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lifted out of their proper setting and deal like reading Tolstoy after Fenistripped of their natural simplicity. more Cooper. For most readers this appears to be Of course Bancroft has long been enough, for they know very little dispossessed by historians less given about history and are satisfied with than he to heroics. The Beards literary versions of it. And even the must really be compared with the people with a gift for reality are not later writers, many of them followers at their best when face to face with of Mr. Beard, who have dug into literature. They yield to its charm, special phases of American history and somehow believe it, even when it with critical eyes.
with critical eyes. Yet here too the represents human beings as behaving Beards easily survive the compariin a fashion which, in actual life, son. They have made due use of all would be regarded by sensible ob- such monographs and have absorbed servers as sheer histrionics for the them. But beyond that, they have gallery.
put life into their materials by fitting The Beards, while historians, have them to a general pattern and then the gift for reality which commonly unfolding it with a fine sweep and goes with other occupations. The eloquence. Unavoidably they must result is that in reading “The Rise of be compared with the H. G. Wells of American Civilization” I never once “The Outline of History.” They found that I had got up into that have indeed a smaller topic, and they easy region in which a reader travels start with a less brilliant rush than along with what may be called the Mr. Wells's. But in other respects I literary momentum without any think they have beaten him at this particular reference to disobliging game. facts. On the contrary, I found myself, through all these pages, steadily held down to what I believe BEHIND LITERATURE:-Along with to be the world in which men truly “The Rise of American Civilization” live. If, approaching some familiar comes another learned but exciting episode in American history, I started work, “Main Currents in American off ahead of my historians along the Thought” (Harcourt, Brace), by Verpath which I supposed they would non Louis Parrington, which should take, I was often pulled back. And make the author notable at once. each time I realized that I still had He has, it is true, been noteworthy, certain conventional notions about but few have known about his acthe motives for colonization or the tivities. I have myself known about processes of the Revolution or the this book for more than a dozen details of the expansion westward or years, and ten years ago I had a hand the issues involved in the Civil War in publishing an abridged version of or the methods of industrial expan- part of it. Season after season I sion or the secrets of imperialism. have vainly hoped that some pubOn nearly every point I was thor- lisher would have the courage to oughly convinced by the arguments bring it out. It has been lamentably brought forward.
forward. Reading the delayed; but Mr. Parrington, a proBeards after, say, Bancroft is a good fessor at the University of Washington, has apparently kept busy with literature, to look behind it to the it, for the third volume, to be pub- national moods and the national lished later, will bring the record doctrines to which it gave voice. down to 1920. The publication of While he has gone primarily to the first two, of which the subtitles American literature for his evidence are “The Colonial Mind” and “The as to how men were feeling and Romantic Revolution in America,” thinking at any given moment in the ought to be regarded as an event in history of the nation, he has reguthe history of American criticism. larly tested the poets and orators and
I believe that Mr. Parrington story-tellers and commentators by a originally planned to call his work hawk-like examination of the actual “The Development of Democracy in conditions which they portrayed or American Literature.” If this is discussed and of the particular bias true, he must then have thought of it with which this or that author as only another monograph on a viewed his themes. Moreover, Mr. special phase of American culture. Parrington has chosen to concern Fifteen or twenty years ago this was himself with the most representative the form in which the idea would figures, to the extent of not even have occurred to almost any scholar. mentioning John Woolman, to take Democracy was then a more popular one illustration, and of giving Poe topic than it has become, and the but a brief mention as an isolated history of literature seemed a more figure. The total effect is therefore distinct field than it is now generally strikingly novel. The country of held to be. At present, however, the American mind has been rethat earlier title has a slightly ar- mapped. chaic sound. And I imagine that Readers not interested in the histhe book itself has become, during tory of literature will find Mr. Parthe past decade, something more ex- rington's treatment perhaps more tensive than it was at first intended detailed than they have expected to be. Nor does this apply alone to with reference to many individual the expected third volume, to be authors. In this sense, “Main Curcalled “The Beginnings of Critical rents in American Thought” still Realism in America.” All three vol- carries the burden of specialization umes must have been enlarged in with which it set out. This burden scope to make this history of Ameri- is less heavy than it may seem. can opinion cover so much ground the individual authors are drawn the very existence of which was clear into the general stream, and all are to few observers when Mr. Parring- studied by a mind never subdued to ton began his labors.
narrow views. The whole world of The credit which belongs to Mr. the Puritan is reconstructed from the Parrington, however, should not fragmentary records which are to be be given to the mere fact that time found in Puritan books, and the has passed and some things have obsolete jargon of the age is transchanged. From the first he plainly lated into more or less universal had a spacious and enlightened plan. terms. In the same fashion the His aim was, studying the national Revolutionary generation is anato
mized, and the distinctive elements now the year 1927 will be rememin the South and East and West bered in the history of American which, after differences of opinion literature not by either of the useful leading to civil war, grew into a sort
learned works which I have so far of uniformity about 1860. Speciali- discussed, but by Edwin Arlington zation ceases to have its customary Robinson's “Tristram” (Macmillan). disadvantages when it is employed in I do not, indeed, think that its surthe service of so general an idea. vival quality is its chief quality.
There has lately been a great deal While I believe it will survive, I beof demand for a synthesis of Ameri- lieve it will carry with it the virtues can civilization which might give of elevation, melodiousness, passion, Americans some notion of what they and wisdom which will make its surhad done and in what direction they vival genuinely important to other were going. Happily no synthesis ages. of a living civilization is ever more What business, it has already been than a thing to be hoped for, but the asked, has an American poet of the Beard and Parrington books should twentieth century to go back to heago a good way toward satisfying that then England and to retell a story hope for some time to come.
which has been told over and over by many poets in many languages?
The question need not be seriously LITERATURE: I suppose that most answered. Poetry has always gone critics who have paid much attention wherever it wanted to go for its subto literary history are in danger of jects, and it always will, just as a laying too much stress upon what in man will love the woman he loves, literature is known as immortality. and not some other woman who may That is, they tend to value master- be recommended to him by the best pieces which survive to subsequent authorities. Mr. Robinson is to be generations, and to undervalue those judged only by what he has prowhich, having done their work, go duced, not by what he might have back to their first elements. As a been asked to produce in accordance matter of fact, I do not see precisely with some other scheme of criticism. how the merits of present usefulness In any case, he only seems to have and future attractiveness can be borrowed his material. His hero is measured. Masterpieces have had called Tristram, like the ancient a short life, as men have had; trash tragic hero, and he too is sent to has survived. A book survives its bring Isolt of Ireland home to be the age, I should say, only because it has bride of King Mark of Cornwall; he
, the special quality of survival. I do
I too falls in love with her, as she does not feel sure that that is invariably a with him, and is so lost in that love sign of superiority. There are quali- that his loyalty to the king cannot ties which are not essentially merits, prevail against it; he too is banished
, but simply qualities.
from the court on account of his love, Nevertheless I cannot help taking goes to Brittany and marries another a little satisfaction from my belief Isolt, and eventually dies of his first that fifty or a hundred years from love. But only in this outline is Mr. Robinson's story the legendary one. mode, no venerable costumes. Tre As to its substance, it is as fresh and characters speak with the spare immediate as any love-story between directness of all
directness of all Mr. Robiascc's the most contemporary persons. characters. The narrative advacces The magic philter which in the old with the straightforward, doczed story was the cause of the ill fated tread of all his tragedies. But neve: love this poet quite leaves out, know- before has he told a story of anything ing that love is not to be attributed like the present scope with so muca to philters or explained by them. lucidity or with so much simplicity The feudal obligation which the of structure. Even readers accuslegendary Tristram owes to the leg- tomed to read novels only should endary Mark has become another find no difficulty in following the thing. Tristram has merely failed story. It is, of course, a novel in to know his own mind soon enough, verse, lifted to eminence not by the has allowed Isolt to marry Mark fact that it is in verse, but by the without protest, and in view of the fact that it is lofty and intense and king's jealousy and power can do concentrated beyond
concentrated beyond the reach of nothing but accept his exile. To prose. stay would mean his own death and If "Tristram” is not a great poem, Isolt's lasting grief. In the Robin- no version of the legend since Gottson version, Tristram comes back to fried von Strassburg's can be called England and temporarily and sur- great. If it is not a great poem, no reptitiously rejoins Isolt. Mark, American narrative poem can be learning the state of Isolt's feeling called great. Considering the sigfor Tristram, decides, like any civi- nificance of the theme, the strength lized modern man, that their love has with which it is grasped, the skill a right greater than his legal claim. with which the tragic drama is built The death of Tristram is the work of up, the steady fire which burns in an officious fool who has the leg- every line, the felicity and harmony endary attitude. The story might of the language, I am led to say that have had its scene laid in Maine or this is the greatest Tristram since California without any greater loss Gottfried. And, though ordinarily than would have come from the sac- averse to superlatives in literary rifice of names and places already criticism, I bring this department to rich with poetic association. The an end with a superlative. I believe tragedy is universal, not traditional. that “Tristram” is the greatest poem
Consequently there is no historical yet written, or at least published, by posturing, no antiquities of speech or an American.
THE ENGINES ran easily for the he had not noticed one, an excuse first time in six days, as the now lying far beyond the reach of the
Narrows slid past and the bag- least observant mariner. So we gage waited, neatly stacked, in the admired it, each after his own fashrelinquished state-rooms. Ecstatic ion, to his appropriate reporter watchers on the deck saw tall, un- the Something Sisters in duet, the likely towers step suddenly out of the Marchese with a touch of Latin mist and group themselves into a fire, myself with a nervous gesture city. But down below the anxious of propitiation. We admired the voices still inquired along every United States as well. True, we had sounding passage for the Something not yet set foot in it. But if the Sisters and the Marchese della Cosa, ancients sacrificed to an Unknown as an eager Press reached out its God, why not a cautious modern? tentacles to embrace these paragons These strange rites of initiation are of dance and diplomacy, the pride of among the most mysterious features our ship's company. Perhaps it of the Dark Continent. Why in the found them, though I never saw the name of sane and interesting jourphotographic record of their smiles, nalism is it supposed that the opinion their feelings on returning home, im- of no one in particular (especially on pressions of the sky-line, thoughts on matters upon which he is not qualiwar-debts, censorship, the current fied to have one) is likely to protrial, and the latest book, which are vide attractive reading-matter? Why the toll exacted by the inquiring does a proud continent refresh itself gate-keeper of the New World. One with the lightest thoughts of every envies Christopher Columbus, to passing stranger who may be pressed whom the sky-line, at any rate, must
into its service as a momentary have presented a simpler problem. leader-writer and pontificates gravely For in the somewhat uneventful
to reporters upon subjects with landscape of Ambrose Channel the which he is imperfectly acquainted? wary Genoese might well reply that But I digress. The Narrows were Copyright, 1927, by THE CENTURY Co. All rights reserved.