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The current number of the Advocate irresistibly suggests a conundrum asking the reason for its likeness to the Collection of Western Art in the Boston Museum. The answer is obvious; each contains one work of marked excellence relieved against productions of more or less ordinary merit. The extraordinary object in the Boston Museum is the Greek throne; the thing of distinction in the Advocate is Mr. Alken's poem.
Of the more mediocre class is the story entitled "The Heritage." It belongs to that type which has grown and spread like a weed in American literature of the last twenty years and which, because it is the peculiar property of the modern magazine, we may say is characterized by the "periodical" style. The recipe for a tale of this type is very simple; only two precautions are necessary. First, you must never tell your story directly and fully, you must only suggest its outline and leave the rest to your reader's imagination. Kipling is largely responsible for the vogue of this method, but his followers, among them the author of "The Heritage," with the eternal tendency of all pupils, exaggerate the master's distinctive virtues into vices, and as they skim lightly over the surface of their subject, touching it only here and there, become obscure and ludicrous. Second, you must never leave a noun without an effective adjective, or a verb without a striking adverb. It is Stevenson who by his example advocates this part of the recipe; and thus "The Heritage" has the fire burning "sulkily in the close, dismantled library" and the hero's face "fresh, young, and ruddy from his gray ride over the boggy roads," etc. The tale is better than most of its brand, with interesting characters sharply defined in a charming and well realized environment; but the brand is poor. In the short article championing the university ideal for Harvard, Mr. Gregg likewise vitiates his contention by constraint and obscurity of diction.
From the labored manner of such efforts one turns with relief to the more spontaneous productions of the less mediocre class. The clever phrasing of the editorial on the abandonment of hat-bands ought to assist in impressing upon the mind of the College the necessity of democratic reform. The naturalness of Mr. Viet's criticism of Jules Verne is refreshing; and at the end of his skit, "Pat Gallagher's Hundred Dollar Bill," he employs the method of suggestion with good result, because he has not run it into the ground in the earlier part of the composition. Mr. Nickerson's "Defence of Musical Comedy" is commendable both in matter and expression. There is a good deal of sound reason in the brief that he holds for the value of musical comedy to our civilization but more significant is his suggestion of its exaltation to a higher plane. Is it not true that the two peculiarly American dramatic forms, the mu- sical comedy and the melodrama of the Grand Opera House, simply await a master's hand in order to be transformed into literary genres of enduring worth? Mr. Nickerson would have strengthened his argument if he had indicated the possibility of developing the spectacular side of musical comedy into the work of art that it was in the plays of Aristophanes, to which he so aptly refers. He renders his style piquant from a wealth of allusions drawn from a comprehensive knowledge of literature. If writers of the present day possessed this cultural foundation of familiarity with their classics, ancient and modern, they would not have to rack their brains and torment their dictionaries for an exotic array of adjectives and adverbs in order to stimulate interest.
But the superlative is attained by Mr. Aiken's poem. "To a Head in Marble." The other verses in this number are better than the average output of magazines, but they are characterized too much by the attitude of the undergraduate who cries out, "Lo! I will write a poem," and then sets about thinking up a subject. There is nothing of the perfunctory about Mr. Aiken's verses; the emotion comes first and demands expression in verse as its natural medium. Though marred here and there by defective or immature technique, as in spots where the author seems hampered by the requirements of metre, "To a Head in Marble" is true poetry in its unabashed revelation of the individual and in its highly imaginative form and expression. It makes February, 1911, a memorable month in the history of the Advocate
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