What Somebody Knows

THE POET OF GALILEE. By William Ellery Leonard. (Viking Press.)

THOSE who have read Bruce Barton’s “The Man Nobody Knows,” might do themselves a favor by reading at least the forward to William Ellery Leonard’s very remarkable study of the personality of Jesus, now offered in a new edition.

“The Poet of Galilee” first appeared in 1909, having been written several years before that date. It was not widely circulated, and the author tells us that until recently he has had no desire to bring it back into print, or even to reread it himself. “I had come to be ashamed of it in my memories” he says, “as probably imamture both in ideas and style, an act of youthful presumption, however sincere an act.” It was not until Bruce Barton’s “The Man Nobody Knows” had scored a tremendous popular success that Mr. Leonard ventured to reread, “as if the pages of another man, the pages of this obscure little book” of his youth: and though he found that he had come to know rather “less about God and more about man” in the years that had passed, he decided to reissue the book “as an answer, however ineffectual,” to “the shoddy sentiments and Rotarian lingo of Mr. Barton.”

“This furor (over ‘The Man Nobody Knows’) reveals a new interest in Jesus,” says Mr. Leonard: “but reveals, alas, still more the eternal ignorance and the eternal shallowness of the crowd that makes the public noises.” “I don’t want to be cynical and arrogant here — in the very presence of Jesus,” continues the author, “but I do want to be plain-spoken for the sake of the truth that I feel is in me, and for the sake of the great soul I dared even as a boy to try to know.”

Basing his remarks, not upon opinion, but upon accurate scholarship, Mr. Leonard thereupon proceeds to expose Mr. Barton’s “clap-trap,” as well as the “unbelievable ignorance or obtuseness of the supposedly educated circles that have been fooled” by it. Few pages are required to convince the reader that Mr. Leonard knows quite a good deal about both the “Man” and the “Book” that Mr. Barton doesn’t know. So obvious is this that one feels abashed for both Mr. Barton and his victims and it is pleasant to escape from the humiliating scene into the calm and luminous upper air of the book itself.

Those who are familiar with Mr. Leonard’s other work will scarcely need to be assured that a reading of “The Poet of Galilee” will yield rich returns for the effort. The man is a ripe scholar, a remarkably lucid thinker and a poet surpassed by none just now in the world of English speech. There is a rare quality of spiritual maturity in his poetry that, in some future time when values are less confused than now, may place him higher than most of his relatively few admirers now suspect. Though the present volume does, as the author himself points out, reveal occasional immaturities, all of the rare qualities that distinguish Mr. Leonard’s late work are found in the making here.