Some time ago, a brilliant novelist coined a convenient catch-phrase in the term "explosive truths". If the present heated controversy centering about the choice of the 1924 Pulitzer Prize Play may be taken as a criterion, Professor William Lyon Phelps, who acted on the original committee of selection, has given the expression new life. His statement that the choice of the committee, "The Show Off", was subsequently rejected by the Columbia Advisory Board in favor of "Hell Bent fer Heaven", while interesting and provocative of much discussion, seems in view of subsequent developments to have been hardly tactful.
When one considers that the Advisory Board was quite within its rights in rejecting the committee's recommendation, and that their decision was based partly on the representations of so noted a critic as Dr. Brander Matthews, the necessity for Professor Phelps' disclosures is not immediately apparent. They have been the occasion of much recriminatory comment, both undignified and quite purposeless, which might have been avoided by the maintenance of diplomatic and at the same time a thoroughly honest silence.
Of Professor Phelps' two colleagues, Mr. Owen Johnson has given out a statement which, if correctly quoted, is, to say the least, surprising. The thought that either Dr. Matthews or the Advisory Board would be influenced in their decision by the fact that the author of the play ultimately chosen for distinction was a Columbia professor is neither convincing nor worthy a man of Mr. Johnson's established reputation. Mr. Clayton Bamilton's summary of the situation, however, seems eminently fair. The choice of Dr. Matthews and the Advisory Board is no more open to the charge of favoritism than is the championing by Professor Phelps, on the first ballot of the selection committee, of "The Changelings", which was written by a Yale man. The courtesy of consultation might have been extended to the committee; but the fact that its choice was rejected is not in itself a valid reason for all the innuendo and retort which has subsequently arisen.