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The Invisible Censor   By:

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THE INVISIBLE CENSOR

By

FRANCIS HACKETT

New York B. W. HUEBSCH, INC. MCMXXI

Copyright, 1921, by B. W. Huebsch, Inc. Printed in U. S. A.

TO MY WIFE SIGNE TOKSVIG

WHOSE LACK OF INTEREST IN THIS BOOK HAS BEEN MY CONSTANT DESPERATION

These sketches and articles appeared in the New Republic and I am indebted to the other editors for being allowed to reprint them.

Contents

THE INVISIBLE CENSOR WHISKY BILLY SUNDAY, SALESMAN FIFTH AVENUE AND FORTY SECOND STREET AS AN ALIEN FEELS SCIENTIFIC MANAGEMENT THE NEXT NEW YORK CHICAGO THE CLOUDS OF KERRY HENRY ADAMS THE AGE OF INNOCENCE THE IRISH REVOLT A LIMB OF THE LAW A PERSONAL PANTHEON NIGHT LODGING YOUTH AND THE SKEPTIC THE SPACES OF UNCERTAINTY OR, AN ACHE IN THE VOID WILLIAM BUTLER YEATS "WITH MALICE TOWARD NONE" WAR EXPERTS OKURA SEES NEWPORT THE CRITIC AND THE CRITICIZED BLIND "AND THE EARTH WAS DRY" TELEGRAMS OF PLEASANT THINGS THE AVIATOR

THE INVISIBLE CENSOR

Not long ago I met a writer who happened to apply the word "cheap" to Mr. Strachey's Eminent Victorians. It astonished me, because this was an erudite, cultivated woman, a distinguished woman, and she meant what she said.

A "cheap" effect, I assume, is commonly one that builds itself on a false foundation. It may promise beautifully, but it never lives up to its promise. Whether it is a house or a human character, a binding or a book, it proves itself gimcrack and shoddy. It hasn't the goods. And of Eminent Victorians, as I remembered it (having read it to review it), this was the last thing to be said. The book began by fitting exquisitely, but it went on fitting exquisitely. It never pulled or strained. And the memory of it wears like a glove.

Now why, after all, did I like this book so thoroughly, which my distinguished friend thought so cheap? For many minor reasons of course, as one likes anything contributory reasons but principally, as I laboriously analyzed it, because in Eminent Victorians the invisible censor was so perfectly understood. What seemed cheap to her ladyship was, I do not doubt, the very thing that made Eminent Victorians seem so precious to me the deft disregard of appearances, the refusal to let decorum stand in the way of our possessing the facts. This to my critic was a proof that Mr. Strachey was imperceptive and vulgar "common" the ugly word is. To me it simply proved that he knew his game. What he definitely disregarded, as so many felt, was not any decorum dear and worth having. It was simply that decorum which to obey is to produce falsification. The impeccable craft of Mr. Strachey was shown in his evaluation, not his acceptance, of decorum. He did not take his characters at their face value, while he did not do the other vulgar thing, go through their careers with a muck rake. In vivisecting them (the awful thing to do, presumably), he never let them die on him. He opened them out, but not cruelly or brutally. He did it as Mr. William Johnston plays tennis or as Dr. Blake is said to operate or as Dr. Muck conducts an orchestra or as Miss Kellerman dives. He did it for the best result under the circumstances and with a form that comes of a real command of the medium genuine "good form."

The essential achievement of Eminent Victorians is worth dwelling on because in every book of social character the question of the invisible censor is unavoidably present. By the censor I do not mean that poor blinkered government official who decides on the facts that are worthy of popular acquaintance. I mean a still more secret creature of still more acute solicitude, who feels that social facts must be manicured and pedicured before they are fit to be seen. He is not concerned with the facts themselves but with their social currency. He is the supervisor of what we say we do, the watchman over our version and our theoretical estimate of ourselves... Continue reading book >>




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