The Circus Has No Home. By Rupert Croft-Cooke. (Methuen, 12s. 6d.),
My Uncle Frank. By Thomas Bodkin. (Robert Hale, 5s.).
la'Ang Hsi, Emperor of China. By Eloise Talcott Hibbert. (Kegan, Paul, 15s.).
The Land of St. Joan. Be Owen Rutter. (Methuen, I5s.).
Relievred by WILFRID ROOKE-LEY
MR. RUPERT CROFT-COOKE
has a long list of books to his name, but I doubt if he has written anything better than his latest book, The Circus Has No Home. It is a description of circus life from the inside. We follow the fortunes of one particular circus, Rosaire's, over a period of nearly six years and learn to love and admire every single member of it. The proprietor and his wife (" The Count " and " The Countess," as they are known) are a wonderful pair who had started at scratch, the Count a stilt-walker in a Staffordshire town, the Countess the daughter of a local publican, and by sheer pluck and industry, through hard times and many adventures. had built up what was, when war broke out, the third largest circus on the road.
When we meet them first in their cosy mahogany-lined wagon on a village pitch in the Cotswolds we are introduced to their eight children, each of whom has become a prop to the business, and before long these boys and girls, with their different characters and capabilities, have gained a firm hold on our affection. Large families of talented and devoted children seem to be a tradition of the circus world which with its nomadism. its indifference to possessions, its pursuit of uncertainty for its own sake, so vividly recalls the patriarchal days of the stage, when the Kembles tramped from town to town and set up their theatre in a barn.
Actors are no longer rogues and vagabonds; they go to public schools and get knighted arid become the quarry of big business: the travelling circus seems the only branch of entertainment left that has not
been commercialised. It is a rue commonwealth of talent and enthusiasm. Every member of a circus must pull his weight even in the menial jobs, and in the ring he has to be a virtuoso with many strings to his bow.
The life must be good for soul and body. There is little room for slackness of mind or morals or muscles. They work a steady fourteen hours a day, with only Sundays for a little rest and recreation, and in this connection it is interesting to learn that on arriving in a new town " the first enquire for most of them is for a church and the tbne that Mass is said. for not only the circus families but also the tent-men and bandsmen travelling with Them are for the most part Catholics."
This is a strangely human and moving and even inspiring book and the world it describes will be something of a revelation to many of its readers. It ends with the shadow of war falling not only on Rosaire's but on all such circuses, Will they ever come back again?: have those romantic processions of wagons and elephants and ponies passed along the English lanes for the last time
PROFESSOR Bodkin's My Uncle Frank is a very short book which could be read comfortably between tea and supper; but you have lived vicariously a whole happy boyhood, learned the ins and outs of a charming old house in County Kildare, and fallen under the spell of a remarkable personality, its owner, long before you turn the last page.
Frank MacMahon was not only the owner of Beauparc House—late Georgian, rather dilapidated, redolent of a free-and
easy comfort—not only farmer of its four hundred acres, but he was the local doctor as well. Imagine an English country house with a row of patients lining up every day in its stately and pillared entrance hall; imagine an English squire jumping into his gig at midnight (this was before the days of motors) and driving through snow and ice to attend a sick-bed on the other side of the county. Such was Dr. MacMahon's life: the country gentleman. with all a country gentleman's interest and responsibilities, the keen nature-lover, the sportsman, and at the same time the hard-worked and heroically self-sacrificing medical practitioner.
How he became a doctor is surely unique in the history of medicine, for he turned to it late in life, and actually joined the medical school in Dublin at the same time as his eldest son I It was the entrance examination that presented the only difficulty : he couldn't write an essay, he was ploughed again and again, until one of his brothers wrote out six specimen essays for him on the unvarying examination subjects (" Patriotism," " A Day in the Country," and the rest) and made him learn them by heart On one of tillese the Squire romped home, and the rest, the medical stuff, was child's play.
Literature, then, was not one of Dr. MacMahon's strong points: not were the arts, save music, which he approached only from the angle of Irish airs and the cornet—he was a lusty blower of the cornet; but a heart of gold and deep practical sanctity and much wisdom with the noting can dispense with such grace-notes. It is this wisdom with the young which his nephew now acknowledges so gratefully and graciously in this most charming portrait. He would probably tell you that he owes everything to his uncle; and the reader easily understands why.
It is a piece of literature, not the least of its artistry being the way the boy with his catapults and his cricket matches and his general larking remains a boy to the last page he was not fourteen when his uncle died), without the faintest hint of the kind of man he was to grow into: the Professor Bodkin as we know him to-day, advocate in the Irish courts, authority on painting, and curator (if that be the title) of the Barber Institute of Fine Arts in the Universny of Birmingham.
A BOOK the Catholic reader should put L on his library list is Mrs. Ribbert's life of the Chinese Emperor K'Ang Hsi, be cause the reign of this enlightened and beneficent ruler is so hound up with the story of the Jesuits; but I must warn him that Mrs. Hibbert's credentials will be a little impaired in his eyes by unfortunate passages here and there. She has a way of talking about " the other sects of the Catholic Church," by which she means the other religious orders: she can write a sentence like " When Father Grimaldi dismounted from his horse amidst the cheers of the' populace, no one had any suspicion that the Jesuit slogan, ' The End Justifies the Means' was in time to prove the undoing of the order"; and phrases like "The Jesuits' invisible entpire,' and '' The Jesuit dream of a Roman Catholic world," suggest in their contents that the aim of the missionaries was less the Kingdom of Christ than the glorification of their Society.
K'Ang Hsi, one of the most illustrious ruleis of history. was a contemporary of Louis XIV and Peter the Great. He was a man much in advance of his times. He foresaw, for instance, the part the West was bound to play scones or later in the affairs
of the Orient. He encouraged trade, remitted taxation, left his empire at peace and secured his dynasty He surrounded himself throughout his long reign with Jesuits. These learned and courteous men were great scholars and teachers highly skilled in the arts and sciences of the West : they were astronomers and engineers and mapdrawers and musicians; they earned and deserved the full confidence the Emperor imposed in them and the high positions he gave them at his Court.
Whether they had any real hopes of convetting the Emperor himself to Christianity may be doubted. but beyond question it was their services to art and science and their entire trustworthiness in the eyes of the Emperor that enabled their missionary work to proceed apace throughout the Empire and reap such a rich harvest of converts.
" During this period," says Mrs, Hibbert, " they almost succeeded in uniting Fact and West under the banner of Chrisl. Had their dreams become a reality. who cart say what changes might not have taken place during the past twn hundred years? One fact is certain: European civilisation would have been firmly estahlished in China," This is the story Mrs. Hibbert has to tell in these pages, and if there is a blemish now and then in the telling this is due to no want of sympathy, no sectarianism on her part ; it is just that she seems more at home with mandarins than with apostles— she is a considerable Chinese scholar—and no one will put down her book without a feeling of gratitude for having read it.
I-I' Was an excellent idea of Mr. Owen Rutter's to write the history of St. Joan of Arc in the form of a travel book—The Land of St. Joan, he calls it—and the circumetances under which it was written add a note of drama which he could never have foreseen. He arrived in France on August 13, 1939, with the intention of visiting every town and village where St. Joan stayed or through which she passed on her way to see the Dauphin and restore him to the throne of France. and this purpose he managed to achieve. though the storm was gathering all the time.
Accompanying him in this most romantic of jaunts was Miss Averil MackenzieGrieve who has adorned his book with fourteen very beautiful wood engravings. The spirit of St. Joan must have haunted every moment of their tour in a way it could never have done if the German armies had not been massing a few miles away, and his book amply reflects the fact
It is a very charming hook which I can cordially recommend to all who are striving to keep a love of France green in their hearts until the day when, as Mr. Rutter says, "Ihe spirit of Jranrie d'Arc shall reunite the French people once more against an enemy even deadlier than those she knew."