BOSTON AND THE BOSTON LEGEND, by Lucins Beebe. Illustrated by E. H. Suydam. 372 pages. D. Appleton-Century Company. New York $5.00.
AGREAT DEAL of carping has been done about the inaccuracies of fact in Lucius Beebe's charming picture of Boston in "Boston and the Boston Legend." The dapper young Herald-Tribune feature writer has muffed a few punches, it is true, in his informal history of this most enigmatic of American cities. He has one or two distinguished natives living in the Back Bay when he should have said Beacon Hill and, according to more scholarly authorities, he has slipped up on some of his dates. But his book is too intrinsically fascinating and alive to be hurt much by it. He has hit precisely the right spot in the underlying concept of his work.
The riddle of the Anglo-Saxon Puritanism of a city which is three-quarters descended from foreign stock, of the "intellectual, superiority" of a community which suffers the most ruthless and undiscriminating literary and dramatic censorship in America--this is the riddle which Mr. Beebe skilfully and sympathetically presents. He shows Boston the home of the Mathers, of Emerson, Longfellow, Holmes and Lowell, and Boston the scene of the-Sacco-Vanzetti riots, the John L. Sullivan fights, the James Michael Curley campaigns. He pictures the irreproachable dignity of State Street and the spectacle of the world's most notorious Tea Party.
His presentation of Cambridge and Harvard, replete with old anecdotes and mythical and familiar figures is a delight to follow. President Dunster, Max Keezer, John the Orangeman, Memorial Hall, "Copey," "Kitty," and the Yard are blended in a brilliant panorama. He makes Harvard the incongruous yet integrated mixture of intellect and individuality, of rum and sophomoric rebellion, of great wealth and simplicity, that it appears to the undergraduate.
Mr. Beebe handles personalities and events alike in the same warm, colorful manner, unconscious of the historical method or historical convention. He catches an atmosphere and makes a legend come alive. He shows contradictions and complexities and contrasts but puts them into a single and nicely-wrought whole. Let him explain:
"Boston's City Hall politics have become synonymous with minor corruption and civic extravagance. It is common knowledge that an Irish mayor contributed materially to the subsequent collapse of one of the city's oldest and largest banks out of personal spite by causing a run on its resources during a financial crisis. The third generation of Boston Irish has, in an impressive number of instances, done much to justify the shirtsleeve adage.
"But there has been little open cleavage between the Irish inheritors of wealth, position and authority and those with longer established antecedents. A "good front" has always been a Boston and Massachusetts tradition, and the Princes of the Roman Catholic Church, the Presidents of Harvard University, the Bishops of the Protestant Episcopal Church, and the Governors of the Commonwealth regularly occupy adjacent positions of honor at all public functions, subscribe their names as patrons to the same good works, and support very nearly the same causes and matters of public policy. An Irishman who is a Knight of Malta was elected to the presidency of the $50,000,000 Boston Edison Company, after serving a mixed apprenticeship at Holy Cross and the very Harvard firm of Ropes, Gray, Boyden and Perkins. There is another who is a director on the board of Boston's dominant financial organization, the First National Bank. A third, who is also the most enthusiastic of all Harvard's football aficionados is the managing editor of the eminently conservative and old-school Globe. Harmony and serenity on the part of church, state, and public institutions is one of the remarkable and refreshing aspects of the Boston scene. . ."