To one who has seen the Monthly during two years only sporadically and then with disappointment, the present number is more satisfying. At the end of its hard year of rehabilitation the magazine shows itself worthy of the ideals of the past. We no longer yearn to bear a mantle on our shoulders backward and cover it.
Not that the old mellow flavor of our finest tradition has been recaptured. The new and youthful forces agitating the University probably make that forever impossible. Yet, in place of it, there is not the note of enthusiasm for struggle to a perhaps impossible goal which one loves in youth. The young men of the Monthly seem weary, disillusioned, pallid.
The verse which was always the Monthly's strongest point is in this number unimportant. Gilkey's "Tripoli" is not of his best; it seems perfunctory, and has not beauty or strength to save it. "At a House Party," by Clarence Britten is an attempt to tell one of the author's too-subtle, evanescent short stories in verse; it does not "get there" enough to make it quite worth while. Mr. Thayer's "Adieu" is graceful and meaningless; the "Thoreau" of Rollo Britten is the best verse in the paper. It says something with force and phrasing. Paul Marriet's "Crepuscule" moves those who knew him, if only by the memories it evokes.
The only piece of fiction by Clarence Britten is not vital or significant enough to balance all the excellent criticism. Delicate, studied, as his stories always are, this one is a good example of the lack the average reader feels in them. One never feels he understands the people; one does not feel sure they understand each other. The author has so refined them that they are no longer the plain human sort one knows. Besides, they so seldom do anything worth while. They talk, not always brilliantly, and fade away somehow in whispers and twilight. They make one long for blood and lust even to melodrama.
But the best things in the number are the five literary essays which are quite up to the former standards; not so broadly human, kindly, but keener and more exacting, perhaps a little intolerant. The four men who discuss Dowson, Poetic Drama and The Poet have expressed, very professionally, attitudes rather individual. Harrison's "Dowson" takes a fling at the old heresy that the morals of a genius do not matter, even while he has a little sympathy for the genius.
Wilson's "Ernest Dowson," the best in the number, does something much more worth while than merely holding to the light the dirty, wine-stained shreds of Dowson's golden coat of poesy; it takes a much-needed fall out of the young minor poet of today, the Sinclair type, who thinks only of himself, his woes, joys, experiences (the more degrading the better) and sneers at the old masters, who wrote of the world and the ideal and Heaven, as "philistines". Can any good come out of Longfellow and Whittier, they cry, as they make themselves drunken with the scented, perishable cadences of a Wilde of a Dowson. If Mr. Wilson were to start a Society for the Abolition of the Ego in Minor Poets, he would have a large membership.
Rollo Britten's note on "Poetic Drama" covers the ground sanely and concisely though it is about time we got away from Stephen Phillips even as a point of departure. To a non-Socialist Souther's "Socialism and Beauty" is not absolutely clear; the one thing the reviewer feels sure about is that it could have been written in a much more entertaining and vivid fashion. His "aesthete" is valuable if only for showing up the type for which the Monthly seems to have such admiration.
Besides Britten's illuminating and necessary editorial on the examination system, the best thing in the number to an old editor--or at least the most comforting--is Douglas's farewell, written in "open and truculent satisfaction," patiently boosting the paper. The present board has done a good work; it has set up the shattered altar, and the smoke of the incense is sweet to the nostrils of the old men.