The Charlotte News

SATURDAY, MAY 10, 1941


Lanterns On The Levee

By W. J. Cash

In this, the last book review Cash wrote, he lashed back at an unnamed reviewer who had severely attacked Cash's own The Mind of the South. That marl was the late Richmond C. Beatty of Vanderbilt University, whose attack had appeared in the Nashville Banner of February 26, 1941, and was a rare discordant note in the almost unanimous chorus of praise for Cash's book. Percy's Lanterns on the Levee was issued by Cash's own publisher, Alfred A. Knopf, and Cash's review was intended to show that neither author had needed, as Beatty had insinuated, "a shrewd eye for the lucrative northeastern market."

--Note from W.J. Cash: Southern Prophet by Joseph L. Morrison
(This article appeared in the Reader section of Prophet.)

NOT long ago, I read the most ill-natured book review that it has been my fortune to read. It was written by a young man who grades English A at Vanderbilt University, and who belongs to the Agrarian group which loudly professes to be made up of Southern aristocrats.

I mention it here because it charged, among other things, that the author of the book had pandered to the Yankee, and that in fact no Southern author could get a book published who did not so pander.

The claim was idiotic on its face. The fact was, as every schoolboy knew, that Southern glorifiers had found publishers in the North from long before the Civil War on down. And the particular publisher in question was Alfred A. Knopf, who had published every shade of opinion he disagreed with, including that of Fascists who wanted to assassinate all Jews and liberals—and Mr. Knopf was both Jewish and liberal.

But if Mr. Knopf and the other Yankee publishers had conspired to make a donkey of the fellow, they could not better have gone about it than by having Mr. Knopf publish William Alexander Percy's "Lanterns on the Levee" ( 348 pp. $3) hard on the heels of the review.

Percy is that exceedingly rare thing, a surviving authentic Southern aristocrat, as distinguished from pretenders to the title.

I think it is instructive that there is no ill-nature in him save on one point. He is urbane, sensitive, gentle, candid, wise, and witty. And above all, kind—save in a single respect which is understandable when you look into his history.

Born on a Mississippi plantation and now poet-laureate of his state, Percy has it in him to smile at the lordly legend of his ancestry. The first Percy was an adventurer who myth said had been a pirate—the disinherited son of the mighty Percys of Northumberland—but all that is certainly known about him is that he landed in Mississippi with many slaves and that he was a bigamist. Other Percy ancestors lived in a log house after the Civil War, and are plainly French-derived bourgeois. But you had better not suppose that William Alexander Percy is not filled with a mighty pride in his heritage. I suspect that, at bottom, he likes to believe that he is in fact the scion of the great Dukes of Northumberland, that Hotspur was his kinsman. And nobody can rightly blame him. It is a fact that human life is mainly grotesque and always infinitely pitiful.

On the whole, an excellent and admirable man, this William Alexander Percy. And his book is a fine one, the merits of which ought not to be obscured by any ideological disputes. The passages which concern his childhood and the struggles of a sensitive young man to adjust himself to the world are as good as any American novelist has produced. Sometimes the style is a little marred by over-coyness. But in general the book is beautifully written.

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