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Here is a new style in memoirs which promises to be a valuable model for those who would seek a different medium of literary autobiography. Sir John Squire, for many years the editor of The London Mercury, and Literary editor of The New Statesman, as well as a writer of poetry, fiction, essays, and drama of no little note, has written a sparkling narrative of his life, the great personalities it has been his privilege to know, and in short, an excellent commentary on present day England.
The book is not, however, the much abused type of literary reminiscences which flood the bookstores with new versions every week. His pattern characterization which persist throughout increase its merit. He does not sit in an armchair with his won bibliography in front of him, going over each title as it appears, and racking his brains for an anecdote or some hitherto undisclosed fact to tell of it. Instead he throws a pack over his shoulder and starts out on a hike from London to Devon-shire, treading again over the same highways he had traveled along in his Cambridge days.
As he continues on his journey, to amuse himself he thinks aloud of the personalities and events which each landmark brings to his mind. Occasionally his thoughts are poetry, other times merely the smooth flowing, refreshing prose for which he has become known to such a wide range of readers. Every subject from philosophy to the sports of the English countryside are the topics of his thought.
Perhaps most interesting to the litterateur are his reminiscences on the great personalities he has known, and the friendships he has shared with them. He passes from a glimpse of Swinburne, through the Lawrences, Hardy, Campbell to Rupert Brooke, A. E. Housman, George Meredith, and many others. Of these men he gives a view not often shown, one of intimate association, if perhaps only for a short time. But always Squire comes away with the fruits of the acutest interpretation of the character of the man, and he transmits these into his work.
His reflections on a visit he once made to Sibelius, then a recluse in Finland are characteristic. His method of gaining access to the great composer was merely by stating that he was "an Englishman who writes verse." This was enough and he was soon entertained by the hospitality of Sibelius and his wife. Of the composer's appearance he says only a word: "His head was impressive; the mass of Strindberg's without the madness." The interview was typical of the author. He was not, like Boswell, "out with his notebook and pencil as soon as the car left the gate." In his own words, he says, "To me it all seems to have passed in a dream, ending with a stirrup-cup of John Haig and the kindest of partings."
After turning the last page of "The Honeysuckle and the Bee," the reader does not find himself equipped with a mass of data ready to be incorporated in a lecture on Sir John Squire. He finds, rather, an impression of the man, and with this an intimacy with contemporary English men of letters, and indeed men in every walk of his life, for the book does not alone with the writers. Perhaps the work is not of great lasting value, because it may not be great, but certainly it is of intense interest, and significant for its change from the well-worn factual autobiography,
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