The Two Vanrevels [with Biographical Introduction]

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The pleasant flavor of a thoroughly representative American town, which he imbibed in his early formative years, permeates nearly all his work; and it is his very honest feeling for the charm of just such a place that, one cannot fail to note, gives a strength to much of his rosy sentiment, — and, later, driving force to his satire. The precocious eccentricities of Mr. Tarkington's tenderest years did not interfere with his being a remarkably boy-Uke boy when the time came for that, so one gathers from his intimate knowledge of the hair-raising inner workings of the minds of Messrs.

Booth Tarkington - Alice Adams; Chapter 10

Penrod Schofield, Samuel Williams, and the rest of that now illustrious "limited bachelor set. Tarkington ex- hibited in his 'teens linger among the traditions of the neighborhood of his boyhood. A tradition sub- stantiated by Mr. Tarkington's confession that the Penrod stories cost him no effort, and involve no contemporary observation of boys — though boys, he says, are pretty near the most interesting things there are. The Penrod stories, in short, one feels may be taken to represent Mr. Tarkington's way of writing what Mr. Tarkington 's every book is the soul of candor.

And not only Mr. Tarkington's vivid presentation of their dis- similar inspirations, but the character of their lit- erary productions, proclaims beyond doubt the autobiographic touch. In his abortive fragments of fiction, Penrod is a much better novehst albeit a bit blood curdling than "William Sylvanus Bax- ter, Esq. And so, indeed, is the creator of both these writers. In fact, there is something decidedly prophetic about the turn of the embryonic talent of the youthful author of Harold Ramorez, with its unforgettable passages such as this: The remainin scondrel had an ax which he came near our heros head with but missed him and remand stuck in the wall.

Our heros amumition was ex- haused what was he to do, the remanin scondrel would soon get his ax lose so our hero sprung for- ward and bit him till his teeth met in the flech for 12 Booth Tarhington now our hero was fighting for his very hfe. At this the remanin scondrel also cursed and swore vile oaths. For one fancies was not the boy author of Harold Ramorez father to a man also strongly drawn to depicting scenes of darkly romantic drama, and one who came to paint with gusto, and much ability, scenes of carnage? For one instance, the grim automobile accident, an uncommonly impres- sive bit of pictorial writing, in The Guest of Quesney, Mr.

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Baxter's poems were of lovely ladies. And so were those preserved to us in an early magazine Mr. Baxter excelled in sincerity when he wrote: Milady I do not know her name Though it would be the same Where roses bloom at twilight And the lark takes his flight It would be the same anywhere Where music sounds in air I was never introduced to the lady So I could not call her Lass or Sadie So I will call her Milady By the sands of the sea She always will be Just Milady to me.

Booth Tarkington 13 Mr. Tarkington, having the advantage of a uni- versity education, excelled merely in artistry, when, sometime in , he wrote: The Proud Lover Nay, never wave your fan at ME To come, and kneel, and tie your shoe — I'll stiffly seem most slow to see; Or, if I turn, will gaze at you With coldness. High and haughtily I hold me, ma'am; I was not made To bend me in servility; I'll bend — sometimes — to kiss your brow. But never low as shoe-lace bow! That's all, my love, to-day? The sentiment, in both poems, is the same. Tarkington's going to college may be fancifully compared in effect to Conrad's marriage with the sea.

At Exeter Academy he began to open into flower. His pranks and exploits there I have heard are still recalled as among the brightest spots in the recollection of the distant youth of his classmates. And there the orator and writer in his blood began to "break out on him.

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He went next to Purdue University, at Lafayette, Indiana, a sister institution to the Indiana State University; and here doubtless he got rubbed in another layer of the native Hoosier soil, which was later to be of such value in determining the temper of his work. Though "Purdue" is the State school of technology, it is not diligent in the sciences to the neglect of the arts. And Mr. Nicholson, in his little history.

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The Hoosier s, speaks of Lafayette as "one of the most attractive of Indiana cities, fortunate in its natural setting and in the friendliness of its people to all good endeavors. Tarkington, not simply, but eloquently, joyously, and completely, in as the well-worn poetic phrase has it the bloom of his young manhood. Probably nobody ever had a college career which has been so widely relished, so much celebrated and sung, as that of Mr. Tark- ington's. And probably nobody can quite under- stand Mr. Tarkington's success as a novelist, or, altogether, his books themselves, without turning back for a peep at the gay spectacle of his Princeton days.

He studied to some extent, no doubt, as, it is recorded, he stood well in his class, according to the curriculum. But that, one suspects, was merely an incident, resulting from the natural quickness of his mind. He is reported to have said that he has no doubt that he imbibed some education at Princeton; "though it seems to me that I tried to avoid that as much as possible. Tarkington was associated directly after leaving col- lege , writing in a magazine "appreciation" some- time after Mr.

Tarkington "sprang" into national popularity, testifies that the college Tarkington was never a plodder. This writer, in Pearson's Magazine, says: "In fact, to see him walking across the campus with his sweater turned up about his neck and his hands thrust deep in his trousers' pockets, or to catch a glimpse of him hurrying nervously along in evening clothes, would readily give the impression that he never worked at all.

Tarkington would have made a mess of it if routine labor had, unhap- pily, been his portion. I know a man who suffered a nervous breakdown from an office job of literary hack work to whom Mr. Tarkington said, "I couldn't have done it. Drudgery would probably have broken Booth Tarkington 17 him; poverty have bUghted him altogether.

He is not of the stamp of those who have made two and two come five; who have toiled at hard labor, mean- ingless to them, in an engine room or at a desk, or have tended bar as literary men have done , for eight to ten hours a day, and have welded literature in a long day of their own wrung from hours allotted by nature to sleep. One cannot make such a hero of this Harry Fielding. He was made for the sun; and the sun, nothing backward in its duty here, shone on him. Professor Phelps' vision it strikes one is a peculiar one for anyone to have who has ever looked upon Mr.

Though, at the most, this much is undoubtedly true: compulsory employment in a machine shop would probably have had about the same effect on Mr. Tarkington that it had on Bibbs. The graceful and unconscious ease of Mr. Tarkington 's attitude to- ward life in his Princeton years was so irresistible that his classmates had their joke upon it, and ap- plied to him the words of a popular Glee Club song he used to sing: IVe been working on the railroad. All the livelong day; I've been working on the railroad. To pass the time away. Tarkington had a kind of genius for American college life: he was, apparently, in everything and of everything that made for good fellowship.

Such, it seems, were the quahties of his heart and mind made manifest there that he has become one of the bright legends of Princeton.


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His popularity there, both as an undergraduate and to this day, is notorious. Jesse Lynch Williams, and divers and sundry others of his classmates, have graved the eulogy again and again. No doubt he can never live it down: he was one of the young lions of his day, and as such has passed into a proverb. Speak they, say they, tell they the Tale: Mr. Tarkington entered his class at Princeton at the beginning of his junior year. During this year The Tiger the college comic weekly was revived; some say Mr. Tarkington revived it; at any rate, he was soon numbered among its editors, and his contributions, in text and pictures, to it for a long period probably were of considerable aid in giving it the important place it holds in college journalism.

In collaboration with a fellow student Mr. Tark- ington wrote an opera, which he staged and di- rected, taking at the same time an important part in the cast, — and as an actor was also very "popular.

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This genie of college life ate and smoked and gossiped with the Ivy Club; he though Mr. Tarkington has never been per- sonally active in outdoor games sympathized with and loyally supported the athletic teams and still usually gets to Princeton in the autunm at football time ; he wrote the prize class song, and sang and travelled with the Glee Club, in which he was soloist, and for which he wrote many, or most, of its songs.

Poe's Raven was one of the pieces that he set to music. The "quiet playfulness" which "pervaded" as Penrod says , "our hero," the Princeton "star"; his "deKcious, unconscious drollery"; his "mobile, serio-comic facial expressions"; his wit, "ever bril- liant, never boisterous "; his "saving sense of humor," which enabled him to appreciate keenly a joke on himself; these are things which have always been fondly emphasized by his college mates in their pubKshed "personal sketches. Bennett's term was, by all ac- counts whatever, also a Sensitive Plant.

He took, one hears, all the hubbub he stirred up, with the utmost good humor; and his shyness is as prover- bial as his "greatness," — and, naturally, must have had a good deal to do with it, as nothing they say is more captivating in a popular idol than a dash of the "modesty of the school-girl.

One of the little world of men who en- joyed him first has expressed his sentiment about him in some verses which hang on the walls of the Princeton Club of New York, beside an original sketch of an interesting-looking gentleman in eve- ning clothes, who suggests James J. Corbett, but who is intended to represent Mr. Tarkington singing "Danny Deever.


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Away behind his cigarette. When "Danny Deever! Keep up the call and by and by We'll make him sing, and find he's yet The same old Tark. No "Author Leonid" we spy In him, no cultured ladies' pet: He just drops in, and so we get The good old song, and gently guy The same old Tark — just watch him shy! In his circle Mr. He sort of made the thing. He was apparently called upon to sing it upon every available occasion.