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A Parody Outline of History(1)

2006-09-07 21:47

  CHAPTER I Introduction

  A CRITICAL SURVEY OF AMERICAN HISTORY

  In the Manner of William Lyon Phelps

  On a memorable evening in the year 1904 I witnessed the opening performance of Maude Adams in "Peter Pan". Nothing in the world can describe the tremendous enthusiasm of that night! I shall never forget the moment when Peter came to the front of the stage and asked the audience if we believed in fairies. I am happy to say that I was actually the first to respond. Leaping at once out of my seat, I shouted "Yes——Yes!" To my intense pleasure the whole house almost instantly followed my example, with the exception of one man. This man was sitting directly in front of me. His lack of enthusiasm was to me incredible. I pounded him on the back and shouted, "Great God, man, are you alive! Wake up! Hurrah for the fairies! Hurrah!" Finally he uttered a rather feeble "Hurrah!" Childe Roland to the dark tower came.

  That was my first meeting with that admirable statesman Woodrow Wilson, and I am happy to state that from that night we became firm friends. When Mr. Wilson was inaugurated in 1913 I called on him at the White House, taking with me some members of my Yale drama class. Each one of us had an edition of the president's admirable "History of the American People", and I am glad to say that he was kind enough to autograph each of the ten volumes for all of us.

  Early in Mr. Wilson's second term as president, just before the break with Germany, I was sitting in the quiet of my library rereading Browning's "Cristina". When I came to the third stanza I leaped to my feet—— the thing seemed incredible, but here before my eyes was actually Browning's prophetic message to America in regard to the submarine sinkings.

  "Oh, we're sunk enough here, God knows! But not so sunk that moments——etc." It is an extraordinary evidence of the man's genius that in 1840 he should have perhaps foreseen prophetically the happenings of seventy-six years later! Not only did Browning seem to know what was bound to happen, but he told us the remedy. I sat right down and wrote to my good friend the president, enclosing a marked copy of the poem. On the sixth of April, 1917, war was declared.

  May 7, 1912, was the one hundredth anniversary of the birth of Robert Browning. On that memorable date I was traveling to Ohio at the request of my dear friend Miss Jones to deliver an address at the Columbus School for Girls. Curiously enough the name of my Pullman car was Pauline. Not only did that strike me as remarkable, but I occupied upper berth number 9 in car 11, two numbers which, added together, produced the exact age at which Browning published the poem of that name. At once I recited the opening lines, "Pauline, mine own, bend o'er me——thy soft breast shall pant to mine——bend o'er me," to the porter.

  I like to believe that the spirit of Browning arranged that entire journey, for the other occupant of this well-omened berth was that admirable statesman Warren G. Harding. When I sat down I noticed that he was reading Henry Sydnor Harrison's "Queed", a book which was justly popular at that time. I at once showed Mr. Harding an article I had written in which I stated that not only was "Queed" a real novel, with a real plot, and real characters, but that I believed the readers were stimulated by the spiritual advance of the hero. The future president agreed with me and said he thought that literature was a great thing. Encouraged by this I confessed that I was on my way to deliver a lecture on modern poetry. Mr. Harding replied that he thought poetry was a great thing. "Splendid!" I cried, and taking a copy of Browning from my bag I read him several selections. Mr. Harding said that of the American poets he liked James Whitcomb Riley best. Personally, while I have for Mr. Riley only wonder and praise, I think that the English poet strikes a more inspiring, more eternal note.

  I then read to Mr. Harding Browning's "Evelyn Hope". He said that he knew a Mrs. Walter Hope in Marion, but that he was not sure her first name was Evelyn. As I knew that Mr. Harding liked a good pun, I remarked facetiously that "hope springs eternal", meaning that probably there were in existence several families of that name.

  I am happy to state that with that meeting began a friendship which has lasted for many years. When Mr. Harding was nominated for the presidency, I wrote at once, enclosing a copy of "The Advance of the English Novel" which I had published in 1916. On the title-page I wrote, "To the Hero of a Much More Spectacular Advance", meaning that the progress made by the English novel was as nothing compared to Mr. Harding's rapid and well-deserved rise. In reply I received the following:

  6 July, 1920. MY DEAR PROFESSOR PHELPS:

  Many thanks to you for your congratulations and your kindness in sending me your brilliant, searching essays which I hope to be able to read in the near future. WARREN G. HARDING.

  Just as I am always glad that I am an American, so I think we should all believe whole-heartedly in the glorious future which lies ahead of us. We should all pay high tribute to the ideals and sincerity of those great leaders Woodrow Wilson and Warren Harding. What a pity that some people believe that there is any antagonism or essential difference in the aims of those two worthy men. Both are absolutely sincere——both try to make the world a better, more happy place. And to the critic of history—— as to the critic of art and literature——those are the essential things. Viewing the past and glimpsing the future of American history I cannot help feeling that Browning had us perhaps unconsciously in mind when he wrote:

  God's in his heaven:

  All's right with the world!

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