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Title: My Miscellanies, Vol. 1 (of 2)
Author: Collins, Wilkie, 1824-1889
Language: English
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     MY MISCELLANIES.

     BY WILKIE COLLINS,

     AUTHOR OF 'THE WOMAN IN WHITE,' 'NO NAME,' 'THE DEAD SECRET,'
     &c. &c. &c.


     IN TWO VOLUMES.--VOL. I.


     LONDON:

     SAMPSON LOW, SON, & CO., LUDGATE HILL.

     1863.

     The Author reserves the right of Translation.



     LONDON: PRINTED BY W. CLOWES AND SONS, STAMFORD STREET,
     AND CHARING CROSS.



     Affectionately Inscribed
     TO
     HENRY BULLAR
     (OF THE WESTERN CIRCUIT).



PREFACE.


The various papers of which the following collection is composed, were
most of them written some years since, and were all originally
published--with many more, which I have not thought it desirable to
reprint--in 'Household Words,' and in the earlier volumes of 'All the
Year Round.' They were fortunate enough to be received with favour by
the reader, at the period of their first appearance, and were thought
worthy in many instances of being largely quoted from in other
journals. After careful selection and revision, they are now collected
in book-form; having been so arranged, in contrast with each other, as
to present specimens of all the shorter compositions which I have
contributed in past years to periodical literature.

My object in writing most of these papers--especially those collected
under the general heads of 'Sketches of Character' and 'Social
Grievances'--was to present what I had observed and what I had
thought, in the lightest and the least pretentious form; to address
the public (if I could) with something of the ease of letter writing,
and something of the familiarity of friendly talk. The literary Pulpit
appeared to me at that time--as it appears to me still--to be rather
overcrowded with the Preachers of Lay Sermons. Views of life and
society to set us thinking penitently in some cases, or doubting
contemptuously in others, were, I thought, quite plentiful enough
already. More freshness and novelty of appeal to the much-lectured and
much-enduring reader, seemed to lie in views which might put us on
easier terms with ourselves and with others; and which might encourage
us to laugh good-humouredly over some of the lighter eccentricities of
character, and some of the more palpable absurdities of
custom--without any unfair perversion of truth, or any needless
descent to the lower regions of vulgarity and caricature. With that
idea, all the lighter contributions to these Miscellanies were
originally written; and with that idea they are now again dismissed
from my desk, to win what approval they may from new readers.

     HARLEY STREET, LONDON.
       September, 1863.



CONTENTS OF VOL. I.


                                                                  PAGE

     Sketches of Character: I.

            Talk-Stoppers                                            1

     Social Grievances: I.

            A Journey in Search of Nothing                          22

     Nooks and Corners of History: I.

            A Queen's Revenge                                       48

     Social Grievances: II.

            A Petition to the Novel-Writers                         72

     Fragments of Personal Experience: I.

            Laid Up in Lodgings                                     90

     Sketches of Character: II.

            A Shockingly Rude Article                              135

     Nooks and Corners of History: II.

            The Great (Forgotten) Invasion                         152

     Curiosities of Literature: I.

            The Unknown Public                                     169

     Social Grievances: III.

            Give us Room!                                          192

     Curiosities of Literature: II.

            Portrait of an Author, Painted by his Publisher        205

     Fragments of Personal Experience: II.

            My Black Mirror                                        250

     Sketches of Character: III.

            Mrs. Badgery                                           274



MY MISCELLANIES.



SKETCHES OF CHARACTER.--I.

TALK-STOPPERS.


We hear a great deal of lamentation now-a-days, proceeding mostly from
elderly people, on the decline of the Art of Conversation among us.
Old ladies and gentlemen with vivid recollections of the charms of
society fifty years ago, are constantly asking each other why the
great talkers of their youthful days have found no successors in this
inferior present time. Where--they inquire mournfully--where are the
illustrious men and women gifted with a capacity for perpetual
outpouring from the tongue, who used to keep enraptured audiences
deluged in a flow of eloquent monologue for hours together? Where are
the solo talkers, in this degenerate age of nothing but choral
conversation?

The solo talkers have vanished. Nothing but the tradition of them
remains, imperfectly preserved in books for the benefit of an
ungrateful posterity, which reviles their surviving contemporaries,
and would perhaps even have reviled the illustrious creatures
themselves as Bores. If they could rise from the dead, and wag their
unresting tongues among us now, would they win their reputations anew,
just as easily as ever? Would they even get listeners? Would they be
actually allowed to talk? I venture to say, decidedly not. They would
surely be interrupted and contradicted; they would have their nearest
neighbours at the dinner-table talking across them; they would find
impatient people opposite, dropping things noisily, and ostentatiously
picking them up; they would hear confidential whispering, and
perpetual fidgeting in distant corners, before they had got through
their first half-dozen of eloquent opening sentences. Nothing appears
to me so wonderful as that none of these interruptions (if we are to
believe report) should ever have occurred in the good old times of the
great talkers. I read long biographies of that large class of
illustrious individuals whose fame is confined to the select circle of
their own acquaintance, and I find that they were to a man, whatever
other differences may have existed between them, all delightful
talkers. I am informed that they held forth entrancingly for hours
together, at all times and seasons, and that I, the gentle, constant,
and patient reader, am one of the most unfortunate and pitiable of
human beings in never having enjoyed the luxury of hearing them: but,
strangely enough, I am never told whether they were occasionally
interrupted or not in the course of their outpourings. I am left to
infer that their friends sat under them just as a congregation sits
under a pulpit; and I ask myself amazedly (remembering what society is
at the present day), whether human nature can have changed altogether
since that time. Either the reports in the biographies are one-sided
and imperfect, or the race of people whom I frequently meet with
now--and whom I venture to call Talk-stoppers, because their business
in life seems to be the obstructing, confusing, and interrupting of
all conversation--must be the peculiar and portentous growth of our
own degenerate era.

Perplexed by this dilemma, when I am reading in long biographies about
great talkers, I do not find myself lamenting, like my seniors, that
they have left no successors in our day, or doubting irreverently,
like my juniors, whether the famous performers of conversational solos
were really as well worth hearing as eulogistic report would fain have
us believe. The one invariable question that I put to myself under
these circumstances runs thus:--Could the great talkers, if they had
lived in my time, have talked at all? And the answer I receive is:--In
the vast majority of cases, certainly not.

Let me not unnecessarily mention names, but let me ask, for example,
if some such famous talker as, say--the Great Glib--could have
discoursed uninterruptedly for five minutes together in the presence
of my friend Colonel Hopkirk?

The colonel goes a great deal into society; he is the kindest and
gentlest of men; but he unconsciously stops, or confuses conversation
everywhere, solely in consequence of his own sociable horror of ever
differing in opinion with anybody. If A. should begin by declaring
black to be black, Colonel Hopkirk would be sure to agree with him,
before he had half done. If B. followed, and declared black to be
white, the colonel would be on his side of the question, before he had
argued it out; and, if C. peaceably endeavoured to calm the dispute
with a truism, and trusted that every one would at least admit that
black and white in combination made grey, my ever-compliant friend
would pat him on the shoulder approvingly, all the while he was
talking; would declare that C.'s conclusion was, after all, the common
sense of the question; and would set A. and B. furiously disputing
which of them he agreed or disagreed with now, and whether on the
great Black, White, and Grey question, Colonel Hopkirk could really be
said to have any opinion at all.

How could the Great Glib hold forth in the company of such a man as
this? Let us suppose that delightful talker, with a few of his
admirers (including, of course, the writer of his biography), and
Colonel Hopkirk, to be all seated at the same table; and let us say
that one of the admirers is anxious to get the mellifluous Glib to
discourse on capital punishment for the benefit of the company. The
admirer begins, of course, on the approved method of stating the
objections to capital punishment, and starts the subject in this
manner.

"I was dining out, the other day, Mr. Glib, where capital punishment
turned up as a topic of conversation----"

"Ah!" says Colonel Hopkirk, "a dreadful necessity--yes, yes, yes, I
see--a dreadful necessity--Eh?"

"And the arguments for its abolition," continues the admirer, without
noticing the interruption, "were really handled with great dexterity
by one of the gentlemen present, who started, of course, with the
assertion that it is unlawful, under any circumstances, to take away
life----"

"Unlawful, of course!" cries the colonel. "Very well put. Yes,
yes--unlawful--to be sure--so it is--unlawful, as you say."

"Unlawful, sir?" begins the Great Glib, severely. "Have I lived to
this time of day, to hear that it is unlawful to protect the lives of
the community, by the only certain means----?"

"No, no--O dear me, no!" says the compliant Hopkirk, with the most
unblushing readiness. "Protect their lives, of course--as you say,
protect their lives by the only certain means--yes, yes, I quite agree
with you."

"Allow me, colonel," says another admirer, anxious to assist in
starting the great talker, "allow me to remind our friend, before he
takes this question in hand, that it is an argument of the
abolitionists that perpetual imprisonment would answer the purpose of
protecting society----"

The colonel is so delighted with this last argument that he bounds on
his chair, and rubs his hands in triumph. "My dear sir!" he cries,
before the last speaker can say another word, "you have hit it--you
have indeed! Perpetual imprisonment--that's the thing--ah, yes, yes,
yes, to be sure--perpetual imprisonment--the very thing, my dear
sir--the very thing!"

"Excuse me," says a third admirer, "but I think Mr. Glib was about to
speak. You were saying, sir----?"

"The whole question of capital punishment," begins the delightful
talker, leaning back luxuriously in his chair, "lies in a nutshell."
("Very true," from the colonel.) "I murder one of you--say Hopkirk
here." ("Ha! ha! ha!" loudly from the colonel, who thinks himself
bound to laugh at a joke when he is only wanted to listen to an
illustration.) "I murder Hopkirk. What is the first object of all the
rest of you, who represent the community at large?" ("To have you
hanged," from the colonel. "Ah, yes, to be sure! to have you hanged.
Quite right! quite right!") "Is it to make me a reformed character, to
teach me a trade, to wash my blood-stains off me delicately, and set
me up again in society, looking as clean as the best of you? No!"
("No!" from the compliant colonel.) "Your object is clearly to prevent
me from murdering any more of you. And how are you to do that most
completely and certainly? Can you accomplish your object by perpetual
imprisonment?" ("Ah! I thought we should all agree about it at last,"
cries the colonel cheerfully. "Yes, yes--nothing else for it but
perpetual imprisonment, as you say.") "By perpetual imprisonment? But
men have broken out of prison." ("So they have," from the colonel.)
"Men have killed their gaolers; and there you have the commission of
that very second murder that you wanted to prevent." ("Quite right,"
from the compliant Talk-Stopper. "A second murder--dreadful!
dreadful!") "Imprisonment is not your certain protective remedy, then,
evidently. What is?"

"Hanging!!!" cries the colonel, with another bound in his chair, and a
voice that can no longer be talked down. "Hanging, to be sure! I quite
agree with you. Just what I said from the first. You have hit it, my
dear sir. Hanging, as you say--hanging, by all manner of means!"

Has anybody ever met Colonel Hopkirk in society? And does anybody
think that the Great Glib could possibly have held forth in the
company of that persistently-compliant gentleman, as he is alleged, by
his admiring biographer, to have held forth in the peculiar society of
his own time? The thing is clearly impossible. Let us leave Glib,
congratulating him on having died when the Hopkirks of these latter
days were as yet hardly weaned; let us leave him, and ascertain how
some other great talker might have got on in the society of some other
modern obstructor of the flow of eloquent conversation.

I have just been reading the Life, Letters, Labours, Opinions, and
Table-Talk of the matchless Mr. Oily; edited--as to the Life, by his
mother-in-law; as to the Letters, by his grand-daughter's husband; and
as to the Labours, Opinions, and Table-Talk, by three of his intimate
friends, who dined with him every other Sunday throughout the whole of
his long and distinguished life. It is a very pretty book in a great
many volumes, with pleasing anecdotes--not only of the eminent man
himself, but of all his family connections as well. His shortest notes
are preserved, and the shortest notes of others to him. "My dear O.,
how is your poor head? Yours, P." "My dear P., hotter than ever.
Yours, O." And so on. Portraits of Oily, in infancy, childhood,
youth, manhood, old age active, and old age infirm, concluding with a
post-mortem mask, abound in the book--so do fac-similes of his
handwriting, showing the curious modifications which it underwent when
he occasionally exchanged a quill for a steel-pen. But it will be more
to my present purpose to announce for the benefit of unfortunate
people who have not yet read the Memoirs, that Oily was, as a matter
of course, a delightful and incessant talker. He poured out words, and
his audience imbibed the same perpetually three times a week from
tea-time to past midnight. Women especially revelled in his
conversation. They hung, so to speak, palpitating on his lips. All
this is told me in the Memoirs at great length, and in several places;
but not a word occurs anywhere tending to show that Oily ever met with
the slightest interruption on any one of the thousand occasions when
he held forth. In relation to him, as in relation to the Great Glib, I
seem bound to infer that he was never staggered by an unexpected
question, never affronted by a black sheep among the flock, in the
shape of an inattentive listener, never silenced by some careless man
capable of unconsciously cutting him short and starting another topic
before he had half done with his own particular subject. I am bound to
believe all this--and yet, when I look about me at society as it is
constituted now, I could fill a room, at a day's notice, with people
who would shut up the mouth of Oily before it had been open five
minutes, quite as a matter of course, and without the remotest
suspicion that they were misbehaving themselves in the slightest
degree. What (I ask myself), to take only one example, and that from
the fair sex--what would have become of Oily's delightful and
incessant talk, if he had known my friend Mrs. Marblemug, and had
taken her down to dinner in his enviable capacity of distinguished
man?

Mrs. Marblemug has one subject of conversation--her own vices. On all
other topics she is sarcastically indifferent and scornfully mute.
General conversation she consequently never indulges in; but the
person who sits next to her is sure to be interrupted as soon as he
attracts her attention by talking to her, by receiving a confession of
her vices--not made repentantly, or confusedly, or jocularly--but
slowly declaimed with an ostentatious cynicism, with a hard eye, a
hard voice, a hard--no, an adamantine--manner. In early youth, Mrs.
Marblemug discovered that her business in life was to be eccentric and
disagreeable, and she is one of the women of England who fulfils her
mission.

I fancy I see the ever-flowing Oily sitting next to this lady at
dinner, and innocently trying to make her hang on his lips like the
rest of his tea-table harem. His conversation is reported by his
affectionate biographers, as having been for the most part of the
sweetly pastoral sort. I find that he drove that much-enduring
subject, Nature, in his conversational car of triumph, longer and
harder than most men. I see him, in my mind's eye, starting in his
insinuating way from some parsley garnish round a dish of
lobsters--confessing, in his rich, full, and yet low voice (vide
Memoirs) that garnish delights him, because his favourite colour is
green--and so getting easily on to the fields, the great subject from
which he always got his largest conversational crop. I imagine his
tongue to be, as it were, cutting its first preliminary capers on the
grass for the benefit of Mrs. Marblemug; and I hear that calmly-brazen
lady throw him flat on his back by the utterance of some such words as
these:

"Mr. Oily, I ought to have told you, perhaps, that I hate the fields:
I think Nature in general something eminently disagreeable--the
country, in short, quite odious. If you ask me why, I can't tell you.
I know I'm wrong; but hating Nature is one of my vices."

Mr. Oily eloquently remonstrates. Mrs. Marblemug only says, "Yes, very
likely--but, you see, it's one of my vices." Mr. Oily tries a
dexterous compliment. Mrs. Marblemug only answers, "Don't!--I see
through that. It's wrong in me to see through compliments, being a
woman, I know. But I can't help seeing through them, and saying I do.
That's another of my vices." Mr. Oily shifts the subject to
Literature, and thence, gently but surely, to his own books--his
second great topic after the fields. Mrs. Marblemug lets him go on,
because she has something to finish on her plate--then lays down her
knife and fork--looks at him with a kind of wondering indifference,
and breaks into his next sentence thus:--

"I'm afraid I don't seem quite so much interested as I know I ought to
be," she says; "but I should have told you, perhaps, when we first sat
down, that I have given up reading."

"Given up reading!" exclaims Mr. Oily, thunderstruck by the monstrous
confession. "You mean only the trash that has come into vogue lately;
the morbid, unhealthy----"

"No, not at all," rejoins Mrs. Marblemug. "If I read anything, it
would be morbid literature. My taste is unhealthy. That's another of
my vices."

"My dear madam, you amaze--you alarm me,--you do indeed!" cries Mr.
Oily, waving his hand in graceful deprecation and polite horror.

"Don't," says Mrs. Marblemug; "you'll knock down some of the
wine-glasses, and hurt yourself. You had better keep your hand
quiet,--you had, indeed. No; I have given up reading, because all
books do me harm--the best--the healthiest. Your books even, I
suppose, I ought to say; but I can't, because I see through
compliments, and despise my own, of course, as much as other people's!
Suppose, we say, I don't read, because books do me harm--and leave it
there. The thing is not worth pursuing. You think it is? Well, then,
books do me harm, because they increase my tendency to be envious (one
of my worst vices). The better the book is, the more I hate the man
for being clever enough to write it--so much cleverer than me, you
know, who couldn't write it at all. I believe you call that Envy.
Whatever it is, it has been one of my vices from a child. No, no
wine--a little water. I think wine nasty, that's another of my
vices--or, no, perhaps, that is only one of my misfortunes. Thank you.
I wish I could talk to you about books; but I really can't read
them--they make me so envious."

Perhaps Oily (who, as I infer from certain passages in his Memoirs,
could be a sufficiently dogged and resolute man on occasions when his
dignity was in danger) still valiantly declines to submit and be
silent, and, shifting his ground, endeavours to draw Mrs. Marblemug
out by asking her questions. The new effort, however, avails him
nothing. Do what he will, he is always met and worsted by the lady in
the same, quiet, easy, indifferent way; and, sooner or later, even his
distinguished mouth is muzzled by Mrs. Marblemug, like the mouths of
all the degenerate talkers of my own time whom I have ever seen in
contact with her. Are Mr. Oily's biographers not to be depended on, or
can it really be the fact that, in the course of all his long
conversational career, that illustrious man never once met with a
check in the shape of a Mrs. Marblemug? I have no tender prepossession
in favour of the lady; but when I reflect on the character of Mr.
Oily, as exhibited in his Memoirs, I am almost inclined to regret that
he and Mrs. Marblemug never met. In relation to some people, I
involuntarily regard her as a dose of strong moral physic; and I
really think she might have done my distinguished countryman some
permanent good.

To take another instance, there is the case of the once-brilliant
social luminary, Mr. Endless--extinguished, unfortunately for the new
generation, about the time when we were most of us only little boys
and girls.

What a talker this sparkling creature must have been, if one may judge
by that racy anonymous publication (racy was, I think, the word
chiefly used in reviewing the book by the critics of the period),
Evenings with Endless, by A Constant Listener! "I could hardly
believe," I remember the Listener writes, "that the world was the same
after Endless had flashed out of this mortal scene. It was morning
while he lived--it was twilight, or worse, when he died. I was very
intimate with him. Often has the hand that writes these trembling
lines smacked that familiar back--often have those thrilling and
matchless accents syllabled the fond diminutive of my Christian name.
It was not so much that his talk was ceaseless (though that is
something), as that it moved incessantly over all topics from heaven
to earth. His variety of subject was the most amazing part of this
amazing man. His fertility of allusion to topics of the past and
present alike, was truly inexhaustible. He hopped, he skipped, he
fluttered, he swooped from theme to theme. The butterfly in the
garden, the bee in the flower-bed, the changes of the kaleidoscope,
the sun and shower of an April morning, are but faint emblems of him."
With much more to the same eloquent purpose; but not a word from the
first page to the last to hint even that Endless was ever brought to a
full stop, on any single occasion, by any one of the hundreds of
enchanted listeners before whom he figured in his wonderful
performances with the tongue from morning to night.

And yet, there must surely have been Talk-Stoppers in the world, in
the time of the brilliant Endless--talk-stoppers, in all probability,
possessing characteristics similar to those now displayed in society
by my exasperating connection by marriage, Mr. Spoke Wheeler.

It is impossible to say what the consequences might have been if my
relative and Mr. Endless had ever come together. Mr. Spoke Wheeler is
one of those men--a large class, as it appears to me--who _will_ talk,
and who have nothing whatever in the way of a subject of their own to
talk about. His constant practice is to lie silently in ambush for
subjects started by other people; to take them forthwith from their
rightful owners; turn them coolly to his own uses; and then cunningly
wait again for the next topic, belonging to somebody else, that passes
within his reach. It is useless to give up, and leave him to take the
lead--he invariably gives up, too, and declines the honour. It is
useless to start once more, seeing him apparently silenced--he becomes
talkative again the moment you offer him the chance of seizing on your
new subject--disposes of it without the slightest fancy, taste, or
novelty of handling, in a moment--then relapses into utter
speechlessness as soon as he has silenced the rest of the company by
taking their topic away from them. Wherever he goes, he commits this
social atrocity with the most perfect innocence and the most provoking
good humour, for he firmly believes in himself as one of the most
entertaining men who ever crossed a drawing-room or caroused at a
dinner-table.

Imagine Mr. Spoke Wheeler getting an invitation to one of those
brilliant suppers which assisted in making the evenings of the
sparkling Endless so attractive to his friends and admirers. See him
sitting modestly at the table with every appearance in his face and
manner of being the most persistent and reliable of listeners. Endless
takes the measure of his man, as he too confidently believes, in one
bright glance--thinks to himself, Here is a new worshipper to
astonish; here is the conveniently dense and taciturn human pedestal
on which I can stand to let off my fireworks--plunges his knife and
fork, gaily hospitable, into the dish before him (let us say a turkey
and truffles, for Endless is a gastronome as well as a wit), and
starts off with one of those "fertile allusions," for which he was so
famous.

"I never carve turkey without thinking of what Madame de Pompadour
said to Louis the Fifteenth," Endless begins in his most off-hand
manner. "I refer to the time when the superb Frenchwoman first came to
court, and the star of the fair Chateauroux waned before her. Who
remembers what the Pompadour said when the king insisted on carving
the turkey?"

Before the company can beg Endless, as usual, to remember for them,
Mr. Spoke Wheeler starts into life and seizes the subject.

"What a vicious state of society it was in the time of Madame de
Pompadour!" he says, with moral severity. "Who can wonder that it led
to the French Revolution?"

Endless feels that his first effort for the evening is nipped in the
bud, and that the new guest is not to be depended on as a listener.
He, however, waits politely, and every one else waits politely to hear
something more about the French Revolution. Mr. Spoke Wheeler has not
another word to say. He has snatched his subject--has exhausted
it--and is now waiting, with an expectant smile on his face, to lay
hands on another. Disastrous silence reigns, until Mr. Endless, as
host and wit, launches a new topic in despair.

"Don't forget the salad, gentlemen," he exclaims. "The emblem, as I
always fancy, of human life. The sharp vinegar corrected by the soft
oil, just as the misfortune of one day is compensated by the luck of
another. Heigho! let moralists lecture as they will, what a true
gambler's existence ours is, by the very nature of it! Love, fame,
wealth, are the stakes we all play for; the world is the table; Death
keeps the house, and Destiny shuffles the cards. According to my
definition, gentlemen, man is a gambling animal, and woman----"
Endless pauses for a moment, and lifts the glass to his lips to give
himself a bacchanalian air before he amazes the company with a torrent
of eloquence on the subject of woman. Unhappy man! in that one moment
Mr. Spoke Wheeler seizes on his host's brilliant gambling metaphor,
and runs away with it as his own property immediately.

"The worst of gambling," he says, with a look of ominous wisdom, "is,
that when once a man takes to it, he can never be got to give it up
again. It always ends in ruin. I know a man whose son is in the Fleet,
and whose daughter is a maid-of-all-work at a lodging-house. The poor
devil himself once had twenty thousand pounds, and he now picks up a
living by writing begging-letters. All through gambling. Degrading
vice, certainly; ruins a man's temper and health, too, as well as his
property. Ah! a very degrading vice--very much so indeed!"

"I am afraid, my dear sir, you have no vices," says Endless, getting
angry and sarcastic as a fresh pause follows this undeniable
commonplace. "The bottle stands with you. Do you abjure even that most
amiable of human failings--the cheerful glass? Ha!" exclaims Endless,
seeing that his guest is going to speak again, and vainly imagining
that he can cut him short this time. "Ha! what a debt we owe to the
first man who discovered the true use of the grape! How drunk he must
have got in making his immortal preliminary experiments! How often his
wife must have begged him to consider his health and his
respectability, and give up all further investigations! How he must
have shocked his family with perpetual hiccups, and puzzled the
medical men of the period with incurable morning headaches! To the
health of that marvellous, that magnificent, that inestimable human
being, the first Toper in the world! The patriarchal Bacchus quaffing
in his antediluvian vineyard! What a picture, gentlemen; what a
subject for our artists! Scumble, my dear friend," continues Endless,
breathlessly, feeling that Mr. Spoke Wheeler has got his topic again,
and anxious to secure assistance in preventing that persistent
gentleman from making any use of the stolen property--"Scumble, your
pencil alone is worthy of the subject. Tell us, my prince of painters,
how would you treat it?"

The prince of painters has his mouth full of turkey, and looks more
puzzled than flattered by this complimentary appeal. He hesitates, and
Mr. Spoke Wheeler darts into the conversation on the subject of
drunkenness, forthwith.

"I'll tell you what," says the Talk-Stopper, "we may all joke about
drunkenness as much as we please--I'm no saint, and I like a joke as
well as anybody--but it's a deuced serious thing for all that.
Seven-tenths of the crime in this country is owing to drunkenness; and
of all the incurable diseases that baffle the doctors, delirium
tremens is (next to hydrophobia) one of the worst. I like a cheerful
glass myself--and this is uncommonly good wine we are drinking
now--but there's more than you think for to be said on the temperance
side of the question; there is, indeed!"

Will even the most indiscriminate of the surviving admirers of
Endless, and of the great talkers generally, venture to assert that
he, or they, could have shown off with the slightest approach to
success in the company of Mr. Spoke Wheeler, or of Mrs. Marblemug, or
of Colonel Hopkirk, or of any of the other dozens on dozens of
notorious talk-stoppers whose characters I refrain from troubling the
reader with? Surely not! Surely I have quoted examples enough to prove
the correctness of my theory, that the days when the eminent professors
of the Art of Conversation could be sure of perpetually-attentive
audiences, have gone by. Instead of mourning over the loss of the
great talkers, we ought to feel relieved (if we have any real regard
for them, which I sometimes doubt) by their timely departure from the
scene. Between the members of the modern generation who would not have
listened to them, the members who could not have listened to them, and
the members who would have confused, interrupted, and cut them short,
what extremities of compulsory silence they must have undergone if
they had lasted until our time! Our case may be lamentable enough in
not having heard them; but how much worse would theirs be if they came
back to the world now, and tried to show us how they won their
reputations!



SOCIAL GRIEVANCES.--I.

A JOURNEY IN SEARCH OF NOTHING.

[Communicated by An Anonymous Traveller.]


NOTE THE FIRST. TRYING FOR QUIET.

"Yes," said the doctor, pressing the tips of his fingers with a
tremulous firmness on my pulse, and looking straight forward into the
pupils of my eyes, "yes, I see: the symptoms all point unmistakably
towards one conclusion--Brain. My dear sir, you have been working too
hard; you have been following the dangerous example of the rest of the
world in this age of business and bustle. Your brain is
over-taxed--that is your complaint. You must let it rest--there is
your remedy."

"You mean," I said, "that I must keep quiet, and do Nothing?"

"Precisely so," replied the doctor. "You must not read or write; you
must abstain from allowing yourself to be excited by society; you must
have no annoyances; you must feel no anxieties; you must not think;
you must be neither elated nor depressed; you must keep early hours
and take an occasional tonic, with moderate exercise, and a nourishing
but not too full a diet--above all, as perfect repose is essential to
your restoration, you must go away into the country, taking any
direction you please, and living just as you like, so long as you are
quiet and so long as you do Nothing."

"I presume he is not to go away into the country without ME?" said my
wife, who was present at the interview.

"Certainly not," rejoined the doctor with an acquiescent bow. "I look
to your influence, my dear madam, to encourage our patient to follow
my directions. It is unnecessary to repeat them, they are so extremely
simple and easy to carry out. I will answer for your husband's
recovery if he will but remember that he has now only two objects in
life--to keep quiet, and to do Nothing."

My wife is a woman of business habits. As soon as the doctor had taken
his leave, she produced her pocket-book, and made a brief abstract of
his directions, for our future guidance. I looked over her shoulder
and observed that the entry ran thus:--

"Rules for dear William's restoration to health. No reading; no
writing; no excitement; no annoyance; no anxiety; no thinking. Tonic.
No elation of spirits. Nice dinners. No depression of spirits. Dear
William to take little walks (with me). To go to bed early. To get up
early. N.B.--Keep him quiet. Mem.: Mind he does Nothing."

Mind I do Nothing? No need to mind about that. I have not had a
holiday since I was a boy. Oh, blessed Idleness, after the years of
merciless industry that have separated us, are you and I to be brought
together again at last? Oh, my weary right hand, are you really to
ache no longer with driving the ceaseless pen? May I, indeed, put you
in my pocket, and let you rest there, indolently, for hours together?
Yes! for I am now at last to begin--doing Nothing. Delightful task
that performs itself! Welcome responsibility that carries its weight
away smoothly on its own shoulders!

These thoughts shine in pleasantly on my mind after the doctor has
taken his departure, and diffuse an easy gaiety over my spirits when
my wife and I set forth, the next day, for the country. We are not
going the round of the noisy watering-places, nor is it our intention
to accept any invitations to join the circles assembled by festive
country friends. My wife, guided solely by the abstract of the
doctor's directions in her pocket-book, has decided that the only way
to keep me absolutely quiet, and to make sure of my doing Nothing, is
to take me to some pretty retired village and to put me up at a
little primitive, unsophisticated country-inn. I offer no objection
to this project--not because I have no will of my own and am not
master of all my movements--but only because I happen to agree with my
wife. Considering what a very independent man I am naturally, it has
sometimes struck me, as a rather remarkable circumstance, that I
always do agree with her.

We find the pretty, retired village. A charming place, full of
thatched cottages with creepers at the doors, like the first easy
lessons in drawing-masters' copy-books. We find the unsophisticated
inn--just the sort of house that the novelists are so fond of writing
about, with the snowy curtains and the sheets perfumed by lavender,
and the matronly landlady and the amusing signpost. This Elysium is
called the Nag's Head. Can the Nag's Head accommodate us? Yes, with a
delightful bedroom and a sweet parlour. My wife takes off her bonnet
and makes herself at home, directly. She nods her head at me with a
look of triumph. Yes, dear, on this occasion also I quite agree with
you. Here we have found perfect quiet; here we may make sure of obeying
the doctor's orders; here we have, at last, discovered--Nothing.

Nothing! Did I say Nothing? We arrive at the Nag's Head late in the
evening, have our tea, go to bed tired with our journey, sleep
delightfully till about three o'clock in the morning, and, at that
hour, begin to discover that there are actually noises even in this
remote country seclusion. They keep fowls at the Nag's Head; and, at
three o'clock, the cock begins to crow and the hens to cluck under our
window. Pastoral, my dear, and suggestive of eggs for breakfast whose
reputation is above suspicion; but I wish these cheerful fowls did not
wake quite so early. Are there, likewise, dogs, love, at the Nag's
Head, and are they trying to bark down the crowing and clucking of the
cheerful fowls? I should wish to guard myself against the possibility
of making a mistake, but I think I hear three dogs. A shrill dog who
barks rapidly; a melancholy dog who howls monotonously; and a hoarse
dog who emits barks at intervals like minute guns. Is this going on
long? Apparently it is. My dear, if you will refer to your
pocket-book, I think you will find that the doctor recommended early
hours. We will not be fretful and complain of having our morning sleep
disturbed; we will be contented, and will only say that it is time to
get up.

Breakfast. Delicious meal, let us linger over it as long as we
can,--let us linger, if possible, till the drowsy midday tranquillity
begins to sink over this secluded village.

Strange! but now I think of it again, do I, or do I not, hear an
incessant hammering over the way? No manufacture is carried on in
this peaceful place, no new houses are being built; and yet there is
such a hammering that, if I shut my eyes, I can almost fancy myself in
the neighbourhood of a dock-yard. Waggons, too. Why does a waggon
which makes so little noise in London, make so much noise here? Is the
dust on the road detonating powder, that goes off with a report at
every turn of the heavy wheels? Does the waggoner crack his whip or
fire a pistol to encourage his horses? Children, next. Only five of
them, and they have not been able to settle for the last half hour
what game they shall play at. On two points alone do they appear to be
unanimous--they are all agreed on making a noise and on stopping to
make it under our window. I think I am in some danger of forgetting
one of the doctor's directions: I rather fancy I am actually allowing
myself to be annoyed.

Let us take a turn in the garden, at the back of the house. Dogs
again. The yard is on one side of the garden. Every time our walk
takes us near it, the shrill dog barks and the hoarse dog growls. The
doctor tells me to have no anxieties. I am suffering devouring
anxieties. These dogs may break loose and fly at us, for anything I
know to the contrary, at a moment's notice. What shall I do? Give
myself a drop of tonic? or escape for a few hours from the perpetual
noises of this retired spot by taking a drive? My wife says, take a
drive. I think I have already mentioned that I invariably agree with
my wife.

The drive is successful in procuring us a little quiet. My directions
to the coachman are to take us where he pleases, so long as he keeps
away from secluded villages. We suffer much jolting in by-lanes, and
encounter a great variety of bad smells. But a bad smell is a
noiseless nuisance, and I am ready to put up with it patiently.
Towards dinner-time we return to our inn. Meat, vegetables, pudding,
all excellent, clean and perfectly cooked. As good a dinner as I wish
ever to eat;--shall I get a little nap after it? The fowls, the dogs,
the hammer, the children, the waggons, are quiet at last. Is there
anything else left to make a noise? Yes: there is the working
population of the place.

It is getting on towards evening, and the sons of labour are
assembling on the benches placed outside the inn to drink. What a
delightful scene they would make of this homely every-day event on the
stage! How the simple creatures would clink their tin mugs, and drink
each other's healths, and laugh joyously in chorus! How the peasant
maidens would come tripping on the scene and lure the men tenderly to
the dance! Where are the pipe and tabour that I have seen in so many
pictures; where the simple songs that I have read about in so many
poems? What do I hear as I listen, prone on the sofa, to the evening
gathering of the rustic throng? Oaths,--nothing, on my word of honour,
but oaths! I look out, and see gangs of cadaverous savages, drinking
gloomily from brown mugs, and swearing at each other every time they
open their lips. Never in any large town, at home or abroad, have I
been exposed to such an incessant fire of unprintable words as now
assail my ears in this primitive village. No man can drink to another
without swearing at him first. No man can ask a question without
adding a mark of interrogation at the end in the shape of an oath.
Whether they quarrel (which they do for the most part), or whether
they agree; whether they talk of their troubles in this place or their
good luck in that; whether they are telling a story, or proposing a
toast, or giving an order, or finding fault with the beer, these men
seem to be positively incapable of speaking without an allowance of at
least five foul words for every one fair word that issues from their
lips. English is reduced in their mouths to a brief vocabulary of all
the vilest expressions in the language. This is an age of
civilization; this is a Christian country; opposite me I see a
building with a spire, which is called, I believe, a church; past my
window, not an hour since, there rattled a neat pony chaise with a
gentleman inside, clad in glossy black broad cloth, and popularly
known by the style and title of clergyman. And yet, under all these
good influences, here sit twenty or thirty men whose ordinary
table-talk is so outrageously beastly and blasphemous, that not one
single sentence of it, though it lasted the whole evening, could be
printed, as a specimen, for public inspection in these pages. When the
intelligent foreigner comes to England, and when I tell him (as I am
sure to do) that we are the most moral people in the universe, I will
take good care that he does not set his foot in a secluded British
village when the rural population is reposing over its mug of
small-beer after the labours of the day.

I am not a squeamish person, neither is my wife, but the social
intercourse of the villagers drives us out of our room, and sends us
to take refuge at the back of the house. Do we gain anything by the
change? Nothing whatever.

The back parlour, to which we have now retreated, looks out on a
bowling-green; and there are more benches, more mugs of beer, more
foul-mouthed villagers on the bowling-green. Immediately under our
window is a bench and table for two, and on it are seated a drunken
old man and a drunken old woman. The aged sot in trousers is offering
marriage to the aged sot in petticoats, with frightful oaths of
endearment. Never before did I imagine that swearing could be twisted
to the purposes of courtship. Never before did I suppose that a man
could make an offer of his hand by bellowing imprecations on his eyes,
or that all the powers of the infernal regions could be appropriately
summoned to bear witness to the beating of a lover's heart under the
influence of the tender passion. I know it now, and I derive so little
satisfaction from gaining the knowledge of it, that I determine on
having the two intolerable old drunkards removed from the window, and
sent to continue their cursing courtship elsewhere. The ostler is
lounging about the bowling-green, scratching his bare brawny arms and
yawning grimly in the mellow evening sunlight. I beckon to him, and
ask him if he does not think those two old people have had beer
enough? Yes, the ostler thinks they have. I inquire next if they can
be removed from the premises, before their language gets worse,
without the risk of making any great disturbance. The ostler says,
Yes, they can, and calls to the potboy. When the potboy comes, he
says, "Now then, Jack!" and snatches the table away from the two
ribald old people without another word. The old man's pipe is on the
table; he rises and staggers forward to possess himself of it; the old
woman rises, too, to hold him by the arm for fear he should fall flat
on his face. The moment they are off the bench, the potboy snatches
their seat away from behind them, and quietly joins the ostler who is
carrying their table into the inn. None of the other drinkers laugh at
this proceeding, or pay any attention to it; and the two intoxicated
old people, left helpless on their legs, stagger away feebly without
attracting the slightest notice. The neat stratagem which the ostler
and the potboy have just performed, is evidently the customary and
only possible mode of letting drinkers know when they have had enough
at the Nag's Head. Where did those savage islanders live whose manners
a certain sea-captain once upon a time described as no manners at all,
and some of whose customs he reprobated as being very nasty? If I did
not know that we are many miles distant from the coast, I should be
almost disposed to suspect that the seafaring traveller whose opinion
I have just quoted had been touching at the Nag's Head.

As it is impossible to snatch away all the tables and all the benches
of all the company drinking and swearing in front of the house and
behind it, I inquire of the ostler, the next time he comes near the
window, at what time the tap closes? He tells me at eleven o'clock. It
is hardly necessary to say that we put off going to bed until that
time, when we retire for the night, drenched from head to foot, if I
may so speak, in floods of bad language.

I cautiously put my head out of window, and see that the lights of the
tap-room are really extinguished at the appointed time. I hear the
drinkers oozing out grossly into the pure freshness of the summer
night. They all growl together; they all go together. All? Sinner and
sufferer that I am, I have been premature in arriving at that happy
conclusion! Six choice spirits, with a social horror in their souls of
going home to bed, prop themselves against the wall of the inn, and
continue the evening's conversazione in the darkness. I hear them
cursing at each other by name. We have Tom, Dick, and Sam, Jem, Bill,
and Bob to enliven us under our window, after we are in bed. They
begin improving each other's minds, as a matter of course, by
quarrelling. Music follows and soothes the strife, in the shape of a
local duet, sung by voices of vast compass, which soar in one note
from howling bass to cracked treble. Yawning follows the duet; long,
loud, weary yawning of all the company in chorus. This amusement over,
Tom asks Dick for "baccer," and Dick denies that he has got any, and
Tom tells him he lies, and Sam strikes in and says, "No, he doan't,"
and Jem tells Sam he lies, and Bill tells him that if he was Sam he
would punch Jem's head, and Bob, apparently snuffing the battle from
afar off and not liking the scent of it, shouts suddenly a pacific
good night in the distance. The farewell salutation seems to quiet the
gathering storm. They all roar responsive to the good-night roar of
Bob. A moment of silence, actually a moment, follows--then a
repetition of the long, loud, weary yawning in chorus--then another
moment of silence--then Jem suddenly shouts to the retiring Bob to
come back--Bob refuses, softened by distance--Jem insists, and his
four friends join him--Bob relents and returns. A shriek of
indignation, far down the village--Bob's wife has her window open, and
has heard him consent to go back to his friends. Hearty laughter from
Bob's five friends; screams from Bob's wife; articulate screams,
informing Bob that she will "cut his liver out," if he does not come
home directly. Answering curses from Bob; he will "mash" his wife, if
she does not hold her tongue. A song in chorus from Bob's five
friends. Outraged by this time past all endurance, I spring out of bed
and seize the water-jug. My wife, having the doctor's directions ever
present to her mind, implores me in heart-rending tones to remember
that I am under strict medical orders not to excite myself. I pay no
heed to her remonstrances, and advance to the window with the jug. I
pause before I empty the water on the heads of the assembly beneath; I
pause, and hear--O! most melodious, most welcome of sounds!--the
sudden fall of rain. The merciful sky has anticipated me; the "clerk
of the weather" has been struck by my idea of dispersing the Nag's
Head Night Club, by water. By the time I have put down the jug and
got back to bed, silence--primeval silence, the first, the foremost of
all earthly influences--falls sweetly over our tavern at last.

That night, before sinking wearily to rest, I have once more the
satisfaction of agreeing with my wife. Dear and admirable woman! she
proposes to leave this secluded village the first thing to-morrow
morning. Never did I share her opinion more cordially than I share it
now. Instead of keeping myself composed, I have been living in a
region of perpetual disturbance; and, as for doing nothing, my mind
has been so agitated and perturbed that I have not even had time to
think about it. We will go, love--as you so sensibly suggest--we will
go the first thing in the morning, to any place you like, so long as
it is large enough to swallow up small sounds. Where, over all the
surface of this noisy earth, the blessing of tranquillity may be
found, I know not; but this I do know: a secluded English village is
the very last place towards which any man should think of turning his
steps, if the main object of his walk through life is to discover
quiet.


NOTE THE SECOND. DISCOVERY OF--NOTHING.

The next morning we continue our journey in the direction of the
coast, and arrive at a large watering-place.

Observing that it is, in every respect, as unlike the secluded
village as possible, we resolve to take up our abode in this populous
and perfectly tranquil town. We get a lodging fronting the sea. There
are noises about us--various and loud noises, as I should have
thought, if I had not just come from a village; but everything is
comparative, and, after the past experience I have gone through, I
find our new place of abode quiet enough to suit the moderate
expectations which I have now learnt to form on the subject of getting
peace in this world. Here I can at least think almost uninterruptedly
of the doctor's orders. Here I may surely begin my new life, and enjoy
the luxury of doing Nothing.

I suppose it _is_ a luxury; and yet so perverse is man, I hardly know
whether I am not beginning to find it something more like a hardship
at the very outset. Perhaps my busy and active life has unfitted me
for a due appreciation of the happiness of being idle. Perhaps I am
naturally of a restless, feverish constitution. However that may be,
it is certain that on the first day when I seriously determine to do
nothing, I fail to find in the execution of my resolution such supreme
comfort as I had anticipated. I try hard to fight against the
conviction (which will steal on me, nevertheless) that I have only
changed one kind of hard work for another that is harder. I try to
persuade myself that time does not hang at all heavily on my hands,
and that I am happier with nothing to do than ever I was with a long
day's work before me. Do I succeed or do I fail in this meritorious
attempt? Let me write down the results of my first day's experience of
the Art of doing Nothing, and let the reader settle the question for
me.

       *       *       *       *       *

Breakfast at nine o'clock, so as not to make too long a day of it.
Among the other things on the table are shrimps. I find myself liking
shrimps for an entirely new reason--they take such a long time to eat.
Well, breakfast is over at last: I have had quite enough, and yet I am
gluttonously sorry when the table is cleared. If I were in health I
should now go to my desk, or take up a book. But I am out of health,
and I must do Nothing. Suppose I look out of window? I hope that is
idle enough to begin with.

The sea--yes, yes, the sea! Very large, very grey, very calm; very
calm, very grey, very large. Anything else about the sea? Nothing else
about the sea.

Yes--ships. One big ship in front, two little ships behind. (What time
shall we have dinner, my dear? At five? Certainly at five!) One big
ship in front, two little ships behind. Nothing more to see? Nothing.

Let me look back into the room, and study the subjects of these
prints on the walls. First print:--Death of the Earl of Chatham in the
House of Lords, after Copley, R.A. Just so. Curious idea this picture
suggests of the uniformity of personal appearance which must have
distinguished the Peers in the last century. Here is a house full of
noble lords, and each one of them is exactly like the other. Every
noble lord is tall, every noble lord is portly, every noble lord has a
long receding forehead, and a majestic Roman nose. Odd; and leading to
reflections on the physical changes that must have passed over the
peerage of the present day, in which I might respectfully indulge, if
the doctor had not ordered me to abstain from thinking.

Circumstanced as I am, I must mournfully dismiss the death of the Earl
of Chatham, and pass from the work of Copley, R.A., to the other
prints on the walls. Dear, dear me! Now I look again, there is nothing
to pass to. There are only two other prints, and they are both
classical landscapes. Deteriorated as the present condition of my
faculties may be, my mind has not sunk yet to the level of Classical
Landscape. I have still sense enough left to disbelieve in Claude and
Poussin as painters of Italian scenery. Let me turn from the classical
counterfeit to the modern reality. Let me look again at the sea.

Just as large, just as grey, just as calm as ever. Any more ships?
No; still the one big ship in front; still the two little ships
behind. They have not altered their relative positions the least in
the world. How long is it to dinner-time? Six hours and a quarter.
What on earth am I to do? Nothing.

Suppose I go and take a little walk? (No, dear, I will not tire
myself; I will come back quite fresh to take you out in the
afternoon.) Well, which way shall I go, now I am on the door-step?
There are two walks in this place. First walk, along the cliff
westward; second walk, along the cliff eastward. Which direction shall
I take? I am naturally one of the most decided men in the world; but
doing nothing seems to have deprived me already of my usual resolute
strength of will. I will toss up for it. Heads, westward; tails,
eastward. Heads! Ought this to be considered conclusive? or shall I
begin again, and try the best of three? I will try the best of three,
because it takes up more time. Heads, tails, heads! Westward still.
Surely this is destiny. Or can it be that doing nothing has made me
superstitious as well as irresolute? Never mind; I will go westward,
and see what happens.

I saunter along the path by the iron railings; then down a little dip,
at the bottom of which there is a seat overlooking a ship-builder's
yard. Close under me is a small coasting-vessel on the slips for
repair. Nobody on board, but one old man at work. At work, did I say?
Oh, happy chance! This aged repairer of ships is the very man, of all
others, whom I had most need of meeting, the very man to help me in my
present emergency. Before I have looked at him two minutes, I feel
that I am in the presence of a great professor of the art of doing
nothing. Towards this sage, to listen to his precepts and profit by
his example, did destiny gently urge me, when I tossed up to decide
between eastward and westward. Let me watch his proceedings; let me
learn how to idle systematically by observing the actions of this
venerable man.

He is sitting on the left side of the vessel when I first look at him.
In one hand he holds a crooked nail; in the other, a hammer. He coughs
slowly, and looks out to sea; he sighs slowly, and looks back towards
the land; he rises slowly, and surveys the deck of the vessel; he
stoops slowly, and picks up a flat bit of iron, and puts it on the
bulwark, and places the crooked nail upon it, and then sits down and
looks at the effect of the arrangement so far. When he has had enough
of the arrangement, he gives the sea a turn again, then the land.
After that, he steps back a little and looks at the hammer, weighs it
gently in his hand, moistens his hand, advances to the crooked nail on
the bit of iron, groans softly to himself and shakes his head as he
looks at it, administers three deliberate taps with the hammer, to
straighten it, finds that he does not succeed to his mind; again
groans softly, again shakes his head, again sits down and rests
himself on the left side of the vessel. Since I first looked at him I
have timed him by my watch: he has killed a quarter of an hour over
that one crooked nail, and he has not straightened it yet! Wonderful
man, can I ever hope to rival him? Will he condescend to talk to me?
Stay! I am not free to try him; the doctor has told me not to excite
myself with society; all communion of mind between me and this
finished and perfect idler is, I fear, prohibited. Better to walk on,
and come back, and look at him again.

I walk on and sit down; walk on a little farther and sit down again;
walk on for the third time, sit down for the third time, and still
there is always the cliff on one side of me, and the one big ship and
the two little ships on the other. I retrace my steps, occupying as
much time as I possibly can in getting back to the seat above the
coasting-vessel. Where is my old friend, my esteemed professor, my
bright and shining example in the difficult art of doing nothing?
Sitting on the right side of the vessel this time, with the bit of
flat iron on the right side also, with the hammer still in his hand,
and, as I live, with the crooked nail not straightened yet! I observe
this, and turn away quickly with despair in my heart. How can I, a
tyro Do-Nothing, expect to imitate that consummate old man? It is vain
to hope for success here--vain to hope for anything but dinner-time.
How many hours more? Four. If I return home now, how shall I go on
doing nothing? Lunch, perhaps, will help me a little. Quite so! Let us
say a glass of old ale and a biscuit. I should like to add shrimps--if
I were not afraid of my wife's disapprobation--merely for the purpose
of trying if I could not treat them, as my old friend of the
coasting-vessel treated the crooked nail.

Three hours and a half to dinner-time. I have had my biscuit and my
glass of old ale. Not being accustomed to malt liquor in the middle of
the day, my lunch has fuddled me. There is a faint singing in my ears,
an intense sleepiness in my eyelids, a genial warmth about my stomach,
and a sensation in my head as if the brains had oozed out of me and
the cavity of my skull was stuffed with cotton-wool steeped in
laudanum. Not an unpleasant feeling altogether. I am not anxious; I
think of nothing. I have a stolid power of staring immovably out of
window at the one big ship and the two little ships, which I had not
hitherto given myself credit for possessing. If my wife would only
push an easy-chair up close behind me, I could sink back in it and go
to sleep; but she will do nothing of the sort. She is putting on her
bonnet: it is the hour of the afternoon at which we are to take each
other out fondly, for our little walk.

The company at the watering-place is taking its little walk also at
this time. But for the genial influence of the strong ale, I should
now be making my observations and flying in the face of the doctor's
orders by allowing my mind to be occupied. As it is, I march along
slowly, lost in a solemn trance of beer.

One circumstance only, during our walk, is prominent enough to attract
my sleepy attention. I just contrive to observe, with as much surprise
and regret as I am capable of feeling at the present moment, that my
wife apparently hates all the women we meet, and that all the women we
meet, seem, judging by their looks, to return the compliment by hating
my wife. We pass an infinite number of girls, all more or less plump,
all more or less healthy, all more or less overshadowed by eccentric
sea-side hats; and my wife will not allow that any one of these young
creatures is even tolerably pretty. The young creatures on their side,
look so disparagingly at my wife's bonnet and gown, that I should feel
uneasy about the propriety of her costume, if I were not under the
comforting influence of the strong ale. What is the meaning of this
unpleasant want of harmony among the members of the fair sex? Does one
woman hate another woman for being a woman--is that it? How shocking
if it is! I have no inclination to disparage other men whom I meet on
my walk. Other men cast no disdainful looks on me. We lords of the
creation are quite content to be handsome and attractive in our
various ways, without snappishly contesting the palm of beauty with
one another. Why cannot the women follow our meritorious example? Will
any one solve this curious problem in social morals? Doctor's orders
forbid me from attempting the intellectual feat. The dire necessity of
doing nothing narrows me to one subject of mental contemplation--the
dinner-hour. How long is it--now we have returned from our walk--to
that time? Two hours and a quarter. I can't look out of window again,
for I know by instinct that the three ships and the calm grey sea are
still lying in wait for me. I can't heave a patriot's sigh once more
over the "Death of the Earl of Chatham." I am too tired to go out and
see how the old man of the coasting-vessel is getting on with the
crooked nail. In short, I am driven to my last refuge. I must take a
nap.

The nap lasts more than an hour. Its results may be all summed up in
one significant and dreadful word--Fidgets. I start from the sofa
convulsively, and sit down bolt upright in a chair. My wife is
opposite to me, calmly engaged over her work. It is an hour and five
minutes to dinner-time. What am I to do? Shall I soothe the fidgets
and soften my rugged nature by looking at my wife, to see how she
gets on with her work?

She has got a strip of calico, or something of that sort, punched all
over with little holes, and she is sewing round each little hole with
her needle and thread. Monotonous, to a masculine mind. Surely the
punching of the holes must be the pleasantest part of this sort of
work? And that is done at the shop, is it, dear? How curious!

Does my wife lace too tight? I have never had leisure before to look
at her so long and so attentively as I am looking now; I have been
uncritically contented hitherto, to take her waist for granted. Now I
have my doubts about it. I think the wife of my bosom is a little too
much like an hour-glass. Does she digest? Good Heavens! In the
existing state of her stays, how do I know whether she digests?

Then, as to her hair: I do not object to the dressing of it, but I
think--strangely enough, for the first time since our marriage--that
she uses too much bear's grease and bandoline. I see a thin rim of
bandoline, shining just outside the line of hair against her temples,
like varnish on a picture. This won't do--oh, dear, no--this won't do
at all. Will her hands do? Certainly not! I discover, for the first
time, that her hands won't do, either. I am mercifully ready to put up
with their not being quite white enough, but what does the woman mean
by having such round tips to her fingers? Why don't they taper? I
always thought they did taper until this moment. I begin to be
dissatisfied with her; I begin to think my wife is not the charming
woman I took her for. What is the matter with me? Am I looking at her
with perceptions made morbid already by excessive idleness? Is this
dreadful necessity of doing nothing, to end by sapping the foundations
of my matrimonial tranquillity, and letting down my whole connubial
edifice into the bottomless abyss of Doctors' Commons? Horrible!

The door of the room opens, and wakes me, as it were, from the hideous
dream in which my wife's individuality has been entirely altered to my
eyes. It is only half an hour to dinner; and the servant has come in
to lay the cloth. In the presence of the great event of the day I feel
myself again. Once more I believe in the natural slimness of my wife's
waist; once more I am contented with the tops of her fingers. Now at
last, I see my way to bed-time. Assuming that we can make the dinner
last two hours; assuming that I can get another nap after it;
assuming----

       *       *       *       *       *

No! I can assume nothing more, for I am really ashamed to complete the
degrading picture of myself which my pen has been painting up to this
time. Enough has been written--more than enough, I fear--to show how
completely I have failed in my first day's attempt at doing Nothing.
The hardest labour I ever had to get through, was not so difficult to
contend with as this enforced idleness. Never again will I murmur
under the wholesome necessities of work. Never again--if I can only
succeed in getting well--will a day of doing nothing be counted as
pleasant holiday-time by me. I have stolen away at the dead of the
night, in flat defiance of the doctor's directions, to relieve my
unspeakable weariness by writing these lines. I cast them on the world
as the brief personal narrative of a most unfortunate man. If I
systematically disregard medical advice, I shall make myself ill. If I
conscientiously obey it, how am I to get through to-morrow? I mustn't
work, and I can't idle. Will anybody kindly tell me what I am to do?



NOOKS AND CORNERS OF HISTORY.

I.

A QUEEN'S REVENGE.


The name of Gustavus Adolphus, the faithful Protestant, the great
general, and the good king of Sweden, has been long since rendered
familiar to English readers of history. We all know how this renowned
warrior and monarch was beloved by his soldiers and subjects, how
successfully he fought through a long and terrible war, and how nobly
he died on the field of battle. With his death, however, the interest
of the English reader in Swedish affairs seems to terminate. Those who
have followed the narrative of his life carefully to the end, may
remember that he left behind him an only child--a daughter named
Christina. But of the character of this child, and of her
extraordinary adventures after she grew to womanhood, the public in
England is, for the most part, entirely ignorant. In the popular
historical and romantic literature of France, Queen Christina is a
notorious character. In the literature of this country, she has,
hitherto, been allowed but little chance of making her way to the
notice of the world at large.

And yet, the life of Christina is in itself a romance. At six years
old she was Queen of Sweden, with the famous Oxenstiern for guardian.
This great and good man governed the kingdom in her name until she had
lived through her minority. Four years after her coronation she, of
her own accord, abdicated her rights in favour of her cousin, Charles
Gustavus. Young and beautiful, the most learned and most accomplished
woman of her time, she resolutely turned her back on the throne of her
inheritance, and set forth to wander through civilised Europe in the
character of an independent traveller who was resolved to see all
varieties of men and manners, to collect all the knowledge which the
widest experience could give her, and to measure her mind boldly
against the greatest minds of the age.

So far, the interest excited by her character and her adventures is of
the most picturesquely-attractive kind. There is something strikingly
new in the spectacle of a young queen who prefers the pursuit of
knowledge to the possession of a throne, and who barters a royal
birthright for the privilege of being free. Unhappily, the portrait of
Christina cannot be painted throughout in bright colours only. It
must be recorded to her disgrace that, when her travels brought her to
Rome, she abandoned the religion for which her father fought and died.
And it must be admitted in the interests of truth, that she freed
herself from other restraints besides the restraint of royalty.
Mentally distinguished by her capacities, she was morally degraded by
her vices and her crimes.

The events in the strange life of Christina--especially those
connected with her actions in the character of a Queen-Errant--present
ample materials for a biography, which might be regarded in England as
a new contribution to our historical literature. One among the many
extraordinary adventures which marked the Queen's wandering career,
may be related in these pages as an episode in the history of her life
which is complete in itself. The events of which the narrative is
composed, throw light, in many ways, on the manners, habits, and
opinions of a past age; and they can, moreover, be presented in the
remarkable words of an eye-witness who beheld them two centuries ago.

       *       *       *       *       *

The scene is the Palace of Fontainebleau, the time is the close of the
year sixteen hundred and fifty-seven, the persons are the wandering
Queen Christina; her grand equerry, the Marquis Monaldeschi; and
Father Le Bel of the Convent of Fontainebleau, the witness whose
testimony we are shortly about to cite.

Monaldeschi, as his name implies, was an Italian by birth. He was a
handsome, accomplished man, refined in his manners, supple in his
disposition, and possessed of the art of making himself eminently
agreeable in the society of women. With these personal recommendations,
he soon won his way to the favour of Queen Christina. Out of the long
list of her lovers, not one of the many whom she encouraged caught so
long and firm a hold of her capricious fancy as Monaldeschi. The
intimacy between them probably took its rise, on her side at least, in
as deep a sincerity of affection as it was in Christina's nature to
feel. On the side of the Italian, the connection was prompted solely
by ambition. As soon as he had reaped all the advantages of the
position of chief favourite in the queen's court, he wearied of his
royal mistress, and addressed his attentions secretly to a young Roman
lady, whose youth and beauty powerfully attracted him, and whose fatal
influence over his actions ultimately led to his ruin and his death.

After endeavouring to ingratiate himself with the Roman lady, in
various ways, Monaldeschi found that the surest means of winning her
favour lay in satisfying her malicious curiosity on the subject of
the secret frailties of Queen Christina. He was not a man to be
troubled by any scrupulous feelings of honour when the interests of
his own intrigues happened to be concerned; and he shamelessly took
advantage of the position that he held towards Christina, to commit
breaches of confidence of the most meanly infamous kind. Not contented
with placing in the possession of the Roman lady the series of the
queen's letters to himself, containing secrets that she had revealed
to him in the fullest confidence of his worthiness to be trusted, he
wrote letters of his own to the new object of his addresses, in which
he ridiculed Christina's fondness for him, and sarcastically described
her smallest personal defects with a heartless effrontery which the
most patient of women would have found it impossible to forgive. While
he was thus privately betraying the confidence that had been reposed
in him, he was publicly affecting the most unalterable attachment and
the most sincere respect for the queen.

For some time this disgraceful deception proceeded successfully. But
the hour of discovery was at hand, and the instrument of effecting it
was a certain cardinal who was desirous of supplanting Monaldeschi in
the queen's favour. The priest contrived to get possession of the
whole correspondence which had been privately confided to the Roman
lady, including, besides Christina's letters, the letters which
Monaldeschi had written in ridicule of his royal mistress. The whole
collection of documents was enclosed by the cardinal in one packet,
and was presented by him, at a private audience, to the queen.

It is at this critical point of the story that the testimony of the
eye-witness whom we propose to quote, begins. Father Le Bel was
present at the terrible execution of the queen's vengeance on
Monaldeschi, and was furnished with copies of the whole correspondence
which had been abstracted from the possession of the Roman lady.
Having been trusted with the secret, he is wisely and honourably
silent throughout his narrative on the subject of Monaldeschi's
offence. Such particulars of the Italian's baseness and ingratitude as
have been presented here, have been gathered from the contradictory
reports which were current at the time, and which have been preserved
by the old French collectors of historical anecdotes. The details of
the extraordinary punishment of Monaldeschi's offence which are now to
follow, may be given in the words of Father Le Bel himself. The reader
will understand that his narrative begins immediately after
Christina's discovery of the perfidy of her favourite.

       *       *       *       *       *

The sixth of November, sixteen hundred and fifty-seven (writes Father
Le Bel), at a quarter past nine in the morning, Queen Christina of
Sweden, being at that time lodged in the Royal Palace of
Fontainebleau, sent one of her men servants to my convent, to obtain
an interview with me. The messenger, on being admitted to my presence,
inquired if I was the superior of the convent, and when I replied in
the affirmative, informed me that I was expected to present myself
immediately before the Queen of Sweden.

Fearful of keeping her Majesty waiting, I followed the man at once to
the palace, without waiting to take any of my brethren from the
convent with me.

After a little delay in the antechamber, I was shown into the Queen's
room. She was alone; and I saw, by the expression of her face, as I
respectfully begged to be favoured with her commands, that something
was wrong. She hesitated for a moment; then told me, rather sharply,
to follow her to a place where she might speak with the certainty of
not being overheard. She led me into the Galerie des Cerfs, and,
turning round on me suddenly, asked if we had ever met before. I
informed her Majesty that I had once had the honour of presenting my
respects to her; that she had received me graciously, and that there
the interview had ended. She nodded her head and looked about her a
little; then said, very abruptly, that I wore a dress (referring to
my convent costume) which encouraged her to put perfect faith in my
honour; and she desired me to promise beforehand that I would keep the
secret with which she was about to entrust me as strictly as if I had
heard it in the confessional. I answered respectfully that it was part
of my sacred profession to be trusted with secrets; that I had never
betrayed the private affairs of any one; and that I could answer for
myself as worthy to be honoured by the confidence of a queen.

Upon this, her Majesty handed me a packet of papers sealed in three
places, but having no superscription of any sort. She ordered me to
keep it under lock and key, and to be prepared to give it her back
again before any person in whose presence she might see fit to ask me
for it. She further charged me to remember the day, the hour, and the
place in which she had given me the packet; and with that last piece
of advice she dismissed me. I left her alone in the gallery, walking
slowly away from me, with her head drooping on her bosom, and her
mind, as well as I could presume to judge, perturbed by anxious
thoughts.[1]

On Saturday, the tenth of November, at one o'clock in the afternoon, I
was sent for to the Palace again. I took the packet out of my private
cabinet, feeling that I might be asked for it; and then followed the
messenger as before. This time he led me at once to the Galerie des
Cerfs. The moment I entered it, he shut the door behind me with such
extraordinary haste and violence, that I felt a little startled. As
soon as I recovered myself, I saw her Majesty standing in the middle
of the gallery, talking to one of the gentlemen of her Court, who was
generally known by the name of The Marquis, and whom I soon
ascertained to be the Marquis Monaldeschi, Grand Equerry of the Queen
of Sweden. I approached her Majesty and made my bow--then stood before
her, waiting until she should think proper to address me.

With a stern look on her face, and with a loud, clear, steady voice,
she asked me, before the Marquis and before three other men who were
also in the gallery, for the packet which she had confided to my care.

As she made that demand, two of the three men moved back a few paces,
while the third, the captain of her guard, advanced rather nearer to
her. I handed her back the packet. She looked at it thoughtfully for a
little while; then opened it, and took out the letters and written
papers which it contained, handed them to the Marquis Monaldeschi, and
insisted on his reading them. When he had obeyed, she asked him, with
the same stern look and the same steady voice, whether he had any
knowledge of the documents which he had just been reading. The Marquis
turned deadly pale, and answered that he had now read the papers
referred to for the first time.

"Do you deny all knowledge of them?" said the Queen. "Answer me
plainly, sir. Yes or no?"

The Marquis turned paler still. "I deny all knowledge of them," he
said, in faint tones, with his eyes on the ground.

"Do you deny all knowledge of these too?" said the Queen, suddenly
producing a second packet of manuscript from under her dress, and
thrusting it in the Marquis's face.

He started, drew back a little, and answered not a word. The packet
which the Queen had given to me contained copies only. The original
papers were those which she had just thrust in the Marquis's face.

"Do you deny your own seal and your own handwriting?" she asked.

He murmured a few words, acknowledging both the seal and the
handwriting to be his own, and added some phrases of excuse, in which
he endeavoured to cast the blame that attached to the writing of the
letters on the shoulders of other persons. While he was speaking, the
three men in attendance on the Queen silently closed round him.

Her Majesty heard him to the end. "You are a traitor," she said, and
turned her back on him.

The three men, as she spoke those words, drew their swords.

The Marquis heard the clash of the blades against the scabbards, and,
looking quickly round, saw the drawn swords behind him. He caught the
Queen by the arm immediately, and drew her away with him, first into
one corner of the gallery, then into another, entreating her in the
most moving terms to listen to him, and to believe in the sincerity of
his repentance. The Queen let him go on talking without showing the
least sign of anger or impatience. Her colour never changed; the stern
look never left her countenance. There was something awful in the
clear, cold, deadly resolution which her eyes expressed while they
rested on the Marquis's face.

At last she shook herself free from his grasp, still without betraying
the slightest irritation. The three men with the drawn swords, who had
followed the Marquis silently as he led the Queen from corner to
corner of the gallery, now closed round him again, as soon as he was
left standing alone. There was perfect silence for a minute or more.
Then the Queen addressed herself to me.

"Father Le Bel," she said, "I charge you to bear witness that I treat
this man with the strictest impartiality." She pointed, while she
spoke, to the Marquis Monaldeschi with a little ebony riding-whip
that she carried in her hand. "I offer that worthless traitor all the
time he requires--more time than he has any right to ask for--to
justify himself if he can."

The Marquis hearing these words, took some letters from a place of
concealment in his dress, and gave them to the Queen, along with a
small bunch of keys. He snatched these last from his pocket so
quickly, that he drew out with them a few small silver coins which
fell to the floor. As he addressed himself to the Queen again, she
made a sign with her ebony riding-whip to the men with the drawn
swords; and they retired towards one of the windows of the gallery. I,
on my side, withdrew out of hearing. The conference which ensued
between the Queen and the Marquis lasted nearly an hour. When it was
over, her Majesty beckoned the men back again with the whip, and then
approached the place where I was standing.

"Father Le Bel," she said, in her clear, ringing, resolute tones,
"there is no need for me to remain here any longer. I leave that man,"
she pointed to the Marquis again, "to your care. Do all that you can
for the good of his soul. He has failed to justify himself, and I doom
him to die."

If I had heard sentence pronounced against myself, I could hardly have
been more terrified than I was when the Queen uttered those last
words. The Marquis heard them where he was standing, and flung himself
at her feet. I dropped on my knees by his side, and entreated her to
pardon him, or at least to visit his offence with some milder
punishment than the punishment of death.

"I have said the words," she answered, addressing herself only to me;
"and no power under Heaven shall make me unsay them. Many a man has
been broken alive on the wheel for offences which were innocence
itself, compared with the offence which this perjured traitor has
committed against me. I have trusted him as I might have trusted a
brother; he has infamously betrayed that trust; and I exercise my
royal rights over the life of a traitor. Say no more to me. I tell you
again, he is doomed to die."

With those words the Queen quitted the gallery, and left me alone with
Monaldeschi and the three executioners who were waiting to kill him.

The unhappy man dropped on his knees at my feet, imploring me to
follow the Queen, and make one more effort to obtain his pardon.
Before I could answer a word, the three men surrounded him, held the
points of their swords to his sides--without, however, actually
touching him--and angrily recommended him to make his confession to
me, without wasting any more time. I entreated them, with the tears
in my eyes, to wait as long as they could, so as to give the Queen
time to reflect, and, perhaps, to falter in her deadly intentions
towards the Marquis. I succeeded in producing such an impression on
the chief of the three men, that he left us, to obtain an interview
with the Queen, and to ascertain if there was any change in her
purpose. After a very short absence he came back, shaking his head.

"There is no hope for you," he said, addressing Monaldeschi. "Make
your peace with Heaven. Prepare yourself to die!"

"Go to the Queen!" cried the Marquis, kneeling before me with clasped
hands. "Go to the Queen yourself; make one more effort to save me! O,
Father Le Bel, run one more risk--venture one last entreaty--before
you leave me to die!"

"Will you wait till I come back?" I said to the three men.

"We will wait," they answered, and lowered their sword-points to the
ground.

I found the Queen alone in her room, without the slightest appearance
of agitation in her face or her manner. Nothing that I could say had
the slightest effect on her. I adjured her by all that religion holds
most sacred, to remember that the noblest privilege of any sovereign
is the privilege of granting mercy; that the first of Christian duties
is the duty of forgiving. She heard me unmoved. Seeing that
entreaties were thrown away, I ventured, at my own proper hazard, on
reminding her that she was not living now in her own kingdom of
Sweden, but that she was the guest of the King of France, and lodged
in one of his own palaces; and I boldly asked her if she had
calculated the possible consequences of authorising the killing of one
of her attendants inside the walls of Fontainebleau, without any
preliminary form of trial, or any official notification of the offence
that he had committed. She answered me coldly, that it was enough that
she knew the unpardonable nature of the offence of which Monaldeschi
had been guilty; that she stood in a perfectly independent position
towards the King of France; that she was absolute mistress of her own
actions, at all times and in all places; and that she was accountable
to nobody under Heaven for her conduct towards her subjects and
servants, over whose lives and liberties she possessed sovereign
rights, which no consideration whatever should induce her to resign.

Fearful as I was of irritating her, I still ventured on reiterating my
remonstrances. She cut them short by hastily signing to me to leave
her.

As she dismissed me, I thought I saw a slight change pass over her
face; and it occurred to me that she might not have been indisposed at
that moment to grant some respite, if she could have done so without
appearing to falter in her resolution, and without running the risk
of letting Monaldeschi escape her. Before I passed the door, I
attempted to take advantage of the disposition to relent which I
fancied I had perceived in her; but she angrily reiterated the gesture
of dismissal before I had spoken half-a-dozen words. With a heavy
heart, I yielded to necessity, and left her.

On returning to the gallery, I found the three men standing round the
Marquis, with their sword-points on the floor, exactly as I had left
them.

"Is he to live or to die?" they asked when I came in.

There was no need for me to reply in words; my face answered the
question. The Marquis groaned heavily, but said nothing. I sat myself
down on a stool, and beckoned to him to come to me, and begged him, as
well as my terror and wretchedness would let me, to think of
repentance, and to prepare for another world. He began his confession
kneeling at my feet, with his head on my knees. After continuing it
for some time, he suddenly started to his feet with a scream of
terror. I contrived to quiet him, and to fix his thoughts again on
heavenly things. He completed his confession, speaking sometimes in
Latin, sometimes in French, sometimes in Italian, according as he
could best explain himself in the agitation which now possessed him.

Just as he had concluded, the Queen's chaplain entered the gallery.
Without waiting to receive absolution, the unhappy Marquis rushed away
from me to the chaplain, and, still clinging desperately to the hope
of life, besought him to intercede with the Queen. The two talked
together in low tones, holding each other by the hand. When their
conference was over, the chaplain left the gallery again, taking with
him the chief of the three executioners who were appointed to carry
out the Queen's deadly purpose. After a short absence, this man
returned without the chaplain. "Get your absolution," he said briefly
to the Marquis, "and make up your mind to die."

Saying these words, he seized Monaldeschi; pressed him back against
the wall at the end of the gallery, just under the picture of Saint
Germain; and, before I could interfere, or even turn aside from the
sight, struck at the Marquis's right side with his sword. Monaldeschi
caught the blade with his hand, cutting three of his fingers in the
act. At the same moment the point touched his side and glanced off.
Upon this, the man who had struck at him exclaimed, "He has armour
under his clothes," and, at the same moment, stabbed Monaldeschi in
the face. As he received the wound, he turned round towards me, and
cried out loudly, "Father Le Bel! Father Le Bel!"

I advanced towards him immediately. As I did so, the man who had
wounded him retired a little, and signed to his two companions to
withdraw also. The Marquis, with one knee on the ground, asked pardon
of God, and said certain last words in my ear. I immediately gave him
absolution, telling him that he must atone for his sins by suffering
death, and that he must pardon those who were about to kill him.
Having heard my words, he flung himself forward on the floor. While he
was falling, one of the three executioners who had not assailed him as
yet, struck at his head, and wounded him on the surface of the skull.

The Marquis sank on his face; then raised himself a little, and signed
to the men to kill him outright, by striking him on the neck. The same
man who had last wounded him, obeyed by cutting two or three times at
his neck, without, however, doing him any great injury. For it was
indeed true that he wore armour under his clothes, which armour
consisted of a shirt of mail weighing nine or ten pounds, and rising
so high round his neck, inside his collar, as to defend it
successfully from any chance blow with a sword.

Seeing this, I came forward to exhort the Marquis to bear his
sufferings with patience, for the remission of his sins. While I was
speaking, the chief of the three executioners advanced, and asked me
if I did not think it was time to give Monaldeschi the finishing
stroke. I pushed the man violently away from me, saying that I had no
advice to offer on the matter, and telling him that if I had any
orders to give, they would be for the sparing of the Marquis's life,
and not for the hastening of his death. Hearing me speak in those
terms, the man asked my pardon, and confessed that he had done wrong
in addressing me on the subject at all.

He had hardly finished making his excuses to me, when the door of the
gallery opened. The unhappy Marquis hearing the sound, raised himself
from the floor, and, seeing that the person who entered was the
Queen's chaplain, dragged himself along the gallery, holding on by the
tapestry that hung from the walls, until he reached the feet of the
holy man. There, he whispered a few words (as if he was confessing) to
the chaplain, who, after first asking my permission, gave him
absolution, and then returned to the Queen.

As the chaplain closed the door, the man who had struck the Marquis on
the neck, stabbed him adroitly with a long narrow sword in the throat,
just above the edge of the shirt of mail. Monaldeschi sank on his
right side, and spoke no more. For a quarter of an hour longer he
still breathed, during which time I prayed by him, and exhorted him as
I best could. When the bleeding from this last wound ceased, his life
ceased with it. It was then a quarter to four o'clock. The death agony
of the miserable man had lasted, from the time of the Queen's first
pronouncing sentence on him, for nearly three hours.

I said the De Profundis over his body. While I was praying, the three
executioners sheathed their swords, and the chief of them rifled the
Marquis's pockets. Finding nothing on him but a prayer-book and a
small knife, the chief beckoned to his companions, and they all three
marched to the door in silence, went out, and left me alone with the
corpse.

A few minutes afterwards I followed them, to go and report what had
happened to the Queen.

I thought her colour changed a little when I told her that Monaldeschi
was dead; but those cold clear eyes of hers never softened, and her
voice was still as steady and firm as when I first heard its tones on
entering the gallery that day. She spoke very little, only saying to
herself, "He is dead, and he deserved to die!" Then, turning to me,
she added, "Father, I leave the care of burying him to you; and, for
my own part, I will charge myself with the expense of having masses
enough said for the repose of his soul." I ordered the body to be
placed in a coffin, which I instructed the bearers to remove to the
churchyard on a tumbril, in consequence of the great weight of the
corpse, of the misty rain that was falling, and of the bad state of
the roads. On Monday, the twelfth of November, at a quarter to six in
the evening, the Marquis was buried in the parish church of Avon,
near the font of holy water. The next day the Queen sent one hundred
livres, by two of her servants, for masses for the repose of his soul.

       *       *       *       *       *

Thus ends the extraordinary narrative of Father Le Bel. It is
satisfactory to record, as some evidence of the progress of humanity,
that this barbarous murder, which would have passed unnoticed in the
feudal times, as an ordinary and legitimate exercise of a sovereign's
authority over a vassal, excited, in the middle of the seventeenth
century, the utmost disgust and horror throughout Paris. The prime
minister at that period, Cardinal Mazarin (by no means an
over-scrupulous man, as all readers of French history know), wrote
officially to Christina, informing her that "a crime so atrocious as
that which had just been committed under her sanction, in the Palace
of Fontainebleau, must be considered as a sufficient cause for
banishing the Queen of Sweden from the court and dominions of his
sovereign, who, in common with every honest man in the kingdom, felt
horrified at the lawless outrage which had just been committed on the
soil of France."

To this letter Queen Christina sent the following answer, which, as a
specimen of spiteful effrontery, has probably never been matched:

"MONSIEUR MAZARIN,--Those who have communicated to you the details of
the death of my equerry, Monaldeschi, knew nothing at all about it. I
think it highly absurd that you should have compromised so many people
for the sake of informing yourself about one simple fact. Such a
proceeding on your part, ridiculous as it is, does not, however, much
astonish me. What I am amazed at, is, that you and the king your
master should have dared to express disapproval of what I have done.

"Understand, all of you--servants and masters, little people and
great--that it was my sovereign pleasure to act as I did. I neither
owe, nor render, an account of my actions to any one,--least of all,
to a bully like you.

       *       *       *       *       *

"It may be well for you to know, and to report to any one whom you can
get to listen to you, that Christina cares little for your court, and
less still for you. When I want to revenge myself, I have no need of
your formidable power to help me. My honour obliged me to act as I
did; my will is my law, and you ought to know how to respect it....
Understand, if you please, that wherever I choose to live, there I am
Queen; and that the men about me, rascals as they may be, are better
than you and the ragamuffins whom you keep in your service.

       *       *       *       *       *

"Take my advice, Mazarin, and behave yourself for the future so as to
merit my favour; you cannot, for your own sake, be too anxious to
deserve it Heaven preserve you from venturing on any more disparaging
remarks about my conduct! I shall hear of them, if I am at the other
end of the world, for I have friends and followers in my service who
are as unscrupulous and as vigilant as any in yours, though it is
probable enough that they are not quite so heavily bribed."

After replying to the prime minister of France in those terms,
Christina was wise enough to leave the kingdom immediately.

For three years more, she pursued her travels. At the expiration of
that time, her cousin, the king of Sweden, in whose favour she had
abdicated, died. She returned at once to her own country, with the
object of possessing herself once more of the royal power. Here, the
punishment of the merciless crime that she had sanctioned overtook her
at last. The brave and honest people of Sweden refused to be governed
by the woman who had ordered the murder of Monaldeschi, and who had
forsaken the national religion for which her father died. Threatened
with the loss of her revenues as well as the loss of her sovereignty,
if she remained in Sweden, the proud and merciless Christina yielded
for the first time in her life. She resigned once more all right and
title to the royal dignity, and left her native country for the last
time. The final place of her retirement was Rome. She died there in
the year sixteen hundred and eighty-nine. Even in the epitaph which
she ordered to be placed on her tomb, the strange and daring character
of the woman breaks out. The whole record of that wild and wicked
existence, was summed up with stern brevity in this one line:

     CHRISTINA LIVED SEVENTY-TWO YEARS.

FOOTNOTE:

[1] Although Father Le Bel discreetly abstains from mentioning the
fact, it seems clear from the context that he was permitted to read,
and that he did read, the papers contained in the packet.



SOCIAL GRIEVANCES.--II.

A PETITION TO THE NOVEL-WRITERS.

[Communicated by a Romantic Old Gentleman.]


I hope nobody will be alarmed if I confess that I am about to disclose
the existence of a Disreputable Society, in one of the most
respectable counties in England. I dare not be more particular as to
the locality, and I cannot possibly mention the members by name. But I
have no objection to admit that I am perpetual Secretary, that my wife
is President, that my daughters are Council, and that my nieces form
the Society. Our object is to waste our time, misemploy our
intellects, and ruin our morals--or, in other words, to enjoy the
prohibited luxury of novel-reading.

It is a settled opinion of mine that the dull people in this country,
are the people who, privately as well as publicly, govern the nation.
By dull people, I mean people of all degrees of rank and education,
who never want to be amused. I don't know how long it is since these
dreary members of the population first hit on the cunning idea of
calling themselves Respectable; but I do know that, ever since that
time, this great nation has been afraid of them--afraid in religious,
in political, and in social matters. If my present business were with
the general question, I think I could prove this assertion by simple
reference to those records of our national proceedings which appear in
the daily newspapers. But my object in writing is of the particular
kind. I have a special petition to address to the writers of novels,
on the part of the Disreputable Society to which I belong; and if I am
to give any example here of the supremacy of the dull people, it must
be drawn from one or two plain evidences of their success in opposing
the claims of our fictitious literature to popular recognition.

The dull people decided years and years ago, as every one knows, that
novel-writing was the lowest species of literary exertion, and that
novel-reading was a dangerous luxury and an utter waste of time. They
gave, and still give, reasons for this opinion, which are very
satisfactory to persons born without Fancy or Imagination, and which
are utterly inconclusive to everyone else. But, with reason or without
it, the dull people have succeeded in affixing to our novels the
stigma of being a species of contraband goods. Look, for example, at
the Prospectus of any librarian. The principal part of his trade of
book-lending consists in the distributing of novels; and he is
uniformly ashamed to own that simple fact. Sometimes, he is afraid to
print the word Novel at all in his lists, and smuggles in his
contraband fiction under the head of Miscellaneous Literature.
Sometimes, after freely offering all histories, all biographies, all
voyages, all travels, he owns self-reproachfully to the fact of having
novels too, but deprecatingly adds--Only the best! As if no other
branch of the great tree of literature ever produced tasteless and
worthless fruit! In all cases, he puts novels last on his public list
of the books he distributes, though they stand first on his private
list of the books he gains by. Why is he guilty of all these sins
against candour? Because he is afraid of the dull people.

Look again--and this brings me to the subject of these lines--at our
Book Clubs. How paramount are the dull people there! How they hug to
their rigid bosoms Voyages and Travels! How they turn their intolerant
backs on novels! How resolutely they get together, in a packed body,
on the committee, and impose their joyless laws on the yielding
victims of the club, who secretly want to be amused! Our book club was
an example of the unresisted despotism of their rule. We began with a
law that novels should be occasionally admitted; and the dull people
abrogated it before we had been in existence a twelvemonth. I
smuggled in the last morsel of fiction that our starving stomachs were
allowed to consume, and produced a hurricane of virtuous indignation
at the next meeting of the committee.

All the dull people of both sexes attended that meeting. One dull
gentleman said the author was a pantheist, and quoted some florid
ecstacies on the subject of scenery and flowers in support of the
opinion. Nobody seemed to know exactly what a pantheist was, but
everybody cried "Hear, hear,"--which did just as well for the purpose.
Another dull gentleman said the book was painful because there was a
death-bed scene in it. A third reviled it for morbid revelling in the
subject of crime, because a shot from the pistol of a handsome
highwayman dispatched the villain of the story. But the great effect
of the day was produced by a lady, the mother of a large family which
began with a daughter of eighteen years, and ended with a boy of eight
months. This lady's objection affected the heroine of the novel,--a
respectable married woman, perpetually plunged in virtuous suffering,
but an improper character for young persons to read about, because the
poor thing had two accouchements--only two!--in the course of three
volumes. "How can I suffer my daughters to read such a book as that?"
cried our prolific subscriber indignantly. A tumult of applause
followed. A chorus of speeches succeeded, full of fierce references
to "our national morality," and "the purity of our hearths and homes."
A resolution was passed excluding all novels for the future; and then,
at last, the dull people held their tongues, and sat down with a thump
in their chairs, and glared contentedly on each other in stolid
controversial triumph.

From that time forth (histories and biographies being comparatively
scarce articles), we were fed by the dull people on nothing but
Voyages and Travels. Every man (or woman) who had voyaged and
travelled to no purpose, who had made no striking observations of any
kind, who had nothing whatever to say, and who said it at great length
in large type on thick paper, with accompaniment of frowsy
lithographic illustrations, was introduced weekly to our hearths and
homes as the most valuable guide, philosopher, and friend whom our
rulers could possibly send us. All the subscribers submitted; all
partook the national dread of the dull people, with the exception of
myself and the members of my family enumerated at the beginning of
these pages. We resolutely abandoned the club; got a box-full of
novels for ourselves, once a month, from London; lost caste with our
respectable friends in consequence; and became, for the future,
throughout the length and breadth of our neighbourhood, the
Disreputable Society to which I have already alluded. If the dull
people of our district were told to-morrow that my wife, daughters,
and nieces had all eloped in different directions, leaving just one
point of the compass open as a runaway outlet for me and the cook, I
feel firmly persuaded that not one of them would be inclined to
discredit the report. "This is what comes of novel-reading!" they
would say--and would return, with renewed zest, to their Voyages and
Travels, their accouchements in real life, their canting "national
morality," and their blustering "purity of our hearths and homes."

And now, to come to the main object of this paper,--the humble
petition of myself and family to certain of our novel-writers. We may
say of ourselves that we deserve to be heard, for we have braved
public opinion for the sake of reading novels; and we have read, for
some years past, all (I hold to the assertion, incredible as it may
appear)--all the stories in one, two, and three volumes, that have
issued from the press. What, then, have we got to petition about? A
very slight matter. Marking, first of all, as exceptions, certain
singular instances of originality, I may mention, as a rule, that our
novel-reading enjoyments have hitherto been always derived from the
same sort of characters and the same sort of stories--varied, indeed,
as to names and minor events, but fundamentally always the same,
through hundreds on hundreds of successive volumes, by hundreds on
hundreds of different authors. We, none of us complain of this, so
far; for we like to have as much as possible of any good thing; but we
beg deferentially to inquire whether it might not be practicable to
give us a little variety for the future. We have no unwholesome
craving after absolute novelty--all that we venture to ask for is, the
ringing of a slight change on some of the favourite old tunes which we
have long since learnt by heart.

To begin with our favourite Hero. He is such an old friend that we
have by this time got to love him dearly. We would not lose sight of
him altogether on any consideration whatever. Far be it from us to
hint at the withdrawal of this noble, loving, injured, fascinating
man! We adore his aquiline nose, his tall form, his wavy hair, his
rich voice. Long may we continue to weep on his deep chest and press
respectfully to our lips the folds of his ample cloak! Personally
speaking it is by no means of him that we are getting tired, but of
certain actions which we think he has now performed often enough.

For instance, may we put it respectfully to the ladies and gentlemen
who are so good as to exhibit him, that he had better not "stride" any
more? He has stridden so much, on so many different occasions, across
so many halls, along so many avenues, in and out at so many
drawing-room doors, that he must be knocked up by this time, and his
dear legs ought really to have a little rest. Again, when his dignity
is injured by irreverent looks or words, can he not be made to assert
it for the future without "drawing himself up to his full height?" He
has really been stretched too much by perpetual indulgence in this
exercise for scores and scores of years. Let him sit down--do please
let him sit down next time! It would be quite new, and so impressive.
Then, again, we have so often discovered him standing with folded
arms, so often beheld him pacing with folded arms, so often heard him
soliloquise with folded arms, so often broken in upon him meditating
with folded arms, that we think he had better do something else with
his arms for the future. Could he swing them for a change? or put them
akimbo? or drop them suddenly on either side of him? Or could he give
them a holiday altogether, and fold his legs by way of variety?
Perhaps not. The word Legs--why, I cannot imagine--seems always
suggestive of jocularity. "Fitzherbert stood up and folded his arms,"
is serious. "Fitzherbert sat down and folded his legs," is comic. Why,
I should like to know?

A word--one respectful word of remonstrance to the lady-novelists
especially. We think they have put our Hero on horseback often enough.
For the first five hundred novels or so, it was grand, it was
thrilling, when he threw himself into the saddle after the inevitable
quarrel with his lady-love, and galloped off madly to his bachelor
home. It was inexpressibly soothing to behold him in the milder
passages of his career, moody in the saddle, with the reins thrown
loosely over the arched neck of his steed, as the gallant animal paced
softly with his noble burden, along a winding road, under a blue sky,
on a balmy afternoon in early spring. All this was delightful reading
for a certain number of years; but everything wears out at last, and
trust me, ladies, your hero's favourite steed, your dear, intelligent,
affectionate, glossy, long-tailed horse, has really done his work, and
may now be turned loose, for some time to come, with great advantage
to yourselves, and your readers.

Having spoken a word to the ladies, I am necessarily and tenderly
reminded of their charming representatives--the Heroines. Let me say
something, first, about our favourite two sisters--the tall dark one,
who is serious and unfortunate: the short light one, who is coquettish
and happy.

Being an Englishman, I have, of course, an ardent attachment to
anything like an established rule, simply because it is established. I
know that it is a rule that, when two sisters are presented in a
novel, one must be tall and dark, and the other short and light. I
know that five-feet-eight of female flesh and blood, when accompanied
by an olive complexion, black eyes, and raven hair, is synonymous with
strong passions and an unfortunate destiny. I know that five feet
nothing, golden ringlets, soft blue eyes, and a lily-brow, cannot
possibly be associated by any well-constituted novelist, with anything
but ringing laughter, arch innocence, and final matrimonial happiness.
I have studied these great first principles of the art of fiction too
long not to reverence them as established laws; but I venture
respectfully to suggest that the time has arrived when it is no longer
necessary to insist on them in novel after novel. I am afraid there is
something naturally revolutionary in the heart of man. Although I know
it to be against all precedent, I want to revolutionise our favourite
two sisters. Would any bold innovator run all risks, and make them
both alike in complexion and in stature? Or would any desperate man (I
dare not suggest such a course to the ladies) effect an entire
alteration, by making the two sisters change characters? I tremble
when I see to what lengths the spirit of innovation is leading me.
Would the public accept the tall dark-haired sister, if she exhibited
a jolly disposition and a tendency to be flippant in her talk? Would
readers be fatally startled out of their sense of propriety, if the
short charmer with the golden hair, appeared before them as a serious,
strong-minded, fierce-spoken, miserable, guilty woman? It might be a
dangerous experiment to make this change; but it would be worth
trying--the rather (if I may be allowed to mention anything so utterly
irrelevant to the subject under discussion as real life) because I
think there is some warrant in nature for attempting the proposed
innovation. Judging by my own small experience, I should say that
strong minds and passionate natures reside principally in the breasts
of little, light women, especially if they have angelic blue eyes and
a quantity of fair ringlets. The most facetiously skittish woman, for
her age, with whom I am acquainted, is my own wife, who is three
inches taller than I am. The heartiest laugher I ever heard is my
second daughter, who is bigger even than my wife, and has the blackest
eyebrows and the swarthiest cheeks in the whole neighbourhood. With
such instances as these, producible from the bosom of my own family,
who can wonder if I want, for once in a way, to overthrow the
established order of things, and have a jovial dark sister and a
dismal light one introduced as startling novelties in some few of the
hundred new volumes which we are likely to receive next season from
the Circulating Library?

But, after all, our long-established two sisters seem to be
exceptional beings, and to possess comparatively small importance, the
moment our minds revert to that vastly superior single personage, THE
HEROINE.

Let me mention, to begin with, that we wish no change to be made in
our respectable, recognised, old-fashioned Heroine, who has lived and
loved and wept for centuries. I have taken her to my bosom thousands
of times already, and ask nothing better than to indulge in that
tender luxury thousands of times again. I love her blushing cheek, her
gracefully-rounded form, her chiselled nose, her slender waist, her
luxuriant tresses which always escape from the fillet that binds them.
Any man or woman who attempts, from a diseased craving after novelty,
to cheat me out of one of her moonlight walks, one of her floods of
tears, one of her kneeling entreaties to obdurate relatives, one of
her rapturous sinkings on her lover's bosom, is a novelist whom I
distrust and dislike. He, or she, may be a very remarkable writer; but
their books will not do for my family and myself. The Heroine, the
whole Heroine, and nothing but the Heroine--that is our cry, if you
drive us into a corner and insist on our stating precisely what we
want, in the plainest terms possible.

Being thus faithfully attached to the established Heroine, it will
not, I trust, appear a very unaccountable proceeding, if we now
protest positively, and even indignantly, against her modern
successor--a bouncing, ill-conditioned, impudent young woman, who has
been introduced among us of late years. I venture to call this
wretched and futile substitute for our dear, tender, gentle, loving
old Heroine, the Man-Hater; because, in every book in which she
appears, it is her mission from first to last to behave as badly as
possible to every man with whom she comes in contact. She enters on
the scene with a preconceived prejudice against my sex, for which I,
as a man, abominate her; for which my wife, my daughters, my nieces,
and all other available women whom I have consulted on the subject,
despise her. When her lover makes her an offer of marriage, she
receives it in the light of a personal insult, goes up to her room
immediately afterwards, and flies into a passion with herself, because
she is really in love with the man all the time--comes down again, and
snubs him before company instead of making a decent apology--pouts and
flouts at him, on all after-occasions, until the end of the book is at
hand--then suddenly turns round and marries him! If we feel inclined
to ask why she could not, under the circumstances, receive his
advances with decent civility at first, we are informed that her
"maidenly consciousness" prevented it. This maidenly consciousness
seems to me very like new English for our old-fashioned phrase, bad
manners. And I am the more confirmed in this idea, because, on all
minor occasions, the Man-Hater is persistently rude and disobliging to
the last. Every individual in the novel who wears trousers and gets
within range of her maidenly consciousness, becomes her natural enemy
from that moment. If he makes a remark on the weather, her lip curls;
if he asks leave to give her a potato at dinner-time (meaning, poor
soul, to pick out for her the mealiest in the dish), her neck curves
in scorn; if he offers a compliment, finding she won't have a potato,
her nostril dilates. Whatever she does, even in her least aggressive
moments, she always gets the better of all the men. They are set up
like nine-pins for the Man-Hater to knock down. They are described, on
their introduction, as clever, resolute fellows; but they lose their
wits and their self-possession the instant they come within hail of
the Man-Hater's terrible tongue. No man kisses her, no man dries her
tears, no man sees her blush (except with rage), all through the three
volumes. And this is the opposition Heroine who is set up as successor
to our soft, feminine, loveable, sensitive darling of former days!

Set up, too, by lady-novelists, who ought surely to be authorities
when female characters are concerned. Is the Man-Hater a true
representative of young women, now-a-days? If so, what is to become of
my son--my unlucky son, aged twelve years?

In a short time, this boy will be marriageable, and he will go into
the world to bill and coo, and offer his hand and heart, as his father
did before him. My unhappy offspring, what a prospect awaits you! One
forbidding phalanx of Man-Haters, bristling with woman's dignity, and
armed to the teeth with maidenly consciousness, occupies the wide
matrimonial field, look where you will! Ill-fated youth, yet a few
years, and the female neck will curve, the female nostril dilate, at
the sight of you. You see that stately form, those rustling skirts,
that ample brow, and fall on your knees before it, and make your
proposal with the impassioned imbecility which your father exhibited
before you. My deluded boy, that is not a woman--it is a Man-Hater--a
whited sepulchre full of violent expostulations and injurious
epithets. She will lead you the life of a costermonger's ass, until
she has exhausted her whole stock of maidenly consciousness; and she
will then say (in effect, if not in words):--"Inferior animal, I loved
you from the first--I have asserted my dignity by making a fool of you
in public and private--now you may marry me!" Marry her not, my son!
Go rather to the slave-market at Constantinople--buy a Circassian
wife, who has heard nothing and read nothing about man-haters--bring
her home (with no better dowry than pots of the famous Cream from her
native land to propitiate your mother and sisters)--and trust to your
father to welcome an Asiatic daughter-in-law, who will not despise him
for the unavoidable misfortune of being a Man!

But I am losing my temper over a hypothetical case. I am forgetting
the special purpose of my petition, which is to beg that the Man-Hater
may be removed altogether from her usurped position of heroine. The
new-fashioned heroine is a libel on her sex. As a husband and a
father, I solemnly deny that she is in any single respect a natural
woman. Am I no judge? I have a wife, and I made her an offer. Did she
receive it as the Man-Haters receive offers? Can I ever forget the
mixture of modest confusion and perfect politeness with which that
admirable woman heard me utter the most absolute nonsense that ever
issued from my lips? Perhaps she is not fit for a heroine. Well, I can
give her up in that capacity without a pang. But my daughters and
nieces have claims, I suppose, to be considered as examples of what
young ladies are in the present day. Ever since I read the first novel
with a Man-Hater in it, I have had my eye on their nostrils, and I can
make affidavit that I have never yet seen them dilate under any
circumstances, or in any society. As for curling their lips and
curving their necks, they have attempted both operations at my express
request, and have found them to be physical impossibilities. In men's
society, their manners (like those of all other girls whom I meet
with) are natural and modest; and--in the cases of certain privileged
men--winning, into the bargain. They open their eyes with astonishment
when they read of the proceedings of our new-fashioned heroines, and
throw the book indignantly across the room, when they find a nice man
submitting to be bullied by a nasty woman, because he has paid her the
compliment of falling in love with her. No, no! we positively decline
to receive any more Man-Haters, and there is an end of it!

With this uncompromising expression of opinion, I think it desirable
to bring the present petition to a close. There are one or two other
good things in fiction, of which we have had enough; but I refrain
from mentioning them, from modest apprehension of asking for too much
at a time. If the slight changes in general, and the sweeping reform
in particular, which I have ventured to suggest, can be accomplished,
we are sure, in the future as in the past, to be grateful,
appreciating, and incessant novel-readers. If we cannot claim any
critical weight in the eyes of our esteemed authors, we can at least
arrogate to ourselves the minor merit, not only of reading novels
perpetually, but (and this is a rarer virtue) of publicly and proudly
avowing the fact. We only pretend to be human beings with a natural
desire for as much amusement as our work-a-day destinies will let us
have. We are just respectable enough to be convinced of the usefulness
of occasionally reading for information; but we are also certain (and
we say it boldly, in the teeth of the dull people), that there are few
higher, better, or more profitable enjoyments in this world than
reading a good novel.



FRAGMENTS OF PERSONAL EXPERIENCE.--I.

Laid up in lodgings.


MY PARIS LODGING.

It has happened rather whimsically, and not very fortunately for me,
that my first experience of living in furnished lodgings abroad, as
well as in England, has occurred at the very time when illness has
rendered me particularly susceptible to the temporary loss of the
comforts of home. I have been ill, alone, in furnished lodgings in
Paris--ill, alone, on the journey back to England--ill, alone, again,
in furnished lodgings in London. I am a single man; but as I have
already intimated, I never knew what it was to enjoy the desolate
liberty of the bachelor until I became an invalid. Some of my
impressions of things and persons about me, formed under these
anomalous circumstances, may, perhaps, prove not altogether unworthy
of being written down, while they are still fresh in my mind.

How I happen, for a temporary period, to be away from the home in
which I have hitherto lived with my nearest relatives, and to which I
hope soon to return, it is of no importance to the reader to know.
Neither is it at all worth while to occupy time and space with any
particular description of the illness from which I have been and am
still suffering. It will be enough for preliminary purposes, if I
present myself at once in the character of a convalescent visiting
Paris, with the double intention of passing agreeably an interval of
necessary absence from home, and of promoting, by change of air and
scene, my recovery from a distressing and a tedious illness. When I
add to this, that although I lived alone in my French bachelor
apartment, I had the good fortune at Paris, as afterwards in London,
to be in the near neighbourhood of the most kind, attentive, and
affectionate friends, I have said as much as is needful by way of
preface, and may get on at once to my main purpose.

What my impressions of my apartment in Paris might have been, if I had
recovered there according to my anticipations, I cannot venture to
say; for, before I had got fairly settled in my new rooms, I suffered
a sudden relapse. My life, again, became the life of an invalid, and
my ways of thought and observation turned back disastrously to the old
invalid channel. Change of air and scene--which had done nothing for
my body--did nothing either for my mind. At Paris, as before in
London, I looked at the world about me, purely from the sick man's
point of view--or, in other words, the events that passed, the sights
that appeared, and the persons who moved around me, interested or
repelled me only as they referred more or less directly to myself and
my own invalid situation. This curious narrowness of view, of which I
am not yet well enough entirely to rid myself, though as conscious as
another of the mental weakness that it implies, has no connection that
I can discover with excessive selfishness or vanity; it is simply the
result of the inevitable increase of a man's importance to himself
which the very fact of sickness is only too apt to produce.

My own sensations, as a sick man, now fill up the weary blank of my
daily existence when I am alone, and form the main topic of inquiry
and conversation when my doctor and my friends enliven my solitude.
The concerns of my own poor body, which do not, I thank heaven, occupy
my attention for much more than one hour out of the twenty-four, when
I am well, become the main business and responsibility of all my
waking moments, now that I am ill. Pain to suffer, and the swallowing
of drugs and taking of nourishment at regulated periods; daily
restraints that I must undergo, and hourly precautions that I am
forced to practise, all contribute to keep my mind bound down to the
level of my body. A flight of thought beyond myself and the weary
present time--even supposing I were capable of the exertion--would
lead me astray from the small personal rules and regulations on which
I now depend absolutely for the recovery of my health.

Have my temper and disposition changed for the worse, under these
unfavourable circumstances? Not much, I hope. I can honestly say for
myself that I envy no other man's health and happiness. I feel no
jealous pang when I hear laughter about me. I can look at people out
of my window, running easily across the road, while I can hardly crawl
from one end of my chamber to the other, without feeling insulted by
their activity. Still, it is true, at the same time, that I warm to
people now exactly in proportion as I see them sensibly and sincerely
touched by my suffering condition; and that I like, or dislike, my
habitation for the time being, just as it happens to suit, or not to
suit, all the little requirements of my temporary infirmity. If I were
introduced to one of the most eminent men in the country at this
moment, and if he did not look sorry to see me ill, I should never
care to set eyes on the eminent man again. If I had a superb room with
the finest view in the world, but no bed-side conveniences for my
pill-boxes and medicine-bottles, I would leave that superb room and
fine view, and go cheerfully to a garret in an alley, provided it
adapted itself comfortably to the arrangement of my indispensable
invalid's lumber. This is doubtless a humiliating confession; but it
is well that I should make it once for all--for, the various opinions
and impressions which I am about frankly to write down, will be found
to be more or less coloured by what I venture to describe as the
involuntary egotism of a sick man.

Let us see how my new lodging in Paris suits me; and why it is that I
immediately become fond of it.

I live in a little building of my own, called a Pavilion. Outside, it
resembles, as to size, brightness, and apparent insubstantiality, a
private dwelling-house in a Pantomime. I expect as I drive up to it,
for the first time, to see Clown grinning at the door, and Harlequin
jumping through the window. A key is produced, and an odd little white
door, through which no fat man could penetrate even sideways, is
opened; I ascend a steep flight of a dozen steps, and enter my
toy-castle: my own independent, solitary, miniature mansion.

The first room is the drawing-room. It is about the size of a large
packing-case, with a gay looking-glass and clock, with bright red
chairs and sofa, with a cosy round table, with a big window looking
out on another Pavilion opposite, and on a great house set back in a
courtyard. To my indescribable astonishment, it actually possesses
three doors! One I have just entered by. Another leads into a
bed-chamber of the same size as the drawing-room, just as brightly and
neatly furnished, with a window that looks out on the everlasting
gaiety and bustle of the Champs Elysées. The third door leads into a
dressing-room half the size of the drawing-room, and having a fourth
door which opens into a kitchen half the size of the dressing-room,
but of course possessing a fifth door which leads out again to the
head of the staircase. As no two people meeting in the kitchen could
possibly pass each other, or remain in the apartment together without
serious inconvenience, the two doors leading in and out of it may be
pronounced useful as well as ornamental. Into this quaint little
culinary crevice the coal-merchant, the wood-merchant, and the
water-carrier squeeze their way, and find a doll's cellar and cistern
all ready for them. They might be followed, if I were only well enough
to give dinners, by a cook and his scullions--for I possess, besides
the cellar and cistern, an elaborate charcoal stove in the kitchen, at
which any number of courses might be prepared by any culinary artist,
who could cook composedly with a row of small fires under his nose, a
coal-cellar between his legs, a cistern scrubbing his shoulder, and a
lukewarm wall against his back.

But what is the main secret of my fondness for the Pavilion? It does
not, I am afraid, lie in the brightness and elegance of the little
rooms, or even in the delightful independence of inhabiting a lodging,
which is also a house of my own, where I can neither be disturbed nor
overlooked by any other lodgers. The one irresistible appeal which my
Parisian apartment makes to my sympathies, consists in the perfect
manner in which it fits my wants and flatters my weaknesses as an
invalid.

I have quite a little druggist's stock-in-trade of physic-bottles,
glasses, spoons, card-boxes and prescriptions; I have all sorts of
queer vestments and coverings, intended to guarantee me against all
variations of temperature and all degrees of exposure, by night as
well as by day; I have ready remedies that must be kept in my
bed-chamber, and elaborate applications that I must find handy in my
dressing-room. In short, I myself am nothing but the centre of a vast
medical litter, and the closer the said litter revolves round me the
more comfortable I am. In a house of the usual size, and in rooms
arranged on the ordinary plan, I should be driven distracted (being an
untidy man even in my healthiest moments) by mislaying things every
hour in the day, by having to get up to look for them, and by being
compelled to walk up and down stairs, or to make others do so for me,
when I want to establish communications between dressing-room,
bed-room, drawing-room, coal-cellar, and kitchen. In my tiny Parisian
house of one small storey, I can wait on myself with the most perfect
ease; in my wee sitting-room, nine-tenths of the things I want are
within arm's length of me, as I repose in my elbow-chair; if I must
move I can get from my bed-chamber to my kitchen in less time than it
would take me to walk across an English drawing-room; if I lose my
morning draught, mislay my noontide drops, or leave my evening
pill-box under my afternoon dressing-gown, I can take my walking-stick
or my fire-tongs, and poke or fish for missing articles in every
corner of the room, without doing more than turning round in my chair.
If I had been well and had given dinner parties, I might have found my
habitation rather too small for me. As it is, if my Pavilion had been
built on purpose for a solitary lodger to fall ill in with the least
possible amount of personal discomfort, it could not have suited my
sad case better. Sick, I love and honour the skilful architect who
contrived it. Well, I am very much afraid I should never have bestowed
so much as a single thought on him.

Why do I become, in one cordial quarter of an hour, friendly,
familiar, and even affectionate with my portress? Because it is part
of my unhealthy condition of body and mind, that I like nothing so
well as being pitied; and my portress sweetens my daily existence with
so much compassion that she does me more good, I think, than my doctor
or my drugs.

Let me try to describe her. She is a thin, rapid, cheerful little
woman, with a tiny face and bright brown eyes. She has a husband
(Hippolyte-senior) and a son (Hippolyte-junior), and a lodge of one
room to live in with her family. She has not been in bed, for years
past, before two or three in the morning; for my Pavilion and the
second Pavilion opposite and the large house behind, are all shut in
from the roadway by handsome iron gates, which it is the business of
somebody in the porter's lodge to open (by pulling a string
communicating with the latch) at all hours of the night to
homeward-bound lodgers. The large house has so many tenants that some
one is always out at a party or a theatre--so the keeping of late
hours becomes a necessary part of the service in the lodge, and the
poor little portress is the victim who suffers as perpetual
night-watch. Hippolyte-senior absorbs his fair share of work in the
day, and takes the early-rising department cheerfully, but he does not
possess the gift of keeping awake at night. By eleven o'clock (such is
sometimes the weakness even of the most amiable human nature) it is
necessary that Hippolyte-senior should be stretched on his back on the
nuptial bedstead, snoring impervious to all sounds and all in-comers.
Hippolyte-junior, or the son, is too young to be trusted with the
supervision of the gate-string. He sleeps, sound as his father, with a
half-developed snore and a coiled-up body, in a crib at the foot of
the parental bed. On the other side of the room, hard by the lodgers'
keys and candlesticks, with a big stove behind her and a gaslight
before her eyes, sits the faithful little portress, watching out the
weary hours as wakefully as she can. She trusts entirely to strong
coffee and the near flare of the gaslight to combat the natural
sleepiness which follows a hard day's work begun at eight o'clock
every morning. The coffee and the gas deserve, to a certain extent,
the confidence she places in them. They keep her bright brown eyes
wide open, staring with unwinking pertinacity at the light before
them. They keep her back very straight against her chair, and her arms
crossed tightly over her bosom, and her feet set firmly on her
footstool. But though they stop sleep from shutting her eyes or
relaxing her limbs, they cannot prevent some few latent Morphian
influences from stealthily reaching her. Open as her eyes may be, the
little woman nevertheless does start guiltily when the ring at the
bell comes at last; does stare fixedly for a moment before she can get
up; has to fight resolutely with something drowsy and clinging in the
shape of a trance, before she can fly to the latch-string, and hang on
to it wearily, instead of pulling at it with the proper wakeful jerk.
Night after night she has now drunk the strong coffee, and propped
herself up stiffly in her straight chair, and stared hard at the
flaring gaslight, for nearly seven years past. Some people would have
lost their tempers and their spirits under these hard circumstances;
but the cheerful little portress has only lost flesh. In a dark corner
of the room hangs a daguerreotype likeness. It represents a buxom
woman, with round cheeks and a sturdy waist, and dates from the period
when she was the bride of Hippolyte-senior, and was thinking of
following him into the Porter's Lodge. "Ah! my dear sir," she says
when I condole with her, "if we do get a little money sometimes in our
way of life, we don't earn it too easily. Aïe! Aïe! Aïe! I should like
a good sleep: I should like to be as fat as my portrait again!"

The same friendly relations--arising entirely, let it always be
remembered, out of my illness and the portress's compassion for
me--which have let me into the secrets of the strong coffee, the
daguerreotype portrait, and the sleepy constitution of Hippolyte-senior,
also enable me to ascertain, by special invitation, how the
inhabitants of the lodge dispose of some of the hardly-earned profits
of their situation.

I find myself suffering rather painfully, one morning, under some
aggravated symptoms of my illness, and my friend the portress comes
into the Pavilion to talk to me and keep up my spirits. She has had an
hour's extra sleep, for a wonder, and is in a chirping state of
cheerfulness in consequence. She shudders and makes faces at my
physic-bottles; entreats me to throw them away, to let her put me to
bed, and administer A Light Tea to begin with, and A Broth to follow
(un Thé léger et un Bouillon). If I will only stick to these remedies,
she will have them ready, if necessary, every hour in the day, and
will guarantee my immediate restoration to health and strength. While
we are arguing the question of the uselessness of drugs and the
remedial excellence of tea and broth, Hippolyte-senior, with a look of
mysterious triumph, which immediately communicates itself to the face
of his wife, enters the room to tell her that she is wanted below in
the lodge. She goes to his side and takes his arm, as if he was a
strange gentleman waiting to lead her down to dinner, nods to him
confidentially, then glances at me. Her husband follows her example,
and the two stand quite unconfusedly, arm-in-arm, smiling upon me and
my physic-bottles, as if they were a pair of lovers and I was the
venerable parent whose permission and blessing they were waiting to
receive.

"Have you been getting a new doctor for me?" I ask, excessively
puzzled by their evident desire to connect me with some secret in the
lodge.

"No," says the portress, "I believe in no doctors. I believe in
nothing but a light tea and a broth."

("My sentiments also!" adds her husband, parenthetically.)

"But we have something to show you in the lodge," continues the
portress.

(Hippolyte-senior arches his eyebrows, and says "Aha!")

"And when you feel better," proceeds my cheerful little friend, "only
have the politeness to come down to us, and you will see a marvellous
sight!"

Hippolyte-senior depresses his eyebrows, and says "Hush!"

"Enough," replies the portress, understanding him; "let us retire."

And they leave the room immediately, still arm-in-arm--the fondest and
most mysterious married couple that I have ever set eyes on.

That day, I do not feel quite strong enough to encounter great
surprises; so my visit to the lodge is deferred until the next
morning. Rather to my amazement, the portress does not pay me her
usual visit at my waking, on the eventful day. I descend to the lodge,
wondering what this change means, and see three or four strangers
assembled in the room which is bed-chamber, parlour, and porter's
office, all in one. The strangers, I find, are admiring friends: they
surround Hippolyte-senior, and all look one way with an expression of
intense pleasure and surprise. My eyes follow the direction of theirs;
and I see, above the shabby little lodge table, a resplendent new
looking-glass in the brightest of frames. On either side of it, rise
two blush-coloured wax tapers. Below it are three ornamental pots with
blooming rose-trees in them, backed by a fanlike screen of fair white
paper. This is the surprise that was in store for me; and this is also
the security in which the inhabitants of the lodge have invested their
last hard-earned savings. The whole thing has the effect upon my mind
of an amateur High Altar; and I admire the new purchase accordingly
with such serious energy of expression, that Hippolyte-senior, in the
first sweetness of triumph, forgets the modesty proper to his position
as proprietor of the new treasure, and apostrophises his own property
as Magnifique, with a power of voice and an energy of gesticulation
which I have never noticed in him before. When his enthusiasm has
abated, and just as I am on the point of asking where my friend the
portress is, I hear a faint little voice speaking behind the group of
admiring friends:

"Perhaps, Messieurs et Mesdames, you think this an extravagance for
people in our situation," says the voice, in feebly polite tones of
apology; "but, alas! how could we resist it? It is so beautiful--it
brightens the room so--it gives us such a noble appearance. And, then,
it is also a property--something to leave to our children--in short, a
pardonable extravagance. Aïe! I am shaking all over again; I can say
no more!"

While these words are in course of utterance, the group of friends
separate, and I see sitting behind them, close to the big stove, the
little portress, looking sadly changed for the worse. Her tiny face
has become very yellow; her bright brown eyes look disproportionately
large; she has an old shawl twisted round her shoulders and shivers in
it perpetually. I ask what is the matter, imagining that the poor
little woman has got a fit of the ague. The portress contrives to
smile as usual before she answers, though her teeth are chattering
audibly.

"You will not give me drugs, if I tell you?" she says.

"I will do nothing that is not perfectly agreeable to you," I reply
evasively.

"My complaint is a violent indigestion (une forte indigestion),"
continues the portress, indicatively laying one trembling fore-finger
on the region of her malady. "And I am curing myself with a Light
Tea."

Here the fore-finger changes its direction and points to a large white
earthenware teapot, with an empty mug by the side of it. To save the
portress the trouble of replenishing her drinking vessel, I pour out a
dose of the Light Tea. It is a liquid of a faint straw colour, totally
unlike any English tea that ever was made; and it tastes as a quart of
hot water might taste after a wisp of hay had been dipped into it. The
portress swallows three mugsful of her medicine in my presence,
smiling and shivering; looking rapturously at the magnificent new
mirror with its attendant flower-pots and tapers; and rejecting with
grimaces of comic disgust, all overtures of medical help on my part,
even to the modest offering of one small pill. An hour or two later, I
descend to the lodge again to see how she is. She has been persuaded
to go to bed; is receiving, in bed, a levée of friends; is answering,
in the same interesting situation, the questions of all the visitors
of the day, relating to all the lodgers in the house; has begun a
fresh potful of the light tea; is still smiling; still shivering;
still contemptuously sceptical on the subject of drugs.

In the evening I go down again. The teapot is not done with yet, and
the hay-flavoured hot water is still pouring inexhaustibly into the
system of the little portress. She happens now to be issuing
directions relative to the keeping awake of Hippolyte-senior, who, for
this night at least, must watch by the gate-string. He is to have a
pint of strong coffee and a pipe; he is to have the gas turned on very
strong; and he is to be excited by the presence of a brisk and wakeful
friend. The next morning, just as I am thinking of making inquiries at
the lodge, who should enter my room but the dyspeptic patient herself,
cured, and ready to digest anything but a doctor's advice or a small
pill. Hippolyte-senior, I hear, has not fallen asleep over the
gate-string for more than half-an-hour every now and then; and the
portress has had a long night's rest. She does not consider this
unusual occurrence as reckoning in any degree among the agencies which
have accomplished her rapid recovery. It is the light tea alone that
has done it; and, if I still doubt the inestimable virtues of the hot
hay-water cure, then of all the prejudiced gentlemen the portress has
ever heard of, I am the most deplorably obstinate in opening my arms
to error and shutting my eyes to truth.

Such is the little domestic world about me, in some of the more vivid
lights in which it presents itself to my own peculiar view.

As for the great Parisian world outside, my experience of it is
bounded by the prospect I obtain of the Champs Elysées from my
bed-room window. Fashionable Paris spins and prances by me every
afternoon, in all its glory; but what interest have healthy princes
and counts and blood-horses, and blooming ladies, plunged in abysses
of circumambient crinoline, for me, in my sick situation? They all fly
by me in one confused phantasmagoria of gay colours and rushing forms,
which I look at with lazy eyes. The sights I watch with interest are
those only which seem to refer in some degree to my own invalid
position. My sick man's involuntary egotism clings as close to me
when I look outward at the great highway, as when I look inward at my
own little room. Thus, the only objects which I now notice attentively
from my window, are, oddly enough, chiefly those which I should have
missed altogether, or looked at with indifference if I had occupied my
bachelor apartment in the enviable character of a healthy man.

For example, out of the various vehicles which pass me by dozens in
the morning, and by hundreds in the afternoon, only two succeed in
making anything like a lasting impression on my mind. I have only
vague ideas of dust, dashing, and magnificence in connection with the
rapid carriages late in the day--and of bells and hollow yelping of
carters' voices in connection with the deliberate waggons early in the
morning. But I have, on the other hand, a very distinct remembrance of
one sober brown omnibus, belonging to a Sanitary Asylum, and of a
queer little truck which carries baths and hot water to private
houses, from a bathing establishment near me. The omnibus, as it
passes my window at a solemn jog-trot, is full of patients getting
their airing. I can see them dimly, and I fall into curious fancies
about their various cases, and wonder what proportion of the afflicted
passengers are near the time of emancipation from their sanitary
prison on wheels. As for the little truck, with its empty zinc bath
and barrel of warm water, I am probably wrong in sympathetically
associating it as frequently as I do with cases of illness. It is
doubtless often sent for by healthy people, too luxurious in their
habits to walk abroad for a bath. But there must be a proportion of
cases of illness to which the truck ministers; and when I see it going
faster than usual, I assume that it must be wanted by some person in a
fit; grow suddenly agitated by the idea; and watch the empty bath and
the hot-water barrel with breathless interest, until they rumble away
together out of sight.

So, again, with regard to the men and women who pass my window by
thousands every day; my view of them is just as curiously
circumscribed as my view of the vehicles. Out of all the crowd, I now
find, on taxing my memory, that I have noticed particularly just three
people (a woman and two men), who have chanced to appeal to my invalid
curiosity.

The woman is a nursemaid, neither young nor pretty, very clean and
neat in her dress, with an awful bloodless paleness in her face, and a
hopeless consumptive languor in her movements. She has only one child
to take care of--a robust little girl of cruelly active habits. There
is a stone bench opposite my window; and on this the wan and weakly
nursemaid often sits, not bumping down on it with the heavy thump of
honest exhaustion, but sinking on it listlessly, as if in changing
from walking to sitting she were only passing from one form of
weariness to another. The robust child remains mercifully near the
feeble guardian for a few minutes--then becomes, on a sudden,
pitilessly active again, laughs and dances from a distance, when the
nurse makes weary signs to her, and runs away altogether, when she is
faintly entreated to be quiet for a few minutes longer. The nurse
looks after her in despair for a moment, draws her neat black shawl,
with a shiver, over her sharp shoulders, rises resignedly, and
disappears from my eyes in pursuit of the pitiless child. I see this
mournful little drama acted many times over, always in the same way,
and wonder sadly how long the wan nursemaid will hold out. Not being a
family man, and having nervously-acute sympathies for sickness and
suffering just now, it would afford me genuine satisfaction to see the
oppressed nurse beat the tyrannical child; but she seems fond of the
little despot; and, besides, she is so weak that if it came to blows,
I am afraid, grown woman as she is, that she might get the worst of
it.

The men whom I observe, are not such interesting cases; but they
exhibit, in a minor degree, the peculiarities that are sure to attract
my attention. The first of the two is a gentleman--lonely and rich, as
I imagine. He is fat, yellow, and gloomy, and has evidently been
ordered horse-exercise for the benefit of his health. He rides a quiet
English cob; never has any friend with him; never--so far as I can
see--exchanges greetings with any other horseman; is never smiled at
from a carriage, nor bowed to by a foot-passenger. He rides with his
flaccid chin sunk on his fat breast; sits his horse as if his legs
were stuffed and his back boneless; always attracts me because he is
the picture of dyspeptic wretchedness, and always passes me at the
same mournful jog-trot pace. The second man is a police agent. I
cannot sympathise with him in consequence of his profession; but I can
observe, with a certain lukewarm interest, that he is all but worked
to death. He yawns and stretches himself in corners; sometimes drops
furtively on to the stone bench before my window; then starts up from
it suddenly, as if he felt himself falling asleep the moment he sat
down. He has hollow places where other people have cheeks; and,
judging by his walk, must be quite incapable of running after a
prisoner who might take to flight. On the whole, he presents to my
mind the curious spectacle of a languid man trying to adapt himself to
a brisk business, and failing palpably in the effort. As the sick
child of a thriving system he attracts my attention. I devoutly hope
that he will not return the compliment by honouring me with his
notice.

Such are the few short steps that I take in advance to get a
moderately close glance at French humanity. If my view is absurdly
limited to my own dim horizon, this defect has at least one advantage
for the reader: it prevents all danger of my troubling him with my
ideas and observations at any great length. If other people value this
virtue of brevity in writers, orators, and preachers as sincerely as I
do, perhaps I may hope, on account of my short range of observation
and my few words, to get another hearing, if I write the second
chapter of my invalid experiences. I began the first half of them (as
herein related) in France; and I am now completing the second (yet to
be recorded) in England. When the curtain rises on my sick bed again,
the scene will be London.


CHAPTER THE SECOND.--MY LONDON LODGING.

I last had the honour of presenting myself to the reader's notice in
the character of an invalid laid up in lodgings at Paris. Let me now
be permitted to reappear as an invalid laid up, for the time being, in
a London cab. Let it be imagined that I have got through the journey
from Paris, greatly to my own surprise and satisfaction, without
breaking down by the way; that I have slept one night at a London
hotel for the first time in my life; and that I am now helplessly
adrift, looking out for Furnished Apartments as near as may be to my
doctor's place of abode.

The cab is fusty, the driver is sulky, the morning is foggy. A dry
dog-kennel would be a pleasant refuge by comparison with the miserable
vehicle in which I am now jolting my way over the cruel London stones.
On our road to my doctor's neighbourhood we pass through Smeary
Street, a locality well known to the inhabitants of Northern London. I
feel that I can go no further. I remember that some friends of mine
live not far off, and I recklessly emancipate myself from the torment
of the cab, by stopping the driver at the very first house in the
windows of which I see a bill with the announcement that Apartments
are to Let.

The door is opened by a tall muscular woman, with a knobbed face and
knotty arms besprinkled with a layer of grate-dust in a state of
impalpable powder. She shows me up into a second-floor front bed-room.
My first look of scrutiny is naturally directed at the bed. It is of
the negative sort, neither dirty nor clean; but, by its side, I see a
positive advantage in connection with it, in the shape of a long
mahogany shelf, fixed into the wall a few inches above the bed, and
extending down its whole length from head to foot. My sick man's
involuntary egotism is as predominant an impulse within me at London
as at Paris. I think directly of my invalid's knick-knacks: I see
that the mahogany shelf will serve to keep them all within my reach
when I am in bed; I know that it will be wanted for no other purpose
than that to which I design to put it; that it need not be cleared for
dinner every day, like a table, or disturbed when the servant cleans
the room, like a moveable stand. I satisfy myself that it holds out
all these rare advantages to me, in my peculiar situation, and I snap
at them on the instant--or, in other words, I take the room
immediately.

If I had been in health, I think I should have had two cogent reasons
for acting otherwise, and seeking apartments elsewhere. In the first
place, I should have observed that the room was not very clean or very
comfortably furnished. I should have noticed that the stained and torn
drugget on the floor displayed a margin of dirty boards all round the
bed-chamber; and I should no sooner have set eyes on the venerable
arm-chair by the bedside than I should have heard it saying privately
in my ear, in an ominous language of its own, "Stranger, I am let to
the Fleas: take me at your peril." Even if these signs and portents
had not been enough to send me out into the street again, I should
certainly have found the requisite warning to quit the house written
legibly in the face, figure, and manner of the landlady. I should
probably have seen something to distrust and dislike in everything
connected with her, down even to her name, which was Mrs. Glutch; I
should have made my escape into the street again, and should not have
ventured near it any more for the rest of the day. But as it was, my
fatal invalid prepossessions blinded me to everything but the
unexpected blessing of that mahogany shelf by the bedside. I
overlooked the torn drugget, the flea-peopled arm-chair, and the
knotty-faced landlady with the ominous name. The shelf was bait enough
for me, and the moment the trap was open, I collected my train of
medicine bottles and confidently walked in.

It is a general subject of remark among observant travellers, that the
two nations of the civilized world which appear to be most widely
separated as to the external aspects of life respectively presented by
them, are also the two which are most closely brought together by the
neighbourly ties of local situation. Before I had been many days
established in Smeary Street, I found that I myself, in my own
circumscribed sphere, offered a remarkable example of the truth of the
observation just recorded. The strong contrast between my present and
my past life was a small individual proof of the great social
contrasts between England and France.

I have truly presented myself at Paris, as living independently in a
little toy house of my own; as looking out upon a scene of almost
perpetual brightness and gaiety; and as having people to attend on me
whose blessed levity of disposition kept them always cheerful, always
quaintly characteristic, always unexpectedly amusing, even to the
languid eye of a sick man. With equal candour I must now record of my
in-door life in London, that it was passed with many other lodgers, in
a large house without a vestige of toy-shop prettiness in any part of
it. I must acknowledge that I looked out upon drab-coloured walls and
serious faces through a smoke-laden atmosphere; and I must admit that
I was waited on (so far as the actual house-service was concerned) by
people whose cloudy countenances seemed unconscious of a gleam of
inner sunshine for days and days together. Nor did the contrast end
here. In my lodgings at Paris, I have represented myself as having
about me a variety of animate and inanimate objects which I might
notice or not just as I pleased, and as using my freedom of choice in
a curiously partial and restricted manner, in consequence of the
narrowing effect of my illness on my sympathies and powers of
observation. In my London lodging, I enjoyed no such liberty. I could
not get even a temporary freedom of selection, except by fighting for
it resolutely at odds and ends of time. I had but one object which
offered itself to my observation, which perpetually presented itself,
which insisted on being noticed, no matter how mentally unfit and
morally unwilling my illness rendered me to observe it; and that
object was--my landlady, Mrs. Glutch.

Behold me then, now, no longer a free agent; no longer a fanciful
invalid with caprices to confide to the ear of the patient reader. My
health is no better in Smeary Street than it was in the Champs
Elysées; I take as much medicine in London as I took in Paris; but my
character is altered in spite of myself, and the form and colour of my
present fragment of writing will, I fear, but too truly reflect the
change.

I _was_ a sick man with several things to discourse of--I _am_ a sick
man with only one topic to talk about. I may escape from it for a few
sentences at a time, in these pages, as I escaped from it for a few
minutes at a time in Smeary Street; but the burden of my song will be
now, what the burden of my life has been lately--my landlady. I am
going to begin with her--I shall go on with her--I shall try to wander
away from her--I shall get back to her--I shall end with her. She will
mix herself up with everything I have to say; will intrude on my
observations out of window; will get into my victuals and drink, and
drops, and draughts, and pills; will come between me and my studies of
character among maids-of-all-work, in this too faithful narrative,
just as she did in the real scenes which it endeavours to represent.
While I make this acknowledgment as a proper warning to the reader
that I have changed into a monotonous sick man since we met last, let
me add, in justice to myself, that my one subject has at least the
advantage of being a terrible one. Think of a sick fly waited on by a
healthy blue-bottle, and you will have a fair idea of the relative
proportions and positions of myself and Mrs. Glutch.

I have hardly been settled an hour in my second-floor front room
before the conviction is forced on my mind that Mrs. Glutch is
resolved to make a conquest of me--of the maternal, or platonic kind,
let me hasten to add, so as to stop the mouth of scandal before it is
well opened. I find that she presents herself before me in the
character of a woman suffused in a gentle melancholy, proceeding from
perpetual sympathy for my suffering condition. It is part of my
character, as a sick man, that I know by instinct when people really
pity me, just as children and dogs know when people really like them;
and I have, consequently, not been five minutes in Mrs. Glutch's
society, before I know that her sympathy for me is entirely of that
sort of which (in the commercial phrase) a large assortment is always
on hand. I take no pains to conceal from Mrs. Glutch that I have found
her out; but she is too innocent to understand me, and goes on
sympathising in the very face of detection. She becomes, in spite of
her knobbed face, knotty arms, and great stature and strength,
languidly sentimental in manner, the moment she enters my room.
Language runs out of her in a perpetual flow, and politeness encircles
her as with a halo that can never be dimmed. "I have been so anxious
about you!" is her first morning's salutation to me. The words are
preceded by a faint cough, and followed by an expressively weary sigh,
as if she had passed a sleepless night on my account. The next morning
she appears with a bunch of wallflowers in her mighty fist, and with
another faint prefatory cough, "I beg pardon, sir; but I have brought
you a few flowers. I think they relieve the mind." The expressively
weary sigh follows again, as if it would suggest this time that she
has toiled into the country to gather me the flowers at early dawn. I
do not find, strange as it may seem, that they relieve my mind at all;
but of course I say, "Thank you."--"Thank _you_, sir," rejoins Mrs.
Glutch--for it is a part of this woman's system of oppressive
politeness always to thank me for thanking her. She invariably
contrives to have the last word, no matter in what circumstances the
courteous contention which is the main characteristic of our daily
intercourse, may take its rise.

Let us say, for instance, that she comes into my room and gets into my
way (which she always does) at the very time when she ought to be out
of it--her first words are necessarily, "I beg pardon." I growl (not
so brutally as I could wish, being weak), "Never mind!"--"Thank you,
sir," says Mrs. Glutch, and coughs faintly, and sighs, and delays
going out as long as possible. Or, take another example:--"Mrs.
Glutch, this plate's dirty."--"I am much obliged to you, sir, for
telling me of it."--"It isn't the first dirty plate I have
had."--"Really now, sir?"--"You may take away the fork; for that is
dirty too."--"Thank you, sir."--Oh for one hour of my little Parisian
portress! Oh for one day's respite from the politeness of Mrs. Glutch!

Let me try if I cannot get away from the subject for a little while.
What have I to say about the other lodgers in the house? Not much; for
how can I take any interest in people who never make inquiries after
my health, though they must all know, by the frequent visits of the
doctor and the chemist's boy, that I am ill?

The first floor is inhabited by a mysterious old gentleman, and his
valet. He brought three cart-loads of gorgeous furniture with him, to
fit up two rooms--he possesses an organ, on which, greatly to his
credit, he never plays--he receives perfumed notes, goes out
beautifully dressed, is brought back in private carriages, with tall
footmen in attendance to make as much noise as possible with the
door-knocker. Nobody knows where he comes from, or believes that he
passes in the house under his real name. If any aged aristocrat be
missing from the world of fashion, we rather think we have got him in
Smeary Street, and should feel willing to give him up to his rightful
owners on payment of a liberal reward. Next door to me, in the second
floor back, I hear a hollow cough and sometimes a whispering; but I
know nothing for certain--not even whether the hollow cougher is also
the whisperer, or whether they are two, or whether there is or is not
a third silent and Samaritan person who relieves the cough and listens
to the whisper. Above me, in the attics, there is a matutinal stamping
and creaking of boots, which go down-stairs, at an early hour, in a
hurry, which never return all day, but which come up-stairs again in a
hurry late at night. The boots evidently belong to shopmen or clerks.
Below, in the parlours, there seems to be a migratory population,
which comes in one week and goes out the next, and is, in some cases,
not at all to be depended upon in the matter of paying rent. I happen
to discover this latter fact, late one night, in rather an alarming
and unexpected manner. Just before bedtime I descend, candle in hand,
to a small back room, at the end of the passage, on the ground floor
(used all day for the reception of general visitors, and empty, as I
rashly infer, all night), for the purpose of getting a sofa cushion to
eke out my scanty allowance of pillows. I no sooner open the door and
approach the sofa than I behold, to my horror and amazement, Mrs.
Glutch coiled up on it, with all her clothes on, and with a wavy,
coffee-coloured wrapper flung over her shoulders. Before I can turn
round to run away, she is on her legs, wide awake in an instant, and
politer than ever. She makes me a long speech of explanation, which
begins with "I beg pardon," and ends with "Thank you, sir;" and from
the substance of which I gather that the parlour lodgers for the past
week are going away the next morning; that they are the likeliest
people in the world to forget to pay their lawful debts; and that Mrs.
Glutch is going to lie in ambush for them all night, in the
coffee-coloured wrapper, ready the instant the parlour door opens, to
spring out into the passage and call for her rent.

What am I about? I am relapsing insensibly into the inevitable and
abhorrent subject of Mrs. Glutch, exactly in accordance with my
foreboding of a few pages back. Let me make one more attempt to get
away from my landlady. If I try to describe my room, I am sure to get
back to her, because she is always in it. Suppose I get out of the
house altogether, and escape into the street?

All men, I imagine, have an interest of some kind in the locality in
which they live. My interest in Smeary Street is entirely associated
with my daily meals, which are publicly paraded all day long on the
pavement. In explanation of this rather original course of proceeding,
I must mention that I am ordered to eat "little and often," and must
add, that I cannot obey the direction if the food is cooked on the
premises in which I live, because I have had the misfortune to look
down certain underground stairs and to discover that in the lowest
depth of dirt, which I take to be the stairs themselves, there is a
lower deep still, which is the kitchen at the bottom of them. Under
these peculiar circumstances, I am reduced to appeal for nourishment
and cleanliness in combination, to the tender mercies (and kitchen) of
the friends in my neighbourhood, to whom I have alluded at the outset
of this narrative. They commiserate and help me with the readiest
kindness. Devoted messengers, laden with light food, pass and repass
all day long between their house and my bedroom. The dulness of Smeary
Street is enlivened by perpetual snacks carried in public procession.
The eyes of my opposite neighbours, staring out of window, and not
looking as if they cared about my being ill, are regaled from morning
to night by passing dishes and basins, which go westward full and
steaming, and return eastward eloquently empty. My neighbourhood knows
when I dine, and can smell out, if it pleases, what I have for dinner.
The early housemaid kneeling on the doorstep, can stay her scrubbing
hand and turn her pensive head and scan my simple breakfast, before I
know what it will be myself. The mid-day idler, lounging along Smeary
Street, is often sweetly reminded of his own luncheon by meeting mine.
Friends who knock at my door may smell my dinner behind them, and know
how I am keeping up my stamina, before they have had time to inquire
after my health. My supper makes the outer darkness savoury as the
evening closes in; and my empty dishes startle the gathering silence
with convivial clatter as they wend on their homeward way the last
thing at night.

Is there no dark side to this bright picture? Is there never any hitch
in these friendly arrangements for feeding me in the cleanest way, on
the most appetising diet? Yes--there is a hitch. Will you give it a
name? I will. Its name is Mrs. Glutch.

It is, I am well aware, only to be expected that my landlady should
resent the tacit condemnation of her cleanliness and cookery implied
in the dietary arrangements which I have made with my friends. If she
would only express her sense of offence by sulking or flying into a
passion, I should not complain; for in the first case supposed, I
might get the better of her by noticing nothing, and, in the second, I
might hope, in course of time, to smooth her down by soft answers and
polite prevarications. But the means she actually takes of punishing
me for my too acute sense of the dirtiness of her kitchen, are of
such a diabolically ingenious nature, and involve such a continuous
series of small persecutions, that I am rendered, from first to last,
quite powerless to oppose her. Shall I describe her plan of annoyance?
I _must_ describe it--I must return to my one prohibited topic (as I
foreboded I should) in spite of myself.

Mrs. Glutch, then, instead of visiting her wrath on me, or my food, or
my friends, or my friends' messengers, avenges herself entirely on
their tray-cloths and dishes. She does not tear the first nor break
the second--for that would be only a simple and primitive system of
persecution--but she smuggles them, one by one, out of my room, and
merges them inextricably with her own property, in the grimy regions
of the kitchen. She has a power of invisibly secreting the largest
pie-dishes, and the most voluminous cloths, under my very eyes, which
I can compare to nothing but sleight of hand. Every morning I see
table utensils which my friends lend me, ranged ready to go back, in
my own room. Every evening, when they are wanted, I find that some of
them are missing, and that my landlady is even more surprised by that
circumstance than I am myself. If my friends' servant ventures to say,
in her presence, that the cook wants her yesterday's tray-cloth, and
if I refer him to Mrs. Glutch, the immoveable woman only sniffs,
tosses her head, and "wonders how the young man can have demeaned
himself by bringing her such a peremptory message." If I try on my own
sole responsibility to recover the missing property, she lets me see,
by her manner at the outset, that she thinks I suspect her of stealing
it. If I take no notice of this manœuvre, and innocently persist in
asking additional questions about the missing object, the following is
a sample of the kind of dialogue that is sure to pass between us:--

"I think, Mrs. Glutch"----

"Yes, sir!"

"I think one of my friends' large pudding-basins has gone
down-stairs."

"Really, now, sir? A large pudding-basin? No: I think not."

"But I can't find it up here, and it is wanted back."

"Naturally, sir."

"I put it on the drawers, Mrs. Glutch, ready to go back, last night."

"Did you, indeed, sir?"

"Perhaps the servant took it down-stairs to clean it?"

"Not at all likely, sir. If you will please to remember, you told her
last Monday evening--or, no, I beg pardon--last Tuesday morning, that
your friends cleaned up their own dishes, and that their things was
not to be touched."

"Perhaps you took it down-stairs then yourself, Mrs. Glutch, by
mistake?"

"I, sir! I didn't. I couldn't. Why should I? I think you said a large
pudding-basin, sir?"

"Yes, I did say so."

"I have ten large pudding-basins of my own, sir."

"I am very glad to hear it. Will you be so good as to look among them,
and see if my friends' basin has not got mixed up with your crockery?"

Mrs. Glutch turns very red in the face, slowly scratches her muscular
arms, as if she felt a sense of pugilistic irritation in them, looks
at me steadily with a pair of glaring eyes, and leaves the room at the
slowest possible pace. I wait and ring--wait and ring--wait and ring.
After the third waiting and the third ringing, she reappears, redder
of face and slower of march than before, with the missing article of
property held out before her at arm's length.

"I beg pardon, sir," she says, "but is this anything like your
friends' large pudding-basin?"

"That is the basin itself, Mrs. Glutch."

"Really, now, sir? Well, as you seem so positive, it isn't for me to
contradict you. But I hope I shall give no offence if I mention that I
had ten large pudding-basins of my own, and that I miss one of them."

With that last dexterous turn of speech, she gives up the basin with
the air of a high-minded woman, who will resign her own property
rather than expose herself to the injurious doubts of a morbidly
suspicious man. When I add that the little scene just described takes
place between us nearly every day, the reader will admit that,
although Mrs. Glutch cannot prevent me from enjoying on her dirty
premises the contraband luxury of a clean dinner, she can at least go
great lengths towards accomplishing the secondary annoyance of
preventing me from digesting it.

I have hinted at a third personage in the shape of a servant, in my
report of the foregoing dialogue; and I have previously alluded to
myself (in paving the way for the introduction of my landlady), as
extending my studies of human character, in my London lodging, to
those forlorn members of the population called maids-of-all-work. The
maids--I use the plural number advisedly--present themselves to me to
be studied, as apprentices to the hard business of service, under the
matronly superintendence of Mrs. Glutch. The succession of them is
brisk enough to keep all the attention I can withdraw from my landlady
constantly employed in investigating their peculiarities. By the time
I have been three weeks in Smeary Street, I have had three
maids-of-all-work, to study--a new servant for each week! In reviewing
the three individually before the reader, I must be allowed to
distinguish them by numbers instead of names. Mrs. Glutch screams at
them all indiscriminately by the name of Mary, just as she would
scream at a succession of cats by the name of Puss. Now, although I am
always writing about Mrs. Glutch, I have still spirit enough left to
vindicate my own individuality, by abstaining from following her
example. In obedience, therefore, to these last relics of independent
sentiment, permit me the freedom of numbering my maids-of-all-work, as
I introduce them to public notice in these pages.

Number One is amazed by the spectacle of my illness, and always stares
at me. If I fell ill one evening, went to a dispensary, asked for a
bottle of physic, and got well on it the next morning; or, if I
presented myself before her at the last gasp, and died forthwith in
Smeary Street, she would, in either case, be able to understand me.
But an illness on which medicine produces no immediate effect, and
which does not keep the patient always groaning in bed, is beyond her
comprehension. Personally, she is very short and sturdy, and is always
covered from head to foot with powdered black, which seems to lie
especially thick on her in the morning. How does she accumulate it?
Does she wash herself with the ordinary liquid used for ablutions; or
does she take a plunge-bath every morning under the kitchen-grate? I
am afraid to ask this question of her; but I contrive to make her talk
to me about other things. She looks very much surprised, poor
creature, when I first let her see that I have other words to utter in
addressing her, besides the word of command; and seems to think me the
most eccentric of mankind, when she finds that I have a decent anxiety
to spare her all useless trouble in waiting on me. Young as she is,
she has drudged so long over the wickedest ways of this world, without
one leisure moment to look up from the everlasting dirt on the road at
the green landscape around, and the pure sky above, that she has
become hardened to the saddest, surely, of human lots before she is
yet a woman grown. Life means dirty work, small wages, hard words, no
holidays, no social station, no future, according to her experience of
it. No human being ever was created for this. No state of society
which composedly accepts this, in the cases of thousands, as one of
the necessary conditions of its selfish comforts, can pass itself off
as civilised, except under the most audacious of all false pretences.
These thoughts rise in me often, when I ring the bell, and the
maid-of-all-work answers it wearily. I cannot communicate them to her:
I can only encourage her to talk to me now and then on something like
equal terms. Just as I am succeeding in the attainment of this object,
Number One scatters all my plans and purposes to the winds, by telling
me that she is going away.

I ask Why? and am told that she cannot bear being a-railed at and
a-hunted about by Mrs. Glutch any longer. The oppressively polite
woman who cannot address me without begging my pardon, can find no
hard words in the vocabulary hard enough for the maid-of-all-work. "I
am frightened of my life," says Number One, apologizing to me for
leaving the place. "I am so little and she's so big. She heaves things
at my head, she does. Work as hard as you may, you can't work hard
enough for her. I must go, if you please, sir. Whatever do you think
she done this morning? She up, and druv the creases at me." With these
words (which I find mean in genteel English, that Mrs. Glutch has
enforced her last orders to the servant by throwing a bunch of
water-cresses at her head), Number One curtseys and says "Good-bye!"
and goes out resignedly once again into the hard world. I follow her a
little while, in imagination, with no very cheering effect on my
spirits--for what do I see awaiting her at each stage of her career?
Alas, for Number One, it is always a figure in the likeness of Mrs.
Glutch.

Number Two fairly baffles me. I see her grin perpetually at me, and
imagine, at first, that I am regarded by her in the light of a new
kind of impostor, who shams illness as a way of amusing himself. But I
soon discover that she grins at everything--at the fire that she
lights, at the cloth she lays for dinner, at the medicine-bottles she
brings upstairs, at the furibund visage of Mrs. Glutch, ready to
drive whole baskets full of creases at her head every morning. Looking
at her with the eye of an artist, I am obliged to admit that Number
Two is, as the painters say, out of drawing. The longest things about
her are her arms; the thickest thing about her is her waist. It is
impossible to believe that she has any legs, and it is not easy to find
out the substitute which, in the absence of a neck, is used to keep
her big head from rolling off her round shoulders. I try to make her
talk, but only succeed in encouraging her to grin at me. Have ceaseless
foul words, and ceaseless dirty work clouded over all the little light
that has ever been let in on her mind? I suspect that it is so, but I
have no time to acquire any positive information on the subject. At
the end of Number Two's first week of service, Mrs. Glutch discovers,
to her horror and indignation, that the new maid-of-all-work possesses
nothing in the shape of wearing-apparel, except the worn-out garments
actually on her back; and, to make matters worse, a lady-lodger in the
parlour misses one of a pair of lace-cuffs, and feels sure that the
servant has taken it. There is not a particle of evidence to support
this view of the case; but Number Two being destitute, is consequently
condemned without a trial, and dismissed without a character. She too
wanders off forlorn into a world that has no haven of rest or voice
of welcome for her--wanders off, without so much as a dirty bundle in
her hand--wanders off, voiceless, with the unchanging grin on the
smut-covered face. How shocked we should all be, if we opened a book
about a savage country, and saw a portrait of Number Two in the
frontispiece as a specimen of the female population!

Number Three comes to us all the way from Wales; arrives late one
evening, and is found at seven the next morning, crying as if she
would break her heart, on the door-step. It is the first time she has
been away from home. She has not got used yet to being a forlorn
castaway among strangers. She misses the cows of a morning, the
blessed fields with the blush of sunrise on them, the familiar faces,
the familiar sounds, the familiar cleanliness of her country home.
There is not the faintest echo of mother's voice, or of father's
sturdy footfall here. Sweetheart John Jones is hundreds of miles away;
and little brother Joe toddles up door-steps far from these to clamour
for the breakfast which he shall get this morning from other than his
sister's hands. Is there nothing to cry for in this? Absolutely
nothing, as Mrs. Glutch thinks. What does this Welsh barbarian mean by
clinging to my area-railings when she ought to be lighting the fire;
by sobbing in full view of the public of Smeary Street when the
lodgers' bells are ringing angrily for breakfast? Will nothing get
the girl in-doors? Yes, a few kind words from the woman who passes by
her with my breakfast will. She knows that the Welsh girl is hungry as
well as home-sick, questions her, finds out that she has had no supper
after her long journey, and that she has been used to breakfast with
the sunrise at the farm in Wales. A few merciful words lure her away
from the railings, and a little food inaugurates the process of
breaking her in to London service. She has but a few days allowed her,
however, to practise the virtue of dogged resignation in her first
place. Before she has given me many opportunities of studying her
character, before she has done knitting her brows with the desperate
mental effort of trying to comprehend the mystery of my illness,
before the smut has fairly settled on her rosy cheeks, before the
London dirt has dimmed the pattern on her neat print gown, she, too,
is cast adrift into the world. She has not suited Mrs. Glutch (being,
as I imagine, too offensively clean to form an appropriate part of the
kitchen furniture)--a friendly maid-of-all-work, in service near us,
has heard of a place for her--and she is forthwith sent away to be
dirtied and deadened down to her proper social level in another
Lodging-house.

With her, my studies of character among maids-of-all-work come to an
end. I hear vague rumours of the arrival of Number Four. But before
she appears, I have got the doctor's leave to move into the country,
and have terminated my experience of London lodgings, by making my
escape with all convenient speed from the perpetual presence and
persecutions of Mrs. Glutch. I have witnessed some sad sights during
my stay in Smeary Street, which have taught me to feel for my poor and
forlorn fellow-creatures as I do not think I ever felt for them
before, and which have inclined me to doubt for the first time whether
worse calamities might not have overtaken me than the hardship of
falling ill.



SKETCHES OF CHARACTER.--II.

A SHOCKINGLY RUDE ARTICLE.

[Communicated by A Charming Woman.]


Before I begin to write, I know that this will be an unpopular
composition in certain select quarters. I mean to proceed with it,
however, in spite of that conviction, because when I have got
something on my mind, I must positively speak. Is it necessary, after
that, to confess that I am a woman? If it is, I make the
confession--to my sorrow. I would much rather be a man.

I hope nobody will be misled by my beginning in this way, into
thinking that I am an advocate of the rights of women. Ridiculous
creatures! they have too many rights already; and if they don't hold
their chattering tongues, one of these days the poor dear deluded men
will find them out.

The poor dear men! Mentioning them reminds me of what I have got to
say. I have been staying at the seaside, and reading an immense
quantity of novels and periodicals, and all that sort of thing,
lately; and my idea is, that the men-writers (the only writers worth
reading) are in the habit of using each other very unfairly in books
and articles, and so on. Look where I may, I find, for instance, that
the large proportion of the bad characters in their otherwise very
charming stories, are always men. As if women were not a great deal
worse! Then, again, most of the amusing fools in their books are,
strangely and unaccountably, of their own sex, in spite of its being
perfectly apparent that the vast majority of that sort of character is
to be found in ours. On the other hand, while they make out their own
half of humanity (as I have distinctly proved) a great deal too bad,
they go to the contrary extreme the other way, and make out our half a
great deal too good. What in the world do they mean by representing us
as so much better, and so much prettier, than we really are? Upon my
word, when I see what angels the dear nice good men make of their
heroines, and when I think of myself, and of the whole circle of my
female friends besides, I feel quite disgusted,--I do, indeed.

I should very much like to go into the whole of this subject at once,
and speak my sentiments on it at the fullest length. But I will spare
the reader, and try to be satisfied with going into a part of the
subject instead; for, considering that I am a woman, and making
immense allowances for me on that account, I am really not altogether
unreasonable. Give me a page or two, and I will show in one
particular, and, what is more, from real life, how absurdly partial
the men-writers are to our sex, and how scandalously unjust they are
to their own.

Bores.--What I propose is, that we take for our present example
characters of Bores alone. If we were only to read men's novels,
articles, and so forth, I don't hesitate to say we should assume that
all the Bores in the human creation were of the male sex. It is
generally, if not always, a man, in men's books, who tells the
long-winded story, and turns up at the wrong time, and makes himself
altogether odious and intolerable to everybody he comes in contact
with, without being in the least aware of it himself. How very unjust,
and, I must be allowed to add, how extremely untrue! Women are quite
as bad, or worse. Do, good gentlemen, look about you impartially, for
once in a way, and own the truth. Good gracious! is not society full
of Lady-Bores? Why not give them a turn when you write next?

Two instances: I will quote only two instances out of hundreds I could
produce from my own acquaintance. Only two: because, as I said before,
I am reasonable about not taking up room. I can put things into a very
small space when I write, as well as when I travel. I should like the
literary gentleman who kindly prints this (I would not allow a woman
to print it for any sum of money that could be offered me) to see how
very little luggage I travel with. At any rate, he shall see how
little room I can cheerfully put up with in these pages.

My first Lady-Bore--see how quickly I get to the matter in hand,
without wasting so much as a single line in prefatory phrases!--my
first Lady-Bore is Miss Sticker. I don't in the least mind mentioning
her name; because I know, if she got the chance, she would do just the
same by me. It is of no use disguising the fact, so I may as well
confess at once that Miss Sticker is a fright. Far be it from me to
give pain where the thing can by any means be avoided; but if I were
to say that Miss Sticker would ever see forty again, I should be
guilty of an unwarrantable deception on the public. I have the
strongest imaginable objection to mentioning the word petticoats; but
if that is the only possible description of Miss Sticker's figure
which conveys a true notion of its nature and composition, what am I
to do? Perhaps I had better give up describing the poor thing's
personal appearance. I shall get into deeper and deeper difficulties,
if I attempt to go on. The very last time I was in her company, we
were strolling about Regent Street, with my sister's husband for
escort. As we passed a hairdresser's shop, the dear simple man looked
in, and asked me what those long tails of hair were for, that he saw
hanging up in the windows. Miss Sticker, poor soul, was on his arm,
and heard him put the question. I thought I should have dropped.

This is, I believe, what you call a digression. I shall let it stop
in, however, because it will probably explain to the judicious reader
why I carefully avoid the subject--the meagre subject, an ill-natured
person might say--of Miss Sticker's hair. Suppose I pass on to what is
more importantly connected with the object of these pages--suppose I
describe Miss Sticker's character next.

Some extremely sensible man has observed somewhere, that a Bore is a
person with one idea. Exactly so. Miss Sticker is a person with one
idea. Unhappily for society, her notion is, that she is bound by the
laws of politeness to join in every conversation which happens to be
proceeding within the range of her ears. She has no ideas, no
information, no flow of language, no tact, no power of saying the
right word at the right time, even by chance. And yet she _will_
converse, as she calls it. "A gentlewoman, my dear, becomes a mere
cipher in society unless she can converse." That is her way of putting
it; and I deeply regret to add, she is one of the few people who
preach what they practise. Her course of proceeding is, first, to
check the conversation by making a remark which has no kind of
relation to the topic under discussion. She next stops it altogether
by being suddenly at a loss for some particular word which nobody can
suggest. At last the word is given up; another subject is started in
despair; and the company become warmly interested in it. Just at that
moment, Miss Sticker finds the lost word; screams it out triumphantly
in the middle of the talk; and so scatters the second subject to the
winds, exactly as she has already scattered the first.

The last time I called at my aunt's--I merely mention this by way of
example--I found Miss Sticker there, and three delightful men. One was
a clergyman of the dear old purple-faced Port-wine school. The other
two would have looked military, if one of them had not been an
engineer, and the other an editor of a newspaper. We should have had
some delightful conversation if the Lady-Bore had not been present. In
some way, I really forget how, we got to talking about giving credit
and paying debts; and the dear old clergyman, with his twinkling eyes
and his jolly voice, treated us to a professional anecdote on the
subject.

"Talking about that," he began, "I married a man the other day for the
third time. Man in my parish. Capital cricketer when he was young
enough to run. 'What's your fee?' says he. 'Licensed marriage?' says
I; 'guinea of course.'--'I've got to bring you your tithes in three
weeks, sir,' says he; 'give me tick till then.' 'All right,' says I,
and married him. In three weeks he comes and pays his tithes like a
man. 'Now, sir,' says he, 'about this marriage-fee, sir? I do hope
you'll kindly let me off at half-price, for I have married a bitter
bad 'un this time. I've got a half-a-guinea about me, sir, if you'll
only please to take it. She isn't worth a farthing more--on the word
of a man, she isn't, sir!' I looked hard in his face, and saw two
scratches on it, and took the half-guinea, more out of pity than
anything else. Lesson to me, however. Never marry a man on credit
again, as long as I live. Cash on all future occasions--cash down, or
no marriage!"

While he was speaking, I had my eye on Miss Sticker. Thanks to the
luncheon which was on the table, she was physically incapable of
"conversing" while our reverend friend was telling his humorous little
anecdote. Just as he had done, and just as the editor of the newspaper
was taking up the subject, she finished her chicken, and turned round
from the table.

"Cash down, my dear sir, as you say," continued the editor. "You
exactly describe our great principle of action in the Press. Some of
the most extraordinary and amusing things happen with subscribers to
newspapers----"

"Ah, the Press!" burst in Miss Sticker, beginning to converse. "What a
wonderful engine! and how grateful we ought to feel when we get the
paper so regularly every morning at breakfast. The only question
is--at least, many people think so--I mean with regard to the Press,
the only question is whether it ought to be----"

Here Miss Sticker lost the next word, and all the company had to look
for it.

"With regard to the Press, the only question is, whether it ought to
be----O, dear, dear, dear me!" cried Miss Sticker, lifting both her
hands in despair, "what is the word?"

"Cheaper?" suggested our reverend friend. "Hang it, ma'am! it can
hardly be that, when it is down to a penny already."

"O no; not cheaper," said Miss Sticker.

"More independent?" inquired the editor. "If you mean that, I defy
anybody to find more fearless exposures of corruption----"

"No, no!" cried Miss Sticker, in an agony of polite confusion. "I
didn't mean that. More independent wasn't the word."

"Better printed?" suggested the engineer.

"On better paper?" added my aunt.

"It can't be done--if you refer to the cheap press--it can't be done
for the money," interposed the editor, irritably.

"O, but that's not it!" continued Miss Sticker, wringing her bony
fingers, with horrid black mittens on them. "I didn't mean to say
better printed, or better paper. It was one word I meant, not
two.--With regard to the Press," pursued Miss Sticker, repeating her
own ridiculous words carefully, as an aid to memory, "the only
question is, whether it ought to be----Bless my heart, how
extraordinary! Well, well, never mind: I'm quite shocked, and ashamed
of myself. Pray go on talking, and don't notice me."

It was all very well to say, Go on talking; but the editor's amusing
story about subscribers to newspapers, had been, by this time, fatally
interrupted. As usual, Miss Sticker had stopped us in full flow. The
engineer considerately broke the silence by starting another subject.

"Here are some wedding-cards on your table," he said, to my aunt,
"which I am very glad to see there. The bridegroom is an old friend of
mine. His wife is really a beauty. You know how he first became
acquainted with her? No? It was quite an adventure, I assure you. One
evening he was on the Brighton Railway; last down train. A lovely girl
in the carriage; our friend Dilberry immensely struck with her. Got
her to talk after a long time, with great difficulty. Within half an
hour of Brighton, the lovely girl smiles, and says to our friend,
'Shall we be very long now, sir, before we get to Gravesend?' Case of
confusion at that dreadful London Bridge Terminus. Dilberry explained
that she would be at Brighton in half an hour, upon which the lovely
girl instantly and properly burst into tears. 'O, what shall I do! O,
what will my friends think!' Second flood of tears.--'Suppose you
telegraph?' says Dilberry soothingly.--'O, but I don't know how!' says
the lovely girl. Out comes Dilberry's pocket-book. Sly dog! he saw his
way now to finding out who her friends were. 'Pray let me write the
necessary message for you,' says Dilberry. 'Who shall I direct to at
Gravesend?'--'My father and mother are staying there with some
friends,' says the lovely girl. 'I came up with a day-ticket, and I
saw a crowd of people when I came back to the station, all going one
way, and I was hurried and frightened, and nobody told me, and it was
late in the evening, and the bell was ringing, and, O Heavens! what
will become of me!' Third burst of tears.--'We will telegraph to your
father,' says Dilberry. 'Pray don't distress yourself. Only tell me
who your father is.'--'Thank you a thousand times,' says the lovely
girl, 'my father is----'"

"ANONYMOUS!" shouts Miss Sticker, producing her lost word with a
perfect burst of triumph. "How glad I am I remembered it at last!
Bless me," exclaims the Lady-Bore, quite unconscious that she has
brought the engineer's story to an abrupt conclusion, by giving his
distressed damsel an anonymous father; "Bless me! what are you all
laughing at? I only meant to say that the question with regard to the
Press was, whether it ought to be anonymous. What in the world is
there to laugh at in that? I really don't see the joke."

And this woman escapes scot-free, while comparatively innocent men are
held up to ridicule, in novel after novel, by dozens at a time! When
will the deluded male writers see my sex in its true colours, and
describe it accordingly? When will Miss Sticker take her proper place
in the literature of England?

       *       *       *       *       *

My second Lady-Bore is that hateful creature, Mrs. Tincklepaw. Where,
over the whole interesting surface of male humanity (including
Cannibals)--where is the man to be found whom it would not be
scandalous to mention in the same breath with Mrs. Tincklepaw? The
great delight of this shocking woman's life, is to squabble with her
husband (poor man, he has my warmest sympathy and best good wishes),
and then to bring the quarrel away from home with her, and to let it
off again at society in general, in a series of short spiteful hints.
Mrs. Tincklepaw is the exact opposite of Miss Sticker. She is a very
little woman; she is (and more shame for her, considering how she
acts) young enough to be Miss Sticker's daughter; and she has a kind
of snappish tact in worrying innocent people, under every possible
turn of circumstances, which distinguishes her (disgracefully) from
the poor feeble-minded Maid-Bore, to whom the reader has been already
introduced. Here are some examples--all taken, be it observed, from my
own personal observation--of the manner in which Mrs. Tincklepaw
contrives to persecute her harmless fellow-creatures wherever she
happens to meet with them:

Let us say I am out walking, and I happen to meet Mr. and Mrs.
Tincklepaw. (By the bye, she never lets her husband out of her
sight--he is too necessary to the execution of her schemes of petty
torment. And such a noble creature, to be used for so base a purpose!
He stands six feet two, and is additionally distinguished by a
glorious and majestic stoutness, which has no sort of connection with
the comparatively comic element of fat. His nature, considering what a
wife he has got, is inexcusably meek and patient. Instead of answering
her, he strokes his magnificent flaxen whiskers, and looks up
resignedly at the sky. I sometimes fancy that he stands too high to
hear what his dwarf of a wife says. For his sake, poor man, I hope
this view of the matter may be the true one.)

I am afraid I have contrived to lose myself in a long parenthesis.
Where was I? O! out walking and happening to meet with Mr. and Mrs.
Tincklepaw. She has had a quarrel with her husband at home, and this
is how she contrives to let me know it.

"Delightful weather, dear, is it not?" I say, as we shake hands.

"Charming, indeed," says Mrs. Tincklepaw. "Do you know, love, I am so
glad you made that remark to me, and not to Mr. Tincklepaw?"

"Really?" I ask. "Pray tell me why?"

"Because," answers the malicious creature, "if you had said it was a
fine day to Mr. Tincklepaw, I should have been so afraid of his
frowning at you directly, and saying, 'Stuff! talk of something worth
listening to, if you talk at all.' What a love of a bonnet you have
got on! and how Mr. Tincklepaw would have liked to be staying in your
house when you were getting ready to-day to go out. He would have
waited for you so patiently, dear. He would never have stamped in the
passage; and no such words as, 'Deuce take the woman! is she going to
keep me here all day?' would by any possibility have escaped his lips.
Don't love! don't look at the shops, while Mr. Tincklepaw is with us.
He might say, 'Oh, bother! you're always wanting to buy something!' I
shouldn't like that to happen. Should you, dear?"

Once more. Say I meet Mr. and Mrs. Tincklepaw at a dinner-party, given
in honour of a bride and bridegroom. From the instant when she enters
the house, Mrs. Tincklepaw never has her eye off the young couple. She
looks at them with an expression of heart-broken curiosity. Whenever
they happen to speak to each other, she instantly suspends any
conversation in which she is engaged, and listens to them with a
mournful eagerness. When the ladies retire, she gets the bride into a
corner; appropriates her to herself for the rest of the evening; and
persecutes the wretched young woman in this manner:--

"May I ask, is this your first dinner, since you came back?"

"O, no! we have been in town for some weeks."

"Indeed? I should really have thought, now, that this was your first
dinner."

"Should you? I can't imagine why."

"How very odd, when the reason is as plain as possible! Why, I noticed
you all dinner time, eating and drinking what you liked, without
looking at your husband for orders. I saw nothing rebellious in your
face when you eat all these nice sweet things at dessert. Dear! dear!
don't you understand? Do you really mean to say that your husband has
not begun yet? Did he not say, as you drove here to day, 'Now, mind,
I'm not going to have another night's rest broken, because you always
choose to make yourself ill with stuffing creams and sweets, and all
that sort of thing?' No!!! Mercy on me, what an odd man he must be!
Perhaps he waits till he gets home again? O, come, come, you don't
mean to tell me that he doesn't storm at you frightfully, for having
every one of your glasses filled with wine, and then never touching a
drop of it, but asking for cold water instead, at the very elbow of
the master of the house? If he says, 'Cursed perversity, and want of
proper tact' once, _I_ know he says it a dozen times. And as for
treading on your dress in the hall, and then bullying you before the
servant, for not holding it up out of his way, it's too common a thing
to be mentioned--isn't it? Did you notice Mr. Tincklepaw particularly?
Ah, you did, and you thought he looked good-natured? No! no! don't say
any more; don't say you know better than to trust to appearances.
Please do take leave of all common sense and experience, and pray
trust to appearances, without thinking of their invariable
deceitfulness, this once. Do, dear, to oblige _me_."

I might fill pages with similar examples of the manners and
conversation of this intolerable Lady-Bore. I might add other equally
aggravating characters, to her character and to Miss Sticker's,
without extending my researches an inch beyond the circle of my own
acquaintance. But I am true to my unfeminine resolution to write as
briefly as if I were a man; and I feel that I have said enough,
already, to show that I can prove my case. When a woman like me can
produce, without the least hesitation, or the slightest difficulty,
two such instances of Lady-Bores as I have just exhibited, the
additional number which she might pick out of her list, after a little
mature reflection, may be logically inferred by all impartial readers.

In the meantime, let me hope I have succeeded sufficiently well in my
present purpose to induce our next great satirist to pause before he,
too, attacks his harmless fellow-men, and to make him turn his
withering glance in the direction of our sex. Let all rising young
gentlemen who are racking their brains in search of originality, take
the timely hint which I have given them in these pages. Let us have a
new fictitious literature, in which not only the Bores shall be women,
but the villains too. Look at Shakespeare--do, pray, look at
Shakespeare. Who is most in fault, in that shocking business of the
murder of King Duncan? Lady Macbeth, to be sure! Look at King Lear,
with a small family of only three daughters, and two of the three,
wretches; and even the third an aggravating girl, who can't be
commonly civil to her own father in the first Act, out of sheer
contradiction, because her elder sisters happen to have been civil
before her. Look at Desdemona, who falls in love with a horrid
copper-coloured foreigner, and then, like a fool, instead of managing
him, aggravates him into smothering her. Ah! Shakespeare was a great
man, and knew our sex, and was not afraid to show he knew it. What a
blessing it would be, if some of his literary brethren, in modern
times, could muster courage enough to follow his example!

I have fifty different things to say, but I shall bring myself to a
conclusion by only mentioning one of them. If it would at all
contribute towards forwarding the literary reform that I advocate, to
make a present of the characters of Miss Sticker and Mrs. Tincklepaw,
to modern writers of fiction, I shall be delighted to abandon all
right of proprietorship in those two odious women. At the same time, I
think it fair to explain that when I speak of modern writers, I mean
gentlemen-writers only. I wish to say nothing uncivil to the ladies
who compose books, whose effusions may, by the rule of contraries, be
exceedingly agreeable to male readers; but I positively forbid them to
lay hands upon my two characters. I am charmed to be of use to the
men, in a literary point of view, but I decline altogether to mix
myself up with the women. There need be no fear of offending them by
printing this candid expression of my intentions. Depend on it, they
will all declare, on their sides, that they would much rather have
nothing to do with _me_.



NOOKS AND CORNERS OF HISTORY.

II.

THE GREAT (FORGOTTEN) INVASION.


PREAMBLE.

It happened some sixty years ago; it was a French invasion; and it
actually took place in England. Thousands of people are alive at the
present moment, who ought to remember it perfectly well. And yet it
has been forgotten. In these times, when the French invasion that
_may_ come, turns up perpetually, in public and in private, as a
subject of discussion--the French invasion that _did_ come, is not
honoured with so much as a passing word of notice. The new generation
knows nothing about it. The old generation has carelessly forgotten
it. This is discreditable, and it must be set right; this is a
dangerous security, and it must be disturbed; this is a gap in the
Modern History of England, and it must be filled up.

Fathers and mothers, read and be reminded; British youths and maidens,
read and be informed. Here follows the true history of the great
forgotten Invasion of England, at the end of the last century; divided
into scenes and periods, and carefully derived from proved and written
facts recorded in Kelly's History of the Wars:

I. OF THE FRENCH INVASION AS SEEN FROM ILFRACOMBE.

On the twenty-second day of February, in the year seventeen hundred
and ninety-seven, the inhabitants of North Devonshire looked towards
the Bristol Channel, and saw the French invasion coming on, in four
ships.

The Directory of the French Republic had been threatening these
islands some time previously; but much talk and little action having
characterised the proceedings of that governing body in most other
matters, no great apprehension was felt of their really carrying out
their expressed intention in relation to this country. The war between
the two nations was, at this time, confined to naval operations, in
which the English invariably got the better of the French. North
Devonshire (as well as the rest of England) was aware of this, and
trusted implicitly in our supremacy of the seas. North Devonshire got
up on the morning of the twenty-second of February, without a thought
of the invasion; North Devonshire looked out towards the Bristol
Channel, and there--in spite of our supremacy of the seas--there the
invasion was, as large as life.

Of the four ships which the Directory had sent to conquer England, two
were frigates and two were smaller vessels. This formidable fleet
sailed along, in view of a whole panic-stricken, defenceless coast;
and the place at which it seemed inclined to try the invading
experiment first, was Ilfracombe. The commander of the expedition
brought his ships up before the harbour, scuttled a few coasting
vessels, prepared to destroy the rest, thought better of it, and
suddenly turned his four warlike sterns on North Devonshire, in the
most unaccountable manner. History is silent as to the cause of this
abrupt and singular change of purpose. Did the chief of the invaders
act from sheer indecision? Did he distrust the hotel accommodation at
Ilfracombe? Had he heard of the clotted cream of Devonshire, and did
he apprehend the bilious disorganisation of the whole army, if they
once got within reach of that luscious delicacy? These are important
questions, but no satisfactory answer can be found to them. The
motives which animated the commander of the invading Frenchmen, are
buried in oblivion: the fact alone remains, that he spared Ilfracombe.
The last that was seen of him from North Devonshire, he was sailing
over ruthlessly to the devoted coast of Wales.


II. OF THE FRENCH INVASION AS SEEN BY WELSHMEN IN GENERAL.

In one respect it may be said that Wales was favoured by comparison
with North Devonshire. The great fact of the French invasion had burst
suddenly on Ilfracombe; but it only dawned in a gradual manner on the
coast of Pembrokeshire. In the course of his cruise across the Bristol
Channel, it had apparently occurred to the commander of the
expedition, that a little diplomatic deception, at the outset, might
prove to be of ultimate advantage to him. He decided, therefore, on
concealing his true character from the eyes of the Welshmen; and when
his four ships were first made out, from the heights above Saint
Bride's Bay, they were all sailing under British colours.

There are men in Wales, as in the rest of the world, whom it is
impossible to satisfy; and there were spectators on the heights of
Saint Bride's who were not satisfied with the British colours, on this
occasion, because they felt doubtful about the ships that bore them.
To the eyes of these sceptics all four vessels had an unpleasantly
French look, and manœuvred in an unpleasantly French manner. Wise
Welshmen along the coast collected together by twos and threes, and
sat down on the heights, and looked out to sea, and shook their heads,
and suspected. But the majority, as usual, saw nothing extraordinary
where nothing extraordinary appeared to be intended; and the country
was not yet alarmed; and the four ships sailed on till they doubled
Saint David's Head; and sailed on again, a few miles to the northward;
and then stopped, and came to single anchor in Cardigan Bay.

Here, again, another difficult question occurs, which recalcitrant
History once more declines to solve. The Frenchmen had hardly been
observed to cast their single anchors in Cardigan Bay, before they
were also observed to pull them up again, and go on. Why? The
commander of the expedition had doubted already at Ilfracombe--was he
doubting again in Cardigan Bay? Or did he merely want time to mature
his plans; and was it a peculiarity of his nature that he always
required to come to anchor before he could think at his ease? To this
mystery, as to the mystery at Ilfracombe, there is no solution; and
here, as there, nothing is certainly known but that the Frenchman
paused--threatened--and then sailed on.


III. OF ONE WELSHMAN IN PARTICULAR, AND OF WHAT HE SAW.

He was the only man in Great Britain who saw the invading army land on
our native shores--and his name has perished.

It is known that he was a Welshman, and that he belonged to the lower
order of the population. He may be still alive--this man, who is
connected with a crisis in English History, may be still alive--and
nobody has found him out; nobody has taken his photograph; nobody has
written a genial biographical notice of him; nobody has made him into
an Entertainment; nobody has held a Commemoration of him; nobody has
presented him with a testimonial, relieved him by a subscription, or
addressed him with a speech. In these enlightened times, this brief
record can only single him out and individually distinguish him--as
the Hero of the Invasion. Such is Fame.

The Hero of the Invasion, then, was standing, or sitting--for even on
this important point tradition is silent--on the cliffs of the Welsh
coast, near Lanonda Church, when he saw the four ships enter the bay
below him, and come to anchor--this time, without showing any symptoms
of getting under weigh again. The English colours, under which the
Expedition had thus far attempted to deceive the population of the
coast, were now hauled down, and the threatening flag of France was
boldly hoisted in their stead. This done, the boats were lowered away,
were filled with a ferocious soldiery, and were pointed straight for
the beach.

It is on record that the Hero of the Invasion distinctly saw this; and
it is _not_ on record that he ran away. Honour to the unknown brave!
Honour to the solitary Welshman who faced the French army!

The boats came on straight to the beach--the ferocious soldiery leapt
out on English soil, and swarmed up the cliff, thirsting for the
subjugation of the British Isles. The Hero of the Invasion, watching
solitary on the cliffs, saw the Frenchmen crawling up below
him--tossing their muskets on before them--climbing with the cool
calculation of an army of chimney-sweeps--nimble as the monkey, supple
as the tiger, stealthy as the cat--hungry for plunder, bloodshed, and
Welsh mutton--void of all respect for the British Constitution--an
army of Invaders on the Land of the Habeas Corpus!

The Welshman saw that, and vanished. Whether he waited with clenched
fist till the head of the foremost Frenchman rose parallel with the
cliff-side, or whether he achieved a long start, by letting the army
get half-way up the cliff, and then retreating inland to give the
alarm--is, like every other circumstance in connection with the Hero
of the Invasion, a matter of the profoundest doubt. It is only known
that he got away at all, because it is _not_ known that he was taken
prisoner. He parts with us here, the shadow of a shade, the most
impalpable of historical apparitions. Honour, nevertheless, to the
crafty brave! Honour to the solitary Welshman who faced the French
army without being shot, and retired from the French army without
being caught!


IV. OF WHAT THE INVADERS DID WHEN THEY GOT ON SHORE.

The Art of Invasion has its routine, its laws, manners, and customs,
like other Arts. And the French army acted strictly in accordance with
established precedents. The first thing the first men did, when they
got to the top of the cliff, was to strike a light and set fire to the
furze-bushes. While national feeling deplores this destruction of
property, unprejudiced History looks on at her ease. Given Invasion as
a cause, fire follows, according to all known rules, as an effect. If
an army of Englishmen had been invading France under similar
circumstances, they, on their side, would necessarily have begun by
setting fire to something; and unprejudiced History would, in that
case also, have looked on at her ease.

While the furze-bushes were blazing, the remainder of the
invaders--assured by the sight of the flames, of their companions'
success so far--was disembarking, and swarming up the rocks. When it
was finally mustered on the top of the cliff, the army amounted to
fourteen hundred men. This was the whole force which the Directory of
the French Republic had thought it desirable to despatch for the
subjugation of Great Britain. History, until she is certain of
results, will pronounce no opinion on the wisdom of this proceeding.
She knows that nothing in politics, is abstractedly rash, cruel,
treacherous, or disgraceful--she knows that Success is the sole
touchstone of merit--she knows that the man who fails is contemptible,
and the man who succeeds is illustrious, without any reference to the
means used in either case; to the character of the men; or to the
nature of the motives under which they may have proceeded to action.
If the Invasion succeeds, History will applaud it as an act of
heroism: if it fails, History will condemn it as an act of folly.

It has been said that the Invasion began creditably, according to the
rules established in all cases of conquering. It continued to follow
those rules with the most praiseworthy regularity. Having started with
setting something on fire, it went on, in due course, to accomplish the
other first objects of all Invasions, thieving and killing--performing
much of the former, and little of the latter. Two rash Welshmen, who
persisted in defending their native leeks, suffered accordingly: the
rest lost nothing but their national victuals, and their national
flannel. On this first day of the Invasion, when the army had done
marauding, the results on both sides may be thus summed up. Gains to
the French:--good dinners, and protection next the skin. Loss to the
English:--mutton, stout Welsh flannel, and two rash countrymen.


V. OF THE BRITISH DEFENCE, AND OF THE WAY IN WHICH THE WOMEN
CONTRIBUTED TO IT.

The appearance of the Frenchmen on the coast, and the loss to the
English, mentioned above, produced the results naturally to be
expected. The country was alarmed, and started up to defend itself.

On the numbers of the invaders being known, and on its being
discovered that, though they were without field-pieces, they had with
them seventy cart-loads of powder and ball, and a quantity of
grenades, the principal men in the country bestirred themselves in
setting up the defence. Before nightfall, all the available men who
knew anything of the art of fighting were collected. When the ranks
were drawn out, the English defence was even more ridiculous in point
of numbers than the French attack. It amounted, at a time when we were
at war with France, and were supposed to be prepared for any dangers
that might threaten--it amounted, including militia, fencibles, and
yeomanry cavalry, to just six hundred and sixty men, or, in other
words, to less than half the number of the invading Frenchmen.

Fortunately for the credit of the nation, the command of this
exceedingly compact force was taken by the principal grandee in the
neighbourhood. He turned out to be a man of considerable cunning, as
well as a man of high rank; and he was known by the style and title of
the Earl of Cawdor.

The one cheering circumstance in connection with the heavy
responsibility which now rested on the shoulders of the Earl,
consisted in this: that he had apparently no cause to dread internal
treason as well as foreign invasion. The remarkably inconvenient spot
which the French had selected for their landing, showed, not only that
they themselves knew nothing of the coast, but that none of the
inhabitants, who might have led them to an easier place of
disembarkation, were privy to their purpose. So far so good. But
still, the great difficulty remained of facing the French with an
equality of numbers, and with the appearance, at least, of an equality
of discipline. The first of these requisites it was easy to fulfil.
There were hosts of colliers and other labourers in the
neighbourhood,--big, bold, lusty fellows enough; but so far as the art
of marching and using weapons was concerned, as helpless as a pack of
children. The question was, how to make good use of these men for
show-purposes, without allowing them fatally to embarrass the
proceedings of their trained and disciplined companions. In this
emergency, Lord Cawdor hit on a grand Idea. He boldly mixed the women
up in the business--and it is unnecessary to add, that the business
began to prosper from that lucky moment.

In those days, the wives of the Welsh labourers wore, what the wives
of all classes of the community have been wearing since--red
petticoats. It was Lord Cawdor's happy idea to call on these
patriot-matrons to sink the question of skirts; to forego the
luxurious consideration of warmth; and to turn the colliers into
military men (so far as external appearances, viewed at a distance,
were concerned), by taking off the wives' red petticoats and putting
them over the husbands' shoulders. Where patriot-matrons are
concerned, no national appeal is made in vain, and no personal
sacrifice is refused. All the women seized their strings, and stepped
out of their petticoats on the spot. What man in that make-shift
military but must think of "home and beauty," now that he had the
tenderest memento of both to grace his shoulders and jog his memory?
In an inconceivably short space of time every woman was shivering, and
every collier was turned into a soldier.


VI. OF HOW IT ALL ENDED.

Thus recruited, Lord Cawdor marched off to the scene of action; and
the patriot women, deprived of their husbands and their petticoats,
retired, it is to be hoped and presumed, to the friendly shelter of
bed. It was then close on nightfall, if not actually night; and the
disorderly marching of the transformed colliers could not be
perceived. But, when the British army took up its position, then was
the time when the excellent stratagem of Lord Cawdor told at its true
worth. By the uncertain light of fires and torches, the French scouts,
let them venture as near as they might, could see nothing in detail. A
man in a scarlet petticoat looked as soldier-like as a man in a
scarlet coat, under those dusky circumstances. All that the enemy
could now see were lines on lines of men in red, the famous uniform of
the English army.

The council of the French braves must have been a perturbed assembly
on that memorable night. Behind them, was the empty bay--for the four
ships, after landing the invaders, had set sail again for France,
sublimely indifferent to the fate of the fourteen hundred. Before
them, there waited in battle array an apparently formidable force of
British soldiers. Under them was the hostile English ground on which
they were trespassers caught in the fact. Girt about by these serious
perils, the discreet commander of the Invasion fell back on those
safeguards of caution and deliberation of which he had already given
proofs on approaching the English shore. He had doubted at Ilfracombe;
he had doubted again in Cardigan Bay; and now, on the eve of the
first battle, he doubted for the third time--doubted, and gave in. If
History declines to receive the French commander as a hero, Philosophy
opens her peaceful doors to him, and welcomes him in the character of
a wise man.

At ten o'clock that night, a flag of truce appeared in the English
camp, and a letter was delivered to Lord Cawdor from the prudent chief
of the invaders. The letter set forth, with amazing gravity and
dignity, that the circumstances under which the French troops had
landed, having rendered it "unnecessary" to attempt any military
operations, the commanding officer did not object to come forward
generously and propose terms of capitulation. Such a message as this
was little calculated to impose on any man--far less on the artful
nobleman who had invented the stratagem of the red petticoats. Taking
a slightly different view of the circumstances, and declining
altogether to believe that the French Directory had sent fourteen
hundred men over to England to divert the inhabitants by the spectacle
of a capitulation, Lord Cawdor returned for answer that he did not
feel himself at liberty to treat with the French commander, except on
the condition of his men surrendering as prisoners of war. On
receiving this reply, the Frenchman gave an additional proof of that
philosophical turn of mind which has been already claimed for him as
one of his merits, by politely adopting the course which Lord Cawdor
suggested. By noon the next day, the French troops were all marched
off, prisoners of war--the patriot-matrons had resumed their
petticoats--and the short terror of the invasion had happily passed
away.

The first question that occurred to everybody, as soon as the alarm
had been dissipated, was, what this extraordinary burlesque of an
invasion could possibly mean. It was asserted, in some quarters, that
the fourteen hundred Frenchmen had been recruited from those
insurgents of La Vendée who had enlisted in the service of the
Republic, who could not be trusted at home, and who were therefore
despatched on the first desperate service that might offer itself
abroad. Others represented the invading army as a mere gang of
galley-slaves and criminals in general, who had been landed on our
shores with the double purpose of annoying England and ridding France
of a pack of rascals. The commander of the expedition, however,
disposed of this latter theory by declaring that six hundred of his
men were picked veterans from the French army, and by referring, for
corroboration of this statement, to his large supplies of powder,
ball, and hand-grenades, which would certainly not have been wasted,
at a time when military stores were especially precious, on a gang of
galley-slaves.

The truth seems to be, that the French (who were even more densely
ignorant of England and English institutions at that time than they
are at this) had been so entirely deceived by false reports of the
temper and sentiments of our people, as to believe that the mere
appearance of the troops of the Republic on these Monarchical shores,
would be the signal for a revolutionary rising of all the disaffected
classes from one end of Great Britain to the other. Viewed merely as
materials for kindling the insurrectionary spark, the fourteen hundred
Frenchmen might certainly be considered sufficient for the
purpose--providing the Directory of the Republic could only have made
sure beforehand that the English tinder might be depended on to catch
light!

One last event must be recorded before this History can be considered
complete. The disasters of the invading army, on shore, were matched,
at sea, by the disasters of the vessels that had carried them. Of the
four ships which had alarmed the English coast, the two largest (the
frigates) were both captured, as they were standing in for Brest
Harbour, by Sir Harry Neale. This smart and final correction of the
fractious little French invasion was administered on the ninth of
March, seventeen hundred and ninety-seven.


MORAL.

This is the history of the Great (Forgotten) Invasion. It is short, it
is not impressive, it is unquestionably deficient in serious interest.
But there is a Moral to be drawn from it, nevertheless. If we are
invaded again, and on a rather larger scale, let us not be so
ill-prepared, this next time, as to be obliged to take refuge in our
wives' red petticoats.



CURIOSITIES OF LITERATURE.--I.

THE UNKNOWN PUBLIC.


Do the customers at publishing-houses, the members of book-clubs and
circulating libraries, and the purchasers and borrowers of newspapers
and reviews, compose altogether the great bulk of the reading public
of England? There was a time when, if anybody had put this question to
me, I, for one, should certainly have answered, Yes.

I know better now. So far from composing the bulk of English readers,
the public just mentioned represents nothing more than the minority.

This startling discovery dawned upon me gradually. I made my first
approaches towards it, in walking about London, more especially in the
second and third rate neighbourhoods. At such times, whenever I passed
a small stationer's or small tobacconist's shop, I became mechanically
conscious of certain publications which invariably occupied the
windows. These publications all appeared to be of the same small
quarto size; they seemed to consist merely of a few unbound pages;
each one of them had a picture on the upper half of the front leaf,
and a quantity of small print on the under. I noticed just as much as
this, for some time, and no more. None of the gentlemen who profess to
guide my taste in literary matters, had ever directed my attention
towards these mysterious publications. My favourite Review is, as I
firmly believe, at this very day, unconscious of their existence. My
enterprising librarian--who forces all sorts of books on my attention
that I don't want to read, because he has bought whole editions of
them a great bargain--has never yet tried me with the limp unbound
picture-quarto of the small shops. Day after day, and week after week,
the mysterious publications haunted my walks, go where I might; and,
still, I was too careless to stop and notice them in detail. I left
London and travelled about England. The neglected publications
followed me. There they were in every town, large or small. I saw them
in fruit-shops, in oyster-shops, in cigar-shops, in lozenge-shops.
Villages even--picturesque, strong-smelling villages--were not free
from them. Wherever the speculative daring of one man could open a
shop, and the human appetites and necessities of his fellow-mortals
could keep it from shutting up again--there, as it appeared to me, the
unbound picture-quarto instantly entered, set itself up obtrusively in
the window, and insisted on being looked at by everybody. "Buy me,
borrow me, stare at me, steal me. Oh, inattentive stranger, do
anything but pass me by!"

Under this sort of compulsion, it was not long before I began to stop
at shop-windows and look attentively at these all-pervading specimens
of what was to me a new species of literary production. I made
acquaintance with one of them among the deserts of West Cornwall; with
another in a populous thoroughfare of Whitechapel; with a third in a
dreary little lost town at the north of Scotland. I went into a lovely
county of South Wales; the modest railway had not penetrated to it,
but the audacious picture-quarto had found it out. Who could resist
this perpetual, this inevitable, this magnificently unlimited appeal
to notice and patronage? From looking in at the windows of the shops,
I got on to entering the shops themselves--to buying specimens of this
locust-flight of small publications--to making strict examination of
them from the first page to the last--and finally, to instituting
inquiries about them in all sorts of well-informed quarters. The
result has been the discovery of an Unknown Public; a public to be
counted by millions; the mysterious, the unfathomable, the universal
public of the penny-novel-Journals.[2]

I have five of these journals now before me, represented by one sample
copy, bought hap-hazard, of each. There are many more; but these five
represent the successful and well-established members of the literary
family. The eldest of them is a stout lad of fifteen years' standing.
The youngest is an infant of three months old. All five are sold at
the same price of one penny; all five are published regularly once a
week; all five contain about the same quantity of matter. The weekly
circulation of the most successful of the five, is now publicly
advertised (and, as I am informed, without exaggeration) at half a
Million. Taking the other four as attaining altogether to a
circulation of another half million (which is probably much under the
right estimate) we have a sale of a Million weekly for five penny
journals. Reckoning only three readers to each copy sold, the result
is _a public of three millions_--a public unknown to the literary
world; unknown, as disciples, to the whole body of professed critics;
unknown, as customers, at the great libraries and the great
publishing-houses; unknown, as an audience, to the distinguished
English writers of our own time. A reading public of three millions
which lies right out of the pale of literary civilisation, is a
phenomenon worth examining--a mystery which the sharpest man among us
may not find it easy to solve.

In the first place, who are the three millions--the Unknown Public--as
I have ventured to call them?

The known reading public--the minority already referred to--are easily
discovered and classified. There is the religious public, with
booksellers and literature of its own, which includes reviews and
newspapers as well as books. There is the public which reads for
information, and devotes itself to Histories, Biographies, Essays,
Treatises, Voyages and Travels. There is the public which reads for
amusement, and patronises the Circulating Libraries and the railway
book-stalls. There is, lastly, the public which reads nothing but
newspapers. We all know where to lay our hands on the people who
represent these various classes. We see the books they like on their
tables. We meet them out at dinner, and hear them talk of their
favourite authors. We know, if we are at all conversant with literary
matters, even the very districts of London in which certain classes of
people live who are to be depended upon beforehand as the picked
readers for certain kinds of books. But what do we know of the
enormous outlawed majority--of the lost literary tribes--of the
prodigious, the overwhelming three millions? Absolutely nothing.

I myself--and I say it to my sorrow--have a very large circle of
acquaintance. Ever since I undertook the interesting task of exploring
the Unknown Public, I have been trying to discover among my dear
friends and my bitter enemies (both alike on my visiting list), a
subscriber to a penny-novel-journal--and I have never yet succeeded in
the attempt. I have heard theories started as to the probable
existence of penny-novel-journals in kitchen dressers, in the back
parlours of Easy Shaving Shops, in the greasy seclusion of the boxes
at the small Chop Houses. But I have never yet met with any man,
woman, or child who could answer the inquiry, "Do you subscribe to a
penny journal?" plainly in the affirmative, and who could produce the
periodical in question. I have learnt, years ago, to despair of ever
meeting with a single woman, after a certain age, who has not had an
offer of marriage. I have given up, long since, all idea of ever
discovering a man who has himself seen a ghost, as distinguished from
that other inevitable man who has had a bosom friend who has
unquestionably seen one. These are two among many other aspirations of
a wasted life which I have definitely resigned. I have now to add one
more to the number of my vanished illusions.

In the absence, therefore, of any positive information on the subject,
it is only possible to pursue the present investigation by accepting
such negative evidence as may help us to guess with more or less
accuracy, at the social position, the habits, the tastes, and the
average intelligence of the Unknown Public. Arguing carefully by
inference, we may hope, in this matter, to arrive at something like a
safe, if not a satisfactory, conclusion.

To begin with, it may be fairly assumed--seeing that the staple
commodity of each one of the five journals before me, is composed of
Stories--that the Unknown Public reads for its amusement more than for
its information.

Judging by my own experience, I should be inclined to add, that the
Unknown Public looks to quantity rather than quality in spending its
penny a-week on literature. In buying my five specimen copies, at five
different shops, I purposely approached the individual behind the
counter, on each occasion, in the character of a member of the Unknown
Public--say, Number Three Million and One--who wished to be guided in
laying out a penny entirely by the recommendation of the shopkeeper
himself. I expected, by this course of proceeding, to hear a little
popular criticism, and to get at what the conditions of success might
be, in a branch of literature which was quite new to me. No such
result rewarded my efforts in any case. The dialogue between buyer and
seller always took some such practical turn as this:

_Reader, Number Three Million and One._--"I want to take in one of the
penny journals. Which do you recommend?"

_Enterprising Publisher._--"Some likes one, and some likes another.
They're all good pennorths. Seen this one?"

"Yes."

"Seen that one?"

"No."

"Look what a pennorth!"

"Yes--but about the stories in this one? Are they as good, now, as the
stories in that one?"

"Well, you see, some likes one, and some likes another. Sometimes I
sells more of one, and sometimes I sells more of another. Take 'em all
the year round, and there ain't a pin, as I knows of, to choose
between 'em. There's just about as much in one as there is in another.
All good pennorths. Bless your soul, just take 'em up and look for
yourself! All good pennorths, choose where you like!"

I never got any farther than this, try as I might. And yet, I found
the shopkeepers, both men and women, ready enough to talk on other
topics. On each occasion, so far from receiving any practical hints
that I was interrupting business, I found myself sociably delayed in
the shop, after I had made my purchase, as if I had been an old
acquaintance. I got all sorts of curious information on all sorts of
subjects,--excepting the good pennorth of print in my pocket. Does the
reader know the singular facts in connection with Everton Toffey? It
is like Eau de Cologne. There is only one genuine receipt for making
it, in the world. It has been a family inheritance from remote
antiquity. You may go here, there, and everywhere, and buy what you
think is Everton Toffey (or Eau de Cologne); but there is only one
place in London, as there is only one place in Cologne, at which you
can obtain the genuine article. That information was given me at one
penny-journal shop. At another, the proprietor explained his new
system of Staymaking to me. He offered to provide my wife with
something that would support her muscles and not pinch her flesh; and,
what was more, he was not the man to ask for his bill, afterwards,
except in the case of giving both of us perfect satisfaction. This man
was so talkative and intelligent: he could tell me all about so many
other things besides stays, that I took it for granted he could give
me the information of which I stood in need. But here again I was
disappointed. He had a perfect snow-drift of penny journals all over
his counter--he snatched them up by handfuls, and gesticulated with
them cheerfully; he smacked and patted them, and brushed them all up
in a heap, to express to me that "the whole lot would be worked off by
the evening;" but he, too, when I brought him to close quarters, only
repeated the one inevitable form of words: "A good pennorth; that's
all I can say! Bless your soul, look at any one of them for yourself,
and see what a pennorth it is!"

Having, inferentially, arrived at the two conclusions that the Unknown
Public reads for amusement, and that it looks to quantity in its
reading, rather than to quality, I might have found it difficult to
proceed further towards the making of new discoveries, but for the
existence of a very remarkable aid to inquiry, which is common to all
the penny-novel-journals alike.

The peculiar facilities to which I now refer, are presented in the
Answers to Correspondents. The page containing these is, beyond all
comparison, the most interesting page in the penny journals. There is
no earthly subject that it is possible to discuss, no private affair
that it is possible to conceive, which the inscrutable Unknown Public
will not confide to the Editor in the form of a question, and which
the editor will not set himself seriously and resolutely to answer.
Hidden under cover of initials, or Christian names, or conventional
signatures--such as Subscriber, Constant Reader, and so forth--the
editor's correspondents seem, many of them, to judge by the published
answers to their questions, utterly impervious to the senses of
ridicule or shame. Young girls beset by perplexities which are usually
supposed to be reserved for a mother's or an elder sister's ear,
consult the editor. Married women who have committed little frailties,
consult the editor. Male jilts in deadly fear of actions for breach of
promise of marriage, consult the editor. Ladies whose complexions are
on the wane, and who wish to know the best artificial means of
restoring them, consult the editor. Gentlemen who want to dye their
hair, and get rid of their corns, consult the editor. Inconceivably
dense ignorance, inconceivably petty malice, and inconceivably
complacent vanity, all consult the editor, and all, wonderful to
relate, get serious answers from him. No mortal position is too
difficult for this wonderful man; there is no change of character as
general referee, which he is not prepared to assume on the instant.
Now he is a father, now a mother, now a schoolmaster, now a confessor,
now a doctor, now a lawyer, now a young lady's confidante, now a young
gentleman's bosom friend, now a lecturer on morals, and now an
authority in cookery.

However, our present business is not with the editor, but with his
readers. As a means of getting at the average intelligence of the
Unknown Public--as a means of testing the general amount of education
which they have acquired, and of ascertaining what share of taste and
delicacy they have inherited from Nature--these extraordinary Answers
to Correspondents may fairly be produced in detail, to serve us for a
guide. I must premise, that I have not maliciously hunted them up out
of many numbers; I have merely looked into my five sample copies of
five separate journals,--all, I repeat, bought, accidentally, just as
they happened to catch my attention in the shop windows. I have not
waited for bad specimens, or anxiously watched for good: I have
impartially taken my chance. And now, just as impartially, I dip into
one journal after another, on the Correspondents' page, exactly as the
five happen to lie on my desk. The result is, that I have the pleasure
of presenting to those ladies and gentlemen who may honour me with
their attention, the following members of the Unknown Public, who are
in a condition to speak quite unreservedly for themselves:--

A reader of a penny-novel-journal who wants a receipt for gingerbread.
A reader who complains of fulness in his throat. Several readers who
want cures for grey hair, for warts, for sores on the head, for
nervousness, and for worms. Two readers who have trifled with Woman's
Affections, and who want to know if Woman can sue them for breach of
promise of marriage. A reader who wants to know what the sacred
initials I. H. S. mean, and how to get rid of small-pox marks. Another
reader who desires to be informed what an esquire is. Another who
cannot tell how to pronounce picturesque and acquiescence. Another who
requires to be told that _chiar'oscuro_ is a term used by painters.
Three readers who want to know how to soften ivory, how to get a
divorce, and how to make black varnish. A reader who is not certain
what the word Poems means; not certain that Mazeppa was written by
Lord Byron; not certain whether there are such things in the world as
printed and published Lives of Napoleon Bonaparte.

Two afflicted readers, well worthy of a place by themselves, who want
a receipt apiece for the cure of knock-knees; and who are referred (it
is to be hoped, by a straight-legged editor) to a former answer,
addressed to other sufferers, which contains the information they
require.

Two readers respectively unaware, until the editor has enlightened
them, that the author of Robinson Crusoe was Daniel Defoe, and the
author of the Irish Melodies, Thomas Moore. Another reader, a trifle
denser, who requires to be told that the histories of Greece and Rome
are ancient histories, and the histories of France and England modern
histories.

A reader who wants to know the right hour of the day at which to visit
a newly-married couple. A reader who wants a receipt for liquid
blacking.

A lady reader who expresses her sentiments prettily on crinoline.
Another lady reader who wants to know how to make crumpets. Another
who has received presents from a gentleman to whom she is not engaged,
and who wants the editor to tell her whether she is right or wrong.
Two lady readers who require lovers, and wish the editor to provide
them. Two timid girls, who are respectively afraid of a French
invasion and dragon-flies.

A Don Juan of a reader who wants the private address of a certain
actress. A reader with a noble ambition who wishes to lecture, and
wants to hear of an establishment at which he can buy discourses
ready-made. A natty reader, who wants German polish for boots and
shoes. A sore-headed reader, who is editorially advised to use soap
and warm water. A virtuous reader, who writes to condemn married women
for listening to compliments, and who is informed by an equally
virtuous editor that his remarks are neatly expressed. A guilty
(female) reader, who confides her frailties to a moral editor, and
shocks him. A pale-faced reader, who asks if she shall darken her
skin. Another pale-faced reader, who asks if she shall put on rouge.
An undecided reader, who asks if there is any inconsistency in a
dancing-mistress being a teacher at a Sunday-school. A bashful reader,
who has been four years in love with a lady, and has not yet mentioned
it to her. A speculative reader who wishes to know if he can sell
lemonade without a licence. An uncertain reader, who wants to be told
whether he had better declare his feelings frankly and honourably at
once. An indignant female reader, who reviles all the gentlemen in her
neighbourhood because they don't take the ladies out. A scorbutic
reader, who wants to be cured. A pimply reader in the same condition.
A jilted reader, who writes to know what his best revenge may be, and
who is advised by a wary editor to try indifference. A domestic
reader, who wishes to be told the weight of a newly-born child. An
inquisitive reader, who wants to know if the name of David's mother is
mentioned in the Scriptures.

Here are ten editorial sentiments on things in general, which are
pronounced at the express request of correspondents, and which are
therefore likely to be of use in assisting us to form an estimate of
the intellectual condition of the Unknown Public:

1. All months are lucky to marry in, when your union is hallowed by
love.

2. When you have a sad trick of blushing on being introduced to a
young lady, and when you want to correct the habit, summon to your aid
a manly confidence.

3. If you want to write neatly, do not bestow too much ink on
occasional strokes.

4. You should not shake hands with a lady on your first introduction
to her.

5. You can sell ointment without a patent.

6. A widow should at once and most decidedly discourage the lightest
attentions on the part of a married man.

7. A rash and thoughtless girl will scarcely make a steady thoughtful
wife.

8. We do not object to a moderate quantity of crinoline.

9. A sensible and honourable man never flirts himself, and ever
despises flirts of the other sex.

10. A collier will not better his condition by going to Prussia.

At the risk of being wearisome, I must once more repeat that these
selections from the Answers to Correspondents, incredibly absurd as
they may appear, are presented _exactly as I find them_. Nothing is
exaggerated for the sake of a joke; nothing is invented, or misquoted,
to serve the purpose of any pet theory of my own. The sample produced
of the three million penny readers is left to speak for itself; to
give some idea of the social and intellectual materials of which a
portion, at least, of the Unknown Public may fairly be presumed to be
composed. Having so far disposed of this first part of the matter in
hand, the second part follows naturally enough of its own accord. We
have all of us formed some opinion by this time on the subject of the
Public itself: the next thing to do is to find out what that Public
reads.

I have already said that the staple commodity of the journals appears
to be formed of stories. The five specimen copies of the five separate
weekly publications now before me, contain, altogether, ten serial
stories; one reprint of a famous novel (to be hereafter referred to);
and seven short tales, each of which begins and ends in one number.
The remaining pages are filled up with miscellaneous contributions, in
literature and art, drawn from every conceivable source. Pickings from
Punch and Plato; wood-engravings, representing notorious people and
views of famous places, which strongly suggest that the original
blocks have seen better days in other periodicals; modern and ancient
anecdotes; short memoirs; scraps of poetry; choice morsels of general
information; household receipts, riddles, and extracts from moral
writers--all appear in the most orderly manner, arranged under
separate heads, and cut up neatly into short paragraphs. However, the
prominent feature in each journal is the serial story, which is
placed, in every case, as the first article, and which is illustrated
by the only wood-engraving that appears to have been expressly cut for
the purpose. To the serial story, therefore, we may fairly devote our
chief attention, because it is clearly regarded as the chief
attraction of these very singular publications.

Two of my specimen-copies contained, respectively, the first chapters
of new stories. In the case of the other three, I found the stories in
various stages of progress. The first thing that struck me, after
reading the separate weekly portions of all five, was their
extraordinary sameness. Each portion purported to be written (and no
doubt was written) by a different author, and yet all five might have
been produced by the same man. Each part of each successive story,
settled down in turn, as I read it, to the same dead level of the
smoothest and flattest conventionality. A combination of fierce
melodrama and meek domestic sentiment; short dialogues and paragraphs
on the French pattern, with moral English reflections of the sort that
occur on the top lines of children's copy-books; incidents and
characters taken from the old exhausted mines of the circulating
library, and presented as complacently and confidently as if they were
original ideas; descriptions and reflections for the beginning of the
number, and a "strong situation," dragged in by the neck and
shoulders, for the end--formed the common literary sources from which
the five authors drew their weekly supply; all collecting it by the
same means; all carrying it in the same quantities; all pouring it out
before the attentive public in the same way. After reading my samples
of these stories, I understood why it was that the fictions of the
regularly-established writers for the penny journals are never
republished. There is, I honestly believe, no man, woman, or child in
England, not a member of the Unknown Public, who could be got to read
them. The one thing which it is possible to advance in their favour
is, that there is apparently no wickedness in them. There seems to be
an intense in-dwelling respectability in their dulness. If they lead
to no intellectual result, even of the humblest kind, they may have,
at least, this negative advantage, that they can do no harm.

If it be objected that I am condemning these stories after having
merely read one number of each of them, I have only to ask in return,
whether anybody ever waits to go all through a novel before passing an
opinion on the goodness or the badness of it? In the latter case, we
throw the story down before we get through it, and that is its
condemnation. There is room enough for promise, if not for
performance, in any one part of any one genuine work of fiction. If I
had found the smallest promise in the style, in the dialogue, in the
presentation of character, in the arrangement of incident, in any of
the five specimens of cheap fiction before me, each one of which
extended, on the average, to ten columns of small print, I should have
gone on gladly to the next number. But I discovered nothing of the
kind; and I put down my weekly sample, just as an editor, under
similar circumstances, puts down a manuscript, after getting through a
certain number of pages--or a reader a book.

And this sort of writing appeals to a monster audience of at least
three millions! Has a better sort ever been tried? It has. The former
proprietor of one of these penny journals commissioned a thoroughly
competent person to translate The Count of Monte Christo for his
periodical. He knew that there was hardly a language in the civilised
world into which that consummate specimen of the rare and difficult
art of story-telling had not been translated. In France, in England,
in America, in Russia, in Germany, in Italy, in Spain, Alexandre Dumas
had held hundreds of thousands of readers breathless. The proprietor
of the penny journal naturally thought that he could do as much with
the Unknown Public. Strange to say, the result of this apparently
certain experiment was a failure. The circulation of the journal in
question seriously decreased from the time when the first of living
story-tellers became a contributor to it! The same experiment was
tried with the Mysteries of Paris and the Wandering Jew, only to
produce the same result. Another penny journal gave Dumas a commission
to write a new story, expressly for translation in its columns. The
speculation was tried, and once again the inscrutable Unknown Public
held back the hand of welcome from the spoilt child of a whole world
of novel-readers.

How is this to be accounted for?

Does a rigid moral sense permeate the Unknown Public from one end of
it to the other, and did the productions of the French novelists shock
that sense from the very outset? The page containing the Answers to
Correspondents would be enough in itself to dispose of this theory.
But there are other and better means of arriving at the truth, which
render any further reference to the Correspondents' page unnecessary.
Some time since, an eminent novelist (the only living English author,
with a literary position, who had, at that time, written for the
Unknown Public) produced his new novel in a penny journal. No shadow
of a moral objection has ever been urged by any readers against the
works published by the author of It Is Never Too Late To Mend; but
even he, unless I have been greatly misinformed, failed to make the
impression that had been anticipated on the impenetrable Three
Millions. The great success of his novel was not obtained in its
original serial form, but in its republished form, when it appealed
from the Unknown to the Known Public. Clearly, the moral obstacle was
not the obstacle which militated against the success of Alexandre
Dumas and Eugène Sue.

What was it, then? Plainly this, as I believe. The Unknown Public is,
in a literary sense, hardly beginning, as yet, to learn to read. The
members of it are evidently, in the mass, from no fault of theirs,
still ignorant of almost everything which is generally known and
understood among readers whom circumstances have placed, socially and
intellectually, in the rank above them. The mere references in Monte
Christo, The Mysteries of Paris, and White Lies (the scene of this
last English fiction having been laid on French ground), to foreign
names, titles, manners, and customs, puzzled the Unknown Public on the
threshold. Look back at the answers to correspondents, and then say,
out of fifty subscribers to a penny journal, how many are likely to
know, for example, that Mademoiselle means Miss? Besides the
difficulty in appealing to the penny audience caused at the beginning
by such simple obstacles as this, there was the great additional
difficulty, in the case of all three of the fictions just mentioned,
of accustoming untried readers to the delicacies and subtleties of
literary art. An immense public has been discovered: the next thing to
be done is, in a literary sense, to teach that public how to read.

An attempt, to the credit of one of the penny journals, has already
been made. I have mentioned, in one place, a reprint of a novel, and
later, a remarkable exception to the drearily common-place character
of the rest of the stories. In both these cases I refer to one and the
same fiction--to the Kenilworth of Sir Walter Scott, which is
reprinted as a new serial experiment in a penny journal. Here is the
great master of modern fiction appealing, at this time of day, to a
new public, and (amazing anomaly!) marching in company with writers
who have the rudiments of their craft still to learn! To my mind, one
result seems certain. If Kenilworth be appreciated by the Unknown
Public, then the very best men among living English writers will one
of these days be called on, as a matter of necessity, to make their
appearance in the pages of the penny journals.

Meanwhile, it is perhaps hardly too much to say, that the future of
English fiction may rest with this Unknown Public, which is now
waiting to be taught the difference between a good book and a bad. It
is probably a question of time only. The largest audience for
periodical literature, in this age of periodicals, must obey the
universal law of progress, and must, sooner or later, learn to
discriminate. When that period comes, the readers who rank by
millions, will be the readers who give the widest reputations, who
return the richest rewards, and who will, therefore, command the
service of the best writers of their time. A great, an unparalleled
prospect awaits, perhaps, the coming generation of English novelists.
To the penny journals of the present time belongs the credit of having
discovered a new public. When that public shall discover its need of a
great writer, the great writer will have such an audience as has never
yet been known.[3]

FOOTNOTES:

[2] It may be as well to explain that I use this awkward compound word
in order to mark the distinction between a penny journal and a penny
newspaper. The "journal" is what I am now writing about. The
"newspaper" is an entirely different subject, with which this article
has no connection.

[3] Five years have passed since this article was first published, and
no signs of progress in the Unknown Public have made their appearance
as yet. Patience! patience! (September, 1863).



SOCIAL GRIEVANCES.--III.

GIVE US ROOM!

[The Imperative Request of a Family Man.]


The entertainments of the festive season of the year, so far as I am
personally concerned, have at last subsided into a temporary lull. I
and my family actually have one or two evenings to ourselves, just at
present. It is my purpose to take advantage of this interval of
leisure to express my sentiments on the subject of evening parties and
ladies' dress.

Let nobody turn over this page impatiently, alarmed at the prospect of
another diatribe against Crinoline. I, for one, am not going to
exhibit myself in the character of a writer who vainly opposes one of
the existing institutions of this country. The Press, the Pulpit, and
the Stage, have been in the habit of considering themselves as three
very powerful levers, capable of being used with terrible effect on
the inert material of society. All three have tried to jerk that
flourishing foreign plant, Crinoline, out of English earth, and have
failed to stir so much as a single root of it. All three have run
full tilt against the women of England, and have not moved them an
inch. Talk of the power of the Press!--what is it, compared to the
power of a French milliner? The Press has tried to abridge the women's
petticoats, and has entirely failed in the attempt. When the right
time comes, a French milliner will abridge them at a week's notice.
The Pulpit preaches, the Stage ridicules; and each woman of the
congregation or the audience, sits, imperturbable, in the middle of
her balloon, and lets the serious words or the comic words, go in at
one ear and come out at the other, precisely as if they were spoken in
an unknown tongue. Nothing that I can remember has so effectually
crushed the pretensions of the Press, the Pulpit, and the Stage, as
the utter failure of their crusade against Crinoline.

My present object in writing is likely, I think, to be popular--at
least, with the ladies. I do not want to put down Crinoline--I only
want to make room for it. Personally, I rather like it--I do, indeed,
though I am a man. The fact is, I am a thoroughly well-disciplined
husband and father; and I know the value of it. The only defect in my
eldest daughter's otherwise perfect form, lies in her feet and ankles.
She is married, so I don't mind mentioning that they are decidedly
clumsy. Without Crinoline, they would be seen; with Crinoline (except
when she goes up stairs), nobody has the slightest suspicion of them.
My wife--pray don't tell her that I ever observed it--my wife used to
waddle before the invention of Crinoline. Now she swims voluptuously,
and knocks down all the light articles of furniture, whenever she
crosses the room, in a manner which, but for the expense of repairs,
would be perfectly charming. One of my other single daughters used to
be sadly thin, poor girl. Oh, how plump she is now! Oh, my
marriageable young men, how ravishingly plump she is now! Long life to
the monarchy of Crinoline! Every mother in this country who has
daughters to marry, and who is not quite so sure of their unaided
personal attractions as she might wish to be, echoes that loyal cry, I
am sure, from the bottom of her affectionate heart. And the Press
actually thinks it can shake our devotion to our Queen Petticoat?
Pooh! pooh!

But we must have room--we must positively have room for our petticoat
at evening parties. We wanted it before Crinoline. We want it ten
thousand times more, now. I don't know how other parents feel; but,
unless there is some speedy reform in the present system of
party-giving--so far as regards health, purse, and temper, I am a lost
man. Let me make my meaning clear on this point by a simple and
truthful process. Let me describe how we went to our last party, and
how we came back from it.

Doctor and Mrs. Crump, of Gloucester Place (I mention names and places
to show the respectable character of the party), kindly requested the
pleasure of our company a week ago. We accepted the invitation, and
agreed to assemble in my dining-room previous to departure, at the
hour of half-past nine. It is unnecessary to say that I and my
son-in-law (who is now staying with me on a visit) had the room
entirely to ourselves at the appointed time. We waited half-an-hour:
both ill-tempered, both longing to be in bed, and both obstinately
silent. When the hall-clock struck ten, a sound was heard on the
stairs, as if a whole gale of wind had broken into the house, and was
advancing to the dining-room to blow us both into empty space. We knew
what this meant, and looked at each other, and said, "Here they are!"
The door opened, and Boreas swam in voluptuously, in the shape of my
wife, in claret-coloured velvet. She stands five feet nine, and
wears--No! I have never actually counted them. Let me not mislead the
public, or do injustice to my wife. Let me rest satisfied with stating
her height, and adding that she is a fashionable woman. Her
circumference, and the causes of it, may be left to the imagination of
the reader.

She was followed by four minor winds, blowing dead in our teeth--by my
married daughter in Pink Moiré Antique; by my own Julia (single) in
Violet Tulle Illusion; by my own Emily (single) in white lace over
glacé silk; by my own Charlotte (single) in blue gauze over glacé
silk. The four minor winds, and the majestic maternal Boreas, entirely
filled the room, and overflowed on to the dining-table. It was a grand
sight. My son-in-law and I--a pair of mere black tadpoles--shrank into
a corner, and gazed at it helplessly.

Our corner was, unfortunately, the farthest from the door. So, when I
moved to lead the way to the carriages, I confronted a brilliant
intermediate expanse of ninety yards of outer clothing alone (allowing
only eighteen yards each to the ladies). Being old, wily, and
respected in the house, I took care to avoid my wife, and succeeded in
getting through my daughters. My son-in-law, young, innocent, and of
secondary position in the family, was not so fortunate. I left him
helpless, looking round the corner of his mother-in-law's
claret-coloured velvet, with one of his legs lost in his wife's Moiré
Antique. There is every reason to suppose that he never extricated
himself; for when we got into the carriages he was not to be found;
and, when ultimately recovered, he exhibited symptoms of physical and
mental exhaustion. I am afraid my son-in-law caught it--I am very much
afraid that, during my absence, my son-in-law caught it.

We filled--no, we overflowed--two carriages. My wife and her married
daughter in one, and I, myself, on the box--the front seat being very
properly wanted for the velvet and the Moiré Antique. In the second
carriage were my three girls--crushed, as they indignantly informed
me, crushed out of all shape (didn't I tell you, just now, how plump
one of them was?) by the miserably-inefficient accommodation which the
vehicle offered to them. They told my son-in-law, as he meekly mounted
to the box, that they would take care not to marry a man like him, at
any rate! I have not the least idea what he had done to provoke them.
The worthy creature gets a great deal of scolding in the house,
without any assignable cause for it. Do my daughters resent his
official knowledge, as a husband, of the secret of their sister's ugly
feet? Oh, dear me, I hope not--I sincerely hope not!

At ten minutes past ten we drove to the hospitable abode of Doctor and
Mrs. Crump. The women of my family were then perfectly dressed in the
finest materials. There was not a flaw in any part of the costume of
any one of the party. This is a great deal to say of ninety yards of
clothing, without mentioning the streams of ribbon, and the dense
thickets of flowery bushes that wantoned gracefully all over their
heads and half-down their backs--nevertheless, I can say it.

At forty minutes past four, the next morning, we were all assembled
once more in my dining-room, to light our bed-room candles. Judging by
costume only, I should not have known one of my daughters again--no,
not one of them!

The Tulle Illusion, was illusion no longer. My daughter's gorgeous
substratum of Gros de Naples bulged through it in half a dozen places.
The Pink Moiré Antique was torn into a draggle-tailed pink train. The
white lace was in tatters, and the blue gauze was in shreds.

"A charming party!" cried my daughters in melodious chorus, as I
surveyed this scene of ruin. Charming, indeed! If I had dressed up my
four girls, and sent them to Greenwich Fair, with strict orders to get
drunk and assault the police, and if they had carefully followed my
directions, could they have come home to me in a much worse condition
than the condition in which I see them now? Could any man, not
acquainted with the present monstrous system of party-giving, look at
my four young women, and believe that they had been spending the
evening under the eyes of their parents, at a respectable house? If
the party had been at a linendraper's, I could understand the object
of this wanton destruction of property. But Doctor Crump is not
interested in making me buy new gowns. What have I done to him that he
should ask me and my family to his house, and all but tear my
children's gowns off their backs, in return for our friendly
readiness to accept his invitation?

But my daughters danced all the evening, and these little accidents
will happen in private ballrooms. Indeed? I did not dance, my wife did
not dance, my son-in-law did not dance. Have we escaped injury on that
account? Decidedly not. Velvet is not an easy thing to tear, so I have
no rents to deplore in my wife's dress. But I apprehend that a
spoonful of trifle does not reach its destination properly, when it is
deposited in a lady's lap; and I altogether deny that there is any
necessary connection between the charms of society, and the wearing of
crushed macaroons, adhesively dotted over the back part of a
respectable matron's dress. I picked three off my wife's gown, as she
swam out of the dining-room, on her way up-stairs; and I am informed
that two new breadths will be wanted in front, in consequence of her
lap having been turned into a plate for trifle. As for my son-in-law,
his trousers are saturated with spilt champagne; and he took, in my
presence, nearly a handful of flabby lobster salad out of the cavity
between his shirt-front and his waistcoat. For myself, I have had my
elbow in a game-pie, and I see with disgust a slimy path of extinct
custard, meandering down the left-hand lappel of my coat. Altogether,
this party, on the lowest calculation, casts me in damages to the
tune of ten pounds, eighteen shillings, and sixpence.[4]

In damages for spoilt garments only. I have still to find out what the
results may be of the suffocating heat in the rooms, and the freezing
draughts in the passages, and on the stairs--I have still to face the
possible doctor's bills for treating our influenzas and our
rheumatisms. And to what cause is all this destruction and discomfort
attributable? Plainly and simply, to this. When Doctor and Mrs. Crump
issued their invitations, they followed the example of the rest of the
world, and asked to their house five times as many people as their
rooms would comfortably hold. Hence, jostling, bumping, and tearing
among the dancers, and jostling, bumping, and spilling in the
supper-room. Hence, a scene of barbarous crowding and confusion, in
which the successful dancers are the heaviest and rudest couples in
the company, and the successful guests at the supper-table, the people
who have the least regard for the restraints of politeness and the
wants of their neighbours.

Is there no remedy for this great social nuisance? for a nuisance it
certainly is. There is a remedy in every district in London, in the
shape of a spacious and comfortable public room, which may be had for
the hiring. The rooms to which I allude are never used for doubtful
purposes. They are mainly devoted to Lectures, Concerts, and Meetings.
When used for a private object, they might be kept private by giving
each guest a card to present at the door, just as cards are presented
at the opera. The expense of the hiring, when set against the expense
of preparing a private house for a party, and the expense of the
injuries which crowding causes, would prove to be next to nothing. The
supper might be sent into the large room as it is sent into the small
house. And what benefit would be gained by all this? The first and
greatest of all benefits, in such cases--room. Room for the dancers to
exercise their art in perfect comfort; room for the spectators to move
about and talk to each other at their ease; room for the musicians in
a comfortable gallery; room for eating and drinking; room for
agreeable equal ventilation. In one word, all the acknowledged
advantages of a public ball, with all the pleasant social freedom of a
private entertainment.

And what hinders the adopting of this sensible reform? Nothing but
the domestic vanity of my beloved countrymen.

I suggested the hiring of a room, the other day, to an excellent
friend of mine, who thought of giving a party, and who inhumanly
contemplated asking at least a hundred people into his trumpery little
ten-roomed house. He absolutely shuddered when I mentioned my idea:
all his insular prejudices bristled up in an instant. "If I can't
receive my friends under my own roof, on my own hearth, sir, and in my
own home, I won't receive them at all. Take a room indeed! Do you call
that an Englishman's hospitality? I don't." It was quite useless to
suggest to this gentleman that an Englishman's hospitality, or any
man's hospitality, is unworthy of the name unless it fulfils the first
great requisite of making his guests comfortable. We don't take that
far-fetched view of the case in this domestic country. We stand on our
own floor (no matter whether it is only twelve feet square or not); we
make a fine show in our houses (no matter whether they are large
enough for the purpose or not); never mind the women's dresses; never
mind the dancers being in perpetual collision; never mind the supper
being a comfortless, barbarous scramble; never mind the ventilation
alternating between unbearable heat and unbearable cold--an
Englishman's house is his castle, even when you can't get up his
staircase, and can't turn round in his rooms. If I lived in the Black
Hole at Calcutta, sir, I would see my friends _there_ because I lived
there, and would turn up my nose at the finest marble palace in the
whole city, because it was a palace that could be had for the hiring!

And yet the innovation on a senseless established custom which I now
propose, is not without precedent, even in this country. When I was a
young man, I, and some of my friends, used to give a Bachelors' Ball,
once a-year. We hired a respectable public room for the purpose.
Nobody ever had admission to our entertainment who was not perfectly
fit to be asked into any gentleman's house. Nobody wanted room to
dance in; nobody's dress was injured; nobody was uncomfortable at
supper. Our ball was looked forward to, every year, by the young
ladies, as the especial dance of the season at which they were sure to
enjoy themselves. They talked rapturously of the charming music, and
the brilliant lighting, and the pretty decorations, and the nice
supper. Old ladies and gentlemen used to beg piteously that they might
not be left out on account of their years. People of all ages and
tastes found something to please them at the Bachelors' Ball, and
never had a recollection, in connection with it, which was not of the
happiest nature. What prevents us, now we are married, from following
the sensible proceeding of our younger days? The stupid assumption
that my house must be big enough to hold all my friends comfortably,
_because_ it is my house. I did not reason in that way, when I had
lodgings, although my bachelor sitting-room was, within a few feet
each way, as large as my householder's drawing-room at the present
time.

However, I have really some hopes of seeing the sensible reform, which
I have ventured to propose, practically and generally carried out,
before I die. Not because I advocate it, not because it is in itself
essentially reasonable; but merely because the course of Time is
likely, before long, to leave obstinate Prejudice no choice of
alternatives and no power of resistance. Party-giving is on the
increase, party-goers are on the increase, petticoats are on the
increase,--but private houses remain exactly as they were. It is
evidently only a question of time. The guests already overflow on to
the staircase. Give us a ten years' increase of the population, and
they will overflow into the street. When the door of the Englishman's
nonsensical castle cannot be shut, on account of the number of his
guests who are squeezed out to the threshold, then he will concede to
necessity what he will not now concede to any strength of reasoning,
or to any gentleness of persuasion. The only cogent argument with
obstinate people is Main Force--and Time, in the case now under
consideration, is sooner or later sure to employ it.

FOOTNOTE:

[4] For the information of ignorant young men, who are beginning life,
I subjoin the lamentable particulars of this calculation:--

                                          £.    s.   d.

     A Tulle Illusion spoilt              2     0     0

     Repairing gathers of Moiré Antique   0     5     0

     Cheap white lace dress spoilt        3     0     0

       Do.  blue gauze    do.             1     6     0

     Two new breadths of velvet for Mama  4     0     0

     Cleaning my son-in-law's trousers    0     2     6

     Cleaning my own coat                 0     5     0
                                         --------------
         Total                           10    18    68



CURIOSITIES OF LITERATURE.--II.

PORTRAIT OF AN AUTHOR, PAINTED BY HIS PUBLISHER.


I.

The Author was born a Frenchman, and died in the year 1850. Over the
whole continent of Europe, wherever the literature of France has
penetrated, his readers are numbered by tens of thousands. Women of
all ranks and orders have singled him out, long since, as the marked
man, among modern writers of fiction, who most profoundly knows and
most subtly appreciates their sex in its strength and in its weakness.
Men, whose critical judgment is widely and worthily respected, have
declared that he is the deepest and truest observer of human nature
whom France has produced since the time of Molière. Unquestionably, he
ranks as one of the few great geniuses who appear by ones and twos, in
century after century of authorship, and who leave their mark
ineffaceably on the literature of their age. And yet, in spite of this
widely-extended continental fame, and this indisputable right and
title to enjoy it, there is probably no civilised country in the Old
World in which he is so little known as in England. Among all the
readers--a large class in these islands--who are, from various causes,
unaccustomed to study French literature in its native language, there
are probably very many who have never even heard of the name of HONORÉ
DE BALZAC.

Unaccountable as it may appear at first sight, the reason why the
illustrious author of Eugénie Grandet, Le Père Goriot, and La
Recherche de l'Absolu, happens to be so little known to the general
public of England is, on the surface of it, easy enough to discover.
Balzac is little known, because he has been little translated. An
English version of Eugénie Grandet was advertised, lately, as one of a
cheap series of novels. And the present writer has some indistinct
recollection of meeting, many years since, with a translation of La
Peau de Chagrin. But so far as he knows, excepting the instances of
these two books, not one other work, out of the whole number of
ninety-seven fictions, long and short, which proceeded from the same
fertile pen, has been offered to our own readers in our own language.
Immense help has been given in this country to the reputations of
Alexandre Dumas, Victor Hugo, and Eugène Sue: no help whatever, or
next to none, has been given to Balzac--although he is regarded in
France (and rightly regarded, in some respects) as a writer of Action
superior to all three.

Many causes, too numerous to be elaborately traced within the compass
of a single article, have probably contributed to produce this
singular instance of literary neglect. It is not to be denied, for
example, that serious difficulties stand in the way of translating
Balzac, which are caused by his own peculiarities of style and
treatment. His French is not the clear, graceful, neatly-turned French
of Voltaire and Rousseau. It is a strong, harsh, solidly vigorous
language of his own; now flashing into the most exquisite felicities
of expression, and now again involved in an obscurity which only the
closest attention can hope to penetrate. A special man, not hurried
for time, and not easily brought to the end of his patience, might
give the English equivalent of Balzac with admirable effect. But
ordinary translating of him by average workmen would only lead,
through the means of feeble parody, to the result of utter failure.[5]


The difficulties, again, caused by his style of treatment are not to
be lightly estimated, in considering the question of presenting this
author to our own general public. The peculiarity of Balzac's literary
execution is, that he never compromises the subtleties and delicacies
of Art for any consideration of temporary effect. The framework in
which his idea is set, is always wrought with a loving minuteness
which leaves nothing out. Everything which, in this writer's mind, can
even remotely illustrate the characters that he depicts, must be
elaborately conveyed to the minds of his readers before the characters
themselves start into action. This quality of minute finish, of
reiterated refining, which is one of Balzac's great merits, so far as
foreign audiences are concerned, is another of the hindrances, so far
as an English audience is concerned, in the way of translating him.

Allowing all due weight to the force of these obstacles; and further
admitting that Balzac lays himself open to grave objection (on the
part of that unhappily large section of the English public which
obstinately protests against the truth wherever the truth is painful),
as a writer who sternly insists on presenting the dreary aspects of
human life, literally, exactly, nakedly, as he finds them--making
these allowances, and many more if more be needful--it is still
impossible not to regret, for the sake of readers themselves, that
worthy English versions of the best works of this great writer are
not added to the national library of translated literature. Towards
the latter part of his career, Balzac's own taste in selection of
subject seems to have become vitiated. His later novels, consummately
excellent as some of them were in a literary sense, are assuredly, in
a moral sense, not to be defended against the grave accusation of
being needlessly and even horribly repulsive. But no objections of
this sort apply to the majority of the works which he produced when he
was in the prime of his life and his faculties. The conception of the
character of "Eugénie Grandet" is one of the purest, tenderest, and
most beautiful things in the whole range of fiction; and the execution
of it is even worthy of the idea. If the translation already
accomplished of this book be only creditably executed, it may be left
to speak for itself. But there are other fictions of the writer which
deserve the same privilege, and which have not yet obtained it. "La
Recherche de l'Absolu,"--a family picture which, for truth, delicacy,
and pathos, has been surpassed by no novelist of any nation or any
time; a literary achievement in which a new and an imperishable
character (the exquisitely beautiful character of the wife) has been
added to the great gallery of fiction--remains still unknown to the
general public of England. "Le Père Goriot"--which, though it unveils
some of the hidden corruptions of Parisian life, unveils them nobly
in the interests of that highest morality belonging to no one nation
and no one sect--"Le Père Goriot," which stands first and foremost
among all the writer's works, which has drawn the tears of thousands
from the purest sources, has its appeal still left to make to the
sympathies of English readers. Other shorter stories, scattered about
the "Scènes de la Vie Privée," the "Scènes de la Vie de Province," and
the "Scènes de la Vie Parisienne," are as completely unknown to a
certain circle of readers in this country, and as unquestionably
deserve careful and competent translation, as the longer and more
elaborate productions of Balzac's inexhaustible pen. Reckoning these
shorter stories, there are at least a dozen of his highest
achievements in fiction which might be safely rendered into English;
which might form a series by themselves; and which no sensible
Englishwoman could read and be, either intellectually or morally, the
worse for them.

Thus much, in the way of necessary preliminary comment on the works of
this author, and on their present position in reference to the English
public. Readers who may be sufficiently interested in the subject to
desire to know something next about the man himself, may now derive
this information from a singular, and even from a unique source. The
Life of Balzac has been lately written by his publisher, of all the
people in the world! This is a phenomenon in itself; and the oddity of
it is still further increased by the fact that the publisher was
brought to the brink of ruin by the author, that he mentions this
circumstance in writing his life, and that it does not detract one
iota from his evidently sincere admiration for the great man with whom
he was once so disastrously connected in business. Here is surely an
original book, in an age when originality grows harder and harder to
meet with--a book containing disclosures which will perplex and dismay
every admirer of Balzac who cannot separate the man from his works--a
book which presents one of the most singular records of human
eccentricity, so far as the hero of it is concerned, and of human
credulity so far as the biographer is concerned, which has probably
ever been published for the amusement and bewilderment of the reading
world.

The title of this singular work is, "Portrait Intime De Balzac: sa
Vie, son Humeur et son Caractère. Par Edmond Werdet, son ancien
Libraire-Editeur." Before, however, we allow Monsieur Werdet to relate
his own personal experience of the celebrated writer, it will be
advisable to introduce the subject by giving an outline of the
struggles, the privations, and the disappointments which marked the
early life of Balzac, and which, doubtless, influenced his after
character for the worse. These particulars are given by Monsieur
Werdet in the form of an episode, and are principally derived, on his
part, from information afforded by the author's sister.

       *       *       *       *       *

Honoré de Balzac was born in the city of Tours, on the sixteenth of
May, seventeen hundred and ninety-nine. His parents were people of
rank and position in the world. His father held a legal appointment in
the council-chamber of Louis the sixteenth. His mother was the
daughter of one of the directors of the public hospitals of Paris. She
was much younger than her husband, and brought him a rich dowry.
Honoré was her first-born; and he retained throughout life his first
feeling of childish reverence for his mother. That mother suffered the
unspeakable affliction of seeing her illustrious son taken from her by
death at the age of fifty years. Balzac breathed his last in the kind
arms which had first caressed him on the day of his birth.

His father, from whom he evidently inherited much of the eccentricity
of his character, is described as a compound of Montaigne, Rabelais,
and Uncle Toby--a man in manners, conversation, and disposition
generally, of the quaintly original sort. On the breaking out of the
Revolution, he lost his court situation, and obtained a place in the
commissariat department of the army of the North. This appointment he
held for some years. It was of the greater importance to him, in
consequence of the change for the worse produced in the pecuniary
circumstances of the family by the convulsion of the Revolution.

At the age of seven years Balzac was sent to the college of Vendôme;
and for seven years more there he remained. This period of his life
was never a pleasant one in his remembrance. The reduced circumstances
of his family exposed him to much sordid persecution and ridicule from
the other boys; and he got on but little better with the masters. They
reported him as idle and incapable--or, in other words, as ready
enough to devour all sorts of books on his own desultory plan, but
hopelessly obstinate in resisting the educational discipline of the
school. This time of his life he has reproduced in one of the
strangest and the most mystical of all his novels, "La Vie
Intellectuelle de Louis Lambert."

On reaching the critical age of fourteen, his intellect appears to
have suffered under a species of eclipse, which occurred very suddenly
and mysteriously, and the cause of which neither his masters nor the
medical men were able to explain. He himself always declared in
after-life, with a touch of his father's quaintness, that his brain
had been attacked by "a congestion of ideas." Whatever the cause might
be, the effect was so serious that the progress of his education had
to be stopped; and his removal from the college followed as a matter
of course. Time, care, quiet, and breathing his native air, gradually
restored him to himself; and he was ultimately enabled to complete his
studies at two private schools. Here again, however, he did nothing to
distinguish himself among his fellow-pupils. He read incessantly, and
preserved the fruits of his reading with marvellous power of memory;
but the school-teaching, which did well enough for ordinary boys, was
exactly the species of teaching from which the essentially original
mind of Balzac recoiled in disgust. All that he felt and did at this
period has been carefully reproduced by his own pen in the earlier
pages of "Le Lys dans la Vallée."

Badly as he got on at school, he managed to imbibe a sufficient
quantity of conventional learning to entitle him, at the age of
eighteen, to his degree of Bachelor of Arts. He was destined for the
law; and after attending the legal lectures in the various
Institutions of Paris, he passed his examination by the time he was
twenty, and then entered a notary's office in the capacity of clerk.
There were two other clerks to keep him company, who hated the
drudgery of the law as heartily as he hated it himself. One of them
was the future author of "The Mysteries of Paris," Eugène Sue; the
other was the famous critic, Jules Janin.

After he had been engaged in this office, and in another, for more
than three years, a legal friend, who was under great obligations to
Balzac the father, offered to give up his business as a notary to
Balzac the son. To the great scandal of the family, Honoré resolutely
refused the offer--for the one sufficient reason that he had
determined to be the greatest writer in France. His relations began by
laughing at him, and ended by growing angry with him. But nothing
moved Honoré. His vanity was of the calm, settled sort; and his own
conviction that his business in life was simply to be a famous man,
proved too strong to be shaken by anybody.

While he and his family were at war on this point, a change for the
worse occurred in the elder Balzac's official circumstances. He was
superannuated. The diminution of income thus produced was followed by
a pecuniary catastrophe. He had embarked almost the whole of his own
little remaining property and his wife's in two speculations; and they
both failed. No resource was now left him but to retire to a small
country house in the neighbourhood of Paris, which he had purchased in
his prosperous days, and to live there as well as might be on the
wreck of his lost fortune. Honoré, sticking fast to the hopeless
business of becoming a great man, was, by his own desire, left alone
in a Paris garret, with an allowance of five pounds English a month,
which was all the kind father could spare to feed, clothe, and lodge
the wrong-headed son.

And now, without a literary friend to help him in all Paris; alone in
his wretched attic, with his deal-table and his truckle-bed, his
dog's-eared books, his bescrawled papers, his wild vanity, and his
ravenous hunger for fame, Balzac stripped resolutely for the great
fight. He was then twenty-three years old--a sturdy fellow to look at,
with a big, jovial face, and a strong square forehead, topped by a
very untidy and superfluous allowance of long tangled hair. His only
difficulty at starting was what to begin upon. After consuming many
lonely months in sketching out comedies, operas, and novels, he
finally obeyed the one disastrous rule which seems to admit of no
exception in the early lives of men of letters, and fixed the whole
bent of his industry and his genius on the production of a tragedy.
After infinite pains and long labour, the great work was completed.
The subject was Cromwell; and the treatment, in Balzac's hands,
appears to have been so inconceivably bad, that even his own
family--to say nothing of other judicious friends--told him in the
plainest terms, when he read it to them, that he had perpetrated a
signal failure. Modest men might have been discouraged by this. Balzac
took his manuscript back to his garret, standing higher in his own
estimation than ever. "I will give up being a great dramatist," he
told his parents at parting, "and I will be a great novelist instead."
The vanity of the man expressed itself with this sublime disregard of
ridicule all through his life. It was a precious quality to him--it is
surely (however unquestionably offensive it may be to our friends) a
precious quality to all of us. What man ever yet did anything great,
without beginning with a profound belief in his own untried powers?

Confident as ever, therefore, in his own resources, Balzac now took up
the pen once more--this time, in the character of a novelist. But
another and a serious check awaited him at the outset. Fifteen months
of solitude, privation, and reckless hard writing--months which are
recorded in the pages of "La Peau de Chagrin" with a fearful and
pathetic truth, drawn straight from the bitterest of all experiences,
the experience of studious poverty--had reduced him to a condition of
bodily weakness which made all present exertion of his mental powers
simply hopeless, and which obliged him to take refuge--a worn-out,
wasted man, at the age of twenty-three--in his father's quiet little
country house. Here, under his mother's care, his exhausted energies
slowly revived; and here, in the first days of his convalescence, he
returned, with the grim resolution of despair, to working out the old
dream in the garret, to resuming the old hopeless business of making
himself a great man.

It was under his father's roof, during the time of his slow recovery,
that the youthful fictions of Balzac were produced. The strength of
his belief in his own resources and his own future, gave him also the
strength, in relation to these first efforts, to rise above his own
vanity, and to see plainly that he had not yet learnt to do himself
full justice. His early novels bore on their title-pages a variety of
feigned names, for the starving, struggling author was too proud to
acknowledge them, so long as they failed to satisfy his own conception
of what his own powers could accomplish. These first efforts--now
included in the Belgian editions of his collected works, and
comprising among them two stories, "Jane la Pâle" and "Le Vicaire des
Ardennes," which show unquestionable dawnings of the genius of a great
writer--were originally published by the lower and more rapacious
order of booksellers, and did as little towards increasing his means
as towards establishing his reputation. Still, he forced his way
slowly and resolutely through poverty, obscurity, and disappointment,
nearer and nearer to the promised land which no eye saw but his own--a
greater man, by far, at this hard period of his adversity than at the
more trying after-time of his prosperity and his fame. One by one, the
heavy years rolled on till he was a man of thirty; and then the great
prize which he had so long toiled for, dropped within his reach at
last. In the year eighteen hundred and twenty-nine, the famous
"Physiologie du Mariage" was published; and the starveling of the
Paris garret became a name and a power in French literature.

In England, this book would have been universally condemned as an
unpardonable exposure of the most sacred secrets of domestic life. It
unveils the whole social side of Marriage in its innermost recesses,
and exhibits it alternately in its bright and dark aspects with a
marvellous minuteness of observation, a profound knowledge of human
nature, and a daring eccentricity of style and arrangement which amply
justify the extraordinary success of the book on its first appearance
in France. It may be more than questionable, judging from the English
point of view, whether such a subject should ever have been selected
for any other than the most serious, reverent, and forbearing
treatment. Setting this objection aside, however, in consideration of
the French point of view, it cannot be denied that the merits of the
"Physiology of Marriage," as a piece of writing, were by no means
over-estimated by the public to which it was addressed. In a literary
sense, the book would have done credit to a man in the maturity of his
powers. As the work of a man whose intellectual life was only
beginning, it was such an achievement as is not often recorded in the
history of modern literature.

This first triumph of the future novelist--obtained, curiously enough,
by a book which was not a novel--failed to smooth the way onward and
upward for Balzac as speedily and pleasantly as might have been
supposed. He had another stumble on that hard road of his, before he
fairly started on the career of success. Soon after the publication of
"The Physiology of Marriage," an unlucky idea of strengthening his
resources by trading in literature, as well as by writing books, seems
to have occurred to him. He tried bookselling and printing; proved
himself to be, in both cases, probably the very worst man of business
who ever lived and breathed in this world; failed in the most hopeless
way, with the most extraordinary rapidity; and so learnt at last, by
the cruel teaching of experience, that his one fair chance of getting
money lay in sticking fast to his pen for the rest of his days. In the
next ten years of his life that pen produced the noble series of
fictions which influenced French literature far and wide, and which
will last in public remembrance long after the miserable errors and
inconsistencies of the writer's personal character are forgotten. This
was the period when Balzac was in the full enjoyment of his matured
intellectual powers and his enviable public celebrity; and this was
also the golden time when his publisher and biographer first became
acquainted with him. Now, therefore, Monsieur Werdet may be encouraged
to come forward and take the post of honour as narrator of the strange
story that is still to be told; for now he is placed in the fit
position to address himself intelligibly, as well as amusingly, to an
English audience.

       *       *       *       *       *

The story opens with the starting of Monsieur Werdet as a publisher in
Paris, on his own account. The modest capital at his command amounted
to just one hundred and twenty pounds English; and his leading idea,
on beginning business, was to become the publisher of Balzac.

He had already entered into transactions, on a large scale, with his
favourite author, in the character of agent for a publishing-house of
high standing. He had been very well received, on that first occasion,
as a man representing undeniable capital and a great commercial
position. On the second occasion, however, of his representing nobody
but himself, and nothing but the smallest of existing capitals, he
very wisely secured the protection of an intimate friend of Balzac's,
to introduce him as favourably as might be, for the second time.
Accompanied by this gentleman, whose name was Monsieur Barbier, and
carrying his capital in his pocket-book, the embryo publisher
nervously presented himself in the sanctum sanctorum of the great man.

Monsieur Barbier having carefully explained the business on which they
came, Balzac addressed himself, with an indescribable suavity and
grandeur of manner, to anxious Monsieur Werdet.

"Just so," said the eminent man. "You are doubtless possessed, sir, of
considerable capital? You are probably aware that no man can hope to
publish for ME who is not prepared to assert himself magnificently in
the matter of cash? I sell high--high--very high. And, not to deceive
you--for I am incapable of suppressing the truth--I am a man who
requires to be dealt with on the principle of considerable advances.
Proceed, sir--I am prepared to listen to you."

But Monsieur Werdet was too cautious to proceed without strengthening
his position before starting. He entrenched himself instantly behind
his pocket-book.

One by one, the notes of the Bank of France, which formed the poor
publisher's small capital, were drawn out of their snug hiding-place.
Monsieur Werdet produced six of them, representing five hundred francs
each (or, as before mentioned, a hundred and twenty pounds sterling),
arranged them neatly and impressively in a circle on the table, and
then cast himself on the author's mercy in an agitated voice, and in
these words:

"Sir! behold my capital. There lies my whole fortune. It is yours in
exchange for any book you please to write for me----"

At that point, to the horror and astonishment of Monsieur Werdet, his
further progress was cut short by roars of laughter--formidable
roars, as he himself expressly states--bursting from the lungs of the
highly diverted Balzac.

"What astonishing simplicity!" exclaimed the great man. "Do you
actually believe, sir, that I--De Balzac--can so entirely forget what
is due to myself as to sell you any conceivable species of fiction
which is the product of MY PEN, for the sum of three thousand francs?
You have come here, Monsieur Werdet, to address an offer to me,
without preparing yourself by previous reflection. If I felt so
disposed, I should have every right to consider your conduct as
unbecoming in the highest degree. But I don't feel so disposed. On the
contrary, I can even allow your honest ignorance, your innocent
confidence, to excuse you in my estimation. Don't be alarmed, sir.
Consider yourself excused to a certain extent."

Between disappointment, indignation, and astonishment, Monsieur Werdet
was struck dumb. His friend, Monsieur Barbier, therefore spoke for
him, urging every possible consideration; and finally proposing that
Balzac, if he was determined not to write a new story for three
thousand francs, should at least sell one edition of an old one for
that sum. Monsieur Barbier's arguments were admirably put: they lasted
a long time; and when they had come to an end, they received this
reply:

"Gentlemen!" cried Balzac, pushing back his long hair from his heated
temples, and taking a fresh dip of ink, "you have wasted an hour of MY
TIME in talking of trifles. I rate the pecuniary loss thus occasioned
to me at two hundred francs. My time is my capital. I must work.
Gentlemen! leave me." Having expressed himself in these hospitable
terms, the great man immediately resumed the process of composition.

Monsieur Werdet, naturally and properly indignant, immediately left
the room. He was overtaken, after he had proceeded a little distance
in the street, by his friend Barbier, who had remained behind to
remonstrate.

"You have every reason to be offended," said Barbier. "His conduct is
inexcusable. But pray don't suppose that your negotiation is broken
off. I know him better than you do; and I tell you that you have
nailed Balzac. He wants money, and before three days are over your
head he will return your visit."

"If he does," replied Werdet, "I'll pitch him out of window."

"No, you won't," said Barbier. "In the first place, it is an extremely
uncivil proceeding to pitch a man out of window; and, as a naturally
polite gentleman, you are incapable of committing a breach of good
manners. In the second place, rude as he has been to you, Balzac is
not the less a man of genius; and, as such, he is just the man of
whom you, as a publisher, stand in need. Wait patiently; and in a day
or two you will see him, or hear from him again."

Barbier was right. Three days afterwards, the following satisfactory
communication was received by Monsieur Werdet:--

     "My brain, sir, was so prodigiously preoccupied by work
     uncongenial to my fancy, when you visited me the other day,
     that I was incapable of comprehending otherwise than
     imperfectly what it was that you wanted of me.

     "To-day, my brain is not preoccupied. Do me the favour to
     come and see me at four o'clock.

     "A thousand civilities.

          "DE BALZAC."

Monsieur Werdet viewed this singular note in the light of a fresh
impertinence. On consideration, however, he acknowledged it, and
curtly added that important business would prevent his accepting the
appointment proposed to him.

In two days more, friend Barbier came with a second invitation from
the great man. But Monsieur Werdet steadily refused it. "Balzac has
already been playing his game with me," he said. "Now it is my turn to
play my game with Balzac. I mean to keep him waiting four days
longer."

At the end of that time, Monsieur Werdet once more entered the sanctum
sanctorum. On this second occasion, Balzac's graceful politeness was
indescribable. He deplored the rarity of intelligent publishers. He
declared his deep sense of the importance of an intelligent
publisher's appearance on the literary horizon. He expressed himself
as quite enchanted to be now enabled to remark that appearance, to
welcome it, and even to deal with it. Polite as he was by nature,
Monsieur Werdet had no chance this time against Monsieur de Balzac. In
the race of civility the publisher was now nowhere, and the author
made all the running.

The interview, thus happily begun, terminated in a most agreeable
transaction on both sides. Balzac cheerfully locked up the six bank
notes in his strong-box. Werdet, as cheerfully, retired with a written
agreement in his empty pocket-book, authorising him to publish the
second edition of "Le Médecin de Campagne"--hardly, it may be remarked
in parenthesis, one of the best to select of the novels of Balzac.


II.

Once started in business as the happy proprietor and hopeful publisher
of the second edition of "Le Médecin de Campagne," Monsieur Werdet was
too wise a man not to avail himself of the only certain means of
success in modern times. He puffed magnificently. Every newspaper in
Paris was inundated with a deluge of advertisements, announcing the
forthcoming work in terms of eulogy such as the wonderstruck reader
had never met with before. The result, aided by Balzac's celebrity,
was a phenomenon in the commercial history of French literature, at
that time. Every copy of the second edition of "Le Médecin de
Campagne" was sold in eight days.

This success established Monsieur Werdet's reputation. Young authors
crowded to him with their manuscripts, all declaring piteously that
they wrote in the style of Balzac. But Monsieur Werdet flew at higher
game. He received the imitators politely, and even published for one
or two of them; but the high business aspirations which now glowed
within him were all concentrated on the great original. He had
conceived the sublime idea of becoming Balzac's sole publisher; of
buying up all his copyrights held by other houses, and of issuing all
his new works that were yet to be written. Balzac himself welcomed
this proposal with superb indulgence. "Walter Scott," he said in his
grandest way, "had only one publisher--Archibald Constable. Work out
your idea. I authorise it; I support it. I will be Scott, and you
shall be Constable!"

Fired by the prodigious future thus disclosed to him, Monsieur Werdet
assumed forthwith the character of a French Constable; and opened
negotiations with no less than six publishers who held among them the
much-desired copyrights. His own enthusiasm did something for him; his
excellent previous character in the trade, and his remarkable success
at starting, did much more. The houses he dealt with took his bills in
all directions, without troubling him for security. After innumerable
interviews and immense exercise of diplomacy, he raised himself at
last to the pinnacle of his ambition--he became sole proprietor and
publisher of the works of Balzac.

The next question--a sordid, but, unhappily, a necessary question
also--was how to turn this precious acquisition to the best pecuniary
account. Some of the works, such as "La Physiologie du Mariage," and
"La Peau de Chagrin," had produced, and were still producing, large
sums. Others, on the contrary, such as the "Contes Philosophiques"
(which were a little too profound for the public) and "Louis Lambert"
(which was intended to popularise the mysticism of Swedenborg), had
not yet succeeded in paying their expenses. Estimating his speculation
by what he had in hand, Monsieur Werdet had not much chance of seeing
his way speedily to quick returns. Estimating it, however, by what was
coming in the future, that is to say, by the promised privilege of
issuing all the writer's contemplated works, he had every reason to
look happily and hopefully at his commercial prospects. At this crisis
of the narrative, when the publisher's credit and fortune depended
wholly on the pen of one man, the history of that man's habits of
literary composition assumes a special interest and importance.
Monsieur Werdet's description of Balzac at his writing-desk, presents
by no means the least extraordinary of the many singular revelations
which compose the story of the author's life.

When he had once made up his mind to produce a new book, Balzac's
first proceeding was to think it out thoroughly before he put pen to
paper. He was not satisfied with possessing himself of the main idea
only; he followed it mentally into its minutest ramifications,
devoting to the process just that amount of patient hard labour and
self-sacrifice which no inferior writer ever has the common sense or
the courage to bestow on his work. With his note-book ready in his
hand, Balzac studied his scenes and characters straight from life.
General knowledge of what he wanted to describe was not enough for
this determined realist. If he found himself in the least at fault, he
would not hesitate to take a long journey merely to ensure truth to
nature in describing the street of a country town, or in painting some
minor peculiarity of rustic character. In Paris he was perpetually
about the streets, perpetually penetrating into all classes of
society, to study the human nature about him in its minutest
varieties. Day by day, and week by week, his note-book and his brains
were hard at work together, before he thought of sitting down to his
desk to begin. When he had finally amassed his materials in this
laborious manner, he at last retired to his study; and from that time,
till his book had gone to press, society saw him no more.

His house-door was now closed to everybody, except the publisher and
the printer; and his costume was changed to a loose white robe, of the
sort which is worn by the Dominican monks. This singular writing-dress
was fastened round the waist by a chain of Venetian gold, to which
hung little pliers and scissors of the same precious metal. White
Turkish trousers, and red-morocco slippers, embroidered with gold,
covered his legs and feet. On the day when he sat down to his desk,
the light of heaven was shut out, and he worked by the light of
candles in superb silver sconces. Even letters were not allowed to
reach him. They were all thrown, as they came, into a japan vase, and
not opened, no matter how important they might be, till his work was
all over. He rose to begin writing at two in the morning, continued,
with extraordinary rapidity, till six; then took his warm bath, and
stopped in it, thinking, for an hour or more. At eight o'clock his
servant brought him up a cup of coffee. Before nine his publisher was
admitted to carry away what he had done. From nine till noon he wrote
on again, always at the top of his speed. At noon he breakfasted on
eggs, with a glass of water and a second cup of coffee. From one
o'clock to six he returned to work. At six he dined lightly, only
allowing himself one glass of wine. From seven to eight he received
his publisher again: and at eight o'clock he went to bed. This life he
led, while he was writing his books, for two months together, without
intermission. Its effect on his health was such that, when he appeared
once more among his friends, he looked, in the popular phrase, like
his own ghost. Chance acquaintances would hardly have known him again.

It must not be supposed that this life of resolute seclusion and
fierce hard toil ended with the completion of the first draught of his
manuscript. At the point where, in the instances of most men, the
serious part of the work would have come to an end, it had only begun
for Balzac.

In spite of all the preliminary studying and thinking, when his pen
had scrambled its way straight through to the end of the book, the
leaves were all turned back again, and the first manuscript was
altered into a second with inconceivable patience and care.
Innumerable corrections and interlinings, to begin with, led in the
end to transpositions and expansions which metamorphosed the entire
work. Happy thoughts were picked out of the beginning of the
manuscript, and inserted where they might have a better effect at the
end. Others at the end would be moved to the beginning, or the middle.
In one place, chapters would be expanded to three or four times their
original length; in another, abridged to a few paragraphs; in a third,
taken out altogether, or shifted to new positions. With all this mass
of alterations in every page, the manuscript was at last ready for the
printer. Even to the experienced eyes in the printing-office, it was
now all but illegible. The deciphering it, and setting it up in a
moderately correct form, cost an amount of patience and pains which
wearied out all the best men in the office, one after another, before
the first series of proofs could be submitted to the author's eye.
When these were at last complete, they were sent in on large slips,
and the indefatigable Balzac immediately set to work to rewrite the
whole book for the third time!

He now covered with fresh corrections, fresh alterations, fresh
expansions of this passage, and fresh abridgments of that, not only
the margins of the proofs all round, but even the little intervals of
white space between the paragraphs. Lines crossing each other in
indescribable confusion, were supposed to show the bewildered printer
the various places at which the multitude of new insertions were to
be slipped in. Illegible as Balzac's original manuscripts were, his
corrected proofs were more hopelessly puzzling still. The picked men
in the office, to whom alone they could be entrusted, shuddered at the
very name of Balzac, and relieved each other at intervals of an hour,
beyond which time no one printer could be got to continue at work on
the universally execrated and universally unintelligible proofs. The
"revises"--that is to say, the proofs embodying the new
alterations--were next pulled to pieces in their turn. Two, three, and
sometimes four, separate sets of them were required before the
author's leave could be got to send the perpetually rewritten book to
press, at last, and so have done with it. He was literally the terror
of all printers and editors; and he himself described his process of
work as a misfortune, to be the more deplored, because it was, in his
case, an intellectual necessity. "I toil sixteen hours out of the
twenty-four," he said, "over the elaboration of my unhappy style; and
I am never satisfied, myself, when all is done."

Looking back to the school-days of Balzac, when his mind suffered
under the sudden and mysterious shock which has already been described
in its place; remembering that his father's character was notorious
for its eccentricity; observing the prodigious toil, the torture
almost, of mind which the act of literary production seems to have
cost him all through life, it is impossible not to arrive at the
conclusion, that, in his case, there must have been a fatal
incompleteness somewhere in the mysterious intellectual machine.
Magnificently as it was endowed, the balance of faculties in his mind
seems to have been even more than ordinarily imperfect. On this
theory, his unparalleled difficulties in expressing himself as a
writer, and his errors, inconsistencies, and meannesses of character
as a man, become, at least, not wholly unintelligible. On any other
theory, all explanation both of his personal life and his literary
life appears to be simply impossible.

       *       *       *       *       *

Such was the perilous pen on which Monsieur Werdet's prospects in life
all depended. If Balzac failed to perform his engagements punctually,
or if his health broke down under his severe literary exertions, the
commercial decease of his unfortunate publisher followed either
disaster, purely as a matter of course.

At the outset, however, the posture of affairs looked encouragingly
enough. On its completion in the Revue de Paris, "Le Lys dans la
Vallée" was republished by Monsieur Werdet, who had secured his
interest in the work by a timely advance of six thousand francs. Of
this novel (the most highly valued in France of all the writer's
fictions), but two hundred copies of the first edition were left
unsold within two hours after its publication. This unparalleled
success kept Monsieur Werdet's head above water, and encouraged him to
hope great things from the next novel ("Séraphita"), which was also
begun, periodically, in the Revue de Paris. Before it was finished,
however, Balzac and the editor of the Review quarrelled. The
long-suffering publisher was obliged to step in and pay the author's
forfeit-money, obtaining the incomplete novel in return, and with it
Balzac's promise to finish the work off-hand. Months passed, however,
and not a page of manuscript was produced. One morning, at eight
o'clock, to Monsieur Werdet's horror and astonishment, Balzac burst in
on him in a condition of sublime despair, to announce that he and his
genius had to all appearance parted company for ever.

"My brain is empty!" cried the great man. "My imagination is dried up!
Hundreds of cups of coffee and two warm baths a day have done nothing
for me. Werdet, I am a lost man!"

The publisher thought of his empty cash-box, and was petrified. The
author proceeded:

"I must travel!" he exclaimed, distractedly. "My genius has run away
from me--I must pursue it over mountains and valleys. Werdet! I must
catch my genius up!"

Poor Monsieur Werdet faintly suggested a little turn in the immediate
neighbourhood of Paris--something equivalent to a nice airy ride to
Hampstead on the top of an omnibus. But Balzac's runaway genius had,
in the estimation of its bereaved proprietor, got as far as Vienna
already; and he coolly announced his intention of travelling after it
to the Austrian capital.

"And who is to finish 'Séraphita'?" inquired the unhappy publisher.
"My illustrious friend, you are ruining me!"

"On the contrary," remarked Balzac, persuasively, "I am making your
fortune. At Vienna, I shall find my genius. At Vienna I shall finish
'Séraphita,' and a new book besides. At Vienna, I shall meet with an
angelic woman who admires me--she permits me to call her
'Carissima'--she has written to invite me to Vienna--I ought, I must,
I will, accept the invitation."

Here an ordinary acquaintance would have had an excellent opportunity
of saying something smart. But poor Monsieur Werdet was not in a
position to be witty; and, moreover, he knew but too well what was
coming next. All he ventured to say was:

"But I am afraid you have no money."

"You can raise some," replied his illustrious friend. "Borrow--deposit
stock in trade--get me two thousand francs. Everything else I can do
for myself. Werdet, I will hire a postchaise--I will dine with my
dear sister--I will set off after dinner--I will not be later than
eight o'clock--click clack!" And the great man executed an admirable
imitation of the cracking of a postilion's whip.

There was no resource for Monsieur Werdet but to throw the good money
after the bad. He raised the two thousand francs; and away went Balzac
to catch his runaway genius, to bask in the society of a female angel,
and to coin money in the form of manuscripts.

Eighteen days afterwards a perfumed letter from the author reached the
publisher. He had caught his genius at Vienna; he had been
magnificently received by the aristocracy; he had finished
"Séraphita," and nearly completed the other book; his angelic friend,
Carissima, already loved Werdet from Balzac's description of him;
Balzac himself was Werdet's friend till death; Werdet was his
Archibald Constable; Werdet should see him again in fifteen days;
Werdet should ride in his carriage in the Bois de Boulogne, and meet
Balzac riding in his carriage, and see the enemies of both parties
looking on at the magnificent spectacle and bursting with spite.
Finally, Werdet would have the goodness to remark (in a postscript)
that Balzac had provided himself with another little advance of
fifteen hundred francs, received from Rothschild in Vienna, and had
given in exchange a bill at ten days' sight on his excellent
publisher, on his admirable and devoted Archibald Constable.

While Monsieur Werdet was still prostrate under the effect of this
audacious postscript, a clerk entered his office with the identical
bill. It was drawn at one day's sight instead of ten; and the money
was wanted immediately. The publisher was the most long-suffering of
men; but there were limits even to his patient endurance. He took
Balzac's letter with him, and went at once to the office of the
Parisian Rothschild. The great financier received him kindly; admitted
that there must have been some mistake; granted the ten days' grace;
and dismissed his visitor with this excellent and sententious piece of
advice:

"I recommend you to mind what you are about, sir, with Monsieur de
Balzac. He is a highly inconsequent man."

It was too late for Monsieur Werdet to mind what he was about. He had
no choice but to lose his credit, or pay at the end of the ten days.
He paid; and ten days later, Balzac returned, considerately bringing
with him some charming little Viennese curiosities for his esteemed
publisher. Monsieur Werdet expressed his acknowledgments; and then
politely inquired for the conclusion of "Séraphita," and the
manuscript of the new novel.

Not a single line of either had been committed to paper.

The farce (undoubtedly a most disgraceful performance, so far as
Balzac was concerned) was not played out even yet. The publisher's
reproaches seem at last to have awakened the author to something
remotely resembling a sense of shame. He promised that "Séraphita,"
which had been waiting at press a whole year, should be finished in
one night. There were just two sheets of sixteen pages each to write.
They might have been completed either at the author's house or at the
publisher's, which was close to the printer's. But, no--it was not in
Balzac's character to miss the smallest chance of producing a
sensation anywhere. His last caprice was a determination to astonish
the printers. Twenty-five compositors were called together at eleven
at night, a truckle-bed and table were set up for the author--or, to
speak more correctly, for the literary mountebank--in the workshop;
Balzac arrived, in a high state of inspiration, to stagger the sleepy
journeymen by showing them how fast he could write; and the two sheets
were completed magnificently on the spot. By way of fit and proper
climax to this ridiculous exhibition of literary quackery, it is only
necessary to add, that, on Balzac's own confession, the two concluding
sheets of "Séraphita" had been mentally composed, and carefully
committed to memory, two years before he affected to write them
impromptu in the printer's office. It seems impossible to deny that
the man who could act in this outrageously puerile manner must have
been simply mad. But what becomes of the imputation when we remember
that this very madman has produced books which, for depth of thought
and marvellous knowledge of human nature, are counted deservedly among
the glories of French literature, and which were never more living and
more lasting works than they are at this moment?

"Séraphita" was published three days after the author's absurd
exhibition of himself at the printer's office. In this novel, as in
its predecessor--"Louis Lambert"--Balzac left his own firm ground of
reality, and soared, on the wings of Swedenborg, into an atmosphere of
transcendental obscurity impervious to all ordinary eyes. What the
book meant, the editor of the periodical in which part of it
originally appeared, never could explain. Monsieur Werdet, who
published it, confesses that he was in the same mystified condition;
and the present writer, who has vainly attempted to read it through,
desires to add, in this place, his own modest acknowledgment of
inability to enlighten English readers in the smallest degree on the
subject of "Séraphita." Luckily for Monsieur Werdet, the author's
reputation stood so high with the public, that the book sold
prodigiously, merely because it was a book by Balzac. The proceeds of
the sale, and the profits derived from new editions of the old novels,
kept the sinking publisher from absolute submersion; and might even
have brought him safely to land, but for the ever-increasing dead
weight of the author's perpetual borrowings, on the security of
forthcoming works which he never produced.

No commercial success, no generous self-sacrifice, could keep pace
with the demands of Balzac's insatiate vanity and love of show, at
this period of his life. He had two establishments, to begin with;
both splendidly furnished, and one adorned with a valuable gallery of
pictures. He had his box at the French Opera, and his box at the
Italian Opera. He had a chariot and horses, and an establishment of
men servants. The panels of the carriage were decorated with the arms,
and the bodies of the footmen were adorned with the liveries, of the
noble family of D'Entragues, to which Balzac persisted in declaring
that he was allied, although he never could produce the smallest proof
in support of the statement. When he could add no more to the
sumptuous magnificence of his houses, his dinners, his carriage, and
his servants; when he had filled his rooms with every species of
expensive knick-knack; when he had lavished money on all the known
extravagances which extravagant Paris can supply to the spendthrift's
inventory, he hit on the entirely new idea of providing himself with
such a walking-stick as the world had never yet beheld.

His first proceeding was to procure a splendid cane, which was sent to
the jeweller's, and was grandly topped by a huge gold knob. The inside
of the knob was occupied by a lock of hair presented to the author by
an unknown lady admirer. The outside was studded with all the jewels
he had bought, and with all the jewels he had received as presents.
With this cane, nearly as big as a drum-major's staff, and all a-blaze
at the top with rubies, diamonds, emeralds, and sapphires, Balzac
exhibited himself, in a rapture of satisfied vanity, at the theatres
and in the public promenades. The cane became as celebrated in Paris
as the author. Madame de Girardin wrote a sparkling little book all
about the wonderful walking-stick. Balzac was in the seventh heaven of
happiness; Balzac's friends were either disgusted or diverted,
according to their tempers. One unfortunate man alone suffered the
inevitable penalty of this insane extravagance: need it be added that
his name was Werdet?

The end of the connexion between the author and the publisher was now
fast approaching. All entreaties or reproaches addressed to Balzac
failed in producing the slightest result. Even confinement in a
sponging-house, when creditors discovered, in course of time, that
they could wait no longer, passed unheeded as a warning. Balzac only
borrowed more money the moment the key was turned on him, gave a
magnificent dinner in prison, and left the poor publisher, as usual,
to pay the bill. He was extricated from the sponging-house before he
had been there quite three days; and, in that time, he had spent over
twenty guineas on luxuries which he had not a farthing of his own to
purchase. It is useless, it is even exasperating, to go on
accumulating instances of this sort of mad and cruel prodigality: let
us advance rapidly to the end. One morning, Monsieur Werdet balanced
accounts with his author, from the beginning, and found, in spite of
the large profits produced by the majority of the works, that
fifty-eight thousand francs were (to use his own expression) paralysed
in his hands by the life Balzac persisted in leading; and that
fifty-eight thousand more might soon be in the same condition, if he
had possessed them to advance. A rich publisher might have contrived
to keep his footing in such a crisis as this, and to deal, for the
time to come, on purely commercial grounds. But Monsieur Werdet was a
poor man; he had relied on Balzac's verbal promises when he ought to
have exacted his written engagements; and he had no means of appealing
to the author's love of money by dazzling prospects of banknotes
awaiting him in the future, if he chose honestly to earn his right to
them. In short, there was but one alternative left, the alternative of
giving up the whole purpose and ambition of the bookseller's life, and
resolutely breaking off his ruinous connexion with Balzac.

Reduced to this situation, driven to bay by the prospect of
engagements falling due which he had no apparent means of meeting,
Monsieur Werdet answered the next application for an advance by a flat
refusal, and followed up that unexampled act of self-defence by
speaking his mind at last, in no measured terms, to his illustrious
friend. Balzac turned crimson with suppressed anger, and left the
room. A series of business formalities followed, initiated by Balzac,
with the view of breaking off the connexion between his publisher and
himself, now that he found there was no more money to be had; Monsieur
Werdet being, on his side, perfectly ready to "sign, seal, and
deliver" as soon as his claims were properly satisfied in due form of
law.

Balzac had now but one means of meeting his liabilities. His personal
reputation was gone; but his literary reputation remained as high as
ever, and he soon found a publisher, with large capital at command,
who was ready to treat for his copyrights. Monsieur Werdet had no
resource but to sell, or be bankrupt. He parted with all the valuable
copyrights for a sum of sixty thousand and odd francs, which sufficed
to meet his most pressing engagements. Some of the less popular and
less valuable books he kept, to help him, if possible, through his
daily and personal liabilities. As for gaining any absolute profit, or
even holding his position as a publisher, the bare idea of securing
either advantage was dismissed as an idle dream. The purpose for
which he had toiled so hard and suffered so patiently was sacrificed
for ever, and he was reduced to beginning life again as a country
traveller for a prosperous publishing house. So far as his main object
in existence was concerned, Balzac had plainly and literally ruined
him. It is impossible to part with Monsieur Werdet, imprudent and
credulous as he appears to have been, without a strong feeling of
sympathy, which becomes strengthened to something like positive
admiration when we discover that he cherished, in after life, no
unfriendly sentiments towards the man who had treated him so
shamefully; and when we find him, in the Memoir now under notice,
still trying hard to make the best of Balzac's conduct, and still
writing of him in terms of affection and esteem to the very end of the
book.

The remainder of Balzac's life was, in substance, merely the
lamentable repetition of the personal faults and follies, and the
literary merits and triumphs, which have already found their record in
these pages. The extremes of idle vanity and unprincipled extravagance
still alternated, to the last, with the extremes of hard mental labour
and amazing mental productiveness. Though he found new victims among
new men, he never again met with so generous and forbearing a friend
as the poor publisher whose fortunes he had destroyed. The women,
whose impulses in his favour were kept alive by their admiration of
his books, clung to their spoilt darling to the last--one of their
number even stepping forward to save him from a debtors' prison, at
the heavy sacrifice of paying the whole demand against him out of her
own purse. In all cases of this sort, even where men were concerned as
well as women, his personal means of attraction, when he chose to
exert them, strengthened immensely his literary claims on the sympathy
and good-will of others. He appears to have possessed in the highest
degree those powers of fascination which are quite independent of mere
beauty of face and form, and which are perversely and inexplicably
bestowed in the most lavish abundance on the most unprincipled of
mankind. Poor Monsieur Werdet can only account for half his own acts
of indiscretion, by declaring that his eminent friend wheedled him
into committing them. Other and wiser men kept out of Balzac's way,
through sheer distrust of themselves. Virtuous friends who tried hard
to reform him, retreated from his presence, declaring that the
reprobate whom they had gone to convert had all but upset their moral
balance in a morning's conversation. An eminent literary gentleman,
who went to spend the day with him to talk over a proposed work,
rushed out of the house after a two hours' interview, exclaiming
piteously, "The man's imagination is in a state of delirium--his talk
has set my brain in a whirl--he would have driven me mad if I had
spent the day with him!" If men were influenced in this way, it is not
wonderful that women (whose self-esteem was delicately flattered by
the prominent and fascinating position which they hold in all his
books) should have worshipped a man who publicly and privately
worshipped them.

His personal appearance would have recalled to English minds the
popular idea of Friar Tuck--he was the very model of the conventional
fat, sturdy, red-faced, jolly monk. But he had the eye of a man of
genius, and the tongue of a certain infernal personage, who may be
broadly hinted at, but who must on no account be plainly named. The
Balzac candlestick might be clumsy enough; but when once the Balzac
candle was lit, the moths flew into it, only too readily, from all
points of the compass.

The last important act of his life was, in a worldly point of view,
one of the wisest things he ever did. The lady who had invited him to
Vienna, and whom he called Carissima, was the wife of a wealthy
Russian nobleman. On the death of her husband, she practically
asserted her admiration of her favourite author by offering him her
hand and fortune. Balzac accepted both; and returned to Paris (from
which respect for his creditors had latterly kept him absent) a
married man, and an enviable member of the wealthy class of society. A
splendid future now opened before him--but it opened too late. Arrived
at the end of his old course, he just saw the new career beyond him,
and dropped on the threshold of it. The strong constitution which he
had remorselessly wasted for more than twenty years past, gave way at
length, at the very time when his social chances looked most brightly.
Three months after his marriage, Honoré de Balzac died, after
unspeakable suffering, of disease of the heart. He was then but fifty
years of age. His fond, proud, heart-broken old mother held him in her
arms. On that loving bosom he had drawn his first breath. On that
loving bosom the weary head sank to rest again, when the wild,
wayward, miserable, glorious life was over.

       *       *       *       *       *

The sensation produced in Paris by his death was something akin to the
sensation produced in London by the death of Byron. Mr. Carlyle has
admirably said that there is something touching in the loyalty of men
to their Sovereign Man. That loyalty most tenderly declared itself
when Balzac was no more. Men of all ranks and parties, who had been
shocked by his want of principle and disgusted by his inordinate
vanity while he was alive, now accepted universally the atonement of
his untimely death, and remembered nothing but the loss that had
happened to the literature of France. A great writer was no more; and
a great people rose with one accord to take him reverently and
gloriously to his grave. The French Institute, the University, the
scientific societies, the Association of Dramatic Authors, the Schools
of Law and Medicine, sent their representatives to walk in the funeral
procession. English readers, American readers, German readers, and
Russian readers, swelled the immense assembly of Frenchmen that
followed the coffin. Victor Hugo and Alexandre Dumas were among the
mourners who supported the pall. The first of these two celebrated men
pronounced the funeral oration over Balzac's grave, and eloquently
characterised the whole series of the dead writer's works as forming,
in truth, but one grand book, the text-book of contemporary
civilisation. With that just and generous tribute to the genius of
Balzac, offered by the most illustrious of his literary rivals, these
few pages may fitly and gracefully come to an end. Of the miserable
frailties of the man, enough has been recorded to serve the first of
all interests, the interest of truth. The better and nobler part of
him calls for no further comment at any writer's hands. It remains to
us in his works, and it speaks with deathless eloquence for itself.

FOOTNOTE:

[5] This sentence has unfortunately proved prophetic. Cheap
translations of Le Père Goriot and La Recherche de l'Absolu were
published soon after the present article appeared in print, with
extracts from the opinions here expressed on Balzac's writings
appended by way of advertisement. Critical remonstrance in relation to
such productions as these would be remonstrance thrown away. It will
be enough to say here, by way of warning to the reader, that the
experiment of rendering the French of Balzac into its fair English
equivalent still remains to be tried.



FRAGMENTS OF PERSONAL EXPERIENCE.--II.

MY BLACK MIRROR.


Has everybody heard of Doctor Dee, the magician, and of the black
speculum or mirror of cannel coal, in which he could see at will
everything in the wide world, and many things beyond it? If so, I may
introduce myself to my readers in the easiest manner possible.
Although I cannot claim to be a descendant of Doctor Dee, I profess
the occult art to the extent of keeping a black mirror, made exactly
after the model of that possessed by the old astrologer. My speculum,
like his, is constructed of an oval piece of cannel coal, highly
polished, and set on a wooden back with a handle to hold it by.
Nothing can be simpler than its appearance; nothing more marvellous
than its capacities--provided always that the person using it be a
true adept. Any man who disbelieves nothing is a true adept. Let him
get a piece of cannel coal, polish it highly, clean it before use
with a white cambric handkerchief, retire to a private sitting-room,
invoke the name of Doctor Dee, shut both eyes for a moment, and open
them again suddenly on the black mirror. If he does not see anything
he likes, after that--past, present, or future--then let him depend on
it there is some speck or flaw of incredulity in his nature; and the
sad termination of his career may be considered certain. Sooner or
later, he will end in being nothing but a rational man.

I, who have not one morsel of rationality about me; I, who am as true
an adept as if I had lived in the good old times ("the Ages of Faith,"
as another adept has very properly called them) find unceasing
interest and occupation in my black mirror. For everything I want to
know, and for everything I want to do, I consult it. This very day,
for instance (being in the position of most of the other inhabitants
of London, at the present season), I am thinking of soon going out of
town. My time for being away is so limited, and my wanderings have
extended, at home and abroad, in so many directions, that I can hardly
hope to visit any really beautiful scenes, or gather any really
interesting experiences that are absolutely new to me. I must go to
some place that I have visited before; and I must, in common regard to
my own holiday interests, take care that it is a place where I have
already thoroughly enjoyed myself, without a single drawback to my
pleasure that is worth mentioning.

Under these circumstances, if I were a mere rational man, what should
I do? Weary my memory to help me to decide on a destination, by giving
me my past travelling recollections in one long panorama--although I
can tell by experience that of all my faculties memory is the least
serviceable at the very time when I most want to employ it. As a true
adept, I know better than to give myself any useless trouble of this
sort. I retire to my private sitting-room, take up my black mirror,
mention what I want--and, behold! on the surface of the cannel coal
the image of my former travels passes before me, in a succession of
dream-scenes. I revive my past experiences, and I make my present
choice out of them, by the evidence of my own eyes; and I may add, by
that of my own ears also--for the figures in my magic landscapes move
and speak!

Shall I go on the continent again? Yes. To what part of it? Suppose I
revisit Austrian Italy, for the sake of renewing my familiarity with
certain views, buildings, and pictures which once delighted me? But
let me first ascertain whether I had any serious drawbacks to complain
of on making acquaintance with that part of the world. Black mirror!
show me my first evening in Austrian Italy.

A cloud rises on the magic surface--rests on it a little
while--slowly disappears. My eyes are fixed on the cannel coal. I see
nothing, hear nothing of the world about me. The first of the magic
scenes grows visible. I behold it, as in a dream. Away with the
ignorant Present. I am in Italy again.

The darkness is just coming on. I see myself looking out of the side
window of a carriage. The hollow roll of the wheels has changed to a
sharp rattle, and we have entered a town. We cross a vast square,
illuminated by two lamps and a glimmer of reflected light from a
coffee-shop window. We get on into a long street, with heavy stone
arcades for foot-passengers to walk under. Everything looks dark and
confused; grim visions of cloaked men flit by, all smoking; shrill
female voices rise above the clatter of our wheels, then subside again
in a moment. We stop. The bells on the horses' necks ring their last
tiny peal for the night. A greasy hand opens the carriage-door, and
helps me down the steps. I am under an archway, with blank darkness
before me, with a smiling man holding a flaming tallow candle by my
side, with street spectators silently looking on behind me. They wear
high-crowned hats and brown cloaks, mysteriously muffling them up to
the chin. Brigands, evidently. Pass, Scene! I am a peaceable man, and
I don't like the suspicion of a stiletto, even in a dream.

Show me my sitting-room. Where did I dine, and how, on my first
evening in Austrian Italy?

I am in the presence of two cheerful waiters, with two flaring
candles. One is lighting lamps; the other is setting brushwood and
logs in a blaze in a perfect cavern of a hearth. Where am I, now that
there is plenty of light to see by? Apparently in a banqueting-hall,
fifty feet long by forty wide. This is my private sitting-room, and I
am to eat my little bit of dinner in it all alone. Let me look about
observantly, while the meal is preparing. Above me is an arched
painted ceiling, all alive with Cupids rolling about on clouds, and
scattering perpetual roses on the heads of travellers beneath. Around
me are classical landscapes of the school which treats the spectator
to umbrella-shaped trees, calm green oceans, and foregrounds rampant
with dancing goddesses. Beneath me is something elastic to tread upon,
smelling very like old straw, which indeed it is, covered with a thin
drugget. This is humanely intended to protect me against the cold of
the stone or brick floor, and is a concession to English prejudices on
the subject of comfort. May I be grateful for it, and take no
unfriendly notice of the fleas, though they are crawling up my legs
from the straw and the drugget already!

What do I see next? Dinner on table. Drab-coloured soup, which will
take a great deal of thickening with grated Parmesan cheese, and five
dishes all round it. Trout fried in oil, rolled beef steeped in
succulent brown gravy, roast chicken with water-cresses, square pastry
cakes with mince-meat inside them, fried potatoes--all excellent. This
is really good Italian cookery: it is more fanciful than the English
and more solid than the French. It is not greasy, and none of the
fried dishes taste in the slightest degree of lamp oil. The wine is
good, too--effervescent, smacking of the Muscatel grape, and only
eighteen-pence a bottle. The second course more than sustains the
character of the first. Small browned birds that look like larks,
their plump breasts clothed succulently with a counterpane of fat
bacon, their tender backs reposing on beds of savoury toast,--stewed
pigeon,--a sponge-cake pudding,--baked pears. Where could one find a
better dinner or a pleasanter waiter to serve at table? He is neither
servile nor familiar, and is always ready to occupy any superfluous
attention I have to spare with all the small talk that is in him. He
has, in fact, but one fault, and that consists in his very vexatious
and unaccountable manner of varying the language in which he
communicates with me.

I speak French and Italian, and he can speak French also as well as
his own tongue. I naturally, however, choose Italian on first
addressing him, because it is his native language. He understands
what I say to him perfectly, but he answers me in French. I bethink
myself, upon this, that he may be wishing, like the rest of us, to
show off any little morsel of learning that he has picked up, or that
he may fancy I understand French better than I do Italian, and may be
politely anxious to make our colloquy as easy as possible to me.
Accordingly I humour him, and change to French when I next speak. No
sooner are the words out of my mouth than, with inexplicable
perversity, he answers me in Italian. All through the dinner I try
hard to make him talk the same language that I do, yet, excepting now
and then a few insignificant phrases, I never succeed. What is the
meaning of his playing this game of philological see-saw with me? Do
the people here actually carry the national politeness so far as to
flatter the stranger by according him an undisturbed monopoly of the
language in which he chooses to talk to them? I cannot explain it, and
dessert surprises me in the midst of my perplexities. Four dishes
again! Parmesan cheese, macaroons, pears, and green figs. With these
and another bottle of the effervescent wine, how brightly the evening
will pass away by the blazing wood fire! Surely, I cannot do better
than go to Austrian Italy again, after having met with such a first
welcome to the country as this. Shall I put down the cannel coal, and
determine without any more ado on paying a second visit to the land
that is cheered by my comfortable inn? No, not too hastily. Let me try
the effect of one or two more scenes from my past travelling
experience in this particular division of the Italian peninsula before
I decide.

Black Mirror! how did I end my evening at the comfortable inn?

The cloud passes again, heavily and thickly this time, over the
surface of the mirror--clears away slowly--shows me myself dozing
luxuriously by the red embers with an empty bottle at my side. A
suddenly-opening door wakes me up; the landlord of the inn approaches,
places a long, official-looking book on the table, and hands me pen
and ink. I inquire peevishly what I am wanted to write at that time of
night, when I am just digesting my dinner. The landlord answers
respectfully that I am required to give the police a full, true, and
particular account of myself. I approach the table, thinking this
demand rather absurd, for my passport is already in the hands of the
authorities. However, as I am in a despotic country, I keep my
thoughts to myself, open a blank page in the official-looking book,
see that it is divided into columns, with printed headings, and find
that I no more understand what they mean than I understand an assessed
tax-paper at home, to which by-the-bye, the blank page bears a
striking general resemblance. The headings are technical official
words, which I now meet with as parts of Italian speech for the first
time. I am obliged to appeal to the polite landlord, and, by his
assistance, I get gradually to understand what it is the Austrian
police want of me.

The police require to know, before they will let me go on peaceably
to-morrow, first, What my name is in full? (Answered easily enough.)
Second, What is my nation? (British, and delighted to cast it in the
teeth of continental tyrants.) Third, Where was I born? (In
London--parish of Marylebone--and I wish my native vestry knew how the
Austrian authorities were using me.) Fourth, where do I live? (In
London, again--and I have half a mind to write to the Times about this
nuisance before I go to bed.) Fifth, how old am I? (My age is what it
has been for the last seven years, and what it will remain till
further notice--twenty-five exactly.) What next? By all that is
inquisitive, here are the police wanting to know (Sixth) whether I am
married or single! Landlord, what is the Italian for Bachelor? "Write
Nubile, signor." Nubile? That means Marriageable. Permit me to remark,
my good sir, that this is a woman's definition of a bachelor--not a
man's. No matter, let it pass. What next? (O distrustful despots! what
next?) Seventh, What is my condition? (First-rate condition, to be
sure,--full of rolled beef, toasted larks, and effervescent wine.
Condition! What do they mean by that? Profession, is it? I have not
got one. What shall I write? "Write Proprietor, signor." Very well;
but I don't know that I am proprietor of anything except the clothes I
stand up in: even my trunk was borrowed of a friend.) Eighth, Where do
I come from? Ninth, Where am I going to? Tenth, When did I get my
passport? Eleventh, Where did I get my passport? Twelfth, Who gave me
my passport? Was there ever such a monstrous string of questions to
address to a harmless, idle man, who only wants to potter about Italy
quietly in a postchaise! Do they catch Mazzini, landlord, with all
these precautions? No: they only catch _me_. There! there! take your
Travellers' Book back to the police. Surely, such unfounded distrust
of my character as the production of that volume at my dinner-table
implies, forms a serious drawback to the pleasure of travelling in
Austrian Italy. Shall I give up at once all idea of going there, in my
own innocent character, again? No; let me be deliberate in arriving at
a decision,--let me patiently try the experiment of looking at one
more scene from the past.

Black Mirror! how did I travel in Austrian Italy after I had paid my
bill in the morning, and had left my comfortable inn?

The new dream-scene shows me evening again. I have joined another
English traveller in taking a vehicle that they call a calèche. It is
a frowsy kind of sedan-chair on wheels, with greasy leather curtains
and cushions. In the days of its prosperity and youth it might have
been a state-coach, and might have carried Sir Robert Walpole to
court, or the Abbé Dubois to a supper with the Regent Orleans. It is
driven by a tall, cadaverous, ruffianly postilion, with his clothes
all in rags, and without a spark of mercy for his miserable horses. It
smells badly, looks badly, goes badly; and jerks, and cracks, and
totters as if it would break down altogether--when it is suddenly
stopped on a rough stone pavement in front of a lonely post-house,
just as the sun is sinking and the night is setting in.

The postmaster comes out to superintend the harnessing of fresh
horses. He is tipsy, familiar, and confidential; he first
apostrophises the calèche with contemptuous curses, then takes me
mysteriously aside, and declares that the whole high road onward to
our morning's destination swarms with thieves. It seems, then, that
the Austrian police reserve all their vigilance for innocent
travellers, and leave local rogues entirely unmolested. I make this
reflection, and ask the postmaster what he recommends us to do for the
protection of our portmanteaus, which are tied on to the roof of the
calèche. He answers that unless we take special precautions, the
thieves will get up behind, on our crazy foot-board, and will cut the
trunks off the top of our frowsy travelling-carriage, under cover of
the night, while we are quietly seated inside, seeing and suspecting
nothing. We instantly express our readiness to take any precautions
that any one may be kind enough to suggest. The postmaster winks, lays
his finger archly on the side of his nose, and gives an unintelligible
order in the patois of the district. Before I have time to ask what he
is going to do, every idler about the posthouse who can climb, scales
the summit of the calèche, and every idler who cannot, stands roaring
and gesticulating below with a lighted candle in his hand.

While the hubbub is at its loudest, a rival travelling carriage
suddenly drives into the midst of us, in the shape of a huge
barrel-organ on wheels, and bursts out awfully in the darkness with
the grand march in Semiramide, played with the utmost fury of the
drum, cymbal, and trumpet-stops. The noise is so bewildering that my
travelling companion and I take refuge inside our carriage, and shut
our eyes, and stop our ears, and abandon ourselves to despair. After a
time, our elbows are jogged, and a string a-piece is given to us
through each window. We are informed in shouts, accompanied fiercely
by the grand march, that the strings are fastened to our portmanteaus
above; that we are to keep the loose ends round our forefingers all
night; and that the moment we feel a tug, we may be quite certain the
thieves are at work, and may feel justified in stopping the carriage
and fighting for our baggage without any more ado. Under these
agreeable auspices, we start again, with our strings round our
forefingers. We feel like men about to ring the bell--or like men
engaged in deep sea-fishing--or like men on the point of pulling the
string of a shower-bath. Fifty times at least, during the next stage,
each of us is certain that he feels a tug, and pops his head agitatedly
out of window, and sees absolutely nothing, and falls back again
exhausted with excitement in a corner of the calèche. All through the
night this wear and tear of our nerves goes on; and all through the
night (thanks, probably, to the ceaseless popping of our heads out of
the windows) not the ghost of a thief comes near us. We begin, at
last, almost to feel that it would be a relief to be robbed--almost to
doubt the policy of resisting any mercifully-larcenous hands stretched
forth to rescue us from the incubus of our own baggage. The morning
dawn finds us languid and haggard, with the accursed portmanteau
strings dangling unregarded in the bottom of the calèche. And this is
taking our pleasure! This is an incident of travel in Austrian Italy!
Faithful Black Mirror, accept my thanks. The warning of the two last
dream-scenes that you have shown me shall not be disregarded. Whatever
other direction I may take when I go out of town for the present
season, one road at least I know that I shall avoid--the road that
leads to Austrian Italy.

Shall I keep on the northern side of the Alps, and travel a little,
let us say, in German-Switzerland? Black Mirror! how did I get on when
I was last in that country? Did I like my introductory experience at
my first inn?

The vision changes, and takes me again to the outside of a house of
public entertainment; a great white, clean, smooth-fronted,
opulent-looking hotel--a very different building from my dingy,
cavernous Italian inn. At the street-door stands the landlord. He is a
little, lean, rosy man, dressed all in black, and looking like a
master undertaker. I observe that he neither steps forwards nor smiles
when I get out of the carriage and ask for a bedroom. He gives me the
shortest possible answer, growls guttural instructions to a waiter,
then looks out into the street again and, before I have so much as
turned my back on him, forgets my existence immediately. The vision
changes again, and takes me inside the hotel. I am following a waiter
up-stairs--the man looks unaffectedly sorry to see me. In the bedroom
corridor we find a chambermaid asleep with her head on a table. She is
woke up; opens a door with a groan, and scowls at me reproachfully
when I say that the room will do. I descend to dinner. Two waiters
attend on me, under protest, and look as if they were on the point of
giving warning every time I require them to change my plate. At the
second course the landlord comes in, and stands and stares at me
intently and silently with his hands in his pockets. This may be his
way of seeing that my dinner is well served; but it looks much more
like his way of seeing that I do not abstract any spoons from his
table. I become irritated by the boorish staring and frowning of
everybody about me, and express myself strongly on the subject of my
reception at the hotel to an English traveller dining near me.

The English traveller is one of those exasperating men who are always
ready to put up with injuries, and he coolly accounts for the
behaviour of which I complain, by telling me that it is the result of
the blunt honesty of the natives, who cannot pretend to take an
interest in me which they do not really feel. What do I care about the
feelings of the stolid landlord and the sulky waiters? I require the
comforting outward show from them--the inward substance is not of the
smallest consequence to me. When I travel in civilised countries, I
want such a reception at my inn as shall genially amuse and gently
tickle all the region round about my organ of self-esteem. Blunt
honesty which is too offensively truthful to pretend to be glad to see
me, shows no corresponding integrity--as my own experience informs me
at this very hotel--about the capacities of its wine-bottles, but
gives me a pint and charges me for a quart in the bill, like the rest
of the world. Blunt honesty, although it is too brutally sincere to
look civilly distressed and sympathetic when I say that I am tired
after my journey, does not hesitate to warm up, and present before me
as newly dressed, a Methuselah of a duck that has been cooked several
times over, several days ago, and paid for, though not eaten, by my
travelling predecessors. Blunt honesty fleeces me according to every
established predatory law of the landlord's code, yet shrinks from the
amiable duplicity of fawning affectionately before me all the way up
stairs when I first present myself to be swindled. Away with such
detestable sincerity as this! Away with the honesty which brutalises a
landlord's manners without reforming his bottles or his bills! Away
with my German-Swiss hotel, and the extortionate cynic who keeps it!
Let others pay tribute if they will to that boor in innkeeper's
clothing, the colour of my money he shall never see again.

Suppose I avoid German-Switzerland, and try Switzerland Proper?
Mirror! how did I travel when I last found myself on the Swiss side of
the Alps?

The new vision removes me even from the most distant view of an hotel
of any kind, and places me in a wild mountain country where the end of
a rough road is lost in the dry bed of a torrent. I am seated in a
queer little box on wheels, called a Char, drawn by a mule and a mare,
and driven by a jovial coachman in a blue blouse. I have hardly time
to look down alarmedly at the dry bed of the torrent, before the Char
plunges into it. Rapidly and recklessly we thump along over rocks and
stones, acclivities and declivities that would shake down the stoutest
English travelling-carriage, knock up the best-bred English horses,
nonplus the most knowing English coachman. Jovial Blue Blouse, singing
like a nightingale, drives a-head regardless of every obstacle--the
mule and mare tear along as if the journey was the great enjoyment of
the day to them--the Char cracks, rends, sways, bumps, and totters,
but scorns, as becomes a hardy little mountain vehicle, to overturn or
come to pieces. When we are not among the rocks we are rolling and
heaving in sloughs of black mud and sand, like a Dutch herring-boat in
a ground-swell. It is all one to Blue Blouse and the mule and mare.
They are just as ready to drag through sloughs as to jolt over rocks;
and when we do come occasionally to a bit of unencumbered ground, they
always indemnify themselves for past hardship and fatigue by galloping
like mad. As for my own sensations in the character of passenger in
the Char, they are not, physically speaking, of the pleasantest
possible kind. I can only keep myself inside my vehicle by dint of
holding tight with both hands by anything I can find to grasp at; and
I am so shaken throughout my whole anatomy that my very jaws clatter
again, and my feet play a perpetual tattoo on the bottom of the Char.
Did I hit on no method of travelling more composed and deliberate than
this, I wonder, when I was last in Switzerland? Must I make up my mind
to be half-shaken to pieces if I am bold enough to venture on going
there again?

The surface of the Black Mirror is once more clouded over. It clears,
and the vision is now of a path along the side of a precipice. A mule
is following the path, and I am the adventurous traveller who is
astride on the beast's back. The first observation that occurs to me
in my new position is, that mules thoroughly deserve their reputation
for obstinacy, and that, in regard to the particular animal on which I
am riding, the less I interfere with him and the more I conduct myself
as if I was a pack-saddle on his back, the better we are sure to get
on together.

Carrying pack-saddles is his main business in life; and though he saw
me get on his back, he persists in treating me as if I was a bale of
goods, by walking on the extreme edge of the precipice, so as not to
run any risk of rubbing his load against the safe, or mountain, side
of the path. In this and in other things I find that he is the victim
of routine, and the slave of habit. He has a way of stopping short,
placing himself in a slanting position, and falling into a profound
meditation at some of the most awkward turns in the wild
mountain-roads. I imagine at first that he may be halting in this
abrupt and inconvenient manner to take breath; but then he never
exerts himself so as to tax his lungs in the smallest degree, and he
stops on the most unreasonably irregular principles, sometimes twice
in ten minutes,--sometimes not more than twice in two hours--evidently
just as his new ideas happen to absorb his attention or not. It is
part of his exasperating character at these times, always to become
immersed in reflection where the muleteer's staff has not room to
reach him with the smallest effect; and where, loading him with blows
being out of the question, loading him with abusive language is the
only other available process for getting him on. I find that he
generally turns out to be susceptible to the influence of injurious
epithets after he has heard himself insulted five or six times. Once,
his obdurate nature gives way, even at the third appeal. He has just
stopped with me on his back, to amuse himself, at a dangerous part of
the road, with a little hard thinking in a steeply slanting position;
and it becomes therefore urgently necessary to abuse him into
proceeding forthwith. First, the muleteer calls him a Serpent--he
never stirs an inch. Secondly, the muleteer calls him a Frog--he goes
on imperturbably with his meditation. Thirdly, the muleteer roars out
indignantly, Ah sacré nom d'un Butor! (which, interpreted by the help
of my Anglo-French dictionary, means apparently, Ah, sacred name of a
Muddlehead!); and at this extraordinary adjuration the beast instantly
jerks up his nose, shakes his ears, and goes on his way indignantly.

Mule-riding, under these circumstances, is certainly an adventurous
and amusing method of travelling, and well worth trying for once in a
way; but I am not at all sure that I should enjoy a second experience
of it, and I have my doubts on this account--to say nothing of my
dread of a second jolting journey in a Char--about the propriety of
undertaking another journey to Switzerland during the present sultry
season. It will be wisest, perhaps, to try the effect of a new scene
from the past, representing some former visit to some other locality,
before I venture on arriving at a decision. I have rejected Austrian
Italy and German Switzerland, and I am doubtful about Switzerland
Proper. Suppose I do my duty as a patriot, and give the attractions of
my own country a fair chance of appealing to any past influences of
the agreeable kind, which they may have exercised over me? Black
Mirror! when I was last a tourist at home, how did I travel about
from place to place?

The cloud on the magic surface rises slowly and grandly, like the
lifting of a fog at sea, and discloses a tiny drawing-room, with a
skylight window, and a rose-coloured curtain drawn over it to keep out
the sun. A bright book-shelf runs all round this little fairy chamber,
just below the ceiling, where the cornice would be in loftier rooms.
Sofas extend along the wall on either side, and mahogany cupboards
full of good things ensconce themselves snugly in the four corners.
The table is brightened with nosegays; the mantel-shelf has a smart
railing all round it; and the looking-glass above is just large enough
to reflect becomingly the face and shoulders of any lady who will give
herself the trouble of looking into it. The present inhabitants of the
room are three gentlemen with novels and newspapers in their hands,
taking their ease in blouses, dressing-gowns, and slippers. They are
reposing on the sofas with fruit and wine within easy reach--and one
of the party looks to me very much like the enviable possessor of the
Black Mirror. They exhibit a spectacle of luxury which would make an
ancient Spartan shudder with disgust; and, in an adjoining apartment,
their band is attending on them, in the shape of a musical box which
is just now playing the last scene in Lucia di Lammermoor.

Hark! what sounds are those mingling with the notes of Donizetti's
lovely music--now rising over it sublimely, now dying away under it,
gently and more gently still? Our sweet opera air shall come to its
close, our music shall play for its short destined time and then be
silent again; but those more glorious sounds shall go on with us day
and night, shall still swell and sink inexhaustibly, long after we and
all who know and love and remember us have passed from this earth for
ever. It is the wash of the waves that now travels along with us
grandly wherever we go. We are at sea in a schooner yacht, and are
taking our pleasure along the southern shores of the English coast.

Yes, this to every man who can be certain of his own stomach, this is
the true luxury of travelling, the true secret for thoroughly enjoying
all the attractions of moving about from place to place. Wherever we
now go, we carry our elegant and comfortable home along with us. We
can stop where we like, see what we like, and always come back to our
favourite corner on the sofa, always carry on our favourite
occupations and amusements, and still be travelling, still be getting
forward to new scenes all the time. Here is no hurrying to accommodate
yourself to other people's hours for starting, no scrambling for
places, no wearisome watchfulness over baggage. Here are no anxieties
about strange beds,--for have we not each of us our own sweet little
cabin to nestle in at night?--no agitating dependence at the dinner
hour upon the vagaries of strange cooks--for have we not our own
sumptuous larder always to return to, our own accomplished and
faithful culinary artist always waiting to minister to our special
tastes? We can walk and sleep, stand up or lie down just as we please,
in our floating travelling-carriage. We can make our own road, and
trespass nowhere. The bores we dread, the letters we don't want to
answer, cannot follow and annoy us. We are the freest travellers under
Heaven; and we find something to interest and attract us through every
hour of the day. The ships we meet, the trimming of our sails, the
varying of the weather, the everlasting innumerable changes of the
ocean, afford constant occupation for eye and ear. Sick, indeed, must
that libellous traveller have been who first called the sea
monotonous--sick to death, and perhaps, born brother also to that
other traveller of evil renown, the first man who journeyed from Dan
to Beersheba, and found all barren.

Rest then awhile unemployed, my faithful Black Mirror! The last scene
you have shown me is sufficient to answer the purpose for which I took
you up. Towards what point of the compass I may turn after leaving
London is more than I can tell; but this I know, that my next
post-horses shall be the winds, my next stages coast-towns, my next
road over the open waves. I will be a sea-traveller once more, and
will put off resuming my land journeyings until the arrival of that
most obliging of all convenient periods of time--a future opportunity.



SKETCHES OF CHARACTER.--III.

MRS. BADGERY.

[Drawn from the Life. By a Gentleman with No Sensibilities.]


Is there any law in England which will protect me from Mrs. Badgery?

I am a bachelor, and Mrs. Badgery is a widow. Don't suppose she wants
to marry me! She wants nothing of the sort. She has not attempted to
marry me; she would not think of marrying me, even if I asked her.
Understand, if you please, at the outset, that my grievance in
relation to this widow lady is a grievance of an entirely new kind.

Let me begin again. I am a bachelor of a certain age. I have a large
circle of acquaintance; but I solemnly declare that the late Mr.
Badgery was never numbered on the list of my friends. I never heard of
him in my life; I never knew that he had left a relict; I never set
eyes on Mrs. Badgery until one fatal morning when I went to see if the
fixtures were all right in my new house.

My new house is in the suburbs of London. I looked at it, liked it,
took it. Three times I visited it before I sent my furniture in. Once
with a friend, once with a surveyor, once by myself, to throw a sharp
eye, as I have already intimated, over the fixtures. The third visit
marked the fatal occasion on which I first saw Mrs. Badgery. A deep
interest attaches to this event, and I shall go into details in
describing it.

I rang at the bell of the garden-door. The old woman appointed to keep
the house answered it. I directly saw something strange and confused
in her face and manner. Some men would have pondered a little and
questioned her. I am by nature impetuous and a rusher at conclusions.
"Drunk," I said to myself, and walked on into the house perfectly
satisfied.

I looked into the front parlour. Grate all right, curtain-pole all
right, gas chandelier all right. I looked into the back
parlour--ditto, ditto, ditto, as we men of business say. I mounted the
stairs. Blind on back window right? Yes; blind on back window right. I
opened the door of the front drawing-room--and there, sitting in the
middle of the bare floor, was a large woman on a little camp-stool!
She was dressed in the deepest mourning; her face was hidden by the
thickest crape veil I ever saw; and she was groaning softly to herself
in the desolate solitude of my new unfurnished house.

What did I do? Do! I bounced back into the landing as if I had been
shot, uttering the national exclamation of terror and astonishment:
"Hullo!" (And here I particularly beg, in parenthesis, that the
printer will follow my spelling of the word, and not put Hillo, or
Halloa, instead, both of which are senseless compromises which
represent no sound that ever yet issued from an Englishman's lips.) I
said, "Hullo!" and then I turned round fiercely upon the old woman who
kept the house, and said "Hullo!" again.

She understood the irresistible appeal that I had made to her
feelings, and curtseyed, and looked towards the drawing-room, and
humbly hoped that I was not startled or put out. I asked who the
crape-covered woman on the camp-stool was, and what she wanted there.
Before the old woman could answer, the soft groaning in the
drawing-room ceased, and a muffled voice, speaking from behind the
crape veil, addressed me reproachfully, and said:

"I am the widow of the late Mr. Badgery."

What do you think I said in answer? Exactly the words which, I flatter
myself, any other sensible man in my situation would have said. And
what words were they? These two:

"Oh, indeed?"

"Mr. Badgery and myself were the last tenants who inhabited this
house," continued the muffled voice. "Mr. Badgery died here." The
voice ceased, and the soft groans began again.

It was perhaps not necessary to answer this; but I did answer it. How?
In two words again:

"Did he?"

"Our house has been long empty," resumed the voice, choked by sobs.
"Our establishment has been broken up. Being left in reduced
circumstances, I now live in a cottage near; but it is not home to me.
This is home. However long I live, wherever I go, whatever changes may
happen to this beloved house, nothing can ever prevent me from looking
on it as _my_ home. I came here, sir, with Mr. Badgery after our
honeymoon. All the brief happiness of my life was once contained
within these four walls. Every dear remembrance that I fondly cherish
is shut up in these sacred rooms."

Again the voice ceased, and again the soft groans echoed round my
empty walls, and oozed out past me down my uncarpeted staircase.

I reflected. Mrs. Badgery's brief happiness and dear remembrances were
not included in the list of fixtures. Why could she not take them away
with her? Why should she leave them littered about in the way of my
furniture? I was just thinking how I could put this view of the case
strongly to Mrs. Badgery, when she suddenly left off groaning, and
addressed me once more.

"While this house has been empty," she said, "I have been in the habit
of looking in from time to time, and renewing my tender associations
with the place. I have lived, as it were, in the sacred memories of
Mr. Badgery and of the past, which these dear, these priceless rooms
call up, dismantled and dusty as they are at the present moment. It
has been my practice to give a remuneration to the attendant for any
slight trouble that I might occasion----"

"Only sixpence, sir," whispered the old woman, close at my ear.

"And to ask nothing in return," continued Mrs. Badgery, "but the
permission to bring my camp-stool with me, and to meditate on Mr.
Badgery in the empty rooms, with every one of which some happy
thought, or eloquent word, or tender action of his, is everlastingly
associated. I came here on my usual errand to-day. I am discovered, I
presume, by the new proprietor of the house--discovered, I am quite
ready to admit, as an intruder. I am willing to go, if you wish it
after hearing my explanation. My heart is full, sir; I am quite
incapable of contending with you. You would hardly think it, but I am
sitting on the spot once occupied by _our_ ottoman. I am looking
towards the window in which _my_ flower-stand once stood. In this very
place, Mr. Badgery first sat down and clasped me to his heart, when
we came back from our honeymoon trip. 'Matilda,' he said, 'your
drawing-room has been expensively papered, carpeted, and furnished for
a month; but it has only been adorned, love, since you entered it.' If
you have no sympathy, sir, for such remembrances as these; if you see
nothing pitiable in my position, taken in connection with my presence
here; if you cannot enter into my feelings, and thoroughly understand
that this is not a house, but a Shrine--you have only to say so, and I
am quite willing to go."

She spoke with the air of a martyr--a martyr to my insensibility. If
she had been the proprietor and I had been the intruder, she could not
have been more mournfully magnanimous. All this time, too, she never
raised her veil--she never has raised it, in my presence, from that
time to this. I have no idea whether she is young or old, dark or
fair, handsome or ugly: my impression is, that she is in every respect
a finished and perfect Gorgon; but I have no basis of fact on which I
can support that horrible idea. A moving mass of crape, and a muffled
voice--that, if you drive me to it, is all I know, in a personal point
of view, of Mrs. Badgery.

"Ever since my irreparable loss, this has been the shrine of my
pilgrimage, and the altar of my worship," proceeded the voice. "One
man may call himself a landlord, and say that he will let it; another
man may call himself a tenant, and say that he will take it. I don't
blame either of those two men; I don't wish to intrude on either of
those two men; I only tell them that this is my home; that my heart is
still in possession, and that no mortal laws, landlords, or tenants
can ever turn it out. If you don't understand this, sir; if the
holiest feelings that do honour to our common nature have no
particular sanctity in your estimation, pray do not scruple to say so;
pray tell me to go."

"I don't wish to do anything uncivil, ma'am," said I. "But I am a
single man, and I am not sentimental." (Mrs. Badgery groaned.) "Nobody
told me I was coming into a Shrine when I took this house; nobody
warned me, when I first went over it that there was a Heart in
possession. I regret to have disturbed your meditations, and I am
sorry to hear that Mr. Badgery is dead. That is all I have to say
about it; and now, with your kind permission, I will do myself the
honour of wishing you good morning, and will go up-stairs to look
after the fixtures on the second floor."

Could I have given a gentler hint than this? Could I have spoken more
compassionately to a woman whom I sincerely believe to be old and
ugly? Where is the man to be found who can lay his hand on his heart,
and honestly say that he ever really pitied the sorrows of a Gorgon?
Search through the whole surface of the globe, and you will discover
human phenomena of all sorts; but you will not find that man.

To resume. I made her a bow, and left her on the camp-stool, in the
middle of the drawing-room floor, exactly as I had found her. I
ascended to the second floor, walked into the back room first, and
inspected the grate. It appeared to be a little out of repair, so I
stooped down to look at it closer. While I was kneeling over the bars,
I was violently startled by the fall of one large drop of Warm Water,
from a great height, exactly in the middle of a bald place, which has
been widening a great deal of late years on the top of my head. I
turned on my knees, and looked round. Heaven and earth! the
crape-covered woman had followed me up-stairs--the source from which
the drop of warm water had fallen was Mrs. Badgery's eye!

"I wish you could contrive not to cry over the top of my head, ma'am,"
I remarked. My patience was becoming exhausted, and I spoke with
considerable asperity. The curly-headed youth of the present age may
not be able to sympathise with my feelings on this occasion; but my
bald brethren know, as well as I do, that the most unpardonable of all
liberties is a liberty taken with the unguarded top of the human head.

Mrs. Badgery did not seem to hear me. When she had dropped the tear,
she was standing exactly over me, looking down at the grate; and she
never stirred an inch after I had spoken. "Don't cry over my head,
ma'am," I repeated, more irritably than before.

"This was his dressing-room," said Mrs. Badgery, indulging in muffled
soliloquy. "He was singularly particular about his shaving-water. He
always liked to have it in a little tin pot, and he invariably desired
that it might be placed on this hob." She groaned again, and tapped
one side of the grate with the leg of her camp-stool.

If I had been a woman, or if Mrs. Badgery had been a man, I should now
have proceeded to extremities, and should have vindicated my right to
my own house by an appeal to physical force. Under existing
circumstances, all that I could do was to express my indignation by a
glance. The glance produced not the slightest result--and no wonder.
Who can look at a woman with any effect, through a crape veil?

I retreated into the second-floor front room, and instantly shut the
door after me. The next moment I heard the rustling of the crape
garments outside, and the muffled voice of Mrs. Badgery poured
lamentably through the keyhole.

"Do you mean to make that your bed-room?" asked the voice on the other
side of the door. "Oh, don't, don't make that your bed-room! I am
going away directly--but, oh pray, pray let that one room be sacred!
Don't sleep there! If you can possibly help it, don't sleep there!"

I opened the window, and looked up and down the road. If I had seen a
policeman within hail I should certainly have called him in. No such
person was visible. I shut the window again, and warned Mrs. Badgery,
through the door, in my sternest tones, not to interfere with my
domestic arrangements. "I mean to have my own iron bedstead put up
here," I said. "And what is more, I mean to sleep here. And what is
more, I mean to snore here!" Severe, I think, that last sentence? It
completely crushed Mrs. Badgery for the moment. I heard the crape
garments rustling away from the door; I heard the muffled groans going
slowly and solemnly down the stairs again.

In due course of time I also descended to the ground-floor. Had Mrs.
Badgery really left the premises? I looked into the front
parlour--empty. Back parlour--empty. Any other room on the
ground-floor? Yes; a long room at the end of the passage. The door was
closed. I opened it cautiously, and peeped in. A faint scream, and a
smack of two distractedly-clasped hands saluted my appearance. There
she was, again on the camp-stool, again sitting exactly in the middle
of the floor.

"Don't, don't look in, in that way!" cried Mrs. Badgery, wringing her
hands. "I could bear it in any other room, but I can't bear it in
this. Every Monday morning I looked out the things for the wash in
this room. He was difficult to please about his linen; the washerwoman
never put starch enough into his collars to satisfy him. Oh, how often
and often has he popped his head in here, as you popped yours just
now; and said, in his amusing way, 'More starch!' Oh, how droll he
always was--how very, very droll in this dear little back room!"

I said nothing. The situation had now got beyond words. I stood with
the door in my hand, looking down the passage towards the garden, and
waiting doggedly for Mrs. Badgery to go out. My plan succeeded. She
rose, sighed, shut up the camp-stool, stalked along the passage,
paused on the hall mat, said to herself, "Sweet, sweet spot!"
descended the steps, groaned along the gravel-walk, and disappeared
from view at last through the garden-door.

"Let her in again at your peril," said I to the woman who kept the
house. She curtseyed and trembled. I left the premises, satisfied with
my own conduct under very trying circumstances; delusively convinced
also that I had done with Mrs. Badgery.

The next day I sent in the furniture. The most unprotected object on
the face of this earth is a house when the furniture is going in. The
doors must be kept open; and employ as many servants as you may,
nobody can be depended on as a domestic sentry so long as the van is
at the gate. The confusion of "moving in" demoralises the steadiest
disposition, and there is no such thing as a properly-guarded post
from the top of the house to the bottom. How the invasion was managed,
how the surprise was effected, I know not; but it is certainly the
fact, that when my furniture went in, the inevitable Mrs. Badgery went
in along with it.

I have some very choice engravings, after the old masters; and I was
first awakened to a consciousness of Mrs. Badgery's presence in the
house, while I was hanging up my proof impression of Titian's Venus
over the front parlour fire-place. "Not there!" cried the muffled
voice imploringly. "_His_ portrait used to hang there. Oh, what a
print--what a dreadful, dreadful print to put where _his_ dear
portrait used to be!"

I turned round in a fury. There she was, still muffled up in crape,
still carrying her abominable camp-stool. Before I could say a word in
remonstrance, six men in green baize aprons staggered in with my
sideboard, and Mrs. Badgery suddenly disappeared. Had they trampled
her under foot, or crushed her in the doorway? Though not an inhuman
man by nature, I asked myself those questions quite composedly. No
very long time elapsed before they were practically answered in the
negative by the reappearance of Mrs. Badgery herself, in a perfectly
unruffled condition of chronic grief. In the course of the day I had
my toes trodden on, I was knocked about by my own furniture, the six
men in baize aprons dropped all sorts of small articles over me in
going up and down stairs; but Mrs. Badgery escaped unscathed. Every
time I thought she had been turned out of the house she proved, on the
contrary, to be groaning close behind me. She wept over Mr. Badgery's
memory in every room, perfectly undisturbed to the last, by the
chaotic confusion of moving in. I am not sure, but I think she brought
a tin box of sandwiches with her, and celebrated a tearful pic-nic of
her own in the groves of my front garden. I say I am not sure of this;
but I am positively certain that I never entirely got rid of her all
day; and I know to my cost that she insisted on making me as well
acquainted with Mr. Badgery's favourite notions and habits as I am
with my own. It may interest the reader if I report that my taste in
carpets is not equal to Mr. Badgery's; that my ideas on the subject of
servants' wages are not so generous as Mr. Badgery's; and that I
ignorantly persisted in placing a sofa in the position which Mr.
Badgery, in his time, considered to be particularly fitted for an
arm-chair. I could go nowhere, look nowhere, do nothing, say nothing,
all that day, without bringing the widowed incubus in the crape
garments down upon me immediately. I tried civil remonstrances, I
tried rude speeches, I tried sulky silence--nothing had the least
effect on her. The memory of Mr. Badgery was the shield of proof with
which she warded off my fiercest attacks. Not till the last article of
furniture had been moved in, did I lose sight of her; and even then
she had not really left the house. One of my six men in green baize
aprons routed her out of the back-garden area, where she was telling
my servants, with floods of tears, of Mr. Badgery's virtuous
strictness with his housemaid in the matter of followers. My admirable
man in green baize courageously saw her out, and shut the garden-door
after her. I gave him half-a-crown on the spot; and if anything
happens to him, I am ready to make the future prosperity of his
fatherless family my own peculiar care.

The next day was Sunday; and I attended morning service at my new
parish church.

A popular preacher had been announced, and the building was crowded. I
advanced a little way up the nave, and looked to my right, and saw no
room. Before I could look to my left, I felt a hand laid persuasively
on my arm. I turned round--and there was Mrs. Badgery, with her
pew-door open, solemnly beckoning me in. The crowd had closed up
behind me; the eyes of a dozen members of the congregation, at least,
were fixed on me. I had no choice but to save appearances, and accept
the dreadful invitation. There was a vacant place next to the door of
the pew. I tried to drop into it, but Mrs. Badgery stopped me. "_His_
seat," she whispered, and signed to me to place myself on the other
side of her. It is unnecessary to say that I had to climb over a
hassock, and that I knocked down all Mrs. Badgery's devotional books
before I succeeded in passing between her and the front of the pew.
She cried uninterruptedly through the service; composed herself when
it was over; and began to tell me what Mr. Badgery's opinions had been
on points of abstract theology. Fortunately there was great confusion
and crowding at the door of the church; and I escaped, at the hazard
of my life, by running round the back of the carriages. I passed the
interval between the services alone in the fields, being deterred from
going home by the fear that Mrs. Badgery might have got there before
me.

Monday came. I positively ordered my servants to let no lady in deep
mourning pass inside the garden-door, without first consulting me.
After that, feeling tolerably secure, I occupied myself in arranging
my books and prints.

I had not pursued this employment much more than an hour, when one of
the servants burst excitably into the room, and informed me that a
lady in deep mourning had been taken faint, just outside my door, and
had requested leave to come in and sit down for a few moments. I ran
down the garden-path to bolt the door, and arrived just in time to see
it violently pushed open by an officious and sympathising crowd. They
drew away on either side as they saw me. There she was, leaning on the
grocer's shoulder, with the butcher's boy in attendance, carrying her
camp-stool! Leaving my servants to do what they liked with her, I ran
back and locked myself up in my bedroom. When she evacuated the
premises, some hours afterwards, I received a message of apology,
informing me that this particular Monday was the sad anniversary of
her wedding-day, and that she had been taken faint, in consequence, at
the sight of her lost husband's house.

Tuesday forenoon passed away happily, without any new invasion. After
lunch, I thought I would go out and take a walk. My garden-door has a
sort of peep-hole in it, covered with a wire grating. As I got close
to this grating, I thought I saw something mysteriously dark on the
outer side of it. I bent my head down to look through, and instantly
found myself face to face with the crape veil. "Sweet, sweet spot!"
said the muffled voice, speaking straight into my eyes through the
grating. The usual groans followed, and the name of Mr. Badgery was
plaintively pronounced before I could recover myself sufficiently to
retreat to the house.

Wednesday is the day on which I am writing this narrative. It is not
twelve o'clock yet, and there is every probability that some new form
of sentimental persecution is in store for me before the evening. Thus
far, these lines contain a perfectly true statement of Mrs. Badgery's
conduct towards me since I entered on the possession of _my_ house and
_her_ shrine. What am I to do?--that is the point I wish to insist
on--what am I to do? How am I to get away from the memory of Mr.
Badgery, and the unappeasable grief of his disconsolate widow? Any
other species of invasion it is possible to resist; but how is a man
placed in my unhappy and unparalleled circumstances to defend himself?
I can't keep a dog ready to fly at Mrs. Badgery. I can't charge her at
a police-court with being oppressively fond of the house in which her
husband died. I can't set man-traps for a woman, or prosecute a
weeping widow as a trespasser and a nuisance. I am helplessly involved
in the unrelaxing folds of Mrs. Badgery's crape veil. Surely there was
no exaggeration in my language when I said that I was a sufferer under
a perfectly new grievance! Can anybody advise me? Has anybody had even
the remotest experience of the peculiar form of persecution which I am
now enduring? If nobody has, is there any legal gentleman in the
United Kingdom who can answer the all-important question which appears
at the head of this narrative? I began by asking that question because
it was uppermost in my mind. It is uppermost in my mind still, and I
therefore beg leave to conclude appropriately by asking it again:

Is there any law in England which will protect me from Mrs. Badgery?


END OF VOL. I.



LONDON: PRINTED BY W. CLOWES AND SONS, STAMFORD STREET, AND CHARING
CROSS.





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