ENGLAND MUDDLES THROUGH, by Harold E. Scarborough. MacMillan Company, New York, 1932. $1.75.
MR. Scarborough has just written the perfect handbook and guide to the English mentality and its offspring, to be used by the American in the manner of a guide book to a Zoological garden, and by the Englishman as a looking glass. He is an American journalist who has braved the agonizing spectacle of English illogical self-deception in every sphere of British activity and inactivity and has been able to write down his observations with conviction, but with complete lack of sentiment, optimism, or pessimism, as far as Britain and her Empire is concerned. He has spent eleven years in the country interpreting the English mind for readers of the New York Herald-Tribune, and now he has produced a searching essay on the English which Americans should not pass up, and which the English should commit to memory in order to start building up a common foundation of understanding between the two people.
As the title suggests, Mr. Scarborough has a thesis. He says that despite the fact that the Englishman does things by absurd roundabout methods, following antiquated ideas, the results are on the whole satisfactory and if they are not, the Britisher can, by his famous process of self-hypnosis, make himself believe that they are. This system of blundering about in a world of obsolete laws, political contradictions, and mid-Victorian conceptions of industry and trade is a tragic setting for a book, and even the numerous amusing anecdotes and descriptions of the Vagaries of the British mental process cannot make the cynical tone which implies that these things are true, and pass for normal on the opposite shore of the Atlantic. The writer concentrates on the vast changes in the social life of present day England, as contrasted with the static, almost unwordly condition of public life and commerce, and does not go nearly so intensely into the desperate economic situation of the country as Mr. Andre Siegfried did in "England's Crisis." Mr. Scarborough's examples of England mudding through' are very true, and he is struck by the same underlying conflictions between ideals and actual practice which are equally evident in this country to an intelligent foreigner. The book is entirely devoid of journalism and journalistic prose, and is full of useful scholarship, and delicate pleasant writing, all quite different in tone from plain-spoken, all-embrasive, panoramic articles on nations such as appear in the New York Times Magazine.
Mr. Scarborough has a thousand opportunities for poking fun at the Englishman and his 'constitutional right to be uncomfortable.' He is in all a scientific observer, not a physician, but he is occasionally affected with mercy for the Englishman, whom he loves with a love based on understanding. The Britisher who builds his concrete house first and then bores holes in it for pipes and wiring, who decides to repair a highway on the day before a bank holiday receives no 'pooh-poohing' ridicule at his hands, only honest criticism. But his love does not carry him away to an optimism which will deny the possibility of Britain descending to the status of a lesser power, nor does it inspire him with the sort of Anglophilism which says that the English gentleman is the highest example of human civilization. In all he is not a prophet; he has merely made an admirable study of the British national character and psychology, and has shown himself to be a perfect traveler, an amusing raconteur, and a sound and forceful critic.