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TJO



BOOTH TARKINGTON




N. BOOTH TARKINGTON, 1917



BOOTH TARKINGTON



BY
ROBERT CORTES HOLLIDAY




Illustrated



GARDEN CITY NEW YORK

DOUBLEDAY, PAGE & COMPANY

1918



Copyright, 1918, by

DOUBLEDAY, PAGE & COMPANY

All rights reserved, including that of

translation into foreign languages ,

including the Scandinavian



TO
B. T.



ACKNOWLEDGMENT

Curiously enough, just about the time that Mr.
Tarkington began to be of serious critical interest
practitioners of literary criticism beyond the com-
pass of a "review" of one book left off with him.
Thus this little study is able to arrive at ultimate
conclusions quite different from any estimate of Mr.
Tarkington that I have ever seen in print. I have,
however, in the course of my thought drawn very
liberally upon a number of "sources." Where I
have been in accord with the opinion of writers of
earlier, much briefer, studies, I have not hesitated
to adapt their ideas to my purpose. I am beholden
in particular, for information, suggestions, and
stimulation, to the following excellent books and
articles:

"Some American Story Tellers," by Frederick
Taber Cooper; "The Advance of the English Novel,"
by William Lyon Phelps; "Representative American
Story Tellers: Booth Tarkington," by Arthur Bart-
lett Maurice, in the Bookman, February, 1907;
"The Hoosiers," by Meredith Nicholson; "John-a-
Dreams," Personal and Critical Sketch, Pearson's
Magazine, March, 1903; "The Development of the
English Novel" (though it has nothing about Mr.
Tarkington in it), by Wilbur Cross; the little maga-

vii



viii Booth Tarkington

zine John-a-Dreams; an article by C. H. Garrett in
the Outlook, 72:817; and personal sketches in Cur-
rent Literature, 30:280; Critic, 36:399; Harper's
Weekly, 46:1773.

For the record of my first view of Mr. Tarkington
I have, by the courtesy of the Indianapolis Star,
drawn upon an article of mine, "Impression of
Literary Celebrities Gathered by a Returned Na-
tive," which appeared in that newspaper. The little
story about Mr. Tarkington and the professor was
one time contributed to the New York Evening Post.

R. C. H.

New York, December 15, 1917.



FOREWORD

What a joke it is now, that gay old affair, which
was all about a few years ago, the gift book, stuffed
full of straw and bound in tinsel. Happily it is as
dead to-day as the horsehair sofa, the wax flowers
of the old mantle, and bisque statuary. And its
place has been taken by something not unworthy of
the name of book.

It would be, as they say in England, "a jolly good
job, too," if all our flood of "blurb" tales about liv-
ing authors, as florid and as empty as the gift book,
could go the way of that quaint memory. In other
countries, indeed, there is nothing new about the idea
of considering a literary figure of the day with an
effort at honesty and intelligence. In England it
seems to be quite the fashion to get up all the while
very respectable little biographical and critical affairs
about Mr. Wells and Mr. Chesterton, Mr. Shaw and
Mr. Galsworthy. And we do have knocking about
over here admirable little books about foreign writers
such as Conrad, Anatole France, and the one-time
American Mr. James. But certainly we have rather
neglected to pry into living home talent.

ix



x Foreword

Nothing, however, is now as it was. Everyone
wants to know more about the value of what one is
doing than one did before the war. And decided
indeed has been the effect of this general quickened
mental alertness upon reading. Books are more
carefully chosen; much more is demanded of them.

And that is the excuse for this somewhat novel
proceeding: a little book (which, with all its multi-
plicity of failings, fears bunkum like the devil)- about
a gentleman who certainly must be held a thor-
oughly characteristic American writer. Mr. Tark-
ington, as one of our most popular novelists, should
be a thoroughly legitimate object of attack. Has
he got any justification for being around these days
and for going on? Are you making a decent use of
your time in reading him? Ought all his early books
to be scrapped? And how, exactly, did he come about,
anyhow?

There is, I think, more or less to be said about
that.



LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS

N. Booth Tarkington, 1917 Frontispiece

Mr. Tarkington's Study at Kennebunkport,

Maine Facing Page. 198



BOOTH TARKINGTON



IN contemplating the idea of Mr. Tarkington
one is struck at the outset by an arresting
reflection. It is impossible to avoid the as-
sumption that, whether or not he has "made' good,"
the gods had something decidedly unusual in mind
in the matter of his existence.

Anyone who has considered, ever so lightly, the
springs of English literature has been amazed by
the frequency of the presence, well-nigh inevitable
in the background, of the minister who was father,
or at least grandfather, to the writer. It would
seem that whenever Nature had a man of letters
up her sleeve the first gift with which she has felt
it necessary to dower him has been a preacher sire.
It has also, everybody knows, been the rule that
men of brilliant minds have had mothers of intel-
lectual tastes though sometimes the fathers seem
to have been negligible. Further, there is something
fascinating to the inquiring mind, and doubtless of
psychological significance, in the fact of so many
celebrated writers having at first mistakenly felt
their vocation to be that of the "artist," as the term
is popularly understood. Hazlitt, for instance, and
George Moore, and the author of The Way of All



4 Booth- Tarkington

Flesh, and a lot more, all went at the world in the
belief that they were called to interpret it in the
medium of paint. The most illustrious instance of
the frustrated ambition to be an illustrator of other
men's books is, of course, Thackeray. But there is
almost no end to the cases in which a desire to draw
is found to have been lurking in an author's past.
Robert W. Chambers first intended to be an illus-
trator. O. Henry had an itch for making pictures
before he found himself. And the spirited illustra-
tions Gilbert Chesterton has made for the books of
his friend Mr. Belloc leave no doubt that he would
have been as much of an enfant terrible as an illus-
trator as he is a journalist.

So, it surely was "up to" Mr. Tarkington to (as
the title of a British painting of some years ago
which I recall has it) "for God's sake do something
or be something!" If, on the strength of having
been born with a silver spoon in his mouth, he had
"lain down" altogether he certainly would have
flouted a singular beneficence of the fates. All the
auspicious morning stars sang together at his birth.
His paternal grandfather was a pioneer minister of
Indiana; one of his grandmothers wrote poetry; his
mother was distinguished in the community of her
residence for her intellectual character, and or-
ganized the first woman's club in a locality where
there are now perhaps more women's clubs in pro-



Booth Tarkington 5

portion to population than in any other place in
the world; he early was inwardly impelled to make
pictures; and he was born in a spectacular "literary
center" of the United States quite at the right
moment to be hi at the hour of its bursting into
literary flower.

While it is undoubtedly true that we know very
little about a talent till we know where it grew up,
the general facts of Mr. Tarkington's "growing up"
have already been so fairly well disseminated that
to retell them here would, maybe, have the sound
of "old stuff." Amid all our wealth of authors, few,
if any, have provoked a more popular interest a
public interest peculiarly touched with a spirit of
personal attachment than the author of Monsieur
Beaucaire and The Gentleman from Indiana. And
the likeness of Mr. Tarkington's features, it may
be said offhand, is probably as widely and as in-
stantly recognized as that of George Washington or
Colonel Roosevelt. Much water has flowed under
the mill, however, since the newspapers and maga-
zines vied with one another in heralding this "young
writer," in news articles and personal sketches, as
"an American of to-morrow." Mr. Tarkington has
become, like the Statue of Liberty, an established
fact among us, whose origin is now discussed only
by foreigners. And, glancing back, there may be
several new things to be said, and some things to



6 Booth Tarkington

be said to our purpose here about what has been
said, and perhaps forgotten.

Mr. Tarkington was born in Indianapolis in 1869.
He is a descendant of the Reverend Thomas Hooker,
a noted scholar and orator of Revolutionary fame;
his great-grandmother was Mary Newton, who fig-
ures as a beauty in the Annals of Old Salem. Mary
Newton made a runaway match with a soldier of
the Revolution, Walter Booth. It is not true, as
has somewhere been said (though one feels that by
rights it should have been so), that from these were
descended the Booths who were the pride and glory
of the American stage forty odd years ago. Another
family altogether, that. Mary Newton's Walter
Booth was not an actor, nor were any of his de-
scendants of the "profession"; though the instinct
of the actor, the mimic, one gathers from Mr. Tark-
ington, did repeatedly crop out in the blood of the
Tarkington Booths. Mr. Tarkington's family have
been prominent in Indiana for three generations
He was named for his uncle Newton Booth, a native
of Salem, Indiana, the birthplace also of the au-
thor, diplomat, and cabinet officer, John Hay, one
time governor of California, senator from that State,
prominent as an orator throughout his public career.
In attempting to explain some of Mr. Tarkington's
temperamental predilections, a purely imaginary
Gallic strain in his ancestry has been invented, on



Booth Tarkington 7

his father's side of the house. His father, John
Stevenson Tarkington, an Indiana lawyer andjsoldier
of the Civil War, distinguished among his associates
as a gentleman of the old school, and familiarly
known as "Judge" Tarkington, partook in his prime
of the meat and drink of all authentic Indianians,
politics, and sat for a time in the State legislature;
the leisure of his later years he has employed in
literary work, and is the author of two books. His
Hermit of Capri, published in 1910, reveals a pleas-
ant fanciful vein that is quaintly individual. All
of the novelist's family for several generations have
had a bookman quality, though Mr. Tarkington,
jealous of their good name, is very quick to insist
that they have never been "offensively" book peo-
ple. "At least," he says, "I don't think so."

Booth Tarkington himself, by all accounts, was
very precocious up to about the age of four. He
further fixed himself very beautifully in every tra-
dition of persons destined to literary fame by being
a "queer child." His oddities, one gathers, were
even more odd than is usual with odd children.
For one thing, he had a "Hunchberg family." Just
so! Exactly such a "circle of friends," his "In-
visibles," as that possessed by Hamilton Swift,
Junior, queer "little father of dream children,"
celebrated, some thirty-five years later, in Beasley's
Christmas Party. Whether "Mister" Tarkington



8 Booth Tarkington

had also a Simpledoria and a Bill Hammersley, I
cannot say; but I think it highly probable. In-
deed, I understand, there was just such a glorious
make-believe party given for him as that staged by
the Honorable David Beasley for his dismayingly
active-minded little charge, "Mister Swift."

After about four, Mr. Tarkington says, he was
"not precocious at all"; and he was, he affirms,
"slow" at school,; which condition in early educa-
tion, by the way, is yet another peculiarity not in-
frequently remarked in children who later develop
conspicuous mental powers. Mr. Tarkington be-
comes even preposterous in the lengths to which he
went (unwittingly no doubt) to oblige the require-
ments, both sentimental and scientific, for every
early symptom of latent genius. In his childhood
he even suffered certain nervous disorders, "nearly
St. Vitus" attacks; which have in some cases, ac-
cording to learned men, borne a relation to the
activities of brilliant minds. It is pleasanter, how-
ever, to turn from this rather recondite point to
note an event, held in store by the beneficent des-
tiny which selected his birthplace, which undoubt-
edly did much to set the tune of his mind. That
was the beginning of his association with a figure
about whom most of us can never hear too much,
though this gentleman was not quite so much of a
universal figure at that time. Mr. Tarkington began



Booth Tarkington 9

his friendship with Riley, a neighbor, when he was
about eleven years old; and he acknowledges (shak-
ing his head in reflection at the depth of it) that
the spirit of Riley has exercised over him a strong,
if often unconsciously felt, influence all his life.

If (as Mr. James declares) the first fact which
goes a great way to explain the composition of
Stevenson is that the boyhood of the author of
Kidnapped was passed in the shadow of Edinburgh
Castle, it is equally true that it would halt terribly
at the start any account of the work of Mr. Tark-
ington which should omit to insist promptly that
he grew up in the neighborly and cozy big country
town (as it was then) of Indianapolis. Even now,
"the man across the street or next door," says Mr.
Nicholson in his essay "A Provincial Capital," "will
share any good thing he has with you, whether it be
a cure for rheumatism, a new book, or the garden
hose." And, "it is a town where doing as one likes
is not a mere possibility, but an inherent right."

Much of the local color of Mr. Tarkington's boy-
hood in the middle-western town which was his
home is of course reflected in the boy stories of his
middle life. The topography of his youthful orbit,
one perceives, comprised as its most salient features
"alleys," stables, yards, fences, "cisterns," and
porches, with more or less perfunctory rounds to
Sunday School, dancing class, and "Ward School,



10 Booth Tarkington

f*

Nomber Seventh." He was a town boy; neither a
city, nor a country, boy. The pleasant flavor of a
thoroughly representative American town, which he
imbibed in his early formative years, permeates
nearly all his work; and it is his very honest feeling
for the charm of just such a place that, one cannot
fail to note, gives a strength to much of his rosy
sentiment, and, later, driving force to his satire.
The precocious eccentricities of Mr. Tarkington's
tenderest years did not interfere with his being a
remarkably boy-like boy when the time came for
that, so one gathers from his intimate knowledge
of the hair-raising inner workings of the minds of
Messrs. Penrod Schofield, Samuel Williams, and the
rest of that now illustrious "limited bachelor set."
In fact, the exuberance of spirits, spontaneity, and
infectious joy of life which Mr. Tarkington ex-
hibited in his 'teens linger among the traditions of
the neighborhood of his boyhood. A tradition sub-
stantiated by Mr. Tarkington's confession that the
Penrod stories cost him no effort, and involve no
contemporary observation of boys though boys, he
says, are pretty near the most interesting things
there are. The Penrod stories, in short, one feels
may be taken to represent Mr. Tarkington's way of
writing what Mr. James, in his title of an account
of a very different boy, called A Small Boy and
Others. Mr. James is more than discreet in this



Booth Tarkington 11

volume; he is reticence itself. Mr. Tarkington 's
every book is the soul of candor.

Seventeen, as the reviewers have noted, may be
read as "a clever caricature, a * rattling good story/
a 'gay analysis of calf -love,' a serious study in ado-
lescent psychology, or a remarkable picture of small-
town American life," that is, a truthful transcript of
juvenile manners at the time of, so to put it, the
author's "first-dress-suit period." Penrod was a
novelist, and William Baxter a poet. And not only
Mr. Tarkington's vivid presentation of their dis-
similar inspirations, but the character of their lit-
erary productions, proclaims beyond doubt the
autobiographic touch. In his abortive fragments
of fiction, Penrod is a much better novelist (albeit
a bit blood curdling) than "William Sylvanus Bax-
ter, Esq." (as he signs himself), is a poet. And so,
indeed, is the creator of both these writers. In
fact, there is something decidedly prophetic about
the turn of the embryonic talent of the youthful
author of Harold Ramorez, with its unforgettable
passages such as this:

The remainin scondrel had an ax which he came
near our heros head with but missed him and remand
stuck in the wall. Our heros amumition was ex-
haused what was he to do, the remanin scondrel
would soon get his ax lose so our hero sprung for-
ward and bit him till his teeth met in the flech for



12 Booth Tarkington

now our hero was fighting for his very life. At this
the remanin scondrel also cursed and swore vile
oaths.



For (one fancies) was not the boy author of
Harold Ramorez father to a man also strongly drawn
to depicting scenes of darkly romantic drama, and
one who came to paint with gusto, and much
ability, scenes of carnage? For one instance, the
grim automobile accident, an uncommonly impres-
sive bit of pictorial writing, in The Guest of
Quesney.

Mr. Baxter's poems were of lovely ladies. And
so were (those preserved to us in an early magazine)
Mr. Tarkington's. Mr. Baxter excelled in sincerity
when he wrote:

MILADY

I do not know her name

Though it would be the same

Where roses bloom at twilight

And the lark takes his flight

It would be the same anywhere

Where music sounds in air

I was never introduced to the lady

So I could not call her Lass or Sadie

So I will call her Milady

By the sands of the sea

She always will be

Just Milady to me.



Booth Tarkington 13

Mr. Tarkington, having the advantage of a uni-
versity education, excelled merely in artistry, when,
sometime in 1896, he wrote:

THE PROUD LOVER

Nay, never wave your fan at ME

To come, and kneel, and tie your shoe
I'll stiffly seem most slow to see;

Or, if I turn, will gaze at you
With coldness. High and haughtily

I hold me, ma'am; I was not made
To bend me in servility;

I'll bend sometimes to kiss your brow,

But never low as shoe-lace bow!
What ails the minx? she's coming here,

I will reprove her insolence;
My troth she has but ne'er De Vere

Brooked any such impertinence!

The other's loose, as well, you say?
'T is tied. That's all, my love, to-day?

The sentiment, in both poems, is the same.



II

MR. TARKINGTON took to "college" as
a duck to water. He took a spin at
Phillips Exeter Academy to "prepare"
for what was with him indeed a "college career."
Mr. Tarkington's going to college may be fancifully
compared in effect to Conrad's marriage with the sea.
At Exeter Academy he began to open into flower.
His pranks and exploits there (I have heard) are
still recalled as among the brightest spots in the
recollection of the distant youth of his classmates.
And there the orator and writer in his blood began
to "break out on him." He attracted besides some
attention as the illustrator of the class yearbook.
He went next to Purdue University, at Lafayette,
Indiana, a sister institution to the Indiana State
University; and here doubtless he got rubbed in
another layer of the native Hoosier soil, which was
later to be of such value in determining the temper
of his work. Though "Purdue" is the State school
of technology, it is not diligent in the sciences to the
neglect of the arts. And Mr. Nicholson, in his little
history, The Hoosier s, speaks of Lafayette as "one
of the most attractive of Indiana cities, fortunate in
its natural setting and in the friendliness of its

people to all good endeavors."

u



Booth Tarkington 15

An article signed "N. Booth Tarkington '93,"
which appeared in an old number of The Nassau
Literary Magazine, begins: "Fifteen persons, who
had once defined themselves simply and completely
as Yale men, and one person for whose answers to
inquiries about himself the word * Princeton' (spoken
in a tone of reserve) had sufficed, sat in the office
room of the University Club." "Princeton man"
(one may say) defined Mr. Tarkington, not simply,
but eloquently, joyously, and completely, in (as
the well-worn poetic phrase has it) the bloom of his
young manhood. Probably nobody ever had a
college career which has been so widely relished, so
much celebrated and sung, as that of Mr. Tark-
ington's. And probably nobody can quite under-
stand Mr. Tarkington's success as a novelist, or,
altogether, his books themselves, without turning
back for a peep at the gay spectacle of his Princeton
days. He studied to some extent, no doubt, as, it is
recorded, he stood well in his class, according to the
curriculum. But that, one suspects, was merely an
incident, resulting from the natural quickness of his
mind. He is reported to have said that he has no
doubt that he imbibed some education at Princeton;
"though it seems to me that I tried to avoid that as
much as possible."

A writer whose authority is evident in his signing
himself "John-a-Dreams" (the name of an inti-



16 Booth Tarkington

mate magazine of a little clique with which Mr.
Tarkington was associated directly after leaving col-
lege), writing in a magazine "appreciation" some-
time after Mr. Tarkington "sprang" into national
popularity, testifies that the college Tarkington was
never a plodder. This writer, in Pearson's Magazine,
says: "In fact, to see him walking across the campus
with his sweater turned up about his neck and his
hands thrust deep in his trousers' pockets, or to
catch a glimpse of him hurrying nervously along in
evening clothes, would readily give the impression
that he never worked at all." And of this college
"man," the writer adds that perhaps he felt in-
tuitively that he did give this impression, for shortly
after his first literary "success," in nawe seriousness,
he explained to a classmate that he "really did a lot
of hard work on the thing."

It is highly probable that Mr. Tarkington would
have made a mess of it if routine labor had, unhap-
pily, been his portion. I know a man who suffered
a nervous breakdown from an office job of literary
hack work to whom Mr. Tarkington said, "I couldn't
have done it." He is of the highly-strung type, the
fine temperament, capable of soaring flights (and in
later years of demoniac energy), for whom the sus-
tained effort commonly called work is made possible
only by intense interest and enthusiasm in what it
undertakes. Drudgery would probably have broken



Booth Tarkington 17

him; poverty have blighted him altogether. He is
not of the stamp of those who have made two and
two come five; who have toiled at hard labor, mean-
ingless to them, in an engine room or at a desk, or
have tended bar (as literary men have done), for eight
to ten hours a day, and have welded literature in a
long day of their own wrung from hours allotted by
nature to sleep. One cannot make such a hero of this
Harry Fielding. He was made for the sun; and the
sun, nothing backward in its duty here, shone on him.
Professor Phelps, in his volume The Advance of
the English Novel, has seen in Bibbs of The Turmoil
a resemblance to the author. Professor Phelps'
vision (it strikes one) is a peculiar one for anyone
to have who has ever looked upon Mr. Tarkington.
Though, at the most, this much is undoubtedly true:
compulsory employment in a machine shop would
probably have had about the same effect on Mr.
Tarkington that it had on Bibbs. The graceful and
unconscious ease of Mr. Tarkington 's attitude to-
ward life in his Princeton years was so irresistible
that his classmates had their joke upon it, and ap-
plied to him the words of a popular Glee Club song
he used to sing:

I've been working on the railroad,

All the livelong day;
I've been working on the railroad,

To pass the time away.



18 Booth Tarkington

The undergraduate Mr. Tarkington had a kind of
genius for American college life: he was, apparently,
in everything and of everything that made for good
fellowship. Such, it seems, were the qualities of his
heart and mind made manifest there that he has
become one of the bright legends of Princeton. His
popularity there, both as an undergraduate and to
this day, is notorious. Jesse Lynch Williams, and
divers and sundry others of his classmates, have
graved the eulogy again and again. No doubt he


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