The Death and Birth of David Markand. By Waldo Frank. (Charles Scribner's Sons, New York City.)

THE theme of this novel is certainly a great one — perhaps in its further implications the greatest of all themes. It may be stated simply, if somewhat inadequately, as follows: Only through the death of the privileged, socially short-circuited self with all fortifying conventions and prejudices, and a prideless rebirth into the common life of all humankind, including the lowest in men’s eyes, can a man become socially wise and holy. To achieve this death and rebirth is, in Waldo Frank’s conception, to become truly a Socialist, in a sense unknown to Marx and Engels. It is the ancient theme of saints and saviors.

How well Waldo Frank has expanded and illuminated his theme is, of course, a matter that will be decided by intelligent readers for themselves. Certainly those who may, for one reason or another, be moved even to inordinate enthusiasm have strong backing in what has already been said by important people. The following from a literary editor in Buenos Aires is fairly typical of the high-pitched voices that have hailed this work: “It is, in the domain of art, the master work of this universal epoch. It is the highest spiritual fruit of our time, and its time.” What an enormous body of data, and what a godlike mentality, must have been involved in the arrival at such a judgment!

But one wishes the book to be great, and if it is, it is; although it cannot but seem to some, who are probably dull and uninspired, that the hysteria of our time may have been shared as well as represented by the author.

The Protagonist, David Markand, is a highly successful American business man with little cultural background and with a crude philosophy appropriate to his function. His wife, Helen, is a very superior, intellectual woman. When the story opens, a shadow has fallen on their relationship and is rapidly deepening. It comes over David in the mornings, when he wakens, as a sense of strangeness and detachment. For Helen, it results in a flight from rationalism into the bosom of the Catholic church.

David, an official of a great tobacco company, is further enriched by a bequest from his uncle; but suddenly the shadow has blotted out the last familiar landmark of his old life, and he decides to chuck the whole business and plunge into the unclean maelstrom of common human existence in the vague hope of somehow saving his soul alive. Selling his interst in the great company, he places his fortune in the hands of a lawyer friend with instructions to look after his wife and family, and goes away to make a living with his two hands.

There follow some years of varied experiences among the lowly and the socially disinherited, and if there are depths of beastliness, David descends, and where there is suffering and brutal injustice, he shares it — not as an investigator but as one of the gray millions. In spite of the efforts of his friend and his wife to lure him back to their conception of sanity, he persists in his search for salvation. His young son dies, and still he cannot return. He meets his lonely and loving wife by appointment, and still he cannot give up the apparently insane search.

All this while the Great War is ranging. American launches her crusade for democracy. David becomes an active radical and experiences the brutality of the master class, barely escaping with his wife.

At long last, he comes to see the great light of deliverance and feels free to return to his family. Just why then, and not sooner, this writer has been unable to determine, but no doubt the point will be clear to others, and well taken. It seems, however, that a quite casual adventure with a lowly colored woman somehow resulted in the great illumination. The incident is celebrated [?] without a graphic power in such matters that is exercised with suspicious frequency throughout the story. But one cannot help wishing that the intended symbolism were slightly less doubtful in character, and that our hero might have found a better way of demonstrating the profound truth or essential spiritual equality.

Having merged (mystically, let us agree to say) with what he had once conceived to be the lowest, he had become somehow the universal man; and thereupon he could return to Helen wholly purified.

Happily, in the meantime, the lawyer friend has considerably increased David’s fortune by wise handling.

It would be interesting to hear what he is going to do with all that money. It would be even more interesting to learn what Helen thinks about the great illumination.

THE WORLD AS I SEE IT. By Albert Einstein. (Covici-Friede, New York City.)

IT is the glory of this collection of letters and papers to reveal a human being in the finest sense of the word “human.” It has often been said that not more than a dozen men in the world are able to understand the theory of relativity upon which the fame of Einstein is built. But any sympathetic reader should be able to feel the simple greatness of the spirit that is revealed here; and may not such greatness surpass in its value to men any intellectual structure that men can ever build?

For Cosmic theories come and go like the peach crops, and in the long view, they may well be no more than creative representations of the time-mood out of which they grew; but human goodness and wisdom, the essential truth about human relationships, are the same whatever men may think about the universe; and out of what other stuff than that of their own mysterious consciousness can men shape their pathetic certainties? Ours is the most scientific of ages, yet we seem to have mislaid our wisdom, and to have fallen into such fatal contradictions as only the mad could achieve.

The dominant note of the book, as of the man’s character, is struck in the following statement: “The destiny of civilized humanity depends more than ever on the moral forces it is capable of generating.”

Even in the scientific section, where one might expect a cold intellectuality, the warm humanness of the man is felt. What he has to say of human life in general and of present day affairs is said with a childlike directness that can leave no doubt of the meaning; and the habitual gentleness of manner intensifies the effect of a sinewy virus strength that lies in reserve, emerging now and then in arrow-like sentences that know their vital mark and find it swiftly.

The following passage, which is evidently a genuine self-revelation, is especially worth pondering, and may suggest the source of the man’s luminous sanity:

“To inquire alter the meaning or object of one’s own existence or of creation generally has always seemed to me absurd from an objective point of view. And yet everybody has certain ideals which determine the direction of his endeavors and his judgments. In this sense, I have never looked upon ease and happiness as ends in themselves — on an ethical basis, I consider these the ideals of an inferior being.

“The ideals which have lighted me on my way and time after time given me new courage to face life cheerfully have been truth, goodness and beauty. Without the sense of fellowship with men of like mind, of preoccupation with the objective, the eternally unattainable in the field of art and scientific research, life would have seemed to me empty. The ordinary objects of human endeavor — property, outward success, luxury — have always seemed to me contemptible.

“My passionate sense of social justice and social responsibility has always contrasted oddly with my pronounced freedom from the need for direct contact with other human beings and human communities. I went my own way and have never belonged to my country, my home, my friends, or even my immediate family, with my whole heart; despite the existence of these ties, I have never lost an obstinate sense of detachment, of the need for solitude — a feeling which increases with the years.

“One becomes sharply conscious, without too much regret, of the limits of mutual understanding and sympathy between one’s fellow creatures. One no doubt loses something in the way of cheerful bonhomie; on the other hand, one is largely independent of the opinions, habits and judgments of one’s fellows, and avoids the temptation to take one’s stand on such insecure foundations.”

AMERICAN BALLADS AND FOLK SONGS. By John A. Lomax and Alan Lomax. (The MacMillan Co., New York City.)

IT is nearly a quarter of a century since John Lomax published his “Cowboy Songs and Other Frontier Ballads,” now justly regarded as a classic by folk-lorists, along with the author’s second book, “Songs of the Cowcamp and Cattle Trail.” After these two collections were published, there remained in manuscript, Mr. Lomax says, several thousand pages of similar material, out of which, largely, the present collection has been chosen. Unlike the former volumes, this one contains material from all parts of the country, and the music is in each case presented with the text.

John Lomax is now honorary consultant in American folk song and curator of the folk song archives of the Library of Congress. Alan Lomax is his son, now a student at the University of Texas.