College magazines have, probably even among magazines, the most hectically varied careers known to man. They prosper, they fail, they revive; are alternately feeble, invisible and brilliant, according to the qualities of each rapidly succeeding generation. Of late, the Advocate has been passing through a period of eclipse,--if not total, at any rate partial. Before that, it was in the hands of poets and became a sort of serial anthology. With much work that was of course mediocre, it also printed a good deal of very exceptional verse by such poets as S. Foster Damon, Robert Hillyer, William Norris, and B. Preston Clark. This was perhaps one of the Advocate's golden ages. But in general, undergraduate writers of verse are better than undergraduate writers of prose, and perhaps always will be; and for that reason the current issue of the Advocate is all the more remarkable.
For in the May issue of the Advocate, while the verse is for the most part pleasantly negligible, the prose approximates the brilliant. Not without exceptons, to be sure: Mr. Dill's ghost story and Mr. Spark's description of ambulance service at Verdun are, particularly in the former instance, below the average of the rest. Mr. Dill's efforts to create atmosphere are at the same time overdone and stereotyped. His method is cumulative rather than selective, and for that reason he fails to convince. Mr. Sparks, though he is more successful, shows the disposition, frequent in the immature realist, to shock his reader by calling every spade a blasted shovel. In saying this I am aware that I am committing a sin which might be termed reviewer's overemphasis. For Mr. Sparks writes vividly and one does not forget what he says.
Tragic Themes Chosen.
It is however, in "The Hand of God," by Mr. Strout, and "A Glow of Sacred Fire," by Mr. Henderson, both of them stories of rural life and both of them tragic in theme, that the excellence of the present number of the Advocate chiefly consists. Dialect presents many difficulties even for the trained hand, and in this regard Mr. Strout and Mr. Henderson have acquitted themselves remarkably well. Of the two stories the former is the more ambitious, and is, perhaps, partly on that account, the more uneven. The semi-detached prelude, in which for a moment the author intrudes in his personal capacity, quite unnecessarily, is not altogether in tune with the rest of the story. Despite, however, its occasional lapses into the immature and inept, the story as a whole is vividly and consistently imagined, vigorously told, and shows in several instances an acute understanding of human motive. Mr. Henderson's study, on the other hand, though simpler in theme, is much more perfectly and richly done. It is, indeed, a remarkably perceptive piece of work, one which many a well-known professional need not blush to have written. In delicacy of feeling and description it approaches the poetic. There is no waste in it: Mr. Henderson treasures his sentences. The psychology is sure and senitive, and Mr. Henderson resolves his theme in precisely the necessary subdued tone of climax.
Of the book-reviews, all of which are good, Mr. Cowley's discussion of Siegfied Sassoon's poetry is the best: judicious, deliberate and well-poised. It rounds off an issue of the Advocate for which the editors may well be congratulated.