The Peripatetic Reviewer

BY EDWARD WEEKS
THE first two weeks in May have a special meaning for every native of the North Temperate Zone, and it is my pleasure as a traveling editor to enjoy them, usually, in London.
First impressions begin with the bus trip in from the London airport. Always I am surprised by the color and neatness of the tiny gardens of suburbia — a patch of lavender aubrietia, or daffodils, or a small cerise crab apple in full bloom. The pride of gardening in these tiny plots is so typically English.
This year spring was held back by the coldest winter in memory. The blackthorn was six weeks late, the daffodils so retarded that the annual show had to be cut short, and the weather so uncertain that wary motorists in mid-May were keeping antifreeze in their radiators. I had the good luck to arrive during a balmy interval which brought everything to the bursting point. The flowering cherry and the apples were like pink and white fountains in the parks, the brigades of tulips in St. James’s stood erect and as colorful as the guardsmen, and I was particularly won by the great beds of yellow tulips bordered by deep-blue muscari. The rhododendrons and azaleas were about to explode, with the crimson and pink showing first. The green of the turf was still far ahead of the foliage, and bird watchers in little groups in St. James’s and Green Park seemed impervious to the traffic as they counted off the new arrivals, the willow and garden warblers and the chiffchaff. The dog walkers were out, and here came one motherly old party in a bright-red sweater shooing before her five shiny black dachshunds. In Green Park the deck chairs were well filled, some with sun worshipers, faces up, eyes closed as if they, too, were tulips; some with lovers no longer caring who looked.
Over breakfast I usually study the London newspapers for those notes of individuality so much more amusing than what we have back home. Here, for instance, is the remarkable interview in the Sunday Times of May 5 in which Stirling Moss explains why he has run his last race. Moss, England’s most audacious driver, recovered from his nearly fatal crash of a year ago, and at Goodwood, in a Lotus 19, a 2½-liter sports racing car, on a day when there had been rain, he put his skill and reflexes to the test. He got up to about 142 mph on the straight, yet he came off the track with deep apprehension, which he expressed in these words: “I drove on the track for about forty-five minutes, and during that time I spun a couple of times at the chicane. This was mainly because the track was laden with water, but also because I had lost a lot of the instinctive touch I normally had before my accident. . . .

“When the car started to under-steer and slide in the wet, I knew just what to do about it, but my reactions were just a little behind the car. . . .

“My eyesight also slowed me up. My right eye reacts instantaneously, but my left one still does not. If I close and open it, it’s like lifting a curtain rather slowly. . . . I felt like someone who had all the answers written down in a mental book but had lost the book. I found I had to work out the answers again, and I couldn’t do it quickly enough. I shall miss motor racing a lot, because it has meant so much to me for sixteen years.”
The common sense and quiet courage in those words show why Moss is one of Britain’s national heroes.
A lively story which appeared opposite the editorials in the Times of May 7 began with a headline, BOUNCING IN RHYTHM WITH TRAIN: “Experiments to bring the vibrations of a train at speed and the bouncing of its passengers into closer harmony are being carried out by research workers for the British Railways Board. They hope to make it easier for the passengers to read or write while travelling. . . .
“On runs at speeds up to 90 m.p.h. a passenger wore an ‘accelerometer’ on his head. The experiment showed. . . .” You can take it from there. I should like to have been aboard that train.
Everyone enjoys scouting through the Personal column of the Times. And the reason is plain: the space is expensive, the few words must catch the eye, the message must be singular. Look, for instance, at this one:
Talkative parrot wanted with lively, uncoarse sense of humor.
Here, of course, the key word is “uncoarse.” Or:
Undergraduate seeks vacation job abroad (preferably Greece) looking after children, perhaps.
Here the payoff is in the hesitation at the very end. And, finally, this effort to promote a new periodical:
If you don’t “dig” you should certainly “get with" the current issue of Prism; the first five contributions concern themselves with John Robinson’s Honest to God, and concern themselves with it very deeply.
There are a spontaneity and amateurishness, a diversity, and a wide range of fine acting in the London theater which set it far apart from the hard and restricted professionalism of Broadway. I went to see Stephen D., the two-act play by Hugh Leonard which has been adapted from those autobiographical novels of James Joyce, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man and Stephen Hero. This play scored its first success in the Dublin Theatre Festival of last year, and, as always when I watch the Irish players, I was captivated by their naturalness, by their air of having walked in off the street to confide their dilemma. The first act, when Stephen is young and plaintive, is the better; the second I thought a little too much given to soliloquy. But the play is certainly worth seeing.
In comedy, Michael Redgrave is irresistible in Out of Bounds, with its spoofing of espionage. There is now no play of a biographical nature as brilliant as Terence Rattigan’s Ross, a portrayal of T. E. Lawrence, which I so enjoyed a year ago. But I did see two documentary films, both of which I hope will be shown to American audiences. The first is The Life of Adolf Hitler, every minute of which is true to life — and death. This is a composite drawn from the newsreel libraries of Austria, Canada, Czechoslovakia, Denmark, Germany (East and West), Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom, and the United States. The script and English commentary are the work of the director, Paul Rotha, and they are beautifully timed and executed. Here, in accelerating stages, one follows the nervous breakdown of an entire nation. We begin with the pretentious young Hitler with his small gang of thugs no one took seriously. We see the burning of the Reichstag; the doddering Hindenburg waving his marshal’s baton in symbolic farewell to his troops; we hear Hitler’s piercing, vindictive voice and see its effect, the hypnotism of Nuremberg as each year the pageant becomes more powerful and the women more infatuated. We see the fat, fancy-dressed Goering like someone out of Graustark; the innocent Jewish children, one and a half million of whom were exterminated; we hear the letter from the firm of German builders bidding for the gas-chamber contract; we see the cold, inhuman contempt of Himmler for the camps he must inspect. Touching, terrible, and something we must never forget.
Equally stirring to Americans would be the television program RebellionIreland 1913-1923, a documentary of stills and motion pictures produced by one of the new independent studios, Television Reporters International Ltd. Here the Irish people in their anguish, torn loyalty, and desperation are the main actors, and with them their leaders, whom we see in their prime — the handsome, ardent Michael Collins, the earnest de Valera, the lean, tragic MacSwiney, and Arthur Griffith, almost the first to espouse Sinn Fein and clinging to it through two decades like an aging Irish bull terrier.
Before we blame England for its obduracy in the Irish Troubles, we might better take a second and more objective look at our own obduracy in Birmingham. After dinner, I sat with my English hosts watching the program Robin Day had televised for the BBC of the vindictiveness of the leaders and the victims in Birmingham, relayed to us by Telstar. Mr. Day was impartial, but the pictures were not: the iron-fisted obduracy of “Bull” Connor, police commissioner of Birmingham, was in sharp contrast to the intelligent restraint of Dr. Martin Luther King, just as the restraint of Dr. King was in sharp contrast to the hysteria of the local Negro agitators. This is not an image of America to be proud of.
And finally, a more romantic note. C. S. Forester was in London to see the preview of his Admiral Hornblower prepared by BBC. He approached the showing with apprehension but came away enthusiastic and reassured. The production is predicated on American cooperation, and thus far, so I am told, the American networks have turned it down as being “too English,” for, of course, the admiral does not speak with an American accent. Remembering the scarcity of good programs on American television, remembering the millions who have read and enjoyed the Hornblower novels, I find this a decision hard to take.
In the world of books it is clear that works of history and biography have evoked a wider interest than the recent novels. At the head of the list stands The Great Hunger, Cecil Woodham-Smith’s magnificent description of the potato famine in Ireland. Not far behind it comes Dame Edith Sitwell’s tapestry of Elizabethan England, The Queens and the Hive, which has already gone through six printings. And not far behind her is a twentyyear-old, Charlotte Bingham, whose Coronet Among the Weeds (Random House, S3.95) — a droll, chatty, written-as-spoken chronicle of a debutante typist — is as fresh, saucy, and sensible as Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.
Of the books that are coming, I was attracted to Stirling Moss’s Autobiography; to Life with Ionides, Margaret Lane’s biography of an English snake charmer and eccentric, long resident in Africa; to Eamon de Valera’s biography, which is now being edited; to Frank Swinnerton’s reminiscences, which will appear this autumn; and finally, to Muriel Spark’s forthcoming novel, At the Mandelbaum Gate. She has no superior among the younger English novelists.
A book from my own profession which appeals to me for the honesty, enterprise, and affection it contains is The House of Words by Lovat Dickson (Atheneum, $5.00). Mr. Dickson was born in Australia; emigrated to Canada, where, with no money to back him, he was a jack-of-all-trades who finally gravitated into the University of Alberta, first as student and then as lecturer. He was plucked from this academic background by a Canadian millionaire who took him to London and installed him as editor of the Fortnightly Review.
Lovat Dickson’s account of how he feels his way into English publishing and his lively characterization of and gratitude toward those who helped him — Janet Courtney, A. D. Peters, Arthur Waugh, Percy Cleaver, and Peter Davies — make good reading, and his recounting of his successes and his failures when he launches into publishing on his own is so honest and illuminating that it should be taken to heart by anyone attracted to the business of making books. He came in time to deal with the great ones — Shaw and Wells, the Sitwells, Max Beerbohm, and closest of all, his immediate bosses and fellow directors, Harold and Dan Macmillan.
I lunched with the author at the Garrick and had the pleasure of telling him how much I had enjoyed the book. In return he told me this story of a London publisher and famous angler known to us both. Our friend was fishing for salmon on the Scottish river he loved best. As he was about to cast, he stumbled and fell. “Take it easy, sir!” said his gillie. But he had gone. In the haste of finding a doctor and of carrying the angler back to the lodge, the long fourteen-foot rod was forgotten. But when in sorrow they went back to the riverbank to recover it in the late afternoon, there it was, and fast to the fly, a salmon.