Invisible Censor

Home

14. A Personal Pantheon



Not long ago, in the Metropolitan Magazine, Clarence Day shied a cocoanut at old Henri Fabre. Personally I had nothing against Henri. I rather liked him. But I was extremely cheered when Clarence said publicly, "that old bird-artist, you don't have to admire him any longer." Without waiting for further encouragement I bounced Henri off the steps of my Pantheon.

Have you a little Pantheon? It is necessary, I admit, but nothing is so important as to keep it from getting crowded with half-gods. For many months my own Pantheon has been seriously congested. Most of the ancient deities are still around-George Meredith and Walt Whitman and Tom Hardy and Sam Butler-and there is a long waiting list suggested by my friends. Joseph Conrad has been sitting in the lobby for several years, hungering for a vacant pedestal, and I have had repeated applications from such varied persons as Tchekov, R. Browning, J. J. Rousseau, Anatole France, Huxley, Dante, Alexander Hamilton, P. Shelley, John Muir, George Washington and Mary Wollstonecraft. But with so many occupants already installed, with so many strap-hangers crushed in, it has been impossible to open the doors to newcomers. My gods are like the office-holders-few die and none resign. And when a happy accident occurs, like the demolition of Henri Fabre, I feel as one feels when some third person is good enough to smash the jardinière.

I was troubled by Woodrow Wilson for a while. Two or three years ago he swept into the Pantheon on a wave of popularity, and there was no excuse for turning him out. He was one of the stiffest gods I had ever encountered. His smile, his long jaw, his smoothness, made him almost a Tussaud figure among the free Lincolns and Trelawnys and William Blakes. I stood him in the corner when he first arrived, debating where to put him, but at no time did I discover a pedestal for him. Young Teddy Junior helped me to like Woodrow. So did Mr. Root and Mr. Smoot. So did Mr. Wadsworth and Mr. Henry Cabot Lodge. But what, after all, had kept Mr. Wilson from being a Republican? How did he differ intrinsically from a Henry Stimson, a Nicholas Murray Butler, a Theodore Burton? The pedestal stood gaping for him, and yet I had not the heart to enthrone him; and never shall I enthrone him now. Now I look upon him with the flat pulse and the unfluttered heart of a common and commonplace humanity. He is President, as was Taft. So is he impressive. But the expectation I had blown up for him is punctured. He would have been a god, despite all my prejudice against his styles, if at any time he had proved himself to be the resolute democrat. But the resolute democrat he was not. He was just an ordinary college president inflating his chest as well as he could, and he has to get out of my Pantheon.

This eviction of the President relieves my feelings like a good spring cleaning. To be con-structive gives me pleasure, but not half so much pleasure as to be de-structive, to cast out the junk of my former mental and spiritual habitations. A great many people are catholic. They have hearts in which Stepping Heavenward abides with Dumas and East Lynne. I envy these people and their receptive natures, but my own chief joy is to asphyxiate my young enthusiasms, to deliver myself from the bondage of loyalty.

There is Upton Sinclair. I was so afraid I was unjust to Upton Sinclair that I almost subscribed to his weekly, and when I saw his new novel, Jimmie Higgins, I actually read it.

"My best book," Mr. Sinclair assures the world. If that is really the case, as I hope, I am happily emancipated from him forever. He is something of an artist. He converts into his own kind of music the muck-rake element in contemporary journalism. He is always a propagandist, and out of religious finance or the war or high society or the stockyards or gynecology he can distill a sort of jazz-epic that nobody can consider dull. But if one is to act on such stimulants, one ought to choose them carefully, and I'd much rather go straight to Billy Sunday than take my fire water from Upton Sinclair. Once on reading his well-known health books, I nearly fasted nine days under his influence. That is to say, I fasted twenty-four hours. The explosions of which I dreamt at the end of that heroic famine convinced me that I was perhaps a coarser organism than Mr. Sinclair suspected, and I resumed an ordinary diet. But until I had a good reason for expelling this uncomfortable idealist from my Pantheon I was always in danger of taking him seriously. Now, I am glad to say, I have a formula for him, and I am safe.

Nietzsche is the kind of sublime genius to whom Upton Sinclair is nothing but a gargoyle; yet the expulsion of Nietzsche was also required. When we used to read the New Age ten years ago, with Oscar Levy's steady derision of everything and anything not Nietzschean, I had a horrible sense of inadequacy, and I started out to read the Master's works. It was a noble undertaking, but futile. Slave and worm as I was, I found Nietzsche upsetting all the other fellows in the Pantheon. He and William Blake fought bitterly over the meaning of Christianity. Abraham Lincoln disgusted him with funny stories. He was sulky with George Meredith and frigid with Balzac and absurdly patronizing to Miss Jane Addams. It pained me to get rid of him, but I voted him away.

This Olympian problem does not seem to bother men like William Marion Reedy. Mr. Reedy is the sort of human being who can combine Edgar Lee Masters and Vachel Lindsay, single tax and spiritualism, Woodrow Wilson and Theodore Roosevelt. He knows brewers and minor poets and automobile salesmen and building contractors and traffic cops and publishers, and he is genuinely himself with all of them. He finds the common denominator in machine politicians and hyperacid reformers, and without turning a hair he moves from tropical to arctic conversation. He is at home with Celtic fairies and the atomic theory, with frenzied finance and St. Francis. If he has a Pantheon, and I believe he has, it must be a good deal like a Union depot, with gods coming in and departing on every train and he himself holding a glorious reception at the information booth. I am sure he can still see the silver lining to W. J. Bryan and the presidential timber in Leonard Wood. He does not make fun of Chautauqua. He can drink Bevo. He has a good word for Freud. He has nothing against Victorianism. And yet he is a man. This receptivity puzzles me. A person with such open sympathies is called upon to slave in their service, to rush here and there like a general practitioner, to sleep with a watch under his pillow and a telephone at his head. How does he find the energy to do it! I admire it. I marvel at men who understand all and forgive all, who are as omnivorous as Theodore Roosevelt, as generous and many-sided as Walt Whitman. Think of those who have a good word to say for Bonar Law! It is less democratic, I am sure, to run a hand-picked Pantheon, but it saves a lot of much-needed vitality. Give me a temple on a high hill, with a long drop down from the exit.