Published Humanitas, Volume IX, No. 1, 1996
Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University
Character and Culture: Essays on East and West, by Irving Babbitt, with a new introduction by Claes G. Ryn, a bibliography of Babbitt’s writings, and an index to all of Babbitt’s books. New Brunswick: Transaction Publishers, 1995. l+361 pp. $21.95.
Transaction Publishers reprints Irving Babbitt’s posthumous Spanish Character and Other Essays (1940) under a new title. For the new edition Claes G. Ryn has added a comprehensive introduction to Babbitt’s life, works, and reputation. The book collects essays, reviews, and addresses written for various occasions during the period 1898 to 1930 and covers the wide range of topics the new title suggests. While the writing is occasional, Babbitt’s principles, summed up in the concluding “What I Believe,” are maintained with remarkable consistency. Some essays are better than others, and I would take issue with some of their judgments, but all bear witness to a challenging critical mind. This timely publication led me to reflect on Babbitt’s place in history: one of this century’s foremost naysayers to Progress, he was both behind and ahead of his time. As an articulate advocate for humane life and letters, he is for all times.
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