A CRITICAL SURVEY OF AMERICAN HISTORY
In the Manner of William Lyon Phelps.
On a memorable evening in the year 1904 I witnessed the opening performance of Maude Adams in "Peter Pan". Nothing in the world can describe the tremendous enthusiasm of that night! I shall never forget the moment when Peter came to the front of the stage and asked the audience if we believed in fairies. I am happy to say that I was actually the first to respond. Leaping at once out of my seat, I shouted "Yes—Yes!" To my intense pleasure the whole house almost instantly followed my example, with the exception of one man. This man was sitting directly in front of me. His lack of enthusiasm was to me incredible. I pounded him on the back and shouted, "Great God, man, are you alive! Wake up! Hurrah for the fairies! Hurrah!" Finally he uttered a rather feeble "Hurrah!" Childe Roland to the dark tower came.
That was my first meeting with that admirable statesman Woodrow Wilson, and I am happy to state that from that night we became firm friends. When Mr. Wilson was inaugurated in 1913 I called on him at the White House, taking with me some members of my Yale drama class. Each one of us had an edition of the president's admirable "History of the American People", and I am glad to say that he was kind enough to autograph each of the ten volumes for all of us.
Early in Mr. Wilson's second term as president, just before the break with Germany, I was sitting in the quiet of my library rereading Browning's "Cristina". When I came to the third stanza I leaped to my feet—the thing seemed incredible, but here before my eyes was actually Browning's prophetic message to America in regard to the submarine sinkings.
"Oh, we're sunk enough here, God knows! But not so sunk that moments—etc." It is an extraordinary evidence of the man's genius that in 1840 he should have perhaps foreseen prophetically the happenings of seventy-six years later! Not only did Browning seem to know what was bound to happen, but he told us the remedy. I sat right down and wrote to my good friend the president, enclosing a marked copy of the poem. On the sixth of April, 1917, war was declared.
May 7, 1912, was the one hundredth anniversary of the birth of Robert Browning. On that memorable date I was traveling to Ohio at the request of my dear friend Miss Jones to deliver an address at the Columbus School for Girls. Curiously enough the name of my Pullman car was Pauline. Not only did that strike me as remarkable, but I occupied upper berth number 9 in car 11, two numbers which, added together, produced the exact age at which Browning published the poem of that name. At once I recited the opening lines, "Pauline, mine own, bend o'er me—thy soft breast shall pant to mine—bend o'er me," to the porter.
I like to believe that the spirit of Browning arranged that entire journey, for the other occupant of this well-omened berth was that admirable statesman Warren G. Harding. When I sat down I noticed that he was reading Henry Sydnor Harrison's "Queed", a book which was justly popular at that time. I at once showed Mr. Harding an article I had written in which I stated that not only was "Queed" a real novel, with a real plot, and real characters, but that I believed the readers were stimulated by the spiritual advance of the hero. The future president agreed with me and said he thought that literature was a great thing. Encouraged by this I confessed that I was on my way to deliver a lecture on modern poetry. Mr. Harding replied that he thought poetry was a great thing. "Splendid!" I cried, and taking a copy of Browning from my bag I read him several selections. Mr. Harding said that of the American poets he liked James Whitcomb Riley best. Personally, while I have for Mr. Riley only wonder and praise, I think that the English poet strikes a more inspiring, more eternal note.
I then read to Mr. Harding Browning's "Evelyn Hope". He said that he knew a Mrs. Walter Hope in Marion, but that he was not sure her first name was Evelyn. As I knew that Mr. Harding liked a good pun, I remarked facetiously that "hope springs eternal", meaning that probably there were in existence several families of that name.
I am happy to state that with that meeting began a friendship which
has lasted for many years. When Mr. Harding was nominated for the
presidency, I wrote at once, enclosing a copy of "The Advance of the
English Novel" which I had published in 1916. On the title-page I wrote,
"To the Hero of a Much More Spectacular Advance", meaning that the
progress made by the English novel was as nothing compared to Mr.
Harding's rapid and well-deserved rise. In reply I received the
6 July, 1920. MY DEAR
Many thanks to you for your congratulations and your kindness in sending me your brilliant, searching essays which I hope to be able to read in the near future. WARREN G. HARDING.
Just as I am always glad that I am an American, so I think we should all believe whole-heartedly in the glorious future which lies ahead of us. We should all pay high tribute to the ideals and sincerity of those great leaders Woodrow Wilson and Warren Harding. What a pity that some people believe that there is any antagonism or essential difference in the aims of those two worthy men. Both are absolutely sincere—both try to make the world a better, more happy place. And to the critic of history—as to the critic of art and literature—those are the essential things. Viewing the past and glimpsing the future of American history I cannot help feeling that Browning had us perhaps unconsciously in mind when he wrote:
God's in his heaven: All's right with the world!
CRISTOFER COLOMBO: A Comedy of Discovery
In the Manner of James Branch Cabell.
In fourteen hundred ninety two In the city of Genoa.
They of Genoa tell with a shrug how in the old days Cristofer Colombo whom men called the Dreamer left Dame Colombo to go in search of the land of his imagining.
And the tale tells how, on a twilight Thursday, Colombo walked alone on the edge of a doubtful wood, and viewed many things not salutary to notice. And there came to him one who was as perversely tall as a certain unmentionable object and bearded in a manner it is not convenient to describe.
But Colombo set about that which the stranger said was necessary and when he had finished he drank the contents of the curious skull as had been foretold on a certain All-Saints day. Then it was that the stranger spoke.
"Whom are you", said he, "to be thus wandering in the very unspeakable forest of the very unnamable sorcerer Thyrston?"
Said Colombo, "I have heard of this Thyrston. And while I do not criticize, yet I cannot entirely agree with your improper use of the pronoun WHOM, and oh my dear sir", said Colombo, "those two VERYS would surely—oh, most surely—be mentioned in 'The Conning Tower'."
"Eh!" said Thyrston, frowning.
"I allude", said Colombo, "to the scribbling of a certain Adams with whom you are doubtless familiar, and of course, my dear Thyrston", said Colombo, "I spoke only jestingly, for I am Cristofer Colombo whom men call the Dreamer, and I go in search of the land of my imagining and it is truly a pleasure to meet the greatest sorcerer since Ckellyr, and how", said Colombo, "is dear Mrs. Thyrston?"
Then Thyrston showed Colombo what was written on the insecure parchment. It frightened Colombo a little, but he assented. And when the sorcerer had borrowed a silk hat and a gold watch he caused the skies to darken and Colombo saw that which men refuse to believe.
"But, oh, now really sir", said Colombo, "that is indeed extremely clever and I do wish that the children were here to see it and would you mind, my dear Thyrston", said Colombo, "doing that egg trick again?"
Then Thyrston showed Colombo that he had nothing up either sleeve and after an interval he consented to teach Colombo the secret of his conjuring.
"Why now to be sure", said Colombo, after he had thoroughly mastered the trick, "that is indeed quite simple and I am sorry I broke those four eggs by mistake in your silk hat, and while I do not wish to appear oversensitive, do you not think, my dear Thyrston", said Colombo, "that the trick would go just as well without those abominable jokes about married life?"
"My dear sir", said Thyrston, "those jokes have been used by every conjurer since Merlin, and while perhaps without them your trick would work, yet I have never heard of it being done and I have found", said Thyrston, "that in sorcery the best results are obtained by doing the customary thing."
"Which only goes to show", said Colombo, "that sorcery is somewhat akin to business, and now that I think of it", said Colombo, "I believe that the term wizard of industry is perhaps not entirely a misnomer."
Thus it was that Colombo took leave of Thyrston, and the tale tells how on Walburga's Eve he came to the court of King Ferdinand and Queen Isabel. And as he entered one met him who was not unpleasing to the eye, and she was weeping. And, as it was somewhat dark, Colombo decided to comfort her.
"Now, do you tell me, my dear", said Colombo, after an interval, "why it is you weep, for I am Colombo whom men call the Dreamer, and I go in search of the land of my imagining, and I think", said Colombo, "that you have most remarkably lovely eyes."
"Oh messire", said the lady, "I weep because it is this evening that I am to entertain the ladies of our Progress Literary Club, and Donna Margarita whom men call the Spanish Omelet, but who really, messire, has a lovely voice, was going to sing 'The Rosary' and now she has a cold and cannot sing, and King Ferdinand is coming, and oh, messire, what", said the lady, "shall I do?"
"Why now, truly", said Colombo, "in Genoa it was the judgment of all the really musically intelligent ladies, except perhaps my wife, that I sang not an unpleasing baritone, and while I do not know the song to which you refer, yet I have devoted most of my life to the composition of a poem concerning the land of my imagining which might well be sung and besides that", said Colombo, "I can do a most remarkable egg trick."
So it was that Colombo became for a short time not undeservedly the life of the Progress Literary Club party. And the tale tells how, after a paper by Donna Violet Balboa on "Spanish Architecture—Then and Now", Colombo sang to them the song of the land of Colombo's imagining. And poignantly beautiful was the song, for in it was the beauty of a poet's dream, and the eternal loveliness of that vision which men have glimpsed in all ages if ever so faintly. And when he had finished, the eyes of Colombo were wet with tears, for into this poem had he woven the dreams of his disillusionment. And somewhat ironical to Colombo was the applause of those fine ladies who did not at all understand.
"Now that is a pretty song", said King Ferdinand, "and do you tell us, Colombo, how one may get to this land, so that I may extend the borders of my most Catholic Kingdom and spread the teachings of the true faith, for to bring the world under the blessed influence of my religion is my only purpose, and really now", said King Ferdinand, "is there as much gold there as you describe?"
"Ah, King Ferdinand", replied Colombo, "there is more gold than ever I can tell, and I see only too plainly how grievously you suffer to think that perhaps these people are living in ignorance of the true faith. And I could ask nothing better than that King Ferdinand give me ships in which I may sail to the westward and come at last to the land of my imagining. This I would do in order that the blessed soldiers of King Ferdinand who will follow me may show to the inhabitants of my discovered land the grievous errors of their ways and bring them at last to a realization of the true faith which has been so helpful to our own dear Spain, and", added Colombo, "our gracious sovereign Ferdinand."
And droll it was to Colombo to think what might possibly happen were King Ferdinand to take his dream seriously or were the King perhaps to be informed as to the true meaning of Colombo's subtleties.
"Well, now", said King Ferdinand, "of course, to fit out such an expedition would require great expense, my dear Colombo—great expense. And, of course, you know, Colombo, that when investors can buy Inquisition 4 1/4's for 89 it would be extremely difficult to raise the money for such a speculative project—oh, extremely difficult. And then you must consider the present depression—tell me now, Colombo", said King Ferdinand, "how long do you think this depression will last, for I seek, above all things, a return to healthy normalcy."
"Well, truly", replied Colombo, "that would be most difficult to say. I note that on Rodigruez Babsyn's last chart—"