The Gate of Knowledge

By Michael Monahan. George H. Doran Co.

Michael Monahan is easily the best critic in America. One might say the only critic. He has a sense of values. He understands what is and what is not important. He is not misled by the hooting of owls and the croaking of bull frogs. His latest book shows a remarkable insight into the condition of America to-day. It is rather a pity that he does not continue in this strain, instead of invoking the ghost of Charles Dickens. Dickens could have done no better; in fact, not so well. Michael Monahan has inside knowledge, the point of view of the native. He is a very charming essayist in matters literally, and possesses a delightfully light touch in all such subjects as occupied by Charles Lamb. But there is something a little too slight about the workmanship of these essays. Mr. Monahan is at his best when genuinely moved. This is perhaps inherent in the nature of the circumstances in which he finds himself. The situation is really too critical for pleasant discourses on things that do not very much matter. In order to fiddle while Rome is burning, you should have a very peculiar point of view about Rome. You can only obtain ecstasy from your fiddling if the conflagration fills you with a sadistic pleasure or a satisfaction of your sense of justice. Even so, you must temper your fiddling to your flames.

Mr. Monahan has it in him to be a new Juvenal, and he is content to play the part of Horace. It must be a little difficult in any case, to do this in Connecticut.

A. C.

By Arthur Conan Doyle. George H. Doran Company.

Either Sir Arthur Conan Doyle is getting old, I am. I do not find these last adventures of Sherlock Holmes nearly so good as those which gave me joy at the period of puberty. Even when I search my memory, it appears to me that some of them lack the point which really appealed to us. These stories are quite as melodramatic as the others, but they do not exhibit Holmes himself to such advantage. Dr. Joseph Bell is dead, and I think that Sir Arthur must have used him up a long while ago.

The only stories in the present volume which appeal to me are those that I remember reading when published in magazines years ago. In particular, the epilogue, the war story, which begs the whole question of detection. We are not interested in the adventures of Sherlock Holmes. We are interested in the quality of his mind, his power of deduction, and in a less degree in his special knowledge. A detective story is really very like a chess problem. There must be a complete correlation of cause and effect and a just balance between them. Absence of such qualities is not atoned for by grotesque situations or violent action. It is perfectly easy to multiply deaths. There is no more difficulty in killing a million people than a thousand. The essence of the art of the detective story is to exhibit the superior intelligence of a certain man. It is this which has made the stories of Poe and Gaboriau immortal. Du Boisgobey fails just where these others succeeded. The original Sherlock Holmes had some claim to share their eminence, for he introduced a new type of superior man, the scientific observer who increases knowledge by the observation of minute differences, just as Lord Rayleigh discovered the presence of some unknown element in atmospheric air through observation of the infinitesimal differences in its specific weight with that of the nitrogen of the laboratory, and so led to the discovery of argon. These stories, therefore, were naturally popular at a moment when the general imagination was highly excited by the discoveries of physical science. To-day that interest has been superseded by the new work in psychology, and we shall therefore expect that the great classical detective story of the period will be based upon minute observation of psychological facts. This, at least, strikes us as the most probable reason for the immense vogue of Simon Iff.

The History of the Belgian People.

Volume 1 of this history takes us from the very earliest period covered by authentic record up to the Hundred Years War. It is interesting to note that the mixed blood of the present Belgians, their division into Flemish and Walloon, is represented in the very dawn of her history. From the first they were half Celtic and half Teutonic. Belgium was, in fact, the original point of impact and it was in Belgium that the idea of democracy of the modern type first took shape.

It is necessary for us to picture the physical geography of this country, which was indeed one of the most miserable. It was a marsh constantly subjected to flood both from the sea and from the rivers. The northwestern part was a waste of sand and heather, the south an impassable jungle. It was only in the center that anything like habitable land was found. The climate was at that time also very unhealthy and unpleasant. The history of Europe can hardly be understood unless we realize fully the improvements of the changes caused by the gradual alteration in the course of the Gulf Stream.

The first impact of civilization upon the isolated barbarians who inhabited this country was made by Julius Caesar. The ruin of the Roman empire involved Belgium in the general devastation. Ultimately a dual control was set up to resist the assaults of the barbarians of the north, the ecclesiastic system on the one hand and the feudal on the other. However, the extraordinary position of the country under the new arrangements in Europe made it not only the battlefield of Europe but the market. Learning sprang up under the impulse of the monasteries, and commerce also flourished enormously. The result was that after a period of desolation due to Viking attacks, feudal states became very powerful and in the security thus offered cities sprang up whose merchants, becoming powerful, began to oppose themselves to the extactions of the nobles. We then find that by the Thirteenth Century, industrialism had become of supreme importance to the country. This system was protected by the famous guilds. The commercial idea having become dominant, public works were instituted and the country was gradually redeemed from the depredations of the sea. In this period of comparative prosperity, we find art and religion flourishing.

Up to a certain time France had been contented with peaceful penetration of the country, but towards the end of the Thirteenth Century, France wished to complete her influence by annexation. The burghers resisted with violence. It is not too much to say that the French invasion created a national spirit. Ultimately, France had to be content with a partial triumph. The excessively French part of Flanders, including the cities of Lille and Douay, became part of France. What was left of Flanders tended in consequence to be more exclusively Germanic. But it is impossible for rich weak states to survive in the midst of predatory neighbors. It is, in fact, immoral that such states should exist, since they afford a constant temptation to more virile and less laden races. The Low Countries have been in the nature of prizes since the rise of the Free Cities, and the balance of power in Europe has been constantly unstable because of the value of these teeming plains with their immense natural resources. The modern use of coal has, of course, merely accentuated the intensity of the struggle.

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