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elected to depict in all his work: the complete sensualist in
Demetrios, the complete phrase-maker in Felix Kennaston, the complete
poet in Marlowe, the complete lover in Perion. In each he has shown that
this complete self-expression is achieved at the expense of all other
possible selves, and that herein lies the tragedy of the ideal.
Perfection is a costly flower and is cultured only by an uncompromising,
strict husbandry.
All this is, we see, the ideational gonfalon under which surge the
romanticists; but from the evidence at hand it is the banner to which
life also bears allegiance. It is in humanity's records that it has
reserved its honors for its romantic figures. It remembers its Caesars,
its saints, its sinners. It applauds, with a complete suspension of
moral judgment, its heroines and its heroes who achieve the greatest
self-realization. And from the splendid triumphs and tragic defeats of
humanity's individual strivings have come our heritage of wisdom and of
Once we understand the fundamentals of Mr. Cabell's artistic aims, it is
not easy to escape the fact that in _Figures of Earth_ he undertook the
staggering and almost unsuspected task of rewriting humanity's sacred
books, just as in _Jurgen_ he gave us a stupendous analogue of the
ceaseless quest for beauty. For we must accept the truth that Mr. Cabell
is not a novelist at all in the common acceptance of the term, but a
historian of the human soul. His books are neither documentary nor
representational; his characters are symbols of human desires and
motives. By the not at all simple process of recording faithfully the
projections of his rich and varied imagination, he has written thirteen
books, which he accurately terms biography, wherein is the bitter-sweet
truth about human life.
Among the scant certainties vouchsafed us is that every age lives by its
special catchwords. Whether from rebellion against the irking monotony
of its inherited creeds or from compulsions generated by its own
complexities, each age develops its code of convenient illusions which
minimize cerebration in dilemmas of conduct by postulating an
unequivocal cleavage between the current right and the current wrong. It
works until men tire of it or challenge the cleavage, or until
conditions render the code obsolete. It has in it, happily, a certain
poetic merit always; it presents an ideal to be lived up to; it gives
direction to the uncertain, stray impulses of life.
The Chivalric code is no worse than most and certainly it is prettier
than some. It is a code peculiar to an age, or at least it flourishes
best in an age wherein sentiment and the stuff of dreams are easily
translatable into action. Its requirements are less of the intellect
than of the heart. It puts God, honor, and mistress above all else, and