17 SEPTEMBER 1921, Page 20

THUS TO REVISIT.* To most books of reminiscence we go

for facts of one kind or another—the more or the less concrete sort. From Mr. Hueffor we often get things better than facts, that is to say truths. Mr. Hueffer has two or three things to say, aesthetic points to make, and if we do not always admit the exhaustiveness or even the truth of the " facts " which he introduces incidentally or as illustration, we may brush this aspect of the book aside and consider its main content. Mr. Hueffer's first and perhaps his main point is his argument in favour of the classic as against the Gothic in literature. Hero his sly assumption that this attitude will necessarily lead him to uphold the writers of

tiers litre is delightful. Five minutes' perusal of the book, and as many spent in reflection, will convince the reader that this is no paradox but sober logic. A Gothic writer of tern like is no contradiction in terms, but the modern Imagists, whose work will probably rise first to the mind in this connexion, stands chiefly for a severity and exactitude which is strictly classic. Ultimately, Mr. Hueffer rests his defence of the classic upon a very simple consideration. It is that the writer has no right to bore the reader

—to sit down and practise scales on one hand, or to improvise by the hour on the other. He holds that, to borrow a phrase from Mr. Shaw's Cholly, " there is a lot of tosh " talked about inspiration in this country ; that inspiration is often only a pleasant name for aesthetic self-indulgence, and that the imagina- tive writer's firm belief in his right to please himself rather than his readers is, to put• it mildly, a mistaken one. The writer's belief in his divine right to bore, and the critic's belief that when he has counted, say, the number of times that Gower employed the word " also " he has done his part, have between them produced " a nearly vomiting distaste for poetry " in the British nation.

The laborious textual critic no less than the " superior " writer is the object of many of Mr. Hueffer's good-humoured but shrewd thrusts. These persons are too often Scribes and

Pharisees who will not themselves enter the enchanted land of literature, but hinder those that would with an exaggerated account of the passport difficulties. The schoolmasters are also chastised—though, indeed, these are, or rather were, of the same tribe as the textual critics. He instances the case of his colleague of the English Review, who was taught by his schoolmaster " to be bored but bored to distraction—by Lear and the Parables." And his schoolmaster was T. E. Brown—" forced by the system to corrupt young minds." Fortunately, at least E0 far as schools

are concerned, we are on the road to change all that. Not that we mean to imply that that noble horse, the public school system, is no longer in need of gadflies.

But perhaps Mr. Hueffer is most interesting when he writes about matters of pure literary technique. He has one particu- larly suggestive contention to make. It is that the ordinary man, the general reader, does not care a button about the subject of the books he reads, that in practice he chooses his books purely for their technique, for the way in which they are written, for style, presentation of incident, and so forth.

" I am interested only in how to write, and I care nothing— but nothing in the world !—what a man writes about. In the end that is the attitude of every human soul—only they don't know it. Let us see, then, where this dogmatic, statement lands us. For it is a dogmatic statement that almost every

• Tam to Revisit. BY Ford Madox Hueffer. London: Chapman and Hell. [134. net.] English writer will cry out against—and violently. Yet it is so reasonable ! You read Poe—or you read Homer. What do they matter to you—the murders in the Rue de la Morgue, or the dying hound of Ulysses ? Very little ! It is unlikely that you will murder or be murdered ; it is improbable that, ever, your wanderings shall be so protracted that, on your return, your wife will not know you, whereas your nurse will recognize your scarred feet or your blind dog, your odours. Nevertheless you have read the Gold Bug and The Pit and the Pend2durn, and you have read the Odyssey. Why / What is Hecuba to you ? "

This is most amusing, but we believe that it does not express the whole truth. The reader has only to describe the phenomena more broadly to see what we mean. All the problems in the list are caused by peculiarities of human nature—Ulysses' love of wandering, the faithfulness of wives and dogs. Human nature, though (we are ready to contend) by no means un- changing, is yet very slowly modified. Hecuba is something to us, because if we suffer some small reverse we imagine ourselves as partaking in her martyrdom, and transfer Euripides' plaints and apply them to ourselves. However, probably Mr. Hueffor is right enough for it to be nearly certain that no one will read this month's police news a thousand years hence, for all it• no doubt deals with situations as poignant as any in the Odyssey.

We have not space to deal here with his observations on prose technique, the architecture of the novel, and the effects of different methods of presentation. We can only assure the reader that they are both interesting and beguiling.

The book is, in fact, one of those comparatively rare and precious volumes that can be put into the hands of an intelligent person who has no previous knowledge of the subject of which they treat. It would, for instance, be a capital appetizer for a man of science, a musician, or a lover of the ancient or modern classics who desired to understand something of the aims of the newer writers, to see their problems, and judge their skill from their own point of view. Too many official " Introductions to the study of modern . . . Poetry, Painting, Biology, Philo- sophy," what you will, are apparently written for those of feeble mind, and it is frequently a difficult affair to find a book with which to introduce an already intelligent and alert mind to a new subject. The " A B C's " are worse than useless. The convert is on the look-out for faults in the art or science with which he has allowed himself to remain unacquainted, and mentally transfers the puerility of the text-book to the subject of which it treats. Here is a book which is calculated to charm the fastidious.