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and praised by book-sellers; by the way it sells; by the way it
is treated in publicity, promotion, and advertising; but prin-
cipally by the way people who read it and like it talk about
it. Apparently the first people who read The Story of Phil-
osophy (attracted by the initial announcements, advertisements,
and reviews) were stimulated, excited, and otherwise moved
by the book. Thus began a cumulative cycle of ever-widening
interest and personal discussion the most important factor in
the wide sale of a book.



This social chemistry of public opinion is admirably
described by another publisher:

William Allen White comes out for a book and next Glenn
Frank is heard from. S. Parkes Cadman works it into his
radio speech and Will Rogers gets off a wise-crack. Texas
swings into line and then New Hampshire. The parade starts
around the hall. The excitement spreads and in a jiffy the
whole country has, just as in a political convention, selected
its candidate and cast aside the also-rans. That's all I can
make of it.

The fact remains this popular approval falls only on
certain kinds of books. Consider the list. Macmillan
brought out Well's Outline just after the War, and it is
said to have broken all records for non-fiction books except
the Bible. Its total must be getting toward 400,000 and it
is still selling. On June 6, 1921, Harcourt, Brace and
Company started Queen Victoria, by Lytton Strachey, with
6,500. The book took hold with almost no advertising,
though it had been serialized in the New Republic and by
them offered as a premium. The first year it sold 50,000
and to date, 150,000. One publisher's reader declared
Victoria was written in too literary a style to be widely
popular; another gave this verdict (and the public con-
curred) : "Here is a grand, gossipy book telling about the
domestic life of Queen Victoria." In November, 1921,
Boni and Liveright issued Hendrik VanLoon's Story of
Mankind and its charm and pictures speedily sent it across
the 100,000 line. In March, 1923, Harcourt-Brace repeated
with Papini's Life of Christ, that has sold over a quarter
of a million copies and still sells, particularly at Christmas
and Easter. It may be noted here that more religious books
are sold in the United States than any other kind except texts.

OF the Letters of Walter H. Page, Doubleday-Page have
sold 102,000 copies in twenty-one editions. The House
of Harper has scored twice with James Harvey Robinson's
The Mind in the Making, and George A. Dorsey's Why
We Behave Like Human Beings the best seller in non-
fiction until Philosophy
displaced it. There are
probably a dozen books of
the same kinds not in the
first flight. Doubleday-
Page offer in evidence
the sale since 1923 of
80,000 copies of a volume
lots of people have never
even heard of, The Con-
quest of Fear, by Basil
King. Of an earlier book,
What Literature Can Do
for Me, by C. Alphonso
Smith, their record is
73,000 copies. Scribner's
with Mark Sullivan's
Our Times is making a
bid for a record. Thom-
son's Outlines of Science
(in four volumes!) has
gone to 50,000. Bobbs-
Merrill offer as their
miracle books, The Man
Nobody Knows, by Bruce From (he book jacket of The Re

Barton, and The New

Decalogue of Science, by A. E. Wiggam. Harcourt-Brace
have carried on with De Kruif's Microbe Hunters and
Count Keyserling's Travel Diary of a Philosopher. The
Century Company has This Believing World, by Lewis
Browne. E. P. Dutton has sold nobody knows how many
of the Today and Tomorrow and Everyman's titles.

THAT'S evidence enough. Now for the explanation. They
are not read for utility as are those perennial best-sellers,
Fanny Farmer's Cook Book, Lulu Hunt Peter's Diet and
Health, or Foster's Bridge Manual. They do not replace
novels, for fiction sales show the same vast increases. But
I think more people are turning to these books for a kind
of wisdom and broad view of human nature that they once
found in novels. Our fantastic and sentimental novels are
useful chiefly for recreation. Consider the sales of detective
stories among the intellectual elite. These serious books
did not succeed on their author's previous fame, for save
Wells, they had only parish reputations until they woke
up the day 'after the miracle happened. They were distin-
guished in special fields, but the populace did not know
that. Indeed, success seems surer for the unknown ; he
starts with a clean slate and you can create a vogue without
breaking any traditions, or ruining any pigeon-holing the
public may have done.

These men (there are no women) had a head-start only
in their sound grasp of their subjects and their experience in
reaching the public mind. They all display a certain
clarity, vigor, and ironic sincerity. Most of them had been
teachers or journalists, not excepting that cosmic soap-boxer,
Herbert Wells. Robinson taught history at Columbia,
VanLoon likewise at Antioch, Dorsey lectured on science,
Will Durant conducted the Labor Temple. Strachey,
Burton Hendricks, and Mark Sullivan were trained
journalists. All were experts in popularizing; they not
only knew their stuff, but how to get it across. The con-
tent mav be difficult, but the divisions and expository

f Nathaniel Hawthorne, by Lloyd Morris.


technique must be easy. John Doe does not want to dig through
a book, nor can he talk enthusiastically when he does not
understand. Yet he must not be patronized, primer fashion.
Here is a nice balance to hit.

THE author must also show superiority and fearlessness to
encourage the reader to trust his leadership. There must be
some image-breaking, with not too great reverence for tradi-
tion or even the human race. That is the post-war mood and
most of these books grew out of the War which accounts for
the interest in history and in guide-books to life. We have
here always well-bred but piercing humor and the diffused light
of irony at man and his past pretensions. The author must be
big enough and wise enough to play with his theme. He must
also seem to give us the "inside dope" on this matter. Wells
and VanLoon gave us for the first time the sense of knowing
aeons by their first names, and realizing vast panoramas of
events in perspective. In Queen Victoria and Page we got
distinctly behind the scenes and saw royalty in a pet or diplo-
mats in slippers. The very titles Mind in the Making and
Why We Behave Like Human Beings hold promises of secret
stuff. The reader hopes for once to surprise himself undressed
and discover what makes his own wheels go round. Philosophy
had been for most of us a black curtain before a Delphic
mystery to know which was the final mark of a scholar. Here
is a pass to the show. Nothing could soothe the vanity of
the curious human more than the idea he too might become
a philosopher and enter the arcanum from which savants had
shushed him with patronizing remarks on his intelligence.
Curiosity and vanity are prime engines; each of these authors
hit upon a theme that puts us in the know with a vast ag-
grandizement of our self-respect. That is why their colleagues
so often humanly resent the removal of the No Trespass signs.
The high priest clings to his job of interpreting the omens.
This intellectual curiosity is partly the work of the schools.
There are enough college graduates with an itch to know to
buy 100,000 books any day. Their undergraduate smattering
of science, history, philosophy does not satisfy; and they are
eager for more, if it is made interesting to adults. Frederick
Melcher, that wise student of books, editor of The Publisher's
Weekly, told me:

A newly awakened curiosity is the cue to this enlarged book
demand. It is encouraged by the wider use of books in schools
and colleges for general reference and reading, by the expansion
of the program of the public libraries with their developing pro-
gram of adult education, by the increased aggressiveness and book
promotion of the publishers and the new and healthy development
of the book stores.

That ought to be a facer for critics of our educational system.

One simple factor is that we have wealth to buy books
and leisure to read. These books mean money both to pub-
lisher and author. The gross return for some is a million
dollars. We may give Babe Ruth $70,000 a year for home-
runs, and la Lenglen $30,000 for tennis and temperament, but
we reward serious authors on the same scale. They get plums
of all kinds, Jecture dates, orders for articles at top rates,
even fame in the newspaper syndicates. The Story of Phil-
osophy is appearing in a picture strip in a New York tabloid
newspaper. That is certainly spreading culture. The money
may distract the author from future works, for it is not clear
that historians and philosophers function best on large incomes.
It certainly encourages a cloud of spurious imitations.

But the real miracle book is not done for money; it is
too sincere and deep-rooted in the vision and virtues of the
author's soul to be made to order. The belittling of them is
only a respectful tribute of envy paid by intellectual indigence
to intellectual opulence. They are damned as popular (which
they are) by men who still think the chief use of the in-
tellect is to be unpopular. We must recall that people attach
more importance to the expensive than to the cheap. Would
137,000 people have bought The Story of Philosophy at a
dollar? It is a good thing to set up a scale of values in
which we pay as much for our tract on philosophy as for a
seat at the Scandals. The people best able to pay probably
most need the philosophy. The poor make their own and will
get Durant sooner or later in a cheap edition. On this matter
Durant himself wrote:

We have become wealthy and wealth is the prelude to art. In
every country where centuries of physical effort have accumulated
the means for luxury and leisure, culture has followed as nat-
urally as vegetation grows in a rich and watered soil. To have
become wealthy was the first necessity; a people too must live
before it can philosophize. . . . But soon our maturity will come;
our minds will catch up with our bodies, our culture with our
possessions. When we shall have learned to reverence liberty as
well as wealth, we too shall have our Renaissance.

These rewards are not for mere cheap sensationalism. Wit-
ness the failure this year of two books on sex, though both
were scholarly and high-minded.

The final and I believe deep reason for these books is that"
we are a generation of seekers. The cataclysm of the World
War and the parallel weakening of our religious faiths set.
us thinking we had better start over and scan all human
experience to find out how we got this way and what can be
done about things. We want keys to life, whether in history,
biography, philosophy, or psychology. We are on a pitiful
quest for new faith based on knowledge. What is this queer
race? What did men do yesterday? How does my sorry age
compare with other ages? What makes me do the fool things
I do? Why am I so restless and unhappy? Is there a secret
of peace and wisdom? These books are the sign of a spiritual
hunger. Yet strangely none of them feeds the soul. They are
contemplative, in them you learn of the race or yourself, get
(Continued on page 1 68)


#.y//9Ji m

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above the present turmoil, enjoy the long view, perhaps forget
your private woes in the universal ones, and find solace in
the view that your puzzle is the puzzle of the ages, and none
has found the answer. I judge that after we have recapitulated
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(In answering advertisements please me

"Red" Lewis in a Red Rage

HE recording angel wrote when he got around to it: "Up
early and read Elmer Gantry by Sinclair (Red) Lewis of
the U.S.A. First printing, 140,000. Pretty dull, but I got
through by skipping. I am not as conscientious as I once was,
but attacks on religion are not new to me. I recall that very
amusing one in the Fifteenth or was it the Eleventh? Cen-
tury and one later by Upton Sinclair or was it Sinclair
Upton ? Anyhow, they are down in the books. Well, this man
has publicity and prestige and it's a good thing for the people
to be reminded that the church is a human institution with
faults that need mending. Venal and carnal pastors do exploit
the hungers of their flocks. Thousands of cases in my books.
But I don't recall even one like this Gantry, who never in his
life slipped from the paths of vice. Gantry is synthetic, I
fear. Lewis needs reminding of the literary values of contrast.
Let's see . . . Category: useful caricature of lusty commercial-
orator type (3X-8o6) making money, earning feminine adula-
tion, releasing Ego by pseudo-evangelism. Grade: less true
and human than Main Street and Babbitt, less moving as the
story of a life than Arrowsmith. Effects: on the church good;
on Lewis, bad. Prognosis: he needs chastening and charity if
he is to remain an artist. Verdict: guilty of anger at the
human race. Sentence: one 5oo-page novel on Sinclair Lewis,
fanatic. Memo: have some one find out why he hates his
fellow-men so. Next! Missionary Killed in China. ..."

I agree. It's a good book and a bad book and one hates
to join the merely sensational pother, with Mencken and W.
E. Woodward braying on one side of the fence that Lewis is
comparable to Rabelais and Voltaire and Dr. John Roach
Straton braying back that Lewis is comparable only to the
devil. There's no more point to that than to any other medie-
val disputation over sin. I think you ought to read the book
because on the string of an impossible and detestable climber
in religion Lewis has, with his amazing skill and verity ol
reporting, done study after study of hypocrisy, cowardice, and
intrigue in preachers, and emotionalism, bigotry, and institu-
tional futility in the churches. He has not attacked religion
in any real sense because I think he knows little about religion
He never faces the problem of the congregation and what deep
need drives people to find help even in the platitudes of emptj
and windy men. He has no sense of the historic meaning o
the church. He is one-sided and bitter to a degree that offer
ruins his own satire and so provides his antagonists with ampl(
material for their counter-attack. But unlike Lewis we an
not perfectionists, and believe that whatever the faults o:
Elmer Gantry, both as novel and tract, it will do good b\
arousing discussion and letting in the light. .

It is too bad that here more than in any other of his book
Lewis has sacrificed good novel-writing to propaganda. Th<
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on lust. Nor is there any sensuous beauty or lyricism in the
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Gantry who is composed of too many people. The event plo
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melodrama the burning of the revivalist Tabernacle besidi
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and clear-cut tale of the blackmailing of Gantry. Here i
crisp, sure-footed narrative, the equipment of a true story
teller, but devoted to minor and not inevitable events. Thi
book does not stick together, and despite the verisimilitudi
remains finally artificial. (Continued on page 170

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"Till he had lived,
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L ud wig's



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There remains the problem of Lewis himself and his fero-l
cious hatred of the human race. After all Babbitt and Arrow!
smith and Gantry have the sins of most of the rest of us, I
It's an imperfect world, demanding charity even of its scourges,!
Has Lewis no human weakness? Does he never ask the starsil
Am I, Sinclair Lewis, perfect and pure of heart enough tol
undertake this castigation? Probably no genius asks questions;!
he fulfills his urge, like a blind force. Here is simply "Red"!
Lewis in a red rage. And that rage is against materialism
because in that mid-West generation to which he belongs is]
ever the conflict between the individual idealist hungry for!
culture and spiritual hopes, and his own guilty, inescapable!

Online LibrarySurvey AssociatesThe Survey (Volume 58) → online text (page 38 of 130)