Van Wyck Brooks W[Alter] L[Ippmann] - Essay

W[Alter] L[Ippmann]

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[America's Coming of Age] is one of the books which worry the reviewer and delight the reader. It cannot be summarized. To attempt to summarize it would be about as just to the author as trying to dry a jelly-fish over a fire. The summary would omit too much of the life of the creature. Nor is the book an argument, which can be accepted, or refuted and left for dead. It is gifted conversation, a sort of high comment, a little more deliberate than table-talk, more artful than journalism, yet free of pedantry and all the deeper responsibilities which weigh down so much of our thought. It is the reflection of a young mind that is rich in knowledge. It has the quality we should wish our conversation to have if we were happy, clever people living in a spacious world.

Mr. Brooks swings through time and space with gaiety and anger…. [The book] is companionable and exhilarating, and the only reaction that counts is the total reaction. You like Mr. Brooks or you don't for what he exposes is a temperament, and about temperaments people do not reason. They trust their instincts to say yes or no. So it is well perhaps to confess that I read without stopping, and that after a few pages a thing happened which occurs rarely to a reviewer of books. I became more interested in the author than in my review. I forgot to think on what there was to say about Mr. Brooks.

Only a net impression remains which seems to say: "I'm for him, but what is he for?" Between the lines glowed a sense of life to which a man would respond, a feeling for values, for distinction and dash, for the chivalry of democracy. But exact definition of his ideal escapes Mr. Brooks as it would anyone else. After all, the virtues of life have almost always been defined in negatives, and of negatives Mr. Brooks makes liberal and justifiable use. He finds that the American spirit may be summed up historically under two catchwords—"highbrow" and "lowbrow," and that unhappily they have been almost...

(The entire section is 820 words.)