Friday, September 14, 2018

Chesterton on the "Smart Set" and Mr. McCabe

Our Greater Wichita area American Chesterton Society local group will discuss two more chapters from Chesterton's Heretics this evening. One of the ways that I prepare for these meetings is to research some of the authors and works he mentions. For example, in the chapter on "On Smart Novelists and the Smart Set" Chesterton describes the benefits of some fiction that was popular at the time:

In one sense, at any rate, it is more valuable to read bad literature than good literature. Good literature may tell us the mind of one man; but bad literature may tell us the mind of many men. A good novel tells us the truth about its hero; but a bad novel tells us the truth about its author. It does much more than that, it tells us the truth about its readers; and, oddly enough, it tells us this all the more the more cynical and immoral be the motive of its manufacture. The more dishonest a book is as a book the more honest it is as a public document. A sincere novel exhibits the simplicity of one particular man; an insincere novel exhibits the simplicity of mankind. The pedantic decisions and definable readjustments of man may be found in scrolls and statute books and scriptures; but men's basic assumptions and everlasting energies are to be found in penny dreadfuls and halfpenny novelettes. Thus a man, like many men of real culture in our day, might learn from good literature nothing except the power to appreciate good literature. But from bad literature he might learn to govern empires and look over the map of mankind.

Then he names names:

This new aristocratic fiction must have caught the attention of everybody who has read the best fiction for the last fifteen years. It is that genuine or alleged literature of the Smart Set which represents that set as distinguished, not only by smart dresses, but by smart sayings. To the bad baronet, to the good baronet, to the romantic and misunderstood baronet who is supposed to be a bad baronet, but is a good baronet, this school has added a conception undreamed of in the former years—the conception of an amusing baronet. The aristocrat is not merely to be taller than mortal men and stronger and handsomer, he is also to be more witty. He is the long man with the short epigram. Many eminent, and deservedly eminent, modern novelists must accept some responsibility for having supported this worst form of snobbishness—an intellectual snobbishness. The talented author of "Dodo" is responsible for having in some sense created the fashion as a fashion. Mr. Hichens, in the "Green Carnation," reaffirmed the strange idea that young noblemen talk well; though his case had some vague biographical foundation, and in consequence an excuse. Mrs. Craigie is considerably guilty in the matter, although, or rather because, she has combined the aristocratic note with a note of some moral and even religious sincerity. When you are saving a man's soul, even in a novel, it is indecent to mention that he is a gentleman. Nor can blame in this matter be altogether removed from a man of much greater ability, and a man who has proved his possession of the highest of human instinct, the romantic instinct—I mean Mr. Anthony Hope. In a galloping, impossible melodrama like "The Prisoner of Zenda," the blood of kings fanned an excellent fantastic thread or theme. But the blood of kings is not a thing that can be taken seriously. And when, for example, Mr. Hope devotes so much serious and sympathetic study to the man called Tristram of Blent, a man who throughout burning boyhood thought of nothing but a silly old estate, we feel even in Mr. Hope the hint of this excessive concern about the oligarchic idea. It is hard for any ordinary person to feel so much interest in a young man whose whole aim is to own the house of Blent at the time when every other young man is owning the stars.

Mr. Hichens is Robert Smyth Hichens, and the Green Carnation was an anonymously published novel about Oscar Wilde and Lord Alfred Douglas! Hichens also wrote The Garden of Allah and The Paradine Case, both made into movies. Hichens knew Wilde and Douglas; the dialogue in the novel recreated their conversations. 

Mrs. Craigie was Pearl Mary Teresa Craigie who wrote under the nom-de-plume of John Oliver Hobbes. According to the Catholic Encyclopedia, she was an:

English novelist, dramatist, and convert; b. 3 November, 1867; d. 13 August, 1906. She was the eldest daughter of John Morgan Richards, a successful man of business in Boston, Massachusetts, U.S.A., and of Laura Hortense Arnold, a lady of distinguished colonial descent. Her father came of an intensely Calvinistic stock long settled in and about New York and New Jersey; and her grandfather, the Rev. James Richards, D.D., was a preacher and theological writer of some distinction in his time. In February, 1887, before she had completed her twentieth year, Miss Richards was married to Mr. Reginald Walpole Craigie, an English gentleman of good connections. The union, however, proved an uncongenial one, and Mrs. Craigie soon sought and obtained a legal separation with the right to the custody of her child. In 1892, as the result, it would seem, of much private and independent reflection, she was received into the Church. She had begun to turn her thoughts seriously to literature some time before this event; for already in 1891 she had ventured before the public under the pseudonym which she insisted on retaining long after her identity was known, and challenged the puzzled critics by a book to which she gave the unconventional title of "Some Emotions and a Moral". Success waited upon her from the start: "The Sinner's Comedy" (1892); "A Study in Temptations" (1893); "A Bundle of Life" (1894); "The Gods, Some Mortals, and Lord Wickenham" (1895); "The Herb Moon" (1896); "The School for Saints" (1897); "Robert Orange" (1900); "A Serious Wooing" (1901); "Love and the Soul Hunters" (1902); "The Vineyard" (1904); "The Flute of Pan" (1905); "The Dream and the Business" (published after her death of 1906); - these with plays like "Journeys End in Lovers Meeting: Proverb," in one act, written for Miss Ellen Terry (1894); "the Ambassador", produced at the St. James's theatre in London (1898); "Osbern and Ursyne", a tragedy in three acts, published in the "Anglo-Saxon Review" (1899); "A Repentance", a drama in one act, produced at the St. James's Theatre and afterwards at Carisbrooke Castle (1899); "The Wisdom of the Wise", produced at the St. James's theatre (1900); and "The Bishop's Move" (1902), of which she was author only in part, represent the sum of her considered work, the output she preferred to be judged by. As she grew older in the wisdom of her art, the religious quality which seems to lie inevitably behind all her theory of life emerged more and more into prominence. It reached its height in "The School for Saints" and its sequel "Robert Orange". Whether in literary form or in artistic intention she never rose beyond the achievement of these two books. They are intensely serious, intensely human, and almost too religious; yet they are modern and alive. Mrs. Craigie was in the full enjoyment of a well deserved fame, yet hardly at the acme of her powers, when death came to her suddenly from heart disease.

Regarding Anthony Hope's novel Tristram of Blent, this website notes:

Tristram of Blent is a departure from Hope's normal adventure story. Subtitled "An Episode in the Story of an Ancient House," the protagonist is a man who throughout boyhood thinks of nothing but owning the House of Blent. This desire is beset on every side by family entanglements and complications, and provides Hope with the opportunity for a lively character study.

I am glad that Chesterton did enjoy The Prisoner of Zenda, which is an entertaining adventure novel.

Chesterton also mentions a Miss Fowler, who was Eileen Thorneycroft Fowler (1860-1929), the daughter of a Viscount; her novels were about Methodism and high society. One of her most popular novels was Concerning Isabel Carnaby.

In the next chapter, "On Mr. McCabe and a Divine Frivolity", Chesterton describes his conversation in print with Mr. Joseph McCabe (1867-1955), the former Franciscan priest (Father Anthony, 1890-1896) and staunch critic of Catholicism. McCabe wrote on free thought, contributing often to the Little Blue Book and Big Blue Book series published by Emanuel Haldeman-Julius (1889-1951). The Haldeman-Julius Publishing Co. was based in Girard, Kansas (the county seat of Crawford County in southeast Kansas).

Girard, Kansas was a center of Socialist thought in the early twentieth century, with Eugene V. Debs launching one of his four presidential campaigns on the courthouse steps (1908) and carrying Crawford County in 1912 (the only county in the USA he won in 1912--but then he was campaigning from Federal Prison in Atlanta).

The University of Nebraska recently published a book about the Haldeman-Julius Publishing Co. and its name sake:

His admirers called him the “Barnum of Books” and the “Voltaire of Kansas” because of his ability to bring culture and education to the people.

R. Alton Lee brings to life Emanuel Haldeman-Julius (1889–1951), a writer-publisher-entrepreneur who was one of America’s most significant publishers and editorialists of the twentieth century. His company published a record 500,000,000 copies of 2,580 titles and was second only to the U.S. Government Printing Office in the quantity of publications it produced. Lee details Haldeman-Julius’s family origins in Russia and his formative years in Philadelphia, where he learned the book trade. As a writer and editor for the
Social Democrat, Sunday Call, and Western Comrade, Haldeman-Julius was already well known by the time he launched his own publishing company. Haldeman-Julius knew, was nurtured by, and published writers such as Jack London, Upton Sinclair, Jane Addams, Emma Goldman, H. L. Mencken, Carl Sandburg, Eugene V. Debs, Clarence Darrow, Job Harriman, Will Durant, and Bertrand Russell, among others.

Based in Girard, Kansas, his company, Haldeman-Julius Publications, covered socialist politics, the philosophy of free thought, and both new and classic books marketed to ordinary Americans, including the Little Blue Book series of classics in Western thought and literature.

This biography of the enigmatic and energetic Haldeman-Julius opens a window into the fascinating world of early twentieth-century radical politics and publishing.


If you want to come to our meeting, we'll convene about 6:30 p.m. at Eighth Day Books. Refreshments will be served.

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