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EPITAPH ON GEORGE MOORE by Charles Morgan. New York: The Macmillen Company. $1.25.


M. MAUROIS has chosen for his subjects under the title "Prophets and Poets" those contemporary English writers who "have played an important part in the spiritual moulding of one or two generations of human beings." These essays on the life and thought of Kipling, Wells, Shaw, Chesterton, Conrad, Strachey, Lawrence, Huxley, and Katherine Mansfield were first delivered as lectures to French audiences, and most of them suffer from the exigencies of their original purpose. Again and again an indigestibly large amount of biographical data is crammed into a study, followed by a series of extracts from the work of the writer with an expository commentary, and a critical estimate which in all but a few cases is disappointingly elementary and orthodox. The extracts are well-chosen, the exposition is competent, but, save for the occasional unorthodox conclusions, the volume retains too much of the flavor of the superior textbook and anthology which the author's original design enforced.

Happy Judgment

Where he departs from the conventional, M. Maurois's judgements are sometimes unusually unhappy. He urges on us his conviction that Kipling is "the greatest writer of our time," first because Kipling is the only true mythmaker of the century (this is orthodox enough), and second because he is the only true exponent of "an heroic conception of life." One who is convinced that heroic themes in modern literature can be found only in Kipling will probably not grasp the significance of the work of Conrad. The essay on Conrad, in the reviewer's opinion, is inadequate and misleading. Like the other essays it has a neatly phrased central thesis pigeon-holing its subject. Conrad, though Polish, "expressed a certain Anglo-Saxon ideal better, perhaps, than any other man of letters." He taught "a stoic philosophy of life, that of the British man of action." This generalization is so incomplete as to be seriously misleading. Captain MacWhirr may be stoical but he scarcely represents an Anglo-Saxon ideal. And from the expostulations of Babalatchi in "An Outcast of the Islands" to the tragic portrait of Charles Could, the typical British man of action, in "Nostromo," Conrad mercilessly exposed that Anglo-Saxon habit of sentimentalizing one's desires, best known as the doctrine of "the white man's burden," which has built the Empire. No, Kipling ideals cannot be found in the work of Conrad.

Lady Hester Stanhope

Much more congenial subjects for M. Maurois' pen are Lytton Strachey, Aldous Huxley, and Katherine Mansfield. His account of the way in which Strachey "reinstated Cllo among the Muses" is illuminating; and though he is delighted when Strachey in such portraits as "Lady Hester Stanhope" makes history seem "almost like a symbolist poem," he is aware that the truest history is never to be found in such portraits. On the interference of too much scientific knowledge and a too scientific point of view in the fiction of Huxley, M. Maurois is very just. And his analysis and estimate of the work of Katherine Mansfield provide a keen and very welcome appreciation of a writer less widely read than she should be.

Unhackneyed Portraits

Something should be said in praise of the physical handsomeness of the book and the unhackneyed portraits of the authors used as illustrations. The book is almost worth owning for Henry Lamb's remarkable portrait of Strachey. On the other hand, there is much unaccountable carelessness in the text; the name of the pilgrim ship in "Lord Jim" is the "Patna," not the "Patria;" the protagonist of "Antic Hay" is Gumbril, not Gombauld; D. H. Lawrence died and was buried at Vence, in the South of France, not at Venice.

George Moore is not included in "Prophets and Poets," for he does not fit M. Maurois' definition. He has moulded no generations. He remained aloof from the public, and the public from him. In all probability George Moore will remain, as Spenser has remained a poets' poet, a novelists' novelist.

A True Novel

In the light of this, it is no surprise to learn that in his last years Moore groomed a young novelist who is a deliberate stylist to write his biography. Moore told Charles Morgan that he wanted his biography to be, not a "tombstone in two volumes," but "a true novel." Mr. Morgan undertook this task, but the withholding from him of an extensive correspondence which Moore had deemed essential for the work, has caused him to abandon his attempt. The "Epitaph on George Moore" contains his explanation and "a distillation" of the materials he had gathered for the work. It is an exceedingly valuable distillation.

A Master of Style

It is most valuable for its statement of Moore's aims in his later work, the "prose epics" which he considered his masterpieces, which critics like Mr. Morgan and Mr. Humbert Wolfe believe have "re-created" the novel, and which few ordinary mortals ever read. Moore dedicated himself with the single-mindedness of a fanatic to the search for an "absolute prose." He imposed on himself "a rule of evenness, a rule against emotional emphasis, a refusal not only of anything that could be called a purple patch but of any conspicuous variation of tempo in response to a variation of mood...His aim was to write a prose independent of every colloquialism, every trick of phrase, every contemporary allusion that might make it obscure or tedious in the future." Thus followed his use of the Biblical "thee" and "thou" and his cultivation of the flowing and repetitive simplicity of oral narrative. The care that Moore lavished on every sentence in "The Brook Kerith" and "Heloise and Abelard" will excite the wonder of the uninitiated. Mr. Morgan's analysis of the results of this superhuman care is indeed subtle and illuminating. Yet even after such an analysis it is hard to see a revolution in fiction in the rhythms, the repetitions, and the intricate patterns of vowel-sounds that make the perfection of Moore's later prose. It takes more than these things to make a revolution even in the art of fiction.  I. H. B

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