21 NOVEMBER 1914, Page 31


TtiE DEMI-GODS.* MR. STEPHENS'S new romance is a story of the open road, of tramps and tinkers and vagabonds and angelic visitants.. The subject-matter suggests comparisons on the one hand with many writers who have followed the picaresque tradition, and on the other with those who have essayed to extract philo- sophy or fun from the relations of ordinary human beings and supernatural invaders. Let it be said at once, therefore, that • Du Denti-Cods„ By James Stephens. London: idacmillanand Co. [5.. net.] in regard to his treatment of the situation Mr. Stephens owes little or nothing to his predecessors. Borrow has familiarized us with philosophic discussions round a camp fire, and with an Amazonian heroine of great physical strength and energy, but this is a mere superficial convergence. We can well believe that Mr. Stephens has never read Lavengro or The Romany Rye, and his style differs as widely from Borrow's as that of a fairy tale from that of a Blue Book. Much of the dialogue is written in peasant dialect, occasionally a little ideal- ized, though not so much as in Synge's plays; but the descrip- tive passages are highly decorative, often ascending to a high level of literary bravura. And these contrasts of style are in harmony with the contrasts of sentiment. Where nature is concerned, Mr. Stephens's sense of beauty is shown in an unfailing command of delicate imagery, whether he writes of the majestic desolation of transit:mar space, or the homelier charm of the Irish landscape. But directly we come into contact with Mr. Stephens's dramatis personae this exquisite fantasy gives place to a harsh and sardonic realism. The celestials, who are their guardian angels, apart from the greater propriety of their language, are indistinguishable in their morals from their human proteges, and acquiesce, with perfect equanimity, in all the incidents of the campaign which Patsy MacCann, travelling tinker, arch-pilferer, and super-cadger, carries on against society to supply his physical needs. But Finaun, Caeltia, and Art are not ordinary angels, though on their first appear- ance they are equipped with magnificently upholstered wings. They hail from a celestial region in which Rhadamauthus, Cnchulain, Brien O'Brien, seraphs, cherubs, and demons are mixed up in a strange chaotic hierarchy, and in their choice of earthly companions they are equally unconventional. They are at once ignorant and very wise, preserving in the main an attitude of dispassionate detachment tempered by moments of very human expansion, which culminate, in the case of the youngest and best looking of them, in the abandon- ment of his angelship at the prompting of passion. So far as men and women are concerned, Mr. Stephens is chiefly interested in their primitive instincts and natural cravings, and we find in the tinker's ass, whom Patsy so brutally mis- handles, a much more sympathetio personage than any of the humans or demi-gods engaged in the story. It is a curious symptom of Mr. Stephens's inhumanity that even death has no dignity for him. On the two occasions on which it is referred to in these pages, it is treated as an unsightly occur- ence, or one to be avoided by a wise man. And thus it comes about that, while intermittently fascinated by the charm and music of Mr. Stephens's prose, by his delicate and exquisite musings on dawn and silence, we close his book with a feeling of regret that such great gifts of insight and expression should be clouded and marred by a perverse delight in exhibiting angels as a little lower than men, and men little, if at all, higher than the beasts that perish.