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The sun. [volume] (New York [N.Y.]) 1916-1920, February 02, 1919, Section 5 Books and the Book World, Image 47

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Copyright. 1919. by lie Sun Printing and Publishing Aisociation
Life and James Branch Cabell
Of Course It Is True His New Book 1st Called "Beyond Life,"
But That Only Means It Is Likely to Be Beyond Some Readers.
That is a
latest book, Beyond Life, has a
quiet cleverness, an audacious origi
nality that will delight a good many
readers. In fact, this mosaic of es
says on books and tilings in general
should be sufficient to convince any
one not actually in the mental bread
line that here is a thinker worth at
tention, a writer in bondage to no ex
terior ideas, a dreamer who follows
after beauty and lets the dollars take
care of themselves. Considering Mr.
Cabell's value it is astonishing that he
is not bettor known. He is one of the
most original writers that we have
now in America, and those of another
generation than our own will discover,
or rediscover, his queer, arresting
There are many intelligent persons
who would greatly enjoy Mr. Cabell's
work if only they knew about it.
There are also many who would not
eare for it at all, who could not, in
fact, be induced to read it. He makes
you think. To think is exhausting,
sometimes painful and generally need
less. Many persons do better to read
Harold Bell "Wright or nolworthy
Hall. Mr. Cabell's books aro provoca
tive of thought. Readers who find
thought stimulating should make his
acquaintance quite irrespective of the
fact that they may not agree with him.
trivial matter.
Beyond Life is Mr. Cabell's first volume
of essays, Jiis previous books including novels,
short stories, poems and genealogical trea
tises. He remarked to the writer one afternoon last
summer, at his home in Virginia, that he greatly
liked essay writing, but that because of the limited
market for the essay in America he usually compro
mised by inserting little essays in his novels and as
forewords to his books. Those who have found these
digressions peculiarly delightful will be prepared
for'thc pleasure to be derived from this new volume
devWd wholly to ideas apart from narrative.
An All Night Job.
The book is in the form of a dialogue between
two friends, one of them, John Charteris, a novel
ist who figures elsewhere in Mr. Cabell's works.
Charteris, in attempting to expound his philosophy
of (he "life beyond life," which-by Milton is at
tributed to good books, talks until dawn without
wearying his actual or his vicarious listener.
'Off hand,' began John Charteris, 'I would say
that books are best insured against oblivion through
practice of the auctorial virtues of distinction and
clarity, of beauty and symmetry, of tenderness and
truth and urbanity.' " On this as a basis for judg
ment, Charteris or Cabell discourses concerning
books and their makers with a keenness of percep
tion which only urbanity confers and with a satire
that is delectable. America has too few satirists of
a sane and healthy character to neglect this one.
Underneath the surface seriousness of this expo
sition is a puckish drollery directed against various
persons and publications which the author is in
clined to think will not escape forgctfulness, but
fwhich, Licking the auctorial virtues mentioned
previously, are "passing in limousines to oblivion."
lie is meditating aloud in an apparently timeless
fashion (somewhere he makes a capital distinction"
between timeliness and timclessncss) and editorial
foot notes naively explain certain allusions for the
information of the future reader.
For instance, in speaking of the neglect accorded
Arthur Maehen, who has been undeservedly ig-
B -f
I svSf BRANCH XyvCfe
nored, perhaps because he believes that all endur
ing art must be an allegory and rarely cxpressess
directly what he can subtly suggest, Charteris or
Cabell says: '- ' ''
"It-is perhaps on account of this rash reliance
upon intelligence and imagination "as being at all
ordinary human traits, that Mr. Machcn has failed
to appeal as instantly as, we will say, Mr. Robert
"vV". Chambers appeals to those immaculate and ter
rible ladies who languidly vend books in our de
partment stores and with Olympian unconcern con
fer success upon reading matter by 'recommending
it.' " The foot note on Chambers is as follows:
"A novelist of the day, appropriately commemo
rated by Captain Rupert Hughes (another writer
of fiction) in the Cosmopolitan Magazine for June,
1918. 'Mr. Chambers does not run about the world
shaking his fist at the sky or spitting in other peo
ple's faces. . . . There is eternal summer in
his heart. The world is his rose garden.' Mr.
Chambers, according to the same authority, has
written 'masterpieces,' 'triumphs of art,' 'superb
faniasy,' 'thrilling drama,' &c, dealing for the
most part, with 'well groomed men and women in
their stately homes.' "
Other foot notes repeat equally astonishing
praise by Hearst 's Magazine and the Cosmopolitan
of other writers frequently appearing in their
pages. Mr. Cabell finds amusing the trick of hiring
staff writers to praise each other with reciprocal
extravagance. Another foot note speaks of the
Saturday Evening Post as "a widely circulated
advertising medium which printed considerable
fiction ? published in Philadelphia."
Booth in a Tragic Role.
Mr. Cabell's critical comments arc .not all satiri
cal, however, since he genuinely admires certain
contemporaries, as H. L. Mencken and Joseph
Hcrgeslieiraer. Concerning Booth Tarkington he
speaks with scornful affection, believing that his
easy popularity is ruinous to his genius :
"Mr. Booth Tarkington, also, is a very popular
novelist. But that I take to be one of the most
tragic items in all the long list of misfortunes which
have befallen American literature. It is a fact that
mcriLs its threnody, since the loss of
an artist demands lamentation, even -when
he commits suicide." He con
siders that while to write best sellers
is, "by ordinary men, a harmless per
formance, in 2rr.,,Tarkingtpn's case it'
is a'misappropriation of funds.'"' .
Mr. Cabell refrains from inserting
his publisher's blurbs at the back of
his volume, printing instead the most
sarcastic criticisms which have ap
peared concerning his previous books.
He warns, the prospective reader of
them that he, James Branch Cabell, is
not in favor with a public or with
critics that prefer "ostentatious im
permanence." .
There is many a sly bit of humor
in these pages. For instance, in
speaking of poetry he says : " There is
Nicholas de Caen, for instance, who in
his Dizain des Reines (with which I
am familiar, I confess, in the English
version alone) .." The jest lies in
the fact that some years ago Mr. Ca
bell published a volume of verse con
taining various "adaptations," as ho
called them, from Nicholas de Caen,
"i mediaeval French poet." Not until
some earnest student tried to find
biographical material in-the archives
of Caen, and wrote disturbed!' to Mr.
Cabell that he couldn't unearth any
thing about Nicholas, did the Vir
ginian confess that he had invented
Nicholas and that the verses were wholly his own.,
Mr. Cabell's work has been almost entirely 'in ro
mance, and. much 6f the discussion in. Beyond. Life?
"Concerns the power'of romance, which he believes to
be a "world shaping" and world controlling princi-,
pie. " His "idea is that romance controlsthe minds of
men-, and by creating force producing illusions
"further the world's betterment with the forces
thus brought into being. .- . .- The sum of cor
poreal life represents an essay in -romantic -fiction.
. . . And so it comes about that romance has
been the demiurgic and beneficent force, not merely
in letters, but in every matter which concerns man
kind ; and realism, with its teaching that the mile
posts along the road are as worthy of consideration
as the goal, has always figured as man's chief en
emy. . . . It is by the grace of romance that
man has been exalted above the other animals.
Some Sample Sentences.
"Man alone of animals plays the ape to his
dreams. That a dog dream3 vehemently is a mat
ter of public knowledge; it is perfectly possible
that in his more ecstatic visions he usurps the shape
of his master and visits Elysian pantries in human
form : and awakening, he observes that in point of
fact he is a dog, and as a rational animal, make?
the best of eanineship. But with man the case is
otherwise. . .
"To me who winder at the irrationality of all
this, to me, also, life has been an interminable effort
to pretend to be what seemed expected. . .
And I have suffered as yet no open detection. The
neighbors seem. to accept hie quite gravely as the
head of a family; the chauffeur touches his cap and
calls me 'sir'; publishers bring out my books; and
my wife fairmindedly discusses with me all our
differences of opinion, so that we may without any
bitterness reach, the comprpmise of doing what sha
originally suggested."
But these detached bits are not fair to the author.
The attracted reader should enjoy James Branch
Cabell's books for himself.
BEYOXD LIFE. Br J.mks Bbanch Cabell. Robert 5L
McBride & Co. $1.50.
AT -5J

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