14 NOVEMBER 1958, Page 30

School of Maugham

Points of View. By W. Somerset Maugham. (Heinemann, 21s.)

IF writers kept a studio, or stud, as painters used to do, this book would seem very like 'School of Maugham.' The helping scholarly or secretarial hand is just as much in evidence as the true voice of the master, and the result, in one way, is that most of the book is very pale and lazy, directed at those wistful millions who are frightfully interested in Goethe but need to be told the basic features of his career. There are pieces on Goethe's novels, a Hindu saint, Tillotson and his sermons, the short story and three latter-day French literary men. All that is new about them is the innocence with which the author depends on what others have already had to say—they are luxuriant with other men's flowers. The worst thing about them is their aimlessness, as in the empty account he gives, neither at all sceptical nor credulous, of his saint's flights and mortifications : the reader is grateful for such flashes as his com- parison of the presence of evil in human nature to the use of Noilly Prat. 'Without it you cannot make a dry martini.' Then again, after leading us to believe that the amiable Tillotson was shock- ingly indifferent to principle, he serves him a final cocktail of high respect. None of that Noilly Prat for him But the odd thing is how pleasant the book is. The two great addictions of all his books have gone undiminished into what is reputed to be his last—a care for simplicity and for the facts of life, what any sensible, worldly man will know from experience. All this is specially clear in his essay on the three Frenchmen, where the biography with which he pads out the rest assumes a purpose of its own. The limitations of his way of doing things are pretty widely appre- ciated, I suppose. Most people can think of blind sides to that deep, bridge-playing gaze. But this essay does suggest the kind of success which his addictions have often achieved. Maugham is able to set out Jules Renard's bitterness and envy and still decide, convincingly, that he had 'rare qualities of heart.' In managing this conclusion he offers certain of the most appealing qualities of his own fiction, qualities that escape the interplay of cynicism and softness in so much of it. He is hardly cut out to write criticism. But when he stops de- ploying other people's information, his criticism is very individual and, in a good sense, very literary. He writes it like the person he is—which is more than can be said for some much cleverer critics.