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December 15, 1935 - Image 6

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The Michigan Daily, 1935-12-15

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OF

BOOKS

-Wr.
QLTENNEL:ln
BYRON. THE YEARS OF HIS FAME. Moore, with unintentional impu-
By Peter Quennell. Viking Press. dence, first burned the testament of
$3.50. his friend and then wrote a book
By PROF. BENNETT WEAVER to defend the man. Countess Guic-
(Of the English Denartment) cioli, knowing that she must share
"Another book about Byron! . . . Byron's fame, wrote intimately of his
This book is an attempt to isolate a ways with her. Meanwhile his only
certain period of his life and, through wife set her pen sternly to charge
his relationship with the public and him with incest, and Mrs. Stowe un-
with the social and political exist- leashed her trained hounds against
ence of his period, to carry the study him, and his legitimate grandson set
of his temperament a step further. A out as if doing penance for the sin in
quantity of new material has been C his blood, proving his grandmother
employed; and I have endeavored to pure by proving his grandfather most
investigate the familiar outlines of his impure. For a century we have had
career, between July, 1811 and April, defense and attack; and lately, in

'1
C
i
'i
l
t
,
,3
r
,"
.
E

rtes Of Byron
i Beau Monde
toric and a gift of magniloquent dic-
tion . .. Byron was not blessed with
a sensitive ear. He was strangely
insensitive, moreover, to the beauty
of words . . . Keats may have writ-
ten of women as if he were describ-
ing confectionery . . . whereas the
houris of Byron's verse, the Gulnares,
Lelias, and Zuleikas, are dolls - tin-
selled and spangled puppet-shapes-
whose charms are celebrated in the
neat, lifeless phraseology of a man-
milliner."
Obviously, Mr. Quennell has not
yet dealt with Byron: The Years of
His Fame. Were he to go on with
the years from 1816 to 1822, adding to
his ability to collect and present his-
torical data, something more of his
critical honesty, the result would be
gratifying.
VAN LOON

1816, from a new angle." So the
author.
Aside from the oddity of the lan-
guage in which it is expressed, I find
this promise a little confusing. "New;
material" and "new angle": here is a
non sequitur which has grown tool
common in modern scholarship. We
are allowed to anticipate that upon1
documents before unexploited we may
take a stand, we may pause and turn
about from the way we have been
going, and we may observe charac-
teristics of an author up to this time
hidden from us. But if the new
material is merely an extension of
those pathways we have already been
traveling, then the new material can
only lead us forward, but not for-
ward to the refreshment of signifi-
cant conclusions. A scholar should
not confuse additional materials of
a kind abundantly had before with
documents different from any earlier
discovered. This confusion is a fault
which I fear cannot be overlooked in
Mr. Quennell's book. His natural de-
light in "the wonderful collection of
Byronic archives at 50 Albemarle
Street" has caused him to feel that
he has gained the means by which
he can help us to see Byron from
a "new angle." But for all his in-
dustry that is precisely the thing
which I do not think he does.
Unfortunately, very unfortunately
Byron early became a subject for
low and gossipy contention. What he
wrote served as the taking off place
for investigations and inquiries into
his private life. The man was more
alluring than his work; and his work
even to the present day has been
insufficiently evaluated. In the en-
tire span of the years which this new
book covers he wrote nothing of gen-
uine worth. Wordsworth's comment
upon some of the last lines Byron
published before he' left England
might apply to much that lies be-
tween 1811 and 1816: "Wretched dog-
gerel, disgusting in sentiment, and in
execution contemptible." Was not
Mr. Quennell doomed to the second
best when he selected these very years
as the "Years of His Fame"? And
was he not committed to going the
way of the talkers about the man
rather than toward a new evaluation
of what the man wrote? Indeed I
think he was content to go that, way.
He was not writing criticism; he was
dealing in historical portraiture.
However, we have a right to point
out that when we are told the poet
often "bit his nails" and "retired
to bed in curl-papers" we may feel,
that we are given to know more with-
out knowing more of consequence.
And, when the author turns up for
us one more liaison we may feel that
in the record of "amatory carnage"
which distinguishes Byron the matter
is not one of great significance. Any
historical or biographical fact which
does not impinge upon a piece of
sound and good writing is a cur-
iosity rather than a treasure. Tom

such works as those by Maurois andI
Winwar, we have had, delightful ex-
ploitation. And have we not hadt
enough? The great need in Byront
scholarship is to evaluate him as a
satirist. We have had enought of
la belle passion, of Pippin and Duck,
and more than enough of corpeau
blanc and goose and Gorbeau noit.
Heighho!
These things said, it would be un-
fair not to point out that Mr. Quen-
nell has given us a valuable study of
social conditions as they were under
the Regency. His dealing with the1
intimate affairs of the grand monde
is searching and honest. Here I find1
the best of his book. A student of1
Don Juan may meet Lady Oxford with
peculiar profit; and he may with
pleasure join Byron in romping withf
her several children. These happy
creatures the poet "Nicknamed 'the
Harleian Miscelleny,' since their orig-
ins on the paternal side were vague
and various." He may enjoy a lit-1
erary evening at HRolland House,
where a former "West-Indian heir-
ess," having first brought Lord Hol-
land an illegitimate son, now brings
him the literary lights of the day.
Here we may see her snatch away the,
crutches by which her Lord eased
the weight upon his gouty feet; or
"Now it was his white waistcoat; ex-
panded over his vast stomach, it gave
him the look, Lutteral suggested, of
a turbot standing on its tail; and
Lady Holland refused to sit down to
dinner until he had consented to
change it." Here Macaulay, said
Sydney Smith, "not only overflowed
with learning but 'stood in the slop.'"
But should he leave this gay salon,
the student might go with the Prince
Regent to greet Louise XVIII, and
help that infirm mountain of dis-
eases to limp to his chair at Grillon's
Hotel. Or should this pale, he might
turn to the corner where the Prince
Regent himself, drunk as a Hollander
knelt blubbering out his lusts to a
lady of the court. It is a fine world,
the grand monde; and I must think
that to know Mr. Quennell's book will
add to the zest with which we may
read the rest of Byron, his Vision of
Judgment and his Don Juan.
Although the author has somewhat
confused Byronism and Romanticism,
I could wish that he had given him-
self more to critical remark. How
much we might be justified in an-
ticipating a critical treatment of By-
ron by Mr. Quennell is suggested in
these sentences. "They (conditions
of rapid and careless composition)
are not the conditions in which great
works of art are produced; and,
whatever the merits of his earlier and
later work, it must be admitted that,
between 1812 and 1816, Byron's out-
put, if we except various short lyrical
poems, themselves imperfect and in-
complete, was almost devoid of lit-
erary value. Never had the absence
of music been more conspicuous.
Though he had a fine sense of rhe-

THE HISTORY OF AMERICAN
SAILING SHIMS. By Howard La-
Chapelle; (Norton).
Hendrik Wilhelm Van Loon may be
perfectly correct about the horrors
of life on sailing ships in the old days;
he probably is. But neither Mr. Van
Loon nor anyone else will ever de-
stroy the glamor which, time has put
upon the sailing ship. It is one of
those indestructible intangibles; New
York might very easily be destroyed
by a bevy of airplanes, but her legends
would survive.
Which is prefatory to the remark
that so far as this department knows,
there is no other book in its field
which does for the layman (as well
as the professional) what Howard I.
Chapelle's "The History of American
Sailing Ships" does.
Mr. Chapelle's chapters are seven.
The first is a general introduction
on the colonial period, with particular
attention to the rise of the American
schooner. The second is devoted to
naval craft, including all the types
down to the time when sail was dis-
carded - even the Lake Champlain
ships.
Local Best Sellers
Fiction
EUROPA by Robert Brifflault.
Scribner's. $2.75.
GOODBYE, MR. CHIPS
by James Hilton. Little, Brown
& Co. $1.50.
SILAS CROCKETT by Mary
Ellen Chase. Macmillan. $2:50.
IT CAN'T HAPPEN HERE.
By Sinclair Lewis. Doubleday,
$2.50.
VEIN OF IRON by Ellen Glas-
gow. Harcourt. $2.50.
HONEY IN THE HORN by H. L.
Davis. Harper. $2.50.
LUCY GAYHEART, by Willa
Cather. Knopf. $2.00.
SPRING CAME ON FOREVER
By Bess Streeter Aldrich.
Appleton. $2.00.
OLD JULES by Mari Sandoz.
Little, Brown. $3.00.
Non Fiction
WHILE ROME BURNS
By Alexander Woollcott. Viking
Press. $2.50.
NORTH TO THE ORIENT
By Ann Lindbergh. Harcourt.
$2.50.
SEVEN PILLARS OF WISDOM
By T. E. Lawrence. Doubleday,
Doran. $5.00.
THE WOOLLCOTT READER.
Viking. $3.00.
THE ROMANTIC REBELS
By Francis Winwar. Little
Brown. $3.75.
ASYLUM by William Seabrook.
Harcourt. $2.00.
MARY, QUEEN OF SCOTLAND
AND THE ISLES. By Stephen
Zweig. Viking. $3.50.
LIFE WITH FATHER by Clar-
ence Day. Knopf. $2.00.
MY COUNTRY AND MY
PEOPLE by Lin Yutang. Reynal.
$3.00.

I

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