Copyright
Simeon Strunsky.

Post-impressions; an irresponsible chronicle online

. (page 1 of 10)
Online LibrarySimeon StrunskyPost-impressions; an irresponsible chronicle → online text (page 1 of 10)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


Produced by Annie R. McGuire. This book was produced from
scanned images of public domain material from the Google
Print archive.









POST-IMPRESSIONS




POST-IMPRESSIONS

An Irresponsible Chronicle


BY
SIMEON STRUNSKY

Author of "The Patient Observer," "Through
the Outlooking Glass," etc.

[Illustration]

NEW YORK
DODD, MEAD AND COMPANY
1914




COPYRIGHT, 1913,
BY THE EVENING POST COMPANY,

COPYRIGHT, 1914,
BY DODD, MEAD AND COMPANY

The papers in the present volume were published during 1913 in the
Saturday Magazine of the _New York Evening Post_.




CONTENTS


CHAPTER PAGE
I ALMA MATER BROADWAY 1
II THE CONTEMPLATIVE LIFE 8
III SUMMER READING 17
IV NOCTURNE 26
V HAROLD'S SOUL, I 35
VI EDUCATIONAL 44
VII MORGAN 53
VIII THE MODERN INQUISITION 63
IX THORNS IN THE CUSHION 72
X LOW-GRADE CITIZENS 80
XI ROMANCE 89
XII WANDERLUST 99
XIII UNREVISED SCHEDULES 108
XIV SOMEWHAT CONFUSED 117
XV HAROLD'S SOUL, II 126
XVI RHETORIC 21 134
XVII REAL PEOPLE 141
XVIII DIFFERENT 150
XIX ACADEMIC FREEDOM 157
XX THE HEAVENLY MAID 166
XXI SHEATH-GOWNS 176
XXII WITH THE EDITOR'S REGRETS 185
XXIII A MAD WORLD 194
XXIV PH.D. 202
XXV TWO AND TWO 211
XXVI BRICK AND MORTAR 220
XXVII INCOHERENT 228
XXVIII REALISM 236
XXIX ART 239
XXX THE PACE OF LIFE 242
XXXI MARCUS AURELIUS, 1914 244
XXXII BY THE TURN OF A HAND 247
XXXIII THE QUARRY SLAVE 250
XXXIV MONOTONY OF THE POLES 253




POST-IMPRESSIONS




I

ALMA MATER BROADWAY


He came in without having himself announced, nodded cheerfully, and
dropped into a chair across the desk from where I sat.

"I am not interfering with your work, am I?" he said.

"To tell the truth," I replied, "this is the busiest day in the week for
me."

"Fine," he said. "That means your mind is working at its best, brain
cells exploding in great shape, and you can follow my argument without
the slightest difficulty. What I have to say is of the highest
importance. It concerns the present condition of the stage."

"In that case," I said, "you want to see Mr. Smith. He is the editor
responsible for our dramatic page."

"I want to speak to the irresponsible editor," he said. "I asked and
they showed me in here. I think I had better begin at the beginning."

I sighed and looked out of the window. But that made no difference. He,
too, looked out of the window and spoke as follows:

"Last night," he said, "I attended the first performance of A. B.
Johnson's powerful four-act drama entitled 'H2O.' It was a remorseless
exposure of the phenomena attending the condensation of steam. In the
old days before the theatre became perfectly free the general public
knew nothing of the consequences that ensue when you bring water to a
temperature of 212 degrees Fahrenheit. The public didn't know and didn't
care. Those who did know kept the secret to themselves. I am not
exaggerating when I say that there was a conspiracy of silence on the
subject. A play like 'H2O' would have been impossible. The public would
not have tolerated such thoroughgoing realism as Johnson employs in his
first act, for instance. With absolute fidelity to things as they are he
puts before us a miniature reciprocating engine, several turbine
engines, and the latest British and German models in boilers,
piston-rods, and valve-gears. When the curtain rose on the most masterly
presentation of a machine shop ever brought before the public, the house
rocked with applause. But this was nothing compared to the delirious
outburst that marked the climax of the second act, when the hero, with
his arm about the woman he loves, proudly declares that saturated steam
under a pressure of 200 pounds shows 843.8 units of latent heat and a
volume of 2.294 cubic feet to the pound. The curtain was raised eleven
times, but the audience would not be content until the author appeared
before the footlights escorted by a master plumber and the president of
the steamfitters' union.

"The third act was laid in the reception room of a Tenderloin resort - "

"I don't quite see," I said.

"That followed inevitably from the development of the plot," he replied.
"The heroine, you must understand, had been abducted by the president
of a rival steamfitters' union and had been sold into a life of shame.
She is saved in the nick of time by an explosion of the boiler due to
superheated steam. In the old days such a scene would have been
impossible and the author's lesson about the effects of condensation and
vaporization would have been lost to the world."

"And the play will be a success?" I said.

"It's a knockout," he replied. "No play of real life with a punch like
that has been produced since C. D. Brewster put on his three-act
tragi-comedy, 'Ad Valorem.' As the title implies, the play sets out to
demonstrate the difference between the Payne-Aldrich tariff law and the
Underwood law, item by item. I have rarely seen an audience so deeply
stirred as all of us were during the long and pathetic scene toward the
end of the first act in which the author deals with the chemical and
mineral oil schedule. Are you aware that under the Underwood law the
duty on formaldehyde is reduced from twenty-five per cent. to one cent a
pound?"

"I hardly ever go to the theatre nowadays," I said.

He looked at me reproachfully.

"Some day you will find yourself, quite unexpectedly, facing a crisis in
which your ignorance of the duty on formaldehyde will cost you dear, and
then you will have cause to regret your indifference toward the progress
of the modern drama. However, the third act of 'Ad Valorem' is laid in
the reception room of a Tenderloin resort."

"What?" I said.

"It was bound to be," he replied. "Freed from all Puritanical
restrictions, the playwright of the present day follows wherever his
plot leads him in accordance with the truth of life. In 'Ad Valorem,'
for instance, the fabulously rich importer of oils and chemicals who is
the villain of the piece has succeeded in smuggling an enormously
valuable consignment of formaldehyde out of the Government warehouse.
What is more natural than that he should conceal the smuggled goods in
the Tenderloin? The case is a perfectly simple one. Forbid a playwright
to show the interior of a Tenderloin dive and the public will never know
the truth about the Underwood bill. You see, there is nothing about the
tariff in the newspapers. There is nothing in the magazines. College
professors never mention the subject. Campaign speakers ignore it. There
is a conspiracy of silence. Only the theatre offers us enlightenment on
the subject. Under such conditions would you keep the playwright from
telling us what he knows?"

"Putting it that way - " I said.

"I knew you would agree with me," he went on. "Take, for instance, E. F.
Birmingham's realistic drama, 'The Shortest Way,' in which the author
has demonstrated with implacable truthfulness and irresistible logic
that in any triangle the sum of two sides is greater than the third. In
a joint letter to the freshman classes of Columbia University and New
York University, the author and the producer of 'The Shortest Way' have
pointed out that nowhere have the principles of plane geometry been so
clearly formulated as in the second act of the play. The gunman has just
shot down his victim on the corner of Broadway and Forty-second Street.
He flees northward on Broadway to Forty-third Street and then doubles
backward on Seventh Avenue. The hero, who is a professor of mathematics,
recalling his Euclid, runs westward on Forty-second Street, and the
curtain descends. At the beginning of the next act we find that the
gunman has taken refuge in the reception room of a Tender - "

"I know," I replied. "He was driven there by the irresistible logic of
the dramatist's idea."

"Exactly," he said. And so left me.




II

THE CONTEMPLATIVE LIFE


From the chapter entitled "My Milkman," in Cooper's volume of
"Contemporary Portraits," hitherto unpublished, through no fault of his
own, but because one publisher declined to handle anything but
typewritten copy, and another suggested that if cut down by half the
book might be accepted by the editor of some religious publication, and
still another editor thought that if several chapters were expanded and
a love story inserted, the thing might do, otherwise there was no market
for essays, especially such as failed to take a cheerful view of life,
whereupon Cooper insisted that his book was exceptionally cheerful,
inasmuch as it showed that life could be tolerable in spite of being so
queer, to which the editor replied that serializing a book of humour was
quite out of the question. "Then how about Pickwick?" said Cooper - but
let us get back to the chapter on the milkman. I quote:

Would sleep never come! I shifted the pillow to the foot of the bed and
back; threw off the covers; pulled them over my head; discarded them;
repeated the multiplication table; counted footsteps in the street
beneath my window; lit a cigarette; tried to go to sleep sitting up and
embracing my knees the way they bury the dead in Yucatan. No use. I
would doze off, and immediately that unfortunate column of figures would
appear, demanding to be added up, and I unable to determine whether sums
written in Roman numerals could be added up at all. That is the
disadvantage of taking conversation seriously, after ten in the evening,
or at any time. I had been discussing the immigration problem till
nearly midnight, and now I was busy adding up the annual influx from
Austria-Hungary during the last twelve years expressed in Roman
numerals. Some people are different. Their opinions don't hurt them. I
have heard people say the most biting things about the need of
abolishing religion and the family, and five minutes later ask for a
caviare sandwich. Whereas I take the total immigration from
Austria-Hungary for the last twelve years to bed with me and cannot fall
asleep.

I heard the rattle of wheels under my window. It was nearing daybreak. I
looked at my watch and it was close to five. I got up, washed in cold
water, dressed, and went outside. As I walked downstairs I heard the
clatter of bottles in the hallway below and some one whistling
cheerfully. It was the milkman. His wagon was at the curb, and as I
passed down the front steps and stopped to breathe in the sharp, clean,
mystic air of dawn, the milkman's horse raised his head, gazed at me for
a moment with a curious, friendly scepticism, and sank back into
thoughtful contemplation of a spot eighteen inches immediately in front
of his fore-legs.

(Here one editor had written in the margin: "Amateurish beginning;
should have led off with a crisp phrase or two addressed to the milkman
and then proceeded to a psychological analysis of the milkman's horse.")

I said to the milkman:

"This life of yours must be wonderfully conducive to seeing things from
a new angle. A world of chill and pure half-shadows; the happiest time
of the twenty-four hours; the roisterers gone to bed and the
factory-workers not stirring for a good hour. I should imagine that men
in your line would all be philosophers."

"It does get a bit lonely," he said. "But I always carry an evening
paper with me and read a few lines from house to house. Do you think
they'll let Thaw off?"

"What do _you_ think about it?" I said. "I haven't been following up the
case."

"I have read every bit of the story," he said. "He isn't any more crazy
than you or me. He's been punished enough; what's the use of persecuting
a man like that?"

If Thaw were as sound in mind as my friend the milkman, there would be
no doubt that he deserved his freedom. My new acquaintance was so well
set up, so clear-eyed, with that ruddy glow which comes from shaving and
washing in cold water before dawn, with the quiet air of peace and
strength which comes from working in the silent hours. I thought what an
upright, independent life a milkman's must be, so free from the petty
chaffering and meanness that make up the ordinary tradesman's routine.
He has no competition to contend with. He is no one's servant. He
deposits his wares at your doorstep and you take them or leave them as
you please. He can work in the dark because he does not need the light
to study your face and overreach you. With no one to watch him, with no
one to criticise him, with leisure and silence in which to work out his
problems - I envied him.

(Here another editor had written: "Tedious; chance for an excellent bit
of characterisation in dialogue entirely missed.")

"You're an early riser," he said.

"Can't fall asleep," I said. "This air will do me good."

"A brisk walk," he suggested.

"I'm too tired," I said.

He turned on the wagon step. "Jump in," he said; and when I was seated
beside him he clucked to the horse, who raised his drooping head and
started off diagonally across the street, apparently confident that he
would find another cobblestone to contemplate, eighteen inches in front
of his fore-legs.

"A good many more people find it hard to sleep nowadays than ever
before," he said. "You can tell by the windows that are lit up. Though
very often it's diphtheria or something of the sort. You hear the little
things whimper, and sometimes a man will run down the street and pull
the night-bell at the drug-store."

"Then you don't read all the time while you are driving?"

"Oh, you notice those things and keep on reading. It isn't very noisy
about this time of the day." He laughed.

"I should think you'd be tired," I said.

He said they did not work them too hard in his line. The hours were
reasonable. At one time there was an attempt on the part of the dairy
companies to make the hours longer; but the milkmen have some union of
their own, and there was a strike which ended in the companies agreeing
to pay for over-time from 7 to 9 A.M. Their association was more of a
social and benefit society than a trade union. Once a month in summer
they had an outing with lunch and some kind of a cabaret show and
dancing. They were a contented lot. The work was not too exacting. He
could read the evening paper when it got light enough, or sometimes he
could just sit still and think.

Think what?

Again I envied him. What extraordinary facilities this man had for
thinking straight, for seeing things clearly in this crisp morning air,
and around him silence and everything as fresh, as frank, as fragrant as
when the world was still young.

He blushed and hesitated, but finally confessed that for more than a
year he had been carrying about in his head a scenario for a
moving-picture play. His story was naturally interrupted at frequent
intervals as he went about the distribution of his milk bottles. But
stripped of repetitions and ambiguities the plot he had evolved in the
course of more than a year's driving through the silent streets was
about as follows:

The infant daughter of an extremely wealthy Mexican mine-owner is stolen
by the gipsies. When she grows up she is chosen by the gipsy king for
his bride. Before the wedding takes place the gipsies plan to rob the
house of a Mexican millionaire who is no other than the girl's father.
She volunteers to gain entrance into the house by posing as a celebrated
Spanish dancer. At night she opens the door to her confederates. Leaving
the girl to keep watch over their prisoner, the gipsies go about
ransacking the house. The unhappy man groans and cries out, "Ah, if only
I could see my little Juanita before I die." Father and daughter
recognise each other, she releases him from big bonds, and arming
themselves with Browning revolvers they shoot down the gipsy marauders
as they enter the room in single file. Juanita marries the young
overseer whom the childless old man has designated as his heir.

(Here one editor wrote: "An ordinary plot; nothing in it to show that it
was written by a milkman instead of a clergyman or a structural iron
worker.")

I think the criticism is a fair one.




III

SUMMER READING


Our vacation plans last year were of the simplest. Personally, I said to
Emmeline, there was just one thing I longed for - to get away to some
quiet place where I could lie on my back under the trees and look up at
the clouds. To this Emmeline replied that in this posture (1) I always
smoke too much; (2) I catch cold and begin to sneeze; (3) I don't look
at the clouds at all, but tire my eyes by studying the baseball page in
the full glare of the sun. The newspaper habit is one which I regularly
forswear every summer on leaving town. I hold to my resolution to this
extent that I refrain from going down to the post office in the morning
to buy a paper. But toward eleven o'clock the strain becomes unendurable
and I borrow a copy of yesterday's paper after peering wistfully over
other people's shoulders. Emmeline thinks this habit all the more
inexcusable because, working for a newspaper myself, I ought to know
there is never anything in them. She can't imagine what drives me on. I
told her, perhaps it is the unconscious hope that some day I shall find
in the paper something worth while.

Actually, one soon discovers that the simple act of lying on one's back
on the grass and looking up at the clouds involves an extraordinary
amount of preparation. I am inclined to think that there must be
correspondence courses which teach in ten lessons how to lie on one's
back properly and look up. There must be text-books on how to tell the
cumuli from the cirrus. There must be useful hints on how to relax and
lose yourself in the immensity of the blue void.

The personal equipment one needs to gaze at the clouds, if you believe
the department stores, is tremendous. English flannels; French
shirtings; native khaki; silks; home-spuns; belts with a monogram
buckle; flowered cravats in colours to blend with the foliage; safety
razors; extra blades for the razors; strops to sharpen the blades;
unguents to keep the strops flexible; nickeled cases to keep the
unguents in; and metal polish for the nickeled cases. Arduous labour is
involved in going to Maple View Farm from the comparatively simple
civilisation of New York. I am not certain whether in the best circles
one can properly lie on one's back and look at the clouds without a
humidor and a thermos bottle.

Emmeline said I must be sure and not forget my fishing-pole, as that
trout in the brook behind the barn would probably be expecting me.

It seems absurd for a full-grown man to speak of hating a trout. But why
deny it? When I think of the utterly debased creature in the pool behind
the barn, the accumulated results of ten thousand years of civilisation
drop from me, and my heart is surcharged with venom. It all came about
so gradually. My landlord asked me one morning whether I shouldn't like
to try my luck with his rod. I said I should. I took his rod and hooked
the blackberry bush on the other side of the stream. I did better on my
next try. As my hook sank below the surface, a thrill ran along the
line, the slender bamboo stem arched forward, and I waited with my heart
in my mouth for an enormous trout to emerge and engage me in a
life-and-death struggle. But through three long weeks he refused to
emerge. Emmeline said it was the bottom of the soap-box whose upper edge
is visible above the surface. But that cannot be. No inanimate object
could elicit in any one the rage and the sense of frustrated
desire - perhaps I had better say no more. All my better instincts
corrode with the thought of that fish. It would have been compensation,
at least, if I had ever caught any other fish in that brook. It might
have been a near relation, a favourite son perhaps, and I should have
had my revenge - but there I go again.

* * * * *

What Emmeline wanted was a chance to catch up in her reading. It had
been a hard winter and spring, with the doctor too frequently in the
house and books quite out of the question. There were a half-dozen
novels Emmeline had in mind, not to mention Mr. Bryce's book on South
America, John Masefield, and Strindberg, whom she cordially detests. I
do too. I warned her against drawing up too ambitious a list, but she
was determined to make a summer of it. She said she felt illiterate and
terribly old. All I could do was to mention a few bookshops where she
could get the best choice with the least expenditure of energy.
Nevertheless she came back from her first day's shopping with a
headache.

Éponge is a rough, Turkish-towel fabric, selling in many widths, and
eminently desirable for out-of-door wear because of its peculiar
adaptability to the slim styles which prevent walking. Éponge has this
fatal defect, however, that when it is advertised in ready-made gowns at
an astounding reduction from $39.50, all the desirable models sell out
some time before ten o'clock in the morning. Hence Emmeline's headache.
She took very little supper and expressed the belief that our vacation
would be a complete failure. The mountains are always hot and dusty and
the crowd is a very mixed one.

After a while Emmeline had a cup of tea and felt better. We went over
our list of books for the summer and she wondered whether it wouldn't
pay to get a seamstress into the house and avoid the exhausting trips
downtown. On second thoughts she decided not to. Next morning she was
quite well and asked me to remind her not to forget Robert Herrick's new
novel. She said she might drop in at the office for lunch if she got
through early at the stores, and we might look at books together.

Charmeuse is a shimmering, silk-like material which lends itself
admirably to summer wear, because it stains easily. But in its effect on
the shopper's nerves, charmeuse is even worse than éponge. In fact, as a
preparation for a summer's reading, I don't know what is more
exhausting than charmeuse, unless it be crêpe de Chine. Emmeline did not
drop in for lunch that day, and when I came home at night, I found her
more depressed than ever. There was nothing to be had downtown. Prices
were impossible and anything else wasn't fit to be touched. It might be
just as well to stay in town for the summer as go away and take the
chance of getting typhoid. The situation was somewhat relieved by the
arrival at this juncture of several parcels, some long and narrow, and
others short and square. One particularly heavy box felt as if it might
contain a set of Strindberg, but turned out to be a really handsome coat
in blue chinchilla which Emmeline explained would be just the thing for
cool nights in the country. She had bought it in despair at obtaining
the kind of crêpe de Chine she wanted. The crêpe de Chine came in a
smaller box.

At breakfast the next day we were tremendously cheerful. I told Emmeline
of the handsome raincoat I had bought in preparation for lying on my
back on the grass and looking up at the clouds. From that we passed to


1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

Online LibrarySimeon StrunskyPost-impressions; an irresponsible chronicle → online text (page 1 of 10)