Thursday, June 11, 2020

Cline's Review of "Tales of Intrigue and Revenge" by Stephen McKenna

Here is Cline's review of Tales of Intrigue and Revenge (1925), by Stephen McKenna, as published in the Books section of The New York Herald Tribune for 27 September 1925.  It is an artfully backhanded review, wherein Cline basically says that only six of the sixteen stories published in this collection are worth reading.
“A Brilliant Residuum”

Tales of Intrigue and Revenge.
By Stephen McKenna.
Boston: Little, Brown and Company. $2.50

Here is the first collection of short stories by the deft Mr. McKenna, who, after “Sonia” and some others, is now flowing dulcifluently on toward his twentieth volume.
Mr. McKenna is a virtuoso of exceeding brilliance. What a delight it is to follow him through his deftly turned sentences! I like the language, I like a man who can use it, just as I like to listen to a nimble pianist playing aimlessly with the keys; that is, of course, for not too long at a time. The first story is “The Acid Test.” Here is a burlesque in the form of a monologue by a very silly woman of the smart type. It is done with glitter and will stand reading aloud. Entirely amusing.
One is now at page 23: “Local Rules.” Get out your paste pot and brush all around the edge, and then press page 23 against page 22 until they firmly adhere. Page 25 is then likewise welded to page 24; and so on. . . .
At page 89 one may lay aside the brush. “Poetic Justice,” the story of a hectored rhymester who enjoys free lodging for weeks at the expense of the shrewd business men who chuckle between themselves over his helplessness, is pleasant. Leonard Merrick did the thing more divertingly.
Paste . . . to page 127.
“The Payton Tradition.” A husband and four boys did Mrs. Payton lose in Flanders, the last of them reported killed only after the jubilation of Armistice Day. Yet, choking down her tears, she wishes better luck to her housemaid. . . . It is really a moving story of wartime, with an impressive picture of the madness in London when the firing ceased. One wipes one’s eyes.
And “Barnzo”? “Barnzo” is excellent humor. The poor old fellow got run down by an automobile, and when they ran to his rescue they found him all hunched up. They tried desperately to straighten him out, and finally they did it, thereby killing him. For he was indeed “barn zo,” as he had been trying to tell them all through, but it was by parturition and not by baptism. He was a hunchback.
Paste . . . to page 181.
“Myrtle” is, I am prone to maintain, a thoughtful and well realized story. Desmond, Irish rebel, is captured and sentenced to be shot. Through a night of grisly expectancy he waits, musing on his love, his cause, his every dear thing; and he sees in the passion of that revery how inconsequently all desires and aspirations can be. When word of reprieve comes in the morning he . . . yawns.
And then, “A Mister Blenkinsop, a Diarist”! Ah, but what a title! Here is satire that one who likes Max Beerbohm will enjoy, and written no less sensitively than Beerbohm would have written it.
Paste . . . to the end.
The paste pot may now be covered for the night and the book put by the bedside for occasional rereading. Much mawkishness, much snappy story triviality and much John Bull snobbishness will have been pasted out. What is left is worth reading. And Mr. McKenna is a most brilliant writer.

Monday, June 1, 2020

Cline's Review of "The Red Cord"

When Cline visited his sister in Grand Rapids, Michigan, in the autumn of 1925, he gave to his twelve year old nephew a book, The Red Cord: A Romance of China (1925), by Thomas Grant Springer,  Cline inscribed it as follows:  "Nov. 3, 1925. For Jack Wierengo . . . not because it is a perfect book; but because, reading it, you may learn something about a beautiful people; and wishing to know more, may buy and read and keep the two books of poems by Arthur Waley. Then you will have more to talk about, when next we go walking in the country, with Leonard."

Cline's review of the book was published in the 1 November 1925 issue of Books section of The New York Herald Tribune. It is not one of Cline's better reviews, as one can sense him struggling to find nice things to say. The Red Cord is an odd production. It was the first novel by Thomas Grant Springer (1873-1943), a hugely prolific contributor in the 1910s and 1920s to magazines like Snappy Stories and Telling Tales, among many others. It is the second book illustrated by the Chinese American artist Sun Yow Pang (the first being The Chinese Book of Etiquette and Conduct for Women and Girls, published in 1900). Perhaps its most distinguishing feature is the publisher's marketing idea of binding in a red cord tied to a Chinese coin as a bookmark. The Chinese-American community did not react favorably to the book. In a review headed "A Noose for the Author!" The Chinese Students' Monthly for April 1926 descried the book as "spreading chaos of misinterpretations": "To anyone that is familiar with China at all, it carries with it no Chinese atmosphere whatsoever. Of course, it has a few Chinese names labelled upon its characters; but these anybody can plagiarize if he cares to, from windows of laundry shops. . . . there is in the book naught, absolutely naught, that may be remotely called Chinese." 

Cline's review is reprinted below. I sent a copy of it to Jack Wierengo sixty-eight years after his uncle had given him the book.
“Drouth Flower”

The Red Cord.
By Thomas Grant Springer.
New York: Brentano. $2.

“An oriental romance should not be read on the run,” counsels John Luther Long in his preface to Mr. Springer’s tale of a coolie girl and the lovers who struggle for possession of her in a village in the interior of China. As who should say, one should not start walking from Fifty-ninth Street at 6:30 and get to the Brevoort for an early dinner. It is a cluttered ave­nue, that down which Mr. Springer masquerades in mandarin finery. It has taken me a fortnight of earnest plodding to follow him through at the pace he sets. But he wears his costume with an air, his gestures are convincingly authentic, and it is pleasurable in a degree to accompany him.
So Wo Loie, prettily dubbed Drouth Flower by Ho Fah Lee, captain of a Formosan junk, when he first sees her by her father’s rice paddy, lovely in spite of her privation in time of famine, is the coolie. So Wo Loie has tea rose checks, she wears lotus buds shamelessly in her hair, she has turbulent blood that provokes her to vivid coquetries. Her father and parents-in-law are continually, and with reason, chiding her for con­duct becoming only a sing-song girl. With many a pitfall Mr. Springer besets the path of his creature, and he leads her, eager and not at all deceived, many a time to the very brink. But, with a sense of obligation on his part that most creators do not seem to feel, he saves her every time. Thanks to his dependable miracles, she is delivered at the last intact into the sturdy arms of Ho Fah Lee.
Not in So Wo Loie and her non-­intoxicating amours does the book’s appeal lie. It is rather in the color of a provincial Chinese hamlet, not yet penetrated by our missionaries. It is in the affairs of So Ling Gee’s prosperous hong, and the temple of Kwan Yam, goddess of an austere sort of mercy, and the stall where Wang Ho, amiable charlatan, sits be­neath his tattered umbrella hung with devil charms and squints at the stars. Quite real does Mr. Springer make the village: the pro­cessional of the chanting populace, flogging the squat effigy of the Rain God to make him more attentive to their parched prayers; the clustering of the crowd in front of the temple where So Wo Loie prepares to join her dead husband by voluntary stran­gulation with the ritualistic red cord; the amusing struggle of the celestials to gratify their lush desires and nevertheless preserve their “face.”
Mr. Springer handles the town bet­ter than the individual, now and then with a touch of true lyric elan. His difficulty is his manner of explaining what So Ling Gee, or Wo Fat, or Ho Fah Lee is going to say, and then making him say it. The book in consequence is approximately twice as long as it should be. It is, indeed, a twice-told tale—once in the first person and once in the third. One should skip every other paragraph.
Thus in the end one will remember of it many lovely passages and no little entertainment. The book itself is decoratively bound, with real Chinese coin on a real red cord for bookmark.
The front flap of the dust-wrapper tells very little about the book itself, playing up the sillier aspects of the coin bookmark. The review in The Chinese Students' Monthly attacked this as complete nonsense: "And this coin, according to advertisement, is one that has been placed upon the altar of the Chinese Goddess of Mercy and is thus for ever an emblem of bliss and a talisman of everything that is happy and desirable. Of course, every Chinese reader knows that this is mere rubbish and has not a shred of truth in it. And what is more, every intelligent reader knows that the book is not worth even the copper coin that the red cord carries, be it true or false."

 And here is Sun Yow Pang's illustration of the Goddess of Mercy.

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

The Viking Press Advertisement for The Dark Chamber

The Viking Press paid for this full page advertisement for The Dark Chamber in Publishers' Weekly for the July 30th 1927 issue, about two weeks before the book was to be published.  It shows their special support for both Cline and his novel.


Monday, October 28, 2019

Gretchen Mount Reviews The Dark Chamber

Gretchen Mount
I have so far been unable to source this review to its original appearance.  What I have is a four-page typed transcript, made by Cline, and headed "Gretchen Mount: for Detroit Free Press." It probably dates from around September 1927, for The Dark Chamber was published on August 15th, 1927. It is possible that the review was sent in advance to Cline by his old Detroit friend Gretchen Mount (1882-1931), who reviewed regularly for the Detroit Free Press [see here for a previous blog entry about her and her husband, Dick Mount]. Perhaps this review was never published, but it's worth resurrecting here for its insights into Cline's novel by an old friend. In making his transcription, Cline omitted a quotation and a synopsis of the novel, the former marked by [quote], the later by ellipses. I present the review here as Cline recorded it.

Here again (The Dark Chamber) speaks the author of God Head, who, in the opinion of some of us who genuinely admire his gifts, strayed a bit in his second novel. Of course, he is still speaking to a specialized audience—he is not likely ever to be a best seller—but this time his audience is a bit more diverse.

For instance, those who enjoy the Poe of “The Fall of the House of Usher” will find here the same terror and fascination; those who enjoy Huysmans will find here the same so-called decadent cataloguing of emotions translated into sound, odor and sight; those who enjoy Garnet’s Lady into Fox will find here the same fantasy, the same weird intermingling of animal and physical, beast and spirit; those who enjoy Conan Doyle (with especial reference to “The Hound of the Baskervilles”) will find here the same suspense and uncanniness; those who have delved into psychoanalysis, or self-hypnosis, or any other of those cults and beliefs which deal with the subconscious, will find here much material, both intentional and unintentional, upon which to exercise their favorite philosophy.

But above all, those who love a beautiful prose style; those who love phrases and words for their own loveliness, will find here a sensitiveness and a poetical verbal facility which rise above the macabre content of the novel to sing themselves to music and to the natural elements. For music and that thing we vaguely call “nature” have always been mingled in Leonard Cline's personal enthusiasms. The music of the spheres is continuously intelligible to him, and in this book the stars and the trees and the wind are no less important factors than the human characters. Even the opening paragraph bows to the powers of darkness:

[quote]

And at the end the dead body of Richard Pride, lying in defeat beside that dog whose name was death, is no more grisly than the “nest of ferns, crawling, vermiform,” upon which they lay in that “closet of damp shadow.”

Inasmuch as the relator of this grim tale is one Oscar Fitz­alan, a musician whose magnum opus is to be a ballet of the worlds, music is also present on every page—in every tree and hill and rivulet, in every wind that blows and every star that shines.

I am afraid that so far as this book is concerned, I shall have to confess that my vision of the town is a bit obscured by the houses. The haunting beauty of the individual paragraphs and phrases dwarfs for me the importance of the tale. Leonard Cline's prose, in this instance, as in God Head, makes me feel that I do not care what he says so long as he says it the way he does. But, briefly, the story is this:
 ….
In the end Richard Pride is dead with a gaping rent in his throat where the great tusk of the dog Death had ripped in. Miriam Pride is in her grave, and into the soft new loam above her a violet and a broken rock have been crushed carelessly by the spades of the diggers. Wilfred Hough has been found swinging from his chandelier, a black moth fluttering in circles about his dead face. Mordance Hall is looted, empty and leaking; its walls are dank with fungus and mildew; scurrying rats and looping snakes play about its broken floors. And the door of Richard Pride’s secret study is open—“open on those stacks where shelf on shelf were stored the moments of his life—the wind harrying them and sowing amidst them the seeds of mustiness and rot.”

Only Fitzalan and Janet escaped the virulence of this madness. And as I write that I have the feeling that Janet died, too, in those moments after her return and that her supposed depart­ure with her lover under the wings of Helion was only the wish-­fulfillment of a dream in his disordered brain. But that really does not matter.

What does matter is that Leonard Cline has done beautiful work in this tale of terror and death. He has succeeded in implant­ing in his reader’s mind with the first paragraph a sinister apprehension of evil which is never lifted until the end. The whole book feels like a stinking sinkhole with white slimy worms crawling in and out; and if that is, as I take it, the in­tention of horror stories, the goal is certainly achieved. And it is achieved with sentences so beautiful you want to read them aloud to someone; in images and similes so apt that you resolve to remember them forever, and with a sensitivity to scene and sound which arrest your progress in order that you may look once more with the author's eyes or hear once more with his ears.

No one in America today is writing more beautiful prose than Leonard Cline, and if his audience is limited it is because unhappily appreciators of beautiful prose are not so numerous as lovers of sentimentality.


Monday, August 19, 2019

Three Cline Poems from Newspapers

From one of Cline's scrapbooks, here are three poems.  The contents of this particular scrapbook dates from around 1915 to 1921, when Cline lived and worked in Detroit.  Two of the clippings are of short poems.  Here is "Wounded" from The Detroit News, 4 June 1920.


And here is "Memorial" from The Detroit News, 13 June 1920.


And finally, here is an undated clipping of one of my favorites of Cline's poetry, "Mass in the Valley." This poem is known to have appeared in The Midland for June-August 1924 (and later in After-Walker), but this clipping, presumably from The Detroit News, would date it probably to some time in 1921. Click on the image to make it larger.



Monday, July 22, 2019

Richard ("Dick") Mount

Dick Mount, who was mentioned in this blog's previous entry about Leonard Cline's son, was a friend and fellow newspaperman in Detroit.  He was more properly Charles Richard Mount (1883-1971), though he didn't use his first name, and signed his work as by "Richard Mount."  Around the time Cline knew him, he was married to the former Gretchen Crockett Mosshart (1882-1931), whose first husband had died in the influenza epidemic in 1918. Gretchen Mount also worked in newspapers, and many of her book reviews appeared in The Detroit Free Press.  Like Cline, Richard Mount published poetry in The Detroit News and fiction in The Smart Set.

At the publication of After-Walker: The Poems of Leonard Cline, a year and a half after Cline's death, Mount published the following review/memoir.

Posthumous Work of Leonard Cline Inspires Host of Tender Memories

Outside the moon is shining serenely in the sky and remote constellations creep slowly into the east. Inside there is a thin book of poems—rather surprisingly bound in lavender—and the ghost of a friend talking to me as he used to talk. And as I turn the leaves of the lavender book I hear, on some pages, only a waif of his voice, and on others, full-bodied, the old tones come back for me and for a moment my friend is alive again in the room.

For After-Walker is that posthumous books of his poems Leonard Cline’s friends never expected to see. It was rumored, yes: but what are rumors of the dead in this skeptical world? Books of poems aren’t published for profit—they are published for love, and it is generally assumed that poets who have not made a great reputation carry the verses they made and loved with them into their graves. So, now that he is dead, one may ask: for what love are these verses published? The answer to that is, of course, that they are published for love of Leonard. The poems are not, if the truth must be told, universal enough to be tremendously important. But the man was an original, a playboy with whom (as he laments in his “Bacchanale Solo”) nobody would play; a minor poet, a lover of faded musics, a master of truly important prose style, a gentle, lovable stray from the age of the trouveres, who lived feverishly as if with some tragic foreknowledge that his life was to be brief.

And with what authentic accents you come back to haunt me, charming hellion!
“I held my bottle firmly between my knees
And deplored the passing of Dionysus.
And I lamented that all the night
Was empty of flute music . . .”
Wine, women, song, Arcturus and Bach and street cars, hillsides and automobiles honking on the roads!

But I must take up the heavy business of reporting on your poems. How does one begin to do that for friends whose ears are clogged with dust, stopped alike to praise or blame?

It is hard, of course, for me to judge these poems objectively—to me, at least, they are not the echoant verses of a dead minor poet, embalmed in lavender. They are too personal to their author for that, which is both their strength and their weakness. They were his escape from a reality frequently too distressing to him and his interpretations of the events that had overwhelmed him. The title poem, “After-Walker,” comes straight from that Connecticut prison where he spent a year (though it seems a sort of atrocious myth now to think that gentle soul in prison) and he was his own “Mad Jacob.”

Indeed, rereading these verses tonight recalls Plato’s splendid figure of the man in chains who, unable to turn his head, faces the conjuror’s curtain, while behind him, on a raised roadway between the sun and the curtain, the activities of the world pass, throwing their shadows on the screen. Like that man in chains, I see the reflection of Leonard’s life, fantastic and distorted, thrown on the screen of his words. I see the reflection of events that were preposterous and sad, rational and embarrassing and gay—the varied chances of a life lived insecurely but, somehow, lived completely.

But will these be as significant to one not his familiar? It is not for me to say. They have the slightness of poetry that arises solely from the emotional moments of the poet’s own life; but beauty is its own importance and they are beautiful. The realities behind them are merely hinted in a paradox of evasion; but if they are not “strong” they have the strength of expressing entirely how one man reacted to his prison, the universe. They are neither philosophical nor metaphysical, but Leonard Cline was a fine poet for all that. He had a fancy that contracted space: Vega was his sun and Abydos was just around the corner. He had an imagination that negated time: Babylon was a teeming city to him still and Louhi, “that old crone,” whined in his chimney. Words were things to him and intuitions more actual than facts: nature was his reality and our civilization was his only myth.

Insofar as After-Walker represents the poet’s own selection, it is at his best. Of those added by other hands only “Snake” (a superb narrative bit) and “Tenebrae” justify inclusion. The occasional verse they have included is just occasional verse and the sonnet on St. Francis is more than indifferent. After all, Leonard pious was Pan in gaiters, Dionysus at a masquerade with the ends of his collar buttoned back. One misses, moreover, in this collection, two of his very finest pieces—one in its lightness and the other in its masterly narrative—to perish uncaptured fugitives, fled into faded ink and forgotten. But, alas, we shall probably never see them again. For both his here and now are timeless today and he himself is one with “yesterday’s sev’n thousand years.” So if none of these rescued verses quite equals the poetry of his prose Godhead (and which of his contemporaries has written a more beautiful novel?) what does it matter? We can only bid him adieu. But if he cried no “Vale!” back to us, we cannot let him go in silence. Let us repeat for him words his lips formed in happier days:
“I have strung stars upon my nubbin horns,
My little hooves are washed in moonlight,
My face is rinsed in roses;
And I call to them
And they do not answer. . . .”

From The Detroit Free Press, 29 June 1930.


Monday, July 8, 2019

Cline's Son: Leonard Lanson Cline III

Louise with her two children 1922

Cline's son was Leonard Lanson Cline III, born in Detroit, Michigan, on 21 November 1916.  As Cline had done for his daughter, so did he also write a poem for his son, probably in 1921, just before the family moved to Baltimore.  The poem reads in part:
Gemini: Castor

That night Dick* came, and first you heard him play,
Did Beauty speak that night, and did you hear?
We saw you falter in your mimic fray,
Let fall your toys, and turn your eyes away,
Enchanted, yet abashed, and venture near;

We saw you stand, and saw your spirit rise
As winged to strange new heights, a little boy
With towsled yellow hair and wondering eyes,
And in them what a trouble of surprise,
What rapture of inexplicable joy! 

After his parent's divorce in 1924, young Leonard occasionally sent his father some poems he had written.  His father responded to one of these with a poem of his own, later printed in After-Walker (1930) as "Variation on a Theme of My Son's."

In January 1929, young Leonard's father died. In March, his maternal grandfather Thomas Smurthwaite died in Manistee, Michigan. Louise and the children went to Manistee to grieve and to recuperate. But young Leonard contracted spinal meningitis and died in Manistee on 25 July 1929, aged twelve. Louise and Mary Louise felt that their entire world had been shattered. 


* Dick was Dick Mount, a family friend and fellow newspaperman in Detroit.