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Title: A Christmas Garland
Author: Beerbohm, Max, Sir, 1872-1956
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "A Christmas Garland" ***

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_woven by_




First printed, October, 1912.

New Impressions, October, 1912; December, 1912; December, 1912; July,
1918; September, 1918; March, 1931.

Copyright, 1912.







_Stevenson, in one of his essays, tells us how he "played the sedulous
ape" to Hazlitt, Sir Thomas Browne, Montaigne, and other writers of
the past. And the compositors of all our higher-toned newspapers keep
the foregoing sentence set up in type always, so constantly does it
come tripping off the pens of all higher-toned reviewers. Nor ever do
I read it without a fresh thrill of respect for the young Stevenson.
I, in my own very inferior boyhood, found it hard to revel in so much
as a single page of any writer earlier than Thackeray. This disability
I did not shake off, alas, after I left school. There seemed to be
so many live authors worth reading. I gave precedence to them, and,
not being much of a reader, never had time to grapple with the old
masters. Meanwhile, I was already writing a little on my own account.
I had had some sort of aptitude for Latin prose and Latin verse. I
wondered often whether those two things, essential though they were
(and are) to the making of a decent style in English prose, sufficed
for the making of a style more than decent. I felt that I must have
other models. And thus I acquired the habit of aping, now and again,
quite sedulously, this or that live writer--sometimes, it must be
admitted, in the hope of learning rather what to avoid. I acquired,
too, the habit of publishing these patient little efforts. Some of
them appeared in "The Saturday Review" many years ago; others appeared
there more recently. I have selected, by kind permission of the
Editor, one from the earlier lot, and seven from the later. The other
nine in this book are printed for the first time. The book itself may
be taken as a sign that I think my own style is, at length, more or
less formed._


_Rapallo_, 1912.



P.C., X, 36, R*D**RD K*PL*NG



















It was with the sense of a, for him, very memorable something that
he peered now into the immediate future, and tried, not without
compunction, to take that period up where he had, prospectively, left
it. But just where the deuce _had_ he left it? The consciousness of
dubiety was, for our friend, not, this morning, quite yet clean-cut
enough to outline the figures on what she had called his "horizon,"
between which and himself the twilight was indeed of a quality
somewhat intimidating. He had run up, in the course of time, against
a good number of "teasers;" and the function of teasing them back--of,
as it were, giving them, every now and then, "what for"--was in him so
much a habit that he would have been at a loss had there been, on the
face of it, nothing to lose. Oh, he always had offered rewards, of
course--had ever so liberally pasted the windows of his soul with
staring appeals, minute descriptions, promises that knew no bounds.
But the actual recovery of the article--the business of drawing and
crossing the cheque, blotched though this were with tears of joy--had
blankly appeared to him rather in the light of a sacrilege, casting,
he sometimes felt, a palpable chill on the fervour of the next quest.
It was just this fervour that was threatened as, raising himself on
his elbow, he stared at the foot of his bed. That his eyes refused
to rest there for more than the fraction of an instant, may be
taken--_was_, even then, taken by Keith Tantalus--as a hint of his
recollection that after all the phenomenon wasn't to be singular. Thus
the exact repetition, at the foot of Eva's bed, of the shape pendulous
at the foot of _his_ was hardly enough to account for the fixity with
which he envisaged it, and for which he was to find, some years later,
a motive in the (as it turned out) hardly generous fear that Eva had
already made the great investigation "on her own." Her very regular
breathing presently reassured him that, if she _had_ peeped into "her"
stocking, she must have done so in sleep. Whether he should wake her
now, or wait for their nurse to wake them both in due course, was
a problem presently solved by a new development. It was plain that
his sister was now watching him between her eyelashes. He had half
expected that. She really was--he had often told her that she really
was--magnificent; and her magnificence was never more obvious than in
the pause that elapsed before she all of a sudden remarked "They so
very indubitably _are_, you know!"

It occurred to him as befitting Eva's remoteness, which was a part
of Eva's magnificence, that her voice emerged somewhat muffled by the
bedclothes. She was ever, indeed, the most telephonic of her sex. In
talking to Eva you always had, as it were, your lips to the receiver.
If you didn't try to meet her fine eyes, it was that you simply
couldn't hope to: there were too many dark, too many buzzing and
bewildering and all frankly not negotiable leagues in between.
Snatches of other voices seemed often to intertrude themselves in the
parley; and your loyal effort not to overhear these was complicated by
your fear of missing what Eva might be twittering. "Oh, you certainly
haven't, my dear, the trick of propinquity!" was a thrust she had
once parried by saying that, in that case, _he_ hadn't--to which his
unspoken rejoinder that she had caught her tone from the peevish
young women at the Central seemed to him (if not perhaps in the last,
certainly in the last but one, analysis) to lack finality. With
Eva, he had found, it was always safest to "ring off." It was with a
certain sense of his rashness in the matter, therefore, that he now,
with an air of feverishly "holding the line," said "Oh, as to that!"

Had _she_, he presently asked himself, "rung off"? It was
characteristic of our friend--was indeed "him all over"--that his fear
of what she was going to say was as nothing to his fear of what she
might be going to leave unsaid. He had, in his converse with her, been
never so conscious as now of the intervening leagues; they had never
so insistently beaten the drum of his ear; and he caught himself in
the act of awfully computing, with a certain statistical passion, the
distance between Rome and Boston. He has never been able to decide
which of these points he was psychically the nearer to at the moment
when Eva, replying "Well, one does, anyhow, leave a margin for the
pretext, you know!" made him, for the first time in his life, wonder
whether she were not more magnificent than even he had ever given
her credit for being. Perhaps it was to test this theory, or perhaps
merely to gain time, that he now raised himself to his knees, and,
leaning with outstretched arm towards the foot of his bed, made as
though to touch the stocking which Santa Claus had, overnight, left
dangling there. His posture, as he stared obliquely at Eva, with
a sort of beaming defiance, recalled to him something seen in an
"illustration." This reminiscence, however--if such it was, save in
the scarred, the poor dear old woebegone and so very beguilingly _not_
refractive mirror of the moment--took a peculiar twist from Eva's
behaviour. She had, with startling suddenness, sat bolt upright, and
looked to him as if she were overhearing some tragedy at the other end
of the wire, where, in the nature of things, she was unable to arrest
it. The gaze she fixed on her extravagant kinsman was of a kind to
make him wonder how he contrived to remain, as he beautifully did,
rigid. His prop was possibly the reflection that flashed on him that,
if _she_ abounded in attenuations, well, hang it all, so did _he_! It
was simply a difference of plane. Readjust the "values," as painters
say, and there you were! He was to feel that he was only too crudely
"there" when, leaning further forward, he laid a chubby forefinger on
the stocking, causing that receptacle to rock ponderously to and fro.
This effect was more expected than the tears which started to Eva's
eyes, and the intensity with which "Don't you," she exclaimed, "see?"

"The mote in the middle distance?" he asked. "Did you ever, my dear,
know me to see anything else? I tell you it blocks out everything.
It's a cathedral, it's a herd of elephants, it's the whole habitable
globe. Oh, it's, believe me, of an obsessiveness!" But his sense of
the one thing it _didn't_ block out from his purview enabled him
to launch at Eva a speculation as to just how far Santa Claus had,
for the particular occasion, gone. The gauge, for both of them,
of this seasonable distance seemed almost blatantly suspended in
the silhouettes of the two stockings. Over and above the basis of
(presumably) sweetmeats in the toes and heels, certain extrusions
stood for a very plenary fulfilment of desire. And, since Eva had set
her heart on a doll of ample proportions and practicable eyelids--had
asked that most admirable of her sex, their mother, for it with not
less directness than he himself had put into his demand for a sword
and helmet--her coyness now struck Keith as lying near to, at indeed
a hardly measurable distance from, the border-line of his patience. If
she didn't want the doll, why the deuce had she made such a point of
getting it? He was perhaps on the verge of putting this question to
her, when, waving her hand to include both stockings, she said "Of
course, my dear, you _do_ see. There they are, and you know I know
you know we wouldn't, either of us, dip a finger into them." With a
vibrancy of tone that seemed to bring her voice quite close to him,
"One doesn't," she added, "violate the shrine--pick the pearl from the

Even had the answering question "Doesn't one just?" which for an
instant hovered on the tip of his tongue, been uttered, it could not
have obscured for Keith the change which her magnificence had wrought
in him. Something, perhaps, of the bigotry of the convert was already
discernible in the way that, averting his eyes, he said "One doesn't
even peer." As to whether, in the years that have elapsed since he
said this either of our friends (now adult) has, in fact, "peered," is
a question which, whenever I call at the house, I am tempted to put
to one or other of them. But any regret I may feel in my invariable
failure to "come up to the scratch" of yielding to this temptation is
balanced, for me, by my impression--my sometimes all but throned and
anointed certainty--that the answer, if vouchsafed, would be in the

P.C., X, 36



  Then it's collar 'im tight,
    In the name o' the Lawd!
  'Ustle 'im, shake 'im till 'e's sick!
    Wot, 'e _would_, would 'e? Well,
    Then yer've got ter give 'im 'Ell,
  An' it's trunch, trunch, truncheon does the trick

                             POLICE STATION DITTIES.

I had spent Christmas Eve at the Club, listening to a grand pow-wow
between certain of the choicer sons of Adam. Then Slushby had cut
in. Slushby is one who writes to newspapers and is theirs obediently
"HUMANITARIAN." When Slushby cuts in, men remember they have to be up
early next morning.

Sharp round a corner on the way home, I collided with something firmer
than the regulation pillar-box. I righted myself after the recoil
and saw some stars that were very pretty indeed. Then I perceived the
nature of the obstruction.

"Evening, Judlip," I said sweetly, when I had collected my hat from
the gutter. "Have I broken the law, Judlip? If so, I'll go quiet."

"Time yer was in bed," grunted X, 36. "Yer Ma'll be lookin' out for

This from the friend of my bosom! It hurt. Many were the night-beats
I had been privileged to walk with Judlip, imbibing curious lore that
made glad the civilian heart of me. Seven whole 8x5 inch note-books
had I pitmanised to the brim with Judlip. And now to be repulsed as
one of the uninitiated! It hurt horrid.

There is a thing called Dignity. Small boys sometimes stand on it.
Then they have to be kicked. Then they get down, weeping. I don't
stand on Dignity.

"What's wrong, Judlip?" I asked, more sweetly than ever. "Drawn a
blank to-night?"

"Yuss. Drawn a blank blank blank. 'Avent 'ad so much as a kick at a
lorst dorg. Christmas Eve ain't wot it was." I felt for my note-book.
"Lawd! I remembers the time when the drunks and disorderlies down this
street was as thick as flies on a fly-paper. One just picked 'em orf
with one's finger and thumb. A bloomin' battew, that's wot it wos."

"The night's yet young, Judlip," I insinuated, with a jerk of my thumb
at the flaring windows of the "Rat and Blood Hound." At that moment
the saloon-door swung open, emitting a man and woman who walked with
linked arms and exceeding great care.

Judlip eyed them longingly as they tacked up the street. Then he
sighed. Now, when Judlip sighs the sound is like unto that which
issues from the vent of a Crosby boiler when the cog-gauges are at
260° F.

"Come, Judlip!" I said. "Possess your soul in patience. You'll soon
find someone to make an example of. Meanwhile"--I threw back my head
and smacked my lips--"the usual, Judlip?"

In another minute I emerged through the swing-door, bearing a furtive
glass of that same "usual," and nipped down the mews where my friend
was wont to await these little tokens of esteem.

"To the Majesty of the Law, Judlip!"

When he had honoured the toast, I scooted back with the glass, leaving
him wiping the beads off his beard-bristles. He was in his philosophic
mood when I rejoined him at the corner.

"Wot am I?" he said, as we paced along. "A bloomin' cypher. Wot's
the sarjint? 'E's got the Inspector over 'im. Over above the
Inspector there's the Sooprintendent. Over above 'im's the old
red-tape-masticatin' Yard. Over above that there's the 'Ome Sec.
Wot's 'e? A cypher, like me. Why?" Judlip looked up at the stars.
"Over above 'im's We Dunno Wot. Somethin' wot issues its horders
an' regulations an' divisional injunctions, inscrootable like, but
p'remptory; an' we 'as ter see as 'ow they're carried out, not arskin'
no questions, but each man goin' about 'is dooty.'

"''Is dooty,'" said I, looking up from my note-book. "Yes, I've got

"Life ain't a bean-feast. It's a 'arsh reality. An' them as makes it a
bean-feast 'as got to be 'arshly dealt with accordin'. That's wot the
Force is put 'ere for from Above. Not as 'ow we ain't fallible. We
makes our mistakes. An' when we makes 'em we sticks to 'em. For the
honour o' the Force. Which same is the jool Britannia wears on 'er
bosom as a charm against hanarchy. That's wot the brarsted old Beaks
don't understand. Yer remember Smithers of our Div?"

I remembered Smithers--well. As fine, upstanding, square-toed,
bullet-headed, clean-living a son of a gun as ever perjured himself in
the box. There was nothing of the softy about Smithers. I took off my
billicock to Smithers' memory.

"Sacrificed to public opinion? Yuss," said Judlip, pausing at a front
door and flashing his 45 c.p. down the slot of a two-grade Yale.
"Sacrificed to a parcel of screamin' old women wot ort ter 'ave gorn
down on their knees an' thanked Gawd for such a protector. 'E'll be
out in another 'alf year. Wot'll 'e do then, pore devil? Go a bust on
'is conduc' money an' throw in 'is lot with them same hexperts wot 'ad
a 'oly terror of 'im." Then Judlip swore gently.

"What should you do, O Great One, if ever it were your duty to
apprehend him?"

"Do? Why, yer blessed innocent, yer don't think I'd shirk a fair clean
cop? Same time, I don't say as 'ow I wouldn't 'andle 'im tender like,
for sake o' wot 'e wos. Likewise cos 'e'd be a stiff customer to
tackle. Likewise 'cos--"

He had broken off, and was peering fixedly upwards at an angle of 85°
across the moonlit street. "Ullo!" he said in a hoarse whisper.

Striking an average between the direction of his eyes--for Judlip,
when on the job, has a soul-stirring squint--I perceived someone in
the act of emerging from a chimney-pot.

Judlip's voice clove the silence. "Wot are yer doin' hup there?"

The person addressed came to the edge of the parapet. I saw then that
he had a hoary white beard, a red ulster with the hood up, and what
looked like a sack over his shoulder. He said something or other in a
voice like a concertina that has been left out in the rain.

"I dessay," answered my friend. "Just you come down, an' we'll see
about that."

The old man nodded and smiled. Then--as I hope to be saved--he came
floating gently down through the moonlight, with the sack over his
shoulder and a young fir-tree clasped to his chest. He alighted in a
friendly manner on the curb beside us.

Judlip was the first to recover himself. Out went his right arm, and
the airman was slung round by the scruff of the neck, spilling his
sack in the road. I made a bee-line for his shoulder-blades. Burglar
or no burglar, he was the best airman out, and I was muchly desirous
to know the precise nature of the apparatus under his ulster. A
back-hander from Judlip's left caused me to hop quickly aside. The
prisoner was squealing and whimpering. He didn't like the feel of
Judlip's knuckles at his cervical vertebræ.

"Wot wos yer doin' hup there?" asked Judlip, tightening the grip.

"I'm S-Santa Claus, Sir. P-please, Sir, let me g-go"

"Hold him," I shouted. "He's a German."

"It's my dooty ter caution yer that wotever yer say now may be used
in hevidence against yer, yer old sinner. Pick up that there sack, an'
come along o' me."

The captive snivelled something about peace on earth, good will toward

"Yuss," said Judlip. "That's in the Noo Testament, ain't it? The Noo
Testament contains some uncommon nice readin' for old gents an' young
ladies. But it ain't included in the librery o' the Force. We confine
ourselves to the Old Testament--O.T., 'ot. An' 'ot you'll get it. Hup
with that sack, an' quick march!"

I have seen worse attempts at a neck-wrench, but it was just not
slippery enough for Judlip. And the kick that Judlip then let fly was
a thing of beauty and a joy for ever.

"Frog's-march him!" I shrieked, dancing. "For the love of heaven,
frog's-march him!"

Trotting by Judlip's side to the Station, I reckoned it out that if
Slushby had not been at the Club I should not have been here to see.
Which shows that even Slushbys are put into this world for a purpose.




Chapter XLII.--Christmas

More and more, as the tranquil years went by, Percy found himself able
to draw a quiet satisfaction from the regularity, the even sureness,
with which, in every year, one season succeeded to another. In
boyhood he had felt always a little sad at the approach of autumn.
The yellowing leaves of the lime trees, the creeper that flushed to
so deep a crimson against the old grey walls, the chrysanthemums that
shed so prodigally their petals on the smooth green lawn--all these
things, beautiful and wonderful though they were, were somehow a
little melancholy also, as being signs of the year's decay. Once, when
he was fourteen or fifteen years old, he had overheard a friend of
the family say to his father "How the days are drawing in!"--a remark
which set him thinking deeply, with an almost morbid abandonment to
gloom, for quite a long time. He had not then grasped the truth that
in exactly the proportion in which the days draw in they will, in
the fullness of time, draw out. This was a lesson that he mastered in
later years. And, though the waning of summer never failed to touch
him with the sense of an almost personal loss, yet it seemed to him a
right thing, a wise ordination, that there should be these recurring
changes. Those men and women of whom the poet tells us that they lived
in "a land where it was always afternoon"--could they, Percy often
wondered, have felt quite that thankfulness which on a fine afternoon
is felt by us dwellers in ordinary climes? Ah, no! Surely it is
because we are made acquainted with the grey sadness of twilight, the
solemn majesty of the night-time, the faint chill of the dawn, that
we set so high a value on the more meridional hours. If there were no
autumn, no winter, then spring and summer would lose, not all indeed,
yet an appreciable part of their sweet savour for us. Thus, as his
mind matured, Percy came to be very glad of the gradual changes of the
year. He found in them a rhythm, as he once described it in his diary;
and this he liked very much indeed. He was aware that in his own
character, with its tendency to waywardness, to caprice, to disorder,
there was an almost grievous lack of this _rhythmic_ quality. In the
sure and seemly progression of the months, was there not for him a
desirable exemplar, a needed corrective? He was so liable to moods in
which he rebelled against the performance of some quite simple duty,
some appointed task--moods in which he said to himself "H-ng it! I
will not do this," or "Oh, b-th-r! I shall not do that!" But it was
clear that Nature herself never spoke thus. Even as a passenger in
a frail barque on the troublous ocean will keep his eyes directed
towards some upstanding rock on the far horizon, finding thus inwardly
for himself, or hoping to find, a more stable equilibrium, a deeper
tranquillity, than is his, so did Percy daily devote a certain portion
of his time to quiet communion with the almanac.

There were times when he was sorely tempted to regret a little that
some of the feasts of the Church were "moveable." True, they moved
only within strictly prescribed limits, and in accordance with certain
unalterable, wholly justifiable rules. Yet, in the very fact that
they did move, there seemed--to use an expressive slang phrase of the
day--"something not quite nice." It was therefore the fixed feasts
that pleased Percy best, and on Christmas Day, especially, he
experienced a temperate glow which would have perhaps surprised those
who knew him only slightly.

By reason of the athletic exercises of his earlier years, Percy had
retained in middle life a certain lightness and firmness of tread;
and this on Christmas morning, between his rooms and the Cathedral,
was always so peculiarly elastic that he might almost have seemed to
be rather running than walking. The ancient fane, with its soarings
of grey columns to the dimness of its embowed roof, the delicate
traceries of the organ screen, the swelling notes of the organ, the
mellow shafts of light filtered through the stained-glass windows
whose hues were as those of emeralds and rubies and amethysts, the
stainless purity of the surplices of clergy and choir, the sober
richness of Sunday bonnets in the transept, the faint yet heavy
fragrance exhaled from the hot-water pipes--all these familiar things,
appealing, as he sometimes felt, almost too strongly to that sensuous
side of his nature which made him so susceptible to the paintings of
Mr. Leader, of Sir Luke Fildes, were on Christmas morning more than
usually affecting by reason of that note of quiet joyousness, of peace
and good will, that pervaded the lessons of the day, the collect, the
hymns, the sermon.

It was this spiritual aspect of Christmas that Percy felt to be
hardly sufficiently regarded, or at least dwelt on, nowadays, and he
sometimes wondered whether the modern Christmas had not been in some
degree inspired and informed by Charles Dickens. He had for that
writer a very sincere admiration, though he was inclined to think that
his true excellence lay not so much in faithful portrayal of the life
of his times, or in gift of sustained narration, or in those scenes of
pathos which have moved so many hearts in so many quiet homes, as in
the power of inventing highly fantastic figures, such as Mr. Micawber
or Mr. Pickwick. This view Percy knew to be somewhat heretical, and,
constitutionally averse from the danger of being suspected of "talking
for effect," he kept it to himself; but, had anyone challenged him to
give his opinion, it was thus that he would have expressed himself.
In regard to Christmas, he could not help wishing that Charles Dickens
had laid more stress on its spiritual element. It was right that the
feast should be an occasion for good cheer, for the savoury meats, the
steaming bowl, the blazing log, the traditional games. But was not
the modern world, with its almost avowed bias towards materialism, too
little apt to think of Christmas as also a time for meditation, for
taking stock, as it were, of the things of the soul? Percy had heard
that in London nowadays there was a class of people who sate down
to their Christmas dinners in public hotels. He did not condemn this
practice. He never condemned a thing, but wondered, rather, whether
it were right, and could not help feeling that somehow it was not.
In the course of his rare visits to London he had more than once
been inside of one of the large new hotels that had sprung up--these
"great caravanseries," as he described them in a letter to an
old school-fellow who had been engaged for many years in Chinese
mission work. And it seemed to him that the true spirit of Christmas
could hardly be acclimatised in such places, but found its proper
resting-place in quiet, detached homes, where were gathered together
only those connected with one another by ties of kinship, or of long
and tested friendship.

He sometimes blamed himself for having tended more and more, as the
quiet, peaceful, tranquil years went by, to absent himself from even
those small domestic gatherings. And yet, might it not be that his
instinct for solitude at this season was a right instinct, at least
for him, and that to run counter to it would be in some degree
unacceptable to the Power that fashioned us? Thus he allowed himself
to go, as it were, his own way. After morning service, he sate down
to his Christmas fare alone, and then, when the simple meal was over,
would sit and think in his accustomed chair, falling perhaps into
one of those quiet dozes from which, because they seemed to be so
natural a result, so seemly a consummation, of his thoughts, he
did not regularly abstain. Later, he sallied forth, with a sense
of refreshment, for a brisk walk among the fens, the sedges, the
hedgerows, the reed-fringed pools, the pollard willows that would in
due course be putting forth their tender shoots of palest green. And
then, once more in his rooms, with the curtains drawn and the candles
lit, he would turn to his book-shelves and choose from among them some
old book that he knew and loved, or maybe some quite new book by that
writer whose works were most dear to him because in them he seemed
always to know so precisely what the author would say next, and
because he found in their fine-spun repetitions a singular repose,
a sense of security, an earnest of calm and continuity, as though he
were reading over again one of those wise copy-books that he had so
loved in boyhood, or were listening to the sounds made on a piano by
some modest, very conscientious young girl with a pale red pig-tail,
practising her scales, very gently, hour after hour, next door.




Chapter XX


It was the Christmas party at Heighton that was one of the
turning-points in Perkins' life. The Duchess had sent him a three-page
wire in the hyperbolical style of her class, conveying a vague
impression that she and the Duke had arranged to commit suicide
together if Perkins didn't "chuck" any previous engagement he had
made. And Perkins had felt in a slipshod sort of way--for at this
period he was incapable of ordered thought--he might as well be at
Heighton as anywhere....

The enormous house was almost full. There must have been upwards of
fifty people sitting down to every meal. Many of these were members of
the family. Perkins was able to recognise them by their unconvoluted
ears--the well-known Grifford ear, transmitted from one generation to
another. For the rest there were the usual lot from the Front Benches
and the Embassies. Evesham was there, clutching at the lapels of his
coat; and the Prescotts--he with his massive mask of a face, and she
with her quick, hawk-like ways, talking about two things at a time;
old Tommy Strickland, with his monocle and his dropped g's, telling
you what he had once said to Mr. Disraeli; Boubou Seaforth and his
American wife; John Pirram, ardent and elegant, spouting old French
lyrics; and a score of others.

Perkins had got used to them by now. He no longer wondered what
they were "up to," for he knew they were up to nothing whatever. He
reflected, while he was dressing for dinner on Christmas night, how
odd it was he had ever thought of Using them. He might as well have
hoped to Use the Dresden shepherds and shepherdesses that grinned out
in the last stages of refinement at him from the glazed cabinets in
the drawing-rooms.... Or the Labour Members themselves....

True there was Evesham. He had shown an exquisitely open mind about
the whole thing. He had at once grasped the underlying principles,
thrown out some amazingly luminous suggestions. Oh yes, Evesham was a
statesman, right enough. But had even he ever really _believed_ in the
idea of a Provisional Government of England by the Female Foundlings?

To Perkins the whole thing had seemed so simple, so imminent--a thing
that needed only a little general good-will to bring it about. And
now.... Suppose his Bill _had_ passed its Second Reading, suppose it
had become Law, would this poor old England be by way of functioning
decently--after all? Foundlings were sometimes naughty....

What was the matter with the whole human race? He remembered again
those words of Scragson's that had had such a depressing effect on him
at the Cambridge Union--"Look here, you know! It's all a huge nasty
mess, and we're trying to swab it up with a pocket handkerchief."
Well, he'd given up trying to do that....


During dinner his eyes wandered furtively up and down the endless
ornate table, and he felt he had been, in a sort of way, right in
thinking these people were the handiest instrument to prise open
the national conscience with. The shining red faces of the men, the
shining white necks and arms of the women, the fearless eyes, the
general free-and-easiness and spaciousness, the look of late hours
counteracted by fresh air and exercise and the best things to eat and
drink--what mightn't be made of these people, if they'd only Submit?

Perkins looked behind them, at the solemn young footmen passing
and repassing, noiselessly, in blue and white liveries. _They_ had
Submitted. And it was just because they had been able to that they
were no good.

"Damn!" said Perkins, under his breath.


One of the big conifers from the park had been erected in the hall,
and this, after dinner, was found to be all lighted up with electric
bulbs and hung with packages in tissue paper.

The Duchess stood, a bright, feral figure, distributing these packages
to the guests. Perkins' name was called out in due course and the
package addressed to him was slipped into his hand. He retired
with it into a corner. Inside the tissue-paper was a small morocco
leather case. Inside that was a set of diamond and sapphire
sleeve-links--large ones.

He stood looking at them, blinking a little.

He supposed he must put them on. But something in him,
some intractably tough bit of his old self, rose up

If he couldn't Use these people, at least they weren't going to Use

"No, damn it!" he said under his breath, and, thrusting the case into
his pocket, slipped away unobserved.


He flung himself into a chair in his bedroom and puffed a blast of air
from his lungs.... Yes, it had been a narrow escape. He knew that if
he had put those beastly blue and white things on he would have been a
lost soul....

"You've got to pull yourself together, d'you hear?" he said to
himself. "You've got to do a lot of clear, steady, merciless
thinking--now, to-night. You've got to persuade yourself somehow that,
Foundlings or no Foundlings, this regeneration of mankind business may
still be set going--and by _you_."

He paced up and down the room, fuming. How recapture the generous
certitudes that had one by one been slipping away from him? He found
himself staring vacantly at the row of books on the little shelf by
his bed. One of them seemed suddenly to detach itself--he could almost
have sworn afterwards that he didn't reach out for it, but that it
hopped down into his hand....

"Sitting Up For The Dawn"! It was one of that sociological series by
which H.G. W*lls had first touched his soul to finer issues when he
was at the 'Varsity.

He opened it with tremulous fingers. Could it re-exert its old sway
over him now?

The page he had opened it at was headed "General Cessation Day," and
he began to read....

"The re-casting of the calendar on a decimal basis seems a simple
enough matter at first sight. But even here there are details that
will have to be thrashed out....

"Mr. Edgar Dibbs, in his able pamphlet 'Ten to the Rescue,'[1]
advocates a twenty-hour day, and has drawn up an ingenious scheme for
accelerating the motion of this planet by four in every twenty-four
hours, so that the alternations of light and darkness shall be
re-adjusted to the new reckoning. I think such re-adjustment would
be indispensable (though I know there is a formidable body of opinion
against me). But I am far from being convinced of the feasibility
of Mr. Dibbs' scheme. I believe the twenty-four hour day has come to
stay--anomalous though it certainly will seem in the ten-day week,
the fifty-day month, and the thousand-day year. I should like to have
incorporated Mr. Dibbs' scheme in my vision of the Dawn. But, as I
have said, the scope of this vision is purely practical....

[Footnote 1: Published by the Young Self-Helpers' Press, Ipswich.]

"Mr. Albert Baker, in a paper[2] read before the South Brixton
Hebdomadals, pleads that the first seven days of the decimal
week should retain their old names, the other three to be called
provisionally Huxleyday, Marxday, and Tolstoiday. But, for reasons
which I have set forth elsewhere,[3] I believe that the nomenclature
which I had originally suggested[4]--Aday, Bday, and so on to
Jday--would be really the simplest way out of the difficulty.
Any fanciful way of naming the days would be bad, as too sharply
differentiating one day from another. What we must strive for in the
Dawn is that every day shall be as nearly as possible like every
other day. We must help the human units--these little pink slobbering
creatures of the Future whose cradle we are rocking--to progress not
in harsh jerks, but with a beautiful unconscious rhythm....

[Footnote 2: "Are We Going Too Fast?"]

[Footnote 3: "A Midwife For The Millennium." H.G. W*lls.]

[Footnote 4: "How To Be Happy Though Yet Unborn." H.G. W*lls.]

"There must be nothing corresponding to our Sunday. Sunday is a canker
that must be cut ruthlessly out of the social organism. At present
the whole community gets 'slack' on Saturday because of the paralysis
that is about to fall on it. And then 'Black Monday'!--that day when
the human brain tries to readjust itself--tries to realise that the
shutters are down, and the streets are swept, and the stove-pipe hats
are back in their band-boxes....

"Yet of course there must be holidays. We can no more do without
holidays than without sleep. For every man there must be certain
stated intervals of repose--of recreation in the original sense of the
word. My views on the worthlessness of classical education are perhaps
pretty well known to you, but I don't underrate the great service that
my friend Professor Ezra K. Higgins has rendered by his discovery[5]
that the word recreation originally signified a re-creating--i.e.,[6]
a time for the nerve-tissues to renew themselves in. The problem
before us is how to secure for the human units in the Dawn--these
giants of whom we are but the foetuses--the holidays necessary for
their full capacity for usefulness to the State, without at the same
time disorganising the whole community--and them.

[Footnote 5: "Words About Words." By Ezra K. Higgins, Professor of
  Etymology, Abraham Z. Stubbins University, Padua, Pa., U.S.A. (2

[Footnote 6: "_Id est_"--"That is."]

"The solution is really very simple. The community will be divided
into ten sections--Section A, Section B, and so on to Section J. And
to every section one day of the decimal week will be assigned as a
'Cessation Day.' Thus, those people who fall under Section A will rest
on Aday, those who fall under Section B will rest on Bday, and so on.
On every day of the year one-tenth of the population will be resting,
but the other nine-tenths will be at work. The joyous hum and clang of
labour will never cease in the municipal workshops....

"You figure the smokeless blue sky above London dotted all over with
airships in which the holiday-making tenth are re-creating themselves
for the labour of next week--looking down a little wistfully, perhaps,
at the workshops from which they are temporarily banished. And here I
scent a difficulty. So attractive a thing will labour be in the Dawn
that a man will be tempted not to knock off work when his Cessation
Day comes round, and will prefer to work for no wage rather than not
at all. So that perhaps there will have to be a law making Cessation
Day compulsory, and the Overseers will be empowered to punish
infringement of this law by forbidding the culprit to work for ten
days after the first offence, twenty after the second, and so on. But
I don't suppose there will often be need to put this law in motion.
The children of the Dawn, remember, will not be the puny self-ridden
creatures that we are. They will not say, 'Is this what I want to
do?' but 'Shall I, by doing this, be (a) harming or (b) benefiting--no
matter in how infinitesimal a degree--the Future of the Race?'

"Sunday must go. And, as I have hinted, the progress of mankind will
be steady proportionately to its own automatism. Yet I think there
would be no harm in having one--just one--day in the year set aside as
a day of universal rest--a day for the searching of hearts. Heaven--I
mean the Future--forbid that I should be hide-bound by dry-as-dust
logic, in dealing with problems of flesh and blood. The sociologists
of the past thought the grey matter of their own brains all-sufficing.
They forgot that flesh is pink and blood is red. That is why they
could not convert people....

"The five-hundredth and last day of each year shall be a General
Cessation Day. It will correspond somewhat to our present Christmas
Day. But with what a difference! It will not be, as with us, a mere
opportunity for relatives to make up the quarrels they have picked
with each other during the past year, and to eat and drink things that
will make them ill well into next year. Holly and mistletoe there will
be in the Municipal Eating Rooms, but the men and women who sit down
there to General Cessation High-Tea will be glowing not with a facile
affection for their kith and kin, but with communal anxiety for the
welfare of the great-great-grand-children of people they have never
met and are never likely to meet.

"The great event of the day will be the performance of the ceremony of
'Making Way.'

"In the Dawn, death will not be the haphazard affair that it is under
the present anarchic conditions. Men will not be stumbling out of
the world at odd moments and for reasons over which they have no
control. There will always, of course, be a percentage of deaths by
misadventure. But there will be no deaths by disease. Nor, on the
other hand, will people die of old age. Every child will start life
knowing that (barring misadventure) he has a certain fixed period of
life before him--so much and no more, but not a moment less.

"It is impossible to foretell to what average age the children of the
Dawn will retain the use of all their faculties--be fully vigorous
mentally and physically. We only know they will be 'going strong' at
ages when we have long ceased to be any use to the State. Let us, for
sake of argument, say that on the average their facilities will have
begun to decay at the age of ninety--a trifle over thirty-two, by the
new reckoning. That, then, will be the period of life fixed for all
citizens. Every man on fulfilling that period will avail himself of
the Municipal Lethal Chamber. He will 'make way'....

"I thought at one time that it would be best for every man to 'make
way' on the actual day when he reaches the age-limit. But I see now
that this would savour of private enterprise. Moreover, it would rule
out that element of sentiment which, in relation to such a thing as
death, we must do nothing to mar. The children and friends of a man on
the brink of death would instinctively wish to gather round him. How
could they accompany him to the lethal chamber, if it were an ordinary
working-day, with every moment of the time mapped out for them?

"On General Cessation Day, therefore, the gates of the lethal chambers
will stand open for all those who shall in the course of the past year
have reached the age-limit. You figure the wide streets filled all day
long with little solemn processions--solemn and yet not in the least
unhappy.... You figure the old man walking with a firm step in the
midst of his progeny, looking around him with a clear eye at this dear
world which is about to lose him. He will not be thinking of himself.
He will not be wishing the way to the lethal chamber was longer. He
will be filled with joy at the thought that he is about to die for
the good of the race--to 'make way' for the beautiful young breed
of men and women who, in simple, artistic, antiseptic garments, are
disporting themselves so gladly on this day of days. They pause
to salute him as he passes. And presently he sees, radiant in the
sunlight, the pleasant white-tiled dome of the lethal chamber. You
figure him at the gate, shaking hands all round, and speaking perhaps
a few well-chosen words about the Future...."


It was enough. The old broom hadn't lost its snap. It had swept clean
the chambers of Perkins' soul--swished away the whole accumulation of
nasty little cobwebs and malignant germs. Gone were the mean doubts
that had formed in him, the lethargy, the cheap cynicism. Perkins was
himself again.

He saw now how very stupid it was of him to have despaired just
because his own particular panacea wasn't given a chance. That
Provisional Government plan of his had been good, but it was only
one of an infinite number of possible paths to the Dawn. He would
try others--scores of others....

He must get right away out of here--to-night. He must have his car
brought round from the garage--now--to a side door....

But first he sat down to the writing-table, and wrote quickly:

    _Dear Duchess,_

    _I regret I am called away on urgent political business...._

          _Yours faithfully_ _J. Perkins...._

He took the morocco leather case out of his pocket and enclosed it,
with the note, in a large envelope.

Then he pressed the electric button by his bedside, almost feeling
that this was a signal for the Dawn to rise without more ado....




That it is human to err is admitted by even the most positive of our
thinkers. Here we have the great difference between latter-day thought
and the thought of the past. If Euclid were alive to-day (and I dare
say he is) he would not say, "The angles at the base of an isosceles
triangle are equal to one another." He would say, "To me (a very
frail and fallible being, remember) it does somehow seem that these
two angles have a mysterious and awful equality to one another." The
dislike of schoolboys for Euclid is unreasonable in many ways; but
fundamentally it is entirely reasonable. Fundamentally it is the
revolt from a man who was either fallible and therefore (in pretending
to infallibility) an impostor, or infallible and therefore not human.

Now, since it is human to err, it is always in reference to those
things which arouse in us the most human of all our emotions--I mean
the emotion of love--that we conceive the deepest of our errors.
Suppose we met Euclid on Westminster Bridge, and he took us aside and
confessed to us that whilst he regarded parallelograms and rhomboids
with an indifference bordering on contempt, for isosceles triangles he
cherished a wild romantic devotion. Suppose he asked us to accompany
him to the nearest music-shop, and there purchased a guitar in order
that he might worthily sing to us the radiant beauty and the radiant
goodness of isosceles triangles. As men we should, I hope, respect his
enthusiasm, and encourage his enthusiasm, and catch his enthusiasm.
But as seekers after truth we should be compelled to regard with a
dark suspicion, and to check with the most anxious care, every fact
that he told us about isosceles triangles. For adoration involves a
glorious obliquity of vision. It involves more than that. We do not
say of Love that he is short-sighted. We do not say of Love that he
is myopic. We do not say of Love that he is astigmatic. We say quite
simply, Love is blind. We might go further and say, Love is deaf. That
would be a profound and obvious truth. We might go further still and
say, Love is dumb. But that would be a profound and obvious lie. For
love is always an extraordinarily fluent talker. Love is a wind-bag,
filled with a gusty wind from Heaven.

It is always about the thing that we love most that we talk most.
About this thing, therefore, our errors are something more than our
deepest errors: they are our most frequent errors. That is why for
nearly two thousand years mankind has been more glaringly wrong on the
subject of Christmas than on any other subject. If mankind had hated
Christmas, he would have understood it from the first. What would
have happened then, it is impossible to say. For that which is hated,
and therefore is persecuted, and therefore grows brave, lives on
for ever, whilst that which is understood dies in the moment of our
understanding of it--dies, as it were, in our awful grasp. Between
the horns of this eternal dilemma shivers all the mystery of the jolly
visible world, and of that still jollier world which is invisible.
And it is because Mr. Shaw and the writers of his school cannot, with
all their splendid sincerity and, acumen, perceive that he and they
and all of us are impaled on those horns as certainly as the sausages
I ate for breakfast this morning had been impaled on the cook's
toasting-fork--it is for this reason, I say, that Mr. Shaw and his
friends seem to me to miss the basic principle that lies at the root
of all things human and divine. By the way, not all things that are
divine are human. But all things that are human are divine. But to
return to Christmas.

I select at random two of the more obvious fallacies that obtain. One
is that Christmas should be observed as a time of jubilation. This is
(I admit) quite a recent idea. It never entered into the tousled heads
of the shepherds by night, when the light of the angel of the Lord
shone about them and they arose and went to do homage to the Child. It
never entered into the heads of the Three Wise Men. They did not bring
their gifts as a joke, but as an awful oblation. It never entered into
the heads of the saints and scholars, the poets and painters, of the
Middle Ages. Looking back across the years, they saw in that dark and
ungarnished manger only a shrinking woman, a brooding man, and a child
born to sorrow. The philomaths of the eighteenth century, looking
back, saw nothing at all. It is not the least of the glories of the
Victorian Era that it rediscovered Christmas. It is not the least of
the mistakes of the Victorian Era that it supposed Christmas to be a

The splendour of the saying, "I have piped unto you, and you have not
danced; I have wept with you, and you have not mourned" lies in the
fact that it might have been uttered with equal truth by any man who
had ever piped or wept. There is in the human race some dark spirit of
recalcitrance, always pulling us in the direction contrary to that in
which we are reasonably expected to go. At a funeral, the slightest
thing, not in the least ridiculous at any other time, will convulse
us with internal laughter. At a wedding, we hover mysteriously on the
brink of tears. So it is with the modern Christmas. I find myself in
agreement with the cynics in so far that I admit that Christmas, as
now observed, tends to create melancholy. But the reason for this
lies solely in our own misconception. Christmas is essentially a _dies
iræ_. If the cynics will only make up their minds to treat it as such,
even the saddest and most atrabilious of them will acknowledge that he
has had a rollicking day.

This brings me to the second fallacy. I refer to the belief that
"Christmas comes but once a year." Perhaps it does, according to the
calendar--a quaint and interesting compilation, but of little or no
practical value to anybody. It is not the calendar, but the Spirit of
Man that regulates the recurrence of feasts and fasts. Spiritually,
Christmas Day recurs exactly seven times a week. When we have frankly
acknowledged this, and acted on this, we shall begin to realise the
Day's mystical and terrific beauty. For it is only every-day things
that reveal themselves to us in all their wonder and their splendour.
A man who happens one day to be knocked down by a motor-bus merely
utters a curse and instructs his solicitor, but a man who has been
knocked down by a motor-bus every day of the year will have begun to
feel that he is taking part in an august and soul-cleansing ritual.
He will await the diurnal stroke of fate with the same lowly and pious
joy as animated the Hindoos awaiting Juggernaut. His bruises will be
decorations, worn with the modest pride of the veteran. He will cry
aloud, in the words of the late W.E. Henley, "My head is bloody but
unbowed." He will add, "My ribs are broken but unbent."

I look for the time when we shall wish one another a Merry Christmas
every morning; when roast turkey and plum-pudding shall be the staple
of our daily dinner, and the holly shall never be taken down from the
walls, and everyone will always be kissing everyone else under the
mistletoe. And what is right as regards Christmas is right as regards
all other so-called anniversaries. The time will come when we shall
dance round the Maypole every morning before breakfast--a meal at
which hot-cross buns will be a standing dish--and shall make April
fools of one another every day before noon. The profound significance
of All Fool's Day--the glorious lesson that we are all fools--is
too apt at present to be lost. Nor is justice done to the sublime
symbolism of Shrove Tuesday--the day on which all sins are shriven.
Every day pancakes shall be eaten, either before or after the
plum-pudding. They shall be eaten slowly and sacramentally. They shall
be fried over fires tended and kept for ever bright by Vestals. They
shall be tossed to the stars.

I shall return to the subject of Christmas next week.




[Footnote 7: _This has been composed from a scenario thrust on me
  by some one else. My philosophy of life saves me from sense of
  responsibility for any of my writings; but I venture to hold
  myself specially irresponsible for this one._--TH*M*S H*RDY.]

  The Void is disclosed. Our own Solar System is visible,
    distant by some two million miles.

  Enter the Ancient Spirit and Chorus of the Years, the Spirit
    and Chorus of the Pities, the Spirit Ironic, the Spirit
    Sinister, Rumours, Spirit-Messengers, and the Recording Angel.


  _Yonder, that swarm of things insectual_
  _Wheeling Nowhither in Particular--_
  _What is it?_


            _That? Oh that is merely one_
  _Of those innumerous congeries_
  _Of parasites by which, since time began,_
  _Space has been interfested._


            _What a pity_
  _We have no means of stamping out these pests!_


  _Nay, but I like to watch them buzzing round,_
  _Poor little trumpery ephaeonals!_

CHORUS OF THE PIETIES (aerial music).

            _Yes, yes!_
  _What matter a few more or less?_
    _Here and Nowhere plus_
    _Whence and Why makes Thus._
    _Let these things be._
  _There's room in the world for them and us._

    _Nothing is,_
  _Out in the vast immensities_
    _Where these things flit,_
    _In a minor key_
  _To the tune of the sempiternal It._


  _The curious thing about them is that some_
  _Have lesser parasites adherent to them--_
  _Bipedular and quadrupedular_
  _Infinitesimals. On close survey_
  _You see these movesome. Do you not recall,_
  _We once went in a party and beheld_
  _All manner of absurd things happening_
  _On one of those same--planets, don't you call them?_

SPIRIT OF THE YEARS (screwing up his eyes at the Solar System).

  _One of that very swarm it was, if I mistake not._
  _It had a parasite that called itself_
  _Napoléon. And lately, I believe,_
  _Another parasite has had the impudence_
  _To publish an elaborate account_
  _Of our (for so we deemed it) private visit._


  _His name?_


  _One moment._

(Turns over leaves.)

            _Hardy, Mr. Thomas,_
  _Novelist. Author of "The Woodlanders,"_
  _"Far from the Madding Crowd," "The Trumpet Major,"_
  _"Tess of the D'Urbervilles," etcetera,_
  _Etcetera. In 1895_
  _"Jude the Obscure" was published, and a few_
  _Hasty reviewers, having to supply_
  _A column for the day of publication,_
  _Filled out their space by saying that there were_
  _Several passages that might have been_
  _Omitted with advantage. Mr. Hardy_
  _Saw that if that was so, well then, of course,_
  _Obviously the only thing to do_
  _Was to write no more novels, and forthwith_
  _Applied himself to drama, and to Us._


  _Let us hear what he said about Us._



RECORDING ANGEL (raising receiver of aerial telephone).

  _3 oh 4 oh oh 3 5, Space.... Hulloa._
  _Is that the Superstellar Library?_
  _I'm the Recording Angel. Kindly send me_
  _By Spirit-Messenger a copy of_
  _"The Dynasts" by T. Hardy. Thank you._

    A pause. Enter Spirit-Messenger, with copy of "The Dynasts."


  Exit Spirit-Messenger. The Recording Angel reads "The Dynasts"

  Just as the reading draws to a close, enter the Spirit of Mr.
    Clement Shorter and Chorus of Subtershorters. They are visible
    as small grey transparencies swiftly interpenetrating the
    brains of the spatial Spirits.


  _It is a book which, once you take it up,_
  _You cannot readily lay down._


            _There is_
  _Not a dull page in it._


            _A bold conception_
  _Outcarried with that artistry for which_
  _The author's name is guarantee. We have_
  _No hesitation in commending to our readers_
  _A volume which--_

  The Spirit of Mr. Clement Shorter and Chorus of Subtershorters
    are detected and expelled.

            _--we hasten to denounce_
  _As giving an entirely false account_
  _Of our impressions._


    Hear, _hear_!


        Hear, _hear_!




  _Intensive vision has this Mr. Hardy,_
  _With a dark skill in weaving word-patterns_
  _Of subtle ideographies that mark him_
  _A man of genius. So am not I,_
  _But a plain Spirit, simple and forthright,_
  _With no damned philosophical fal-lals_
  _About me. When I visited that planet_
  _And watched the animalculae thereon,_
  _I never said they were "automata"_
  _And "jackaclocks," nor dared describe their deeds_
  _As "Life's impulsion by Incognizance."_
  _It may be that those mites have no free will,_
  _But how should I know? Nay, how Mr. Hardy?_
  _We cannot glimpse the origin of things,_
  _Cannot conceive a Causeless Cause, albeit_
  _Such a Cause must have been, and must be greater_
  _Than we whose little wits cannot conceive it._
  _"Incognizance"! Why deem incognizant_
  _An infinitely higher than ourselves?_
  _How dare define its way with us? How know_
  _Whether it leaves us free or holds us bond?_


  _Allow me to associate myself_
  _With every word that's fallen from your lips._
  _The author of "The Dynasts" has indeed_
  _Misused his undeniably great gifts_
  _In striving to belittle things that are_
  _Little enough already. I don't say_
  _That the phrenetical behaviour_
  _Of those aforesaid animalculae_
  _Did, while we watched them, seem to indicate_
  _Possession of free-will. But, bear in mind,_
  _We saw them in peculiar circumstances--_
  _At war, blinded with blood and lust and fear._
  _Is it not likely that at other times_
  _They are quite decent midgets, capable_
  _Of thinking for themselves, and also acting_
  _Discreetly on their own initiative,_
  _Not drilled and herded, yet gregarious--_
  _A wise yet frolicsome community?_


  _What are these "other times" though? I had thought_
  _Those midgets whiled away the vacuous hours_
  _After one war in training for the next._
  _And let me add that my contempt for them_
  _Is not done justice to by Mr. Hardy._


  _Nor mine. And I have reason to believe_
  _Those midgets shone above their average_
  _When we inspected them._

A RUMOUR (tactfully intervening).

            _Yet have I heard_
  _(Though not on very good authority)_
  _That once a year they hold a festival_
  _And thereat all with one accord unite_
  _In brotherly affection and good will._

SPIRIT OF THE YEARS (to Recording Angel).

  _Can you authenticate this Rumour?_


  _Such festival they have, and call it "Christmas."_


  _Then let us go and reconsider them_
  _Next "Christmas."_

SPIRIT OF THE YEARS (to Recording Angel).

          _When is that?_

RECORDING ANGEL (consults terrene calendar).

            _This day three weeks._


  _On that day we will re-traject ourselves._
  _Meanwhile, 'twere well we should be posted up_
  _In details of this feast._

SPIRIT OF THE PITIES (to Recording Angel).

            _Aye, tell us more._


  _I fancy you could best find what you need_
  _In the Complete Works of the late Charles Dickens._
  _I have them here._


            _Read them aloud to us._

  The Recording Angel reads aloud the Complete Works of Charles

RECORDING ANGEL (closing "Edwin Drood").

  _'Tis Christmas Morning._


            _Then must we away._

SEMICHORUS I. OF YEARS (aerial music).

  _'Tis time we press on to revisit_
    _That dear little planet,_
  _To-day of all days to be seen at_
    _Its brightest and best._

  _Now holly and mistletoe girdle_
    _Its halls and its homesteads,_
  _And every biped is beaming_
    _With peace and good will._


  _With good will and why not with free will?_
    _If clearly the former_
  _May nest in those bosoms, then why not_
    _The latter as well?_
  _Let's lay down no laws to trip up on,_
    _Our way is in darkness,_
  _And not but by groping unhampered_
    _We win to the light._

  The Spirit and Chorus of the Years traject themselves, closely
    followed by the Spirit and Chorus of the Pities, the Spirits
    and Choruses Sinister and Ironic, Rumours, Spirit Messengers,
    and the Recording Angel.

  There is the sound of a rushing wind. The Solar System is seen
    for a few instants growing larger and larger--a whorl of dark,
    vastening orbs careering round the sun. All but one of these
    is lost to sight. The convex seas and continents of our planet
    spring into prominence.

  The Spirit of Mr. Hardy is visible as a grey transparency
    swiftly interpenetrating the brain of the Spirit of the Years,
    and urging him in a particular direction, to a particular

  The Aerial Visitants now hover in mid-air on the outskirts of
    Casterbridge, Wessex, immediately above the County Gaol.


  _First let us watch the revelries within_
  _This well-kept castle whose great walls connote_
  _A home of the pre-eminently blest._

  The roof of the gaol becomes transparent, and the whole
    interior is revealed, like that of a beehive under glass.
    Warders are marching mechanically round the corridors of
    white stone, unlocking and clanging open the iron doors of
    the cells. Out from every door steps a convict, who stands at
    attention, his face to the wall.

  At a word of command the convicts fall into gangs of twelve,
    and march down the stone stairs, out into the yard, where they
    line up against the walls.

  Another word of command, and they file mechanically, but not
    more mechanically than their warders, into the Chapel.




        _'Tis more than even we can bear._


  _Would we had never come!_


            _Brother, 'tis well_
  _To have faced a truth however hideous,_
  _However humbling. Gladly I discipline_
  _My pride by taking back those pettish doubts_
  _Cast on the soundness of the central thought_
  _In Mr. Hardy's drama. He was right._
  _Automata these animalculae_
  _Are--puppets, pitiable jackaclocks._
  _Be't as it may elsewhere, upon this planet_
  _There's no free will, only obedience_
  _To some blind, deaf, unthinking despotry_
  _That justifies the horridest pessimism._
  _Frankly acknowledging all this, I beat_
  _A quick but not disorderly retreat._

  He re-trajects himself into Space, followed closely by his
    Chorus, and by the Spirit and Chorus of the Pities, the
    Spirits Sinister and Ironic with their Choruses, Rumours,
    Spirit Messengers, and the Recording Angel.




That Shakespeare hated Christmas--hated it with a venom utterly
alien to the gentle heart in him--I take to be a proposition that
establishes itself automatically. If there is one thing lucid-obvious
in the Plays and Sonnets, it is Shakespeare's unconquerable loathing
of Christmas. The Professors deny it, however, or deny that it is
proven. With these gentlemen I will deal faithfully. I will meet them
on their own parched ground, making them fertilise it by shedding
there the last drop of the water that flows through their veins.

If you find, in the works of a poet whose instinct is to write about
everything under the sun, one obvious theme untouched, or touched
hardly at all, then it is at least presumable that there was some good
reason for that abstinence. Such a poet was Shakespeare. It was one of
the divine frailties of his genius that he must be ever flying off at
a tangent from his main theme to unpack his heart in words about some
frivolous-small irrelevance that had come into his head. If it could
be shown that he never mentioned Christmas, we should have proof
presumptive that he consciously avoided doing so. But if the fact
is that he did mention it now and again, but in grudging fashion,
without one spark of illumination--he, the arch-illuminator of all
things--then we have proof positive that he detested it.

I see Dryasdust thumbing his Concordance. Let my memory save him the
trouble. I will reel him off the one passage in which Shakespeare
spoke of Christmas in words that rise to the level of mediocrity.

  Some say that ever 'gainst that season comes
  Wherein our Saviour's birth is celebrated,
  The bird of dawning singeth all night long:
  And then, they say, no spirit dare stir abroad;
  The nights are wholesome; then no planets strike,
  No fairy takes, nor witch hath power to charm,
  So hallowed and so gracious is the time.

So says Marcellus at Elsinore. This is the best our Shakespeare can
vamp up for the birthday of the Man with whom he of all men had the
most in common. And Dryasdust, eternally unable to distinguish chalk
from cheese, throws up his hands in admiration of the marvellous
poetry. If Dryasdust had written it, it would more than pass
muster. But as coming from Shakespeare, how feeble-cold--aye,
and sulky-sinister! The greatest praiser the world will ever
know!--and all he can find in his heart to sing of Christmas is a
stringing-together of old women's superstitions! Again and again he
has painted Winter for us as it never has been painted since--never
by Goethe even, though Goethe in more than one of the _Winter-Lieder_
touched the hem of his garment. There was every external reason why
he should sing, as only he could have sung, of Christmas. The Queen
set great store by it. She and her courtiers celebrated it year by
year with lusty-pious unction. And thus the ineradicable snob in
Shakespeare had the most potent of all inducements to honour the feast
with the full power that was in him. But he did not, because he would
not. What is the key to the enigma?

For many years I hunted it vainly. The second time that I met Carlyle
I tried to enlist his sympathy and aid. He sat pensive for a while and
then said that it seemed to him "a goose-quest." I replied, "You have
always a phrase for everything, Tom, but always the wrong one." He
covered his face, and presently, peering at me through his gnarled
fingers, said "Mon, ye're recht." I discussed the problem with Renan,
with Emerson, with Disraeli, also with Cetewayo--poor Cetewayo, best
and bravest of men, but intellectually a Professor, like the rest of
them. It was borne in on me that if I were to win to the heart of the
mystery I must win alone.

The solution, when suddenly it dawned on me, was so simple-stark that
I was ashamed of the ingenious-clever ways I had been following. (I
learned then--and perhaps it is the one lesson worth the learning of
any man--that truth may be approached only through the logic of the
heart. For the heart is eye and ear, and all excellent understanding
abides there.) On Christmas Day, assuredly, Anne Hathaway was born.

In what year she was born I do not know nor care. I take it she
was not less than thirty-eight when she married Shakespeare. This,
however, is sheer conjecture, and in no way important-apt to our
inquiry. It is not the year, but the day of the year, that matters.
All we need bear in mind is that on Christmas Day that woman was born
into the world.

If there be any doubting Thomas among my readers, let him not
be afraid to utter himself. I am (with the possible exception of
Shakespeare) the gentlest man that ever breathed, and I do but bid him
study the Plays in the light I have given him. The first thing that
will strike him is that Shakespeare's thoughts turned constantly to
the birthdays of all his Fitton-heroines, as a lover's thoughts always
do turn to the moment at which the loved one first saw the light.
"There was a star danced, and under that" was born Beatrice. Juliet
was born "on Lammas Eve." Marina tells us she derived her name from
the chance of her having been "born at sea." And so on, throughout the
whole gamut of women in whom Mary Fitton was bodied forth to us. But
mark how carefully Shakespeare says never a word about the birthdays
of the various shrews and sluts in whom, again and again, he gave
us his wife. When and were was born Queen Constance, the scold? And
Bianca? And Doll Tearsheet, and "Greasy Jane" in the song, and all
the rest of them? It is of the last importance that we should know.
Yet never a hint is vouchsafed us in the text. It is clear that
Shakespeare cannot bring himself to write about Anne Hathaway's
birthday--will not stain his imagination by thinking of it. That is
entirely human-natural. But why should he loathe Christmas Day itself
with precisely the same loathing? There is but one answer--and that
inevitable-final. The two days were one.

Some soul-secrets are so terrible that the most hardened realist of us
may well shrink from laying them bare. Such a soul-secret was this of
Shakespeare's. Think of it! The gentlest spirit that ever breathed,
raging and fuming endlessly in impotent-bitter spleen against the
prettiest of festivals! Here is a spectacle so tragic-piteous that,
try as we will, we shall not put it from us. And it is well that we
should not, for in our plenary compassion we shall but learn to love
the man the more.

    [Mr. Fr*nk H*rr*s is very much a man of genius, and I should
    be sorry if this adumbration of his manner made any one
    suppose that I do not rate his writings about Shakespeare
    higher than those of all "the Professors" together.--M.B.]





Emily Wrackgarth stirred the Christmas pudding till her right arm
began to ache. But she did not cease for that. She stirred on till her
right arm grew so numb that it might have been the right arm of some
girl at the other end of Bursley. And yet something deep down in her
whispered "It is _your_ right arm! And you can do what you like with

She did what she liked with it. Relentlessly she kept it moving till
it reasserted itself as the arm of Emily Wrackgarth, prickling and
tingling as with red-hot needles in every tendon from wrist to elbow.
And still Emily Wrackgarth hardened her heart.

Presently she saw the spoon no longer revolving, but wavering
aimlessly in the midst of the basin. Ridiculous! This must be seen
to! In the down of dark hairs that connected her eyebrows there was a
marked deepening of that vertical cleft which, visible at all times,
warned you that here was a young woman not to be trifled with. Her
brain despatched to her hand a peremptory message--which miscarried.
The spoon wabbled as though held by a baby. Emily knew that she
herself as a baby had been carried into this very kitchen to stir
the Christmas pudding. Year after year, as she grew up, she had been
allowed to stir it "for luck." And those, she reflected, were the only
cookery lessons she ever got. How like Mother!

Mrs. Wrackgarth had died in the past year, of a complication of
ailments.[8] Emily still wore on her left shoulder that small tag of
crape which is as far as the Five Towns go in the way of mourning. Her
father had died in the year previous to that, of a still more curious
and enthralling complication of ailments.[9] Jos, his son, carried
on the Wrackgarth Works, and Emily kept house for Jos. She with her
own hand had made this pudding. But for her this pudding would not
have been. Fantastic! Utterly incredible! And yet so it was. She was
grown-up. She was mistress of the house. She could make or unmake
puddings at will. And yet she was Emily Wrackgarth. Which was absurd.

[Footnote 8: See "The History of Sarah Wrackgarth," pp. 345-482.]

[Footnote 9: See "The History of Sarah Wrackgarth," pp. 231-344.]

She would not try to explain, to reconcile. She abandoned herself to
the exquisite mysteries of existence. And yet in her abandonment she
kept a sharp look-out on herself, trying fiercely to make head or
tail of her nature. She thought herself a fool. But the fact that
she thought so was for her a proof of adult sapience. Odd! She gave
herself up. And yet it was just by giving herself up that she seemed
to glimpse sometimes her own inwardness. And these bleak revelations
saddened her. But she savoured her sadness. It was the wine of life
to her. And for her sadness she scorned herself, and in her conscious
scorn she recovered her self-respect.

It is doubtful whether the people of southern England have even yet
realised how much introspection there is going on all the time in the
Five Towns.

Visible from the window of the Wrackgarths' parlour was that colossal
statue of Commerce which rears itself aloft at the point where Oodge
Lane is intersected by Blackstead Street. Commerce, executed in glossy
Doultonware by some sculptor or sculptors unknown, stands pointing her
thumb over her shoulder towards the chimneys of far Hanbridge. When I
tell you that the circumference of that thumb is six inches, and the
rest to scale, you will understand that the statue is one of the prime
glories of Bursley. There were times when Emily Wrackgarth seemed to
herself as vast and as lustrously impressive as it. There were other
times when she seemed to herself as trivial and slavish as one of
those performing fleas she had seen at the Annual Ladies' Evening Fête
organised by the Bursley Mutual Burial Club. Extremist!

She was now stirring the pudding with her left hand. The ingredients
had already been mingled indistinguishably in that rich, undulating
mass of tawniness which proclaims perfection. But Emily was determined
to give her left hand, not less than her right, what she called "a
doing." Emily was like that.

At mid-day, when her brother came home from the Works, she was still
at it.

"Brought those scruts with you?" she asked, without looking up.

"That's a fact," he said, dipping his hand into the sagging pocket of
his coat.

It is perhaps necessary to explain what scruts are. In the daily
output of every potbank there are a certain proportion of flawed
vessels. These are cast aside by the foreman, with a lordly gesture,
and in due course are hammered into fragments. These fragments, which
are put to various uses, are called scruts; and one of the uses they
are put to is a sentimental one. The dainty and luxurious Southerner
looks to find in his Christmas pudding a wedding-ring, a gold thimble,
a threepenny-bit, or the like. To such fal-lals the Five Towns would
say fie. A Christmas pudding in the Five Towns contains nothing but
suet, flour, lemon-peel, cinnamon, brandy, almonds, raisins--and
two or three scruts. There is a world of poetry, beauty, romance, in
scruts--though you have to have been brought up on them to appreciate
it. Scruts have passed into the proverbial philosophy of the district.
"Him's a pudden with more scruts than raisins to 'm" is a criticism
not infrequently heard. It implies respect, even admiration. Of Emily
Wrackgarth herself people often said, in reference to her likeness to
her father, "Her's a scrut o' th' owd basin."

Jos had emptied out from his pocket on to the table a good three dozen
of scruts. Emily laid aside her spoon, rubbed the palms of her hands
on the bib of her apron, and proceeded to finger these scruts with the
air of a connoisseur, rejecting one after another. The pudding was
a small one, designed merely for herself and Jos, with remainder to
"the girl"; so that it could hardly accommodate more than two or three
scruts. Emily knew well that one scrut is as good as another. Yet she
did not want her brother to feel that anything selected by him would
necessarily pass muster with her. For his benefit she ostentatiously
wrinkled her nose.

"By the by," said Jos, "you remember Albert Grapp? I've asked him to
step over from Hanbridge and help eat our snack on Christmas Day."

Emily gave Jos one of her looks. "You've asked that Mr. Grapp?"

"No objection, I hope? He's not a bad sort. And he's considered a bit
of a ladies' man, you know."

She gathered up all the scruts and let them fall in a rattling shower
on the exiguous pudding. Two or three fell wide of the basin. These
she added.

"Steady on!" cried Jos. "What's that for?"

"That's for your guest," replied his sister. "And if you think you're
going to palm me off on to him, or on to any other young fellow,
you're a fool, Jos Wrackgarth."

The young man protested weakly, but she cut him short.

"Don't think," she said, "I don't know what you've been after, just of
late. Cracking up one young sawny and then another on the chance of me
marrying him! I never heard of such goings on. But here I am, and here
I'll stay, as sure as my name's Emily Wrackgarth, Jos Wrackgarth!"

She was the incarnation of the adorably feminine. She was exquisitely
vital. She exuded at every pore the pathos of her young undirected
force. It is difficult to write calmly about her. For her, in another
age, ships would have been launched and cities besieged. But brothers
are a race apart, and blind. It is a fact that Jos would have been
glad to see his sister "settled"--preferably in one of the other four

She took up the spoon and stirred vigorously. The scruts grated and
squeaked together around the basin, while the pudding feebly wormed
its way up among them.


Albert Grapp, ladies' man though he was, was humble of heart. Nobody
knew this but himself. Not one of his fellow clerks in Clither's
Bank knew it. The general theory in Hanbridge was "Him's got a stiff
opinion o' hisself." But this arose from what was really a sign of
humility in him. He made the most of himself. He had, for instance, a
way of his own in the matter of dressing. He always wore a voluminous
frock-coat, with a pair of neatly-striped vicuna trousers, which he
placed every night under his mattress, thus preserving in perfection
the crease down the centre of each. His collar was of the highest,
secured in front with an aluminium stud, to which was attached by a
patent loop a natty bow of dove-coloured sateen. He had two caps,
one of blue serge, the other of shepherd's plaid. These he wore on
alternate days. He wore them in a way of his own--well back from his
forehead, so as not to hide his hair, and with the peak behind. The
peak made a sort of half-moon over the back of his collar. Through a
fault of his tailor, there was a yawning gap between the back of his
collar and the collar of his coat. Whenever he shook his head, the
peak of his cap had the look of a live thing trying to investigate
this abyss. Dimly aware of the effect, Albert Grapp shook his head as
seldom as possible.

On wet days he wore a mackintosh. This, as he did not yet possess a
great-coat, he wore also, but with less glory, on cold days. He had
hoped there might be rain on Christmas morning. But there was no rain.
"Like my luck," he said as he came out of his lodgings and turned
his steps to that corner of Jubilee Avenue from which the
Hanbridge-Bursley trams start every half-hour.

Since Jos Wrackgarth had introduced him to his sister at the Hanbridge
Oddfellows' Biennial Hop, when he danced two quadrilles with her, he
had seen her but once. He had nodded to her, Five Towns fashion, and
she had nodded back at him, but with a look that seemed to say "You
needn't nod next time you see me. I can get along well enough without
your nods." A frightening girl! And yet her brother had since told him
she seemed "a bit gone, like" on him. Impossible! He, Albert Grapp,
make an impression on the brilliant Miss Wrackgarth! Yet she had sent
him a verbal invite to spend Christmas in her own home. And the time
had come. He was on his way. Incredible that he should arrive! The
tram must surely overturn, or be struck by lightning. And yet no! He
arrived safely.

The small servant who opened the door gave him another verbal message
from Miss Wrackgarth. It was that he must wipe his feet "well" on the
mat. In obeying this order he experienced a thrill of satisfaction
he could not account for. He must have stood shuffling his boots
vigorously for a full minute. This, he told himself, was life. He,
Albert Grapp, was alive. And the world was full of other men, all
alive; and yet, because they were not doing Miss Wrackgarth's bidding,
none of them really lived. He was filled with a vague melancholy. But
his melancholy pleased him.

In the parlour he found Jos awaiting him. The table was laid for

"So you're here, are you?" said the host, using the Five Towns
formula. "Emily's in the kitchen," he added. "Happen she'll be here

"I hope she's tol-lol-ish?" asked Albert.

"She is," said Jos. "But don't you go saying that to her. She doesn't
care about society airs and graces. You'll make no headway if you
aren't blunt."

"Oh, right you are," said Albert, with the air of a man who knew his
way about.

A moment later Emily joined them, still wearing her kitchen apron. "So
you're here, are you?" she said, but did not shake hands. The servant
had followed her in with the tray, and the next few seconds were
occupied in the disposal of the beef and trimmings.

The meal began, Emily carving. The main thought of a man less
infatuated than Albert Grapp would have been "This girl can't cook.
And she'll never learn to." The beef, instead of being red and brown,
was pink and white. Uneatable beef! And yet he relished it more than
anything he had ever tasted. This beef was her own handiwork. Thus
it was because she had made it so.... He warily refrained from
complimenting her, but the idea of a second helping obsessed him.

"Happen I could do with a bit more, like," he said.

Emily hacked off the bit more and jerked it on to the plate he had
held out to her.

"Thanks," he said; and then, as Emily's lip curled, and Jos gave him
a warning kick under the table, he tried to look as if he had said

Only when the second course came on did he suspect that the meal was a
calculated protest against his presence. This a Christmas pudding? The
litter of fractured earthenware was hardly held together by the suet
and raisins. All his pride of manhood--and there was plenty of pride
mixed up with Albert Grapp's humility--dictated a refusal to touch
that pudding. Yet he soon found himself touching it, though gingerly,
with his spoon and fork.

In the matter of dealing with scruts there are two schools--the old
and the new. The old school pushes its head well over its plate and
drops the scrut straight from its mouth. The new school emits the
scrut into the fingers of its left hand and therewith deposits it on
the rim of the plate. Albert noticed that Emily was of the new school.
But might she not despise as affectation in him what came natural to
herself? On the other hand, if he showed himself as a prop of the old
school, might she not set her face the more stringently against him?
The chances were that whichever course he took would be the wrong one.

It was then that he had an inspiration--an idea of the sort that comes
to a man once in his life and finds him, likely as not, unable to put
it into practice. Albert was not sure he could consummate this idea of
his. He had indisputably fine teeth--"a proper mouthful of grinders"
in local phrase. But would they stand the strain he was going to
impose on them? He could but try them. Without a sign of nervousness
he raised his spoon, with one scrut in it, to his mouth. This scrut he
put between two of his left-side molars, bit hard on it, and--eternity
of that moment!--felt it and heard it snap in two. Emily also heard
it. He was conscious that at sound of the percussion she started
forward and stared at him. But he did not look at her. Calmly,
systematically, with gradually diminishing crackles, he reduced that
scrut to powder, and washed the powder down with a sip of beer. While
he dealt with the second scrut he talked to Jos about the Borough
Council's proposal to erect an electric power-station on the site of
the old gas-works down Hillport way. He was aware of a slight abrasion
inside his left cheek. No matter. He must be more careful. There were
six scruts still to be negotiated. He knew that what he was doing was
a thing grandiose, unique, epical; a history-making thing; a thing
that would outlive marble and the gilded monuments of princes. Yet he
kept his head. He did not hurry, nor did he dawdle. Scrut by scrut,
he ground slowly but he ground exceeding small. And while he did so
he talked wisely and well. He passed from the power-station to a
first edition of Leconte de Lisle's "Parnasse Contemporain" that he
had picked up for sixpence in Liverpool, and thence to the Midland's
proposal to drive a tunnel under the Knype Canal so as to link up the
main-line with the Critchworth and Suddleford loop-line. Jos was too
amazed to put in a word. Jos sat merely gaping--a gape that merged by
imperceptible degrees into a grin. Presently he ceased to watch his
guest. He sat watching his sister.

Not once did Albert himself glance in her direction. She was just
a dim silhouette on the outskirts of his vision. But there she was,
unmoving, and he could feel the fixture of her unseen eyes. The time
was at hand when he would have to meet those eyes. Would he flinch?
Was he master of himself?

The last scrut was powder. No temporising! He jerked his glass to his
mouth. A moment later, holding out his plate to her, he looked Emily
full in the eyes. They were Emily's eyes, but not hers alone. They
were collective eyes--that was it! They were the eyes of stark,
staring womanhood. Her face had been dead white, but now suddenly
up from her throat, over her cheeks, through the down between her
eyebrows, went a rush of colour, up over her temples, through the very
parting of her hair.

"Happen," he said without a quaver in his voice, "I'll have a bit
more, like."

She flung her arms forward on the table and buried her face in them.
It was a gesture wild and meek. It was the gesture foreseen and yet
incredible. It was recondite, inexplicable, and yet obvious. It was
the only thing to be done--and yet, by gum, she had done it.

Her brother had risen from his seat and was now at the door. "Think
I'll step round to the Works," he said, "and see if they banked up
that furnace aright."

    NOTE.--_The author has in preparation a series of volumes
    dealing with the life of Albert and Emily Grapp._




The dawn of Christmas Day found London laid out in a shroud of snow.
Like a body wasted by diseases that had triumphed over it at last,
London lay stark and still now, beneath a sky that was as the closed
leaden shell of a coffin. It was what is called an old-fashioned

Nothing seemed to be moving except the Thames, whose embanked waters
flowed on sullenly in their eternal act of escape to the sea. All
along the wan stretch of Cheyne Walk the thin trees stood exanimate,
with not a breath of wind to stir the snow that pied their
soot-blackened branches. Here and there on the muffled ground lay a
sparrow that had been frozen in the night, its little claws sticking
up heavenward. But here and there also those tinier adventurers of the
London air, smuts, floated vaguely and came to rest on the snow--signs
that in the seeming death of civilisation some housemaids at least
survived, and some fires had been lit.

One of these fires, crackling in the grate of one of those
dining-rooms which look fondly out on the river and tolerantly across
to Battersea, was being watched by the critical eye of an aged
canary. The cage in which this bird sat was hung in the middle of
the bow-window. It contained three perches, and also a pendent hoop.
The tray that was its floor had just been cleaned and sanded. In
the embrasure to the right was a fresh supply of hemp-seed; in the
embrasure to the left the bath-tub had just been refilled with clear
water. Stuck between the bars was a large sprig of groundsel. Yet,
though all was thus in order, the bird did not eat nor drink, nor did
he bathe. With his back to Battersea, and his head sunk deep between
his little sloping shoulders, he watched the fire. The windows had for
a while been opened, as usual, to air the room for him; and the fire
had not yet mitigated the chill. It was not his custom to bathe at so
inclement an hour; and his appetite for food and drink, less keen than
it had once been, required to be whetted by example--he never broke
his fast before his master and mistress broke theirs. Time had been
when, for sheer joy in life, he fluttered from perch to perch, though
there were none to watch him, and even sang roulades, though there
were none to hear. He would not do these things nowadays save at
the fond instigation of Mr. and Mrs. Adrian Berridge. The housemaid
who ministered to his cage, the parlourmaid who laid the Berridges'
breakfast table, sometimes tried to incite him to perform for their
own pleasure. But the sense of caste, strong in his protuberant little
bosom, steeled him against these advances.

While the breakfast-table was being laid, he heard a faint tap against
the window-pane. Turning round, he perceived on the sill a creature
like to himself, but very different--a creature who, despite the
pretensions of a red waistcoat in the worst possible taste, belonged
evidently to the ranks of the outcast and the disinherited. In
previous winters the sill had been strewn every morning with
bread-crumbs. This winter, no bread-crumbs had been vouchsafed; and
the canary, though he did not exactly understand why this was so,
was glad that so it was. He had felt that his poor relations took
advantage of the Berridges' kindness. Two or three of them, as
pensioners, might not have been amiss. But they came in swarms,
and they gobbled their food in a disgusting fashion, not trifling
coquettishly with it as birds should. The reason for this, the canary
knew, was that they were hungry; and of that he was sorry. He hated
to think how much destitution there was in the world; and he could
not help thinking about it when samples of it were thrust under
his notice. That was the principal reason why he was glad that the
window-sill was strewn no more and seldom visited.

He would much rather not have seen this solitary applicant. The two
eyes fixed on his made him feel very uncomfortable. And yet, for fear
of seeming to be outfaced, he did not like to look away.

The subdued clangour of the gong, sounded for breakfast, gave him an
excuse for turning suddenly round and watching the door of the room.

A few moments later there came to him a faint odour of Harris tweed,
followed immediately by the short, somewhat stout figure of his
master--a man whose mild, fresh, pink, round face seemed to find
salvation, as it were, at the last moment, in a neatly-pointed auburn

Adrian Berridge paused on the threshold, as was his wont, with closed
eyes and dilated nostrils, enjoying the aroma of complex freshness
which the dining-room had at this hour. Pathetically a creature of
habit, he liked to savour the various scents, sweet or acrid, that
went to symbolise for him the time and the place. Here were the
immediate scents of dry toast, of China tea of napery fresh from
the wash, together with that vague, super-subtle scent which boiled
eggs give out through their unbroken shells. And as a permanent base
to these there was the scent of much-polished Chippendale, and of
bees'-waxed parquet, and of Persian rugs. To-day, moreover, crowning
the composition, there was the delicate pungency of the holly that
topped the Queen Anne mirror and the Mantegna prints.

Coming forward into the room, Mr. Berridge greeted the canary.
"Well, Amber, old fellow," he said, "a happy Christmas to you!"
Affectionately he pushed the tip of a plump white finger between the
bars. "Tweet!" he added.

"Tweet!" answered the bird, hopping to and fro along his perch.

"Quite an old-fashioned Christmas, Amber!" said Mr. Berridge, turning
to scan the weather. At sight of the robin, a little spasm of pain
contracted his face. A shine of tears came to his prominent pale eyes,
and he turned quickly away. Just at that moment, heralded by a slight
fragrance of old lace and of that peculiar, almost unseizable odour
that uncut turquoises have, Mrs. Berridge appeared.

"What is the matter, Adrian?" she asked quickly. She glanced sideways
into the Queen Anne mirror, her hand fluttering, like a pale moth, to
her hair, which she always wore braided in a fashion she had derived
from Pollaiuolo's St. Ursula.

"Nothing, Jacynth--nothing," he answered with a lightness that carried
no conviction; and he made behind his back a gesture to frighten away
the robin.

"Amber isn't unwell, is he?" She came quickly to the cage. Amber
executed for her a roulade of great sweetness. His voice had not
perhaps the fullness for which it had been noted in earlier years;
but the art with which he managed it was as exquisite as ever. It was
clear to his audience that the veteran artist was hale and hearty.

But Jacynth, relieved on one point, had a misgiving on another. "This
groundsel doesn't look very fresh, does it?" she murmured, withdrawing
the sprig from the bars. She rang the bell, and when the servant came
in answer to it said, "Oh Jenny, will you please bring up another
piece of groundsel for Master Amber? I don't think this one is quite

This formal way of naming the canary to the servants always jarred on
her principles and on those of her husband. They tried to regard their
servants as essentially equals of themselves, and lately had given
Jenny strict orders to leave off calling them "Sir" and "Ma'am," and
to call them simply "Adrian" and "Jacynth." But Jenny, after one or
two efforts that ended in faint giggles, had reverted to the crude
old nomenclature--as much to the relief as to the mortification of the
Berridges. They did, it is true, discuss the possibility of redressing
the balance by calling the parlourmaid "Miss." But, when it came to
the point, their lips refused this office. And conversely their lips
persisted in the social prefix to the bird's name.

Somehow that anomaly seemed to them symbolic of their lives. Both of
them yearned so wistfully to live always in accordance to the nature
of things. And this, they felt, ought surely to be the line of least
resistance. In the immense difficulties it presented, and in their
constant failures to surmount these difficulties, they often wondered
whether the nature of things might not be, after all, something other
than what they thought it. Again and again it seemed to be in as
direct conflict with duty as with inclination; so that they were
driven to wonder also whether what they conceived to be duty were
not also a mirage--a marsh-light leading them on to disaster.

The fresh groundsel was brought in while Jacynth was pouring out the
tea. She rose and took it to the cage; and it was then that she too
saw the robin, still fluttering on the sill. With a quick instinct she
knew that Adrian had seen it--knew what had brought that look to his
face. She went and, bending over him, laid a hand on his shoulder.
The disturbance of her touch caused the tweed to give out a tremendous
volume of scent, making her feel a little dizzy.

"Adrian," she faltered, "mightn't we for once--it is Christmas
Day--mightn't we, just to-day, sprinkle some bread-crumbs?"

He rose from the table, and leaned against the mantelpiece, looking
down at the fire. She watched him tensely. At length, "Oh Jacynth," he
groaned, "don't--don't tempt me."

"But surely, dear, surely--"

"Jacynth, don't you remember that long talk we had last winter, after
the annual meeting of the Feathered Friends' League, and how we agreed
that those sporadic doles could do no real good--must even degrade the
birds who received them--and that we had no right to meddle in what
ought to be done by collective action of the State?"

"Yes, and--oh my dear, I do still agree, with all my heart. But if the
State will do nothing--nothing--"

"It won't, it daren't, go on doing nothing, unless we encourage it to
do so. Don't you see, Jacynth, it is just because so many people take
it on themselves to feed a few birds here and there that the State
feels it can afford to shirk the responsibility?"

"All that is fearfully true. But just now--Adrian, the look in that
robin's eyes--"

Berridge covered his own eyes, as though to blot out from his mind the
memory of that look. But Jacynth was not silenced. She felt herself
dragged on by her sense of duty to savour, and to make her husband
savour, the full bitterness that the situation could yield for
them both. "Adrian," she said, "a fearful thought came to me.
Suppose--suppose it had been Amber!"

Even before he shuddered at the thought, he raised his finger to his
lips, glancing round at the cage. It was clear that Amber had not
overheard Jacynth's remark, for he threw back his head and uttered one
of his blithest trills. Adrian, thus relieved, was free to shudder at
the thought just suggested.

"Sometimes," murmured Jacynth, "I wonder if we, holding the views we
hold, are justified in keeping Amber."

"Ah, dear, we took him in our individualistic days. We cannot
repudiate him now. It wouldn't be fair. Besides, you see, he isn't
here on a basis of mere charity. He's not a parasite, but an artist.
He gives us of his art."

"Yes, dear, I know. But you remember our doubts about the position of
artists in the community--whether the State ought to sanction them at

"True. But we cannot visit those doubts on our old friend yonder, can
we, dear? At the same time, I admit that when--when--Jacynth, if
ever anything happens to Amber, we shall perhaps not be justified in
keeping another bird."

"Don't, please don't talk of such things." She moved to the window.
Snow, a delicate white powder, was falling on the coverlet of snow.

Outside, on the sill, the importunate robin lay supine, his little
heart beating no more behind the shabby finery of his breast, but
his glazing eyes half-open as though even in death he were still
questioning. Above him and all around him brooded the genius of
infinity, dispassionate, inscrutable, grey.

Jacynth turned and mutely beckoned her husband to the window.

They stood there, these two, gazing silently down.

Presently Jacynth said: "Adrian, are you sure that we, you and I, for
all our theories, and all our efforts, aren't futile?"

"No, dear. Sometimes I am not sure. But--there's a certain comfort in
not being sure. To die for what one knows to be true, as many saints
have done--that is well. But to live, as many of us do nowadays, in
service of what may, for aught we know, be only a half-truth or not
true at all--this seems to me nobler still."

"Because it takes more out of us?"

"Because it takes more out of us."

Standing between the live bird and the dead, they gazed across
the river, over the snow-covered wharves, over the dim, slender
chimneys from which no smoke came, into the grey-black veil of the
distance. And it seemed to them that the genius of infinity did not
know--perhaps did not even care--whether they were futile or not,
nor how much and to what purpose, if to any purpose, they must go
on striving.




One likes it or not. This said, there is plaguey little else to say of
Christmas, and I (though I doubt my sentiments touch you not at all)
would rather leave that little unsaid. Did I confess a distaste for
Christmas, I should incur your enmity. But if I find it, as I protest
I do, rather agreeable than otherwise, why should I spoil my pleasure
by stringing vain words about it? Swift and the broomstick--yes. But
that essay was done at the behest of a clever woman, and to annoy the
admirers of Robert Boyle. Besides, it was hardly--or do you think it
was?--worth the trouble of doing it. There was no trouble involved?
Possibly. But I am not the Dean. And anyhow the fact that he never did
anything of the kind again may be taken to imply that he would not be
bothered. So would not I, if I had a deanery.

That is an hypothesis I am tempted to pursue. I should like to fill
my allotted space before reaching the tiresome theme I have set
myself ... A deanery, the cawing of rooks, their effect on the nervous
system, Trollope's delineations of deans, the advantages of the
Mid-Victorian novel ... But your discursive essayist is a nuisance.
Best come to the point. The bore is in finding a point to come to.
Besides, the chances are that any such point will have long ago been
worn blunt by a score of more active seekers. Alas!

Since I wrote the foregoing words, I have been out for a long walk,
in search of inspiration, through the streets of what is called the
West End. Snobbishly so called. Why draw these crude distinctions? We
all know that Mayfair happens to lie a few miles further west than
Whitechapel. It argues a lack of breeding to go on calling attention
to the fact. If the people of Whitechapel were less beautiful or less
well-mannered or more ignorant than we, there might be some excuse.
But they are not so. True, themselves talk about the East End, but
this only makes the matter worse. To a sensitive ear their phrase
has a ring of ironic humility that jars not less than our own coarse
boastfulness. Heaven knows they have a right to be ironic, and who
shall blame them for exercising it? All the same, this sort of thing
worries me horribly.

I said that I found Christmas rather agreeable than otherwise. But I
was speaking as one accustomed to live mostly in the past. The walk I
have just taken, refreshing in itself, has painfully reminded me that
I cannot hit it off with the present. My life is in the later days of
the eighteenth and the earlier days of the nineteenth century. This
twentieth affair is as a vision, dimly foreseen at odd moments, and
put from me with a slight shudder. My actual Christmases are spent
(say) in Holland House, which has but recently been built. Little
Charles Fox is allowed by his father to join us for the earlier stages
of dessert. I am conscious of patting him on the head and predicting
for him a distinguished future. A very bright little fellow, with
his father's eyes! Or again, I am down at Newstead. Byron is in his
wildest spirits, a shade too uproarious. I am glad to escape into
the park and stroll a quiet hour on the arm of Mr. Hughes Ball. Years
pass. The approach of Christmas finds one loth to leave one's usual
haunts. One is on one's way to one's club to dine with Postumus and
dear old "Wigsby" Pendennis, quietly at one's consecrated table near
the fireplace. As one is crossing St. James's Street an ear-piercing
grunt causes one to reel back just in time to be not run over by
a motor-car. Inside is a woman who scowls down at one through the
window--"Serve you right if we'd gone over you." Yes, I often have
these awakenings to fact--or rather these provisions of what life
might be if I survived into the twentieth century. Alas!

I have mentioned that woman in the motor-car because she is germane
to my theme. She typifies the vices of the modern Christmas. For her,
by the absurd accident of her wealth, there is no distinction between
people who have not motor-cars and people who might as well be run
over. But I wrong her. If we others were all run over, there would be
no one before whom she could flaunt her loathsome air of superiority.
And what would she do then, poor thing? I doubt she would die of
boredom--painfully, one hopes. In the same way, if the shop-keepers
in Bond Street knew there was no one who could not afford to buy the
things in their windows, there would be an end to the display that
makes those windows intolerable (to you and me) during the month of
December. I had often suspected that the things there were not meant
to be bought by people who could buy them, but merely to irritate the
rest. This afternoon I was sure of it. Not in one window anything
a sane person would give to any one not an idiot, but everywhere a
general glossy grin out at people who are not plutocrats. This sort
of thing lashes me to ungovernable fury. The lion is roused, and I
recognise in myself a born leader of men. Be so good as to smash those
windows for me.

One does not like to think that Christmas has been snapped up, docked
of its old-world kindliness, and pressed into the service of an odious
ostentation. But so it has. Alas! The thought of Father Christmas
trudging through the snow to the homes of gentle and simple alike
(forgive that stupid, snobbish phrase) was agreeable. But Father
Christmas in red plush breeches, lounging on the doorstep of Sir
Gorgius Midas--one averts one's eyes.

I have--now I come to think of it--another objection to the modern
Christmas. It would be affectation to pretend not to know that
there are many Jews living in England, and in London especially. I
have always had a deep respect for that race, their distinction in
intellect and in character. Being not one of them, I may in their
behalf put a point which themselves would be the last to suggest. I
hope they will acquit me of impertinence in doing this. You, in your
turn, must acquit me of sentimentalism. The Jews are a minority, and
as such must take their chances. But may not a majority refrain from
pressing its rights to the utmost? It is well that we should celebrate
Christmas heartily, and all that. But we could do so without an
emphasis that seems to me, in the circumstances, 'tother side good
taste. "Good taste" is a hateful phrase. But it escaped me in the heat
of the moment. Alas!




The hut in which slept the white man was on a clearing between the
forest and the river. Silence, the silence murmurous and unquiet of a
tropical night, brooded over the hut that, baked through by the sun,
sweated a vapour beneath the cynical light of the stars. Mahamo lay
rigid and watchful at the hut's mouth. In his upturned eyes, and along
the polished surface of his lean body black and immobile, the stars
were reflected, creating an illusion of themselves who are illusions.

The roofs of the congested trees, writhing in some kind of agony
private and eternal, made tenebrous and shifty silhouettes against the
sky, like shapes cut out of black paper by a maniac who pushes them
with his thumb this way and that, irritably, on a concave surface of
blue steel. Resin oozed unseen from the upper branches to the trunks
swathed in creepers that clutched and interlocked with tendrils
venomous, frantic and faint. Down below, by force of habit, the
lush herbage went through the farce of growth--that farce old and
screaming, whose trite end is decomposition.

Within the hut the form of the white man, corpulent and pale, was
covered with a mosquito-net that was itself illusory like everything
else, only more so. Flying squadrons of mosquitoes inside its meshes
flickered and darted over him, working hard, but keeping silence so
as not to excite him from sleep. Cohorts of yellow ants disputed him
against cohorts of purple ants, the two kinds slaying one another
in thousands. The battle was undecided when suddenly, with no such
warning as it gives in some parts of the world, the sun blazed up over
the horizon, turning night into day, and the insects vanished back
into their camps.

The white man ground his knuckles into the corners of his eyes,
emitting that snore final and querulous of a middle-aged man awakened
rudely. With a gesture brusque but flaccid he plucked aside the net
and peered around. The bales of cotton cloth, the beads, the brass
wire, the bottles of rum, had not been spirited away in the night. So
far so good. The faithful servant of his employers was now at liberty
to care for his own interests. He regarded himself, passing his hands
over his skin.

"Hi! Mahamo!" he shouted. "I've been eaten up."

The islander, with one sinuous motion, sprang from the ground, through
the mouth of the hut. Then, after a glance, he threw high his hands in
thanks to such good and evil spirits as had charge of his concerns. In
a tone half of reproach, half of apology, he murmured--

"You white men sometimes say strange things that deceive the heart."

"Reach me that ammonia bottle, d'you hear?" answered the white man.
"This is a pretty place you've brought me to!" He took a draught.
"Christmas Day, too! Of all the ---- But I suppose it seems all right
to you, you funny blackamoor, to be here on Christmas Day?"

"We are here on the day appointed, Mr. Williams. It is a feast-day of
your people?"

Mr. Williams had lain back, with closed eyes, on his mat. Nostalgia
was doing duty to him for imagination. He was wafted to a bedroom in
Marylebone, where in honour of the Day he lay late dozing, with great
contentment; outside, a slush of snow in the street, the sound of
church-bells; from below a savour of especial cookery. "Yes," he said,
"it's a feast-day of my people."

"Of mine also," said the islander humbly.

"Is it though? But they'll do business first?"

"They must first do that."

"And they'll bring their ivory with them?"

"Every man will bring ivory," answered the islander, with a smile
gleaming and wide.

"How soon'll they be here?"

"Has not the sun risen? They are on their way."

"Well, I hope they'll hurry. The sooner we're off this cursed island
of yours the better. Take all those things out," Mr. Williams added,
pointing to the merchandise, "and arrange them--neatly, mind you!"

In certain circumstances it is right that a man be humoured in
trifles. Mahamo, having borne out the merchandise, arranged it very

While Mr. Williams made his toilet, the sun and the forest, careless
of the doings of white and black men alike, waged their warfare
implacable and daily. The forest from its inmost depths sent forth
perpetually its legions of shadows that fell dead in the instant
of exposure to the enemy whose rays heroic and absurd its outposts
annihilated. There came from those inilluminable depths the equable
rumour of myriads of winged things and crawling things newly roused to
the task of killing and being killed. Thence detached itself, little
by little, an insidious sound of a drum beaten. This sound drew more

Mr. Williams, issuing from the hut, heard it, and stood gaping towards

"Is that them?" he asked.

"That is they," the islander murmured, moving away towards the edge of
the forest.

Sounds of chanting were a now audible accompaniment to the drum.

"What's that they're singing?" asked Mr. Williams.

"They sing of their business," said Mahamo.

"Oh!" Mr. Williams was slightly shocked. "I'd have thought they'd be
singing of their feast."

"It is of their feast they sing."

It has been stated that Mr. Williams was not imaginative. But a few
years of life in climates alien and intemperate had disordered his
nerves. There was that in the rhythms of the hymn which made bristle
his flesh.

Suddenly, when they were very near, the voices ceased, leaving a
legacy of silence more sinister than themselves. And now the black
spaces between the trees were relieved by bits of white that were the
eyeballs and teeth of Mahamo's brethren.

"It was of their feast, it was of you, they sang," said Mahamo.

"Look here," cried Mr. Williams in his voice of a man not to be
trifled with. "Look here, if you've--"

He was silenced by sight of what seemed to be a young sapling sprung
up from the ground within a yard of him--a young sapling tremulous,
with a root of steel. Then a thread-like shadow skimmed the air, and
another spear came impinging the ground within an inch of his feet.

As he turned in his flight he saw the goods so neatly arranged at
his orders, and there flashed through him, even in the thick of the
spears, the thought that he would be a grave loss to his employers.
This--for Mr. Williams was, not less than the goods, of a kind easily
replaced--was an illusion. It was the last of Mr. Williams illusions.




            "And let us strew
  Twain wreaths of holly and of yew."


One out of many Christmas Days abides with peculiar vividness in my
memory. In setting down, however clumsily, some slight record of
it, I feel that I shall be discharging a duty not only to the two
disparately illustrious men who made it so very memorable, but also to
all young students of English and Scandinavian literature. My use of
the first person singular, delightful though that pronoun is in the
works of the truly gifted, jars unspeakably on me; but reasons of
space baulk my sober desire to call myself merely the present writer,
or the infatuated go-between, or the cowed and imponderable young
person who was in attendance.

In the third week of December, 1878, taking the opportunity of a brief
and undeserved vacation, I went to Venice. On the morning after my
arrival, in answer to a most kind and cordial summons, I presented
myself at the Palazzo Rezzonico. Intense as was the impression he
always made even in London, I think that those of us who met Robert
Browning only in the stress and roar of that metropolis can hardly
have gauged the fullness of his potentialities for impressing. Venice,
"so weak, so quiet," as Mr. Ruskin had called her, was indeed the
ideal setting for one to whom neither of those epithets could by any
possibility have been deemed applicable. The steamboats that now wake
the echoes of the canals had not yet been imported; but the vitality
of the imported poet was in some measure a preparation for them. It
did not, however, find me quite prepared for itself, and I am afraid
that some minutes must have elapsed before I could, as it were, find
my feet in the torrent of his geniality and high spirits, and give him
news of his friends in London.

He was at that time engaged in revising the proof-sheets of "Dramatic
Idylls," and after luncheon, to which he very kindly bade me remain,
he read aloud certain selected passages. The yellow haze of a wintry
Venetian sunshine poured in through the vast windows of his _salone_,
making an aureole around his silvered head. I would give much to
live that hour over again. But it was vouchsafed in days before the
Browning Society came and made everything so simple for us all. I am
afraid that after a few minutes I sat enraptured by the sound rather
than by the sense of the lines. I find, in the notes I made of the
occasion, that I figured myself as plunging through some enchanted
thicket on the back of an inspired bull.

That evening, as I was strolling in Piazza San Marco, my thoughts
of Browning were all of a sudden scattered by the vision of a small,
thick-set man seated at one of the tables in the Café Florian. This
was--and my heart leapt like a young trout when I saw that it could be
none other than--Henrik Ibsen. Whether joy or fear was the predominant
emotion in me, I should be hard put to it to say. It had been my
privilege to correspond extensively with the great Scandinavian, and
to be frequently received by him, some years earlier than the date of
which I write, in Rome. In that city haunted by the shades of so many
Emperors and Popes I had felt comparatively at ease even in Ibsen's
presence. But seated here in the homelier decay of Venice, closely
buttoned in his black surcoat and crowned with his uncompromising
top-hat, with the lights of the Piazza flashing back wanly from his
gold-rimmed spectacles, and his lips tight-shut like some steel trap
into which our poor humanity had just fallen, he seemed to constitute
a menace under which the boldest might well quail. Nevertheless,
I took my courage in both hands, and laid it as a kind of votive
offering on the little table before him.

My reward was in the surprising amiability that he then and afterwards
displayed. My travelling had indeed been doubly blessed, for, whilst
my subsequent afternoons were spent in Browning's presence, my
evenings fell with regularity into the charge of Ibsen. One of these
evenings is for me "prouder, more laurel'd than the rest" as having
been the occasion when he read to me the MS. of a play which he had
just completed. He was staying at the Hôtel Danieli, an edifice famous
for having been, rather more than forty years previously, the socket
in which the flame of an historic _grande passion_ had finally sunk
and guttered out with no inconsiderable accompaniment of smoke and
odour. It was there, in an upper room, that I now made acquaintance
with a couple very different from George Sand and Alfred de Musset,
though destined to become hardly less famous than they. I refer to
Torvald and Nora Helmer. My host read to me with the utmost vivacity,
standing in the middle of the apartment; and I remember that in
the scene where Nora Helmer dances the tarantella her creator
instinctively executed a few illustrative steps.

During those days I felt very much as might a minnow swimming to and
fro between Leviathan on the one hand and Behemoth on the other--a
minnow tremulously pleased, but ever wistful for some means of
bringing his two enormous acquaintances together. On the afternoon of
December 24th I confided to Browning my aspiration. He had never heard
of this brother poet and dramatist, whose fame indeed was at that time
still mainly Boreal; but he cried out with the greatest heartiness,
"Capital! Bring him round with you at one o'clock to-morrow for turkey
and plum-pudding!"

I betook myself straight to the Hôtel Danieli, hoping against hope
that Ibsen's sole answer would not be a comminatory grunt and an
instant rupture of all future relations with myself. At first he was
indeed resolute not to go. He had never heard of this Herr Browning.
(It was one of the strengths of his strange, crustacean genius that
he never had heard of anybody.) I took it on myself to say that
Herr Browning would send his private gondola, propelled by his two
gondoliers, to conduct Herr Ibsen to the scene of the festivity. I
think it was this prospect that made him gradually unbend, for he had
already acquired that taste for pomp and circumstance which was so
notable a characteristic of his later years. I hastened back to the
Palazzo Rezzonico before he could change his mind. I need hardly say
that Browning instantly consented to send the gondola. So large
and lovable was his nature that, had he owned a thousand of those
conveyances, he would not have hesitated to send out the whole fleet
in honour of any friend of any friend of his.

Next day, as I followed Ibsen down the Danielian water-steps into the
expectant gondola, my emotion was such that I was tempted to snatch
from him his neatly-furled umbrella and spread it out over his head,
like the umbrella beneath which the Doges of days gone by had made
their appearances in public. It was perhaps a pity that I repressed
this impulse. Ibsen seemed to be already regretting that he had
unbent. I could not help thinking, as we floated along the Riva
Schiavoni, that he looked like some particularly ruthless member of
the Council of Ten. I did, however, try faintly to attune him in
some sort to the spirit of our host and of the day of the year. I
adumbrated Browning's outlook on life, translating into Norwegian, I
well remember, the words "God's in His heaven, all's right with the
world." In fact I cannot charge myself with not having done what I
could. I can only lament that it was not enough.

When we marched into the _salone_, Browning was seated at the piano,
playing (I think) a Toccata of Galuppi's. On seeing us, he brought
his hands down with a great crash on the keyboard, seemed to reach
us in one astonishing bound across the marble floor, and clapped
Ibsen loudly on either shoulder, wishing him "the Merriest of Merry

Ibsen, under this sudden impact, stood firm as a rock, and it flitted
through my brain that here at last was solved the old problem of what
would happen if an irresistible force met an immoveable mass. But it
was obvious that the rock was not rejoicing in the moment of victory.
I was tartly asked whether I had not explained to Herr Browning that
his guest did not understand English. I hastily rectified my omission,
and thenceforth our host spoke in Italian. Ibsen, though he understood
that language fairly well, was averse to speaking it. Such remarks as
he made in the course of the meal to which we presently sat down were
made in Norwegian and translated by myself.

Browning, while he was carving the turkey, asked Ibsen whether he had
visited any of the Venetian theatres. Ibsen's reply was that he never
visited theatres. Browning laughed his great laugh, and cried "That's
right! We poets who write plays must give the theatres as wide a berth
as possible. We aren't wanted there!" "How so?" asked Ibsen. Browning
looked a little puzzled, and I had to explain that in northern Europe
Herr Ibsen's plays were frequently performed. At this I seemed to see
on Browning's face a slight shadow--so swift and transient a shadow as
might be cast by a swallow flying across a sunlit garden. An instant,
and it was gone. I was glad, however, to be able to soften my
statement by adding that Herr Ibsen had in his recent plays abandoned
the use of verse.

The trouble was that in Browning's company he seemed practically to
have abandoned the use of prose too. When, moreover, he did speak, it
was always in a sense contrary to that of our host. The Risorgimento
was a theme always very near to the great heart of Browning, and on
this occasion he hymned it with more than his usual animation and
resource (if indeed that were possible). He descanted especially on
the vast increase that had accrued to the sum of human happiness
in Italy since the success of that remarkable movement. When Ibsen
rapped out the conviction that what Italy needed was to be invaded
and conquered once and for all by Austria, I feared that an explosion
was inevitable. But hardly had my translation of the inauspicious
sentiment been uttered when the plum-pudding was borne into the room,
flaming on its dish. I clapped my hands wildly at sight of it, in the
English fashion, and was intensely relieved when the yet more resonant
applause of Robert Browning followed mine. Disaster had been averted
by a crowning mercy. But I am afraid that Ibsen thought us both quite

The next topic that was started, harmless though it seemed at first,
was fraught with yet graver peril. The world of scholarship was at
that time agitated by the recent discovery of what might or might not
prove to be a fragment of Sappho. Browning proclaimed his unshakeable
belief in the authenticity of these verses. To my surprise, Ibsen,
whom I had been unprepared to regard as a classical scholar, said
positively that they had not been written by Sappho. Browning
challenged him to give a reason. A literal translation of the reply
would have been "Because no woman ever was capable of writing a
fragment of good poetry." Imagination reels at the effect this would
have had on the recipient of "Sonnets from the Portuguese." The
agonised interpreter, throwing honour to the winds, babbled some
wholly fallacious version of the words. Again the situation had
been saved; but it was of the kind that does not even in furthest
retrospect lose its power to freeze the heart and constrict the

I was fain to thank heaven when, immediately after the termination
of the meal, Ibsen rose, bowed to his host, and bade me express
his thanks for the entertainment. Out on the Grand Canal, in the
gondola which had again been placed at our disposal, his passion
for "documents" that might bear on his work was quickly manifested.
He asked me whether Herr Browning had ever married. Receiving an
emphatically affirmative reply, he inquired whether Fru Browning had
been happy. Loth though I was to cast a blight on his interest in the
matter, I conveyed to him with all possible directness the impression
that Elizabeth Barrett had assuredly been one of those wives who do
not dance tarantellas nor slam front-doors. He did not, to the best
of my recollection, make further mention of Browning, either then or
afterwards. Browning himself, however, thanked me warmly, next
day, for having introduced my friend to him. "A capital fellow!" he
exclaimed, and then, for a moment, seemed as though he were about
to qualify this estimate, but ended by merely repeating "A capital

Ibsen remained in Venice some weeks after my return to London. He was,
it may be conjectured, bent on a specially close study of the Bride of
the Adriatic because her marriage had been not altogether a happy one.
But there appears to be no evidence whatsoever that he went again,
either of his own accord or by invitation, to the Palazzo Rezzonico.




There was a man came to an Inn by night, and after he had called three
times they should open him the door--though why three times, and not
three times three, nor thirty times thirty, which is the number of
the little stone devils that make mows at St. Aloesius of Ledera over
against the marshes Gué-la-Nuce to this day, nor three hundred times
three hundred (which is a bestial number), nor three thousand times
three-and-thirty, upon my soul I know not, and nor do you--when,
then, this jolly fellow had three times cried out, shouted, yelled,
holloa'd, loudly besought, caterwauled, brayed, sung out, and roared,
he did by the same token set himself to beat, hammer, bang, pummel,
and knock at the door. Now the door was Oak. It had been grown in the
forest of Boulevoise, hewn in Barre-le-Neuf, seasoned in South Hoxton,
hinged nowhere in particular, and panelled--and that most abominably
well--in Arque, where the peasants sell their souls for skill in such
handicraft. But our man knew nothing of all this, which, had he known
it, would have mattered little enough to him, for a reason which I
propose to tell in the next sentence. The door was opened. As to the
reasons why it was not opened sooner, these are most tediously set
forth in Professor Sir T.K. Slibby's "Half-Hours With Historic Doors,"
as also in a fragment at one time attributed to Oleaginus Silo but now
proven a forgery by Miss Evans. Enough for our purpose, merry reader
of mine, that the door was opened.

The man, as men will, went in. And there, for God's sake and by
the grace of Mary Mother, let us leave him; for the truth of it is
that his strength was all in his lungs, and himself a poor, weak,
clout-faced, wizen-bellied, pin-shanked bloke anyway, who at Trinity
Hall had spent the most of his time in reading Hume (that was
Satan's lackey) and after taking his degree did a little in the way
of Imperial Finance. Of him it was that Lord Abraham Hart, that
far-seeing statesman, said, "This young man has the root of the matter
in him." I quote the epigram rather for its perfect form than for its
truth. For once, Lord Abraham was deceived. But it must be remembered
that he was at this time being plagued almost out of his wits by
the vile (though cleverly engineered) agitation for the compulsory
winding-up of the Rondoosdop Development Company. Afterwards, in
Wormwood Scrubbs, his Lordship admitted that his estimate of his young
friend had perhaps been pitched too high. In Dartmoor he has since
revoked it altogether, with that manliness for which the Empire so
loved him when he was at large.

Now the young man's name was Dimby--"Trot" Dimby--and his mother had
been a Clupton, so that--but had I not already dismissed him? Indeed I
only mentioned him because it seemed that his going to that Inn might
put me on track of that One Great Ultimate and Final True Thing I am
purposed to say about Christmas. Don't ask me yet what that Thing is.
Truth dwells in no man, but is a shy beast you must hunt as you may in
the forests that are round about the Walls of Heaven. And I do hereby
curse, gibbet, and denounce in _execrationem perpetuam atque aeternam_
the man who hunts in a crafty or calculating way--as, lying low,
nosing for scents, squinting for trails, crawling noiselessly till
he shall come near to his quarry and then taking careful aim. Here's
to him who hunts Truth in the honest fashion of men, which is, going
blindly at it, following his first scent (if such there be) or (if
none) none, scrambling over boulders, fording torrents, winding his
horn, plunging into thickets, skipping, firing off his gun in the air
continually, and then ramming in some more ammunition anyhow, with
a laugh and a curse if the charge explode in his own jolly face. The
chances are he will bring home in his bag nothing but a field-mouse
he trod on by accident. Not the less his is the true sport and the
essential stuff of holiness.

As touching Christmas--but there is nothing like verse to clear the
mind, heat the blood, and make very humble the heart. Rouse thee,

  One Christmas Night in Pontgibaud
      (_Pom-pom, rub-a-dub-dub_)
  A man with a drum went to and fro
      (_Two merry eyes, two cheeks chub_)
  Nor not a citril within, without,
  But heard the racket and heard the rout
  And marvelled what it was all about
      (_And who shall shrive Beelzebub?_)

  He whacked so hard the drum was split
      (_Pom-pom, rub-a-dub-dum_)
  Out lept Saint Gabriel from it
      (_Praeclarissimus Omnium_)
  Who spread his wings and up he went
  Nor ever paused in his ascent
  Till he had reached the firmament
      (_Benedicamus Dominum_).

That's what I shall sing (please God) at dawn to-morrow, standing on
the high, green barrow at Storrington, where the bones of Athelstan's
men are. Yea,

  At dawn to-morrow
    On Storrington Barrow
  I'll beg or borrow
    A bow and arrow
  And shoot sleek sorrow
    Through the marrow.
  The floods are out and the ford is narrow,
  The stars hang dead and my limbs are lead,
    But ale is gold
    And there's good foot-hold
  On the Cuckfield side of Storrington Barrow.

This too I shall sing, and other songs that are yet to write. In
Pagham I shall sing them again, and again in Little Dewstead. In
Hornside I shall rewrite them, and at the Scythe and Turtle in Liphook
(if I have patience) annotate them. At Selsey they will be very
damnably in the way, and I don't at all know what I shall do with them
at Selsey.

Such then, as I see it, is the whole pith, mystery, outer form, common
acceptation, purpose, usage usual, meaning and inner meaning, beauty
intrinsic and extrinsic, and right character of Christmas Feast.
_Habent urbs atque orbis revelationem._ Pray for my soul.




(_Preface to "Snt George. A Christmas Play"_)

When a public man lays his hand on his heart and declares that his
conduct needs no apology, the audience hastens to put up its umbrellas
against the particularly severe downpour of apologies in store for
it. I wont give the customary warning. My conduct shrieks aloud for
apology, and you are in for a thorough drenching.

Flatly, I stole this play. The one valid excuse for the theft would
be mental starvation. That excuse I shant plead. I could have made
a dozen better plays than this out of my own head. You don't suppose
Shakespeare was so vacant in the upper storey that there was nothing
for it but to rummage through cinquecento romances, Townley Mysteries,
and suchlike insanitary rubbishheaps, in order that he might fish out
enough scraps for his artistic fangs to fasten on. Depend on it, there
were plenty of decent original notions seething behind yon marble
brow. Why didn't our William use them? He was too lazy. And so am I.
It is easier to give a new twist to somebody else's story that you
take readymade than to perform that highly-specialised form of skilled
labor which consists in giving artistic coherence to a story that you
have conceived roughly for yourself. A literary gentleman once hoisted
a theory that there are only thirty-six possible stories in the world.
This--I say it with no deference at all--is bosh. There are as many
possible stories in the world as there are microbes in the well-lined
shelves of a literary gentleman's "den." On the other hand, it is
perfectly true that only a baker's dozen of these have got themselves
told. The reason lies in that bland, unalterable resolve to shirk
honest work, by which you recognise the artist as surely as you
recognise the leopard by his spots. In so far as I am an artist, I
am a loafer. And if you expect me, in that line, to do anything but
loaf, you will get the shock your romantic folly deserves. The only
difference between me and my rivals past and present is that I have
the decency to be ashamed of myself. So that if you are not too
bemused and bedevilled by my "brilliancy" to kick me downstairs, you
may rely on me to cheerfully lend a foot in the operation. But, while
I have my share of judicial vindictiveness against crime, Im not going
to talk the common judicial cant about brutality making a Better Man
of the criminal. I havent the slightest doubt that I would thieve
again at the earliest opportunity. Meanwhile be so good as to listen
to the evidence on the present charge.

In the December after I was first cast ashore at Holyhead, I had to go
down to Dorsetshire. In those days the more enterprising farm-laborers
used still to annually dress themselves up in order to tickle the
gentry into disbursing the money needed to supplement a local-minimum
wage. They called themselves the Christmas Mummers, and performed
a play entitled Snt George. As my education had been of the typical
Irish kind, and the ideas on which I had been nourished were precisely
the ideas that once in Tara's Hall were regarded as dangerous
novelties, Snt George staggered me with the sense of being suddenly
bumped up against a thing which lay centuries ahead of the time I
had been born into. (Being, in point of fact, only a matter of five
hundred years old, it would have the same effect to-day on the average
London playgoer if it was produced in a west end theatre.) The plot
was simple. It is set forth in Thomas Hardy's "Return of the Native";
but, as the people who read my books have no energy left over to cope
with other authors, I must supply an outline of it myself.

Entered, first of all, the English Knight, announcing his
determination to fight and vanquish the Turkish Knight, a vastly
superior swordsman, who promptly made mincemeat of him. After the
Saracen had celebrated his victory in verse, and proclaimed himself
the world's champion, entered Snt George, who, after some preliminary
patriotic flourishes, promptly made mincemeat of the Saracen--to the
blank amazement of an audience which included several retired army
officers. Snt George, however, saved his face by the usual expedient
of the victorious British general, attributing to Providence a result
which by no polite stretch of casuistry could have been traced to the
operations of his own brain. But here the dramatist was confronted
by another difficulty: there being no curtain to ring down, how were
the two corpses to be got gracefully rid of? Entered therefore the
Physician, and brought them both to life. (Any one objecting to this
scene on the score of romantic improbability is hereby referred to
the Royal College of Physicians, or to the directors of any accredited
medical journal, who will hail with delight this opportunity of
proving once and for all that re-vitalisation is the child's-play of
the Faculty.)

Such then is the play that I have stolen. For all the many pleasing
esthetic qualities you will find in it--dramatic inventiveness, humor
and pathos, eloquence, elfin glamor and the like--you must bless
the original author: of these things I have only the usufruct. To
me the play owes nothing but the stiffening of civistic conscience
that has been crammed in. Modest? Not a bit of it. It is my civistic
conscience that makes a man of me and (incidentally) makes this play
a masterpiece.

Nothing could have been easier for me (if I were some
one else) than to perform my task in that
God-rest-you-merry-gentlemen-may-nothing-you-dismay spirit which
so grossly flatters the sensibilities of the average citizen by its
assumption that he is sharp enough to be dismayed by what stares
him in the face. Charles Dickens had lucid intervals in which he was
vaguely conscious of the abuses around him; but his spasmodic efforts
to expose these brought him into contact with realities so agonising
to his highstrung literary nerves that he invariably sank back into
debauches of unsocial optimism. Even the Swan of Avon had his glimpses
of the havoc of displacement wrought by Elizabethan romanticism in the
social machine which had been working with tolerable smoothness under
the prosaic guidance of Henry 8. The time was out of joint; and the
Swan, recognising that he was the last person to ever set it right,
consoled himself by offering the world a soothing doctrine of despair.
Not for me, thank you, that Swansdown pillow. I refuse as flatly
to fuddle myself in the shop of "W. Shakespeare, Druggist," as
to stimulate myself with the juicy joints of "C. Dickens, Family
Butcher." Of these and suchlike pernicious establishments my patronage
consists in weaving round the shop-door a barbed-wire entanglement of
dialectic and then training my moral machine-guns on the customers.

In this devilish function I have, as you know, acquired by practice
a tremendous technical skill; and but for the more or less innocent
pride I take in showing off my accomplishment to all and sundry, I
doubt whether even my iron nerves would be proof against the horrors
that have impelled me to thus perfect myself. In my nonage I believed
humanity could be reformed if only it were intelligently preached
at for a sufficiently long period. This first fine careless rapture
I could no more recapture, at my age, than I could recapture
hoopingcough or nettlerash. One by one, I have flung all political
nostra overboard, till there remain only dynamite and scientific
breeding. My touching faith in these saves me from pessimism: I
believe in the future; but this only makes the present--which I
foresee as going strong for a couple of million of years or so--all
the more excruciating by contrast.

For casting into dramatic form a compendium of my indictments of the
present from a purely political standpoint, the old play of Snt George
occurred to me as having exactly the framework I needed. In the person
of the Turkish Knight I could embody that howling chaos which does
duty among us for a body-politic. The English Knight would accordingly
be the Liberal Party, whose efforts (whenever it is in favor with the
electorate) to reduce chaos to order by emulating in foreign politics
the blackguardism of a Metternich or Bismarck, and in home politics
the spirited attitudinisings of a Garibaldi or Cavor, are foredoomed
to the failure which its inherent oldmaidishness must always win for
the Liberal Party in all undertakings whatsoever. Snt George is, of
course, myself. But here my very aptitude in controversy tripped me up
as playwright. Owing to my nack of going straight to the root of the
matter in hand and substituting, before you can say Jack Robinson, a
truth for every fallacy and a natural law for every convention, the
scene of Snt George (Bernard Shaw)'s victory over the Turkish Knight
came out too short for theatrical purposes. I calculated that the play
as it stood would not occupy more than five hours in performance. I
therefore departed from the original scheme so far as to provide the
Turkish Knight with three attendant monsters, severally named the
Good, the Beyootiful, and the Ter-rew, and representing in themselves
the current forms of Religion, Art, and Science. These three Snt
George successively challenges, tackles, and flattens out--the first
as lunacy, the second as harlotry, the third as witchcraft. But even
so the play would not be long enough had I not padded a good deal of
buffoonery into the scene where the five corpses are brought back to

The restorative Physician symbolises that irresistible force of human
stupidity by which the rottenest and basest institutions are enabled
to thrive in the teeth of the logic that has demolished them. Thus,
for the author, the close of the play is essentially tragic. But what
is death to him is fun to you, and my buffooneries wont offend any of
you. Bah!






_Too strong a wine, belike, for some stomachs, for there's honey in
it, and a dibbet of gore, with other condiments. Yet Mistress Clio
(with whom, some say, Mistress Thalia, that sweet hoyden) brewed it:
she, not I, who do but hand the cup round by her warrant and good
favour. Her guests, not mine, you shall take it or leave it--spill it
untasted or quaff a bellyful. Of a hospitable temper, she whose page
I am; but a great lady, over self-sure to be dudgeoned by wry faces in
the refectory. As for the little sister (if she did have finger in the
concoction)--no fear of offence there! I dare vow, who know somewhat
the fashion of her, she will but trill a pretty titter or so at your


I cry you mercy for a lacuna at the outset. I know not what had
knitted and blackened the brows of certain two speeding eastward
through London, enhansomed, on the night of the feast of St. Box:
_alter_, Geoffrey Dizzard, called "The Honourable," _lieu-tenant_ in
the Guards of Edward the Peace Getter; _altera_, the Lady Angelica
Plantagenet, to him affianced. Devil take the cause of the bicker:
enough that they were at sulks. Here's for a sight of the girl!

Johannes Sargent, that swift giant from the New World, had already
flung her on canvas, with a brace of sisters. She outstands there, a
virgin poplar-tall; hair like ravelled flax and coiffed in the fashion
of the period; neck like a giraffe's; lips shaped for kissing rather
than smiling; eyes like a giraffe's again; breasts like a boy's, and
something of a dressed-up boy in the total aspect of her. She has
arms a trifle long even for such height as hers; fingers very long,
too, with red-pink nails trimmed to a point. She looks out slantwise,
conscious of her beauty, and perhaps of certain other things. Fire
under that ice, I conjecture--red corpuscles rampant behind that meek
white mask of hers. "_Forsitan in hoc anno pulcherrima debutantium_"
is the verdict of a contemporary journal. For "_forsitan_" read
"_certe_." No slur, that, on the rest of the bevy.

Very much as Johannes had seen her did she appear now to the cits,
as the cabriolet swung past them. Paramount there, she was still more
paramount here. Yet this Geoffrey was not ill-looking. In the secret
journal of Mary Jane, serving-wench in the palace of Geoffrey's father
(who gat his barony by beer) note is made of his "lovely blue eyes;
complexion like a blush rose; hands like a girl's; lips like a girl's
again; yellow curls close cropped; and for moustachio (so young is he
yet) such a shadow as amber might cast on water."

Here, had I my will, I would limn you Mary Jane herself, that parched
nymph. Time urges, though. The cabrioleteer thrashes his horse (me
with it) to a canter, and plunges into Soho. Some wagon athwart the
path gives pause. Angelica, looking about her, bites lip. For this
is the street of Wardour, wherein (say all the chronicles most
absolutely) she and Geoffrey had first met and plit their troth.

"Methinks," cries she, loud and clear to the wagoner, and pointing
finger at Geoffrey, "the Devil must be between your shafts, to make a
mock of me in this conjunction, the which is truly of his own doing."

"Sweet madam," says Geoffrey (who was also called "The Ready"), "shall
I help harness you at his side? Though, for my part, I doubt 'twere
supererogant, in that he buckled you to his service or ever the priest
dipped you."

A bitter jest, this; and the thought of it still tingled on the
girl's cheek and clawed her heart when Geoffrey handed her down at the
portico of Drury Lane Theatre. A new pantomime was afoot. Geoffrey's
father (that bluff red baron) had chartered a box, was already there
with his lady and others.

Lily among peonies, Angelica sat brooding, her eyes fastened on the
stage, Geoffrey behind her chair, brooding by the same token.
Presto, he saw a flood of pink rush up her shoulders to her ears. The
"principal boy" had just skipped on to the stage. No boy at all (God
be witness), but one Mistress Tina Vandeleur, very apt in masquerado,
and seeming true boy enough to the guileless. Stout of leg,
light-footed, with a tricksy plume to his cap, and the swagger of one
who would beard the Saints for a wager, this Aladdin was just such a
galliard as Angelica had often fondled in her dreams. He lept straight
into the closet of her heart, and "Deus!" she cried, "maugre my
maidenhood, I will follow those pretty heels round the earth!"

Cried Geoffrey "Yea! and will not I presently string his ham to save
your panting?"

"_Tacete!_" cried the groundlings.

A moment after, Geoffrey forgot his spleen. Cupid had noosed
him--bound him tight to the Widow Twankey. This was a woman most
unlike to Angelica: poplar-tall, I grant you; but elm-wide into the
bargain; deep-voiced, robustious, and puffed bravely out with hot
vital essences. Seemed so to Geoffrey, at least, who had no smattering
of theatres and knew not his cynosure to be none other than Master
Willie Joffers, prime buffo of the day. Like Angelica, he had had fond
visions; and lo here, the very lady of them!

Says he to Angelica, "I am heartset on this widow."

"By so much the better!" she laughs. "I to my peacock, you to your
peahen, with a Godspeed from each to other."

How to snare the birds? A pretty problem: the fowling was like to be
delicate. So hale a strutter as Aladdin could not lack for bonamies.
"Will he deign me?" wondered meek Angelica. "This widow," thought
Geoffrey, "is belike no widow at all, but a modest wife with a yea for
no man but her lord." Head to head they took counsel, cudgelled their
wits for some proper vantage. Of a sudden, Geoffrey clapped hand to
thigh. Student of Boccaccio, Heveletius, and other sages, he had the
clue in his palm. A whisper from him, a nod from Angelica, and the
twain withdrew from the box into the corridor without.

There, back to back, they disrobed swiftly, each tossing to other
every garment as it was doffed. Then a flurried toilet, and a
difficult, for the man especially; but hotness of desire breeds
dexterity. When they turned and faced each other, Angelica was such
a boy as Aladdin would not spurn as page, Geoffrey such a girl as the
widow might well covet as body-maid.

Out they hied under the stars, and sought way to the postern whereby
the mummers would come when their work were done. Thereat they
stationed themselves in shadow. A bitter night, with a lather of snow
on the cobbles; but they were heedless of that: love and their dancing
hearts warmed them.

They waited long. Strings of muffled figures began to file out, but
never an one like to Aladdin or the Widow. Midnight tolled. Had these
two had wind of the ambuscado and crept out by another door? Nay,

At last! A figure showed in the doorway--a figure cloaked womanly, but
topped with face of Aladdin. Trousered Angelica, with a cry, darted
forth from the shadow. To Mistress Vandeleur's eyes she was as truly
man as was Mistress Vandeleur to hers. Thus confronted, Mistress
Vandeleur shrank back, blushing hot.

"Nay!" laughs Angelica, clipping her by the wrists. "Cold boy, you
shall not so easily slip me. A pretty girl you make, Aladdin; but love
pierces such disguise as a rapier might pierce lard."

"Madman! Unhandle me!" screams the actress.

"No madman I, as well you know," answers Angelica, "but a maid whom
spurned love may yet madden. Kiss me on the lips!"

While they struggle, another figure fills the postern, and in an
instant Angelica is torn aside by Master Willie Joffers (well versed,
for all his mumming, in matters of chivalry). "Kisses for such coward
lips?" cries he. "Nay, but a swinge to silence them!" and would have
struck trousered Angelica full on the mouth. But décolleté Geoffrey
Dizzard, crying at him "Sweet termagant, think not to baffle me by
these airs of manhood!" had sprung in the way and on his own nose
received the blow.

He staggered and, spurting blood, fell. Up go the buffo's hands,
and "Now may the Saints whip me," cries he, "for a tapster of
girl's blood!" and fled into the night, howling like a dog. Mistress
Vandeleur had fled already. Down on her knees goes Angelica, to stanch
Geoffrey's flux.

Thus far, straight history. Apocrypha, all the rest: you shall pick
your own sequel. As for instance, some say Geoffrey bled to the death,
whereby stepped Master Joffers to the scaffold, and Angelica (the
Vandeleur too, like as not) to a nunnery. Others have it he lived,
thanks to nurse Angelica, who, thereon wed, suckled him twin Dizzards
in due season. Joffers, they say, had wife already, else would have
wed the Vandeleur, for sake of symmetry.




I had often wondered why when people talked to me of Tintoretto I
always found myself thinking of Turgéneff. It seemed to me strange
that I should think of Turgéneff instead of thinking of Tintoretto;
for at first sight nothing can be more far apart than the Slav mind
and the Flemish. But one morning, some years ago, while I was musing
by my fireplace in Victoria Street, Dolmetsch came to see me. He had
a soiled roll of music under his left arm. I said, "How are you?" He
said, "I am well. And you?" I said, "I, too, am well. What is that, my
dear Dolmetsch, that you carry under your left arm?" He answered, "It
is a Mass by Palestrina." "Will you read me the score?" I asked. I was
afraid he would say no. But Dolmetsch is not one of those men who say
no, and he read me the score. He did not read very well, but I had
never heard it before, so when he finished I begged of him he would
read it to me again. He said, "Very well, M**re, I will read it to you
again." I remember his exact words, because they seemed to me at the
time to be the sort of thing that only Dolmetsch could have said. It
was a foggy morning in Victoria Street, and while Dolmetsch read again
the first few bars, I thought how Renoir would have loved to paint
in such an atmosphere the tops of the plane trees that flaccidly show
above the wall of Buckingham Palace.... Why had I never been invited
to Buckingham Palace? I did not want to go there, but it would have
been nice to have been asked.... How _brave gaillard_ was Renoir, and
how well he painted from that subfusc palette!...

My roving thoughts were caught back to the divine score which
Arnold Dolmetsch was reading to me. How well placed they were, those
semibreves! Could anyone but Palestrina have placed them so nicely? I
wondered what girl Palestrina was courting when he conceived them. She
must have been blonde, surely, and with narrow flanks.... There are
moments when one does not think of girls, are there not, dear reader?
And I swear to you that such a moment came to me while Dolmetsch
mumbled the last two bars of that Mass. The notes were "do, la, sol,
do, fa, do, sol, la," and as he mumbled them I sat upright and stared
into space, for it had become suddenly plain to me why when people
talked of Tintoretto I always found myself thinking of Turgéneff.

I do not say that this story that I have told to you is a very good
story, and I am afraid that I have not well told it. Some day, when
I have time, I should like to re-write it. But meantime I let it
stand, because without it you could not receive what is upmost in my
thoughts, and which I wish you to share with me. Without it, what I
am yearning to say might seem to you a hard saying; but now you will
understand me.

There never was a writer except Dickens. Perhaps you have never heard
say of him? No matter, till a few days past he was only a name to me.
I remember that when I was a young man in Paris, I read a praise of
him in some journal; but in those days I was kneeling at other altars,
I was scrubbing other doorsteps.... So has it been ever since; always
a false god, always the wrong doorstep. I am sick of the smell of the
incense I have swung to this and that false god--Zola, Yeats, _et tous
ces autres_. I am angry to have got housemaid's knee, because I got
it on doorsteps that led to nowhere. There is but one doorstep worth
scrubbing. The doorstep of Charles Dickens....

Did he write many books? I know not, it does not greatly matter, he
wrote the "Pickwick Papers"; that suffices. I have read as yet but
one chapter, describing a Christmas party in a country house. Strange
that anyone should have essayed to write about anything but that!
Christmas--I see it now--is the only moment in which men and women are
really alive, are really worth writing about. At other seasons they
do not exist for the purpose of art. I spit on all seasons except
Christmas.... Is he not in all fiction the greatest figure, this Mr.
Wardell, this old "squire" rosy-cheeked, who entertains this Christmas
party at his house? He is more truthful, he is more significant, than
any figure in Balzac. He is better than all Balzac's figures rolled
into one.... I used to kneel on that doorstep. Balzac wrote many
books. But now it behoves me to ask myself whether he ever wrote a
good book. One knows that he used to write for fifteen hours at a
stretch, gulping down coffee all the while. But it does not follow
that the coffee was good, nor does it follow that what he wrote was
good. The Comédie Humaine is all chicory.... I had wished for some
years to say this, I am glad _d'avoir débarrassé ma poitrine de ça_.

To have described divinely a Christmas party is something, but it is
not everything. The disengaging of the erotic motive is everything, is
the only touchstone. If while that is being done we are soothed into
a trance, a nebulous delirium of the nerves, then we know the novelist
to be a supreme novelist. If we retain consciousness, he is not
supreme, and to be less than supreme in art is to not exist....
Dickens disengages the erotic motive through two figures, Mr. Winkle,
a sportman, and Miss Arabella, "a young lady with fur-topped boots."
They go skating, he helps her over a stile. Can one not well see
her? She steps over the stile and her shin defines itself through her
balbriggan stocking. She is a knock-kneed girl, and she looks at Mr.
Winkle with that sensual regard that sometimes comes when the wind
is north-west. Yes, it is a north-west wind that is blowing over this
landscape that Hals or Winchoven might have painted--no, Winchoven
would have fumbled it with rose-madder, but Hals would have done it
well. Hals would have approved--would he not?--the pollard aspens,
these pollard aspens deciduous and wistful, which the rime makes
glistening. That field, how well ploughed it is, and are they not like
petticoats, those clouds low-hanging? Yes, Hals would have stated them
well, but only Manet could have stated the slope of the thighs of
the girl--how does she call herself?--Arabella--it is a so hard name
to remember--as she steps across the stile. Manet would have found
pleasure in her cheeks also. They are a little chapped with the
north-west wind that makes the pollard aspens to quiver. How adorable
a thing it is, a girl's nose that the north-west wind renders red! We
may tire of it sometimes, because we sometimes tire of all things,
but Winkle does not know this. Is Arabella his mistress? If she is
not, she has been, or at any rate she will be. How full she is of
temperament, is she not? Her shoulder-blades seem a little carelessly
modelled, but how good they are in intention! How well placed that
smut on her left cheek!

Strange thoughts of her surge up vaguely in me as I watch
her--thoughts that I cannot express in English.... Elle est plus
vieille que les roches entre lesquelles elle s'est assise; comme
le vampire elle a été fréquemment morte, et a appris les secrets du
tombeau; et s'est plongée dans des mers profondes, et conserve autour
d'elle leur jour ruiné; et, comme Lède, était mère d'Hélène de Troie,
et, comme Sainte-Anne, mère de Maria; et tout cela n'a été pour elle
que.... I desist, for not through French can be expressed the thoughts
that surge in me. French is a stale language. So are all the European
languages, one can say in them nothing fresh.... The stalest of them
all is Erse....

Deep down in my heart a sudden voice whispers me that there is only
one land wherein art may reveal herself once more. Of what avail to
await her anywhere else than in Mexico? Only there can the apocalypse
happen. I will take a ticket for Mexico, I will buy a Mexican grammar,
I will be a Mexican.... On a hillside, or beside some grey pool,
gazing out across those plains poor and arid, I will await the first
pale showings of the new dawn....



[Footnote 10: It were not, as a general rule, well to republish after
  a man's death the skit you made of his work while he lived. Meredith,
  however, was so transcendent that such skits must ever be harmless,
  and so lasting will his fame be that they can never lose what
  freshness they may have had at first. So I have put this thing in
  with the others, making improvements that were needed.--M.B.]

In the heart of insular Cosmos, remote by some scores of leagues of
Hodge-trod arable or pastoral, not more than a snuff-pinch for gaping
tourist nostrils accustomed to inhalation of prairie winds, but enough
for perspective, from those marginal sands, trident-scraped, we are
to fancy, by a helmeted Dame Abstract familiarly profiled on discs
of current bronze--price of a loaf for humbler maws disdainful of
Gallic side-dishes for the titillation of choicer palates--stands
Clashthought Park, a house of some pretension, mentioned at Runnymede,
with the spreading exception of wings given to it in later times
by Daedalean masters not to be baulked of billiards or traps for
Terpsichore, and owned for unbroken generations by a healthy line
of procreant Clashthoughts, to the undoing of collateral branches
eager for the birth of a female. Passengers through cushioned space,
flying top-speed or dallying with obscure stations not alighted at
apparently, have had it pointed out to them as beheld dimly for a
privileged instant before they sink back behind crackling barrier of
instructive paper with a "Thank you, Sir," or "Madam," as the case
may be. Guide-books praise it. I conceive they shall be studied for
a cock-shy of rainbow epithets slashed in at the target of Landed
Gentry, premonitorily. The tintinnabulation's enough. Periodical
footings of Clashthoughts into Mayfair or the Tyrol, signalled by the
slide from its mast of a crested index of Aeolian caprice, blazon of
their presence, give the curious a right to spin through the halls
and galleries under a cackle of housekeeper guideship--scramble for a
chuck of the dainties, dog fashion. There is something to be said for
the rope's twist. Wisdom skips.

It is recorded that the goblins of this same Lady Wisdom were all agog
one Christmas morning between the doors of the house and the village
church, which crouches on the outskirt of the park, with something of
a lodge in its look, you might say, more than of celestial twinkles,
even with Christmas hoar-frost bleaching the grey of it in sunlight,
as one sees imaged on seasonable missives for amity in the trays
marked "sixpence and upwards," here and there, on the counters of

Be sure these goblins made obeisance to Sir Peter Clashthought, as he
passed by, starched beacon of squirearchy, wife on arm, sons to heel.
After him, certain members of the household--rose-chapped males and
females, bearing books of worship. The pack of goblins glance up
the drive with nudging elbows and whisperings of "Where is daughter
Euphemia? Where Sir Rebus, her affianced?"

Off they scamper for a peep through the windows of the house. They
throng the sill of the library, ears acock and eyelids twittering
admiration of a prospect. Euphemia was in view of them--essence of
her. Sir Rebus was at her side. Nothing slips the goblins.

"Nymph in the Heavy Dragoons" was Mrs. Cryptic-Sparkler's famous
definition of her. The County took it for final--an uncut gem with
a fleck in the heart of it. Euphemia condoned the imagery. She had
breadth. Heels that spread ample curves over the ground she stood on,
and hands that might floor you with a clench of them, were hers. Grey
eyes looked out lucid and fearless under swelling temples that were
lost in a ruffling copse of hair. Her nose was virginal, with hints of
the Iron Duke at most angles. Square chin, cleft centrally, gave
her throat the look of a tower with a gun protrudent at top. She was
dressed for church evidently, but seemed no slave to Time. Her bonnet
was pushed well back from her head, and she was fingering the ribbons.
One saw she was a woman. She inspired deference.

"Forefinger for Shepherd's Crook" was what Mrs. Cryptic-Sparkler had
said of Sir Rebus. It shall stand at that.

"You have Prayer Book?" he queried.

She nodded. Juno catches the connubial trick.


"Ancient and Modern."

"I may share with you?"

"I know by heart. Parrots sing."

"Philomel carols," he bent to her.

"Complaints spoil a festival."

He waved hand to the door. "Lady, your father has started."

"He knows the adage. Copy-books instil it."

"Inexorable truth in it."

"We may dodge the scythe."

"To be choked with the sands?"

She flashed a smile. "I would not," he said, "that my Euphemia were
late for the Absolution."

She cast eyes to the carpet. He caught them at the rebound.

"It snows," she murmured, swimming to the window.

"A flake, no more. The season claims it."

"I have thin boots."

"Another pair?"

"My maid buttons. She is at church."

"My fingers?"

"Ten on each."

"Five," he corrected.


"I beg your pardon."

She saw opportunity. She swam to the bell-rope and grasped it for a
tinkle. The action spread feminine curves to her lover's eyes. He was
a man.

Obsequiousness loomed in the doorway. Its mistress flashed an order
for port--two glasses. Sir Rebus sprang a pair of eyebrows on her.
Suspicion slid down the banisters of his mind, trailing a blue ribbon.
Inebriates were one of his hobbies. For an instant she was sunset.

"Medicinal," she murmured.

"Forgive me, Madam. A glass, certainly. 'Twill warm us for

The wine appeared, seemed to blink owlishly through the facets of
its decanter, like some hoary captive dragged forth into light after
years of subterraneous darkness--something querulous in the sudden
liberation of it. Or say that it gleamed benignant from its tray,
steady-borne by the hands of reverence, as one has seen Infallibility
pass with uplifting of jewelled fingers through genuflexions to the
Balcony. Port has this in it: that it compels obeisance, master of us;
as opposed to brother and sister wines wooing us with a coy flush in
the gold of them to a cursory tope or harlequin leap shimmering up the
veins with a sly wink at us through eyelets. Hussy vintages swim to a
cosset. We go to Port, mark you!

Sir Rebus sipped with an affectionate twirl of thumb at the glass's
stem. He said "One scents the cobwebs."

"Catches in them," Euphemia flung at him.

"I take you. Bacchus laughs in the web."

"Unspun but for Pallas."

"A lady's jealousy."

"Forethought, rather."

"Brewed in the paternal pate. Grant it!"

"For a spring in accoutrements."

Sir Rebus inclined gravely. Port precludes prolongment of the riposte.

She replenished glasses. Deprecation yielded. "A step," she said, "and
we are in time for the First Lesson."

"This," he agreed, "is a wine."

"There are blasphemies in posture. One should sit to it."

"Perhaps." He sank to commodious throne of leather indicated by her

Again she filled for him. "This time, no heel-taps," she was
imperative. "The Litany demands basis."

"True." He drained, not repelling the decanter placed at his elbow.

"It is a wine," he presently repeated with a rolling tongue over it.

"Laid down by my great-grandfather. Cloistral."

"Strange," he said, examining the stopper, "no date. Antediluvian.
Sound, though."

He drew out his note-book. "_The senses_" he wrote, "_are internecine.
They shall have learned esprit de corps before they enslave us._" This
was one of his happiest flings to general from particular. "_Visual
distraction cries havoc to ultimate delicacy of palate_" would but
have pinned us a butterfly best a-hover; nor even so should we have
had truth of why the aphorist, closing note-book and nestling back of
head against that of chair, closed eyes also.

As by some such law as lurks in meteorological toy for our guidance
in climes close-knit with Irony for bewilderment, making egress of old
woman synchronise inevitably with old man's ingress, or the other way
about, the force that closed the aphorist's eye-lids parted his lips
in degree according. Thus had Euphemia, erect on hearth-rug, a cavern
to gaze down into. Outworks of fortifying ivory cast but denser
shadows into the inexplorable. The solitudes here grew murmurous. To
and fro through secret passages in the recesses leading up deviously
to lesser twin caverns of nose above, the gnomes Morphean went about
their business, whispering at first, but presently bold to wind horns
in unison--Roland-wise, not less.

Euphemia had an ear for it; whim also to construe lord and master
relaxed but reboant and soaring above the verbal to harmonic truths
of abstract or transcendental, to be hummed subsequently by privileged
female audience of one bent on a hook-or-crook plucking out of pith
for salvation.

She caught tablets pendent at her girdle. "_How long_," queried her
stilus, "_has our sex had humour? Jael hammered._"

She might have hitched speculation further. But Mother Earth,
white-mantled, called to her.

Casting eye of caution at recumbence, she paddled across the carpet
and anon swam out over the snow.

Pagan young womanhood, six foot of it, spanned eight miles before

       *       *       *       *       *




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