A review of The Wine of the Puritans: A Study of Present-Day America, by Van Wyck Brooks
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18 ] A review of The Wine of the Puritans: A Study of Present-Day America, by Van Wyck Brooks. London: Sisley’s, 1909. Pp. viii + 144. The Harvard Advocate, 87 (7 May 1909) [80] We are glad of the opportunity to review a book by a former Advocate­ editor–Mr. Van Wyck Brooks, of the board of 1908.1 This is a book which probably will chiefly interest one class of Americans (a class, however, of some importance): the Americans retained to their native country by business relations or socialities or by a sense of duty–the last reason implying a real sacrifice –while their hearts are always in Europe. To these, double-dealers with themselves, people of divided allegiance except in times of emotional crisis, Mr. Brooks’s treatise will come as a definition of their discontent. But he should find a larger audience than this class alone. The reasons for the failureofAmericanlife (atpresent)–social,political,ineducationandinart–are surgically exposed; with an unusual acuteness of distinction and refinement of taste; and the more sensitive of us may find ourselves shivering under the operation. For the book is a confession of national weaknesses; if one take it rightly, a wholesome revelation. With wise restraint, the author has attempted but little constructive or prophetic criticism. He merely ends with the expressed hope, “I think that a day will come when the names of Denver and Sioux City will have a traditional and antique dignity like Damascus and Perugia–and when it will not seem to us grotesque that they have” [142]. One thing more. Mr. Brooks has handled successfully a difficult form– the dialogue; never allowing it to degenerate into soliloquy, and often rendering a slight difference in the point of view, a shift of personality; maintaining that shuttlecock action which is the virtue of conversation, but which is seldom perceptible in dialogue as a literary form.2 T. S. E. Notes 1. The Wine of the Puritans was the first book by Van Wyck Brooks (1886-1963), who graduated from Harvard in 1908. TSE, now in his third year and on the editorial board of the Advocate, had in his first year been encouraged by Brooks to submit poems. In 1920, he was to recall the year when “I was a Freshman at Harvard and you were a prominent man of letters [ 19 Review: The Wine of the Puritans there” (L1 485). TSE would later remember him “as having a good deal of personal charm, as being very dapper and neatly dressed, and giving the appearance, to a humble freshman, of being rather English” (to Allan S. Kaplan, 16 Oct 1956). Brooks, who began his career as a radical, attempted without success in 1920 to secure from TSE a review for a liberal New York weekly, The Freeman (L1 485). 2. Brooks presents his argument as a dialogue on art between two young Americans living in Italy, one of whom, Charles Graeling, is a thinly disguised self-portrait. Brooks had introduced Graeling as his alter ego in an undergraduate essay written at Harvard more than a year earlier. ...