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THE BOOK TABLE: DEVOTED TO BOOKS AND THEIR MAKERS
THE CRITIC'S CADENZA'
BY LLOYD R. MORRIS
HE liberal soul," remarked a scribe wise in his generation, " shall be made fat." Was it merely his selfrecorded "vice of allusiveness which made James Huneker filch a line from Walt Whitman for the motif of his avowals? Or is there a subtle malice in his quotation of Walt's declaration: "I find no sweeter fat than sticks to my own bones"
-a deliberate recognition of the validity and insidiousness of a philosophy which would lead us to spiritual cannibalism while counseling us to stew in our own intellectual juice? Who can tell? But even so caloric a diet would not dismay the redoubtable Huneker, a coruscating spirit who has long partaken of the fruit of strange cultures. Indeed, it has not, as his two stout volumes testify; he has made another excursion, and has returned with a cargo innocent of ivory and apes, but containing here and there the brilliant plumage of a peacock. For at last this gayly agile Proteus of interpretation has explored the adipose tissue of literature with the scalpel of his wit-he is too practiced a trencherman to use the truncheon -and has brought out an amazing portion of baked meats.
In short, he has written his autobiography.
Rather, these two volumes might be termed the record of his conscious revelation. Mr. Huneker is too delicate an interpreter of personality and mood not to realize what a less apprehending critic might suspect, that he had already written his autobiography in his earlier books. How could it be otherwise in the case of so personal a talent as his-a talent of which the quintessence lies in his own kaleidoscopic perceptions? But "Steeplejack" is none the less autobiography in a very special sense. In it Mr. Huneker has turned the light of his interpretative insight into the process of his own interpretation, and the reader, who is the gainer by this double mirroring of the spirit, receives a crystal liquid of no doubtful distillation. " Why shouldn't a steeplejack make avowals?" asks Mr. Huneker. And he observes: "It is a dangerous occupation, and, oddly enough, one in which the higher you mount the lower you fall, socially. Yet a steeplejack, humble as is his calling, may be a dreamer of daring dreams, a poet, even a hero. I, who write these words, am no poet, but I have been a steeplejack. I have climbed to the very top of many steeples the world over, and dreamed like the rest of my fellow-beings the dreams that accompany the promenade of pure blood through young arteries, and now, after a halfcentury, I shall report these dreams and their awakenings; for the difference between the dream-world and what we are pleased to call reality is something which no poet, philosopher, or psychologist has yet explained.... I dream, therefore I am, might be the formula of a second Descartes. And who enjoys loftier dreams than a steeplejack? But alas! he must always return to earth, else perish aloft from the cold."
1"Steeplejack." By James Gibbons Huneker. 2 vols. Charles Scribner's Sons, New York.
It is in the chronicle of Mr. Huneker's spiritual calisthenics on the steeple of experience that the reader of these volumes will find his richest fare. For all his avowed belief in the efficacy of the individual's consumption of his own corpulence, Mr. Huneker has burned up a large share of whatever adipose tissue may have blunted the edge of his emotions or dulled the fine contact of his intellect in drawing himself up and down the steeple with an infinite variety of ropes. And it is precisely his practiced mastery of these many ropes, his facile manipulation of them in the high winds of many arts, which has
given him his authority as an interpreter, the poise, the vivid personality, the keen penetration, which mark his contribution to our contemporary criticism. The character of his avowals is best indicated by himself: "It is the story of an unquiet soul who voyaged from city to city, country to country, in search of something, he knew not what. The golden grapes of desire were never plucked, the marvelous mirage of the Seven Arts never overtaken, the antique and beautiful porches of philosophy, the solemn temples of religion never penetrated. Life has been the Barmecide's feast to me-you remember the 'Arabian Nights'-no sooner did I covet a rare dish than fate whisked it out of my reach. I love painting and sculpture. I may only look but never own either pictures or marbles. I would fain be a pianist, a composer of music. I am neither. Nor a poet. Nor a novelist, actor, playwright. I have written of many things, from architecture to zoology, without grasping their inner substance. I am Jack of the Seven Arts. A steeplejack of the arts. An egoist who is not ashamed to avow it."
A mild appraisal, perhaps, and yet Mr. Huneker has projected into it the most important elements of his equipment as a
critic-his innate egoism and his catholicity of interest. In a less ebullient individuality the cultivation of the ego would make for boredom; in the case of Mr. Huneker a conscious and concentrated developmeut of personality has enriched our insight into contemporary peregrinations of the spirit. For Mr. Huneker's ego has expanded by incremental accretion, and, being a journalist, every new contact of his sensitive perceptive apparatus has been so much grist to his critical mill. Of his catholicity of interest much could be said; as a journalist he was called upon to deal with music, painting, the drama, architecture, literature-he has run the gamut of the seven arts frequently and escaped unscathed. At bottom it is perhaps his relentless cultivation of his own reactions which has led him to savor the sensations of many strange enterprises of the spirit; as wholesome a springboard for intellectual curiosity as any other, and, in his own case, certainly as valuable. "A critic," he tells us, "should confess his limitations, draw up at the beginning of a book a formal scenario of his temperament, prejudices, his likes and dislikes." Fortunately, few critics have found it expedient to follow consciously so heroic a methodexcepting George Bernard Shaw, who once was paid for writing criticism-and have thus spared readers the purgatory of perpetual prefaces. The accomplished work of any writer is usually a sufficient indication of his limitations, and probably not even Mr. Huneker will escape being appraised by posterity in the light of his published books. So that while his reminiscences have some value as indicating the atmosphere of his writing, painting in, as it were, the elements of his spiritual landscape, they are chiefly notable for those qualities for which Mr. Huneker's other and previous work is remarkable, and they are the more pungent since in this instance Mr. Huneker is interpreting himself in the light of his own personality, playing a cadenza to the theme and variations of his experience of life and art.
The spiritual scenario which Mr. Huneker promises us is scrupulously set forth in a full-flavored chapter entitled "Eternity and the Town Pump." (Parenthetically, it may be observed that perhaps no writer of English prose since De Quincey has evinced so brilliant a talent in the invention of titles as has Mr. Huneker.) He conceives himself as essentially affirmative in his reactions. "Out of the hodgepodge which I call my life I had to distill some sort of philosophy," he tells us. "I was never an agnostic. I always believed in something, somewhere, somewhen-as Emerson has it. In fact, I believe, and still believe, in everything. I am a 'Yes-Sayer' to life. Any extravagance but the denial of reality. The vicar of hell' is he who teaches the negation of things. Man is a vertical animal. True. But he is also mobile, an animal that adapts. Because of his numerous aptitudes he is differentiated from his fellow-animals. His fall' was when he went on all-fours and worshiped ignoble sticks and stones as gods. The gesture was well meant, but the attitude undignified. It was a throwback to the anthropoids. It savored of a return to animalism. Yet it is better to be a polytheist than an atheist. The gods are ever moving through the
In that brief quotation we have the essence of Huneker; the undimmed youth of spirit, the pragmatic philosophy of criticism, the cultivated and sophisticated temper of emotions and intellect, which have made it possible for him to reproduce vividly the heightened sensations awakened by fluent experience. Superficially, perhaps, the formula may appear a facile one. But the formula itself is nothing. What peculiarly distinguishes Mr. Huneker as a critic is the finely sensitive quality of his perceptions; even intellectually he is our most delicately emotional critic. A subtly fused temperament, as responsive, spiritually, to sensory stimulus as the violin string to the bow of a Kreisler. And with an equivalent capacity for harmonics.
Mr. Huneker, with Whitman, finds his own fat sweetest. The reader of his reminiscences will echo Cæsar's words: "Let me have men about me that are fat."
THE NEW BOOKS
Hearts of Three. By Jack London. The Macmillan Company, New York.
A posthumous story by Jack London, in which descendants of the famous pirate, Sir Henry Morgan, engage in a rival hunt for his treasure buried somewhere in the South Sea Islands. The idea of the tale is bold and its execution is spirited. Little Warrior (The). By Pelham Grenville Wodehouse. The George H. Doran Company, New York.
As in Mr. Wodehouse's "A Damsel in Distress," this amusing tale affords a laughable contrast between English and American up-to-date slang. There is also an enjoyable glimpse of American stage life behind the scenes. The tale is capital burlesque with a warm touch of human nature. Mary Wollaston. By Henry Kitchell Webster. The Bobbs-Merrill Company, New York.
In the life of Mary, we are told, there is a clash between fastidious honesty and ruthless sentimentalism. Her human sympathy leads her into a strangely casual lapse from virtue, but in time she comes to love and be loved by an original genius who understands her nature. The novel is a social study on rather a large scale. It deals much with musical things and people and has a good deal of subtlety. Summons (The). By A. E. W. Mason. The George H. Doran Company, New York.
Mr. Mason, here as always, has an exciting and unusual story to unfold. This novel is hardly the equal of the "Four Feathers or "The Broken Road," for the author attempts to mingle a not very successful humorous vein with his natural
plot-and-action type of fiction writing. It is good to see Mr. Mason back in the publishing field after a long absence.
BOOKS FOR YOUNG FOLKS
Book of Boyhoods (A). Chaucer to MacDowell. By Eugénie M. Fryer. E. P. Dutton & Co., New York.
An attempt to reconstruct the boyhood of famous men. This is a difficult job at best, and the average boy probably will balk at some of these biographies. "Bookish" children, however, will find
Book of Bravery (The). Third Series. By Henry W. Lanier. Illustrated. Charles Scribner's Sons, New York.
Boys and older people too will find excitement and something more in these stories of adventure in which men and women "made good." The brave ones told of range from cowboys to missionaries, the scenes from New York to Omdurman, and the themes from plain fighting to struggles involving mainly moral courage.
America First. By Lawton B. Evans. Illustrated. The Milton Bradley Company, Springfield, Massachusetts.
These stories of brave men and great deeds from the days of John Smith to those of Sergeant York will be read with eager interest by children who have learned that no stories are more wonderful than true ones.
Fourth Down. By Ralph Henry Barbour. D.
bour. Dodd, Mead & Co., New York. The football season would be incomplete without at least one school football story from Mr. Barbour. This year we have two. "Fourth Down" is a new tale of the boys at Yardley, and not only football play but the development of character under stress are brought out with all the writer's usual graphic ability.
Quarter-Back Bates is equally exciting and deals with the adventures of Dick Bates in the famous Parkinson prep school. Of course he makes the team, but only after struggles and by much pertinacity.
ESSAYS AND CRITICISM
Connecticut Wits (The), and Other Essays. By Henry A. Beers. The Yale University Press, New Haven.
Scholarship and humor are admirably blended in these essays by a teacher and writer of literature. They follow some of the curious and little-known byways of authorship and literary history. Points of Friction. By Agnes Repplier, Litt.D. Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston.
A halfscore of the delightfully keenwitted and observant papers which Miss Repplier is kind enough to write from time to time for the enjoyment of appreciative readers. They are always welcome and invariably worth while. Particularly, we "Dead Authors," deprecating like that on "the recent determined intrusion of spirits into authorship."
Talks to Writers. By Lafcadio Hearn. Se
lected and Edited with Introduction by John Erskine, Ph.D. Dodd, Mead & Co., New York. Chapters from the lectures which Hearn gave at the University of Tokyo during his residence in Japan. There is real suggestiveness and stimulation in these dissertations, though Hearn himself said, "No books yet exist that will teach you literary work, which will teach you the real secrets of literary composition." Some day he hoped there might be such books. The assiduous student may find this to be one of them.
TRAVEL AND DESCRIPTION
Among the Ibos of Nigeria. By G. T. Basden, M.A., F.R.G.S. Illustrated. The J. B. Lippincott Company, Philadelphia. People who like books about Africa, but look askance at them when they are written. by missionaries, would do well to read this book. It is by a missionary of wide experience, rare open-mindedness, and a real
gift of observation. He makes no pretension to literary excellence, but has made a book that is entertaining as well as val uable ethnologically.
Glimpses of South America. By F. A.Sherwood. Illustrated. The Century Company, Ner York.
A wide-awake business man here gives his impressions of South America. They are vivid, readable, and comprehensive. The chapters are short and the book is abundantly illustrated.
In the Tracks of the Trades. By Lewis R. Freeman. Illustrated. Dodd, Mead & Co., New York.
The voyage in the South Seas here de scribed was much less eventful in the way of mishaps than Jack London's trip in the Snark, which apparently started the fashion both for voyages to and books about the fascinating islands of those dis tant waters. Mr. Freeman sailed 13,500 miles "without accident or serious trouble." He has made a very readable book about his adventures; his photographs deserve better printing.
Old Cape Cod. By Mary Rogers Bangs. Illus
trated. Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston. The author has delved to good purpose in the forgotten lore of the Cape, and has made a book replete with the flavor of the and sea captains make the book lively old days. Good stories of pirates, Indians, reading.
Peace Tangle (The). By John Foster Bass. The Macmillan Company, New York. This is a far more comprehensive book than the recently published volumes by Mr. Keynes and Mr. Baruch on the present international situation. We know of no better volume to commend either to the man the street or to the serious student-to the latter the book's value is doubled by the inclusion of up-to-date maps and a notably adequate index. In his Introduction the author tells us that his chapters were hastily written. They bear little evidence of it. In any event, the matter reveals a keen observation, a rich experience, and a ripe maturity of judgment. Mr. Bass traces recent diplomatic history from the secret treaties entered into by various nations through the Paris Peace Confer ence and the subsequent period. He devotes special chapters to conditions in Germany, France, Italy, Austria, Hungary, kans, and Turkey. Czechoslovakia, Poland, Russia, the Bal
Particular interest attaches to the com ment on the League of Nations. The author reproaches President Wilson with having "made a great mistake in fighting to tie the League to the Treaties," and adds: "The only bright light in the pres ent situation is that the League on all vital matters has given place to the Allied governments-in-council composed of their Prime Ministers. They have no limitation on their power." The present moment, affirms Mr. Bass, would have been more favorable to the creation of the League. The League should be managed, he says by really elected legislators from each country." America should not enter it at all except with broad reservations, chiefly concerning Article X. The fact that we have remained outside the League makes our position all the stronger, he declares,
as a disinterested negotiator in the new Europe." Above all, our efforts should now be to change the League's character from a political to a judicial and economic body.