- 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.
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.