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The Line of Love Dizain des Mariages   By: (1879-1958)

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"He loved chivalrye, Trouthe and honour, fredom and curteisye. And of his port as meek as is a mayde, He never yet no vileinye ne sayde In al his lyf, unto no maner wight. He was a verray parfit gentil knyght."


The Cabell case belongs to comedy in the grand manner. For fifteen years or more the man wrote and wrote good stuff, sound stuff, extremely original stuff, often superbly fine stuff and yet no one in the whole of this vast and incomparable Republic arose to his merit no one, that is, save a few encapsulated enthusiasts, chiefly somewhat dubious. It would be difficult to imagine a first rate artist cloaked in greater obscurity, even in the remotest lands of Ghengis Khan. The newspapers, reviewing him, dismissed him with a sort of inspired ill nature; the critics of a more austere kidney the Paul Elmer Mores, Brander Matthewses, Hamilton Wright Mabies, and other such brummagem dons were utterly unaware of him. Then, of a sudden, the imbeciles who operate the Comstock Society raided and suppressed his "Jurgen," and at once he was a made man. Old book shops began to be ransacked for his romances and extravaganzas many of them stored, I daresay, as "picture books," and under the name of the artist who illustrated them, Howard Pyle. And simultaneously, a great gabble about him set up in the newspapers, and then in the literary weeklies, and finally even in the learned reviews. An Englishman, Hugh Walpole, magnified the excitement with some startling hochs ; a single hoch from the Motherland brings down the professors like firemen sliding down a pole. To day every literate American has heard of Cabell, including even those presidents of women's clubs who lately confessed that they had never heard of Lizette Woodworth Reese. More of his books are sold in a week than used to be sold in a year. Every flapper in the land has read "Jurgen" behind the door; two thirds of the grandmothers east of the Mississippi have tried to borrow it from me. Solemn Privat Dozenten lecture upon the author; he is invited to take to the chautauqua himself; if the donkeys who manage the National Institute of Arts and Letters were not afraid of his reply he would be offered its gilt edged ribbon, vice Sylvanus Cobb, deceased. And all because a few pornographic old fellows thrust their ever hopeful snouts into the man's tenth (or was it eleventh or twelfth?) book!

Certainly, the farce must appeal to Cabell himself a sardonic mocker, not incapable of making himself a character in his own revues . But I doubt that he enjoys the actual pawing that he has been getting any more than he resented the neglect that he got for so long. Very lately, in the midst of the carnival, he announced his own literary death and burial, and even preached a burlesque funeral sermon upon his life and times. Such an artist, by the very nature of his endeavors, must needs stand above all public clapper clawing, pro or con. He writes, not to please his customers in general, nor even to please his partisans in particular, but to please himself. He is his own criterion, his own audience, his own judge and hangman. When he does bad work, he suffers for it as no holy clerk ever suffered from a gnawing conscience or Freudian suppressions; when he does good work he gets his pay in a form of joy that only artists know. One could no more think of him exposing himself to the stealthy, uneasy admiration of a women's club he is a man of agreeable exterior, with handsome manners and an eye for this and that than one could imagine him taking to the stump for some political mountebank or getting converted at a camp meeting. What moves such a man to write is the obscure, inner necessity that Joseph Conrad has told us of, and what rewards him when he has done is his own searching and accurate judgment, his own pride and delight in a beautiful piece of work... Continue reading book >>

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