The secret thoughts of a man run over all things,
holy, profane, clean, obscene, grave, and light,
without shame or blame.
–HOBBES, Leviathan, Chap. VIII.
The bachelor is almost extinct in America. Our hopelessly utilitarian civilization demands that a man of forty should be rearing a family, should go to an office five times a week, and pretend an interest in the World’s Series. It is unthinkable to us that there should be men of mature years who do not know the relative batting averages of the Red Sox and the Pirates. The intellectual and strolling male of from thirty-five to fifty-five years (which is what one means by bachelor) must either marry and settle down in the Oranges, or he must flee to Europe or the MacDowell Colony. There is no alternative. Vachel Lindsay please notice.
The fate of Henry James is a case in point. Undoubtedly he fled the shores of his native land to escape the barrage of the bonbonniverous sub-deb, who would else have mown him down without ruth.
But in England they still linger, these quaint, phosphorescent middle-aged creatures, lurking behind a screenage of muffins and crumpets and hip baths. And thither fled one of the most delightful born bachelors this hemisphere has ever unearthed, Mr. Logan Pearsall Smith.
Mr. Smith was a Philadelphian, born about fifty years ago. But that most amiable of cities does not encourage detached and meditative bachelorhood, and after sampling what is quaintly known as “a guarded education in morals and manners” at Haverford College, our hero passed to Harvard, and thence by a swifter decline to Oxford. Literature and liberalism became his pursuits; on the one hand, he found himself engrossed in the task of proving to the British electorate that England need not always remain the same; on the other, he wrote a Life of Sir Henry Wotton, a volume of very graceful and beautiful short stories about Oxford (“The Youth of Parnassus”) and a valuable little book on the history and habits of the English language.
But in spite of his best endeavours to quench and subdue his mental humours, Mr. Smith found his serious moments invaded by incomprehensible twinges of esprit. Travelling about England, leading the life of the typical English bachelor, equipped with gladstone bag, shaving kit, evening clothes and tweeds; passing from country house to London club, from Oxford common room to Sussex gardens, the solemn pageantry of the cultivated classes now and then burst upon him in its truly comic aspect. The tinder and steel of his wit, too uncontrollably frictioned, ignited a shower of roman candles, and we conceive him prostrated with irreverent laughter in some lonely railway carriage.
Mr. Smith did his best to take life seriously, and I believe he succeeded passably well until after forty years of age. But then the spectacle of the English vicar toppled him over, and once the gravity of the Church of England is invaded, all lesser Alps and sanctuaries lie open to the scourge. Menaced by serious intellectual disorders unless he were to give vent to these disturbing levities, Mr. Smith began to set them down under the title of “Trivia,” and now at length we are enriched by the spectacle of this iridescent and puckish little book, which presents as it were a series of lantern slides of an ironical, whimsical, and merciless sense of humour. It is a motion picture of a middle-aged, phosphorescent mind that has long tried to preserve a decent melancholy but at last capitulates in the most delicately intellectual brainslide of our generation.
This is no Ring Lardner, no Irvin Cobb, no Casey at the bat. Mr. Smith is an infinitely close and acute observer of sophisticated social life, tinged with a faint and agreeable refined sadness, by an aura of shyness which amounts to a spiritual virginity. He comes to us trailing clouds of glory from the heaven of pure and unfettered speculation which is our home. He is an elf of utter simplicity and infinite candour. He is a flicker of absolute Mind. His little book is as precious and as disturbing as devilled crabs.