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Title: A Boswell of Baghdad - With Diversions
Author: Lucas, E. V. (Edward Verrall), 1868-1938
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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A BOSWELL OF BAGHDAD



OTHER WORKS BY E. V. LUCAS

The Vermilion Box
Landmarks
Listener's Lure
Mr. Ingleside
Over Bemerton's
London Lavender
Cloud and Silver
Loiterer's Harvest
One Day and Another
Fireside and Sunshine
Character and Comedy
Old Lamps for New
The Hambledon Men
The Open Road
The Friendly Town
Her Infinite Variety
Good Company
The Gentlest Art
The Second Post
A Little of Everything
Harvest Home
Variety Lane
The Best of Lamb
The Life of Charles Lamb
A Swan and Her Friends
London Revisited
A Wanderer in Venice
A Wanderer in Paris
A Wanderer in London
A Wanderer in Holland
A Wanderer in Florence
The British School
Highways and Byways in Sussex
Anne's Terrible Good Nature
The Slowcoach
Remember Louvain!
Swollen-Headed William

and

The Pocket Edition of the Works of Charles
Lamb: I. Miscellaneous Prose; II. Elia;
III. Children's Books; IV. Poems and
Plays; V. and VI. Letters.



A BOSWELL OF
BAGHDAD

WITH DIVERSIONS

BY

E. V. LUCAS

THIRD EDITION

METHUEN & CO. LTD.
36 ESSEX STREET W.C.
LONDON

_This Book was First Published    September 20th 1917_

_Second Edition                   December       1917_

_Third Edition                            1918_



CONTENTS


                                          PAGE

A BOSWELL OF BAGHDAD                         1


DIVERSIONS--

  NURSES                                    93

  NO. 344260                                99

  THE TWO PERKINSES                        106

  ARTS OF INVASION                         118

  THE MARBLE ARCH AND PETER MAGNUS         128

  THE OLDEST JOKE                          133

  THE PUTTENHAMS                           140

  POETRY MADE EASY                         148

  A PIONEER                                153

  FULL CIRCLE                              158

  A FRIEND OF MAN                          164

  THE LISTENER                             171

  THE DARK SECRET                          176

  THE SCHOLAR AND THE PIRATE               180

  A SET OF THREE                           191

  A LESSON                                 196


ON BELLONA'S HEM (SECOND SERIES)--

  A REVEL IN GAMBOGIA                      201

  THE MISFIRE                              207

  A LETTER                                 212

  A MANOR IN THE AIR                       219

  RIVALRY                                  223

  A FIRST COMMUNION IN THE WAR ZONE        229

  THE ACE OF DIAMONDS                      234

  THE REWARD OF OUR BROTHER THE POILU      239

  NOTE                                     245



=A BOSWELL OF BAGHDAD=



A BOSWELL OF BAGHDAD

I.--INTRODUCTORY


A curious and very entertaining work lies before me, or, to be more
accurate, ramparts me, for it is in four ponderous volumes, capable,
each, even in less powerful hands than those of the Great Lexicographer,
of felling a bookseller. At these volumes I have been sipping, beelike,
at odd times for some years, and I now propose to yield some of the
honey--the season having become timely, since the great majority of the
heroes of its thousands of pages hail from Baghdad; and Baghdad, after
all its wonderful and intact Oriental past, is to-day under Britain's
thumb.

The title of the book is _Ibn Khallikan's Biographical Dictionary_,
translated from the Arabic by Bn Mac Guckin de Slane, and printed in
Paris for the Oriental Translation Fund of Great Britain and Ireland,
1842-71, some centuries after it was written, for its author was dead
before Edward II ascended the English throne. Who would expect Sir
Sidney Lee to have had so remote an exemplar?

Remote not only in time but in distance. For although we may go to the
East for religions and systems of philosophy that were old and proved
worthy centuries before Hellenism or Christianity, yet we do not usually
find there models for our works of reference. Hardly does Rome give us
those. But there is an orderliness and thoroughness about Ibn
Khallikan's methods which the _Dictionary of National Biography_ does
not exceed. The Persian may be more lenient to floridity ("No flowers,
by request," was, it will be remembered, the first English editor's
motto), but in his desire to leave out no one who ought to be in and to
do justice to his inclusions he is beyond praise.

The modernity of the ancients is continually surprising us. It is one of
the phenomena to which we are never quite inured (and could we be so we
should perhaps merely substitute the antiquity of the moderns as a new
source of wonder), but towards such inuring Ibn Khallikan should
certainly help, since he was eminently a gossip, and in order to get
human nature's fidelity to the type--no matter where found, whether æons
ago or to-day, whether in savage lands or, as we say, civilized--brought
home to us, it is to the gossips that we must resort: to the Pepyses and
Boswells rather than to the Goethes and Platos; to the little recorders
rather than the great thinkers. The small traits tell.

Ibn Khallikan's Dictionary is as interesting as it is, not because its
author had any remarkable instinct as a biographer, or any gift of
selection, but because if a man sets out to take account of everything,
much human nature and a little excellence are bound to creep in.

I do not pretend to have dug in these volumes with any great
seriousness. My object has been to extract what was odd and simple and
most characteristic, in short, what was most human, and there is enough
residuum for a horde of other miners. But I warn them that the dross is
considerable. Ibn Khallikan's leniency to trivialities is incorrigible,
and his pages are filled with pointless anecdotes, dull sayings, and
poetry whose only recommendation is its richness in the laboured
conceits that he loved. So much did he esteem them that were, say, all
English intellectual effort in every direction at his disposal to
descant upon, his favourite genius would probably be John Lyly.

But although most of the poetry admired and quoted by Ibn Khallikan is
marked by affectation, now and then--but very rarely--it is beautifully
simple. Thus, in one of the poems of Ibn Zuhr, a learned Moslim teacher
and physician of Spain (1113-99), is expressed, with a tenderness and
charm that no modern or no Greek of the Anthology could exceed, the
ardent desire which he felt for the sight of his child, from whom he
happened to be separated: _I have a little one, a tender nestling, with
whom I have left my heart. I dwell far from him; how desolate I feel in
the absence of that little person and that little face. He longs for me,
and I long for him; for me he weeps, and I weep for him. Our
affectionate wishes are weary with passing from him to me, from me to
him._


II.--IBN KHALLIKAN

Let me say something as to who Ibn Khallikan was. His father, Muhammad
Ibn Ibrahim, was professor in the college at Arbela founded by Kukuburi,
or the Blue Wolf, the governor of that city and the region of which it
was the capital, the brother-in-law of Salah Ad-Din, the sultan, whom we
in England know as Saladin, the enemy of the Cross, and the son of Ali
Ibn Bektikin, known as "Little Ali, the Ornament of Religion." Kukuburi,
who, although standing for the Crescent and all that was most abhorrent
to our Crusaders, was famous as a founder of asylums, schools, hospitals
for the blind, homes for widows, orphanages, and so forth, made special
favourites of the family of which Ibn Khallikan was a scion. Ibn himself
was born on September 22, 1211, and before he was two had begun
instruction by his father and was the recipient of a certificate from
Zainab, a very learned lady, stating that he was an industrious pupil.

In 1229, after having already read and studied much, particularly
theology and law, Ibn Khallikan left Arbela with his brother and
entered the college at Aleppo, then an educational centre, remaining
until 1234. After this he moved from one place to another, always
seeking more knowledge, until 1247-8, when he is found at Cairo
occupying a seat in the imperial tribunal and acting as deputy for the
kadi Sinjar, chief judge and magistrate of all Egypt. Later he himself
became the kadi of Al-Mahalla, and by 1256, when he was forty-five, he
had married, become a father, and had completed the first copy of his
_Biographical Dictionary_, which was, of course, as we must always
remember in connexion with the books mentioned in these Lives, a
manuscript.

In 1261 he was appointed chief kadi over all the provinces of Syria,
with his tribunal at Damascus, in which post he remained for ten years.
He was not, however, sole kadi for long, as three others were appointed
to assist him: a development that was meat and drink to the local
satirists, one of whom wrote: _The men of Damascus are bewildered with
the multitude of legal decisions. Their kadis are all suns, and yet they
are in the dark._ Another said: _The people of Damascus have witnessed
a perfect miracle: the greater the number of suns the more the world is
in the dark._ Being found wanting, and replaced, Ibn Khallikan took a
professorship in Cairo, learned by heart further enormous quantities of
poetry, and engaged in literary discussions which, judging by a specimen
given in one of his Lives, were even more futile than discussions
usually are.

The vicissitudes of fortune, always noticeably extreme in the East,
brought him again to be kadi at Damascus in 1278, when his reappointment
was signalized by public ceremonies, including the composition by
numberless poets of congratulatory and adulatory verses, which must have
been very dear to his simple old heart, and not the less so because he
may have discovered from his astonishing repertory that not all were
strictly original: such discoveries and the tracing back of the loans to
their fount being the greatest of his pleasures.

Thereafter, until the year 1281, the Kadi lived with much honour, famed
as the most learned and widely-read personage in Damascus, filling his
house with scholars and discursive amateurs of verse, and engaging in
conversations that are described by a friend as "most instructive,
being entirely devoted to learned investigations and the elucidation of
obscure points."

But Ibn Khallikan, who was now nearing three-score years and ten, was
destined still to misfortune, for suddenly, in 1281, he was deposed from
his kadi-ship and, more than that, thrown into prison on the charge of
having made a remark detrimental to the sultan, Kalavun. A pardon soon
after arriving, he was liberated and again reinstated; but after ten
more months as a kadi he was, in 1282, dismissed finally, and this time
he refused ever more to leave his house, and died there in the same
year.

Not a word (you will say) so far as to Baghdad. But although Ibn
Khallikan spent most of his life in Egypt or Syria, the greater number
of his heroes were, as I have said, citizens all of the city of the
romance which recently has fallen to Sir Stanley Maude's gallant forces.
Yet of the romance which we shall always associate with Baghdad he knew
nothing. To him it was delectable (and perhaps even romantic too--each
of us having his own conception of what romance is) because grave
bearded men there taught religion, explained the _Koran_, disputed as
to points of grammar, exchanged sarcasms and swapped verses. Not,
however, as I hope to show, unamusingly.

What indeed I particularly like about the book is the picture that it
gives of sardonic pleasantry and intellectual and sophisticated
virtuosity going quietly on side by side with all the splendours and
barbarities of absolute autocracy and summary jurisdiction. It throws a
new or unaccustomed light on those days. Not even yet--not even in
Bloomsbury, where the poets meet--have we in England anything quite like
it; whereas when Baghdad and Damascus were the theatres of these
poetical and hair-splitting competitions our ancestors had but just got
the woad off.


III.--MEN OF LETTERS

Those of us who know Baghdad only through the _Arabian Nights_ and the
ingenious productions of Mr. Oscar Asche, were not prepared for such a
complete foreshadowing of the literary life and the literary temperament
as Ibn Khallikan gives us.

Here, for example, is a poem by a book-lover--or manuscript-lover, to
be more exact--written by Ibn Faris Ar-Razi, the philologer, who died
before the Norman Conquest, which a later Occidental can cheerfully
accept and could not much improve upon: _They asked me how I was. I
answered: "Well, some things succeed and some fail; when my heart is
filled with cares I say: 'One day perhaps they may be dispelled.' A cat
is my companion; books, the friends of my heart; and a lamp, my beloved
consort."_ That is modern enough! Something of this kind, which is an
earlier version of Omar Khayyám's famous recipe for earthly bliss, has
often been attempted since by our own poets; but nothing better.
Favourite books, a lighted lamp, a faithful cat, and the library were
paradise enow. It is odd, by the way, that Omar Khayyám himself,
although his dates qualify him, is not found in this work. But to make
tents, even with leanings towards astronomy, was no high road to Ibn
Khallikan's sympathies. Had Omar explained the _Koran_ or had views on
the suffixes of words, all would have been well.

While on the subject of sufficient paradises let me quote some verses by
Ibn Sukkara Al-Hashimi, a famous Baghdad poet of the tenth century:
_The winter set in, and I provided myself with seven things necessary
when the rain prevents us from pursuing our usual occupations. These
things are: A shelter, a purse, a stove, a cup of wine preceded by a bit
of meat, a tender maid, and a cloak._

Ibn Khallikan does not let it stop there, but fishes up from his memory
a derivative, by Ibn Al-Taawizi, running thus: _When seven things are
collected together in the drinking-room, it is not reasonable to stay
away. These are: Roast meat, a melon, honey, a young girl, wax-lights, a
singer to delight us, and wine._

So much for the modernity and sense of comfort of the Persian author, as
he flourished in Baghdad all those years ago. But there was then still
more in publishing than yet meets the eye. The books of the juriconsult,
Al-Mawardi, for example, reached posterity almost by chance. While he
lived he did not publish any of his works but put them all up together
in safety. On the approach of death, however, he said to a person who
possessed his confidence: "The books in such a place were composed by
me, but I abstained from publishing them, because I suspected, although
my intention in writing them was to work in God's service, that that
feeling, instead of being pure, was sullied by baser motives. Therefore,
when you perceive me on the point of death and falling into agony, take
my hand in yours, and if I press it, you will know thereby that none of
these works has been accepted [by God] from me. In this case, you must
take them all and throw them by night into the Tigris. But if I open my
hand and close it not, that is the sign of their having been accepted,
and that my hope in the admission of my intention as sincere and pure,
has been fulfilled."

"When Al-Mawardi's death drew near," said his friend, "I took him by the
hand, and he opened it without closing it on mine, whence I knew that
his labours had been accepted, and I then published his works."--But
what a responsibility for a friend!

Penmanship being, of course, the only medium between author and readers
in those days, it follows that calligraphy was held in high esteem, and
among famous calligraphers was Kabus Ibn Wushmaghir, who, although "the
greatest of princes, the star of the age, and the source of justice and
beneficence," thought it worth while (as all mighty rulers have not) to
write a most beautiful hand. When the Sahib Ibn Abbad saw pieces in his
handwriting, he used to say: "This is either the writing of Kabus or the
wing of a peacock"; and he would then recite these verses of
Al-Mutanabbi's: _In every heart is a passion for his handwriting; it
might be said that the ink which he employed was a cause of love. His
presence is a comfort for every eye, and his absence an affliction._

The extraordinary literary activity of those times may be illustrated by
the following passage dropped casually into the biographical notice of
Ali Talib: "The grandson of this thief was the famous Al-Asmai, the
philologer, who composed treatises on the following subjects: the human
frame; the different species of animals; on the _anwa_, or influence of
the stars on the weather; on the letter _hamza_; on the long and the
short _elif_; on the difference between the names given to the members
of the human body and those given to the same members in animals; on
epithets; on the doors of tents; on games of chance played with arrows;
on the frame of the horse; on horses; on camels; on sheep; on tents; on
wild beasts; on the first and fourth form of certain verbs; on proverbs;
on words bearing each two opposite significations; a vocabulary; on
weapons; on dialects; on the springs of water frequented by the nomadic
Arabs; a collection of anecdotes; on the principles of discourse; on the
heart; on synonymous terms; on the Arabian peninsula; on the formation
of derivative words; on the ideas which usually occur in poetry; on
nouns of action; on _rajaz_ verses; on the palm-tree; on plants; on
homonymous terms; on the obscure expressions met with in the Traditions;
on the witticisms of the desert Arabs." Ibn closes the list with the
word "etc." The late John Timbs could hardly beat this record of
industry and versatility.

There is hope for authors in the following story of Ibn Al-Khashshab,
who knew the _Koran_ by heart and was a scholar of considerable
attainments. "When he died," says the Katib Imad Ad-Din, "I was in
Syria, and I saw him one night in a dream, and said to him: 'How has God
treated thee?'

"'Well,' he replied.

"'Does God show mercy to literary men?'

"'Yes.'

"'And if they have been remiss?'

"'A severe reprimand will be given, but,' Al-Khashshab was moved to add,
and let us never forget it, 'then will come eternal happiness.'"

There are other scraps of consolation, scattered about the volumes,
which apply not alone to men of letters. The Prophet, for example, once
said: "Every lie shall be written down as a lie by the recording angels,
with the exception of three: a lie told in order to reconcile two men; a
lying promise made by a man to his wife; and a lie in which a man, when
engaged in war, makes a promise or a threat."

But the most solacing sentiment in the whole four volumes is by the poet
Abu Nuwas Ibn Hani, who carried Hedonism very far: _Multiply thy sins to
the utmost, for thou art to meet an indulgent Lord. When thou comest
before Him, thou shalt behold mercy and meet the great, the powerful
King. Then thou shalt gnaw thy hands with regret, for the pleasures
which thou avoidedst through fear of hell._--It is, says Ibn Khallikan,
a "very fine and original thought." It could certainly be a very
stimulating one.


IV.--THE FIRST GRAMMARIAN

Grammarians and Traditionists (both given also to poesy) being Ibn
Khallikan's real heroes, let me say something of each. A Traditionist
was a learned man intimate with the _Koran_, whose duty it was to
separate the spurious traditions which so naturally would have collected
around such a figure as Muhammad from the true. As to the importance of
the _Koran_ in Moslim life and its place as the foundation of all Moslim
learning, let the translator of Ibn Khallikan be heard. "The necessity,"
he says, "of distinguishing the genuine Traditions from the false gave
rise to new branches of literature. A just appreciation of the credit to
which each Traditionist was entitled could only be formed from a
knowledge of his moral character, and this could be best estimated from
an examination of his life. Hence the numerous biographical works
arranged in chronological order and containing short accounts of the
principal Traditionists and doctors of the law, with the indication of
their tutors and their pupils, the place of their birth and residence,
the race from which they sprung, and the year of their death. This again
led Moslim critics to the study of genealogy and geography. The use of
writing existed in Arabia before the promulgation of Islamism, but
grammar was not known as an art till the difficulty of reciting the
_Koran_ correctly induced the khalif Ali to make it an object of his
attention. He imposed on Abu 'l-Aswad Ad-Duwali the task of drawing up
such instructions as would enable the Moslims to read their sacred book
and speak their language without making gross faults."

Another version of the beginnings of grammar eliminates the khalif Ali
altogether. The story goes that as Abu 'l-Aswad Ad-Duwali (603-88)
entered his house on a certain day, one of his daughters said to him:
"Papa! what is most beautiful in the sky?"

To this he answered: "Its stars."

But she replied: "Papa, I do not mean what is the most beautiful object
in it; I was only expressing my admiration at its beauty."

"In that case you must say," he observed, "'How beautiful is the sky!'"

Upon thinking this over, says Ibn Khallikan, Abu 'l-Aswad invented the
art of grammar.

Abu 'l-Aswad Ad-Duwali thus is the father of this book, for had there
been no grammarians I am sure that Ibn Khallikan would never have
written it. Poetry tickled him; but grammar was his chief delight, as it
was the chief delight of all his friends and, one gathers, of all
Baghdad. Here is an example: "Al-Mamun, having asked Al-Yazidi about
something, received from him this answer: 'No; and may God accept my
life as a ransom for yours, Commander of the Faithful!'

"'Well said!' exclaimed the khalif. 'Never was the word _and_ better
placed than in the praise which you have just uttered.'" He then made
him a present.

We get an insight both into the passion for the new science of grammar
and what might be called the physical humour of the East in this
anecdote. Abu Safwan Khalid Ibn Safwan, a member of the tribe of Tamim,
was celebrated as an eloquent speaker. He used to visit Bilal Ibn Abi
Burda and converse with him, but his language was frequently
ungrammatical. This grew at length so irksome that Bilal said to him: "O
Khalid! you make me narrations fit for khalifs to hear, but you commit
as many faults against grammar as the women who carry water in the
streets."

Stung with this reproach, Khalid went to learn grammar at the mosque,
and some time after lost his sight. From that period, whenever Bilal
rode by in state, he used to ask who it was, and on being answered that
it was the Emir, he would say: "There goes a summer-cloud, soon to be
dispelled."

When this was told to Bilal, he exclaimed: "By Allah! it shall not be
dispelled till he get a full shower from it;" and he then ordered him a
whipping of two hundred strokes.

When books were so few and most learning came through the ear, memory
had to be cultivated. The Traditionist, Ibn Rahwaih, was a Macaulay in
his way. "I know," he used to say, "by heart seventy thousand
traditions; I have read one hundred thousand, and can recollect in what
work each is to be found. I never heard anything once without learning
it by heart, nor learned anything by heart which I afterwards forgot."

The sittings of the teacher, Ibn Al-Aarabi (767-846), who knew by heart
more poetry than any man ever seen, were crowded by people anxious for
instruction. Abu 'l-Abbas Thalah said: "I attended the sittings held by
Ibn Al-Aarabi, and saw there upwards of one hundred persons, some asking
him questions and others reading to him; he answered every question
without consulting a book. I followed his lessons upwards of ten years,
and I never saw him with a book in his hand; and yet he dictated to his
pupils camel-loads of philological information."

The grammarian Moad Ibn Muslim Al-Harra left some good poetry, which he
gave as having been uttered by genii, demons and female demons. The
caliph Ar-Raschid once said to him: "If thou sawest what thou hast
described, thou hast seen wonders; if not, thou hast composed a nice
piece of literature."

An-Nahhas the grammarian who, on being given a turban-cloth, would cut
it into three from avarice, met his death, in 950, in an unfortunate
manner--being, although living in so remote a period, mistaken for a
"profiteer." I quote Ibn Khallikan's words: "He had seated himself on
the staircase of the Nilometer, by the side of the river, which was then
on the increase, and began to scan some verses according to the rules of
prosody, when a common fellow who heard him said: 'This man is
pronouncing a charm to prevent the overflow of the Nile, so as to raise
the price of provisions.' He then thrust him with his foot into the
river and nothing more was heard of him."

Not all these learned men were philosophical, even though they were
philosophers. Abu Nizar Ibn Safi Malik An-Nuhat assumed the title
"Prince of Grammarians," but if any other name was given to him by those
addressing him he would fly into a passion.

The old fellows could be superstitious too. It is amusing to read that
Abu Obaida, when repeating passages of the _Koran_ or relating
Traditions, made mistakes designedly: "For," said he, "grammar brings
ill luck."


V.--THE FIRST PROSODIST

After grammar, prosody. That a falling apple should lead Sir Isaac
Newton's thoughts to the problem of gravity is not so remarkable, but
that the laws of prosody should result from an equally capricious
occurrence strikes one as odd. I mention the discoverer's name partly
that schoolboys may remember him, or not, in their prayers. It was
Al-Khalil Ibn Ahmad who, at Mecca, had besought Allah to bestow upon him
a science hitherto unknown. Allah being in a complaisant mood, it
followed that not long after, walking in the bazaar, Al-Khalil invented
prosody as he passed a coppersmith's and heard him hammering a basin.

Once started on his career as an inventor, he continued; but a later
discovery cost him dear, for having resolved on devising "a method of
calculation so simple that any servant girl who knew it could go to a
shopkeeper's without incurring the least possible risk of being deceived
by him in the sum she would have to pay, he entered the mosque with his
thoughts occupied on the subject, and he there struck against a pillar,
which his preoccupation hindered him from perceiving. The violence of
the shock threw him on his back, and death was the result."

Al-Khalil used to remark that a man's reason and intelligence reached
perfection when he attained the age of forty, the age of the Prophet
when God sent him forth on his mission; but that they undergo alteration
and diminution when the man reaches sixty, the age in which God took the
Prophet's soul to himself. He said, again, that the intelligence is
clearest at the dawn of day.


VI.--A GROUP OF POETS

No matter what the profession or calling of these Persians--whether they
were lawyers or lawgivers, grammarians or warriors--they all, or almost
all, adored verbal felicity and tried their hands at verse. Poetry may
be called the gold dust on their lives.

Ibn Nubata the poet knew how to say thank you. Saif Ad-Dawlat Ibn Hamdan
having given him a horse, this is how he acknowledged it: _O prince!
thou whose generous qualities are the offspring of thy natural
disposition, and whose pleasing aspect is the emblem of thy mind, I have
received the present which thou sentest me, a noble steed whose portly
neck seems to unite the heavens to the earth on which he treads. Hast
thou then conferred a government upon me, since thou sendest me a spear
to which a flowing mane serves as a banner? We take possession of what
thou hast conferred and find it to be a horse whose forehead and legs
are marked with white, and whose body is so black that a single hair
extracted from that colour would suffice to form night's darkest shades.
It would seem that the morning had struck him on the forehead and thus
made it white, for which reason he took his revenge by wading into the
entrails of the morning, and thus whitening his legs. He paces slowly,
yet one of his names is Lightning; he wears a veil, having his face
covered with white, as if to conceal it, and yet beauty itself would be
his only rival. Had the sun and the moon a portion only of his ardour,
it would be impossible to withstand their heat. The eye cannot follow
his movements, unless you rein him in and restrain his impetuosity. The
glances of the eye cannot seize all his perfections, unless the eye be
led away captive by his beauty and be thus enabled to follow him._--I
like the extravagance of that. So should the friend of man be extolled.

Emirs did not disdain to be poets. Majd Ad-Din Al-Mubarak Ibn Munkid,
although at once "The Sword of the Empire" and "The Glory of Religion,"
wrote poetry, and not always on the most exalted themes. Among his
poems, for example, is one on fleas, in which those insects, of which
Emirs should know nothing, are thus described: _A race whom man is
permitted to slay, and who profane the blood of the pilgrim, even in the
sanctuary. When my hand sheds their blood, it is not their own, but
mine, which is shed._ "It is thus," says Ibn Khallikan gravely, "that
these two verses were recited and given as his, by Izz Ad-Din Abu
'l-Kasim Abd Allah Ibn Abi Ali Al-Husain Ibn Abi Muhammad Abd Allah Ibn
Al-Husain Ibn Rawaha Ibn Ibrahim Ibn Abd Allah Ibn Rawaha Ibn Obaid Ibn
Muhammad Ibn Abd Allah Ibn Rawaha Al-Ansari, a native of Hamat."

Ibn Khallikan's greed for poetry led him, as I have said, not only to
quote most things that he could remember of each poet, but to cite also
the poems of which those reminded him. Sometimes he quoted before he
was sure of the author; but it made no difference. Thus, of Al-Farra the
grammarian he says: "No verses have been handed down as his excepting
the following, which were given by Abu-Hanifa Ad-Dinauri on the
authority of Abu Bakr At-Tuwal: _Lord of a single acre of ground, you
have nine chamberlains! You sit in an old ruin and have door-keepers who
exclude visitors! Never did I hear of a door-keeper in a ruined
dwelling! Never shall the eyes of men see me at a door of yours; a man
like me is not made to support repulses from door-keepers._" Having got
his quotation safely into print, Ibn Khallikan adds: "I since discovered
that these verses are attributed to Ibn Musa 'l-Makfuf. God knows best!"
It is a charming way of writing biography. The grass does not grow upon
the weir more easily. With such a rectifying or excusatory phrase as
"God knows best" one can hazard all. And how difficult it is to be the
first to say anything!

Here is a poem by an Emir's vizier, Al-Wazi Al-Maghribi: _I shall relate
to you my adventure, and adventures are of various kinds. I one night
changed my bed and was abandoned by repose; tell me then how I shall be
on the first night which I pass in the grave?_

Another vizier, Ibn Al-Amid, the katib, who lived in the eleventh
century, wrote as follows: _Choose your friends among strangers, and
take not your near relations into favour. Relations are like scorpions
or even more noxious._ Asked which was the worse of his two recurring
maladies, gout or colic, he replied: "When the gout attacks me I feel as
if I were between the jaws of a lion devouring me, mouthful by mouthful;
when the colic visits me, I would willingly exchange it for the gout."

Poetry in those days ran in families. The family which had the greatest
skill in the art was that of Hassan Ibn Abi Hafsa, for it produced six
persons, in succession, all of them poets. These were: Said, his father
Abd Ar-Rahman, his father Hassan, his father Thabit, his father
Al-Mundir, and his father Hizam. Abd Ar-Rahman began very young. It is
related that having been stung by a wasp, he went crying to his father,
who asked what was the matter. He replied: "I have been stung by a
flying thing, dressed, as it were, in a double cloak of striped cloth."

"By Allah!" exclaimed the delighted father, recognizing a chip of the
old block, "thou hast there pronounced a verse."

The family of Abi Hafsa came next to that of Hassan in poetical gifts.
The reason was, according to one statement, that they could "all touch
the point of their nose with their tongue, and this denotes a talent for
speaking with elegance and precision." "God knows," Ibn Khallikan adds,
"how far that may be true!"

It was Marwan Ibn Abi Hafsa, of this family, who made such a mistake (in
a poet depending on the beneficence of the exalted) as to commit himself
to the sweeping statement, in his elegy on the death of Maan, the Emir,
that patronage had died with him. "It is said," Ibn Khallikan relates,
"that Marwan, after composing this elegy, could never gain anything by
his verses, for, as often as he celebrated the praises of a khalif or of
any other person less elevated in rank, he to whom the poem was
addressed would say to him: 'Did you not say, in your famous elegy:
_Whither should we go, since Maan is dead? Presents have ceased and are
not to be replaced?_' So the person he meant to praise would not give
him anything nor even listen to his poem."

But once--having the persistency of the needy--Abi Hafsa scored. The
story goes that, entering into the presence of the khalif Al-Mahdi with
a number of other poets, he recited to him a panegyric.

"Who art thou?" said the khalif.

"Thy humble poet, Marwan, the son of Abi Hafsa."

"Art thou," said the khalif with great presence of mind, remembering the
poet's useful indiscretion, "not he who said: _Whither should we go,
since Maan is dead?_ and yet thou hast come to ask gifts from us!
_Presents have ceased_; we have nothing for thee. Trail him out by the
leg!"

They trailed him out by the leg, but, twelve months later, Marwan once
more contrived to gain admittance with the other poets, who, at that
time, were allowed to enter into the khalif's presence once a year. He
then stood before him and recited the kasada which begins thus: _A
female visitor came to thee by night; salute her fleeting image._

Al-Mahdi at first listened in silence, but as the poet proceeded, he
became gradually more and more agitated, till at length "he rolled on
the carpet with delight."

He then asked how many verses were in the poem and, on being answered,
"One hundred," he ordered the author a--present of one hundred thousand
pieces of silver.

The poet Ibn Ar-Rumi met his necessary end with composure. Al-Kasim Ibn
Obaid Allah Ibn Sulaiman Ibn Wahb, the vizier of Al-Motadid, dreading to
incur the satirical attacks of this writer and the outbursts of his
malignant tongue, suborned a person called Ibn Firas, who gave him a
poisoned biscuit whilst he was sitting in company with the vizier.

When Ibn Ar-Rumi had eaten it, he perceived that he was poisoned, and he
rose to withdraw; on which the vizier said to him: "Where are you
going?"

"To the place," replied Ibn Ar-Rumi, "where you sent me."

"Well," observed the vizier, "you will present my respects to my
father."

"I am not taking the road to hell," retorted the poet.

Another poet, Ibn Sara As-Shantarini, falling upon evil days, became a
bookbinder. As such he wrote the following poem: _The trade of a
bookbinder is the worst of all; its leaves and its fruits are nought but
disappointment. I may compare him that follows it to a needle, which
clothes others but is naked itself!_


VII.--POETRY'S REWARDS

The Patron was a very real factor in the poetical life of Baghdad.

Here is a story told by the poet Abu Bakr Ibn Al-Allaf. "I had passed a
night at the palace of Al-Motadid with a number of his other companions,
when a eunuch came to us and said: 'The Commander of the Faithful sends
to tell you that, after you withdrew, he did not feel inclined to sleep,
and composed this verse: _When the vision of my mistress, fleeting
through the shades of night, awoke me, behold! my chamber was deserted,
and far off was the place of our meeting_. He says also,' continued the
eunuch, 'that he cannot complete the piece, and will give a rich present
to anyone who adds to it a second couplet to his satisfaction.'

"Those who were present failed in accomplishing the task, although they
were all poets of talent, on which I," says Abu Bakr, "hastened to
pronounce the following verse: _On this I said to my eyes: 'Sleep again;
perhaps the vision, in its night visits, may return to me!'_"

The eunuch then retired, bearing Abu Bakr's not very remarkable effort
with him, and having come back, said: "The Commander of the Faithful
declares that your verse is perfect, and he has ordered you a present."

Sometimes the passion for verse enjoyed and encouraged by these courtly
gentleman seems to reach absurd lengths. Thus Abu Tammam At-Tai, the
poet, once recited to the Emir Abu Dolad Al-Ijli the following lines:
_At the sight of dwellings abandoned like these, and places of joyous
meetings now deserted, our tears, long treasured up, were shed in
torrents!_

Abu Dolad so admired the piece that he gave the poet fifty thousand
dirhems, saying: "By Allah! it is less than your poem is worth; and
that idea is only surpassed in beauty by your elegy on the death of
Muhammad Ibn Hamid At-Tusi."

"Which," asked Abu Tammam, "does the Emir mean?"

"Why," said Abu Dolad, "your poem commencing thus: _Now let misfortune
do its worst, and time inflict its evils! There is no excuse for eyes
which have not shed their tears._ I wish, by Allah! that this elegy had
been composed by you on me."

"Nay!" said the poet, "may I and my family die to save the Emir, and may
I leave the world before you!"

To this Abu Dolad replied: "He whose death is deplored in verses like
those is immortal."

Surely the palmy days of poetry have passed away. How one would like to
think of Mr. Kipling, say, being summoned to Buckingham Palace to speak
a piece and retiring with a cheque for £1025, which is what fifty
thousand dirhems come to.

Gratitude, even when it is excessive, is always a good theme. In the
following case the proportions were respected with more fitness.
Al-Wazir Al-Muhallabi was both vizier and poet. He was also a very poor
vegetarian, and once, on a journey, being unable to obtain flesh-food,
he recited extempore these verses: _Where is death sold, that I may buy
it? for this life is devoid of good. Oh! let death, whose taste to me is
sweet, come and free me from a detested life! When I see a tomb from
afar, I wish to be its inhabitant. May the Being who granteth
tranquillity have compassion on the soul of the generous man who will
bestow death, as a charity, upon one of his brethren!_ These verses
being heard by a person who was travelling in the same caravan with him,
and whose name was Abd Allah As-Sufi (or, by another account, Abu
'l-Hasan Al-Askalani), he bought for Al-Muhallabi a dirhem's worth of
meat, cooked it, and gave it to him to eat.

"They then," says Ibn, "separated, and Al-Muhallabi having experienced a
change of fortune, became vizier to Moizz Ad-Dawlat at Baghdad, while
the person who had travelled with him and purchased the meat for him was
reduced to poverty. Having then learned that Al-Muhallabi was a vizier,
he set out to find him and wrote to him these lines: _Repeat to the
vizier, for whose life I would sacrifice my own--repeat to him the words
of one who reminds him of what he has forgotten. Do you remember when,
in a life of misery, you said: 'Where is death sold, that I may buy
it?'_ The vizier on reading the note recollected the circumstance, and,
moved with the joy of doing a generous action, he ordered seven hundred
dirhems to be given to the writer, and inscribed these words on the
paper: _The similitude of those who lay out their substance in the
service of God is as a grain of corn which has produced seven ears and
in every ear a hundred grains; for God giveth many-fold to whom He
pleaseth._ He then prayed God's blessing on him, and clothed him in a
robe of honour, and appointed him to a place under government, so
that"--the corollary seems hardly worth adding--"he might live in easy
circumstances."

Poetry was, you see, worth practising in Baghdad in those days; nor had
the poets any shame in accepting presents. What princes liked to give it
was not for poets to analyse or refuse. Al-Moizz Ibn Badis, sovereign of
Ifrikya and the son of Badis, was a patron indeed. "Poets," says Ibn
Khallikan, "were loud in his praise, literary men courted his patronage,
and all who hoped for gain made his court their halting-place."

To the modern mind he was too easily pleased, if the following story is
typical. He was sitting, one day, in his saloon with a number of
literary men about him, when, noticing a lemon shaped like a hand and
fingers, he asked them to extemporize some verses on that subject. Abd
Abu Ali Al-Hasan Ibn Rashik Al-Kairawani at once recited the following
lines: _A lemon, with its extremities spread out, appears before all
eyes without being injured. It seems to hold out a hand towards the
Creator, invoking long life to the son of Badis._

Al-Moizz declared the verses excellent and showed more favour to the
author than to any other literary man in the assembly.

Ready wit not less than poetical ingenuity could always win the respect
of these gentlemen, whose cynical cold-bloodedness and implacability
were ever ready to be diverted, provided that the diversion was
intellectual. For instance, it is related that Al-Hajjaj said to the
brother of Katari: "I shall surely put thee to death."

"Why so?" replied the other.

"On account of thy brother's revolt," answered Al-Hajjaj.

"But I have a letter from the Commander of the Faithful, ordering thee
not to punish me for the fault of my brother."

"Produce it."

"I have something stronger than that."

"What is it?"

"The book of Almighty God, wherein He says: 'And no burdened soul shall
bear the burden of another.'"

Al-Hajjaj was struck with his answer, and gave him his liberty.

Among the lavish patrons of poets Saif Ad-Dawlat stands high. It is
related that he was one day giving audience in the city of Aleppo, and
poets were reciting verses in his praise, when an Arab of the desert, in
squalid attire, stepped forward and repeated these lines: _My means are
spent, but I have reached my journey's end. This is the glory of all
other cities, and thou, Emir! art the ornament whereby the Arabs surpass
the rest of men. Fortune, thy slave, has wronged us; and to thee we have
recourse against thy slave's injustice._

"By Allah!" exclaimed the prince, "thou hast done it admirably." He then
ordered him a present of two hundred gold pieces.

Abu 'l-Kasim Othman Ibn Muhammad, a native of Irak and kadi of Ain
Zerba, relates as follows: "I was at an audience given by Saif Ad-Dawlat
at Aleppo, when the kadi Abu Nasr Muhammad Ibn Muhammad An-Naisapuri
went up to him, and having drawn an empty purse and a roll of paper out
of his sleeve, he asked and obtained permission to recite a poem which
was written on the paper. He then commenced his kasada, the first line
of which was: _Thy wonted generosity is still the same; thy power is
uncontrolled, and thy servant stands in need of one thousand pieces of
silver._

"When the poet had finished, Saif Ad-Dawlat burst into a fit of laughter
and ordered him a thousand pieces of gold, which were immediately put
into the purse he had brought with him."

Here is a delightful account of the relations between a crafty poet and
a patron who was not wholly a fool. Abu Dulaf was a spirited, noble, and
generous chief, highly extolled for his liberality, courage, and
enterprise, noted for his victories and his beneficence. Men
distinguished in literature and the sciences derived instruction from
his discourse, and his talent was conspicuous even in the art of vocal
music. His praises were celebrated in kasadas of the greatest beauty.
Bakr Ibn An-Nattah said of him: _O thou who pursuest the study of
alchemy, the great alchemy consists in praising the son of Isa. Was
there but one dirhem in the world, thou wouldst obtain it by this
means._

It is stated that, for these two verses, Abu Dulaf gave Ibn An-Nattah
ten thousand dirhems. The poet then ceased visiting him for some time
and employed the money in the purchase of a village or estate on the
river Obolla. He afterwards went to see him, and addressed him in these
words: _Thanks to thee, I have purchased an estate on the Obolla,
crowned by a pavilion erected in marble. It has a sister beside it which
is now on sale, and you have always money to bestow._

"How much," said Abu Dulaf, "is the price of that sister?"

The poet answered: "Ten thousand dirhems."

Abu Dulaf gave him the money, and said: "Recollect that the Obolla is a
large river, with many estates situated on it, and that each of these
sisters has another at her side; so, if thou openest such a door as
that, it will lead to a breach between us. Be content with what thou
hast now got, and let this be a point agreed on."

The poet then offered up prayers for his welfare and withdrew.


VIII.--A BRAVE POET

The end of the munificent and splendid Ibn Bakiya was tragic, and it
leads to so fine and characteristic a story that I must tell it here:
partly in Ibn Khallikan's words and partly in my own. During the war
which was carried on between the two cousins Izz Ad-Dawlat and Adud
Ad-Dawlat, the former seized on Ibn Bakiya and, having deprived him of
sight, delivered him over to Adud Ad-Dawlat. That prince caused him to
be paraded about with a hood over his head, and then ordered him to be
cast to the elephants. Those animals killed him, and his body was
exposed on a cross at the gate called Bab At-Tak, near his own house.

On his crucifixion, an adl of Baghdad, called Abu 'l-Hasan Muhammad Ibn
Omar Ibn Yakub Al-Anbari, deplored his fate in a beautiful poem, of
which this is one line: _I never saw a tree, before this, enabled to
sustain all that was generous._

Abu 'l-Hasan, on composing his elegy, copied it out and threw it into
one of the streets of Baghdad.

It fell into the hands of the literati, who passed it one to another,
till Adud Ad-Dawlat was at length informed of its existence. He caused
it to be recited in his presence, and, struck with admiration at its
beauty, he exclaimed: "O that I were the person crucified, not he! Let
the poet be brought to me!"

During a whole year strict search was made for the author, and the Sahib
Ibn Abbad who was then at Rai, being informed of the circumstance, wrote
out a letter of protection in favour of the poet. When Abu 'l-Hasan
heard of this, he went to the court of the Sahib and was asked by him if
it was he who had composed the verses. He replied in the affirmative, on
which the Sahib expressed the desire to hear them from his own mouth.
When Abu 'l-Hasan came to the verse, _I never saw a tree, before this,
enabled to sustain all that was generous_, the Sahib rose up and
embraced him, kissing him on the lips; he then sent him to Adud
Ad-Dawlat.

When he appeared before Adud Ad-Dawlat, that prince said to him: "What
motive could have induced thee to compose an elegy on the death of my
enemy?"

Abu 'l-Hasan replied: "Former obligations and favours granted long
since; my heart therefore overflowed with sorrow, and I lamented his
fate."

There were wax-lights burning, at the time, before the prince, and this
led him to say to the poet: "Canst thou recollect any verses on
wax-lights?" and to this the other replied by the following lines: _The
wax-lights, showing their ends tipped with fire, seemed like the fingers
of thy trembling foes, humbly stretched forth to implore thy mercy._

On hearing these verses, Adud Ad-Dawlat clothed him in a pelisse of
honour and bestowed on him a horse and a bag of money.


IX.--A WESTERN INTERLUDE

That beautiful phrase of the poet on his crucified hero--_I never saw a
tree, before this, enabled to sustain all that was generous_--has an
oddly close parallel, which I am tempted to record here: a phrase, not
less beautiful, used by a modern Frenchman, also of a dead man and a
tree. It occurs in a letter written by François Bonvin on the death of
his brother, Léon, the painter of flowers. Léon Bonvin's work is little
known and there is little of it, but those who possess examples treasure
them like black pearls. François Bonvin, who is represented in the
National Gallery, in the modern French and Dutch room, by a scene of
cattle painted with great decision and confidence and breadth, and who
died in 1888, was the son of a policeman at Vaugiraud, on the outskirts
of Paris: an old soldier who divided his time between protecting the
property of the market gardeners and constructing rockeries for poor
people's windows. Another, and the youngest son, was Léon, who after a
shy and lonely boyhood and youth, under the tyranny of his father, which
was mitigated by rambles in the neighbouring forest of Meudon, gathering
flowers and painting them under his brother's encouragement with a
felicity and fidelity that have not been surpassed, fell, when still
quite young, into the hands of a shrewish vulgar wife, and with her
opened a tavern. No couple could be more ill-assorted than this gentle
creature, full of poetry and feeling, whose one ambition was to set
exquisitely on paper the blossoms which gave him pleasure, and the
noisy, bustling, angry woman whom he had married.

The union and the commercial venture were alike disastrous; unhappiness
was accompanied by poverty, and after a short period of depression the
unfortunate artist, early one morning, in his thirty-third year,
wandered into the forest of Meudon, where the world had once spread so
happily before his eyes, and hanged himself.

All this happened in the middle years of the last century, when the same
revival of nature-worship was inspiring painters in France as had, fifty
years earlier, flushed Wordsworth's poetry, and such famous and more
fortunate contemporaries of Léon Bonvin as Corot and Rousseau and Millet
and Daubigny and Jacque and Dupré were painting in the forest of
Fontainebleau. Theirs to succeed; poor Léon found life too hard, and was
dead when still far from his prime.

And what of the notable phrase? It is one that I know I shall never
forget, one that will remain indissolubly linked to the name of Bonvin,
whether it is Léon who inspired it or François who penned it and who had
been so useful in providing his brother with the materials for his one
absorbing pleasure and had always exhorted him to "do everything from
nature." Writing to some one of influence in Paris, François told the
story of his brother's death. In a postscript he added the information
that the weight of Léon's body had broken a branch of the tree. Then
came the words: "This is the only damage he ever did."

Could there be a more beautiful epitaph or a more poignant commentary on
a world askew?


X.--PERSIAN HUMOUR

Persian humour is a stealthier thing than English humour. We like to
laugh; the sudden surprise pleases us. But these old ruminative
observers of life, even if they rapped out a sarcasm now and then, were
normally happiest when their fancy was playing quietly around an idea:
fetching similes for it from every quarter and accumulating
extravagances. Thus: "It is related by Abu 'l-Khattab Ibn Aun Al-Hariri,
the poet and grammarian, that he went one day to visit An-Nami, and
found him seated. His hair was white like the Thaghama when in flower,
but one single black hair still remained.

"'Sir!' said Ibn Aun, 'there is a black hair in your head.'

"'Yes,' replied An-Nami, 'it is the sole remnant of my youth, and I am
pleased with it; I have even written verses on it.'

"Then, at the request of Ibn Aun, he recited these lines: _In that head
a single hair still appeared, preserving its blackness; 'twas a sight
which rejoiced the eyes of my friends. I said to my white hairs, which
had put it in fear: 'I implore you! respect it as a stranger. A dark
African spouse will not long remain in the house where the second wife
is white of skin.'_"

One of the worthiest representatives of the humorists of the book is Abu
Dulama, a black Abyssinian, whose wits never failed him. Here is the
poem which he recited when ordered by Ruh, the governor of Basra, to
attack one of the enemy single-handed: _I fly to Ruh for refuge; let
him not send me to a combat in which I shall bring disgrace upon the
tribe of Asad. Your father Al-Muhallab left you as a legacy the love of
death; but such a legacy as that I have inherited from none. And this I
know well, that the act of drawing near to enemies produces a separation
between souls and bodies._

Ruh positively declared, however, that Abu Dulama should go forth and
fight, enforcing the command with the pertinent question, "Why do you
receive pay from the sultan?"

"To fight for him," replied Abu.

"Then," said Ruh, "why not go forth and attack that enemy of God?"

"If I go forth to him, O Emir," replied the Abyssinian, "I shall be sent
to join those who are dead and gone; and the condition I made with the
sultan was, to fight for him, but not to die for him."

Another wit, Osama Ibn Murshid, having had a tooth drawn, produced the
following verses, either at the time, for the delectation of the
dentist, or afterwards, when seated among his friends: _I had a
companion of whom I was never tired, who suffered in my service, and
laboured with assiduity; whilst we were together I never saw him; and
when he appeared before my eyes, we had parted for ever._

This is how Osama wrote when the house of a miser was burnt down: _See
how the progress of time constrains us to acknowledge that there is a
destiny. Ibn Talib never lit a fire in his house, through avarice, yet
by fire it was destroyed._

"One thing," says Ibn Khallikan, in the notice of this satirist, "brings
on another." He then proceeds: "Abu 'l-Hasan Yahya Abd Al-Azim Al-Misri,
surnamed Al-Jazzar, recited to me the following verses which he had
composed on another literary man at Cairo, far advanced in age, who,
being attacked by a cutaneous eruption, anointed himself with sulphur:
_O, learned master, hearken to the demand of a friend devoid of sarcasm:
thou art old, and of course art near to the fire of hell; why then
anoint thyself with sulphur?_"

As a further quite unnecessary proof of the antiquity of jests which we
think new, I might append to this excellent sarcasm by a friend devoid
of sarcasm the story, often now told, of the rival chemists in a
provincial town, one of whom was old-fashioned and costly, and the other
new and cheap. To the costly one, who had asked too much for sulphur, a
customer remarked that if he went to the new shop opposite he could get
it for fourpence; which brought from the old-fashioned chemist, weary of
this competition, the admirable retort that if he went still farther, to
a certain place, he would get it for nothing.

East and West join hands again. When I was a boy living in a town by the
sea, one of my heroes in real life--whom I never knew, but admired
fearfully from a distance--was a famous stockbroker, whose splendid name
I could give if I chose. One of his many mansions was here, and I used
to see him often as he managed the finest pair of horses on the south
coast, which he drove in a phaeton with red wheels, always smoking a
cigar as he did so. Many were the stories told of his princely Victor
Radnor-ish ways, one of which credited him with a private compartment on
the train, into which his guests walked without a ticket--a magnificent
idea!--and another stated that he bought his trousers a hundred pairs
at a time. And then I open this book and read that Barjawan, an
Ethiopian eunuch, after being stabbed to death by the prince's
umbrella-bearer, was found to possess a thousand pairs of trousers.

Not a little of the humorous effect of these Persian sayings comes from
their dry frankness. For example: Ibn Omair, a trustworthy traditionist,
when, once, he was ill, and a person sent his excuses for not going to
visit him, answered: "I cannot reproach a person for not visiting me,
whom I myself should not go to visit were he sick." Modern would-be wits
might take the hint; for with candour so scarce, and self-criticism
usually ending in a verdict of complete innocence, the blurted naked
truth, not unaccompanied by a sidelong thrust at the speaker's own
fallibility, would always produce the required laugh.


XI.--THE SATIRISTS

Al-Yazidi, a story of whom I quoted above, was a teacher of Koranic
readings, a grammarian and a philologer, who taught in Baghdad in the
ninth century. He was also a famous satirist; but satire seems to have
been easier then than now. So at least I gather from the epigram which
Al-Yazidi wrote upon Al-Asmai Al-Bahili: _You who pretend to draw your
origin from Asma, tell me how you are connected with that noble race.
Are you not a man whose genealogy, if verified, proves that you descend
from Bahila?_ "This last verse," said Ibn Al-Munajjim, "is one of the
most satirical which have been composed by the later poets."

I need hardly say that Ibn Khallikan, with his eagle eye and fierce
memory, does not let the originality of this pass unchallenged. The
idea, he tells us, is borrowed from the verse in which Hammad Ajrad
attacked Bashshar, the son of Burd. I like its directness. _You call
yourself the son of Burd, though you are the son of another man. Or,
grant that Burd married your mother, who was Burd?_

In sarcasms Al-Yazidi was hard pressed by Abu Obaida, who was a very Mr.
Brown (_vide_ Bret Harte) in being of "so sarcastic a humour that every
one in Basra who had a reputation to maintain was obliged to flatter
him." When dining once with Musa Ibn Ar-Rahman Al-Hilali, one of the
pages spilled some gravy on the skirt of Abu Obaida's cloak.

"Some gravy has fallen on your cloak," said Musa, "but I shall give you
ten others in place of it."

"Nay!" replied Abu Obaida, "do not mind! _Your_ gravy can do no harm."

Another of Al-Yazidi's satirical efforts, which has no forerunner in Ibn
Khallikan's recollection, is this, levelled at another mean
acquaintance; meanness, indeed, being one of the unpardonable
offences--especially in the eyes of poets who lived on patronage: _Be
careful not to lose the friendship of Abu 'l-Mukatil when you approach
to partake of his meal. Breaking his crumpet is for him as bad as
breaking one of his limbs. His guests fast against their will, and
without meaning to obtain the spiritual reward which is granted to
fasting._

Apropos of sarcasm, the Merwanide Omaiyide, who reigned in Spain,
received from Nizar, the sovereign of Egypt, an insulting and satirical
letter, to which he replied in these terms: "You satirize us because you
have heard of us. Had we ever heard of you, we should make you a
reply."

None of the sarcastic wits are more pointed than the blind mawla Abu
'l-Aina (806-96), whose tongue was venomously barbed, and who, like
other blind men, often used his malady as a protection when his satire
had been excessive. Viziers were his favourite butts. Being one day in
the society of one of them, the conversation turned on the history of
the Barmekides and their generosity, on which the vizier said to Abu
'l-Aina, who had just made a high eulogium of that family for their
liberality and bounty: "You have praised them and their qualities too
much; all this is a mere fabrication of book-makers and a fable imagined
by authors."

Abu 'l-Aina immediately replied: "And why then do book-makers not relate
such fables of you, O vizier?"

Again, having gone one day to the door of Said Ibn Makhlad and asked
permission to enter, Abu 'l-Aina was told that the vizier was engaged in
prayer. "Ah!" he exclaimed, "there is a pleasure in novelty."

"I am told," said a khalif to him, "that thou hast an evil tongue."

"Commander of the Faithful!" replied Abu 'l-Aina, "the Almighty himself
has spoken praise and satire," and he then quoted this poem: _If I
praise not the honest man and revile not the sordid, the despicable, and
the base, why should I have the power of saying, "That is good and this
is bad"? And why should God have opened men's ears and my mouth?_

Having one day a dispute with a descendant of the Prophet, his adversary
said to Abu 'l-Aina: "You attack me, and yet you say in your prayers:
'Almighty God! bless Muhammad and the family of Muhammad.'"

"Yes," replied Abu 'l-Aina, "but I add--'who are virtuous and pure.'"

Here is one of the stories which Abu 'l-Aina used to tell. "I was one
day sitting with Abu 'l-Jahm, when a man came in and said to him: 'You
made me a promise, and it depends on your kindness to fulfil it.'

"Abu 'l-Jahm answered that he did not recollect it, and the other
replied: 'If you do not recollect it, 'tis because the persons like me
to whom you make promises are numerous; and if I remember it, 'tis
because the persons like you to whom I may confidently address a
request are few.'

"'Well said! Blessings on your father!' exclaimed Abu 'l-Jahm, and the
promise was immediately fulfilled."

That blind men should be self-protective is of course, natural, and the
East has always been rich in them. "The learned Muwaffak Ad-Din
Muzaffar, the blind poet of Egypt, having gone to visit Al-Kadi As-Said
Ibn Sana Al-Mulk, the latter said to him: 'Learned scholar! I have
composed the first hemistich of a verse, but cannot finish it, although
it has occupied my mind for some days.'

"Muzaffar asked to hear what he had composed, and the other recited as
follows: _The whiteness of my beard proceeds from the blackness of her
ringlets--_

"On hearing these words, Muzaffar replied that he had found their
completion, and recited as follows:--_even as the flame with which I
burn for her acquired its intensity from her pomegranate-flower [her
rosy cheeks]_.

"As-Said approved of the addition, and commenced another verse on the
same model; but Muzaffar said to himself: 'I must rise and be off, or
else he will make the entire piece at the expense of my wits.'"


XII.--AN EARLY CHESS CHAMPION

Much has been written of the origin of chess, and many countries contend
for the honour of its inception. According to my encyclopædia, China,
India, Persia, and Egypt have each a claim, but it is probable that the
game existed, in some form or other, before history. The theory is that
the Arabs introduced it to Europe in the eighth century. Thus the
cautious encyclopædia; but Ibn Khallikan has no such hesitancy. From him
we get names and dates. Ibn Khallikan gives the credit boldly to one
Sissah, who, says he, "imagined the game for the amusement of King
Shihram." Whether Sissah built it out of a clear sky, or had foundations
on which to erect, is not stated. Anyway, the pastime was a complete
success. "It is said that, when Sissah invented the game of chess and
presented it to Shihram, the latter was struck with admiration and
filled with joy; he ordered chess-boards to be placed in the temples,
and considered that game as the best thing that could be learned,
inasmuch as it served as an introduction to the art of war, as an honour
to religion and the world, and as the foundation of all justice.

"He manifested also his gratitude and satisfaction for the favour which
Heaven had granted him in illustrating his reign by such an invention,
and he said to Sissah, 'Ask me for whatever you desire.'

"'I then demand,' replied Sissah, 'that a grain of wheat be placed in
the first square of the chess-board, two in the second, and that the
number of grains be progressively doubled till the last square is
attained: whatever this quantity may be, I ask you to bestow it on me.'

"The king, who meant to make him a present of something considerable,
exclaimed that such a recompense would be too little, and reproached
Sissah for asking for so inadequate a reward.

"Sissah declared that he desired nothing but what he had mentioned, and,
heedless of the king's remonstrances, he persisted in his demand.

"The king, at length, consented, and ordered that quantity of wheat to
be given him. When the chiefs of the government office received orders
to that effect, they calculated the amount, and answered that they did
not possess near so much wheat as was required.

"These words were reported to the king, and he, being unable to credit
them, ordered the chiefs to be brought before him. Having questioned
them on the subject, they replied that all the wheat in the world would
be insufficient to make up the quantity. He ordered them to prove what
they said, and, by a series of multiplications and reckonings, they
demonstrated to him that such was the fact.

"On this, the king said to Sissah: 'Your ingenuity in imagining such a
request is yet more admirable than your talent in inventing the game of
chess.'"

Ibn Khallikan was at pains to investigate the matter. Having, he says,
"met one of the accountants employed at Alexandria, I received from him
a demonstration which convinced me that the declaration was true. He
placed before me a sheet of paper in which he had doubled the numbers up
to the sixteenth square, and obtained thirty-two thousand seven hundred
and sixty-eight grains. 'Now,' said he, 'let us consider this quantity
to be the contents of a pint measure, and this I know by experiment to
be true'--these are the accountant's words, so let him bear the
responsibility--'then let the pint be doubled in the seventeenth square,
and so on progressively. In the twentieth square it will become a waiba
(peck), the waibas will then become an irdabb (bushel), and in the
fortieth square we shall have one hundred and seventy-four thousand
seven hundred and sixty-two irdabbs. Let us suppose this to be the
contents of a corn store, and no corn store contains more than that;
then in the fiftieth square we shall have the contents of one thousand
and twenty-four stores; suppose these to be situated in one city--and no
city can have more than that number of stores or even so many--we shall
then find that the sixty-fourth and last square gives sixteen thousand
three hundred and eighty-four cities. Now, you know that there is not in
the world a greater number of cities than that, for geometry informs us
that the circumference of the globe is eight thousand parasangs; so
that, if the end of a cord were laid on any part of the earth, and the
cord passed round it till both ends met, we should find the length of
the cord to be twenty-four thousand miles, which is equal to eight
thousand parasangs.' This demonstration is decisive and indubitable."

Of Sissah I know no more, except that he was from India and that his
game became popular. Up to the time of Ibn Khallikan, in the thirteenth
century, its best player was one As-Suli, famous as an author and a
convivialist, who died one hundred and twenty years before the Norman
Conquest. "To play like As-Suli" was indeed a proverb. Among this
proficient's friends was his pupil, the khalif Ar-Radi, who had the
greatest admiration for As-Suli's genius. One day, for instance, walking
with some boon companions through a garden filled with beautiful
flowers, Ar-Radi asked them if they ever saw a finer sight. To this they
replied, speaking as wise men speak to autocratic rulers, that nothing
on earth could surpass it.

The retort of the khalif must have given them the surprise of their
lives. "You are wrong," said he: "As-Suli's manner of playing chess is
yet a finer sight, and surpasses all you could describe!" So might we
now refer to Hobbs on his day at the Oval, on a hard wicket, against
fast bowling, with Surrey partisans standing four deep behind the seats,
or to Stevenson nursing the balls from the middle pocket to the top
left-hand pocket and then across to the right.

One more anecdote of the Persian Steinitz, and I have done. I tell it
because it rounds off this interlude with some symmetry by bringing us
back to my own consultation of the encyclopædia at the beginning of it.
As-Suli had a famous library of books in which he had jotted down the
fruits of his various reading. When asked a question on any subject,
instead of answering it he would tell his boy to bring such and such a
volume in which the matter at issue was treated. This trait led to an
epigram being written upon him by a rival scholar, Abu Said, to the
effect that "of all men As-Suli possessed most learning--in his
library." There are still men learned on the same terms, but, nowadays,
we do not have to collect the information for ourselves but go to _The
Times_ and Messrs. Chambers for it.


XIII.--COURTESY AND JUSTICE

Harun Ar-Raschid passing near Manbij with Abd Al-Malik Ibn Salih, who
was the most elegant speaker of all the surviving descendants of
Al-Abbas, observed a well-built country-seat and a garden full of trees
covered with fruit, and asked to whom that property belonged.

Abd Al-Malik replied: "To you, Commander of the Faithful! and then to
me."

This Abd Al-Malik was so famous, as a story-teller that a wise man said
of him: "When I reflect that Abd Al-Malik's tongue must sooner or later
moulder into dust, the world loses its value in my sight."

Abu 'l-Amaithal, the poet, was also a most efficient courtier. As he
kissed one day the hand of Abd Allah Ibn Tahir, that prince complained
of the roughness of the poet's moustachios, whereupon he immediately
observed that the spines of the hedgehog could not hurt the wrist of the
lion. Abd Allah was so pleased with this compliment that he ordered him
a valuable present.

Another graceful compliment. Of Ishak Ibn Ibrahim Al-Mausili, who was
famous for his voice and was a "constant companion of the khalifs in
their parties of pleasure," the khalif Al-Motasim charmingly said:
"Ishak never yet sang without my feeling as if my possessions were
increased."

Another compliment that goes still deeper. Abu Nuwas, in a lament
composed on the death of the khalif Al-Amin, said of him: _His death was
the only thing I feared, and now nothing remains for me to dread._

These, however, were but speeches. Compliments may be conveyed also by
deeds, as we find in the case of Imam Al-Haramain, who was so learned
and acceptable a teacher that, at the moment of his death, his scholars,
who were four hundred and one in number, broke their pens and inkhorns;
and they let a full year pass over before they resumed their studies. Of
these Persians we can believe in the sincerity; but the motives of
English scholars performing a similar act of renunciation might be open
to suspicion.

Badi Az-Zaman Az-Hamadani was famous for his epistolary style. Here is a
passage which, though written in Persia in the tenth century, might have
aptness in English country houses at this moment: _When water has long
remained at rest, its noxious qualities appear; and when its surface has
continued tranquil, its foulness gets into motion. Thus it is with a
guest: his presence is displeasing when his stay has been protracted,
and his shadow is oppressive when the time for which he should sojourn
is at an end. Adieu._

The khalif Ali Ibn Ali Talib was a very just man. Some one having
committed a theft was brought before him. "Bring me witnesses," said
Ali, "to prove that he purloined the object out of the saddle-bag."

Unmistakable evidence to that effect being given, Ali immediately
ordered the fingers of his hand to be cut off.

On this some person said to him: "Commander of the Faithful! why not cut
it off by the wrist?"

"God forbid!" exclaimed the khalif; "how could he then lean on his
staff? How could he pray? How could he eat?"

In the Life of Ibn Abd Al-Barr, a Traditionist of Cordova, who, "it is
stated, died in the year 380 (A.D. 990), but God knows best," a number
of good stories are collected. This is one. "It is related that, when
Adam was sent out of Paradise and down to earth by Almighty God, the
angel Gabriel went to him and said: 'O Adam! God here sends you three
qualities, so that you may select one of them for yourself and leave the
two others.'

"'What are they?' said Adam.

"Gabriel replied: 'Modesty, Piety, and Intelligence.'

"'I choose Intelligence,' said Adam.

"The angel then told Modesty and Piety to return to Heaven, because Adam
had made choice of Intelligence.

"They answered: 'We will not return.'

"'How!' said he. 'Do you mean to disobey me?'

"They replied: 'We do not, but our orders were, never to quit
Intelligence wherever she might be.'"

Another story showing how destructively effective may be the use of
fairness--politeness with the buttons off--is of an Arab who, on being
insulted copiously by a stranger, remained silent. To the question why
he did not reply, he said: "I know not the man's vices and am unwilling
to reproach him with defects he may not have."

Two other anecdotes are of the famous jester, Al-Jammaz. The first tells
how at Basra a man perceiving the new moon, which indicated the
beginning of the month of fasting, Ramadan, pointed it out eagerly to
his companions. "When the moon which indicates the end of the fast was
nearly due, Al-Jammaz knocked at the door of this too officious person
and said: 'Come! get up and take us out of the scrape into which you
brought us.'"

Al-Jammaz was delighted with the following example of his readiness.
"One rainy morning," he said, "I was asked by my wife what was best to
be done on such a day as that, and I answered: 'Divorcing a troublesome
wife.' This stopped her mouth."

Al-Mubarrad used frequently to recite these lines at his assemblies: _O
you who, in sumptuous array, strut about like princes and scorn the
hatred of the poor, know that the saddle-cloth changeth not the nature
of the ass, neither do splendid trappings change the nature of the pack
horse._

When Al-Mubarrad died a poet wrote of him: _Behold the mansion of
literature half-demolished, and destruction awaiting the remainder._
That was in 899.

To excuse himself for a want of social ceremony, Ibn Abi 's-Sakr, "an
amateur of the belles-lettres," who died in 1105, composed these verses:
_An indisposition called eighty years hinders me from rising to receive
my friends; but when they reach an advanced age, they will understand
and accept my excuse._

Old age occurs also in a poem of Al-Otbi, who died in 842: _When Sulaima
saw me turn my eyes away--and I turn my glances away from all who
resemble her--she said: "I saw thee mad with love"; and I replied:
"Youth is a madness of which old age is the cure."_ This phrase, says
Ibn Khallikan, afterwards became a proverb. Most nations have anecdotes
in which the idea occurs.

The following anecdote of the kadi Shuraih, who was famous not only for
his "great skill in distinguishing right from wrong" but also for his
humour, is very pleasing. Adi Ibn Arta, who was blind, went to the
kadi's house one day, and the following dialogue ensued:

"Where are you, kadi? May God direct you!"

"I am between you and the wall."

"Listen to me."

"I can hear very well."

"I am a native of Syria."

"It is a distant land."

"And I have married a wife from your country."

"May you live happily and have many children!"

"And I wanted to take her on a journey."

"Each man has the best right over his own family."

"But I engaged not to remove her from her native place."

"Engagements are binding."

"Judge then between us."

"I have already done so."

"And against whom have you given it?"

"Against your mother's son."

"On whose evidence?"

"On the evidence of your maternal aunt's sister's son."

I find a similar quality--not un-Johnsonian--in the reply of At-Tirmidi
the juriconsult to a question, as reported by Abu 't-Taiyib Ahmad Ibn
Othman As-Simsar. "I was," said he, "at Abu Jaafar At-Tirmidi's when a
person consulted him about the saying of the Prophet, that God descended
to the heaven of the world (i.e. the lowest of the seven heavens). This
person expressed his desire to know how there could, in that case, be
anything more exalted than the lowest heaven?

"At-Tirmidi replied: 'The descent is intelligible; the manner how is
unknown; the belief therein is obligatory; and the asking about it is a
blameable innovation.'"

The kadi Yahya Ibn Aktham, although famous for his licentiousness, was
orthodox to the marrow. It was he who said: "The _Koran_ is the word of
God, and whoever says that it has been created by man should be invited
to abandon that opinion; and if he do not, his head should be struck
off."

The following dialogue between Yahya and a man is very characteristic of
dry Persian sagacity. The man began it, thus: "May God preserve you! How
much should I eat?"

Yahya replied: "Enough to get over hunger and not enough to attain
satiety."

"How long may I laugh?"

"Till your face brightens, but without raising your voice."

"How long should I weep?"

"Weeping should never fatigue you, if it be through fear of God."

"What actions of mine should I conceal?"

"As many as you can."

"What are the actions which I should do openly?"

"Those which may serve as examples to good and virtuous men, whilst they
secure you from public reprobation."

On this the man exclaimed: "May God preserve us from words which abide
when deeds have passed away!" It is possible that there were reserves of
meaning in this final speech, for Yahya's surname Aktham signifies
either "a corpulent man" or "sated with food."

I have not borrowed much from Ibn Khallikan's heroics, but this is good.
Al-Moizz having conquered Egypt, he entered Old Cairo. His pretensions
to be a descendant of Ali had already been contested, and on his
approach the people of the city went forth to meet him, accompanied by a
band of sharifs, and Ibn Tabataba, who was one of the number, asked him
from whom he drew his descent.

To this question Al-Moizz replied: "We shall hold a sitting to which all
of you shall be convened, and there we shall expose to you the entire
chain of our genealogy."

Being at length established in the castle of Cairo, he gave a public
audience, as he had promised, and having taken his seat, he asked if any
of their chiefs were still alive?

"No," replied they, "not one of any consequence survives."

He then drew his sword half-way out of the scabbard and exclaimed: "This
is my genealogy! And here," said he, scattering a great quantity of gold
among them, "are proofs of my nobility!"

On this they all acknowledged him for their lord and master.


XIV.--THE ASCETICS

Of Bishr Ibn Al-Harith Al-Hafi, one of Baghdad's holiest ascetics, it is
told that his choice of the life of saintliness thus came about.
Happening to find on the road a leaf of paper with the name of God
written on it, which had been trampled underfoot, he bought ghalia with
some dirhems which he had about him, and, having perfumed the leaf with
it, deposited it in a hole in a wall.

Afterwards he had a dream, in which a voice seemed to say to him: "O
Bishr! thou hast perfumed my name, and I shall surely cause thine to be
a sweet odour both in this world and the next."

When he awoke, he gave up the world, and turned to God.

Bishr being once asked with what sauce he ate his bread, replied: "I
think on good health, and I take that as my sauce."

One of his prayers was this: "O, my God! deprive me of notoriety, if
thou hast given it to me in this world for the purpose of putting me to
shame in the next."

It was a true saying of another famous ascetic, Al-Fudail, that, when
God loves a man, He increases his afflictions, and when He hates a man,
He increases his worldly prosperity.

Asceticism, however, had not robbed him of human sympathy or warped his
nature, for he said at another time: "For a man to be polite to his
company and make himself agreeable to them is better than to pass nights
in prayer and days in fasting."

Abu Ali Ar-Razi said: "I kept company with Al-Fudail during thirty
years, and I never saw him laugh or smile but on one occasion, and that
was the death of his son. On my asking him the reason, he replied:
'Whatever is pleasing to God is pleasing to me.'"

Maruf Al-Karkhi, another celebrated saint, who died in Baghdad in 805,
had a sensible elasticity. Passing, one day, by a water-carrier who was
crying out: "God have mercy on him who drinketh!" he went up to him and
took a drink, although he was at that time keeping a strict fast.

Some one, horrified at the impiety, said to him: "Art thou not keeping a
fast?"

He replied: "Yes, I am, but I hoped for the fulfilment of that man's
prayer."

One of the sayings of Abd Al-Ala, a man of holy life, was this: "Buying
what one does not require, is selling what one requires."

Another pious man, Abu Othman Al-Mazini the grammarian, used to tell the
following story against himself: "There was a person who, for a long
time, studied under me the grammar of Sibawaih, and who said to me, when
he got to the end of the book, 'May God requite you well! As for me, I
have not understood a letter of it.'"

Yahya, a celebrated preacher, on being asked by a descendant of the
Prophet, "Tell me, Master! and may God assist you! what is your opinion
of us who are the people of the house,"--that is to say, the members of
Muhammad's family,--replied: "It is that which I would say of clay
kneaded with the water of divine revelation and sprinkled with the water
of the heavenly mission: can it give out any other odour than the musk
of true direction and the ambergris of piety?"

The Alide was so highly pleased with this answer that he filled Yahya's
mouth with pearls.

Yahya, who died on March 30, 872, had a very graceful turn for
apophthegms. "True friendship," said he, "cannot be augmented by
kindness nor diminished by unkindness." And again, he said: "To him who
is going to see a true friend the way never appears long; he who goes
to visit his beloved never feels lonely on the road."

The exaltation of friendship is indeed one of the beautiful things about
this book. And the reader can never have too much of it. Buri Taj
Al-Muluk was, says Ibn Khallikan, merely a man of talent, but the
following verse by him contains a perfectly splendid compliment: _My
friend approached from the west, riding on a grey horse, and I
exclaimed: "Glory to the Almighty! the sun has risen in the west!"_

At-Tihami, the poet, one of whose poems, an elegy on the death of his
son, brings ill-luck when quoted, wrote these admirable lines on the
same theme: _In the company of noble-minded men there is always room for
another. Friendship, it is true, renders difficulties easy: a house may
be too small for eight persons, yet friendship will make it hold a
ninth._


XV.--A NIGHT SCENE

The capriciousness of the moods of these sombre and terrible Eastern
autocrats--the strange sentimental chinks in their armour--are seen in
the very characteristic story which follows. "Secret information having
been given to Al-Mutawakkil that the imam, Abu 'l-Hasan Al-Askari, had a
quantity of arms, books, and other objects for the use of his followers
concealed in his house, and being induced by malicious reports to
believe that he aspired to the empire, he sent one night some soldiers
of the Turkish guard to break in on him when he least expected such a
visit.

"They found him quite alone and locked up in his room, clothed in a
hair-shirt, his head covered with a woollen cloak, and turned with his
face in the direction of Mecca, chanting, in this attitude, some verses
of the _Koran_ expressive of God's promises and threats, and having no
other carpet between him and the earth than sand and gravel.

"He was carried off in that attire and brought, in the depth of the
night, before Al-Mutawakkil, who was then engaged in drinking wine. On
seeing him, the khalif received him with respect, and being informed
that nothing had been found in his house to justify the suspicions cast
upon him, he seated him by his side and offered him the goblet which he
held in his hand.

"'Commander of the Faithful!' said Abu 'l-Hasan, 'a liquor such as that
was never yet combined with my flesh and blood; dispense me therefore
from taking it.'

"The khalif acceded to his request, and then asked him to repeat some
verses which might amuse him.

"Abu 'l-Hasan replied that he knew by heart very little poetry; but
Al-Mutawakkil having insisted, he recited these lines (which anticipate
Poe's "Conqueror Worm" very thoroughly): _'They passed the night on the
summits of the mountains, protected by valiant warriors; but their place
of refuge availed them not. After all their pomp and power, they had to
descend from their lofty fortresses to the custody of the tomb. O what a
dreadful change! Their graves had already received them when a voice was
heard exclaiming: "Where are the thrones, the crowns, and the robes of
slate? Where are now the faces once so delicate, which were shaded by
veils and protected by the curtains of the audience-hall?" To this
demand, the tomb gave answer sufficient: "The worms," it said, "are now
revelling upon those faces; long had these men been eating and drinking,
but now they are eaten in their turn."'_

"Every person present was filled with apprehension for Abu 'l-Hasan
Ali's safety; they feared that Al-Mutawakkil, in the first burst of
indignation, would have vented his wrath upon him; but they perceived
the khalif weeping bitterly, the tears trickling down his beard, and all
the assembly wept with him.

"Al-Mutawakkil then ordered the wine to be removed, after which he said:
'Tell me, Abu 'l-Hasan! are you in debt?'

"'Yes,' replied the other, 'I owe four thousand dinars.'

"The khalif ordered that sum to be given him, and sent him home with
marks of the highest respect."


XVI.--THE FAIR

The book contains the lives of very few women; but one of the privileged
of her sex is Buran, who died in 884. She became the wife of the khalif
Al-Mamun, who, says Ibn Khallikan rather ungallantly, was "induced to
marry her by the high esteem he bore her father." That her father, the
vizier, saw no slight in this, but was not unwilling that his daughter
should pass under the roof of another, we may perhaps gather from the
lavishness of the wedding, which was celebrated at Fam As-Silh, with
festivities and rejoicings, the like of which were never witnessed for
ages before. The vizier's liberality went so far that he showered balls
of musk upon the Hashimites, the commanders of the troops, the katibs,
and the persons who held an eminent rank at court. Musk is an expensive
thing in itself, but each of these balls contained a ticket, and the
person into whose hands it fell, having opened it and read its contents,
proceeded to an agent specially appointed for the purpose, from whom he
received the object inscribed on the ticket, whether it was a farm or
other property, a horse, a slave-girl, or a mameluk. The vizier then
scattered gold and silver coins and eggs of amber among the rest of the
people.

Capricious generosity marked many of these rulers. Thus it is told of
Ibn Bakiya, the vizier, that in the space of twenty days he distributed
twenty thousand robes of honour. "I saw him one night at a drinking
party," says Abu Ishak As-Sabi, "and, during the festivity, he changed
frequently his outer dress according to custom: every time he put on a
new pelisse, he bestowed it on one or other of the persons present; so
that he gave away, in that sitting, upwards of two hundred pelisses.

"A female musician then said to him: 'Lord of viziers! there must be
wasps in these robes to prevent you from keeping them on your body!'

"He laughed at this conceit, and ordered her a present of a casket of
jewels."

Another of the ladies whom Ibn Khallikan so seldom leaves his high road
to notice is As-Saiyida Sukaina, who, however, could not well be
excluded, since she was "the first among the women of her time [she died
A.D. 735] by birth, beauty, wit, and virtue." Part of her fame rests
upon her repartees to poets: a most desirable form of activity. Thus,
Orwa had a brother called Abu Bakr, whose death he lamented in some
extravagant verses of which these are the concluding lines: _My sorrow
is for Bakr, my brother! Bakr has departed from me! What life can now be
pleasing after the loss of Bakr?_

When Sukaina heard these verses, she asked who was Bakr? And on being
informed, she exclaimed: "What! that little blackamoor who used to run
past us? Why, everything is pleasing after the loss of Bakr, even the
common necessaries of life--bread and oil!"

Another female intruder. It is told of Ibn As-Sammak, a pious sage and
"professional relater of anecdotes," that having held a discourse one
day in the hearing of his slave-girl, he asked her what she thought of
it. She replied that it would have been good but for the repetitions.

"But," said he, "I employ repetitions in order to make those understand
who do not."

"Yes," she replied, "and to make those understand who do not, you weary
those who do."

One of the sayings of Ibn As-Sammak was: "Fear God as if you had never
obeyed Him, and hope in Him as if you had never disobeyed Him."


XVII.--THE GREAT JAAFAR

The father of the great Jaafar was Yahya the Barmekide, the friend and
vizier of Harun Ar-Raschid. From this family Ibn Khallikan claimed
descent. Yahya was "highly distinguished for wisdom, nobleness of mind,
and elegance of language." One of his sayings was this: "Three things
indicate the degree of intelligence possessed by him who does them: the
bestowing of gifts, the drawing up of letters, and the acting as
ambassador."

Another: "Spend when Fortune turns toward you, for her bounty cannot
then be exhausted; spend when she turns away, for she will not remain
with you."

He said also, very comfortingly: "The sincere intention of doing a good
action and a legitimate excuse for not doing it are equivalent to its
accomplishment."

He died in 805, after long imprisonment by the illustrious khalif whose
pleasure it had been to address him always as "My father."

Such was Jaafar's parent. One of the greatest men in the whole work is
Jaafar himself, called Jaafar the Barmekide, also vizier to Harun
Ar-Raschid. Of his somewhat sardonic shrewdness this is a good example.
Having learned that Ar-Raschid was much depressed in consequence of a
Jewish astrologer having predicted to him that he would die within a
year, he interviewed the Jew, who had been detained as a prisoner by the
khalif's orders.

Jaafar addressed him in these terms: "You pretend that the khalif is to
die in the space of so many days?"

"Yes," said the Jew.

"And how long are you yourself to live?" said Jaafar.

"So many years," replied the other, mentioning a great number.

Jaafar then said to the khalif: "Put him to death, and you will be thus
assured that he is equally mistaken respecting the length of your life
and that of his own."

This advice was followed by the khalif, who then thanked Jaafar for
having dispelled his sadness.

At the other extreme--though akin in sardonic humour--is this incident.
It is related that one day, at Jaafar's, a beetle flew towards Abu Obaid
the Thakefite, and that Jaafar ordered it to be driven away, when Abu
Obaid said: "Let it alone; it may perhaps bring me good luck; such is at
least the vulgar opinion."

Jaafar on this ordered one thousand dinars to be given him, saying: "The
vulgar opinion is confirmed."

The beetle was then set at liberty, but it flew towards Abu Obaid a
second time, and Jaafar ordered him another present of the same amount.

Such was the affection the khalif felt for Jaafar that he caused a robe
with two collars to be made which they could wear at the same time.

Fickle, however, are princes, and Jaafar's end came in the usual way,
through treachery. He was killed, by the khalif's orders, by Yasir.
Yasir having put Jaafar to death, carried in his head and placed it
before the khalif.

The khalif looked at the head for some time, and then ordered Yasir to
bring in two persons whom he named. When they came, he said to them:
"Strike off Yasir's head, for I cannot bear the sight of Jaafar's
murderer."


XVIII.--LOVE AND LOVERS

As I have said, these four great volumes are a mine from which many
different metals may be extracted. My own researches having tended
rather to a certain ironic quality, I have passed many lovers by; but
let me make an exception or so. There is, for example, Kuthaiyr. In the
account of this celebrated Arabian amorist, we come upon a very pretty
story. Being once in the presence of Abd Al-Malik, this prince said to
Kuthaiyr: "I conjure thee by the rights of Ali Abi Ibn Talib to inform
me if thou ever sawest a truer lover than thyself."

To this Kuthaiyr replied: "Commander of the Faithful! conjure me by your
own rights, and I shall answer you."

"Well," said the prince, "I conjure thee by my own rights; wilt thou not
tell it to me now?"

"Certainly," said Kuthaiyr; "I will. As I was travelling in a certain
desert, I beheld a man who had just pitched his toils to catch game, and
I said to him: 'Why art thou sitting here?' And he replied: 'I and my
people are dying with hunger, and I have pitched these toils that I may
catch something which may sustain our lives till to morrow.' 'Tell me,'
said I, 'if I remain with thee and thou takest any game, wilt thou give
me a share?' He answered that he would; and whilst we were waiting,
behold, a gazelle got into the net. We both rushed forward; but he
outran me, and having disentangled the animal, he let it go. 'What,'
said I, 'could have induced thee to do so?' He replied: 'On seeing her
so like my beloved Laila in the eyes, I was touched with pity.'"

Little men who are disposed to envy the big on account of fair ladies
may take comfort from Kuthaiyr, for although so ardent and successful,
he was absurdly small: so short indeed that, when he went to visit Abd
Al-Aziz Ibn Marwan, that prince used to banter him and say: "Stoop your
head, lest you hurt it against the ceiling."

He was called Rabb Ad-Dubab (the king of the flies) for the same reason.
One of his contemporaries said: "I saw him making the circuits round the
Kaaba; and if anyone tell you that his stature exceeded three spans,
that person is a liar."

Abu Omar Az-Zahid Al-Mutarriz, although he "ranked among the most
eminent and the most learned of the philologers," and was famous for his
"mortified life," could write love poems too. Here is one: _Overcome
with grief, we stopped at As-Sarat one evening, to exchange adieus; and,
despite of envious foes, we stood unsealing the packets of every
passionate desire. On saying farewell, she saw me borne down by the
pains of love, and consented to grant me a kiss; but, impelled by
startled modesty, she drew her veil across her face. On this I said:
"The full moon has now become a crescent." I then kissed her through the
veil, and she observed: "My kisses are wine: to be tasted, they must be
passed through the strainer."_ (It seems, however, from Ibn Khallikan's
anxious dubiety on the matter, that this poem, after all, may have been
written, like the Iliad, by another poet of the same name. God only
knows.)

Another Anacreontic, this time by Ibn Zuhr: _Whilst the fair ones lay
reclining, their cheek pillowed on the arm, a hostile inroad of the dawn
took us by surprise. I had passed the night in filling up their cups and
drinking what they had left; till inebriation overcame me, and my lot
was theirs also. The wine well knows how to avenge a wrong; I turned the
goblet up, and that liquor turned me down._

The poetry of love comprises, alas! also the poetry of despair. Here is
an example by Ibn As-Sarraj, the grammarian: _I compared her beauty with
her conduct, and found that her charms did not counterbalance her
perfidy. She swore to me never to be false, but 'twas as if she had
sworn never to be true. By Allah! I shall never speak to her again,
even though she resembled in beauty the full moon, or the sun, or
Al-Muktafi!_

The inclusion of the khalif Al-Muktafi seems to have been an
afterthought, added when the poet first saw him. Struck by his
comeliness, he recited the poem to some companions and inserted his name
at the end. The sequel is amusing and very characteristic. "Some time
after, the katib Abu Abd Allah Muhammad Ibn Ismail Ibn Zenji repeated
the verses to Abu 'l-Abbas Ibn Al-Furat, saying that they were composed
by Ibn Al-Motazz, and Abu 'l-Abbas communicated them to the vizier
Al-Kasim Ibn Obaid Allah. The latter then went to the khalif and recited
the verses to him, adding that they were by Obaid Allah Ibn Abd Allah
Ibn Tahir, to whom Al-Muktafi immediately ordered a present of one
thousand dinars.

"'How very strange,' said Ibi Zenji, 'that Ibn As-Sarraj should compose
verses which were to procure a donation to Obaid Allah Ibn Abd Allah Ibn
Tahir!'"

Abu Bakr Ibn Aiyash, the Traditionist and scholar, discovered a remedy
for lovers which is too simple, I fear, to commend itself to less
philosophic Occidentals affected by the pains of longing. "I was
suffering," he says, "from an anxious desire of meeting one whom I
loved, when I called to mind the verse of Zu 'r-Rumma's: _Perhaps a flow
of tears will give me ease from pain; perhaps it may cure a heart whose
sole companion is sad thoughts._ On this I withdrew to a private place
and wept, by which means my sufferings were calmed."


XIX.--TO DISARM CRITICS

And so we come to an end. And how can an author do better than to quote
Ibn Khallikan's own concluding words, which, though written so long ago
about a biographical dictionary, may be borrowed by all literary hands
as palliation for whatever shortcomings their work may have?--"If any
well-informed person remark, in examining this book, that it contains
faults, he should not hasten to blame me, for I always aimed at being
exact, as far as I could judge; and, besides, God has allowed no book to
be faultless except His noble _Koran_."



=DIVERSIONS=



DIVERSIONS



Nurses


The conversation turning, as, round English fires, it often does, on the
peculiarities of an old nurse of the family, I was struck again by the
tenderness and kindness, shot through with humour, that are always
evoked by this particular retrospective mood. I would even say that
people are at their best when they are remembering their nurses. To
recall one's parents is often to touch chords that vibrate too
disturbingly; but these foster parents, chosen usually with such strange
carelessness but developing often into true guardian angels, with good
influences persisting through life--when, in reminiscent vein, we set
them up, one against the other, can call from the speakers qualities
that they normally may conspicuously lack. Quite dull people can become
interesting and whimsical as their thoughts wander back through the
years to the day when old Martha or old Jane, or whoever it was, moulded
them and scolded them and broke the laws of grammar. Quite hard people
can then melt a little. Quite stern people can smile.

And quite funny people can become intensely funny, as I have melancholy
reason to know, for, listening to these new anecdotes, I recalled the
last occasion on which the fruitful theme of a Nanna's oddities had been
developed; when the speaker was that fascinating athlete and gentleman,
E. B., a gallant officer with a gift of mimicry as notable as his sense
of fun and his depth of feeling, who, chiefly for the amusement of two
children, but equally--or even more--to the delight of us older ones,
not only gave us certain of his old nurse's favourite sayings, in her
own voice, but reconstructed her features as he did so. All good mimicry
astonishes and entertains me, and this was especially good, for it
triumphed over the disabilities of a captain's uniform. Something very
curious and pretty, and, through all our laughter, affecting, in the
spectacle of this tall, commanding soldier painting with little loving
comic touches the portrait of the old Malapropian lady with her heart of
gold. That was a few short months ago, and to-day E. B. lies in a French
grave.

Malapropisms and old nurses are, of course, inseparable. Indeed, they
formed again the basis of our talk the other evening, each of us having
a new example to give, all drawn from memories of childhood. Wonderful
how these quaint phrases stick--due, I suppose, to the fact that the
child does not hear too much to confuse it, and when in this tenacious
stage notices the sharp differences between the conversation of the
literate, as encountered in the dining-room and drawing-room, and the
much more amusing illiteracy below stairs. It will be a bad day for
England when education is so prevalent that nursemaids have it too. Much
less interesting will the backward look then become.

How far forward we have moved in general social decency one realizes
after listening to such conversations as I have hinted at, where respect
and affection dominate, and then turning to some of the children's books
of a century ago--the kind of book in which the parents are always
right and made in God's image, and the children full of faults. In one
of these I found recently a story of a little girl who, being rude and
wilful with her maid, was rebuked by her kind and wise mamma in some
such phrase as, "Although it has pleased the Almighty to set you and
Sarah in such different positions, you have no right to be unjust to
her."

Reflecting upon how great a change has come upon the relation of
employers and employed, and how much greater a change is in store, it
seems to me that one of the good human kinds of book that does not at
present exist, and ought to be made, would bring together between two
covers some of the best servants in history, public and private, and
possibly in literature too. Nurses first, because the nurse is so much
more important a factor in family life, and because, to my mind, she has
never had honour enough. I doubt if enough honour could be paid to her,
but the attempt has not been sufficiently made. And to-day, of course,
the very word as I am using it has only a secondary meaning. By "nurse"
to-day we mean first a cool, smiling woman, with a white cap and
possibly a red cross, ministering to the wounded and the sick. We have
to think twice in order to evoke the guardian angel of our childhood,
the mother's right hand, and often so much more real than the mother
herself. I would lay special emphasis on the nurse who, beginning as a
young retainer, develops into a friend and to the end of her days moves
on parallel lines with the family, even if she is not still of it. These
old nurses, the nurses of whom the older we grow the more tenderly and
gratefully we think--will no one give them a book of praise? I should
love to read it. And there should not be any lack of material--with
Stevenson's Alison Cunningham by no means last on the list.

But if on examination the material proved too scanty, then the other
devoted servants might come in too, such as Sir Walter Scott's Tom
Purdie, who should have a proud place, and that wonderful gardener of
the great Dumas, whose devotion extended to confederacy.

Without Dumas' gardener, indeed, no book in honour of the fidelity of
man to man could be complete. For just think of it! The only approach to
the house of the divine Alexandre being by way of a wooden bridge, this
immortal tender of flowers and vegetables so arranged the planks that
any undesired caller bearing a writ or long-overdue account would fall,
all naturally and probably through his own confused carelessness, into
the river; and, on being pulled out and restored to happy life, would
not only abandon the horrid purpose of his visit, but, gratitude
prompting, be generous enough to go at least part of the way towards
paying the gardener's wages, which otherwise that resourceful benefactor
might never obtain.

On a place in the volume for this exemplary character, I insist. But, as
I say, nurses first.



No. 344260


Coming, the other day, after every kind of struggle, at last into
possession of one of the new pound notes, I was interested in placing it
quickly under the microscope, so to speak, in order that, in case I
never saw another, I should be able to describe it to my grandchildren.
How indigent I have been may be gathered from the circumstance that this
note, being numbered 344260, had three hundred and forty-four thousand
two hundred and fifty-nine predecessors which had eluded me.

As a work of art it is remarkable--almost, indeed, a gallery in itself,
comprising as it does portraiture, design, topography, and the
delineation of one of the most spirited episodes in religious history.
After the magic words "One Pound," it is, of course, to St. George and
the Dragon that the eye first turns. What Mr. Ruskin would say of the
latest version of the encounter between England's tutelary genius and
his fearsome foe, one can only guess; but I feel sure that he would be
caustic about the Saint's grip on his spear. To get its head right
through the dragon's chest--taking, as it has done, the longest possible
route--and out so far on the other side, would require more vigour and
tension than is suggested by the casual way in which the thumb rests on
the handle. Dragons' necks and bosoms are, I take it, not only scaly
without but of a sinewy consistency within that is by no means easy to
penetrate, and in this particular case the difficulty must have been
increased by the creature's struggles, which, the artist admits, bent
the spear very noticeably. None the less, the Saint's hold is most
delicate, and his features are marked by the utmost placidity.

As a matter of fact, the Saint is not sufficiently armed on our £1
notes; for in real life, and particularly when he rode out on the Libyan
plain to do battle with the dragon, he had a sword as well as a spear.
But he could not have had both if he were dressed as the Treasury artist
dresses him, unless he carried the sword between his teeth; which he is
not doing. There is no better authority than _The Golden Legend_, and
_The Golden Legend_ (in the translation of Master William Caxton)
testifieth thus: "Then as they [St. George and the King's daughter, whom
the dragon desired,] spake together, the dragon appeared and came
running to them, and St. George was upon his horse, and drew out his
sword and garnished him with the sign of the cross, and rode hardily
against the dragon which came towards him, and smote him with his spear
[spear, now, take notice], and hurt him sore and threw him to the
ground." The absence of the sword is one error that never ought to have
gained currency. Another is the grievousness of the wound which is
depicted; for in real life the wound was so slight, although sufficient,
that the King's daughter--but let Master Caxton continue, for he writeth
better than I ever shall. Having conquered the foe, St. George,
according to _The Golden Legend_, "said to the maid: 'Deliver to me your
girdle, and bind it about the neck of the dragon, and be not afeard.'
When she had done so, the dragon followed her as it had been a meek
beast and debonair." It was later, and not until St. George had
baptized the King and all his people (which was his reward), that he
smote off the dragon's head.

To my mind _The Golden Legend_ is too gentle with this contest. I like a
real fight, and here one is almost as much defrauded as in the story of
David and Goliath. In treating the victory over the dragon with equal
lightness, perhaps the Treasury artist, even though he has not followed
the authority closely enough in other ways, is justified; but he should
have read the text more carefully, for no one can pretend that a dragon
so drastically perforated as this one could follow a princess into the
city. Indeed, it is such a _coup de grâce_ as no self-respecting and
determined dragon, furnished with wings, inflammable breath, and all the
usual fittings, would have submitted itself to. Because, given wings,
neither of which is broken, how would it have allowed itself to come
into that posture at all?

Saints, however, must be saints; and their adversaries know this.

It was only, as I have said, with incredible difficulties that I could
get this pound note to study; imagine, then, what pains and subterfuges
were, in 1917, necessary in order to obtain the loan of a sovereign with
which to compare the golden rendering of the same conflict. Eventually,
however, I was successful, and one of the precious discs passed
temporarily into my keeping. It lies beside No. 344260 on the table as I
write. In this treatment--Mr. Ruskin's strictures upon which are
familiar--one is first struck by the absurdity of the Saint's weapon: a
short dagger with which he could never do any damage at all, unless
either he fell off his horse or the dragon obligingly rose up to meet
the blow. Fortunately, however, the horse has powerful hoofs, and one of
these is inflicting infinite mischief. Other noticeable peculiarities of
the sovereign's rendering are the smallness of the horse's head and the
length of St. George's leg. The total effect, in spite of blemishes, is
more spirited than that of No. 344260, but both would equally fill a
Renaissance Florentine medallist with gloom.

So much for the St. Georges and the Dragons of Treasury artists. But
when it comes to No. 344260's portrait of Mr. John Bradbury, Secretary
to the Treasury, over his facsimile autograph, in green ink, I have no
fault to find. This is a strong profile treatment, not a little like the
King, and I am glad to have seen it. One likes to think of regal
features and tonsorial habits setting a fashion. Mr. John Bradbury does
well and loyally to resemble as closely as he can his royal master.

Having reached this point, I turned No. 344260 over and examined the
back, which represents the Houses of Parliament as seen from Lambeth.
There are three peculiarities about this picture. One is that all the
emphasis is laid--where of late we have not been in the habit of looking
for it--on the House of Lords; another is that Parliament is not
sitting, for the Victoria Tower is without its flag; and the third is
that Broad Sanctuary has been completely eliminated, so that the Abbey
and the Victoria Tower form one building. No doubt to the fortunate
persons through whose hands one pound notes pass, such awful symbolism
conveys a sense of England's greatness and power; but I think it would
be far more amusing if the back had been left blank, in case some later
Robbie Burns (could this decadent world ever know so fine a thing
again) wished to write another lament on it:

    For lack o' thee I've lost my lass,
    For lack o' thee I scrimp my glass.

Or, if not blank, thirty (say) spaces might be ruled on it, in which the
names of its first thirty owners could be written. By the time the
spaces were filled it would be a document historically valuable now and
then to autograph collectors. It would also be dirty enough to call in.



The Two Perkinses


Walking in the garden in the cool of the July evening, I was struck
afresh by the beauty of that climbing rose we call Dorothy Perkins, and
by her absolute inability to make a mistake. There are in this garden
several of these ramblers, all heritages from an earlier tenant and all
very skilfully placed: one over an arch, one around a window, and three
or four clambering up fir posts on which the stumps of boughs remain;
and in every case the rose is flowering more freely than ever before,
and has arranged its blossoms, leaves, and branches with an exquisite
and impeccable taste. Always lovely, Dorothy Perkins is never so lovely
as in the evening, just after the sun has gone, when the green takes on
a new sobriety against which her gay and tender pink is gayer and more
tender. "Pretty little Dolly Perkins!" I said to myself involuntarily,
and instantly, by the law of association--which, I sometimes fondly
suppose, is more powerful with me than with many people--I began to
think of another evening, twenty and more years ago, when for the first
time I heard the most dainty of English comic songs sung as it should
be, with the first words of the chorus accentuated like hammer blows in
unison:

    For--she--was--as--

and then tripping merrily into the rest of it:

    --beautiful as a butterfly,
      As fair as a queen,
    Was pretty little Polly Perkins
      Of Paddington Green.

It is given to most of us--not always without a certain wistful
regret--to recall the circumstances under which we first heard our
favourite songs; and on the evening when I met "Pretty Polly Perkins" I
was on a tramp steamer in the Mediterranean, when at last the heat had
gone and work was over and we were free to be melodious. My own position
on this boat was nominally purser, at a shilling a month, but in reality
passenger, or super-cargo, spending most of the day either in reading
or sleeping. The second engineer, a huge Sussex man, whose favourite
theme of conversation with me was the cricket of his county, was, it
seemed, famous for this song; and that evening, as we sat on a skylight,
he was suddenly withdrawn from a eulogy of the odd ways and deadly
left-handers of poor one-eyed "Jumper" Juniper (whom I had known
personally, when I was a small school-boy, in a reverential way) to give
the company "Pretty Polly Perkins." In vain to say that he was busy,
talking to me; that he was dry; that he had no voice. "Pretty Polly
Perkins" had to be sung, and he struck up without more ado:

    I'm a broken-hearted milkman,
      In woe I'm arrayed,
    Through keeping the company of
      A young servant maid--

and so forth. And then came the chorus, which has this advantage over
all other choruses ever written, that the most tuneless singer on earth
(such as myself) and the most shamefaced (I am autobiographical again)
can help to swell, at any rate, the notable opening of it, and thus
ensure the success of the rest.

That evening, as I say, was more than twenty years ago, and I had
thought in the interval little enough of the song until the other pretty
Perkins suggested it; but I need hardly say that the next day came a
further reminder of it (since that is one of the queer rules of life) in
the shape of a Chicago weekly paper with the information that America
knows "Pretty Polly Perkins" too.

The ballads of a nation for the most part respect their nationality, but
now and then there is free trade in them. It has been so with "Pretty
Polly Perkins"; for it seems that, recognizing its excellence, an
American singer prepared, in 1864, a version to suit his own country,
choosing, as it happens, not New York or Washington as the background of
the milkman's love drama, but the home of Transatlantic culture itself,
Boston. Paddington Green would, of course, mean nothing to American
ears, but Boston is happy in the possession of a Pemberton Square, which
may, for all I know, be as important to the Hub of the Universe as
Merrion Square is to Dublin, and Polly was, therefore, made comfortable
there, and, as Pretty Polly Perkins of Pemberton Square, became as
famous as, in our effete hemisphere, Pretty Polly Perkins of Paddington
Green. The adaptor deserves great credit for altering as little as
possible. Beyond Polly's abode, and the necessary rhymes to mate with
Square, he did nothing, so that the song, while transplanted to America,
remained racy of the English capital. It was still the broken-hearted
milkman who sang it, and the _dénouement_, which is so very
English--and, more than English, Cockney--was unaltered:

    In six months she married,
      That hard-hearted girl;
    It was not a squire,
      And it was not a nearl.
    It was not a baronet,
      But a shade or two wuss--
    'Twas the wulgar old driver
      Of a twopenny 'bus.

But the story of Polly is nothing. The merit of the song is its air, the
novelty and ingenuity of its chorus, and the praises of Polly which the
chorus embodies. The celebration of charming women is never out of date.
Some are sung about in the Mediterranean, some in Boston, and some all
the world over; others give their names to roses.

So far had I written--and published--in a weekly paper, leaving open a
loophole or two for kind and well-instructed readers to come to my aid;
and as usual (for I am very fortunate in these matters) they did so.
Before I was a month older I knew all. I knew that the author, composer,
and singer of "Pretty Polly Perkins of Paddington Green" were one and
the same: the famous Harry Clifton; and that Polly married "not the
wulgar old driver" of a twopenny 'bus, as was my mistaken belief, but
quite the reverse--that is to say, the "bandy-legged conductor" of the
same vehicle. A gentleman in Ireland was even so obliging as to send me
another ballad by Harry Clifton, on the front of which is his portrait
and on the back a list of his triumphs--and they make very startling
reading, at any rate to me, who have never been versatile. The number of
songs alone is appalling: no fewer than thirty to which he had also put
the music and over fifty to which the music was composed by others, but
which with acceptance he sang. Judging by the titles and the first
lines, which in the advertisement are always given, these songs of the
sixties were very much better things than most of the songs of our
enlightened day. They seem to have had character, a humorous
sententiousness, and a genial view of life. And judging by his portrait
on the cover, Harry Clifton was a kindly, honest type of man, to whom
such accessories of the modern comic singer's success as the
well-advertised membership of a night club, or choice of an expensive
restaurant, were a superfluity.

Having read these letters and the list of songs, I called on a friend
who was at that moment lying on a bed of sickness, from which, alas! he
never rose--the late George Bull, the drollest raconteur in London and
one of the best of men, who, so far as I am concerned, carried away with
him an irreplaceable portion of the good humour of life; and I found
that the name of Harry Clifton touched more than one chord. He had heard
Harry Clifton sing. As a child, music-halls were barred to him, but
Harry Clifton, it seems, was so humane and well-grounded--his
fundamentals, as Dr. Johnson would say, were so sound--that he sang also
at Assembly Rooms, and there my friend was taken, in his tender years,
by his father, to hear him. There he heard the good fellow, who was
conspicuously jolly and most cordially Irish, sing several of his great
hits, and in particular "A Motto for Every Man," "Paddle Your Own
Canoe," and "Lannigan's Ball" (set to a most admirable jig tune which
has become a classic), one phrase from which was adopted into the Irish
vernacular as a saying: "Just in time for Lannigan's ball." Clifton
might indeed be called the Tom Moore of his day, with as large a public,
although not quite so illigant a one. For where Moore warbled to the
ladies, Clifton sang to the people. Such a ballad as that extolling the
mare of Pat of Mullingar must have gone straight to the hearts of the
countrymen of Mr. Flurry Knox:

    They may talk of Flying Childers,
      And the speed of Harkaway,
    Till the fancy it bewilders
      As you list to what they say.
    But for rale blood and beauty,
      You may travel near and far--
    The fastest mare you'll find belongs
      To Pat of Mullingar.

An old lady in Dublin who remembers Clifton singing this song tells me
that the chorus, "So we'll trot along O," was so descriptive, both in
words and music, that one had from it all the sensations of a "joult."

Harry Clifton seems to have had three distinct lines--the comic song, of
which "Pretty Polly Perkins" may be considered the best example; the
Irish song; and the Motto song, inculcating a sweet reasonableness and
content amid life's many trials and tribulations. Although, no doubt,
such optimism was somewhat facile, it cannot be denied that a little
dose of silver-lining advice, artfully concealed in the jam of a good
tune and a humorous twist of words, does no harm and may have a
beneficial effect. The chorus of "A Motto for Every Man," for example,
runs thus:

    We cannot all fight in this battle of life,
      The weak must go to the wall.
    So do to each other the thing that is right,
      For there's room in this world for us all.

An easy sentiment; but sufficient people in the sixties were attracted
by it to flock to hear Harry Clifton all over England and Ireland, and
it is probable that most came away with momentarily expanded bosoms, and
a few were stimulated to follow its precepts.

Looking down this remarkable list of titles and first lines--which may
be only a small portion of Harry Clifton's output--I am struck by his
cleanliness and sanity. His record was one of which he might well be
proud, and I think that old Fletcher of Saltoun, who had views on the
makers of a nation's ballads, would probably have clapped him on the
back.

Another thing. If many of the tunes to these songs are as good as that
to "Polly Perkins," Harry Clifton's golden treasury should be worth
mining. The songs of yesterday, when revived, strike one as being very
antiquated, and the songs of the day before yesterday also rarely bear
the test; but what of the songs of the sixties? Might their melodies not
strike freshly and alluringly on the ear to-day? Another, and to-day a
better known, Harry--Harry Lauder--whose tunes are always good, has
confided to an interviewer that he finds them for the most part in old
traditional collections, and gives them new life. He is wise. John
Stuart Mill's fear that the combinations of the notes of the piano might
be used up was probably fantastic, but the arrival of the luckless day
would at any rate be delayed if we revived tunes that were old enough
for that process; and why should not the works of Harry Clifton be
examined for the purpose? But perhaps they have been....

And then we come back to the marvel, to me, of the man's variousness. I
can plead guilty to having written the words of a dozen songs or so in
as many years, but to put two notes of music together is beyond me, and
to sing anything in tune would be an impossibility, even if I had the
assurance to stand up in public for that purpose. Yet Harry Clifton,
who, in the picture on the cover of the song which the gentleman in
Ireland sent me, does not look at all like some brazen lion comiques,
not only could sing acceptably but write good words and good music. I
hope he grew prosperous, although there is some evidence that his native
geniality was also a stumbling-block. Your jolly good fellows so often
are the victims of their jolly goodness. Nor had the palmy days of comic
singing then begun. There were then no £300 a week bribes to lure a
comic singer into _revue_; but the performers, I guess, were none the
worse for receiving a wage more in accordance with true proportion. I
say true proportion, because I shall never feel it right that
music-hall comedians should receive a bigger salary than a Prime
Minister; at least, not until they sing better songs and take a finer
view of life in their "patter" than most of them now do.



Arts of Invasion


All people living in the country are liable to be asked if they do not
know of "some nice little place that would just suit us." "For
week-ends, chiefly"--the inquirer usually adds. "A kind of
_pied-à-terre_, you know"--the inquirer always adds.

Cautious, self-protective people answer no. Foolish, gregarious people
actually try to help.

Addressing that large and growing class, the _pied-à-terre_ hunters, not
as a potential neighbour, but as a mere counsellor and very platonic
friend, I would say that I have recently discovered two ways of
acquiring country places, both of which, although no doubt neither is
infallible, have from time to time succeeded.

It was at the end of a fruitless day on the same quest that I hit upon
the first. After tramping many miles in vain, I was fortunate in getting
a fly at the village inn to drive me to the nearest station. I don't
say I had seen nothing I liked, but nothing that was empty. As a matter
of fact, I had seen one very charming place, but every window had a
curtain in it and the chimneys were sending up their confounded smoke.
In other words, it was, to use one of the most offensive words in the
language, occupied. Hence I was in a bad temper. None the less, when a
little man in black suddenly appeared before me and begged to be allowed
to share my cab (and its fare), I agreed. He began to talk at once, and
having disposed of the weather and other topics on which one can be
strictly and politely neutral, he said that his business took him a good
deal into unfamiliar places.

Being aware that he wished it, I asked him what his business was.

"I'm an unsettler," he said.

"An unsettler?"

"Yes. It's not a profession that we talk much about, because the very
essence of it is secrecy, but it's genuine enough, and there are not a
few of us. Of course, we do other things as well, such as insurance
agency, but unsettling pays best."

"Tell me about it," I said.

"Well," he explained, "it's like this. Say you are thinking of moving
and you want another house. You can't find an empty one that you like,
of course. No one can. But you differ from other persons in being
unwilling to make a compromise. You will either wait till you find one
that you do like, or you will go without. Meanwhile you see plenty of
occupied houses that you like, just as every one else does. But you
differ from other persons in being unwilling to believe that you can't
have what you want. Do you follow me?"

Naturally I followed him minutely, because he was describing my own
case.

"Very well, then," he continued. "This makes the unsettler's
opportunity. You return to the agent and tell him that the only house
you liked is (say) a white one at East Windles.

"'It was not one on your list,' you say; 'in fact, it was occupied. It
is the house on the left, in its own grounds, just as you enter the
village. There is a good lawn, and a wonderful clipped yew hedge.'

"'Oh yes,' says the agent, 'I know it: it used to be the Rectory.'

"'Who lives there?' you ask.

"'An old lady named Burgess,' says the agent--'Miss Burgess.'

"'Would she leave?' you ask.

"'I should very much doubt it,' says the agent, 'but I could, of course,
sound her.'

"'I'll give you twenty-five pounds,' you say, 'if you can induce her to
quit.' And off you go.

"It is then that the unsettler comes in. The agent sends for me and
tells me the story; and I get to work. The old lady has got to be
dislodged. Now what is it that old ladies most dislike? I ask myself. It
depends, of course; but on general principles a scare about the water is
safe, and a rumour of ghosts is safe. The water-scare upsets the
mistress, the ghost-scare upsets the maids; and when one can't get
maids, the country becomes a bore. As it is, she had the greatest
difficulty in keeping them, because there's no cinema near.

"Very well, then. Having decided on my line of action, I begin to spread
reports--very cautiously, of course, but with careful calculation, and
naturally never appearing myself; and gradually, bit by bit, Miss
Burgess takes a dislike to the place. Not always, of course. Some
tenants are most unreasonable. But sooner or later most of them fall to
the bait, and you get the house. That's my profession."

"Well," I said, "I think it's a blackguard one."

"Oh, sir!" he replied. "Live and let live."

"It's funny, all the same," I added, "that I should have run across you,
because I've been looking for a house for some time, and the only one I
liked was occupied."

He pulled out a pocket-book. "Yes?" he said, moistening his pencil.

But that is enough of him.

So much for my first way, which, as I happen to know, has succeeded, at
any rate once. Now for the other, which is less material. In fact, some
people might call it supernatural.

I was telling a lady about my friend the unsettler and his methods; but
she did not seem to be in the least impressed.

"All very well," she said; "but there's a more efficient and more
respectable way than that. And," she added, with a significant glance at
her husband and not without triumph, "I happen to know."

She sat at the dinner-table in the old farm-house--"modernized," as the
agents have it, "yet redolent of old-world charm." By modernized they
mean that the rightful occupiers--the simple agriculturists--had gone
for ever, and well-to-do artistic Londoners had made certain changes to
fit it for a week-end retreat. In other words, it had become a
_pied-à-terre_. Where the country folk for whom all these and smaller
cottages were built now live, who shall say? Probably in mean streets;
anyway, not here. The exterior remains often the same, but inside,
instead of the plain furniture of the peasantry, one finds wicker
arm-chairs and sofa-chairs, all the right books and weekly papers, and
cigarettes.

This particular farm-house was charming. An ingle-nook, Heal furniture,
old-pattern cretonnes and chintzes, an etching or two, a Japanese print
or two, a reproduction of a John, the poems of Mr. Masefield and Rupert
Brooke, a French novel, the _New Statesman_, and where once had been a
gun-rack a Della Robbia Madonna.

"It's delightful," I said; adding, as one always does: "How _did_ you
get to hear of it?"

"Hearing of it wasn't difficult," she said, "because we'd known about it
for years. The trouble was to get it."

"It wasn't empty, then?" I replied.

"No. There was a Mr. Broom here. We asked him if he wanted to go, and he
said No. We made him an offer, and he refused. He was most
unreasonable." (It was the same word that the unsettler had used.)

I agreed: "Most."

"So there was nothing for it but to will his departure."

"Will?"

"Yes. Concentrate our thoughts on his giving notice, and invite our
friends to do the same. I wrote scores of letters all round, impressing
this necessity, this absolute, sacred duty, on them. I asked them to
make a special effort on the night of March 18th, at eleven o'clock,
when we should all be free. It sounds rather dreadful, but I always hold
that the people who want a house most are best fitted to have it. One
can't be too nice in such matters."

"Well?" I asked.

"Well, you'll hardly believe it--and I shan't be a bit vexed if you
don't--but on the morning of the 20th of March I had a letter from Mr.
Broom saying that he had decided to leave, and we could have the first
call on his house. It was too wonderful. I don't mind confessing that I
felt a little ashamed. I felt it had been too easy."

"It is certainly a dangerous power," I said.

"Well," she continued, "I hurried round to see him before he could
change his mind. 'Do you really want to leave?' I asked him. 'Yes,' he
said. 'Why?' I asked. 'Well,' he said, 'I can't tell you why. I don't
know. All I know is that all of a sudden I have got tired and feel
vaguely that I want a change. I am quite sure I am making a mistake and
I'll never find so good a place; but there it is: I'm going.' I assure
you I felt for a moment inclined to back out altogether and advise him
to stay on. I was even half disposed to tell him the truth; but I pulled
myself together. And--well, here we are!"

"It's amazing," I said. "You must either have very strong-minded
friends, or the stars have played very oddly into your hands, or both."

"Yes," she said; "but there's a little difficulty. One has to be so
careful in this life."

"One has," I fervently agreed. "But what is it?"

"Some of my friends," she explained, "didn't quite play the game.
Instead of willing, as I explicitly indicated, that our Mr. Broom should
leave the Manor Farm, they willed merely that Mr. Broom should leave his
house, and the result is that all kinds of Mr. Brooms all over the
country have been giving notice. I heard of another only this morning.
In fact, our Mr. Broom's brother was one of them. It's a very perilous
as well as a useful gift, you see. But we've got the farm, and that's
the main thing."

She smiled the smile of a conqueror.

"But," remarked another of the guests, who had told us that she was
looking for a _pied-à-terre_, "there's a catch somewhere, isn't there?
Don't you see any weak point?"

Our hostess smiled less confidently. "How?" she asked uneasily.

"Well," the guest continued, "suppose.... It couldn't, I mean, be in
better hands. For the moment. But suppose some one else wanted it? Take
care. Willing is a game that two can play at."

"You don't mean----?" our hostess faltered.

"I do, most certainly," the guest replied. "Directly I go away from here
I shall make a list of my most really obstinate, pushful friends to help
me."

"But that would be most unfair," said our hostess.

"No one is fair when hunting the _pied-à-terre_," I reminded her.



The Marble Arch and Peter Magnus


Finding myself (not often in London on the day that comes so mercifully
between the Saturday and Monday) beside the enisled Marble Arch, I spent
half an hour in listening to the astonishing oratory that was going on
there. Although I had not done this for many, many years, there was so
little change in the proceedings that I gained a new impression of
perpetual motion. The same--or to all intents and purposes the
same--leather lungs were still at it, either arraigning the Deity or
commending His blessed benefactions. As invariably of old, a Hindu was
present; but whether he was the Hindu of the Middle Ages or a new Hindu,
I cannot say. One proselytizing Hindu is strangely like another. His
matter was familiar also. The only novelty that I noticed was a little
band of American evangelists (America being so little in need of
spiritual assistance that these have settled in London) in the attire
more or less of the constabulary of New York, the spokesman among whom,
at the moment I joined his audience, was getting into rather deep water
in an effort to fit the kind of halo acceptable to modern evangelicals
on the head of Martin Luther.

As I passed from group to group, with each step a certain inevitable
question grew more insistent upon a reply; and so, coming to one of
London's founts of wisdom and knowledge, I put it to him. "I suppose," I
said, indicating the various speakers with a semicircular gesture, "they
don't do all this for nothing?" The policeman closed one eye. "Not
they," he answered; "they've all got sympathizers somewhere."

Well, live and let live is a good maxim, thought I, and there surely
never was such a wonderful world as this, and so I came away; and it was
then that something occurred which (for everything so far has been sheer
prologue) led to these remarks. I was passing the crowd about one of the
gentlemen--the more brazenly confident one--who deny the existence of a
beneficent Creator, when the words, "Looking like a dying duck in a
thunderstorm," clanged out, followed by a roar of delighted laughter;
and in a flash I remembered precisely where I was when, forty and more
years ago, I first heard from a nursemaid that ancient simile and was so
struck by its humour that I added it to my childish repertory. And from
this recollection I passed on to ponder upon the melancholy truth that
originality will ever be an unpopular quality. For here were two or
three hundred people absolutely and hilariously satisfied with such a
battered and moth-eaten phrase, even to-day, and perfectly content that
the orator should have so little respect either for himself or for them
that he saw no disgrace in thus evading his duty and inventing something
new.

But was that his duty? That was my next thought; and a speech by that
eternally veracious type whom Mr. Pickwick met at Ipswich, and who, for
all his brief passage across the stage of literature, is more real than
many a prominent hero of many chapters, came to mind to answer it. I
refer to Mr. Peter Magnus, who, when Mr. Pickwick described Sam Weller
as not only his servant and almost friend, but an "original," replied in
these deathless words: "I am not fond of anything original; I don't like
it; don't see any necessity for it." And that's just it. The tribe of
Magnus is very large; it doesn't like originality, and doesn't see any
necessity for it--which, translated into the modern idiom, would run
"has no use for it." Hence the freethinker was right, and the longer he
continues to repose his faith in ancient comic _clichés_ the greater
will be his success.

And then I thought for the millionth time what an awful mistake it is to
be fastidious. Truly wise people--and by wisdom I mean an aggregation of
those qualities and acceptances and compromises that make for a fairly
unruffled progress through this difficult life--truly wise people are
not fastidious. They are easily pleased, they are not critical, and--and
this is very important--they allow of no exceptions among human beings.
Originals bore them as much as they did Mr. Magnus. One of the astutest
men that I know has achieved a large measure of his prosperity and
general contentment by behaving always as though all men were alike.
Because, although of course they are not alike, the differences are too
trifling to matter. He flatters each with the same assiduity and
grossness, with the result that they all become his useful allies. Those
that do not swallow the mixture, and resent it, he merely accuses of
insincerity or false modesty; yet they are his allies too, because,
although they cannot accept his methods, being a little uncertain as to
whether his intentions may not have been genuinely kind, or his judgment
honestly at fault, they give him the benefit of the doubt.



The Oldest Joke


Many investigators have speculated as to the character of the first
joke; and as speculation must our efforts remain. But I personally have
no doubt whatever as to the subject-matter of that distant pleasantry:
it was the face of the other person involved. I don't say that Adam was
caustic about Eve's face or Eve about Adam's: that is improbable. Nor
does matrimonial invective even now ordinarily take this form. But after
a while, after cousins had come into the world, the facial jest began;
and by the time of Noah and his sons the riot was in full swing. In
every rough and tumble among the children of Ham, Shem, and Japhet, I
feel certain that crude and candid personalities fell to the lot, at any
rate, of the little Shems.

So was it then; so is it still to-day. No jests are so rich as those
that bear upon the unloveliness of features not our own. The tiniest
street urchins in dispute always--sooner or later--devote their retorts
to the distressing physiognomy of the foe. Not only are they conforming
to the ancient convention, but they show sagacity too, for to sum up an
opponent as "Face," "Facey," or "Funny Face," is to spike his gun. There
is no reply but the cowardly _tu quoque_. He cannot say, "My face is not
comic, it is handsome"; because that does not touch the root of the
matter. The root of the matter is your opinion of his face as
deplorable.

Not only is the recognition of what is odd in an opponent's countenance
of this priceless value in ordinary quarrels among the young and the
ill-mannered (just as abuse of the opposing counsel is the best way of
covering the poverty of one's own case at law), but the music-hall
humorist has no easier or surer road to the risibilities of most of his
audience. Jokes about faces never fail and are never threadbare.
Sometimes I find myself listening to one who has been called--possibly
the label was self-imposed--the Prime Minister of Mirth, and he
invariably enlarges upon the quaintness of somebody's features, often,
for he is the soul of impartiality, his own; and the first time, now
thirty years ago, that I ever entered a music-hall (the tiny stuffy old
Oxford at Brighton, where the chairman with the dyed hair--it was more
purple than black--used to sit amid a little company of bloods whose
proud privilege it was to pay for his refreshment), another George,
whose surname was Beauchamp, was singing about a siren into whose
clutches he had or had not fallen, who had

                an indiarubber lip
    Like the rudder of a ship.

--So you see there is complete continuity.

But the best example of this branch of humour is beyond all question
that of the Two Macs, whose influence, long though it is since they
eclipsed the gaiety of the nation by vanishing, is still potent. Though
gone they still jest; or, at any rate, their jests did not all vanish
with them. The incorrigible veneration for what is antique displayed by
low comedians takes care of that. "I saw your wife at the masked ball
last night," the first Mac would say, in his rich brogue. "My wife was
at the ball last night," the other would reply in a brogue of deeper
richness, "but it wasn't a masked ball." The first Mac would then
express an overwhelming surprise, as he countered with the devastating
question, "Was _that_ her face?"

"You're not two-faced, anyway. I'll say that for you," was the
apparently magnanimous concession made by one comedian to another in a
recent farcical play. The other was beginning to express his
gratification when the speaker continued: "If you were, you wouldn't
have come out with that one." Again, you observe, there is no answer to
this kind of attack. Hence, I suppose, its popularity. And yet perhaps
to take refuge in a smug sententiousness, and remark crisply, "Handsome
is as handsome does," should now and then be useful. But it requires
some self-esteem.

There is no absolute need, however, for the face joke to be applied to
others to be successful. Since, in spite of the complexion creams,
"plumpers," and nose-machines advertised in the papers, faces will
continue to be here and there somewhat Gothic, the wise thing for their
owners is to accept them and think of other things, or console
themselves before the unflattering mirror with the memory of those
mortals who have been both quaint-looking and gifted. Wiser still
perhaps to make a little capital out of the affliction. Public men who
are able to make a jest of the homeliness of their features never lose
by it. President Wilson's public recital of the famous lines on his
countenance (which I personally find by no means unprepossessing) did
much to increase his popularity.

    As a beauty I am not a star,
    There are others more handsome by far.
      But my face, I don't mind it,
      For I keep behind it;
    It's the people in front get the jar.

And an English bishop, or possibly dean, came, at last, very near earth
when in a secular address he repeated his retort to the lady who had
commented upon his extraordinary plainness: "Ah, but you should see my
brother." There is also the excellent story of the ugly man before the
camera, who was promised by the photographer that he should have justice
done to him. "Justice!" he exclaimed. "I don't want justice; I want
mercy."

The great face joke, as I say, obviously came first. Because there were
in the early days none of the materials for the other staple quips--such
as alcohol, and sausages, and wives' mothers. Faces, however, were
always there. And not even yet have the later substitutes ousted it.
Just as Shakespeare's orator, "when he is out," spits, so does the funny
man, in similar difficulties, if he is wise, say, "Do you call that a
face?" and thus collect his thoughts for fresh sallies. If all "dials"
were identical, Mr. George Graves, for example, would be a stage
bankrupt; for, resourceful as he is in the humour of quizzical
disapproval, the vagaries of facial oddity are his foundation stone.

Remarkable as are the heights of grotesque simile to which all the
Georges have risen in this direction, it is, oddly enough, to the other
and gentler sex that the classic examples (in my experience) belong. At
a dinner-party given by a certain hospitable lady who remained something
of an _enfante terrible_ to the end of her long life, she drew the
attention of one of her guests, by no means too cautiously, to the
features of another guest, a bishop of great renown. "Isn't his face,"
she asked, in a deathless sentence, "like the inside of an elephant's
foot?" I have not personally the honour of this divine's acquaintance,
but all my friends who have met or seen him assure me that the
similitude is exact. Another lady, happily still living, said of the
face of an acquaintance, that it was "not so much a face, as a part of
her person which she happened to leave uncovered, by which her friends
were able to recognize her." A third, famous for her swift analyses,
said that a certain would-be beauty might have a title to good looks but
for "a rush of teeth to the head." I do not quote these admirable
remarks merely as a proof of woman's natural kindliness, but to show how
even among the elect--for all three speakers are of more than common
culture--the face joke holds sway.



The Puttenhams

I

From _The Mustershire Herald and Oldcaster Advertiser_


"The new volume of _The Mustershire Archæological Society's Records_ is,
as usual, full of varied fare.... But for good Oldcastrians the most
interesting article is a minute account of the Puttenham family, so well
known in the town for many generations, from its earliest traceable date
in the seventeenth century. It is remarkable for how long the Puttenhams
were content to be merely small traders and so forth, until quite
recently the latent genius of the blood declared itself simultaneously
in the constructive ability of our own millionaire ex-townsman, Sir
Jonathan Puttenham (who married a daughter of Lord Hammerton), and in
the world-famous skill of the great chemist, Sir Victor Puttenham, the
discoverer of the Y-rays, who still has his country home on our borders.
The simile of the oak and the acorn at once springs to mind."


II

Miss Enid Daubeney, who is staying at Sir Jonathan Puttenham's, to her
Sister

MY DEAR FLUFFETY,--There are wigs on the green here, I can tell you.
Aunt Virginia is furious about a genealogy of the Puttenham family which
has appeared in the county's archæological records. It goes back ever so
far, and derives our revered if somewhat stodgy and not-too-generous
uncle-by-marriage from one of the poorest bunches of ancestors a knight
of industry ever had. Aunt Virginia won't see that, from such loins, the
farther the spring the greater the honour, and the poor man has had no
peace and the article is to be suppressed. But since these things are
published only for subscribers and the volume is now out, of course
nothing can be done. Please telegraph that you can't spare me any
longer, for the meals here are getting impossible. Not even the peaches
compensate.--Your devoted ENID


III

Sir Jonathan Puttenham to the Rev. Stacey Morris, Editor of _The
Mustershire Archæological Society's Records_

DEAR SIR,--I wish to utter a protest against what I consider a serious
breach of etiquette. In the new volume of your _Records_, you print an
article dealing with the history from remote times of the family of
which I am a member, and possibly the best-known member at the present
day. The fact that that family is of humble origin is nothing to me.
What I object to is the circumstance that you should publish this
material, most of which is of very little interest to the outside world,
without first ascertaining my views on the subject. I may now tell you
that I object so strongly to the publication that I count on you to
secure its withdrawal.--I am,

Yours faithfully,

JONATHAN PUTTENHAM


IV

Horace Vicary, M.D., of Southbridge, to his old friend the Rev. Stacey
Morris

MORRIS,--It's a good volume, take it all round. But what has given me,
in my unregeneracy, the greatest pleasure is the article on the
Puttenhams. For years the Puttenhams here have been putting on airs and
holding their noses higher than the highest, and it is not only (as they
say doubly of nibs) grateful and comforting, but a boon and a blessing,
to find that one of their not too remote ancestors kept a public-house,
and another was a tinsmith. And I fancy I am not alone in my
satisfaction.

Yours, H. V.


V

Sir Victor Puttenham, F.R.S., to the Editor of _The Mustershire
Archæological Society's Records_

DEAR SIR,--As probably the most widely-known member of the Puttenham
family at the present moment, may I thank you for the generous space
which you have accorded to our history. To what extent it will be
readable by strangers I cannot say, but to me it is intensely
interesting, and if you can arrange for a few dozen reprints in paper
wrappers I shall be glad to have them. I had, of course, some knowledge
of my ancestors, but I had no idea that we were quite such an
undistinguished rabble of groundlings for so long. That drunken
whipper-in to Lord Dashingham in the seventeen-seventies particularly
delights me.--I am,

Yours faithfully,

VICTOR PUTTENHAM


VI

From Sir Jonathan Puttenham to the Editor of _The Mustershire Herald and
Oldcaster Advertiser_

DEAR SIR,--I shall be obliged if you will make no more references in
_The Herald_ to the new _Mustershire Archæological Records'_ article on
the Puttenhams. It is not that it lays emphasis on the humble origin of
that family. That is nothing to me. But I am at the moment engaged in a
correspondence with the Editor on the propriety of publishing private or
semi-private records of this character without first asking permission,
and as he will possibly see the advisability of withdrawing the article
in question there should be as little reference to it in the Press as
possible.--I am,

Yours faithfully,

JONATHAN PUTTENHAM


VII

The Rev. Stacey Morris to Sir Jonathan Puttenham

The Editor of _The Mustershire Archæological Society's Records_ begs to
acknowledge Sir Jonathan Puttenham's letter of the 15th inst. He regrets
that the publication of the Puttenham genealogy should have so offended
Sir Jonathan, but would point out, firstly, that it has for years been a
custom of these Records to include such articles; secondly, that the
volume has now been delivered to all the Society's members; thirdly,
that there are members of the Puttenham family who do not at all share
Sir Jonathan's views; and, fourthly, that if such views obtained
generally the valuable and interesting pursuit of genealogy, of which
our President, Lord Hammerton, to name no others, is so ardent a patron,
would cease to be practised.


VIII

Miss Lydia Puttenham, of "Weald View," Rusper Common, Tunbridge Wells,
to Lady Puttenham

DEAR COUSIN MILDRED,--I wonder if Sir Victor has seen the article on our
family in _The Archæological Records_. I am so vexed about it, not only
for myself and all of us, but particularly for him and you. It is not
right that a busy man working for humanity, as he is doing, should be
worried like that. Indeed I feel so strongly about it that I have sent
in my resignation as a member of the Society. Why such things should be
printed at all I cannot see. It is most unfair and unnecessary to go
into such details, nor can there be the slightest reason for doing so,
for the result is the dullest reading. Perhaps Sir Victor could get it
stopped. Again expressing my sympathy, I am,

Yours affectionately,

LYDIA PUTTENHAM


IX

The Rev. Stacey Morris to Ernest Burroughs, the compiler of the
Puttenham genealogy

MY DEAR BURROUGHS,--We are threatened with all kinds of penalties by Sir
Jonathan Puttenham, the great contractor, over your seamy revelations.
It is odd how differently these things are taken, for the other great
Puttenham, the chemist, Sir Victor, is delighted and is distributing
copies broadcast. Equal forms of snobbishness, a Thackeray would perhaps
say. But my purpose in writing is to say that I hope you will continue
the series undismayed.

Yours sincerely,

STACEY MORRIS



Poetry made Easy


In the admirable and stimulating lecture given to the English
Association by Professor Spurgeon on "Poetry in the Light of War," I
came again upon that poem of Rupert Brooke's in which he enumerates
certain material things that have given him most pleasure in life. "I
have been so great a lover," he writes, and then he makes a list of his
loves, thus following, perhaps all unconsciously, Lamb's _John Woodvil_
in that rhymed passage which, under the title "The Universal Lover," has
been detached from the play. But Lamb, pretending to be Elizabethan,
dealt with the larger splendours, whereas Rupert Brooke's modernity took
count of the smaller. John Woodvil's list of his loves begins with the
sunrise and the sunset; Rupert Brooke sets down such mundane and
domestic trifles as white plates and cups, the hard crust of bread, and
the roughness of blankets.

This, to strangers to the poem, may not sound very poetical, but they
must read it before they judge. To me it is at once one of the most
satisfying and most beautiful leaves in the Georgian anthology. Here is
a passage:

    Holes in the ground; and voices that do sing;
    Voices in laughter too; and body's pain
    Soon turned to peace; and the deep-panting train;
    Firm sands; the little dulling edge of foam
    That browns and dwindles as the wave goes home;
    And washen stones, gay for an hour; the cold
    Graveness of iron; moist black earthen mould;
    Sleep; and high places; footprints in the dew;
    And oaks; and brown horse-chestnuts, glossy-new;
    And new-peeled sticks, and shining pools on grass;
    --All these have been my loves.

My reason in quoting these fine and tender lines is to point out how
simple a thing poetry can be; how easily we, at any rate for a few
moments--even the most material, the most world-brutalized of us,--can
become poets too. For I hold that any man searching his memory for the
things that from earliest days have given him most delight, and
sincerely recording them, not necessarily with verbal garniture at all,
is while he does so a poet. A good deal of Whitman is little else but
such catalogues; and Whitman was a great poet. The effort (even without
the reward of this not-always-desired label) is worth making, because
(and this is where the poetry comes in) it forces one to visit the past
and dwell again in the ways of pleasantness before the world was too
much with us and life's hand had begun to press heavily: most of such
loves as Rupert Brooke recalls having their roots in our childhood.
Hence such poetry as we shall make cannot be wholly reading without
tears.

I find that on my list of loves scents would take a very important
place--the scent of gorse warmed by the sun coming almost first, gorse
blossoms rubbed in the hand and then crushed against the face, geranium
leaves, the leaves of the lemon verbena, the scent of pine trees, the
scent of unlit cigars, the scent of cigarette smoke blown my way from a
distance, the scent of coffee as it arrives from the grocer's (see what
a poet I am!), the scent of the underside of those little cushions of
moss which come away so easily in the woods, the scent of lilies of the
valley, the scent of oatcake for cattle, the scent of lilac, and, for
reasons, above all perhaps the scent of a rubbish fire in the garden.

Rupert Brooke mentions the feel of things. Among the loves of the sense
of touch I should include smooth dried beans, purple and spotted, and
horse-chestnuts, warm and polished by being kept in the pocket, and
ptarmigan's feet, and tortoiseshell spoons for tea-caddies. And among
sounds, first and foremost is the sound of a carriage and pair, but very
high in position is that rare ecstasy, the distant drum and panpipes of
the Punch and Judy. Do they play the panpipes still, I wonder. And how
should I behave if I heard them round the corner? Should I run? I hope
so. Scent, sound, touch, and sight. Sight? Here the range is too vast,
and yet here, perhaps, the act of memory leads to the best poetry of
all. For to enumerate one's favourite sights--always, as Rupert Brooke
may be said to have done, although not perhaps consciously, in the mood
of one who is soon to lose the visible world for ever--is to become, no
matter how humble the list, a psalmist.

The mere recollecting and recording even such haphazard memories as
these has had the effect of reconstructing also many too-long-forgotten
scenes of pure happiness, and has urged me about this dear England of
ours too, for I learned to love gorse on Harpenden Common, and pinewoods
at Ampthill, and moss in Kent, and the scent of coffee in the kitchen of
a home that can never be rebuilt, and--but poetry can be pain too.



A Pioneer


To be the first is always an achievement, even though the steps falter.
To be the first is also a distinction that cannot be taken away, because
whoever comes after must be a follower; and to follow is tame. It
occasionally happens that the first, no matter how many imitate him, is
also the best; but this cannot be said of Baboo Ramkinoo Dutt, retired
medical officer on pension, a tiny pamphlet by whom has just fluttered
my way.

Mr. Dutt's pioneer work was done in the realms of poesy, somewhen in the
eighteen-sixties, and the fruits are gathered together in this
_brochure_ under the title _Songs_, published at Chittagong, in India,
which, in some bewildering way, reached a second edition in 1886. In the
opening "distich" Mr. Dutt makes the claim to be the first Asiatic poet
to write in English, and if that is true this insignificant work
becomes the seed of which the full flower is the gifted Rabindra, son of
Tagore, whose mellifluous but mystic utterances lie, I am told, on every
boudoir table. Me they, for the most part, stump.

Baboo Ramkinoo Dutt, although a pioneer, made no claim himself to have
originated the startling idea of writing songs "in English word" and
English rhyme; he merely accepted the suggestion and acted upon it. The
suggestion came, under divine guidance, from Mr. J. D. Ward, the
Chittagong magistrate. Here are the lines, setting forth that
epoch-making moment, in an address to the Deity:

    I thank Thee for an idea that Thou has created in my heart
    On which through the faculty I met now a very fresh art.

    ...

    Being myself desired by the Chittagong magistrate, Mr. J. D. Ward,
    Got encouraged and commence writing a few songs in English word.

To Mr. Ward, then, much honour; and, indeed, one of Ramkinoo Dutt's
pleasantest qualities is his desire always to give honour where it is
due. Mr. Ward was perhaps his especial darling among the white sahibs
of Chittagong, but all are praised. Thus, in another invocation to
Heaven, we read:

    King, conqueror of nations, encourage two sorts of mortals,
    One skilled in war, the other in counsel.

    If so, why not Captain Macdonald should be the former?
    If so, why not Mr. J. D. Ward would be the latter?

And here is part of a "distich on arrival of 38th N.I.":

    We paid a visit upon Captain John A. Vanrenen,
    He is a high-spirited hero and jolly gentleman,

    So is the Lieutenant George Fergus Graham,
    So is the Lieutenant Henry Tottenham.

The last poem of all is wholly devoted to eulogies of Chittagong
worthies. For example, Mr. H. Greavesour, the judge,

    Is a pious and righteous man,
    Administering justice with mental pain.

Of Mr. D. R. Douglas:

    There is Mr. D. R. Douglas, Joint Magistrate,
    His judgment is pure, yes, on the highest rate.

And Mr. A. Marsh, Magistrate-Collector:

    He is devout, holy man, naturally shy,
    His mind seems runs through righteous way.

And the Executive Engineer, Mr. C. A. Mills:

    The energitic gentleman is getting on well.

All these were living and probably in daily reception of the obeisances
of the retired medical officer who esteemed them so highly; but Dr.
Beatson was dead:

    We lost, lately lost, Dr. W. B. Beatson.
    We again shall never gain him in person....
        He is a Dr. Philanthropist,
        He is a Dr. Physiognomist,
        He is a Dr. Anatomist,
        He is His Lordship's personal Surgeon.

It will be seen already that Mr. Dutt had not yet mastered his
instrument, but he did not lack thoughts: merely the power to express
them. Throughout these thirty odd pages one sees him floundering in the
morass of a new language, always with something that he wants to say but
can only suggest. Here, for example, is a personal statement, line by
line more or less inarticulate, but as a whole clear enough. With all
the mental incompleteness, the verbal looseness, the fumblings and
gropings of the traditional Baboo, it is a genuine piece of irony.
Seldom can a convert to Christianity have been more frank.

    I would not accept a second creation,
    I thank the Omnipotent for his kind protection.
            From my minority,
            I profess the mendacity,
            Passed days in poverty,
            From my minority.
            Perpetually my duty,
            Sobbing under perplexity.
            Nothing least prosperity,
            But sad and emotion.

            I gave up the heathenism,
            And its favouritism,
            Together with the Hinduism.

            I gave up the heathenism.
            Neither the fanaticism,
            Nor the paganism,
            Or my idiotism,
            Could enrich me with provision.

Such was the poetical pioneer, Baboo Ramkinoo Dutt, who (supposing
always that we may accept his statement as true) was the first Hindu to
write English verse.



Full Circle


I have lately been the witness of two phenomena.

Not long ago two officers and gentlemen (whom I had never seen before
and one of whom, alas! I shall never see again) descended from a blue
sky on to a neighbouring stretch of sward; had tea with me in my garden;
and, ascending into the blue again, were lost to view. Since it is
seldom that the heavens drop such visitants upon us in the obscure
region in which I live, it follows that while the aviators were absent
from their machine the news had so spread that by the time they rejoined
it and prepared to depart, a crowd had assembled not unworthy of being
compared, in point of numbers, with that which two workmen in London can
bring together whenever they begin to make a hole in the wood-block
paving. I had not thought so many people lived in the neighbourhood.
Every family, at any rate was represented, while the rector looked on
with the tolerant smile that the clergy keep for the wonders of science,
and just at the last moment up panted our policeman on his bicycle, and
pulling out his notebook and pencil for the aviators' names (Heaven
knows why), set upon the proceedings the seal of authority.

Whatever may be said against aeroplanes in full flight, and there is
quite a long indictment--that they are, for instance, not at all like
birds, and much more like dragon-flies, and are too noisy, and too
rigid, and so forth,--no one in his senses can deny that as they rise
from the ground--especially if you are behind them and they are receding
swiftly in a straight line from you, and even more so if you are
personally acquainted with the occupants--they have beautiful and
exciting qualities. Not soon shall I forget the sight as my guests in
their biplane glided exquisitely from the turf into the air and, after
one circular sweep around our bewildered heads, swam away in the
direction of the Hog's Back.

That was phenomenon No. 1. Phenomenon No. 2--also connected with the
mechanics of quicker movement than Shanks's mare ever compassed--was
one of those old high bicycles, a fifty-two inch, I should guess, dating
from the late eighteen-seventies, which, although the year was 1916, was
being ridden along the Brighton front.

I am, unhappily, old enough to have been the owner of a bone-shaker,
upon which I can assure you I had far more amusing times than on any of
its luxurious progeny, even though they were fitted with every device
that all the engineers' brains in the world, together with the white hat
and beard of Mr. Dunlop, have succeeded in inventing. Being able to
remember the advent of the high bicycle and the rush to the windows and
gates whenever word went forth that one was approaching (much as a few
of the simpler among us still run when the buzz of the aeroplane is
heard), I was, as I watched the interest aroused among Brighton's
butterflies by this antique relic, in a position to reflect, not I trust
sardonically, but at any rate without any feelings of triumph, upon the
symmetrical completion of--I must not say one cycle of mechanical
enterprise, but one era. For this high bicycle (which was perhaps built
between thirty and forty years ago) wobbling along the King's Road drew
every eye. Before that moment we had been looking at I know not
what--the _Skylark_, maybe, now fitted with auxiliary motor power; or
the too many soldiers in blue clothes, with only one arm or one leg, and
sometimes with no legs at all, who take the sun near the Palace Pier and
are not wholly destitute of female companionship. But when this
outlandish vehicle came we all stopped to gaze and wonder, and we
watched it out of sight.

"Look at that extraordinary bicycle!" said the young, to whom it was
something of the latest.

"Well, I'm blessed," said the old, "if there isn't one of those high
bicycles from before the Flood!"

And not only did it provide a diverting spectacle, but it gave us
something to talk about at dinner, where we compared old feats perched
on these strange monsters, in the days when the road from John o' Groats
to Land's End was thick with competitors, and half the male world wore
the same grey cloth, and the Vicar of Ripley strove every Sunday for
the cyclist's soul.

Being myself didactically disposed, I went farther than reminiscence and
bored my companions with some such reflections as those that follow. It
is not given (I said) to many of us to have a second time on earth, but
this bicycle is having it, and enjoying it. In the distant
eighteen-seventies or eighties it was, as a daring innovation, a marvel
and a show. Then came (I went on) all the experiments and developments
under which cycling has become as natural almost as walking, during
which it lay neglected in corners, like the specimen in the London
Museum in the basement of Stafford House. And then an adventurous boy
discovered it, and riding it to-day bravely beside that promenade of
sun-beetles, assisted it (I concluded) to box the compass and transform
the Obsolete into the Novelty.

Some day, if I live, there may visit me from the blue as I totter among
the flower-beds an aeroplane of so scandalous a crudity and immaturity
that all the countryside, long since weary of the sight and sound of
flying machines, then so common that every cottager will have one, will
again cluster about it while its occupants and I drink our tea.

For with mechanical enterprise there is no standing still. Man, so
conspicuously unable to improve himself, is always making his inventions
better.



A Friend of Man

In Two Parts

I. THE FALLEN STAR


Once upon a time there was a pug dog who could speak.

I found him on a seat in Hyde Park.

"Good afternoon," he said.

Why I was not astonished to be thus addressed by a pug dog, I cannot
say; but it seemed perfectly natural.

"Good afternoon," I replied.

"It's a long time," he said, "since you saw any of my kind, I expect?"

"Now I come to think of it," I replied, "it is. How is that?"

"There's a reason," he said. "Put in a nutshell it's this: Peeks." He
wheezed horribly.

I asked him to be more explicit, and he amplified his epigram into:
"Pekingese."

"They're all the rage now," he explained; "and we're out in the cold. If
you throw your memory back a dozen years or so," he went on, "you will
recall our popularity."

As he spoke I did so. In the mind's eye I saw a sumptuous
carriage-and-pair. The horses bristled with mettle. The carriage was on
C-springs, and a coachman and footman were on the box. They wore claret
livery and cockades. The footman's arms were folded. His gloves were of
a dazzling whiteness. In the carriage was an elderly commanding lady
with an aristocratic nose; and in her lap was a pug dog of plethoric
habit and a face as black as your hat.

All the time my new acquaintance was watching me with streaming eyes.
"What do you see?" he asked.

I described my mental picture.

"There you are," he said; "and what do you see to-day? There, look!"

I glanced up at his bidding, and a costly motor was gliding smoothly by.
It weighed several tons, and its tyres were like dropsical life-belts.
On its shining door was a crest. The chauffeur was kept warm by costly
furs. Inside was an elderly lady, and in her arms was a russet
Pekingese.

"So you see what went when I went," the pug said, after a noisy pause.
"It wasn't only pugs that went; it was carriages-and-pairs, and the
sound of eight hoofs all at once, and footmen with folded arms. We
passed out together. Exeunt pugs. Enter Peeks and Petrol. And now we are
out in the cold."

I sympathized with him. "You must transfer your affection to another
class, that's all," I said. "If the nobs have gone back on you, there
are still a great many pug-lovers left."

"No," he said, "that's no good; we want chicken. We must have it.
Without it, we had better become extinct." He wept with the sound of a
number of syphons all leaking together, and waddled away.

At this moment the man who has charge of the chairs came up for my
money. I gave the penny.

"I'm afraid I must charge you twopence," the man said.

I asked him why.

"For the dog," he said. "When they talks we has to make a charge for
them."

"But it wasn't mine," I assured him. "It was a total stranger."

"Come now," he said; and to save trouble I paid him.

But how like a pug!


II. THE NEW BOOK OF BEAUTY

A hundred years ago the Books of Beauty had line engravings by Charles
Heath, and long-necked, ringleted ladies looked wistfully or simperingly
at you. I have several examples: _Caskets_, _Albums_, _Keepsakes_. The
new Book of Beauty has a very different title. It is called _The
Pekingese_, and is the revised edition for 1914.

The book is different in other ways too. The steel engravers having long
since all died of starvation, here are photographs only, in large
numbers, and (strange innovation!) there are more of gentlemen than of
ladies. For this preponderance there is a good commercial reason, as any
student of the work will quickly discover, for we are now entering a
sphere of life where the beauty of the sterner sex (if so severe a word
can be applied to such sublimation of everything that is soft and
voluptuous and endearing) is more considered than that of the other.
Beautiful ladies are here in some profusion, but the first place is for
beautiful and guinea-earning gentlemen.

In the old Books of Beauty one could make a choice. There was always one
lady supremely longer-necked, more wistful or more simpering than the
others. But in this new Book of Beauty one turns the pages only to be
more perplexed. The embarrassment of riches is too embarrassing. I have
been through the work a score of times and am still wondering on whom my
affections and admiration are most firmly fixed.

How to play the part of Paris where all the competitors have some
irresistibility, as all have of either sex? Once I thought that Wee Mo
of Westwood was my heart's chiefest delight, "a flame-red little dog
with black mask and ear-fringes, profuse coat and featherings, flat wide
skull, short flat face, short bowed legs and well-shaped body." But then
I turned back to Broadoak Beetle and on to Broadoak Cirawanzi, and
Young Beetle, and Nanking Fo, and Ta Fo of Greystones, and Petshé Ah
Wei, and Hay Ch'ah of Toddington, and that superb Sultanic creature,
King Rudolph of Ruritania, and Champion Howbury Ming, and Su Eh of
Newnham, and King Beetle of Minden, and Champion Hu Hi, and Mo Sho, and
that rich red dog, Buddha of Burford. And having chosen these I might
just as well scratch out their names and write others, for every male
face in this book is a poem.

The ladies, as I have said, are in the minority, for the obvious reason
that these little disdainful distinguished gentlemen figure here as
potential fathers, with their fees somewhat indelicately named: since
there's husbandry on earth as well as in heaven.

Such ladies as are here are here for their beauty alone and are beyond
price. Among them I note with especial joy Yiptse of Chinatown, Mandarin
Marvel, who "inherits the beautiful front of her sire, Broadoak Beetle";
Lavender of Burton-on-Dee, "fawn, with black mask"; Chi-Fa of
Alderbourne, "a most charming and devoted little companion"; Yeng Loo of
Ipsley; Detlong Mo-li of Alderbourne, one of the "beautiful red
daughters of Wong-ti of Alderbourne," Champion Chaou Chingur, of whom
her owner says that "in quaintness and individuality and in loving
disposition she is unequalled," and is also "quite a 'woman of the
world,' very _blasée_ and also very punctilious in trifles"; Pearl of
Cotehele, "bright red, with beautiful back"; E-Wo Tu T'su; Berylune Tzu
Hsi Chu; Ko-ki of Radbourne and Siddington Fi-fi.

Every now and then there is an article in the papers asking and
answering the question, What is the greatest benefit that has come to
mankind in the past half-century? The answer is usually the camera, or
matches, or the Marconi system, or the cinema, or the pianola, or the
turbine, or the Röntgen rays, or the telephone, or the bicycle, or Lord
Northcliffe, or the motor-car. Always something utilitarian or
scientific. But why should we not say at once that it was the
introduction of Pekingese spaniels into England from China? Because that
is the truth.



The Listener


Once upon a time there was a man with such delicate ears that he could
hear even letters speak. And, of course, letters lying in pillar-boxes
have all kinds of things to say to each other.

One evening, having posted his own letter, he leaned against the
pillar-box and listened.

"Here's another!" said a voice. "Who are you, pray?"

"I'm an acceptance with thanks," said the new letter.

"What do you accept?" another voice asked.

"An invitation to dinner," said the new letter, with a touch of pride.

"Pooh!" said the other. "Only that."

"It's at a house in Kensington," said the new letter.

"Well, _I'm_ an acceptance of an invitation to a dance at a duchess's,"
was the reply, and the new letter said no more.

Then all the others began.

"I bring news of a legacy," said one.

"I try to borrow money," said another, rather hopelessly.

"I demand the payment of a debt," said a sharp metallic voice.

"I decline an offer of marriage," said a fourth, with a wistful note.

"I've got a cheque inside," said a fifth, with a swagger.

"I convey the sack," said a sixth in triumph.

"I ask to be taken on again, at a lower salary," said another, with
tears.

"What do you think I am?" one inquired. "You shall have six guesses."

"Give us a clue," said a voice.

"Very well. I'm in a foolscap envelope."

Then the guessing began.

One said a writ.

Another said an income-tax demand.

But no one could guess it.

"I'm a poem for a paper," said the foolscap letter at last.

"Are you good?" asked a voice.

"Not good enough, I'm afraid," said the poem. "In fact I've been out and
back again seven times already."

"A war poem, I suppose?"

"I suppose so. I rhyme 'trench' and 'French.'"

"Guess what I am," said a sentimental murmur.

"Anyone could guess that," was the gruff reply. "You're a love-letter."

"Quite right," said the sentimental murmur. "But how clever of you!"

"Well," said another, "you're not the only love-letter here. I'm a
love-letter too."

"How do you begin?" asked the first.

"I begin 'My Darling,'" said the second love-letter.

"That's nothing," said the first; "I begin 'My Ownest Own.'"

"I don't think much of either of those beginnings," said a new voice. "I
begin, 'Most Beautiful.'"

"You're from a man, I suppose?" said the second love-letter.

"Yes, I am," said the new one. "Aren't you?"

"No, I'm from a woman," said the second. "I'll admit your beginning's
rather good. But, how do you end?"

"I end with 'A million kisses,'" said the new one.

"Ah, I've got you there!" said the second. "I end with 'For ever and
ever yours.'"

"That's not bad," said the first, "but my ending is pretty good in its
way. I end like this: 'To-morrow will be Heaven once more, for then we
meet again.'"

"Oh, do stop all this love talk," said the gruff voice again, "and be
sensible like me. I'm a letter to an Editor putting everything right and
showing up all the iniquities and ineptitudes of the Government. I shall
make a stir, I can tell you. I'm It, I am. I'm signed 'Pro Bono
Publico.'"

"That's funny!" said another letter. "I'm signed that too, but I stick
up for the Government."

But at this moment the listener was conscious of a hand on his arm and a
lantern in his face.

"Here," said the authoritative tones of a policeman, "I think you've
been leaning against this pillar-box long enough. If you can't walk I'll
help you home."

Thus does metallic prose invade the delicate poetical realm of
supernature.



The Dark Secret


It was the most perfect September day that anyone could remember. The
sun had risen in a dewy mist. The early air was pungent with yellowing
bracken.

Then the mist cleared, the dew disappeared from everywhere but the
shadows, and the Red Admirals again settled on the Michaelmas daisies.

A young man walked up and down the paths of the garden and drank in its
sweetness; then he passed on to the orchard and picked from the wet
grass a reddening apple, which he ate. Something pulled at his flannel
trousers: it was a spaniel puppy, and with it he played till
breakfast-time.

He was staying with some friends for a cricket match. It was the last of
the season and his only game that year. As one grows older and busier,
cricket becomes less and less convenient, and on the two occasions that
he had arranged for a day it had been wet.

He had never been a great hand at the game. He had never made 100 or
even 70, never taken any really good wickets; but he liked every minute
of a match, so much so that he was always the first to volunteer to
field when there was a man short, or run for some one who was lame, or
even to stand as umpire.

To be in the field was the thing. Those rainy interludes in the pavilion
which so develop the stoicism of the first-class cricketer had no power
to make a philosopher of him. All their effect on him was detrimental:
they turned him black. He fretted and raged.

But to-day there was not a cloud; nothing but the golden September sun.

It was one of the jolly matches. There was no jarring element: no bowler
who was several sizes too good; no bowler who resented being taken off;
no habitual country-house cricketer whose whole conversation was the
jargon of the game; no batsman too superior to the rest; no acerbitous
captain with a lost temper over every mistake; no champagne for lunch.
Most of the players were very occasional performers: the rest were
gardeners and a few schoolboys. Nice boys--boys who might have come from
Winchester.

He was quickly out, but he did not mind, for he had had one glorious
swipe and was caught in the deep field off another, and there is no
better way of getting out than that.

In the field he himself stood deep, and the only catch that came to him
he held; while in the intervals between wickets he lay on the sweet
grass while the sun warmed him through and through. If ever it was good
to be alive....

And suddenly the sun no longer warmed him, and he noticed that it had
sunk behind a tree in whose hundred-yard-long shadow he was standing.
For a second he shivered, not only at the loss of tangible heat, but at
the realization that the summer was nearly gone (for it was still early
in the afternoon), and this was the last cricket match, and he had
missed all the others, and he was growing old, and winter was coming on,
and next year he might have no chance; but most of all he regretted the
loss of the incredible goodness of this day, and for the first time in
his life the thought phrased itself in his mind: "No sooner do we grasp
the present than it becomes the past." The haste of it all oppressed
him. Nothing stands still.

"A ripping day, wasn't it?" said his host as they walked back.

"Perfect," he replied, with a sigh. "But how soon over!"

They stopped for a moment at the top of the hill to look at the sunset,
and he sighed again as his thoughts flew to that print of the
"Melancholia" which had hung on the stairs in his early home.

"Notice the sunset," some visitor had once said to him. "Some day you
will know why Dürer put that in."

And now he knew.

That evening he heard the Winchester boys making plans for the winter
sports at Pontresina in the Christmas vac.



The Scholar and the Pirate


In an old bookshop which I visit, never without making a discovery or
two--not infrequently, as in the present case, assisted in my good
fortune by the bookseller himself--I lately came upon an edition of
Long's _Marcus Aurelius_ with an admirable prefatory note that is, I
believe, peculiar to this issue--that of 1869. And since the eyes of the
present generation have never been turned towards America so often and
so seriously as latterly, when our Trans-Atlantic cousins have become
our allies, blood once more of our blood, the passage may be reprinted
with peculiar propriety. Apart, however, from its American interest, the
document is valuable for its dignity and independence, and it had the
effect of sending me to that rock of refuge, _The Dictionary of National
Biography_, to inquire further as to its author. There I found that
George Long, whose translation of the Imperial Stoic is a classic, was
born in 1800; educated at Macclesfield Grammar School and Trinity
College, Cambridge; in 1821 was bracketed Craven scholar with Macaulay
and Professor Malden, but gained a fellowship over both of them; and in
1824 went to Charlotteville, Virginia, as professor of ancient
languages. Returning in 1828 to profess Greek at University College,
London, he was thenceforward, throughout his long life, concerned with
the teaching and popularizing of the classics, finding time, however,
also to be called to the Bar, to lecture on jurisprudence and civil law,
and to help to found the Royal Geographical Society. His _Marcus
Aurelius_ is his best-known work, but his edition of Cicero's Orations,
his discourse on Roman Law, and his Epictetus also stand alone. After
many years' teaching at Brighton College, Long retired to Chichester,
where he died in 1879.

Late in life he brought out anonymously a book of essays, entitled _An
Old Man's Thoughts about Many Things_, in which I have been dipping. I
do not say it would bear reprinting now, but anyone seeing it on a
friend's shelf should borrow it, or in a bookshop should buy it,
because such kindly good sense, such simple directness and candour and
love of the humanities are rare. It has its mischief, too. The old
scholar's opinion on statue-making in general and on London's statues in
particular are expressed with a dry frankness that is refreshing. I make
no effort to resist quoting a little:

     "It is in the nature of things that statues should be made.
     They were made more than two thousand years ago, and I
     believe the business has never stopped, for when people
     could not get good statues, they were content with bad, as
     we are now.

     "If I might give advice to the men now living, who look
     forward to the honour, if it is an honour, of being set up
     in bronze in the highways, or in marble in Westminster Abbey
     or St. Paul's; if I might advise, I would say, leave a
     legacy in your will for your own statue. It will save much
     trouble and people will think better of you when you are
     gone, if you cost them nothing. As to their laughing at you
     for looking after your own statue, be not afraid of that.

     "It is very disagreeable nowadays to see a man standing for
     ever on his legs in public, doing nothing but stand, and
     seeming as if he were never going to do anything else.

     "If a man shall try to persuade me that a statue should be
     nothing more than the effigy of a man standing on a
     pedestal, I shall never be convinced. I would rather see a
     living man standing on an inverted cask, as I have seen a
     slave when he was sold, not that the sale is a very pleasant
     thing to see, but the man produced a much better effect than
     many of our statues, for he expressed something and they
     express nothing.

     "As we cannot or at least ought not to make our statues
     naked or blanket-dressed, and as body and legs are merely
     given to a statue in order to support the head, for the legs
     and body might be any legs and any body, would it not be
     wise to be satisfied with the head only? This would be a
     great saving, and though the sculptor would get less for a
     head than for a head with body and legs to it, he would have
     more heads to make. This is a hint, which I throw out by the
     way, for the consideration of committees who sit on
     statues, by which I mean men who sit together to talk about
     a thing of which most of them know nothing.

     "When the negroes of Africa have been brought to the same
     state of civilization as the white man, they will make
     statues and set them up in public; and as we who are white
     make black statues, they who are black will of course make
     white statues.

     "Can anybody say what sin Dr. Jenner committed for which he
     does perpetual penance, not in white, but in black, his face
     black and his hands too, seated in the most public part of
     London, fixed to his chair, with no hope of rising from it?

     "This seated figure might be anybody. I see nothing by which
     I recognize Dr. Jenner; to say nothing of a cow, there is
     not even a calf by his side, with the benevolent physician's
     hand on the animal.

     "I cannot approve of a seated black statue in the open
     air--a black man sitting, and no more.

     "I sincerely pity our seated gentlemen in London, poor
     Cartwright, who looks like an old cobbler on his stool, and
     Fox, worse treated still, blanket-dressed, fat and black. No
     wonder some shortsighted man from the new Confederate States
     once took Fox for a negro woman, the emblem of British
     philanthropy and a memorial of the abolition of the slave
     trade.

     "The only beasts on which we can now place our heroes are
     horses. I may be wrong in my opinion, but I see no beauty in
     a horse standing still and a man's legs dangling down from
     the beast's back; nor do I think that the matter is mended
     by the horse and rider being of colossal size, though they
     ought to be larger than life. Perhaps we shall not have any
     more of these statues; but is it impossible to remove those
     that we have?

     "As we are a fighting people, we have been great makers of
     statues of fighting men. We put them even in churches. This
     reminds that when the time shall come for finishing and
     adorning the inside of St. Paul's, there will be an enormous
     quantity of old stone to dispose of, which is now in the
     shape of generals, captains, admirals, lions and other
     animals.

     "It is singular, or it is not singular, I can't say which,
     that we who box, wrestle, run and in many ways work our
     bodies, more than any other nation, have not employed our
     sculptors to immortalize our athletic heroes. Some of them
     would make good subjects for the artist. He might strip the
     boxer or runner naked, if he liked, and exhibit his art in
     the representation of strength and beauty of form. I have
     some misgivings about the faces of boxers, which are not
     remarkable for beauty, but the artist may improve them a
     little without destroying the likeness; and besides, in a
     naked figure we look less at the face than at the body and
     limbs. The champion of England would certainly have had a
     statue by Lysippus or some artist as good, if he had been
     lucky enough to live in ancient times.... We shall, of
     course, want a place to put these statues in, for we may be
     sure they will not get into the churches, which are only
     made for statues of fighting men who have killed somebody or
     ordered somebody to kill somebody.

     "I could go on much longer, but I don't choose. I write to
     amuse myself, and also to instruct, and when I am tired, I
     stop. I see no reason why I should exhaust the subject. I
     should only be giving my ideas to people who have none, who
     make a reputation out of other folks' brains, who pounce on
     anything that they find ready to their hand, and flood us
     with books made only to sell."

It is already, I imagine, abundantly clear that Long would not have much
liked many things that we do to-day. Writing of "Place and Power," he
says: "At that very distant time when all members of Parliament shall be
Andrew Marvells and will live on two hundred a year, poor men may do our
business for us; but for the present I prefer men who are rich enough to
live without the profits of place. I wish somebody would move for a
return of all the visible and invisible means of support which every
member of the Commons has. I want to know how much every man in the
House receives of public money, whether he is soldier, sailor,
place-holder, sinecurist, or anything else; and also how much he has by
the year of his own." Elsewhere he says: "There is no occasion to print
any more sermons.... I have always wondered why so much is written on
the doctrines and principles of Christianity and on good living, when we
have it done long ago in a few books which we all refer to as our
authority." And this is good: "I wish Euclid could have secured a
perpetual copyright. It might have helped the finances of the Greeks."

But I am not proposing to dissect Long's essays; it is the fine rebuke
to an American publisher that I want to bring to your notice, for there
Long's habitual serenity takes an edge. His protest runs thus:

     "I have been informed that an American publisher has printed
     the first edition of this translation of M. Antoninus. I do
     not grudge him his profit, if he has made any. There may be
     many men and women in the United States who will be glad to
     read the thoughts of the Roman Emperor. If the American
     politicians, as they are called, would read them also, I
     should be much pleased, but I do not think the emperor's
     morality would suit their taste.

     "I have also been informed that the American publisher has
     dedicated this translation to an American. I have no
     objection to the book being dedicated to an American, but in
     doing this without my consent the publisher has transgressed
     the bounds of decency. I have never dedicated a book to any
     man, and if I dedicated this, I should choose the man whose
     name seemed to me most worthy to be joined to that of the
     Roman soldier and philosopher. I might dedicate the book to
     the successful general who is now the President of the
     United States, with the hope that his integrity and justice
     will restore peace and happiness, so far as he can, to those
     unhappy States which have suffered so much from war and the
     unrelenting hostility of wicked men.

     "But, as the Roman poet said,

         Victrix causa Deis placuit, sed victa Catoni;

     and if I dedicated this little book to any man, I would
     dedicate it to him who led the Confederate armies against
     the powerful invader, and retired from an unequal contest
     defeated, but not dishonoured; to the noble Virginian
     soldier, whose talents and virtues place him by the side of
     the best and wisest man who sat on the throne of the
     Imperial Cæsars.--GEORGE LONG."

That is excellent prose, is it not? The general to whom Long would
dedicate the edition was Robert Edward Lee, who had then become head of
the Washington College and survived only until 1870. The President at
the time that Long wrote was General Grant, to whom Lee surrendered.

One or two anecdotes of Long which have recently come my way would alone
convince me, apart from the evidence of his record and his writings,
that here was a very sterling and very independent "character" of whom
much more should be known. Some day I hope to know more. Meanwhile I
relate one of the stories. An appeal for cast-off clothing for the poor
clergy being made, some one took the line that such an appeal was _infra
dig_. Long smoked, pondered, and thus delivered himself: "But is it not
paramount that these gentlemen should have trousers?"



A Set of Three


The other day I saw three sights, and, although they have no connexion
with each other, each was in its way sufficiently evocative of thought
to make that day a little more interesting than most.

It was the first day of the tardy spring of 1917, or rather the first
day into which had crept those hints that the power of the long, cruel
war-winter must some day be broken. The sun was almost visible, and a
tenderness now and then touched the air, and no one who is at all
responsive to weather conditions could fail to be a little elated and
believe once more not only in a future of sorts but also in a lurking
benignancy somewhere. Stimulated myself in this way, even although I was
approaching a rehearsal of a _revue_, I came suddenly in the King's Road
upon that disused burial-ground opposite the Six Bells, and was aware
that, sitting there on seats facing the road, in white aprons and caps,
with shawls over their shoulders, were five of the saddest old ladies I
have ever seen--occupants, I presume, of a neighbouring workhouse. There
they sat, saying nothing, and watching without enthusiasm the passers-by
and the 'buses and the taxis and all the hurry and scurry of an
existence from which they are utterly withdrawn and which they will soon
leave for ever. Being on my frivolous errand, I was pulled up very short
by the spectacle of five such stallholders as these whom the bigger
_revue_ which we call life had left so cold; and not only cold, but so
tired and so white, as life loves to do. There was a poignancy in their
very placidity, in the folded hands and the incommunicableness of them,
that was very searching. There was criticism too. Hardly more sentient
than the mummies which were displayed to the guests at Egyptian feasts,
they were equally admonitory....

I was glad again to be in the theatre listening to the familiar tones of
the producer wondering why in thunder no one but himself had the
faintest respect for punctuality.

Later in the day I saw a blinded officer, with both eyes bandaged, being
led along Sloane Street. Blinded men are, alas! not rare, and it was not
the officer himself that attracted my notice, but two fine, upstanding
young soldiers who as they passed him saluted with as much punctilio as
though he could see them. Of this salute he was, of course, wholly
unconscious, but the precision with which it was given, and, indeed, the
fact that it was given at all, could not but make an impression on the
observer. It seemed to comprise so thoroughly both the spirit and the
letter of discipline.

And late that night I watched in the Tube, after the theatres, a man
and a small eager-faced boy talking about something they had been to
see. Although sitting exactly opposite them, I have no idea what they
said, but they amused each other immensely as they recalled this joke
and that. Nothing extraordinary in this, you will say. But there was.
The reason why I was so profoundly interested to be a witness of the
scene was that they were deaf and dumb, and the whole conversation was
carried on by signs; not by the alphabet that one learnt at school in
order to communicate during class, but a rapid synthetic improvement
upon it, where two or three lightning-quick movements--gesture
grammalogues--sufficed to convey whole sentences of meaning. It is
perhaps curious, but I had never before been brought into such close
contact with the deaf and dumb; I have never even been--as, since I
profess to explore and study London, I should have been--to that church
in Oxford Street, opposite the great secret emporium, where the deaf and
dumb worship and by signs are exhorted to be good. Beyond watching that
boys' school which one sees gesticulating on the Brighton front, I had
never until this night seen these afflicted creatures in intimate and
sparkling talk. I found the sight not only interesting, but as cheering
as those poor old things in the King's Road oasis had been saddening.
Because the unfortunates were making such a splendid fight for it. No
boy with every faculty about him could have been gayer or merrier than
this mute with the dancing eyes; nor can I conceive of a spoken
conversation that contained a completer interchange of ideas in the same
space of time.

At Oxford Circus they got out, and left me pondering on deafness and
dumbness. To be dumb, of course, is, comparatively speaking, nothing;
for most of the perplexities of life come from talk. But to be deaf--to
live ever in silence, to see laughing lips moving, to see hands
wandering over the keys, to see birds exulting, and be denied the
resultant harmonies: that must be terrible. Yet terrible only to those
who have known what the solace and gaiety of words and the beauty of
sound can be. To have been born deaf is different, and I have no doubt
whatever that the deaf and dumb have delectable lands of their own into
which we can never stray, where wonderful flowers of silence grow. It is
even possible, since all the visible world is theirs, that they never
envy us at all.



A Lesson


God--it is notorious--works in a mysterious way to get morality and
decency into us; which is another way of saying that not all light is
communicated by the Episcopal bench, by clerks in holy orders, by
divines who do not conform, or by editors at Whitefield's Tabernacle.

The other day, for example, I had lunch with a very charming actress in
a pleasant restaurant.

"Rather a funny thing happened the last time I was here," she remarked.

"Yes?" I replied languidly.

"About you."

"Oh!" I said with animation. "Do tell me."

"It was also at lunch," she explained. "The people at the next table
were talking about you. I couldn't help hearing a little. A man there
said he had met you in Shanghai."

"Not really!" I exclaimed.

"Yes. He met you in Shanghai."

"That's frightfully interesting," I said. "What did he say about me?"

"That's what I couldn't hear," she replied. "You see, I had to pay some
attention to my own crowd. I only caught the word 'delightful.'"

Ever since she told me this I have been turning it over in my mind; and
it is particularly vexing not to know more. "Delightful" can be such
jargon and mean nothing--or, at any rate, nothing more than amiability.
Still, that is something, for one is not always amiable, even when
meeting strangers. On the other hand, it might be, from this man, the
highest praise.

The whole thing naturally leads to thought, because I have never been
farther east than Athens in my life.

What did the man mean? Can we possibly visit other cities in our sleep?
Has each of us an _alter ego_, who can really behave, elsewhere?

Whether we have or not, I know that this information about my Shanghai
double is going to be a great nuisance to me. It is going to change my
character. In fact, it has already begun to change it. Let me give you
an example.

Only yesterday I was about to be very angry with a telegraph boy who
brought back a telegram I had dispatched about two hours earlier, saying
that it could not be delivered because it was insufficiently addressed.
Obviously it was not the boy's fault, for he belonged to our country
post office, and the telegram had been sent to London and was returned
from there; and yet I started to abuse that boy as though he were not
only the Postmaster-General himself but the inventor of red-tape into
the bargain. And all for a piece of carelessness of my own.

And then suddenly I remembered Shanghai and how delightful I was there.
And I shut up instantly, and apologized, and rewrote the message, and
gave the boy a shilling for himself. If one could be delightful in
Shanghai one must be delightful at home too.

And so it is going to be. There is very little fun for me in the future,
and all because of that nice-mannered double in Shanghai whom I must not
disgrace. For it would be horrible if one day a lady told him that she
had overheard some one who had met him in London and found him to be a
bear.



=ON BELLONA'S HEM=

(SECOND SERIES)



ON BELLONA'S HEM


A Revel in Gambogia

There are certain ebullitions of frivolity about which, during the war,
one has felt far from comfortable. To read reports of them, side by side
with the various "grave warnings" which every one has been uttering, is
to be almost too vividly reminded of England's capacity for divided
action. But there are also others; and chief among these I should set
the fancy-dress carnival of munition-workers at which I was privileged
to be present one Saturday night. Here was necessary frivolity, if you
like, for these myriad girls worked like slaves all the week, day and
night, and many of them on Sundays too--and "National filling," as their
particular task is called, is no joke either--and it was splendid to see
them flinging themselves into the fun of this rare careless evening.

Fancy dress being the rule, it was only right and proper that there
should be prizes for the best costumes; and since the lady who shed her
beneficence over this prismatic throng does nothing by halves, she had
called in the assistance of two artists to adjudicate. I will not make
public their names; that would be to overstep the boundaries of decorum
and turn this book into sheer journalism. But I will say that one of
them is equally renowned in Chelsea for his distinguished brushwork and
his wit; and that the other's extravaganzas cheer a million
breakfast-tables daily. How I, who am not an artist, and so little of a
costumier that I did not even wear evening dress, got into this _galère_
is the mystery. I can explain it only by a habit of good fortune, for I
chanced to be in the studio of the Chelsea artist at the moment when the
beneficent lady arrived to put her request to him, and, noticing my
pathetic look, she in her great kindness included me in the invitation.

Deciding on the best costume when there are many hundreds of them, and
they pass before the dazzled eye in a swift procession of couples, is
not easy; and only very remarkable men could perform the task. Women
might find it easier, because they would not be influenced, as one of
our judges obviously was, by the external claims of personal beauty. A
woman would look at the costume and nothing else, make her notes with
scientific precision, and prepare for the next. But when the competitors
are all--or almost all--girls, and most of them pretty and all jolly,
why, how can you expect impartiality, especially in artists, and at any
rate without a struggle? But in spite of the difficulties set up by the
impact of so much charm upon the emotional susceptibilities of at any
rate one judge, the process of selecting a first, second, and third was
accomplished with, I should say--speaking as a calm, detached spectator,
with all my feelings well under control--absolute equity.

The first prize went to a slender lady of whose features I can say
nothing because I never saw them, her Eastern costume including a veil
that covered her face. But it seemed to these not too discerning eyes
that she was otherwise of an attractive shapeliness. As to her, the
judges were unanimous; but when it came to the second they were divided.
The Chelsea judge, again swayed by passion, and possibly recalling old
triumphs in his Latin Quarter days, preferred a French costume; the
other was firm for an Indian. What would have happened I dare not think,
for each was a powerful and determined man, ready to stick at nothing,
had I not, in my cool-headedness, been inspired to suggest tossing up
for it, and the result was that, the coin showing heads, the Indian won,
and the French costume naturally took the third prize. There were then
two prizes to be awarded for the most original costumes, the previous
ones having been for the prettiest costumes, and here the winner was a
jovial lady who with her own hands had transformed herself into an
advertisement for a certain soup powder.

The iron laws of etiquette (or is it finance?) which so cramp the style
of any writer who refers to advertisements forbid me to state what
particular soup powder this was; but according to the hoardings, the way
in which a pennyworth will nourish and rejoice the human frame is, as
the Americans say, something fierce. If the applause of the company was
a guide, this prizewinner is a very popular figure among our "National
fillers." The second prize went to a very ingenious costume called
"Tommy's Parcel," consisting of most things that a soldier likes to
receive, and so thorough in design as to comprise, tied to the lady's
shoes, two packets of a harmful necessary powder without a copious
sprinkling of which no trench is really like home. If the approving
glances at "Tommy's Parcel" from a young officer who was at my side are
any indication, there are few of our warriors who would not welcome it
with open arms.

And then--the prizes being all awarded--all these nice girls, on whose
activities England has been so largely depending for safety, set again
to partners.

But why, you ask, Gambogia? I thought you would want to know that. It is
because in the making of munitions at the factory from which these girls
all come there are certain chemicals which have the effect of turning
the skin yellow. And among these merry revellers were some thus--but, I
hope and believe, only temporarily--disfigured. The cheerfulness with
which they are prepared to run these risks, not to mention others more
perilous but less menacing to personal vanity, is not the least of the
finenesses of character which the war has brought out; and the thought
of that and of their hard work and their gay courage made the spectacle
of the happy high spirits of this evening of playtime even more a
satisfaction.



The Misfire


When I entered the third smoker there was, as there now always is, a
soldier in one corner.

Just as we were starting, another soldier got in and sat in the opposite
corner; and within two minutes they knew all about each other's camp,
destination and regiment, and had exchanged cigarettes.

The first soldier had not yet left England and was stolid; the new-comer
had been in the trenches, had been wounded in the leg, had recovered,
was shortly going back, and was animated. His leg was all right, except
that in wet weather it ached. In fact he could even tell by it when we
were going to have rain. His "blooming barometer" he called it. Here he
laughed--a hearty laugh, for he was a genial blade and liked to hear
himself talk.

The first soldier did not laugh, but was interested. He thought it a
convenient thing to have a leg that foretold the weather.

"Which one is it?" he asked.

"The left."

The first soldier was disproportionately impressed.

"The left, is it?" he said heavily, as though he would have understood
the phenomenon in the right easily enough. "The left."

Completely unconscious of the danger-signals, the second soldier now
began to review his repertory of stories, and he started off with that
excellent one, very popular in the early days of the war, about the
wealthy private.

For the sake of verisimilitude he laid the scene in his own barracks. "A
funny thing happened at our place the other day," he began. He had
evidently had great success with this story. His expression indicated
approaching triumph.

But no anticipatory gleam lit the face of his new friend. It was in fact
one of those faces into which words sink as into sand--a white, puffy,
long face, with a moustache of obsolete bushiness.

"I thought I should have died of laughing," the narrator resumed,
utterly unsuspicious, wholly undeterred.

In the far corner I kept my eye on my book but my ears open. I could see
that he was rushing to his doom.

"We were being paid," he went on, "and the quartermaster asked one of
the men if he did not wish sixpence to be deducted to go to his wife.
The man said, 'No.' 'Why not?' the quartermaster asked. The man said he
didn't think his wife would need it or miss it. 'You'd better be
generous about it,' the quartermaster said; 'every little helps, you
know.'"

He paused. "What do you think the man said to that?" he asked his new
friend. "He said," he hurried on, "'I don't think I'll send it. You see,
I allow her four thousand a year as it is.'"

The raconteur laughed loudly and leaned back with the satisfaction--or
at least some of it--of one who has told a funny story and told it well.

But the other did not laugh at all. His face remained the dull thing it
was.

"You see," said the story-teller, explaining the point, "there are all
sorts in the Army now, and this man was a toff. He was so rich that he
could afford to allow his wife four thousand pounds a year. Four
thousand pounds! Do you see?"

"Oh yes, I see that. He must have been very rich. Why was he just a
private?"

"I don't know."

"Funny being a private with all that money. I wonder you didn't ask
him."

"I didn't, anyway. But you see the point now. No end of a joke for the
quartermaster to try and get a man who allowed his wife four thousand a
year to deduct sixpence a week to send to her! I thought I should have
died of laughing."

The first soldier remained impassive. "And what happened?" he asked at
last.

"What happened?"

"Yes, what was done about it? The sixpence, I mean. Did he agree to send
it?"

The second soldier pulled himself together. "Oh, I don't know," he said
shortly. "That's not the point."

"After all," the other continued, "the regulations say that married men
have to deduct sixpence for their wives, don't they?"

"Yes, of course," the other replied. "But this man, I tell you, already
gave her four thousand a year."

"That doesn't really touch it," said the first soldier. "The principle's
the same. Now----"

But I could stand the humiliation of the other honest fellow, so
brimming with anecdote and cheerfulness, no longer; and I came to his
rescue with my cigarette case. For I have had misfires myself.



A Letter

(_From Captain Claude Seaforth to a novelist friend_)


MY DEAR MAN,--You asked me to tell you if anything very remarkable came
my way. I think I have a story for you at last. If I could only write I
would make something of it myself, but not being of Kitchener's Army I
can't.

The other day, while I was clearing up papers and accounts, and all over
ink, as I always get, the Sergeant came to me, looking very rum. "Two
young fellows want to see you," he said.

Of course I said I was too busy and that he must deal with them.

"I think you'd rather see them yourself," he said, with another odd
look.

"What do they want?" I asked.

"They want to enlist," he said; "but they don't want to see the
doctor."

We've had some of these before--consumptives of the bull-dog breed, you
know. Full of pluck but no mortal use; knocked out by the first route
march.

"Why don't you tell them that they must see the doctor and have done
with it?" I asked the Sergeant.

Again he smiled queerly. "I made sure you'd rather do it yourself," he
said. "Shall I send them in?"

So I wished them farther and said "Yes"; and in they came.

They were the prettiest boys you ever saw in your life--too pretty. One
had red hair and the other black, and they were dressed like navvies.
They held their caps in their hands.

"What's this rubbish about not seeing a doctor?" I asked. You know my
brutal way.

"We thought perhaps it could be dispensed with," Red Hair said, drawing
nearer to Black Hair.

"Of course it can't," I told them. "What use to the Army are weaklings
who can't stand the strain? They're just clogs in the machinery. Don't
you see that?"

"We're very strong," Red Hair said, "only----"

"Only what?"

"Only----" Here they looked at each other, and Red Hair said, "Shall
we?" and Black Hair said, "Yes"; and they both came closer to me.

"Will you promise," said Red Hair, "that you will treat as confidential
anything we say to you?"

"So long as it is nothing dangerous to the State," I said, rather proud
of myself for thinking of it.

"We want to fight for our country," Red Hair began.

"No one wants to fight more," Black Hair put in.

"And we're very strong," Red Hair continued.

"I won a cup for lawn-tennis at Devonshire Park," Black Hair added.

"But----" said Red Hair.

"Yes," I replied.

"Don't you believe in some women being as strong as men?"

"Certainly," I said.

"Well, then," said Red Hair, "that's like us. We are as strong as lots
of men and much keener, and we want you to be kind to us and let us
enlist."

"We'll never do anything to give ourselves away," said Black Hair; but,
bless her innocent heart, she was giving herself away all the time.
Every moment was feminine.

The rum thing is that, although I had been conscious of something odd, I
never thought they were girls. Directly I knew it, I knew that I had
been the most unobservant ass alive; for they couldn't possibly be
anything else.

"My dear young ladies," I said at last, "I think you are splendid and an
example to the world; but what you ask is impossible. Have you thought
for a moment what it would be like to find yourselves in barracks with
the ordinary British soldier? He is a brave man and, when you meet him
alone, he is nearly always a nice man; but collectively he might not do
as company for you."

"But look at this," said Red Hair, showing me a newspaper-cutting about
a group of Russian girls known as "The Twelve Friends," who have been
through the campaign and were treated with the utmost respect by the
soldiers.

"And there's a woman buried at Brighton," said Black Hair, "who fought
as a man for years and lived to be a hundred."

"And think of Joan of Arc," said Red Hair.

"And Boadicea," said Black Hair.

"Well," I said, "leaving Joan of Arc and Boadicea aside, possibly those
Russians and that Brighton woman looked like men, which it is certain
you don't!"

"Oh!" said Black Hair, who was really rather peculiarly nice. "Then why
didn't you spot us before?"

One for me.

"I have no doubt I should have done so in a moment more," I said. "The
fact is"--what cowards we are!--"I was preoccupied when you came in."

Black Hair looked adorably as if she didn't believe it.

"But anyway," I went on, "we must be serious. What would your people
say?"

"We left word," said Red Hair, "that we were going off to do something
for our country. They won't worry. Oh, please be kind and help us!"

Here all four of their beautiful eyes grew moist.

I could have hugged both of them, especially perhaps Black Hair, but I
kept an iron hand on myself.

"You nice absurd creatures," I said, "do be reasonable. To begin with,
passing the doctor is an absolute necessity. That shuts you out. But
even if you got through, how do you think you would be helping your
country? All the men would be falling in love with you; and that's bad
enough as it is after working hours; it would be the ruin of discipline.
And you could not bear the fatigue. No, go back and learn to be nurses
and let your lovely hair grow again."

They were very obstinate and very unwilling to entertain the thought of
drudgery such as nursing after all their dreams of excitement; but at
last they came to reason, and I sent for a cab and packed them off in it
(I simply could not bear the idea of other people seeing them in that
masquerade), and told them that the sooner they changed the better.

After they had gone the Sergeant came in about something.

I said nothing, and he said nothing, each of us waiting for the other.

He moved about absolutely silently, and I dared not meet his glance
because I knew I should give myself away. The rascal has not been
running his eye over young women all these years without being able to
tell them in a moment, even in navvy's clothes.

At last I could stand it no longer. "Damn it," I said, "what are you
doing? Why don't you go? I didn't send for you." But still I didn't dare
look up.

"I thought perhaps you had something to say to me, sir," he said.

"No, I haven't," I replied. "Why should I? What about?"

"Only about those two young men, sir," he replied.

"Get out," I said; but before he could go I had burst into laughter.

"Better not mention it," I managed to say.

He promised.

There--won't you find that useful?

Yours, C. S.



A Manor in the Air


The stately homes of England have ever numbered some very odd names.
Every one remembers that beautiful Southern retreat whither, to the
delight of the wags, Mr. Balfour often journeyed for his week-end
holiday--"Clouds," the seat of the Wyndhams. Could there be a much more
fascinating name than "Clouds"? And then there is "Wrest," the late Lord
Lucas's Bedfordshire home, afterwards transformed, how suitably, into a
hospital for soldiers. And there is that Midland paradise which, in the
days of placid, even life, the editors of illustrated weeklies always
recollected with gratitude when they were short of other
pictures--"Compton Wynyates."

But the new name which I have just discovered, and which fills the
inward eye with joy, is a house on a smaller scale than these--a
manor-house rather than a mansion, perhaps one of the smallest that can
be described as a "gentleman's place," but assuredly that. Somewhere in
Sussex, western Sussex.

It is not near the station, and to reach it you walk or drive along
winding roads just now sodden with rain, but smelling of the good wet
Sussex leaves and mast and soil, with the Downs rising not too many
miles away in the South. Then a turn into a narrow lane, with the bare
trees of a copse on either side and a scurrying pheasant in front of
you, and behold the white gate! There is no lodge--the house is just too
small for that, as you can now see for yourself, for there it is, under
the protection of the wood that rises behind it, so quiet and
self-contained that you almost gasp.

Very old it is, but good for many years more. The frame is of timber and
plaster, and a Horsham stone roof. These stones are a little damp and
moss-covered (for our ancestors insisted on building in a hole, or where
would Friday's fish come from?), and the place is as Tudor as Queen Bess
herself, in whose reign its foundations were dug. The chimney stacks,
all smoking with the thin blue smoke of logs, are of tiny Tudor bricks,
and the chimneys are set not square with the house but cornerways. A
long low façade with the central door in a square porch; the whole grave
but serene.

A path of more Horsham stone leads to the door, with thyme and lavender
springing from the interstices undismayed by the feet of man, and smooth
lawns on each side, and under the diamond-paned windows a bed where in
summer would be night stock and lemon verbena and tobacco plant and
mignonette. On the roof a few white fantails; a spaniel near the door;
and a great business of rooks in the sky. Through the windows of the
lower rooms you see the greenery at the back of the house and a
suggestion here and there of books and pictures--everything that makes a
house a home.

Beside the house on the right are the stables; and on the other side is
a dark shrubbery, and beyond that are more lawns and gardens and the
fish-pond.

Do you see it? Perhaps you have already seen it differently; for how
could you help forming some mental picture of it when in every carriage
on the L.B. & S.C.R. is posted up the notice, "Passengers to Lower
Blinds"?

To me "Lower Blinds," whither all these fortunate passengers are
journeying, is just such a manor-house as that.



Rivalry


When I sat down on the seat facing the Row there was already on it a
soldier in the familiar blue clothes. He had the red moustache which
inevitably leads to the nickname of "Ginger," or possibly "Carrots," and
he was smoking a cigarette. By his side were his crutches. After a
minute or so a very tall figure, also in blue, hobbled towards us and
took the space between Ginger and myself.

The freemasonry of arms has, I suppose, always, among rankers, made any
introduction needless; but there has unhappily come in a new and a super
freemasonry which goes beyond anything that uniform could do. I mean the
freemasonry of mutilation. By reason of their wounds these strangers
were as brothers.

At first they talked hospitals. Then regiments. Then Haig, of whom it
has so finely and finally been said, by another British hero: "'Aig 'e
don't say much; 'e don't, so to say, say nothin'; but what 'e don't say
don't mean nothin', not 'arf. But when 'e do say something--my Gawd!"
Then they came to grips and mentioned the cause of their
injuries--bullet or shrapnel. Then the time and the place. Both had been
hit in the knee, and this coincidence, operating like all coincidences,
added to their friendliness. Their cigarettes finishing simultaneously,
Ginger gave Six-foot-two one of his; and Six-foot-two offered his little
packet to Ginger in exchange.

"Do you often come here?" Ginger asked.

"Every fine day," said Six-foot-two, "unless there's a ride in a brake
or a free matinee on the tappy."

"I must look you up again," said Ginger.

"Do," said Six-foot-two. "When do you expect to leave?"

"I can't say," replied Ginger. "There's no knowing. You see mine's a
very extraordinary case." He smiled complacently.

"That's funny. So's mine," said Six-foot-two.

"How do you mean--extraordinary?" the other asked a little sharply.

"Why, the doctors have had so much difficulty with it. It's a unique,
they say. How many operations did you have?"

"How many did you have?" Ginger replied, with the caution of the
challenged.

"Go on--I asked you first," said Six-foot-two. "Was it more than eight,
anyway?"

"It was ten," said Ginger.

"Well, I had eleven," said Six-foot-two proudly. "They went after those
bullets eleven times. But they're all out now. I had every doctor in the
place round me."

"So did I," said Ginger, "and one of my bullets isn't out yet. It's
right in the bone. They're going to try again soon." He had quite
recovered his good-humour.

"What about your patella?" Six-foot-two inquired after a pause.

"My what?"

"Your patella. Do you mean to say the doctors didn't talk about that?"

"I dare say they may have done, but I don't remember. Still, _our_
doctors don't talk much--they act."

"Well, so do ours. There aren't better doctors in the world than at our
place, I can tell you. It's common knowledge. Why, Sir Rashleigh Hewitt
is there every day--the great Sir Rashleigh Hewitt, the King's doctor."

"Well, the King has more than one. Sir Frank Carver is another, and he's
at our place day and night. He's a masterpiece."

"I've always understood," said Six-foot-two, "that Sir Rashleigh is at
the very head of his profession. The nurses say so."

"He may be for some things," Ginger conceded. "But not the knee. Sir
Frank Carver is the crack knee man. Now if you'd been at our place I
dare say that one operation would have been enough for you."

"Enough? What rot! How could it be enough, with all the complications? I
tell you it's a unique, my case."

"Yes, it may be. But what I'm getting at is that it might not be if
you'd had Sir Frank Carver, the great knee specialist, at it at once."

"Oh, give Sir Frank Carver a rest. Sir Rashleigh Hewitt's good enough
for me and for anyone else who knows."

"All right," said Ginger. "Keep your hair on!"

"My hair's on right enough," said Six-foot-two. "It's you who are
getting ratty."

There was a pause, and both lighted new cigarettes, each taking one of
his own.

"What puzzles me," Six-foot-two began slowly, "is no one saying anything
about your patella. That's the great marvel of my case--my patella. It's
full of holes, like a sieve. There's never been one like it before. The
profession's wild about it. That's what makes me so interesting to
them."

"Where is it, anyway?" Ginger snapped out.

"In the knee, of course."

"In the knee! Well, if it's in the knee mine must be full of holes too.
I've got everything you can have in the knee, I tell you. Everything."

"Have they written anything about you in the papers?" Six-foot-two
asked. "No. Ah," he went on triumphantly, "they have about me. There's a
medical paper with a piece in it all about my patella. I sent it home
and they've framed it. It's the most astonishing thing in surgery that
I should be able to be walking about at all."

"That's what they tell _me_," Ginger replied. "But, anyhow, your bullets
are all out. I've got another one yet, and by the time that's out I dare
say I shall have had twenty operations and a whole column in the papers.
But as for articles in papers, they're nothing. Have you got your X-ray
photograph?"

"No," Six-foot-two admitted.

"They gave me mine," said Ginger. "I sent it home. It's over the
mantelpiece, my mother says. People come from miles to look at it. It's
a pity you didn't get yours. That was foolish of you, if I may say so.
Well, so long. I'm having tea to-day with one of our grand lady visitors
in Rutland Gate. If you don't see me here when you come again, the
chances are I shall be having my next operation. So long!"

"So long!" said Six-foot-two.

Ginger on his crutches moved away.

"Extraordinary," Six-foot-two murmured, either to me or to himself or to
the Park at large, "how some blokes always want to be the most important
things in the world."



A First Communion in the War Zone


Everyone who has made a stay in Paris or in any French town, and has
been at all observant, must have noticed, either singly or in little
groups, that prettiest of the flora and fauna of Roman Catholic
countries, a "first communicant" in her radiant and spotless
attire--from white shoes to white veil, and crown of innocence over all.
One sees them usually after the ceremony, soberly marching through the
streets, or flitting from this friend to that like runaway lilies.
Prinking and preening a little in the shop windows, too; and no wonder,
for it is something to be thus clad and thus important; and never will
such clothes be worn by these wearers again. Meanwhile the younger
children envy, and little attendant bodies of proud relations somewhere
in the vicinity admire and exult.

If I write as if all "first communicants" are little girls, it is
because it is the little girls who are the most noticeable. And who
cares about little boys anyway? Yet boys communicate too, and in their
broad white collars and with their knots of white ribbon they may also
be seen, although less frankly delighted; indeed, often a little
self-conscious and ashamed. But the little girls, who know instinctively
that women are the backbone of the Roman Catholic Church, they are
natural and full of happy pride; they carry it off with style.

In the spring of 1915 it was my fortune not only to know personally a
bouquet of these eager little French pietists, but to be present as one
of the congregation at the great event--their _première communion_. It
was not in Paris, nor in a town at all, but far away in the country, in
a village where the guns of Verdun could be heard in the lulls of the
service. There were six little girls in all, and I saw them pass into
the safe keeping of their new mother, the Church of Rome, and in visible
token receive from the officiating hands a pictorial certificate so
chromatically violent that it could not but satisfy any childish eyes
and, under such conditions of emotional excitement, must ever remain as
a symbol of their consecration. I heard, too, the curé's address to
these lambs, in which he briefly outlined the life and character of
Christ and of certain of the disciples, coming to each with much the
same tender precision and ecstasy as a fastidious and enthusiastic
collector to the choicest porcelain.

But what chiefly interested me was the form of the vow which the good
curé--one of the best of men, who, in September 1914, saw his church
reduced to ruins and most of his parish destroyed by fire by the
invading Huns, and never budged from his post--had himself recently
drawn up for such occasions. What the usual form of such documents is I
cannot say, but in view of the serious plight of France and the
renaissance of patriotic fervour in the brave and unconquerable French
nation, the curé had infused into this one an element of public duty
hitherto omitted.

At the end of the "jolie cérémonie," as in conversation he called it,
and as it truly was, I asked him for a copy of this admirable catechism,
and here are a few of its questions and answers.

The title is "A Promise to be a good Christian and a good Citizen of
France":

_Q. What is the road to Heaven?_

_A. That which my mother, the Holy Roman Church, shows me. If I follow
it, I am convinced that, while gaining happiness for myself, I shall
increase the glory of my family and the honour of my country._

_Q. Does the Church command you to obey the legitimate laws of your
country?_

_A. Yes; and I must be ready, if needful, to give my blood for her._
(Poor little white peacocks!)

_Q. On whom do you count to assist you?_

_A. Here, on earth, on my parents and on my instructors. Above, on God,
on the angels and the saints, and principally on my guardian angel, on
the holy Saint Peter, and on the blessed Joan of Arc._

_Q. Who are your enemies?_

_A. The enemies of France, and those who, all unenlightened, attack the
Church._

_Q. What is your ambition?_

_A. To see France victorious and united in a bond of love with the
Church, to see her add to the tricolour the Image of the Sacred Heart,
and to see her take soon her place at the head of the nations._

Is not that rather fine? It must be to the good thus to blend religion
and patriotism. I know that, especially on that soil over which the
Germans had spread so devastatingly, one could not listen to these fresh
young voices raised together in such idealism without a quickened
heart.



The Ace of Diamonds


The French, always so quick to give things names--and so liberal about
it that, to the embarrassment and undoing of the unhappy foreigner, they
sometimes invent fifty names for one thing--have added so many words to
the vocabulary since August 1914 that a glossary, and perhaps more than
one, has been published to enshrine them. Without the assistance of this
glossary it is almost impossible to understand some of the numerous
novels of Poilu life.

By no means the least important of these creations is the infinitesimal
word "as"--or rather, it is a case of adaptation. Yesterday "as des
carreaux" (to give the full form) stood simply for ace of diamonds.
To-day all France, with that swift assimilation which has ever been one
of its many mysteries, knows its new meaning and applies it. And what is
this new meaning?

Well "as" has two. Originally it was applied strictly to flying men, and
it was reserved to signify an aviator who had brought down his fifth
enemy machine. Had he brought down only four he was a gallant fellow
enough, but he was not an "as." One more and he was an ace of diamonds,
that card being the fifth honour in most French games as well as in
Bridge.

So much for the first and exact meaning of the term. But later, as I
gather from a number of _La Baïonnette_ devoted to its uses, the word
has been extended to cover all kinds of obscure heroes, the men, and
they are by no means rare, who do wonderful things but do not get into
the papers or receive medals or any mention in dispatches. We all know
that many of the finest deeds performed in war escape recognition. One
does not want to suggest that V.C.'s and D.S.O.'s and Military Crosses
and all the other desirable tokens of valour are conferred wrongly.
Nothing of the kind. They are nobly deserved. But probably there never
was a recipient of the V.C. or the D.S.O. or the Military Cross who
could not--and did not wish to--tell his Sovereign, when the coveted
honour was being pinned to his breast, of some other soldier not less
worthy than himself of being decorated, whose deed of gallantry was
performed under less noticeable conditions. The performer of such a deed
is an "as" and it is his luck to be a not public hero.

The "as" can be found in every branch of the army, and he is recognized
as one by his comrades, even although the world at large is ignorant.
Perhaps we shall find a word for his British correlative, who must be
numerically very strong too. The letter A alone might do it, signifying
anonymous. "Voilà, un as!" says the French soldier, indicating one of
these brave modest fellows who chances to be passing. "You see that
chap," one of our soldiers would say; "he's an A."

That satirical child of the war, _La Baïonnette_ every week devotes
itself, as its forerunner, _L'Assiette an Beurre_, used to do, to one
theme at a time, one phase or facet of the struggle, usually in the
army, but also in civil life, where changes due to the war steadily
occur. In the number dedicated to the glory of the "as" I find recorded
an incident of the French Army so moving that I want to tell it here,
very freely, in English. It was, says the writer, before the attack at
Carency--and he vouches for the accuracy of his report, for he was
himself present. In the little village of Camblain-l'Abbé a regiment was
assembled, and to them spoke their captain. The scene was the yard of a
farm. I know so well what it was like. The great manure heap in the
middle; the carts under cover, with perhaps one or two American reapers
and binders among them; fowls pecking here and there; a thin predatory
dog nosing about; a cart-horse peering from his stable and now and then
scraping his hoofs; a very wide woman at the dwelling-house door; the
old farmer in blue linen looking on; and there, drawn up, listening to
their captain, row on row of blue-coated men, all hard-bitten, weary,
all rather cynical, all weather-stained and frayed, and all ready to go
on for ever.

This is what the captain said--a tall thin man of about thirty, speaking
calmly and naturally as though he was reading a book. "I have just seen
the Colonel," he said; "he has been in conference with the Commandant,
and this is what has been settled. In a day or two it is up to us to
attack. You know the place and what it all means. At such and such an
hour we shall begin. Very well. Now this is what will happen. I shall be
the first to leave the trench and go over the top, and I shall be killed
at once. So far so good. I have arranged with the two lieutenants for
the elder of them to take my place. He also will almost certainly be
killed. Then the younger will lead, and after him the sergeants in turn,
according to their age, beginning with the oldest who was with me at
Saïda before the war. What will be left by the time you have reached the
point I cannot say, but you must be prepared for trouble, as there is a
lot of ground to cover, under fire. But you will take the point and hold
it. Fall out."

That captain was an "as."



The Reward of our Brother the Poilu


We often talk of the best poem which the war has produced; and opinions
usually vary. My own vote, so far as England is concerned, is still
given to Julian Grenfell's lyric of the fighting man; but if France is
to be included too, one must consider very seriously the claims of _La
Passion de Notre Frère le Poilu_, by Marc Leclerc, which may be had in a
little slender paper-covered book, at a cost, in France, where it has
been selling in its thousands, of one franc twenty-five. This poem I
have been reading with a pleasure that calls to be shared with others,
for it is not only very touching and very beautiful, but it has also
certain of those qualities which are more thoroughly appreciated in
company. Beauty and tenderness can make their appeal alone; but humour
demands two at least and does not resent a crowd, and the humour of
this little masterpiece is very deep and true.

Did I say I had been reading it? That is to use words with unjustifiable
looseness; rather should I say that I have been in part reading and in
part guessing at it; for it is written in the Angevin patois, which is
far beyond my linguistic capacity. Not that Captain Leclerc is a rustic;
on the contrary, he is a man of culture and the author of several books,
chiefly on and about Anjou, one of which has illustrations from his own
hand; but it has amused him in this poem to employ his native dialect,
while, since he, like so many French authors, is fighting, the soldierly
part of it is authentic.

It was a poor devil of a Poilu--it begins--and he went to the war,
automatically enough, knowing without any words about it that the soil
which he cultivated must also be defended. That was his duty. After
suffering the usual ills of the campaign, suddenly a 210 burst near him,
and he never rallied. He just had time to give a few messages to the
corporal before he died. "You must tell my wife," he said, "but do it
gradually; say, I'm ill first. Give what money I have here to my pals,"
and so forth. Then, after repeating his testament, he passed quietly
away.

On reaching the gate of Heaven the Poilu finds St. Peter beating the
mats. "Wipe your shoes," St. Peter says, "and take the right-hand
corridor. The Judgment Hall is at the end." All trembling, the poor
fellow passes along the corridor, at the end of which an angel in white
takes down particulars as to his name, his class, and so forth, and
tells him that he is expected. Entering the Judgment Hall, the Poilu is
bewildered by its austerity and splendour. The Good God is at the head,
between Jesus Christ and the Blessed Virgin. All the saints are there,
and the Poilu notices particularly the military ones--St. George, St.
Hubert, St. Michael, St. Leonard, St. Marcel, St. Charlemagne, St.
Martin, St. Sulpice, St. Barbe, St. Maurice, and St. Jeanne d'Arc.
Seeing all these famous soldiers, he exclaims, "It's a Conseil de
Guerre! Perhaps I can slip away." But escape is impossible, and at this
moment the Good God tells him to begin his history.

"What did you do before the war?" He asks. The Poilu replies that he
was a farmer in a very small way; he worked on the land, and he had some
stock--two oxen, a horse, a cow, a wife, some fowls, "and, saving your
presence, a pig." "Ah!" exclaims St. Anthony, "a pig! That reminds me!
Pigs! Sois béni, mon frère." But the Good God frowns, and St. Anthony
makes himself very small.

And then, the Poilu continues, he became a soldier, which leads to the
awkward question, had he always behaved himself as such? Alas! it
appears that he had not. For one thing, he has not always been sober, he
is confessing, when Noah interrupts with the comment that insobriety is
not such a very serious affair. In fact, he himself once ... and by this
time the reader begins to get the drift of this joyous humane fantasy,
the point being that the hierarchy of Heaven are all on the side of the
brave simple soldier who has died that France might live. As how could
they not be? Another time, the Poilu continues, he was sent to prison
for cutting a piece from his coat in order to mend the seat of his
trousers--in other words, for injuring Government property; and here St.
Martin breaks in with indignation at the punishment. "Why, when I did
very much the same," he says, "and cut my cloak to cover a paralytic, I
was canonized for it!" And so on.

Then comes a graver note. The Poilu, feeling an effort to be necessary,
for the Good God has never relaxed His sternness throughout, becomes
eloquent. Not only was he killed, but before that, he says, he suffered
much. The hardships of war on the Western front are terrible. He had
been famished, he had been frozen, he had been burned by the sun. He had
been sleepless, he had been footsore, and the sweat had poured from him
under his heavy burdens, for often he had carried not only his own
haversack but those of his comrades. In short.... But here St. Simon,
speaking softly to Christ, says, "Like you, Lord, at Golgotha." In my
prose this is, of course, too crude; but I assure you that in the poem
it is a great moment. And another follows it, for as the Good God still
says nothing, the Poilu points to the blue robe of the Blessed Virgin,
and to the great white beard of the Good God himself, and to the red
cloak of our Lord, and exclaims, "Voilà mes trois couleurs. The three
colours of France. It was for them that I have lost my life; fighting
for them has brought me to this Judgment Hall!"

That is fine, is it not? Only the French genius is capable of just such
a splendid blend of naïveté, emotion, and the best kind of
theatricalism. And at these words at last the Good God smiles, and
behind Him Heaven opens for the Poilu to enter.

There is a little more--for it seems that Heaven is full of Poilus with
blue caps, and golden helmets, and wings that remove the possibility of
getting wet feet or weary feet any more for ever and ever. And our Poilu
joins these others, who look happy and are happy, and sings with them
"Glory to God in the highest," while the angels, not perhaps wholly
without irony, answer, "Peace on earth and goodwill to men."



Note


With the exception of a few pages, the longest essay in this book--that
which gives it its title--is now published for the first time. The
papers grouped under the headings "Diversions" and "On Bellona's Hem"
which follow have already appeared in print, in _Punch_ and _The
Sphere_, but in their present form have been always revised and often
extended.

PRINTED BY MORRISON AND GIBB LTD., EDINBURGH

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    | Page 156: energitic _sic._                                 |
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