Eric (Russell) Bentley Leonard Bacon - Essay

Leonard Bacon

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

A young man has arrived. The reviewer shamelessly admits that he has been astonished, excited, charmed, and occasionally puzzled by this brilliant book [A Century of Hero-Worship]. He further confesses that the rather lacklustre title had led him to expect the sifted tailings of some academic mine. Certainly he was not prepared for thought like electricity in motion and wholly different from the static glow of St. Elmo's fire. Nor did he anticipate analysis and interpretation at once intelligently impartial and generously sympathetic.

Mr. Bentley has investigated with extreme thoroughness (his lightly worn learning is part of his book's genuine charm) the dangerous aspects of what looks like a safe idea…. The variations on the theme are numerous and the orchestrations which are incredibly diverse are studied (with remarkable penetration) in the careers of Carlyle, Nietzsche, Wagner, Shaw, Spengler, Stefan George, and D. H. Lawrence, each of them in his way dyed in the wool, or at least tinctured, with what Mr. Bentley calls Heroic Vitalism—that is, the affirmation of life and the heroic cult. The upshot of the investigation is that Heroic Vitalism is no place for a liberal, because it leads automatically to vapid estheticism or to fascism pure and simple.

Naturally, thinking as he does, Mr. Bentley is at pains to disclaim any intention of manufacturing a program in which his victims might concur, but he demonstrates...

(The entire section is 485 words.)