The Crimson Bookshelf
MOLDERS OF AMERICAN THOUGHT, edited by William H. Cordell, Garden City, New York. 1934. Doubleday, Doran and Co. 390 pp. $2.50.
THE purpose of the editor in the presentation of this volume of contemporary periodical literature has been, in his own words, "to show that in our day the essay is not only an art form but--and possibly even more so--an agency active in molding human thought and action." He has selected works from Harper's, the American Mercury. The Atlantic Monthly, Scribner's, North American Review, Forum and Century, Yale Review, Fortune, and the Current History Magazine. Among the authors represented are Theodore Drieser, Jane Adams, Christian Gauss, James Truslow Adams, Albert Jay Nock, James Rowland Angell, Robert Hillyer, Michael Pupin, Pearl S. Buck, Zona Gale, and John Erskine.
The books is valuable one in that it preserves in permanent form the ideas of many men and women whose influence upon American thought has been far reaching. The topics discussed cover a wide range and include such subjects as nationalism, modern economic theory, pacifism, education, religion, science, literature, and marriage.
One of the best essays for the ideas it expresses is entitled "After Religion, What?" by Frank Snowden Hopkins, a newspaperman. "The only philosophy," he says, which most members of the younger generation today can accept, "is one which is agnostic in its metaphysics, yet which stresses the faith of the human spirit in its own capabilities. It must be in short, a rational and purposeful philosophy, a creation of the human intelligence, a philosophy which, admitting all the limitations of the mortal mind, refuses to compromise with medieval superstitions and wishful self deceptions."
Robert Hillyer, in an essay called "Education Unvisited," discusses in a convincing way the limitations that educational systems and formal requirements have placed upon the acquisition of an education that stresses individual creativeness and originality. To illustrate his ideas he tells the story of a student who came to his office once to enquire about some question of syntax. Instead of answering the question directly Professor Hillyer launched into a discussion of the beauties of Mackail's translations from the Greek anthology. He was rudely awakened, he says, by an efficient voice that demanded a direct answer to what seemed to the student a momentous question. "I cannot doubt." says Professor Hillyer, "that, although my information enabled him to correct the single sentence he had in mind, his should will split its infinitives forever, and his spirit will be but a dangling participle. Certainly he will never read Mackail."
Alvin Johnson writes an engaging article on "The Coming American Revolution" which is decidedly more reasonable and objective than many that have written on the subject. The editors of "Fortune" are represented with their timely and now well-known article on "Arms and the Men." Zona Gale writes a delightful essay on "Period Realism" and Newton Arvin does an equally pleasing piece of writing on "Our Haughty Poets."