Scribner's Magazine
Book Reviews by Eli Siegel 1931-1934

From Scribner's, September 1933

Edmund Kean. By Harold Newcomb Hillebrand. Columbia University. $5.

Mr. Hillebrand's book hits the emotions in various ways. In it there is the nicely authenticated narrative of a young man, who had endured and longed much before, suddenly making a whole nation delighted and profoundly aware of him. Shakespeare (acted by the young man), Edmund Kean, and our own symbolic Horatio Alger, here make God's own trio.

Through Mr. Hillebrand's live and scholarly words one can see plainly more than a hundred years after that this acting person had something; a new, big and divine something. I can say, without putting on, that this dead and famous actor, teamed with Shakespeare, put me in a pleasing, definite tremor—in 1933. Kean brought a new excitement to an England just about getting through its Napoleonic Wars.

William Hazlitt, who was around to criticise Kean, gets into the book a good deal, and we can feel his forthright and complicated presence. A very stirring Shakespeare walks, somehow, all through these modern pages. Also, old-time theatre managers, male and female, are here, and some of them are soothingly quaint and mightily good to read about; the petulant and poetic and unforgot Lord Byron is here—he has been taken by the strangely flashing Kean. With all this and all these persons, there is Charlotte Cox, wife of a not so noble Alderman; Kean and she have what some might call a "vulgar amour"; the news of Kean's adulterous action puts England into a moralistic turmoil and the anger and fun-making that go with the morality and interest affect aesthetics, Kean and Shakespeare. It is all a fierce universal jumble.

And the playgoing America of the 1820's—its enthusiasms, hates, and indifferences—is in this diversely affecting book. Also a wife and a mysterious, not so kind mother. But I believe that Shakespeare and Kean are the real heroes. No matter what else is afoot, they're around and they represent a thrilling, dark world; the junction is Romanticism, true, rich, solid, and more than literary or theatrical. Mr. Hillebrand has shown how useful scholarship can be and how gracefully it can go about its arduous business by gathering and putting in order the documentary manifestations of an endlessly interesting world.

Eli Siegel.


Reviews by Eli Siegel from Scribner's Magazines 1931-1934. Copyright 1931, 1932, 1933, 1934 Charles Scribner's Sons; copyrights renewed. Reprinted with the permission of Charles Scribner's Sons.

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More Scribner's Reviews by Eli Siegel

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arrowMark Twain's America by Bernard DeVoto
arrowTragic America by Theodore Dreiser
arrowThe Road Leads On by Knut Hamsun
arrowEva Gay by Evelyn Scott
arrowThe Life of Emerson by Van Wyck Brooks
arrowAdventures in Genius by Will Durant
arrowAnn Vickers by Sinclair Lewis
arrowBreathe Upon These Slain by Evelyn Scott
arrowThe Sheltered Life by Ellen Glasgow

arrowEimi by E.E. Cummings
arrowJohn Dryden by T.S. Eliot
arrowSelected Essays
: 1917-1932 by T.S. Eliot
arrowThe First Wife
and Other Stories by Pearl S. Buck
arrowThe Sibyl of the North: The Tale of Christina, Queen of Sweden
by Faith Compton Mackenzie
arrowThe Soul of America by Arthur Hobson Quinn
arrowThree Cities: A Trilogy by Sholom Asch
arrowEdmund Kean by Harold Newcomb Hillebrand
arrowWilliam Carlos Williams: Collected Poems, 1921-1931
arrowA Cultural History of the Modern Age by Egon Friedell, Vol. II
arrowThe Proud and the Meek (Men of Good Will, Part II) by Jules Romains
arrowThe Proud and the Meek (Men of Good Will, vol. III) by Jules Romains

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