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Full text of "Prejudices: first series"

THE LIBRARY OF THE 

UNIVERSITY OF 

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PREJUDICES 

FIRST SERIES 



By H. L. MENCKEN 

prejudices: first series 

a book of prefaces 

in defense of women 

a book of burlesques 

the philosophy of friedrich nietzsche 

the american language 

New edition in preparation for fall of 1921 ] 
With George Jean Nathan 

THE AMERICAN CREDO 
HELIOGABALUS 



Out of Print 

VENTURES INTO VFRSE 

GEORGE BERNARD SHAW: HIS PLAYS 

THE ARTIST 

A LITTLE BOOK IN C MAJOR 

A BOOK OF CALUMNY 

MEN VERSUS THE MAN 
[With B. B. La Monte] 

EUROPE AFTER 8:15 

[With Mr. Nathan and W. H. Wright] 



PREJUDICES 

FIRST SERIES 

By H. L. MENCKEN 




PUBLISHED AT THE BORZOI ■ NEW YORK • BY 

ALFRED-A-KNOPF 



COPYRIGHT, 1919, BY 
ALFRED A. KNOPF, Inc. 

Published September, 1919 

Second Printing January, 1920 

Third Printing April, 1920 

Fourth Printing March, 1921 



PRINTED IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA 



CONTENTS 

I Criticism of Criticism of Criticism, 9 

II The Late Mr. Wells, 22 

III Arnold Bennett, 36 

IV The Dean, 52 

V Professor Veblen, 59 
VI The New Poetry Movement, 83 
VII The Heir of Mark Twain, 97 
VIII Hermann Sudermann, 105 
IX George Ade, 113 

X The Butte Bashkirtseff, 123 
XI Six Members of the Institute, 129 

1. The Boudoir Balzac, 129 

2. A Stranger on Parnassus, 134 

3. A Merchant of Mush, 138 

4. The Last of the Victorians, 139 

5. A Bad Novelist, 145 

6. A Broadway Brandes, 148 
XII The Genealogy of Etiquette, 150 

XIII The American Magazine, 171 

XIV The Ulster Polonius, 181 
XV An Unheeded Law-Giver, 191 

XVI The Blushful Mystery, 195 



CONTENTS 

1. Sex Hygiene, 195 

2. Art and Sex, 197 

3. A Loss to Romance, 199 

4. Sex on the Stage, 200 
XVII George Jean Nathan, 208 

XVIII Portrait of an Immortal Soul, 224 
XIX Jack London, 236 
XX Among the Avatars, 240 
XXI Three American Immortals, 246 

1. Aristotolean Obsequies, 246 

2. Edgar Allan Poe, 247 

3. Memorial Service, 249 



PREJUDICES 
FIRST SERIES 



PREJUDICES: FIRST SERIES 

I. CRITICISM OF CRITICISM 
OF CRITICISM 

EVERY now and then, a sense of the futility of 
their daily endeavors falling suddenly upon 
them, the critics of Christendom turn to a 
somewhat sour and depressing consideration of the 
nature and objects of their own craft. That is to say, 
they turn to criticizing criticism. What is it in plain 
words? What is its aim, exactly stated in legal 
terms? How far can it go? What good can it do? 
What is its normal effect upon the artist and the work 
of art? 

Such a spell of self -searching has been in progress 
for several years past, and the critics of various 
countries have contributed theories of more or less 
lucidity and plausibility to the discussion. Their 
views of their own art, it appears, are quite as diver- 
gent as their views of the arts they more commonly 
deal with. One group argues, partly by direct state- 
ment and partly by attacking all other groups, that 
the one defensible purpose of the critic is to encour- 



10 PREJUDICES: FIRST SERIES 

age the virtuous and oppose the sinful — in brief, to 
police the fine arts and so hold them in tune with the 
moral order of the world. Another group, repudi- 
ating this constabulary function, argues hotly that the 
arts have nothing to do with morality whatsoever — 
that their concern is solely with pure beauty. A 
third group holds that the chief aspect of a work of 
art, particularly in the field of literature, is its aspect 
as psychological document — that if it doesn't help 
men to know themselves it is nothing. A fourth 
group reduces the thing to an exact science, and sets 
up standards that resemble algebraic formulae — this 
is the group of metrists, of contrapuntists and of those 
who gabble of light-waves. And so, in order, follow 
groups five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten, each with its 
theory and its proofs. 

Against the whole corps, moral and aesthetic, psy- 
chological and algebraic, stands Major J. E. Spingarn, 
U. S. A. Major Spingarn lately served formal no- 
tice upon me that he had abandoned the life of the 
academic grove for that of the armed array, and so 
I give him his military title, but at the time he wrote 
his "Creative Criticism" he was a professor in Co- 
lumbia University, and I still find myself thinking of 
him, not as a soldier extraordinarily literate, but as a 
professor in rebellion. For his notions, whatever 
one may say in opposition to them, are at least mag- 
nificently unprofessorial — they fly violently in the 



CRITICISM OF CRITICISM OF CRITICISM 11 
face of the principles that distinguish the largest and 
most influential group of campus critics. As wit- 
ness: "To say that poetry is moral or immoral is as 
meaningless as to say that an equilateral triangle is 
moral and an isosceles triangle immoral." Or, 
worse: "It is only conceivable in a world in which 
dinner-table conversation runs after this fashion: 
'This cauliflower would be good if it had only been 
prepared in accordance with international law.' ' 
One imagines, on hearing such atheism flying about, 
the amazed indignation of Prof. Dr. William Lyon 
Phelps, with his discovery that Joseph Conrad 
preaches "the axiom of the moral law"; the "Hey, 
what's that!" of Prof. Dr. W. C. Brownell, the Am- 
herst Aristotle, with his eloquent plea for standards 
as iron-clad as the Westminster Confession; the loud, 
patriotic alarm of the gifted Prof. Dr. Stuart P. Sher- 
man, of Iowa, with his maxim that Puritanism is the 
official philosophy of America, and that all who dis- 
pute it are enemy aliens and should be deported. 
Major Spingarn, in truth, here performs a treason 
most horrible upon the reverend order he once 
adorned, and having achieved it, he straightway per- 
forms another and then another. That is to say, he 
tackles all the antagonistic groups of orthodox critics 
seriatim, and knocks them about unanimously — first 
the aforesaid agents of the sweet and pious; then the 
advocates of unities, meters, all rigid formulae; then 



12 PREJUDICES: FIRST SERIES 

the experts in imaginary psychology; then the histor- 
ical comparers, pigeonholers and makers of categor- 
ies; finally, the professors of pure aesthetic. One and 
all, they take their places upon his operating table, 
and one and all they are stripped and anatomized. 
But what is the anarchistic ex-professor's own 
theory? — for a professor must have a theory, as a 
dog must have fleas. In brief, what he offers is a 
doctrine borrowed from the Italian, Benedetto Croce, 
and by Croce filched from Goethe — a doctrine any- 
thing but new in the world, even in Goethe's time, but 
nevertheless long buried in forgetfulness — to wit, the 
doctrine that it is the critic's first and only duty, as 
Carlyle once put it, to find out "what the poet's aim 
really and truly was, how the task he had to do stood 
before his eye, and how far, with such materials as 
were afforded him, he has fulfilled it." For poet, 
read artist, or, if literature is in question, substitute 
the Germanic word Dichter — that is, the artist in 
words, the creator of beautiful letters, whether in verse 
or in prose. Ibsen always called himself a Digter, 
not a Dramatiker or Skuespiller. So, I daresay, did 
Shakespeare. . . . Well, what is this generalized poet 
trying to do? asks Major Spingarn, and how has he 
done it? That, and no more, is the critic's quest. The 
morality of the work does not concern him. It is not 
his business to determine whether it heeds Aristotle 
or flouts Aristotle. He passes no judgment on its 



CRITICISM OF CRITICISM OF CRITICISM 13 

rhyme scheme, its length and breadth, its iambics, its 
politics, its patriotism, its piety, its psychological ex- 
actness, its good taste. He may note these things, 
but he may not protest about them — he may not com- 
plain if the thing criticized fails to fit into a pigeon- 
hole. - Every sonnet, every drama, every novel is 
sui generis; it must stand on its own bottom; it must 
be judged by its own inherent intentions. "Poets," 
says Major Spingarn, "do not really write epics, pas- 
torals, lyrics, however much they may be deceived 
by these false abstractions; they express themselves, 
and this expression is their only form. There are 
not, therefore, only three or ten or a hundred literary 
kinds; there are as many kinds as there are indi- 
vidual poets." Nor is there any valid appeal ad 
hominem. The character and background of the poet 
are beside the mark; the poem itself is the thing. 
Oscar Wilde, weak and swine-like, yet wrote beautiful 
prose. To reject that prose on the ground that Wilde 
had filthy habits is as absurd as to reject "What Is 
Man?" on the ground that its theology is beyond the 
intelligence of the editor of the New York Times. 

This Spingarn-Croce-Carlyle-Goethe theory, of 
course, throws a heavy burden upon the critic. It 
presupposes that he is a civilized and tolerant man, 
hospitable to all intelligible ideas and capable of 
reading them as he runs. This is a demand that at 
once rules out nine-tenths of the grown-up sopho- 



14 PREJUDICES: FIRST SERIES 

mores who carry on the business of criticism in 
America. Their trouble is simply that they lack 
the intellectual resilience necessary for taking in 
ideas, and particularly new ideas. The only way 
they can ingest one is by transforming it into the 
nearest related formula — usually a harsh and dev- 
astating operation. This fact accounts for their 
chronic inability to understand all that is most per- 
sonal and original and hence most forceful and sig- 
nificant in the emerging literature of the country. 
They can get down what has been digested and re- 
digested, and so brought into forms that they know, 
and carefully labeled by predecessors of their own 
sort — but they exhibit alarm immediately they come 
into the presence of the extraordinary. Here we have 
an explanation of Brownell's loud appeal for a 
tightening of standards — i.e., a larger respect for 
precedents, patterns, rubber-stamps — and here we 
have an explanation of Phelps's inability to compre- 
hend the colossal phenomenon of Dreiser, and of 
Boynton's childish nonsense about realism, and of 
Sherman's effort to apply the Espionage Act to the 
arts, and of More's querulous enmity to romanticism, 
and of all the fatuous pigeon-holing that passes for 
criticism in the more solemn literary periodicals. 

As practiced by all such learned and diligent but 
essentially ignorant and unimaginative men, criticism 
is little more than a branch of homiletics. They judge 



CRITICISM OF CRITICISM OF CRITICISM 15 

a work of art, not by its clarity and sincerity, not by 
the force and charm of its ideas, not by the technical 
virtuosity of the artist, not by his originality and 
artistic courage, but simply and solely by his ortho- 
doxy. If he is what is called a "right thinker," if he 
devotes himself to advocating the transient platitudes 
in a sonorous manner, then he is worthy of respect. 
But if he lets fall the slightest hint that he is in doubt 
about any of them, or, worse still, that he is indiffer- 
ent, then he is a scoundrel, and hence, by their theory, 
a bad artist, j Such pious piffle is horribly familiar 
among us. I do not exaggerate its terms. You will 
find it running through the critical writings of prac- 
tically all the dull fellows who combine criticism with 
tutoring; in the words of many of them it is stated in 
the plainest way and defended with much heat, theo- 
logical and pedagogical. In its baldest form it shows 
itself in the doctrine that it is scandalous for an artist 
— say a dramatist or a novelist — to depict vice as at- 
tractive. The fact that vice, more often than not, 
undoubtedly is attractive — else why should it ever 
gobble any of us? — is disposed of with a lofty ges- 
ture. What of it? say these birchmen. The artist is 
not a reporter, but a Great Teacher. It is not his 
business to depict the world as it is, but as it ought to 
be. 

Against this notion American criticism makes but 
feeble headway. We are, in fact, a nation of evan- 



16 PREJUDICES: FIRST SERIES 

gelists; every third American devotes himself to im- 
proving and lifting up his fellow-citizens, usually by 
force; the messianic delusion is our national disease. 
Thus the moral Privatdozenten have the crowd on 
their side, and it is difficult to shake their authority; 
even the vicious are still in favor of crying vice down. 
"Here is a novel," says the artist. "Why didn't you 
write a tract?" roars the professor — and down the 
chute go novel and novelist. "This girl is pretty," 
says the painter. "But she has left off her under- 
shirt," protests the head-master — and off goes the poor 
dauber's head. At its mildest, this balderdash takes 
the form of the late Hamilton Wright Mabie's "White 
List of Books" ; at its worst, it is comstockery, an idi- 
otic and abominable thing. Genuine criticism is as 
impossible to such inordinately narrow and cocksure 
men as music is to a man who is tone-deaf. The 
critic, to interpret his artist, even to understand his 
artist, must be able to get into the mind of his artist; 
he must feel and comprehend the vast pressure of the 
creative passion; as Major Spingarn says, "aesthetic 
judgment and artistic creation are instinct with the 
same vital life." This is why all the best criticism 
of the world has been written by men who have had 
within them, not only the reflective and analytical 
faculty of critics, but also the gusto of artists — 
Goethe, Carlyle, Lessing, Schlegel, Saint-Beuve, and, 
to drop a story or two, Hazlitt, Hermann Bahr, Georg 



CRITICISM OF CRITICISM OF CRITICISM 17 

Brandes and James Huneker. Huneker, tackling 
"Also sprach Zarathustra," revealed its content in il- 
luminating flashes. But tackled by Paul Elmer 
More, it became no more than a dull student's exer- 
cise, ill-naturedly corrected. . . . 

So much for the theory of Major J. E. Spingarn, 
U. S. A., late professor of modern languages and 
literatures in Columbia University. Obviously, it is 
a far sounder and more stimulating theory than any 
of those cherished by the other professors. It de- 
mands that the critic be a man of intelligence, of 
toleration, of wide information, of genuine hospitality 
to ideas, whereas the others only demand that he have 
learning, and accept anything as learning that has 
been said before. But once he has stated his doc- 
trine, the ingenious ex-professor, professor-like, im- 
mediately begins to corrupt it by claiming too much 
for it. Having laid and hatched, so to speak, his 
somewhat stale but still highly nourishing egg, he be- 
gins to argue fatuously that the resultant flamingo is 
the whole mustering of the critical Aves. But the 
fact is, of course, that criticism, as humanly practiced, 
must needs fall a good deal short of this intuitive re- 
creation of beauty, and what is more, it must go a 
good deal further. For one thing, it must be interpre- 
tation in terms that are not only exact but are also com- 
prehensible to the reader, else it will leave the orig- 
inal mystery as dark as before — and once interpre- 



18 PREJUDICES: FIRST SERIES 

tation comes in, paraphrase and transliteration come 
in. What is recondite must be made plainer; the 
transcendental, to some extent at least, must be done 
into common modes of thinking. Well, what are 
morality, trochaics, hexameters, movements, historical 
principles, psychological maxims, the dramatic uni- 
ties — what are all these save common modes of think- 
ing, short cuts, rubber stamps, words of one syllable? 
Moreover, beauty as we know it in this world is by 
no means the apparition in vacuo that Dr. Spingarn 
seems to see. It has its social, its political, even its 
moral implications. The finale of Beethoven's C 
minor symphony is not only colossal as music; it is 
also colossal as revolt; it says something against 
something. Yet more, the springs of beauty are not 
within itself alone, nor even in genius alone, but 
often in things without. Brahms wrote his Deutsches 
Requiem, not only because he was a great artist, but 
also because he was a good German. And in 
Nietzsche there are times when the divine afflatus 
takes a back seat, and the spirochaetae have the floor. 
Major Spingarn himself seems to harbor some 
sense of this limitation on his doctrine. He gives 
warning that "the poet's intention must be judged at 
the moment of the creative act" — which opens the 
door enough for many an ancient to creep in. But 
limited or not, he at least clears off a lot of moldy 
rubbish, and gets further toward the truth than any 



CRITICISM OF CRITICISM OF CRITICISM 19 

of his former colleagues. They waste themselves 
upon theories that only conceal the poet's achieve- 
ment the more, the more diligently they are applied; 
he, at all events, grounds himself upon the sound no- 
tion that there should be free speech in art, and no 
protective tariffs, and no a priori assumptions, and 
no testing of ideas by mere words. The safe ground 
probably lies between the contestants, but nearer 
Spingarn. The critic who really illuminates starts 
off much as he starts off, but with a due regard for 
the prejudices and imbecilities of the world. I think 
the best feasible practice is to be found in certain 
chapters of Huneker, a critic of vastly more solid in- 
fluence and of infinitely more value to the arts than 
all the prating pedagogues since Rufus Griswold. 
Here, as in the case of Poe, a sensitive and intelligent 
artist recreates the work of other artists, but there 
also comes to the ceremony a man of the world, and 
the things he has to say are apposite and instructive 
too. To denounce moralizing out of hand is to pro- 
nounce a moral judgment. To dispute the categories 
is to set up a new anti-categorical category. And to 
admire the work of Shakespeare is to be interested in 
his handling of blank verse, his social aspirations, 
his shot-gun marriage and his frequent concessions 
to the bombastic frenzy of his actors, and to have some 
curiosity about Mr. W. H. The really competent 
critic must be an empiricist. He must conduct his ex- 



20 PREJUDICES: FIRST SERIES 

ploration with whatever means lie within the bounds 
of his personal limitation. He must produce his ef- 
fects with whatever tools will work. If pills fail, 
he gets out his saw. If the saw won't cut, he seizes 
a club. . . . 

Perhaps, after all, the chief burden that lies upon 
Major Spingarn's theory is to be found in its label. 
The word "creative" is a bit too flamboyant; it says 
what he wants to say, but it probably says a good deal 
more. In this emergency, I propose getting rid of 
the misleading label by pasting another over it. That 
is, I propose the substitution of "catalytic" for "crea- 
tive," despite the fact that "catalytic" is an unfamiliar 
word, and suggests the dog-Latin of the seminaries. 
I borrow it from chemistry, and its meaning is really 
quite simple. A catalyzer, in chemistry, is a sub- 
stance that helps two other substances to react. For 
example, consider the case of ordinary cane sugar and 
water. Dissolve the sugar in the water and nothing 
happens. But add a few drops of acid and the sugar 
changes into glucose and fructose. Meanwhile, the 
acid itself is absolutely unchanged. All it does is 
to stir up the reaction between the water and the sugar. 
The process is called catalysis. The acid is a cata- 
lyzer. 

Well, this is almost exactly the function of a genu- 
ine critic of the arts. It is his business to provoke 
the reaction between the work of art and the spectator. 



CRITICISM OF CRITICISM OF CRITICISM 21 

The spectator, untutored, stands unmoved; he sees 
the work of art, but it fails to make any intelligible 
impression on him; if he were spontaneously sensi- 
tive to it, there would be no need for criticism. But 
now comes the critic with his catalysis. He makes 
the work of art live for the spectator; he makes the 
spectator live for the work of art. Out of the process 
comes understanding, appreciation, intelligent enjoy- 
ment — and that is precisely what the artist tried to 
produce. 



II. THE LATE MR. WELLS 

THE man as artist, I fear, is extinct — not by 
some sudden and romantic catastrophe, like 
his own Richard Remington, but after a proc- 
ess of gradual and obscure decay. In his day he was 
easily the most brilliant, if not always the most pro- 
found, of contemporary English novelists. There 
were in him all of the requisites for the business and 
most of them very abundantly. He had a lively and 
charming imagination, he wrote with the utmost flu- 
ency and address, he had humor and eloquence, he 
had a sharp eye for the odd and intriguing in human 
character, and, most of all, he was full of feeling and 
could transmit it to the reader. That high day of his 
lasted, say, from 1908 to 1912. It began with 
"Tono-Bungay" and ended amid the last scenes of 
"Marriage," as the well-made play of Scribe gave up 
the ghost in the last act of "A Doll's House." There, 
in "Marriage," were the first faint signs of something 
wrong. Invention succumbed to theories that some- 
how failed to hang together, and the story, after vast 
heavings, incontinently went to pieces. One had be- 
gun with an acute and highly diverting study of mo- 
nogamy in modern London; one found one's self, to- 



THE LATE MR. WELLS 23 

ward the close, gaping over an unconvincing fable of 
marriage in the Stone Age. Coming directly after 
so vivid a personage as Remington, Dr. Richard God- 
win TrafFord simply refused to go down. And his 
Marjorie, following his example, stuck in the gullet 
of the imagination. One ceased to believe in them 
when they set out for Labrador, and after that it was 
impossible to revive interest in them. The more they 
were explained and vivisected and drenched with 
theories, the more unreal they became. 

Since then the decline of Wells has been as steady 
as his rise was rapid. Call the roll of his books, and 
you will discern a progressive and unmistakable fall- 
ing off. Into "The Passionate Friends" there crept 
the first downright dullness. By this time his read- 
ers had become familiar with his machinery and his 
materials — his elbowing suffragettes, his tea-swilling 
London uplifters, his smattering of quasi-science, his 
intellectualized adulteries, his Thackerayan asides, 
his text-book paragraphs, his journalistic raciness — 
and all these things had thus begun to lose the blush 
of their first charm. To help them out he heaved in 
larger and larger doses of theory — often diverting 
enough, and sometimes even persuasive, but in the 
long run a poor substitute for the proper ingredients 
of character, situation and human passion. Next 
came "The Wife of Sir Isaac Harman," an attempt 
to rewrite "A Doll's House" (with a fourth act) in 



24 PREJUDICES: FIRST SERIES 

terms of ante-bellum 1914. The result was 500-odd 
pages of bosh, a flabby and tedious piece of work, 
Wells for the first time in the role of unmistakable 
bore. And then "Bealby," with its Palais Royal jo- 
cosity, its running in and out of doors, its humor of 
physical collision, its reminiscences of "A Trip to 
Chinatown" and "Peck's Bad Boy." And then 
"Boon," a heavy-witted satire, often incomprehensi- 
ble, always incommoded by its disguise as a novel. 
And then "The Research Magnificent": a poor soup 
from the dry bones of Nietzsche. And then "Mr. 
Britling Sees It Through" . . . 

Here, for a happy moment, there seemed to be 
something better— almost, in fact, a recrudescence of 
the Wells of 1910. But that seeming was only seem- 
ing. What confused the judgment was the enormous 
popular success of the book. Because it presented 
a fifth-rate Englishman in an heroic aspect, because 
it sentimentalized the whole reaction of the English 
proletariat to the war, it offered a subtle sort of flat- 
tery to other fifth-rate Englishmen, and, per corollary, 
to Americans of corresponding degree, to wit, the sec- 
ond. Thus it made a great pother, and was hymned 
as a masterpiece in such gazettes as the New York 
Times, as Blasco Ibafiez's "The Four Horsemen of 
the Apocalypse" was destined to be hymned three 
years later. But there was in the book, in point of 
fact, a great hollowness, and that hollowness presently 



THE LATE MR. WELLS 25 

begat an implosion that disposed of the shell. I dare- 
say many a novel-reader returns, now and then, to 
"Tono-Bungay," and even to "Ann Veronica." But 
surely only a reader with absolutely nothing else to 
read would return to "Mr. Britling Sees It Through." 
There followed — what? "The Soul of a Bishop," 
perhaps the worst novel ever written by a serious nov- 
elist since novel-writing began. And then — or per- 
haps a bit before, or simultaneously — an idiotic re- 
ligious tract — a tract so utterly feeble and preposter- 
ous that even the Scotchman, William Archer, could 
not stomach it. And then, to make an end, came 
"Joan and Peter" — and the collapse of Wells was 
revealed at last in its true proportions. 

This "Joan and Peter" I confess, lingers in my 
memory as unpleasantly as a summer cold, and so, 
in retrospect, I may perhaps exaggerate its intrinsic 
badness. I would not look into it again for gold and 
frankincense. I was at the job of reading it for days 
and days, endlessly daunted and halted by its labori- 
ous dullness, its flatulent fatuity, its almost fabulous 
inconsequentiality. It was, and is, nearly impossi- 
ble to believe that the Wells of "Tono-Bungay" and 
"The History of Mr. Polly" wrote it, or that he was 
in the full possession of his faculties when he allowed 
it to be printed under his name. For in it there is 
the fault that the Wells of those days, almost beyond 
any other fictioneer of the time, was incapable of — 



26 PREJUDICES: FIRST SERIES 

the fault of dismalness, of tediousness — the witless 
and contagious coma of the evangelist. Here, for 
nearly six hundred pages of fine type, he rolls on 
in an intellectual cloud, boring one abominably with 
uninteresting people, pointless situations, revelations 
that reveal nothing, arguments that have no apposite- 
ness, expositions that expose naught save an insatiable 
and torturing garrulity. Where is the old fine ad- 
dress of the man? Where is his sharp eye for the 
salient and significant in character? Where is his 
instinct for form, his skill at putting a story together, 
his hand for making it unwind itself? These things 
are so far gone that it becomes hard to believe that 
they ever existed. There is not the slightest sign of 
them in "Joan and Peter." The book is a botch from 
end to end, and in that botch there is not even the 
palliation of an arduous enterprise gallantly at- 
tempted. No inherent difficulty is visible. The 
story is anything but complex, and surely anything but 
subtle. Its badness lies wholly in the fact that the 
author made a mess of the writing, that his quondam 
cunning, once so exhilarating, was gone when he be- 
gan it. 

Reviewing it at the time of its publication, I in- 
clined momentarily to the notion that the war was to 
blame. No one could overestimate the cost of that 
struggle to the English, not only in men and money, 
but also and more importantly in the things of the 



THE LATE MR. WELLS 27 

spirit. It developed national traits that were greatly 
at odds with the old ideal of Anglo-Saxon character 
— an extravagant hysteria, a tendency to whimper 
under blows, political radicalism and credulity. It 
overthrew the old ruling caste of the land and gave 
over the control of things to upstarts from the lowest 
classes — shady Jews, snuffling Methodists, prehensile 
commercial gents, disgusting demagogues, all sorts 
of self-seeking adventurers. Worst of all, the strain 
seemed to work havoc with the customary dignity and 
reticence, and even with the plain commonsense of 
many Englishmen on a higher level, and in particu- 
lar many English writers. The astounding bawling 
of Kipling and the no less astounding bombast of G. 
K. Chesterton were anything but isolated; there were, 
in fact, scores of other eminent authors in the same 
state of eruption, and a study of the resultant litera- 
ture of objurgation will make a fascinating job for 
some sweating Privatdozent of to-morrow, say out of 
Gottingen or Jena. It occurred to me, as I say, that 
Wells might have become afflicted by this same de- 
moralization, but reflection disposed of the notion. 
On the one hand, there was the plain fact that his ac- 
tual writings on the war, while marked by the bitter- 
ness of the time, were anything but insane, and on 
the other hand there was the equally plain fact that his 
decay had been in progress a long while before the 
Germans made their fateful thrust at Liege. 



28 PREJUDICES: FIRST SERIES 

The precise thing that ailed him I found at last 
on page 272 et seq. of the American edition of his 
book. There it was plainly described, albeit unwit- 
tingly, but if you will go back to the other novels since 
"Marriage" you will find traces of it in all of them, 
and even more vivid indications in the books of ex- 
position and philosophizing that have accompanied 
them. What has slowly crippled him and perhaps 
disposed of him is his gradual acceptance of the 
theory, corrupting to the artist and scarcely less so to 
the man, that he is one of the Great Thinkers of his 
era, charged with a pregnant Message to the Younger 
Generation — that his ideas, rammed into enough 
skulls, will Save the Empire, not only from the satanic 
Nietzscheism of the Hindenburgs and post-Hinden- 
burgs, but also from all those inner Weaknesses that 
taint and flabbergast its vitals, as the tapeworm with 
nineteen heads devoured Atharippus of Macedon. 
In brief, he suffers from a messianic delusion — and 
once a man begins to suffer from a messianic delusion 
his days as a serious artist are ended. He may yet 
serve the state with laudable devotion; he may yet 
enchant his millions; he may yet posture and gyrate 
before the world as a man of mark. But not in the 
character of artist. Not as a creator of sound books. 
Not in the separate place of one who observes the 
eternal tragedy of man with full sympathy and un- 
derstanding, and yet with a touch of god-like remote- 



?fr°/0£ ' 



6 | 

THE LATE MR. WELLS 29 

ness. Not as Homer saw it, smiting the while his 
blooming lyre. 

I point, as I say, to page 272 of "Joan and Peter," 
whereon, imperfectly concealed by jocosity, you will 
find Wells' private view of Wells — a view at once 
too flattering and libelous. What it shows is the ab- 
sorption of the artist in the tin-pot reformer and pro- 
fessional wise man. A descent, indeed! The man 
impinged upon us and made his first solid success, 
not as a merchant of banal pedagogics, not as a 
hawker of sociological liver-pills, but as a master of 
brilliant and life-like representation, an evoker of 
unaccustomed but none the less deep-seated emotions, 
a dramatist of fine imagination and highly resource- 
ful execution. It was the stupendous drama and spec- 
tacle of modern life, and not its dubious and unin- 
telligible lessons, that drew him from his test-tubes 
and guinea-pigs and made an artist of him, and to 
the business of that artist, once he had served his 
apprenticeship, he brought a vision so keen, a point 
of view so fresh and sane and a talent for exhibition 
so lively and original that he straightway conquered 
all of us. Nothing could exceed the sheer radiance 
of "Tono-Bungay." It is a work that glows with 
reality. It projects a whole epoch with unforgettable 
effect. It is a moving-picture conceived and ar- 
ranged, not by the usual ex-bartender or chorus man, 
but by an extremely civilized and sophisticated ob- 



30 PREJUDICES: FIRST SERIES 

server, alert to every detail of the surface and yet 
acutely aware of the internal play of forces, the es- 
sential springs, the larger, deeper lines of it. In 
brief, it is a work of art of the soundest merit, for it 
both represents accurately and interprets convincingly, 
and under everything is a current of feeling that co- 
ordinates and informs the whole. 

But in the success of the book and of the two or 
three following it there was a temptation, and in the 
temptation a peril. The audience was there, high 
in expectation, eagerly demanding more. And in the 
ego of the man — a true proletarian, and hence born 
with morals, faiths, certainties, vasty gaseous hopes 
— there was an urge. That urge, it seems to me, be- 
gan to torture him when he set about "The Passion- 
ate Friends." In the presence of it, he was dissuaded 
from the business of an artist, — made discontented 
with the business of an artist. It was not enough to 
display the life of his time with accuracy and under- 
standing; it was not even enough to criticize it with 
a penetrating humor and sagacity. From the depths 
of his being, like some foul miasma, there arose the 
old, fatuous yearning to change it, to improve it, to 
set it right where it was wrong, to make it over accord- 
ing to some pattern superior to the one followed by 
the Lord God Jehovah. With this sinister impulse, 
as aberrant in an artist as a taste for legs in an arch- 
bishop, the instinct that had created "Tono-Bungay" 



THE LATE MR. WELLS 31 

and "The New Machiavelli" gave battle, and for a 
while the issue was in doubt. But with "Marriage," 
its trend began to be apparent — and before long the 
evangelist was triumphant, and his bray battered the 
ear, and in the end there was a quite different Wells 
before us, and a Wells worth infinitely less than the 
one driven off. To-day one must put him where he 
has begun to put himself — not among the literary 
artists of English, but among the brummagem proph- 
ets of England. His old rival was Arnold Ben- 
nett. His new rival is the Fabian Society, or maybe 
Lord Northcliffe, or the surviving Chesterton, or the 
later Hillaire Belloc. 

The prophesying business is like writing fugues; 
it is fatal to every one save the man of absolute genius. 
The lesser fellow — and Wells, for all his cleverness, 
is surely one of the lesser fellows — is bound to come 
to grief at it, and one of the first signs of his coming 
to grief is the drying up of his sense of humor. Com- 
pare "The Soul of a Bishop" or "Joan and Peter" to 
"Ann Veronica" or "The History of Mr. Polly." 
One notices instantly the disappearance of the comic 
spirit, the old searching irony — in brief, of the pre- 
cise thing that keeps the breath of life in Arnold 
Bennett. It was in "Boon," I, believe, that this irony 
showed its last flare. There is a passage in that book 
which somehow lingers in the memory: a portrait of 
the United States as it arose in the mind of an Eng- 



32 PREJUDICES: FIRST SERIES 

lishman reading the Nation of yesteryear: "a vain, 
garrulous and prosperous female of uncertain age, 
and still more uncertain temper, with unfounded pre- 
tensions to intellectuality and an idea of refinement 
of the most negative description . . . the Aunt Er- 
rant of Christendom." A capital whimsy — but 
blooming almost alone. A sense of humor, had it 
been able to survive the theology, would certainly have 
saved us from Lady Sunderbund, in "The Soul of a 
Bishop," and from Lady Charlotte Sydenham in 
"Joan and Peter." But it did not and could not sur- 
vive. It always withers in the presence of the mes- 
sianic delusion, like justice and the truth in front of 
patriotic passion. What takes its place is the oafish, 
witless buffoonishness of the chautauquas and the floor 
of Congress — for example, the sort of thing that 
makes an intolerable bore of "Bealby." 

Nor are Wells' ideas, as he has so laboriously ex- 
pounded them, worth the sacrifice of his old lively 
charm. They are, in fact, second-hand, and he often 
muddles them in the telling. In "First and Last 
Things" he preaches a flabby Socialism, and then, 
toward the end, admits frankly that it doesn't work. 
In "Boon" he erects a whole book upon an eighth- 
rate platitude, to wit, the platitude that English litera- 
ture, in these latter times, is platitudinous — a three- 
cornered banality, indeed, for his own argument is 
a case in point, and so helps to prove what was al- 



THE LATE MR. WELLS 33 

ready obvious. In "The Research Magnificent" he 
smouches an idea from Nietzsche, and then mauls it so 
badly that one begins to wonder whether he is in 
favor of it or against it. In "The Undying Fire" 
he first states the obvious, and then flees from it in 
alarm. In his war books he borrows right and 
left — from Dr. Wilson, from the British Socialists, 
from Romain Rolland, even from such profound 
thinkers as James M. Beck, Lloyd-George and the 
editor of the New York Tribune — and everything 
that he borrows is flat. In "Joan and Peter" he first 
argues that England is going to pot because Eng- 
lish education is too formal and archaic, and then 
that Germany is going to pot because German edu- 
cation is too realistic and opportunist. He seems to 
respond to all the varying crazes and fallacies of the 
day; he swallows them without digesting them; he 
tries to substitute mere timeliness for reflection and 
feeling. And under all the rumble-bumble of bad 
ideas is the imbecile assumption of the jitney messiah 
at all times and everywhere: that human beings may 
be made over by changing the rules under which they 
live, that progress is a matter of intent and foresight, 
that an act of Parliament can cure the blunders and 
check the practical joking of God. 

Such notions are surely no baggage for a serious 
novelist. A novelist, of course, must have a point 
of view, but it must be a point of view untroubled by 



34 PREJUDICES: FIRST SERIES 

the crazes of the moment, it must regard the internal 
workings and meanings of existence and not merely 
its superficial appearances. A novelist must view life 
from some secure rock, drawing it into a definite per- 
spective, interpreting it upon an ordered plan. Even 
if he hold (as Conrad does, and Dreiser, and Hardy, 
and Anatole France) that it is essentially meaning- 
less, he must at least display that meaninglessness 
with reasonable clarity and consistency. Wells shows 
no such solid and intelligible attitude. He is too 
facile, too enthusiastic, too eager to teach to-day what 
he learned yesterday. Van Wyck Brooks once tried 
to reduce the whole body of his doctrine to a succinct 
statement. The result was a little volume a great 
deal more plausible than any that Wells himself has 
ever written — but also one that probably surprised 
him now and then as he read it. In it all his contra- 
dictions were reconciled, all his gaps bridged, all his 
shifts ameliorated. Brooks did for him, in brief, 
what William Bayard Hale did for Dr. Wilson in 
"The New Freedom," and has lived to regret it, I 
daresay, or at all events the vain labor of it, in the 
same manner. . . . 

What remains of Wells? There remains a little 
shelf of very excellent books, beginning with "Tono- 
Bungay" and ending with "Marriage." It is a shelf 
flanked on the one side by a long row of extravagant 
romances in the manner of Jules Verne, and on the 



THE LATE MR. WELLS 35 

other side by an even longer row of puerile tracts. 
But let us not underestimate it because it is in such 
uninviting company. There is on it some of the live- 
liest, most original, most amusing, and withal most 
respectable fiction that England has produced in our 
time. In that fiction there is a sufficient memorial to 
a man who, between two debauches of claptrap, had 
his day as an artist. 



III. ARNOLD BENNETT 

OF Bennett it is quite easy to conjure up a 
recognizable picture by imaging everything 
that Wells is not — that is, everything in- 
terior, everything having to do with attitudes and 
ideas, everything beyond the mere craft of arranging 
words in ingratiating sequences. As stylists, of 
course, they have many points of contact. Each writes 
a journalese that is extraordinarily fluent and tuneful; 
each is apt to be carried away by the rush of his own 
smartness. But in their matter they stand at opposite 
poles. Wells has a believing mind, and cannot resist 
the lascivious beckonings and eye-winkings of mere- 
tricious novelty; Bennett carries skepticism so far that 

y it often takes on the appearance of a mere peasant-like 
suspicion of ideas, bellicose and unintelligent. Wells 
is astonishingly intimate and confidential; and more 
than one of his novels reeks with a shameless sort of 
autobiography; Bennett, even when he makes use of 
personal experience, contrives to get impersonality 
into it. Wells, finally, is a sentimentalist, and cannot 
conceal his feelings; Bennett, of all the English novel- 

, ists of the day, is the most steadily aloof and ironical. 

36 



ARNOLD BENNETT 37 

This habit of irony, in truth, is the thing that gives 
Bennett all his characteristic color, and is at the bot- 
tom of both his peculiar merit and his peculiar limita- 
tion. On the one hand it sets him free from the beset- 
ting sin of the contemporary novelist: he never 
preaches, he has no messianic delusion, he is above the 
puerile theories that have engulfed such romantic men 
as Wells, Winston Churchill and the late Jack Lon- 
don, and even, at times, such sentimental agnostics as 
Dreiser. But on the other hand it leaves him empty 
of the passion that is, when all is said and done, the 
chief mark of the true novelist. The trouble with 
him is that he cannot feel with his characters, that 
he never involves himself emotionally in their strug- 
gles against destiny, that the drama of their lives 
never thrills or dismays him — and the result is that 
he is unable to arouse in the reader that penetrating 
sense of kinship, that profound and instinctive sym- 
pathy, which in its net effect is almost indistinguish- 
able from the understanding born of experiences ac- 
tually endured and emotions actually shared. Joseph 
Conrad, in a memorable piece of criticism, once put 
the thing clearly. "My task," he said, "is, by the 
power of the written word, to make you hear, to make 
you feel — it is, above all, to make you see." Here 
seeing, it must be obvious, is no more than feeling 
put into physical terms; it is not the outward aspect 
that is to be seen, but the inner truth — and the end 



. 



38 PREJUDICES: FIRST SERIES 

to be sought by that apprehension of inner truth is re- 
sponsive recognition, the sympathy of poor mortal for 
poor mortal, the tidal uprush of feeling that makes 
us all one. Bennett, it seems to me, cannot evoke it. 
His characters, as they pass, have a deceptive bril- 
liance of outline, but they soon fade; one never finds 
them haunting the memory as Lord Jim haunts it, or 
Carrie Meeber, or Huck Finn, or Tom Jones. The 
reason is not far to seek. It lies in the plain fact that 
they appear to their creator, not as men and women 
whose hopes and agonies are of poignant concern, not 
as tragic comedians in isolated and concentrated 
dramas, but as mean figures in an infinitely dispersed 
and unintelligible farce, as helpless nobodies in an 
epic struggle that transcends both their volition and 
their comprehension. Thus viewing them, he fails to 
humanize them completely, and so he fails to make 
their emotions contagious. They are, in their way, 
often vividly real; they are thoroughly accounted for; 
what there is of them is unfailingly life-like; they 
move and breathe in an environment that pulses and 
glows. But the attitude of the author toward them 
remains, in the end, the attitude of a biologist toward 
his laboratory animals. He does not feel with them 
— and neither does his reader. 

Bennett's chief business, in fact, is not with indi- 
viduals at all, even though he occasionally brings them 
up almost to life-size. What concerns him princi- 



ARNOLD BENNETT 39 

pally is the common life of large groups, the action 
and reaction of castes and classes, the struggle among 
societies. In particular, he is engrossed by the colos- 
sal and disorderly functioning of the English middle 
class — a division of mankind inordinately mixed in 
race, confused in ideals and illogical in ideas. It is 
a group that has had interpreters aplenty, past and 
present; a full half of the literature of the Victorian 
era was devoted to it. But never, I believe, has it 
had an interpreter more resolutely detached and re- 
lentless — never has it had one less shaken by emo- 
tional involvement. Here the very lack that detracts 
so much from Bennett's stature as a novelist in the 
conventional sense is converted into a valuable posses- 
sion. Better than any other man of his time he has 
got upon paper the social anatomy and physiology of 
the masses of average, everyday, unimaginative Eng- 
lishmen. One leaves the long series of Five Towns 
books with a sense of having looked down the tube 
of a microscope upon a huge swarm of infinitely lit- 
tle but incessantly struggling organisms — creatures 
engaged furiously in the pursuit of grotesque and 
unintelligible ends — helpless participants in and vic- 
tims of a struggle that takes on, to their eyes, a thou- 
sand lofty purposes, all of them puerile to the observer 
above its turmoil. Here, he seems to say, is the mid- 
dle, the average, the typical Englishman. Here is the 
fellow as he appears to himself — virtuous, laborious, 



40 ' PREJUDICES: FIRST SERIES 
important, intelligent, made in God's image. And 
here he is in fact — swinish, ineffective, inconsequen- 
tial, stupid, a feeble parody upon his maker. It is 
irony that penetrates and devastates, and it is unre- 
lieved by any show of the pity that gets into the irony 
of Conrad, or of the tolerant claim of kinship that 
mitigates that of Fielding and Thackeray. It is 
harsh and cocksure. It has, at its moments, some 
flavor of actual bounderism: one instinctively shrinks 
from so smart-alecky a pulling off of underclothes 
and unveiling of warts. 

It is easy to discern in it, indeed, a note of dis- 
tinct hostility, and even of disgust. The long exile 
of the author is not without its significance. He not 
only got in France something of the Frenchman's aloof 
and disdainful view of the English; he must have 
taken a certain distaste for the national scene with him 
in the first place, else he would not have gone at all. 
The same attitude shows itself in W. L. George, an- 
other Englishman smeared with Gallic foreignness. 
Both men, it will be recalled, reacted to the tremen- 
dous emotional assault of the war, not by yielding to it 
ecstatically in the manner of the unpolluted islanders, 
but by shrinking from it into a reserve that was nat- 
urally misunderstood. George has put his sniffs into 
"Blind Alley"; Bennett has got his into "The Pretty 
Lady." I do not say that either book is positively 
French; what I do say is that both mirror an attitude 



ARNOLD BENNETT 41 

that has been somehow emptied of mere nationalism. 
An Italian adventure, I daresay, would have produced 
the same effect, or a Spanish, or Russian, or German. 
But it happened to be French. What the Bennett story 
attempts to do is what every serious Bennett story 
attempts to do: to exhibit dramatically the great gap 
separating the substance from the appearance in the 
English character. It seems to me that its prudent 
and self-centered G. J. Hoape is a vastly more real 
Englishman of his class, and, what is more, an Eng- 
lishman vastly more useful and creditable to England, 
than any of the gaudy Bayards and Cids of conven- 
tional war fiction. Here, indeed, the irony somehow 
fails. The man we are obviously expected to disdain 
converts himself, toward the end, into a man not 
without his touches of the admirable. He is no hero, 
God knows, and there is no more brilliance in him 
than you will find in an average country squire or 
Parliament man, but he has the rare virtue of common 
sense, and that is probably the virtue that has served 
the English better than all others. Curiously enough, 
the English reading public recognized the irony but 
failed to observe its confutation, and so the book got 
Bennett into bad odor at home, and into worse odor 
among the sedulous apes of English ideas and emo- 
tions on this side of the water. But it is a sound work 
nevertheless — a sound work with a large and unes- 
capable defect. 



42 PREJUDICES: FIRST SERIES 

That defect is visible in a good many of the other 
things that Bennett has done. It is the product of his 
emotional detachment and it commonly reveals itself 
as an inability to take his own story seriously. Some- 
times he pokes open fun at it, as in "The Roll-Call"; 
more often he simply abandons it before it is done, 
as if weary of a too tedious foolery. This last process 
is plainly visible in "The Pretty Lady." The thing 
that gives form and direction to that story is a simple 
enough problem in psychology, to wit: what will 
happen when a man of sound education and decent 
instincts, of sober age and prudent habit, of common 
sense and even of certain mild cleverness — what will 
happen, logically and naturally, when such a normal, 
respectable, cautious fellow finds himself disquiet- 
ingly in love with a lady of no position at all — in 
brief, with a lady but lately of the town? Bennett 
sets the problem, and for a couple of hundred pages 
investigates it with the utmost ingenuity and address, 
exposing and discussing its sub-problems, tracing the 
gradual shifting of its terms, prodding with sharp in- 
sight into the psychological material entering into it. 
And then, as if suddenly tired of it — worse, as if sud- 
denly convinced that the thing has gone on long enough, 
that he has given the public enough of a book for 
its money — he forthwith evades the solution alto- 
gether, and brings down his curtain upon a palpably 
artificial denouement. The device murders the book. 



ARNOLD BENNETT 43 

One is arrested at the start by a fascinating state- 
ment of the problem, one follows a discussi'on of 
it that shows Bennett at his brilliant best, fertile 
in detail, alert to every twist of motive, incisively 
ironical at every step — and then, at the end, one is 
incontinently turned out of the booth. The effect is 
that of being assaulted with an ice-pick by a hitherto 
amiable bartender, almost that of being bitten by a 
pretty girl in the midst of an amicable buss. 

That effect, unluckily, is no stranger to the reader 
of Bennett novels. One encounters it in many of 
them. There is a tremendous marshaling of meticu- 
lous and illuminating observation, the background 
throbs with color, the sardonic humor is never failing, 
it is a capital show — but always one goes away from 
it with a sense of having missed the conclusion, al- 
ways there is a final begging of the question. It is 
not hard to perceive the attitude of mind underlying 
this chronic evasion of issues. It is, in essence, ag- 
nosticism carried to the last place of decimals. Life 
itself is meaningless; therefore, the discussion of life 
is meaningless; therefore, why try futilely to get a 
meaning into it? The reasoning, unluckily, has holes 
in it. It may be sound logically, but it is psycho- 
logically unworkable. One goes to novels, not for the 
bald scientific fact, but for a romantic amelioration of 
it. When they carry that amelioration to the point 
of uncritical certainty, when they are full of "ideas" 



44 PREJUDICES: FIRST SERIES 

that click and whirl like machines, then the mind re- 
volts against the childish naivete of the thing. But 
when there is no organization of the spectacle at all, 
when it is presented as a mere formless panorama, 
when to the sense of its unintelligibility is added the 
suggestion of its inherent chaos, then the mind re- 
volts no less. Art can never be simple representa- 
tion. It cannot deal solely with precisely what is. It 
must, at the least, present the real in the light of some 
recognizable ideal ; it must give to the eternal farce, if 
not some moral, then at all events some direction. 
For without that formulation there can be no clear- 
cut separation of the individual will from the gen- 
eral stew and turmoil of things, and without that sep- 
aration there can be no coherent drama, and without 
that drama there can be no evocation of emotion, and 
without that emotion art is unimaginable. The field 
of the novel is very wide. There is room, on the one 
side, for a brilliant play of ideas and theories, pro- 
vided only they do not stiffen the struggle of man wifh 
man, or of man with destiny, into a mere struggle of 
abstractions. There is room, on the other side, for 
the most complete agnosticism, provided only it be 
tempered by feeling. Joseph Conrad is quite as un- 
shakable an agnostic as Bennett; he is a ten times more 
implacable ironist. But there is yet a place in his 
scheme for a sardonic sort of pity, and pity, however 
sardonic, is perhaps as good an emotion as another. 



ARNOLD BENNETT 45 

The trouble with Bennett is that he essays to sneer, not 
only at the futile aspiration of man, but also at the 
agony that goes with it. The result is an air of af- 
fectation, of superficiality, almost of stupidity. The 
manner, on the one hand, is that of a highly skillful 
and profoundly original artist, but on the other hand 
it is that of a sophomore just made aware of Haeckel, 
Bradlaugh and Nietzsche. 

Bennett's unmitigated skepticism explains two 
things that have constantly puzzled the reviewers, and 
that have been the cause of a great deal of idiotic writ- 
ing about him — for him as well as against him. One 
of these things is his utter lack of anything properly 
describable as artistic conscience — his extreme readi- 
ness to play the star houri in the seraglio of the pub- 
lishers; the other is his habit of translating platitudes 
into racy journalese and gravely offering them to 
the suburban trade as "pocket philosophies." Both 
crimes, it seems to me, have their rise in his congenital 
incapacity for taking ideas seriously, even including 
his own. "If this," he appears to say, "is the tosh 
you want, then here is another dose of it. Personally, 
I have little interest in that sort of thing. Even good 
novels — the best I can do — are no more than com- 
promises with a silly convention. I am not interested 
in stories; I -am interested in the anatomy of human 
melancholy; I am a descriptive sociologist, with over- 
tones of malice. But if you want stories, and can pay 



46 PREJUDICES: FIRST SERIES 

for them, I am willing to give them to you. And if 
you prefer bad stories, then here is a bad one. Don't 
assume you can shame me by deploring my willing- 
ness. Think of what your doctors do every day, and 
your lawyers, and your men of God, and your stock- 
brokers, and your traders and politicians. I am 
surely no worse than the average. In fact, I am prob- 
ably a good deal superior to the average, for I am at 
least not deceived by my own mountebankery — I at 
least know my sound goods from my shoddy." Such, 
I daresay, is the process of thought behind such hol- 
low trade-goods -as "Buried Alive" and "The Lion's 
Share." One does not need the man's own amazing 
\ confidences to hear his snickers at his audience, at his 
work and at himself. 

The books of boiled-mutton "philosophy" in the 
manner of Dr. Orison Swett Marden and Dr. Frank 
Crane and the occasional pot-boilers for the news- 
papers and magazines probably have much the same 
origin. What appears in them is not a weakness for 
ideas that are stale and obvious, but a distrust of all 
ideas whatsoever. The public, with its mob yearning 
to be instructed, edified and pulled by the nose, de- 
mands certainties; it must be told definitely and a bit 
raucously that this is true and that is false. But there 
are no certainties. Ergo, one notion is as good as 
another, and if it happens to be utter flubdub, so much 
the better — for it is precisely flubdub that penetrates 



ARNOLD BENNETT 47 

the popular skull with the greatest facility. The way 
is already made: the hole already gapes. An effort 
to approach the hidden and baffling truth would simply 
burden the enterprise with difficulty. Moreover, the 
effort is intrinsically laborious and ungrateful. More- 
over, there is probably no hidden truth to be uncov- 
ered. Thus, by the route of skepticism, Bennett ap- 
parently arrives at his sooth-saying. That he actu- 
ally believes in his own theorizing is inconceivable. 
He is far too intelligent a man to hold that any truths 
within the comprehension of the popular audience are 
sound enough to be worth preaching, or that it would 
do any good to preach them if they were. No doubt 
he is considerably amused in petto by the gravity with 
which his bedizened platitudes have been received by 
persons accustomed to that sort of fare, particularly 
in America. It would be interesting to hear his pri- 
vate view of the corn-fed critics who hymn him as a 
profound and impassioned moralist, with a mission to 
rescue the plain people from tire heresies of such fel- 
lows as Dreiser. 

So much for two of the salient symptoms of his 
underlying skepticism. Another is to be found in his 
incapacity to be, in the ordinary sense, ingratiating; 
it is simply beyond him to say the pleasant thing 
with any show of sincerity. Of all his books, prob- 
ably the worst are his book on the war and his book 
on the United States. The latter was obviously un- 



48 PREJUDICES: FIRST SERIES 

dertaken with some notion of paying off a debt. Ben- 
nett had been to the United States; the newspapers 
had hailed him in their side-show way; the women's 
clubs had pawed over him; he had, no doubt, come 
home a good deal richer. What he essayed to do was 
to write a volume on the republic that should be at 
once colorably accurate and discreetly agreeable. 
The enterprise was quite beyond him. The book not 
only failed to please Americans; it offended them in 
a thousand subtle ways, and from its appearance 
dates the decline of the author's vogue among us. He 
is not, of course, completely forgotten, but it must be 
plain that Wells now stands a good deal above him in 
the popular estimation — even the later Wells of bad 
novel after bad novel. His war book missed fire in 
much the same way. It was workmanlike, it was de- 
liberately urbane, it was undoubtedly truthful — but it 
fell flat in England and it fell flat in America. There 
is no little significance in the fact that the British 
government, in looking about for English authors 
to uphold the British cause in America and labor for 
American participation in the war, found no useful- 
ness in Bennett. Practically every other novelist 
with an American audience was drafted for service, 
but not Bennett. He was non est during the heat of 
the fray, and when at length he came forward with 
"The Pretty Lady" the pained manner with which it 



ARNOLD BENNETT 49 

was received quite justified the judgment of those who 
had passed him over. 

What all this amounts to may be very briefly put: in 
one of the requisite qualities of the first-rate novelist 
Bennett is almost completely lacking, and so it would 
be no juggling with paradox to argue that, at bottom, 
he is scarcely a novelist at all. His books, indeed, — 
that is, his serious books, the books of his better canon 
— often fail utterly to achieve the effect that one as- 
sociates with the true novel. One carries away from 
them, not the impression of a definite transaction, not 
the memory of an outstanding and appealing person- 
ality, not the after-taste of a profound emotion, but 
merely the sense of having witnessed a gorgeous but 
incomprehensible parade, coming out of nowhere and 
going to God knows where. They are magnificent as 
representation, they bristle with charming detail, they 
radiate the humors of an acute and extraordinary man, 
they are entertainment of the best sort — but there is 
seldom anything in them of that clear, well-aimed 
and solid effect which one associates with the novel 
as work of art. Most of these books, indeed, are no 
more than collections of essays defectively dramatized. 
What is salient in them is not their people, but their 
backgrounds — and their people are forever fading ., 
into their backgrounds. Is there a character in any 
of these books that shows any sign of living as Pen- 



50 PREJUDICES: FIRST SERIES 

dennis lives, and Barry Lyndon, and Emma Bovary, 
and David Copperfield, and the George Moore who is 
always his own hero? Who remembers much about 
Sophia Baines, save that she lived in the Five Towns, 
or even about Clayhanger? Young George Cannon, 
in "The Roll-Call," is no more than an anatomical 
chart in a lecture on modern marriage. Hilda Less- 
ways-Cannon-Clayhanger is not only inscrutable; she 
is also dim. The man and woman of "Whom God 
Hath Joined," perhaps the best of all the Bennett nov- 
els, I have so far forgotten that I cannot remember 
their names. Even Denry the Audacious grows 
misty. One remembers that he was the center of the 
farce, but now he is long gone and the farce remains. 
This constant remainder, whether he be actually 
novelist or no novelist, is sufficient to save Bennett, it 
seems to me, from the swift oblivion that so often over- 
takes the popular fictioneer. He may not play the 
game according to the rules, but the game that he 
plays is nevertheless extraordinarily diverting and 
calls for an incessant display of the finest sort of 
skill. No writer of his time has looked into the life 
of his time with sharper eyes, or set forth his findings 
with a greater charm and plausibility. Within his 
deliberately narrow limits he had done precisely the 
thing that Balzac undertook to do, and Zola after him : 
he has painted a full-length portrait of a whole so- 
ciety, accurately, brilliantly and, in certain areas, 



ARNOLD BENNETT 51 

almost exhaustively. The middle Englishman — not 
the individual, but the type — is there displayed more 
vividly than he is displayed anywhere else that I know 
of. The thing is rigidly held to its aim; there is no 
episodic descent or ascent to other fields. But within 
that one field every resource of observation, of inven- 
tion and of imagination has been brought to bear upon 
the business — every one save that deep feeling for 
man in his bitter tragedy which is the most important 
of them all. Bennett, whatever his failing in this 
capital function of the artist, is certainly of the very 
highest consideration as craftsman. Scattered 
through his books, even his bad books, there are frag- 
ments of writing that are quite unsurpassed in our 
day — the shoe-shining episode in "The Pretty Lady," 
the adulterous interlude in "Whom God Hath Jomed," 
the dinner party in "Paris Nights," the whole discus- 
sion of the Cannon-Ingram marriage in "The Roll- 
Call," the studio party in "The Lion's Share." Such 
writing is rare and exhilarating. It is to be respected. 
And the man who did it is not to be dismissed. 



IV. THE DEAN 

AMERICANS, obsessed by the problem of 
conduct, usually judge their authors, not as 
artists, but as citizens, Christians, men. 
Edgar Allan Poe, I daresay, will never live down the 
fact that he was a periodical drunkard, and died in 
an alcoholic ward. Mark Twain, the incomparable 
artist, will probably never shake off Mark Twain, the 
after-dinner comedian, the Haunter of white dress 
clothes, the public character, the national wag. As 
for William Dean Howells, he gains rather than loses 
by this confusion of values, for, like the late Joseph 
H. Choate, he is almost the national ideal: an 'urbane 
and highly respectable old gentleman, a sitter on 
committees, an intimate of professors and the 
prophets of movements, a worthy vouched for by 
both the Atlantic Monthly and Alexander Har- 
vey, a placid conformist. The result is his general 
acceptance as a member of the literary peerage, and 
of the rank of earl at least. For twenty years past 
his successive books have not been criticized, nor 
even adequately reviewed; they have been merely 
fawned over; the lady critics of the newspapers 

52 



THE DEAN 53 

would no more question them than they would ques- 
tion Lincoln's Gettysburg speech, or Paul Elmer More, 
I or their own virginity. The dean of American letters 
in point of years, and in point of published quantity, 
and in point of public prominence and influence, he 
has been gradually enveloped in a web of supersti- 
tious reverence, and it grates harshly to hear his actual 
achievement discussed in cold blood. 

Nevertheless, all this merited respect for an in- 
dustrious and inoffensive man is bound, soon or late, 
to yield to a critical examination of the artist within, 
and that examination, I fear, will have its bitter mo- 
ments for those who naively accept the Howells le- 
gend. It will show, without doubt, a first-rate jour- 
neyman, a contriver of pretty things, a clever stylist 
— but it will also show a long row of uninspired and 
hollow books, with no more ideas in them than so 
many volumes of the Ladies' Home Journal, and no 
more deep and contagious feeling than so many re- 
ports of autopsies, and no more glow and gusto than 
so many tables of bond prices. The profound dread 
and agony of life, the surge of passion and aspiration, 
the grand crash and glitter of things, the tragedy that 
runs eternally under the surface — all this the critic 
of the future will seek in vain in Dr. Howells' elegant 
and shallow volumes. And seeking it in vain, he will 
probably dismiss all of them together with fewer 
words than he gives to "Huckleberry Finn." . . . 



54 PREJUDICES: FIRST SERIES 

Already, indeed, the Howells legend tends to be- 
come a mere legend, and empty of all genuine sig- 
nificance. Who actually reads the Howells novels? 
Who even remembers their names? "The Minister's 
Charge," "An Imperative Duty," "The Unexpected 
Guests," "Out of the Question," "No Love Lost"— 
these titles are already as meaningless as a roll of 
Sumerian kings. Perhaps "The Rise of Silas Lap- 
ham" survives — but go read it if you would tumble 
downstairs. The truth about Howells is that he 
really has nothing to say, for all the charm he gets 
into saying it. His psychology is superficial, ama- 
teurish, often nonsensical; his irony is scarcely more 
than a polite facetiousness; his characters simply re- 
fuse to live. No figure even remotely comparable to 
Norris' McTeague or Dreiser's Frank Cowperwood 
is to be encountered in his novels. He is quite un- 
equal to any such evocation of the race-spirit, of the 
essential conflict of forces among us, of the peculiar 
drift and color of American life. The world he 
moves in is suburban, caged, flabby. He could no 
more have written the last chapters of "Lord Jim" 
than he could have written the Book of Mark. 

The vacuity of his method is well revealed by one 
of the books of his old age,"The Leatherwood God." 
Its composition, we are told, spread over many years; 
its genesis was in the days of his full maturity. An 
examination of it shows nothing but a suave piling 



THE DEAN 55 

up of words, a vast accumulation of nothings. The 
central character, one Dylks, is a backwoods evangel- 
ist who acquires a belief in his own buncombe, and 
ends by announcing that he is God. The job before 
the author was obviously that of tracing the psycho- 
logical steps whereby this mountebank proceeds to 
that conclusion; the fact, indeed, is recognized in the 
canned review, which says that the book is "a study 
of American religious psychology." But an in- 
spection of the text shows that no such study is really 
in it. Dr. Howells does not show how Dylks came to 
believe himself God; he merely says that he did so. 
The whole discussion of the process, indeed, is con- 
fined to two pages — 172 and 173 — and is quite in- 
fantile in its inadequacy. Nor do we get anything 
approaching a revealing look into the heads of the 
other converts — the saleratus-sodden, hell-crazy, half- 
witted Methodists and Baptists of a remote Ohio set- 
tlement of seventy or eighty years ago. All we have 
is the casual statement that they are converted, and 
begin to offer Dylks their howls of devotion. And 
when, in the end, they go back to their original bosh, 
dethroning Dylks overnight and restoring the gaseous 
vertebrate of Calvin and Wesley — when this contrary 
process is recorded, it is accompanied by no more il- 
lumination. In brief, the story is not a "study" at 
all, whether psychological or otherwise, but simply 
an anecdote, and without either point or interest. Its 



56 PREJUDICES: FIRST SERIES 

virtues are all negative ones: it is short, it keeps on 
the track, it deals with a religious maniac and yet con- 
trives to offer no offense to other religious maniacs. 
But on the positive side it merely skims the skin. 

So in all of the other Howells novels that I know. 
Somehow, he seems blissfully ignorant that life is a 
serious business, and full of mystery; it is a sort of 
college town Weltanschauung that one finds in him; 
he is an Agnes Repplier in pantaloons. In one of the 
later stories, "New Leaf Mills," he makes a faltering 
gesture of recognition. Here, so to speak, one gets 
at least a sniff of the universal mystery ; Howells seems 
about to grow profound at last. But the sniff is only 
a sniff. The tragedy, at the end, peters out. Com- 
pare the story to E. W. Howe's "The Story of a Coun- 
try Town," which Howells himself has intelligently 
praised, and you will get some measure of his own 
failure. Howe sets much the same stage and deals 
with much the same people. His story is full of 
technical defects — for one thing, it is overladen with 
melodrama and sentimentality. But nevertheless it 
achieves the prime purpose of a work of the imagina- 
tion: it grips and stirs the emotions, it implants a 
sense of something experienced. Such a book leaves 
scars; one is not quite the same after reading it. But 
it would be difficult to point to a Howells book that 
produces any such effect. If he actually tries, like 
Conrad, "to make you hear, to make you feel — be- 



THE DEAN 57 

fore all, to make you see," then he fails almost com- 
pletely. One often suspects, indeed, that he doesn't 
really feel or see himself. . . . 

As a critic he belongs to a higher level, if only be- 
cause of his eager curiosity, his gusto in novelty. 
His praise of Howe I have mentioned. He dealt 
valiant licks for other debutantes: Frank Norris, 
Edith Wharton and William Vaughn Moody among 
them. He brought forward the Russians diligently 
and persuasively, albeit they left no mark upon his 
own manner. In his ingratiating way, back in the 
seventies and eighties, he made war upon the pre- 
vailing sentimentalities. But his history as a critic 
is full of errors and omissions. One finds him loos- 
ing a fanfare for W. B. Trites, the Philadelphia Zola, 
and praising Frank A. Munsey — and one finds him 
leaving the discovery of all the Shaws, George 
Moores, Dreisers, Synges, Galsworthys, Phillipses 
and George Ades to the Pollards, Meltzers and Hu- 
nekers. Busy in the sideshows, he didn't see the ele- 
phants go by. . . . Here temperamental defects 
handicapped him. Turn to his "My Mark Twain" 
and you will see what I mean. The Mark that is ex- 
hibited in this book is a Mark whose Himalayan out- 
lines are discerned but hazily through a pink fog of 
Howells. There is a moral note in the tale — an ob- 
vious effort to palliate, to touch up, to excuse. The 
poor fellow, of course, was charming, and there was 



58 PREJUDICES: FIRST SERIES 

talent in him, but what a weakness he had for think- 
ing aloud — and such shocking thoughts! What oaths 
in his speech! What awful cigars he smoked! 
How barbarous his contempt for the strict sonata 
form! It seems incredible, indeed, that two men so 
unlike should have found common denominators for 
a friendship lasting forty-four years. The one de- 
rived from Rabelais, Chaucer, the Elizabethans and 
Benvenuto — buccaneers of the literary high seas, 
loud laughers, law-breakers, giants of a lordlier day; 
the other came down from Jane Austen, Washington 
Irving and Hannah More. The one wrote English 
as Michelangelo hacked marble, broadly, brutally, 
magnificently; the other was a maker of pretty waxen 
groups. The one was utterly unconscious of the way 
he achieved his staggering effects; the other was the 
most toilsome, fastidious and self-conscious of crafts- 
men. . . . 

What remains of Howells is his style. He in- 
vented a new harmony of "the old, old words." He 
destroyed the stately periods of the Poe tradition, and 
erected upon the ruins a complex and savory care- 
lessness, full of naivetes that were sophisticated to 
the last degree. He loosened the tightness of Eng- 
lish, and let a blast of Elizabethan air into it. He 
achieved, for all his triviality, for all his narrowness 
of vision, a pungent and admirable style. 



V. PROFESSOR VEBLEN 

TEN or twelve years ago, being engaged in a 
bombastic discussion with what was then 
known as an intellectual Socialist (like the 
rest of the intelligentsia, he succumbed to the first 
life-corps of the war, pulled down the red flag, 
damned Marx as a German spy, and began whooping 
for Elihu Root, Otto Kahn and Abraham Lincoln), 
I was greatly belabored and incommoded by his long 
quotations from a certain Prof. Dr. Thorstein Veblen, 
then quite unknown to me. My antagonist manifestly 
attached a great deal of importance to these borrowed 
sagacities, for he often heaved them at me in lengths 
of a column or two, and urged me to read every word 
of them. I tried hard enough, but found it impos- 
sible going. The more I read them, in fact, the less 
I could make of them, and so in the end, growing im- 
patient and impolite, I denounced this Prof. Veblen 
as a geyser of pishposh, refused to waste any more 
time upon his incomprehensible syllogisms, and ap- 
plied myself to the other Socialist witnesses in the 
case, seeking to set fire to their shirts. 

That old debate, which took place by mail (for the 

59 



60 PREJUDICES: FIRST SERIES 

Socialist lived like a munitions patriot on his country 
estate and I was a wage-slave attached to a city news- 
paper), was afterward embalmed in a dull book, and 
made the mild pother of a day. The book, by name, 
"Men vs. the Man," is now as completely forgotten as 
Baxter's "Saint's Rest" or the Constitution of the 
United States. I myself, perhaps the only man who 
remembers it at all, have not looked into it for six 
or eight years, and all I can recall of my opponent's 
argument (beyond the fact that it not only failed to 
convert me to the nascent Bolshevism of the time, but 
left me a bitter and incurable scoffer at democracy in 
all its forms) is his curious respect for the aforesaid 
Prof. Dr. Thorstein Veblen, and his delight in the 
learned gentleman's long, tortuous and (to me, at 
least) intolerably flapdoodlish phrases. 

There was, indeed, a time when I forgot even this 
— when my mind was empty of the professor's very 
name. That was, say, from 1909 or thereabout to 
the middle of 1917. During those years, having lost 
all my old superior interest in Socialism, even as an 
amateur psychiatrist, I ceased to read its literature, 
and thus lost track of its Great Thinkers. The 
periodicals that I then gave an eye to, setting aside 
newspapers, were chiefly the familiar American imi- 
tations of the English weeklies of opinion, and in 
these the dominant Great Thinker was, first, the late 
Prof. Dr. William James, and, after his decease, 



PROFESSOR VEBLEN 61 

Prof. Dr. John Dewey. The reign of James, as the 
illuminated will recall, was long and glorious. For 
three or four years running he was mentioned in every 
one of those American Spectators and Saturday Re- 
views at least once a week, and often a dozen times. 
Among the less somber gazettes of the republic, to be 
sure, there were other heroes: Maeterlinck, Rabin- 
dranath Tagore, Judge Ben B. Lindsey, the late Ma- 
jor-General Roosevelt, Tom Lawson and so on. Still 
further down the literary and intellectual scale there 
were yet others: Hall Caine, Brieux and Jack John- 
son among them, with paper-bag cookery and the twi- 
light sleep to dispute their popularity. But on the 
majestic level of the old Nation, among the white and 
lavender peaks of professorial ratiocination, there was 
scarcely a serious rival to James. Now and then, 
perhaps, Jane Addams had a month of vogue, and 
during one winter there was a rage for Bergson, and 
for a short space the unspeakable Bernstorff tried to 
set up Eucken (now damned with Wagner, Nietzsche 
and Ludendorff), but taking one day with another 
James held his own against the field. His ideas, im- 
mediately they were stated, became the ideas of every 
pedagogue from Harvard to Leland Stanford, and the 
pedagogues, laboring furiously at space rates, 
rammed them into the skulls of the lesser cerebelli. 
To have called James an ass, during the year 1909, 
would have been as fatal as to have written a sentence 



62 PREJUDICES: FIRST SERIES 

like this one without having used so many haves. 
He died a bit later, but his ghost went marching on: 
it took three or four years to interpret and pigeon- 
hole his philosophical remains and to take down and 
redact his messages (via Sir Oliver Lodge, Little 
Brighteyes, Wah-Wah the Indian Chief, and other 
gifted psychics) from the spirit world. But then, 
gradually, he achieved the ultimate, stupendous and 
irrevocable act of death, and mere was a vacancy. 
To it Prof. Dr. Dewey was elected by the acclamation 
of all right-thinking and forward-looking men. He 
was an expert in pedagogics, metaphysics, psychology, 
ethics, logic, politics, pedagogical metaphysics, meta- 
physical psychology, psychological ethics, ethical 
logic, logical politics and political pedagogics. He 
was Artium Magister, Philosophies Doctor and twice 
Legum Doctor. He had written a book called "How 
to Think." He sat in a professor's chair and caned 
sophomores for blowing spit-balls. Ergo, he was the 
ideal candidate, and so he was nominated, elected and 
inaugurated, and for three years, more or less, he en- 
joyed a peaceful reign in the groves of sapience, and 
the inferior umbilicarii venerated him as they had 
once venerated James. 

I myself greatly enjoyed and profited by the dis- 
courses of this Prof. Dewey and was in hopes that he 
would last. Born so recently as 1859 and a man of 
the highest bearable sobriety, he seemed likely to peg 



PROFESSOR VEBLEN 63 

along until 1935 or 1940, a gentle and charming vol- 
cano of correct thought. But it was not, alas, to be. 
Under cover of pragmatism, that serpent's meta- 
physic, there was unrest beneath the surface. Young 
professors in remote and obscure universities, ap- 
parently as harmless as so many convicts in the death- 
house, were secretly flirting with new and red-hot 
ideas. Whole regiments and brigades of them 
yielded in stealthy privacy to rebellious and often 
incomprehensible yearnings. Now and then, as if to 
reveal what was brewing, a hell fire blazed and a 
Prof. Dr. Scott Nearing went sky-hooting through its 
smoke. One heard whispers of strange heresies — 
economic, sociological, even political. Gossip had 
it that pedagogy was hatching vipers, nay, was al- 
ready brought to bed. But not much of this got 
into the home-made Saturday Reviews and Yankee 
Athenceums — a hint or two maybe, but no more. In 
the main they kept to their old resolute demands for 
a pure civil-service, the budget system in Congress, 
the abolition of hazing at the Naval Academy, an 
honest primary and justice to the Filipinos, with ex- 
termination of the Prussian serpent added after 
August, 1914. And Dr. Dewey, on his remote So- 
cratic Alp, pursued the calm reenforcement of the 
philosophical principles underlying these and all 
other lofty and indignant causes. . . . 

Then, of a sudden, Siss! Boom! Ah! Then, 



64 PREJUDICES: FIRST SERIES 

overnight, the upspringing of the intellectual Soviets, 
the headlong assault upon all the old axioms of 
pedagogical speculation, the nihilistic dethronement 
of Prof. Dewey — and rah, rah, rah for Prof. Dr. 
Thorstein Veblen! Veblen? Could it be — ? Aye, 
it was! My old acquaintance! The Doctor obscurus 
of my half-forgotten bout with the so-called intel- 
lectual Socialist! The Great Thinker redivivusl 
Here, indeed, he was again, and in a few months — 
almost it seemed a few days — he was all over the 
Nation, the Dial, the New Republic and the rest of 
them, and his books and pamphlets began to pour 
from the presses, and the newspapers reported his 
every wink and whisper, and everybody who was any- 
body began gabbling about him. The spectacle, I 
do not hesitate to say, somewhat disconcerted me and 
even distressed me. On the one hand, I was sorry to 
see so learned and interesting a man as Dr. Dewey 
sent back to the insufferable dungeons of Columbia, 
there to lecture in imperfect Yiddish to classes of 
Grand Street Platos. And on the other hand, I 
shrunk supinely from the appalling job, newly rear- 
ing itself before me, of re-reading the whole canon 
of the singularly laborious and muggy, the incompar- 
ably tangled and unintelligible works of Prof. Dr. 
Thorstein Veblen. . . . 

But if a sense of duty tortures a man, it also en- 
ables him to achieve prodigies, and so I managed to 



PROFESSOR VEBLEN 65 

get through the whole infernal job. I read "The 
Theory of the Leisure Class," I read "The Theory of 
Business Enterprise," and then I read "The Instinct 
of Workmanship." An hiatus followed ; I was racked 
by a severe neuralgia, with delusions of persecution. 
On recovering I tackled "Imperial Germany and the 
Industrial Revolution." Malaria for a month, and 
then "The Nature of Peace and the Terms of Its Per- 
petuation." What ensued was never diagnosed; 
probably it was some low infection of the mesentery 
or spleen. When it passed off, leaving only an 
asthmatic cough, I read "The Higher Learning in 
America," and then went to Mt. Clemens to drink the 
Glauber's salts. Eureka! the business was done! It 
had strained me, but now it was over. Alas, a good 
part of the agony had been needless. What I found 
myself aware of, coming to the end, was that prac- 
tically the whole system of Prof. Dr. Veblen was in 
his first book and his last — that is, in "The Theory of 
the Leisure Class," and "The Higher Learning in 
America." I pass on the good news. Read these 
two, and you won't have to read the others. And if 
even two daunt you, then read the first. Once 
through it, though you will have missed many a pearl 
and many a pain, you will have a fairly good general 
acquaintance with the gifted metaphysician's ideas. 

For those ideas, in the main, are quite simple, and 
often anything but revolutionary in essence. What 



66 PREJUDICES: FIRST SERIES 

is genuinely remarkable about them is not their nov- 
elty, or their complexity, nor even the fact that a pro- 
fessor should harbor them; it is the astoundingly 
grandiose and rococo manner of their statement, the 
almost unbelievable tediousness and flatulence of the 
gifted headmaster's prose, his unprecedented talent 
for saying nothing in an august and heroic manner. 
There are tales of an actress of the last generation, 
probably Sarah Bernhardt, who couhjkput pathos and 
even terror into a recitation of the multiplication table. 
The late Louis James did something of the sort; he 
introduced limericks into "Peer Gynt" and still held 
the yokelry agape. The same talent, raised to a high 
power, is in this Prof. Dr. Veblen. Tunnel under his 
great moraines and stalagmites of words, dig down 
into his vast kitchen-midden of discordant and rau- 
cous polysyllables, blow up the hard, thick shell of 
his almost theological manner, and what you will find 
in his discourse is chiefly a mass of platitudes — the 
self-evident made horrifying, the obvious in terms of 
the staggering. Marx, I daresay, said a good deal of 
it, and what Marx overlooked has been said over and 
over again by his heirs and assigns. But Marx, at 
this business, labored under a technical handicap: he 
wrote in German, a language he actually understood. 
Prof. Dr. Veblen submits himself to no such disad- 
vantage. Though born, I believe, in These States, 
and resident here all his life, he achieves the effect, 



PROFESSOR VEBLEN 67 

perhaps without employing the means, of thinking in 
some unearthly foreign language — say Swahili, 
Sumerian or Old Bulgarian — and then painfully 
clawing his thoughts into a copious but uncertain and 
book-learned English. The result is a style that af- 
fects the higher cerebral centers like a constant roll 
of subway expresses. The second result is a sort of 
bewildered numbness of the senses, as before some 
fabulous and unearthly marvel. And the third re- 
sult, if I make no mistake, is the celebrity of the pro- 
fessor as a Great Thinker. In brief, he states his hol- 
low nothings in such high, astounding terms that they 
must inevitably arrest and blister the right-thinking 
mind. He makes them mysterious. He makes them 
shocking. He makes them portentous. And so, 
flinging them at naive and believing minds, he makes 
them stick and burn. 

No doubt you think that I exaggerate — perhaps 
even that I lie. If so, then consider this specimen — 
the first paragraph of Chapter XIII of "The Theory 
of the Leisure Class": 

In an increasing proportion as time goes on, the anthro- 
pomorphic cult, with its code of devout observances, suffers 
a progressive disintegration through the stress of economic 
exigencies and the decay of the system of status. As this 
disintegration proceeds, there come to be associated and 
blended with the devout attitude certain other motives and 
impulses that are not always of an anthropomorphic 
origin, nor traceable to the habit of personal subservience. 



68 PREJUDICES: FIRST SERIES 

Not all of these subsidiary impulses that blend with the 
bait of devoutness in the later devotional life are alto- 
gether congruous with the devout attitude or with the 
anthropomorphic apprehension of sequence of phenomena. 
Their origin being not the same, their action upon the 
scheme of devout life is also not in the same direction. 
In many ways they traverse the underlying norm of sub- 
servience or vicarious life to which the code of devout ob- 
servances and the ecclesiastical and sacerdotal institutions 
are to be traced as their substantial basis. Through the 
presence of these alien motives the social and industrial 
regime of status gradually disintegrates, and the canon of 
personal subservience loses the support derived from an 
unbroken tradition. Extraneous habits and proclivities 
encroach upon the field of action occupied by this canon, 
and it presently comes about that the ecclesiastical and 
sacerdotal structures are partially converted to other uses, 
in some measure alien to the purposes of the scheme of de- 
vout life as it stood in the days of the most vigorous and 
characteristic development of the priesthood. 

Well, what have we here? What does this ap- 
palling salvo of rhetorical artillery signify? What 
is the sweating professor trying to say? What is his 
Message now? Simply that in the course of time, 
the worship of God is commonly corrupted by other 
enterprises, and that the church, ceasing to be a mere 
temple of adoration, becomes the headquarters of 
these other enterprises. More simply still, that men 
sometimes vary serving God by serving other men, 
which means, of course, serving themselves. This 



PROFESSOR VEBLEN 69 

bald platitude, which must be obvious to any child 
who has ever been to a church bazaar or a parish 
house, is here tortured, worried and run through roll- 
ers until it is spread out to 241 words, of which fully 
200 are unnecessary. The next paragraph is even 
worse. In it the master undertakes to explain in 
his peculiar dialect the meaning of "that non-reverent 
sense of aesthetic congruity with the environment 
which is left as a residue of the latter-day act of wor- 
ship after elimination of its anthropomorphic con- 
tent." Just what does he mean by this "non-reverent 
sense of aesthetic congruity"? I have studied the 
whole paragraph for three days, halting only for 
prayer and sleep, and I have come to certain conclu- 
sions. I may be wrong, but nevertheless it is the best 
that I can do. What I conclude is this: he is trying 
to say that many people go to church, not because 
they are afraid of the devil but because they enjoy 
the music, and like to look at the stained glass, the 
potted lilies and the rev. pastor. To get this pro- 
found and highly original observation upon paper, 
he wastes, not merely 241, but more than 300 words! 
To say what might be said on a postage stamp he 
takes more than a page in his book! . . . 

And so it goes, alas, alas, in all his other volumes 
— a cent's worth of information wrapped in a bale of 
polysyllables. In "The Higher Learning in Amer- 
ica" the thing perhaps reaches its damndest and worst. 



70 PREJUDICES: FIRST SERIES 

It is as if the practice of that incredibly obscure and 
malodorous style were a relentless disease, a sort of 
progressive intellectual diabetes, a leprosy of the 
horse sense. Words are flung upon words until all 
recollection that there must be a meaning in them, a 
ground and excuse for them, is lost. One wanders 
in a labyrinth of nouns, adjectives, verbs, pronouns, 
adverbs, prepositions, conjunctions and participles, 
most of them swollen and nearly all of them unable 
to walk. It is difficult to imagine worse English, 
within the limits of intelligible grammar. It is 
clumsy, affected, opaque, bombastic, windy, empty. 
It is without grace or distinction and it is often with- 
out the most elementary order. The learned pro- 
fessor gets himself enmeshed in his gnarled sen- 
tences like a bull trapped by barbed wire, and his 
efforts to extricate himself are quite as furious and 
quite as spectacular. He heaves, he leaps, he writhes ; 
at times he seems to be at the point of yelling for the 
police. It is a picture to bemuse the vulgar and to 
give the judicious grief. 

Worse, there is nothing at the bottom of all this 
strident wind-music — the ideas it is designed to set 
forth are, in the overwhelming main, poor ideas, and 
often they are ideas that are almost idiotic. One 
never gets the thrill of sharp and original thinking, 
dexterously put into phrases. The concepts underly- 
ing, say, "The Theory of the Leisure Class" are 



PROFESSOR VEBLEN 71 

simply Socialism and water; the concepts underlying 
"The Higher Learning in America" are so childishly 
obvious that even the poor drudges who write edi- 
torials for newspapers have often voiced them. 
When, now and then, the professor tires of this emis- 
sion of stale bosh and attempts flights of a more 
original character, he straightway comes tumbling 
down into absurdity. What the reader then has to 
struggle with is not only intolerably bad writing, but 
also loose, flabby, cocksure and preposterous think- 
ing. . . . Again I take refuge in an example. It is 
from Chapter IV of "The Theory of the Leisure 
Class." The problem before the author here has to 
do with the social convention which frowns upon the 
consumption of alcohol by women — at least to the 
extent to which men may consume it decorously. 
Well, then, what is his explanation of this conven- 
tion? Here, in brief, is his process of reasoning: 

1. The leisure class, which is the predatory class of 
feudal times, reserves all luxuries for itself, and disap- 
proves their use by members of the lower classes, for this 
use takes away their charm by taking away their exclu- 
sive possession. 

2. Women are chattels in the possession of the leisure 
class, and hence subject to the rules made for inferiors. 
"The patriarchal tradition . . . says that the woman, be- 
ing a chattel, should consume only what is necessary to her 
sustenance, except so far as her further consumption con- 
tributes to the comfort or the good repute of her master." 



72 PREJUDICES: FIRST SERIES 

3. The consumption of alcohol contributes nothing to 
the comfort or good repute of the woman's master, but 
"detracts sensibly from the comfort or pleasure" of her 
master. Ergo, she is forbidden to drink. 

This, I believe, is a fair specimen of the Veblenian 
ratiocination. Observe it well, for it is typical. 
That is to say, it starts off with a gratuitous and highly 
dubious assumption, proceeds to an equally dubious 
deduction, and then ends with a platitude which begs 
the whole question. What sound reason is there for 
believing that exclusive possession is the hall-mark 
of luxury? There is none that I can see. It may 
be true of a few luxuries, but it is certainly not true 
of the most familiar ones. Do I enjoy a decent bath 
because I know that John Smith cannot afford one 
— or because I delight in being clean? Do I admire 
Beethoven's Fifth Symphony because it is incompre- 
hensible to Congressmen and Methodists — or because 
I genuinely love music? Do I prefer terrapin a la 
Maryland to fried liver because plowhands must put 
up with the liver — or because the terrapin is intrin- 
sically a more charming dose? Do I prefer kissing 
a pretty girl to kissing a charwoman because even a 
janitor may kiss a charwoman — or because the 
pretty girl looks better, smells better and kisses bet- 
ter? Now and then, to be sure, the idea of exclusive 
possession enters into the concept of luxury. I may, 
if I am a bibliophile, esteem a book because it is "a 



PROFESSOR VEBLEN 73 
unique first edition. I may, if I am fond, esteem a 
woman because she smiles on no one else. But even 
here, save in a very small minority of cases, other at- 
tractions plainly enter into the matter. It pleases me 
to have a unique first edition, but I wouldn't care any- 
thing for a unique first edition of Robert W. Chambers 
or Elinor Glyn ; the author must have my respect, the 
book must be intrinsically valuable, there must be 
much more to it than its mere uniqueness. And if, 
being fond, I glory in the exclusive smiles of a cer- 
tain Miss or Mrs. , then surely my satis- 
faction depends chiefly upon the lady herself, and 
not upon my mere monopoly. Would I delight in 
the fidelity of the charwoman? Would it give me 
any joy to learn that, through a sense of duty to me, 
she had ceased to kiss the janitor? 

Confronted by such considerations, it seems to me 
that there is little truth left in Prof. Dr. Veblen's 
theory of conspicuous consumption and conspicuous 
waste — that what remains of it, after it is practically 
applied a few times, is no more than a wraith of 
balderdash. In so far as it is true it is obvious. 
All the professor accomplishes with it is to take what 
every one knows and pump it up to such proportions 
that every one begins to doubt it. What could be 
plainer than his failure in the case just cited? He 
starts off with a platitude, and ends in absurdity. 
No one denies, I take it, that in a clearly limited sense, 



74 PREJUDICES: FIRST SERIES 

women occupy a place in the world — or, more ac- 
curately, aspire to a place in the world — that is a 
good deal like that of a chattel. Marriage, the goal 
of their only honest and permanent hopes, invades 
their individuality; a married woman becomes the 
function of another individuality. Thus the appear- 
ance she presents to the world is often the mirror of 
her husband's egoism. A rich man hangs his wife 
with expensive clothes and jewels for the same reason, 
among others, that he adorns his own head with a 
plug hat: to notify everybody that he can afford it 
— in brief, to excite the envy of Socialists. But he 
also does it, let us hope, for another and far better 
and more powerful reason, to wit, that she intrigues 
him, that he delights in her, that he loves her — and 
so wants to make her gaudy and happy. This reason 
may not appeal to Socialist sociologists. In Russia, 
according to an old scandal (officially endorsed by 
the British bureau for pulling Yankee noses) the 
Bolsheviki actually repudiated it as insane. Never- 
theless, it continues to appeal very forcibly to the 
majority of normal husbands in the nations of the 
West, and I am convinced that it is a hundred times 
as potent as any other reason. The American hus- 
band, in particular, dresses his wife like a circus 
horse, not primarily because he wants to display his 
wealth upon her person, but because he is a soft and 
moony fellow and ever ready to yield to her desires, 



PROFESSOR VEBLEN 75 

however preposterous. If any conception of her as 
a chattel were actively in him, even unconsciously, he 
would be a good deal less her slave. As it is, her 
vicarious practice of conspicuous waste commonly 
reaches such a development that her master himself 
is forced into renunciations — which brings Prof. Dr. 
Veblen's theory to self-destruction. 

His final conclusion is as unsound as his premisses. 
All it comes to is a plain begging of the question. 
Why does a man forbid his wife to drink all the alco- 
hol she can hold? Because, he says, it "detracts 
sensibly from his comfort or pleasure." In other 
words, it detracts from his comfort and pleasure be- 
cause it detracts from his comfort and pleasure. 
Meanwhile, the real answer is so plain that even a 
professor should know it. A man forbids his wife 
to drink too much because, deep in his secret ardhives, 
he has records of the behavior of other women who 
drank too much, and is eager to safeguard his wife's 
self-respect and his own dignity against what he 
knows to be certain invasion. In brief, it is a com- 
monplace of observation, familiar to all males be- 
yond the age of twenty-one, that once a woman is 
drunk the rest is a mere matter of time and place: 
the girl is already there. A husband, viewing this 
prospect, perhaps shrinks from having his chattel 
damaged. But let us be soft enough to think that he 
may also shrink from seeing humiliation, ridicule and 



76 PREJUDICES: FIRST SERIES 

bitter regret inflicted upon one who is under his pro- 
tection, and one whose dignity and happiness are 
precious to him, and one whom he regards with deep 
and (I surely hope) lasting affection. A man's 
grandfather is surely not his chattel, even by the 
terms of the Veblen theory, and yet I am sure that no 
sane man would let the old gentleman go beyond a dis- 
creet cocktail or two if a bout of genuine bibbing were 
certain to be followed by the complete destruction of 
his dignity, his chastity and (if a Presbyterian) his 
immortal soul. . . . 

One more example of the Veblenian logic and I 
must pass on: I have other fish to fry. On page 
135 of "The Theory of the Leisure Class" he turns 
his garish and buzzing search-light upon another 
problem of the domestic hearth, this time a double 
one. First, why do we have lawns around our coun- 
try houses? Secondly, why don't we employ cows to 
keep them clipped, instead of importing Italians, 
Croatians and blackamoors? The first question is 
answered by an appeal to ethnology: we delight in 
lawns because we are the descendants of "a pastoral 
people inhabiting a region with a humid climate." 
True enough, there is in a well-kept lawn "an element 
of sensuous beauty," but that is secondary: the main 
thing is that our dolicho-blond ancestors had flocks, 
and thus took a keen professional interest in grass. 
(The Marx motif! The economic interpretation of 



PROFESSOR VEBLEN 77 

history in E flat.) But why don't we keep flocks? 
Why do we renounce cows and hire Jugo-Slavs? Be- 
cause "to the average popular apprehension a herd 
of cattle so pointedly suggests thrift and usefulness 
that their presence . . . would be intolerably cheap." 
With the highest veneration, Bosh! Plowing through 
a. bad book from end to end, I can find nothing sillier 
than this. Here, indeed, the whole "theory of con- 
spicuous waste" is exposed for precisely what it is: 
one per cent, platitude and ninety-nine per cent, non- 
sense. Has the genial professor, pondering his great 
problems, ever taken a walk in the country? And 
has he, in the course of that walk, ever crossed a 
pasture inhabited by a cow (Bos taurus)? And has 
he, making that crossing, ever passed astern of the 
cow herself? And has he, thus passing astern, ever 
stepped carelessly, and — 

But this is not a medical work, and so I had better 
haul up. The cow, to me, symbolizes the whole 
speculation of this laborious and humorless peda- 
gogue. From end to end you will find the same 
tedious torturing of plain facts, the same relentless 
piling up of thin and over-labored theory, the same 
flatulent bombast, the same intellectual strabismus. 
And always with an air of vast importance, always in 
vexed and formidable sentences, always in the longest 
words possible, always in the most cacophonous Eng- 
lish that even a professor ever wrote. One visualizes 



78 PREJUDICES: FIRST SERIES 

him with his head thrown back, searching for cryptic 
answers in the firmament and not seeing the overt 
and disconcerting cow, not watching his step. One 
sees him as the pundit par excellence, infinitely earn- 
est and diligent, infinitely honest and patient, but also 
infinitely humorless, futile and hollow. . . . 

So much, at least for the present, for this Prof. 
Dr. Thorstein Veblen, head Great Thinker to the par- 
lor radicals, Socrates of the intellectual Greenwich 
Village, chief star (at least transiently) of the Ameri- 
can Athanceums. I am tempted to crowd in mention 
of some of his other astounding theories — for example, 
the theory that the presence of pupils, the labor of 
teaching, a concern with pedagogy, is necessary to 
the highest functioning of a scientific investigator — 
a notion magnificently supported by the examples of 
Flexner, Ehrlich, Metchnikoff, Loeb and Carrel! I 
am tempted, too, to devote a thirdly to the astounding 
materialism, almost the downright hoggishness, of his 
whole system — its absolute exclusion of everything 
approaching an aesthetic motive. But I must leave all 
these fallacies and absurdities to your own inquiry. 
More important than any of them, more important as 
a phenomenon than the professor himself and all his 
works, is the gravity with which his muddled and 
highly dubious ideas have been received. At the 
moment, I daresay, he is in decline; such Great 
Thinkers have a way of going out as quickly as they 



PROFESSOR VEBLEN 79 

come in. But a year or so ago he dominated the 
American scene. All the reviews were full of his 
ideas. A hundred lesser sages reflected them. 
Every one of intellectual pretentions read his books. 
Veblenism was shining in full brilliance. There were 
Veblenists, Veblen clubs, Veblen remedies for all the 
sorrows of the world. There were even, in Chicago, 
Veblen Girls — perhaps Gibson girls grown middle- 
aged and despairing. 

The spectacle, unluckily, was not novel. Go back 
through the history of America since the early nine- 
ties, and you will find a long succession of just such 
violent and uncritical enthusiasms. James had his 
day; Dewey had his day; Ibsen had his day; Maeter- 
linck had his day. Almost every year sees another 
intellectual Munyon arise, with his infallible peruna 
for all the current malaises. Sometimes this Great 
Thinker is imported. Once he was Pastor Wagner; 
once he was Bergson; once he was Eucken; once he 
was Tolstoi ; once he was a lady, by name Ellen Key ; 
again he was another lady, Signorina Montessori. 
But more often he is of native growth, and full of 
the pervasive cocksureness and superficiality of the 
land. I do not rank Dr. Veblen among the worst of 
these haruspices, save perhaps as a stylist; I am ac- 
tually convinced that he belongs among the best of 
them. But that best is surely depressing enough, 
^hat lies behind it is the besetting intellectual sin of 



80 PREJUDICES: FIRST SERIES 

the United States — the habit of turning intellectual 
concepts into emotional concepts, the vice of orgiastic 
and inflammatory thinking. There is, in America, 
no orderly and thorough working out of the funda- 
mental problems of our society; there is only, as one 
Englishman has said, an eternal combat of crazes. 
The things of capital importance are habitually dis- 
cussed, not by men soberly trying to get at the truth 
about them, but by brummagem Great Thinkers try- 
ing only to get kudos out of them. We are beset end- 
lessly by quacks — and they are not the less quacks 
when they happen to be quite honest. In all fields, 
from politics to pedagogics and from theology to pub- 
lic hygiene, there is a constant emotional obscuration 
of the true issues, a violent combat of credulities, an 
inane debasement of scientific curiosity to the level 
of mob gaping. 

The thing to blame, of course, is our lack of an in- 
tellectual aristocracy — sound in its information, skep- 
tical in its habit of mind, and, above all, secure in 
its position and authority. Every other civilized 
country has such an aristocracy. It is the natural 
corrective of enthusiasms from below. It is hos- 
pitable to ideas, but as adamant against crazes. It 
stands against the pollution of logic by emotion, the 
sophistication of evidence to the glory of God. But in 
America there is nothing of the sort. On the one 
hand there is the populace — perhaps more powerful 



PROFESSOR VEBLEN 81 

here, more capable of putting its idiotic ideas into exe- 
cution, than anywhere else — and surely more eager to 
follow platitudinous messiahs. On the other hand 
there is the ruling plutocracy — ignorant, hostile to 
inquiry, tyrannical in the exercise of its power, sus- 
picious of ideas of whatever sort. In the middle 
ground there is little save an indistinct herd of intel- 
lectual eunuchs, chiefly professors — often quite as 
stupid as the plutocracy and always in great fear of 
it. When it produces a stray rebel he goes over to 
the mob; there is no place for him within his own 
order. This feeble and vacillating class, unorgan- 
ized and without authority, is responsible for what 
passes as the well-informed opinion of the country — 
for the sort of opinion that one encounters in the seri- 
ous periodicals — for what later on leaks down, much 
diluted, into the few newspapers that are not frankly 
imbecile. Dr. Veblen has himself described it in 
"The Higher Learning in America"; he is one of its 
characteristic products, and he proves that he is thor- 
oughly of it by the timorousness he shows in that book. 
It is, in the main, only half-educated. It lacks ex- 
perience of the world, assurance, the consciousness of 
class solidarity and security. Of no definite position 
in our national life, exposed alike to the clamors of 
the mob and the discipline of the plutocracy, it gets no 
public respect and is deficient in self-respect. Thus 
the better sort of men are not tempted to enter it. It 



82 PREJUDICES: FIRST SERIES 

recruits only men of feeble courage, men of small 
originality. Its sublimest flower is the American 
college president, well described by Dr. Veblen — a 
perambulating sycophant and platitudinarian, a 
gaudy mendicant and bounder, engaged all his life, 
not in the battle of ideas, the pursuit and dissemina- 
tion of knowledge, but in the courting of rich donkeys 
and the entertainment of mobs. . . . 

Nay, Veblen is not the worst. Veblen is almost the 
best. The worst is — but I begin to grow indignant, 
and indignation, as old Friedrich used to say, is for- 
eign to my nature. 




VI. THE NEW POETRY 
MOVEMENT 

HE current pother about poetry, now gradu- 
ally subsiding, seems to have begun about 
seven years ago — say in 1912. It was dur- 
ing that year that Harriet Monroe established Poetry: 
A Magazine of Verse, in Chicago, and ever since then 
she has been the mother superior of the movement. 
Other leaders have occasionally disputed her com- 
mand — the bombastic Braithwaite, with his annual 
anthology of magazine verse; Amy Lowell, with her 
solemn pronunciamentos in the manner of a Harvard 
professor; Vachel Lindsay, with his nebulous vapor- 
ings and chautauqua posturings; even such cheap 
jacks as Alfred Kreymborg, out of Greenwich Village. 
But the importance of Miss Monroe grows more mani- 
fest as year chases year. She was, to begin with, 
clearly the pioneer. Poetry was on the stands nearly 
two years before the first Braithwaite anthology, and 
long before Miss Lowell had been lured from her 
earlier finishing-school doggerels by the Franco-Brit- 
ish Imagists. It antedated, too, all the other salient 
documents of the movement — Master's "Spoon River 

83 



84 PREJUDICES: FIRST SERIES 

Anthology," Frost's "North of Boston," Lindsay's 
"General William Booth Enters Heaven," the historic 
bulls of the Imagists, the frantic balderdash of the 
"Others" group. Moreover, Miss Monroe has always 
managed to keep on good terms with all wings of the 
heaven-kissed host, and has thus managed to exert 
a ponderable influence both to starboard and to port. 
This, I daresay, is because she is a very intelligent 
woman, which fact is alone sufficient to give her an 
austere eminence in a movement so beset by 
mountebanks and their dupes. I have read Poetry 
since the first number, and find it constantly entertain- 
ing. It has printed a great deal of extravagant stuff, 
and not a little downright nonsensical stuff, but in the 
main it has steered a safe and intelligible course, 
with no salient blunders. No other poetry magazine 
— and there have been dozens of them — has even re- 
motely approached it in interest, or, for that matter, 
in genuine hospitality to ideas. Practically all of 
the others have been operated by passionate enthusi- 
asts, often extremely ignorant and always narrow and 
humorless. But Miss Monroe has managed to retain 
a certain judicial calm in the midst of all the whoop- 
ing and clapper-clawing, and so she has avoided run- 
ning amuck, and her magazine has printed the very 
best of the new poetry and avoided much of the worst. 
As I say, the movement shows signs of having spent 
its strength. The mere bulk of the verse that it pro- 



THE NEW POETRY MOVEMENT 85 
duces is a great deal less than it was three or four 
years ago, or even one or two years ago, and there is 
a noticeable tendency toward the conservatism once 
so loftily disdained. I daresay the Knish-Morgan 
burlesque of Witter Bynner and Arthur Davison Ficke 
was a hard blow to the more fantastic radicals. At 
all events, they subsided after it was perpetrated, and 
for a couple of years nothing has been heard from 
them. These radicals, chiefly collected in what was 
called the "Others" group, rattled the slapstick in a 
sort of side-show to the main exhibition. They at- 
tracted, of course, all the more credulous and unin- 
formed partisans of the movement, and not a few ad- 
vanced professors out of one-building universities be- 
gan to lecture upon them before bucolic women's 
clubs. They committed hari-kari in the end by be- 
ginning to believe in their own buncombe. When 
their leaders took to the chautauquas and sought to 
convince the peasantry that James Whitcomb Riley 
was a fraud the time was ripe for the lethal buffoonery 
of MM. Bynner and Ficke. That buffoonery was 
enormously successful — perhaps the best hoax in 
American literary history. It was swallowed, indeed, 
by so many magnificoes that it made criticism very 
timorous thereafter, and so did damage to not a few 
quite honest bards. To-day a new poet, if he de- 
parts ever so little from the path already beaten, is 
kept in a sort of literary delousing pen until it is 



86 PREJUDICES: FIRST SERIES 

established that he is genuinely sincere, and not 
merely another Bynner in hempen whiskers and a 
cloak to go invisible. 

Well, what is the net produce of the whole uproar? 
How much actual poetry have all these truculent 
rebels against Stedman's Anthology and McGuffey's 
Sixth Reader manufactured? I suppose I have read 
nearly all of it — a great deal of it, as a magazine 
editor, in manuscript — and yet, as I look back, my 
memory is lighted up by very few flashes of any 
lasting brilliance. The best of all the lutists of the 
new school, I am inclined to think, are Carl Sandburg 
and James Oppenheim, and particularly Sandburg. 
He shows a great deal of raucous crudity, he is often 
a bit uncertain and wobbly, and sometimes he is 
downright banal — but, taking one bard with another, 
he is probably the soundest and most intriguing of the 
lot. Compare, for example, his war poems — simple, 
eloquent and extraordinarily moving — to the humor- 
less balderdash of Amy Lowell, or, to go outside the 
movement, to the childish gush of Joyce Kilmer, Her- 
mann Hagedorn and Charles Hanson Towne. Often 
he gets memorable effects by astonishingly austere 
means, as in his famous "Chicago" rhapsody and his 
"Cool Tombs." And always he is thoroughly in- 
dividual, a true original, his own man. Oppenheim, 
equally eloquent, is more conventional. He stands, 
as to one leg, on the shoulders of Walt Whitman, and, 



\ 



THE NEW POETRY MOVEMENT 87 
as to the other, on a stack of Old Testaments. The 
stuff he writes, despite his belief to the contrary, is 
not American at all; it is absolutely Jewish, Levan- 
tine, almost Asiatic. But here is something criticism 
too often forgets : the Jew, intrinsically, is the greatest 
of poets. Beside his gorgeous rhapsodies the high- 
est flights of any western bard seem feeble and cere- 
bral. Oppenheim, inhabiting a brick house in New 
York, manages to get that sonorous Eastern note into 
his dithyrambs. They are often inchoate and fever- 
ish, but at their best they have the gigantic gusto of 
Solomon's Song. 

Miss Lowell is the schoolmarm of the movement, 
and vastly more the pedagogue than the artist. She 
has written perhaps half a dozen excellent pieces in 
imitation of Richard Aldington and John Gould 
Fletcher, and a great deal of highfalutin bathos. 
Her "A Dome of Many-Colored Glass" is full of in- 
fantile poppycock, and though it is true that it was 
first printed in 1912, before she joined the Imagists, 
it is not to be forgotten that it was reprinted with her 
consent in 1915, after she had definitely set up shop 
as a foe of the cliche. Her celebrity, I fancy, is 
largely extra-poetical; if she were Miss Tilly Jones, 
of Fort Smith, Ark., there would be a great deal less 
rowing about her, and her successive masterpieces 
would be received less gravely. A literary crafts- 
man in America, as I have already said once or twice, 



88 PREJUDICES: FIRST SERIES 

is never judged by his work alone. Miss Lowell has 
been helped very much by her excellent social posi- 
tion. The majority, and perhaps fully nine-tenths 
of the revolutionary poets are of no social position at 
all — newspaper reporters, Jews, foreigners of vague 
nationality, school teachers, lawyers, advertisement 
writers, itinerant lecturers, Greenwich Village pos- 
turers, and so on. I have a suspicion that it has 
subtly flattered such denizens of the demi-monde to 
find the sister of a president of Harvard in their midst, 
and that their delight has materially corrupted their 
faculties. Miss Lowell's book of exposition, "Tend- 
encies in Modern American Poetry," is common- 
place to the last degree. Louis Untermeyer's "The 
New Era in American Poetry" is very much better. 
And so is Prof. Dr. John Livingston Lowes' "Con- 
vention and Revolt in Poetry." 

As for Edgar Lee Masters, for a short season the 
undisputed Homer of the movement, I believe that he 
is already extinct. What made the fame of "The 
Spoon River Anthology" was not chiefly any great 
show of novelty in it, nor any extraordinary poign- 
ancy, nor any grim truthfulness unparalleled, but 
simply the public notion that it was improper. It 
fell upon the country at the height of the last sex 
wave — a wave eternally ebbing and flowing, now high, 
now low. It was read, not as work of art, but as 
document; its large circulation was undoubtedly 



THE NEW POETRY MOVEMENT 89 

mainly among persons to whom poetry qua poetry was 
as sour a dose as symphonic music. To such persons, 
of course, it seemed something new under the sun. 
They were unacquainted with the verse of George 
Crabbe; they were quite innocent of E. A. Robin- 
son and Robert Frost; they knew nothing of the Ubi 
sunt formula; they had never heard of the Greek 
Anthology. The roar of his popular success won 
Masters' case with the critics. His undoubted merits 
in detail — his half -wistful cynicism, his capacity for 
evoking simple emotions, his deft skill at managing 
the puny difficulties of vers libre — were thereupon 
pumped up to such an extent that his defects were lost 
sight of. Those defects, however, shine blindingly 
in his later books. Without the advantage of content 
that went with the anthology, they reveal themselves 
as volumes of empty doggerel, with now and then a 
brief moment of illumination. It would be difficult, 
indeed, to find poetry that is, in essence, less poetical. 
Most of the pieces are actually tracts, and many of 
them are very bad tracts. 

Lindsay? Alas, he has done his own burlesque. 
What was new in him, at the start, was an echo of 
the barbaric rhythms of the Jubilee Songs. But very 
soon the thing ceased to be a marvel, and of late his 
elephantine college yells have ceased to be amusing. 
His retirement to the chautauquas is self-criticism of 
uncommon penetration. Frost? A standard New 



90 PREJUDICES: FIRST SERIES 

England poet, with a few changes in phraseology, and 
the substitution of sour resignationism for sweet resig- 
nationism. Whittier without the whiskers. Robin- 
son? Ditto, but with a politer bow. He has written 
sound poetry, but not much of it. The late Major- 
General Roosevelt ruined him by praising him, as he 
ruined Henry Bordeaux, Pastor Wagner, Francis War- 
rington Dawson and many another. Giovannitti? 
A forth-rate Sandburg. Ezra Pound? The Ameri- 
can in headlong flight from America — to England, to 
Italy, to the Middle Ages, to ancient Greece, to Cathay 
and points East. Pound, it seems to me, is the most 
picturesque man in the whole movement — a professor 
turned fantee, Abelard in grand opera. His knowl- 
edge is abysmal; he has it readily on tap; moreover, 
he has a fine ear, and has written many an excellent 
verse. But now all the glow and gusto of the bard 
have been transformed into the rage of the pam- 
phleteer: he drops the lute for the bayonet. One 
sympathizes with him in his choler. The stupidity he 
combats is actually almost unbearable. Every 
normal man must be tempted, at times, to spit on his 
hands, hoist the black flag, and begin slitting throats. 
But this business, alas, is fatal to the placid moods 
and fine other-worldliness of the poet. Pound gives a 
thrilling show, but — . . . . The remaining stars of 
the liberation need not detain us. They are the street- 
boys following the calliope. They have labored with 



THE NEW POETRY MOVEMENT 91 
diligence, but they have produced no poetry. . . . 

Miss Monroe, if she would write a book about it, 
would be the most competent historian of the move- 
ment, and perhaps also its keenest critic. She has 
seen it from the inside. She knows precisely what 
it is about. She is able, finally, to detach herself 
from its extravagances, and to estimate its opponents 
without bile. Her failure to do a volume about it 
leaves Untermeyer's "The New Era in American 
Poetry" the best in the field. Prof. Dr. Lowes' treat- 
ise is very much more thorough, but it has the defect 
of stopping with the fundamentals — it has too little 
to say about specific poets. Untermeyer discusses 
all of them, and then throws in a dozen or two ortho- 
dox bards, wholly untouched by Bolshevism, for good 
measure. His criticism is often trenchant and always 
very clear. He thinks he knows what he thinks he 
knows, and he states it with the utmost address — 
sometimes, indeed, as in the case of Pound, with a 
good deal more address than its essential accuracy 
deserves. But the messianic note that gets into the 
bulls and ukases of Pound himself, the profound 
solemnity of Miss Lowell, the windy chautauqua-like 
nothings of Lindsay, the contradictions of the Ima- 
gists, the puerilities of Kreymborg et at — all these 
things are happily absent. And so it is possible to 
follow him amiably even when he is palpably wrong. 

That is not seldom. At the very start, for example, 



92 PREJUDICES: FIRST SERIES 

he permits himself a lot of highly dubious rumble- 
bumble about the "inherent Americanism" and soar- 
ing democracy of the movement. "Once," he says, 
"the most exclusive and aristocratic of the arts, ap- 
preciated and fostered only by little salons and eru- 
dite groups, poetry has suddenly swung away from 
its self-imposed strictures and is expressing itself once 
more in terms of democracy." Pondering exces- 
sively, I can think of nothing that would be more un- 
true than this. The fact is that the new poetry is 
neither American nor democratic. Despite its re- 
mote grounding on Whitman, it started, not in the 
United States at all, but in France, and its exotic 
color is still its most salient characteristic. Prac- 
tically every one of its practitioners is palpably un- 
der some strong foreign influence, and most of them 
are no more Anglo-Saxon than a samovar or a toccata. 
The deliberate strangeness of Pound, his almost 
fanatical anti-Americanism, is a mere accentuation 
of what is in every other member of the fraternity. 
Many of them, like Frost, Fletcher, H. D. and Pound, 
have exiled themselves from the republic. Others, 
such as Oppenheim, Sandburg, Giovannitti, Benet and 
Untermeyer himself, are palpably Continental Euro- 
peans, often with Levantine traces. Yet others, such 
as Miss Lowell and Masters, are little more, at their 
best, than translators and adapters — from the French, 
from the Japanese, from the Greek. Even Lindsay, 



THE NEW POETRY MOVEMENT 93 

superficially the most national of them all, has also 
his exotic smear, as I have shown. Let Miss Lowell 
herself be a witness. "We shall see them," she says 
at the opening of her essay on E. A. Robinson, "ced- 
ing more and more to the influence of other, alien, peo- 
ples. ..." A glance is sufficient to show the cor- 
rectness of this observation. There is no more "in- 
herent Americanism" in the new poetry than there is 
in the new American painting and music. It lies, in 
fact, quite outside the main stream of American 
culture. 

Nor is it democratic, in any intelligible sense. The 
poetry of Whittier and Longfellow was democratic. 
It voiced the elemental emotions of the masses of the 
people; it was full of their simple, rubber-stamp 
ideas; they comprehended it and cherished it. And 
so with the poetry of James Whitcomb Riley, and with 
that of Walt Mason and Ella Wheeler Wilcox. But 
the new poetry, grounded firmly upon novelty of form 
and boldness of idea, is quite beyond their under- 
standing. It seems to them to be idiotic, just as the 
poetry of Whitman seemed to them to be idiotic, and 
if they could summon up enough interest in it to ex- 
amine it at length they would undoubtedly clamor for 
laws making the confection of it a felony. The mis- 
take of Untermeyer, and of others who talk to the 
same effect, lies in confusing the beliefs of poets and 
the subject matter of their verse with its position in 



94 PREJUDICES: FIRST SERIES 

the national consciousness. Oppenheim, Sandburg 
and Lindsay are democrats, just as Whitman was a 
democrat, but their poetry is no more a democratic 
phenomenon than his was, or than, to go to music, 
Beethoven's Eroica Symphony was. Many of the 
new poets, in truth, are ardent enemies of democracy, 
for example, Pound. Only one of them has ever 
actually sought to take his strophes to the vulgar. 
That one is Lindsay — and there is not the slightest 
doubt that the yokels welcomed him, not because they 
were interested in his poetry, but because it struck 
them as an amazing, and perhaps even a fascinatingly 
obscene thing, for a sane man to go about the country 
on any such bizarre and undemocratic business. 

No sound art, in fact, could possibly be democratic. 
Tolstoi wrote a whole book to prove the contrary, and 
only succeeded in making his case absurd. The only 
art that is capable of reaching the Homo Boobus is 
art that is already debased and polluted — band music, 
official sculpture, Pears' Soap painting, the popular 
novel. What is honest and worthy of praise in the 
new poetry is Greek to the general. And, despite 
much nonsense, it seems to me that there is no little 
in it that is honest and worthy of praise. It has, for 
one thing, made an effective war upon the cliche, and 
so purged the verse of the nation of much of its old 
banality in subject and phrase. The elegant album 
pieces of Richard Henry Stoddard and Edmund Clar- 



THE NEW POETRY MOVEMENT 95 
ence Stedman are no longer in fashion — save, per- 
haps, among the democrats that Untermeyer mentions. 
And in the second place, it has substituted for this an- 
cient conventionality an eager curiosity in life as men 
and women are actually living it — a spirit of daring 
experimentation that has made poetry vivid and full 
of human interest, as it was in the days of Elizabeth. 
The thing often passes into the grotesque, it is shot 
through and through with heliogabalisme, but at its 
high points it has achieved invaluable pioneering. A 
new poet, emerging out of the Baptist night of Peoria 
or Little Rock to-day, comes into an atmosphere 
charged with subtle electricities. There is a stimu- 
lating restlessness; ideas have a welcome; the art he 
aspires to is no longer a merely formal exercise, like 
practicing Czerny. When a Henry Van Dyke arises 
at some college banquet and begins to discharge an 
old-fashioned ode to alma mater there is a definite 
snicker; it is almost as if he were to appear in Con- 
gress gaiters or a beaver hat. An audience for such 
things, of course, still exists. It is, no doubt, an 
enormously large audience. But it has changed a 
good deal qualitatively, if not quantitatively. The 
relatively civilized reader has been educated to some- 
thing better. He has heard a music that has spoiled 
his ear for the old wheezing of the melodeon. He 
weeps no more over what wrung him yesteryear. 
Unluckily, the new movement, in America even 



96 PREJUDICES: FIRST SERIES 

more than in England, France and Germany, suffers 
from a very crippling lack, and that is the lack of a 
genuinely first-rate poet. It has produced many 
talents, but it has yet to produce any genius, or even 
the shadow of genius. There has been a general lift- 
ing of the plain, but no vasty and melodramatic throw- 
ing up of new peaks. Worse still, it has had to face 
hard competition from without — that is, from poets 
who, while also emerged from platitude, have yet 
stood outside it, and perhaps in some doubt of it. 
Untermeyer discusses a number of such poets in his 
book. There is one of them, Lizette Woodworth 
Reese, who has written more sound poetry, more 
genuinely eloquent and beautiful poetry, than all the 
new poets put together — more than a whole posse of 
Masterses and Lindsays, more than a hundred Amy 
Lowells. And there are others, Neihardt and John 
McClure among them — particularly McClure. Un- 
termeyer, usually anything but an ass, once commit- 
ted the unforgettable asininity of sneering at McClure. 
The blunder, I daresay, is already lamented ; it is not 
embalmed in his book. But it will haunt him on 
Tyburn Hill. For this McClure, attempting the 
simplest thing in the simplest way, has done it almost 
superbly. He seems to be entirely without theories. 
There is no pedagogical passion in him. He is no 
reformer. But more than any of the reformers now 
or lately in the arena, he is a poet. 



VII. THE HEIR OF MARK TWAIN 

NOTHING could be stranger than the current 
celebrity of Irvin S. Cobb, an author of 
whom almost as much is heard as if he were 
a new Thackeray or Moliere. One is solemnly told 
by various extravagant partisans, some of them not 
otherwise insane, that he is at once the successor to 
Mark Twain and the heir of Edgar Allan Poe. One 
hears of public dinners given in devotion to his genius, 
of public presentations, of learned degrees conferred 
upon him by universities, of other extraordinary adu- 
lations, few of them shared by such relatively puny 
fellows as Howells and Dreiser. His talents and sa- 
gacity pass into popular anecdotes; he has sedulous 
Boswells; he begins to take on the august importance 
of an actor-manager. Behind the scenes, of course, 
a highly dexterous publisher pulls the strings, but 
much of it is undoubtedly more or less sincere; men 
pledge their sacred honor to the doctrine that his ex- 
istence honors the national literature. Moreover, he 
seems to take the thing somewhat seriously himself. 
He gives his imprimatur to various other authors, in- 
cluding Joseph Conrad; he engages himself to lift 

97 



98 PREJUDICES: FIRST SERIES 

the literary tone of moving-pictures; he lends his 
name to movements; he exposes himself in the chau- 
tauquas; he takes on the responsibilities of a patriot 
and a public man. . . . Altogether, a curious, and, 
in some of its aspects, a caressingly ironical spectacle. 
One wonders what the graduate sophomores of to-mor- 
row, composing their dull tomes upon American let- 
ters, will make of it. . . . 

In the actual books of the man I can find nothing 
that seems to justify so much enthusiasm, nor even 
the hundredth part of it. His serious fiction shows 
a certain undoubted facility, but there are at least 
forty other Americans who do the thing quite as well. 
His public bulls and ukases are no more than clever 
journalism — superficial and inconsequential, first say- 
ing one thing and then quite another thing. And in 
his humor, which his admirers apparently put first 
among his products, I can discover, at best, nothing 
save a somewhat familiar aptitude for grotesque anec- 
dote, and, at worst, only the laborious laugh-squeez- 
ing of Bill Nye. In the volume called "Those Times 
and These" there is an excellent comic story, to wit, 
"Hark, From the Tomb!" But it would surely be an 
imbecility to call it a masterpiece; too many other 
authors have done things quite as good; more than a 
few (I need cite only George Ade, Owen Johnson and 
Ring W. Lardner) have done things very much better. 
Worse, it lies in the book like a slice of Smithfield 



THE HEIR OF MARK TWAIN 99 

ham between two slabs of stale store-bread. On both 
sides of it are very stupid artificialities — stories with- 
out point, stories in which rustic characters try to talk 
like Wilson Mizner, stories altogether machine-made 
and depressing. Turn, now, to another book, vastly 
praised in its year — by name, "Cobb's Anatomy." 
One laughs occasionally — but precisely as one laughs 
over a comic supplement or the jokes in Ayers Al- 
manac. For example: 

There never was a hansom cab made that would hold 
a fat man comfortably unless he left the doors open, and 
that makes him feel undressed. 

Again: 

Your hair gives you bother so long as you have it and 
more bother when it starts to go. You are always doing 
something for it and it is always showing deep-dyed in- 
gratitude in return; or else the dye isn't deep enough, 
which is even worse. 

Exactly; it is even worse. And then this: 

Once there was a manicure lady who wouldn't take a 
tip, but she is now no more. Her indignant sisters stabbed 
her to death with hatpins and nail-files. 

I do not think I quote unfairly; I have tried to se- 
lect honest specimens of the author's fancy. . . . 
Perhaps it may be well to glance at another book. I 
choose, at random, "Speaking of Operations — ," a 



100 PREJUDICES: FIRST SERIES 

work described by the publisher as "the funniest yet 
written by Cobb" and "the funniest book we know of." 
In this judgment many other persons seem to have 
concurred. The thing was an undoubted success when 
it appeared as an article in the Saturday Evening Post 
and it sold thousands of copies between covers. 
Well, what is in it? In it, after a diligent reading, 
I find half a dozen mildly clever observations — and 
sixty odd pages of ancient and infantile wheezes, as 
flat to the taste as so many crystals of hyposulphite of 
soda. For example, the wheeze to the effect that in 
the days of the author's nonage "germs had not been 
invented yet." For example, the wheeze to the effect 
that doctors bury their mistakes. For example, the 
wheeze to the effect that the old-time doctor always 
prescribed medicines of abominably evil flavor. . . . 
But let us go into the volume more in detail, and so 
unearth all its gems. 

On page 1, in the very first paragraph, there is the 
doddering old joke about the steepness of doctors' 
bills. In the second paragraph there is the somewhat 
newer but still fully adult joke about the extreme 
willingness of persons who have been butchered by 
surgeons to talk about it afterward. These two wit- 
ticisms are all that I can find on page 1. For the rest, 
it consists almost entirely of a reference to MM. Bryan 
and Roosevelt — a reference well known by all news- 
paper paragraphists and vaudeville monologists to 



THE HEIR OF MARK TWAIN 101 

be as provocative of laughter as a mention of bunions, 
mothers-in-law or Pottstown, Pa. On page 2 Bryan 
and Roosevelt are succeeded by certain heavy stuff 
in the Petroleum V. Nasby manner upon the condi- 
tion of obstetrics, pediatrics and the allied sciences 
among whales. Page 3 starts off with the old jocosity 
to the effect that people talk too much about the 
weather. It progresses or resolves, as the musicians 
say, into the wheeze to the effect that people like to 
dispute over what is the best thing to eat for break- 
fast. On page 4 we come to what musicians would 
call the formal statement of the main theme — that 
is, of the how-I-like-to-talk-of-my-operation motif. 
We have thus covered four pages. 

Page 5 starts out with an enharmonic change : to wit, 
from the idea that ex-patients like to talk of their 
operations to the idea that patients in being like to 
swap symptoms. Following this there is a repetition 
of the gold theme — that is, the theme of the doctor's 
bill. On page 6 there are two chuckles. One springs 
out of a reference to "light housekeeping," a phrase 
which invariably strikes an American vaudeville au- 
dience as salaciously whimsical. The other is 
grounded upon the well-known desire of baseball fans 
to cut the umpire's throat. On page 6 there enters 
for the first time what may be called the second theme 
of the book. This is the whiskers motif. The whole 
of this page, with the exception of a sentence em- 



102 PREJUDICES: FIRST SERIES 

bodying the old wheeze about the happy times before 
germs were invented, is given over to variations of the 
whiskers joke. Page 8 continues this development 
section. Whiskers of various fantastic varieties are 
mentioned — trellis whiskers, bosky whiskers, ambush 
whiskers, loose, luxuriant whiskers, landscaped 
whiskers, whiskers that are winter quarters for patho- 
genic organisms. Some hard, hard squeezing, and 
the humor in whiskers is temporarily exhausted. 
Page 8 closes with the old joke about the cruel thump- 
ing which doctors perform upon their patients' clav- 
icles. 

Now for page 9. It opens with a third statement 
of the gold motif — "He then took my temperature 
and $15." Following comes the dentist's office motif 
— that is, the motif of reluctance, of oozing courage, 
of flight. At the bottom of the page the gold motif 
is repeated in the key of E minor. Pages 10 and 11 
are devoted to simple description, with very little ef- 
fort at humor. On page 12 there is a second state- 
ment, for the full brass choir, of the dentist's office 
motif. On page 13 there are more echoes from Pe- 
troleum V. Nasby, the subject this time being a man 
"who got his spleen back from the doctor's and now 
keeps it in a bottle of alcohol." On page 14 one finds 
the innocent bystander joke; on page 15 the joke about 
the terrifying effects of reading a patent medicine 



THE HEIR OF MARK TWAIN 103 

almanac. Also, at the bottom of the page, there is 
a third statement of the dentist's office joke. On page 
16 it gives way to a restatement of the whiskers theme, 
in augmentation, which in turn yields to the third or 
fifth restatement of the gold theme. 

Let us now jump a few pages. On page 19 we 
come to the old joke about the talkative barber; on 
page 22 to the joke about the book agent; on the same 
page to the joke about the fashionableness of appen- 
dicitis; on page 23 to the joke about the clumsy 
carver who projects the turkey's gizzard into the visit- 
ing pastor's eye; on page 28 to a restatement of the 
barber joke; on page 31 to another statement — is it 
the fifth or sixth? — of the dentist's office joke; on 
page 37 to the katzenjammer joke; on page 39 to the 
old joke about doctors burying their mistakes. . . . 
And so on. And so on and so on. And so on and so 
on and so on. On pages 48 and 49 there is a perfect 
riot of old jokes, including the nth variation of the 
whiskers joke and a fearful and wonderful pun about 
Belgian hares and heirs. . . . 

On second thoughts I go no further. . . . This, re- 
member, is the book that Cobb's publishers, appar- 
ently with his own Nihil Obstat, choose at his best. 
This is the official masterpiece of the "new Mark 
Twain." Nevertheless, even so laboriously flabby a 
farceur has his moments. I turn to Frank J. Wil- 



104 PREJUDICES: FIRST SERIES 

stach's Dictionary of Similes and find this credited to 
him: "No more privacy than a goldfish." Here, at 
last, is something genuinely humorous. Here, more- 
over, is something apparently new. 



VIII. HERMANN SUDERMANN 

THE fact that Sudermann is the author of the 
most successful play that has come out of 
Germany since the collapse of the romantic 
movement is the most eloquent of all proofs, perhaps, 
of his lack of force and originality as a dramatist. 
"Heimat," Englished, Frenched and Italianized as 
"Magda," gave a new and gaudy leading role to all 
the middle-aged chewers of scenery; they fell upon 
it as upon a new Marguerite Gautier, and with it they 
coaxed the tears of all nations. That was in the mid- 
dle nineties. To-day the piece seems almost as old- 
fashioned as "The Princess Bonnie," and even in Ger- 
many it has gone under the counter. If it is brought 
out at all, it is to adorn the death agonies of some 
doddering star of the last generation. 

Sudermann was one of the first deer flushed by 
Arno Holz and Johannes Schlaf, the founders of Ger- 
man naturalism. He had written a couple of success- 
ful novels, "Frau Sorge" and "Der Katzensteg," be- 
fore the UberbrettT got on its legs, and so he was a 
recruit worth snaring. The initial fruit of his en- 
listment was "Die Ehre," a reductio ad absurdum of 

105 



106 PREJUDICES: FIRST SERIES 

Prussian notions of honor, as incomprehensible out- 
side of Germany as Franz Adam Beyerlein's "Zapfen- 
streich" or Carl Bleibtreu's "Die Edelsten der Na- 
tion." Then followed "Sodoms Ende," and after it, 
"Heimat." Already the emptiness of naturalism was 
beginning to oppress Sudermann, as it was also op- 
pressing Hauptmann. The latter, in 1892, re- 
bounded from it to the unblushing romanticism of 
"Hanneles Himmelfahrt." As for Sudermann, he 
chose to temper the rigors of the Schlaf-Holz formula 
(by Ibsen out of Zola) with sardoodledum. The re- 
sult was this "Heimat," in which naturalism was 
wedded to a mellow sentimentality, caressing to au- 
diences bred upon the drama of perfumed adultery. 
The whole last scene of the play, indeed, was no more 
than an echo of Augier's "Le Mariage d' Olympe." 
It is no wonder that even Sarah Bernhardt pronounced 
it a great work. 

Since then Sudermann has wobbled, and in the novel 
as well as in the drama. Lacking the uncanny versa- 
tility of Hauptmann, he has been unable to conquer the 
two fields of romance and reality. Instead he has lost 
himself between them, a rat without a tail. "Das hohe 
Lied," his most successful novel since "Frau Sorge," 
is anything but a first-rate work. Its opening chapter 
is a superlatively fine piece of writing, but after that 
he grows uncertain of his way, and toward the end 
one begins to wonder what it is all about. No coher- 



HERMANN SUDERMANN 107 

ent idea is in it; it is simply a sentimentalization of 
the unpleasant; if it were not for the naughtiness of 
some of the scenes no one would read it. An Ameri- 
can dramatist has made a play of it — a shocker for 
the same clowns who were entranced by Brieux's "Les 
Avaries." 

The trouble with Sudermann, here and elsewhere, 
is that he has no sound underpinnings, and is a bit / 
uncertain about his characters and his story. He 
starts off furiously, let us say, as a Zola, and then di- 
lutes Zolaism with romance, and then pulls himself 
up and begins to imitate Ibsen, and then trips and 
falls headlong into the sugar bowl of sentimentality. 
Lily Czepanek, in "Das hohe Lied," swoons at critical 
moments, like the heroine of a tale for chambermaids. 
It is almost as if Lord Jim should get converted at a 
gospel mission, or Nora Helmer let down her hair. 
. . . But these are defects in Sudermann the novelist 
and dramatist, and in that Sudermann only. In the 
short story they conceal themselves ; he is done before 
he begins to vacillate. In this field, indeed, all his 
virtues — of brisk, incisive writing, of flashing obser- 
vation, of dexterous stage management, of emotional 
fire and address — have a chance to show themselves, 
and without any wearing thin. The book translated 
as "The Indian Lily" contains some of the best short 
stories that German — or any other language, for that 
matter — can offer. They are mordant, succinct and 



108 PREJUDICES: FIRST SERIES 

extraordinarily vivid character studies, each full of 
penetrating irony and sardonic pity, each with the 
chill wind of disillusion blowing through it, each 
preaching that life is a hideous farce, that good and 
bad are almost meaningless words, that truth is only 
the lie that is easiest to believe. . . . 

It is hard to choose between stories so high in merit, 
but surely "The Purpose" is one of the best. Of all 
the latter-day Germans, only Ludwig Thoma, in "Ein 
bayrischer Soldat," has ever got a more brilliant real- 
ity into a crowded space. Here, in less than fifteen 
thousand words, Sudermann rehearses the tragedy of 
a whole life, and so great is the art of the thing that 
one gets a sense of perfect completeness, almost of 
exhaustiveness. . . . Antonie Wiesner, the daughter 
of a country innkeeper, falls in love with Robert 
Messerschmidt, a medical student, and they sin the 
scarlet sin. To Robert, perhaps, the thing is a mere 
interlude of midsummer, but to Toni it is all life's 
meaning and glory. Robert is poor and his degree is 
still two years ahead; it is out of the question for him 
to marry. Very well, Toni will find a father for her 
child; she is her lover's property, and that property 
must be protected. And she will wait willingly, care- 
less of the years, for the distant day of triumph and 
redemption. All other ideas and ideals drop out of 
her mind; she becomes an automaton moved by the 
one impulse, the one yearning. She marries one 



HERMANN SUDERMANN 109 

Wiegand, a decayed innkeeper; he, poor fool, ac- 
cepts the parentage of her child. Her father, rich 
and unsuspicious, buys them a likely inn; they begin 
to make money. And then begins the second chapter 
of Toni's sacrifice. She robs her husband systemati- 
cally and steadily; she takes commissions on all his 
goods; she becomes the houri of his bar, that trade 
may grow and pickings increase. Mark by mark, the 
money goes to Robert. It sees him through the uni- 
versity; it gives him his year or two in the hospitals; 
it buys him a practice; it feeds and clothes him, and 
his mother with him. The months and years pass 
endlessly — a young doctor's progress is slow. But 
finally the great day approaches. Soon Robert will 
be ready for his wife. But Wiegand — what of him? 
Toni thinks of half a dozen plans. The notion of 
poisoning him gradually formulates itself. Not a 
touch of horror stays her. She is, by this time, be- 
yond all the common moralities — a monomaniac with 
no thought for anything save her great purpose. But 
an accident saves Wiegand. Toni, too elaborate in 
her plans, poisons herself by mischance, and comes 
near dying. Very well, if not poison, then some more 
subtle craft. She puts a barmaid into Wiegand's 
path; she manages the whole affair; before long she 
sees her victim safely enmeshed. A divorce follows; 
the inn is sold ; her father's death makes her suddenly 
rich — at last she is off to greet her lord! 



110 PREJUDICES: FIRST SERIES 

That meeting! . . . Toni waits in the little flat 
that she has rented in the city — she and her child, the 
child of Robert. Robert is to come at noon; as the 
slow moments pass the burden of her happiness seems 
too great to bear. And then suddenly the ecstatic 
climax — the ring at the door. . . . "A gentleman 
entered. A strange gentleman. Wholly strange. 
Had she met him on the street she would not have 
known him. He had grown old — forty, fifty, a hun- 
dred years. Yet his real age could not be over 
twenty-eight! . . . He had grown fat. He carried a 
little paunch around with him, round and comfort- 
able. And the honorable scars gleamed in round, 
red cheeks. His eyes seemed small and receding. 
. . . And when he said: 'Here I am at last,' it was 
no longer the old voice, clear and a little resonant, 
which had echoed and reechoed in her spiritual ear. 
He gurgled as though he had swallowed dumplings." 
An oaf without and an oaf within! Toni is for 
splendors, triumphs, the life; Robert has "settled 
down." His remote village, hard by the Russian 
border, is to his liking; he has made comfortable 
friends there; he is building up a practice. He is, 
of course, a man of honor. He will marry Toni — 
willingly and with gratitude, even with genuine affec- 
tion. Going further, he will pay back to her every 
cent that ever came from Wiegand's till. He has 
kept a strict account. Here it is, in a little blue note- 



HERMANN SUDERMANN 111 

book — seven years of entries. As he reads them 
aloud the events of those seven years unroll them- 
selves before Toni and every mark brings up its 
picture — stolen cash and trinkets, savings in railroad 
fares and food, commissions upon furniture and 
wines, profits of champagne debauches with the county 
councilor, sharp trading in milk and eggs, "suspense 
and longing, an inextricable web of falsification and 
trickery, of terror and lying without end. The 
memory of no guilt is spared her." Robert is an 
honest, an honorable man. He has kept a strict ac- 
count; the money is waiting in bank. What is more, 
he will make all necessary confessions. He has not, 
perhaps, kept to the letter of fidelity. There was a 
waitress in Berlin; there was a nurse at the surgical 
clinic; there is even now a Lithuanian servant girl 
at his bachelor quarters. The last named, of course, 
will be sent away forthwith. Robert is a man of 
honor, a man sensitive to every requirement of the 
punctilio, a gentleman. He will order the announce- 
ment cards, consult a clergyman — and not forget to get 
rid of the Lithuanian and air the house. . . . Poor 
Toni stares at him as he departs. "Will he come back 
soon?" asks the child. "I scarcely think so," she 
answers. . . . "That night she broke the purpose of 
her life, the purpose that had become interwoven with 
a thousand others, and when the morning came she 
wrote a letter of farewell to the beloved of her youth." 



112 PREJUDICES: FIRST SERIES 

A short story of rare and excellent quality. A short 
story — oh, miracle! — worth reading twice. It is not 
so much that its motive is new — that motive, indeed, 
has appeared in fiction many times, though usually 
with the man as the protagonist — as that its workman- 
ship is superb. Sudermann here shows that, for all 
his failings elsewhere, he knows superlatively how to 
write. His act divisions are exactly right; his scenes 
a faire are magnificently managed; he has got into the 
thing that rhythmic ebb and flow of emotion which 
makes for great drama. And in most of the 
other stories in this book you will find much 
the same skill. No other, perhaps, is quite so 
good as "The Purpose," but at least one of 
them, "The Song of Death," is not far behind. 
Here we have the tragedy of a woman brought 
up rigorously, puritanically, stupidly, who dis- 
covers, just as it is too late, that love may be a wild 
dance, an ecstasy, an orgy. I can imagine no more 
grotesquely pathetic scene than that which shows this 
drab preacher's wife watching by her husband's death- 
bed — while through the door comes the sound of 
amorous delirium from the next room. And then 
there is a strangely moving Christmas story, "Merry 
Folk" — pathos with the hard iron in it. And there 
are "Autumn" and "The Indian Lily," elegies to lost 
youth — the first of them almost a fit complement to 
Joseph Conrad's great paean to youth triumphant. 



HERMANN SUDERMANN 113 

Altogether, a collection of short stories of the very 
first rank. Write off "Das hohe Lied," "Frau Sorge" 
and all the plays: a Sudermann remains who must 
be put in a high and honorable place, and will be re- 
membered. 



IX. GEORGE ADE 

WHEN, after the Japs and their vassals 
conquer us and put us to the sword, 
and the republic descends into hell, 
some literary don of Oxford or Mittel-Europa pro- 
ceeds to the predestined autopsy upon our Complete 
Works, one of the things he will surely notice, re- 
viewing our literary history, is the curious persistence 
with which the dons native to the land have overlooked 
its emerging men of letters. I mean, of course, its 
genuine men of letters, its salient and truly original 
men, its men of intrinsic and unmistakable distinc- 
tion. The fourth-raters have fared well enough, God 
knows. Go back to any standard literature book of 
ten, or twenty, or thirty, or fifty years ago, and you 
will be amazed by its praise of shoddy mediocrities, 
long since fly-blown and forgotten. George William 
Curtis, now seldom heard of at all, save perhaps in 
the reminiscences of senile publishers, was treated 
in his day with all the deference due to a prince of 
the blood. Artemus Ward, Petroleum V. Nasby and 
half a dozen other such hollow buffoons were ranked 
with Mark Twain, and even above him. Frank R. 

114 



GEORGE ADE 115 

Stockton, for thirty years, was the delight of all right- 
thinking reviewers. Richard Henry Stoddard and 
Edmund Clarence Stedman were eminent personages, 
both as critics and as poets. And Donald G. Mitchell, 
to make an end of dull names, bulked so grandly in 
the academic eye that he was snatched from his tear- 
jugs and his tea-pots to become a charter member of 
the National Institute of Arts and Letters, and actually 
died a member of the American Academy! 

Meanwhile, three of the five indubitably first-rate 
artists that America has produced went quite without 
orthodox recognition at home until either foreign en- 
thusiasm or domestic clamor from below forced them 
into a belated and grudging sort of notice. I need 
not say that I allude to Poe, Whitman and Mark 
Twain. If it ever occurred to any American critic 
of position, during Poe's lifetime, that he was a 
greater man than either Cooper or Irving, then I have 
been unable to find any trace of the fact in the criti- 
cal literature of the time. The truth is that he was 
looked upon as a facile and somewhat dubious jour- 
nalist, too cocksure by half, and not a man to be en- 
couraged. Lowell praised him in 1845 and at the 
same time denounced the current over-praise of lesser 
men, but later on this encomium was diluted with very 
important reservations, and there the matter stood 
until Baudelaire discovered the poet end his belated 
fame came winging home. Whitman, as every one 



116 PREJUDICES: FIRST SERIES 

knows, fared even worse. Emerson first hailed him 
and then turned tail upon him, eager to avoid any 
share in his ill-repute among blockheads. No other 
critic of any influence gave him help. He was car- 
ried through his dark days of poverty and persecu- 
tion by a few private enthusiasts, none of them with 
the ear of the public, and in the end it was Frenchmen 
and Englishmen who lifted him into the light. Imag- 
ine a Harvard professor lecturing upon him in 1865! 
As for Mark Twain, the story of his first fifteen years 
has been admirably told by Prof. Dr. William Lyon 
Phelps, of Yale. The dons were unanimously against 
him. Some sneered at him as a feeble mountebank; 
others refused to discuss him at all; not one harbored 
the slightest suspicion that he was a man of genius, 
or even one leg of a man of genius. Phelps makes 
merry over this academic attempt to dispose of Mark 
by putting him into Coventry — and himself joins the 
sanctimonious brethren who essay the same enterprise 
against Dreiser. . . . 

I come by this route to George Ade — who perhaps 
fails to fit into the argument doubly, for on the one 
hand he is certainly not a literary artist of the first 
rank, and on the other hand he has long enjoyed a 
meed of appreciation and even of honor, for the Na- 
tional Institute of Arts and Letters elevated him to 
its gilt-edged purple in its first days, and he is still on 
its roll of men of "notable achievement in art, music 



GEORGE ABE 117 

or literature," along with Robert W. Chambers, Henry 
Sydnor Harrison, Oliver Herford, E. S. Martin and 
E. W. Townsend, author of "Chimmie Fadden." 
Nevertheless, he does not fall too far outside, after 
all, for if he is not of the first rank then he surely de- 
serves a respectable place in the second rank, and if 
the National Institute broke the spell by admitting 
him then it was probably on the theory that he was a 
second Chambers or Herford, or maybe even a sec- 
ond Martin or Townsend. As for the text-book dons, 
they hold resolutely to the doctrine that he scarcely 
exists, and is not worth noticing at all. For example, 
there is Prof. Fred Lewis Pattee, author of "A His- 
tory of American Literature Since 1870." Prof. 
Pattee notices Chambers, Marion Harland, Herford, 
Townsend, Amelie Rives, R. K. Munkittrick and many 
other such ornaments of the national letters, and even 
has polite bows for Gelett Burgess, Carolyn Wells 
and John Kendrick Bangs, but the name of Ade is 
missing from his index, as is that of Dreiser. So 
with the other pedagogues. They are unanimously 
shy of Ade in their horn-books for sophomores, and 
they are gingery in their praise of him in their in- 
numerable review articles. He is commended, when 
at all, much as the late Joseph Jefferson used to be 
commended — that is, to the accompaniment of re- 
minders that even a clown is one of God's creatures, 
and may have the heart of a Christian under his 



118 PREJUDICES: FIRST SERIES 

motley. The most laudatory thing ever said of him 
by any critic of the apostolic succession, so far as I 
can discover, is that he is clean — that he does not 
import the lewd buffooneries of the barroom, the 
smoking-car and the wedding reception into his 
books. . . . 

But what are the facts? The facts are that Ade is 
one of the few genuinely original literary craftsmen 
now in practice among us; that he comes nearer to 
making literature, when he has full steam up, than 
any save a scant half-dozen of our current novelists, 
and that the whole body of his work, both in books 
and for the stage, is as thoroughly American, in cut 
and color, in tang and savor, in structure and point of 
view, as the work of Howells, E. W. Howe or Mark 
Twain. No single American novel that I can think 
of shows half the sense of nationality, the keen feel- 
ing for national prejudice and peculiarity, the sharp 
and pervasive Americanism of such Adean fables as 
"The Good Fairy of the Eighth Ward and the Dollar 
Excursion of the Steam-Fitters," "The Mandolin 
Players and the Willing Performer," and "The Adult 
Girl Who Got Busy Before They Could Ring the Bell 
on Her." Here, amid a humor so grotesque that it 
almost tortures the midriff, there is a startlingly vivid 
and accurate evocation of the American scene. Here, 
under all the labored extravagance, there are brilliant 
flashlight pictures of the American people, and Ameri- 



GEORGE ADE 119 

can ways of thinking, and the whole of American 
Kultur. Here the veritable Americano stands forth, 
lacking not a waggery, a superstition, a snuffle or a 
wen. 

Ade himself, for all his story-teller's pretense of 
remoteness, is as absolutely American as any of his V* 
prairie-town traders and pushers, Shylocks and Dog- 
berries, beaux and belles. No other writer of our 
generation, save perhaps Howe, is more unescapably 
national in his every gesture and trick of mind. He 
is as American as buckwheat cakes, or the Knights of 
Pythias, or the chautauqua, or Billy Sunday, or a 
bull by Dr. Wilson. He fairly reeks of the national 
Philistinism, the national respect for respectability, 
the national distrust of ideas. He is a marcher, one 
fancies, in parades; he joins movements, and move- 
ments against movements ; he knows no language save 
his own ; he regards a Roosevelt quite seriously and a 
Mozart or an Ibsen as a joke; one would not be sur- 
prised to hear that, until he went off to his fresh-water 
college, he slept in his underwear and read the Ep- 
worth Herald. But, like Dreiser, he is a peasant 
touched by the divine fire; somehow, a great instinc- 
tive artist got himself born out there on that lush 
Indiana farm. He has the rare faculty of seeing ac- 
curately, even when the thing seen is directly under 
his nose, and he has the still rarer faculty of recording 
vividly, of making the thing seen move with life. 



120 PREJUDICES: FIRST SERIES 

One often doubts a character in a novel, even in a 
good novel, but who ever doubted Gus in "The Two 
Mandolin Players," or Mae in "Sister Mae," or, to 
pass from the fables, Payson in "Mr. Payson's Satiri- 
cal Christmas"? Here, with strokes so crude and 
obvious that they seem to be laid on with a broom, 
Ade achieves what 0. Henry, with all his ingenuity, 
always failed to achieve: he fills his bizarre tales with 
human beings. There is never any artfulness on the 
surface. The tale itself is never novel, or complex; 
it never surprises; often it is downright banal. But 
underneath there is an artfulness infinitely well 
wrought, and that is the artfulness of a story-teller 
who dredges his story out of his people, swiftly and 
skillfully, and does not squeeze his people into his 
story, laboriously and unconvincingly. 

Needless to say, a moralist stands behind the co- 
median. He would teach; he even grows indignant. 
Roaring like a yokel at a burlesque show over such 
wild and light-hearted jocosities as "Paducah's Favor- 
ite Comedians" and "Why 'Gondola' Was Put Away," 
one turns with something of a start to such things as 
"Little Lutie," "The Honest Money Maker" and "The 
Corporation Director and the Mislaid Ambition." 
Up to a certain point it is all laughter, but after that 
there is a flash of the knife, a show of teeth. Here 
a national limitation often closes in upon the satirist. 
He cannot quite separate the unaccustomed from the 



GEORGE ADE 121 

abominable; he is unable to avoid rattling his Philis- 
tine trappings a bit proudly; he must prove that he, 
too, is a right-thinking American, a solid citizen and 
a patriot, unshaken in his lofty rectitude by such 
poisons as aristocracy, adultery, hors d'ceuvres and 
the sonata form. But in other directions this thor- 
ough-going nationalism helps him rather than hinders 
him. It enables him, for one thing, to see into sen- 
timentality, and to comprehend it and project it accu- 
rately. I know of no book which displays the mooni- 
ness of youth with more feeling and sympathy than 
"Artie," save it be Frank Norris' forgotten "Blix." 
In such fields Ade achieves a success that is rare and 
indubitable. He makes the thing charming and he 
makes it plain. 

But all these fables and other compositions of his 
are mere sketches, inconsiderable trifles, impromptus 
in bad English, easy to write and of no importance! 
Are they, indeed? Do not believe it for a moment. 
Fifteen or twenty years ago, when Ade was at the 
height of his celebrity as a newspaper Sganarelle, 
scores of hack comedians tried to imitate him — and 
all failed. I myself was of the number. I operated 
a so-called funny column in a daily newspaper, and 
like my colleagues near and far, I essayed to manufac- 
ture fables in slang. What miserable botches they 
were! How easy it was to imitate Ade's manner — 
and how impossible to imitate his matter! No; please 



122 PREJUDICES: FIRST SERIES 

don't get the notion that it is a simple thing to write 
such a fable as that of "The All-Night Seance and the 
Limit That Ceased to Be," or that of "The Preacher 
Who Flew His Kite, But Not Because He Wished to Do 
So," or that of "The Roystering Blades." Far from 
it! On the contrary, the only way you will ever 
accomplish the feat will be by first getting Ade's firm 
grasp upon American character, and his ability to 
think out a straightforward, simple, amusing story, 
and his alert feeling for contrast and climax, and his 
extraordinary talent for devising novel, vivid and un- 
forgettable phrases. Those phrases of his sometimes 
wear the external vestments of a passing slang, but 
they are no more commonplace and vulgar at bottom 
than Gray's "mute, inglorious Milton" or the "some- 
wheres East of Suez" of Kipling. They reduce an 
idea to a few pregnant syllables. They give the at- 
tention a fillip and light up a whole scene in a flash. 
They are the running evidences of an eye that sees 
clearly and of a mind that thinks shrewdly. They 
give distinction to the work of a man who has so well 
concealed a highly complex and efficient artistry that 
few have ever noticed it. 



X. THE BUTTE BASHKIRTSEFF 

OF all the pseudo-rebels who have raised a 
tarletan black flag in These States, surely 
Mary MacLane is one of the most pathetic. 
When, at nineteen, she fluttered Vassar with "The 
Story of Mary MacLane," the truth about her was still 
left somewhat obscure ; the charm of her flapperhood, 
so to speak, distracted attention from it, and so con- 
cealed it. But when, at thirty-five, she achieved "I, 
Mary MacLane," it emerged crystal-clear; she had 
learned to describe her malady accurately, though 
she still wondered, a bit wistfully, just what it was. 
And that malady? That truth? Simply that a 
Scotch Presbyterian with a soaring soul is as cruelly 
beset as a wolf with fleas, a zebra with the botts. Let 
a spark of the divine fire spring to life in that arid 
corpse, and it must fight its way to flame through a 
drum fire of wet sponges. A humming bird im- 
mersed in Kartoffelsuppe. Walter Pater writing for 
the London Daily Mail. Lucullus traveling steerage. 
... A Puritan wooed and tortured by the leers 
of beauty, Mary MacLane in a moral republic, in a 
Presbyterian diocese, in Butte. . . . 

123 



124 PREJUDICES: FIRST SERIES 

I hope my figures of speech are not too abstruse. 
What I mean to say is simply this: that the secret of 
Mary MacLane is simply this: that the origin of all 
her inchoate naughtiness is simply this: that she is a 
Puritan who has heard the call of joy and is strug- 
gling against it damnably. Remember so much, and 
the whole of her wistful heresy becomes intelligible. 
On the one hand the loveliness of the world enchants 
her; on the other hand the fires of hell warn her. 
This tortuous conflict accounts for her whole bag of 
tricks ; her timorous flirtations with the devil, her occa- 
sional outbreaks of finishing-school rebellion, her 
hurried protestations of virginity, above all her in- 
curable Philistinism. One need not be told that she 
admires the late Major General Roosevelt and Mrs. 
Atherton, that she wallows in the poetry of Keats. 
One knows quite as well that her phonograph plays 
the "Peer Gynt" suite, and that she is charmed by 
the syllogisms of G. K. Chesterton. She is, in brief, 
an absolutely typical American of the transition stage 
between Christian Endeavor and civilization. There 
is in her a definite poison of ideas, an aesthetic im- 
pulse that will not down — but every time she yields 
to it she is halted and plucked back by qualms and 
doubts, by the dominant superstitions of her race and 
time, by the dead hand,.of her kirk-crazy Scotch fore- 
bears. 

It is precisely this grisly touch upon her shoulder 



THE BUTTE BASHKIRTSEFF 125 

that stimulates her to those naive explosions of scan- 
dalous confidence which make her what she is. If 
there were no sepulchral voice in her ear, warning 
her that it is the mark of a hussy to be kissed by a 
man with "iron-gray hair, a brow like Apollo and a 
jowl like Bill Sykes," she would not confess it and 
boast of it, as she does on page 121 of "I, Mary 
MacLane." If it were not a Presbyterian axiom that 
a lady who says "damn" is fit only to join the white 
slaves, she would not pen a defiant Damniad, as she 
does on pages 108, 109 and 110. And if it were 
not held universally in Butte that sex passion is the 
exclusive infirmity of the male, she would not blab 
out in meeting that — but here I get into forbidden 
waters and had better refer you to page 209. It is 
not the godless voluptuary who patronizes leg-shows 
and the cabaret; it is the Methodist deacon with un- 
accustomed vine-leaves in his hair. It is not genuine 
artists, serving beauty reverently and proudly, who 
herd in Greenwich Village and bawl for art; it is pre- 
cisely a mob of Middle Western Baptists to whom the 
very idea of art is still novel, and intoxicating, and 
more than a little bawdy. And to make an end, it is 
not cocottes who read the highly-spiced magazines 
which burden all the book-stalls; it is sedentary mar- 
ried women who, while faithful to their depressing 
husbands in the flesh, yet allow their imaginations to 
play furtively upon the charms of theoretical intrigues 



126 PREJUDICES: FIRST SERIES 

with such pretty fellows as Francis X. Bushman, 

Enrico Caruso and Vincent Astor. 

An understanding of this plain fact not only ex- 
plains the MacLane and her gingery carnalities of the 
chair; it also explains a good part of latter-day Amer- 
ican literature. That literature is the self-expression 
of a people who have got only half way up the ladder 
leading from moral slavery to intellectual freedom. 
At every step there is a warning tug, a protest from 
below. Sometimes the climber docilely drops back; 
sometimes he emits a petulant defiance and reaches 
boldly for the next round. It is this occasional de- 
fiance which accounts for the periodical efflorescence 
of mere school-boy naughtiness in the midst of our 
oleaginous virtue — for the shouldering out of the 
Ladies' Home Journal by magazines of adultery all 
compact — for the provocative baring of calf and 
scapula by women who regard it as immoral to take 
Benedictine with their coffee — for the peopling of 
Greenwich Village by oafs who think it a devilish ad- 
venture to victual in cellars, and read Krafft-Ebing, 
and stare at the corset-scarred nakedness of decadent 
cloak-models. 

I have said that the climber is but half way up the 
ladder. I wish I could add that he is moving ahead, 
but the truth is that he is probably quite stationary. 
We have our spasms of revolt, our flarings up of peek- 



THE BUTTE BASHKIRTSEFF 127 

aboo waists, free love and "art," but a mighty back- 
wash of piety fetches each and every one of them soon 
or late. A mongrel and inferior people, incapable of 
any spiritual aspiration above that of second-rate Eng- 
lish colonials, we seek refuge inevitably in the one 
sort of superiority that the lower castes of men can 
authentically boast, to wit, superiority in docility, in 
credulity, in resignation, in morals. We are the most 
moral race in the world; there is not another that we 
do not look down upon in that department; our con- 
fessed aim and destiny as a nation is to inoculate them 
all with our incomparable rectitude. In the last 
analysis, all ideas are judged among us by moral v 
standards; moral values are our only permanent tests 
of worth, whether in the arts, in politics, in philosophy 
or in life itself. Even the instincts of man, so in- 
trinsically immoral, so innocent, are fitted with moral 
false-faces. That bedevilment by sex ideas which 
punishes continence, so abhorrent to nature, is con- 
verted into a moral frenzy, pathological in the end. 
The impulse to cavort and kick up one's legs, so 
healthy, so universal, is hedged in by incomprehensi- 
ble taboos; it becomes stealthy, dirty, degrading. 
The desire to create and linger over beauty, the sign 
and touchstone of man's rise above the brute, is held 
down by doubts and hesitations; when it breaks 
through it must do so by orgy and explosion, half lu- 



128 PREJUDICES: FIRST SERIES 

dicrous and half pathetic. Our function, we choose to 
believe, is to teach and inspire the world. We are 
wrong. Our function is to amuse the world. We are 
the Bryan, the Henry Ford, the Billy Sunday among 
the nations. . . . 



XI. SIX MEMBERS OF THE 
I N S T I T U TE 



The Boudoir Balzac 

THE late Percival Pollard was, in my nonage, 
one of my enthusiasms, and, later on, one of 
my friends. How, as a youngster, I used to 
lie in wait for the Criterion every week, and devour 
Pollard, Huneker, Meltzer and Vance Thompson! 
That was in the glorious middle nineties and savory 
pots were brewing. Scarcely a week went by without 
a new magazine of some unearthly Tendenz or other 
appearing on the stands; scarcely a month failed to 
bring forth its new genius. Pollard was up to his 
hips in the movement. He had a hand for every 
debutante. He knew everything that was going on. 
Polyglot, catholic, generous, alert, persuasive, for- 
ever oscillating between New York and Paris, London 
and Berlin, he probably covered a greater territory in 
the one art of letters than Huneker covered in all 
seven. He worked so hard as introducer of intel- 
lectual ambassadors, in fact, that he never had time 
to write his own books. One very brilliant volume, 

129 



130 PREJUDICES: FIRST SERIES 

"Masks and Minstrels of New Germany," adequately 
represents him. The rest of his criticism, clumsily 
dragged from the files of the Criterion and Town 
Topics, is thrown together ineptly in "Their Day in 
Court." Death sneaked upon him from behind; he 
was gone before he could get his affairs in order. I 
shall never forget his funeral — no doubt a fit finish 
for a critic. Not one of the authors he had whooped 
and battled for was present — not one, that is, save old 
Ambrose Bierce. Bierce came in an elegant plug-hat 
and told me some curious anecdotes on the way to the 
crematory, chiefly of morgues, dissecting-rooms and 
lonely church-yards: he was the most gruesome of 
men. A week later, on a dark, sleety Christmas 
morning, I returned to the crematory, got the ashes, 
and shipped them West. Pollard awaits the Second 
Coming of his Redeemer in Iowa, hard by the birth- 
place of Prof. Dr. Stuart P. Sherman. Well, let us 
not repine. Huneker lives in Flatbush and was born 
in Philadelphia. Cabell is a citizen of Richmond, 
Va. Willa Sibert Cather was once one of the editors 
of McClures Magazine. Dreiser, before his annun- 
ciation, edited dime novels for Street & Smith, and 
will be attended by a Methodist friar, I daresay, on 
the gallows. . . . 

Pollard, as I say, was a man I respected. He knew 
a great deal. Half English, half German and wholly 
cosmopolitan, he brought valuable knowledges and 



SIX MEMBERS OF THE INSTITUTE 131 

enthusiasms to the developing American literature of 
his time. Moreover, I had affection for him as well 
as respect, for he was a capital companion at the 
Biertisch and was never too busy to waste a lecture 
on my lone ear — say on Otto Julius Bierbaum (one 
of his friends), or Anatole France, or the technic of 
the novel, or the scoundrelism of publishers. It thus 
pains me to violate his tomb — but let his shade for- 
give me as it hopes to be forgiven! For it was Pol- 
lard, I believe, who set going the doctrine that Robert 
W. Chambers is a man of talent — a bit too commer- /' 
cial, perhaps, but still fundamentally a man of talent. 
You will find it argued at length in "Their Day in 
Court." There Pollard called the roll of the "prom- 
ising young men" of the time, circa 1908. They were 
Winston Churchill, David Graham Phillips — and 
Chambers ! Alas, for all prophets and their prognos- 
tications! Phillips, with occasional reversions to 
honest work, devoted most of his later days to sensa- 
tional serials for the train-boy magazines, and when 
he died his desk turned out to be full of them, and 
they kept dribbling along for three or four years. 
Churchill, seduced by the uplift, has become an 
evangelist and a bore — a worse case, even, than that 
of H. G. Wells. And Chambers? Let the New York 
Times answer. Here, in all sobriety, is its descrip- 
tion of the heroine of "The Moonlit Way," one of his 
latest pieces: 



132 PREJUDICES: FIRST SERIES 

She is a lovely and fascinating dancer who, before the 
war, held the attention of all Europe and incited a great 
many men who had nothing better to do to fall in love 
with her. She bursts upon the astonished gaze of several 
of the important characters of the story when she dashes 
into the ballroom of the German Embassy standing upon a 
bridled ostrich, which she compels to dance and go through 
its paces at her command. She is dressed, Mr. Chambers 
assures us, in nothing but the skin of her virtuous youth, 
modified slightly by a yashmak and a zone of blue jewels 
about her hips and waist. 

The italics are mine. I wonder what poor Pollard 
would think of it. He saw the shoddiness in Cham- 
bers, the leaning toward "profitable pot-boiling," but 
he saw, too, a fundamental earnestness and a high 
degree of skill. What has become of these things? 
Are they visible, even as ghosts, in the preposterous 
serials that engaud the magazines of Mr. Hearst, and 
then load the department-stores as books? Were 
they, in fact, ever there at all? Did Pollard observe 
them, or did he merely imagine them? I am inclined 
to think that he merely imagined them — that his de- 
light in what he described as "many admirable 
tricks" led him into a fatuity that he now has an 
eternity to regret. Chambers grows sillier and sillier, 
emptier and emptier, worse and worse. But was he 
ever more than a fifth-rater? I doubt it. Let us go 
back half a dozen years, to the days before the war 
forced the pot-boiler down into utter imbecility. I 



SIX MEMBERS OF THE INSTITUTE 133 
choose, at random, "The Gay Rebellion." Here is a 
specimen of the dialogue : 

"It startled me. How did I know what it might have 
been? It might have been a bear — or a cow." 

"You talk," said Sayre angrily, "like William Dean 
Howells! Haven't you any romance in you?" 

"Not what you call romance. Pass the flapjacks." 
Sayre passed them. 

"My attention," he said, "instantly became riveted upon 
the bushes. I strove to pierce them with a piercing glance. 
Suddenly—" 

"Sure! 'Suddenly' always comes next." 

"Suddenly . . . the leaves were stealthily parted, 
and—" 

"A naked savage in full war paint — " 

"Naked nothing! a young girl in — a perfectly fitting 
gown stepped noiselessly out." 

"Out of what, you gink?" 

"The bushes, dammit! . . . She looked at me; I gazed 
at her. Somehow — " 

"In plainer terms, she gave you the eye. What?" 

"That's a peculiarly coarse observation." 

"Then tell it in your own way." 

"I will. The sunlight fell softly upon the trees of the 
ancient wood." 

'Woodn't that bark you!" 

And so on, and so on, for page after page. Can 
you imagine more idiotic stuff — "pierce and pierc- 
ing," "you gink," "she gave you the eye," "woodn't 
that bark you?" One is reminded of horrible things 



134 PREJUDICES: FIRST SERIES 

— the repartees of gas-house comedians in vaudeville, 
the whimsical editorials in Life, the forbidding ghoul- 
eries of Irvin Cobb among jokes pale and clammy in 
death. . . . But let us, you may say, go back a bit 
further — back to the days of the Chap-Book. There 
was then, perhaps, a far different Chambers — a fel- 
low of sound talent and artistic self-respect, well de- 
serving the confidence and encouragement of Pollard. 
Was there, indeed? If you think so, go read "The 
King in Yellow," circa 1895 — if you can. I myself, 
full of hope, have tried it. In it I have found drivel 
almost as dull as that, say, in "Ailsa Page." 



A Stranger on Parnassus 

The case of Hamlin Garland belongs to pathos in 
the grand manner, as you will discover on reading 
his autobiography, "A Son of the Middle Border." 
What ails him is a vision of beauty, a seductive strain 
of bawdy music over the hills. He is a sort of male 
Mary MacLane, but without either Mary's capacity for 
picturesque blasphemy or her skill at plain English. 
The vision, in his youth, tore him from his prairie 
plow and set him to clawing the anthills at the foot 
of Parnassus. He became an elocutionist — what, in 
modern times, would be called a chautauquan. He 
aspired to write for the Atlantic Monthly. He fell 



SIX MEMBERS OF THE INSTITUTE 135 
under the spell of the Boston aluminados of 1885, 
which is as if one were to take fire from a June-bug. 
Finally, after embracing the Single Tax, he achieved 
a couple of depressing story-books, earnest, honest 
and full of indignation. 

American criticism, which always mistakes a poign- 
ant document for aesthetic form and organization, 
greeted these moral volumes as works of art, and so 
Garland found himself an accepted artist and has 
made shift to be an artist ever since. No more gro- 
tesque miscasting of a diligent and worthy man is 
recorded in profane history. He has no more feeling 
for the intrinsic dignity of beauty, no more compre- 
hension of it as a thing in itself, than a policeman. 
He is, and always has been, a moralist endeavoring 
ineptly to translate his messianic^passion into aesthetic 
terms, and always failing. "A Son of the Middle 
Border," undoubtedly the best of all his books, pro- 
jects his failure brilliantly. It is, in substance, a 
document of considerable value — a naive and often 
highly illuminating contribution to the history of the 
American peasantry. It is, in form, a thoroughly 
third-rate piece of writing — amateurish, flat, banal, 
repellent. Garland gets facts into it; he gets the re- 
lentless sincerity of the rustic Puritan; he gets a sort 
of evangelical passion. But he doesn't get any *"" 
charm. He doesn't get any beauty. 

In such a career, as in such a book, there is some- 



136 PREJUDICES: FIRST SERIES 

thing profoundly pathetic. One follows the progress 
of the man with a constant sense that he is steering 
by faulty compasses, that fate is leading him into 
paths too steep and rocky — nay, too dark and lovely — 
for him. An awareness of beauty is there, and a 
wistful desire to embrace it, but the confident gusto 
of the artist is always lacking. What one encounters 
in its place is the enthusiasm of the pedagogue, the 
desire to yank the world up to the soaring Methodist 
level, the hot yearning to displace old ideas with new 
ideas, and usually much worse ideas, for example, the 
Single Tax and spook-chasing. The natural goal of 
the man was the evangelical stump. He was led 
astray when those Boston Brahmins of the last genera- 
tion, enchanted by his sophomoric platitudes about 
Shakespeare, set him up as a critic of the arts, and 
then as an imaginative artist. He should have gone 
back to the saleratus belt, taken to the chautauquas, 
preached his foreordained perunas, got himself into 
Congress, and so helped to save the republic from the 
demons that beset it. What a gladiator he would 
have made against the Plunderbund, the White Slave 
Traffic, the Rum Demon, the Kaiser! What a rival 
to the Hon. Claude Kitchin, the Rev. Dr. Newell 
Dwight Hillis! 

His worst work, I daresay, is in some of his fic- 
tion — for example, in "The Forester's Daughter." 
But my own favorite among his books is "The Shadow 



SIX MEMBERS OF THE INSTITUTE 137 

World," a record of his communings with the gaseous 
precipitates of the departed. He takes great pains 
at the start to assure us that he is a man of alert in- 
telligence and without prejudices or superstitions. 
He has no patience, it appears, with those idiots who 
swallow the buffooneries of spiritualist mediums too 
greedily. For him the scientific method — the method 
which examines all evidence cynically and keeps on 
doubting until the accumulated proof, piled moun- 
tain-high, sweeps down in an overwhelming avalanche. 
. . . Thus he proceeds to the haunted chamber and 
begins his dalliance with the banshees. They touch 
him with clammy, spectral hands; they wring music 
for him out of locked pianos ; they throw heavy tables 
about the room; they give him messages from the 
golden shore and make him the butt of their coarse, 
transcendental humor. Through it all he sits tightly 
and solemnly, his mind open and his verdict up his 
sleeve. He is belligerently agnostic, and calls at- 
tention to it proudly. . . . Then, in the end, he gives 
himself away. One of his fellow "scientists," more 
frankly credulous, expresses the belief that real scien- 
tists will soon prove the existence of spooks. "I hope 
they will," says the agnostic Mr. Garland. . . . 

Well, let us not laugh. The believing mind is a 
curious thing. It must absorb its endless rations of 
balderdash, or perish. ... "A Son of the Middle 
Border" is less amusing, but a good deal more re- 



138 PREJUDICES: FIRST SERIES 

spectable. It is an honest book. There is some 
bragging in it, of course, but not too much. It tells an 
interesting story. It radiates hard effort and earnest 
purpose. . . . But what a devastating exposure of a 
member of the American Academy of Arts and Let- 
ters! 

3 

A Merchant of Mush 

Henry Sydnor Harrison is thoroughly American to 
this extent: that his work is a bad imitation of some- 
thing English. Find me a second-rate American in 
any of the arts and I'll find you his master and pro- 
totype among third, fourth or fifth-rate Englishmen. 
In the present case the model is obviously W. J. Locke. 
But between master and disciple there is a great gap. 
Locke, at his high points, is a man of very palpable 
merit. He has humor. He has ingenuity. He has 
a keen eye for the pathos that so often lies in the ab- 
surd. I can discover no sign of any of these things 
in Harrison's 100,000 word Christmas cards. They 
are simply sentimental bosh — huge gum-drops for fat 
women to snuffle over. Locke's grotesque and often 
extremely amusing characters are missing; in place 
of them there are the heroic cripples, silent lovers, 
maudlin war veterans and angelic grandams of the 
old-time Sunday-school books. The people of "V. 
V.'s Eyes" are preposterous and the thesis is too silly 



SIX MEMBERS OF THE INSTITUTE 139 

to be stated in plain words. No sane person would 
believe it if it were put into an affidavit. "Queed" 
is simply Locke diluted with vast drafts from "Lad- 
die" and "Pollyanna." Queed, himself, long before 
the end, becomes a marionette without a toe on the 
ground; his Charlotte is incredible from the start. 
"Angela's Business" touches the bottom of the tear- 
jug; it would be impossible to imagine a more vapid 
story. Harrison, in fact, grows more mawkish book 
by book. He is touched, I should say, by the delu- 
sion that he has a mission to make life sweeter, to 
preach the Finer Things, to radiate Gladness. What! 
More Gladness? Another volt or two, and all civil- 
ized adults will join the Italians and Jugo-Slavs in 
their headlong hegira. A few more amperes, and 
the land will be abandoned to the Jews, the ex-Con- 
federates and the Bolsheviki. 

4 
The Last of the Victorians 

If William Allen White lives as long as Tennyson, 
and does not reform, our grandchildren will see the 
Victorian era gasping out its last breath in 1951. 
And eighty-three is no great age in Kansas, where 
sin is unknown. It may be, in fact, 1960, or even 
1970, before the world hears the last of Honest Pov- 
erty, Chaste Affection and Manly Tears. For so long 



140 PREJUDICES: FIRST SERIES 

as White holds a pen these ancient sweets will be on 
sale at the department-store book-counters, and they 
will grow sweeter and sweeter, I daresay, as he works 
them over and over. In his very first book of fiction 
there was a flavor of chewing-gum and marshmallows. 
In "A Certain Rich Man" the intelligent palate de- 
tected saccharine. In "In the Heart of a Fool," his 
latest, the thing is carried a step further. If you are 
a forward-looker and a right-thinker, if you believe 
that God is in His heaven and all is for the best, if 
you yearn to uplift and like to sob, then the volume 
will probably affect you, in the incomparable phrase 
of Clayton Hamilton, like "the music of a million 
Easter-lilies leaping from the grave and laughing with 
a silver singing." But if you are a carnal fellow, 
as I am, with a stomach ruined by alcohol, it will gag 
you. 

When I say that White is a Victorian I do not al- 
lude, of course, to the Victorianism of Thackeray and 
Tennyson, but to that of Felicia Hemens, of Samuel 
Smiles and of Dickens at his most maudlin. Perhaps 
an even closer relative is to be found in "The 
Duchess." White, like "The Duchess" is absolutely 
humorless, and, when he begins laying on the mayon- 
naise, absolutely shameless. I daresay the same sort 
of reader admires both: the high-school girl first 
seized by amorous tremors, the obese multipara in her 
greasy kimono, the remote and weepful farm-wife. 



SIX MEMBERS OF THE INSTITUTE 141 

But here a doubt intrudes itself: is it possible to 
imagine a woman sentimental enough to survive "In 
the Heart of a Fool"? I am constrained to question 
it. In women, once they get beyond adolescence, 
there is always a saving touch of irony; the life they 
lead infallibly makes cynics of them, though some- 
times they don't know it. Observe the books they 
write — chiefly sardonic stuff, with heroes who are 
fools. Even their "glad" books, enormously success- 
ful among other women, stop far short of the senti- 
mentality put between covers by men — for example, 
the aforesaid Harrison, Harold Bell Wright and the 
present White. Nay, it is the male sex that snuffles 
most and is easiest touched, particularly in America. 
The American man is forever falling a victim to his 
tender feelings. It was by that route that the col- 
lectors for the Y. M. C. A. reached him; it is thus 
that he is bagged incessantly by political tear-squeez- 
ers ; it is precisely his softness that makes him the slave 
of his women-folk. What White gives him is exactly 
the sort of mush that is on tap in the chautauquas. 
"In the Heart of a Fool," like "A Certain Rich Man" 
is aimed deliberately and with the utmost accuracy at 
the delicate gizzard of the small-town yokel, the 
small-town yokel male, the horrible end-product of 
fifty years of Christian Endeavor, the little red school- 
house and the direct primary. 

The White formula is simple to the verge of aus- 



142 PREJUDICES: FIRST SERIES 

terity. It is, in essence, no more than a dramatization 
of all the current political and sociological rumble- 
bumble, by Roosevelt out of Coxey's Army, with mu- 
sic by the choir of the First Methodist Church. On 
the one side are the Hell Hounds of Plutocracy, the 
Money Demons, the Plunderbund, and their at- 
tendant Bosses, Strike Breakers, Seducers, Nietz- 
scheans, Free Lovers, Atheists and Corrupt Journal- 
ists. On the other side are the great masses of the 
plain people, and their attendant Uplifters, Good 
Samaritans, Honest Workingmen, Faithful Husbands, 
Inspired Dreamers and tin-horn Messiahs. These 
two armies join battle, the Bad against the Good, and 
for five hundred pages or more the Good get all the 
worst of it. Their jobs are taken away from them, 
their votes are bartered, their mortgages are fore- 
closed, their women are debauched, their savings are 
looted, their poor orphans are turned out to starve. 
A sad business, surely. One wallows in almost un- 
endurable emotions. The tears gush. It is as affect- 
ing as a movie. Even the prose rises to a sort of 
gospel-tent chant, like that of a Baptist Savonarola, 
with every second sentence beginning with and, but 
or for. . . . But we are already near the end, and no 
escape is in sight. Can it be that White is stumped, 
like Mark Twain in his mediaeval romance — that Vir- 
tue will succumb to the Interests? Do not fear! In 
the third from the last chapter Hen Jackson, the stage- 



SIX MEMBERS OF THE INSTITUTE 143 
hand, returns from the Dutchman's at the corner and 
throws on a rose spot-light, and then an amber, and 
then a violet, and then a blue. One by one the rays 
of Hope begin to shoot across the stage, Dr. Hamil- 
ton's Easter-lilies leap from their tomb, the dramatis 
persona; (all save the local J. Pierpont Morgan!) 
begin "laughing with a silver singing," and as the 
curtain falls the whole scene is bathed in luminifer- 
ous ether, and the professor breaks into "Onward, 
Christian Soldiers!" on the cabinet-organ, and there 
is a happy, comfortable sobbing, and an upward roll- 
ing of eyes, and a vast blowing of noses. In brief, 
the finish of a chautauqua lecture on "The Grand Fu- 
ture of America, or, The Glory of Service." In 
brief, slobber. . . . 

It would be difficult to imagine more saccharine 
writing or a more mawkish and preposterous point of 
view. Life, as White sees it, is a purely moral 
phenomenon, like living pictures by the Epworth 
League. The virtuous are the downtrodden; the up 
and doing are all scoundrels. It pays to be poor and 
pious. Ambition is a serpent. One honest Knight 
of Pythias is worth ten thousand Rockefellers. The 
pastor is always right. So is the Ladies' Home 
Journal. The impulse that leads a young yokel of, 
say, twenty-two to seek marriage with a poor working- 
girl of, say, eighteen, is the most elevating, noble, 
honorable and godlike impulse native to the human 



144 PREJUDICES: FIRST SERIES 

consciousness. ... Not the slightest sign of an ap- 
prehension of life as the gaudiest and most gorgeous 
of spectacles — not a trace of healthy delight in the 
eternal struggle for existence — not the faintest sug- 
gestion of Dreiser's great gusto or of Conrad's pene- 
trating irony! Not even in the massive fact of death 
i tse lf _ an d ? like all the other Victorians, this one from 
the Kansas steppes is given to wholesale massacres — 
does he see anything mysterious, staggering, awful, in- 
explicable, but only an excuse for a sentimental orgy. 
Alas, what would you? It is ghastly drivel, to be 
sure, but isn't it, after all, thoroughly American? I 
have an uneasy suspicion that it is — that "In the 
Heart of a Fool" is, at bottom, a vastly more Ameri- 
can book than anything that James Branch Cabell has 
done, or Vincent O'Sullivan, or Edith Wharton, or 
even Howells. It springs from the heart of the land. 
It is the aesthetic echo of thousands of movements, of 
hundreds of thousands of sentimental crusades, of 
millions of ecstatic gospel-meetings. This is what 
the authentic American public, unpolluted by intelli- 
gence, wants. And this is one of the reasons why the 
English sniff whenever they look our way. . . . 

But has White no merit? He has. He is an hon- 
est and a respectable man. He is a patriot. He 
trusts God. He venerates what is left of the Consti- 
tution. He once wrote a capital editorial, "What's 
the Matter With Kansas?" He has the knack, when 



SIX MEMBERS OF THE INSTITUTE 145 

his tears are turned off, of writing a clear and grace- 
ful English. . . . 

5 

A Bad Novelist 

As I have said, it is not the artistic merit and dig- 
nity of a novel, but often simply its content as docu- 
ment, that makes for its success in the United States. 
The criterion of truth applied to it is not the criterion 
of an artist, but that of a newspaper editorial writer; 
the question is not, Is it in accord with the profound- 
est impulses and motives of humanity? but Is it in 
accord with the current pishposh? This accounts for 
the huge popularity of such confections as Upton 
Sinclair's "The Jungle" and Blasco Ibanez's "The 
Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse." Neither had 
much value as a work of art — at all events, neither 
was perceptibly superior to many contemporary 
novels that made no stir at all — but each had the ad- 
vantage of reenforcing an emotion already aroused, 
of falling into step with the procession of the moment. 
Had there been no fever of muck-raking and trust 
busting in 1906, "The Jungle" would have died the 
death in the columns of the Appeal to Reason, un- 
heard of by the populace in general. And had the 
United States been engaged against France instead of 
for France in 1918, there would have been no argu- 
ment in the literary weeklies that Blasco was a novel- 



146 PREJUDICES: FIRST SERIES 

ist of the first rank and his story a masterpiece com- 
parable to "Germinal." 

Sinclair was made by "The Jungle" and has been 
trying his hardest to unmake himself ever since. An- 
other of the same sort is Ernest Poole, author of "The 
Harbor." "The Harbor," judged by any intelligi- 
ble aesthetic standard, was a bad novel. Its trans- 
actions were forced and unconvincing; its central 
character was shadowy and often incomprehensible; 
the manner of its writing was quite without distinction. 
But it happened to be printed at a time when the chief 
ideas in it had a great deal of popularity — when its 
vague grappling with insoluble sociological problems 
was the sport of all the weeklies and of half the more 
sober newspapers — when a nebulous, highfalutin 
Bolshevism was in the air — and so it excited interest 
and took on an aspect of profundity. That its dis- 
cussion of those problems was superficial, that it said 
nothing new and got nowhere — all this was not an in- 
fluence against its success, but an influence in favor 
of its success, for the sort of mind that fed upon the 
nebulous, professor-made politics and sociology of 
1915 was the sort of mind that is chronically avid 
of half-truths and as chronically suspicious of forth- 
right thinking. This has been demonstrated since 
that time by its easy volte face in the presence of emo- 
tion. The very ideas that Poole's vapid hero toyed 



SIX MEMBERS OF THE INSTITUTE 147 
with in 1915, to the delight of the novel-reading in- 
telligentsia, would have damned the book as a pam- 
phlet for the I. W. W., or even, perhaps, as German 
propaganda, three years later. But meanwhile, it 
had been forgotten, as novels are always forgotten, 
and all that remained of it was a general impression 
that Poole, in some way or other, was a superior fel- 
low and to be treated with respect. 

His subsequent books have tried that theory se- 
verely. "The Family" was grounded upon one of 
the elemental tragedies which serve a novelist most 
safely — the dismay of an aging man as his children 
drift away from him. Here was a subject full of 
poignant drama, and what is more, drama simple 
enough to develop itself without making any great 
demand upon the invention. Poole burdened it with 
too much background, and then killed it altogether by 
making his characters wooden. It began with a high 
air; it creaked and wobbled at the close; the catas- 
trophe was quite without effect. "His Second Wife" 
dropped several stories lower. It turned out, on 
inspection, to be no more than a moral tale, feeble, 
wishy-washy and irritating. Everything in it — about 
the corrupting effects of money-lust and display, 
about the swinishness of cabaret "society" in New 
York, about the American male's absurd slavery to 
his women — had been said before by such gifted 



148 PREJUDICES: FIRST SERIES 

Balzacs as Robert W. Chambers and Owen Johnson, 
and, what is more, far better said. The writing, in 
fact, exactly matched the theme. It was labored, 
artificial, dull. In the whole volume there was not 
a single original phrase. Once it was put down, not 
a scene remained in the memory, or a character. It 
was a cheap, a hollow and, in places, almost an idi- 
otic book. . . . 

At the time I write, this is the whole product of 
Poole as novelist: three novels, bad, worse, worst. 



A Broadway Brandes 

I have hitherto, in discussing White de Kansas, pre- 
sented a fragile dahlia from the rhetorical garden of 
Clayton Hamilton, M.A. (Columbia). I now print 
the whole passage: 

Whenever in a world-historic war the side of righteous- 
ness has triumphed, a great overflowing of art has fol- 
lowed soon upon the fact of victory. The noblest in- 
stincts of mankind — aroused in perilous moments fraught 
with intimations of mortality — have surged and soared, be- 
neath the sunshine of a subsequent and dear-bought peace, 
into an immeasurable empyrean of heroic eloquence. 
Whenever right has circumvented might, Art has sprung 
alive into the world, with the music of a million Easter- 
lilies leaping from the grave and laughing with a silver 
singing. 



SIX MEMBERS OF THE INSTITUTE 149 

With the highest respect for a M agister Artium, a 
pedagogue of Columbia University, a lecturer in Miss 
Spence's School and the Classical School for Girls, 
and a vice-president of the National Institute of Arts 
and Letters — Booh! 



XII. THE GENEALOGY OF 
ETIQUETTE 

BARRING sociology (which is yet, of course, 
scarcely a science at all, but rather a monkey- 
shine which happens to pay, like play-acting 
or theology), psychology is the youngest of the sci- 
ences, and hence chiefly guesswork, empiricism, 
hocus-pocus, poppycock. On the one hand, there are 
still enormous gaps in its data, so that the determina- 
tion of its simplest principles remains difficult, not to 
say impossible; and, on the other hand, the very hol- 
lowness and nebulosity of it, particularly around its 
edges, encourages a horde of quacks to invade it, so- 
phisticate it and make nonsense of it. Worse, this 
state of affairs tends to such confusion of effort and 
direction that the quack and the honest inquirer are 
often found in the same man. It is, indeed, a com- 
monplace to encounter a professor who spends his 
days in the laborious accumulation of psychological 
statistics, sticking pins into babies and platting upon 
a chart the ebb and flow of their yells, and his nights 
chasing poltergeists and other such celestial fauna 
over the hurdles of a spiritualist's atelier, or gazing 

150 



THE GENEALOGY OF ETIQUETTE 151 

into a crystal in the privacy of his own chamber. 
The Binet test and the buncombe of mesmerism are 
alike the children of what we roughly denominate psy- 
chology, and perhaps of equal legitimacy. Even so 
ingenious and competent an investigator as Prof. Dr. 
Sigmund Freud, who has told us a lot that is of the 
first importance about the materials and machinery of 
thought, has also told us a lot that is trivial and du- 
bious. The essential doctrines of Freudism, no 
doubt, come close to the truth, but many of Freud's 
remoter deductions are far more scandalous than 
sound, and many of the professed Freudians, both 
American and European, have grease-paint on their 
noses and bladders in their hands and are otherwise 
quite indistinguishable from evangelists and circus 
clowns. 

In this condition of the science it is no wonder that 
we find it wasting its chief force upon problems that 
are petty and idle when they are not downright and 
palpably insoluble, and passing over problems that 
are of immediate concern to all of us, and that might 
be quite readily solved, or, at any rate, considerably 
illuminated, by an intelligent study of the data al- 
ready available. After all, not many of us care a 
hoot whether Sir Oliver Lodge and the Indian chief 
Wok-a-wok-a-mok are happy in heaven, for not many 
of us have any hope or desire to meet them there. 
Nor are we greatly excited by the discovery that, of 



152 PREJUDICES: FIRST SERIES 

twenty-five freshmen who are hit with clubs, 17% will 
say "Ouch!" and 22% will say "Damn!"; nor by a 
table showing that 38.2 per centum of all men accused 
of homicide confess when locked up with the carcasses 
of their victims, including 23.4 per centum who are 
innocent; nor by plans and specifications, by Cagli- 
ostro out of Lucrezia Borgia, for teaching poor, God- 
forsaken school children to write before they can 
read and to multiply before they can add; nor by end- 
less disputes between half-witted pundits as to the 
precise difference between perception and cognition; 
nor by even longer feuds, between pundits even 
crazier, over free will, the subconscious, the endo- 
neurium, the functions of the corpora quadrigemina, 
and the meaning of dreams in which one is pursued by 
hyenas, process-servers or grass-widows. 

Nay; we do not bubble with rejoicing when such 
fruits of psychological deep-down-diving and much- 
mud-upbringing researches are laid before us, for 
after all they do not offer us any nourishment, there 
is nothing in them to engage our teeth, they fail to 
make life more comprehensible, and hence more bear- 
able. What we yearn to know something about is 
the process whereby the ideas of everyday are engen- 
dered in the skulls of those about us, to the end that 
we may pursue a straighter and a safer course through 
the muddle that is life. Why do the great majority 
of Presbyterians (and, for that matter, of Baptists, 



THE GENEALOGY OF ETIQUETTE 153 

Episcopalians, and Swedenborgians as well) regard 
it as unlucky to meet a black cat and lucky to find a 
pin? What are the logical steps behind the theory 
that it is indecent to eat peas with a knife? By what 
process does an otherwise sane man arrive at the con- 
clusion that he will go to hell unless he is baptized by 
total immersion in water? What causes men to be 
faithful to their wives: habit, fear, poverty, lack of 
imagination, lack of enterprise, stupidity, religion? 
What is the psychological basis of commercial moral- 
ity? What is the true nature of the vague pooling of 
desires that Rousseau called the social contract? 
Why Vloes an American regard it as scandalous to 
wear dress clothes at a funeral, and a Frenchman re- 
gard it as equally scandalous not to wear them? Why 
is it that men trust one another so readily, and women 
trust one another so seldom? Why are we all so 
greatly affected by statements that we know are not 
true? — e. g. in Lincoln's Gettysburg speech, the Decla- 
ration of Independence and the CIII Psalm. What is 
the origin of the so-called double standard of moral- 
ity? Why are women forbidden to take off their hats 
in church? What is happiness? Intelligence? 
Sin? Courage? Virtue? Beauty? 

All these are questions of interest and importance 
to all of us, for their solution would materially im- 
prove the accuracy of our outlook upon the world, and 
with it our mastery of our environment, but the psy- 



154 PREJUDICES: FIRST SERIES 

chologists, busily engaged in chasing their tails, leave 
them unanswered, and, in most cases, even unasked. 
The late William James, more acute than the general, 
saw how precious little was known about the psycho- 
logical inwardness of religion, and to the illumination 
of this darkness he addressed himself in his book, 
"The Varieties of Religious Experience." But life 
being short and science long, he got little beyond the 
statement of the problem and the marshaling of the 
grosser evidence — and even at this business he al- 
lowed himself to be constantly interrupted by spooks, 
hobgoblins, seventh sons of seventh sons and other 
such characteristic pets of psychologists. In the same 
way one Gustav le Bon, a Frenchman, undertook a 
psychological study of the crowd mind — and then 
blew up. Add the investigations of Freud and his 
school, chiefly into abnormal states of mind, and those 
of Lombroso and his school, chiefly quackish and for 
the yellow journals, and the idle romancing of such 
inquirers as Prof. Dr. Thorstein Veblen, and )|ou have 
exhausted the list of contributions to what pay be 
called practical and everyday psychology. The rev. 
professors, I daresay, have been doing some useful 
plowing and planting. All of their meticulous pin- 
sticking and measuring and chart-making, in the 
course of time, will enable their successors to ap- 
proach the real problems of mind with more assur- 
ance than is now possible, and perhaps help to their 



THE GENEALOGY OF ETIQUETTE 155 

solution. But in the meantime the public and social 
utility of psychology remains very small, for it is still 
unable to differentiate accurately between the true and 
the false, or to give us any effective protection against 
the fallacies, superstitions, crazes and hysterias which 
rage in the world. 

In this emergency it is not only permissible but 
even laudable for the amateur to sniff inquiringly 
through the psychological pasture, essaying modestly 
to uproot things that the myopic (or, perhaps more 
accurately, hypermetropic) professionals have over- 
looked. The late Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche did 
it often, and the usufructs were many curious and 
daring guesses, some of them probably close to accu- 
racy, as to the genesis of this, that or the other com- 
mon delusion of man — i. e., the delusion that the law 
of the survival of the fittest may be repealed by an 
act of Congress. Into the same field several very in- 
teresting expeditions have been made by Dr. Elsie 
Clews Parsons, a lady once celebrated by Park Row 
for her invention of trial marriage — an invention, by 
the way, in which the Nietzsche aforesaid preceded 
her by at least a dozen years. The records of her re- 
searches are to be found in a brief series of books: 
"The Family," "The Old-Fashioned Woman" and 
"Fear and Conventionality." Apparently they have 
wrung relatively little esteem from the learned, for I 
seldom encounter a reference to them, and Dr. Par- 



156 PREJUDICES: FIRST SERIES 

sons herself is denied the very modest reward of men- 
tion in "Who's Who in America." Nevertheless, they 
are extremely instructive books, particularly "Fear 
and Conventionality." I know of no other work, in- 
deed, which offers a better array of observations upon 
that powerful complex of assumptions, prejudices, 
instinctive reactions, racial emotions and unbreakable 
vices of mind which enters so massively into the daily 
thinking of all of us. The author does not concern 
herself, as so many psychologists fall into the habit of 
doing, with thinking as a purely laboratory phenome- 
non, a process in vacuo. What she deals with is 
thinking as it is done by men and women in the 
real world — thinking that is only half intellectual, the 
other half being as automatic and unintelligent as 
swallowing, blinking the eye or falling in love. 

The power of the complex that I have mentioned is 
usually very much underestimated, not only by psy- 
chologists, but also by all other persons who pretend 
to culture. We take pride in the fact that we are 
thinking animals, and like to believe that our thoughts 
are free, but the truth is that nine-tenths of them are 
rigidly conditioned by the babbling that goes on 
around us from birth, and that the business of con- 
sidering this babbling objectively, separating the true 
in it from the false, is an intellectual feat of such 
stupendous difficulty that very few men are ever able 



THE GENEALOGY OF ETIQUETTE 157 

to achieve it. The amazing slanging which went on 
between the English professors and the German pro- 
fessors in the early days of the late war showed how 
little even cold and academic men are really moved 
by the bald truth and how much by hot and unintel- 
ligible likes and dislikes. The patriotic hysteria of 
the war simply allowed these eminent pedagogues to 
say of one another openly and to loud applause what 
they would have been ashamed to say in times of 
greater amenity, and what most of them would have 
denied stoutly that they believed. Nevertheless, it is 
probably a fact that before there was a sign of war 
the average English professor, deep down in his heart, 
thought that any man who ate sauerkraut, and went to 
the opera in a sackcoat, and intrigued for the appella- 
tion of Geheimrat, and preferred German music to 
English poetry, and venerated Bismarck, and called 
his wife "Mutter," was a scoundrel. He did not say 
so aloud, and no doubt it would have offended him 
had you accused him of believing it, but he believed 
it all the same, and his belief in it gave a muddy, 
bilious color to his view of German metaphysics, 
German electro-chemistry and the German chronology 
of Babylonian kings. And by the same token the 
average German professor, far down in the ghostly 
recesses of his hulk, held that any man who read the 
London Times, and ate salt fish at first breakfast, and 



158 PREJUDICES: FIRST SERIES 

drank tea of an afternoon, and spoke of Oxford as a 
university was a Schafskopf, a Schuft and possibly 
even a Schweinehund. 

Nay, not one of us is a free agent. Not one of us 
actually thinks for himself, or in any orderly and 
scientific manner. The pressure of environment, of 
mass ideas, of the socialized intelligence, improperly 
so called, is too enormous to be withstood. No Amer- 
ican, no matter how sharp his critical sense, can 
ever get away from the notion that democracy is, in 
some subtle and mysterious way, more conducive to 
human progress and more pleasing to a just God than 
any of the systems of government which stand op- 
posed to it. In the privacy of his study he may ob- 
serve very clearly that it exalts the facile and specious 
man above the really competent man, and from this 
observation he may draw the conclusion that its aban- 
donment would be desirable, but once he emerges 
from his academic seclusion and resumes the rubbing 
of noses with his fellow-men, he will begin to be tor- 
tured by a sneaking feeling that such ideas are hereti- 
cal and unmanly, and the next time the band begins to 
play he will thrill with the best of them — or the worst. 
The actual phenomenon, in truth, was copiously on 
display during the war. Having myself the charac- 
ter among my acquaintances of one holding the 
democratic theory in some doubt, I was often ap- 
proached by gentlemen who told me, in great confi- 



THE GENEALOGY OF ETIQUETTE 159 
dence, that they had been seized by the same tremors. 
Among them were journalists employed daily in de- 
manding that democracy be forced upon the whole 
world, and army officers engaged, at least theoreti- 
cally, in forcing it. All these men, in reflective mo- 
ments, struggled with ifs and buts. But every one of 
them, in his public capacity as a good citizen, quickly 
went back to thinking as a good citizen was then ex- 
pected to think, and even to a certain inflammatory 
ranting for what, behind the door, he gravely ques- 
tioned. . . . 

It is the business of Dr. Parsons, in "Fear and 
Conventionality," to prod into certain of the ideas 
which thus pour into every man's mind from the cir- 
cumambient air, sweeping away, like some huge cata- 
ract, the feeble resistance that his own powers of ratio- 
cination can offer. In particular, she devotes herself 
to an examination of those general ideas which con- 
dition the thought and action of man as a social being 
— those general ideas which govern his everyday atti- 
tude toward his fellow-men and his prevailing view of 
himself. In one direction they lay upon us the bonds 
of what we call etiquette, i. e., the duty of considering 
the habits and feelings of those around us — and in 
another direction they throttle us with what we call 
morality — i. e., the rules which protect the life and 
property of those around us. But, as Dr. Parsons 
shows, the boundary between etiquette and morality is 



160 PREJUDICES: FIRST SERIES 

very dimly drawn, and it is often impossible to say 
of a given action whether it is downright immoral or 
merely a breach of the punctilio. Even when the 
moral law is plainly running, considerations of mere 
amenity and politeness may still make themselves felt. 
Thus, as Dr. Parsons points out, there is even an eti- 
quette of adultery. "The ami de la famille vows not 
to kiss his mistress in her husband's house" — not in 
fear, but "as an expression of conjugal considera- 
tion," as a sign that he has not forgotten the thought- 
fulness expected of a gentleman. And in this deli- 
cate field, as might be expected, the differences in 
racial attitudes are almost diametrical. The English- 
man, surprising -his wife with a lover, sues the rogue 
for damages and has public opinion behind him, but 
for an American to do it would be for him to lose 
caste at once and forever. The plain and only duty 
of the American is to open upon the fellow with artil- 
lery, hitting him if the scene is south of the Potomac 
and missing him if it is above. 

I confess to an endless interest in such puzzling 
niceties, and to much curiosity as to their origins and 
meaning. Why do we Americans take off our hats 
when we meet a flapper on the street, and yet stand 
covered before a male of the highest eminence? A 
Continental would regard this last as boorish to the 
last degree; in greeting any equal or superior, male 
or female, actual or merely conventional, he lifts his 



THE GENEALOGY OF ETIQUETTE 161 
head-piece. Why does it strike us as ludicrous to see 
a man in dress clothes before 6 p. m.? The Conti- 
nental puts them on whenever he has a solemn visit to 
make, whether the hour be six or noon. Why do we 
regard it as indecent to tuck the napkin between the 
waistcoat buttons — or into the neck! — at meals? The 
Frenchman does it without thought of crime. So does 
the Italian. So does the German. All three are 
punctilious men — far more so, indeed, than we are. 
Why do we snicker at the man who wears a wedding 
ring? Most Continentals would stare askance at the 
husband who didn't. Why is it bad manners in Eu- 
rope and America to ask a stranger his or her age, and 
a friendly attention in China? Why do we regard it 
as absurd to distinguish a woman by her husband's 
title — e. g., Mrs. Judge Jones, Mrs. Professor Smith? 
In Teutonic and Scandinavian Europe the omission of 
the title would be looked upon as an affront. 

Such fine distinctions, so ardently supported, raise 
many interesting questions, but the attempt to answer 
them quickly gets one bogged. Several years ago I 
ventured to lift a sad voice against a custom common 
in America : that of married men, in speaking of their 
wives, employing the full panoply of "Mrs. Brown." 
It was my contention — supported, I thought, by logi- 
cal considerations of the loftiest order — that a hus- 
band, in speaking of his wife to his equals, should say 
"my wife" — that the more formal mode of designa- 



162 PREJUDICES: FIRST SERIES 

tion should be reserved for inferiors and for strangers 
of undetermined position. This contention, some- 
what to my surprise, was vigorously combated by 
various volunteer experts. At first they rested their 
case upon the mere authority of custom, forgetting 
that this custom was by no means universal. But 
finally one of them came forward with a more analyti- 
cal and cogent defense — the defense, to wit, that 
"my wife" connoted proprietorship and was thus of- 
fensive to a wife's amour propre. But what of "my 
sister" and "my mother"? Surely it is nowhere the 
custom for a man, addressing an equal, to speak of his 
sister as "Miss Smith." . . . The discussion, how- 
ever, came to nothing. It was impossible to carry it 
on logically. The essence of all such inquiries lies 
in the discovery that there is a force within the liver 
and lights of man that is infinitely more potent than 
logic. His reflections, perhaps, may take on intel- 
lectually recognizable forms, but they seldom lead to 
intellectually recognizable conclusions. 

Nevertheless, Dr. Parsons offers something in her 
book that may conceivably help to a better under- 
standing of them, and that is the doctrine that the 
strange persistence of these rubber-stamp ideas, often 
unintelligible and sometimes plainly absurd, is due 
to fear, and that this fear is the product of a very real 
danger. The safety of human society lies in the as- 
sumption that every individual composing it, in a 



THE GENEALOGY OF ETIQUETTE 163 
given situation, will act in a manner hitherto approved 
as seemly. That is to say, he is expected to react to 
his environment according to a fixed pattern, not 
necessarily because that pattern is tite best imaginable, 
but simply because it is determined and understood. 
If he fails to do so, if he reacts in a novel manner — 
conducive, perhaps, to his better advantage or to what 
he thinks is his better advantage — then he disappoints 
the expectation of those around him, and forces them 
to meet the new situation he has created by the exer- 
cise of independent thought. Such independent 
thought, to a good many men, is quite impossible, and 
to the overwhelming majority of men, extremely pain- 
ful. "To all of us," says Dr. Parsons, "to the animal, 
to the savage and to the civilized being, few demands 
are as uncomfortable, . . . disquieting or fearful, as 
the call to innovate. . . . Adaptations we all of us 
dislike or hate. We dodge or shirk them as best we 
may." And the man who compels us to make them 
against our wills we punish by withdrawing from him 
that understanding and friendliness which he, in turn, 
looks for and counts upon. In other words, we set 
him apart as one who is anti-social and not to be dealt 
with, and according as his rebellion has been small or 
great, we call him a boor or a criminal. 

This distrust of the unknown, this fear of doing 
something unusual, is probably at the bottom of many 
ideas and institutions that are commonly credited to 



164 PREJUDICES: FIRST SERIES 

other motives. For example, monogamy. The or- 
thodox explanation of monogamy is that it is a mani- 
festation of the desire to have and to hold property — 
that the husband defends his solitary right to his wife, 
even at the cost of his own freedom, because she is the 
pearl among his chattels. But Dr. Parsons argues, 
and with a good deal of plausibility, that the real 
moving force, both in the husband and the wife, may 
be merely the force of habit, the antipathy to experi- 
ment and innovation. It is easier and safer to stick 
to the one wife than to risk adventures with another 
wife — and the immense social pressure that I have 
just described is all on the side of sticking. More- 
over, the indulgence of a habit automatically strength- 
ens its bonds. What we have done once or thought 
once, we are more apt than we were before to do and 
think again. Or, as the late Prof. William James put 
it, "the selection of a particular hole to live in, of a 
particular mate, ... a particular anything, in short, 
out of a possible multitude . . . carries with it an 
insensibility to other opportunities and occasions — an 
insensibility which can only be described physiologi- 
cally as an inhibition of new impulses by the habit of 
old ones already formed. The possession of homes 
and wives of our own makes us strangely insensible to 
the charms of other people. . . . The original im- 
pulse which got us homes, wives, . . . seems to ex- 
haust itself in its first achievements and to leave no 



THE GENEALOGY OF ETIQUETTE 165 

surplus energy for reacting on new cases." Thus the 
benedict looks no more on women (at least for a 
while), and the post-honeymoon bride, as the late 
David Graham Phillips once told us, neglects the 
bedizenments which got her a man. 

In view of the popular or general character of most 
of the taboos which put a brake upon personal liberty 
in thought and action — that is to say, in view of their 
enforcement by people in the mass, and not by defi- 
nite specialists in conduct — it is quite natural to find 
that they are of extra force in democratic societies, 
for it is the distinguishing mark of democratic socie- 
ties that they exalt the powers of the majority almost 
infinitely, and tend to deny the minority any rights 
whatever. Under a society dominated by a small 
caste the revolutionist in custom, despite the axiom to 
the contrary, has a relatively easy time of it, for the 
persons whose approval he seeks for his innovation 
are relatively few in number, and most of them are 
already habituated to more or less intelligible and 
independent thinking. But under a democracy he is 
opposed by a horde so vast that it is a practical im- 
possibility for him, without complex and expensive 
machinery, to reach and convince all of its members, 
and even if he could reach them he would find most 
of them quite incapable of rising out of their accus- 
tomed grooves. They cannot understand innovations 
that are genuinely novel and they don't want to under- 



166 PREJUDICES: FIRST SERIES 

stand them; their one desire is to put them down. 
Even at this late day, with enlightenment raging 
through the republic like a pestilence, it would cost 
the average Southern or Middle Western Congress- 
man his seat if he appeared among his constituents in 
spats, or wearing a wrist-watch. And if a Justice of 
the Supreme Court of the United States, however 
gigantic his learning and his juridic rectitude, were 
taken in crim. con. with the wife of a Senator, he 
would be destroyed instanter. And if, suddenly re- 
volting against the democratic idea, he were to pro- 
pose, however gingerly, its abandonment, he would be 
destroyed with the same dispatch. 

But how, then, explain the fact that the populace is 
constantly ravished and set aflame by fresh brigades 
of moral, political and sociological revolutionists — 
that it is forever playing the eager victim to new 
mountebanks? The explanation lies in the simple 
circumstance that these performers upon the public 
midriff are always careful to ladle out nothing ac- 
tually new, and hence nothing incomprehensible, 
alarming and accursed. What they offer is always 
the same old panacea with an extra-gaudy label — the 
tried, tasted and much-loved dose, the colic cure that 
mother used to make. Superficially, the United 
States seems to suffer from an endless and astound- 
ing neophilism; actually all its thinking is done 
within the boundaries of a very small group of politi- 



THE GENEALOGY OF ETIQUETTE 167 

cal, economic and religious ideas, most of them un- 
sound. For example, there is the fundamental idea 
of democracy — the idea that all political power should 
remain in the hands of the populace, that its exercise 
by superior men is intrinsically immoral. Out of 
this idea spring innumerable notions and crazes that 
are no more, at bottom, than restatements of it in sen- 
timental terms: rotation in office, direct elections, the 
initiative and referendum, the recall, the popular pri- 
mary, and so on. Again, there is the primary doctrine 
that the possession of great wealth is a crime — a doc- 
trine half a religious heritage and half the product of 
mere mob envy. Out of it have come free silver, 
trust-busting, government ownership, muck-raking, 
Populism, Bleaseism, Progressivism, the milder forms 
of Socialism, the whole gasconade of "reform" poli- 
tics. 'Yet again, there is the ineradicable peasant 
suspicion of the man who is having a better time in 
the world — a suspicion grounded, like the foregoing, 
partly upon undisguised envy and partly upon archaic 
and barbaric religious taboos. Out of it have come 
all the glittering pearls of the uplift, from Abolition 
to Prohibition, and from the crusade against horse- 
racing to the Mann Act. The whole political history 
of the United States is a history of these three ideas. 
There has never been an issue before the people that 
could not be translated into one or another of them. 
What is more, they have also colored the fundamental 



168 PREJUDICES: FIRST SERIES 

philosophical (and particularly epistemological) doc- 
trines of the American people, and their moral theory, 
and even their foreign relations. The late war, very 
unpopular at the start, was "sold" to them, as the ad- 
vertising phrase has it, by representing it as a cam- 
paign for the salvation of democracy, half religious 
and wholly altruistic. So represented to them, they 
embraced it; represented as the highly obscure and 
complex thing it actually was, it would have been 
beyond their comprehension, and hence abhorrent to 
them. 

Outside this circle of their elemental convictions 
they are quite incapable of rational thought. One is 
not surprised to hear of Bismarck, a thorough royalist, 
discussing democracy with calm and fairness, but it 
would be unimaginable for the American people, or 
for any other democratic people, to discuss royalism 
in the same manner: it would take a cataclysm to 
bring them to any such violation of their mental habits. 
When such a cataclysm occurs, they embrace the new 
ideas that are its fruits with the same adamantine firm- 
ness. One year before the French Revolution, dis- 
obedience to the king was unthinkable to the average 
Frenchman; only a few daringly immoral men cher- 
ished the notion. But one year after the fall of the 
Bastile, obedience to the king was equally unthink- 
able. The Russian Bolsheviki, whose doings have 
furnished a great deal of immensely interesting mate- 



THE GENEALOGY OF ETIQUETTE 169 

rial to the student of popular psychology, put the 
principle into plain words. Once they were in the 
saddle, they decreed the abolition of the old imperial 
censorship and announced that speech would be free 
henceforth — but only so long as it kept within the 
bounds of the Bolshevist revelation! In other words, 
any citizen was free to think and speak whatever he 
pleased — but only so long as it did not violate certain 
fundamental ideas. This is precisely the sort of free- 
dom that has prevailed in the United States since the 
first days. It is the only sort of freedom comprehen- 
sible to the average man. It accurately reveals his 
constitutional inability to shake himself free from the 
illogical and often quite unintelligible prejudices, in- 
stincts and mental vices that condition ninety per cent, 
of all his thinking. . . . 

But here I wander into political speculation and no 
doubt stand in contumacy of some statute of Congress. 
Dr. Parsons avoids politics in her very interesting 
book. She confines herself to the purely social rela- 
tions, e. g., between man and woman, parent and child, 
host and guest, master and servant. The facts she 
offers are vastly interesting, and their discovery and 
coordination reveal a tremendous industry, but of 
even greater interest are the facts that lie over the 
margin of her inquiry. Here is a golden opportu- 
nity for other investigators: I often wonder that the 
field is so little explored. Perhaps the Freudians, 



*S 



170 PREJUDICES: FIRST SERIES 

once they get rid of their sexual obsession, will enter 
it and chart it. No doubt the inferiority complex de- 
scribed by Prof. Dr. Alfred Adler will one day pro- 
vide an intelligible explanation of many of the puz- 
zling phenomena of mob thinking. In the work of 
Prof. Dr. Freud himself there is, perhaps, a clew to 
the origin and anatomy of Puritanism, that worst of 
intellectual nephritises. I live in hope that the Freud- 
ians will fall upon the business without much further 
delay. Why do otherwise sane men believe in spirits? 
What is the genesis of the American axiom that the 
fine arts are unmanly? What is the precise machin- 
ery of the process called falling in love? Why do 
people believe newspapers? . . . Let there be light! 



XIII. THE AMERICAN MAGAZINE 

T is astonishing, considering the enormous influ- 
ence of the popular magazine upon American 
literature, such as it is, that there is but one book 
in type upon magazine history in the republic. That 
lone volume is "The Magazine in America," by Prof. 
Dr. Algernon Tassin, a learned birchman of the great 
university of Columbia, and it is so badly written that 
the interest of its matter is almost concealed — almost, 
but fortunately not quite. The professor, in fact, 
puts English to paper with all the traditional dullness 
of his flatulent order, and, as usual, he is most hor- 
ribly dull when he is trying most kittenishly to be 
lively. I spare you examples of his writing; if you 
know the lady essayists of the United States, and their 
academic imitators in pantaloons, you know the sort 
of arch and whimsical jocosity he ladles out. But, as 
I have hinted, there is something worth attending to 
in his story, for all the defects of its presentation, and 
so his book is not to be sniffed at. He has, at all 
events, brought together a great mass of scattered and 
concealed facts, and arranged them conveniently for 

whoever deals with them next. The job was plainly 

171 



172 PREJUDICES: FIRST SERIES 

a long and laborious one, and rasping to the higher 
cerebral centers. The historian had to make his 
mole-like way through the endless files of old and 
stupid magazines; he had to read the insipid biog- 
raphies and autobiographies of dead and forgotten 
editors, many of them college professors, preachers 
out of work, pre-historic uplifters and bad poets; he 
had to sort out the facts from the fancies of such 
incurable liars as Griswold; he had to hack and blast 
a path across a virgin wilderness. The thing was 
worth doing, and, as I say, it has been done with com- 
mendable pertinacity. 

Considering the noisiness of the American maga- 
zines of to-day, it is rather instructive to glance back at 
the timorous and bloodless quality of their progenit- 
ors. All of the early ones, when they were not simply 
monthly newspapers or almanacs, were depressingly 
"literary" in tone, and dealt chiefly in stupid poetry, 
silly essays and artificial fiction. The one great fear 
of their editors seems to have been that of offending 
some one; all of the pioneer prospectuses were full of 
assurances that nothing would be printed which even 
"the most fastidious" could object to. Literature, in 
those days, — say from 1830 to 1860 — was almost 
completely cut off from contemporary life. It mir- 
rored, not the struggle for existence, so fierce and 
dramatic in the new nation, but the pallid reflections 
of poetasters, self-advertising clergymen, sissified 



THE AMERICAN MAGAZINE 173 

"gentlemen of taste," and other such donkeys. Poe 
waded into these literati and shook them up a bit, but 
even after the Civil War the majority of them con- 
tinued to spin pretty cobwebs. Edmund Clarence 
Stedman and Donald G. Mitchell were excellent speci- 
mens of the clan ; its last survivor was the lachrymose 
William Winter. The "literature" manufactured by 
these tear-squeezers, though often enough produced in 
beer cellars, was frankly aimed at the Young Person. 
Its main purpose was to avoid giving offense; it 
breathed a heavy and oleaginous piety, a snug nice- 
ness, a sickening sweetness. It is as dead to-day as 
Baalam's ass. 

The Atlantic Monthly was set up by men in revolt 
against this reign of mush, as Putnam's had been a 
few years before, but the business of reform proved 
to be difficult and hazardous, and it was a long while 
before a healthier breed of authors could be devel- 
oped, and a public for them found. "There is not 
much in the Atlantic," wrote Charles Eliot Norton to 
Lowell in 1874, "that is likely to be read twice save 
by its writers, and this is what the great public likes. 
. . . You should hear Godkin express himself in 
private on this topic." Harper s Magazine, in those 
days, was made up almost wholly of cribbings from 
England; the North American Review had sunk into 
stodginess and imbecility; Putnam's was dead, or dy- 
ing; the Atlantic had yet to discover Mark Twain; it 



174 PREJUDICES: FIRST SERIES 

was the era of Godey's Lady's Book. The new note, 
so long awaited, was struck at last by Scribnefs, now 
the Century (and not to be confused with the Scrib- 
nefs of to-day). It not only threw all the old tradi- 
tions overboard; it established new traditions al- 
most at once. For the first time a great maga- 
zine began to take notice of the daily life of the Ameri- 
can people. It started off with a truly remarkable 
series of articles on the Civil War; it plunged into 
contemporary politics; it eagerly sought out and en- 
couraged new writers; it began printing decent pic- 
tures instead of the old chromos; it forced itself, by 
the sheer originality and enterprise of its editing, 
upon the public attention. American literature owes 
more to the Century than to any other magazine, and 
perhaps American thinking owes almost as much. It 
was the first "literary" periodical to arrest and in- 
terest the really first-class men of the country. It 
beat the Atlantic because it wasn't burdened with the 
Atlantic s decaying cargo of Boston Brahmins. It 
beat all the others because it was infinitely and ob- 
viously better. Almost everything that is good in the 
American magazine of to-day, almost everything that 
sets it above the English magazine or the Continental 
magazine, stems from the Century. 

At the moment, of course, it holds no such clear 
field; perhaps it has served its function and is ready 
for a placid old age. The thing that displaced it was 



THE AMERICAN MAGAZINE 175 

the yellow magazine of the McClures type — a variety 
of magazine which surpassed it in the race for cir- 
culation by exaggerating and vulgarizing all its mer- 
its. Dr. Tassin seems to think, with William Archer, 
that S. S. McClure was the inventor of this type, but 
the truth is that its real father was the unknown orig- 
inator of the Sunday supplement. What McClure 
— a shrewd literary bagman — did was to apply the 
sensational methods of the cheap newspaper to a new 
and cheap magazine. Yellow journalism was rising 
and he went in on the tide. The satanic Hearst was 
getting on his legs at the same time, and I daresay 
that the muck-raking magazines, even in their palmy 
days, followed him a good deal more than they led 
him. McClure and the imitators of McClure bor- 
rowed his adept thumping of the tom-tom; Munsey 
and the imitators of Munsey borrowed his mush. 
McClure s and Everybody 's, even when they had the 
whole nation by the ears, did little save repeat in 
solemn, awful tones what Hearst had said before. 
As for Munsey' s, at the height of its circulation, it was 
little more than a Sunday "magazine section" on 
smooth paper, and with somewhat clearer half-tones 
than Hearst could print. Nearly all the genuinely 
original ideas of these Yankee Harmsworths of yes- 
terday turned out badly. John Brisben Walker, with 
the Cosmopolitan, tried to make his magazine a sort 
of national university, and it went to pot. Ridgway, 



176 PREJUDICES: FIRST SERIES 

of Everybody's, planned a weekly to be published in 
a dozen cities simultaneously, and lost a fortune try- 
ing to establish it. McClure, facing a situation to 
be described presently, couldn't manage it, and his 
magazine got away from him. As for Munsey, there 
are many wrecks behind him; he is forever experi- 
menting boldly and failing gloriously. Even his 
claim to have invented the all-fiction magazine is open 
to caveat; there were probably plenty of such things, 
in substance if not in name, before the Argosy. 
Hearst, the teacher of them all, now openly holds the 
place that belongs to him. He has galvanized the 
corpse of the old Cosmopolitan into a great success, he 
has distanced all rivals with Hearst's, he has beaten 
the English on their own ground with Nash's, and he 
has rehabilitated various lesser magazines. More, 
he has forced the other magazine publishers to imi- 
tate him. A glance at McClure' s to-day offers all the 
proof that is needed of his influence upon his in- 
feriors. 

Dr. Tassin, apparently in fear of making his book 
too nearly good, halts his chronicle at its most inter- 
esting point, for he says nothing of what has gone on 
since 1900 — and very much, indeed, has gone on 
since 1900. For one thing, the Saturday Evening 
Post has made its unparalleled success, created its new 
type of American literature for department store buy- 
ers and shoe drummers, and bred its school of brisk, 



THE AMERICAN MAGAZINE 111 

business-like, high-speed authors. For another thing, 
the Ladies' Home Journal, once supreme in its field, 
has seen the rise of a swarm of imitators, some of 
them very prosperous. For a third thing, the all- 
fiction magazine of Munsey, Robert Bonner and Street 
& Smith has degenerated into so dubious a hussy that 
Munsey, a very moral man, must blush every time he 
thinks of it. For a fourth thing, the moving-picture 
craze has created an entirely new type of magazine, 
and it has elbowed many other types from the stands. 
And for a fifth thing, to make an end, the muck- 
raking magazine has blown up and is no more. 

Why this last? Have all the possible candidates 
for the rake been raked? Is there no longer any 
taste for scandal in the popular breast? I have 
heard endless discussion of these questions and many 
ingenious answers, but all of them fail to answer. 
In this emergency I offer one of my own. It is this: 
that the muck-raking magazine came to grief, not be- 
cause the public tired of muck-raking, but because the 
muck-raking that it began with succeeded. That is 
to say, the villains so long belabored by the Steffenses, 
the Tarbells and the Phillipses were either driven from 
the national scene or forced (at least temporarily) 
into rectitude. Worse, their places in public life 
were largely taken by nominees whose chemical purity 
was guaranteed by these same magazines, and so the 
latter found their occupation gone and their follow- 



178 PREJUDICES: FIRST SERIES 

ing with it. The great masses of the plain people, 
eager to swallow denunciation in horse-doctor doses, 
gagged at the first spoonful of praise. They chortled 
and read on when Aldrich, Boss Cox, Gas Addicks, 
John D. Rockefeller and the other bugaboos of the time 
were belabored every month, but they promptly sick- 
ened and went elsewhere when Judge Ben B. Lindsey, 
Francis J. Heney, Governor Folk and the rest of the 
bogus saints began to be hymned. 

The same phenomenon is constantly witnessed upon 
the lower level of daily journalism. Let a vociferous 
"reform" newspaper overthrow the old gang and elect 
its own candidates, and at once it is in a perilous con- 
dition. Its stock in trade is gone. It can no longer 
give a good show — within the popular meaning of a 
good show. For what the public wants eternally — 
at least the American public — is rough work. It de- 
lights in vituperation. It revels in scandal. It is 
always on the side of the man or journal making the 
charges, no matter how slight the probability that the 
accused is guilty. The late Roosevelt, perhaps one 
of the greatest rabble-rousers the world has ever seen, 
was privy to this fact, and made it the corner-stone of 
his singularly cynical and effective politics. He was 
forever calling names, making accusations, unearth- 
ing and denouncing demons. Dr. Wilson, a per- 
former of scarcely less talent, has sought to pursue 
the same plan, with varying fidelity and success. He 






THE AMERICAN MAGAZINE 179 

was a popular hero so long as he confined himself to 
reviling men and things — the Hell Hounds of Plutoc- 
racy, the Socialists, the Kaiser, the Irish, the Senate 
minority. But the moment he found himself on the 
side of the defense, he began to wobble, just as Roose- 
velt before him had begun to wobble when he found 
himself burdened with the intricate constructive pro- 
gram of the Progressives. Roosevelt shook himself 
free by deserting the Progressives, but Wilson found 
it impossible to get rid of his League of Nations, and 
so, for awhile at least, he presented a quite typical 
picture of a muck-raker ham-strung by blows from the 
wrong end of the rake. 

That the old appetite for bloody shows is not dead 
but only sleepeth is well exhibited by the recent re- 
vival of the weekly of opinion. Ten years ago the 
weekly seemed to be absolutely extinct; even the Na- 
tion survived only as a half -forgotten appendage of 
the Evening Post. Then, of a sudden, the alliance 
was broken, the Evening Post succumbed to Wall 
Street, the Nation started on an independent course — 
and straightway made a great success. And why? 
Simply because it began breaking heads — not the old 
heads of the McClures era, of course, but neverthe- 
less heads salient enough to make excellent targets. 
For years it had been moribund; no one read it save 
a dwindling company of old men; its influence gradu- 
ally approached nil. But by the elementary device of 



180 PREJUDICES: FIRST SERIES 

switching from mild expostulation to violent and ef- 
fective denunciation it made a new public almost 
over-night, and is now very widely read, extensively 
quoted and increasingly heeded. ... I often wonder 
that so few publishers of periodicals seem aware of 
the psychological principle here exposed. It is 
known to every newspaper publisher of the slightest 
professional intelligence; all successful newspapers 
are ceaselessly querulous and bellicose. They never 
defend any one or anything if they can help it; if the 
job is forced upon them, they tackle it by denouncing 
some one or something else. The plan never fails. 
Turn to the moving-picture trade magazines: the most 
prosperous of them is given over, in the main, to bitter 
attacks upon new films. Come back to daily journal- 
ism. The New York Tribune, a decaying paper, well 
nigh rehabilitated itself by attacking Hearst, the clev- 
erest muck-raker of them all. For a moment, ap- 
parently dismayed, he attempted a defense of him- 
self — and came near falling into actual disaster. 
Then, recovering his old form, he began a whole series 
of counter attacks and cover attacks, and in six months 
he was safe and sound again. . . . 



XIV. THE ULSTER POLONIUS 

A GOOD half of the humor of the late Mark 
Twain consisted of admitting frankly the 
possession of vices and weaknesses that all 
of us have and few of us care to acknowledge. Prac- 
tically all of the sagacity of George Bernard Shaw 
consists of bellowing vociferously what every one 
knows. I think I am as well acquainted with his 
works, both hortatory and dramatic, as the next man. 
I wrote the first book ever devoted to a discussion of 
them, and I read them pretty steadily, even to-day, 
and with endless enjoyment. Yet, so far as I know, 
I have never found an original idea in them — never a 
single statement of fact or opinion that was not an- 
teriorly familiar, and almost commonplace. Put the 
thesis of any of his plays into a plain proposition, and 
I doubt that you could find a literate man in Christen- 
dom who had not heard it before, or who would seri- 
ously dispute it. The roots of each one of them are 
in platitude; the roots of every effective stage-play 
are in platitude; that a dramatist is inevitably a plati- 
tudinarian is itself a platitude double damned. But 
Shaw clings to the obvious even when he is not ham- 
pered by the suffocating conventions of the stage. 

181 






182 PREJUDICES: FIRST SERIES 

His Fabian tracts and his pamphlets on the war are 
veritable compendiums of the undeniable; what is 
seriously stated in them is quite beyond logical dis- 
pute. They have excited a great deal of ire, they 
have brought down upon him a great deal of amusing 
abuse, but I have yet to hear of any one actually con- 
troverting them. As well try to controvert the Co- 
pernican astronomy. They are as bullet-proof in es- 
sence as the multiplication table, and vastly more 
bullet-proof than the Ten Commandments or the Con- 
stitution of the United States. 

Well, then, why does the Ulsterman kick up such 
a pother? Why is he regarded as an arch-heretic, 
almost comparable to Galileo, Nietzsche or Simon 
Magnus? For the simplest of reasons. Because he 
practices with great zest and skill the fine art of ex- 
hibiting the obvious in unexpected and terrifying 
lights — because he is a master of the logical trick of 
so matching two apparently safe premisses that they 
yield an incongruous and inconvenient conclusion — 
above all, because he is a fellow of the utmost charm 
and address, quick-witted, bold, limber-tongued, per- 
suasive, humorous, iconoclastic, ingratiating — in 
brief, an Irishman, and so the exact antithesis of the 
solemn Sassenachs who ordinarily instruct and exhort 
us. Turn to his "Man and Superman," and you will 
see the whole Shaw machine at work. What he starts 
out with is the self-evident fact, disputed by no one 






THE ULSTER POLONIUS 183 

not idiotic, that a woman has vastly more to gain by 
marriage, under Christian monogamy, than a man. 
That fact is as old as monogamy itself; it was, I dare- 
say, the admitted basis of the palace revolution which 
brought monogamy into the world. But now comes 
Shaw with an implication that the sentimentality of 
the world chooses to conceal — with a deduction 
plainly resident in the original proposition, but kept 
in safe silence there by a preposterous and hypo- 
critical taboo — to wit, the deduction that women are 
well aware of the profit that marriage yields for them, 
and that they are thus much more eager to marry than 
men are, and ever alert to take the lead in the busi- 
ness. This second fact, to any man who has passed 
through the terrible years between twenty-five and 
forty, is as plain as the first, but by a sort of general 
consent it is not openly stated. Violate that general 
consent and you are guilty of scandalum magnatum. 
Shaw is simply one who is guilty of scandalum mag- 
natum habitually, a professional criminal in that de- 
partment. It is his life work to announce the ob- 
vious in terms of the scandalous. 

What lies under the horror of such blabbing is the 
deepest and most widespread of human weaknesses, 
which is to say, intellectual cowardice, the craven 
appetite for mental ease and security, the fear of 
thinking things out. All men are afflicted by it more 
or less; not even the most courageous and frank of 



184 PREJUDICES: FIRST SERIES 

men likes to admit, in specific terms, that his wife is 
fat, or that she seduced him to the altar by a trans- 
parent trick, or that their joint progeny resemble her 
brother or father, and are thus cads. A few ex- 
traordinary heroes of logic and evidence may do it 
occasionally, but only occasionally. The average 
man never does it at all. He is eternally in fear of 
what he knows in his heart; his whole life is made up 
of efforts to dodge it and conceal it; he is always run- 
ning away from what passes for his intelligence and 
taking refuge in what pass for his higher feelings, i. e., 
his stupidities, his delusions, his sentimentalities. 
Shaw is devoted to the art of hauling this recreant 
fellow up. He is one who, for purposes of sensation, 
often for the mere joy of outraging the tender- 
minded, resolutely and mercilessly thinks things out 
— sometimes with the utmost ingenuity and humor, 
but often, it must be said, in the same muddled way 
that the average right-thinker would do it if he ever 
got up the courage. Remember this formula, and 
all of the fellow's alleged originality becomes no more 
than a sort of bad-boy audacity, usually in bad taste. 
He drags skeletons from their closet and makes them 
dance obscenely — but every one, of course, knew that 
they were there all the while. He would produce an 
excitement of exactly the same kind (though perhaps 
superior in intensity) if he should walk down the 
Strand bared to the waist, and so remind the shocked 



THE ULSTER POLONIUS 185 

Londoners of the unquestioned fact (though conven- 
tionally concealed and forgotten) that he is a mam- 
mal, and has an umbilicus. 

Turn to a typical play-and-preface of his later 
canon, say "Androcles and the Lion." Here the com- 
plete Shaw formula is exposed. On the one hand 
there is a mass of platitudes; on the other hand there 
is the air of a peep-show. On the one hand he re- 
hearses facts so stale that even Methodist clergymen 
have probably heard of them; on the other hand he 
states them so scandalously that the pious get all of 
the thrills out of the business that would accompany a 
view of the rector in liquor in the pulpit. Here, for 
example, are some of his contentions: 

(a) That the social and economic doctrines preached by 
Jesus were indistinguishable from what is now called 
Socialism. 

(b) That the Pauline transcendentalism visible in the 
Acts and the Epistles differs enormously from the simple 
humanitarianism set forth in the Four Gospels. 

(c) That the Christianity on tap to-day would be almost 
as abhorrent to Jesus, supposing Him returned to earth, 
as the theories of Nietzsche, Hindenburg or Clemenceau, 
and vastly more abhorrent than those of Emma Goldman. 

(d) That the rejection of the Biblical miracles, and even 
of the historical credibility of the Gospels, by no means 
disposes of Christ Himself. 

(e) That the early Christians were persecuted, not be- 
cause their theology was regarded as unsound, but because 
their public conduct constituted a nuisance. 



186 PREJUDICES: FIRST SERIES 

It is unnecessary to go on. Could any one imagine 
a more abject surrender to the undeniable? Would 
it be possible to reduce the German exegesis of a cen- 
tury and a half to a more depressing series of plati- 
tudes? But his discussion of the inconsistencies 
between the Four Gospels is even worse; you will 
find all of its points set forth in any elemental treatise 
upon New Testament criticism — even in so childish a 
tract as Ramsden Balmforth's. He actually dishes 
up, with a heavy air of profundity, the news that there 
is a glaring conflict between the genealogy of Jesus in 
Matthew i, 1-17, and the direct claim of divine 
paternity in Matthew i, 18. More, he. breaks out 
with the astounding discovery that Jesus was a good 
Jew, and that Paul's repudiation of circumcision 
(now a cardinal article of the so-called Christian 
faith) would have surprised Him and perhaps greatly 
shocked Him. The whole preface, running to 114 
pages, is made up of just such shop-worn stuff. 
Searching it from end to end with eagle eye, I have 
failed to find a single fact or argument that was not 
previously familiar to me, despite the circumstance 
that I ordinarily give little attention to the sacred 
sciences and thus might have been expected to be sur- 
prised by their veriest commonplaces. 

Nevertheless, this preface makes bouncing reading 
— and therein lies the secret of the continued vogue of 
Shaw. He has a large and extremely uncommon 



THE ULSTER POLONIUS 187 

capacity for provocative utterance; lie knows how to 
get a touch of bellicosity into the most banal of doc- 
trines; he is forever on tiptoe, forever challenging, 
forever sforzando. His matter may be from the 
public store, even from the public junk-shop, but his 
manner is always all his own. The tune is old, but 
the words are new. Consider, for example, his dis- 
cussion of the personality of Jesus. The idea is 
simple and obvious: Jesus was not a long-faced 
prophet of evil, like John the Baptist, nor was He an 
ascetic, or a mystic. But here is the Shaw way of 
saying it: "He was . . . what we call an artist and 
a Bohemian in His manner of life." The fact re- 
mains unchanged, but in the extravagant statement of 
it there is a shock for those who have been confusing 
the sour donkey they hear of a Sunday with the 
tolerant, likable Man they profess to worship — and 
perhaps there is even a genial snicker in it for their 
betters. So with his treatment of the Atonement. 
His objections to it are time-worn, but suddenly he 
gets the effect of novelty by pointing out the quite 
manifest fact that acceptance of it is apt to make for 
weakness, that the man who rejects it is thrown back 
upon his own courage and circumspection, and is 
hence stimulated to augment them. The first argu- 
ment — that Jesus was of free and easy habits — is so 
commonplace that I have heard it voiced by a bishop. 
The second suggests itself so naturally that I myself 



\ 



188 PREJUDICES: FIRST SERIES 

once employed it against a chance Christian en- 
countered in a Pullman smoking-room. This Chris- 
tian was at first shocked as he might have been by- 
reading Shaw, but in half an hour he was confessing 
that he had long ago thought of the objection himself, 
and put it away as immoral. I well remember his 
fascinated interest as I showed him how my inability 
to accept the doctrine put a heavy burden of moral 
responsibility upon me, and forced me to be more 
watchful of my conduct than the elect of God, and 
so robbed me of many pleasant advantages in finance, 
the dialectic and amour. . . . 

A double jest conceals itself in the Shaw legend. 
The first half of it I have already disclosed. The 
second half has to do with the fact that Shaw is not 
at all the wholesale agnostic his fascinated victims 
see him, but an orthodox Scotch Presbyterian of the 
most cock-sure and bilious sort — in fact, almost the 
archetype of the blue-nose. In the theory that he is 
Irish I take little stock. His very name is as Scotch 
as haggis, and the part of Ireland from which he 
springs is peopled almost exclusively by Scots. The 
true Irishman is a romantic. He senses life as a 
mystery, a thing of wonder, an experience of passion 
and beauty. In politics he is not logical, but emo- 
tional. In religion his interest centers, not in the 
commandments, but in the sacraments. The Scot, on 
the contrary, is almost devoid of romanticism. He 



TEE ULSTER POLONIUS 189 

is a materialist, a logician, a utilitarian. Life to him 
is not a poem, but a series of police regulations. 
God is not an indulgent father, but a hanging judge. 
There are no saints, but only devils. Beauty is a 
lewdness, redeemable only in the service of morality. 
It is more important to get on in the world than to be 
brushed by angels' wings. Here Shaw runs exactly 
true to type. Read his critical writings from end to 
end, and you will not find the slightest hint that 
objects of art were passing before him as he wrote. 
He founded, in England, the superstition that Ibsen 
was no more than a tin-pot evangelist — a sort of 
brother to General Booth, Mrs. Pankhurst and the 
syndics of the Sex Hygiene Society. He turned 
Shakespeare into a bird of evil, croaking dismally 
in a rain-barrel. He even injected a moral content 
(by dint of herculean straining) into the music 
dramas of Richard Wagner — surely the most colossal 
sacrifices of moral ideas ever made on the altar of 
beauty! Always the ethical obsession, the hall-mark 
of the Scotch Puritan, is visible in him. His politics 
is mere moral indignation. His aesthetic theory is 
cannibalism upon aesthetics. And in his general 
writing he is forever discovering an atrocity in what 
was hitherto passed as no more than a human weak- 
ness; he is forever inventing new sins, and demanding 
their punishment; he always sees his opponent, not 
only as wrong, but also as a scoundrel. I have called 



190 PREJUDICES: FIRST SERIES 

him a Presbyterian. Need I add that he flirts with 
predestination under the quasi-scientific nom de guerre 
of determinism — that he seems to be convinced that, 
while men may not be responsible for their virtues, 
they are undoubtedly responsible for their offendings, 
and deserve to be clubbed therefor? . . . 

And this is Shaw the revolutionist, the heretic! 
Next, perhaps, we shall be hearing of Benedict XV, 
the atheist. . . . 



XV. AN UNHEEDED LAW-GIVER 

ONE discerns, in all right-thinking American 
criticism, the doctrine that Ralph Waldo 
Emerson was a great man, but the specifica- 
tions supporting that doctrine are seldom displayed 
with any clarity. Despite the vast mass of writing 
about him, he remains to be worked out critically; 
practically all the existing criticism of him is marked 
by his own mellifluous obscurity. Perhaps a good 
deal of this obscurity is due to contradictions inherent 
in the man's character. He was dualism ambulant. 
What he actually was was seldom identical with what 
he represented himself to be or what his admirers 
thought him to be. Universally greeted, in his own 
day, as a revolutionary, he was, in point of fact, 
imitative and cautious — an importer of stale German 
elixirs, sometimes direct and sometimes through the 
Carlylean branch house, who took good care to dilute 
them with buttermilk before merchanting them. The 
theoretical spokesman, all his life long, of bold and 
forthright thinking, of the unafraid statement of 
ideas, he stated his own so warily and so muggily that 
they were ratified on the one hand by Nietzsche and 

191 



192 PREJUDICES: FIRST SERIES 

on the other hand by the messiahs of the New Thought, 
that lavender buncombe. 

What one notices about him chiefly is his lack of 
influence upon the main stream of American thought, 
such as it is. He had admirers and even worship- 
ers, but no apprentices. Nietzscheism and the New 
Thought are alike tremendous violations of orthodox 
American doctrine. The one makes a headlong at- 
tack upon egalitarianism, the corner-stone of Ameri- 
can politics; the other substitutes mysticism, which is 
the notion that the true realities are all concealed, for 
the prevailing American notion that the only true 
realities lie upon the surface, and are easily discerned 
by Congressmen, newspaper editorial writers and 
members of the Junior Order of United American 
Mechanics. The Emerson cult, in America, has been 
an affectation from the start. Not many of the chau- 
tauqua orators, literary professors, vassarized old 
maids and other such bogus intelligentsia who devote 
themselves to it have any intelligible understanding 
of the Transcendentalism at the heart of it, and not 
one of them, so far as I can make out, has ever exe- 
cuted Emerson's command to "defer never to the 
popular cry." On the contrary, it is precisely within 
the circle of Emersonian adulation that one finds the 
greatest tendency to test all ideas by their respecta- 
bility, to combat free thought as something intrinsi- 
cally vicious, and to yield placidly to "some great 



AN UNHEEDED LAW -GIVER 193 

decorum, some fetish of a government, some ephem- 
eral trade, or war, or man." It is surely not 
unworthy of notice that the country of this prophet 
of Man Thinking is precisely the country in which 
every sort of dissent from the current pishposh is 
combated most ferociously, and in which there is the 
most vigorous existing tendency to suppress free 
speech altogether. 

Thus Emerson, on the side of ideas, has left but 
faint tracks behind him. His quest was for "facts 
amidst appearances," and his whole metaphysic re- 
volved around a doctrine of transcendental first 
causes, a conception of interior and immutable reali- 
ties, distinct from and superior to mere transient 
phenomena. But the philosophy that actually pre- 
vails among his countrymen — a philosophy put into 
caressing terms by William James — teaches an almost 
exactly contrary doctrine: its central idea is that 
whatever satisfies the immediate need is substantially 
true, that appearance is the only form of fact worthy 
the consideration of a man with money in the bank, 
and the old flag floating over him, and hair on his 
chest. Nor has Emerson had any ponderable influ- 
ence as a literary artist in the technical sense, or as 
the prophet of a culture — that is, at home. Despite 
the feeble imitations of campus critics, his manner 
has vanished with his matter. There is, in the true 
sense, no Emersonian school of American writers. 



194 PREJUDICES: FIRST SERIES 

Current American writing, with its cocksureness, its 
somewhat hard competence, its air of selling goods, 
is utterly at war with his loose, impressionistic 
method, his often mystifying groping for ideas, his 
relentless pursuit of phrases. In the same way, one 
searches the country in vain for any general reaction 
to the cultural ideal that he set up. When one casts 
about for salient men whom he moved profoundly, 
men who got light from his torch, one thinks first and 
\ last, not of Americans, but of such men as Nietzsche 
and Hermann Grimm, the Germans, and Tyndall and 
Matthew Arnold, the Englishmen. What remains of 
him at home, as I have said, is no more than, on the 
one hand, a somewhat absurd affectation of intellect- 
ual fastidiousness, now almost extinct even in New 
England, and, on the other hand, a debased Trans- 
cendentalism rolled into pills for fat women with 
vague pains and inattentive husbands — in brief, the 
New Thought — in brief, imbecility. This New 
Thought, a decadent end-product of American super- 
ficiality, now almost monopolizes him. One hears of 
him in its preposterous literature and one hears of 
him in text-books for the young, but not often else- 
where. Allowing everything, it would surely be ab- 
surd to hold that he has colored and conditioned the 
main stream of American thought as Goethe colored 
and conditioned the thought of Germany, or Pushkin 
that of Russia, or Voltaire that of France. . . . 



XVI. THE BLUSHFUL MYSTERY 



Sex Hygiene 

THE literature of sex hygiene, once so scanty 
and so timorous, now piles mountain high. 
There are at least a dozen formidable series 
of books of instruction for inquirers of all ages, be- 
ginning with "What Every Child of Ten Should 
Know" and ending with "What a Woman of Forty- 
five Should Know," and they all sell amazingly. 
Scores of diligent authors, some medical, some 
clerical and some merely shrewdly chautauqual, grow 
rich at the industry of composing them. One of 
these amateur Havelock Ellises had the honor, during 
the last century, of instructing me in the elements of 
the sacred sciences. He was then the pastor of a 
fourth-rate church in a decaying neighborhood and I 
was sent to his Sunday-school in response to some 
obscure notion that the agony of it would improve 
me. Presently he disappeared, and for a long while 
I heard nothing about him. Then he came into sud- 
den prominence as the author of such a series of hand- 
books and as the chief stockholder, it would seem, in 
the publishing house printing them. By the time he 

195 



196 PREJUDICES: FIRST SERIES 

died, a few years ago, he had been so well rewarded 
by a just God that he was able to leave funds to 
establish a missionary college in some remote and 
heathen land. 

This holy man, I believe, was honest, and took his 
platitudinous compositions quite seriously. Regard- 
ing other contributors to the literature it may be said 
without malice that their altruism is obviously cor- 
rupted by a good deal of hocus-pocus. Some of them 
lecture in the chautauquas, peddling their books be- 
fore and after charming the yokels. Others, being 
members of the faculty, seem to carry on medical 
practice on the side. Yet others are kept in profit- 
able jobs by the salacious old men who finance vice 
crusades. It is hard to draw the line between the 
mere thrifty enthusiast and the downright fraud. 
So, too, with the actual vice crusaders. The books 
of the latter, like the sex hygiene books, are often 
sold, not as wisdom, but as pornography. True 
enough, they are always displayed in the show- 
window of the small-town Methodist Book Concern — 
but you will also find them in the back-rooms of 
dubious second-hand book-stores, side by side with 
the familiar scarlet-backed editions of Rabelais, 
Margaret of Navarre and Balzac's "Droll Tales." 
Some time ago, in a book advertisement headed 
"Snappy Fiction," I found announcements of "My 
Battles With Vice," by Virginia Brooks — and "Life 



THE BLUSHFUL MYSTERY 197 

of My Heart," by Victoria Cross. The former was 
described by the publisher as a record of "personal 
experiences in the fight against the gray wolves and 
love pirates of modern society." The book was 
offered to all comers by mail. One may easily 
imagine the effects of such an offer. 

But even the most serious and honest of the sex 
hygiene volumes are probably futile, for they are all 
founded upon a pedagogical error. That is to say, 
they are all founded upon an attempt to explain a 
romantic mystery in terms of an exact science. Noth- 
ing could be more absurd : as well attempt to interpret 
Beethoven in terms of mathematical physics — as 
many a fatuous contrapuntist, indeed, has tried to do. 
The mystery of sex presents itself to the young, not 
as a scientific problem to be solved, but as a romantic 
emotion to be accounted for. The only result of the 
current endeavor to explain its phenomena by seeking 
parallels in botany is to make botany obscene. . . . 

2 

Art and Sex 

One of the favorite notions of the Puritan mullahs 
who specialize in this moral pornography is that the 
sex instinct, if suitably repressed, may be "subli- 
mated" into the higher sorts of idealism, and es- 
pecially into aesthetic idealism. That notion is to be 
found in all their books; upon it they ground the 



198 PREJUDICES: FIRST SERIES 

theory that the enforcement of chastity by a huge 
force of spies, stool pigeons and police would convert 
the republic into a nation of incomparable uplifters, 
forward-lookers and artists. All this, of course, is 
simply pious fudge. If the notion were actually 
sound, then all the great artists of the world would 
come from the ranks of the hermetically repressed, 
i. e., from the ranks of Puritan old maids, male and 
female. But the truth is, as every one knows, that 
the great artists of the world are never Puritans, and 
seldom even ordinarily respectable. No virtuous 
man — that is, virtuous in the Y. M. C. A. sense — 
has ever painted a picture worth looking at, or written 
a symphony worth hearing, or a book worth reading, 
and it is highly improbable that the thing has ever 
been done by a virtuous woman. The actual effect 
of repression, lamentable though it may be, is to de- 
stroy idealism altogether. The Puritan, for all his 
pretensions, is the worst of materialists. Passed 
through his sordid and unimaginative mind, even the 
stupendous romance of sex is reduced to a disgusting 
transaction in physiology. As artist he is thus hope- 
less; as well expect an auctioneer to qualify for the 
Sistine Chapel choir. All he ever achieves, taking 
pen or brush in hand, is a feeble burlesque of his 
betters, all of whom, by his hog's theology, are 
doomed to hell. 



THE BLUSHFUL MYSTERY 199 

3 

A Loss to Romance 

Perhaps the worst thing that this sex hygiene non- 
sense has accomplished is the thing mourned by 
Agnes Repplier in "The Repeal of Reticence." In 
America, at least, innocence has been killed, and 
romance has been sadly wounded by the same dis- 
charge of smutty artillery. The flapper is no longer 
naive and charming; she goes to the altar of God with 
a learned and even cynical glitter in her eye. The 
veriest school-girl of to-day, fed upon Forel, Sylvanus 
Stall, Reginald Wright Kauffman and the Freud 
books, knows as much as the midwife of 1885, and 
spends a good deal more time discharging and dis- 
seminating her information. All this, of course, is 
highly embarrassing to the more romantic and in- 
genuous sort of men, of whom I have the honor to be 
one. We are constantly in the position of General 
Mitchener in Shaw's one-acter, "Press Cuttings," 
when he begs Mrs. Farrell, the talkative charwoman, 
to reserve her confidences for her medical adviser. 
One often wonders, indeed, what women now talk of 
to doctors. . . . 

Please do not misunderstand me here. I do not 
object to this New Freedom on moral grounds, but on 
aesthetic grounds. In the relations between the sexes 



200 PREJUDICES: FIRST SERIES 

all beauty is founded upon romance, all romance is 
founded upon mystery, and all mystery is founded 
upon ignorance, or, failing that, upon the deliberate 
denial of the known truth. To be in love is merely 
to be in a state of perceptual anaesthesia — to mistake 
an ordinary young man for a Greek god or an or- 
dinary young woman for a goddess. But how can 
this condition of mind survive the deadly matter-of- 
factness which sex hygiene and the new science of 
eugenics impose? How can a woman continue to 
believe in the honor, courage and loving tenderness 
of a man after she has learned, perhaps by affidavit, 
that his haemoglobin count is 117%, that he is free 
from sugar and albumen, that his blood pressure is 
112/79 and that his Wassermann reaction is negative? 
. . . Moreover, all this new-fangled "frankness" 
tends to dam up, at least for civilized adults, one of 
the principal well-springs of art, to wit, impropriety. 
What is neither hidden nor forbidden is seldom very 
charming. If women, continuing their present ten- 
dency to its logical goal, end by going stark naked, 
there will be no more poets and painters, but only 
dermatologists and photographers. . . . 

4 

Sex on the Stage 

The effort to convert the theater into a forum of 
solemn sex discussion is another abhorrent by-product 



THE BLUSHFUL MYSTERY 201 

of the sex hygiene rumble-bumble. Fortunately, it 
seems to be failing. A few years ago, crowds flocked 
to see Brieux's "Les Avaries," but to-day it is for- 
gotten, and its successors are all obscure. The move- 
ment originated in Germany with the production of 
Frank Wedekind's "Friihlings Erwachen." The Ger- 
mans gaped and twisted in their seats for a season or 
two, and then abandoned sex as a horror and went 
back to sex as a comedy. This last is what it actually 
should be, at least in the theater. The theater is no 
place for painful speculation; it is a place for divert- 
ing representation. Its best and truest sex plays are 
not such overstrained shockers as "Le Mariage d' 
Olympe" and "Damaged Goods," but such penetrat- 
ing and excellent comedies as "Much Ado About 
Nothing" and "The Taming of the Shrew." In 
"Much Ado" we have an accurate and unforgettable 
picture of the way in which the normal male of the 
human species is brought to the altar — that is, by the 
way of appealing to his hollow vanity, the way of 
capitalizing his native and ineradicable asininity. 
And in "The Taming of the Shrew" we have a picture 
of the way in which the average woman, having so 
snared him, is purged of her resultant vainglory and 
bombast, and thus reduced to decent discipline and 
decorum, that the marriage may go on in solid 
tranquillity. 

The whole drama of sex, in real life, as well as on 



202 PREJUDICES: FIRST SERIES 

the stage, revolves around these two enterprises. 
One-half of it consists of pitting the native intelligence 
of women against the native sentimentality of men, 
and the other half consists of bringing women into a 
reasonable order, that their superiority may not be 
too horribly obvious. To the first division belong 
the dramas of courtship, and a good many of those 
of marital conflict. In each case the essential drama 
is not a tragedy but a comedy — nay, a farce. In each 
case the conflict is not between imperishable verities 
but between mere vanities and pretensions. This is 
the essence of the comic: the unmasking of fraud, its 
destruction by worse fraud. Marriage, as we know 
it in Christendom, though its utility is obvious and 
its necessity is at least arguable, is just such a series 
of frauds. It begins with the fraud that the impulse 
to it is lofty, unearthly and disinterested. It pro- 
ceeds to the fraud that both parties are equally eager 
for it and equally benefited by it — which actually 
happens only when two Mondays come together. 
And it rests thereafter upon the fraud that what is 
once agreeable (or tolerable) remains agreeable ever 
thereafter — that I shall be exactly the same man in 
1938 that I am to-day, and that my wife will be the 
same woman, and intrigued by the merits of the same 
man. This last assumption is so outrageous that, on 
purely evidential and logical grounds, not even the 
most sentimental person would support it. It thus 



TEE BLUSHFUL MYSTERY 203 

becomes necessary to reenforce it by attaching to it 
the concept of honor. That is to say, it is held up, 
not on the ground that it is actually true, but on the 
ground that a recognition of its truth is part of the 
bargain made at the altar, and that a repudiation of 
this bargain would be dishonorable. Here we have 
honor, which is based upon a sense of the deepest and 
most inviolable truth, brought in to support something 
admittedly not true. Here, in other words, we have a 
situation in comedy, almost exactly parallel to that 
in which a colored bishop whoops "Onward, Christian 
Soldiers!" like a calliope in order to drown out the 
crowing of the rooster concealed beneath his chasuble. 
In all plays of the sort that are regarded as 
"strong" and "significant" in Greenwich Village, in 
the finishing schools and by the newspaper critics, 
connubial infidelity is the chief theme. Smith, hav- 
ing a wife, Mrs. Smith, betrays her love and trust by 
running off with Miss Rabinowitz, his stenographer. 
Or Mrs. Brown, detecting her husband, Mr. Brown, 
in lamentable proceedings with a neighbor, the grass 
widow Kraus, forgives him and continues to be true 
to him in consideration of her children, Fred, Pansy 
and Little Fern. Both situations produce a great deal 
of eye-rolling and snuffing among the softies afore- 
said. Yet neither contains the slightest touch of 
tragedy, and neither at bottom is even honest. Both, 
on the contrary, are based upon an assumption that 



204 PREJUDICES: FIRST SERIES 

is unsound and ridiculous — the assumption, to wit, 
that the position of the injured wife is grounded upon 
the highest idealism — that the injury she suffers is 
directed at her lofty and impeccable spirit — that it 
leaves her standing in an heroic attitude. All this, 
soberly examined, is found to be untrue. The fact 
is that her moving impulse is simply a desire to cut a 
good figure before her world — in brief, that plain 
vanity is what animates her. 

This public expectation that she will endure and 
renounce is itself hollow and sentimental, and so 
much so that it can seldom stand much strain. If, 
for example, her heroism goes beyond a certain 
modest point — if she carries it to the extent of com- 
plete abnegation and self-sacrifice — her reward is not 
that she is thought heroic, but that she is thought weak 
and foolish. And if, by any chance, the external 
pressure upon her is removed and she is left to go on 
with her alleged idealism alone — if, say, her recreant 
husband dies and some new suitor enters to dispute 
the theory of her deathless fidelity — then it is re- 
garded as down-right insane for her to continue play- 
ing her artificial part. 

In frank comedy we see the situation more accur- 
ately dealt with and hence more honestly and more 
instructively. Instead of depicting one party as re- 
volting against the assumption of eternal fidelity 
melodramatically and the other as facing the revolt 



THE BLUSHFUL MYSTERY 205 

heroically and tragically, we have both criticizing it 
by a good-humored flouting of it — not necessarily by 
act, but by attitude. This attitude is normal and 
sensible. It rests upon genuine human traits and 
tendencies. It is sound, natural and honest. It 
gives the comedy of the stage a high validity that the 
bombastic fustian of the stage can never show, all 
the sophomores to the contrary notwithstanding. 

When I speak of infidelity, of course, I do not 
mean only the gross infidelity of "strong" sex plays 
and the divorce courts, but that lighter infidelity which 
relieves and makes bearable the burdens of theoretical 
fidelity — in brief, the natural reaction of human 
nature against an artificial and preposterous assump- 
tion. The assumption is that a sexual choice, once 
made, is irrevocable — more, that all desire to revoke 
it, even transiently, disappears. The fact is that no 
human choice can ever be of that irrevocable char- 
acter, and that the very existence of such an assump- 
tion is a constant provocation to challenge it and rebel 
against it. 

What we have in marriage actually — or in any 
other such contract — is a constant war between the 
impulse to give that rebellion objective reality and a 
social pressure which puts a premium on submission. 
The rebel, if he strikes out, at once collides with a 
solid wall, the bricks of which are made up of the 
social assumption of his docility, and the mortar of 



206 PREJUDICES: FIRST SERIES 

which is the frozen sentimentality of his own lost 
yesterday — his fatuous assumption that what was 
once agreeable to him would be always agreeable to 
him. Here we have the very essence of comedy — a 
situation almost exactly parallel to that of the pom- 
pous old gentleman who kicks a plug hat lying on the 
sidewalk, and stumps his toe against the cobblestone 
within. 

Under the whole of the conventional assumption 
reposes an assumption even more foolish, to wit, that 
sexual choice is regulated by some transcendental 
process, that a mysterious accuracy gets into it, that 
it is limited by impenetrable powers, that there is for 
every man one certain woman. This sentimentality 
not only underlies the theory of marriage, but is also 
the chief apology for divorce. Nothing could be 
more ridiculous. The truth is that marriages in 
Christendom are determined, not by elective affinities, 
but by the most trivial accidents, and that the issue of 
those accidents is relatively unimportant. That is to 
say, a normal man could be happy with any one of at 
least two dozen women of his acquaintance, and a man 
specially fitted to accept the false assumptions of 
marriage could be happy with almost any presentable 
woman of his race, class and age. He is married to 
Marie instead of to Gladys because Marie definitely 
decided to marry him, whereas Gladys vacillated be- 
tween him and some other. And Marie decided to 



THE BLUSHFUL MYSTERY 207 

marry him instead of some other, not because the im- 
pulse was irresistibly stronger, but simply because the 
thing seemed more feasible. In such choices, at least 
among women, there is often not even any self-delu- 
sion. They see the facts clearly, and even if, later 
on, they are swathed in sentimental trappings, the 
revelation is not entirely obliterated. 

Here we have comedy double distilled — a combat 
of pretensions, on the one side, perhaps, risen to self- 
hallucination, but on the other side more or less un- 
easily conscious and deliberate. This is the true soul 
of high farce. This is something not to snuffle over 
but to roar at. 



XVII. GEORGE JEAN NATHAN 

ONE thinks of Gordon Craig, not as a jester, 
but as a very serious and even solemn fel- 
low. For a dozen years past all the more 
sober dramatic critics of America have approached 
him with the utmost politeness, and to the gushing 
old maids and autointoxicated professors of the 
Drama League of America he has stood for the last 
word in theatrical aestheticism. Moreover, a good 
deal of this veneration has been deserved, for Craig 
has done excellent work in the theater, and is a man 
of much force and ingenuity and no little originality. 
Nevertheless, there must be some flavor of low, bar- 
room wit in him, some echo of Sir Toby Belch and the 
Captain of Kopenick, for a year or so ago he shook 
up his admirers with a joke most foul. Need I say 
that I refer to the notorious Nathan affair? Imagine 
the scene: the campus Archers and Walkleys in pon- 
derous conclave, perhaps preparing their monthly 
cablegram of devotion to Maeterlinck. Arrives now 
a messenger with dreadful news. Gordon Craig, 
from his far-off Italian retreat, has issued a bull 
praising Nathan! Which Nathan? George Jean, of 

208 



GEORGE JEAN NATHAN 209 

course. What! The Smart Set scaramouche, the ri- 
bald fellow, the raffish mocker, with his praise of Flor- 
enz Ziegfeld, his naughty enthusiasm for pretty legs, 
his contumacious scoffing at Brieux, Belasco, Augustus 
Thomas, Mrs. Fiske? Aye; even so. And what has 
Craig to say of him? ... In brief, that he is the " 
only American dramatic critic worth reading, that he 
knows far more about the theater than all the honorary 
pallbearers of criticism rolled together, that he is 
immeasurably the superior, in learning, in sense, in 
shrewdness, in candor, in plausibility, in skill at writ- 
ing, of— 

But names do not matter. Craig, in fact, did not 
bother to rehearse them. He simply made a clean 
sweep of the board, and then deftly placed the some- 
what disconcerted Nathan in the center of the vacant 
space. It was a sad day for the honest donkeys who, 
for half a decade, had been laboriously establishing 
Craig's authority in America, but it was a glad day 
for Knopf, the publisher. Knopf, at the moment, 
had just issued Nathan's "The Popular Theater." 
At once he rushed to a job printer in Eighth avenue, 
ordered 100,000 copies of the Craig encomium, and 
flooded the country with them. The result was 
amusing, and typical of the republic. Nathan's pre- 
vious books, when praised at all, had been praised 
faintly and with reservations. The fellow, it ap- 
peared, was too spoofish; he lacked the sobriety and 



210 PREJUDICES: FIRST SERIES 

dignity necessary to a True Critic ; he was entertaining 
but not to be taken seriously. But now, with foreign 
backing, and particularly English backing, he sud- 
denly began to acquire merit and even a certain vague 
solemnity — and "The Popular Theater" was reviewed 
more lavishly and more favorably than I have ever 
seen any other theater book reviewed, before or since. 
The phenomenon, as I say, was typical. The childish 
mass of superstitions passing for civilized opinion in 
America was turned inside out over-night by one au- 
thoritative foreign voice. I have myself been a 
figure in the same familiar process. All of my books 
up to "The American Language" were, in the main, 
hostilely noticed. "A Book of Prefaces," in par- 
ticular, was manhandled by the orthodox reviewers. 
Then, just before "The American Language" was 
issued, the Mercure de France printed an article com- 
mending "A Book of Prefaces" in high, astounding 
terms. The consequence was that "The American 
Language," a far inferior work, was suddenly dis- 
covered to be full of merit, and critics of the utmost 
respectability, who had ignored all my former books, 
printed extremely friendly reviews of it. . . . 

But to return to Nathan. What deceived the 
Drama Leaguers and other such imposing popinjays 
for so long, causing them to mistake him for a mere 
sublimated Alan Dale, was his refusal to take im- 
becilities seriously, his easy casualness and avoidance 



GEORGE JEAN NATHAN 211 

of pedagogics, his frank delight in the theater as a 
show-shop — above all, his bellicose iconoclasm and 
devastating wit. What Craig, an intelligent man, 
discerned underneath was his extraordinary capacity 
for differentiating between sham and reality, his 
catholic freedom from formulae and prejudice, his 
astonishing acquaintance with the literature of the 
practical theater, his firm grounding in rational 
aesthetic theory — above all, his capacity for making 
the thing he writes of interesting, his uncommon 
craftsmanship. This craftsmanship had already got 
him a large audience; he had been for half a dozen 
years, indeed, one of the most widely read of Ameri- 
can dramatic critics. But the traditional delusion 
that sagacity and dullness are somehow identical had 
obscured the hard and accurate thinking that made 
the show. What was so amusing seemed necessarily 
superficial. It remained for Craig to show that this 
appearance of superficiality was only an appearance, 
that the Nathan criticism was well planned and 
soundly articulated, that at the heart of it there was 
a sound theory of the theater, and of the literature 
of the theater no less. 

And what was that theory? You will find it 
nowhere put into a ready formula, but the outlines of 
it must surely be familiar to any one who has read 
"Another Book on the Theater," "The Popular 
Theater" and "Mr. George Jean Nathan Presents." 



212 PREJUDICES: FIRST SERIES 

In brief, it is the doctrine preached with so much 
ardor by Benedetto Croce and his disciple, Dr. J. E. 
Spingarn, and by them borrowed from Goethe and 
Carlyle — the doctrine, to wit, that every work of art 
is, at bottom, unique, and that it is the business of 
the critic, not to label it and pigeon-hole it, but to 
seek for its inner intent and content, and to value it 
according as that intent is carried out and that con- 
tent is valid and worth while. This is the precise 
opposite of the academic critical attitude. The pro- 
fessor is nothing if not a maker of card-indexes; he 
must classify or be damned. His masterpiece is 
the dictum that "it is excellent, but it is not a play." 
Nathan has a far more intelligent and hospitable eye. 
His criterion, elastic and undefined, is inimical only 
to the hollow, the meretricious, the fraudulent. It 
bars out the play of flabby and artificial sentiment. 
It bars out the cheap melodrama, however gaudily set 
forth. It bars out the moony mush of the bad imi- 
tators of Ibsen and Maeterlinck. It bars out all mere 
clap-trap and sensation-monging. But it lets in every 
play, however conceived or designed, that contains an 
intelligible idea well worked out. It lets in every 
play by a dramatist who is ingenious, and original, 
and genuinely amusing. And it lets in every other 
sort of theatrical spectacle that has an honest aim, 
and achieves that aim passably, and is presented 
frankly for what it is. 






GEORGE JEAN NATHAN 213 

Bear this theory in mind, and you have a clear 
explanation of Nathan's actual performances — first, 
his merciless lampooning of the trade-goods of Broad- 
way and the pifflings of the Drama League geniuses, 
and secondly, his ardent championing of such widely 
diverse men as Avery Hopwood, Florenz Ziegfeld, 
Ludwig Thoma, Lord Dunsany, Sasha Guitry, Lothar 
Schmidt, Ferenz Molnar, Roberto Bracco and Gerhart 
Hauptmann, all of whom have one thing in common: 
they are intelligent and full of ideas and know their 
trade. In Europe, of course, there are many more 
such men than in America, and some of the least of 
them are almost as good as our best. That is why 
Nathan is forever announcing them and advocating 
the presentation of their works — not because he 
favors f oreignness for its own sake, but because it is 
so often accompanied by sound achievement and by 
stimulating example to our own artists. And that is 
why, when he tackles the maudlin flubdub of the 
Broadway dons, he does it with the weapons of 
comedy, and even of farce. Does an Augustus 
Thomas rise up with his corn-doctor magic and 
Sunday-school platitudes, proving heavily that love is 
mightier than the sword, that a pure heart will baffle 
the electric chair, that the eye is quicker than the 
hand? Then Nathan proceeds against him with a 
slapstick, and makes excellent practice upon his pan- 
taloons. Does a Belasco, thumb on forelock, posture 



214 PREJUDICES: FIRST SERIES 

before the yeomanry as a Great Artist, the evidence 
being a large chromo of a Childs' restaurant, and a 
studio like a Madison avenue antique-shop? Then 
Nathan flings a laugh at him and puts him in his place. 
And does some fat rhinoceros of an actress, unearth- 
ing a smutty play by a corn-fed Racine, loose its banal 
obscenities upon the vulgar in the name of Sex 
Hygiene, presuming thus to teach a Great Lesson, and 
break the Conspiracy of Silence, and carry on the 
Noble Work of Brieux and company, and so save im- 
patient flappers from the Moloch's Sacrifice of the 
Altar — does such a bumptious and preposterous bag- 
gage fill the newspapers with her pishposh and the 
largest theater in Manhattan with eager dunderheads? 
Then the ribald Jean has at her with a flour-sack filled 
with the pollen of the Ambrosia artemisiae folia, 
driving her from the scene to the tune of her own 
unearthly sneezing. 

Necessarily, he has to lay on with frequency. For 
one honest play, honestly produced and honestly 
played, Broadway sees two dozen that are simply so 
much green-goods. To devote serious exposition to 
the badness of such stuff would be to descend to the 
donkeyish futility of William Winter. Sometimes, 
indeed, even ridicule is not enough; there must be 
a briefer and more dramatic display of the essential 
banality. Well, then, why not recreate it in the 
manner of Croce — but touching up a line here, a color 



GEORGE JEAN NATHAN 215 

there? The result is burlesque, but burlesque that is 
the most searching and illuminating sort of criticism. 
Who will forget Nathan's demonstration that a plati- 
tudinous play by Thomas would be better if played 
backward? A superb bravura piece, enormously 
beyond the talents of any other American writer on 
the theater, it smashed the Thomas legend with one 
stroke. In the little volume called "Bottoms Up" 
you will find many other such annihilating waggeries. 
Nathan does not denounce melodrama with a black 
cap upon his head, painfully demonstrating its in- 
feriority to the drama of Ibsen, Scribe and Euripides; 
he simply sits down and writes a little melodrama so 
extravagantly ludicrous that the whole genus col- 
lapses. And he does not prove in four columns of a 
Sunday paper that French plays done into American 
are spoiled ; he simply shows the spoiling in six lines. 
This method, of course, makes for broken heads; 
it outrages the feelings of tender theatrical mounte- 
banks; it provokes reprisals more or less furtive and 
behind the door. The theater in America, as in most 
other countries, is operated chiefly by bounders. Men 
so constantly associated with actors tend to take on 
the qualities of the actor — his idiotic vanity, his her- 
culean stupidity, his chronic underrating of his bet- 
ters. The miasma spreads to dramatists and dramatic 
critics; the former drift into charlatanery and the 
latter into a cowardly and disgusting dishonesty. 



* 






216 PREJUDICES: FIRST SERIES 

Amid such scenes a man of positive ideas, of civilized 
tastes and of unshakable integrity is a stranger, and 
he must face all the hostility that the ]ower orders of 
men display to strangers. There is, so far as I know, 
no tripe-seller in Broadway who has not tried, at one 
time or another, to dispose of Nathan by attentat. He 
has been exposed to all the measures ordinarily 
effective against rebellious reviewers, and, resisting 
them, he has been treated to special treatment with 
infernal machines of novel and startling design. No 
writer for the theater has been harder beset, and none 
has been less incommoded by the onslaught. What is 
more, he has never made the slightest effort to 
capitalize this drum-fire — the invariable device of 
lesser men. So far as I am aware, and I have been 
in close association with him for ten years, it has had 
not the slightest effect upon him whatsoever. A 
thoroughgoing skeptic, with no trace in him of the 
messianic delusion, he has avoided timorousness on 
the one hand and indignation on the other. No man 
could be less a public martyr of the Metcalfe type; it 
would probably amuse him vastly to hear it argued 
that his unbreakable independence (and often some- 
what high and mighty sniffishness) has been of any 
public usefulness. I sometimes wonder what keeps 
such a man in the theater, breathing bad air nightly, 
gaping at prancing imbeciles, sitting cheek by jowl 
with cads. Perhaps there is, at bottom, a secret 



GEORGE JEAN NATHAN 217 

romanticism — a lingering residuum of a boyish de- 
light in pasteboard and spangles, gaudy colors and 
soothing sounds, preposterous heroes and appetizing 
wenches. But more likely it is a sense of humor — 
the zest of a man to whom life is a spectacle that 
never grows dull — a show infinitely surprising, 
amusing, buffoonish, vulgar, obscene. The theater, 
when all is said and done, is not life in miniature, 
but life enormously magnified, life hideously exag- 
gerated. Its emotions are ten times as powerful as 
those of reality, its ideas are twenty times as idiotic 
as those of real men, its lights and colors and sounds 
are forty times -as blinding and deafening as those of 
nature, its people are grotesque burlesques of every 
one we know. Here is diversion for a cynic. And 
here, it may be, is the explanation of Nathan's fidel- 
ity. 

Whatever the cause of his enchantment, it seems 
to be lasting. To a man so fertile in ideas and so 
facile in putting them into words there is a constant 
temptation to make experiments, to plunge into 
strange waters, to seek self-expression in ever-widen- 
ing circles. And yet, at the brink of forty years, 
Nathan remains faithful to the theater; of his half 
dozen books, only one does not deal with it, and that 
one is a very small one. In four or five years he has 
scarcely written of aught else. I doubt that anything 
properly describable as enthusiasm is at the bottom 



218 PREJUDICES: FIRST SERIES 

of this assiduity; perhaps the right word is curiosity. 
He is interested mainly, not in the staple fare of the 
playhouse, but in what might be called its fancy goods 
— in its endless stream of new men, its restless inno- 
vations, the radical overhauling that it has been un- 
dergoing in our time. I do not recall, in any of his 
books or articles, a single paragraph appraising the 
classics of the stage, or more than a brief note or two 
on their interpretation. His attention is always 
turned in a quite opposite direction. He is intensely 
interested in novelty of whatever sort, if it be only 
free from sham. Such experimentalists as Max Rein- 
hardt, George Bernard Shaw, Sasha Guitry and the 
daring nobodies of the Grand Guignol, such divergent 
originals as Dunsany, Ziegfeld, George M. Cohan and 
Schnitzler, have enlisted his eager partisanship. He 
saw something new to our theater in the farces of 
Hopwood before any one else saw it; he was quick to 
welcome the novel points of view of Eleanor Gates 
and Clare Kummer; he at once rescued what was 
sound in the Little Theatre movement from what was 
mere attitudinizing and pseudo-intellectuality. In 
the view of Broadway, an exigent and even malignant 
fellow, wielding a pen dipped in aqua fortis, he is 
actually amiable to the last degree, and constantly 
announces pearls in the fodder of the swine. Is the 
new play in Forty-second Street a serious work of art, 
as the press-agents and the newspaper reviewers say? 



GEORGE JEAN NATHAN 219 

Then so are your grandmother's false teeth! Is 
Maeterlinck a Great Thinker? Then so is Dr. Frank 
Crane! Is Belasco a profound artist? Then so is 
the man who designs the ceilings of hotel dining 
rooms! But let us not weep too soon. In the play 
around the corner there is a clever scene. Next door, 
amid sickening dullness, there are two buffoons who 
could be worse: one clouts the other with a Blutwurst 
filled with mayonnaise. And a block away there is a 
girl in the second row with a very charming twist of 
the vastus medialis. Let us sniff the roses and forget 
the thorns! 

What this attitude chiefly wars with, even above 
cheapness, meretriciousness and banality, is the 
fatuous effort to turn the theater, a place of amuse- 
ment, into a sort of outhouse to the academic grove — 
the Maeterlinck-Brieux-Barker complex. No critic 
in America, and none in England save perhaps 
Walkley, has combated this movement more vigor- 
ously than Nathan. He is under no illusion as to the 
functions and limitations of the stage. He knows, 
with Victor Hugo, that the best it can do, in the 
domain of ideas, is to "turn thoughts into food for the 
crowd," and he knows that only the simplest and 
shakiest ideas may undergo that transformation. 
Coming upon the scene at the height of the Ibsen 
mania of half a generation ago, he ranged himself 
against its windy pretenses from the start. He saw 



220 PREJUDICES: FIRST SERIES 

at once the high merit of Ibsen as a dramatic crafts- 
man and welcomed him as a reformer of dramatic 
technique, but he also saw how platitudinous was the 
ideational content of his plays and announced the 
fact in terms highly offensive to the Ibsenites. . . . 
But the Ibsenites have vanished and Nathan remains. 
He has survived, too, the Brieux hubbub. He has 
lived to preach the funeral sermon of the Belasco 
legend. He has himself sworded Maeterlinck and 
Granville Barker. He has done frightful execution 
upon many a poor mime. And meanwhile, breasting 
the murky tide of professorial buncombe, of solemn 
pontificating, of Richard-Burtonism, Clayton-Hamil- 
tonism and other such decaying forms of William- 
Winterism, he has rescued dramatic criticism among 
us from its exile with theology, embalming and ob- 
stetrics, and given it a place among what Nietzsche 
called the gay sciences, along with war, fiddle-playing 
and laparotomy. He has made it amusing, stimulat- 
ing, challenging, even, at times, a bit startling. And 
to the business, artfully concealed, he has brought a 
sound and thorough acquaintance with the heavy work 
of the pioneers, Lessing, Schlegel, Hazlitt, Lewes et al 
— and an even wider acquaintance, lavishly dis- 
played, with every nook and corner of the current 
theatrical scene across the water. And to discharge 
this extraordinarily copious mass of information he 



GEORGE JEAN NATHAN 221 

has hauled and battered the English language into new 
and often astounding forms, and when English has 
failed he has helped it out with French, German, 
Italian, American, Swedish, Russian, Turkish, Latin, 
Sanskrit and Old Church Slavic, and with algebraic 
symbols, chemical formulae, musical notation and the 
signs of the Zodiac. . . . 

This manner, of course, is not without its perils. 
A man so inordinately articulate is bound to succumb, 
now and then, to the seductions of mere virtuosity. 
The average writer, and particularly the average critic 
of the drama, does well if he gets a single new and racy 
phrase into an essay; Nathan does well if he dilutes 
his inventions with enough commonplaces to enable 
the average reader to understand his discourse at all. 
He carries the avoidance of the cliche to the length 
of an idee fixe. It would be difficult, in all his books, 
to find a dozen of the usual rubber stamps of criti- 
cism; I daresay it would kill him, or, at all events, 
bring him down with cholera morbus, to discover that 
he had called a play "convincing" or found "author- 
ity" in the snorting of an English actor-manager. At 
best, this incessant flight from the obvious makes for 
a piquant and arresting style, a procession of fan- 
tastic and often highly pungent neologisms — in brief, 
for Nathanism. At worst, it becomes artificiality, 
pedantry, obscurity. I cite an example from an essay 



222 PREJUDICES: FIRST SERIES 

on Eleanor Gates' "The Poor Little Rich Girl," pref- 
aced to the printed play: 

As against the not unhollow symbolic strut and gas- 
conade of such over-paeaned pieces as, let us for example 
say, "The Blue Bird" of Maeterlinck, so simple and unaf- 
fected a bit of stage writing as this — of school dramatic 
intrinsically the same — cajoles the more honest heart and 
satisfies more plausibly and fully those of us whose thumbs 
are ever being pulled professionally for a native stage less 
smeared with the snobberies of empty, albeit high-sounding, 
nomenclatures from overseas. 

Fancy that, Hedda! — and in praise of a "simple 
and unaffected bit of stage writing"! I denounced 
it at the time, circa 1916, and perhaps with some 
effect. At all events, I seem to notice a gradual dis- 
entanglement of the parts of speech. The old florid 
invention is still there; one encounters startling coin- 
ages in even the most casual of reviews; the thing still 
flashes and glitters; the tune is yet upon the E string. 
But underneath I hear a more sober rhythm than of 
old. The fellow, in fact, takes on a sedater habit, 
both in style and in point of view. Without abandon- 
ing anything essential, without making the slightest 
concession to the orthodox opinion that he so mag- 
nificently disdains, he yet begins to yield to the middle 
years. The mere shocking of the stupid is no longer 
as charming as it used to be. What he now offers is 
rather more gemiitlich; sometimes it even verges upon 



GEORGE JEAN NATHAN 223 

the instructive. . . . But I doubt that Nathan will 
ever become a professor, even if he enjoys the hide- 
ously prolonged senility of a William Winter. He 
will be full of surprises to the end. With his last 
gasp he will make a phrase to flabbergast a dolt. 



XVIII. PORTRAIT OF AN 
IMMORTAL SOUL 

ONE day in Spring, six or eight years ago, I 
received a letter from a man somewhere 
beyond the Wabash announcing that he had 
lately completed a very powerful novel and hinting 
that my critical judgment upon it would give him 
great comfort. Such notifications, at that time, 
reached me far too often to be agreeable, and so I 
sent him a form-response telling him that I was ill 
with pleurisy, had just been forbidden by my oculist 
to use my eyes, and was about to become a father. 
The aim of this form-response was to shunt all that 
sort of trade off to other reviewers, but for once it 
failed. That is to say, the unknown kept on writing 
to me, and finally offered to pay me an honorarium 
for my labor. This offer was so unusual that it quite 
demoralized me, and before I could recover I had re- 
ceived, cashed and dissipated a modest check, and 
was confronted by an accusing manuscript, perhaps 
four inches thick, but growing thicker every time I 
glanced at it. 

One night, tortured by conscience and by the in- 
quiries and reminders arriving from the author by 

224 



PORTRAIT OF AN IMMORTAL SOUL 225 

every post, I took up the sheets and settled down for 
a depressing hour or two of it. . . . No, I did not 
read all night. No, it was not a masterpiece. No, it 
has not made the far-off stranger famous. Let me 
tell the story quite honestly. I am, in fact, far too 
rapid a reader to waste a whole night on a novel; I 
had got through this one by midnight and was sound 
asleep at my usual time. And it was by no means a 
masterpiece; on the contrary, it was inchoate, clumsy, 
and, in part, artificial, insincere and preposterous. 
And to this day the author remains obscure. . . . 
But underneath all the amateurish writing, the striv- 
ing for effects that failed to come off, the absurd liter- 
ary self-consciousness, the recurrent falsity and ba- 
nality — underneath all these stigmata of a neophyte's 
book there was yet a capital story, unusual in con- 
tent, naive in manner and enormously engrossing. 
What is more, the faults that it showed in execution 
were, most of them, not ineradicable. On page after 
page, as I read on, I saw chances to improve it — to 
get rid of its intermittent bathos, to hasten its action, 
to eliminate its spells of fine writing, to purge it of 
its imitations of all the bad novels ever written — in 
brief, to tighten it, organize it, and, as the painters 
say, tease it up. 

The result was that I spent the next morning writ- 
ing the author a long letter of advice. It went to him 
with the manuscript, and for weeks I heard nothing 



226 PREJUDICES: FIRST SERIES 

from him. Then the manuscript returned, and I 
read it again. This time I had a genuine surprise. 
Not only had the unknown followed my suggestions 
with much intelligence; in addition, once set up on the 
right track, he had devised a great many excellent 
improvements of his own. In its new form, in fact, 
the thing was a very competent and even dexterous 
piece of writing, and after re-reading it from the 
first word to the last with even keener interest than 
before, I sent it to Mitchell Kennerley, then an active 
publisher, and asked him to look through it. Ken- 
nerley made an offer for it at once, and eight or 
nine months later it was published with his imprint. 
The author chose to conceal himself behind the nom 
de plume of Robert Steele; I myself gave the book 
the title of "One Man." It came from the press — 
and straightway died the death. The only favorable 
review it received was mine in the Smart Set. No 
other reviewer paid any heed to it. No one gabbled 
about it. No one, so far as I could make out, even 
read it. The sale was small from the, start, and 
quickly stopped altogether. ... To this day the fact 
fills me with wonder. To this day I marvel that so 
dramatic, so penetrating and so curiously moving a 
story should have failed so overwhelmingly. . . . 

For I have never been able to convince myself that 
I was wrong about it. On the contrary, I am more 
certain than ever, re-reading it after half a dozen 



PORTRAIT OF AN IMMORTAL SOUL 227 
years, that I was right — that it was and is one of the 
most honest and absorbing human documents ever 
printed in America. I have called it, following the 
author, a novel. It is, in fact, nothing of the sort; 
it is autobiography. More, it is autobiography un- 
adorned and shameless, autobiography almost unbe- 
lievably cruel and betraying, autobiography that is as 
devoid of artistic sophistication as an operation for 
gall-stones. This so-called Steele is simply too 
stupid, too ingenuous, too moral to lie. He is the 
very reverse of an artist; he is a born and incurable 
Puritan — and in his alleged novel he draws the most 
faithful and merciless picture of an American Puritan 
that has ever got upon paper. There is never the 
slightest effort at amelioration; he never evades the 
ghastly horror of it; he never tries to palm off him- 
self as a good fellow, a hero. Instead, he simply 
takes his stand in the center of the platform, where all 
the spotlights meet, and there calmly strips off his 
raiment of reticence — first his Sunday plug-hat, then 
his long-tailed coat, then his boiled shirt, then his 
shoes and socks, and finally his very B. V. D.'s. The 
closing scene shows the authentic Mensch-an-sich, the 
eternal blue-nose in the nude, with every wart and 
pimple glittering and every warped bone and flabby 
muscle telling its abhorrent tale. There stands the 
Puritan stripped of every artifice and concealment, 
like Thackeray's Louis XIV. 



228 PREJUDICES: FIRST SERIES 

Searching my memory, I can drag up no recollec- 
tion of another such self-opener of secret chambers 
and skeletonic closets. Set beside this pious bab- 
bler, the late Giovanni Jacopo Casanova de Seingalt 
shrinks to the puny proportions of a mere barroom 
boaster, a smoking-car Don Juan, an Eighteenth Cen- 
tury stock company leading man or whiskey drum- 
mer. So, too, Benvenuto Cellini: a fellow vastly 
entertaining, true enough, but after all, not so much 
a psychological historian as a liar, a yellow journal- 
ist. One always feels, in reading Benvenuto, that 
the man who is telling the story is quite distinct from 
the man about whom it is being told. The fellow, in- 
deed, was too noble an artist to do a mere portrait 
with fidelity; he could not resist the temptation to 
repair a cauliflower ear here, to paint out a tell-tale 
scar there, to shine up the eyes a bit, to straighten 
the legs down below. But this Steele — or whatever 
his name may be — never steps out of himself. He 
is never describing the gaudy one he would like to 
be, but always the commonplace, the weak, the emo- 
tional, the ignorant, the third-rate Christian male 
that he actually is. He deplores himself, he dis- 
trusts himself, he plainly wishes heartily that he was 
not himself, but he never makes the slightest attempt 
to disguise and bedizen himself. Such as he is, 
cheap, mawkish, unsesthetic, conscience-stricken, he 
depicts himself with fierce and unrelenting honesty. 



PORTRAIT OF AN IMMORTAL SOUL 229 

Superficially, the man that he sets before us seems 
to be a felonious fellow, for he confesses frankly 
to a long series of youthful larcenies, to a some- 
what banal adventure in forgery (leading to a term 
in jail), to sundry petty deceits and breaches of trust 
and to an almost endless chain of exploits in amour 
most of them sordid and unrelieved by anything ap 
proaching romance. But the inner truth about him 
of course, is that he is really a moralist of the moral 
ists — that his one fundamental and all-embracing 
virtue is what he himself regards as his viciousness 
— that he is never genuinely human and likable save 
in those moments which lead swiftly to his most florid 
self-accusing. In brief, the history is that of a moral 
young man, the child of God-fearing parents, and its 
moral, if it has one, is that a strictly moral upbring- 
ing injects poisons into the system that even the most 
steadfast morality cannot resist. It is, in a way, the 
old story of the preacher's son turned sot and cut- 
throat. 

Here we see an apparently sound and normal 
youngster converted into a sneak and rogue by the 
intolerable pressure of his father's abominable Pur- 
itanism. And once a rogue, we see him make him- 
self into a scoundrel by the very force of his horror 
of his roguery. Every step downward is helped 
from above. It is not until he resigns himself 
frankly to the fact of his incurable degradation, and 



230 PREJUDICES: FIRST SERIES 

so ceases to struggle against it, that he ever steps out 

of it. 

The external facts of the chronicle are simple 
enough. The son of a school teacher turned petty 
lawyer and politician, the hero is brought up under 
such barbaric rigors that he has already become a 
fluent and ingenious liar, in sheer self-protection, 
at the age of five or six. From lying he proceeds 
quite naturally to stealing: he lifts a few dollars from 
a neighbor, and then rifles a tin bank, and then takes 
to filching all sorts of small articles from the store- 
keepers of the vicinage. His harsh, stupid, Chris- 
tian father, getting wind of these peccadilloes, has at 
him in the manner of a mad bull, beating him, 
screaming at him, half killing him. The boy, for 
all the indecent cruelty of it, is convinced of the 
justice of it. He sees himself as one lost; he accepts 
the fact that he is a disgrace to his family; in the 
end, he embraces the parental theory that there is 
something strange and sinister in his soul, that he 
couldn't be good if he tried. Finally, filled with 
some vague notion of taking his abhorrent self out 
of sight, he runs away from home. Brought back in 
the character of a felon, he runs away again. Soon 
he is a felon in fact. That is to say, he forges his 
father's name to a sheaf of checks, and his father 
allows him to go to prison. 

This prison term gives the youngster a chance to 



PORTRAIT OF AN IMMORTAL SOUL 231 

think things out for himself, without the constant in- 
trusion of his father's Presbyterian notions of right or 
wrong. The result is a measurably saner philosophy 
than that he absorbed at home, but there is still 
enough left of the old moral obsession to cripple him 
in all his thinking, and especially in his thinking 
about himself. His attitude toward women, for ex- 
ample, is constantly conditioned by puritanical mis- 
givings and superstitions. He can never view them 
innocently, joyously, unmorally, as a young fellow 
of twenty or twenty-one should, but is always op- 
pressed by Sunday-schoolish notions of his duty to 
them, and to society in general. On the one hand, he 
is appalled by his ready yielding to those hussies 
who have at him unofficially, and on the other hand 
he is filled with the idea that it would be immoral 
for him, an ex-convict, to go to the altar with a virgin. 
The result of these doubts is that he gives a good 
deal more earnest thought to the woman question than 
is good for him. The second result is that he proves 
an easy victim to the discarded mistress of his em- 
ployer. This worthy working girl craftily snares 
him and marries him — and then breaks down on their 
wedding night, unwomaned, so to speak, by the pa- 
thetic innocence of the ass, and confesses to a choice 
roll of her past doings, ending with the news that she 
is suffering from what the vice crusaders melliflu- 
ously denominate a "social disease." 



232 PREJUDICES: FIRST SERIES 

Naturally enough, the blow almost kills the poor 
boy — he is still, in fact, scarcely out of his nonage — 
and the problems that grow out of the confession en- 
gage him for the better part of the next two years. 
Always he approaches them and wrestles with them 
morally; always his search is for the way that the 
copy-book maxims approve, not for the way that self- 
preservation demands. Even when a brilliant chance 
for revenge presents itself, and he is forced to em- 
brace it by the sheer magnetic pull of it, he does so 
hesitatingly, doubtingly, ashamedly. His whole at- 
titude to this affair, indeed, is that of an Early Chris- 
tian Father. He hates himself for gathering rose- 
buds while he may ; he hates the woman with a double 
hatred for strewing them so temptingly in his path. 
And in the end, like the moral and upright fellow that 
he is, he sells out the temptress for cash in hand, and 
salves his conscience by handing over the money to an 
orphan asylum. This after prayers for divine guid- 
ance. A fact! Don't miss the story of it in the 
book. You will go far before you get another such 
illuminating glimpse into a pure and righteous mind. 
So in episode after episode. One observes a con- 
stant oscillation between a pharisaical piety and a 
hoggish carnality. The praying brother of yester- 
day is the night-hack roisterer of to-day; the roisterer 
of to-day is the snuffling penitent and pledge-taker of 
to-morrow. Finally, he is pulled both ways at once 



PORTRAIT OF AN IMMORTAL SOUL 233 

and suffers the greatest of all his tortures. Again, 
of course, a woman is at the center of it — this time 
a stenographer. He has no delusions about her vir- 
tue — she admits herself, in fact, that it is extinct — 
but all the same he falls head over heels in love with 
her, and is filled with an inordinate yearning to marry 
her and settle down with her. Why not, indeed? 
She is pretty and a nice girl; she seems to reciprocate 
his affection; she is naturally eager for the obliterat- 
ing gold band; she will undoubtedly make him an 
excellent wife. But he has forgotten his conscience 
— and it rises up in revenge and floors him. What! 
Marry a girl with such a Past ! Take a fancy woman 
to his bosom! Jealousy quickly comes to the aid of 
conscience. Will he be able to forget? Contemplat- 
ing the damsel in the years to come, at breakfast, at 
dinner, across the domestic hearth, in the cold, blue 
dawn, will he ever rid his mind of those abhorrent 
images, those phantasms of men? 

Here, at the very end, we come to the most en- 
grossing chapter in this extraordinary book. The 
duelist of sex, thrust through the gizzard at last, goes 
off to a lonely hunting camp to wrestle with his in- 
tolerable problem. He describes his vacillations 
faithfully, elaborately, cruelly. On the one side he 
sets his honest yearning, his desire to have done with 
light loves, the girl herself. On the other hand he 
ranges his moral qualms, his sneaking distrusts, the 



234 PREJUDICES: FIRST SERIES 

sinister shadows of those nameless ones, his morgan- 
atic brothers-in-law. The struggle within his soul is 
gigantic. He suffers as Prometheus suffered on the 
rock; his very vitals are devoured; he emerges bat- 
tered and exhausted. He decides, in the end, that 
he will marry the girl. She has wasted the shining 
dowry of her sex; she comes to him spotted and at 
second-hand; snickers will appear in the polyphony 
of the wedding music— but he will marry her never- 
theless. It will be a marriage unblessed by Holy 
Writ; it will be a flying in the face of Moses; luck 
and the archangels will be against it — but he will 
marry her all the same, Moses or no Moses. And so, 
with his face made bright by his first genuine revolt 
against the archaic, barbaric morality that has 
dragged him down, and his heart pulsing to his first 
display of authentic, unpolluted charity, generosity 
and nobility, he takes his departure from us. May 
the fates favor him with their mercy ! May the Lord 
God strain a point to lift him out of his purgatory 
at last! He has suffered all the agonies of belief. 
He has done abominable penance for the Westminster 
Catechism, and for the moral order of the world, 
and for all the despairing misery of back-street, black 
bombazine, Little Bethel goodness. He is Puritanism 
incarnate, and Puritanism become intolerable. . . . 
I daresay any second-hand bookseller will be able 
to find a copy of the book for you: "One Man," by 



PORTRAIT OF AN IMMORTAL SOUL 235 
Robert Steele. There is some raciness in the detail of 
it. Perhaps, despite its public failure, it enjoys a 
measure of pizzicato esteem behind the door. The 
author, having achieved its colossal self-revelation, 
became intrigued by the notion that he was a literary 
man of sorts, and informed me that he was undertak- 
ing the story of the girl last-named — the spotted ex- 
virgin. But he apparently never finished it. No 
doubt he discovered, before he had gone very far, 
that the tale was intrinsically beyond him — that his 
fingers all turned into thumbs when he got beyond his 
own personal history. Such a writer, once he has 
told the one big story, is done for. 



XIX. JACK LONDON 

THE quasi-science of genealogy, as it is prac- 
ticed in the United States, is directed almost 
exclusively toward establishing aristocratic 
descents for nobodies. That is to say, it records and 
glorifies decay. Its typical masterpiece is the dis- 
covery that the wife of some obscure county judge is 
the grandchild, infinitely removed, of Mary Queen 
of Scots, or that the blood of Geoffrey of Monmouth 
flows in the veins of a Philadelphia stockbroker. 
How much more profitably its professors might be 
employed in tracing the lineage of truly salient and 
distinguished men! For example, the late Jack Lon- 
don. Where did he get his hot artistic passion, his 
delicate feeling for form and color, his extraordinary 
skill with words? The man, in truth, was an instinc- 
tive artist of a high order, and if ignorance often cor- 
rupted his art, it only made the fact of his inborn 
mastery the more remarkable. No other popular 
writer of his time did any better writing than you will 
find in "The Call of the Wild," or in parts of "John 
Barleycorn," or in such short stories as "The Sea 
Farmer" and "Samuel." Here, indeed, are all the 

236 



JACK LONDON 237 

elements of sound fiction: clear thinking, a sense of 
character, the dramatic instinct, and, above all, the 
adept putting together of words — words charming and 
slyly significant, words arranged, in a French phrase, 
for the respiration and the ear. You will never con- 
vince me that this aesthetic sensitiveness, so rare, so 
precious, so distinctively aristocratic, burst into abio- 
genetic flower on a San Francisco sand-lot. There 
must have been some intrusion of an alien and su- 
perior strain, some pianissimo fillup from above; 
there was obviously a great deal more to the thing 
than a routine hatching in low life. Perhaps the 
explanation is to be sought in a Jewish smear. Jews 
were not few in the California of a generation ago, 
and one of them, at least, attained to a certain high, 
if transient, fame with the pen. Moreover, the name, 
London, has a Jewish smack; the Jews like to call 
themselves after great cities. I have, indeed, heard 
this possibility of an Old Testament descent put into 
an actual rumor. Stranger genealogies are not un- 
known in seaports. . . . 

But London the artist did not live a cappella. 
There was also London the amateur Great Thinker, 
and the second often hamstrung the first. That great 
thinking of his, of course, took color from the sordid 
misery of his early life; it was, in the main, a jejune 
Socialism, wholly uncriticised by humor. Some of 
his propagandist and expository books are almost 



238 PREJUDICES: FIRST SERIES 

unbelievably nonsensical, and whenever he allowed 
any of his so-called ideas to sneak into an imaginative 
work the intrusion promptly spoiled it. Socialism, 
in truth, is quite incompatible with art; its cook-tent 
materialism is fundamentally at war with the first 
principle of the aesthetic gospel, which is that one 
daffodil is worth ten shares of Bethlehem Steel. It 
is not by accident that there has never been a book 
on Socialism which was also a work of art. Papa 
Marx's "Das Kapital" at once comes to mind. It 
is as wholly devoid of graces as "The Origin of Spe- 
cies" or "Science and Health"; one simply cannot 
conceive a reasonable man reading it without aver- 
sion; it is as revolting as a barrel organ. London, 
preaching Socialism, or quasi-Socialism, or whatever 
it was that he preached, took over this offensive dull- 
ness. The materialistic conception of history was 
too heavy a load for him to carry. When he would 
create beautiful books he had to throw it overboard 
as Wagner threw overboard democracy, the super- 
man and free thought. A sort of temporary Chris- 
tian created "Parsifal." A sort of temporary aris- 
tocrat created "The Call of the Wild." 

Also in another way London's early absorption of 
social and economic nostrums damaged him as an 
artist. It led him into a socialistic exaltation of 
mere money; it put a touch of avarice into him. 
Hence his too deadly industry, his relentless thou- 



JACK LONDON 239 

sand words a day, his steady emission of half-done 
books. The prophet of freedom, he yet sold himself 
into slavery to the publishers, and paid off with his 
soul for his ranch, his horses, his trappings of a 
wealthy cheese-monger. His volumes rolled out al- 
most as fast as those of E. Phillips Oppenheim; he 
simply could not make them perfect at such a gait. 
There are books on his list — for example, "The Scar- 
let Plague" and "The Little Lady of the Big House" 
— that are little more than garrulous notes for books. 
But even in the worst of them one comes upon sud- 
den splashes of brilliant color, stray proofs of the ^ 
adept penman, half-wistful reminders that London, 
at bottom, was no fraud. He left enough, I am con- 
vinced, to keep him in mind. There was in him a 
vast delicacy of perception, a high feeling, a sensi- 
tiveness to beauty. And there was in him, too, under 
all his blatancies, a poignant sense of the infinite 
romance and mystery of human life. 



XX. AMONG THE AVATARS 

IT may be, as they say, that we Americanos lie in 
the gutter of civilization, but all the while our 
eyes steal cautious glances at the stars. In the 
midst of the prevailing materialism — the thin incense 
of mysticism. As a relief from money drives, poli- 
tics and the struggle for existence — Rosicrucianism, 
the Knights of Pythias, passwords, grips, secret work, 
the 33rd degree. In flight from Peruna, Mandrake 
Pills and Fletcherism — Christian Science, the 
Emmanuel Movement, the New Thought. The tend- 
ency already has its poets: Edwin Markham and 
Ella Wheeler Wilcox. It has acquired its romancer: 
Will Levington Comfort. . . . 

This Comfort wields an easy pen. He has done, 
indeed, some capital melodramas, and when his ardor 
heats him up he grows downright eloquent. But of 
late the whole force of his aesthetic engines has been 
thrown into propaganda, by the Bhagavad-Gita out 
of Victorian sentimentalism. The nature of this 
propaganda is quickly discerned. What Comfort 
preaches is a sort of mellowed mariolatry, a hu- 
morless exaltation of woman, a flashy effort to turn 

240 



AMONG THE AVATARS 241 

the inter-attraction of the sexes, ordinarily a mere 
cause of scandal, into something transcendental and 
highly portentous. Woman, it appears, is the be- 
yond-man, the trans-mammal, the nascent angel; she 
is the Upward Path, the Way to Consecration, the 
door to the Third Lustrous Dimension; all the myster- 
ies of the cosmos are concentrated in Mystic Mother- 
hood, whatever that may be. I capitalize in the 
Comfortian (and New Thought) manner. On one 
page of "Fate Knocks at the Door" I find Voices, 
Pits of Trade, Woman, the Great Light, the Big 
Deep and the Twentieth Century Lie. On another 
are the Rising Road of Man, the Transcendental Soul 
Essence, the Way Uphill, the Sempiternal Mother. 
Thus Andrew Bedient, the spouting hero of the tale: 

I believe in the natural greatness of Woman ; that through 
the spirit of Woman are born sons of strength; that only 
through the potential greatness of Woman comes the mili- 
tant greatness of man. 

I believe Mothering is the loveliest of the Arts; that 
great mothers are handmaidens of the Spirit, to whom are 
intrusted God's avatars; that no prophet is greater than 
his mother. 

I believe when humanity arises to Spiritual evolution 
(as it once evolved through Flesh, and is now evolving 
through Mind) Woman will assume the ethical guiding 
of the race. 

I believe that the Holy Spirit of the Trinity is Mystic 
Motherhood, and the source of the divine principle is 
Woman; that the prophets are the union of this divine 



242 PREJUDICES: FIRST SERIES 

principle and the higher manhood; that they are beyond 
the attractions of women of flesh, because unto their man- 
hood has been added Mystic Motherhood. . . . 

I believe that the way to Godhood is the Rising Road 
of Man. 

I believe that, as the human mother brings a child to 
her husband, the father — so Mystic Motherhood, the Holy 
Spirit, is bringing the world to God, the Father. 

The capitals are Andrew's — or Comfort's. I 
merely transcribe and perspire. This Andrew, it 
appears, is a sea cook who has been mellowed and 
transfigured by exhaustive study of the Bhagavad 
Glta, one of the sacred nonsense books of the Hindus. 
He doesn't know who his father was, and he remem- 
bers his mother only as one dying in a strange city. 
When she finally passed away he took to the high 
seas and mastered marine cookery. Thus for many 
years, up and down the world. Then he went ashore 
at Manila and became chef to an army packtrain. 
Then he proceeded to China, to Japan. Then to In- 
dia, where he entered the forestry service and plod- 
ded the Himalayan heights, always with the Bhagavad 
Gita under his arm. At some time or other, during 
his years of culinary seafaring, he saved the life of 
a Yankee ship captain, and that captain, later dying, 
left him untold millions in South America. But it 
is long after all this is past that we have chiefly to do 
with him. He is now a young Monte Cristo at large 



AMONG THE AVATARS 243 

in New York, a Monte Cristo worshiped and gurgled 
over by a crowd of mushy old maids, a hero of 
Uneeda-biscuit parties in God-forsaken studios, the 
madness and despair of senescent virgins. 

But it is not Andrew's wealth that inflames these 
old girls, nor even his manly beauty, but rather his 
revolutionary and astounding sapience, his great gift 
for solemn and incomprehensible utterance, his skill 
as a metaphysician. They hang upon his every word. 
His rhetoric makes their heads swim. Once he gets 
fully under way, they almost swoon. . . . And what 
girls they are! Alas, what pathetic neck-stretching 
toward tinsel stars! What eager hearing of the soul- 
ful, gassy stuff! One of them has red hair and 
"wine dark eyes, now cryptic black, now suffused 
with red glows like the night sky above a prairie fire." 
Another is "tall and lovely in a tragic, flower-like 
way" and performs upon the violoncello. A third is 
"a tanned woman rather variously weathered," who 
writes stupefying epigrams about Whitman and 
Nietzsche — making the latter's name Nietschze, of 
course! A fourth is "the Gray One" — mystic ap- 
pellation! A fifth — but enough! You get the pic- 
ture. You can imagine how Andrew's sagacity stag- 
gers these poor dears. You can see them fighting 
for him, each against all, with sharp, psychical ex- 
caliburs. 

Arm in arm with all this exaltation of Woman, of 



244 PREJUDICES: FIRST SERIES 

course, goes a great suspicion of mere woman. The 
combination is as old as Christian mysticism, and 
Havelock Ellis has discussed its origin and nature at 
great length. On the one hand is the Ubermensch; 
on the other hand is the temptress, the Lorelei. The 
Madonna and Mother Eve, the celestial virgins and 
the succubi! The hero of "Fate Knocks at the 
Door," for all his flaming words, still distrusts his 
goddess. His colleague of "Down Among Men" is 
poisoned by the same suspicions. Woman has led 
him up to grace, she has shown him the Upward Path, 
she has illuminated him with her Mystic Motherhood 
— but the moment she lets go his hand he takes to his 
heels. What is worse, he sends a friend to her (I 
forget her name, and his) to explain in detail how 
unfavorably any further communion with her would 
corrupt his high mission, i. e., to save the downtrod- 
den by writing plays that fail and books that not even 
Americans will read. An intellectual milk-toast! 
A mixture of Dr. Frank Crane and Mother Tingley, of 
Edward Bok and the Archangel Eddy! . . . 

So far, not much of this ineffable stuff has got 
among the best-sellers, but I believe that it is on its 
way. Despite materialism and pragmatism, mys- 
ticism is steadily growing in fashion. I hear of 
paunchy Freemasons holding sacramental meetings 
on Maundy Thursday, of Senators in Congress rail- 
ing against materia medica, of Presidents invoking 



AMONG THE AVATARS 245 

divine intercession at Cabinet meetings. The New 
Thoughters march on; they have at least a dozen 
prosperous magazines, and one of them has a circu- 
lation comparable to that of any 20-cent repository of 
lingerie fiction. Such things as Karma, the Inef- 
fable Essence and the Zeitgeist become familiar 
fauna, chained up in the cage of every woman's club. 
Thousands of American women know far more about 
the Subconscious than they know about plain sewing. 
The pungency of myrrh and frankincense is mingled 
with odeur de femme. Physiology is formally re- 
pealed and repudiated; its laws are all lies. No 
doubt the fleshly best-seller of the last decade, with 
its blushing amorousness, its flashes of underwear, its 
obstetrics between chapters, will give place to a more 
delicate piece of trade-goods to-morrow. In this 
New Thought novel the hero and heroine will seek 
each other out, not to spoon obscenely behind the 
door, but for the purpose of uplifting the race. Kiss- 
ing is already unsanitary; in a few years it may be 
downright sacrilegious, a crime against some obscure 
avatar or other, a business libidinous and accursed. 



I 



XXI. THREE AMERICAN 
IMMORTALS 



Aristotelean Obsequies 

TAKE the following from the Boston Herald of 
May 1, 1882: 



A beautiful floral book stood at the left of the pulpit, 
being spread out on a stand. ... Its last page was com- 
posed of white carnations, white daisies and light-colored 
immortelles. On the leaf was displayed, in neat letters 
of purple immortelles, the word "Finis." This device was 
about two feet square, and its border was composed of 
different colored tea-roses. The other portion of the book 
was composed of dark and light-colored flowers. . . . The 
front of the large pulpit was covered with a mass of white 
pine boughs laid on loosely. In the center of this mass of 
boughs appeared a large harp composed of yellow jonquils. 
. . . Above this harp was a handsome bouquet of dark 
pansies. On each side appeared large clusters of calla 
lilies. 

Well, what have we here? The funeral of a 
Grand Exalted Pishposh of the Odd Fellows, of an 
East Side Tammany leader, of an aged and much re- 

246 



THREE AMERICAN IMMORTALS 247 

spected brothel-keeper? Nay. What we have here 
is the funeral of Ralph Waldo Emerson. It was thus 
that New England lavished the loveliest fruits of the 
Puritan aesthetic upon the bier of her greatest son. It 
was thus that Puritan Kultur mourned a philosopher. 



Edgar Allan Poe 

The myth that there is a monument to Edgar Allan 
Poe in Baltimore is widely believed; there are even 
persons who, stopping off in Baltimore to eat oysters, 
go to look at it. As a matter of fact, no such monu- 
ment exists. All that the explorer actually finds is 
a cheap and hideous tombstone in the corner of a 
Presbyterian churchyard — a tombstone quite as bad 
as the worst in Pere La Chaise. For twenty-six years 
after Poe's death there was not even this: the grave 
remained wholly unmarked. Poe had surviving 
relatives in Baltimore, and they were well-to-do. 
One day one of them ordered a local stonecutter to 
put a plain stone over the grave. The stonecutter 
hacked it out and was preparing to haul it to the 
churchyard when a runaway freight-train smashed 
into his stoneyard and broke the stone to bits. 
Thereafter the Poes seem to have forgotten Cousin 
Edgar; at all events, nothing further was done. 

The existing tombstone was erected by a committee 



248 PREJUDICES: FIRST SERIES 

of Baltimore schoolmarms, and cost about $1,000. 
It took the dear girls ten long years to raise the money. 
They started out with a "literary entertainment" 
which yielded $380. This was in 1865. Six years 
later the fund had made such slow progress that, with 
accumulated interest, it came to but $587.02. Three 
years more went by: it now reached $627.55. Then 
some anonymous Poeista came down with $100, two 
others gave $50 each, one of the devoted schoolmarms 
raised $52 in nickels and dimes, and George W. 
Childs agreed to pay any remaining deficit. During 
all this time not a single American author of posi- 
tion gave the project any aid. And when, finally, a 
stone was carved and set up and the time came for 
the unveiling, the only one who appeared at the cere- 
mony was Walt Whitman. All the other persons 
present were Baltimore nobodies — chiefly school- 
teachers and preachers. There were three set 
speeches — one by the principal of a local high school, 
the second by a teacher in the same seminary, and the 
third by a man who was invited to give his "personal 
recollections" of Poe, but who announced in his third 
sentence that "I never saw Poe but once, and our in- 
terview did not last an hour." 

This was the gaudiest Poe celebration ever held in 
America. The poet has never enjoyed such august 
posthumous attentions as those which lately flattered 
the shade of James Russell Lowell. At his actual 



• THREE AMERICAN IMMORTALS 249 
burial, in 1849, exactly eight persons were present, 
of whom six were relatives. He was planted, as I 
have said, in a Presbyterian churchyard, among gen- 
erations of honest believers in infant damnation, but 
the officiating clergyman was a Methodist. Two days 
after his death a Baptist gentleman of God, the il- 
lustrious Rufus W. Griswold, printed a defamatory 
article upon him in the New York Tribune, and for 
years it set the tone of native criticism of him. And 
so he rests: thrust among Presbyterians by a Metho- 
dist and formally damned by a Baptist. 

3 

Memorial Service 

Let us summon from the shades the immortal soul 
of James Harlan, born in 1820, entered into rest in 
1899. In the year 1865 this Harlan resigned from 
the United States Senate to enter the cabinet of Abra- 
ham Lincoln as Secretary of the Interior. One of 
the clerks in that department, at $600 a year, was 
Walt Whitman, lately emerged from three years of 
hard service as an army nurse during the Civil War. 
One day, discovering that Whitman was the author 
of a book called "Leaves of Grass," Harlan ordered 
him incontinently kicked out, and it was done forth- 
with. Let us remember this event and this man; he 
is too precious to die. Let us repair, once a year, 



250 PREJUDICES: FIRST SERIES 

to our accustomed houses of worship and there give 
thanks to God that one day in 1865 brought together 
the greatest poet that America has ever produced and 
the damndest ass. 



THE END 



INDEX 



Ade, George, 98, 114 et seq. 

Adler, Alfred, 170 

Ailsa Page, 134 

American Academy of Arts and 

Letters, 115, 138 
American Language, The, 210 
Androcles and the Lion, 185 et 

seq. 
Angela's Business, 139 
Ann Veronica, 25, 31 
Another Book on the Theater, 

211 
Archer, William, 25, 174 
Arnold, Matthew, 194 
Artie, 121 
Atlantic Monthly, 52, 134, 173, 

174 
Augier, Emile, 106 
Avaries, Les, 107, 201 

Bahr, Hermann, 16 
Balmforth, Ramsden, 186 
Balzac, H., 50 
Barber, Granville, 219 
Bealhy, 24, 32 
Beck, James M., 33 
Beethoven, L. van, 18, 72, 94 
Belasco, David, 213, 219 
Belloc, Hillaire, 31 
Bennett, Arnold, 31, 36 et seq. 
Beyerlein, F. A., 106 
Bierce, Ambrose, 130 
Bierbaum, O. J., 131 
Blasco Ibanez, 24, 145- 
Bleibtreu. K., 106 
Book of Prefaces, A, 210 
Boon, 31 

Boynton, H. W., 14 
Brahms, Johannes, 18 
Braithwaite, W. S„ 83 
Brandes, Georg, 17 



251 



Brieux, Eugene, 61, 107, 201, 219 
Brooks, Van Wyck, 34 
Brownell, W. C., 11, 14 
Buried Alive, 46 
Bynner, Witter, 85 

Cabell, James Branch, 144 
Call of the Wild, The, 236 
Carlyle, Thomas, 12, 16, 191, 212 
Cather, Willa Sibert, 130 
Century, The, 174 
Certain Rich Man, A, 140 
Chambers, R. W., 73, 117, 129 

et seq., 148 
Chap-Book, The, 134 
Chesterton, G. K., 27, 124 
Childs, George W., 248 
Churchill, Winston, 37, 131 
Clemens, S. L., 52, 57, 97, 114, 

115, 118 
Cobb, Irvin, 97 et seq., 134 
Cobb's Anatomy, 99 
Comfort, W. L., 240 et seq. 
Conrad, Joseph, 11, 34, 38, 40, 

44, 56, 97, 112, 144 
Cosmopolitan, The, 175 et seq. 
Craig, Gordon, 208 
Crane, Frank, 46, 244 
Criterion, The, 129, 130 
Croce, Benedetto, 12, 212 
Curtis, George W., 114 

Dewey, John, 61 et seq. 
Dial, The, 64 
Doll's House, A, 22, 23 
Dreiser, Theodore, 14, 34, 38, 47, 
54, 97, 116, 119, 130, 144 

Ehre, Die, 105 
Ellis, Havelock, 244 



252 



INDEX 



Emerson, R. W., 115, 191 et seq., 

246 
Everybody's Magazine, 175 

Family, The (Parsons), 155 
Family, The (Poole), 147 
Fate Knocks at the Door, 241 
Fear and Conventionality, 155 et 

seq. 
First and Last Things, 22 
Fletcher, J. G., 92 
Forester's Daughter, The, 136 
Four Horsemen of the Apoca- 
lypse, The, 24, 145 
France, Anatole, 34, 131 
Frau Sorge, 105 
Freud, Sigmund, 151, 170, 199 
Frost, Robert, 84, 89, 92 
Friihlings Erwachen, 201 

Garland, Hamlin, 134 et seq. 
Gay Rebellion, The, 133 
George, W. L., 40 
Giovannitti, Ettore, 90, 92 
Godey's Lady's Book, 174 
Goethe, J. W., 12, 16, 194, 212 
Grimm, Hermann, 194 
Griswold, Rufus, 19, 172, 249 



H. D., 92 

Haeckel, Ernst, 45 
Hagedorn, Hermann, 86 
Hale, William Bayard, 34 
Hamilton, Clayton, 140, 148 et 

seq., 220 
Harbor, The, 146 
Hardy, Thomas, 34 
Harlan, James, 249 
Harper's Magazine, 173 
Harrison, H. S., 117, 139 et seq., 

141 
Harvey, Alexander, 52 
Hauptmann, Gerhart, 106, 213 
Hazlitt, Wm, 16 
Hearst, W. R., 175 et seq. 
Hearst's Magazine, 176 
Heimat, 105 



Higher Learning in America, 

The, 65, 67, 71, 81 
His Second Wife, 147 
History of Mr. Polly, The, 25, 31 
Hohe Lied, Das, 107 
Holz, Arno, 105 
Howe, E. W., 56, 118, 119 
Howells, W. D., 52 et seq., 97, 

118, 144 
Huckleberry Finn, 53 
Huneker, James, 17, 19, 57, 129, 

130 

Ibsen, Henrik, 12, 106, 107, 119, 
219 

Imperial Germany and the Indus- 
trial Revolution, 65 

Indian Lily, The, 107 et seq. 

Instinct of Workmanship, The, 65 

In the Heart of a Fool, 140 

James, William, 60 et seq., 154, 

193 
Joan and Peter, 25 et seq., 31, 

32, 33 
John Barleycorn, 236 
Johnson, Owen, 98, 148 
Jungle, The, 145, 146 

Katzensteg, Der, 105 
Kauffman, R W., 199 
Kilmer, Joyce, 86 
King in Yellow, The, 134 
Kipling, Rudyard, 27 
Kreymborg, Alfred, 83 

Ladies' Home Journal, 53, 126, 

143, 177 
Lardner, Ring W., 98 
Leatherwood God, The, 54 
Le Bon, Gustave, 154 
Lindsay, Vachel, 83, 84, 89, 92, 

94, 96 
Lion's Share, The, 46, 51 
Little Lady of the Big House, 

The, 239 
Lloyd-George, David, 33 
London, Jack, 37, 236 et seq. 



INDEX 



253 



Lowell, Amy, 83, 86, 87, 92, 96 
Lowell, J. R., 115, 173, 248 
Lowes, John Livingstone, 88 

Mabie, H. W., 16 

McClure, John, 96 

McClure, S. S., 175 

McClure's Magazine, 175 

MacLane, Mary, 123 et seq., 134 

Maeterlinck, Maurice, 61, 79, 
219 

Magazine in America, The, 171 
et seq. 

Magda, 105 

Man and Superman, 182 

Marden, 0. S., 46 

Marriage, 22, 34 

Marx, Karl, 66, 238 

Masks and Minstrels of New 
Germany, 130 

Masters, Edgar Lee, 83, 88, 92, 
96 

Meltzer, C. H., 57, 129 

Men vs. the Man, 60 

Mercure de France, 210 

Mitchell, D. O., 115, 131 

Monroe, Harriet, 83, 91 

Moody, Wm. Vaughn, 57 

Moonlit Way, The, 131 

More, Paul Elmer, 17, 53 

Mr. Britling Sees It Through, 
24, 25 

Mr. George Jean Nathan Pre- 
sents, 211 

Munsey, Frank A., 175 

Munsey's Magazine, 175 

Nasby, Petroleum V., 114 
Nathan, G. J., 208 et seq. 
Nation, The, 32, 64, 179 
National Institute of Arts and 

Letters, 115, 116, 129 et seq. 
Nature of Peace and the Terms 

of Its Perpetuation, The, 65 
New Leaf Mills, 56 
New Machiavelli, The, 31 
New Republic, The, 64 
New Thought, 192, 245 



Nietzsche, F. W., 18, 24, 28, 32, 
45, 61, 155, 182, 185, 192, 194, 
243 
Norris, Frank, 54, 57, 121 
North American Review, 123 
Norton, Charles Eliot, 173 

Old-F ashioned Woman, The, 155 
One Man, 224 et seq. 
Oppenheim, James, 86, 92, 94 
O'Sullivan, Vincent, 144 

Paris Nights, 51 

Parsons, Elsie Clews, 155 et seq. 

Passionate Friends, The, 23, 30 

Pattee, F. L., 117 

Phelps, W. L., 11, 14, 116 

Phillips, D. G., 131 

Poe, E. A., 19, 52, 97, 115, 247 

et seq. 
Poetry, 83 

Pollard, Percival, 57 
Poole, Ernest, 145 et seq. 
Popular Theater, The, 209 
Pound, Ezra, 90, 92, 94 
Pretty Lady, The, 42, 48, 51, 129 
Putnam's, 173 

Queed, 139 

Reese, Lizette W., 96 
Repplier, Agnes, 56, 199 
Research Magnificent, The, 24, 33 
Rise of Silas Lapham, The, 54 
Robinson, E. A., 90 
Rolland, Romaine, 33 
Roll-Call, The, 42, 50, 51 
Roosevelt, Theodore, 61, 119, 
124, 142, 178 

Saint-Beuve, 16 

Sandburg, Carl, 86, 92, 94 

Saturday Evening Post, The, 100, 

176 
Scarlet Plague, The, 239 
Scribner's, 174 
Shadow World, The, 136 
Shakespeare, 19, 201 



254 



INDEX 



Shaw, G. B., 181 et seq., 199, 

218 
Sherman, S. P., 11, 14, 130 
Sinclair, Upton, 145 
Sodoms Ende, 106 
Son of the Middle Border, A., 

134, 135 
Soul of a Bishop, The, 25, 31, 32 
Speaking of Operations — , 99 
Spingarn, J. E., 10 et seq., 212 
Spoon River Anthology, The, 83 
Stedman, E. C, 95, 115, 173 
Steele, Robert, 226 et seq. 
Stockton, F. R., 115 
Stoddard, R. H., 94, 115 
Story of a Country Town, The, 

56 
Sudermann, Hermann, 105 et seq. 

Tassin, Algernon, 171 et seq. 
Their Day in Court, 131 
Theory of Business Enterprise, 

The, 65 
Theory of the Leisure Class, The, 

65, 67, 70, 71, 76 
Thoma, Ludwig, 108, 213 
Thomas, Augustus, 215 
Thompson, Vance, 129 
Those Times and These, 98 
Times, New York, 13, 24, 131 
Tono-Bungay, 22, 25, 29, 34 
Town Topics, 130 
Towne, C. H., 86 



Tribune, New York, 33, 180, 249 
Trites, W. B., 57 
Tyndall, John, 194 

Undying Fire, The, 33 
Untermeyer, Louis, 88, 91, 92 

V. V.'s Eyes, 138 
Van Dyke, Henry, 95 
Veblen, Thorstein, 59 et seq., 
154 

Wagner, Richard, 238 

Walker, J. B., 175 

Ward, Artemas, 114 

Wedekind, Frank, 201 

Wells, H. G., 22 et seq., 36, 37 

Wharton, Edith, 57, 144 

White, William Allen, 139 et seq. 

Whitman, Walt, 86, 92, 93, 115, 

243, 247, 249 
Whom God Hath Joined, 50, 51 
Wife of Sir Isaac Harmon, The, 

23 
Wilde, Oscar, 13 
Wilson, Woodrow, 33, 34, 119, 

178 
Winter, William, 173, 214, 220, 

223 
Wright, Harold Bell, 141 

Zola, Emile, 50, 106, 107 



<e 



o