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Title: Pebbles on the shore [by] Alpha of the plough
Author: Gardiner, A. G. (Alfred George), 1865-1946
Language: English
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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.

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Alpha of the Plough

  ... collecting toys
And trifles for choice matters, worth a sponge;
As children gathering pebbles on the shore




These papers were begun as a part of a causerie in _The Star_, the other
contributors to which--men whose names are household words in contemporary
literature--wrote under the pen names of "Aldebaran," "Arcturus" and
"Sirius." But the constellation, formed in the early days of the war, did
not long survive the agitations of that event, and when "Arcturus" left for
the battlefield it was finally dissolved and "Alpha of the Plough" alone
remained to continue the causerie. This selection from his papers is a sort
of informal diary of moods in a time of peril. They are pebbles gathered on
the shore of a wild sea.





"As for your name, I offer you the whole firmament to choose from." In that
prodigal spirit the editor of the _Star_ invites me to join the
constellation that he has summoned from the vasty deeps of Fleet Street. I
am, he says, to shine punctually every Wednesday evening, wet or fine, on
winter nights and summer eves, at home or abroad, until such time as he
cries: "Hold, enough!" and applies the extinguisher that comes to all.

The invitation reaches me in a tiny village on a spur of a range of beech
clad hills, whither I have fled for a breathing space from the nightmare of
the war and the menacing gloom of the London streets at night. Here the
darkness has no terrors. In the wide arch of the sky our lamps are lit
nightly as the sun sinks down far over the great plain that stretches at
our feet. None of the palpitations of Fleet Street disturb us, and the
rumours of the war come to us like far-off echoes from another world. The
only sensation of our day is when, just after darkness has fallen, the
sound of a whistle in the tiny street of thatched cottages announces that
the postman has called to collect letters.

In this solitude, where one is thrown entirely upon one's own resources,
one discovers how dependent one is upon men and books for inspiration. It
is hard even to find a name. Not that finding a name is easy in any
circumstances. Every one who lives by his pen knows the difficulty of the
task. I would rather write an article than find a title for it. The
thousand words come easily (sometimes); but the five-words summary of the
thousand, that is to flame at the top like a beacon light, is a gem that
has to be sought in travail, almost in tears. I have written books, but I
have never found a title for one that I have written. That has always come
to me from a friend.

Even the men of genius suffer from this impoverishment. When Goldsmith had
written the finest English comedy since Shakespeare he did not know what to
call it, and had to leave Johnson to write the label. I like to think that
Shakespeare himself suffered from this sterility--that he, too, sat biting
the feather of his quill in that condition of despair that is so familiar
to smaller men. Indeed, we have proof that it was so in the titles
themselves. Is not the title, _As You Like It_, a confession that he had
bitten his quill until he was tired of the vain search for a name? And what
is _Twelfth Night: or What You Will_ but an evidence that he could not hit
upon any name that would fit the most joyous offspring of his genius?

What parent does not know the same agony? To name a child, to give him a
sign that shall go with him to his grave, and that shall fit that mystery
of the cradle which time and temptation and trial shall alone reveal--_hoc
opus, hic labor est_. Many fail by starting from false grounds--fashion,
ambition, or momentary interest. Perhaps the little stranger arrives with
the news of a battle, or when a popular novel appears, or at a moment when
you are under the influence of some austere or heroic name. And forgetful
that it is the child that has to bear the burden of your momentary impulse,
you call him Inkerman Jones, or Kitchener Smith, or Milton Spinks.

And so he is started on his journey, like a little historical memory, or
challenging comparison with some hero of fact or fable. Perhaps Milton
Spinks grows up bow-legged and commonplace--all Spinks and no Milton. As
plain John he would pass through life happy and unnoticed, but the great
name of Milton hangs about him like a jest from which he can never
escape--no, not even in the grave, for it will be continued there until the
lichen has covered the name on the headstone with stealthy and kindly

It is a good rule, I think, to avoid the fanciful in names. So few of our
children are going to be heroes or sages that we should be careful not to
stamp them with the mark of greatness at the outset of the journey. Horatio
was a happy stroke for Nelson, but how few Horatios win immortality, or
deserve it! And how disastrous if Horatio turns out a knave and a coward!
If young Spinks has any Miltonic fire within him, it will shine through
plain John more naturally and lustrously than through any borrowed
patronymic. You may be as humble as you like, and John will fit you: as
illustrious as you like, and John will blaze as splendid as your deeds,
linking you with that great order of nobility of which John Milton, John
Hampden, and John Bright are types.

I had written thus far when it occurred to me that I had still my own name
to choose and that soon the whistle of the postman would be heard in the
street. I went out into the orchard to take counsel with the stars. The far
horizon was still stained wine-red with the last embers of the day;
northward over the shoulder of the hill the yellow moon was rising
full-orbed into the night sky and the firmament glittered with a thousand

How near and familiar they seem to one in the solitude of the country! In
the town our vision is limited to the street. We see only the lights of the
pavement and hear only the rattle of the unceasing traffic. The stars seem
infinitely removed from our life.

But here they are like old neighbours for whom we never look in vain,
intimate though eternal, friendly and companionable though far off. There
is Orion coming over the hill, and there the many-jewelled Pleiades, and
across the great central dome of the sky the vast triangle formed by the
Pole Star, golden Arcturus (not now visible), and ice-blue Vega. But these
are not names for me. Better are those homely sounds that link the pageant
of night with the immemorial life of the fields. Arcturus is Alpha of the
Herdsman. Shall it be that?

And then my eye roves westward to where the Great Bear hangs head downwards
as if to devour the earth. Great Bear, Charles's Wain, the Plough, the
Dipper, the Chariot of David--with what fancies the human mind through all
the ages has played with that glorious constellation! Let my fancy play
with it too. There at the head of the Plough flames the great star that
points to the pole. I will hitch my little waggon to that sublime image. I
will be Alpha of the Plough.


Two soldiers, evidently brothers, stood at the door of the railway
carriage--one inside the compartment, the other on the platform.

"Now, you won't forget to write, Bill," said the latter.

"No," said Bill. "I shall be back at--tonight, and I'll write all round
to-morrow. But, lor, what a job. There's mother and the missus and Bob and
Sarah and Aunt Jane and Uncle Jim, and--well, you know the lot. You've had
to do it, Sam."

"Yes," said Sam, ruefully; "it's a fair teaser."

"And if you write to one and miss another they're offended," continued
Bill. "But I always mention all of 'em. I say 'love to Sarah,' and 'hope
Aunt Jane's cold's better,' and that sort of thing, and that fills out a
page. But I'm blowed if I can find anything else to say. I just begin
'hoping this finds you well, as it leaves me at present,' and then I'm
done. What else is there to say?"

"Nothing," said Sam, mournfully. "I just sit and scratch my head over the
blessed paper, but nothing'll come. Seems as though my head's as empty as a

"Same here. 'Tisn't like writing love-letters. When I was up to that game
'twas easy enough. When I got stuck I just put in half a page of crosses,
and that filled up fine. But writing to mother and the missus and Sarah and
Jim and the rest is different. You can't fill up with crosses. It would
look ridiklus."

"It would," said Sam.

Then the train began to move, and the soldier in the train sank back on his
seat, took out a cigarette, and began to smoke. I found he had been twice
out at the front, and was now home on sick leave. He had been at the battle
of Mons, through the retreat to the Marne, the advance to the Aisne, the
first battle of Ypres, and the fighting at Festubert. In a word, he had
seen some of the greatest events in the world's history, face to face, and
yet he confessed that when he came to writing a letter, even to his wife,
he could find nothing to say. He was in the position of the lady mentioned
by Horace Walpole, whose letter to her husband began and ended thus: "I
write to you because I have nothing to do: I finish because I have nothing
to say."

I suppose there has never been so much letter-writing in the world as is
going on to-day, and much of it is good writing, as the papers show. But
the case of my companion in the train is the case of thousands and tens of
thousands of young fellows who for the first time in their lives want to
write and discover that they have no gift of self-expression. It is not
that they are stupid. It is that somehow the act of writing paralyses them.
They cannot condense the atmosphere in which they live to the concrete
word. You have to draw them out. They need a friendly lead. When they have
got that they can talk well enough, but without it they are dumb.

In the great sense letter-writing is no doubt a lost art. It was killed by
the penny post and modern hurry. When Madame de Sévigny, Cowper, Horace
Walpole, Byron, Lamb, and the Carlyles wrote their immortal letters the
world was a leisurely place where there was time to indulge in the luxury
of writing to your friends. And the cost of franking a letter made that
letter a serious affair. If you could only send a letter once in a month or
six months, and then at heavy expense, it became a matter of first-rate
consequence. The poor, of course, couldn't enjoy the luxury of
letter-writing at all. De Quincey tells us how the dalesmen of Lakeland a
century ago used to dodge the postal charges. The letter that came by stage
coach was received at the door by the poor mother, who glanced at the
superscription, saw from a certain agreed sign on it that Tom or Jim was
well, and handed it back to the carrier unopened. In those days a letter
was an event.

Now when you can send a letter half round the globe for a penny, and when
the postman calls half a dozen times a day, few of us take letter-writing
seriously. Carlyle saw that the advent of the penny post would kill the
letter by making it cheap. "I shall send a penny letter next time," he
wrote to his mother when the cheap postage was about to come in, and he
foretold that people would not bother to write good letters when they could
send them for next to nothing. He was right, and the telegraph, the
telephone, and the postcard have completed the destruction of the art of
letter-writing. It is the difficulty or the scarcity of a thing that makes
it treasured. If diamonds were as plentiful as pebbles we shouldn't stoop
to pick them up.

But the case of Bill and Sam and thousands of their comrades to-day is
different. They don't want to write literary letters, but they do want to
tell the folks at home something about their life and the great things of
which they are a part. But the great things are too great for them. They
cannot put them into words. And they ought not to try, for the secret of
letter-writing is intimate triviality. Bill could not have described the
retreat from Mons; but he could have told, as he told me, about the blister
he got on his heel, how he hungered for a smoke, how he marched and marched
until he fell asleep marching, how he lost his pal at Le Cateau, and how
his boot sole dropped off at Meaux. And through such trivialities he would
have given a living picture of the great retreat.

In short, to write a good letter you must approach the job in the lightest
and most casual way. You must be personal, not abstract. You must not say,
"This is too small a thing to put down." You must say, "This is just the
sort of small thing we talk about at home. If I tell them this they will
see me, as it were, they'll hear my voice, they'll know what I'm about."
That is the purpose of a letter. Keats expresses the idea very well in one
of those voluminous letters which he wrote to his brother George and his
wife in America and in which he poured out the wealth of family affection
which was one of the most amiable features of his character. He has
described how he had been to see his mother, how she had laughed at his bad
jokes, how they went out to tea at Mrs. Millar's, and how in going they
were struck with the light and shade through the gateway at the Horse
Guards. And he goes on: "I intend to write you such volumes that it will be
impossible for me to keep any order or method in what I write; that will
come first which is uppermost in my mind, not that which is uppermost in my
heart--besides I should wish to give you a picture of our lives here
whenever by a touch I can do it; even as you must see by the last sentence
our walk past Whitehall all in good health and spirits--this I am certain
of because I felt so much pleasure from the simple idea of your playing a
game of cricket."

There is the recipe by one of the masters of the craft. A letter written in
this vein annihilates distance; it continues the personal gossip, the
intimate communion, that has been interrupted by separation; it preserves
one's presence in absence. It cannot be too simple, too commonplace, too
colloquial. Its familiarity is not its weakness, but its supreme virtue. If
it attempts to be orderly and stately and elaborate, it may be a good
essay, but it will certainly be a bad letter.


Among the few legacies that my father left me was a great talent for
sleeping. I think I can say, without boasting, that in a sleeping match I
could do as well as any man. I can sleep long, I can sleep often, and I can
sleep sound. When I put my head on the pillow I pass into a fathomless
peace where no dreams come, and about eight hours later I emerge to
consciousness, as though I have come up from the deeps of infinity.

That is my normal way, but occasionally I have periods of wakefulness in
the middle of the night. My sleep is then divided into two chapters, and
between the chapters there is a slab of unmitigated dreariness. It is my
hour of pessimism. The tide has ebbed, the water is dead-low, and there is
a vista of endless mud. It is then that this tragi-comedy of life touches
bottom, and I see the heavens all hung with black. I despair of humanity, I
despair of the war, I despair of myself. There is not one gleam of light in
all the sad landscape, and the abyss seems waiting at my feet to swallow me
up with everything that I cherish. It is no use saying to this demon of the
darkness that I know he is a humbug, a mere Dismal Jemmy of the brain, who
sits there croaking like a night owl or a tenth-rate journalist. My Dismal
Jemmy is not to be exorcised by argument. He can only be driven out by a
little sane companionship.

So I turn on a light and call for one of my bedside friends. They stand
there in noble comradeship, ready to talk, willing to remain silent, only
asking to do my pleasure. Oh, blessed be the name of Gutenberg, the Master
Printer. A German? I care not. Even if he had been a Prussian--which I
rejoice to think he was not--I would still say: "Blessed be the name of
Gutenberg," though Sir Richard Cooper, M.P., sent me to the Tower for it.
For Gutenberg is the Prometheus not of legend but of history. He brought
down the sacred flame and scattered the darkness that lay on the face of
the waters. He gave us the _Daily Owl_, it is true, but he made us also
freemen of time and thought, companions of the saints and the sages,
sharers in the wisdom and the laughter of the ages. Thanks to him I can,
for the expenditure of a few shillings, hear Homer sing and Socrates talk
and Rabelais laugh; I can go chivvying the sheep with Don Quixote and
roaming the hills with Borrow; I can carry the whole universe of
Shakespeare in my pocket, and call up spirits to drive Dismal Jemmy from my

Who are these spirits? In choosing them it is necessary to avoid the
deep-browed argumentative fellows. I do not want Plato or Gibbon or any of
the learned brotherhood by my bedside, nor the poets, nor the novelists,
nor the dramatists, nor even the professional humorists. These are all
capital fellows in their way, but let them stay downstairs. To the intimacy
of the bedside I admit only the kindly fellows who come in their
dressing-gowns and slippers, so to speak, and sit down and just talk to you
as though they had known you ever since you were a little nipper, and your
father and your grandfather before you. Of course, there is old Montaigne.
What a glorious gossip he is! What strange things he has to tell you, what
a noble candour he shows! He turns out his mind as carelessly as a boy
turns out his pockets, and gives you the run of his whole estate. You may
wander everywhere, and never see a board warning you to keep off the grass
or reminding you that you are a trespasser.

And Bozzy. Who could do without Bozzy by his bedside--dear, garrulous old
Bozzy, most splendid of toadies, most miraculous of reporters? When Bozzy
begins to talk to me, and the old Doctor growls "Sir," all the worries and
anxieties of life fall magically away, and Dismal Jemmy vanishes like the
ghost at cock-crow. I am no longer imprisoned in time and the flesh: I am
of the company of the immortals. I share their triumphant aloofness from
the play that fills our stage and see its place in the scheme of the
unending drama of men.

That sly rogue Pepys, of course, is there--more thumb-stained than any of
them except Bozzy. What a miracle is this man who lives more vividly in our
eyes than any creature that ever walked the earth! What was the secret of
his magic? Is it not this, that he succeeded in putting down on paper the
real truth about himself? A small thing? Well, you try it. You will find it
the hardest job you have ever tackled. No matter what secrecy you adopt you
will discover that you cannot tell yourself the _whole truth_ about
yourself. Pepys did that. Benvenuto Cellini pretended to do that, but I
refuse to believe the fellow. Benjamin Franklin tried to do it and very
nearly succeeded. St. Augustine was frank enough about his early
wickedness, but it was the overcharged frankness of the subsequent saint.
No, Pepys is the man. He did the thing better than it has ever been done in
this world.

I like to have the _Paston Letters_ at my bedside, too. Then I go off to
sleep again in the fifteenth century with the voice of old Agnes Paston
sounding in my ears. Dead half a thousand years, yet across the gulf of
time I hear the painful scratching of her quill as she sends "Goddis
blyssyng" to her son in London, and tells him all her motherly gossip and
makes the rough life of far-off Tudor England live for ever. Dear old
Agnes! She little thought as she struggled with her spelling and her pen
that she was writing something that was immortal. If she had known, I don't
think she would have bothered. She was a very matter-of-fact old lady, and
was too full of worries to have much room for vanities.

I should like to say more about my bedside friends--strapping George Borrow
sitting with Petulengro's sister under the hedge or fighting the Flaming
Tinman; the dear little Boston doctor who talks so chirpily over the
Breakfast Table; the _Compleat Angler_ that takes you out into an eternal
May morning, and Sainte-Beuve whom I have found a first-rate bedside
talker. But I must close.

There is one word, however, to be added. Your bedside friends should be
dressed in soft leather and printed on thin paper. Then you can talk to
them quite snugly. It is a great nuisance if you have to stick your arms
out of bed and hold your hands rigid.


A friend of mine calling to see me the other day and observing my faithful
Airedale--"Quilp" by name--whose tail was in a state of violent emotion at
the prospect of a walk, remarked that when the new taxes came in I should
have to pay a guinea for the privilege of keeping that dog. I said I hoped
that Mr. McKenna would do nothing so foolish. In fact, I said, I am sure he
will do nothing so foolish. I know him well, and I have always found him a
sensible man. Let him, said I, tax us all fairly according to our incomes,
but why should he interfere with the way in which we spend the money that
he leaves us? Why should he deny the friendship of that most friendly
animal the dog to a poor man and make it the exclusive possession of the

The emotion of Quilp's tail kept pace with the fervour of my remarks. He
knew that he was the subject of the conversation, and his large brown eyes
gleamed with intelligence, and his expressive eyebrows were eloquent of
self-pity and appeal. He was satisfied that whatever the issue I was on his
side, and at half a hint he would have given my friend a taste of the rough
side of his tongue. But he is a well-mannered brute, and knows how to
restrain his feelings in company.

What would be the result of your high tax? I continued with passion. It
would be a blow at the democracy of dogs. It would reduce the whole of
dogdom to a pampered class of degenerates. Is there anything more odious
than the spectacle of a fat woman in furs nursing a lap dog in furs, too?
It is as degrading to the noble family of dogs as a footman in gold buttons
and gold braid is to the human family. But it is just these degenerates
whom a high tax would protect. Honest fellows like Quilp here (more
triumphant tail flourishes), dogs that love you like a brother, that will
run for you, carry for you, bark for you, whose candour is so transparent
and whose faithfulness has been the theme of countless poets--dogs like
these would be taxed out of existence.

Now cats, I continued--(at the thrilling word Quilp became tense with
excitement), cats are another affair. Personally I don't care two pence if
Mr. McKenna taxes them a guinea a whisker. There is only one moment in the
life of a cat that is tolerable, and that is when it is not a cat but a
kitten. Who was the Frenchman who said that women ought to be born at
seventeen and die at thirty? Cats ought to die when they cease to be
kittens and become cats.

Cats, said my friend coldly, are the spiritual superiors of dogs. The dog
is a flunkey, a serf, an underling, a creature that is eternally watching
its master. Look at Quilp at this moment. What a spectacle of servility.
You don't see cats making themselves the slaves of men. They like to be
stroked, but they have no affection for the hand that strokes them. They
are not parasites, but independent souls, going their own way, living their
own lives, indifferent to applause, calling no man master. That is why the
French consider them so superior to dogs.

I do not care what the French think, I said with warmth.

But they are our Allies, said my friend severely. The Germans, on the other
hand, prefer dogs. I hope you are not a pro-German.

On the cat-and-dog issue I am, and I don't care who knows it, I said
recklessly. And I hate these attempts to drag in prejudice. Moreover, I
would beg you to observe that it was a great Frenchman, none other than
Pascal, who paid the highest of all tributes to the dog. "The more I see of
men," he said, "the better I like dogs." I challenge you to produce from
any French source such an encomium on the cat.

No, I continued, the dog is a generous, warmhearted, chivalrous fellow, who
will play with you, mourn for you, or die for you. Why, literature is full
of his heroism. Who has climbed Helvellyn without being haunted by that
shepherd's dog that inspired Scott and Byron? Or the Pass of St. Bernard
without remembering the faithful hounds of the great monastery? But the cat
is a secret and alien creature, selfish and mysterious, a Dr. Jekyll and
Mr. Hyde. See her purring on the hearth-rug in front of the fire, and she
seems the picture of innocence and guileless content. All a blind, my dear
fellow, all a blind. Wait till night comes. Then where is demure Mistress
Puss? Is she at home keeping vigil with the good dog Tray? No, the house
may be in blazes or ransacked by burglars for all she cares. She is out on
the tiles and in back gardens pursuing her unholy ritual--that strange
ritual that seems so Oriental, so sinister, so full of devilish purpose. I
can understand the old association of witchcraft with cats. The sight of
cats almost makes me believe in witchcraft, in spite of myself. I can
believe anything about a cat. She is heartless and mercenary. Her name has
become the synonym of everything that is mean, spiteful, and vicious. "An
old cat" is the unkindest thing you can say about a woman.

But the dog wears his heart on his sleeve. His life is as open as the day.
He has his indecorums, but he has no secrets. You may see the worst of him
at a glance, but the best of him is inexhaustible. A cat is as remote from
your life as a lizard, but a dog is as intimate as your own thoughts or
your own shadow, and his loyalty is one of the consolations of a disloyal
world. You remember that remark of Charles Reade's: "He was only a man, but
he was as faithful as a dog." It was the highest tribute he could pay to
his hero--that he was as faithful as a dog. And think of his services--see
him drawing his cart in Belgium, rounding up the sheep into the fold on the
Yorkshire fells, tending the cattle by the highway, warning off the night
prowler from the lonely homestead, always alert, always obedient, always
the friend of man, be he never so friendless.... Shall we go for a walk?

At the joyous word Quilp leapt on me with a frenzied demonstration. "Good
dog," I said. "If Mr. McKenna puts a guinea tax on you I'll never say a
good word for him again."


The worst of spending week-ends in the country in these anxious days is the
difficulty of getting news. About six o'clock on Saturday evening I am
seized with a furious hunger. What has happened on the East front? What on
the West? What in Serbia? Has Greece made up its heroic mind? Is Rumania
still trembling on the brink? What does the French communiqué say? These
and a hundred other questions descend on me with frightful insistence.
Clearly I can't go to bed without having them answered. But there is not an
evening paper to be got nearer than the little railway station in the
valley two miles away, and there is no way of getting it except by Shanks'
mare. And so, unable to resist the glamour of _The Star_, I start out
across the fields for the station.

As I stood on the platform last Saturday evening devouring the latest war
news under the dim oil lamp, a voice behind me said, in broad rural accent,
"Bill, I say, W.G. is dead." At the word I turned hastily to another column
and found the news that had stirred him. And even in the midst of
world-shaking events it stirred me too. For a brief moment I forgot the war
and was back in that cheerful world where we used to be happy, where we
greeted the rising sun with light hearts and saw its setting without fear.
In that cheerful world I can hardly recall a time when a big man with a
black beard was not my King.

I first saw him in the 'seventies. I was a small boy then, and I did him
the honour of playing truant--"playing wag" we called it. I felt that the
occasion demanded it. To have the god of my idolatry in my own little town
and not to pay him my devotions--why, the idea was almost like blasphemy. A
half-dozen, or even a dozen, from my easily infuriated master would be a
small price to pay. I should take the stripes as a homage to the hero. He
would never know, but I should be proud to suffer in his honour.
Unfortunately there was a canvas round the field where the hero played, and
as the mark of the Mint was absent from my pockets I was on the wrong side
of the canvas. But I knew a spot where by lying flat on your stomach and
keeping your head very low you could see under the canvas and get a view of
the wicket. It was not a comfortable position, but I saw the King. I think
I was a little disappointed that there was nothing supernatural about his
appearance and that there were no portents in the heavens to announce his
coming. It didn't seem quite right somehow. In a general way I knew he was
only a man, but I was quite prepared to see something tremendous happen,
the sun to dance or the earth to heave, when he appeared. I never felt the
indifference of Nature to the affairs of men so acutely.

I saw him many times afterwards, and I suppose I owe more undiluted
happiness to him than to any man that ever lived. For he was the genial
tyrant in a world that was all sunshine. There are other games, no doubt,
which will give you as much exercise and pleasure in playing them as
cricket, but there is no game that fills the mind with such memories and
seems enveloped in such a gracious and kindly atmosphere. If you have once
loved it and played it, you will find talk in it enough "for the wearing
out of six fashions," as Falstaff says. I like a man who has cricket in his
soul. I find I am prejudiced in his favour, and am disposed to disbelieve
any ill about him. I think my affection for Jorkins began with the
discovery that he, like myself, saw that astounding catch with which Ulyett
dismissed Bonnor in the Australian match at Lord's in 1883--or was it 1884?
And when to this mutual and immortal memory we added the discovery that we
were both at the Oval at the memorable match when Crossland rattled Surrey
out like ninepins and the crowd mobbed him, and Key and Roller miraculously
pulled the game out of the fire, our friendship was sealed.

The fine thing about a wrangle on cricket is that there is no bitterness in
it. When you talk about politicians you are always on the brink of bad
temper. When you disagree about the relative merits of W.B. Yeats or
Francis Thompson you are afflicted with scorn for the other's lack of
perception. But you may quarrel about cricketers and love each other all
the time. For example, I am prepared to stand up in a truly Christian
spirit to the bowling of anybody in defence of my belief that--next to him
of the black beard--Lohmann was the most naturally gifted all-round
cricketer there has ever been. What grace of action he had, what an
instinct for the weak spot of his opponent, what a sense for fitting the
action to the moment, above all, what a gallant spirit he played the game
in! And that, after all, is the real test of the great cricketer. It is the
man who brings the spirit of adventure into the game that I want. Of the
Quaifes and the Scottons and the Barlows I have nothing but dreary
memories. They do not mean cricket to me. And even Shrewsbury and Hayward
left me cold. They were too faultily faultless, too icily regular for my
taste. They played cricket not as though it was a game, but as though it
was a proposition in Euclid. And I don't like Euclid.

It was the hearty joyousness that "W.G." shed around him that made him so
dear to us youngsters of all ages. I will admit, if you like, that
Ranjitsinhji at his best was more of a magician with the bat, that Johnny
Briggs made you laugh more with his wonderful antics, that A.P. Lucas had
more finish, Palairet more grace, and so on. But it was the abundance of
the old man with the black beard that was so wonderful. You never came to
the end of him. He was like a generous roast of beef--you could cut and
come again, and go on coming. Other men flitted across our sky like
meteors, but he shone on like the sun in the heavens, and like the sun in
the heavens he scattered largesse over the land. He did not seem so much a
man as an institution, a symbol of summer and all its joys, a sort of
Father Christmas clothed in flannels and sunshine. It did you good merely
to look at him. It made you feel happy to see such a huge capacity for
enjoyment, such mighty subtlety, such ponderous gaiety. It was as though
Jove, or Vulcan, or some other god of antiquity had come down to play games
with the mortals. You would not have been much surprised if, when the
shadows lengthened across the greensward and the umpire signalled that the
day's play was done, he had wrapped himself in a cloud of glory and floated
away to Olympus.

And now he is gone indeed, and it seems as though a part, and that a very
happy part, of my life has gone with him. When sanity returns to the earth,
there will arise other deities of the cricket field, but not for me. Never
again shall I recapture the careless rapture that came with the vision of
the yellow cap flaming above the black beard, of the Herculean frame and
the mighty bared arms, and all the godlike apparition of the master. As I
turned out of the little station and passed through the fields and climbed
the hill I felt that the darkness that has come upon the earth in these
days had taken a deeper shade of gloom, for even the lights of the happy
past were being quenched.


The postman (or rather the postwoman) brought me among other things this
morning a little paper called _The Superman_, which I find is devoted to
the stars, the lines of the hands, and similar mysteries. I gather from it
that "Althea," a normal clairvoyant, and other seers, have visited the
planets--in their astral bodies, of course--to make inquiries on various
aspects of the war. Althea and "the other seers" seem to have had quite a
busy time running about among the stars and talking to the inhabitants
about the trouble in our particular orb. They seem really to have got to
the bottom of things. It appears that there is a row going on between
Lucifer and Arniel. "Lucifer is a fallen planetary god, whose lust for
power has driven him from his seat of authority as ruler of Jupiter. He is
the evil genius overshadowing the Kaiser and is striving to possess this
world so that he may pass it on to Jupiter and eventually blot out the
Solar Logos," etc., etc.

I do not know who sent me this paper or for what purpose; but let me say
that it is sheer waste of postage stamps and material. I hope I am not
intolerant of the opinions of others, but I confess that when people talk
to me about reading the stars and the lines of the hand and things of that
sort I shut up like an oyster. I do not speak of the humbugs who
deliberately exploit the credulity of fools. I speak of the sincere
believers--people like my dear old friend W.T. Stead, who was the most
extraordinary combination of wisdom and moonshine I have ever known. He
would startle you at one moment by his penetrating handling of the facts of
a great situation, and the next moment would make you speechless with some
staggering story of spirit visitors or starry conspiracies that seemed to
him just as actual as the pavement on which he walked.

I am not at home in this atmosphere of mysteries. It is not that I do not
share the feeling out of which it is born. I do. Thoreau said he would give
all he possessed for "one true vision," and so long as we are spiritually
alive we must all have some sense of expectancy that the curtain will lift,
and that we shall look out with eyes of wonder on the hidden meaning of
this strange adventure upon which we are embarked. For thousands of years
we have been wandering in this wilderness of the world and speculating
about why we are here, where we are going, and what it is all about. It can
never have been a greater puzzle than now, when we are all busily engaged
in killing each other. And at every stage there have been those who have
cried, "Lo, here!" and "Lo, there!" and have called men to witness that
they have read the riddle and have torn the secret from the heart of the
great mystery.

And so long as men can feel and think, the quest will go on. We could not
cease that quest if we would, and we would not if we could, for without it
all the meaning would have gone out of life and we should be no more than
the cattle in the fields. Nor is the quest in vain. We follow this trail
and that, catch at this hint of a meaning and that gleam of vision, and
though we find this path ends in a cul-de-sac, and that brings us back to
the place from whence we started, we are learning all the time about the
mysteries of our wilderness. And one day, perhaps--suddenly, it may be, as
that vision of the great white mountains of the Oberland breaks upon the
sight of the traveller--we shall see whither the long adventure leads. "Say
not the struggle naught availeth," said a poet who was not given to
cultivating illusions. And he went on:--

    For while the tired waves, vainly breaking.
      Seem here no painful inch to gain,
    Far back, through creeks and inlets making.
      Comes silent, flooding in, the main.

But though I want to see a vision as much as anybody, I am out of touch
with the company of the credulous. I am with Doubting Thomas. I have no
capacity for believing the impossible, and have an entire distrust of dark
rooms and magic. People with bees in their bonnets leave me wondering, but
cold. I know a man--a most excellent man--whose life is a perfect debauch
of visions and revelations. He seems to discover the philosopher's stone
every other day. Sometimes it is brown bread that is the way to salvation.
If you eat brown bread you will never die, or at any rate you will live
until everybody is tired of you. Sometimes it is a new tax or a new sort of
bath that is the secret key to the whole contraption. For one period he
could talk of nothing but dried milk; for another, acetic acid was the
thing. Rub yourself with acetic acid and you would be as invulnerable to
the ills of the body as Achilles was after he had been dipped by Thetis in
the waters of Styx. The stars tell him anything he wishes to believe, and
he can conjure up spirits as easily as another man can order a cab. It is
not that he is a fool. In practical affairs he is astonishingly astute. It
is that he has an illimitable capacity for belief. He is always on the road
to Damascus.

For my part I am content to wait. I am for Wordsworth's creed of "wise
passiveness." I should as soon think of reading my destiny on the sole of
my boot as in the palm of my hand. The one would be just as illuminating as
the other. It would tell me what I chose to make it tell me. That and no
more. And so with the stars. People who pretend to read the riddle of our
affairs in the pageant of the stars are deceiving themselves or are trying
to deceive others. They are giving their own little fancies the sanction of
the universe. The butterfly that I see flitting about in the sunshine
outside might as well read the European war as a comment on its aimless
little life. The stars do not chatter about us, but they have a balm for us
if we will be silent. The "huge and thoughtful night" speaks a language
simple, august, universal.

It is one of the smaller consolations of the war that it has given us in
London a chance of hearing that language. The lamps of the street are
blotted out, and the lamps above are visible. Five nights of the week all
the year round I take the last bus that goes northward from the City, and
from the back seat on the top I watch the great procession of the stars. It
is the most astonishing spectacle offered to men. Emerson said that if we
only saw it once in a hundred years we should spend years in preparing for
the vision. It is hung out for us every night, and we hardly give it a
glance. And yet it is well worth glancing at. It is the best corrective for
this agitated little mad-house in which we dwell and quarrel and fight and
die. It gives us a new scale of measurement and a new order of ideas. Even
the war seems only a local affair of some ill-governed asylum in the
presence of this ordered march of illimitable worlds. I do not worry about
the vision; I do not badger the stars to give me their views about the war.
It is enough to see and feel and be silent.

And now I hope Althea will waste no more postage stamps in sending me her
desecrating gibberish.


When I was in France a few weeks ago I heard much about the relative
qualities of different classes of men as soldiers. And one of the most
frequent themes was the excellence of the "black sheep." It was not merely
that he was brave. That one might expect. It was not even that he was
unselfish. That also did not arouse surprise. The pride in him, I found,
was chiefly due to the fact that he was so good a soldier in the sense of
discipline, enthusiasm, keenness, even intelligence. It is, I believe, a
well-ascertained fact that an unusually high proportion of reformatory boys
and other socially doubtful men have won rewards for exceptional deeds, and
every one knows the case of the man with twenty-seven convictions against
him who won the V.C. for one of the bravest acts of the war.

It must not be assumed from this that to be a successful soldier you must
be a social failure. On the contrary, nothing has been so conclusively
proved by this war as the widespread prevalence of the soldierly instinct.
Heroes have sprung up from all ranks and all callings--from drapers' shops
and furniture vans, from stools in the city and looms in Lancashire, from
Durham pits and bishops' palaces. Whatever else the war has done, it has
knocked on the head the idea that the cult of militarism is necessary to
preserve the soul of courage and chivalry in a people. We, with a wholly
civic tradition, have shown that in the hour of need we can draw upon an
infinite reservoir of heroism, as splendid as anything in the annals of the
human race.

But the case of the black sheep has a special significance for us. The war
has discovered the good that is in him, and has released it for useful
service. After all, the black sheep is often only black by the accident of
circumstance, upbringing, or association. He is a misfit. In him, as in all
of us, there is an infinite complexity--good and ill together. No one who
has faithfully examined his own life can doubt how trifling a weight turns
the scales for or against us. An accidental meeting, a casual friendship, a
phrase in a book--and the current of life takes a definite direction this
way or that. There are no doubt people in whom the elements are so
perfectly adjusted that the balance is never in doubt. Their character is
superior to circumstance. But they are rare. They are the stars that dwell
apart from our human struggles. Most of us know what it is to be on the
brink of the precipice--know, if we are quite honest with ourselves, how
narrow a shave we have had from joining the black sheep. Perhaps, if we are
still honest with ourselves, we shall admit that the thing that turned the
balance for us was not a very creditable thing--that we were protected from
ourselves not by any high virtue, but by something mean, a touch of
cowardice, a paltry ambition, a consideration that we should be ashamed to

We are so strangely compact that we do not ourselves know what the ordeal
will discover in us. You have no doubt read that incident of the sergeant
who, in a moment of panic, fled, was placed under arrest and sentenced to
be shot. Before the sentence was ratified by the Commander-in-Chief, there
came a moment of extreme peril to the line, when irretrievable disaster was
imminent and every man who could fill a gap was needed. The condemned man
was called out to face the enemy, and, even in the midst of brave men,
fought with a bravery that singled him out for the Victoria Cross. Tell
me--which was the true man? I saw the other day a letter from a famous
doctor dealing with the question of the psychology of war. He was against
shooting a man for cowardice, because cowardice was not necessarily a
quality of character. It was often a temporary collapse due to physical
fatigue, or a passing condition of mind. "Five times," he said, "I have
been at work in circumstances in which my life was in imminent peril. On
four occasions I worked with a curious sense of exaltation. On the fifth
occasion I was seized with a sudden and unreasoning panic that paralysed
me. Perhaps it was a failure of digestion, perhaps a want of sleep. Anyhow,
at that moment I was a coward."

The truth is that, except for the aforesaid stars who dwell apart, we all
have the potential saint and the potential sinner, the hero and the coward,
the honest man and the dishonest man within us.

There is a fine poem in _A Shropshire Lad_ that puts the case of the black
sheep as pregnantly as it can be put:--

    There sleeps in Shrewsbury gaol to-night,
      Or wakes, as may betide,
    A better lad if things went right
      Than most that sleep outside.

If things went right.... Do not, I pray you, think that in saying this I am
holding the candle to that deadly doctrine of determinism, or that, like
the tragic novelist, I see man only as a pitiful animal caught in the trap
of blind circumstance. If I believed that I should say "Better dead." But
what I do say is that we are so variously composed that circumstance does
play a powerful part in giving rein to this or that element in us and
making the scale go down for good or bad, and that often the best of us
only miss the wrong turning by a hair's breadth. Dirt, it is said, is only
matter in the wrong place. Put it in the right place, and it ceases to be
dirt. Give that man with twenty-seven convictions against him a chance of
revealing the better metal that is in him, and, lo! he is hailed as a hero
and decorated with the V.C.


"Well, have you heard the news?"

It was the landlord of the Blue Boar who spoke. He stopped me in the
village street--if you can call a straggling lane with a score of thatched
cottages and half a dozen barns a street--evidently bursting with great
tidings. He is an old soldier himself, and his views on the war are held in
great esteem. I hadn't heard the news, but, whatever it was, I could see
from the landlord's immense smile that there was nothing to fear.

"Jim has got a commission," said the landlord, and he said it in a tone
that left no doubt that now things would begin to move. For Jim is his son,
a sergeant-major in the artillery, who has been out at the front ever since

The news has created quite a sensation. But we are getting so used to
sensations now that we are becoming _blasé_. There has never been such a
year of wonders in the memory of any one living. The other day thousands of
soldiers from the great camp ten miles away descended on our "terrain"--I
think that's the word--and had a tremendous two-days' battle in the hills
about us. They broke through the hedges, and slept in the cornfields, and
ravished the apple-trees in my orchard, and raided the cottagers for tea,
and tramped to and fro in our street and gave us the time of our lives.

"_I_ never seed such a sight in _my_ life," said old Benjamin to me in the
evening. "Man and boy, I've lived in that there bungalow for eighty-five
year come Michaelmas, and _I_ never seed the like o' _this_ before.... Yes,
eighty-five year come Michaelmas. And my father had that there land on a
peppercorn rent, and the way he lost it was like this--"

Happily at this moment there was a sudden alarum among the soldiers, and I
was able to dodge the familiar rehearsal of old Benjamin's grievance.

And who would ever have dreamed that we should live to hear French talked
in our street as a familiar form of speech? But we have. In a little
cottage at the other end of the village is a family of Belgians, a fragment
of the flotsam thrown up by the great inundation of 1914. They have brought
the story of "frightfulness" near to us, for they passed through the terror
of Louvain, hiding in the cellars for nights and days, having two of their
children killed, and escaping to the coast on foot.

Every Sunday night you will see them very busy carrying their few chairs
and tables into a neighbouring barn, for on Monday mornings mass is
celebrated there. The priest comes up in a country cart from ten miles
away, and the refugees scattered for miles around assemble for worship,
after which there is a tremendous pow-pow in French and Flemish, with much
laughter and gaiety.

Old Benjamin "don't hold with they priests," and he has grave suspicions
about all foreign tongues, but the Belgians have become quite a part of us,
and their children are learning to lisp in English down at the school in
the valley.

Much less agreeable is the frame of mind towards the occupants of the
cottage next to the Blue Boar. They are the wife and children of a German
who had worked in this country for many years and is now in America. The
woman is English and amiable, but the proximity of anything so reminiscent
of Germany is painful to the village, and especially to the landlord, whose
views about Germans can hardly be put into words.

"I should hope there'll be no prisoners took after _this_," he says grimly
whenever he hears of a new outrage. "Vermin--that's what they are," he
says, "and they should be treated according-ly."

The Germans, in fact, have become the substitute for every term of
execration, even with mild David the labourer. He came into the orchard
last evening staggering under a 15-ft. ladder. We had decided that if we
were going to have the pears before the wasps had spoiled them we must pick
them at once.

"It's a wunnerful crop," said David. "I've knowed this pear-tree [looking
up at one of them from the foot of his ladder] for twenty-five year, and
I've never seen such a crop on it afore."

Then he mounted the ladder and began to pick the fruit.

"Well, I'm blowed," he said, "if they ain't been at 'em a'ready." And he
flung down pear after pear scooped out by the wasps close to the stalk.
"Reg'lar Germans--that's what they are," he said. "Look at 'em round that
hive," he went on. "They'll hev all the honey and them bees will starve and
git the Isle o' Wight--that's what they'll git.... Lor," he added,
reflectively, "I dunno what wospses are made for--wospses _and_ Germans. It
gits over me."

I said it got over me too. And then from among the branches, while I hung
on to the foot of the ladder to keep it firm, David unbosomed his disquiet
to me about enlisting.

"Most o' the chaps round here has gone," he said, "an' I don't like staying
be'ind. Seems as though you were hanging back like. 'Taint that I shouldn't
like to go; but it's this way ... (Hullo, I got my hand on a wasp that
time) ... There's such a lot o' women-folk dependent on me. There's my wife
and there's my mother down the village _and_ my aunt; and not a man to do
anything for 'em but me. After my work on th' farm, I keeps all three
gardens going and a patch of allotment down the valley as well."

"You're growing a lot of good food, and that's military work," I said.

He seemed cheered by the idea, and asked me if I'd like to see the potatoes
he had dug up that evening--they were "a wunnerful fine lot," he said.

So after he had stripped the pear-tree he shouldered the ladder, and we
went down the village to David's garden. There I saw his potatoes, some
lying to dry where they had been dug up, others in sacks. Also his marrows
and beans and cabbages and lettuces. A little apologetically, he offered me
some of the largest potatoes--"just as a hobby," he said, meaning thereby
that it was only a trifle he offered.

As I went away in the gathering dark, with my hands full of potatoes, I met
the landlord of the Blue Boar, his shirt sleeves rolled up as usual above
his brown, muscular arms.

"Bad news that about Mrs. Lummis," he said, looking towards the cottage on
the other side of the road.

"What is that?" said I. "Her son?" There had been no news of him for two

"Yes, poor Jack. She's got news that he was killed near la Bassée in June.
Nice feller--and her only son."

Then, more cheerfully, he added, "Jim's coming home to-morrow. Going to get
his officer's rig out, you know, and have a rest--the first since he went
out a year ago."

"You'll be glad to see him," said I.

"Not half," said he with a vast smile.


I was speaking the other day to a man of cautious mind on a subject of
current rumour. "Well," he said, "if I had been asked whether I believed
such evidence four months ago I should have said 'Certainly.' But after the
great Russian myth I believe nothing that I can't prove. I believed in that
army of ghosts that came from Archangel! There are people who say they
didn't believe in it. Some of them believe they didn't believe in it. But I
say defiantly that I did believe in it. And I say further that there was
never a rumour in the world that seemed based upon more various or more
convincing evidence. And it wasn't true.... Well, I find I'm a changed man.
I find I am no longer a believer: I am a doubter."

This experience, I suppose, is not uncommon. The man who believes as easily
to-day as he did six months ago is a man on whom lessons are thrown away.
We have lived in a world of gigantic whispers, and most of them have been
false whispers. Even the magic word "Official" leaves one cold. It is not
what I am "officially" told that interests me: it is what I am "officially"
not told that I want to know in order to arrive at the truth.

You remember that famous answer of the plaintiff in an action against a
London paper years ago. "What did you tell him?" "I told him to tell the
truth." "The whole truth?" "No, _selected truths_."

What we have to guard against in this matter of rumours is the natural
tendency to believe what we want to believe. Take that case of the reported
victory in Poland in November 1914. There is strong reason to believe that
a large part of Hindenburg's army narrowly escaped being encircled, that
had Rennenkampf come up to time the trick would have been done. But it
wasn't done. Yet nearly every correspondent in Petrograd sent the most
confident news of an overwhelming victory. The _Morning Post_ correspondent
spoke of it as something "terrible but sublime. There has been nothing like
it since Napoleon left the bones of half a million men behind him in
Russia." Even Lord Kitchener, in the House of Lords, said that Russia had
accomplished the greatest achievement of the war. And so, just afterwards,
with the equally empty rumour of Hindenburg's "victory," which sent Berlin
into such a frenzy of rejoicing. It believed without evidence because it
wanted to believe.

And another fruitful source of rumour is fear. The famous concrete
emplacement at Maubeuge will serve as an instance. We had the most
elaborate details of how the property was acquired by German agents, how in
secret the concrete platform was laid down, and how the great 42-cm.
howitzer shelled Maubeuge from it. And instantly we heard of concrete
emplacements in this country--at Willesden, Edinburgh, and elsewhere. We
began to suspect every one who had a garage or a machine shop with a
concrete foundation of being a German agent. I confess that I shared these
suspicions in regard to a certain factory overlooking London, and could not
wholly argue myself out of them, though I hadn't an atom of evidence beyond
the fact that the building had been owned by Germans and had a commanding
position. I was under the hypnotism of Maubeuge and the fears to which it
gave birth.

Yet there never was a concrete emplacement at Maubeuge, and no 42-cm.
howitzer was used against that fortress. The property belonged, not to
German agents, but to respectable Frenchmen, and the apology of the _Matin_
for the libel upon them may be read by anybody who is interested in these
myths of the war.

I refer to this subject to-day not to recall these historic fables, but to
show what cruel wrong we may do to the innocent by accepting rumours about
our neighbours without examining the facts. Was there ever a more pitiful
story than that told at the inquest on an elderly woman at Henham in
Suffolk? Her husband had been the village schoolmaster for twenty-eight
years. The couple had a son whom they sent to Germany to learn the
language. The average village schoolmaster has not much money for luxuries,
and I can imagine the couple screwing and saving to give their boy a good
start in life. When he had finished his training he set out to seek his
fortune in South America, and there in far Guatemala he became a teacher of
languages. When the war broke out he heard the call of the Motherland to
her children and like thousands of others came back to fight.

But in the meantime the lying tongue of rumour had been busy with his name
in his native village. It was said that he was an officer in the German
Army, and on the strength of that rumour his parents were ordered by the
Chief Constable to leave the village and not to dwell on the East Coast. It
was a sentence of death on them. The order broke the old man's heart, and
he committed suicide. The son arrived to find his father dead and his
mother distracted by her bereavement. He took her away to the seaside for a
rest, but on their return to the village she, too, committed suicide. And
the jury did not say "Killed by Slander": they said "Suicide while of
unsound mind." Oh, cautious jurymen!

How do rumours get abroad? There are many ways. Let me illustrate one of
them. In his criticism of the war the other week Mr. Belloc said:

"The official German communiqué which appeared in print last Saturday is a
very good example upon which to work. I quote it as it appeared in the
_Westminster Gazette (which has from the beginning of the war, and even
before its outbreak, been remarkable for the volume of its German
information_), and as it was delivered through the Marconi channel."

Then follows the communiqué. Now, when I read this I smiled, for I love the
subtleties of the ingenious Mr. Belloc. He quotes a document which appeared
in every paper in the country, but he says he quotes it from the
_Westminster Gazette._ Why, since it appeared everywhere, does he mention
one paper? Obviously in order to make that parenthetical remark which I
have italicised.

Now the reputation of the _Westminster_ stands too high to be affected by
the suggestion that it is "remarkable"--which it isn't--for its German
information. But suppose you, a mere ordinary citizen, were alleged by some
one to have special intercourse with Germany at this time. You might be as
innocent as that Suffolk schoolmaster, but that would not save you from the
suspicions of your neighbours and, perhaps, the attentions of the Chief

Let me give another little illustration. A friend of mine, who happens to
be a Liberal journalist, went to a private dinner recently to meet M.
Painlevé, the French Academician, Senator Lafontaine, of Brussels, and two
other French and Belgian deputies. The next morning he was stated in the
_Daily Express_ (edited by Mr. Blumenfeld) to have dined with "_three or
four foreigners_" for the purpose of discussing peace. And in the next
issue of the _London Mail_ the question was asked, "Who were the foreigners
with whom ------ dined?" You see the insinuation. You see how the idea
grows. He did not reply, because there are some papers that one can afford
to ignore, no matter what they say. But I mention the thing here to show
how a legend is launched.

And the moral of all this? It is that of my friend whom I have quoted. Let
us suspect all rumours whether about events or persons. When Napoleon's
marshals told him they had won a victory, he said, "Show me your
prisoners." When you are told a rumour do not swallow it like a hungry
pike. Say "Show me your facts." And before you accept them be sure they are
whole facts and not half facts.


A sharp shower came on as I walked along the Strand, but I did not put up
my umbrella. The truth is I couldn't put up my umbrella. The frame would
not work for one thing, and if it had worked, I would not have put the
thing up, for I would no more be seen under such a travesty of an umbrella
than Falstaff would be seen marching through Coventry with his regiment of
ragamuffins. The fact is, the umbrella is not my umbrella at all. It is the
umbrella of some person who I hope will read these lines. He has got my
silk umbrella. I have got the cotton one he left in exchange. I imagine him
flaunting along the Strand under my umbrella, and throwing a scornful
glance at the fellow who was carrying his abomination and getting wet into
the bargain. I daresay the rascal chuckled as he eyed the said abomination.
"Ah," he said gaily to himself, "I did you in that time, old boy. I know
that thing. It won't open for nuts. And it folds up like a sack. Now, this

But I leave him to his unrighteous communings. He is one of those people
who have what I may call an umbrella conscience. You know the sort of
person I mean. He would never put his hand in another's pocket, or forge a
cheque or rob a till--not even if he had the chance. But he will swop
umbrellas, or forget to return a book, or take a rise out of the railway
company. In fact he is a thoroughly honest man who allows his honesty the
benefit of the doubt. Perhaps he takes your umbrella at random from the
barber's stand. He knows he can't get a worse one than his own. He may get
a better. He doesn't look at it very closely until he is well on his way.
Then, "Dear me! I've taken the wrong umbrella," he says, with an air of
surprise, for he likes really to feel that he has made a mistake. "Ah,
well, it's no use going back now. He'd be gone. _And I've left him mine_!"

It is thus that we play hide-and-seek with our own conscience. It is not
enough not to be found out by others; we refuse to be found out by
ourselves. Quite impeccable people, people who ordinarily seem unspotted
from the world, are afflicted with umbrella morals. It was a well-known
preacher who was found dead in a first-class railway carriage with a
third-class ticket in his pocket.

And as for books, who has any morals where they are concerned? I remember
some years ago the library of a famous divine and literary critic, who had
died, being sold. It was a splendid library of rare books, chiefly
concerned with seventeenth-century writers, about whom he was a
distinguished authority. Multitudes of the books had the marks of libraries
all over the country. He had borrowed them and never found a convenient
opportunity of returning them. They clung to him like precedents to law.
Yet he was a holy man and preached admirable sermons, as I can bear
witness. And, if you press me on the point, I shall have to own that it
_is_ hard to part with a book you have come to love.

Indeed, the only sound rule about books is that adopted by the man who was
asked by a friend to lend him a certain volume. "I'm sorry," he said, "but
I can't." "Haven't you got it?" asked the other. "Yes, I've got it," he
said, "but I make it a rule never to lend books. You see, nobody ever
returns them. I know it is so from my own experience. Here, come with me."
And he led the way to his library. "There," said he, "four thousand
volumes. Every--one--of--'em--borrowed." No, never lend books. You can't
trust your dearest friend there. I know. Where is that _Gil Blas_ gone? Eh?
And that _Silvio Pellico_? And.... But why continue the list.... He knows.

And hats. There are people who will exchange hats. Now that is
unpardonable. That goes outside that dim borderland of conscience where
honesty and dishonesty dissemble. No one can put a strange hat on without
being aware of the fact. Yet it is done. I once hung a silk hat up in the
smoking-room of the House of Commons. When I wanted it, it was gone. And
there was no silk hat left in its place. I had to go out bareheaded through
Palace Yard and Whitehall to buy another. I have often wondered who was the
gentleman who put my hat on and carried his own in his hand. Was he a Tory?
Was he a Radical? It can't have been a Labour man, for no Labour man could
put a silk hat on in a moment of abstraction. The thing would scorch his
brow. Fancy Will Crooks in a silk hat! One would as soon dare to play with
the fancy of the Archbishop of Canterbury in a bowler--a thought which
seems almost impious. It is possible, of course, that the gentleman who
took my silk umbrella did really make a mistake. Perhaps if he knew the
owner he would return it with his compliments. The thing has been done. Let
me give an illustration. I have myself exchanged umbrellas--often. I hope I
have done it honestly, but one can never be quite sure. Indeed, now I come
to think of it, that silk umbrella itself was not mine. It was one of a
long series of exchanges in which I had sometimes gained and sometimes
lost. My most memorable exchange was at a rich man's house where I had been
invited to dine with some politicians. It was summer-time, and the weather
being dry I had not occasion for some days afterwards to carry an umbrella.
Then one day a sensation reigned in our household. There had been
discovered in the umbrella-stand an umbrella with a gold band and a gold
tassle, and the name of a certain statesman engraved upon it. There had
never been such a super-umbrella in our house before. Before its golden
splendours we were at once humbled and terrified--humbled by its
magnificence, terrified by its presence. I felt as though I had been caught
in the act of stealing the British Empire. I wrote a hasty letter to the
owner, told him I admired his politics, but had never hoped to steal his
umbrella; then hailed a cab, and took the umbrella and the note to the
nearest dispatch office.

He was very nice about it, and in returning my own umbrella took all the
blame on himself. "What," he said, "between the noble-looking gentleman who
thrust a hat on my head, and the second noble-looking gentleman who handed
me a coat, and the third noble-looking gentleman who put an umbrella in my
hand, and the fourth noble-looking gentleman who flung me into a carriage,
I hadn't the least idea what I was taking. I was too bewildered by all the
noble flunkeys to refuse anything that was offered me."

Be it observed, it was the name on the umbrella that saved the situation in
this case. That is the way to circumvent the man with an umbrella
conscience. I see him eyeing his exchange with a secret joy; then he
observes the name and address and his solemn conviction that he is an
honest man does the rest. After my experience to-day, I think I will
engrave my name on my umbrella. But not on that baggy thing standing in the
corner. I do not care who relieves me of that. It is anybody's for the


I was at dinner at a well-known restaurant the other evening when I became
aware that some one sitting alone at a table near by was engaged in an
exciting conversation with himself. As he bent over his plate his face was
contorted with emotion, apparently intense anger, and he talked with
furious energy, only pausing briefly in the intervals of actual
mastication. Many glances were turned covertly upon him, but he seemed
wholly unconscious of them, and, so far as I could judge, he was unaware
that he was doing anything abnormal. In repose his face was that of an
ordinary business man, sane and self-controlled, and when he rose to go his
agitation was over, and he looked like a man who had won his point.

It is probable that this habit of talking to one's self has a less sinister
meaning than it superficially suggests. It may be due simply to the energy
of one's thought and to a concentration of mind that completely shuts out
the external world. In the case I have mentioned it was clear that the man
was temporarily detached from all his surroundings, that he was so absorbed
by his subject that his eyes had ceased to see and his ears to hear. He was
alone with himself, or perhaps with his adversary, and he only came back to
the present with the end of his dinner and the paying of his bill. He was
like a man who had emerged from another state of consciousness, from a
waking sleep filled with tumultuous dreams. Obviously he was unaware that
he had been haranguing the room in quite an audible voice for half an hour,
and I daresay that if he were told that he had the habit of talking to
himself he would deny it as passionately as you (or I) would deny that you
(or I) snore in our sleep. And he would deny it for precisely the same
reason. He doesn't know.

And here a dreadful thought assails me. What if I talk to myself, too? What
if, like this man, I get so absorbed in the drama of my own mind that I
cannot hear my own tongue going nineteen to the dozen? It is a disquieting
idea. A strong conviction to the contrary, I see, amounts to nothing. This
man, doubtless, had a strong conviction to the contrary--probably expressed
an amused interest in any one talking to himself as he passed him in the
street. And the fact that my friends have never told me of the failing goes
for nothing also. They may think I like to talk to myself. More probably,
they may know that I do not like to hear of my failings. I must watch
myself. But, no, that won't do. I might as well say I would watch my dreams
and keep them in check. How can the conscious state keep an eye on the
unconscious? If I do not know that I am talking how can I stop myself

Ah, happy thought. I recall occasions when I have talked to myself, and
have been quite conscious of the sound of my voice. They have been remarks
I have made on the golf links, brief, emphatic remarks dealing with the
perversity of golf clubs and the sullen intractability of golf balls. Those
remarks I have heard distinctly, and at the sound of them I have come to
myself with a shock, and have even looked round to see whether the lady in
the red jacket playing at the next hole was likely to have heard me or
(still worse) to have seen me.

I think this is evidence conclusive, for the man who talks to himself
habitually never hears himself. His words are only the echo of his
thoughts, and they correspond so perfectly that, like a chord in music,
there is no dissonance. It was thus with the art student I saw copying a
picture at the Tate Gallery. "Ah, a little more blue," he said, as he
turned from the original to his own canvas, and a little later: "Yes, that
line wants better drawing." Several people stood by watching his work and
smiling at his uttered thoughts. He alone was unconscious that he had

There are, it is true, cases in which the conscious and unconscious states
seem to mingle--in which the intentional word and the unintentional come
out almost in the same breath. It was so with Thomas Landseer, the father
of Sir Edwin. He was one day visiting an artist, and inspecting his work.
"Ah, very nice, indeed!" he said to his friend. "Excellent colour;
excellent!" Then, as if all around him had vanished, and he was alone with
himself, he added: "Poor chap, he thinks he can paint!"

And this instance shows that whether the habit is a mental weakness or only
a physical defect it is capable of extremely awkward consequences, as in
the case of the banker who was ruined by unwittingly revealing his secrets
while walking in the street. How is it possible to keep a secret or conduct
a bargain if your tongue is uncontrollable? What is the use of Jones
explaining to his wife that he has been kept late at the office if his
tongue goes on to say, entirely without his knowledge or consent, that had
he declared "no trumps" in that last hand he would have been in pocket by
his evening at the club? I see horrible visions of domestic complications
and public disaster arising from this not uncommon habit.

And yet might there not be gain also from a universal practice of uttering
our thoughts aloud? Imagine a world in which nobody had any secrets from
anybody--could have no secrets from anybody. I see the Kaiser, after
consciously declaring that his only purpose is peace, unconsciously
blurting out to the British Ambassador that the ultimatum to Serbia is a
"plant"--that what Germany means is war, that she proposes to attack
Belgium, and so on. And I see the British Ambassador, having explained that
England is entirely free from commitments, adding dreamily, "But if there's
a war we shall be in it." In the same way Jones, after making Smith a firm
offer of £30 for his horse, would say, absentmindedly, "Of course it would
be cheap at £50, and I might spring £55 if he is stiff about it."

It would be a world in which lies would have no value and deception would
be a waste of time--a world in which truth would no longer be at the bottom
of the well, but on the tip of every man's tongue. We should have all the
rascals in prison and all the dishonest traders in the bankruptcy court.
Secret diplomacy would no longer play with the lives of men, for there
would be no secrets. Those little perverse concealments that wreck so many
lives would vanish. You, sir, who find it so easy to nag at home and so
difficult to say the kind thing that you know to be true, would be
discovered to your great advantage and to the peace of your household.

Yes, I think the world would go very well if we all had tongues that told
our true thoughts in spite of us. But what a lot of us would be found out.
My own face crimsons at the thought. So, I think, does yours.


As I passed along Great Queen Street the other evening, I saw that
Boswell's house, so long threatened, is at last falling a victim to the
housebreaker. The fact is one of the by-products of the war. While the Huns
are abroad in Belgium the Vandals are busy at home. You may see them at
work on every hand. The few precious remains we have of the past are
vanishing like snows before the south wind.

In the Strand there is a great heap of rubbish where, when the war began,
stood two fine old houses of Charles II.'s London. Their disappearance
would, in normal times, have set all the Press in revolt. But they have
gone without a murmur, so preoccupied are we with more urgent matters. And
so with the Elizabethan houses in Cloth Fair. They have been demolished
without a word of protest. And what devastation is afoot in Lincoln's Inn
among those fine reposeful dwellings, hardly one of which is without some
historic or literary interest!

In the midst of all this vandalism it was too much perhaps to hope that
Boswell's house would escape. Bozzy was not an Englishman; his residence in
London was casual, and, what is more to the point, he has only a reflected
greatness. Macaulay's judgment of him is now felt to be too harsh, but even
his warmest advocate must admit that his picture of himself is not
engaging. He was gross in his habits, full of little malevolences (observe
the spitefulness of his references to Goldsmith), and his worship of
Johnson was abject to the point of nausea.

He made himself a sort of doormat for his hero, and treasured the dirt that
came from the great man's heavy boots. No insult levelled at him was too
outrageous to be recorded with pride. "You were drunk last night, you dog,"
says Johnson to him one morning during the tour in the Hebrides, and down
goes the remark as if he has received the most gracious of good mornings.
"Have you no better manners?" says Johnson on another occasion. "There is
_your want_." And Boswell goes home and writes down the snub together with
his apologies. And so when he has been expressing his emotions on hearing
music. "Sir," said Johnson, "I should never hear it if it made me such a

Once indeed he rebelled. It was when they were dining with a company at Sir
Joshua Reynolds's. Johnson attacked him, he says, with such rudeness that
he kept away from him for a week. His story of the reconciliation is one of
the most delightful things in that astonishing book:

"After dinner, when Mr. Langton was called out of the room and we were by
ourselves, he drew his chair near to mine and said, in a tone of
conciliatory courtesy, 'Well, how have you done?' Boswell: 'Sir, you have
made me very uneasy by your behaviour to me when we were last at Sir Joshua
Reynolds's. You know, my dear sir, no man has a greater respect or
affection for you, or would sooner go to the end of the world to serve you.
Now, to treat me so--' He insisted that I had interrupted him, which I
assured him was not the case; and proceeded, 'But why treat me so before
people who neither love you nor me?' Johnson: 'Well I am sorry for it. I'll
make it up to you in twenty different ways, as you please.' Boswell: 'I
said to-day to Sir Joshua, when he observed that you _tossed_ me sometimes,
I don't care how often or how high he tosses me when only friends are
present, for then I fall upon soft ground; but I do not like falling upon
stones, which is the case when enemies are present. I think this is a
pretty good image, sir.' Johnson: 'Sir, it is one of the happiest I ever
have heard.'"

Is there anything more delicious outside Falstaff and Bardolph, or Don
Quixote and Sancho Panza? Indeed, Bardolph's immortal "Would I were with
him wheresoe'er he be, whether in heaven or in hell," is in the very spirit
of Boswell's devotion to his hero.

It was his failings as much as his talents that enabled him to work the
miracle. His lack of self-respect and humour, his childish egotism, his
love of gossip, his naive bathos, and his vulgarities contributed as much
to the making of his immortal book as his industry, his wonderful verbal
memory, and his doglike fidelity. I have said that his greatness is only
reflected. But that is hardly just. It might even be more true to say that
Johnson owes his immortality to Boswell. What of him would remain to-day
but for the man who took his scourgings so humbly and repaid them by
licking the boot that kicked him? Who now reads _London_, or _The Vanity of
Human Wishes_, or _The Rambler_? I once read _Rasselas_, and found it
pompous and dull. And I have read _The Lives of the Poets_, and though they
are not pompous and dull, they are often singularly poor criticism, and the
essay on Milton is, in some respects, as mean a piece of work as ever came
out of Grub Street.

But _The Life_! What in all the world of books is there like it? I have
been reading it off and on for more than thirty years, and still find it
inexhaustible. It ripens with the years. It is so intimate that it seems to
be a record of my own experiences. I have dined so often with Johnson at
the Mitre and Sir Joshua's and Langton's and the rest that I know him far
better than the shadows I meet in daily life. I seem to have been present
when he was talking to the King, and when Goldsmith sulked because he had
not shared the honour; when he met Wilkes, and when he insulted Sir Joshua
and for once got silenced; when he "downed" Robertson, and when, for want
of a lodging, he and Savage walked all night round St. James's Square, full
of high spirits and patriotism, inveighing against the Minister and
resolving that "they would _stand by their country_."

And at the end of it all I feel very much like Mr. Birrell, who, when asked
what he would do when the Government went out of office, replied, "I shall
retire to the country, and really read Boswell." Not "finish Boswell," you
observe. No one could ever finish Boswell. No one would ever want to finish
Boswell. Like a sensible man he will just go on reading him and reading
him, and reading him until the light fails and there is no more reading to
be done.

What an achievement for this uncouth Scotch lawyer to have accomplished! He
knew he had done a great thing; but even he did not know how great a thing.
Had he known he might have answered as proudly as Dryden answered when some
one said to him that his _Ode to St. Cecilia_ was the finest that had ever
been written. "Or ever will be," said the poet. Dryden's ode has been
eclipsed more than once since it was written; but Boswell's book has never
been approached. It is not only the best thing of its sort in literature:
there is nothing with which one can compare it.

Boswell's house is falling to dust. No matter! His memorial will last as
long as the English speech is spoken and as long as men love the immortal
things of which it is the vehicle.


A friend of mine who is intimate enough with me to guess my secrets, said
to me quizzingly the other day: "Do you know 'Alpha of the Plough?'"

"I have never seen the man," I said promptly and unblushingly. He laughed
and I laughed.

"What, never?" he said.

"Never," I said. "What's more, I never shall see him."

"What, not in the looking-glass?" said he.

"That's not 'Alpha of the Plough,'" I answered. "That is only his
counterfeit. It may be a good counterfeit, but it's not the man. The man I
shall never see. I can see bits of him--his hands, his feet, his arms, and
so on. By shutting one eye I can see something of the shape of his nose. By
thrusting out the upper lip I can see that the fellow wears a moustache.
But his face, as a whole, is hidden from me. I cannot tell you even with
the help of the counterfeit what impression he makes on the beholder. Now,"
I continued, pausing and taking stock of my friend, "I know what you are
like. I take you all in at one glance. You can take me in at a glance. The
only person we can none of us take in at a glance is the person we should
most like to see."

"It's a mercy," said he.

I am not sure that he was right. In this matter, as in most things in this
perplexing world, there is much to be said on both sides. It is lucky for
some of us undoubtedly that we are condemned to be eternal strangers to
ourselves, and that not merely to our physical selves. We do not know even
the sound of our own voices. Mr. Pemberton-Billing has never heard the most
sepulchral voice in the House of Commons, and Lord Charles Beresford does
not know how a foghorn sounds when it becomes articulate. I have no idea,
and you have no idea, what sort of impression our manner makes on others.
If we had, how stricken some of us would be! We should hardly survive the
revelation. We should be sorry we had ever been born.

Imagine, for example, that eminent politician, Mr. Sutherland Bangs, M.P.,
meeting himself out at a dinner one evening. Mr. Sutherland Bangs cherishes
a comfortable vision of himself as a handsome, engaging fellow, with a gift
for talk, a breezy manner, a stylish presence, and an elegant accent. And
seated beside himself at dinner he would discover that he was a pretentious
bore, that his talk was windy commonplace, his breezy manner an offence,
his fine accent an unpleasant affectation. He would say that he would never
want to see that fellow again. And, realising that that was Mr. Sutherland
Bangs as he appears to the world, he would return home as humble and abject
as Mr. Tom Lofty in _The Good-Natured Man_ was when his imposture was found
out. "You ought to have your head stuck in a pillory," said Mr. Croaker.
"Stick it where you will," said Mr. Lofty, "for by the lord, it cuts a poor
figure where it sticks at present." Mr. Sutherland Bangs would feel like

But if making our own acquaintance would give some of us a good deal of
surprise and even pain, it would also do most of us a useful turn as well.
Burns put the case quite clearly in his familiar lines:

    O wad some pow'r the giftie gie us
      To see oursels as others see us:
    It wad frae monie a blunder free us
      An' foolish notion.

We should all make discoveries to our advantage as well as our
discomfiture. You, sir, might find that the talent for argument on which
you pride yourself is to me only irritating wrong-headedness, and I might
find that the bright wit that I fancy I flash around makes you feel tired.
Jones's eyeglass would drop out of his eye because he would know it only
made him look foolish, Brown would see the ugliness of his cant, and
Robinson would sorry that he had been born a bully and as prickly as a
hedgehog. It would do us all good to get this objective view of ourselves.

It is not necessarily the right view or the complete view. You remember
that ingenious fancy of Holmes' about John and Thomas. They are talking
together and don't quite hit it off, and Holmes says it is no wonder since
six persons are engaged in the conversation. "Six!" you say, lifting your
eyebrows. Yes, six, says he. There is John's ideal John--that is, John as
he appears to himself; Thomas's ideal John--that is, John as Thomas sees
him; and the real John, known only to his Maker. And so with Thomas, there
are three of him engaged in the talk also. Now John's ideal John is not a
bit like Thomas's ideal John, and neither of them is like the real John,
and so it comes about that John and Thomas--that is, you and I--get at
cross purposes.

If I (John) could have your (Thomas's) glimpse of myself, my appearance, my
manner, my conduct, and so on, it would serve as a valuable corrective. It
would give that faculty of self-criticism which most of us lack. That
faculty is simply the art of seeing ourselves objectively, as a stranger
sees us who has no interest in us and no prejudice in our favour. Few of us
can do that except in fleeting flashes of illumination. We cannot even do
it in regard to the things we produce. If you paint a picture, or write an
article, or make a joke, you are pretty sure to be a bad judge of its
quality. You only see it subjectively as a part of yourself--that is, you
don't see it at all. Put the thing away for a year, come on it suddenly as
a stranger might, and you will perhaps understand why Thomas seemed so cool
about it. It wasn't because he was jealous or unfriendly, as you supposed:
it was because he _saw_ it and you didn't.

Even great men have this blindness about their own work. How else can we
account for a case like Wordsworth's? He was one of the three greatest
poets this country has produced, and also an acute critic of poetry, yet he
wrote more flat-footed commonplace than any man of his time. Apparently he
didn't know when he was sublime and when he was merely drivelling. He
didn't know because he never got outside the hypnotism of self.

I have sometimes felt angry with that phrase, "What do they know of
England, who only England know?" It is the watchword of a shallow
Imperialism. But I felt a certain truth in it once. I was alone in the
Alps, in an immense solitude of peak and glacier, and as I waited for the
return of my guide, who had gone on ahead to prospect, I looked, like
Richard, "towards England." In that moment I seemed to see it
imaginatively, comprehensively, as I had never, never seen it in all the
years of my life in it. I saw its green pastures and moorlands, its
mountains and its lakes, its cities and its people, its splendours and its
squalors as if it was all a vision projected beyond the verge of the
horizon. I saw it with a fresh eye and a new mind, seemed to understand it
as I had never understood it before, certainly loved it as I had never
loved it before. I found that I had left England to discover it.

That is what we need to do with ourselves occasionally. We need to take a
journey from our self-absorbed centre, and see ourselves with a fresh eye
and an unprejudiced judgment.


I have seen no story of the war which, within its limits, has pleased me
more than that which Mr. Alfred Noyes told in the newspapers in his
fascinating description of his visit to the Fleet. It was a story of the
battle of Jutland. "In the very hottest moment of this most stupendous
battle in all history," he says, "two grimy stokers' heads arose for a
breath of fresh air. What domestic drama they were discussing the world may
never know. But the words that were actually heard passing between them,
while the shells whined overhead, were these: 'What I says is, 'e ought to
have married 'er.'"

If you don't enjoy that story you will never understand the English spirit.
There are some among us who never will understand the English spirit. In
the early days of the war an excellent friend of mine used to find a great
source of despair in "Tipperary." What hope was there for a country whose
soldiers went to battle singing "Tipperary" against a foe who came on
singing "Ein' feste Burg"? Put that way, I was bound to confess that the
case looked black against us. It seemed "all Lombard Street to a China
orange," as the tag of other days would put it. It is true that, for a
music-hall song, "Tipperary" was unusually fresh and original. Contrast it
with the maudlin "Keep the home fires burning," which holds the field
to-day, and it touches great art. I never hear it even now on the street
organ without a certain pleasure--a pleasure mingled with pain, for its
happy lilt comes weighted with the tremendous emotions of those
unforgettable days. It is like a butterfly caught in a tornado, a catch of
song in the throat of death.

But it was only a music-hall song after all, and to put it in competition
with Luther's mighty hymn would be like putting a pop-gun against a 12-inch
howitzer. The thunder of Luther's hymn has come down through four
centuries, and it will go on echoing through the centuries till the end of
time. It is like the march of the elements to battle, like the heaving of
mountains and the surge of oceans. In nothing else is the sense of Power so
embodied in the pulse of song. And the words are as formidable as the tune.
Carlyle caught their massive, rugged strength in his great translation:

    A safe stronghold our God is still,
    A trusty shield and weapon;
    He'll help us clear from all the ill
    That hath us now o'ertaken....

Yes, on the face of it, it seemed a poor lookout for "Tipperary" against
such a foe. But it wasn't, and any one who knew the English temperament
knew it wasn't. I put aside the fact that for practical everyday uses a
cheerful tune is much better than a solemn tune. "Tipperary" quickens the
step and shortens the march. Luther's hymn, so far from lightening the
journey, would become an intolerable burden. The mind would sink under it.
You would either go mad or plunge into some violent excess to recover your
sanity. It is the craziest of philosophy to think that because you are
engaged in a serious business you have to live in a state of exaltation,
that the bow is never to be unstrung, that the top note is never to be
relaxed. You will not do your business better because you wear a long face
all the time; you will do it worse. If you are talking about your high
ideals all day you are not only a nuisance: you are either dishonest or
unbalanced. We are not creatures with wings. We are creatures who walk. We
have to "foot it" even to Mount Pisgah, and the more cheerful and jolly and
ordinary we are on the way the sooner we shall get over the journey. The
noblest Englishman that ever lived, and the most deeply serious, was as
full of innocent mirth as a child and laid his head down on the block with
a jest. Let us keep our course by the stars, by all means, but the
immediate tasks are much nearer than the stars--

    The charities that soothe and heal and bless
    Are scattered all about our feet--like flowers.

It is just this frightful gravity of the German mind that has made them
mad. They haven't learned to play; they haven't learned to laugh at
themselves. Their sombre religion has passed into a sombre irreligion. They
have grown gross without growing light-hearted. The spiritual battle song
of Luther has become a material battle song, and "the safe stronghold" is
no longer the City of God but the City of Krupp. They have neither the
splendid intellectual sanity of the French, nor the homely humour of the
English. It is this homely humour that has puzzled Europe. It has puzzled
the French as much as the Germans, for the French genius is declamatory and
needs the inspiration of ideas and great passions greatly stated. It was
assumed that, because the British soldier sang "Tipperary," moved in an
atmosphere of homely fun, indulged in no heroics, never talked of "glory,"
rarely of patriotism or the Fatherland, and only joked about "the flag,"
there was no great passion in him. Some of our frenzied people at home have
the same idea. They still believe we are a nation of "slackers" because we
don't shriek with them.

The truth, of course, is that the English spirit is distrustful of emotion
and display. It is ashamed of making "a fuss" and hates heroics. The
typical Englishman hides his feelings even from his family, clothes his
affections under a mask of indifference, and cracks a joke to avoid "making
a fool of himself." It is not that he is without great passions, but that
he does not like talking about them. He is too self-conscious to trust his
tongue on such big themes. He might "make an exhibition of himself," and he
dreads that above all things. This habit of reticence has its unlovely
side; but it has great virtues too. It keeps the mind cool and practical
and the atmosphere commonplace and good-humoured. It gives reserves of
strength that people who live on their "top notes" have not got. It goes on
singing "Tipperary" as though it had no care in life and no interest in
ideas or causes. And then the big moment comes and the great passion that
has been kept in such shamefaced secrecy blazes out in deeds as glorious as
any that were done on the plains of windy Troy. Turn to those stories of
the winning of the V.C., and then ask yourself whether the nation whose
sons are capable of this noble heroism deserves to have the whip of Zabern
laid across its shoulders by any jack-in-office who chooses to insult us.

Those two stokers, putting their heads out for a breath of fresh air in the
midst of the battle, are true to the English type. Death was all about
them, and any moment might be their last. But they were so completely
masters of themselves that in the brief-breathing space allowed them they
could turn their minds to a simple question of everyday conduct. "What I
says is, 'e ought to have married 'er." That is not the stuff of which
heroics are made; but it is the stuff of which heroism is made.


Do not, if you please, imagine that this title foreshadows some piquant
personal revelation. "Story! God bless you, I have none to tell, sir." I
have not fallen in love for quite a long time, and, looking in the glass
and observing what Holmes calls "Time's visiting cards" on my face and
hair, I come to the conclusion that I shall never enjoy the experience
again. I may say with Mr. Kipling's soldier that

    That's all shuv be'ind me
    Long ago and fur away.

But just as poetry, according to Wordsworth, is emotion recalled in
tranquillity, so it is only when you have left the experience of falling in
love behind that you are really competent to describe it or talk about it
with the necessary philosophic detachment.

Now of course there is no difficulty about falling in love. Any one can do
that. The difficulty is to know when the symptoms are true or false. So
many people mistake the symptoms, and only discover when it is too late
that they have never really had the true experience. Hence the overtime in
the Divorce Court. Hence, too, the importance of "calf love," which serves
as a sort of apprenticeship to the mystery, and enables you to discriminate
between the substance and the shadow.

And in "calf love" I do not include the adumbrations of extreme childhood
like those immortalised in _Annabel Lee_:--

    I was a child and she was a child
    In that kingdom by the sea.

       *       *       *       *       *

    But we loved with a love that was more than love,
    I and my Annabel Lee.

I know that love. I had it when I was eight. "She" was also eight, and she
had just come from India. She was frightfully plain, but then--well, she
had come from India. She had all the romance of India's coral strand about
her, and it was India's coral strand that I was in love with. Moreover, she
was a soldier's daughter, and to be a soldier's daughter was, next to being
a soldier, the noblest thing in the world. For that was about the time
when, under the inspiration of _The Story of the Hundred Days_, I had set
out with a bag containing a nightshirt and a toothbrush to enlist in the
Black Watch. (It was a forlorn adventure that went no further than the
railway station.) Finally she had given me, as a token of her love, _Poor
Little Gaspard's Drum_, wherein I read of Napoleon and the Egyptian desert,
and, above all, of the Mamelukes. How that word thrilled me! "The
Mamelukes!" What could one do but fall in love with a girl who used such

But this is not the true calf love. That comes with the down upon the lip.
People laugh at "calf love," but one might as well laugh at the wonder of
dawn or the coming of spring. When David Copperfield fell in love with the
eldest Miss Larkins, he was really in love with the opening universe, and
the eldest Miss Larkins happened to be the only available lightning
conductor for his emotion.

The important thing is that you should contract "calf love" while you are
young. It is like the measles, which is harmless enough in childhood, but
apt to be dangerous when you are grown up. The "calf love" of an elderly
man is always a disaster. Hence the saying, "There's no fool like an old
fool." An elderly man should not _fall_ in love. He should walk into it. He
should survey the ground carefully as Mr. Barkis did. That admirable man
took the business of falling in love seriously:

"'So she makes,' said Mr. Barkis, after a long interval of reflection, 'all
the apple parsties, and does all the cooking, do she?'

"I replied that such was the fact.

"'Well, I'll tell you what,' said Mr. Barkis. 'P'raps you might be writin'
to her?'

"'I shall certainly write to her,' I rejoined.

"'Ah!' he said, slowly turning his eyes towards me. 'Well! If you was
writin' to her, p'raps you'd recollect to say that Barkis was willin',
would you?'"

This is a model of caution in the art of middle-aged love-making. The
mistake of the "Northern Farmer" was that he applied the same middle-aged
caution to youth. "Doänt thou marry for munny; but goä wheer munny is," he
said to his son Sammy, who wanted to marry the poor parson's daughter. And
he held up his own love-making as an inspiration for Sammy:

    And I went wheer munny wor, and thy moother coom to and
    Wi' lots o' munny laäid by, and a nicetish bit o' land.
    Maybe she worn'd a beauty: I nivver giv' it a thowt;
    But worn'd she as good to cuddle and kiss as a lass as an't nowt?

I have always hoped that Sammy rejected his father's counsel and stuck to
the poor parson's daughter.

There is no harm of course in marrying money. George Borrow said that there
were worse ways of making a fortune than marrying one. And perhaps it is
true, though I don't think Borrow's experience was very convincing. I have
known people who "have gone where money was" and have fallen honestly and
rapturously into love, but you have got to be very sure that money in such
a case is not the motive. If it is the penalty never fails to follow. Mr.
Bumble married Mrs. Corney for "six teaspoons, a pair of sugar tongs, and a
milk-pot, with a small quantity of secondhand furniture and twenty pounds
in money." And in two months he regretted his bargain and admitted that he
had gone "dirt cheap." "Only two months to-morrow," he said. "It seems a

Those who believe in "love at first sight" take the view that marriages are
made in heaven and that we only come to earth to fulfil our destiny.
Johnson, who was an excellent husband to the elderly Mrs. Porter, scoffed
at that view and held that love is only the accident of circumstance. But
though that is the sensible view, there are cases like those of Dante and
Beatrice and Abelard and Heloise, in which the passion does seem to touch
the skies. In those cases, however, it rarely ends happily. A more hum-drum
way of falling in love seems better fitted to earthly conditions. The
method of Sir Thomas More was perhaps the most original on record. He
preferred the second of three sisters and was about to marry her when it
occurred to him--But let me quote the words in which Roper, his son-in-law,
records the incident:

"And all beit his mynde most served him to the seconde daughter, for that
he thoughte her the fayrest and best favoured, yet when he considered that
it woulde be bothe great griefe and some shame alsoe to the eldest to see
her yonger sister in mariage preferred before her, he then of a certeyn
pittye framed his fancye towardes her, and soon after maryed her."

It was love to order, yet there was never a more beautiful home life than
that of which this most perfect flower of the English race was the centre.

In short, there is no formula for falling in love. Each one does it as the
spirit moves.


The postman came just now, and among the letters he brought was one from
North Wales. It was fat and soft and bulgy, and when it was opened we found
it contained a bit of seaweed. The thought that prompted the sender was
friendly, but the momentary effect was to arouse wild longings for the sea,
and to add one more count to the indictment of the Kaiser, who had sent us
for the holidays into the country, where we could obey the duty to
economise, rather than to the seaside, where the temptations to
extravagance could not be dodged. "Oh, how it smells of Sheringham," said
one whose vote is always for the East Coast. "No, there is the smack of
Sidmouth, and Dawlish, and Torquay in its perfume," said another, whose
passion is for the red cliffs of South Devon. And so on, each finding, as
he or she sniffed at the seaweed, the windows of memory opening out on to
the foam of summer seas. And soon the table was enveloped in a rushing tide
of recollection--memories of bathing and boating, of barefooted races on
the sands, of jolly fishermen who always seemed to be looking out seaward
for something that never came, of hunting for shells, and of all the
careless raptures of dawn and noon and sunset by the seashore. All awakened
by the smell of a bit of seaweed.

It is this magic of reminiscence that makes the world such a storehouse of
intimacies and confidences. There is hardly a bird that sings, or a flower
that blows, or a cloud that sails in the blue that does not bring us some
hint from the past, and set us tingling with remembrance. We open a drawer
by chance, and the smell of lavender issues forth, and with that lingering
perfume the past is unrolled like a scroll, and places long unseen leap to
the inward eye and voices long unheard are speaking to us:--

    We tread the path their feet have worn.
    We sit beneath their orchard trees,
    We hear, like them, the hum of bees,
    And rustle of the bladed corn.

Who can see the first daffodils of spring without feeling a sort of
spiritual festival that the beauty of the flower alone cannot explain? The
memory of all the springs of the past is in their dancing plumes, and the
assurance of all the springs to come. They link us up with the pageant of
nature, and with the immortals of our kind--with Wordsworth watching them
in "sprightly dance" by Ullswater, with Herrick finding in them the sweet
image of the beauty and transience of life, with Shakespeare greeting them
"in the sweet o' the year" by Avon's banks long centuries ago.

And in this sensitiveness of memory to external suggestion there is
infinite variety. It is not a collective memory that is awakened, but a
personal memory. That bit of seaweed opened many windows in us, but they
all looked out on different scenes and reminded us of something individual
and inexplicable, of something which is a part of that ultimate loneliness
that belongs to all of us. Everything speaks a private language to each of
us that we can never translate to others. I do not know what the lilac says
to you; but to me it talks of a garden-gate over which it grew long ago. I
am a child again, standing within the gate, and I see the red-coated
soldiers marching along with jolly jests and snatching the lilac sprays
from the tree as they pass. The emotion of pride that these heroes should
honour our lilac tree by ravishing its blossoms all comes back to me,
together with a flood of memories of the old garden and the old home and
the vanished faces. Why that momentary picture should have fixed itself in
the mind I cannot say; but there it is, as fresh and clear at the end of
nearly fifty years as if it were painted yesterday, and the lilac tree
bursting into blossom always unveils it again.

It is these multitudinous associations that give life its colour and its
poetry. They are the garnerings of the journey, and unlike material gains
they are no burden to our backs and no anxiety to our mind. "The true
harvest of my life," said Thoreau, "is something as intangible and
indescribable as the tints of morning and evening." It was the summary, the
essence, of all his experience. We are like bees foraging in the garden of
the world, and hoarding the honey in the hive of memory. And no hoard is
like any other hoard that ever was or ever will be. The cuckoo calling over
the valley, the blackbird fluting in the low boughs in the evening, the
solemn majesty of the Abbey, the life of the streets, the ebb and flow of
Father Thames--everything whispers to us some secret that it has for no
other ear, and touches a chord of memory that echoes in no other brain.
Those deeps within us find only a crude expression in the vehicle of words
and actions, and our intercourse with men touches but the surface of
ourselves. The rest is "as intangible and indescribable as the tints of
morning and evening." It was one of the most companionable of men, William
Morris, who said:

    That God has made each one of us as lone
    As He Himself sits.

That is why, in moments of exaltation, our only refuge is silence, and the
world of memory within answers the world of suggestion without.

"And what does the seaweed remind you of?" said one, as I looked up after
smelling it. "It reminds me," I said, "of all the seas that wash our
shores, and of all the brave sailors who are guarding these seas day and
night, while we sit here secure. It reminds me also that I have an article
to write, and that its title is 'A Bit of Seaweed.'"


A little group of men, all of whom had achieved conspicuous success in
life, were recently talking after dinner round the fire in the smoking-room
of a London club. They included an eminent lawyer, a politician whose name
is a household word, a well-known divine, and a journalist. The talk
traversed many themes, and arrived at that very familiar proposition: If it
were in your power to choose, would you live this life again? With one
exception the answer was a unanimous "No." The exception, I may remark, was
not the divine. He, like the majority, had found one visit to the play
enough. He did not want to see it again.

The question, I suppose, is as old as humanity. And the answer is old too,
and has always, I fancy, resembled that of our little group round the
smoking-room fire. It is a question that does not present itself until we
are middle-aged, for the thoughts of youth are long, long thoughts, and
life then stretches out in such an interminable vista as to raise no
question of its recurrence. It is when you have reached the top of the pass
and are on the downward slope, with the evening shadows falling over the
valley and the church tower and with the end of the journey in view, that
the question rises unbidden to the lips. The answer does not mean that the
journey has not been worth while. It only means that the way has been long
and rough, that we are footsore and tired, and that the thought of rest is
sweet. It is nature's way of reconciling us to our common lot. She has
shown her child all the pageant of life, and now prepares him for his
"patrimony of a little mould"--

      Thou hast made his mouth
    Avid of all dominion and all mightiness,
    All sorrow, all delight, all topless grandeurs,
    All beauty, and all starry majesties,
    And dim transtellar things;--even that it may,
    Filled in the ending with a puff of dust,
    Confess--"It is enough."

Yes, it is enough. We accept the verdict of mortality uncomplainingly--nay,
we would not wish it to be reversed, even if that were possible.

Now this question must not be confounded with that other, rather foolish,
question, "Is Life worth living?" The group round the smoking-room fire
would have answered that question--if they had troubled to answer it at
all--with an instant and scornful "Yes." They had all found life a great
and splendid adventure; they had made good and wholesome use of it; they
would not surrender a moment of its term or a fragment of its many-coloured
experience. And that is the case with all healthy-minded people. We may,
like Job, in moments of depression curse the day when we were born; but the
curse dies on our lips. Swift, it is true, kept his birthday as a day of
mourning; but no man who hates humanity can hope to find life endurable,
for the measure of our sympathies is the measure of our joy in living.

Even those who take the most hopeless view of life are careful to keep out
of mischief. A friend of mine told me recently of a day he had spent with a
writer famous for the sombre philosophy of his books. In the morning the
writer declared that no day ever passed in which he did not wish that he
had never been born; in the afternoon he had a most excellent opportunity
of being drowned through some trouble with a sailing boat, and he rejected
the chance with almost pathetic eagerness. Yet I daresay he went on
believing that he wished he had never been born. It is not only the
children who live in the world of "Let us make pretend."

No, we are all glad to have come this way once. It is the thought of a
second journey over the same ground that chills us and gives us pause.
Sometimes you will hear men answer, "Yes, if I could have the experience I
have had in this life." By which they mean, "Yes, if I could come back with
the certainty of making all the short cuts to happiness that I now see I
have missed." But that is to vulgarise the question. It is to ask that life
shall not be a splendid mystery, every day of which is

            an arch wherethrough
    Gleams the untravelled world;

but that it shall be a thoroughly safe three per cent. investment into
which I can put my money with the certainty of having a good time--all
sunshine and no shadows. But life on those terms would be the dreariest
funeral march of the marionettes. Take away the uncertainty of life, and
you take away all its magic. It would be like going to the wicket with the
certainty of making as many runs as you liked. No one would trouble to go
to the wicket on those preposterous terms. It is because I may be out first
ball or stay in and make a hundred runs (not that I ever did any such
heroic thing) that I put on the pads with the feverish sense of adventure.
And it is because every dawn breaks as full of wonder as the first day of
creation that life preserves the enchantment of a tale that is never told.

Moreover, how would experience help us? It is character which is destiny.
If you came back with that weak chin and flickering eye, not all the
experience of all the ages would save you from futility.

No, if life is to be lived here again it must be lived on the same unknown
terms in order to be worth living. We must come, as we came before, like
wanderers out of eternity for the brief adventure of time. And, in spite of
all the fascinations of that adventure, the balance of our feeling is
against repeating it. For we know that every thing that makes life dear to
us would have vanished with all the old familiar faces and happy
associations of our former pilgrimage, and there is something disloyal in
the mere thought of coming again to form new attachments and traverse new
ways. Holmes once wrote a poem about being "Homesick in heaven"; but it
would be still harder to be homesick on earth--to be wandering about among
the ghosts of old memories, and trying to recapture the familiar atmosphere
of things. We should make new friends; but they would not be the same. They
might be better; but we should not ask for better friends: we should yearn
for the old ones.

There is a fine passage in Guido Rey's noble book on the "Matterhorn" which
comes to my mind as a fitting expression of what I think we feel. He was on
his way to climb the mountain, when, on one of its lower slopes, he saw
standing lonely in the evening light the figure of a grey-headed man. It
was Whymper, the conqueror of the Matterhorn--Whymper grown old, standing
there in the evening light and gazing on the mighty rock that he had
vanquished in his prime. His climbing days were done, and he sought no more
victories on the mountains. He had had his day and was content to stand
afar off, alone with his memories, leaving the joy of battle to the young
and the ardent. There was not one of those memories that he would be
without--save, of course, that terrible experience in the hour of his
victory over the Matterhorn. But had you asked him if he was still avid for
those topless grandeurs and starry majesties he would have said, "It is


There are two voices that are most familiar to me on this hillside. One is
the voice of the day, the other of the night. Throughout the day the robin
sings his song with unflagging spirit. It is not a very brilliant song, but
it is indomitably cheerful. Wet or fine, warm or cold, it goes on through
the November day from sunrise to sunset. The little fellow hops about, in
his bright red waistcoat, from tree to tree. He flutters to the fence, and
from the fence to the garden path, and so to the door and into the kitchen.
If you will give him decent encouragement he will come on to your hand and
take his meal with absolute confidence in your good faith. Then he will
trip away and resume his song on the fence.

There are some people who say hard things about the robin--that he is
selfish and "gey ill to live wi'" and so on--but to me he seems the most
cheerful and constant companion in nature. He is a bringer of good
tidings--a philosopher who insists that we are masters of our fate and that
winter is just the time when there is some sense in being an optimist.
Anybody, he seems to say, can be an optimist when the days are long and the
air is warm and worms are plentiful; but it is just when things are looking
a little black and the other fellows begin to grouse that I put on my
brightest waistcoat, tune up my best whistle, and come and tell you that
the unconquerable soul is greater than circumstance.

The other voice comes when night has descended and the valley below is
blotted out by the darkness. Then from the copse beyond the orchard there
sounds the mournful threnody of the owl. The day is over, he says, and all
is lost. "Tu-whit, tu-whoo." I only am left to tell the end of all things.
"Tu-whit, tu-whoo." I've told it all before a thousand times, but you
wouldn't believe me. "Tu-whit, tu-whoo." Now, you can't deny it, for the
night is dark and the wind is cold and all the earth is a graveyard.
"Tu-whit, tu-whoo." Where are the songs of spring and the leaves of summer?
"Tu-whit, tu-whoo." Where the red-cheeked apple that hung on the bough and
the butterfly that fluttered in the sunshine? All, all are gone. "Tu-whit,
tu-whoo ... Tu-whit, tu-whoo ... Tu-whit, tu-whoo...."

A cheerless fellow. Some people find him an intolerable companion. I was
talking at dinner in London a few nights ago to a woman who has a house in
Sussex, and I found that she had not been there for some time.

"I used to find the owl endurable," said she, "but since the war I have
found him unbearable. He hoots all night and makes me so depressed that I
feel that I shall go mad."

"And so you come and listen to the owl in London?" I said.

"The owl in London?" she asked.

"Yes," I said, "the owl that hoots in Carmelite Street and Printing House

"Ah," she said, "but he is such an absurd owl. Now the owl down in the
country is such a solemn creature."

    "He says a very foolish thing
    In such a solemn way,"

I murmured.

"Yes, but in the silence and the darkness there doesn't seem any answer to

"Madame," I said, "if you will look up at the stars you will find a very
complete answer."

I confess that I find the owl not only tolerable but stimulating. I like to
hear the pessimist really let himself go. It is the nameless and unformed
fears of the mind that paralyse, but when my owl comes along and states the
position at its blackest I begin to cheer up and feel defiant and
combative. Is this the worst that can be said? Then let us see what the
best is, and set about accomplishing it. "The thing is impossible," said
the pessimist to Cobden. "Indeed," said that great man. "Then the sooner we
set about doing it the better." Oh, oh, say I to my owl, all is lost, is
it? You wait till the dawn comes, and hear what that little chap in the red
waistcoat has to say about it. He's got quite another tale to tell, and
it's a much more likely tale than yours. I shall go to bed and leave you to
Gummidge in the trees until the sun comes up and tells you what a dismal
fraud you are.

"Tu-whit, tu-whoo," hoots the owl back at me.

Yes, my dear sir, but you said that last night, and you have been saying it
every night I have known you, and always the sun comes up and the spring
comes round again and the flowers bloom, and the fields are golden with

"Tu-whit, tu-whoo."

Oh, bother you. You ought to be a _Daily Mail_ placard.

No doubt the owl is quite happy in his way. Louis XV. expressed the owlish
philosophy when he said, "Let us amuse ourselves by making ourselves
miserable." I have no doubt the wretched creature did amuse himself after
his fashion. I have always thought that, secretly, Mrs. Gummidge had a
roaring time. She really enjoyed being miserable and making everybody about
her miserable. I have known such people, and I daresay you have known them,
too--people who nurse unhappiness with the passion of a miser. They are
having the time of their lives now. They go about saying, "Tu-whit,
tu-whoo! The Russians are beaten again, or if they are not beaten they will
be. Tu-whit, tu-whoo! We're slackers and slouchers and the Germans are too
many for us. Tu-whit, tu-whoo. They're on the way to India and Egypt, and
nothing will stop them. All, all is lost." But I notice that they enjoy a
beef-steak as much as anybody, and do not refuse their soup though they
salt it with their tears.

I like that story of Stonewall Jackson and the owl. The owl was a general,
and he rushed up to Jackson in the crisis of the first battle of Bull's
Run, crying "All is lost! We're beaten!" "Oh," said Jackson, "if that's so
I'd advise you to keep it to yourself." Half-an-hour later the charge of
Jackson's brigade had won the battle. I do not know what happened to the
owl, but I daresay he went on "Tu-whit-ing" and "Tu-whoo-ing" to the end.
The owl can't help being an owl.

Ah, there is little red waistcoat singing on the fence. Let us find a worm
for the philosopher....


As I sat in the garden just now, with a writing-pad on my knee and my mind
ranging the heavens above and the earth beneath in search of a subject, my
eye fell on a tragedy in progress at my elbow. A small greenfly had got
entangled in a spider's web, and was fluttering its tiny wings violently to
effect an escape. The filaments of the web were so delicate as to be hardly
visible, but they were not too delicate to bear the spider whom I saw
advancing upon his prey with dreadful menace. I forgot my dislike of
greenflies, and was overcome with a fierce antagonism for the fat fellow
who had the game so entirely in his hands. Here, said I, is the Hun
encompassing the ruin of poor little Belgium. What chance has the weak and
the innocent little creature against the cunning of this rascal, who hangs
out his gossamer traps in the breeze and then lies in hiding until his
victim is enmeshed and helpless? What justice is there in nature that
allows this unequal combat?

By this time the spider had reached the fly and thrown a new filament round
him. Then at frightful speed he raced to the top of his web and disappeared
in the woodwork of the arbour, drawing the new filament tight round the
victim, which continued its flutterings for a little time and then gave up
the ghost. At this moment I was called in to lunch, and at the table I told
the story of the spider and the fly with undisguised hostility to the
spider. "That," said Robert, home from the front--"that is simply a
sentimental point of view. My sympathies as a practical person are all with
the spider. He is the friend of man, the devourer of insects, the scavenger
of the gardens. He helps in the great task of keeping the equilibrium of
nature. Moreover," said he, "I have seen you kill greenflies yourself. You
killed them because you knew they were a nuisance. Why should you object to
the spider doing the same useful work for a living?"

"Ah," said I weakly, "I suppose it is because he does it for a living. Now
I ..." "Now, you," interrupted the other, "do it for a living, too, because
you want your fruit trees to bear fruit, and your roses to thrive, and your
cabbages to prosper. Who more merciless than you on slugs and other pests
that fly or crawl? No, no, we are all out for a living, you as much as the
spider, the spider as much as the fly." "We are all Huns," said I. "What a
detestable world it is." "Not at all," said he. "It's a very jolly world. I
drink to the health of the spider."

"And you have no pity for the fly?" I said. "Not a little bit." he replied.
"I am on the side of right." "Whose side is that?" I asked. "Mine," said
he. "We must all act according to our point of view. That's what the
greenfly does. That's what the spider does. We shall never in this world
get all the points of view in accord. We shall go on scrambling for a
living to the end. Sometimes the greenfly will be on top, sometimes the
spider. Look at that cherry-tree in the orchard. A month ago its branches
were laden with fruit. Now there is not a cherry to be seen. The blackbirds
and the starlings have stripped the tree as clean as a bone. Their point of
view is that the cherries are provided for them, and they are right. They
know nothing of the laws of property which man makes for his own
protection. It's no use going out to them and asking them to look at your
title-deeds, and reminding them of the policeman and the laws against
larceny. Our moral code is for us, not for them.

"We are all creatures of our own point of view," he went on. "Before Jones
next door bought a motor-car he had very bitter feelings about
motorists--used to call them road-hogs, said he would tax these
'land-torpedoes' out of existence, and was full of sympathy and pity for
the poor children coming from school. Now he drives a car as hard as
anybody; blows the hoggiest of horns; and says it's disgraceful the way
parents allow their children to play about in the streets. Nothing has
changed except his point of view. He has shifted round to another position,
and sees things from a new angle of vision. Samuel Butler hit the comedy of
the thing off long ago:--

    What makes all doctrine plain and clear?
    About two hundred pounds a year.
    And that which was proved true before
    Prove false again? Two hundred more."

"Are our points of view then all dictated by our selfish motives as those
of your friend the spider, who has probably by this time gobbled my friend
the greenfly?" "No, I do not say that. I think that, comprehending all our
private points of view, there is an absolute motive running through human
society, call it the world spirit, the mind of the race, or what you will,
that is something greater and better than we. The collective motion of
humanity is, except in very rare cases, nobler than its individual
manifestations. I respond and you respond to an abstract justice, an
abstract righteousness, which is purer and better than anything we are
capable of. We are all at the bottom, I think, better than our actions
paint us, better than our limited points of view permit us to be, and in
our illuminated moments we catch a glimpse of that Jacob's ladder that
Francis Thompson saw, with ascending angels, at Charing Cross. Some one
called Shelley 'an ineffectual angel.' I think most of us are ineffectual
angels. Take this tragedy that is filling the world with horror to-day. We
are fighting like tigers for our own points of view, but in our hearts we
are ashamed of the spectacle, and know that humanity is better than its
deeds. One day, perhaps, the ineffectual angel will find his wings and
outsoar the spider point of view.... And, by the way, suppose we go and
see how the spider is getting on."

We went out into the garden and found the web. But the little green corpse
had gone, and the spider was digesting his meal somewhere out of sight.

_(Note._--This article should be read in connection with that entitled "On
the Downs.")


I was reading an American journal just now when I came across the remark
that "one would as soon think of drinking beer out of porcelain as of
slapping Nietzsche on the back." Drinking beer out of porcelain! The phrase
amused me, and set me idly wondering why you don't drink beer out of
porcelain. You drink it (assuming that you drink it at all) with great
enjoyment out of a thick earthenware mug or a pewter pot or a vessel of
glass, but out of china, never. If you were offered a drink of beer out of
a china basin or cup you would feel that the liquor had somehow lost its
attraction, just as, if you were offered tea out of a pewter pot, you would
feel that the drink was degraded and unpleasant. The explanation that the
one drink is coarse and the other fine does not meet the case. People drink
beer out of glass, and the finer the glass the better they like it. But
there is something fundamentally discordant between beer and porcelain.

It is not, I imagine, that porcelain actually affects the taste or quality
of the liquor. It is that some subtle sense of fitness is outraged by the
association. The harmony of things is jangled. Touch and taste are no
longer in sympathy, and we are conscious of a jar to some remote and
inexplicable fibre of our being. It is in the realm of the palate that we
get the miracle of these affinities and antipathies in their most
elementary shape. Who was it who discovered that two such curiously diverse
things as mutton and red-currant jelly make a perfect gastronomic chord? By
what stroke of inspiration or luck did some unknown cook first see that
apple sauce was just the thing to make roast pork sublime? Who was the
Prometheus who brought to earth the tidings that a clove was the lover for
whom the apple pudding had pined through all the ages?

Seen in the large, this world is just an inexhaustible mine of materials
out of which that singular adventurer, man, is eternally bringing to light
new revelations of harmony. The musician gathers together the vibrations of
the air and discovers the laws of musical agreement, and out of that
discovery emerges the stupendous mystery of song. The poet takes words, and
out of their rhythms finds the harmonious vehicle for ideas. The scientist
sees the apple fall and has the revelation of a universe moving in a
symphony before which the mind stands mute and awestruck. The cook takes
the pig from the stye and the apple from the tree and makes a pretty lyric
for the dinner-table. The Great Adventure, in short, is just this
passionate pursuit of the soul of harmony in things, great and small,
spiritual and material. We are all in the quest and our captains are those
who lead us to the highest peaks of revelation--Bach fashioning that
immortal Concerto for Two Violins that takes us out like unsullied children
into fields of asphodel; Wordsworth looking out over Tintern Abbey and
capturing for us that

      Sense sublime
    Of something far more deeply interfused,
    Whose dwelling is the light of setting suns,
    And the round ocean and the living air,
    And the blue sky and in the mind of man;

Botticelli weaving the magic lines of the _Madonna of the Magnificat_ into
a harmony that, once deeply felt, seems to dwell in the heart for ever. And
you and I, though we are not captains in the adventure, all have our
glimpses--glorious moments when the mind sings in tune with circumstance,
when the beauty of the world, or the sense of fellowship with men or the
anthem of incommunicable things seems to open out the vision of something
that we would fain possess and are meant to possess.

"A mirage," you say, being a cynical person--"a mirage just to keep us
going through the desert--a sort of carrot held before the nose of that
donkey, man." Well, looking at the world to-day, it does rather seem that,
if harmony is the main concern of the adventure, humanity had better give
up the enterprise. In the light of the events in which we live, man is not
merely the most discordant creature on earth: he is also the most ferocious
animal that exists. Dryden's famous lines read like a satire:--

    From harmony, from heavenly harmony.
    This universal frame began;
    From harmony to harmony, through all the compass of the
        notes it ran,
    The diapason closing full in man.

If Dryden could see Europe to-day he might at least find one flaw in that
ode of which he had so exalted an opinion.

But the story of man is a long story, and we cannot see its drift from any
episode, however vast and catastrophic. We are still only in the turbulent
childhood of our career, and frightful as our excesses are, there is a
motive behind them that makes them profoundly different from the wars of
old. That motive is the idea of human liberty, the sanctity of public law,
the right of every nation, small or great, to live its life free from the
terrorism of force. When, in the ancient or mediaeval world, was there
fought a war for a world idea like this? Despotism then had it all its own
way. Even the Peace of Rome was only the peace of universal subjugation,
not the peace of universal liberty based on law which the world is fighting
to establish to-day. Never before has embattled democracy challenged the
principle of tyranny for the possession of the world....

Ah, I know what you are thinking as you run your mind over the Allies.
Liberty! Does Russia stand for liberty? Yes, in the circumstances of
to-day, even Russia stands for liberty, for do not forget that this is not
a war of the Russian bureaucracy, but a war sustained by the passion of the
Russian people. And, Russia apart or Russia included, who can doubt that
the cause of human freedom is in our hands, and the cause of ancient
tyranny is in the hands of our enemy? May we not see in these baleful fires
the Twilight of the Gods--of those old gods of blood and iron that have
held the world in subjection through the long centuries of its travail? May
we not see even in the midst of this discord and carnage, this hell of
death and destruction, the new birth of humanity--the promise of a world
set free?

Perhaps in that distant time when the tragedy of to-day is only an old
chapter in the story of the human race it will be seen that Dryden, after
all, was not guilty of a grim jest, but that this mighty discord was the
announcement of that final harmony for which all that is best in us yearns.
It may seem a hard vision to cherish to-day. But we must cherish it, or
accept the hideous alternative that this is, after all, in very truth the
madhouse of the universe. Can you live with that idea? Would it be worth
while living with that idea? If not, then the other holds the field, and it
is for all of us in our several ways, small or great, to work so that it
may possess the field.

I have wandered somewhat far from the question of the beer and the
porcelain, and yet I think you will find that the sequence is not lacking,
and that the little window commands a large landscape.


It was raining when Victor Crummles stepped out into the street. But he did
not notice the fact. True, he put his umbrella up, but that was mere force
of habit. He was not aware that he had put it up. His mind was far too
engaged with the ordeal before him to permit any consciousness of external
things to creep into it. He was "up against it and no mistake," he observed
to himself. There was the paper in his pocket telling him the time and
place at which he was to present himself for medical examination. He put
his hand in his pocket. It was there all right. Kilburn. Twelve o'clock.

Yes, he was fairly up against it. Not, as he hastened to assure himself,
that he objected.... Not at all.... He had always been a patriot, and
always would be. He'd love to have a smack at the Huns. He'd give them what
for.... He wished he'd been a bit younger--that's what he wished. If he'd
been a bit younger he'd have gone like a shot. That's what he'd have
done--he'd have gone like a shot. No fetching him--if he'd been a bit
younger. But a chap at thirty-eight ... well....

Here was the "Golden Crown." Yes, he thought he'd better have "just one."
It would pull him together and give the doctors a chance. He ought to give
them a chance whatever the consequence to himself. A whisky-and-soda would
just put him "in the pink."

There, that was better. Now he could face anything. Now for Kilburn. How
should he go? It was two miles at least ... a good two miles. There was No.
16--he could take that. And there was the Tube--he could take that.

Or he could walk. There was plenty of time.... Yes, on the whole he thought
he ought to walk. There was that varicose vein. The doctors ought to know
about that. It wouldn't be fair to them or to the country that they
shouldn't know about it. Varicose veins were very serious affairs indeed.
He knew because he'd looked the subject up in the dictionary. It had made
such a deep impression on him-that he could repeat what it said:--

"The dilation and thickening of the veins with lengthening and tortuosity,
and projection of certain points in the form of knots or knobs, in which
the blood coagulates, fibrin is deposited, and in the centre sometimes even
osseous matter; in addition the coats of the veins are diseased."

There was more about it than that. It looked a very black case indeed. Many
a man had been turned down for varicose veins, and--and--well, the doctors
ought to know about it. That was all.... They ought to know about it.... He
oughtn't to go there and pass himself off under false pretences.... Mind
you, he wanted to fight the Germans all right. He wanted to do his
bit--nobody more so. But was it fair not to let the doctors see what was
the matter with him? He certainly had those knots and knobs when he walked
very hard. Who knew? Perhaps there was "fibrin" and "osseous matter" there.
At any rate, the doctors ought to see his leg under fair conditions....

He didn't hold with allowing your patriotism to make you deceive your
country. It wasn't fair to the country to let it spend a heap of money on a
fellow who might "crock up" in the first week or two. It wasn't fair to the
fellow either. Not that he was thinking about himself.... Not at all. It
was the country he was thinking of. A fellow must think about the country
sometimes. It was his duty to put his own feelings, as it were, under the
tap. He wanted to go to the war as much as any man, but he didn't want the
country to lose by him....

Yes, it was his duty to walk. It was his duty not to conceal those knots
and knobs. He hoped they wouldn't be a fatal objection. But he was going to
play a straight bat with the country whatever happened.... He was not the
man to palm himself for what he wasn't. He would show the doctor quite
plainly what his varicose vein was like.

When Victor Crummles entered the room he was feeling a bit tired, but
courageous. He had taken another "stiffener" at the "Spread Eagle" and felt
equal to any fate. There were two doctors in the room--one sitting at a
table, the other standing by the window.

"Anything the matter with you?" said he at the table.

"Not that I know," said Victor with the air of a man who meant business.
Then, as if unwillingly dragging the truth out of himself he added, "I have
got a bit of a varicose vein, but it's hardly worth mentioning."

"Oh, don't worry about that," said the doctor. "We've got past that stage.
Now strip."

Don't worry about that! Got past that stage! What did it mean?... Well, he
had done his duty.... If there was fibrin and osseous matter in his veins
he had given them fair warning. It was the country that would suffer. These
doctors,... well, there....

"Stripped? Now, let's have a look at you."

The doctor examined him carefully. Perhaps that varicose vein would
surprise him after all. He'd walked two miles and it ought to be ... not
that he wanted it to be; but if it was--well, it was only fair they should

"What did you say your age was?"

"Thirty-eight, sir."

"Thirty-eight! Thirty-eight ... um ... Come here, Jeffkins."

Jeffkins came from the window and joined his colleague, and together the
two doctors took stock of Victor. They were taking no notice of his leg.
Well, it was their look out. He wouldn't be to blame if he broke down.

"You can dress." And the two doctors went to the window and consulted in
low tones.

Then the first came back.

"Well, my man, it won't do," he said. "We like your spirit.... Very
creditable, very creditable indeed. But (laughing) thirty-eight! Come,

Light was breaking in on Victor. Was he really being rejected?... And
because he was too old?... Oh, the scandal, the shame.... And he dying to
get at those Huns....

"But upon my oath...." He was really in earnest now.

"There, there, we understand," said the doctor. "You've done your best. And
it's very creditable to you--very. But thirty-eight! Come, come.... Now,
good morning."

Outside, Victor's anguish and indignation were too bitter to be borne
unaided. He turned into the "Spread Eagle."


My eye was caught as I passed along the street just now by an advertisement
on a hoarding which announced that Mr. Martin Harvey was appearing in a new
cinema play entitled _The Hard Way_, which was described as


I confess that I took an objection to that play on the spot. It may be a
good play. I don't know. I never shall know, for I shall never see it. But
why should it be assumed that you and I will run off to the pay box to see
a new play "by a peer"? Suppose the anonymous playwright had been a lawyer,
or a journalist, or a pork-butcher, or a grocer. Would the producer have
thought it helpful to announce a new play by a pork-butcher, or a lawyer,
or a grocer, or a journalist? He certainly would not. He would have left
the play to stand or fall on its merits.

Why, then, does he think that the fact that it is by a peer will bring us
all crowding to his doors? You may, of course, take it as a reflection on
the peerage. You may be supposed to think it such a miraculous thing that a
peer should be able to write a play that you may be expected to go and see
it as you would go to Barnum's to see a two-headed man or a bearded woman?
We may be invited to see it merely as a marvel, much as we used to be
invited to go and see the horse that could count or the monkeys that could
ride bicycles.

If it were so I should feel it was unjust to the peerage which is certainly
not below the average in intellectual capacity. But it is not so. It is
something much more serious than that. It is not intended to be a
reflection on the peerage. It is an unconscious reflection on the British
public. The idea behind the announcement is not that we shall go to see the
play in a spirit of curiosity, as if it had been written by an
ourang-outang, but that we shall go to see it in a spirit of flunkeyism, as
if it had been written by a demi-god. We are conceived sitting in hushed
wonder that a visitor from realms far above our experience should stoop
down to amuse us.

I wish I could feel that this was a false estimate of the British public.
It would certainly be a false estimate of the French public. The most
splendid thing, I think, in connection with the French people is their
freedom from flunkeyism. The great wind of the Revolution blew that rubbish
out of their souls for ever. It gave them the sublime conception of
citizenship as the basis of human relationship. It destroyed all the social
fences that feudalism had erected to keep the people out of the common
inheritance of the possibilities of human life. It liberated them from
shams, and made them the one realistic people in Europe. They looked truth
in the face, because they had cleaned its face of the dirty accretions of
the past. They saw, and they are the only people in Europe who as a nation
have seen, that

    The rank is but the guinea stamp:
      The man's the gowd, for a' that.

It is this fact which has made France the standard-bearer of human ideals.
It is this fact which puts her spiritually at the head of all the nations.

I am afraid it must be admitted that we are still in the flunkey stage. We
are still hypnotised by rank and social caste. I saw a crowd running
excitedly after a carriage near the Gaiety Theatre the other day, and found
it was because Princess So-and-So was passing. Our Press reeks with the
disease, and loves to record this sort of thing:--


    While strolling down Fifth Avenue the
    Duke of Connaught accidentally collided
    with a messenger boy carrying a parcel,
    whereupon he turned round and begged the
    boy's pardon.

You see the idea behind such banalities. It is that we are stricken with
respectful admiration that people with titles should act like ordinary
decent human beings. It is an insult to them, and it ought to be an insult
to the intelligence of the reader. But the newspaper man knows his public
as well as the cinema producer. He knows we have the souls of flunkeys. I
am no better than the rest. When I knew Mr. Kearley, the grocer, I looked
on him as a man and an equal. When he blossomed into Lord Devonport I felt
that he had taken wings and flown beyond my humble circle. I feel the
flunkey strong in me. I hate him, but I cannot kill him.

It is not the fact that inferior people get titles which should give us
concern. It is not even that they get them so often by secret gifts, by
impudent touting, by base service. These things are known, and they are no
worse to-day than they have always been. Every honours list makes us gape
and smile. If we see a really distinguished name in it we feel surprise and
a certain sorrow. What is he doing in that galley? I confess I have never
felt the same towards J.M. Barrie since he allowed a tag to be stuck on to
a great name. What did he want with a tag that any tuft hunter in public
life can get? It is only littleness that can gain from titles. Greatness is
always dishonoured by them. Fancy Sir Charles Dickens, or Lord Dickens, or
Lord Darwin, or Lord Carlyle, or Lord Shakespeare, or John Milton
masquerading as the Marquis of Oxfordshire. Yes, Tennyson became a lord and
was the smaller man for the fact. Who does not recall Swinburne's scornful

    Stoop, Chaucer, stoop;
    Keats, Shelley, Burns bow down.

And who did not share the feeling of Mark Pattison at the pitiful
anti-climax? "There certainly is something about Tennyson," he said, "that
you find in very few poets; in saying what he says in the best words in
which it can be said, he is quite Sophoclean. But this business of the
peerage! It is really so sad that I hardly like to speak of it. Compare
that with Milton's ending and mark the difference."

But it is the corrupting effect of titles on the national currency that is
their real offence. They falsify our ideals. They set up shams in place of
realities. They turn our minds from the gold to the guinea stamp and make
us worship the false idols of social ambition. Our thinking as a people
can't be right when our symbols are wrong. We can't have the root of
democracy in our souls if the tree flowers into coronets and gee-gaws.
France has the real jewel of democracy and we have only got the paste. Do
not think that this is only a small matter touching the surface of our
national character. It is a poison in the blood that infects us with the
deadly sins of servility and snobbery. And already it is permeating even
the free life of the Colonies. If I were an Australian or a Canadian I
would fight this hateful taint of the old world with all my might. I would
make it a criminal offence for a Colonial to accept a title. As for us, I
know only one remedy. It is to make a title a money transaction. Let us
have a tariff for titles. If American millionaires, like Lord Astor, want
them let them pay for them at the market rate. It would be at least a more
wholesome method than the present system. And it would bring the whole
imposture into contempt. Nobody would have a title when everybody knew what
he had paid for it. It is a poor way of getting rid of the abomination
compared with the French way, but then we are some centuries behind the
French people in these things.


"I have spent a large part of my life in advising business men how to get
out of their difficulties," said Mr. Asquith the other day. It was a
statement wrung from him by a deputation which was inflicting on him the
familiar talk about lawyers and the need of "business men" to run our
affairs. I suppose there has been no more banal cackle in this war than the
cackle about a "business Government" and the pestilence of lawyers.

I am not a lawyer, and have no particular affection for lawyers. I keep out
of their professional reach as much as possible. But it is as foolish to
ban them as a class as it would be to assume that a grocer or a tailor is a
great statesman because he is a successful grocer or tailor. Running an
empire is quite a different job from running a grocery establishment, and
it is folly to suppose that because a man has been successful in buying and
selling bacon and butter for his own profit he can _ipso facto_ govern a
nation with wisdom and prudence. Who are the most distinguished grocers of
to-day? They are Lord Devonport and Sir Thomas Lipton. Both excellent men,
I've no doubt. But would you like to hand over the Premiership to either of
them? Now, would you?

The great statesman has to prove himself a great statesman just as the
great grocer has to prove himself a great grocer. He has to prove it by the
qualities of statesmanship exercised in the full glare of publicity. If the
grocer makes a howler in his trade the world knows nothing about it. If the
statesman makes a howler all the world knows about it. He has to emerge to
the front in the most public of all battles, and you may be sure that no
one comes to eminence without great powers which have passed the test of
the fiercest trials. He does not evade that test because he is a lawyer.
Mr. Asquith had to survive it just as Mr. Chamberlain, who was a maker of
nails, had to survive it, just as Mr. Balfour, who is a landowner, had to
survive it. No one said to Mr. Chamberlain, "Yah! nailmaker," or to Mr.
Balfour, "Yah! landlord," thinking he had disposed of them. Why should you
suppose that when you have said "Yah! lawyer" to Mr. Asquith or Mr. Lloyd
George you have disposed of them?

Is the idea that lawyers are more selfish than other people--brewers, or
soap boilers, or bankers? I doubt it. They are just the average, and
include good and bad like any other class. Judge Jeffreys was a monster;
but, on the other hand, it was the lawyers of the seventeenth century who
largely saved the liberties of this country. I doubt whether the world has
ever produced a wiser, more unselfish, more heroic figure than Lincoln. And
he was a lawyer. I doubt whether any man in politics to-day has made such
financial sacrifices as Mr. Asquith has made. He had a practice at the Bar
which, I believe, brought him in £10,000 a year, and had he devoted himself
to it instead of to politics, would have brought him in far more, and he
gave it up for a job immeasurably more burdensome that has never brought
him more than £5000. He might have been Lord Chancellor, with a comfortable
seat on the Woolsack and £10,000 a year, and he chose instead to sit in the
House of Commons every day to be the target of every disappointed placeman.
Ah, you say, but look at the glory. Well, look at it. I would, as Danton
said, rather keep sheep on the hillside than meddle with the government of
men. It is the most ungrateful calling on earth. And, whatever other
defects may be attributed to Mr. Asquith, a passion for such an empty thing
as glory is not one of them. You will discover more passion for glory in
Mr. Churchill in five minutes than you will discover in Mr. Asquith in five
years. And Mr. Churchill is not a lawyer.

But this dislike of lawyers in the abstract has a certain basis. It is an
old dislike. You remember that remark of Johnson's when he was asked on a
certain occasion who was the man who had left the room: "I don't like
saying unpleasant things about a man behind his back; _but I believe he is
an attorney."_ And Carlyle was not much more civil when he described a
barrister as "a loaded blunderbuss "--if you bought him he blew your
opponent's brains out; if your opponent bought him he blew yours out. His
weapon is the law, but his object is not justice. As often as not he aims
at defeating justice, and the more skilful a lawyer he is the more
injustice he succeeds in doing. It is this detachment from the merits of a
case, this deliberate repudiation of conscience in his business relations
that makes him so suspect. Of course he has a very sound reply. "It is my
business to put my client's case, and my opponent's business to put his
client's case. And it is the business of the judge and jury to see that
justice is done as between us." That is true, but it does not get rid of
the suspicion that attaches to a man who fights for the guilty or the
innocent with equal fervour.

And then he deals in such a tricky article. When Sancho Panza was Governor
of the Island of Barataria he administered justice. If he had been the
Governor of the Island of Britain he would have administered the law, and
his decisions would have been very different. Law has about the same
relation to justice that grammar has to Shakespeare. If Shakespeare were
put in the dock and tried by the grammarians he would be condemned as a
rogue and vagabond, and, similarly, justice is not infrequently hanged by
the lawyers. We must have law just as we must have grammar, but we have no
love for either of them. They are dry, bloodless sciences, and we look
askance at those who practice them. You may be the greatest rascal of your
time, but if you study the law and keep within its letter the strong lance
of justice cannot reach you. No, law which is the servant of justice often
betrays his master.

But do not let us be unjust. If law to-day is more nearly the instrument of
justice than it has ever been, it is the great lawyers to whom we chiefly
owe the fact. There are Dodsons and Foggs in the law, but there are also
Pyms and Pratts who have upheld the liberties of this country in the teeth
of tyrant kings and servile Parliaments.


I was coming off a Tube train last evening when some one said to me: "Will
you please give this gentleman an arm to the lift? He is blind." I did so,
and found, as I usually find in the case of the blind, that my companion
was uncommonly talkative and cheerful. This gaiety of the blind is a
perpetual wonder to me. It is as though the outer light being quenched an
inner light of the spirit illuminates the darkness. Outside the night is
black and dread, but inside there is warmth and brightness. The world is
narrowed to the circle of one's own mind, but the very limitation feeds the
flame of the spirit, and makes it leap higher. It was the most famous of
blind Englishmen who in the days of his darkness made the blind Samson

    He that hath light within his own clear breast
    May sit i' th' centre and enjoy bright day.

And it has been remarked in many cases in which men have gone blind that
their cheerfulness so far from being diminished has by some miracle gained
a new strength. In no case of which I have had any knowledge has it
apparently had the contrary effect. The zest of living seems heightened.
Not long ago Mr. Galsworthy wrote to the _Times_ a letter in which he spoke
with pity of the unhappiness of the blind, and there promptly descended on
him an avalanche of protest from the blind themselves. I suppose there was
never a man who seemed to have a more intense pleasure in life than the
late Dr. Campbell, the founder of the Normal School for the Blind, who
worked wonders in extending the range of the activities of the blind, and
himself did such apparently impossible things as riding a bicycle and
climbing mountains.

Nor was the case of Mr. Pulitzer, the famous proprietor of the _New York
World_, less remarkable. Night came down on him with terrible suddenness.
He was watching the sunset from his villa in the Mediterranean one evening
when he said: "How quickly the sun has set." "But it has not set," said his
companion. "Oh, yes, it has; it is quite dark," he answered. In that moment
he had gone stone blind. But I am told by those who knew him that his
vivacity of mind was never greater than in the years of his blindness.

My friend Mr. G.W.E. Russell has a theory that the advantage of the blind
over the deaf and dumb in this matter of cheerfulness is perhaps more
apparent than real. He points out that it is in company that the blind is
least conscious of his misfortune, and that the deaf and dumb is most
conscious of it. That is certainly the case. In conversation the sightless
are on an equality with the seeing, while the deaf and dumb are shut up in
a terrible isolation. The fact that they see is not their gain but their
loss. They watch the movement of the lips and the signs of laughter, but
this only adds to the bitterness of the prison of soundlessness in which
they dwell. Hence the appearance of gloom. On the other hand, in solitude
the deaf and dumb has the advantage. All the colour and movement of life is
before him, while the blind is not only denied that vision of the outside
world, but has a restriction of movement that the other does not share. Mr.
Russell's conclusion, therefore, is that while the happiest moments of the
blind are those when he is observed, the happiest of the deaf and dumb are
when he is not observed.

There is some measure of truth in this, but I believe, nevertheless, that
the common impression is right, and that, judged by the test of the
cheerful acceptance of affliction, the loss of sight is less depressing
than the loss of hearing and speech. And this for a very obvious reason.
After all, the main interest in life is in easy, familiar intercourse with
our fellows. I love to watch a golden sunset, to walk in the high beech
woods in spring--or, for that matter, in summer or autumn or winter--to see
the apples reddening on the trees, and the hedgerows thick with
blackberries. But this is the setting of my drama--the scenery of the play,
not the play itself. It is its human contacts that give life its vivacity
and intensity. And it is the ear and tongue that are the channels of the
cheerful interplay of mind with mind. In that interplay the blind man has
full measure and brimming over. His very affliction intensifies his part in
the human comedy and gives him a peculiar delight in homely intercourse. He
is not merely at his ease in the human family: he is the centre of it. He
fulfils Johnson's test of a good fellow: he is "a clubbable man."

And even in the enjoyment of the external world it may be doubted whether
he does not find as much mental stimulus as the deaf-and-dumb. He cannot
see the sunset, but he hears the shout of the cuckoo, the song of the lark,
"the hum of bees, and rustle of the bladed corn." And if, as usually
happens, he has music in his soul, he has a realm of gold for his
inheritance that makes life a perpetual holiday. Have you heard Mr. William
Wolstenholme, the composer, improvising on the piano? If not, you have no
idea what a jolly world the world of sounds can be to the blind. Of course,
the case of the musician is hardly a fair test. With him, hearing is life
and deafness death. There is no more pathetic story than that of Beethoven
breaking the strings of the piano in his vain efforts to make his immortal
harmonies penetrate his soundless ears. Can we doubt that had he been
afflicted with blindness instead of deafness the tragedy of his life would
have been immeasurably relieved? What peace, could he have heard his Ninth
Symphony, would have slid into his soul. Blind Milton, sitting at his
organ, was a less tragic figure and probably a happier man than Milton with
a useless ear-trumpet would have been. Perhaps without the stimulus of the
organ he could not have fashioned that song which, as Macaulay says in his
grandiloquent way, "would not have misbecome the lips of those ethereal
beings whom he saw with that inner eye, which no calamity could darken,
flinging down on the jasper pavements their crowns of amaranth and gold."

It is probable that in a material sense blindness is the most terrible
affliction that can befall us; but I am here speaking only of its spiritual
effects, and in this respect the deprivation of hearing and speech seems to
involve a more forlorn state than the deprivation of sight. The one
affliction means spiritual loneliness: the other deepens the spiritual
intimacies of life. It was a man who had gone blind late in life who said:
"I am thankful it is my sight which has gone rather than my hearing. The
one has shut me off from the sun: the other would have shut me off from


That quaint idea of Sir Edward Clarke's that, as a revenue expedient in
time of war, we should impose a tax on those who have names as well as
numbers on their garden gates has a principle in it which is capable of
wide extension. It is the principle of taxing us on our vanities. I am not
suggesting that there is not also a practical point in Sir Edward's idea.
There is no doubt that this custom of giving our houses names is the source
of much unnecessary labour and irritation to other people--postmen,
tradesmen, debt collectors, and errand boys. Mr. Smythe--formerly Smith--of
236, Belinda Avenue, is easily discoverable, but what are you to do about
Mr. Smythe, of Chatsworth House, Belinda Avenue, on a dark night? How are
you to find him? There are 350 houses in Belinda Avenue, all as like as two
peas, and though Mr. Smythe has a number, he never admits it. Chatsworth
House is where he lives, and if you want him it's Chatsworth House that you
have to find.

The other night a friend of mine was called to the door at a late hour. It
was dark and raining and dismal. At the door stood a coal-heaver. "Please,
sir," he said, "can you tell me where Balmoral is? I've got a load of coal
to take there, and I've been up and down this road in the dark twice, and
can't make out where it is." "It's the fourth house from here to the
right," said my friend, and the coal-heaver thanked him and went away. That
illustrates the practical case for a tax on house names.

But it was not that case which was in Sir Edward's mind. His view is that
we ought to pay for the innocent vanity of living at Chatsworth House
instead of 236, Belinda Avenue. Now if that principle is carried into
effect, I see no end to its operation. I am not sure that Sir Edward
himself would escape. I have often admired his magnificent side-whiskers. I
doubt whether there is a pair of side-whiskers to match them in London.
That he is proud of them goes without saying. Nobody could possibly have
whiskers like them without feeling proud of them. I feel that if I had such
whiskers I should never be away from the looking-glass. And consider the
pleasurable employment they give in idle moments. Satan, it is said, has
mischief still for idle hands to do. But no one with such streamers as Sir
Edward's can ever have idle hands. When you have nothing else to do with
them you stroke your whiskers and purr. Certainly they are worth paying
for. I think they would be dirt cheap at a tax of £1 a side.

And then there are white spats. I don't know how you regard white spats,
but I never see them without feeling that something ought to be done about
it. I daresay the people who wear them are quite nice people, but I think
they ought to suffer in some way for the jolt they give to the
sensibilities of humbler mortals who could no more wear white spats than
they could stand on their head in the middle of Fleet Street. I am aware
that white spats are often only a sort of business advertisement. I have
known careers founded on a pair of white spats. There is Simpkins, for
example. I remember quite well when he first came to the club in white
spats. We all smiled and said it was like Simpkins. He was pushful, meant
to get on, and had set up white spats as a part of his stock-in-trade. We
knew Simpkins, of course, and discounted the white spats; but they made a
great impression on his clients, and he forged ahead from that day. Now he
wears a fur-lined coat, drives his own motor-car, and has a man in livery
to receive you at the door. But the foundation of his fortunes were the
white spats. He understood that maxim of Rochefoucauld that "to succeed in
the world you must appear to have succeeded already," and the white spats
did the trick. I think he ought to pay for them--£2 a spat is my figure.

Most of us, too, I think, will agree that, if vanity is to be taxed, the
wearing of an eyeglass cannot be overlooked. It is impossible to dissociate
vanity from the use of the monocle. There are some people, it is true, who
wear an eyeglass naturally and unaffectedly, as though they were really
born with it and had forgotten that it was there. I saw a lady in a bus the
other day who used an eyeglass and yet carried it so well, with such simple
propriety and naturalness, that you could not feel that there was any
vanity in the matter. But that is an exception. Ordinarily the wearing of a
monocle seems like an announcement to the world that you are a person of
consequence. Disraeli knew that. His remark, when Chamberlain made his
first appearance in the House, that "at least he wore his eyeglass like a
gentleman," showed that he knew that, in general, it was an affectation. It
was so in his own case, of course. I hope Sir Edward Clarke will agree that
£5 is a reasonable tariff for an eyeglass.

There are a thousand other vanities more or less innocent, that will occur
to you in looking round. I should put a very stiff tax on painted cheeks
and hair-dyes. Any lady dyeing her hair once would be taxed £5 for the
privilege. If, growing tired of auburn, she decided to change again to a
raven hue, she would pay £10. The tax, in fact, might be doubled for every
change of colour. If rather than pay the tax Mrs. Fitzgibbons Jones
resolves to wear her hair as nature arranged that she should, life will be
simplified for me. The first time I met Mrs. Fitzgibbons Jones she had
black hair. A year later I met her husband with a lady with chestnut hair.
He introduced me to her as his wife, and she said we had met before. I said
I thought she was mistaken, and it was not until we had parted that I
realised that it was the same lady with another head of hair and another
system of coloration altogether.

The weak point about Sir Edward's idea as a financial expedient is that so
few of our vanities would survive the attention of the tax-collector.
Personally, I should have the name-plate off my gate at once. Indeed, I'm
not sure I'll not have it off as it is. It was there when I came, and I
have always been a little ashamed of its foppery, and have long used only
the number. Now the name seems rather more absurd than ever. Its
pretentiousness is out of tune with these times. I think many of us are
getting ashamed of our little vanities without the help of the


Stevenson, it will be remembered, once assigned his birthday to a little
girl--or was it a boy?--of his acquaintance. The child was fond of
birthdays, while he had reached a time of life when they had ceased to have
any interest for him. Most of us, if we live long enough, experience that
indifference. The birthday emotion vanishes with the toys that awaken it. I
remember when life was a journey from one birthday to another, the tedium
of which was only relieved by such agreeable incidents as Christmas,
Easter, and the school holidays. But for many years I have stumbled up
against my birthday, as it were, with a shock of surprise, have given it a
nod of recognition as one might greet an ancient acquaintance with whom one
has lost sympathy, and have passed on without a further thought about the

But to-day it is different. One cannot pass over one's fiftieth birthday
without feeling that an event has happened. Fifty! Why, the Psalmist's
limit is only seventy. Fifty from seventy. An easy sum, but what an
impressive answer! Twenty years, and they the years of the sere, the yellow
leaf. Only twenty more times to hear the cuckoo calling over the valley and
see the dark beech woods bursting into tender green. I look back twenty
years, and it seems only a span. And yet how remote fifty seemed in those
days! It was so remote as to be hardly worth thinking about. To be fifty
was to be among the old fellows, to be on the shelf, to have become an

And now here am I at fifty, and so far from feeling like an antiquity, I
feel as much of a young fellow as at any time of my life. I had feared that
when middle age overtook me I should feel middle-aged and full of sad
longings for the old toys and the old pleasures. How would life be
tolerable when cricket, for example, had ceased to play an important part
in it? Never again to have the ecstasy of a drive along "the carpet" to the
boundary or, with a flash of the arm, snapping an opponent in the slips.
What a dreary desolation life must be, stripped of those joys! And on the
contrary I find that the spirit of youth is no more dependent on cricket
than it is on the taste for lollipops. It consists in the contented
acceptance of the things that are possible to us. Do not suppose, young
fellow, that you are any younger than I am because you can jump five feet
eight and I have ceased to want to jump at all. The feeling of youth is
something much deeper and more enduring than the ability to jump five feet
eight. It may be as vigorous at eighty as it is at eighteen. It is only its
manner of expression which is changed. Holmes never admitted that he had
grown old. "I am eighty-three young to-day," he would say. And Johnson,
with his old age and his infirmities, still insisted that he was "a young
fellow"--as, indeed, he was, for where shall we find such freshness of
spirit, such a defiance of the tooth of Time as in that grand old boy?

Youth, in fact, is not a physical affair at all, but an affair of the soul.
You may be spiritually bald-headed at twenty-five or a romping young blade
at eighty. Byron was only thirty-four when he wrote:--

    I am ashes where once I was fire.
      And the soul in my bosom is dead;
    What I loved I now merely admire,
      And my heart is as grey as my head.

Perhaps there was some affectation in this, for Byron was always
dramatising himself. But that he died an old man at thirty-six is as
indisputable as that Browning died a young man at seventy-seven, with that
triumphant envoi of _Asolando_ as his last expression of the eternal youth
of the soul.

In thinking of old age, the mistake is to assume that the spirit must decay
with the body. Of course, if the body is maltreated it will react on the
spirit. But the natural decline of the physical powers leaves the healthy
spirit untouched with age, should indeed leave it strengthened--glowing not
with passion but with a steadier fire. When we are young in years our eager
spirit cries for the moon.

    We look before and after,
      And pine for what is not.

But as we get older we learn to be satisfied with something nearer than the
moon. The horizon of our hopes and ambitions narrows, but the sky above is
not less deep, and we make the wonderful discovery that the things that
matter are very near to us. It is the homing of the spirit. We have been
avid of the "topless grandeurs" of life, and we return to find that the
spiritual satisfactions we sought were all the time within very easy reach.
And in cultivating those satisfactions intensively we make another
discovery. We find that this is the true way to the "topless grandeurs"
themselves, for those topless grandeurs are not without us but within.

But I am afraid I am sermonising, and I do not want to sermonise, though if
ever a man may be allowed to sermonise it is when he is completing his
half-century. Let me as an antidote recall a little story which the present
Bishop of Chester once told me over the dinner table, for it contains a
practical recipe for keeping the heart young. He was in his earlier days
associated with Archdeacon Jones of Liverpool. The Archdeacon, then over
eighty, had been tutor to Gladstone, and one day the future Bishop turned
the conversation into a reminiscent channel, and sought to evoke the
Archdeacon's memories of the long past. Presently the Archdeacon abruptly
changed the subject by asking, "What was the concert of the Philharmonic
like last night?" And then, in answer to the obvious surprise which the
question had aroused, he added, "Although I am an old man, I want to keep
my heart young, and the best way of doing that is not to let one's thoughts
live in the past, but to keep them in tune with the life around one."

The truth is that every stage of the journey has its own interests.
Probably none is better than another, but my own preference has always been
for that stage which I happen to be doing at the time. When I was twenty I
thought there was no age like twenty, and now I am fifty I have transferred
my enthusiasm to fifty. There is no age like it, I feel, for all-round
enjoyment. And I have a strong conviction that if I have the good fortune
to reach sixty I shall be found declaring that there is no age like sixty.
And why not? It is pleasant to see the sun on the morning hills, but it is
not less pleasant to walk home when the shadows are lengthening and the
cool of the evening has come.


"There's Peggy with that horrid cat again--the one-eyed cat from over the
fence." I looked out as I heard the ejaculation, and there in truth coming
down the garden path was Peggy bearing affectionately in her arms the
one-eyed cat from over the fence. Peggy likes the animal in spite of its
one eye. I am not sure that she does not like it all the more because of
its one eye. I think she has an idea that if she nurses the cat it forgets
that it has only one eye and recovers its happiness. She has a passion for
all four-legged creatures. I have seen her spend a whole day picking
handfuls of grass in the orchard and running with them to the donkey or the
horse standing patiently in the neighbour's paddock, and when she hasn't
animals to play with she will put a horseshoe on each hand and each foot,
and then you will hear from above the plod-plod-plod of a horse going its
daily round. But while she has a comprehensive affection for all
four-legged things, her most fervent love is reserved for the halt and the

It is only among children that we find the quality of charity sufficiently
strong to forgive deformity. The natural instinct is to turn away from any
physical imperfection. It is the instinct of the race for the preservation
of its forms. We call these forms beauty and the departure from them
ugliness, and it is from "beauty's rose," as Shakespeare says, that "we
desire increase." If you shudder at the touch of a withered hand or at the
sight of a one-eyed cat, it is because you feel that they are a menace to
the established forms of life. You are unconsciously playing the part of
policeman for nature. You are the guardian of its traditions when you blush
at the glance of two eyes and shudder at the glance of one.

And yet it is not impossible to fall in love with the physically defective
and sincerely to believe that they are beautiful. Take that incident
mentioned by Descartes. He said that when he was a child he used to play
with a little girl who had a squint, and that to the end of his days he
liked people who squinted. In this case it was the associations of memory
that gave a glamour to deformity and made it beautiful. The squint brought
back to him the memory of the Golden Age, and through the mist of that
memory it was transmuted into loveliness.

Nor is it memory alone that will work the miracle. Intellectual sympathy
will do it, too. Wilkes was renowned for his ugliness, but he claimed that,
given half an hour's start, he would win the smiles of any woman against
any competitor. And when one of his lady admirers, engaged in defending
him, was reminded that he squinted badly, she replied: "Of course he does;
but he doesn't squint more than a man of his genius ought to squint." Nor
was it women alone whom the fellow fascinated. Who can forget the scene
when Tom Davies brought him into the company of Dr. Johnson, who hated
Wilkes' Radicalism, and would never willingly have consented to meet him?
For a time Johnson refused to unbend, but at last he could hold out no
longer, and fell a victim to the charm of Wilkes' talk.

In the same way, Johnson believed his wife to be a woman of perfect beauty.
To the rest of the world she was extraordinarily plain and commonplace, but
to Johnson she was the mirror of beauty. "Pretty creature," he would say
with a sigh in referring to her after her death.

And there, I fancy, we touch the root of the matter. The sense of beauty is
in one respect an affair of the soul, and only superficially an aesthetic
quality. We start with a common prejudice in favour of certain physical
forms. They are the forms with which nature has made us familiar, and we
seek to perpetuate them. But if the conventionally beautiful form is allied
with spiritual ugliness it ceases to be beautiful to us, and if the
conventionally ugly form is allied with spiritual beauty that beauty
irradiates the physical deficiency. The soul dominates the senses. Francis
Thompson expresses the idea very beautifully when he says:--

    I cannot tell what beauty is her dole,
    Who cannot see her features for her soul.
    As birds see not the casement for the sky.

But there is another sense in which beauty is the most matter-of-fact
thing. I can conceive that if the human family had developed only one eye,
and that planted in the centre of the forehead, the appearance of a person
with two eyes would be as offensive to our sense of beauty as a hand that
consisted not of fingers but of thumbs. We should go to the show to see the
two-eyed man with just the same feelings as we go now to see the bearded
woman. We should not go to admire his two eyes, any more than we go to
admire the beard; we should go to enjoy a pleasant sense of disgust at his
misfortune and a comfortable satisfaction at the fact that we had not been
the victims of such a calamity. We should roll our single eye with a proud
feeling that we were in the true line of beauty, from which the two-eyed
man in front was a hideous and fantastic departure.

Beauty, in short, is only a tribute which we pay to necessity. In equipping
itself for the struggle for existence humanity has found that it is
convenient to have two eyes and a stereoscopic vision, just as it is
convenient to have four fingers on the hand and one thumb instead of five
thumbs. Our members have been developed in the manner best fitted to enable
us to fight our battle. And the more perfectly they fulfil that supreme
condition the more beautiful we declare them to be. Our ideas of beauty,
therefore, are not absolute; they are conditional. They are the humble
servants of our necessity. Two eyes are necessary for us to get about our
business, and so we fall in love with two eyes, and the more perfect they
are for their work the more we fall in love with them, and the more
beautiful we declare them to be.

I think that Peggy, nursing her one-eyed cat there in the sun, has not yet
accepted our creed of beauty. She will be as conventional as the rest of us
when her frocks are longer.


The other day I went into a hatter's to get my hat ironed. It had been
ruffled by the weather, and I had a reason for wishing it to look as new
and glossy as possible. And as I waited and watched the process of
polishing, the hatter talked to me on the subject that really interested
him--that is, the subject of hats and heads.

"Yes," said he, in reply to some remark I had made; "there's a wonderful
difference in the shape of 'eads _and_ the size. Now your 'ead is what you
may call an ord'nary 'ead. I mean to say," he added, no doubt seeing a
shadow of disappointment pass across my ordinary face, "I mean to say, it
ain't what you would call extry-ord'nary. But there's some 'eads--well,
look at that 'at there. It belongs to a gentleman with a wonderful
funny-shaped 'ead, long and narrer and full of nobbles--'stror'nary 'ead 'e
'as. And as for sizes, it's wonderful what a difference there is. I do a
lot of trade with lawyers, and it's astonishing the size of their 'eads.
You'd be surprised. I suppose it's the amount of thinking they have to do
that makes their 'eads swell. Now that 'at there belongs to Mr. ------
(mentioning the name of a famous lawyer), wonderful big 'ead 'e
'as--7-1/2--that's what 'e takes, and there's lots of 'em takes over 7.

"It seems to me," he went on, "that the size of the 'ead is according to
the occupation. Now I used to be in a seaport town, and I used to serve a
lot of ships' captains. 'Stror'nary the 'eads they have. I suppose it's the
anxiety and worry they get, thinking about the tides and the winds and the
icebergs and things...."

I went out of the shop with my ord'nary 'ead, conscious of the fact that I
had made a poor impression on the hatter. To him I was only a 6-7/8 size,
and consequently a person of no consequence. I should have liked to point
out to him that it is not always the big heads that have the jewel in them.
Of course, it is true that great men often have big heads. Bismarck's size
was 7-1/4, so was Gladstone's, so was Campbell-Bannerman's. But on the
other hand, Byron had a small head, and a very small brain. And didn't
Goethe say that Byron was the finest brain that Europe had produced since
Shakespeare? I should not agree in ordinary circumstances, but as a person
with a smallish head, I am prepared in this connection to take Goethe's
word on the subject. As Holmes points out, it is not the size of the brain
but its convolutions that are important (I think, by the way, that Holmes
had a small head). Now I should have liked to tell the hatter that though
my head was small I had strong reason to believe that the convolutions of
my brain were quite top-hole.

I did not do so and I only recall the incident now because it shows how we
all get in the way of looking at life through our own particular peep-hole.
Here is a man who sees all the world through the size of its hats. He
reverences Jones because he takes 7-1/2; he dismisses Smith as of no
account because he only takes 6-3/4. In some degree, we all have this
restricted professional vision. The tailor runs his eye over your clothes
and reckons you up according to the cut of your garments and the degree of
shininess they display. You are to him simply a clothes-peg and your merit
is in exact ratio to the clothes you carry. The bootmaker looks at your
boots and takes your intellectual, social and financial measurement from
their quality and condition. If you are down-at-the-heel, the glossy
condition of your hat will not alter his opinion about you. The hat does
not come in his range of vision. It is not a part of his criteria.

It is so with the dentist. He judges all the world by its teeth. One look
in your mouth and he has settled and immovable convictions about your
character, your habits, your physical condition, your position, and your
mental attributes. He touches a nerve and you wince. "Ah," says he to
himself, "this man takes too much alcohol and tobacco and tea and coffee."
He sees the teeth are irregular. "Poor fellow," he says, "how badly he was
brought up!" He observes that the teeth are neglected. "A careless fellow,"
he says. "Spends his money on follies and neglects his family I'll be
bound." And by the time he has finished with you he feels that he could
write your biography simply from the evidence of your teeth. And I daresay
it would be as true as most biographies--and as false.

In the same way, the business man looks at life through the keyhole of his
counting-house. The world to him is an "emporium," and he judges his
neighbour by the size of his plate glass. And so with the financier. When
one of the Rothschilds heard that a friend of his who had died had left
only a million of money he remarked: "Dear me, dear me! I thought he was
quite well off." His life had been a failure, because he had only put a
million by for a rainy day. Thackeray expresses the idea perfectly in
_Vanity Fair_:--

"You see," said old Osborne to George, "what comes of merit and industry
and judicious speculations and that. Look at me and my banker's account.
Look at your poor grandfather Sedley and his failure. And yet he was a
better man than I was, this day twenty years--a better man I should say by
twenty thousand pounds."

I fancy I, too, have my professional way of looking at things, and am
disposed to judge men, not by what they do but by the skill they have in
the use of words. And I know that when an artist comes into my house he
"sizes me up" from the pictures on the wall, just as when the upholsterer
comes he "places" me according to the style of the chairs and the quality
of the carpet, or as when the gourmet comes he judges by the cooking and
the wine. If you give him champagne he reverences you; if hock he puts you
among the commonplace.

In short, we all go through life wearing spectacles coloured by our own
tastes, our own calling, and our own prejudices, measuring our neighbours
by our own tape-measure, summing them up according to our own private
arithmetic. We see subjectively, not objectively; what we are capable of
seeing, not what there is to be seen. It is not wonderful that we make so
many bad guesses at that prismatic thing, the truth.


I see that the _Spectator_, in reviewing a new book on the Tower, says
that, whilst visitors to London usually visit that historic monument,
Londoners themselves rarely visit it. There is, I suppose, a good deal of
truth in this. I know a man who was born in London, and has spent all his
working life in Fleet Street, who confesses that he has never yet been
inside the Tower. It is not because he is lacking in interest. He has been
to St. Peter's at Rome, and he went to Madrid largely to see the Prado. If
the Tower had been on the other side of Europe, I think he would probably
have made a pilgrimage to it, but it has been within a stone's-throw of him
all his life, and therefore he has never found time to visit it.

It is so, more or less, with most of us. Apply the test to yourself or to
your friends who live in London, and you will probably be astonished at the
number of precious things that you and they have not seen--not because they
are so distant, but because they are so near. Have you been to the Record
Office, for example? I haven't, although it is within a couple of hundred
yards of where I work and although I know it is rich in priceless
treasures. I am always going, but "never get," as they say in Lancashire.
It is too handy.

I was talking the other day to a City merchant who lives at Sydenham, and
who has never seen Hampstead Heath. He had been travelling from Sydenham to
the City for a quarter of a century, and has worn the rut so deep that he
cannot get out of it, and has hardly more likelihood of seeing the Northern
Heights than of visiting the mountains of the moon. Yet Hampstead Heath,
which he could see in a morning for the cost of a threepenny ride in the
Tube, is one of the incomparable things of Nature. I doubt whether there is
such a wonderful open space within the limits of any other great city. It
has hints of the seaside and the mountain, the moor and the down in most
exquisite union, and the Spaniards Road is as noble a promenade as you will
find anywhere.

This incuriousness is not a peculiarity of Londoners only. It is a part of
that temporising habit that afflicts most of us. If a thing can be done at
any time, then that is just the thing that never gets done. If my Fleet
Street friend knew that the Tower was going to be blown to pieces by a
Zeppelin to-morrow he would, I am sure, rush off to see it this afternoon.
But he is conscious that he has a whole lifetime to see it in, and so he
will never see it. We are most of us slackers at the bottom, and need the
discipline of a timetable to keep us on the move. If I could put off
writing this article till to-morrow I should easily convince myself that I
hadn't time to write it to-day.

The point is very well expressed in that story of the Pope who received
three American visitors in turn. "How long are you staying?" he said to the
first. "Six months, your Holiness," was the reply. "You will be able to see
something of Rome in that time," said the Pope. The second was staying
three months. "You will see a great deal of Rome in three months," said the
Pope. The third was only staying three weeks. "You'll see all there is to
be seen in Rome in three weeks," was the Pope's comment. He was a good
judge of human nature.

But if we Londoners are no worse than most people we certainly miss more,
for there is no such book of revelation as this which we look at so
differently. I love to walk its streets with those who know its secrets.
Mr. John Burns is such a one. The very stones begin to be eloquent when he
is about. They pour out memories at his invitation as the rock poured out
water at the touch of Moses. The houses tell you who built them and who
lived hi them and where their stone came from. The whole pageant of history
passes before you, and you see the spot where Julius Caesar crossed the
river at Battersea--where else should he cross?--you discover, it may be
for the first time, the exquisite beauty of Waterloo Bridge, and learn what
Canovas said about it. York Gate tells you of the long past when the
Embankment was not, and when great nobles came through that archway to take
the boat for Westminster or the Tower. He makes you dive out of the Strand
to see a beautiful doorway, and out of Fleet Street to admire the Henry
room. Every foot of Whitehall babbles its legends; you see Tyburn as our
forefathers saw it, and George Fox meeting Cromwell there on his return
from Ireland. In Westminster Hall he is at his best. You feel that he knew
Rufus and all the masons who built that glorious fabric. In fact, you
almost feel that he built it himself, so vividly does its story live in his
mind and so strong is his sense of possession.

If I were a Dictator I would make him the Great Showman of London. I would
have him taking us round and inspiring us with something of his own delight
in our astonishing City. We should no longer look upon London then as if it
were a sort of Bradshaw's Guide: we should find it as fascinating as a
fairy tale, as full of human interest as a Canterbury Pilgrimage. We should
never go to Snow Hill without memories of Fagin, or to Eastcheap without
seeing Falstaff swaggering along its pavements. Bread Street would resound
to us with the tread of young Milton, and Southwark with the echoes of
Shakespeare's voice and the jolly laughter of the Pilgrims at the Tabard.
Hogarth would accompany us about Covent Garden, and out of Bolt Court we
should see the lumbering figure of Johnson emerging into his beloved Fleet
Street. We would sit by the fountain in the Temple with Tom Pinch, and take
a wherry to Westminster with Mr. Pepys. We should see London then as a
great spiritual companionship, in which it is our privilege to have a
fleeting part.


Thank heaven! I have caught it.... I am in a corner seat, the compartment
is not crowded, the train is about to start, and for an hour and a half,
while we rattle towards that haven of solitude on the hill that I have
written of aforetime, I can read, or think, or smoke, or sleep, or talk, or
write as I choose. I think I will write, for I am in the humour for
writing. Do you know what it is to be in the humour for writing--to feel
that there is a head of steam somewhere that must blow off? It isn't so
much that you have something you want to say as that you must say
something. And, after all, what does the subject matter? Any peg will do to
hang your hat on. The hat is the thing. That saying of Rameau fits the idea
to perfection. Some one was asking that great composer if he did not find
difficulty in selecting a subject. "Difficulty? A subject?" said Rameau.
"Not at all. One subject is as good as another. Here, bring me the _Dutch

That is how I feel now, as the lights of London fade in our wake and the
fresh air of the country blows in at the window. Subject? Difficulty? Here
bring me the _Dutch Gazette_. But while any subject would serve there is
one of particular interest to me at this moment. It came into my mind as I
ran along the platform just now. It is the really important subject of
catching trains. There are some people who make nothing of catching trains.
They can catch trains with as miraculous an ease as Cinquevalli catches
half-a-dozen billiard-balls. I believe they could catch trains in their
sleep. They are never too early and never too late. They leave home or
office with a quiet certainty of doing the thing that is simply stupefying.
Whether they walk, or take a bus, or call a taxi, it is the same: they do
not hurry, they do not worry, and when they find they are in time and that
there's plenty of room they manifest no surprise.

I have in mind a man with whom I once went walking among the mountains on
the French-Italian border. He was enormously particular about trains and
arrangements the day or the week before we needed them, and he was
wonderfully efficient at the job. But as the time approached for catching a
train he became exasperatingly calm and leisured. He began to take his time
over everything and to concern himself with the arrangements of the next
day or the next week, as though he had forgotten all about the train that
was imminent, or was careless whether he caught it or not. And when at last
he had got to the train, he began to remember things. He would stroll off
to get a time-table or to buy a book, or to look at the engine--especially
to look at the engine. And the nearer the minute for starting the more
absorbed he became in the mechanism of the thing, and the more animated was
his explanation of the relative merits of the P.L.M. engine and the
North-Western engine. He was always given up as lost, and yet always
stepped in as the train was on the move, his manner aggravatingly
unruffled, his talk pursuing the quiet tenor of his thought about engines
or about what we should do the week after next.

Now I am different. I have been catching trains all my life, and all my
life I have been afraid I shouldn't catch them. Familiarity with the habits
of trains cannot get rid of a secret conviction that their aim is to give
me the slip if it can be done. No faith in my own watch can affect my
doubts as to the reliability of the watch of the guard or the station clock
or whatever deceitful signal the engine-driver obeys. Moreover, I am
oppressed with the possibilities of delay on the road to the station. They
crowd in on me like the ghosts into the tent of King Richard. There may be
a block in the streets, the bus may break down, the taxi-driver may be
drunk or not know the way, or think I don't know the way, and take me round
and round the squares as Tony Lumpkin drove his mother round and round the
pond, or--in fact, anything may happen, and it is never until I am safely
inside (as I am now) that I feel really happy.

Now, of course this is a very absurd weakness. I ought to be ashamed to
confess it. I am ashamed to confess it. And that is the advantage of
writing under a pen name. You can confess anything you like, and nobody
thinks any the worse of you. You ease your own conscience, have a gaol
delivery of your failings--look them, so to speak, straight in the face,
and pass sentence on them--and still enjoy the luxury of not being found
out. You have all the advantages of a conviction without the nuisance of
the penalty. Decidedly, this writing under a pen name is a great easement
of the soul.

It reminds me of an occasion on which I was climbing with a famous rock
climber. I do not mind confessing (over my pen name) that I am not good on
rocks. My companion on the rope kept addressing me at critical moments by
the name of Saunders. My name, I rejoice to say, is not Saunders, and he
knew it was not Saunders, but he had to call me something, and in the
excitement of the moment could think of nothing but Saunders. Whenever I
was slow in finding a handhold or foothold, there would come a stentorian
instruction to Saunders to feel to the right or the left, or higher up or
lower down. And I remember that I found it a great comfort to know that it
was not I who was so slow, but that fellow Saunders. I seemed to see him as
a laborious, futile person who would have been better employed at home
looking after his hens. And so in these articles, I seem again to be
impersonating the ineffable Saunders, of whom I feel at liberty to speak
plainly. I see before me a long vista of self-revelations, the real title
of which ought to be "The Showing Up of Saunders."

But to return to the subject. This train-fever is, of course, only a
symptom. It proceeds from that apprehensiveness of mind that is so common
and incurable an affliction. The complaint has been very well satirised by
one who suffered from it. "I have had many and severe troubles in my life,"
he said, "_but most of them never happened_." That is it. We people who
worry about the trains and similar things live in a world of imaginative
disaster. The heavens are always going to fall on us. We look ahead, like
Christian, and see the lions waiting to devour us, and when we find they
are only poor imitation lions, our timorous imagination is not set at rest,
but invents other lions to scare us out of our wits.

And yet intellectually we know that these apprehensions are worthless.
Experience has taught us that it is not the things we fear that come to
pass, but the things of which we do not dream. The bolt comes from the
blue. We take elaborate pains to guard our face, and get a thump in the
small of the back. We propose to send the fire-engine to Ulster, and turn
to see Europe in flames. Cowper put the case against all "fearful saints"
(and sinners) when he said:

    The clouds ye so much dread
    Are big with mercy, and will break
    With blessings on your head.

It is the clouds you don't dread that swamp you. Cowper knew, for he too
was an apprehensive mortal, and it is only the apprehensive mortal who
really knows the full folly of his apprehensiveness.

Now, save once, I have never lost a train in my life. The exception was at
Calais when the Brussels express did, in defiance of the time-table, really
give me and others the slip, carrying with it my bag containing my clothes
and the notes of a most illuminating lecture. I chased that bag all through
Northern France and Belgium, inquiring at wayside stations, wiring to
junctions, hunting among the mountains of luggage at Lille.

It was at Lille that---But the train is slowing down. There is the slope of
the hillside, black against the night sky, and among the trees I see the
glimmer of a light beckoning me as the lonely lamp in Greenhead Ghyll used
to beckon Wordsworth's Michael. The night is full of stars, the landscape
glistens with a late frost: it will be a jolly two miles' tramp to that
beacon on the hill.


I sometimes think that growing old must be like the end of a tiring day.
You have worked hard, or played hard, toiled over the mountain under the
burning sun, and now the evening has come and you sit at ease at the inn
and ask for nothing but a pipe, a quiet talk, and so to bed. "And the
morrow's uprising to deeds shall be sweet." You have had your fill of
adventure for the day. The morning's passion for experience and possession
is satisfied, and your ambitions have shrunk to the dimensions of an easy

And so I think it is with that other evening when the late blackbird is
fluting its last vesper song and the toys of the long day are put aside,
and the plans of new conquests are waste-paper. I remember hearing Sir
Edward Grey saying once how he looked forward to the time when he would
burn all his Blue-books and mulch his rose-trees with the ashes. And Mr.
Belloc has given us a very jolly picture of the way in which he is going to
spend his evening:

    If I ever become a rich man,
      Or if ever I grow to be old,
    I will build a house with deep thatch
      To shelter me from the cold,
    And there shall the Sussex songs be sung
      And the story of Sussex told.
    I will hold my house in the high woods
      Within a walk of the sea,
    And the men that were boys when I was a boy
      Shall sit and drink with me.

There is Mr. Birrell, too, who, as I have remarked elsewhere, once said
that when he retired he would take his modest savings into the country "and
really read Boswell."

These are typical, I suppose, of the dreams that most of us cultivate about
old age. I, too, look forward to a cottage under the high beech woods, to a
well-thumbed Boswell, and to a garden where I shall mulch my rose-trees and
watch the buds coming with as rich a satisfaction as any that the hot
battle of the day has given me. But there is another thing I shall ask for.
On the lower shelf of the bookcase, close to the Boswell, there will have
to be a box of chessmen and a chessboard, and the men who were boys when I
was a boy, and who come and sit with me, will be expected after supper to
set out the chessmen as instinctively as they fill their pipes. And then
for an hour, or it may be two, we shall enter into that rapturous realm
where the knight prances and the bishop lurks with his shining sword and
the rooks come crashing through in double file. The fire will sink and we
shall not stir it, the clock will strike and we shall not hear it, the pipe
will grow cold and we shall forget to relight it.

Blessed be the memory of him who gave the world this immortal game. For the
price of a taxicab ride or a visit to the cinema, you may, thanks to that
unknown benefactor, possess a world of illimitable adventures. When Alice
passed through the Looking Glass into Wonderland, she did not more
completely leave the common day behind than when you sit down before the
chessboard with a stout foe before you and pass out into this magic realm
of bloodless combat. I have heard unhappy people say that it is "dull."
Dull, my dear sir or madam? Why, there is no excitement on this earth
comparable with this kingly game. I have had moments at Lord's, I admit,
and at the Oval. But here is a game which is all such moments, where you
are up to the eyes in plots and ambuscades all the time, and the fellow in
front of you is up to his eyes in them, too. What agonies as you watch his
glance wandering over the board. Does he suspect that trap? Does he see the
full meaning of that offer of the knight which seems so tempting?... His
hand touches the wrong piece and your heart thumps a Te Deum. Is he?... yes
... no ... he pauses ... he removes his hand from the piece ... oh,
heavens, his eye is wandering back to that critical pawn ... ah, light is
dawning on him ... you see it illuminating his face as he bends over the
board, you hear a murmur of revelation issuing from his lips ... he is
drawing back from the precipice ... your ambuscade is in vain and now you
must start plotting and scheming all over again.

Nay, say it is anything you like, but do not say it is dull. And do not,
please, suggest that I am talking of it as an old man's game only. I have
played it since I was a boy, forty years ago, and I cannot say at what age
I have loved it best. It is a game for all ages, all seasons, all sexes,
all climates, for summer evenings or winter nights, for land or for sea. It
is the very water of Lethe for sorrow or disappointment, for there is no
oblivion so profound as that which it offers for your solace. And what
satisfaction is there comparable with a well-won "mate"? It is different
from any other joy that games have to offer. There is a swift delight in a
late "cut" or a ball that spread-eagles the other fellow's wicket; there is
a delicate pleasure in a long jenny neatly negotiated, in a drive that
sails straight from the tee towards the flag on the green, in a hard return
that hits the back line of the tennis court. But a perfect "mate"
irradiates the mind with the calm of indisputable things. It has the
absoluteness of mathematics, and it gives you victory ennobled by the sense
of intellectual struggle and stern justice. There are "mates" that linger
in the memory like a sonnet of Keats.

It is medicine for the sick mind or the anxious spirit. We need a means of
escape from the infinite, from the maze of this incalculable life, from the
burden and the mystery of a world where all things "go contrairy," as Mrs.
Gummidge used to say. Some people find the escape in novels that move
faithfully to that happy ending which the tangled skein of life denies us.
Some find it in hobbies where the mind is at peace in watching processes
that are controllable and results that with patience are assured. But in
the midst of this infinity I know no finite world so complete and
satisfying as that I enter when I take down the chessmen and marshal my
knights and squires on the chequered field. It is then I am truly happy. I
have closed the door on the infinite and inexplicable and have come into a
kingdom where justice reigns, where cause and effect follow "as the night
the day," and where, come victory or come defeat, the sky is always clear
and the joy unsullied.


We spread our lunch on the crown of one of those great billows of the downs
that stand along the sea. Down in the hollows tiny villages or farmsteads
stood in the midst of clumps of trees, and the cultivated lands looked like
squares of many-coloured carpets, brown carpets and yellow carpets and
green carpets, with the cloud shadows passing over them and moving like
battalions up the gracious slopes of the downs beyond. A gleam of white in
the midst of one of the brown fields caught the eye. It seemed like a patch
of snow that had survived the rigours of the English summer, but suddenly
it rose as if blown by the wind and came towards us in tiny flakes of white
that turned to seagulls. They sailed high above us uttering that querulous
cry that seems to have in it all the unsatisfied hunger of the sea.

In this splendid spaciousness the familiar forms seem incredibly
diminutive. That little speck moving across one of the brown carpets is a
ploughman and his team. That white stream that looks like milk flowing over
the green carpet is a flock of sheep running before the sheep-dog to
another pasture. And the ear no less than the eye learns to translate the
faint suggestions into known terms. At first it seems that, save for the
larks that spring up here and there with their cascades of song, the whole
of this immense vacancy is soundless. But listen. There is "the wind on the
heath, brother." And below that, and only audible when you have attuned
your ear to the silence, is the low murmur of the sea.

You begin to grow interested in probing the secrecies of this great
stillness. That? Ah, that was the rumble of some distant railway train
going to Brighton or Eastbourne. But what was that? Through the voices of
the wind and the sea that we have learned to distinguish we catch another
sound, curiously hollow and infinitely remote, not vaguely pervasive like
the murmur of the sea, but round and precise like the beating of a drum
somewhere on the confines of the earth.

"The guns!"

Yes, the guns. Across fifty miles of sea and fifty miles of land the sound
is borne to us as we sit in the midst of this great peace of earth and sky.
When once detached, as it were, from the vague murmurs of the breathing air
it becomes curiously insistent. It throbs on the ear almost like the
beating of a pulse--baleful, sepulchral, like the strokes of doom. We begin
counting them, wondering whether they are the guns of the enemy or our own,
speculating as to the course of the battle.

We have become spectators of the great tragedy, and the throb of the guns
touches the scene with new suggestions. Those cloud shadows drifting across
the valley and up the slopes of the downs on the other side take on the
shapes of massed battalions. The apparent solitude does not destroy the
impression. There is no solitude so complete to the outward eye as that
which broods over the country when the armies face each other in the grips
of death. I have looked from the mountain of Rheims across just such a
valley as this. Twenty miles of battle front lay before me, and in all that
great field of vision there was not a moving thing visible. There were no
cattle in the fields and no ploughmen following their teams. Roads marched
across the landscape, but they were empty roads. It was as though life had
vanished from the earth. Yet I knew that all over that great valley the
earth was crawling with life and full of immense and sinister
secrecies--the galleries of the sappers, the trenches and redoubts, the
hiding-places of great guns, the concealed observations of the watchers.
Yes, it was just such a scene as this. The only difference was that you had
not to put your ear to the ground to catch the thunder of the guns.

But the voice of war that has broken in upon our peace fades when we are
once more on the move over the downs, and the visions it has brought with
it seem unreal and phantasmal in their serene and sunlit world. The shadows
turn to mere shadows again, and we tread the wild thyme and watch the
spiral of the lark with careless rapture. We dip down into a valley to a
village hidden among the trees, without fear or thought of bomb-proof
shelters and masked batteries, and there in a cottage with the roses over
the porch we take rest and counsel over the teacups. Then once more on to
the downs. The evening shadows are stretching across the valleys, but on
these spacious heights the sunshine still rests. Some one starts singing
that jolly old song, "The Farmer's Boy," and soon the air resounds to the

    "To plough and sow, to reap and mow,
    And be a farmer's boy-o-o-o-oy,
      And be a farmer's boy."

No one recalls the throbbing of the guns or stops to catch it from amidst
the murmurs of the air. This--this is the reality. That was only an echo
from a bad dream from which we have awakened.

And when an hour or two later we reach the little village by the sea we
rush for the letters that await us with eager curiosity. There is silence
in the room as each of us devours the budget of news awaiting us. I am
vaguely conscious as I read that some one has left the room with a sense of
haste. I go up to my bedroom, and when I return the sitting-room is empty
save for one figure. I see at a glance that something has happened.

"Robert has been killed in battle," he says. How near the sound of the guns
had come!


A day or two ago a soldier, returned from the front, was loudly inveighing
in a railway carriage against the bumptiousness and harshness of the
captain under whom he had served. "Let me git 'im over 'ere," he said, "and
I'll lay 'im out--see if I don't. I've 'ad enough of 'is bullyin'. It ain't
even as if 'e was a decent figure of a man. 'E don't stand more'n
five-feet-two. I could knock 'im out with one 'and, and I'd 'ave done it
before now only you mustn't out there. If you did you'd get a pound o' lead
pumped into you."

Now, I dare say little five-feet-two deserved all that was said of him, and
all he will get by way of punishment; but the point about the remark that
interests me is the contempt it revealed for the man of small stature.
There's no doubt that a little man starts with a grievance, with an
aggravating sense of an inferiority that has nothing to do with his real
merits. I know the feeling. For myself, I am just the right height--no
more, no less. I am five-feet-nine-and-a-half, and I wouldn't be a shade
different either way. I dare say that is the general experience. Every one
feels that his own is really the ideal standard. It is so in most things.
Aristotle said that a man ought to marry at thirty-eight. I think he said
it because he himself married at thirty-eight. Now, I married at
twenty-three, and my opinion is that the right age at which to get
married--if you are of the marrying sort--is twenty-three. In short,
whatever we do or whatever we are, we have a deep-rooted conviction that we
are "it." And it is well that it should be so. Without this innocent
self-satisfaction there would be a lot more misery in the world.

But though I am the perfect height of five-feet-nine-and-a-half, I always
feel depressed and out-classed in the presence of a man, say of
six-feet-two. He may be an ass, but still I have to look up to him in a
physical sense, and the mere act of looking up seems to endow him with a
moral advantage. I feel a grievance at the outrageous length of the fellow,
and find I want to make him fully understand that though I am only
five-feet-nine-and-a-half in stature, my intellectual measurement is about
ten feet, and that I am looking down on him much more than he is looking
down on me.

It is this irksome self-consciousness that is the permanent affliction of
the physically small man. Indeed, it is the affliction of any one who has
any physical peculiarity--a hare-lip, for example. Byron raged all his life
against his club-foot, and doubtless that malformation was largely the
cause of his savage contempt for a world that went about on two
well-matched feet. I am sure that if I had a strawberry mark on the face I
should never think about anything else. If I talked to any one I should
find him addressing his words to my strawberry mark. I should feel that he
was deliberately and offensively dwelling on my disfigurement, saying to
himself how glad he was he hadn't a strawberry mark and what a miserable
chap I must be with such an article. He would not be doing anything of the
sort, of course. He would probably be doing his best to keep his eyes off
the strawberry mark. But I shouldn't think so, for I should be in that
unhealthy condition of mind in which the whole world would seem to revolve
around my strawberry mark.

And so with the small man. He lives in perpetual consciousness that the
world is talking over his head, not because there is less sense in his head
than in other heads, but simply because his legs are shorter than the
popular size of legs. He is either overlooked altogether, or he is looked
down upon, and in either case he is miserable. Occasionally his shortage
lays him open to public ridicule. A barrister whom I knew--a man with a
large head, a fair-sized body, and legs not worth mentioning--once rose to
address a judge before whom he had not hitherto appeared. He had hardly
opened his mouth when the judge remarked severely: "It is usual for counsel
to stand in addressing the Court." "My lord," said the barrister, "I am

Now can you imagine an agony more bitter than that to a sensitive man? I
daresay he lost his case, for he must certainly have lost his head. You
cannot cross-examine a witness effectively when you are thinking all the
time about your miserable legs. And even if he won his case it probably
gave him no comfort, for he would feel that the jury had given their
verdict out of pity for the "little 'un." It is this self-consciousness
that is the cause of that assertiveness and vanity that are often
characteristic of the little man. He is probably not more assertive or more
vain than the general run of us, but we can keep those defects dark, so to
speak. He, on the other hand, has to go through life on tip-toe, carrying
his head as high as his neck will lift it, and saying, as it were: "Hi! you
long-legged fellows, don't forget me!" And this very reasonable anxiety to
have "a place in the sun" gives him the appearance of being aggressive and
vain. He is only trying to get level with the long-legged people, just as
the short-sighted man tries to get level with the long-sighted man by
wearing spectacles.

The discomfort of the very tall man is less humiliating than that of the
small man, but it is also very real. He is just as much removed from
contact with the normal world, and he has the added disadvantage of being
horribly conspicuous. He can never forget himself, for all heads look up at
him as he passes. He doesn't fit any doorway; he can't buy ready-made
clothes; if he sleeps in a strange bed he has to leave his feet outside;
and in the railway carriage or a bus he has to tie his legs into
uncomfortable knots to keep them out of the way. In short, he finds himself
a nuisance in a world made for people of five-feet-nine-and-a-half. But he
has one advantage over the small man. He does not have to ask for notice.
The result is that while the little man often seems vain and pushful, the
giant usually is very tame, and modest, and unobtrusive. The little man
wants to be seen: the giant wants not to be seen.

And so it comes about that our virtues and our failings have more to do
with the length of our legs than we think.


The other day I met in the street a young lady who, but yesterday, seemed
to me a young girl. She had in the interval taken that sudden leap from
youth to maturity which is always so wonderful and perplexing. When I had
seen her last there would have been no impropriety in giving her a kiss in
the street. Now I should as little have thought of offering to kiss her as
of whistling to the Archbishop of Canterbury if I had seen that dignitary
passing on the other side of the road. She had taken wing and flown from
the nest. She was no longer a child: she was a personage. I found myself
trying (a little clumsily) to adapt my conversation to her new status, and
when I left her I raised my hat a trifle more elaborately than is my

But the thing that struck me most about her, and the thing that has set me
writing about her, was this: I noticed that her face was painted and
powdered. Now if there is one thing I abominate above all others it is a
painted face. On the stage, of course, it is right and proper. The stage is
a world of make-believe, and it is the business of the lady of sixty to
give you the impression that she is a sweet young thing of seventeen. There
is no affectation in this. It is her vocation to be young, and she follows
it as willingly or unwillingly as you or I follow our respective callings.
At the moment, for example, I would do anything to escape writing this
article, for the sun is shining in the bluest of April skies and the bees
are foraging in the orchard, and everything calls me outside to the woods
and hills. But I must bake my tale of bricks first with as much pretence of
enjoying the job as possible. And in the same way, and perhaps sometimes
with the same distaste, the Juliet of middle age puts on the bloom of the
Juliet of seventeen.

But that any one, not compelled to do it for a living, should paint the
face or dye the hair is to me unintelligible. It is like attempting to pass
off a counterfeit coin. It is either a confession that one is so ashamed of
one's face that one dare not let it be seen in public, or it is an attempt
to deceive the world into accepting you as something other than you are. It
has the same effect on the observer that those sham oak beams and uprights
that are so popular on the front of suburban houses have. They are not real
beams or uprights. They do not support anything, or fill any useful
function. They are only a thin veneer of oak stuck on to pretend that they
are the real thing. They are a detestable pretence, and I would rather live
in a hovel than in a house tricked out with such vulgar deceits that do not

And in the same way the paint on the face and the dye on the hair never
really achieve their object. If they did they would not cease to be a sham,
but at least they would not be a transparent sham. There are, of course,
degrees of failure. Mrs. Gamp's curls were so obviously false that they
could not be said to be intended to deceive. On the other hand, the great
lady who employs the most scientific face-makers in order to defeat the
encroachments of Time does very nearly succeed. But her failure is really
more tragic than that of Mrs. Gamp. How tragic I realised one day when I
was introduced to a distinguished "society" woman, whose youthful beauty
was popularly supposed to have survived to old age. At a distance she did
indeed seem to be a miracle of girlish loveliness. But when I came close to
her and saw the old, bleared eyes in the midst of that beautifully
enamelled face, the shock had in it something akin to horror. It was as
though Death himself was peeping out triumphantly through the painted mask.
And in that moment I seemed to see all the pitiful years of struggle that
this unhappy woman had devoted to the pretence of never growing older. Her
pink and white cheeks were not a thing of beauty. They were only a grim
jest on herself, on her ambitions, her ideals, her poor little soul.

Why should we be so much afraid of wrinkles and grey hairs? In their place
they can be as beautiful as the freshest glow on the face of youth. There
is a beauty of the sunrise and a beauty of the sunset. And of the two the
beauty of the sunset is the deeper and more spiritual. There are some faces
that seem to grow in loveliness as the snows fall around them, and the acid
of Time bites the gracious lines deeper. The dimple has become a crease,
but it is none the less beautiful, for in that crease is the epic of a
lifetime. To smooth out the crease, to cover it with the false hue of
youth, is to turn the epic into a satire.

And if the painted face of age is horrible the painted face of youth is
disgusting. It is artistically bad and spiritually worse. It is the mark of
a debased taste and a shallow mind. It is like painting the lily or adding
a perfume to the violet, and has on one the unpleasant effect that is made
by the heavy odours in which the same type of person drenches herself, so
that to pass her is like passing through a sickly fog. These things are the
symptom of a diseased mind--a mind that has lost the healthy love of truth
and nature, and has taken refuge in falsities and shams. The paint on the
face does not stop at the cheeks. It stains the soul.


I was putting on my boots just now in what the novelists call "a brown
study." There was no urgent reason for putting on my boots. I was not going
out, and my slippers were much more comfortable. But something had to be
done. I wanted a subject for an article. Now if you are accustomed to
writing articles for a living, you will know that sometimes the difficulty
is not writing the article, but choosing a subject. It is not that subjects
are few: it is that they are so many. It is not poverty you suffer from,
but an embarrassment of riches. You are like Buridan's ass. That wretched
creature starved between two bundles of hay, because he could not make up
his mind which bundle to turn to first. And in that he was not unlike many
human beings. There was an eighteenth-century statesman, for example, who
used to find it so difficult to make a choice that he would stand at his
door looking up the street and down the street, and finally go inside
again, because he couldn't decide whether to go up or down. He would stay
indoors all the morning considering whether he should ride out or walk out,
and he would spend all the afternoon regretting that he had done neither
one nor the other.

I have always had a great deal of sympathy with that personage, for I share
his temperamental indecision. I hate making up my mind. If I go into a shop
to choose a pair of trousers my infirmity of purpose grows with every new
sample that is shown me, and finally I choose the wrong thing in a fit of
desperation. If the question is a place for a holiday, all the artifices of
my family cannot extract from me a decided preference for any place in
particular. Bournemouth? Certainly. How jolly that walk along the sands by
Poole Harbour to Studland and over the hills to Swanage. But think of the
Lake District ... and North Wales ... and Devon ... and Cornwall ... and
... I do not so much make decisions as drift into them or fall into them. I
am what you might call an Eleventh Hour Man. I take a header just as the
clock is about to strike for the last time.

This common failing of indecision is not necessarily due to intellectual
laziness. It may be due, as in the case of Goschen, to too clear a vision
of all the aspects of a subject. "Goschen," said a famous First Sea Lord,
"was the cleverest man we ever had at the Admiralty, and the worst
administrator. He saw so many sides to a question that we could never get
anything done." A sense of responsibility, too, is a severe check on
action. I doubt whether any one who has dealt with affairs ever made up his
mind with more painful questionings than Lord Morley. I have heard him say
how burdensome he found the India Office, because day by day he had to make
irrevocable decisions. A certain adventurous recklessness is necessary for
the man of affairs. Joseph Chamberlain had that quality. Mr. Churchill has
it to-day. If it is controlled by high motives and a wide vision it is an
incomparable gift. If it is a mere passion for having one's own way it is
only the gift of the gambler.

But, you ask, what has this to do with putting on my boots? It is a
reasonable question. I will tell you. For an hour I had paced my room in my
slippers in search of a subject. I had looked out of the window over the
sunlit valley, watched the smoke of a distant train vanishing towards the
west, observed the activities of the rooks in a neighbouring elm. I had
pared my nails several times with absent-minded industry, and sharpened
every pencil I had on me with elaborate care. But the more I pared my nails
and the more I sharpened my pencils the more perplexed I grew as to the
theme for an article. Subjects crowded on me, "not single spies, but in
battalions." They jostled each other for preference, they clamoured for
notice as I have seen the dock labourers clamouring for a job at the London
docks. They held out their hands and cried, "Here am I: take me." And,
distracted by their importunities and starving in the midst of plenty, I
fished in my pocket for a pencil I had not sharpened. There wasn't one

It was at this moment that I remembered my boots. Yes, I would certainly
put on my boots. There was nothing like putting on one's boots for helping
one to make up one's mind. The act of stooping changed the current of the
blood. You saw things in a new light--like the man who looked between his
legs at Bolton Abbey, and cried to his friend: "Oh, look this way; it's
extraordinary what a fresh view you get." So I fetched my boots and sat
down to put them on.

The thing worked like a charm. For in my preoccupied condition I picked up
my right boot first. Then mechanically I put it down and seized the left
boot. "Now why," said I, "did I do that?" And then the fact flashed on me
that all my life I had been putting on my left boot first. If you had asked
me five minutes before which boot I put on first, I should have said that
there was no first about it; yet now I found I was in the grip of a habit
so fixed that the attempt to put on my right boot first affected me like
the scraping of a harsh pencil on a slate. The thing couldn't be done. The
whole rhythm of habit would be put out of joint. I became interested. How,
I wondered, do I put on my jacket? I rose, took it off, found that my right
arm slipped automatically into its sleeve, tried the reverse process,
discovered that it was as difficult as an unfamiliar gymnastic operation.
Why, said I, I am a mere bundle of little habits of which I am unconscious.
This thing must be looked into. And then came into my mind that fascinating
book of Samuel Butler's on _Life and Habit_. Yes, certainly, here was a
subject that would "go." I dismissed all the importunate beggars who had
been clamouring in my mind, took out a pencil, seized a writing pad, and
sat down to write on "The Force of Habit."

And here I am. I have got to the end of my article without reaching my
subject. I have looked up and down the street so long that it is time to go


I saw in a newspaper a few days ago some pictures of the ruins of the Cloth
Hall and the Cathedral at Ypres. They were excellent photographs, but the
impression they left on my mind was of the futility even of photography to
convey any real sense of that astonishing scene of desolation which was
once the beautiful city of Ypres. We talk of Ypres as if it were still a
city in being, in which men trade, and children play, and women go about
their household duties. In a vague way we feel that it is so. In a vague
way I felt that it was so myself until I entered it and found myself in the
presence of the ghost of a city.

How wonderful is the solitude and the silence in the midst of which it
stands like the ruin of some ancient and forgotten civilisation. Far behind
you have left the hurry and tumult of the great armies--every village
seething with a strange and tumultuous life, soldiers bargaining with the
women for potatoes and cabbages in the marketplace, boiling their pots in
the fields, playing football by the way side, mending the roads, marching,
camping, feeding, sleeping; officers flying along the roads on horseback or
in motorcars, vast processions of lorries coiling their way over the
landscape, or standing at rest with their death-dealing burdens while the
men take their mid-day meal; giant "caterpillars" dragging great guns along
the highway. Everywhere the sense of a fearful urgency, everywhere the
feeling of a brooding and awful presence that overshadows the heavens with
a cosmic menace. It is as though you are living on the slopes of some vast
volcano whose eruptions may at any moment submerge all this phantasmal life
in a sea of molten lava. And, hark! through the sounds of the roads and the
streets, the chaffering of the market-place, the rush of motor-cars, the
rhythmic tramp of men, there comes a dull, hollow roar, as from the mouth
of a volcano itself.

As you advance the scene changes. The movement becomes more feverish, more
intense. The very breath of the volcano seems to fan your cheek, and the
hollow roar has become near and plangent. It is no longer like the breaking
of great seas on a distant shore: it is like thunder rending the sky above
you. A little further, and another subtle change is observable. On either
hand the land has become solitary and unkempt. All the life of the fields
has vanished and the soldiers are in undisputed possession. Then even the
soldiers seem left behind, and you enter the strange solitude where the war
is waged. Before you rises the great mound of Ypres. In the distance it
looks like a living city with quaintly broken skyline, but as you approach
you see that it is only the tomb of a city standing there desolate and
shattered in the midst of a universal desolation.

It is midday as you pass through its streets, but there is no moving thing
visible amidst the ruins. The very spirit of loneliness is about you--not
the invigorating loneliness of the mountain tops, but the sad loneliness of
the grave. I have stood upon the ruins of Carthage, but even there I did
not feel the same sense of solitude that I felt as I walked the streets of
Ypres. There, at least, the birds were singing above you, and the Arab sat
beside his camel on the grass in the sunshine. Here nature itself seems
blasted by some dreadful flame of death. The streets preserve their
contours, but on either side the houses stand like gaunt skeletons,
roofless and shattered, fronts knocked out, floors smashed through or
hanging in fragments, bedsteads tumbling down through the broken ceiling of
the sitting-room, pictures askew on the tottering walls, household
treasures a forlorn wreckage, hats still hanging on the hat-pegs, the
table-cloth still laid, the fireplace lustreless with the ashes of the last

And in the centre of this scene of utter misery the Cathedral and the Cloth
Hall, still towering above the general desolation, sublime even in their
ruin, the roofs gone, the interiors a heap of rubbish--the rubbish of
priceless things--the outer walls battered and broken, but standing as they
have stood for centuries. Most wonderful of all, as I saw it, a single
pinnacle of the Cloth Hall still standing above the wreck, slender and
exquisitely carven, pointing like an accusing finger to the eternal
tribunal. For long the Germans had been shelling that Finger of Ypres. They
shelled it the afternoon I was there and filled the market-place with great
masses of masonry from the walls. But they shelled it in vain, and as I
left Ypres in the twilight, when the thunder of the guns had ceased, and
looked back on the great mound of "the city that was," I saw above the
ruins the finger still pointing heavenward.

But if the solitude of Ypres is memorable, the silence is terrible. It is
the silence of imminent and breathless things, full of strange secrets,
thrilling with a fearful expectation, broken by sudden and shattering
voices that speak and then are still--voices that seem to come out of the
bowels of the earth near at hand and are answered by voices more distant,
the vicious hiss of the shrapnel, the crisp rattle of the machine-guns, the
roar of "Mother," that sounds like an invisible express train thundering
through the sky above you. The solitude and the silence assume an
oppressive significance. They are only the garment of the mighty mystery
that envelops you. You feel that these dead walls have ears, eyes, and most
potent voices, that you are not in the midst of a great loneliness, but
that all around the earth is full of most tremendous secrets. And then you
realise that the city that is as dead as Nineveh to the outward eye is the
most vital city in the world.

One day it will rise from its ashes, its streets will resound once more
with jest and laughter, its fires will be relit, and its chimneys will send
forth the cheerful smoke. But its glory throughout all the ages will be the
memory of the days when it stood a mound of ruins on the plain with its
finger pointing in mute appeal to heaven against the infamies of men.


The wind had dropped, and on the hillside one seemed to be in a vast and
soundless universe. Far down in the valley a few lights glimmered in the
general darkness, but apart from these one might have fancied oneself alone
in all the world. Then from some remote farmstead there came the sound of a
dog barking. It rang through the night like the distant shout of a friend.
It seemed to fill the whole arch of heaven with its reverberations and to
flood the valley with the sense of companionship. It brought me news from
the farm. The day's tasks were over, the cattle were settled for the night,
the household were at their evening meal, and the watch-dog had resumed his
nocturnal charge. His bark seemed to have in it the music of immemorial
things--of labour and rest, and all the cheerful routine and comradeship of
the fields.

It is only in the country that one enjoys the poetry of natural sounds. A
dog barking in a suburban street is merely a disturber of the peace, and I
know of nothing more forlorn than the singing of a caged bird in, let us
say, Tottenham Court Road. Wordsworth's Poor Susan found a note of
enchantment in the song of the thrush that sang at the corner of Wood
Street, off Cheapside. But it was only an enchantment that passed into
deeper sadness as the vision of the green pastures which it summoned up
faded into the drab reality:

                 ... they fade,
    The mist and the river, the hill and the shade:
    The stream will not flow and the hill will not rise,
    And the colours have passed away from her eyes.

There is something in the life of towns which seems to make the voices of
the country alien and sorrowful. They are lost in the tumult, and, if
heard, sound only like a reproach against a fretful world, an echo from
some Eden from which we have been exiled.

In the large silence of the countryside sounds have a significance and
intimacy that they cannot have where life is crowded with activities and
interests. In a certain sense life here is richer because of its
poverty--because of its freedom from the thousand distractions that exhaust
its emotion and scatter its energies. Because we have little we discover
much in that little.

Take the sound of church bells. In the city it is hardly more pleasing than
the song of the bird in Tottenham Court Road. It does not raise my spirits,
it only depresses them. But when I heard the sound of the bells come up
from the valley last evening, it seemed like the bringer of a personal
message of good tidings. It had in it the rapture of a thousand
memories--memories of summer eves and snowy landscapes, of vanished faces
and forgotten scenes. It was at once stimulating and calming, and spoke
somehow the language of enduring and incommunicable things.

It is, I suppose, the associations of sounds rather than their actual
quality which make them pleasant or unpleasant. The twitter of sparrows is,
in itself, as prosaic a sound as there is in nature, but I never hear it on
waking without a feeling of inward peace. It seems to link me with some
incredibly remote and golden morning, and with a child in a cradle waking
for the first time to light and sound and consciousness.

And so with that engaging ruffian of the feathered world, the rook. It has
no more music in its voice than a tin kettle; but what jollier sound is
there on a late February morning than the splendid hubbub of a rookery when
the slovenly nests are being built in the naked and swaying branches of the
elms? Betsy Trotwood was angry with David Copperfield's father because he
called his house Blunderstone Rookery. "Rookery, indeed!" she said. It is
almost the only point of disagreement I have with that admirable woman. Not
to love a rookery is _prima facie_ evidence against you. I have heard of
men who have bought estates because of the rookery, and I have loved them
for their beautiful extravagance. I am sure I should have liked David
Copperfield's father from that solitary incident recorded of him. He was
not a very practical or business-like man, I fear; but people who love
rookeries rarely are. You cannot expect both the prose and the poetry of
life for your endowment.

How much the feeling created by sound depends upon the setting may be
illustrated by the bagpipes. The bagpipes in a London street is a thing for
ribald laughter, but the bagpipes in a Highland glen is a thing to stir the
blood, and make the mind thrill to memories of

    Old, unhappy, far off things.
    And battles long ago.

It is so even with the humble concertina. That instrument is to me the last
expression of musical depravity. It is the torture which Dante would
provide for me in the last circle of Hell. But the sound of a concertina on
a country road on a dark night is as cheerful a noise as I want to hear.
But just as Omar loved the sound of a _distant_ drum, so distance is an
essential part of the enchantment of my concertina.

And of all pleasant sounds what is there to excel the music of the hammer
and the anvil in the smithy at the entrance to the village? No wonder the
children love to stand at the open door and see the burning sparks that fly
and hear the bellows roar. I would stand at the open door myself if I had
the pluck, for I am as much a child as any one when the hammer and the
anvil are playing their primeval music. It is the oldest song of humanity
played with the most ancient instruments. Here we are at the very beginning
of our story--here we stand in the very dawn of things. What lineage so
noble as that of the smith? What task so ancient and so honourable? With
such tools the first smith smote music out of labour, and began the
conquest of things to the accompaniment of joyous sounds. In those sounds I
seem to hear the whole burden of the ages.

I think I will take another stroll down to the village. It will take me
past the smithy.


I was in a company the other evening in which the talk turned upon the
familiar theme of the Government and its fitness for the job in hand. The
principal assailant was what I should call a strenuous person. He seemed to
suggest that if the conduct of the war had been in the hands of
earnest-minded persons--like himself, for example--the business would have
been over long ago.

"What can you expect," he said, the veins at the side of his forehead
swelling with strenuousness, "from men who only play at war? Why, I was
told by a man who was dining with Asquith not long ago that he was talking
all the time about Georgian poetry, and that apparently he knew more about
the subject than anybody at the table. Fiddling while Rome is burning, I
call it."

"Did you want him to hold a Cabinet Council over the dinner-table?" I
asked. The strenuous person killed me with a look of scorn.

But all the same, so far from being shocked to learn that Mr. Asquith can
talk about poetry in these days, the fact, if it be a fact, increases my
confidence in his competence for his task. I should suffer no pain even if
I heard that he took a hand of cards after dinner, and I hope he takes care
to get a game of golf at the week-end. I like men who have great
responsibilities to carry their burdens easily, and to relax the bow as
often as possible. The bigger the job you have in hand the more necessary
it is to cultivate the habit of detachment. You want to walk away from the
subject sometimes, as the artist walks away from his canvas to get a better
view of his work. I never feel sure of an article until I have put it away,
forgotten it, and read it again with a fresh mind, disengaged from the
subject and seeing it objectively rather than subjectively. It is the
affliction of the journalist that he has to face the light before he has
had time to withdraw to a critical distance and to see his work with the
detachment of the public.

There is nothing more mistaken than the view that because a thing is
serious you must be thinking about it seriously all the time. If you do
that you cease to be the master of your subject: the subject becomes the
master of you. That is what is the matter with the fanatic. He is so
obsessed by his idea that he cannot relate it to other ideas, and loses all
sense of proportion, and often all sense of sanity. I have seen more
unrelieved seriousness in a lunatic asylum than anywhere else.

The key to success is to come to a task with a fresh mind. That was the
meaning of the very immoral advice given by a don to a friend of mine on
the day before an examination. "What would you advise me to read to-night?"
asked my friend, anxious to make the most of the few remaining hours. "If
I were you," said the don, "I shouldn't read anything. I should get drunk."
He did not mean that the business was so unimportant that it did not matter
what he did. He meant that it was so important that he must forget all
about it, and come to it afresh from the outside. And he used the most
violent illustration he could find to express his meaning.

It is with the mind as with the soil. If you want to get the best out of
your land you must change the crops, and sometimes even let the land lie
fallow. And if you want to get the best out of your mind on a given theme
you must let it range and have plenty of diversion. And the more remote the
diversion is from the theme the better. I know a very grave man whose days
are spent in the most responsible work, who goes to see Charlie Chaplin
once or twice every week, and laughs like a schoolboy all the time. I
should not trust his work less on that account: I should trust it all the
more. I should know that he did not allow it to get the whip hand of him,
that he kept sane and healthy by running out to play, as it were,

I think all solemn men ought to take sixpenny-worth of Charlie Chaplin
occasionally. And I'm certain they ought to play more. I believe that the
real disease of Germany is that it has never learned to play. The bow is
stretched all the time, and the nation is afflicted with a dreadful
seriousness that suggests the madhouse by its lack of humour and gaiety.
The oppressiveness of life begins with the child. Germany is one of The two
countries in the world where the suicide of children is a familiar social
fact. Years ago when I was in Cologne I christened it the City of the
Elderly Children, and no one, I think, can have had any experience of
Germany without being struck by the premature gravity of the young. If
Germany had had fewer professors and a decent sprinkling of cricket and
football grounds perhaps things might have been different. I don't
generally agree with copybook maxims, but all work and no play does make
Jack (or, rather, Hans) a dull boy.

Perhaps it is true that we play too much; but I'm quite sure that the
Germans have played too little, and if there must be a mistake on one side
or the other, let it be on the side of too much play.


I read the other day an article by my colleague "Arcturus" which I thought
was a little boastful. It referred to a bull-dog. Now I cannot tell what
there is about a bull-dog that makes people haughty, but it is certain that
I have never known a case in which the companionship of that animal has not
had this effect. The man who keeps a bull-dog becomes after a time only fit
for the company of a bull-dog. He catches the august pride of the animal,
seems to think like a bulldog, to talk in the brief, scornful tones of a
bulldog, and even to look fat and formidable like a bull-dog. That,
however, is not an uncommon phenomenon among those who live with animals.
Go to a fat stock show and look at the men around the cattle pens. Or
recall the pork butchers you have known and tell me----. But possibly you,
sir, who read these lines, are a pork butcher and resent the implication.
Sir, your resentment is just. You are the exception, sir--a most notable

But my object here is not merely to warn "Arcturus" of the perilous company
he is keeping. I refer to his bull-dog panegyric also to justify me in
enlarging on my own private vanity. If he is permitted to write to the
extent of a column on a bull-dog, I can at least claim the same latitude in
regard to a sensible subject like golf. And I have this advantage over him,
that I have a real message. I have a hint to offer that will mean money in
pocket to you.

And first let me say that I have nothing to teach you in the way of play. I
am in that stage of the novitiate that seems sheer imbecility. When I get a
good stroke I stare after it as stout Cortez stared at the Pacific, "with a
wild surmise." But it is because I am a bad player that I feel I can be
useful to you. For most of my time on the links is spent in looking for
lost balls. Now, I do not object to looking for balls. I rather enjoy it.
It is a healthy, open-air occupation that keeps the body exercised and the
mind fallow. There are some people who think the spectacle of a grown-up
man (with a family) looking in an open field for a ball that isn't there is
ridiculous. They are mistaken. It is really, seen from the philosophic
angle, a very noble spectacle. It is the symbol of deathless hope. It is
part of the great discipline of the game. It is that part of the game at
which I do best. There is not a spinney over the whole course that I do not
know by heart. There is not a bit of gorse that I have not probed and been
probed by. I must have spent hours in the ditches, and I have upon me the
scars left by every hedgerow. And the result is that, while I am worthless
as a golfer, I think I may claim to be quite in the first class at finding
lost balls.

Now all discoveries hinge upon some sudden illumination. I had up to a
certain point been a sad failure in recovering balls. I watched them fall
with the utmost care and was so sure of them that I felt that I could walk
blindfold and pick them up. But when I came to the spot the ball was not
there. This experience became so common that at last the conclusion forced
itself upon me that the golf ball had a sort of impish intelligence that
could only be met by a superior cunning. I suspected that it deliberately
hid itself, and that so long as it was aware that you were hunting for it,
it took a fiendish delight in dodging you. If, said I, one could only let
the thing suppose it was not being looked for it would be taken off its
guard. I put the idea into operation, and I rejoice to say it works like a

The method is quite simple. You lose the ball, of course, to begin with.
That is easy enough. Then you search for it, and the longer you search the
deeper grows the mystery of its vanishing. Your companions come and help
you to poke the hedge and stir up the ditch, and you all agree that you
have never known such a perfectly ridiculous thing before. And having
clearly proved that the ball isn't anywhere in the neighbourhood, you take
another out of the bag, and proceed with the game.

So far everything is quite ordinary. The game is over, the ball is lost,
and you prepare to go. But you decide to go home by a rather roundabout way
that brings you by the spot that you have scoured in vain. You are not
going to search for the ball. That would simply put the creature up to some
new artifice. No, you are just walking round that way accidentally. What so
natural as that you should have your eyes on the ground? And there, sure
enough, lies the ball, taken completely unaware. It is so ridiculously
obvious that to say that it was lying there when you were looking for it so
industriously is absurd. It simply couldn't have been there. You suspect
that if after your search, instead of going on with the play you had hidden
behind the hedge and watched, you would have seen the creature come out
from its hole.

I do not expect to have my theory that the golf-ball has an intelligence
accepted. The mystery is explicable, I am told, on the doctrine of the
"fresh eye." You look for a thing so hard that you seem to lose the faculty
of vision. Then you forget all about it and find it. The experience applies
to all the operations of the mind. If I get "stuck" in writing an article I
go and do a bit of physical work, ride a bicycle or merely walk round the
garden, and the current flows again. Or you have a knotty problem to
decide. You think furiously about it all day and get more hopelessly
undecided the longer you think. Then you go to bed, and you wake in the
morning with your mind made up. Hence the phrase, "I will sleep on it." It
is this freshness of the vision, this faculty of passive illumination, that
Wordsworth had in mind when he wrote:

    Think you, 'mid all this mighty sum
      Of things for ever speaking,
    That nothing of itself will come,
      But we must still be seeking?

And yet I cannot quite get rid of my fancy that the golf ball does enjoy
the game.


There are still a few apples on the topmost branches of the trees in the
orchard. They are there because David, the labourer, who used to come and
lend us a hand in his odd hours--chiefly when the moon was up--is no longer
available. You may remember how David opened his heart to me about
enlisting when he stood on the ladder picking the pears last year. He did
not like to go and he did not like to stay. All the other chaps had gone,
and he didn't feel comfortable like in being left behind, but there was his
mother and his wife and his Aunt Jane, and not a man to do a hand's turn
for 'em or to dig their gardens if he went. And there was the
allotment--that 'ud run to weeds. And ...

Well, the allotment has run to weeds. I passed it to-day and looked over
the hedge and saw the chickweed and the thistles in undisputed possession.
For David has gone. "It will take a long time to turn him into a soldier,"
we said when we saw him leave his thatched roof last spring to join up, and
watched him shambling down the lane to the valley and the distant station.
"The war will be over before he gets into the trenches," I said cheerfully
to his wife, his mother, and Aunt Jane as they sat later in the day
mingling their tears in the "parlour"--that apartment sacred to Sundays,
funerals, and weddings. "Poor boy, what'll he do without his comfortable
bed?" moaned his mother.

But by May there came news that David was in France. By June he was in the
trenches, and woe sat heavy on the three women to whom the world without
David was an empty place.

Then came silence. The postman comes up the lane on his bicycle to our
straggling hamlet on the hillside twice a day, and after David had gone his
visits to the cottages of the three women had been frequent. Sometimes he
put his bicycle at the mother's gate, sometimes at David's gate, less often
at Aunt Jane's gate. For David was an industrious correspondent, even
though his letters were a laborious compromise between crosses and "hoping
you are well as it leaves me at present."

But in August the postman ceased to call. Long before his hour you could
see the three women watching for his coming. I think the postman got to
dread turning the corner and facing the expectant women with empty hands.
He could not help feeling that somehow he was to blame. At first he would
stop and point out elaborately the reasons for delay in the post. Then,
when this had become thin with time, he adopted the expedient of riding
past the cottages very hard with eyes staring far ahead, as though he was
going to a fire or was the bearer of an important dispatch.

But at the end of a fortnight or so he came round the corner one morning
more in the old style. The women observed the change and went out to meet
him. But their faces fell as they looked at the letter and saw that the
handwriting was not David's. And the contents were as bad as they could be.
The letter was from a lad in the valley who had "joined up" with David. He
wrote from a hospital asking for news of his comrade, whom he had seen
"knocked over" in the advance in which he himself had been wounded.

For the rest of the day, it was observed, the cottage doors were never
opened. Nor did any one venture to break in on the misery of the women
inside. The parson's wife came up in her gig from the valley, having heard
the news, but she did not call. She only talked to the neighbours, who had
had the details from the postman. Every one felt the news like a personal
blow, and even the widow Wigley, who lives down in the valley, was full of
sympathy. She had never quite got over her resentment at the funeral of
David's father. Her own husband had been carried to his grave on a
hand-bier, but at the funeral of David's father there was a horse-drawn
hearse and a carriage for the mourners. "They were always _such_ people for
show," said Mrs. Wigley. And the memory had rankled. But now it was buried.

Next day we saw the mother and the wife set out down the lane for the
village post-office, and thereafter daily they went to await the arrival of
letters, returning each day silent and hopeless. At last, in reply to
inquiries which had been made at the War Office, there came the official
statement that David had been reported "wounded and missing." We learned
that this usually meant that the man was dead, but the women did not know

And, curiously enough, David's mother, who had been the most despairing of
women, and seemed to regard David as dead even before he started, now
discovered a genius for hopefulness. She had heard of a case from a
neighbouring village of a man who had been reported dead, and who
afterwards wrote from a prison camp in Germany, and she clung to this
precedent with a confident tenacity that we did not try to weaken. It was
foolish, of course, we said. She was pinning her faith to a case in a
thousand; but the hope gave the women something to live for, and the wound
would heal the better for the illusion.

And, after all, she was right. This morning we saw the postman call at the
cottage. He handed a post card to the wife, and it was evident that
something wonderful and radiant had happened. The women fell on each other
"laughing happy." No more going into the house to shut the door on the
world. They came out to share the great tidings with their neighbours.
"David is alive! David is a prisoner in Germany.... He's wounded.... But
he's going on all right.... He can't write yet.... But he will."

Yes, there was the post card all right. The English was not very good and
the script was German, but the fact that David was alive in hospital shone
clear and indisputable.

"It's as though he's raised from the dead," cried the wife through her

The joy of the old mother was touched with solemnity. She is a great
chapel-goer, and her utterance is naturally coloured by the Book with which
she is most familiar.

"My son was dead, and is alive again," she said simply; "he was lost and is

When I went out into the orchard and saw the red-cheeked apples still
clinging to the topmost branches I thought, "Perhaps David will be able to
lend me a hand with those trees next autumn after all."


In one of those charming articles which he writes in _The New Statesman_,
Mr. J. Arthur Thomson tells of the wonderful world of odours to which we
are largely strangers. No doubt in an earlier existence we relied much more
upon our noses for our food, our safety, and all that concerned us, and had
a highly developed faculty of smell which has become more or less

    Fee, fie, fo, fum,
    I smell the blood of an Englishman,

said the Giant in the story. But that was long ago. If we were left to the
testimony of our noses we could not tell an Englishman from a hippopotamus.
To the bee, on the other hand, with its two or three thousand olfactory
pores, the world is primarily a world of smell. If we could question that
wonderful creature we should find that it thought and talked of nothing but
the odours of the field. We should find that it had a range of experience
in that realm beyond our wildest imaginings. We should find that there are
more smells in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in our philosophy.

We talk of the world as if our sensations were the sum total of experience.
But the truth is that there is an infinity of worlds outside our
comprehension, worlds of vision and hearing and smell that are beyond our
finite capacity, some so microscopic as to escape us at one end of the
scale, some so vast and intangible as to escape us at the other end. I went
into the garden just now to pick some strawberries. One of them tempted me
forthwith by its ripe and luxuriant beauty. I bit into it and found it
hollowed out in the centre, and in that luscious hollow was a colony of
earwigs. For them that strawberry was the world, and a very jolly world
too--abundance of food, a soft bed to lie on, and a chamber of exquisite
perfumes. What, I wonder, was the thought of the little creatures as their
comfortable world was suddenly shattered by some vast, inexplicable power
beyond the scope of their vision and understanding? I could not help idly
wondering whether the shell of our comfortable world has been broken by
some power without which is as far beyond our apprehension as I was beyond
the apprehension of the happy dwellers in the strawberry.

And it is not only the worlds which are peculiar to the myriad creatures of
diverse instincts and faculties which are so strangely separate. We
ourselves all dwell in worlds of infinite variety. I do not mean the social
and professional worlds in which we move, though here, too, the world is
not one but many. There is not much in common between the world as it
appears to Sarah Ellen, who "runs" four looms in a Lancashire weaving shed
during fifty-one weeks in the year, and my Lady Broadacres, who suns
herself in Mayfair.

But I am speaking here of our individual world, the world of our private
thought and emotions. My world is not your world, nor yours mine. We sit
and talk with each other, we work together and play together, we exchange
confidences and share our laughter and our experiences. But ultimately we
can neither of us understand the world of the other--that world which is
the sum of a million factors of unthinkable diversity, trifles light as
air, memories, experiences, physical emotions, the play of light and colour
and sound, attachments and antipathies often so obscure that we cannot even
explain them to ourselves. We may feel a collective emotion under the
impulse of some powerful event or personality. We may ebb and flow as a
tide to the rhythm of a great melody or to the incantation of noble
oratory. The news of a great victory in these days would move us to our
common centre and bring all our separate worlds into a mighty chorus of
thanksgiving. But even in these common emotions there are infinite shades
of difference, and when they have passed we subside again into the world
where we dwell alone.

Most of us are doomed to go through life without communicating the
mysteries of our experience.

    Alas for those who never sing.
    But die with all their music in them.

It is the privilege of the artist in any medium to enrich the general life
with the consciousness of the world that he alone has experienced. He gives
us new kingdoms for our inheritance, makes us the sharers of his visions,
opens out wider horizons, and floods our life with richer glories.

I entered such a kingdom the other afternoon. I turned out of the Strand,
which was thronged and throbbing with the news of the great advance,--it
was the first day of the battle of the Somme--and entered the Aldwych
Theatre. As if by magic, I passed from the thrilling drama of the present
into a realm

    Full of sweet dreams and health and quiet breathing--

into a sunlit world, where the zephyrs fan your cheek like a benediction
and the brooks tinkle through the gracious landscape and melody is on every
bough and joy and peace are all about you--the idyllic world where the
marvellous child, Mozart, reigns like an enchanter. What though the tale of
_The Magic Flute_ is foolish beyond words. Who cares for the tale? Who
thinks of the tale? It is only the wand in the hand of the magician. Though
it be but a broomstick, it will open all the magic casements of earth and
heaven, it will surround us with the choirs invisible, and send us forth
into green pastures and by the cool water-brooks.

That was Mozart's vision of the world in his brief but immortal journey
through it. Perhaps it was only a dream world, but what a dream to live
through! And to him it was as real a world as that of Mr. Gradgrind, whose
vision is shut in by what Burns called "the raised edge of a bawbee." We
must not think that our world is the only one. There are worlds outside our
experience. "Call that a sunset?" said the lady to Turner as she stood
before the artist's picture. "I never saw a sunset like that." "No, madam,"
said Turner. "Don't you wish you had?" Perhaps your world and mine is only
mean because we are near-sighted. Perhaps we miss the vision not because
the vision is not there, but because we darken the windows with dirty


The other day I went into the Law Courts to hear a case of some interest,
and I soon became more interested in the counsel than in the case. They
offered a curious contrast of method. One was emphatic and dogmatic. "I'm
not asking you," he seemed to say to the judge and jury, "I'm telling you."
The other was winning and conciliatory. He did not thrust his views down
the jury's throats; he seemed to offer them for their consideration, and
leave it at that. He was not there to dictate to them, but to hold his
client's case up to the light, as it were, just as a draper holds a length
of silk up before his customer. Now, as a matter of fact, I think the
dogmatic gentleman had the better case and the stronger argument, but I
noticed next day that the verdict went against him. He won his argument and
lost his case.

That is what commonly happens with the dogmatic and argumentative man. He
shuts up the mind to reason. He changes the ground from the issue itself to
a matter of personal dignity. You are no longer concerned with whether the
thing is right or wrong. You are concerned about showing your opponent that
you are not to be bullied by him into believing what he wants you to
believe. Even Johnson, who was, perhaps, the most dogmatic person that ever
lived, knew that success in the argument was often fatal to success in the
case. Dr. Taylor once commended a physician to him, and said: "I fight many
battles for him, as many people in the country dislike him." "But you
should consider, sir," replied Johnson, "that by every one of your
victories he is a loser; for every man of whom you get the better will be
very angry, and resolve not to employ him; whereas if people get the better
of you in argument about him, they'll think, 'We'll send for Dr. ----,

But Johnson fought not to convince, but for love of the argumentative
victory. A great contemporary of his, whom he never met, and whom, if he
had met, he would probably have insulted--Benjamin Franklin, to
wit--preferred winning the case to winning the argument. While still a boy,
he tells us, he was fascinated by the Socratic method, and instead of
expressing opinions asked leading questions. He ceased to use words like
"certainly," "undoubtedly," or anything that gave the air of positiveness
to an opinion, and said "I apprehend," or "I conceive," a thing to be so
and so.

"This habit," he says, "has been of great advantage to me when I have had
occasion to inculcate my opinions and persuade men into measures that I
have been engaged from time to time in promoting. And as the chief ends of
conversation are to _inform_ or to be _informed_, to _please_ or to
_persuade_, I wish well-meaning and sensible men would not lessen their
power of doing good by a positive assuming manner, that seldom fails to
disgust, tends to create opposition and to defeat most of those purposes
for which speech was given us. In fact, if you wish to instruct others, a
positive dogmatical manner in advancing your sentiments may occasion
opposition and prevent a candid attention. If you desire instruction and
improvement from others, you should not at the same time express yourself
fixed in your present opinions. Modest and sensible men, who do not love
disputation, will leave you undisturbed in the possession of your errors."

It is really, I suppose, our old friend "compulsion" again. We hate
Prussianism in the realm of thought as much as in the realm of action. If I
tell you you've got to believe so-and-so, your disposition is to refuse to
do anything of the sort. It was the voluntary instinct that breathes in all
of us that made Falstaff refuse to give Prince Hal reasons: "I give thee
reasons? Though reasons were as plenty as blackberries I would not give
thee reasons _on compulsion_--I."

I was once talking to a member of Parliament, who was lamenting that he had
failed to win the ear of the House. He was puzzled by the failure. He was a
fluent speaker; he knew his subject with great thoroughness, and his
character was irreproachable; and yet when he rose the House went out. He
was like a dinner-bell. He couldn't understand it. Yet everybody else
understood it quite well. It was because he was always "telling you," and
there is nothing the House of Commons dislikes so much as a schoolmaster.
Probably the most successful speaker, judging by results, who ever rose in
the House of Commons was Cobden. He was one of the few men in history who
have changed a decision in Parliament by a speech. He did it because of his
extraordinarily persuasive manner. He kept the minds of his hearers
receptive and disengaged. He did not impress them with the fact that he was
right and they were wrong. They forgot themselves when they saw the subject
in a clear, white light, and were prepared to judge it on its merits rather
than by their prejudices.

One of the few persuasive speakers I have heard in the House of Commons in
recent years is Mr. Harold Cox. Many of his opinions I detest, but the
engaging way in which he presents them makes you almost angry with yourself
at disagreeing with him. You feel, indeed, that you must be wrong, and that
such open-mindedness and such a friendly conciliatory manner as he shows
must somehow be the evidence of a right view of things. As a matter of
fact, of course, he is really a very dogmatic gentleman at the bottom--none
more so. As indeed Franklin was. But he has the art to conceal the emphasis
of his opinions, and so he makes even those who disagree with him listen to
his case almost with a desire to endorse it.

It is a great gift. I wish I had got it.


I was asked the other day to send to a new magazine a statement as to the
event of the war which had made the deepest impression on me. Without
hesitation I selected the remarkable Christmas demonstrations in Flanders.
Here were men who for weeks and months past had been engaged in the task of
stalking each other and killing each other, and suddenly under the
influence of a common memory, they repudiate the whole gospel of war and
declare the gospel of brotherhood. Next day they began killing each other
again as the obedient instruments of governments they do not control and of
motives they do not understand. But the fact remains. It is a beam of light
in the darkness, rich in meaning and hope.

But if I were asked to name the instance of individual action which had
most impressed me I should find the task more difficult. Should I select
something that shows how war depraves, or something that shows how it
ennobles? If the latter I think I would choose that beautiful incident of
the sailor on the _Formidable_.

He had won by ballot a place in one of the boats. The ship was going down,
but he was to be saved. One pictures the scene: The boat is waiting to take
him to the shore and safety. He looks at the old comrades who have lost in
the ballot and who stand there doomed to death. He feels the passion for
life surging within him. He sees the cold, dark sea waiting to engulf its
victims. And in that great moment--the greatest moment that can come to any
man--he makes the triumphant choice. He turns to one of his comrades.
"You've got parents," he says. "I haven't." And with that word--so heroic
in its simplicity--he makes the other take his place in the boat and signs
his own death warrant.

I see him on the deck among his doomed fellows, watching the disappearing
boat until the final plunge comes and all is over. The sea never took a
braver man to its bosom. "Greater love hath no man than this ..."

Can you read that story without some tumult within you--without feeling
that humanity itself is ennobled by this great act and that you are, in
some mysterious way, better for the deed? That is the splendid fruit of all
such sublime sacrifice. It enriches the whole human family. It makes us
lift our heads with pride that we are men--that there is in us at our best
this noble gift of valiant unselfishness, this glorious prodigality that
spends life itself for something greater than life. If we had met this
nameless sailor we should have found him perhaps a very ordinary man, with
plenty of failings, doubtless, like the rest of us, and without any idea
that he had in him the priceless jewel beside which crowns and coronets are
empty baubles. He was something greater than he knew.

How many of us could pass such a test? What should I do? What would you do?
We neither of us know, for we are as great a mystery to ourselves as we are
to our neighbours. Bob Acres said he found that "a man may have a deal of
valour in him without knowing it," and it is equally true that a man may be
more chicken-hearted than he himself suspects. Only the occasion discovers
of what stuff we are made--whether we are heroes or cowards, saints or
sinners. A blustering manner will not reveal the one any more than a long
face will reveal the other.

The merit of this sailor's heroism was that it was done with
calculation--in cold blood, as it were, with that
"two-o'clock-in-the-morning courage" of which Napoleon spoke as the real
thing. Many of us could do brave things in hot blood, with a sudden rush of
the spirit, who would fail if we had time, as this man had, to pause and
think, to reckon, to doubt, to grow cold and selfish. The merit of his deed
is that it was an act of physical courage based on the higher quality of
moral courage.

Nor because a man fails in the great moment is he necessarily all a coward.
Mark Twain was once talking to a friend of mine on the subject of courage
in men, and spoke of a man whose name is associated with a book that has
become a classic. "I knew him well," he said, "and I knew him as a brave
man. Yet he once did the most cowardly thing I have ever heard of any man.
He was in a shipwreck, and as the ship was going down he snatched a
lifebelt from a woman passenger and put it on himself. He was saved, and
she was drowned. And in spite of that frightful act I think he was not a
coward. I know there was not a day of his life afterwards when he would not
willingly and in cold blood have given his life to recall that shameful

In this case the failure was not in moral courage, but in physical courage.
He was demoralised by the peril, and the physical coward came uppermost. If
he had had time to recover his moral balance he would have died an
honourable death. It is no uncommon thing for a man to have in him the
elements both of the hero and the coward. You remember that delightful
remark of Mrs. Disraeli, one of the most characteristic of the many quaint
sayings attributed to that strange woman. "Dizzy," she said, "has wonderful
moral courage, but no physical courage. I always have to pull the string of
his shower bath." It is a capital illustration of that conflict of the
coward and the brave man that takes place in most of us. Dizzy's moral
courage carried him to the bath, but there his physical courage failed him.
He could not pull the string that administered the cold shock. The bathroom
is rich in such secrets, and life teems with them.

The true hero is he who unites the two qualities. The physical element is
the more plentiful. For one man who will count the cost of sacrifice and,
having counted it, pay the price with unfaltering heart, there are many who
will answer the sudden call to meet peril with swift defiance. The courage
that snatches a comrade from under the guns of the enemy or a child from
the flames is, happily, not uncommon. It is inspired by an impulse that
takes men out of themselves and by a certain spirit of challenge to fate
that every one with a sporting instinct loves to take. But the act of the
sailor of the _Formidable_ was a much bigger thing. Here was no thrill of
gallantry and no sporting risk. He dealt in cold certainties: the boat and
safety; the ship and death; his life or the other's. And he thought of his
comrade's old parents at home and chose death.

It was a great end. I wonder whether you or I would be capable of it. I
would give much to feel that I could answer in the affirmative--that I
could take my stand on the spiritual plane of that unknown sailor.


While every one, I suppose, agrees that Lady Ida Sitwell richly deserves
her three months' imprisonment, there are many who will have a sneaking
pity for her. And that not because she is a woman of family who will suffer
peculiar tortures from prison life. On the contrary, I have no doubt that a
spell of imprisonment is just what she needs. In fact, it is what most of
us need, especially most of those who live a life of luxurious idleness. To
be compelled to get up early, to clean your cell, to wear plain clothes, to
live on plain food, to observe regular hours, and do regular duties--this
is no matter for tears, but for thankfulness. It is the sort of discipline
that we ought to undergo periodically for our spiritual and even bodily

No, the sympathy that will be felt for Lady Ida is the sympathy which is
commonly felt for the spendthrift--for the person who, no matter what his
income, is congenitally incapable of making ends meet. The miser has no
friends; but the spendthrift has generally too many. We avoid Harpagon as
though he were a leper; but Falstaff, who, like Lady Ida, could "find no
cure for this intolerable consumption of the purse," never lacked friends,
and even Justice Shallow, it will be remembered, lent him a thousand
crowns. There is no record of its having been repaid, though Falstaff was
once surprised, in a moment of bitter humiliation, into admitting the debt.
And Charles Surface and Micawber--who can deny them a certain affection? I
have no doubt that Mrs. Micawber's papa, who "lived to bail Mr. Micawber
out many times until he died lamented by a wide circle of friends," loved
the fellow as you and I love him. I should deem it a privilege to bail out
Micawber. But Elwes, the miser--ugh! the very name chills the blood.

The difference, I suppose, proceeds from the idea that while the miser is
the soul of selfishness, the spendthrift is at bottom a good-natured fellow
and a lover of his kind. No doubt the vice of the spendthrift has a touch
of generosity, but it is often generosity at other people's expense, and is
not seldom as essentially selfish as the vice of the miser. It is rather
like the generosity of the man who, according to Sydney Smith, was so
touched by a charity sermon that he picked his neighbour's pocket of a
guinea and put it in the plate. I have no doubt that Lady Ida if she had
got Miss Dobbs's money would have scattered it about with a very free hand,
and would have contributed to the collection plate quite handsomely. But
she was selfish none the less. It was her form of selfishness to enjoy the
luxury of spending money she hadn't got, just as it was Elwes's form of
selfishness to enjoy the luxury of saving money that he had got.

The point was very well stated by a famous miser whose son has since been
in Parliament (I will not say on which side). The old man had accumulated a
vast fortune, but, in the Scotch phrase, would have grudged you "the smoke
off his porridge." (He died, by the way, properly enough, through walking
home in the rain because he was too mean to take a cab.) He was once asked
why he was so anxious to increase his riches, since his son would probably
squander them, and he replied, "If my son gets as much pleasure out of
squandering my money as I have had out of saving it, I shall not mind."
Both the hoarding and the spending, you see, were in his view equally a
matter of mere selfish pleasure.

But I admit that the uncalculating spirit that lands people in debt is a
more engaging frailty than the calculating spirit of the miser. I know a
delightful man who seems to have no more knowledge of the relation of
income and expenditure than a kitten. If he gets £100 unexpectedly he does
not look at it in relation to his whole needs. He does not remember rent,
rates, taxes, baker, butcher, tailor. No. On the strength of it, he will
order a new piano in the morning, buy his wife a sealskin jacket in the
afternoon, and by the next day be deeper in the mire than ever, and wonder
how he got there. And there is Jones's young wife, a charming woman, who is
dragging her husband into debt with the same kittenish irresponsibility.
She will leave Jones on the pavement with a remark that suggests that she
is going into the shop to buy some pins, and will come out with a request
for £10 for some "perfectly lovely" thing that has caught her eye. And
Jones, being elderly, and still a little astonished at having won the
affection of such a divinity, has not the courage to say "No."

To the people afflicted with these loose spending habits I would commend
the lesson of a little incident I saw in a tram on the Embankment the other
evening. There entered and sat beside me a working man, carrying his "kit"
in a handkerchief, and wearing a scarf round his neck, a cloth cap, and
corduroy trousers--obviously a labourer earning perhaps 25s. a week. He
paid his fare, and then he took from his pocket a packet tied up in a
handkerchief. He untied the knot, and there came forth a neat pocket-book
with pencil attached. He opened it, and began to write. My curiosity was
too much for my manners. Out of the tail of my eye I watched the motion of
his fingers, and this is what he wrote: "Tram 1-1/2 _d_." In a flash I
seemed to see the whole orderly life of that poor labourer. He had an
anchorage in the tossing seas of this troublesome world. He had got hold of
a lesson that Lady Ida Sitwell ought to try and learn during the next three
months. It is this: Watch your spendings.

For it is the people who are more concerned about getting money than about
how they spend it who come to grief. A very acute observer once told me
that the principal difference between the Scotch people and the Lancashire
people was that the former thought most about how they spent, and the
latter most about how much they got. And the difference, he said, was the
difference between a thrifty and an unthrifty people. I think that is true.
Nothing is more common than to find people worse off as they get better
off. They have learned the art of getting money and lost the art of
spending it wisely. They pay their way on £200 a year and get hopelessly
into debt on £500. They are safe in a rowing boat, but capsize in a sailing

Here is an axiom which I offer to all spendthrifts: We cannot command our
incomings; but we can control outgoings.


A few days ago I went to a christening to make vows on behalf of the
offspring of a gallant young officer now at the front. I conceived that the
fitting thing on such an occasion was to wear a silk hat, and accordingly I
took out the article, warmed it before the fire, and rubbed it with a hat
pad until it was nice and shiny, put it on my head, and set out for the
church. But I soon regretted the choice. It had no support from any one
else present, and when later I got out of the Tube and walked down the
Strand I found that I was a conspicuous person, which, above all things, I
hate to be. My hat, I saw, was observed. Eyes were turned towards me with
that mild curiosity with which one remarks any innocent oddity or vanity of
the streets.

I became self-conscious and looked around for companionship, but as my eye
travelled along the crowded pavement I could see nothing but bowlers and
trilbys and occasional straws. "Ah, here at last," said I, "is one coming."
But a nearer view only completed my discomfiture, for it was one of those
greasy-shiny hats which go with frayed trousers and broken boots, and which
are the symbol of "better days," of hopes that are dead, and "drinks" that
dally, of a social status that has gone and of a suburban villa that has
shrunk to a cubicle in a Rowton lodging-house. I looked at greasy-hat and
greasy-hat looked at me, and in that momentary glance of fellowship we
agreed that we were "out of it."

I put my silk hat away at night with the firm resolution that nothing short
of an invitation to Buckingham Palace, or some similar incredible disaster,
should make me drag it into the light again. For the truth is that the war
has given the top-hat a knock-out blow. It had been tottering on our brows
for some time. There was a very hot summer a few years ago which began the
revolution. The tyranny of the top-hat became intolerable, and quite
"respectable" people began to be seen in the streets with Panamas and
straws. But these were only concessions to an irresponsible climate, and
the silk hat still held its ancient sway as the crown and glory of our City
civilisation. And now it has toppled down and is on the way, perhaps, to
becoming as much a thing of the past as wigs or knee-breeches. It is almost
as rare in the Strand as it is in Market Street, Manchester. Cabinet
Ministers and other sublime personages still wear it, coachmen still wear
it, and my friend greasy-hat still wears it; but for the rest of us it is a
splendour that is past, a memory of the world before the deluge.

It may be that it will revive. It would not be the first time that such a
result of a great catastrophe was found to be only temporary. I remember
that Pepys records in his Diary that one result of the Great Plague was
that the wig went out of fashion. People were afraid to wear wigs that
might be made of the hair of those who had died of infection. But the wig
returned again for more than a century, though you may remember that in
_The Rivals_ there is an early hint of its final disappearance. There was
never probably a more crazy fashion, and, like most crazy fashions, it
began, as the "Alexandra limp" of our youth began, in snobbery. Was it not
a fact that a bald-headed King wore a wig to conceal his baldness, which
set all the flunkey-world wearing wigs to conceal their hair? This aping of
the great is always converting some defect or folly into a virtue. When
Lady Percy in _Henry IV._ is lamenting Hotspur she says:--

        ... he was, indeed, the glass
    Wherein the noble youth did dress themselves.
    He had no legs that practised not his gait;
    And speaking thick, which nature made his blemish,
    Became the accents of the valiant;
    For those that could speak low and tardily,
    Would turn their own perfection to abuse.
    To seem like him.

In the case of the top-hat the disappearance is due to the psychology of
the war. The great tragedy has brought us down to the bed-rock of things
and has made us feel somehow that ornament is out of place, and that the
top-hat is a falsity in a world that has become a battlefield. I don't
think women have shared this feeling to the same extent. I am told there
were never so many sealskin coats to be seen as during last winter. But,
perhaps, the women will say that men have been only too glad to use the war
as an excuse for getting rid of an incubus. And they may be right. We had
better not make too great a virtue of what is, after all, a comfortable
change. Let us enjoy it without boasting.

Our enjoyment may be short-lived. We must not be surprised if this
incredible hat returns in triumph with peace. It has survived the blasts of
many centuries and infinite changes of fashion. It is, I suppose, the most
ancient survival in the dress that men wear. There is in the Froissart
collection at the British Museum an illumination (dating from the fifteenth
century) showing the expedition of the French and English against the
Barbary corsairs. And there seated in the boats are men clad in armour.
They have put their helmets aside and are wearing top-hats! And it may be
that when Macaulay's New Zealander, centuries hence, takes his seat on that
broken arch of London Bridge to sketch the ruins of St. Paul's, he will sit
under the shelter of a top-hat that has out-lasted all our greatness.

There must be some virtue in a thing that is so immortal. If the doctrine
of the survival of the fittest applies to dress, it is the fittest thing we
have. Trousers are a thing of yesterday with us, but our top-hat carries us
back to the Wars of the Roses and beyond. It is not its beauty that
explains it. I have never heard any one deny that it is ugly, though custom
may have blunted our sense of its ugliness. It is not its utility. I have
never heard any one claim that this strange cylinder had that quality. It
is not its comfort It is stiff, it is heavy, it is unmanageable in a wind
and ruined by a shower of rain. It needs as much attention as a peevish
child or a pet dog. It is not even cheap, and when it is disreputable it is
the most disreputable thing on earth. What is the mystery of its strange
persistence? Is it simply a habit that we cannot throw off or is there a
certain snobbishness about it that appeals to the flunkeyism of men? That
is perhaps the explanation. That is perhaps why it has disappeared when
snobbishness is felt to be inconsistent with the world of stern realities
and bitter sorrows in which we live. We are humble and serious and out of
humour with the pretentious vanity of our top-hat.


The case of the soldier in the Keighley Hospital who has lost his memory in
the war and has been identified by rival families as a Scotchman, a
Yorkshireman, and so on is one of the most singular personal incidents of
the war. On the face of it it would seem impossible that a mother should
not know her own son, or a brother his brother. Yet in this case it is
clear that some of the claimants are mistaken. The incident is not, of
course, without precedent. The most notorious case of the sort was that of
Arthur Orton, the impudent Tichborne claimant, whose strongest card in his
imposture was that Lady Tichborne believed him to be her long-lost son. In
that case, no doubt, the maternal passion was the source of a credulity
that blinded the old lady to the flagrant evidence of the fraud.

But, generally speaking, our memory of other faces is extremely vague and
elusive. I have just come in from a walk with a friend of mine whom I have
known intimately for many years. Yet for the life of me I could not at this
moment tell you the colour of his eyes, nor could I give a reasonable
account of his nose or of the shape of his face. I have a general sense of
his appearance, but no absolute knowledge of the details, and if he were to
meet me to-morrow with a blank stare and a shaven upper lip I should pass
him without a thought of recognition.

Memory, in fact, is largely reciprocal, and when one of the parties has
lost his power of response the key is gone. If the lock won't yield to the
key, you are satisfied that the key is the wrong one, no matter how much it
looks like the right one. I think I could tell my dog from a thousand other
dogs; but if the creature were to lose his memory and to pass me in the
street without answering my call, I should pass on, simply observing that
he bore a remarkable likeness to my animal.

Most of us, I suppose, have experienced in a momentary and partial degree a
sudden stoppage of the apparatus of memory. You are asked, let us say, to
spell "parallelogram." In an ordinary way you could do it on your head or
in your sleep; but the sudden demand gives you a mental jerk that makes the
wretched word a hopeless chaos of r's and l's, and the more you try to sort
them out the less convincing do they seem. Or walking with a friend you
meet at a turn in the street that excellent woman, Mrs. Orpington-Smith.
You know her as well as you know your own mother, but the fact that you
have got to introduce her by her name forthwith sends her name flying into
space. The passionate attempt to capture it before it escapes only makes
its escape more certain, and you are reduced to the pitiful expedient of
mumbling something that is inaudible.

The worst experience of a lapse of memory that ever came to me was in the
midst of a speech which I had to make before a large gathering in a London
hall. I had got to the middle of what I had to say when it seemed to me
that the whole machine of the mind suddenly ceased to work. It was as
though an immense loneliness descended on me. I saw the audience before me,
but apart from vision I seemed bereft of all my faculties. If I had in that
instant been asked for my name I am doubtful whether I could have got
anywhere near it. Happily some one in a front row, thinking I was pausing
for a word, threw out a suggestion. It was like magic. I felt the machine
of memory start again with an almost audible "puff, puff," and I went on to
the end quite comfortably. The pause had seemed terribly long to me, but I
was surprised afterwards to find that it had been so brief as to be
generally unnoticed or regarded as an artful way of emphasising a point. I
let it go at that, but I knew myself that in that moment I had lost my

Even distinguished and expert orators have been known to suffer from this
absolute lapse of memory. The Rosebery incident--was it in the Chesterfield
speech?--is perhaps the best known, but I once heard Mr. Redmond, the
calmest and most assured of speakers, come to an _impasse_ in the House of
Commons that held him up literally for minutes.

We are creatures of memory, and when, as in the Keighley case, memory is
gone personality itself has gone. Nothing is left but the empty envelope.
The more fundamental functions of memory, the habits of respiration, of
walking and physical movement, of mastication, and so on, remain. The
Keighley man still eats and walks with all the knowledge of a lifetime. He
probably preserves his taste for tobacco. But these things have nothing to
do with personality. That is the product of the myriad mental impressions
that you have stored up in your pilgrimage. There is not a moment in your
life that is not charged with the significance of memory. You cannot hear
the blackbird singing in the low bough in the evening without the secret
music of summer eves long past being stirred within you. It is that
response of the inner harp of memory that gives the song its beauty. And so
everything we do and see and hear is touched with a thousand influences
which we cannot catalogue, but which constitute our veritable selves. An
old hymn tune, or an old song, a turn of phrase, a scent in the garden, a
tone of voice, a curve in the path--everything comes to us weighted with
its own treasures of memory, bitter or sweet, but always significant.

It is a mistake to suppose that memory is merely a capacity to remember
facts. In that respect there is the widest diversity of experience.
Macaulay could recite _Paradise Lost_, while Rossetti was a little doubtful
whether the sun went round the earth or the earth round the sun. I once met
an American elocutionist who could recite ten of Shakespeare's plays, and
he showed me the wonderful system of mnemonics by which he achieved the
miracle. But he was a mere recording machine--a dull fellow. The true
argosy of memory is not facts, but a perfume compounded of all the sunsets
we have ever seen, all the joys and friendships, pleasures and sorrows we
have ever known, all the emotions we have felt, all the brave and mean
things we have done, all the broken hopes we have suffered. To have lost
that argosy is to be dead, no matter how healthy an appetite we retain.


A friend of mine--one of those people who talk about money with an air of
familiarity that suggests that they have got an "out-crop" of the Rand reef
in their back-gardens--said to me the other day that I ought to buy a
fur-lined coat. There never was such a time as this for buying a fur-lined
coat or a sealskin jacket, said he. What with the war, and the "sales," and
the tradesmen's need of cash, they were simply being thrown at you. You
could have them almost for the trouble of carrying them away. A trifle of
fifteen or twenty pounds would buy one a coat that would be cheap at sixty
guineas. And, remember, there was wear for twenty years in it. And think of
the saving in doctor's bills--for you simply can't catch colds if you wear
a fur coat. In short, not to buy a fur coat at this moment was an act of
gross improvidence, a wrong to one's family, a ... a ... And then he
looked, with the cold disapproval of a connoisseur, at the coat I was
wearing. And in the light of that glance I saw for the first time that it
was ... yes ... certainly, it was not what it had been.

Now I am not going to pretend that I have a soul above fur-lined coats. I
haven't; I love them. And by fur coats I don't mean those adorned with
astrakhan collars, which I abominate. A man in an astrakhan coat is to me a
suspicious character, a stage baron, one who is probably deep in treasons,
stratagems, and spoils. The suspicion is unjust to the gentleman in the
astrakhan coat, of course. Most suspicions are unjust. And if you ask me to
give reasons for this unreasoning hostility to astrakhan, I do not know
that I could find them. Perhaps it is the dislike I have for artificial
curls; perhaps it is that the astrakhan collar reminds me of those unhappy
pet dogs who look as though they had been put in curl papers overnight and
sent out into the streets by their owners as a poor jest. Yes, I think it
must be that sense of artificiality which is at the root of the dislike. No
doubt the curls are natural. No doubt the woolly sheep of Astrakhan do wear
their coats in these little heaven-sent ringlets. But ... well ... "I do
not like thee, Doctor Fell."

But fur-lined coats, with fine fur collars, are quite another affair. If I
had the "magic nib," I could grow lyrical over them. I could, indeed. In
place-of this article I would write an ode to a fur-lined coat. I would
sing of the Asian wilds from whence it came, of its wondrous lines and its
soft and silken texture, of its generous warmth and its caressing touch. I
would set up such a universal hunger for fur coats that the tradesmen in
Oxford Street and Regent Street would come and offer me a guinea a word to
write advertisements for them.

And yet I shall not buy a fur-lined coat, and I will tell you why. A fur
coat is not an article of clothing: it is a new way of life. You cannot say
with reckless prodigality, "Here, I will have a fur coat and make an end of
this gnawing passion." The fur coat is not an end: it is a beginning. You
have got to live up to it. You have got to take the fur-coat point of view
of your relations to society. When Chauncey Depew, as a boy, bought a
beautiful spotted dog at a fair and took it home, the rain came down and
the spots began to run into stripes. He took the dog back to the man of
whom he had bought it and demanded an explanation. "But you had an umbrella
with that dog," said the man. "No," said the boy. "Oh!" said the man,
"there's an umbrella goes with that dog."

And so it is with the fur-lined coat. So many things "go with it." It is in
this respect like that grand piano to which you succumbed in a moment of
paternal weakness--or after a lucky stroke in rubber. The old furniture,
which had seemed so unexceptionable before, suddenly became dowdy in the
presence of this princely affair. You wanted new chairs and rugs and
hangings to make the piano accord with its setting. Even the house fell
under suspicion, and perhaps you date all your difficulties from the day
that you bought that grand piano, and found that it had set you going on a
new way of life just beyond your modest means.

If I bought a fur-lined coat I know that I should want to buy a motor-car
to keep it company. It is possible, of course, to wear a fur coat in a
motor-bus, but if you do you will assuredly have a sense that you are a
little over-dressed, a trifle conspicuous, that the fellow-passengers are
mentally remarking that such a coat ought to have a carriage of its own. It
would provoke the comment that I heard the other night as two ladies in
evening dress left a bus in a pouring rain. "Well," said one of the other
lady passengers--a little enviously I thought, but still pertinently--"if I
could afford to wear such fine clothes I think I would take a Cab." Yes,
decidedly, the fur-lined coat would not be complete without the motor-car.

And then consider how it limits your freedom and raises the tariff against
you. The tip that would be gratefully received if you were getting into
that modest coat that you have discarded would be unworthy of the fur-lined
standard that you have deliberately adopted. The recipient would take it
frigidly, with a glance at the luxurious garment into which he had helped
you--a glance that would cut you to the quick. Your friends would have to
be fur-lined, too, and your dinners would no longer be the modest affairs
of old, but would soar to the champagne standard. It would not be possible
to slip unnoticed into your favourite little restaurant in Soho to take
your simple chop, or to go in quest of that wonderful restaurant of Arne's
of which "Aldebaran" keeps the secret. The modesty of Arne's would make you
blush for your fur-lined coat.

"The genteel thing," said Tony Lumpkin's friend, "is the genteel thing at
any time, if so be that a gentleman bees in a concatenation according-ly."
That is it. The fur-lined coat is a genteel thing; but you have to be "in a
concatenation according-ly." And there's the rub. It is not the coat, but
its trimmings, so to speak, that give us pause. When you put on the coat
you insensibly put off your old way of life. You set up a new standard, and
have got to adapt your comings and goings, your habits and your expenditure
to it. I once knew a man who had a fur-lined coat presented to him. It was
a disaster. He could not live "in a concatenation according-ly." He lost
his old friends without getting new ones. And his end ... Well, his end
confirmed me in the conviction of the unwisdom of wearing a fur-lined coat
before you are able, or disposed, to mould your life to the fur-lined


I started out the other day from Keswick with a rucksack on my back, a
Baddeley in my pocket, and a companion by my side. I like a companion when
I go a-walking. "Give me a companion by the way," said Sterne, "if it be
only to remark how the shadows lengthen as the sun declines." That is about
enough. You do not want a talkative person. Walking is an occupation in
itself. You may give yourself up to chatter at the beginning, but when you
are warmed to the job you are disposed to silence, drop perhaps one behind
the other, and reserve your talk for the inn table and the after-supper
pipe. An occasional joke, an occasional stave of song, a necessary
consultation over the map--that is enough for the way.

At the head of the Lake we got in a boat and rowed across Derwentwater to
the tiny bay at the foot of Catbells. There we landed, shouldered our
burdens, and set out over the mountains and the passes, and for a week we
enjoyed the richest solitude this country can offer. We followed no
cut-and-dried programme. I love to draw up programmes for a walking tour,
but I love still better to break them. For one of the joys of walking is
the sense of freedom it gives you. You are tied to no time-table, the slave
of no road, the tributary of no man. If you like the road you follow it; if
you choose the pass that is yours also; if your fancy (and your wind) is
for the mountain tops, then over Great Gable and Scawfell, Robinson and
Helvellyn be your way. Every short cut is for you, and every track is the
path of adventure. The stream that tumbles down the mountain side is your
wine cup. You kneel on the boulders, bend your head, and take such draughts
as only the healthy thirst of the mountains can give. And then, on your way
again singing:--

    Bed in the bush with the stars to see.
    Bread I dip in the river--
    There's the life for a man like me.
    There's the life for ever.

What liberty is there like this? You have cut your moorings from the world,
you are far from telegraphs and newspapers and all the frenzies of the life
you have left behind you, you are alone with the lonely hills and the wide
sky and the elemental things that have been from the beginning and will
outlast all the tortured drama of men. The very sounds of life--the whistle
of the curlew, the bleating of the mountain sheep--add to the sense of
primeval solitude. To these sounds the crags have echoed for a thousand and
ten thousand years; to these sounds and to the rushing of the winds and the
waters they will echo ten thousand years hence. It is as though you have
passed out of time into eternity, where a thousand years are as one day.
There is no calendar for this dateless world. The buzzard that you have
startled from its pool in the gully and that circles round with
wide-flapping wings has a lineage as ancient as the hills, and the vision
of the pikes of Langdale that bursts on you as you reach the summit of Esk
hause is the same vision that burst on the first savage who adventured into
these wild fastnesses of the mountains.

And then as the sun begins to slope to the west you remember that, if you
are among immortal things, you are only a mortal yourself, that you are
getting footsore, and that you need a night's lodging and the comforts of
an inn. Whither shall we turn? The valleys call us on every side. Newlands
wide vale we can reach, or cheerful Borrowdale, or lonely Ennerdale,
or--yes, to-night we will sup at Wastdale, at the jolly old inn that Auld
Will Ritson used to keep, that inn sacred to the cragsman, where on New
Year's Eve the gay company of climbers foregather from their brave deeds on
the mountains and talk of hand-holds and foot-holds and sing the song of
"The rope, the rope," and join in the chorus as the landlord trolls out:

    I'm not a climber, not a climber,
    Not a climber now,
    My weight is going fourteen stone--
    I'm not a climber now.

We shall not find Gaspard there to-night--Gaspard, the gay and intrepid
guide from the Dauphiné, beloved of all who know the lonely inn at
Wastdale. He is away on the battle-field fighting a sterner foe than the
rocks and precipices of Great Gable and Scawfell. But Old Joe, the
shepherd, will be there--Old Joe, who has never been in a train or seen a
town and whose special glory is that he can pull uglier faces than any man
in Cumberland. He will not pull them for anybody--only when he is in a good
humour and for his cronies in the back parlour. To-night, perchance, we
shall see his eyes roll as he roars out the chorus of "D'ye ken John Peel?"
Yes, Wastdale shall be to-night's halt. And so over Black Sail, and down
the rough mountain side to the inn whose white-washed walls hail us from
afar out of the gathering shadows of the valley.

To-morrow? Well, to-morrow shall be as to-day. We will shoulder our
rucksacks early, and be early on the mountains, for the first maxim in
going a journey is the early start. Have the whip-hand of the day, and then
you may loiter as you choose. If it is hot, you may bathe in the chill
waters of those tarns that lie bare to the eye of heaven in the hollows of
the hills--tarns with names of beauty and waters of such crystal purity as
Killarney knows not. And at night we will come through the clouds down the
wild course of Rosset Ghyll and sup and sleep in the hotel hard by Dungeon
Ghyll, or, perchance, having the day well in hand, we will push on by Blea
Tarn and Yewdale to Coniston, or by Easedale Tarn to Grasmere, and so to
the Swan at the foot of Dunmail Raise. For we must call at the Swan. Was it
not the Swan that Wordsworth's "Waggoner" so triumphantly passed? Was it
not the Swan to which Sir Walter Scott used to go for his beer when he was
staying with Wordsworth at Rydal Water? And behind the Swan is there not
that fold in the hills where Wordsworth's "Michael" built, or tried to
build, his sheepfold? Yes, we will stay at the Swan whatever befalls.

And so the jolly days go by, some wet, some fine, some a mixture of both,
but all delightful, and we forget the day of the week, know no news except
the changes in the weather and the track over the mountains, meet none of
our kind except a rare vagabond like ourselves--with rope across his
shoulder if he is a rock-man, with rucksack on back if he is a tourist--and
with no goal save some far-off valley inn where we shall renew our strength
and where the morrow's uprising to deeds shall be sweet.

I started to write in praise of walking, and I find I have written in
praise of Lakeland. But indeed the two chants of praise are a single
harmony, for I have written in vain if I have not shown that the way to see
the most exquisite cabinet of beauties in this land is by the humble path
of the pedestrian. He who rides through Lakeland knows nothing of its
secrets, has tasted of none of its magic.


We have all been so occupied with the war in Europe that few of us, I
suppose, have even heard of another war which has been raging in the law
courts for 150 days or so between two South African corporations over some
question of property. It seems to have been marked by a good deal of
frightfulness. In the closing scenes Mr. Hughes, one of the counsel,
complained that he had been called a fool, a liar, a scoundrel, and so on
by his opponent, and the judge lamented that the case had been the occasion
of so much barristerial bitterness.

But it was not the light which the case threw on the manners of counsel
that interested me. After all, these things are part of the game. They have
no more reality than the thumping blows which the Two Macs exchange in the
pantomime. I have no doubt that after their memorable encounter in the
Bardell _v_. Pickwick case, Serjeant Buzfuz and Serjeant Snubbin went out
arm-in-arm, and over their port in the Temple (where the wine is good and
astonishingly cheap) made excellent fun of the whole affair. The wise
juryman never takes any notice of the passion and tears, the heroics and
the indignation of counsel. He knows that they are assumed not to enlighten
but to darken his mind. I always recall in this connection the remark of a
famous lawyer who rose to great eminence by the exercise of his emotions.
He was standing by the graveside of a departed friend and observed that one
of the mourners, a fellow--lawyer, was shedding real tears. "What a waste
of raw material," he remarked in a whisper to his neighbour. "Those tears
would be worth a guinea a drop before a jury."

What interested me in the case was the statement that the legal costs had
been £150,000, and that Mr. Upjohn, K.C., alone had had a retainer of
£1000, and had been kept going with a "refresher" of £100 a day. I like
that word "refresher." It has a fine bibulous smack about it. Or perhaps it
is a reminiscence of "the ring." Buzfuz feels a bit pumped by the day's
round. He has perspired his £100, as it were, and is doubtful whether he
can come up to the scratch without a refresher. And so he is taken to his
corner by his client and dosed with another £100. Then all his ardour
returns. He sees the thing as clear as daylight--the radiant innocence of
the plaintiff, the black perfidy of the defendant. To-morrow evening the
vision will have faded again, but another £100 will make it as plain as
ever. Yes, it is a good word--"refresher"--a candid word, an honest word.
It puts the relation on a sound business footing. There is no sham
sentiment about it. Give me another refresher, says Buzfuz, and I'll shed
another pailful of tears for you, and blacken both the defendant's eyes for

But as I read of these princely earnings I could not help thinking of what
an irrational world this is in the matter of rewards. Here are a couple of
lawyers hurling epithets and "cases" at each other at £100 a day. At the
end a verdict is given for this side or that, and outside the people
concerned no one is a penny the better or worse. And not many miles away
hundreds of thousands of men are living in the mud of rat-infested
trenches, with the sky raining destruction upon them, and death and
mutilation the hourly incident of their lives. They have no retaining fee
and no refresher. Their reward is a shilling a day, and it would take them
20,000 days to "earn" what one K.C. pockets each night. Could the mind
conceive a more grotesque inversion of the law of services and rewards? You
die for your country at a shilling a day, while at home Snubbin, K.C., is
perspiring for his client at £100 a day.

This is old, cheap, and profitless stuff, you say. What is the good of
drawing these contrasts? We know all about them. They are a part of the
eternal inequality of things. Services and rewards never have had, and
never will have, any relation to each other. Please do not remind us that
Charlie Chaplin (or Charles Chaplin as he desires to be known) earns
£130,000 a year by playing the fool in front of a camera, and that
Wordsworth did not earn enough to keep himself in shoe-laces out of poetry
which has become an immortal possession of humanity, and had to beg a noble
nobody (the Earl of Lonsdale, I think) to get him a job as a stamp
distributor to keep him in bread and butter.

Do not, my dear sir, be alarmed, I am not going to work that ancient theme
off on you. And yet I think it is necessary sometimes to remind ourselves
of these things. It is especially necessary now when there is so much easy
talk about "equality of sacrifice," and so much easy forgetfulness of the
inequality of rewards. It is useful, too, to remind ourselves that riches
have no necessary relation to service. The genius for getting money is an
altogether different thing from the genius for service. I suppose the
Guinnesses (to take an example) are the richest people in Ireland. And I
suppose Tom Kettle was one of the poorest. But who will dare apply the
money test as the real measure of the values of these men to humanity--the
one fabulously rich by brewing the "black stuff," as they call it in
Ireland; the other glorious in his genius for spending himself, without a
thought of return, on every noble cause and dying freely for liberty in the
full tide of his powers? Which means the more to the world? Perhaps one
effect of the war will be to give us a saner standard of values in these
things--will teach us to look behind the money and title to the motives
that get the money and the title. It is not the money and title we should
distrust so much as the false implications attaching to them.

And, after all, we exaggerate the importance of the material rewards. They
must often be very much of a bore. As the late Lord Salisbury once said, a
man doesn't sleep any better because he has a choice of forty bedrooms in
his house. He can only take one ride even though he has fifty motor-cars.
He cannot get more joy out of the sunshine than you or I can. The birds
sing and the buds swell for all of us, and in the great storehouse of
natural delights there is no money taken and no price on the goods. Mr.
Rockefeller's £100 a minute (if that is his income) is poor consolation for
his bad digestion, and the late Mr. Pierpoint Morgan would probably have
parted with half his millions to get rid of the excrescence that made his
nose an unsightly joke. We cannot count our riches at the bank--even on the
material side, much less on the spiritual. As I came along the village this
morning I saw Jim Squire digging up his potatoes in the golden September
light. I hailed him, and inquired how the crop was turning out. "A
wunnerful fine crop," he said, "and thank the Lord, there ain't a spot o'
disease in 'em." And as he straightened his back, pointed to the tubers
strewn about him, and beamed like the sun at his good fortune, he looked
the very picture of autumn's riches.


I was in a feminine company the other day when the talk turned on war
economies, with the inevitable allusion to the substitution of margarine
for butter. I found it was generally agreed that the substitution had been
a success. "Well," said one, "I bought some butter the other day--the sort
we used to use--and put it on the table with the margarine which we have
learned to eat. My husband took some, thinking it was margarine, made a wry
face, and said, 'It won't do. This margarine economy is beyond me. We must
return to butter, even if we lose the war.' I explained to him that he was
eating butter, _the_ butter, and he said, 'Well, I'm hanged!' Now, what do
you think of that?"

I said I thought it showed that taste was a matter of habit, and that
imagination played a larger part in our make-up than we supposed. We say of
this or that thing that it is "an acquired taste," as though the fact was
unusual, whereas the fact would seem to be that we dislike most things
until we have habituated ourselves to them. As a youth I abominated the
taste of tobacco. It was only by an industrious apprenticeship to the herb
that I overcame my natural dislike and got to be its obedient servant. And
even my taste here is unstable. I needed a certain tobacco to be happy and
thought there was no other tobacco like it. But I discovered that was all
nonsense. When the war tax sent the price up, I determined that my
expenditure should not go up with it, and I tried a cheaper sort. I found
it distasteful at first, but now I prefer it to my old brand, just as the
lady's husband finds that he prefers the new margarine to the old butter.

And it is not only gastronomic taste which seems so much the subject of
habit. That hat that was so absolute a thing last year is as dowdy and
impossible to-day as if it had been the fashion of the Babylonians. It has
always been so. "We had scarce worn cloth one year at the Court," says
Montaigne, "what time we mourned for our King Henrie the Second, but
certainly in every man's opinion all manner of silks were already become so
vile and abject that was any man seen to wear them he was presently judged
to be some countrie fellow or mechanical man." And you remember that in
Utopia gold was held of so small account by comparison with iron that it
was used for the baser purposes of the household.

We are adaptable creatures, and easily make our tastes conform to our
environment and our customs. There are certain savage tribes who wear rings
through their noses. When Mrs. Brown, of Tooting, sees pictures of them she
remarks to Mr. Brown on the strange habits of these barbarous people. And
Mr. Brown, if he has a touch of humour in him, points to the rings hanging
from Mrs. Brown's ears, and says: "But, my dear, why is it barbarous to
wear a ring in the nostril and civilised to wear rings in the ears?" The
dilemma is not unlike that of the savage tribe whom the Greeks induced to
give up cannibalism. But when the cannibals, who had piously eaten their
parents, were asked instead to adopt the Greek custom of burning the bodies
they were horrified at the suggestion. They would cease to eat them; but
burn them? No. I can imagine Mrs. Brown's savages agreeing to take the
rings out of their noses, but refusing blankly to put them in their ears.

I have no doubt that the long-haired Cavaliers used to regard the short
hair of the Puritans as the "limit" in bad taste, but the man who today
dares to walk down the Strand with hair streaming down his back is looked
at as a curiosity and a crank, and we all join in that delightful addition
to the Litany which Moody invented: "From long-haired men and short-haired
women, Good Lord, deliver us." But who shall say that our children will not
reverse the prayer?

Even in my own brief span I have seen men's faces pass through every
hirsute change under the Protean influence of "good taste." I remember
when, to be really a student of good form, a man wore long side-whiskers of
the Dundreary type. Then "mutton chops" and a moustache were the thing;
then only a moustache; now we have got back to the Romans and the clean
shave. But where is the absolute "good taste" in all this? Or take
trousers. If you had lived a hundred years ago and had dared to go about in
trousers instead of knee-breeches you would have been written down a vulgar
fellow. Even the great Duke of Wellington in 1814 was refused admittance to
Almack's because he presented himself in trousers. Now we relegate
knee-breeches to fancy dress balls and Court functions.

But sometimes the canons of good taste are astonishingly irrational. Who
was it who set Christendom wearing black, sad, hopeless black as the symbol
of mourning? The Roman ladies, who had never heard of the doctrine of the
Resurrection, clothed themselves in white for mourning. It is left for the
Christian world, which looks beyond the grave, to wear the habiliments of
despair. If I go to a funeral I am as conventional as anybody else, for I
have not the courage of a distinguished statesman whom I saw at his
brother's funeral wearing a blue overcoat, check trousers, and a grey
waistcoat, and carrying a green umbrella. I can give you his name if you
doubt me--a great name, too. And he would not deny the impeachment. I am
not prepared to endorse his idea of good taste; but I hate black. "Why
should I wear black for the guests of God?" asked Ruskin. And there is no
answer. Perhaps among the consequences of the war there will be a
repudiation of this false code of taste.


As I turned into the lane that climbs the hillside to the cottage under the
high beech woods I was conscious of a sort of mild expectation that I could
not explain. It was late evening. Venus, who looks down with such calm
splendour upon this troubled earth in these summer nights, had disappeared,
but the moon had not yet risen. The air was heavy with those rich odours
which seem so much more pungent by night than by day--those odours of
summer eves that Keats has fixed for ever in the imagination:--

    I cannot see what flowers are at my feet.
      Nor what soft incense hangs upon the boughs;
    But, in embalmed darkness, guess each sweet
      Wherewith the seasonable month endows
    The grass, the thicket, and the fruit-tree wild;
      White hawthorn....

Ah, that was it. I remembered now. A fortnight ago, when I last came up
this lane by night, it was the flash of the white hawthorn in the starlight
that burst upon me with such a sudden beauty. I knew the spot. It was just
beyond here, where the tall hedgerow leans over the grass side-track and
makes a green arbour by the wayside. I should come to it in a minute or
two, and catch once more that ecstasy of spring.

And when I reached the spot the white hawthorn had vanished. The arbour was
there, but its glory had faded. The two weeks I had spent in Fleet Street
had stripped it of its crown, and the whole pageant of the year must pass
before I could again experience that sudden delight of the hedgerows
bursting into foam. I do not mind confessing that I continued my way up the
lane with something less than my former exhilaration. Partly no doubt this
was due to the fact that the hill at this point begins its job of climbing
in earnest, and is a stiff pull at the end of a long day's work and a
tiresome journey--especially if you are carrying a bag.

But the real reason of the slight shadow that had fallen on my spirit was
the vanished hawthorn. Poor sentimentalist, you say, to cherish these idle
fancies in this stern world of blood and tears. Well, perhaps it is this
stern world of blood and tears that gives these idle fancies their
poignancy. Perhaps it is through those fancies that one feels the
transitoriness of other things. The coming and the parting in the round of
nature are so wonderfully mingled that we can never be quite sure whether
the joy of the one triumphs over the regret for the other. It is always
"Hail" and "Farewell" in one breath. I heard the cuckoo calling across the
meadows to-day, and already I noticed a faltering in his second note. Soon
the second note will be silent altogether, and the single call will sound
over the valley like the curfew bell of spring.

Who, I thought, would not fix these fleeting moments of beauty if he could?
Who would not keep the cuckoo's twin shout floating for ever over summer
fields and the blackbird for ever fluting his thanksgiving after summer
showers? Who can see the daffodils nodding their heads in sprightly dance
without sharing the mood of Herrick's immortal lament that that dance
should be so brief:--

    Fair daffodils, we weep to see
    You haste away so soon;
    As yet the early-rising sun
    Has not attain'd its noon.
    Stay, stay.
    Until the hasting day
    Has run
    But to the evensong;
    And, having prayed together, we
    Will go with you along.

Yes, I think Herrick would have forgiven me for that momentary lapse into
regretfulness over the white hawthorn. He would have understood. You will
see that he understood if you will recall the second stanza, which, if you
are the person I take you for, you will do without needing to turn to a

It is the same sense of the transience of beauty that inspired the "Ode to
a Grecian Urn" on which pastoral beauty was fixed in eternal rapture:--

    Ah, happy, happy boughs I that cannot shed
    Your leaves, nor ever bid the spring adieu.

And there we touch the paradox of this strange life. We would keep the
fleeting beauty of Nature, and yet we would not keep it. The thought of
those trees whose leaves are never shed, and of that eternal spring to
which we never bid adieu, is pleasant to toy with, but after all we would
not have it so. It is no more seriously tenable than the thought that
little Johnny there should remain for ever at the age of ten. You may feel
that you would like him to remain at the age of ten. Indeed you are a
strange parent if you do not look back a little wistfully to the childhood
of your children, and wish you could see them as you once saw them. But you
would not really have Johnny stick at ten. After five years of the
experience you would wish little Johnny dead. For life and its beauty are a
living thing, and not a pretty fancy sculptured on a Grecian urn.

And so with the pageant of Nature. If the pageant stopped, the wonder
itself would stop. I should have no sudden shock of delight at hearing the
first call of the cuckoo in spring or seeing my hawthorn hedge burst into
snowy blossoms. I should no longer remark the jolly clatter of the rooks in
the February trees which forms the prologue of spring, nor look out for the
coming of the first primrose or the arrival of the first swallow. I should
cease, it is true, to have the pangs of "Farewell," but I should cease also
to have the ecstasy of "Hail." I should have my Grecian urn, but I should
have lost the magic of the living world.

By the time I had reached the gate I had buried my regrets for the vanished
hawthorn. I knew that to-morrow I should find new miracles in the
hedgerows--the wild rose and the honeysuckle, and after them the
blackberries, and after these again the bright-hued hips and haws. And
though the cuckoo's note should fail him, there would remain the thrush,
and after the thrush that constant little fellow in the red waistcoat would
keep the song going through the dark winter days.

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