ON BEING CREATIVE, and Other Essays, by Irving Babbitt. Houghton, Mifflin Co., Boston. 1932. $2.50
SEVEN years have passed since we have had a volume from Professor Babbitt, but they have not been years of inactivity. When the humanistic storm broke over America several years ago he was ready to stand by the doctrines which he had been advancing many years previous to their popular revival in America. "On Being Creative" includes essays and lectures written and delivered in the intervening period; one was delivered at the University of Toronto; others appeared in the Bookman, the Nineteenth Century and After, and the Forum.
The title essay and that on "The Critic and American Life" bear a marked similarity. Professor Babbitt tells the present age that it is denying standards, repudiating, as did the earliest romanticists, the Christian and humanist traditions. Untraditional as we believe ourselves today, we are as confused as any men of a century ago. We are the victims of a "jazzy impressionism;" "still", he admits, "our naturalistic deliquescence has probably not gone so far as one might infer from poetry like that of Mr. Sandburg or fiction like that of Mr. Dos Passos." When one reads the ponderous latinities into which Professor Babbitt occasionally slips we are inevitably reminded of Dr. Johnson; the similarity is greater still when one considers the dogma of the humanist, and the moral links between the great "chams" of London and Cambridge. But a review is not the place for comparisons.
Basically Professor Babbitt's criticism is the same as it was some years ago, but Mencken is out of fashion, and his remarks mean far less to the contemporary student and critic than Professor Babbitt would have us believe. Essays on the primitivism of Wordsworth, on Coleridge and Dr. Johnson and the imagination, are studies more immediately interesting to the student of literature. Professor Lowes comes in for his share of criticism in the former essay, and Professor Carpenter is nicked once in the course of the book. All in all, however, they fare better than do Rebecca West, Dos Passos, and the other demigods of contemporary literature.
One of the most interesting chapters in the volume is that on "Romanticism and the Orient." Here we have the fullest treatment of the modern misconception of the Far East that Professor Babbitt has yet given us. To be sure, one has learned from his lectures of his growing preoccupation with the Orient, but except for a few hints he has not written or spoken at length on the subject. "The whole subject . . . is full of pitfalls," he writes. "Rousseauistic romanticism has had an important influence in the Far East," and the teachings of Lao-tze have given China a primitivistic tradition of their own, similar to that which he has traced in the West. An undergraduate essay last year traced the romanticism arising from a false conception of Greece and the Greeks; we should welcome one treating the Chinese and Indian problems. One can but hope that Professor Babbitt will continue his studies in the Far East until he is able to supplement his books in other fields with one on this neglected and misunderstood subject.
There are essays on Schiller as an aesthetic theorist, and one on Julien Benda which the reviewer is not qualified to discuss. It is sufficient to say of the book that the ideas advanced are the same, but that the treatment of the new subjects provides engrossing reading. Professor Babbitt's books are always stimulating and thought-provoking, and "On Being Creative" is no exception. If the reader does not agree with him, he will at least gain an insight into the personality of the man whose critical theories are accepted as composing the only original doctrine to come out of Harvard since William James. R. N. C., Jr.
William Harlan Hale, who during his senior year at Yale founded and edited "The Harkness Hoot," has completed his first book, "Challenge To Defeat," which Harcourt, Brace and Company will publish on May 12th.