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´╗┐Title: Yet Again
Author: Beerbohm, Max, Sir, 1872-1956
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Yet Again" ***

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Yet Again


by

Max Beerbohm



Till I gave myself the task of making a little selection from what I
had written since last I formed a book of essays, I had no notion that
I had put, as it were, my eggs into so many baskets--The Saturday
Review, The New Quarterly, The New Liberal Review, Vanity Fair, The
Daily Mail, Literature, The Traveller, The Pall Mall Magazine, The May
Book, The Souvenir Book of Charing Cross Hospital Bazaar, The Cornhill
Magazine, Harper's Magazine, and The Anglo-Saxon Review...Ouf! But the
sigh of relief that I heave at the end of the list is accompanied by a
smile of thanks to the various authorities for letting me use here what
they were so good as to require.

M. B.



CONTENTS

  THE FIRE
  SEEING PEOPLE OFF
  A MEMORY OF A MIDNIGHT EXPRESS
  PORRO UNUM...
  A CLUB IN RUINS
  '273'
  A STUDY IN DEJECTION
  A PATHETIC IMPOSTURE
  THE DECLINE OF THE GRACES
  WHISTLER'S WRITING
  ICHABOD
  GENERAL ELECTIONS
  A PARALLEL
  A MORRIS FOR MAY-DAY
  THE HOUSE OF COMMONS MANNER
  THE NAMING OF STREETS
  ON SHAKESPEARE'S BIRTHDAY
  A HOME-COMING
  'THE RAGGED REGIMENT'
  THE HUMOUR OF THE PUBLIC
  DULCEDO JUDICIORUM


WORDS FOR PICTURES

  'HARLEQUIN'
  'THE GARDEN OF LOVE'
  'ARIANE ET DIONYSE'
  'PETER THE DOMINICAN'
  'L' OISEAU BLEU'
  'MACBETH AND THE WITCHES'
  'CARLOTTA GRISI'
  'HO-TEI'
  'THE VISIT'



THE FIRE

If I were 'seeing over' a house, and found in every room an iron cage
let into the wall, and were told by the caretaker that these cages were
for me to keep lions in, I think I should open my eyes rather wide. Yet
nothing seems to me more natural than a fire in the grate.

Doubtless, when I began to walk, one of my first excursions was to the
fender, that I might gaze more nearly at the live thing roaring and
raging behind it; and I dare say I dimly wondered by what blessed
dispensation this creature was allowed in a domain so peaceful as my
nursery. I do not think I ever needed to be warned against scaling the
fender. I knew by instinct that the creature within it was
dangerous--fiercer still than the cat which had once strayed into the
room and scratched me for my advances. As I grew older, I ceased to
wonder at the creature's presence and learned to call it 'the fire,'
quite lightly. There are so many queer things in the world that we have
no time to go on wondering at the queerness of the things we see
habitually. It is not that these things are in themselves less queer
than they at first seemed to us. It is that our vision of them has been
dimmed. We are lucky when by some chance we see again, for a fleeting
moment, this thing or that as we saw it when it first came within our
ken. We are in the habit of saying that 'first impressions are best,'
and that we must approach every question 'with an open mind'; but we
shirk the logical conclusion that we were wiser in our infancy than we
are now. 'Make yourself even as a little child' we often say, but
recommending the process on moral rather than on intellectual grounds,
and inwardly preening ourselves all the while on having 'put away
childish things,' as though clarity of vision were not one of them.

I look around the room I am writing in--a pleasant room, and my own,
yet how irresponsive, how smug and lifeless! The pattern of the
wallpaper blamelessly repeats itself from wainscote to cornice; and the
pictures are immobile and changeless within their glazed frames--faint,
flat mimicries of life. The chairs and tables are just as their
carpenter fashioned them, and stand with stiff obedience just where
they have been posted. On one side of the room, encased in coverings of
cloth and leather, are myriads of words, which to some people, but not
to me, are a fair substitute for human company. All around me, in fact,
are the products of modern civilisation. But in the whole room there
are but three things living: myself, my dog, and the fire in my grate.
And of these lives the third is very much the most intensely vivid. My
dog is descended, doubtless, from prehistoric wolves; but you could
hardly decipher his pedigree on his mild, domesticated face. My dog is
as tame as his master (in whose veins flows the blood of the old
cavemen). But time has not tamed fire. Fire is as wild a thing as when
Prometheus snatched it from the empyrean. Fire in my grate is as fierce
and terrible a thing as when it was lit by my ancestors, night after
night, at the mouths of their caves, to scare away the ancestors of my
dog. And my dog regards it with the old wonder and misgiving. Even in
his sleep he opens ever and again one eye to see that we are in no
danger. And the fire glowers and roars through its bars at him with the
scorn that a wild beast must needs have for a tame one. 'You are free,'
it rages, 'and yet you do not spring at that man's throat and tear him
limb from limb and make a meal of him! 'and, gazing at me, it licks its
red lips; and I, laughing good-humouredly, rise and give the monster a
shovelful of its proper food, which it leaps at and noisily devours.

Fire is the only one of the elements that inspires awe. We breathe air,
tread earth, bathe in water. Fire alone we approach with deference. And
it is the only one of the elements that is always alert, always good to
watch. We do not see the air we breathe--except sometimes in London,
and who shall say that the sight is pleasant? We do not see the earth
revolving; and the trees and other vegetables that are put forth by it
come up so slowly that there is no fun in watching them. One is apt to
lose patience with the good earth, and to hanker after a sight of those
multitudinous fires whereover it is, after all, but a thin and
comparatively recent crust. Water, when we get it in the form of a
river, is pleasant to watch for a minute or so, after which period the
regularity of its movement becomes as tedious as stagnation. It is only
a whole seaful of water that can rival fire in variety and in
loveliness. But even the spectacle of sea at its very best--say in an
Atlantic storm--is less thrilling than the spectacle of one building
ablaze. And for the rest, the sea has its hours of dulness and
monotony, even when it is not wholly calm. Whereas in the grate even a
quite little fire never ceases to be amusing and inspiring until you
let it out. As much fire as would correspond with a handful of earth or
a tumblerful of water is yet a joy to the eyes, and a lively suggestion
of grandeur. The other elements, even as presented in huge samples,
impress us as less august than fire. Fire alone, according to the
legend, was brought down from Heaven: the rest were here from the dim
outset. When we call a thing earthy we impute cloddishness; by 'watery'
we imply insipidness; 'airy' is for something trivial. 'Fiery' has
always a noble significance. It denotes such things as faith, courage,
genius. Earth lies heavy, and air is void, and water flows down; but
flames aspire, flying back towards the heaven they came from. They
typify for us the spirit of man, as apart from aught that is gross in
him. They are the symbol of purity, of triumph over corruption. Water,
air, earth, can all harbour corruption; but where flames are, or have
been, there is innocence. Our love of fire comes partly, doubtless,
from our natural love of destruction for destruction's sake. Fire is
savage, and so, even after all these centuries, are we, at heart. Our
civilisation is but as the aforesaid crust that encloses the old
planetary flames. To destroy is still the strongest instinct of our
nature. Nature is still 'red in tooth and claw,' though she has begun
to make fine flourishes with tooth-brush and nail-scissors. Even the
mild dog on my hearth-rug has been known to behave like a wolf to his
own species. Scratch his master and you will find the caveman. But the
scratch must be a sharp one: I am thickly veneered. Outwardly, I am as
gentle as you, gentle reader. And one reason for our delight in fire is
that there is no humbug about flames: they are frankly, primaevally
savage. But this is not, I am glad to say, the sole reason. We have a
sense of good and evil. I do not pretend that it carries us very far.
It is but the tooth-brush and nail-scissors that we flourish. Our
innate instincts, not this acquired sense, are what the world really
hinges on. But this acquired sense is an integral part of our minds.
And we revere fire because we have come to regard it as especially the
foe of evil--as a means for destroying weeds, not flowers; a destroyer
of wicked cities, not of good ones.

The idea of hell, as inculcated in the books given to me when I was a
child, never really frightened me at all. I conceived the possibility
of a hell in which were eternal flames to destroy every one who had not
been good. But a hell whose flames were eternally impotent to destroy
these people, a hell where evil was to go on writhing yet thriving for
ever and ever, seemed to me, even at that age, too patently absurd to
be appalling. Nor indeed do I think that to the more credulous children
in England can the idea of eternal burning have ever been quite so
forbidding as their nurses meant it to be. Credulity is but a form of
incaution. I, as I have said, never had any wish to play with fire; but
most English children are strongly attracted, and are much less afraid
of fire than of the dark. Eternal darkness, with a biting east-wind,
were to the English fancy a far more fearful prospect than eternal
flames. The notion of these flames arose in Italy, where heat is no
luxury, and shadows are lurked in, and breezes prayed for. In England
the sun, even at its strongest, is a weak vessel. True, we grumble
whenever its radiance is a trifle less watery than usual. But that is
precisely because we are a people whose nature the sun has not
mellowed--a dour people, like all northerners, ever ready to make the
worst of things. Inwardly, we love the sun, and long for it to come
nearer to us, and to come more often. And it is partly because this
craving is unsatisfied that we cower so fondly over our open hearths.
Our fires are makeshifts for sunshine. Autumn after autumn, 'we see the
swallows gathering in the sky, and in the osier-isle we hear their
noise,' and our hearts sink. Happy, selfish little birds, gathering so
lightly to fly whither we cannot follow you, will you not, this once,
forgo the lands of your desire? 'Shall not the grief of the old time
follow?' Do winter with us, this once! We will strew all England, every
morning, with bread-crumbs for you, will you but stay and help us to
play at summer! But the delicate cruel rogues pay no heed to us,
skimming sharplier than ever in pursuit of gnats, as the hour draws
near for their long flight over gnatless seas.

Only one swallow have I ever known to relent. It had built its nest
under the eaves of a cottage that belonged to a friend of mine, a man
who loved birds. He had a power of making birds trust him. They would
come at his call, circling round him, perching on his shoulders, eating
from his hand. One of the swallows would come too, from his nest under
the eaves. As the summer wore on, he grew quite tame. And when summer
waned, and the other swallows flew away, this one lingered, day after
day, fluttering dubiously over the threshold of the cottage. Presently,
as the air grew chilly, he built a new nest for himself, under the
mantelpiece in my friend's study. And every morning, so soon as the
fire burned brightly, he would flutter down to perch on the fender and
bask in the light and warmth of the coals. But after a few weeks he
began to ail; possibly because the study was a small one, and he could
not get in it the exercise that he needed; more probably because of the
draughts. My friend's wife, who was very clever with her needle, made
for the swallow a little jacket of red flannel, and sought to divert
his mind by teaching him to perform a few simple tricks. For a while he
seemed to regain his spirits. But presently he moped more than ever,
crouching nearer than ever to the fire, and, sidelong, blinking dim
weak reproaches at his disappointed master and mistress. One swallow,
as the adage truly says, does not make a summer. So this one's mistress
hurriedly made for him a little overcoat of sealskin, wearing which, in
a muffled cage, he was personally conducted by his master straight
through to Sicily. There he was nursed back to health, and liberated on
a sunny plain. He never returned to his English home; but the nest he
built under the mantelpiece is still preserved in case he should come
at last.

When the sun's rays slant down upon your grate, then the fire blanches
and blenches, cowers, crumbles, and collapses. It cannot compete with
its archetype. It cannot suffice a sun-steeped swallow, or ripen a
plum, or parch the carpet. Yet, in its modest way, it is to your room
what the sun is to the world; and where, during the greater part of the
year, would you be without it? I do not wonder that the poor, when they
have to choose between fuel and food, choose fuel. Food nourishes the
body; but fuel, warming the body, warms the soul too. I do not wonder
that the hearth has been regarded from time immemorial as the centre,
and used as the symbol, of the home. I like the social tradition that
we must not poke a fire in a friend's drawing-room unless our
friendship dates back full seven years. It rests evidently, this
tradition, on the sentiment that a fire is a thing sacred to the
members of the household in which it burns. I dare say the fender has a
meaning, as well as a use, and is as the rail round an altar. In 'The
New Utopia' these hearths will all have been rased, of course, as
demoralising relics of an age when people went in for privacy and were
not always thinking exclusively about the State. Such heat as may be
needed to prevent us from catching colds (whereby our vitality would be
lowered, and our usefulness to the State impaired) will be supplied
through hot-water pipes (white-enamelled), the supply being strictly
regulated from the municipal water-works. Or has Mr. Wells arranged
that the sun shall always be shining on us? I have mislaid my copy of
the book. Anyhow, fires and hearths will have to go. Let us make the
most of them while we may.

Personally, though I appreciate the radiance of a family fire, I give
preference to a fire that burns for myself alone. And dearest of all to
me is a fire that burns thus in the house of another. I find an
inalienable magic in my bedroom fire when I am staying with friends;
and it is at bedtime that the spell is strongest. 'Good night,' says my
host, shaking my hand warmly on the threshold; you've everything you
want?' 'Everything,' I assure him; 'good night.' 'Good night.' 'Good
night,' and I close my door, close my eyes, heave a long sigh, open my
eyes, set down the candle, draw the armchair close to the fire (my
fire), sink down, and am at peace, with nothing to mar my happiness
except the feeling that it is too good to be true.

At such moments I never see in my fire any likeness to a wild beast. It
roars me as gently as a sucking dove, and is as kind and cordial as my
host and hostess and the other people in the house. And yet I do not
have to say anything to it, I do not have to make myself agreeable to
it. It lavishes its warmth on me, asking nothing in return. For fifteen
mortal hours or so, with few and brief intervals, I have been making
myself agreeable, saying the right thing, asking the apt question,
exhibiting the proper shade of mild or acute surprise, smiling the
appropriate smile or laughing just so long and just so loud as the
occasion seemed to demand. If I were naturally a brilliant and copious
talker, I suppose that to stay in another's house would be no strain on
me. I should be able to impose myself on my host and hostess and their
guests without any effort, and at the end of the day retire quite
unfatigued, pleasantly flushed with the effect of my own magnetism.
Alas, there is no question of my imposing myself. I can repay
hospitality only by strict attention to the humble, arduous process of
making myself agreeable. When I go up to dress for dinner, I have
always a strong impulse to go to bed and sleep off my fatigue; and it
is only by exerting all my will-power that I can array myself for the
final labours: to wit, making myself agreeable to some man or woman for
a minute or two before dinner, to two women during dinner, to men after
dinner, then again to women in the drawing-room, and then once more to
men in the smoking-room. It is a dog's life. But one has to have
suffered before one gets the full savour out of joy. And I do not
grumble at the price I have to pay for the sensation of basking, at
length, in solitude and the glow of my own fireside.

Too tired to undress, too tired to think, I am more than content to
watch the noble and ever-changing pageant of the fire. The finest part
of this spectacle is surely when the flames sink, and gradually the
red-gold caverns are revealed, gorgeous, mysterious, with inmost
recesses of white heat. It is often thus that my fire welcomes me when
the long day's task is done. After I have gazed long into its depths, I
close my eyes to rest them, opening them again, with a start, whenever
a coal shifts its place, or some belated little tongue of flame spurts
forth with a hiss.... Vaguely I liken myself to the watchman one sees
by night in London, wherever a road is up, huddled half-awake in his
tiny cabin of wood, with a cresset of live coal before him.... I have
come down in the world, and am a night-watchman, and I find the life as
pleasant as I had always thought it must be, except when I let the fire
out, and awake shivering.... Shivering I awake, in the twilight of
dawn. Ashes, white and grey, some rusty cinders, a crag or so of coal,
are all that is left over from last night's splendour. Grey is the lawn
beneath my window, and little ghosts of rabbits are nibbling and
hobbling there. But anon the east will be red, and, ere I wake, the sky
will be blue, and the grass quite green again, and my fire will have
arisen from its ashes, a cackling and comfortable phoenix.



SEEING PEOPLE OFF

I am not good at it. To do it well seems to me one of the most
difficult things in the world, and probably seems so to you, too.

To see a friend off from Waterloo to Vauxhall were easy enough. But we
are never called on to perform that small feat. It is only when a
friend is going on a longish journey, and will be absent for a longish
time, that we turn up at the railway station. The dearer the friend,
and the longer the journey, and the longer the likely absence, the
earlier do we turn up, and the more lamentably do we fail. Our failure
is in exact ratio to the seriousness of the occasion, and to the depth
of our feeling.

In a room, or even on a door-step, we can make the farewell quite
worthily. We can express in our faces the genuine sorrow we feel. Nor
do words fail us. There is no awkwardness, no restraint, on either
side. The thread of our intimacy has not been snapped. The leave-taking
is an ideal one. Why not, then, leave the leave-taking at that? Always,
departing friends implore us not to bother to come to the railway
station next morning. Always, we are deaf to these entreaties, knowing
them to be not quite sincere. The departing friends would think it very
odd of us if we took them at their word. Besides, they really do want
to see us again. And that wish is heartily reciprocated. We duly turn
up. And then, oh then, what a gulf yawns! We stretch our arms vainly
across it. We have utterly lost touch. We have nothing at all to say.
We gaze at each other as dumb animals gaze at human beings. We 'make
conversation'--and such conversation! We know that these are the
friends from whom we parted overnight. They know that we have not
altered. Yet, on the surface, everything is different; and the tension
is such that we only long for the guard to blow his whistle and put an
end to the farce.

On a cold grey morning of last week I duly turned up at Euston, to see
off an old friend who was starting for America.

Overnight, we had given him a farewell dinner, in which sadness was
well mingled with festivity. Years probably would elapse before his
return. Some of us might never see him again. Not ignoring the shadow
of the future, we gaily celebrated the past. We were as thankful to
have known our guest as we were grieved to lose him; and both these
emotions were made evident. It was a perfect farewell.

And now, here we were, stiff and self-conscious on the platform; and,
framed in the window of the railway-carriage, was the face of our
friend; but it was as the face of a stranger--a stranger anxious to
please, an appealing stranger, an awkward stranger. 'Have you got
everything?' asked one of us, breaking a silence. 'Yes, everything,'
said our friend, with a pleasant nod. 'Everything,' he repeated, with
the emphasis of an empty brain. 'You'll be able to lunch on the train,'
said I, though this prophecy had already been made more than once. 'Oh
yes,' he said with conviction. He added that the train went straight
through to Liverpool. This fact seemed to strike us as rather odd. We
exchanged glances. 'Doesn't it stop at Crewe?' asked one of us. 'No,'
said our friend, briefly. He seemed almost disagreeable. There was a
long pause. One of us, with a nod and a forced smile at the traveller,
said 'Well!' The nod, the smile, and the unmeaning monosyllable, were
returned conscientiously. Another pause was broken by one of us with a
fit of coughing. It was an obviously assumed fit, but it served to pass
the time. The bustle of the platform was unabated. There was no sign of
the train's departure. Release--ours, and our friend's--was not yet.

My wandering eye alighted on a rather portly middle-aged man who was
talking earnestly from the platform to a young lady at the next window
but one to ours. His fine profile was vaguely familiar to me. The young
lady was evidently American, and he was evidently English; otherwise I
should have guessed from his impressive air that he was her father. I
wished I could hear what he was saying. I was sure he was giving the
very best advice; and the strong tenderness of his gaze was really
beautiful. He seemed magnetic, as he poured out his final injunctions.
I could feel something of his magnetism even where I stood. And the
magnetism, like the profile, was vaguely familiar to me. Where had I
experienced it?

In a flash I remembered. The man was Hubert le Ros. But how changed
since last I saw him! That was seven or eight years ago, in the Strand.
He was then (as usual) out of an engagement, and borrowed half-a-crown.
It seemed a privilege to lend anything to him. He was always magnetic.
And why his magnetism had never made him successful on the London stage
was always a mystery to me. He was an excellent actor, and a man of
sober habit. But, like many others of his kind, Hubert le Ros (I do
not, of course, give the actual name by which he was known) drifted
seedily away into the provinces; and I, like every one else, ceased to
remember him.

It was strange to see him, after all these years, here on the platform
of Euston, looking so prosperous and solid. It was not only the flesh
that he had put on, but also the clothes, that made him hard to
recognise. In the old days, an imitation fur coat had seemed to be as
integral a part of him as were his ill-shorn lantern jaws. But now his
costume was a model of rich and sombre moderation, drawing, not
calling, attention to itself. He looked like a banker. Any one would
have been proud to be seen off by him.

'Stand back, please.' The train was about to start, and I waved
farewell to my friend. Le Ros did not stand back. He stood clasping in
both hands the hands of the young American. 'Stand back, sir, please!'
He obeyed, but quickly darted forward again to whisper some final word.
I think there were tears in her eyes. There certainly were tears in his
when, at length, having watched the train out of sight, he turned
round. He seemed, nevertheless, delighted to see me. He asked me where
I had been hiding all these years; and simultaneously repaid me the
half-crown as though it had been borrowed yesterday. He linked his arm
in mine, and walked me slowly along the platform, saying with what
pleasure he read my dramatic criticisms every Saturday.

I told him, in return, how much he was missed on the stage. 'Ah, yes,'
he said, 'I never act on the stage nowadays.' He laid some emphasis on
the word 'stage,' and I asked him where, then, he did act. 'On the
platform,' he answered. 'You mean,' said I, 'that you recite at
concerts?' He smiled. 'This,' he whispered, striking his stick on the
ground, 'is the platform I mean.' Had his mysterious prosperity
unhinged him? He looked quite sane. I begged him to be more explicit.

'I suppose,' he said presently, giving me a light for the cigar which
he had offered me, 'you have been seeing a friend off?' I assented. He
asked me what I supposed he had been doing. I said that I had watched
him doing the same thing. 'No,' he said gravely. 'That lady was not a
friend of mine. I met her for the first time this morning, less than
half an hour ago, here,' and again he struck the platform with his
stick.

I confessed that I was bewildered. He smiled. 'You may,' he said, 'have
heard of the Anglo-American Social Bureau?' I had not. He explained to
me that of the thousands of Americans who annually pass through England
there are many hundreds who have no English friends. In the old days
they used to bring letters of introduction. But the English are so
inhospitable that these letters are hardly worth the paper they are
written on. 'Thus,' said Le Ros, 'the A.A.S.B. supplies a long-felt
want. Americans are a sociable people, and most of them have plenty of
money to spend. The A.A.S.B. supplies them with English friends. Fifty
per cent. of the fees is paid over to the friends. The other fifty is
retained by the A.A.S.B. I am not, alas, a director. If I were, I
should be a very rich man indeed. I am only an employe'. But even so I
do very well. I am one of the seers-off.'

Again I asked for enlightenment. 'Many Americans,' he said, 'cannot
afford to keep friends in England. But they can all afford to be seen
off. The fee is only five pounds (twenty-five dollars) for a single
traveller; and eight pounds (forty dollars) for a party of two or more.
They send that in to the Bureau, giving the date of their departure,
and a description by which the seer-off can identify them on the
platform. And then--well, then they are seen off.'

'But is it worth it?' I exclaimed. 'Of course it is worth it,' said Le
Ros. 'It prevents them from feeling "out of it." It earns them the
respect of the guard. It saves them from being despised by their
fellow-passengers--the people who are going to be on the boat. It gives
them a footing for the whole voyage. Besides, it is a great pleasure in
itself. You saw me seeing that young lady off. Didn't you think I did
it beautifully?' 'Beautifully,' I admitted. 'I envied you. There was
I--' 'Yes, I can imagine. There were you, shuffling from foot to foot,
staring blankly at your friend, trying to make conversation. I know.
That's how I used to be myself, before I studied, and went into the
thing professionally. I don't say I'm perfect yet. I'm still a martyr
to platform fright. A railway station is the most difficult of all
places to act in, as you have discovered for yourself.' 'But,' I said
with resentment, 'I wasn't trying to act. I really felt.' 'So did I, my
boy,' said Le Ros. 'You can't act without feeling. What's his name, the
Frenchman--Diderot, yes--said you could; but what did he know about it?
Didn't you see those tears in my eyes when the train started? I hadn't
forced them. I tell you I was moved. So were you, I dare say. But you
couldn't have pumped up a tear to prove it. You can't express your
feelings. In other words, you can't act. At any rate,' he added kindly,
'not in a railway station.' 'Teach me!' I cried. He looked thoughtfully
at me. 'Well,' he said at length, 'the seeing-off season is practically
over. Yes, I'll give you a course. I have a good many pupils on hand
already; but yes,' he said, consulting an ornate note-book, 'I could
give you an hour on Tuesdays and Fridays.'

His terms, I confess, are rather high. But I don't grudge the
investment.



A MEMORY OF A MIDNIGHT EXPRESS

Often I have presentiments of evil; but, never having had one of them
fulfilled, I am beginning to ignore them. I find that I have always
walked straight, serenely imprescient, into whatever trap Fate has laid
for me. When I think of any horrible thing that has befallen me, the
horror is intensified by recollection of its suddenness. 'But a moment
before, I had been quite happy, quite secure. A moment later--' I
shudder. Why be thus at Fate's mercy always, when with a little
ordinary second sight...Yet no! That is the worst of a presentiment: it
never averts evil, it does but unnerve the victim. Best, after all, to
have only false presentiments like mine. Bolts that cannot be dodged
strike us kindliest from the blue.

And so let me be thankful that my sole emotion as I entered an empty
compartment at Holyhead was that craving for sleep which, after
midnight, overwhelms every traveller--especially the Saxon traveller
from tumultuous and quick-witted little Dublin. Mechanically,
comfortably, as I sank into a corner, I rolled my rug round me, laid my
feet against the opposite cushions, twitched up my coat collar above my
ears, twitched down my cap over my eyes.

It was not the jerk of the starting train that half awoke me, but the
consciousness that some one had flung himself into the compartment when
the train was already in motion. I saw a small man putting something in
the rack--a large black hand-bag. Through the haze of my sleep I saw
him, vaguely resented him. He had no business to have slammed the door
like that, no business to have jumped into a moving train, no business
to put that huge hand-bag into a rack which was 'for light baggage
only,' and no business to be wearing, at this hour and in this place, a
top-hat. These four peevish objections floated sleepily together round
my brain. It was not till the man turned round, and I met his eye, that
I awoke fully--awoke to danger. I had never seen a murderer, but I knew
that the man who was so steadfastly peering at me now...I shut my eyes.
I tried to think. Could I be dreaming? In books I had read of people
pinching themselves to see whether they were really awake. But in
actual life there never was any doubt on that score. The great thing
was that I should keep all my wits about me. Everything might depend on
presence of mind. Perhaps this murderer was mad. If you fix a lunatic
with your eye...

Screwing up my courage, I fixed the man with my eye. I had never seen
such a horrible little eye as his. It was a sane eye, too. It radiated
a cold and ruthless sanity. It belonged not to a man who would kill you
wantonly, but to one who would not scruple to kill you for a purpose,
and who would do the job quickly and neatly, and not be found out. Was
he physically strong? Though he looked very wiry, he was little and
narrow, like his eyes. He could not overpower me by force, I thought
(and instinctively I squared my shoulders against the cushions, that he
might realise the impossibility of overpowering me), but I felt he had
enough 'science' to make me less than a match for him. I tried to look
cunning and determined. I longed for a moustache like his, to hide my
somewhat amiable mouth. I was thankful I could not see his mouth--could
not know the worst of the face that was staring at me in the lamplight.
And yet what could be worse than his eyes, gleaming from the deep
shadow cast by the brim of his top-hat? What deadlier than that square
jaw, with the bone so sharply delineated under the taut skin?

The train rushed on, noisily swaying through the silence of the night.
I thought of the unseen series of placid landscapes that we were
passing through, of the unconscious cottagers snoring there in their
beds, of the safe people in the next compartment to mine--to his. Not
moving a muscle, we sat there, we two, watching each other, like two
hostile cats. Or rather, I thought, he watched me as a snake watches a
rabbit, and I, like a rabbit, could not look away. I seemed to hear my
heart beating time to the train. Suddenly my heart was at a standstill,
and the double beat of the train receded faintly. The man was pointing
upwards...I shook my head. He had asked me in a low voice, whether he
should pull the hood across the lamp.

He was standing now with his back turned towards me, pulling his
hand-bag out of the rack. He had a furtive back--the back of a man who,
in his day, had borne many an alias. To this day I am ashamed that I
did not spring up and pinion him, there and then. Had I possessed one
ounce of physical courage, I should have done so. A coward, I let slip
the opportunity. I thought of the communication-cord, but how could I
move to it? He would be too quick for me. He would be very angry with
me. I would sit quite still and wait. Every moment was a long reprieve
to me now. Something might intervene to save me. There might be a
collision on the line. Perhaps he was a quite harmless man...I caught
his eyes, and shuddered...

His bag was open on his knees. His right hand was groping in it. (Thank
Heaven he had not pulled the hood over the lamp!) I saw him pull out
something--a limp thing, made of black cloth, not unlike the thing
which a dentist places over your mouth when laughing-gas is to be
administered. 'Laughing-gas, no laughing matter'--the irrelevant and
idiotic embryo of a pun dangled itself for an instant in my brain. What
other horrible thing would come out of the bag? Perhaps some gleaming
instrument?... He closed the bag with a snap, laid it beside him. He
took off his top-hat, laid that beside him. I was surprised (I know not
why) to see that he was bald. There was a gleaming high light on his
bald, round head. The limp, black thing was a cap, which he slowly
adjusted with both hands, drawing it down over the brow and behind the
ears. It seemed to me as though he were, after all, hooding the lamp;
in my feverish fancy the compartment grew darker when the orb of his
head was hidden. The shadow of another simile for his action came
surging up... He had put on the cap so gravely, so judicially. Yes,
that was it: he had assumed the black cap, that decent symbol which
indemnifies the taker of a life; and might the Lord have mercy on my
soul... Already he was addressing me... What had he said? I asked him
to repeat it. My voice sounded even further away than his. He repeated
that he thought we had met before. I heard my voice saying politely,
somewhere in the distance, that I thought not. He suggested that I had
been staying at some hotel in Colchester six years ago. My voice,
drawing a little nearer to me, explained that I had never in my life
been at Colchester. He begged my pardon and hoped no offence would be
taken where none had been meant. My voice, coming right back to its own
quarters, reassured him that of course I had taken no offence at all,
adding that I myself very often mistook one face for another. He
replied, rather inconsequently, that the world was a small place.

Evidently he must have prepared this remark to follow my expected
admission that I had been at that hotel in Colchester six years ago,
and have thought it too striking a remark to be thrown away. A
guileless creature evidently, and not a criminal at all. Then I
reflected that most of the successful criminals succeed rather through
the incomparable guilelessness of the police than through any devilish
cunning in themselves. Besides, this man looked the very incarnation of
ruthless cunning. Surely, he must but have dissembled. My suspicions of
him resurged. But somehow, I was no longer afraid of him. Whatever
crimes he might have been committing, and be going to commit, I felt
that he meant no harm to me. After all, why should I have imagined
myself to be in danger? Meanwhile, I would try to draw the man out,
pitting my wits against his.

I proceeded to do so. He was very voluble in a quiet way. Before long I
was in possession of all the materials for an exhaustive biography of
him. And the strange thing was that I could not, with the best will in
the world, believe that he was lying to me. I had never heard a man
telling so obviously the truth. And the truth about any one, however
commonplace, must always be interesting. Indeed, it is the commonplace
truth--the truth of widest application--that is the most interesting of
all truths.

I do not now remember many details of this man's story; I remember
merely that he was 'travelling in lace,' that he had been born at
Boulogne (this was the one strange feature of the narrative), that
somebody had once left him L100 in a will, and that he had a little
daughter who was 'as pretty as a pink.' But at the time I was
enthralled. Besides, I liked the man immensely. He was a kind and
simple soul, utterly belying his appearance. I wondered how I ever
could have feared him and hated him. Doubtless, the reaction from my
previous state intensified the kindliness of my feelings. Anyhow, my
heart went out to him. I felt that we had known each other for many
years. While he poured out his recollections I felt that he was an old
crony, talking over old days which were mine as well as his. Little by
little, however, the slumber which he had scared from me came hovering
back. My eyelids drooped; my comments on his stories became few and
muffled. 'There!' he said, 'you're sleepy. I ought to have thought of
that.' I protested feebly. He insisted kindly. 'You go to sleep,' he
said, rising and drawing the hood over the lamp. It was dawn when I
awoke. Some one in a top-hat was standing over me and saying 'Euston.'
'Euston?' I repeated. 'Yes, this is Euston. Good day to you.' 'Good day
to you,' I repeated mechanically, in the grey dawn.

Not till I was driving through the cold empty streets did I remember
the episode of the night, and who it was that had awoken me. I wished I
could see my friend again. It was horrible to think that perhaps I
should never see him again. I had liked him so much, and he had seemed
to like me. I should not have said that he was a happy man. There was
something melancholy about him. I hoped he would prosper. I had a
foreboding that some great calamity was in store for him, and wished I
could avert it. I thought of his little daughter who was 'as pretty as
a pink.' Perhaps Fate was going to strike him through her. Perhaps when
he got home he would find that she was dead. There were tears in my
eyes when I alighted on my doorstep.

Thus, within a little space of time, did I experience two deep
emotions, for neither of which was there any real justification. I
experienced terror, though there was nothing to be afraid of, and I
experienced sorrow, though there was nothing at all to be sorry about.
And both my terror and my sorrow were, at the time, overwhelming.

You have no patience with me? Examine yourselves. Examine one another.
In every one of us the deepest emotions are constantly caused by some
absurdly trivial thing, or by nothing at all. Conversely, the great
things in our lives--the true occasions for wrath, anguish, rapture,
what not--very often leave us quite calm. We never can depend on any
right adjustment of emotion to circumstance. That is one of many
reasons which prevent the philosopher from taking himself and his
fellow-beings quite so seriously as he would wish.



PORRO UNUM...

By graceful custom, every newcomer to a throne in Europe pays a round
of visits to his neighbours. When King Edward came back from seeing the
Tsar at Reval, his subjects seemed to think that he had fulfilled the
last demand on his civility. That was in the days of Abdul Hamid. None
of us wished the King to visit Turkey. Turkey is not internationally
powerful, nor had Abdul any Guelph blood in him; and so we were able to
assert, by ignoring her and him, our humanitarianism and passion for
liberty, quite safely, quite politely. Now that Abdul is deposed from
'his infernal throne,' it is taken as a matter of course that the King
will visit his successor. Well, let His Majesty betake himself and his
tact and a full cargo of Victorian Orders to Constantinople, by all
means. But, on the way, nestling in the very heart of Europe, perfectly
civilised and strifeless, jewelled all over with freedom, is another
country which he has not visited since his accession--a country which,
oddly enough, none but I seems to expect him to visit. Why, I ask,
should Switzerland be cold-shouldered?

I admit she does not appeal to the romantic imagination. She never has,
as a nation, counted for anything. Physically soaring out of sight,
morally and intellectually she has lain low and said nothing. Not one
idea, not one deed, has she to her credit. All that is worth knowing of
her history can be set forth without compression in a few lines of a
guide-book. Her one and only hero--William Tell--never, as we now know,
existed. He has been proved to be a myth. Also, he is the one and only
myth that Switzerland has managed to create. He exhausted her poor
little stock of imagination. Living as pigmies among the blind excesses
of Nature, living on sufferance there, animalculae, her sons have been
overwhelmed from the outset, have had no chance whatsoever of
development. Even if they had a language of their own, they would have
no literature. Not one painter, not one musician, have they produced;
only couriers, guides, waiters, and other parasites. A smug, tame, sly,
dull, mercenary little race of men, they exist by and for the alien
tripper. They are the fine flower of commercial civilisation, the
shining symbol of international comity, and have never done anybody any
harm. I cannot imagine why the King should not give them the
incomparable advertisement of a visit.

Not that they are badly in need of advertisement over here. Every year
the British trippers to Switzerland vastly outnumber the British
trippers to any other land--a fact which shows how little the romantic
imagination tells as against cheapness and comfort of hotels and the
notion that a heart strained by climbing is good for the health. And
this fact does but make our Sovereign's abstention the more remarkable.
Switzerland is not 'smart,' but a King is not the figure-head merely of
his entourage: he is the whole nation's figure-head. Switzerland, alone
among nations, is a British institution, and King Edward ought not to
snub her. That we expect him to do so without protest from us, seems to
me a rather grave symptom of flunkeyism.

Fiercely resenting that imputation, you proceed to raise difficulties.
'Who,' you ask, 'would there be to receive the King in the name of the
Swiss nation?' I promptly answer, 'The President of the Swiss
Republic.' You did not expect that. You had quite forgotten, if indeed
you had ever heard, that there was any such person. For the life of
you, you could not tell me his name. Well, his name is not very widely
known even in Switzerland. A friend of mine, who was there lately,
tells me that he asked one Swiss after another what was the name of the
President, and that they all sought refuge in polite astonishment at
such ignorance, and, when pressed for the name, could only screw up
their eyes, snap their fingers, and feverishly declare that they had it
on the tips of their tongues. This is just as it should be. In an ideal
republic there should be no one whose name might not at any moment slip
the memory of his fellows. Some sort of foreman there must be, for the
State's convenience; but the more obscure he be, and the more
automatic, the better for the ideal of equality. In the Republics of
France and of America the President is of an extrusive kind. His office
has been fashioned on the monarchic model, and his whole position is
anomalous. He has to try to be ornamental as well as useful, a symbol
as well as a pivot. Obviously, it is absurd to single out one man as a
symbol of the equality of all men. And not less unreasonable is it to
expect him to be inspiring as a patriotic symbol, an incarnation of his
country. Only an anointed king, whose forefathers were kings too, can
be that. In France, where kings have been, no one can get up the
slightest pretence of emotion for the President. If the President is
modest and unassuming, and doesn't, as did the late M. Faure, make an
ass of himself by behaving in a kingly manner, he is safe from
ridicule: the amused smiles that follow him are not unkind. But in no
case is any one proud of him. Never does any one see France in him. In
America, where no kings have been, they are able to make a pretence of
enthusiasm for a President. But no real chord of national sentiment is
touched by this eminent gentleman who has no past or future eminence,
who has been shoved forward for a space and will anon be sent packing
in favour of some other upstart. Let some princeling of a foreign State
set foot in America, and lo! all the inhabitants are tumbling over one
another in their desire for a glimpse of him--a desire which is the
natural and pathetic outcome of their unsatisfied inner craving for a
dynasty of their own. Human nature being what it is, a monarchy is the
best expedient, all the world over. But, given a republic, let the
thing be done thoroughly, let the appearance be well kept up, as in
Switzerland. Let the President be, as there, a furtive creature and
insignificant, not merely coming no man knows whence, nor merely
passing no man knows whither, but existing no man knows where; and
existing not even as a name--except on the tip of the tongue. National
dignity, as well as the republican ideal, is served better thus.
Besides, it is less trying for the President.

And yet, stronger than all my sense of what is right and proper is the
desire in me that the President of the Swiss Republic should, just for
once, be dragged forth, blinking, from his burrow in Berne (Berne is
the capital of Switzerland), into the glare of European publicity, and
be driven in a landau to the railway station, there to await the King
of England and kiss him on either cheek when he dismounts from the
train, while the massed orchestras of all the principal hotels play our
national anthem--and also a Swiss national anthem, hastily composed for
the occasion. I want him to entertain the King, that evening, at a
great banquet, whereat His Majesty will have the President's wife on
his right hand, and will make a brief but graceful speech in the Swiss
language (English, French, German, and Italian, consecutively)
referring to the glorious and never-to-be-forgotten name of William
Tell (embarrassed silence), and to the vast number of his subjects who
annually visit Switzerland (loud and prolonged cheers). Next morning,
let there be a review of twenty thousand waiters from all parts of the
country, all the head-waiters receiving a modest grade of the Victorian
Order. Later in the day, let the King visit the National Gallery--a
hall filled with picture post-cards of the most picturesque spots in
Switzerland; and thence let him be conducted to the principal factory
of cuckoo-clocks, and, after some of the clocks have been made to
strike, be heard remarking to the President, with a hearty laugh, that
the sound is like that of the cuckoo. How the second day of the visit
would be filled up, I do not know; I leave that to the President's
discretion. Before his departure to the frontier, the King will of
course be made honorary manager of one of the principal hotels.

I hope to be present in Berne during these great days in the
President's life. But, if anything happen to keep me here, I shall
content myself with the prospect of his visit to London. I long to see
him and his wife driving past, with the proper escort of Life Guards,
under a vista of quadrilingual mottoes, bowing acknowledgments to us. I
wonder what he is like. I picture him as a small spare man, with a
slightly grizzled beard, and pleasant though shifty eyes behind a
pince-nez. I picture him frock-coated, bowler-hatted, and evidently
nervous. His wife I cannot at all imagine.



A CLUB IN RUINS

An antique ruin has its privileges. The longer the period of its
crumbling, the more do the owls build their nests in it, the more do
the excursionists munch in it their sandwiches. Thus, year by year, its
fame increases, till it looks back with contempt on the days when it
was a mere upright waterproof. Local guide-books pander more and more
slavishly to its pride; leader-writers in need of a pathetic metaphor
are more and more frequently supplied by it. If there be any sordid
question of clearing it away to make room for something else, the
public outcry is positively deafening.

Not that we are still under the sway of that peculiar cult which beset
us in the earlier part of the nineteenth century. A bad poet or painter
can no longer reap the reward of genius merely by turning his attention
to ruins under moonlight. Nor does any one cause to be built in his
garden a broken turret, for the evocation of sensibility in himself and
his guests. There used to be one such turret near the summit of Campden
Hill; but that familiar imposture was rased a year or two ago, no one
protesting. Fuit the frantic factitious sentimentalism for ruins. On
the other hand, the sentiment for them is as strong as ever it was.
Decrepit Carisbrooke and its rivals annually tighten their hold on
Britannia's heart.

I do not grudge them their success. But the very fact that they are so
successful inclines me to reserve my own personal sentiment rather for
those unwept, unsung ruins which so often confront me, here and there,
in the streets of this aggressive metropolis. The ruins made, not by
Time, but by the ruthless skill of Labour, the ruins of houses not old
enough to be sacrosanct nor new enough to keep pace with the demands of
a gasping and plethoric community--these are the ruins that move me to
tears. No owls flutter in them. No trippers lunch in them. In no
guide-book or leading-article will you find them mentioned. Their
pathetic interiors gape to the sky and to the street, but nor gods nor
men hold out a hand to save them. The patterns of bedroom wall-papers,
(chosen with what care, after how long discussion! only a few short
years or months ago) stare out their obvious, piteous appeal to us for
mercy. And their dumb agony is echoed dumbly by the places where doors
have been--doors that lately were tapped at by respectful knuckles; or
the places where staircases have been--staircases down whose banisters
lately slid little children, laughing. Exposed, humiliated, doomed, the
home throws out a hundred pleas to us. And the Pharisaic community
passes by on the other side of the way, in fear of a falling brick.
Down come the walls of the home, as quickly as pickaxes can send them.
Down they crumble, piecemeal, into the foundations, and are carted
away. Soon other walls will be rising--red-brick 'residential' walls,
more in harmony with the Zeitgeist. None but I pays any heed to the
ruins. I am their only friend. Me they attract so irresistibly that I
haunt the door of the hoarding that encloses them, and am frequently
mistaken for the foreman.

A few summers ago, I was watching, with more than usual emotion, the
rasure of a great edifice at a corner of Hanover Square. There were two
reasons why this rasure especially affected me. I had known the edifice
so well, by sight, ever since I was a small boy, and I had always
admired it as a fine example of that kind of architecture which is the
most suitable to London's atmosphere. Though I must have passed it
thousands of times, I had never passed without an upward smile of
approval that gaunt and sombre facade, with its long straight windows,
its well-spaced columns, its long straight coping against the London
sky. My eyes deplored that these noble and familiar things must perish.
For sake of what they had sheltered, my heart deplored that they must
perish. The falling edifice had not been exactly a home. It had been
even more than that. It had been a refuge from many homes. It had been
a club.

Certainly it had not been a particularly distinguished club. Its
demolition could not have been stayed on the plea that Charles James
Fox had squandered his substance in its card-room, or that Lord
Melbourne had loved to doze on the bench in its hall. Nothing sublime
had happened in it. No sublime person had belonged to it. Persons
without the vaguest pretensions to sublimity had always, I believe,
found quick and easy entrance into it. It had been a large nondescript
affair. But (to adapt Byron) a club's a club tho' every one's in it.
The ceremony of election gives it a cachet which not even the smartest
hotel has. And then there is the note-paper, and there are the
newspapers, and the cigars at wholesale prices, and the
not-to-be-tipped waiters, and other blessings for mankind. If the
members of this club had but migrated to some other building, taking
their effects and their constitution with them, the ruin would have
been pathetic enough. But alas! the outward wreck was a symbol, a
result, of inner dissolution. Through the door of the hoarding the two
pillars of the front door told a sorry tale. Pasted on either of them
was a dingy bill, bearing the sinister imprimatur of an auctioneer, and
offering (in capitals of various sizes) Bedroom Suites (Walnut and
Mahogany), Turkey, Indian and Wilton Pile Carpets, Two Full-sized
Billiard-Tables, a Remington Type-writer, a Double Door (Fire-Proof),
and other objects not less useful and delightful. The club, then, had
gone to smash. The members had been disbanded, driven out of this Eden
by the fiery sword of the Law, driven back to their homes. Sighing over
the marcescibility of human happiness, I peered between the pillars
into the excavated and chaotic hall. The porter's hatch was still
there, in the wall. There it was, wondering why no inquiries were made
through it now, or, may be, why it had not been sold into bondage with
the double-door and the rest of the fixtures. A melancholy relic of
past glories! I crossed over to the other side of the road, and passed
my eye over the whole ruin. The roof, the ceilings, most of the inner
walls, had already fallen. Little remained but the grim, familiar
facade--a thin husk. I noted (that which I had never noted before) two
iron grills in the masonry. Miserable travesties of usefulness,
ventilating the open air! Through the gaping windows, against the wall
of the next building, I saw in mid-air the greenish Lincrusta Walton of
what I guessed to have been the billiard-room--the billiard-room that
had boasted two full-sized tables. Above it ran a frieze of white and
gold. It was interspersed with flat Corinthian columns. The gilding of
the capitals was very fresh, and glittered gaily under the summer
sunbeams.

And hardly a day of the next autumn and winter passed but I was drawn
back to the ruin by a kind of lugubrious magnetism. The strangest thing
was that the ruin seemed to remain in practically the same state as
when first I had come upon it: the facade still stood high. This might
have been due to the proverbial laziness of British workmen, but I did
not think it could be. The workmen were always plying their pick-axes,
with apparent gusto and assiduity, along the top of the building;
bricks and plaster were always crashing down into the depths and
sending up clouds of dust. I preferred to think the building renewed
itself, by some magical process, every night. I preferred to think it
was prepared thus to resist its aggressors for so long a time that in
the end there would be an intervention from other powers. Perhaps from
this site no 'residential' affair was destined to scrape the sky?
Perhaps that saint to whom the club had dedicated itself would
reappear, at length, glorious equestrian, to slay the dragons who had
infested and desecrated his premises? I wondered whether he would then
restore the ruins, reinstating the club, and setting it for ever on a
sound commercial basis, or would leave them just as they were, a fixed
signal to sensibility.

But, when first I saw the poor facade being pick-axed, I did not 'give'
it more than a fortnight. I had no feeling but of hopeless awe and
pity. The workmen on the coping seemed to me ministers of inexorable
Olympus, executing an Olympian decree. And the building seemed to me a
live victim, a scapegoat suffering sullenly for sins it had not
committed. To me it seemed to be flinching under every rhythmic blow of
those well-wielded weapons, praying for the hour when sunset should
bring it surcease from that daily ordeal. I caught myself nodding to
it--a nod of sympathy, of hortation to endurance. Immediately, I was
ashamed of my lapse into anthropomorphism. I told myself that my pity
ought to be kept for the real men who had been frequenters of the
building, who now were waifs. I reviewed the gaping, glassless windows
through which they had been wont to watch the human comedy. There they
had stood, puffing their smoke and cracking their jests, and tearing
women's reputations to shreds.

Not that I, personally, have ever heard a woman's reputation torn to
shreds in a club window. A constant reader of lady-novelists, I have
always been hoping for this excitement, but somehow it has never come
my way. I am beginning to suspect that it never will, and am inclined
to regard it as a figment. Such conversation as I have heard in clubs
has been always of a very mild, perfunctory kind. A social club (even
though it be a club with a definite social character) is a collection
of heterogeneous creatures, and its aim is perfect harmony and
good-fellowship. Thus any definite expression of opinion by any member
is regarded as dangerous. The ideal clubman is he who looks genial and
says nothing at all. Most Englishmen find little difficulty in
conforming with this ideal. They belong to a silent race. Social clubs
flourish, therefore, in England. Intelligent foreigners, seeing them,
recognise their charm, and envy us them, and try to reproduce them at
home. But the Continent is too loquacious. On it social clubs quickly
degenerate into bear-gardens, and the basic ideal of good-fellowship
goes by the board. In Paris, Petersburg, Vienna, the only social clubs
that prosper are those which are devoted to games of chance--those
which induce silence by artificial means. Were I a foreign visitor,
taking cursory glances, I should doubtless be delighted with the clubs
of London. Had I the honour to be an Englishman, I should doubtless
love them. But being a foreign resident, I am somewhat oppressed by
them. I crave in them a little freedom of speech, even though such
freedom were their ruin. I long for their silence to be broken here and
there, even though such breakage broke them with it. It is not enough
for me to hear a hushed exchange of mild jokes about the weather, or of
comparisons between what the Times says and what the Standard says. I
pine for a little vivacity, a little boldness, a little variety, a few
gestures. A London club, as it is conducted, seems to me very like a
catacomb. It is tolerable so long as you do not actually belong to it.
But when you do belong to it, when you have outlived the fleeting
gratification at having been elected, when you...but I ought not to
have fallen into the second person plural. You, readers, are free-born
Englishmen. These clubs 'come natural' to you. You love them. To them
you slip eagerly from your homes. As for me, poor alien, had I been a
member of the club whose demolition has been my theme, I should have
grieved for it not one whit the more bitterly. Indeed, my tears would
have been a trifle less salt. It was my detachment that enabled me to
be so prodigal of pity.

The poor waifs! Long did I stand, in the sunshine of that day when
first I saw the ruin, wondering and distressed, ruthful, indignant that
such things should be. I forgot on what errand I had come out. I
recalled it. Once or twice I walked away, bent on its fulfilment. But I
could not proceed further than a few yards. I halted, looked over my
shoulder, was drawn back to the spot, drawn by the crude, insistent
anthem of the pick-axes. The sun slanted towards Notting Hill. Still I
loitered, spellbound... I was aware of some one at my side, some one
asking me a question. 'I beg your pardon?' I said. The stranger was a
tall man, bronzed and bearded. He repeated his question. In answer, I
pointed silently to the ruin. 'That?' he gasped. He stared vacantly. I
saw that his face had become pale under its sunburn. He looked from the
ruin to me. 'You're not joking with me?' he said thickly. I assured him
that I was not. I assured him that this was indeed the club to which he
had asked to be directed. 'But,' he stammered, 'but--but--' 'You were a
member?' I suggested. 'I am a member,' he cried. 'And what's more, I'm
going to write to the Committee.' I suggested that there was one fatal
objection to such a course. I spoke to him calmly, soothed him with
words of reason, elicited from him, little by little, his sad story. It
appeared that he had been a member of the club for ten years, but had
never (except once, as a guest) been inside it. He had been elected on
the very day on which (by compulsion of his father) he set sail for
Australia. He was a mere boy at the time. Bitterly he hated leaving old
England; nor did he ever find the life of a squatter congenial. The one
thing which enabled him to endure those ten years of unpleasant exile
was the knowledge that he was a member of a London club. Year by year,
it was a keen pleasure to him to send his annual subscription. It kept
him in touch with civilisation, in touch with Home. He loved to know
that when, at length, he found himself once again in the city of his
birth he would have a firm foothold on sociability. The friends of his
youth might die, or might forget him. But, as member of a club, he
would find substitutes for them in less than no time. Herding bullocks,
all day long, on the arid plains of Central Australia, he used to keep
up his spirits by thinking of that first whisky-and-soda which he would
order from a respectful waiter as he entered his club. All night long,
wrapped in his blanket beneath the stars, he used to dream of that
drink to come, that first symbol of an unlost grip on civilisation...
He had arrived in London this very afternoon. Depositing his luggage at
an hotel, he had come straight to his club. 'And now...' He filled up
his aposiopesis with an uncouth gesture, signifying 'I may as well get
back to Australia.'

I was on the point of offering to take him to my own club and give him
his first whisky-and-soda therein. But I refrained. The sight of an
extant club might have maddened the man. It certainly was very hard for
him, to have belonged to a club for ten years, to have loved it so
passionately from such a distance, and then to find himself destined
never to cross its threshold. Why, after all, should he not cross its
threshold? I asked him if he would like to. 'What,' he growled, 'would
be the good?' I appealed, not in vain, to the imaginative side of his
nature. I went to the door of the hoarding, and explained matters to
the foreman; and presently, nodding to me solemnly, he passed with the
foreman through the gap between the doorposts. I saw him crossing the
excavated hall, crossing it along a plank, slowly and cautiously. His
attitude was very like Blondin's, but it had a certain tragic dignity
which Blondin's lacked. And that was the last I saw of him. I hailed a
cab and drove away. What became of the poor fellow I do not know. Often
as I returned to the ruin, and long as I loitered by it, him I never
saw again. Perhaps he really did go straight back to Australia. Or
perhaps he induced the workmen to bury him alive in the foundations.
His fate, whatever it was, haunts me.



'273'

This is an age of prescriptions. Morning after morning, from the
back-page of your newspaper, quick and uncostly cures for every human
ill thrust themselves wildly on you. The age of miracles is not past.
But I would raise no false hopes of myself. I am no thaumaturgist. Do
you awake with a sinking sensation in the stomach? Have you lost the
power of assimilating food? Are you oppressed with an indescribable
lassitude? Can you no longer follow the simplest train of thought? Are
you troubled throughout the night with a hacking cough? Are you--in
fine, are you but a tissue of all the most painful symptoms of all the
most malignant maladies ancient and modern? If so, skip this essay, and
try Somebody's Elixir. The cure that I offer is but a cure for
overwrought nerves--a substitute for the ordinary 'rest-cure.' Nor is
it absurdly cheap. Nor is it instant. It will take a week or so of your
time. But then, the 'rest-cure' takes at least a month. The scale of
payment for board and lodging may be, per diem, hardly lower than in
the 'rest-cure'; but you will save all but a pound or so of the very
heavy fees that you would have to pay to your doctor and your nurse (or
nurses). And certainly, my cure is the more pleasant of the two. My
patient does not have to cease from life. He is not undressed and
tucked into bed and forbidden to stir hand or foot during his whole
term. He is not forbidden to receive letters, or to read books, or to
look on any face but his nurse's (or nurses'). Nor, above all, is he
condemned to the loathsome necessity of eating so much food as to make
him dread the sight of food. Doubtless, the grim, inexorable process of
the 'rest-cure' is very good for him who is strong enough and brave
enough to bear it, and rich enough to pay for it. I address myself to
the frailer, cowardlier, needier man. Instead of ceasing from life, and
entering purgatory, he need but essay a variation in life. He need but
go and stay by himself in one of those vast modern hotels which abound
along the South and East coasts.

You are disappointed? All simple ideas are disappointing. And all good
cures spring from simple ideas.

The right method of treating overwrought nerves is to get the patient
away from himself--to make a new man of him; and this trick can be done
only by switching him off from his usual environment, his usual habits.
The ordinary rest-cure, by its very harshness, intensifies a man's
personality at first, drives him miserably within himself; and only by
its long duration does it gradually wear him down and build him up
anew. There is no harshness in the vast hotels which I have
recommended. You may eat there as little as you like, especially if you
are en pension. Letters may be forwarded to you there; though, unless
your case is a very mild one, I would advise you not to leave your
address at home. There are reading-rooms where you can see all the
newspapers; though I advise you to ignore them. You suffer under no
sense of tyranny. And yet, no sooner have you signed your name in the
visitors' book, and had your bedroom allotted to you, than you feel
that you have surrendered yourself irrepleviably. It is not necessary
to this illusion that you should pass under an assumed name, unless you
happen to be a very eminent actor, or cricketer, or other idol of the
nation, whose presence would flutter the young persons at the bureau.
If your nervous breakdown be (as it more likely is) due to merely
intellectual distinction, these young persons will mete out to you no
more than the bright callous civility which they mete out impartially
to all (but those few) who come before them. To them you will be a
number, and to yourself you will have suddenly become a number--the
number graven on the huge brass label that depends clanking from the
key put into the hand of the summoned chambermaid. You are merely (let
us say) 273.

Up you go in the lift, realising, as for the first time, your
insignificance in infinity, and rather proud to be even a number. You
recognise your double on the door that has been unlocked for you. No
prisoner, clapped into his cell, could feel less personal, less
important. A notice on the wall, politely requesting you to leave your
key at the bureau (as though you were strong enough or capacious enough
to carry it about with you) comes as a pleasant reminder of your
freedom. You remember joyously that you are even free from yourself.
You have begun a new life, have forgotten the old. This mantelpiece, so
strangely and brightly bare of photographs or 'knickknacks,' is meaning
in its meaninglessness. And these blank, fresh walls, that you have
never seen, and that never were seen by any one whom you know...their
pattern is of poppies and mandragora, surely. Poppies and mandragora
are woven, too, on the brand-new Axminster beneath your elastic step.
'Come in!' A porter bears in your trunk, deposits it on a trestle at
the foot of the bed, unstraps it, leaves you alone with it. It seems to
be trying to remind you of something or other. You do not listen. You
laugh as you open it. You know that if you examined these shirts you
would find them marked '273.' Before dressing for dinner, you take a
hot bath. There are patent taps, some for fresh water, others for sea
water. You hesitate. Yet you know that whichever you touch will effuse
but the water of Lethe, after all. You dress before your fire. The
coals have burnt now to a lovely glow. Once and again, you eye them
suspiciously. But no, there are no faces in them. All's well.

Sleek and fresh, you sit down to dinner in the 'Grande Salle a'
Manger.' Graven on your wine-glasses, emblazoned on your soup-plate,
are the armorial bearings of the company that shelters you. The College
of Arms might sneer at them, be down on them, but to you they are a
joy, in their grand lack of links with history. They are a sympathetic
symbol of your own newness, your own impersonality. You glance down the
endless menu. It has been composed for a community. None of your
favourite dishes (you once had favourite dishes) appears in it, thank
heaven! You will work your way through it, steadily, unquestioningly,
gladly, with a communal palate. And the wine? All wines are alike here,
surely. You scour the list vaguely, and order a pint of 273. Your eye
roves over the adjacent tables.

You behold a galaxy of folk evidently born, like yourself, anew. Some,
like yourself, are solitary. Others are with wives, with children--but
with new wives, new children. The associations of home have been
forgotten, even though home's actual appendages be here. The members of
the little domestic circles are using company manners. They are
actually making conversation, 'breaking the ice.' They are new here to
one another. They are new to themselves. How much newer to you! You
cannot 'place' them. That paterfamilias with the red moustache--is he a
soldier, a solicitor, a stockbroker, what? You play vaguely, vainly, at
the game of attributions, while the little orchestra in yonder bower of
artificial palm-trees plays new, or seemingly new, cake-walks. Who are
they, these minstrels in the shadow? They seem not to be the Red
Hungarians, nor the Blue, nor the Hungarians of any other colour of the
spectrum. You set them down as the Colourless Hungarians, and resume
your study of the tables. They fascinate you, these your fellow-diners.
You fascinate them, doubtless. They, doubtless, are cudgelling their
brains to 'spot' your state in life--your past, which now has escaped
you. Next day, some of them are gone; and you miss them, almost
bitterly. But others succeed them, not less detached and enigmatic than
they. You must never speak to one of them. You must never lapse into
those casual acquaintances of the 'lounge' or the smoking-room. Nor is
it hard to avoid them. No Englishman, how gregarious and garrulous
soever, will dare address another Englishman in whose eye is no spark
of invitation. There must be no such spark in yours. Silence is part of
the cure for you, and a very important part. It is mainly through
unaccustomed silence that your nerves are made trim again. Usually, you
are giving out in talk all that you receive through your senses of
perception. Keep silence now. Its gold will accumulate in you at
compound interest. You will realise the joy of being full of
reflections and ideas. You will begin to hoard them proudly, like a
miser. You will gloat over your own cleverness--you, who but a few days
since, were feeling so stupid. Solitude in a crowd, silence among
chatterboxes--these are the best ministers to a mind diseased. And with
the restoration of the mind, the body will be restored too. You, who
were physically so limp and pallid, will be a ruddy Hercules now. And
when, at the moment of departure, you pass through the hall, shyly
distributing to the servants that largesse which is so slight in
comparison with what your doctor and nurse (or nurses) would have
levied on you, you will feel that you are more than fit to resume that
burden of personality whereunder you had sunk. You will be victoriously
yourself again.

Yet I think you will look back a little wistfully on the period of your
obliteration. People--for people are very nice, really, most of
them--will tell you that they have missed you. You will reply that you
did not miss yourself. And you will go the more strenuously to your
work and pleasure, so as to have the sooner an excuse for a good
riddance.



A STUDY IN DEJECTION

Riderless the horse was, and with none to hold his bridle. But he
waited patiently, submissively, there where I saw him, at the shabby
corner of a certain shabby little street in Chelsea. 'My beautiful, my
beautiful, thou standest meekly by,' sang Mrs. Norton of her Arab
steed, 'with thy proudly-arched and glossy neck, thy dark and fiery
eye.' Catching the eye of this other horse, I saw that such fire as
might once have blazed there had long smouldered away. Chestnut though
he was, he had no mettle. His chestnut coat was all dull and rough,
unkempt as that of an inferior cab-horse. Of his once luxuriant mane
there were but a few poor tufts now. His saddle was torn and
weather-stained. The one stirrup that dangled therefrom was red with
rust.

I never saw in any creature a look of such unutterable dejection.
Dejection, in the most literal sense of the word, indeed was his. He
had been cast down. He had fallen from higher and happier things. With
his 'arched neck,' and with other points which not neglect nor
ill-usage could rob of their old grace, he had kept something of his
fallen day about him. In the window of the little shop outside which he
stood were things that seemed to match him--things appealing to the
sense that he appealed to. A tarnished French mirror, a strip of faded
carpet, some rows of battered, tattered books, a few cups and saucers
that had erst been riveted and erst been dusted--all these, in a
gallimaufry of other languid odds and ends, seen through this
mud-splashed window, silently echoed the silent misery of the horse.
They were remembering Zion. They had been beautiful once, and
expensive, and well cared for, and admired, and coveted. And now...

They had, at least, the consolation of being indoors. Public
laughing-stock though they were, they had a barrier of glass between
themselves and the irreverent world. To be warm and dry, too, was
something. Piteous, they could yet afford to pity the horse. He was
more ludicrously, more painfully, misplaced than they. A real
blood-horse that has done his work is rightly left in the open
air--turned out into some sweet meadow or paddock. It would be cruel to
make him spend his declining years inside a house, where no grass is.
Is it less cruel that a fine old rocking-horse should be thrust from
the nursery out into the open air, upon the pavement?

Perhaps some child had just given the horse a contemptuous shove in
passing. For he was rocking gently when I chanced to see him. Nor did
he cease to rock, with a slight creak upon the pavement, so long as I
watched him. A particularly black and bitter north wind was blowing
round the corner of the street. Perhaps it was this that kept the horse
in motion. Boreas himself, invisible to my mortal eyes, may have been
astride the saddle, lashing the tired old horse to this futile
activity. But no, I think rather that the poor thing was rocking of his
own accord, rocking to attract my attention. He saw in me a possible
purchaser. He wanted to show me that he was still sound in wind and
limb. Had I a small son at home? If so, here was the very mount for
him. None of your frisky, showy, first-hand young brutes, on which no
fond parent ought to risk his offspring's bones; but a sound,
steady-going, well-mannered old hack with never a spark of vice in him!
Such was the message that I read in the glassy eye fixed on me. The
nostril of faded scarlet seemed for a moment to dilate and quiver. At
last, at last, was some one going to inquire his price?

Once upon a time, in a far-off fashionable toy-shop, his price had been
prohibitive; and he, the central attraction behind the gleaming
shop-window, had plumed himself on his expensiveness. He had been in no
hurry to be bought. It had seemed to him a good thing to stand there
motionless, majestic, day after day, far beyond the reach of average
purses, and having in his mien something of the frigid nobility of the
horses on the Parthenon frieze, with nothing at all of their unreality.
A coat of real chestnut hair, glossy, glorious! From end to end of the
Parthenon frieze not one of the horses had that.

From end to end of the toy-shop that exhibited him not one of the
horses was thus graced. Their flanks were mere wood, painted white,
with arbitrary blotches of grey here and there. Miserable creatures! It
was difficult to believe that they had souls. No wonder they were
cheap, and 'went off,' as the shopman said, so quickly, whilst he
stayed grandly on, cynosure of eyes that dared not hope for him. Into
bondage they went off, those others, and would be worked to death,
doubtless, by brutal little boys.

When, one fine day, a lady was actually not shocked by the price
demanded for him, his pride was hurt. And when, that evening, he was
packed in brown paper and hoisted to the roof of a four-wheeler, he
faced the future fiercely. Who was this lady that her child should dare
bestride him? With a biblical 'ha, ha,' he vowed that the child should
not stay long in saddle: he must be thrown--badly--even though it was
his seventh birthday. But this wicked intention vanished while the
child danced around him in joy and wonder. Never yet had so many
compliments been showered on him. Here, surely, was more the manner of
a slave than of a master. And how lightly the child rode him, with
never a tug or a kick! And oh, how splendid it was to be flying thus
through the air! Horses were made to be ridden; and he had never before
savoured the true joy of life, for he had never known his own strength
and fleetness. Forward! Backward! Faster, faster! To floor! To ceiling!
Regiments of leaden soldiers watched his wild career. Noah's quiet
sedentary beasts gaped up at him in wonderment--as tiny to him as the
gaping cows in the fields are to you when you pass by in an express
train. This was life indeed! He remembered Katafalto--remembered
Eclipse and the rest nowhere. Aye, thought he, and even thus must Black
Bess have rejoiced along the road to York. And Bucephalus, skimming
under Alexander the plains of Asia, must have had just this glorious
sense of freedom. Only less so! Not Pegasus himself can have flown more
swiftly. Pegasus, at last, became a constellation in the sky. 'Some
day,' reflected the rocking-horse, when the ride was over, 'I, too,
shall die; and five stars will appear on the nursery ceiling.'

Alas for the vanity of equine ambition! I wonder by what stages this
poor beast came down in the world. Did the little boy's father go
bankrupt, leaving it to be sold in a 'lot' with the other toys? Or was
it merely given away, when the little boy grew up, to a poor but
procreative relation, who anon became poorer? I should like to think
that it had been mourned. But I fear that whatever mourning there may
have been for it must have been long ago discarded. The creature did
not look as if it had been ridden in any recent decade. It looked as if
it had almost abandoned the hope of ever being ridden again. It was but
hoping against hope now, as it stood rocking there in the bleak
twilight. Bright warm nurseries were for younger, happier horses. Still
it went on rocking, to show me that it could rock.

The more sentimental a man is, the less is he helpful; the more loth is
he to cancel the cause of his emotion. I did not buy the horse.

A few days later, passing that way, I wished to renew my emotion; but
lo! the horse was gone. Had some finer person than I bought it?--towed
it to the haven where it would be? Likelier, it had but been relegated
to some mirky recess of the shop... I hope it has room to rock there.



A PATHETIC IMPOSTURE

Lord Rosebery once annoyed the Press by declaring that his ideal
newspaper was one which should give its news without comment. Doubtless
he was thinking of the commonweal. Yet a plea for no comments might be
made, with equal force, in behalf of the commentators themselves.
Occupations that are injurious to the persons engaged in them ought not
to be encouraged. The writing of 'leaders' and 'notes' is one of these
occupations. The practice of it, more than of any other, depends on,
and fosters hypocrisy, worst of vices. In a sense, every kind of
writing is hypocritical. It has to be done with an air of gusto, though
no one ever yet enjoyed the act of writing. Even a man with a specific
gift for writing, with much to express, with perfect freedom in choice
of subject and manner of expression, with indefinite leisure, does not
write with real gusto. But in him the pretence is justified: he has
enjoyed thinking out his subject, he will delight in his work when it
is done. Very different is the pretence of one who writes at top-speed,
on a set subject, what he thinks the editor thinks the proprietor
thinks the public thinks nice. If he happen to have a talent for
writing, his work will be but the more painful, and his hypocrisy the
greater. The chances are, though, that the talent has already been
sucked out of him by Journalism, that vampire. To her, too, he will
have forfeited any fervour he may have had, any learning, any gaiety.
How can he, the jaded interpreter, hold any opinion, feel any
enthusiasm?--without leisure, keep his mind in cultivation?--be
sprightly to order, at unearthly hours in a whir-r-ring office? To
order! Yes, sprightliness is compulsory there; so are weightiness, and
fervour, and erudition. He must seem to abound in these advantages, or
another man will take his place. He must disguise himself at all costs.
But disguises are not easy to make; they require time and care, which
he cannot afford. So he must snatch up ready-made disguises--unhook
them, rather. He must know all the cant-phrases, the cant-references.
There are very, very many of them, and belike it is hard to keep them
all at one's finger-tips. But, at least, there is no difficulty in
collecting them. Plod through the 'leaders' and 'notes' in half-a-dozen
of the daily papers, and you will bag whole coveys of them.

Most of the morning papers still devote much space to the old-fashioned
kind of 'leader,' in which the pretence is of weightiness, rather than
of fervour, sprightliness, or erudition. The effect of weightiness is
obtained simply by a stupendous disproportion of language to sense. The
longest and most emphatic words are used for the simplest and most
trivial statements, and they are always so elaborately qualified as to
leave the reader with a vague impression that a very difficult matter,
which he himself cannot make head or tail of, has been dealt with in a
very judicial and exemplary manner.

A leader-writer would not, for instance, say--

Lord Rosebery has made a paradox.

He would say:--

Lord Rosebery

  whether intentionally or otherwise, we leave our readers to decide,
  or, with seeming conviction,
  or, doubtless giving rein to the playful humour which is
    characteristic of him,

has

  expressed a sentiment,
  or, taken on himself to enunciate a theory,
  or, made himself responsible for a dictum,

which,

  we venture to assert,
  or, we have little hesitation in declaring,
  or, we may be pardoned for thinking,
  or, we may say without fear of contradiction,

is

  nearly akin to
  or, not very far removed from

the paradoxical.

But I will not examine further the trick of weightiness--it takes up
too much of my space. Besides, these long 'leaders' are a mere
survival, and will soon disappear altogether. The 'notes' are the
characteristic feature of the modern newspaper, and it is in them that
the modern journalist displays his fervour, sprightliness, and
erudition. 'Note'-writing, like chess, has certain recognised openings,
e.g.:--

  There is no new thing under the sun.
  It is always the unexpected that happens.
  Nature, as we know, abhors a vacuum.
  The late Lord Coleridge once electrified his court by inquiring 'Who
    is Connie Gilchrist?'

And here are some favourite methods of conclusion:--

  A mad world, my masters!
  'Tis true 'tis pity, and pity 'tis 'tis true.
  There is much virtue in that 'if.'
  But that, as Mr. Kipling would say, is another story.
  Si non e' vero, etc.

or (lighter style)

We fancy we recognise here the hand of Mr. Benjamin Trovato.

Not less inevitable are such parallelisms as:--

  Like Topsy, perhaps it 'growed.'
  Like the late Lord Beaconsfield on a famous occasion, 'on the side of
      the angels.'
  Like Brer Rabbit, 'To lie low and say nuffin.'
  Like Oliver Twist, 'To ask for more.'
  Like Sam Weller's knowledge of London, 'extensive and peculiar.'
  Like Napoleon, a believer in 'the big battalions.'

Nor let us forget Pyrrhic victory, Parthian dart, and Homeric laughter;
quos deus vult and nil de mortuis; Sturm und Drang; masterly
inactivity, unctuous rectitude, mute inglorious Miltons, and damned
good-natured friends; the sword of Damocles, the thin edge of the
wedge, the long arm of coincidence, and the soul of goodness in things
evil; Hobson's choice, Frankenstein's monster, Macaulay's schoolboy,
Lord Burleigh's nod, Sir Boyle Roche's bird, Mahomed's coffin, and Davy
Jones's locker.

A melancholy catalogue, is it not? But it is less melancholy for you
who read it here, than for them whose existence depends on it, who draw
from it a desperate means of seeming to accomplish what is impossible.
And yet these are the men who shrank in horror from Lord Rosebery's
merciful idea. They ought to be saved despite themselves. Might not a
short Act of Parliament be passed, making all comment in daily
newspapers illegal? In a way, of course, it would be hard on the
commentators. Having lost the power of independent thought, having sunk
into a state of chronic dulness, apathy and insincerity, they could
hardly, be expected to succeed in any of the ordinary ways of life.
They could not compete with their fellow-creatures; no door but would
be bolted if they knocked on it. What would become of them? Probably
they would have to perish in what they would call 'what the late Lord
Goschen would have called "splendid isolation."' But such an end were
sweeter, I suggest to them, than the life they are leading.



THE DECLINE OF THE GRACES

Have you read The Young Lady's Book? You have had plenty of time to do
so, for it was published in 1829. It was described by the two anonymous
Gentlewomen who compiled it as 'A Manual for Elegant Recreations,
Exercises, and Pursuits.' You wonder they had nothing better to think
of? You suspect them of having been triflers? They were not, believe
me. They were careful to explain, at the outset, that the Virtues of
Character were what a young lady should most assiduously cultivate.
They, in their day, labouring under the shadow of the eighteenth
century, had somehow in themselves that high moral fervour which marks
the opening of the twentieth century, and is said to have come in with
Mr. George Bernard Shaw. But, unlike us, they were not concerned wholly
with the inward and spiritual side of life. They cared for the material
surface, too. They were learned in the frills and furbelows of things.
They gave, indeed, a whole chapter to 'Embroidery.' Another they gave
to 'Archery,' another to 'The Aviary,' another to 'The Escrutoire.'
Young ladies do not now keep birds, nor shoot with bow and arrow; but
they do still, in some measure, write letters; and so, for sake of
historical comparison, let me give you a glance at 'The Escrutoire.' It
is not light reading.

  'For careless scrawls ye boast of no pretence;
  Fair Russell wrote, as well as spoke, with sense.'

Thus is the chapter headed, with a delightful little wood engraving of
'Fair Russell,' looking pre-eminently sensible, at her desk, to prepare
the reader for the imminent welter of rules for 'decorous composition.'
Not that pedantry is approved. 'Ease and simplicity, an even flow of
unlaboured diction, and an artless arrangement of obvious sentiments'
is the ideal to be striven for. 'A metaphor may be used with advantage'
by any young lady, but only 'if it occur naturally.' And 'allusions are
elegant,' but only 'when introduced with ease, and when they are well
understood by those to whom they are addressed.' 'An antithesis renders
a passage piquant'; but the dire results of a too-frequent indulgence
in it are relentlessly set forth. Pages and pages are devoted to a
minute survey of the pit-falls of punctuation. But when the young lady
of that period had skirted all these, and had observed all the manifold
rules of caligraphy that were here laid down for her, she was not, even
then, out of the wood. Very special stress was laid on 'the use of the
seal.' Bitter scorn was poured on young ladies who misused the seal.
'It is a habit of some to thrust the wax into the flame of the candle,
and the moment a morsel of it is melted, to daub it on the paper; and
when an unsightly mass is gathered together, to pass the seal over the
tongue with ridiculous haste--press it with all the strength which the
sealing party possesses--and the result is, an impression which raises
a blush on her cheek.'

Well! The young ladies of that day were ever expected to exhibit
sensibility, and used to blush, just as they wept or fainted, for very
slight causes. Their tears and their swoons did not necessarily betoken
much grief or agitation; nor did a rush of colour to the cheek mean
necessarily that they were overwhelmed with shame. To exhibit various
emotions in the drawing-room was one of the Elegant Exercises in which
these young ladies were drilled thoroughly. And their habit of
simulation was so rooted in sense of duty that it merged into
sincerity. If a young lady did not swoon at the breakfast-table when
her Papa read aloud from The Times that the Duke of Wellington was
suffering from a slight chill, the chances were that she would swoon
quite unaffectedly when she realised her omission. Even so, we may be
sure that a young lady whose cheek burned not at sight of the letter
she had sealed untidily--'unworthily' the Manual calls it--would anon
be blushing for her shamelessness. Such a thing as the blurring of the
family crest, or as the pollution of the profile of Pallas Athene with
the smoke of the taper, was hardly, indeed, one of those 'very slight
causes' to which I have referred. The Georgian young lady was imbued
through and through with the sense that it was her duty to be
gracefully efficient in whatsoever she set her hand to. To the young
lady of to-day, belike, she will seem accordingly ridiculous--seem
poor-spirited, and a pettifogger. True, she set her hand to no
grandiose tasks. She was not allowed to become a hospital nurse, for
example, or an actress. The young lady of to-day, when she hears in
herself a 'vocation' for tending the sick, would willingly, without an
instant's preparation, assume responsibility for the lives of a whole
ward at St. Thomas's. This responsibility is not, however, thrust on
her. She has to submit to a long and tedious course of training before
she may do so much as smooth a pillow. The boards of the theatre are
less jealously hedged in than those of the hospital. If our young lady
have a wealthy father, and retain her schoolroom faculty for learning
poetry by heart, there is no power on earth to prevent her from making
her de'but, somewhere, as Juliet--if she be so inclined; and such is
usually her inclination. That her voice is untrained, that she cannot
scan blank-verse, that she cannot gesticulate with grace and propriety,
nor move with propriety and grace across the stage, matters not a
little bit--to our young lady. 'Feeling,' she will say, 'is
everything'; and, of course, she, at the age of eighteen, has more
feeling than Juliet, that 'flapper,' could have had. All those other
things--those little technical tricks--'can be picked up,' or 'will
come.' But no; I misrepresent our young lady. If she be conscious that
there are such tricks to be played, she despises them. When, later, she
finds the need to learn them, she still despises them. It seems to her
ridiculous that one should not speak and comport oneself as artlessly
on the stage as one does off it. The notion of speaking or comporting
oneself with conscious art in real life would seem to her quite
monstrous. It would puzzle her as much as her grandmother would have
been puzzled by the contrary notion.

Personally, I range myself on the grandmother's side. I take my stand
shoulder to shoulder with the Graces. On the banner that I wave is
embroidered a device of prunes and prisms.

I am no blind fanatic, however. I admit that artlessness is a charming
idea. I admit that it is sometimes charming as a reality. I applaud it
(all the more heartily because it is rare) in children. But then,
children, like the young of all animals whatsoever, have a natural
grace. As a rule, they begin to show it in their third year, and to
lose it in their ninth. Within that span of six years they can be
charming without intention; and their so frequent failure in charm is
due to their voluntary or enforced imitation of the ways of their
elders. In Georgian and Early Victorian days the imitation was always
enforced. Grown-up people had good manners, and wished to see them
reflected in the young. Nowadays, the imitation is always voluntary.
Grown-up people have no manners at all; whereas they certainly have a
very keen taste for the intrinsic charm of children. They wish children
to be perfectly natural. That is (aesthetically at least) an admirable
wish. My complaint against these grown-up people is, that they
themselves, whom time has robbed of their natural grace as surely as it
robs the other animals, are content to be perfectly natural. This
contentment I deplore, and am keen to disturb.

I except from my indictment any young lady who may read these words. I
will assume that she differs from the rest of the human race, and has
not, never had, anything to learn in the art of conversing prettily, of
entering or leaving a room or a vehicle gracefully, of writing
appropriate letters, et patati et patata. I will assume that all these
accomplishments came naturally to her. She will now be in a mood to
accept my proposition that of her contemporaries none seems to have
been so lucky as herself. She will agree with me that other girls need
training. She will not deny that grace in the little affairs of life is
a thing which has to be learned. Some girls have a far greater aptitude
for learning it than others; but, with one exception, no girls have it
in them from the outset. It is a not less complicated thing than is the
art of acting, or of nursing the sick, and needs for the acquirement of
it a not less laborious preparation.

Is it worth the trouble? Certainly the trouble is not taken. The
'finishing school,' wherein young ladies were taught to be graceful, is
a thing of the past. It must have been a dismal place; but the
dismalness of it--the strain of it--was the measure of its
indispensability. There I beg the question. Is grace itself
indispensable? Certainly, it has been dispensed with. It isn't reckoned
with. To sit perfectly mute 'in company,' or to chatter on at the top
of one's voice; to shriek with laughter; to fling oneself into a room
and dash oneself out of it; to collapse on chairs or sofas; to sprawl
across tables; to slam doors; to write, without punctuation, notes that
only an expert in handwriting could read, and only an expert in
mis-spelling could understand; to hustle, to bounce, to go straight
ahead--to be, let us say, perfectly natural in the midst of an
artificial civilisation, is an ideal which the young ladies of to-day
are neither publicly nor privately discouraged from cherishing. The
word 'cherishing' implies a softness of which they are not guilty. I
hasten to substitute 'pursuing.' If these young ladies were not in the
aforesaid midst of an artificial civilisation, I should be the last to
discourage their pursuit. If they were Amazons, for example, spending
their lives beneath the sky, in tilth of stubborn fields, and in armed
conflict with fierce men, it would be unreasonable to expect of them
any sacrifice to the Graces. But they are exposed to no such hardships.
They have a really very comfortable sort of life. They are not expected
to be useful. (I am writing all the time, of course, about the young
ladies in the affluent classes.) And it seems to me that they, in
payment of their debt to Fate, ought to occupy the time that is on
their hands by becoming ornamental, and increasing the world's store of
beauty. In a sense, certainly, they are ornamental. It is a strange
fact, and an ironic, that they spend quite five times the annual amount
that was spent by their grandmothers on personal adornment. If they can
afford it, well and good: let us have no sumptuary law. But plenty of
pretty dresses will not suffice. Pretty manners are needed with them,
and are prettier than they.

I had forgotten men. Every defect that I had noted in the modern young
woman is not less notable in the modern young man. Briefly, he is a
boor. If it is true that 'manners makyth man,' one doubts whether the
British race can be perpetuated. The young Englishman of to-day is
inferior to savages and to beasts of the field in that they are eager
to show themselves in an agreeable and seductive light to the females
of their kind, whilst he regards any such effort as beneath his
dignity. Not that he cultivates dignity in demeanour. He merely
slouches. Unlike his feminine counterpart, he lets his raiment match
his manners. Observe him any afternoon, as he passes down Piccadilly,
sullenly, with his shoulders humped, and his hat clapped to the back of
his head, and his cigarette dangling almost vertically from his lips.
It seems only appropriate that his hat is a billy-cock, and his shirt a
flannel one, and that his boots are brown ones. Thus attired, he is on
his way to pay a visit of ceremony to some house at which he has
recently dined. No; that is the sort of visit he never pays. (I must
confess I don't myself.) But one remembers the time when no
self-respecting youth would have shown himself in Piccadilly without
the vesture appropriate to that august highway. Nowadays there is no
care for appearances. Comfort is the one aim. Any care for appearances
is regarded rather as a sign of effeminacy. Yet never, in any other age
of the world's history, has it been regarded so. Indeed, elaborate
dressing used to be deemed by philosophers an outcome of the
sex-instinct. It was supposed that men dressed themselves finely in
order to attract the admiration of women, just as peacocks spread their
plumage with a similar purpose. Nor do I jettison the old theory. The
declension of masculine attire in England began soon after the time
when statistics were beginning to show the great numerical
preponderance of women over men; and is it fanciful to trace the one
fact to the other? Surely not. I do not say that either sex is
attracted to the other by elaborate attire. But I believe that each
sex, consciously or unconsciously, uses this elaboration for this very
purpose. Thus the over-dressed girl of to-day and the ill-dressed youth
are but symbols of the balance of our population. The one is pleading,
the other scorning. 'Take me!' is the message borne by the furs and the
pearls and the old lace. 'I'll see about that when I've had a look
round!' is the not pretty answer conveyed by the billy-cock and the
flannel shirt.

I dare say that fine manners, like fine clothes, are one of the
stratagems of sex. This theory squares at once with the modern young
man's lack of manners. But how about the modern young woman's not less
obvious lack? Well, the theory will square with that, too. The modern
young woman's gracelessness may be due to her conviction that men like
a girl to be thoroughly natural. She knows that they have a very high
opinion of themselves; and what, thinks she, more natural than that
they should esteem her in proportion to her power of reproducing the
qualities that are most salient in themselves? Men, she perceives, are
clumsy, and talk loud, and have no drawing-room accomplishments, and
are rude; and she proceeds to model herself on them. Let us not blame
her. Let us blame rather her parents or guardians, who, though they
well know that a masculine girl attracts no man, leave her to the
devices of her own inexperience. Girls ought not to be allowed, as they
are, to run wild. So soon as they have lost the natural grace of
childhood, they should be initiated into that course of artificial
training through which their grandmothers passed before them, and in
virtue of which their grandmothers were pleasing. This will not, of
course, ensure husbands for them all; but it will certainly tend to
increase the number of marriages. Nor is it primarily for that
sociological reason that I plead for a return to the old system of
education. I plead for it, first and last, on aesthetic grounds. Let
the Graces be cultivated for their own sweet sake.

The difficulty is how to begin. The mothers of the rising generation
were brought up in the unregenerate way. Their scraps of oral tradition
will need to be supplemented by much research. I advise them to start
their quest by reading The Young Lady's Book. Exactly the right spirit
is therein enshrined, though of the substance there is much that could
not be well applied to our own day. That chapter on 'The Escrutoire,'
for example, belongs to a day that cannot be recalled. We can get rid
of bad manners, but we cannot substitute the Sedan-chair for the
motor-car; and the penny post, with telephones and telegrams, has, in
our own beautiful phrase, 'come to stay,' and has elbowed the art of
letter-writing irrevocably from among us. But notes are still written;
and there is no reason why they should not be written well. Has the
mantle of those anonymous gentlewomen who wrote The Young Lady's Book
fallen on no one? Will no one revise that 'Manual of Elegant
Recreations, Exercises, and Pursuits,' adapting it to present needs?...
A few hints as to Deportment in the Motor-Car; the exact Angle whereat
to hold the Receiver of a Telephone, and the exact Key wherein to pitch
the Voice; the Conduct of a Cigarette... I see a wide and golden vista.



WHISTLER'S WRITING

No book-lover, I. Give me an uninterrupted view of my fellow-creatures.
The most tedious of them pleases me better than the best book. You see,
I admit that some of them are tedious. I do not deem alien from myself
nothing that is human: I discriminate my fellow-creatures according to
their contents. And in that respect I am not more different in my way
from the true humanitarian than from the true bibliophile in his. To
him the content of a book matters not at all. He loves books because
they are books, and discriminates them only by the irrelevant standard
of their rarity. A rare book is not less dear to him because it is
unreadable, even as to the snob a dull duke is as good as a bright one.
Indeed, why should he bother about readableness? He doesn't want to
read. 'Uncut edges' for him, when he can get them; and, even when he
can't, the notion of reading a rare edition would seem to him quite
uncouth and preposterous The aforesaid snob would as soon question His
Grace about the state of His Grace's soul. I, on the other hand,
whenever human company is denied me, have often a desire to read.
Reading, I prefer cut edges, because a paper-knife is one of the things
that have the gift of invisibility whenever they are wanted; and
because one's thumb, in prising open the pages, so often affects the
text. Many volumes have I thus mutilated, and I hope that in the
sale-rooms of a sentimental posterity they may fetch higher prices than
their duly uncut duplicates. So long as my thumb tatters merely the
margin, I am quite equanimous. If I were reading a First Folio
Shakespeare by my fireside, and if the matchbox were ever so little
beyond my reach, I vow I would light my cigarette with a spill made
from the margin of whatever page I were reading. I am neat,
scrupulously neat, in regard to the things I care about; but a book, as
a book, is not one of these things.

Of course, a book may happen to be in itself a beautiful object. Such a
book I treat tenderly, as one would a flower. And such a book is, in
its brown-papered boards, whereon gleam little gilt italics and a
little gilt butterfly, Whistler's Gentle Art of Making Enemies. It
happens to be also a book which I have read again and again--a book
that has often travelled with me. Yet its cover is as fresh as when
first, some twelve years since, it came into my possession. A flower
freshly plucked, one would say--a brown-and-yellow flower, with a
little gilt butterfly fluttering over it. And its inner petals, its
delicately proportioned pages, are as white and undishevelled as though
they never had been opened. The book lies open before me, as I write. I
must be careful of my pen's transit from inkpot to MS.

Yet, I know, many worthy folk would like the book blotted out of
existence. These are they who understand and love the art of painting,
but neither love nor understand writing as an art. For them The Gentle
Art of Making Enemies is but something unworthy of a great man.
Certainly, it is a thing incongruous with a great hero. And for most
people it is painful not to regard a great man as also a great hero;
hence all the efforts to explain away the moral characteristics
deducible from The Gentle Art of Making Enemies, and to prove that
Whistler, beneath a prickly surface, was saturated through and through
with the quintessence of the Sermon on the Mount.

Well! hero-worship is a very good thing. It is a wholesome exercise
which we ought all to take, now and again. Only, let us not strain
ourselves by overdoing it. Let us not indulge in it too constantly. Let
hero-worship be reserved for heroes. And there was nothing heroic about
Whistler, except his unfaltering devotion to his own ideals in art. No
saint was he, and none would have been more annoyed than he by
canonisation; would he were here to play, as he would have played
incomparably, the devil's advocate! So far as he possessed the
Christian virtues, his faith was in himself, his hope was for the
immortality of his own works, and his charity was for the defects in
those works. He is known to have been an affectionate son, an
affectionate husband; but, for the rest, all the tenderness in him
seems to have been absorbed into his love for such things in nature as
were expressible through terms of his own art. As a man in relation to
his fellow-men, he cannot, from any purely Christian standpoint, be
applauded. He was inordinately vain and cantankerous. Enemies, as he
has wittily implied, were a necessity to his nature; and he seems to
have valued friendship (a thing never really valuable, in itself, to a
really vain man) as just the needful foundation for future enmity.
Quarrelling and picking quarrels, he went his way through life
blithely. Most of these quarrels were quite trivial and tedious. In the
ordinary way, they would have been forgotten long ago, as the trivial
and tedious details in the lives of other great men are forgotten. But
Whistler was great not merely in painting, not merely as a wit and
dandy in social life. He had, also, an extraordinary talent for
writing. He was a born writer. He wrote, in his way, perfectly; and his
way was his own, and the secret of it has died with him. Thus,
conducting them through the Post Office, he has conducted his squabbles
to immortality.

Immortality is a big word. I do not mean by it that so long as this
globe shall endure, the majority of the crawlers round it will spend
the greater part of their time in reading The Gentle Art of Making
Enemies. Even the pre-eminently immortal works of Shakespeare are read
very little. The average of time devoted to them by Englishmen cannot
(even though one assess Mr. Frank Harris at eight hours per diem, and
Mr. Sidney Lee at twenty-four) tot up to more than a small fraction of
a second in a lifetime reckoned by the Psalmist's limit. When I dub
Whistler an immortal writer, I do but mean that so long as there are a
few people interested in the subtler ramifications of English prose as
an art-form, so long will there be a few constantly-recurring readers
of The Gentle Art.

There are in England, at this moment, a few people to whom prose
appeals as an art; but none of them, I think, has yet done justice to
Whistler's prose. None has taken it with the seriousness it deserves. I
am not surprised. When a man can express himself through two media,
people tend to take him lightly in his use of the medium to which he
devotes the lesser time and energy, even though he use that medium not
less admirably than the other, and even though they themselves care
about it more than they care about the other. Perhaps this very
preference in them creates a prejudice against the man who does not
share it, and so makes them sceptical of his power. Anyhow, if Disraeli
had been unable to express himself through the medium of political
life, Disraeli's novels would long ago have had the due which the
expert is just beginning to give them. Had Rossetti not been primarily
a poet, the expert in painting would have acquired long ago his present
penetration into the peculiar value of Rossetti's painting. Likewise,
if Whistler had never painted a picture, and, even so, had written no
more than he actually did write, this essay in appreciation would have
been forestalled again and again. As it is, I am a sort of herald. And,
however loudly I shall blow my trumpet, not many people will believe my
message. For many years to come, it will be the fashion among literary
critics to pooh-pooh Whistler, the writer, as an amateur. For Whistler
was primarily a painter--not less than was Rossetti primarily a poet,
and Disraeli a statesman. And he will not live down quicklier than they
the taunt of amateurishness in his secondary art. Nevertheless, I will,
for my own pleasure, blow the trumpet.

I grant you, Whistler was an amateur. But you do not dispose of a man
by proving him to be an amateur. On the contrary, an amateur with real
innate talent may do, must do, more exquisite work than he could do if
he were a professional. His very ignorance and tentativeness may be,
must be, a means of especial grace. Not knowing 'how to do things,'
having no ready-made and ready-working apparatus, and being in constant
fear of failure, he has to grope always in the recesses of his own soul
for the best way to express his soul's meaning. He has to shift for
himself, and to do his very best. Consequently, his work has a more
personal and fresher quality, and a more exquisite 'finish,' than that
of a professional, howsoever finely endowed. All of the much that we
admire in Walter Pater's prose comes of the lucky chance that he was an
amateur, and never knew his business. Had Fate thrown him out of Oxford
upon the world, the world would have been the richer for the prose of
another John Addington Symonds, and would have forfeited Walter Pater's
prose. In other words, we should have lost a half-crown and found a
shilling. Had Fate withdrawn from Whistler his vision for form and
colour, leaving him only his taste for words and phrases and cadences,
Whistler would have settled solidly down to the art of writing, and
would have mastered it, and, mastering it, have lost that especial
quality which the Muse grants only to them who approach her timidly,
bashfully, as suitors.

Perhaps I am wrong. Perhaps Whistler would never, in any case, have
acquired the professional touch in writing. For we know that he never
acquired it in the art to which he dedicated all but the surplus of his
energy. Compare him with the other painters of his day. He was a child
in comparison with them. They, with sure science, solved roughly and
readily problems of modelling and drawing and what not that he never
dared to meddle with. It has often been said that his art was an art of
evasion. But the reason of the evasion was reverence. He kept himself
reverently at a distance. He knew how much he could not do, nor was he
ever confident even of the things that he could do; and these things,
therefore, he did superlatively well, having to grope for the means in
the recesses of his soul. The particular quality of exquisiteness and
freshness that gives to all his work, whether on canvas or on stone or
on copper, a distinction from and above any contemporary work, and
makes it dearer to our eyes and hearts, is a quality that came to him
because he was an amateur, and that abided with him because he never
ceased to be an amateur. He was a master through his lack of mastery.
In the art of writing, too, he was a master through his lack of
mastery. There is an almost exact parallel between the two sides of his
genius. Nothing could be more absurd than the general view of him as a
masterly professional on the one side and a trifling amateur on the
other. He was, certainly, a painter who wrote; but, by the slightest
movement of Fate's little finger, he might have been a writer who
painted, and this essay have been written not by me from my standpoint,
but by some painter, eager to suggest that Whistler's painting was a
quite serious thing.

Yes, that painting and that writing are marvellously akin; and such
differences as you will see in them are superficial merely. I spoke of
Whistler's vanity in life, and I spoke of his timidity and reverence in
art. That contradiction is itself merely superficial. Bob Acres was
timid, but he was also vain. His swagger was not an empty assumption to
cloak his fears; he really did regard himself as a masterful and
dare-devil fellow, except when he was actually fighting. Similarly,
except when he was at his work, Whistler, doubtless, really did think
of himself as a brilliant effortless butterfly. The pose was, doubtless
a quite sincere one, a necessary reaction of feeling. Well, in his
writing he displays to us his vanity; whilst in his Painting we discern
only his reverence. In his writing, too, he displays his
harshness--swoops hither and thither a butterfly equipped with sharp
little beak and talons; whereas in his painting we are conscious only
of his caressing sense of beauty. But look from the writer, as shown by
himself, to the means by which himself is shown. You will find that for
words as for colour-tones he has the same reverent care, and for
phrases as for forms the same caressing sense of beauty.
Fastidiousness--'daintiness,' as he would have said--dandyishness, as
we might well say: by just that which marks him as a painter is he
marked as a writer too. His meaning was ever ferocious; but his method,
how delicate and tender! The portrait of his mother, whom he loved, was
not wrought with a more loving hand than were his portraits of Mr.
Harry Quilter for The World.

His style never falters. The silhouette of no sentence is ever blurred.
Every sentence is ringing with a clear vocal cadence. There, after all,
in that vocal quality, is the chief test of good writing. Writing, as a
means of expression, has to compete with talking. The talker need not
rely wholly on what he says. He has the help of his mobile face and
hands, and of his voice, with its various inflexions and its variable
pace, whereby he may insinuate fine shades of meaning, qualifying or
strengthening at will, and clothing naked words with colour, and making
dead words live. But the writer? He can express a certain amount
through his handwriting, if he write in a properly elastic way. But his
writing is not printed in facsimile. It is printed in cold, mechanical,
monotonous type. For his every effect he must rely wholly on the words
that he chooses, and on the order in which he ranges them, and on his
choice among the few hard-and-fast symbols of punctuation. He must so
use those slender means that they shall express all that he himself can
express through his voice and face and hands, or all that he would thus
express if he were a good talker. Usually, the good talker is a dead
failure when he tries to express himself in writing. For that matter,
so is the bad talker. But the bad talker has the better chance of
success, inasmuch as the inexpressiveness of his voice and face and
hands will have sharpened his scent for words and phrases that shall in
themselves convey such meanings as he has to express. Whistler was that
rare phenomenon, the good talker who could write as well as he talked.
Read any page of The Gentle Art of Making Enemies, and you will hear a
voice in it, and see a face in it, and see gestures in it. And none of
these is quite like any other known to you. It matters not that you
never knew Whistler, never even set eyes on him. You see him and know
him here. The voice drawls slowly, quickening to a kind of snap at the
end of every sentence, and sometimes rising to a sudden screech of
laughter; and, all the while, the fine fierce eyes of the talker are
flashing out at you, and his long nervous fingers are tracing
extravagant arabesques in the air. No! you need never have seen
Whistler to know what he was like. He projected through printed words
the clean-cut image and clear-ringing echo of himself. He was a born
writer, achieving perfection through pains which must have been
infinite for that we see at first sight no trace of them at all.

Like himself, necessarily, his style was cosmopolitan and eccentric. It
comprised Americanisms and Cockneyisms and Parisian argot, with
constant reminiscences of the authorised version of the Old Testament,
and with chips off Molie're, and with shreds and tags of what-not
snatched from a hundred-and-one queer corners. It was, in fact, an
Autolycine style. It was a style of the maddest motley, but of motley
so deftly cut and fitted to the figure, and worn with such an air, as
to become a gracious harmony for all beholders.

After all, what matters is not so much the vocabulary as the manner in
which the vocabulary is used. Whistler never failed to find right
words, and the right cadence for a dignified meaning, when dignity was
his aim. 'And when the evening mist clothes the riverside with poetry,
as with a veil, and the poor buildings lose themselves in the dim sky,
and the tall chimneys become campanili, and the warehouses are palaces
in the night, and the whole city hangs in the heavens, and fairyland is
before us...' That is as perfect, in its dim and delicate beauty, as
any of his painted 'nocturnes.' But his aim was more often to pour
ridicule and contempt. And herein the weirdness of his natural
vocabulary and the patchiness of his reading were of very real value to
him. Take the opening words of his letter to Tom Taylor: 'Dead for a
ducat, dead! my dear Tom: and the rattle has reached me by post. Sans
rancune, say you? Bah! you scream unkind threats and die badly...' And
another letter to the same unfortunate man: 'Why, my dear old Tom, I
never was serious with you, even when you were among us. Indeed, I
killed you quite, as who should say, without seriousness, "A rat! A
rat!" you know, rather cursorily...' There the very lack of coherence
in the style, as of a man gasping and choking with laughter, drives the
insults home with a horrible precision. Notice the technical skill in
the placing of 'you know, rather cursorily' at the end of the sentence.
Whistler was full of such tricks--tricks that could never have been
played by him, could never have occurred to him, had he acquired the
professional touch And not a letter in the book but has some such
little sharp felicity of cadence or construction.

The letters, of course, are the best thing in the book, and the best of
the letters are the briefest. An exquisite talent like Whistler's,
whether in painting or in writing, is always at its best on a small
scale. On a large scale it strays and is distressed. Thus the 'Ten
o'Clock,' from which I took that passage about the evening mist and the
riverside, does not leave me with a sense of artistic satisfaction. It
lacks structure. It is not a roundly conceived whole: it is but a row
of fragments. Were it otherwise, Whistler could never have written so
perfectly the little letters. For no man who can finely grasp a big
theme can play exquisitely round a little one.

Nor can any man who excels in scoffing at his fellows excel also in
taking abstract subjects seriously. Certainly, the little letters are
Whistler's passport among the elect of literature. Luckily, I can judge
them without prejudice. Whether in this or that case Whistler was in
the right or in the wrong is not a question which troubles me at all. I
read the letters simply from the literary standpoint. As controversial
essays, certainly, they were often in very bad taste. An urchin
scribbling insults upon somebody's garden-wall would not go further
than Whistler often went. Whistler's mode of controversy reminds me, in
another sense, of the writing on the wall. They who were so foolish as
to oppose him really did have their souls required of them. After an
encounter with him they never again were quite the same men in the eyes
of their fellows. Whistler's insults always stuck--stuck and spread
round the insulted, who found themselves at length encased in them,
like flies in amber.

You may shed a tear over the flies, if you will. For myself, I am
content to laud the amber.



ICHABOD

It is not cast from any obvious mould of sentiment. It is not a
memorial urn, nor a ruined tower, nor any of those things which he who
runs may weep over. Though not less really deplorable than they, it
needs, I am well aware, some sort of explanation to enable my reader to
mourn with me. For it is merely a hat-box.

It is nothing but that--an ordinary affair of pig-skin, with a brass
lock. As I write, it stands on a table near me. It is of the kind that
accommodates two hats, one above the other. It has had many tenants,
and is sun-tanned, rain-soiled, scarred and dented by collision with
trucks and what not other accessories to the moving scenes through
which it has been bandied. Yes! it has known the stress of many
journeys; yet has it never (you would say, seeing it) received its
baptism of paste: it has not one label on it. And there, indeed, is the
tragedy that I shall unfold.

For many years this hat-box had been my travelling companion, and was,
but a few days since, a dear record of all the big and little journeys
I had made. It was much more to me than a mere receptacle for hats. It
was my one collection, my collection of labels. Well! last week its
lock was broken. I sent it to the trunk-makers, telling them to take
the greatest care of it. It came back yesterday. The idiots, the
accursed idots! had carefully removed every label from its surface. I
wrote to them--it matters not what I said. My fury has burnt itself
out. I have reached the stage of craving general sympathy. So I have
sat down to write, in the shadow of a tower which stands bleak, bare,
prosaic, all the ivy of its years stripped from it; in the shadow of an
urn commemorating nothing.

I think that every one who is or ever has been a collector will pity me
in this dark hour of mine. In other words, I think that nearly every
one will pity me. For few are they who have not, at some time, come
under the spell of the collecting spirit and known the joy of
accumulating specimens of something or other. The instinct has its
corner, surely, in every breast. Of course, hobby-horses are of many
different breeds; but all their riders belong to one great cavalcade,
and when they know that one of their company has had his steed shot
under him, they will not ride on without a backward glance of sympathy.
Lest my fall be unnoted by them, I write this essay. I want that glance.

Do not, reader, suspect that because I am choosing my words nicely, and
playing with metaphor, and putting my commas in their proper places, my
sorrow is not really and truly poignant. I write elaborately, for that
is my habit, and habits are less easily broken than hearts. I could no
more 'dash off' this my cri de coeur than I could an elegy on a
broomstick I had never seen. Therefore, reader, bear with me, despite
my sable plumes and purple; and weep with me, though my prose be, like
those verses which Mr. Beamish wrote over Chloe's grave, 'of a
character to cool emotion.' For indeed my anguish is very real. The
collection I had amassed so carefully, during so many years, the
collection I loved and revelled in, has been obliterated, swept away,
destroyed utterly by a pair of ruthless, impious, well-meaning,
idiotic, unseen hands. It cannot be restored to me. Nothing can
compensate me for it gone. It was part and parcel of my life.

Orchids, jade, majolica, wines, mezzotints, old silver, first editions,
harps, copes, hookahs, cameos, enamels, black-letter folios,
scarabaei--such things are beautiful and fascinating in themselves.
Railway-labels are not, I admit. For the most part, they are crudely
coloured, crudely printed, without sense of margin or spacing; in fact,
quite worthless as designs. No one would be a connoisseur in them. No
one could be tempted to make a general collection of them. My own
collection of them was strictly personal: I wanted none that was not a
symbol of some journey made by myself, even as the hunter of big game
cares not to possess the tusks, and the hunter of women covets not the
photographs, of other people's victims. My collection was one of those
which result from man's tendency to preserve some obvious record of his
pleasures--the points he has scored in the game. To Nimrod, his tusks;
to Lothario, his photographs; to me (who cut no dash in either of those
veneries, and am not greedy enough to preserve menus nor silly enough
to preserve press-cuttings, but do delight in travelling from place to
place), my railway-labels. Had nomady been my business, had I been a
commercial traveller or a King's Messenger, such labels would have held
for me no charming significance. But I am only by instinct a nomad. I
have a tether, known as the four-mile radius. To slip it is for me
always an event, an excitement. To come to a new place, to awaken in a
strange bed, to be among strangers! To have dispelled, as by sudden
magic, the old environment! It is on the scoring of such points as
these that I preen myself, and my memory is always ringing the
'changes' I have had, complacently, as a man jingles silver in his
pocket. The noise of a great terminus is no jar to me. It is music. I
prick up my ears to it, and paw the platform. Dear to me as the
bugle-note to any war-horse, as the first twittering of the birds in
the hedgerows to the light-sleeping vagabond, that cry of 'Take your
seats please!' or--better still--'En voiture!' or 'Partenza!' Had I the
knack of rhyme, I would write a sonnet-sequence of the journey to
Newhaven or Dover--a sonnet for every station one does not stop at. I
await that poet who shall worthily celebrate the iron road. There is
one who describes, with accuracy and gusto, the insides of engines; but
he will not do at all. I look for another, who shall show us the heart
of the passenger, the exhilaration of travelling by day, the
exhilaration and romance and self-importance of travelling by night.

'Paris!' How it thrills me when, on a night in spring, in the hustle
and glare of Victoria, that label is slapped upon my hat-box! Here,
standing in the very heart of London, I am by one sweep of a
paste-brush transported instantly into that white-grey city across the
sea. To all intents and purposes I am in Paris already. Strange, that
the porter does not say, 'V'la', M'sieu'!' Strange, that the evening
papers I buy at the bookstall are printed in the English language.
Strange, that London still holds my body, when a corduroyed magician
has whisked my soul verily into Paris. The engine is hissing as I hurry
my body along the platform, eager to reunite it with my soul... Over
the windy quay the stars are shining as I pass down the gangway,
hat-box in hand. They twinkle brightly over the deck I am now
pacing--amused, may be, at my excitement. The machinery grunts and
creaks. The little boat quakes in the excruciating throes of its
departure. At last!... One by one, the stars take their last look at
me, and the sky grows pale, and the sea blanches mysteriously with it.
Through the delicate cold air of the dawn, across the grey waves of the
sea, the outlines of Dieppe grow and grow. The quay is lined with its
blue-bloused throng. These porters are as excited by us as though they
were the aborigines of some unknown island. (And yet, are they not
here, at this hour, in these circumstances, every day of their lives?)
These gestures! These voices, hoarse with passion! The dear music of
French, rippling up clear for me through all this hoarse confusion of
its utterance, and making me happy!... I drink my cup of steaming
coffee--true coffee!--and devour more than one roll. At the tables
around me, pale and dishevelled from the night, sit the people whom I
saw--years ago!--at Charing Cross. How they have changed! The coffee
sends a glow throughout my body. I am fulfilled with a sense of
material well-being. The queer ethereal exaltation of the dawn has
vanished. I climb up into the train, and dispose myself in the
dun-cushioned coupe'. 'Chemins de Fer de l'Ouest' is perforated on the
white antimacassars. Familiar and strange inscription! I murmur its
impressive iambs over and over again. They become the refrain to which
the train vibrates on its way. I smoke cigarettes, a little drowsily
gazing out of the window at the undulating French scenery that flies
past me, at the silver poplars. Row after slanted row of these
incomparably gracious trees flies past me, their foliage shimmering in
the unawoken landscape Soon I shall be rattling over the cobbles of
unawoken Paris, through the wide white-grey streets with their unopened
jalousies. And when, later, I awake in the unnatural little bedroom of
walnut-wood and crimson velvet, in the bed whose curtains are white
with that whiteness which Paris alone can give to linen, a Parisian sun
will be glittering for me in a Parisian sky.

Yes! In my whole collection the Paris specimens were dearest to me,
meant most to me, I think. But there was none that had not some
tendrils on sentiment. All of them I prized, more or less. Of the
Aberdeen specimens I was immensely fond. Who can resist the thought of
that express by which, night after night, England is torn up its
centre? I love well that cab-drive in the chill autumnal night through
the desert of Bloomsbury, the dead leaves rustling round the horse's
hoofs as we gallop through the Squares. Ah, I shall be across the
Border before these doorsteps are cleaned, before the coming of the
milk-carts. Anon, I descry the cavernous open jaws of Euston. The
monster swallows me, and soon I am being digested into Scotland. I sit
ensconced in a corner of a compartment. The collar of my ulster is
above my ears, my cap is pulled over my eyes, my feet are on a
hot-water tin, and my rug snugly envelops most of me. Sleeping-cars are
for the strange beings who love not the act of travelling. Them I
should spurn even if I could not sleep a wink in an ordinary
compartment. I would liefer forfeit sleep than the consciousness of
travelling. But it happens that I, in an ordinary compartment, am blest
both with the sleep and with the consciousness, all through the long
night. To be asleep and to know that you are sleeping, and to know,
too, that even as you sleep you are being borne away through darkness
into distance--that, surely, is to go two better than Endymion. Surely,
nothing is more mysteriously delightful than this joint consciousness
of sleep and movement. Pitiable they to whom it is denied. All through
the night the vibration of the train keeps one-third of me awake, while
the other two parts of me profoundly slumber. Whenever the train stops,
and the vibration ceases, then the one-third of me falls asleep, and
the other two parts stir. I am awake just enough to hear the
hollow-echoing cry of 'Crewe' or 'York,' and to blink up at the
green-hooded lamp in the ceiling. May be, I raise a corner of the
blind, and see through the steam-dim window the mysterious, empty
station. A solitary porter shuffles along the platform. Yonder, those
are the lights of the refreshment room, where, all night long, a
barmaid is keeping her lonely vigil over the beer-handles and the
Bath-buns in glass cases. I see long rows of glimmering milk-cans, and
wonder drowsily whether they contain forty modern thieves. The engine
snorts angrily in the benighted silence. Far away is the faint,
familiar sound--clink-clank, clink-clank--of the man who tests the
couplings. Nearer and nearer the sound comes. It passes, recedes It is
rather melancholy.... A whistle, a jerk, and the two waking parts of me
are asleep again, while the third wakes up to mount guard over them,
and keeps me deliciously aware of the rhythmic dream they are dreaming
about the hot bath and the clean linen, and the lovely breakfast that I
am to have at Aberdeen; and of the Scotch air, crisp and keen, that is
to escort me, later along the Deeside.

Little journeys, as along the Deeside, have a charm of their own.
Little journeys from London to places up the river, or to places on the
coast of Kent--journeys so brief that you lunch at one end and have tea
at the other--I love them all, and loved the labels that recalled them
to me. But the labels of long journeys, of course, took precedence in
my heart. Here and there on my hat-box were labels that recalled to me
long journeys in which frontiers were crossed at dead of night--dim
memories of small, crazy stations where I shivered half-awake, and was
sleepily conscious of a strange tongue and strange uniforms, of my
jingling bunch of keys, of ruthless arms diving into the nethermost
recesses of my trunks, of suspicious grunts and glances, and of
grudging hieroglyphics chalked on the slammed lids. These were things
more or less painful and resented in the moment of experience, yet even
then fraught with a delicious glamour. I suffered, but gladly. In the
night, when all things are mysteriously magnified, I have never crossed
a frontier without feeling some of the pride of conquest. And, indeed,
were these conquests mere illusions? Was I not actually extending the
frontiers of my mind, adding new territories to it? Every crossed
frontier, every crossed sea, meant for me a definite success--an
expansion and enrichment of my soul. When, after seven days and nights
of sea traversed, I caught my first glimpse of Sandy Hook, was there no
comparison between Columbus and myself? To see what one has not seen
before, is not that almost as good as to see what no one has ever seen?

Romance, exhilaration, self-importance these are what my labels
symbolised and recalled to me. That lost collection was a running
record of all my happiest hours; a focus, a monument, a diary. It was
my humble Odyssey, wrought in coloured paper on pig-skin, and the one
work I never, never was weary of. If the distinguished Ithacan had
travelled with a hat-box, how finely and minutely Homer would have
described it--its depth and girth, its cunningly fashioned lock and
fair lining withal! And in how interminable a torrent of hexameters
would he have catalogued all the labels on it, including those
attractive views of the Hotel Circe, the Hotel Calypso, and other
high-class resorts. Yet no! Had such a hat-box existed and had it been
preserved in his day, Homer would have seen in it a sufficient record,
a better record than even he could make, of Odysseus' wanderings. We
should have had nothing from him but the Iliad. I, certainly never felt
any need of commemorating my journeys till my labels were lost to me.
And I am conscious how poor and chill is the substitute.

My collection like most collections, began imperceptibly. A man does
not say to himself, 'I am going to collect' this thing or that. True,
the schoolboy says so; but his are not, in the true sense of the word,
collections. He seeks no set autobiographic symbols, for boys never
look back--there is too little to look back on, too much in front. Nor
have the objects of his collection any intrinsic charm for him. He
starts a collection merely that he may have a plausible excuse for
doing something he ought not to do. He goes in for birds' eggs merely
that he may be allowed to risk his bones and tear his clothes in
climbing; for butterflies, that he may be encouraged to poison and
impale; for stamps...really, I do not know why he, why any sane
creature goes in for stamps. It follows that he has no real love of his
collection and soon abandons it for something else. The sincere
collector, how different! His hobby has a solid basis of personal
preference. Some one gives him (say) a piece of jade. He admires it. He
sees another piece in a shop, and buys it; later, he buys another. He
does not regard these pieces of jade as distinct from the rest of his
possessions; he has no idea of collecting jade. It is not till he has
acquired several other pieces that he ceases to regard them as mere
items in the decoration of his room, and gives them a little table, or
a tray of a cabinet, all to themselves. How well they look there! How
they intensify one another! He really must get some one to give him
that little pedestalled Cupid which he saw yesterday in Wardour Street.
Thus awakes in him, quite gradually, the spirit of the collector. Or
take the case of one whose collection is not of beautiful things, but
of autobiographic symbols: take the case of the glutton. He will have
pocketed many menus before it occurs to him to arrange them in an
album. Even so, it was not until a fair number of labels had been
pasted on my hat-box that I saw them as souvenirs, and determined that
in future my hat-box should always travel with me and so commemorate my
every darling escape.

In the path of every collector are strewn obstacles of one kind or
another; which, to overleap, is part of the fun. As a collector of
labels I had my pleasant difficulties. On any much-belabelled piece of
baggage the porter always pastes the new label over that which looks
most recent; else the thing might miss its destination. Now, paste
dries before the end of the briefest journey; and one of my canons was
that, though two labels might overlap, none must efface the inscription
of another. On the other hand, I did not wish to lose my hat-box, for
this would have entailed inquiries, and descriptions, and telegraphing
up the line, and all manner of agitation. What, then, was I to do? I
might have taken my hat-box with me in the carriage? That, indeed, is
what I always did. But, unless a thing is to go in the van, it receives
no label at all. So I had to use a mild stratagem. 'Yes,' I would say,
'everything in the van!' The labels would be duly affixed. 'Oh,' I
would cry, seizing the hat-box quickly, 'I forgot. I want this with me
in the carriage.' (I learned to seize it quickly, because some porters
are such martinets that they will whisk the label off and confiscate
it.) Then, when the man was not looking, I would remove the label from
the place he had chosen for it and press it on some unoccupied part of
the surface. You cannot think how much I enjoyed these manoeuvres.
There was the moral pleasure of having both outwitted a railway company
and secured another specimen for my collection; and there was the
physical pleasure of making a limp slip of paper stick to a hard
substance--that simple pleasure which appeals to all of us and is,
perhaps, the missing explanation of philately. Pressed for time, I
could not, of course, have played my trick. Nor could I have done
so--it would have seemed heartless--if any one had come to see me off
and be agitated at parting. Therefore, I was always very careful to
arrive in good time for my train, and to insist that all farewells
should be made on my own doorstep.

Only in one case did I break the rule that no label must be obliterated
by another. It is a long story; but I propose to tell it. You must know
that I loved my labels not only for the meanings they conveyed to me,
but also, more than a little, for the effect they produced on other
people. Travelling in a compartment, with my hat-box beside me, I
enjoyed the silent interest which my labels aroused in my
fellow-passengers. If the compartment was so full that my hat-box had
to be relegated to the rack, I would always, in the course of the
journey, take it down and unlock it, and pretend to be looking for
something I had put into it. It pleased me to see from beneath my
eyelids the respectful wonder and envy evoked by it. Of course, there
was no suspicion that the labels were a carefully formed collection;
they were taken as the wild-flowers of an exquisite restlessness, of an
unrestricted range in life. Many of them signified beautiful or famous
places. There was one point at which Oxford, Newmarket, and Assisi
converged, and I was always careful to shift my hat-box round in such a
way that this purple patch should be lost on none of my
fellow-passengers. The many other labels, English or alien, they, too,
gave their hints of a life spent in fastidious freedom, hints that I
had seen and was seeing all that is best to be seen of men and cities
and country-houses. I was respected, accordingly, and envied. And I had
keen delight in this ill-gotten homage. A despicable delight, you say?
But is not yours, too, a fallen nature? The love of impressing
strangers falsely, is it not implanted in all of us? To be sure, it is
an inevitable outcome of the conditions in which we exist. It is a
result of the struggle for life. Happiness, as you know, is our aim in
life; we are all struggling to be happy. And, alas! for every one of
us, it is the things he does not possess which seem to him most
desirable, most conducive to happiness. For instance, the poor nobleman
covets wealth, because wealth would bring him comfort, whereas the
nouveau riche covets a pedigree, because a pedigree would make him of
what he is merely in. The rich nobleman who is an invalid covets
health, on the assumption that health would enable him to enjoy his
wealth and position. The rich, robust nobleman hankers after an
intellect. The rich, robust, intellectual nobleman is (be sure of it)
as discontented, somehow, as the rest of them. No man possesses all he
wants. No man is ever quite happy. But, by producing an impression that
he has what he wants--in fact, by 'bluffing'--a man can gain some of
the advantages that he would gain by really having it. Thus, the poor
nobleman can, by concealing his 'balance' and keeping up appearances,
coax more or less unlimited credit from his tradesman. The nouveau
riche, by concealing his origin and trafficking with the College of
Heralds, can intercept some of the homage paid to high birth. And
(though the rich nobleman who is an invalid can make no tangible gain
by pretending to be robust, since robustness is an advantage only from
within) the rich, robust nobleman can, by employing a clever private
secretary to write public speeches and magazine articles for him,
intercept some of the homage which is paid to intellect.

These are but a few typical cases, taken at random from a small area.
But consider the human race at large, and you will find that 'bluffing'
is indeed one of the natural functions of the human animal. Every man
pretends to have what (not having it) he covets, in order that he may
gain some of the advantages of having it. And thus it comes that he
makes his pretence, also, by force of habit, when there is nothing
tangible to be gained by it. The poor nobleman wishes to be thought
rich even by people who will not benefit him in their delusion; and the
nouveau riche likes to be thought well-born even by people who set no
store on good birth; and so forth. But pretences, whether they be an
end or a means, cannot be made successfully among our intimate friends.
These wretches know all about us--have seen through us long ago. With
them we are, accordingly, quite natural. That is why we find their
company so restful. Among acquaintances the pretence is worth making.
But those who know anything at all about us are apt to find us out.
That is why we find acquaintances such a nuisance. Among perfect
strangers, who know nothing at all about us, we start with a clean
slate. If our pretence do not come off, we have only ourselves to
blame. And so we 'bluff' these strangers, blithely, for all we are
worth, whether there be anything to gain or nothing. We all do it. Let
us despise ourselves for doing it, but not one another. By which I
mean, reader, do not be hard on me for making a show of my labels in
railway-carriages. After all, the question is whether a man 'bluff'
well or ill. If he brag vulgarly before his strangers, away with him!
by all means. He does not know how to play the game. He is a failure.
But, if he convey subtly (and, therefore, successfully) the fine
impression he wishes to convey, then you should stifle your wrath, and
try to pick up a few hints. When I saw my fellow-passengers eyeing my
hat-box, I did not, of course, say aloud to them, 'Yes, mine is a
delightful life! Any amount of money, any amount of leisure! And,
what's more, I know how to make the best use of them both!' Had I done
so, they would have immediately seen through me as an impostor. But I
did nothing of the sort. I let my labels proclaim distinction for me,
quietly, in their own way. And they made their proclamation with
immense success. But there came among them, in course of time, one
label that would not harmonise with them. Came, at length, one label
that did me actual discredit. I happened to have had influenza, and my
doctor had ordered me to make my convalescence in a place which,
according to him, was better than any other for my particular
condition. He had ordered me to Ramsgate, and to Ramsgate I had gone. A
label on my hat-box duly testified to my obedience. At the time, I had
thought nothing of it. But, in subsequent journeys, I noticed that my
hat-box did not make its old effect, somehow. My fellow-passengers
looked at it, were interested in it; but I had a subtle sense that they
were not reverencing me as of yore. Something was the matter. I was not
long in tracing what it was. The discord struck by Ramsgate was the
more disastrous because, in my heedlessness, I had placed that ignoble
label within an inch of my point d'appui--the trinity of Oxford,
Newmarket and Assisi. What was I to do? I could not explain to my
fellow-passengers, as I have explained to you, my reason for Ramsgate.
So long as the label was there, I had to rest under the hideous
suspicion of having gone there for pleasure, gone of my own free will.
I did rest under it during the next two or three journeys. But the
injustice of my position maddened me. At length, a too obvious sneer on
the face of a fellow-passenger steeled me to a resolve that I would,
for once, break my rule against obliteration. On the return journey, I
obliterated Ramsgate with the new label, leaving visible merely the
final TE, which could hardly compromise me.

Steterunt those two letters because I was loth to destroy what was,
primarily, a symbol for myself: I wished to remember Ramsgate, even
though I had to keep it secret. Only in a secondary, accidental way was
my collection meant for the public eye. Else, I should not have
hesitated to deck the hat-box with procured symbols of Seville, Simla,
St. Petersburg and other places which I had not (and would have liked
to be supposed to have) visited. But my collection was, first of all, a
private autobiography, a record of my scores of Fate; and thus
positively to falsify it would have been for me as impossible as
cheating at 'Patience.' From that to which I would not add I hated to
subtract anything--even Ramsgate. After all, Ramsgate was not London;
to have been in it was a kind of score. Besides, it had restored me to
health. I had no right to rase it utterly.

But such tendresse was not my sole reason for sparing those two
letters. Already I was reaching that stage where the collector loves
his specimens not for their single sakes, but as units in the
sum-total. To every collector comes, at last, a time when he does but
value his collection--how shall I say?--collectively. He who goes in
for beautiful things begins, at last, to value his every acquisition
not for its beauty, but because it enhances the worth of the rest.
Likewise, he who goes in for autobiographic symbols begins, at last, to
care not for the symbolism of another event in his life, but for the
addition to the objects already there. He begins to value every event
less for its own sake than because it swells his collection. Thus there
came for me a time when I looked forward to a journey less because it
meant movement and change for myself than because it meant another
label for my hat-box. A strange state to fall into? Yes, collecting is
a mania, a form of madness. And it is the most pleasant form of madness
in the whole world. It can bring us nearer to real happiness than can
any form of sanity. The normal, eclectic man is never happy, because he
is always craving something of another kind than what he has got. The
collector, in his mad concentration, wants only more and more of what
he has got already; and what he has got already he cherishes with a
passionate joy. I cherished my gallimaufry of rainbow-coloured labels
almost as passionately as the miser his hoard of gold. Why do we call
the collector of current coin a miser? Wretched? He? True, he denies
himself all the reputed pleasures of life; but does he not do so of his
own accord, gladly? He sacrifices everything to his mania; but that
merely proves how intense his mania is. In that the nature of his
collection cuts him off from all else, he is the perfect type of the
collector. He is above all other collectors. And he is the truly
happiest of them all. It is only when, by some merciless stroke of
Fate, he is robbed of his hoard, that he becomes wretched. Then,
certainly, he suffers. He suffers proportionately to his joy. He is
smitten with sorrow more awful than any sorrow to be conceived by the
sane. I whose rainbow-coloured hoard has been swept from me, seem to
taste the full savour of his anguish.

I sit here thinking of the misers who, in life or in fiction, have been
despoiled. Three only do I remember: Melanippus of Sicyon, Pierre
Baudouin of Limoux, Silas Marner. Melanippus died of a broken heart.
Pierre Baudouin hanged himself. The case of Silas Marner is more
cheerful. He, coming into his cottage one night, saw by the dim light
of the hearth, that which seemed to be his gold restored, but was
really nothing but the golden curls of a little child, whom he was
destined to rear under his own roof, finding in her more than solace
for his bereavement. But then, he was a character in fiction: the other
two really existed. What happened to him will not happen to me. Even if
little children with rainbow-coloured hair were so common that one of
them might possibly be left on my hearth-rug, I know well that I should
not feel recompensed by it, even if it grew up to be as fascinating a
paragon as Eppie herself. Had Silas Marner really existed (nay! even
had George Eliot created him in her maturity) neither would he have
felt recompensed. Far likelier, he would have been turned to stone, in
the first instance, as was poor Niobe when the divine arrows destroyed
that unique collection on which she had lavished so many years. Or, may
be, had he been a very strong man, he would have found a bitter joy in
saving up for a new hoard. Like Carlyle, when the MS. of his
masterpiece was burned by the housemaid of John Stuart Mill, he might
have begun all over again, and builded a still nobler monument on the
tragic ashes.

That is a fine, heartening example! I will be strong enough to follow
it. I will forget all else. I will begin all over again. There stands
my hat-box! Its glory is departed, but I vow that a greater glory
awaits it. Bleak, bare and prosaic it is now, but--ten years hence! Its
career, like that of the Imperial statesman in the moment of his
downfall, 'is only just beginning.'

There is a true Anglo-Saxon ring in this conclusion. May it appease
whomever my tears have been making angry.



GENERAL ELECTIONS

I admire detachment. I commend a serene indifference to hubbub. I like
Archimedes, Leonardo da Vinci, Goethe, Balzac, Darwin, and other sages,
for having been so concentrated on this or that eternal verity in art
or science or philosophy, that they paid no heed to alarums and
excursions which were sweeping all other folk off their feet. It is
with some shame that I haunt the tape-machine whenever a General
Election is going on.

Of politics I know nothing. My mind is quite open on the subject of
fiscal reform, and quite empty; and the void is not an aching one: I
have no desire to fill it. The idea of the British Empire leaves me
quite cold. If this or that subject race threw off our yoke, I should
feel less vexation than if one comma were misplaced in the printing of
this essay. The only feeling that our Colonies inspire in me is a
determination not to visit them. Socialism neither affrights nor
attracts me--or, rather, it has both these effects equally. When I
think of poverty and misery crushing the greater part of humanity, and
most of all when I hear of some specific case of distress, I become a
socialist indeed. But I am not less an artist than a human being, and
when I think of Demos, that chin-bearded god, flushed with victory,
crowned with leaflets of the Social Democratic League, quaffing
temperance beverages in a world all drab; when I think of model
lodging-houses in St. James's Park, and trams running round and round
St. James's Square--the mighty fallen, and the lowly swollen, and, in
Elysium, the shade of Matthew Arnold shedding tears on the shoulder of
a shade so different as George Brummell's--tears, idle tears, at sight
of the Barbarians, whom he had mocked and loved, now annihilated by
those others whom he had mocked and hated; when such previsions as
these come surging up in me, I do deem myself well content with the
present state of things, dishonourable though it is. As to socialism,
then, you see, my mind is evenly divided. It is with no political bias
that I go and hover around the tape-machine. My interest in General
Elections is a merely 'sporting' interest. I do not mean that I lay
bets. A bad fairy decreed over my cradle that I should lose every bet
that I might make; and, in course of time, I abandoned a practice which
took away from coming events the pleasing element of uncertainty. 'A
merely dramatic interest' is less equivocal, and more accurate.

'This,' you say, 'is rank incivism.' I assume readily that you are an
ardent believer in one political party or another, and that, having
studied thoroughly all the questions at issue, you could give cogent
reasons for all the burning faith that is in you. But how about your
friends and acquaintances? How many of them can cope with you in
discussion? How many of them show even a desire to cope with you?
Travel, I beg you, on the Underground Railway, or in a Tube. Such
places are supposed to engender in their passengers a taste for
political controversy. Yet how very elementary are such arguments as
you will hear there! It is obvious that these gentlemen know and care
very little about 'burning questions.' What they do know and care about
is the purely personal side of politics. They have their likes and
their dislikes for a few picturesque and outstanding figures. These
they will attack or defend with fervour. But you will be lucky if you
overhear any serious discussion of policy. Emerge from the nether
world. Range over the whole community--from the costermonger who says
'Good Old Winston!' to the fashionable woman who says 'I do think Mr.
Balfour is rather wonderful!'--and you will find the same plentiful
lack of interest in the impersonal side of polities. You will find that
almost every one is interested in politics only as a personal conflict
between certain interesting men--as a drama, in fact. Frown not, then,
on me alone.

Whenever a General Election occurs, the conflict becomes sharper and
more obvious--the play more exciting--the audience more tense. The
stage is crowded with supernumeraries, not interesting in themselves,
but adding a new interest to the merely personal interest. There is the
stronger 'side,' here the weaker, ranged against each other. Which will
be vanquished? It rests with the audience to decide. And, as human
nature is human nature, of course the audience decides that the weaker
side shall be victorious. That is what politicians call 'the swing of
the pendulum.' They believe that the country is alienated by the
blunders of the Government, and is disappointed by the unfulfilment of
promises, and is anxious for other methods of policy. Bless them! the
country hardly noticed their blunders, has quite forgotten their
promises, and cannot distinguish between one set of methods and
another. When the man in the street sees two other men in the street
fighting, he doesn't care to know the cause of the combat: he simply
wants the smaller man to punish the bigger, and to punish him with all
possible severity. When a party with a large majority appeals to the
country, its appeal falls, necessarily, on deaf ears. Some years ago
there happened an exception to this rule. But then the circumstances
were exceptional. A small nation was fighting a big nation, and, as the
big nation happened to be yourselves, your sympathy was transferred to
the big nation. As the little party was suspected of favouring the
little nation, your sympathy was transferred likewise to the big party.
Barring 'khaki,' sympathy takes its usual course in General Elections.
The bigger the initial majority, the bigger the collapse. It is not
enough that Goliath shall fall: he must bite the dust, and bite plenty
of it. It is not enough that David shall have done what he set out to
do: a throne must be found for this young man. Away with the giant's
body! Hail, King David!

I should like to think that chivalry was the sole motive of our zeal. I
am afraid that the mere craving for excitement has something to do with
it. Pelion has never been piled on Ossa; and no really useful purpose
could be served by the superimposition. But we should like to see the
thing done. It would appeal to our sense of the grandiose--our
hankering after the unlimited. When the man of science shows us a drop
of water in a test-tube, and tells us that this tiny drop contains more
than fifteen billions of infusoria, we are subtly gratified, and
cherish a secret hope that the number of infusoria is very much more
than fifteen billions. In the same way, we hope that the number of
seats gained by the winning party will be even greater to-morrow than
it is to-day. 'We are sweeping the country,' exclaims (say) the
professed Liberal; and at the word 'sweeping' there is in his eyes a
gleam that no mere party feeling could have lit there. It is a gleam
that comes from the very depths of his soul--a reflection of the innate
human passion for breaking records, or seeing them broken, no matter
how or why. 'Yes,' says the professed Tory, 'you certainly are sweeping
the country.' He tries to put a note of despondency into his voice; but
hark how he rolls the word 'sweeping' over his tongue! He, too, though
he may not admit it, is longing to creep into the smoking-room of the
National Liberal Club and feast his eyes on the blazing galaxy of red
seals affixed to the announcements of the polling. He turns to his
evening paper, and reads again the list of ex-Cabinet ministers who
have been unseated. He feels, in his heart of hearts, what fun it would
be if they had all been unseated. He grudges the exceptions. For
political bias is one thing; human nature another.



A PARALLEL

The club-room looked very like the auditorium of a music-hall. Indeed,
that is what it must once have been. But now there were tiers of
benches on the stage; and on these was packed a quarter or so of the
members and their friends. The other three-quarters or so were packed
opposite the proscenium and down either side of the hall. And in the
middle of this human oblong was a raised platform, roped around.
Therefrom, just as I was ushered to my place, a stout man in evening
dress was making some announcement. I did not catch its import; but it
was loudly applauded. The stout man--most of the audience indeed,
seemed to have put on flesh--bowed himself off, and disappeared from my
ken in the clouds of tobacco-smoke that hung about the hall. Almost
immediately, two young people, nimbly insinuating themselves through
the rope fence, leapt upon the platform. One was a man of about twenty
years of age; the other, a girl of about seventeen. She was very
pretty; he was very handsome; both were becomingly dressed, with
evident aim at attractiveness. They proceeded to opposite corners of
the platform. At a signal from some one, they advanced to the middle;
and each made a hideous grimace at the other. The grimace, strange in
itself, was stranger still in the light of what followed. For the young
man began to make passionate protestations of love, to which the girl
responded with equal ardour. The young man fell to his knees; the girl
raised him, and clung to his breast. His language became more and more
lyrical, his eyes more and more ecstatic. Suddenly in the middle of a
pretty sentence, wherein his love was likened to a flight of doves, a
bell rang; whereat, not less abruptly, the couple separated, retiring
to the aforesaid corners of the platform and sinking back on their
chairs with every manifestation of fatigue. Their friends or
attendants, however, rallied round them, counselling them, cooling them
with fans, heartening them to fresh endeavour; and when, at the end of
a minute, the signal was sounded for a second tryst, the two young
people seemed fresher and more eager than ever. This time, most of the
love-making was done by the girl; the young man joyously drinking in
her words, and now and then interpolating a few of his own. There were
four trysts in all, with three intervals for recuperation. At the
fourth sound of the bell, the lovers, stepping asunder, repeated their
hideous mutual grimace, and disappeared from the platform as suddenly
as they had come. Their place was soon taken by another, a more mature,
and heavier, but not less personable, couple, who proceeded to make
love in their own somewhat different way. The lyrical notes seemed to
be missing in them. But maturity, though it had stripped away magic,
had not blunted their passion--had, rather, sharpened the edge of it,
and made it a stronger and more formidable instrument. Throughout the
evening, indeed, in the long succession that there was of amorous
encounters, it seemed to be the encounters of mature couples that
excited in the smoke-laden audience the keenest interest. It was
evidently not etiquette to interrupt the lovers while they were
talking; but, whenever the bell sounded, there was a frantic outburst
of sympathy, straight from the heart; and sometimes, even while a
love-scene was proceeding, this or that stout gentleman would snatch
the cigar from his lips and emit a heart-cry. Now and again, it seemed
to be thought that the lovers were insufficiently fervid--were but
dallying with passion; and then there were stentorian grunts of
disapproval and hortation. I did not gather that the audience itself
was composed mainly of active lovers. I guessed that the greater number
consisted of men who do but take an active interest in other people's
love affairs--men who, vigilant from a detached position, have
developed in themselves an extraordinarily sound critical knowledge of
what is due to Venus. 'Plaisir d'amour ne dure qu'un moment,' I
murmured; 'chagrin d'amour dure toute la vie. And wise are ye who,
immune from all love's sorrow, win incessant joy in surveying Cythara
through telescopes. Suave mari magno,' I murmured. And this second tag
caused me to awake from my dream shivering.

A strange dream? Yet a precisely parallel reality had inspired it. I
had been taken over-night--my first visit--to the National Sporting
Club.

The instinct to fight, like the instinct to love, is a quite natural
instinct. To fight and to love are the primary instincts of primitive
man. I know that people with strongly amorous natures are not trained
and paid to make love ceremoniously, in accordance to certain rules
laid down for them by certain authorities, and for the delectation of
highly critical audiences. But, if this custom prevailed, it would not
seem to me stranger than the custom of training and paying pugnacious
people to hit one another on the face and breast, with the greatest
possible skill and violence, for the delectation of highly critical
audiences. I do not say that a glove-fight is in itself a visually
disgusting exhibition. I saw no blood spilt, the other night, and no
bruises expressed, by either the 'light-weights' or the
'heavy-weights.' I dare say, too, that the fighters enjoy their
profession, on the whole. But I contend that it is a very lamentable
profession, in that it depends on the calculated prostitution of good
natural energies. A declaration of love prefaced by a grimace, such as
I saw in my dream, seems to me not one whit more monstrous than a
violent onslaught prefaced by a hand-shake. If two men are angry with
each other, let them fight it out (provided I be not one of them) in
the good old English fashion, by all means. But prize-fighting is to be
deplored as an offence against the soul of man. And this offence is
committed, not by the fighters themselves, but by us soft and sedentary
gentlemen who set them on to fight. Looking back at ancient Rome, no
one blames the poor gladiators in the arena. Every one reserves his
pious horror for the citizens in the amphitheatre. Yet how are we
superior to them? Are we not even as they--suspended at exactly their
point between barbarism and civilisation. In course of time, doubtless,
'the ring'will die out. For either we shall become so civilised that we
shall not rejoice in the sight of painful violence, or we shall relapse
into barbarism and go into the mauling business on our own account. Our
present stage--the stage of our transition--is not pretty, I think.



A MORRIS FOR MAY-DAY

Not long ago a prospectus was issued by some more or less aesthetic
ladies and gentlemen who, deeming modern life not so cheerful as it
should be, had laid their cheerless heads together and decided that
they would meet once every month and dance old-fashioned dances in a
hall hired for the purpose. Thus would they achieve a renascence--I am
sure they called it a renascence--of 'Merrie England.' I know not
whether subscriptions came pouring in. I know not even whether the
society ever met. If it ever did meet, I conceive that its meetings
must have been singularly dismal. If you are depressed by modern life,
you are unlikely to find an anodyne in the self-appointed task of
cutting certain capers which your ancestors used to cut because they,
in their day, were happy. If you think modern life so pleasant a thing
that you involuntarily prance, rather than walk, down the street, I
dare say your prancing will intensify your joy. Though I happen never
to have met him out-of-doors, I am sure my friend Mr. Gilbert
Chesterton always prances thus--prances in some wild way symbolical of
joy in modern life. His steps, and the movements of his arms and body,
may seem to you crude, casual, and disconnected at first sight; but
that is merely because they are spontaneous. If you studied them
carefully, you would begin to discern a certain rhythm, a certain
harmony. You would at length be able to compose from them a specific
dance--a dance not quite like any other--a dance formally expressive of
new English optimism. If you are not optimistic, don't hope to become
so by practising the steps. But practise them assiduously if you are;
and get your fellow-optimists to practise them with you. You will grow
all the happier through ceremonious expression of a light heart. And
your children and your children's children will dance 'The Chesterton'
when you are no more. May be, a few of them will still be dancing it
now and then, on this or that devious green, even when optimism shall
have withered for ever from the land. Nor will any man mock at the
survival. The dance will have lost nothing of its old grace, and will
have gathered that quality of pathos which makes even unlovely relics
dear to us--that piteousness which Time gives ever to things robbed of
their meaning and their use. Spectators will love it for its melancholy
not less than for its beauty. And I hope no mere spectator will be so
foolish as to say, 'Let us do it' with a view to reviving cheerfulness
at large. I hope it will be held sacred to those in whom it will be a
tradition--a familiar thing handed down from father to son. None but
they will be worthy of it. Others would ruin it. Be sure I trod no
measure with the Morris-dancers whom I saw last May-day.

It was in the wide street of a tiny village near Oxford that I saw
them. Fantastic--high-fantastical--figures they did cut in their
finery. But in demeanour they were quite simple, quite serious, these
eight English peasants. They had trudged hither from the neighbouring
village that was their home. And they danced quite simply, quite
seriously. One of them, I learned, was a cobbler, another a baker, and
the rest were farm-labourers. And their fathers and their fathers'
fathers had danced here before them, even so, every May-day morning.
They were as deeply rooted in antiquity as the elm outside the inn.
They were here always in their season as surely as the elm put forth
its buds. And the elm, knowing them, approving them, let its
green-flecked branches dance in unison with them.

The first dance was in full swing when I approached. Only six of the
men were dancers. Of the others, one was the 'minstrel,' the other the
'dysard.' The minstrel was playing a flute; and the dysard I knew by
the wand and leathern bladder which he brandished as he walked around,
keeping a space for the dancers, and chasing and buffeting merrily any
man or child who ventured too near. He, like the others, wore a white
smock decked with sundry ribands, and a top-hat that must have belonged
to his grandfather. Its antiquity of form and texture contrasted
strangely with the freshness of the garland of paper roses that
wreathed it. I was told that the wife or sweetheart of every
Morris-dancer takes special pains to deck her man out more gaily than
his fellows. But this pious endeavour had defeated its own end. So
bewildering was the amount of brand-new bunting attached to all these
eight men that no matron or maiden could for the life of her have
determined which was the most splendid of them all. Besides his
adventitious finery, every dancer, of course, had in his hands the
scarves which are as necessary to his performance of the Morris as are
the bells strapped about the calves of his legs. Waving these scarves
and jangling these bells with a stolid rhythm, the six peasants danced
facing one another, three on either side, while the minstrel fluted and
the dysard strutted around. That minstrel's tune runs in my head even
now--a queer little stolid tune that recalls vividly to me the aspect
of the dance. It is the sort of tune Bottom the Weaver must often have
danced to in his youth. I wish I could hum it for you on paper. I wish
I could set down for you on paper the sight that it conjures up. But
what writer that ever lived has been able to write adequately about a
dance? Even a slow, simple dance, such as these peasants were
performing, is a thing that not the cunningest writer could fix in
words. Did not Flaubert say that if he could describe a valse he would
die happy? I am sure he would have said this if it had occurred to him.

Unable to make you see the Morris, how can I make you feel as I felt in
seeing it? I cannot explain even to myself the effect it had on me. My
critics have often complained of me that I lack 'heart'--presumably the
sort of heart that is pronounced with a rolling of the r; and I suppose
they are right. I remember having read the death of Little Nell on more
than one occasion without floods of tears. How can I explain to myself
the tears that came into my eyes at sight of the Morris? They are not
within the rubric of the tears drawn by mere contemplation of visual
beauty. The Morris, as I saw it, was curious, antique, racy, what you
will: not beautiful. Nor was there any obvious pathos in it. Often, in
London, passing through some slum where a tune was being ground from an
organ, I have paused to watch the little girls dancing. In the swaying
dances of these wan, dishevelled, dim little girls I have discerned
authentic beauty, and have wondered where they had learned the grace of
their movements, and where the certainty with which they did such
strange and complicated steps. Surely, I have thought, this is no trick
of to-day or yesterday: here, surely, is the remainder of some old
tradition; here, may be, is Merrie England, run to seed. There is an
obvious pathos in the dances of these children of the gutter--an
obvious symbolism of sadness, of a wistful longing for freedom and
fearlessness, for wind and sunshine. No wonder that at sight of it even
so heartless a person as the present writer is a little touched. But
why at sight of those rubicund, full-grown, eupeptic Morris-dancers on
the vernal highroad? No obvious pathos was diffusing itself from them.
They were Merrie England in full flower. In part, I suppose, my tears
were tears of joy for the very joyousness of these men; in part, of
envy for their fine simplicity; in part, of sorrow in the thought that
they were a survival of the past, not types of the present, and that
their knell would soon be tolled, and the old elm see their like no
more.

After they had drunk some ale, they formed up for the second dance--a
circular dance. And anon, above the notes of the flute and the jangling
of the bells and the stamping of the boots, I seemed to hear the knell
actually tolling, Hoot! Hoot! Hoot! A motor came fussing and fuming in
its cloud of dust. Hoot! Hoot! The dysard ran to meet it, brandishing
his wand of office. He had to stand aside. Hoot! The dancers had just
time to get out of the way. The scowling motorists vanished. Dancers
and dysard, presently visible through the subsiding dust, looked rather
foolish and crestfallen. And all the branches of the conservative old
elm above them seemed to be quivering with indignation.

In a sense this elm was a mere parvenu as compared with its beloved
dancers. True, it had been no mere sapling in the reign of the seventh
Henry, and so could remember distinctly the first Morris danced here.
But the first Morris danced on English soil was not, by a long chalk,
the first Morris. Scarves such as these were waved, and bells such as
these were jangled, and some such measure as this was trodden, in the
mists of a very remote antiquity. Spanish buccaneers, long before the
dawn of the fifteenth century, had seen the Moors dancing somewhat thus
to the glory of Allah. Home-coming, they had imitated that strange and
savage dance, expressive, for them, of the joy of being on firm native
land again. The 'Morisco' they called it; and it was much admired; and
the fashion of it spread throughout Spain--scaled the very Pyrenees,
and invaded France. To the 'Maurisce' succumbed 'tout Paris' as quickly
as in recent years it succumbed to the cake-walk. A troupe of French
dancers braved the terrors of the sea, and, with their scarves and
their bells, danced for the delectation of the English court. 'The
Kynge,' it seems, 'was pleased by the bels and sweet dauncing.' Certain
of his courtiers 'did presentlie daunce so in open playces.' No one
with any knowledge of the English nature will be surprised to hear that
the cits soon copied the courtiers. But 'the Morrice was not for longe
practysed in the cittie. It went to countrie playces.' London,
apparently, even in those days, did not breed joy in life. The Morris
sought and found its proper home in the fields and by the wayside.
Happy carles danced it to the glory of God, even as it had erst been
danced to the glory of Allah.

It was no longer, of course, an explicitly religious dance. But neither
can its origin have been explicitly religious. Every dance, however
formal it become later, begins as a mere ebullition of high spirits.
The Dionysiac dances began in the same way as 'the Chesterton.' Some
Thessalian vintner, say, suddenly danced for sheer joy that the earth
was so bounteous; and his fellow vintners, sharing his joy, danced with
him; and ere their breath was spent they remembered who it was that had
given them such cause for merry-making, and they caught leaves from the
vine and twined them in their hair, and from the fig-tree and the
fir-tree they snatched branches, and waved them this way and that, as
they danced, in honour of him who was lord of these trees and of this
wondrous vine. Thereafter this dance of joy became a custom, ever to be
observed at certain periods of the year. It took on, beneath its
joyousness, a formal solemnity. It was danced slowly around an altar of
stone, whereon wood and salt were burning--burning with little flames
that were pale in the sunlight. Formal hymns were chanted around this
altar. And some youth, clad in leopard's skin and wreathed with ivy,
masqueraded as the god himself, and spoke words appropriate to that
august character. It was from these beginnings that sprang the art-form
of drama. The Greeks never hid the origin of this their plaything.
Always in the centre of the theatre was the altar to Dionysus; and the
chorus, circling around it, were true progeny of those old agrestic
singers; and the mimes had never been but for that masquerading youth.
It is hard to realise, yet it is true, that we owe to the worship of
Dionysus so dreary a thing as the modern British drama. Strange that
through him who gave us the juice of the grape, 'fiery, venerable,
divine,' came this gift too! Yet I dare say the chorus of a musical
comedy would not be awestruck--would, indeed, 'bridle'--if one unrolled
to them their illustrious pedigree.

The history of the Dionysiac dance has a fairly exact parallel in that
of the 'Morisco.' Each dance has travelled far, and survives, shorn of
its explicitly religious character, and in many other ways 'diablement
change' en route.' The 'Morisco,' of course, has changed the less of
the two. Besides the scarves and the bells, it seemed to me last
May-day that the very steps danced and figures formed were very like to
those of which I had read, and which I had seen illustrated in old
English and French engravings. Above all, the dancers seemed to retain,
despite their seriousness, something of the joy in which the dance
originated. They frowned as they footed it, but they were evidently
happy. Their frowns did but betoken determination to do well and
rightly a thing that they loved doing--were proud of doing. The smiles
of the chorus in a musical comedy seem but to express depreciation of a
rather tedious and ridiculous exercise. The coryphe'es are quite
evidently bored and ashamed. But these eight be-ribanded sons of the
soil were hardly less glad in dancing than was that antique Moor who,
having slain beneath the stars some long-feared and long-hated enemy,
danced wildly on the desert sand, and, to make music, tore strips of
bells from his horse's saddle and waved them in either hand while he
danced, and made so great a noise in the night air that other Moors
came riding to see what had happened, and marvelled at the sight and
sound of the dance, and, praising Allah, leapt down and tore strips of
bells from their own saddles, and danced as nearly as they could in
mimicry of that glad conqueror, to Allah's glory.

As this scene is mobled in the aforesaid mists of antiquity, I cannot
vouch for the details. Nor can I say just when the Moors found that
they could make a finer and more rhythmic jangle by attaching the bells
to their legs than by swinging them in their hands. Nor can I fix the
day when they tore strips from their turbans for their idle hands to
wave. I cannot say how long the rite's mode had been set when first the
adventurers from Spain beheld it with their keen wondering eyes and
fixed it for ever in their memories.

In Spain, and then in France, and then in London, the dance was
secular. But perhaps I ought not to have said that it was 'not
explicitly religious' in the English countryside. The cult for Robin
Hood was veritably a religion throughout the Midland Counties. Rites in
his honour were performed on certain days of the year with a not less
hearty reverence, a not less quaint elaboration, than was infused into
the rustic Greek rites for Dionysus. The English carles danced, not
indeed around an altar, but around a bunt pole crowned with such
flowers as were in season; and one of them, like the youth who in the
Dionysiac dance masqueraded as the god, was decked out duly as Robin
Hood--'with a magpye's plume to hys capp,' we are told, and sometimes
'a russat bearde compos'd of horses hair.' The most famous of the
dances for Robin Hood was the 'pageant.' Herein appeared, besides the
hero himself and various tabours and pipers, a 'dysard' or fool, and
Friar Tuck, and Maid Marian--'in a white kyrtele and her hair all
unbrayded, but with blossoms thereyn.' This 'pageant' was performed at
Whitsun, at Easter, on New-Year's day, and on May-day. The Morris, when
it had become known in the villages, was very soon incorporated in the
'pageant.' The Morris scarves and bells, the Morris steps and figures,
were all pressed into the worship of Robin Hood. In most villages the
properties for the 'pageant' had always rested in the custody of the
church-wardens. The properties for the Morris were now kept with them.
In the Kingston accounts for 1537-8 are enumerated 'a fryers cote of
russat, and a kyrtele weltyd with red cloth, a Mowrens cote of buckram,
and four morres daunsars cotes of white fustian spangelid, and two
gryne saten cotes, and disarddes cote of cotton, and six payre of
garters with belles.' The 'pageant' itself fell, little by little, into
disuse; the Morris, which had been affiliated to it, superseded it. Of
the 'pageant' nothing remained but the minstrel and the dysard and an
occasional Maid Marian. In the original Morris there had been no music
save that of the bells. But now there was always a flute or tabor. The
dysard, with his rod and leathern bladder, was promoted to a sort of
leadership. He did not dance, but gave the signal for the dance, and
distributed praise or blame among the performers, and had power to
degrade from the troupe any man who did not dance with enough skill or
enough heartiness. Often there were in one village two rival troupes of
dancers, and a prize was awarded to whichever acquitted itself the more
admirably. But not only the 'ensemble' was considered. A sort of 'star
system' seems to have crept in. Often a prize would be awarded to some
one dancer who had excelled his fellows. There were, I suppose, 'born'
Morris-dancers. Now and again, one of them, flushed with triumph, would
secern himself from his troupe, and would 'star' round the country for
his livelihood.

Such a one was Mr. William Kemp, who, at the age of seventeen, and in
the reign of Queen Elizabeth, danced from his native village to London,
where he educated himself and became an actor. Perhaps he was not a
good actor, for he presently reverted to the Morris. He danced all the
way from London to Norwich, and wrote a pamphlet about it--'Kemp's Nine
Dajes' Wonder, performed in a daunce from London to Norwich. Containing
the pleasures, paines, and kind entertainment of William Kemp betweene
London and that Citty, in his late Morrice.' He seems to have
encountered more pleasures than 'paines.' Gentle and simple, all the
way, were very cordial. The gentle entertained him in their mansions by
night. The simple danced with him by day. In Sudbury 'there came a
lusty tall fellow, a butcher by his profession, that would in a Morice
keepe me company to Bury. I gave him thankes, and forward wee did set;
but ere ever wee had measur'd halfe a mile of our way, he gave me over
in the plain field, protesting he would not hold out with me; for,
indeed, my pace in dauncing is not ordinary. As he and I were parting,
a lusty country lasse being among the people, cal'd him faint-hearted
lout, saying, "If I had begun to daunce, I would have held out one
myle, though it had cost my life." At which words many laughed. "Nay,"
saith she, "if the dauncer will lend me a leash of his belles, I'le
venter to treade one myle with him myself." I lookt upon her, saw mirth
in her eies, heard boldness in her words, and beheld her ready to tucke
up her russat petticoate; and I fitted her with bels, which she merrily
taking garnisht her thicke short legs, and with a smooth brow bad the
tabur begin. The drum strucke; forward marcht I with my merry Mayde
Marian, who shook her stout sides, and footed it merrily to Melford,
being a long myle. There parting with her (besides her skinfull of
drinke), and English crowne to buy more drinke; for, good wench, she
was in a pittious heate; my kindness she requited with dropping a dozen
good courtsies, and bidding God blesse the dauncer. I bade her adieu;
and, to give her her due, she had a good eare, daunst truly, and wee
parted friends.' Kemp, you perceive, wrote as well as he danced. I wish
he had danced less and written more. It seems that he never wrote
anything but this one delightful pamphlet. He died three years later,
in the thirtieth year of his age--died dancing, with his bells on his
legs, in the village of Ockley.

John Thorndrake, another professional Morris-dancer, was not so
brilliant a personage as poor Kemp; but was of tougher fibre, it would
seem. He died in his native town, Canterbury, at the age of
seventy-eight; and had danced--never less than a mile, seldom less than
five miles--every day, except Sunday, for sixty years. But even his
record pales beside the account of a Morris that was danced by eight
men, in Hereford, one May-day in the reign of James I. The united ages
of these dancers, according to a contemporary pamphleteer, exceeded
eight hundred years. The youngest of them was seventy-nine, and the
ages of the rest ranged between ninety-five and a hundred and nine.
'And they daunced right well.' Of the hold that the Morris had on
England, could there be stronger proof than in the feat of these
indomitable dotards? The Morris ceased not even during the Civil Wars.
Some of King Charles's men (according to Groby, the Puritan) danced
thus on the eve of Naseby. Not even the Protectorate could stamp the
Morris out, though we are told that Groby and other preachers
throughout the land inveighed against it as 'lewde' and 'ungodlie.' The
Restoration was in many places celebrated by special Morrises. The
perihelion of this dance seems, indeed, to have been in the reign of
Charles II. Georgian writers treated it somewhat as a survival, and
were not always even tender to it. Says a writer in Bladud's Courier,
describing a 'soire'e de beaute'' given by Lady Jersey, 'Mrs. ---- (la
belle) looked as silly and gaudy, I do vow, as one of the old Morris
Dancers.' And many other writers--from Horace Walpole to Captain
Harver--have their sneer at the Morris. Its rusticity did not appeal to
the polite Georgian mind; and its Moorishness, which would have
appealed strongly, was overlooked. Still, the Morris managed to survive
urban disdain--was still dear to the carles whose fathers had taught it
them.

And long may it linger!



THE HOUSE OF COMMONS MANNER

A grave and beautiful place, the Palace of Westminster. I sometimes go
to that little chamber of it wherein the Commons sit sprawling or stand
spouting. I am a constant reader of the 'graphic reports' of what goes
on in the House of Commons; and the writers of these things always
strive to give one the impression that nowhere is the human comedy so
fast and furious, nowhere played with such skill and brio, as at St.
Stephen's; and I am rather easily influenced by anything that appears
in daily print, for I have a burning faith in the sagacity and
uprightness of sub-editors; and so, when the memory of my last visit to
the House has lost its edge, and when there is a crucial debate in
prospect, to the House I go, full of hope that this time I really shall
be edified or entertained. With an open mind I go, reeking naught of
the pro's and con's of the subject of the debate. I go as to a
gladiatorial show, eager to applaud any man who shall wield his sword
brilliantly. If a 'stranger' indulge in applause, he is tapped on the
shoulder by one of those courteous, magpie-like officials, and
conducted beyond the precincts of the Palace of Westminster. I speak
from hearsay. I do not think I have ever seen a 'stranger' applauding.
My own hands, certainly, never have offended.

Years ago, when to be a member of the House of Commons was to be (or to
deem oneself) a personage of great importance, the debates were
conducted with a keen eye to effect. Members who had a sense of beauty
made their speeches beautiful, and even those to whom it was denied did
their best. Grace of ample gesture was cultivated, and sonorous
elocution, and lucid ordering of ideas, and noble language. In fact,
there was a school of oratory. This is no mere superstition, bred of
man's innate tendency to exalt the past above the present. It is a fact
that can easily be verified through contemporary records. It is a fact
which I myself have verified in the House with my own eyes and ears.
More than once, I heard there--and it was a pleasure and privilege to
hear--a speech made by Sir William Harcourt. And from his speeches I
was able to deduce the manner of his coevals and his forerunners. Long
past his prime he was, and bearing up with very visible effort against
his years. An almost extinct volcano! But sufficient to imagination
these glimpses of the glow that had been, and the sight of these last
poor rivulets of the old lava. An almost extinct volcano, but majestic
among mole-hills! Assuredly, the old school was a fine one. It had its
faults, of course--floridness, pomposity, too much histrionism. It was,
indeed, very like the old school of acting, in its defects as in its
qualities. With all his defects, what a relief it is to see one of the
old actors among a cast of new ones! How he takes the stage, making
himself felt--and heard! How surely he achieves his effects in the
grand manner! Robustious? Yes. But it is better to exaggerate a style
than to have no style at all. That is what is the matter with these
others--these quiet, shifty, shamefaced others they have no style at
all. And as is the difference between the old actor and them, so,
precisely was the difference between Sir William Harcourt and the
modern members.

I do not desire the new actors to model themselves on the old, whose
manner is quite incongruous with the character of modern drama. All I
would have them do is to achieve the manner for which they are darkly
fumbling. Even so, I do not demand oratory of the modern senators.
Oratory I love, but I admit that the time for it is bygone. It belonged
to the age of port. On plenty of port the orator spoke, and on plenty
of port his audience listened to him. A diet-bound generation can
hardly produce an orator; and if, by some mysterious throw-back, an
orator actually is produced, he falls very flat. There was in my
college at Oxford a little 'Essay Society,' to which I found myself
belonging. We used to meet every Thursday evening in the room of this
or that member; and, when coffee had been handed round, one of us read
an essay--a calm little mild essay on one of those vast themes that no
undergraduate can resist. After this, we had a calm little mild
discussion 'It seems to me that the reader of the paper has hardly laid
enough stress on...' One of these evenings I can recall most
distinctly. A certain freshman had been elected. The man who was to
have read an essay had fallen ill, and the freshman had been asked to
step into the breach. This he did, with an essay on 'The Ideals of
Mazzini,' and with strange and terrific effect. During the exordium we
raised our eyebrows. Presently we were staring open-mouthed. Where were
we? In what wild dream were we drifting? To this day I can recite the
peroration. Mazzini is dead. But his spirit lives, and can never be
crushed. And his motto--the motto that he planted on the gallant banner
of the Italian Republic, and sealed with his life's blood, remains, and
shall remain, till, through the eternal ages, the universal air
re-echoes to the inspired shout--'GOD AND THE PEOPLE!'

The freshman had begun to read his essay in a loud, declamatory style;
but gradually, knowing with an orator's instinct, I suppose, that his
audience was not 'with' him, he had quieted down, and become rather
nervous--too nervous to skip, as I am sure he wished to skip, the
especially conflagrant passages. But, as the end hove in sight, his
confidence was renewed. A wave of emotion rose to sweep him ashore upon
its crest. He gave the peroration for all it was worth. Mazzini is
dead. I can hear now the hushed tone in which he spoke those words; the
pause that followed them; and the gradual rising of his voice to a
culmination at the words 'inspired shout'; and then another pause
before that husky whisper 'GOD AND THE PEOPLE.' There was no
discussion. We were petrified. We sat like stones; and presently, like
shadows, we drifted out into the evening air. The little society met
once or twice again; but any activity it still had was but the faint
convulsion of a murdered thing. Old wine had been poured into a new
bottle, with the usual result. Broken even so, belike, would be the
glass roof of the Commons if a member spouted up to it such words as we
heard that evening in Oxford. At any rate, the member would be howled
down. So strong is the modern distaste for oratory. The day for
oratory, as for toping, is past beyond redemption. 'Debating' is the
best that can be done and appreciated by so abstemious a generation as
ours. You will find a very decent level of 'debating' in the Oxford
Union, in the Balham Ethical Society, in the Pimlico Parliament, and
elsewhere. But not, I regret to say, in the House of Commons.

No one supposes that in a congeries of--how many?--six hundred and
seventy men, chosen by the British public, there will be a very high
average of mental capacity. If any one were so sanguine, a glance at
the faces of our Conscript Fathers along the benches would soon bleed
him. (I have no doubt that the custom of wearing hats in the House
originated in the members' unwillingness to let strangers spy down on
the shapes of their heads.) But it is not unreasonable to expect that
the more active of these gentlemen will, through constant practice, not
only in the senate, but also at elections and public dinners and so
forth, have acquired a rough-and-ready professionalism in the art of
speaking. It is not unreasonable to expect that they will be fairly
fluent--fairly capable of arranging in logical sequence such ideas as
they may have formed, and of reeling out words more or less expressive
of these ideas. Well! certain of the Irishmen, certain of the Welshmen,
proceed easily enough. But oh! those Saxon others! Look at them, hark
at them, poor dears! See them clutching at their coats, and shuffling
from foot to foot in travail, while their ideas--ridiculous mice, for
the most part--get jerked painfully out somehow and anyhow. 'It seems
to me that the Right--the honourable member for--er--er (the speaker
dives to be prompted)--yes, of course--South Clapham--er--(temporising)
the Southern division of Clapham--(long pause; his lips form the words
'Where was I?')--oh yes, the honourable gentleman the member for South
Clapham seems to me to me--to be--in the position of one who, whilst
the facts on which his propo--supposition are based--er--may or may not
be in themselves acc--correct (gasps)--yet
inasmuch--because--nevertheless...I should say rather--er--what it
comes to is this: the honourable member for North--South Clapham seems
to be labouring under a total, an entire, a complete (emphatic gesture,
which throws him off his tack)--a contire--a complete
disill--misunderstanding of the things which he himself relies on
as--as--as a backing-up of the things that he would have us take
or--er--accept and receive as the right sort of reduction--deduction
from the facts of...in fact, from the facts of the case.' Then the poor
dear heaves a deep sigh of relief, which is drowned by other members in
a hideous cachinnation meant to express mirth.

And the odd thing is that the mirth is quite sincere and quite
friendly. The speaker has just scored a point, though you mightn't
think it. He has just scored a point in the true House of Commons
manner. Possibly you have never been to the House of Commons, and
suspect that I have caricatured its manner. Not at all. Indeed, to save
space in these pages, I have rather improved it. If a phonograph were
kept in the house, you would learn from it that the average sentence of
the average speaker is an even more grotesque abortion than I have
adumbrated. Happily for the prestige of the House, phonographs are
excluded. Certain skilled writers--modestly dubbing themselves
'reporters'--are admitted, and by them cosmos is conjured out of chaos.
'The member for South Clapham appeared to be labouring under a
misapprehension of the nature of the facts on which his argument was
based (Laughter).' That is the finished article that your morning paper
offers to you. And you, enjoying the delicious epigram over your tea
and toast, are as unconscious of the toil that went to make it, and of
the crises through which it passed, as you are of those poor sowers and
reapers, planters and sailors and colliers, but for whom there would be
no fragrant tea and toast for you.

The English are a naturally silent race. The most popular type of
national hero is the 'strong silent man.' And most of the members of
the House of Commons are, at any rate, silent members. Mercifully
silent. Seeing the level attained by such members as have an impulse to
speak, I shudder to conceive an oration by one of those unimpelled
members... Perhaps I am too nervous. Surely I am too nervous. Surely
the House of Commons manner cannot be a natural growth. Such perfect
virtuosity in dufferdom can be acquired only by constant practice. But
how comes it to be practised? I can only repeat that the English are a
naturally silent race. They are apt to mistrust fluency. 'Glibness'
they call it, and scent behind it the adventurer, the player of the
confidence trick or the three-card trick, the robber of the widow and
the orphan. Be smooth-tongued, and the Englishman will withdraw from
you as quickly as may be, walking sideways like a crab, and looking
askance at you with panic in his eyes. But stammer and blurt to him,
and he will fall straight under the spell of your transparent honesty.
A silly superstition; but there it is, ineradicable; and through it,
undoubtedly, has come the house of Commons manner. Sometimes, through
sheer nervousness, a new member achieves something like that manner;
insomuch that his maiden speech is adjudged rich in promise, and 'the
ear of the House' is assured to him when next he rises. Then is the
dangerous time for him. He has conquered his nervousness now, but has
not yet acquired that complex and delicate technique whereby a man can
produce the illusion that he is striving hopelessly to utter something
which, really, he could say with perfect ease. Thus he forfeits the
sympathy of the House. Members stroll listlessly out. There is a buzz
of conversation along the benches--perhaps the horrific refrain ''Vide,
'Vide, 'Vide.' But the time will come when they shall hear him. Years
hence--a beacon to show the heights that can be sealed by
perseverance--he shall stand fumbling and floundering in a rapt senate.

Well! I take off my hat to virtuosity in any form. I admire
Demosthenes, for whom pebbles in the mouth were a means to the end of
oratory. I admire the Demosthenes de nos jours, for whom oratory is a
means to the end of pebbles in the mouth. But I desire that the
intelligent foreigner and the intelligent country cousin be not
disappointed when they visit the House of Commons. Hitherto, strangers
have expected to find there an exhibition of the art of speaking. That
is the fault partly of those reporters to whom I have paid a
well-deserved tribute. But it is more especially the fault of those
other 'graphic' reporters, who write their lurid impressions of the
debates. These gentlemen are most wildly misleading. I don't think they
mislead you intentionally. If a man criticises one kind of ill-done
thing exclusively, he cannot but, in course of time, lower his
standard. Seeing nothing good, he will gradually forget what goodness
is; and will accept as good that which is least bad. So it is with the
graphic reporter in Parliament. He really does imagine that Hob 'raked
the Treasury Bench with a merciless fire of raillery,' and that Nob
'went, as is his way, straight to the root of the subject,' and that
Chittabob 'struck a deep note of pathos that will linger long in the
memory of all who heard him.' If Hob, Nob, and Chittabob happen to be
in opposition to the politics of the newspaper which he adorns, he will
perhaps tell the truth about their respective performances. But he will
tell it without believing it. All his geese are swans--bless him!--even
when he won't admit it. The moral is that no man should be employed as
graphic reporter for more than one session. Then the public would begin
to learn the truth about St. Stephen's. Nor need the editors flinch
from such a consummation. They used to entertain a theory that it was
safest to have the productions at every theatre praised, in case any
manager should withdraw his advertisements. But there need be no such
fear in regard to St. Stephen's. That establishment does not advertise
itself in the press as a place of amusement. Why should the press
advertise it gratuitously?

For utility's sake, as well as for truth's, I would have the public
enlightened. Exposed to ruthless criticism, our Commons might be shamed
into an attempt at proficiency in the art of speaking. Then the
sessions would be comparatively brief. After all, it is on the nation
itself that falls the cost of lighting, warming, and ventilating St.
Stephen's during the session. All the aforesaid dufferdom, therefore,
increases the burden of the taxpayer. All those hum's and ha's mean so
many pence from the pockets of you, reader, and me.



THE NAMING OF STREETS

'The Rebuilding of London' proceeds ruthlessly apace. The humble old
houses that dare not scrape the sky are being duly punished for their
timidity. Down they come; and in their place are shot up new tenements,
quick and high as rockets. And the little old streets, so narrow and
exclusive, so shy and crooked--we are making an example of them, too.
We lose our way in them, do we?--we whose time is money. Our omnibuses
can't trundle through them, can't they? Very well, then. Down with
them! We have no use for them. This is the age of 'noble arteries.'

'The Rebuilding of London' is a source of much pride and pleasure to
most of London's citizens, especially to them who are county
councillors, builders, contractors, navvies, glaziers, decorators, and
so forth. There is but a tiny residue of persons who do not swell and
sparkle. And of these glum bystanders at the carnival I am one. Our
aloofness is mainly irrational, I suppose. It is due mainly to
temperamental Toryism. We say 'The old is better.' This we say to
ourselves, every one of us feeling himself thereby justified in his
attitude. But we are quite aware that such a postulate would not be
accepted by time majority. For the majority, then, let us make some
show of ratiocination. Let us argue that, forasmuch as London is an
historic city, with many phases and periods behind her, and forasmuch
as many of these phases and periods are enshrined in the aspect of her
buildings, the constant rasure of these buildings is a disservice to
the historian not less than to the mere sentimentalist, and that it
will moreover (this is a more telling argument) filch from Englishmen
the pleasant power of crowing over Americans, and from Americans the
unpleasant necessity of balancing their pity for our present with envy
of our past. After all, our past is our point d'appui. Our present is
merely a bad imitation of what the Americans can do much better.

Ignoring as mere scurrility this criticism of London's present, but
touched by my appeal to his pride in its history, the average citizen
will reply, reasonably enough, to this effect: 'By all means let us
have architectural evidence of our epochs--Caroline, Georgian,
Victorian, what you will. But why should the Edvardian be ruled out?
London is packed full of architecture already. Only by rasing much of
its present architecture can we find room for commemorating duly the
glorious epoch which we have just entered. To this reply there are two
rejoinders: (1) let special suburbs be founded for Edvardian buildings;
(2) there are no really Edvardian buildings, and there won't be any.
Long before the close of the Victorian Era our architects had ceased to
be creative. They could not express in their work the spirit of their
time. They could but evolve a medley of old styles, some foreign, some
native, all inappropriate. Take the case of Mayfair. Mayfair has for
some years been in a state of transition. The old Mayfair, grim and
sombre, with its air of selfish privacy and hauteur and leisure, its
plain bricked facades, so disdainful of show--was it not redolent of
the century in which it came to being? Its wide pavements and narrow
roads between--could not one see in them the time when by day gentlemen
and ladies went out afoot, needing no vehicle to whisk them to a
destination, and walked to and fro amply, needing elbow-room for their
dignity and their finery, and by night were borne in chairs, singly?
And those queer little places of worship, those stucco chapels, with
their very secular little columns, their ample pews, and their
negligible altars over which one saw the Lion and the Unicorn fighting,
as who should say, for the Cross--did they not breathe all the
inimitable Erastianism of their period? In qua te qaero proseucha, my
Lady Powderbox? Alas! every one of your tabernacles is dust now--dust
turned to mud by the tears of the ghost of the Rev. Charles Honeyman,
and by my own tears.... I have strayed again into sentiment. Back to
the point--which is that the new houses and streets in Mayfair mean
nothing. Let me show you Mount Street. Let me show you that airy
stretch of sham antiquity, and defy you to say that it symbolises, how
remotely soever, the spirit of its time. Mount Street is typical of the
new Mayfair. And the new Mayfair is typical of the new London. In the
height of these new houses, in the width of these new roads, future
students will find, doubtless, something characteristic of this
pressing and bustling age. But from the style of the houses he will
learn nothing at all. The style might mean anything; and means,
therefore, nothing. Original architecture is a lost art in England; and
an art that is once lost is never found again. The Edvardian Era cannot
be commemorated in its architecture.

Erection of new buildings robs us of the past and gives us in exchange
nothing of the present. Consequently, the excuse put by me into the
gaping mouth of the average Londoner cannot be accepted. I had no idea
that my case was such a good one. Having now vindicated on grounds of
patriotic utility that which I took to be a mere sentimental prejudice,
I may be pardoned for dragging 'beauty' into the question. The new
buildings are not only uninteresting through lack of temporal and local
significance: they are also hideous. With all his learned eclecticism,
the new architect seems unable to evolve a fake that shall be pleasing
to the eye. Not at all pleasing is a mad hotch-potch of early Victorian
hospital, Jacobean manor-house, Venetian palace, and bride-cake in
Gunter's best manner. Yet that, apparently, is the modern English
architect's pet ideal. Even when he confines himself to one manner, the
result (even if it be in itself decent) is made horrible by vicinity to
the work of a rival who has been dabbling in some other manner. Every
street in London is being converted into a battlefield of styles, all
shrieking at one another, all murdering one another. The tumult may be
exciting, especially to the architects, but it is not beautiful. It is
not good to live in.

However, I am no propagandist. I am not sanguine enough to suppose that
I could do anything to stop either the adulteration or the demolition
of old streets. I do not wish to infect the public with my own
misgivings. On the contrary, my motive for this essay is to inoculate
the public with my own placid indifference in a certain matter which
seems always to cause them painful anxiety. Whenever a new highway is
about to be opened, the newspapers are filled with letters suggesting
that it ought to be called by this or that beautiful name, or by the
name of this or that national hero. Well, in point of fact, a name
cannot (in the long-run) make any shadow of difference in our sentiment
for the street that bears it, for our sentiment is solely according to
the character of the street itself; and, further, a street does nothing
at all to keep green the memory of one whose name is given to it.

For a street one name is as good as another. To prove this proposition,
let us proceed by analogy of the names borne by human beings. Surnames
and Christian names may alike be divided into two classes: (1) those
which, being identical with words in the dictionary, connote some
definite thing; (2) those which, connoting nothing, may or may not
suggest something by their sound. Instances of Christian names in the
first class are Rose, Faith; of surnames, Lavender, Badger; of
Christian names in the second class, Celia, Mary; of surnames, Jones,
Vavasour. Let us consider the surnames in the first class. You will
say, off-hand, that Lavender sounds pretty, and that Badger sounds
ugly. Very well. Now, suppose that Christian names connoting unpleasant
things were sometimes conferred at baptisms. Imagine two sisters named
Nettle and Envy. Off-hand, you will say that these names sound ugly,
whilst Rose and Faith sound pretty. Yet, believe me, there is not, in
point of actual sound, one pin to choose either between Badger and
Lavender, or between Rose and Nettle, or between Faith and Envy. There
is no such thing as a singly euphonious or a singly cacophonous name.
There is no word which, by itself, sounds ill or well. In combination,
names or words may be made to sound ill or well. A sentence can be
musical or unmusical. But in detachment words are no more preferable
one to another in their sound than are single notes of music. What you
take to be beauty or ugliness of sound is indeed nothing but beauty or
ugliness of meaning. You are pleased by the sound of such words as
gondola, vestments, chancel, ermine, manor-house. They seem to be
fraught with a subtle onomatopoeia, severally suggesting by their
sounds the grace or sanctity or solid comfort of the things which they
connote. You murmur them luxuriously, dreamily. Prepare for a slight
shock. Scrofula, investments, cancer, vermin, warehouse. Horrible
words, are they not? But say gondola--scrofula, vestments--investments,
and so on; and then lay your hand on your heart, and declare that the
words in the first list are in mere sound nicer than the words in the
second. Of course they are not. If gondola were a disease, and if a
scrofula were a beautiful boat peculiar to a beautiful city, the effect
of each word would be exactly the reverse of what it is. This rule may
be applied to all the other words in the two lists. And these lists
might, of course, be extended to infinity. The appropriately beautiful
or ugly sound of any word is an illusion wrought on us by what the word
connotes. Beauty sounds as ugly as ugliness sounds beautiful. Neither
of them has by itself any quality in sound.

It follows, then, that the Christian names and surnames in my first
class sound beautiful or ugly according to what they connote. The sound
of those in the second class depends on the extent to which it suggests
any known word more than another. Of course, there might be a name
hideous in itself. There might, for example, be a Mr. Griggsbiggmiggs.
But there is not. And the fact that I, after prolonged study of a
Postal Directory, have been obliged to use my imagination as factory
for a name that connotes nothing and is ugly in itself may be taken as
proof that such names do not exist actually. You cannot stump me by
citing Mr. Matthew Arnold's citation of the words 'Ragg is in custody,'
and his comment that 'there was no Ragg by the Ilyssus.' 'Ragg' has not
an ugly sound in itself. Mr. Arnold was jarred merely by its suggestion
of something ugly, a rag, and by the cold brutality of the police-court
reporter in withholding the prefix 'Miss' from a poor girl who had got
into trouble. If 'Ragg' had been brought to his notice as the name of
some illustrious old family, Mr. Arnold would never have dragged in the
Ilyssus. The name would have had for him a savour of quaint
distinction. The suggestion of a rag would never have struck him. For
it is a fact that whatever thing may be connoted or suggested by a name
is utterly overshadowed by the name's bearer (unless, as in the case of
poor 'Ragg,' there is seen to be some connexion between the bearer and
the thing implied by the name). Roughly, it may be said that all names
connote their bearers, and them only.

To have a 'beautiful' name is no advantage. To have an 'ugly' name is
no drawback. I am aware that this is a heresy. In a famous passage,
Bulwer Lytton propounded through one of his characters a theory that
'it is not only the effect that the sound of a name has on others which
is to be thoughtfully considered; the effect that his name produces on
the man himself is perhaps still more important. Some names stimulate
and encourage the owner, others deject and paralyse him.'

Bulwer himself, I doubt not, believed that there was something in this
theory. It is natural that a novelist should. He is always at great
pains to select for his every puppet a name that suggests to himself
the character which he has ordained for that puppet. In real life a
baby gets its surname by blind heredity, its other names by the blind
whim of its parents, who know not at all what sort of a person it will
eventually become. And yet, when these babies grow up, their names seem
every whit as appropriate as do the names of the romantic puppets.
'Obviously,' thinks the novelist, 'these human beings must "grow to"
their names; or else, we must be viewing them in the light of their
names.' And the quiet ordinary people, who do not write novels, incline
to his conjectures. How else can they explain the fact that every name
seems to fit its bearer so exactly, to sum him or her up in a flash?
The true explanation, missed by them, is that a name derives its whole
quality from its bearer, even as does a word from its meaning. The late
Sir Redvers Buller, tauredon hupoblepsas [spelled in Greek, from
Plato's Phaedo 117b], was thought to be peculiarly well fitted with his
name. Yet had it belonged not to him, but to (say) some gentle and
thoughtful ecclesiastic, it would have seemed quite as inevitable.
'Gore' is quite as taurine as 'Buller,' and yet does it not seem to us
the right name for the author of Lux Mundi? In connection with him, who
is struck by its taurinity? What hint of ovinity would there have been
for us if Sir Redvers' surname had happened to be that of him who wrote
the Essays of Elia? Conversely, 'Charles Buller' seems to us now an
impossible nom de vie for Elia; yet it would have done just as well,
really. Even 'Redvers Buller' would have done just as well. 'Walter
Pater' means for us--how perfectly!--the author of Marius the
Epicurean, whilst the author of All Sorts and Conditions of Men was
summed up for us, not less absolutely, in 'Walter Besant.' And yet, if
the surnames of these two opposite Walters had been changed at birth,
what difference would have been made? 'Walter Besant' would have
signified a prose style sensuous in its severity, an exquisitely
patient scholarship, an exquisitely sympathetic way of criticism.
'Walter Pater' would have signified no style, but an unslakable thirst
for information, and a bustling human sympathy, and power of carrying
things through. Or take two names often found in conjunction--Johnson
and Boswell. Had the dear great oracle been named Boswell, and had the
sitter-at-his-feet been named Johnson, would the two names seem to us
less appropriate than they do? Should we suffer any greater loss than
if Salmon were Gluckstein, and Gluckstein Salmon? Finally, take a case
in which the same name was borne by two very different characters. What
name could seem more descriptive of a certain illustrious Archbishop of
Westminster than 'Manning'? It seems the very epitome of saintly
astuteness. But for 'Cardinal' substitute 'Mrs.' as its prefix, and,
presto! it is equally descriptive of that dreadful medio-Victorian
murderess who in the dock of the Old Bailey wore a black satin gown,
and thereby created against black satin a prejudice which has but
lately died. In itself black satin is a beautiful thing. Yet for many
years, by force of association, it was accounted loathsome. Conversely,
one knows that many quite hideous fashions in costume have been set by
beautiful women. Such instances of the subtle power of association will
make clear to you how very easily a name (being neither beautiful nor
hideous in itself) can be made hideous or beautiful by its bearer--how
inevitably it becomes for us a symbol of its bearer's most salient
qualities or defects, be they physical, moral, or intellectual.

Streets are not less characteristic than human beings. 'Look!' cried a
friend of mine, whom lately I found studying a map of London, 'isn't it
appalling? All these streets--thousands of them--in this tiny compass!
Think of the miles and miles of drab monotony this map contains! I
pointed out to him (it is a thinker's penalty to be always pointing
things out to people) that his words were nonsense. I told him that the
streets on this map were no more monotonous than the rivers on the map
of England. Just as there were no two rivers alike, every one of them
having its own speed, its own windings, depths, and shallows, its own
way with the reeds and grasses, so had every street its own claim to an
especial nymph, forasmuch as no two streets had exactly the same
proportions, the same habitual traffic, the same type of shops or
houses, the same inhabitants. In some cases, of course, the difference
between the 'atmosphere' of two streets is a subtle difference. But it
is always there, not less definite to any one who searches for it than
the difference between (say) Hill Street and Pont Street, High Street
Kensington and High Street Notting Hill, Fleet Street and the Strand. I
have here purposely opposed to each other streets that have obvious
points of likeness. But what a yawning gulf of difference is between
each couple! Hill Street, with its staid distinction, and Pont Street,
with its eager, pushful 'smartness,' its air de petit parvenu, its
obvious delight in having been 'taken up'; High Street Notting Hill,
down-at-heels and unashamed, with a placid smile on its broad ugly
face, and High Street Kensington, with its traces of former beauty, and
its air of neatness and self-respect, as befits one who in her day has
been caressed by royalty; Fleet Street, that seething channel of
business, and the Strand, that swollen river of business, on whose
surface float so many aimless and unsightly objects. In every one of
these thoroughfares my mood and my manner are differently affected. In
Hill Street, instinctively, I walk very slowly--sometimes, even with a
slight limp, as one recovering from an accident in the hunting-field. I
feel very well-bred there, and, though not clever, very proud, and
quick to resent any familiarity from those whom elsewhere I should
regard as my equals. In Pont Street my demeanour is not so calm and
measured. I feel less sure of myself, and adopt a slight swagger. In
High Street, Kensington, I find myself dapper and respectable, with a
timid leaning to the fine arts. In High Street, Notting Hill, I become
frankly common. Fleet Street fills me with a conviction that if I don't
make haste I shall be jeopardising the national welfare. The Strand
utterly unmans me, leaving me with only two sensations: (1) a regret
that I have made such a mess of my life; (2) a craving for alcohol.
These are but a few instances. If I had time, I could show you that
every street known to me in London has a definite effect on me, and
that no two streets have exactly the same effect. For the most part,
these effects differ in kind according only to the different districts
and their different modes of life; but they differ in detail according
to such specific little differences as exist between such cognate
streets as Bruton Street and Curzon Street, Doughty Street and Great
Russell Street. Every one of my readers, doubtless, realises that he,
too, is thus affected by the character of streets. And I doubt not that
for him, as for me, the mere sound or sight of a street's name conjures
up the sensation he feels when he passes through that street. For him,
probably, the name of every street has hitherto seemed to be also its
exact, inevitable symbol, a perfect suggestion of its character. He has
believed that the grand or beautiful streets have grand or beautiful
names, the mean or ugly streets mean or ugly names. Let me assure him
that this is a delusion. The name of a street, as of a human being,
derives its whole quality from its bearer.

'Oxford Street' sounds harsh and ugly. 'Manchester Street' sounds
rather charming. Yet 'Oxford' sounds beautiful, and 'Manchester' sounds
odious. 'Oxford' turns our thoughts to that 'adorable dreamer,
whispering from her spires the last enchantments of the Middle Age.' An
uproarious monster, belching from its factory-chimneys the latest
exhalations of Hell--that is the image evoked by 'Manchester.' But
neither in 'Manchester Street' is there for us any hint of that
monster, nor in 'Oxford Street' of that dreamer. The names have become
part and parcel of the streets. You see, then, that it matters not
whether the name given to a new street be one which in itself suggests
beauty, or one which suggests ugliness. In point of fact, it is
generally the most pitiable little holes and corners that bear the most
ambitiously beautiful names. To any one who has studied London, such a
title as 'Paradise Court' conjures up a dark fetid alley, with untidy
fat women gossiping in it, untidy thin women quarrelling across it, a
host of haggard and shapeless children sprawling in its mud, and one or
two drunken men propped against its walls. Thus, were there an official
nomenclator of streets, he might be tempted to reject such names as in
themselves signify anything beautiful. But his main principle would be
to bestow whatever name first occurred to him, in order that he might
save time for thinking about something that really mattered.

I have yet to fulfil the second part of my promise: show the futility
of trying to commemorate a hero by making a street his namesake. By
implication I have done this already. But, for the benefit of the less
nimble among my readers, let me be explicit. Who, passing through the
Cromwell Road, ever thinks of Cromwell, except by accident? What
journalist ever thinks of Wellington in Wellington Street? In
Marlborough Street, what policeman remembers Marlborough? In St.
James's Street, has any one ever fancied he saw the ghost of a pilgrim
wrapped in a cloak, leaning on a staff? Other ghosts are there in
plenty. The phantom chariot of Lord Petersham dashes down the slope
nightly. Nightly Mr. Ball Hughes appears in the bow-window of White's.
At cock-crow Charles James Fox still emerges from Brooks's. Such men as
these were indigenous to the street. Nothing will ever lay their ghosts
there. But the ghost of St. James--what should it do in that galley?...
Of all the streets that have been named after famous men, I know but
one whose namesake is suggested by it. In Regent Street you do
sometimes think of the Regent; and that is not because the street is
named after him, but because it was conceived by him, and was designed
and built under his auspices, and is redolent of his character and his
time. When a national hero is to be commemorated by a street, he must
be allowed to design the street himself. The mere plastering-up of his
name is no mnemonic.



ON SHAKESPEARE'S BIRTHDAY

My florist has standing orders to deliver early on the morning of this
day a chaplet of laurel. With it in my hand, I reach by a step-ladder
the nobly arched embrasure that is above my central book-case, and
crown there the marble brow of him whose name is the especial glory of
our literature--of all literature. The greater part of the morning is
spent by me in contemplation of that brow, and in silent meditation.
And, year by year, always there intrudes itself into this meditation
the hope that Shakespeare's name will, one day, be swept into oblivion.

I am not--you will have perceived that I certainly am not--a
'Baconian.' So far as I have examined the evidence in the controversy,
I do not feel myself tempted to secede from the side on which (rightly,
inasmuch as it is the obviously authoritative side) every ignorant
person ranges himself. Even the hottest Baconian, filled with the
stubbornest conviction, will, I fancy, admit in confidence that the
utmost thing that could, at present, be said for his conclusions by a
judicial investigator is that they are 'not proven.' To be convinced of
a thing without being able to establish it is the surest recipe for
making oneself ridiculous. The Baconians have thus made themselves very
ridiculous; and that alone is reason enough for not wishing to join
them. And yet my heart is with them, and my voice urges them to carry
on the fight. It is a good fight, in my opinion, and I hope they will
win it.

I do not at all understand the furious resentment they rouse in the
bosoms of the majority. Mistaken they may be; but why yell them down as
knavish blasphemers? Our reverence, after all, is given not to an
Elizabethan named William Shakespeare, who was born at Stratford, and
married, and migrated to London, and became a second-rate actor, and
afterwards returned to Stratford, and made a will, and composed a few
lines of doggerel for the tombstone under which he was buried. Our
reverence is given to the writer of certain plays and sonnets. To that
second-rate actor, because we believe he wrote those plays and sonnets,
we give that reverence. But our belief is not such as we give to the
proposition that one and two make three. It is a belief that has to be
upheld by argument when it is assailed. When a man says to us that one
and two make four, we smile and are silent. But when he argues, point
by point, that in Bacon's life and writings there is nothing to show
that Bacon might not have written the plays and sonnets, and that there
is much to show that he did write them, and that in what we know about
Shakespeare there is little evidence that Shakespeare wrote those
works, and much evidence that he did not write them, then we pull
ourselves together, marshalling all our facts and all out literary
discernment, so as to convince our interlocutor of his error. But why
should we not do our task urbanely? The cyphers, certainly, are stupid
and tedious things, deserving no patience. But the more intelligent
Baconians spurn them as airily as do you or I. Our case is not so
strong that the arguments of these gentlemen can be ignored; and
naughty temper does but hamper us in the task of demolition. If Bacon
were proved to have written Shakespeare's plays and sonnets, would
mankind be robbed of one of those illusions which are necessary to its
happiness and welfare? If so, we have a good excuse for browbeating the
poor Baconians. But it isn't so, really and truly.

Suppose that one fine morning, Mr. Blank, an ardent Baconian, stumbled
across some long-sought document which proved irrefragably that Bacon
was the poet, and Shakespeare an impostor. What would be our
sentiments? For the second-rate actor we should have not a moment's
sneaking kindness or pity. On the other hand, should we not experience
an everlasting thrill of pride and gladness in the thought that he who
had been the mightiest of our philosophers had been also, by some
unimaginable grace of heaven, the mightiest of our poets? Our pleasure
in the plays and sonnets would be, of course, not one whit greater than
it is now. But the pleasure of hero-worship for their author would be
more than reduplicated. The Greeks revelled in reverence of Heracles by
reason of his twelve labours. They would have been disappointed had it
been proved to them that six of those labours had been performed by
some quite obscure person. The divided reverence would have seemed
tame. Conversely, it is pleasant to revere Bacon, as we do now, and to
revere Shakespeare, as we do now; but a wildest ecstasy of worship were
ours could we concentrate on one of those two demigods all that
reverence which now we apportion to each apart.

It is for this reason, mainly, that I wish success to the Baconians.
But there is another reason, less elevated perhaps, but not less strong
for me. I should like to watch the multifarious comedies which would
spring from the downfall of an idol to which for three centuries a
whole world had been kneeling. Glad fancy makes for me a few extracts
from the issue of a morning paper dated a week after the publication of
Mr. Blank's discovery. This from a column of Literary Notes:

From Baiham, Sydenham, Lewisham, Clapham, Herne Hill and Peckham comes
news that the local Shakespeare Societies have severally met and
decided to dissolve. Other suburbs are expected to follow.

This from the same column:

Mr. Sidney Lee is now busily engaged on a revised edition of his
monumental biography of Shakespeare. Yesterday His Majesty the King
graciously visited Mr. Lee's library in order to personally inspect the
progress of the work, which, in its complete form, is awaited with the
deepest interest in all quarters.

And this, a leaderette:

Yesterday at a meeting of the Parks Committee of the London County
Council it was unanimously resolved to recommend at the next meeting of
the Council that the statue of Shakespeare in Leicester Square should
be removed. This decision was arrived at in view of the fact that
during the past few days the well-known effigy has been the centre of
repeated disturbances, and is already considerably damaged. We are
surprised to learn that there are in our midst persons capable of doing
violence to a noble work of art merely because its subject is
distasteful to them. But even the most civilised communities have their
fits of vandalism. ''Tis true, 'tis pity, and pity 'tis 'tis true.'

And this from a page of advertisements:

To be let or sold. A commodious and desirable Mansion at
Stratford-on-Avon. Delightful flower and kitchen gardens. Hot and cold
water on every floor. Within easy drive of station. Hitherto home of
Miss Marie Corelli.

And this, again from the Literary Notes:

Mr. Hall Caine is in town. Yesterday, at the Authors' Club, he passed
almost unrecognised by his many friends, for he has shaved his beard
and moustache, and has had his hair cropped quite closely to the head.
This measure he has taken, he says, owing to the unusually hot weather
prevailing.

A sonnet, too, printed in large type on the middle page, entitled 'To
Shakespeare,' signed by the latest fashionable poet, and beginning thus:

  O undetected during so long years,
  O irrepleviably infamous,
  Stand forth!

A cable, too, from 'Our Own Correspondent' in New York:

This afternoon the Carmania came into harbour. Among the passengers was
Mr. J. Pierpont Morgan, who had come over in personal charge of Anne
Hathaway's Cottage, his purchase of which for L2,000,000 excited so
much attention on your side a few weeks ago. Mr. Blank's sensational
revelations not having been published to the world till two days after
the Carmania left Liverpool, the millionaire collector had, of course,
no cognisance of the same. On disembarking he proceeded straight to the
Customs Office and inquired how much duty was to be imposed on the
cottage. On being courteously informed that the article would be passed
into the country free of charge, he evinced considerable surprise. I
then ventured to approach Mr. Morgan and to hand him a journal
containing the cabled summary of Mr. Blank's disclosures, which he
proceeded to peruse. His comments I must reserve for the next mail, the
cable clerks here demurring to their transmission.

Only a dream? But a sweet one. Bustle about, Baconians, and bring it
true. Don't listen to my florist.



A HOME-COMING

Belike, returning from a long pilgrimage, in which you have seen many
strange men and strange cities, and have had your imagination stirred
by marvellous experiences, you have never, at the very end of your
journey, almost in sight of your home, felt suddenly that all you had
been seeing and learning was as naught--a pack of negligible illusions,
faint and forgotten. From me, however, this queer sensation has not
been withheld. It befell me a few days ago; in a cold grey dawn, and in
the Buffet of Dover Harbour.

I had spent two months far away, wandering and wondering; and now I had
just fulfilled two thirds of the little tripartite journey from Paris
to London. I was sleepy, as one always is after that brief and twice
broken slumber. I was chilly, for is not the dawn always bleak at
Dover, and perforated always with a bleak and drizzling rain? I was
sad, for I had watched from the deck the white cliffs of Albion coming
nearer and nearer to me, towering over me, and in the familiar drizzle
looking to me more than ever ghastly for that I had been so long and so
far away from them. Often though that harsh, chalky coast had thus
borne down on me, I had never yet felt so exactly and lamentably like a
criminal arrested on an extradition warrant.

In its sleepy, chilly shell my soul was still shuddering and
whimpering. Piteously it conjured me not to take it back into this
cruel hum-drum. It rose up and fawned on me. 'Down, Sir, down!' said I
sternly. I pointed out to it that needs must when the devil drives, and
that it ought to think itself a very lucky soul for having had two
happy, sunny months of fresh and curious adventure. 'A sorrow's crown
of sorrow,' it murmured, 'is remembering happier things.' I declared
the sentiment to be as untrue as was the quotation trite, and told my
soul that I looked keenly forward to the pleasure of writing, in
collaboration with it, that book of travel for which I had been so
sedulously amassing notes and photographs by the way.

This colloquy was held at a table in the Buffet. I was sorry, for my
soul's sake, to be sitting there. Britannia owns nothing more crudely
and inalienably Britannic than her Buffets. The barmaids are but
incarnations of her own self, thinly disguised. The stale buns and the
stale sponge-cakes must have been baked, one fancies, by her own heavy
hand. Of her everything is redolent. She it is that has cut the thick
stale sandwiches, bottled the bitter beer, brewed the unpalatable
coffee. Cold and hungry though I was, one sip of this coffee was one
sip too much for me. I would not mortify my body by drinking more of
it, although I had to mortify my soul by lingering over it till one of
the harassed waiters would pause to be paid for it. I was somewhat
comforted by the aspect of my fellow-travellers at the surrounding
tables. Dank, dishevelled, dismal, they seemed to be resenting as much
as I the return to the dear home-land. I suppose it was the contrast
between them and him that made me stare so hard at the large young man
who was standing on the threshold and surveying the scene.

He looked, as himself would undoubtedly have said, 'fit as a fiddle,'
or 'right as rain.' His cheeks were rosy, his eyes sparkling. He had
his arms akimbo, and his feet planted wide apart. His grey bowler
rested on the back of his head, to display a sleek coating of hair
plastered down over his brow. In his white satin tie shone a dubious
but large diamond, and there was the counter-attraction of geraniums
and maidenhair fern in his button-hole. So fresh was the nosegay that
he must have kept it in water during the passage! Or perhaps these
vegetables had absorbed by mere contact with his tweeds, the subtle
secret of his own immarcescibility. I remembered now that I had seen
him, without realising him, on the platform of the Gare du Nord. 'Gay
Paree' was still written all over him. But evidently he was no repiner.

Unaccountable though he was, I had no suspicion of what he was about to
do. I think you will hardly believe me when I tell you what he did. 'A
traveller's tale' you will say, with a shrug. Yet I swear to you that
it is the plain and solemn truth. If you still doubt me, you have the
excuse that I myself hardly believed the evidence of my eyes. In the
Buffet of Dover Harbour, in the cold grey dawn, in the brief interval
between boat and train, the large young man, shooting his cuffs, strode
forward, struck a confidential attitude across the counter, and began
to flirt with the barmaid.

Open-mouthed, fascinated, appalled, I watched this monstrous and
unimaginable procedure. I was not near enough to overhear what was
said. But I knew by the respective attitudes that the time-honoured
ritual was being observed strictly by both parties. I could see the ice
of haughty indifference thawing, little by little, under the fire of
gallant raillery. I could fix the exact moment when 'Indeed?' became 'I
daresay,' and when 'Well, I must say' gave place to 'Go along,' and
when 'Oh, I don't mind you--not particularly' was succeeded by 'Who
gave you them flowers?'... All in the cold grey dawn...

The cry of 'Take your places, please!' startled me into realisation
that all the other passengers had vanished. I hurried away, leaving the
young man still in the traditional attitude which he had assumed from
the first--one elbow sprawling on the counter, one foot cocked over the
other. My porter had put my things into a compartment exactly opposite
the door of the Buffet. I clambered in.

Just as the guard blew his whistle, the young man or monster came
hurrying out. He winked at me. I did not return his wink.

I suppose I ought really to have raised my hat to him. Pre-eminently,
he was one of those who have made England what it is. But they are the
very men whom one does not care to meet just after long truancy in
preferable lands. He was the backbone of the nation. But ought
backbones to be exposed?

Though I would rather not have seen him then and there, I did realise,
nevertheless, the overwhelming interest of him. I knew him to be a
stranger sight, a more memorable and instructive, than any of the fair
sights I had been seeing. He made them all seem nebulous and unreal to
me. Beside me lay my despatch-box. I unlocked it, drew from it all the
notes and all the photographs I had brought back with me. These, one by
one, methodically, I tore up, throwing their fragments out of the
window, not grudging them to the wind.



'THE RAGGED REGIMENT'

--'commonly called "Longshanks" on account of his great height he was
the first king crowned in the Abbey as it now appears and was interred
with great pomp on St. Simon's and St. Jude's Day October 28th 1307 in
1774 the tomb was opened when the king's body was found almost entire
in the right hand was a richly embossed sceptre and in the left'--

So much I gather as I pass one of the tombs on my way to the Chapel of
Abbot Islip. Anon the verger will have stepped briskly forward, drawing
a deep breath, with his flock well to heel, and will be telling the
secrets of the next tomb on his tragic beat.

To be a verger in Westminster Abbey--what life could be more
unutterably tragic? We are, all of us, more or less enslaved to
sameness; but not all of us are saying, every day, hour after hour,
exactly the same thing, in exactly the same place, in exactly the same
tone of voice, to people who hear it for the first time and receive it
with a gasp of respectful interest. In the name of humanity, I suggest
to the Dean and Chapter that they should relieve these sad-faced men of
their intolerable mission, and purchase parrots. On every tomb, by
every bust or statue, under every memorial window, let a parrot be
chained by the ankle to a comfortable perch, therefrom to enlighten the
rustic and the foreigner. There can be no objection on the ground of
expense; for parrots live long. Vergers do not, I am sure.

It is only the rustic and the foreigner who go to Westminster Abbey for
general enlightenment. If you pause beside any one of the verger-led
groups, and analyse the murmur emitted whenever the verger has said his
say, you will find the constituent parts of the sound to be such
phrases as 'Lor!' 'Ach so!' 'Deary me!' 'Tiens!' and 'My!'  'My!'
preponderates; for antiquities appeal with greatest force to the one
race that has none of them; and it is ever the Americans who hang the
most tenaciously, in the greatest numbers, on the vergers' tired lips.
We of the elder races are capable of taking antiquities as a matter of
course. Certainly, such of us as reside in London take Westminster
Abbey as a matter of course. A few of us will be buried in it, but
meanwhile we don't go to it, even as we don't go to the Tower, or the
Mint, or the Monument. Only for some special purpose do we go--as to
hear a sensational bishop preaching, or to see a monarch anointed. And
on these rare occasions we cast but a casual glance at the Abbey--that
close-packed chaos of beautiful things and worthless vulgar things.
That the Abbey should be thus chaotic does not seem strange to us; for
lack of orderliness and discrimination is an essential characteristic
of the English genius. But to the Frenchman, with his passion for
symmetry and harmony, how very strange it must all seem! How very
whole-hearted a generalising 'Tiens! must he utter when he leaves the
edifice!

My own special purpose in coming is to see certain old waxen effigies
that are here. [In its original form this essay had the good fortune to
accompany two very romantic drawings by William Nicholson--one of Queen
Elizabeth's effigy, the other of Charles II.'s.] A key grates in the
lock of a little door in the wall of (what I am told is) the North
Ambulatory; and up a winding wooden staircase I am ushered into a tiny
paven chamber. The light is dim, through the deeply embrased and narrow
window, and the space is so obstructed that I must pick my way warily.
All around are deep wooden cupboards, faced with glass; and I become
dimly aware that through each glass some one is watching me. Like
sentinels in sentry-boxes, they fix me with their eyes, seeming as
though they would challenge me. How shall I account to them for my
presence? I slip my note-book into my pocket, and try, in the dim
light, to look as unlike a spy as possible. But I cannot, try as I
will, acquit myself of impertinence. Who am I that I should review this
'ragged regiment'? Who am I that I should come peering in upon this
secret conclave of the august dead? Immobile and dark, very gaunt and
withered, these personages peer out at me with a malign dignity,
through the ages which separate me from them, through the twilight in
which I am so near to them. Their eyes... Come, sir, their eyes are
made of glass. It is quite absurd to take wax-works seriously.
Wax-works are not a serious form of art. The aim of art is so to
imitate life as to produce in the spectator an illusion of life.
Wax-works, at best, can produce no such illusion. Don't pretend to be
illuded. For its power to illude, an art depends on its limitations.
Art never can be life, but it may seem to be so if it do but keep far
enough away from life. A statue may seem to live. A painting may seem
to live. That is because each is so far away from life that you do not
apply the test of life to it. A statue is of bronze or marble, than
either of which nothing could be less flesh-like. A painting is a thing
in two dimensions, whereas man is in three. If sculptor or painter
tried to dodge these conventions, his labour would be undone. If a
painter swelled his canvas out and in according to the convexities and
concavities of his model, or if a sculptor overlaid his material with
authentic flesh-tints, then you would demand that the painted or
sculptured figure should blink, or stroke its chin, or kick its foot in
the air. That it could do none of these things would rob it of all
power to illude you. An art that challenges life at close quarters is
defeated through the simple fact that it is not life. Wax-works, being
so near to life, having the exact proportions of men and women, having
the exact texture of skin and hair and habiliments, must either be made
animate or continue to be grotesque and pitiful failures. Lifelike?
They? Rather do they give you the illusion of death. They are akin to
photographs seen through stereoscopic lenses--those photographs of
persons who seem horribly to be corpses, or, at least, catalepts;
and... You see, I have failed to cheer myself up. Having taken up a
strong academic line, and set bravely out to prove to myself the
absurdity of wax-works, I find myself at the point where I started,
irrefutably arguing to myself that I have good reason to be frightened,
here in the Chapel of Abbot Islip, in the midst of these, the Abbot's
glowering and ghastly tenants. Catalepsy! death! that is the atmosphere
I am breathing.

If I were writing in the past tense, I might pause here to consider
whether this emotion was a genuine one or a mere figment for literary
effect. As I am writing in the present tense, such a pause would be
inartistic, and shall not be made. I must seem not to be writing, but
to be actually on the spot, suffering. But then, you may well ask, why
should I stay here, to suffer? why not beat a hasty retreat? The answer
is that my essay would then seem skimpy; and that you, moreover, would
know hardly anything about the wax-works. So I must ask you to imagine
me fighting down my fears, and consoling myself with the reflection
that here, after all, a sense of awe and oppression is just what one
ought to feel--just what one comes for. At Madame Tussaud's exhibition,
by which I was similarly afflicted some years ago, I had no such
consolation. There my sense of fitness was outraged. The place was
meant to be cheerful. It was brilliantly lit. A band was playing
popular tunes. Downstairs there was even a restaurant. (Let fancy
fondly dwell, for a moment, on the thought of a dinner at Madame
Tussaud's: a few carefully-selected guests, and a menu well thought
out; conversation becoming general; corks popping; quips flying; a
sense of bien-etre; 'thank you for a most delightful evening.')
Madame's figures were meant to be agreeable and lively presentments.
Her visitors were meant to have a thoroughly good time. But the Islip
Chapel has no cheerful intent. It is, indeed, a place set aside, with
all reverence, to preserve certain relics of a grim, yet not unlovely,
old custom. These fearful images are no stock-in-trade of a showman; we
are not invited to 'walk-up' to them. They were fashioned with a solemn
and wistful purpose. The reason of them lies in a sentiment which is as
old as the world--lies in man's vain revolt from the prospect of death.
If the soul must perish from the body, may not at least the body itself
be preserved, somewhat in the semblance of life, and, for at least a
while, on the face of the earth? By subtle art, with far-fetched
spices, let the body survive its day and be (even though hidden beneath
the earth) for ever. Nay more, since death cause it straightway to
dwindle somewhat from the true semblance of life, let cunning
artificers fashion it anew--fashion it as it was. Thus, in the earliest
days of England, the kings, as they died, were embalmed, and their
bodies were borne aloft upon their biers, to a sepulture long delayed
after death. In later days, an image of every king that died was
forthwith carved in wood, and painted according to his remembered
aspect, and decked in his own robes; and, when they had sealed his
tomb, the mourners, humouring, to the best of their power, his hatred
of extinction, laid this image upon the tomb's slab, and left it so. In
yet later days, the pretence became more realistic. The hands and the
face were modelled in wax; and the figure stood upright, in some
commanding posture, on a valanced platform above the tomb. Nor were
only the kings thus honoured. Every one who was interred in the Abbey,
whether in virtue of lineage or of achievements, was honoured thus. It
was the fashion for every great lady to write in her will minute
instructions as to the posture in which her image was to be modelled,
and which of her gowns it was to be clad in, and with what of her
jewellery it was to glitter. Men, too, used to indulge in such
precautions. Of all the images thus erected in the Abbey, there remain
but a few. The images had to take their chance, in days that were
without benefit of police. Thieves, we may suppose, stripped the finery
from many of them. Rebels, we know, broke in, less ignobly, and tore
many of them limb from limb, as a protest against the governing
classes. So only a poor remnant, a 'ragged regiment,' has been rallied,
at length, into the sanctuary of Islip's Chapel. Perhaps, if they were
not so few, these images would not be so fascinating.

Yes, I am fascinated by them now. Terror has been toned to wonder. I am
filled with a kind of wondering pity. My academic theory about
wax-works has broken down utterly. These figures--kings, princes,
duchesses, queens--all are real to me now, and all are infinitely
pathetic, in the dignity of their fallen and forgotten greatness. With
what inalienable majesty they wear their rusty velvets and faded silks,
flaunting sere ruffles of point-lace, which at a touch now would be
shivered like cobwebs! My heart goes out to them through the glass that
divides us. I wish I could stay with them, bear them company, always. I
think they like me. I am afraid they will miss me. Perhaps it would be
better for us never to have met. Even Queen Elizabeth, beholding whom,
as she stands here, gaunt and imperious and appalling, I echo the words
spoken by Philip's envoy, 'This woman is possessed of a hundred
thousand devils'--even she herself, though she gazes askance into the
air, seems to be conscious of my presence, and to be willing me to
stay. It is a relief to meet the friendly bourgeois eye of good Queen
Anne. It has restored my common sense. 'These figures really are most
curious, most interesting...' and anon I am asking intelligent
questions about the contents of a big press, which, by special favour,
has been unlocked for me.

Perhaps the most romantic thing in the Islip Chapel is this press.
Herein, huddled one against another in dark recesses, lie the battered
and disjected remains of the earlier effigies--the primitive wooden
ones. Edward I. and Eleanor are known to be among them; and Henry VII.
and Elizabeth of York; and others not less illustrious. Which is which?
By size and shape you can distinguish the men from the women; but
beyond that is mere guesswork, be you never so expert. Time has broken
and shuffled these erst so significant effigies till they have become
as unmeaning for us as the bones in one of the old plague-pits. I feel
that I ought to be more deeply moved than I am by this sad state of
things. But I seem to have exhausted my capacity for sentiment; and I
cannot rise to the level of my opportunity. Would that I were
Thackeray! Dear gentleman, how promptly and copiously he would have
wept and moralised here, in his grandest manner, with that perfect
technical mastery which makes even now his tritest and shallowest
sermons sound remarkable, his hollowest sentiment ring true! What a
pity he never came to beat the muffled drum, on which he was so supreme
a performer, around the Islip Chapel! As I make my way down the stairs,
I am trying to imagine what would have been the cadence of the final
sentence in this essay by Thackeray. And, as I pass along the North
Ambulatory, lo! there is the same verger with a new party; and I catch
the words 'was interred with great pomp on St. Simon's and St. Jude's
Day October 28 1307 in 1774 the tomb was opened when--



THE HUMOUR OF THE PUBLIC

They often tell me that So-and-so has no sense of humour. Lack of this
sense is everywhere held to be a horrid disgrace, nullifying any number
of delightful qualities. Perhaps the most effective means of
disparaging an enemy is to lay stress on his integrity, his erudition,
his amiability, his courage, the fineness of his head, the grace of his
figure, his strength of purpose, which has overleaped all obstacles,
his goodness to his parents, the kind word that he has for every one,
his musical voice, his freedom from aught that in human nature is base;
and then to say what a pity it is that he has no sense of humour. The
more highly you extol any one, the more eagerly will your audience
accept anything you may have to say against him. Perfection is unloved
in this imperfect world, but for imperfection comes instant sympathy.
Any excuse is good enough for exalting the bad or stupid brother of us,
but any stick is a valued weapon against him who has the effrontery to
have been by Heaven better graced than we. And what could match for
deadliness the imputation of being without sense of humour? To convict
a man of that lack is to strike him with one blow to a level with the
beasts of the field--to kick him, once and for all, outside the human
pale. What is it that mainly distinguishes us from the brute creation?
That we walk erect? Some brutes are bipeds. That we do not slay one
another? We do. That we build houses? So do they. That we remember and
reason? So, again, do they. That we converse? They are chatterboxes,
whose lingo we are not sharp enough to master. On no possible point of
superiority can we preen ourselves save this: that we can laugh, and
that they, with one notable exception, cannot. They (so, at least, we
assert) have no sense of humour. We have. Away with any one of us who
hasn't!

Belief in the general humorousness of the human race is the more
deep-rooted for that every man is certain that he himself is not
without sense of humour. A man will admit cheerfully that he does not
know one tune from another, or that he cannot discriminate the vintages
of wines. The blind beggar does not seek to benumb sympathy by telling
his patrons how well they are looking. The deaf and dumb do not scruple
to converse in signals. 'Have you no sense of beauty?' I said to a
friend who in the Accademia of Florence suggested that we had stood
long enough in front of the 'Primavera.' 'No!' was his simple,
straightforward, quite unanswerable answer. But I have never heard a
man assert that he had no sense of humour. And I take it that no such
assertion ever was made. Moreover, were it made, it would be a lie.
Every man laughs. Frequently or infrequently, the corners of his mouth
are drawn up into his cheeks, and through his parted lips comes his own
particular variety, soft or loud, of that noise which is called
laughter. Frequently or infrequently, every man is amused by something.
Every man has a sense of humour, but not every man the same sense. A
may be incapable of smiling at what has convulsed B, and B may stare
blankly when he hears what has rolled A off his chair. Jokes are so
diverse that no one man can see them all. The very fact that he can see
one kind is proof positive that certain other kinds will be invisible
to him. And so egoistic in his judgment is the average man that he is
apt to suspect of being humourless any one whose sense of humour
squares not with his own. But the suspicion is always false,
incomparably useful though it is in the form of an accusation.

Having no love for the public, I have often accused that body of having
no sense of humour. Conscience pricks me to atonement. Let me withdraw
my oft-made imputation, and show its hollowness by examining with you,
reader (who are, of course, no more a member of the public than I am),
what are the main features of that sense of humour which the public
does undoubtedly possess.

The word 'public' must, like all collective words, be used with
caution. When we speak of our hair, we should remember not only that
the hairs on our heads are all numbered, but also that there is a
catalogue raisonne' in which every one of those hairs is shown to be in
some respect unique. Similarly, let us not forget that 'public' denotes
a collection not of identical units, but of units separable and (under
close scrutiny) distinguishable one from another. I have said that not
every man has the same sense of humour. I might have said truly that no
two men have the same sense of humour, for that no two men have the
same brain and heart and experience, by which things the sense of
humour is formed and directed. One joke may go round the world,
tickling myriads, but not two persons will be tickled in precisely the
same way, to precisely the same degree. If the vibrations of inward or
outward laughter could be (as some day, perhaps, they will be)
scientifically registered, differences between them all would be made
apparent to us. 'Oh,' is your cry, whenever you hear something that
especially amuses you, 'I must tell that to' whomever you credit with a
sense of humour most akin to your own. And the chances are that you
will be disappointed by his reception of the joke. Either he will laugh
less loudly than you hoped, or he will say something which reveals to
you that it amuses him and you not in quite the same way. Or perhaps he
will laugh so long and loudly that you are irritated by the suspicion
that you have not yourself gauged the full beauty of it. In one of his
books (I do not remember which, though they, too, I suppose, are all
numbered) Mr. Andrew Lang tells a story that has always delighted and
always will delight me. He was in a railway-carriage, and his
travelling-companions were two strangers, two silent ladies,
middle-aged. The train stopped at Nuneaton. The two ladies exchanged a
glance. One of them sighed, and said, 'Poor Eliza! She had reason to
remember Nuneaton!'... That is all. But how much! how deliciously and
memorably much! How infinite a span of conjecture is in those dots
which I have just made! And yet, would you believe me? some of my most
intimate friends, the people most like to myself, see little or nothing
of the loveliness of that pearl of price. Perhaps you would believe me.
That is the worst of it: one never knows. The most sensitive
intelligence cannot predict how will be appraised its any treasure by
its how near soever kin.

This sentence, which I admit to be somewhat mannered, has the merit of
bringing me straight to the point at which I have been aiming; that,
though the public is composed of distinct units, it may roughly be
regarded as a single entity. Precisely because you and I have sensitive
intelligences, we cannot postulate certainly anything about each other.
The higher an animal be in grade, the more numerous and recondite are
the points in which its organism differs from that of its peers. The
lower the grade, the more numerous and obvious the points of likeness.
By 'the public' I mean that vast number of human animals who are in the
lowest grade of intelligence. (Of course, this classification is made
without reference to social 'classes.' The public is recruited from the
upper, the middle, and the lower class. That the recruits come mostly
from the lower class is because the lower class is still the least
well-educated. That they come in as high proportion from the middle
class as from the less well-educated upper class, is because the 'young
Barbarians,' reared in a more gracious environment, often acquire a
grace of mind which serves them as well as would mental keenness.)
Whereas in the highest grade, to which you and I belong, the fact that
a thing affects you in one way is no guarantee that it will not affect
me in another, a thing which affects one man of the lowest grade in a
particular way is likely to affect all the rest very similarly. The
public's sense of humour may be regarded roughly as one collective
sense.

It would be impossible for any one of us to define what are the things
that amuse him. For him the wind of humour bloweth where it listeth. He
finds his jokes in the unlikeliest places. Indeed, it is only there
that he finds them at all. A thing that is labelled 'comic' chills his
sense of humour instantly--perceptibly lengthens his face. A joke that
has not a serious background, or some serious connexion, means nothing
to him. Nothing to him, the crude jape of the professional jester.
Nothing to him, the jangle of the bells in the wagged cap, the thud of
the swung bladder. Nothing, the joke that hits him violently in the
eye, or pricks him with a sharp point. The jokes that he loves are
those quiet jokes which have no apparent point--the jokes which never
can surrender their secret, and so can never pall. His humour is an
indistinguishable part of his soul, and the things that stir it are
indistinguishable from the world around him. But to the primitive and
untutored public, humour is a harshly definite affair. The public can
achieve no delicate process of discernment in humour. Unless a joke
hits in the eye, drawing forth a shower of illuminative sparks, all is
darkness. Unless a joke be labelled 'Comic. Come! why don't you laugh?'
the public is quite silent. Violence and obviousness are thus the
essential factors. The surest way of making a thing obvious is to
provide it in some special place, at some special time. It is thus that
humour is provided for the public, and thus that it is easy for the
student to lay his hand on materials for an analysis of the public's
sense of humour. The obviously right plan for the student is to visit
the music-halls from time to time, and to buy the comic papers. Neither
these halls nor these papers will amuse him directly through their art,
but he will instruct himself quicklier and soundlier from them than
from any other source, for they are the authentic sources of the
public's laughter. Let him hasten to patronise them.

He will find that I have been there before him. The music-halls I have
known for many years. I mean, of course, the real old-fashioned
music-halls, not those depressing palaces where you see by grace of a
biograph things that you have seen much better, and without a headache,
in the street, and pitiable animals being forced to do things which
Nature has forbidden them to do--things which we can do so very much
better than they, without any trouble. Heaven defend me from those
meaningless palaces! But the little old music-halls have always
attracted me by their unpretentious raciness, their quaint monotony,
the reality of the enjoyment on all those stolidly rapt faces in the
audience. Without that monotony there would not be the same air of
general enjoyment, the same constant guffaws. That monotony is the
secret of the success of music-halls. It is not enough for the public
to know that everything is meant to be funny, that laughter is craved
for every point in every 'turn.' A new kind of humour, however obvious
and violent, might take the public unawares, and be received in
silence. The public prefers always that the old well-tested and
well-seasoned jokes be cracked for it. Or rather, not the same old
jokes, but jokes on the same old subjects. The quality of the joke is
of slight import in comparison with its subject. It is the matter,
rather than the treatment, that counts, in the art of the music-hall.
Some subjects have come to be recognised as funny. Two or three of them
crop up in every song, and before the close of the evening all of them
will have cropped up many times. I speak with authority, as an earnest
student of the music-halls. Of comic papers I know less. They have
never allured me. They are not set to music--an art for whose cheaper
and more primitive forms I have a very real sensibility; and I am not,
as I peruse one of them, privy to the public's delight: my copy cannot
be shared with me by hundreds of people whose mirth is wonderful to see
and hear. And the bare contents are not such as to enchant me. However,
for the purpose of this essay, I did go to a bookstall and buy as many
of these papers as I could see--a terrific number, a terrific burden to
stagger away with.

I have gone steadily through them, one by one. My main impression is of
wonder and horror at the amount of hebdomadal labour implicit in them.
Who writes for them? Who does the drawings for them--those thousands of
little drawings, week by week, so neatly executed? To think that daily
and nightly, in so many an English home, in a room sacred to the
artist, sits a young man inventing and executing designs for Chippy
Snips! To think how many a proud mother must be boasting to her
friends: 'Yes, Edward is doing wonderfully well--more than fulfilling
the hopes we always had of him. Did I tell you that the editor of Natty
Tips has written asking him to contribute to his paper? I believe I
have the letter on me. Yes, here it is,' etc., etc.! The awful thing is
that many of the drawings in these comic papers are done with very real
skill. Nothing is sadder than to see the hand of an artist wasted by
alliance to a vacant mind, a common spirit. I look through these
drawings, conceived all so tritely and stupidly, so hopelessly and
helplessly, yet executed--many of them--so very well indeed, and I sigh
over the haphazard way in which mankind is made. However, my concern is
not with the tragedy of these draughtsmen, but with the specific forms
taken by their humour. Some of them deal in a broad spirit with the
world-comedy, limiting themselves to no set of funny subjects, finding
inspiration in the habits and manners of men and women at large. 'HE
WON HER' is the title appended to a picture of a young lady and
gentleman seated in a drawing-room, and the libretto runs thus: 'Mabel:
Last night I dreamt of a most beautiful woman. Harold: Rather a
coincidence. I dreamt of you, too, last night.' I have selected this as
a typical example of the larger style. This style, however, occupies
but a small space in the bulk of the papers that lie before me. As in
the music-halls, so in these papers, the entertainment consists almost
entirely of variations on certain ever-recurring themes. I have been at
pains to draw up a list of these themes. I think it is exhaustive. If
any fellow-student detect an omission, let him communicate with me.
Meanwhile, here is my list:--

  Mothers-in-law
  Hen-pecked husbands
  Twins
  Old maids
  Jews
  Frenchmen, Germans, Italians, Niggers (not Russians, or other
      foreigners of any denomination)
  Fatness
  Thinness
  Long hair (worn by a man)
  Baldness
  Sea-sickness
  Stuttering
  Bad cheese
  'Shooting the moon' (slang expression for leaving a lodging-house
      without paying the bill).

You might argue that one week's budget of comic papers is no real
criterion--that the recurrence of these themes may be fortuitous. My
answer to that objection is that this list coincides exactly with a
list which (before studying these papers) I had made of the themes
commonest, during the past few years, in the music-halls. This twin
list, which results from separate study of the two chief forms of
public entertainment, may be taken as a sure guide to the goal of our
inquiry.

Let us try to find some unifying principle, or principles, among the
variegated items. Take the first item--Mothers-in-law. Why should the
public roar, as roar it does, at the mere mention of that relationship?
There is nothing intrinsically absurd in the notion of a woman with a
married daughter. It is probable that she will sympathise with her
daughter in any quarrel that may arise between husband and wife. It is
probable, also, that she will, as a mother, demand for her daughter
more unselfish devotion than the daughter herself expects. But this
does not make her ridiculous. The public laughs not at her, surely. It
always respects a tyrant. It laughs at the implied concept of the
oppressed son-in-law, who has to wage unequal warfare against two
women. It is amused by the notion of his embarrassment. It is amused by
suffering. This explanation covers, of course, the second item on my
list--Hen-pecked husbands. It covers, also, the third and fourth items.
The public is amused by the notion of a needy man put to double
expense, and of a woman who has had no chance of fulfilling her
destiny. The laughter at Jews, too, may be a survival of the old
Jew-baiting spirit (though one would have thought that even the British
public must have begun to realise, and to reflect gloomily, that the
whirligig of time has so far revolved as to enable the Jews to bait the
Gentiles). Or this laughter may be explained by the fact which alone
can explain why the public laughs at Frenchmen, Germans, Italians,
Niggers. Jews, after all, are foreigners, strangers. The British public
has never got used to them, to their faces and tricks of speech. The
only apparent reason why it laughs at the notion of Frenchmen, etc., is
that they are unlike itself. (At the mention of Russians and other
foreigners it does not laugh, because it has no idea what they are
like: it has seen too few samples of them.)

So far, then, we have found two elements in the public's humour:
delight in suffering, contempt for the unfamiliar. The former motive is
the more potent. It accounts for the popularity of all these other
items: extreme fatness, extreme thinness, baldness, sea-sickness,
stuttering, and (as entailing distress for the landlady) 'shooting the
moon.' The motive of contempt for the unfamiliar accounts for long hair
(worn by a man). Remains one item unexplained. How can mirth possibly
be evoked by the notion of bad cheese? Having racked my brains for the
solution, I can but conjecture that it must be the mere ugliness of the
thing. Why any one should be amused by mere ugliness I cannot conceive.
Delight in cruelty, contempt for the unfamiliar, I can understand,
though I cannot admire them. They are invariable elements in children's
sense of humour, and it is natural that the public, as being
unsophisticated, should laugh as children laugh. But any nurse will
tell you that children are frightened by ugliness. Why, then, is the
public amused by it? I know not. The laughter at bad cheese I abandon
as a mystery. I pitch it among such other insoluble problems, as Why
does the public laugh when an actor and actress in a quite serious play
kiss each other? Why does it laugh when a meal is eaten on the stage?
Why does it laugh when any actor has to say 'damn'?

If they cannot be solved soon, such problems never will be solved. For
Mr. Forster's Act will soon have had time to make apparent its effects;
and the public will proudly display a sense of humour as sophisticated
as our own.



DULCEDO JUDICIORUM

When a 'sensational' case is being tried, the court is well filled by
lay persons in need of a thrill. Their presence seems to be rather
resented as a note of frivolity, a discord in the solemnity of the
function, even a possible distraction for the judge and jury. I am not
a lawyer, nor a professionally solemn person, and I cannot work myself
up into a state of indignation against the interlopers. I am, indeed,
one of them myself. And I am worse than one of them. I do not merely go
to this or that court on this or that special occasion. I frequent the
courts whenever I have nothing better to do. And it is rarely that, as
one who cares to study his fellow-creatures, I have anything better to
do. I greatly wonder that the courts are frequented by so few other
people who have no special business there.

I can understand the glamour of the theatre. You find yourself in a
queerly-shaped place, cut off from the world, with plenty of gilding
and red velvet or blue satin. An orchestra plays tunes calculated to
promote suppressed excitement. Presently up goes a curtain, revealing
to you a mimic world, with ladies and gentlemen painted and padded to
appear different from what they are. It is precisely the people most
susceptible to the glamour of the theatre who are the greatest
hindrances to serious dramatic art. They will stand anything, no matter
how silly, in a theatre. Fortunately, there seems to be a decline in
the number of people who are acutely susceptible to the theatre's
glamour. I rather think the reason for this is that the theatre has
been over-exploited by the press. Quite old people will describe to you
their early playgoings with a sense of wonder, an enthusiasm,
which--leaving a wide margin for the charm that past things must always
have--will not be possible to us when we babble to our grandchildren.
Quite young people, people ranging between the ages of four and five,
who have seen but one or two pantomimes, still seem to have the glamour
of the theatre full on them. But adolescents, and people in the prime
of life, do merely, for the most part, grumble about the quality of the
plays. Yet the plays of our time are somewhat better than the plays
that were written for our elders. Certainly the glamour of the theatre
has waned. And so much the better for the drama's future.

It is a matter of concern, that future, to me who have for so long a
time been a dramatic critic. A man soon comes to care, quite
unselfishly, about the welfare of the thing in which he has
specialised. Of course, I care selfishly too. For, though it is just as
easy for a critic to write interestingly about bad things as about good
things, he would rather, for choice, be in contact with good things. It
is always nice to combine business and pleasure. But one regrets, even
then, the business. If I were a forensic critic, my delight in
attending the courts would still be great; but less than it is in my
irresponsibility. In the courts I find satisfied in me just those
senses which in the theatre, nearly always, are starved. Nay, I find
them satisfied more fully than they ever could be, at best, in any
theatre. I do not merely fall back on the courts, in disgust of the
theatre as it is. I love the courts better than the theatre as it
ideally might be. And, I say again, I marvel that you leave me so much
elbow-room there.

No artificial light is needed, no scraping of fiddles, to excite or
charm me as I pass from the echoing corridor, through the swing-doors,
into the well of this or that court. It matters not much to me what
case I shall hear, so it be of the human kind, with a jury and with
witnesses. I care little for Chancery cases. There is a certain
intellectual pleasure in hearing a mass of facts subtly wrangled over.
The mind derives therefrom something of the satisfaction that the eye
has in watching acrobats in a music-hall. One wonders at the ingenuity,
the agility, the perfect training. Like acrobats, these Chancery
lawyers are a relief from the average troupe of actors and actresses,
by reason of their exquisite alertness, their thorough mastery
(seemingly exquisite and thorough, at any rate, to the dazzled layman).
And they have a further advantage in their material. The facts they
deal with are usually dull, but seldom so dull as facts become through
the fancies of the average playwright. It is seldom that an evening in
a theatre can be so pleasantly and profitably spent as a day in a
Chancery court. But it is ever into one or another of the courts of
King's Bench that I betake myself, for choice. Criminal trials, of
which I have seen a few, I now eschew absolutely. I cannot stomach
them. I know that it is necessary for the good of the community that
such persons as infringe that community's laws should be punished. But,
even were the mode of punishment less barbarous than it is, I should
still prefer not to be brought in sight of a prisoner in the dock.
Perhaps because I have not a strongly developed imagination, I have
little or no public spirit. I cannot see the commonweal. On the other
hand, I have plenty of personal feeling. And I have enough knowledge of
men and women to know that very often the best people are guilty of the
worst things. Is the prisoner in the dock guilty or not guilty of the
offence with which he is charged? That is the question in the mind of
the court. What sort of man is he? That is the question in my own mind.
And the answer to the other question has no bearing whatsoever on the
answer to this one. The English law assumes the prisoner innocent until
he shall have been proved guilty. And, seeing him there a prisoner, a
man who happens to have been caught, while others (myself included) are
pleasantly at large after doing, unbeknown, innumerable deeds worse in
the eyes of heaven than the deed with which this man is charged--deeds
that do not prevent us from regarding our characters as quite fine
really--I cannot but follow in my heart the example of the English law
and assume (pending proof, which cannot be forthcoming) that the
prisoner in the dock has a character at any rate as fine as my own. The
war that this assumption wages in my breast against the fact that the
man will perhaps be sentenced is too violent a war not to discommode
me. Let justice be done. Or rather, let our rough-and-ready, well-meant
endeavours towards justice go on being made. But I won't be there to
see, thank you very much.

It is the natural wish of every writer to be liked by his readers. But
how exasperating, how detestable, the writer who obviously touts for
our affection, arranging himself for us in a mellow light, and inviting
us, with gentle persistence, to note how lovable he is! Many essayists
have made themselves quite impossible through their determination to
remind us of Charles Lamb--'St. Charles,' as they invariably call him.
And the foregoing paragraph, though not at all would-be-Lamb-like in
expression, looks to me horribly like a blatant bid for your love. I
hasten to add, therefore, that no absolutely kind-hearted person could
bear, as I rejoice, to go and hear cases even in the civil courts. If
it be true that the instinct of cruelty is at the root of our pleasure
in theatrical drama, how much more is there of savagery in our going to
look on at the throes of actual litigation--real men and women
struggling not in make-believe, but in dreadful earnest! I mention this
aspect merely as a corrective to what I had written. I do not pretend
that I am ever conscious, as I enter a court, that I am come to gratify
an evil instinct. I am but conscious of being glad to be there, on
tiptoe of anticipation, whether it be to hear tried some particular
case of whose matter I know already something, or to hear at hazard
whatever case happen to be down for hearing. I never tire of the aspect
of a court, the ways of a court. Familiarity does but spice them. I
love the cold comfort of the pale oak panelling, the
scurrying-in-and-out of lawyers' clerks, the eagerness and ominousness
of it all, the rustle of silk as a K.C. edges his way to his seat and
twists his head round for a quick whispered parley with his junior,
while his client, at the solicitors' table, twists his head round to
watch feverishly the quick mechanical nods of the great man's wig--the
wig that covers the skull that contains the brain that so awfully much
depends on. I love the mystery of those dark-green curtains behind the
exalted Bench. One of them will anon be plucked aside, with a
stentorian 'Silence!' Thereat up we jump, all of us as though worked by
one spring; and in shuffles swiftly My Lord, in a robe well-fashioned
for sitting in, but not for walking in anywhere except to a bath-room.
He bows, and we bow; subsides, and we subside; and up jumps some
grizzled junior--'My Lord, may I mention to your Lordship the case of
"Brown v. Robinson and Another"?' It is music to me ever, the cadence
of that formula. I watch the judge as he listens to the application,
peering over his glasses with the lack-lustre eyes that judges have,
eyes that stare dimly out through the mask of wax or parchment that
judges wear. My Lord might be the mummy of some high tyrant revitalised
after centuries of death and resuming now his sway over men. Impassive
he sits, aloof and aloft, ramparted by his desk, ensconced between
curtains to keep out the draught--for might not a puff of wind scatter
the animated dust that he consists of? No creature of flesh and blood
could impress us quite as he does, with a sense of puissance quite so
dispassionate, so supernal. He crouches over us in such manner that we
are all of us levelled one with another, shorn of aught that elsewhere
differentiates us. The silk-gownsmen, as soon as he appears, fade to
the semblance of juniors, of lawyers' clerks, of jurymen, of oneself.
Always, indeed, in any public place devoted to some special purpose,
one finds it hard to differentiate the visitors, hard to credit them
with any private existence. Cast your eye around the tables of a cafe':
how subtly similar all the people seem! How like a swarm of gregarious
insects, in their unity of purpose and of aspect! Above all, how
homeless! Cast your eye around the tables of a casino's gambling-room.
What an uniform and abject herd, huddled together with one despondent
impulse! Here and there, maybe, a person whom we know to be vastly
rich; yet we cannot conceive his calm as not the calm of inward
desperation; cannot conceive that he has anything to bless himself with
except the roll of bank-notes that he has just produced from his
breast-pocket. One and all, the players are levelled by the invisible
presence of the goddess they are courting. Well, the visible presence
of the judge in a court of law oppresses us with a yet keener sense of
lowliness and obliteration. He crouches over us, visible symbol of the
majesty of the law, and we wilt to nothingness beneath him. And when I
say 'him' I include the whole judicial bench. Judges vary, no doubt.
Some are young, others old, by the calendar. But the old ones have an
air of physical incorruptibility--are 'well-preserved,' as by swathes
and spices; and the young ones are just as mummified as they. Some of
them are pleased to crack jokes; jokes of the sarcophagus, that twist
our lips to obsequious laughter, but send a chill through our souls.
There are 'strong' judges and weak ones (so barristers will tell you).
Perhaps--who knows?--Minos was a strong judge, and Aeacus and
Rhadamanthus were weak ones. But all three seem equally terrible to us.
And so seem, in virtue of their position, and of the manner and aspect
it invests them with, all the judges of our own high courts.

I hearken in awe to the toneless murmur in which My Lord comments on
the application in the case of 'Brown v. Robinson and Another.' He says
something about the Court of Crown Cases Reserved... Ah, what place on
this earth bears a name so mystically majestic? Even in the commonest
forensic phrases there is often this solemnity of cadence, always a
quaintness, that stirs the imagination... The grizzled junior dares
interject something 'with submission,' and is finally advised to see
'my learned brother in chambers.' 'As your Lordship pleases.'... We
pass to the business of the day. I settle myself to enjoy the keenest
form of aesthetic pleasure that is known to me.

Aesthetic, yes. In the law-courts one finds an art-form, as surely as
in the theatre. What is drama? Its theme is the actions of certain
opposed persons, historical or imagined, within a certain period of
time; and these actions, these characters, must be shown to us in a
succinct manner, must be so arranged that we know just what in them is
essential to our understanding of them. Very similar is the art-form
practised in the law-courts. The theme of a law-suit is the actions of
certain actual opposed persons within a certain period of time; and
these actions, these characters, must be set forth succinctly, in
such-wise that we shall know just as much as is essential to our
understanding of them. In drama, the presentment is, in a sense, more
vivid. It is not--not usually, at least--retrospective. We see the
actions being committed, hear the words as they are uttered. But how
often do we have an illusion of their reality? Seldom. It is seldom
that a masterpiece in drama is performed perfectly by an ideal cast. In
a law-court, on the other hand, it is always in perfect form that the
matter is presented to us. First the outline of the story, in the
speech for the plaintiff; then this outline filled in by the
examination of the plaintiff himself; then the other side of the story
adumbrated by his cross-examination. Think of the various further
stages of a law-suit, culminating in the judge's summing up; and you
will agree with me that the whole thing is a perfect art-form. Drama,
at its best, is clumsy, arbitrary, unsatisfying, by comparison. But
what makes a law-suit the most fascinating, to me, of all art-forms, is
that not merely its material, but the chief means of its expression, is
life itself. Here, cited before us, are the actual figures in the
actual story that has been told to us. Here they are, not as images to
be evoked through the medium of printed page, or of painted canvas, or
of disinterested ladies and gentlemen behind footlights. Actual,
authentic, they stand before us, one by one, in the harsh light of day,
to be made to reveal all that we need to know of them.

The most interesting witnesses, I admit, are they who are determined
not to accommodate us--not to reveal themselves as they are, but to
make us suppose them something quite different. All witnesses are more
or less interesting. As I have suggested, there is no such thing as a
dull law-suit. Nothing that has happened is negligible. And, even so,
every human being repays attention--especially so when he stands forth
on his oath. The strangeness of his position, and his consciousness of
it, suffice in themselves to make him interesting. But it is
disingenuousness that makes him delightful. And the greatest of all
delights that a law-court can give us is a disingenuous witness who is
quick-minded, resourceful, thoroughly master of himself and his story,
pitted against a counsel as well endowed as himself. The most vivid and
precious of my memories is of a case in which a gentleman, now dead,
was sued for breach of promise, and was cross-examined throughout a
whole hot day in midsummer by the late Mr. Candy. The lady had averred
that she had known him for many years. She called various witnesses,
who testified to having seen him repeatedly in her company. She
produced stacks of letters in a handwriting which no expert could
distinguish from his. The defence was that these letters were written
by the defendant's secretary, a man who was able to imitate exactly his
employer's handwriting, and who was, moreover, physically a replica of
his employer. He was dead now; and the defendant, though he was a very
well-known man, with many friends, was unable to adduce any one who had
seen that secretary dead or alive. Not a soul in court believed the
story. As it was a complicated story, extending over many years, to
demolish it seemed child's play. Mr. Candy was no child. His
performance was masterly. But it was not so masterly as the
defendant's; and the suit was dismissed. In the light of common sense,
the defendant hadn't a leg to stand on. Technically, his case was
proved. I doubt whether I shall ever have a day of such acute mental
enjoyment as was the day of that cross-examination.

I suppose that the most famous cross-examination in our day was Sir
Charles Russell's of Pigott. It outstands by reason of the magnitude of
the issue, and the flight and suicide of the witness. Had Pigott been
of the stuff to stand up to Russell, and make a fight of it, I should
regret far more keenly than I do that I was not in court. As it is, my
regret is keen enough. I was reading again, only the other day, the
verbatim report of Pigott's evidence, in one of the series of little
paper volumes published by The Times; and I was revelling again in the
large perfection with which Russell accomplished his too easy task.
Especially was I amazed to find how vividly Russell, as I remember him,
lived again, and could be seen and heard, through the medium of that
little paper volume. It was not merely as though I had been in court,
and were now recalling the inflections of that deep, intimidating
voice, the steadfast gaze of those dark, intimidating eyes, and were
remembering just at what points the snuff-box was produced, and just
how long the pause was before the pinch was taken and the bandana came
into play. It was almost as though these effects were proceeding before
my very eyes--these sublime effects of the finest actor I have ever
seen. Expressed through a perfect technique, his personality was
overwhelming. 'Come, Mr. Pigott,' he is reported as saying, at a
crucial moment, 'try to do yourself justice. Remember! you are face to
face with My Lords.' How well do I hear, in that awful hortation,
Russell's pause after the word 'remember,' and the lowered voice in
which the subsequent words were uttered slowly, and the richness of
solemnity that was given to the last word of all, ere the thin lips
snapped together--those lips that were so small, yet so significant, a
feature of that large, white, luminous and inauspicious face. It is an
hortation which, by whomsoever delivered, would tend to dispirit the
bravest and most honest of witnesses. The presence of a judge is
always, as I have said, oppressive. The presence of three is trebly so.
Yet not a score of them serried along the bench could have outdone in
oppressiveness Sir Charles Russell. He alone, among the counsel I have
seen, was an exception to the rule that by a judge every one in court
is levelled. On the bench, in his last years, he was not notably more
predominant than he ever had been. And the reason of his predominance
at the Bar was not so much in the fact that he had no rival in
swiftness, in subtlety, in grasp, as in the passionate strength of his
nature, the intensity that in him was at the root of the grand manner.

In the courts, as in parliament and in the theatre, the grand manner is
a thing of the past. Mr. Lloyd-George is not, in style and method, more
remote from Gladstone, nor Mr. George Alexander from Macready, than is
Mr. Rufus Isaacs, the type of modern advocate, from Russell. Strength,
passion, sonorousness, magnificence of phrasing, are things which the
present generation vaguely approves in retrospect; but it would titter
at a contemporary demonstration of them. While I was reading Pigott's
cross-examination, an idea struck me; why do not the managers of our
theatres, always querulous about the dearth of plays, fall back on
scenes from famous trials? A trial-scene in a play, though usually
absurd, is almost always popular. Why not give us actual trial-scenes?
They could not, of course, be nearly so exciting as the originals, for
the simple reason that they would not be real; but they would certainly
be more exciting than the average play. Thus I mused, hopefully. But I
was brought up sharp by the reflection that it were hopeless to look
for an actor who could impersonate Russell--could fit his manner to
Russell's words, or indeed to the words of any of those orotund
advocates. To reproduce recent trials would be a hardly warrantable
thing. The actual participators in them would have a right to object
(delighted though many of them would be). Vain, then, is my dream of
theatres invigorated by the leavings of the law-courts. On the other
hand, for the profit of the law-courts, I have a quite practicable
notion. They provide the finest amusement in London, for nothing. Why
for nothing? Let some scale of prices for admission be drawn
up--half-a-guinea, say, for a seat in the well of the court, a shilling
for a seat in the gallery, five pounds for a seat on the bench.  Then,
I dare swear, people would begin to realise how fine the amusement is.



WORDS FOR PICTURES

'HARLEQUIN'

A SIGN-BOARD, PAINTED ON COPPER, SIGNED
  'W. EVANS, LONDON' CIRCA 1820

Harlequin dances, and, over the park he dances in, surely there is
thunder brooding. His figure stands out, bright, large, and fantastic.
But all around him is sultry twilight, and the clouds, pregnant with
thunder, lower over him as he dances, and the elms are dim with unusual
shadow. There is a tiny river in the dim distance. Under one of the
nearest elms you may descry a square tomb, topped with an urn. What
lord or lady underlies it? I know not. Harlequin dances. Sheathed in
his gay suit of red and green and yellow lozenges, he ambles lightly
over the gravel. At his feet lie a tambourine and a mask. Brown ferns
fringe his pathway. With one hand he clasps the baton to his hip, with
the other he points mischievously to his forehead. He wears a flat,
loose cap of yellow. There is a ruff about his neck, and a pair of fine
buckles to his shoes, and he always dances. He has his back to the
thunderclouds, but there is that in his eyes which tells us that he has
seen them, and that he knows their presage. He is afraid. Yet he
dances. Never, howsoever slightly, swerves he, see! from his right
posture, nor fail his feet in their pirouette. All a' merveille! Nor
fades the smile from his face, though he smiles through the tarnished
air of a sultry twilight, under the shadow of impending storm.



'THE GARDEN OF LOVE'

  A PAINTING BY RUBENS, IN THE PRADO

Here they are met.

Here, by the balustrade, these lords and lusty ladies are met to romp
and wanton in the fulness of love, under the solstice of a noon in
midsummer. Water gushes in fantastic arcs from the grotto, making a
cold music to the emblazoned air, while a breeze swells the sun-shot
satin of every lady's skirt, and tosses the ringlets that hang like
bunches of yellow grapes on either side of her brow, and stirs the
plumes of her gallant. But the very breeze is laden with heat, and the
fountain's noise does but whet the thirst of the grass, the flowers,
the trees. The earth sulks under the burden of the unmerciful sun. Love
itself, one had said, would be languid here, pale and supine, and,
faintly sighing for things past or for future things, would sink into
siesta. But behold! these are no ordinary lovers. The gushing fountains
are likelier to run dry there in the grotto than they to falter in
their redundant energy. These sanguine lords and ladies crave not an
instant's surcease. They are tyrants and termagants of love.

If they are thus at noon, here under the sun's rays, what, one wonders,
must be their manner in the banqueting hall, when the tapers gleam
adown the long tables, and the fruits are stripped of their rinds, and
the wine brims over the goblets, all to the music of the viols?
Somehow, one cannot imagine them anywhere but in this sunlight. To it
they belong. They are creatures of Nature, pagans untamed, lawless and
unabashed. For all they are robed in crimson and saffron, and are with
such fine pearls necklaced, these dames do exhale from their exuberant
bodies the essence of a quite primitive and simple era; but for the
ease of their deportment in their frippery, they might be Maenads in
masquerade. They have nothing of the coyness that civilisation fosters
in women, are as fearless and unsophisticated as men. A 'wooing' were
wasted on them, for they have no sense of antagonism, and seek not by
any means to elude men. They meet men even as rivers meet the sea. Even
as, when fresh water meets salt water in the estuary, the two tides
revolve in eddies and leap up in foam, so do these men and women laugh
and wrestle in the rapture of concurrence. How different from the first
embrace which marks the close of a wooing! that moment when the man
seeks to conceal his triumph under a semblance of humility, and the
woman her humiliation under a pretty air of patronage. Here, in the
Garden of Love, they have none of those spiritual reservations and
pretences. Nor is here any savour of fine romance. Nothing is here but
the joy of satisfying a physical instinct--a joy that expresses itself
not in any exaltation of words or thoughts, but in mere romping. See!
Some of the women are chasing one another through the grotto. They are
rushing headlong under the fountain. What though their finery be
soaked? Anon they will come out and throw themselves on the grass, and
the sun will quickly dry them.

Leave them, then, to their riot. Look upon these others who sit and
stand here in a voluptuous bevy, hand in hand under the brazen sun, or
flaunt to and fro, lolling in one another's arms and laughing in one
another's faces. And see how closely above them hover the winged loves!
One, upside down in the air, sprinkles them with rose-leaves; another
waves over them a blazing torch; another tries to frighten them with
his unarrowed bow. Another yet has dared to descend into the group; he
nestles his fat cheek on a lady's lap, and is not rebuked. These little
chubby Cythareans know they are privileged to play any pranks here.
Doubtless they love to be on duty in this garden, for here they are
patted and petted, and have no real work to do. At close of day, when
they fly back to their mother, there is never an unmated name in the
report they bring her; and she, belike, being pleased with them, allows
them to sit up late, and to have each a slice of ambrosia and a sip of
nectar. But elsewhere they have hard work, and often fly back in dread
of Venus' anger. At that other balustrade, where Watteau, remembering
this one, painted for us the 'Plaisirs du Bal,' how often they have
lain in ambush, knowing that were one of them to show but the tip of
his wings those sedate and migniard masqueraders would faint for very
shame; yet ever hoping that they might, by their unseen presence, turn
that punctilio of flirtation into love. And always they have flown back
from Dulwich unrequited for all the pains they had taken, and pouting
that Venus should ever send them on so hard an errand. But a day in
this garden is always for them a dear holiday. They live in dread lest
Venus discover how superfluous they are here. And so, knowing that the
hypocrite's first dupe must be himself, they are always pretending to
themselves that they are of some use. See that child yonder, perched on
the balustrade, reading aloud from a scroll the praise of love as
earnestly as though his congregation were of infidels. And that other,
to the side, pushing two lovers along as though they were the veriest
laggarts. The torch-bearer, too, and the archer, and the sprinkler of
the rose-leaves--they are all, after their kind, trying to persuade
themselves that they are needed. All but he who leans over and nestles
his fat cheek on a lady's lap, as fondly and confidingly as though she
were his mother... And truly, the lady is very like his mother. So,
indeed, are all the other ladies. Strange! In all their faces is an
uniformity of divine splendour. Can it be that Venus, impatient of mere
sequences of lovers, has obtained leave of Jove to multiply herself,
and that to-day by a wild coincidence her every incarnation has trysted
an adorer to this same garden? Look closely! It must be so...

Hush! Let us keep her secret.



'ARIANE ET DIONYSE'

A PAINTING BY PAUL BERGERON, 1740

PAUVRETTE! no wonder she is startled. All came on her so suddenly. A
moment since, she was alone on this island. Theseus had left her. Her
lover had crept from her couch as she lay sleeping, and had sailed away
with his comrades, noiselessly, before the sun rose and woke her.

From the top of yonder hillock she had seen the last sail of his argosy
fading over the sea-line. Vainly she had waved her arms, and vainly her
cries had echoed through all the island. She had run distraught through
the valleys, the goats scampering before her to their own rocks. She
had strayed, wildly weeping, along the shore, and the very sky had
seemed to mock her. At length, spent with sorrow and wan with her
tears, she had lain upon the sand. Above her the cliff sloped gently
down to the shore, and all around her was the hot noontide, and no
sound save the rustling of the sea over the sand. Theseus had left her.
The sea had taken him from her. Let the sea take her in its tide....
Suddenly--what was that?--she leapt up and listened. Voices, voices,
the loud clash of cymbals! She looked round for some place to hide in.
Too late! Some man (goat or man) came bounding towards her down the
cliff. Another came after him. Then others, a whole company, and with
them many naked, abominable women, laughing and shrieking and waving
leafy wands, as they rushed down towards her. And in their midst, in a
brazen chariot drawn by panthers, sped one whose yellow hair streamed
far behind him in the wind. And from his chariot he sprang and stood
before her.

But she shrinks from his smile. She shrinks from the riot and ribaldry
that encompass her. She is but a young bride whom the bridegroom has
betrayed, and she would fain be alone in the bitterness of her anguish
and her humiliation. Why have they come, these creatures who are
stamping and reeling round her, these flushed women who clap the
cymbals, and these wild men with the hoofs and the horns of goats? How
should they comfort her? She is not of their race; no! nor even of
their time. She stands among them, just as Bergeron saw her, a
delicate, timid figurine du dix-huitie'me sie'cle. With her powdered
hair and her hooped skirt and her stiff bodice of rose silk, she seems
more fit for the consolations of some old Monsignore than for the
homage of these frenzied Pagans and the amorous regard of their master.
At him, pressing her shut fan to her lips, she is gazing across her
shoulder. With one hand she seems to ward him from her. Her whole body
is bent to flight, but she is 'affear'd of her own feet.' She is well
enough educated to know that he who smiles at her is no mortal, but
Bacchus himself, the very lord of Naxos. He stands before her, the
divine debauchee racemiferis frontem circumdatus uvis; and all around
her, a waif on his territory, are the symbols of his majesty and his
power. It is in his honour that the ivy trails down the cliff, and are
not the yews and the firs and the fig-trees that overshadow the cliff's
edge all sacred to him? and the vines beyond, are they not all his? His
four panthers are clawing the sand, and four tipsy Satyrs hold them,
the impatient beasts, by their bridles. Another Satyr drags to
execution a goat that he has caught cropping the vine; and in his
slanted eyes one can see thirst for the blood of his poor cousin. The
Maenads are dancing in one another's arms, and their tresses are coiled
and crowned with tiny serpents. One of them kneels apart, sucking a
great wine-skin. And yonder, that old cupster, Silenus, that horrible
old favourite, wobbles along on a donkey, and would tumble off, you may
be sure, were he not upheld by two fairly sober Satyrs. But the eyes of
Ariadne are fixed only on the smooth-faced god. See how he smiles back
at her with that lascivious condescension which is all that a god's
love can be for a mortal girl! In his hand he holds a long thyrsus.
Behind him is borne aloft a chaplet of seven gold stars.

Ariadne is but a little waif in the god's power. Not Theseus himself
could protect her. One tap of the god's wand, and, lo! she, too, would
be filled with the frenzy of worship, and, with a wild cry, would join
the dancers, his for ever. But the god is not unscrupulous. He would
fain win her by gentle and fair means, even by wedlock. That chaplet of
seven stars is his bridal offering. Why should not she accept it? Why
should she be coy of his desire? It is true that he drinks. But in
time, may be, a wife might be able to wean him from the wine-skin, and
from the low company he affects. That will be for time to show. And,
meanwhile, how brilliant a match! Not even Pasiphae, her mother, ever
contemplated for her such splendour. In her great love, Ariadne risked
her whole future by eloping with Theseus. For her--the daughter of a
far mightier king than Aegeus, and, on the distaff side, the
granddaughter of Apollo--even marriage with Theseus would have been a
me'salliance. And now, here is a chance, a chance most marvellous, of
covering her silly escapade. She will be sensible, I think, though she
is still a little frightened. She will accept this god's suit, if only
to pique Theseus--Theseus, who, for all his long, tedious anecdotes of
how he slew Procrustes and the bull of Marathon and the sow of Cromyon,
would even now lie slain or starving in her father's labyrinth, had she
not taken pity on him. Yes, it was pity she felt for him. She never
loved him. And then, to think that he, a mere mortal, dared to cast her
off--oh, it is too absurd, it is too monstrous!



'PETER THE DOMINICAN'

A PAINTING BY GIOVANNI BELLINI, IN THE NATIONAL GALLERY

'Credo in Dominum' were the words this monk wrote in the dust of the
high-road, as he lay a-dying there of Cavina's dagger; and they,
according to the Dominican record, were presently washed away by his
own blood--'rapida profusio sui sanguinis delevit professionem suoe
fidei.' Yet they had not been written in vain. On Cavina himself their
impression was less delible, for did he not submit himself to the
Church, and was he not, after absolution, received into that monastery
which his own victim had founded? Here, before this picture by Bellini,
one looks instinctively for the three words in the dust. They are not
yet written there; for scarcely, indeed, has the dagger been planted in
the Saint's breast. But here, to the right, on this little scroll of
parchment that hangs from a fence of osiers, there are some words
written, and one stoops to decipher them... JOANNES BELLINUS FECIT.

Now, had the Saint and his brother Dominican not been waylaid on their
journey, they would have passed by this very fence, and would have
stooped, as we do, to decipher the scroll, and would have very much
wondered who was Bellinus, and what it was that he had done. The
woodmen and the shepherd in the olive-grove by the roadside, the
cowherds by the well, yonder--they have seen the scroll, I dare say,
but they are not scholars enough to have read its letters. Cavina and
his comrade in arms, lying in wait here, probably did not observe it,
so intent were they for that pious and terrible Inquisitor who was to
pass by. How their hearts must have leapt when they saw him, at length,
with his companion, coming across that little arched bridge from the
town--a conspicuous, unmistakable figure, clad in the pied frock of his
brotherhood and wearing the familiar halo above his closely-shorn pate.

Cavina stands now over the fallen Saint, planting the short dagger in
his heart. The other Dominican is being chased by Cavina's comrade, his
face wreathed in a bland smile, his hands stretched childishly before
him. Evidently he is quite unconscious how grave his situation is. He
seems to think that this pursuit is merely a game, and that if he touch
the wood of the olive-trees first, he will have won, and that then it
will be his turn to run after this man in the helmet. Or does he know
perhaps that this is but a painting, and that his pursuer will never be
able to strike him, though the chase be kept up for many centuries? In
any case, his smile is not at all seemly or dramatic. And even more
extraordinary is the behaviour of the woodmen and the shepherd and the
cowherds. Murder is being done within a yard or two of them, and they
pay absolutely no attention. How Tacitus would have delighted in this
example of the 'inertia rusticorum'! It is a great mistake to imagine
that dwellers in quiet districts are more easily excited by any event
than are dwellers in packed cities. On the contrary, the very absence
of 'sensations' produces an atrophy of the senses. It is the constant
supply of 'sensations' which creates a real demand for them in cities.
Suppose that in our day some specially unpopular clergyman were
martyred 'at the corner of Fenchurch Street,' how the 'same old crush'
would be intensified! But here, in this quiet glade 'twixt Milan and
Como, on this quiet, sun-steeped afternoon in early Spring, with a
horrible outrage being committed under their very eyes, these callous
clowns pursue their absurd avocations, without so much as resting for
one moment to see what is going on.

Cavina plants the dagger methodically, and the Inquisitor himself is
evidently filled with that intense self-consciousness which sustains
all martyrs in their supreme hour and makes them, it may be, insensible
to actual pain. One feels that this martyr will write his motto in the
dust with a firm hand. His whole comportment is quite exemplary. What
irony that he should be unobserved! Even we, posterity, think far less
of St. Peter than of Bellini when we see this picture; St. Peter is no
more to us than the blue harmony of those little hills beyond, or than
that little sparrow perched on a twig in the foreground. After all,
there have been so many martyrs--and so many martyrs named Peter--but
so few great painters. The little screed on the fence is no mere vain
anachronism. It is a sly, rather malicious symbol. PERIIT PETRUS:
BILLINUS FECIT, as who should say.



'L'OISEAU BLEU'

A PAINTING ON SILK BY CHARLES CONDER

Over them, ever over them, floats the Blue Bird; and they, the
ennuye'es and the ennuyants, the ennuyantes and the ennuye's, these
Parisians of 1830, are lolling in a charmed, charming circle, whilst
two of their order, the young Duc de Belhabit et Profil-Perdu with the
girl to whom he has but recently been married, move hither or thither
vaguely, their faces upturned, making vain efforts to lure down the
elusive creature. The haze of very early morning pervades the garden
which is the scene of their faint aspiration. One cannot see very
clearly there. The ladies' furbelows are blurred against the foliage,
and the lilac-bushes loom through the air as though they were white
clouds full of rain. One cannot see the ladies' faces very clearly. One
guesses them, though, to be supercilious and smiling, all with the
curved lips and the raised eyebrows of Experience. For, in their time,
all these ladies, and all their lovers with them, have tried to catch
this same Blue Bird, and have been full of hope that it would come
fluttering down to them at last. Now they are tired of trying, knowing
that to try were foolish and of no avail. Yet it is pleasant for them
to see, as here, others intent on the old pastime. Perhaps--who
knows?--some day the bird will be trapped... Ah, look! Monsieur Le Duc
almost touched its wing! Well for him, after all, that he did not more
than that! Had he caught it and caged it, and hung the gilt cage in the
boudoir of Madame la Duchesse, doubtless the bird would have turned out
to be but a moping, drooping, moulting creature, with not a song to its
little throat; doubtless the blue colour is but dye, and would soon
have faded from wings and breast. And see! Madame la Duchesse looks a
shade fatigued. She must not exert herself too much. Also, the magic
hour is all but over. Soon there will be sunbeams to dispel the dawn's
vapour; and the Blue Bird, with the sun sparkling on its wings, will
have soared away out of sight. Allons! The little rogue is still at
large.



'MACBETH AND THE WITCHES'

A PAINTING BY COROT, IN THE HERTFORD HOUSE COLLECTION

Look! Across the plain yonder, those three figures, dark and gaunt
against the sky.... Who are they? What are they? One of them is
pointing with rigid arm towards the gnarled trees that from the
hillside stretch out their storm-broken boughs and ragged leaves
against the sky. Shifting thither, my eye discerns through the shadows
two horsemen, riding slowly down the incline. Hush! I hold up a warning
finger to my companion, lest he move. On what strange and secret tryst
have we stumbled? They must not know they are observed. Could we creep
closer up to them? Nay, the plain is so silent: they would hear us; and
so barren: they would surely see us. Here, under cover of this rock, we
can crouch and watch them.... We discern now more clearly those three
expectants. One of them has a cloak of faded blue; it is fluttering in
the wind. Women or men are they? Scarcely human they seem: inauspicious
beings from some world of shadows, magically arisen through that
platform of broken rock whereon they stand. The air around, even the
fair sky above, is fraught by them with I know not what of subtle bale.
One would say they had been waiting here for many days, motionless,
eager but not impatient, knowing that at this hour the two horsemen
would come. And we--it is strange--have we not ere now beheld them
waiting? In some waking dream, surely, we have seen them, and now dimly
recognise them. And the two horsemen, forcing their steeds down the
slope--them, too, we have seen, even so. The light through a break in
the trees faintly reveals them to us. They are accoutred in black
armour. They seem not to be yet aware of the weird figures confronting
them across the plain. But the horses, with some sharper instinct, are
aware and afraid, straining, quivering. One of them throws back its
head, but dares not whinny. As though under some evil spell, all nature
seems to be holding its breath. Stealthily, noiselessly, I turn the
leaves of my catalogue... 'Macbeth and the Witches.' Why, of course!

Of the two horsemen, which is Macbeth, which Banquo? Though we peer
intently, we cannot in those distant shadows distinguish which is he
that shall be king hereafter, which is he that shall merely beget
kings. It is mainly in virtue of this very vagueness and mystery of
manner that the picture is so impressive. An illustration should stir
our fancy, leaving it scope and freedom. Most illustrations, being
definite, do but affront us. Usually, Shakespeare is illustrated by
some Englishman overawed by the poet's repute, and incapable of
treating him, as did Corot, vaguely and offhand. Shakespeare expressed
himself through human and superhuman characters; therefore in England
none but a painter of figures would dare illustrate him. Had Corot been
an Englishman, this landscape would have had nothing to do with
Shakespeare. Luckily, as an alien, he was untrammelled by piety to the
poet. He could turn Shakespeare to his own account. In this picture,
obviously, he was creating, and only in a secondary sense illustrating.
For him the landscape was the thing. Indeed, the five little figures
may have been inserted by him as an afterthought, to point and balance
the composition. Vaguely he remembered hearing of Macbeth, or reading
it in some translation. Ce Sac-espe're...un beau talent...ne'
romantique. Hugo he would not have attempted to illustrate. But
Sac-espe're--why not? And so the little figures came upon the canvas,
dim sketches. Charles Lamb disliked theatrical productions of
Shakespeare's plays, because of the constraint thus laid on his
imagination. But in the theatre, at least, we are diverted by movement,
recompensed by the sound of the poet's words and (may be) by human
intelligence interpreting his thoughts; whereas from a definite
painting of Shakespearean figures we get nothing but an equivalent for
the mimes' appearance: nothing but the painter's bare notion (probably
quite incongruous with our notion) of what these figures ought to look
like. Take Macbeth as an instance. From a definite painting of him what
do we get? At worst, the impression of a kilted man with a red beard
and red knees, brandishing a claymore. At best, a sombre barbarian
doing nothing in particular. In either case, all the atmosphere, all
the character, all the poetry, all that makes Macbeth live for us, is
lost utterly. If these definite illustrations of Shakespeare's human
figures affront us, how much worse is it when an artist tries his hand
at the figures that are superhuman! Imagine an English illustrator's
projection of the weird sisters--with long grey beards duly growing on
their chins, and belike one of them duly holding in her hand a pilot's
thumb. It is because Corot had no reverence for Shakespeare's
text--because he was able to create in his own way, with scarcely a
thought of Shakespeare, an independent masterpiece--that this picture
is worthy of its theme. The largeness of the landscape in proportion to
the figures seems to show us the tragedy in its essential relation to
the universe. We see the heath lying under infinity, under true sky and
winds. No hint of the theatre is there. All is as the poet may have
conceived it in his soul. And for us Corot's brush-work fills the place
of Shakespeare's music. Time has tessellated the surface of the canvas;
but beauty, intangible and immortal, dwells in its depths
safely--dwells there even as it dwells in the works of Shakespeare,
though the folios be foxed and seared.

The longer we gaze, the more surely does the picture illude us and
enthral us, steeping us in that tragedy of 'the fruitless crown and
barren sceptre.' We forget all else, watching the unkind witches as
they await him whom they shall undo, driving him to deeds he dreams not
of, and beguiling him, at length, to his doom. Against 'the set of sun'
they stand forth, while he who shall be king hereafter, with the
comrade whom he shall murder, rides down to them, guileless of aught
that shall be. Privy to his fate, we experience a strange compassion.
Anon the fateful colloquy will begin. 'All hail, Macbeth' the unearthly
voices will be crying across the heath. Can nothing be done? Can we
stand quietly here while... Nay, hush! We are powerless. These witches,
if we tried to thwart them, would swiftly blast us. There are things
with which no mortal must meddle. There are things which no mortal must
behold. Come away!

So, casting one last backward look across the heath, we, under cover of
the rock, steal fearfully away across the parquet floor of the gallery.



'CARLOTTA GRISI'

A COLOURED PRINT

It is not among the cardboard glades of the King's Theatre, nor,
indeed, behind any footlights, but in a real and twilit garden that
Grisi, gimp-waisted sylphid, here skips for posterity. To her right,
the roses on the trellis are not paper roses--one guesses them quite
fragrant. And that is a real lake in the distance; and those delicate
pale trees around it, they too are quite real. Yes! surely this is the
garden of Grisi's villa at Uxbridge; and her guests, quoting Lord
Byron's 'al fresco, nothing more delicious,' have tempted her to a
daring by-show of her genius. To her left there is a stone cross, which
has been draped by one of the guests with a scarf bearing the legend
GISELLE. It is Sunday evening, I fancy, after dinner. Cannot one see
the guests, a group entranced by its privilege--the ladies with
bandeaux and with little shawls to ward the dew from their shoulders;
the gentlemen, D'Orsayesque all, forgetting to puff the cigars which
the ladies, 'this once,' have suffered them to light? One sees them
there; but they are only transparent phantoms between us and Grisi, not
interrupting our vision. As she dances--the peerless Grisi!--one
fancies that she is looking through them at us, looking across the ages
to us who stand looking back at her. Her smile is but the formal
Cupid's-bow of the ballerina; but I think there is a clairvoyance of
posterity in the large eyes, and, in the pose, a self-consciousness
subtler than merely that of one who, dancing, leads all men by the
heart-strings. A something is there which is almost shyness. Clearly,
she knows it to be thus that she will be remembered; feels this to be
the moment of her immortality. Her form is all but in profile, swaying
far forward, but her face is full-turned to us. Her arms float upon the
air. Below the stark ruff of muslin about her waist, her legs are as a
tilted pair of compasses; one point in the air, the other impinging the
ground. One tiptoe poised ever so lightly upon the earth, as though the
muslin wings at her shoulders were not quite strong enough to bear her
up into the sky! So she remains, hovering betwixt two elements; a
creature exquisitely ambiguous, being neither aerial nor of the earth.
She knows that she is mortal, yet is conscious of apotheosis. She knows
that she, though herself must perish, is imperishable; for she sees us,
her posterity, gazing fondly back at her. She is touched. And we, a
little envious of those who did once see Grisi plain, always shall find
solace in this pretty picture of her; holding it to be, for all the
artificiality of its convention, as much more real as it is prettier
than the stringent ballet-girls of Degas.



'HO-TEI'

A COLOURED DRAWING BY HOKUSAI

What monster have we here? Who is he that sprawls thus, ventrirotund,
against the huge oozing wine-skin? Wide his nose, narrowly-slit his
eyes, and with little teeth he smiles at us through a beard of bright
russet--a beard soft as the russet coat of a squirrel, and sprouting in
several tiers according to the several chins that ascend behind it from
his chest. Nude he is but for a few dark twists of drapery. One dimpled
foot is tucked under him, the other cocked before him. With a
bifurcated fist (such is his hand) he pillows the bald dome of his
head. He seems to be very happy, sprawling here in the twilight. The
wine oozes from the wine-skin; but he, replete, takes no heed of it. On
the ground before him are a few almond-blossoms, blown there by the
wind. He is snuffing their fragrance, I think.

Who is he? 'Ho-Tei,' you tell me; 'god of increase, god of the
corn-fields and rice-fields, patron of all little children in Japan--a
blend of Dionysus and Santa Claus.' So? Then his look belies him. He is
far too fat to care for humanity, too gross to be divine. I suspect he
is but some self-centred sage, whom Hokusai beheld with his own eyes in
a devious corner of Yedo. A hermit he is, surely; one not more affable
than Diogenes, yet wiser than he, being at peace with himself and
finding (as it were) the honest man without emerging from his own tub;
a complacent Diogenes; a Diogenes who has put on flesh. Looking at him,
one is reminded of that over-swollen monster gourd which to young Nevil
Beauchamp and his Marquise, as they saw it from their river-boat,
'hanging heavily down the bank on one greenish yellow cheek, in
prolonged contemplation of its image in the mirror below,' so
sinisterly recalled Monsieur le Marquis. But to us this 'self-adored,
gross bald Cupid' has no such symbolism, and we revel as
whole-heartedly as he in his monstrous contours. 'I am very beautiful,'
he seems to murmur. And we endorse the boast. At the same time, we
transfer to Hokusai the credit which this glutton takes all to himself.
It is Hokusai who made him, delineating his paunch in that one soft
summary curve, and echoing it in the curve of the wine-skin that swells
around him. Himself, as a living man, were too loathsome for words; but
here, thanks to Hokusai, he is not less admirable than Pheidias'
Hermes, or the Discobolus himself. Yes! Swathed in his abominable
surplusage of bulk, he is as fair as any statue of astricted god or
athlete that would suffer not by incarnation...

Presently, we forget again that he is unreal. He seems alive to us, and
somehow he is still beautiful. 'It is a beauty,' like that of Mona
Lisa, 'wrought out from within upon the flesh, the' adipose 'deposit,
little cell by cell, of strange thoughts and fantastic reveries and
exquisite passions.' It is the beauty of real fatness--that fatness
which comes from within, and reacts on the soul that made it, until
soul and body are one deep harmony of fat; that fatness which gave us
the geniality of Silenus, of the late Major O'Gorman; which soothes all
nerves in its owner, and creates the earthy, truistic wisdom of Sancho
Pauza, of Francisque Sarcey; which makes a man selfish, because there
is so much of him, and venerable because he seems to be a knoll of the
very globe we live on, and lazy inasmuch as the form of government
under which he lives is an absolute gastrocracy--the belly tyrannising
over the members whom it used to serve, and wielding its power as
unscrupulously as none but a promoted slave could.

Such is the true fatness. It is not to be confounded with mere
stoutness. Contrast with this Japanese sage that orgulous hidalgo who,
in black velvet, defies modern Prussia from one of Velasquez's canvases
in Berlin. Huge is that other, and gross; and, so puffed his cheeks are
that the light, cast up from below, strives vainly to creep over them
to his eyes, like a tourist vainly striving to creep over a boulder on
a mountainside. Yet is he not of the hierarchy of true fatness. He
bears his bulk proudly, and would sit well any charger that were strong
enough to bear him, and, if such a steed were not in stables, would
walk the distance swingingly. He is a man of action, a fighter, an
insolent dominator of men and women. In fact, he is merely a stout
man--uniform with Porthos, and Arthur Orton, and Sir John Falstaff;
spiced, like them, with charlatanism and braggadocio, and not the less
a fine fellow for that. Indeed, such bulk as his and theirs is in the
same kind as that bulk which, lesser in degree, is indispensable to
greatness in practical affairs. No man, as Prince Bismarck declared, is
to be trusted in state-craft until he can show a stomach. A lack of
stomach betokens lack of mental solidity, of humanity, of capacity for
going through with things; and these three qualities are essential to
statesmanship. Poets and philosophers can afford to be thin--cannot,
indeed, afford to be otherwise; inasmuch as poetry and philosophy
thrive but in the clouds aloft, and a stomach ballasts you to earth.
Such ballast the statesman must have. Thin statesmen may destroy, but
construct they cannot; have achieved chaos, but cosmos never.

But why prate history, why evoke phantoms of the past, when we can gaze
on this exquisitely concrete thing--this glad and simple creature of
Hokusai? Let us emulate his calm, enjoy his enjoyment as he sprawls
before us--pinguis, iners, placidus--in the pale twilight. Let us not
seek to identify him as god or mortal, nor guess his character from his
form. Rather, let us take him as he is; for all time the perfect type
of fatness.

Lovely and excessive monster! Monster immensurable! What belt could
inclip you? What blade were long enough to prick the heart of you?



'THE VISIT'

A PAINTING BY GEORGE MORLAND, IN THE HERTFORD HOUSE COLLECTION

Never, I suppose, was a painter less maladif in his work than Morland,
that lover of simple and sun-bright English scenes. Probably, this
picture of his is all cheerful in intention. Yet the effect of it is
saddening.

Superficially, the scene is cheerful enough. Our first impression is of
a happy English home, of childish high-spirits and pretty manners. We
note how genial a lady is the visitor, and how eager the children are
to please. One of them trips respectfully forward--a wave of yellow
curls fresh and crisp from the brush, a rustle of white muslin fresh
and crisp from the wash. She is supported on one side by her grown-up
sister, on the other by her little brother, who displays the nectarine
already given to him by the kind lady. Splendid in far-reaching
furbelows, that kind lady holds out both her hands, beaming
encouragement. On her ample lap is a little open basket with other ripe
nectarines in it--one for every child.

Modest, demure, the girl trips forward as though she were dancing a
quadrille. In the garden, just beyond the threshold, stand two smaller
sisters, shyly awaiting their turn. They, too, are in their
Sunday-best, and on the tiptoe of excitement--infant coryphe'es, in
whom, as they stand at the wings, stage-fright is overborne by the
desire to be seen and approved. I fancy they are rehearsing under their
breath the 'Yes, ma' am,' and the 'No, ma'am,' and the 'I thank you,
ma'am, very much,' which their grown-up sister has been drilling into
them during the hurried toilet they have just been put through in
honour of this sudden call.

How anxious their mother is during the ceremony of introduction! How
keenly, as she sits there, she keeps her eyes fixed on the visitor's
face! Maternal anxiety, in that gaze, seems to be intensified by social
humility. For this is no ordinary visitor. It is some great lady of the
county, very rich, of high fashion, come from a great mansion in a
great park, bringing fruit from one of her own many hot-houses. That
she has come at all is an act of no slight condescension, and the
mother feels it. Even so did homely Mrs. Fairchild look up to Lady
Noble. Indeed, I suspect that this visitor is Lady Noble herself, and
that the Fairchilds themselves are neighbours of this family. These
children have been coached to say 'Yes, my lady,' and 'No, my lady,'
and 'I thank you, my lady, very much'; and their mother has already
been hoping that Mrs. Fairchild will haply pass through the lane and
see the emblazoned yellow chariot at the wicket. But just now she is
all maternal--'These be my jewels.' See with what pride she fingers the
sampler embroidered by one of her girls, knowing well that 'spoilt'
Miss Augusta Noble could not do such embroidery to save her life--that
life which, through her Promethean naughtiness in playing with fire,
she was so soon to lose.

Other exemplary samplers hang on the wall yonder. On the mantelshelf
stands a slate, with an ink-pot and a row of tattered books, and other
tokens of industry. The schoolroom, beyond a doubt. Lady Noble has
expressed a wish to see the children here, in their own haunt, and her
hostess has led the way hither, somewhat flustered, gasping many
apologies for the plainness of the apartment. A plain apartment it is:
dark, bare-boarded, dingy-walled. And not merely a material gloom
pervades it. There is a spiritual gloom, also--the subtly oppressive
atmosphere of a room where life has not been lived happily.

Though these children are cheerful now, it is borne in on us by the
atmosphere (as preserved for us by Morland's master-hand) that their
life is a life of appalling dismalness. Even if we had nothing else to
go on, this evidence of our senses were enough. But we have other
things to go on. We know well the way in which children of this period
were brought up. We remember the life of 'The Fairchild Family,' those
putative neighbours of this family--in any case, its obvious
contemporaries; and we know that the life of those hapless little prigs
was typical of child-life in the dawn of the nineteenth century. Depend
on it, this family (whatever its name may be: the Thompsons, I
conjecture) is no exception to the dismal rule. In this schoolroom,
every day is a day of oppression, of forced endeavour to reach an
impossible standard of piety and good conduct--a day of tears and
texts, of texts quoted and tears shed, incessantly, from morning unto
evening prayers. After morning prayers (read by Papa), breakfast. The
bread-and-butter of which, for the children, this meal consists, must
be eaten (slowly) in a silence by them unbroken except with prompt
answers to such scriptural questions as their parents (who have
ham-and-eggs) may, now and again, address to them. After breakfast, the
Catechism (heard by Mamma). After the Catechism, a hymn to be learnt.
After the repetition of this hymn, arithmetic, caligraphy, the use of
the globes. At noon, a decorous walk with Papa, who for their benefit
discourses on the General Depravity of Mankind in all Countries after
the Fall, occasionally pausing by the way to point for them some moral
of Nature. After a silent dinner, the little girls sew, under the
supervision of Mamma, or of the grown-up sister, or of both these
authorities, till the hour in which (if they have sewn well) they reap
permission to play (quietly) with their doll. A silent supper, after
which they work samplers. Another hymn to be learnt and repeated.
Evening prayers. Bedtime: 'Good-night, dear Papa; good-night, dear
Mamma.'

Such, depend on it, is the Thompsons' curriculum. What a painful
sequence of pictures a genre-painter might have made of it! Let us be
thankful that we see the Thompsons only in this brief interlude of
their life, tearless and unpinafored, in this hour of strange
excitement, glorying in that Sunday-best which on Sundays is to them
but a symbol of intenser gloom.

But their very joy is in itself tragic. It reveals to us, in a flash,
the tragedy of their whole existence. That so much joy should result
from mere suspension of the usual re'gime, the sight of Lady Noble, the
anticipation of a nectarine! For us there is no comfort in the
knowledge that their present degree of joy is proportionate to their
usual degree of gloom, that for them the Law of Compensation drops into
the scale of these few moments an exact counter-weight of joy to the
misery accumulated in the scale of all their other moments. We, who do
not live their life, who regard Lady Noble as a mere Hecuba, and who
would accept one of her nectarines only in sheer politeness, cannot
rejoice with them that do rejoice thus, can but pity them for all that
has led up to their joy. We may reflect that the harsh system on which
they are reared will enable them to enjoy life with infinite gusto when
they are grown up, and that it is, therefore, a better system than the
indulgent modern one. We may reflect, further, that it produces a finer
type of man or woman, less selfish, better-mannered, more capable and
useful. The pretty grown-up daughter here, leading her little sister by
the hand, so gracious and modest in her mien, so sunny and
affectionate, so obviously wholesome and high-principled--is she not a
walking testimonial to the system? Yet to us the system is not the less
repulsive in itself. Its results may be what you please, but its
practice were impossible. We are too tender, too sentimental. We have
not the nerve to do our duty to children, nor can we bear to think of
any one else doing it. To children we can do nothing but 'spoil' them,
nothing but bless their hearts and coddle their souls, taking no
thought for their future welfare. And we are justified, maybe, in our
flight to this opposite extreme. Nobody can read one line ahead in the
book of fate. No child is guaranteed to become an adult. Any child may
die to-morrow. How much greater for us the sting of its death if its
life shall not have been made as pleasant as possible! What if its
short life shall have been made as unpleasant as possible? Conceive the
remorse of Mrs. Thompson here if one of her children were to die
untimely--if one of them were stricken down now, before her eyes, by
this surfeit of too sudden joy!

However, we do not fancy that Mrs. Thompson is going to be thus
afflicted. We believe that there is a saving antidote in the cup of her
children's joy. There is something, we feel, that even now prevents
them from utter ecstasy. Some shadow, even now, hovers over them. What
is it? It is not the mere atmosphere of the room, so oppressive to us.
It is something more definite than that, and even more sinister. It
looms aloft, monstrously, like one of those grotesque actual shadows
which a candle may cast athwart walls and ceiling. Whose shadow is it?
we wonder, and, wondering, become sure that it is Mr.
Thompson's--Papa's.

The papa of Georgian children! We know him well, that awfully massive
and mysterious personage, who seemed ever to his offspring so remote
when they were in his presence, so frighteningly near when they were
out of it. In Mrs. Turner's Cautionary Stories in Verse he occurs again
and again. Mr. Fairchild was a perfect type of him. Mr. Bennet, when
the Misses Lizzie, Jane and Lydia were in pinafores, must have been
another perfect type: we can reconstruct him as he was then from the
many fragments of his awfulness which still clung to him when the girls
had grown up. John Ruskin's father, too, if we read between the lines
of Praeterita, seems to have had much of the authentic monster about
him. He, however, is disqualified as a type by the fact that he was 'an
entirely honest merchant.' For one of the most salient peculiarities in
the true Georgian Papa was his having apparently no occupation
whatever--his being simply and solely a Papa. Even in social life he
bore no part: we never hear of him calling on a neighbour or being
called on. Even in his own household he was seldom visible. Except at
their meals, and when he took them for their walk, and when they were
sent to him to be reprimanded, his children never beheld him in the
flesh. Mamma, poor lady, careful of many other things, superintended
her children unremittingly, to keep them in the thorny way they should
go. Hers the burden and heat of every day, hers to double the roles of
Martha and Cornelia, that her husband might be left ever calmly aloof
in that darkened room, the Study. There, in a high armchair, with one
stout calf crossed over the other, immobile throughout the long hours
sate he, propping a marble brow on a dexter finger of the same
material. On the table beside him was a vase of flowers, daily
replenished by the children, and a closed volume. It is remarkable that
in none of the many woodcuts in which he has been handed down to us do
we see him reading; he is always meditating on something he has just
read. Occasionally, he is fingering a portfolio of engravings, or
leaning aside to examine severely a globe of the world. That is the
nearest he ever gets to physical activity. In him we see the static
embodiment of perfect wisdom and perfect righteousness. We take him at
his own valuation, humbly. Yet we have a queer instinct that there was
a time when he did not diffuse all this cold radiance of good example.
Something tells us that he has been a sinner in his day--a rattler of
the ivories at Almack's, and an ogler of wenches in the gardens of
Vauxhall, a sanguine backer of the Negro against the Suffolk Bantam,
and a devil of a fellow at boxing the watch and wrenching the knockers
when Bow Bells were chiming the small hours. Nor do we feel that he is
a penitent. He is too Olympian for that. He has merely put these things
behind him--has calmly, as a matter of business, transferred his
account from the worldly bank to the heavenly. He has seen fit to
become 'Papa.' As such, strong in the consciousness of his own
perfection, he has acquired, gradually, quasi-divine powers over his
children. Himself invisible, we know that he can always see them.
Himself remote, we know that he is always with them, and that always
they feel his presence. He prevents them in all their ways. The Mormon
Eye is not more direly inevitable than he. Whenever they offend in word
or deed, he knows telepathically, and fixes their punishment, long
before they are arraigned at his judgment-seat.

At this moment, as at all others, Mr. Thompson has his inevitable eye
on his children, and they know that it is on them. He is well enough
pleased with them at this moment. But alas! we feel that ere the sun
sets they will have incurred his wrath. Presently Lady Noble will have
finished her genial inspection, and have sailed back, under convoy of
the mother and the grown-up daughter, to the parlour, there to partake
of that special dish of tea which is even now being brewed for her.
When the children are left alone, their pent excitement will overflow
and wash them into disgrace. Belike, they will quarrel over the
nectarines. There will be bitter words, and a pinch, and a scratch, and
a blow, screams, a scrimmage. The rout will be heard afar in the
parlour. The grown-up sister will hasten back and be beheld suddenly, a
quelling figure, on the threshold: 'For shame, Clara! Mary, I wonder at
you! Henry, how dare you, sir? Silence, Ethel! Papa shall hear of
this.' Flushed and rumpled, the guilty four will hang their heads,
cowed by authority and by it perversely reconciled one with another.
Authority will bid them go upstairs 'this instant,' there to shed their
finery and resume the drab garb of every day. From the bedroom-windows
they will see Lady Noble step into her yellow chariot and drive away.
Envy--an inarticulate, impotent envy--will possess their hearts: why
cannot they be rich, and grown-up, and bowed to by every one? When the
chariot is out of sight, envy will be superseded by the play-instinct.
Silently, in their hearts, the children will play at being Lady
Noble.... Mamma's voice will be heard on the stairs, rasping them back
to the realities. Sullenly they will go down to the schoolroom, and
resume their tasks. But they will not be able to concentrate their
unsettled minds. The girls will make false stitches in the pillow-slips
which they had been hemming so neatly when the yellow chariot drove up
to the front-door; and Master Harry will be merely dazed by that page
of the Delectus which he had almost got by heart. Their discontent will
be inspissated by the knowledge that they are now worse-off than
ever--are in dire disgrace, and that even now the grown-up sister is
'telling Papa' (who knows already, and has but awaited the formal
complaint). Presently the grown-up sister will come into the
schoolroom, looking very grave: 'Children, Papa has something to say to
you.' In the Study, to which, quaking, they will proceed, an endless
sermon awaits them. The sin of Covetousness will be expatiated on, and
the sins of Discord and Hatred, and the eternal torment in store for
every child who is guilty of them. All four culprits will be in tears
soon after the exordium. Before the peroration (a graphic description
of the Lake of Fire) they will have become hysterical. They will be
sent supperless to bed. On the morrow they will have to learn and
repeat the chapter about Cain and Abel. A week, at least, will have
elapsed before they are out of disgrace. Such are the inevitable
consequences of joy in a joyless life. It were well for these children
had 'The Visit' never been paid.

Morland, I suppose, discerned naught of all this tragedy in his
picture. To him, probably, the thing was an untainted idyll, was but
one of those placid homely scenes which he loved as dearly as could
none but the brawler and vagabond that he was. And yet... and yet...
perhaps he did intend something of what we discern here. He may have
been thinking, bitterly, of his own childhood, and of the home he ran
away from.



'YET AGAIN'

SOME CRITICISMS OF THE FIRST EDITION

Mr. Edmund Gosse, in THE WORLD: 'We may find it hard to realise that
Max may become a classic, but I see no other essayist who seems to have
more chance of it.... There is no question of "reserved places" on
Parnassus, but it is my individual conviction that where La Bruye're
and Addison and Stevenson are, there Max will be.... It is perhaps his
final charm as an essayist that, underneath a ceremonious style, an
exquisite demeanour and advance, a low voice, a graceful hearing, a
polished cadence, there exists a powerful, sometimes what almost seems
a furious independence of character.'

THE TIMES: 'So few men can trifle without being silly or be intimate
without being tiresome, so few have either the mental power or the
unity of vision necessary for a decent transition from mood to mood,
that essayists fit to be ranked with Steele, Addison, Stevenson, are
still few. Mr. Max Beerbohm has proved his title.... There, where every
idea is the author's, and every phrase is scrupulously adapted to the
best expression by the author of his own idea, we get the true
originality in art. Through all the play of fancy, the wit and humour,
the swift transitions, the caprice and jesting, that ultimate sincerity
shines; and it is that which lights Mr. Beerbohm's fine taste and
knowledge of his craft to beauty.'

THE DAILY TELEGRAPH: 'As an artist whose medium is the essay, Mr. Max
Beerbohm should stand for this generation as Lamb stands for the first
generation of the nineteenth century.'

THE DAILY NEWS: 'He has wit, and charm, and good humour--and these are
the qualities which characterise this completely delightful volume of
essays.'

THE MORNING LEADER: 'Max sees himself in a hundred different ways. In
any capacity he is unique. He remains our best essayist.'

THE OBSERVER: 'Charles Lamb a' la Max is never obtrusive. It is only
the ghost of him that stalks in and about. We soon fall away from the
reminiscence; and the caricaturist becomes a personality.'

Mr. Sidney Dark in THE DAILY EXPRESS: 'Max is always delightful in his
dainty, leisurely tolerance of everybody and everything. No other
living writer could have produced "Yet Again." It is individual--and
thoroughly good to read.'

THE EVENING STANDARD: 'Mr. Beerbohm is always in holiday mood; and this
we gradually catch from him. We begin by enjoying him; we end by
enjoying life and ourselves.'

THE NATION: 'Blessed are they who possess the gift of extracting
sunbeams from cucumbers.... The simplicity of Mr. Beerbohm's themes
serves but to enhance the elegance of his mind.'

Mr. G. S. Street in THE ENGLISHWOMAN: 'I trust sincerely I shall not
damage his reputation if I say that the play of his fancy is never
inconsistent with two strong qualities of his mind and temperament, a
sound judgment and a kindly heart.'

Mr. W. H. Chesson in THE DAILY CHRONICLE: 'He is undoubtedly one of our
benefactors. He excels in the humour which creates humour.'

THE GLOBE: 'In their different ways, all these essays will delight the
appreciative reader, and we can only bid him or her buy, beg, borrow,
or steal Max's latest volume immediately.'

Mr. James Douglas in LONDON OPINION: 'The style of these essays is not
eccentric, and yet it is dyed with the hues of a personality as rich
and rare as Elia's own, There is no contemporary prose which is so
uncorrupted by current influences, and which is so sure to defy the
corrosion of time. In a hundred years it will not be a dated or
derelict thing. Its colour and its cadence will delight the connoisseur
then as the colour and cadence of Lamb's prose delights him now.'

THE MORNING POST: 'He is naturally gifted with something that is called
talent in life and genius after death.'





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