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Title: And Even Now
Author: Beerbohm, Max, Sir, 1872-1956
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "And Even Now" ***

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AND EVEN NOW


By Max Beerbohm


TO MY WIFE



I offer here some of the essays that I have written in the course of
the past ten years. While I was collecting them and (quite patiently)
reading them again, I found that a few of them were in direct reference
to the moments at which they were severally composed. It was clear that
these must have their dates affixed to them. And for sake of uniformity
I have dated all the others, and, doing so, have thought I need not
exclude all such topical remarks as in them too were uttered, nor throw
into a past tense such of those remarks as I have retained. Perhaps a
book of essays ought to seem as if it had been written a few days before
publication. On the other hand--but this is a Note, not a Preface. M.B.
Rapallo, 1920.



CONTENTS

     A RELIC (1918)
     'HOW SHALL I WORD IT?' (1910)
     MOBLED KING (1911)
     KOLNIYATSCH (1913)
     NO. 2. THE PINES (1914)
     A LETTER THAT WAS NOT WRITTEN (1914)
     BOOKS WITHIN BOOKS (1914)
     THE GOLDEN DRUGGET (1918)
     HOSTS AND GUESTS (1918)
     A POINT TO BE REMEMBERED (1918)
     SERVANTS (1918)
     GOING OUT FOR A WALK (1918)
     QUIA IMPERFECTUM (1918)
     SOMETHING DEFEASIBLE (1919)
     'A CLERGYMAN' (1918)
     THE CRIME (1920)
     IN HOMES UNBLEST (1919)
     WILLIAM AND MARY (1920)
     ON SPEAKING FRENCH (1919)
     LAUGHTER (1920)



A RELIC 1918.

Yesterday I found in a cupboard an old, small, battered portmanteau
which, by the initials on it, I recognised as my own property. The
lock appeared to have been forced. I dimly remembered having forced it
myself, with a poker, in my hot youth, after some journey in which I had
lost the key; and this act of violence was probably the reason why the
trunk had so long ago ceased to travel. I unstrapped it, not without
dust; it exhaled the faint scent of its long closure; it contained
a tweed suit of Late Victorian pattern, some bills, some letters, a
collar-stud, and--something which, after I had wondered for a moment or
two what on earth it was, caused me suddenly to murmur, 'Down below, the
sea rustled to and fro over the shingle.'

Strange that these words had, year after long year, been existing in
some obscure cell at the back of my brain!--forgotten but all the while
existing, like the trunk in that cupboard. What released them, what
threw open the cell door, was nothing but the fragment of a fan; just
the butt-end of an inexpensive fan. The sticks are of white bone,
clipped together with a semicircular ring that is not silver. They are
neatly oval at the base, but variously jagged at the other end. The
longest of them measures perhaps two inches. Ring and all, they have no
market value; for a farthing is the least coin in our currency. And yet,
though I had so long forgotten them, for me they are not worthless. They
touch a chord... Lest this confession raise false hopes in the reader, I
add that I did not know their owner.

I did once see her, and in Normandy, and by moonlight, and her name was
Ange'lique. She was graceful, she was even beautiful. I was but nineteen
years old. Yet even so I cannot say that she impressed me favourably.
I was seated at a table of a cafe' on the terrace of a casino. I sat
facing the sea, with my back to the casino. I sat listening to the quiet
sea, which I had crossed that morning. The hour was late, there were few
people about. I heard the swing-door behind me flap open, and was
aware of a sharp snapping and crackling sound as a lady in white passed
quickly by me. I stared at her erect thin back and her agitated elbows.
A short fat man passed in pursuit of her--an elderly man in a black
alpaca jacket that billowed. I saw that she had left a trail of little
white things on the asphalt. I watched the efforts of the agonised short
fat man to overtake her as she swept wraith-like away to the distant end
of the terrace. What was the matter? What had made her so spectacularly
angry with him? The three or four waiters of the cafe' were exchanging
cynical smiles and shrugs, as waiters will. I tried to feel cynical, but
was thrilled with excitement, with wonder and curiosity. The woman out
yonder had doubled on her tracks. She had not slackened her furious
speed, but the man waddlingly contrived to keep pace with her now. With
every moment they became more distinct, and the prospect that they
would presently pass by me, back into the casino, gave me that physical
tension which one feels on a wayside platform at the imminent passing of
an express. In the rushingly enlarged vision I had of them, the wrath
on the woman's face was even more saliently the main thing than I had
supposed it would be. That very hard Parisian face must have been as
white as the powder that coated it. 'Coute, Ange'lique,' gasped
the perspiring bourgeois, 'écoute, je te supplie--' The swing-door
received them and was left swinging to and fro. I wanted to follow,
but had not paid for my bock. I beckoned my waiter. On his way to me he
stooped down and picked up something which, with a smile and a shrug,
he laid on my table: 'Il semble que Mademoiselle ne s'en servira plus.'
This is the thing I now write of, and at sight of it I understood why
there had been that snapping and crackling, and what the white fragments
on the ground were.

I hurried through the rooms, hoping to see a continuation of that
drama--a scene of appeasement, perhaps, or of fury still implacable. But
the two oddly-assorted players were not performing there. My waiter
had told me he had not seen either of them before. I suppose they had
arrived that day. But I was not destined to see either of them again.
They went away, I suppose, next morning; jointly or singly; singly, I
imagine.

They made, however, a prolonged stay in my young memory, and would have
done so even had I not had that tangible memento of them. Who were they,
those two of whom that one strange glimpse had befallen me? What, I
wondered, was the previous history of each? What, in particular, had all
that tragic pother been about? Mlle. Ange'lique I guessed to be thirty
years old, her friend perhaps fifty-five. Each of their faces was as
clear to me as in the moment of actual vision--the man's fat shiny
bewildered face; the taut white face of the woman, the hard red line of
her mouth, the eyes that were not flashing, but positively dull, with
rage. I presumed that the fan had been a present from him, and a recent
present--bought perhaps that very day, after their arrival in the town.
But what, what had he done that she should break it between her hands,
scattering the splinters as who should sow dragon's teeth? I could not
believe he had done anything much amiss. I imagined her grievance a
trivial one. But this did not make the case less engrossing. Again and
again I would take the fan-stump from my pocket, examining it on the
palm of my hand, or between finger and thumb, hoping to read the mystery
it had been mixed up in, so that I might reveal that mystery to the
world. To the world, yes; nothing less than that. I was determined to
make a story of what I had seen--a conte in the manner of great Guy de
Maupassant. Now and again, in the course of the past year or so, it had
occurred to me that I might be a writer. But I had not felt the impulse
to sit down and write something. I did feel that impulse now. It would
indeed have been an irresistible impulse if I had known just what to
write.

I felt I might know at any moment, and had but to give my mind to it.
Maupassant was an impeccable artist, but I think the secret of the hold
he had on the young men of my day was not so much that we discerned
his cunning as that we delighted in the simplicity which his cunning
achieved. I had read a great number of his short stories, but none that
had made me feel as though I, if I were a writer, mightn't have written
it myself. Maupassant had an European reputation. It was pleasing, it
was soothing and gratifying, to feel that one could at any time win
an equal fame if one chose to set pen to paper. And now, suddenly, the
spring had been touched in me, the time was come. I was grateful for the
fluke by which I had witnessed on the terrace that evocative scene. I
looked forward to reading the MS. of 'The Fan'--to-morrow, at latest. I
was not wildly ambitious. I was not inordinately vain. I knew I couldn't
ever, with the best will in the world, write like Mr. George Meredith.
Those wondrous works of his, seething with wit, with poetry and
philosophy and what not, never had beguiled me with the sense that I
might do something similar. I had full consciousness of not being
a philosopher, of not being a poet, and of not being a wit. Well,
Maupassant was none of these things. He was just an observer, like me.
Of course he was a good deal older than I, and had observed a good deal
more. But it seemed to me that he was not my superior in knowledge of
life. I knew all about life through him.

Dimly, the initial paragraph of my tale floated in my mind. I--not
exactly I myself, but rather that impersonal je familiar to me through
Maupassant--was to be sitting at that table, with a bock before me, just
as I had sat. Four or five short sentences would give the whole scene.
One of these I had quite definitely composed. You have already heard it.
'Down below, the sea rustled to and fro over the shingle.'

These words, which pleased me much, were to do double duty. They were
to recur. They were to be, by a fine stroke, the very last words of
my tale, their tranquillity striking a sharp ironic contrast with the
stress of what had just been narrated. I had, you see, advanced further
in the form of my tale than in the substance. But even the form was as
yet vague. What, exactly, was to happen after Mlle. Ange'lique and M.
Joumand (as I provisionally called him) had rushed back past me into the
casino? It was clear that I must hear the whole inner history from the
lips of one or the other of them. Which? Should M. Joumand stagger out
on to the terrace, sit down heavily at the table next to mine, bury his
head in his hands, and presently, in broken words, blurt out to me all
that might be of interest?... '"And I tell you I gave up everything for
her--everything." He stared at me with his old hopeless eyes. "She
is more than the fiend I have described to you. Yet I swear to you,
monsieur, that if I had anything left to give, it should be hers."

'Down below, the sea rustled to and fro over the shingle.'

Or should the lady herself be my informant? For a while, I rather leaned
to this alternative. It was more exciting, it seemed to make the writer
more signally a man of the world. On the other hand, it was less
simple to manage. Wronged persons might be ever so communicative, but
I surmised that persons in the wrong were reticent. Mlle. Ange'lique,
therefore, would have to be modified by me in appearance and behaviour,
toned down, touched up; and poor M. Joumand must look like a man of whom
one could believe anything.... 'She ceased speaking. She gazed down at
the fragments of her fan, and then, as though finding in them an image
of her own life, whispered, "To think what I once was, monsieur!--what,
but for him, I might be, even now!" She buried her face in her hands,
then stared out into the night. Suddenly she uttered a short, harsh
laugh.

'Down below, the sea rustled to and fro over the shingle.'

I decided that I must choose the first of these two ways. It was the
less chivalrous as well as the less lurid way, but clearly it was the
more artistic as well as the easier. The 'chose vue,' the 'tranche de la
vie'--this was the thing to aim at. Honesty was the best policy. I must
be nothing if not merciless. Maupassant was nothing if not merciless. He
would not have spared Mlle. Ange'lique. Besides, why should I libel M.
Joumand? Poor--no, not poor M. Joumand! I warned myself against pitying
him. One touch of 'sentimentality,' and I should be lost. M. Joumand was
ridiculous. I must keep him so. But--what was his position in life? Was
he a lawyer perhaps?--or the proprietor of a shop in the Rue de Rivoli?
I toyed with the possibility that he kept a fan shop--that the business
had once been a prosperous one, but had gone down, down, because of his
infatuation for this woman to whom he was always giving fans--which she
always smashed.... '"Ah monsieur, cruel and ungrateful to me though she
is, I swear to you that if I had anything left to give, it should be
hers; but," he stared at me with his old hopeless eyes, "the fan she
broke to-night was the last--the last, monsieur--of my stock." Down
below,'--but I pulled myself together, and asked pardon of my Muse.

It may be that I had offended her by my fooling. Or it may be that she
had a sisterly desire to shield Mlle. Ange'lique from my mordant art. Or
it may be that she was bent on saving M. de Maupassant from a dangerous
rivalry. Anyway, she withheld from me the inspiration I had so
confidently solicited. I could not think what had led up to that scene
on the terrace. I tried hard and soberly. I turned the 'chose vue' over
and over in my mind, day by day, and the fan-stump over and over in my
hand. But the 'chose a' figurer'--what, oh what, was that? Nightly I
revisited the cafe', and sat there with an open mind--a mind wide-open
to catch the idea that should drop into it like a ripe golden plum. The
plum did not ripen. The mind remained wide-open for a week or more, but
nothing except that phrase about the sea rustled to and fro in it.

A full quarter of a century has gone by. M. Joumand's death, so far too
fat was he all those years ago, may be presumed. A temper so violent as
Mlle. Angélique's must surely have brought its owner to the grave, long
since. But here, all unchanged, the stump of her fan is; and once more I
turn it over and over in my hand, not learning its secret--no, nor
even trying to, now. The chord this relic strikes in me is not one of
curiosity as to that old quarrel, but (if you will forgive me) one
of tenderness for my first effort to write, and for my first hopes of
excellence.



'HOW SHALL I WORD IT?' 1910.

It would seem that I am one of those travellers for whom the railway
bookstall does not cater. Whenever I start on a journey, I find that my
choice lies between well-printed books which I have no wish to read, and
well-written books which I could not read without permanent injury to my
eyesight. The keeper of the bookstall, seeing me gaze vaguely along his
shelves, suggests that I should take 'Fen Country Fanny' or else 'The
Track of Blood' and have done with it. Not wishing to hurt his feelings,
I refuse these works on the plea that I have read them. Whereon he,
divining despite me that I am a superior person, says 'Here is a
nice little handy edition of More's "Utopia"' or 'Carlyle's "French
Revolution"' and again I make some excuse. What pleasure could I get
from trying to cope with a masterpiece printed in diminutive grey-ish
type on a semi-transparent little grey-ish page? I relieve the bookstall
of nothing but a newspaper or two.

The other day, however, my eye and fancy were caught by a book entitled
'How Shall I Word It?' and sub-entitled 'A Complete Letter Writer for
Men and Women.' I had never read one of these manuals, but had often
heard that there was a great and constant 'demand' for them. So I
demanded this one. It is no great fun in itself. The writer is no fool.
He has evidently a natural talent for writing letters. His style is, for
the most part, discreet and easy. If you were a young man writing 'to
Father of Girl he wishes to Marry' or 'thanking Fiance'e for Present'
or 'reproaching Fiance'e for being a Flirt,' or if you were a mother
'asking Governess her Qualifications' or 'replying to Undesirable
Invitation for her Child,' or indeed if you were in any other one of the
crises which this book is designed to alleviate, you might copy out and
post the specially-provided letter without making yourself ridiculous in
the eyes of its receiver--unless, of course, he or she also possessed
a copy of the book. But--well, can you conceive any one copying out
and posting one of these letters, or even taking it as the basis
for composition? You cannot. That shows how little you know of your
fellow-creatures. Not you nor I can plumb the abyss at the bottom of
which such humility is possible. Nevertheless, as we know by that great
and constant 'demand,' there the abyss is, and there multitudes are at
the bottom of it. Let's peer down... No, all is darkness. But faintly,
if we listen hard, is borne up to us a sound of the scratching of
innumerable pens--pens whose wielders are all trying, as the author of
this handbook urges them, to 'be original, fresh, and interesting' by
dint of more or less strict adherence to sample.

Giddily you draw back from the edge of the abyss. Come!--here is a
thought to steady you. The mysterious great masses of helpless folk for
whom 'How Shall I Word It' is written are sound at heart, delicate in
feeling, anxious to please, most loth to wound. For it must be presumed
that the author's style of letter-writing is informed as much by a
desire to give his public what it needs, and will pay for, as by his own
beautiful nature; and in the course of all the letters that he dictates
you will find not one harsh word, not one ignoble thought or unkind
insinuation. In all of them, though so many are for the use of persons
placed in the most trying circumstances, and some of them are for
persons writhing under a sense of intolerable injury, sweetness and
light do ever reign. Even 'yours truly, Jacob Langton,' in his 'letter
to his Daughter's Mercenary Fiance',' mitigates the sternness of his
tone by the remark that his 'task is inexpressibly painful.' And he, Mr.
Langton, is the one writer who lets the post go out on his wrath. When
Horace Masterton, of Thorpe Road, Putney, receives from Miss Jessica
Weir, of Fir Villa, Blackheath, a letter 'declaring her Change of
Feelings,' does he upbraid her? No; 'it was honest and brave of you to
write to me so straightforwardly and at the back of my mind I know you
have done what is best.... I give you back your freedom only at your
desire. God bless you, dear.' Not less admirable is the behaviour, in
similar case, of Cecil Grant (14, Glover Street, Streatham). Suddenly,
as a bolt from the blue, comes a letter from Miss Louie Hawke (Elm View,
Deerhurst), breaking off her betrothal to him. Haggard, he sits down to
his desk; his pen traverses the notepaper--calling down curses on Louie
and on all her sex? No; 'one cannot say good-bye for ever without deep
regret to days that have been so full of happiness. I must thank you
sincerely for all your great kindness to me.... With every sincere wish
for your future happiness,' he bestows complete freedom on Miss Hawke.
And do not imagine that in the matter of self-control and sympathy, of
power to understand all and pardon all, the men are lagged behind by the
women. Miss Leila Johnson (The Manse, Carlyle) has observed in Leonard
Wace (Dover Street, Saltburn) a certain coldness of demeanour; yet 'I
do not blame you; it is probably your nature'; and Leila in her sweet
forbearance is typical of all the other pained women in these pages: she
is but one of a crowd of heroines.

Face to face with all this perfection, the not perfect reader begins to
crave some little outburst of wrath, of hatred or malice, from one of
these imaginary ladies and gentlemen. He longs for--how shall he word
it?--a glimpse of some bad motive, of some little lapse from dignity.
Often, passing by a pillar-box, I have wished I could unlock it and
carry away its contents, to be studied at my leisure. I have always
thought such a haul would abound in things fascinating to a student of
human nature. One night, not long ago, I took a waxen impression of the
lock of the pillar-box nearest to my house, and had a key made. This
implement I have as yet lacked either the courage or the opportunity to
use. And now I think I shall throw it away.... No, I shan't. I refuse,
after all, to draw my inference that the bulk of the British public
writes always in the manner of this handbook. Even if they all have
beautiful natures they must sometimes be sent slightly astray by
inferior impulses, just as are you and I.

And, if err they must, surely it were well they should know how to do it
correctly and forcibly. I suggest to our author that he should sprinkle
his next edition with a few less righteous examples, thereby both
purging his book of its monotony and somewhat justifying its sub-title.
Like most people who are in the habit of writing things to be printed,
I have not the knack of writing really good letters. But let me crudely
indicate the sort of thing that our manual needs....


LETTER FROM POOR MAN TO OBTAIN MONEY FROM RICH ONE.

[The English law is particularly hard on what is called blackmail. It is
therefore essential that the applicant should write nothing that might
afterwards be twisted to incriminate him.--ED.]

DEAR SIR, To-day, as I was turning out a drawer in my attic, I came
across a letter which by a curious chance fell into my hands some years
ago, and which, in the stress of grave pecuniary embarrassment, had
escaped my memory. It is a letter written by yourself to a lady, and the
date shows it to have been written shortly after your marriage. It is
of a confidential nature, and might, I fear, if it fell into the
wrong hands, be cruelly misconstrued. I would wish you to have the
satisfaction of destroying it in person. At first I thought of sending
it on to you by post. But I know how happy you are in your domestic
life; and probably your wife and you, in your perfect mutual trust, are
in the habit of opening each other's letters. Therefore, to avoid risk,
I would prefer to hand the document to you personally. I will not ask
you to come to my attic, where I could not offer you such hospitality as
is due to a man of your wealth and position. You will be so good as
to meet me at 3.0 A.M. (sharp) to-morrow (Thursday) beside the tenth
lamp-post to the left on the Surrey side of Waterloo Bridge; at
which hour and place we shall not be disturbed. I am, dear Sir, Yours
respectfully, JAMES GRIDGE.


LETTER FROM YOUNG MAN REFUSING TO PAY HIS TAILOR'S BILL.

Mr. Eustace Davenant has received the half-servile, half-insolent screed
which Mr. Yardley has addressed to him. Let Mr. Yardley cease from
crawling on his knees and shaking his fist. Neither this posture
nor this gesture can wring one bent farthing from the pockets of Mr.
Davenant, who was a minor at the time when that series of ill-made suits
was supplied to him and will hereafter, as in the past, shout (without
prejudice) from the house-tops that of all the tailors in London Mr.
Yardley is at once the most grasping and the least competent.


LETTER TO THANK AUTHOR FOR INSCRIBED COPY OF BOOK.

DEAR MR. EMANUEL FLOWER, It was kind of you to think of sending me a
copy of your new book. It would have been kinder still to think again
and abandon that project. I am a man of gentle instincts, and do not
like to tell you that 'A Flight into Arcady' (of which I have skimmed
a few pages, thus wasting two or three minutes of my not altogether
worthless time) is trash. On the other hand, I am determined that you
shall not be able to go around boasting to your friends, if you have
any, that this work was not condemned, derided, and dismissed by your
sincere well-wisher, WREXFORD CRIPPS.


LETTER TO MEMBER OF PARLIAMENT UNSEATED AT GENERAL ELECTION.

DEAR MR. POBSBY-BURFORD, Though I am myself an ardent Tory, I cannot but
rejoice in the crushing defeat you have just suffered in West Odgetown.
There are moments when political conviction is overborne by personal
sentiment; and this is one of them. Your loss of the seat that you
held is the more striking by reason of the splendid manner in which the
northern and eastern divisions of Odgetown have been wrested from the
Liberal Party. The great bulk of the newspaper-reading public will be
puzzled by your extinction in the midst of our party's triumph. But
then, the great mass of the newspaper-reading public has not met you.
I have. You will probably not remember me. You are the sort of man who
would not remember anybody who might not be of some definite use to him.
Such, at least, was one of the impressions you made on me when I met
you last summer at a dinner given by our friends the Pelhams. Among the
other things in you that struck me were the blatant pomposity of your
manner, your appalling flow of cheap platitudes, and your hoggish lack
of ideas. It is such men as you that lower the tone of public life. And
I am sure that in writing to you thus I am but expressing what is
felt, without distinction of party, by all who sat with you in the late
Parliament.

The one person in whose behalf I regret your withdrawal into private
life is your wife, whom I had the pleasure of taking in to the aforesaid
dinner. It was evident to me that she was a woman whose spirit
was well-nigh broken by her conjunction with you. Such remnants of
cheerfulness as were in her I attributed to the Parliamentary duties
which kept you out of her sight for so very many hours daily. I do not
like to think of the fate to which the free and independent electors of
West Odgetown have just condemned her. Only, remember this: chattel
of yours though she is, and timid and humble, she despises you in
her heart. I am, dear Mr. Pobsby-Burford, Yours very truly, HAROLD
THISTLAKE.


LETTER FROM YOUNG LADY IN ANSWER TO INVITATION FROM OLD SCHOOLMISTRESS.

MY DEAR MISS PRICE, How awfully sweet of you to ask me to stay with you
for a few days but how can you think I may have forgotten you for of
course I think of you so very often and of the three ears I spent at
your school because it is such a joy not to be there any longer and if
one is at all down it bucks one up derectly to remember that thats all
over atanyrate and that one has enough food to nurrish one and not that
awful monottany of life and not the petty fogging daily tirrany you went
in for and I can imagin no greater thrill and luxury in a way than to
come and see the whole dismal grind still going on but without me being
in it but this would be rather beastly of me wouldn't it so please dear
Miss Price dont expect me and do excuse mistakes of English Composition
and Spelling and etcetra in your affectionate old pupil, EMILY THERESE
LYNN-ROYSTON.

ps, I often rite to people telling them where I was edducated and highly
reckomending you.


LETTER IN ACKNOWLEDGEMENT OF WEDDING PRESENT.

DEAR LADY AMBLESHAM, Who gives quickly, says the old proverb, gives
twice. For this reason I have purposely delayed writing to you, lest I
should appear to thank you more than once for the small, cheap, hideous
present you sent me on the occasion of my recent wedding. Were you a
poor woman, that little bowl of ill-imitated Dresden china would convict
you of tastelessness merely; were you a blind woman, of nothing but
an odious parsimony. As you have normal eyesight and more than normal
wealth, your gift to me proclaims you at once a Philistine and a miser
(or rather did so proclaim you until, less than ten seconds after I had
unpacked it from its wrappings of tissue paper, I took it to the open
window and had the satisfaction of seeing it shattered to atoms on the
pavement). But stay! I perceive a possible flaw in my argument. Perhaps
you were guided in your choice by a definite wish to insult me. I am
sure, on reflection, that this was so. I shall not forget. Yours, etc.,
CYNTHIA BEAUMARSH.

PS. My husband asks me to tell you to warn Lord Amblesham to keep out
of his way or to assume some disguise so complete that he will not be
recognised by him and horsewhipped.

PPS. I am sending copies of this letter to the principal London and
provincial newspapers.


LETTER FROM...

But enough! I never thought I should be so strong in this line. I had
not foreseen such copiousness and fatal fluency. Never again will I tap
these deep dark reservoirs in a character that had always seemed to me,
on the whole, so amiable.



MOBLED KING 1911.

Just as a memorial, just to perpetuate in one's mind the dead man in
whose image and honour it has been erected, this statue is better than
any that I have seen.... No, pedantic reader: I ought not to have said
'than any other that I have seen' Except in shrouded and distorted
outline, I have not seen this statue.

Not as an image, then, can it be extolled by me. And I am bound to say
that even as an honour it seems to me more than dubious. Commissioned
and designed and chiselled and set up in all reverence, it yet serves
very well the purpose of a guy. This does not surprise you. You
are familiar with a host of statues that are open to precisely that
objection. Westminster Abbey abounds in them. They confront you
throughout London and the provinces. They stud the Continent. Rare
indeed is the statue that can please the well-wishers of the person
portrayed. Nor in every case is the sculptor to blame. There is in the
art of sculpture itself a quality intractable to the aims of personal
portraiture. Sculpture, just as it cannot fitly record the gesture of a
moment, is discommoded by personal idiosyncrasies. The details that
go to compose this or that gentleman's appearance--such as the little
wrinkles around his eyes, and the way his hair grows, and the special
convolutions of his ears--all these, presentable on canvas, or evocable
by words, are not right matter for the chisel or for the mould and
furnace. Translated into terms of bronze or marble, howsoever cunningly,
these slight and trivial things cease to be trivial and slight. They
assume a ludicrous importance. No man is worthy to be reproduced as bust
or statue. And if sculpture is too august to deal with what a man has
received from his Maker, how much less ought it to be bothered about
what he has received from his hosier and tailor! Sculpture's province is
the soul. The most concrete, it is also the most spiritual of the arts.
The very heaviness and stubbornness of its material, precluding it from
happy dalliance with us fleeting individual creatures, fit it to cope
with that which in mankind is permanent and universal. It can through
the symbol give us incomparably the type. Wise is that sculptor who,
when portray an individual he must, treats arbitrarily the mere actual
husk, and strives but to show the soul. Of course, he must first catch
that soul. What M. Rodin knew about the character and career of Mr.
George Wyndham, or about the character and career of Mr. Bernard Shaw,
was not, I hazard, worth knowing; and Mr. Shaw is handed down by him
to posterity as a sort of bearded lady, and Mr. Wyndham as a sort of
beardless one. But about Honore' de Balzac he knew much. Balzac he
understood. Balzac's work, Balzac's soul, in that great rugged figure
aspiring and indeflexible, he gave us with a finality that could have
been achieved through no other art than sculpture.

There is a close kinship between that statue of Balzac and this statue
of which I am to tell you. Both induce, above all, a profound sense of
unrest, of heroic will to overcome all obstacles. The will to compass
self-expression, the will to emerge from darkness to light, from
formlessness to form, from nothing to everything--this it is that I
find in either statue; and this it is in virtue of which the Balzac has
unbeknown a brother on the Italian seaboard.

Here stands--or rather struggles--on his pedestal this younger brother,
in strange contrast with the scenery about him. Mildly, behind his back,
the sea laps the shingle. Mildly, in front of him, on the other side
of the road, rise some of those mountains whereby the Earth, before she
settled down to cool, compassed--she, too--some sort of self-expression.
Mildly around his pedestal, among rusty anchors strewn there on the
grass between road and beach, sit the fishermen, mending their nets
or their sails, or whittling bits of wood. What will you say of these
fishermen when----but I outstrip my narrative.

I had no inkling of tragedy when first I came to the statue. I did not
even know it was a statue. I had made by night the short journey from
Genoa to this place beside the sea; and, driving along the coast-road
to the hotel that had been recommended, I passed what in the starlight
looked like nothing but an elderly woman mounted on a square pedestal
and gazing out seaward--a stout, elderly, lonely woman in a poke bonnet,
indescribable except by that old Victorian term 'a party,' and as unlike
Balzac's younger brother as only Sarah Gamp's elder sister could be.
How, I wondered in my hotel, came the elder sister of Sarah Gamp to be
here in Liguria and in the twentieth century? How clomb she, puffing and
panting, on to that pedestal? For what argosy of gin was she straining
her old eyes seaward? I knew there would be no sleep for me until I had
solved these problems; and I went forth afoot along the way I had come.
The moon had risen; and presently I saw in the starlight the 'party'
who so intrigued me. Eminent, amorphous, mysterious, there she stood,
immobile, voluminous, ghastly beneath the moon. By a slight shoreward
lift of crinoline, as against the seaward protrusion of poke bonnet, a
grotesque balance was given to the unshapely shape of her. For all her
uncanniness, I thought I had never seen any one, male or female, old
or young, look so hopelessly common. I felt that by daylight a noble
vulgarity might be hers. In the watches of the night she was hopelessly,
she was transcendently common.

Little by little, as I came nearer, she ceased to illude me, and I began
to think of her as 'it.' What 'it' was, however, I knew not until I
was at quite close quarters to the pedestal it rose from. There, on the
polished granite, was carved this legend:

A UMBERTO IO

And instinctively, as my eye travelled up, my hand leapt to the salute;
for I stood before the veiled image of a dead king, and had been guilty
of a misconception that dishonoured him.

Standing respectfully at one angle and another, I was able to form, by
the outlines of the grey sheeting that enveloped him, some rough notion
of his posture and his costume. Round what was evidently his neck the
sheeting was constricted by ropes; and the height and girth of
the bundle above--to half-closed eyes, even now, an averted
poke-bonnet--gave token of a tall helmet with a luxuriant shock of
plumes waving out behind. Immediately beneath the ropes, the breadth and
sharpness of the bundle hinted at epaulettes. And the protrusion that
had seemed to be that of a wind-blown crinoline was caused, I thought,
by the king having his left hand thrust well out to grasp the hilt of
his inclined sword. Altogether, I had soon builded a clear enough
idea of his aspect; and I promised myself a curious gratification in
comparing anon this idea with his aspect as it really was.

Yes, I took it for granted that the expectant statue was to be unveiled
within the next few days. I was glad to be in time--not knowing in how
terribly good time I was--for the ceremony. Not since my early childhood
had I seen the unveiling of a statue; and on that occasion I had struck
a discordant note by weeping bitterly. I dare say you know that statue
of William Harvey which stands on the Leas at Folkestone. You say you
were present at the unveiling? Well, I was the child who cried. I had
been told that William Harvey was a great and good man who discovered
the circulation of the blood; and my mind had leapt, in all the
swiftness of its immaturity, to the conclusion that his statue would be
a bright blood-red. Cruel was the thrill of dismay I had when at length
the cord was pulled and the sheeting slid down, revealing so dull a
sight...

Contemplating the veiled Umberto, I remembered that sight, remembered
those tears unworthy (as my nurse told me) of a little gentleman. Years
had passed. I was grown older and wiser. I had learnt to expect less of
life. There was no fear that I should disgrace myself in the matter of
Umberto.

I was not so old, though, nor so wise, as I am now. I expected more than
there is of Italian speed, and less than there is of Italian subtlety.
A whole year has passed since first I set eyes on veiled Umberto. And
Umberto is still veiled.

And veiled for more than a whole year, as I now know, had Umberto been
before my coming. Four years before that, the municipal council, it
seems, had voted the money for him. His father, of sensational memory,
was here already, in the middle of the main piazza, of course. And
Garibaldi was hard by; so was Mazzini; so was Cavour. Umberto was
still implicit in a block of marble, high upon one of the mountains of
Carrara. The task of educing him was given to a promising young sculptor
who lived here. Down came the block of marble, and was transported to
the studio of the promising young sculptor; and out, briskly enough,
mustachios and all, came Umberto. He looked very regal, I am sure, as
he stood glaring around with his prominent marble eyeballs, and snuffing
the good fresh air of the world as far as might be into shallow marble
nostrils. He looked very authoritative and fierce and solemn, I am sure.
He made, anyhow, a deep impression on the mayor and councillors, and
the only question was as to just where he should be erected. The granite
pedestal had already been hewn and graven; but a worthy site was to
seek. Outside the railway station? He would obstruct the cabs. In the
Giardino Pubblico? He would clash with Garibaldi. Every councillor had a
pet site, and every other one a pet objection to it. That strip of waste
ground where the fishermen sat pottering? It was too humble, too far
from the centre of things. Meanwhile, Umberto stayed in the studio.
Dust settled on his epaulettes. A year went by. Spiders ventured to
spin their webs from his plumes to his mustachios. Another year went
by. Whenever the councillors had nothing else to talk about they talked
about the site for Umberto.

Presently they became aware that among the poorer classes of the town
had arisen a certain hostility to the statue. The councillors suspected
that the priesthood had been at work. The forces of reaction against the
forces of progress! Very well! The councillors hurriedly decided that
the best available site, on the whole, was that strip of waste ground
where the fishermen sat pottering. The pedestal was promptly planted.
Umberto was promptly wrapped up, put on a lorry, wheeled to the place,
and hoisted into position. The date of the unveiling was fixed. The
mayor I am told, had already composed his speech, and was getting it
by heart. Around the pedestal the fishermen sat pottering. It was not
observed that they received any visits from the priests.

But priests are subtle; and it is a fact that three days before the date
of the unveiling the fishermen went, all in their black Sunday clothes,
and claimed audience of the mayor. He laid aside the MS. of his speech,
and received them affably. Old Agostino, their spokesman, he whose face
is so marvellously wrinkled, lifted his quavering voice. He told the
mayor, with great respect, that the rights of the fishermen had been
violated. That piece of ground had for hundreds of years belonged to
them. They had not been consulted about that statue. They did not want
it there. It was in the way, and must (said Agostino) be removed. At
first the mayor was inclined to treat the deputation with a light good
humour, and to resume the study of his MS. But Agostino had a MS. of his
own. This was a copy of a charter whereby, before mayors and councillors
were, the right to that piece of land had been granted in perpetuity to
the fisherfolk of the district. The mayor, not committing himself to any
opinion of the validity of the document, said that he--but there, it is
tedious to report the speeches of mayors. Agostino told his mayor that
a certain great lawyer would be arriving from Genoa to-morrow. It were
tedious to report what passed between that great lawyer and the
mayor and councillors assembled. Suffice it that the councillors were
frightened, the date of the unveiling was postponed, and the whole
matter, referred to high authorities in Rome, went darkly drifting into
some form of litigation, and there abides.

Technically, then, neither side may claim that it has won. The
statue has not been unveiled. But the statue has not been displaced.
Practically, though, and morally, the palm is, so far, to the fishermen.
The pedestal does not really irk them at all. On the contrary, it and
the sheeting do cast for them in the heat a pleasant shadow, of which
(the influence of Fleet Street, once felt, never shaken off, forces
me to say) they are not slow to avail themselves. And the cost of the
litigation comes not, you may be sure, out of their light old pockets,
but out of the coffers of some pious rich folk hereabouts. The Pope
remains a prisoner in the Vatican? Well, here is Umberto, a kind of
hostage. Yet with what a difference! Here is no spiritual king stripped
of earthly kingship. Here is an earthly king kept swaddled up day after
day, to be publicly ridiculous. The fishermen, as I have said, pay him
no heed. The mayor, passing along the road, looks straight in front of
him, with an elaborate assumption of unconcern. So do the councillors.
But there are others who look maliciously up at the hapless figure. Now
and again there comes a monk from the monastery on that hill yonder. He
laughs into his beard as he goes by. Two by two, in their grey cloaks
and their blue mantillas, the little orphan girls are sometimes marched
past. There they go, as I write. Not malice, but a vague horror, is in
the eyes they turn. Umberto, belike, is used as a means to frighten them
when, or lest, they offend. The nun in whose charge they arc crosses
herself.

Yet it is recorded of Umberto that he was kind to little children.
This, indeed, is one of the few things recorded of him. Fierce though he
looked, he was, for the most part, it must be confessed, null. He seldom
asserted himself. There was so little of that for him to assert. He had,
therefore, no personal enemies. In a negative way, he was popular, and
was positively popular, for a while, after his assassination. And this
it is that makes him now the less able, poor fellow, to understand and
endure the shame he is put to. 'Stat rex indignatus.' He does try to
assert himself now--does strive, by day and by night, poor petrefact,
to rip off these fell and clownish integuments. Of his elder brother in
Paris he has never heard; but he knows that Lazarus arisen from the tomb
did not live in grave-clothes. He forgets that after all he is only a
statue. To himself he is still a king--or at least a man who was once a
king and, having done no wrong, ought not now to be insulted. If he had
in his composition one marble grain of humour, he might... but no, a
joke against oneself is always cryptic. Fat men are not always the best
drivers of fat oxen; and cryptic statues cannot be depended on to see
cryptic jokes.

If Umberto could grasp the truth that no man is worthy to be reproduced
as a statue; if he could understand, once and for all, that the
unveiling of him were itself a notable disservice to him, then might his
wrath be turned to acquiescence, and his acquiescence to gratitude, and
he be quite happy hid. Is he, really, more ridiculous now than he always
was? If you be an extraordinary man, as was his father, win a throne by
all means: you will fill it. If your son be another extraordinary man,
he will fill it when his turn comes. But if that son be, as, alas, he
most probably will be, like Umberto, quite ordinary, then let parental
love triumph over pride of dynasty: advise your boy to abdicate at the
earliest possible moment. A great king--what better? But it is ill
that a throne be sat on by one whose legs dangle uncertainly towards the
dais, and ill that a crown settle down over the tip of the nose. And
the very fact that for quite inadequate kings men's hands do leap to
the salute, instinctively, does but make us, on reflection, the more
conscious of the whole absurdity. Even than a great man on a throne
we can, when we reflect, imagine something--ah, not something better
perhaps, but something more remote from absurdity. Let us say that
Umberto's father was great, as well as extraordinary. He was accounted
great enough to be the incarnation of a great idea. 'United Italy'--oh
yes, a great idea, a charming idea: in the 'sixties I should have been
all for it. But how shall I or any other impartial person write odes to
the reality? What people in all this exquisite peninsula are to-day the
happier for the things done by and through Vittorio Emmanuele Liberator?

The question is not merely rhetorical. There is the large class of
politicians, who would have had no scope in the old days. And there are
the many men who in other days would have been fishing or ploughing, but
now strut in this and that official uniform. There passes between me and
the sea, as I write--how opportunely people do pass here!--a little man
with a peaked cap and light blue breeches and a sword. His prime duty
is to see that none of his fellow peasants shall carry home a bucket of
sea-water. For there is salt in sea-water; and heavily, because they
must have it or sicken, salt is taxed; and this passing sentinel is to
prevent them from cheating the Revenue by recourse to the sea which,
though here it is, they must not regard as theirs. What becomes of
the tax-money? It goes towards the building of battleships, cruisers,
gunboats and so forth. What are these for? Why, for Italy to be a Great
European Power with, of course. In the little blue bay behind Umberto,
while I write, there lies at anchor an Italian gunboat. Opportunely
again? I can but assure you that it really and truly is there. It has
been there for two days. It delights the fishermen. They say it is
'bella e pulita com' un fiore.' They stand shading their eyes towards
it, smiling and proud, heirs of all the ages, neglecting their sails and
nets and spars of wood. They can imagine nothing better than it. They
see nothing at all sinister or absurd about it, these simple fellows.
And simple Umberto, their captive, strives to wheel round on his
pedestal and to tear but a peep-hole in his sheeting. He would be glad
could he feast but one eye on this bit of national glory. But he remains
helpless--helpless as a Sultana made ready for the Bosphorus, helpless
as a pig is in a poke. It enrages him that he who was so eminently
respectable in life should be made so ludicrous on his eminence after
death. He is bitter at the inertia of the men who set him up. Were he
an ornament of the Church, not of the State that he served so
conscientiously, how very different would be the treatment of his
plight! If he were a Saint, occluded thus by the municipality, how
many the prayers that would be muttered, the candles promised, for his
release! There would be processions, too; and who knows but that there
might even be a miracle vouchsafed, a rending of the veil? The only
procession that passes him is that of the intimidated orphans. No
heavenly power intervenes for him--perhaps (he bitterly conjectures) for
fear of offending the Vatican. Sirocco, now and again, blows furiously
at his back, but never splits the sheeting. Rain often soaks it, never
rots it. There is no help for him. He stands a mock to the pious, a
shame and incubus to the emancipated; received, yet hushed up; exalted,
yet made a fool of; taken and left; a monument to Fate's malice.

From under the hem of his weather-beaten domino, always, he just
displays, with a sort of tragic coquetry, the toe of a stout and
serviceable marble boot. And this, I have begun to believe, is all that
I shall ever see of him. Else might I not be writing about him; for else
had he not so haunted me. If I knew myself destined to see him--to see
him steadily and see him whole--no matter how many years hence, I could
forthwith think about other things. I had hoped that by this essay I
might rid my mind of him. He is inexcutible, confound him! His pedestal
draws me to itself with some such fascination as had the altar of
the unknown god for the wondering Greek. I try to distract myself
by thinking of other images--images that I have seen. I think of
Bartolommeo Colleoni riding greatly forth under the shadow of the
church of Saint John and Saint Paul. Of Mr. Peabody I think, cosy in his
armchair behind the Royal Exchange; of Nelson above the sparrows, and of
Perseus among the pigeons; of golden Albert, and of Harvey the not red.
Up looms Umberto, uncouthly casting them one and all into the shade.
I think of other statues that I have not seen--statues suspected of
holding something back from even the clearest-eyed men who have stood
beholding and soliciting them. But how obvious, beside Umberto, the
Sphinx would be! And Memnon, how tamely he sits waiting for the dawn!

Matchless as a memorial, then, I say again, this statue is. And as a
work of art it has at least the advantage of being beyond criticism. In
my young days, I wrote a plea that all the statues in the streets
and squares of London should be extirpated and, according to their
materials, smashed or melted. From an aesthetic standpoint, I went
a trifle too far: London has a few good statues. From an humane
standpoint, my plea was all wrong. Let no violence be done to the
effigies of the dead. There is disrespect in setting up a dead man's
effigy and then not unveiling it. But there would be no disrespect, and
there would be no violence, if the bad statues familiar to London were
ceremoniously veiled, and their inscribed pedestals left just as they
are. That is a scheme which occurred to me soon after I saw the veiled
Umberto. Mr. Birrell has now stepped in and forestalled my advocacy.
Pereant qui--but no, who could wish that charming man to perish? The
realisation of that scheme is what matters.

Let an inventory be taken of those statues. Let it be submitted to
Lord Rosebery, and he be asked to tick off all those statesmen, poets,
philosophers and other personages about whom he would wish to orate.
Then let the list be passed on to other orators, until every statue
on it shall have its particular spokesman. Then let the dates for the
various veilings be appointed. If there be four or five veilings every
week, I conceive that the whole list will be exhausted in two years or
so. And my enjoyment of the reported speeches will not be the less keen
because I can so well imagine them.... In conclusion, Lord Rosebery said
that the keynote to the character of the man in whose honour they were
gathered together to-day was, first and last, integrity. (Applause.)
He did not say of him that he had been infallible. Which of us was
infallible? (Laughter.) But this he would say, that the great man
whose statue they were looking on for the last time had been actuated
throughout his career by no motive but the desire to do that, and that
only, which would conduce to the honour and to the stability of the
country that gave him birth. Of him it might truly be said, as had
been said of another, 'That which he had to give, he gave.' (Loud and
prolonged applause.) His Lordship then pulled the cord, and the sheeting
rolled up into position...

Not, however, because those speeches will so edify and soothe me, nor
merely because those veiled statues will make less uncouth the city I
was born in, do I feverishly thrust on you my proposition. The wish in
me is that posterity shall be haunted by our dead heroes even as I am
by Umberto. Rather hard on posterity? Well, the prevision of its plight
would cheer me in mine immensely.



KOLNIYATSCH 1913.

None of us who keep an eye on the heavens of European literature can
forget the emotion that we felt when, but a few years since, the red
star of Kolniyatsch swam into our ken. As nobody can prove that I
wasn't, I claim now that I was the first to gauge the magnitude of
this star and to predict the ascendant course which it has in fact
triumphantly taken. That was in the days when Kolniyatsch was still
alive. His recent death gives the cue for the boom. Out of that boom
I, for one, will not be left. I rush to scrawl my name, large, on the
tombstone of Kolniyatsch.

These foreign fellows always are especially to be commended. By the mere
mention of their names you evoke in reader or hearer a vague sense of
your superiority and his. Thank heaven, we are no longer insular. I
don't say we have no native talent. We have heaps of it, pyramids of it,
all around. But where, for the genuine thrill, would England be but
for her good fortune in being able to draw on a seemingly inexhaustible
supply of anguished souls from the Continent--infantile wide-eyed
Slavs, Titan Teutons, greatly blighted Scandinavians, all of them
different, but all of them raving in one common darkness and with one
common gesture plucking out their vitals for exportation? There is no
doubt that our continuous receipt of this commodity has had a bracing
effect on our national character. We used to be rather phlegmatic, used
we not? We have learnt to be vibrant.

Of Kolniyatsch, as of all authentic master-spirits in literature, it is
true that he must be judged rather by what he wrote than by what he was.
But the quality of his genius, albeit nothing if not national and also
universal, is at the same time so deeply personal that we cannot
afford to close our eyes on his life--a life happily not void of those
sensational details which are what we all really care about.

'If you have tears, prepare to shed them now.' Kolniyatsch was born,
last of a long line of rag-pickers, in 1886. At the age of nine he had
already acquired that passionate alcoholism which was to have so great
an influence in the moulding of his character and on the trend of his
thought. Otherwise he does not seem to have shown in childhood any
exceptional promise. It was not before his eighteenth birthday that he
murdered his grandmother and was sent to that asylum in which he wrote
the poems and plays belonging to what we now call his earlier manner. In
1907 he escaped from his sanctum, or chuzketc (cell) as he sardonically
called it, and, having acquired some money by an act of violence, gave,
by sailing for America, early proof that his genius was of the kind that
crosses frontiers and seas. Unfortunately, it was not of the kind that
passes Ellis Island. America, to her lasting shame, turned him back.
Early in 1908 we find him once more in his old quarters, working at
those novels and confessions on which, in the opinion of some, his fame
will ultimately rest. Alas, we don't find him there now. It will be a
fortnight ago to-morrow that Luntic Kolniyatsch passed peacefully away,
in the twenty-eighth year of his age. He would have been the last to
wish us to indulge in any sickly sentimentality. 'Nothing is here for
tears, nothing but well and fair, and what may quiet us in a death so
noble.'

Was Kolniyatsch mad? It depends on what we mean by that word. If we
mean, as the bureaucrats of Ellis Island and, to their lasting shame,
his friends and relations presumably meant, that he did not share our
own smug and timid philosophy of life, then indeed was Kolniyatsch not
sane. Granting for sake of argument that he was mad in a wider sense
than that, we do but oppose an insuperable stumbling-block to the
Eugenists. Imagine what Europe would be to-day, had Kolniyatsch not
been! As one of the critics avers, 'It is hardly too much to say that
a time may be not far distant, and may indeed be nearer than many of us
suppose, when Luntic Kolniyatsch will, rightly or wrongly, be reckoned
by some of us as not the least of those writers who are especially
symptomatic of the early twentieth century and are possibly "for all
time" or for a more or less certainly not inconsiderable period of
time.' That is finely said. But I myself go somewhat further. I say that
Kolniyatsch's message has drowned all previous messages and will
drown any that may be uttered in the remotest future. You ask me what,
precisely, that message was? Well, it is too elemental, too near to the
very heart of naked Nature, for exact definition. Can you describe the
message of an angry python more satisfactorily than as S-s-s-s? Or
that of an infuriated bull better than as Moo? That of Kolniyatsch lies
somewhere between these two. Indeed, at whatever point we take him, we
find him hard to fit into any single category. Was he a realist or a
romantic? He was neither, and he was both. By more than one critic
he has been called a pessimist, and it is true that a part of
his achievement may be gauged by the lengths to which he carried
pessimism--railing and raging, not, in the manner of his tame
forerunners, merely at things in general, or at women, or at himself,
but lavishing an equally fierce scorn and hatred on children, on
trees and flowers and the moon, and indeed on everything that the
sentimentalists have endeavoured to force into favour. On the other
hand, his burning faith in a personal Devil, his frank delight in
earthquakes and pestilences, and his belief that every one but himself
will be brought back to life in time to be frozen to death in the next
glacial epoch, seem rather to stamp him as an optimist. By birth
and training a man of the people, he was yet an aristocrat to the
finger-tips, and Byron would have called him brother, though one
trembles to think what he would have called Byron. First and last, he
was an artist, and it is by reason of his technical mastery that he most
of all outstands. Whether in prose or in verse, he compasses a broken
rhythm that is as the very rhythm of life itself, and a cadence that
catches you by the throat, as a terrier catches a rat, and wrings from
you the last drop of pity and awe. His skill in avoiding 'the inevitable
word' is simply miraculous. He is the despair of the translator. Far
be it from me to belittle the devoted labours of Mr. and Mrs. Pegaway,
whose monumental translation of the Master's complete works is now
drawing to its splendid close. Their promised biography of the murdered
grandmother is awaited eagerly by all who take--and which of us does
not take?--a breathless interest in Kolniyatschiana. But Mr. and Mrs.
Pegaway would be the first to admit that their renderings of the prose
and verse they love so well are a wretched substitute for the real
thing. I wanted to get the job myself, but they nipped in and got it
before me. Thank heaven, they cannot deprive me of the power to read
Kolniyatsch in the original Gibrisch and to crow over you who can't.

Of the man himself--for on several occasions I had the privilege and the
permit to visit him--I have the pleasantest, most sacred memories. His
was a wonderfully vivid and intense personality. The head was beautiful,
perfectly conic in form. The eyes were like two revolving lamps, set
very close together. The smile was haunting. There was a touch of
old-world courtesy in the repression of the evident impulse to spring at
one's throat. The voice had notes that recalled M. Mounet-Sully's in
the later and more important passages of Oedipe Roi. I remember that
he always spoke with the greatest contempt of Mr. and Mrs. Pegaway's
translations. He likened them to--but enough! His boom is not yet at the
full. A few weeks hence I shall be able to command an even higher price
than I could now for my 'Talks with Kolniyatsch.'



No. 2. THE PINES, 1914

[Early in the year 1914 Mr. Edmund Gosse told me he was asking certain
of his friends to write for him a few words apiece in description of
Swinburne as they had known or seen him at one time or another; and
he was so good as to wish to include in this gathering a few words by
myself. I found it hard to be brief without seeming irreverent. I
failed in the attempt to make of my subject a snapshot that was not a
grotesque. So I took refuge in an ampler scope. I wrote a reminiscential
essay. From that essay I made an extract, which I gave to Mr. Gosse.
From that extract he made a quotation in his enchanting biography. The
words quoted by him reappear here in the midst of the whole essay as
I wrote it. I dare not hope they are unashamed of their humble
surroundings.--M. B.]

In my youth the suburbs were rather looked down on--I never quite knew
why. It was held anomalous, and a matter for merriment, that Swinburne
lived in one of them. For my part, had I known as a fact that Catullus
was still alive, I should have been as ready to imagine him living in
Putney as elsewhere. The marvel would have been merely that he lived.
And Swinburne's survival struck as surely as could his have struck in me
the chord of wonder.

Not, of course, that he had achieved a feat of longevity. He was
far from the Psalmist's limit. Nor was he one of those men whom one
associates with the era in which they happened to be young. Indeed, if
there was one man belonging less than any other to Mid-Victorian days,
Swinburne was that man. But by the calendar it was in those days that he
had blazed--blazed forth with so unexampled a suddenness of splendour;
and in the light of that conflagration all that he had since done, much
and magnificent though this was, paled. The essential Swinburne was
still the earliest. He was and would always be the flammiferous boy of
the dim past--a legendary creature, sole kin to the phoenix. It had been
impossible that he should ever surpass himself in the artistry that
was from the outset his; impossible that he should bring forth rhythms
lovelier and greater than those early rhythms, or exercise over them a
mastery more than--absolute. Also, it had been impossible that the first
wild ardour of spirit should abide unsinkingly in him. Youth goes. And
there was not in Swinburne that basis on which a man may in his maturity
so build as to make good, in some degree, the loss of what is gone.
He was not a thinker: his mind rose ever away from reason to rhapsody;
neither was he human. He was a king crowned but not throned. He was
a singing bird that could build no nest. He was a youth who could
not afford to age. Had he died young, literature would have lost many
glories; but none so great as the glories he had already given, nor any
such as we should fondly imagine ourselves bereft of by his early death.
A great part of Keats' fame rests on our assumption of what he would
have done. But--even granting that Keats may have had in him more than
had Swinburne of stuff for development--I believe that had he lived on
we should think of him as author of the poems that in fact we know. Not
philosophy, after all, not humanity, just sheer joyous power of song, is
the primal thing in poetry. Ideas, and flesh and blood, are but reserves
to be brought up when the poet's youth is going. When the bird can no
longer sing in flight, let the nest be ready. After the king has dazzled
us with his crown, let him have something to sit down on. But the
session on throne or in nest is not the divine period. Had Swinburne's
genius been of the kind that solidifies, he would yet at the close of
the nineteenth century have been for us young men virtually--though not
so definitely as in fact he was--the writer of 'Atalanta in Calydon' and
of 'Poems and Ballads.'

Tennyson's death in '98 had not taken us at all by surprise. We had
been fully aware that he was alive. He had always been careful to keep
himself abreast of the times. Anything that came along--the Nebular
Hypothesis at one moment, the Imperial Institute at another--won mention
from his Muse. He had husbanded for his old age that which he had long
ago inherited: middle age. If in our mourning for him there really was
any tincture of surprise, this was due to merely the vague sense that
he had in the fullness of time died rather prematurely: his middle-age
might have been expected to go on flourishing for ever. But assuredly
Tennyson dead laid no such strain on our fancy as Swinburne living.

It is true that Swinburne did, from time to time, take public notice
of current affairs; but what notice he took did but seem to mark his
remoteness from them, from us. The Boers, I remember, were the theme of
a sonnet which embarrassed even their angriest enemies in our midst.
He likened them, if I remember rightly, to 'hell-hounds foaming at the
jaws.' This was by some people taken as a sign that he had fallen away
from that high generosity of spirit which had once been his. To me it
meant merely that he thought of poor little England writhing under the
heel of an alien despotism, just as, in the days when he really was
interested in such matters, poor little Italy had writhen. I suspect,
too, that the first impulse to write about the Boers came not from the
Muse within, but from Theodore Watts-Dunton without.... 'Now, Algernon,
we're at war, you know--at war with the Boers. I don't want to bother
you at all, but I do think, my dear old friend, you oughtn't to let slip
this opportunity of,' etc., etc.

Some such hortation is easily imaginable by any one who saw the two
old friends together. The first time I had this honour, this sight for
lasting and affectionate memory, must have been in the Spring of '99. In
those days Theodore Watts (he had but recently taken on the Dunton) was
still something of a gad-about. I had met him here and there, he had
said in his stentorian tones pleasant things to me about my writing, I
sent him a new little book of mine, and in acknowledging this he asked
me to come down to Putney and 'have luncheon and meet Swinburne.' Meet
Catullus!

On the day appointed 'I came as one whose feet half linger.' It is but
a few steps from the railway-station in Putney High Street to No. 2.
The Pines. I had expected a greater distance to the sanctuary--a walk
in which to compose my mind and prepare myself for initiation. I laid
my hand irresolutely against the gate of the bleak trim front-garden, I
withdrew my hand, I went away. Out here were all the aspects of common
modern life. In there was Swinburne. A butcher-boy went by, whistling.
He was not going to see Swinburne. He could afford to whistle. I pursued
my dilatory course up the slope of Putney, but at length it occurred
to me that unpunctuality would after all be an imperfect expression of
reverence, and I retraced my footsteps.

No. 2--prosaic inscription! But as that front-door closed behind me I
had the instant sense of having slipped away from the harsh light of the
ordinary and contemporary into the dimness of an odd, august past. Here,
in this dark hall, the past was the present. Here loomed vivid and vital
on the walls those women of Rossetti whom I had known but as shades.
Familiar to me in small reproductions by photogravure, here they
themselves were, life-sized, 'with curled-up lips and amorous hair' done
in the original warm crayon, all of them intently looking down on me
while I took off my overcoat--all wondering who was this intruder
from posterity. That they hung in the hall, evidently no more than an
overflow, was an earnest of packed plenitude within. The room I was
ushered into was a back-room, a dining-room, looking on to a good
garden. It was, in form and 'fixtures,' an inalienably Mid-Victorian
room, and held its stolid own in the riot of Rossettis. Its proportions,
its window-sash bisecting the view of garden, its folding-doors (through
which I heard the voice of Watts-Dunton booming mysteriously in the
front room), its mantel-piece, its gas-brackets, all proclaimed that
nothing ever would seduce them from their allegiance to Martin Tupper.
'Nor me from mine,' said the sturdy cruet-stand on the long expanse
of table-cloth. The voice of Watts-Dunton ceased suddenly, and a few
moments later its owner appeared. He had been dictating, he explained.
'A great deal of work on hand just now--a great deal of work.'... I
remember that on my subsequent visits he was always, at the moment of
my arrival, dictating, and always greeted me with that phrase, 'A great
deal of work on hand just now.' I used to wonder what work it was, for
he published little enough. But I never ventured to inquire, and indeed
rather cherished the mystery: it was a part of the dear little old
man; it went with the something gnome-like about his swarthiness and
chubbiness--went with the shaggy hair that fell over the collar of his
eternally crumpled frock-coat, the shaggy eyebrows that overhung his
bright little brown eyes, the shaggy moustache that hid his small round
chin. It was a mystery inherent in the richly-laden atmosphere of The
Pines....

While I stood talking to Watts-Dunton--talking as loudly as he, for he
was very deaf--I enjoyed the thrill of suspense in watching the door
through which would appear--Swinburne. I asked after Mr. Swinburne's
health. Watts-Dunton said it was very good: 'He always goes out for his
long walk in the morning--wonderfully active. Active in mind, too. But
I'm afraid you won't be able to get into touch with him. He's almost
stone-deaf, poor fellow--almost stone-deaf now.' He changed the subject,
and I felt I must be careful not to seem interested in Swinburne
exclusively. I spoke of 'Aylwin.' The parlourmaid brought in the hot
dishes. The great moment was at hand.

Nor was I disappointed. Swinburne's entry was for me a great moment.
Here, suddenly visible in the flesh, was the legendary being and divine
singer. Here he was, shutting the door behind him as might anybody else,
and advancing--a strange small figure in grey, having an air at once
noble and roguish, proud and skittish. My name was roared to him. In
shaking his hand, I bowed low, of course--a bow de coeur; and he, in the
old aristocratic manner, bowed equally low, but with such swiftness that
we narrowly escaped concussion. You do not usually associate a man of
genius, when you see one, with any social class; and, Swinburne being
of an aspect so unrelated as it was to any species of human kind, I
wondered the more that almost the first impression he made on me, or
would make on any one, was that of a very great gentleman indeed. Not of
an old gentleman, either. Sparse and straggling though the grey hair
was that fringed the immense pale dome of his head, and venerably
haloed though he was for me by his greatness, there was yet about him
something--boyish? girlish? childish, rather; something of a beautifully
well-bred child. But he had the eyes of a god, and the smile of an elf.
In figure, at first glance, he seemed almost fat; but this was merely
because of the way he carried himself, with his long neck strained
so tightly back that he all receded from the waist upwards. I noticed
afterwards that this deportment made the back of his jacket hang quite
far away from his legs; and so small and sloping were his shoulders that
the jacket seemed ever so likely to slip right off. I became aware, too,
that when he bowed he did not unbend his back, but only his neck--the
length of the neck accounting for the depth of the bow. His hands were
tiny, even for his size, and they fluttered helplessly, touchingly,
unceasingly.

Directly after my introduction, we sat down to the meal. Of course I had
never hoped to 'get into touch with him' reciprocally. Quite apart from
his deafness, I was too modest to suppose he could be interested in
anything I might say. But--for I knew he had once been as high and
copious a singer in talk as in verse--I had hoped to hear utterances
from him. And it did not seem that my hope was to be fulfilled.
Watts-Dunton sat at the head of the table, with a huge and very
Tupperesque joint of roast mutton in front of him, Swinburne and myself
close up to him on either side. He talked only to me. This was the more
tantalising because Swinburne seemed as though he were bubbling over
with all sorts of notions. Not that he looked at either of us. He smiled
only to himself, and to his plateful of meat, and to the small bottle of
Bass's pale ale that stood before him--ultimate allowance of one who had
erst clashed cymbals in Naxos. This small bottle he eyed often and with
enthusiasm, seeming to waver between the rapture of broaching it now and
the grandeur of having it to look forward to. It made me unhappy to see
what trouble he had in managing his knife and fork. Watts-Dunton told
me on another occasion that this infirmity of the hands had been
lifelong--had begun before Eton days. The Swinburne family had been
alarmed by it and had consulted a specialist, who said that it resulted
from 'an excess of electric vitality,' and that any attempt to stop it
would be harmful. So they had let it be. I have known no man of genius
who had not to pay, in some affliction or defect either physical or
spiritual, for what the gods had given him. Here, in this fluttering of
his tiny hands, was a part of the price that Swinburne had to pay. No
doubt he had grown accustomed to it many lustres before I met him, and
I need not have felt at all unhappy at what I tried not to see. He,
evidently, was quite gay, in his silence--and in the world that was for
him silent. I had, however, the maddening suspicion that he would have
liked to talk. Why wouldn't Watts-Dunton roar him an opportunity? I felt
I had been right perhaps in feeling that the lesser man was--no, not
jealous of the greater whom he had guarded so long and with such love,
but anxious that he himself should be as fully impressive to visitors as
his fine gifts warranted. Not, indeed, that he monopolised the talk.
He seemed to regard me as a source of information about all the
latest 'movements,' and I had to shout banalities while he munched his
mutton--banalities whose one saving grace for me was that they were
inaudible to Swinburne. Had I met Swinburne's gaze, I should have
faltered. Now and again his shining light-grey eyes roved from the
table, darting this way and that--across the room, up at the ceiling,
out of the window; only never at us. Somehow this aloofness gave no hint
of indifference. It seemed to be, rather, a point in good manners--the
good manners of a child 'sitting up to table,' not 'staring,' not
'asking questions,' and reflecting great credit on its invaluable old
nurse. The child sat happy in the wealth of its inner life; the child
was content not to speak until it were spoken to; but, but, I felt it
did want to be spoken to. And, at length, it was.

So soon as the mutton had been replaced by the apple-pie, Watts-Dunton
leaned forward and 'Well, Algernon,' he roared, 'how was it on the Heath
to-day?' Swinburne, who had meekly inclined his ear to the question,
now threw back his head, uttering a sound that was like the cooing of a
dove, and forthwith, rapidly, ever so musically, he spoke to us of his
walk; spoke not in the strain of a man who had been taking his daily
exercise on Putney Heath, but rather in that of a Peri who had at long
last been suffered to pass through Paradise. And rather than that he
spoke would I say that he cooingly and flutingly sang of his experience.
The wonders of this morning's wind and sun and clouds were expressed in
a flow of words so right and sentences so perfectly balanced that they
would have seemed pedantic had they not been clearly as spontaneous as
the wordless notes of a bird in song. The frail, sweet voice rose and
fell, lingered, quickened, in all manner of trills and roulades. That he
himself could not hear it, seemed to me the greatest loss his deafness
inflicted on him. One would have expected this disability to mar the
music; but it didn't; save that now and again a note would come out
metallic and over-shrill, the tones were under good control. The whole
manner and method had certainly a strong element of oddness; but no one
incapable of condemning as unmanly the song of a lark would have called
it affected. I had met young men of whose enunciation Swinburne's now
reminded me. In them the thing had always irritated me very much; and I
now became sure that it had been derived from people who had derived it
in old Balliol days from Swinburne himself. One of the points familiar
to me in such enunciation was the habit of stressing extremely, and
lackadaisically dwelling on, some particular syllable. In Swinburne
this trick was delightful--because it wasn't a trick, but a need of his
heart. Well do I remember his ecstasy of emphasis and immensity of pause
when he described how he had seen in a perambulator on the Heath to-day
'the most BEAUT--iful babbie ever beheld by mortal eyes.' For babies,
as some of his later volumes testify, he had a sort of idolatry. After
Mazzini had followed Landor to Elysium, and Victor Hugo had followed
Mazzini, babies were what among live creatures most evoked Swinburne's
genius for self-abasement. His rapture about this especial 'babbie' was
such as to shake within me my hitherto firm conviction that, whereas
the young of the brute creation are already beautiful at the age of five
minutes, the human young never begin to be so before the age of three
years. I suspect Watts-Dunton of having shared my lack of innate
enthusiasm. But it was one of Swinburne's charms, as I was to find, that
he took for granted every one's delight in what he himself so fervidly
delighted in. He could as soon have imagined a man not loving the very
sea as not doting on the aspect of babies and not reading at least one
play by an Elizabethan or Jacobean dramatist every day.

I forget whether it was at this my first meal or at another that he
described a storm in which, one night years ago, with Watts-Dunton,
he had crossed the Channel. The rhythm of his great phrases was as the
rhythm of those waves, and his head swayed in accordance to it like the
wave-rocked boat itself. He hymned in memory the surge and darkness,
the thunder and foam and phosphorescence--'You remember, Theodore? You
remember the PHOS--phorescence?'--all so beautifully and vividly that I
almost felt stormbound and in peril of my life. To disentangle one from
another of the several occasions on which I heard him talk is difficult
because the procedure was so invariable: Watts-Dunton always dictating
when I arrived, Swinburne always appearing at the moment of the meal,
always the same simple and substantial fare, Swinburne never allowed
to talk before the meal was half over. As to this last point, I soon
realised that I had been quite unjust in suspecting Watts-Dunton of
selfishness. It was simply a sign of the care with which he watched over
his friend's welfare. Had Swinburne been admitted earlier to the talk,
he would not have taken his proper quantity of roast mutton. So soon,
always, as he had taken that, the embargo was removed, the chance was
given him. And, swiftly though he embraced the chance, and much though
he made of it in the courses of apple-pie and of cheese, he seemed
touchingly ashamed of 'holding forth.' Often, before he had said
his really full say on the theme suggested by Watts-Dunton's loud
interrogation, he would curb his speech and try to eliminate himself,
bowing his head over his plate; and then, when he had promptly been
brought in again, he would always try to atone for his inhibiting
deafness by much reference and deference to all that we might otherwise
have to say. 'I hope,' he would coo to me, 'my friend Watts-Dunton,
who'--and here he would turn and make a little bow to Watts-Dunton--'is
himself a scholar, will bear me out when I say'--or 'I hardly know,'
he would flute to his old friend, 'whether Mr. Beerbohm'--here a bow to
me--'will agree with me in my opinion of' some delicate point in Greek
prosody or some incident in an old French romance I had never heard of.

On one occasion, just before the removal of the mutton, Watts-Dunton
had been asking me about an English translation that had been made of M.
Rostand's 'Cyrano de Bergerac.' He then took my information as the match
to ignite the Swinburnian tinder. 'Well, Algernon, it seems that "Cyrano
de Bergerac"'--but this first spark was enough: instantly Swinburne
was praising the works of Cyrano de Bergerac. Of M. Rostand he may
have heard, but him he forgot. Indeed I never heard Swinburne mention a
single contemporary writer. His mind ranged and revelled always in the
illustrious or obscure past. To him the writings of Cyrano de Bergerac
were as fresh as paint--as fresh as to me, alas, was the news of their
survival. Of course, of course, you have read "L'Histoire Comique des
états et des Empires de la Lune"?' I admitted, by gesture and facial
expression, that I had not. Whereupon he reeled out curious extracts
from that allegory--'almost as good as "Gulliver"'--with a memorable
instance of the way in which the traveller to the moon was shocked by
the conversation of the natives, and the natives' sense of propriety was
outraged by the conversation of the traveller.

In life, as in (that for him more truly actual thing) literature, it
was always the preterit that enthralled him. Of any passing events,
of anything the newspapers were full of, never a word from him; and I
should have been sorry if there had been. But I did, through the medium
of Watts-Dunton, sometimes start him on topics that might have led him
to talk of Rossetti and other old comrades. For me the names of those
men breathed the magic of the past, just as it was breathed for me by
Swinburne's presence. For him, I suppose, they were but a bit of the
present, and the mere fact that they had dropped out of it was not
enough to hallow them. He never mentioned them. But I was glad to see
that he revelled as wistfully in the days just before his own as I in
the days just before mine. He recounted to us things he had been told
in his boyhood by an aged aunt, or great-aunt--'one of the Ashburnhams';
how, for example, she had been taken by her mother to a county ball,
a distance of many miles, and, on the way home through the frosty and
snowy night, the family-coach had suddenly stopped: there was a crowd of
dark figures in the way...at which point Swinburne stopped too, before
saying, with an ineffable smile and in a voice faint with appreciation,
'They were burying a suicide at the crossroads.'

Vivid as this Hogarthian night-scene was to me, I saw beside it another
scene: a great panelled room, a grim old woman in a high-backed chair,
and, restless on a stool at her feet an extraordinary little nephew with
masses of auburn hair and with tiny hands clasped in supplication--'Tell
me more, Aunt Ashburnham, tell me more!'

And now, clearlier still, as I write in these after-years, do I see that
dining-room of The Pines; the long white stretch of table-cloth,
with Swinburne and Watts-Dunton and another at the extreme end of it;
Watts-Dunton between us, very low down over his plate, very cosy and
hirsute, and rather like the dormouse at that long tea-table which Alice
found in Wonderland. I see myself sitting there wide-eyed, as Alice sat.
And, had the hare been a great poet, and the hatter a great gentleman,
and neither of them mad but each only very odd and vivacious, I might
see Swinburne as a glorified blend of those two.

When the meal ended--for, alas! it was not, like that meal in
Wonderland, unending--Swinburne would dart round the table, proffer his
hand to me, bow deeply, bow to Watts-Dunton also, and disappear. 'He
always walks in the morning, writes in the afternoon, and reads in the
evening,' Watts-Dunton would say with a touch of tutorial pride in this
regimen.

That parting bow of Swinburne to his old friend was characteristic of
his whole relation to him. Cronies though they were, these two, knit
together with bonds innumerable, the greater man was always aux petits
soins for the lesser, treating him as a newly-arrived young guest might
treat an elderly host. Some twenty years had passed since that night
when, ailing and broken--thought to be nearly dying, Watts-Dunton
told me--Swinburne was brought in a four-wheeler to The Pines. Regular
private nursing-homes either did not exist in those days or were less
in vogue than they are now. The Pines was to be a sort of private
nursing-home for Swinburne. It was a good one. He recovered. He was most
grateful to his friend and saviour. He made as though to depart, was
persuaded to stay a little longer, and then a little longer than that.
But I rather fancy that, to the last, he never did, in the fullness of
his modesty and good manners, consent to regard his presence as a matter
of course, or as anything but a terminable intrusion and obligation. His
bow seemed always to convey that.

Swinburne having gone from the room, in would come the parlourmaid. The
table was cleared, the fire was stirred, two leather arm-chairs were
pushed up to the hearth. Watts-Dunton wanted gossip of the present. I
wanted gossip of the great past. We settled down for a long, comfortable
afternoon together.

Only once was the ritual varied. Swinburne (I was told before luncheon)
had expressed a wish to show me his library. So after the meal he did
not bid us his usual adieu, but with much courtesy invited us and led
the way. Up the staircase he then literally bounded--three, literally
three, stairs at a time. I began to follow at the same rate, but
immediately slackened speed for fear that Watts-Dunton behind us might
be embittered at sight of so much youth and legerity. Swinburne waited
on the threshold to receive us, as it were, and pass us in. Watts-Dunton
went and ensconced himself snugly in a corner. The sun had appeared
after a grey morning, and it pleasantly flooded this big living-room
whose walls were entirely lined with the mellow backs of books. Here, as
host, among his treasures, Swinburne was more than ever attractive.
He was as happy as was any mote in the sunshine about him; and the
fluttering of his little hands, and feet too, was but as a token of so
much felicity. He looked older, it is true, in the strong light. But
these added years made only more notable his youngness of heart. An
illustrious bibliophile among his books? A birthday child, rather, among
his toys.

Proudly he explained to me the general system under which the volumes
were ranged in this or that division of shelves. Then he conducted me to
a chair near the window, left me there, flew away, flew up the rungs of
a mahogany ladder, plucked a small volume, and in a twinkling was at
my side: 'This, I think, will please you! 'It did. It had a beautifully
engraved title-page and a pleasing scent of old, old leather. It was
editio princeps of a play by some lesser Elizabethan or Jacobean. 'Of
course you know it?' my host fluted.

How I wished I could say that I knew it and loved it well! I revealed to
him (for by speaking very loudly towards his inclined head I was able
to make him hear) that I had not read it. He envied any one who had
such pleasure in store. He darted to the ladder, and came back thrusting
gently into my hands another volume of like date: 'Of course you know
this?'

Again I had to confess that I did not, and to shout my appreciation of
the fount of type, the margins, the binding. He beamed agreement, and
fetched another volume. Archly he indicated the title, cooing, 'You are
a lover of this, I hope?' And again I was shamed by my inexperience.

I did not pretend to know this particular play, but my tone implied that
I had always been meaning to read it and had always by some mischance
been prevented. For his sake as well as my own I did want to acquit
myself passably. I wanted for him the pleasure of seeing his joys shared
by a representative, however humble, of the common world. I turned the
leaves caressingly, looking from them to him, while he dilated on the
beauty of this and that scene in the play. Anon he fetched another
volume, and another, always with the same faith that this was a
favourite of mine. I quibbled, I evaded, I was very enthusiastic and
uncomfortable. It was with intense relief that I beheld the title-page
of yet another volume which (silently, this time) he laid before me--The
Country Wench. 'This of course I have read,' I heartily shouted.

Swinburne stepped back. 'You have? You have read it? Where?' he cried,
in evident dismay.

Something was wrong. Had I not, I quickly wondered, read this play? 'Oh
yes,' I shouted, 'I have read it.'

'But when? Where?' entreated Swinburne, adding that he had supposed it
to be the sole copy extant.

I floundered. I wildly said I thought I must have read it years ago in
the Bodleian. 'Theodore! Do you hear this? It seems that they have now
a copy of "The Country Wench" in the Bodleian! Mr. Beerbohm found one
there--oh when? in what year?' he appealed to me.

I said it might have been six, seven, eight years ago. Swinburne knew
for certain that no copy had been there twelve years ago, and was
surprised that he had not heard of the acquisition. 'They might have
told me,' he wailed.

I sacrificed myself on the altar of sympathy. I admitted that I might
have been mistaken--must have been--must have confused this play with
some other. I dipped into the pages and 'No,' I shouted, 'this I have
never read.'

His equanimity was restored. He was up the ladder and down again,
showing me further treasures with all pride and ardour. At length,
Watts-Dunton, afraid that his old friend would tire himself, arose from
his corner, and presently he and I went downstairs to the dining-room.
It was in the course of our session together that there suddenly flashed
across my mind the existence of a play called 'The Country Wife,'
by--wasn't it Wycherley? I had once read it--or read something about
it.... But this matter I kept to myself. I thought I had appeared fool
enough already.

I loved those sessions in that Tupperossettine dining-room, lair of
solid old comfort and fervid old romanticism. Its odd duality befitted
well its owner. The distinguished critic and poet, Rossetti's closest
friend and Swinburne's, had been, for a while, in the dark ages, a
solicitor; and one felt he had been a good one. His frock-coat, though
the Muses had crumpled it, inspired confidence in his judgment of other
things than verse. But let there be no mistake. He was no mere bourgeois
parnassien, as his enemies insinuated. No doubt he had been very useful
to men of genius, in virtue of qualities they lacked, but the secret of
his hold on them was in his own rich nature. He was not only a born man
of letters, he was a deeply emotional human being whose appeal was
as much to the heart as to the head. The romantic Celtic mysticism of
'Aylwin,' with its lack of fashionable Celtic nebulosity, lends itself,
if you will, to laughter, though personally I saw nothing funny in
it: it seemed to me, before I was in touch with the author, a work of
genuine expression from within; and that it truly was so I presently
knew. The mysticism of Watts-Dunton (who, once comfortably settled at
the fireside, knew no reserve) was in contrast with the frock-coat and
the practical abilities; but it was essential, and they were of the
surface. For humorous Rossetti, I daresay, the very contrast made
Theodore's company the more precious. He himself had assuredly been,
and the memory of him still was, the master-fact in Watts-Dunton's
life. 'Algernon' was as an adopted child, 'Gabriel' as a long-lost
only brother. As he was to the outer world of his own day, so too to
posterity Rossetti, the man, is conjectural and mysterious. We know that
he was in his prime the most inspiring and splendid of companions. But
we know this only by faith. The evidence is as vague as it is emphatic.
Of the style and substance of not a few great talkers in the past we can
piece together some more or less vivid and probably erroneous notion.
But about Rossetti nothing has been recorded in such a way as to make
him even faintly emerge. I suppose he had in him what reviewers seem
to find so often in books a quality that defies analysis. Listening to
Watts-Dunton, I was always in hope that when next the long-lost turned
up--for he was continually doing so--in the talk, I should see him, hear
him, and share the rapture. But the revelation was not to be. You might
think that to hear him called 'Gabriel' would have given me a sense of
propinquity. But I felt no nearer to him than you feel to the Archangel
who bears that name and no surname.

It was always when Watts-Dunton spoke carelessly, casually, of some to
me illustrious figure in the past, that I had the sense of being wafted
right into that past and plumped down in the very midst of it. When he
spoke with reverence of this and that great man whom he had known, he
did not thus waft and plump me; for I, too, revered those names. But I
had the magical transition whenever one of the immortals was mentioned
in the tone of those who knew him before he had put on immortality.
Browning, for example, was a name deeply honoured by me. 'Browning,
yes,' said Watts-Dunton, in the course of an afternoon, 'Browning,' and
he took a sip of the steaming whisky-toddy that was a point in our day's
ritual. 'I was a great diner-out in the old times. I used to dine out
every night in the week. Browning was a great diner-out, too. We were
always meeting. What a pity he went on writing all those plays! He
hadn't any gift for drama--none. I never could understand why he took to
play-writing.' He wagged his head, gazing regretfully into the fire, and
added, 'Such a clever fellow, too!'

Whistler, though alive and about, was already looked to as a hierarch by
the young. Not so had he been looked to by Rossetti. The thrill of the
past was always strong in me when Watts-Dunton mentioned--seldom without
a guffaw did he mention--'Jimmy Whistler.' I think he put in the surname
because 'that fellow' had not behaved well to Swinburne. But he could
not omit the nickname, because it was impossible for him to feel the
right measure of resentment against 'such a funny fellow.' As heart-full
of old hates as of old loves was Watts-Dunton, and I take it as high
testimony to the charm of Whistler's quaintness that Watts-Dunton did
not hate him. You may be aware that Swinburne, in '88, wrote for one of
the monthly reviews a criticism of the 'Ten O'Clock' lecture. He paid
courtly compliments to Whistler as a painter, but joined issue with his
theories. Straightway there appeared in the World a little letter from
Whistler, deriding 'one Algernon Swinburne--outsider--Putney.' It was
not in itself a very pretty or amusing letter; and still less so did it
seem in the light of the facts which Watts-Dunton told me in some such
words as these: After he'd published that lecture of his, Jimmy Whistler
had me to dine with him at Kettner's or somewhere. He said "Now,
Theodore, I want you to do me a favour." He wanted to get me to get
Swinburne to write an article about his lecture. I said "No, Jimmy
Whistler, I can't ask Algernon to do that. He's got a great deal of work
on hand just now--a great deal of work. And besides, this sort of thing
wouldn't be at all in his line." But Jimmy Whistler went on appealing to
me. He said it would do him no end of good if Swinburne wrote about him.
And--well, I half gave in: I said perhaps I would mention the matter to
Algernon. And next day I did. I could see Algernon didn't want to do it
at all. But--well, there, he said he'd do it to please me. And he
did it. And then Jimmy Whistler published that letter. A very shabby
trick--very shabby indeed.' Of course I do not vouch for the exact words
in which Watts-Dunton told me this tale; but this was exactly the tale
he told me. I expressed my astonishment. He added that of course he
'never wanted to see the fellow again after that, and never did.' But
presently, after a long gaze into the coals, he emitted a chuckle, as
for earlier memories of 'such a funny fellow.' One quite recent memory
he had, too. 'When I took on the name of Dunton, I had a note from him.
Just this, with his butterfly signature: Theodore! What's Dunton? That
was very good--very good.... But, of course,' he added gravely, 'I took
no notice.' And no doubt, quite apart from the difficulty of finding
an answer in the same vein, he did well in not replying. Loyalty to
Swinburne forbade. But I see a certain pathos in the unanswered message.
It was a message from the hand of an old jester, but also, I think,
from the heart of an old man--a signal waved jauntily, but in truth
wistfully, across the gulf of years and estrangement; and one could wish
it had not been ignored.

Some time after Whistler died I wrote for one of the magazines an
appreciation of his curious skill in the art of writing. Watts-Dunton
told me he had heard of this from Swinburne. 'I myself,' he said, 'very
seldom read the magazines. But Algernon always has a look at them.'
There was something to me very droll, and cheery too, in this picture of
the illustrious recluse snatching at the current issues of our twaddle.
And I was immensely pleased at hearing that my article had 'interested
him very much.' I inwardly promised myself that as soon as I reached
home I would read the article, to see just how it might have struck
Swinburne. When in due course I did this, I regretted the tone of the
opening sentences, in which I declared myself 'no book-lover' and avowed
a preference for 'an uninterrupted view of my fellow-creatures.' I felt
that had I known my article would meet the eye of Swinburne I should
have cut out that overture. I dimly remembered a fine passage in one of
his books of criticism--something (I preferred not to verify it) about
'the dotage of duncedom which cannot perceive, or the impudence of
insignificance so presumptuous as to doubt, that the elements of life
and literature are indivisibly mingled one in another, and that he to
whom books are less real than life will assuredly find in men and women
as little reality as in his accursed crassness he deserves to discover.'
I quailed, I quailed. But mine is a resilient nature, and I promptly
reminded myself that Swinburne's was a very impersonal one: he would not
think the less highly of me, for he never had thought about me in any
way whatsoever. All was well. I knew I could revisit The Pines, when
next Watts-Dunton should invite me, without misgiving. And to this day
I am rather proud of having been mentioned, though not by name, and not
consciously, and unfavourably, by Swinburne.

I wonder that I cannot recall more than I do recall of those hours at
The Pines. It is odd how little remains to a man of his own past--how
few minutes of even his memorable hours are not clean forgotten, and
how few seconds in any one of those minutes can be recaptured... I am
middle-aged, and have lived a vast number of seconds. Subtract one third
of these, for one mustn't count sleep as life. The residual number is
still enormous. Not a single one of those seconds was unimportant to me
in its passage. Many of them bored me, of course; but even boredom is a
positive state: one chafes at it and hates it; strange that one
should afterwards forget it! And stranger still that of one's actual
happinesses and unhappinesses so tiny and tattered a remnant clings
about one! Of those hours at The Pines, of that past within a past,
there was not a minute nor a second that I did not spend with pleasure.
Memory is a great artist, we are told; she selects and rejects and
shapes and so on. No doubt. Elderly persons would be utterly intolerable
if they remembered everything. Everything, nevertheless, is just what
they themselves would like to remember, and just what they would like
to tell to everybody. Be sure that the Ancient Mariner, though he
remembered quite as much as his audience wanted to hear, and rather
more, about the albatross and the ghastly crew, was inwardly raging at
the sketchiness of his own mind; and believe me that his stopping only
one of three was the merest oversight. I should like to impose on the
world many tomes about The Pines.

But, scant though my memories are of the moments there, very full and
warm in me is the whole fused memory of the two dear old men that lived
there. I wish I had Watts-Dunton's sure faith in meetings beyond the
grave. I am glad I do not disbelieve that people may so meet. I like to
think that some day in Elysium I shall--not without diffidence--approach
those two and reintroduce myself. I can see just how courteously
Swinburne will bow over my hand, not at all remembering who I am.
Watts-Dunton will remember me after a moment: 'Oh, to be sure, yes
indeed! I've a great deal of work on hand just now--a great deal of
work, but' we shall sit down together on the asphodel, and I cannot but
think we shall have whisky-toddy even there. He will not have changed.
He will still be shaggy and old and chubby, and will wear the same
frock-coat, with the same creases in it. Swinburne, on the other hand,
will be quite, quite young, with a full mane of flaming auburn locks,
and no clothes to hinder him from plunging back at any moment into the
shining Elysian waters from which he will have just emerged. I see him
skim lightly away into that element. On the strand is sitting a man of
noble and furrowed brow. It is Mazzini, still thinking of Liberty. And
anon the tiny young English amphibian comes ashore to fling himself
dripping at the feet of the patriot and to carol the Republican ode he
has composed in the course of his swim. 'He's wonderfully active--active
in mind and body,' Watts-Dunton says to me. 'I come to the shore now
and then, just to see how he's getting on. But I spend most of my time
inland. I find I've so much to talk over with Gabriel. Not that he's
quite the fellow he was. He always had rather a cult for Dante, you
know, and now he's more than ever under the Florentine influence. He
lives in a sort of monastery that Dante has here; and there he sits
painting imaginary portraits of Beatrice, and giving them all to Dante.
But he still has his great moments, and there's no one quite like
him--no one. Algernon won't ever come and see him, because that fellow
Mazzini's as Anti-Clerical as ever and makes a principle of having
nothing to do with Dante. Look!--there's Algernon going into the water
again! He'll tire himself out, he'll catch cold, he'll--' and here the
old man rises and hurries down to the sea's edge. 'Now, Algernon,' he
roars, 'I don't want to interfere with you, but I do think, my dear old
friend,'--and then, with a guffaw, he breaks off, remembering that his
friend is not deaf now nor old, and that here in Elysium, where no ills
are, good advice is not needed.



A LETTER THAT WAS NOT WRITTEN 1914.

One morning lately I saw in my newspaper an announcement that enraged
me. It was made in the driest, most casual way, as though nobody would
care a rap; and this did but whet the wrath I had in knowing that Adam
Street, Adelphi, was to be undone. The Tivoli Music Hall, about to be
demolished and built anew, was to have a frontage of thirty feet, if you
please, in Adam Street. Why? Because the London County Council, with its
fixed idea that the happiness of mankind depends on the widening of the
Strand, had decreed that the Tivoli's new frontage thereon should be
thirty feet further back, and had granted as consolation to the Tivoli
the right to spread itself around the corner and wreck the work of the
Brothers Adam. Could not this outrage be averted? There sprang from
my lips that fiery formula which has sprung from the lips of so many
choleric old gentlemen in the course of the past hundred years and more:
'I shall write to The Times.'

If Adam Street were a thing apart I should have been stricken enough,
heaven knows, at thought of its beauty going, its dear tradition being
lost. But not as an unrelated masterpiece was Adam Street built by the
Brothers whose name it bears. An integral part it is in their
noble design of the Adelphi. It is the very key to the Adelphi, the
well-ordained initiation for us into that small, matchless quarter of
London, where peace and dignity do still reign--peace the more beatific,
and dignity the finer, by instant contrast with the chaos of hideous
sounds and sights hard by. What man so gross that, passing out of the
Strand into Adam Street, down the mild slope to the river, he has not
cursed the age he was born into--or blessed it because the Adelphi
cannot in earlier days have had for any one this fullness of peculiar
magic? Adam Street is not so beautiful as the serene Terrace it goes
down to, nor so curiously grand as crook-backed John Street. But the
Brothers did not mean it to be so. They meant it just as an harmonious
'lead' to those inner glories of their scheme. Ruin that approach, and
how much else do you ruin of a thing which--done perfectly by masters,
and done by them here as nowhere else could they have done it--ought
to be guarded by us very jealously! How to raise on this irregular and
'barbarous' ground a quarter that should be 'polite', congruous in tone
with the smooth river beyond it--this was the irresistible problem the
Brothers set themselves and slowly, coolly, perfectly solved. So long
as the Adelphi remains to us, a microcosm of the eighteenth century is
ours. If there is any meaning in the word sacrilege--

That, I remember, was the beginning of one of the sentences I composed
while I paced my room, thinking out my letter to The Times. I rejected
that sentence. I rejected scores of others. They were all too vehement.
Though my facility for indignation is not (I hope) less than that of my
fellows, I never had written to The Times. And now, though I flattered
myself I knew how the thing ought to be done, I was unsure that I could
do it. Was I beginning too late? Restraint was the prime effect to
be aimed at. If you are intemperate, you don't convince. I wanted to
convince the readers of The Times that the violation of the Adelphi was
a thing to be prevented at all costs. Soberness of statement, a simple,
direct, civic style, with only an underthrob of personal emotion, were
what I must at all costs achieve. Not too much of mere aesthetics,
either, nor of mere sentiment for the past. No more than a brief eulogy
of 'those admirably proportioned streets so familiar to all students
of eighteenth century architecture,' and perhaps a passing reference to
'the shades of Dr. Johnson, Garrick, Hannah More, Sir Joshua Reynolds.
Topham Beauclerk, and how many others!' The sooner my protest were put
in terms of commerce, the better for my cause. The more clearly I were
to point out that such antiquities as the Adelphi are as a magnet to the
moneyed tourists of America and Europe, the likelier would my readers
be to shudder at 'a proposal which, if carried into effect, will bring
discredit on all concerned and will in some measure justify Napoleon's
hitherto-unjustified taunt that we are a nation of shopkeepers.--I am,
Sir, your obedient servant'--good! I sat down to a table and wrote out
that conclusion, and then I worked backwards, keeping well in view
the idea of 'restraint.' But that quality which is little sister
to restraint, and is yet far more repulsive to the public mind than
vehemence, emerged to misguide my pen. Irony, in fact, played the deuce.
I found myself writing that a nation which, in its ardour for beauty
and its reverence for great historic associations, has lately disbursed
after only a few months' hesitation £250,000 to save the Crystal Palace,
where the bank holidays of millions of toilers have been spoilt by the
utter gloom and nullity of the place--a nullity and gloom that will,
however and of course, be dispelled so soon as the place is devoted
to permanent exhibitions of New Zealand pippins, Rhodesian tobacco,
Australian mutton, Canadian snow-shoes, and other glories of
Empire--might surely not be asked in vain to'--but I deleted
that sentence, and tried another in another vein. My desire to be
straightforward did but topple me into excess of statement. My sorrow
for the Adelphi came out as sentimentality, my anger against the
authorities as vulgar abuse. Only the urgency of my cause upheld me. I
would get my letter done somehow and post it. But there flitted through
my mind that horrid doubt which has flitted through the minds of so many
choleric old gentlemen in the course of the past hundred years and more:
'Will The Times put my letter in?'

If The Times wouldn't, what then? At least my conscience would be clear:
I should have done what I could to save my beloved quarter. But the
process of doing it was hard and tedious, and I was glad of the little
respite presented by the thought that I must, before stating my case
thoroughly, revisit Adam Street itself, to gauge precisely the extent
of the mischief threatened there. On my way to the Strand I met an old
friend, one of my links with whom is his love of the Adams' work. He
had not read the news, and I am sorry to say that I, in my selfish
agitation, did not break it to him gently. Rallying, he accompanied me
on my sombre quest.

I had forgotten there was a hosier's shop next to the Tivoli, at the
corner of the right-hand side of Adam Street. We turned past it, and
were both of us rather surprised that there were other shops down that
side. They ought never to have been allowed there; but there they were;
and of course, I felt, it was the old facades above them that really
counted. We gazed meanwhile at the facades on the left-hand side,
feasting our eyes on the proportions of the pilasters, the windows;
the old seemly elegance of it all; the greatness of the manner with the
sweet smallness of the scale it wrought on.

'Well,' I said, turning abruptly away, 'to business! Thirty feet--how
much, about, is that? My friend moved to the exact corner of the Strand,
and then, steadily, methodically, with his eyes to the pavement, walked
thirty toe-to-heal paces down Adam Street.

'This,' he said, 'is where the corner of the Tivoli would come'--not
'will come,' observe; I thanked him for that. He passed on, measuring
out the thirty additional feet. There was in his demeanour something so
finely official that I felt I should at least have the Government on my
side.

Thus it was with no sense of taking a farewell look, but rather to
survey a thing half-saved already, that I crossed over to the other
side of the road, and then, lifting my eyes, and looking to and fro,
beheld--what?

I blankly indicated the thing to my friend. How long had it been there,
that horrible, long, high frontage of grey stone? It must surely have
been there before either of us was born. It seemed to be a very perfect
specimen of 1860--1870 architecture--perfect in its pretentious and
hateful smugness.

And neither of us had ever known it was there.

Neither of us, therefore, could afford to laugh at the other; nor did
either of us laugh at himself; we just went blankly away, and parted. I
daresay my friend found presently, as I did, balm in the knowledge that
the Tivoli's frontage wouldn't, because it couldn't, be so bad as that
which we had just, for the first time, seen.

For me there was another, a yet stronger, balm. And I went as though I
trod on air, my heart singing within me. For I had not, after all, to
resume my task of writing that letter to The Times.



BOOKS WITHIN BOOKS 1914.

They must, I suppose, be classed among biblia abiblia [Greek]. Ignored
in the catalogue of any library, not one of them lurking in any
uttermost cavern under the reading-room of the British Museum, none of
them ever printed even for private circulation, these books written by
this and that character in fiction are books only by courtesy and good
will.

But how few, after all, the books that are books! Charles Lamb let his
kind heart master him when he made that too brief list of books that
aren't. Book is an honourable title, not to be conferred lightly. A
volume is not necessarily, as Lamb would have had us think, a book
because it can be read without difficulty. The test is, whether it was
worth reading. Had the author something to set forth? And had he the
specific gift for setting it forth in written words? And did he use this
rather rare gift conscientiously and to the full? And were his words
well and appropriately printed and bound? If you can say Yes to these
questions, then only, I submit, is the title of 'book' deserved. If Lamb
were alive now, he certainly would draw the line closer than he did.
Published volumes were few in his day (though not, of course, few
enough). Even he, in all the plenitude of his indulgence, would now have
to demur that at least 90 per cent. of the volumes that the publishers
thrust on us, so hectically, every spring and autumn, are abiblia
[Greek].

What would he have to say of the novels, for example? These commodities
are all very well in their way, no doubt. But let us have no illusions
as to what their way is. The poulterer who sells strings of sausages
does not pretend that every individual sausage is in itself remarkable.
He does not assure us that 'this is a sausage that gives furiously to
think,' or 'this is a singularly beautiful and human sausage,' or 'this
is undoubtedly the sausage of the year.' Why are such distinctions drawn
by the publisher? When he publishes, as he sometimes does, a novel that
is a book (or at any rate would be a book if it were decently printed
and bound) then by all means let him proclaim its difference--even at
the risk of scaring away the majority of readers.

I admit that I myself might be found in that majority. I am shy of
masterpieces; nor is this merely because of the many times I have been
disappointed at not finding anything at all like what the publishers
expected me to find. As a matter of fact, those disappointments are dim
in my memory: it is long since I ceased to take publishers' opinions as
my guide. I trust now, for what I ought to read, to the advice of a few
highly literary friends. But so soon as I am told that I 'must' read
this or that, and have replied that I instantly will, I become strangely
loth to do anything of the sort. And what I like about books within
books is that they never can prick my conscience. It is extraordinarily
comfortable that they don't exist.

And yet--for, even as Must implants distaste, so does Can't stir sweet
longings--how eagerly would I devour these books within books! What
fun, what a queer emotion, to fish out from a fourpenny-box, in a windy
by-street, WALTER LORRAINE, by ARTHUR PENDENNIS, or PASSION FLOWERS, by
ROSA BUNION! I suppose poor Rosa's muse, so fair and so fervid in Rosa's
day, would seem a trifle fatigued now; but what allowances one would
make! Lord Steyne said of WALTER LORRAINE that it was 'very clever and
wicked.' I fancy we should apply neither epithet now. Indeed, I have
always suspected that Pen's maiden effort may have been on a plane with
'The Great Hoggarty Diamond.' Yet I vow would I not skip a line of it.

WHO PUT BACK THE CLOCK? is another work which I especially covet. Poor
Gideon Forsyth! He was abominably treated, as Stevenson relates, in
the matter of that grand but grisly piano; and I have always hoped that
perhaps, in the end, as a sort of recompense, Fate ordained that the
novel he had anonymously written should be rescued from oblivion and
found by discerning critics to be not at all bad.

"He had never acknowledged it, or only to some intimate friends while
it was still in proof; after its appearance and alarming failure, the
modesty of the author had become more pressing, and the secret was now
likely to be better kept than that of the authorship of 'Waverley.'"

Such an humiliation as Gideon's is the more poignant to me because it
is so rare in English fiction. In nine cases out of ten, a book within a
book is an immediate, an immense success.

On the whole, our novelists have always tended to optimism--especially
they who have written mainly to please their public. It pleases the
public to read about any sort of success. The greater, the more sudden
and violent the success, the more valuable is it as ingredient in a
novel. And since the average novelist lives always in a dream that one
of his works will somehow 'catch on' as no other work ever has caught on
yet, it is very natural that he should fondly try meanwhile to get this
dream realised for him, vicariously, by this or that creature of his
fancy. True, he is usually too self-conscious to let this creature
achieve his sudden fame and endless fortune through a novel. Usually
it is a play that does the trick. In the Victorian time it was almost
always a book of poems. Oh for the spacious days of Tennyson and
Swinburne! In how many a three-volume novel is mentioned some 'slim
octavo' which seems, from the account given, to have been as arresting
as 'Poems and Ballads' without being less acceptable than 'Idylls of the
King'! These verses were always the anonymous work of some very young,
very poor man, who supposed they had fallen still-born from the press
until, one day, a week or so after publication, as he walked 'moodily'
and 'in a brown study' along the Strand, having given up all hope now
that he would ever be in a position to ask Hilda to be his wife, a
friend accosted him--'Seen "The Thunderer" this morning? By George,
there's a column review of a new book of poems,' etc. In some
three-volume novel that I once read at a seaside place, having borrowed
it from the little circulating library, there was a young poet whose
sudden leap into the front rank has always laid a special hold on
my imagination. The name of the novel itself I cannot recall; but I
remember the name of the young poet--Aylmer Deane; and the forever
unforgettable title of his book of verse was POMENTS: BEING POEMS OF
THE MOOD AND THE MOMENT. What would I not give to possess a copy of that
work?

Though he had suffered, and though suffering is a sovereign preparation
for great work, I did not at the outset foresee that Aylmer Deane was
destined to wear the laurel. In real life I have rather a flair for
future eminence. In novels I am apt to be wise only after the event.
There the young men who do in due course take the town by storm have
seldom shown (to my dull eyes) promise. Their spoken thoughts have
seemed to me no more profound or pungent than my own. All that is best
in these authors goes into their work. But, though I complain of them on
this count, I admit that the thrill for me of their triumphs is the more
rapturous because every time it catches me unawares. One of the greatest
emotions I ever had was from the triumph of THE GIFT OF GIFTS. Of this
novel within a novel the author was not a young man at all, but an
elderly clergyman whose life had been spent in a little rural parish.
He was a dear, simple old man, a widower. He had a large family, a small
stipend. Judge, then, of his horror when he found that his eldest son,
'a scholar at Christminster College, Oxbridge,' had run into debt for
many hundreds of pounds. Where to turn? The father was too proud to
borrow of the neighbourly nobleman who in Oxbridge days had been his
'chum.' Nor had the father ever practised the art of writing. (We are
told that 'his sermons were always extempore.') But, years ago, 'he had
once thought of writing a novel based on an experience which happened to
a friend of his.' This novel, in the fullness of time, he now proceeded
to write, though 'without much hope of success.' He knew that he was
suffering from heart-disease. But he worked 'feverishly, night after
night,' we are told, 'in his old faded dressing-gown, till the dawn
mingled with the light of his candle and warned him to snatch a few
hours' rest, failing which he would be little able to perform the round
of parish duties that awaited him in the daytime.' No wonder he had
'not much hope.' No wonder I had no spark of hope for him. But what are
obstacles for but to be overleapt? What avails heart-disease, what avail
eld and feverish haste and total lack of literary training, as against
the romantic instinct of the lady who created the Rev. Charles Hailing?
'THE GIFT OF GIFTS was acclaimed as a masterpiece by all the first-class
critics.' Also, it very soon 'brought in' ten times as much money as
was needed to pay off the debts of its author's eldest son. Nor, though
Charles Hailing died some months later, are we told that he died from
the strain of composition. We are left merely to rejoice at knowing he
knew at the last 'that his whole family was provided for.'

I wonder why it is that, whilst these Charles Hailings and Aylmer Deanes
delightfully abound in the lower reaches of English fiction, we have so
seldom found in the work of our great novelists anything at all about
the writing of a great book. It is true, of course, that our great
novelists have never had for the idea of literature itself that passion
which has always burned in the great French ones. Their own art has
never seemed to them the most important and interesting thing in life.
Also it is true that they have had other occupations--fox-hunting,
preaching, editing magazines, what not. Yet to them literature must,
as their own main task, have had a peculiar interest and importance. No
fine work can be done without concentration and self-sacrifice and toil
and doubt. It is nonsense to imagine that our great novelists have
just forged ahead or ambled along, reaching their goal, in the good old
English fashion, by sheer divination of the way to it. A fine book, with
all that goes to the making of it, is as fine a theme as a novelist
can have. But it is a part of English hypocrisy--or, let it be more
politely said, English reserve--that, whilst we are fluent enough in
grumbling about small inconveniences, we insist on making light of
any great difficulties or griefs that may beset us. And just there, I
suppose, is the reason why our great novelists have shunned great books
as subject-matter. It is fortunate for us (jarring though it is to our
patriotic sense) that Mr. Henry James was not born an Englishman, that
he was born of a race of specialists--men who are impenitent specialists
in whatever they take up, be it sport, commerce, politics, anything. And
it is fortunate for us that in Paris, and in the straitest literary sect
there, his method began to form itself, and the art of prose fiction
became to him a religion. In that art he finds as much inspiration as
Swinburne found in the art of poetry. Just as Swinburne was the most
learned of our poets, so is Mr. James the most learned of our--let
us say 'our'--prose-writers. I doubt whether the heaped total of his
admirations would be found to outweigh the least one of the admirations
that Swinburne had. But, though he has been a level-headed reader of the
works that are good enough for him to praise, his abstract passion for
the art of fiction itself has always been fierce and constant. Partly to
the Parisian, partly to the American element in him we owe the stories
that he, and of 'our' great writers he only, has written about books and
the writers of books.

Here, indeed, in these incomparable stories, are imaginary great books
that are as real to us as real ones are. Sometimes, as in 'The Author
of "Beltraffio,"' a great book itself is the very hero of the story.
(We are not told what exactly was the title of that second book which
Ambient's wife so hated that she let her child die rather than that he
should grow up under the influence of its author; but I have a queer
conviction that it was THE DAISIES.) Usually, in these stories, it is
through the medium of some ardent young disciple, speaking in the first
person, that we become familiar with the great writer. It is thus that
we know Hugh Vereker, throughout whose twenty volumes was woven that
message, or meaning, that 'figure in the carpet,' which eluded even the
elect. It is thus that we know Neil Paraday, the MS. of whose last book
was mislaid and lost so tragically, so comically. And it is also
through Paraday's disciple that we make incidental acquaintance with Guy
Walsingham, the young lady who wrote OBSESSIONS, and with Dora Forbes,
the burly man with a red moustache, who wrote THE OTHER WAY ROUND. These
two books are the only inferior books mentioned by Mr. James. But stay,
I was forgetting THE TOP OF THE TREE, by Amy Evans; and also those
nearly forty volumes by Henry St. George. For all the greatness of
his success in life, Henry St. George is the saddest of the authors
portrayed by Mr. James. His SHADOWMERE was splendid, and its splendour
is the measure of his shame--the shame he bore so bravely--in the ruck
of his 'output.' He is the only one of those authors who did not do his
best. Of him alone it may not be said that he was 'generous and delicate
and pursued the prize.' He is a more pathetic figure than even Dencombe,
the author of THE MIDDLE YEARS. Dencombe's grievance was against fate,
not against himself.

"It had taken too much of his life to produce too little of his art The
art had come, but it had come after everything else. 'Ah, for another
go!--ah, for a better chance.'... 'A second chance--that's the delusion.
There never was to be but one. We work in the dark--we do what we
can--we give what we have. Our doubt is our passion and our passion is
our task. The rest is the madness of art.'"

The scene of Dencombe's death is one of the most deeply-beautiful things
ever done by Mr. James. It is so beautiful as to be hardly sad; it rises
and glows and gladdens. It is more exquisite than anything in THE MIDDLE
YEARS. No, I will not say that. Mr. James's art can always carry to us
the conviction that his characters' books are as fine as his own.

I crave--it may be a foolish whim, but I do crave--ocular evidence for
my belief that those books were written and were published. I want to
see them all ranged along goodly shelves. A few days ago I sat in one
of those libraries which seem to be doorless. Nowhere, to the eye,
was broken the array of serried volumes. Each door was flush with the
surrounding shelves; across each the edges of the shelves were mimicked;
and in the spaces between these edges the backs of books were pasted
congruously with the whole effect. Some of these backs had been taken
from actual books, others had been made specially and were stamped with
facetious titles that rather depressed me. 'Here,' thought I, 'are the
shelves on which Dencombe's works ought to be made manifest. And Neil
Paraday's too, and Vereker's.' Not Henry St. George's, of course: he
would not himself have wished it, poor fellow! I would have nothing
of his except SHADOWMERE. But Ray Limbert!--I would have all of his,
including a first edition of THE MAJOR KEY, 'that fiery-hearted rose as
to which we watched in private the formation of petal after petal, and
flame after flame'; and also THE HIDDEN HEART, 'the shortest of his
novels, but perhaps the loveliest,' as Mr. James and I have always
thought.... How my fingers would hover along these shelves, always just
going to alight, but never, lest the spell were broken, alighting!

How well they would look there, those treasures of mine! And, most of
them having been issued in the seemly old three-volume form, how many
shelves they would fill! But I should find a place certainly for
a certain small brown book adorned with a gilt griffin between
wheatsheaves. THE PILGRIM'S SCRIP, that delightful though anonymous work
of my old friend Austin Absworthy Bearne Feverel. And I should like to
find a place for POEMS, by AURORA LEIGH. Mr. Snodgrass's book of verses
might grace one of the lower shelves. (What is the title of it? AMELIA'S
BOWER, I hazard.) RECOLLECTIONS OF THE LATE LORD BYRON AND OTHERS, by
CAPTAIN SUMPH, would be somewhere; for Sumph did, you will be glad to
hear, take Shandon's advice and compile a volume. Bungay published it.
Indeed, of the books for which I should find room there are a good few
that bear the imprimatur of Bungay. DESPERATIN, OR THE FUGITIVE DUCHESS,
by THE HON. PERCY Popjoy, was Bungay's; and so, of course, were PASSION
FLOWERS and WALTER LORRAINE. Of the books issued by the rival firm of
Bacon I possess but one: MEMOIRS OF THE POISONERS, by DR. SLOCUM. Near
to Popjoy's romance would be THE LADY FLABELLA, of which Mrs. Wititterly
said to Kate Nickleby, 'So voluptuous is it not--so soft?' WHO PUT BACK
THE CLOCK? would have a place of honour (unearned by its own merits?).
Among other novels that I could not spare, THE GIFT OF GIFTS would
conspicuously gleam. As for POMENTS--ah, I should not be content with
one copy of that. Even at the risk of crowding out a host of treasures,
I vow I would have a copy of every one of the editions that POMENTS ran
through.



THE GOLDEN DRUGGET 1918.

Primitive and essential things have great power to touch the heart of
the beholder. I mean such things as a man ploughing a field, or sowing
or reaping; a girl filling a pitcher from a spring; a young mother with
her child; a fisherman mending his nets; a light from a lonely hut on a
dark night.

Things such as these are the best themes for poets and painters, and
appeal to aught that there may be of painter or poet in any one of
us. Strictly, they are not so old as the hills, but they are more
significant and eloquent than hills. Hills will outlast them; but hills
glacially surviving the life of man on this planet are of as little
account as hills tremulous and hot in ages before the life of man had
its beginning. Nature is interesting only because of us. And the
best symbols of us are such sights as I have just mentioned--sights
unalterable by fashion of time or place, sights that in all countries
always were and never will not be.

It is true that in many districts nowadays there are elaborate new kinds
of machinery for ploughing the fields and reaping the corn. In the most
progressive districts of all, I daresay, the very sowing of the grain is
done by means of some engine, with better results than could be got by
hand. For aught I know, there is a patented invention for catching fish
by electricity. It is natural that we should, in some degree, pride
ourselves on such triumphs. It is well that we should have poems about
them, and pictures of them. But such poems and pictures cannot touch our
hearts very deeply. They cannot stir in us the sense of our kinship with
the whole dim past and the whole dim future. The ancient Egyptians were
great at scientific dodges--very great indeed, nearly as great as we,
the archaeologists tell us. Sand buried the memory of those dodges for
a rather long time. How are we to know that the glories of our present
civilisation will never be lost? The world's coal-mines and oil-fields
are exhaustible; and it is not, I am told, by any means certain that
scientists will discover any good substitutes for the materials which
are necessary to mankind's present pitch of glory. Mankind may, I infer,
have to sink back into slow and simple ways, continent be once more
separated from continent, nation from nation, village from village. And,
even supposing that the present rate of traction and communication and
all the rest of it can forever be maintained, is our modern way of life
so great a success that mankind will surely never be willing to let it
lapse? Doubtless, that present rate can be not only maintained, but also
accelerated immensely, in the near future. Will these greater glories
be voted, even by the biggest fools, an improvement? We smile already at
the people of the early nineteenth century who thought that the vistas
opened by applied science were very heavenly. We have travelled far
along those vistas. Light is not abundant in them, is it? We are proud
of having gone such a long way, but...peradventure, those who come
after us will turn back, sooner or later, of their own accord. This is
a humbling thought. If the wonders of our civilisation are doomed, we
should prefer them to cease through lack of the minerals and mineral
products that keep them going. Possibly they are not doomed at all. But
this chance counts for little as against the certainty that, whatever
happens, the primitive and essential things will never, anywhere, wholly
cease, while mankind lasts. And thus it is that Brown's Ode to the Steam
Plough, Jones' Sonnet Sequence on the Automatic Reaping Machine, and
Robinson's Epic of the Piscicidal Dynamo, leave unstirred the deeper
depths of emotion in us. The subjects chosen by these three great poets
do not much impress us when we regard them sub specie aeternitatis.
Smith has painted nothing more masterly than his picture of a girl
turning a hot-water tap. But has he never seen a girl fill a pitcher
from a spring? Smithers' picture of a young mother seconding a
resolution at a meeting of a Board of Guardians is magnificent, as
brushwork. But why not have cut out the Board and put in the baby? I
yield to no one in admiration of Smithkins' 'Facade of the Waldorf Hotel
by Night, in Peace Time.' But a single light from a lonely hut would
have been a finer theme.

I should like to show Smithkins the thing that I call The Golden
Drugget. Or rather, as this thing is greatly romantic to me, and that
painter is so unfortunate in his surname, I should like Smithkins to
find it for himself.

These words are written in war time and in England. There are, I hear,
'lighting restrictions' even on the far Riviera di Levante. I take it
that the Golden Drugget is not outspread now-anights across the high
dark coast-road between Rapallo and Zoagli. But the lonely wayside inn
is still there, doubtless; and its narrow door will again stand open,
giving out for wayfarers its old span of brightness into darkness, when
peace comes.

It is nothing by daylight, that inn. If anything, it is rather an
offence. Steep behind it rise mountains that are grey all over with
olive trees, and beneath it, on the other side of the road, the cliff
falls sheer to the sea. The road is white, the sea and sky are usually
of a deep bright blue, there are many single cypresses among the olives.
It is a scene of good colour and noble form. It is a gay and a grand
scene, in which the inn, though unassuming, is unpleasing, if you pay
attention to it. An ugly little box-like inn. A stuffy-looking and
uninviting inn. Salt and tobacco, it announces in faint letters above
the door, may be bought there. But one would prefer to buy these things
elsewhere. There is a bench outside, and a rickety table with a zinc top
to it, and sometimes a peasant or two drinking a glass or two of wine.
The proprietress is very unkempt. To Don Quixote she would have seemed a
princess, and the inn a castle, and the peasants notable magicians. Don
Quixote would have paused here and done something. Not so do I.

By daylight, on the way down from my little home to Rapallo, or up from
Rapallo home, I am indeed hardly conscious that this inn exists. By
moonlight, too, it is negligible. Stars are rather unbecoming to it. But
on a thoroughly dark night, when it is manifest as nothing but a strip
of yellow light cast across the road from an ever-open door, great
always is its magic for me. Is? I mean was. But then, I mean also will
be. And so I cleave to the present tense--the nostalgic present, as
grammarians might call it.

Likewise, when I say that thoroughly dark nights are rare here, I mean
that they are rare in the Gulf of Genoa. Clouds do not seem to like
our landscape. But it has often struck me that Italian nights, whenever
clouds do congregate, are somehow as much darker than English nights as
Italian days are brighter than days in England. They have a heavier and
thicker nigritude. They shut things out from you more impenetrably. They
enclose you as in a small pavilion of black velvet. This tenement is not
very comfortable in a strong gale. It makes you feel rather helpless.
And gales can be strong enough, in the late autumn, on the Riviera di
Levante.

It is on nights when the wind blows its hardest, but makes no rift
anywhere for a star to peep through, that the Golden Drugget, as I
approach it, gladdens my heart the most. The distance between Rapallo
and my home up yonder is rather more than two miles. The road curves and
zigzags sharply, for the most part; but at the end of the first mile it
runs straight for three or four hundred yards; and, as the inn stands at
a point midway on this straight course, the Golden Drugget is visible to
me long before I come to it. Even by starlight, it is good to see. How
much better, if I happen to be out on a black rough night when nothing
is disclosed but this one calm bright thing. Nothing? Well, there has
been descriable, all the way, a certain grey glimmer immediately in
front of my feet. This, in point of fact, is the road, and by following
it carefully I have managed to escape collision with trees, bushes,
stone walls. The continuous shrill wailing of trees' branches writhing
unseen but near, and the great hoarse roar of the sea against the rocks
far down below, are no cheerful accompaniment for the buffeted pilgrim.
He feels that he is engaged in single combat with Nature at her
unfriendliest. He isn't sure that she hasn't supernatural allies working
with her--witches on broomsticks circling closely round him, demons in
pursuit of him or waiting to leap out on him. And how about mere robbers
and cutthroats? Suppose--but look! that streak, yonder, look!--the
Golden Drugget.

There it is, familiar, serene, festal. That the pilgrim knew he would
see it in due time does not diminish for him the queer joy of seeing
it; nay, this emotion would be far less without that foreknowledge. Some
things are best at first sight. Others--and here is one of them--do
ever improve by recognition. I remember that when first I beheld this
steady strip of light, shed forth over a threshold level with the road,
it seemed to me conceivably sinister. It brought Stevenson to my
mind: the chink of doubloons and the clash of cutlasses; and I think I
quickened pace as I passed it. But now!--now it inspires in me a sense
of deep trust and gratitude; and such awe as I have for it is altogether
a loving awe, as for holy ground that should he trod lightly. A drugget
of crimson cloth across a London pavement is rather resented by the
casual passer-by, as saying to him 'Step across me, stranger, but not
along me, not in!' and for answer he spurns it with his heel. 'Stranger,
come in!' is the clear message of the Golden Drugget. 'This is but a
humble and earthly hostel, yet you will find here a radiant company of
angels and archangels.' And always I cherish the belief that if I
obeyed the summons I should receive fulfilment of the promise. Well, the
beliefs that one most cherishes one is least willing to test. I do not
go in at that open door. But lingering, but reluctant, is my tread as I
pass by it; and I pause to bathe in the light that is as the span of our
human life, granted between one great darkness and another.



HOSTS AND GUESTS 1918.

Beautifully vague though the English language is, with its meanings
merging into one another as softly as the facts of landscape in the
moist English climate, and much addicted though we always have been to
ways of compromise, and averse from sharp hard logical outlines, we do
not call a host a guest, nor a guest a host. The ancient Romans did
so. They, with a language that was as lucid as their climate and was a
perfect expression of the sharp hard logical outlook fostered by that
climate, had but one word for those two things. Nor have their equally
acute descendants done what might have been expected of them in this
matter. Hate and spite are as mysteriously equivocal as hopes. By weight
of all this authority I find myself being dragged to the conclusion that
a host and a guest must be the same thing, after all. Yet in a dim and
muzzy way, deep down in my breast, I feel sure that they are different.
Compromise, you see, as usual. I take it that strictly the two things
are one, but that our division of them is yet another instance of that
sterling common-sense by which, etc., etc.

I would go even so far as to say that the difference is more than merely
circumstantial and particular. I seem to discern also a temperamental
and general difference. You ask me to dine with you in a restaurant, I
say I shall be delighted, you order the meal, I praise it, you pay for
it, I have the pleasant sensation of not paying for it; and it is well
that each of us should have a label according to the part he plays in
this transaction. But the two labels are applicable in a larger and
more philosophic way. In every human being one or the other of these
two instincts is predominant: the active or positive instinct to offer
hospitality, the negative or passive instinct to accept it. And either
of these instincts is so significant of character that one might well
say that mankind is divisible into two great classes: hosts and guests.

I have already (see third sentence of foregoing paragraph) somewhat
prepared you for the shock of a confession which candour now forces from
me. I am one of the guests. You are, however, so shocked that you will
read no more of me? Bravo! Your refusal indicates that you have not a
guestish soul. Here am I trying to entertain you, and you will not be
entertained. You stand shouting that it is more blessed to give than
to receive. Very well. For my part, I would rather read than write, any
day. You shall write this essay for me. Be it never so humble, I shall
give it my best attention and manage to say something nice about it. I
am sorry to see you calming suddenly down. Nothing but a sense of duty
to myself, and to guests in general, makes me resume my pen. I believe
guests to be as numerous, really, as hosts. It may be that even you,
if you examine yourself dispassionately, will find that you are one
of them. In which case, you may yet thank me for some comfort. I think
there are good qualities to be found in guests, and some bad ones in
even the best hosts.

Our deepest instincts, bad or good, are those which we share with the
rest of the animal creation. To offer hospitality, or to accept it,
is but an instinct which man has acquired in the long course of his
self-development. Lions do not ask one another to their lairs, nor do
birds keep open nest. Certain wolves and tigers, it is true, have been
so seduced by man from their natural state that they will deign to
accept man's hospitality. But when you give a bone to your dog, does he
run out and invite another dog to share it with him?--and does your cat
insist on having a circle of other cats around her saucer of milk? Quite
the contrary. A deep sense of personal property is common to all
these creatures. Thousands of years hence they may have acquired some
willingness to share things with their friends. Or rather, dogs may;
cats, I think, not. Meanwhile, let us not be censorious. Though certain
monkeys assuredly were of finer and more malleable stuff than any wolves
or tigers, it was a very long time indeed before even we began to
be hospitable. The cavemen did not entertain. It may be that now and
again--say, towards the end of the Stone Age--one or another among the
more enlightened of them said to his wife, while she plucked an eagle
that he had snared the day before, 'That red-haired man who lives in the
next valley seems to be a decent, harmless sort of person. And sometimes
I fancy he is rather lonely. I think I will ask him to dine with us
to-night,' and, presently going out, met the red-haired man and said to
him, 'Are you doing anything to-night? If not, won't you dine with us?
It would be a great pleasure to my wife. Only ourselves. Come just as
you are.' 'That is most good of you, but,' stammered the red-haired
man, 'as ill-luck will have it, I am engaged to-night. A long-standing,
formal invitation. I wish I could get out of it, but I simply can't. I
have a morbid conscientiousness about such things.' Thus we see that the
will to offer hospitality was an earlier growth than the will to accept
it. But we must beware of thinking these two things identical with the
mere will to give and the mere will to receive. It is unlikely that
the red-haired man would have refused a slice of eagle if it had been
offered to him where he stood. And it is still more unlikely that his
friend would have handed it to him. Such is not the way of hosts. The
hospitable instinct is not wholly altruistic. There is pride and egoism
mixed up with it, as I shall show.

Meanwhile, why did the red-haired man babble those excuses? It was
because he scented danger. He was not by nature suspicious, but--what
possible motive, except murder, could this man have for enticing him
to that cave? Acquaintance in the open valley was all very well and
pleasant, but a strange den after dark--no, no! You despise him for
his fears? Yet these were not really so absurd as they may seem. As
man progressed in civilisation, and grew to be definitely gregarious,
hospitality became more a matter of course. But even then it was not
above suspicion. It was not hedged around with those unwritten laws
which make it the safe and eligible thing we know to-day. In the annals
of hospitality there are many pages that make painful reading; many a
great dark blot is there which the Recording Angel may wish, but will
not be able, to wipe out with a tear.

If I were a host, I should ignore those tomes. Being a guest, I
sometimes glance into them, but with more of horror, I assure you,
than of malicious amusement. I carefully avoid those which treat of
hospitality among barbarous races. Things done in the best periods of
the most enlightened peoples are quite bad enough. The Israelites were
the salt of the earth. But can you imagine a deed of colder-blooded
treachery than Jael's? You would think it must have been held accursed
by even the basest minds. Yet thus sang Deborah and Barak, 'Blessed
above women shall Jael the wife of Heber the Kenite be, blessed shall
she be among women in the tent.' And Barak, remember, was a gallant
soldier, and Deborah was a prophetess who 'judged Israel at that time.'
So much for the ideals of hospitality among the children of Israel.

Of the Homeric Greeks it may be said that they too were the salt of the
earth; and it may be added that in their pungent and antiseptic quality
there was mingled a measure of sweetness, not to be found in the
children of Israel. I do not say outright that Odysseus ought not to
have slain the suitors. That is a debatable point. It is true that they
were guests under his roof. But he had not invited them. Let us give him
the benefit of the doubt. I am thinking of another episode in his
life. By what Circe did, and by his disregard of what she had done, a
searching light is cast on the laxity of Homeric Greek notions as to
what was due to guests. Odysseus was a clever, but not a bad man, and
his standard of general conduct was high enough. Yet, having foiled
Circe in her purpose to turn him into a swine, and having forced her to
restore his comrades to human shape, he did not let pass the barrier of
his teeth any such winged words as 'Now will I bide no more under thy
roof, Circe, but fare across the sea with my dear comrades, even unto
mine own home, for that which thou didst was an evil thing, and one not
meet to be done unto strangers by the daughter of a god.' He seems to
have said nothing in particular, to have accepted with alacrity the
invitation that he and his dear comrades should prolong their visit, and
to have prolonged it with them for a whole year, in the course of which
Circe bore him a son, named Telegonus. As Matthew Arnold would have
said, 'What a set!'

My eye roves, for relief, to those shelves where the later annals are. I
take down a tome at random. Rome in the fifteenth century: civilisation
never was more brilliant than there and then, I imagine; and yet--no,
I replace that tome. I saw enough in it to remind me that the Borgias
selected and laid down rare poisons in their cellars with as much
thought as they gave to their vintage wines. Extraordinary!--but the
Romans do not seem to have thought so. An invitation to dine at the
Palazzo Borghese was accounted the highest social honour. I am aware
that in recent books of Italian history there has been a tendency to
whiten the Borgias' characters. But I myself hold to the old romantic
black way of looking at the Borgias. I maintain that though you would
often in the fifteenth century have heard the snobbish Roman say, in a
would-be off-hand tone 'I am dining with the Borgias to-night,' no Roman
ever was able to say 'I dined last night with the Borgias.'

To mankind in general Macbeth and Lady Macbeth stand out as the supreme
type of all that a host and hostess should not be. Hence the marked
coolness of Scotsmen towards Shakespeare, hence the untiring efforts
of that proud and sensitive race to set up Burns in his stead. It is a
risky thing to offer sympathy to the proud and sensitive, yet I must say
that I think the Scots have a real grievance. The two actual, historic
Macbeths were no worse than innumerable other couples in other lands
that had not yet fully struggled out of barbarism. It is hard that
Shakespeare happened on the story of that particular pair, and so made
it immortal. But he meant no harm, and, let Scotsmen believe me, did
positive good. Scotch hospitality is proverbial. As much in Scotland as
in America does the English visitor blush when he thinks how perfunctory
and niggard, in comparison, English hospitality is. It was Scotland that
first formalised hospitality, made of it an exacting code of honour,
with the basic principle that the guest must in all circumstances be
respected and at all costs protected. Jacobite history bristles with
examples of the heroic sacrifices made by hosts for their guests,
sacrifices of their own safety and even of their own political
convictions, for fear of infringing, however slightly, that sacred
code of theirs. And what was the origin of all this noble pedantry?
Shakespeare's 'Macbeth.'

Perhaps if England were a bleak and rugged country, like Scotland, or a
new country, like America, the foreign visitor would be more overwhelmed
with kindness here than he is. The landscapes of our country-side are so
charming, London abounds in public monuments so redolent of history,
so romantic and engrossing, that we are perhaps too apt to think the
foreign visitor would have neither time nor inclination to sit dawdling
in private dining-rooms. Assuredly there is no lack of hospitable
impulse among the English. In what may be called mutual hospitality they
touch a high level. The French, also the Italians, entertain one another
far less frequently. In England the native guest has a very good time
indeed--though of course he pays for it, in some measure, by acting as
host too, from time to time.

In practice, no, there cannot be any absolute division of mankind into
my two categories, hosts and guests. But psychologically a guest does
not cease to be a guest when he gives a dinner, nor is a host not a host
when he accepts one. The amount of entertaining that a guest need do is
a matter wholly for his own conscience. He will soon find that he does
not receive less hospitality for offering little; and he would not
receive less if he offered none. The amount received by him depends
wholly on the degree of his agreeableness. Pride makes an occasional
host of him; but he does not shine in that capacity. Nor do hosts want
him to assay it. If they accept an invitation from him, they do so only
because they wish not to hurt his feelings. As guests they are fish out
of water.

Circumstances do, of course, react on character. It is conventional for
the rich to give, and for the poor to receive. Riches do tend to foster
in you the instincts of a host, and poverty does create an atmosphere
favourable to the growth of guestish instincts. But strong bents make
their own way. Not all guests are to be found among the needy, nor all
hosts among the affluent. For sixteen years after my education was, by
courtesy, finished--from the age, that is, of twenty-two to the age
of thirty-eight, I lived in London, seeing all sorts of people all the
while; and I came across many a rich man who, like the master of the
shepherd Corin, was 'of churlish disposition' and little recked 'to find
the way to heaven by doing deeds of hospitality.' On the other hand, I
knew quite poor men who were incorrigibly hospitable.

To such men, all honour. The most I dare claim for myself is that if I
had been rich I should have been better than Corin's master. Even as it
was, I did my best. But I had no authentic joy in doing it. Without the
spur of pride I might conceivably have not done it at all. There recurs
to me from among memories of my boyhood an episode that is rather
significant. In my school, as in most others, we received now and again
'hampers' from home. At the mid-day dinner, in every house, we all ate
together; but at breakfast and supper we ate in four or five separate
'messes.' It was customary for the receiver of a hamper to share the
contents with his mess-mates. On one occasion I received, instead of
the usual variegated hamper, a box containing twelve sausage-rolls. It
happened that when this box arrived and was opened by me there was no
one around. Of sausage-rolls I was particularly fond. I am sorry to say
that I carried the box up to my cubicle, and, having eaten two of the
sausage-rolls, said nothing to my friends, that day, about the other
ten, nor anything about them when, three days later, I had eaten them
all--all, up there, alone.

Thirty years have elapsed, my school-fellows are scattered far and wide,
the chance that this page may meet the eyes of some of them does not
much dismay me; but I am glad there was no collective and contemporary
judgment by them on my strange exploit. What defence could I have
offered? Suppose I had said 'You see, I am so essentially a guest,' the
plea would have carried little weight. And yet it would not have been a
worthless plea. On receipt of a hamper, a boy did rise, always, in the
esteem of his mess-mates. His sardines, his marmalade, his potted meat,
at any rate while they lasted, did make us think that his parents 'must
be awfully decent' and that he was a not unworthy son. He had become
our central figure, we expected him to lead the conversation, we liked
listening to him, his jokes were good. With those twelve sausage-rolls
I could have dominated my fellows for a while. But I had not a dominant
nature. I never trusted myself as a leader. Leading abashed me. I was
happiest in the comity of the crowd. Having received a hamper, I was
always glad when it was finished, glad to fall back into the ranks.
Humility is a virtue, and it is a virtue innate in guests.

Boys (as will have been surmised from my record of the effect of
hampers) are all of them potential guests. It is only as they grow up
that some of them harden into hosts. It is likely enough that if I, when
I grew up, had been rich, my natural bent to guestship would have been
diverted, and I too have become a (sort of) host. And perhaps I should
have passed muster. I suppose I did pass muster whenever, in the course
of my long residence in London, I did entertain friends. But the memory
of those occasions is not dear to me--especially not the memory of those
that were in the more distinguished restaurants. Somewhere in the back
of my brain, while I tried to lead the conversation brightly, was always
the haunting fear that I had not brought enough money in my pocket. I
never let this fear master me. I never said to any one 'Will you have a
liqueur?'--always 'What liqueur will you have?' But I postponed as far
as possible the evil moment of asking for the bill. When I had, in
the proper casual tone (I hope and believe), at length asked for it, I
wished always it were not brought to me folded on a plate, as though the
amount were so hideously high that I alone must be privy to it. So soon
as it was laid beside me, I wanted to know the worst at once. But I
pretended to be so occupied in talk that I was unaware of the bill's
presence; and I was careful to be always in the middle of a sentence
when I raised the upper fold and took my not (I hope) frozen glance.
In point of fact, the amount was always much less than I had feared.
Pessimism does win us great happy moments.

Meals in the restaurants of Soho tested less severely the pauper guest
masquerading as host. But to them one could not ask rich persons--nor
even poor persons unless one knew them very well. Soho is so uncertain
that the fare is often not good enough to be palmed off on even one's
poorest and oldest friends. A very magnetic host, with a great gift for
bluffing, might, no doubt, even in Soho's worst moments, diffuse among
his guests a conviction that all was of the best. But I never was good
at bluffing. I had always to let food speak for itself. 'It's cheap' was
the only paean that in Soho's bad moments ever occurred to me, and this
of course I did not utter. And was it so cheap, after all? Soho induces
a certain optimism. A bill there was always larger than I had thought it
would be.

Every one, even the richest and most munificent of men, pays much
by cheque more light-heartedly than he pays little in specie. In
restaurants I should have liked always to give cheques. But in any
restaurant I was so much more often seen as guest than as host that I
never felt sure the proprietor would trust me. Only in my club did I
know the luxury, or rather the painlessness, of entertaining by cheque.
A cheque--especially if it is a club cheque, as supplied for the use of
members, not a leaf torn out of his own book--makes so little mark on
any man' s imagination. He dashes off some words and figures, he signs
his name (with that vague momentary pleasure which the sight of his
own signature anywhere gives him), he walks away and forgets. Offering
hospitality in my club, I was inwardly calm. But even there I did not
glow (though my face and manner, I hoped, glowed). If my guest was by
nature a guest, I managed to forget somewhat that I myself was a guest
by nature. But if, as now and then happened, my guest was a true and
habitual host, I did feel that we were in an absurdly false relation;
and it was not without difficulty that I could restrain myself from
saying to him 'This is all very well, you know, but--frankly: your place
is at the head of your own table.'

The host as guest is far, far worse than the guest as host. He never
even passes muster. The guest, in virtue of a certain hability that is
part of his natural equipment, can more or less ape the ways of a host.
But the host, with his more positive temperament, does not even attempt
the graces of a guest. By 'graces' I do not mean to imply anything
artificial. The guest's manners are, rather, as wild flowers springing
from good rich soil--the soil of genuine modesty and gratitude. He
honourably wishes to please in return for the pleasure he is receiving.
He wonders that people should be so kind to him, and, without knowing
it, is very kind to them. But the host, as I said earlier in this essay,
is a guest against his own will. That is the root of the mischief. He
feels that it is more blessed, etc., and that he is conferring rather
than accepting a favour. He does not adjust himself. He forgets his
place. He leads the conversation. He tries genially to draw you out.
He never comments on the goodness of the food or wine. He looks at his
watch abruptly and says he must be off. He doesn't say he has had a
delightful time. In fact, his place is at the head of his own table.

His own table, over his own cellar, under his own roof--it is only there
that you see him at his best. To a club or restaurant he may sometimes
invite you, but not there, not there, my child, do you get the full
savour of his quality. In life or literature there has been no better
host than Old Wardle. Appalling though he would have been as a guest in
club or restaurant, it is hardly less painful to think of him as a host
there. At Dingley Dell, with an ample gesture, he made you free of all
that was his. He could not have given you a club or a restaurant. Nor,
when you come to think of it, did he give you Dingley Dell. The place
remained his. None knew better than Old Wardle that this was so.
Hospitality, as we have agreed, is not one of the most deep-rooted
instincts in man, whereas the sense of possession certainly is. Not even
Old Wardle was a communist. 'This,' you may be sure he said to himself,
'is my roof, these are my horses, that's a picture of my dear old
grandfather.' And 'This,' he would say to us, 'is my roof: sleep soundly
under it. These are my horses: ride them. That's a portrait of my dear
old grandfather: have a good look at it.' But he did not ask us to walk
off with any of these things. Not even what he actually did give us
would he regard as having passed out of his possession. 'That,' he would
muse if we were torpid after dinner, 'is my roast beef,' and 'That,' if
we staggered on the way to bed, 'is my cold milk punch.' 'But surely,'
you interrupt me, 'to give and then not feel that one has given is the
very best of all ways of giving.' I agree. I hope you didn't think I was
trying to disparage Old Wardle. I was merely keeping my promise to point
out that from among the motives of even the best hosts pride and egoism
are not absent.

Every virtue, as we were taught in youth, is a mean between two
extremes; and I think any virtue is the better understood by us if we
glance at the vice on either side of it. I take it that the virtue of
hospitality stands midway between churlishness and mere ostentation. Far
to the left of the good host stands he who doesn't want to see anything
of any one; far to the right, he who wants a horde of people to be
always seeing something of him. I conjecture that the figure on the
left, just discernible through my field-glasses, is that of old Corin's
master. His name was never revealed to us, but Corin's brief account of
his character suffices. 'Deeds of hospitality' is a dismal phrase that
could have occurred only to the servant of a very dismal master. Not
less tell-tale is Corin's idea that men who do these 'deeds' do them
only to save their souls in the next world. It is a pity Shakespeare did
not actually bring Corin's master on to the stage. One would have
liked to see the old man genuinely touched by the charming eloquence
of Rosalind's appeal for a crust of bread, and conscious that he would
probably go to heaven if he granted it, and yet not quite able to grant
it. Far away though he stands to the left of the good host, he has
yet something in common with that third person discernible on the
right--that speck yonder, which I believe to be Lucullus. Nothing that
we know of Lucullus suggests that he was less inhuman than the churl
of Arden. It does not appear that he had a single friend, nor that he
wished for one. His lavishness was indiscriminate except in that he
entertained only the rich. One would have liked to dine with him, but
not even in the act of digestion could one have felt that he had a
heart. One would have acknowledged that in all the material resources
of his art he was a master, and also that he practised his art for
sheer love of it, wishing to be admired for nothing but his mastery, and
cocking no eye on any of those ulterior objects but for which some of
the most prominent hosts would not entertain at all. But the very fact
that he was an artist is repulsive. When hospitality becomes an art it
loses its very soul. With this reflection I look away from Lucullus and,
fixing my gaze on the middle ground, am the better able to appreciate
the excellence of the figure that stands before me--the figure of Old
Wardle. Some pride and egoism in that capacious breast, yes, but a
great heart full of kindness, and ever a warm spontaneous welcome to the
stranger in need, and to all old friends and young. Hark! he is shouting
something. He is asking us both down to Dingley Dell. And you have
shouted back that you will be delighted. Ah, did I not suspect from the
first that you too were perhaps a guest?

But--I constrain you in the act of rushing off to pack your things--one
moment: this essay has yet to be finished. We have yet to glance at
those two extremes between which the mean is good guestship. Far to the
right of the good guest, we descry the parasite; far to the left, the
churl again. Not the same churl, perhaps. We do not know that Corin's
master was ever sampled as a guest. I am inclined to call yonder speck
Dante--Dante Alighieri, of whom we do know that he received during his
exile much hospitality from many hosts and repaid them by writing how
bitter was the bread in their houses, and how steep the stairs were. To
think of dour Dante as a guest is less dispiriting only than to think
what he would have been as a host had it ever occurred to him to
entertain any one or anything except a deep regard for Beatrice; and
one turns with positive relief to have a glimpse of the parasite--Mr.
Smurge, I presume, 'whose gratitude was as boundless as his appetite,
and his presence as unsought as it appeared to be inevitable.' But now,
how gracious and admirable is the central figure--radiating gratitude,
but not too much of it; never intrusive, ever within call; full of
dignity, yet all amenable; quiet, yet lively; never echoing, ever
amplifying; never contradicting, but often lighting the way to truth; an
ornament, an inspiration, anywhere.

Such is he. But who is he? It is easier to confess a defect than to
claim a quality. I have told you that when I lived in London I was
nothing as a host; but I will not claim to have been a perfect guest.
Nor indeed was I. I was a good one, but, looking back, I see myself
not quite in the centre--slightly to the left, slightly to the churlish
side. I was rather too quiet, and I did sometimes contradict. And,
though I always liked to be invited anywhere, I very often preferred to
stay at home. If any one hereafter shall form a collection of the notes
written by me in reply to invitations, I am afraid he will gradually
suppose me to have been more in request than ever I really was, and to
have been also a great invalid, and a great traveller.



A POINT TO BE REMEMBERED BY VERY EMINENT MEN 1918.

One of the things a man best remembers in later years is the first time
he set eyes on some illustrious elder whose achievements had already
inflamed him to special reverence. In almost every autobiography you
will find recorded the thrill of that first sight. With the thrill,
perhaps, there was a slight shock. Great men are but life-sized. Most
of them, indeed, are rather short. No matter to hero-worshipping youth.
The shock did but swell the thrill. It did but enlarge the wonder that
this was the man himself, the man who--

I was about to say 'who had written those inspired books.' You see,
the autobiographists are usually people with an innate twist towards
writing, people whose heroes, therefore, were men of letters; and thus
(especially as I myself have that twist) I am apt to think of literary
hero-worship as flourishing more than could any other kind. I must try
to be less narrow. At first sight of the Lord Chancellor, doubtless,
unforgettable emotions rise in the breast of a young man who has felt
from his earliest years the passionate desire to be a lawyer. One whose
dream it is to excel in trade will have been profoundly stirred at
finding himself face to face with Sir Thomas Lipton. At least, I suppose
so. I speak without conviction. I am inclined, after all, to think that
there is in the literary temperament a special sensibility, whereby
these great first envisagements mean more to it than to natures of
a more practical kind. So it is primarily to men very eminent in
literature that I venture to offer a hint for making those envisagements
as great as possible.

The hint will serve only in certain cases. There are various ways in
which a young man may chance to see his hero for the first time. 'One
wintry afternoon, not long after I came to London,' the autobiographist
will tell you, 'I happened to be in Cheyne Walk, bent on I know not what
errand, when I saw coming slowly along the pavement an old grey-bearded
man. He wore a hat of the kind that was called in those days a
"wide-awake," and he leaned heavily on a stick which he carried in his
right hand. I stood reverently aside to let him pass--the man who had
first taught me to see, to feel, to think. Yes, it was Thomas Carlyle;
and as he went by, looking neither to the right nor to the left,
my heart stood still within me. What struck me most in that
thought-furrowed face was the eyes. I had never, I have never since,
seen a pair of eyes which,' etc., etc. This is well enough, and I don't
say that the writer has exaggerated the force of the impression he
received. I say merely that the impression would have been stronger
still if he had seen Carlyle in a room. The open air is not really a
good setting for a hero. It is too diffuse. It is too impersonal. Four
walls, a ceiling, and a floor--these things are needed to concentrate
for the worshipper the vision vouchsafed. Even if the room be a public
one--a waiting-room, say, at Clapham Junction--it is very helpful. Far
more so if it be a room in a private house, where, besides the vision
itself, is thrust on the worshipper the dizzy sense of a personal
relationship.

Dip with me, for an example, into some other autobiography... Here:
'Shortly after I came to London'--it is odd that autobiographists never
are born or bred there--'one of the houses I found open to me was that
of Mrs. T--, a woman whom (so it seemed to me when in later years I
studied Italian) the word simpatica described exactly, and who, as the
phrase is, "knew everybody." Calling on her one Sunday afternoon, I
noticed among the guests, as I came in, a short, stalwart man with a
grey beard. "I particularly," my hostess whispered to me, "want you to
know Mr. Robert Browning." Everything in the room seemed to swim round
me, and I had the sensation of literally sinking through the carpet when
presently I found my hand held for a moment--it was only a moment, but
it seemed to me an eternity--by the hand that had written "Paracelsus."
I had a confused impression of something godlike about the man. His brow
was magnificent. But the eyes were what stood out. Not that they were
prominent eyes, but they seemed to look you through and through, and had
a lustre--there is no other word for it--which,' I maintain, would have
been far less dazzling out in the street, just as the world-sadness
of Carlyle's eyes would have been twice as harrowing in Mrs. T--'s
drawing-room.

But even there neither of those pairs of eyes could have made its
fullest effect. The most terrifically gratifying way of seeing one's
hero and his eyes for the first time is to see them in his own home.
Anywhere else, believe me, something of his essence is forfeit. 'The
rose of roses' loses more or less of its beauty in any vase, and rather
more than less there in a nosegay of ordinary little blossoms (to which
I rather rudely liken Mrs. T--'s other friends). The supreme flower
should be first seen growing from its own Sharonian soil.

The worshipper should have, therefore, a letter of introduction.
Failing that, he should write a letter introducing himself--a fervid,
an idolatrous letter, not without some excuse for the writing of it: the
hero's seventieth birthday, for instance, or a desire for light on some
obscure point in one of his earlier works. Heroes are very human, most
of them; very easily touched by praise. Some of them, however, are
bad at answering letters. The worshipper must not scruple to write
repeatedly, if need be. Sooner or later he will be summoned to the
presence. This, perhaps, will entail a railway journey. Heroes tend
to live a little way out of London. So much the better. The adventure
should smack of pilgrimage. Consider also that a house in a London
street cannot seem so signally its owner's own as can a house in a
village or among fields. The one kind contains him, the other enshrines
him, breathes of him. The sight of it, after a walk (there should be a
longish walk) from the railway station, strikes great initial chords in
the worshipper; and the smaller the house, the greater the chords. The
worshipper pauses at the gate of the little front-garden, and when he
writes his autobiography those chords will be reverberating yet. 'Here
it was that the greatest of modern spirits had lived and wrought.
Here in the fullness of years he abode. With I know not what tumult
of thoughts I passed up the path and rang the bell. A bright-faced
parlourmaid showed me into a room on the ground-floor, and said she
would tell the master I was here. It was a wonderfully simple room; and
something, perhaps the writing-table, told me it was his work-room,
the very room from which, in the teeth of the world's neglect and
misunderstanding, he had cast his spell over the minds of all thinking
men and women. When I had waited a few minutes, the door opened and'
after that the deluge of what was felt when the very eminent man came
in.

Came in, mark you. That is a vastly important point. Had the very
eminent man been there at the outset, the worshipper's first sight of
him would have been a very great moment, certainly; but not nearly
so great as in fact it was. Very eminent men should always, on these
occasions, come in. That is the point I ask them to remember.

Honourably concerned with large high issues, they are not students
of personal effect. I must therefore explain to them why it is more
impressive to come into a room than to be found there.

Let those of them who have been playgoers cast their minds back to
their experience of theatres. Can they recall a single play in which the
principal actor was 'discovered' sitting or standing on the stage when
the curtain rose? No. The actor, by the very nature of his calling,
does, must, study personal effect. No playwright would dare to dump
down his principal actor at the outset of a play. No sensible playwright
would wish to do so. That actor's personality is a part of the
playwright's material. Playwriting, it has been well said, is an art of
preparing. The principal actor is one of the things for which we must be
artfully prepared. Note Shakespeare's carefulness in this matter. In his
day, the stage had no curtain, so that even the obscure actor who
spoke the first lines (Shakespeare himself sometimes, maybe) was not
ignominiously 'discovered.' But an unprepared entry is no good. The
audience must first be wrought on, wrought up. Had Shakespeare been also
Burbage, it is possible that he would have been even more painstaking
than he was in leading up to the leading man. Assuredly, by far the most
tremendous stage entries I ever saw were those of Mr. Wilson Barrett
in his later days, the days when he had become his own dramatist. I
remember particularly a first night of his at which I happened to be
sitting next to a clever but not very successful and rather sardonic old
actor. I forget just what great historic or mythic personage Mr.
Barrett was to represent, but I know that the earlier scenes of the play
resounded with rumours of him--accounts of the great deeds he had done,
and of the yet greater deeds that were expected of him. And at length
there was a procession: white-bearded priests bearing wands; maidens
playing upon the sackbut; guards in full armour; a pell-mell of
unofficial citizens ever prancing along the edge of the pageant,
huzza-ing and hosanna-ing, mostly looking back over their shoulders
and shading their eyes; maidens strewing rose-leaves; and at last the
orchestra crashing to a climax in the nick of which my neighbour turned
to me and, with an assumption of innocent enthusiasm, whispered, I
shouldn't wonder if this were Barrett.' I suppose (Mr. Barrett at that
instant amply appearing) I gave way to laughter; but this didn't matter;
the applause would have drowned a thunderstorm, and lasted for several
minutes.

My very eminent reader begins to look uncomfortable. Let him take
heart. I do not want him to tamper with the simplicity of his household
arrangements. Not even the one bright-faced parlourmaid need precede him
with strewn petals. All the necessary preparation will have been done by
the bare fact that this is his room, and that he will presently appear.
'But,' he may say, with a toss of his grey beard, 'I am not going to
practise any device whatsoever. I am above devices. I shall be in the
room when the young man arrives.' I assure him that I am not appealing
to his vanity, merely to his good-nature. Let him remember that he too
was young once, he too thrilled in harmless hero-worship. Let him not
grudge the young man an utmost emotion.

Coming into a room that contains a stranger is a definite performance, a
deed of which one is conscious--if one be young, and if that stranger be
august. Not to come in awkwardly, not to make a bad impression, is
here the paramount concern. The mind of the young man as he comes in
is clogged with thoughts of self. It is free of these impediments if he
shall have been waiting alone in the room. To be come in to is a thing
that needs no art and induces no embarrassment. One's whole attention
is focussed on the comer-in. One is the mere spectator, the passive and
receptive receiver. And even supposing that the young man could come in
under his hero's gaze without a thought of self, his first vision would
yet lack the right intensity. A person found in a room, if it be a
room strange to the arriver, does not instantly detach himself from his
surroundings. He is but a feature of the scene. He does not stand out as
against a background, in the grand manner of portraiture, but is fused
as in an elaborately rendered 'interior.' It is all the more essential,
therefore, that the worshipper shall not have his first sight of hero
and room simultaneously. The room must, as it were, be an anteroom, anon
converted into a presence-chamber by the hero's entry. And let not the
hero be in any fear that he will bungle his entry. He has but to make
it. The effect is automatic. He will stand out by merely coming in.
I would but suggest that he must not, be he never so hale and hearty,
bounce in. The young man must not be startled. If the mountain had come
to Mahomet, it would, we may be sure, have come slowly, that the prophet
should have time to realise the grandeur of the miracle. Let the hero
remember that his coming, too, will seem supernatural to the young man.
Let him be framed for an instant or so in the doorway--time for his eyes
to produce their peculiar effect. And by the way: if he be a wearer of
glasses, he should certainly remove these before coming in. He can put
them on again almost immediately. It is the first moment that matters.

As to how long an interval the hero should let elapse between the young
man's arrival and his own entry, I cannot offer any very exact advice.
I should say, roughly, that in ten minutes the young man would be strung
up to the right pitch, and that more than twenty minutes would be too
much. It is important that expectancy shall have worked on him to the
full, but it is still more important that his mood shall not have been
chafed to impatience. The danger of over-long delay is well exemplified
in the sad case of young Coventry Patmore. In his old age Patmore
wrote to Mr. Gosse a description of a visit he had paid, at the age of
eighteen, to Leigh Hunt; and you will find the letter on page 32, vol.
I, of Mr. Basil Champneys' biography of him. The circumstances had been
most propitious. The eager and sensitive spirit of the young man, his
intense admiration for 'The Story of Rimini,' the letter of introduction
from his father to the venerable poet and friend of greater bygone
poets, the long walk to Hammersmith, the small house in a square
there--all was classically in order. The poet was at home. The visitor
as shown in.... 'I had,' he was destined to tell Mr. Gosse, 'waited in
the little parlour at least two hours, when the door was opened and a
most picturesque gentleman, with hair flowing nearly or quite to his
shoulders, a beautiful velvet coat and a Vandyck collar of lace about
a foot deep, appeared, rubbing his hands and smiling ethereally, and
saying, without a word of preface or notice of my having waited so long,
"This is a beautiful world, Mr. Patmore!"' The young man was so taken
aback by these words that they 'eclipsed all memory of what occurred
during the remainder of the visit.'

Yet there was nothing wrong about the words themselves. Indeed, to any
one with any sense of character and any knowledge of Leigh Hunt, they
must seem to have been exactly, exquisitely, inevitably the right words.
But they should have been said sooner.



SERVANTS 1918.

It is unseemly that a man should let any ancestors of his arise from
their graves to wait on his guests at table. The Chinese are a polite
race, and those of them who have visited England, and gone to dine in
great English houses, will not have made this remark aloud to their
hosts. I believe it is only their own ancestors that they worship, so
that they will not have felt themselves guilty of impiety in not rising
from the table and rushing out into the night. Nevertheless, they must
have been shocked.

The French Revolution, judged according to the hope it was made in,
must be pronounced a failure: it effected no fundamental change in human
nature. But it was by no means wholly ineffectual. For example, ladies
and gentlemen ceased to powder their hair, because of it; and gentlemen
adopted simpler costumes. This was so in England as well as in France.
But in England ladies and gentlemen were not so nimble-witted as to be
able to conceive the possibility of a world without powder. Powder had
been sent down from heaven, and must not vanish from the face of the
earth. Said Sir John to his Lady, ''Tis a matter easy to settle.
Your maid Deborah and the rest of the wenches shall powder their hair
henceforth.' Whereat his Lady exclaimed in wrath, 'Lud, Sir John! Have
you taken leave of your senses? A parcel of Abigails flaunting about the
house in powder--oh, preposterous!' Whereat Sir John exclaimed 'Zounds!'
and hotly demonstrated that since his wife had given up powder there
could be no harm in its assumption by her maids. Whereat his Lady
screamed and had the vapours and asked how he would like to see his
own footmen flaunting about the house in powder. Whereat he (always a
reasonable man, despite his hasty temper) went out and told his footmen
to wear powder henceforth. And in this they obeyed him. And there arose
a Lord of the Treasury, saying, 'Let powder be taxed.' And it was so,
and the tax was paid, and powder was still worn. And there came the
great Reform Bill, and the Steam Engine, and all manner of queer things,
but powder did not end, for custom hath many lives. Nor was there an end
of those things which the Nobility and Gentry had long since shed from
their own persons--as, laced coats and velvet breeches and silk hose;
forasmuch as without these powder could not aptly be. And it came
to pass that there was a great War. And there was also a Russian
Revolution, greater than the French one. And it may be that everything
will be changed, fundamentally and soon. Or it may be merely that Sir
John will say to his Lady, 'My dear, I have decided that the footmen
shall not wear powder, and not wear livery, any more,' and that his Lady
will say 'Oh, all right.' Then at length will the Eighteenth Century
vanish altogether from the face of the earth.

Some of the shallower historians would have us believe that powder
is deleterious to the race of footmen. They point out how plenteously
footmen abounded before 1790, and how steadily their numbers have
declined ever since. I do not dispute the statistics. One knows from the
Table Talk of Samuel Rogers that Mr. Horne Tooke, dining tête-á-tête
with the first Lord Lansdowne, had counted so many as thirty footmen in
attendance on the meal. That was a high figure--higher than in Rogers'
day, and higher far, I doubt not, than in ours. What I refuse to
believe is that the wearing of powder has caused among footmen an
ever-increasing mortality. Powder was forced on them by their employers
because of the French Revolution, but their subsequent fewness is
traceable rather to certain ideas forced by that Revolution on their
employers. The Nobility had begun to feel that it had better be just
a little less noble than heretofore. When the news of the fall of the
Bastille was brought to him, the first Lord Lansdowne (I conceive)
remained for many hours in his study, lost in thought, and at length,
rising from his chair, went out into the hall and discharged two
footmen. This action may have shortened his life, but I believe it to be
a fact that when he lay dying, some fifteen years later, he said to his
heir, 'Discharge two more.' Such enlightenment and adaptability were
not to be wondered at in so eminent a Whig. As time went on, even in the
great Tory houses the number of retainers was gradually cut down. Came
the Industrial Age, hailed by all publicists as the Millennium. Looms
were now tended, and blast-furnaces stoked, by middle-aged men who
in their youth had done nothing but hand salvers, and by young men who
might have been doing just that if the Bastille had been less brittle.
Noblemen, becoming less and less sure of themselves under the impact
of successive Reform Bills, wished to be waited on by less and less
numerous gatherings of footmen. And at length, in the course of the
great War, any Nobleman not young enough to be away fighting was waited
on by an old butler and a parlourmaid or two; and the ceiling did not
fall.

Even if the War shall have taught us nothing else, this it will have
taught us almost from its very outset: to mistrust all prophets, whether
of good or of evil. Pray stone me if I predict anything at all. It may
be that the War, and that remarkable by-product, the Russian Revolution,
will have so worked on the minds of Noblemen that they will prefer to
have not one footman in their service. Or it may be that all those men
who might be footmen will prefer to earn their livelihood in other ways
of life. It may even be that no more parlourmaids and housemaids, even
for very illustrious houses, will be forthcoming. I do not profess to
foresee. Perhaps things will go on just as before. But remember: things
were going on, even then. Suppose that in the social organism generally,
and in the attitude of servants particularly, the decades after the War
shall bring but a gradual evolution of what was previously afoot. Even
on this mild supposition must it seem likely that some of us will live
to look back on domestic service, or at least on what we now mean by
that term, as a curiosity of past days.

You have to look rather far behind you for the time when 'the servant
question,' as it is called, had not yet begun to arise. To find servants
collectively 'knowing their place,' as the phrase (not is, but) was, you
have to look right back to the dawn of Queen Victoria's reign. I am not
sure whether even then those Georgian notice-boards still stood in the
London parks to announce that 'Ladies and Gentlemen are requested, and
Servants are commanded' not to do this and that. But the spirit of those
boards did still brood over the land: servants received commands, not
requests, and were not 'obliging' but obedient. As for the tasks set
them, I daresay the footmen in the great houses had an easy time: they
were there for ornament; but the (comparatively few) maids there, and
the maid or two in every home of the rapidly-increasing middle class,
were very much for use, having to do an immense amount of work for a
wage which would nowadays seem nominal. And they did it gladly, with no
notion that they were giving much for little, or that the likes of them
had any natural right to a glimpse of liberty or to a moment's more
leisure than was needed to preserve their health for the benefit
of their employers, or that they were not in duty bound to be
truly thankful for having a roof over their devoted heads. Rare and
reprehensible was the maid who, having found one roof, hankered after
another. Improvident, too; for only by long and exclusive service could
she hope that in her old age she would not be cast out on the parish.
She might marry meanwhile? The chances were very much against that.
That was an idea misbeseeming her station in life. By the rules of all
households, 'followers' were fended ruthlessly away. Her state was sheer
slavery? Well, she was not technically a chattel. The Law allowed her to
escape at any time, after giving a month's notice; and she did not work
for no wages at all, remember. This was hard on her owners? Well,
in ancient Rome and elsewhere, her employers would have had to pay a
large-ish sum of money for her, down, to a merchant. Economically, her
employers had no genuine grievance. Her parents had handed her over to
them, at a tender age, for nothing. There she was; and if she was a good
girl and gave satisfaction, and if she had no gipsy strain, to make her
restless for the unknown, there she ended her days, not without honour
from the second or third generation of her owners. As in Ancient Rome
and elsewhere, the system was, in the long run, conducive to much good
feeling on either side. 'Poor Anne remained very servile in soul all
her days; and was altogether occupied, from the age of fifteen to
seventy-two, in doing other people's wills, not her own.' Thus wrote
Ruskin, in Praeterita, of one who had been his nurse, and his father's.
Perhaps the passage is somewhat marred by its first word. But Ruskin had
queer views on many subjects. Besides, he was very old when, in 1885,
he wrote Praeterita. Long before that date, moreover, others than he had
begun to have queer views. The halcyon days were over.

Even in the 'sixties there were many dark and cumulose clouds. It
was believed, however, that these would pass. 'Punch,' our ever-quick
interpreter, made light of them. Absurd that Jemima Jane should imitate
the bonnets of her mistress and secretly aspire to play the piano!
'Punch' and his artists, as you will find in his old volumes, were very
merry about her, and no doubt his readers believed that his exquisite
ridicule would kill, or his sound good sense cure, the malady in her
soul. Poor misguided girl!--why was she flying in the face of Nature?
Nature had decreed that some should command, others obey; that some
should sit imperative all day in airy parlours, and others be executive
in basements. I daresay that among the sitters aloft there were many
whose indignation had a softer side to it. Under the Christian Emperors,
Roman ladies were really very sorry for their slaves. It is unlikely
that no English ladies were so in the 'sixties. Pity, after all, is
in itself a luxury. It is for the 'some' a measure of the gulf between
themselves and the 'others.' Those others had now begun to show signs of
restiveness; but the gulf was as wide as ever.

Anthony Trollope was not, like 'Punch,' a mere interpreter of what was
upmost in the average English mind: he was a beautifully patient and
subtle demonstrator of all that was therein. Reading him, I soon forget
that I am reading about fictitious characters and careers; quite soon
do I feel that I am collating intimate memoirs and diaries. For sheer
conviction of truth, give me Trollope. You, too, if you know him, must
often have uttered this appeal. Very well. Have you been given 'Orley
Farm'? And do you remember how Lady Mason felt after confessing to Sir
Peregrine Orme that she had forged the will? 'As she slowly made her way
across the hall, she felt that all of evil, all of punishment, had now
fallen upon her. There are periods in the lives of some of us--I trust
but of few--when with the silent inner voice of suffering'--and here,
in justice to Trollope, I must interrupt him by saying that he seldom
writes like this; and I must also, for a reason which will soon be
plain, ask you not to skip a word--'we call on the mountains to fall
and crush us, and on the earth to gape open and take us in--when with
an agony of intensity, we wish our mothers had been barren. In these
moments the poorest and most desolate are objects to us of envy, for
their sufferings can be as nothing to our own. Lady Mason, as she crept
silently across the hall, saw a servant girl pass down towards the
entrance to the kitchen, and would have given all, all that she had in
the world, to change places with that girl. But no change was possible
to her. Neither would the mountains crush her, nor the earth take her
in. This was her burden, and she must,' etc., etc.

You enjoyed the wondrous bathos? Of course. And yet there wasn't any
bathos at all, really. At least, there wasn't any in 1862, when 'Orley
Farm' was published. Servants really were 'most desolate' in those days,
and 'their sufferings' were less acute only than those of gentlewomen
who had forged wills. This is an exaggerated view? Well it was the view
held by gentlewomen at large, in the 'sixties. Trust Trollope.

Why to a modern gentlewoman would it seem so much more dreadful to be
crushed by mountains and swallowed by earthquakes than to be a servant
girl passing down towards the entrance to the kitchen? In other words,
how is it that servants have so much less unpleasant a time than they
were having half-a-century ago? I should like to think this melioration
came through our sense of justice, but I cannot claim that it did.
Somehow, our sense of justice never turns in its sleep till long after
the sense of injustice in others has been thoroughly aroused; nor is
it ever up and doing till those others have begun to make themselves
thoroughly disagreeable, and not even then will it be up and doing more
than is urgently required of it by our convenience at the moment. For
the improvement in their lot, servants must, I am afraid, be allowed to
thank themselves rather than their employers. I am not going to trace
the stages of that improvement. I will not try to decide in what year
servants passed from wistfulness to resentment, or from resentment to
exaction. This is not a sociological treatise, it is just an essay; and
I claim an essayist's privilege of not groping through the library of
the British Museum on the chance of mastering all the details. I confess
that I did go there yesterday, thinking I should find in Mr. and Mrs.
Sidney Webb's 'History of Trade Unionism' the means of appearing to know
much. But I drew blank. It would seem that servants have no trade
union. This is strange. One would not have thought so much could be done
without organisation. The mere Spirit of the Time, sneaking down
the steps of areas, has worked wonders. There has been no servants'
campaign, no strategy, nothing but an infinite series of spontaneous
and sporadic little risings in isolated households. Wonders have been
worked, yes. But servants are not yet satiated with triumph. More and
more, on the contrary, do they glide--long before the War they had begun
gliding--away into other forms of employment. Not merely are the changed
conditions of domestic service not changed enough for them: they seem to
despise the thing itself. It was all very well so long as they had not
been taught to read and write, but--There, no doubt, is the root of the
mischief. Had the governing classes not forced those accomplishments
on them in 1872--But there is no use in repining. What's done can't
be undone. On the other hand, what must be done can't be left undone.
Housework, for example. What concessions by the governing classes, what
bribes, will be big enough hereafter to get that done?

Perhaps the governing classes will do it for themselves, eventually,
and their ceilings not fall. Or perhaps there will be no more governing
classes--merely the State and its swarms of neat little overseers, male
and female. I know not whether in this case the sum of human happiness
will be greater, but it will certainly--it and the sum of human
dullness--be more evenly distributed. I take it that under any scheme of
industrial compulsion for the young a certain number of the conscripts
would be told off for domestic service. To every family in every flat
(houses not legal) would be assigned one female member of the community.
She would be twenty years old, having just finished her course of
general education at a municipal college. Three years would be her term
of industrial (sub-sect. domestic) service. Her diet, her costume, her
hours of work and leisure, would be standardised, but the lenses of
her pince-nez would be in strict accordance to her own eyesight. If
her employers found her faulty in work or conduct, and proved to
the visiting inspector that she was so, she would be penalised by an
additional term of service. If she, on the other hand, made good any
complaint against her employers, she would be transferred to another
flat, and they be penalised by suspension of their license to employ.
There would always be chances of friction. But these chances would not
be so numerous nor so great as they are under that lack of system which
survives to-day.

Servants would be persons knowing that for a certain period certain
tasks were imposed on them, tasks tantamount to those in which all
their coevals were simultaneously engaged. To-day they are persons not
knowing, as who should say, where they are, and wishing all the while
they were elsewhere--and mostly, as I have said, going elsewhere. Those
who remain grow more and more touchy, knowing themselves a mock to the
rest; and their qualms, even more uncomfortably than their demands and
defects, are always haunting their employers. It seems almost incredible
that there was a time when Mrs. Smith said 'Sarah, your master wishes--'
or Mr. Smith said 'Sarah, go up and ask your mistress whether--' I am
well aware that the very title of this essay jars. I wish I could find
another; but in writing one must be more explicit than one need be by
word of mouth. I am well aware that the survival of domestic service, in
its old form, depends more and more on our agreement not to mention it.

Assuredly, a most uncomfortable state of things. Is it, after all, worth
saving?--a form so depleted of right human substance, an anomaly so
ticklish. Consider, in your friend's house, the cheerful smile of yonder
parlourmaid; hark to the housemaid's light brisk tread in the corridor;
note well the slight droop of the footman's shoulders as he noiselessly
draws near. Such things, as being traditional, may pander to your sense
of the great past. Histrionically, too, they are good. But do you really
like them? Do they not make your blood run a trifle cold? In the thick
of the great past, you would have liked them well enough, no doubt.
I myself am old enough to have known two or three servants of the
old school--later editions of Ruskin's Anne. With them there was no
discomfort, for they had no misgiving. They had never wished (heaven
help them!) for more, and in the process of the long years had acquired,
for inspiration of others, much--a fine mellowness, the peculiar sort of
dignity, even of wisdom, that comes only of staying always in the same
place, among the same people, doing the same things perpetually. Theirs
was the sap that rises only from deep roots, and where they were you had
always the sense of standing under great wide branches. One especially
would I recall, who--no, personally I admire the plungingly intimate
kind of essayist very much indeed, but I never was of that kind, and
it's too late to begin now. For a type of old-world servant I would
recall rather some more public worthy, such as that stout old hostler
whom, whenever you went up to stay in Hampstead, you would see standing
planted outside that stout old hostelry, Jack Straw's Castle. He stands
there no more, and the hostelry can never again be to me all that it was
of solid comfort. Or perhaps, as he was so entirely an outside figure,
I might rather say that Hampstead itself is not what it was. His robust
but restful form, topped with that weather-beaten and chin-bearded face,
was the hub of the summit of Hampstead. He was as richly local as the
pond there--that famous pond which in hot weather is so much waded
through by cart-horses and is at all seasons so much barked around by
excitable dogs and cruised on by toy boats. He was as essential as it
and the flag-staff and the gorse and the view over the valley away to
Highgate. It was always to Highgate that his big blue eyes were looking,
and on Highgate that he seemed to be ruminating. Not that I think he
wanted to go there. He was Hampstead-born and Hampstead-bred, and very
loyal to that village. In the course of his life he had 'bin down to
London a matter o' three or four times,' he would tell me, 'an' slep'
there once.' He knew me to be a native of that city, and, for he was the
most respectful of men, did not make any adverse criticism of it. But
clearly it had not prepossessed him. Men and--horses rather than cities
were what he knew. And his memory was more retentive of horses than of
men. But he did--and this was a great thrill for me--did, after some
pondering at my behest, remember to have seen in Heath Street, when he
was a boy, 'a gen'leman with summut long hair, settin' in a small cart,
takin' a pictur'.' To me Ford Madox Brown's 'Work' is of all modern
pictur's the most delightful in composition and strongest in conception,
the most alive and the most worth-while; and I take great pride in
having known some one who saw it in the making. But my friend himself
set little store on anything that had befallen him in days before he
was 'took on as stable-lad at the Castle.' His pride was in the Castle,
wholly.

Part of his charm, like Hampstead's, was in the surprise one had at
finding anything like it so near to London. Even now, if you go to
districts near which no great towns are, you will find here and there an
inn that has a devoted waiter, a house with a fond butler. As to butlers
elsewhere, butlers in general, there is one thing about them that I do
not at all understand. It seems to be against nature, yet it is a
fact, that in the past forty years they have been growing younger; and
slimmer. In my childhood they were old, without exception; and stout.
At the close of the last century they had gradually relapsed into middle
age, losing weight all the time. And in the years that followed they
were passing back behind the prime of life, becoming willowy juveniles.
In 1915, it is true, the work of past decades was undone butlers: were
suddenly as old and stout as ever they were, and so they still are.
But this, I take it, is only a temporary setback. At the restoration of
peace butlers will reappear among us as they were in 1915, and anon will
be losing height and weight too, till they shall have become bright-eyed
children, with pattering feet. Or will their childhood be of a less
gracious kind than that? I fear so. I have seen, from time to time,
butlers who had shed all semblance of grace, butlers whose whole
demeanour was a manifesto of contempt for their calling and of devotion
to the Spirit of the Age. I have seen a butler in a well-established
household strolling around the diners without the slightest droop, and
pouring out wine in an off-hand and quite obviously hostile manner. I
have seen him, towards the end of the meal, yawning. I remember another
whom, positively, I heard humming--a faint sound indeed, but menacing as
the roll of tumbrils.

These were exceptional cases, I grant. For the most part, the butlers
observed by me have had a manner as correctly smooth and colourless as
their very shirt-fronts. Aye, and in two or three of them, modern though
they were in date and aspect, I could have sworn there was 'a flame of
old-world fealty all bright.' Were these but the finer comedians?
There was one (I will call him Brett) who had an almost dog-like way
of watching his master. Was this but a calculated touch in a merely
aesthetic whole? Brett was tall and slender, and his movements were
those of a greyhound under perfect self-control. Baldness at the temples
enhanced the solemnity of his thin smooth face. It is more than twenty
years since first I saw him; and for a long period I saw him often, both
in town and in country. Against the background of either house he was
impeccable. Many butlers might be that. Brett's supremacy was in the
sense he gave one that he was, after all, human--that he had a heart, in
which he had taken the liberty to reserve a corner for any true
friend of his master and mistress. I remember well the first time he
overstepped sheer formality in relation to myself. It was one morning in
the country, when my entertainers and my fellow guests had gone out in
pursuit of some sport at which I was no good. I was in the smoking room,
reading a book. Suddenly--no, Brett never appeared anywhere suddenly.
Brett appeared, paused at precisely the right speaking distance, and
said in a low voice, 'I thought it might interest you to know, sir, that
there's a white-tailed magpie out on the lawn. Very rare, as you know,
sir. If you look out of the window you will see the little fellow
hopping about on the lawn.' I thanked him effusively as I darted to
the window, and simulated an intense interest in 'the little fellow.' I
greatly overdid my part. Exit Brett, having done his to perfection.

What worries me is not that I showed so little self-command and so much
insincerity, but the doubt whether Brett's flawless technique was the
vehicle for an act of true good feeling or was used simply for the
pleasure of using it. Similar doubts abide in all my special memories
of him. There was an evening when he seemed to lose control over
himself--but did he really lose it? There were only four people
at dinner: my host, his wife, their nephew (a young man famous for
drollery), and myself. Towards the end of dinner the conversation had
turned on early marriages. 'I,' said the young man presently, 'shall
not marry till I am seventy. I shall then marry some charming girl of
seventeen.' His aunt threw up her hands, exclaiming, 'Oh, Tom, what a
perfectly horrible idea! Why, she isn't born yet!' 'No,' said the young
man, 'but I have my eye on her mother.' At this, Brett, who was holding
a light for his master's cigarette, turned away convulsively, with
a sudden dip of the head, and vanished from the room. His breakdown
touched and pleased all four beholders. But--was it a genuine lapse? Or
merely a feint to thrill us?--the feint of an equilibrist so secure that
he can pretend to lose his balance?

If I knew why Brett ceased to be butler in that household, I might be
in less doubt as to the true inwardness of him. I knew only that he was
gone. That was fully ten years ago. Since then I have had one glimpse of
him. This was on a summer night in London. I had gone out late to visit
some relatives and assure myself that they were safe and sound; for
Zeppelins had just passed over London for the first time. Not so much
horror as a very deep disgust was the atmosphere in the populous quiet
streets and squares. One square was less quiet than others, because
somebody was steadily whistling for a taxi. Anon I saw the whistler
silhouetted in the light cast out on a wide doorstep from an open door,
and I saw that he was Brett. His attitude, as he bent out into the dark
night, was perfect in grace, but eloquent of a great tensity--even of
agony. Behind him stood a lady in an elaborate evening cloak. Brett's
back must have conveyed to her in every curve his surprise, his shame,
that she should be kept waiting. His chivalry in her behalf was such as
Burke's for Marie Antoinette--little had he dreamed that he should have
lived to see such disasters fallen upon her in a nation of gallant
men, in a nation of men of honour, and of cavaliers. He had thought ten
thousand taxis must have leaped from their stands, etc. The whistle
that at first sounded merely mechanical and ear-piercing had become
heartrending and human when I saw from whom it proceeded--a very
heart-cry that still haunts me. But was it a heart-cry? Was Brett, is
Brett more than a mere virtuoso?

He is in any case what employers call a treasure, and to any one who
wishes to go forth and hunt for him I will supply a chart showing the
way to that doorstep on which last I saw him. But I myself, were I ever
so able to pay his wages, should never covet him--no, nor anything like
him. Perhaps we are not afraid of menservants if we look out at them
from the cradle. None was visible from mine. Only in later years and
under external auspices did I come across any of them. And I am
as afraid of them as ever. Maidservants frighten me less, but they
also--except the two or three ancients aforesaid--have always struck
some degree of terror to my soul. The whole notion of domestic
service has never not seemed to me unnatural. I take no credit for
enlightenment. Not to have the instinct to command implies a lack of
the instinct to obey. The two aptitudes are but different facets of one
jewel: the sense of order. When I became a schoolboy, I greatly disliked
being a monitor's fag. Other fags there were who took pride in the
quality of the toast they made for the breakfasts and suppers of their
superiors. My own feeling was that I would rather eat it myself, and
that if I mightn't eat it myself I would rather it were not very good.
Similarly, when I grew to have fags of my own, and by morning and by
evening one of them solemnly entered to me bearing a plate on which
those three traditional pieces of toast were solemnly propped one
against another, I cared not at all whether the toast were good or bad,
having no relish for it at best, but could have eaten with gusto toast
made by my own hand, not at all understanding why that member should be
accounted too august for such employment. Even so in my later life. Loth
to obey, loth to command. Convention (for she too frightens me) has made
me accept what servants would do for me by rote. But I would liefer have
it ill-done than ask even the least mettlesome of them to do it better,
and far liefer, if they would only be off and not do it at all, do it
for myself. In Italy--dear Italy, where I have lived much--servants do
still regard service somewhat in the old way, as a sort of privilege;
so that with Italian servants I am comparatively at my ease. But oh, the
delight when on the afternoon of some local festa there is no servant
at all in the little house! Oh, the reaction, the impulse to sing and
dance, and the positive quick obedience to that impulse! Convention
alone has forced me to be anywhere a master. Ariel and Caliban, had I
been Prospero on that island, would have had nothing to do and nothing
to complain of; and Man Friday on that other island would have bored me,
had I been Crusoe. When I was a king in Babylon and you were a Christian
slave, I promptly freed you.

Anarchistic? Yes; and I have no defence to offer, except the rather
lame one that I am a Tory Anarchist. I should like every one to go about
doing just as he pleased--short of altering any of the things to which I
have grown accustomed. Domestic service is not one of those things, and
I should be glad were there no more of it.



GOING OUT FOR A WALK 1918.

It is a fact that not once in all my life have I gone out for a walk. I
have been taken out for walks; but that is another matter. Even while I
trotted prattling by my nurse's side I regretted the good old days when
I had, and wasn't, a perambulator. When I grew up it seemed to me that
the one advantage of living in London was that nobody ever wanted me
to come out for a walk. London's very drawbacks--its endless noise and
hustle, its smoky air, the squalor ambushed everywhere in it--assured
this one immunity. Whenever I was with friends in the country, I knew
that at any moment, unless rain were actually falling, some man might
suddenly say 'Come out for a walk!' in that sharp imperative tone which
he would not dream of using in any other connexion. People seem to think
there is something inherently noble and virtuous in the desire to go for
a walk. Any one thus desirous feels that he has a right to impose his
will on whomever he sees comfortably settled in an arm-chair, reading.
It is easy to say simply 'No' to an old friend. In the case of a mere
acquaintance one wants some excuse. 'I wish I could, but'--nothing ever
occurs to me except 'I have some letters to write.' This formula is
unsatisfactory in three ways. (1) It isn't believed. (2) It compels you
to rise from your chair, go to the writing-table, and sit improvising
a letter to somebody until the walkmonger (just not daring to call you
liar and hypocrite) shall have lumbered out of the room. (3) It won't
operate on Sunday mornings. 'There's no post out till this evening'
clinches the matter; and you may as well go quietly.

Walking for walking's sake may be as highly laudable and exemplary a
thing as it is held to be by those who practise it. My objection to
it is that it stops the brain. Many a man has professed to me that his
brain never works so well as when he is swinging along the high road or
over hill and dale. This boast is not confirmed by my memory of anybody
who on a Sunday morning has forced me to partake of his adventure.
Experience teaches me that whatever a fellow-guest may have of power
to instruct or to amuse when he is sitting on a chair, or standing on
a hearth-rug, quickly leaves him when he takes one out for a walk. The
ideas that came so thick and fast to him in any room, where are they
now? where that encyclopiedic knowledge which he bore so lightly? where
the kindling fancy that played like summer lightning over any topic that
was started? The man's face that was so mobile is set now; gone is the
light from his fine eyes. He says that A. (our host) is a thoroughly
good fellow. Fifty yards further on, he adds that A. is one of the best
fellows he has ever met. We tramp another furlong or so, and he says
that Mrs. A. is a charming woman. Presently he adds that she is one
of the most charming women he has ever known. We pass an inn. He
reads vapidly aloud to me: 'The King's Arms. Licensed to sell Ales and
Spirits.' I foresee that during the rest of the walk he will read aloud
any inscription that occurs. We pass a milestone. He points at it with
his stick, and says 'Uxminster. 11 Miles.' We turn a sharp corner at the
foot of a hill. He points at the wall, and says 'Drive Slowly.' I see
far ahead, on the other side of the hedge bordering the high road, a
small notice-board. He sees it too. He keeps his eye on it. And in due
course 'Trespassers,' he says, 'Will Be Prosecuted.' Poor man!--mentally
a wreck.

Luncheon at the A's, however, salves him and floats him in full sail.
Behold him once more the life and soul of the party. Surely he will
never, after the bitter lesson of this morning, go out for another walk.
An hour later, I see him striding forth, with a new companion. I watch
him out of sight. I know what he is saying. He is saying that I am
rather a dull man to go a walk with. He will presently add that I am one
of the dullest men he ever went a walk with. Then he will devote himself
to reading out the inscriptions.

How comes it, this immediate deterioration in those who go walking for
walking's sake? Just what happens? I take it that not by his reasoning
faculties is a man urged to this enterprise. He is urged, evidently, by
something in him that transcends reason; by his soul, I presume. Yes, it
must be the soul that raps out the 'Quick march!' to the body.--'Halt!
Stand at ease!' interposes the brain, and 'To what destination,'
it suavely asks the soul, 'and on what errand, are you sending the
body?'--'On no errand whatsoever,' the soul makes answer, 'and to no
destination at all. It is just like you to be always on the look-out for
some subtle ulterior motive. The body is going out because the mere fact
of its doing so is a sure indication of nobility, probity, and rugged
grandeur of character.'--'Very well, Vagula, have your own wayula! But
I,' says the brain, 'flatly refuse to be mixed up in this tomfoolery.
I shall go to sleep till it is over.' The brain then wraps itself up
in its own convolutions, and falls into a dreamless slumber from which
nothing can rouse it till the body has been safely deposited indoors
again.

Even if you go to some definite place, for some definite purpose, the
brain would rather you took a vehicle; but it does not make a point of
this; it will serve you well enough unless you are going for a walk. It
won't, while your legs are vying with each other, do any deep thinking
for you, nor even any close thinking; but it will do any number of small
odd jobs for you willingly--provided that your legs, also, are making
themselves useful, not merely bandying you about to gratify the pride
of the soul. Such as it is, this essay was composed in the course of
a walk, this morning. I am not one of those extremists who must have a
vehicle to every destination. I never go out of my way, as it were, to
avoid exercise. I take it as it comes, and take it in good part. That
valetudinarians are always chattering about it, and indulging in it to
excess, is no reason for despising it. I am inclined to think that in
moderation it is rather good for one, physically. But, pending a time
when no people wish me to go and see them, and I have no wish to go
and see any one, and there is nothing whatever for me to do off my own
premises, I never will go out for a walk.



QUIA IMPERFECTUM 1918.

I have often wondered that no one has set himself to collect unfinished
works of art. There is a peculiar charm for all of us in that which was
still in the making when its maker died, or in that which he laid aside
because he was tired of it, or didn't see his way to the end of it, or
wanted to go on to something else. Mr. Pickwick and the Ancient Mariner
are valued friends of ours, but they do not preoccupy us like Edwin
Drood or Kubla Khan. Had that revolving chair at Gad's Hill become
empty but a few weeks later than it actually did, or had Samuel Taylor
Coleridge in the act of setting down his dream about the Eastern
potentate not been interrupted by 'a person on business from Porlock'
and so lost the thread of the thing for ever, from two what delightful
glades for roaming in would our fancy be excluded! The very globe we
live on is a far more fascinating sphere than it can have been when men
supposed that men like themselves would be on it to the end of time. It
is only since we heard what Darwin had to say, only since we have had
to accept as improvisible what lies far ahead, that the Book of Life
has taken so strong a hold on us and 'once taken up, cannot,' as the
reviewers say, 'readily be laid down.' The work doesn't strike us as a
masterpiece yet, certainly; but who knows that it isn't--that it won't
be, judged as a whole?

For sheer creativeness, no human artist, I take it, has a higher repute
than Michael Angelo; none perhaps has a repute so high. But what if
Michael Angelo had been a little more persevering? All those years he
spent in the process of just a-going to begin Pope Julius' tomb, and
again, all those blank spaces for his pictures and bare pedestals for
his statues in the Baptistery of San Lorenzo--ought we to regret them
quite so passionately as we do? His patrons were apt to think him an
impossible person to deal with. But I suspect that there may have been
a certain high cunning in what appeared to be a mere lovable fault of
temperament. When Michael Angelo actually did bring a thing off, the
result was not always more than magnificent. His David is magnificent,
but it isn't David. One is duly awed, but, to see the master at
his best, back one goes from the Accademia to that marvellous bleak
Baptistery which he left that we should see, in the mind's eye, just
that very best.

It was there, some years ago, as I stood before the half-done marvel of
the Night and Morning, that I first conceived the idea of a museum of
incomplete masterpieces. And now I mean to organise the thing on my own
account. The Baptistery itself, so full of unfulfilment, and with such
a wealth, at present, of spare space, will be the ideal setting for my
treasures. There be it that the public shall throng to steep itself in
the splendour of possibilities, beholding, under glass, and perhaps in
excellent preservation, Penelope's web and the original designs for the
Tower of Babel, the draft made by Mr. Asquith for a reformed House of
Lords and the notes jotted down by the sometime German Emperor for a
proclamation from Versailles to the citizens of Paris. There too shall
be the MS. of that fragmentary 'Iphige'nie' which Racine laid aside so
meekly at the behest of Mlle. de Treves--'quoque cela fut de mon
mieux'; and there an early score of that one unfinished Symphony of
Beethoven's--I forget the number of it, but anyhow it is my favourite.
Among the pictures, Rossetti's oil-painting of 'Found' must be ruled
out, because we know by more than one drawing just what it would have
been, and how much less good than those drawings. But Leonardo's St.
Sebastian (even if it isn't Leonardo's) shall be there, and Whistler's
Miss Connie Gilchrist, and numerous other pictures that I would mention
if my mind were not so full of one picture to which, if I can find it
and acquire it, a special place of honour shall be given: a certain huge
picture in which a life-sized gentleman, draped in a white mantle,
sits on a fallen obelisk and surveys the ruined temples of the Campagna
Romana.

The reader knits his brow? Evidently he has not just been reading
Goethe's 'Travels in Italy.' I have. Or rather, I have just been reading
a translation of it, published in 1885 by George Bell & Sons. I daresay
it isn't a very good translation (for one has always understood that
Goethe, despite a resistant medium, wrote well--an accomplishment which
this translator hardly wins one to suspect). And I daresay the painting
I so want to see and have isn't a very good painting. Wilhelm Tischbein
is hardly a name to conjure with, though in his day, as a practitioner
in the 'historical' style, and as a rapturous resident in Rome,
Tischbein did great things; big things, at any rate. He did crowds of
heroes in helmets looked down at by gods on clouds; he did centaurs
leaping ravines; Sabine women; sieges of Troy. And he did this portrait
of Goethe. At least he began it. Why didn't he finish it? That is a
problem as to which one can but hazard guesses, reading between
the lines of Goethe's letters. The great point is that it never was
finished. By that point, as you read between those lines, you will be
amused if you are unkind, and worried if you are humane.

Worried, yet also pleased. Goethe has more than once been described as
'the perfect man.' He was assuredly a personage on the great scale, in
the grand manner, gloriously balanced, rounded. And it is a fact that he
was not made of marble. He started with all the disadvantages of flesh
and blood, and retained them to the last. Yet from no angle, as he
went his long way, could it be plausibly hinted that he wasn't sublime.
Endearing though failure always is, we grudge no man a moderately
successful career, and glory itself we will wink at if it befall some
thoroughly good fellow. But a man whose career was glorious without
intermission, decade after decade, does sorely try our patience. He, we
know, cannot have been a thoroughly good fellow. Of Goethe we are shy
for such reasons as that he was never injudicious, never lazy, always in
his best form--and always in love with some lady or another just so much
as was good for the development of his soul and his art, but never more
than that by a tittle. Fate decreed that Sir Willoughby Patterne should
cut a ridiculous figure and so earn our forgiveness. Fate may have had a
similar plan for Goethe; if so, it went all agley. Yet, in the course
of that pageant, his career, there did happen just one humiliation--one
thing that needed to be hushed up. There Tischbein's defalcation was; a
chip in the marble, a flaw in the crystal, just one thread loose in the
great grand tapestry.

Men of genius are not quick judges of character. Deep thinking and high
imagining blunt that trivial instinct by which you and I size people up.
Had you and I been at Goethe's elbow when, in the October of 1786, he
entered Rome and was received by the excited Tischbein, no doubt we
should have whispered in his ear, 'Beware of that man! He will one day
fail you.' Unassisted Goethe had no misgivings. For some years he had
been receiving letters from this Herr Tischbein. They were the letters
of a man steeped in the Sorrows of Werther and in all else that Goethe
had written. This was a matter of course. But also they were the
letters of a man familiar with all the treasures of Rome. All Italy was
desirable; but it was especially towards great Rome that the soul of the
illustrious poet, the confined State Councillor of Weimar, had been ever
yearning. So that when came the longed-for day, and the Duke gave leave
of absence, and Goethe, closing his official portfolio with a snap and
imprinting a fervent but hasty kiss on the hand of Frau von Stein, fared
forth on his pilgrimage, Tischbein was a prospect inseparably bound
up for him with that of the Seven Hills. Baedeker had not been born.
Tischbein would be a great saviour of time and trouble. Nor was this
hope unfulfilled. Tischbein was assiduous, enthusiastic, indefatigable.
In the early letters to Frau von Stein, to Herder and others, his name
is always cropping up for commendation. 'Of Tischbein I have much to
say and much to boast'--'A thorough and original German'--'He has always
been thinking of me, ever providing for my wants'--'In his society all
my enjoyments are more than doubled.' He was thirty-five years old (two
years younger than Goethe), and one guesses him to have been a stocky
little man, with those short thick legs which denote indefatigability.
One guesses him blond and rosy, very voluble, very guttural, with a
wealth of forceful but not graceful gesture.

One is on safer ground in guessing him vastly proud of trotting Goethe
round. Such fame throughout Europe had Goethe won by his works that it
was necessary for him to travel incognito. Not that his identity wasn't
an open secret, nor that he himself would have wished it hid. Great
artists are always vain. To say that a man is vain means merely that he
is pleased with the effect he produces on other people. A conceited man
is satisfied with the effect he produces on himself. Any great artist is
far too perceptive and too exigent to be satisfied with that effect, and
hence in vanity he seeks solace. Goethe, you may be sure, enjoyed the
hero-worshipful gaze focussed on him from all the tables of the Caffe'
Greco. But not for adulation had he come to Rome. Rome was what he had
come for; and the fussers of the coteries must not pester him in his
golden preoccupation with the antique world. Tischbein was very useful
in warding off the profane throng--fanning away the flies. Let us hope
he was actuated solely by zeal in Goethe's interest, not by the desire
to swagger as a monopolist.

Clear it is, though, that he scented fine opportunities in Goethe's
relation to him. Suppose he could rope his illustrious friend in as
a collaborator! He had begun a series of paintings on the theme of
primaeval man. Goethe was much impressed by these. Tischbein suggested
a great poem on the theme of primaeval man--a volume of engravings
after Tischbein, with running poetic commentary by Goethe. 'Indeed,
the frontispiece for such a joint work,' writes Goethe in one of his
letters, 'is already designed.' Pushful Tischbein! But Goethe, though
he was the most courteous of men, was not of the stuff of which
collaborators are made. 'During our walks together'--and can you not see
those two together, pacing up and down the groves of the Villa Pamphili,
or around the ruins of the Temple of Jupiter?--little Tischbein
gesticulating and peering up into Goethe's face, and Goethe with his
hands clasped behind him, ever nodding in a non-committal manner--'he
has talked with me in the hope of gaining me over to his views, and
getting me to enter upon the plan.' Goethe admits in another letter that
'the idea is beautiful; only,' he adds, 'the artist and the poet must be
many years together, in order to carry out and execute such a work'; and
one conceives that he felt a certain lack of beauty in the idea of being
with Tischbein for many years. 'Did I not fear to enter upon any new
tasks at present, I might perhaps be tempted.' This I take to be but the
repetition of a formula often used in the course of those walks. In
no letter later than November is the scheme mentioned. Tischbein
had evidently ceased to press it. Anon he fell back on a scheme less
glorious but likelier to bear fruit.

'Latterly,' writes Goethe, 'I have observed Tischbein regarding me; and
now'--note the demure pride!--'it appears that he has long cherished
the idea of painting my portrait.' Earnest sight-seer though he was, and
hard at work on various MSS. in the intervals of sight-seeing, it is
evident that to sit for his portrait was a new task which he did not
'fear to enter upon at present.' Nor need we be surprised. It seems
to be a law of nature that no man, unless he has some obvious physical
deformity, ever is loth to sit for his portrait. A man may be old,
he may be ugly, he may be burdened with grave responsibilities to the
nation, and that nation be at a crisis of its history; but none of these
considerations, nor all of them together, will deter him from sitting
for his portrait. Depend on him to arrive at the studio punctually, to
surrender himself and sit as still as a mouse, trying to look his best
in whatever posture the painter shall have selected as characteristic,
and talking (if he have leave to talk) with a touching humility and with
a keen sense of his privilege in being allowed to pick up a few ideas
about art. To a dentist or a hairdresser he surrenders himself without
enthusiasm, even with resentment. But in the atmosphere of a studio
there is something that entrances him. Perhaps it is the smell of
turpentine that goes to his head. Or more likely it is the idea of
immortality. Goethe was one of the handsomest men of his day, and
(remember) vain, and now in the prime of life; so that he was specially
susceptible to the notion of being immortalised. 'The design is already
settled, and the canvas stretched'; and I have no doubt that in the
original German these words ring like the opening of a ballad. 'The
anchor's up and the sail is spread,' as I (and you, belike) recited in
childhood. The ship in that poem foundered, if I remember rightly; so
that the analogy to Goethe's words is all the more striking.

It is in this same letter that the poet mentions those three great
points which I have already laid before you: the fallen obelisk for him
to sit on, the white mantle to drape him, and the ruined temples for him
to look at. 'It will form a beautiful piece, but,' he sadly calculates,
'it will be rather too big for our northern habitations.' Courage! There
will be plenty of room for it in the Baptistery of San Lorenzo.

Meanwhile, the work progressed. A brief visit to Naples and Sicily was
part of Goethe's well-pondered campaign, and he was to set forth from
Rome (taking Tischbein with him) immediately after the close of the
Carnival--but not a moment before. Needless to say, he had no idea of
flinging himself into the Carnival, after the fashion of lesser and
lighter tourists. But the Carnival was a great phenomenon to be studied.
All-embracing Goethe, remember, was nearly as keen on science as on art.
He had ever been patient in poring over plants botanically, and fishes
ichthyologically, and minerals mineralogically. And now, day by day, he
studied the Carnival from a strictly carnivalogical standpoint, taking
notes on which he founded later a classic treatise. His presence was
not needed in the studio during these days, for the life-sized portrait
'begins already to stand out from the canvas,' and Tischbein was now
painting the folds of the mantle, which were swathed around a clay
figure. 'He is working away diligently, for the work must, he says,
be brought to a certain point before we start for Naples.' Besides the
mantle, Tischbein was doing the Campagna. I remember that some years
ago an acquaintance of mine, a painter who was neither successful nor
talented, but always buoyant, told me he was starting for Italy next
day. 'I am going,' he said, 'to paint the Campagna. The Campagna WANTS
painting.' Tischbein was evidently giving it a good dose of what it
wanted. 'It takes no little time,' writes Goethe to Frau von Stein,
'merely to cover so large a field of canvas with colours.

Ash Wednesday ushered itself in, and ushered the Carnival out. The
curtain falls, rising a few days later on the Bay of Naples. Re-enter
Goethe and Tischbein. Bright blue back-cloth. Incidental music of
barcaroles, etc. For a while, all goes splendidly well. Sane Quixote and
aesthetic Sancho visit the churches, the museums; visit Pompeii; visit
our Ambassador, Sir William Hamilton, that accomplished man. Vesuvius is
visited too; thrice by Goethe, but (here, for the first time, we feel
a vague uneasiness) only once by Tischbein. To Goethe, as you may well
imagine, Vesuvius was strongly attractive. At his every ascent he was
very brave, going as near as possible to the crater, which he approached
very much as he had approached the Carnival, not with any wish to fling
himself into it, but as a resolute scientific inquirer. Tischbein, on
the other hand, merely disliked and feared Vesuvius. He said it had no
aesthetic value, and at his one ascent did not accompany Goethe to the
crater's edge. He seems to have regarded Goethe's bravery as rashness.
Here, you see, is a rift, ever so slight, but of evil omen; what
seismologists call 'a fault.'

Goethe was unconscious of its warning. Throughout his sojourn in Naples
he seems to have thought that Tischbein in Naples was the same as
Tischbein in Rome. Of some persons it is true that change of sky works
no change of soul. Oddly enough, Goethe reckoned himself among the
changeable. In one of his letters he calls himself 'quite an altered
man,' and asserts that he is given over to 'a sort of intoxicated
self-forgetfulness'--a condition to which his letters testify not at
all. In a later bulletin he is nearer the mark: 'Were I not impelled by
the German spirit, and desire to learn and do rather than to enjoy, I
should tarry a little longer in this school of a light-hearted and happy
life, and try to profit by it still more.' A truly priceless passage,
this, with a solemnity transcending logic--as who should say, 'Were I
not so thoroughly German, I should be thoroughly German.' Tischbein
was of less stern stuff, and it is clear that Naples fostered in him a
lightness which Rome had repressed. Goethe says that he himself puzzled
the people in Neapolitan society: 'Tischbein pleases them far better.
This evening he hastily painted some heads of the size of life, and
about these they disported themselves as strangely as the New Zealanders
at the sight of a ship of war.' One feels that but for Goethe's presence
Tischbein would have cut New Zealand capers too. A week later he did
an utterly astounding thing. He told Goethe that he would not be
accompanying him to Sicily.

He did not, of course, say 'The novelty of your greatness has worn off.
Your solemnity oppresses me. Be off, and leave me to enjoy myself in
Naples-on-Sea--Naples, the Queen of Watering Places!' He spoke of work
which he had undertaken, and recommended as travelling companion for
Goethe a young man of the name of Kniep.

Goethe, we may be sure, was restrained by pride from any show of wrath.
Pride compelled him to make light of the matter in his epistles to the
Weimarians. Even Kniep he accepted with a good grace, though not without
misgivings. He needed a man who would execute for him sketches and
paintings of all that in the districts passed through was worthy
of record. He had already 'heard Kniep highly spoken of as a clever
draughtsman--only his industry was not much commended.' Our hearts sink.
'I have tolerably studied his character, and think the ground of this
censure arises rather from a want of decision, which may certainly be
overcome, if we are long together.' Our hearts sink lower. Kniep will
never do. Kniep will play the deuce, we are sure of it. And yet (such
is life) Kniep turns out very well. Throughout the Sicilian tour Goethe
gives the rosiest reports of the young man's cheerful ways and strict
attention to the business of sketching. It may be that these reports
were coloured partly by a desire to set Tischbein down. But there seems
to be no doubt that Goethe liked Kniep greatly and rejoiced in the
quantity and quality of his work. At Palermo, one evening, Goethe sat
reading Homer and 'making an impromptu translation for the benefit of
Kniep, who had well deserved by his diligent exertions this day some
agreeable refreshment over a glass of wine.' This is a pleasing little
scene, and is typical of the whole tour.

In the middle of May, Goethe returned Naples. And lo!--Tischbein was
not there to receive him. Tischbein, if you please, had skipped back to
Rome, bidding his Neapolitan friends look to his great compatriot. Pride
again forbade Goethe to show displeasure, and again our reading has to
be done between the lines. In the first week of June he was once more
in Rome. I can imagine with what high courtesy, as though there were
nothing to rebuke, he treated Tischbein. But it is possible that
his manner would have been less perfect had the portrait not been
unfinished.

His sittings were resumed. It seems that Signora Zucchi, better known to
the world as Angelica Kauffmann, had also begun to paint him. But, great
as was Goethe's esteem for the mind of that nice woman, he set no store
on this fluttering attempt of hers: 'her picture is a pretty fellow, to
be sure, but not a trace of me.' It was by the large and firm 'historic'
mode of Tischbein that he, not exactly in his habit as he lived, but in
the white mantle that so well became him, and on the worthy throne of
that fallen obelisk, was to be handed down to the gaze of future ages.
Was to be, yes. On June 27th he reports that Tischbein's work 'is
succeeding happily; the likeness is striking, and the conception pleases
everybody.' Three days later: 'Tischbein goes to Naples.'

Incredible! We stare aghast, as in the presence of some great dignitary
from behind whom, by a ribald hand, a chair is withdrawn when he is
in the act of sitting down. Tischbein had, as it were, withdrawn the
obelisk. What was Goethe to do? What can a dignitary, in such case, do?
He cannot turn and recriminate. That would but lower him the more. Can
he behave as though nothing has happened? Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
tried to do so. And it must have been in support of this attempt that he
consented to leave his own quarters and reside awhile in the studio of
the outgoing Tischbein. That slippery man does, it is true, seem to have
given out that he would not be away very long; and the prospect of his
return may well have been reckoned in mitigation of his going. Goethe
had leave from the Duke of Weimar to prolong his Italian holiday till
the spring of next year. It is possible that Tischbein really did mean
to come back and finish the picture. Goethe had, at any rate, no reason
for not hoping.

'When you think of me, think of me as happy,' he directs. And had he
not indeed reasons for happiness? He had the most perfect health, he was
writing masterpieces, he was in Rome--Rome which no pilgrim had loved
with a rapture deeper than his; the wonderful old Rome that lingered
on almost to our own day, under the conserving shadow of the Temporal
Power; a Rome in which the Emperors kept unquestionably their fallen day
about them. No pilgrim had wandered with a richer enthusiasm along those
highways and those great storied spaces. It is pleasing to watch in what
deep draughts Goethe drank Rome in. But--but--I fancy that now in his
second year of sojourn he tended to remain within the city walls, caring
less than of yore for the Campagna; and I suspect that if ever he did
stray out there he averted his eyes from anything in the nature of a
ruined temple. Of one thing I am sure. The huge canvas in the studio had
its face to the wall. There is never a reference to it by Goethe in
any letter after that of June 27th. But I surmise that its nearness
continually worked on him, and that sometimes, when no one was by, he
all unwillingly approached it, he moved it out into a good light and,
stepping back, gazed at it for a long time. And I wonder that Tischbein
was not shamed, telepathically, to return.

What was it that had made Tischbein--not once, but thrice--abandon
Goethe? We have no right to suppose he had plotted to avenge himself
for the poet's refusal to collaborate with him on the theme of primaeval
man. A likelier explanation is merely that Goethe, as I have suggested,
irked him. Forty years elapsed before Goethe collected his letters
from Italy and made a book of them; and in this book he included--how
magnanimous old men are!--several letters written to him from Naples by
his deserter. These are shallow but vivid documents--the effusions of
one for whom the visible world suffices. I take it that Tischbein was an
'historic' painter because no ambitious painter in those days wasn't.
In Goethe the historic sense was as innate as the aesthetic; so was
the ethical sense; so was the scientific sense; and the three of them,
forever cropping up in his discourse, may well be understood to have
been too much for the simple Tischbein. But, you ask, can mere boredom
make a man act so cruelly as this man acted? Well, there may have been
another cause, and a more interesting one. I have mentioned that Goethe
and Tischbein visited our Ambassador in Naples. His Excellency was at
that time a widower, but his establishment was already graced by his
future wife, Miss Emma Harte, whose beauty is so well known to us all.
'Tischbein,' wrote Goethe a few days afterwards, 'is engaged in painting
her.' Later in the year, Tischbein, soon after his return to Naples,
sent to Goethe a sketch for a painting he had now done of Miss Harte
as Iphigenia at the Sacrificial Altar. Perhaps he had wondered that she
should sacrifice herself to Sir William Hamilton.... 'I like Hamilton
uncommonly' is a phrase culled from one of his letters; and when a man
is very hearty about the protector of a very beautiful woman one begins
to be suspicious. I do not mean to suggest that Miss Harte--though it
is true she had not yet met Nelson--was fascinated by Tischbein. But
we have no reason to suppose that Tischbein was less susceptible than
Romney.

Altogether, it seems likely enough that the future Lady Hamilton's
fine eyes were Tischbein's main reason for not going to Sicily, and
afterwards for his sudden exodus from Rome. But why, in this case, did
he leave Naples, why go back to Rome, when Goethe was in Sicily? I hope
he went for the purpose of shaking off his infatuation for Miss Harte.
I am loth to think he went merely to wind up his affairs in Rome. I will
assume that only after a sharp conflict, in which he fought hard on the
side of duty against love, did he relapse to Naples. But I won't pretend
to wish he had finished that portrait.

If you know where that portrait is, tell me. I want it. I have tried to
trace it--vainly. What became of it? I thought I might find this out in
George Henry Lewes' 'Life of Goethe.' But Lewes had a hero-worship for
Goethe: he thought him greater than George Eliot, and in the whole book
there is but one cold mention of Tischbein's name. Mr. Oscar Browning,
in the 'Encyclopaedia Britannica,' names Tischbein as Goethe's 'constant
companion' in the early days at Rome--and says nothing else about him!
In fact, the hero-worshippers have evidently conspired to hush up
the affront to their hero. Even the 'Penny Cyclopaedia' (1842), which
devotes a column to little Tischbein himself, and goes into various
details of his career, is silent about the portrait of Goethe. I learn
from that column that Tischbein became director of the Neapolitan
Academy, at a salary of 600 ducats, and resided in Naples until the
Revolution of '99, when he returned in haste to Germany. Suppose he
passed through Rome on his way. A homing fugitive would not pause to
burden himself with a vast unfinished canvas. We may be sure the canvas
remained in that Roman studio--an object of mild interest to successive
occupants. Is it there still? Does the studio itself still exist?
Belike it has been demolished, with so much else. What became of
the expropriated canvas? It wouldn't have been buried in the new
foundations. Some one must have staggered away with it. Whither?
Somewhere, I am sure, in some dark vault or cellar, it languishes.

Seek it, fetch it out, bring it to me in triumph. You will always find
me in the Baptistery of San Lorenzo. But I have formed so clear
and sharp a preconception of the portrait that I am likely to be
disappointed at sight of what you bring me. I see in my mind's eye every
falling fold of the white mantle; the nobly-rounded calf of the leg on
which rests the forearm; the high-light on the black silk stocking. The
shoes, the hands, are rather sketchy, the sky is a mere slab; the ruined
temples are no more than adumbrated. But the expression of the face is
perfectly, epitomically, that of a great man surveying a great alien
scene and gauging its import not without a keen sense of its dramatic
conjunction with himself--Marius in Carthage and Napoleon before the
Sphinx, Wordsworth on London Bridge and Cortes on the peak in Darien,
but most of all, certainly, Goethe in the Campagna. So, you see,
I cannot promise not to be horribly let down by Tischbein's actual
handiwork. I may even have to take back my promise that it shall have a
place of honour. But I shall not utterly reject it--unless on the plea
that a collection of unfinished works should itself have some great
touch of incompletion.



SOMETHING DEFEASIBLE July, 1919.

The cottage had a good trim garden in front of it, and another behind
it. I might not have noticed it at all but for them and their emerald
greenness. Yet itself (I saw when I studied it) was worthy of them.
Sussex is rich in fine Jacobean cottages; and their example, clearly,
had not been lost on the builder of this one. Its proportions had a
homely grandeur. It was long and wide and low. It was quite a yard
long. It had three admirable gables. It had a substantial and shapely
chimney-stack. I liked the look that it had of honest solidity all over,
nothing anywhere scamped in the workmanship of it. It looked as though
it had been built for all time. But this was not so. For it was built on
sand, and of sand; and the tide was coming in.

Here and there in its vicinity stood other buildings. None of these
possessed any points of interest. They were just old-fashioned
'castles,' of the bald and hasty kind which I myself used to make
in childhood and could make even now--conic affairs, with or without
untidily-dug moats, the nullities of convention and of unskilled labour.
When I was a child the charm of a castle was not in the building of
it, but in jumping over it when it was built. Nor was this an enduring
charm. After a few jumps one abandoned one's castle and asked one's
nurse for a bun, or picked a quarrel with some child even smaller than
oneself, or went paddling. As it was, so it is. My survey of the sands
this morning showed me that forty years had made no difference. Here was
plenty of animation, plenty of scurrying and gambolling, of laughter and
tears. But the actual spadework was a mere empty form. For all but the
builder of that cottage. For him, manifestly, a passion, a rite.

He stood, spade in hand, contemplating, from one angle and another, what
he had done. He was perhaps nine years old; if so, small for his age.
He had very thin legs in very short grey knickerbockers, a pale freckled
face, and hair that matched the sand. He was not remarkable. But with
a little good-will one can always find something impressive in anybody.
When Mr. Mallaby-Deeley won a wide and very sudden fame in connexion
with Covent Garden, an awe-stricken reporter wrote of him for The Daily
Mail, 'he has the eyes of a dreamer.' I believe that Mr. Cecil Rhodes
really had. So, it seemed to me, had this little boy. They were pale
grey eyes, rather prominent, with an unwavering light in them. I guessed
that they were regarding the cottage rather as what it should be than as
what it had become. To me it appeared quite perfect. But I surmised
that to him, artist that he was, it seemed a poor thing beside his first
flushed conception.

He knelt down and, partly with the flat of his spade, partly with the
palm of one hand, redressed some (to me obscure) fault in one of the
gables. He rose, stood back, his eyes slowly endorsed the amendment.
A few moments later, very suddenly, he scudded away to the adjacent
breakwater and gave himself to the task of scraping off it some of the
short green sea-weed wherewith he had made the cottage's two gardens so
pleasantly realistic, oases so refreshing in the sandy desert. Were the
lawns somehow imperfect? Anon, when he darted back, I saw what it was
that his taste had required: lichen, moss, for the roof. Sundry morsels
and patches of green he deftly disposed in the angles of roof and
gables. His stock exhausted, off to the breakwater he darted, and back
again, to and fro with the lightning directness of a hermit-bee making
its nest of pollen. The low walls that enclosed the two gardens were
in need of creepers. Little by little, this grace was added to them. I
stood silently watching.

I kept silent for fear of discommoding him. All artists--by which
I mean, of course, all good artists--are shy. They are trustees of
something not entrusted to us others; they bear fragile treasure, not
safe in a jostling crowd; they must ever be wary. And especially shy
are those artists whose work is apart from words. A man of letters can
mitigate his embarrassment among us by a certain glibness. Not so can
the man who works through the medium of visual form and colour. Not
so, I was sure, could the young architect and landscape-gardener here
creating. I would have moved away had I thought my mere presence was a
bother to him; but I decided that it was not: being a grown-up person, I
did not matter; he had no fear that I should offer violence to his work.
It was his coevals that made him uneasy. Groups of these would pause in
their wild career to stand over him and watch him in a fidgety manner
that hinted mischief. Suppose one of them suddenly jumped--on to the
cottage!

Fragile treasure, this, in a quite literal sense; and how awfully
exposed! It was spared, however. There was even legible on the faces of
the stolid little boys who viewed it a sort of reluctant approval.
Some of the little girls seemed to be forming with their lips the word
'pretty,' but then they exchanged glances with one another, signifying
'silly.' No one of either sex uttered any word of praise. And so,
because artists, be they never so agoraphobious, do want praise, I did
at length break my silence to this one. 'I think it splendid,' I said to
him.

He looked up at me, and down at the cottage. 'Do you?' he asked, looking
up again. I assured him that I did; and to test my opinion of him I
asked whether he didn't think so too. He stood the test well. 'I wanted
it rather diff'rent,' he answered.

'In what way different?'

He searched his vocabulary. More comf'table,' he found.

I knew now that he was not merely the architect and builder of the
cottage, but also, by courtesy of imagination, its tenant; but I was
tactful enough not to let him see that I had guessed this deep and
delicate secret. I did but ask him, in a quite general way, how the
cottage could be better. He said that it ought to have a porch--'but
porches tumble in.' He was too young an artist to accept quite meekly
the limits imposed by his material. He pointed along the lower edge
of the roof: 'It ought to stick out,' he said, meaning that it wanted
eaves. I told him not to worry about that: it was the sand's fault, not
his. 'What really is a pity,' I said, 'is that your house can't last
for ever.' He was tracing now on the roof, with the edge of his spade, a
criss-cross pattern, to represent tiles, and he seemed to have forgotten
my presence and my kindness. 'Aren't you sorry,' I asked, raising my
voice rather sharply, 'that the sea is coming in?'

He glanced at the sea. 'Yes.' He said this with a lack of emphasis that
seemed to me noble though insincere.

The strain of talking in words of not more than three syllables had
begun to tell on me. I bade the artist good-bye, wandered away up the
half-dozen steps to the Parade, sat down on a bench, and opened the
morning paper that I had brought out unread. During the War one felt it
a duty to know the worst before breakfast; now that the English polity
is threatened merely from within, one is apt to dally.... Merely from
within? Is that a right phrase when the nerves of unrestful Labour
in any one land are interplicated with its nerves in any other, so
vibrantly? News of the dismissal of an erring workman in Timbuctoo is
enough nowadays to make us apprehensive of vast and dreadful effects on
our own immediate future. How pleasant if we had lived our lives in
the nineteenth century and no other, with the ground all firm under our
feet! True, the people who flourished then had recurring alarms. But
their alarms were quite needless; whereas ours--! Ours, as I glanced
at this morning' s news from Timbuctoo and elsewhere, seemed odiously
needful. Withal, our Old Nobility in its pleasaunces was treading
once more the old graceful measure which the War arrested; Bohemia
had resumed its motley; even the middle class was capering, very
noticeably... To gad about smiling as though he were quite well, thank
you, or to sit down, pull a long face, and make his soul,--which, I
wondered, is the better procedure for a man knowing that very soon
he will have to undergo a vital operation at the hands of a wholly
unqualified surgeon who dislikes him personally? I inclined to think the
gloomier way the less ghastly. But then, I asked myself, was my analogy
a sound one? We are at the mercy of Labour, certainly; and Labour does
not love us; and Labour is not deeply versed in statecraft. But would
an unskilled surgeon, however ill-wishing, care to perform a drastic
operation on a patient by whose death he himself would forthwith perish?
Labour is wise enough--surely?--not to will us destruction. Russia has
been an awful example. Surely! And yet, Labour does not seem to think
the example so awful as I do. Queer, this; queer and disquieting. I rose
from my bench, strolled to the railing, and gazed forth.

The unrestful, the well-organised and minatory sea had been advancing
quickly. It was not very far now from the cottage. I thought of all the
civilisations that had been, that were not, that were as though they had
never been. Must it always be thus?--always the same old tale of growth
and greatness and overthrow, nothingness? I gazed at the cottage, all
so solid and seemly, so full of endearing character, so like to the
'comf'table' polity of England as we have known it. I gazed away from
it to a large-ish castle that the sea was just reaching. A little, then
quickly much, the waters swirled into the moat. Many children stood by,
all a-dance with excitement. The castle was shedding its sides, lapsing,
dwindling, landslipping--gone. O Nineveh! And now another--O Memphis?
Rome?--yielded to the cataclysm. I listened to the jubilant screams of
the children. What rapture, what wantoning! Motionless beside his work
stood the builder of the cottage, gazing seaward, a pathetic little
figure. I hoped the other children would have the decency not to
exult over the unmaking of what he had made so well. This hope was not
fulfilled. I had not supposed it would be. What did surprise me, when
anon the sea rolled close up to the cottage, was the comportment of the
young artist himself. His sobriety gave place to an intense animation.
He leapt, he waved his spade, he invited the waves with wild gestures
and gleeful cries. His face had flushed bright, and now, as the garden
walls crumbled, and the paths and lawns were mingled by the waters'
influence and confluence, and the walls of the cottage itself began to
totter, and the gables sank, and all, all was swallowed, his leaps
were so high in air that they recalled to my memory those of a strange
religious sect which once visited London; and the glare of his eyes was
less indicative of a dreamer than of a triumphant fiend.

I myself was conscious of a certain wild enthusiasm within me. But this
was less surprising for that I had not built the cottage, and my fancy
had not enabled me to dwell in it. It was the boy's own enthusiasm that
made me feel, as never before, how deep-rooted in the human breast the
love of destruction, of mere destruction, is. And I began to ask myself:
'Even if England as we know it, the English polity of which that cottage
was a symbol to me, were the work of (say) Mr. Robert Smillie's own
unaided hands'--but I waived the question coming from that hypothesis,
and other questions that would have followed; for I wished to be happy
while I might.



'A CLERGYMAN' 1918.

Fragmentary, pale, momentary; almost nothing; glimpsed and gone; as it
were, a faint human hand thrust up, never to reappear, from beneath the
rolling waters of Time, he forever haunts my memory and solicits my weak
imagination. Nothing is told of him but that once, abruptly, he asked a
question, and received an answer.

This was on the afternoon of April 7th, 1778, at Streatham, in the
well-appointed house of Mr. Thrale. Johnson, on the morning of that day,
had entertained Boswell at breakfast in Bolt Court, and invited him to
dine at Thrale Hall. The two took coach and arrived early. It seems that
Sir John Pringle had asked Boswell to ask Johnson 'what were the best
English sermons for style.' In the interval before dinner, accordingly,
Boswell reeled off the names of several divines whose prose might or
might not win commendation. 'Atterbury?' he suggested. 'JOHNSON: Yes,
Sir, one of the best. BOSWELL: Tillotson? JOHNSON: Why, not now. I
should not advise any one to imitate Tillotson's style; though I don't
know; I should be cautious of censuring anything that has been applauded
by so many suffrages.--South is one of the best, if you except
his peculiarities, and his violence, and sometimes coarseness of
language.--Seed has a very fine style; but he is not very theological.
Jortin's sermons are very elegant. Sherlock's style, too, is very
elegant, though he has not made it his principal study.--And you may add
Smalridge. BOSWELL: I like Ogden's Sermons on Prayer very much, both for
neatness of style and subtility of reasoning. JOHNSON: I should like to
read all that Ogden has written. BOSWELL: What I want to know is, what
sermons afford the best specimen of English pulpit eloquence. JOHNSON:
We have no sermons addressed to the passions, that are good for
anything; if you mean that kind of eloquence. A CLERGYMAN, whose name
I do not recollect: Were not Dodd's sermons addressed to the passions?
JOHNSON: They were nothing, Sir, be they addressed to what they may.'

The suddenness of it! Bang!--and the rabbit that had popped from its
burrow was no more.

I know not which is the more startling--the de'but of the unfortunate
clergyman, or the instantaneousness of his end. Why hadn't Boswell told
us there was a clergyman present? Well, we may be sure that so careful
and acute an artist had some good reason. And I suppose the clergyman
was left to take us unawares because just so did he take the company.
Had we been told he was there, we might have expected that sooner or
later he would join in the conversation. He would have had a place in
our minds. We may assume that in the minds of the company around
Johnson he had no place. He sat forgotten, overlooked; so that his
self-assertion startled every one just as on Boswell's page it startles
us. In Johnson's massive and magnetic presence only some very remarkable
man, such as Mr. Burke, was sharply distinguishable from the rest.
Others might, if they had something in them, stand out slightly. This
unfortunate clergyman may have had something in him, but I judge that he
lacked the gift of seeming as if he had. That deficiency, however,
does not account for the horrid fate that befell him. One of Johnson's
strongest and most inveterate feelings was his veneration for the
Cloth. To any one in Holy Orders he habitually listened with a grave and
charming deference. To-day moreover, he was in excellent good humour. He
was at the Thrales', where he so loved to be; the day was fine; a fine
dinner was in close prospect; and he had had what he always declared to
be the sum of human felicity--a ride in a coach. Nor was there in the
question put by the clergyman anything likely to enrage him. Dodd was
one whom Johnson had befriended in adversity; and it had always been
agreed that Dodd in his pulpit was very emotional. What drew the
blasting flash must have been not the question itself, but the manner in
which it was asked. And I think we can guess what that manner was.

Say the words aloud: 'Were not Dodd's sermons addressed to the
passions?' They are words which, if you have any dramatic and histrionic
sense, cannot be said except in a high, thin voice.

You may, from sheer perversity, utter them in a rich and sonorous
baritone or bass. But if you do so, they sound utterly unnatural. To
make them carry the conviction of human utterance, you have no choice:
you must pipe them.

Remember, now, Johnson was very deaf. Even the people whom he knew well,
the people to whose voices he was accustomed, had to address him very
loudly. It is probable that this unregarded, young, shy clergyman, when
at length he suddenly mustered courage to 'cut in,' let his high, thin
voice soar too high, insomuch that it was a kind of scream. On no other
hypothesis can we account for the ferocity with which Johnson turned and
rended him. Johnson didn't, we may be sure, mean to be cruel. The old
lion, startled, just struck out blindly. But the force of paw and claws
was not the less lethal. We have endless testimony to the strength
of Johnson's voice; and the very cadence of those words, 'They were
nothing, Sir, be they addressed to what they may,' convinces me that the
old lion's jaws never gave forth a louder roar. Boswell does not record
that there was any further conversation before the announcement of
dinner. Perhaps the whole company had been temporarily deafened. But
I am not bothering about them. My heart goes out to the poor dear
clergyman exclusively.

I said a moment ago that he was young and shy; and I admit that I
slipped those epithets in without having justified them to you by due
process of induction. Your quick mind will have already supplied what I
omitted. A man with a high, thin voice, and without power to impress any
one with a sense of his importance, a man so null in effect that even
the retentive mind of Boswell did not retain his very name, would
assuredly not be a self-confident man. Even if he were not naturally
shy, social courage would soon have been sapped in him, and would in
time have been destroyed, by experience. That he had not yet given
himself up as a bad job, that he still had faint wild hopes, is proved
by the fact that he did snatch the opportunity for asking that question.
He must, accordingly, have been young. Was he the curate of the
neighbouring church? I think so. It would account for his having been
invited. I see him as he sits there listening to the great Doctor's
pronouncement on Atterbury and those others. He sits on the edge of a
chair in the background. He has colourless eyes, fixed earnestly, and a
face almost as pale as the clerical bands beneath his somewhat receding
chin. His forehead is high and narrow, his hair mouse-coloured. His
hands are clasped tight before him, the knuckles standing out sharply.
This constriction does not mean that he is steeling himself to speak.
He has no positive intention of speaking. Very much, nevertheless, is he
wishing in the back of his mind that he could say something--something
whereat the great Doctor would turn on him and say, after a pause for
thought, 'Why yes, Sir. That is most justly observed' or 'Sir, this has
never occurred to me. I thank you'--thereby fixing the observer for
ever high in the esteem of all. And now in a flash the chance presents
itself. 'We have,' shouts Johnson, 'no sermons addressed to the
passions, that are good for anything.' I see the curate's frame quiver
with sudden impulse, and his mouth fly open, and--no, I can't bear it,
I shut my eyes and ears. But audible, even so, is something shrill,
followed by something thunderous.

Presently I re-open my eyes. The crimson has not yet faded from that
young face yonder, and slowly down either cheek falls a glistening tear.
Shades of Atterbury and Tillotson! Such weakness shames the Established
Church. What would Jortin and Smalridge have said?--what Seed and South?
And, by the way, who were they, these worthies? It is a solemn thought
that so little is conveyed to us by names which to the palaeo-Georgians
conveyed so much. We discern a dim, composite picture of a big man in a
big wig and a billowing black gown, with a big congregation beneath him.
But we are not anxious to hear what he is saying. We know it is all very
elegant. We know it will be printed and be bound in finely-tooled
full calf, and no palaeo-Georgian gentleman's library will be complete
without it. Literate people in those days were comparatively few; but,
bating that, one may say that sermons were as much in request as novels
are to-day. I wonder, will mankind continue to be capricious? It is a
very solemn thought indeed that no more than a hundred-and-fifty years
hence the novelists of our time, with all their moral and political and
sociological outlook and influence, will perhaps shine as indistinctly
as do those old preachers, with all their elegance, now. 'Yes, Sir,'
some great pundit may be telling a disciple at this moment, 'Wells
is one of the best. Galsworthy is one of the best, if you except his
concern for delicacy of style. Mrs. Ward has a very firm grasp of
problems, but is not very creational.--Caine's books are very edifying.
I should like to read all that Caine has written. Miss Corelli, too, is
very edifying.--And you may add Upton Sinclair.' 'What I want to know,'
says the disciple, 'is, what English novels may be selected as specially
enthralling.' The pundit answers: 'We have no novels addressed to
the passions that are good for anything, if you mean that kind of
enthralment.' And here some poor wretch (whose name the disciple will
not remember) inquires: 'Are not Mrs. Glyn's novels addressed to the
passions?' and is in due form annihilated. Can it be that a time will
come when readers of this passage in our pundit's Life will take more
interest in the poor nameless wretch than in all the bearers of those
great names put together, being no more able or anxious to discriminate
between (say) Mrs. Ward and Mr. Sinclair than we are to set Ogden above
Sherlock, or Sherlock above Ogden? It seems impossible. But we must
remember that things are not always what they seem.

Every man illustrious in his day, however much he may be gratified by
his fame, looks with an eager eye to posterity for a continuance of past
favours, and would even live the remainder of his life in obscurity if
by so doing he could insure that future generations would preserve a
correct attitude towards him forever. This is very natural and human,
but, like so many very natural and human things, very silly. Tillotson
and the rest need not, after all, be pitied for our neglect of them.
They either know nothing about it, or are above such terrene trifles.
Let us keep our pity for the seething mass of divines who were not
elegantly verbose, and had no fun or glory while they lasted. And let us
keep a specially large portion for one whose lot was so much worse than
merely undistinguished. If that nameless curate had not been at the
Thrales' that day, or, being there, had kept the silence that so well
became him, his life would have been drab enough, in all conscience. But
at any rate an unpromising career would not have been nipped in the bud.
And that is what in fact happened, I'm sure of it. A robust man might
have rallied under the blow. Not so our friend. Those who knew him in
infancy had not expected that he would be reared. Better for him had
they been right. It is well to grow up and be ordained, but not if you
are delicate and very sensitive, and shall happen to annoy the greatest,
the most stentorian and roughest of contemporary personages. 'A
Clergyman' never held up his head or smiled again after the brief
encounter recorded for us by Boswell. He sank into a rapid decline.
Before the next blossoming of Thrale Hall's almond trees he was no more.
I like to think that he died forgiving Dr. Johnson.



THE CRIME 1920.

On a bleak wet stormy afternoon at the outset of last year's Spring, I
was in a cottage, all alone, and knowing that I must be all alone till
evening. It was a remote cottage, in a remote county, and had been 'let
furnished' by its owner. My spirits are easily affected by weather, and
I hate solitude. And I dislike to be master of things that are not mine.
'Be careful not to break us,' say the glass and china. 'You'd better
not spill ink on me,' growls the carpet. 'None of your dog's-earing,
thumb-marking, back-breaking tricks here!' snarl the books.

The books in this cottage looked particularly disagreeable--horrid
little upstarts of this and that scarlet or cerulean 'series' of
'standard' authors. Having gloomily surveyed them, I turned my back on
them, and watched the rain streaming down the latticed window, whose
panes seemed likely to be shattered at any moment by the wind. I have
known men who constantly visit the Central Criminal Court, visit also
the scenes where famous crimes were committed, form their own theories
of those crimes, collect souvenirs of those crimes, and call themselves
Criminologists. As for me, my interest in crime is, alas, merely morbid.
I did not know, as those others would doubtless have known, that
the situation in which I found myself was precisely of the kind most
conducive to the darkest deeds. I did but bemoan it, and think of Lear
in the hovel on the heath. The wind howled in the chimney, and the rain
had begun to sputter right down it, so that the fire was beginning to
hiss in a very sinister manner. Suppose the fire went out! It looked as
if it meant to. I snatched the pair of bellows that hung beside it. I
plied them vigorously. 'Now mind!--not too vigorously. We aren't yours!'
they wheezed. I handled them more gently. But I did not release them
till they had secured me a steady blaze.

I sat down before that blaze. Despair had been warded off. Gloom,
however, remained; and gloom grew. I felt that I should prefer any one's
thoughts to mine. I rose, I returned to the books. A dozen or so of
those which were on the lowest of the three shelves were full-sized,
were octavo, looked as though they had been bought to be read. I would
exercise my undoubted right to read one of them. Which of them? I
gradually decided on a novel by a well-known writer whose works, though
I had several times had the honour of meeting her, were known to me only
by repute.

I knew nothing of them that was not good. The lady's 'output' had not
been at all huge, and it was agreed that her 'level' was high. I had
always gathered that the chief characteristic of her work was its great
'vitality.' The book in my hand was a third edition of her latest novel,
and at the end of it were numerous press-notices, at which I glanced
for confirmation. 'Immense vitality,' yes, said one critic. 'Full,'
said another, 'of an intense vitality.' 'A book that will live,' said
a third. How on earth did he know that? I was, however, very willing
to believe in the vitality of this writer for all present purposes.
Vitality was a thing in which she herself, her talk, her glance, her
gestures, abounded. She and they had been, I remembered, rather too much
for me. The first time I met her, she said something that I lightly and
mildly disputed. On no future occasion did I stem any opinion of hers.
Not that she had been rude. Far from it. She had but in a sisterly,
brotherly way, and yet in a way that was filially eager too, asked me
to explain my point. I did my best. She was all attention. But I was
conscious that my best, under her eye, was not good. She was quick to
help me: she said for me just what I had tried to say, and proceeded to
show me just why it was wrong. I smiled the gallant smile of a man who
regards women as all the more adorable because logic is not their strong
point, bless them! She asked--not aggressively, but strenuously, as one
who dearly loves a joke--what I was smiling at. Altogether, a chastening
encounter; and my memory of it was tinged with a feeble resentment. How
she had scored! No man likes to be worsted in argument by a woman. And
I fancy that to be vanquished by a feminine writer is the kind of defeat
least of all agreeable to a man who writes. A 'sex war,' we are often
told is to be one of the features of the world's future--women
demanding the right to do men's work, and men refusing, resisting,
counter-attacking. It seems likely enough. One can believe anything
of the world's future. Yet one conceives that not all men, if this
particular evil come to pass, will stand packed shoulder to shoulder
against all women. One does not feel that the dockers will be very
bitter against such women as want to be miners, or the plumbers frown
much upon the would-be steeple-jills. I myself have never had my sense
of fitness jarred, nor a spark of animosity roused in me, by a woman
practising any of the fine arts--except the art of writing. That she
should write a few little poems or pensées, or some impressions of a
trip in a dahabieh as far as (say) Biskra, or even a short story or
two, seems to me not wholly amiss, even though she do such things for
publication. But that she should be an habitual, professional author,
with a passion for her art, and a fountain-pen and an agent, and sums
down in advance of royalties on sales in Canada and Australia, and a
profound knowledge of human character, and an essentially sane outlook,
is somehow incongruous with my notions--my mistaken notions, if you
will--of what she ought to be.

'Has a profound knowledge of human character, and an essentially sane
outlook' said one of the critics quoted at the end of the book that I
had chosen. The wind and the rain in the chimney had not abated, but
the fire was bearing up bravely. So would I. I would read cheerfully and
without prejudice. I poked the fire and, pushing my chair slightly back,
lest the heat should warp the book's covers, began Chapter I. A
woman sat writing in a summer-house at the end of a small garden
that overlooked a great valley in Surrey. The description of her was
calculated to make her very admirable--a thorough woman, not strictly
beautiful, but likely to be thought beautiful by those who knew her
well; not dressed as though she gave much heed to her clothes, but
dressed in a fashion that exactly harmonised with her special type. Her
pen 'travelled' rapidly across the foolscap, and while it did so she was
described in more and more detail. But at length she came to a 'knotty
point' in what she was writing. She paused, she pushed back the hair
from her temples, she looked forth at the valley; and now the landscape
was described, but not at all exhaustively, it, for the writer soon
overcame her difficulty, and her pen travelled faster than ever, till
suddenly there was a cry of 'Mammy!' and in rushed a seven-year-old
child, in conjunction with whom she was more than ever admirable; after
which the narrative skipped back across eight years, and the woman
became a girl, giving as yet no token of future eminence in literature
but--I had an impulse which I obeyed almost before I was, conscious of
it.

Nobody could have been more surprised than I was at what I had
done--done so neatly, so quietly and gently. The book stood closed,
upright, with its back to me, just as on a book-shelf, behind the bars
of the grate. There it was. And it gave forth, as the flames crept
up the blue cloth sides of it, a pleasant though acrid smell. My
astonishment had passed, giving place to an exquisite satisfaction.
How pottering and fumbling a thing was even the best kind of written
criticism! I understood the contempt felt by the man of action for the
man of words. But what pleased me most was that at last, actually, I, at
my age, I of all people, had committed a crime--was guilty of a crime.
I had power to revoke it. I might write to my bookseller for an
unburnt copy, and place it on the shelf where this one had stood--this
gloriously glowing one. I would do nothing of the sort. What I had done
I had done. I would wear forever on my conscience the white rose of
theft and the red rose of arson. If hereafter the owner of this cottage
happened to miss that volume--let him! If he were fool enough to write
to me about it, would I share my grand secret with him? No. Gently,
with his poker, I prodded that volume further among the coals.
The all-but-consumed binding shot forth little tongues of bright
colour--flamelets of sapphire, amethyst, emerald. Charming! Could even
the author herself not admire them? Perhaps. Poor woman!--I had scored
now, scored so perfectly that I felt myself to be almost a brute while
I poked off the loosened black outer pages and led the fire on to pages
that were but pale brown.

These were quickly devoured. But it seemed to me that whenever I left
the fire to forage for itself it made little headway. I pushed the book
over on its side. The flames closed on it, but presently, licking their
lips, fell back, as though they had had enough. I took the tongs and put
the book upright again, and raked it fore and aft. It seemed almost
as thick as ever. With poker and tongs I carved it into two, three
sections--the inner pages flashing white as when they were sent to
the binders. Strange! Aforetime, a book was burnt now and again in the
market-place by the common hangman. Was he, I wondered, paid by the
hour? I had always supposed the thing quite easy for him--a bright
little, brisk little conflagration, and so home. Perhaps other books
were less resistant than this one? I began to feel that the critics were
more right than they knew. Here was a book that had indeed an intense
vitality, and an immense vitality. It was a book that would live--do
what one might. I vowed it should not. I subdivided it, spread it,
redistributed it. Ever and anon my eye would be caught by some sentence
or fragment of a sentence in the midst of a charred page before the
flames crept over it. Always loathed you, but, I remember; and think
Tolstoi was right. Who had always loathed whom? And what, what, had
Tolstoi been right about? I had an absurd but genuine desire to know.
Too late! Confound the woman!--she was scoring again. I furiously drove
her pages into the yawning crimson jaws of the coals. Those jaws had
lately been golden. Soon, to my horror, they seemed to be growing grey.
They seemed to be closing--on nothing. Flakes of black paper, full-sized
layers of paper brown and white, began to hide them from me altogether.
I sprinkled a boxful of wax matches. I resumed the bellows. I lunged
with the poker. I held a newspaper over the whole grate. I did all that
inspiration could suggest, or skill accomplish. Vainly. The fire went
out--darkly, dismally, gradually, quite out.

How she had scored again! But she did not know it. I felt no bitterness
against her as I lay back in my chair, inert, listening to the storm
that was still raging. I blamed only myself. I had done wrong. The small
room became very cold. Whose fault was that but my own? I had done wrong
hastily, but had done it and been glad of it. I had not remembered the
words a wise king wrote long ago, that the lamp of the wicked shall be
put out, and that the way of trangressors is hard.



IN HOMES UNBLEST 1919.

Nothing is more pleasant than to see suddenly endowed with motion a
thing stagnant by nature. The hat that on the head of the man in the
street is nothing to us, how much it is if it be animated by a gust of
wind! There is no churl that does not rejoice with it in its strength,
and in the swiftness and cunning that baffle its pursuer, who, he too,
when the chase is over, bears it no ill will at all for its escapade. I
know families that have sat for hours, for hours after bedtime, mute, in
a dim light, pressing a table with their finger-tips, and ever bringing
to bear the full force of their minds on it, in the unconquerable hope
that it would move. Conversely, nothing is more dismal than to see set
in permanent rigidness a thing whose aspect is linked for us with
the idea of great mobility. Even the blithest of us and least easily
depressed would make a long detour to avoid a stuffed squirrel or a case
of pinned butterflies. And you can well imagine with what a sinking of
the heart I beheld, this morning, on a road near the coast of Norfolk, a
railway-car without wheels.

Without wheels though it was, it had motion--of a kind; of a kind worse
than actual stagnation. Mounted on a very long steam-lorry that
groaned and panted, it very slowly passed me. I noted that two of its
compartments were marked FIRST, the rest THIRD. And in some of them, I
noted, you might smoke. But of this opportunity you were not availing
yourself. All the compartments, the cheap and the dear alike, were
vacant. They were transporting air only--and this (I conceived)
abominable. The sun slanted fiercely down on the old iron roof, the old
wooden walls, the dingy shut windows. The fume and grime of a thousand
familiar tunnels, of year after year of journeys by night, journeys by
day, from time immemorial, seemed to have invested the whole structure
with a character that shrank from the sun's scrutiny and from the
nearness of sea and fields. Fuliginous, monstrous, slowly, shamefully,
the thing went by--to what final goal?--in the lovely weather.

There attended it, besides the driver of the lorry, a straggling retinue
of half-a-dozen men on foot--handy-looking mechanics, very dusty.
I should have liked to question one or another of these as to their
mission. But I was afraid to do so. There is an art of talking
acceptably to people who do not regard themselves as members of one's
own class; and I have never acquired it. I suppose the first step is to
forget that any art is needed-to forget that one must not be so wildly
cordial for fear of seeming to 'condescend,' nor be more than a trifle
saturnine, either, for the same motive. Or am I wrong? The whole thing
is a mystery to me. All I know is that if I had asked those mechanics
what they were doing with that railway car they would have seemed to
suspect me of meaning that it was my property and that they had
stolen it. Or perhaps they would have seemed merely to resent my idle
curiosity. If so, why not? When I walk abroad with a sheaf of manuscript
in my hand, mechanics do not stop me to ask 'What's that? What's it
about? Who's going to publish it?' Nor is this because, times having
changed so, they are afraid of seeming to condescend. They always did
mind their own business. And now that their own business is so much more
lucrative than mine they still follow that golden rule.

I stood gazing back at the procession till it disappeared round a
bend of the road. Its bequest of dust and smoke was quickly spent by a
prodigal young breeze. Landscape and seascape were reindued with their
full amenities. Ruskin would have been pleased. So indeed was I; but
that railway-car (in which, it romantically struck me, I myself might
once, might frequently, have travelled) was still upmost in my brooding
mind. To what manner of wretched end was it destined? No end would
have seemed bad enough for it to Ruskin. But I was born late enough to
acquiesce in railways and in all that pertains to them. And now, since
the success of motor-cars (those far greater, because unrestricted,
bores), railways have taken on for me some such charm as the memory
of the posting coaches had for the greybeards of my boyhood, some such
charm as aeroplanes may in the fulness of time foist down for us on
motor-cars. 'But I rove,' like Sir Thomas More. And I seem to think that
a cheap literary allusion will make you excuse that vice. To resume my
breathless narrative I decided that I would slowly follow the tracks of
the lorry.

I supposed that these were leading me to some great scrapping-place
filled with the remains of other railway-cars foully scrapped for some
fell industrial purpose. But this was a bad guess. The tracks led me
at last through a lane and thence into sight of a little bay, on whose
waters were perceptible the deck heads of sundry human beings, and on
its sands the full-lengths of sundry other human beings in bath-robes,
reading novels or merely basking. There was nowhere any sign of
industrialism. More than ever was I intrigued as to the fate of the old
railway-car that I had been stalking. It and its lorry had halted on the
flat grassy land that fringed the sands. This land was dominated by a
crescent of queer little garish tenements, the like of which I had never
seen, nor would wish to see again. They did not stand on the ground, but
on stakes of wood and shafts of brick, six feet or so above the ground's
level, and were led up to by flights of wooden steps that tried not
to look like ladders. They displeased me much. They had little railed
platforms round them, and things hanging out to dry on the railings;
and their walls vied unneighbourly with one another in lawless
colour-schemes. One tenement was salmon-pink with wide bands of scarlet,
another sky-blue with a key-pattern in orange, and so on around the
whole little horrid array. And I deduced, from certain upstanding stakes
and shafts at the nearer end of the crescent, that the horror was not
complete yet. A suspicion dawned in me, and became, while I gazed again
at the crescent's facades, a glaring certainty; in the light of which I
saw that I had been wrong about the old railway-car. Defunct, it was not
to die. It was to have a new function.

I had once heard that disused railway-cars were convertible into
sea-side cottages. But the news had not fired my imagination nor
protruded in my memory. To-day, as an eye-witness of the accomplished
fact, I was impressed, sharply enough, and I went nearer to the
crescent, drawn by a sort of dreadful fascination. I found that the
cottages all had names. One cottage was Mermaid's Rock; another (which
had fluttering window-curtains of Stuart tartan), Spray o' the Sea;
another, The Nest; another, Brinynook; and yet another had been named,
with less fitness, but in an ampler and to me more interesting spirit,
Petworth. I looked from them to the not-yet-converted railway-car. It
had a wonderful dignity. In its austere and monumental way, it was
very beautiful. It was a noble work of man, and Nature smiled on it. I
wondered with what colours it was to be bejezebelled, and what
name--Bolton Abbey?--Glad Eye?--Gay Wee Gehenna?--it would have to bear,
and what manner of man or woman was going to rent it.

It was on this last point that I mused especially. The housing problem
is hard, doubtless; but nobody, my mind protested as I surveyed the
crescent, nobody is driven to so desperate a solution of it as this!
There are tents, there are caves, there are hollow trees...and there
are people who prefer--this! Yes, 'this' is a positive taste, not a
necessity at all. I swept the bay with a searching eye; but heads on
the surface of water tell nothing to the sociologist, and in bath-robes
even full-lengths on the sand give him no clue. Three or four of the
full-lengths had risen and strolled up to the lorry, around which the
mechanics were engaged in some dispute of a technical nature. I hoped
the full-lengths would have something to say too. But they said nothing.
This I set down to sheer perversity. I was more than three miles from
the place where I am sojourning, and the hour for luncheon was nearly
due. I left the bay without having been able to determine the character,
the kind, of its denizens.

I take it there is a strong tincture of Bohemianism in them. Mr. Desmond
MacCarthy, of whose judgment I am always trustful, has said that the
hallmark of Bohemianism is a tendency to use things for purposes to
which they are not adapted. You are a Bohemian, says Mr. MacCarthy, if
you would gladly use a razor for buttering your toast at breakfast, and
you aren't if you wouldn't. I think he would agree that the choice of
a home is a surer index than any fleeting action, however strange, and
that really the best-certified Bohemians are they who choose to reside
in railway-cars on stilts. But--why particularly railway-cars? That is
a difficult question. A possible answer is that the Bohemian, as tending
always to nomady, feels that the least uncongenial way of settling
down is to stow himself into a thing fashioned for darting hither and
thither. Yet no, this answer won't do. It is ruled out by the law I laid
down in my first paragraph. There's nothing sadder to eye or heart than
a very mobile thing made immovable.

No house, especially if you are by way of being nomadic, can be so ill
to live in as one that in its heyday went gadding all over the place.
And, on the other hand, what house more eligible than one that can gad?
I myself am not restless, and am fond of comfort: I should not care to
live in a caravan. But I have always liked the idea of a caravan. And if
you, alas, O reader, are a dweller in a railway-car, I commend the idea
to you. Take it, with my apologies for any words of mine that may have
nettled you. Put it into practice. Think of the white road and the
shifting hedgerows, and the counties that you will soon lose count of.
And think what a blessing it will be for you to know that your house is
not the one in which the Merstham Tunnel murder was committed.



WILLIAM AND MARY 1920.

Memories, like olives, are an acquired taste. William and Mary (I give
them the Christian names that were indeed theirs--the joint title by
which their friends always referred to them) were for some years an
interest in my life, and had a hold on my affection. But a time came
when, though I had known and liked them too well ever to forget them, I
gave them but a few thoughts now and then. How, being dead, could they
keep their place in the mind of a young man surrounded with large and
constantly renewed consignments of the living? As one grows older, the
charm of novelty wears off. One finds that there is no such thing as
novelty--or, at any rate, that one has lost the faculty for perceiving
it. One sees every newcomer not as something strange and special, but as
a ticketed specimen of this or that very familiar genus. The world has
ceased to be remarkable; and one tends to think more and more often of
the days when it was so very remarkable indeed.

I suppose that had I been thirty years older when first I knew him,
William would have seemed to me little worthier of attention than a
twopenny postage-stamp seems to-day. Yet, no: William really had some
oddities that would have caught even an oldster's eye. In himself he was
commonplace enough (as I, coeval though I was with him, soon saw). But
in details of surface he was unusual. In them he happened to be rather
ahead of his time. He was a socialist, for example. In 1890 there was
only one other socialist in Oxford, and he not at all an undergraduate,
but a retired chimney-sweep, named Hines, who made speeches, to which
nobody, except perhaps William, listened, near the Martyrs' Memorial.
And William wore a flannel shirt, and rode a bicycle--very strange
habits in those days, and very horrible. He was said to be (though he
was short-sighted and wore glasses) a first-rate 'back' at football;
but, as football was a thing frowned on by the rowing men, and coldly
ignored by the bloods, his talent for it did not help him: he was one of
the principal pariahs of our College; and it was rather in a spirit
of bravado, and to show how sure of myself I was, that I began, in my
second year, to cultivate his acquaintance.

We had little in common. I could not think Political Economy 'the most
exciting thing in the world,' as he used to call it. Nor could I
without yawning listen to more than a few lines of Mr. William Morris'
interminable smooth Icelandic Sagas, which my friend, pious young
socialist that he was, thought 'glorious.' He had begun to write an
Icelandic Saga himself, and had already achieved some hundreds of
verses. None of these pleased him, though to me they seemed very like
his master's. I can see him now, standing on his hearth-rug, holding his
MS. close to his short-sighted eyes, declaiming the verses and trying,
with many angular gestures of his left hand, to animate them--a tall,
broad, raw-boned fellow, with long brown hair flung back from his
forehead, and a very shabby suit of clothes. Because of his clothes and
his socialism, and his habit of offering beer to a guest, I had at first
supposed him quite poor; and I was surprised when he told me that he
had from his guardian (his parents being dead) an allowance of £350, and
that when he came of age he would have an income of £400. 'All out of
dividends,' he would groan. I would hint that Mr. Hines and similar
zealots might disembarrass him of this load, if he asked them nicely.
'No,' he would say quite seriously, 'I can't do that,' and would read
out passages from 'Fabian Essays' to show that in the present anarchical
conditions only mischief could result from sporadic dispersal of rent.
'Ten, twelve years hence--' he would muse more hopefully. 'But by that
time,' I would say, 'you'll probably be married, and your wife mightn't
quite--', whereat he would hotly repeat what he had said many times:
that he would never marry. Marriage was an anti-social anachronism. I
think its survival wasin some part due to the machinations of Capital.
Anyway, it was doomed. Temporary civil contracts between men and women
would be the rule 'ten, twelve years hence'; pending which time the lot
of any man who had civic sense must be celibacy, tempered perhaps with
free love.

Long before that time was up, nevertheless, William married. One
afternoon in the spring of '95 I happened to meet him at a corner of
Cockspur Street. I wondered at the immense cordiality of his greeting;
for our friendship, such as it was, had waned in our two final years at
Oxford. 'You look very flourishing, and,' I said, 'you're wearing a
new suit!' 'I'm married,' he replied, obviously without a twinge of
conscience. He told me he had been married just a month. He declared
that to be married was the most splendid thing in all the world; but he
weakened the force of this generalisation by adding that there never was
any one like his wife. 'You must see her,' he said; and his impatience
to show her proudly off to some one was so evident, and so touching,
that I could but accept his invitation to go and stay with them for two
or three days--'why not next week?' They had taken and furnished 'a sort
of cottage' in ----shire, and this was their home. He had 'run up for
the day, on business--journalism' and was now on his way to Charing
Cross. 'I know you'll like my wife,' he said at parting. She's--well,
she's glorious.'

As this was the epithet he had erst applied to 'Beowulf' and to 'Sigurd
the Volsung' it raised no high hopes. And indeed, as I was soon to find,
he had again misused it. There was nothing glorious about his bride.
Some people might even have not thought her pretty. I myself did not,
in the flash of first sight. Neat, insignificant, pleasing, was what she
appeared to me, rather than pretty, and far rather than glorious. In an
age of fringes, her brow was severely bare. She looked 'practical.' But
an instant later, when she smiled, I saw that she was pretty, too. And
presently I thought her delightful. William had met me in a 'governess
cart,' and we went to see him unharness the pony. He did this in a
fumbling, experimental way, confusing the reins with the traces, and
profiting so little by his wife's directions that she began to laugh.
And her laugh was a lovely thing; quite a small sound, but exquisitely
clear and gay, coming in a sequence of notes that neither rose nor fell,
that were quite even; a trill of notes, and then another, and another,
as though she were pulling repeatedly a little silver bell... As I
describe it, perhaps the sound may be imagined irritating. I can only
say it was enchanting.

I wished she would go on laughing; but she ceased, she darted forward
and (William standing obediently aside, and I helping unhelpfully)
unharnessed the pony herself, and led it into its small stable.
Decidedly, she was 'practical,' but--I was prepared now to be lenient to
any quality she might have.

Had she been feckless, no doubt I should have forgiven her that, too;
but I might have enjoyed my visit less than I did, and might have been
less pleased to go often again. I had expected to 'rough it' under
William's roof. But everything thereunder, within the limits of a strict
Arcadian simplicity, was well-ordered. I was touched, when I went to my
bedroom, by the precision with which the very small maid had unpacked
and disposed my things. And I wondered where my hostess had got the lore
she had so evidently imparted. Certainly not from William. Perhaps (it
only now strikes me) from a handbook. For Mary was great at handbooks.
She had handbooks about gardening, and others about poultry, and one
about 'the stable,' and others on cognate themes. From these she had
filled up the gaps left in her education by her father, who was a
widower and either a doctor or a solicitor--I forget which--in one of
the smallest towns of an adjoining county. And I daresay she may have
had, somewhere hidden away, a manual for young hostesses. If so, it must
have been a good one. But to say this is to belittle Mary's powers of
intuition. It was they, sharpened by her adoration of William, and by
her intensity for everything around him, that made her so efficient a
housewife.

If she possessed a manual for young house-hunters it was assuredly not
by the light of this that she had chosen the home they were installed
in. The 'sort of cottage' had been vacant for many years--an unpromising
and ineligible object, a mile away from a village, and three miles away
from a railway station. The main part of it was an actual cottage, of
seventeenth-century workmanship; but a little stuccoed wing had been
added to each side of it, in 1850 or thereabouts, by an eccentric old
gentleman who at that time chose to make it his home. He had added
also the small stable, a dairy, and other appanages. For these, and for
garden, there was plenty of room, as he had purchased and enclosed half
an acre of the surrounding land Those two stuccoed, very Victorian
wings of his, each with a sash-window above and a French window below,
consorted queerly with the old red brick and the latticed panes. And the
long wooden veranda that he had invoked did not unify the trinity. But
one didn't want it to. The wrongness had a character all its own. The
wrongness was right--at any rate after Mary had hit on it for William.
As a spinster, she would, I think, have been happiest in a trim modern
villa. But it was a belief of hers that she had married a man of strange
genius. She had married him for himself, not for his genius; but this
added grace in him was a thing to be reckoned with, ever so much; a
thing she must coddle to the utmost in a proper setting. She was a year
older than he (though, being so small and slight, she looked several
years younger), and in her devotion the maternal instinct played a
great part. William, as I have already conveyed to you, was not
greatly gifted. Mary's instinct, in this one matter, was at fault. But
endearingly, rightly at fault. And, as William was outwardly odd, wasn't
it well that his home should be so, too? On the inside, comfort was what
Mary always aimed at for him, and achieved.

The ground floor had all been made one room, into which you stepped
straight from the open air. Quite a long big room (or so it seemed, from
the lowness of the ceiling), and well-freshened in its antiquity, with
rush-mats here and there on the irregular red tiles, and very white
whitewash on the plaster between the rafters. This was the dining-room,
drawing-room, and general focus throughout the day, and was called
simply the Room. William had a 'den' on the ground floor of the left
wing; and there, in the mornings, he used to write a great deal. Mary
had no special place of her own: her place was wherever her duties
needed her. William wrote reviews of books for the Daily --. He did
also creative work. The vein of poetry in him had worked itself out--or
rather, it expressed itself for him in Mary. For technical purposes,
the influence of Ibsen had superseded that of Morris. At the time of
my first visit, he was writing an extraordinarily gloomy play about an
extraordinarily unhappy marriage. In subsequent seasons (Ibsen's disc
having been somehow eclipsed for him by George Gissing's) he was usually
writing novels in which every one--or do I exaggerate?--had made a
disastrous match. I think Mary's belief in his genius had made him less
diffident than he was at Oxford. He was always emerging from his den,
with fresh pages of MS., into the Room. 'You don't mind?' he would say,
waving his pages, and then would shout 'Mary!' She was always promptly
forthcoming--sometimes from the direction of the kitchen, in a white
apron, sometimes from the garden, in a blue one. She never looked at him
while he read. To do so would have been lacking in respect for his work.
It was on this that she must concentrate her whole mind, privileged
auditor that she was. She sat looking straight before her, with her lips
slightly compressed, and her hands folded on her lap. I used to wonder
that there had been that first moment when I did not think her pretty.
Her eyes were of a very light hazel, seeming all the lighter because her
hair was of so dark a brown; and they were beautifully set in a face
of that 'pinched oval' kind which is rather rare in England. Mary as
listener would have atoned to me for any defects there may have been in
dear old William's work. Nevertheless, I sometimes wished this work had
some comic relief in it. Publishers, I believe, shared this wish; hence
the eternal absence of William's name from among their announcements.
For Mary's sake, and his, I should have liked him to be 'successful.'
But at any rate he didn't need money. He didn't need, in addition to
what he had, what he made by his journalism. And as for success--well,
didn't Mary think him a genius? And wasn't he Mary's husband? The main
reason why I wished for light passages in what he read to us was that
they would have been cues for Mary's laugh. This was a thing always
new to me. I never tired of that little bell-like euphony; those funny
little lucid and level trills.

There was no stint of that charm when William was not reading to us.
Mary was in no awe of him, apart from his work, and in no awe at all of
me: she used to laugh at us both, for one thing and another--just the
same laugh as I had first heard when William tried to unharness the
pony. I cultivated in myself whatever amused her in me; I drew out
whatever amused her in William; I never let slip any of the things
that amused her in herself. 'Chaff' is a great bond; and I should have
enjoyed our bouts of it even without Mary's own special obbligato. She
used to call me (for I was very urban in those days) the Gentleman from
London. I used to call her the Brave Little Woman. Whatever either of us
said or did could be twisted easily into relation to those two titles;
and our bouts, to which William listened with a puzzled, benevolent
smile, used to cease only because Mary regarded me as a possible
purveyor of what William, she was sure, wanted and needed, down there in
the country, alone with her: intellectual conversation, after his work.
She often, I think, invented duties in garden or kitchen so that he
should have this stimulus, or luxury, without hindrance. But when
William was alone with me it was about her that he liked to talk, and
that I myself liked to talk too. He was very sound on the subject of
Mary; and so was I. And if, when I was alone with Mary, I seemed to be
sounder than I was on the subject of William's wonderfulness, who shall
blame me?

Had Mary been a mother, William's wonderfulness would have been less
greatly important. But he was her child as well as her lover. And I
think, though I do not know, she believed herself content that this
should always be, if so it were destined. It was not destined so. On the
first night of a visit I paid them in April, 1899, William, when we
were alone, told me news. I had been vaguely conscious, throughout the
evening, of some change; conscious that Mary had grown gayer, and less
gay--somehow different, somehow remote. William said that her child
would be born in September, if all went well. 'She's immensely happy,'
he told me. I realised that she was indeed happier than ever... 'And
of course it would be a wonderful thing, for both of us,' he said
presently, 'to have a son--or a daughter.' I asked him which he would
rather it were, a son or a daughter. 'Oh, either,' he answered wearily.
It was evident that he had misgivings and fears. I tried to reason him
out of them. He did not, I am thankful to say, ever let Mary suspect
them. She had no misgivings. But it was destined that her child should
live only for an hour, and that she should die in bearing it.

I had stayed again at the cottage in July, for some days. At the end of
that month I had gone to France, as was my custom, and a week later had
written to Mary. It was William that answered this letter, telling me of
Mary's death and burial. I returned to England next day. William and I
wrote to each other several times. He had not left his home. He stayed
there, 'trying,' as he said in a grotesque and heart-rending phrase, 'to
finish a novel.' I saw him in the following January. He wrote to me from
the Charing Cross Hotel, asking me to lunch with him there. After our
first greetings, there was a silence. He wanted to talk of--what he
could not talk of. We stared helplessly at each other, and then, in the
English way, talked of things at large. England was engaged in the Boer
War. William was the sort of man whom one would have expected to be
violently Pro-Boer. I was surprised at his fervour for the stronger
side. He told me he had tried to enlist, but had been rejected on
account of his eyesight. But there was, he said, a good chance of his
being sent out, almost immediately, as one of the Daily --'s special
correspondents. 'And then,' he exclaimed, 'I shall see something of it.'
I had a presentiment that he would not return, and a belief that he did
not want to return. He did not return. Special correspondents were not
so carefully shepherded in that war as they have since been. They were
more at liberty to take risks, on behalf of the journals to which they
were accredited. William was killed a few weeks after he had landed at
Cape Town.

And there came, as I have said, a time when I did not think of William
and Mary often; and then a time when I did more often think of them. And
especially much did my mind hark back to them in the late autumn of
last year; for on the way to the place I was staying at I had passed the
little railway station whose name had always linked itself for me
with the names of those two friends. There were but four intervening
stations. It was not a difficult pilgrimage that I made some days
later--back towards the past, for that past's sake and honour. I had
thought I should not remember the way, the three miles of way, from the
station to the cottage; but I found myself remembering it perfectly,
without a glance at the finger-posts. Rain had been falling heavily,
driving the late leaves off the trees; and everything looked rather
sodden and misty, though the sun was now shining. I had known this
landscape only in spring, summer, early autumn. Mary had held to a
theory that at other seasons I could not be acclimatised. But there were
groups of trees that I knew, even without their leaves; and farm-houses
and small stone bridges that had not at all changed. Only what mattered
was changed. Only what mattered was gone. Would what I had come to see
be there still? In comparison with what it had held, it was not much.
But I wished to see it, melancholy spectacle though it must be for me
if it were extant, and worse than melancholy if it held something new.
I began to be sure it had been demolished, built over. At the corner of
the lane that had led to it, I was almost minded to explore no further,
to turn back. But I went on, and suddenly I was at the four-barred iron
gate, that I remembered, between the laurels. It was rusty, and was
fastened with a rusty padlock, and beyond it there was grass where
a winding 'drive' had been. From the lane the cottage never had been
visible, even when these laurels were lower and sparser than they were
now. Was the cottage still standing? Presently, I climbed over the gate,
and walked through the long grass, and--yes, there was Mary's cottage;
still there; William's and Mary's cottage. Trite enough, I have no
doubt, were the thoughts that possessed me as I stood gazing. There is
nothing new to be thought about the evanescence of human things; but
there is always much to be felt about it by one who encounters in his
maturity some such intimate instance and reminder as confronted me, in
that cold sunshine, across that small wilderness of long rank wet grass
and weeds.

Incredibly woebegone and lonesome the house would have looked even to
one for whom it contained no memories; all the more because in its utter
dereliction it looked so durable. Some of the stucco had fallen off the
walls of the two wings; thick flakes of it lay on the discoloured roof
of the veranda, and thick flakes of it could be seen lying in the grass
below. Otherwise, there were few signs of actual decay. The sash-window
and the French window of each wing were shuttered, and, from where I was
standing, the cream-coloured paint of those shutters behind the glass
looked almost fresh. The latticed windows between had all been boarded
up from within. The house was not to be let perish soon.

I did not want to go nearer to it; yet I did go nearer, step by step,
across the wilderness, right up to the edge of the veranda itself, and
within a yard of the front-door.

I stood looking at that door. I had never noticed it in the old days,
for then it had always stood open. But it asserted itself now, master of
the threshold.

It was a narrow door--narrow even for its height, which did not exceed
mine by more than two inches or so; a door that even when it was freshly
painted must have looked mean. How much meaner now, with its paint all
faded and mottled, cracked and blistered! It had no knocker, not even a
slit for letters. All that it had was a large-ish key-hole. On this my
eyes rested; and presently I moved to it, stooped down to it, peered
through it. I had a glimpse of--darkness impenetrable.

Strange it seemed to me, as I stood back, that there the Room was,
the remembered Room itself, separated from me by nothing but this
unremembered door...and a quarter of a century, yes. I saw it all, in
my mind's eye, just as it had been: the way the sunlight came into it
through this same doorway and through the lattices of these same four
windows; the way the little bit of a staircase came down into it, so
crookedly yet so confidently; and how uneven the tiled floor was, and
how low the rafters were, and how littered the whole place was with
books brought in from his den by William, and how bright with flowers
brought in by Mary from her garden. The rafters, the stairs, the tiles,
were still existing, changeless in despite of cobwebs and dust and
darkness, all quite changeless on the other side of the door, so near to
me. I wondered how I should feel if by some enchantment the door slowly
turned on its hinges, letting in light. I should not enter, I felt, not
even look, so much must I hate to see those inner things lasting when
all that had given to them a meaning was gone from them, taken away from
them, finally. And yet, why blame them for their survival? And how
know that nothing of the past ever came to them, revisiting, hovering?
Something--sometimes--perhaps? One knew so little. How not be tender to
what, as it seemed to me, perhaps the dead loved?

So strong in me now was the wish to see again all those things, to touch
them and, as it were, commune with them, and so queerly may the mind be
wrought upon in a solitude among memories, that there were moments when
I almost expected that the door would obey my will. I was recalled to a
clearer sense of reality by something which I had not before noticed.
In the door-post to the right was a small knob of rusty iron--mocking
reminder that to gain admission to a house one does not 'will' the door:
one rings the bell--unless it is rusty and has quite obviously no one
to answer it; in which case one goes away. Yet I did not go away. The
movement that I made, in despite of myself, was towards the knob itself.
But, I hesitated, suppose I did what I half meant to do, and there were
no sound. That would be ghastly. And surely there would be no sound. And
if sound there were, wouldn't that be worse still? My hand drew
back, wavered, suddenly closed on the knob. I heard the scrape of the
wire--and then, from somewhere within the heart of the shut house, a
tinkle.

It had been the weakest, the puniest of noises. It had been no more than
is a fledgling's first attempt at a twitter. But I was not judging it by
its volume. Deafening peals from steeples had meant less to me than that
one single note breaking the silence--in there. In there, in the dark,
the bell that had answered me was still quivering, I supposed, on its
wire. But there was no one to answer it, no footstep to come hither from
those recesses, making prints in the dust. Well, I could answer it;
and again my hand closed on the knob, unhesitatingly this time, pulling
further. That was my answer; and the rejoinder to it was more than I
had thought to hear--a whole quick sequence of notes, faint but clear,
playful, yet poignantly sad, like a trill of laughter echoing out of the
past, or even merely out of this neighbouring darkness. It was so like
something I had known, so recognisable and, oh, recognising, that I was
lost in wonder. And long must I have remained standing at that door,
for I heard the sound often, often. I must have rung again and again,
tenaciously, vehemently, in my folly.



ON SPEAKING FRENCH 1919.

Wherever two Englishmen are speaking French to a Frenchman you may
safely diagnose in the breast of one of the two humiliation, envy,
ill-will, impotent rage, and a dull yearning for vengeance; and you
can take it that the degree of these emotions is in exact ratio to the
superiority of the other man's performance. In the breast of this other
are contempt, malicious amusement, conceit, vanity, pity, and joy in
ostentation; these, also, exactly commensurable with his advantage.
Strange and sad that this should be so; but so it is. French brings out
the worst in all of us--all, I mean, but the few, the lamentably far too
few, who cannot aspire to stammer some colloquial phrases of it.

Even in Victorian days, when England was more than geographically, was
psychologically an island, French made mischief among us, and was one
of the Devil's favourite ways of setting brother against brother. But in
those days the bitterness of the weaker brother was a little sweetened
with disapproval of the stronger. To speak French fluently and
idiomatically and with a good accent--or with an idiom and accent
which to other rough islanders seemed good--was a rather suspect
accomplishment, being somehow deemed incompatible with civic worth. Thus
the weaker ones had not to drain the last lees of their shame, and the
stronger could not wholly rejoice in their strength. But the old saving
prejudice has now died out (greatly to the delight of the Devil), and
there seems no chance that it will be revived.

Of other languages no harm comes. None of us--none, at any rate, outside
the diplomatic service--has a feeling that he ought to be master of
them. In every recent generation a few men have learned Italian because
of the Divina Commedia; and a very few others have tried Spanish, with
a view to Cervantes; and German has pestered not always vainly the
consciences of young men gravitating to philosophy or to science. But
not for social, not for any oral purposes were these languages essayed.
If an Italian or a Spanish or a German came among us he was expected to
converse in English or spend his time in visiting the sights silently
and alone. No language except French has ever--but stay! There was, at
the outbreak of the War, a great impulse towards Russian. All sorts of
people wanted their children to be taught Russian without a moment's
delay. I do not remember that they wanted to learn it themselves; but
they felt an extreme need that their offspring should hereafter be able
to converse with moujiks about ikons and the Little Father and anything
else--if there were anything else--that moujiks cared about. This
need, however, is not felt now. When, so soon after his de'but in high
politics, M. Kerensky was superseded by M. Lenin, Russian was forthwith
deemed a not quite nice language, even for children. Russia's alphabet
was withdrawn from the nurseries as abruptly as it had been brought in,
and le chapean de la cousine du jardinier was re-indued with its old
importance.

I doubt whether Russian would for more than a little while have seemed
to be a likely rival of French, even if M. Kerensky had been the
strong man we hoped he was. The language that succeeded to Latin as the
official mode of intercourse between nations, and as the usual means of
talk between the well-educated people of any one land and those of any
other, had an initial advantage not quite counterbalanced by the fact
that there are in Russia myriads of people who speak Russian, and a few
who can also read and write it. Russian may, for aught I know, be a very
beautiful language; it may be as lucid and firm in its constructions as
French is, and as musical in sound; I know nothing at all about it. Nor
do I claim for French that it was by its own virtues predestined to the
primacy that it holds in Europe. Had Italy, not France, been an united
and powerful nation when Latin became desuete, that primacy would of
course have been taken by Italian. And I cannot help wishing that this
had happened. Italian, though less elegant, is, for the purpose of
writing, a richer language than French, and an even subtler; and the
sound of it spoken is as superior to the sound of French as a violin's
is to a flute's. Still, French does, by reason of its exquisite
concision and clarity, fill its post of honour very worthily, and will
not in any near future, I think, be thrust down. Many people, having
regard to the very numerous population of the British Empire and the
United States, cherish a belief that English will presently be cock of
the world's walk. But we have to consider that English is an immensely
odd and irregular language, that it is accounted very difficult by even
the best foreign linguists, and that even among native writers there
are few who can so wield it as to make their meaning clear without
prolixity--and among these few none who has not been well-grounded
in Latin. By its very looseness, by its way of evoking rather than
defining, suggesting rather than saying, English is a magnificent
vehicle for emotional poetry. But foreigners don't much want to say
beautiful haunting things to us; they want to be told what limits there
are, if any, to the power of the Lord Mayor; and our rambling endeavours
to explain do but bemuse and annoy them. They find that the rewards of
learning English are as slight as its difficulties are great, and they
warn their fellows to this effect. Nor does the oral sound of English
allay the prejudice thus created. Soothing and dear and charming that
sound is to English ears. But no nation can judge the sound of its own
language. This can be judged only from without, only by ears to which it
is unfamiliar. And alas, much as we like listening to French or Italian,
for example, Italians and Frenchmen (if we insist on having their
opinion) will confess that English has for them a rather harsh sound.
Altogether, it seems to me unlikely that the world will let English
supplant French for international purposes, and likely that French will
be ousted only when the world shall have been so internationalised
that the children of every land will have to learn, besides their own
traditional language, some kind of horrible universal lingo begotten on
Volapuk by a congress of the world's worst pedants.

Almost I could wish I had been postponed to that era, so much have
I suffered through speaking French to Frenchmen in the presence of
Englishmen. Left alone with a Frenchman, I can stumble along, slowly
indeed, but still along, and without acute sense of ignominy. Especially
is this so if I am in France. There is in the atmosphere something that
braces one for the language. I don't say I am not sorry, even so, for my
Frenchman. But I am sorrier for him in England. And if any Englishmen
be included in the scene my sympathy with him is like to be lost in my
agony for myself.

Would that I had made some such confession years ago! O folly of pride!
I liked the delusion that I spoke French well, a delusion common enough
among those who had never heard me. Somehow I seemed likely to possess
that accomplishment. I cannot charge myself with having ever claimed to
possess it; but I am afraid that when any one said to me 'I suppose you
speak French perfectly?' I allowed the tone of my denial to carry
with it a hint of mock-modesty. 'Oh no,' I would say, 'my French is
wretched,' rather as though I meant that a member of the French Academy
would detect lapses from pure classicism in it; or 'No, no, mine is
French pour rire,' to imply that I was practically bilingual. Thus,
during the years when I lived in London, I very often received letters
from hostesses asking me to dine on the night when Mme. Chose or M. Tel
was coming. And always I excused myself--not on the plea that I should
be useless. This method of mine would have been well enough, from any
but the moral standpoint, had not Nemesis, taking her stand on that
point, sometimes ordained that a Gaul should be sprung on me. It was not
well with me then. It was downfall and disaster.

Strange, how one will trifle with even the most imminent doom. On being
presented to the Gaul, I always hastened to say that I spoke his or her
language only 'un tout petit peu'--knowing well that this poor spark
of slang would kindle within the breast of M. Tel or the bosom of
Mme. Chose hopes that must so quickly be quenched in the puddle of my
incompetence. I offer no excuse for so foolish a proceeding. I do but
say it is characteristic of all who are duffers at speaking a foreign
tongue. Great is the pride they all take in airing some little bit of
idiom. I recall, among many other pathetic exemplifiers of the foible,
an elderly and rather eminent Greek, who, when I was introduced to him,
said 'I am jolly glad to meet you, Sir!' and, having said that, had
nothing whatever else to say, and was moreover unable to grasp the
meaning of anything said by me, though I said the simplest things, and
said them very slowly and clearly. It is to my credit that in speaking
English to a foreigner I do always try to be helpful. I bear witness
against Mme. Chose and M. Tel that for me they have never made a like
effort in their French. It is said that French people do not really
speak faster than we, and that their seeming to do so is merely because
of their lighter stress on syllables. If this is true, I wish that for
my sake they would stress their syllables a little more heavily. By
their omission of this kindness I am so often baffled as to their
meaning. To be shamed as a talker is bad enough; it is even worse to be
shamed in the humble refuge of listener. To listen and from time to time
murmur 'C'est vrai' may seem safe enough; yet there is danger even here.
I wish I could forget a certain luncheon in the course of which Mme.
Chose (that brilliant woman) leaned suddenly across the table to me,
and, with great animation, amidst a general hush, launched at me a
particularly swift flight of winged words. With pensively narrowed eyes,
I uttered my formula when she ceased. This formula she repeated, in a
tone even more pensive than mine. 'Mais je ne le connais pas,' she then
loudly exclaimed. 'Je ne connais pas même le nom. Dites-moi de ce jeune
homme.' She had, as it presently turned out, been asking me which of the
younger French novelists was most highly thought of by English critics;
so that her surprise at never having heard of the gifted young Sevre'
was natural enough.

We all--but no, I must not say that we all have painful memories of this
kind. Some of us can understand every word that flies from the lips of
Mme. Chose or from the mouth of M. Tel. Some of us can also talk quickly
and well to either of these pilgrims; and others can do the trick
passably. But the duffers are in a great grim majority; and the mischief
that French causes among us is mainly manifest, not (I would say) by
weaker brethren hating the stronger, but by weak ones hating the less
weak.

As French is a subject on which we all feel so keenly, a point of
honour on which we are all so sensitive, how comes it that our general
achievement is so slight? There was no lack of hopes, of plans, that we
should excel. In many cases Time was taken for us by the forelock, and a
French nurse installed. But alas! little children are wax to receive and
to retain. They will be charmingly fluent speakers of French within six
weeks of Mariette's arrival, and will have forgotten every word of it
within as brief an interval after her departure. Later, their minds
become more retentive, though less absorbent; and then, by all means,
let French be taught. Taught it is. At the school where I was reared
there were four French masters; four; but to what purpose? Their
class-rooms were scenes of eternal and incredible pandemonium, filled
with whoops and catcalls, with devil's-tattoos on desks, and shrill
inquiries for the exact date of the battle of Waterloo. Nor was the lot
of those four men exceptional in its horror. From the accounts given to
me by 'old boys' of other schools I have gathered that it was the common
lot of French masters on our shores; and I have often wondered how much
of the Anglophobia recurrent among Frenchmen in the nineteenth century
was due to the tragic tales told by those of them who had returned from
our seminaries to die on their own soil. Since 1914, doubtless, French
masters have had a very good time in England. But, even so, I doubt
whether they have been achieving much in the way of tutelage. With the
best will in the world, a boy will profit but little by three or four
lessons a week (which are the utmost that our system allows him). What
he wants, or at any rate will want, is to be able to cope with Mme.
Chose. A smattering of the irregular verbs will not much avail him in
that emprise. Not in the dark by-ways of conjugation, but on the sunny
field of frank social intercourse, must he prove his knighthood. I would
recommend that every boy, on reaching the age of sixteen, should be
hurled across the Channel into the midst of some French family and kept
there for six months. At the end of that time let him be returned to his
school, there to make up for lost time. Time well lost, though: for the
boy will have become fluent in French, and will ever remain so.

Fluency is all. If the boy has a good ear, he will speak with a good
accent; but his accent is a point about which really he needn't care
a jot. So is his syntax. Not with these will he win the heart of Mme.
Chose, not with these the esteem of M. Tel, not with these anything but
a more acrid rancour in the silly hostility of his competitors. If a
foreigner speaks English to us easily and quickly, we demand no more of
him; we are satisfied, we are delighted, and any mistakes of grammar or
pronunciation do but increase the charm, investing with more than
its intrinsic quality any good thing said--making us marvel at it and
exchange fatuous glances over it, as we do when a little child says
something sensible. But heaven protect us from the foreigner who pauses,
searches, fumbles, revises, comes to standstills, has recourse to
dumb-show! Away with him, by the first train to Dover! And this, we may
be sure, is the very train M. Tel and Mme. Chose would like to catch
whenever they meet me--or you?



LAUGHTER, 1920.

M. Bergson, in his well-known essay on this theme, says...well, he
says many things; but none of these, though I have just read them, do I
clearly remember, nor am I sure that in the act of reading I understood
any of them. That is the worst of these fashionable philosophers--or
rather, the worst of me. Somehow I never manage to read them till they
are just going out of fashion, and even then I don't seem able to cope
with them. About twelve years ago, when every one suddenly talked to me
about Pragmatism and William James, I found myself moved by a dull but
irresistible impulse to try Schopenhauer, of whom, years before that,
I had heard that he was the easiest reading in the world, and the most
exciting and amusing. I wrestled with Schopenhauer for a day or so, in
vain. Time passed; M. Bergson appeared 'and for his hour was lord of
the ascendant;' I tardily tackled William James. I bore in mind, as I
approached him, the testimonials that had been lavished on him by all my
friends. Alas, I was insensible to his thrillingness. His gaiety did not
make me gay. His crystal clarity confused me dreadfully. I could make
nothing of William James. And now, in the fullness of time, I have been
floored by M. Bergson.

It distresses me, this failure to keep pace with the leaders of thought
as they pass into oblivion. It makes me wonder whether I am, after all,
an absolute fool. Yet surely I am not that. Tell me of a man or a woman,
a place or an event, real or fictitious: surely you will find me a
fairly intelligent listener. Any such narrative will present to me some
image, and will stir me to not altogether fatuous thoughts. Come to me
in some grievous difficulty: I will talk to you like a father, even like
a lawyer. I'll be hanged if I haven't a certain mellow wisdom. But
if you are by way of weaving theories as to the nature of things in
general, and if you want to try those theories on some one who will
luminously confirm them or powerfully rend them, I must, with a hang-dog
air, warn you that I am not your man. I suffer from a strong suspicion
that things in general cannot be accounted for through any formula
or set of formulae, and that any one philosophy, howsoever new, is
no better than another. That is in itself a sort of philosophy, and I
suspect it accordingly; but it has for me the merit of being the
only one I can make head or tail of. If you try to expound any other
philosophic system to me, you will find not merely that I can detect no
flaw in it (except the one great flaw just suggested), but also that
I haven't, after a minute or two, the vaguest notion of what you are
driving at. 'Very well,' you say, 'instead of trying to explain all
things all at once, I will explain some little, simple, single thing.'
It was for sake of such shorn lambs as myself, doubtless, that M.
Bergson sat down and wrote about--Laughter. But I have profited by his
kindness no more than if he had been treating of the Cosmos. I cannot
tread even a limited space of air. I have a gross satisfaction in the
crude fact of being on hard ground again, and I utter a coarse peal
of--Laughter.

At least, I say I do so. In point of fact, I have merely smiled. Twenty
years ago, ten years ago, I should have laughed, and have professed to
you that I had merely smiled. A very young man is not content to be very
young, nor even a young man to be young: he wants to share the dignity
of his elders. There is no dignity in laughter, there is much of it in
smiles. Laughter is but a joyous surrender, smiles give token of mature
criticism. It may be that in the early ages of this world there was far
more laughter than is to be heard now, and that aeons hence laughter
will be obsolete, and smiles universal--every one, always, mildly,
slightly, smiling. But it is less useful to speculate as to mankind's
past and future than to observe men. And you will have observed with me
in the club-room that young men at most times look solemn, whereas old
men or men of middle age mostly smile; and also that those young men do
often laugh loud and long among themselves, while we others--the gayest
and best of us in the most favourable circumstances--seldom achieve more
than our habitual act of smiling. Does the sound of that laughter jar on
us? Do we liken it to the crackling of thorns under a pot? Let us do so.
There is no cheerier sound. But let us not assume it to be the laughter
of fools because we sit quiet. It is absurd to disapprove of what one
envies, or to wish a good thing were no more because it has passed out
of our possession.

But (it seems that I must begin every paragraph by questioning the
sincerity of what I have just said) has the gift of laughter been
withdrawn from me? I protest that I do still, at the age of forty-seven,
laugh often and loud and long. But not, I believe, so long and loud
and often as in my less smiling youth. And I am proud, nowadays, of
laughing, and grateful to any one who makes me laugh. That is a bad
sign. I no longer take laughter as a matter of course. I realise, even
after reading M. Bergson on it, how good a thing it is. I am qualified
to praise it.

As to what is most precious among the accessories to the world we live
in, different men hold different opinions. There are people whom the
sea depresses, whom mountains exhilarate. Personally, I want the sea
always--some not populous edge of it for choice; and with it sunshine,
and wine, and a little music. My friend on the mountain yonder is of
tougher fibre and sterner outlook, disapproves of the sea's laxity
and instability, has no ear for music and no palate for the grape, and
regards the sun as a rather enervating institution, like central heating
in a house. What he likes is a grey day and the wind in his face; crags
at a great altitude; and a flask of whisky. Yet I think that even he, if
we were trying to determine from what inner sources mankind derives the
greatest pleasure in life, would agree with me that only the emotion of
love takes higher rank than the emotion of laughter. Both these emotions
are partly mental, partly physical. It is said that the mental symptoms
of love are wholly physical in origin. They are not the less ethereal
for that. The physical sensations of laughter, on the other hand, are
reached by a process whose starting-point is in the mind. They are not
the less 'gloriously of our clay.' There is laughter that goes so far
as to lose all touch with its motive, and to exist only, grossly, in
itself. This is laughter at its best. A man to whom such laughter has
often been granted may happen to die in a work-house. No matter. I will
not admit that he has failed in life. Another man, who has never laughed
thus, may be buried in Westminster Abbey, leaving more than a million
pounds overhead. What then? I regard him as a failure.

Nor does it seem to me to matter one jot how such laughter is achieved.
Humour may rollick on high planes of fantasy or in depths of silliness.
To many people it appeals only from those depths. If it appeal to them
irresistibly, they are more enviable than those who are sensitive only
to the finer kind of joke and not so sensitive as to be mastered and
dissolved by it. Laughter is a thing to be rated according to its own
intensity.

Many years ago I wrote an essay in which I poured scorn on the fun
purveyed by the music halls, and on the great public for which that fun
was quite good enough. I take that callow scorn back. I fancy that
the fun itself was better than it seemed to me, and might not have
displeased me if it had been wafted to me in private, in presence of
a few friends. A public crowd, because of a lack of broad impersonal
humanity in me, rather insulates than absorbs me. Amidst the guffaws of
a thousand strangers I become unnaturally grave. If these people were
the entertainment, and I the audience, I should be sympathetic enough.
But to be one of them is a position that drives me spiritually aloof.
Also, there is to me something rather dreary in the notion of going
anywhere for the specific purpose of being amused. I prefer that
laughter shall take me unawares. Only so can it master and dissolve me.
And in this respect, at any rate, I am not peculiar. In music halls and
such places, you may hear loud laughter, but--not see silent laughter,
not see strong men weak, helpless, suffering, gradually convalescent,
dangerously relapsing. Laughter at its greatest and best is not there.

To such laughter nothing is more propitious than an occasion that
demands gravity. To have good reason for not laughing is one of the
surest aids. Laughter rejoices in bonds. If music halls were schoolrooms
for us, and the comedians were our schoolmasters, how much less talent
would be needed for giving us how much more joy! Even in private and
accidental intercourse, few are the men whose humour can reduce us, be
we never so susceptible, to paroxysms of mirth. I will wager that nine
tenths of the world's best laughter is laughter at, not with. And it is
the people set in authority over us that touch most surely our sense of
the ridiculous. Freedom is a good thing, but we lose through it golden
moments. The schoolmaster to his pupils, the monarch to his courtiers,
the editor to his staff--how priceless they are! Reverence is a good
thing, and part of its value is that the more we revere a man, the more
sharply are we struck by anything in him (and there is always much) that
is incongruous with his greatness. And herein lies one of the reasons
why as we grow older we laugh less. The men we esteemed so great are
gathered to their fathers. Some of our coevals may, for aught we know,
be very great, but good heavens! we can't esteem them so.

Of extreme laughter I know not in any annals a more satisfying example
than one that is to be found in Moore's Life of Byron. Both Byron and
Moore were already in high spirits when, on an evening in the spring of
1818, they went 'from some early assembly' to Mr. Rogers' house in St.
James's Place and were regaled there with an impromptu meal. But not
high spirits alone would have led the two young poets to such excess
of laughter as made the evening so very memorable. Luckily they both
venerated Rogers (strange as it may seem to us) as the greatest of
living poets. Luckily, too, Mr. Rogers was ever the kind of man,
the coldly and quietly suave kind of man, with whom you don't take
liberties, if you can help it--with whom, if you can't help it, to take
liberties is in itself a most exhilarating act. And he had just received
a presentation copy of Lord Thurloe's latest book, 'Poems on Several
Occasions.' The two young poets found in this elder's Muse much that
was so execrable as to be delightful. They were soon, as they turned the
pages, held in throes of laughter, laughter that was but intensified
by the endeavours of their correct and nettled host to point out the
genuine merits of his friend's work. And then suddenly--oh joy!--'we
lighted,' Moore records, 'on the discovery that our host, in addition
to his sincere approbation of some of this book's contents, had also the
motive of gratitude for standing by its author, as one of the poems was
a warm and, I need not add, well-deserved panegyric on himself. We were,
however'--the narrative has an added charm from Tom Moore's demure care
not to offend or compromise the still-surviving Rogers--'too far gone in
nonsense for even this eulogy, in which we both so heartily agreed, to
stop us. The opening line of the poem was, as well as I can recollect,
"When Rogers o'er this labour bent;" and Lord Byron undertook to read
it aloud;--but he found it impossible to get beyond the first two
words. Our laughter had now increased to such a pitch that nothing could
restrain it. Two or three times he began; but no sooner had the words
"When Rogers" passed his lips, than our fit burst out afresh,--till
even Mr. Rogers himself, with all his feeling of our injustice, found
it impossible not to join us; and we were, at last, all three in such a
state of inextinguishable laughter, that, had the author himself been
of our party, I question much whether he could have resisted the
infection.' The final fall and dissolution of Rogers, Rogers behaving
as badly as either of them, is all that was needed to give perfection
to this heart-warming scene. I like to think that on a certain night
in spring, year after year, three ghosts revisit that old room and
(without, I hope, inconvenience to Lord Northcliffe, who may happen
to be there) sit rocking and writhing in the grip of that old shared
rapture. Uncanny? Well, not more so than would have seemed to Byron and
Moore and Rogers the notion that more than a hundred years away from
them was some one joining in their laughter--as I do.

Alas, I cannot join in it more than gently. To imagine a scene, however
vividly, does not give us the sense of being, or even of having been,
present at it. Indeed, the greater the glow of the scene reflected, the
sharper is the pang of our realisation that we were not there, and of
our annoyance that we weren't. Such a pang comes to me with special
force whenever my fancy posts itself outside the Temple's gate in
Fleet Street, and there, at a late hour of the night of May 10th, 1773,
observes a gigantic old man laughing wildly, but having no one with him
to share and aggrandise his emotion. Not that he is alone; but the young
man beside him laughs only in politeness and is inwardly puzzled, even
shocked. Boswell has a keen, an exquisitely keen, scent for comedy,
for the fun that is latent in fine shades of character; but imaginative
burlesque, anything that borders on lovely nonsense, he was not formed
to savour. All the more does one revel in his account of what led up
to the moment when Johnson 'to support himself, laid hold of one of the
posts at the side of the foot pavement, and sent forth peals so loud
that in the silence of the night his voice seemed to resound from Temple
Bar to Fleet Ditch.'

No evening ever had an unlikelier ending. The omens were all for gloom.
Johnson had gone to dine at General Paoli's, but was so ill that he
had to leave before the meal was over. Later he managed to go to Mr.
Chambers' rooms in the Temple. 'He continued to be very ill' there, but
gradually felt better, and 'talked with a noble enthusiasm of keeping
up the representation of respectable families,' and was great on 'the
dignity and propriety of male succession.' Among his listeners, as it
happened, was a gentleman for whom Mr. Chambers had that day drawn up
a will devising his estate to his three sisters. The news of this might
have been expected to make Johnson violent in wrath. But no, for some
reason he grew violent only in laughter, and insisted thenceforth on
calling that gentleman The Testator and chaffing him without mercy. 'I
daresay he thinks he has done a mighty thing. He won't stay till he gets
home to his seat in the country, to produce this wonderful deed: he'll
call up the landlord of the first inn on the road; and after a suitable
preface upon mortality and the uncertainty of life, will tell him that
he should not delay in making his will; and Here, Sir, will he say,
is my will, which I have just made, with the assistance of one of the
ablest lawyers in the kingdom; and he will read it to him. He believes
he has made this will; but he did not make it; you, Chambers, made it
for him. I hope you have had more conscience than to make him say "being
of sound understanding!" ha, ha, ha! I hope he has left me a legacy. I'd
have his will turned into verse, like a ballad.' These flights annoyed
Mr. Chambers, and are recorded by Boswell with the apology that he
wishes his readers to be 'acquainted with the slightest occasional
characteristics of so eminent a man.' Certainly, there is nothing
ridiculous in the fact of a man making a will. But this is the measure
of Johnson's achievement. He had created gloriously much out of nothing
at all. There he sat, old and ailing and unencouraged by the company,
but soaring higher and higher in absurdity, more and more rejoicing, and
still soaring and rejoicing after he had gone out into the night with
Boswell, till at last in Fleet Street his paroxysms were too much for
him and he could no more. Echoes of that huge laughter come ringing down
the ages. But is there also perhaps a note of sadness for us in them?
Johnson's endless sociability came of his inherent melancholy: he could
not bear to be alone; and his very mirth was but a mode of escape from
the dark thoughts within him. Of these the thought of death was the most
dreadful to him, and the most insistent. He was for ever wondering how
death would come to him, and how he would acquit himself in the extreme
moment. A later but not less devoted Anglican, meditating on his own
end, wrote in his diary that 'to die in church appears to be a great
euthanasia, but not,' he quaintly and touchingly added, 'at a time
to disturb worshippers.' Both the sentiment here expressed and the
reservation drawn would have been as characteristic of Johnson as they
were of Gladstone. But to die of laughter--this, too, seems to me a
great euthanasia; and I think that for Johnson to have died thus,
that night in Fleet Street, would have been a grand ending to 'a life
radically wretched.' Well, he was destined to outlive another decade;
and, selfishly, who can wish such a life as his, or such a Life as
Boswell's, one jot shorter?

Strange, when you come to think of it, that of all the countless folk
who have lived before our time on this planet not one is known in
history or in legend as having died of laughter. Strange, too, that not
to one of all the characters in romance has such an end been allotted.
Has it ever struck you what a chance Shakespeare missed when he was
finishing the Second Part of King Henry the Fourth? Falstaff was not the
man to stand cowed and bowed while the new young king lectured him and
cast him off. Little by little, as Hal proceeded in that portentous
allocution, the humour of the situation would have mastered old Sir
John. His face, blank with surprise at first, would presently have
glowed and widened, and his whole bulk have begun to quiver. Lest he
should miss one word, he would have mastered himself. But the final
words would have been the signal for release of all the roars pent up in
him; the welkin would have rung; the roars, belike, would have gradually
subsided in dreadful rumblings of more than utterable or conquerable
mirth. Thus and thus only might his life have been rounded off with
dramatic fitness, secundum ipsius naturam. He never should have been
left to babble of green fields and die 'an it had been any christom
child.'

Falstaff is a triumph of comedic creation because we are kept laughing
equally at and with him. Nevertheless, if I had the choice of sitting
with him at the Boar's Head or with Johnson at the Turk's, I shouldn't
hesitate for an instant. The agility of Falstaff's mind gains much of
its effect by contrast with the massiveness of his body; but in contrast
with Johnson's equal agility is Johnson's moral as well as physical
bulk. His sallies 'tell' the more startlingly because of the noble
weight of character behind them: they are the better because he makes
them. In Falstaff there isn't this final incongruity and element of
surprise. Falstaff is but a sublimated sample of 'the funny man.' We
cannot, therefore, laugh so greatly with him as with Johnson. (Nor
even at him; because we are not tickled so much by the weak points of
a character whose points are all weak ones; also because we have no
reverence trying to impose restraint upon us.) Still, Falstaff has
indubitably the power to convulse us. I don't mean we ever are convulsed
in reading Henry the Fourth. No printed page, alas, can thrill us to
extremities of laughter. These are ours only if the mirthmaker be a
living man whose jests we hear as they come fresh from his own lips. All
I claim for Falstaff is that he would be able to convulse us if he were
alive and accessible. Few, as I have said, are the humorists who can
induce this state. To master and dissolve us, to give us the joy of
being worn down and tired out with laughter, is a success to be won by
no man save in virtue of a rare staying-power. Laughter becomes extreme
only if it be consecutive. There must be no pauses for recovery.
Touch-and-go humour, however happy, is not enough. The jester must be
able to grapple his theme and hang on to it, twisting it this way and
that, and making it yield magically all manner of strange and precious
things, one after another, without pause. He must have invention keeping
pace with utterance. He must be inexhaustible. Only so can he exhaust
us.

I have a friend whom I would praise. There are many other of my friends
to whom I am indebted for much laughter; but I do believe that if all of
them sent in their bills to-morrow and all of them overcharged me not a
little, the total of all those totals would be less appalling than that
which looms in my own vague estimate of what I owe to Comus. Comus I
call him here in observance of the line drawn between public and private
virtue, and in full knowledge that he would of all men be the least glad
to be quite personally thanked and laurelled in the market-place for the
hours he has made memorable among his cronies. No one is so diffident as
he, no one so self-postponing. Many people have met him again and
again without faintly suspecting 'anything much' in him. Many of his
acquaintances--friends, too--relatives, even--have lived and died in the
belief that he was quite ordinary. Thus is he the more greatly valued by
his cronies. Thus do we pride ourselves on possessing some curious right
quality to which alone he is responsive. But it would seem that either
this asset of ours or its effect on him is intermittent. He can be dull
and null enough with us sometimes--a mere asker of questions, or drawer
of comparisons between this and that brand of cigarettes, or full
expatiator on the merits of some new patent razor. A whole hour and more
may be wasted in such humdrum and darkness. And then--something will
have happened. There has come a spark in the murk; a flame now,
presage of a radiance: Comus has begun. His face is a great part of his
equipment. A cast of it might be somewhat akin to the comic mask of the
ancients; but no cast could be worthy of it; mobility is the essence of
it. It flickers and shifts in accord to the matter of his discourse; it
contracts and it expands; is there anything its elastic can't express?
Comus would be eloquent even were he dumb. And he is mellifluous. His
voice, while he develops an idea or conjures up a scene, takes on a
peculiar richness and unction. If he be describing an actual scene,
voice and face are adaptable to those of the actual persons therein. But
it is not in such mimicry that he excels. As a reporter he has rivals.
For the most part, he moves on a higher plane that of mere fact: he
imagines, he creates, giving you not a person, but a type, a synthesis,
and not what anywhere has been, but what anywhere might be--what, as one
feels, for all the absurdity of it, just would be. He knows his world
well, and nothing human is alien to him, but certain skeins of life have
a special hold on him, and he on them. In his youth he wished to be
a clergyman; and over the clergy of all grades and denominations his
genius hovers and swoops and ranges with a special mastery. Lawyers he
loves less; yet the legal mind seems to lie almost as wide-open to
him as the sacerdotal; and the legal manner in all its phases he can
unerringly burlesque. In the minds of journalists, diverse journalists,
he is not less thoroughly at home, so that of the wild contingencies
imagined by him there is none about which he cannot reel off an oral
'leader' or 'middle' in the likeliest style, and with as much ease as
he can preach a High Church or Low Church sermon on it. Nor are his
improvisations limited by prose. If a theme call for nobler treatment,
he becomes an unflagging fountain of ludicrously adequate blank-verse.
Or again, he may deliver himself in rhyme. There is no form of utterance
that comes amiss to him for interpreting the human comedy, or for
broadening the farce into which that comedy is turned by him. Nothing
can stop him when once he is in the vein. No appeals move him. He goes
from strength to strength while his audience is more and more piteously
debilitated.

What a gift to have been endowed with! What a power to wield! And how
often I have envied Comus! But this envy of him has never taken root
in me. His mind laughs, doubtless, at his own conceptions; but not
his body. And if you tell him something that you have been sure will
convulse him you are likely to be rewarded with no more than a smile
betokening that he sees the point. Incomparable laughter-giver, he is
not much a laugher. He is vintner, not toper. I would therefore not
change places with him. I am well content to have been his beneficiary
during thirty years, and to be so for as many more as may be given us.





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