De Casseres Explodes The Bernard Shaw Myth

MENCKEN AND SHAW. By Benjamin De Casseres. Silas Newton. New York, 1930. Price: $2.50.

WITH clamorous cavortings, Mr. Benjamin De Casseres bursts once again into a display of orgiastic literary criticism. First giving Mr. Mencken a substantial boost into Olympus, he then proceeds to disclose the very thinly covered bones of Mr. George Bernard Shaw with a withering clarity and veracity that is closely skin to genius. Blaring forth his ideas in a prose that is the essence of strength and polish, he never leaves the reader a moment to catch his breath, but rushes him along through a host of coruscating criticism that is as trenchant as it is illogical. But then logic is a useless baggage to an emotional epitomizer.

Mr. De Casseres characterizes himself as a critic of, "intuitional tastes . . who does not analyze or weigh, but apotheosizes or slays". It is just such treatment he gives Mr. Mencken. He speaks of him as one who, "has everywhere an implied, if not explicit, contempt for those who use any dodge to escape reality. There is something tremendously courageous, almost sadistically so, in this attitude. It is probable, with him, that reality itself is an escape from something he fears more--sentiment, romance, mysticism... "Mencken never describes anything, he tears it to pieces and throws it in your face... His aesthetic is Good Workmanship. His Muse is Technique."

In spite of an admitted lack of emotional insight, Mr. De Casseres would consider Mencken the greatest stimulator of his age. He says, "Huneker and Mencken did more than any other two men of the century to thin the ranks of the literary stud-horses of Vassar and the fillies of Harvard." Mr. De Casseres forgets that at times he himself is nothing more than a just-mad gelding going through the motions of an aphrodisiacal stallion. But that is the privilege of one whose prose and thought, to twist his own words, "is a boreal rhetoric, a hissing, headlong ecstasy, the passion that coils in verbs and nouns and suddenly leaps forth in an orgasm of adjectives and epithets."

As for his inconsistencies, they would drive a section man to the farthest reaches of insanity; they are so brilliant. One moment sexual love is the epitome of human force, the next it is a sex-stie. The silver stallion is continually fading into the mangy old grey mare, but his ideas as he gallops along are struck off like sparks from a flint.

And when he rolls up his sleeves to polish off Mr. Shaw, the famous Irish wit is made to look like a second rate effusion of Mr. Colley Cibber. Shaw, "has the brain of a juvenile Machiavelli superposed on a crybaby, philistine, middle-class soul... His brain is a half-inch layer of champagne poured over a bucket of Methodist near-beer." All Mr. De Casseres sees in Shaw is the mountebank who jigs for money, the Barnum of the drama, and nothing else. After reading this book the Shabian bubble is pierced.


Mr. De Casseres is a mixture of La Rochefoucauld, Voltaire, and possible Spinoza. His criticism is not sound in the sense that it builds up a carefully constructed argument, but he pierces every situation with a shaft of illuminating light that is more revealing than any quanity of common sense. He goes at the reason through the emotions and he arrives with an awakening crash. It may be froth, it may be genius; Mr. De Casseres himself probably does not know.