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Title: Prose Fancies (Second Series)
Author: Le Gallienne, Richard, 1866-1947
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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PROSE FANCIES

(SECOND SERIES)

BY

RICHARD LE GALLIENNE



LONDON: JOHN LANE

CHICAGO: H.S. STONE AND CO.

1896



TO

MAGGIE LE GALLIENNE

WITH LOVE

  Poor are the gifts of the poet--
  Nothing but words!
  The gifts of kings are gold,
  Silver, and flocks and herds,
  Garments of strange soft silk,
  Feathers of wonderful birds,
  Jewels and precious stones,
  And horses white as the milk--
  These are the gifts of kings:
  But the gifts that the poet brings
  Are nothing but words.

  Forty thousand words!
  Take them--a gift of flies!
  Words that should have been birds,
  Words that should have been flowers,
  Words that should have been stars
  In the eternal skies.
  Forty thousand words!
  Forty thousand tears--
  All out of two sad eyes.



  CONTENTS                                              PAGE

  A SEVENTH-STORY HEAVEN,                                 1
  SPRING BY PARCEL POST,                                 20
  THE GREAT MERRY-GO-ROUND,                              27
  THE BURIAL OF ROMEO AND JULIET,                        39
  VARIATIONS UPON WHITEBAIT,                             49
  THE ANSWER OF THE ROSE,                                58
  ABOUT THE SECURITIES,                                  67
  THE BOOM IN YELLOW,                                    79
  LETTER TO AN UNSUCCESSFUL LITERARY MAN,                90
  A POET IN THE CITY,                                    98
  BROWN ROSES,                                          108
  THE DONKEY THAT LOVED A STAR,                         112
  ON LOVING ONE'S ENEMIES,                              119
  THE DRAMATIC ART OF LIFE,                             125
  THE ARBITRARY CLASSIFICATION OF SEX,                  135
  THE FALLACY OF A NATION,                              145
  THE GREATNESS OF MAN,                                 154
  DEATH AND TWO FRIENDS,                                171
  A SEAPORT IN THE MOON,                                187



A SEVENTH-STORY HEAVEN


At one end of the city that I love there is a tall, dingy pile of
offices that has evidently seen more prosperous fortunes. It is not the
aristocratic end. It is remote from the lordly street of the fine shops
of the fair women, where in the summer afternoons the gay bank clerks
parade arm-in-arm in the wake of the tempestuous petticoat. It lies
aside from the great exchange which looks like a scene from _Romeo and
Juliet_ in the moonlight, from the town-hall from whose clocked and
gilded cupola ring sweet chimes at midnight, and whence, throned above
the city, a golden Britannia, in the sight of all men, is seen visibly
ruling the waves--while in the square below the death of Nelson is
played all day in stone, with a frieze of his noble words about the
pedestal. England expects! What an influence that stirring challenge
has yet upon the hearts of men may be seen by any one who will study the
faces of the busy, imaginative cotton-brokers, who, in the thronged and
humming mornings, sell what they have never seen to a customer they will
never see.

In fact, the end I mean is just the very opposite end to that. It is the
end where the cotton that everybody sells and nobody buys _is_ seen,
piled in great white stacks, or swinging in the air from the necks of
mighty cranes, cranes that could nip up an elephant with as little ado,
and set him down on the wharf, with a box on his ugly ears for his
cowardly trumpeting. It is the end that smells of tar, the domain of the
harbourmasters, where the sailor finds a 'home,'--not too sweet, and
where the wild sea is tamed in a maze of granite squares and basins; the
end where the riggings and buildings rise side by side, and a clerk
might swing himself out upon the yards from his top-floor desk. Here is
the Custom House, and the conversation that shines is full of freightage
and dock dues; here are the shops that sell nothing but oilskins,
sextants, and parrots, and here the taverns do a mighty trade in rum.

It was in this quarter, for a brief sweet time, that Love and Beauty
made their strange home, as though a pair of halcyons should choose to
nest in the masthead of a cattleship. Love and Beauty chose this
quarter, as, alas! Love and Beauty must choose so many things--for its
cheapness. Love and Beauty were poor, and office rents in this quarter
were exceptionally low. But what should Love and Beauty do with an
office? Love was a poor poet in need of a room for his bed and his
rhymes, and Beauty was a little blue-eyed girl who loved him.

It was a shabby, forbidding place, gloomy and comfortless as a warehouse
on the banks of Styx. No one but Love and Beauty would have dared to
choose it for their home. But Love and Beauty have a great confidence in
themselves--a confidence curiously supported by history,--and they never
had a moment's doubt that this place was as good as another for an
earthly Paradise. So Love signed an agreement for one great room at the
very top, the very masthead of the building, and Beauty made it pretty
with muslin curtains, flowers, and dainty makeshifts of furniture, but
chiefly with the light of her own heavenly face. A stroke of luck coming
one day to the poet, the lovers, with that extravagance which the poor
alone have the courage to enjoy, procured a piano on the kind-hearted
hire-purchase system, a system specially conceived for lovers. Then,
indeed, for many a wonderful night that room was not only on the seventh
floor, but in the seventh heaven; and as Beauty would sit at the piano,
with her long hair flying loose, and her soul like a whirl of starlight
about her brows, a stranger peering in across the soft lamplight, seeing
her face, hearing her voice, would deem that the long climb, flight
after flight of dreary stair, had been appropriately rewarded by a
glimpse of heaven.

Certainly it must have seemed a strange contrast from the life about and
below it. The foot of that infernal stair plunged in the warm
rum-and-thick-twist atmosphere of a sailor's tavern--and 'The Jolly
Shipmates' was a house of entertainment by no means to be despised.
Often have I sat there with the poet, drinking the whisky from which
Scotland takes its name, among wondering sea-boots and sou'-westers, who
could make nothing of that wild hair and that still wilder talk.

From the kingdom of rum and tar you mounted into a zone of commission
agents fund shipbrokers, a chill, unoccupied region, in which every
small office bore the names of half a dozen different firms, and yet
somehow could not contrive to look busy. Finally came an airy echoing
landing, a region of empty rooms, which the landlords in vain
recommended as studios to a city that loved not art. Here dwelt the
keeper and his kind-hearted little wife, and no one besides save Love
and Beauty. There was thus a feeling of rarefaction in the atmosphere,
as though at this height it was only the Alpine flora of humanity that
could find root and breathing. But once along the bare passage and
through a certain door, and what a sudden translation it was into a
gracious world of books and flowers and the peace they always bring.

Once upon a time, in that enchanted past where dwell all the dreams we
love best, precisely, with loving punctuality, at five in the afternoon,
a pretty, girlish figure, like Persephone escaping from the shades,
stole through the rough sailors at the foot of that sordid Jacob's
ladder and made her way to the little heaven at the top.

I shall not describe her, for the good reason that I cannot. Leonardo,
ever curious of the beauty that was most strangely exquisite, once in an
inspired hour painted such a face, a face wrought of the porcelain of
earth with the art of heaven. But, whoever should paint it, God
certainly made it--must have been the comment of any one who caught a
glimpse of that little figure vanishing heavenwards up that stair, like
an Assumption of Fra Angelico's--that is, any one interested in art and
angels.

She had not long to wait outside the door she sought, for the poet, who
had listened all day for the sound, had ears for the whisper of her
skirts as she came down the corridor, and before she had time to knock
had already folded her in his arms. The two babes in that thieves' wood
of commission agents and shipbrokers stood silent together for a
moment, in the deep security of a kiss such as the richest millionaire
could never buy--and then they fell to comparing notes of their day's
work. The poet had had one of his rare good days. He had made no money,
his post had been even more disappointing than usual,--but he had
written a poem, the best he had ever written, he said, as he always said
of his last new thing. He had been burning to read it to somebody all
afternoon--had with difficulty refrained from reading it to the
loquacious little keeper's wife as she brought him some coals--so it was
not to be expected that he should wait a minute before reading it to her
whom indeed it strove to celebrate. With arms round each other's necks,
they bent over the table littered with the new-born poem, all blots and
dashes like the first draft of a composer's score, and the poet, deftly
picking his way among the erasures and interlineations, read aloud the
beautiful words--with a full sense of their beauty!--to ears that deemed
them more beautiful even than they were. The owners of this now valuable
copyright allow me to irradiate my prose with three of the verses.

'Ah! what,' half-chanted, half-crooned the poet--

  'Ah! what a garden is your hair!--
    Such treasure as the kings of old,
    In coffers of the beaten gold,
  Laid up on earth--and left it there.'

So tender a reference to hair whose beauty others beside the poet had
loved must needs make a tender interruption--the only kind of
interruption the poet could have forgiven--and 'Who,' he continued--

  'Who was the artist of your mouth?
    What master out of old Japan
    Wrought it so dangerous to man ...'

And here it was but natural that laughter and kisses should once more
interrupt--

  'Those strange blue jewels of your eyes,
    Painting the lily of your face,
    What goldsmith set them in their place--
  Forget-me-nots of Paradise?

  'And that blest river of your voice,
    Whose merry silver stirs the rest
    Of water-lilies in your breast ...'

At last, in spite of more interruptions, the poem came to an
end--whereupon, of course, the poet immediately read it through once
more from the beginning, its personal and emotional elements, he felt,
having been done more justice on a first reading than its artistic
excellences.

'Why, darling, it is splendid,' was his little sweetheart's comment;
'you know how happy it makes me to think it was written for me, don't
you?' And she took his hands and looked up at him with eyes like the
morning sky.

Romance in poetry is almost exclusively associated with very refined
ethereal matters, stars and flowers and such like--happily, in actual
life it is often associated with much humbler objects. Lovers, like
children, can make their paradises out of the quaintest materials.
Indeed, our paradises, if we only knew, are always cheap enough; it is
our hells that are so expensive. Now these lovers--like, if I mistake
not, many other true lovers before and since--when they were
particularly happy, when some special piece of good luck had befallen
them, could think of no better paradise than a little dinner together in
their seventh-story heaven. 'Ah! wilderness were Paradise enow!'

To-night was obviously such an occasion. But, alas! where was the money
to come from? They didn't need much--for it is wonderful how happy you
can be on five shillings, if you only know how. At the same time it is
difficult to be happy on ninepence--which was the entire fortune of the
lovers at the moment. Beauty laughingly suggested that her celebrated
hair might prove worth the price of their dinner. The poet thought a
pawnbroker might surely be found to advance ten shillings on his
poem--the original MS. too,--else had they nothing to pawn, save a few
gold and silver dreams which they couldn't spare. What was to be done?
Sell some books, of course! It made them shudder to think how many poets
they had eaten in this fashion. It was sheer cannibalism--but what was
to be done? Their slender stock of books had been reduced entirely to
poetry. If there had only been a philosopher or a modern novelist, the
sacrifice wouldn't have seemed so unnatural. And then Beauty's eyes fell
upon a very fat informing-looking volume on the poet's desk.

'Wouldn't this do?' she said.

'Why, of course!' he exclaimed; 'the very thing. A new history of
socialism just sent me for review. Hang the review; we want our dinner,
don't we, little one? And then I've read the preface, and looked through
the index--quite enough to make a column of, with a plentiful supply of
general principles thrown in! Why, of course, there's our dinner for
certain, dull and indigestible as it looks. It's worth fifty minor poets
at old Moser's. Come along....'

So off went the happy pair--ah! how much happier was Beauty than ever so
many fine ladies one knows who have only, so to say, to rub their
wedding-rings for a banquet to rise out of the ground, with the most
distinguished guests around the table, champagne of the best, and
conversation of the worst.

Old Moser found histories of socialism profitable, more profitable
perhaps than socialism, and he actually gave five-and-sixpence for the
volume. With the ninepence already in their pockets, you will see that
they were now possessors of quite a small fortune. Six-and-threepence!
It wouldn't pay for one's lunch nowadays. Ah! but that is because the
poor alone know the art of dining.

You needn't wish to be happier and merrier than those two lovers, as
they gaily hastened to that bright and cosy corner of the town where
those lovely ham-and-beef shops make glad the faces of the passers-by. O
those hams with their honest shining faces, polished like mahogany--and
the man inside so happy all day slicing them with those wonderful long
knives (which, of course, the superior class of reader has never seen)
worn away to a veritable thread, a mere wire, but keen as Excalibur.
Beauty used to calculate in her quaint way how much steel was worn away
with each pound of ham, and how much therefore went to the sandwich. And
what an artist was the carver! What a true eye! what a firm, flexible
wrist! never a shaving of fat too much--he was too great an artist for
that. Then there were those dear little cream cheeses, and those little
brown jugs of yellow cream come all the way from Devonshire--you could
hear the cows lowing across the rich pasture, and hear the milkmaids
singing and the milk whizzing into the pail, as you looked at them.

And then those perfectly lovely sausages--I beg the reader's pardon! I
forgot that the very mention of the word smacks of vulgarity. Yet, all
the same, I venture to think that a secret taste for sausages among the
upper classes is more widespread than we have any idea of. I confess
that Beauty and her poet were at first ashamed of admitting their vulgar
frailty to each other. They needed to know each other very well first.
Yet there is nothing, when once confessed, that brings two people so
close as--a taste for sausages.

'You darling!' exclaimed Beauty, with something like tears in her voice,
when her poet first admitted this touch of nature--and then next moment
they were in fits of laughter that a common taste for a very 'low' food
should bring tears to their eyes! But such are the vagaries of love--as
you will know, if you know anything about it--'vulgar,' no doubt, though
only the vulgar would so describe them--for it is only vulgarity that
is always 'refined.'

Then there was the florist's to visit. What beautiful trades some people
ply! To sell flowers is surely like dealing in fairies. Beautiful must
grow the hands that wire them, and sweet the flower-girl's every
thought!

There remained but the wine merchant's, or, had we not better say at
once, the grocer's, for our lovers could afford no rarer vintages than
Tintara or the golden burgundy of Australia; and it is wonderful to
think what a sense of festivity one of those portly colonial flagons
lent to their little dining-table. Sometimes, I may confide, when they
wanted to feel very dissipated, and were _very_ rich, they would allow
themselves a small bottle of Benedictine--and you should have seen
Beauty's eyes as she luxuriously sipped at her green little liqueur
glass; for, like most innocent people, she enjoyed to the full the
delight of feeling occasionally wicked. However, these were rare
occasions, and this night was not one of them.

Half a pound of black grapes completed their shopping, and then, with
their arms full of their purchases, they made their way home again, the
two happiest people in what is, after all, a not unhappy world.

Then came the cooking and the laying of the table. For all her Leonardo
face, Beauty was a great cook--like all good women, she was as earthly
in some respects as she was heavenly in others, which I hold to be a
wise combination--and, indeed, both were excellent cooks; and the poet
was unrivalled at 'washing up,' which, I may say, is the only skeleton
at these Bohemian feasts.

You should have seen the gusto with which Beauty pricked those
sausages--I had better explain to the un-Bohemian reader that to attempt
to cook a sausage without first pricking it vigorously with a fork, to
allow for the expansion of its juicy gases, is like trying to smoke a
cigar without first cutting off the end--and oh! to hear again their
merry song as they writhed in torment in the hissing pan, like Christian
martyrs raising hymns of praise from the very core of Smithfield fires.

Meanwhile, the poet would be surpassing himself in the setting-out of
the little table, cutting up the bread reverently as though it were for
an altar--as indeed it was,--studying the effect of the dish of
tomatoes, now at this corner, now at that, arranging the flowers with
much more care than he arranged the adjectives in his sonnets, and
making ever so sumptuous an effect with that half a pound of grapes.

And then at last the little feast would begin, with a long grace of eyes
meeting and hands clasping: true eyes that said, 'How good it is to
behold you, to be awake together in this dream of life!' true hands that
said, 'I will hold you fast for ever--not death even shall pluck you
from my hand, shall loose this bond of you and me'; true eyes, true
hands, that had immortal meanings far beyond the speech of mortal words.

And it had all come out of that dull history of socialism, and had cost
little more than a crown! What lovely things can be made out of money!
Strange to think that a little silver coin of no possible use or beauty
in itself can be exchanged for so much tangible, beautiful pleasure. A
piece of money is like a piece of opium, for in it lie locked up the
most wonderful dreams--if you have only the brains and hearts to dream
them.

When at last the little feast grew near its end, Love and Beauty would
smoke their cigarettes together; and it was a favourite trick of theirs
to lower the lamp a moment, so that they might see the stars rush down
upon them through the skylight which hung above their table. It gave
them a sense of great sentinels, far away out in the lonely universe,
standing guard over them, seemed to say that their love was safe in the
tender keeping of great forces. They were poor, but then they had the
stars and the flowers and the great poets for their servants and
friends; and, best of all, they had each other. Do you call that being
poor?

And then, in the corner, stood that magical box with the ivory keys,
whose strings waited ready night and day--strange media through which
the myriad voices, the inner-sweet thoughts, of the great world-soul
found speech, messengers of the stars to the heart, and of the heart to
the stars.

Beauty's songs were very simple. She got little practice, for her poet
only cared to have her sing over and over again the same sweet songs;
and perhaps if you had heard her sing 'Ask nothing more of me, sweet,'
or 'Darby and Joan,' you would have understood his indifference to
variety.

At last the little feast is quite, quite finished. Beauty has gone home;
her lover still carries her face in his heart as she waved and waved and
waved to him from the rattling lighted tramcar; long he sits and sits
thinking of her, gazing up at those lonely ancient stars; the air is
still bright with her presence, sweet with her thoughts, warm with her
kisses, and as he turns to the shut piano, he can still see her white
hands on the keys and her girlish face raised in an ecstasy--Beata
Beatrix--above the music.

  'O love, my love! if I no more should see
  Thyself, nor on the earth the shadow of thee,
    Nor image of thine eyes in any spring--
  How then should sound upon Life's darkening slope
  The ground-whirl of the perished leaves of Hope,
    The wind of Death's imperishable wing!'

And then ... he would throw himself upon his bed, and burst into tears.

       *       *       *       *       *

  'And they are gone: aye, ages long ago
  These lovers fled away into the storm.'

That seventh-story heaven once more leads a dull life as the office of a
ship-chandler, and harsh voices grate the air where Beauty sang. The
books and the flowers and the lovers' faces are gone for ever. I suppose
the stars are the same, and perhaps they sometimes look down through
that roof-window, and wonder what has become of those two lovers who
used to look up at them so fearlessly long ago.

But friends of mine who believe in God say that He has given His angels
charge concerning that dingy old seventh-floor heaven, and that, for
those who have eyes to see, there is no place where a great dream has
been dreamed that is not thus watched over by the guardian angels of
memory.

_For M. Le G., 25 September 1895._



SPRING BY PARCEL POST


  They've taken all the spring from the country to the town--
  Like the butter and the eggs, and the milk from the cow....

So began to jig and jingle my thoughts as in my letters and newspapers
this morning I read, buried alive among the solitary fastnesses of the
Surrey hills, the last news from town. The news I envied most was that
spring had already reached London. 'Now,' ran a pretty article on spring
fashions, 'the sunshine makes bright the streets, and the
flower-baskets, like huge bouquets, announce the gay arrival of spring.'
I looked up and out through my hillside window. The black ridge on the
other side of the valley stood a grim wall of burnt heather against the
sky--which sky, like the bullets in the nursery rhyme, was made
unmistakably of lead; a close rain was falling methodically, and,
generally speaking, the world looked like a soaked mackintosh. It wasn't
much like the gay arrival of spring, and grimly I mused on the
advantages of life in town.

Certainly, it did seem hard, I reflected, that town should be ahead of
us even in such a country matter as spring. Flower-baskets indeed! Why,
we haven't as much as a daisy for miles around. It is true that on the
terrace there the crocuses blaze like a street on fire, that the
primroses thicken into clumps, lying among their green leaves like
pounds of country butter; it is true that the blue cones of the little
grape hyacinth are there, quaintly formal as a child's toy-flowers; yes!
and the big Dutch hyacinths are already shamelessly _enceinte_ with
their buxom waxen blooms, so fat and fragrant--(one is already delivered
of a fine blossom. Well, that is a fine baby, to be sure! say the other
hyacinths, with babes no less bonny under their own green aprons--all
waiting for the doctor sun). Then among the blue-green blades of the
narcissus, here and there you see a stem topped with a creamish
chrysalis-like envelope, from which will soon emerge a beautiful eye,
rayed round with white wings, looking as though it were meant to fly,
but remaining rooted--a butterfly on a stalk; while all the beds are
crowded with indeterminate beak and blade, pushing and elbowing each
other for a look at the sun, which, however, sulkily declines to look at
them. It is true there is spring on the terrace, but even so it is
spring imported from the town--spring bought in Holborn, spring
delivered free by parcel post; for where would the terrace have been but
for the city seedsman--that magician who sends you strangely spotted
beans and mysterious bulbs in shrivelled cerements, weird little
flower-mummies that suggest centuries of forgotten silence in painted
Egyptian tombs. This strange and shrivelled thing can surely never live
again, we say, as we hold it in our hands, seeing not the glowing
circles of colour, tiny rings of Saturn, packed so carefully inside this
flower-egg, the folds of green and silver silk wound round and round the
precious life within.

But, of course, this is all the seedsman's cunning, and no credit to
Nature; and I repeat, that were it not for railways and the parcel
post--goodness knows whether we should ever get any spring at all in the
country! Think of the days when it had to travel down by stage-coach.
For, left to herself, what is the best Nature can do for you with March
well on the way? Personally, I find the face of the country practically
unchanged. It is, to all intents and purposes, the same as it has been
for the last three or four months--as grim, as unadorned, as bleak, as
draughty, and generally as comfortless as ever. There isn't a flower to
be seen, hardly a bird worth listening to, not a tree that is not
winter-naked, and not a chair to sit down upon. If you want flowers on
your walks you must bring them with you; songs, you must take a poet
under your arm; and if you want to rest, lean laboriously on your
stick--or take your chance of rheumatism.

Of course your specialists, your botanists, your nature-detectives, will
tell you otherwise. They have surprised a violet in the act of
blossoming; after long and excited chase have discovered a clump of
primroses in their wild state; seen one butterfly, heard one cuckoo. But
as one swallow does not make a summer, it takes more than one cuckoo to
make a spring. I confess that only yesterday I saw three sulphur
butterflies, with my own eyes; I admit the catkins, and the
silver-notched palm; and I am told on good colour-authority that there
is a lovely purplish bloom, almost like plum-bloom, over certain copses
in the valley; by taking thought, I have observed the long horizontal
arms of the beech growing spurred with little forked branches of
spear-shaped buds, and I see little green nipples pushing out through
the wolf-coloured rind of the dwarf fir-trees. Spring is arming in
secret to attack the winter--that is sure enough, but spring in secret
is no spring for me. I want to see her marching gaily with green
pennons, and flashing sun-blades, and a good band.

I want butterflies as they have them at the Lyceum--'butterflies all
white,' 'butterflies all blue,' 'butterflies of gold,' and I should
particularly fancy 'butterflies all black.' But there, again, you
see,--you must go to town, within hearing of Mrs. Patrick Campbell's
_voix d'or_. I want the meadows thickly inlaid with buttercups and
daisies; I want the trees thick with green leaves, the sky all larks and
sunshine; I want hawthorn and wild roses--both at once; I want some go,
some colour, some warmth in the world. Oh, where are the pipes of Pan?

The pipes of Pan are in town, playing at street corners and in the
centres of crowded circuses, piled high with flower-baskets blazing with
refulgent flowery masses of white and gold. Here are the flowers you can
only buy in town; simple flowers enough, but only to be had in town.
Here are fragrant banks of violets every few yards, conflagrations of
daffodils at every crossing, and narcissus in scented starry garlands
for your hair.

You wander through the Strand, or along Regent Street, as through the
meadows of Enna--sweet scents, sweet sounds, sweet shapes, are all about
you; the town-butterflies, white, blue, and gold, 'wheel and shine' and
flutter from shop to shop, suddenly resurgent from their winter
wardrobes as from a chrysalis; bright eyes flash and flirt along the
merry, jostling street, while the sun pours out his golden wine
overhead, splashing it about from gilded domes and bright-faced
windows--and ever are the voices at the corners and the crossings
calling out the sweet flower-names of the spring!

       *       *       *       *       *

But here in the country it is still all rain and iron. I am tired of
waiting for this slow-moving provincial spring. Let us to the town to
meet the spring--for:

  They've taken all the spring from the country to the town--
    Like the butter and the eggs, and the milk from the cow;
    And if you want a primrose, you write to London now,
  And if you need a nightingale, well,--Whiteley sends it down.



THE GREAT MERRY-GO-ROUND


In an age curious of new pleasures, the merry-go-round seems still to
maintain its ancient popularity. I was the other day the delighted,
indeed the fascinated, spectator of one in full swing in an old
Thames-side town. It was a very superior example, with a central musical
engine of extraordinary splendour, and horses that actually curveted, as
they swirled maddeningly round to the strains of 'The Man that Broke the
Bank at Monte Carlo.' How I longed to join the wild riders! But though I
am a brave man, I confess that to ride a merry-go-round in front of a
laughter-loving Cockney public is more than I can dare. I had to content
myself with watching the faces of the riders. I noticed particularly one
bright-eyed little girl, whose whole passionate young soul seemed to be
on fire with ecstasy, and for whom it was not difficult to prophesy
trouble when time should bring her within reach of more dangerous
excitements. Then there was a stolid little boy, dull and unmoved in
expression, as though he were in church. Life, one felt sure, would be
safe enough, and stupid enough, for him; the world would have no music
to stir or draw him. The fifes would go down the street with a sweet
sound of marching feet, and the eyes of other men would brighten and
their blood be all glancing spears and streaming banners, but he would
remain behind his counter; from the strange hill beyond the town the
dear, unholy music, so lovely in the ears of other men and maids, would
call to him in vain, and morning and evening the stars would sing above
his draper's shop, but he never hear a word.

What particularly struck me was the number of quite grown-up, even
elderly, people who came and had their pennyworth of horse-exercise. Now
it was a grave young workman quietly smoking his pipe as he revolved;
now it was a stout middle-aged woman returning from marketing, on whom
the Zulu music and the whirling horses laid their irresistible spells.
Unless ye become as little children!

Is the Kingdom of Heaven really at hand? For, indeed, men and women, and
perhaps particularly literary men and women, are once more becoming as
little children in their pleasures.

Seriously, one of the most curious and significant of recent literary
phenomena is the sudden return of the literary man to physical, and
so-called 'Philistine,' pleasures and modes of recreation. Perhaps
Stevenson set the fashion with his canoe and his donkey. But at the
moment that he was valiantly daring any one to tell him whether there
was anything better worth doing 'than fooling among boats,' Edward
Fitzgerald, all unconscious and careless of literary fashions, was
giving still more practical expression to the physical faith that was in
him, by going shares in a Lowestoft herring-lugger, and throwing his
heart as well as his money into the fortunes of its noble skipper
'Posh.' A literary man _par excellence_, Mr. Lang reproaches his sires
for his present way of life--

  'Why lay your gipsy freedom down
  And doom your child to pen and ink?'

and by steady and persistent golfing, and writing about angling and
cricket, comes as near to the noble savage as is possible to so
incorrigibly civilised a man. Mr. Henley--that Berserker of the
pen--sings the sword with a vigour that makes one curious to see him
using it, and we all know Mr. Kipling's views on the matter. Then Mr.
Bernard Shaw rides a bicycle!

Those men of letters whose inclinations or opportunities do not lead
them to these out-of-door, and more or less ferocious, pleasures seek to
forget themselves at the music-hall, the Aquarium, or the numerous
Earl's Court exhibitions. They become amateurs of foreign dancing,
connoisseurs of the trapeze, or they leave their great minds at home and
go up the Great Wheel. Earl's Court, particularly, is becoming quite a
modern Vauxhall--Tan-ta-ra-ra! Earl's Court! Earl's Court!--and Mr. Imre
Kiralfy, with his conceptions and designs, is to our generation what
Albert Smith was to the age of Dickens and Edmund Yates.

It takes some experience of life to realise how right this is; to
realise that, after all our fine philosophies and cocksure sciences,
there is no better answer to the riddle of things than a good game of
cricket or an exciting spin on one's 'bike.' The real inner significance
of Earl's Court--Mr. Kiralfy will no doubt be prepared to hear--is the
failure of science as an answer to life. We give up the riddle, and
enjoy ourselves with our wiser children. Simple pleasures, no doubt, for
the profound! But what is simple, and what is profound?

The simple joy we get from 'fooling among boats' on a summer day, the
thrill of a well-hit ball, the rapture of a skilful dive, are no more
easy to explain than the more complicated pleasures of literature, or
art, or religion. And why is it--to come closer to our theme--that the
round or the whirling have such attraction for us? What is the secret of
the fascination of the circle? Why is it that the turning of anything,
be it but a barrel-organ or a phrase, holds one as with an hypnotic
power? I confess that I can never genuinely pity a knife-grinder,
however needy. Think of the pleasure of driving that wheel all day, the
merry chirp of the knife on the stone, and the crisp, bright spray of
the flying sparks! Why, he does 'what some men dream of all their
lives'! Wheels of all kinds have the same strange charm; mill-wheels,
colliery-wheels, spinning-wheels, water-wheels, and wheeling waters:
there may--who knows?--have been a certain pleasure in being broken on
the wheel, and, at all events, that hideous punishment is another
curious example of the fascination of the circle. It would take a whole
volume to illustrate the prevalence of the circle in external nature, in
history, and, even more significant, in language. We all know, or think
we know, that the world is round--

  'This orb--this round
  Of sight and sound,'

as Mr. Quiller Couch sings--though I remember a porter at school who was
sure that it was flat, and who used to say that Hamlet's

  'How weary, stale, _flat_, and unprofitable
  Seem to me all the uses of this _world_!'

was a cryptic reference to Shakespeare's secret belief in his theory.
Many of the things we love most are round. Is not money, according to
the proverb, made round that it may go round, and are not the men most
in demand described as 'all-round men'? Nor are all-round women without
their admirers. Events, we know, move in a circle, as time moves in
cycles--though, alas! not on them. The ballet and the bicycle are
popular forms of the circle, and it is the charm of the essay to be
'roundabout.'

Again, how is it that that which on a small scale does not impress us at
all, when on a large scale impresses us so much? What is the secret of
the impressiveness of size, bulk, height, depth, speed, and mileage?
Philosophically, a mountain is no more wonderful than a molehill, yet no
man is knighted for climbing a molehill. One little drop of water and
one little grain of sand are essentially as wonderful as 'the mighty
ocean' or 'the beauteous land' to which they contribute. A balloon is
no more wonderful than an air-bubble, and were you to build an Atlantic
liner as big as the Isle of Wight it would really be no more remarkable
than an average steam-launch. Nobody marvels at the speed of a snail,
yet, given a snail's pace to start with, an express train follows as a
matter of course. Movement, not the rate of movement, is the mystery.
Precisely the same materials, the same forces, the same methods, are
employed in the little as in the big of these examples. Why should mere
accumulation, reiteration, and magnification make the difference? We may
ask why? But it does, for all that. If we answer that these mammoth
multiplications impress us because they are so much bigger, taller,
fatter, faster, etc., than we are, the question arises--How many times
bigger than a man must a mountain be before it impresses us? Perhaps the
problem has already been tackled by the schoolman who pondered how many
angels could dance on the point of a needle.

However, these and similar first principles, it will readily be seen,
are far from being irrelevant for the visitor at the Earl's Court
Exhibition. No doubt they are continually discussed by the thousands who
daily and nightly throng that very charming dream-world which Mr.
Kiralfy has built 'midmost the beating' of our 'steely sea.'

To an age that is over-read and over-fed Mr. Kiralfy brings the message:
'Leave your great minds at home, and go up the Great Wheel!' and I heard
his voice and obeyed. The sensation is, I should say, something between
going up in a balloon and being upon shipboard--a sensation compounded,
maybe, of the creaking of the circular rigging, the pleasure of rising
in the air, the freshening of the air as you ascend, the strange feeling
of the earth receding and spreading out beneath you, the curious
diminution of the people below--to their proper size. You will hear
original minds all about you comparing them to ants, and it is curious
to notice the involuntary feeling of contempt that possesses you as you
watch them. I believe one has a half-defined illusion that we are
growing greater as they are growing smaller. Ants and flies! ants and
flies! with here and there a fiery centipede in the shape of a District
train dashing in and out amongst them. We lose the power of
understanding their motions, and their throngs and movements do indeed
seem as purposeless at this height as the hurry-scurrying about an
anthill. At this height, indeed, one seems to understand how small a
matter a bank smash may seem to the Almighty; though, as a lady said to
me--as we clung tightly together in terror 'a-top of the topmost
bough'--it must be gratifying to see so many churches.

Those who would keep their illusions about the beauty of London had
better stay below, at least in the daytime, for it makes one's heart
sink to look on those miles and miles of sordid grey roofs huddled in
meaningless rows and crescents, just for all the world like a huge
child's box of wooden bricks waiting to be arranged into some
intelligible pattern. Of course, this is not London proper. Were the
Great Wheel set up in Trafalgar Square, one is fain to hope that the
view from it would be less disheartening--though it might be better not
to try.

By night, except for the bright oases of the Indian Exhibition, the view
is little more than a black blank, a great inky plain with faint sparks
and rows of light here and there, as though the world had been made of
saltpetre paper, and had lately been set fire to. Were you a traveller
from Mars you would say that the world was very badly lighted. But, for
all that, night is the time for the Great Wheel, for the conflagration
of pleasure at our feet makes us forget the void dark beyond. Then the
Wheel seems like a great revolving spider's web, with fireflies
entangled in it at every turn, and the little engine-house at the
centre, with its two electric lights, seems like the great lord spider,
with monstrous pearls for his eyes. And, as in the daytime the height
robs the depth of its significance, strips poor humanity of any
semblance of impressive or attractive meaning, at night the effect is
just the reverse. What a fairy-world is this opening out beneath our
feet, with its golden glowing squares and circles and palaces, with its
lamplit gardens and pagodas! and who are these gay and beautiful beings
flitting hither and thither, and passing from one bright garden to
another on the stream of pleasure? If this many-coloured, passionate
dream be really human life, let us hasten to be down amongst it once
more! And, after all, is not this flattering night aspect of the world
more true than that disheartening countenance of it in the daylight?
Those golden squares and glowing gardens and flashing waters are, of
course, an illusion of the magician Kiralfy's, yet what power could the
illusion have upon us without the realities of beauty and love and
pleasure it attracts there?



THE BURIAL OF ROMEO AND JULIET


One morning of all mornings the citizens of Verona were startled by
strange news. Tragic forces, to which they had been accustomed to pay
little heed, had been at work in their city during the dark hours, and
young Romeo of the Montagues, handsome, devil-may-care lad as they had
known him, and little Juliet of the Capulets, that madcap, merry, gentle
young mistress, lay dead, side by side in the church of Santa Maria.

Death! surely they were used to death! and Love, flower of the clove!
they were used to _love_. But here were love and death, that somehow
they could not understand. So they hurried in wondering groups to Santa
Maria, that they might gaze at the dead lovers, and thus perhaps come to
understand.

Romeo and Juliet lay receiving their guests in the vault of the
Capulets, with a strange smile of welcome for all who came. And their
presence-chamber was bright with candles and flowers, and sweet with
the sweet smell of death. The air that had drunk in their wild words
and their last long looks of heavenly love still hung about the dark
corners, as the air where a rose has been holds a little while the
memory of its breath. Yes! that morning, in that dank but shining
tomb, you might draw into you the very breath of love. The air you
breathed had passed through the sweet lungs of Juliet, it had been
etherealised with her holy passion, and washed clean with her lovely
words. And now, for a little while yet, it feasted on the fair peace
of their glad young faces. To-morrow, or the next day, or the next
week, they would belong to the unvisited treasure-house of the past,
but now this morning of all mornings, this day that could never come
again, they still belonged to the real and radiant present.

Flowers there are that bloom but once in a hundred years, but here in
this tomb had blossomed one of those marvellous flowers that bloom but
once throughout eternity. Poets and kings in after-times, O men of
Verona, will yearn to have seen what you look upon to-day. For you, you
thick and greasy citizens, are chosen out of all time to behold this
beauty. There were once in the world thousands of men and women who had
heard the very words of Christ as they fell from His lips, words that we
may only read. There have been men, actual living, foolish men, who have
looked on at the valour of Horatius, men who from the crowded banks of
the Nile have watched the living body of Cleopatra step into her gilded
barge, men who, standing idle in the streets of Florence, have seen the
love-light start in the great Dante's eyes, seen his hand move to his
laden heart, as the little Beatrice passed him by among her maidens.
Base men of the past, by the indulgent accident of time, have been
granted to behold these wonders, and now for you, O men of Verona, a
like wonder has been born.

       *       *       *       *       *

Romeo and Juliet lay receiving their guests in the vault of the
Capulets, with a strange smile of welcome for all who came.

It had been an innocent little desire, yet had all the world come
against it. It had been a simple little desire, yet too strong for all
the world to break.

Strange this enmity of the world to love, as though men should take arms
against the song of a bird, or plot against the opening of a flower.

But now, what was this strange homage to a love that a few hours ago had
no friend in all the daylight, a fearful bliss beneath the secret moon?
But yesterday a stupid old nurse, a herb-gathering friar, a rascally
apothecary, had been their only friends, and now was all the world come
here to do their bidding.

No need to steal again beneath the shade of orchard walls, no need again
to heed if lark or nightingale sang in the reddening east. For the world
had grown all warm to love, warm and kind as June to the rose.

       *       *       *       *       *

Three days lay Romeo and Juliet receiving their guests in the vault of
the Capulets, with that strange smile of welcome for all who came.
Three days the world worshipped the love it could not understand, but
still came dense and denser throngs to worship. For the news of the
wonderful flower that had blossomed in Verona had gone far and wide, and
travellers from distant cities kept pouring in to look at those strange
young lovers, who had deemed the world well lost so that they might
leave it together.

Then the governor of the city decreed, as the time drew near when the
two lovers must be left to their peace, and it was ill that any should
lose the sight of this marvel, that on the fourth day they should be
carried through the streets in the eyes of all the people, and then be
buried together in the vault of the Capulets--for by this burial in the
same tomb, says the old chronicler who was first honoured with the
telling of their sweet story, the governor hoped to bring about a peace
between the Montagues and Capulets, at least for a little while.

Meanwhile, though Verona was a city of many trades and professions, and
love and death were idle things, yet was there little said of business
all these days, and little else done but talk of the two lovers, of
whom, indeed, it was true, as it has seldom been true out of Holy Writ,
that death was swallowed up in victory. During these days also there
stole a strange sweetness over the city, as though the very spirit of
love had nested there, and was filling the air with its soft
breathing--as when in the first days of spring the birds sing so sweetly
that broken hearts must hide away, and hard hearts grow a little kind.
Men once more spoke kindly to their wives, and even coarse faces wore a
gentle light,--just as sometimes at evening the setting sun will turn to
tenderness even black rocks and frowning towers.

There were many wild stories afloat about the end of the lovers. Some
said one way and some another. By some the story went that Romeo was
already dead before Juliet had awakened from her swoon, but others
declared that the poison had not worked upon him until Juliet's
awakening had made him awhile forget that he was to die. There were
those who professed to know the very words of their wild farewell, and
in fact there had been several witnesses of Juliet's agony over the body
of her lord. These had told how first she had raved and clung to him,
and called him 'Romeo,' 'Sweet Sir Romeo,' 'Husband,' and many
flower-like names, and had petted him and wooed him to come back. Then
on a sudden she had cried, God-a-mercy--how cold thou art!' and looked
at him long and strangely. Then had she grown stern, and anon soft.
'Canst thou not come back, my love? Then must I follow thee. Not so far
art thou on the way of death, but that I shall overtake thee, and
together shall we go to Pluto's realm, and seek a kinder world.'

Thereat she had plunged Romeo's dagger into her side, though some said
she had stopped her heart's beating by the strong will of her great
love. Yea--such were the distracted rumours--some averred that at the
last she had curst Christ and His saints, and called upon Venus, who, it
was rumoured in awestruck whispers, was being worshipped once more in
secret corners of the world.

It was strong noon when, on the fourth day, Romeo and Juliet were
carried through the bright and solemn streets, that the world might be
saved; saved as ever by the spectacle and the worship of a mysterious
nobility, [comma added by transcriber] an uncomprehended greatness, a
beauty which haunts not its daily dreams, lifted up by the humble gaze
of devout eyes into the empyrean of greater souls, stirred to an
unfamiliar passion, and fired with glimpses of a strange unworldly
truth.

In the light of the sun the faces of the two lovers, as they lay amid
their flowers, seemed to have grown a little weary, but they still wore
their sweet and royal smile, and their laurelled brows were very white
and proud.

And in the faces that looked upon them, as they moved slowly by, with
sweet death music, and the hushed marching of feet, and the wafted odour
of lilies, there was to be seen strangely blent a great pity for their
tragedy and a heavenly tenderness for their love. It was like a dream
passing down the streets of a dream, so deep and tender was the silence,
for only the hearts of men were speaking; though here and there a girl
sobbed, or a young man buried his face in his sleeve, and the sternest
eyes were dashed with the holy water of tears. And with the pity and
tenderness, who shall say but that in all that silent heart-speech there
was no little envy of the two who had loved so truly and died in the
springtide of their love, before the ways of love had grown dusty with
its summer, or dreary with its autumn, before its dreams had petrified
into duties, and its passion deadened into use?

'Would it were thou and I,' said many wedded eyes one to the other,
delusively warm and soft for a moment, but all cold and hard again on
the morrow.

And maybe some poet would say in his heart--

'If you loved her living, my Romeo, what were your love could you but
see her dead!' for indeed life has no beauty so wonderful as the beauty
of death.

And, as in all places and times, there was a base remnant that gaped and
worshipped not, and in their hearts resented all this distinction paid
to a nobility they could not recognise, as the like had grumbled when
Cimabue's Madonna had been carried through the streets in glory. But of
these there is no need that we should take account, any more than of the
beasts that moved head down amid the pastures outside the town, knowing
not of the wonder that was passing within. For the ass will munch his
thistles though the Son of Man be his rider, nor will the sheep look
aside from his grazing though Apollo be the herdsman.

       *       *       *       *       *

At length the sacred pageant was ended, gone like the passing of an
aerial music, and the people went to their homes silent, with haunted
eyes; while the Earth, which had given this beauty, took it back to
herself, and one more Persephone of human loveliness was shut within the
gates of the forgetful grave.



VARIATIONS UPON WHITEBAIT


A very Pre-Raphaelite friend of mine came to me one day and said _à
propos_ of his having designed a very Early English chair: 'After all,
if one has anything to say one might as well put it into a chair!'

I thought the remark rather delicious, as also his other remark when one
day in a curiosity-shop we were looking at another chair, which the
dealer declared to be Norman. My friend seated himself in it very
gravely, and after softly moving about from side to side, testing it, it
would appear, by the sensation it imparted to the sitting portion of his
limbs, he solemnly decided: 'I don't think the _flavour_ of this chair
is Norman!'

I thought of this Pre-Raphaelite brother as the Sphinx and I were seated
a few evenings ago at our usual little dinner, in our usual little
sheltered corner, on the Lover's Gallery of one of the great London
restaurants. The Sphinx says that there is only one place in Europe
where one can really dine, but as it is impossible to be always within
reasonable train service of that Montsalvat of cookery, she consents to
eat with me--she cannot call it dine--at the restaurant of which I
speak. I being very simple-minded, untravelled, and unlanguaged, think
it, in my Cockney heart, a very fine place indeed, with its white marble
pillars surrounding the spacious peristyle, and flashing with a thousand
brilliant lights and colours; with its stately cooks, clothed in white
samite, mystic, wonderful, ranged behind a great altar loaded with big
silver dishes, and the sacred musicians of the temple ranged behind
them--while in and out go the waiters, clothed in white and black,
waiters so good and kind that I am compelled to think of Elijah being
waited on by angels.

They have such an eye for a romance, too, and really take it personally
to heart if it should befall that our little table is usurped by others
that know not love. I like them, too, because they really seem to have
an eye for the strange beauty and charm of the Sphinx, quite an
unexpected taste for Botticelli. They ill conceal their envy of my lot,
and sometimes, in the meditative pauses between the courses, I see them
romantically reckoning how it might be possible by desperately saving
up, by prodigious windfalls of tips, from unexampled despatch and
sweetness in their ministrations, how it might be possible in ten years'
time, perhaps even in five--the lady would wait five years! and her
present lover could be artistically poisoned meanwhile!--how it might be
possible to come and sue for her beautiful hand. Then a harsh British
cry for 'waiter' comes like a rattle and scares away that beautiful
dream-bird, though, as the poor dreamer speeds on the quest of roast
beef for four, you can see it still circling with its wonderful blue
feathers around his pomatumed head.

Ah, yes, the waiters know that the Sphinx is no ordinary woman. She
cannot conceal even from them the mystical star of her face, they too
catch far echoes of the strange music of her brain, they too grow
dreamy with dropped hints of fragrance from the rose of her wonderful
heart.

How reverently do they help her doff her little cloak of silk and lace!
with what a worshipful inclination of the head, as in the presence of a
deity, do they await her verdict of choice between rival soups--shall it
be 'clear or thick'? And when she decides on 'thick,' how relieved they
seem to be, as if--well, some few matters remain undecided in the
universe, but never mind, this is settled for ever--no more doubts
possible on one portentous issue, at any rate--Madame will take her soup
'thick.'

'On such a night' our talk fell upon whitebait.

As the Sphinx's silver fork rustled among the withered silver upon her
plate, she turned to me and said:

'Have you ever thought what beautiful little things these whitebait
are?'

'Oh, yes,' I replied, 'they are the daisies of the deep sea, the
threepenny-pieces of the ocean.'

'You dear!' said the Sphinx, who is alone in the world in thinking me
awfully clever. 'Go on, say something else, something pretty about
whitebait--there's a subject for you!'

Then it was that, fortunately, I remembered my Pre-Raphaelite friend,
and I sententiously remarked: 'Of course, if one has anything to say one
cannot do better than say it about whitebait.... Well, whitebait....'

But here, providentially, the band of the beef--that is, the band behind
the beef; that is, the band that nightly hymns the beef (the phrase is
to be had in three qualities)--struck up the overture from _Tannhäuser_,
which is not the only music that makes the Sphinx forget my existence;
and thus, forgetting me, she momentarily forgot the whitebait. But I
remembered, remembered hard--worked at pretty things, as metal-workers
punch out their flowers of brass and copper. The music swirled about us
like golden waves, in which swam myriad whitebait, like showers of tiny
stars, like falling snow. To me it was one grand processional of
whitebait, silver ripples upon streams of gold.

The music stopped. The Sphinx turned to me with the soul of Wagner in
her eyes, and then she turned to the waiter: 'Would it be possible,' she
said, 'to persuade the bandmaster to play that wonderful thing over
again?'

The waiter seemed a little doubtful, even for the Sphinx, but he went
off to the bandmaster with the air of a man who has at last an
opportunity to show that he can dare all for love. Personally, I have a
suspicion that he poured his month's savings at the bandmaster's feet,
and begged him to do this thing for the most wonderful lady in the
world; or perhaps the bandmaster was really a musician, and his
musician's heart was touched--lonely there amid the beef--to think that
there was really some one, invisible though she were to him, some
shrouded silver presence, up there among the beefeaters, who really
loved to hear great music. Perhaps it was thus made a night he has never
forgotten; perhaps it changed the whole course of his life--who knows?
The sweet reassuring request may have come to him at a moment when, sick
at heart, he was deciding to abandon real music for ever, and settle
down amid the beef and the beef-music of Old England.

Well, however it was, the waiter came back radiant with a 'Yes' on every
shining part of him, and if the _Tannhäuser_ had been played well at
first, certainly the orchestra surpassed themselves this second time.

When the great jinnee of music had once more swept out of the hall, the
Sphinx turned with shining eyes to the waiter:

'Take,' she said, 'take these tears to the bandmaster. He has indeed
earned them.'

'Tears, little one!' I said. 'See how they swim like whitebait in the
fishpools of your eyes!'

'Oh, yes, the whitebait,' rejoined the Sphinx, glad of a subject to hide
her emotion. 'Now tell me something nice about them, though the poor
little things have long since disappeared. Tell me, for instance, how
they get their beautiful little silver waterproofs?'

'Electric Light of the World,' I said, 'it is like this. While they are
still quite young and full of dreams, their mother takes them out in
picnic parties of a billion or so at a time to where the spring moon is
shining, scattering silver from its purse of pearl far over the wide
waters,--silver, silver, for every little whitebait that cares to swim
and pick it up. The mother, who has a contract with some such big
restaurateur as ours, chooses a convenient area of moonlight, and then
at a given sign they all turn over on their sides, and bask and bask in
the rays, little fin pressed lovingly against little fin--for this is
the happiest time in the young whitebait's life: it is at these
silvering parties that matches are made and future consignments of
whitebait arranged for. Well, night after night, they thus lie in the
moonlight, first on one side, then on the other, till by degrees, tiny
scale by scale, they have become completely lunar-plated. Ah! how sad
they are when the end of that happy time has come!'

'And what happens to them after that?' asked the Sphinx.

'One night when the moon is hidden their mother comes to them with
treacherous wile, and suggests that they should go off on a holiday
again to seek the moon--the moon that for a moment seems captured by the
pearl-fishers of the sky. And so off they go merrily, but, alas! no moon
appears; and presently they are aware of unwieldy bumping presences upon
the surface of the sea, presences as of huge dolphins; and rough voices
call across the water, till, scared, the little whitebaits turn home in
flight--to find themselves somehow meshed in an invisible prison, a net
as fine and strong as air, into which, O agony! they are presently
hauled, lovely banks of silver, shining like opened coffers beneath the
coarse and ragged flares of yellow torches. The rest is silence.'

'What sad little lives! and what a cruel world it is!' said the
Sphinx--as she crunched with her knife through the body of a lark, that
but yesterday had been singing in the blue sky. Its spirit sang just
above our heads as she ate, and the air was thick with the grey ghosts
of all the whitebait she had eaten that night.

But there were no longer any tears in her eyes.



THE ANSWER OF THE ROSE


The Sphinx and I sat in our little box at _Romeo and Juliet_. It was the
first time she had seen that fairy-tale of passion upon the stage. I had
seen it played once before--in Paradise. Therefore, I rather trembled to
see it again in an earthly play-house, and as much as possible kept my
eyes from the stage. All I knew of the performance--but how much was
that!--was two lovely voices making love like angels; and when there
were no words, the music told me what was going on. Love speaks so many
languages.

One might as well look. It was as clear as moonlight to the tragic eye
within the heart. The Sphinx was gazing on it all with those eyes that
will never grow old, neither for years nor tears; but though I seemed to
be seeing nothing but an advertisement of Paderewski pianos on the
programme, I saw it--oh, didn't I see it?--all. The house had grown
dark, and the music low and passionate, and for a moment no one was
speaking. Only, deep in the thickets of my heart there sang a tragic
nightingale that, happily, only I could hear; and I said to myself, 'Now
the young fool is climbing the orchard wall! Yes, there go Benvolio and
Mercutio calling him; and now,--"he jests at scars who never felt a
wound"--the other young fool is coming out on to the balcony. God help
them both! They have no eyes--no eyes--or surely they would see the
shadow that sings "Love! Love! Love!" like a fountain in the moonlight,
and then shrinks away to chuckle "Death! Death! Death!" in the
darkness!'

But, soft, what light from yonder window breaks!

The Sphinx turned to me for sympathy--this time it was the soul of
Shakespeare in her eyes.

'Yes!' I whispered, 'it is the Opening of the Eternal Rose, sung by the
Eternal Nightingale!'

She pressed my hand approvingly; and while the lovely voices made their
heavenly love, I slipped out my silver-bound pocket-book of ivory and
pressed within it the rose which had just fallen from my lips.

The worst of a great play is that one is so dull between the acts. Wit
is sacrilege, and sentiment is bathos. Not another rose fell from my
lips during the performance, though that I minded little, as I was the
more able to count the pearls that fell from the Sphinx's eyes.

It took quite half a bottle of champagne to pull us up to our usual
spirits, as we sat at supper at a window where we could see London
spread out beneath us like a huge black velvet flower, dotted with fiery
embroideries, sudden flaring stamens, and rows of ant-like fireflies
moving in slow zig-zag processions along and across its petals.

'How strange it seems,' said the Sphinx, 'to think that for every two of
those moving double-lights, which we know to be the eyes of hansoms, but
which seem up here nothing but gold dots in a very barbaric pattern of
black and gold, there are two human beings, no doubt at this time of
night two lovers, throbbing with the joy of life, and dreaming, heaven
knows what dreams!'

'Yes,' I rejoined;' and to them I'm afraid we are even more impersonal.
From their little Piccadilly coracles our watch-tower in the skies is
merely a radiant facade of glowing windows, and no one of all who glide
by realises that the spirited illumination is every bit due to your
eyes. You have but to close them, and every one will be asking what has
gone wrong with the electric light.'

A little nonsense is a great healer of the heart, and by means of such
nonsense as this we grew merry again. And anon we grew sentimental and
poetic, but--thank heaven! we were no longer tragic.

Presently I had news for the Sphinx. 'The rose-tree that grows in the
garden of my mind,' I said, 'desires to blossom.'

'May it blossom indeed,' she replied; 'for it has been flowerless all
this long evening; and bring me a rose fresh with all the dews of
inspiration--no florist's flower, wired and artificially scented, no
bloom of yesterday's hard-driven brains.'

'I was only thinking,' I said, '_à propos_ of nightingales and roses,
that though all the world has heard the song of the nightingale to the
rose, only the nightingale has heard the answer of the rose. You know
what I mean?'

'Know what you mean! Of course, that's always easy enough,' retorted the
Sphinx, who knows well how to be hard on me.

'I'm so glad,' I ventured to thrust back; 'for lucidity is the first
success of expression: to make others see clearly what we ourselves are
struggling to see, believe with all their hearts what we are just daring
to hope, is--well, the religion of a literary man!'

'Yes! it's a pretty idea,' said the Sphinx, once more pressing the rose
of my thought to her brain; 'and indeed it's more than pretty ...'

'Thank you!' I said humbly.

'Yes, it's _true_--and many a humble little rose will thank you for it.
For, your nightingale is a self-advertising bird. He never sings a song
without an eye on the critics, sitting up there in their stalls among
the stars. He never, or seldom, sings a song for pure love, just
because he must sing it or die. Indeed, he has a great fear of death,
unless--you will guarantee him immortality. But the rose, the trusting
little earth-born rose, that must stay all her life rooted in one spot
till some nightingale comes to choose her--some nightingale whose song
maybe has been inspired and perfected by a hundred other roses, which
are at the moment pot-pourri--ah, the shy bosom-song of the rose ...'

Here the Sphinx paused, and added abruptly--

'Well--there is no nightingale worthy to hear it!'

'It is true,' I agreed, 'O trusting little earth-born rose!'

'Do you know why the rose has thorns?' suddenly asked the Sphinx. Of
course I knew, but I always respect a joke, particularly when it is but
half-born--humourists always prefer to deliver themselves--so I shook my
head.

'To keep off the nightingales, of course,' said the Sphinx, the tone of
her voice holding in mocking solution the words 'Donkey' and
'Stupid,'--which I recognised and meekly bore.

'What an excellent idea!' I said. 'I never thought of it before. But
don't you think it's a little unkind? For, after all, if there were no
nightingales, one shouldn't hear so much about the rose; and there is
always the danger that if the rose continues too painfully thorny, the
nightingale may go off and seek, say, a more accommodating lily.'

'I have no opinion of lilies,' said the Sphinx.

'Nor have I,' I answered soothingly; 'I much prefer roses--but ...
but....'

'But what?'

'But--well, I much prefer roses. Indeed I do.'

'Rose of the World,' I continued with sentiment, 'draw in your thorns. I
cannot bear them.'

'Ah!' she answered eagerly, 'that is just it. The nightingale that is
worthy of the rose will not only bear, but positively love, her thorns.
It is for that reason she wears them. The thorns of the rose properly
understood are but the tests of the nightingale. The nightingale that
is frightened of the thorns is not worthy of the rose--of that you may
be sure....'

'I am not frightened of the thorns,' I managed to interject.

'Sing then once more,' she cried, 'the Song of the Nightingale.'

And it was thus I sang:--

  O Rose of the World, a nightingale,
    A Bird of the World, am I,
  I have loved all the world and sung all the world,
    But I come to your side to die.

  Tired of the world, as the world of me,
    I plead for your quiet breast,
  I have loved all the world and sung all the world--
    But--where is the nightingale's nest?

  In a hundred gardens I sung the rose,
    Rose of the World, I confess--
  But for every rose I have sung before
    I love you the more, not less.

  Perfect it grew by each rose that died,
    Each rose that has died for you,
  The song that I sing--yea, 'tis no new song,
    It is tried--and so it is true.

  Petal or thorn, yea! I have no care,
    So that I here abide;
  Pierce me, my love, or kiss me, my love,
    But keep me close to your side.

  I know not your kiss from your scorn, my love,
    Your breast from your thorn, my rose,
  And if you must kill me, well, kill me, my love!
    But--say 'twas the death I chose.

'Is it true?' asked the Rose.

'As I am a nightingale,' I replied; and as we bade each other
good-night, I whispered:

'When may I expect the Answer of the Rose?'



ABOUT THE SECURITIES


When I say that my friend Matthew lay dying, I want you so far as
possible to dissociate the statement from any conventional, and
certainly from any pictorial, conceptions of death which you may have
acquired. Death sometimes shows himself one of those impersonal artists
who conceal their art, and, unless you had been told, you could hardly
have guessed that Matthew was dying, dying indeed sixty miles an hour,
dying of consumption, dying because some one else had died four years
before, dying too of debt.

Connoisseurs, of course, would have understood; at a glance would have
named the sculptor who was silently chiselling those noble hollows in
the finely modelled face,--that Pygmalion who turns all flesh to
stone,--at a glance would have named the painter who was cunningly
weighting the brows with darkness that the eyes might shine the more
with an unaccustomed light. Matthew and I had long been students of the
strange wandering artist, had begun by hating his art (it is ever so
with an art unfamiliar to us), and had ended by loving it.

'Let us see what the artist has added to the picture since yesterday,'
said Matthew, signing to me to hand him the mirror.

'H'm,' he murmured, 'he's had one of his lazy days, I'm afraid. He's
hardly added a touch--just a little heightened the chiaroscuro,
sharpened the nose a trifle, deepened some little the shadows round the
eyes....

'O why,' he presently sighed, 'does he not work a little overtime and
get it done? He's been paid handsomely enough....

'Paid,' he continued, 'by a life that is so much undeveloped gold-mine,
paid by all my uncashed hopes and dreams....'

'He works fast enough for me, old fellow,' I interrupted; 'there was a
time, was there not, when he worked too fast for you and me?'

There are moments, for certain people, when such fantastic unreality as
this is the truest realism. Matthew and I talked like this with our
brains, because we hadn't the courage to allow our hearts to break in
upon the conversation. Had I dared to say some real emotional thing,
what effect would it have had but to set poor tired Matthew a-coughing?
and it was our aim that he should die with as little to-do as
practicable. The emotional in such situations is merely the obvious.
There was no need for either of us to state the elementary feelings of
our love. I knew that Matthew was going to die, and he knew that--I was
going to live, and we pitied each other accordingly; though I confess my
feeling for him was rather one of envy,--when it was not congratulation.

Thus, to tell the truth, we never mentioned 'the hereafter.' I don't
believe it even occurred to us. Indeed, we spent the few hours that
remained of our friendship in retailing the latest gathered of those
good stories with which we had been accustomed to salt our intercourse.

One of Matthew's anecdotes was, no doubt, somewhat suggested by the
occasion, and I should add that he had always somewhat of an
ecclesiastical bias--would, I believe, have ended some day as a
Monsignor, a notable 'Bishop Blougram.'

His story was of an evangelistic preacher who desired to impress his
congregation with the unmistakable reality of hell-fire. 'You know the
Black Country, my friends,' he had declaimed,' you have seen it, at
night, flaring with a thousand furnaces, in the lurid incandescence of
which myriads of unhappy beings, our fellow-creatures (God forbid!),
snatch a precarious existence--you have seen them silhouetted against
the yellow glare, running hither and thither, as it seemed from afar, in
the very jaws of the awful fire. Have you realised that the burdens with
which they thus run hither and thither are molten iron, iron to which
such a stupendous heat has been applied that it has melted, melted as
though it had been sugar in the sun?--well! returning to hell-fire, let
me tell you this, that in hell they eat this fiery molten metal for
ice-cream!--yes! and are glad to get anything so cool.'

It was thus we talked while Matthew lay dying, for why should we not
talk as we had lived? We both laughed long and heartily over this story;
perhaps it would have amused us less had Matthew not been dying; and
then his kind old nurse brought in our lunch. We had both excellent
appetites, and were far from indifferent to the dainty little meal which
was to be our last but one together. I brought my table as close to
Matthew's pillow as was possible, and he stroked my hand with tenderness
in which there was a touch of gratitude.

'You are not frightened of the bacteria!' he laughed sadly; and then he
told me, with huge amusement, how a friend (and a true, dear friend for
all that) had come to see him a day or two before, and had hung over the
end of the bed to say farewell, daring to approach no nearer, mopping
his fear-perspiring brows with a handkerchief soaked in 'Eucalyptus'!

'He had brought an anticipatory elegy too,' said my friend, 'written
against my burial. I wish you'd read it for me,' and he fidgeted for it
in the nervous manner of the dying. Finding it among his pillows, he
handed it to me saying, 'You needn't be frightened of it. It is well
dosed with Eucalyptus.'

We laughed even more over this poem than over our stories, and then we
discussed the terms of three cremation societies to which, at the
express request of my friend, I had written a day or two before.

Then having smoked a cigar and drunk a glass of port together (for the
assured dying are allowed to 'live well'), Matthew grew sleepy, and,
tucking him beneath the counterpane, I left him, for, after all, he was
not to die that day.

Circumstances prevented my seeing him again for a week. When I did so,
entering the room poignantly redolent of the strange sweet odour of
antiseptics, I saw that the great artist had been busy in my absence.
Indeed, his work was nearly at an end. Yet to one unfamiliar with his
methods there was still little to alarm in Matthew's face. In fact, with
the exception of his brain, and his ice-cold feet, he was alive as ever.
And even to his brain had come a certain unnatural activity, a life as
of the grave, a sort of vampire vitality, which would assuredly have
deceived any who had not known him. He still told his stories, laughed
and talked with the same unconquerable humour, was in every way alert
and practical, with this difference, that he had forgotten he was going
to die, that the world in which he exercised his various faculties was
another world to that in which, in spite of his delirium, we ate our
last boiled fowl, drank our last wine, smoked our last cigar together.
His talk was so convincingly rational, dealt with such unreal matters in
so every-day a fashion, that you were ready to think that surely it was
you and not he whose mind was wandering.

'You might reach that pocket-book, and ring for Mrs. Davies,' he would
say in so casual a way that of course you would ring. On Mrs. Davies's
appearance he would be fumbling about among the papers in his
pocket-book, and presently he would say, with a look of frustration that
went to one's heart--'I've got a ten-pound note somewhere here for you,
Mrs. Davies, to pay you up till Saturday, but somehow I seem to have
lost it. Yet it must be somewhere about. Perhaps you'll find it as you
make the bed in the morning. I'm so sorry to have troubled you....'

And then he would grow tired and doze a little on his pillow.

Suddenly he would be alert again, and with a startling vividness tell me
strange stories from the dreamland into which he was now passing.

I had promised to see him on Monday, but had been prevented, and had
wired to him accordingly. This was Tuesday.

'You needn't have troubled to wire,' he said. 'Didn't you know I was in
London from Saturday to Monday?'

'The doctor and Mrs. Davies didn't know,' he continued with the creepy
cunning of the dying: 'I managed to slip away to look at a house I think
of taking--in fact I've taken it. It's in--in--now, where is it? Now
isn't that silly? I can see it as plain as anything--yet I cannot, for
the life of me, remember where it is, or the number.... It was somewhere
St. John's Wood way ... never mind, you must come and see me there, when
we get in....'

I said he was dying in debt, and thus the heaven that lay about his
deathbed was one of fantastic Eldorados, sudden colossal legacies, and
miraculous windfalls.

'I haven't told you,' he said presently, 'of the piece of good luck that
has befallen me. You are not the only person in luck. I can hardly
expect you to believe me, it sounds so like the Arabian Nights. However,
it's true for all that. Well, one of the little sisters was playing in
the garden a few afternoons ago, making mud-pies or something of that
sort, and she suddenly scraped up a sovereign. Presently she found two
or three more, and our curiosity becoming aroused, a turn or two with
the spade revealed quite a bed of gold; and the end of it was, that on
further excavating, the whole garden proved to be one mass of
sovereigns. Sixty thousand pounds we counted ... and then, what do you
think?--it suddenly melted away....'

He paused for a moment, and continued, more in amusement than regret--

'Yes--the Government got wind of it, and claimed the whole lot as
treasure-trove!

'But not,' he added slyly, 'before I'd paid off two or three of my
biggest bills. Yes--and--you'll keep it quiet, of course,--there's
another lot been discovered in the garden, but we shall take good care
the Government doesn't get hold of it this time, you bet.'

He told this wild story with such an air of simple conviction that, odd
as it may seem, one believed every word of it. But the tale of his
sudden good-fortune was not ended.

'You've heard of old Lord Osterley,' he presently began again. 'Well,
congratulate me, old man: he has just died and left everything to me.
You know what a splendid library he had--to think that that will all be
mine--and that grand old park through which we've so often wandered, you
and I! Well, we shall need fear no gamekeeper now, and of course, dear
old fellow, you'll come and live with me--like a prince--and just write
your own books and say farewell to journalism for ever. Of course I can
hardly believe it's true yet. It seems too much of a dream, and yet
there's no doubt about it. I had a letter from my solicitors this
morning, saying that they were engaged in going through the securities,
and--and--but the letter's somewhere over there; you might read it. No?
can't you find it? It's there somewhere about, I know. Never mind, you
can see it again....' he finished wearily.

'Yes!' he presently said, half to himself, 'it will be a wonderful
change! a wonderful change!'

       *       *       *       *       *

At length the time came to say good-bye, a good-bye I knew must be the
last, for my affairs were taking me so far away from him that I could
not hope to see him for some days.

'I'm afraid, old man,' I said, 'that I mayn't be able to see you for
another week.'

'O never mind, old fellow, don't worry about me. I'm much better
now--and by the time you come again we shall know all about the
securities.'

The securities! My heart had seemed like a stone, incapable of feeling,
all those last unreal hours together; but the pathos of that sad phrase,
so curiously symbolic, suddenly smote it with overwhelming pity, and the
tears sprang to my eyes for the first time. As I bent over him to kiss
his poor damp forehead, and press his hand for the last farewell, I
murmured--

'Yes--dear, dear old friend. We shall know all about the securities....'



THE BOOM IN YELLOW


Green must always have a large following among artists and art lovers;
for, as has been pointed out, an appreciation of it is a sure sign of a
subtle artistic temperament. There is something not quite good,
something almost sinister, about it--at least, in its more complex
forms, though in its simple form, as we find it in outdoor nature, it is
innocent enough; and, indeed, is it not used in colloquial metaphor as
an adjective for innocence itself? Innocence has but two colours, white
or green. But Becky Sharp's eyes also were green, and the green of the
aesthete does not suggest innocence. There will always be wearers of the
green carnation; but the popular vogue which green has enjoyed for the
last ten or fifteen years is probably passing. Even the aesthete himself
would seem to be growing a little weary of its indefinitely divided
tones, and to be anxious for a colour sensation somewhat more positive
than those to be gained from almost imperceptible _nuances_, of green.
Jaded with over-refinements and super-subtleties, we seem in many
directions to be harking back to the primary colours of life. Blue,
crude and unsoftened, and a form of magenta, have recently had a short
innings; and now the triumph of yellow is imminent. Of course, a love
for green implies some regard for yellow, and in our so-called aesthetic
renaissance the sunflower went before the green carnation--which is,
indeed, the badge of but a small schism of aesthetes, and not worn by
the great body of the more catholic lovers of beauty.

Yellow is becoming more and more dominant in decoration--in wall-papers,
and flowers cultivated with decorative intention, such as
chrysanthemums. And one can easily understand why: seeing that, after
white, yellow reflects more light than any other colour, and thus
ministers to the growing preference for light and joyous rooms. A few
yellow chrysanthemums will make a small room look twice its size, and
when the sun comes out upon a yellow wall-paper the whole room seems
suddenly to expand, to open like a flower. When it falls upon the pot of
yellow chrysanthemums, and sets them ablaze, it seems as though one had
an angel in the room. Bill-posters are beginning to discover the
attractive qualities of the colour. Who can ever forget meeting for the
first time upon a hoarding Mr. Dudley Hardy's wonderful Yellow Girl, the
pretty advance-guard of _To-Day_? But I suppose the honour of the
discovery of the colour for advertising purposes rests with Mr. Colman;
though its recent boom comes from the publishers, and particularly from
the Bodley Head. _The Yellow Book_ with any other colour would hardly
have sold as well--the first private edition of Mr. Arthur Benson's
poems, by the way, came caparisoned in yellow, and with the identical
name, _Le Cahier Jaune_; and no doubt it was largely its title that made
the success of _The Yellow Aster_. In literature, indeed, yellow has
long been the colour of romance. The word 'yellow-back' witnesses its
close association with fiction; and in France, as we know, it is the
all but universal custom to bind books in yellow paper. Mr. Heinemann
and Mr. Unwin have endeavoured to naturalise the custom here; but,
though in cloth yellow has emphatically 'caught on,' in paper it still
hangs fire. The ABC Railway Guide is probably the only exception, and
that, it is to be hoped, is not fiction. Mr. Lang has recently followed
the fashion with his _Yellow Fairy Book_; and, indeed, one of the best
known figures in fairydom is yellow--namely, the Yellow Dwarf. Yellow,
always a prominent Oriental colour, was but lately of peculiar
significance in the Far East; for were not the sorrows of a certain high
Chinese official intimately connected with the fatal colour? The Yellow
Book, the Yellow Aster, the Yellow Jacket!--and the Yellow Fever, like
'Orion' Home's sunshine, is always with us' somewhere in the world.' The
same applies also, I suppose, to the Yellow Sea.

Till one comes to think of it, one hardly realises how many important
and pleasant things in life are yellow. Blue and green, no doubt,
contract for the colouring of vast departments of the physical world.
'Blue!' sings Keats, in a fine but too little known sonnet--

  '... 'Tis the life of heaven--the domain
    Of Cynthia--the wide palace of the sun--
  The tent of Hesperus, and all his train--
  The bosomer of clouds, gold, grey, and dun.
  Blue! 'Tis the life of waters ...
  Blue! Gentle cousin of the forest green,
    Married to green in all the sweetest flowers.'

Yellow might retort by quoting Mr. Grant Allen, in his book on _The
Colour Sense_, to the effect that the blueness of sea and sky is mainly
poetical illusion or inaccuracy, and that sea and sky are found blue
only in one experiment out of fourteen. At morning and evening they are
usually in great part stained golden. Blue certainly has one advantage
over yellow, in that it has the privilege of colouring some of the
prettiest eyes in the world. Yellow has a chance only in cases of
jaundice and liver complaint, and his colour scheme in such cases is
seldom appreciated. Again, green has the contract for the greater bulk
of the vegetable life of the globe; but his is a monotonous business,
like the painting of miles and miles of palings: grass, grass, grass,
trees, trees, trees, _ad infinitum_; whereas yellow leads a roving,
versatile life, and is seldom called upon for such monotonous labour.
The sands of Sahara are probably the only conspicuous instance of yellow
thus working by the piece. It is in the quality, in the diversity of the
things it colours, rather than in their mileage or tonnage, that yellow
is distinguished; though, for that matter, we suppose, the sun is as big
and heavy as most things, and that is yellow. Of course, when we say
yellow we include golden, and all varieties of the colour--saffron,
orange, flaxen, tawny, blonde, topaz, citron, etc.

If the sun may reasonably be described as the most important object in
the world, surely money is the next. That, as we know, is, in its most
potent metallic form, yellow also. The 'yellow gold' is a favourite
phrase in certain forms of poetry; and 'yellow-boys' is a term of
natural affection among sailors. Following the example of their lord the
sun, most fires and lights are yellow or golden, and it is only in
times of danger or superstition that they burn red or blue. And, if
yellow be denied entrance to beautiful eyes, it enjoys a privilege
which--except in the case of certain indigo-staining African tribes, who
cannot be said to count--blue has never claimed: that of colouring
perhaps the loveliest thing in the world, the hair of woman. Hair is
naturally golden--unnaturally also. When Browning sings pathetically of
'dear dead women--with such hair too!' he continues:--

  'What's become of all the _gold_
  Used to hang and brush their bosoms'--

not 'all the blue' or 'all the brown,' though some of us, it is true,
are condemned to wear our hair brown or blue-black. But such are only
unhappy exceptions. Yellow or gold is the rule. The bravest men and the
fairest women have had golden hair, and, we may add, in reference to
another distinction of the colour we are celebrating, golden hearts.
Hair at the present time is doing its best to conform to its normal
conditions of colour. Numerous instances might be adduced of its
changing from black to gold, in obedience to chemical law. 'Peroxide of
hydrogen!' says the cynic. 'Beauty!' says the lover of art.

And it might be argued, in a world of inevitable compromise, that the
damage done to the physical health and texture of the hair thus playing
the chameleon may well be overbalanced by the happiness, and consequent
increased effectiveness, of the person thus dyeing for the sake of
beauty. Thaumaturgists lay much stress on the mystic influence of
colours; and who knows but that, if we were only allowed to dye our hair
what colour we chose, we might be different men and women? Strange
things are told of women who have dyed their hair the colour of blood or
of wine, and we know from Christina Rossetti that golden hair is
negotiable in fairyland--

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

Whether Laura could have done business with the goblin merchantmen with
an oxidised curl is a difficult point, for fairies have sharp eyes; and,
though it be impossible for a mortal to tell the real gold from the
false gold hair, the fairies may be able to do so, and might reject the
curl as counterfeit.

Again, if in the vegetable world green almost universally colours the
leaves, yellow has more to do with the flowers. The flowers we love best
are yellow: the cowslip, the daffodil, the crocus, the buttercup, half
the daisy, the honeysuckle, and the loveliest rose. Yellow, too, has its
turn even with the leaves; and what an artist he shows himself when, in
autumn, he 'lays his fiery finger' upon them, lighting up the forlorn
woodland with splashes--pure palette-colour of audacious gold! He hangs
the mulberry with heart-shaped yellow shields--which reminds one of the
heraldic importance of 'or,'--and he lines the banks of the Seine with
phantasmal yellow poplars. And other leaves still dearer to the heart
are yellow likewise; leaves of those sweet old poets whose thoughts seem
to have turned the pages gold. Let us dream of this: a maid with yellow
hair, clad in a yellow gown, seated in a yellow room, at the window a
yellow sunset, in the grate a yellow fire, at her side a yellow
lamplight, on her knee a Yellow Book. And the letters we love best to
read--when we dare--are they not yellow too? No doubt some disagreeable
things are reported of yellow. We have had the yellow-fever, and we have
had pea-soup. The eyes of lions are said to be yellow, and the ugliest
cats--the cats that infest one's garden--are always yellow. Some
medicines are yellow, and no doubt there are many other yellow
disagreeables; but we prefer to dwell upon the yellow blessings. I had
almost forgotten that the gayest wines are yellow. Nor has religion
forgotten yellow. It is to be hoped yellow will not forget religion. The
sacred robe of the second greatest religion of the world is yellow, 'the
yellow robe' of the Buddhist friar; and when the sacred harlots of
Hindustan walk in lovely procession through the streets, they too, like
the friars, are clad in yellow. Amber is yellow; so is the orange; and
so were stage-coaches and many dashing things of the old time; and pink
is yellow by lamplight. But gold-mines, it has been proved, are not so
yellow as is popularly supposed. Hymen's robe is Miltonically 'saffron,'
and the dearest petticoat in all literature--not forgetting the
'tempestuous' garment of Herrick's Julia--was 'yaller.' Yes!--

  ''Er petticoat was yaller an' 'er little cap was green,
  An' er name was Supi-yaw-lat, jes' the same as Theebaw's Queen.'

Is it possible to say anything prettier for yellow than that?



LETTER TO AN UNSUCCESSFUL LITERARY MAN


My Dear Sir,--I agree with every word you say. You have my entire
sympathy. The world is indeed hard, hard to the sad--particularly hard
to the unsuccessful. A sure five hundred a year covers a multitude of
sorrows. It is ever an ill wind for the shorn lamb. If it be true that
nothing succeeds like success, it is no less sadly true that nothing
fails like failure. And when one thinks of it, it is only natural, for
every failure is an obstruction in the stream of life. Metaphorical
writers are fond of saying that the successful ride to success on the
back of the failures. It is true that many rise on stepping-stones of
their dead relations--but that is because their relations have been
financial successes. In truth, instead of the failure making the
fortune of the successful, it is just the reverse. A very successful man
would be the more successful were it not for the failures--on whom he
has either to spend his money to support, or his time to advise. The
strong are said to be impatient towards the weak--and is it to be
wondered at, in a world where even the strongest need all their
strength, in a sea where the best swimmer needs all his wind and muscle
and skill to keep afloat? If success is sometimes 'unfeeling' towards
failure, failure is often unfair to success. Of course, 'it is He that
hath made us and not we ourselves,' but that is a text that cuts both
ways; and when all is said and done, the failure detracts from the force
in the universe; he is the clog on the wheel of fortune. To say that the
successful man benefits by the failure of others is as true as it would
be to say that the ratepayer benefits by the poor-rates. You use the
word 'charlatan' somewhat profusely of several successful writers, and
no doubt you are right. But you must remember that it is a favourite
charge against the gifted and the fortunate. Because we have failed by
fair means, we are sure the other fellows have succeeded by foul. And,
moreover, one is apt to forget how much talent is needed to be a
charlatan. Never look down upon a charlatan. Courage, skill, personal
force or charm, great knowledge of human nature, dramatic instinct, and
industry--few charlatans succeed (and no one is called a charlatan till
he _does_ succeed, be his success as low or high as you please) without
possessing a majority of these qualities; how many of which--it would be
interesting to know--do you possess?

Indeed, it would seem to need more gifts to be a rogue than an honest
man, and there is a sense in which every great man may be described as a
charlatan--_plus_ greatness; greatness being an almost indefinable
quality, a quality, at any rate, on which there is a bewildering
diversity of opinion.

You seem a little cross with publishers and editors. They have not
proved the distinguished, brilliant, and sympathetic beings you imagined
them in your boyish dreams. No doubt, publishers and editors enter
hardly into the kingdom of heaven. But then, you see, they don't care so
much about that; they are much more interested in the next election at
certain fashionable clubs. It is really a little hard on them that they
should suffer from the ignorant misconception of the literary amateur.
It is only those who have had no dealings with them who would be unfair
enough to expect publishers or editors to be literary men. They are
business men--business men _par excellence_--and a good thing, too, for
their papers and their authors. You lament their mercenary view of life;
but, judging by your letter, even you are not disposed to regard money
as the root of all evil.

You cannot understand why you have failed where others have succeeded.
You have far more Greek than Keats, more history than Scott, and you
know nineteen languages--ten of them to speak. With so many
accomplishments, it must indeed be hard to fail--though you do not seem
to have found it difficult. You have travelled too--have been twice
round the world, and have a thorough knowledge of the worst hotels.
Certainly, it is singular. Nevertheless, I must confess that the dullest
men I have ever met have been professors of history; the worst poets
have not only known Greek, but French as well; and, generally speaking
the most tiresome of my acquaintances have more degrees than I have
Latin to name them in. Alas! it is not experience, or travel, or
language, but the use we make of them, that makes literary success,
which, one may add, is particularly dependent--perhaps not
unnaturally--on the use we make of language. A book may be a book,
although there is neither Latin nor Greek, nor travel, nor
experience--in fact 'nothing' in it; and though, like myself, you may
pay an Oxford professor a thousand a year to correct your proofs, you
may still miss immortality.

To these intellectual and general equipments you add goodness of heart,
sincerity of conviction, and martyrdom for your opinions; you are, it
would seem, like many others of us, the best fellow and greatest man of
your acquaintance. Permit me to remind you that we are not talking of
goodness of heart, of strength or beauty of character, but of success,
which is a thing apart, a fine art in itself.

You confess that you are somewhat unpractical: you expect
others--hard-worked journalists who never met you--to tell you what to
read, how to form your style, and how 'to get into the magazines.' You
are, you say, with something of pride, but a poor business man. That is
a pity, for nearly every successful literary man of the day, and
particularly the novelists, are excellent business men. Indeed, the
history of literature all round has proved that the men who have been
masters of words have also been masters of things--masters of the facts
of life for which those words stand. Many writers have mismanaged their
affairs from idleness and indifference, but few from incapacity. Leigh
Hunt boasted that he could never master the multiplication-table.
Perhaps that accounts for his comparative failure as a writer.
Incompetence in one art is far from being a guarantee of competency in
another, and a man is all the more likely to make a name if he is able
to make a living--though, judging from Coleridge, it seems a good plan
to let another hard-worked man support one's wife and children. On the
other hand, though business faculty is a great deal, it is not
everything: for a man may be as punctual and methodical as Southey, and
yet miss the prize of his high calling, or as generally 'impossible' as
Blake, and yet win his place among the immortals.

In fact, after all, success in literature has something to do with
writing. In temporary success, industry and business faculty, and an
unworked field--be it Scotland, Ireland, or the Isle of Man (any place
but plain England!)--are the chief factors. For that more lasting
success which we call fame other qualities are needed, such qualities as
imagination, fancy, and magic and force in the use of words. Can you
honestly say, O beloved, though tiresome, correspondent, that these
great gifts are yours? Judging from your letter--but Heaven forbid that
I should be unkind! For, need I say I love you with a fellow-feeling? Do
you think that you are the only unappreciated genius on the planet--not
to speak of all the other unappreciated geniuses on all the other
planets? Thank goodness, the postal arrangements with the latter are as
yet defective! Others there are with hearts as warm, minds as profound,
and style at least as attractive, who languish in unmerited
neglect--Miltons inglorious indeed, though far from mute.

Believe me, you are not alone. In fact, there are so many like you that
it would be quite easy for you to find society without worrying me. And,
for all of us, there is the consolation that, though we fail as writers,
we may still succeed as citizens, as husbands and fathers and friends.
As Whitman would say--because you are not Editor of _The Times_, do you
give in that you are less than a man? There are poets that have never
entered into the Bodley Head, and great prose-writers who have never sat
in an editorial chair. Be satisfied with your heavenly crowns, O you
whining unsuccessful, and leave to your inferiors the earthly
five-shilling pieces.



A POET IN THE CITY


  'In the midway of this our mortal life,
  I found me in a gloomy wood, astray.'

I (and when I say I, I must be understood to be speaking dramatically)
only venture into the City once a year, for the very pleasant purpose of
drawing that twelve-pound-ten by which the English nation, ever so
generously sensitive to the necessities, not to say luxuries, of the
artist, endeavours to express its pride and delight in me. It would be a
very graceful exercise of gratitude for me here to stop and parenthesise
the reader on the subject of all that twelve-pound-ten has been to me,
how it has quite changed the course of my life, given me that
long-desired opportunity of doing my best work in peace, for which so
often I vainly sighed in Fleet Street, and even allowed me an indulgence
in minor luxuries which I could not have dreamed of enjoying before the
days of that twelve-pound-ten. Now not only peace and plenty, but
leisure and luxury are mine. There is nothing goes so far as--Government
money.

Usually on these literally State occasions, I drive up in state, that is
in a hansom. There is only one other day in the year on which I am so
splendid, but that is another beautiful story. It, too, is a day and an
hour too joyous to be approached otherwise than on winged wheels, too
stately to be approached in merely pedestrian fashion. To go on foot to
draw one's pension seems a sort of slight on the great nation that does
one honour, as though a Lord Mayor should make his appearance in the
procession in his office coat.

So I say it is my custom to go gaily, and withal stately, to meet my
twelve-pound-ten in a hansom. For many reasons the occasion always seems
something of an adventure, and I confess I always feel a little excited
about it--indeed, to tell the truth, a little nervous. As I glide along
in my state barge (which seems a much more proper and impressive image
for a hansom than 'gondola,' with its reminiscences of Earl's Court) I
feel like some fragile country flower torn from its roots, and
bewilderingly hurried along upon the turbid, swollen stream of London
life.

The stream glides sweetly with a pleasant trotting tinkle of bells by
the green parkside of Piccadilly, and sweet is it to hear the sirens
singing, and to see them combing their gilded locks, on the yellow sands
of Piccadilly Circus--so called, no doubt, from the number of horses and
the skill of their drivers. Here are the whirling pools of pleasure,
merry wheels of laughing waters, where your hansom glides along with a
golden ease--it is only when you enter the First Cataract of the Strand
that you become aware of the far-distant terrible roar of the Falls!
They are yet nearly two miles away, but already, like Niagara, thou
hearest the sound thereof--the fateful sound of that human Niagara,
where all the great rivers of London converge: the dark, strong floods
surging out from the gloomy fastnesses of the East End, the
quick-running streams from the palaces of the West, the East with its
wagons, the West with its hansoms, the four winds with their omnibuses,
the horses and carriages under the earth jetting up their companies of
grimy passengers, the very air busy with a million errands.

You are in the rapids--metaphorically speaking--as you crawl down
Cheapside; and here where the Bank of England and the Mansion House rise
sheer and awful from, shall we say, this boiling caldron, this 'hell' of
angry meeting waters--Threadneedle Street and Cornhill, Queen Victoria
Street and Cheapside, each 'running,' again metaphorically, 'like a
mill-race'--here in this wild maelstrom of human life and human
conveyances, here is the true 'Niagara in London,' here are the most
wonderful falls in the world--the London Falls.

'Yes!' I said softly to myself, and I could see the sly sad smile on the
face of the dead poet, at the thought of whose serene wisdom a silence
like snow seemed momentarily to cover up the turmoil--'Yes!' I said
softly, 'there is still the same old crush at the corner of Fenchurch
Street!'

By this time I had disbursed one of my two annual cab-fares, and was
standing a little forlorn at that very corner. It was a March afternoon,
bitter and gloomy; lamps were already popping alight in a desolate way,
and the east wind whistled mournfully through the ribs of the
passers-by. A very unflowerlike man was dejectedly calling out
'daffadowndillies' close by. The sound of the pretty old word, thus
quaintly spoken, brightened the air better than the electric lights
which suddenly shot rows of wintry moonlight along the streets. I bought
a bunch of the poor pinched flowers, and asked the man how he came to
call them 'daffadowndillies.'

'D'vunshur,' he said, in anything but a Devonshire accent, and then the
east wind took him and he was gone--doubtless to a neighbouring tavern;
and no wonder, poor soul! Flowers certainly fall into strange hands here
in London.

Well, it was nearing four, and if I wanted a grateful country's
twelve-pound-ten, I must make haste; so presently I found myself in a
great hall, of which I have no clearer impression than that there were
soft little lights all about me, and a soft chime of falling gold, like
the rippling of Pactolus. I have a sort of idea, too, of a great number
of young men with most beautiful moustaches, playing with golden
shovels; and as I thus stood among the soft lights and listened to the
most beautiful sound in the world, I thought that thus must Danæ have
felt as she stood amid the falling shower. But I took care to see that
my twelve sovereigns and a half were right number and weight for all
that.

Once more in the street, I lingered a while to take a last look at the
Falls. What a masterful alien life it all seemed to me! No single
personality could hope to stand alone amid all that stress of ponderous,
bullying forces. Only public companies, and such great impersonalities,
could hope to hold their own, to swim in such a whirlpool--and even
they, I had heard it whispered, far away in my quiet starlit garret,
sometimes went down. 'How,' I cried, 'would--

  '... my tiny spark of being wholly vanish in your deeps and heights ...
  Rush of suns, and roll of systems, and your fiery clash of meteorites,'

again quoting poetry. I always quote poetry in the City, as a
protest--moreover, it clears the air.

The more people buffeted against me the more I felt the crushing sense
of almost cosmic forces. Everybody was so plainly an atom in a public
company, a drop of water in a tyrannous stream of human
energy--companies that cared nothing for their individual atoms, streams
that cared nothing for their component drops; such atoms and drops, for
the most part, to be had for thirty shillings a week. These people about
me seemed no more like individual men and women than individual puffs in
a mighty rushing wind, or the notes in a great scheme of music, are men
and women--to the banker so many pens with ears whereon to perch them,
to the capitalist so many 'hands,' and to the City man generally so many
'helpless pieces of the game he plays' up there in spidery nooks and
corners of the City.

As I listened to the throbbing of the great human engines in the
buildings about me, a rising and a falling there seemed as of those
great steel-limbed monsters, weird contortionists of metal, that jet up
and down, and writhe and wrestle this way and that, behind the long
glass windows of great water-towers, or toil like Vulcan in the bowels
of mighty ships. An expression of frenzy seems to come up even from the
dumb tossing steel; sometimes it seems to be shaking great knuckled
fists at one and brandishing threatening arms, as it strains and sweats
beneath the lash of the compulsive steam. As one watches it, there seems
something of human agony about its panic-stricken labours, and something
like a sense of pity surprises one--a sense of pity that anything in the
world should have to work like that, even steel, even, as we say,
senseless steel. What, then, of these great human engine-houses! Will
the engines always consent to rise and fall, night and day, like that?
or will there some day be a mighty convulsion, and this blind Samson of
labour pull down the whole engine-house upon his oppressors? Who knows?
These are questions for great politicians and thinkers to decide, not
for a poet, who is too much terrified by such forces to be able calmly
to estimate and prophesy concerning them.

Yes! if you want to realise Tennyson's picture of 'one poor poet's
scroll' ruling the world, take your poet's scroll down to Fenchurch
Street and try it there. Ah, what a powerless little 'private interest'
seems poetry there, poetry 'whose action is no stronger than a flower.'
In days of peace it ventures even into the morning papers; but, let only
a rumour of war be heard, and it vanishes like a dream on doomsday
morning. A County Council election passeth over it and it is gone.

Yet it was near this very spot that Keats dug up the buried beauty of
Greece, lying hidden beneath Finsbury Pavement! and in the deserted City
churches great dramatists lie about us. Maybe I have wronged the
City--and at this thought I remembered a little bookshop but a few yards
away, blossoming like a rose right in the heart of the wilderness.

Here, after all, in spite of all my whirlpools and engine-houses, was
for me the greatest danger in the City. Need I say, therefore, that I
promptly sought it, hovered about it a moment--and entered? How much of
that grateful governmental twelve-pound-ten came out alive, I dare not
tell my dearest friend.

At all events I came out somehow reassured, more rich in faith. There
was a might of poesy after all. There were words in the little
yellow-leaved garland, nestling like a bird in my hand, that would
outlast the bank yonder, and outlive us all. I held it up. How tiny it
seemed, how frail amid all this stone and iron! A mere flower--a flower
from the seventeenth century--long-lived for a flower! Yes, an
_immortelle_.



BROWN ROSES

'Well, I never thought to see this day, sir,' said Gibbs, with something
like tears in his voice, as he reluctantly plied his scissors upon
Hyacinth Rondel's distinguished curls.

'Nor I, Gibbs--nor I!' said Rondel sadly, relapsing into silence again,
with his head meekly bent over the white sheet spread to catch his shorn
beauty.

'To think of the times, sir, that I have dressed your head,' continued
Gibbs, whose grief bore so marked an emphasis, 'and to think that after
to-day ...'

'But you forget, my dear Gibbs, that I shall now be a more constant
customer than ever!'

'Ah, sir, but that will be different. It will be mere machine-cutting,
lawn-mowing, steam-reaping, if you understand me; there'll be no
pleasure in it, no artistic pleasure, I mean.'

'Yes, Gibbs, and you are an artist--I have often told you that.'

'Ah, sir, but I am coming to the conclusion that it is better not to be
an artist, better to be born just like every one else. In these days one
suffers too much. Why, sir, I haven't in the whole of my business six
heads like yours, and I go on cutting all the rest week in and week out,
just for the pleasure of dressing those six--and now there'll only be
five.'

       *       *       *       *       *

'It looks like a winding-sheet,' mused Rondel presently, after a long
silence, broken only by the soft crunch and click of the fatal scissors,
as they feasted on the beautiful brown silk.

'It do indeed, sir,' said Gibbs, with a shudder, as another little globe
of golden brown rolled down into Rondel's lap.

'Poor brown roses!' sighed the poet, after another silence; 'they are
just like brown roses, aren't they, Gibbs?'

'They are indeed, sir!'

'Brown roses scattered over the winding-sheet of one's youth--eh,
Gibbs?'

'They are indeed, sir.'

'That's rather a pretty image, don't you think, Gibbs?'

'Indeed I do, sir!'

'Well, well, they have bloomed their last; and when Juliet's white hands
come seeking with their silver fingers, white maidens lost in the brown
enchanted forest, there will not be a rose left for her to gather.'

'Believe me, sir, I would more gladly have cut off your head than your
hair--that is, figuratively speaking,' sobbed the artist-in-hair-oils.

'Yes, my head would hardly be missed--you are quite right, Gibbs; but my
hair! What will they do without it at first nights and private views? It
was worth five shillings a week to many a poor paragraph-writer. Well, I
must try and make up for it by my beard!'

'Your beard, sir?' exclaimed Gibbs in horror.

'Yes, Gibbs; for some years I have been a Nazarene--that is, a Nazarite,
with the top half of my head; now I am going to change about and be a
Nazarite with the lower. The razor has kissed my cheeks and my chin and
the fluted column of my throat for the last time.'

'You cannot mean it, sir!' said Gibbs, suspending his murderous task a
moment.

'It's quite true, Gibbs.'

'Does she wish that too, sir?'

'Yes, that too.'

'Well, sir, I have heard of men making sacrifices for their wives, but
of all the cruel....'

'Please don't, Gibbs. It does no good. And Mrs. Rondel's motive is a
good one.'

'Of course, sir, I cannot presume--and yet, if it wouldn't be presuming,
I should like to know why you are making this great, I may say this
noble, sacrifice?'

'Well, Gibbs, we're old friends, and I'll tell you some day, but I
hardly feel up to it to-day.'

'Of course not, sir, of course not--it's only natural,' said Gibbs
tenderly, while the scissors once more took up the conversation.



THE DONKEY THAT LOVED A STAR


'That is how the donkey tells his love!' I said one day, with intent to
be funny, as the prolonged love-whoop of a distant donkey was heard in
the land.

'Don't be too ready to laugh at donkeys,' said my friend. 'For,' he
continued, 'even donkeys have their dreams. Perhaps, indeed, the most
beautiful dreams are dreamed by donkeys.'

'Indeed,' I said, 'and now that I think of it, I remember to have said
that most dreamers are donkeys, though I never expected so scientific a
corroboration of a fleeting jest.'

Now, my friend is an eminent scientist and poet in one, a serious
combination; and he took my remarks with seriousness at once scientific
and poetic.

'Yes,' he went on, 'that is where you clever people make a mistake. You
think that because a donkey has only two vowel-sounds wherewith to
express his emotions, he has no emotions to express. But let me tell
you, sir ...'

But here we both burst out laughing--

'You Golden Ass!' I said,'take a munch of these roses; perhaps they will
restore you.'

'No,' he resumed, 'I am quite serious. I have for many years past made a
study of donkeys--high-stepping critics call it the study of Human
Nature--however, it's the same thing--and I must say that the more I
study them the more I love them. There is nothing so well worth studying
as the misunderstood, for the very reason that everybody thinks he
understands it. Now, to take another instance, most people think they
have said the last word on a goose when they have called it "a
goose"!--but let me tell you, sir ...'

But here again we burst out laughing--

'Dear goose of the golden eggs,' I said, 'pray leave to discourse on
geese to-night--though lovely and pleasant would the discourse
be;--to-night I am all agog for donkeys.'

'So be it,' said my friend,' and if that be so, I cannot do better than
tell you the story of the donkey that loved a star--keeping for another
day the no less fascinating story of the goose that loved an angel.'

By this time I was, appropriately, all ears.

'Well,' he once more began, 'there was once a donkey, quite an intimate
friend of mine--and I have no friend of whom I am prouder--who was
unpractically fond of looking up at the stars. He could go a whole day
without thistles, if night would only bring him stars. Of course he
suffered no little from his fellow-donkeys for this curious passion of
his. They said well that it did not become him, for indeed it was no
little laughable to see him gazing so sentimentally at the remote and
pitiless heavens. Donkeys who belonged to Shakespeare Societies recalled
the fate of Bottom, the donkey who had loved a fairy; but our donkey
paid little heed. There is perhaps only one advantage in being a
donkey--namely, a hide impervious to criticism. In our donkey's case it
was rather a dream that made him forget his hide--a dream that drew up
all the sensitiveness from every part, from hoof, and hide, and ears, so
that all the feeling in his whole body was centred in his eyes and
brain, and those, as we have said, were centred on a star. He took it
for granted that his fellows should sneer and kick-out at him--it was
ever so with genius among the donkeys, and he had very soon grown used
to these attentions of his brethren, which were powerless to withdraw
his gaze from the star he loved. For though he loved all the stars, as
every individual man loves all women, there was one star he loved more
than any other; and standing one midnight among his thistles, he prayed
a prayer, a prayer that some day it might be granted him to carry that
star upon his back--which, he recalled, had been sanctified by the holy
sign--were it but for ever so short a journey. Just to carry it a little
way, and then to die. This to him was a dream beyond the dreams of
donkeys.

'Now, one night,' continued my friend, taking breath for himself and
me, 'our poor donkey looked up to the sky, and lo! the star was nowhere
to be seen. He had heard it said that stars sometimes fall. Evidently
his star had fallen. Fallen! but what if it had fallen upon the earth?
Being a donkey, the wildest dreams seemed possible to him. And, strange
as it may seem, there came a day when a poet came to his master and
bought our donkey to carry his little child. Now, the very first day he
had her upon his back, the donkey knew that his prayer had been
answered, and that the little swaddled babe he carried was the star he
had prayed for. And, indeed, so it was; for so long as donkeys ask no
more than to fetch and carry for their beloved, they may be sure of
beauty upon their backs. Now, so long as this little girl that was a
star remained a little girl, our donkey was happy. For many pretty years
she would kiss his ugly muzzle and feed his mouth with sugar--and thus
our donkey's thoughts sweetened day by day, till from a natural
pessimist he blossomed into a perfectly absurd optimist, and dreamed the
donkiest of dreams. But, one day, as he carried the girl who was really
a star through the spring lanes, a young man walked beside her, and
though our donkey thought very little of his talk--in fact, felt his
plain "hee-haw" to be worth all its smart chirping and twittering--yet
it evidently pleased the maiden. It included quite a number of
vowel-sounds--though, if the maiden had only known, it didn't mean half
so much as the donkey's plain monotonous declaration.

'Well, our donkey soon began to realise that his dream was nearing its
end; and, indeed, one day his little mistress came bringing him the
sweetest of kisses, the very best sugar in the very best shops, but for
all that our donkey knew that it meant good-bye. It is the charming
manner of English girls to be at their sweetest when they say good-bye.

'Our dreamer-donkey went into exile as servant to a woodcutter, and his
life was lenient if dull, for the woodcutter had no sticks to waste upon
his back; and next day his young mistress who was once a star took a
pony for her love, whom some time after she discarded for a talented
hunter, and, one fine day, like many of her sex, she pitched her
affections upon a man--he too being a talented hunter. To their wedding
came all the countryside. And with the countryside came the donkey. He
carried a great bundle of firewood for the servants' hall, and as he
waited outside, gazing up at his old loves the stars, while his master
drank deeper and deeper within, he revolved many thoughts. But he is
only known to have made one remark--in the nature, one may think, of a
grim jest--

'"After all!" he was heard to say, "she has married a donkey--after
all!"

'No doubt it was feeble; but then our donkey was growing old and bitter,
and hope deferred had made him a cynic.'



ON LOVING ONE'S ENEMIES

Like all people who live apart from it, the Founder of the Christian
religion was possessed of a profound knowledge of the world. As,
according to the proverb, the woodlander sees nothing of the wood for
its trees, so those who live in the world know nothing of it. They know
its gaudy, glittering surface, its Crystal Palace fireworks, and the
paste-diamonds with which it bedecks itself; they know its music-halls
and its night clubs, its Piccadillys and its politics, its restaurants
and its salons; but of the bad--or good?--heart of it all they know
nothing. In more meanings than one, it takes a saint to catch a sinner;
and Christ certainly knew as well as saved the sinner.

But none of His precepts show a truer knowledge of life and its
conditions than His commandment that we should love our enemies. He
realised--can we doubt?--that, without enemies, the Church He bade His
followers build could not hope to be established. He knew that the
spiritual fire He strove to kindle would spread but little, unless the
four winds of the world blew against it. Well, indeed, may the Christian
Church love its enemies, for it is they who have made it.

Indeed, for a man, or a cause, that wants to get on, there is nothing
like a few hearty, zealous enemies. Most of us would never be heard of
if it were not for our enemies. The unsuccessful man counts up his
friends, but the successful man numbers his enemies. A friend of mine
was lamenting, the other day, that he could not find twelve people to
disbelieve in him. He had been seeking them for years, he sighed, and
could not get beyond eleven. But, even so, with only eleven he was a
very successful man. In these kind-hearted days enemies are becoming so
rare that one has to go out of one's way to make them. The true
interpretation, therefore, of the easiest of the commandments is--make
your enemies, and your enemies will make you.

So soon as the armed men begin to spring up in our fields, we may be
sure that we have not sown in vain.

Properly understood, an enemy is but a negative embodiment of our
personalities or ideas. He is an involuntary witness to our vitality.
Much as he despises us, greatly as he may injure us, he is none the less
a creature of our making. It was we who put into him the breath of his
malignity, and inspired the activity of his malice. Therefore, with his
very existence so tremendous a tribute, we can afford to smile at his
self-conscious disclaimers of our significance. Though he slay us, we
_made_ him--to 'make an enemy,' is not that the phrase?

Indeed, the fact that he is our enemy is his one _raison d'être_. That
alone should make us charitable to him. Live and let live. Without us
our enemy has no occupation, for to hate us is his profession. Think of
his wives and families!

The friendship of the little for the great is an old-established
profession; there is but one older--namely, the hatred of the little
for the great; and, though it is perhaps less officially recognised, it
is without doubt the more lucrative. It is one of the shortest roads to
fame. Why is the name of Pontius Pilate an uneasy ghost of history?
Think what fame it would have meant to be an enemy of Socrates or
Shakespeare! _Blackwood's Magazine_ and _The Quarterly Review_ only
survive to-day because they once did their best to strangle the genius
of Keats and Tennyson. Two or three journals of our own time, by the
same unfailing method, seek that circulation from posterity which is
denied them in the present.

This is particularly true in literature, where the literary enemy is as
organised a tradesman as the literary agent. Like the literary agent, he
naturally does his best to secure the biggest men. No doubt the time
will come when the literary cut-throat--shall we call him?--will publish
dainty little books of testimonials from authors, full of effusive
gratitude for the manner in which they have been slashed and bludgeoned
into fame. 'Butcher to Mr. Grant Allen' may then become a familiar
legend over literary shop-fronts:--

  'Ah! did you stab at Shelley's heart
    With silly sneer and cruel lie?
  And Wordsworth, Tennyson, and Keats,
    To murder did you nobly try?

  You failed, 'tis true; but what of that?
    The world remembers still your name--
  'Tis fame, _for you_, to be the cur
    That barks behind the heels of Fame.'

Any one who is fortunate enough to have enemies will know that all this
is far from being fanciful. If one's enemies have any other _raison
d'être_ beyond the fact of their being our enemies--what is it? They are
neither beautiful nor clever, wise nor good, famous nor, indeed,
passably distinguished. Were they any of these, they would not have
taken to so humble a means of getting their living. Instead of being our
enemies, they could then have afforded to employ enemies on their own
account.

Who, indeed, are our enemies? Broadly speaking, they are all those
people who lack what we possess.

If you are rich, every poor man is necessarily your enemy. If you are
beautiful, the great democracy of the plain and ugly will mock you in
the streets. It will be the same with everything you possess. The
brainless will never forgive you for possessing brains, the weak will
hate you for your strength, and the evil for your good heart. If you can
write, all the bad writers are at once your foes. If you can paint, the
bad painters will talk you down. But more than any talent or charm you
may possess, the pearl of price for which you will be most bitterly
hated will be your success. You can be the most wonderful person that
ever existed, so long as you don't succeed, and nobody will mind. 'It is
the sunshine,' says some one, 'that brings out the adder.' So powerful,
indeed, is success that it has been known to turn a friend into a foe.
Those, then, who wish to engage a few trusty enemies out of place need
only advertise among the unsuccessful.

_P.S._--For one service we should be particularly thankful to our
enemies--they save us so much in stimulants. Their unbelief so helps our
belief, their negatives make us so positive.



THE DRAMATIC ART OF LIFE

It is a curious truth that, whereas in every other art deliberate choice
of method and careful calculation of effect are expected from the
artist, in the greatest and most difficult art of all, the art of life,
this is not so. In literature, painting, or sculpture you first evolve
your conception, and then, after long study of it, as it glows and
shimmers in your imagination, you set about the reverent selection of
that form which shall be its most truthful incarnation, in words, in
paint, in marble. Now life, as has been said many times, is an art too.
Sententious morality from time past has told us that we are each given a
part to play, evidently implying, with involuntary cynicism, that the
art of life is--the art of acting.

As with the actor, we are each given a certain dramatic conception for
the expression of which we have precisely the same artistic
materials--namely, our own bodies, sometimes including heart and brains.
One has often heard the complaint of a certain actor that he acts
himself. On the metaphorical stage of life the complaint and the implied
demand are just the reverse. How much more interesting life would be if
only more people had the courage and skill to act themselves, instead of
abjectly understudying some one else! Of course, there are supers on the
stage of life as on the real stage. It is proper that these should dress
and speak and think alike. These one courteously excepts from the
generalisation that the composer of the play, as Marcus Aurelius calls
him, has given each of us a certain part to play--that part simply
oneself: a part, need one say, by no means as easy as it seems; a part
most difficult to study, and requiring daily rehearsal. So difficult is
it, indeed, that most people throw up the part, and join the ranks of
the supers--who, curiously enough, are paid much more handsomely than
the principals. They enter one of the learned or idle professions, join
the army or take to trade, and so speedily rid themselves of the irksome
necessity of being anything more individual than 'the learned counsel,'
'the learned judge,' 'my lord bishop,' or 'the colonel,' names
impersonal in application as the dignity of 'Pharaoh,' whereof the name
and not the man was alone important. Henceforth they are the Church, the
Law, the Army, the City, or that vaguer profession Society. Entering one
of these, they become as lost to the really living world as the monk who
voluntarily surrenders all will and character of his own at the
threshold of his monastery: bricks in a prison wall, privates in the
line, peas in a row. But, as I say, these are the parts that pay. For
playing the others, indeed, you are not paid, but expected to
pay--dearly.

It is full time we turned to those on whom falls the burden of those
real parts. Such, when quite young, if they be conscientious artists,
will carefully consider themselves, their gifts and possibilities, study
to discover their artistic _raison d'être_ and how best to fulfil it.
He or she will say: Here am I, a creature of great gifts and exquisite
sensibilities, drawn by great dreams, and vibrating to great emotions;
yet this potent and exquisite self is as yet, I know, but unwrought
material of the perfect work of art it is intended that I should make of
it--but the marble wherefrom, with patient chisel, I must liberate the
perfect and triumphant ME! As a poet listening with trembling ear to the
voice of his inspiration, so I tremulously ask myself--what is the
divine conception that is to become embodied in me, what is the divine
meaning of ME? How best shall I express it in look, in word, in deed,
till my outer self becomes the truthful symbol of my inner self--till,
in fact, I have successfully placed the best of myself on the outside
--for others besides myself to see, and know and love?

What is my part, and how am I to play it?

Returning to the latter image, there are two difficulties that beset one
in playing a part on the stage of life, right at the outset. You are not
allowed to 'look' it, or 'dress' it! What would an actor think, who,
asked to play Hamlet, found that he would be expected to play it
without make-up and in nineteenth-century costume? Yet many of us are in
a like dilemma with similar parts. Actors and audience must all wear the
same drab clothes and the same immobile expression. It is in vain you
protest that you do not really belong to this absurd and vulgar
nineteenth century, that you have been spirited into it by a cruel
mistake, that you really belong to mediæval Florence, to Elizabethan,
Caroline, or at latest Queen Anne England, and that you would like to be
allowed to look and dress as like it as possible. It is no use; if you
dare to look or dress like anything but your own tradesmen--and other
critics--it is at your peril. If you are beautiful, you are expected to
disguise a fact that is an open insult to every other person you look
at; and you must, as a general rule, never look, wear, feel, or say what
everybody else is not also looking, wearing, feeling, or saying.

Thus you get some hint of the difficulty of playing the part of yourself
on this stage of life.

In these matters of dressing and looking your part musicians seem
granted an immunity denied to all their fellow-artists. Perhaps it is
taken for granted that the musician is a fool--the British public is so
intuitive. Yet it takes the same view of the poet, without allowing him
a like immunity. And, by the way, what a fine conception of his part had
Tennyson--of the dignity, the mystery, the picturesqueness of it!
Tennyson would have felt it an artistic crime to look like his
publisher; yet what poet is there left us to-day half so
distinguished-looking as his publisher?

Indeed, curiously enough, among no set of men does the desire to look as
commonplace as the rest of the world seem so strong as among men of
letters. Perhaps it is out of consideration for the rest of the world;
but, whatever the reason, immobility of expression and general
mediocrity of style are more characteristic of them at present than even
the military.

It is surely a strange paradox that we should pride ourselves on
schooling to foolish insensibility, on eliminating from them every mark
of individual character, the faces that were intended subtly and
eloquently to image our moods--to look glad when we are glad, sorry when
we are sorry, angry in anger, and lovely in love.

The impassivity of the modern young man is indeed a weird and wonderful
thing. Is it a mark to hide from us the appalling sins he none the less
openly affects? Is it meant to conceal that once in his life he paid a
wild visit to 'The Empire'--by kind indulgence of the County Council?
that he once chucked a barmaid under the chin, that he once nearly got
drunk, that he once spoke to a young lady he did not know--and then ran
away?

One sighs for the young men of the days of Gautier and Hugo, the young
men with red waistcoats who made asses of themselves at first nights and
on the barricades, young men with romance in their hearts and passion in
their blood, fearlessly sentimental and picturesquely everything.

The lover then was not ashamed that you should catch radiant glimpses of
his love in his eyes--nay! if you smiled kindly on him, he would take
you by the arm and insist on your breaking a bottle with him in honour
of his mistress. Joy and sorrow then wore their appropriate colours,
according, so to say, to the natural sumptuary laws of the emotions--one
of which is that the right place for the heart is the sleeve.

It is the duty of those who are great, or to whom great destinies of joy
or sorrow have been dealt, to wear their distinctions for the world to
see. It is good for the world, which in its crude way indicates the
rudiments of this dramatic art of life, when it decrees that the bride
shall walk radiant in orange blossom, and the mourner sadden our streets
with black--symbols ever passing before us of the moving vicissitudes of
life.

The mourner cannot always be sad, or the bride merry; the bride indeed
sometimes weeps at the altar, and the mourner laughs a savage cynical
laugh at the grave; but for those moments in which they awhile forget
parts more important than themselves, the tailor and the dressmaker have
provided symbolical garments, just as military decorations have been
provided for heroes without the gift of looking heroic, and sacerdotal
vestments for the priest, who, like a policeman, is not always on duty.

In playing his part the conscientious artist in life, like any other
actor, must often seem to feel more than he really feels at a given
moment, say more than he means. In this he is far from being
insincere--though he must make up his mind to be accused daily of
insincerity and affectation. On the contrary, it will be his very
sincerity that necessitates his make-believe. With his great part ever
before him in its inspiring completeness, he must be careful to allow no
merely personal accident of momentary feeling or action to jeopardise
the general effect. There are moments, for example, when a really true
lover, owing to such masterful natural facts as indigestion, a cold, or
extreme sleepiness, is unable to feel all that he knows he really feels.
To 'tell the truth,' as it is called, under such circumstances, would
simply be a most dangerous form of lying. There is no duty we owe to
truth more imperative than that of lying stoutly on occasion--for,
indeed, there is often no other way of conveying the whole truth than
by telling the part-lie.

A watchful sincerity to our great conception of ourselves is the first
and last condition, of our creating that finest work of art--a
personality; for a personality, like a poet, is not only born but made.



THE ARBITRARY CLASSIFICATION OF SEX

In an essay on Vauvenargues Mr. John Morley speaks with characteristic
causticity of those epigrammatists 'who persist in thinking of man and
woman as two different species,' and who make verbal capital out of the
fancied distinction in the form of smart epigrams beginning '_Les
femmes_.' It is one of Shakespeare's cardinal characteristics that _he
understood woman_. Mr. Meredith's fame as a novelist is largely due to
the fact that he too _understands women_. The one spot on the sun of
Robert Louis Stevenson's fame, so we are told, is that he could _never
draw a woman_. His capacity for drawing men counted for nothing,
apparently, beside this failure. Evidently the Sphinx has not the face
of a woman for nothing. That is why no one has read her riddle,
translated her mystic smile. Yet many people smile mysteriously,
without any profound meanings behind their smile, with no other reason
than a desire to mystify. Perhaps the Sphinx smiles to herself just for
the fun of seeing us take her smile so seriously. And surely women must
so smile as they hear their psychology so gravely discussed. Of course,
the superstition is invaluable to them, and it is only natural that they
should make the most of it. Man is supposed to be a complete ignoramus
in regard to all the specialised female 'departments'--from the supreme
mystery of the female heart to the humble domestic mysteries of a
household. Similarly, men are supposed to have no taste in women's
dress, yet for whom do women clothe themselves in the rainbow and the
sea-foam, if not to please men? And was not the high-priest of that
delicious and fascinating mystery a man--if it be proper to call the
late M. Worth a man,--as the best cooks are men, and the best waiters?

It would seem to be assumed from all this mystification that men are
beings clear as daylight, both to themselves and to women. Poor,
simple, manageable souls, their wants are easily satisfied, their
psychology--which, it is implied, differs little from their
physiology--long since mapped out.

It may be so, but it is the opinion of some that men's simplicity is no
less a fiction than women's mysterious complexity, and that human
character is made up of much the same qualities in men and women,
irrespective of a merely rudimentary sexual distinction, which has, of
course, its proper importance, and which the present writer would be the
last to wish away. From that quaint distinction of sex springs, of
course, all that makes life in the smallest degree worth living, from
great religions to tiny flowers. Love and beauty and poetry;
Shakespeare's plays, Burne-Jones's pictures, and Wagner's operas--all
such moving expressions of human life, as science has shown us, spring
from the all-important fact that 'male and female created He them.'

This everybody knows, and few are fools enough to deny. Many people,
however, confuse this organic distinction of sex with its time-worn
conventional symbols; just as religion is commonly confused with its
external rites and ceremonies. The comparison naturally continues itself
further; for, as in religion, so soon as some traditional garment of the
faith has become outworn or otherwise unsuitable, and the proposal is
made to dispense with or substitute it, an outcry immediately is raised
that religion itself is in danger--so with sex, no sooner does one or
the other sex propose to discard its arbitrary conventional
characteristics, or to supplement them by others borrowed from its
fellow-sex, than an outcry immediately is raised that sex itself is in
danger.

Sex--the most potent force in the universe--in danger because women
wear knickerbockers instead of petticoats, or military men take to
corsets and cosmetics!

That parallel with religion may be pursued profitably one step further.
In religion, the conventional test of your faith is not how you live,
not in your kindness of heart or purity of mind, but how you believe--in
the Trinity, in the Atonement; and do you turn to the East during the
recital of the Apostles' Creed? These and such, as every one knows, are
the vital matters of religion. And it is even so with sex. You are not
asked for the realities of manliness or womanliness, but for the
shadows, the arbitrary externalities, the fashions of which change from
generation to generation.

To be truly womanly you must never wear your hair short; to be truly
manly you must never wear it long. To be truly womanly you must dress as
daintily as possible, however uncomfortably; to be truly manly you must
wear the most hideous gear ever invented by the servility of tailors--a
strange succession of cylinders from head to heel; cylinder on head,
cylinder round your body, cylinders on arms and cylinders on legs. To be
truly womanly you must be shrinking and clinging in manner and trivial
in conversation; you must have no ideas, and rejoice that you wish for
none; you must thank Heaven that you have never ridden a bicycle or
smoked a cigarette; and you must be prepared to do a thousand other
absurd and ridiculous things. To be truly manly you must be and do the
opposite of all these things, with this exception--that with you the
possession of ideas is optional. The finest specimens of British manhood
are without ideas; but that, I say, is, generally speaking, a matter for
yourself. It is indeed the only matter in which you have any choice.
More important matters, such as the cut of your clothes and hair, the
shape of your face, the length of your moustache and the pattern of your
cane--all these are very properly regulated for you by laws of fashion,
which you could never dream of breaking. You may break every moral law
there is--or rather, was--and still remain a man. You may be a bully, a
cad, a coward and a fool, in the poor heart and brains of you; but so
long as you wear the mock regimentals of contemporary manhood, and are
above all things plain and undistinguished enough, your reputation for
manhood will be secure. There is nothing so dangerous to a reputation
for manhood as brains or beauty.

In short, to be a true woman you have only to be pretty and an idiot,
and to be a true man you have only to be brutal and a fool.

From these misconceptions of manliness and womanliness, these
superstitions of sex, many curious confusions have come about. They so
to say, professional differentiation between the sexes had at one time
gone so far that men were credited with the entire monopoly of a certain
set of human qualities, and women with the monopoly of a certain other
set of human qualities; yet every one of these are qualities which one
would have thought were proper to, and necessary for, all human beings
alike, male and female.

In a dictionary of a date (1856) when everything on earth and in heaven
was settled and written in penny cyclopædias and books of deportment, I
find these delicious definitions--

_Manly_: becoming a man; firm; brave; undaunted; dignified; noble;
stately; not boyish or womanish.

_Womanly_: becoming a woman; feminine; as _womanly_ behaviour.

Under _Woman_ we find the adjectives--soft, mild, pitiful and flexible,
kind, civil, obliging, humane, tender, timorous, modest.

Who can doubt that the dictionary maker defined and distributed his
adjectives aright for the year 1856? Since then, however, many alarming
heresies have taken root in our land, and some are heard to declare that
both these sets of adjectives apply to men and women alike, and are, in
fact, necessities of any decent human outfit. Otherwise the conclusion
is obvious, that no one desirous of the adjective 'manly' must ever
be--soft, mild, pitiful and flexible, kind, civil, obliging, humane,
tender, timorous, or modest; and no one desirous of the adjective
'womanly' be--firm, brave, undaunted, dignified, noble, or stately.

But surely the essentials of 'manliness' and 'womanliness' belong to man
and woman alike--the externals are purely artistic considerations, and
subject to the vagaries of fashion. In art no one would think of
allowing fashion any serious artistic opinion. It is usually the art
which is out of fashion that is most truly art. Similarly, fashions in
manliness or womanliness have nothing to do with real manliness or
womanliness. Moreover, the adjectives 'manly' or 'womanly,' applied to
works of art, or the artistic surfaces of men and women, are
irrelevant--that is to say, impertinent. You have no right to ask a
poem or a picture to look manly or womanly, any more than you have any
right to ask a man or a woman to look manly or womanly. There is no such
thing as looking manly or womanly. There is looking beautiful or ugly,
distinguished or commonplace, individual or insignificant. The one law
of externals is beauty in all its various manifestations. To ask the sex
of a beautiful person is as absurd as it would be to ask the publisher
the sex of a beautiful book. Such questions are for midwives and
doctors.

It was once the fashion for heroes to shed tears on the smallest
occasion, and it does not appear that they fought the worse for it; some
of the firmest, bravest, most undaunted, most dignified, most noble,
most stately human beings have been women; as some of the softest,
mildest, most pitiful and flexible, most kind, civil, obliging, humane,
tender, timorous and modest human beings have been men. Indeed, some of
the bravest men that ever trod this planet have worn corsets, and it
needs more courage nowadays for a man to wear his hair long than to
machine-gun a whole African nation. Moreover, quite the nicest women one
knows ride bicycles--in the rational costume.



THE FALLACY OF A NATION

It is, I am given to understand, a familiar axiom of mathematics that no
number of ciphers placed in front of significant units, or tens or
hundreds of units, adds in the smallest degree to the numerical value of
those units. The figure one becomes of no more importance however many
noughts are marshalled in front of it--though, indeed, in the
mathematics of human nature this is not so. Is not a man or woman
considered great in proportion to the number of ciphers that walk in
front of him, from a humble brace of domestics to guards of honour and
imperial armies?

A parallel profound truth of mathematics is that a nought, however many
times it be multiplied, remains nought; but again we find the reverse
obtain in the mathematics of human nature. One might have supposed that
the result of one nobody multiplied even fifty million times would still
be nobody. However, such is far from being the case. Fifty million
nobodies make--a nation. Of course, there is no need for so many. I am
reckoning as a British subject, and speak of fifty million merely as an
illustration of the general fact that it is the multiplication of
nobodies that makes a nation. 'Increase and multiply' was, it will be
remembered, the recipe for the Jewish nation.

Nobodies of the same colour, tongue, and prejudices have but to
congregate together in a crowd sufficiently big for other similar crowds
to recognise them, and then they are given a name of their own, and
become recognised as a nation--one of the 'Great Powers.'

Beyond those differences in colour, tongue, and prejudices there is
really no difference between the component units--or rather ciphers--of
all these several national crowds. You have seen a procession of various
trades-unions filing toward Hyde Park, each section with its particular
banner with a strange device: 'The United Guild of Paperhangers,' 'The
Ancient Order of Plumbers,' and so on. And you may have marvelled to
notice how alike the members of the various carefully differentiated
companies were. So to say, they each and all might have been plumbers;
and you couldn't help feeling that it wouldn't have mattered much if
some of the paper-hangers had by mistake got walking amongst the
plumbers, or _vice versa_.

So the great trades-unions of the world file past, one with the odd word
'Russia' on its banner; another boasting itself 'Germany'--this with a
particularly bumptious and self-important young man walking backward in
front of it, in the manner of a Salvation Army captain, and imperiously
waving an iron wand; still another 'nation' calling itself 'France'; and
yet another boasting the biggest brass band, and called 'England.' Other
smaller bodies of nobodies, that is, smaller nations, file past with
humbler tread--though there is really no need for their doing so. For,
as we have said, they are in every particular like to those haughtier
nations who take precedence of them. In fact, one or two of them, such
as Norway and Denmark--were a truer system of human mathematics to
obtain--are really of more importance than the so-called greater
nations, in that among their nobodies they include a larger percentage
of intellectual somebodies.

Remembering that percentage of wise men, the formula of a nation were
perhaps more truly stated in our first mathematical image. The wise men
in a nation are as the units with the noughts in front of them. And when
I say wise men I do not, indeed, mean merely the literary men or the
artists, but all those somebodies with some real force of character,
people with brains and hearts, fighters and lovers, saints and thinkers,
and the patient, industrious workers. Such, if you consider, are really
no integral part of the nation among which they are cast. They have no
part in what are grandiloquently called national interests--war,
politics, and horse-racing to wit. A change of Government leaves them as
unmoved as an election for the board of guardians. They would as soon
think of entering Parliament or the County Council, as of yearning to
manage the gasworks, or to go about with one of those carts bearing the
legend 'Aldermen and Burgesses of the City of London' conspicuously upon
its front. Their main concern in political changes is the rise and fall
of the income-tax, and, be the Cabinet Tory or Liberal, their rate
papers come in for the same amount. It is likely that national changes
would affect them but little more. What more would a foreign invasion
mean than that we should pay our taxes to French, Russian, or German
officials, instead of to English ones? French and Italians do our
cooking, Germans manage our music, Jews control our money markets;
surely it would make little difference to us for France, Russia, or
Germany to undertake our government. The worst of being conquered by
Russia would be the necessity of learning Russian; whereas a little
rubbing up of our French would make us comfortable with France. Besides,
to be conquered by France would save us crossing the Channel to Paris,
and then we might hope for cafés in Regent Street, and an emancipated
literature. As a matter of fact, so-called national interests are merely
certain private interests on a large scale, the private interests of
financiers, ambitious politicians, soldiers, and great merchants.
Broadly speaking, there are no rival nations--there are rival markets;
and it is its Board of Trade and its Stock Exchange rather than its
Houses of Parliament that virtually govern a country. Thus one seaport
goes down and another comes up, industries forsake one country to bless
another, the military and naval strengths of nations fluctuate this way
and that; and to those whom these changes affect they are undoubtedly
important matters--the great capitalist, the soldier, and the
politician; but to the quiet man at home with his wife, his children,
his books, and his flowers, to the artist busied with brave translunary
matters, to the saint with his eyes filled with 'the white radiance of
eternity,' to the shepherd on the hillside, the milkmaid in love, or the
angler at his sport--what are these pompous commotions, these busy,
bustling mimicries of reality? England will be just as good to live in
though men some day call her France. Let the big busybodies divide her
amongst them as they like, so that they leave one alone with one's fair
share of the sky and the grass, and an occasional, not too vociferous,
nightingale.

The reader will perhaps forgive the hackneyed references to Sir Thomas
Browne peacefully writing his _Religio Medici_ amid all the commotions
of the Civil War, and to Gautier calmly correcting the proofs of his new
poems during the siege of Paris. The milkman goes his rounds amid the
crash of empires. It is not his business to fight. His business is to
distribute his milk--as much after half-past seven as may be
inconvenient. Similarly, the business of the thinker is with his
thought, the poet with his poetry. It is the business of politicians to
make national quarrels, and the business of the soldier to fight them.
But as for the poet--let him correct his proofs, or beware the printer.

The idea, then, of a nation is a grandiloquent fallacy in the interests
of commerce and ambition, political and military. All the great and
good, clever and charming people belong to one secret nation, for which
there is no name unless it be the Chosen People. These are the lost
tribes of love, art, and religion, lost and swamped amid alien peoples,
but ever dreaming of a time when they shall meet once more in Jerusalem.

Yet though they are thus aliens, taking and wishing no part in the
organisation of the 'nations' among which they dwell, this does not
prevent those nations taking part and credit in them. And whenever a
brave soldier wins a battle, or an intrepid traveller discovers a new
land, his particular nation flatters itself, as though it--the million
nobodies--had done it. With a profound indifference to, indeed an active
dislike of, art and poetry, there is nothing on which a nation prides
itself so much as upon its artists and poets, whom, invariably, it
starves, neglects, and even insults, as long as it is not too silly to
do so.

Thus the average Englishman talks of Shakespeare--as though he himself
had written the plays; of India--as though he himself had conquered it.
And thus grow up such fictions as 'national greatness' and 'public
opinion.'

For what is 'national greatness' but the glory reflected from the
memories of a few great individuals? and what is 'public opinion' but
the blustering echoes of the opinion of a few clever young men on the
morning papers?

For how can people in themselves little become great by merely
congregating into a crowd, however large? And surely fools do not become
wise, or worth listening to, merely by the fact of their banding
together.

A 'public opinion' on any matter except football, prize-fighting, and
perhaps cricket, is merely ridiculous--by whatever brutal physical
powers it may be enforced--ridiculous as a town council's opinion upon
art; and a nation is merely a big fool with an army.



THE GREATNESS OF MAN

Ignorant, as I inevitably am, dear reader, of your intellectual and
spiritual upbringing, I can hardly guess whether the title of my article
will impress you as a platitude or as a paradox. Goodness knows, some
men and women think quite enough of themselves as it is, and, from a
certain momentary point of view, there may seem little occasion indeed
to remind man of his importance.

I refer to your intellectual and spiritual upbringing, because I venture
to wonder if it was in the least like my own. I was brought up, I
rejoice to say, in the bosom of an orthodox Puritan family. I was led
and driven to believe that man was everybody, and that God was
somebody--and that not merely the Sabbath, but the whole universe, was
made for man: that the stars were his bedtime candles, and that the sun
arose to ensure his catching the 8.37 of a morning.

On this belief I acted for many years. Every young man believes that
there is no god but God, and that he is born to be His prophet--though
perhaps that belief is not so common nowadays. I am speaking of many
years ago.

Science, however, has long since changed all that. Those terrible Muses,
geology, astronomy, and particularly biology, have reduced man to a
humility which, if in some degree salutary, becomes in its excess highly
dangerous. Why should one maggot in this great cheese of the world take
itself more seriously than others? Why dream mightily and do bravely if
we are but a little higher than the beasts that perish? Nature cares
nothing about us, and her giant forces laugh at our fancies. The world
has no such meaning as we thought. Poets and saints, deluded by
unhealthy imaginations, have misled us, and it is quite likely that the
wild waves are really saying nothing more important than 'Beecham's
Pills.'

'Give us a definition of life,' I asked a certain famous scientist and
philosopher whom I am privileged to call my friend.

'Nothing easier!' he gaily replied. 'Life is a product of solar energy,
falling upon the carbon compounds, on the outer crust of a particular
planet, in a particular corner of the solar system.'

'And that,' I said, 'really satisfies you as a definition of life--of
all the wistful wonder of the world!' And as I spoke I thought of Moses
with mystically shining face upon the Mount of the Law, of Ezekiel rapt
in his divine fancies, of Socrates drinking his cup of hemlock, of
Christ's agony in the garden; the golden faces of the great of the world
passed as in a dream before me,--soldiers, saints, poets, and lovers. I
thought of Horatius on the bridge, of the holy and gentle soul of St.
Francis, of Chatterton in his splendid despair, and in fancy I went with
the awestruck citizens of Verona to reverently gaze at the bodies of two
young lovers who had counted the world well lost if they might only
leave it together.

The carbon compounds!

I took down _Romeo and Juliet_, listened to its passionate spheral
music, and the carbon compounds have never troubled me again.

Love laughs at the carbon compounds, and a great book, a noble act, a
beautiful face, make nonsense of such cheap formula for the mystery of
human life.

Yet this parable of the carbon compounds is a fair sample of all that
science can tell us when we come to ultimates. We go away from its
oracles with a mouthful of sounding words, which may seem very
impressive till we examine their emptiness. What, for example, is all
this rigmarole about solar energy and the carbon compounds but a more
pompous way of putting the old scriptural statement that man was made of
the dust of the ground? To say that God took a handful of dust and
breathed upon it and it became man, is no harder to realise than that
solar rays falling upon that dust should produce humanity and all the
various phantasmagoria of life. If anything, it is more explanatory. It
leaves us with an inspiring mystery for explanation.

In saying this, I do not forget our debt to science. It has done much
in clearing our minds of cant, in popularising more systematic thinking,
and in instituting sounder methods of observation. In some directions it
has deepened our sense of wonder. It has broadened our conception of the
universe, though I fear it has been at the expense of narrowing our
conception of man. With Hamlet it contemptuously says, 'What is this
quintessence of dust!' It is so impressed by the mileage and tonnage of
the universe, so abased before the stupendous measurements of the
cosmos, the appalling infinity and eternity of its space and time, that
it forgets the marvel of the mind that can grasp all these conceptions,
forgets, too, that, big and bullying as the forces of nature may be, man
has been able in a large measure to control, indeed to domesticate,
them. Surely the original fact of lightning is little more marvellous
than the power of man to turn it into his errand-boy or his horse, to
light his rooms with it, and imprison it in pennyworths, like the genius
in the bottle, in the underground railway. Mere size seems unimpressive
when we contemplate such an extreme of littleness as say the ant, that
pin-point of a personality, that mere speck of being, yet including
within its infinitesimal proportions a clever, busy brain, a soldier, a
politician, and a merchant. That such and so many faculties should have
room to operate within that tiny body--there is a marvel before which,
it seems to me, the billions of miles that keep us from falling into the
jaws of the sun, and the tonnage of Jupiter, are comparatively
insignificant and conceivable.

No, we must not allow ourselves to be frightened by the mere size and
weight of the universe, or be depressed because our immediate genealogy
is not considered aristocratic. Perhaps, after all, we are sons of God,
and as Mr. Meredith finely puts it, our life here may still be

  '... a little holding
  To do a mighty service.'

'Things of a day!' exclaims Pindar. 'What is a man? What is a man not?'

It is good for our Nebuchadnezzars, the kings of the world, and
conceited, successful people generally, to measure themselves against
the great powers of the universe, to humble their pride by contemplation
of the fixed stars; but a too humble attitude toward the Infinite, a too
constant pondering upon eternity, is not good for us, unless, so to say,
we can live with them as friends, with the inspiring feeling that,
little as we may seem, there is that in us which is no less infinite, no
less cosmic, and that our passions and dreams have, as Mr. William
Watson puts it, 'a relish of eternity.'

Readers of Amiel's 'Journal' will know what a sterilising, petrifying
influence his trance-like contemplation of the Infinite had upon his
life. Amiel was simply hypnotised by the universe, as a man may
hypnotise himself by gazing fixedly at a star.

Mr. Pater, you will remember, has a remarkable study of a similar
temperament in his _Imaginary Portraits_. Sebastian van Storck, like
Amiel, had become hypnotised by the Infinite. It paralysed in him all
impulse or power 'to be or do any limited thing.'

'For Sebastian, at least,' we read, 'the world and the individual alike
had been divested of all effective purpose. The most vivid of finite
objects, the dramatic episodes of Dutch history, the brilliant
personalities which had found their parts to play in them, that golden
art, surrounding one with an ideal world, beyond which the real world
was discernible indeed, but etherealised by the medium through which it
came to one; all this, for most men so powerful a link to existence,
only set him on the thought of escape--into a formless and nameless
infinite world, evenly grey.... Actually proud, at times, of his
curious, well-reasoned nihilism, he could but regard what is called the
business of life as no better than a trifling and wearisome delay.'

This mood, once confined to a few mystics is likely to become a common
one, is already, one imagines, far from infrequent--so the increase of
suicide would lead us to suppose. Robbed of his hope of a glorious
immortality, stripped of his spiritual significance, bullied and
belittled by science on every hand, man not unnaturally begins to feel
that it is no use taking his life seriously, that, in fact, it betrays a
lack of humour to do so. While he was a supernatural being, a son of
God, it was with him a case of _noblesse oblige_; and while he is happy
and comfortable he doesn't mind giving up the riddle of the world. It is
only the unhappy that ever really think. But what is he to do when agony
and despair come upon him, when all that made his life worth living is
taken from him? How is he to sustain himself? where shall he look for
his strength or his hope? He looks up at the sky full of stars, but he
is told that God is not there, that the city of God is long since a
ruin, and that owls hoot to each other across its moss-grown fanes and
battlements; he looks down on the earth, full of graves, a vast
necropolis of once radiant dreams, with the living for its
phantoms,--and there is no comfort anywhere. Happy is he if some simple
human duty be at hand, which he may go on doing blindly and
dumbly--till, perhaps, the light come again. It is difficult to offer
comfort to such a one. Comfort is cheap, and we know nothing. When life
holds nothing for our love and delight, it is difficult to explain why
we should go on living it--except on the assumption that it matters,
that it is, in some mystical way, supremely important, how we live it,
and what we make of those joys and sorrows which, say some, are but
meant as mystical trials and tests.

Sebastian van Storck refused 'to be or do any limited thing,' but the
answer to his mysticism is to be found in a finer mysticism, that which
says that there is no limited act or thing, but that the significance,
as well as the pathos, of eternity is in our smallest joys and sorrows,
as in our most everyday transactions, and the greatness of God incarnate
in His humblest child.

This, the old doctrine of the microcosm, seems in certain moments,
moments one would wish to say, of divination, strangely plain and
clear--when, in Blake's words, it seems so easy to

  '... see a world in a grain of sand,
    And a heaven in a wild flower;
  Hold infinity in the palm of your hand
    And Eternity in an hour.'

Perhaps in the street, an effect of light, a passing face, yes, even the
plaintive grind of a street organ, some such everyday circumstance,
affects you suddenly in quite a strange way. It has become
universalised. It is no longer a detail of the Strand, but a cryptic
symbol of human life. It has been transfigured into a thing of infinite
pathos and infinite beauty, and, sad or glad, brings to you an
inexplicable sense of peace, an unshakable conviction that man is a
spirit, that his life is indeed of supreme and lovely significance, and
that his destiny is secure and blessed.

Matthew Arnold, ever sensitive to such spiritual states, has described
these trance-like visitations in 'The Buried Life'--

  'Only, but this is rare--
  When a beloved hand is laid in ours,
  When, jaded with the rush and glare
  Of the interminable hours,
  Our eyes can in another's eyes read clear,
  When our world-deafen'd ear
  Is by the tones of a loved voice caress'd--
  A bolt is shot back somewhere in our breast,
  And a lost pulse of feeling stirs again:
  The eye sinks inward, and the heart lies plain,
  And what we mean, we say, and what we would, we know.
  A man becomes aware of his life's flow,
  And hears its winding murmur; and he sees
  The meadows where it glides, the sun, the breeze.

  'And there arrives a lull in the hot race
  Wherein he doth for ever chase
  That flying and elusive shadow, rest.
  An air of coolness plays upon his face,
  And an unwonted calm pervades his breast.
  And then he thinks he knows
  The hills where his life rose,
  And the sea where it goes.'

'To be or do any limited thing'! What indeed, we ask in such hours, is a
limited thing, when all the humble interests of our daily life are
palpably big with eternity? Is the first kiss of a great love a limited
thing? though there is, unhappily, no denying that it comes to an end!
When a young husband and wife smile across to each other above the sleep
of their little child--is that a limited thing? When the siren voices of
the world blend together on the lips of a young poet, and with rapt eyes
and hot heart he makes a song as of the morning stars--is that a limited
thing? Are love, and genius, and duty done in the face of death--are
these limited things? I think not--and man, indeed, knows better.

Greatness is not relative. It is absolute. It is not for man to depress
himself by measuring himself against the eternities and the immensities
external to him. What he has to do is to look inward upon himself, to
fathom the eternities and the immensities in his own heart and brain.

And the more man sees himself forsaken by the universe, the more
opportunity to vindicate his own greatness. Is there no kind heart
beating through the scheme of things?--man's heart shall still be kind.
Will the eternal silence make mock of his dreams and his idealisms,
laugh coldly at 'the splendid purpose in his eyes'? Well, so be it. His
dreams and idealisms are none the less noble things, and if the gods do
thus make mock of mortal joy and pain--let us be grateful that we were
born mere men.

Moreover, he has one great answer to the universe--the answer of
courage. He is still Prometheus, and there is no limit to what he can
bear. Let the vultures of pain rend his heart as they will, he can still
hiss 'coward' in the face of the Eternal. Nay, he can even laugh at his
sufferings--thanks to the spirit of humour, that most blessed of
ministering angels, without which surely the heart of humanity had long
since broken, by which man is able to look with a comical eye upon
terrors, as it were taking themselves so seriously, coming with such
Olympian thunders and lightnings to break the spirit of a mere six foot
of earth!

But while his courage and his humour are defences of which he cannot be
disarmed, whatever be the intention of the Eternal, it is by no means
certain that nature does not mean kindly by man. Perhaps the pain of the
world is but the rough horseplay of great powers that mean but jest--and
kill us in it: as though one played at 'tick' with an elephant!

Perhaps, after all,--who knows?--God is love, and His great purpose
kind.

Surely, when you think of it, the existence in man of the senses of love
and pity implies the probability of their existence elsewhere in the
universe too.

  'Into that breast which brings the rose
  Shall I with shuddering fall.'

So runs the profoundest thought in modern poetry--and need I say it is
Mr. Meredith's?

As the fragrance and colour of the rose must in some occult way be
properties of the rude earth from which they are drawn by the sun, may
not human love also be a kindly property of matter--that mysterious
life-stuff in which is packed such marvellous potentialities? Evidently
love must be somewhere in the universe--else it had not got into the
heart of man; and perhaps pity slides down like an angel in the rays of
the solar energy, while there is the potential beating of a human heart
even in the hard crust of the carbon compounds.

I confess that this seems to me no mere fancy, but a really comforting
speculation. Pain, we say, is inherent in the scheme of the universe;
but is not love seen to be no less inherent, too?

There must be some soul of beauty to animate the lovely face of the
world, some soul of goodness to account for its saints. If the gods are
cruel, it is strange that man should be so kind, and that some pathetic
spirit of tenderness should seem to stir even in the bosoms of beasts
and birds.

Meanwhile, we cannot too often insist that, whatever uncertainties there
be, man has one certainty--himself. Science has really adduced nothing
essential against his significance. That he is not as big as an Alp, as
heavy as a star, or as long-lived as an eagle, is nothing against his
proper importance. Even a nobleman is of more significance in the world
than his acres, and giants are not proverbial for their intellectual or
spiritual qualities. The ant is of more importance than the ass, and the
great eye of a beautiful woman is more significant than the whole clayey
bulk of Mars.

After all the scientific mockery of the old religious ideal of the
importance of man, one begins to wonder if his Ptolemaic fancy that he
was the centre of the universe, and that it was all made for him, is not
nearer the If truth than the pitiless theories which hardly allow him
equality with the flea that perishes.

Suppose if, after all, the stars were really meant as his bedtime
candles, and the sun's purpose in rising is really that he may catch the
8.37!

For, as Sir Thomas Browne says in his solemn English, 'there is surely a
piece of Divinity in us, something that was before the elements, and
owes no homage unto the sun.'

The long winter of materialistic science seems to be breaking up, and
the old ideals are seen trooping back with something more than their old
beauty, in the new spiritual spring that seems to be moving in the
hearts of men.

After all its talk, science has done little more than correct the
misprints of religion. Essentially, the old spiritualistic and poetic
theories of life are seen, not merely weakly to satisfy the cravings of
man's nature, but to be mostly in harmony with certain strange and
moving facts in his constitution, which the materialists
unscientifically ignore.

It was important, and has been helpful, to insist that man is an animal,
but it is still more important to insist that he is a spirit as well. He
is, so to say, an animal by accident, a spirit by birthright: and,
however homely his duties may occasionally seem, his life is bathed in
the light of a sacred transfiguring significance, its smallest acts
flash with divine meanings, its highest moments are rich with 'the
pathos of eternity,' and its humblest duties mighty with the
responsibilities of a god.



DEATH AND TWO FRIENDS

_A DIALOGUE_

(_To the Memory of J.S. and T.C.L._)

PERSONS: SCRIPTOR AND LECTOR.

[This dialogue was written originally as a rejoinder to certain
criticisms on a book of mine entitled, _The Religion of a Literary
Man_--_Religio Scriptoris_--hence the names given to the two 'persons.'
It was written in March 1894, before an event in the writer's life to
which, erroneously, some have supposed it to refer.]


LECTOR. But do you really mean, Scriptor, that you have no desire for
the life after death?

SCRIPTOR. I never said quite that, Lector, though perhaps I might almost
have gone so far. What I did say was that we have been accustomed to
exaggerate its importance to us here and now, that it really matters
less to us than we imagine.

LECTOR. I see. But you must speak for yourself, Scriptor. I am sure that
it matters much to many, to most of us. It does, I know, to me.

SCRIPTOR. Less than you think, my dear Lector. Besides, you are really
too young to know. It is true that, as years go, you are ten years my
senior, but what of that? You have that vigorous health which is the
secret of perpetual youth. You have not yet realised decay, not to speak
of death. The immortality of the soul is a question wide of you, who
have as yet practically no doubt of the immortality of the body. But
I--well, it would be melodramatic to say that I face death every day.
The metaphor applies but to desperate callings and romantic complaints.
To some Death comes like a footpad, suddenly, and presents his
pistol--and the smoke that curls upward from his empty barrel is your
soul.

To another he comes featureless, a stealthily accumulating London fog,
that slowly, slowly chokes the life out of you, without allowing you the
consolation of a single picturesque moment, a single grand attitude. For
you, probably, Death will only come when you die. I have to live with
him as well. I shall smoulder for years, you will be carried to heaven,
like Enoch, in a beautiful lightning.

        'A simple child
    That lightly draws its breath,
    And feels its life in every limb,
    What can it know of Death?'

That's you, my dear Lector, for all your forty years.

LECTOR. All the more reason, Scriptor, that you should desire a
hereafter. You sometimes talk of the work you would do if you were a
robust Philistine such as I. Would it not be worth while to live
again, if only to make sure of that _magnum opus_--just to realise
those dreams that you say are daily escaping you?

SCRIPTOR. Ah! so speaks the energetic man, eager to take the world on
his shoulders. I know the images of death that please you,
Lector--such as that great one of Arnold's, about 'the sounding
labour-house vast of being.'

But, Lector, you who love work so well--have you never heard tell of
a thing called Rest? Have you never known what it is to be tired, my
Lector?--not tired at the end of a busy day, but tired in the morning,
tired in the Memnonian sunlight, when larks and barrel-organs start on
their blithe insistent rounds. No, the man who is tired of a morning
sings not music-hall songs in his bedroom as he dashes about in his
morning bath. But will you never want to go to bed, Lector? Will you
be always like the children who hate to be sent to bed, and think that
when they are grown up they will never go to bed at all? Yet in a few
years' time how glad they are of the stray chance of bed at ten. May
it not be so with sleep's twin-brother? In our young vigour, driven by
a hundred buoyant activities, enticed by dream on dream, time seems so
short for all we think we have to do; but surely when the blood begins
to thin, and the heart to wax less extravagantly buoyant, when comfort
croons a kettle-song whose simple spell no sirens of ambition or
romance can overcome--don't you think that then 'bedtime' will come to
seem the best hour of the day, and 'Death as welcome as a friend would
fall'?

LECTOR. But you are no fair judge, Scriptor. You say my health, my
youth, as you waggishly call it, puts me out of court. Yet surely your
ill-health and low spirits just as surely vitiate your judgment?

SCRIPTOR. Admitted, so far as my views are the outcome of my
particular condition. But you forget that the condition I have been
supposing is not merely particular, but, on the contrary, the most
general among men. Was it not old age?--which, like youth, is
independent of years. You may be young beyond your years, I may be old
in advance of them; but old age does come some time, and with it the
desire of rest.

LECTOR. But does not old age spend most of its thought in dwelling
fondly on its lost youth, hanging like a remote sunrise in its
imagination? Is it not its one yearning desire just to live certain
hours of its youth over again?--and would the old man not give all he
possesses for the certainty of being born young again into eternity?

SCRIPTOR. He would give everything--but the certainty of rest. After
seventy years of ardent life one needs a long sleep to refresh us
in. Besides, age may not be so sure of the advantages of youth. All is
not youth that laughs and glitters. Youth has its hopes, which are
uncertain; but age has its memories, which are sure; youth has its
passions, but age has its comforts.

LECTOR. Your answers come gay and pat, Scriptor, but your voice
betrays you. In spite of you, it saddens all your words. Tell me, have
you ever known what it is actually to lose any one who is dear to you?
Have you looked on death face to face?

SCRIPTOR. Yes, Lector, I have--but once. It is now about five years
ago, but the impression of it haunts me to this hour. Perhaps the
memory is all the keener because it was my one experience. In a world
where custom stales all things, save Cleopatra, it is all the better
perhaps not to see even too much of Death, lest we grow familiar with
him. For instance, doctors and soldiers, who look on him daily, seem
to lose the sense of his terror--nay, worse, of his tragedy. Maybe it
is something in his favour, and Death, like others, may only need to
be known to be loved.

LECTOR. But tell me, Scriptor, of this sad experience, which even now
it moves you to name; or is the memory too sad to recall?

SCRIPTOR. Sad enough, Lector, but beautiful for all that, beautiful as
winter. It was winter when she of whom I am thinking died--a winter
that seemed to make death itself whiter and colder on her marble
forehead. It is but one sad little story of all the heaped-up sorrow
of the world; but in it, as in a shell, I seem to hear the murmur of
all the tides of tears that have surged about the lot of man from the
beginning.

There were two dear friends of mine whom I used to call the happiest
lovers in the world. They had loved truly from girlhood and boyhood,
and after some struggle--for they were not born into that class which
is denied the luxury of struggle--at length saw a little home bright
in front of them. And then Jenny, who had been ever bright and strong,
suddenly and unaccountably fell ill. Like the stroke of a sword, like
the stride of a giant, Death, to whom they had never given a thought,
was upon them. It was consumption, and love could only watch and
pray. Suddenly my friend sent for me, and I saw with my own eyes what
at a distance it had seemed impossible to believe. As I entered the
house, with the fresh air still upon me, I spoke confidently, with
babbling ignorant tongue. 'Wait till you see her face!' was all my
poor stricken friend could say.

Ah! her face! How can I describe it?  It was much sweeter afterwards,
but now it was so dark and witchlike, so uncanny, almost wicked, so
thin and full of inky shadows. She sat up in her bed, a wizened little
goblin, and laughed a queer, dry, knowing laugh to herself, a laugh
like the scraping of reeds in a solitary place. A strange black
weariness seemed to be crushing down her brows, like the 'unwilling
sleep' of a strong narcotic. She would begin a sentence and let it
wither away unfinished, and point sadly and almost humorously to her
straight black hair, clammy as the feathers of a dead bird lying in
the rain. Her hearing was strangely keen. And yet she did not know,
was not to know. How was one to talk to her--talk of being well again,
and books and country walks, when she had so plainly done with all
these things? How bear up when she, with a half-sad, half-amused
smile, showed her thin wrists?--how say that they would soon be strong
and round again?  Ugh! she was already beginning to be different from
us, already putting off our body-sweet mortality, and putting on the
fearful garments of death, changing before our eyes from ruddy
familiar humanity into a being of another element, an element we dread
as the fish dreads the air. Soon we should not be able to talk to
her. Soon she would have unlearnt all the sweet grammar of earth. She
was no longer Jenny, but a fearful symbol of mysteries at which the
flesh crept. She was going to die.

Have you never looked ahead towards some trial, some physical trial,
maybe an operation?--for perhaps the pains of the body are the
keenest, after all--those of the spirit are at least in some part
metaphor. You look forward with dread, yet it is at last over. It is
behind you. And have you never thought that so it will be with death
some day? Poor little Jenny was to face the great operation.

Next time I saw her she was dead. In our hateful English fashion, they
had shut her up in a dark room, and we had to take candles to see
her. I shall never forget the moment when my eyes first rested on that
awful snow-white sheet, so faintly indented by the fragile form
beneath, lines very fragile, but oh! so hard and cold, like the
indentations upon frozen snow; never forget my strange unaccountable
terror when he on one side and I on the other turned down the icy
sheet from her face. But terror changed to awe and reverence, as her
face came upon us with its sweet sphinx-like smile. Lying there, with
a little gold chain round her neck and a chrysanthemum in the bosom of
her night-gown, there was a curious regality about her, a look as
though she wore a crown our eyes were unable to see. And while I gazed
upon her, the sobs of my friend came across the bed, and as he called
to her I seemed to hear the eternal Orpheus calling for his lost
Eurydice. Poor lad!--poor maid!  Here, naked and terrible, was all the
tragedy of the world compressed into an hour, the Medusa-face of life
that turns the bravest to stone. Surely, I felt, God owed more than He
could ever repay to these two lovers, whom it had been so easy to
leave to their simple joys. And from that night to this I can never
look upon my white bed without seeing afar off the moment when it,
too, will bear the little figure of her I love best in the world,
bound for her voyage to the Minotaur Death; just as I never put off my
clothes at night, and stretch my limbs down among the cool sheets,
without thinking of the night when I shall put off my clothes for the
last time and close my eyes for ever.

LECTOR. But, my friend, this is to feel too much; it is morbid.

SCRIPTOR. Morbid! How can one really _feel_ and not be morbid? If one
be morbid, one can still be brave.

LECTOR. But surely, true-lover as you are, it would be a joy to you to
think that this terrible parting of death will not be final. We cannot
love so well without hoping that we may meet our loved ones somewhere
after death.

SCRIPTOR. Hopes! wishes! desires! What of them? We hope, we _desire_
all things. Who has not cried for the moon in his time?  But what is
the use of talking of what we desire? Does life give us all we wish,
however passionately we wish it, and is Death any more likely to
listen to the cry of our desires? Of course we _wish it_, wish it with
a pathetic urgency which is too poignant to bear, and which the wise
man bravely stifles. It would all be different if we _knew_.

LECTOR. But does not science even, of late, hold out the promise of
its probability?--and the greatest poets and thinkers have always been
convinced of its truth.

SCRIPTOR. The promise of a probability!  O my Lector, what a poor
substitute is that for a certainty! And as for the great men you speak
of, what does their 'instinctive' assurance amount to but a strong
sense of their own existence at the moment of writing or speaking?
Does one of them anywhere assert immortality as a _fact_--a fact of
which he has his own personal proof and knowledge--a scientific, not
an imaginative, theological fact? Arguments on the subject are
naught. It is waste of time to read them; unsupported by fact, they
are one and all cowardly dreams, a horrible hypocritical clutching at
that which their writers have not the courage to forgo.

LECTOR. Yet may not a dream be of service to reality, my friend? Is it
not certain that people are all the better and all the happier for
this dream, as you call it?--for what seems to me this sustaining
faith?

SCRIPTOR. Happier? Some people, perhaps, in a lazy, unworthy
fashion. But 'better'? Well, so long as we believed in 'eternal
punishment' no doubt people were sometimes terrified into 'goodness'
by the picture of that dread vista of torment, as no doubt they were
bribed into it by the companion picture of a green unbounded Paradise;
but, O my friend, what an unworthy kind of goodness, the mere mask of
virtue! And now that the Inferno has practically disappeared from our
theology, the belief in eternal life simply means unlimited cakes and
ale, for good and evil alike, for all eternity. How such a belief can
be moralising I fail to understand. To my mind, indeed, far from being
moralising, this belief in immortality is responsible for no
inconsiderable portion of the wrong and misery of the world. It is the
baneful narcotic which has soothed the selfish and the slothful from
the beginning. It is that unlimited credit which makes the bankrupt.
It simply gives us all eternity to procrastinate in. Instead of
manfully eating our peck of dirt here and now, we leave it and all
such disagreeables to the hereafter.

  'He said, "I believe in Eternal Life,"
  As he threw his life away--
      What need to hoard?
      He could well afford
  To squander his mortal day.
  With Eternity his, what need to care?--
  A sort of immortal millionaire.'

LECTOR. I am glad to be reminded, Scriptor, that you are a poet, for the
line of your argument had almost made me forget it. One expects other
views from a poet.

SCRIPTOR. When, my dear Lector, shall we get rid of the silly idea that
the poet should give us only the ornamental view of life, and rock us to
sleep, like babies, with pretty lullabies? Is it not possible to make
_facts_ sing as well as fancies? With all this beautiful world to sing
of--for beautiful it is, however it be marred; with this wonderful
life--and wonderful and sweet it is though it is shot through with such
bitter pain; with such _certainties_ for his theme, we yet beg him to
sing to us of shadows!

And you talk of 'faith.' 'Faith' truly is what we want, but it is faith
in the life here, not in the life hereafter. Faith in the life here! Let
our poets sing us that. And such as would deny it--I would hang them as
enemies of society.

LECTOR. But, at all events, to keep to our point--you at least _hope_
for immortality. If Edison, say, were suddenly to discover it for us as
a scientific certainty, you would welcome the news?

SCRIPTOR. Well, yes and no! Have you seen the 'penny' phonographs in the
Strand? You should go and have a pennyworth of the mysteries of time and
space! How long will Edison's latest magic toy survive this
popularisation, I wonder? For a little moment it awakens the sense of
wonder in the idly curious, who set the demon tube to their ears; but if
they make any remarks at all, it is of the cleverness of Mr. Edison,
the probable profits of the invention--and not a word of the wonder of
the world! So it would be with the undiscovered country. I was blamed
the other day as being cheaply smart because I said that if 'one
traveller returned,' his resurrection would soon be as commonplace as
the telephone, and that enterprising firms would be interviewing him as
to the prospects of opening branch establishments in Hades. Yet it is a
perfectly serious, and, I think, true remark; for who that knows the
modern man, with his small knowingness, and his utter incapacity for
reverence, would doubt that were Mr. Edison actually to be the Columbus
of the Unseen, it would soon be as overrun with gaping tourists as
Switzerland, and that within a year railway companies would be
advertising 'Bank-holidays in Eternity'?

No! let us keep the Unseen--or, if it must be discovered, let the key
thereof be given only to true-lovers and poets.



A SEAPORT IN THE MOON


No one is so hopelessly wrong about the stars as the astronomer, and I
trust that you never pay any attention to his remarks on the moon. He
knows as much about the moon as a coiffeur knows of the dreams of the
fair lady whose beautiful neck he makes still more beautiful. There is
but one opinion upon the moon--namely, our own. And if you think that
science is thus wronged, reflect a moment upon what science makes of
things near at hand. Love, it says, is merely a play of pistil and
stamen, our most fascinating poetry and art is 'degeneration,' and human
life, generally speaking, is sufficiently explained by the 'carbon
compounds'--God-a-mercy! If science makes such grotesque blunders about
radiant matters right under its nose, how can one think of taking its
opinion upon matters so remote as the stars--or even the moon, which is
comparatively near at hand?

Science says that the moon is a dead world, a cosmic ship littered with
the skeletons of its crew, and from which every rat of vitality has long
since escaped. It is the ghost that rises from its tomb every night, to
haunt its faithless lover, the world. It is a country of ancient
silver-mines, unworked for centuries. You may see the gaping mouths of
the dark old shafts through your telescopes. You may even see the
rusting pit tackle, the ruinous engine-houses, and the idle pick and
shovel. Or you may say that it is counterfeit silver, coined to take in
the young fools who love to gaze upon it. It is, so to speak, a bad
half-crown.

As you will! but I am of Endymion's belief--and no one was ever more
intimate with the moon. For me the moon is a country of great seaports,
whither all the ships of our dreams come home. From all quarters of the
world, every day of the week, there are ships sailing to the moon. They
are the ships that sail just when and where you please. You take your
passage on that condition. And it is ridiculous to think for what a
trifle the captain will take you on so long a journey. If you want to
come back, just to take an excursion and no more, just to take a lighted
look at those coasts of rose and pearl, he will ask no more than a glass
or two of bright wine--indeed, when the captain is very kind, a flower
will take you there and back in no time; if you want to stay whole days
there, but still come back dreamy and strange, you may take a little
dark root and smoke it in a silver pipe, or you may drink a little phial
of poppy-juice, and thus you shall find the Land of Heart's Desire; but
if you are wise and would stay in that land for ever, the terms are even
easier--a little powder shaken into a phial of water, a little piece of
lead no bigger than a pea, and a farthing's-worth of explosive fire, and
thus also you are in the Land of Heart's Desire for ever.

I dreamed last night that I stood on the blustering windy wharf, and the
dark ship was there. It was impatient, like all of us, to leave the
world. Its funnels belched black smoke, its engines throbbed against
the quay like arms that were eager to strike and be done, and a bell
was beating impatient summons to be gone. The dark captain stood ready
on the bridge, and he looked into each of our faces as we passed on
board. 'Is it for the long voyage?' he said. 'Yes! the long voyage,' I
said--and his stern eyes seemed to soften as I answered.

At last we were all aboard, and in the twinkling of an eye were out of
sight of land. Yet, once afloat, it seemed as though we should never
reach our port in the moon--so it seemed to me as I lay awake in my
little cabin, listening to the patient thud and throb of the great
screws, beating in the ship's side like a human heart.

Talking with my fellow-voyagers, I was surprised to find that we were
not all volunteers. Some, in fact, complained pitifully. They had, they
said, been going about their business a day or two before, and suddenly
a mysterious captain had laid hold of them, and pressed them to sail
this unknown sea. Thus, without a word of warning, they had been
compelled to leave behind them all they held dear. This, one felt, was a
little hard of the captain; but those of us whose position was exactly
the reverse, who had friends on the other side, all whose hopes indeed
were invested there, were too selfishly expectant of port to be severe
on the captain who was taking us thither.

There were three friends I had especially set out to see: two young
lovers who had emigrated to those colonies in the moon just after their
marriage, and there was another. What a surprise it would be to all
three, for I had written no letter to say I was coming. Indeed, it was
just a sudden impulse, the pistol-flash of a long desire.

I tried to imagine what the town would be like in which they were now
living. I asked the captain, and he answered with a sad smile that it
would be just exactly as I cared to dream it.

'Oh, well then,' I thought, 'I know what it will be like. There shall be
a great restless, tossing estuary, with Atlantic winds for ever ruffling
the sails of busy ships, ships coming home with laughter, ships leaving
home with sad sea-gull cries of farewell. And the shaggy tossing water
shall be bounded on either bank with high granite walls, and on one
bank shall be a fretted spire soaring with a jangle of bells, from amid
a tangle of masts, and underneath the bells and the masts shall go
streets rising up from the strand, streets full of faces, and sweet with
the smell of tar and the sea. O captain! will it be morning or night
when we come to my city? In the morning my city is like a sea-blown
rose, in the night it is bright as a sailor's star.

'If it be early morning, what shall I do? I shall run to the house in
which my friends lie in happy sleep, never to be parted again, and kiss
my hand to their shrouded window; and then I shall run on and on till
the city is behind and the sweetness of country lanes is about me, and I
shall gather flowers as I run, from sheer wantonness of joy; and then at
last, flushed and breathless, I shall stand beneath her window. I shall
stand and listen, and I shall hear her breathing right through the heavy
curtains, and the hushed garden and the sleeping house will bid me keep
silence, but I shall cry a great cry up to the morning star, and say,
"No, I will not keep silence. Mine is the voice she listens for in her
sleep. She will wake again for no voice but mine. Dear one, awake, the
morning of all mornings has come!"'

As I write, the moon looks down at me like a Madonna from the great
canvas of the sky. She seems beautiful with the beauty of all the eyes
that have looked up at her, sad with all the tears of all those eyes;
like a silver bowl brimming with the tears of dead lovers she seems.
Yes, there are seaports in the moon; there are ships to take us there.



THE END



Most of the foregoing essays have made a first appearance either in
_The Yellow Book_, _The Nineteenth Century_, _The Cosmopolitan_, _The
Westminster Gazette_, or _The Realm_, to the editors of which the writer
is indebted for kind permission to reprint.





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