A Radical Traveller
This selection from the writings of 'R. B. Cunninghame Graham, published to mark the centenary of his birth in 1852, contains fourteen of his stories and sketches, fifteen extracts from his Latin- American histories, and the middle seventy pages from Mogreb-el- Acksa, the account of one of his journeys in Morocco, which is generally considered his masterpiece. Each section has an excellent introduction by Mr. Paul Bloomfield, and the book should do much to make Cunninghame Graham better known.
One-quarter Spanish, and three-quarters Scotch, Cunninghame Graham was the son of a wealthy landowner in Perthshire, and spent most of his youth and early manhood in the New World, cattle- farming, horse-breeding and wandering about to satisfy his curiosity. His life was adventurous and happy; he was doing what he enjoyed, and, being strong, fearless and passionately fond of horses, what suited him. He also travelled in Europe, and in 1886, though thinking almost as little of Gladstone as of Lord Salisbury, entered Parliament as a Liberal. In 1888 he passed several weeks in prison for his part in a riot in Trafalgar Square. It was not until he was over forty, and when most of his travelling was done, that he took up writing. He lived to eighty-four, dying in Buenos Aires in 1936. Although Cunninghame Oraham has always had a group of devotees, his books were never popular even during his lifetime. This is not surprising, since, without having the gaiety or artistic gifts of a Shaw,_he had little sympathy with his period and did not hesitate to say why. Cunninghame Graham is hard to classify, but might be described as a radical with a penchant for anarchy. He wanted men to be honest and brave, and believed that there was less deceit- fulness and more courage among savages than among the civilised. Most of all he loved animals, then South American Indians, followed by Arabs, Latin races, Celts and, last and least, Anglo-Saxons. Of two evils, he preferred war, of the old-fashioned kind, to trade, • thinking it better that men should slit each other's throats than cheat each other. It seemed more straightforward. But he also hated cruelty. How, without the aid of civilisation which he dis- trusted, savages were to be made gentle as well as brave, he does not tell us. He knew the Indians too well to believe that a state of nature is bliss. But always present at the backof his mind there seems to have been a Rousseau-esque vision of a world in which men love each other, are strong, ride horses and do only enough work to provide themselves with food.
As a writer Cunninghame Graham is at his best when describing places he knew or events which actually happened. He has obvious faults—he rambles and repeats himself—but he generally rises above them, and Mr. Bloomfield puts his finger on the reason when he refers to this "good man's enviable life." He also notices Cunninghame Graham's preoccupation with good and evil." After Mogreb-el-Acksa, the histories of the conquistadores, in which this preoccupation finds fullest expression, are his most interesting books: Party loyalty and reasons of State, which lead men to call black white, or, at any rate, grey, were considerations that never affected his judgement. Although he loved the Spanish conquerors for their courage and vigour, he never fails to blame them when they were cruel and grasping, just as in A Vanished Arcadia he praises the Jesuits, whose religion he disliked, for their kindness to the Indians.
While his short stories have their admirers, Cunninghame Graham does not seem to have been so much at ease in fiction as in history and personal reminiscence. Among the fourteen stories which Mr. Bloomfield has chosen, we find such themes as a good-hearted prostitute ill-treated by an English gentleman, and a British and German officer surmounting the divisions of war and together saving a boat from shipwreck. Since the basic situations are trite, Cunning- hame Graham's sardonic comments are less effective than when he is castigating the real misdeeds of living men.