World Mine Oyster. By Matila Ghyka. (Heinemann, 30s.)
ciliates for my Wife. By Todd Matshikiza. (Hodder and Stoughton, 12s. 6d.) Self-made Villain. By David Lampe and Laszlo Szenasi. (Cassell, 21s.)
`NEW YORK, with its processions of windows sug- gesting to the mathematician the transfinite series of Cantor, already had the appearance of a town built by giant children with magic cubes.'„, This token sentence indicates the tone of the auto- biography of Prince Matila Ghyka, diplomat, traveller, mathematician, gourmet, biologist, zoologist and amateur of most of the pre-atomic sciences. He tells us that in his youth he was ambitious to make himself into `the complete man of the Renaissance.' In the breadth, if not the depth, of his general knowledge, he comes close to this ideal. He now records with enthu- siasm, if no great literary skill, a life crammed with interest.
Descended from the reigning princes of Mol- davia, he entered a privileged, international society at a time when every door was open to an aristocrat who chose to pursue some sort of career. Educated in France, he entered the French navy, was commissioned in the Rumanian navy and at once appointed Professor of Torpe- does and Electricity in the Naval School at Con- stanza : he became ADC to the Crown Prince and was sent on a mission to Persia—all by the time he had reached his twenty-fifth year. Tiring of the navy Cl did not want to work under a new chief, still less be posted to Galatz or to the "Elizabeta" '), he decided to enter the diplomatic service, and hastening through his examinations, was posted first to Berlin, then to London, where he was welcomed into the sumptuous life of Edwardian times. The pages are aglitter with titles, altogether too many of them : There were many balls that year and I re- member particularly a ball given by the beauti- ful Duchess of Sutherland at Stafford House. The German Crown Prince, the Crown Prince Ferdinand of Rumania and his pretty wife, the Archduke Franz-Ferdinand. . . .
And so on. Fortunately the prince was restless and„ bored by the diplomatic service, took him- self off on a trip round the world. In fact, travel, both before and after his marriage, was his way of life, and he managed to see most of the world's great sights. The trouble is he has too much to record for one volume: much of it is a bare statement of ground covered and people seen. The author has lived his way from the pre-1914 doticeur de vivre, when his family estate covered 60,000 acres, to the lean post-1946 years when, his financial prospects 'gloomy,' he took the Chair of Aesthetics in Sciuthern California. He has lived it all with wonder and without self-pity. A pleasing personality emerges from these pages.
Mr. Matshikiza is also a pleasing personality. Chocolates for my Wife is written so lightly, with so much humour and good-humour, that it seems at first one of those essays in charm which be- come best-sellers. The author, who composed the music for King Kong, describes 'with admiration, hope and love' his impressions of England. He had just arrived in a country where white men treat him with courtesy, where he may buy a drink without a liquor licence, where he is made to feel welcome. It is delightful—or is it? The Matshikizas begin to look for a flat and they realise that even in England there is something amiss. Art advertisement says `Coloured Pre- ferred' and they set out happily to find Shepherd's Hill. But there is no flat to let. They are told `There's a Fascist organisation painting swastikas and sending Coloured people walking all over London on useless errands.' Even so, England is a paradise for Coloured South Africans compared with the conditions they have left behind. Mr. Matshikiza's vivid chapter on the night courts of Johannesburg should cause the most fanatic sup- porter of the Verwoerd regime to think again.
The Self-made Villain of the third title is Trebitsch Lincoln, confidence trickster, forger, incorrigible liar and one-time Liberal MP for Darlington. The book is frankly a piece of journalism. No attempt is made to recon- struct the mental anatomy of this remark- able man, but the reader may draw his own conclusions from the material provided. Lincoln once told his wife: 'I feel I am born to achieve some great success in one direction or another,' and it was probably im- patience with circumstances, rather than natural delinquency, which started him on a career of crime. In order to get away from his Hungarian Jewish background, he stole a watch from his sister. Turned Christian, he came to England as a Presbyterian curate and soon, with the aid of a rich patron, had won what had been a safe Tory seat. Brilliant, eloquent, flamboyant, extravagant, he saw himself destined for the Cabinet.
All he needed was money. He tried to achieve it by different forms of trickery. Others have done as much and succeeded. With better luck, he might have become a millionaire. As it was, he was convicted of forgery, fled to America, escaped from an American prison, was extra- dited, sentenced to two years' imprisonment, then expelled from Britain. The rest of his career, when his energy and confidence were flagging, showed the usual decline of the hopeless adven- turer. He suffered a final blow when his favourite son was hanged for murder. Perhaps seeking a compensating factor in life, he became a Buddhist monk, but true to his habits of intrigue, was col- laborating with the Japanese when he died in Shanghai in 1943. Despite the villainy, there is something pleasing, too, about Trebitsch Lincoln: He deserved a better book.