When Payne says ""the world"" do not imagine that he means anything less -- and judging from his previous titles (The Christian Centuries, The Life and Death of Lenin, The Roman Triumph, The Life and Death of Mahatma Gandhi, etc., etc.) he's been moving up on it for some time. This is a survey of all art, ""a mystery. . . more compelling than the reality around us,"" which he unveils for us, ""the guests who attend the silent feast,"" on behalf of the artist -- glory in excelsis -- who is ""the master of dimension. . . free to wander all imaginable worlds. . . drawing his strength from unknown reserves, possessing strange powers. . . ."" Need we say, a romantic view which survives chiefly in scattered hold-out ladies clubs and lays great store by splendiferous ineffables. It may be refreshing in its curious, reactionary way for readers who come to it from the more coolly analytical, technically informed, and market conscious writings that dominate the scene. But best if you try not to hear the golden-throated prose as it reels off the page to remind you of those inspired lecturers who used to visit your high school.