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and avails himself of it is really not exceptional-he is only what the normal man in a sensible world should be. If he has faith in human nature he will remember that his neighbor might have done as well if their circumstances were reversed, and he will wish his neighbor to know that fact. Until he is in his grave, what is really impossible for any man? If the glamour of your success persuades your neighbor that you have some magic gift he never can share, then you have handicapped him; you have taken away his courage and closed a door. Modesty is that form of human kindness which behaves so that no success will handicap any one.
Or we may say selfishly that this virtue brings us nearer to our fellows, nearer to that general heart of the race from which comes our wisdom and our success. The Cæsars in their power consented to be deified, but they were afterwards assassinated. They may not have been such monsters as unkind rumor often reported, but to be removed from your fellow man is to be monster enough. The poet, the novelist, the dramatist, who write out of the life they have absorbed casually and naturally, are on their guard against any success which would prevent their mingling still, casually and naturally, with their accustomed people. Burns the poor farmer, drawing his inspiration from peasant songs, has an advantage over Burns the poet, back from Edinburgh with a literary reputation. Will the songs be sung so spontaneously in his presence again? Will he not try to be a farmer still, as little changed as possible? We are not surprised that
the greatest of English dramatists was the most modest. Until he died his companions hardly knew what a person Shakspere was. They admired the plays, of course, but they could leave the performance of Much Ado or Hamlet and adjourn with the author to the tavern, where he would talk of their plays, not his, and listen to their adventures without a word of his own life. Even from a selfish standpoint, how clever of him!
Those who watch the literary pageant of our times know how widely distributed ability seems to be; everywhere young folks spring up with a promising book, story, play or poem. But after the first emergence, they are heard of no more. Sometimes they disappear quickly, sometimes they twinkle out through a series of dismal disappointments, but in any case they go. Why? Because they are young, and haven't enough to write about? They are too ready to believe this themselves; therefore they embark on an unnatural, feverish existence, "looking for material" as they say. But the trouble probably is that their success broke their contacts with the very life out of which it came. They began to think of themselves as too good for the world that produced them, and though they may not have moved away, they have severed some spiritual taproot and killed their art. Walter Scott, wise old giant, illustrated that modesty which is the merest prudence in any career. He began as a lawyer and was made sheriff of his county. He kept on being a lawyer, because after all he might some day cease to be sheriff. He
became a famous poet, but he kept on as lawyer and sheriff, because after all the fame might pass. He became one of the greatest of novelists, but he kept on being lawyer and poet, and he permitted no discussion of his writings in his own house; busy as he was with his pen, he would retain the point of view of an average gentleman. No wonder his countrymen said he met them all like a blood-brother or that his heart continued to fill with life to write about.
Modesty is a total virtue, practicable in all realms, not simply in social manners. Moderation in all things, said the Greeks. Certainly moderation in the spoken and written word. Art rebels at times against the principle of understatement, but the principle has its revenge. For a while we may be pleased at the stormy torrent of Carlyle's prose, but as soon as we get used to the noise we are a little bored. It asks slight aid of our imagination, it pays no compliment to our brains, it wants us only to sit still and be thundered at. We have our own critics to-day who with less than Carlyle's message to impart raise the same hubbub. But in art all thunder is liable to turn ridiculous; we get used to the trick of the rolled bullet behind the scenes. The modest style relies rather on the reader's help for its best effects; it tries to make art a collaboration; it knows that only on collaboration can a permanent interest be built; it remembers that the reader too creates.
You may ask whether there is not a universal and fixed standard of
modesty in matter of clotheswhether the bathing costume of 1890 may not have been in itself more modest than the one-piece suits of to-day. The answer is simple. Modesty always is measured by the opinion of our fellows at the moment; it has respect to the judgment of mankind, and that judgment is in some matters permanent and in others changeable. The modest style in art, the principle of understatement, seems to be permanent to the extent that the human mind functions the same way in all ages. Fashions in dress vary, for reasons hard to guess at. Dress is chiefly a form of expression, and it obeys the same laws as any other art. It should convey beauty and spiritual meaning without attracting too much attention to the technique, the method, the material. Above all, it should not imply criticism of our neighbors, or set us apart from them. What is a fixed habit of dress in comparison with sympathy and understanding and comradeship?
If we seem to say that modesty is the art of succeeding surreptitiously, perhaps we can very well let that definition stand. Success can be defined in terms of the spirit. In such terms, assuming the prime importance of our souls and our duty to develop our talents, we may say that modesty is the one wise art of boasting. To put only a name on a tombstone, with no legend and no dates, would be to take immortality almost for granted. Nothing further but to leave off the name. Before we are ready to let our works speak for us, our confidence in them must have become superb.
The READING ROOM
HANDLE gently your copy of C. E. Montague's new novel, "Right Off the Map." It's loaded with explosives stronger than any that Gerald Chapman ever carried in his valise. Here is the deadly wit of Shaw's "Arms and the Man," minus the protective cotton-wadding of the pretty love story; hatred, cynicism, despair, all couched in suave good-mannered writing that never for a moment seems to lose its temper. . . . Mr. Montague has Mr. Montague has been meditating on war.
But far be it from the Manchester editor to reflect on any particular war, or any particular brand of statesmanship behind it. As one of the professional soldiers in his novel remarks, "All war is a beast, but each particular war that turns up is a dear." And so the locale of his story is the mythical country of Ria, where all the good folk are decent and law-abiding, and its neighboring republic of Porto, where people eat with their knives and have no sense of honor.
Among the leading citizens of idyllic Ria is Cyril Burnage, who loves his wife and edits a liberal paper called "The Voice." Mr. Burnage is distressed when gold is discovered on lands belonging to a powerful Mr. Bute, on the disputed
borderline between Porto and Ria, and when, immediately after,
there is a clamor for war. To make matters worse, Mr. Bute, who is a great patron of journalism and art, buys every Rian newspaper with the exception of "The Voice," and tidings come that he's going to take that one over, as well.
Mrs. Burnage, who is beautiful and restless and whose lips drip naïve sarcasms, feels that it is time for her husband to do something, and so Cyril delivers a ferocious war-speech. Later, he discovers that he was under two misapprehensions-first, the enigmatic Rose didn't prefer that particular form of action at all, and, second, it wasn't the Rian "Voice,' but a Portan paper of the same name, that Mr. Bute was buying.
Among those who are transfigured by Mr. Burnage's fiery words is Willan, a professional soldier, clearheaded but undisturbed by any excess of imagination. Willan happens to know that the Rians' equipment is bad and their army disorganized, but he tackles his impossible job with cheerful competence. War is declared; the Rian press scorches the enemy with print; there is a battle and by dint of heroism and great resourcefulness Willan manages to save some nine hundred of his
men from the general slaughter that follows.
Suddenly Mr. Burnage finds himself the acting prime minister of Ria. It's an uncomfortable honor, for outside of the city there is an illogical, unreasonable, altogether impossible Portan army, taking an occasional pot-shot at a public building and insultingly sending back prisoners to eat their heads off in the besieged city. Lost to the world, Willan sings, swears and gets new shoes for his men to replace the shoddy ones supplied by Mr. Bute, while he prepares for a last venture of fantastic courage.
At the last minute, Willan gets the message that the new prime minister has unconditionally surrendered the city. But he can't believe it-that isn't the sort of thing that Cyril Burnage, who made the great war speech, would do. That is how the conquering Portans come to catch him at the head of his no longer lawful army, with one eye out of commission, still unexcitedly cutting away at a tangle of barbed wire. Technically, he is now not a prisoner of war, but a murderer-he shouldn't have had preconceived ideas about what treaties Mr. Burnage would or wouldn't sign. The Portan generals honor him as the hero he is, and, having done so, very methodically and efficiently hang him. By an unfortunate circumstance, Mr. Burnage has to be a member of the condemning court. Mr. Burnage feels very, very badly about it.
Burnage isn't the only character who is scorched by Montague's pen. In fact, if it weren't for the laughing bravery of Willan and his friend Merrick, this book would constitute
as cruel a picture of human nature at its lowest level as one could have. In drawing the broad realities of war, "Right Off the Map" is as savage as war itself, and without for a moment losing its balance or becoming merely petulant. Published by Doubleday, Page & Co.
A CURIOUS COLDNESS
"To be quite frank with you, I am a realist. Which is a sort of sublime romanticist. I find life so fascinating that I don't need to sentimentalize over it."
So speaks Paul Trevell, in Frank Swinnerton's novel "The Casement," to the rather bewildered young lady who has just accepted him. In that speech, I suspect that Mr. Swinnerton has incorporated both his philosophy of life and his technique of the novel.
Having made his avowal of love and this speech, Paul Trevell is immediately interested in the idea of breakfast. That too is characteristic. But where then is all the fine ecstasy of life? The passion, unruly joy, hunger and pain? You'll find them all in "The Casement"-in miniature.
Paul, when he was a young artist, loved Olivia Trellas, but, realizing that he was an ineligible suitor, he was not a very aggressive one. He stepped aside, watched her marry Robert Burton, and-went into the lumber business. Years later he still prized the portrait of Olivia that he had painted. He went on seeing her from time to time, and she had the comfortable feeling that his love was still there, even though it wasn't especially needed.
Then, when Paul had reached the
advanced age of thirty and was halfseriously joking about growing old, he met Olivia's young sister Loraine. There was one of those ironic encounters between romance and realism when he fell in love for a second time. To Olivia the situation seemed downright indecent. She had a sisterly talk with Loraine; she discovered in herself undreamed-of backwaters of jealousy. Then everything was straightened out by the heavy-handed, flat-footed common sense of Robert Burton.
Mr. Swinnerton is often described as a subtle analyst of character. Precise would be a better word. He registers degrees of feeling with the accuracy of a scientific instrument, always objectively. We see not only that Loraine distrusts Paul at first, but how much; and just about where Paul's old love for Olivia merges into memory; and exactly where Trevell's friendship for Burton allows him to think that paragon of husbands something of a fool. The little mental reservations that go into human relationships, the veils between action and thought, are indicated in a way that often makes a complete story out of a turn of phrase.
I remember a famous English novelist's remarking years ago, after singing Swinnerton's praises: "But there's a curious coldness about him." That effect may be produced by his serving up of situations in their own juice, without the condiments of superimposed moods. In any case, it's a refreshing kind of coldness.
"The Casement" is an engaging book, done with fine workmanship and a charm that is Swinnerton's own. It's one of his earlier books, by the way, though now issued for the
first time in America. Published by George H. Doran Company.
DOWN BY THE DUMP
Barry Benefield's new novel is as romantic as its title—and the title is "Bugles in the Night." It is as sentimental as Benefield himselfand they say that when he was reporting for the "New York Times" his city editor didn't dare to send him out on tragic stories, lest he be too overcome with sympathy to make the edition. And it is as well-written as the short-stories that he used to do for the "Smart Set" in the merry days when that magazine told the world that it was "edited by intellectual giants."
"Bugles in the Night" tells of an old Confederate soldier who turned his back on the comforts of the Soldiers' Home to rescue a frightened girl from the shady "Ella Whipple's place," and of the descent of the strange pair on New York. Its scene for the most part is a Long Island dump. The people are such as Mrs. Bullwinkle, who picked society papers off the ash-heaps to keep in touch with the latest doings of the Astors, crazy bugle-blowing Wullie, and Mr. Wimpfheimer, authority on rats. Its love story concerns a Mr. Badeneau, who, seeking to regain the health that he had lost in the women's department of a bank, lost his temper, his memory, and then his heart.
If you've read Barry Benefield's earlier novel, "The Chicken Wagon Family," you will want to read "Bugles in the Night." If you haven't-get hold of them both. They're yarns with a savor. Published by The Century Co.