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FROM CLASSIC TO GAGA
Along the crowded horizon comes "The American Caravan," laden with spices, fine raiment, raw materials, wheat, honey and no small quantity of apple-sauce. If it contained only Isidor Schneider's "The Temptation of Anthony," which fills 63 of the 843 pages, it would be well worth the price of admission. If it didn't contain some of the things it does, it would be still better worth the price.
"The American Caravan" is designed to provide "a broader expression of American literature," now hampered, according to the editors, by "limits set by commercial and rubber-stamp policies." It is too bad that it wasn't published ten years ago, when the premise on which it is based was much nearer to the truth than it is to-day, when rebellion has begun to wield the rubber stamp.
It is mainly in the field of verse that "The American Caravan" justifies itself. The fine-rhythmed ironies of Schneider's long poem, its Biblical richness of clear images, the beauty ingrained in its violent satire, make it unforgettable.
The motivating force of Schneider's "Anthony" is such as inspired Mark Twain's "The Man That Corrupted Hadleyburg." For this Anthony isn't the saint. He passes in his town as an atheist, and shocks his son, studying for the ministry, into disowning him. The temptation is-marriage; a normal, church-going wedding with the woman he loves, for the old scoffer. It ends with Anthony famous but dead, the town librarian in an insane asylum, and
the community saddled with a permanent practical joke.
Particularly good, too, are the poems of Raymond Holden, William Ellery Leonard, Herbert Seligmann and Clinch Calkins.
The prose ranges all the way from the cool pastoral essay of Brooks Atkinson to Gertrude Stein's drumming on a tin dictionary. A voodoo play by Paul Green opens the book, and a rather strained Biblical one by Eugene O'Neill-"Lazarus Laughed"-ends it. Ernest Hemingway contributes an effective creepy anecdote, Elizabeth Madox Roberts a tragic backwoods sketch done in her translucent style. Edmund Wilson brightens the book with a sly, well-turned satire. Thomas Craven writes on the thesis that pictures should not be painted "to be lived with," Lyle Saxon has an entertaining chronicle of the appearance of a centaur in Mimosa, La. William Shepard has three short-stories, one of them, "Mistress Polly," uncommonly good. Several writers contribute very nice high-school compositions. And there are one or two others that gave me mental indigestion. The trouble with this postpost-impressionism is that you never know whether you are reading a gaga masterpiece or just a typographical error.
Perhaps it's dangerous for too many rebels against conformity to publish within one set of covers, lest they reveal that their own literary conventions are as rigorous as those they attack. Many of the left-wing contributions of this collection could be transposed in chunks, and they would merge into each other with the neatness of a Grand Rapids sectional
bookcase; this is nothing more or less than the standardization of revolt.
For all its weaknesses "The American Caravan" is a brave and bright experiment. Curiosity alone should impel a goodly body of readers to get hold of this stout book and quarry out their own favorites. Published by Macaulay Publishers.
THE SOCIABLE Termite
"Communism in Nature" would be a good alternative title for Maurice Maeterlinck's "The Life of the White Ant." Here is a civilization in which everything is regulated with a grotesque severity for the good of the community as a whole, in which one. soviet of workers not only prepares but predigests food for the others, and in which the wage of unproductiveness is death. The capitalist obligingly, though most unesthetically, answers the call of his hungry brother. The soldier unhesitantly dies the death of a martyr; one lives for all, and all live for posterity. But the analogy, I think, is not apt to be used politically; it's a disturbing one.
Science is making obsolete the cruder forms of imagination. Performing under the lens, these miniature monsters make the dreams of a De Quincey look like problems in mental arithmetic. Here you will find warriors, with top-heavy, scissorlike mandibles, unable to feed themselves and biologically built so that they cannot retreat from an enemy; blind architects constructing fortresses, ventilation systems, highways; shock-troops armed with poison-spouting syringes that grow from their heads; mysterious tribal sages who legislate an egg into its proper
place in society, and relegate the unfit to the nation's reserve food supply. And they all live together in self-constructed cities of cement, which differ from those predicted by J. B. S. Haldane mainly in the fact that the latter are inclosed in glass.
All is well with them while they stay at home in a state of altruistic, cannibalistic brotherly love-but even a poor termite, it seems, is the victim of his passions, and occasionally they sally forth on a mad nuptial flight, to be slain in great numbers by their enemies of the outside world. The reflections of a philosophical termite on the futility of existence, before becoming part of the afternoon tea of an Australian aborigine, would be worth hearing-and, by the way, Maeterlinck at least intimates that they have a form of conversation.
A soberly told tale of studied wonders, "The Life of the White Ant" is a fitting companion-book to Maeterlinck's earlier "Life of the Bee." Published by Dodd, Mead & Company.
A LAUGHING CATHEDRAL Have you ever wondered what a cathedral thinks about? Well, come to think of it, neither have I; but I've been reading about it in Louis Howland's "Autobiography of a Cathedral" and I found his answer full of refreshing surprises.
It's a very opinionated little cathedral that Mr. Howland writes. about. It resents dull sermons, the cringing kind of humility and the textbook kind of religion. Not forgetting the fact that St. Paul himself couldn't keep a whole congregation awake at Troas, it is tolerant of lesser efforts; but for censors, professional
patriots, the army of the dull and the humorless, it has only-I almost said a broad grin, but this is a comparatively young cathedral and it has no gargoyles.
"Autobiography of a Cathedral" is a civilized book, written with a polished simplicity and tempered with thoughtful humor. If there were more books like this on religious subjects there would be many thousands of modern Monsieur Jourdains who would discover that they had been religious all their lives without knowing it. Published by The Century Co.
Long before gay window displays exhorted the public to be warned and prepare for national apple week, prune week or what not, a group of bookmen had in operation a plan known as "Children's Book Week." There is nothing gaudy about its propaganda, no hint that the physical or mental health of the American home will be blighted if father doesn't bring home a juvenile book every pay-day. But "Children's Book Week" has done a good deal to stimulate an intelligent interest in a field of literature that has never been taken as seriously as it deserves to be.
"Children's Book Week" will be from November fourteenth to the nineteenth, during which time the bookshops will have especially attractive displays of juveniles for the benefit of those who enjoy their jobs as parents.
Now that I've allowed myself to be the tool of Publishers' Association propaganda, I am tempted to tell an "inside story" of my own experience
as an employee of a coöperating group of publishers some years ago. We had a book caravan touring New England, making sales at the housewives' door-steps, and I went to Falmouth with a group of movie cameramen who wanted pictures of it. When the news-reel shots were made we had lunch, and the two goodlooking librarians who ran the bookshop on wheels were ready to take us back to the railway station. Just then a customer came along and the staff of the caravan went into action. An exacting customer he was, who didn't quite know what he wanted but insisted on inspecting the whole of the stock. The movie-men grumbled-we were missing that train. Fired with a missionary fervor, I hushed them. There were trains and trains, I explained, but it wasn't always that one could be treated to the heart-warming sight of a man buying his first book. The sale was at last made, and we got the train. A few days later, I almost bumped head-on into my innocent country book-buyer in New York, and he hailed me pleasantly. He turned out to be Lowell Brentano of the Fifth Avenue book house that bears his
The "New York Times" reports that advertising agencies now find that poets are valuable as copywriters. The discovery may or may not be something to lament, but it's a tribute to the keenness of the advertising men. The writing of good poetry is the best possible education for effective prose as witness the prose writings of Walter de la Mare, John Erskine, John Masefield and Carl Sandburg.
WHEN THE READER WRITES
My dear Editor,
More than a quarter of a century ago while trying to teach school among the hills of eastern Tennessee I began reading THE CENTURY MAGAZINE and have not missed an issue since. In fact I have all copies with one or two exceptions, since that time.
My dear Editor,
I have read with much interest Judge Guy's article in the September CENTURY, and am in entire agreement with all he writes. During the war I was in charge of the export business of one of the large packing companies, and we were accustomed to receive instructions from Washington to prepare all the Canned Corned Beef we could, and that when the goods were ready for shipment, we would receive our orders. Instructions would then be sent us to ship 10,000 cases of Corned Beef to the United States Army in Norfolk, and the goods were invoiced to the United States Government and paid for by them. The following week we might receive an order to ship 10,000 cases to Montreal and charge the goods to Messrs. J. P. Morgan & Company, on behalf of the British Government, and payment would be made by Messrs. J. P. Morgan -and this constitutes part of the debt owing us by Great Britain. Both shipments were equally necessary to winning the war. Mention is also made in the article that a considerable part of this foreign indebtedness was incurred after the Armistice. This is quite true, and when the foreign governments desired to be relieved of the necessity
of taking a lot of the high-priced goods, they were told that it was all part of the campaign for increased food production inaugurated by the American Government, and that the farmers had been promised a certain price for their wheat and for their live hogs, and that the American Government was in duty bound to carry out these promises and the Allied Governments should be quite willing to take the goods on the basis of the original program.
Another point to remember, is that we really loaned our Allies goods, not dollars-only for the sake of convenience were the values expressed in dollars and the goods were sold at exceedingly high prices.
It is, of course, an economic truism that we can only be paid in goods. We already have the larger part of the world's supply of gold, and we are unwilling to take payment in services, for it is not easy for foreign steamship lines to make any money while the American Government is willing to take from the taxpayers' pockets $15,000,000 or $20,000,000 a year to subsidize our own American shipping. Moreover, we strenuously object to receiving goods in payment, and the minute foreign goods come into this country in increased quantities, appeal is made to the Tarriff Commission in Washington to advance the duties, and, as you are well aware, the Flexible Tariff Commission is, to all intents and purposes, flexible one way only, namely: upwards. Besides, the value of goods the world over is now very much less than during the war and immediately thereafter and, of course, that means larger quantities of goods to offset the dollars originally loaned.
The writer of said article seemingly never read what one of our famous men said: "May my country be always right, but right or wrong-my country." The very fact that you allow the same to be published indicates that you are in sympathy with our enemy. I have just returned from a two months' trip through France, and even at Rheims, they are unwilling to allow Mr. Rockefeller credit for the gift of a million dollars to rebuild the church there; the guides were constantly stating that the government was doing the work. I would invite your attention to the Debt facts as set forth in the "Saturday Evening Post," February 12, 1927, and I complimented Mr. Lorimer for having done so.
And the man who thinks he knows more about the facts, than our very able Mr. Mellon, makes it appear that he should have his head examined. Yours truly, C. P. VAN TRUEN
My dear Editor,
Will you kindly accept congratulations for your article "Debts and Our Allies" in September CENTURY, from a man seventy years old, a graduate of Yale in '81.
Two years before we went into the war I said that it was our war and we should take our part in it. I have been a friend of the League of Nations, and, since the end of the war, have advocated the cancellation of the debts of our Allies.
I have helped Mr. Francis Peabody in the circulation of his article, but THE CENTURY'S is not only the best article I have seen in regard to the cancellation of the debt but also for the League of Nations; and at its end, "Let us learn to Live together, etc.," is a splendid sermon.
It is unnecessary to answer this letter, as I only desire to be one of a number recorded as appreciating such a splendid article.
Yours very truly,
PHILO CARROLL FULLER
Grand Rapids, Michigan.
My dear Editor,
I have a little private "Best Story of the Year" contest going on annually, and while the year is not yet ended, I'm almost convinced the next three months will not change my decision that the Hugh A. Studdert Kennedy article in the June CENTURY
tops all and sundry. I congratulate THE CENTURY for its good judgment and its temerity in publishing "As the Angels Which Are in Heaven." Sincerely,
My dear Editor,
"In the Interests of Light and Learnin'" by William M. John, in the September number of CENTURY, is truly a delightful story. In its simplicity it is an unusual story-but all too short. As Zurk drove off towards Dawson, I only wish he had hesitated in the sunlight and had decided to return to dispose of a second edition of "The World's Universal Knowledge." In this way we would have been permitted to hear a little more of Asy Mulberry's wit and wisdom and the upliftin' of Tumbleweed Valley. Surely, Molly Higgins and old Mrs. Parsons were not the only ones who profited by Xerxes Bullock's stupendous work on Knowledge. Is not there a Myrtle Mead and a Harvey Bloom and perhaps a Doctor Liptak in the Valley, who also profited? If so, it will be greatly appreciated if Mr. John will write us another Tumbleweed Valley tale.
CHARLES L. HOWARD
My dear Editor,
I have intended for some time past to write you in order to express my appreciation of the descriptions of logging-camp life and characters as portrayed by Stewart H. Holbrook which have appeared from time to time in The Century, but it took his "Whistle-Punks" in the August number, to stir my resolution to the point of action.
Mr. Holbrook evidently knows his subject. I spent some years in the camps and so am in a position to check up on his statements. I was a whistle-punk myself for some eighteen months, and while I never acquired the standard degree of "hardness" because my tastes were unusual, I can assert with truth that both my predecessor and successor were exact replicas of the author's typical signal boy.
Thanking you for the pleasure accorded me through the columns of your magazine, I am Yours sincerely,
M. T. DUNTEN