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"BIRTHRIGHT" AS IT SEEMS TO
"Birthright," by T. S. Stribling (The Century Co., $1.90), instantly upon publication received most remarkable notice; it was more than reviewed: articles were written about it, and editorials; "colyumists" repeatedly commented upon it. Too often it is necessary for those who praise a work for some special human significance to overlook the fact that it does n't even begin to be a work of art. Charles Hanson Towne of the "New York Tribune" says that the author has "done it nobly and beautifully"; the reviewer of the "New York Herald" says, "it is a finely artistic production." A small portion of all that Heywood Broun has to say about it in the "New York World" follows.
AN unusually good American novel is "Birth
right," by T. S. Stribling, which has just been issued by The Century Co. We want to resist our usual temptation to say the best of the year or the best in ten years or anything of the sort, because we are seriously trying to outgrow the habit of applying the ranking system to literature. We hope that it will be sufficient evidence of enthusiasm to say merely that "Birthright" is a fine piece of work.
The author has begun with a tremendous advantage in that he has taken a theme almost wholly neglected by American authors. He has written a novel about the Negro. His hero is a Negro. Hitherto such material has been employed for laughter. In the whole field of American drama and fiction exceptions to this treatment are surprisingly few. We are not forgetting, of course, the inevitable scene in every play of Southern life in which the old butler with the misery in his back offers his humble savings to save his master from bankruptcy. That is not quite what we mean by serious.
the book is not overweighted with propaganda. It tells a story absorbingly. Such moral as it contains lies in the incidents of the
narration and does not need the occasional forefinger of the author. The story seems to us profoundly moving and interesting. Even Sinclair Lewis has no greater faculty for bringing to the reader the physical aspect of a place. Indeed, the book concerns another Main Street, but this time it is the thoroughfare of the Negro quarter in a small river town of Tennessee.
Perhaps an apt retort to the charge of sterility which Stribling brings against the white South may lie in the fact that he is himself a Tennesseean. We must admit that the book is fine enough to hurt his case in this respect. However, it does away with the possibility of any attempt to dismiss "Birthright" as just something by one of those interfering Yankees who does n't know what he is talking about.
Incidentally, the book makes no plea for social equality or anything of the sort, nor does it make any pretensions about the character or the mentality of the black folk with whom it deals. It is not the function of a novelist to furnish a full list of measures of reform with every novel. "Birthright" contains no such list, but it does make the possibly useful suggestion that the problem of the South concerns two races. Maybe there is a saying that it takes two to make a remedy.
By Arthur Hobson Quinn
The necessity for a new edition (fourth printing, with complete revision) of Arthur Hobson Quinn's "Representative American Plays" (The Century Co., $4.00) has proved that the present-day play-enthusiast is interested in a comprehensive view of the American stage. The history of the American drama is not merely quaint in its early phases; it knew plays of intrinsic merit, native to America in subject and thought, while the episodes of our early history afford peculiarly fascinating dramatic contrasts. The colonial and revolutionary backgrounds, the struggles of pioneers, the epoch of the great Civil War, and the social and moral conflicts of our own time are represented in this volume. That this is an authoritative standard, edited by a well-known expert of his subject, concerns schools and colleges particularly, but is also a background of comfortable security to those eager readers of plays for whom its chiefest qualities are its rich interest and compact delights.
HAT Americans of the eighteenth century were just as anxious to claim a purely American drama as are those of the twentieth is shown by a long prologue to the early play, "The Contrast," by Royall Tyler (first played in 1787 and revived for a few performances by the Philadelphia Drama League in 1917); from which the following lines are taken:
Exult each patriot heart!—this night is shewn
That there is an American drama has been impressed upon our consciousness by many meritous plays of recent seasons, and it is with a new confidence that the American lover of the drama looks around at the dramatic world. Our theaters no longer depend almost exclusively upon importations; and now, moreover, it is not merely our "shows" but our plays of serious import, too, which go to the foreign English-speaking stage. The new view of his native stage leads our playlover backward as well as forward. There was no great interest for any but the specialist in investigating the precursors of an American drama which, he was told, was insignificant and which he could see was swamped by plays of foreign origin. But now that America has arrived dramatically, not only the student but the general reader as well may well care to know what has gone before.
This group of twenty-five American plays of interest and excellence, selected to illustrate the development of the American drama, scrupulously edited and supplied with the most interesting data, has been extremely successful and has just
received a fourth printing with such thorough
revision as to constitute a new edition.
The authors of all these plays, except Boucicault's "The Octoroon," are, naturally, AmeriMr. Boucicault is represented because he has been, as Dr. Quinn says, "so significant a force in our dramatic history that his inclusion seems necessary." The editor has given preference to plays whose action takes place in this country, sixteen of them conforming to this plan, while in others American characters appear.
Only real acting-plays which have had stage representation by a professional company have been admitted, and a feature of great interest in the book is the history of the production of each play, with old casts, bills, prologues, advertisements and the like, where these are quaint or of other special interest.
Some of these plays by American authors had their first production in London. John Howard Payne's "Charles the Second; or, The Merry Monarch. A Comedy in Three Acts, with Some Songs," was first produced at the Theatre Royal, Covent Garden. The play is in part the work of Washington Irving; but Irving had insisted on concealing his collaboration with Payne in this as in several other instances.
Though the collection is by no means one of mere quaintnesses and curiosities, containing as it does a number of plays of recent date, most modern in plot, technique and feeling, there is an interest of a special kind in the earlier plays. The one which opens the book, "The Prince of Parthia," by Thomas Godfrey, was the first play written by an American to be performed in America by a professional company of actors.
"The Contrast," from which a part of the prologue has been quoted, introduced to the stage the humorous Yankee; Jonathan in that play was ancestor to a legion of comic Yankees.
A PERSONALITY PAGE
S. STRIBLING, author of that much-dis
cussed novel, "Birthright," which is being commented on at large by editors, and "colyumists," referred to in articles and written about in "letters to the editor" galore, has been much amused at a quite general assumption that he is himself a negro. A few of the newspaper artists who have sketched portraits from photographs sent to literary editors by the publishers have had so strong a preconception of his black blood that they have actually read into his features negro characteristics, and have sketched an octoroon type. Mr. Stribling is a purely white, purely blond, long, lank Tennesseean, whose facial structure rather suggests Scandinavian forbears.
Not only is Mr. Stribling not a negro, but he has never particularly interested himself in movements or propaganda for the improvement of the negro's position. The intense feeling which Maurice Francis Egan says has made this "a very passionate book" is the outcome of a more personal contact with the troubles of the race-with, as Mr. Stribling himself says, a knowledge of “the man across the street and the old rheumatic in my kitchen."
MORRIS LONGSTRETH, the man who has put a rarely articulate and appealing delight in the beauty of those regions into his books on "The Adirondacks" and "The Catskills," says that his new book, "The Laurentians," is a record of "things that should not be allowed to happen to the accurate tourist." Nevertheless, his series of accidents and inadvertencies brought him face to face with the living original of Maria Chapdelaine, and bestowed a wonderful evening with a stranger of rare wisdom and charm who turned out to have been Bliss Carman.
EBB WALDRON, who wrote "The Road to the World," the novel that Heywood Broun calls "better than 'Moon Calf,"" says that writing a novel is a grave interruption to everyday life.
"A little over a year ago I was living peacefully on my farm in Connecticut, carrying on a longdistance free-lance advertising job and writing articles for THE CENTURY MAGAZINE and "Collier's Weekly." Then one day I found out suddenly that I was going to write a novel. No one had warned me in advance, so I was rather sur
prised at the news.
I had no business to write a novel. I could n't afford to. But I found that that had nothing to do with it. I set to work.
"It did n't seem such a stupendous job, after all. I saw the framework of the whole thing quite complete-proof it must have been forming unbeknownst to me for a long time. I told my friends with glib confidence that I would have it finished in three months. As a matter of fact, it took ten. The garden grew up to pig-weed and red-root, blight yellowed the potatoes, the fragments of the torn-down barn lay strewn around the landscape, the studio in the woods remained a dream, the tim ber for the boat to navigate our river remained at the lumber-yard, the rotting grape-arbor sagged a little more dangerously-while I toiled at my table upstairs. When friends came out from town I fled to the attic. My advertising job went. glimmering. The premiums on my life insurance were paid by a financial legerdemain that I never quite understood, but the farm-taxes came due and stayed due.
"I suppose some wives would have grumbled at this impracticability. My wife did n't. She welcomed it. It gave her an excuse to drop practical matters and write a play.
"Autumn came on. The russets hung on the trees unpicked. The potatoes-what there were of them-lay undug. The second-hand furnace we had bought from the Government warehouse lay in the cellar unassembled. Anyhow we had no coal. I moved my table from the attic to my bedroom fire-place. It grew colder. I moved my table to the fireside downstairs, and there my wife and I hung over one meager flame, writing, writing. At last, about the middle of November, play and novel were finished. We were financially ruined, but rather happy.'
ARRY HERVEY, author of "Caravans by Night" (who, by-the-way, is now in California writing his next romance, "The Black Parrot"), is a romancer by most deliberate choice. Recently he said, speaking of his resolve to devote himself to this kind of fiction: "I would become, I decided, a builder of the galleons of dreams, the ships upon which the hearthstone adventurers might sail in fancy to their enchanted archipelagoes. My books, I resolved, would not be sex or problem novels, nor even realism, but romances.".
THE CENTURY MAGAZINE
HE day's mail is always an interesting adventure to a magazine editor. One never knows what it may bring forth. And more interesting to him, probably, than anything else that it does bring forth are the letters from readers commenting on the magazine or some individual feature of it. A group of letters received this month follows.
The first is from F. O.Hayes of Conway Springs, Kansas. Mr. Hayes writes:
Not being a subscriber to "THE CENTURY MAGAZINE," I buy my copy each month at the corner drug-store, where I have had a standing order for a matter of three years.
On the twenty-sixth of February I dropped in and deposited my four bit piece on the counter, received my "CENTURY" and "Thank you" in exchange. This transaction was observed by a grocer acquaintance standing near by.
He asked to see the magazine, which I handed to him. He flipped the pages, overlooking the fine paper and the beautiful prints, returning it to me with the comment that he would be eternally dod-gasted before he would pay fifty cents for a magazine, but that perhaps I, being a railroad man, could afford it. I asked him why he asked fifty cents per pound for Swift's Premium Bacon, and twenty-two cents per pound for Smith's Hog Bacon. His ready reply was, “'Cause it's a better grade; that's why."
Well, I am a railroad man, a union man in train service, and his sarcastic cut that I could afford a fifty-cent magazine because I happened to be a railroad man was wide of the mark. The men with whom I work do not read THE CENTURY, and some could afford to, or any of them, for that matter. I do not see how any one can afford to be without it. I do not get much time to read, but when I have the time, I prefer "THE CENTURY" to Silly Stories, etc. I read "The Railway Conductor," "THE CENTURY," and "The Bookman." I am the proud possessor of 135 volumes of poetry, which I read, a poet for every mood. Perhaps I'm extravagant. I don't know, and I care less. My enjoyment consists in reading articles like Mr. Ireland's and your comments thereon. I am not a college guy or a literary gent; read a sign yesterday, "Say it with flowers." I am merely trying to say it in words that I like my favorite magazine.
Another comes from Mrs. Hamlin Cogswell, corresponding secretary of the League of American Pen Women-two letters, in fact. In the first she says:
As I snuggle down before the hearth with my April CENTURY I cannot resist the impulse to write to you
and spray approving adjectives upon the most artistic, the most appealing and good-to-look-upon cover that graces any periodical published. I consider it the greatest and most satisfying "ornament" my gateleg-table holds.
We wrote Mrs. Cogswell, and told her that we appreciated this approval of the "outside" of the magazine but were more interested in what she thought of the "insides." She replied:
Do you think that I buy that magazine simply for its dress? Do you suppose in the matter of economy I would pass up a lunch or a dinner to get it if it were not for its contents?
In that April number, from "Dancing Town" to "Democracy at the Cross Roads," there is not a dull moIt's so with every number. Do I subscribe for it? No. It's fun to have it flirt with me and coax me from the news-stand. It knows I shall never pass it by. I could say a lot more about what I think of "the material inside the brown cover," but instead I will "broadcast" it among my acquaintances, who might, in these busy days, miss some of the mental exhilaration that its contents give a reader.
Zona Gale writes, as a postscript to a delightful letter from Southern California; "Congratulations on the Sanborn Journal! That is an overwhelming victory over several generations of editors."
Then comes a letter from a reader in Medina, New York, about the same amiable person to whom we referred in the April number who was then reported as representing himself to be "Arthur Gilder," a nephew of Richard Watson Gilder, and a member of THE CENTURY staff.
The same plausible elderly crook, who is referred to by correspondents of "The Atlantic Monthly" and The Centurion, "worked" western New York some months ago. In this neighborhood he represented himself as a nephew of R. U. Johnson. He is well acquainted with all the old staff of THE CENTURY and some of them ought to be able to remember and identify him. It might be well to suggest to your readers that when he asks for a loan, they should telephone for a police officer.
"Mr. Gilder" had been "working" Cleveland when we had the first report, and had managed to get a small check cashed by a CENTURY reader. He seems to have been successful enough in his operations to get either from New York State to
Cleveland or from Cleveland to New York State; we have no dates from either correspondent, and are not certain of the chronology.
Letters regarding Albert Edward Wiggam's article, "The New Decalogue of Science," published in the March number, continue to come to us not only from American readers, but from foreign ones. Certainly no article published in THE CENTURY for a long time has aroused such wide-spread interest. Among the letters received recently is this from Leonard Darwin, president of the Eugenics Education Society of England. Mr. Darwin writes:
When I came away from America last September, after having had the honour of attending the International Congress of Eugenics as a representative of this society, two thoughts mainly occupied my mind. The first was the mere revival of an old thought, namely, with what extraordinary kindness and hospitality an Englishman is received in your country. It is only to my other thought, however, that I wish now to allude, and that was that America is far ahead of Europe in her ideas with regard to racial progress. This belief was reinforced when I read the very remarkable article by Mr. Wiggam on "The New Decalogue of Science" in your March issue. I know of no parallel to it in any European magazine; and if it strikes home, and if its plain speaking is not resented, then I shall feel great confidence that a mighty future lies before your country.
Another interesting letter comes from Oliver Olson of the "Journal of Heredity," the official organ of the American Genetic Association. Mr. Olson writes:
Mr. Wiggam's "New Decalogue of Science" in the March number of your CENTURY MAGAZINE is something that should command everybody's honest interest, especially those who are in positions of authority and influence. It is a challenge which our public leaders should receive in dead earnest. It comes from strong evidence, and it speaks well the growing demand from thoughtful people that the truths of biology be given recognition by those who direct our social order.
All biologists will agree that a copy of the article should be put into the hands of every public official in the realms of statecraft and national education.
Mr. Wiggam has indicated in a clear, intelligible manner the broad application of the discoveries of students of experimental evolution in the last half-century, and has stated forcibly the ill consequences that surely will follow and have followed the ignoring of the laws of heredity.
Our present immigration problem would be nonexistant if our legislators had possessed a proper appreciation of the laws of heredity and fully realized that "all men are born unequal."
THE CENTURY is to be congratulated on having published this inspiring article, and Mr. Wiggam is to be commended for the skill with which he has vitalized the eugenics program.
Finally, comes this enthusiastic comment from Tom Skeyhill, Anzac soldier, poet, and lecturer. Mr. Skeyhill, who is now in Genoa for the economic conference, writes of Mr. Wiggam's article:
the most wonderful, the most inspiring, and the most enlightening magazine contribution that it has ever been my happy privilege to read. I read and reread it a dozen times; and I am not nearly finished yet. It sticks in the mind like a burr. The style, the diction, and the poise are almost perfect.
The author is right. There is something radically wrong with society to-day; and unless our statesmen pay less attention to Demosthenic eloquence, irregular verbs, split infinitives, and political chicanery, and more attention to fundamentals, this ramshackle civilization will collapse, as the temple collapsed when Samson tugged at the main pillar.
As an ordinary citizen, albeit one who takes an interest in his world, I regard Mr. Wiggam's article in THE CENTURY, as a finger-post standing at the cross-roads of the future-a finger-post which our statesmen must follow or fall.
I could write acres about this article . . . it stirs my blood every time I think of it. I have bought over a hundred copies of THE CENTURY and sent them off all over the world. Indeed, I sent a copy to a friend in Poland who cannot speak a single word of English, and with the copy I sent a note telling this friend that he must have the article translated.
Comments on Alleyne Ireland's article, "Can We save Constitutional Government?" (March), have been numerous. Bishop Francis J. McConnell of the Methodist Episcopal Church writes from Pittsburgh:
Mr. Ireland's suggestion is most valuable. What we need above all else just now is the light that comes out of facts, and there are almost no facts accessible at present in the realms of which Mr. Ireland treats. It must be remembered, however, that the investigating body, whatever it be, will have to be clothed with power really to investigate. It will have to be not of the realm of such injunctions as one now keeping the books of the West Virginia coal operators closed from the public.
May I express my great appreciation of the publicspirited progressiveness of THE CENTURY? It is great!
And from Charles A. Beard of New York an interesting appreciation, in which Mr. Beard says: "The suggestion of a propaganda to end propaganda and substitute facts for political gas ought to appeal to every one who has not lost his resilience."