“Blurbs” (E48)

  • Originally printed:  The Forum, December 1923
  • First reprinted in:  Never Reprinted
  • Original Byline:  Robert C. Benchley



We discern intimations of Benchley’s Guy Fawkes persona in this piece, which applies the Wayward Press treatment to the unctuously undiscerning literary criticism in vogue during the Fall of Calvin Coolidge’s accession to the Presidency. Benchley begins in a mood of mock amazement, basking in the froth of fiction’s self-styled apotheosis. One recent barrage of ballyhoo heralded the arrival of no less than 38 all-time exemplars upon the literary landscape – just in time for Christmas! A veritable embarrassment of rich exaggeration.

And yet, the author has no pointed quarrel with any of the esteemed works on that year’s publishing schedule. He cites a number of critics for contempt of their own métier, but negs nary a modern masterwork. Doubling back to poke fun at the stuffiness he had exhibited during the opening paragraphs of the piece, Benchley admits there is nothing inherently ludicrous in imagining that some of these “instant classics” of the early 1920s might indeed emerge triumphant from the chrysalis of damnation by attainted praise. In the final analysis, it is the paucity of perspicacity that Benchley abhors in these peripatetic paeans – a defect he would continue to dog in his mass media interventions of the late 1920s and 1930s.

Favourite Moment:

The Boston “Transcript” uses the word “unique” a bit more cagily, in speaking with characteristic New England repression of another book. “A more unique self-revelation,” it says, “has perhaps never been given to the world.” There may have been an equally unique self-revelation. The “Transcript” reviewer does not let himself go to the extent of denying this. But the point to be emphasized is that, since man first began drawing picture-stories on the walls of his cave, there is every reason to believe that the world has never seen a “more unique” personal record than this.

“Art Revolution No. 4861” (E24)

  • Originally printed: Liberty Magazine, August 8, 1931
  • First reprinted in: Chips Off the Old Benchley
  • Unable to compare reprint with original text – Liberty Historical Archives not available at Toronto Public Library
  • Original Byline: unknown


As you might expect, given RB’s uniquely grounded brand of absurdity, the author never tired of burlesquing the barrage of bouleversements that swept through the art world during the first half of the 20th century. A close relative of E17, this piece is more successful, in that it strings together a stronger set of critical hits at the underground establishment, but it does boil down to the basic assumption that aesthetics should be a refuge from theory – not a lost continent submerged beneath successively waterier nouvelles vagues. It’s a fairly palatable take on philistinism, all things considered, but it’s not a view shared by your humble annotater.

Those reservations aside, this reader has no quarrel with Benchley’s invention of Straw Man Scrawler Jean Baptiste Morceau Lavalle Raoul Depluy Rourke – whose obsessive idées aren’t designed to fix anything. RB opens up a can of wild analysis in scrutinizing the feeble embodiment of Rourke’s theoretico-aesthetic ideals, a half-baked soufflé that wears its sub-mental symbols on its sleeve like so many cut-rate concept billboards. Bring on Art Revolution No. 4862!

Favourite Moment(s):
“Thus, the laughing snake in the lower left-hand corner of Mist on the Marshes is merely a representation of the spirit of laughing snakes, an has nothing to do with Reality. This snake is laughing because he is really not in the picture at all.”
“Whatever it is, you cannot deny that it is in the upper left-hand corner of the picture.”