Judge Charles C. Nott, Jr., of New York curled up one night with a copy of James Branch Cabell's Jurgen, A Comedy of Justice. The book, a fantasy set in the Middle Ages with a spot of sex here and there, had been under ban for two years because John S. Sumner's Society for the Suppression of Vice suspected it was obscene. "I have read the book," Judge Nott ruled, "and find nothing in it that is disgusting." The literati cheered wildly, including those who confessed they couldn't quite make the book out. The author pocketed the royalties and observed that there was a difference between pornography and literature. "Everybody enjoys the first," Cabell said, "while few care one way or another about the second."
Jurgen did not make the top of the best-seller lists, even with all the publicity John Sumner got it. A.S.M. Hutchinson's If Winter Comes was first. Booth Tarkington's Julia was close behind, and Zane Grey stayed in there with To the Last Man. Sinclair Lewis' Babbitt also sold well. In non-fiction, H.G. Wells' The Outline of History, Hendrick Willem Van Loon's The Story of Mankind, and The Americanization of Edward Bok were the top three.
With our sex habits under attackor at least under discussionon a wide front, H.L. Mencken rose to the defense of American men in an essay called "The Libertine," in his book In Defense of Women. Mencken counseled each and every woman not to believe what she was hearing about her husband. He said the male partner, in the great majority of cases, was true to his wife. He said the man might not be "pure in heart," but the chances were that he was "pure in act, even in the face of temptation," for several reasons:
One is that he lacks the courage. Another is that he lacks the money. Another is that he is fundamentally moral, and has a conscience. It takes more sinful initiative than he has to plunge into any affair save the most casual and sordid; it takes more ingenuity and intrepidity than he has to carry it off; it takes more money than he can conceal from his consort to finance it. A man may force his actual wife to share the direst poverty, but even the least vampirish woman of the third part demands to be courted in what, considering his station in life, is the grand manner, and the expenses of that grand manner scare off all save a small minority of specialists in deception . . .
"The moment a concrete Temptress rises before him, her nose talced, her lips scarlet, her eyelashes drooping provokinglythe moment such an abandoned wench has at him, and his lack of ready funds begins to conspire with his lack of courage to assault and wobble himat that precise moment his conscience flares into function, and so finishes his business. First he sees difficulty, then he sees danger, then he sees wrong. The result? The result is that he slinks off in trepidation, and another vampire is baffled of her prey. It is, indeed, the secret scandal of Christendom, at least in the Protestant region, that most men are faithful to their wives. You will travel a long way before you find a married man who will admit that he is, but the facts are the facts. For one American husband who maintains a chorus girl in levantine luxury around the corner, there are hundreds who are as true to their oaths, year in and year out, as so many convicts in the death house, and would be no more capable of any such loathsome malpractice even in the face of free opportunity, than they would be of cutting off the ears of their young."
Mencken added a footnote years later. He said nothing in the Kinsey report had changed his conclusions.
Maybe the men were as firmly bound by the vows as Mencken described. The women weren't, if True Story magazine was to be believed at the time. The Macfadden gazette ran such hair-raisers as these:
What Happened to a Girl Who
Wanted a Husband, Not a Home
'Tis Well to be off With
The Old Love Before You
Are on With the New
When Romance Paved Death's
Life Stories of Women Who Have
Loved Too Well
The High Cost of Loving
New York City put a 2:00 A.M. curfew on dancing in cabarets and ordered the arrest of restaurant proprietors who let women smoke, but this edict lasted only one day . . . The Brooklyn Parents League set an evening curfew for teenage girls . . . Radio sermons became a daily feature on New York stations . . . Princeton University advised parents that students need not have autos, and
Syracuse University banned dancing from May to December . . . Paul Robeson, All-America end on the Rutgers eleven in 1917 and 1918, got his law degree at Columbia but, fearing that a black man couldn't go anywhere in that profession, turned to acting and singing instead . . . The Pittsburgh Observer, a Catholic paper, noted "a change for the worse during the past year in feminine dress, dancing, manners, and general moral standards," and warned against any "failure to realize the serious ethical consequences of immodesty in girls' dress" . . . The Southern Baptist Review and Expositor complained that "the girls are actually tempting the boys more than the boys do the girls, by their dress and conversation" . . . Yale football games drew $5,000,000 at the gate . . . The race tracks lured their biggest crowds and paid their highest purses . . . Tennis drew its biggest crowds . . .
President Harding said Prohibition had to be enforced . . . Two quarts of "ink" seized in a warehouse proved to be whiskey . . . The five-cent bread loaf appeared . . . John L. Lewis called out 500,000 miners in a wage fight . . . Harding assumed responsibility for the leasing of the Naval oil reserves to private interests . . . The Railway Labor Board, sitting in a shopmen's strike, ruled that any effort to relate wages to living costs would "wreck every railroad in the U.S. and if it extended to other industries would carry them into communistic ruin" . . . Buster Keaton starred in Cops, but sound, on the way, would put a dent in his career . . . Judy Garland was born in Grand Rapids, Minn., to Ethel and Frank Gumm, a vaudeville team . . . The DeWitt Wallaces founded the Reader's Digest . . . Ignace Paderewski, pianist and ex-Premier of Poland, returned to his first love and made a concert tour . . . From Harvard, Thomas Wolfe
wrote to his mother back in Asheville, North Carolina: "I am inevitable . . . I will write, write, write" . . . Mussolini marched on Rome . . . A polo coat with a fur collar cost $10.50 at Montgomery Ward . . . Clemenceau of France said the trouble with America was that it grew faster than its ideas . . . Striking Illinois miners shot, hanged, or beat to death twenty-one strikebreakers in the Herrin Massacre . . . Henry Ford told his workers he would fire anyone caught on the job with liquor on his breath.
In the theater, Jeanne Eagles introduced the Sadie Thompson role to the world in Rain . . . Pauline Lord appeared in Eugene O'Neill's Anna Christie, and Helen Menken starred in Seventh Heaven . . . Anne Nichols' Abie's Irish Rose, a little romance with a tolerance theme, opened to icy reviews on May 23 and ran 2,327 performances until Oct. 22, 1927 (and ran everywhere else after that). Nancy Carroll played it in the movie . . . Will Rogers
was a hit in the Ziegfeld Follies. Mrs. Elinor Glyn, who wrote Three Weeks, found her exposition of the New Thought highly salable in Hollywood; when asked what would happen in the wake of the Arbuckle and Taylor scandals, she said, "Whatever will bring in the most money will happen" . . . Gloria Swanson made her third husband royalty, wedding Marquis Henri de la Falaise in one of the world's most celebrated marriages . . . The Marilyn Miller-Jack Pickford wedding was also a gala affair . . . The film community welcomed a distinguised foreign import: Strongheart, the police dog who served in the German Red Cross, who came over to make pictures for First National.
The Washington Conference agreed to limit arms among the Big Five Powers (United States, Britain, Japan, France and Italy) and respect the territorial integrity of China.
The Rev. Edward Wheeler Hall and his choir leader, Mrs. James Mills, were murdered in a lover's lane in New Brunswick, N.J. Members of the pastor's family were suspected, but the Grand Jury refused to indict. The case would appear in 1926 as one of the decade's great courtroom dramas.