St. Simeon Stylites
AT SIMEON STYLITES
THE most sophisticated of the minor arts in America is that of the colyumist. It is, except for occasional lapses into the usual journalistic disrespect for privacy, a decent art, andif it never rises to the polish and wit of such an outstanding colyumist as LaFourchardiere of 1'Euvre, it never sinks to the pretentious pseudo-intelligent vulgarity of the English counterpart. The colyumist is, to begin with, a newspaper humorist, and there are times, when questions of art and letters are discussed, when one wishes he had remained one.
Phillips, who is now with the Sun and Globe in New York, sticks to his game manfully; he tells nothing about himself, discusses no plays, and his colyum, which he illustrates with grotesque little drawings, is self-contained. You do not have to be in the secret to read him. His usual manner is to take a notable or obscure item of news and play with it, in the manner of Mark Twain. When Ambassador Harvey made a speech on the topic, "Have Women Souls"! Phillips reported the proceedings and the aftermath:"Latest bulletins from Europe and Asia on the conduct of other American diplomats follow:"Warren G. Harding,President, United States: Excellency: American ambassador here has brought about grave crisis by speech, "Are Bananas a Fruit or a Flower!" and "Can Fresh
Roasted Peanuts Think?" Understand he has stated publicly his opinion that John McCormack is greater singer than Caruso. People are near uprising. Will you recall him or shall we give him the bum's rush? KING OF ITALY.and so on.It is horseplay; but when he is in form it achieves a wild carelessness and gaiety which the intellectual colyumist entirely forswears. He has for compeer Arthur "Bugs" Baer, by all odds the funniest of the colyumists and a too-much-neglected creator of American humour. There is, also, a considerable number of colyumists of the Phillips type in other cities. I make no apology for not knowing them, for a colyum correctly conceived is written for the readers of its paper. It ought to be partly private, and wholly provincial. Even Mencken when he ran the colyum of the Baltimore Sun, and gathered much material for The American Language, and told of each new consignment of German beer after the blockade began in 1915, even he was not all things to all men.The last man who kept his colyum balanced between the high and low comic touch was Bert Leston Taylor. He was a very wise and humane person, wise and humane enough to appreciate and to publish fun of a sort differing by much from the humour he created. There was something unnervingly oblique in his vision of the world, perfectly illustrated
by the captions he wrote for clippings from rustic journals. He would take an 'item, "Our popular telegraphist Frank Dane had a son presented to himlast week. Frank says he is going to stay home nights hereafter," and write over it, "How the Days Are Drawing In."There was nothing incongruous in the appearance side by side of his own expert parodiesand the horseplay humour of some of his contributors. Taylor's touch made everything light, everything right. In his house there were indeed many mansions.
After him-before his death even-the colyumists divided and went separate ways. The Chicago Tribune continues the Field-Taylor tradition indifferently well. Riq of the Chicago Evening Post comes near the golden mean, but his own character as a colyumist is jeopardized by his contributors; when he gets a good theme- such as the necessity for keeping the seam of a stocking straight, he can be counted on. Calverley indicated his difficulty - or almost: Themes are so scarce in this world of ours. The colyumists, are sophisticated, or faux-naifs, or actually naif. Of the first, F. P. A. of the New York World is the most notable and Baird Leonard of the Morning Telegraph the best. F. P. A. has all the virtues of the colyumist in the highest degree; unfortunately he has almost all the faults, in nearly the same measure. He is a defeated Calverley, writing the best light verse in America, and the
best parodies in verse. His Persicos Odi, one of several(published in the quarterly "1910"), seems to me better than Field's-which had the lines, "And as for roses, Holy Moses, they can't be got at living prices." Adams', as I recall it, ran:The pomp of the Persian I hold in aversion; I hate all their gingerbread tricks. Their garlicky wreathings and lindeny tree-things Nix.
Boy, us for plain myrtle while under this fertile
Old grapevine myself I protrude
For your old bibacious Quintus Horatius
Stewed and his treatment of the same poem according to Service is perfect parody. Algernon St. John Brenon used to quarrel magisterially with Adams about Latin quantities, but he could never undermine Adams' feeling for the ease and urbanity of Horaceand Adams isn't in the business of preserving the tradition of dignity.His trick verse is not exceptional; he has no Dobsonian feeling for form; in prose parody he is a duffer. His own prose has the one essential quality for wititis not diffuse.'
His actual character is that of a civilized man who cannot be imposed upon by I For example: "Ours is a sincere doubt as to whether the question 'And what did You do during the Great War T might not embarrass, among others, God."
the bunk, and as he is fairly independent he recognizes fake-in the world of politics, business, and society-wherever it occurs. This is what prevents him from being a good radical (type: Heywood Broun; other things in his nature keep him from the insolence of martyrdom), and what makes his work sympathetic to mature and disillusioned minds. His exceptional good sense-he seems to have no sensibility-makes stupidity an irritation to him; he follows half of the biblical precept and does not suffer fools gladly. The habit of pontificating has grown on him, and from expressing himself with justifiable arrogance on minor matters he has proceeded to speak with assurance on manners, art, and letters. It would be more accurate to say that he speaks without the humility becoming to one who for many months boosted W. B. any rate, he has done something to destroy the tradition that what is witty is unsound. It is only when he is serious that he becomes a little ridiculous.
I quarrel as much with Baird Leonard's judgement on art and letters, but I am not irritated because Miss Leonard (who writes for a paper devoted to horse-racing and the theatre) is almost always willing to indicate the path by which she arrives at her discriminations. She hasn't F. P.
A.'s weak fear of the common, and her own mind is as far removed as his from the commonplace, it has movements of grace and lightness, and her humour is smooth and wholly urban. Too often for me she fills her column with BridgeTable Talk, a sardonic report of fake intellectualism done with vigour and ferocity, but hampered by the framework which is not adaptable. I do not, at this moment, recall a line she has written; I recall the tone of her whole work-it is unaffected, not self-conscious, brightly aware of everything, keen and curious and always on the alert. If the stage were what it seems from out in front, Miss Leonard would be well placed on a theatrical paper. She is writing for people wise enough to know the place of wit. Adams, I fear, is beginning to write for people witty enough (and no more) to despise wisdom.
The creator of an American legend-I quote from the advertisements - is certainly a wise man. Don Marquis, who now writes his colyum alone, has always had a good second-rate talent for verse, and a
good first-rate understanding of humanity. It is the second quality which makes him appreciate the memoirs of William Butler Yeats, and helps him create The Old Soak.
"Here ' s richness"! It was right for him to make an entire second act of that play an ode to hard liquor, with lyric interludes about the parrot, for he is on the side of humanity, against the devils and angels alike. Hard liquor, loafing, decency, are his gods, and he fights grimly, with a tendency to see the devil in modern art. He is against a great many American fetiches: efficiency and Y. M. C. A.
morality and getting on; and he has a strong, persistent sentiment for common and simple things. All of these together would not make him a good colyumist without some expressive gift. He has enough to Tender his most endearing qualities fully. And beyond them he has at times a bitterness which drives him to write like Swift and a fantasy which creates archy and Captain Fritz-Urse, and these also are parts of his wisdom.
Christopher Morley, like Rolla (not, however, Rollo), has come too late into a world too old, and daily dreams himself back into the time when a gentle essayist was the noblest man of letters and William McFee a great novelist.
His latest work is bound in Gissing Blue Leather, is admired by Heywood Broun, and has been compared to nearly everything except the Four Gospels. Little children should not be permitted to read his colyum in the NewYork Evening
Post, for it is a sort of literary boy-scoutisme, and very wrong! (It has recently ceased to exist.)The influence of the daily column is so great that by this time a goodly portion of t the literary criticism -or book-reviewing-appears in that form. Keith Preston is partly colyumist, partly literary critic, estimable if not always justin both departments, and a writer of excellent verse. Of the literary colyumists Broun is the most interesting case. He has a peculiar mind, apt to find a trifling detail the clue to too many great things; he has a great sense for the pompous and the pretentious; he is actually a humorist when he lets go. But a strange thing has happened to him. While he was acquiring a reputation as arbiter of taste in New York by putting down his simple feelings about books and other things, he was slowly becoming aware of the existence of the intellect. It was borne in upon him, as I believe the phrase is, that a work of art is the product of an intellect working upon materials provided by a sensibility. The discovery unnerved him-1 might almost say deflowered. For Broun has lost his native innocence; he is a little frightened by the hard young men who sudden let loose the jargon of aesthetics, of philosophy, of the intellect in general-and what is worse, he thinks that they may not be bluffing. He has gone manfully to work, but the middle distance is dangerous. It is likely to produce more dicta like his notorious dismissal of rhythmic prose by a refer-
ence to verse rhythms in prose. His characteristic statement is, however, apropos of a flying catch by Aaron Ward, of which, Broun said that no book had ever so affected him with the sense that the humanly impossible had been accomplished. He seems to wonder, now, whether discovering the mind will ever console him if he loses the catch, whether being an amiable, intelligent, courageous, radical humorist, with sufficient taste to dislike the third-rate and a jocular respect for the first rate-whether all this isn't enough. And all the while the young men of three nations are giving him to believe that the really new movement is going to be intellectual. In the moment of the situation he does one thing which may save him-slowly renouncing literature, he digs into his humour and works it hard. He or it will be exhausted presently; when that happens he will be out of the woods-on either side.
But I doubt whether Broun ever was as simple as Bugs Baer. His is called roughneck humour-for all I care. The truth is that Baer is one of the few people writing for the newspapers who have a distinct style. K. C. B. has a form which becomes a formula-it is exasperating to read it-one continues as one continues to read the Bull Durham signs along a railroad track. Baer writes like the speech of Falstaff and his companions, with a rowdy exaggeration.
His comparisons are far fetched, his conceptions utterly fantastic. His daily commentaries on sport
are concise and entertaining, his best work occurs there, but in The Family Album, a Sunday feature of the Hearst papers, he succeeds, despite the subject and the length, in communicating his peculiar quality. It is mingled with banalities like "he was hunting quail on toast up in Canada," but you also get.: So he felt better and met a friend of his and they skipped the Eighteenth. Amendment a couple of times and uncle came home and challenged pop to anything. Pop wanted to know what, and uncle said, "Anything at all. There ain't one thing that you can do that I can't do better than you." He kept up his anonymous boasting and pop said to mom, "Your escaped brother is loose again. That's him. He takes one drink of that radio liquor and he starts broadcasting." Uncle said, "I'll broadcast you for a row of weather-beaten canal boats. I'm mad and hungry. I'm as hot and hollow as a stovepipe." Mom said to pop, "Don't turn A birnelech away hungry. What does the Good Book say about--'Pop said, "Oh! That's been vetoed by the President. "There follows what he calls "another quaint tribal quarrel" in which "pop laughed a whole octave above sarcastic" and "Mom said, 'Stop that debate before I take the negative.' "Everything of Bugs Baer is foreshortened; he is elliptical, omits the middle step. His language is syncopation. His points of reference are all in the I He said of Firpo that when he came up after the sixth or seventh knock-down, his face looked like a slateful of wrong answers.
common life; I don't suppose that he has ever touched a book or a play in his column. For all that, he impresses me as a naturally subtle spirit. I may be wrong. He is certainly a joyful one.