Puslapio vaizdai

desperate beauty. Let them immerse you in the blood and tears of a thousand invasions, martyrdoms, visions and prophecies. When you feel that you have absorbed as much of their energies as your youthful fibers will bear, come back and tell us about these books. If you speak of them eloquently or penetratingly or even with stammering intensity, we will confer upon you the only honor we are able to bestow: in a world of brass pretension and vain noise we will extend to you the assurance of our esteem and high esteem and high friendship."

And these young men, having been admitted to the esteem and high fellowship of the university, will step out into the public square and on the morning of the first day will pull the greasy and disorderly togas off the limbs of a noxious hack-quack literati. Undraped, this gentry will be seen in all their blue puffiness and will be ridiculous at last in the eyes of those who have been reading their daily column. Next, the young stalwarts from the Academy will erect a huge oak measuring-post in front of the Public Library, flanking it with a steel seismograph and a gold spirit-level. All books from all publishing houses will be measured, leveled and attuned to the vibrations of the earth. If they fail in any test, they will be consigned to mean fires amid the rejoicing of the multitudes. And the terse motto on the oak measuring-post will run, "When a new book is published, read an old one."


What are these mystical old Books on the short ballot of literature? They are the indubitable world


books, the Kalevalas, the Faustiads, the Njala Sagas, the niemals aus der Mode books, the compacted archives of cultures past and present. They are the Best Books of a planetary dispensation, the spiritualized experiences of the human race. They are few, huge and unmistakable. And I believe they can be selected quite arbitrarily. Let any ten persons, whose only qualification be that they have read all the world books at least six times, each compile a complete list of great works. On comparison the lists will be found to be almost identical. How could it be otherwise? Who, having read Sophocles, could possibly leave him off such a list? Or Euripides or Shakspere or Thucydides? Actually it will not be necessary to consult ten opinions. Any man who has spent his days in the presence of the masters will be the Aristotelian "just man," the measure of all good and bad. And after debating briefly with him concerning a few doubtful members of the list Adam Smith, Bernard of Clairvaux, Henry David Thoreau-(do you wrangle with me here?) I should willingly accept his list as my own. If he rated Hegel greater than Kant, or Corneille of more importance than Racine, I could readily assimilate his suggestions and doubtless be nourished thereby. For I believe that humility is the abiding mark of the world reader and that his first emotion on discovering a new work is wonderfully close to gratitude. To read the words of any hero is to become his violent champion; his rock, Peter; or John, his first and best loved disciple.

But if I prescribe these books to

physic the rankness of a costive age (and I do), it will be objected: “On what tablets of gold is recorded the virtue of these classics in correcting the humors and inflations of men? Why should flaming youth and crabbed age be dieted on Homer, or suffer Virgil's epic leech to tug at their swollen veins?"

It is a long time since any one has written a defense of classical culture, and a restatement of the grand position is ripely overdue. George Edward Woodberry's "New Defense of Poetry" is probably the last sonorous peal from the deserted battlements of a great tradition. His utterance is lucid, sanguine. He believes that the race mind, being the warder of the best that anywhere comes into being, clings with the grip of fate to anything of beauty, wisdom or eloquence emanating from the heart of man. With a preternatural selective economy the race preserves every syllable of its greatness: "One accent of the Holy Ghost

The heedless world has never lost."

The ornate, the trivial, has been purged away by the pitiless erosion of centuries. The remainder is best quia Best, if that superlative means only the highest comparative of the Good. And contact with this chaste superlative beauty is swift abrasive, potent in scraping away the barnacles of our brackish mortality.


"The thing's restorative i' the touch and sight," cries Browning, tossing in the air his great "Yellow


"A book in shape, but really pure crude fact

Secreted from man's life when hearts beat hard And brains, high-blooded, ticked two centuries hence."

"Give it me back; I need the vigor of its blood-stream pulsing through my own,' " he added. He knew the energy of a living document. In the feel and flavor of a veteran book there is a lean muscularity that shames all flabbier ware. It is the cardiac muscle of a generation. Though it has run far, you need only to touch its resilient pulse to know that it will again outrun a million broken-winded glanderous nags with blurbish jackets and bishoped brown teeth.


It may seem rash and ill-considered to expose a citizenry bred on slops to the close-fibered loaf of a grand book. But I know of no other expedient to correct the shocking lack of taste and nutriment in the annual troughful of literary pap sanctioned by the critics and consumed by the readers of the United States. My jeremiads are concerned not so much with colleges, for there at least the great tomes are silently exuding their energies, volo nolo, into the skull-pans of teacher and pupil. But my lamentations are loudest when I seek for one honest man in Newspaper Row. The newspaper critics-what a microcephalous race! No ephemera is too wispish, no trash too trifling, for their conflagratory superlative and fudge signet of approval. "Most significant book of the decade"; "centered on the axle of profound genius"; "worthy of a place beside Balzac and Melville and Fielding"; "tremendously total"-are some of

the log-rolling, back-scratching, centa-word dithyrambics over a tawdry plot-jobber or Mayfair Priapus. With neither perspective nor common honesty, these "critics" (is it Swift who suggests that critic means, etymologically, mirror of brass?) ring the old changes in present-day journals better known for their rotogravure sections than for their literary good taste.

But this is not the worst affliction of a harassed and gullible people. In an age of frantic compression and tabloid culture, there has arisen a crew of popularizers and outliners and cogging hacks who will for a penny hire (a pretty penny too) dismember, chop, season and stuff into handy-sized skins a sausage-like mixture of pseudo-learning and greasy sciolism. Outlines of History, Religion and Science, Mankind, Womankind, Love, Marriage and the Seven Arts are baled up like cut fodder and marketed by the ton. But in this chopped straw there is no juice, no healthy vitamine, no intellectual roughage. Chaucer and Puvis de Chavannes are ticketed with orange labels; the Logos is made into a story; and Louis Untermeyer is proved kin of Beowulf! "Before I read your 'Story of Philosophy,' writes Mr. Heywood Broun, "Plato and Aristotle were mere names to me." Well, we are getting on. At the age of thirty-eight Mr. Broun


realizes that there is a Book called "The Republic." Possibly he may review it some day in his column.

If the bristling bustle of modern life has made the tabloid a necessity and has driven a poetry-hungry, beauty-starved nation into the corners of the lending library and upon the spikes of the outliners, then the short ballot in literature should receive the joyous suffrage of a people. For I think that a kind of compression and exclusion and exclusion not hitherto practised in our lives is the solution of many evils. Only by the exclusion of all that is cheap and ephemeral can a race grow substantial in truth. Only by a rigorous economy can the few hours we devote to reading be made at once a delight and a tonic stimulant. And whatever progress may mean, I am sure it cannot. be attained by gulping down frantic digests, nor by dosing the intelligence with mystery novels and shoddy romances. By taking thought the individual can increase, by the muchto-be-desired cubit, the stature of society. And only by affectionate knowledge of the good, the courageous and the durable can he protect himself against the vicious, the transient, the trivial. Under a little heap of great literature lies the double-edged Theseus sword of personal liberty and cultivated tastethe only objects worthy of the free man's worship.




NDER the January rain that fell perpendicularly from a leaden sky, the Arras-Doullens road seemed to wind to and from desolation: a spectral ribbon of mud with shattered shattered weeping poplars throwing their shadows across its stagnant surface; and all along its woeful route the ghostly cairns of smashed and broken gun-wheels, limbers, remnants of ammunition columns, and gaunt ferocious-looking horses stiff and grotesque in the posture of a pantomimic death.

Down this road came a long and tortuous centipede; something with two thousand legs that moved with rhythmic tread; something replete with slung rifles, rubber sheets caped over war-weary shoulders and greatcoats that weighed a ton; something with a thousand tin hats that dripped the January rain; with packs; with knapsacks: the whole, phantomlike as the road it traversed.

A battalion coming out on rest. Not a full complement; for they had been raked by a machine-gun that had taken its toll of them.

Men. Men with life's responsibilities, with love and hate in their hearts, with secrets, with thoughts of home and children, with disappointments, joys and sorrows . . . even as you and I. Men as homogeneous, colorless, gray, as the lice in their shirts.

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They were leaving behind them their dead and a line they had held for three weeks, and they sang because they were happy. They were beyond sound of a machine-gun. Only the rain pattering on their tin hats reminded them of it. Taka-taka-taka-taka-taka-taka-takaThe cough of a Maxim! An evil, hideous, nerve-jarring, deadly thing of the Vimy mud. Unseen, impregnable behind its concrete hide, it spat death at all the world, and the world could not silence it.

Taka-taka-taka-taka-taka-taka-takaIn the last week it had cost them a total of thirty-one lives. To kill it, crush it under heel and exterminate it, would-so it seemed to the battalion-end war and strife for all time. But the supporting artillery dare not try to locate it; it was too near their front line. Trench mortars failed. Mills bombs merely chipped its concrete emplacement.

Three times the colonel had called for a volunteer. Three times the

battalion responded. And thrice a man had gone out, to be seen and heard no more. The weather, the glue-like mud, prohibited anything in the nature of a raid. The Maxim continued to cough with venomous effect. In the dead of night, in the gray of morn, a metallic hate that chilled the spine, made men lie face downward in the slime of their


"The colonel!" "Who's never downhearted?" "The colonel!" "And who'll we go through hell for, anytime he askes us?" "The colonel!" "Three cheers for the colonel!" Beginning in A company, it ran down the drenched, mud-plastered ranks, through B and C and on to D.

Four paces in the rear of the last file, a rifle-less man trudged between two guards. The 14th was bringing

Taka-taka-taka-taka-taka-taka-taka- out a prisoner. Not a German. He

[blocks in formation]

Mademoiselle from Armentières,

"Incline to the left, men!"

A supply column, going up to Vimy, passed them on the gallop, splashing mud in all directions. Mud! "I've got mud on my soul," muttered the lieutenant. "Lord!" sang the file, "won't it be good to see a gel again?" "And plenty o' beer," said another. "Yus," said the sergeant, "and I hope the blasted war's over afore we get sober."

Laughter! A wave of it, spreading through the platoon. Laugh men! It's easy on the chest. Laugh a bit of color into your gizzards.

In front of them marched the colonel; a tall, grave-faced man. "One in a million, he is!" "Yus! Who gave us an extra rum ration?"

was one of their own men. His name was Private Hobbs and dreadful was the thing he had done. For during the night he had left his listening-post and while he did so two Germans had crawled across the strip of fetid No-Man's-Land and come within an ace of bombing the battalion dugout and killing the colonel; a catastrophe frustrated only by the quick action, the blazing courage of the man responsible for the whole blunder.

"O-o-o-oh! Mademoiselle from Ar



Mademoiselle from Armentières,

That, however, didn't excuse him. It was bad soldiering, and for the like of it there is a just and sure punishment. Still, the colonelwho dearly loved his men and was cognizant that, after all, he most probably owed his life to the manwas loathe to press the maximum penalty.

He should, he knew, call a military board, a court-martial. The finding of that board would certainly not be favorable to Bill 'Obbs. They would order him shot with no more ceremony than they would order

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