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THE TITANIC AND THE LITERARY COMMENTATOR

THE TITANIC AND THE LITERARY COMMENTATOR

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Published by Titanicware
T H E TITANIC AND THE LITERARY COMMENTATOR
than that poet in his earthly tabernacle, he is like him, primarily, in a certain defect of volition, in a certain unfitness for life, which made the prison—that modern substitute for monastic seclusion •—almost a sanctuary and a refuge from the world. On the literary side, too, DostoietTsky makes us feel that we can divine the kind of novels Verlaine would have written if this poet, whose verse is like the inward whisper of Hugo's wordy lyricism, had b
T H E TITANIC AND THE LITERARY COMMENTATOR
than that poet in his earthly tabernacle, he is like him, primarily, in a certain defect of volition, in a certain unfitness for life, which made the prison—that modern substitute for monastic seclusion •—almost a sanctuary and a refuge from the world. On the literary side, too, DostoietTsky makes us feel that we can divine the kind of novels Verlaine would have written if this poet, whose verse is like the inward whisper of Hugo's wordy lyricism, had b

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Published by: Titanicware on Jan 23, 2012
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THE TITANIC AND THE LITERARY COMMENTATOR 603
than that poet in his earthly tabernacle,he is like him, primarily, in a certain defect of volition, in a certain unfitnessfor life, which made the prison—thatmodern substitute for monastic seclusion•—almost a sanctuary and a refuge fromthe world. On the literary side, too,DostoietTsky makes us feel that we candivine the kind of novels Verlaine wouldhave written if this poet, whose verse islike the inward whisper of Hugo's wordylyricism, had been capable of prose fiction on the scale of
Les Miserables.
In both Verlaine and Dostoieffskythere is the same strain of pity and humility that makes them modern mendi
cants,
little brothers of St. Francis. Butthere is a strain of intellectual pride andcuriosity in Dostoiefifsky that is absentin the French poet, and this, more than
once,
reminds us, both in the man andthe artist, of our own Poe.
Crime andPunishment,-
indeed, under one of itsmany aspects, might almost be a tale ofthe "grotesque and arabesque" on agrander scale and with a greater gamutof emotion and sensation. The greaterscale in no wise lessens the intensity andconcentration of this study of an assassinwho works under the empire of an
ideefixe,
nor does its grisly realism detractin any way from the delicate subtlety ofits psychological analysis, or make theexquisite pathos of the gentler characterisations and the scenes of sentimentseem misplaced. Poe plus Dickens—that, perhaps, is the nearest formula bywhich one can arrive at a perfect understanding of this great writer who, asMr. Lloyd justly says, was at once theconfessor, the vivisector, and the GrandInquisitor of the Russian soul.
THE TITANIC AND THE LITERARYCOMMENTATOR
BY E. B. FRENCHIM E R I C A N novelistsand playwrights, alwaysso mute on public affairs or current events,naturally had little ornothing to say about the
Titanic
disaster. InEngland, on the other hand, the bestknown writers of the day have commented upon it—perhaps to no greatpractical advantage—but their views areinteresting and characteristic, as the following summary will show:Mr. Bernard Shaw's disgust with thenewspaper comments on the first reportsof the
Titanic
disasterwas not at all surprisingto the readers of hisplays and prefaces. Itwas not to be expected that the authorof
Arms and the Man
would have muchpatience with journalistic raptures overheroism, even if the facts lent themselvesBernard Shawon MockHeroicsto a heroical interpretation. Mr. Shawloathes heroics and the glamour of romance and in no conceivable circumstances would he find an excuse forthem. But the facts of the
Titanic
disaster were, he contended, peculiarly un-suited to romantic treatment, and it wasonly by lying that the newspapers madethem out heroic. Why, he asked, does asensational catastrophe always drive amodern nation not into transports ofgrief or sympathy, or into prayer, butinto "an explosion of outrageous romantic lying"? He refers it to certain romantic demands which must be met bydisregarding the facts or by distortingthem. Thus, one demand of romance isthat everybody must face death withoutflinching; so that is the way the papersmust present it. But what is the actualevidence
?
The captain and officers were so afraid of apanic that though they knew the ship was sinking, they did not dare tell the passengers so,especially the third-class passengers, and the
 
6o4THE BOOKMAN
band played rag-time to reassure the passen
gers,
who, therefore, did not get into the boatsand did not realise their situation until theboats were gone and the ship standing on herhead before plunging to the bottom.What happened then Lady Duflf-Gordon hasrelated, and the witnesses at the American inquiry could hardly bear to relate. I ask, whatis the use of all this ghastly, blasphemous,inhuman, braggartly lying? Here is a calamity which might well make the proudest manhumble and the wildest joker serious. Itmakes us vainglorious, insolent and mendacious.Another romantic demand is, "Womenand children first," and seldom, says Mr.Shaw, was there a suMimer chorus onthe strict observance of this rule than inthe first accounts of the wreck in theLondon papers containing the story ofLady Duff-Gordon.She described how she escaped in the captain's boat. There was one other woman init and ten men—twelve all told—one womanfor every five men.Again, romance requires that all the menexcept the foreigners shall be heroes,that the foreigners shall be kept froma cowardly stampede by British pistols,and that the captain shall be a super
hero—
a magnificent seaman, cool, brave, delightingin danger, and a living guarantee that thewreck was nobody's fault, but, on the contrary, a triumph of British navigation.Such a man Captain Smith was enthusiastically proclaimed on the day when it wasreported (and actually believed, apparently)that he had shot himself on the bridge. . . .Writers who had never heard of CaptainSmith to that hour wrote of him as they wouldhardly write of Nelson.The only thing positively known was thatCaptain Smith had lost his ship by deliberatelyand knowingly steaming into an ice field atthe highest speed that he had coal for. Hepaid the penalty, so did most of those forwhose lives he was responsible. Had hebrought them and the ship safely to land, nobody would have taken the smallest notice ofhim.As to the steadiness and bravery of theofficers the verdict of the press wasThe ConanDoyle-ShawDebateunanimous, although the principal factknown at the time wasthat boats which were not full refused to goto the rescue of those who were struggling inthe water in cork jackets. The reason wasfrankly given—they were afraid.The fear, says Mr. Shaw, was natural,and nobody at home dare blame them,but why assure the world that only Englishmen could have behaved in so heroica manner? Such, he says, was the attitude of the press toward the disaster.Did the press really represent the public?I am afraid it did. Churchmen and statesmentook much the same tone. The effect on mewas one of profound disgust—almost nationaldishonour. Am I mad
?
Possibly. At allevents that is how I felt and how I feelabout it.Sir A. Conan Doyle after a none toocareful reading of Mr. Shaw's letter, replied to it with muchheat, saying that he hadnever found so muchthat was false writtenwithin an equal compass. To be surethere were ten men to two women in oneboat, but how about the others? Mr.Shaw knew as well as everybody else thatin the very next boat sixty-five out of theseventy occupants were women. As toCaptain Smith, Sir Arthur declared hewould gladly present the Fabian Societywith iioo, if Mr. Shaw would show himthe work of any responsible journalist inwhich Captain Smith is described in theterms of Nelson. To insinuate as Mr.Shaw did that the officers had not donetheir duty was a "poisonous suggestion."To say that the wreck was hailed as atriumph of British navigation was proofmerely that Mr. Shaw valued a sensational phrase more than the truth. SirArthur expresses the highest admirationfor the officer who told Mr. Ismay, themanaging-director, to "go to hell," whenthe latter seemed to be interfering withthe life-saving work. But Mr. Shaw, he
says,
quotes this remark as if it were acrime. FinallyAs to the general accusation that the occasion had been used for the glorification ofBritish qualities, we should indeed be a lostpeople if we did not honour courage and dis-
 
THE TITANIC AND THE LITERARY COMMENTATORS 605
cipline when we see it in the highest form.That our sympathies extend beyond ourselvesis shown by the fact that the conduct of theAmerican male passengers, and very particularly of the much-abused millionaires, has beenas warmly eulogised as any strange featureof the whole wonderful epic. But surely it isa pitiful sight to see a man of undoubted geniususing his gifts in order to decry his ownpeople, regardless of the fact that his wordsmust add to the grief of those who havealready had more than enough to bear.
This letter by ignoring the essentialfact that the Shaw diatribes were directed against, the journalistic misuse ofthe early and incomplete reports, broughtforth a thumping rejoinder. The newspapers, said Mr. Shaw, wrote columnsof gushing eulogy on the strength of information that indicated anything butheroic conduct.
My case is that our journalists wrote without the slightest regards to the facts; that theywere actually more enthusiastic in their praiseof the
Titanic
heroes on the day when theonly evidence to hand was evidence of conductfor which a soldier would be shot and a navysailor hanged, than when later news came inof those officers and crews who did their best,and that it must be evident to every reasonableman that if there had not been a redeemingfeature in the whole case, exactly the samehogwash, as Mr. Cunninghame Graham callsit in his righteous disgust, would have beenlavished on the veriest dastards as upon acrew of Grace Darlings.The captain positively lost popularity whenthe deliberate and calumnious lie that he shothimself was dropped. . . .Sir Arthur accuses me of lying, and I mustsay he gives me no great encouragement to tellthe truth; but he proceeds to tell against himself what I take to be the most thvmderinglie ever sent to a printer by a human author.He first says that I quoted, as if it were acrime, the words used by the officer who toldMr. Ismay to "go to hell." I did not. I saidthe outburst was very natural, though not inmy opinion admirable or heroic. . . ."But," Sir Arthur goes on to say, "I couldnot imagine a finer example." . . . Yes, youcould. Sir Arthur, and many a page of heroicromance from your hand attests that you oftenhave imagined much finer examples. Heroismhas not quite come to that yet, nor has yourimagination contracted or your brain softenedto the pathos of seeing sublimity in a worriedofficer telling even a managing-director (Godlike being) to "go to hell."
Another eminent British writer to freehis mind on the subject with remarkablepromptness was Mr.Joseph Conrad's Joseph Conrad, whoseReflections "Reflections" on the disaster appeared in theMay number of the
English Review
before the Mersey Commission had begunits inquiry. A large part of his com-
''.^'-XC^'f*^
From London "Punch"TOLL OF THE SEA
mentary is necessarily unintelligible toan American, and probably could not beunderstood anywhere outside the BritishIsles. He begins by condemning verybitterly the American Senatorial inquiry."What are they after? What is therefor them to find out?" It seems to himto have been the grossest impertinencefor Americans to ask any questions at
all.
We Americans, he argues, kill agreat many people on our railroads in asingle year. Therefore the news of the
Titanic
disaster should have been followed not by an inquiry into the causesof this shipwreck, but by an inquiry into

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