The Story of a Vocation The Army. By Lt.-Gen. Sir
George MacMunn. The Stage By Lena Ashwell. The Architect. By C. Williams-Ellis. (Geoffrey 13Ies. 5s. each.) To judge from these first three volumes, Mr. Geoffrey Bles's new Life and Work Series will be a useful and attractive one. Its purpose, we are told, is to afford " leading men and women in each profession an opportunity to write about their own work, its difficulties and its pleasures." The authors, are to have the double purpose of interesting their fellow professionals and informing those who are about to choose their life's work.
Of the three volumes before us, that entitled The Army . by Sir George MacMunn, is principally. devoted to the latter. object. His purpose has been, he tells us, " to place before: parents and sons the life of the army with the glamour and light in which it has always appeared to me." He writes clearly and informatively of the conditions which await: a young officer, to-day : of the rates of pay ; the age of retirement,' scale of pension, etc., and of the rank which a man of average ability may reasonably expect to attain. Miss Lena Ashwell performs the same function for the stage, but her book is more autobiographical and discusses the broader issue of the place of the theatre in modern society. Miss Ashwell dbes not escape sentimentality in her outlook. There has always been an element of the philanthropic in her work. Nor should we be ungrateful for it, since she has undoubtedly brought the pleasure of serious drama to immense numbers who, but for her energy and enthusiasm. would have remained permanently ignorant of it. Her book, contains interesting accounts of this side of her activities.
It is undoubtedly the third volume, entitled The Architect, by Mr. C. Williams-Ellis, which holds the greatest interest for the general reader. The book is frankly and avowedly an auto- biography, and the reader must not expect a detailed account of the present day organization of the architectural profession, its schools and examinations.
The theme which holds the book together is the account of a striking example of that psychological phenomenon which we call " vocation." Here we have a well-established case of a person who from about his third or fourth year had an intense and irrepressible " urge towards, and interest in any form of building. As the book develops we feel the drama of the " vocation," the blind, half-unconscious urge towards buildings and planning, gradually overcoming every obstacle. For years the conscious reasoning' mind is blind and deaf to it : " common sense," paternal advice, habit, pecuniary interest, all pushed and pulled in other directions, and for a time they have their way, until the unconscious urge retaliates in the only way it can, namely, by making the whole organism intolerably miserable and ill, so that at last its demands must be heard. It was thus, painfully and gropingly, after some false starts, and not along the usual high road of the schools and institutions of . a .now well-organized profession, that Mr. Williams-Ellis came to be an architect.
He gives an interesting view of a change in taste between the present and an earlier generation. Up till recently even the most aesthetically sensitive people have paid little or no attention to the surroundings of architectural master- pieces. They have- been as- insensitive to a city as a whole, as they were sensitive to individual buildings. Mr. Williams- . Ellis, however, confesses that :-
" I have, I must confess, but little enthusiasm for isolated masterpieces of any sort detached from their settings ; the poignancy of the contrast between them gaid what adjoins them is too liable to produce a depression. that the• grandest_ sight -cannot utterly: 1._ Thus miserably,,lieve I visited many exquisite buildings and' i2elig1itfu11y "enfarged my mind at cruel 'cost to' my spirit: It may be held a poor thing to say, yet I will say it ; I would rather vi E it a land in which there were no masterpieces and yet nothing mean than one in which I had to 'pay for a glittering aristocracy of architecture by enclosing the usual welter of incompetence."
Mr. Williams-Ellis says that he believes that he is alone in taking this view. We can assure him that in this he is quite mistaken. Sensitiveness to a whole city, and, ultimately, to a whole country as a single architectural and aesthetic unit is, we feel sure, growing very rapidly.