THE CRIMSON BOOKSHELF
"The Powder of Sympathy" by Christopher Moriey. Doubleday Page and Co. 1923. $1.75.
We warned Mr. Morley in our review of his last book--"Where the Blue Begins"; and in spite of the assertions of several of our literary friends to the contrary we still maintain it to be a masterpiece--we warned Mr. Morley to beware of too many "odds and ends" books. We sent up storm signals after reading Don Marquis' "Revolt of the Oyster" and F. P. A.'s "Overset". But he has gone right ahead regardless. Now he must weather it through as best he can. Of course we cannot raise much of a tempest, for our spirit has been broken since Heywood Broun pronounced our review of Scott Fitzgerald to be "sophomoric"; although that critic has yet to prove how one can be anything but sophomoric when in Fitzgerald's company. We can forgive Mr. Broun, but we cannot let Christopher Morley off scot-free, for we love him too well.
Any one who conducts a "colyum"--in this case The Bowling Green in the New York Evening Post--must, we feel, have economical pangs at seeing so much copy go into the maw of the presses every day with so little return; so many quickly-jotted ideas that might really be turned into something lasting; so many little quips and literary furbelows that would be worthy to set off a finer dress. It is small wonder that sometimes these pieces are gathered together and swept into a volume, where they may play a sort of public journal to the authors, and buoy up the notorious "sense of accomplishment". Humanly Mr. Morley has every excuse in the world.
Literarily he has not. For himself, that is his problem; for his readers, they deserve better at his hands than to be disappointed; for his genius, it is of too high a Quality to be abused. We have always maintained, and always will, that no one should burst into print with what is not his best; and the author of "The Powder of Sympathy" will agree with us that he can do better than he has in this case. A writer who can compose charming verses, good poetry, delectable essays, and sincere novels ought to think hard before he is content to publish a volume of enlarged paragraphs and half-in-half jottings.
Do not mistake us. We are not saying that the paragraphs and jottings are second-rate. They are excellent things of their sort, and make very enjoyable occasional reading. Our quarrel is not with them but with their sort. We can find them, or things very much like them, in any issue of the Evening Post, and chuckle at their wit and ponder over their philosophy. But in a volume we somehow look for a more sustained effort, more unity, and greater depth. It is not that we like the paragraphs less, but that they shine poorly in contrast with what their author has done in other fields.
They shine poorly in contrast with some of the short essays in this volume itself--as if Morley, realizing that all was not well, had inserted at judicious spots some of his arm-chair rather than word-desk writings. And there we found another difficulty at once. The book has two levels; one literary, one semi-journalistic, and we bounced around between the two for quite a time before we got used to the changes of pace. (There is a line mixed metaphor to serve as an opening for you, Chris!).
And the literary levels are beyond criticism. The essay on "Intellectuals and Roughnecks", for example, ought to be read--forcibly or otherwise--to every young "writer" or "literary man" or "thinker" under twenty-five years of age. It contains some things we have wanted to say ourself for a long time, but have never quite dared to for fear of being called crude. "An Oxford Symbol"--we may as well tell you beforehand that it is a corkscrew--is done in the best Morley style; Dame Quickly and Glssing add their bit; and the chapter on "Sir Kenelm Digby" is a rare delight, with its recipes and its appreciation of old quaintness. . We should like, for our own part, to see more of Sir Kenelm in the future--and we would be curious to observe what Morley would do with, say, John Parkinson's "Paradisi in Sole", which is a treasure-trove if there ever were one.
But the sad fact remains--and this hurts us worse than it does you, Chris!--that the book is undeniably "spotty", and that Mr. Morley has done and can do much better work. After which final blast we shall call in our storm, and wait hopefully for another and more sturdy launching.