By Author [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Title [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Language
all Classics books content using ISYS

Download this book: [ ASCII | HTML | PDF ]

Look for this book on Amazon

We have new books nearly every day.
If you would like a news letter once a week or once a month
fill out this form and we will give you a summary of the books for that week or month by email.

Title: Brief Diversions - being Tales Travesties and Epigrams
Author: Priestley, J. B. (John Boynton)
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Brief Diversions - being Tales Travesties and Epigrams" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.

                           BRIEF DIVERSIONS

                  _Short, but there’s salt in’t...._

                               THE DOUBLE-DEALER

                           BRIEF DIVERSIONS

                        _being Tales Travesties
                             and Epigrams

                            J. B. PRIESTLEY

                       _Cambridge Bowes & Bowes_



                       [Illustration: colophon]


                     London: Macmillan & Co. Ltd.
                   Glasgow: MacLehose, Jackson & Co.
                       Oxford: Basil Blackwell.



Nearly _all these pieces have appeared in the_ CAMBRIDGE REVIEW, _and I
thank the Editor for his courtesy in allowing me to reprint them. A few
travesties and epigrams have been added, and others have been revised.
Most of the tales were written during the War, many of them while I was
in Flanders, and at that time, being away from books, I imagined I was
doing something new, being either ignorant or forgetful of the work of
better men, such as Lord Dunsany and Mr T. W. H. Crosland, in a very
similar form. To such gentlemen, I can only offer an apology if I seem
to enter their little pleasaunces and tread clumsily where they who went
before me stepped so lightly and delicately._

J. B. P.



_The Impossibility of knowing Everyone_                           page 3

_A Moving Story of Real Life_                                          4

_The True Account of a Quarrel between a Man
we all know and a very old Family_                                     5

_At the ‘Red Lion,’ Rample Street_                                     7

_The Danger of Accepting Gifts while holding
Municipal Office_                                                      8

_The Humiliating Experience of a Forgotten God_                       10

_How the Rational Amusements of the Great are
Limited_                                                              11

_The Imprudence of a Politician in Travelling
Further than the Newspapers_                                          12

_The Wrong World_                                                     14

_The Value of a New Point of View_                                    15

_The Uninvited Guest_                                                 16

_How I met with a Famous Character in a Café_                         18

_The Mutiny_                                                          19

_Death and the Fiddler_                                               20

_The College of Immortal Fame_                                        21

_The Lonely Soul_                                                     23

_The Lost Path_                                                       24

_The last Glimpse of a well-known Figure in Society_                  25

_Advanced Thought and the Foolish Idler_                              26

_The Wonderful View_                                                  27

_The Room of Lost Souls_                                              28

_The Cynicism of Absolute Monarchies_                                 29

_The Importance of Good Government_                                   31

_The Moral_                                                           33


_The Shropshire Lad_                                                  37

_Mr Walter De La Mare_                                                38

_Æ_                                                                   39

_Sir Wm Watson_                                                       40

_Professor G. B. Saintsbury_                                          41

_Mr James Stephens_                                                   43

_Professor Sir A. T. Quiller-Couch_                                   44

_Mr Lascelles Abercrombie_                                            46

_Mr W. B. Yeats_                                                      48

_Mr Alfred Noyes_                                                     49

_Mr John Drinkwater_                                                  50

_Trivia_                                                              52

EPIGRAMS                                                              53



A profiteer, a Priest of Nebt-het, from Heliopolis, and a Fool were
walking together one day, when they met the grim figure of War belching
flame and fury.

‘Who is that?’ asked the fool and the priest of each other, quickening
their pace. But the profiteer raised his hat, bowed humbly, and stayed
to chat for a few moments with the terrible figure, before rejoining his

Presently, they came upon Death, mumbling to himself by the roadside.
The fool and the profiteer raised their eyebrows, and passed on, but the
priest of Nebt-het touched his forehead and made certain strange signs
with his hands, to which Death replied in like manner.

Then the three spied a beautiful woman who sat among the wildflowers. It
was Love, combing her hair and singing all the love-songs of the world.
‘That is a fine woman,’ said the profiteer, staring hard.

‘I do not know her,’ said the priest, somewhat sadly. But the fool ran
forward and caught her hands in his, and they laughed together. So the
priest and the profiteer walked on, but when they had gone a little way,
they turned round, and there was the fool sitting at her feet and
looking into her eyes as she sang and combed her hair.

‘The fool has all the luck,’ they grumbled.


There was at one time upon the earth a Mr S. L. Binkle, who always spoke
of himself as a Business Expert. He would, from time to time, scatter
broadcast little sheets of paper, on which was printed: ‘Efficiency!
What does it mean to you?’ and many other dark sayings.

This Binkle was a middle-aged man who lived strangely: he never laughed
or sang or ate heartily, though some have said that he had a weakness
for tapioca pudding.

It chanced that one afternoon when he was sitting in his office, there
was some noisy music in the street near by, so Binkle put small pieces
of cotton-wool in his ears. Far away, the gods laughed.

A few minutes later, the office door was flung open, and a red-faced man
rushed in, crying: ‘You Mister Binkle?... come down to Balham ... next
Tuesday evening ... talk on Business Efficiency ... no time to stop ...
train ... ask for Mechanics Institute ... five guineas.’ After which,
the stranger departed noisily.

These loose fragments of speech were quite intelligible and, indeed,
welcome to Binkle, who made a note in a little book and smiled with

But alas--who can foresee what the gods have decreed? For, with the
cotton-wool in his ears, Binkle had not heard the stranger rightly; and
on the Tuesday following, instead of going to Balham, he went to Barham,
which is full of poets and wild lovers, and there he perished


The Man who thought about Proteids sat by the roadside, writing with an
indelible pencil in a little notebook. And Spring, all in pink and
white, came tripping by, and cried to him: ‘I will dance for you! Watch
me dance!’ She danced very prettily, but the Man went on writing, and
never looked at her once. So Spring, being young, burst into tears, and
told her sister, Summer.

Summer said to herself: ‘Spring is very foolish to cry. Probably he does
not like dancing. I will sing to him.’ She sang a beautiful sleepy song
to him, but he never listened, being busy writing in his little
note-book. Summer was indignant, and told her sister, Autumn.

Autumn said: ‘There are many good men who do not like dancing. I will
give him some of my wine.’ So she went to the Man and offered him her
purple wine, but he merely said, ‘I do not drink wine,’ and resumed his
writing. Then Autumn was very angry indeed, and told her big brother,
Winter, all that had passed.

Winter was an enormous fellow, with a dreadful roar and howl, and every
time he moved, snowflakes came whirling from his flowing robes. ‘Show me
the fellow,’ he bellowed, puffing out his cheeks. Then he saw the Man
who thought about Proteids, still sitting by the roadside.

‘Do you know me?’ roared Winter, and the Man looked and his teeth
chattered like dead men’s bones.

Then Winter seized him by the neck and whirled him round and round, and
finally flung him over his left shoulder into space.

And the Man who thought about Proteids has not been seen since, but, the
other day, a boy found the little note-book lying by the roadside.


Rather late one Saturday evening, Bacchus walked into the ‘Red Lion
Inn,’ at the corner of Rample Street. He said nothing, but looked at the
landlord, who, on his part, was trying to discover the ‘company’
(meaning rank or station) of the new customer; so that he should know
whether to open the door of the Private Bar or Best Room, or wave his
hand in the direction of the Taproom: this is the great problem and test
for all inn-keepers in England.

The landlord was still puzzling his brains, when the god spoke in a
rich, mellow voice: ‘Happy mortal, let us drink and sing together, and
talk of the laughing glories of the world. See! I will garland thy brow
with leaves of vine.’ And he stepped forward.

The landlord recoiled hastily. ‘No you don’t,’ he snarled, ‘you get
nothing ’ere. Outside.’

The god did not move, so the landlord grew angry and cried: ‘Outside I
say! ’Ere Bill! Jack! Throw ’im out!’

Bacchus, taken by surprise, was immediately flung through the swing
doors, landing at the feet of a policeman outside.

On Monday, the god was fined many shillings for being drunk and
disorderly, but fortunately no one in the police-court recognised him,
for that morning he was dressed in an old suit and wore a cloth cap and
red scarf, so that he looked like one of those men who shave only on
Saturday afternoons.


A poet, wishing to remove from Shotterden to Camden Town, found himself
sadly encumbered with dreams and decided to give them away before he

He started with the little cripple girl next door, to whom he gave two
splendid dreams of laughing gardens, and then went all round Shotterden
(it is not a very large town) giving away his dreams.

When he returned to his lodging, he found he had one dream left, so he
went to the policeman who always stood at the corner of the street, and
said: ‘I cannot understand it. I have one dream left, yet I think I have
given one to every person in the town, and to some I have given two.’

‘There is the Mayor--’ replied the policeman, doubtfully.

‘The very man! I had forgotten him!’ cried the Poet, and ran off to find
the Mayor.

The Mayor accepted the gift very reluctantly, and tried to get rid of
it, but it clung to him persistently, as dreams do. It was a good dream,
a dream of the white neck of a queen who died four thousand years ago,
but the Mayor did not want it.

As time went on, it weighed upon him more and more, and when he should
have been attending to Municipal Affairs or Opening a Bazaar, he found
his mind wandering, and he was for ever brooding on the dead queen.

Until one day, when the Council was discussing a new Byelaw to prevent
Children from playing in the Public Parks, he was asked to speak, and,
full of the dream, he burst into song, to the great astonishment of all
present. He was then asked to resign, which he did.

And now, hardly anyone ever calls or even leaves a card.


The great Babylonian god, Marduk, revisiting the earth in the guise of a
young man, fell in love with a girl in the silk Department of the
Universal Stores. Her name was Lena.

‘O moon-faced one! O white flower of the world! I adore thee,’ Marduk
whispered. ‘Thou hast the look of Sarpanitum, the leopard-eyed goddess,
in days of old when the stars were young and kind!’

‘Well, well,’ cried Lena, ‘what will you do to please me?’

‘I will rebuild Babylon in an hour for thee,’ shouted the god, and away
he sped to the great, silent plain, where he laboured mightily. In a
short space of time he returned and wafted her away to the scene of his

‘Look, look,’ he cried, and waved his hand. And there was Babylon, the
mighty city of splendour and dream, shimmering and glittering, the
wonder of the world. There were the great gates, the towering palaces,
the hanging gardens, as of old.

‘Well?’ and Marduk turned to her eagerly when she had gazed her fill,
and wiped his forehead, for even he sweated from his vast labours.

Lena looked at him: ‘Yes, it’s very nice,’ she said.


Before your time, two Mummers and a Unitarian were seated in a tavern
playing cards, when a long, sallow-faced man, dressed in black, joined
them and asked if he might have a game.

He was received cordially, and Whist was proposed, the civilisation of
the world not having arrived at Bridge at that time.

The Unitarian dealt out the cards, and the Man in black sorted and
scrutinized his hand in the manner of one who takes a keen interest in
the game.

‘By the way, what are trumps?’ he asked.

‘Hearts,’ replied one of the Mummers.

‘Hearts! Hearts! Red Hearts!’ screamed the Man in black, springing to
his feet and spilling his cards in anger. ‘How the myself can I play
with hearts as trumps! Any other suit would have done splendidly!’ And,
with a loud cry, he jumped through the floor, and as he went the others
caught a glimpse, through the crack, of flames, curling and leaping.

It is not recorded whether the Unitarian was the more surprised or the
two Mummers.


The Member of Parliament for West Churchling had walked far, and, losing
his way in the darkness, came to the World’s End. There he spied the
Hostel, where, round a bright fire, were seated the three Watchers,
Arshel of the Twisted Nose, Zanoah of the Bright Hair, and the other
whose name I can never remember.

They gave him greeting, and he sat down and warmed his hands by the

Presently, Arshel turned to him and said, ‘Sing us a song.’

The Member of Parliament said with dignity, ‘I cannot sing.’

The three Watchers sighed and looked at him reproachfully.

‘Then dance for us,’ said Zanoah, picking up a little pipe.

‘I cannot dance,’ returned the Member of Parliament sadly. The three
Watchers sighed more deeply.

‘Then tell us a tale,’ said the one whose name I can never remember. The
Politician pondered for a moment, then began:

‘At the last General Election it was decided that our Party should
appeal to the country to support those studied and careful reforms
necessary from time to time in an enlightened community like ours.
Questions of Tariff, Extension of the Franchise, Disestablishment of the
Church, Free Commercial Education for the Masses, were to be the
pillars by which our Party should stand or fall. I myself----’

‘It is too long,’ cried Arshel.

‘It is a poor tale,’ cried Zanoah.

‘It is the worst tale I have ever heard,’ cried the one whose name I can
never remember, ‘and you are no company for us.’

So they thrust the Member of Parliament for West Churchling out into the
cold night.


One Saturday night, not many years ago, there was a great crowd at the
end of Toston Street, Littlebury.

‘Nah then. Nah then. Wot’s all this abart?’ cried a policeman,
shouldering his way through the curious throng.

In the centre of the crowd was a small cleared space, in which was
seated, on the edge of the pavement, a strange being with dark blue hair
and greenish-tinted skin.

‘Nah then,’ said the policeman, pulling out his note-book, ‘wot’s all

The strange being, on whom the gift of tongues must have descended,
looked up and said: ‘Where am I?’

‘Come on. Wot’s the game, eh? Who are yer, eh? Wotcher doing ’ere?’
roared the policeman, his surprise making him more truculent than usual.

The strange being made no reply, but stared at the policeman, and then
looked gravely at the curious, jostling crowd.

‘I know! I know!’ he cried triumphantly, springing to his feet. ‘I’m
on--just a minute, I’ll remember--somewhere in the Solar system--I’ve
got it--the Earth! That’s it--the Earth! The fools ... giving me the
wrong directions. I want Morchas, in the Lunar system--the other side of
Pleiades. Fancy striking this place again! I’ve been on the Earth
before. I was murdered here for speaking the truth, ten thousand years
ago. Bah!’

With that he disappeared, to the great astonishment of all present.


Sailing westward from the Island of Fata Morgana, I came upon Pierrot in
his little white boat. We were old acquaintances, and I asked him if the
gods were still using him kindly, and how things were looking on the
Moon, his home.

‘I have been away from home for some time,’ he replied, ‘but am just
about to return. Will you come with me?’

So I clambered into his little boat, and told my own ship to return to
the Island of Fata Morgana. We sailed on and on, Pierrot enlivening the
dim hours with his strange Moon-songs, until at last he brought the boat
to anchor in a little bay, and I landed, for the first time, at the pale
country of the Moon.

‘You know,’ I said to Pierrot, as we wandered among the fantastic green
shadows, ‘I have always longed to visit the Moon. The World is so dull,
now, and the Moon always seemed to us such a mad and merry place.’

Pierrot stared--‘That is very strange! Up here we have always believed
the reverse of that. And with good reason. Look for yourself!’ and he
led me to the edge of the Moon; we peered over, and there, far below,
was the great shining World, looking as big as ten Moons, and a hundred
times madder and merrier.

‘Pierrot,’ I cried, ‘I have mis-judged the World! Good-bye, my friend!’
and I leaped into space.

       *       *       *       *       *

I landed on the roof of the Headquarters of the Society for the
Extension of Commercial Careers for Women.


A certain rich man, having discovered a new method of adulterating milk
for babies, determined to celebrate his increase of fortune by giving a
wonderful Fancy-dress Ball and masked Carnival.

When the evening came, the scene was a very brilliant one, the masks and
costumes being of a most varied and extravagant character. About
midnight, a new figure was noticed moving slowly among the crowd, a tall
figure dressed in a long black cloak with a cowl, which overshadowed a
grinning ghastly Death’s Head. This extraordinary costume caused much
comment; some of the more timid guests objected to it, but the majority
found it entertaining and wondered who the wearer might be.

At one o’clock, prizes were to be given for the best costumes. Amid
general applause, the Master of the Ceremonies handed the first prize to
a lady dressed as Madame de Pompadour. He then cried loudly: ‘The second
prize goes to the gentleman who has come in the character of Death.’

All eyes were turned upon the strange figure, which stepped forward and
said in a loud voice: ‘I cannot accept the prize. I have won too many

This occasioned some remark, but the prize was given elsewhere, and in a
few minutes the distribution was at an end.

Then the Master gave the signal for all masks to be removed, and the
guests regarded each other with flushed and happy faces. There was one
exception however, and the master called loudly to Death’s Head, who
stood somewhat apart from the rest: ‘Sir, remove your mask.’

The figure pulled back the cowl, exposing its horrible grinning head to
the light, then turned slowly as if to survey every person in the room.

‘I wear no mask,’ it said, simply.


Sitting in a large café, one day, I saw the strangest sight. For an old
man, a wretched, dusty, unkempt dotard, entered at the far end, and
shuffled swiftly along the room. And as he passed the little tables, the
crowds of women there smiled on him, threw him flowers, tried to seize
his hand, and endeavoured in a hundred ways to attract his attention and
win his regard.

‘Now, this is surely the strangest thing that ever happened,’ I said, as
the old man approached; ‘is he a famous poet, then, or has he a
cellar-full of diamonds, that the women should love him so!’

He must have heard me, or noted the surprise written on my face, for
when he came closer, he stayed his feet for a moment, and muttered in my

‘I was ever a great lady-killer! My name is Time’; and he chuckled


There was once a Jew, who lived many years in England and in time became
very rich. For this, he was made a lord, and was known henceforth as
Lord Roasbif. So he bought a large estate in the country, and lived the
life of a good old English country gentleman.

Nothing delighted my Lord Roasbif more than to speak to large concourses
of simple people, so on an evil night in November he went to the
Agricultural Hall in Bosmouth, a small town on the east coast, to speak
at a political meeting.

A large crowd awaited him in the hall, and the organist played ‘Hearts
of Oak’ four times.

No one heard, from afar, a murmuring sound that gradually grew louder
and louder.

There was a great clapping of hands when Lord Roasbif stood up, so that
his heart was warmed and he spoke well, touching on matters political
and social.

A few people at the back of the hall heard a strange sound.

My Lord Roasbif was almost inspired, and spoke of the ‘Glorious Embire’
and ‘Our Island Raze’ with wonderful fervour. But now the noise outside
had grown very much louder, and all the people looked at each other in
wonder and fear. There seemed to be a prodigious high tide.

‘Chentlemen,’ cried Roasbif, ‘gome whad may, our Embire is sdill, and
and always vill be as long as de Bridish raze remains--mistress of--’

‘The Sea!’ shrieked a hundred voices. But it was too late. The grey
flood swept through the building with appalling fury and engulfed them


There was once a Fiddler, who possessed a great and powerful secret. For
he knew the tune, the only tune, to which Death would dance, and he
could play it well. Now the Fiddler, though he had but poor health, had
no great reason to fear Death, and he wedded with a girl from a
neighbouring village.

On the night following the wedding, there was a merry company assembled
at the house of the Fiddler, and everyone was talking, laughing or
singing, when suddenly there was a tapping at the window. The Fiddler
looked out and saw Death beckoning to him. So, not wishing to disturb
his guests, he picked up his fiddle and went out of the house.

Remembering the tune, however, he did not wait for Death to speak, but
straightway began to play, and Death, his bones rattling, started
dancing in the moonlight.

The guests, missing their host and hearing the music, crowded to the
window, but all they could see was the Fiddler jigging madly away. ‘He
wants us to dance outside in the moonlight,’ cried one, and out they all
went, and danced merrily with Death, who was becoming a little weary, in
the middle.

‘I hate parties--except in time of plague or war’, panted Death to the
Fiddler, and he danced away out of sight, and the Fiddler never saw him
again for many, many years.


Marus, a young poet of Levion, was walking in the by-ways of that city,
one day, when he came to a great door which he had never seen before,
and above the door was written in letters of gold:


So Marus knocked loudly at the door, and when it was opened, said to the
Porter: ‘I desire to enter the College.’

‘Do you desire it more than anything else in the whole world?’ asked the
Porter, in a solemn voice.

‘I do,’ said Marus, whose curiosity was awakened.

He entered, and was surprised to find that the door was immediately
locked and bolted behind him, and that two sentinels with drawn swords
took their places in front of it. He found himself in a great hall, and
nothing could be heard but sighing and groaning from every side. An old
man with a long white beard came towards Marus, and laying his hand on
the poet’s shoulder, said: ‘You will stay in this College for the
remainder of your lifetime. Little food, less sleep, no rest, occasional
moments of ecstasy in years of despair!’

‘I have made a mistake,’ muttered Marus, and louder: ‘I cannot stay

‘You cannot escape now,’ said the old man, quite gently.

The young poet looked about him and spied a little door at the far end
of the hall. ‘Yes, I can!’ he cried, and ran towards the little door,
hoping to find it unlocked. It was; and, his heart flooded with relief,
he swung open the door and looked out.

But which ever way he looked there was nothing to be seen but vast space
let with innumerable stars.


Journeying, in a dream, through the Portals of the Dead, I encountered
an Angel, who promised to be my guide in the Strange Lands.

We saw innumerable cities, gardens, palaces, castles, all beautiful, but
in a thousand and one different ways. And moving here, there and
everywhere, were happy souls clad in multi-coloured, shimmering

‘It makes my heart rejoice,’ I said to the Angel, ‘to see all these
happy souls. But tell me, what brain devised, what hand built, these
bewildering beautiful places?’

‘They were fashioned by the souls themselves, a long time ago,’ replied
the Angel enigmatically. A little later, my companion said: ‘I will show
you something different!’ And together, we flew away from the cities and
castles, until we came to a great, flat plain or desert, on which there
was neither building nor tree, nor even rock. ‘Surely this is the most
desolate place in the Universe and the Seven Heavens,’ I said, as we
still flew over the great plain.

‘Look,’ cried the Angel, pointing. I looked and saw far away, in the
centre of the great plain, one solitary, little soul.

‘Now that is loneliness and desolation indeed,’ I said, ‘what strange
and terrible sins did this man commit, that his soul should be confined
to such a place?’

‘On earth,’ replied the Angel, somewhat indifferently, ‘he prided
himself on having no Imagination!’


A child, whose name we have all forgotten, met three old men walking
together, and to each of them put a question.

‘What is there in the heart of the forest?’

‘Nothing but trees,’ replied the first old man, shaking his head, ‘and
that, as you will find, is the great sorrow of life.’

To the second old man, the child said: ‘What shall I come to, if I go
beyond the hills?’

‘You will come back to this very place in time,’ he answered,
mournfully, ‘and that is the saddest thing in the world.’

The child turned to the third old man, who was sighing deeply, and
asked: ‘Why are you so sad?’

‘We are sad,’ said the third old man, ‘because the vanishing years have
taught us wisdom, and we know all things. But you, being young, know

And the three old men shook their heads in unison and hobbled away.

The child stood still and puzzled for a moment. Then it said to itself:
‘They did not answer those questions properly. They are wrong, but I do
not know why.’

Then seeing a butterfly, the child ran after it, shouting with glee.


The eternal flames curled and writhed, thrusting out their voracious
tongues. There was a great roaring and hissing, and everywhere the
shrieking of damned and tortured souls.

Mrs Bilkington-Biggs, late of Mayfair and ‘The Laurels,’ Bucks., was
chatting to various acquaintances in that sprightly fashion which made
her one of Society’s most charming hostesses.

‘What! You here’--she prattled, ‘so delightful, I’m sure.--Yes--the most
wonderful time--Thursday last--we dined at the Moloch-Molochs’--You
_must_ know them--All the nicest people there--Have you met Mr
Beelzebub?--Oh, quite a charming man--knows simply everybody--He’s
bringing the Herod and Nero set to one of my Thursdays--Delighted to
meet you, I’m sure--What, not _the_ Mr Judas?--Oh--really--d’you
know--.’ And so she went on, glancing curiously from time to time at a
great black object nearby, which seemed to form the base of a vast
pillar, half hidden in the smoke.

‘No, my dear,’ continued Mrs Bilkington-Biggs, ‘I haven’t been presented
to _him_ yet.--I haven’t seen his Highness--but, of course, you know the
real season hasn’t quite begun--’

The great black object moved with dramatic terrible swiftness. It was
Satan’s right hoof, and with one awful kick, it sent Mrs
Bilkington-Biggs flying into the roaring furnace.

‘Any second Thursday, you know, my dear,’ wailed a voice from the heart
of the flames.


There once came to a small town a certain man renowned throughout the
country for his general wisdom and his knowledge of social philosophy. A
meeting was arranged, so that the inhabitants might learn something of
the great social questions of the day. The majority of the townsfolk
went to the meeting, and were well rewarded, for the social philosopher
spoke at great length. Throughout his address, he continually referred
to Demos and never without some touch of scorn. These contemptuous
references to Demos were apparently understood and approved of by all
present, with one strange exception.

For there was one fellow at this meeting who never should have been
there, a wild, half-witted fellow, noted throughout the town as an idler
and one given over to foolish laughter and odd scraps of song. Now this
fool, instead of holding his peace, immediately began to denounce the
learned man because he had spoken of Demos.

‘Who is this Demos?’--the fool went about crying. ‘I have been in the
place all my life and I have never met him. I know old Dan the fiddler
and Barty the cobbler and his lame brother and Little Snike who gets
drunk on wet days and Fat Meg and her lasses and Blind Peter and the
other two beggars and Long John the Watchman and hundreds more. But I
never met Demos here!’ And so he went on for days, until everybody in
the place was chaffing him.


Agal, the son of Iran-Ovor--the swordmaker, was a great traveller, and
it is recorded of him that, once, journeying beyond Cathay, he came to
the Court of the great emperor, Ol-fin, and there stayed many months.
The emperor made much of Agal, and showed him all his marvellous
treasures and many of the wonderful sights of the empire, that the
traveller might spread the fame of Ol-fin.

One day, when Agal had announced his intention of returning to his own
country, the emperor said: ‘I have one other thing for you to see, and
it is the most wonderful of all. It was given to me by the great god
Aoh. Come, I will show you.’ And he led him through the palace, along
innumerable corridors, until they came to a narrow, steep flight of
stairs. These they mounted, until they came to a small apartment which
appeared to be at the top of a high tower.

It had but one window, which was closely shuttered. ‘O Agal,
much-travelled one,’ cried the emperor, ‘you shall see a sight you have
never seen before,’ and he flung back the shutters.

Agal looked through the window, and was amazed at what he saw. ‘The dust
of seven times seven kingdoms has been about my feet,’ he cried, ‘yet I
never saw such beauty before. Strange, that I know the sight, yet I have
never seen it before. It must have come in dreams!’

‘Ah!--It is a gift from the great god,’ said the emperor complacently;
‘it is the view that always lies just over the hill.’


One day, the Newspaper King, inspecting his office premises, came upon a
little door in an upper part of the building. Turning to his private
secretary, who was at his elbow, he said: ‘I don’t remember seeing this
little door before. What is the room used for?’

‘Well, sir, it is only a lumber room,’ replied the secretary, ‘and it is
used now for souls.’

‘For souls?’--The great man was surprised.

‘Yes, for souls. We use it for storing the souls that you have bought
from time to time. Those of the staff, you know, sir, and others,’ the
secretary answered, adding apologetically: ‘I know, because I peeped in
the other day, and saw my own. It is in the top right hand corner.’

‘Ah--um!’ The Newspaper King mused for a moment, then, with one of those
flashes of inspiration which have made his name famous: ‘Could make
something out of it for the dull season. Tell Daly to do a special. Call
it “Queerest Room in London”--or similar title. Get comments from
Bishops--two will do.’

And he passed on, outlining to the secretary as he went, the rules for
the new £10,000 competition for Piebald Rabbits.


The King was dying.

‘Go at once and bring the Court Historians,’ he cried; ‘the recital of
our many wonderful virtues and deeds will charm our last remaining
hours.’ The Historians came and read aloud the glorious history of his
reign, but, after a little while, the King waved them aside. ‘You bore
us,’ he said. ‘Let us have music,’ the King commanded, and the most
skilled musicians in the kingdom came and played before him. But the
music was so passionately sorrowful, joyous, heart-stirring, that the
King wept. ‘Go away,’ he cried, ‘we would make Death easy, but your
music is the enemy of Death!’

Then the Monarch ordered all the members of the Royal Family to come to
his bedside, that he might spend his last hours in loving discourse with
his kindred. But when they came, they wept so bitterly, that the King’s
heart was turned to water within him, and he commanded them to depart.

The King was fretful.

‘How many different religions are there in the kingdom?’ he enquired of
the chamberlain.

‘Sire, there are six great religions, and one hundred and seventy-two
different sects,’ replied that worthy.

The King mused for a moment, then said: ‘Bring the Chief Priests of the
six great religions!’

The Chief Priests came, and assembled near the royal bed, looking very

The King raised himself wearily from his pillow, and said in a faint
voice: ‘We have commanded your presence here that you may explain the
means we must adopt to secure the happiness of our immortal soul in the
next world. You may begin.’ And he sank back again into his pillows.

Then the six Chief Priests all began to talk at once, explaining their
different systems, and they quarrelled and argued one with another,
until nothing could be heard in the Palace but the sound of their
voices. Hour after hour went by and still they wrangled, but the King
had long since passed away, a happy smile upon his face.


Once, when visiting a distant country, John James (sometimes called ‘The
Red,’ sometimes ‘The Wanderer’) saw a number of men being dragged to
gaol through the streets of the capital. He turned to a stranger who was
also looking on, and said: ‘Sir, I am not of this country, as you may
guess from my faltering speech. Pray tell me what these poor fellows
have done that they should be thus handled.’

The stranger replied, with some heat: ‘Sir, you may well ask that. These
men--heroes all of them--have dared to oppose out unjust rulers. They
are lovers of Truth and Freedom, and so have become the victims of that
vile tyranny which passes here for government. They are all--as you can
see--noble and virtuous--the friends of society.’ So John James went on
his way, grieved that the country should be so badly served.

Five years later, however, he found himself in the same city. Again, he
saw a number of men being driven through the streets to the gaol. And
again he turned to one who was standing near, but found him no stranger,
for it was no other than the man he had questioned before.

‘Tell me,’ said John James, ‘what these poor fellows have done that they
should lose their freedom, or perhaps their lives.’

The other replied with more heat than before: ‘Sir, that is quickly
answered. These fellows--insolent scoundrels all of them--have opposed
our God-appointed rulers. Such ruffians are the enemies of Freedom and
Truth, and deserve the fate that our just government has appointed for
them. They are all--as you can see--vicious and depraved--the enemies of

So John James passed on, pleased to learn that the country was now well


I met a fair child plucking flowers near the highway, and called to her
saying: ‘Little one, what can I do to make you happy?’

Thereupon she came running towards me, crying, ‘Tell me a tale, a tale!’

So I told her a tale of the Castle beneath the Sea, and went my way.

Soon I came upon an old man, warming his blood in the sunshine. I gave
him greeting, and he creased his face with a smile, saying: ‘Stay a
while and I will tell you a tale.’

So I stayed, and he told me a tale I had never heard before. It was
called ‘The Man who could not eat Porridge’; but I have forgotten it

Further down the highway was the edge of a Pine Forest, dark and full of
years, and as I passed I heard Time and Death whispering and chuckling
together in the gloom. I hurried along and came near to the End of the
World. There I met an Angel, sitting on a great flat stone.

‘Tell me, Angel,’ I said, ‘what do you do in the High Hall of Heaven in
the long evenings?’

‘We tell tales,’ replied the Angel, ‘but they are better tales than you
have ever heard or read. Go burn your books, and sit among the crows
until you can understand their tongue!’




    You lads whose trade is liming
      The charnel earth anew,
      A lad that has been rhyming
    Takes off his cap to you.

    The lads I knew at Knighton
      I’ve shot and stabbed and drown’d
      In verse that will not brighten
    Lads still above the ground.

    And those that you’ve put under,
      That lie as still as stones,
      The years will only plunder
    The flesh from off their bones.

    ’Twas hard for lads in my time
      To find new mournful staves,
      And so I thought: ‘‘Tis high time
    All Shropshire’s turned to graves.’

    So take this book, and read on
      The rhymes that I have made,
      Till Doomsday breaks on Bredon
    To end our ancient trade.



    Once on a summer’s night
    Saw fifty-nine witches
      Sat in the trees.

    Ghastly wet moon-faces
      Puckered and peered;
    Blind things in the darkness
      Gibbered and jeered;
    And ev’ry witch-woman there
      Wagged a thin beard.

    Each had an evil dream
      Under her hood;
    All spinning a witch-web
      Redder than blood
    Across the dim spaces
      Near where he stood.

    Their moonish old gabblement
      Loosened his knees,
    Down on his face fell

    Now ev’ry summer’s night,
      Go-as-you-please ’ll
    Sing to the crazy moon
      ‘Pop goes the weazel.’


 Through the pearl-grey heart of twilight, lit with amethyst and gold,
 We beheld the mystic Thingumbob, in visions fold on fold;
 And the Ages bowed before him as he passed the glimmering deep;
 We renewed our ancient beauty and arose from dewy sleep.
 Where the starry thrones grew brighter as the heights were touched with flame,
 High above a million faces burned the crown of What’s-his-Name.
 In what ivory-towered city, in what thronged and radiant street,
 Shall we see through mists of violet the shining Feet of Feet?
 Not the lily nor the lotus but the crimson flow’r of Pain
 Blossoms now to lead the spirit to the Light of Lights again;
 Now the bard of faery song and rune is set down as a bore,
 Far from Babylon and Sackville Street and boggy Carrowmore;
 Gods and heroes flee before us in a reeling fiery rout;
 Earth grows faint and hungry-hearted now as dream on dream fades out;
 And the dim blue reader wonders what the poem is all about.


    A queenly gift that wears a regal dress
    Of wine-flushed velvet blazoned with fine gold;
    Sumptuous these lettered heralds that remain
    Without the hall, bidding us enter there,
    Proclaiming puissant titles for their queen;
    More sumptuous still, the largesse and the feast
    Of poesie within. Here in this Isle,
    Where once were mighty poets, we have but known
    A fugitive or sterile muse of late:
    Across the sundering floods and leagues of foam,
    On younger peoples in a riper clime
    There falls no blight of song, but in full tide
    Of passion, poets have blossomed year by year.
    And greatest among these, O Wilcox, thou!
    Song lived again in thee: no single note
    Of human bliss or woe that did not come
    Unto thy tutored and melodious tongue
    And swell thy opulence of rhyme.
    Shall we, who share a common speech, forget
    Thy guerdon? Nay, not Tupper’s beaten gold,
    Nor Mistress Hemans, that white garden rose
    Of song, nor Bulwer Lytton’s mystic peaks
    Of thought, nor Morris (Lewis of that name)
    With all his large discourse and epic strain,
    Shall move us more in the dark days to come.


Coming to the conclusion of the whole matter, the present writer, who
has more than once gone over all that has been written on the
subject--with the exception of some things in Romansch and Czech--while
he has been engaged on this task, must refuse to discuss at length the
motives of the mice or the far-reaching results to their seemingly
(though not to the literary critic or historian who has adopted the
comparative method) eccentric and ill-timed trick of ‘running after,’
both of which have engaged the attention of some very excellent persons
to the exclusion of all other aspects of the problem. Whoever looks at
such things with one eye open for the swing of the pendulum will not be
easily persuaded that the cleaving blade--for, let it be repeated, the
Farmer’s Wife is worthiest of attention here--has not the fullest
significance of all, from the _lever de rideau_ of the ‘running after’
to the noisy epilogue of the ‘Never saw such a thing in my life.’ To
some, whose _engouement_ for the Classical is not entirely absurd, the
structure of the three shorn rodents, in their new simplicity and
austerity of outline, will come almost as a ‘Pisgah-sight.’ As a
reaction from the fulltailed Romanticism that scampered blindly and
heedlessly after what seemed rather a new crotchet than a true ideal,
their attitude--not unforeseen at the time when the ‘Carving-knife’ was
first menacingly brandished--can at least be tolerated. But to the other
extremists, who from their stucco citadel of the sham Romantic have
derided the ‘cutting-off,’ and have hailed with contempt the new-old,
perhaps to them unfamiliar, form of the blind three, the present writer
can hold out no eirenicon. With the exception of some worthy persons who
ought to have known better, and who shall be nameless here, the scoffers
were for the most part half-educated journalists and other hangers-on to
letters, who imagine that it is possible to write a clear lucid style
without so much as a glance at Dionysius of Halicarnassus, and who
cannot be expected.... Etc., Etc.


    Along the road I met a red-nosed man
    Who stumbled as he walked. He said to me:
     ‘You keep away from that pub if you can;
    It’s all gone queer.’ I said I didn’t see
    What could be wrong with Doolan’s. ‘I can’t think,’
      Said he, ‘what we’ll have next. I went in there,
    Five minutes since; I’d scarcely got my drink
      Before three angels with long shining hair
    Came in. The first two took the dominoes
      And played daft tunes upon them, while the third
    Sang songs and balanced bottles on his nose.
      ’Fore Stephens’ time, such things never occurred!
    I said I didn’t believe him. But I did.
      He only whispered: ‘Got a tanner, kid?’


(_To be included afterwards in_ ‘The Art of Lecturing’)

Bear with me, gentlemen, while I return, not unrefreshed by an eight
months’ interval--‘apart sat on a hill retired,’ to the argument of my
last lecture but one, wherein we found that the Capital Difficulty of
Criticism consisted in keeping to the matter in hand. ‘When you wander,
as you often delight to do, you wander indeed, and give never such
satisfaction as the curious time requires.’ So Bacon, in his letter of
expostulation to Coke; and we shall do well to perpend the passage
without taking to ourselves that plea of ‘having a large and fruitful
mind’ which Bacon, in his wisdom, presented to Coke. Let us hold by the
words of a writer whom our Tripos is gradually restoring to popular
favour, Quintilian--‘it is enough for us to mind our present business.’
Suffer me then to proffer a personal experience. Once, when an
undergraduate, I ... [_anecdote omitted_] ... an unforgettable
experience, at least to one who is willing to pass among you as a
sentimental old Victorian. But let us tune our instruments. And this
brings me--for, believe me, gentlemen, I must eventually arrive
somewhere--to the point I wish to make. It is this, that if we examine
our literature curiously, we shall find there a certain thread, a cord
of silver, twisting its way through all Letters and linking up one noble
author with another. Let me remind you that this thread was first spun
in Greece ... [_passages on compulsory Greek, the Education Act of 1870,
and the Teaching of English in Schools--omitted_]. You may realise,
gentlemen, how this tradition has been kept alive by men often sundered
from one another by generations, if you allow me to bring before you
several illuminating passages from diverse authors whose names are not
pronounced here for the first time.... [_Quotations from Aristotle,
Longinus, Cervantes, Lessing, Sainte-Beuve, Newman, and Walter de la
Mare omitted._] One and all of these craftsmen, whom it is our business
to study, tell us that we shall abjure the direct method only at our
peril, that ultimately we shall come by more profit if we keep to the
narrow road and leave the hedgerows and fields beyond innocent of our
feet. It will not be easy. But--and I thank heaven for it!--literature
is not easy; and even in these days, when the Correspondence School
flourisheth and Pelman is in the land, no one, not I nor another, can
make it so.


      O what can ail you, Blogg? These days you sit
      Here with your pint as mum as a dead rat,
      And sick-faced too. Like an old man you look.
      The harvest’s in, the moon’s up, girls are out;
      What’s got you, man?

    _Blogg_ Strange fleering things
      Are working in my blood. I’ll tell you this:
      The other night I went down Magger’s Lane,
      And saw a woman there. Stood still she was,
      Eating out of a paper cold wet tripe,
      And drinking from a bottle. When I came
      Close up to her, the clouds slid from the moon;
      I saw her plain. Her greasy shawl slipt back:
      Skinny and small she was. Her matted hair
      Hung down about her face, but her two eyes
      Burnt through like forest fires. She had a look
      Of foreign parts, wild lands where witches thrive--

      O crimini! These are the tales for me.

      She lookt at me, shook back her hair and smiled.
      The tripe slid noiselessly out of the paper--
      A sudden gleam and it was gone. She paid
      No heed, but held the bottle out to me
      And spoke. Her foreign tongue made fiddlers’ tunes
      Not words to me; but then all women’s words
      At sometime are but tunes to fill their men
      With moonlit madness. By now the chill air
      To me came more like warmed old ale: my head
      Was humming round. I grabbed the bottle neck
      And drank deep, while the woman smiled and smiled,
      But spoke no word. It was a witches’ brew.
      We plunged into the night that now was lit
      With dancing fires, and roared like a great sea--
                               Etc., Etc.


    Because the fairies died in ’Ninety-nine
    A queen or two, a beggar or a fool
    Now serve the turn of this slow craft of mine;
    Old Paudeen’s rags cover the three-legged stool
    Of ancient prophecy. A host of faces,
    Foolish as dust, now mouth the reed-born song
    At Clooth-na-bare and other windy places
    Of three quaint syllables. It is a wrong
    Not to be borne. What poet shall put the blame
    Upon me that I now love best to sing
    And dream my dream of him that had no name
    Yet suddenly confronted the High King,
    And cried: _Sisters and brothers have I none,
    Yet this man’s father is my father’s son?_


    Fairies in the Forest, now the moon is mellow,
    Dancing as they never danced through all the dreams of men;
    While I sit in the firelight, like any other fellow,
    Writing little lyrics with a fountain-pen:
    _Poetry like a paint-box, red and blue and yellow;_
    _Songs about the Homeland: God save the King!_

    Scent of the wild thyme from the earth is springing,
    Drifting like a galleon is the golden moon;
    Hear the fairy voices, singing ever singing;
    Faintly from the greenwood, I can hear them croon:
    _Never mind the sense of it, if the verse is ringing!_
    _Never mind how thin it is, keep to the tune!_

    The Queen is in the parlour; Drake’s upon the high seas;
    Newbolt’s in the schoolbooks and I’m there too;
    For singing songs of England, of her seas (and my seas);
    Songs about the homeland, red and white and blue:
    They’ve put me in the schoolbooks, green and purple schoolbooks
    Of England, O England (_that’s the way to sing_);
    While Drake’s gone with the fairies, sailing where the dreams go:
    _Never mind how thin they are if the verses ring_
    _For we’re singing songs of England and God save the King!_


_Two Chroniclers_:

    _First Chronicler_:
      Kinsmen who have known the Cotswold haze,
      You will remember
      April and June have thirty days,
      So, too, November.

    _Second Chronicler_:
      Men’s sowings and their reapings will deflow’r
      Each blossomed chine;
      Yet will a stitch prompt to occasion’s hour
      Give maintenance to nine.

    _The two together_:
      Circumstance brims all our years
      With agonies and doubts and fears,
      Generations that have flown
      Harvesting but bitter loss;
      Kinsmen, shall the moving stone
      Garner yet its little moss?

    _First Chronicler_:
      Happy the spirits that can grow
      In steadfastness,
      Yet to the end possess
      Their ardours.

    _Second Chronicler_:
                  They alone shall know
      Felicity, the wages of content,
      Who thus transmute the vain and fleeting show
      Into event.

    _The two together_:
      O vision on its lonely way shall find,
      Kinsmen, it is an ill
        And evil-blowing wind
      That does not speak to someone of goodwill;
        And a poor tale, shapeless indeed and crude,
      Whose fragments we two cannot bind
        With some such smooth and pompous platitude.


(_With apologies to Mr Logan Pearsall Smith_)

I peeped in the Library of the Strange House and saw the dark figure of
a man bobbing about. There was, too, such a rush of nasty cheap perfume
through the door that I thought at first some of the bad portraits had
come to life. Or is it, I asked myself, someone engaged in secret
worship, the Baronet placating his private Mumbo-Jumbo or the Vicar
turning in weariness to Sasabonsum? And I thought of monstrous African
gods, of terrifying shapes and evil rites hidden in deep forests, of all
the wildness and wonder of the dark untamed Universe....

But when I looked again, I saw that it was only one of our whimsical
prosemen drenching his newly and meticulously written sheets with
inexpensive Parma Violet and Jockey Club to hide the smell of the lamp.



    Daylong he seems to read, but as he peers
      At fading print, the sheet becomes a glass,
    Wherein are mirrored ghosts that smile and pass,
      And lovely faces, dust these forty years.


    They cried: ‘Who learns the Truth is blest’;
      And forthwith gave him little tags
    Of scholarship, and quickly dressed
      The wonder of the world in rags.


    We see no painted thing, no foolish play,
      Under the spell of his fastidious strings:
    The Magic Flute pipes from the Milky Way,
      Juan is deathless, Figaro has wings.


    You say the critic is a parasite:
      ’Tis not for such as you to scowl him down:
    Only to point the way to Heart’s Delight
      Is better than making roads to No Man’s Town.


    Good company for vagabonds or saints,
      He wrought our joy out of his miseries;
    Coloured our dreams with a child’s box of paints;
      Conquered the world with that toy sword of his.


    He who confounds the young gods with the brutes,
      The origin, not end, his single care,
    May he be given naught but earthy roots,
      When next he calls for apple, plum or pear.


    As if a man had taken to his bed,
      Called in his friends, thinking the end had come,
    And having uttered words to move the dead,
      Had then recovered, well and whole--but dumb.


    In this dim region, where old phantoms flee
      Before the touch, where neither sight nor news
    Of our world reach us; here at best we see
      Naught but the poet saluting his grave Muse.


    A shepherd, having left the hills to roam,
      Sees from afar the cities of great kings,
    And so returns enraptured to his home:--
      A man apart--who stammers golden things.


    Of this, our day, ’twere easy to speak ill;
      The books, the wit, the manners, could be bettered
    But happily while you are with us still,
      No man can say England is yet unlettered.


    If you paid thirty thousand for this stuff,
      Flesh must be dear, for dirt is cheap enough.


    The earth itself must toil and sweat and groan
      To bear this old Professor’s eighteen stone;
    And yet, though every day he’s getting fatter,
      He still denies reality to matter.


    Wond’rous the ship, more wond’rous still its freight,
    Never another stuffed with bales like these;
    Yet lost so soon; by some strange freak of Fate,
    Swept rudderless into uncharted seas.


    Lady, we go to bed before it’s night,
    Rather than grope in lamp or candle light:
    Now that your eyes are hidden from our sight.


    Time has filched all from him but some scant show of breath,
    And that but waits the casual pillaging of Death.


    One crash shivers the world down to its roots,
      And then the music moulds anew all things:
    Strange moons sail in the laughter of the flutes;
      New suns blaze through the clamour of the strings.


    I never see her walk into a room
      But what I think: Ah, now the fiddling’s done;
    The world’s brave footlights leap to stab the gloom;
      The curtain lifts, and see--the play’s begun.


Typographical error corrected by the etext transcriber:

and and went out of the house=> and went out of the house {pg 20}

*** End of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Brief Diversions - being Tales Travesties and Epigrams" ***

Doctrine Publishing Corporation provides digitized public domain materials.
Public domain books belong to the public and we are merely their custodians.
This effort is time consuming and expensive, so in order to keep providing
this resource, we have taken steps to prevent abuse by commercial parties,
including placing technical restrictions on automated querying.

We also ask that you:

+ Make non-commercial use of the files We designed Doctrine Publishing
Corporation's ISYS search for use by individuals, and we request that you
use these files for personal, non-commercial purposes.

+ Refrain from automated querying Do not send automated queries of any sort
to Doctrine Publishing's system: If you are conducting research on machine
translation, optical character recognition or other areas where access to a
large amount of text is helpful, please contact us. We encourage the use of
public domain materials for these purposes and may be able to help.

+ Keep it legal -  Whatever your use, remember that you are responsible for
ensuring that what you are doing is legal. Do not assume that just because
we believe a book is in the public domain for users in the United States,
that the work is also in the public domain for users in other countries.
Whether a book is still in copyright varies from country to country, and we
can't offer guidance on whether any specific use of any specific book is
allowed. Please do not assume that a book's appearance in Doctrine Publishing
ISYS search  means it can be used in any manner anywhere in the world.
Copyright infringement liability can be quite severe.

About ISYS® Search Software
Established in 1988, ISYS Search Software is a global supplier of enterprise
search solutions for business and government.  The company's award-winning
software suite offers a broad range of search, navigation and discovery
solutions for desktop search, intranet search, SharePoint search and embedded
search applications.  ISYS has been deployed by thousands of organizations
operating in a variety of industries, including government, legal, law
enforcement, financial services, healthcare and recruitment.