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Title: Some Private Views
Author: Payn, James, 1830-1898
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.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Some Private Views" ***

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Team.



SOME PRIVATE VIEWS


By

JAMES PAYN

Author of 'High Spirits,' 'A Confidential Agent,' Etc.


_A NEW EDITION_

1881

London
CHATTO AND WINDUS, PICCADILLY


        TO
   HORACE N. PYM
       THIS
_Book is Dedicated_
   BY HIS FRIEND

             THE AUTHOR



CONTENTS.


FROM _'THE NINETEENTH CENTURY' REVIEW_.


THE MIDWAY INN                          1

THE CRITIC ON THE HEARTH               20

SHAM ADMIRATION IN LITERATURE          37

THE PINCH OF POVERTY                   59

THE LITERARY CALLING AND ITS FUTURE    72

STORY-TELLING                          96

PENNY FICTION                         116



FROM '_THE TIMES_.'


HOTELS                                133

MAID-SERVANTS                         149

MEN-SERVANTS                          163

WHIST-PLAYERS                         173

RELATIONS                             182

INVALID LITERATURE                    192

WET HOLIDAYS                          201

TRAVELLING COMPANIONS                 211



_THE MIDWAY INN_.

'The hidden but the common thought of all.'


The thoughts I am about to set down are not _my_ thoughts, for, as my
friends say, I have given up the practice of thinking, or it may be,
as my enemies say, I never had it. They are the thoughts of an
acquaintance who thinks for me. I call him an acquaintance, though I
pass as much of my time with him as with my nearest and dearest;
perhaps at the club, perhaps at the office, perhaps in metaphysical
discussion, perhaps at billiards--what does it matter? Thousands of
men in town have such acquaintances, in whose company they spend, by
necessity or custom, half the sum of their lives. It is not rational,
doubtless; but then 'Consider, sir,' said the great talking
philosopher, 'should we become purely rational, how our friendships
would be cut off. We form many such with bad men because they have
agreeable qualities, or may be useful to us. We form many such by
mistake, imagining people to be different from what they really are.'
And he goes on complacently to observe that we shall either have the
satisfaction of meeting these gentlemen in a future state, or be
satisfied without meeting them.

For my part, I do not feel that the scheme of future happiness, which
ought by rights to be in preparation for me, will be at all interfered
with by my not meeting again the man I have in my. mind. To have seen
him in the flesh is sufficient for me. In the spirit I cannot imagine
him; the consideration is too subtle; for, unlike the little man who
had (for certain) a little soul,' I don't believe he has a soul at
all.

He is middle-aged, rich, lethargic, sententious, dogmatic, and, in
short, the quintessence of the commonplace. I need not say, therefore,
that he is credited by the world with unlimited common-sense. And for
once the world is right. He has nothing-original about him, save so
much of sin as he may have inherited from our first parents; there is
no more at the back of him than at the back of a looking-glass--indeed
less, for he has not a grain of quicksilver; but, like the
looking-glass, he reflects. Having nothing else to do, he hangs, as it
were, on the wall of the world, and mirrors it for me as it
unconsciously passes by him--not, however, as in a glass darkly, but
with singular clearness. His vision is never disturbed by passion or
prejudice; he has no enthusiasm and no illusions. Nor do I believe he
has ever had any. If the noblest study of mankind is man, my friend
has devoted himself to a high calling; the living page of human life
has been his favourite and indeed, for these many years, his only
reading. And for this he has had exceptional opportunities. Always a
man of wealth and leisure, he has never wasted himself in that
superficial observation which is often the only harvest of foreign
travel. He despises it, and in relation to travellers, is wont to
quote the famous parallel of the copper wire, 'which grows the
narrower by going further.' A confirmed stay-at-home, he has mingled
much in society of all sorts, and exercised a keen but quite
unsympathetic observation. His very reserve in company (though, when
he catches you alone, he is a button-holder of great tenacity)
encourages free speech in others; they have no more reticence in his
presence than if he were the butler. He has belonged to no cliques,
and thereby escaped the greatest peril which can beset the student of
human nature. A man of genius, indeed, in these days is almost
certain, sooner or later, to become the centre of a mutual admiration
society; but the person I have in my mind is no genius, nor anything
like one, and he thanks Heaven for it. To an opinion of his own he
does not pretend, but his views upon the opinions of other people he
believes to be infallible. I have called him dogmatic, but that does
not at all express the absolute certainty with which he delivers
judgment. 'I know no more,' he says, 'about the problems of human life
than you do' (taking me as an illustration of the lowest prevailing
ignorance), 'but I know what everybody is thinking about them.' He is
didactic, and therefore often dull, and will eventually, no doubt,
become one of the greatest bores in Great Britain. At present,
however, he is worth knowing; and I propose to myself to be his
Boswell, and to introduce him--or, at least, his views--to other
people. I have entitled them the Midway Inn, partly from my own
inveterate habit of story-telling, but chiefly from an image of his
own, by which he once described to me, in his fine egotistic rolling
style, the position he seemed to himself to occupy in the world.

  When I was a boy, he said (which I don't believe he ever was), I
  had a long journey to take between home and school. Exactly midway
  there was a hill with an Inn upon it, at which we changed horses.
  It was a point to which I looked forward with very different
  feelings when going and returning. In the one case--for I hated
  school--it seemed to frown darkly on me, and from that spot the
  remainder of the way was dull and gloomy; in the other case, the
  sun seemed always glinting on it, and the rest of the road was as a
  fair avenue that leads to Paradise. The innkeeper received us with
  equal hospitality on both occasions, and it was quite evident did
  not care one farthing in which direction we were tending. He would
  stand in front of his house, jingling his money--_our_ money--in
  his pockets, and watch us depart with the greatest serenity,
  whether we went east or west. I thought him at one time the most
  genial of Bonifaces (for it was his profession to wear a smile),
  and at another a mere mocker of human woe. When I grew up, I
  perceived that he was a philosopher.

  And now I keep the Midway Inn myself, and watch from the hill-top
  the passengers come and go--some loth, some willing, like myself of
  old--and listen to their talk in the coffee-room; or sometimes in a
  private parlour, where, though they speak low and gravely, their
  converse is still unrestrained, because, you see, I am the
  landlord.

  Sometimes they speak of Death and the Hereafter, of which the child
  they buried yesterday knows more than the wisest of them, and more
  than Shakespeare knew. The being totally ignorant of the subject
  does not indeed (as you may perhaps have observed in other matters)
  deter some of them from speaking of it with great confidence; but
  the views of a minority would quite surprise you, and this minority
  is growing--coming to a majority. Every day I see an increase of
  the doubters. It is not a question of the Orthodox and the Infidel,
  you must understand, at all, though _that_ is assuming great
  proportions; but there is every day more uncertainty among them,
  and, what is much more noteworthy, more dissatisfaction.

  Years ago, when a hardy Cambridge scholar dared to publish his
  doubts of an eternal punishment overtaking the wicked, an orthodox
  professor of the same college took him (theologically) by the
  throat. 'You are destroying,' he cried, 'the hope of the
  Christian.' But this is not the hope I speak of, as loosing, and
  losing, its hold upon men's minds; I mean the real hope, the hope
  of heaven.

  When I used to go to church--for my inn is too far removed from it
  to admit of my attendance there nowadays--matters were very
  different. Heaven and Hell were, in the eyes not only of our
  congregation, but of those who hung about the doors in the summer
  sun, or even played leap-frog over the grave-stones, as distinct
  alternatives as the east and west highways on each side of my inn.
  If you did not go one way, you must go the other; and not only so,
  but an immense desire was felt by very many to go in the right
  direction. Now I perceive it is not so. A considerable number of
  highway passengers, though even they are less numerous than of old,
  are still studious--that is in their aspirations--to avoid taking
  (shall I say delicately) the lower road; but only a few,
  comparatively, are solicitous to reach the goal of the upper.

  Let me once more observe that I am speaking of the ordinary
  passengers--those who travel by the mail. Of the persons who are
  convinced that there never was an Architect of the Universe, and
  that Man sprang from the Mollusc, I know little or nothing: they
  mostly travel two and two, in gigs, and have quarrelled so
  dreadfully on the way, that, at the Inn, they don't speak to one
  another. The commonalty, I repeat, are losing their hopes of
  heaven, just as the grown-up schoolboy finds his paradise no more
  in home. I can remember when divines were never tired of painting
  the lily, of indulging in the most glowing descriptions of the
  Elysian Fields. A popular artist once drew a picture of them: 'The
  Plains of Heaven' it was called, and the painter's name was Martin.
  If he was to do so now, the public (who are vulgar) would exclaim
  'Betty Martin.' Not that they disbelieve in it, but that the
  attractions of the place are dying out, like those of Bath and
  Cheltenham.

  Of course some blame attaches to the divines themselves that things
  have come to such a pass. 'I protest,' says a great philosopher,
  'that I never enter a church, but the man in the pulpit talks so
  unlike a man, as though he had never known what human joys or
  sorrows are--so carefully avoids every subject of interest save
  _one_, and paints that in colours at once so misty and so
  meretricious--that I say to myself, I will never sit under him
  again.' This may, of course, be only an ingenious excuse of his for
  not going to church; but there is really something in it. The
  angels, with their harps, on clouds, are now presented to the eyes,
  even of faith, in vain; they are still appreciated on canvas by an
  old master, but to become one of them is no longer the common
  aspiration. There is a suspicion, partly owing, doubtless, to the
  modern talk about the dignity and even the divinity of Labour, that
  they ought to be doing something else than (as the American poet
  puts it with characteristic ii reverence) 'loafing about the
  throne;' that we ourselves, with no ear perhaps for music, and with
  little voice (alas!) for praise, should take no pleasure in such
  avocations. It is not the sceptics--though their influence is
  getting to be considerable--who have wrought this change, but the
  conditions of modern life. Notwithstanding the cheerful 'returns'
  as to pauperism, and the glowing speeches of our Chancellors of the
  Exchequer, these conditions are far harder, among the thinking
  classes, than they were. The question 'Is Life worth Living?' is
  one that concerns philosophers and metaphysicians, and not the
  persons I have in my mind at all; but the question, 'Do I wish to
  be out of it?' is one that is getting answered very widely--and in
  the affirmative. This was certainly not the case in the days of our
  grand-sires. Which of them ever read those lines--

    'For who, to dumb forgetfulness a prey,
    This pleasing anxious being e'er resigned,
    Left the warm precincts of the cheerful day,
    Nor cast one longing lingering look behind?'--

  without a sympathetic complacency? This may not have been the best
  of all possible worlds to them, but none of them wished to exchange
  it, save at the proper time, and for the proper place. Thanks to
  overwork, and still more to over-worry, it is not so now. There are
  many prosperous persons in rude health, of course, who will ask (with
  a virtuous resolution that is sometimes to be deplored), 'Do you
  suppose then that I wish to cut my throat?' I certainly do not.
  Do not let us talk of cutting throats; though, mind you, the
  average of suicides, so admirably preserved by the Registrar-General
  and other painstaking persons, is not entirely to be depended upon.
  You should hear the doctors at my Inn (in the intervals of their
  abuse of their professional brethren) discourse upon this topic--on
  that overdose of chloral which poor B. took, and on that injudicious
  self-application of chloroform which carried off poor C. With the
  law in such a barbarous state in relation to self-destruction, and
  taking into account the feelings of relatives, there was, of course,
  only one way of wording the certificate, but--and then they shake
  their heads as only doctors can, and help themselves to port, though
  they know it is poison to them.

  It is an old joke that annuitants live for ever, but no annuity
  ever had the effect of prolonging life which the present assurance
  companies have. How many a time, I wonder, in these later years,
  has a hand been stayed, with a pistol or 'a cup of cold poison' in
  it, by the thought, 'If I do this, my family will lose the money I
  am insured for, besides the premiums.' This feeling is altogether
  different from that which causes Jeannette and Jeannot in their
  Paris attic to light their charcoal fire, stop up the chinks with
  their love-letters, and die (very disreputably) 'clasped in one
  another's arms, and silent in a last embrace.' There is not one
  halfpenny's worth of sentiment about it in the Englishman's case,
  nor are any such thoughts bred in his brain while youth is in him.
  It is in our midway days, with old age touching us here and there,
  as autumn 'lays its fiery finger on the leaves' and withers them,
  that we first think of it. When the weight of anxiety and care is
  growing on us, while the shoulders are becoming bowed (not in
  resignation, but in weakness) which have to bear it; when our pains
  are more and more constant, our pleasures few and fading, and when
  whatever happens, we know, must needs be for the worse--then it is
  that the praise of the silver hair and length of days becomes a
  mockery indeed.

  Was it the prescience of such a state of thought, I wonder (for it
  certainly did not exist in their time), that caused good men of old
  to extol old age; as though anything could reconcile the mind of
  man to the time when the very sun is darkened to him, and 'the
  clouds return after the rain?' There is a noble passage in
  'Hyperion' which has always seemed to me to repeat that sentiment
  in Ecclesiastes; it speaks of an expression in a man's face:

    'As though the vanward clouds of evil days
    Had spent their malice, and the sullen rear
    Was with its storied thunder labouring up.'

  This is why poor Paterfamilias, sitting in the family pew, is not
  so enamoured of that idea of accomplishing those threescore years
  and ten which the young parson, fresh from Cambridge, is describing
  as such a lucky number in life's lottery. The attempt to paint it
  so is well-meaning, no doubt, 'the vacant chaff well meant for
  grain;' and it is touching to see how men generally (knowing that
  they themselves have to go through with it) are wont to portray it
  in cheerful colours.

  A modern philosopher even goes so far as to say that our memories
  in old age are always grateful to us. Our pleasures are remembered,
  but our pains are forgotten; 'if we try to recall a physical pain,'
  she writes (for it is a female), 'we find it to be impossible,'
  From which I gather only this for certain, that that woman never
  had the gout.

  The folks who come my way, indeed, seem to remember their physical
  ailments very distinctly, to judge by the way they talk of them;
  and are exceedingly apprehensive of their recurrence. Nay, it is
  curious to see how some old men will resent the compliments of
  their juniors on their state of health or appearance. 'Stuff and
  nonsense!' cried old Sam Rogers, grimly; 'I tell you there is no
  such thing as a fine old man.' In a humbler walk of life I remember
  to have heard a similar but more touching reply. It was upon the
  great centenarian question raised by Mr. Thorns. An old woman in a
  workhouse, said to be a hundred years of age, was sent for by the
  Board of Guardians, to decide the point by her personal testimony.
  One can imagine the half-dozen portly prosperous figures, and the
  contrast their appearance offered to that of the bent and withered
  crone. 'Now, Betty,' said the chairman with unctuous patronage,
  'you look hale and hearty enough, yet they tell me that you are a
  hundred years old; is this really true?' 'God Almighty knows, sir,'
  was her reply, 'but I feel a thousand.'

  And there are so many people nowadays who 'feel a thousand.'

  It is for this reason that the gift of old age is unwished for, and
  the prospect of future life without encouragement. It is the modern
  conviction that there will be some kind of work in it; and even
  though what we shall be set to do may be 'wrought with tumult of
  acclaim,' we have had enough of work. What follows, almost as a
  matter of course, is that the thought of possible extinction has
  lost its terrors. Heaven and its glories may have still their
  charms for those who are not wearied out with toil in this life;
  but the slave draws for himself a far other picture of home. His is
  no passionate cry to be admitted into the eternal city; he murmurs
  sullenly, 'Let me rest.'

  It was a favourite taunt with the sceptics of old--those Early
  Fathers of infidelity, who used to occupy themselves so laboriously
  with scraping at the rind of the Christian Faith--that until the
  Cross arose men were not afraid of Death. But that arrow has lost
  its barb. The Fear of Death, even among professing Christians, is
  now comparatively rare; I do not mean merely among dying men--in
  whom those who have had acquaintance with deathbeds tell us they
  see it scarcely ever--but with the quick and hale. Even with very
  ignorant persons, the idea that things may be a great deal worse
  for us hereafter than even at present is not generally entertained
  as respects themselves. A clergyman who was attending a sick man in
  his parish expressed a hope to the wife that she took occasion to
  remind her husband of his spiritual condition. 'Oh yes, sir,' she
  replied, 'many and many a time have I woke him up o' nights, and
  cried, "John, John, you little know the torments as is preparing
  for you."' But the good woman, it seems, was not disturbed by any
  such dire imaginings upon her own account.

  Higher in the social scale, the apprehension of a Gehenna, or at
  all events of such a one as our forefathers almost universally
  believed in, is rapidly dying out. The mathematician tells us that
  even as a question of numbers, 'about one in ten, my good sir, by
  the most favourable computations,' the thing is incredible; the
  philanthropist inquires indignantly, 'Is the city Arab then, who
  grows to be thief and felon as naturally as a tree puts forth its
  leaves, to be damned in both worlds?' and I notice that even the
  clergy who come my way, and take their weak glass of negus while
  the coach changes horses, no longer insist upon the point, but, at
  the worst, 'faintly trust the larger hope.'

  Notwithstanding these comparatively cheerful views upon a subject
  so important to all passengers on life's highway, the general
  feeling is, as I have said, one of profound dissatisfaction; the
  good old notion that whatever is is right, is fast disappearing;
  and in its place there is a doubt--rarely expressed except among
  the philosophers, with whom, as I have said, I have nothing to
  do--a secret, harassing, and unwelcome doubt respecting the divine
  government of the world. It is a question which the very
  philosophers are not likely to settle even among themselves, but it
  has become very obtrusive and important. Men raise their eyebrows
  and shrug their shoulders when it is alluded to, instead, as of
  old, of pulverising the audacious questioner on the spot, or even
  (as would have happened at a later date) putting him into Coventry;
  they have no opinion to offer upon the subject, or at all events do
  not wish to talk about it. But it is no longer, be it observed,
  'bad form' in a general way to do so; it is only that the topic is
  personally distasteful.

  The once famous advocate of analogy threw a bitter seed among
  mankind when he suggested, in all innocence, and merely for the
  sake of his own argument, that as the innocent suffered for the
  guilty in this world, so it might be in the world to come; and it
  is bearing bitter fruit. To feel aweary at the Midway Inn is bad
  enough; but to be journeying to no home, and perhaps even to some
  harsher school than we yet wot of, is indeed a depressing
  reflection.

  Hence it comes, I think, or partly hence, that there is now no fun
  in the world. Wit we have, and an abundance of grim humour, which
  evokes anything but mirth. Nothing would astonish us in the Midway
  Inn so much as a peal of laughter. A great writer (though it must
  be confessed scarcely an amusing one), who has recently reached his
  journey's end, used to describe his animal spirits depreciatingly,
  as being at the best but vegetable spirits. And that is now the way
  with us all. When Charles Dickens died, it was confidently stated
  in a great literary journal that his loss, so far from affecting
  'the gaiety of nations,' would scarcely be felt at all; the power
  of rousing tears and laughter being (I suppose the writer thought)
  so very common. That prophecy has been by no means fulfilled. But,
  what is far worse than there being no humorous writers amongst us,
  the faculty of appreciating even the old ones is dying out. There
  is no such thing as high spirits anywhere. It is observable, too,
  how very much public entertainments have increased of late--a tacit
  acknowledgment of dulness at home--while, instead of the lively, if
  somewhat boisterous, talk of our fathers, we have drawing-room
  dissertations on art, and dandy drivel about blue china.

  There is one pleasure only that takes more and more root amongst
  us, and never seems to fail, and that is making money. To hear the
  passengers at the Midway Inn discourse upon this topic, you would
  think they were all commercial travellers. It is most curious how
  the desire for pecuniary gain has infected even the idlest, who of
  course take the shortest cut to it by way of the race-course. I see
  young gentlemen, blond and beardless, telling the darkest secrets
  to one another, affecting, one would think, the fate of Europe, but
  which in reality relate to the state of the fetlock of the brother
  to Boanerges. Their earnestness (which is reserved for this
  enthralling topic) is quite appalling. In their elders one has long
  been accustomed to it, but these young people should really know
  better. The interest excited in society by 'scratchings' has never
  been equalled since the time of the Cock Lane ghost. If men would
  only 'lose their money and look pleasant' without talking about it,
  I shouldn't mind; but they _will_ make it a subject of
  conversation, as though everyone who liked his glass of wine should
  converse upon 'the vintages.' One looks for it in business people
  and forgives it; but everyone is now for business.

  The reverence that used to belong to Death is now only paid to it
  in the case of immensely rich persons, whose wealth is spoken of
  with bated breath. 'He died, sir, worth two millions; a very warm
  man.' If you happen to say, though with all reasonable probability
  and even with Holy Writ to back you, 'He is probably warmer by this
  time,' you are looked upon as a Communist. What the man was is
  nothing, what he made is everything. It is the gold alone that we
  now value: the temple that might have sanctified the gold is of no
  account. This worship of mere wealth has, it is true, this
  advantage over the old adoration of birth, that something may
  possibly be got out of it; to cringe and fawn upon the people that
  have blue blood is manifestly futile, since the peculiarity is not
  communicable, but it is hoped that, by being shaken up in the same
  social bag with millionaires, something may be attained by what is
  technically called the 'sweating' process. So far as I have
  observed, however, the results are small, while the operation is to
  the last degree disagreeable.

  What is very significant of this new sort of golden age is that a
  literature of its own has arisen, though of an anomalous kind. It
  is presided over by a sort of male Miss Kilmansegge, who is also a
  model of propriety. It is as though the dragon that guarded the
  apples of Hesperides should be a dragon of virtue. Under the
  pretence of extolling prudence and perseverance, he paints
  money-making as the highest good, and calls it thrift; and the
  popularity of this class of book is enormous. The heroes are all
  'self-made' men who come to town with that proverbial half-crown
  which has the faculty of accumulation that used to be confined to
  snowballs. Like the daughters of the horse-leech, their cry is
  'Give, give,' only instead of blood they want money; and I need
  hardly say they get it from other people's pockets. Love and
  friendship are names that have lost their meaning, if they ever
  had any, with these gentry. They remind one of the miser of old who
  could not hear a large sum of money mentioned without an acceleration
  of the action of the heart; and perhaps that is the use of their
  hearts, which, otherwise, like that of the spleen in other people,
  must be only a subject of vague conjecture. They live abhorred and
  die respected; leaving all their heaped-up wealth to some charitable
  institution, the secretary of which levants with it eventually to
  the United States.

  This last catastrophe, however, is not mentioned in these
  biographies, the subjects of which are held up as patterns of
  wisdom and prudence for the rising generation. I shall have left
  the Midway Inn, thank Heaven, for a residence of smaller
  dimensions, before it has grown up. Conceive an England inhabited
  by self-made men!

  Has it ever struck you how gloomy is the poetry of the present day?
  This is not perhaps of very much consequence, since everybody has a
  great deal too much to do to permit them to read it; but how full
  of sighs, and groans, and passionate bewailings it is! And also how
  deuced difficult! It is almost as inarticulate as an Æolian harp,
  and quite as melancholy. There are one or two exceptions, of
  course, as in the case of Mr. Calverley and Mr. Locker; but even
  the latter is careful to insist upon the fact that, like those who
  have gone before us, we must all quit Piccadilly. 'At present,' as
  dear Charles Lamb writes, 'we have the advantage of them;' but
  there is no one to remind us of that now, nor is it, as I have
  said, the general opinion that it _is_ an advantage.

  It is this prevailing gloom, I think, which accounts for the
  enormous and increasing popularity of fiction. Observe how
  story-telling creeps into the very newspapers (along with their
  professional fibbing); and, even in the magazines, how it lies down
  side by side with 'burning questions,' like the weaned child
  putting its hand into the cockatrice's den. For your sake, my good
  fellow, who write stories [here my friend glowered at me
  compassionately], I am glad of it; but the fact is of melancholy
  significance. It means that people are glad to find themselves
  'anywhere, anywhere, out of the world,' and (I must be allowed to
  add) they are generally gratified, for anything less like real life
  than what some novelists portray it is difficult to imagine.

[Here he stared at me so exceedingly hard, that anyone with a less
heavenly temper, or who had no material reasons for putting up with
it, would have taken his remark as personal, and gone away.]

  Another cause of the absence of good fellowship amongst us (he went
  on) is the growth of education. It sticks like a fungus to
  everybody, and though, it is fair to say, mostly outside, does a
  great deal of mischief. The scholastic interest has become so
  powerful that nobody dares speak a word against it; but the fact
  is, men are educated far beyond their wits. You can't fill any cup
  beyond what it will hold, and the little cups are exceedingly
  numerous. Boys are now crammed (with information) like turkeys (but
  unfortunately not killed at Christmas), and when they grow up there
  is absolutely no room in them for a joke. The prigs that frequent
  my Midway Inn are as the sands in its hour-glass, only with no
  chance, alas! of their running out. The wisdom of our ancestors
  limited education, and very wisely, to the three R's; that is all
  that is necessary for the great mass of mankind: whereas the pick
  of them, with those clamping irons well stuck to their heels, will
  win their way to the topmost peaks of knowledge.

  At the very best--that is to say when it produces _anything_--what
  does the most costly education in this country produce in ordinary
  minds but the deplorable habit of classical quotation? If it could
  teach them to _think_--but that is a subject, my dear friend, into
  which you will scarcly follow me.

[I could have knocked his head off if he had not been so exceptionally
stout and strong, and as it was, I took up my hat to go, when a
thought struck me.]

'Among your valuable remarks upon the ideas entertained by society at
present, you have said nothing, my dear sir, about the ladies.'

'I never speak of anything,' he replied with dignity, 'which I do not
thoroughly understand. Man I do know--down to his boots; but
woman'--here he sighed and hesitated--'no; I don't know nearly so much
of her.'



_THE CRITIC ON THE HEARTH._


It has often struck me that the relation of two important members of
the social body to one another has never been sufficiently considered,
or treated of, so far as I know, either by the philosopher or the
poet. I allude to that which exists between the omnibus driver and his
conductor. Cultivating literature as I do upon a little oatmeal, and
driving, when in a position to be driven at all, in that humble
vehicle, the 'bus, I have had, perhaps, exceptional opportunities for
observing their mutual position and behaviour; and it is very
peculiar. When the 'bus is empty, these persons are sympathetic and
friendly to one another, almost to tenderness; but when there is much
traffic, a tone of severity is observable upon the side of the
conductor. 'What are yer a-driving on for just as a party's getting
in? Will nothing suit but to break a party's neck?' 'Wake up, will
yer? or do yer want that ere Bayswater to pass us?' are inquiries he
will make in the most peremptory manner. Or he will concentrate
contempt in the laconic but withering observation: 'Now then,
stoopid!'

When we consider that the driver is after all the driver--that the
'bus is under his guidance and management, and may be said _pro tem_,
to be his own--indeed, in case of collision or other serious
extremity, he calls it so: 'What the infernal regions are yer banging
into my 'bus for?' etc., etc.,--I say, this being his exalted
position, the injurious language of the man on the step is, to say the
least of it, disrespectful.

On the other hand, it is the conductor who fills the 'bus, and even
entices into it, by lures and wiles, persons who are not voluntarily
going his way at all. It is he who advertises its presence to the
passers-by, and spares neither lung nor limb in attracting passengers.
If the driver is lord and king, yet the conductor has a good deal to
do with the administration: just as the Mikado of Japan, who sits
above the thunder and is almost divine, is understood to be assisted
and even 'conducted' by the Tycoon. The connection between those
potentates is perhaps the most exact reproduction of that between the
'bus driver and his cad; but even in England there is a pretty close
parallel to it in the mutual relation of the author and the
professional critic.

While the former is in his spring-time, the analogy is indeed almost
complete. For example, however much he may have plagiarised, the book
does belong to the author: he calls it, with pardonable pride (and
especially if anyone runs it down), 'my book.' He has written it, and
probably paid pretty handsomely for getting it published. Even the
right of translation, if you will look at the bottom of the
title-page, is somewhat superfluously reserved to him. Yet nothing can
exceed the patronage which he suffers at the hands of the critic, and
is compelled to submit to in sullen silence. When the book-trade is
slack--that is, in the summer season--the pair get on together pretty
amicably. 'This book,' says the critic, 'may be taken down to the
seaside, and lounged over not unprofitably;' or, 'Readers may do worse
than peruse this unpretending little volume of fugitive verse;' or
even, 'We hail this new aspirant to the laurels of Apollo.' But in the
thick of the publishing season, and when books pour into the reviewer
by the cartful, nothing can exceed the violence, and indeed sometimes
the virulence, of his language. That 'Now then, stoopid!' of the 'bus
conductor pales beside the lightnings of his scorn.

'Among the lovers of sensation, it is possible that some persons may
be found with tastes so utterly vitiated as to derive pleasure from
this monstrous production.' I cull these flowers of speech from a
wreath placed by a critic of the _Slasher_ on my own early brow. Ye
gods, how I hated him! How I pursued him with more than Corsican
vengeance; traduced him in public and private; and only when I had
thrust my knife (metaphorically) into his detested carcase, discovered
I had been attacking the wrong man. It is a lesson I have never
forgotten; and I pray you, my younger brothers of the pen, to lay it
to heart. Believe rather that your unfriendly critic, like the bee who
is fabled to sting and die, has perished after his attempt on your
reputation; and let the tomb be his asylum. For even supposing you get
the right sow by the ear--or rather, the wild boar with the 'raging
tooth'--what can it profit you? It is not like that difference of
opinion between yourself and twelve of your fellow-countrymen which
may have such fatal results. You are not an Adonis (except in outward
form, perhaps), that you can be ripped up with his tusk. His hard
words do not break your bones. If they are uncalled for, their
cruelty, believe me, can hurt only your vanity. While it is just
possible--though indeed in your case in the very highest degree
improbable--that the gentleman may have been right.

In the good old times we are told that a buffet from the hand of an
Edinburgh or Quarterly Reviewer would lay a young author dead at his
feet. If it was so, he must have been naturally very deficient in
vitality. It certainly did not kill Byron, though it was a knock-down
blow; he rose from that combat from earth, like Antæus, all the
stronger for it. The story of its having killed Keats, though embalmed
in verse, is apocryphal; and if such blows were not fatal in those
times, still less so are they nowadays. On the other hand, if authors
are difficult to slay, it is infinitely harder work to give them life
by what the doctors term 'artificial respiration'--puffing. The amount
of breath expended in the days of 'the Quarterlies' in this hopeless
task would have moved windmills. Not a single favourite of those
critics--selected, that is, from favouritism, and apart from
merit--now survives. They failed even to obtain immortality for the
writers in whom there was really something of genius, but whom they
extolled beyond their deserts. Their pet idol, for example, was Samuel
Rogers. And who reads Rogers's poems now? We remember something about
them, and that is all; they are very literally 'Pleasures of Memory.'

And if these things are true of the past, how much more so are they of
the present! I venture to think, in spite of some voices to the
contrary, that criticism is much more honest than it used to be:
certainly less influenced by political feeling, and by the interests
of publishing houses; more temperate, if not more judicious, and--in
the higher literary organs, at least--unswayed by personal prejudice.
But the result of even the most favourable notices upon a book is now
but small. I can remember when a review in the _Times_ was calculated
by the 'Row' to sell an entire edition. Those halcyon days--if halcyon
days they were--are over. People read books for themselves now; judge
for themselves; and buy only when they are absolutely compelled, and
cannot get them from the libraries. In the case of an author who has
already secured a public, it is indeed extraordinary what little
effect reviews, either good or bad, have upon his circulation. Those
who like his works continue to read them, no matter what evil is
written of them; and those who don't like them are not to be persuaded
(alas!) to change their minds, though his latest effort should be
described as though it had dropped from the heavens. I could give some
statistics upon this point not a little surprising, but statistics
involve comparisons--which are odious. As for fiction, its success
depends more upon what Mrs. Brown says to Mrs. Jones as to the
necessity of getting that charming book from the library while there
is yet time, than on all the reviews in Christendom.

    O Fame! if I e'er took delight in thy praises,
    'Twas less for the sake of thy high-sounding phrases
    Than to see the bright eyes of those dear ones discover
    They thought that I was not unworthy--

of a special messenger to Mr. Mudie's.

Heaven bless them! for, when we get old and stupid, they still stick by
one, and are not to be seduced from their allegiance by any blaring of
trumpets, or clashing of cymbals, that heralds a new arrival among the
story-tellers.

On the other hand, as respects his first venture, the author is very
dependent upon what the critics say of him. It is the conductor, you
know (I wouldn't call him a 'cad,' even in fun, for ten thousand
pounds), on whom, to return to our metaphor, the driver is dependent
for the patronage of his vehicle, and even for the announcement of its
existence. A good review is still the very best of advertisements to a
new author; and even a bad one is better than no review at all. Indeed,
I have heard it whispered that a review which speaks unfavourably of a
work of fiction, upon moral grounds, is of very great use to it. This,
however, the same gossips say, is mainly confined to works of fiction
written by female authors for readers of their own sex--'_by_ ladies
_for_ ladies,' as a feminine _Pall Mall Gazette_ might describe itself.

Nor would I be understood to say that even a well-established author is
not affected by what the critics may say of him; I only state that his
circulation is not--albeit they may make his very blood curdle. I have
a popular writer in my mind, who never looks at a newspaper unless it
comes to him by a hand he can trust, for fear his eyes should light
upon an unpleasant review. His argument is this: 'I have been at this
work for the last twelve months, thinking of little else and putting my
best intelligence (which is considerable) at its service. Is it humanly
probable that a reviewer who has given his mind to it for a less number
of hours, can suggest anything in the way of improvement worthy of my
consideration? I am supposing him to be endowed with ability and
actuated by good faith; that he has not failed in my own profession and
is not jealous of my popularity; yet even thus, how is it possible that
his opinion can be of material advantage to me? If favourable, it gives
me pleasure, because it flatters my _amour propre_, and I am even not
quite sure that it does not afford a stimulating encouragement; but if
unfavourable, I own it gives me considerable annoyance. [This is his
euphemistic phrase to express the feeling of being in a hornets' nest
without his clothes on.] On the other hand, if the critic is a mere
hireling, or a young gentleman from the university who is trying his
'prentice hand at a lowish rate of remuneration upon a veteran like
myself, how still more idle would it be to regard his views!'

And it appears to me that there is really something in these arguments.
As regards the latter part of them, by-the-bye, I had the pleasure of
seeing my own last immortal story spoken of in an American
magazine--the _Atlantic Monthly_--as the work of 'a bright and
prosperous young author.' The critic (Heaven bless his young heart, and
give him a happy Whitsuntide) evidently imagined it to be my first
production. In another Transatlantic organ, a critic, speaking of the
last work of that literary veteran, the late Mr. Le Fanu, observes: 'If
this young writer would only model himself upon the works of Mr.
William Black in his best days, we foresee a great future before him.'

There is one thing that I think should be set down to the credit of the
literary profession--that for the most part they take their 'slatings'
(which is the professional term for them) with at least outward
equanimity. I have read things of late, written of an old and popular
writer, ten times more virulent than anything Mr. Ruskin wrote of Mr.
Whistler: yet neither he, nor any other man of letters, thinks of
flying to his mother's apron-string, or of setting in motion old Father
Antic, the Law. Perhaps it is that we have no money, or perhaps, like
the judicious author of whom I have spoken, we abstain from reading
unpleasant things. I wish to goodness we could abstain from hearing of
them; but the 'd----d good-natured friend' is an eternal creation. He
has altered, however, since Sheridan's time in his method of
proceeding. He does not say, 'There is a very unpleasant notice of you
in the _Scorpion_, my dear fellow, which I deplore.' The scoundrel now
affects a more light-hearted style. 'There is a review of your last
book in the _Scorpion_', he says, 'which will amuse you. It is very
malicious, and evidently the offspring of personal spite, but it is
very clever.' Then you go down to your club, and take the thing up with
the tongs, when nobody is looking, and make yourself very miserable; or
you buy it, going home in the cab, and, having spoilt your appetite for
dinner with it, tear it up very small, throw it out of window, and
swear you have never seen it.

One forgives the critic--perhaps--but never the good-natured friend. It
is always possible--to the wise man--to refrain from reading the
lucubration of the former, but he cannot avoid the latter: which brings
me to the main subject of this paper--the Critic on the Hearth. One can
be deaf to the voice of the public hireling, but it is impossible to
shut one's ears to the private communications of one's friends and
family--all meant for our good, no doubt, but which are nevertheless
insufferable.

In Miss Martineau's Autobiography there is a passage expressing her
surprise that whereas in all other cases there is a certain modest
reticence in respect to other people's business when it is of a special
kind, the profession of literature is made an exception. As there is no
one but imagines that he can poke a fire and drive a gig, so everyone
believes he can write a book, or at all events (like that blasphemous
person in connection with the Creation) that he can give a wrinkle or
two to the author.

I wonder what a parson would say, if a man who never goes to church
save when his babies are christened, or by accident to get out of a
shower, should volunteer his advice about sermon-making? or an artist,
to whom the man without arms, who is wheeled about in the streets for
coppers, should recommend a greater delicacy of touch? Indeed, metaphor
fails me, and I gasp for mere breath when I think of the astounding
impudence of some people. If I possessed a tithe of it, I should surely
have made my fortune by this time, and be in the enjoyment of the
greatest prosperity. It must be remembered, too, that the opinion of
the Critics on the Hearth is always volunteered (indeed, one would as
soon think of asking for it as for a loan from the Sultan of Turkey),
and in nine cases out of ten it is unfavourable. One has no objection
to their praise, nor to any amount of it; what is so abhorrent is their
advice, and still more their disapproval. It is like throwing 'half a
brick' at you, which, utterly valueless in itself, still hurts you when
it hits you. And the worst of it is that, apart from their rubbishy
opinions, one likes these people; they are one's friends and relatives,
and to cut one's moorings from them altogether would be to sail over
the sea of life without a port to touch at.

The early life of the author is especially embittered by the utterances
of these good folks. As a prophet is of no honour in his own country,
so it is with the young aspirant for literary fame with his folks at
home. They not only disbelieve in him, but--generally, however, with
one or two exceptions, who are invaluable to him in the way of
encouragement--'make hay' of him and his pretensions in the most
heartless style. If he produces a poem, it achieves immortality in the
sense of his 'never hearing the last of it;' it is the jest of the
family till they have all grown up. But this he can bear, because his
noble mind recognises its own greatness; he regards his jeering
brethren in the same light as the philosophic writer beholds 'the vapid
and irreflective reader.' When they tell him they 'can't make head or
tail of his blessed poetry,' he comforts himself with the reflection of
the great German (which he has read in a translation) that the clearest
handwriting cannot be read by twilight. It is when his literary talents
have received more or less recognition from the public at large, that
home criticism becomes so painful to him. His brethren are then boys no
longer, but parsons, lawyers, and doctors; and though they don't
venture to interfere with one-another as regards their individual
professions, they make no sort of scruple about interfering with _him_.
They write to him their unsolicited advice and strictures. This is the
parson's letter:

  'MY DEAR DICK,

  'I like your last book much better than the rest of them; but I don't
  like your heroine. She strikes both Julia and myself [Julia is his
  wife, who is acquainted with no literature but the cookery-book] as
  rather namby-pamby. The descriptions, however, are charming; we both
  recognised dear old Ramsgate at once. [The original of the locality
  in the novel being Dieppe.] The plot is also excellent, though we
  think we have some recollection of it elsewhere; but it must be so
  difficult to hit upon anything original in these days. Thanks for
  your kind remembrance of us at Christmas: the oysters were excellent.
  We were sorry to see that ill-natured little notice in the _Scourge_.

  'Yours affectionately,

  'BOB.'

Jack the lawyer writes:

  'DEAR DICK,

  'You are really becoming ["Becoming?" he thinks _that_ becoming]
  quite a great man: we could hardly get your last book from Mudie's,
  though I suppose he takes very small quantities of copies, except
  from really popular authors. Marion was charmed with your heroine
  [Dick rather likes Marion; and doesn't think Jack treats her with the
  consideration she deserves], and I have no doubt women in general
  will admire her, but your hero--you know I always speak my
  mind--is rather a duffer. You should go into the world more, and
  sketch from life. The Vice-Chancellor gave me great pleasure by
  speaking of your early poems very highly the other day, and I assure
  you it was quite a drop down for me, to find that he was referring to
  some other writer of the same name. Of course I did not undeceive
  him. I wish, my dear fellow, you would write stories in one volume
  instead of three. You write a _short_ story capitally.

  'Yours ever,

  'JACK.'

Tom the surgeon belongs to that very objectionable class of humanity,
called, by ancient writers, wags:

  'MY DEAR DICK,

  'I cannot help writing to thank you for the relief afforded to me by
  the perusal of your last volume. I had been suffering from neuralgia,
  and every prescription in the Pharmacopæia for producing sleep had
  failed until I tried _that_. Dear Maggie [an odious woman, who calls
  novels "light literature," and affects to be blue] read it to me
  herself, so it was given every chance; but I think you must
  acknowledge that it was a little spun out. Maggie assures me--I have
  not read them myself, for you know what little time I have for such
  things--that the first two volumes, with the exception of the
  characters of the hero and heroine, which she pronounces to be rather
  feeble, are first-rate. Why don't you write two-volume novels? There
  is always something in analogy: reflect how seldom Nature herself
  produces three at a birth: when she does, it is only two, at most,
  which survive. We shall look forward to your next effort with much
  interest, but we hope you will give more time and pains to it.
  Remember what Horace says upon this subject (He has no more knowledge
  of Horace than he has of Sanscrit, but he has read the quotation in
  that vile review in the _Scourge_.) Maggie thinks you live too
  luxuriously: if your expenses were less you would not be compelled to
  write so much, and you would do it better. Excuse this well-meant
  advice from an elder brother.

  'Yours always,

  'Tom.'

'One's sisters, and one's cousins, and one's aunts' also write in more
or less the same style, though, to do their sex justice, less
offensively. 'If you were to go abroad, my dear Dick,' says one, 'it
would expand your mind. There is nothing to blame in your last
production, which strikes me (what I could understand of it at least,
for some of it is a little Bohemian) as very pleasing; but the fact is,
that English subjects are quite used up.' Others discover for themselves
the originals of Dick's characters in persons he has never dreamt of
describing, and otherwise exhibit a most marvellous familiarity with his
materials. 'Hennie, who has just been here, is immensely delighted with
your satirical sketch of her husband. He, however, as you may suppose,
is _wild_, and says you had better withdraw your name from the
candidates' book at his club. I don't know how many black balls exclude,
but he has a good many friends there.' Another writes: 'Of course we all
recognised Uncle George in your Mr. Flibbertigibbet; but we try not to
laugh; indeed our sense of loss is too recent. Seriously, I think you
might have waited till the poor old man--who was always kind to you,
Dick--was cold in his grave.'

Some of these excellent creatures send incidents of real life which they
are sure will be useful to 'dear Dick' for his next book--narratives of
accidents in a hansom cab, of missing the train by the Underground, and
of Mr. Jones being late for his own wedding, 'which, though nothing in
themselves, actually did happen, you know, and which, properly dressed
up, as you so well know how to do,' will, they are sure, obtain for him
a marked success. 'There is nothing like reality,' they say, he may
depend upon it, 'for coming home to people.'

After all, one need not read these abominable letters. One's relatives
(thank Heaven!) usually live in the country. The real Critics on the
Hearth are one's personal acquaintances in town, whom one cannot
escape.

'My dear friend,' said one to me the other day--a most cordial and
excellent fellow, by-the-bye (only too frank)--'I like you, as you
know, beyond everything, personally, but I cannot read your books.'

'My dear Jones,' replied I, 'I regret that exceedingly; for it is you,
and men like you, whose suffrages I am most anxious to win. Of the
approbation of all intelligent and educated persons I am certain; but
if I could only obtain that of the million, I should be a happy man.'

But even when I have thus demolished Jones, I still feel that I owe him
a grudge. 'What the Deuce is it to me whether Jones likes my books or
not? and why does he tell me he doesn't like them?'

Of the surpassing ignorance of these good people, I have just heard an
admirable anecdote. A friend of a justly popular author meets him in
the club and congratulates him upon his last story in the _Slasher_ [in
which he has never written a line]. It is so full of farce and fun [the
author is a grave writer]. 'Only I don't see why it is not advertised
under the same title in the other newspapers.' The fact being that the
story in the _Slasher_ is a parody--and not a very good-natured
one--upon the author's last work, and resembles it only as a picture in
_Vanity Fair_ resembles its original.

Some Critics on the Hearth are not only good-natured, but have rather
too high, or, if that is impossible, let us say too pronounced, an
opinion of the abilities of their literary friends. They wonder why
they do not employ their gigantic talents in some enduring monument,
such as a life of 'Alexander the Great' or a popular history of the
Visigoths. To them literature is literature, and they do not concern
themselves with little niceties of style or differences of subject.
Others again, though extremely civil, are apt to affect more enthusiasm
than they feel. They admire one's works without exception--'they are
all absolutely charming'--but they would be placed in a position of
great embarrassment if they were asked to name their favourite: for, as
a matter of fact, they are ignorant of the very names of them. A
novelist of my acquaintance lent his last work to a lady cousin because
she 'really could not wait till she got it from the library;' besides,
'she was ill, and wanted some amusing literature.' After a month or so
he got his three volumes back, with a most gushing letter. It 'had been
the comfort of many a weary hour of sleeplessness,' etc. The thought of
having 'smoothed the pillow and soothed the pain' would, she felt sure,
be gratifying to him. Perhaps it would have been, only she had omitted
to cut the pages even of the first volume.

But, as a general rule, these volunteer censors plume themselves on
discovering defects and not beauties. When any author is particularly
popular and has been long before the public, they have two methods of
discoursing upon him in relation to their literary friend. In the
first, they represent him as a model of excellence, and recommend their
friend to study him, though without holding out much hope of his ever
becoming his rival; in the second, they describe him as 'worked out,'
and darkly hint that sooner or later [they mean sooner] their friend
will be in the same unhappy condition. These, I need not say, are among
the most detestable specimens of their class, and only to be equalled
by those excellent literary judges who are always appealing to
posterity, which, even if a little temporary success has crowned you
to-day, will relegate you to your proper position to-morrow. If one
were weak enough to argue with these gentry, it would be easy to show
that popular authors are not 'worked out,' but only have the appearance
of being so from their taking their work too easily. Those whose
calling it is to depict human nature in fiction are especially subject
to this weakness; they do not give themselves the trouble to study new
characters, or at first hand, as of old; they sit at home and receive
the congratulations of Society without paying due attention to that
somewhat changeful lady, and they draw upon their memory, or their
imagination, instead of studying from the life. Otherwise, when they do
not give way to that temptation of indolence which arises from
competence and success, there is no reason why their reputation should
suffer, since, though they may lack the vigour or high spirits of those
who would push them from their stools, their experience and knowledge
of the world are always on the increase.

As to the argument with regard to posterity which is so popular with
the Critic on the Hearth, I am afraid he has no greater respect for the
opinion of posterity himself than for that of his possible
great-great-granddaughter. Indeed, he only uses it as being a weapon
the blow of which it is impossible to parry, and with the object of
being personally offensive. It is, moreover, noteworthy that his
position, which is sometimes taken up by persons of far greater
intelligence, is inconsistent with itself. The praisers of posterity
are also always the praisers of the past; it is only the present which
is in their eyes contemptible. Yet to the next generation this present
will be _their_ past, and, however valueless may be the verdict of
today, how much more so, by the most obvious analogy, will be that of
to-morrow. It is probable, indeed, though it is difficult to believe
it, that the Critics on the Hearth of the generation to come will make
themselves even more ridiculous than their immediate predecessors.



_SHAM ADMIRATION IN LITERATURE._


In all highly civilised communities Pretence is prominent, and sooner
or later invades the regions of Literature. In the beginning, this is
not altogether to be reprobated; it is the rude homage which Ignorance,
conscious of its disgrace, offers to Learning; but after awhile,
Pretence becomes systematised, gathers strength from numbers and
impunity, and rears its head in such a manner as to suggest it has some
body and substance belonging to it. In England, literary pretence is
more universal than elsewhere from our method of education. When young
gentlemen from ten to sixteen are set to study poetry (a subject for
which not one in a hundred has the least taste or capability even when
he reads it in his own language) in Greek and Latin authors, it is only
a natural consequence that their views upon it should be slightly
artificial. The youth who objected to the alphabet that it seemed
hardly worth while to have gone through so much to have acquired so
little, was exceptionally sagacious; the more ordinary lad conceives
that what has cost him so much time and trouble, and entailed so many
pains and penalties, must needs have something in it, though it has
never met his eye. Hence arises our public opinion upon the ancient
classics, which I am afraid is somewhat different from (what painters
term) the private view. If you take the ordinary admirer of Æschylus,
for example--not the scholar, but the man who has had what he believes
to be 'a liberal education'--and appeal to his opinion upon some
passage in a British dramatist, say Shakespeare, it is ten to one that
he shows not only ignorance of the author (the odds are twenty to one
about _that_), but utter inability to grasp the point in question; it
is too deep for him, and, especially, too subtle. If you are cruel
enough to press him, he will unconsciously betray the fact that he has
never felt a line of poetry in his life. He honestly believes that the
'Seven against Thebes' is one of the greatest works that ever were
written, just as a child believes the same of the 'Seven Champions of
Christendom.' A great wit once observed, when bored by the praises of a
man who spoke six languages, that he had known a man to speak a dozen,
and yet not say a word worth hearing in any one of them. The humour of
the remark, as sometimes happens, has caused its wisdom to be
underrated; for the fact is that, in very many cases, all the
intelligence of which a mind is capable is expended upon the mere
acquisition of a foreign tongue. As to getting anything out of it in
the way of ideas, and especially of poetical ones, that is almost never
attained. There are, indeed, many who have a special facility for
languages, but in their case (with a few exceptions) one may say
without uncharity that the acquisition of ideas is not their object,
though if they did acquire them they would probably be new ones. The
majority of us, however, have much difficulty in surmounting the
obstacle of an alien tongue; and when we have done so we are naturally
inclined to overrate the advantages thus attained. Everyone knows the
poor creature who quotes French on all occasions with a certain stress
on the accent, designed to arouse a doubt in his hearers as to whether
he was not actually born in Paris. _He_, of course, is a low specimen
of the class in question, but almost all of us derive a certain
intellectual gratification from the mastery of another language, and as
we gradually attain to it, whenever we find a meaning we are apt to
mistake it for a beauty.[1] Nay, I am convinced that many admire this
or that (even) British poet from the fact that here and there his
meaning has gleamed upon them with all the charm that accompanies
unexpectedness.

    [1] Since the above was written, my attention has been called to
    the following remark of De Quincey: 'As must ever be the case with
    readers not sufficiently masters of a language to bring the true
    pretensions of a work to any test of feeling, they are for ever
    mistaking for some pleasure conferred by the writer, what is, in
    fact, the pleasure naturally attached to the sense of a difficulty
    overcome.'

Since classical learning is compulsory with us, this bastard admiration
is much more often excited with respect to the Greek and Latin poets.
Men may not only go through the whole curriculum of a university
education, but take high honours in it, without the least intellectual
advantage beyond the acquisition of a few quotations. This is not, of
course (good heavens!), because the classics have nothing to teach us
in the way of poetical ideas, but simply because to the ordinary mind
the acquisition of a poetical idea is very difficult, and when conveyed
in a foreign language is impossible. If the same student had given the
same time--a monstrous thought, of course, but not impracticable--to
the cultivation of Shakespeare and the old dramatists, or even to the
more modern English poets and thinkers, he would certainly have got
more out of them, though he would have missed the delicate
suggestiveness of the Greek aorist, and the exquisite subtleties of the
particle _de_. Having acquired these last, however, and not for
nothing, it is not surprising that he should esteem them very highly,
and, being unable to popularise them at dinner-parties and the like, he
falls back upon praise of the classics generally.

Such are the circumstances which, more particularly in this country,
have led to a well-nigh universal habit of literary lying--of a
pretence of admiration for certain works of which in reality we know
very little, and for which, if we knew more, we should perhaps care
even less.

There are certain books which are standard, and as it were planted in
the British soil, before which the great majority of us bow the knee
and doff the cap with a reverence that, in its ignorance, reminds one
of fetish worship, and, in its affectation, of the passion for High
Art. The works without which, we are told at book auctions, 'no
gentleman's library can be considered complete,' are especially the
objects of this adoration. The 'Rambler,' for example, is one of them.
I was once shut up for a week of snowstorms in a mountain inn, with the
'Rambler' and one other publication. The latter was a Shepherd's Guide,
with illustrations of the way in which sheep are marked by their
various owners for the purpose of identification: 'Cropped near ear,
upper key bitted far, a pop on the head and another at the tail head,
ritted, and with two red strokes down both shoulders,' etc. It was
monotonous, but I confess that there were times when I felt it some
comfort in having that picture-book to fall back upon, to alternate
with the 'Rambler.'

The essay, like port wine, I have noticed, requires age for its due
appreciation. Leigh Hunt's 'Indicator' comprises some admirable essays,
but the general public have not a word to say for them; it may be urged
that that is because they had not read the 'Indicator' But why then do
they praise the 'Rambler' and Montaigne? That comforting word,
'Mesopotamia,' which has been so often alluded to in religious matters,
has many a parallel in profane literature.

A good deal of this mock worship is of course due to abject cowardice.
A man who says he doesn't like the 'Rambler,' runs, with some folks,
the risk of being thought a fool; but he is sure to be thought that,
for something or another, under any circumstances; and, at all events,
why should he not content himself, when the 'Rambler' is belauded, with
holding his tongue and smiling acquiescence? It must be conceded that
there are a few persons who really have read the 'Rambler,' a work, of
course, I am merely using as a type of its class. In their young days
it was used as a schoolbook, and thought necessary as a part of polite
education; and as they have read little or nothing since, it is only
reasonable that they should stick to their colours. Indeed, the French
satirist's boast that he could predicate the views of any man with
regard to both worlds, if he were only supplied with the simple data of
his age and his income, is quite true in the general with regard to
literary taste. Given the age of the ordinary individual--that is to
say of the gentleman 'fond of books, but who has really no time for
reading'--and it is easy enough to guess his literary idols. They are
the gods of his youth, and, whether he has been 'suckled in a creed
outworn' or not, he knows no other. These persons, however, rarely give
their opinion about literary matters, except on compulsion; they are
harmless and truthful. The tendency of society in general, on the other
hand, is not only to praise the 'Rambler' which they have not read, but
to express a noble scorn for those who have read it and don't like it.

I remember, as a young man, being greatly struck by the independence of
character exhibited by Miss Bronte in a certain confession she made in
respect to Miss Austen's novels. It was at a period when everybody
professed to adore them, and especially the great-guns of literature.
Walter Scott thought more highly of the genius of the author of
'Mansfield Park' even than of that of his favourite, Miss Edgeworth.
Macaulay speaks of her as though she were the Eclipse of
novelists--'first, and the rest nowhere'--though his opinion, it is
true, lost something of its force from the contempt he expressed for
'the rest,' among whom were some much better ones. Dr. Whewell, a very
different type of mind, had 'Mansfield Park,' I believe, read to him on
his death-bed. And, indeed, up to the present date, some
highly-cultured persons of my acquaintance take the same view. They may
be very possibly right, but that is no reason why the people who have
never read Miss Austen's novels--and very few have--should ape the
fashion. Now, the authoress of 'Jane Eyre' did not derive much pleasure
from the perusal of the works of the other Jane. 'I know it's very
wrong,' she modestly said, 'but the fact is I can't read them. They
have not got story enough in them to engage my attention. I don't want
my blood curdled, but I like it stirred. Miss Austen strikes me as
milk-and-watery, and, to say truth, as dull.'

This opinion she has, in effect, repeated in her published writings,
but I had only heard her verbal expression of it; and I admired her
courage. If she had been a man, struggling, as she then was, for a
position in literature, she would not have dared to say half as much.
For, what is very curious, the advocates of the classic authors--those
I mean whom antiquity has more or less hallowed--instead of pitying
those unhappy wights who confess their want of appreciation of them,
fly at them with bludgeons, and dance upon their prostrate bodies with
clogs.

    'For who would rush on a benighted man,
    And give him two black eyes for being blind?'

inquires the poet. I answer, 'lots of people,' and especially those who
worship the pagan divinities of literature. The same thing happens--but
_their_ fury is more excusable, because they have less natural
intelligence--with the lovers of music. Instead of being sorry for the
poor folks who have 'no ear,' and whom 'a little music in the evening'
bores to extremity, they overwhelm them with reproaches for what is in
fact a natural infirmity. 'You Goth! you Vandal!' they exclaim, 'how
contemptible is the creature who has no music in his soul!' Which is
really very rude. Even persons who are not musical have their feelings.
'Hath not a Jew ears?'--that is to say, though they have 'no ear,' they
understand what is abusive language and resent it.

I am not saying one word against established reputations in literature.
The very fact of their being established (even the 'Rambler,' for
example, has its merits) is in their favour; and, indeed, some of the
works I shall refer to are masterpieces. My objection is to the sham
admiration of them, which does their authors no good (for their
circulation is now of no consequence to them), and is injurious not
only to modern writers (who are generally made the subject of base
comparison), but especially to the utterers of this false coin
themselves. One cannot tell falsehoods, even about one's views in
literature, without injury to one's morals, yet to 'tell the truth and
shame the devil' is easy, as it would seem, compared with telling the
truth and defying the critics.

I have alluded to the intrepidity of Miss Bronte in this matter; and,
curiously enough, it is women who have the most courage in the
expression of their literary opinions. It may be said, of course, that
this is due to the audacity of ignorance, and a well-known line may be
quoted (for some people, as I have said, are rude) in which certain
angels (who are _not_ women) are represented as being afraid to tread
in certain places. But I am speaking of women who are great readers.
Miss Martineau once confessed to me that she could see no beauties in
'Tom Jones.' 'Of course,' she said, 'the coarseness disgusts me, but
apart from that, I see no sort of merit in it.' 'What?' I replied, 'no
humour, no knowledge of human life?' 'No; to me it is a wearisome
book.'

I disagreed with her very much upon that point, and do so still; yet,
apart from the coarseness (which does not disgust everybody, let me
tell you), there is a good deal of tedious reading in 'Tom Jones.' At
all events that expression of opinion from such lips strikes me as
noteworthy.

It may here be said that there are many English authors of old date,
some of whose beauties are unintelligible except to those who are
acquainted with the classics; and 'Tom Jones' is one of them. Many of
the introductions to the chapters, not to mention a certain travestie
of an Homeric battle, must needs be as wearisome to those who are not
scholars, as the spectacle of a burlesque is to those who have not seen
the original play. This is still more the case with our old poets,
especially Milton. I very much doubt, in spite of the universal chorus
to the contrary, whether 'Lycidas' is much admired by readers who are
only acquainted with English literature; I am quite sure it never
touched their hearts as, for example, 'In Memoriam' does.

I once beheld a young lady of great literary taste, and of exquisite
sensibility, torn to pieces (figuratively) and trampled upon by a great
scholar for venturing to make a comparison between those two poems. Its
invocation to the Muses, and the general classical air which pervades
it, had destroyed for her the pathos of 'Lycidas,' whereas to her
antagonist those very imperfections appeared to enhance its beauty. I
did not interfere, because the wretch was her husband, and it would
have been worse for her if I had, but my sympathies were entirely with
her. Her sad fate--for the massacre took place in public--would, I was
well aware, have the effect of making people lie worse than ever about
Milton. On that same evening, while some folks were talking about Mr.
Morris's 'Earthly Paradise,' I heard a scornful voice exclaim, 'Oh!
give ME "Paradise Lost,"' and with that gentleman I _did_ have it out.
I promptly subjected him to cross-examination, and drove him to that
extremity that he was compelled to admit he had never read a word of
Milton for forty years, and even then only in extracts from 'Enfield's
Speaker.'

With Shakespeare--though there is a good deal of lying about _him_--the
case is different, and especially with elderly people; for 'in their
day,' as they pathetically term it, Shakespeare was played everywhere,
and everyone went to the play. They do not read him, but they recollect
him; they are well acquainted with his beauties--that is, with the
better known of them--and can quote him with manifest appreciation.
They are, intellectually, in a position much superior to that of a
fashionable lady of my acquaintance who informed me that her daughters
were going to the theatre that night to see Shakespeare's 'Turning of
the Screw.'

The writer who has done most, without I suppose intending it, to promote
hypocrisy in literature is Macaulay. His 'every schoolboy knows' has
frightened thousands into pretending to know authors with whom they have
not even a bowing acquaintance. It is amazing that a man who had read so
much should have written so contemptuously of those who have read but
little; one would have thought that the consciousness of superiority
would have forbidden such insolence, or that his reading would have been
extensive enough to teach him at least how little he had read of what
there was to read; since he read some things--works of imagination and
humour, for example--to such very little purpose, he might really have
bragged a little less. One feels quite grateful to Macaulay, however, for
avowing his belief that he was the only man who had read through the
'Faery Queen;' since that exonerates everybody--I do not say from reading
it, because the supposition is preposterous--but from the necessity of
pretending to have read it. The pleasure derived from that poem to most
minds is, I am convinced, analogous to that already spoken of as being
imparted by a foreign author: namely, the satisfaction at finding it--in
places--intelligible. For the few who possess the poetic faculty it has
great beauties, but I observe, from the extracts that appear in Poetic
Selections and the like, that the most tedious and even the most
monstrous passages are those which are generally offered for admiration.
The case of Spenser in this respect--which does not stand alone in
ancient English literature--has a curious parallel in art, where people
are positively found to go into ecstasies over a distorted limb or a
ludicrous inversion of perspective, simply because it is the work of an
old master, who knew no better, or followed the fashion of his time.

Leigh Hunt read the 'Faery Queen,' by-the-bye, as almost everything
else that has been written in the English tongue, and even Macaulay
alludes with rare commendation to his 'catholic taste.' Of all authors
indeed, and probably of all readers, Leigh Hunt had the keenest eye for
merit and the warmest appreciation of it wherever found. He was
actively engaged in politics, yet was never blind to the genius of an
adversary; blameless himself in morals, he could admire the wit of
Wycherley; and a freethinker in religion, he could see both wisdom and
beauty in the divines. Moreover, it is immensely to his credit that
this universal knowledge, instead of puffing him up, only moved him to
impart it, and that next to the pleasure he took in books was that he
derived from teaching others to take pleasure in them. Witness his 'Wit
and Humour' and his 'Imagination and Fancy,' to my mind the greatest
treasures in the way of handbooks that have ever been offered to
students of English literature, and the completest antidotes to
pretence in it. How many a time, as a boy, have I pondered over this or
that passage in the originals, from Shakespeare to Suckling, and then
compared it with the italicised lines in his two volumes, to see
whether I had hit upon the beauties; and how often, alas! I hit upon
the blots![2]

    [2] I remember (when 'I was but a little tiny boy') I thought that
    'the fringed curtains of thine eye advance,' addressed by Prospero
    to Miranda, must needs be a very fine line; imagine then my
    confusion, on referring for corroboration to my 'guide,
    philosopher, and friend,' as he truly was, to find this passage:
    'Why Shakespeare should have condescended to the elaborate
    nothingness, not to say nonsense, of this metaphor (for what is
    meant by "advancing curtains"?) I cannot conceive. That is to say,
    if he did condescend: for it looks very like the interpolation of
    some pompous declamatory player. Pope has put it into his
    _Treatise on the Bathos_.'

It is curious that Leigh Hunt, whose style has been so severely handled
(and, it must be owned, not without some justice) for its affectations,
should have been so genuine (although always generous) in his
criticisms. It was nothing to him whether an author was old or new; nor
did he shrink from any literary comparison between two writers when he
thought it appropriate (and he was generally right), notwithstanding all
the age and authority that might be at the back of one of them.
Thackeray, by the way, a very different writer and thinker, had this
same outspoken honesty in the expression of his literary taste. In
speaking of the hero of Cooper's five good novels--Leather-Stocking,
Hawkeye, etc.--he remarks with quite a noble simplicity: 'I think he is
better than any of Scott's lot.'

It is a 'far cry' from the 'Faery Queen' to 'Childe Harold,' which,
reckoning by years, is still a modern poem; yet I wonder how many
persons under thirty--even of those who term it 'magnificent'--have ever
read 'Childe Harold.' At one time it was only people under thirty who
_had_ read it; for poetry to the ordinary reader is the poetry that was
popular in his youth--'no other is genuine.'

    'A dreary, weary poem called the _Excursion_,
    Written in a manner which is my aversion,'

is a couplet the frankness of which has always recommended itself to me
(though I like the 'Excursion'); but, except for the rhyme, it has a
fatal facility of application to other long poems. Heaven forbid that I
should 'with shadowed hint confuse' the faith in a British classic; but,
ye gods, how men have gaped (in private) over 'Childe Harold!'

'Gil Blas,' though not a native classic, is included in the articles of
the British literary faith; not as a matter of pious opinion, but _de
fide_; a necessity of intellectual salvation. I remember an interview I
once had with a boy of letters concerning this immortal work; he is a
well-known writer now, but at the time I speak of he was only budding
and sprouting in the magazines--a lad of promise, no doubt, but given,
if not to kick against authority, to question it, and, what was worse,
to question _me_ about it, in an embarrassing manner. The natural
affability of my disposition had caused him, I suppose, to treat me as
his Father Confessor in literature; and one of the sins of omission he
confided to me was in connection with the divine Le Sage.

'I say--about "Gil Blas," you know--Bias [a great critic of that day]
was saying last night that if he were to be imprisoned for life with
only one book to read he would choose the Bible or "Gil Blas."'

'It is very gratifying to me,' said I, wishing to evade my young friend,
and also because I had no love for Bias, 'that he should have selected
the Bible, even as an alternative; and all the more so, since I should
never have expected it of him.'

'Yes, papa' (that was what the young dog was wont to call me, though he
was no son of mine--far from it); 'but about "Gil Blas"? Is it _really_
the next best book? And after he had read it--say ten times--would he
not have been rather sorry that he had not chosen--well, Shakespeare,
for instance?'

The picture of Bias with a long white beard, the growth of twenty years,
reading that tattered copy of 'Gil Blas' in his cell, almost affected me
to tears; but I made shift to answer gravely: 'Bias is a professional
critic; and persons of that class are apt to be a little dogmatic and
given to exaggeration. But "Gil Blas" is a great work. As a picture of
the seamy side of human life--of its vices and its weaknesses at
least--it is unrivalled. The archbishop----'

'Oh! I know that archbishop--_well_,' interrupted my young tormentor. 'I
sometimes think, if it hadn't been for that archbishop, we should never
perhaps have heard of "Gil Blas."'

'Tchut, tchut!' said I; 'you talk like a child.'

'But to read it _all through_, papa--three times, ten times, for all
one's life? Poor Mr. Bias!'

'It is a matter of opinion, my dear boy,' I said. 'Bias has this great
advantage over you in literary matters, that he knows what he is talking
about; and if he was quite sure----'

'Oh! but he was not quite sure: he was rather doubtful, he said, about
one of the books.'

'Not the Bible, I do hope?' said I fervently.

'No, about the other. He was not quite sure but that, instead of "Gil
Blas," he ought to have selected "Don Quixote." Now really that seems to
me worse than "Gil Blas."

'You mean less excellent,' I rejoined; 'you are too young to appreciate
the full signification of "Don Quixote."'

The scoundrel murmured, 'Do you mean to tell me people read it when they
are old?' But I pretended not to hear him. 'We do not all of us,' I went
on, 'know what is good for us. Sancho Panza's physician----'

'Oh! I know that physician--_well_, papa. I sometimes think, if it had
not been for that physician, perhaps----'

'Hush!' I exclaimed authoritatively; 'let us have no flippancy, I beg.'
And so, with a dead lift as it were, I got rid of him. He left the room
muttering, 'But to read it through--three times, ten times, for all
one's life?' And I was obliged to confess to myself that such a
prolonged course of study, even of 'Don Quixote,' would have been
wearisome.

Rabelais is another article of our literary faith, that is certainly
subscribed to much more often than believed in. In a certain poem of Mr.
Browning's (_I_ call it the Burial of the Book, since the Latin name he
has given it is unpronounceable, even if it were possible to recollect
it), charmingly humorous, and which is also remarkable for impersonating
an inanimate object in verse as Dickens does in prose, there occur these
lines:

    'Then I went indoors, brought out a loaf,
      Half a cheese and a bottle of Chablis,
    Lay on the grass, and forgot the oaf
      Over a jolly chapter of Rabelais.'

Yet I have known some wonder to be expressed (confidentially) as to
where he found the 'jolly chapter,' and the looking for the beauties of
Rabelais to be likened to searching in a huge dung-heap for a few heads
of asparagus.

I have no quarrel with Bias and Company (though they stick at nothing,
and will presently say that I don't care for these books myself), but I
venture to think that they are wrong in making dogmas of what are, after
all, but matters of literary taste; it is their vehemence and
exaggeration which drive the weak to take refuge in falsehood.

A good woman in the country once complained of her stepson, 'He will not
love his learning, though I beats him with a jack-chain;' and from the
application of similar aids to instruction, the same result takes place
in London. Only here we dissemble and pretend to love it. It is partly
in consequence of this that works, not only of acknowledged but genuine
excellence, such as those I have been careful to select, are, though so
universally praised, so little read. The poor student attempts them, but
failing--from many causes no doubt, but also sometimes from the fact of
their not being there--to find those unrivalled beauties which he has
been led to expect in every sentence, he stops short, where he would
otherwise have gone on. He says to himself, 'I have been deceived,' or
'I must be a born fool;' whereas he is wrong in both suppositions. I am
convinced that the want of popularity of Walter Scott among the rising
generation is partly due to this extravagant laudation; and I am much
mistaken if another great author, more recently deceased, will not in a
few years be added to the ranks of those who are more praised than read
from the same cause.

The habit of mere adhesion to received opinion in any matter is most
mischievous, for it strikes at the root of independence of thought; and
in literature it tends to make the public taste mechanical. It is very
seldom that what is called the verdict of posterity (absurdly enough,
for are not _we_ posterity?) is ever reversed; but it has chanced to
happen in a certain case quite lately. The production of 'The Iron
Chest' upon the stage has once more brought into fashion 'Caleb
Williams.' Now that is a work, though by no means belonging to the same
rank as those to which I have referred, which has a fine old crusted
reputation. Time has hallowed it. The great world of readers (who have
never read it) used to echo the remark of Bias and Company, that this
and that modern work of fiction reminded them--though at an immense
distance, of course--of Godwin's masterpiece. I remember Le Fanu's
'Uncle Silas,' for example (from some similarity, more fanciful perhaps
than real, in the isolation of its hero), being thus compared with it.
Now 'Caleb Williams' is founded on a very fine conception--one that
could only have occurred, perhaps, to a man of genius; the first part of
it is well worked out, but towards the middle it grows feeble, and it
ends in tediousness and drivel; whereas 'Uncle Silas' is good and strong
from first to last. Le Fanu has never been so popular as, in my humble
judgment, he deserves to be, but of course modern readers were better
acquainted with him than with Godwin. Yet nine out of ten were always
heard repeating this cuckoo cry about the latter's superiority, until
the 'Iron Chest' came out, and Fashion induced them to read Godwin for
themselves; which has very properly changed their opinion.

I remember, in my own case, that, from that reverence for authority
which I hope I share with my neighbours, I used to speak of 'Headlong
Hall' and 'Crotchet Castle'--both great favourites of our
fore-fathers--with much respect, until one wet day in the country I
found myself shut up with them. I won't say what I suffered; better
judges of literature than myself admire them still, I know. I will only
remark that _I_ don't admire them. I don't say they are the dullest
novels ever printed, because that would be invidious, and might do wrong
to works of even greater pretensions; but to my mind they are dull.

When Dr. Johnson is free to confess that he does not admire Gray's
'Elegy,' and Macaulay to avow that he sees little to praise in Dickens
and Wordsworth, why should not humbler folks have the courage of their
own opinions? They cannot possibly be more wrong than Johnson and
Macaulay were, and it is surely better to be honest, though it may
expose one to some ridicule, than to lie. The more we agree with the
verdict of the generations before us on these matters, the more, it is
quite true, we are likely to be right; but the agreement should be an
honest one. At present very extensive domains in literature are, as it
were, enclosed and denied to the public in respect to any free
expression of their opinion. 'They are splendid, they are faultless,'
cries the general voice, but the general eye has not beheld them.
Nothing, of course, could be more futile than that, with every new
generation, our old authors who have won their fame should be arraigned
anew at the bar of public criticism; but, on the other hand, there is no
reason why the mouths of us poor moderns should be muzzled, and still
less that we 'should praise with alien lips.'

'Until Caldecott's charming illustrations of it made me laugh so much,'
said a young lady to me the other day, 'I confess--though I know it's
very stupid of me--I never saw much fun in "John Gilpin."' She evidently
expected a reproof, and when I whispered in her ear, 'Nor I,' her lovely
features assumed a look of positive enfranchisement.

'But am I right?' she inquired.

'You are certainly right, my dear young lady,' said I, 'not to pretend
admiration where you don't feel it; as to liking "John Gilpin," that is
a matter of taste. It has, of course, simplicity to recommend it; but in
my own case, though I'm fond of fun, it has never evoked a smile. It has
always seemed to me like one of Mr. Joe Miller's stories put into
tedious verse.'

I really almost thought (and hoped) that that young lady would have
kissed me.

'Papa always says it is a free country,' she exclaimed, 'but I never
felt it to be the case before this moment.'

For years this beautiful and accomplished creature had locked this awful
secret in her innocent breast--that she didn't see much fun in 'John
Gilpin.' 'You have given me courage,' she said, 'to confess something
else. Mr. Caldecott has just been illustrating in the same charming
manner Goldsmith's "Elegy on a Mad Dog," and--I'm very sorry--but I
never laughed at _that_ before, either. I have pretended to laugh, you
know,' she added, hastily and apologetically, 'hundreds of times.'

'I don't doubt it,' I replied; 'this is not such a free country as your
father supposes.'

'But am I right?'

'I say nothing about "right,"' I answered, 'except that everybody has a
right to his own opinion. For my part, however, I think the 'Mad Dog'
better than 'John Gilpin' only because it is shorter.'

Whether I was wrong or right in the matter is of no consequence even to
myself; the affection and gratitude of that young creature would more
than repay me for a much greater mistake, if mistake it is. She protests
that I have emancipated her from slavery. She has since talked to me
about all sorts of authors, from Sir Philip Sidney to Washington Irving,
in a way that would make some people's blood run cold; but it has no
such effect upon me--quite the reverse. Of Irving she naïvely remarks
that his strokes of humour seem to her to owe much of their success to
the rarity of their occurrence; the flashes of fun are spread over pages
of dulness, which enhance them, just as a dark night is propitious to
fireworks, or the atmosphere of the House cf Commons, or of a Court of
Law, to a joke. She is often in error, no doubt, but how bright and
wholesome such talk is as compared with the platitudes and commonplaces
which one hears on all sides in connection with literature!

As a rule, I suppose, even people in society ('the drawing-rooms and the
clubs') are not absolutely base and yet one would really think so, to
judge by the fear that is entertained by them of being natural. 'I vow
to heaven,' says the prince of letter-writers, 'that I think the Parrots
of Society are more intolerable and mischievous than its Birds of Prey.
If ever I destroy myself, it will be in the bitterness of having those
infernal and damnable "good old times" extolled.' One is almost tempted
to say the same--when one hears their praises come from certain
mouths--of the good old books. It is not everyone, of course, who has an
opinion of his own upon any subject, far less on that of literature, but
everyone can abstain from expressing an opinion that is not his own. If
one has no voice, what possible compensation can there be in becoming an
echo? No one, I conclude, would wish to see literature discoursed about
in the same pinchbeck and affected style as are painting and music;[3]
yet that is what will happen if this prolific weed of sham admiration is
permitted to attain its full growth.

    [3] The slang of art-talk has reached the 'young men' in the
    furniture warehouses. A friend of mine was recommended a sideboard
    the other day as not being a Chippendale, but as 'having a
    Chippendale _feeling_ in it.'



_THE PINCH OF POVERTY_.


In these days of reduction of rents, or of total abstinence from
rent-paying, it is, I am told, the correct thing to be 'a little pressed
for money.' It is a sign of connection with the landed interest (like
the banker's ejaculation in 'Middlemarch') and suggests family acres,
and entails, and a position in the county. (In which case I know a good
many people who are landlords on a very extensive scale, and have made
allowances for their tenants the generosity of which may be described as
Quixotic.) But as a general rule, and in times less exceptionally hard,
though Shakespeare tells us 'How apt the poor are to be proud,' they are
not proud of being poor.

'Poverty,' says the greatest of English divines, 'is indeed despised and
makes men contemptible; it exposes a man to the influences of evil
persons, and leaves a man defenceless; it is always suspected; its
stories are accounted lies, and all its counsels follies; it puts a man
from all employment; it makes a man's discourses tedious and his society
troublesome. This is the worst of it.' Even so poverty seems pretty bad,
but, begging Dr. Jeremy Taylor's pardon, what he has stated is by no
means 'the worst of it.' To be in want of food at any time, and of
firing in winter time, is ever so much worse than the inconveniences he
enumerates; and to see those we love--delicate women and children
perhaps--in want, is worse still. The fact is, the excellent bishop
probably never knew what it was to go without his meals, but took them
'reg'lar' (as Mrs. Gamp took her Brighton ale) as bishops generally do.
Moreover, since his day, Luxury has so universally increased, and the
value of Intelligence has become so well recognised (by the publishers)
that even philosophers, who profess to despise such things, have plenty
to eat, and good of its kind too. Hence it happens that, from all we
hear to the contrary from the greatest thinkers, the deprivation of food
is a small thing: indeed, as compared with the great spiritual struggles
of noble minds, and the doubts that beset them as to the supreme
government of the universe, it seems hardly worth mentioning.

In old times, when folks were not so 'cultured,' starvation was thought
more of. It is quite curious, indeed, to contrast the high-flying
morality of the present day (when no one is permitted, either by
Evolutionist or Ritualist, however dire may be his necessity, so much as
to jar his conscience) with the shocking laxity of the Holy Scriptures.
'Men do not despise a thief if he steal to satisfy his soul when he is
hungry,' says Solomon, after which stretch of charity, strange to say,
he goes on to speak of marital infidelity in terms that, considering the
number of wives he had himself, strike one as severe.

It is certain, indeed, that the sacred writers were apt to make great
allowances for people with empty stomachs, and though I am well aware
that the present profane ones think this very reprehensible, I venture
to agree with the sacred writers. The sharpest tooth of poverty is felt,
after all, in the bite of hunger. A very amusing and graphic writer once
described his experience of a whole night passed in the streets; the
exhaustion, the pain, the intolerable weariness of it, were set forth in
a very striking manner; the sketch was called 'The Key of the Street,'
and was thought by many, as Browning puts it, to be 'the true Dickens.'
But what are even the pangs of sleeplessness and fatigue compared with
those of want? Of course there have been fanatics who have fasted many
days; but they have been supported by the prospect of spiritual reward.
I confess I reserve my pity for those who have no such golden dreams,
and who fast perforce. It is exceedingly difficult for mere
worldlings--such as most of us are--not to eat, if it is possible, when
we are hungry. I have known a great social philosopher who flattered
himself that he was giving his sons an experience of High Thinking and
Low Living by restricting their pocket-money to two shillings a day, out
of which it was understood they were to find their own meals. I don't
know whether the spirit in their case was willing, but the flesh was
decidedly weak, for one of them, on this very moderate allowance, used
to contrive to always have a pint of dry champagne with his luncheon.
The fact is, that of the iron grip of poverty, people in general, by no
means excepting those who have written about it, have had very little
experience; whereas of the pinch of it a good many people know
something. It is the object of this paper--and the question should be an
interesting one, considering how much it is talked about--to inquire
briefly where it lies.

It is quite extraordinary how very various are the opinions entertained
on this point, and, before sifting them, one must be careful in the
first place to eliminate from our inquiry the cases of that considerable
class of persons who pinch themselves. For, however severely they do it,
they may stop when they like and the pain is cured. There is all the
difference in the world between pulling one's own tooth out, and even
the best and kindest of dentists doing it for one. How gingerly one goes
to work, and how often it strikes one that the tooth is a good tooth,
that it has been a fast friend to us for ever so many years and never
'fallen out' before, and that after all it had better stop where it is!

To the truly benevolent mind, indeed, nothing is more satisfactory than
to hear of a miser denying himself the necessaries of life a little too
far and ridding us of his presence altogether. Our confidence in the
average virtue of humanity assures us that his place will be supplied by
a better man. The details of his penurious habits, the comfortless room,
the scanty bedding, the cheese-rinds on his table, and the fat
banking-book under his thin bolster, only inspire disgust: if he were
pinched to death he did it himself, and so much the better for the world
in general and his heir in particular.

Again, the people who have a thousand a year, and who try to persuade
the world that they have two thousand, suffer a good deal of
inconvenience, but it can't be called the pinch of poverty. They may put
limits to their washing-bills, which persons of cleanlier habits would
consider unpleasantly narrow; they may eat cold mutton in private for
five days a week in order to eat turtle and venison in public (and with
the air of eating them every day) on the sixth; and they may immure
themselves in their back rooms in London throughout the autumn in order
to persuade folks that they are still at Trouville, where for ten days
they did really reside and in splendour; but all their stint and
self-incarceration, so far from awakening pity, only fill us with
contempt. I am afraid that even the complaining tones of our City friend
who tells us that in consequence of 'the present unsettled state of the
markets' he has been obliged to make 'great retrenchments'--which it
seems on inquiry consist in putting down one of his carriages and
keeping three horses instead of six--fail to draw the sympathising tear.
Indeed, to a poor man this pretence of suffering on the part of the rich
is perhaps even more offensive than their boasts of their prosperity.

On the other hand, when the rich become really poor their case is hard
indeed; though, strange to say, we hear little of it. It is like
drowning; there is a feeble cry, a little ineffectual assistance from
the bystanders, and then they go under. It is not a question of pinch
with _them_; they have fallen into the gaping mouth of ruin, and it has
devoured them. If we ever see them again, it is in the second generation
as waiters (upon Providence), or governesses, and we say, 'Why, dear me,
that was Bullion's son (or daughter), wasn't it?' using the past tense,
as if they were dead. 'I remember him when he lived in Eaton Square.'
This class of cases rarely comes under the head of 'genteel poverty.'
They were at the top, and hey presto! by some malignant stroke of fate
they are at the bottom; and there they stick.

I don't believe in bachelors ever experiencing the pinch of poverty; I
have heard them complaining of it at the club, while ordering Medina
oysters instead of Natives, but, after all, what does it signify even if
they were reduced to cockles? They have no appearances to keep up, and
if they cannot earn enough to support themselves they must be poor
creatures indeed.

It is the large families of moderate income, who are delicate, and have
delicate tastes, that feel the twinge: and especially the poor girls. I
remember a man, with little care for his personal appearance, of small
means but with a very rich sense of humour, describing to me his
experiences when staying at a certain ducal house in the country, where
his feelings must have been very similar to those of Christopher Sly. In
particular he drew a charming picture of the magnificent attendant who
in the morning _would_ put out his clothes for him, which had not been
made by Mr. Poole, nor very recently by anybody. The contempt which he
well understood his Grace's gentleman must have felt for him afforded
him genuine enjoyment. But with young ladies, in a similar position,
matters are very different; they have rarely a sense of humour, and
certainly none strong enough to counteract the force of a personal
humiliation. I have known some very charming ones, compelled to dress on
a very small allowance, who, in certain mansions where they have been
occasionally guests, have been afraid to put their boots outside their
door, because they were not of the newest, and have trembled when the
officious lady's-maid has meddled with their scanty wardrobe. A
philosopher may think nothing of this, but, considering the tender skin
of the sufferer, it may be fairly called a pinch.

In the investigation of this interesting subject, I have had a good deal
of conversation with young ladies, who have given me the fullest
information, and in a manner so charming, that, if it were common in
witnesses generally, it would make Blue-Books very pretty reading.

'I consider it to be "a pinch,"' says one, 'when I am obliged to put on
black mittens on occasions when I know other girls will have long white
kid gloves.' I must confess I have a prejudice myself against mittens;
they are, so to speak, 'gritty' to touch; so that the pinch, if it be
one, experienced by the wearer, is shared by her ungloved friends. The
same thing may be said of that drawing-room fire which is lit so late in
the season for economical reasons, and so late in the day at all times:
the pinch is felt as much by the visitors as by the members of the
household. These things, however, are mere nips, and may be placed in
the same category with the hardships complained of by my friend
Quiverfull's second boy. 'I don't mind having papa's clothes cut up for
me,' he says, 'but what I do think hard is getting Bob's clothes' (Bob
being his elder brother), 'which have been papa's first; however, I am
in great hopes that I am out-growing Bob.'

A much more severe example of the pinch of poverty than these is to be
found in railway travelling; no lady of any sense or spirit objects to
travel by the second, or even the third class, if her means do not
justify her going by the first. But when she meets with richer friends
upon the platform, and parts with them to journey in the same
compartment with their man-servant, she suffers as acutely as though,
when the guard slams the door of the carriage with the vehemence
proportioned to its humble rank, her tender hand had been crushed in it.
Of course it is very foolish of her; but it demands democratic opinions,
such as almost no woman of birth and breeding possesses, not to feel
_that_ pinch. Her knowledge that it is also hard upon the man-servant,
who has never sat in her presence before, but only stooped over her
shoulder with ''Ock, miss,' serves but to increase her pain.

A great philosopher has stated that the worst evil of poverty is, that
it makes folks ridiculous; by which, I hope, he only means that, as in
the above case, it places them in incongruous positions. The man, or
woman, who derives amusement from the lack of means of a
fellow-creature, would jeer at a natural deformity, be cruel to
children, and insult old age. Such people should be whipped and then
hanged. Nevertheless there are certain little pinches of poverty so
slight, that they tickle almost as much as they hurt the victim. A lady
once told me (interrupting herself, however, with pleasant bursts of
merriment) that as a young girl her allowance was so small that when she
went out to spend the evening at a friend's, her promised pleasure was
darkened by the presentiment (always fulfilled) that the cabman was sure
to charge her more than the proper fare. The extra expense was really of
consequence to her, but she never dared dispute it, because of the
presence of the footman who opened the door.

Some young ladies--quite as lady-like as any who roll in
chariots--cannot even afford a cab. 'What _I_ call the pinch of
poverty,' observed an example of this class, 'is the waiting for omnibus
after omnibus on a wet afternoon and finding them all full.'

'But surely,' I replied with gallantry, 'any man would have given up his
seat to you?'

She shook her head with a smile that had very little fun in it. 'People
in omnibuses,' she said, 'don't give up their seats to others.' Nor, I
am bound to confess, do they do so elsewhere; if I had been in their
place, perhaps I should have been equally selfish; though I do think I
should have made an effort, in this instance at least, to make room for
her close beside me.[4]

    [4] There is, however, some danger in this. I remember reading of
    some highly respectable old gentleman in the City who thus
    accommodated on a wet day a very nice young woman in humble
    circumstances. She was as full of apologies as of rainwater, and
    he of good-natured rejoinders, intended to put her at her ease; so
    that he became, in a Platonic and paternal way, quite friendly
    with her by the time she arrived at her destination--which
    happened to be his own door. She turned out to be his new cook,
    which was afterwards very embarrassing.

A young governess whom some wicked fairy endowed at her birth with
the sensitiveness often denied to princesses, has assured me that
her journeys by railway have sometimes been rendered miserable by
the thought that she had not even a few pence to spare for the
porter who would presently shoulder her little box on to the roof
of her cab.

It is people of this class, much more than those beneath them, who are
shut out from all amusements. The mechanic goes to the play and to the
music-hall, and occasionally takes his 'old girl,' as he calls his wife,
and even 'a kid' or two, to the Crystal Palace. But those I have in my
mind have no such relaxation from compulsory duty and importunate care.
'I know it's very foolish, but I feel it sometimes to be a pinch,' says
one of these ill-fated ones, 'to see them all [the daughters of her
employer] going to the play, or the opera, while I am expected to be
satisfied with a private view of their pretty dresses.' No doubt it is
the sense of comparison (especially with the female) that sharpens the
sting of poverty. It is not, however, through envy that the 'prosperity
of fools destroys us,' so much as the knowledge of its unnecessariness
and waste. When a mother has a sick child who needs sea air, which she
cannot afford to give it, the consciousness that her neighbour's family
(the head of which perhaps is a most successful financier and
market-rigger) are going to the Isle of Wight for three months, though
there is nothing at all the matter with them, is an added bitterness.
How often it is said (no doubt with some well-intentioned idea of
consolation) that after all money cannot buy life! I remember a curious
instance to the contrary of this. In the old days of sailing-packets a
country gentleman embarked for Ireland, and when a few miles from land
broke a bloodvessel through seasickness. A doctor on board pronounced
that he would certainly die before the completion of the voyage if it
was continued; whereupon the sick man's friends consulted with the
captain, who convoked the passengers, and persuaded them to accept
compensation in proportion to their needs for allowing the vessel to be
put back; which was accordingly done.

One of the most popular fictions of our time was even written with this
very moral, that life is unpurchasable. Yet nothing is more certain than
that life is often lost through want of money--that is, of the obvious
means to save it. In such a case how truly has it been written that 'the
destruction of the poor is their poverty'! This, however, is scarcely a
pinch, but, to those who have hearts to feel it, a wrench that 'divides
asunder the joints and the marrow.'

A nobler example, because a less personal one, of the pinch of poverty,
is when it prevents the accomplishment of some cherished scheme for the
benefit of the human race. I have felt such a one myself when in extreme
youth I was unable, from a miserable absence of means, to publish a
certain poem in several cantos. That the world may not have been much
better for it if I had had the means does not affect the question. It is
easy to be incredulous. Henry VII. of England did not believe in the
expectations of Columbus, and suffered for it, and his case may have
been similar to that of the seven publishers to whom I applied in vain.

A man with an invention on which he has spent his life, but has no means
to get it developed for the good of humanity--or even patented for
himself--must feel the pinch of poverty very acutely.

To sum up the matter, the longer I live, the more I am convinced that
the general view in respect to material means is a false one. That great
riches are a misfortune is quite true; the effect of them in the moral
sense (with here and there a glorious exception, however) is deplorable:
a shower of gold falling continuously upon any body (or soul) is as the
waters of a petrifying spring. But, on the other hand, the occasional
and precarious dripping of coppers has by no means a genial effect. If
the one recipient becomes hard as the nether millstone, the other (just
as after constant 'pinching' a limb becomes insensible) grows callous,
and also (though it seems like a contradiction in terms) sometimes
acquires a certain dreadful suppleness. Nothing is more monstrous than
the generally received opinion with respect to a moderate competence;
that 'fatal gift,' as it is called, which encourages idleness in youth
by doing away with the necessity for exertion. I never hear the same
people inveighing against great inheritances, which are much more open
to such objections. The fact is, if a young man is naturally indolent,
the spur of necessity will drive him but a very little way, while the
having enough to live upon is often the means of preserving his
self-respect. One constantly hears what humiliating things men will do
for money, whereas the truth is that they do them for the want of it.
It is not the temptation which induces them, but the pinch. 'Give
me neither poverty nor riches,' was Agur's prayer; 'feed me with
food convenient for me, lest I be full and deny Thee, and say, Who
is the Lord? or lest I be poor and steal.' And there are many
things--flatteries, disgraceful humiliations, hypocrisies--which are
almost as bad as stealing. One of the sharpest pinches of poverty to
some minds must be their inability (because of their dependency on him
and that of others upon them) to tell a man what they think of him.

Riches and poverty are of course but relative terms; but the happiest
material position in which a man can be placed is that of 'means with a
margin.' Then, however small his income may be, however it may behove
him to 'cut and contrive,' as the housekeepers call it, he does not feel
the pinch of poverty. I have known a rich man say to an acquaintance of
this class, 'My good friend, if you only knew how very small are the
pleasures my money gives me which you yourself cannot purchase!' And for
once it was not one of those cheap and empty consolations which the
wealthy are so ready to bestow upon their less fortunate
fellow-creatures. Dives was, in that instance, quite right in his
remark; only we must remember he was not speaking to Lazarus. 'A dinner
of herbs where love is,' is doubtless quite sufficient for us; only
there must be enough of it, and the herbs should be nicely cooked in an
omelette.



_THE LITERARY CALLING AND ITS FUTURE._


One would think that in writing about literary men and matters there
would be no difficulty in finding a title for one's essay, or that any
embarrassment which might arise would be from excess of material. I find
this, however, far from being the case. 'Men of Letters,' for example,
is a heading too classical and pretentious. I do indeed remember its
being used in these modern days by the sub-editor of a country paper,
who, having quarrelled with his proprietor, and reduced him to silence
by a violent kick in the abdomen, thus addressed him: 'I leave you and
your dirty work for ever, and start to-night for London, to take up my
proper position as a Man of Letters.' But this gentleman's case (and I
hope that of his proprietor) was an exceptional one. The term in general
is too ambitious and suggestive of the author of 'Cato,' for my humble
purpose. 'Literature as a Profession,' again, is open to objection on
the question of fact. The professions do not admit literature into their
brotherhood. 'Literature, Science, and Art' are all spoken of in the
lump, and rather contemptuously (like 'reading, writing, and
arithmetic'), and have no settled position whatever. In a book of
precedence, however--a charming class of work, and much more full of
humour than the peerage--I recently found indicated for the first time
the relative place of Literature in the social scale. After a long list
of Eminent Personages and Notables, the mere perusal of which was
calculated to bring the flush of pride into my British cheek, I found at
the very bottom these remarkable words, 'Burgesses, Literary Persons,
and others.' Lest haughtiness should still have any place in the breasts
of these penultimates of the human race, the order was repeated in the
same delightful volume in still plainer fashion, 'Burgesses, Literary
Persons, etc.' It is something, of course, to take precedence--in going
down to dinner, for example--even of an et cetera; but who are
Burgesses? I have a dreadful suspicion they are not gentlemen. Are they
ladies? Did I ever meet a Burgess, I wonder, coming through the rye? At
all events, after so authoritative a statement of its social position, I
feel that to speak of Literature as a profession would be an hyperbole.

On the other hand, 'The Literary Calling' is not a title that satisfies
me. For the word 'calling' implies a certain fitness; in the religious
sense it has even more significance; and it cannot be denied that there
are a good many persons who devote--well, at least, their time to
literature, who can hardly be said to have 'a call' in that direction,
nor even so much as a whisper. At the same time I will venture to
observe, notwithstanding a great deal of high-sounding twaddle talked
and written to the contrary, that it is not necessary for a man to feel
any miraculous or even extraordinary attraction to this pursuit to
succeed in it very tolerably. I remember a now distinguished personage
(in another line) who had written a very successful work, expressing his
opinion to me that unless a certain divine afflatus animated a man, he
should never take up his pen to address the public. The writing for pay,
he added (he had at least £5,000 a year of his own), was the degradation
of literature. As I had written about a dozen books myself at the time,
and most decidedly with an eye to profit, and had never experienced much
afflatus, this remark discouraged me very much. However, as the
gentleman in question did essay another volume, which was so absolute
and distinct a failure that he promptly took up another line of business
(far above that of Burgesses), it is probable he altered his views.

Nature of course is the best guide in the matter of choosing a pursuit.
When she says 'This is your line, stick to it,' she seldom or never
makes a mistake. But, on the other hand, her speech must be addressed to
mature ears. For my part, I do not much believe in the predilections of
boyhood. I was never so simple as to wish to go to sea, but I do
remember (when between seven and eight) having a passionate longing to
become a merchant. I had no notion, however, of the preliminary stages;
the high stool in the close street; luncheon at a counter, standing (I
liked to have my meals good, plentiful, often, and in comfort, even
then); and imprisonment at the office on the eves of mail nights till
the large hours p.m. Even the full fruition of such aspirations--the
large waistcoat beginning to 'point,' (as it soon does in merchants),
heavy watchchain, and cheerful conviction of the coming scarcity of
necessaries for everybody else, would have failed to please. The sort of
merchant I wanted to be was never found in 'Post Office Directory,' but
in the 'Arabian Nights,' trading to Bussorah, chiefly in pearls and
diamonds. When the Paterfamiliases of my acquaintance instance certain
stenches and messes which their Toms and Harrys make with chemicals all
over their house, as a proof of 'their natural turn for engineering,' I
say, 'Very likely,' or 'A capital thing,' but I _think_ of that early
attraction of my own towards Bussorah. The young gentlemen never dream
of what I once heard described, in brief, as the real business life of a
scientific apprentice: 'To lie on your back with a candle in your hand,
while another fellow knocks nails into a boiler.'

Boys have rarely any special aptitude for anything practical beyond
punching each others' heads, or (and these are the clever ones) for
keeping their own heads unpunched. As a rule, in short, Nature is not
demonstrative as respects our professional future.

It must nevertheless be conceded that if the boy is ever father to the
man in this respect, it is in connection with literature. Also, however
prosaic their works are fated to be, it is curious that the aspirants
for the profession below Burgesses always begin with Poetry. Even
Harriet Martineau wrote verses in early life bad enough to comfort the
soul of any respectable parent. The approach to the Temple of Literary
Fame is almost always through double gates--couplets. And yet I have
known youthful poets, apparently bound for Paternoster Row, bolt off the
course in a year or two, to the delight of their friends, and become, of
their own free will, drysalters.

There is so much talk about the 'indications of immortality in early
childhood' (of a very different kind from those referred to by
Wordsworth), and it is so much the habit of biographers to use
magnifiers when their subject is small, that it needs some courage to
avow my belief that the tastes of boys have very little significance. A
clever boy can be trained to almost anything, and an ordinary boy will
not do one thing much better than another. With the Geniuses I will
allow (for the sake of peace and quietness) that Nature is all-powerful,
but with nine hundred and ninety-nine out of a thousand of us, Second
Nature, Use, is the true mistress; and what will doubtless strike some
people as almost paradoxical, but is nevertheless a fact, Literature is
the calling in which she has the greatest sway.

It is the fashion with that enormous class of people who don't know what
they are talking about, and who take up cuckoo-cries, to speak
contemptuously of modern literature, by which they mean (for they are
acquainted with little else) periodical literature. However small may be
its merits, it is at all events ten times as good as ancient periodical
literature used to be. A very much better authority than myself on such
a subject has lately informed us that the majority of the old essays in
the _Edinburgh Review_, at the very time when it was supposed to be most
'trenchant,' 'masterly,' 'exhaustive,' and a number of other splendid
epithets, are so dull and weak and ignorant, that it is impossible that
they or their congeners would now find acceptance in any periodical of
repute. And with regard to all other classes of old magazine literature,
this verdict is certainly most just.

Let us take what most people suppose to be 'the extreme case,' Magazine
Poetry. Of course there is to-day a great deal of rant and twaddle
published under the name of verse in magazines; yet I could point to
scores and scores of poems that have thus appeared during the last ten
years,[5] which half a century ago would have made--and deservedly have
made--a high reputation for their authors. Such phrases as 'universal
necessity for practical exertion,' 'prosaic character of the age,' etc.,
are, of course, common enough; but those who are acquainted with such
matters will, I am sure, corroborate my assertion that there was never
so much good poetry in our general literature as exists at present.
Persons of intelligence do not look for such things perhaps, and
certainly not in magazines, while persons of 'culture' are too much
occupied with old china and high art; but to humble folks, who take an
interest in their fellow-creatures, it is very pleasant to observe what
high thoughts, and how poetically expressed, are now to be found about
our feet, and, as it were, in the literary gutter. I don't compare these
writers with Byrons and Shelleys; I don't speak of them as born poets at
all. On the contrary, my argument is that second nature (cultivation,
opportunities of publication, etc.) has made them what they are; and it
is immensely creditable to her.

    [5] I take up a half-yearly volume of a magazine (price 1-1/2d.
    weekly) addressed to the middle classes, and find in it, at
    haphazard, the five following pieces, the authors of which are
    anonymous:

      AGATHA.

      'From under the shade of her simple straw hat
        She smiles at you, only a little shamefaced:
      Her gold-tinted hair m a long-braided plait
        Reaches on either side down to her waist.
      Her rosy complexion, a soft pink and white,
        Except where the white has been warmed by the sun,
      Is glowing with health and an eager delight,
        As she pauses to speak to you after her run.

      'See with what freedom, what beautiful ease,
        She leaps over hollows and mounds in berrace;
      Hear how she joyously laughs when the breeze
        Tosses her hat off, and blows in her face!
      It's only a play-gown of homeliest cotton
        She wears, that her finer silk dress may be saved;
      And happily, too, she has wholly forgotten
        The nurse and her charge to be better behaved.

      'Must a time come when this child's way of caring
        For only the present enjoyment shall pass;
      When she'll learn to take thought of the dress that she's wearing,
        And grow rather fond of consulting the glass?
      Well, never mind; nothing really can change her;
        Fair childhood will grow to as fair maidenhood;
      Her unselfish, sweet nature is safe from all danger;
        I know she will always be charming and good.

      'For when she takes care of a still younger brother,
        You see her stop short in the midst of her mirth,
      Gravely and tenderly playing the mother:
        Can there be anything fairer on earth?
      So proud of her charge she appears, so delighted;
        Of all her perfections (indeed, they're a host),
      This loving attention to others, united
        With naive self-unconsciousness, charms me the most.

      'What hearts that unthinkingly under short jackets
        Are beating to-day in a wonderful wise
      About racing, or jumping, or cricket, or rackets,
        One day will beat at a smile from those eyes!
      Ah, how I envy the one that shall win her,
        And see that sweet smile no ill-humour shall damp,
      Shining across the spread table at dinner,
        Or cheerfully bright in the light of the lamp.

      'Ah, little fairy! a very short while,
        Just once or twice, in a brief country stay,
      I saw you; but when will your innocent smile
        That I keep in my mem'ry have faded away?
      For when, in the midst of my trouble and doubt,
        I remember your face with its laughter and light,
      It's as if on a sudden the sun had shone out,
        And scattered the shadow, and made the world bright.'


      CHARTREUSE.

      (_Liqueur_.)

      'Who could refuse
      Green-eyed Chartieuse?
      Liquor for heretics,
      Turks, Christians, or Jews
      For beggar or queen,
      For monk or for dean;

      Ripened and mellow
      (The _green_, not the yellow),
      Give it its dues,
      Gay little fellow,
      Dressed up in green!
      I love thee too well, O
      Laughing Chartreuse!

      'O the delicate hues
      That thrill through the green!
      Colours which Greuze
      Would die to have seen!
      With thee would De Musset
      Sweeten his muse;
      Use, not abuse,
      Bright little fellow!
      (The green, _not_ the yellow.)
      O the taste and the smell! O
      Never refuse
      A kiss on the lips from
      Jealous Chartreuse!'


      THE LIFE-LEDGER.

      'Our sufferings we reckon o'er
        With skill minute and formal;
      The cheerful ease that fills the score
        We treat as merely normal.
      Our list of ills, how full, how great!
        We mourn our lot should fall so;
      I wonder, do we calculate
        Our happinesses also?

      'Were it not best to keep account
        Of all days, if of any?
      Perhaps the dark ones might amount
        To not so very many.
      Men's looks are nigh as often gay
        As sad, or even solemn:
      Behold, my entry for to-day
        Is in the "happy" column.'


      OCTOBER.

      'The year grows old; summer's wild crown of roses
        Has fallen and faded in the woodland ways;
      On all the earth a tranquil light reposes,
            Through the still dreamy days.

      'The dew lies heavy in the early morn,
         On grass and mosses sparkling crystal-fair;
      And shining threads of gossamer are borne
            Floating upon the air,

      'Across the leaf-strewn lanes, from bough to bough
         Like tissue woven in a fairy loom;
      And crimson-berried bryony garlands glow
            Through the leaf-tangled gloom.

      'The woods are still, but for the sudden fall
         Of cupless acorns dropping to the ground,
      Or rabbit plunging through the fern-stems tall,
            Half-startled by the sound.

      'And from the garden lawn comes, soft and clear,
         The robin's warble from the leafless spray,
      The low sweet Angelus of the dying year,
            Passing in light away.'


      PROSPERITY.

      'I doubt if the maxims the Stoic adduces
         Be true in the main, when they state
      That our nature's improved by adversity's uses,
         And spoilt by a happier fate.

      'The heart that is tried by misfortune and pain,
         Self-reliance and patience may learn;
      Yet worn by long waiting and wishing in vain,
         It often grows callous and stern.

      'But the heart that is softened by ease and contentment,
         Feels warmly and kindly t'wards all;
      And its charity, roused by no moody resentment,
         Embraces alike great and small.

      'So, although in the season of rain-storms and showers,
         The tree may strike deeper its roots,
      It needs the warm brightness of sunshiny hours
         To ripen the blossoms and fruits.'

    Observe, not only the genuine merit of these five pieces, but the
    variety in the tones of thought: then compare them with similar
    productions of the days, say, of the once famous L.E.L.

And what holds good of verse holds infinitely better in respect to
prose. The enormous improvement in our prose writers (I am not speaking
of geniuses, remember, but of the generality), and their great
superiority over writers of the same class half a century ago, is mainly
due to use. Sir Walter Scott, who, like most men of genuine power, had
great generosity, once observed to a brother author, 'You and I came
just in the nick of time.' He foresaw the formidable competition that
was about to take place, though he had no cause to fear it. I think in
these days he would have had cause; not that I disbelieve in his genius,
but that I venture to think he diffused it over too large an area. In
such cases genius is overpassed by the talent which husbands its
resources; in other words, Nature succumbs to second nature, as the wife
in the patriarchal days (when _she_ grew patriarchal) succumbed to the
handmaid. And after all, though we talk so glibly about genius, and
profess to feel, though we cannot express, in what it differs from
talent, are we quite so sure about this as we would fain persuade
ourselves? At all events, it cannot surely be contended that a man of
genius always writes like one; and when he does not, his work is often
inferior to the first-rate production of a man of talent. For my own
part, I am not sure whether (with the exception, perhaps, of the highest
gifts of song) the whole distinction is not fanciful.

We are ready enough in ordinary matters to allow that 'practice makes
perfect,' and the limit of that principle is yet to be found. Moreover,
the vast importance of exclusive application is almost unknown. We see
it, indeed, in men of science and in lawyers, but without recognition;
nay, socially, it is even quoted against them. The mathematician may be
very eminent, but we find him dry; the lawyer may be at the head of his
profession, but we find him dull; and it is observed on all sides how
very little great A and great B, notwithstanding the high position they
have earned for themselves in their calling, know of matters out of
their own line. On the other hand, the man of whom it was said that
'science was his forte and omniscience his foible,' has left no enduring
monument behind him; and so it must always be with mortals who have only
fifty years of thought allotted to them at the very most, and who
diffuse it. Everyone admits the value of application, but very few are
aware how its force is wasted by diffusion: it is like a volatile
essence in a bottle without a cork. When, on the other hand, it is
concentrated--you may call it 'narrowed' if you please--there is hardly
anything within its own sphere of action of which it is not capable. So
many high motives (though also some mean ones) prompt us to make broad
the bases of education, that any proposal to contract them must needs be
thankless and unpopular; but it is certain that, among the upper classes
at least, the reason why so many men are unable to make their way in the
world, is because, thanks to a too liberal education, they are Jacks of
all trades and masters of none; and even as Jacks they cut a very poor
figure.

How large and varied is the educational bill of fare set before every
young gentleman in Great Britain; and to judge by the mental stamina it
affords him in most cases, what a waste of good food it is! The dishes
are so numerous and so quickly changed, that he has no time to decide on
which he likes best. Like an industrious flea, rather than a bee, he
hops from flower to flower in the educational garden, without one
penny-worth of honey to show for it. And then--though I feel how
degrading it is to allude to so vulgar a matter--how high is the price
of admission to the feast in question! Its purveyors do not pretend to
have filled his stomach, but only to have put him in the way of filling
it for himself, whereas, unhappily, Paterfamilias discovers that that is
the very thing that they have not done. His young Hopeful at twenty-one
is almost as unable to run alone as when he first entered the nursery.
To discourse airily upon the beauties of classical education, and on the
social advantages of acquiring 'the tone' at a public school at whatever
cost, is an agreeable exercise of the intelligence; but such arguments
have been taken too seriously, and the result is that our young
gentlemen are incapable of gaining their own living. It is not only that
'all the gates are thronged with suitors, all the markets overflow,' but
even when the candidates are so fortunate as to attain admittance, they
are still a burden upon their fathers for years, from having had no
especial preparation for the work they have to do. Folks who can afford
to spend £250 a year on their sons at Eton or Harrow, and to add another
fifty or two for their support at the universities, do not feel this;
but those who have done it without affording it--_i.e._, by cutting and
contriving, if not by pinching and saving--feel their position very
bitterly. There are hundreds of clever young men who are now living at
home and doing nothing--or work that pays nothing, and even costs
something for doing it--who might be earning very tolerable incomes by
their pen if they only knew how, and had not wasted their young wits on
Greek plays and Latin verses; nor do I find that the attractions of such
objects of study are permanent, or afford the least solace to these
young gentlemen in their enforced leisure.

The idea of bringing young people up to Literature is doubtless
calculated to raise the eyebrows almost as much as the suggestion of
bringing them up to the Stage. The notions of Paterfamilias in this
respect are very much what they were fifty years ago. 'What! put my boy
in Grub Street? I would rather see him in his coffin.' In his mind's eye
he beholds Savage on his bunk and Chatterton on his deathbed. He does
not know that there are many hundreds of persons of both sexes who have
found out this vocation for themselves, and are diligently pursuing
it--under circumstances of quite unnecessary difficulty--to their
material advantage. He is unaware that the conditions of literature in
England have been as completely changed within a single generation as
those of locomotion.

There are, it is true, at present no great prizes in literature such as
are offered by the learned professions, but there are quite as many
small ones--competences; while, on the other hand, it is not so much of
a lottery. It is not necessary to marry an attorney's daughter, or a
bishop's, to get on in it. The calling, as it is termed (I know not why,
for it is often heavy enough), of 'light literature' is in such
contempt, through ignorance on the one hand, and arrogance on the other,
that one is almost afraid in such a connection to speak of merit; yet
merit, or, at all events, aptitude with diligence, is certain of success
in it. A great deal has been said about editors being blind to the worth
of unknown authors; but if so, they must be also blind (and this I have
never heard said of them) to their own interests. It would be just as
reasonable to accuse a recruiting sergeant of passing by the stout
six-feet fellows who wish to enlist with him, and for each of
whom--directly or indirectly--he receives head-money. It is possible, of
course, that one particular sergeant may be drunken, or careless of his
own interests, but in that case the literary recruit has only to apply
next door. The opportunities for action in the field of literature are
now so very numerous that it is impossible that any able volunteer
should be long shut out of it; and I have observed that the complaints
about want of employment come almost solely from those unfit for
service. Nay, in the ranks of the literaryarmy there are very many who
should have been excluded. Few, if any, are there through favour; but
the fact is, the work to be done is so extensive and so varied, that
there is not a sufficiency of good candidates to do it. And of what is
called 'skilled labour' among them there is scarcely any.

The question 'What can you do?' put by an editor to an aspirant,
generally astonishes him very much. The aspirant is ready to do
anything, he says, which the other will please to suggest. 'But what is
your line in literature? What can you do best--not tragedies in blank
verse, I hope?' Perhaps the aspirant here hangs his head; he _has_
written tragedies. In which case there is good hope for him, because it
shows a natural bent. But he generally replies that he has written
nothing as yet except that essay on the genius of Cicero (at which the
editor has already shaken his head), and that defence of Mary Queen of
Scots. Or perhaps he has written some translations of Horace, which he
is surprised to find not a novelty; or some considerations upon the
value of a feudal system. At four-and-twenty, in short, he is but an
overgrown schoolboy. He has been taught, indeed, to acquire knowledge of
a certain sort, but not the habit of acquiring; he has been taught to
observe nothing; he is ignorant upon all the subjects that interest his
fellow-creatures, and in his new ambition is like one who endeavours to
attract an audience without having anything to tell them. He knows some
Latin, a little Greek, a very little French, and a very very little of
what are called the English classics. He has read a few recent novels
perhaps, but of modern English literature, and of that (to him at least)
most important branch of it, English journalism, he knows nothing. His
views and opinions are those of a public school, which are by no means
in accordance with those of the great world of readers; or he is full of
the class prejudices imbibed at college. In short, he may be as vigorous
as a Zulu, with the materials of a first-rate soldier in him, but his
arms are only a club and an assegai, and are of no service. Why should
he not be fitted out in early life with literary weapons of precision,
and taught the use of them?

I say, again, that poor Paterfamilias looking hopelessly about him, like
Quintus Curtius in the riddle, for 'a nice opening for a young man,' is
totally ignorant of the opportunities, if not for fame and fortune, at
least for competency and comfort, that Literature now offers to a clever
lad. He looks round him; he sees the Church leading nowhere, with much
greater certainty of expense than income, and demanding a huge sum for
what is irreverently termed 'gate money;' he sees the Bar, with its high
road leading indeed to the woolsack, but with a hundred by-ways leading
nowhere in particular, and full of turnpikes--legal tutors, legal fees,
rents of chambers, etc.--which he has to defray; he sees Physic, at
which Materfamilias sniffs and turns her nose up. 'Her Jack, with such
agreeable manners, to become a saw-bones! Never!' He sees the army, and
thinks, since Jack has such great abilities, it seems a pity to give him
a red coat, which costs also considerably more than a black one; And how
is Jack to live upon his pay?

After all, indeed, however prettily one puts it, the question is with
him, not so much '_What_ is my Jack to be?' as '_How_ is my Jack to
live?' To one who has any gift of humour there are few things more
amusing than to observe how this vulgar, but really rather important
inquiry, is ignored by those who take the subject of modern education in
hand. They are chiefly schoolmasters, who are not so deep in their books
but that they can spare a glance or two in the direction of their
banker's account; or fellows of colleges who have no children, and
therefore never feel the difficulties of supporting them. Heaven forbid
that so humble an individual as myself should question their wisdom, or
say anything about them that should seem to smack of irreverence; but I
do believe that (with one or two exceptions I have in my mind) the
system they have introduced among us is the Greatest Humbug in the
universe. In the meantime poor Paterfamilias (who is the last man, they
flatter themselves, to find this out) stands with his hands (and very
little else) in his pockets, regarding his clever offspring, and
wondering what he shall do with him. He remembers to have read about a
man on his deathbed, who calls his children about him and thanks God,
though he has left them nothing to live upon, he has given them a good
education, and tries to extract comfort from the reminiscence. That he
has spent money enough upon Jack's education is certain; something
between two or three thousand pounds in all at least, the interest of
which, it strikes him, would be very convenient just now to keep him.
But unfortunately the principal is gone and Jack isn't.

Now suppose--for one may suppose anything, however ridiculous--he had
spent two or three hundred pounds at the very most, and brought him up
to the Calling of Literature. He believes, perhaps, that it is only
geniuses that succeed in it (in which case I know more geniuses than I
had any idea of), and he doesn't think Jack a genius, though Jack's
mother does. Or, as is more probable, he regards it as a hand-to-mouth
calling, which to-day gives its disciples a five-pound note, and
to-morrow five pence. He calls to mind a saying about Literature being a
good stick, but not a good crutch--an excellent auxiliary, but no
permanent support; but he forgets the all-important fact that the remark
was made half a century ago.

Poor blind Paterfamilias--shall I couch you? If the operation is
successful, I am sure you will thank me for it; but, on the other hand,
I foresee I shall incur the greatest enmities. Should I encourage clever
Jack, and, what is worse, a thousand Jacks who are not clever, to enter
upon this vocation, what will editors say to me? I shall have to go
about, perhaps, guarded with two policemen with revolvers, like an Irish
gentleman on his landed estate. 'Is not the flood of rubbish to which we
are already subjected,' I hear them crying, 'bad enough, without your
pulling up the sluices of universal stupidity?' My suggestion, however,
is intended to benefit them by clearing away the rubbish, and inducing a
clearer and deeper stream for the turning of their mills. At the same
time I confess that the lessening of Paterfamilias's difficulties is my
main object. What I would open his eyes to is the fact that a calling,
of the advantages of which he has no knowledge, _does_ present itself to
clever Jack, which will cost him nothing but pens, ink, and paper to
enter upon, and in which, if he has been well trained for it, he will
surely be successful, since so many succeed in it without any training
at all. Why should not clever Jack have this in view as much as the
_ignes fatui_ of woolsacks and mitres? If it has no lord
chancellorships, it has plenty of county court appointments; if it has
no bishoprics, it has plenty of benefices--and really, as times go, some
pretty fat ones.

On your breakfast-table, good Paterfamilias, there lies, every morning,
a newspaper, and on Saturday perhaps there are two or three. When you go
out in the street, you are pestered to buy half a score more of them. In
your club reading-room there are a hundred different journals. When you
travel by the railway you see at every station a provincial newspaper of
more or less extensive circulation. Has it never struck you that to
supply these publications with their leading articles, there must be an
immense staff of persons called journalists, professing every
description of opinion, and advocating every conceivable policy? And do
you suppose these gentry only get £70 a year for their work, like a
curate; or £60, like a sub-lieutenant; or that they have to pay three
times those sums for the privilege of belonging to the press, as a
barrister does for belonging to his inn? Again, in London at least,
there are as many magazines as newspapers, containing every kind of
literature, the very contributors of which are so numerous, that they
form a public of themselves. That seems at the first blush to militate
against my suggestion, but though contributors are so common, and upon
the whole so good--indeed, considering the conditions under which they
labour, so wonderfully good--they are not (I have heard editors say) so
good as they might be, supposing (for example) they knew a little of
science, history, politics, English literature, and especially of the
art of composition, before they volunteered their services. At present
the ranks of journalistic and periodical literature are largely
recruited from the failures in other professions. The bright young
barrister who can't get a brief takes to literature as a calling, just
as the man who has 'gone a cropper' in the army takes to the wine-trade.
And what æons of time, and what millions of money, have been wasted in
the meanwhile!

The announcement written on the gates of all the recognised professions
in England is the same that would-be travellers read on the faces of the
passengers on the underground railway after office hours: 'Our number is
complete, and our room is limited.' In literature, on the contrary,
though its vehicles may seem as tightly packed, substitution can be
effected. There may be persons travelling on that line in the
first-class who ought to be in the third, and indeed have no reasonable
pretext for being there at all. And if clever Jack could show his
ticket, he would turn them out of it.

Again, so far from the space being limited, it is continually enlarging,
and that out of all proportion to those who have tickets. We hear from
its enemies that the Church is doomed, and from its friends that it is
in danger; there is a small but energetic party who are bent on reducing
the Army, and even on doing away with it; nay, so wicked and
presumptuous has human nature grown, that mutterings are heard and
menaces uttered against the delay and exactions of the Law itself;
whereas Literature has no foes, and is enlarging its boundaries in all
directions. It is all 'a-growing and a-blowing,' as the peripatetic
gardeners say of their plants; but, unlike their wares, it has its roots
deep in the soil and is an evergreen. Its promise is golden, and its
prospects are boundless for every class of writer.

In some excellent articles on Modern Literature in _Blackwood's
Magazine_ the other day, this subject was touched upon with respect to
fiction, and might well have filled a greater space, for the growth of
that description of literature of late years is simply marvellous.
Curiously enough, though France originated the _feuilleton_, it was from
America and our own colonies that England seems to have taken the idea
of publishing novels in newspapers. It was a common practice in
Australia long before we adopted it; and, what is also curious, it was
first acclimatised among us by our provincial papers. The custom is
rapidly gaining ground in London, but in the country there is now
scarcely any newspaper of repute which does not enlist the aid of
fiction to attract its readers. Many of them are contented with very
poor stuff, for which they pay a proportional price; but others club
together with other newspapers--the operation has even received the
technical term of 'forming a syndicate'--and are thereby enabled to
secure the services of popular authors; while the newspapers thus
arranged for are published at a good distance from one another, so as
not to interfere with each other's circulation. Country journals, which
are not so ambitious, instead of using an inferior article, will often
purchase the 'serial right,' as it is called, of stories which have
already appeared elsewhere, or have passed through the circulating
libraries. Nay, the novelist who has established a reputation has many
more strings to his bow: his novel, thus published in the country
newspapers, also appears coincidently in the same serial shape in
Australia, Canada, and other British colonies, leaving the three-volume
form and the cheap editions 'to the good.' And what is true of fiction
is in a less degree true of other kinds of literature. Travels are
'gutted,' and form articles in magazines, illustrated by the original
plates; lectures, after having served their primary purpose, are
published in a similar manner; even scientific works now appear first in
the magazines which are devoted to science before performing their
mission of 'popularising' their subject.

When speaking of the growth of readers, I have purposely not mentioned
America. For the present the absence of copyright there is destroying
both author and publisher; but the wheels of justice, though tardy, are
making way there. In a few years that great continent of readers will be
legitimately added to the audience of the English author, and those that
have stolen will steal no more.

Nor, in our own country, must we fail to take notice of the
establishment of School Boards. A generation hence we shall have a
reading public almost as numerous as in America; even the very lowest
classes will have acquired a certain culture which will beget demands
both for journalists and 'literary persons.' The harvest will be
plenteous indeed, but unless my advice be followed in some shape or
another, the labourers will be comparatively few and superlatively
inadequate.

I am well aware how mischievous, as well as troublesome, would be the
encouragement of mediocrity; and in stating these promising facts I have
no such purpose in my mind. On the contrary, there is an immense amount
of mediocrity already in literature, which I think my proposition of
training up 'clever Jack' to that calling would discourage. I have no
expectation of establishing a manufactory for genius--and indeed, for
reasons it is not necessary to specify, I would not do it if I could.
But whereas all kinds of 'culture' have been recommended to the youth of
Great Britain (and certainly with no limit as to the expense of
acquisition), the cultivation of such natural faculties as imagination
and humour (for example) has never been suggested. The possibility of
such a thing will doubtless be denied. I am quite certain, however, that
they are capable of great development, and that they may be brought to
attain, if not perfection, at all events a high degree of excellence.
The proof, to those who choose to look for it, is plain enough even as
matters stand. Use and opportunity are already producing scores of
examples of it; if supplemented by early education they might surely
produce still more.

There is so great and general a prejudice against special studies, that
I must humbly conclude there is something in it. On the other hand, I
know a large number of highly--that is broadly--educated persons, who
are desperately dull. 'But would they have been less dull,' it may be
asked, 'if they were also ignorant?' Yes, I believe they would. They
have swallowed too much for digestions naturally weak; they have become
inert, conceited, oppressive to themselves and others--Prigs. And I
think that even clever young people suffer in a less degree from the
same cause. Some one has written, 'Information is always useful.' This
reminds me of the married lady, fond of bargains, who once bought a
door-plate at a sale with 'Mr. Wilkins' on it. Her own name was Jones,
but the doorplate was very cheap, and her husband, she argued, _might_
die, and then she might marry a man of the name of Wilkins. 'Depend upon
it, everything comes in useful,' she said, 'if you only keep it long
enough.'

This is what I venture to doubt. I have myself purchased several
door-plates (quite as burthensome, but not so cheap as that good
lady's), which have been of no sort of use to me, and are still on hand.



_STORY-TELLING._


The most popular of English authors has given us an account of what
within his experience (and it was a large one) was the impression among
the public at large of the manner in which his work was done. They
pictured him, he says,

  as a radiant personage whose whole time is devoted to idleness and
  pastime; who keeps a prolific mind in a sort of corn-sieve and lightly
  shakes a bushel of it out sometimes in an odd half-hour after
  breakfast. It would amaze their incredulity beyond all measure to
  be told that such elements as patience, study, punctuality,
  determination, self-denial, training of mind and body, hours of
  application and seclusion to produce what they read in seconds,
  enter in such a career ... correction and recorrection in the blotted
  manuscript; consideration; new observations; the patient massing of
  many reflections, experiences, and imaginings for one minute purpose;
  and the patient separation from the heap of all the fragments that
  will unite to serve it--these would be unicorns and griffins to
  them--fables altogether.

And as it was, a quarter of a century ago, when those words were
written, so it is now: the phrase of 'light literature' as applied to
fiction having once been invented, has stuck, with a vengeance, to those
who profess it.

Yet to 'make the thing that is not as the thing that is' is not (though
it may seem to be the same thing) so easy as lying.

Among a host of letters received in connection with an article published
in the _Nineteenth Century_, entitled 'The Literary Calling and its
Future,' and which testify in a remarkable manner to the pressing need
(therein alluded to) of some remunerative vocation among the so-called
educated classes, there are many which are obviously written under the
impression that Dogberry's view of writing coming 'by nature' is
especially true of the writing of fiction. Because I ventured to hint
that the study of Greek was not essential to the calling of a
story-teller, or of a contributor to the periodicals, or even of a
journalist, these gentlemen seem to jump to the conclusion that the less
they know of anything the better. Nay, some of them, discarding all
theories (in the fashion that Mr. Carlyle's heroes are wont to discard
all formulas), proceed to the practical with quite an indecent rapidity;
they treat my modest hints for their instruction as so much verbiage,
and myself as a mere convenient channel for the publication of their
lucubrations. 'You talk of a genuine literary talent being always
appreciated by editors,' they write (if not in so many words by
implication); 'well, here is an admirable specimen of it (enclosed), and
if your remarks are worth a farthing you will get it published for us,
somewhere or another, _instanter_, and hand us over the cheque for it.
Nor are even these the most unreasonable of my correspondents; for a
few, with many acknowledgments for my kindness in having provided a
lucrative profession for them, announce their intention of throwing up
their present less congenial callings, and coming up to London (one very
literally from the Land's End) to live upon it, or, that failing (as
there is considerable reason to expect it will), upon _me_.

With some of these correspondents, however, it is impossible
(independent of their needs) not to feel an earnest sympathy; they have
evidently not only aspirations, but considerable mental gifts, though
these have unhappily been cultivated to such little purpose for the
object they have in view that they might almost as well have been left
untilled. In spite of what I ventured to urge respecting the advantage
of knowing 'science, history, politics, English literature, and the art
of composition,' they 'don't see why' they shouldn't get on without
them. Especially with those who aspire to write fiction (which, by its
intrinsic attractiveness no less than by the promise it affords of
golden grain, tempts the majority), it is quite pitiful to note how they
cling to that notion of 'the corn-sieve,' and cannot be persuaded that
story-telling requires an apprenticeship like any other calling. They
flatter themselves that they can weave plots as the spider spins his
thread from (what let us delicately term) his inner consciousness, and
fondly hope that intuition will supply the place of experience. Some of
them, with a simplicity that recalls the days of Dick Whittington, think
that 'coming up to London' is the essential step to this line of
business, as though the provinces contained no fellow-creatures worthy
to be depicted by their pen, or as though, in the metropolis, Society
would at once exhibit itself to them without concealment, as fashionable
beauties bare themselves to the photographers.

This is, of course, the laughable side of the affair, but, to me at
least, it has also a serious one; for, to my considerable embarrassment
and distress, I find that my well-meaning attempt to point out the
advantages of literature as a profession has received a much too free
translation, and implanted in many minds hopes that are not only
sanguine but Utopian.

For what was written in the essay alluded to I have nothing to reproach
myself with, for I told no more than the truth. Nor does the
unsettlement of certain young gentleman's futures (since by their own
showing they were to the last degree unstable to begin with) affect me
so much as their parents and guardians appear to expect; but I am sorry
to have shaken however undesignedly, the 'pillars of domestic peace' in
any case, and desirous to make all the reparation in my power. I regret
most heartily that I am unable to place all literary aspirants in places
of emolument and permanency out of hand; but really (with the exception
perhaps of the Universal Provider in Westbourne Grove) this is hardly to
be expected of any man. The gentleman who raised the devil, and was
compelled to furnish occupation for him, affords in fact the only
appropriate parallel to my unhappy case. 'If you can do nothing to
provide my son with another place,' writes one indignant Paterfamilias,
'at least you owe it to him' (as if I, and not Nature herself, had made
the lad dissatisfied with his high stool in a solicitor's office!) 'to
give him some practical hints by which he may become a successful writer
of fiction.'

One would really think that this individual imagined story-telling to be
a sort of sleight-of-hand trick, and that all that is necessary to the
attainment of the art is to learn 'how it's done.' I should not like to
say that I have known any members of my own profession who are 'no
conjurors,' but it is certainly not by conjuring that they have
succeeded in it.

'You talk of the art of composition,' writes, on the other hand, another
angry correspondent, 'as though it were one of the exact sciences; you
might just as well advise your "clever Jack" to study the art of playing
the violin.' So that one portion of the public appears to consider the
calling of literature mechanical, while another holds it to be a soft of
divine instinct!

Since the interest in this subject proves to be so wide-spread, I trust
it will not be thought presumptuous in me to offer my own humble
experience in this matter for what it is worth. To the public at large a
card of admission to my poor manufactory of fiction--a 'very one-horse
affair,' as an American gentleman, with whom I had a little difficulty
concerning copyright, once described it--may not afford the same
satisfaction as a ticket for the private view of the Royal Academy; but
the stings of conscience urge me to make to Paterfamilias what amends in
the way of 'practical hints' lie in my power, for the wrong I have done
to his offspring; and I therefore venture to address to those whom it
may concern, and to those only, a few words on the Art of Story-telling.

The chief essential for this line of business, yet one that is much
disregarded by many young writers, is the having a story to tell. It is
a common supposition that the story will come if you only sit down with
a pen in your hand and wait long enough--a parallel case to that which
assigns one cow's tail as the measure of distance between this planet
and the moon. It is no use 'throwing off' a few brilliant ideas at the
commencement, if they are only to be 'passages that lead to nothing;'
you must have distinctly in your mind at first what you intend to say at
last. 'Let it be granted,' says a great writer (though not one
distinguished in fiction), 'that a straight line be drawn from any one
point to any other point;' only you must have the 'other point' to begin
with, or you can't draw the line. So far from being 'straight,' it goes
wabbling aimlessly about like a wire fastened at one end and not at the
other, which may dazzle, but cannot sustain; or rather what it does
sustain is so exceedingly minute, that it reminds one of the minnow
which the inexperienced angler flatters himself he has caught, but which
the fisherman has in fact previously put on his hook for bait.

This class of writer is not altogether unconscious of the absence of
dramatic interest in his composition. He writes to his editor (I have
read a thousand such letters): 'It has been my aim, in the enclosed
contribution, to steer clear of the faults of the sensational school of
fiction, and I have designedly abstained from stimulating the
unwholesome taste for excitement.' In which high moral purpose he has
undoubtedly succeeded; but, unhappily, in nothing else. It is quite true
that some writers of fiction neglect 'story' almost entirely, but then
they are perhaps the greatest writers of all. Their genius is so
transcendent that they can afford to dispense with 'plot;' their humour,
their pathos, and their delineation of human nature are amply
sufficient, without any such meretricious attraction; whereas our too
ambitious young friend is in the position of the needy knife-grinder,
who has not only no story to tell, but in lieu of it only holds up his
coat and breeches 'torn in the scuffle'--the evidence of his desperate
and ineffectual struggles with literary composition. I have known such
an aspirant to instance Miss Gaskell's 'Cranford' as a parallel to the
backboneless flesh-and-bloodless creation of his own immature fancy, and
to recommend the acceptance of the latter upon the ground of their
common rejection of startling plot and dramatic situation. The two
compositions have certainly _that_ in common; and the flawless diamond
has some things, such as mere sharpness and smoothness, in common with
the broken beer-bottle.

Many young authors of the class I have in my mind, while more modest as
respects their own merits, are even still less so as regards their
expectations from others. 'If you will kindly furnish me with a
subject,' so runs a letter now before me, 'I am sure I could do very
well; my difficulty is that I never can think of anything to write
about. Would you be so good as to oblige me with a plot for a novel?' It
would have been infinitely more reasonable of course, and much cheaper,
for me to grant it, if the applicant had made a request for my watch and
chain;[6] but the marvel is that folks should feel any attraction
towards a calling for which Nature has denied them even the raw
materials. It is true that there are some great talkers who have
manifestly nothing to say, but they don't ask their hearers to supply
them with a topic of conversation in order to be set agoing.

    [6] To compare small things with great, I remember Sir Walter
    Scott being thus applied to for some philanthropic object.
    'Money,' said the applicant, who had some part proprietorship in a
    literary miscellany, 'I don't ask for, since I know you have many
    claims upon your purse; but would you write us a little paper
    gratuitously for the "Keepsake"?'

'My great difficulty,' the would-be writer of fiction often says, 'is
how to begin;' whereas in fact the difficulty arises rather from his not
knowing how to end. Before undertaking the management of a train,
however short, it is absolutely necessary to know its destination.
Nothing is more common than to hear it said that an author 'does not
know where to stop;' but how much more deplorable is the position of the
passengers when there is no terminus whatsoever! They feel their
carriage 'slowing,' and put their heads expectantly out of window, but
there is no platform--no station. When they took their tickets, they
understood that they were 'booked through' to the _dénouement_, and
certainly had no idea of having been brought so far merely to admire the
scenery, for which only a very few care the least about.

As a rule, anyone who can tell a good story can write one, so there
really need be no mistake about his qualification; such a man will be
careful not to be wearisome, and to keep his point, or his catastrophe,
well in hand. Only, in writing, there is necessarily greater art.
_There_ expansion is of course absolutely necessary; but this is not to
be done, like spreading gold leaf, by flattening out good material.
_That_ is 'padding,' a device as dangerous as it is unworthy; it is much
better to make your story a pollard--to cut it down to a mere
anecdote--than to get it lost in a forest of verbiage. No line of it,
however seemingly discursive, should be aimless, but should have some
relation to the matter in hand; and if you find the story interesting to
yourself notwithstanding that you know the end of it, it will certainly
interest the reader.

The manner in which a good story grows under the hand is so remarkable,
that no tropic vegetation can show the like of it. For, consider, when
you have got your germ--the mere idea, not half a dozen lines
perhaps--which is to form your plot, how small a thing it is compared
with, say, the thousand pages which it has to occupy in the three-volume
novel! Yet to the story-teller the germ is everything. When I was a very
young man--a quarter of a century ago, alas!--and had very little
experience in these matters, I was reading on a coachbox (for I read
everywhere in those days) an account of some gigantic trees; one of them
was described as sound outside, but within, for many feet, a mass of
rottenness and decay. If a boy should climb up birdsnesting into the
fork of it, thought I, he might go down feet first and hands overhead,
and never be heard of again. How inexplicable too, as well as
melancholy, such a disappearance would be! Then, 'as when a great
thought strikes along the brain and flushes all the cheek,' it struck me
what an appropriate end it would be--with fear (lest he should turn up
again) instead of hope for the fulcrum to move the reader--for a bad
character of a novel. Before I had left the coachbox I had thought out
'Lost Sir Massingberd.'

The character was drawn from life, but unfortunately from hearsay; he
had flourished--to the great terror of his neighbours--two generations
before me, so that I had to be indebted to others for his portraiture,
which was a great disadvantage. It was necessary that the lost man
should be an immense scoundrel to prevent pity being excited by the
catastrophe, and at that time I did not know any very wicked people. The
book was a successful one, but it needs no critic to point out how much
better the story might have been told. The interest in the gentleman,
buried upright in his oak coffin, is inartistically weakened by other
sources of excitement; like an extravagant cook, the young author is apt
to be too lavish with his materials, and in after days, when the larder
is more difficult to fill, he bitterly regrets it. The representation of
a past time I also found it very difficult to compass, and I am
convinced that for any writer to attempt such a thing, when he can avoid
it, is an error in judgment. The author who undertakes to resuscitate
and clothe with flesh and blood the dry bones of his ancestors, has
indeed this advantage, that, however unlifelike his characters may be,
there is no one in a position to prove it; it is not 'a difference of
opinion between himself and twelve of his fellow-countrymen,' or a
matter on which he can be condemned by overwhelming evidence; but, on
the other hand, he creates for himself unnecessary difficulties. I will
add, for the benefit of those literary aspirants to whom these remarks
are especially addressed--a circumstance which, I hope, will be taken as
an excuse for the writing of my own affairs at all, which would
otherwise be an unpardonable presumption--that these difficulties are
not the worst of it; for when the novel founded on the Past has been
written, it will not be read by a tenth of those who would read it if it
were a novel of the Present.

Even at the date I speak of, however, I was not so young as to attempt
to create the characters of a story out of my own imagination, and I
believe that the whole of its _dramatis personae_ (except the chief
personage) were taken from the circle of my own acquaintance. This is a
matter, by-the-bye, on which considerable judgment and good taste have
to be exercised; for if the likeness of the person depicted is
recognisable by his friends (he never recognises it by any chance
himself), or still more by his enemies, it is no longer a sketch from
life, but a lampoon. It will naturally be asked by some: 'But if you
draw the man to the life, how can he fail to be known?' For this there
is the simplest remedy. You describe his character, but under another
skin; if he is tall you make him short, if dark, fair; or you make such
alterations in his circumstances as shall prevent identification, while
retaining them to a sufficient extent to influence his behaviour. In the
framework which most (though not all) skilled workmen draw of their
stories before they begin to furnish them with so much even as a
door-mat, the real name of each individual to be described should be
placed (as a mere aid to memory) by the side of that under which he
appears in the drama; and I would strongly recommend the builder to
write his real names in cipher; for I have known at least one instance
in which the entire list of the _dramatis personae_ of a novel was
carried off by a person more curious than conscientious, and afterwards
revealed to those concerned--a circumstance which, though it increased
the circulation of the story, did not add to the personal popularity of
the author.

If a story-teller is prolific, the danger of his characters coinciding
with those of people in real life who are unknown to him is much greater
than would be imagined; the mere similarity of name may of course be
disregarded; but when in addition to that there is also a resemblance of
circumstance, it is difficult to persuade the man of flesh and blood
that his portrait is an undesigned one. The author of 'Vanity Fair'
fell, in at least one instance, into a most unfortunate mistake of this
kind; while a not less popular author even gave his hero the same name
and place in the Ministry which were (subsequently) possessed by a
living politician.

It is better, however, for his own reputation that the story-teller
should risk a few actions for libel on account of these unfortunate
coincidences than that he should adopt the melancholy device of using
blanks or asterisks. With the minor novelists of a quarter of a century
ago it was quite common to introduce their characters as Mr. A and Mr.
B, and very difficult their readers found it to interest themselves in
the fortunes and misfortunes of an initial:

  It was in the summer of the year 18--, and the sun was setting behind
  the low western hills beneath which stands the town of C; its dying
  gleams glistened on the weather-cock of the little church, beneath
  whose tower two figures were standing, so deep in shadow that little
  more could be made out concerning them save that they were young
  persons of the opposite sex. The elder and taller, however, was the
  fascinating Lord B; the younger (presenting a strong contrast to her
  companion in social position, but yet belonging to the true nobility
  of nature) was no other than the beautiful Patty G, the cobbler's
  daughter.

This style of narrative should be avoided.

Another difficulty of the story-teller, and one unhappily in which no
advice can be of much service to him, is how to describe the lapse of
time and of locomotion. To the dramatist nothing is easier than to print
in the middle of his playbill, 'Forty years are here supposed to have
elapsed;' or 'Scene I.: A drawing-room in Mayfair; Scene II.:
Greenland.' But the story-teller has to describe how these little
changes are effected, without being able to take his readers into his
confidence.[7] He can't say, 'Gentle reader, please to imagine that the
winter is over, and the summer has come round since the conclusion of
our last chapter.' Curiously enough, however, the lapse of years is far
easier to suggest than that of hours; and locomotion from Islington to
India than the act, for instance, of leaving the room. If passion enters
into the scene, and your heroine can be represented as banging the door
behind her, and bringing down the plaster from the ceiling, the thing is
easy enough, and may be even made a dramatic incident; but to describe,
without baldness, Jones rising from the tea-table and taking his
departure in cold blood, is a much more difficult business than you may
imagine. When John the footman has to enter and interrupt a conversation
on the stage, the audience see him come and go, and think nothing of it;
but to inform the reader of your novel of a similar incident--and
especially of John's going--without spoiling the whole scene by the
introduction of the commonplace, requires (let me tell you) the touch of
a master.

    [7] That last, indeed, is a thing which, with all deference to
    some great names in fiction, should in my judgment never be done.
    It is hard enough for him as it is to simulate real life, without
    the poor showman's reaching out from behind the curtain to shake
    hands with his audience.

When you have got the outline of your plot, and the characters that seem
appropriate to play in it, you turn to that so-called 'commonplace
book,' in which, if you know your trade, you will have set down anything
noteworthy and illustrative of human nature that has come under your
notice, and single out such instances as are most fitting; and finally
you will select your scene (or the opening one) in which your drama is
to be played. And here I may say, that while it is indispensable that
the persons represented should be familiar to you, it is not necessary
that the places should be; you should have visited them, of course, in
person, but it is my experience that for a description of the salient
features of any locality the less you stay there the better. The man who
has lived in Switzerland all his life can never describe it (to the
outsider) so graphically as the (intelligent) tourist; just as the man
who has science at his fingers' ends does not succeed so well as the man
with whom science has not yet become second nature, in making an
abstruse subject popular.

Nor is it to be supposed that a story with very accurate local colouring
cannot be written, the scenes of which are placed in a country which the
writer has never beheld. This requires, of course, both study and
judgment, but it can be done so as to deceive, if not the native, at
least the Englishman who has himself resided there. I never yet knew an
Australian who could be persuaded that the author of 'Never Too Late to
Mend' had not visited the underworld, or a sailor that he who wrote
'Hard Cash' had never been to sea. The fact is, information, concerning
which dull folks make so much fuss, can be attained by anybody who
chooses to spend his time that way; and by persons of intelligence (who
are not so solicitous to know how blacking is made) can be turned, in a
manner not dreamt of by cram-coaches, to really good account.

The general impression perhaps conveyed by the above remarks will be
that to those who go to work in the manner described--for many writers
of course have quite other processes--story-telling must be a mechanical
trade. Yet nothing can be farther from the fact. These preliminary
arrangements have the effect of so steeping the mind in the subject in
hand, that when the author begins his work he is already in a world
apart from his everyday one; the characters of his story people it; and
the events that occur to them are as material, so far as the writer is
concerned, as though they happened under his roof. Indeed, it is a
question for the metaphysician whether the professional story-teller has
not a shorter lease of life than his fellow-creatures, since, in
addition to his hours of sleep (of which he ought by rights to have much
more than the usual proportion), he passes a large part of his sentient
being outside the pale of ordinary existence. The reference to sleep 'by
rights' may possibly suggest to the profane that the storyteller has a
claim to it on the ground of having induced slumber in his
fellow-creatures; but my meaning is that the mental wear and tear caused
by work of this kind is infinitely greater than that produced by mere
application even to abstruse studies (as any doctor will witness), and
requires a proportionate degree of recuperation.

I do not pretend to quote the experience (any more than the mode of
composition) of other writers--though with that of most of my brethren
and superiors in the craft I am well acquainted--but I am convinced that
to work the brain at night in the way of imagination is little short of
an act of suicide. Dr. Treichler's recent warnings upon this subject are
startling enough, even as addressed to students, but in their
application to poets and novelists they have far greater significance.
It may be said that journalists (whose writings, it is whispered, have a
close connection with fiction) always write in the 'small hours,' but
their mode of life is more or less shaped to meet their exceptional
requirements; whereas we storytellers live like other people (only more
purely), and if we consume the midnight oil, use perforce another system
of illumination also--we burn the candle at both ends. A great novelist
who adopted this baneful practice and indirectly lost his life by it
(through insomnia) notes what is very curious, that notwithstanding his
mind was so occupied, when awake, with the creatures of his imagination,
he never dreamt of them; which I think is also the general experience.
But he does not tell us for how many hours _before_ he went to sleep,
and tossed upon his restless pillow till far into the morning, he was
unable to get rid of those whom his enchanter's wand had summoned.[8]
What is even more curious than the story-teller's never dreaming of the
shadowy beings who engross so much of his thoughts, is that (so far as
my own experience goes at least) when a story is once written and done
with, no matter how forcibly it may have interested and excited the
writer during its progress, it fades almost instantly from the mind, and
leaves, by some benevolent arrangement of nature, a _tabula rasa_--a
blank space for the next one. Everyone must recollect that anecdote of
Walter Scott, who, on hearing one of his own poems ('My hawk is tired of
perch and hood') sung in a London drawing-room, observed with innocent
approbation, 'Byron's, of course;' and so it is with us lesser folks. A
very humorous sketch might be given (and it would not be overdrawn) of
some prolific novelist getting hold, under some strange roof, of the
'library edition' of his own stories, and perusing them with great
satisfaction and many appreciative ejaculations, such as 'Now this _is_
good;' 'I wonder how it will end;' or 'George Eliot's, _of course_!

    [8] Speaking of dreams, the composition of Khubla Khan and of one
    or two other literary fragments during sleep has led to the belief
    that dreams are often useful to the writer of fiction; but in my
    own case, at least, I can recall but a single instance of it, nor
    have I ever heard of their doing one pennyworth of good to any of
    my contemporaries.

Although a good allowance of sleep is absolutely necessary for
imaginative brain work, long holidays are not so. I have noticed that
those who let their brains 'lie fallow,' as it is termed, for any
considerable time, are by no means the better for it; but, on the other
hand, some daily recreation, by which a genuine interest is excited and
maintained, is almost indispensable. It is no use to 'take up a book,'
and far less to attempt 'to refresh the machine,' as poor Sir Walter
did, by trying another kind of composition; what is needed is an
altogether new object for the intellectual energies, by which, though
they are stimulated, they shall not be strained.

Advice such as I have ventured to offer may seem 'to the general' of
small importance, but to those I am especially addressing it is worthy
of their attention, if only as the result of a personal experience
unusually prolonged; and I have nothing unfortunately but advice to
offer. To the question addressed to me with such _naïveté_ by so many
correspondents, 'How do you make your plots?' (as if they were
consulting the Cook's Oracle), I can return no answer. I don't know,
myself; they are sometimes suggested by what I hear or read, but more
commonly they suggest themselves unsought.

I once heard two popular story-tellers, A who writes seldom, but with
much ingenuity of construction, and B who is very prolific in pictures
of everyday life, discoursing on this subject.

'Your fecundity,' said A, 'astounds me; I can't think where you get your
plots from.'

'Plots?' replied B; 'oh! I don't trouble myself about _them_. To tell
you the truth, I generally take a bit of one of yours, which is amply
sufficient for my purpose.'

This was very wrong of B; and it is needless to say I do not quote his
system for imitation. A man should tell his own story without
plagiarism. As to Truth being stranger than Fiction, that is all
nonsense; it is a proverb set about by Nature to conceal her own want of
originality. I am not like that pessimist philosopher who assumed her
malignity from the fact of the obliquity of the ecliptic; but the truth
is, Nature is a pirate. She has not hesitated to plagiarise from even so
humble an individual as myself. Years after I had placed my wicked
baronet in his living tomb, she starved to death a hunter in Mexico
under precisely similar circumstances; and so late as last month she has
done the same in a forest in Styria. Nay, on my having found occasion in
a certain story ('a small thing, but my own') to get rid of the whole
wicked population of an island by suddenly submerging it in the sea,
what did Nature do? She waited for an insultingly short time (if her
idea was that the story would be forgotten), and then reproduced the
same circumstances on her own account (and without the least
acknowledgment) in the Indian seas. My attention was drawn to both these
breaches of copyright by several correspondents, but I had no redress,
the offender being beyond the jurisdiction of the Court of Chancery.

When the story-teller has finished his task and surmounted every
obstacle to his own satisfaction, he has still a difficulty to face in
the choice of a title. He may invent indeed an eminently appropriate
one, but it is by no means certain he will be allowed to keep it. Of
course he has done his best to steer clear of that borne by any other
novel; but among the thousands that have been brought out within the
last forty years, and which have been forgotten even if they were ever
known, how can he know whether the same name has not been hit upon? He
goes to Stationers' Hall to make inquiries; but--mark the usefulness of
that institution--he finds that books are only entered there under their
authors' names. His search is therefore necessarily futile, and he has
to publish his story under the apprehension (only too well founded, as I
have good cause to know) that the High Court of Chancery will prohibit
its sale upon the ground of infringement of title.



_PENNY FICTION._


It is now nearly a quarter of a century ago since a popular novelist
revealed to the world in a well-known periodical the existence of the
'Unknown Public;' and a very curious revelation it was. He showed us
that the few thousands of persons who had hitherto imagined themselves
to be the public--so far, at least, as their being the arbiters of
popularity in respect to writers of fiction was concerned--were in fact
nothing of the kind; that the subscribers to the circulating libraries,
the members of book clubs, the purchasers of magazines and railway
novels, might indeed have their favourites, but that these last were
'nowhere,' as respected the number of their backers, in comparison with
novelists whose names and works appear in penny journals and nowhere
else.

This class of literature was of considerable dimensions even in the days
when Mr. Wilkie Collins first called attention to it; but the luxuriance
of its growth has since become tropical. His observations are drawn from
some half a dozen specimens of it only, whereas I now hold in my
hand--or rather in both hands--nearly half a hundred of them. The
population of readers must be dense indeed in more than one sense that
can support such a crop.

Doubtless the individual circulation of none of these serials is equal
to that of the most successful of them at the date of their first
discovery; but those who read them must, from various causes, of which
the most obvious is the least important, have trebled in number.
Population, that is to say, has increased in very small proportion as
compared with the increase of those who very literally run and read--the
peripatetic students, who study on their way to work or even as they
work, including, I am sorry to say, the telegraph boy on his errand.

Nevertheless, notwithstanding its gigantic dimensions, the Unknown
Public remains practically as unknown as ever. The literary wares that
find such favour with it do not meet the eye of the ordinary observer.
They are to be found neither at the bookseller's nor on the railway
stall. But in back streets, in small dark shops, in the company of cheap
tobacco, hardbake (and, at the proper season, valentines), their leaves
lie thick as those in Vallombrosa. Early in the week is their
springtime, when they are put forth from Heaven knows what
printing-houses in courts and alleys, to lie for a few days only on the
counter in huge piles. On Saturdays, albeit that is their nominal
publishing day, they have for the most part disappeared. For this sort
of literature has one decidedly advanced feature, and possesses one
virtue of endurance--it comes out ever so long before the date it bears
upon its title-page, and 'when the world shall have passed away' will,
by a few days at least, if faith is to be placed in figures, survive it.

Why it should have any date at all no man can tell. There is nothing in
the contents that is peculiar to one year--or, to say truth, of one
era--rather than another. As a rule, indeed, time and space are alike
annihilated in them, in order to make two lovers happy. The general
terms in which they are written is one of their peculiar features. One
would think that, instead of being as unlike real life as stories
professing to deal with it can be, they were photographs of it, and that
the writers, as in the following instance, had always the fear of the
law of libel before their eyes:

  We must now request our readers to accompany us into an obscure _cul
  de sac_ opening into a narrow street branching off Holborn. For many
  reasons we do not choose to be more precise as to locality.

Of course in this _cul de sac_ is a Private Inquiry Office, with a
detective in it. But in defining even him the novelist gives himself no
trouble to arouse excitement in his readers: they have paid their penny
for the history of this interesting person, and, that being done, they
may read about him or not, as they please. One would really think that
the author of the story was also the proprietor of the periodical.

  Those who desire (he says) to make the acquaintance of this somewhat
  remarkable person have only to step with us into the little dusky room
  where he is seated, and we shall have much pleasure in introducing
  him to their notice.

--A sentence which has certainly the air of saying, 'You may be
introduced to him, or you may let it alone.'

The coolness with which everything is said and done in penny fiction is
indeed most remarkable, and should greatly recommend it to that
respectable class who have a horror of 'sensation.' In a story, for
example, that purports to describe University life (and is as much like
it as the camel produced from the German professor's self-consciousness
must have been to a real camel) there is an underplot of an amazing
kind. The wicked undergraduate, notwithstanding that he has the
advantage of being a baronet, is foiled in his attempt to win the
affections of a young woman in humble life, and the virtuous hero of
the story recommends her to the consideration of his negro servant:

  'Talk to her, Monday,' whispered Jack, 'and see if she loves you.'

  For a short time Monday and Ada were in close conversation.

  Then Monday uttered a cry like a war-whoop.

  'It am come all right, sare. Missy Ada says she not really care for
  Sir Sydney, and she will be my little wife,' he said.

  'I congratulate you, Monday,' answered Jack.

  In half an hour more they arrived at the house of John Radford,
  plumber and glazier, who was Ada's father.

  Mr. and Mrs. Radford and their two sons received their daughter and
  her companions with that unstudied civility which contrasts so
  favourably with the stuck-up ceremony of many in a higher position.
  They were not prejudiced against Monday on account of his dark skin.

  It was enough for them that he was the man of Ada's choice.

  Mrs. Radford even went so far as to say, 'Well, for a coloured
  gentleman, he is very handsome and quite nice mannered, though I think
  Ada's been a little sly in telling us nothing about her engagement to
  the last.'

  They did not know all.

  Nor was it advisable that they should.

Still they knew something--for example, that their new son-in-law was a
black man, which one would have thought might have struck them as
phenomenal. They take it, however, quite quietly and as a matter of
course. Now, surely, even among plumbers and glaziers, it must be
thought as strange for one's daughter to marry a black man as a lord.
Yet, out of this dramatic situation the author makes nothing at all, but
treats it as coolly as his _dramatis personae_ do themselves. Now _my_
notion would have been to make the bridegroom a black lord, and then to
portray, with admirable skill, the conflicting emotions of his
mother-in-law, disgusted on the one hand by his colour, attracted on the
other by his rank. But 'sensation' is evidently out of the line of the
penny novelist: he gives his facts, which are certainly remarkable, then
leaves both his characters and his readers to draw their own
conclusions.

The total absence of local scenery from these half hundred romances is
also curious, and becomes so very marked when the novelists are so
imprudent as to take their _dramatis personae_ out of England, that one
can't help wondering whether these gentlemen have ever been in foreign
parts themselves, or even read about them. Here is the conclusion of a
romance which leaves nothing to be desired in the way of brevity, but is
unquestionably a little abrupt and vague:

  A year has passed away, and we are far from England and the English
  climate.

Whither 'we' have gone the author does not say, nor even indicate the
hemisphere. It will be imagined, perhaps, that we shall find out where
we are by the indication of the flora and fauna.

  A lady and gentleman before the dawn of day have been climbing up an
  arid road in the direction of a dark ridge.

Observe, again, the ingenious vagueness of the description: an 'arid
road' which may mean Siberia, and a 'dark ridge' which may mean the
Himalayas.

  The dawn suddenly comes upon them in all its glory. Birds twittered in
  their willow gorges, and it was a very glorious day. Arthur and Emily
  had passed the night at the ranche, and he had now taken her up to
  look at the mine which at all events had introduced them. He had
  previously taken her to see his mother's grave, the mother whom he had
  so loved. The mine after some delay proved more prosperous than ever.
  It was not sold, but is the 'appanage' of the younger sons of the
  house of Dacres.

With the exception of the 'ranche,' it will be remarked that there is
not one word in the foregoing description to fix locality. The mine and
the ranche together seem indeed to suggest South America. But--I ask for
information--do birds twitter there in willow gorges? Younger sons of
noble families proverbially come off second best in this country, but if
one of them found his only 'appanage' was a mine, he would surely with
some justice make a remonstrance.

The readers of this class of fiction will not have Dumas at any
price--or, at all events, not at a penny. Mr. Collins tells us how
'Monte Christo' was once spread before them, and how they turned from
that gorgeous feast with indifference, and fell back upon their tripe
and onions--their nameless authors. But some of those who write for them
have adopted one peculiarity of Dumas. The short jerky sentences which
disfigure the 'Three Musketeers,' and indeed all that great novelist's
works, are very frequent with them, which induces me to believe that
they are paid by the line.

On the other hand, some affect fashionable description and conversation
which are drawn out in 'passages that lead to nothing' of an amazing
length.

  'Where have I been,' replied Clyde with a carelessness which was half
  forced 'Oh, I have been over to Higham to see the dame.'

  'Ah, yes,' said Sir Edward, 'and how is the poor old creature?'

  'Quite well,' said Clyde, as he sat down and took up the menu of the
  elaborate dinner. 'Quite well, she sent her best respects,' he added,
  but he said nothing of the lodger, pretty Miss Mary Westlake.

  And when, a moment afterwards, the door opened and Grace came flowing
  in with her lithe noiseless step, dressed in one of Worth's
  masterpieces, a wonder of amber, satin, and antique lace, he raised
  his eyes and looked at her with an earnest scrutiny--so earnest that
  she paused with her hand on his chair, and met his eyes with a
  questioning glance.

  'Do you like my new dress?' she said with a calm smile.

  'Your dress?' he said. 'Yes, yes, it is very pretty, very.' But to
  himself he added, 'Yes, they are alike, strangely alike.'

Which last remark may be applied with justice to the conversations of
all our novelists. There appears no necessity for their commencement, no
reason for their continuance, no object in their conclusion; the reader
finds himself in a forest of verbiage from which he is extricated only
at the end of the chapter, which is always, however, 'to be continued.'

It is true that these story-tellers for the million generally keep 'a
gallop for the avenue' (an incident of a more or less exciting kind to
finish up with), but it is so brief and unsatisfactory that it hardly
rises to a canter; the author never seems to get into his stride. The
following is a fair example:

  But before we let the curtain fall, we must glance for a moment at
  another picture--a sad and painful one. In one of those retreats,
  worse than a living tomb, where reside those whose reason is dead,
  though their bodies still live, is a small spare cell. The sole
  occupant is a woman, young and very beautiful. Sometimes she is quiet
  and gentle as a child; sometimes her fits of frenzy are frightful to
  witness; but the only word she utters is 'Revenge,' and on her hand
  she always wears a plain gold band with a cross of black pearls.

This conclusion, which I chanced upon before I read the tale which
preceded it, naturally interested me immensely. Here, thought I, is at
last an exciting story; I shall now find one of those literary prizes in
hopes, perhaps, of hitting upon which the penny public endures so many
blanks. I was quite prepared to have my blood curdled; my lips were
ready for a full draught of gore; yet, I give you my word, there was
nothing in the whole story worse than a bankruptcy.

This is what makes the success of penny fiction so remarkable; there is
nothing whatever in the way of dramatic interest to account for it; nor
of impropriety either. Like the lady friend of Dr. Johnson, who
congratulated him that there were no improper words in his dictionary,
and received from that unconciliatory sage the reply, 'You have been
looking for them, have you?' I have carefully searched my fifty samples
of penny fiction for something wrong, and have not found it. It is as
pure as milk, or, at all events, as milk-and-water. Unlike the Minerva
Press, too, it does not deal with eminent persons: wicked peers are
rare; fraud is usually confined within what may be called its natural
limits--the lawyer's office; the attention paid to the heroines not only
by their heroes, but by their unsuccessful and objectionable rivals, is
generally of the most honourable kind; and platitude and dulness hold
undisputed sway.

In one or two of these periodicals there is indeed an example of the
mediaeval melodrama; but 'Ralpho the Mysterious' is by no means
thrilling. Indeed, when I remember that 'Ivanhoe' was once published in
a penny journal and proved a total failure, and then contemplate the
popularity of 'Ralpho,' I am more at sea as to what it is that attracts
the million than ever.

  'Noble youth,' cried the King as he embraced Ralpho, 'to you we must
  entrust the training of our cavalry. I hold here the list which has
  been made out of the troops which will come at the signal. To certain
  of our nobles we have entrusted certain of our _corps d'armée_, but
  unto you, Ralpho, we must entrust our horse, for in that service you
  can display that wonderful dexterity with the sword which has made
  your name so famous.'

  'Sire,' cried our hero, as he dropped on one knee and took the King's
  hand, pressing it to his lips, 'thou hast indeed honoured me by such
  a reward, but I cannot accept it.'

  'How!' cried the King; 'hast thou so soon tired of my service?'

  'Not so, sire. To serve you I would shed the last drop of my blood.
  But if I were to accept this command, I should cease to do the
  service for the cause which now it has pleased you to say I have
  done. No, sire, let me remain the guardian of my King--his secret
  agent. I, with my sword alone, will defend my country and my King.'

  'Be not rash, Ralpho; already hast thou done more than any man
  ever did before. Run no more danger.'

  'Sire, if I have served you, grant my request. Let it be as I have
  said.'

  'It shall be so, mysterious youth. Thou shalt be my secret agent.
  Take this ring, and wear it for my sake; and, hark ye, gentlemen,
  when Ralpho shows that ring, obey him as if he were ourselves.'

  'We will,' cried the nobles.

  Then the King took the Star of St. Stanislaus, and fixed it on our
  hero's breast.

Now, to my mind, though his preferring to be 'a secret agent' to
becoming a generalissimo of the Polish cavalry is as modest as it is
original, Ralpho is too 'goody-goody' to be called 'the Mysterious.' He
reminds me, too, in his way of mixing chivalry with self-interest, of
those enterprising officers in fighting regiments who send in
applications for their own V.C.s while their comrades remain in modest
expectation of them.

I am inclined to think, however, from the following advertisement, that
some author has been recently piling up the virtues of his hero too
strongly for the very delicate stomachs of the penny public, who, it is
evident, resent superlatives of all kinds, and are commonplace and
conventional to the marrow of their bones: 'T.B. TIMMINS is informed
that he cannot be promised another story like "Mandragora," since, in
deciding the contents of our journal, the tastes of readers have to be
considered whose interest cannot be aroused by the impossible deeds of
impossible creatures.' Alas! I wish from my heart I knew what 'deeds' or
'creatures' _do_ arouse the interest of this (to me) inexplicable
public; for though I have before me the stories they obviously take
delight in, why they do so I cannot tell.

At the 'Answers to Correspondents,' indeed, which form a leading feature
in most of these penny journals, one may exclaim, with the colonel in
'Woodstock,' when, after many ghosts, he grapples with Wildrake: 'Thou
at least art palpable.' Here we have the real readers, asking questions
upon matters that concern them, and from these we shall surely get at
the back of their minds. But it is unfortunately not so certain that
these 'Answers to Correspondents' are not themselves fictions, like all
the rest--only invented by the editor instead of the author, and coming
in handy to fill up a vacant page. It is, to my mind, incredible that a
public so every way different from that of the Mechanic's Institute, and
to whom mere information is likely to be anything but attractive, should
be genuinely solicitous to learn that 'Needles were first made in
England in Cheapside, in the reign of Queen Mary, by a negro from
Spain;' or that 'The family name of the Duke of Norfolk is Howard,
although the younger members of it call themselves Talbot.'

Even the remonstrance of 'Our Correspondence Editor' with a gentleman
who wishes to learn 'How to manufacture dynamite' seems to me
artificial; as though the idea of saying a few words in season against
explosive compounds had occurred to him, without any particular
opportunity having really offered itself for the expression of his
views.

There are, however, one or two advertisements decidedly genuine, and
which prove that the readers of penny fiction are not so immersed in
romance but that they have their eyes open to the main chance and their
material responsibilities. 'ANXIOUS TO KNOW,' for example, is informed
that 'The widow, unless otherwise decreed, keeps possession of furniture
on her marriage, and the daughter cannot claim it;' while SKIBBS is
assured that 'After such a lapse of time there will be no danger of a
warrant being issued for leaving his wife and family chargeable to the
parish.'

As when Mr. Wilkie Collins made his first voyage of discovery into these
unknown latitudes, the penny journals are largely used for forming
matrimonial engagements, and for adjudicating upon all questions of
propriety in connection with the affections. 'It is just bordering on
folly,' 'NANCY BLAKE' is informed, 'to marry a man six years your
junior.' In answer to an inquiry from 'LOVING OLIVIA' whether 'an
engaged gentleman is at liberty to go to a theatre without taking his
young lady with him,' she is told 'Yes; but we imagine he would not
often do so.'

Some tender questions are mixed up with others of a more practical sort.
'LADY HILDA' is informed that 'it is very seldom children are born
healthy whose father has married before he is three-and-twenty; that
long engagements are not only unnecessary but injurious; and that
washing the head will remove the scurf.' 'LEONE' is assured that 'it is
not necessary to be married in two churches, one being quite
sufficient;' that 'there is no truth in the saying that it is unlucky to
marry a person of the same complexion;' and that 'a gentle aperient will
remove nettle-rash.'

'VIRGINIE' (who, by the way, should surely be VIRGINIUS) is thus
tenderly sympathised with:

'It does seem rather hard that you should be deprived of all opportunity
of having a _tête-à-tête_ with your betrothed, owing to her being
obliged to entertain other company, although there are others of the
family who can do so; still, as her mother insists upon it, and will not
let you enjoy the society of her daughter uninterrupted, you might
resort to a little harmless strategy, and whenever your stated evenings
for calling are broken in on that way, ask the young lady to take a walk
with you, or go to a place of amusement. She can then excuse herself to
her friends without a breach of etiquette, and you can enjoy your
_tête-à-tête_ undisturbed.'

The photographs of lady correspondents which are received by the editors
of most of these journals are apparently very numerous, and, if we may
believe their description of them, all ravishingly beautiful. It is no
wonder they receive many applications of the following nature:

'CLYDE, a rising young doctor, twenty-two, fair, with a nice house and
servants; being tired of bachelor life, wishes to receive the
carte-de-visite of a dark, fascinating young lady, of from seventeen to
twenty years of age; no money essential, but good birth indispensable.
She must be fond of music and children, and very loving and
affectionate.'

Another doctor:

'Twenty-nine, of a loving and amiable disposition, and who has at
present an income of £120 a year, is desirous to make an immediate
engagement with a lady about his own age, who must be possessed of a
little money, so that by their united efforts he may soon become a
member of a lucrative and honourable profession.'

How the 'united efforts' of two young people, however enthusiastic, can
make a man an M.D. or an M.R.C.S. (except that love conquers all things)
is more than one can understand. The last advertisement I shall quote
affects me nearly, for it is from an eminent member of my own
profession:

'ALEXIS, a popular author in the prime of life, of an affectionate
disposition, and fond of home, and the extent and pressing nature of
whose work have prevented him from mixing much in society, would be glad
to correspond with a young lady not above thirty. She must be of a
pleasing appearance, amiable, intelligent, and domestic.'

If it is with the readers of penny fiction that Alexis has established
his popularity, I would like to know how he did it, and who he is. To
discover this last is, however, an impossibility. These novelists all
write anonymously, nor do their works ever appear before the public in
another guise. There is sometimes a melancholy pretence to the contrary
put forth in the 'Answers to Correspondents.' 'PHOENIX,' for example, is
informed that 'The story about which he inquires will not be published
in book form at the time he mentions.' But the fact is it will never be
so published at all. It has been written, like all its congeners, for
the unknown millions and for no one else.

Some years ago, in a certain great literary organ, it was stated of one
of these penny journals (which has not forgotten to advertise the
eulogy) that 'its novels, are equal to the best works of fiction to be
got at the circulating libraries.' The critic who so expressed himself
must have done so in a moment of hilarity which I trust was not produced
by liquor; for 'the best works of fiction to be got at the circulating
libraries' obviously include those of George Eliot, Trollope, Reade,
Black, and Blackmore, while the novels I am discussing are inferior to
the worst. They are as crude and ineffective in their pictures of
domestic life as they are deficient in dramatic incident; they are
vapid, they are dull. Indeed, the total absence of humour, and even of
the least attempt at it, is most remarkable. There is now and then a
description of the playing of some practical joke, such as tying two
Chinamen's tails together, the effect of the relation of which is
melancholy in the extreme, but there is no approach to fun in the whole
penny library. And yet it attracts, it is calculated, four millions of
readers--a fact which makes my mouth water like that of Tantalus.

When Mr. Wilkie Collins wrote of the Unknown Public it is clear he was
still hopeful of them. He thought it 'a question of time' only. 'The
largest audience,' he says, 'for periodical literature in this age of
periodicals must obey the universal law of progress, and sooner or later
learn to discriminate. When that period comes the readers who rank by
millions will be the readers who give the widest reputations, who return
the richest rewards, and who will therefore command the services of the
best writers of their time.' This prophecy has, curiously enough, been
fulfilled in a different direction from that anticipated by him who
uttered it. The penny papers--that is, the provincial penny
newspapers--_do_ now, under the syndicate system, command the services
of our most eminent novel writers; but Penny Fiction proper--that is to
say, the fiction published in the penny literary journals--is just where
it was a quarter of a century ago.

With the opportunity of comparison afforded to its readers one would say
this would be impossible, but as a matter of fact, the opportunity is
_not_ offered. The readers of Penny Fiction do not read newspapers;
political events do not interest them, nor even social events, unless
they are of the class described in the _Police News_, which, I
remark--and the fact is not without significance--does not need to add
fiction to its varied attractions.

But who, it will be asked, _are_ the public who don't read newspapers,
and whose mental calibre is such that they require to be told by a
correspondence editor that 'any number over the two thousand will
certainly be in the three thousand'?

I believe, though the vendors of the commodity in question profess to
be unable to give any information on the matter, that the majority are
female domestic servants.

As to what attracts them in their favourite literature, that is a much
more knotty question. My own theory is that, just as Mr. Tupper achieved
his immense popularity by never going over the heads of his readers,
and showing that poetry was, after all, not such a difficult thing to
be understood, so the writers of Penny Fiction, in clothing very
conventional thoughts in rather high-faluting English, have found the
secret of success. Each reader says to himself (or herself), 'That is
_my_ thought, which I would have myself expressed in those identical
words, if I had only known how.



_HOTELS._


The desire for cheap holidays--as concerns going a long distance for
little money--is no doubt very general, but it is not universal. It
demands, like the bicycle, both youth and vigour. In mature years, not
only because we are more fastidious, but because we are less robust,
the element of cheapness, though always agreeable, is subsidiary to
that of comfort. For my own part, if the chance were offered me to
travel night and day for forty-eight hours anywhere--though it was to
the Elysian Fields--and that in a Pullman car, and for nothing, I would
rather go to Southend at my own expense from Saturday to Monday.
Suppose the former journey to be commenced by a Channel passage and
continued in a third-class carriage, I would rather stop at home. Or
if, in addition to the other discomforts, I am to be a unit among 100
excursionists, with a coupon that insures my being lodged on the sixth
floor everywhere, I had rather take a month's quiet holiday in London
at the House of Detention.

These things are matters of taste; but it is certain that a very large
number of people, who, like myself, are neither rich nor in a position
which justifies them in giving themselves airs, consider quiet,
comfort, and the absence of petty cares the most essential conditions
of a holiday. These views necessitate some expense and generally limit
the excursions of those who entertain them to their native land; but,
on the other hand, they have their advantages. They give one, for
example, a great experience in the matter of hotels.

As I idly flutter the yellow leaves of the advertisements of inns in
'Bradshaw,' they call up pictures in my mind quite undreamt of by the
proprietors. I have been a sojourner in almost all of these which are
described as 'situated in picturesque localities.' They are all--it is
in print and must be true--'first-class' hotels; they have most of them
'unrivalled accommodation;' not a few of them have been 'patronised by
Royalty,' and one of them even by 'the Rothschilds.' These last, of
course, are great caravanserais, with 'magnificent ladies'
drawing-rooms' and 'replete' (a word that seems to have taken service
with the licensed victuallers) 'with every luxury.' They make up (a
term unfortunately suggestive of transformation) hundreds of beds; they
have equipages and 'night chamberlains;' '_On y parle français_;' '_Man
spricht Deutsch_.' Of some of these there is quite a little biography,
beginning with the year of their establishment and narrating their
happy union with other agreeable premises, like a brick and mortar
novel. I remember them well: their 'romantic surroundings' or 'their
exclusive privilege of meeting trains upon the platform;' their
accurate resemblance to 'a gentleman's own house' (with 'a
reception-room 80 feet by 90 feet'); their 'douche and spray baths;'
their 'unexceptionable tariff;' and even their having undergone those
'extensive alterations,' through which I also underwent something,
which they did not allow for in the bill.

These hotels are all more or less satisfactory as to appearance;
furnished, not, indeed, with such taste, nor so lavishly, as their
rivals on the Continent, but handsomely enough; they are much cleaner
than foreign inns; and if their reference to 'every sanitary
improvement which science can suggest' is a little tall, even for an
advertisement, one never has cause to shudder as happens in some places
in France proper and in Brittany everywhere. Though it must be admitted
that _tables d'hôte_ abroad are not the banquets which the travelling
Briton believes them to be, our own hotel public dinners are inferior
to their originals, and, what is very hard, those who pay for an
entertainment in private suffer from them. The guest who happens to
dine later than the _table d'hôte_ in his own apartment can hardly
escape getting things 'warmed up;' and if he dines at the same time he
has nobody to wait on him. There is one thing that presses with great
severity on paterfamilias--the charge which is made at many of the
large hotels of 1s. 6d. a day for attendance on each person. Half a
guinea a week for service is a high price even for a bachelor; but when
this has to be paid for every member of the family, it is ruinous.
Young ladies who dine at the same table and do not give half the
trouble of 'single gentlemen' ought not to be taxed in this way. It is
urged by many that since attendance is charged in the bill,' there
should be no other fees. But the lover of comfort will always
cheerfully pay for a little extra civility; nor do I think that this
practice--any more than that of feeing our railway porters--is a public
disadvantage. The waiter does not know till the guest goes whether he
is a person of inflexible principles or not, and, therefore, hope
ameliorates his manners and shapes his actions to all. As to getting
'attendance' out of the bill, now it has once got into it, that I
believe to be impossible. There it is, like the moth in one's
drawing-room sofa. And yet I am old enough to remember how poor Albert
Smith plumed himself on the benefit he bestowed upon the public, as he
had imagined, by introducing a fixed charge for all services and doing
away with 'Please, sir, boots.' In this country, and, to say truth, in
most others, 'Please, sir, boots,' is indigenous and not to be done
away with. We did very much better under the voluntary system, although
a few people who did not deserve it, but simply could not afford to be
lavish, were called in consequence 'screws.'

To pay the wages of another man's servants is absurd, and reminds one
of the 'plate, glass, and linen' that used to be charged for at the
posting-house on the Dover road with every threepenny-worth of
brandy-and-water, I have been asked 6d. for an orange (when oranges
were cheap) at a London hotel, upon the ground that they never charged
less than 6d. for anything; and I have read of 'an old established and
family hotel' near Piccadilly, where the charge for putting the _Times_
upon a guest's breakfast-table was 6d. up to this present year of
grace. 'Gentlemen and families had always been supplied with it at that
price,' said the landlord, when remonstrated with, 'and it was his
principle, and his customers approved it, to keep things as they were.'
It must be admitted, however, that matters have changed for the better
in this respect elsewhere; and, at all events, the printed tariff that
may now be consulted in every modern hotel enables you to know what you
are spending.

Things are improved, too, in the way of light and air; both the public
and private rooms of our hotels are far more cheerful and better
appointed than they used to be, and instead of the four-posters there
are French beds. The one great advantage that our new system possesses
over the old is, indeed, the sleeping accommodation. The 'skimpy'
mattress, the sheet that used to come untucked through shortness,
leaving the feet tickled by the blanket, and the thin, limp thing that
called itself a feather bed, are only to be found in ancient
hostelries.

On the other hand, it must be confessed that the food has deteriorated;
the bill of fare, indeed, is more pretentious, but the materials are
inferior, and so is the cooking. The well-browned fowl, with its rich
gravy and the bread-sauce that used to be its homely but agreeable
attendant, has disappeared. The bird appears now under a French title,
and is in other respects unrecognisable; as an Irish gentleman once
explained it to me, it is not only that the thing appears under an
_alias_, but the _alias_ comes up instead of the thing. There is one
essential which the old hotel often omitted to serve with your chicken,
and which the new hotel supplies--the salad. This, however, few hotel
cooks in England--and far less hotel waiters--can be trusted to
prepare. Their simple plan is to deluge the tender lettuce with some
hateful ingredient called 'salad mixture,' poured out of a peculiarly
shaped bottle, such as the law now compels poisons to be sold in; and
the jewel is deserving of its casket--it is almost poison. Nor, alas!
is security always to be attained by making one's salad for one's self.
For supposing even that the lettuce is fresh and white, and not
manifestly a cabbage that is pretending to be a lettuce, how about the
oil? Charles Dickens used to say that he could always tell the
character of an inn from its cruets; if they were dirty and neglected,
all was bad. The cruets are now clean enough in all hotels of
pretension; but alas for that bottle which should contain (and perhaps
did at some remote period contain) the oil of Lucca! On the fingers of
one hand I could count all the hotels in England which have not given
me bad oil. Whether it was never good, or whether it has gone bad, I
leave to those philosophers who investigate the origin of evil. I only
know that it tastes as hair-oil smells. As to the soups, they are no
worse than they used to be, and no better; there is soup and there is
hotel soup.

'Gravy soup, fried sole, _entrée_, leg of mutton, and apple tart' used
to be the unambitious _menu_ of the old-fashioned inn. The _entrée_ was
terrible, but the fish, meat, and sweet were excellent. I will say
nothing of the _entrées_ now; I am not in a position to say anything,
for not being of a sanguine temperament, and having but a few years to
live, I do not venture upon them. But it is undeniable that our bill of
fare is greatly more varied than it used to be, and that the way in
which the table is arranged is much more attractive. At the great
hotels in the neighbourhood of London where rich, or at all events
prodigal people, go to dine in the summer months, this is especially
the case. All these establishments affect fine dinners, yet how seldom
it is they give you good ones! Their wines, though monstrously dear,
are very fair; indeed, of the champagnes at least you may make certain
by looking at the corks; but the food! How many of their fancifully
named dishes might be included under the common title, Fiasco!

It was once suggested to a decayed man of fashion that an excellent
profession for him to take up would be the proprietorship of an hotel
of this class. 'You know what is really worth eating,' said an
influential friend of his, 'and these caterers for your own class
evidently don't; if you will undertake the management of the _Mammoth_
(naming an inn of very high repute), I will furnish the funds.' But the
man of fashion, who had spent his all with very little to show for it,
had at least acquired some knowledge of his fellow-creatures. 'I am
deeply obliged to you,' he said, 'but were I to accept your offer I
should only lose your money. There are but a very few people in the
world who know a good dinner when it is set before them; and a very
large class (including all the ladies, who are only solicitous about
its _looking_ good) do not care whether it is good or bad. In private
life if a dinner consists of many courses, is given at a fine house,
and is presumably expensive, nineteen-twentieths of those who sit down
to it are satisfied. The twentieth alone says to himself, 'How much
better I should have dined at home!' I have been at scores and scores
of great dinner-parties where the very plates were cold and nobody but
myself has observed it.'

I have no doubt the gentleman of fashion was right; delicate cooking
would be entirely thrown away upon the general palate. The fair sex,
the young, the hungry, the easy-going, the ignorant--how large a
majority of the 'frequenters' of hotels do these classes embrace! And
it must also be remarked that to cook food (except whitebait)
delicately in large quantities is a very difficult operation indeed.

Upon the whole, I think, our large hotels, 'arranged on the Continental
system,' are well adapted for those who frequent them, and they show a
readiness to adopt improvements. An immense number of well-to-do people
go to Brighton, to Scarborough, and scores of other places to get a
change and fresh air, but also to find the same amusements to which
they have been accustomed in London; and, on the whole, they get what
they want without paying very much too much for it. But what drives
many quiet folks abroad is their disinclination to meet with all this
gaiety and public life; they do not mind it so much when it is mixed
with the foreign element, and they are also under the impression that
picturesque scenery is a peculiarity of the Continent. I believe that
more English people have visited Switzerland than have seen the Lake
District and the Channel Islands, and very many more than have
travelled in North Devon and Cornwall. The chief reason of their
abstinence in this respect is, however, their dread of the want of
'accommodation.' To the last two counties, with the exception of some
towns, such as Ilfracombe, approachable by sea, or a direct railway
route, folks never go in crowds, and never will go. It is true there
are no mammoth hotels to be found there; but for picturesque situation
and a certain homely comfort, that takes one not only into another
world, but another generation, there is nothing equal to certain little
inns in these out-of-the-way places. In Wales also, and even in the
Isle of Wight, there are perfect bowers of bliss of this description,
still undesecrated by the excursionist. Not ten years ago, in a part of
North Devon which shall be nameless, I came, with my wife and daughter,
upon an inn of this description. We were all enraptured with the
exquisite beauty of its situation, and were so imprudent as to express,
in the presence of the landlady, our wish to live and die there. 'Well,
indeed, sir,' she said, 'I am delighted to see you, but I hope you are
not going to stay very long.' 'My dear madam,' I remonstrated, aghast
at this remark, 'are we, then, such very objectionable-looking
persons?' 'Bless your heart, no, sir, it isn't that; but the fact is,
we have only room for three, and if parties come and come, and always
find us full (through your being here, you know), they will think it is
no use coming, and we shall lose our custom.' We did stay on, however,
a pretty long time--it was a place of ineffable beauty, such as one
parts from almost with tears--and when on our departure I asked for my
bill, the landlady said, 'Dear me, sir, would you kindly tell me what
day you come upon, for I ha' lost my account of it?' The life we led at
that inn was purely pastoral; the clotted cream was of that consistency
that it was meat and drink in one; but although the fare was homely, it
was good of its kind, and admirably cooked. There was fresh fish every
day--for we were too far from railways for that Gargantuan ogre, 'the
London market,' to deprive us of it--and tender fowls, and jams of all
kinds such as no money could buy.

The landlady had a genius for making what she called 'conserves,' and
every cupboard in the queer little house was filled with them. In the
sitting-room was a quantity of old china and knick-knacks, brought by
the sailors of the place from foreign lands; the linen was white as
snow, and smelt of lavender. Outside the inn was a sea that stretched
to Newfoundland, and cliffs that caught the sunset--such scenery as is
not surpassed by that of the Tyrol (though, of course, in a very
different line), and be sure I was afraid of no comparison between our
'Travellers' Rest' and any Tyrolean inn. It is noteworthy that this
hostelry of ours was so peculiarly and picturesquely placed that it
could only be approached on foot, which reminds me of another place of
entertainment for man, but not for beast.

In appearance, 'The Strangers' Welcome' (as I will take leave to term
it) is more ambitious than 'The Rest,' but it is of the same simple
type. In some respects it is even more primitive; no sign hangs over
its door, nor is any other symbol of its vocation visible, 'Liberty,'
not 'License,' as one may say without much metaphor, being its motto.
It is on an island, so insignificant in extent that horse exercise is
impossible on it. What it lacks in superficial area is more than made
up, however, in its stupendous height. From the 'Welcome,' though it
lies in a dell, one looks down perhaps a hundred sheer feet upon the
ocean. Its solemn murmur, even in calm, always reaches the place, and
when in storm, its spray. As one watches it from the lawn among the
fuchsias, one scarcely knows which mood becomes it best. The fuchsias
grow against our walls and tap at our window-panes in the morning as
though they were roses; they even make their homes in the rocks, like
the conies. The island is a very garden of fuchsias, tall as trees; and
there are no other trees. The 'Welcome' itself is a sort of farmhouse
without the farm; there is a goat or two and a donkey to be seen about
it, which would account for the milk having an alien flavour, if it had
one. But the 'Welcome' has excellent milk, so that there must be some
cows somewhere. From the cliff-top you may see Alderney, for our inn is
among the Channel Islands. When a storm comes you must stop where you
are; for until the last waves of it have ceased there is no approach to
us from the world without. To the stranger it seems probable at such
seasons that the little place will burst up from below, for beneath it
are caverns innumerable, filled with furious waves like sea monsters
roaring for our lives. The sea, in short, has honeycombed it, and
renews her vows to be its ruin with every gale. Yet the 'Welcome' lasts
our time, and will last that of many generations, who will continue,
however, doubtless to believe that the sublimities of Nature are
unattainable short of Switzerland.

My memory now transports me to a mountain district in the north, but on
this side of the border; and here, again, the inn is signless, and has
no appearance of an inn at all. It is situated on the last of a great
chain of hills, with lakes among them. It has lawns and shrubberies,
but few flowers; Nature frowns on every hand, even in sunshine, when
the waterfalls flow like silver, and the crags are decked with diamonds.
There are no 'trencher-scraping, napkin-carrying,' waiters in the house,
but country damsels attend upon you, and a motherly dame, their mistress,
expresses her hope every morning that you have slept well. If you have
not, it is the fault of your conscience: you have had a poet's recipe
for it, for you have been 'within the hearing of a hundred streams'
all night. Will you go up the Fells, or will you row on the Lake?
These are your simple alternatives; there is no brass band, no
promenade, no pier, no anything that the vulgar like. Yet once a week
at least a great spectacle can be promised you without crossing the
inn threshold (indeed, when the promise is kept it is better to be on
the right side of it)--a thunder-storm among the hills. The arrangements
for lighting the place, of which you may have complained, not without
reason, are then in perfection, and the silence is broken with a
vengeance. It is difficult to imagine the grandeurs of a sham-fight--a
battle without corpses--but here you have them. First the musketry, then
the guns, with the explosion of the powder-magazine--repeated about
forty times by the mountain echoes--at the end of it. When all is over
you sit down to such a supper as Lucullus would have given a year of
life for, and which, in all probability--for he had no prudence--would
have shortened it for him. At the 'Retreat,' as it is called, among
other native delicacies, they give you fresh char cooked to a turn. I
like to think that this was the fish that Monte Christo had sent him in
a tank to Paris on the occasion of a certain banquet; but all the wealth
of the Indies could not have accomplished that; the char (in spite of
its name) does not travel.

One more reminiscence of country inns; and, though I have more of them
in the picture-gallery of my memory, I have done. I conjure up an
ivy-covered dwelling, long roofed but low, and sheltered by a lofty
hill. Its situation is quite solitary, and, save for the cry of the
seagull, there reigns about it an unbroken silence. It is on the very
highway of the world, but the road is noiseless, for it is the sea.
From the windows, all day long, we can watch the ships pass by that
carry the pilgrims of the earth, for their freight is chiefly human. It
is here 'the first ray glitters on the sail that brings our friends up
from the under world, and the last falls on that which sinks with all
we love below the verge.' Even at night there is no cessation to this
coming and going; only, a red light or a white, and the distant strokes
of a paddle-wheel in the hush of the moonless void are then the sole
signs of all this motion. What hopes and fears contend in unseen hearts
under those moving stars! Is it nothing to have the opportunity to
watch them from the ivied porch of the 'Outlook,' and to welcome the
thoughts they arouse within us? On land, too, there are stars, not made
in heaven, but their shining is intermittent. As I lie in my bed I can
see the great revolving light on the farthest point of rock that juts
to sea. That is the 'Outlook's' watchman, not of much use to it,
indeed, in a practical way, but imparting a marvellous sense of
guardianship and security.

The chief means of amusement at inns of this kind is supplied by
science in the telescope. You note through it all that comes and goes,
and after a day or two can tell-for yourself whither each stately ship
is bound, or whence it comes. At the 'Outlook' the food is plain, but
good; the prawns in particular (which the young people, by-the-bye, can
catch for themselves) are of an exquisite flavour, and in size approach
the lobster. Twice a week for four hours this earthly Paradise is as a
town taken by assault and given over to pillage. An excursion steamer
stops at the little pier and discharges a cargo of excursionists. But
those to whom the happiness of their fellow-creatures is intolerable
can withdraw themselves at these seasons to the neighbouring Downs and
Bays, and on their return they will find peace with folded wing sitting
as before on the 'Outlook's' flagstaff.

Such are the inns which I have known, and there are hundreds in beautiful
England like them. On its rivers in particular there are many charming
little inns, but, to say truth, although the gentlemen-fishermen are as
quiet as mice (from their habits of caution in their calling), the
disciples of the oar are noisy; they get up too early and go to bed too
late, and are too much addicted to melody. Moreover, these houses of
entertainment often carry the principle of home production to excess:
their native fare is excellent; but, spring mattresses not growing in
the neighbourhood, the stuffing of the beds is supplied, to judge by
results, from the turnip-field. For the purpose for which they are
intended, however, these little hostels are well fitted and have a river
charm that is indescribable.

I could speak, too, of excellent hotels set in the grounds of ruined
castles or abbeys; but the attractions of the latter interfere with the
repose of the visitor. Moreover, it has been my chief object, while
admitting the merits of the _Crown_ (and) _Imperial_, to paint the
lily--to point out the violet half hid from the eye. It seems to me a
pity that so many persons should leave their native land and spend
their money among foreigners through ignorance of the quiet
resting-places that await them at home. I have in no way exaggerated
their merits, but it must be confessed that they have one serious
drawback, which, however, only affects bachelors; if Paterfamilias is
troubled by it he ought to be ashamed of himself. I allude to the happy
couples on their honeymoon whom one is wont to meet with in these
retired bowers. It is aggravating, no doubt, to see how Angelina and
Edwin devote themselves to one another without the slightest regard for
the feelings of the solitary stranger. The poor creature has no wish,
of course, to thrust his company upon them, still he would like to have
his existence acknowledged; and they ignore it. They have not a word to
throw to him, nor even a glance. Then there are certain endearments,
delightful, no doubt, to those who exchange them, but which to the
spectator are distraction. What I would recommend to the bachelor as a
remedy is a wife of his own. The good Mussulman's idea of future
happiness is a perpetual honeymoon; and these little Paradises are the
very places to spend it in. The customs of our own country forbid the
agreeable variety which has such charms for the Faithful; but, even as
it is, I have seen in these pleasant inns a great deal of human
happiness, such as to the sober lover of his species only adds to their
attraction.



_MAID-SERVANTS._


It is a common thing to hear the remark expressed by much-tried
mistresses that servants are not 'reasonable beings.' The observation
may either have been provoked by the misbehaviour of some particular
domestic, or by the injudicious defence of the class by one of the male
sex. For the gentlemen have more to urge in favour of our domestics
than the ladies have, and, as the latter maintain, for a very obvious
reason--'they have much less to do with them.' The statement is
cynical, but correct. So long as a man finds his clothes brushed and
his meals well and punctually cooked, he 'does not see much to complain
of,' nor does he give much thought to the pains and trouble which even
that moderate amount of service entails upon his wife. Unless in great
households, where everything is delegated to a paid housekeeper, it is,
indeed, certain that ladies who are resolved to keep a house as it
should be have, now, from various causes, a very hard time of it. The
old feeling of feudal service, though a few examples--both mistresses
and servants--may still exist of it, is dead; and in its place we have
the employer and the hireling. There are faults, of course, on both
sides; mistresses are accustomed to look upon their servants too much
as machines, and in the working thereof do not, perhaps, estimate
sufficiently the advantages of the use of sweet oil; while servants are
more prone to 'eye-service' than were ever the housemaids of Ephesus.
Which of the two began it I cannot tell, but a certain antagonism has
grown up between these two classes which shakes the pillars of domestic
peace. At the root of it all, as at the root of most evils, lies
ignorance, and in the servants' case ignorance of a stupendous nature.

I have had in my household an under-nurse, who, upon the family's
leaving town for a short holiday, was enjoined to see that the birds in
the nursery (canaries) were well supplied with sand. When we came back
we found them all starved to death. She had given them sand, but, alas!
no seed. This was a girl from the country, who, one would think, would
have known what birds fed upon; otherwise one does not expect much
intelligence from Arcadia. When our last importation (an
under-housemaid) 'turned on the gas' in the upper apartments as she was
directed to do, but omitted to light it, I thought it very excusable;
she had not been accustomed to gas. On the other hand, when her
mistress told her to 'look to the fire' of a certain room, I contend we
had a right to expect that that fire should be kept in. It was not so,
however, and when the lady inquired, 'Why did you not look to it, as I
told you?' the girl replied, 'Well, I did, mum; the door was open and I
looked at the fire every time I passed.' She appeared to attach some
sort of igneous power to the human eye.

Each of these young ladies came to us very highly recommended by the
wife of the clergyman of her native place. Surely, in the curriculum of
the village school, something else beside the catechism ought to have
been included; yet, of the things they were certain to be set to
do--the merest first principles of domestic service--they had been
taught nothing; and in learning them at our expense they cost us ten
times their wages.

It may be said, indeed, that when you employ a young girl who has never
been out to service before, you secure honesty, chastity, and sobriety,
and must not look for the artificial virtues; but, unhappily, things
are not very much better when you engage an experienced hand. The lady
of the house should not, of course, expect too much (in these days she
must be of a very sanguine temperament if she falls into _that_ error);
she will think it necessary to warn the new arrival--although she
'knows her place' and is 'a thorough housemaid'--that a velvet pile
carpet, for example, should not be brushed backwards. But on more
obvious matters she will probably leave the 'thorough housemaid' to her
own devices, the result of which is that the boards beside the
stair-carpets are washed with soda the first morning, which takes the
dirt off effectually--and the paint also. An hour or two before she was
caught at this, she has, perhaps, utterly spoilt a polished grate or
two by rubbing them with scouring paper instead of emery powder.

Paterfamilias feels these things when he has to pay the bill, but his
wife feels them in the meantime, and it is more than is to be expected
of human nature that she can welcome cordially such an addition to her
household. A prejudice against the girl springs up in her mind, which
is very promptly responded to, and the mutual respect that ought to
grow up between them is nipped in the bud. I am sorry to say that good
housewives are almost always opposed to having servants well educated;
they think that 'knowledge puffs up,' blows them above their places,
and encourages a taste for light literature which is opposed to the
arts of brushing and cleaning. What the 'higher education' of domestic
servants is to be under the School Boards I know not; but I hope they
will not imagine, as the Universities do, that their duty is only to
teach their pupils how to educate themselves. I confess I agree with
the housewives, that, for young persons intended for service, reading,
writing, and arithmetic, with the use of the scrubbing and hearth
brushes, are far preferable acquirements to those of the same three
great principles with the use of the globes. Whether there are any
handbooks in existence, other than cookery books, to teach the duties
of servants I know not; but, even if there are, servants will never
read them of their own free will. Not one in a hundred has a
sufficiently strong desire to improve herself for that. They must be
taught like children, and when they _are_ children, if any good is to
come of it.

It is to me astounding, and certainly makes me very suspicious of the
advocates of women's rights, that they have done little or nothing in
this direction. Why should not some of that immense energy which is now
expended on platforms be directed into this less ambitious but more
natural channel? There are tens of thousands of persons of their own
sex, not indeed out of employment, but who are obtaining employment on
false pretences, who would do so honestly enough if they had had but a
little early training. Unfortunately, the ladies of the platform do not
in general stoop to such small things as domestic matters; they do not
care about mere comfort, they even perhaps resent it because it is so
dear to tyrannous man. If they would only turn their attention to the
education of their humbler sisters, they would win over all their
enemies and put to shame the cynic who has associated Man's Lefts with
Women's Rights.

The only School for Servants I am acquainted with sent us the worst we
ever had, and if it had not been for the very handsome fee it charged
both us and her for our mutual introduction, I should not have
recognised it as an educational establishment at all.

It will naturally be said by men (not by their wives, for they know
better), 'But surely self-interest will cause a servant to qualify
herself for a place, since, having done so, she will command better
wages.' This is the mistake of the political economists, who, right
enough in the importance they attach to self-interest, gravely err in
supposing it to be always of a material kind. They start with the idea
that everybody wants to make as much money as possible. So they do; but
with a large majority this desire is subordinate to the wish for
leisure and enjoyment. Trades unionism, with all its faults, is founded
on this important fact in human nature--that many of us prefer narrow
means, with comparative leisure, to affluence with toil. That this
notion, if universal, would destroy good work of all kinds and make
perfection impossible, is beside the question, or certainly never
enters into the minds of those chiefly concerned in the matter. 'A good
day's work for a good day's wage' is a fine sentiment; but 'half a
day's work for half a day's wage' suits some people even better; while
'half a day's work for a good day's wage' suits them better still. In
old times the sense of 'service being no inheritance' begat habits of
good conduct as well as thrift, for in most well-conducted households,
servants' wages were made proportionate to their length of service. But
nowadays a lady's promise of raising a servant's wages every year is
quite superfluous, since it is ten to one against her keeping her for
the first twelve months. It is no wonder, then, that while the
conviction of service being of a temporary character is, at least, as
strong as ever, the course of conduct it now suggests is to make as
much as possible out of it while it lasts, in the way of perquisites,
etc. With our cooks, especially, it is not too much to say that wages
are often a secondary object as compared with the opportunity of making
a purse for themselves; and the recognised privilege of selling the
dripping affords cover for a multitude of petty delinquencies which if
not positive thefts have a strong family resemblance to them.

Before leaving the subject of short terms of service, it should be
noted that the modern servant openly avows her love of change. An
excellent mistress, and a very kind one, has told me that housemaids
and kitchenmaids have given her warning again and again for no other
cause than this. They have avowed themselves quite happy and contented
in their place, but they want 'fresh woods and pastures new.' When Jack
Mytton was reminded by his lawyer that a certain estate he was about to
sell had been in his family for 500 years, he replied, 'Then it's high
time it should go out of it;' and the same reflection occurs to our
Janes and Bessies. They have been in their present situation a year
perhaps, or two at most--indeed, two years is considered in the world
below stairs the extreme point for any person of spirit to remain under
one roof--and it is high time they should leave it. One would naturally
think that, in the case of young women at all events, they would be
slow to exchange even a moderately comfortable place for a home among
strangers; that they would bear the ills they know of, even if ills
exist, rather than venture on those of which they know nothing; but
this is far from being the case. Nor do they even quit their place in
order 'to better themselves.' They have absolutely no reason except the
love of change. Behaviour of this sort naturally gives some colour to
the remark already quoted that servants are not 'reasonable beings.' I
was almost a convert to that opinion myself when, on one occasion,
having asked a female domestic to be good enough to put my boots on the
tree, she literally obeyed my order. She hung all my boots on the tree
in the garden, and it was very wet weather. But to young persons who
come from the country everything is pardonable--except 'temper.'

The growth of this parasite in both town and country is, however, quite
alarming. Little as mistresses dare to say to the disadvantage of
servants when leaving their employment, no matter for what reason, they
do sometimes remark of them that their temper is 'uncertain.' When this
happens and the fact is communicated to Jane or Betsy by the lady to
whom they have proposed themselves, they have one invariable method of
self-defence: 'Temper, mum? Well, I 'ave my faults, I daresay, but not
_that_; all as knows me knows my temper is 'eavenly. But the fact is,
mum, Mrs. Jones [her late mistress] was a bit flighty.' And she touches
her forehead, and even sometimes winks, to indicate aberration of the
intellect. A really good-tempered servant is now rare; and there are
very few who will bear 'speaking to' when their work is neglected or
ill-done.

What, however, always puts them in the highest good humour is an
expensive breakage. When Susan comes to say, 'Oh, please, mum, I've 'ad
a haccident with the pier glass,' her face is wreathed in smiles. To a
mistress who cannot relieve her feelings by strong language, as a man
would do, this behaviour is very aggravating. If servants do not
actually delight in these misfortunes, I am afraid not one in twenty
shows the least consideration for her employer's purse. It is
charitable to say, when Thomas or Jane leaves the gas burning all
night, or the sun-blinds out in the pouring rain, that they have 'no
head;' but it is my experience that they are very careful, and, indeed,
take quite extraordinary precautions, with respect to their own
property. I am afraid that the true reason of the waste and
extravagance among servants is that they have no attachment to their
employers, and of course it is less troublesome to be lavish than to be
economical. All the education in the world cannot make selfish persons
unselfish; but it can surely implant in them some sense of duty. At
present, so long as a servant is not absolutely dishonest, her
conscience rarely troubles her. This is especially the case with our
cooks, who also--that 'dripping' question making their path so
slippery--draw the line between honesty and its contrary very fine
indeed.

Moreover, they know less of what they pretend to know than any other
class of servant. The proof of this is in the fact that not one in a
hundred of them will cook you a dinner on trial. I have often said to a
cook, 'Your character is satisfactory enough in other respects; but,
before engaging you, will you show what you can do by sending up one
good dinner, for which I will pay you at the ordinary rate--namely,
half-a-guinea?' She won't do it; she says she can cook for a prince,
and affects to be hurt at the proposition. The consequence is that for
a month, at least, we are slowly poisoned. Once only I hired a cook who
accepted these terms. I am bound to say she sent us up a most excellent
dinner, but when I sent for her to pay the half-guinea she was dead
drunk on the kitchen floor. She had taken a bottle of port wine and one
of stout while serving up that entertainment, and afterwards confessed
that during her arduous duties she required 'constant support.' Again,
it is by no means unusual for cooks to succeed to admiration for a week
and then to begin to spoil everything, the proverb respecting a 'new
broom' applying, curiously enough, even more to them than to the
'housemaids.'

These observations are no doubt severe, but they are not unjust; nor do
I for a moment imply that servants are always to blame, and never
mistresses. There are faults on both sides. Ladies often show
themselves as 'unreasonable' as their female domestics. For example,
although very solicitous for the settlement of their own daughters in
life, they often do not give sufficient opportunities for their
maid-servants to find husbands. A girl in service is quite as anxious
to get a husband as her young mistresses, and, indeed, it is of much
more consequence for her to do so. She sees her youth slipping away
from her in a place where no 'followers' are allowed, and it is no
wonder that she 'wants a change.' She has a right to have her holidays
and her 'Sundays out,' and it is the mistress's duty not only to grant
them, but to make some inquiry as to how she spends them. Many ladies
who go to church with much regularity never take the smallest interest
in the moral conduct of those to whom they stand, morally if not
legally, _in loco parentis_, and who may, perhaps, have no other
adviser.

Mistresses of all ranks, too, show a lamentable want of principle in
the matter of character-giving. It wants, no doubt, a certain strength
of mind to write the truth. 'The girl is going, thank Heaven,' they say
to themselves, and they are glad to get rid of her, without a row, at
the easy price of a small falsehood. They lay the flattering unction to
their souls that they are concealing certain facts in order 'not to
stand in the way of the poor girl's future.' What they are really doing
is an act of selfishness, cruel as regards the lady who is trusting to
their word, and baneful as regards the public good. It is the good
characters which make the bad servants. In a certain primitive district
of England, where ministers are 'called' from parish to parish, one of
the churchwardens of X complained to the churchwardens of Y that his
late importation from the Y pulpit was not very satisfactory. 'And
yet,' he said, 'you all cracked him up enormously.' 'Yes,' replied the
churchwarden of Y, 'and you will have to crack him up too before you
get rid of him.'

Now, it is only ignorance which causes ladies to believe that there is
any necessity to 'crack up' the character of a servant. They are not
obliged (though, of course, if the servant has behaved well it would be
infamous to withhold it) to give her any character at all, and they may
state the most unpleasant truth (if they are quite certain of the fact
and can prove it) without the least fear of an action for libel. The
law does not punish them for telling the truth about their servants,
and in another matter also it is more just than it is supposed to be.
There is a superstition among servants that when leaving their
situations before their time is out they have a right to claim board
wages, and that even when dismissed for gross misconduct they have a
right to their ordinary wages for the remainder of the month; but these
are mere popular errors. The only case with which I am acquainted where
neither of these dues was demanded was rather a curious one. A widow
lady advertised for a cook and a housemaid, and procured them by the
first cast of her net. They came together with an open avowal of their
previous acquaintanceship; they were attached to one another, they
said, and did not wish to be in separate service, and wages were not so
much an object to them as opportunities of friendship. The lady, who
had an element of romance in her, was touched with this expression of
sentiment; it was also a great convenience to her to be so quickly
suited; and, their characters being good, she engaged them. They had
come from a house of much greater pretensions than her own, and had
taken higher wages, which might have attracted her suspicions; but she
had very little work for them to do, and she concluded that 'an easy
place' had had its attractions for them. Her servants were well treated
and well fed, and were allowed to see their friends; but she objected
to evening visits, and required the back door to be locked and the key
placed in her possession at nine o'clock every evening. If the front
door was opened she could hear it from every part of her modest
residence (and, being very nervous, she used often to fancy that it
opened when it did not), while a wire for the use of the policeman
connected the ground-floor with an alarm bell in her own room in case
of fire or other contingency. The two servants had been six days with
her when this alarm bell was pealed one night with great violence. She
looked out of window, and beheld a cab laden with luggage standing at
her door. She expected nobody; but whoever had come was more welcome
than 'thieves' or 'fire,' and she went up to the maid's room to bid
them answer the door. She found to her great astonishment--for it was
two in the morning--the apartment empty, and while she was there the
alarm-bell sounded again with increased fury. Looking over the
balusters, she perceived a light in the hall and inquired who was
there. 'Well, it's us two,' returned the cook, 'we're just agoin, so
good-bye. It ain't at all the sort o' place for us, and you ain't the
sort o' missis.' Then there was a shout of laughter, the front door was
opened and slammed to, and the cab drove off with its tenants, leaving
their mistress to her lonely meditations. The two friends had come on
trial, it seemed, and had had enough of it.

That they made no claim for wages of any kind seems quite curious when
one considers what sort of servants, and in what sort of circumstances,
do demand them. And, as a rule, masters and mistresses give in to the
extortion. Yet the law is on their side, nor have they any reason to
complain of it in other respects. The improvement that is needed is in
themselves, and in their relations to those in their employment. Our
young ladies are so engaged in their accomplishments and their
amusements that they have no time to acquire a knowledge of domestic
affairs, so that when they marry they know no more of a housewife's
duties than their husbands. No wonder men of moderate means shrink from
marriage when wives have become a source of discomfort and expense,
instead of their contraries, and have lost the name of helpmate. How
can they be in a position to teach their servants when they themselves
are grossly ignorant of what they would have them learn? There are
certain village schools, indeed, which profess to train their pupils
for domestic service, but they only teach them to be maids-of-all-work,
the least remunerated and the hardest-worked of all the daughters of
toil. They offer no premium to diligence and perfection.

This state of things is very hard both upon mistresses and servants,
but it is not irremediable, and the remedy must come from the upper of
the two classes. Schools are as necessary for servants as they are for
other people; they must be taught their calling before they can
practise it; and schools for servants must therefore be instituted.
With schools will come certificates of merit, and servants will then be
paid for what they can really do, and not, as now, in proportion to
their powers of audacity of assertion.



_MEN-SERVANTS._


The subject of men-servants is by no means of such universal interest
as that of maid-servants, and those who suffer from them are not only
less numerous, but less deserving of pity; as a lady of limited means
once put it in my hearing, 'They can better afford to be robbed and
murdered' On the other hand, whatever truth may be in the dogma that
where a woman is bad she is worse than a bad man, it is certain that
when a man-servant is bad he can do more mischief than a bad
maid-servant. In many cases he is a necessity, not because folks are
rich, but because they have large families, and the service is
consequently too heavy to be undertaken solely by women. I have known
many householders who, weary of the trouble and annoyance given by
men-servants, have resolved to engage only those of the other sex, and
who have had to resort to men-servants again for what may be called
physical reasons.

When this happens, however, both master and mistress should agree to
the arrangement, or at all events be both informed that it has been
made. Only last autumn a lady friend of mine adopted it in the absence
of her husband abroad, and forgot to apprise him of it by letter. He
arrived home late at night, and, letting himself in with a latch-key,
took the strange man for a burglar, and was almost the death of him by
strangulation before he could explain that he was the new butler.

No woman can bring up a luncheon or dinner tray for a dozen people
twice a day without sooner or later coming to grief with it. And here
it is appropriate to say that in places where there is much heavy work
it is only reasonable that wages should be higher than where the work
is light. Whereas, upon such irrational grounds is our whole system of
domestic service built, that this is hardly ever taken into
consideration. Since the servant is told beforehand what he or she will
have to do, it is taken for granted that the conditions are acceptable
to them; whereas, the fact is that the capability of performing their
duties is the very last thing to enter their minds. They cannot afford
to remain 'out of a situation,' and therefore take the first that
offers itself as a stopgap, with no more intention of permanently
remaining there than a European who accepts an appointment in Turkey,
and with the same object--namely, to make as much as possible out of
the Turks in the meantime.

In the case of a man-servant, especially in London, no written
character should ever be held sufficient. A personal interview with his
late master or mistress is indispensable. This gives a little trouble,
no doubt, on both sides; but those who grudge it, for such a purpose,
must indeed be grossly selfish, and when they engage a ticket-of-leave
man for their butler get no worse than they deserve. One of the best
butlers, however, I ever knew was a ticket-of-leave man--engaged on the
faith of a written character, which was, of course, a forged one, and
who remained with his employer no less than eighteen months. If his
speculations on the turf had been successful, he might have parted with
him the best of friends, and perhaps have purchased a residence in the
same square; but something went wrong with the brother to Bucephalus,
whom he had backed for the Derby, and the poor man had to dispose of
the whole of his master's family plate to pay his own debts of honour
and defray his travelling expenses--probably to some considerable
distance, as the police could never hear of him. The risk in taking a
butler without a personal guarantee of at least his honesty and
sobriety can indeed hardly be exaggerated. If a clever fellow, his
influence over his fellow-servants of the other sex is very great, and
it is a recognised maxim of the class never 'to tell upon one another'
so long as they remain good friends. I have heard an experienced
housewife say there is nothing she dreads so much as an unbroken
harmony below stairs; like silence in the nursery, it is ominous of all
sorts of mischief.

Of course, the ticket-of-leave man was an extreme case; but it is
certain that some butlers who are not thieves are always treading on
the very confines of roguery. They are like trustees who, though they
will not touch the principal entrusted to them, not only omit to put it
out to the best advantage, but will sometimes even pocket a portion of
the interest 'for their trouble.' I remember reading a curious case of
this sort. A gentleman who had been with his family in Switzerland for
nine months was met by a London acquaintance on his return, who
expressed his regret at his having been in trouble at home. 'Nay, I
have been in no trouble,' he replied, 'and, indeed, none of us have
been at home.' 'But a month ago when I was passing down your street I
surely saw a funeral standing at your door?' Nor had his eyes deceived
him. The butler in charge had let the house for a couple of months, and
but for his singular ill-luck in one of his tenants happening to die
during their temporary occupation of it, he would have pocketed the
rent (_minus_ the money requisite to keep the maids' mouths shut) and
his master would have been none the wiser. It is said that it is only
when we have lost a friend that we come to value him at his true worth;
and it is certain that it is only when one's butler has left us and the
tongues of his fellow-servants are loosened that we come to learn his
demerits--the difference between his real character and his written
one. If he is a rogue, his evil influence remains behind him, and, next
to the maidservants, it is the page who suffers most from it. He
becomes--poor little fellow!--almost by necessity an accessory to his
delinquencies, plays pilot-fish to the other's shark, and himself grows
up to swell the host of bad servants and that army of martyrs their
masters and mistresses.

A common cause of a butler's ruin, and for which he is much to be
pitied, is his having married unfortunately. I had once a good servant
whom I was very loth to lose, but whose departure became necessary from
his constantly being visited by a wife in advanced stages of
intoxication. Housewives generally prefer a married man for their
servant, for reasons that are not inscrutable. I do not wish to differ
from such good authorities. But though I have no objection to my butler
being married, I do object to maintain his wife, which, if he be on
good terms with the cook, there is a strong probability of my having to
do. As to his own eating, Heaven forbid that I should grudge it to him;
but it is curious and utterly subversive of all medical dogma that both
men-servants and maidservants, who take, of course, comparatively
little exercise, should, nevertheless, contrive to eat more apiece for
dinner than two average Alpine climbers. Four meals a day, and three of
them meat meals, is their usual rate of sustenance, and the food must
not only be frequent and plentiful, but very good. It is a gratifying
proof of the rapid influence of civilisation that the daughter of a
farm-labourer, accustomed at home to consider bacon a treat and beef a
windfall, will, after a month's experience of her London place, decline
to eat cold meat of any kind, reject salt butter as 'not fit for a
Christian,' and become quite a _connoisseur_ as to the strength of
bitter ale. Indeed, two of our present female domestics are
'recommended' to drink claret because beer makes them bilious. I do not
mind giving them claret, but I think it hard that under such
circumstances I should have had a butler give me warning because the
female domestics are 'not select enough.' My own impression is, though
I scarcely like to mention it, because he was a married man, that he
considered them too plain.

The reasons, or at all events the professed reasons, which servants
give for leaving their situations are sometimes very curious. One man
left a family of my acquaintance because he said he was interfered with
by the young ladies. 'Good gracious, what do you mean?' inquired his
mistress. Her daughters, it appears, were accustomed to arrange the
flowers for the dinner-table, whereas, as he imagined, he had a
peculiar gift for that kind of decoration himself.

On the other hand, it is sometimes difficult for a sensitive master or
mistress to give the true reason for their parting with a servant. A
friend of mine had a footman who, through trick, or some defect in his
respiratory organs, used to blow like a grampus, and indeed more like a
whale, while waiting at table. It was not a vice, of course, but it was
very objectionable, and guests who were bald especially objected to it.
My friend consulted with his butler, who admitted that 'John did blow
like a pauper' (meaning, as I suppose, a porpoise), and undertook to
break the subject to him. It is quite common to find candidates for
service very deaf, and if they contrive to pass their 'entrance
examination' (for which no doubt they sharpen their faculties), they
stay with you for a month at least with an excellent excuse for making
it a holiday, since, whatever you tell them to do they cannot hear and
do not do it, or do something else which they like better. Mistresses
who are silent about moral disqualifications are much more so, of
course, about physical ones, and have no scruples in ridding themselves
of a deaf man.

The worst class of men-servants, perhaps, are those who are said to
'require a master;' which means that when he happens to be not at home
they neglect everything. A friend of mine who happened to take a week's
holiday, alone, discovered on his return that his family might almost
as well have had no servant at all as the man he left with them; he was
generally out, and when at home had not even troubled himself to answer
the drawing-room bell. Some men-servants are always running out; they
have 'just stepped round the corner,' they say, 'to post a letter;'
which in nine cases out of ten means to have a dram at the
public-house. The servants who 'require a master' sometimes retain
their situation with a very selfish one by devoting themselves to his
service at the expense of the rest of the family. 'John suits me very
well,' he says, 'and thoroughly understands his duties,' which in this
case means the length of the master's foot.

On the other hand, there are some men-servants who, one would think,
ought to belong to the other sex, so utterly ignorant they are of that
branch of their duty which they call 'valeting.' A lady blessed with a
scientific husband, who certainly did not take much notice whether he
was 'valeted' or not, once complained to his man of his neglect in this
particular. 'When your master comes in, William, you should look after
him, and see to his hat and coat, and pay him little attentions.' So
the next time the man of science came in he was not a little surprised
by William (who, it is fair to say, came from the country) running up
and taking his hat off his head, like some highly-trained retriever.
Happy the master to whom a worse thing has never happened at the hands
of his retainer!

The main thing to be dreaded in men-servants--next to downright
dishonesty--is, of course, intoxication. If a man has been long in
one's service and gets drunk for once and away, it may well be forgiven
him; but when your new servant gets drunk, wait till he is sober enough
to receive his wages, and then dismiss him--if you can. Not long ago I
had occasion to discharge a butler for habitual intoxication; he was
never quite drunk, but also never quite sober; he was a sot. I made him
fetch a cab, and saw his luggage put upon it, and I tendered him his
month's wages. But he refused to leave the house without board wages.
Of course, I declined to pay him any such thing; and, as he persisted
in leaning against the dining-room door murmuring at intervals, 'I
wants my board wages,' I sent for a policeman. 'Be so good,' I said,'
as to turn this drunken person out of my house.' 'I daren't do it,
sir,' was the reply; 'that would be to exceed my duty.' 'Then, why are
you here?' 'I am here, sir, to see that you turn the man out yourself
without using unnecessary violence.' 'The man' was six feet high and as
stout as a beer-barrel. I could no more have moved him than Skiddaw,
and he knew it. 'I stays here,' he chanted in his maudlin way, 'till I
gets my board wages.' Fortunately, two Oxford undergraduates happened
to be in the house, to whom I mentioned my difficulty, and I shall not
easily forget the delighted promptitude with which they seized upon the
offender and 'ran him out' into the street. He fled down the area steps
at once with a celerity that convinced me he was accustomed to being
turned out of houses, and tried to obtain re-admission at the
back-door. It was fortunately locked, but when I said to the policeman,
'_Now_, please to remove that man,' he answered, 'No, sir; that would
be to exceed my duty; he is still upon your premises and a member of
your household.' As it was raining heavily, the delinquent, though
sympathised with by a great crowd round the area railings, presently
got tired of his position and went away. But supposing my young Oxford
friends had not been in the house and he had fallen upon me (a little
man) in the act of expulsion; or supposing I had been a widow lady with
no protector, would that too faithful retainer have remained in my
establishment for ever?

I have purposely addressed myself to that large class of the community
only who are said 'to keep a man-servant'--that is, one man, assisted,
perhaps, by a page. Those who keep butler, footman, coachman, grooms,
and valets are comparatively few in number, and know nothing of the
inconveniences which their less wealthy fellow-countrymen endure. In
large establishments, if William is drunk, John is sober, and the work
is done for the rich man by somebody; especially, too, if William is
drunk, there are John and Thomas to turn him out of the house and have
done with him. But it is certain that the lower Ten Thousand are not in
a satisfactory condition as respects their men-servants; hardly more
so, in fact, than the Hundred Thousand are in regard to their maids.
The men-servants, however, are not so ignorant of their duties as are
the latter, and if only their masters would have the courage to tell
the truth when giving them their 'characters,' there would be a great
improvement in them. Against the masters themselves (unlike the
mistresses) I have never heard much complaint. Most of them object to
be 'bothered' and 'troubled,' and are willing enough to put everything
into their man's hands, including the key of the Cellar, if only they
could trust him; but at present, alas! this is a very large 'If.'



_WHIST-PLAYERS._


If cards are the Devil's books, Whist is the _édition de luxe_ of them.
Whist-playing is one of the few vices of the upper classes that has not
in time descended to the lower, with whom the ingenious and attractive
game of 'All Fours' has always held its own against it. I have known
but two men not belonging to the upper ten thousand who played well at
whist. One was a well-known jockey in the South of England, who was
also, by the way, an admirable billiard-player. He called himself an
amateur, but those who played with him used to complain that his
proceedings were even ultra-professional. On the Turf men are almost as
equal as they are under it, and this ornament of the pigskin would on
certain occasions (race meetings) take his place at the card-table with
some who were very literally his betters, while others who had more
self-respect contented themselves with backing him. The other example I
have in my mind was an ancient Cumberland yeoman, who, having lost the
use of his limbs in middle life from having been tossed by a bull,
pursued the science under considerable difficulties. A sort of
card-rack (such as Psycho uses at the Egyptian Hall) was placed in
front of him, and behind him stood his little granddaughter who played
the cards for him by verbal direction. Both these men played a very
good game of the old-fashioned kind, for though the jockey used
subtleties, they were not of the Clay or Cavendish sort. The asking for
trumps was a device unknown to him, though there were folks who
whispered he would take them under certain circumstances without
asking, and of the leading of the penultimate with five in the suit it
could be said of him, for once, that he was as innocent as a babe.

Of course, many persons join the 'upper ten' who come from the lower
twenty (or even thirty), and it need not be said that they are by no
means inferior in sagacity to their new acquaintances; yet they rarely
make first-rate players. Whist, like the classics, must be learnt young
for any excellence to be attained in it. Of this Metternich was a
striking example. If benevolent Nature ever intended a man for a
whist-player one would have supposed that she had done so in his case,
but had been baffled by some malign Destiny which had degraded him to
that class by whom, in conjunction with Kings, it was fondly believed,
previously to the recent general election, that 'the world was
governed.' Until late in life he never took to whist, when he grew
wildly fond of it, and played incessantly, till it is said a certain
memorable event took place which caused him never to touch a card
again. The story goes that, rapt in the enjoyment of the game, he
suffered a special messenger to wait for hours, to whom if he had given
his attention more promptly a massacre of many hundred persons would
have been prevented. Humanity may drop a tear, but whist had nothing to
regret in the circumstance; for in Metternich it did not lose a good
player, and, what redeems his intelligence, he knew it. 'I learnt my
whist too late,' he would say, with more pathos and solemnity, perhaps,
than he would have used when speaking of more momentous matters of
omission.

He must be a wise man indeed who, being an habitual whist-player, is
aware that he is a bad one. In games of pure skill, such as chess, and,
in a less degree, billiards, a man must be a fool who deceives himself
upon such a point; but in whist there is a sufficient amount of chance
to enable him to preserve his self-complacency for some time--let us
say, his lifetime. If he loses, he ascribes it to his 'infernal luck,'
which always fills his hands with twos and threes; and if he wins,
though it is by a succession of four by honours as long as the string
of four-in-hands when the Coaching Club meets in Hyde Park, he ascribes
it to his skill. 'If I hadn't played trumps just when I did,' he
modestly observes to his partner, 'all would have been over with us;'
though the result would have been exactly the same had he played
blindfold. To an observer of human nature, who is not himself a loser
'on the day,' there are few things more charming than the genial,
gentle self-approval of two players of this class who have just
defeated two experts, and proved, to their own satisfaction, that if
fortune gives them 'a fair chance' or 'something like equal cards,' as
they term the conditions of their late performance, they can play as
well as other people.

Of course, the term 'good-play' is a relative one; the player who wins
applause in the drawing-room is often thought but little of in places
where the rigour of the game is observed; and the 'good, steady player'
of the University Clubs is not a star of the first magnitude at the
Portland. The best players used to be men of mature years; they are now
the middle-aged, who, with sufficient practical experience, have
derived their skill in early life from the best books. 'It is difficult
to teach an old dog new tricks,' and for the most part the old dogs
despise them. When I hear my partner boast that he is 'none of your
book-players,' I smile courteously, and tremble. I know what will
become of him and me if fortune does not give him his 'fair chance,'
and I seek comfort from the calculation which tells me it is two to one
against my cutting with him again. How marvellous it is, when one comes
to consider the matter, that a man should decline to receive
instruction on a technical subject from those who have eminently
distinguished themselves in it, and have systematised for the benefit
of others the results of the experience of a lifetime! With books or no
books, it is quite true, however, that some men, otherwise of great
intelligence, can never be taught whist; they may have had every
opportunity of learning it--have been born, as it were, with the ace of
spades in their mouth instead of a silver spoon--but the gift of
understanding is denied them; and though it is ungallant to say so, I
have never known a lady to play whist well.

In the case of the fair sex, however, it may be urged that they have
not the same chances; they have no whist clubs, and the majority of
them entertain the extraordinary delusion that it is wrong to play at
whist in the afternoon. One may talk scandal over kettle-drums, and go
to morning performances at the theatre, but one may not play at cards
till after dinner. There is even quite a large set of male persons who,
'on principle,' do not play at whist in the afternoon. In seasons of
great adversity, when fortune has not given me my 'fair chance' for
many days, I have sometimes 'gone on strike,' as it is termed, and
joined them; but anything more deplorable than such a state of affairs
it is impossible to imagine. After their day's work is over, these good
people can't conceive what to do with themselves, and, between
ourselves, it is my experience, drawn from these occasional 'intervals
of business,' that this practice of not playing whist in the afternoon
generally leads to dissipation.

It is sometimes advanced by this unhappy class, by way of apology, that
they play at night; which may very possibly be the case, but they don't
play well. There is no such thing, except in the sense in which
after-dinner speaking is called 'good,' as good whist after dinner. It
may seem otherwise, even to the spectators; but having themselves dined
like the rest, they are not in a position to give an opinion. The
keenness of observation is blunted by food and wine; the delicate
perceptions are gone; and what is left of the intelligence is generally
devoted to finding faults in your partner's play. The consciousness of
mistakes on your own part, which he is in no condition to discern,
instead of suggesting charity, induces irritation, and you are
persuaded, till you get the next man, that you are mated with the worst
player in all Christendom. Moreover, that 'one more rubber' with which
you propose to finish is generally elastic (_Indian_ rubber), and you
sit up into the small hours and find them disagree with you. If I ever
write that new series of the 'Chesterfield Letters' which I have long
had in my mind, and for which I feel myself eminently qualified, my
most earnest advice to young gentlemen of fashion will be found in the
golden rule, 'Never sit down to whist after dinner;' it is a mistake,
and almost an immorality. If they must play cards, let them play
Napoleon.

With regard to finding fault with one's partner, I have no apology to
offer for it under any circumstances; but it must be remembered that
this does not always arise from ill-temper, or the sense of loss that
might have been gain. There are many lovers of whist for its own sake
to whom bad play, even in an adversary, excites a certain distress of
mind; when a good hand is thrown away by it, they experience the same
sort of emotion that a gourmand feels who sees a haunch of venison
spoilt in the carving. In such a case a gentle expression of
disapproval is surely pardonable. And I have observed that, with one or
two exceptions (_non Angli sed angeli_, men of angelic temper rather
than ordinary Englishmen), the good players who never find fault are
not socially the pleasantest. They are men who 'play to win,' and who
think it very injudicious to educate a bad partner who will presently
join the ranks of the Opposition.

What is rather curious--and I speak with some experience, for I have
played with all classes, from the prince to the gentleman farmer--the
best whist-players are not, as a rule, those who are the most highly
educated or intellectual. Men of letters, for example (I am speaking,
of course, very generally), are inferior to the doctors and the
warriors. Both the late Lord Lytton and Charles Lever had, it is true,
a considerable reputation at the whist-table, but though they were good
players, they were not in the first class; while the author of 'Guy
Livingstone,' though devoted to the game, was scarcely to be placed in
the second. The best players are, one must confess, what irreverent
persons, ignorant of the importance of this noble pursuit, would term
'idlers'--men of mere nominal occupation, or of none, to whom the game
has been familiar from their youth, and who have had little else to do
than to play it.

While some men, as I have said, can never be taught whist, a few are
born with a genius for the game, and move up 'from high to higher,'
through all the grades of excellence, with a miraculous rapidity; but,
whether good, bad, or indifferent, I have not known half a dozen
whist-players who were not superstitious. Their credulity is, indeed,
proverbial, but no one who does not mix with them can conceive the
extent of it; it reminds one of the African fetish. The country
apothecary's wife who puts the ivory 'fish' on the candlestick 'for
luck,' and her partner, the undertaker, who turns his chair in hopes to
realise more 'silver threepences,' are in no way more ridiculous than
the grave and reverend seigneurs of the Clubs who are attracted to 'the
winning seats' or 'the winning cards.' The idea of going on because
'the run of luck' is in your favour, or of leaving off because it has
declared itself against you, is logically of course unworthy of
Cetywayo. The only modicum of reason that underlies it is the fact that
the play of some men becomes demoralised by ill-fortune, and may,
possibly, be improved by success. Yet the belief in this absurdity is
universal, and bids fair to be eternal. 'If I am not in a draught, and
my chair is comfortable, you may put me anywhere,' is a remark I have
heard but once, and the effect of it on the company was much the same
as if in the House of Convocation some reverend gentleman had announced
his acceptance of the religious programme of M. Comte.

With the few exceptions I have mentioned, whist-players not only stop
very far short of excellence in the game, but very soon reach their
tether. I cannot say of any man that he has gone on improving for
years; his mark is fixed, and he knows it--though he is exceptionally
sagacious if he knows where it is drawn as respects others--and there
he stays till he begins to deteriorate. The first warning of decadence
is the loss of memory, after which it is a question of time (and good
sense) when he shall withdraw from the ranks of the fighting men and
become a mere spectator of the combat. It was said by a great gambler
that the next pleasure in life to that of winning was that of losing;
and to the real lover of whist, the next pleasure to that of playing a
good game is that of looking on at one.

Whist has been extolled, and justly, upon many accounts; but the
peculiar advantage of the game is, perhaps, that it utilises socially
many persons who would not otherwise be attractive. Unless a player is
positively disagreeable, he is as good to play whist with as a
conversational Crichton. Moreover, though the poet has hinted of the
evanescent character of 'friendships made in wine,' such is not the
case with those made at whist. The phrase, 'my friend and partner,'
used by a well-known lady in fiction, in speaking of another lady, is
one that is particularly applicable to this social science, and holds
good, as it does, alas, in no other case, even when the partner becomes
an adversary.



_RELATIONS._


It is a favourite utterance of a much 'put-upon' Paterfamilias of my
acquaintance, when he finds his family more than usually too much for
him, and cynically confesses his own shortcomings, that 'children
cannot be too particular in their choice of their parents, or begin
their education too early.'

But not only are children a necessity--that is, if the world of men and
women is to be kept going, concerning the advantage of which there
seems, however, just now, to be some doubt,--but when they have
arrived, they cannot, except in very early life, be easily got rid of.
In this respect they differ from the relations whose case I am about to
consider, and also possess a certain claim upon us over and above the
mere tie of blood, since we are responsible for their existence. The
obligation on the other side is, I venture to think, a little
exaggerated. If there is such a thing as natural piety, which, even in
these days, few are found to deny, it is the reverence, it is true,
with which children regard their parents; but their moral indebtedness
to them as the authors of their being is open to doubt. That theory,
indeed, appears to be founded upon false premises; for, unless in the
case of an ancestral estate, I am not aware that the existence of
children is much premeditated. On the contrary, their arrival is often
looked upon, from pecuniary reasons, with much apprehension, or, at
best, till they do arrive, they may be described, in common phrase, as
'neither born nor thought of.' I am a father myself, but I wish to be
fair and to take a just view of matters. If a mother leaves her child
on a doorstep, for example, the filial bond can hardly be expected to
be very strong. In such a case, indeed, the infant seems to me to have
a very distinct grievance against its female parent, and to be under no
very overwhelming obligation to its father. 'Handsome is as handsome
does' is a principle that applies to all relations of life, including
the nearest; and if duty never absolutely ceases to exist, it is, at
all events, greatly moulded by circumstances.

Patriotism, for instance, is very commendable, but your country must be
worth something to make you love it. It is next to impossible that an
inhabitant of Monaco, for example, should be patriotic. He can at most
be only parochial. The love of one's mother is probably the purest and
noblest of all human affections; but some people's mothers are habitual
drunkards, and others professional thieves. Even filial reverence, it
is plain, must stop somewhere. That is one of the objections which,
with all humility, I feel to the religion of M. Comte. The worship of
my grandmother would be impossible to me, unless I had reason to
believe her to have been a respectable person. Her relationship, unless
I had had the advantage of her personal acquaintance, would weigh I
fear, but little with me, and that of my great-grandmother nothing at
all. The whole notion of ancestry--unless one's ancestors have been
distinguished people--seems to me ridiculous. If they have _not_ been
distinguished people--folks, that is, of whom some record has been
preserved--how is one to know that they have been worthy persons, whose
mission has been to increase the sum of human happiness? If, on the
other hand, they have been only notorious, and done their best to
decrease it, I should be most heartily ashamed of them. The pride of
birth from this point of view--which seems to me a very reasonable
one--is not only absurd, but often very reprehensible. We may be
exulting, by proxy, in successful immorality, or even crime. Our
boastfulness of our progenitors is necessarily in most cases very
vague, because we know so little about them. When we come to the
particular, the record stops very short indeed--generally at one's
grandmother, who, by the way, plays a part in the dream-drama of
ancestry little superior to that of that 'rank outsider,' a
mother-in-law. 'Tell that to your grandmother' is a phrase that
certainly did not originate in reverence; and even when that lady is
proverbially alluded to in a complimentary sense, her intelligence is
only eulogised in connection with the 'sucking of eggs.'

It so happens that I have quite a considerable line of ancestors
myself, but only one of them ever distinguished himself, and that (he
was an Attorney-General) in a doubtful way; and I confess I don't take
the slightest interest in them. I prefer the pleasant companion with
whom I came up in the train yesterday, and whose name I forgot to ask,
to the whole lot of them.

And if I don't care about ancestors on canvas (for their pictures, of
course, are all we have seen of them), I have good cause to be offended
with them on paper. My favourite biographies--such as that of Walter
Scott, for example--are disfigured by them. When men sit down to write
a great man's life, why should they weary us with an epitome of that of
his grandfather and grandmother? Of course, the book has to be a
certain length. No one is more sensible than myself of the difficulty
of providing 'copy' sufficient for two octavo volumes; but I do think
biographers should confine themselves to two generations. For my part,
I could do with one, but there is the favourite theory of a great man's
inheriting his greatness from the maternal parent, which I am well
aware cannot be dispensed with. It is like the white horse, or rather
the grey mare, in Wouvermanns's pictures; you can't get rid of it any
more than Mr. Dick could get Charles I. out of his memorial. For my
part, I always begin biographies at the fourteenth chapter (or
thereabouts)--'The subject of this memoir was born,' etc.; and even so
I find I get quite enough of them. In novels the introduction of
ancestry is absolutely intolerable. When I see that hateful chapter
headed 'Retrospective,' I pass over to the other side, like the Levite,
only quicker. What do I care whether our hero's grandfather was
Archbishop of Canterbury or a professional body-snatcher? I don't even
care which of the two was my own personal friend's grandfather, and how
much less can I take an interest in this imaginary progenitor of the
creation of an author's brain? The introduction of such a colourless
shadow is, to my mind, the height of impertinence. If I were Mr. Mudie,
I would put my foot down resolutely and stamp out this literary plague.
As George III., who had an objection to commerce, is said to have
observed, when asked to confer a baronetcy on one of the Broadwood
family, 'Are you sure there is not a piano in it?' so should Mr. M.
inquire of the publisher before taking copies of any novel, 'Are you
sure there is not a grandfather in it?'

Again, what a nuisance is ancestry in our social life! It cannot,
unhappily, be done away with as a fact, but surely it need not be a
topic. How often have I been asked by some fair neighbour at a
dinner-table, 'Is that Mr. Jones opposite one of the Joneses of
Bedfordshire?' One's first impulse is naturally to ask, 'What on earth
is that to you or me?' But experience teaches prudence, and I reply
with reverence, 'Yes, of Bedfordshire,' which, at all events, puts a
stop to argument upon the matter. Moreover, she seems to derive some
sort of mysterious satisfaction from the information, and it is always
well to give pleasure.

A well-known wit was once in company with one of the Cavendishes, who
had lately been to America, and was recounting his experiences. 'These
Republican people have such funny names,' he said. 'I met there a man
of the name of Birdseye.' 'Well, and is not that just as good as
Cavendish?' replied the wit, who was also a smoker. But the remark was
not appreciated.

Ancestral people do not, as a rule, appreciate wit; but, on the other
hand, it must be admitted that this is not a defect peculiar to them
alone. I once knew a man of letters who, though he had risen to wealth
and eminence, was of humble descent, and had a weakness for avoiding
allusion to it. His daughter married a man of good birth, but whose
literary talents were not of a high order. This gentleman wrote a
letter applying for a certain Government appointment, and expressed a
wish for his father-in-law's opinion upon the composition. 'It's a very
bad letter,' was the frank criticism the other made upon it. 'The
writing is bad, the spelling is indifferent, the style is abominable.
Good heavens! where are your relatives and antecedents?' 'If it comes
to that,' was the reply, 'where are yours? For I never hear you speak
about them.' Nor did he ever hear him, for his father-in-law never
spoke another word to him.

Nothing, of course, can be more contemptible than to neglect one's poor
relations on account of their poverty; but it is very doubtful whether
the sum of human happiness is increased by our having so much respect
for the mere tie of kindred, unaccompanied by merit. Other things being
equal, it is obviously natural that one's near relatives should be the
best of friends. But other things are not always equal. Indeed, a
certain high authority (which looks on both sides of most questions)
admits as much. 'There is a friend,' it says, 'that sticketh closer
than a brother. The connection, with its consequences, is somewhat
similar to a partnership in commercial life. If partners pull together,
and are sympathetic, nothing can be more delightful than such an
arrangement. The tie of business clenches the tie of social attraction.
For myself, I am not commercial; but I envy the old firm of Beaumont
and Fletcher, and the modern one of Erckmann and Chatrian. But if the
members of the firm do _not_ pull together? Then, surely the bond
between them is most deplorable, and a divorce _a vinculo_ should be
obtained as soon as possible.

One of the greatest mistakes--and there are many--that we fall into
from a too ready acknowledgment of the tie of kindred is the obligation
we feel under to consort with relations with whom we have nothing in
common. You may take such persons to the waters of affection, but you
cannot make them drink; and the more you see of them the less they are
likely to agree with you. Not once, nor twice, but fifty times, in a
life experience that is becoming protracted, I have seen this forcible
bringing together of incongruous elements, and the result has been
always unfortunate. I say 'forcible,' because it has been rarely
voluntary; now and then a strong, though, I venture to think, a
mistaken sense of duty may lead a man to seek the society of one with
whom he has nothing in common save the bond of race; but for the most
part they are obeying the wishes of another--the sacred injunction,
perhaps, of a parent on his death-bed. 'Be good friends,' he murmurs,
'my children,' not reflecting, in that supreme and farewell hour, how
little things, such as prejudice, difference of political or religious
opinions, conflicting interests, and the like, affect us while we are
in this world, and how perilous it is to attempt to link like with
unlike. I am quite certain that when relations do not, in common
phrase, 'get on well with one another,' the best chance of their
remaining friends is for them to keep apart. This is gradually becoming
recognised by 'the common sense of most,' as we see by the falling-off
in those family gatherings at Christmas, which only too often partook
of the character of that assembly which met under the roof of Mr,
Pecksniff, with the disastrous result with which we are all acquainted.

The more distant the tie of blood, the less reason, of course, there is
to consider it; yet it is strange to see how even sensible men will
welcome the Good-for-nothing, who chance to be 'of kin' to them, to the
exclusion of the Worthy, who lack that adventitious claim. The effect
of this is an absolute immorality, since it offers a premium to
unpleasant people, while it heavily handicaps those who desire to make
themselves agreeable. To give a particular example of this, though upon
a large scale, I might cite Scotland, where, making allowance for the
absence of that University system, which in England is so strong a
social tie, there are undoubtedly fewer friendships, in comparison,
than there are with us; this I have no hesitation in attributing to
clanship--the exaggeration of the family tie--which substitutes
nearness for dearness, and places a tenth cousin above the most
charming of companions, who labours under the disadvantage of being
'nae kin.'

Again, what is more common than to hear it said, in apology for some
manifestly ill-conditioned and offensive person, that he is 'good to
his family'? The praise is probably only so far deserved that he does
not beat his wife nor starve his children; but, supposing even he
treated them as he should do, and, moreover, entertained his ten-times
removed cousins to dinner every Sunday, what is that to _me_ who do not
enjoy his unenviable hospitality? Let his cousins speak well of him by
all means; but let the rest of the world speak as they find. I protest
against the theory that the social virtues should limit themselves to
the home circle, and still more, that they should extend to the distant
branches of it to the exclusion of the world at large.

Of Howard, the philanthropist, it is said--and, I notice, said with a
certain cynical pleasure--that, notwithstanding his universal
benevolence, he behaved with severity ta his own son. I have not that
intimate acquaintance with the circumstances which, to judge by the
confidence of their assertions, his traducers possess, but I should be
slow to believe, in the case of such a father, that the son did not
deserve all he got, or was not forgiven even to the seventy times
seventh offence. There is, however, no little want of reason in the
ordinary acceptation of the term, 'loving forgiveness.' He must be a
very morose man who does not forgive a personal injury, especially when
there has been an expression of repentance for it; but there are
offences which, quite independently of their personal sting, manifest
in the offender a cruel or bad heart, and 'loving forgiveness' is in
that case no more to be expected than that we should take a serpent who
has already stung us to our bosom. 'It is his nature to,' as the poet
expresses it, and if that serpent is my relative it is my misfortune,
and by no means impresses me with a sense of obligation. Indeed, in the
case of an offensive relation, so far from his having any claim to my
consideration, it seems to me I have a very substantial grievance in
the fact of his existence, and that he owes me reparation for it.

It is perhaps from a natural reaction, and is a sort of unconscious
protest against the preposterous claims of kinship, that our
connections by marriage are so freely criticised, and, to say truth,
held in contempt. No one enjoins us to love our wife's relations,
indeed, our own kindred are generally dead against them, and especially
against her mother, to whom the poor woman very naturally clings. This
is as unreasonable in the way of prejudice, as the other line of
conduct is in the way of favouritism. It is, in short, my humble
opinion that, if everyone stood upon his or her own merits, and was
treated accordingly, this world of ours would be the better for it; and
of this I am quite sure--it would have fewer disagreeable people in it.
I am neither so patriotic nor so thorough-going as the American
citizen, who, during the late Civil War, came to President Lincoln, and
nobly offered to sacrifice on the altar of freedom 'all his able-bodied
relations;' but I think that most of us would be benefited if they were
weeded out a bit.



_INVALID LITERATURE._


It has always struck me as a breach of faith in Charles Lamb to have
published the fact that dear, 'rigorous' Mrs. Battle's favourite suit
was Hearts: and is in my eyes, notwithstanding Mr. Carlyle's posthumous
outburst, the only blot on his character. His own confession, though
tendered with a blush, that there is such a thing as sick whist stands
on totally different grounds; it is not a relaxation of principle, but
an acknowledgment of a weakness common to human nature. One of the most
advanced thinkers and men of science of our time has frankly admitted
that his theological views are considerably modified by the state of
his health; and if one's ideas on futurity are thus affected, it is no
wonder that things of this world wear a different appearance when
viewed from a sick bed. It is not difficult to imagine that whist, for
example, played on the counterpane by three good Samaritans, to while
away the hours for an afflicted friend, differs from the game when
played on a club card-table. Common humanity prevents our saying what
we think of the play of an invalid who may be enjoying his last rubber;
and if the ace of trumps _is_ found under his pillow, we only smile and
hope it will not occur again.

On the other hand, literary taste would, one would think, be the last
thing to vary with our physical condition; yet those who have had long
illnesses know better, and will, I am sure, bear me out in the
assertion that there are such things as sick books. I do not, of
course, speak of devotional works. I am picturing the poor man when he
is getting well after a long bout of illness; his mind clear, but
inert; his limbs painless, but so languid that they hardly seem to
belong to him; and when he regards their attenuated proportions with
the same sort of feeble interest that is evoked by eggshell china--they
are not useful, still it would be a pity if they broke.

Then it is that one feels a loathing of the strong meats of literature,
and a liking for its milk diet. As to metaphysics, one has had enough
and to spare of _them_ when one was delirious; while the 'Fairy Tales
of Science' do not strike one just then as being quite so fairylike as
the poet represents them. As to science, indeed, there is but one thing
clear to us, namely, that the theory of evolution is a mistake; for
though one's getting better at all is undoubtedly a proof of the
survival of the fittest, we are well convinced that we have retrograded
from what we were. It would puzzle Darwin himself to fix our position
exactly, but though we lack the tenacity, and especially the colour, of
the sea-anemone, we seem to be there or thereabouts in the scale of
humanity. When last prostrated by rheumatic fever, or its remedies, I
remember, indeed, to have been inclined to mathematics. When very ill I
had suffered agonies in my dreams from the persecutions of an
impossible quantity, and perhaps the association of ideas suggested, as
I slowly gathered strength, a little problem in statics. It had been
taught me by my dear tutor at Cambridge, whom undergraduates have long
ceased to trouble, as a proof of the pathos that dwells in figures; and
I kept repeating it to myself, with the letters all misplaced, till I
became exhausted by tears and emotion.

As a general rule, however, even mathematics fail to interest the
convalescent. 'Man delights not him; no, nor woman neither;' but
Literature, if light in the hand, and always provided that he has his
back to the window, is a pleasure to him only next to that of his new
found appetite and his first chicken. His taste 'has suffered a sick
change,' but that by no means implies it has deteriorated.  On the
contrary, his critical faculty has fled (which is surely an immense
advantage), while he has recovered much of that power of appreciation
which rarely abides with us to maturity. He is not on the outlook for
mistakes, slips of style, anachronisms; he derives no pleasure from the
discovery of spots in the sun, but is content to bask in the rays of
it. He does not necessarily return to the favourites of his youth,
though he has a tendency that way, but the shackles of convention have
slipped away from him with his flesh, and he reads what he likes, and
not what he has been told he ought to like. He has been so long removed
from public opinion, that, like a shipwrecked crew in an open boat, it
has ceased to affect him; only, instead of taking to cannibalism, he
takes to what is nice. As his physical appetite is fastidious, so his
mental palate has a relish only for titbits. If ever there was a time
for a reasonable being to 'dip' into books, or to enjoy 'half-hours
with the best authors,' this is it; but weak as the patient is, he
commonly declines to have his tastes dictated to; perhaps there is an
unpleasant association in his mind, arising from Brand and Liebig, with
all 'extracts;' but, at all events, those literary compilations oppress
and bewilder him; he objects to the extraordinary fertility of 'Ibid,'
an author whose identity he cannot quite call to mind, and prefers to
choose for himself.

Biography is out of the question. Long before he has got through that
account of the hero's great grandmother, from whom he inherited his
talents, which is, it seems, indispensable to such works, he yawns, and
devoutly wishing, notwithstanding its fatal consequences to the fourth
generation, that that old woman had never been born, falls into fitful
slumber.

Travels are in the same condemnation; he has not the patience to watch
the traveller taking leave of his family at Pimlico, or to follow his
cab as he drives through the streets to the railway station, or to
share the discomforts of his cabin--all necessary, no doubt, to his
eventual arrival in Abyssinia, but hardly necessary to be described.
Moreover, the convalescent has probably travelled a good deal on his
own account during the last few weeks, for the bed of fever carries one
hither and thither with the velocity, though not the ease, of the
enchanted carpet in the 'Arabian Nights.' The desire of the sick man is
to escape from himself and all recent experiences.

He thinks he will try a little History. Alison? No, certainly not
Alison. 'They will be proposing Lingard next,' he murmurs, and the
little irritation caused by the well-meant suggestion throws him back
for the next six hours. Presently he tries Macaulay, whom some
flatterer has fulsomely called 'as good as a novel,' but, though the
trial of Warren Hastings gives him a fillip, the rout of Sedgemoor does
away with the effect of it, and, happening upon the character of
Halifax, he suffers a severe relapse. As a bedfellow, Macaulay is too
declamatory, though, at the same time, strange to say, he does not
always succeed in keeping one awake. To the sick man Carlyle is
preferable; not his 'Frederick,' of course, and still less his 'Sartor
Resartus,' which has become a nightmare, without head or tail, but his
'French Revolution.' One lies and watches the amazing spectacle without
effort, as though it were represented on the stage. The sea of blood
rolls before our eyes, the roar of the mob sounds in our ears; we are
carried along with the unhappy Louis to the very frontier, and just on
the verge of escape are seized and brought back--King Coach--with him
to Paris, in a cold perspiration.

Some people, when in health and of a sane mind (Mr. Matthew Arnold one
_knows_ of, and there may be others), take great delight in 'Paradise
Regained;' all we venture to say is that in sickness it does not
suggest its title. It is said that barley-water goes well with
everything; if so, the epic is the exception which proves the rule.
Milton is tedious after rheumatic fever, Spencer is worse.

    '"Not from the grand old masters,
       Not from the bards sublime,
    Whose distant footsteps echo
       Through the corridors of Time,"'

murmurs the invalid, 'I can't stand them.' He does not mean anything
depreciatory, but merely that--

    'Like strains of martial music
       Their mighty thoughts suggest
    Life's endless toil and endeavour,'

which he is not fit even to think of. He cannot read Keats's
'Nightingale,' but for quite another reason. What arouses 'thoughts too
deep for tears' in the hale and strong is to the sick as the sinking
for an artesian well. 'The Chelsea Waterworks,' as Mr. Samuel Weller
observed of Mr. Job Trotter (at a time when the metropolitan water
supply would seem to have been more satisfactory than at present), 'are
nothing to him.' On the other hand, Shelley's 'Skylark,' and the
'Dramatic Fragments' of Browning, are as cordials to the invalid, while
the poems of Walter Scott are like breezes from the mountains and the
sea. In that admirable essay, 'Life in the Sick-room,' the authoress
justly remarks, speaking of the advantage of objectivity in sick books,
'Nothing can be better in this view than Macaulay's "Lays," which carry
us at full speed out of ourselves.'

But it is not always that the invalid can read the poets at all; like
Mrs. Wititterley, his nerves are too delicately strung for the touch of
the muse. His chief enjoyment lies in fiction, to the producers of
which he can never feel too grateful. I remember, on one occasion when
I was very reduced indeed, taking up 'Northanger Abbey,' and reading,
with almost the same gusto as though I had been a novelist myself, Miss
Austen's defence of her profession. She says:

  'I will not adopt that ungenerous and impolitic custom, so common
  with novel-writers, of degrading by their contemptuous censure the
  very performances to the number of which they are themselves
  adding, joining with their greatest enemies in bestowing the
  harshest epithets on such works, and scarcely even permitting them
  to be read by their own heroine, who, if she accidentally takes up
  a novel, is sure to turn from its insipid pages with disgust. Let
  us not desert one another; we are an injured body. Although our
  productions have afforded more extensive and unaffected pleasure
  than those of any other literary corporation in the world, no
  species of composition has been so much decried. From pride,
  ignorance, or fashion, our foes are almost as many as our readers;
  and while the abilities of the nine-hundred-and-ninety-ninth
  abridger of the history of England are eulogised by a thousand
  pens, there seems a general agreement to slight the performances
  which have only genius, wit, and taste to recommend them.'

I had quite forgotten till I came upon this passage that Miss Austen
had such 'a kick in her,' and I remember how I honoured her for it and
sympathised with her sentiments. 'When pain and anguish wring the
brow,' we all know who is the comforter; but next to her, and when the
brow is getting a little better, we welcome the novelist.

With our face aslant on the pillow, we once more make acquaintance with
the characters that have been the delight of our youth, and find they
delight us still, but with a difference. The animal spirits of Smollett
and Fielding are a little too much for us; there is not sympathy enough
in them for our own condition; they seem to have been fellows who were
never ill. Perhaps 'Humphrey Clinker,' though it drags at the end, and
the political disquisitions are intolerable, is the funniest book that
ever was written; but the faculty of appreciation for it is not now in
us. We turn with relief to Scott, though not to 'Scott's Works,' in the
sense in which the phrase is generally used, as though they were a
foundry from which everything is issued of the same workmanship and
excellence; whereas there is as much difference between them as there
was in her Majesty's ships of old between the gallant seventy-four and
the crazy troopship. The invalid, however, as I have said, is far from
critical; he only knows what he likes. Judged by this fastidious
standard, he finds 'Waverley' somewhat wearisome, and, as to the first
part of it in particular, wonders, not that the Great Unknown should
have kept it in his desk for years as a comparative failure, but that
he should have ever taken it from that repository. 'The Antiquary,'
which in health he used to admire, or think he did, exceedingly, has
also a narcotic effect; but 'Rob Roy' revives him, and 'Ivanhoe' stirs
him like a trumpet-call.

What is very curious, just as the favourite literature of a cripple is
almost always that which treats of force and action, so upon our
sick-bed we turn most gladly to scenes of heroism and adventure. The
famous ride in 'Geoffrey Hamlyn,' where the fate of the heroine,
threatened with worse than death from the bush-rangers, hangs upon the
horse's speed, seems to us, as we lie abed, one of the finest episodes
in fiction. 'Tom Cringle's Log,' too, becomes a great favourite, not
more from its buoyancy and freshness than from the melodramatic scenes
with which it is interspersed.

In some moods of the sick man's mind, his morbid appetite tends,
strange to say, to horrors. He 'snatches a fearful joy' from the weird
and supernatural. I have known those terrible tales of Le Fanu,
entitled 'In a Glass Darkly,' which for dramatic power and eeriness no
other novelist has ever approached, devoured greedily by those whose
physical sustenance has been dry toast and arrowroot.

The works of Thackeray are too cynical for the convalescent; he is for
the present in too good a humour with destiny and human nature to enjoy
them. He prefers the more cheerful aspects of life, and resents the
least failure of poetic justice.

Taking the tenants of the sick ward all round, indeed, I have little
doubt that the large majority would give their vote for Dickens. His
pathos, it is true, is too much for them. Their hearts are as waxen as
though Mrs. Jarley herself had made them. They are just in the
condition to be melted by 'Little Nell,' and overcome by the death of
Paul Dombey. They read 'David Copperfield' with avidity, but are
careful to avoid the catastrophe of Dora and even the demise of her
four-footed favourite. The book that suits them best is 'Martin
Chuzzlewit.' Its genial comedy, quite different from the violent
delights of 'Pickwick,' is well adapted to their grasp; while its
tragedy, the murder of Montague Tigg--the finest description of the
breaking of the sixth commandment in the language--leaves nothing to be
desired in the way of excitement. But here we stray beyond our bounds,
for 'Martin Chuzzlewit' is not a 'sick book;' or rather, it is one of
the very few productions of human genius on the merits of which the
opinions of both Sick and Sound are at one.



_WET HOLIDAYS._


Even poets when they are on their travels feel the depressing influence
of bad weather. Those lines of the Laureate--

    'But when we crossed the Lombard plain,
    Remember what a plague of rain--
    Of rain at Reggio, at Parma,
    At Lodi rain, Piacenza rain,'

are not among his best, but they evidently come from his very heart.
When he used prose upon that journey his language was probably
stronger. It is no wonder, then, that ordinary folks who have only a
limited time in which to enjoy themselves, free from the fetters of
toil, resent wet days. They are worst of all when we are touring on the
Continent, where it is a popular fallacy to suppose the skies are
always smiling, but at home they are bad enough. In Scotland, nobody
but a Scotchman believes in fine weather, and consequently there is no
disappointment; in England the Lake District is, perhaps, the most
unfortunate spot for folks to be caught in by rain, because if there is
no landscape there is nothing. _Spectare veniunt_, and when there are
only the ribs and lining of their umbrellas to look at, their lot is
hard indeed.

Wastwater is a charming place in sunshine--almost the only locality in
England where things are still primitive and pastoral; but in rain! I
hate exhibitions, but rather than Wastdale in wet weather, give me a
panorama. Serious people may talk of 'the Devil's books,' but even a
pack of cards, with somebody to play with you, is better under such
circumstances than no book.

There is no limit to what human beings may be driven to by stress of
weather, and especially by that 'clearing shower,' by which the
dwellers in Lakeland are wont euphemistically to describe its
continuous downpours. The Persians have another name for it--'the
grandmother of all buckets.' I was once in Wastdale with a dean of the
Church of England, respectable, sedate, and a D.D. It had poured for
days without ceasing; the roads were under water, the passes were
impassable, the mountains invisible; there was nothing to be seen but
waterfalls, and those in the wrong place; there was no literature; the
dean's guide-books were exhausted, and his Bible, it is but charitable
and reasonable to suppose, he knew by heart. As for me, I had found
three tourists who could play at whist, and was comparatively
independent of the elements; but that poor ecclesiastic! For the first
few days he occupied himself in remonstrating against our playing cards
by daylight; but on the fourth morning, when we sat down to them
immediately after breakfast, he began to take an enforced interest in
our proceedings. Like a dove above the dovecot, he circled for an hour
or two about the table--a deal one, such as thimble-riggers use,
borrowed, under protest, from his own humble bedroom--and then, with a
murmurous coo about the weather showing no signs of clearing up, he
took a hand. Constant dropping--and it was much worse than
dropping--will wear away a stone, and it is my belief if it had gone on
much longer his reverence would have played on Sunday.

The spectacle that the roads of the district present at such a time is
most melancholy. Everyone is in a closed car--a cross between a bathing
machine and that convenient vehicle which carries both corpse and
mourners; all the windows seem made of bottle glass, a phenomenon
produced by the flattening of the noses of imprisoned tourists; and
nothing shines except an occasional traveller in oilskin. In such
seasons, indeed, oilskin (lined with patience) is your only wear.
Ordinary waterproofs in such a climate become mere blotting paper, and
with the best of them, without leggings and headgear to match, the poor
Londoner might, I do not say just as well be in London (for that is his
aspiration all day long), but just as well go to bed at once, and stop
there. 'But why does he not go home?' it may be asked: a question to
which there are several answers. In the first place (for one must take
the average in such cases) because he is a fool. Secondly, like the
rest of the well-to-do world, he has suffered the summer, wherein
warmth and sunshine are really to be had, to slip by, and has only the
fag end of it in which to take holiday. It is now or never--or at all
events now or next year--with him. All his friends, too, are out of
town, flattening _their_ noses against window panes; his club is under
repair, his house in brown holland, his servants on board wages. Like
the young gentleman in Locksley Hall, he is so absolutely at the end of
his resources, that an 'angry fancy' is all that is left to him. Of
course, under its influence he sits down and writes to the _Times_;
but, if the humblest of its correspondents may venture to say so
without offence, even that does not help him much. That suicides
increase in wet autumns is notorious; but that murders should in these
sequestered vales maintain the even tenor of their way is a feather in
the cap of human nature. In lodgings, where the pent-up tourist has no
one but his wife and family to speak to, where Dick and Tom _will_ romp
in his only sitting-room, and Eliza Jane practises all day on the crazy
piano, this forbearance is especially creditable.

Even in hotels, however, there is great temptation. On the
north-eastern coast, in particular, when the weather has, as the phrase
goes, 'broken up,' and the sky and sea have both become one durable
drab, the best of women grow irritable, the men morose. At the _table
d'hôte_, which even the most exclusive are driven to frequent for
company, as sheep huddle together in storm, Dislike ripens to Hate with
frightful rapidity. Our neighbour, who always--for it seems
always--gets the last of the mushrooms at breakfast, or finishes the
oyster sauce at dinner before our very eyes, we are very far, indeed,
from loving as ourselves. Our _vis-à-vis_, the man on his honeymoon, is
even still more offensive. We resent his happiness, which is apparently
uninfluenced by the state of the weather, and our wife wonders what he
could have seen in that chit of a girl to attract his attention. To
ourselves she seems a great deal too good for him, and in our rare
intervals of human feeling we regard her with the tenderest
commiseration. The importance attached to meals, and the time we take
over them, have no parallel save among the Esquimaux. The least
incident that happens in the hotel is of more moment to us than the
overthrow of Empires. The whispered news that a fellow guest has been
taken seriously ill, and that a medical consultation has been held upon
the case, is a matter to be deplored, of course, but one which is not
without its consolations. 'Who is it? What is it? Nothing catching I do
hope?' (this last uttered with genuine anxiety) are questions that are
heard on every side. The general impression is that some lovely young
lady of fashion on the drawing-room floor has been seized with pains in
her limbs--and no wonder--from exposure to the elements. Her mother
comes down every morning and selects dainties for the sick-room from
the public breakfast table; those who are near enough to do so inquire
in dulcet tones, 'How is your invalid this morning?' The reply is,
'Better, much better,' which somehow falls short of expectation. Even
the most giddy and frivolous of girls has no excuse for frightening
people for nothing.

At luncheon one day a very fat, strong boy makes his appearance, and is
supplied with soup. All his neighbours who have no soup are wild with
envy, though they are well acquainted with that soup at dinner, and
know that it is bad. 'What is the meaning of it? Why this favouritism?'
we inquire of the waiter furiously. 'Well, you see, sir, he is better
now; but that is the invalid.' The delicate, attractive creature we
have pictured to ourselves with pains in her limbs turns out, after
all, to be a hulking schoolboy, probably bilious from over-eating. The
public indignation is excessive, while the subject of it, quite
unconscious of the fact, has another plate of soup.

The wild weather out of doors is not, of course, confined to the land,
and the sea would be a fine sight if it was not invisible. The waves,
indeed, are so high that the fishing-boats which have remained out all
night are often warned off, or, as it is locally termed, 'burned off,'
from the harbour bar. A tar barrel is lighted for this purpose on the
headland, and it is the only thing which the eternal rain cannot
utterly squelch and extinguish. Occasionally we venture down upon the
pier to see the boats make the harbour, which, not a little to our
disappointment, they never fail to do. There are huge buttresses of
stone against the pier-head, behind which the new comer imagines he may
crouch in perfect safety, till the third wave comes in and convinces
him to the contrary. No one ever dreams of 'burning' _him_ off--giving
him one word of warning of that unpleasant contingency; for to behold a
fellow creature more drenched and dripping than ourselves is very
soothing. As to the dangers of maritime life, we are all agreed that
they are greatly overrated; and some sceptics even go so far as to
suggest that the skeleton ship, half embedded in the sands, which so
impresses visitors in fine weather, is not a genuine wreck at all, but
has been placed there by the Town Corporation to delude the public.

Now and then we splash down to the quay to see a few million of
herrings sold at four shillings a hundred, which will presently induce
philanthropic fishmongers in London to advertise 'a glut this morning,'
and to retail them at threepence apiece. At rare intervals we explore
the dripping town. It is amazing what a fascination the small
picture-shops, to which at home we should never give a glance, afford
us; even the frontispieces to popular music have unwonted attractions;
while the pottery-shops, full of ware made from clay 'peculiar to the
locality,' are only too seductive to our wives, who purchase largely
what they believe to be great bargains, till they find on their return
home the identical articles in Oxford Street, at half the price. In
London we never visit the British Museum itself, unless to escort some
country cousin, but at Barecliff-on-Sea, in wet weather, the miserable
little local Institute, with its specimens of strata, its calf with two
heads in spirits, and its petrified toad, is an irresistible
temptation. The great event of the day, however, is the wading down to
the railway-station (which is in a quagmire) to meet the express train
which brings more victims, 'unconscious of their doom,' to Barecliff,
and who evidently flatter themselves that the pouring rain is an
exceptional phenomenon; it also brings the London newspapers, for which
we fight and struggle (the demand being greatly in excess of the
supply) and think ourselves fortunate if we secure a supplement. It is
true there is a _Times_ in the smoking-room of the hotel, but it is
always engaged five deep, is the cause of terrible quarrels, and every
afternoon we expect to see it imbrued in gore.

In the evening, when one does not mind the wet so much--'its tooth is
not so keen because it is not seen'--there are dissipations at 'the
Rooms by the Sea.' Amateur charitable concerts are given there, in
which it is whispered that this and that lady at the _table d'hôte_
will take part, who become public characters and objects of immense
interest in consequence. Thither, too, come 'the inimitable Jones,'
from the Edgware Road Music Hall, with his 'unrivalled _répertoire_ of
comic songs;' the Spring Board Family, who have been 'pronounced by the
general consensus of the medical faculty in London to be unique,' as
having neither joints nor backbone; and Herr von Deft, 'who will repeat
the same astounding performances which have electrified the reigning
families of Europe.' The serious people (for whom 'the glee-singers of
Mesopotamia' are also suspected of dropping a line) are angled for by
white-cravatted lecturers, who enhance their statistics of conversion
by the exhibition of poisoned arrows, and of clubs, on which, with the
microscope, may be detected the hairs of missionary martyrs. In fine
weather, of course, these attractions would be advertised in vain; but
the fact is, our whole community has been reduced by the cruelty of the
elements to a sort of second childhood; the rain which permeates
everything is softening our brain.

This is only too evident from the conversation in the hotel porch where
the men meet every morning to discuss the topic of the day--the
weather. A sullen gloom pervades them--the first symptom of mental
aberration. Those, on the other hand, who express their opinion that it
'really seems to be clearing a little' are in more advanced stages. We
who are less afflicted shake our heads, and murmur painfully, but also
with a considerable touch of contempt, 'Poor fellows!'

The piano in the ladies' drawing-room is always going, but it excites
no soothing influence; there is an impression in the hotel that the
performers are foreigners, and should be discouraged. But there is one
instrument hanging in the hall on which everyone plays, native or
alien, and every note is discord. It is the barometer. People talk of
the delicacy of scientific instruments; if they are right, the shocks
which that barometer survives proves it to be an exception. Batter it
as we may, and do, the faithful needle, with a determination worthy of
a better cause, maintains its position at 'Much Rain.' The manager is
appealed to vehemently, coarsely; he shrugs his shoulders, protests
with humility that he cannot help the weather, or affirms it is
unprecedented--which we do not believe. Other managers--in the
Engadine, for example--the papers say, are providing excellent weather;
what does he mean by it?

At last one morning, wetter than ever, some noble spirit, the Tell of
our liberties, exclaims, 'Who would be free, himself must strike the
blow.' His actual words (if one was not writing history) are, 'Hang me
if I stand this any longer,' and they strike the keynote of everybody's
thought. He goes away by the next train, and his departure is followed
by the same effects as the tapping of a reservoir. The hotel company--I
mean the inmates; the company goes into bankruptcy--stream off at once
to their own homes. That journey through the pouring rain is the
happiest day of our wet holiday. How beautiful looms soaking, soppy,
smoky London! In that excellent town who cares for rain?

    'Blow, winds, and crack your cheeks! rage! blow!
    You cataracts and hurricanoes spout.'

Pooh! pooh! Call a cab--call two!



_TRAVELLING COMPANIONS._


It was held by wise men of old that adversity was the test of
friendship, but as his Excellency the Minister of the United States has
observed, _per_ Mr. Biglow, 'They did not know everything down in
Judee;' and among other subjects of which those ancient writers were
necessarily ignorant was that of Continental travel. The coming to
grief of a friend is unquestionably very inconvenient; as a millionaire
of my acquaintance observes (under the influence, as he confidently
believes, of benevolent emotion), 'One likes to see one's friends
prosperous;' but even when they are not so, it requires some effort to
follow the dictates of prudence and cast them off. And, after all, the
man, even though you may cut him, remains the same; as fit for the
purposes of friendship as ever, except for his pecuniary condition.
There is no such change in his relation to oneself as Emerson describes
in one of his essays; his words I forget, and his works are miles away,
but the man he has in his mind has in some way fallen short of
expectation--declined, perhaps, to lend the philosopher money.
'Yesterday,' he says, 'my friend was the illimitable ocean; to-day he
is a pond.' He had come to the end of him. And some friends, as my
little child complains as he strokes his black kitten, 'end so soon.'

There are no circumstances, however, under which friendship comes so
often to a violent and sudden death as under the pressure of travel. It
is like the fate which the Scientific ascribe to a box sunk in the sea;
after a certain depth, which varies according to the strength of the
box, the weight of the superincumbent water bursts it up. It is merely
a question of how deep or how strong. Our travelling companion remains
our friend for a day, for a week, for even a month; but at the month's
end he is our friend no longer. Our relations have probably become what
the diplomatists term 'strained' long before that date, but a day comes
when the tension becomes intolerable; the cable parts and we lose him.
Unfortunately, not always, however; there are circumstances--such as
being on board ship, for example--when we thus part without parting
company. A long voyage is the most terrible trial to which friendship
can be subjected. It is like the old sentence of pressing to death, 'as
much as he can bear, and more.' It is doubtful, for example, whether
friendship has ever survived a voyage to Australia. I have sometimes
asked a man whether he knew So-and-So, who hails, like himself, from
Melbourne, and he has replied, 'We came over in the same ship'--'Only
that, and nothing more,' as the poet puts it; but his tone has an
unmistakable significance, and one perceives at once that the topic had
better not be pursued.

A very dear friend of mine once proposed that we should go round the
world together; he offered to pay all my expenses, and painted the
expedition in rose-colour. But I had the good sense to decline the
proposal. I felt I should lose my friend. Even yachting is a very
dangerous pastime in this respect, especially when the vessel is
becalmed. In that case, like the sea itself, one's friend soon becomes
a pond. Conceive, then, what it must be to go round the world with him!
Is it possible, both being human, that we can still love one another
when we have got to Japan, for instance? And then we have to come back
together! How frightful must be that moment when he tells us the same
story he told at starting, and we feel that he has come to the end of
his tether, and is going to tell _all_ his stories over again! This is
why it so often happens that only one of two friends returns from any
long voyage they have undertaken together. What has become of the
other? A question that one should never put to the survivor. It is
certain that great travellers, and especially those who travel by sea,
have a very different code of morals from that which they conform to at
home. Human life is not so sacred to them. Perhaps it is in this
respect that travel is said to enlarge the mind. That it does not
sharpen it, however, whatever it may do for the temper, is tolerably
certain. In their habits travellers are singularly conventional. They
are compelled, of course, to suffer certain inconveniences, but they
endure others, and most serious ones, quite unnecessarily, merely
because it is the custom so to do. In crossing the Atlantic, for
example, a man of means will submit to be shut up in a close cupboard
for ten days with an utter stranger, though by paying double fare he
can get a cabin to himself. This arises from no desire for economy, but
simply because he does not think for himself; other travellers do the
like, and he follows their example. Yet what money could recompense him
for occupying for the same time _on land_ a double-bedded room--not to
say a mere china closet--with a man of whom he knows nothing except
that he is subject to chronic sickness? A pleasant sort of travelling
companion indeed, yet, strange to say, the commonest of all. Where
there is a slender purse this terrible state of things (supposing
travel under such circumstances to be compatible with pleasure at all,
which, for my part, I cannot imagine) is not a matter of choice; but
where it can be avoided why is it undergone?

There is nothing that convinces me of the folly of mankind so much as
those advertisements we see in the summer months with respect to
travelling companions, from volunteers of both sexes: 'Wanted, a
travelling companion for a few months on the Continent, etc. The
highest references will be required.' The idea of going with a stranger
upon a tour of pleasure must surely originate in Hanwell, and the
adventurer may think himself fortunate if it does not end in Broadmoor.
References, indeed! Who can answer for a fellow-creature's temper,
patience, unselfishness, during such an ordeal as a protracted tour? No
one who has not travelled with him already; and one may be tolerably
certain his certificate does not come from _that_ quarter. It is true
some people are married to strangers by advertisement; but their
companionship, as I am given to understand, does not generally last for
months, or anything like it.

Imagine two people, as utterly unknown to one another, except by letter
(and 'references'), as the _x_ and _y_ of an equation, meeting for the
first time at the railway-station! With what tremors must each regard
the other! What a relief it must be to X. to find that Y. is at least a
white man; on the other hand, it must rather dash his hopes, if they
are set on pedestrianism, to find that his _compagnon de voyage_ has a
wooden leg. Yet what are his mere colour and limbs compared with his
temperament and disposition? If one did not know the frightful risks
one's fellow-creatures incur every day for little pleasure and less
profit, one would certainly say these people must be mad.

But if instead of X. and Y., it is even A. and B., men who have known
one another for years, and in every relation but as fellow-travellers,
there is risk enough in such a venture. One night, after dinner at the
club, they agree with effusion to take their autumn trip together; they
are warm with wine and with the remembrance of their college
friendship--which extended perhaps, when they afterwards come to think
about it, a very little way. What days they will have in Switzerland
together! What mornings (to see the sunrise) upon mountain-tops! What
evenings on Lucerne! What nights in Paris! A. thinks himself fortunate
indeed in having secured B.'s society for the next three months--a man
with such a reputation for conversation; even T., the cynic of the
club, has testified to his charm of manner. By-the-bye, what was
it--exactly--T. had said of B.? A. cannot remember it at the moment,
but recalls it on the night before they start together. 'B. is a
charming fellow, only he has this peculiarity--that if there is only
one armchair in a room, B. is sure to get it.'

B., on the other hand, congratulates himself on A.'s excessive good
sense, which even T. had knowledged. What was it--exactly--T. had said
of A.? He cannot remember it at the moment, but recalls it on the night
before they start together. 'A. is such a thoroughly practical fellow;
he has committed many follies, and not a few crimes, but he can lay his
hand on the place where his heart should be, and honestly aver that he
has never given sixpence to anybody.' Full of misgivings, and with
demonstrations of satisfaction that are in themselves suspicious, they
meet at the terminus. A. has a little black bag, which contains his
all; it frees him from all trouble about luggage, and (especially) from
the necessity of paying a porter. He is resolved not to lose a moment,
nor spend a sixpence, in a Custom-house. To his horror, he perceives
that B., whose one idea is comfort, has a portmanteau specially
designed for him (apparently upon the model of Noah's Ark), and which
can scarcely be got into the luggage-van. This article delays them
twenty-four hours at every frontier, because the ordinary authorities
decline to open it upon the ground that it contains an infernal
machine, and have to telegraph to their Government for instructions.

Again, B. is no doubt a charming conversationalist--in English; but he
does not know one single word of any other language. He requires every
observation of their alien fellow-travellers to be translated, and then
says 'Oh!' discontentedly, or 'It seems to me that foreigners have no
ideas.' And not for one moment can A. get rid of him. If there _is_ a
friend that sticketh closer than a brother, it is the Travelling
Companion who is dependent upon you for interpretation. It is needless
to say that under these circumstances the glass of Friendship falls
from 'Set Fair' to 'Stormy' with much rapidity. After A's fourth
quarrel with a waiter about half a franc, B. calls him a 'mean hound,'
and takes the opportunity of returning to his native land with a French
count, who speaks perfect English, and robs him of his watch and chain
and the contents of his pocket-book on board the steamer. A. and B.
meet one another daily at the club for years afterwards, but without
recognition.

Their case, of course, is an extreme one; but that of C. and D. is
almost as bad. They are men of prudence, and persuade E. to go with
them, as a makeweight. 'If we should ever disagree,' they say, 'as to
what is to be done--which, however, is to the last degree improbable--the
majority of votes shall carry it'--an arrangement which only delays the
inevitable event--

    'Three little nigger boys went the world to view,
    The third was left in Calais, and then there were two.'

They find the makeweight intolerable before they have crossed the
Channel, and, having agreed to cut their cable from him, are from that
moment never in the same mind about anything else. It is a modern
version of the three brigands who stole the Communion plate. C. and D.
push E. over the precipice, and C. stabs D. at a supper for which D.
has purveyed poisoned wine.

The only way to secure a really eligible travelling companion is to try
him first in short swallow-flights, or rather pigeon-flights, from
home. Take your bird with you for a few days' outing near home; then,
if he proves pleasant, for a week's tour in Cornwall; then for ten days
in Scotland, where, if you meet with the usual weather, and he still
keeps his temper and politeness, you may trust yourself to him
anywhere. Out of twenty failures there will, perhaps, be one success.
In this manner I have discovered in time, in my dearest and nearest
friends, the most undreamt of vices. One man, F., hitherto much
respected as a Chancery barrister, has, as it has turned out, been
intended by nature for a professional pedestrian. His true calling is
to walk 'laps' round the Agricultural Hall or at Lillie Bridge, with
nothing on to speak of save a handkerchief round his forehead. 'Let us
walk' is his one cry as soon as he becomes a travelling companion. And
he is not content to do this when he arrives at any place of interest,
but insists upon walking _there_--perhaps along a dusty road, or over
turnip-fields. I like walking myself in moderation--say a mile out and
a mile in; but not, certainly not, twenty miles at a stretch, and at a
speed which precludes conversation. This class of travelling companion
is very dangerous. If he does not get his walking he becomes malignant.
My barrister, at least, being denied the opportunity of drawing out
marriage-settlements, conveying land, or otherwise plundering the
community, took to practical jokes. Having a suspicion of his
pedestrian powers, from the extreme length of his legs, I took G. with
us, a man whom I could trust in that respect, and who fancied he had
heart complaint. G. and I took our exercise alone together in a fly.
One day we took a long drive--four miles or more--to a well-known bay.
The vehicle could not get down to the sea, so we descended on foot,
leaving it at the top of the cliff, with the strictest orders to the
man not to stir till we came back. When we returned the fly was gone.
How we reached our hotel, Heaven knows! but we did arrive there, in the
last stage of exhaustion. The driver of the carriage, whom we met next
day, informed us that a gentleman had been thrown from his horse on the
cliff-top and had broken his leg, and that, under the circumstances, he
had ventured to disobey our instructions and take the poor fellow home.
Years afterwards I discovered that nothing of the kind had happened,
but that the fiendish F. had given the driver a sovereign to play that
trick upon us. F. is a judge now, and has been lately trying election
cases. I wonder what he thinks of himself when he rebukes offenders for
the heinous crime of bribery!

Again, I always thought H. a pleasant fellow till we went together to
Cornwall. He had gone through the first ordeal of a few days nearer
home to my satisfaction, but at Penzance he broke out. He was so
dreadfully particular about his food that nothing satisfied him--not
even pilchards three times a day; and the way he went on at the waiters
is not to be described by a decent pen. The attendant at Penzance was
not, I am bound to say, a good waiter. He said, though he habitually
put his thumb in every dish, he 'hadn't quite got his hand in,' and was
not used to the business.' 'Used! you know nothing about it!' exclaimed
H., viciously. Then the poor fellow burst into tears. 'Pray be patient
with me, good gentlemen,' he murmured. 'I do my best; but until last
Wednesday as ever was I was a pork-butcher.' One cannot stand a
travelling companion who makes the waiters cry.

The worst kind of fellow-traveller is one who, to use his own
scientific phrase for his complaint, suffers from 'disorganisation of
the nervous centres.' At home his little weaknesses do not strike you.
You may not be on the spot when he flies across Piccadilly Circus,
pursued, as he fancies, by a Brompton omnibus which has not yet reached
St. James's Church, and is moving at a snail's pace; you may not have
been with him on that occasion when, in his eagerness to be in time for
the 'Flying Dutchman,' he arrives at Paddington an hour before it
starts, and is put into the parliamentary train which is shunted at
Slough to let the 'Dutchman' pass; but when you come to travel with him
you know what 'nerves' are to your cost. On the other hand, this is the
easiest kind of travelling companion to get rid of; for you have only
to feign a sore throat, with feverish symptoms, and off he flies on the
wings of terror, leaving you, as he thinks--if he _has_ a thought
except for his nervous centres--to the tender mercies of a foreign
doctor, to hireling nurses, and to a grave in the strangers' cemetery.


THE END.





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