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"GUERNDALE: AN OLD STORY. By J. S. of Dale. C. Scribner's Sons, New York." "Guerndale" is not a book we would advise callow freshmen to send home to their loving "mamas" that they may get an idea of what we do at Harvard. About one-fourth of the book is a sketch of life at Harvard, and as the work of a Harvard man the entire book may be taken to represent in a certain sense the spirit of Harvard. However it only represents a certain "set" at Harvard. This is a fault common to most college books. An outsider is led to believe that Harvard is merely a loafing place for a number of "fast" young men possessed of plenty of money and time and with nothing to do but squander both. It is undoubtedly true that such a set does exist at Harvard, as well as at other large colleges, however much we may attempt to deny the fact, and of the life of this class of students Guerndale gives a very fair and piquant account. The various scenes in Randolph and Guerndale's rooms are familiar to us all. Little Billy Bixby, with his propensities for poker and mixed drinks, is well known to us, and Hackett is an old although unpleasant acquaintance. The account of the Bacchanalian revel in Randolph's room is strongly suggestive of a class supper.
But still, although we acknowledge the truth of the sketch as far as it goes, it does not go far enough. It is not fair for a writer to attempt to give an account of such an institution as Harvard and then give only one side of it. Of course the book is not professedly an account of every phase of life in the university; but the fact that it takes the matter up at all would require that some slight mention at least be made of other sets besides that which Bixby and Symonds cultivated. For there is another "set" here, and a very large one it is. Unfortunately no author has ever taken it upon himself to make that set the personages of his book, but it does exist. Alongside of the "fast" set there is the hardworking set - that set of men that come to college to study and to learn. It is true that their lives afford less material for a romance than do the adventures of wealthy men's sons and the prowess of boating men, but there is still a field for some novelist who wishes to describe college life in the doings of this other set. There is a set of earnest, sincere, although plodding men who have come here for business; who do not play poker and go to the theatre and other resorts every night, and spend their mornings in bed, complacently counting the strokes of the chapel bell. There is little romance or excitement in going to chapel every morning, to recitations all day, nor in the regular walk to Memorial, and the hours spent bending over the desk in hard study; yet the life of such a man is not unsatisfactory, and in reality presents as many and more pleasant features than that of the set described in most college books.
But the best part of this book is not the description of life at college. The scenes preceding the hero's admission to college are admirably drawn and the account of the Alpine trip is entertaining. The most prominent character is Norton Randolph, a good-natured misanthrope, a cynic of cynics, well read in all the literature of the past and present, and well guarded against all excitement or emotion. We won't say that we have met exactly such a person at college, but we have met a few very like him. The explanation given of the cause of his peculiar character is the only improbable thing about him.
The book is witty, full of bright sayings and well adapted to quotation. The account of the sermon in the church at Dale is very amusing and familiar to every one who has ever heard an Orthodox minister of the old school.
The description of the relation of young men and maidens to each other is well worth clipping:
"This ignoring of girls is a curious phase in the development of the masculine mind. There would almost seem to be a polaric relation between the sexes; a magnetic attraction or repulsion, which varies with different ages as a magnet itself varies with the spots on the sun. Thus, from infancy to youth, boys run away from girls. From youth to marriage, girls run away from boys. After marriage, they run away from each other."
We close with a few more quotations:
"Most of us only come to Cambridge to learn to be gentlemen."
"If you mean to dream, Harvard College is the best place for you. A college-bred man in America must wince in all his business, even in his social relations - in short, he must go through life holding his nose."
"New England will shortly be the most immoral country we know. . . . We are accustomed to shrink with horror from French novels and French morals. Today the bourgeoisie of France is purer and happier than our own."
All these are the utterances of the cynic Randolph.
As another critic remarks, the book is a man's book and therefore will be read by every woman and child who can get hold of it.
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