The Peripatetic Reviewer

DURING the war years the Walter Lippmanns had a famous pair of large well-trained black poodles, Courage and Brioche, who took a discreet interest in the dinner guests. Their place was under the piano, where they slept and watched until precisely ten thirty, when they would rise, face the company, and stretch with the most prodigious yawns. One evening as the Brazilian ambassador, in deference to the poodles, took his leave, he remarked to our hostess, “Helen, have you heard the results of the recent poll in Paris as to why Frenchmen get up in the night?” Of course, no one had. “Three percent,” he said, “get up for natural causes, five percent to shut the window, and ninety-two percent get up to go home.”
There remains the unconsidered percentage of those who get up because they cannot sleep. I used to envy Thomas Edison, who was said never to sleep for more than two hours at a time; now I find myself gravitating toward his regime. I slumber in waves of two or three hours’ duration depending on the dinner, alcoholic content, or whether I have an article or an address nearing the deadline. Martinis may bring me to the surface at 3 A.M.; in the spring the birds have my ear before six; and when I lie within sound of a salmon stream, my time clock will often summon me while the dawn is still olive.
In most decently ordered camps where the salmon pools are fished in rotation, the activity of the predawn addict is strictly confined. He must not roil the water of the other rods, and he should not cast in his pools for the coming morning while the guides are still asleep. Alden Ripley, the artist, quiets his impetuosity by fishing for trout in that deep run in Caribou where the salmon never hold; I, when my affliction was recognized, was allocated a flat stretch in the cove at the head of the basin where no one had been known to hook a fish. “But Weeksie,” said my host, Jim White, “let me warn you that you’re ‘bilin’ the kittle at both ends!”
We were at Dam Camp on the northwest Miramichi, where the roar of the falls emptying into Corner Pool is always in your ears, a sweet sound to send one into slumber as the last log flickers in the Franklin stove, and a summons so insistent that I am usually wide awake at four. From under my mound of Hudson’s Bay blankets I contemplate the shadowed room. I contemplate the fly I shall begin with, and settle on a Green Highlander number 6 and a new twelve-foot leader. Glancing up, I check the necessities laid out on the small shelf at the head of my bed: fly box, bug dope, a fresh pair of home-knitted blue wool socks — the lucky ones — and my watch, which when I reach out from under the mosquito net says, as I expected, 4:05. In the squares of cotton netting, lashed like little rooms above each cot, I could hear rather than see the sleepers. As I dressed, I thought I detected a soft tread on the porch outside. The screen door with its strong spring was cranky to negotiate, but with the mildest slam I stepped out into a gray-green world. And there was Francie, our hostess, in wool shirt and Levi’s.
“I put on too much bug dope last night,” she explained. “It’s been giving me a bad time, and I just had to get up.”
“You’ve tried to wash it off? Tough. Well, let’s go down to the cove and net for each other.”
The rocks in the trail were slippery with dew. and the grass and wild iris dampened us from the knee down. I had on my line the big Silver Gray which I like to use as my last bid in the dusk, and it seemed feasible now as the mist over the river dissolved. We took turns, and for a time all we caught was the moss and bunchberry on the high cliff at our back. Then by some fluke, a small grilse, roused perhaps by the splash of the big fly, appeared from nowhere and hit it.
Salmon are gentlemen, not early risers, and this young one was still half asleep. He gave a leap of surprise, managed one short run, and then rod and fly were too much, and he came to the net as if in relief. “Well,” I said, as we admired him on the grass, the heavy air alive with the sweet salmon scent, “I guess that’s a piece of water I shan’t be allowed to fish again before breakfast.” And I was right.

NEVER WAS SO MUCH . . .

On Tuesday, August 6, 1940, in his ornate stone palace, Hermann Göring, commander in chief of the Luftwaffe, and his staff completed the attack plan which was to destroy the British Air Force. The collapse of France had given the Luftwaffe fifty bases within twenty-five minutes’ striking distance of the English coast. The attack would begin with the precision bombers of Group 210 knocking out the four key radar stations in Kent, and this would open the door to mass attacks on the British airfields. Sitting or flying, the R.A.F. would be exterminated in no more than four days.
Across the Channel Air Chief Marshal Sir Hugh Dowding had twenty-three R.A.F. fighter squadrons with which to defend a 250-mile front against odds of greater than three to one. He knew that the attack would come as soon as the weather signal was propitious, and he knew what Göring did not credit — that the German ME 110’s, which had met only token opposition from the French (not even Saint-Exupéry could arouse the French Air Force from its lethargy), had sustained serious losses in their early dogfights with the Spitfires and Hurricanes. Their lack of maneuverability and speed had already compelled the German pilots to defend themselves by flying tightly within “the circle of death.”
Grouse shooting opened as usual on the Glorious Twelfth. Twenty-four hours later the first wave of the German Luftwaffe flew out of the morning sun. “Beware of the Hun in the sun” is the old warning, and although the British radar trackers had given the alert, it did not reach most airfields in time. “Stuffy” Dowding knew the value of dispersal as General MacArthur did not, but on this savage morning only John Peel’s 145 Hurricane Squadron was airborne with enough height to damage the German bombers.
In EAGLE DAY (Dutton, $5.95) RICHARD COLLIER, who was born in 1924 and enlisted in the R.A.F. eighteen years later, dramatizes this crucial assault, which was to continue with mounting heroism and losses for thirty-two days, when at last Hitler was grimly forced to realize that his chance to invade Britain was lost. Mr. Collier’s narrative is an extraordinarily graphic mosaic, a composite of thousands of episodes drawn from the interrogations and archives of both Air Forces and showing how the incredible endurance and the superior planes of the British stood off the onslaught of as many as 2119 German planes in a single attack.
Fortune played its part too: clouds forced a delay, and the revised German orders did not get through, with the result that bombers flew without fighter cover and the vulnerable ME 110’s went up without their escorts. On the British side, apart from the scarcity of pilots, the most serious scarcity was that of fast motorboats, for 60 percent of all the fatal air battles were taking place over the Channel and there simply were not enough craft to rescue the pilots who had to ditch.
The author, I feel, has the tendency to overdo the theatrical, but even when most chaotic, this book is exciting, and through the multitude and din of combats one sees the great truths emerging: the Luftwaffe, foiled in its ravage of radar and airfields, turned to the mass bombing of the cities and the British; and even on Black Thursday, when Churchill was in the Fighter Command Operations Room and when the glowing red bulbs in the wall panel showed that every squadron in southern England was either engaged or out of action, even in that week Lord Beaverbrook was achieving the highest production of Spitfires on record. Heroism and humor, the fury of the squadron leaders at the mistakes of high command, the reaction of the British farmers, the courage of the W.A.A.F. in the tracking stations, the last resourcefulness of nervously exhausted men — here is what prompted the greatest tribute Churchill was ever to phrase.

THE DAUGHTERS OF BENGAL

When after bleak and lonely years in an English public school Rudyard Kipling returned to India, the land of his birth, the homecoming unlocked the storehouse of his imagination, and he began to write. When in November, 1914, two small sisters, JON and RUMER GOODEN, aged seven and a half and six, were shipped back to their English parents in East Bengal — to get them out of harm’s way — they too returned to India’s “large warm embrace” and to a home where they were greatly loved and indulged. For the ensuing five years in the little village of Narayangunj they shared the bliss of a life freed from all the preoccupations they had briefly known in London, school, games, dancing classes, theaters, and shops, an Indian life by British standards which they have recaptured so impressionably in their delightful family piece, TWO UNDER THE INDIAN SUN (Knopf & Viking, $5.00).
Jon has all the tyranny of the eldest (“Don’t I help her?” said Jon. “Aren’t I always telling her what a fool she is!”); she is strong-willed, emotional, with a cruel streak. Rumer is the more susceptible to the natives, with the clearer eye for color, and tenderer. Their reabsorption in the family and in India is the story, and like their gradual awakening to femininity, it is told with fine detail. Their universe is ordered by Aunt Mary, who takes them home and who is to be their teacher; by their father, Arthur Godden, known as “Fa,” a shipping agent with private launches at his command and the means to live in style: he rareiy plays with them but applies the discipline; and, most important, by “Mam,” who has kept her looks for all her four daughters and who lives for them. One of Fa’s tall stories, hinting of his loneliness, is that one night when Mam was sleeping on the veranda, a man-eating tiger came and seized her, and all she said was, “Eat me quietly and don’t wake the children,”
There are limitations of interest in any family chronicle. What redeems this one is the sensuous diversity of the Bengal seasons, the personality of the household — Govind the gardener, a Brahmin; Jetta, their father’s bearer, a Buddhist; Azad Ali, the haughty butler and a Muslim— and the naturalness with which these experienced writers have disclosed the small dramas of their girlhood: their terror in playing “Iurki,” their curiosity about the fertility rites, their fascination in the Hindu wedding, and the sudden seizure of their own calf love. That the British order in India would be disturbed by the war and its aftermath never, of course, occurred to anyone.

REBELLION IN CANADA

Edmund Wilson, from his close knowledge of French-Canadian writing, has warmly endorsed A SEASON IN THE LIFE OF EMMANUEL (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $4.50). This is the fifth book of MARIE-CLAIRE BLAIS, who began publishing at nineteen. A satire in the mood of Joyce, this short novel is the voice of her generation protesting against its clerical-ridden, starved, and overpopulated world. The sordid struggle for survival of the poor French-Canadian family is illuminated and made pitiable by the fantastic autobiography of Jean-Le Maigre, the adolescent dying of TB. He is the brightest, and through his suffering we feel the degradation of the others. In the meager world of Mlle. Blais, half dream, half real, one feels the anger of rebellion. The translation by Derek Coltman is admirable.