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Seven Men

Hilary Maltby And Stephen Braxton
People still go on comparing Thackeray and Dickens, quite cheerfully. But the
fashion of comparing Maltby and Braxton went out so long ago as 1795. No, I am
wrong. But anything that happened in the bland old days before the war does
seem to be a hundred more years ago than actually it is. The year I mean is the
one in whose spring-time we all went bicycling (O thrill!) in Battersea Park, and
ladies wore sleeves that billowed enormously out from their shoulders, and Lord
Rosebery was Prime Minister.
In that Park, in that spring-time, in that sea of sleeves, there was almost as much
talk about the respective merits of Braxton and Maltby as there was about those
of Rudge and Humber. For the benefit of my younger readers, and perhaps, so
feeble is human memory, for the benefit of their elders too, let me state that
Rudge and Humber were rival makers of bicycles, that Hilary Maltby was the
author of `Ariel in Mayfair,' and Stephen Braxton of `A Faun on the Cotswolds.'
`Which do you think is REALLY the best--"Ariel" or "A Faun"?' Ladies were
always asking one that question. `Oh, well, you know, the two are so different. It's
really very hard to compare them.' One was always giving that answer. One was
not very brilliant perhaps.
The vogue of the two novels lasted throughout the summer. As both were
`firstlings,' and Great Britain had therefore nothing else of Braxton's or Maltby's to
fall back on, the horizon was much scanned for what Maltby, and what Braxton,
would give us next. In the autumn Braxton gave us his secondling. It was an
instantaneous failure. No more was he compared with Maltby. In the spring of '96
came Maltby's secondling. Its failure was instantaneous. Maltby might once more
have been compared with Braxton. But Braxton was now forgotten. So was
Maltby.
This was not kind. This was not just. Maltby's first novel, and Braxton's, had
brought delight into many thousands of homes. People should have paused to
say of Braxton "Perhaps his third novel will be better than his second," and to say
as much for Maltby. I blame people for having given no sign of wanting a third
from either; and I blame them with the more zest because neither `A Faun on the
Cotswolds' nor `Ariel in Mayfair' was a merely popular book: each, I maintain,
was a good book. I don't go so far as to say that the one had `more of natural
magic, more of British woodland glamour, more of the sheer joy of life in it than
anything since "As You Like It,"' though Higsby went so far as this in the Daily
Chronicle; nor can I allow the claim made for the other by Grigsby in the Globe
that `for pungency of satire there has been nothing like it since Swift laid down
his pen, and for sheer sweetness and tenderness of feeling--ex forti dulcedo--
nothing to be mentioned in the same breath with it since the lute fell from the
tired hand of Theocritus.' These were foolish exaggerations. But one must not
condemn a thing because it has been over-praised. Maltby's `Ariel' was a
delicate, brilliant work; and Braxton's `Faun,' crude though it was in many ways,
had yet a genuine power and beauty. This is not a mere impression remembered
from early youth. It is the reasoned and seasoned judgment of middle age. Both
 
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