John Collings Squire.

Books in general online

. (page 1 of 13)
Online LibraryJohn Collings SquireBooks in general → online text (page 1 of 13)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


Books in
General



Books in General
By Solomon Eagle



Third Series



Hodder & Stoughton, Limited

London New York Toronto



TO
MAURICE HEWLETT



520514



Preface

THIS is the third and last selection from
the papers contributed weekly to the
New Statesman from its foundation
in April, 1913, until January, 1920. One or
two odd articles, published over my other
name, that seemed to be akin to them are to
be found amongst them. I have not made
elaborate alterations to give them a false air
of having been 'written yesterday. One at
least, the article on John Clare, might have
been altered very considerably owing to the
recent discovery of many " new " poems by
him.

S. E.



Contents

Dedications, II

The Beauty of Football, 16

The Deeps of Time, 21

Swinburne's Defects, 26

Why Write a Bad Hand ? 32

If One Were Descended from Shakespeare, 38

Endymion, 45

Solid Ben Jonson, 53

The Deaths of the Philosophers, 59

Pacifism in Poetry, 64

The Treaty of Versailles, 70

Notes on Shakespeare, 73

Maeterlinck, 79

Literary Publicity in the Future, 88

Diminutive Dramas, 93

The Trials of Booksellers, 100

Ruskin : Feb. 1919, 105

W. M. Rossetti, 109

Literary Hoaxes, in

The Election of 1918, 117

Cecil Chesterton, 119

Three Relics, 122

John Clare, 129

Mrs. Grundy and Don Juan, 135

War Humour : Peace Day, 1919, 138

Ward's English Poets, 144

9



Contents

The Papers That There Are, 150

Stephen Reynolds, 154

The Romantic Generation, 155

Edward Thomas, 161

The Lost Classics (1916), 167

A Frenchman in England, 177

A Terrifying Collection, 183

Prohibition and the Poet, 188

Mr. Kipling's Later Verse, 194

A Better Play Than Usual, 199

The Tastes of the American Intelligentsia, 205

The Attacks on Mr. Bridges, 210

Rhymed Mnemonics, 216

Two Great Wars, 222

Sir Walter Raleigh, 228

The Decay of the Novel, 234

A Friend, 239



10



Dedications

ONE of the most amusing and exciting
of the minor works produced by the
war was a book called Outwitting
the Hun, by a young airman who escaped
from Germany. There was one odd feature
of this very odd book which escaped general
notice, viz., the dedication. The author
travelled entirely by night without a compass,
steering entirely by the heavens. The result
is the following dedication :

"To

" THE NORTH STAR,

" whose guiding light marked the pathway
to freedom for a weary fugitive, this book is
inscribed in humble gratitude and abiding
faith."

It was a very amiable impulse that led him
to this expression of his gratitude ; it is cer-
tainly hard to imagine that he will be able
to repay the Pole Star in any other way. It
is probably the first time that a star has
been thus addressed on a dedication-leaf ;
in ordinary circumstances it would no more
occur to an author to lay his offerings at the

II



Books in General

feet of the North Star than it would occur
to him to protest his devotion to the North
Pole. At the same time, on this author's
principles, there are circumstances which might
justify dedications to the Equator, the Tropic
of Capricorn, the Gulf Stream, the Old Red
Sandstone, and the evaluation of TT. In other
words, if the gallant airman's example is
freely copied, we are in for some rather fan-
tastic excesses. One owes more than one can
say to all sorts of things which one rarely
remembers. Had the Ice Age not passed
away, I should not be here now ; how im-
mense, therefore, is my debt to the Ice Age !
How can I signalise what I feel about that
considerate retreat better than by dedicating
to that epoch so glacial without, but evidently
so warm at heart, a book of which it might
truthfully be said that : But For Your Far-
seeing and Self-effacing Action, etc., etc. ?

It is not very often people break forth into
these novel dedications. One of the most
original and yet obvious I know was done
by George Wither, who dedicated a book to
himself. This was Abuses Stript and Wbipt
(1613). It was his first book, and he was only
twenty-three years of age. He had no repu-
tation, and few friends, so he cheered himself
up by writing himself a dedication of nine
pages, beginning thus : " To him-selfe, G. W.
wisheth all happiness." He begins :

12



Dedications

" Thou (even my selfe) whome next God, my
Prince, and Country I am most engaged unto ;
It is not unlikelie but some will wonder why,
contrary to the world's custome, I have made
choyse of thy Patronage for this booke, rather
than the protection of such whose mightinesse
might seeme better able to defend it."

He then gives his reasons. The first is : "I
could not amongst all men finde any man, in
my opinion, so fitting for this purpose, but
either my Worke was unworthy, or too worthie
his Patronage." He catalogues the other
reasons, fifthly, sixthly, etc., and at the end
finishes in style with :

" But because I begin to grow tedious to my
owne-selfe, and since I shall have Opportunity
enough to consider with thee what is further
needfull without an Epistle, with my prayers
for my Prince, my Country, my friends, and
my own prosperitie, without any leave taking
or Commendation of my Selfe ; I heartily wish
my owne Soule to fare-well."

If almost any other author had dedicated a
book to himself, he would have fallen into an
unpleasing self-consciousness and produced
an effect of showing-off ; but Wither' s genuine-
ness, courage, and certainty that it was his
duty to reform the world make the whole
performance charming. He says that he is

13



Books in General

in need of all the exhortation he can give
himself, and he doubts if his free speech would
make " a Diapason, pleasing to the eare of
a common Mecaenas."

The " common Mecaenas " got some pretty
good " diapasons " in his day. The best I
have ever struck I have forgotten the refer-
ence was that of an eighteenth-century writer
who told his rich patron that he united the
best qualities of Dives and of Lazarus. The
dedications to Charles II. frequently verge
on the blasphemous ; they began early when
Charles was in the cradle. Francis Quarles
inscribed his Divine Fancies to the " Sweet
Babe " ; in a postscript addressed to Charles'
governess, Lady Dorset (we make here a
metaphorical approach to the airman's dedica-
tion), he says :

" Most excellent Lady,

" You are the Star which stands over the
Place where the Babe lies ; By whose direc-
tions light, I come from the East, to present
my Myrrh and Frankincense to the young
Child ; Let not our Royal JOSEPH, nor his
Princely MARY be afraid ; there are no Herods
here ; We have all seen his Star in the East,
and have rejoyced ; Our loyall hearts are full ;
for our eyes have seen him, in whom our
Posterity shall be blessed."

This, I repeat, was Charles II. The habit of

14



Dedications

dedication has died out, and it is a pity. We
can spare the fulsome dedication ; we have no
desire to see young novelists comparing, say,
Sir Alfred Mond or the Duke of Rutland to
Homer, Croesus, Socrates, Marcus Aurelius,
Napoleon, and St. Francis, in order to get a
possible five pounds out of them. But it is
a pity that our sheepishness should have led
us to truncate our affectionate dedications to
bald names with " To " in front of them.
One would not willingly spare the dedication
inscribed " With all a brother's fondness . . .
to Mary Anne Lamb, the author's best friend
and sister," by Charles Lamb, the year after
the tragedy in the family. And there is no
savour of servility about Caxton's commenda-
tion of the Morte d? Arthur to " all noble lords
and ladies, with all other estates, of what estate
or degree they be of." " Therein," he says
in accents which we have lost, " may be seen
noble chivalry, courtesy, humanity, friendli-
ness, hardiness, love, friendship, cowardice,
murder, hate, virtue, and sin. Do after the
good and leave the evil, and it shall bring you
to good fame and renown."

Let us hope the habit will revive. But
there is one kind of dedication which we can
well spare, although it is the most fascinating
of all. The most interesting dedication in
the language has no literary merits, and is
ambiguous ; we do not know for a certainty

'5



Books in General

to whom it was written, or why. I refer
to:

To THE ONLIE BEGETTER OF
THESE ENSUING SONNETS,

MR. W. H., ALL HAPPINESSE

AND THAT ETERNITY

PROMISED

BY
OUR EVER-LIVING POET

WISHETH

THE WELL-WISHING

ADVENTURER IN

SETTING

FORTH

T. T.

A few more dedications of this sort would be
enough to drive the critical world mad, and to
keep it mad in perpetuity.



The Beauty of Football

I WENT we shall come to literature pre-
sently to the University match at
Queen's Club. It was, as the papers
all said, a magnificent game. There were few
outstanding players, and the outsides were
unoriginal : their movements were of the
mechanical and expected kind, there was no
Poulton among them. But there was little
16



The Beauty of Football

muffing, the pace was hard from start to finish,
and both packs shoved, swarmed and pelted
for all they were worth. Smallwood's dropped
goal that decided the match was a beauty,
done in a flash ; there was an even more
thrilling moment when Jenkins of Oxford in
the first half had a go and, amid silence, the
ball sailed on, hit the cross-bar with a bang,
and rebounded into the field : which was very
hard luck. Saxon, the fastest of the Cam-
bridge three-quarters, was starved ; had he
had more chances the score would have been
larger.

But come, come ; this is not my job. I can
leave it to the experts who say that the
Oxonians gallantly stemmed a series of des-
perate rushes by the forwards from the Cam,
and that the leather was neatly transferred
to the Dark Blue wing who but for something
or other would have notched a try. But it
is difficult once one has got on to such a
subject to avoid darting off into emphatic
assertions : every one of the thousands of
spectators (except perhaps the lady behind
me who asked why the goalkeepers didn't
stay in their goals) probably left with the
conviction that he and he alone could give
an exactly just account of the game (or such
part of it as the mist allowed him to see) and
could prove conclusively either (a) that the
better side won or (b) that the better side

B 17



Books in General

lost. The point is this. Before the game
started I stood for one hour on a wet plank
elevated some stages from the ground. The
wait was something tedious. I had brought
no newspaper with me to read, and had I
done so I should probably have emulated
several neighbours and stood on it to keep my
feet warm. Craning one's neck round to see
the people swarming in was a diversion that
palled. The remark to one's companion that
these games w r ere nearly always begun in
semi-fog and finished in darkness, could only
be made, with impunity, three or four times.
Counting the clergymen had to be given up
as they would move about and vitiate the
statistics. But at last into an empty mind
strayed a thought that long ago had been
there before. I wondered why it was that
nobody had ever made literature out of one
of these matches, or indeed (so far as I am
aware) out of any football match, even of the
inferior and more popular species.

There is plenty of cricket literature, includ-
ing some good poetry. Hunting has a library
of fiction to itself ; and hundreds of songs.
This very year Mr. Masefield has produced
in Reynard the Fox one of the best of modern
narrative poems. It gives the whole hunting
scene : the field, the pack, the landscape, the
fox, the long chase, the ride home under the
moon. A good football match on a good day,
18



The Beauty of Football

with a big crowd and great excitement about
the result, would make an equally fine and
moving subject for a poem, or for fine descrip-
tive prose. I thought of it intermittently
on Tuesday : the whole thing was a pageant
and a battle of extraordinary beauty. There
might be difficulty about a hero. It was
observed that Mr. Masefield's poem did not
really get moving until he reached his indi-
vidual hero, the fox. A centre of interest is
wanted ; however stirring the general scene
it is difficult to make it more than a back-
ground. The poet of a football match would,
I imagine, have to select a three-quarter and
very probably a wing three-quarter as the
person whose fortunes he should, in the first
place, follow. The limelight could not very
well be kept on a forward who spends most of
his time head downwards in the scrum or flat
on the ground with a half a dozen others on
top of him. The full-back though I did
once see one score is out of court as too
purely defensive ; and the halves, though
usually the busiest and, on the whole, the most
important members of a side, do not get as
a rule such chances of doing the really spec-
tacular things that are done by the three-
quarters of genius such as Poulton, Raphael,
and L. M. Macleod. At best the hero would
be a difficulty. Your fox is the natural
centre of interest throughout a hunt. Your
batsman can keep his end up throughout an

19



Books in General

innings, make two-thirds of the score himself,
and, at a stretch, proceed then to clean bowl
(I am talking about heroes of literature) the
whole of the opposite side. But no man could
hope to attain verisimilitude if he gave a
footballing hero possession of the ball for the
greater part of a match ; at best the most
prodigious of three-quarters must spend most
of his time on the watch, and especially so
in a very even game, the only sort of game
which would be worth heroic treatment.

There is the great technical difficulty. But
there is much obvious material ready to
hand : the ever-thickening crowd and its
noises, the growing excitement as the start
approaches, streaming and clustering forwards,
tussles near the line with a multitude yelling
itself hoarse, all the sprinting, kicking, tackling :
scores and the hush that awaits the kicks at
goal : all the sway and rush of thirty men in
a green area with massed faces girdling it ;
the grey blank sky, the mute houses all round.
The mist deepens away, and in the far
corner nothing can be seen when the play
goes there but flitting phantoms whose every
movement produces a roar from the strange
unseen unknown crowd in that distance,
now glorying that they have robbed all the
other crowds around the enclosure of the near
view. Steam rises from the sweating scrums ;
smoke from the crowds ; as evening draws
20



The Deeps of Time

in the grey on the opposite side is pierced
by countless little flames of matches ; there
are always two or three alight. Excitement
grows and grows till the roar is continuous.
One side struggles and struggles to get over ;
and then, suddenly, the great emotional
structure is suddenly broken. The whistle
has gone. All the crowds disintegrate. They
pour away, and in an hour nothing inhabits
the ground but ghosts.



The Deeps of Time

I HAVE been reading the first part of Mr.
H. G. Wells's The Outline of History,
with a horrible ape-like creature on
the cover from whom I am indeed sorry to
be descended. The work is being issued in
fortnightly parts ; it is written for fortnightly
parts ; the instalment ends thrillingly, like
an instalment of a serial, with man, the hero,
about to enter a stage already busy and excit-
ing ; every paragraph is written simply so
that a child or a man of letters might under-
stand it ; colossal stories and speculations
are summarised in a sentence ; the very
learned may have nothing to learn from it.
Possibly, too, not all the theories adopted
are up to date. But the unscientific reader
who surrenders himself to it will find it the

21



Books in General

clearest and most stimulating summary of
the earth's history extant ; and even a man
familiar with all Mr. Wells's facts might find
his vision clarified by it. It is like a film
recording hundreds of millions of years, now
rattling past one with inconceivable rapidity,
now clicking to a stop to show us a vivid
picture of what we have arrived at. Whether
Mr. Wells's later chapters, in which he is to
sketch what to the geologist is the hour's
adventure of the remarkable race that pro-
duced Mr. Wells and ourselves, will be up
to the level of these remains to be seen.
All sorts of considerations will come in that
may produce differences of opinion ; the
importance you give to events and move-
ments among mankind depends (if I may
thus swallow my own tail) on the importance
you attach to them. But if Mr. Wells keeps
up to his first level, he will, whether we share
his outlook or not, have produced a master-
piece of summarisation and popularisation.
I remember German Philosophies of History,
and think that, after all, we can do some
things better than our grandfathers.

Mr. Wells's first section on the making of
our world is very well done. He avoids
contentious remarks on the origins of life ;
dismissing the greatest of all problems with
the remark that non-living things " do not
move of their own accord." The phrase,

22



The Deeps of Time

however, in its setting does shock one into
reflection ; and one has barely left it when
one is thrown upon the fact (not new but
never losing its awfulness) that every individual
is unique and that " that is true of all the
minute creatures that swarmed and repro-
duced in the Archaeozoic and Protozoic, seas
as it is of men to-day." An admirable
chapter on astronomy and climate lead
to a truly terrifying one, freely illustrated
with pictures of real skeletons and conjectural
beasts, on the dragons of the slime. Horrible
as they are, I find personally something more
horrible still in the early insects : " There
were numerous dragon flies one found in
the Belgian coal measures had a wing span
of twenty-nine inches. There were also a
great variety of flying cockroaches." The
reptiles die ; some climatic change beats
them ; millions of years pass ; and then early
man appears. Page one gave us a flaming
fragment shot out from the sun ; page fifty
or so will bring us to the caves of the Auvergne,
where hairy men drew pictures of deer on
the rocks as well as they could.

Sprinkled here and there are sentences
like windows opening on to things too stu-
pendous to think about. " There will be a
time," remarks Mr. Wells, " when the day
will be as long as a year is now, and the
cooling sun, shorn of its beams, will hang

23



Books in General

motionless in the heavens." " Not only is
Space from the point of view of life and
humanity empty, but Time is empty also.
Life is like a little glow, scarcely kindled yet,
in these void immensities." But the future
is all before us and Mr. Wells has, probably
to an unparalleled extent, a passion for the
future, the remote future of the race. " Arthur
Balfour," wrote George Wyndham in explain-
ing that statesman's attitude towards life,
" knows that there has been one Ice Age
and thinks there is going to be another."
So does Mr. Wells ; but he seems to like the
idea. Man, if he really shows himself efficient
and enterprising (he will have to change a
little if he is to make plans thousands of
years ahead !) may foresee the change and
prepare to meet it. He may be able to
control climate, moreover. And he may evolve
so as to overcome all sorts of difficulties new
and old :

" To-day, though we mark how life and
man are still limited to five miles of air and
a depth of perhaps a mile or so of sea, we must
not conclude from that present limitation
that life, through man, may not presently
spread out and up and down to a range of
living as yet inconceivable."

Possibly man will become extinct ; possibly,
as Mr. Wells appears to suggest, he will learn



The Deeps of Time

to migrate across space, or live without air,
after heat has gone from the world. It is
even, I suppose, conceivable that conditions
might arise which would make him evolve
backwards. All knowledge is interesting and
all speculation ; but it is only a rare mind
that can contemplate this sort of vista in
a sustained way, and a very rare character
indeed that can feel ardently engaged about
the difficulties and stratagems of our descend-
ants millions of years hence.

For me, on my first recoil from these
fascinating chapters, I wanted to catch hold
of a chair, to light a pipe, to have a drink,
to go and talk to a friend about Charles
Coborn's farewell performance. I felt cold.
And I know that whatever my curiosity
may learn about the far future and the far
past will only make all the dearer the little
lit patch that we know. It is interesting
to think of the superman as it is of the amoeba ;
we look at them as we look at the remarkable
specimens in the Zoo ; these are things that
Nature produces over aeons. But even if
I admit that they are relatives I really cannot
feel a family attachment to them. The
affections that centre on a country, on certain
landscapes and people, on trees, flowers and
weathers that we know, will not stray into
those cold distances. We cannot love beings
so out of contact with us ; and we never

2 s



Books in General

work properly for anything that we do not
love. For the near future it is very well.
England will be here and men will read
Shakespeare ; our speech, however, trans-
formed, will be here ; the things we were
fond of will move others ; they will share
our hopes and our griefs. But millions of
years hence ! Those foreigners, so bald and
goggle-eyed, perhaps, or equipped with wings
or fins or trunks or ten legs apiece or God
knows what : they are not what we call Man.
Man is to us a being historic ; neither pre-
historic nor post-historic. And, anyhow, a
million years hence they will not care about us.

As I write I observe once more that a live
dinosaur is rumoured in the marshes of
Central Africa ! A mammal might be all
right ; but not a dinosaur. How that creature,
if alive, will mess up all these historians of
the earth. I hope he is there. If he is Dr.
Einstein should go over and shake hands
with him.



Swinburne's Defects



f "^HE new selected volume of Swin-

1 burne's poems has appeared. The

A selection has been made by Mr.

Gosse and Mr. Thomas J. Wise, the well-

26



Swinburne's Defects

known bibliophile, who bought from Watts-
Dunton, for a very large price, many of the
MSS. that Swinburne left. It is introduced
by a note which has a certain sub-flavour of
irony : " The only selection from the poems
of Swinburne hitherto available in England
was one made by Watts-Dunton in 1887.
It consisted of pieces that appealed especially
to his personal taste, and omitted many that
have been recognised as among the best the
poet ever wrote. It was not broadly char-
acteristic of Swinburne's many moods and
variety of subjects, and it gave an impression
of the nature of his genius which criticism
has not confirmed."

The new selection is certainly better than
the old ; in fact, about as good as a selection
could be. I should imagine that any man of
taste would find all his favourite poems in
it ; on the fringe there is bound to be some
difference of opinion. The book is drawn
from all periods ; the choruses from Atalanta
are extracted ; and amongst a large number
of poems which were missing in the other
selection I notice two of the imitation (very
good imitation) Border Ballads that were first
published the year before last. Lord Soulis
was the best of them, and it is here. But I
am not sure that it ought to be. It is serious
parody, and though one admires its brilliance
as a tour-de-force one would scarcely put it

27



Books in General

among the best that Swinburne wrote. Pos-
sibly the idea was to represent the diversity
of his talent as well as the authenticity of
his genius. For me I am quite content to
read Swinburne's shorter poems in a selec-
tion ; and, going through this book, I find
that I could do with a selection still shorter.
If one is looking only for the quintessence he
reduces and reduces. Yet, differ as men may
about the volume of his good work, its quality
is beyond dispute. Had he left nothing behind
him but Atalanta, his position would have
been assured and high. Less than that would
have been necessary ; Ave atque Vale, the
elegy on Baudelaire, would alone have been
enough to give him the name of a great poet.
Printed and reprinted as it has been it has
never yet been done full critical justice. Its
tone and temper were dictated by its subject ;
Baudelaire could not be expected to inspire


1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13

Online LibraryJohn Collings SquireBooks in general → online text (page 1 of 13)