BEGINNINGS OF SPIRITUAL QUEST
Prh.eite Road. By Forrest Reid. (Faber
and Faber, 10s. 6d.).
Verdi. By Dyneley Hussey. (Dent, as. 6d.).
Weber. By William Saunders. (Dent, 5s. 6d.).
I Wore My Linen Trousers. By Basil Collies. (Dent, 15s.).
Sea Urchin. By Rhys Davies. (Duckworth, 85. 6d.).
Reviewed by WILFRED ROOKE-LEY MR. FORREST REID adopts an
unusual method of autobiography in Private Road, which is to use his novels as a guide to his lifestory. He tells us how each came to be written and with what purpose.
This presupposes an intimacy with the novels, without which much may escape the reader. He will surmise that Mr. Forrest Reid's preoccupation is with boyhood and adolescence; that he is devoted to animals and fond of games; that the problem of dreams intrigues him not a little; that Socrates is his ideal figure: and that he is a frank pagan. He is, however, such a master of prose that the sensitive reader will not easily put the book down, even should his ignorance of Mr. Forrest Reid's other writings rob him of the key.
We are promised in the blurb the story of a spiritual quest ; but that promise is hardly fulfilled. Here again familiarity with the novels might help perhaps, but the direct references in this book to his spiritual beliefs are few. "I have never believed in any formal religion, but .1 have experienced an emotion that seemed to me religious," he says in one place ; and in another, "when I think of the Christian terror and gloom that beset Dr. Johnson at the thought of death I cannot help feeling that there is much to be said for paganism."
He does not understand Dr. Johnson, nor has ho heard of St. Aelred's fine phrase (to which Di. Johnson would certainly have clung with his will), " the right of the Christian not to fear death." He speaks of there being "some universal spiritual force from which Christianity and all religion had sprung." It is all very elusive.
He thinks the Catholic mind is " more understanding. less sceptical " than that of the " orthodox Prorestast " (he is an Ulsterman, by the way) and if this discovery should prove, as we hope, not the end but the beginning of a spiritual quest we shall wish him in all sincerity " bon voyage."
MR.. Dyncley Hussey's Verdi and Mr. William Saunders' Weber are the latest additions to Messrs. Dent's series of " The Master Musicians."
Two more contrasted figures can hardly be imagined: Verdi without a shadow of what is called " artistic temperament," yet a man of unshakable artistic integrity; the farmer whose peasant stock linked him always with the soil, the burning patriot; and Weber, aristocratic, consumptive, incapable of Verdi's serenity, haunted as he thought by an evil star, sensitive to the least pinprick of criticism.
One cannot imagine Verdi even opening his fan-mail; Weber's would either have exalted him to a pinnacle of delight or drowned him in lowest deep of gloom. Verdi was young enough in his 80th year to turn out that miracle of comedy, Falstaff; Weber died at 39, his genius manacled in the service of a German court little of his work current to-day, but that little infinitely precious.
The two biographies arc sound and serviceable in the orthodox manner ; that is to say, the facts arc all there and the critical portions are unexceptionable. The professional musician, for whom musical biography is still a close preserve, will give them his Whit obstat.
THE odd thing about I Wore My Linen Trousers. which is all about Provence, is the way slabs of indigestible history are sandwiched between the personal observation which should be the stuff of travelbooks. Thus, " Avignon itself is the ancient Atainio. Built in a commanding situation on a bank hmtiediately above the Rhone, a little above the point where the Durance joins that river. and on the sire of an important stronghold of the ancient Gauls, it was a leading city of the original Roman province of Gallia Narbonensis" is raw Baedeker, and there arc pages of that sort of thing. Mr. Collier has not learnt to write history so as to compel the reader's attention ; nor to weave it into the personal narrative in the way E. V. Lucas managed so inimitably. I confess I bit over the Baedeker bits.
However, the rest is really entertaining and the photographs are enchanting and I cannot say better than that I intend to keep his book against the good day, if ever it comes, when I can revisit Provence myself.
ONE cannot help feeling that Mr. Rhys Davies was on a good thing when he unearthed from the British Museum the unpublished writings of that amazing rascal Jorgert Jorgensen and having then followed up every other trail of enquiry wove it all into the book he calls Sea Urchin. The critic is compelled for once into the degrading remark that truth is stranger than fiction, but really nothing else meets the case.
In a short notice it will be best to quote the author's own description on the title page: his book is, he says, ".4 true narrative of the life of a Danish adventurer; his glory. infamy, and sad decline; who was a lover of England, sailor of the British Navy, Leader of a Revolution, Ruler of Iceland, convict, preacher, spy, author, policeman. newspaper editor. gambler, pioneer and explorer." Does that set the gastric juices going, ye lovers of adventure? Fall to, then : 1 promise you a feast of it.