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Title: Prose Fancies
Author: Le Gallienne, Richard, 1866-1947
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Prose Fancies" ***

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OCTOBER 22, 1891




The reader will, doubtless, feel the greater confidence
in the following essays, from the fact that they have
already passed their first and second readings
through the hands of the editors and subscribers
of _The Speaker_, _The Star_, _The Illustrated London
News_, and _The Sketch_. To the several editors of
these papers I am indebted for their kind permission
to reprint, and I take this opportunity of expressing
my thanks to Mr. CLEMENT SHORTER for many
other kindnesses. I venture also particularly to
thank my friend Mr. T.P. GILL--but for whose
kind incitement many of the following
'Fancies' had not been written at all.




Spring puts the old pipe to his lips and blows a note or two. At the
sound, little thrills pass across the wintry meadows. The bushes are
dotted with innumerable tiny sparks of green, that will soon set fire to
the whole hedgerow; here and there they have gone so far as those little
tufts which the children call 'bread and cheese.' A gentle change is
coming over the grim avenue of the elms yonder. They won't relent so far
as to admit buds, but there is an unmistakable bloom upon them, like the
promise of a smile. The rooks have known it for some weeks, and already
their Jews' market is in full caw. The more complaisant chestnut dandles
its sticky knobs. Soon they will be brussels-sprouts, and then they will
shake open their fairy umbrellas. So says a child of my acquaintance. The
water-lilies already poke their green scrolls above the surface of the
pond; a few buttercups venture into the meadows, but daisies are still
precious as asparagus. The air is warm as your love's cheek, golden as
canary. It is all a-clink and a-glitter, it trills and chirps on every
hand. Somewhere close by, but unseen, a young man is whistling at his
work; and, putting your ear to the ground, you shall hear how the earth
beneath is alive with a million little beating hearts. _C'est l'heure

Presently along the road comes slowly, and at times erratically, a
charming procession. Following the fashion, or even setting it, three
weeks since yon old sow budded. From her side, recalling the Trojan horse,
sprang suddenly a little company of black-and-tan piglets, fully legged
and snouted for the battle of life. She is taking them with her to put
them to school at a farm two or three miles away. So I understand her.
They surround her in a compact body, ever moving and poking and
squeaking, yet all keeping together. As they advance slowly, she towering
above her tiny bodyguard, one thinks of Gulliver moving through Lilliput;
and there is a touch of solemnity in the procession which recalls a mighty
Indian idol being carried through the streets, with people thronging about
its feet. How delicately she steps, lest she hurt one of the little limbs!
And, meanwhile, mark the driver--for though the old pig pretends to ignore
any such coercion, as men believe in free-will, yet there is a fate, a
driver, to this idyllic domestic company. But how gentle is he too! He
never lets it be seen that he is driving them. He carries a little switch,
rather, it would appear, for form's sake; for he seldom does more with it
than tickle the gravely striding posteriors of the quaint little people.
He is wise as he is kind, for he knows that he is driving quicksilver. The
least undue coercion, the least sudden start, and they will be off like
spilled marbles, in eleven different directions. Sometimes occasion arises
for prompt action: when the poet of the family dreams he discerns the
promised land through the bottom of a gate, and is bent on squeezing his
way under, and the demoralisation of the whole eleven seems imminent.
Then, unconsciously applying the wisdom of Solomon, the driver deals a
smart flick to the old mother. Seeing her move on, and reflecting that she
carries all the provisions of the party, her children think better of
their romance, and gambol after her, taking a gamesome pull at her teats
from high spirits.

The man never seems to get angry with them. He is smiling gently to
himself all the time, as he softly and leisurely walks behind them.
Indeed, wherever this moving nursery of young life passes, it awakens
tenderness. The man who drove the gig so rapidly a little way off suddenly
slows down, and, with a sympathetic word, walks his horse gingerly by.
Every pedestrian stops and smiles, and on every face comes a transforming
tenderness, a touch of almost motherly sweetness. So dear is young life to
the eye and heart of man.

A few weeks hence these same pedestrians will pass these same pigs with
no emotion, beyond, possibly, that produced by the sweet savour of frying
ham. Their _naïveté_, their charming baby quaintness, will have departed
for ever. Their features, as yet but roguishly indicated, will have become
set and hidebound; their soft little snouts will be ringed, and hard as a
fifth hoof; their dainty little ears--veritable silk purses--will have
grown long and bristly: in short, they will have lost that ineffable
tender bloom of young life which makes them quite a touching sight to-day.
Strange that loss of charm which comes with development in us all, pigs
included. A tendency to pigginess, as in these youngsters, a tendency to
manhood in the prattling and crowing babe, are both hailed as charming:
but the full-grown pig! the full-grown man! Alas! in each case the charm
seems to flee with the advent of bristles.

But let us return to the driver.

Under his arm he carries a basket, from which now and again proceed
suppressed squeaks and grunts. It is 'the rickling,' the weakling, of the
family. It will probably find an early death, and be embalmed in sage and
onions. The man has already had an offer for it--from 'Mr. Lamb.' Mr.
Lamb! Yes, Mr. Lamb at Six-Elm Farm. 'Oh! I see.' But was it not a
startling coincidence?

It has taken half an hour to come from the old bridge to the cross-roads,
barely half a mile. And now, good-bye, funny little silken-coated piglets;
good-bye, grave old mother. Ge-whoop! Good-bye, gentle driver. As you move
behind your charge with that tender smile, with that burden safely pressed
beneath your arm, I seem to have had a vision of the Good Shepherd.


Down by the river there is, as yet, little sign of spring. Its bed is all
choked with last year's reeds, trampled about like a manger. Yet its
running seems to have caught a happier note, and here and there along its
banks flash silvery wands of palm. Right down among the shabby burnt-out
underwood moves the sordid figure of a man. He seems the very _genius
loci_. His clothes are torn and soiled, as though he had slept on the
ground. The white lining of one arm gleams out like the slashing in a
doublet. His hat is battered, and he wears no collar. I don't like staring
at his face, for he has been unfortunate. Yet a glimpse tells me that he
is far down the hill of life, old and drink-corroded at fifty. He is
miserably gathering sticks--perhaps a little job for the farm close by. He
probably slept in the barn there last night, turned out drunk from the
public-house. He will probably do and be done by likewise to-night. How
many faggots to the dram? one wonders. What is he thinking as he rustles
about disconsolately among the bushes? Of what is he _dreaming_? What does
he make of the lark up there? But I notice he never looks at it. Perhaps
he cannot bear to. For who knows what is in the heart beneath that poor
soiled coat? If you have hopes, he may have memories. Some day your hopes
will be memories too--birds that have flown away, flowers long since


A short way further along I come across a boy gathering palm. He is a town
boy, and has come all the way from Whitechapel thus early. He has already
gathered a great bundle--worth five shillings to him, he says. This same
palm will to-morrow be distributed over London, and those who buy sprigs
of it by the Bank will know nothing of the blue-eyed boy who gathered it,
and the murmuring river by which it grew. And the lad, once more lost in
some squalid court, will be a sort of Sir John Mandeville to his
companions--a Sir John Mandeville of the fields, with their water-rats,
their birds' eggs, and many other wonders. And one can imagine him saying,
'And the sparrows there fly right up into the sun, and sing like angels!'
But he won't get his comrades to believe _that_.


Spring has a wonderful way of bringing out hidden traits of character.
Through my window I look out upon a tiny farm. It is kept by a tall,
hard-looking, rough-bearded fellow, whom I have watched striding about his
fields all winter, with but little sympathy. Yet it would seem I have been
doing him wrong. For this morning, as he passed along the outside of the
railing wherein his two sheep were grazing, suddenly they came bounding
towards him with every manifestation of delight, literally recalling the
lambkins which Wordsworth saw bound 'as to the tabor's sound.' They
followed as far as the railing permitted, pushing their noses through at
him; nay, when at last he moved out of reach, they were evidently so much
in love that they leaped the fence and made after him. And he, instead of
turning brutally on them, as I had expected, smiled and played with them
awhile. Indeed, he had some difficulty in disengaging himself from their
persistent affection. So, evidently, they knew him better than I.


Why do we go on talking? It is a serious question, one on which the
happiness of thousands depends. For there is no more wearing social demand
than that of compulsory conversation. All day long we must either talk,
or--dread alternative--listen. Now, that were very well if we had
something to say, or our fellow-sufferer something to tell, or, best of
all, if either of us possessed the gift of clothing the old commonplaces
with charm. But men with that great gift are not to be met with in every
railway-carriage, or at every dinner. The man we actually meet is one
whose joke, though we have signalled it a mile off, we are powerless to
stop, whose opinions come out with a whirr as of clockwork. Besides, it
always happens in life that the man--or woman--with whom we would like to
talk is at the next table. Those who really have something to say to each
other so seldom have a chance of saying it.

Why, oh why, do we go on talking? We ask the question in all seriousness,
not merely in the hope of making some cheap paradoxical fun out of the
answer. It is a cry from the deeps of ineffable boredom.

Is it to impart information? At the best it is a dreary ideal. But, at any
rate, it is a mistaken use of the tongue, for there is no information we
can impart which has not been far more accurately stated in book-form.
Even if it should happen to be a quite new fact, an accident happily rare
as the transit of Venus--a new fact about the North Pole, for
instance--well, a book, not a conversation, is the place for it. To talk
book, past, present, or to come, is not to converse.

To converse, as with every other art, is out of three platitudes to make
not a fourth platitude--'but a star.' Newness of information is no
necessity of conversation: else were the Central News Agency the best of
talkers. Indeed, the oldest information is perhaps the best material for
the artist as talker: though, truly, as with every other artist, material
matters little. There are just two or three men of letters left to us, who
provide us examples of that inspired soliloquy, those conversations of
one, which are our nearest approach to the talk of other days. How good it
is to listen to one of these!--for it is the great charm of their talk
that we remember nothing. There were no prickly bits of information to
stick on one's mind like burrs. Their talk had no regular features, but,
like a sunrise, was all music and glory.

The friend who talks the night through with his friend, till the dawn
climbs in like a pallid rose at the window; the lovers who, while the sun
is setting, sit in the greenwood and say, 'Is it thou? It is I!' in
awestruck antiphony, till the stars appear; and, holiest converse of all,
the mystic prattle of mother and babe: why are all these such wonderful
talk if not because we remember no word of them--only the glory? They
leave us nothing, in image worthy of the time, to 'pigeon-hole,' nothing
to store with our vouchers in the 'pigeon-holes' of memory.

Pigeon-holes of memory! Think of the degradation. And memory was once a
honeycomb, a hive of all the wonderful words of poets, of all the
marvellous moods of lovers. Once it was a shell that listened tremulously
upon Olympus, and caught the accents of the Gods; now it is a phonograph
catching every word that falleth from the mouths of the board of
guardians. Once a muse, now a servile drudge 'twixt man and man.

And this 'pigeon-hole' memory--once an impressionist of divine moments,
now the miser of all unimportant, trivial detail--is our tyrant, the muse
of modern talk. Men talk now not what they feel or think, but what they
remember, with their bad good memories. If they remembered the poets, or
their first love, or the spring, or the stars, it were well enough: but
no! they remember but what the poets ate and wore, the last divorce case,
the state of the crops, the last trivial detail about Mars. The man with
the muck-rake would have made a great reputation as a talker had he lived
to-day: for, as our modern speech has it, a Great Man simply means a Great
Memory, and a Great Memory is simply a prosperous marine-store.

What, in fact, do we talk about? Mainly about our business, our food, or
our diseases. All three themes more or less centre in that of food. How we
revel in the brutal digestive details, and call it gastronomy! How our
host plumes himself on his wine, as though it were a personal virtue, and
not the merely obvious accessory of a man with ten thousand a year!
Strange, is it not, how we pat and stroke our possessions as though they
belonged to us, instead of to our money--our grandfather's money?

There is, some hope and believe, an imminent Return to
Simplicity--Socialism the unwise it call. If it be really true, what good
news for the grave humorous man, who hates talking to anything but trees
and children! For, if that Return to Simplicity means anything, it must
mean the sweeping away of immemorial rookeries of talk--such crannied
hives of gossip as the professions, with all their garrulous heritage of
trivial witty _ana_: literary, dramatic, legal, aristocratic,
ecclesiastical, commercial. How good to dip them all deep in the great
ocean of oblivion, and watch the bookworms, diarists, 'raconteurs,' and
all the old-clothesmen of life, scurrying out of their holes, as when in
summer-time Mary Anne submerges the cockroach trap within the pail! And
oh, let there be no Noah to that flood! Let none survive to tell another
tale; for, only when the chronicler of small-beer is dead shall we be able
to know men as men, heroes as heroes, poets as poets--instead of mere
centres of gossip, an inch of text to a yard of footnote. Then only may we
begin to talk of something worth the talking: not merely of how the great
man creased his trousers, and call it 'the study of character,' but of how
he was great, and whether it is possible to climb after him.

Talk, too, is so definite, so limited. The people we meet might seem so
wonderful, might mean such quaint and charming meanings sometimes, if they
would not talk. Like some delightfully bound old volume in a foreign
tongue, that looks like one of the Sibylline books, till a friend
translates the title and explains that it is a sixteenth-century law
dictionary: so are the men and women we meet. How interesting they might
be if they would not persist in telling us what they are about!

That, indeed, is the abiding charm of Nature. No sensible man can envy
Asylas, to whom the language of birds was as familiar as French _argot_ to
our young _décadents_. Think how terrible it would be if Nature could all
of a sudden learn English! That exquisite mirror of all our shifting moods
would be broken for ever. No longer might we coin the woodland into
metaphors of our own joys and sorrows. The birds would no longer flute to
us of lost loves, but of found worms; we should realise how terribly
selfish they are; we could never more quote 'Hark, hark, the lark at
heaven's gate sings,' or poetise with Mr. Patmore of 'the heavenly-minded
thrush.' And what awful voices some of those great red roses would have!
Yes, Nature is so sympathetic because she is so silent; because, when she
does talk, she talks in a language which we cannot understand, but only
guess at; and her silence allows us to hear her eternal meanings, which
her gossiping would drown.

Happy monks of La Trappe! One has heard the foolish chattering world take
pity upon you. An hour of talk to a year of silence! O heavenly
proportion! And I can well imagine that when that hour has come, it seems
but a trivial toy you have forgotten how to play with. Were I a Trappist,
I would use my hour to evangelise converts to silence, would break the
long year's quiet but to whisper, 'How good is silence!' Let us inaugurate
a secular La Trappe, let us plot a conspiracy of silence, let us send the
world to Coventry. Or, if we must talk, let it be in Latin, or in the
'Volapük' of myriad-meaning music; and let no man joke save in Greek--that
all may laugh. But, best of all, let us leave off talking altogether, and
listen to the morning stars.


As I waited for an omnibus at the corner of Fleet Street the other day, I
was the spectator of a curious occurrence. Suddenly there was a scuffle
hard by me, and, turning round, I saw a powerful gentlemanly man wrestling
with two others in livery, who were evidently intent on arresting him.
These men, I at once perceived, belonged to the detective force of the
Incorporated Society of Authors, and were engaged in the capture of a
notorious plagiarist. I knew the prisoner well. He had, in fact, pillaged
from my own writings; but I was none the less sorry for his plight, to
which, I would assure the reader, I was no party. Yet he was, I admit, an
egregiously bad case, and my pity is doubtless misplaced sentiment. Like
many another, he had begun his career as a quotation and ended as a
plagiarism, daring even, in one instance, to imitate that shadow in the
fairy-tale which rose up on a sudden one day and declared himself to be
the substance and the substance his shadow. Indeed, he had so far
succeeded as to make many people question whether or not he was the
original and the other man the plagiarism. However, there was no longer to
be any doubt of it, for his captors had him fast this time; and,
presently, we saw him taken off in a hansom, well secured between strong
inverted commas.

This curious circumstance set me reflecting, and, as we trundled along
towards Charing Cross, my mind gave birth to sundry sententious

After all, I thought, that unlucky plagiarist is no worse than most of us:
for is it not true that few of us live as conscientiously as we should
within our inverted commas? We are far more inclined to live in that
author, not ourselves, who makes for originality. It is, of course,
difficult, even with the best intentions, to make proper acknowledgment of
all our 'authorities'--to attach, so to say, the true _'del. et sculp.'_
to all our little bits of art. There is so much in our lives that we
honestly don't know how we came by.

As I reflected in this wise, I was drawn to notice my companions in the
omnibus, and lo! there was not an original person amongst us. Yet I looked
in vain to see if they wore their inverted commas. Not one of them,
believe me, had had the honesty to bring them. Each looked at me
unblushingly, as though he were really original, and not a cheap German
print of originals I had seen in books and pictures since I could read. I
really think that they must have been unaware of their imposture. They
could hardly have pretended so successfully.

There was the young dandy just let loose from his band-box, wearing
exactly the same face, the same smile, the same neck-tie, holding his
stick in exactly the same fashion, talking exactly the same words, with
precisely the same accent, as his neighbour, another dandy, and as all the
other dandies between the Bank and Hyde Park Corner. Yet he seemed
persuaded of his own originality. He evidently felt that there was
something individual about him, and apparently relied with confidence on
his friend not addressing a third dandy by mistake for him. I hope he had
his name safe in his hat.

Looking at these three examples of Nature's love of repeating herself, I
said to myself: Somewhere in heaven stands a great stencil, and at each
sweep of the cosmic brush a million dandies are born, each one alike as a
box of collars. Indeed, I felt that this stencil process had been employed
in the manufacture of every single person in that omnibus: two middle-aged
matrons, each of whom seemed to think that having given birth to six
children was an indisputable claim to originality; two elderly business
men to correspond; a young miss carrying music and wearing eye-glasses;
and a clergyman discussing stocks with one of the business men; I alone in
my corner being, of course, the one occupant for whom Nature had been at
the expense of casting a special mould, and at the extravagance of
breaking it.

Presently a matron and a business man alighted, and two dainty young
women, evidently of artistic tendencies, joined the Hammersmith pilgrims.
One saw at a glance that they were very sure of their originality. There
were no inverted commas around their pretty young heads, bless them! But
then Queen Anne houses are as much on a pattern as more commonplace
structures, and Bedford Parkians are already being manufactured by
celestial stencil. What I specially noticed about them was their
plagiarised voices--curious, yearning things, evidently intended to
suggest depths of infinite passion, controlled by many a wild and weary

    'Infinite passion, and the pain
    Of finite souls that yearn'--

the kind of voice, you know, in which Socialist actresses yearn out
passages from 'The Cenci,' feeling that they do a fearful thing. The voice
began, I believe, with Miss Ellen Terry. With her, though, it is charming,
for it is, we feel, the voice of real emotion. There are real tears in it.
It is her own. But with these ladies, who were discussing the last
'Independent' play, it was so evidently a stop pulled out by
affectation--the _vox inhumana_, one might say, for it is a voice unlike
anything else to be found in the four elements. It has its counterpart in
the imitators of Mr. Beerbohm Tree--young actors who likewise endeavour to
make up for the lack of anything like dramatic passion by pretending to
control it: the control being feigned by a set jaw or a hard, throaty,
uncadenced voice of preternatural solemnity. These ladies, too, wore
plagiarised gowns of the most 'original' style, plagiarised hats,
glittering plagiarised smiles; and yet they so evidently looked down on
every one else in the omnibus, whom, perhaps, after all, it had been
kinder of me to describe as the hackneyed quotations of humanity, who had
probably thought it unnecessary to wear their inverted commas, as they
were so well known.

At last I grew impatient of them, and, leaving the omnibus, finished my
journey home by the Underground. What was my surprise when I reached it to
find our little house wearing inverted commas--two on the chimney, and two
on the gate! My wife, too! and the words of endearing salutation with
which I greeted her, why, they also to my diseased fancy seemed to leave
my lips between quotation marks. There is nothing in which we fancy
ourselves so original as in our terms of endearment, nothing in which we
are so like all the world; for, alas! there is no euphuism of affection
which lovers have not prattled together in springtides long before the
Christian era. If you call your wife 'a chuck,' so did Othello; and,
whatever dainty diminutive you may hit on, Catullus, with his warbling
Latin, 'makes mouths at our speech.'

I grew so haunted with this oppressive thought, that my wife could not but
notice my trouble. But how could I tell her of the spectral inverted
commas that dodged every move of her dear head?--tell her that our own
original firstborn, just beginning to talk as never baby talked, was an
unblushing plagiarism of his great-great-great-grandfather, that our love
was nothing but the expansion of a line of Keats, and that our whole life
was one hideous mockery of originality? 'Woman,' I felt inclined to
shriek, 'be yourself, and not your great-grandmother. A man may not marry
his great-grandmother. For God's sake let us all be ourselves, and not
ghastly mimicries of our ancestors, or our neighbours. Let us shake
ourselves free from this evil dream of imitation. Merciful Heaven, it is
killing me!' But surely that was a quotation too, and, accidentally
catching sight of the back of my hand, suddenly the tears sprang to my
eyes, for it was just so the big soft veins used to be on the hands of my
father, when a little boy I prayed between his knees. He was gone, but
here was his hand--_his_ hand, not mine!

Then an idea possessed me. There was but one way. I could die. There was a
little phial of laudanum in the medicine-cupboard that always leered at me
from among the other bottles like a serpent's eye. Thrice happy thought!
Who would miss such a poor imitation? Even the mere soap-vending tradesmen
bid us 'beware of imitations.' Dark wine of forgetfulness.... No, that was
a quotation. However, here was the phial. I drew the cork, inhaled for a
moment the hard dry odour of poppies, and prepared to drink. But just at
that moment I seemed to hear a horrid little laugh coming out of the
bottle, and a voice chuckled at my ear: 'You ass, do you call that
original?' It was so absurd that I burst out into hysterical laughter.
Here had I been about to do the most 'banal' thing of all. Was there
anything in the world quite so commonplace as suicide?

And with the good spirits of laughter came peace. Nay, why worry to be
'original'? Why such haste to be unlike the rest of the world, when the
best things of life were manifestly those which all men had in common? Was
love less sweet because my next-door neighbour knew it as well? Would the
same reason make death less bitter? And were not those tender diminutives
all the more precious, because their vowels had been rounded for us by the
sweet lips of lovers dead and gone?--sainted jewels, still warm from the
beat of tragic bosoms, flowers which their kisses had freighted with
immortal meanings.

And then I bethought me how the meadow-daisies were one as the other, and
how, when the pearly shells of the dog rose settled on the hedge like a
flight of butterflies, one was as the other; how the birds sang alike, how
star was twin with star, and in peas is no distinction. My rhetoric
stopped as I was about to say 'as wife is to wife'--for I thought I would
first kiss her and see: and lo! I was once more perplexed, for as I looked
down into her eyes, simple and blue and deep, as the sky is simple and
blue and deep, I declared her to be the only woman in the world--which was
obviously not exact. But it was true, for all that.


Mankind, in its heavy fashion, has chosen to mock the tailor with the
fact--the indubitable fact--that he is but the ninth part of a man. Yet,
after all, at this time of day, it seems more of a compliment than a gibe.
To be a whole ninth of a man! Few of _us_, when we ponder it, can boast so
much. Take, for instance, that other proverbial case of the
fractional-part-of-a-pin-maker. It takes nine persons to make a pin, we
were taught in our catechism. Actually that means that it takes nine
persons to make one whole pin-maker, which leaves the question still to be
solved as to how many whole pin-makers it takes to make a man. What is the
relation of one pin-maker to the whole social economy? That discovered, a
multiplication by nine will give us the exact fractional part of manhood
which belongs to the ninth-of-a-pin-maker. Obviously he is a much more
microscopic creature than the immemorially despised tailor, and, alas! his
case is nearest that of most of us. And it is curious to notice how we
rejoice in, rather than lament, this inevitable result of that great law
of differentiation, which one may figure as a terrible machine hour after
hour chopping up mankind into more and more infinitesimal fragments. We
feel a pride in being spoken of as 'specialists'--and yet what is a
specialist? The nine-hundred-and-ninety-ninth part of a man. Call me not
an entomologist, call me a lepidopterist, if you will--though, really,
that is too broad a term for a man who is not so much taken up with moths
generally as with the third ring of the antennæ of the great oak-eggar.

If one is troubled with a gift for symbolism, it is hard to treat any man
one meets as though he were really a whole man: to treat a lawyer as
though he were anything but a deed of assignment, or a surgeon as if he
were anything more than an operation. As the metropolitan trains load and
unload in a morning, what does one see? Gross upon gross of steel pens, a
few quills, whole carriages full of bricklayers' trowels, and how strange
it seems to watch all the bank-books sorting themselves out from the
motley, and arranging themselves in the first classes, just as we see them
on the shelf in the bank! It is a curious sight. The little shop-girl
there, what is she but a roll of pink ribbon?--nay, she is but
half-a-yard. And the poor infinitesimal porters and guards, how
pathetically small seems their share in the great monosyllable Man,
animalcules in that great social system which, again, is but an animalcule
in the blood of Time. Still more infinitesimal seems the man who is a
subdivision, not of a form of work even, but merely of a form of taste;
the man who collects foreign stamps, say, or book-plates, or arrow-heads,
the connoisseur of a tiny section of one of the lesser schools of Italian
painting, the coral-insect who has devoted his life to a participle,
first-edition men, and all those various bookworms who, without
impropriety be it spoken, are the maggots that breed in the dung of the
great. A certain friend of mine always appears to me in the similitude of
a first edition of one of Mr. Hardy's novels. I have the greatest
difficulty at times to prevent myself forcibly setting him upon my shelf
to complete my set; for, oddly enough, he is the one bit of Hardyana I
lack. In which confession I let the reader into the secret of my own petty
limitations. To have one's horizon bounded by a book-plate, to have no
hope, no wish in life, beyond a first edition! The workers, however
sectional, have some place in the text of the great book of life, but such
mere testers and tasters of existence have hardly a place even in the
gloss, though it be printed in the most microscopic diamond.

And every moment, as we said, we are being turned out smaller and smaller
from the mill of Time. You ask your little boy what he would like to be
when he grows up. To your consternation he answers, 'A man!' You hide your
face: you cannot tell him how impossible it is now to be that. Poor little
chap! He is born centuries too late. You cannot promise even that he shall
be a tailor, for by the time he is old enough to be apprenticed, how do
you know how that ancient profession may be divided up? May you not have
sadly to tell him: 'My poor boy, it is impossible to make you that--for
there are no longer any whole-tailors. You may, if you like, be a
thread-waxer or a needle-threader; you may be one of the thirty men it
takes to make a buttonhole, but a complete tailor--alas! it is

Who will save us from this remorseless law of eternal subdivision? To make
one complete man out of all this vast collection of snips and snippets of
humanity. To piece all the trades, professions, and fads together, like a
puzzle, till one saw the honest face of a genuine man round and whole once
more. To take these dry bones of the Valley of Commerce, and powerfully
breathe into them the unifying breath of life, that once more they stand
up, not as fractional bones of the wrist or the ankle of manhood, but
mighty, full-blooded men as of old. Ah! we must wait for a new creation
for that.

The mystics have a suggestive fancy that all our vast complex life once
existed as a peaceful unit in the mind of God. But as God, brooding in
the abyss, meditated upon Himself, various thoughts separated themselves
and revolved within the atmosphere of His mind, at first unconscious of
themselves or each other. Presently, desire of separate existence awoke in
these shadowy things, a lust of corporeality grew upon them, and hence at
last the fall into physical life, the realisation in concrete form of
their diaphanous individualities. And that original cause of man's
separation from deity, this desire of subdivision, how it has gone on
operating, more and more! We call it differentiation, but the mystic would
describe it as dividing ourselves more and more from God, the primeval
unity in which alone is blessedness. Blake in one of his prophetic books
sings man's 'fall into Division and his resurrection into Unity.' And when
we look about us and consider but the common use of words, how do we find
the mystic's apparently wild fancy illustrated in every section of our
commonplace lives. What do we mean when we speak of 'division' of
interests, 'division' of families, when we say that 'union' is strength,
or how good it is to dwell together in 'unity,' or speak of lives 'made
one'? Are we not unwittingly expressing the unconscious yearning of the
fractions to merge once more in the sweet kinship of the unit, of the
ninths and the nine-hundred-and-ninety-ninths of humanity to merge their
differences in the mighty generalisation Man, of man to merge his finite
existence in the mysterious infinite, the undivided, indivisible One, to
'be made one,' as theology phrases it, 'with God'? How the complex life of
our time longs to return to its first happy state of simplicity, we feel
on every hand. What is Socialism but a vast throb of man's desire after
unity? We are overbred. The simple old type of manhood is lost long since
in endless orchidaceous variation. Oh to be simple shepherds, simple
sailors, simple delvers of the soil, to be something complete on our own
account, to be relative to nothing save God and His stars!


_O ma pauvre Muse! est-ce toi?_

Fame in Athens and Florence took the form of laurel; in London it is
represented by 'Romeikes.' Hyacinth Rondel, the very latest new poet, sat
one evening not long ago in his elegant new chambers, with a cloud of
those pleasant witnesses about him, as charmed by 'the rustle' of their
'loved Apollian leaves' as though they had been veritable laurel or
veritable bank-notes. His rooms were provided with all those distinguished
comforts and elegancies proper to a success that may any moment be
interviewed. Needless to say, the walls had been decorated by Mr.
Whistler, and there was not a piece of furniture in the room that had not
belonged to this or that poet deceased. Priceless autograph portraits of
all the leading actors and actresses littered the mantelshelf with a
reckless prodigality; the two or three choice etchings were, of course, no
less conspicuously inscribed to their illustrious confrère by the
artists--naturally, the very latest hatched in Paris. There was hardly a
volume in the elegant Chippendale bookcases not similarly inscribed. Mr.
Rondel would as soon have thought of buying a book as of paying for a
stall. To the eye of imagination, therefore, there was not an article in
the room which did not carry a little trumpet to the distinguished poet's
honour and glory. Hidden from view in his buhl cabinet, but none the less
vivid to his sensitive egoism, were those tenderer trophies of his power,
spoils of the chase, which the adoring feminine had offered up at his
shrine: all his love-letters sorted in periods, neatly ribboned and snugly
ensconced in various sandalwood niches--much as urns are ranged at the
Crematorium, Woking--with locks of hair of many hues. He loved most to
think of those letters in which the women had gladly sought a spiritual
suttee, and begged him to cement the stones of his temple of fame with
the blood of their devoted hearts. To have had a share in building so
distinguished a life--that was enough for them! They asked no such
inconvenient reward as marriage: indeed, one or two of them had already
obtained that boon from others. To serve their purpose, and then, if it
must be, to be forgotten, or--wild hope--to be embalmed in a sonnet
sequence: that was reward enough.

In the midst of this silent and yet so eloquent orchestra, which from morn
to night was continually crying 'Glory, glory, glory' in the ear of the
self-enamoured poet, Hyacinth Rondel was sitting one evening. The last
post had brought him the above-mentioned leaves of the Romeike laurel, and
he sat in his easiest chair by the bright fire, adjusting them,
metaphorically, upon his high brow, a decanter at his right-hand and
cigarette smoke curling up from his left. At last he had drained all the
honey from the last paragraph, and, with rustling shining head, he turned
a sweeping triumphant gaze around his room. But, to his surprise, he found
himself no longer alone. Was it the Muse in dainty modern costume and
delicately tinted cheek? Yes! it was one of those discarded Muses who
sometimes remain upon the poet's hands as Fates.

When she raised her veil she certainly looked more of a Fate than a Muse.
Her expression was not agreeable. The poet, afterwards describing the
incident and remembering his Dante, spoke of her in an allegorical sonnet
as 'lady of terrible aspect,' and symbolised her as Nemesis.

He now addressed her as 'Annette,' and in his voice were four notes of
exclamation. She came closer to him, and very quietly, but with an accent
that was the very quintessence of Ibsenism, made the somewhat mercantile
statement: 'I have come for my half-profits!'

'Half-profits! What do you mean? Are you mad?'

'Not in the least! I want my share in the profits of all this pretty
poetry,' and she contemptuously ran her fingers over the several slim
volumes on the poet's shelves which represented his own contribution to
English literature.

Rondel began to comprehend, but he was as yet too surprised to answer.

'Don't you understand?' she went on. 'It takes two to make poetry like

    "They steal their song the lips that sing
    From lips that only kiss and cling."

Do you remember? Have I quoted correctly? Yes, here it is!' taking down a
volume entitled _Liber Amoris_, the passionate confession which had first
brought the poet his fame. As a matter of fact, several ladies had 'stood'
for this series, but the poet had artfully generalised them into one
supreme Madonna, whom Annette believed to be herself. Indeed, she had
furnished the warmest and the most tragic colouring. Rondel, however, had
for some time kept his address a secret from Annette. But the candle set
upon a hill cannot be hid: fame has its disadvantages. To a man with
creditors or any other form of 'a past,' it is no little dangerous to have
his portrait in the _Review of Reviews_. A well-known publisher is an
ever-present danger. By some such means Annette had found her poet. The
papers could not be decorated with reviews of his verse, and she not come
across some of them. Indeed, she had, with burning cheek and stormy bosom,
recognised herself in many an intimate confession. It was her hair, her
face, all her beauty, he sang, though the poems were dedicated to another.

She turned to another passage as she stood there--'How pretty it sounds
_in poetry!_' she said, and began to read:--

    '"There in the odorous meadowsweet afternoon,
        With the lark like the dream of a song in the dreamy blue,
      All the air abeat with the wing and buzz of June,
        We met--she and I, I and she," [You and I, I and you.]
     "And there, while the wild rose and woodbine deliciousness blended,
      We kissed and we kissed and we kissed, till the afternoon ended...."'

Here Rondel at last interrupted--

'Woman!' he said, 'are your cheeks so painted that you have lost all sense
of shame?' But she had her answer--

'Man! are you so _great_ that you have lost the sense of pity? And which
is the greater shame: to publish your sins in large paper and take
royalties for them, or to speak of them, just you and I together, you and
I, as "there in the odorous meadowsweet afternoon"?'

'Look you,' she continued, 'an artist pays his model at least a shilling
an hour, and it is only her body he paints: but you use body and soul, and
offer her nothing. Your blues and reds are the colours you have stolen
from her eyes and her heart--stolen, I say, for the painter pays so much a
tube for his colours, so much an hour for his model, but you--'

'I give you immortality. Poor fly, I give you amber,' modestly suggested
the poet.

But Annette repeated the word 'Immortality!' with a scorn that almost
shook the poet's conceit, and thereupon produced an account, which ran as

'Mr. Hyacinth Rondel
                   Dr. to Miss Annette Jones,
     For moiety of the following royalties:--
Moonshine and Meadowsweet,       500 copies.
Coral and Bells,                 750 copies.
Liber Amoris, 3 editions,      3,000 copies.
Forbidden Fruit, 5 editions,   5,000 copies.
                               9,250 copies at 1s.
                                      = £462, 10s.
     Moiety of same due to Miss Jones, £231, 5s.'

'I don't mind receipting it for two hundred and thirty,' she said, as she
handed it to him.

Hyacinth was completely awakened by this: the joke was growing serious. So
he at once roused up the bully in him, and ordered her out of his rooms.
But she smiled at his threats, and still held out her account. At last he
tried coaxing: he even had the insolence to beg her, by the memory of the
past they had shared together, to spare him. He assured her that she had
vastly overrated his profits, that fame meant far more cry than wool:
that, in short, he was up to the neck in difficulties as it was, and
really had nothing like that sum in his possession.

'Very well, then,' she replied at last, 'you must marry me instead. Either
the money or the marriage. Personally, I prefer the money'--Rondel's
egoism twinged like a hollow tooth--'and if you think you can escape me
and do neither, look at this!' and she drew a revolver from her pocket.

'They are all loaded,' she added. 'Now, which is it to be?'

Rondel made a movement as if to snatch the weapon from her, but she
sprang back and pointed it at his head.

'If you move, I fire.'

Now one would not need to be a minor poet to be a coward under such
circumstances. Rondel could see that Annette meant what she said. She was
clearly a desperate woman, with no great passion for life. To shoot him
and then herself would be a little thing in the present state of her
feelings. Like most poets, he was a prudent man--he hesitated, leaning
with closed fist upon the table. She stood firm.

'Come,' she said at length, 'which is it to be--the revolver, marriage, or
the money?' She ominously clicked the trigger, 'I give you five minutes.'

It was five minutes to eleven. The clock ticked on while the two still
stood in their absurdly tragic attitudes--he still hesitating, she with
her pistol in line with the brain that laid the golden verse. The clock
whirred before striking the hour. Annette made a determined movement.
Hyacinth looked up; he saw she meant it, all the more for the mocking
indifference of her expression.

'Once more--death, marriage, or the money?'

The clock struck.

'The money,' gasped the poet.

       *       *       *       *       *

But Annette still kept her weapon in line.

'Your cheque-book!' she said. Rondel obeyed.

'Pay Miss Annette Jones, or order, the sum of two hundred and thirty
pounds. No, don't cross it!'

Rondel obeyed.

'Now, toss it over to me. You observe I still hold the pistol.'

Rondel once more obeyed. Then, still keeping him under cover of the
ugly-looking tube, she backed towards the door.

'Good-bye,' she said. 'Be sure I shall look out for your next volume.'

Rondel, bewildered as one who had lived through a fairy-tale, sank into
his chair. Did such ridiculous things happen? He turned to his
cheque-book. Yes, there was the counterfoil, fresh as a new wound, from
which indeed his bank account was profusely bleeding.

Then he turned to his laurels: but, behold, they were all withered.

So, after a while, he donned hat and coat, and went forth to seek a
flatterer as a pick-me-up.


The reader will remember how Lamb imagines him as a rubicund priest of
Hymen, and pictures him 'attended with thousands and ten thousands of
little loves, and the air is

    "Brush'd with the hiss of rustling wings."

Singing Cupids are thy choristers and thy precentors; and instead of the
crozier, the mystical arrow is borne before thee.' Alas! who indeed would
have expected the bitter historical truth, and have dreamed that poor
Valentine, instead of being that rosy vision, was one of the Church's most
unhappy martyrs? Tradition has but two pieces of information about him:
that during the reign of Claudius II., probably in the year 270, he was
'first beaten with heavy clubs, and then beheaded'; and likewise that he
was a man of exceptional chastity of character--a fact that may be
considered no less paradoxical in regard to his genial reputation. He was
certainly the last man to have been the patron saint of young blood, and
if he has any cognisance of the frivolities done in his name, the
knowledge must be more painful to him than all the clubs of Claudius.
Unhappy saint! To have his good name murdered also! To be, through all
time, the high-priest of that very 'paganism' which he died to repudiate:
the one most potent survival throughout Christian times of the joyous old
order he would fain supplant! Could anything be more characteristic of the
whimsical humour of Time, which loves nothing better than to make a
laughing-stock of human symbolism? The savage putting a stray dress-coat
to solemn sacerdotal usage, or taking some blackguard of a Mulvaney for a
very god, is not more absurd than mankind thus ignorantly bringing to this
poor martyr throughout the years the very last offering he can have
desired. Surely it must have filled his shade with a strange bewilderment
to have watched us year by year bringing him garlands and the sweet
incense of young love, to have seen this gay company approach his shrine
with laughter and roses, a very bacchanal, where he had looked for
sympathetic sackcloth and ashes--surely it must have all seemed a silly
sacrilegious jest. However, he is long since slandered beyond all hope of
restitution. So long as the spring moves in the blood, lovers will
doubtless continue to take his name in vain, and feign his saintly
sanction for their charming indiscretions. Indeed, he is fabled by the
poets to be responsible for the billing and cooing of the whole creation.
Everybody knows that the birds, too, pair on St. Valentine's Day. We have
many a poet's word for it. Donne's charming lines, for instance--

    'All the air is thy diocese,
    And all the chirping choristers
    And other birds are thy parishioners:
    Thou marriest every year
    The lyrique lark, and the grave whispering dove,
    The sparrow, that neglects his life for love,
    The household bird with the red stomacher;
    Thou mak'st the blackbird speed as soon
    As doth the goldfinch or the halcyon.'

In fact, it would appear that St. Valentine was, literally, a

But do lovers, one wonders, still observe his ancient, though mistaken,
rites? Do they still have a care whose pretty face they should first set
eyes upon on Valentine's morning, like Mistress Pepys, who kept her eyes
closed the whole forenoon lest they should portend a _mésalliance_ with
one of those tiresome 'paynters' at work on the gilding of the pictures
and the chimney-piece? Or do they with throbbing hearts 'draw' for the
fateful name, or, weighting little inscribed slips of paper with lead or
breadcrumbs, and dropping them into a basin of water, breathlessly await
the name that shall first float up to the surface? Do they still perform
that terrible feat of digestion, which consisted of eating a hard-boiled
egg, shell and all, to inspire the presaging dream, and pin five
bay-leaves upon their pillows to make it the surer?

We are told they do, these happy superstitious lovers, though probably the
practices obtain now mostly among a class of fair maids who have none of
Mrs. Pepys' fears of 'paynters,' and who are not averse even from a bright
young plumber. Indeed, it is to be feared that the one sturdy survival of
St. Valentine is to be sought in the 'ugly valentine.' This is another of
Time's jests: to degrade the beautiful and distinguished, and mock at
old-time sanctities with coarse burlesque. We see it constantly in the
fortunes of old streets and squares, once graced with the beau and the
sedan-chair, the very cynosure of the polite and elegant world, but now
vocal with the clamorous wrongs of the charwoman and the melancholy appeal
of the coster. We see it, too, in the ups and downs of words once
aristocratic or tender, words once the very signet of polite conversation,
now tossed about amid the very offal of language. We see it when some
noble house, an illustrious symbol of heroic honour, the ark of high
traditions, finds its _reductio ad absurdum_ in some hare-brained
turf-lord, who defiles its memories as he sells its pictures. But no lapse
could be more pitiful than the end of St. Valentine. Once the day on which
great gentlemen and great ladies exchanged stately and, as Pepys
frequently complained, costly compliments; when the ingenuity of love
tortured itself for the sweetest conceit wherein to express the very
sweetest thing; the May-day of the heart, when the very birds were Cupid's
messengers, and all the world wore ribbons and made pretty speeches. What
is it now? The festival of the servants' hall. It is the sacred day set
apart for the cook to tell the housemaid, in vividly illustrated verse,
that she need have no fear of the policeman thinking twice of _her_; for
the housemaid to make ungenerous reflections on 'cookey's' complexion and
weight, and to assure that 'queen of the larder' that it is not her, but
her puddings, that attract the constabulary heart. It is the day when
inoffensive little tailors receive anonymous letters beginning 'You silly
snip,' when the baker is unpleasantly reminded of his immemorial
_sobriquet_ of 'Daddy Dough,' and coarse insult breaks the bricklayer's
manly heart. Perhaps of all its symbols the most typical and popular are:
a nursemaid, a perambulator enclosing twins, and a gigantic dragoon. In
fact, we are faced by this curious development--that the day once sacred
to universal compliment is now mainly dedicated to low and foolish insult
Oh, that whirligig!

Do true lovers still remember the day to keep it holy, one wonders? Does
Ophelia still sing beneath the window, and do the love-birds still carry
on their celestial postage? One fears that all have gone with the
sedan-chair, the stage-coach, and last year's snow. Will the true lovers
go next? But, indeed, a florist told us that he had sold many flowers for
'valentines' this year, and that the prettier practice of sending flowers
was, he thought, supplanting the tawdry and stereotyped offering of cards.
Which reminds one of an old verse:

    'The violet made haste to appear,
      To be her bosom guest,
    With first primrose that grew this year
      I purchas'd from her breast;
          To me,
          Gave she,
      Her golden lock for mine;
        My ring of jet
        For her bracelet,
    I gave my _Valentine_.


There are numberless people who are, doubtless, of much interest and
charm--in their proper context. That context we feel, however, is not our
society. We have no objection to their carrying on the business of human
beings, so long as they allow us an uninterrupted trading of, say, a
hundred miles. Within that charmed and charming circle they should not set
foot, and we are quite willing in addition, for them, to gird themselves
about with the circumference of another thousand. It is not that they are
disagreeable or stupid, or in any way obviously objectionable. Bores are
more frequently clever than dull, and the only all-round definition of a
bore is--The Person We Don't Want. Few people are bores at all times and
places, and indeed one might venture on the charitable axiom: that when
people bore us we are pretty sure to be boring them at the same time. The
bore, to attempt a further definition, is simply a fellow human being out
of his element. It is said by travellers from distant lands that fishes
will not live out of water. It is a no less familiar fact that certain
dull metals need to be placed in oxygen to show off their brilliant parts.
So is it with the bore: set him in the oxygen of his native admiration,
and he will scintillate like a human St. Catherine wheel, though in your
society he was not even a Chinese cracker. Every man needs his own stage
and his own audience.

                                 'Hath not love
    Made for all these their sweet particular air
    To shine in, their own beams and names to bear,
    Their ways to wander and their wards to keep,
    Till story and song and glory and all things sleep.'

Mr. Swinburne asked the question of lovers, but perhaps it is none the
less applicable to the bore or irrelevant person. Yet a third definition
of the latter here suggests itself. To be born for each other is,
obviously, to be lovers. Well, not to be born for each other is to be
bores. In future, let us not speak unkindly of the tame bore, let us
say--'We were not born for each other.'

Relations do not, perhaps, invariably suggest the first line of
'Endymion'; indeed, they are, one fears, but infrequently celebrated in
song. But the same word in the singular, how beautiful it is! Relation! In
that little word is the whole secret of life. To get oneself placed in
perfect harmony of relation with the world around us, to have nothing in
our lives that we wouldn't buy, to possess nothing that is not sensitive
to us, ready to ring a fairy chime of association at our slightest touch:
no irrelevant book, picture, acquaintance, or activity--ah me! you may
well say it is an ideal. Yes, it is what men have meant by El Dorado, The
Promised Land, and all such shy haunts of the Beatific Vision. Probably
the quest of the Philosopher's Stone is not more wild. Yet men still seek
that precious substitute for Midas. Brave spirits! Unconquerable
idealists! Salt of the earth!

But if it be admitted that the quest of the Perfect Relation (in two
senses) is hopeless, yet there is no reason why we should not approach as
near to it as we can.

We can at least begin by barring the irrelevant person--in other words,
choosing our own acquaintance. Of course, we have no entire free-will in
so important a matter. Free-will is like the proverbial policeman, never
there when most wanted. There are two classes of more or less irrelevant
persons that cannot be entirely avoided: our blood-relations, and our
business-relations--both often so pathetically distinct from our
heart-relations and our brain-relations. Well, our business-relations need
not trouble us over much. They are not, as the vermin-killer advertisement
has it, 'pests of the household.' They come out only during business
hours. The curse of the blood-relation, however, is that he infests your
leisure moments; and you must notice the pathos of that verbal
distinction: man measures his toil by 'hours' (office-hours), his leisure
by 'moments!'

But let not the reader mistake me for a Nero. The claims of a certain
degree of blood-relationship I not only admit, but welcome as a sacred
joy. Their experience is unhappy for whom the bonds of parentage, of
sisterhood and brotherhood, will not always have a sort of involuntary
religion. If a man should not exactly be tied to his mother's
apron-string, he should all his life remain tied to her by that other
mysterious cord which no knife can sever. Uncles and aunts may, under
certain circumstances, be regarded as sacred, and meet for occasional
burnt-offerings; but beyond them I hold that the knot of
blood-relationship may be regarded as Gordian, and ruthlessly cut. Cousins
have no claims. Indeed, the scale of the legacy duties, like few
legalities, follows the natural law. The further removed, the greater tax
should our blood-relations pay for our love, or our legacy; but the
heart-relation, the brain-relation ('the stranger in blood'), he alone
should go untaxed altogether! Alas, the Inland Revenue Commissioners would
charge him more than any, which shows that their above-mentioned touch of
nature was but a fluke, after all.

It is impossible to classify the multitude of remaining irrelevancies,
who, were one to permit them, would fall upon our leisure like locusts;
but possibly 'friends of the family,' 'friends from the country,' and
'casuals' would include the most able-bodied. Sentiment apart, old
schoolfellows should, if possible, be avoided; and no one who merely knew
us when we were babies (really a very limited elementary acquaintance) and
has mistaken us ever since should be admitted within the gates--though we
might introduce him to our own baby as the nearest match. The child is not
father to the man. It was a merely verbal paradox, which shows
Wordsworth's ignorance of humanity. Let me especially warn the reader,
particularly the newly-married reader, against the type of friend from the
country who, so soon as they learn you have set up house in London,
suddenly discovers an interest in your fortunes which, like certain
rivers, has run underground further than you can remember. They write and
tell you that they are thinking of coming to town, and would like to spend
a few days with you. They leave their London address vague. It has the
look of a blank which you are expected to fill up. You shrewdly surmise
that, so to say, they meditate paying a visit to Euston, and spending a
fortnight with you on the way. But if you are wise and subtle and strong,
you cut this acquaintance ruthlessly, as you lop a branch. Such are the
dead wood of your life. Cut it away and cast it into the oven of oblivion.
Don't fear to hurt it. These people care as little for you, as you for
them. All they want is board and lodging, and if you give in to them, you
may be an amateur hotel-keeper all your days.

Another 'word to the newly-married.' Be not over-solicitous of
wedding-presents. They carry a terrible rate of interest. A silver
toast-rack will never leave you a Bank Holiday secure, and a breakfast
service means at least a fortnight's 'change' to one or more irrelevant
persons twice a year. They have been known to stay a month on the strength
of an egg-boiler. So, be warned, I pray you. Wedding-presents are but a
form of loan, which you are expected to pay back, with compound interest
at 50 per cent., in 'hospitality,' 'entertainment,' and your still more
precious time. For the givers of wedding-presents there is no more
profitable form of investment. But you, be wise, and buy your own.

There is a peculiar joy in snubbing irrelevant would-be country visitors.
It is the sweetest exercise of the will. Especially, too, if they are
conceited persons who made sure of invitation. It adds a yet deeper thrill
to the pleasure if you are able to invite some other friends near at hand,
of humbler mind and greater interest, whose (maybe) shy charms are not
flauntingly revealed. 'Fancy So-and-So being invited! I shouldn't have
thought they had anything in common.' How sweet is the imagination of that
wounded whisper. It makes you feel like a (German) prince. You have the
power of making happy and (even better in some cases) unhappy, at least,
as Carlyle would say, 'to the extent of sixpence.'

You have tasted the sweets of choosing your own friends, and snubbing the
others. You have gone so far towards the attainment of the harmonious
environment, the Perfect Relation. Your friends shall be as carefully
selected, shall mean as much to you as your books and flowers and
pictures; and your leisure shall be a priest's garden, in which none but
the chosen may walk.

Yet, in spite of my little burst of Neroics, I am far from advising a
cruel treatment of the Irrelevant Person. Let us not forget what we said
at the beginning, that he is probably an interesting person in the wrong
place. He has taken the wrong turning--into your company. Do unto him as
you would he might do unto you. Direct him aright--that is to say, out of
it! Remember, we are all bores in certain uncongenial social climates: all
stars in our own particular milky way. So, remember, don't be cruel--as a
rule--to the Irrelevant Person; but just smile your best at him, and
whisper: 'We were not born for each other.'


          '... these things are life:
    And life, some say, is worthy of the muse.'


There is a famous query of the old schoolman at which we have all flung a
jest in our time: _How many angels can dance on the point of a needle?_ In
a world with so many real troubles it seems, perhaps, a little idle to
worry too long over the question. Yet in the mere question, putting any
answer outside possibility, there is a wonderful suggestiveness, if it has
happened to come to you illuminated by experience. It becomes a little
clearer, perhaps, if we substitute devils for angels. A friend of mine
used always to look at it thus inversely when he quarrelled with his wife.
Forgive so many enigmas to start with, but it was this way. They never
quarrelled more than three times a year, and it was always on the very
smallest trifle, one particular trifle too. On the great things of life
they were at one. It was but a tiny point, a needle's end of difference,
on which they disagreed, and it was on that needle's end that the devils
danced. All the devils of hell, you would have said. At any rate, you
would have no longer wondered why the old philosopher put so odd a
question, for you had only to see little Dora's face lit up with fury over
that ridiculous trifle to have exclaimed: 'Is it possible that so many
devils can dance on a point where there seems hardly footing for a frown?'

However, so it was, and when I tell you what the needle's end was, you
will probably not think me worth a serious person's attention. That I
shall, of course, regret, but it was simply this: Dora _would_ write with
a 'J' pen--for which it was William's idiosyncrasy to have an
unconquerable aversion. She might, you will think, have given way to her
husband on so absurd a point, a mere pen-point of disagreement. He was
the tenderest of husbands in every other point. There is nothing that love
can dream that he was not capable of doing for his wife's sake. But, on
the other hand, it was equally true that there can be no other wife in the
world more devoted than Dora; with her also there was nothing too hard for
love's sake. Could he not waive so ridiculous a blemish? It was little
enough for love to achieve, surely. Yes, strange as it seems, their love
was equal to impossible heroisms: to have died for each other had been
easy, but to surrender this pen-point was impossible. And, alas! as they
always do, the devils found out this needle's end--and danced. For their
purpose it was as good as a platform. It gave them joy indeed to think
what stupendous powers of devilry they could concentrate on so tiny a

It was a sad thing, too, that Dora and William were able to avoid the
subject three hundred and sixty-four days of the year, but on that odd day
it was sure to crop up. Perhaps they had been out late the night before,
and their nerves were against them. The merest accident would bring it
on. Dora would ask William to post a letter for her in town. Being out of
sorts, and susceptible to the silliest irritation, he would not be able to
resist criticising the addressing. If he didn't mention it, Dora would
notice his 'expression.' That would be 'quite enough,' you may be sure.
Half the tragedies of life depend on 'expression.'

'Well!' she would say.

'Well what?' he would answer, already beginning to tremble.

'You have one of your critical moods on again.'

'Not at all. What's the matter?'

'You have, I say.... Well, why do you look at the envelope in that way? I
know what it is, well enough.'

'If you know, dear, why do you ask?'

'Don't try to be sarcastic, dear. It is so vulgar.'

'I hadn't the least intention of being so.'

'Yes, you had.... Give me that letter.'

'All right.'

'Yes, you admire every woman's writing but your wife's.'

'Don't be silly, dear. See, I don't feel very well this morning. I don't
want to be angry.'

'Angry! Be angry; what does it matter to me? Be as angry as you like. I
wish I had never seen you.'

'Somewhat of a _non sequitur_, is it not, my love?'

'Don't "my love" me. With your nasty cool sarcasm!'

'Isn't it better to try and keep cool rather than to fly into a temper
about nothing? See, I know you are a little nervous this morning. Let us
be friends before I go.'

'I have no wish to be friends.'


William would then lace his boots, and don his coat in silence, before
making a final effort at reconciliation.

'Well, dear, good-bye. Perhaps you will love me again by the time I get

'Perhaps I shan't be here when you come home.'

'For pity's sake, don't begin that silly nonsense, Dora.'

'It isn't silly nonsense. I say again--I mayn't be here when you come
home, and I mean it.'

'Oh, all right then. Suppose I were to say that I won't come home?'

'I should be quite indifferent.'

'O Dora!'

'I would. I am weary of our continual quarrels. I can bear this life no
longer.' (It was actually sunny as a summer sky.)

'Why, it was only last night you said how happy we were.'

'Yes, but I didn't mean it.'

'Didn't mean it! Don't talk like that, or I shall lose myself completely.'

'You will lose your train if you don't mind. Don't you think you had
better go?'

'Can you really talk to me like that?--me?--O Dora, it is not you that is
talking: it is some devil in you.'

Then suddenly irritated beyond all control by her silly little set face,
he would blurt out a sudden, 'Oh, very well, then!' and before she was
aware of it, the door would have banged. By the time William had reached
the gate he would be half-way through with a deed of assignment in favour
of his wife, who, now that he had really gone, would watch him covertly
from the window with slowly thawing heart.

So the devils would begin their dance: for it was by no means ended. Of
course, William would come home as usual; and yet, though the sound of his
footstep was the one sound she had listened for all day, Dora would
immediately begin to petrify again, and when he would approach her with
open arms, asking her to forgive and forget the morning, she would demur
just long enough to set him alight again. Heaven, how the devils would
dance then! And the night would usually end with them lying sleepless in
distant beds.


To attempt tragedy out of such absurd material is, you will say, merely
stupid. Well, I'm sorry. I know no other way to make it save life's own,
and I know that the tragedy of William's life hung upon a silly little
ink-stained 'J' pen. I would pretend that it was made of much more
grandiose material if I could. But the facts are as I shall tell you. And
surely if you fulfil that definition of man which describes him as a
reflective being, if you ever think on life at all, you must have noticed
how even the great tragedies that go in purple in the great poets all turn
on things no less trifling in themselves, all come of people pretending to
care for some bauble more than they really do.

And you must have wondered, too, as you stood awestruck before the regal
magnificence, the radiant power, the unearthly beauty, of those glorious
and terrible angels of passion--that splendid creature of wrath, that
sorrow wonderful as a starlit sky--you must have wondered that life has
not given these noble elementals material worthier of their fiery
operation than the paltry concerns of humanity; just as you may have
wondered too, that so god-like a thing as fire should find nothing
worthier of its divine fury than the ugly accumulations of man.

At any rate, I know that all the sorrow that saddens, sanctifies, and
sometimes terrifies my friend, centres round that silly little 'J' pen.
The difference is that the angels dance on its point now, instead of the
devils; but it is too late.

A night of unhappiness had ended once more as I described. The long
darkness had slowly passed, and morning, sunny with forgiveness, had come
at length. William's heart yearned for his wife in the singing of the
birds. He would first slip down into the garden and gather her some fresh
flowers, then steal with them into the room and kiss her little sulky
mouth till she awoke; and, before she remembered their sorrow, her eyes
would see the flowers.

It was a lover's simple thought, sweeter even than the flowers he had soon

But then, reader, why tease you with transparent secrets? You know that
Dora could not smell the flowers.

You know that Death had come to dance with the devils that night, and that
Dora and William would quarrel about little 'J' pens no more for ever.



A serious theme demands serious treatment. Let us, therefore, begin with
definitions. What is a poet? and what is a publisher? Popularly speaking,
a poet is a fool, and a publisher is a knave. At least, I am hardly wrong
in saying that such is the literal assumption of the Incorporated Society
of Authors, a body well acquainted with both. Indeed, that may be said to
be its working hypothesis, the very postulate of its existence.

Of course, there are other definitions of both. It is not so the maiden of
seventeen defines a poet, as she looks up to him with brimming eyes in the
summer sunset and calls him 'her Byron.' It is not so the embryo
Chatterton defines him, chained to an office stool in some sooty
provincial town, dreaming of Fleet Street as of a shining thoroughfare in
the New Jerusalem, where move authors and poets, angelic beings, in
'solemn troops and sweet societies.' For, indeed, was that not the dream
of all of us? For my part, I remember my first, most beautiful, delusion
was that poets belonged only to the golden prime of the world, and that,
like miracles, they had long ceased before the present age. And I very
well recall my curious bewilderment when, one day in a bookseller's, a
friendly schoolmaster took up a new volume of Mr. Swinburne's and told me
that it was by the new great poet. How wonderful that little incident made
the world for me! Real poets actually existing in this unromantic to-day!
If you had told me of a mermaid, or a wood-nymph, or of the philosopher's
stone as apprehensible wonders, I should not have marvelled more. While a
single poet existed in the land, who could say that the kingdom of Romance
was all let out in building lots, or that the steam whistle had quite
'frighted away the Dryads and the Fauns'?

Since then I have taken up the reviewing of minor verse as a part of my
livelihood, and where I once saw the New Jerusalem I see now the New

There are, doubtless, many who still cherish that boyish dream of the
poet. He still stalks through the popular imagination with his Spanish hat
and cloak, his amaranthine locks, his finely-frenzied eyes, and his
Alastor-like forgetfulness of his meals. But only, it is to be feared, for
a little time. For the latter-day poet is doing his best to dissipate that
venerable tradition. Bitten by the modern passion for uniformity, he has
French-cropped those locks, in which, as truly as with Samson, lay his
strength, he has discarded his sombrero for a Lincoln and Bennett, he
cultivates a silky moustache, a glossy boot, and has generally given
himself into the hands of the West-End tailor. Stung beyond endurance by
taunts of his unpracticality, he enters Parliament, edits papers, keeps
accounts, and is in every way a better business man than his publisher.

This is all very well for a little time. The contrast amuses by its
piquancy. To write of wild and whirling things in your books, but in
public life to be associated with nothing more wild and whirling than a
shirt-fronted eye-glassed hansom; to be at heart an Alastor, but in
appearance a bank-clerk, delights an age of paradox.

But, though it may pay for a while, it will, I am sure, prove a disastrous
policy in the long run. The poet unborn shall, I am certain, rue it. The
next generation of poets (or, indeed, writers generally) will reap a
sorrowful harvest from the gratuitous disillusionment with which the
present generation is so eager to indulge the curiosity, and flatter the
mediocrity, of the public. The public, like the big baby it is, is
continually crying 'to see the wheels go round,' and for a time the
exhibition of, so to say, the 'works' of poet and novelist is profitable.
But a time will come when, with its curiosity sated, the public will turn
upon the poet, and throw into his face, on his own authority, that he is
but as they are, that his airs of inspiration and divine right are humbug.
And in that day the poet will block his silk hat, will shave away the
silken moustache, will get him a bottle of Mrs. Allen's Hair Restorer,
and betake himself to the sombrero of his ancestors--but it will be all
too late. The cat will have been irrecoverably let out of the bag, the
mystery of the poet as exploded as the mysteries of Eleusis.

Tennyson knew better. To use the word in its mediævalsense, he respected
the 'mystery' of poetry. Instinctively, doubtless, but also, I should
imagine, deliberately, he all his life lived up to the traditional type of
the poet, and kept between him and his public a proper veil of Sinaitic
mist. You remember Browning's picture of the mysterious poet 'you saw go
up and down Valladolid,' and the awestruck rumours that were whispered
about him--how, for instance--

    'If you tracked him to his home, down lanes
    Beyond the Jewry, and as clean to pace,
    You found he ate his supper in a room
    Blazing with lights, four Titians on the wall,
    And twenty naked girls to change his plate!'

That is the kind of thing the public likes to hear of its poets. That is
something like a poet. Inquisitive the public always will be, but it is a
mistake to indulge rather than to pique its curiosity. Tennyson respected
the wishes of his public in this matter, and, not only in his dress and
his dramatic seclusion, but surely in his obstinate avoidance of
prose-work of any kind we have a subtler expression of his carefulness for
fame. It is a mistake for a poet to write prose, however good, for it is a
charming illusion of the public that, comparatively speaking, any one can
write prose. It is an earthly accomplishment, it is as walking is to
flying--is it not stigmatised 'pedestrian'? Now, your true Bird of
Paradise, which is the poet, must, metaphorically speaking, have no
legs--as Adrian Harley said was the case with the women in Richard
Feverel's poems. He must never be seen to walk in prose, for his part is,
'pinnacled dim in the intense inane,' to hang aloft and warble the
unpremeditated lay, without erasure or blot. This is, I am sure, not
fanciful, for two or three modern instances, which I am far too
considerate to name, illustrate its truth. Unless you are a very great
person indeed, the surest way to lose a reputation as poet is to gain one
as critic. It is true that for a time one may help the other, and that if
you are very fecund, and let your poetical issues keep pace with your
critical, you may even avoid the catastrophe altogether; but it is an
unmistakable risk, and if in the end you are not catalogued as a great
critic, you will assuredly be set down as a minor poet: whereas if you had
stuck to your last, there is no telling what fame might not have been
yours. Limitation, not versatility, is the fashion to-day. The man with
the one talent, not the five, is the hero of the hour.

Besides, this sudden change of his spots on the part of the poet is unfair
to the publisher, who is thus apt to find himself surprised out of his
just gain. For, at the present moment, I would back almost any poet of my
acquaintance against any publisher in a matter of business. This is
unfair, for the publisher is a being slow to move, slow to take in changed
conditions, always two generations, at least, behind his authors.
Consequently, this sudden development of capacity on the part of the poet
is liable to take him unprepared, and the mere apparition of a poet who
can add up a pounds shillings and pence column offhand might well induce
apoplexy. Yet it is to be feared that that providence which arms every
evil thing with its fang has so protected the publisher with an
instinctive dread of verse in any form, and especially in manuscript, that
he has, after all, little to fear from the poet's new gifts.


But, indeed, my image just now was both uncomplimentary and unjust: for,
parallel with the change in the poet to which I have referred, a still
more unnatural change is making itself apparent in the type of the
publisher. It would almost seem as if the two are changing places. Instead
of the poet humbly waiting, hat in hand, kicking his heels for half a day
in the publisher's office, it is the publisher who seeks him, who writes
for appointments at his private house, or invites him to dinner. Yet it
behoves the poet to be on his guard. A publisher, like another personage,
has many shapes of beguilement, and it is not unlikely that this
flattering deference is but another wile to entrap the unwary. There is
no way of circumventing the dreamer so subtle as to flatter his business
qualities. We all like to be praised for the something we cannot do. It is
for this reason that Mr. Stevenson interferes with Samoan politics, when
he should be writing romances--just the desire of the dreamer to play the
man of action.

But I am not going to weary you by indulging in the stale old diatribes
against the publisher. For, to speak seriously the honest truth, I think
they are in the main a very much abused race. Thackeray put the matter
with a good deal of common-sense, in that scene in _Pendennis_ where Pen
and Warrington walk home together from the Fleet prison, after hearing
Captain Shandon read that brilliant prospectus of the _Pall Mall Gazette_,
which he had written for bookseller Bungay, and for which that gentleman
disbursed him a £5 note on the spot. Pen, you will remember, was full of
the oppressions of genius, of Apollo being tied down to such an Admetus as
Bungay. Warrington, however, took a maturer view of the matter.

'A fiddlestick about men of genius!' he exclaimed, 'I deny that there are
so many geniuses as people who whimper about the fate of men of letters
assert there are. There are thousands of clever fellows in the world who
could, if they would, turn verses, write articles, read books, and deliver
a judgment upon them; the talk of professional critics and writers is not
a whit more brilliant, or profound, or amusing than that of any other
society of educated people. If a lawyer, or a soldier, or a parson outruns
his income, and does not pay his bills, he must go to gaol; and an author
must go too. If an author fuddles himself, I don't know why he should be
let off a headache the next morning--if he orders a coat from the
tailor's, why he shouldn't pay for it....'

Dr. Johnson, who had no great reason to be prejudiced in their favour,
defined booksellers as 'the patrons of literature,' and M. Anatole France
has recently said that 'a great publisher is a kind of Minister for
_belles-lettres_.' Such definitions are, doubtless, prophecies of the
ideal rather than descriptions of the actual. Yet, fairly dealt with, the
history of publishing would show a much nearer living up to them on the
part of publishers than the poets and their sentimental sympathisers are
inclined to admit. We hear a great deal of Milton getting £10 for
_Paradise Lost_, and the Tonsons riding in their carriage, but seldom of
Cottle adventuring thirty guineas on Coleridge's early poems, or the
Jacksons giving untried boys £10--or, according to some accounts, £20--for
_Poems by Two Brothers_.

To open the case for the bookseller or the publisher. The poet, to start
with, bases his familiar complaints on a wilful disregard of the relation
which poetry bears to average humanity. You often hear him express
indignant surprise that the sale of butcher's meat should be a more
lucrative business than the sale of poetry. But, surely, to argue thus is
to manifest a most absurd misapprehension of the facts of life. Wordsworth
says that 'we live by admiration, joy, and love.' So doubtless we do: but
we live far more by butcher's meat and Burton ale. Poetry is but a
preparation of opium distilled by a minority for a minority. The poet may
test the case by the relative amounts he pays his butcher and his
bookseller. So far as I know, he pays as little for his poetry as
possible, and never buys a volume by a brother-singer till he has vainly
tried six different ways to get a presentation copy. The poet seems
incapable of mastering the rudimentary truth that ethereals must be based
on materials. 'No song, no supper' is the old saw. It is equally true
reversed--no supper, no song. The empty-stomach theory of creation is a
cruel fallacy, though undoubtedly hunger has sometimes been the spur which
the clear soul doth raise.

The conditions of existence compel the publisher to be a tradesman on the
same material basis as any other. Ideally, a poem, like any other
beautiful thing, is beyond price; but, practically, its value depends on
the number of individuals who can be prevailed upon to purchase it. In its
ethereal--otherwise its unprinted--state, it is only subject to the laws
of the celestial ether, one of which is that it yields no money; properly
speaking, money is there an irrelevant condition. Byron, you remember,
would not for a long time accept any money from Murray for his poems,
successful as they were. He had a proper sense of the indignity of
_selling_ the children of his soul. The incongruity is much as though we
might go to Portland Road and buy an angel, just as we buy a parrot. The
transactions of poetry and of sale are on two different planes. But so
soon as, shall we say, you debase poetry by bringing it down to the lower
plane, it becomes subject to the laws of that plane. An unprinted poem is
a spiritual thing, but a printed poem is subject to the laws of matter. In
the heaven of the poet's imagination there are no printers and
paper-makers, no binders, no discounts to the trade and thirteen to the
dozen; but on earth, where alone, so far as we know, books exist, these
terrestrial beings and conditions are of paramount importance, and cannot
be ignored. It may be perfectly true that a certain poem is so fine that,
in a properly constituted cosmogony, it ought to support you to the end of
your days; but is the publisher to blame because, in spite of its manifest
genius, he can sell no more than 500 copies?

Then, to take another point of view, it is, I think, quite demonstrable
that, compared with the men of many other callings, a poet who can get his
verses accepted is very well paid. Take a typical instance. You spend an
absolutely beatific evening with Clarinda in the moonlit woodland. You go
home and relieve your emotions in a sonnet, which, we will say, at a
generous allowance, takes you half an hour to write. Next morning in that
cold calculating mood for which no business man can match a poet, you copy
it out fair and send it to a friendly editor. Perhaps out of Clarinda
alone you beget a sonnet a week, which at £2, 2s. a week is £109, 4s. a
year--not to speak of Phyllis and Dulcinea. At any rate, take that one
sonnet. For an evening with Clarinda, for which alone you would have paid
the sum, and for a beggarly half-hour's work, you receive as much as many
a City clerk earns by six hard days' work, eight hours to the dreary day,
with perhaps a family to keep and a railway contract to pay for.
Half-an-hour's work, and if you can live on £2, 2s. a week, the rest of
your time is free as air! Moreover, you have the option of going about
with a feeling that you are a being vastly superior to your fellows,
because forsooth you can string fourteen lines together in decent
Petrarcan form, and they cannot. And to return for a moment to Clarinda:
it seems to me that your publisher, with all his ill-gotten gains,
compares favourably with you in your treatment of your partner in the
production of that sonnet What about the woman's half-profits in the
matter? For, remember, if the publisher depends on the brains of the poet,
the poet is no less dependent on the heart of the woman. It is from woman,
in nine cases out of ten, that the poets have drawn their inspiration. And
how have they, in eight cases out of this nine, treated her? The story is
but too familiar. Will it always seem so much worse to pick a man's brains
than to break a woman's heart?

We touched just now on the arrogance of the poet. It is one of the most
foolish and distasteful of his faults, and one which unfortunately the
world has conspired from time immemorial to confirm. He has been too long
the spoiled child, too long allowed to think that anything becomes him,
too long allowed to ride rough-shod over the neck of the average man.

Mrs. Browning, in _Aurora Leigh_, while celebrating the poet, sneers at
'your common men' who 'lay telegraphs, gauge railroads, reign, reap,
dine.' But why? All these--with, perhaps, the exception of reigning--are
very proper and necessary things to be done, and any one of them, done in
the true spirit of work, is every bit as dignified as the writing of
poetry, and often, I am afraid, a great deal more so. This scorn of the
common man is but another instance of the poet's ignorance of the facts of
life and the relations of things. The hysterical bitterness with which
certain sections of modern people of taste are constantly girding at the
_bourgeois_--which, indeed, as Omar Khayyám says, heeds 'as the sea's self
should heed a pebble-cast'--is one of the most melancholy of recent
literary phenomena. It was not so the great masters treated the common
man, nor any full-blooded age. But the torch of taste has for the moment
fallen into the hands of little men, anæmic and atrabilious, with neither
laughter nor pity in their hearts.

Besides, how easy it is to misjudge your so-called 'common man'! That fat,
undistinguished-looking Briton in the corner of the omnibus is as likely
as not Mr. So-and-So, the distinguished poet; and who but those with the
divining-rod of a kind heart know what refined sensibility and nobility of
character may lurk under an extremely _bourgeois_ exterior?

We live in an age of every man his own priest and his own lawyer. At a
pinch we can very well be every man his own poet. If the whole
supercilious crew of modern men of letters, artists, and critics were
wiped off the earth to-morrow, the world would be hardly conscious of the
loss. Nay, if even the entire artistic accumulation of the past were to be
suddenly swallowed up, it would be little worse off. For the world is more
beautiful and wonderful than anything that has ever been written about it,
and the most glorious picture is not so beautiful as the face of a spring


The question is sometimes asked 'how poets sell.' One feels inclined
idealistically to ask, 'Ought poets to sell?' What can poets want with
money?--dear children of the rainbow, who from time immemorial

          ... on honeydew have fed,
    And drunk the milk of Paradise.

Have you never felt a sort of absurdity in paying for a rose--especially
if you paid in copper? To pay for a thing of beauty in coin of extreme
ugliness! There is obviously no equality of exchange in the transaction.
In fact, it is little short of an insult to the flower-girl to pretend
that you thus satisfy the obligation. Far better let her give it you--for
the love of beauty--as very likely, if you explained the incongruity, she
would be glad to do: for flower-girls, no doubt, like every one else, can
only have chosen their particular profession because of its being a joy
for ever. There might be fitness in offering a kiss on account, though
that, of course, would depend on the flower-girl. To buy other things with
flowers were not so incongruous. I have often thought of trying my
tobacconist with a tulip; and certainly an orchid--no very rare one
either--should cover one's household expenses for a week, if not a

Omar Khayyám used to wonder what the vintners buy 'one-half so precious as
the stuff they sell.' It is surely natural to wonder in like manner of the
poet. What have we to offer in exchange for his priceless manna? One feels
that he should be paid on the mercantile principles of 'Goblin Market.'
Said Laura:--

    'Good folk, I have no coin;
    To take were to purloin;
    I have no copper in my purse,
    I have no silver either....'

Copper! silver even! The goblin-men were more artistic than that; they
realised the absurdity of paying for immortal things in coin of mere
mortality. So--

    'You have much gold upon your head,'
       They answered all together:
    'Buy from us with a golden curl.'

Yes, those are the ideal rates at which poetry should be paid. We should,
of course, pay for fairy goods in fairy-gold.

One of the few such appropriate transactions I remember was Queen
Elizabeth's buying a poem from Sir Philip Sidney, literally, with a lock
of her 'gowden hair.' Poem and lock now lie together at Wilton, both
untouched of time. Or was it that Sir Philip Sidney paid for the lock with
his poem? However it was, the exchange was appropriate. The ratio between
the thing sold and the price given was fairly equal. And, at all times, it
is far less absurd for a poet to pay for the earthly thing with his poem
(thus leaving us to keep the change), than that we should think to pay him
for his incorruptible with our corruptible. There would, no doubt, be a
subtle element of absurdity in a poet consenting to pay his tailor for a
suit with a sonnet, while it would obviously be beyond all proportion
monstrous for a tailor to think to buy a sonnet with a suit. Yet a poet
might, perhaps, be brought to consider the transaction, if he chanced to
be of a gentle disposition.

Yes, the true, the tasteful way to pay a poet is by the exchange of some
other beautiful thing: by beautiful praise, by a beautiful smile, by a
well-shaped tear, by a rose. It is thus that a poet--frequently, I am
bound to confess--finds his highest reward.

At the same time, there is a subtle ironic pleasure in taking the world's
money for poetry--even though one pays it over to a charity
immediately--for one feels that the world, for some reason or another, has
been persuaded to buy something which it didn't really want, and which it
will throw away so soon as we are round the corner. If the reader has ever
published a volume of verse, he must often have chuckled with an unnatural
glee over the number of absolutely unpoetic good souls who, from various
motives--the unhappy accident of relationship, perhaps--have
'subscribed.' Most of us have sound unpoetic uncles. Of course, you make
them buy you--in large-paper too. Have you ever gloatingly pictured their
absolute bewilderment as, with a stern sense of family pride, they sit
down to cut your pages? Think of the poor souls thus 'moving about in
worlds not realised.'

A perfect instance of this cruelty to the Philistine occurs to me. The
poet in question is one whose _forte_ is children's poetry. Very tender
some of his poems are. You will find them now and again in _St. Nicholas_,
and he is not unknown in this country. With a heart like a lamb for
children, he is like a hawk upon the Philistine. I remember an occasion,
before he published a volume, when we were together in a tavern in a
country-town, a tavern thronged with farmers on market-days. The poet had
some prospectuses in his pocket. Suddenly a great John Bull would come
bumping in like a cockchafer, and call for his pint. 'Just you watch,' the
poet would say, and away he crossed over to his victim. 'Good morning,
Mr. Oats!' 'Why, good morning, sir. How-d'ye-do; I hardly know'd thee.'
Then presently the voice of the charmer unto the farmer--'Mr. Oats, you
care for children, don't you?' 'Ay, ay,' would answer the farmer, a little
doubtfully, 'when they're little'uns.' 'Well, you know I'm what they call
a poet.' To this Mr. Oats would respond with a good round laugh, as of a
man enjoying a good thing. This was very subtle of the poet, for it put
the farmer on good terms with himself. He wondered, as he had his laugh
over again, how a man could choose to be a poet, when he might have been a
farmer. 'Well, I'm bringing out a book of poems all about children--here
is one of them!' and the poet would read some humorous thing, such as
'Breeching Tommy.' Then another--such simple pictures of humanity at the
age of two, that the farmer could not but be moved to that primary
artistic delight, the recognition of the familiar. Then the farmer would
grow grave, as he always did at any approach to a purchase, however small,
while the poet would rapidly speak of the fitness of the volume as a
present to the old woman: 'Women cared for such things,' he would add
pityingly. Then the farmer would cautiously ask the price, and blow his
cheeks out in surprise on hearing that it was five shillings. He had never
given so much for a book in his life. The poet would then insidiously
suggest that by subscribing before publication he would save a discount.
This would arouse the farmer's instinct for getting things cheap; and so,
finally, with a little more 'playing,' Mr. Timothy Oats, of Clod Hall,
Salop, was landed high and dry on the subscription list--a list, by the
way, which already included all the poet's tradesmen! This is one example
of 'how poets sell.'

Yet over and above what we may term these forced sales, the demand for
verse, we are assured, is growing. The impression to the contrary on the
part of the Philistine is a delusion, a false security. And the demand, a
well-known publisher has told us, is an intelligent one, for poetry of the
markedly idealistic, or markedly realistic, kind; but to writers of the
merely sentimental he can offer no hope. Their golden age, a pretty long
one while it lasted, has probably gone for ever.

This is good news for those engaged in growing dreams for the London


It must be very painful to the sentimentalist to notice what common sense
is beginning to prevail on one of his pet subjects: that of the ancient
immunities of 'genius.' Of course, to a great many good people genius
continues still to be accepted as payment in full for every species of
obligation, and if a man were a great poet he might probably still ruin a
woman's life, and some, in secret at least, would deem that he did God
service. There are perhaps even more women than ever nowadays who would,
as Keats put it, like to be married to an epic, and given away by a
three-volume novel. Such an attitude, however, is more and more taking its
place among the superstitions, and the divine right of genius to ride
rough-shod over us is at a discount.

At the same time, our national capacity for reaching right conclusions by
the wrong course is in this matter once more exemplified. In the main, as
usual, our reasoning seems to have been quite astray. We have argued as
though for ourselves, and that on those lines we should have reached the
sane conclusion is somewhat surprising. Because, indeed, it does pay _the
world_ to allow genius to do its pleasure: its victims even have little to
complain of; they wear the martyr's crown, and if a few tradesmen or a few
women are the worse, it has been deemed just, time out of mind, that such
should suffer for the people. But the one whom it does not pay, either in
this world or the next, is emphatically the man of genius himself. It is
really on his behalf that the protest against his ancient immunities
should be made, for

    'Whether a man serve God or his own whim
    Matters not much in the end to any one but Him.'

To take the threadbare instance, the world suffered nothing from the
suicide of Harriet Westbrook: rather it gained by one more story of tragic
pathos. Harriet herself was no loser, for she had lived her dream, and
the stern joy of a great sorrow was granted her to die with: it was only
the selfish heart that could leave her thus to suffer and die that was the
loser. Not in its relations with the world, fair or ill--such, like all
external things, are important only as we take them: but in its diminished
capacity to feel greatly and tenderly, in its added numbness, in its less
noble beat. It was thus that the _cor cordium_ lost what no lyric passion,
no triumphant exultation of success, could give to it again.

However, Shelley and his story belong more or less to the tragic muse, and
this subject is, perhaps, rather more the property of the comic: for great
poets are rare, and really it is the smaller genius we have always with us
that is likely to suffer most from those 'immunities'; still more the
talent that would fain bear the greater name, and most of all the
misguided industry which is neither the one nor the other.

In this lower sphere, it is not murder and sudden death, and other such
volcanic aberrations, that call for condonation; but those offences
against that code of daily intercourse which some faulty observer of human
life has characterised as 'the minor morals.'

The type of 'genius' I am thinking of probably began life by a
misapplication, to himself, of Emerson's essay on Self-Reliance: a great
and beautiful essay, but Oh! how much has it to answer for in the survival
of the unfittest. Alas! that the wheat and tares must grow together till
the harvest. It is the syrup of phosphorus by which weakly mediocrity
develops into sturdiness, a sturdy coarseness that else might have died
down and been spared us. But, thanks to that or some other artificial
fertiliser, it grows up with the idea that the duty which lies nearest to
it is to write weary books, paint monotonous pictures, persevere in
'd----d bad acting'; and it fulfils that duty with an energy known only to
mediocrity. The literary variety, probably, has the characteristics of the
type most fully developed. No one takes himself with more touching
seriousness. Day by day he grows in conceit, neglects his temper,
especially at home, with a wife who is worth ten of him and all his
'works,' and generally behaves, as the phrase goes, 'as if anything
becomes him.' If you visit him _en famille_, you will find him especially
characteristic at meals, during which he is wont to sit absorbed, with an
air of 'I cannot shake off the god'; and when they are over he goes off,
moodily chewing a toothpick, to his den, where, maybe, the genius finds
vent in a dissertation on 'Peg-Tops,' for _The Boy's Own_, or 'The Noses
of Great Men,' for _Chambers' Journal_.

But if such genius as this be chiefly comic, its work cannot but awaken in
one a deep sense of the pathetic. To stand before the poor little picture
that has been so much to its painter, and yet holds no spark of vitality
or touch of distinction; to take up the poor little book into which all
the toil of so many wasted days could breathe no breath of life, formless,
uninspired, unnecessary. Think of the pathos of the illusion that has
waved 'its purple wings' around these lifeless products, endowing with
sensitive expression the wooden lineaments that have really been dead and
unexpressive all the time, never glowed at all save to the wistful
yearning eye of their befooled creator. Yet if nature be thus cruel to
afflict, she is no less kind to console: for the victim of this species of
hallucination seldom wakens from the dream. That essay on Self-Reliance is
with him to the end.

Yet no less pathetic is it to reflect how his whole development has
suffered for this mistake, all his life-blood gone to feed this abortive
thing. The gentler charities of life have been neglected, fine qualities
atrophied, the man has grown narrow and selfish, all the real things have
been lost for this shadow: that he might become, what nature never meant
him to be--an artist. All along, when he has made any excuse, it has been
'art.' But, more likely, he has not been asked for excuse, he has lived
under the shelter of the 'genius' superstition. He has worn the air of
making great sacrifices for the goddess, and in these his intimates have
felt a proud sense of awful participation, as of a family whom the gods
love. They have never understood that art is a particular form of
self-indulgence, by no means confined to artists; that it often becomes no
less a vice than opium-eating, and that the same question has to be asked
of both--whether the dreams are worth the cost. This might occasionally be
asked of the world's famous: not only of those whose art has been the
evilly exquisite outcome of spiritual disease, but even of the great sane
successful reputations.

There is, too, especially about the latter, perhaps, a touch of comic
suggestiveness in the sublime preoccupation to which we owe their great
legacies, that look of Atlas which is always pathetic, when it is not
foolish, on the face of a mortal: the grand air of a Goethe, the colossal
absorption of a Balzac. Their attitude offends one's sense of the relation
of things, and we feel that, after all, we could have spared half their
works for a larger share of that delicate instinct for proportion, which
is one of the most precious attributes of what we call a gentleman. But
the demi-god has always much of the _nouveau riche_ about him, and a
gentleman is, after all, an exquisite product. Indeed, the world has, one
may think, quite enough genius to go on with. It could well do with a few
more gentlemen.



Jim lent me a sovereign. He was working hard to make his home, and was
saving every penny. However, I took it, for I was really in sore straits.
If you have ever known what it is absolutely to need a sovereign, when you
have neither banking account nor employment, and your evening clothes are
no longer accessible for the last, you will be in a position to understand
the transfiguring properties of one small piece of gold. You leave your
friend's rooms a different man. Like the virtuous in the Buddhistic round,
you go in a beggar and come out a prince. To vary Carlyle's phrase, you
can pay for dinners, you can call hansoms, you can take stalls; in fact,
you are a prince--to the extent of a sovereign.

And oh! how wooingly does the world seem to nestle round you--the same
world that was so cold and haughty ten minutes ago. The world is a
courtesan, and has heard you have found a sovereign.

The gaslights seem beaming love at you. So near and bright are the
streets, you want to stay out in them all night; though you didn't relish
the prospect last evening. O sweet, sweet, siren London, with your golden
voice--I have a sovereign!

This, of course, was but the first rich impulse. The sovereign should
really be kept for the lodgings. But the snug little oyster-shops about
Booksellers' Row are so tempting, and there is nothing like oysters to
give one courage to open that giant oyster spoken of by Ancient Pistol.

I went in. I assured my conscience that it should only be
'Anglo-Portuguese,' and that I would forego the roll and butter. But
'Anglos' are not nice, Dutch are in every way to be preferred; and if you
are paying eighteenpence you might as well pay three shillings, and what's
the use of drawing the line at a roll and butter? No! we will repent after
the roll and butter. 'Roll and butter' shall be my Ebenezer. The 'r's'
have a notorious mnemonic quality. They will help me to remember.

So I sat down, and, fondling my sovereign in my pocket, fell into a dream.
When the oysters came I wished they had been 'Anglos' after all, because
my dream had grown beautiful and troublesome, and I had really forgotten
the oysters altogether. However, I ate them mechanically, and ordering
another half-dozen, so that the manager should not begrudge me my seat, I
turned again to my dream.

A young girl sat in a dainty room, writing at a quaint old escritoire, lit
by candles in shining brass sconces. She had a sweet blonde face, but more
character in it than usually falls to the lot of the English girl. There
was experience in the sensitive refinement of her features, a silver touch
of suffering: not wasting experience or bitter suffering, but just enough
to refine--she had waited. But she had been bravely happy all the time.

Pretty books filled a shelf above her escritoire, and between the
candlesticks was a photograph in a filigree silver frame. Towards this
she looked every now and then, in the pauses of her writing, with a happy,
trustful expression of quiet love. During one pause she noticed that her
little clock pointed to 8.30. 'Jim will just be going on,' she said to
herself. Yes, that photograph was 'Jim.'

A quaint little face it was, full of sweet wrinkles, and yet but a boy's
face. The wrinkles, you could see, were but so many threads of gold which
happy laughter had left there. Siss called him her Punchinello, likewise
her poet, for Jim is a poet who makes his poetry of his own bright face
and body, acts it night after night to an audience, and the people laugh
and cry as he plays, for his face is like a bubbling spring, full of
laughing eddies on the surface, but ever so deep with sweet freshness
beneath--and some catch sight of the deeps. The world knows him as a
comedian. Siss knows him as a poet, and because she knows what loving
tender tears are in him as well as laughter, she calls him her

This is what she was writing: 'How near our home seems now, Jimmie boy!
Every night as you go on--and you are just going on now--I feel our home
draw nearer: and, do you know, all this week our star has seemed to grow
brighter and brighter. Can you see it in London? It comes out here about
six o'clock--first very pale, like a dream, and then fuller and fuller and
warmer and warmer. Sometimes I say that it is the sovereigns we are
putting into the bank that make it so much brighter; and I am sure it
_was_ brighter after that last ten pounds.... You are laughing at me,
aren't you? Never mind; you can be just as silly. Dear, dear, funny little

I had reached just so far in my dream when the oysters came, and that is
why I wished I had ordered 'Anglos' and no roll.

When I looked again, Siss had stopped writing, and was sitting with her
head in her hands dreaming. I looked into her eyes, felt ashamed for a
moment, and then stepped into her dream. I felt I was not worthy to walk
there, but I took off my hat and told myself that I was reverent.

It was a pretty flat, full of dainty rooms, and I followed her from one to
another, and one there was just like that in which I had seen her
writing, with the old escritoire, and the books, and the burning candles,
and the silver photograph shrine. She walked about very wistfully, and her
eyes were full. So were mine, and I wanted to sob, but feared lest she
should hear. Presently Jim joined her, and they walked together, and said
to each other, 'Think, this is our home at last'--'Think, this is our home
at last. O love, our home--together for evermore!'

This they said many times, and at length they came to a room that had a
door white as ivory, and I caught a breath of freshest flowers as they
opened and passed in.

Then I closed my eyes, and when I looked again I thought an angel stood on
the threshold, as I had seen it somewhere in Victor Hugo--a happy angel
with finger upon his lip.

And when the dream had gone, and I was once more alone, I said 'Jim is
working, Siss is waiting, and I--am eating borrowed oysters.'

Then I took out the sovereign and looked at it, for it was now symbolic.
Outside, above the street, a star was shining. I had filched a beam of
Siss's star. Was it less bright tonight? Had she missed this sovereign?

It had been symbolic before--a sovereign's-worth of the world, the flesh,
and the devil; now it was a sovereign's-worth of holy love and home. Every
penny I spent of it dimmed that star, delayed that home. In my pocket it
meant a sovereign's-worth more working and waiting. Pay it back again into
that star, and it was a sovereign nearer home. Yes, it was a
sovereign's-worth of that flat, of that escritoire, those books, those
burning candles, that photograph, that ivory-white door, those
sweet-smelling flowers, a sovereign's-worth of that angel, I was keeping
in my pocket.

Out on it! God forgive me. I had not thought it meant that to borrow a
sovereign from Jim, meant that to eat those borrowed oysters.
Nevertheless, they had not been all an immoral indulgence. Even oysters
may be the instruments of virtue in the hands of Providence.

The shopman knew me, so I 'confounded it' and told him I had come out
without my purse. It was all right. Pay next time, Jim's theatre was
close by, it was but a stone's-throw to the stage-door. Easy to leave him
a note. What will he think, I wonder, as he reads it, and the sovereign
rolls out: 'Dear old man, forgive me--I forgot it was a sovereign's-worth
of home.'

Yet, after all, it was the oysters that did this thing.



Having occasion recently to re-arrange my books, they lay in bewildering
jumbled heaps upon my study floor; and, having in vain puzzled over this
plan and that which should give the little collection a continuity such as
it had never attained before, I at length gave it up in despair, and sat,
with my head in my hands, hopeless. Presently I seemed to hear small
voices talking in whispers, a curious papery tone, like the fluttering of
leaves, and listening I heard distinctly these words:--'The great era of
universal equality and redistribution has dawned at last. No one book
shall any longer claim more shelf than another, no book shall be taller or
thicker than another. The age of folios and quartos is past, and the Age
of the Universal Octavo has dawned.'

Looking up, I saw that the voice was that of a shabby, but perky, octavo,
which I had forgotten I ever possessed, since the day when some mistaken
charity had prompted me to rescue it from the threepenny box and give it a
good home in a respectable family of books. Certainly, it had so far
filled the humble position of a shelf-liner, and its accidental elevation
into daylight on the top of a prostrate folio had evidently turned its
head. It was now doing its best to disseminate socialistic principles
among the set of scurvy octavos and duodecimos in its neighbourhood.

'Why should we choke with dust in the dark there,' it continued, 'that
these splendid creatures should glitter all day in the sunshine, and get
all the firelight of an evening? We were born to be read as much as they,
born to enjoy our share of the good things of this world as much as my
Lord Folio, as much as any Honourable Quarto, or fashionable Large Paper.
My Brothers, the hour has come: will you strike now or never, exact your
rights as free-born books, or will you go back to be shelf-liners as

[Loud cries of 'No! no! we won't,' here encouraged the speaker.]

'Strike now, and the book unborn shall bless you. Miss this golden
opportunity, and the cause we serve will be delayed another hundred

At this point a great folio that had for some time been leaning
threateningly, like a slab at Stonehenge, above the speaker, suddenly fell
and silenced him; but he had not spoken in vain, and from various sets of
books about the room I heard the voices of excited agitators taking up his
words. Then an idea struck me. I was, as I told you, heartily sick of my
task of arrangement. Here seemed an opportunity.

'Look here,' I said,'you shall have it all to yourselves. I resign, I
abdicate. You shall arrange yourselves as you please, but be quick about
it, and let there be as little bloodshed as possible'

With that there arose such a hubbub as was never before heard in a quiet
book-room, not even during that famous battle of the St. James's Library
in 1697; and conspicuous among the noises was a strange crowing sound as
of young cocks, which I was at a loss to understand, till I bethought me
how Mentzelius, long ago, sitting in the quiet of his library, had heard
the bookworm 'crow like a cock unto his mate.' On looking I saw that the
insurgents had indeed pressed into their service a certain politic body of
bookworms as joyous heralds, whom I had never suspected of inhabiting my
books at all--though, indeed, such hidden creatures do crawl out of their
corners in times of upheaval.

It was long before I could disentangle individual voices from the wild
chaos of strident theories that surrounded me. But at last there was
silence, as one bilious-looking vellum book, old enough to have known
better, had evidently caught the ear of the assembled multitudes; and then
I understood that the movement had already found its Robespierre. It was
clear from his words that the universal gospel of equality, so beautifully
expatiated upon before the revolution, had had reference only to those who
were already on an equality of that low estate which fears no fall. The
only equality now offered to books above the rank of octavo was that of
death, which, philosophers have long assured us, makes all men equal, by
a short and simple method. There was but one other way--that the quartos
should consent to be cut in two, and the folios quartered; but that, alas!
meant death no less, for that which alone is of worth in both books and
men, the soul, would be no more. So, as it seemed they must die either
way, all the condemned chose death before dishonour. Several distinguished
folios who, in a quixotism of heart, had flirted with the socialistic
leaders when their schemes were but propaganda, and equality had not yet
been so rigorously defined, now bitterly repented their folly, and did
their best in heading a rally against their foes. That, however, was soon
quelled, and but hastened their doom.

'To the guillotine with them!' cried the bilious little octavo, and then I
saw that my tobacco-cutter had been extemporised into the deadly engine.

But, hereupon, a voice of humour found hearing, that of a stout 32mo,
evidently a philosopher.

'Why shed blood?' he said, 'I have a better plan. Stature is no mark of
superiority, but usually the reverse. The mind's the standard of the man.
In the world of men the tallest and handsomest are made into servants, and
called flunkies, and these wait upon the small men, who have all the
money, which among men corresponds to brains among books. Why shouldn't we
take a hint from this custom, and turn these tall gaudy gentlemen into our
servants, for which all their gilt and fine clothes have already provided
them with livery? Ho! Sirrah Folio, come and turn my page!'

But this Lord Folio haughtily refused to do, and, consequently, being too
stout to turn his own pages, the little 32mo could say no more. His
proposal, though it tickled a few, found no great favour. It was generally
agreed that humour had no place in the discussion of a serious question.
Another speaker advocated the retention of the condemned as ornaments of
the state, but he was very speedily overruled. Was not that the shallow
excuse by which they had hung on for ever so long? No, that was quite
worn out.

The main question was further obstructed by many outbursts of
individualism. Certain self-contained books wished to be left to
themselves, and have no part in the social scheme, unless in the event of
a return to monarchy, when, they intimated, they might be eligible for
election. This, one could see, was the secret hope of all the speakers;
and you would have laughed could you have heard what inflated opinions
some of them had of their own importance--especially two or three of the
minor poets. Then, again, many sentimental demands, quite unforeseen,
added to the general anarchy. Collected editions, which had long groaned
in the bondage of an arbitrary relationship, saw an opportunity in the
general overturn to break away from their sets and join their natural
fellows. Sex was naturally the most unruly element of all. Volumes that
had waited edition after edition for each other, yearning across the
shelves, felt their time had come at last, and leapt into each other's
arms. It was with no avail that a distress minute was passed by The
Hundred Thousand Committee (a somewhat unworkable body) that henceforth
sex was to be a function exercised absolutely for the good of the state:
tattered poets were to be seen wildly proclaiming a different doctrine.

Such eccentric attachments as a volume of _The Essays of Elia_ for
Margaret, Duchess of Newcastle, were especially troublesome; while the
explosion caused by the accidental contact of that same unruly Elia with a
modern reprint of _The Anatomy of Melancholy_, which (he said) he never
could tolerate, proved the last straw to the Committee of the Hundred
Thousand, who immediately resigned their offices in anger and despair.
Thereupon, tenfold chaos once more returning, I thought it time to
interfere. The Doctrine of Equality was evidently a failure--among books,
at any rate. So I savagely fell to, and threw the books back again into
their immemorial places, and the cause of freedom in 'The City of Books'
sleeps for another hundred editions.

Only I placed Elia next to the Duchess, because he was a human fellow, and
had no theories.


Why do the heathen so furiously rage against limited issues, large-papers,
first editions, and the rest? For there is certainly more to be said for
than against them. Broadly speaking, all such 'fads' are worthy of being
encouraged, because they maintain, in some measure, the expiring dignity
of letters, the mystery of books. Day by day the wonderfulness of life is
becoming lost to us. The sanctities of religion are defiled, the 'fairy
tales' of science have become commonplaces. Christian mysteries are
debased in the streets to the sound of drum and trumpet, and the sensitive
ear of the telephone is but a servile drudge 'twixt speculative bacon
merchants. And Books!--those miraculous memories of high thoughts and
golden moods; those magical shells tremulous with the secrets of the
ocean of life; those love-letters that pass from hand to hand of a
thousand lovers that never meet; those honeycombs of dreams; those
orchards of knowledge; those still-beating hearts of the noble dead; those
mysterious signals that beckon along the darksome pathways of the past;
voices through which the myriad lispings of the earth find perfect speech;
oracles through which its mysteries call like voices in moonlit woods;
prisms of beauty; urns stored with all the sweets of all the summers of
time; immortal nightingales that sing for ever to the rose of life: Books,
Bibles--ah me! what have ye become to-day!

What, indeed, has become of that mystery of the Printed Word, of which
Carlyle so movingly wrote? It has gone, it is to be feared, with those
Memnonian mornings we sleep through with so determined snore, those
ancient mysteries of night we forget beneath the mimic firmament of the

Only in the lamplit closet of the bookman, the fanatic of first and fine
editions, is it remembered and revered. To him alone of an Americanised,
'pirated-edition' reading world, the book remains the sacred thing it is.
Therefore, he would not have it degraded by, so to say, an indiscriminate
breeding, such as has also made the children of men cheap and vulgar to
each other. We pity the desert rose that is born to unappreciated beauty,
the unset gem that glitters on no woman's hand; but what of the book that
eats its heart out in the threepenny box, the remainders that are sold
ignominiously in job lots by ignorant auctioneers? Have we no feeling for

Over-production, in both men and shirts, is the evil of the day. The world
has neither enough food, nor enough love, for the young that are born into
it. We have more mouths than we can fill, and more books than we can buy.
Well, the publisher and collector of limited editions aim, in their small
corner, to set a limit to this careless procreation. They are literary
Malthusians. The ideal world would be that in which there should be at
least one lover for each woman. In the higher life of books the ideal is
similar. No book should be brought into the world which is not sure of
love and lodging on some comfortable shelf. If writers and publishers
only gave a thought to what they are doing when they generate such large
families of books, careless as the salmon with its million young, we
should have no such sad alms-houses of learning as Booksellers' Row, no
such melancholy distress-sales of noble authors as remainder auctions. A
good book is beyond price; and it is far easier to under than over sell
it. The words of the modern minor poet are as rubies, and what if his sets
bring a hundred guineas?--it is more as it should be, than that any
sacrilegious hand should fumble them for threepence. It recalls that
golden age of which Mr. Dobson has sung, when--

        '... a book was still a Book,
    Where a wistful man might look,
    Finding something through the whole
    Beating--like a human soul';

days when for one small gilded manuscript men would willingly exchange
broad manors, with pasture--lands, chases, and blowing woodlands; days
when kings would send anxious embassies across the sea, burdened with
rich gifts to abbot and prior, if haply gold might purchase a single
poet's book.

But, says the scoffer, these limited editions and so forth foster the vile
passions of competition. Well, and if they do? Is it not meet that men
should strive together for such possessions? We compete for the allotments
of shares in American-meat companies, we outbid each other for tickets 'to
view the Royal procession,' we buffet at the gate of the football field,
and enter into many another of the ignoble rivalries of peace; and are not
books worth a scrimmage?--books that are all those wonderful things so
poetically set forth in a preceding paragraph! Lightly earned, lightly
spurned, is the sense, if not the exact phrasing, of an old proverb. There
is no telling how we should value many of our possessions if they were
more arduously come by: our relatives, our husbands and wives, our
presentation poetry from the unpoetical, our invitation-cards to one-man
shows in Bond Street, the auto-photographs of great actors, the flatteries
of the unimportant, the attentions of the embarrassing: how might we not
value all such treasures, if they were, so to say, restricted to a
limited issue, and guaranteed 'not to be reprinted'--'plates destroyed and
type distributed.'

Indeed, all nature is on the side of limited editions. Make a thing cheap,
she cries from every spring hedgerow, and no one values it. When do we
find the hawthorn, with its breath sweet as a milch-cow's; or the wild
rose, with its exquisite attar and its petals of hollowed pearl--when do
we find these decking the tables of the great? or the purple bilberry, or
the boot-bright blackberry in the entremets thereof? Think what that
'common dog-rose' would bring in a limited edition! And new milk from the
cow, or water from the well! Where would champagne be if those intoxicants
were restricted by expensive licence, and sold in gilded bottles? What
would you not pay for a ticket to see the moon rise, if nature had not
improvidently made it a free entertainment; and who could afford to buy a
seat at Covent Garden if Sir Augustus Harris should suddenly become sole
impresario of the nightingale?

Yes, 'from scarped cliff and quarried stone,' Nature cries, 'Limit the
Edition! Distribute the type!'--though in her capacity as the great
publisher she has been all too prodigal of her issues, and ruinously
guilty of innumerable remainders. In fact, it is by her warning rather
than by her example that we must be guided in this matter. Let us not
vulgarise our books, as she has done her stars and flowers. Let us, if
need be, make our editions smaller and smaller, our prices increasingly
'prohibitive,' rather than that we should forget the wonder and beauty of
printed dream and thought, and treat our books as somewhat less valuable
than wayside weeds.


He's a nuisance, of course. But to see only that side of him is to think,
as the shepherd boy piped, 'as though' you will 'never grow old.' Does he
never appeal to you with any more human significance, a significance
tearful and uncomfortably symbolic? Or are you so entirely that tailor's
fraction of manhood, the _fin de siècle_ type, that your ninth part does
not include a heart and the lachrymal gland?

You suspect him at once as you squeeze past his legs to your stall, for he
cannot quite conceal the hissing twinge of gout; and you are hardly seated
ere you are quite sure that a long night of living for others is before

'You hardly would think it, perhaps,' he begins, 'but I saw Charles Young
play the part--yes, in 1824.'

If you are young and innocent, you think--'What an interesting old
gentleman!' and you have vague ideas of pumping him for reminiscences to
turn into copy. Poor boy, you soon find that there is no need of pumping
on your part. He is entirely self-acting, and the wells of his
autobiography are as deep as the foundations of the world.

If you are more experienced, you make a quick frantic effort to escape;
you try to nip the bud of his talk with a frosty 'Indeed!' and edge away,
calling upon your programme to cover you. You never so much as turn the
sixteenth part of an eye in his direction, for even as the oyster-man,
should the poor mollusc heave the faintest sigh, is inside with his knife
in the twinkling of a star; even as a beetle has but to think of moving
its tiniest leg for the bird to swoop upon him,--even so will the least
muscular interest in your neighbour give you bound hand and foot into his

But really and truly escape is hopeless. You are beyond the reach of any
salvage agency whatsoever. Better make up your mind to be absolutely rude
or absolutely kind: and the man who can find in his heart to be the former
must have meeting eyebrows, and will sooner or later be found canonised in
wax at Madame Tussaud's. To be the latter, however, is by no means easy.
It is one of the most poignant forms of self-sacrifice attained by the
race. In that, at least, you have some wintry consolation; and the
imaginative vignette of yourself wearing the martyr's crown is a pretty
piece of sacred art.

If you wished to make a bag of old playgoers, or meditated a sort of
Bartholomew's Eve, a revival of _Hamlet_ would, of course, be the occasion
you would select for your purpose: for the old playgoer, so to speak,
collects Hamlets. At a first night of _Hamlet_ every sixth stall-holder is
a Dr. Doran up to date, his mind a portfolio of old prints.

That is why a perambulation of the stalls is as perilous as to pick one's
way through hot ploughshares. You can hardly hope always to pass through
unscathed. You are as sure some night to find yourself seated beside him,
as you will some day be called to serve on the jury. And then--

    'O limèd soul, that, struggling to be free,
     Art more engaged!'

However, 'sudden the worst turns best to the brave,' and 'there is much
music' in this old fellow if only you have the humanity to listen.

To begin with, he has probably a distinguished face, with a bunch of
vigorous curly hair, white as hawthorn. He has a manner, too. Suppose you
try and enter into his soul for a moment. It does us good to get outside
ourselves for a while, and this old man's soul is a palace of memory.
Those lines that, may be, have been familiar to you for sixteen years,
have been familiar to him for sixty. That is why he knows them off so
well, why he repeats them under his breath--Look at his face!--like a
Methodist praying, anticipating the actor in all the fine speeches. Do
look at his face! How it shines, as the golden passages come treading
along. How his head moves in an ecstasy of remembrance, in which there is
a whole world of tears. How he half turns to you with a wistful appeal to
feel what he is feeling: an appeal that might kindle a clod. It is the old
wine laughing to itself within the old bottle.

And, one thing you will notice, it is the poetry that moves him: the great
metaphor, the sonorous cadence, the honeysuckle fancy. He belongs to an
age that had an instinct for beauty, and loved style--an age that, in the
words of a modern wit, had not grown all nose with intellect, an age that
went to the theatre to dream, not to dissect.

For you there may be here and there a flower of remembrance stuck within
the leaves of the play, but for him it is stained through with the sweets
of sixty springs. His youth lies buried within it like a thousand violets.

Practically he is Death at the play. To you there is but one ghost in
_Hamlet_, to him there are fifty, and they all dance like shadows behind
'the new Hamlet,' and even sit about the stalls.

If your love be with you, forbear to press her hand in the love-scenes,
or, at least, don't let the old man see you: because he used to punctuate
those very passages he is muttering in just the same way--sixty years ago,
when she whose angel face he will kiss no more, unless it be in the
heavenly fields, sat like a flower at his side. Poor old fellow, can you
be selfish to him? Can you say, 'These tedious old fools!' Fool thyself,
this night shall thy youth be required of thee.

You might think of this next time you drop across the old playgoer. It was
natural in Hamlet to swear at Polonius--who, you will remember, was an old
playgoer himself--but, being a gentleman, it was natural in him, too, to
recall the first player with, 'Follow that lord; but look you mock him


I sometimes grow melancholy with the thought that, though I wear trousers
and shave once a day, I am not, properly speaking, a Man. Surely it is
from no failure of goodwill, no lack of prayerful striving towards that
noble estate: for if there is one spectacle in this moving phantasmagoria
of life that I love to carry within my eye, it is the figure of a true
man. The mere idea of a true man stirs one's heart like a trumpet.
Therefore, this doubt I am confiding is all the more dreary. Naturally, I
feel it most keenly in the company of my fellows, each one of whom seems
to carry the victorious badge of manhood, as though to cry shame upon me.
They make me shrink into myself, make me feel that I am but an impostor in
their midst. Indeed, in that sensitiveness of mine you have the
starting-point of my unmanliness. Look at that noble fellow there. He is
six-foot odd in his stockings, straight, stalwart, and confident. His face
is broad and strong, his close-cropped head is firm and proud on his
shoulders--firm and proud as a young bull's. It is a head made, indeed,
rather to butt than to think with; it is visited with no effeminacy of
thought or dream. It has another striking quality: it is hardly
distinguishable from any other head in the room--for I am in an assemblage
of true men all, a glorious herd of young John Bulls. All have the same
strong jaws, the same powerful low foreheads. Noble fellows! Any one of
them could send me to eternity with the wind of his fist.

And, most of all, is their manhood brought home to me, with a sickening
sense of inferiority, in their voices. What a leonine authority in the
roar of their opinions! Their words strike the air firm as the tread of
lions. They are not teased with fine distinctions, possibilities of
misconception, or the perils of afterthought. Their talk is of the
absolute, their opinions wear the primary colours, and dream not of 'art
shades.' Never have they been wrong in their lives, never shall they be
wrong in the time to come. Never have they been known to conjecture that
another may, after all, be wiser than they, handsomer, stronger, or more
fortunate. They would kill a man rather than admit a mistake. Noble
fellows! And I? Do you wonder that I blush in my corner as I gaze upon
them, strive to smooth my hair into the appearance of a manly flatness,
strive to set my face hard and feign it knowing, strive to elevate my
voice to the dogmatic note, strive to cast out from my mind all those evil
spirits of proportion?

Can it be possible that any one of my readers has ever been in a like
case? Is there hope for us, my brother? You have, I perceive, a fine,
expressive, sensitive countenance. That is, indeed, against you in this
race for manhood. It is true that Apollo passed for a man--but that was
long ago, and not in Britain. You have a pleasant, sympathetic voice. An
excellent thing in _woman_. But you, my friend,--break it, I beseech you.
Coarsen it with raw spirits and rawer opinions; and set that face of
thine with hog's bristles, plant a shoe-brush on thy upper lip, and send
thy head to the turner of billiard balls. Else come not nigh me, for,
'fore Heaven, I love a man!

Sometimes, however, I am inclined to a more comfortable consideration of
this great question--for it is one of my weaknesses to be positive on few
matters. But to-day I taunted my soul with its unmanliness till it rose in
rebellion against me. 'Poor-spirited creature,' I said, 'where is thy
valour? When a fool has struck thee I have seen thee pass on without a
word, not so much as a momentary knitting of thy fist When ignorance has
waxed proud, and put thee to the mock, thou hast sat meek, and uttered
never a word. It must needs be thou art pigeon-livered and lack gall!
There is not in thee the swagger, the rustle, the braggadocio of a true
swashbuckler manhood. Out on thee!'

And my soul took the blows in patience.

'Hast thou any courage hid in any crevice of thee?' I continued my taunt.
And suddenly my soul answered with a firm quiet voice: 'Try me!'

Then said I, 'Coward as thou art, fearful of thy precious skin, darest
thou strike a blow for the weak against his oppressor, darest thou meet
the strong tyrant in the way?'

And thereon I was startled, for my soul suddenly sprang up within me, and,
lo! it neighed like a war-horse for the battle.

'Ah!' I continued, 'but couldst thou fight against the enemy of thy land?
Surely thy valour would melt at the clash of swords and the voice of the

And the answer of my soul was like the march of armed men.

Then said I softly, for I was touched by this unwonted valour of my soul,
'Soul! wouldst thou die for thy friend?'

And the voice of my soul came sweet as the sound of bells at evening. It
seemed, indeed, as though it could dream of naught sweeter than to die for
one's friend.

This colloquy of inner and outer set me further reflecting. Can it be that
this manhood is, after all, rather a quality of the spirit than of the
body; that it is to be sought rather in the stout heart than in the
strong arm; that big words and ready blows may, like a display of
bunting, betoken no true loyalty, and be but the gaudy sign to a sorry
inn? Dr. Watts, it may be remembered, declared the mind to be the standard
of the man. As he was the author of a book on 'The Human Mind,' envious
persons may meanly conceive that his statement was but a subtly-disguised
advertisement of his literary wares.

    'Were I so tall to reach the Pole,
      Or grasp the ocean in my span,
    I must be measured by my soul:
      The mind's the standard of the man.'

The fact of Dr. Watts being also a man of low stature does not affect the
truth or untruth of this fine verse, which may serve to comfort many. One
may assume that it was Jack, and not the giant, whom we would need to
describe as the true man of the two; and one seems to have heard of some
'fine,' 'manly' fellows, darlings of the football field and the American
bar, whose actions somehow have not altogether justified those epithets,
or, at any rate, certain readings of them. Theirs is a manhood, one
fancies, that is given to shine more at race-meetings and in hotel
parlours than at home--revealed to the barmaid, and strangely hidden from
the wife, who, indeed, has less opportunities for perceiving it.

This kind of manhood is, perhaps, rather a fashion than a personal
quality: a way of carrying the stick, of wearing, or not wearing, the
hair; it resides in the twirl of the moustache, or the cut of the trouser;
you must seek it in the quality of the boot and the shape of the hat
rather than in the actions of the wearer.

Take that matter of the hair. When next the street-boy sorrowfully
exclaims on your passing that 'it's no wonder the barbers all 'list for
soldiers,' or some puny idiot at your club--a lilliputian model of popular
'manhood'--sniggers to his friend behind his coffee as you come in: call
to mind pictures of certain brave 'tailed men' of old, at the winking of
whose eyelid your tiny club 'man' would have expired on the instant.
Threaten him with a Viking. Show him in a vision a band of blue-eyed
pirates, with their wild hair flying in the breeze, as they sternly
hasten across the Northern Sea. Summon Godiva's lord, 'his beard a yard
before him, and his hair a yard behind.' Call up the brave picture of
Rupert's love-locked Cavaliers, as their glittering column hurls like a
bolt of heaven to the charge, or Nelson's pig-tailed sailors in
Trafalgar's Bay. But, before you have gone half-way through your panorama,
that club-mannikin will have hastily departed, leaving his coffee
half-drunk, and you shall find him airing his manhood in the security of
the billiard-room.

Yes, for us who are denied the admiration of the billiard-marker; denied
the devotion of the barmaid (with charming paradox so-called); for us who
make poor braggarts, and often prefer to surrender rather than to elbow
for our rights; for us who deliver our opinions with mean-spirited
diffidence, and are men of quiet voices and ways: for us there is hope. It
may be that to love one's neighbour is also a part of manhood, to suffer
quietly for another as true a piece of bravery as to fell him for a
careless word; it may be that purity, constancy, and reverence are as
sure criteria of manhood as their opposites. It may be, I say; but be
certain that a strong beard, a harsh voice, and a bull-dog physiognomy are
surer still.


Have you ever remarked as a curious thing that, whereas every day we hear
women sighing because they have not been born men, you never hear a sigh
blowing in the other direction? I only know one man who had the courage to
say that he would not mind exchanging into the female infantry, and it may
have been affectation on his part. At any rate, he blushed deeply at the
avowal, and his friends look askance at him ever since. Of course, the
obvious answer of the self-satisfied male is that he is the lord of
creation, that his is the better part which shall not be taken from him.
Yet this does not prevent his telling his wife sometimes, when oppressed
with the cares of this world and the deceitfulness of riches, that 'it is
nice to be her. Nothing to worry her all day long. No responsibility.'
For in his primitive vision of female existence, his wife languidly
presides for ever at an eternal five-o'clock tea. And it is not in the
province of this article to turn to him the seamy side of that charming
picture. Rather is it our mission to convince him of the substantial truth
of his intuition. He is quite right. It _is_ 'nice to be her.' And if men
had a little more common-sense in their consequential skulls, instead of
striving to resist the woman's invasion of their immemorial
responsibilities and worries, they would joyfully abdicate them--and skip
home to Nirvâna and afternoon tea.

Foolish women! To want of your own free will to put yourselves in painful
harness; to take the bit of servitude between your rose-leaf lips; to
fight day-long in the reeking arena of bacon merchants; to settle accounts
instead of merely incurring them; to be confined in Stygian city-blocks
instead of silken bedchambers; to rise with the sparrow and leave by the
early morning train. What fatuity! Some day, when woman has had her way
and man has ceased to have his will, she will see of the travail of her
soul and be bitterly dissatisfied; for, unless man is a greater fool than
he looks, she shall demand back her petticoats in vain.

For what is the lot of woman? The first superficial fact about a woman is,
of course, her beauty. Secondly, as the leaves about a rose, comes her
dress. To be beautiful and to wear pretty things--these are two of the
obvious privileges of woman. To be a living rose, with bosom of gold and
petals of lace, a rose each passer-by longs to pluck from its
husband-stem, but dare not for fear of the husband-thorns. To be
privileged to play Narcissus all day long with your mirror, to love
yourself so much that you kiss the cold reflection, yet fear not to drown.
To reveal yourself to yourself in a thousand lovely poses, and bird-like
poises of the head. To kneel to yourself in adoration, to laugh and nod
and beckon to yourself with your own smiles and dimples, to yearn in
hopeless passion for your own loveliness. To finger silken garments,
linings to the casket of your beauty, never seen of men, to draw on stiff
embroidered gowns, to deck your hands with glittering jewels, and your
wrists with bands of gold--and then to sail forth from your boudoir like
the moon from a cloud, regally confident of public worship; to be at once
poet and poem, painter and painted: does not this belong to the lot of

But it was of nobler privileges than these that the candidate for
womanhood of whom I have spoken was thinking. It is fit that we skim the
surface before we dive into the deeps--especially so attractive a surface
as woman's. He was, doubtless, thinking less of woman as a home comfort or
a beauty, and much more of her as she once used to be among our far-off
sires, Sibyl and Priestess. Is it but an insular fancy to suppose that
Englishmen, beyond any other race, still retain the most living faith in
the sanctity of womanhood? and, if so, can it be doubted that it is an
inheritance from those wild child-hearted Vikings, who were first among
the peoples of Europe to conceive woman as the chosen vessel of the
divine? And how wittily true, by the way, how slily significant, was both
the Norse and the Greek conception of the ruling destinies of man, the
Norns and the Fates, as women!

To speak with authority, one should, doubtless, first sprout petticoats;
and, meanwhile, one must rest content with asking the intelligent women of
our acquaintance--whether man inspires them with anything like the
feelings of reverential adoration, the sense of a being holy and supernal,
with which woman undoubtedly inspires man. He is, of course, their god,
but a god of the Greek pattern, with no little of the familiarising alloy
of earth in his composition. He is strong, and swift, and splendid--but
seems he holy? Is he angel as well as god? Does the dream of him rise
silvery in the imagination of woman? Is he a star to lift her up to heaven
with pure importunate beam? I seem to hear the nightingale-laughter of
women for answer. Man neither is, nor would they have him, any of these

But though some men, by a fortunate admixture of woman silver in their
masculine clay, may be even these, there is one sacred thing no man can
ever be, a privilege by which nature would seem to have put beyond doubt
the divinity of woman: a mother. It is true that it is within his reach
to be a father; but what is 'paternity' compared with motherhood? The very
word wears a droll face, as though accustomed to banter. Let us venture on
the bull: that, though it be possible for most men to be fathers, no man
can ever be a mother. Maybe a recondite intention of the dogma of the
Immaculate Conception was the accentuation of the fact that man's share in
the sacred mystery of birth is so small and woman's so great, that the
birth of a child is truly a mysterious traffic between divine powers of
nature and her miraculous womb--mystic visitations of radiant forces
hidden eternally from the knowledge of man.

We stand in wonder before the magical germinating properties of a clod of
earth. A grass-seed and a thimbleful of soil set all the sciences at
nought. But if such is the wonder of the mere spectator, how strange to be
the very vessel of the mystery, to know it moving through its mystic
stations within our very bodies, to feel the tender shoots of the young
life striking out blade after blade, already living and wonderful, though
as yet unsuspected of other eyes; to know the underground inarticulate
spring, sweeter far than spring of bird and blossom, while as yet all
seems barren winter in the upper air; to hear already the pathetic
pleadings of the young life, and to send back soothing answer along the
hidden channels of tender tremulous affinities; to lie still in the night
and see through the darkness the little white soul shining softly in its
birth-sleep, slowly filling with life as a moon with silver--it was a
woman and not a man that God chose for this blessedness.


The strength of the old-fashioned virago was in her muscles. That of the
newfangled modern development is in her 'reason'--a very different thing
indeed from 'woman's reasons.' As the former knocked you down with her
fist, the latter fells you with her brain. In her has definitely commenced
that evolutionary process which, according to the enchanting dream of a
recent scientist, is to make the 'homo' a creature whose legs are of no
account, poor shrivelled vestiges of once noble calves and thighs; and
whose entire significance will be a noseless, hairless head, in shape and
size like an idiot's, which the scientist, gloating over the ugly duckling
of his distorted imagination, describes as a 'beautiful, glittering,
hairless dome!' A sad period one fears for Gaiety burlesque. In that day
a beautifully shaped leg and a fine head of hair will be rather a
disgrace than a distinction. They will be survivals of a barbarous age.
Indeed that they are already so regarded, there can be no doubt, by the
more 'advanced' representatives of the female sex.

There is one radical difference between the old and the new virago: the
old gloried in the fact that she was a woman, because thus her sex
triumphed over that male whom she despised, like her modern sister, in
proportion as she resembled him. The new virago, however, hates above all
things to be reminded of her womanhood, which she is constantly engaged in
repressing with Chinese ferocity. Not, as we have hinted, that she thinks
any better of man. Though she dresses as like him as possible, she is very
angry if you suggest that she at all envies him his birthright. And the
humour of the situation, the hopeless dilemma in which she thus places
herself--if it be right to apply the feminine gender!--never occurs to one
whose sense of humour has long been atrophied, perhaps at Girton, or by a
course of sterilising Extension lectures.

Obviously, there is but one course open for the advanced 'woman' in this
dilemma--to evolve a third sex, and this she is doing her best to
achieve, with, I am bound to admit, remarkably speedy success. The result
up to date is the Virago of the Brain, or the Female Frankenstein. The
patentees of this fearsome _tertium quid_ hope to present it to their
patrons, within a very few years, in a form entirely devoid of certain
physiological defects, with which the cussedness of human structure still
uselessly burdens the Virago. As it is, of course, it is by no means
uncommon for the virago to be born without that sentimental organ, the
heart; and it can, therefore, only be a matter of time before she is rid
of what the present writer has been criticised for calling 'her miraculous
womb.' Doubtless, the patentees will then turn their attention to Sir
Thomas Browne's suggested method for the propagation of the race after the
reasonable, civilised, and advanced manner of trees.

But I am warned that I commit impropriety even in naming such matters.
They are 'sacred,'--which means that we ought to be ashamed to mention
them, however reverent our intention. Motherhood, it would appear, is not,
as one had regarded it, a sanctifying privilege, but a shameful
disability, of which not the Immaculate Conception, but the ignoble
service for the 'purification' of women, is the significant symbol. It
behoves not only the unmarried, but the married mothers, so to speak, to
wear farthingales upon the subject, and pretend, with as grave a face as
possible, that babies are really found under cabbages, or sent parcel
post, on application, by her Majesty the Queen.

How long are we to retain the pernicious fallacy that sacredness is a
quality inhering not in the sacred object itself, but in the superstitious
'decencies' that swaddle it, or that we best reverence such sacred object
by a prurient prudish conspiracy of silence concerning it?

Then there is, it would also appear, a particular indignity, from the new
virago's point of view, in the assumption that a woman's beauty is one of
her great missions, or the supposition that she takes any such pride in it
herself as man has from time immemorial supposed. No sensible woman, we
have been indignantly assured, ever plays at Narcissus with her mirror.
That all women find such pleasure in their reflections no one would think
of saying. How could they, poor things? One is quite ready to admit that
probably our virago looks in her glass as seldom as possible. But all
sensible women that are beautiful as well should take joy in their own
charms, if they have any feelings of gratitude towards the supernal powers
which might have made them--well, more advanced than beautiful, and given
them a head full of cheap philosophy instead of a transfiguring head of

No one wants a woman to be silly and vain about her beauty. But vanity and
conceit are qualities that exist in people quite independently of their
gifts and graces. The ugly and stupid are perhaps more often conceited
than the beautiful or the clever,--vain, it would appear, of their very
ugliness and stupidity. Besides, is it any worse for a woman to be vain of
her looks than of her brains?--and the advanced woman is without doubt
most inordinately vain of those. Of the two, so far as they are at present
developed, is there any doubt that the woman with beauty is better off
than the woman with brains? In some few hundred years, maybe, the brain of
woman will be a joy to herself and the world: when she has got more used
to its possession, and familiar with the fruitful control of it. At
present, however, it is merely a discomfort, not to say a danger, to
herself and every one else--a tiresome engine for the pedantic
assimilation of German and the higher mathematics. And it may well
happen--horrid prophecy--that when that brain of woman has come to its
perfection, the flower of its meditation will be to realise the
significance, the sacredness, of the Simple Woman. It is in its
apprehension of the mystery of simplicity that the brain of man, at
present, is superior to that of woman.

Young brain delights in the complex, old in the simple. Woman's love of
the complex has been illustrated abundantly during the last few years, in
her enthusiasm for certain great imperfect writers, who have been able to
stir up the mud in the fountain of life (doubtless, to medicinal ends) but
unable to bring it clear again. An eternal enigma herself, woman is
eternally in love with enigmas. Like a child, she loves any one who will
show her the 'works' of existence, and she is still in that inquisitive
stage when one imagines that the inside of a doll will afford explanation
of its fascinating exterior. It is no use telling her that analysis can
never explain the mystery of synthesis. Like an American humourist, she
still goes on wanting 't'know.'

Even more than man, she exaggerates the value of the articulate, the
organised. She has always been in love with 'accomplishments,' and she
loves natures that are minted into current coin of ready gifts and graces.
She cares more for the names of things than for the things themselves. Of
things without names she is impatient. Talkative as she is said to be, and
in so many modern languages, she knows not yet how to talk with
Silence--unless she be the inspired Simple Woman--for to talk with Silence
is to apprehend the mystic meanings of simplicity. For this reason,
mystics are more often found among men than women--a fact on which the
Pioneer Club is at liberty to congratulate itself. What advanced woman
understands that saying of Paracelsus: 'who tastes a crust of bread tastes
the heavens and all the stars.' Else would she understand also that the
'humblest' ministrations of life, those nearest to nature, are the
profoundest in their significance: that it means as much to bake a loaf as
to write a book, and that to watch over the sleep of a child is a liberal
education--nay, an initiation granted only to mothers and those meek to
whom mysteries are revealed. It has always been to the simple woman that
the angel has appeared--to Mary of Bethany, to Joan of Arc. Is it impious
to infer that the Angel Gabriel himself dreads a blue-stocking? What
chance indeed would he have with our modern viragoes of the brain, the
mighty daughters of the pen?


Other people's poetry--I don't mean their published verse, but their
absurdly romantic view of unromantic objects--is terribly hard to
translate. It seldom escapes being turned into prose. It must have
happened to you now and again to have had the photograph of your friend's
beloved produced for your inspection and opinion. It is a terrible moment.
If she does happen to be a really pretty girl--heavens! what a relief. You
praise her with almost hysterical gratitude. But if, as is far more
likely, her beauty proves to be of that kind which exists only in the eyes
of a single beholder, what a plight is yours! How you strive to look as if
she were a new Helen, and how hopelessly unconvincing is your weary
expression--as unconvincing as one's expression when, having weakly
pretended acquaintance with a strange author, we feign ecstatic
recognition of some passage or episode quoted by his ruthless admirer.
There is this hope in the case of the photograph: that its amorous
possessor will probably be incapable of imagining any one insensitive to
such a Golconda of charms, and you have always in your power the revenge
of showing him your own sacred graven image.

Is it not curious that the very follies we delight in for ourselves should
seem so stupid, so absolutely vulgar, when practised by others? The last
illusion to forsake a man is the absolute belief in his own refinement.

A test experience in other people's poetry is to sit in the pit of a
theatre and watch 'Arry and 'Arriet making love and eating oranges
simultaneously. 'Arry has a low forehead, close, black, oily hair, his
eyes and nose are small, and his face is freckled. His clothes are
painfully his best, he wears an irrelevant flower, and his tie has escaped
from the stud and got high into his neck, eclipsing his collar. 'Arriet
has thick unexpressive features, relying rather on the expressiveness of
her flaunting hat, she wears a straight fringe low down on her forehead,
and endeavours to disguise her heavy _ennui_ by an immovable simper. This
pair loll one upon each other. Whether lights be high or low they hold
each other's hands, hands hard and coarse with labour, with nails bitten
down close to the quick. But, for all that, they, in their strange uncouth
fashion, would seem to be loving each other. 'Not we alone have passions
hymeneal,' sings an aristocratic poet. They smile at each other, an
obvious animal smile, and you perhaps shudder. Or you study them for a
realistic novel, or you call up that touch of nature our great poet talks
of. But somehow you cannot forget how their lips will stick and smell of
oranges when they kiss each other on the way home. What is the truth about
this pair? Is it in the unlovely details on which, maybe, we have too much
insisted--or behind these are we to imagine their souls radiant in
celestial nuptials?

Mr. Chevalier may be said to answer the question in his pictures of
coster love-making. But are those pictures to be taken as documents, or
are they not the product of Mr. Chevalier's idealistic temperament? Does
the coster actually worship his 'dona' with so fine a chivalry? Is he so
sentimentally devoted to his 'old Dutch'? If you answer the question in
the negative, you are in this predicament: all the love and 'the fine
feelings' remain with the infinitesimal residuum of the cultured and
professionally 'refined.' Does that residuum actually incarnate all the
love, devotion, honour, and other noble qualities in man? One need hardly
trouble to answer the absurd question. Evidently behind the oranges, and
the uncouth animal manners, we should find souls much like our own refined
essences, had we the seeing sympathetic eye. All depends on the eye of the

Among the majority of literary and artistic people of late that eye of the
beholder has been a very cynical supercilious eye. Never was such a bitter
cruel war waged against the poor _bourgeois_. The lack of humanity in
recent art and literature is infinitely depressing. Doubtless, it is the
outcome of a so-called 'realism,' which dares to pretend that the truth
about life is to be found on its grimy pock-marked surface. Over against
the many robust developments of democracy, and doubtless inspired by them,
is a marked spread of the aristocratic spirit--selfish, heartless, subtle,
of mere physical 'refinement'; a spirit, too, all the more inhuman because
it is for the most part not tempered by any intercourse with homely
dependants, as in the feudal aristocracy. It would seem to be the product
of 'the higher education,' a university priggishness, poor as proud. It is
the deadliest spirit abroad; but, of course, though it may poison life and
especially art for a while, the great laughing democracy will in good time
dispose of it as Hercules might crush a wasp.

This is the spirit that draws up its skirts and sneers to itself at poor
'old bodies' in omnibuses, because, forsooth, they are stout, and out of
the fulness of the heart the mouth speaketh. One thinks of Falstaff's
plaintive 'If to be fat is to be hated!' At displays of natural feelings
of any sort this comfortless evil spirit ever curls the lip. Inhabiting
modern young ladies, it is especially superior to the maternal instinct,
and cringes from a baby in a railway carriage as from an adder. At the
dropping of an 'h' it shrinks as though the weighty letter had fallen upon
its great toe, and it will forgive anything rather than a provincial
accent. It lives entirely in the surfaces of things, and, as the surface
of life is frequently rough and prickly, it is frequently uncomfortable.
At such times it peevishly darts out its little sting, like a young snake
angry with a farmer's boot. It is amusing to watch it venting its spleen
in papers the _bourgeois_ never read, in pictures they don't trouble to
understand. John Bull's indifference to the 'new' criticism is one of the
most pleasing features of the time. Probably he has not yet heard a
syllable of it, and, if he should hear, he would probably waive it aside
with, 'I have something more to think of than these megrims.' And so he
has. While these superior folk are wrangling about Dégas and Mallarmé,
about 'style' and 'distinction,' he is doing the work of the world. There
is nothing in life so much exaggerated as the importance of art. If it
were all wiped off the surface of the earth to-morrow, the world would
scarcely miss it. For what is art but a faint reflection of the beauty
already sown broadcast over the face of the world? And that would remain.
We should lose Leonardo and Titian, Velasquez and Rembrandt, and a great
host of modern precious persons, but the stars and the great trees, the
noble sculptured hills, the golden-dotted meadows, the airy sailing
clouds, and all the regal pageantry of the seasons, would still be ours;
and an almond-tree in flower would replace the National Gallery.

Yes, surely the true way of contemplating these undistinguished masses of
humanity, this 'h'-dropping, garlic-eating, child-begetting _bourgeois_,
is Shakespeare's, Dickens', Whitman's way--through the eye of a gentle
sympathetic beholder--one who understands Nature's trick of hiding her
most precious things beneath rough husks and in rank and bearded
envelopes--and not through the eye-glass of the new critic.

For these undistinguished people are, after all, alive as their critics
are not. They are, indeed, the only people who may properly be said to be
alive, dreaming and building while the superior person stands by
cogitating sarcasms on their swink'd and dusty appearances. More of the
true spirit of romantic existence goes to the opening of a little grocer's
shop in a back street in Whitechapel than to all the fine marriages at St.
George's, Hanover Square, in a year. But, of course, all depends on the
eye of the beholder.


I sometimes have a fancy to speculate how, supposing the matter still
undecided, I would like to spend my life. Often I feel how good it would
be to give it in service to one of my six dear friends: just to offer it
to them as so much capital, for whatever it may be worth. In pondering the
fancy, I need hardly say that I do not assess myself at any extravagant
value. I but venture to think that the devotion of one human creature,
however humble, throughout a lifetime, is not a despicable offering. To
use me as they would, to fetch and carry with me, to draw on me for
whatever force resides in me, as they would on a bank account, to the last
penny, to use my brains for their plans, my heart for their love, my blood
for added length of days: and thus be so much the more true in their love,
the more prosperous in their business, the more buoyant in their
health--by the addition of _me_.

But then embarrassment comes upon me. Which of my friends do I love the
most? To whose account of the six would I fain be credited? Then again I
think of the ten thousand virgins who go mateless about the world, sweet
women, with hearts like hidden treasure, awaiting the 'Prince's kiss' that
never comes; virgin mothers, whose bosoms shall never know the light warm
touch of baby-hands:

                      'Pale primroses
    That die unmarried, ere they can behold
    Bright Phoebus in his strength.'

How often one sees such a one in train or omnibus, her eyes, may be,
spilling the precious spikenard of their maternal love on some happier
woman's child. I noticed one of them withering on the stalk on my way to
town this morning. She was, I surmised, nearly twenty-eight, she carried a
roll of music, and I had a strong impression that she was the sole support
of an invalid mother. I could hardly resist suggesting to one of my men
companions what a good wife she was longing to make, what a Sleeping
Beauty she was, waiting for the marital kiss that would set all the sweet
bells of her nature a-chime. I had the greatest difficulty in preventing
myself from leaning over to her, and putting it to her in this way--

'Excuse me, madam, but I love you. Will you be my wife? I am just turning
thirty. I have so much a year, a comfortable little home, and probably
another thirty years of life to spend. Will you not go shares with me?'

And my imagination went on making pictures: how her eyes would suddenly
brighten up like the northern aurora, how a strange bloom would settle on
her somewhat weary face, and a dimple steal into her chin; how, when she
reached home and sat down to read Jane Austen to her mother, her mother
would suddenly imagine roses in the room, and she would blushingly answer,
'Nay, mother--it is my cheeks!'; and presently the mother would ask,
'Where is that smell of violets coming from?' and again she would answer,
'Nay, mother--it is my thoughts!'; and yet again the mother would say,
'Hush! listen to that wonderful bird singing yonder!' and she would
answer, 'Nay, mother dear--it is only my heart!'

But, alas! she alighted at Charing Cross, and not one of us in the
compartment had asked her to be his wife.

The weary clerk, the sweated shopman, the jaded engineer--how good it
would be to say to any of them, 'Here, let us change places awhile. Here
is my latch-key, my cheque-book, my joy and my leisure. Use them as long
as you will. Quick, let us change clothes, and let me take my share of the
world's dreariness and pain'!

Or to stop the old man of sixty, as he hobbles down the hill, with never a
thought of youth or spring in his heart, not a hope in his pocket, and his
faith long since run dry--to stop him and say: 'See, here are thirty
years; I have no use for them. Will you not take them? If you are quick,
you may yet catch up Phyllis by the stile. She has a wonderful rose in her
hand. She will sell it you for these thirty years; and she knows a field
where a lark is singing as though it were in heaven!'

To take the old lady from the bath-chair, and let her run with her
daughter to gather buttercups, or make eyes at the church gallants. Oh,
this were better far than living to one's-self, if we were only selfish
enough to see it!

But, best of all were it to go to the churchyard, where the dead have long
since given up all hopes of resurrection, and find some new grave, whose
inhabitant was not yet so fast asleep but that he might be awakened by a
kind word. To go to Alice's grave and call, 'Alice! Alice!' and then
whisper: 'The spring is here! Didn't you hear the birds calling you? I
have come to tell you it is time to get ready. In two hours the
church-bells will be ringing, and Edward will be waiting for you at the
altar. The organist is already trying over the 'Wedding March,' and the
bridesmaids have had their dresses on and off twice. They can talk of
nothing but orange-blossom and rice. Alice, dear, awaken. Ah, did you have
strange dreams, poor girl--dream that you were dead! Indeed, it was a
dream--an evil dream.'

And, then, as Alice stepped bewildered homewards, to steal down into her
place, and listen, and listen, till the sound of carriages rolled towards
the gate, listen till the low hush of the marriage service broke into the
wild happy laughter of the organ, and the babbling sound of sweet girls
stole through the church porch; then to lie back and to think that Alice
and Edward had been married after all--that your little useless life had
been so much use, at least: just to dream of that awhile, and then softly
fall asleep.

Ah, who would not give all his remaining days to ransom his beloved
dead?--to give them the joys they missed, the hopes they clutched at, the
dreams they dreamed? O river that runs so sweetly by their feet, when you
shall have stopped running will they rise? O sun that shines above their
heads, when you have ceased from shining will they come to us again? When
the lark shall have done with singing, and the hawthorn bud no more, shall
we then, indeed, hear the voices of our beloved, sweeter than song of
river or bird?


Sententious people are fond of telling us that we change entirely every
seven years, that in that time every single atomy of body (and soul?)
finds a substitute. Personally, I am of opinion that we change oftener,
that rather we are triennial in our constitution. In fact, it is a change
we owe to our spiritual cleanliness. But there is a truth pertaining to
the change of which the sententious people are not, I think, aware. When
they speak of our sloughing our dead selves, they imagine the husk left
behind as a dead length of hollow scale or skin. Would it were so. These
sententious people, with all their information, have probably never gone
through the process of which they speak. They have never changed from the
beginning, but have been consistently their dull selves all through. To
those, however, who can look back on many a metamorphosis, the
quick-change artists of life, a fearful thing is known. The length of
discarded snake lies glistering in the greenwood, motionless, and slowly
perishes with the fallen leaves in autumn. But for the dead self is no
autumn. By some mysterious law of spiritual propagation, it breaks away
from us, a living thing, as the offspring of primitive organisms are, it
is said, broken off the tail of their sole and undivided parent. It goes
on living as we go on living; often, indeed, if we be poets or artists, it
survives us many years; it may be a friend, but it is oftener a foe; and
it is always a sad companion.

I sat one evening in my sumptuous library near Rutland Gate. I was deep in
my favourite author, my bank-book, when presently an entry--as a matter of
fact, a quarterly allowance to a friend (well, a woman friend) of my
youth--set me thinking. Just then my man entered. A youth wished to see
me. He would not give his name, but sent word that I knew him very well
for all that. Being in a good humour, I consented to see him. He was a
young man of about twenty, and his shabby clothes could not conceal that
he was comely. He entered the room with light step and chin in air, and to
my surprise he strode over to where I sat and seated himself without a
word. Then he looked at me with his blue eyes, and I recognised him with a
start 'What's the new book?' he asked eagerly, pointing to my open

Bending over he looked at it: 'Pshaw! Figures. You used not to care much
about them. When we were together it used to be Swinburne's _Poems and
Ballads_, or Shakespeare's _Sonnets_!'

As he spoke he tugged a faded copy of the _Sonnets_ from his pocket. It
slipped from his hand. As it fell it opened, and faded violets rained from
its leaves. The youth gathered them up carefully, as though they had been
valuable, and replaced them.

'How do you sell your violets?' I asked, ironically. 'I'll give you a
pound apiece for them!'

'A pound! Twenty pounds apiece wouldn't buy them,' he laughed, and I
remembered that they were the violets Alice Sunshine and I had gathered
one spring day when I was twenty. We had found them in a corner of the
dingle, where I had been reading the _Sonnets_ to her, till in our book
that day we read no more. As we parted she pressed them between the leaves
and kissed them. I remember, too, that I had been particular to write the
day and hour against them, and I remember further how it puzzled me a
couple of years after what the date could possibly mean.

Having secured his book, my visitor once more looked me straight in the
face, and as he did so he seemed to grow perplexed and disappointed. As I
gazed at him my contentment, too, seemed to be slowly melting away. Five
minutes before I had felt the most comfortable _bourgeois_ in the world.
There seemed nothing I was in need of, but there was something about this
youth that was dangerously disillusionising. Here was I already envying
him his paltry violets. I was even weak enough to offer him five pounds
apiece for them, but he still smilingly shook his head.

'Well!' he said presently, 'what have you been doing with yourself all
these years?'

I told him of my marriage and my partnership in a big city house.

'Phew!' he said. 'Monstrous dull, isn't it? As for me, I never intend to
marry. And if you don't marry, what do you want with money? You used to
despise it enough once. And do you remember our favourite line: "_Our
loves into corpses or wives_?"'

'Hush!' I said, for wives have ears.

'Is it Alice Sunshine?' he asked.

'No,' I said, 'not Alice Sunshine.'

'Maud Willow?'

'No, not Maud Willow.'

'Jenny Hopkins?'

'No, not Jenny Hopkins.'

'Lucy Rainbow?'

'No, not Lucy Rainbow.'

'Now who else was there? I cannot remember them all. Ah, I remember now.
It wasn't Lilian, after all?'

'No, poor Lilian died ten years ago. I am afraid you don't know my wife. I
don't think you ever met.'

'It isn't Edith Appleblossom, surely? Is it?'

'No, I ...' and then I stopped just in time! 'No, you don't know my wife,
I'm sure, and if you don't mind my saying so, I think I had better not
introduce you. Forgive me, but she wouldn't quite understand you, I

'Wouldn't quite approve, eh?' said he, with a merry laugh. 'Poor old

'Well, I'm better off than that,' he continued. 'Why, Doll and I love for
a week, and then forget each other's names in a twelvemonth, when Poll
comes along, and so on. And neither of us is any the worse, believe me.
We're one as fickle as the other, so where's the harm?'

'Ah, my dear fellow, you did make a mistake,' he ran on. 'I suppose you
forget Robert Louis' advice--_"Times are changed with him who marries,"_

'He's married himself,' I replied.

'And I suppose you never drop in for a pipe at "The Three Tuns" now of an

'No! I haven't been near the place these many years.'

'Poor old fellow! The Bass is superb at present.

I recollected. 'Won't you have some wine with me?' I said. 'I have some
fine old Chianti. And take a cigar?'

'No, thanks, old man. I'm too sad. Come with me to "The Three Tuns," and
let's have an honest pint and an honest pipe together. I don't care about
cigars. Come to-night. Let's make a night of it. We'll begin at "The Three
Tuns," then call at "The Blue Posts," look in at "The Dog and Fire-irons,"
and finish up at "The Shakespeare's Head." What was it we used to troll?--

    'From tavern to tavern
      Youth passes along,
    With an armful of girl
      And a heart-full of song.'

'Hush!' I cried in terror; 'it is impossible. I cannot. Come to my club
instead.' But he shook his head.

I persuaded him to have some Chianti at last, but he drank it without
spirit, and thus we sat far into the night talking of old days.

Before he went I made him a definite offer--he must have bewitched me, I
am sure--I offered him no less than £5000 and a share in the business for
the sprig of almond-blossom the ridiculous young pagan carried in his hat.

And will you believe me? He declined the offer.


The dash under the signature, the unnecessary rat-tat of the visitor, the
extravagant angle of the hat in bowing, the extreme unction in the voice,
the business man's importance, the strut of the cock, the swagger of the
bad actor, the long hair of the poet, the Salvation bonnet, the blue shirt
of the Socialist: against all these, and a hundred examples of the swagger
of unreflecting life, did a little brass knocker in Gray's Inn warn me the
other evening. I had knocked as no one should who is not a postman, with
somewhat of a flourish. I had plainly said, in its metallic
reverberations, that I was somebody. As I left my friends, I felt the
knocker looking at me, and when I came out into the great square, framing
the heavens like an astronomical chart, the big stars repeated the lesson
with thousand-fold iteration. How they seemed to nudge each other and
twinkle among themselves at the poor ass down there, who actually took
himself and his doings so seriously as to flourish, even on a little brass

Yes, I had once again forgotten Jupiter. How many hundred times was he
bigger than the earth? Never mind, there he was, bright as crystal, for me
to measure my importance against! The street-lamps did their best, I
observed, to brave it out, and the electric lights in Holborn seemed
certainly to have the best of it--as cheap jewellery is gaudiest in its
glitter. One could much more easily believe that all these hansoms with
their jewelled eyes, these pretty, saucily frocked women with theirs, this
busy glittering milky way of human life was the enduring, and those dimmed
uncertain points up yonder but the reflections of human gas-lights.

A city clerk, with shining evening hat, went by, his sweetheart on his
arm. They were wending gaily to the theatre, without a thought of all the
happy people who had done the same long ago--hasting down the self-same
street, to the self-same theatre, with the very same sweet talk--all long
since mouldering in their graves. I felt I ought to rush up and shake
them, take them into a bystreet, turn their eyes upon Jupiter, and tell
them they must die; but I thought it might spoil the play for them.

Besides, there were so many hundreds in the streets I should have to
address in the same way: formidable people, too, clad in respectability as
in a coat of mail. The pompous policeman yonder: I longed to go and say to
him that there had been policemen before; that he was only the ephemeral
example of a world-old type, and needn't take himself so seriously. It was
an irresistible temptation to ask him: 'Canst thou bind the sweet
influences of Pleiades, or loose the bands of Orion? Canst thou bring
forth Mazzaroth in his season? Or canst thou guide Arcturus with his
sons?' But I forbore, and just then, glancing into an oyster shop, I was
fascinated by the oysterman. He was rapidly opening a dozen for a new
customer, and wore the while the solemnest face I ever saw. Oysters were
so evidently, so pathetically, all the world to him. All his surroundings
suggested oysters, legends of their prices and qualities made the art on
his walls, printed price-lists on his counter made his literature, the
prospects and rivalries of trade made his politics: oysters were, in fact,
his _raison d'être_. His associations from boyhood had been oysters, I
felt certain that his relatives, even his ancestors, must be oysters, too;
and that if he had any idea of a supreme being, it must take the form of
an oyster. Indeed, a sort of nightmare seemed suddenly to take possession
of the world, in which alternately policemen swallowed oysters and oysters
policemen. How sad it all was--that masterly flourish of the knife with
which the oysterman ruthlessly hurried dozen after dozen into eternity;
that deferential 'Sir' in his voice to every demand of his customer; that
brisk alacrity with which he bid his assistant bring 'the gentleman's

There seemed a world of tears in these simple operations, and the plain
oysterman had grown suddenly mystical as an astrological symbol. And,
indeed, there was planetary influence in the thing, for there was Jupiter
high above us, sneering at our little world of policemen and oystermen.

His grin disagreeably reminded me--had I not myself that very night
ignorantly flourished on a brass knocker?

It is so hard to remember the respect we owe to death. Yet for me there is
always a feeling that if we direct our lives cautiously, with
proportionate seriousness and no more, not presuming on life as our
natural birthright, but taking it with simple thankfulness as a boon which
we have done nothing to deserve, and which may be snatched from us before
our next breath: that, if we so order our days, Death may respect our

    'The lusty lord, rejoicing in his pride,
      He draweth down; before the armèd knight
    With jingling bridle-rein he still doth ride;
      He crosseth the strong captain in the fight';

but such are proud people, arrogant in beauty and strength. With a humble
person, who is careful not to flourish beneath his signature, who knocks
just as much as he means on the knocker, bows just as much as he respects,
smiles cautiously, and never fails to touch his hat to the King of
Terrors--may he not deal more gently with such a one?

And yet Death is not a pleasant companion at Life's feast, however kindly
disposed. One cannot quite trust him, and he doesn't go well with flowers.
Perhaps, after all, they are wisest who forget him, and happy indeed are
they who have not yet caught sight of him grinning to himself among the
green branches of their Paradise.

Yes, it is good that youth should go with a feather in his cap, that
spring should garland herself with blossom, and love's vows make light of
death. He is a bad companion for young people. But for older folk the
wisdom of that knocker in Gray's Inn applies.


Looking back, in weak moments, we are sometimes heard to say: 'After all,
youth was a great fool. Look at the tinsel he was sure was solid gold. Can
you imagine it? This tawdry tinkling bit of womanhood, a silly doll that
says "Don't" when you squeeze it,--he actually mistook her for a goddess.'
Ah! reader, don't you wish you could make such a splendid mistake? I do.
I'd give anything to be once more sitting before the footlights for the
first time, with the wonderful overture just beginning to steal through my

Ah! violins, whither would you take my soul? You call to it like the voice
of one waiting by the sea, bathed in sunset. Why do you call me? What are
these wonderful things you are whispering to my soul? You promise--ah!
what things you promise, strange voices of the string!

O sirens, have pity! It is the soul of a boy comes out to meet you. His
heart is pure, his body sweet as apples. Oh, be faithful, betray him not,
beautiful voices of the wondrous world!

David and I sat together in a theatre. The overture had succeeded. Our
souls had followed it over the footlights, and, floating in the limelight,
shone there awaiting the fulfilment of the promise. The play was
'Pygmalion and Galatea.' I almost forget now how the scenes go, I only
know that at the appearance of Galatea we knew that the overture had not
lied. There, in dazzling white flesh, was all it had promised; and when
she called 'Pyg-ma-lion!' how our hearts thumped! for we knew it was
really us she was calling.

'Pyg-ma-lion!' 'Pyg-ma-lion!'

It was as though Cleopatra called us from the tomb.

Our hands met. We could hear each other's blood singing. And was not the
play itself an allegory of our coming lives? Did not Galatea symbolise all
the sleeping beauty of the world that was to awaken warm and fragrant at
the kiss of our youth? And somewhere, too, shrouded in enchanted quiet,
such a white white woman waited for our kiss.

In a vision we saw life like the treasure cave of the Arabian thief, and
we said to our beating hearts that we had the secret of the magic word:
that the 'Open Sesame' was youth.

No fall of the curtain could hide the vision from our young eyes. It
transfigured the faces of our fellow-pittites, it made another stage of
the embers of the sunset, a distant bridge of silver far down the street.
Then we took it with us to the tavern: and, as I think of the solemn
libations of that night, I know not whether to laugh or cry. Doubtless,
you will do the laughing and I the crying.

We had got our own corner. Turning down the gas, the fire played at day
and night with our faces. Imagine us in one of the flashes, solemnly
raising our glasses, hands clasped across the table, earnest gleaming eyes
holding each other above it. 'Old man! some day, somewhere, a woman like

There was still a sequel. At home at last and in bed, how could I sleep?
It seemed as if I had got into a rosy sunset cloud in mistake for my bed.
The candle was out, and yet the room was full of rolling light.

I'll swear I could have seen to read by it, whatever it was.

It was no use. I must get up. I struck a light, and in a moment was deep
in the composition of a fiery sonnet. It was evidently that which had
caused all the phosphorescence. But a sonnet is a mere pill-box. It holds
nothing. A mere cockleshell. And, oh! the raging sea it could not hold!
Besides, being confessedly an art-form, duly licensed to lie, it is apt to
be misunderstood. It could not say in plain English, 'Meet me at the pier
to-morrow at three in the afternoon'; it could make no assignation nearer
than the Isles of the Blest, 'after life's fitful fever.' Therefore, it
seemed well to add a postscript to that effect in prose.

And then, how was she to receive it? Needless to say, there was nothing to
be hoped from the post; and I should have said before that Tyre and Sidon
face each other on opposite sides of the river, and that my home was in
Sidon, three miles from the ferry.

Likewise, it was now nearing three in the morning. Just time to catch the
half-past three boat, run up to the theatre, a mile away, and meet the
return boat. So down down through the creaking house, gingerly, as though
I were a Jason picking my way among the coils of the sleeping dragon. Soon
I was shooting along the phantom streets, like Mercury on a message
through Hades.

At last the river came in sight, growing slate-colour in the earliest
dawn. I could see the boat nuzzling up against the pier, and snoring in
its sleep. I said to myself that this was Styx and the fare an obolus. As
I jumped on board, with hot face and hotter heart, Charon clicked his
signal to the engines, the boat slowly snuffled itself half awake, and we
shoved out into the sleepy water.

As we crossed, the light grew, and the gas-lamps of Tyre beaconed with
fading gleam. Overhead began a restlessness in the clouds, as of a giant
drowsily shuffling off some of his bedclothes; but as yet he slept, and
only the silver bosom of his spouse the moon was uncovered.

When we landed, the streets of Tyre were already light, but empty: as
though they had got up early to meet some one who had not arrived. I sped
through them like a seagull that has the harbour to itself, and was not
long in reaching the theatre. How desolate the playbills looked that had
been so companionable but two or three hours before. And there was her
photograph! Surely it was an omen. Ah, my angel! See, I am bringing you my
heart in a song 'All my heart in this my singing!'

I dropped the letter into the box: but, as I turned away, momentarily
glancing up the long street, I caught sight of an approaching figure that
could hardly be mistaken. Good Heavens! it was David, and he too was
carrying a letter.



I felt jaded and dusty, I needed flowers and sunshine; and remembering
that some one had told me--erroneously, I have since discovered!--that the
pinewood wherein Sandra Belloni used to sing to her harp, like a nixie, in
the moonlit nights, lay near Oxshott in Surrey, I vowed myself there and
then to the Meredithian pilgrimage.

The very resolution uplifted me with lyric gladness, and I went swinging
out of the old Inn where I live with the heart of a boy. Across Lincoln's
Inn Fields, down by the Law Courts, and so to Waterloo. I felt I must have
a confidante, so I told the slate-coloured pigeons in the square where I
was off--out among the thrushes, the broom, and the may. But they wouldn't
come. They evidently deemed that a legal purlieu was a better place for

Half-a-crown return to Oxshott and a train at 12.35. You know the ride
better than I, probably, and what Surrey is at the beginning of June. The
first gush of green on our getting clear of Clapham was like the big drink
after an afternoon's haymaking. There was but one cloud on the little
journey. She got into the next carriage.

I dreamed all the way. On arriving at Oxshott I immediately became
systematic. Having a very practical belief in the material basis of all
exquisite experience, I simply nodded to the great pinewoods half a mile
off, on the brow of long heathy downs to the left of the railway
bridge--as who should say, 'I shall enjoy you all the better presently for
some sandwiches and a pint of ale'--and promptly, not to say
scientifically, turned down the Oxshott road in search of an inn.

Oxshott is a quaint little hamlet, one of the hundred villages where we
are going to live when we have written great novels; but I didn't care
for the village inn, so walked a quarter of a mile nearer Leatherhead,
till the Old Bear came in sight.

There I sat in the drowsy parlour, the humming afternoon coming in at the
door, 'the blue fly' singing on the hot pane, dreaming all kinds of
gauzy-winged dreams, while my body absorbed ham sandwiches and some
excellent ale. Of course I did not leave the place without the inevitable
reflection on Lamb and the inns _he_ had immortalised. Outside again my
thoughts were oddly turned to the nature of my expedition by two figures
in the road--an unhappy-looking couple, evidently 'belonging to each
other,' the young woman with babe at breast, trudging together side by

    'One was a girl with a babe that throve,
      Her ruin and her bliss;
    One was a youth with a lawless love,
      Who claspt it the more for this.'

The quotation was surely inevitable for any one who knows Mr. Meredith's
tragic little picture of 'The Meeting.'

Thus I was brought to think of Sandra again, and of the night when the
Brookfield ladies had heard her singing like a spirit in the heart of the
moon-dappled pinewood, and impresario Pericles had first prophesied the
future prima donna.

Do you remember his inimitable outburst?--'I am made my mind! I send her
abroad to ze Académie for one, two, tree year. She shall be instructed as
was not before. Zen a noise at La Scala. No--Paris! No--London! She shall
astonish London fairst. Yez! if I take a theatre! Yez! if I buy a
newspaper! Yez! if I pay feefty-sossand pound!'

Of course, as one does, I had gone expecting to distinguish the actual
sandy mound among the firs where she sat with her harp, the young
countryman waiting close by for escort, and the final 'Giles Scroggins,
native British, beer-begotten air' with which she rewarded him for his
patience in suffering so much classical music. Mr. Meredith certainly
gives a description of the spot close enough for identification, with time
and perseverance. But, reader, I had gone out this afternoon in the
interest rather of fresh air than of sentimental topography; and it was
quite enough for me to feel that somewhere in that great belt of pinewood
it had all been true, and that it was through those fir-branches and none
other in the world that that 'sleepy fire of early moonlight' had so
wonderfully hung.

After crossing the railway bridge the road rises sharply for a few yards,
and then a whole stretch of undulating woodland is before one: to the
right bosky green, but on the left a rough dark heath with a shaggy
wilderness of pine for background, heightened here and there with a sudden
surprise of gentle silver birch. How freshly the wind met one at the top
of the road: a southwest wind soft and blithe enough to have blown through
'Diana of the Crossways.'

    'You saucy south wind, setting all the budded beech boughs swinging
    Above the wood anemones that flutter, flushed and white,
    When far across the wide salt waves your quick way you were winging,
    Oh! tell me, tell me, did you pass my sweetheart's ship last night?

      Ah! let the daisies be,
      South wind! and answer me;
      Did you my sailor see?
      Wind, whisper very low,
      For none but you must know
      I love my lover so.'

I had been keeping that question to ask it for two or three days, since a
good friend had told me of some lyrics by Miss Frances Wynne; and the
little volume, charmingly entitled _Whisper_, was close under my arm as I
turned from the road across the heath--a wild scramble of scrubby
chance-children, wind-sown from the pines behind. And then presently, like
a much greater person, 'I found me in a gloomy wood astray.'

But I soon realised that it wasn't the day for pinewoods, however rich in
associations. Dark days are their Opportunity. Then one is in sympathy.
But on days when the sunshine is poured forth like yellow wine, when the
broom is ablaze, and the sky blue as particular eyes, the contrast of
those dark aisles without one green blade is uncanny. Its listening
loneliness almost frightens one. Brurrhh! One must find a greenwood where
things are companionable: birds within call, butterflies in waiting, and a
bee now and again to bump one, and be off again with a grumbled 'Beg your
pardon. Confound you!' So presently imagine me 'prone at the foot of
yonder' sappy chestnut, nice little cushions of moss around me, one for
_Whisper_, one for a pillow; above, a world of luminous green leaves,
filtered sunlight lying about in sovereigns and half-sovereigns, and at a
distance in the open shine a patch of hyacinths, 'like a little heaven

_Whisper_! Tis the sweetest little book of lyrics since Mrs. Dollie
Radford's _Light Load_. Whitman, you will remember, always used to take
his songs out into the presence of the fields and skies to try them. A
severe test, but a little book may bear it as well as a great one. The
_Leaves of Grass_ claims measurement with oaks; but _Whisper_ I tried by
speedwell and cinquefoil, and many other tiny sweet things for which I
know no name, by all airs and sounds coming to me through the wood, quaint
little notes of hidden birds,--and the songs were just as much at home
there as the rest, because they also had grown out of Nature's heart, and
were as much hers as any leaf or bird. So I dotted speedwell all amongst
them, because I felt they ought to know each other.

I wonder if you love to fill your books with flowers. It is a real
bookish delight, and they make such a pretty diary. My poets are full of
them, and they all mean a memory--old spring mornings, lost sunsets, walks
forgotten and unforgotten. Here a buttercup pressed like finely beaten
brass, there a great yellow rose--in my Keats; my Chaucer is like his old
meadows, 'ypoudred with daisie,' and my Herrick is full of violets. The
only thing is that they haunt me sometimes. But then, again, they bloom
afresh every spring. As Mr. Monkhouse sings:--

    'Sweet as the rose that died last year is the rose that is born to-day.'

But I grow melancholy with an Englishman's afterthought, for I coined no
such reflections dreaming there in the wood. It is only on paper that one
moralises--just where one shouldn't.

My one or two regrets were quite practical--that I had not learnt botany
at school, and that the return train went so early.


    What is so white in the world, my love,
    As thy maiden soul--
    The dove that flies
    Softly all day within thine eyes,
    And nests within thine heart at night?
    Nothing so white.

One has heard poets speak of a quill dropped from an angel's wing. That is
the kind of nib of which I feel in need to-night. If I could but have it
just for to-night only,--I would willingly bequeath it to the British
Museum to-morrow. As a rule I am very well satisfied with the particular
brand of gilt 'J' with which I write to the dictation of the Muse of Daily
Bread; but to-night it is different. Though it come not, I must make ready
to receive a loftier inspiration. Whitest paper, newest pen, ear
sensitive, tremulous; heart pure and mind open, broad and clear as the
blue air for the most delicate gossamer thoughts to wing through; and
snow-white words, lily-white words, words of ivory and pearl, words of
silver and alabaster, words white as hawthorn and daisy, words white as
morning milk, words 'whiter than Venus' doves, and softer than the down
beneath their wings'--virginal, saintlike, nunnery words.

It may be because I love White Soul that I think her the fairest blossom
on the Tree of Life, yet a child said of her to its mother, the other day:
'Look at White Soul's face--it is as though it were lit up from inside!'
Children, if they don't always tell the truth, seldom tell lies; and I
always think that the praise of children is better worth having than the
Cross of the Legion of Honour. They are the only critics from whom praise
is not to be bought. As animals are said to see spirits, children have, I
think, an eye for souls. It is so easy to have an eye for beautiful
surfaces. Such eyes are common enough. An eye for beautiful souls is
rarer; and, unless you possess that eye for souls, you waste your time on
White Soul. She has, of course, her external attractions, dainty features,
refined contours; but these it would not be difficult to match in any
morning's walk. It is when she smiles that her face, it seems to me, is
one of the most wonderful in the world. Till she smiles, it is like the
score of some great composer's song before the musician releases it
warbling for joy along the trembling keys; it is like the statue of Memnon
before the dawn steals to kiss it across the desert. White Soul's face
when she smiles is made, you would say, of larks and dew, of nightingales
and stars.

She is an eldritch little creature, a little frightening to live
with--with her gold flaxen hair that seems to grow blonder as it nears her
head: burnt blonde, it would seem, with the white light of the spirit that
pours all day long from her brows. There is something, as we say, almost
supernatural about her--'a fairy's child.' The gypsies have a share in her
blood, she boasts in her naive way, and with her love for all that is free
and lawless and under-the-sky--but I always say the fairies have more. She
is constantly saying 'Hush!' and 'Whisht!' when no one else can hear a
sound, and she dreams the quaintest of dreams.

Once she woke sobbing in the night and told her husband, who knew her ways
and loved her tenfold for them, that she had dreamed herself in the old
churchyard, and that as the moon rose behind the tower the three old men
who live in the three yew-trees had come out and played cards upon a tomb
in the moonlight, and one of them had beckoned to her and offered to tell
her fortune. It fell out that she was to die in the spring, and as he held
up the fatal card, the old man had leered at her--and then a cock crew,
all three vanished, and she awoke.

Her dreams are nearly all about dying, and, though she is obviously
robust, there is that transparent ethereal look in her face which makes
old women say 'she is not long for this world,' that fateful beauty which
creates an atmosphere of doom about it. You cannot look at her without a
queer involuntary feeling that she was born to die in some tragic way. She
reminds one of those perilously fragile vases we feel must get broken,
those rarely delicate flowers we feel cannot have strong healthy roots.

She is one of those who seem born to see terrible things, monstrous
accidents, supernatural appearances. She has seen death and birth in
strange uncanny forms; and she has met with unearthly creatures in the
lonely corners of rooms. She is a 'seventh-month child,' and
'seventh-month children always see things,' she says, with a funny little
sententious shake of her head.

Yet, with all this, she is the sunniest, healthiest, most domestic little
soul that breathes; and no doubt the materialist would be right in saying
that all this 'spirituelle' nonsense is but a trick of her transparent
blonde complexion, a chance quality in the colour of her great luminous

Like all women, she was most wonderful just before the birth of her first
child, a little changeling creature, wild-eyed as her fairy mother. How
she made believe with the little fairy vestments, the elfin-shirts, the
pixy-frocks--long before it was time for the tiny body to step inside
them! how she talked to the unborn soul that none but she as yet could
see! And all the time she 'knew' she was going to die, that she would
never see the little immortal that was about to put on our mortality:
'people' had told her so in her dreams at night,--doubtless 'the good
people,' the fairies. Those who loved her grew almost to believe her--she
looks so like a little Sibyl when she says such things,--yet her little
one came almost without a cry, and in a few days the fairy mother was once
more glinting about the house like a sunbeam.

Well! well! I cannot make you see her as I know her: that I fear is
certain. You might meet her, yet never know her from my description. If
you wait for the coarse articulation of words you might well 'miss' her;
for her qualities are not histrionic, they have no notion of making the
best of themselves. They remain, so to speak, in nuggets; they are minted
into no current coin of fleeting fashion and shallow accomplishment. But
if a face can mean more to you than the whole of Johnson's _Dictionary_,
and the _Encyclopædia Britannica_ to boot, if a strain of music can convey
to you the thrill of human life, with its heights and depths and romantic
issues and possibilities, as Gibbon and Grote can never do--come and
worship White Soul's face with me. Some women's faces are like
diamonds--they look their best in artificial lights; White Soul's face is
bright with the soft brightness of a flower--a flower tumbled with dew,
and best seen in the innocent lights of dawn. Dear face without words!

And if there are those who can look on that face without being touched by
its strange spiritual loveliness, without seeing in it one of those clear
springs that bubble up from the eternal beauty, there must indeed be many
who would miss the soul for which her face is but the ivory gate, who
would never know how white is all within, never see or hear that holy

But I have seen and heard, and I know that if God should covet White Soul
and steal her from me, her memory would ever remain with me as one of
those eternal realities of the spirit to which 'realities' of flesh and
blood, of wood and stone, are but presumptuous shadows.

I am not worthy of White Soul. Indeed, just to grow more worthy of her was
I put into the world.

       *       *       *       *       *

Printed by T. and A. CONSTABLE, Printers to Her Majesty at the Edinburgh
University Press

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