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An Impression of John Galsworthy


ISSUE:  Winter 1930

The German public which has given to “The Forsyte Saga” the greatest success that has been won by any foreign work since Rolland’s “Jean Christophe” knows quite well the features of its author: that clear profile of unmistakably English stamp, upon whose lines our eyes fall so often in publishers’ announcements and magazines. But the picture, naturally enough, fails to give an impression of the living charm of John Galsworthy’s personality as I was able to feel it when a few years ago I was a guest in London of the Pen Club. Galsworthy was the founder of that club which has already grown to be almost a world-wide organization.

The author’s sister, Mrs. Sauter, wife of a German painter, had taken us into her home. She has died since then but her fragile distinction still moves me as I remember her. There were living with her then her children, George Sauter, a painter too, a very lovable and happily gifted young man who has exquisitely illustrated a special edition of his uncle’s books, and his gracious wife.

Then at the Club dinner, an elaborate feast at which Galsworthy presided, I spent an evening by the side of the author of “The Forsyte Saga” and of that other story full of sensibility, “The Dark Flower.” I personally love “The Dark Flower” best of all his books—one of the most beautiful and fresh love romances in the English language. We were his guests, also, the next day at his house at Hendon, together with the eminent critic, William Archer, now also dead.

I shall always treasure my, acquaintance with Galsworthy as a human acquisition of the first importance. Viewed in a purely personal way as a social figure, he represents the typical Englishman of good family with his tall stature, his air of exalted health, the rosy color which gives the lie to the snow of his head. The knightliness, the moderation, the lovable morality of his nature constitute something like the blossoming of West European civilization. The word “gentleman” that is so rich in physical and moral connotations would describe him, if it were more spiritual. One very soon becomes sure in intercourse with this man, of what one really knew before, that one has to do with a classic gentleman but with something beyond that— Perhaps one must perforce say a spiritual man—one who is understanding and sensitive; in whom passion and convention have entered into that mysterious mingling which is the well-spring of literature: in short an author whose pleasant human semblance—or shall one say “mask”?—is that of a gentleman.

II

The literary historian of a definite epoch of the English middleclass is naturally, himself no mere man of a class. Insight and art put him at a distance from a social station in life which by birth, education, and tradition is his own: to which he no longer belongs as a native, save as his prose objectifies it at the same time that it exercises criticism upon it and its place in history. Middle-class authorship may be called today the most representative and popular everywhere, for it is a tentative criticism of its own form of life — a form of life which as a personal possession is yet naive and genuine but which in the spiritual realm is fragmentary and precarious. This is so because it wins the confidence of the millions; whose darkly-felt situation it expresses and ennobles in so far as objectification and representation do ennoble.

The great position which Galsworthy possesses in his own country rests no doubt on this: a position of confidence —for everyone demands upon every occasion his word, his pronouncement, his decision. I got an idea of that high inconvenience when I was near him. And doubtless it is to this relationship that we may trace back the thankful welcome with which his work was received in Germany.

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