Worse than this, Mr. Conrad’s long stories at times come out as awkwardly as an elephant being steered backwards through a gate. He pauses frequently to impress upon us not only the romance of the fact he is stating but the romance of the circumstances in which somebody discovered it. In Chance and Lord Jim he is not content to tell us a straightforward story: he must show us at length the processes by which it was pieced together. This method has its advantages. It gives us the feeling, as I have said, that we are voyaging into strange seas and harbours in search of mysterious clues. But the fatigue of reconstruction is apt to tell on us before the end. One gets tired of the thing just as one does of interviewing a host of strangers. That is why some people fail to get through Mr. Conrad’s long novels. They are books of a thousand fascinations, but the best imagination in them is by the way. Besides this, they have little of the economy of dramatic writing, but are profusely descriptive, and most people are timid of an epic of description.
Mr. Conrad’s best work, then, is to be found, I agree with most people in believing, in three of his volumes of short stories—in Typhoon, Youth, and ’Twixt Land and Sea. His fame will, I imagine, rest chiefly on these, just as the fame of Wordsworth and Keats rests on their shorter poems. Here is the pure gold of his romance—written in terms largely of the life of the old sailing-ship. Here he has written little epics of man’s destiny, tragic, ironic, and heroic, which are unique in modern (and, it is safe to say, in all) literature.
MR. RUDYARD KIPLING
1. THE GOOD STORY-TELLER
Mr. Kipling is an author whom one has loved and hated a good deal. One has loved him as the eternal schoolboy revelling in smells and bad language and dangerous living. One has loved him less, but one has at least listened to him, as the knowing youth who could tell one all about the ladies of Simla. One has found him rather adorable as the favourite uncle with the funny animal stories. One has been amazed by his magnificent make-believe as he has told one about dim forgotten peoples that have disappeared under the ground. One has detested him, on the other hand, as the evangelist with the umbrella—the little Anglo-Indian Prussian who sing hymns of hate and Hempire.
Luckily, this last Kipling is allowed an entirely free voice only in verse. If one avoids Barrack Room Ballads and The Seven Seas, one misses the worst of him. He visits the prose stories, too, it is true, but he does not dominate them in the same degree. Prose is his easy chair, in which his genius as a humorist and anecdotalist can expand. Verse is a platform that tempts him at one moment into the performance of music-hall turns and the next into stump orations the spiritual home of which is Hyde Park Corner rather than Parnassus. Recessional surprises one like a noble recantation of nearly all the other verse Mr. Kipling has written. But, apart from Recessional, most of his political verse is a mere quickstep of bragging and sneering.