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Some New Books We Have Read Adventures in Criticism and Reporting
BY THE EDITORS
ERUDITION, NOT INDISCRETION
Anatole France Himself. By Jean Jacques Brousson. J. B. Lippincott Company.
"What pleasure can you find," Anatole France asked of his secretary, "in picking up the careless words that trickle down my old beard? A sadly perverted taste. After all, if you find it amusing-! And then, who can stop you? What I ask of you, my young friend, is not to publish any of this in my lifetime. . . . When I am under the sod, make me say whatever you will. . . . Now, it would be indiscretion. Then, it will be erudition." With this light epigram the greatest modern Frenchman shrugged away the temptation, whatever it may have been for him, to survive only on the plane of the grand style. Without half the fuss about being candid which Mark Twain made, he was ten times as much so as Mark Twain was, or at any rate has yet been permitted to appear. M. Brousson here deals with a brief period of M. France's life, between the "Joan of Arc" and the outbreak of the World War. But "the Master," as he found it somewhat tiresome to be called, was already at the peak of his fame, rich, powerful, and courted by all Europe. And yet
in M. Brousson's handling the hero refuses to pose. Taking such advantheless laughs at it. He has his counttage as he likes of his fame, he neverless letters burned unopened; he ceaselessly ridicules the French Academy, of which he had become a member more or less for the fun of it; he comments with a witty, disillusioned tongue upon all the sacred reputations and prejudices of his time. Even of his own works he speaks slightingly. "Sylvestre Bonnard," he says, "is the most insipid and tedious of all my books. I wrote it to win a prize of the Academy; and I wrote it so well, or rather so badly, that it won the prize." "My best books? Those that had no success: Histoire Comique and Jeanne d'Arc. My poorest books? Those that every one praises: Thaïs and le Lys Rouge."
What Anatole France particularly lacked, his random comments make clear, was the infirmity which late in life assails so many eminent men-the infirmity of a desire to stand up like pillars in the very society they may have assailed. Or, rather, if he had a desire, it was that which had governed all his activities-the desire to be himself and not a symbol. By the intelligence he had lived; he did not propose to die in the odor of respectable senti
ments. Good academicians, both European and American, have already shuddered at his cheerful heresies. He refers to a certain French patriot as "one of those good Frenchmen who can never write French." Surrounded as he is in the Villa Said by reliquaries and other mementos of the faith, he says that he regards faith as a malady. "Anatomists will, I trust, one day discover the cause and seat of the religious spirit. . . . Sometimes a man lives with [credulity] without being too much harassed, just as one does with consumption, arterio-sclerosis, or cancer. But the downward turn comes and he gives himself to drugs and the Deity." With an equal freedom M. France discourses upon love, and incidentally upon his own love-affairs. For every aspect of asceticism he has nothing but contempt. "The science of love demands delicacy, persistence, and practice, like the piano." He has He has studied all its phases, and touches unhesitatingly upon any of them. But of course his primary topic is the art of letters. "I have no imagination, but I am not without patience. . . . My pen has no lyric powers. It does not leap, but goes plodding along its way. When some one says to me, 'Give us a hundred or a hundred and fifty lines,' I inquire definitely, 'Do you want a hundred, or do you want a hundred and fifty? It is not at all the same thing."" In this painstaking disposition he had, it appears, subjected his art to the most accurate scrutiny. He shows that he had originally, and had developed, the genius of taste.
his own presence. Though in a sense a disciple, he is that kind of disciple which men like Anatole France and Bernard Shaw are not ashamed to own. He does not meanly imitate his teacher, but learns from him something of his own independence. M. Brousson, too, is not without patience. He arranges the stream of conversation so that there is little repetition and no tedium. The talk moves easily among its topics, which are innumerable, and it advances. The result is the most fascinating book of the present season.
C. V. D.
The George and the Crown. By Sheila Kaye-Smith. E. P. Dutton & Company.
Sheila Kaye-Smith has, it gradually appears, that handsome mediocrity which satisfies the middle grade of novel-readers. Her public does not need to feel a little furtive about liking her books. They are full of solid substance. Like Thomas Hardy, obviously her model, she has chosen an attractive region of England for her scene, and has made it her own. Her latest novel works on a large scale. The George and the Crown are two inns on opposite sides of the same street in Bullockdean. Rival families own them. The Munks of the Crown go up in the world, while the Sheathers of the George go down. Though the narrative chiefly concerns young Dan Sheather and young Ernley Munk, it reaches out epically to chronicle the affairs of their two lines over two or three generations. It is leisurely and abundant in its methods. It paints the whole of Ouse valley, journeys also to the island of Sark, and hints of
expeditions on the sea. The conflict between Dan and Ernley is pointed; they both court the same girl. It is longdrawn; Ernley wins her and surrenders her to Dan, only to win her back again, and once more almost to lose her. Dan, though he has another wife for a time, continually feeds, or rather starves, on expectation. He is thus an appealing sort of hero. No triumph rounds out his story, but he goes on suffering and sacrificing himself, as his sort of hero should. And for all her solid substance, Miss Kaye-Smith falls now and then into the sentimentalism which a hero like Dan seems to call for. Where a rigorous intelligence would interpret the situation as it deserves, she can be content with the sweetness of sorrow and the softness of banality. Moving along on the tide of her story, she forgets to check it by referring it to actual human behavior; she lets herself drift in the direction which novels, though not life, ordinarily take. To the middle grade of novel-readers, this must be comforting. They do not have to blink at the intelligence of an Aldous Huxley or to draw back from the passion of a D. H. Lawrence. "The George and the Crown" must be literature, its readers feel, for it has all the outward marks of it. At the same time, it does nothing worse than induce a pleasant sadness. To read it is to have the sense of looking at real life, a broad section of it, and never to have to wince. No art can impart that sense except a handsome mediocrity.
C. V. D.
The Cambridge Book of Prose and Verse. Edited by George Sampson. The Cambridge University Press.
A companion volume to the first volume of "The Cambridge History of
English Literature," which surpasses all other anthologies in its field. Both the selection and the annotation leave little to be desired.
The Coasts of Illusion. By Clark B. Firestone. Harper & Brothers.
This is a book to delight the curious and the disillusioned. Mr. Firestone, in his "Study of Travel Tales," has concerned himself with the false hopes with which travelers have set out, from the beginning of history, to see the world, and with the lying yarns with which they have come back. Fabulous beasts, satyrs, pygmies, Amazons, enchanted islands, vanished continents, Eldorados, violent, dangerous oceans-here they are passed in review, with unusual learning and with a light touch. Mankind, Mr. Firestone proves, has always abhorred a vacuum. Where there was nothing, the imagination has been able to people the waste places with monsters created in the image of its own fears. What if Mr. Firestone should apply this same method to the study of theologies?
Milton's Poems 1645. Oxford University Press.
A delectable edition, set up in typefacsimile, bound in vellum, and printed on linen-rag paper, of the most precious single volume of miscellaneous poems in the English language. Minute students of the text will of course still insist upon consulting an original copy or a photographic reproduction, but all other readers who have a feeling for Milton as he first met the eyes of his contemporaries, are urged to read "L'Allegro," "Il Penseroso," "Comus," "Lycidas," and the early sonnets and Latin poems in these tempting pages.
THE RUMFORD PRESS CONCORD