusses the position of psychiatrists and medical men called as witnesses in court, revealing a positive morass of complications and misunderstandings. The doctor is prone to consider himself an unimpeachable authority; the lawyer, working for effect on the jury’s opinion, is apt to view him as a potential goat. In Dr. Guttmacher’s opinion, truth is often buried for good in the dust of the ensuing battle.
Alongside Dr. Guttmacher’s thought-provoking book appears A STUDY OF MURDER (Crowell, $4.95) by STUART PALMER, assistant professor of sociology at the University of New Hampshire. Dr. Palmer’s study of murderers began with the not ill-grounded assumption that they had been “terribly frustrated during their early lives” and were “undersocialized,” which means “the individual . . . will presumably direct his aggression toward others in a more or less indiscriminate fashion.”Tinkering about with these ideas, Dr. Palmer decided that murderers are probably mistreated in childhood by their mothers; and not wishing to keep the reader in suspense, I will confide right now that by the end of the book he proves to his own satisfaction that this is pretty much the case.
The means by which Dr. Palmer conducted his study are of considerable interest. He had the ill luck to be based in New Hampshire, and New England, traditionally a frugal area, has one of the country’s lower murder rates. Short of material to begin with, Dr. Palmer ran into further difficulty when he decided that female murderers were too rare to be worth his attention and that brothers of murderers were necessary as a control group, for purposes of comparison. The mothers of murderers were also necessary as witnesses to the childhood characters and experiences of both murderers and brothers. A knowledge of English was required if these mothers were to answer Dr. Palmer’s carefully prepared questions. There was also the awkward matter of Dr. Palmer’s traveling expenses; the mothers had to be within reasonable distance of the University of New Hampshire.
After he weeded out females, only sons, matricides, orphans, and the offspring of women with no English or with remote addresses, Dr. Palmer finally emerged with about fifty qualified specimens. He did his best with them, employing formulas like X2 = 6.746 P < 0.01 and producing graphs of the relative scores of murderers and brothers in Psychological Frustration, General Frustration, Acceptable Aggression Release, Unacceptable Aggression Release, and General Aggression Release. He counted and tabulated accidents, beatings, diseases, operations, and bumps on the head; family quarrels, quarrels with neighbors, maternal attitude toward prospective births of murderers and brothers, and practice of demand feeding; ancestry, social position, and father’s salary. In some cases he was able to get the murderer’s intelligence level from prison records; he seems never to have laid hands on this information in regard to brothers, mothers, fathers, or victims.
According to Dr. Palmer’s figures, his typical murderer, aside from having been knocked about the cradle, was white (Dr. Guttmacher reports that the homicide rate among the Negro population of the United States is more than seven times that of the white population), Catholic (the Catholic population, according to the church itself, is something over thirty-nine million, or rather less than 25 per cent of the United States population), and killed someone at the age of twenty-three (Dr. Guttmacher’s murderers range from 14 to 68 years of age), probably with a gun. Discrepancies of this kind in the opinion of experts tend to unsettle a layman’s mind. For my own part, I wonder what Dr. Palmer would make of the only daughter. Protestant, of non-English-speaking Eskimos who poisons her mother in Alaska.
ASIAN ARTS AND ARTIFACTS
TURKEY (Viking, $14.00) is a stout, handsome volume of blackand-white pictures by a photographer called, simply, YAN, with an introductory essay by Lord Kinross. The photographs are splendid and well presented, barring occasional crowding. Lord Kinross, who has traveled widely and happily in Turkey, has provided an introduction that is almost a model for a book of this type; designed for the amateur enthusiast rather than the scholar, it conveys a great deal of information about ancient and modern Turkey without haste, confusion, or an excess of minor technicalities.
The notes and comments on the photographs are presumably by Van, and they too are admirable for the purpose, pointing up architectural details or features of landscape that otherwise might escape notice or comprehension. Whether the subject is Hittite sculpture, the tiles decorating a mosque, or an Anatolian farmer, the text covers the most important aspects of the topic and then proceeds, with uncanny shrewdness, to foresee and answer the questions that will arise in the reader’s, or viewer’s, mind. In combination, text and pictures provide an urbane guided tour of all the high points that the most inquisitive tourist could wish to see.
The first two of a proposed scries of books with the general title Art of the World are INDIA (McGraw-Hill, $57.95) and INDONESIA (McGrawHill, $7.95). These are very well produced volumes, made in Germany, and generously provided with colored plates. The text, translated from German, indicates that the series, while undoubtedly useful, is going to vary widely in readability.
DR HERMANN GOETZ, undertaking to cover five thousand years of Indian art, admittedly has a difficult task, and unfortunately he is, in addition, the type of scholar who obscures the wood with trees. Attempting to provide historical as well as religious background for the buildings, sculpture, and painting under consideration, he loses the reader and sometimes himself in dynastic struggles as incomprehensible to the uninitiated as the more obscure alliances in the Wars of the Roses and forgets to point out exactly how the temple erected by dynasty A differs, if it differs at all, from that erected by dynasty B.
FRITS A. WAGNER of the Royal Institute of the Tropics in Amsterdam has to deal, in Indonesia, with an artistic tradition that produced very little on the grand scale. His subjects are for the most part small: carved and gilded dragons of immense charm and mysterious powers, filigree leather puppets from Java, painted dance masks from Borneo, pots, boxes, weapons, musical instruments, jewelry, and cloth from all over the islands. These objects show up well in book-size pictures, and moreover, the political history of Indonesia is so confused that Mr. Wagner can reasonably decline to pay much attention to it.
The result of Mr. Wagner’s method and the nature of his material is a much more lucid book than that of Dr. Goetz. It is possible to distinguish local styles in decoration and to see how specific effects were achieved in wood, stone, and metal. When Mr. Wagner undertakes to explain methods of workmanship, he makes them understandable, and this is no small problem with a process like weaving. It must be admitted that warp and woof tiedying half defeats him, but it may well be that this is one of those things, like making pastry, that can be understood only by trying it oneself.
Anyone with a taste for exotic artifacts and a reasonable curiosity about who made them and why will enjoy Indonesia; India requires of the reader a really serious dedication to the subject, an almost masochistic desire to improve the mind, and a supporting battery of reference books.