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Title: Papers from Lilliput
Author: Priestley, J. B. (John Boynton)
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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                         PAPERS FROM LILLIPUT

                      [Illustration: PUBLISHERS.

                              CAMBRIDGE.]

                   LONDON: MACMILLAN & CO., LIMITED
                   GLASGOW: MACLEHOSE, JACKSON & CO.

                               COPYRIGHT



                                PAPERS
                             FROM LILLIPUT

                                  BY
                            J. B. PRIESTLEY
                     AUTHOR OF ‘BRIEF DIVERSIONS’

                               CAMBRIDGE
                             BOWES & BOWES
                                 1922

                       PRINTED IN GREAT BRITAIN

                                  TO
                               MY FATHER

     _Some of these essays have appeared in THE LONDON MERCURY, THE
     NINETEENTH CENTURY, THE OUTLOOK, and THE CAMBRIDGE REVIEW. Others
     have been selected from a large number I contributed (week by week,
     under the pseudonym of ‘Peter of Pomfret’) to the YORKSHIRE
     OBSERVER. Others again are the first-fruits of a current series of
     such things I am contributing to THE CHALLENGE under the general
     title of ‘New Papers from Lilliput.’ I take this opportunity of
     thanking all the editors concerned for their hospitality to these
     not, I trust, too ill-favoured bantlings of mine, and hope that
     they will not regret it if they should now chance to renew the
     acquaintance._

                                                      _J. B. P._



CONTENTS


                                                                    PAGE

ON A CERTAIN PROVINCIAL PLAYER                                         1

A NEW KIND OF FICTION                                                 17

A MAD SHEPHERD                                                        25

AUDACITY IN AUTHORSHIP                                                32

IN PRAISE OF THE HYPERBOLE                                            42

ON CARTOMANCY                                                         50

ON BEING KIND TO THE OLD                                              58

THE DREAM                                                             66

ON FILLING IN FORMS                                                   72

THREE MEN                                                             79

THE BOGEY OF SPACE                                                    86

A ROAD TO ONESELF                                                     93

THE EDITOR                                                            99

ON AN OLD BOOK OF NATURAL HISTORY                                    106

ON NOT MEETING AUTHORS                                               112

THE ETERNAL CHEAP JACK                                               120

HOLIDAY NOTES FROM THE COAST OF BOHEMIA                              126

ON A MOUTH-ORGAN                                                     133

AN APOLOGY FOR BAD PIANISTS                                          140

A FATHER’S TRAGEDY                                                   146

ON GETTING OFF TO SLEEP                                              153

ON TRAVEL BY TRAIN                                                   159

THE PEEP                                                             165

ON VULGAR ERRORS                                                     172

ON GOSSIP                                                            178

A ROAD AND SOME MOODS                                                184

ON A CERTAIN CONTEMPORARY ESSAYIST                                   190

ON LIFE AND LUCKY BAGS                                               197

GRIGSBY: A RECORD AND AN APPRECIATION                                202

A PARAGON OF HOSTS                                                   216



ON A CERTAIN PROVINCIAL PLAYER


It has been said that literature must use its gift of praise or it will
come to nothing. Those of us who keep up a little dribble of ink, though
we aspire to be very Swifts, must ultimately bestow our commendation
somewhere: our praise is the last, greatest and kindliest weapon in our
poor armoury. If we can applaud where most men have kept silent, so much
the better: we are fine fellows, using our little tricks to sweeten the
world. So much preamble is necessary because I wish to bring forward, in
this season of burning questions, the figure of a poor player who died
over one hundred and fifty years ago and whose very name is now only
known to a few. True, it can be found in many places, but who goes to
them? For my part, I have rescued him from the pages of _The Eccentric
Mirror_, a quaint production of four volumes, ‘reflecting (I quote the
title-page) a faithful and interesting delineation of Male and Female
Characters, Ancient and Modern, Who have been particularly distinguished
by extraordinary Qualifications, Talents, and Propensities, natural or
acquired.’ There, among fat men, giants, freaks and eccentrics, I found
our hero, Bridge Frodsham, a country actor, once known as the ‘York
Garrick.’ He comes rather late in the series of characters, and is only
there at all because the compiler was probably running short of better
material, such as fat men, murderers, misers, and the like. Even then,
Frodsham is scurvily treated; he is set down simply as a very good
specimen of the conceited, self-opinionated young fool; the greatness
that was in him is entirely missed; and it has been left for us, at this
late hour, to give him his meed of praise. But let us turn to the
details of his story, which I shall filch for the most part from _The
Eccentric Mirror_, and thereby get myself some return for the four
shillings and sixpence I paid for it.

Bridge Frodsham was born at the town of Frodsham, in Cheshire, in the
year 1734. As you may guess, he belonged, like a true hero, to an
ancient family. His education was begun at Westminster, but owing to
some youthful imprudence he ran away and joined a company of strolling
players. It was not long before he had drifted to York, where he became
the leading actor at the little make-shift theatre. He was not, it
appears, without talent, for he soon became the darling of the
theatre-going crowd, such as it was, of that city. York knew no better
actor than Frodsham, who was acclaimed in all the local pot-houses,
where he was something of a boon companion. Hear the author of _The
Eccentric Mirror_ on this very theme:

‘Such was the infatuation of the public at York, and indeed so superior
were Frodsham’s talents to those of all his coadjutors that he cast them
all into the shade. This superiority was by no means a fortunate
circumstance for Frodsham. It filled him with vanity and shut up every
avenue to improvement; nor had he any opportunity for observation, as no
actors of any high repute were ever known to tread the York stage, and
he was never more than ten days in London.’

Even in this passage, short as it is, you will have remarked a certain
air of patronage, a suspicion of asperity, and you will be on your
guard; for this London hack, this biographer of dwarfs and infant
prodigies, who dotes on filthy misers and becomes lyrical in praise of
Daniel Lambert, is trying to rob our sturdy provincial of his greatness.
For greatness he certainly achieved, and not at York, mark you, among
his pot-house followers, but in London, during a short visit of ten days
or so. He had been given a fortnight’s holiday, which he determined to
spend in London, to the great distress of the people of York, who
thought that once Garrick saw Frodsham, the Yorkshire stage was doomed
to lose its bright particular star. They did not know their man, as you
shall see. Fate had decided that for once Garrick should meet his match,
or more than his match, in a fellow actor; and it is Frodsham’s conduct
in this encounter that gives him some title to our applause. For my own
part, I applaud more readily because it happened to be the great Garrick
who was so disconcerted by the unknown player from the country. We have
all our little prejudices, and one of mine chances to be against the
swollen fame of Garrick. I am no great hater of mummer-worship, and am
always ready to believe what I read of Betterton, Mountford, Kemble,
Kean, Macready, and I know not how many more old actors; but somehow I
have always been suspicious of Garrick. No doubt I could invent, if
necessary, half-a-dozen respectable reasons, but suffice it to say that
I have always felt that he was over-rated, that things went too easily
with him, that for all his sense of humour he took himself too
seriously; I see him as a strutting, perky little figure. I may be
wrong, and it is quite possible that I do Garrick an injustice, but that
matters little, in no way detracting from the newly burnished fame of
our friend from York.

At the time when Frodsham determined to take a holiday in London,
Garrick was at Drury Lane, and at the very height of his fame. Adulation
was his daily food, and no flattery was too gross for him to swallow. A
chorus of praise from high and low followed him everywhere; he could do
nothing wrong; and, it goes without saying, he could make the fortune of
a fellow actor with a nod of his head.

Judge then of Garrick’s surprise when, one day, a card was left at his
house in Southampton Street, ‘Mr. Frodsham, of York,’ unaccompanied by
any humble request or letter of adulation. This cool conduct on the part
of one who turned out to be nothing but a country player so excited
Garrick’s curiosity that, on the day following, Frodsham was admitted
into the great man’s presence. Not unnaturally, he imagined that
Frodsham had come to solicit an engagement, but after some slight
conversation, during which the young stranger showed astonishing
coolness, Garrick, finding that no such request was made, determined to
cut short the interview by offering his visitor an order for the pit for
that evening, when he was to play Sir John Brute, one of his favourite
parts. At the same time, he asked Frodsham if he had seen a play since
his arrival in London.

‘O yes,’ replied Frodsham, ‘I saw you play Hamlet, two nights ago,’ and
remarked further that it was his own favourite part.

At this, Garrick, not without irony, said that he hoped Frodsham had
approved of the performance.

‘O yes,’ cried the provincial, unmoved, ‘certainly, my dear sir, vastly
clever in several passages; but I cannot so far subjoin mine to the
public opinion of London, as to say I was equally struck with your whole
performance in that part.’

Garrick was dumbfounded. The thing was unheard of. Here was monstrous
heresy, high treason, madness, we know not what.

‘Why,’ he stammered, ‘why now--to be sure now--why I suppose you in the
country....’ And then, bringing all his artillery to bear on this
fortress of impudence: ‘Pray now, Mr. Frodsham, what sort of a place do
you act in at York? Is it a room, or riding house, occasionally fitted
up?’

‘O no, sir, a theatre, upon my honour,’ returned Frodsham, as cool as
ever.

Garrick was nonplussed, and tried to carry it off lightly:
‘Why--er--will you breakfast to-morrow, and we shall have a trial of
skill, and Mrs. Garrick shall judge between us.’ The thing was beneath
his dignity, but he was piqued and determined to lower the fellow’s
colours. With this, he dismissed his strange visitor, crying: ‘Good day,
Mr. York, for I must be at the theatre, so now pray remember breakfast.’
If he expected his man to be daunted, he was mistaken, for Frodsham,
still composed and affable, promised to attend him at breakfast, and
retired. And I wish that our sturdy provincial could have had drums and
trumpets to escort him as he marched down Southampton Street, for he
certainly bore away the honours.

The next morning found him seated at Garrick’s table. To quote my
authority: ‘During breakfast, Mrs. Garrick waited with impatience, full
of various conjectures why the poor man from the country did not take
courage, prostrate himself at the foot of majesty, and humbly request a
trial and engagement.’ But the ‘poor man from the country’ did nothing
of the kind, though from no want of courage; and at last Garrick himself
was compelled to break the ice.

‘Why now, Mr. Frodsham,’ he said, sharply, ‘why now--I suppose you saw
my Brute last night? Now, no compliment, but tell Mrs. Garrick--well
now, was it right? Do you think it would have pleased at York? Now speak
what you think.’

‘O certainly,’ replied the other, ‘certainly; and upon my honour,
without compliment, I never was so highly delighted and entertained; it
was beyond my comprehension. But having seen your Hamlet first, your Sir
John Brute exceeded my belief; for I have been told, Mr. Garrick, that
Hamlet is one of your first characters; but I must say, I flatter myself
I play it almost as well; for comedy, my good sir, is your forte. But
your Brute, Mr. Garrick, was excellence itself! You stood on the stage
in the drunken scene flourishing your sword, you placed yourself in an
attitude--I am sure you saw me in the pit at the same time, and with
your eyes you seemed to say--‘D----n it, Frodsham, did you ever see
anything like that at York? Could you do that, Frodsham?’

Could anything have been more friendly? But it did not please Garrick,
who did not relish being treated by an unknown country player with such
ease and familiarity. Comedy his forte, indeed! He pretended to laugh
the thing off, but determined to put an end to the fellow’s impudence
and folly, and said: ‘Well now--hey--for a taste of your quality--Now a
speech, Mr. Frodsham, from Hamlet, and Mrs. Garrick bear a wary eye.’

Here was an awkward position indeed for a young bumpkin standing before
the greatest actor of the age. It had no effect, however, upon Frodsham,
who plunged into Hamlet’s first soliloquy without more ado. This he
followed up with ‘To be or not to be.’ Garrick, we are told, made use of
a favourite device of his when dealing with inferiors, ‘all the time
darting his fiery eyes into the very soul of Frodsham.’ I make no doubt
that as a rule it was a very effective trick, but on this occasion it
failed, for Frodsham was in no way embarrassed by it. His chronicler, in
a malicious vein, adds: ‘On Frodsham, his formidable looks had no such
effect, for had he noticed Garrick’s eyes and thought them penetrating,
he would have comforted himself with the idea that his own were equally
brilliant or even still more so.’ And why not?--we might ask. Is there a
monopoly of fiery eyes that dart into souls? At best, this darting of
eyes was simply a mean little trick, which deserved to be brought to
nothing by a youngster’s harmless conceit of himself.

When Frodsham had done, Garrick thought to finish him with a shrug and
said: ‘Well, hey now, hey!--you have a smattering, but you want a little
of my forming; and really in some passages you have acquired tones I do
not by any means approve.’

‘Tones! Mr. Garrick!’ returned Frodsham, tartly; ‘to be sure I have
tones, but you are not familiarised to them. I have seen you act twice,
and I thought you had odd tones, and Mrs. Cibber strange tones, and they
were not quite agreeable to me on the first hearing, but I dare say I
should soon be reconciled to them.’

This was unsupportable. Neither the presence of greatness (darting its
eyes) nor adverse criticism could crush this extraordinary young man
from nowhere. The astounded Garrick decided to come to business, which
would at least restore the proper relations between the two, the famous
actor and the impudent nobody, and put the latter in his only possible
place, that of a humble suppliant. ‘Why now,’ he cried, ‘really,
Frodsham, you are a damned queer fellow--but for a fair and full trial
of your genius my stage shall be open, and you shall act any part you
please, and if you succeed we will then talk of terms.’ Which was, I
think, a fair offer.

Then came the masterstroke. ‘O,’ said Frodsham, indifferently, ‘you are
mistaken, my dear Mr. Garrick, if you think I came here to solicit an
engagement. I am a Roscius at my own quarters. I came to London
purposely to see a few plays, and looking on myself as a man not
destitute of talents, I judged it a proper compliment to wait on a
brother genius: I thought it indispensable to see you and have half an
hour’s conversation with you. I neither want nor wish for an engagement;
for I would not abandon the happiness I enjoy in Yorkshire for the
first terms your great and grand city could afford.’ With that, he
withdrew with a careless bow, leaving Garrick speechless.

It is to Garrick’s credit that he often told the story of this strange
visit to members of his company. But as he probably thought that
Frodsham was merely a lunatic, for he always referred to him as ‘the mad
York actor,’ and so possibly did not realise that there was more than
one side to the story, and that he was telling it against himself, we
will not give him too much credit. Nor will I, for one, pass his
epithet, for if Frodsham was not a mere conceited young fool, as our
historian foolishly suggests he was, neither was he a plain madman. His
point of view was not Garrick’s, but it was a very reasonable point of
view. The remarks he made were certainly not without a good deal of
sound sense; they were critical, honest, and not, I think lacking in
courtesy. It is true that he had a very good opinion of himself, but
then so had Garrick, and so, by your leave, have you and I. The
difference between Frodsham and the dozens of other young actors who
sought out Garrick lies in the fact that one made no attempt to disguise
his opinions, whereas the others, in all probability, cringed and lied
unblushingly for an hour or two. But Frodsham, you may urge, had no
sense of proportion, no idea of relative values; he could not understand
the difference between the applause of York and that of London; he could
not see the gulf that stretched between the darling of a local fit-up
and the captain of Drury Lane. The charge is true, but is it very
damaging? Such a habit of mind has prevented many a man from getting on
in the world, but it never kept any man from greatness. I maintain that,
over and above all conceit, there was a certain simplicity in Frodsham
that came very near to greatness, if it did not achieve it, and that, in
its elemental frankness and disdain of worldly wisdom, was not without a
touch of real poetry.

Now that our hero has had his great moment, and has lounged, as it were,
into the wings, followed by our applause, I hesitate whether to bring
him back again upon the stage. Encores are rarely satisfactory to the
audience, and I fear an anti-climax. To speak of Frodsham’s visit to
Rich after describing his encounter with Garrick is to talk of
Quatre-Bras after Waterloo; and yet, seeing that our man is ready for
us and may not be heard of again for many a year, I will venture it.

During his momentous holiday in London, Frodsham conceived it to be his
duty, as a fellow-player and a gentleman, to pay a visit to Rich, of
Covent Garden, just as he had done to Garrick. It was simply a point of
good breeding, for having been told that Rich was a superficial person,
more given to pantomime than good drama, he thought very little of him.
So he called upon Rich and found him stroking his cats and teaching a
young lady to act. After keeping him waiting some time, Rich
condescended to look at his visitor, viewing him up and down through a
very large reading-glass, took a pinch of snuff, and drawled: ‘Well, Mr.
Frogsmire, I suppose you are come from York to be taught, and that I
should give you an engagement. Did you ever act Richard, Mr. Frogsmire?’
On hearing Frodsham answer that he had acted the part, Rich went on:
‘Why then you shall hear me act’; and proceeded to recite a speech in a
very absurd manner. When he had done, Frodsham told him very plainly
that he had come from York to visit him, neither to be taught nor to
hear him recite, but merely ‘for a little conversation and to visit his
Elysian fields.’ This reply must have astonished Rich, but he was of
different metal from Garrick, and it neither disturbed his indolent
self-satisfaction nor roused his curiosity. With a large gesture, he
said that unless Mr. Frogsmire would with humble attention listen to his
Richard, he would not hear Mr. Frogsmire at all; and was proceeding to
mouth--

    ’Twas an excuse to avoid me!
     Alas, she keeps no bed!

when he was cut short by a curt ‘Good-morning’ from Frodsham, who
stalked out of the room.

Thus ended his second polite call upon a fellow-player, after which, his
short holiday being at end, he returned to York well content, with no
great opinion of London and its favourite performers. There he remained,
the idol of the York playgoers, until bad hours and the brandy-bottle
put an end to his life at the early age of thirty-five, in October 1768.
There is even a suggestion of heroic legend and strange destiny about
his end, for on the very last night that he ever spoke on the stage, he
announced to the audience that the next performance would include ‘What
We must All Come to.’ As an actor, he is said to have been not without
real genius, and to have suffered only from lack of proper training,
and, later, his dissipated way of living. As a man, or rather, young
man, he seems to me, at this distance, to have had some admirable
qualities. There was, as I have remarked, a touch of poetry in his
composition, and I can well believe that his Hamlet was worth seeing.
But of all his parts, there is no doubt that by far the best was that
which he played without limelight, make-up or properties during his ten
days’ holiday in London. And I suggest that all spirited provincials,
who are quick to recognise a kindred soul, should honour his memory.



ON A NEW KIND OF FICTION


The literary year books and reference books do not make very cheerful
reading these days, but there is a certain note in one of them that
should not be allowed to remain in obscurity. It is contributed by the
editor of an American journal, _Ambition_, who informs all writers and
would-be writers that he and his paper are prepared to accept:

     Stories, 4,000-4,500 (words), in which the hero advances in
     position and earnings through study of a trade or profession by
     means of a correspondence course. (Preferred occupations indicated
     by Editor on application.)

One can only hope that this passage has not met the eye of any reader of
_Ambition_, one who has urged himself along the steep, narrow way, and
found sustenance in such heartening tales, for he might become
disillusioned, lag in his course (if only a correspondence course), and
turn cynic or communist. Our editor, with true occidental ruthlessness,
takes us behind the scenes with a vengeance; he strips each wretched
player and spares us neither paint nor plaster-and-lath; had we any
illusions on the matter, any roseate dreams of ‘advancing in position
and earnings,’ which we have not, how rudely we should have been
awakened. But one would have thought that the readers of _Ambition_,
grimly practical fellows, every one of them essentially ‘a man of this
world,’ were above the mere trifling of the story-teller, that they were
ready, nay, eager, to face the stern facts, the naked issues of life,
without calling in the writer of fiction to beguile and comfort them
with his cunning old tricks. But no, even in this bleak and forbidding
region, the story-teller is welcomed; the ancient craft is not allowed
to perish even in these high altitudes. But while so much is conceded to
frail human nature, the earnest young people who read _Ambition_ cannot
have their minds stuffed with any glittering nonsense, love stories,
tales of piracy, and the like; if there is to be fiction, it must be of
one kind only. The hero must not be some absurd swashbuckler, the prey
of we know not what romantic whims and fancies; he must be a good, solid
young fellow ‘who advances in position and earnings through study of a
trade or profession by means of a correspondence course.’ Well told, the
story of such an enterprising youth must be worth any man’s reading.

But while we are thus to some extent restricted--and after all, does not
art imply restriction?--yet within these bounds there is ample freedom.
The writer is at liberty to choose the hero’s name, we take it, and may
even let his fancy wander somewhat in his description of the fellow,
making him tall or short, fat or thin, dark or fair, according to the
author’s taste in these matters. For example, he may relate how Joe
Brown, short, fat, and fair, advances in position and earnings by
taking a correspondence course of steeplejackery (or whatever it
is that makes a steeplejack); or, again, he may show how Marmaduke
Grubstock-Datterville not only advances in position, but retrieves the
family fortunes by applying himself to a course (entirely by
correspondence) of wholesale grocery. This, surely, is something.
Moreover, the rate of advance in the hero’s position and the extent of
his earnings are matters that are probably left to the author’s
discretion, and he is no true penman who cannot make something of humour
and pathos out of such material.

The type of story being thus fixed, it is clear that the most important
point left is the hero’s trade or profession. If the story-teller is
free to give his hero any trade or profession he pleases, he has no
right to complain of undue restriction. If, on the other hand, the trade
or profession used in each story is determined beforehand by the
authorities, then we may say that perhaps our editor is pressing a
little too heavily upon his contributors. The remark in parenthesis,
coming at the end of the editor’s note as if it were a sudden
inspiration or a kindly afterthought, settles the question: ‘Preferred
occupations indicated by Editor on application.’ It is a compromise,
and, we think, a very sensible one; neither author nor editor is
enthroned or fettered; there is a possibility of mutual help and, we
trust, sympathy. Note the advantages of such an arrangement. In the
first place, as the readers of _Ambition_ are men who have their eye on
the labour market, men who know what is what, it will not do to put
before them any sort of trade or profession and to talk wildly about it.
Writers of fiction may be very tricksy fellows, but it is quite clear
that it would not be wise to leave them entirely to themselves when they
are choosing trades for their 4,000-4,500 word heroes; without expert
guidance there is no telling into what gimcrack, monstrous jobs they
would thrust the creatures of their fancy. It is easy to see that one
would have to be circumspect in this matter of a trade; in this, as in
other things, there must be judgment; an apt choice is requisite. It
would, for example, be quite useless scribbling down four thousand words
about a young ambitious crossbowman or alchemist; we may be sure that
our editor would not have his confiding readers dealt with so
anachronously; he would not suffer them to be led by desires that are
several centuries beyond fruition.

Again, there are many trades that are not in the best of
taste--swindling, forgery, sandbagging, and so forth; an occasional
story using one of these might do little harm, and even some good,
inasmuch as it might enlarge the scope of one or two readers, but a
journal that began to show favour to such doubtful, and even unpopular,
industries would soon lose its hold. Other occupations, while free from
the objections urged above, must be regarded as useless for our purpose,
because they do not appear to offer sufficient room for a really
determined hero; they are cramped, confined, and show no tempting
horizons; the trade of ferryman, of programme-seller, of liftman, to
name only a few, must be passed over for this reason. Moreover, the
selected trade or profession must be the subject of a correspondence
course or the hero can make no headway; a correspondence course is
essential. Now, although our correspondence schools are daily quickened
by the spirit of enterprise, there are still many occupations that they
have left untouched; most of the trades we have already dismissed would
have to be rejected again on this count, while there are many others,
such as that of torturer, milkman, astrologer, or acrobat, that we
imagine to be still without correspondence courses. It is clear then
that the choice of a suitable trade has difficulties, and that a mere
writer of fiction should be glad to accept the proffered advice of the
expert, his editor.

There is, however, another reason that more than justifies the editor’s
wisdom in offering to indicate ‘preferred trades or professions.’ Some
authors, knowing more about such things than most of their fellows,
might very well choose entirely suitable trades even if they were left
to themselves; but there is more in the question than this mere choice,
for each story must not only be acceptable in itself, but it must also
be good when it is considered in its relation to the other stories that
it follows or precedes. As we have seen, the tales themselves have
unity, but within that unity there must be variety. The cunning
arrangement of literary matter so that one item contrasts with another,
the effect of both thus being heightened, is the very mark of good
editing. Are the readers of _Ambition_, any more than any other readers,
to be denied this variety, this beguiling blend of light and shadow,
this dazzling counterpoint of literature? By no means. Our editor very
wisely makes use of variety and contrast by apportioning out the trades
and professions himself. Otherwise, there is no telling what would
happen. Four consecutive numbers of the journal might each contain the
life story of a successful young gasfitter, and there would probably be
some grumbling and even a falling off in circulation. As it is, our
editor can make the most of his material; one number, we will say, gives
us the history of a young man who learns accountancy by correspondence,
a brainy occupation, but perhaps a trifle prosaic and needing an indoor
setting; in the very next number the balance is restored by a tale of a
smart young correspondence school pupil who turns bee-keeper, which
brings in a flavour of the open air and sunlit gardens, and is not
without a touch of poetry; while in the following number we return once
more to the city, with all its romantic bustle, and breathlessly follow
the swelling fortunes of a square-jawed young plumber; and so it goes
on.

By such means our editor has taken care to achieve both unity and
variety in the stories at his disposal. What we thought at first
restrictions pressing somewhat heavily upon the story-teller are now
seen to be hints for his guidance, aids without which he cannot expect
to be successful in this kind of fiction. If there are men of more than
ordinary talent, born story-tellers, among us waiting for an opening,
let them take leave of the stuff they have been writing, worn-out
romance and so forth, all tears and tatters or mere coloured foppery,
let them keep pace with the times, for here in the pages of _Ambition_
is opportunity indeed. While they are pushing hero after hero along the
road to success they can surely make shift to advance themselves ‘in
position and earnings.’



A MAD SHEPHERD


The world is at once saner and yet more given to lunacy than it used to
be, for the people outside asylums are saner than their grandfathers
were, yet there are greater numbers under some sort of treatment, or at
least under lock and key, for madness. I do not know whether it is
because there is increasing harbourage for lunatics in our time, or
because it is merely becoming more difficult, every year, in the face of
specialists whose own sanity is never questioned, to prove that one is
not yet ready for the madhouse; but it is clear that the eccentrics and
half-wits who chuckled and grimaced in our older literature, through the
long tales of our grandparents, are fast disappearing. A host of notable
figures in Shakespeare, from Hamlet to Petruchio, would not be suffered
to walk abroad these days unless they piped in a lower key. It is a
great pity that all the crack-brained, whimsical fellows are leaving
us; we need a little variety in our experiments with existence, for
there is a danger that we are all crazed and have only decided for
unanimity, that we are Mad Hatters who will not suffer a March Hare; and
these others, extravagant but harmless, have their own visions of life
and we cannot prove them wrong, but can only point to the majority--a
trick unworthy of us.

These bold experimentalists, the crack-brained, are now so few and so
precious, that I travel with one eye open for them; for a man is as
well, if not better, occupied collecting eccentric essays in life, as he
is casting about for ancient coins or earthenware. Remote towns or
villages make the most promising hunting-grounds, and only a short time
ago, my search was well rewarded in a certain small market town. I had
been in the place several days, and had come to know most of its
prominent figures well by sight, when one fellow, whom I was always
seeing, here, there, and everywhere, began to excite my curiosity. He
was an oldish man, with a close-shaven, tanned face, and always dressed
in gaiters and what seemed to be a long smock, with a curiously-shaped
cap, of the same material as his smock, pressed down upon his head.
These and other particulars I noted with interest, but what intrigued
me most was a long pole, roughly shaped like a shepherd’s crook, which
he always carried in his hand, and which seemed to be some implement of
his trade. But what his trade was, I could not guess; I never saw him
employed in any way, never caught him piloting beasts towards the market
or making any kind of use of the mysterious pole. Yet whenever I ran
across him, which I did frequently, he always seemed to be fully
occupied, neither rushing heedlessly nor yet loitering, but resolutely
pressing forward to some important piece of business--a sober man of
affairs. Even in a little market town, there are many ways of earning
bread and beer that fall outside the scope of a stranger’s knowledge,
tiny trades that are commonplaces in one shire and unknown in the next,
and I might easily have contented myself with assuming that my man was
thus engaged. But the archaic costume and the quaintly fashioned pole,
now so familiar, were too provocative, and led me to question my
landlady, whose talk was fluent and full of good matter, though rather
obscure. I had scarcely begun my description of the man before she had
snatched the subject from me and panted forth the whole tale.

In spite of his quaint figure, I had set my man down as a sober busy
citizen, engaged in some obscure little trade of his own. He was nothing
of the kind. He was even more fantastic than his clothes, more
mysterious than his own strange implement. For it appeared that this
fellow was nothing more nor less than a crack-brained idler, one who
had--in my landlady’s words--‘gone soft in the head.’ Up to a few years
ago a lonely quiet man, expecting nothing from the world, he had
suddenly come into a fortune, and the surprise and joy that followed
this stroke of luck had turned his brain; thenceforward he blossomed
madly and ran to amazing whims and crotchets, harmless enough, but
strangely odd and diverting. His greatest and most delectable fantasy
was this, that he took upon himself, from time to time, the duty of
acting in a definite character, usually one of the ancient trades of the
world; he would dress himself for the part, and, so far as it was
possible, take over the habits, the interests, the mode of speech of the
particular type he copied. Thus, he would be a sailor for some time,
then a fisherman, and after that maybe a gamekeeper or forester; always
dressing himself accordingly and keeping strictly to the type, and not
declining to the actual indistinguishable characters of our own day, but
presenting in his attire, as it were, the ideal sailor or forester; and
so, tricked out in such homely yet symbolic vestments, perhaps thinking
to take a place with the poet, ‘in the calm and proud procession of
eternal things.’

When I saw him, he was a shepherd; indeed, a shepherd appeared to be his
favourite character, for he had maintained the part for some time, and,
according to report, showed no signs of changing. There are few
shepherds in that part of the country, and the few there are do not wear
smocks or carry a crook as he did. But he followed his usual practice,
looked back to a simpler, smaller and more clearly defined world, and
dressed the part to mark it off from all other trades. It was the least
he could do, seeing that he did no actual work and devoted all his
energies to the masquerade. His apparent busyness was all moonshine. The
sheep he herded could not be driven to any mart in this world, for they
were nothing but drifting phantoms. When he walked the sunlit streets,
his grotesque shadow pursued by laughter, he hurried to mythical
appointments, moved in shadowy markets, and trafficked in thin air. At
the end of the day, after being urged here and there by his lively
fancy, doubtless he returned home as tired and as well-content with his
day’s unsubstantial labour as any sober man of business; sometimes maybe
he would return elated, at others mortified, for there must be triumphs
and grievous losses even in this matter of pursuing phantoms. Then, in
the evening, his crook laid aside, perhaps he would make his plans for
the next day; but what such plans could be, no man can imagine, for they
must be dreams within a dream and shadows of a shadow. So he would pass
his time, hurting no man, his life, like that of all such quaint
fellows, only marred by loneliness. Nor would he lack a companion,
supposing his present whimsy holds, if I had my way; for somewhere in a
large and dirty city there is a sheepdog that I once knew, a dog that
had never known the life it was meant to lead, never seen the hills with
the sheep scattered upon them, and yet, in the yard of a warehouse, it
spent its days herding invisible sheep, running round bales and barking
furiously at barrels. Were that dog mine, the crazy shepherd should have
him, so that the two might walk the streets together, happily pursuing
their mythical flocks and otherwise busying themselves in their
dream-pastures.

The maggots of the brain are not to be enumerated and labelled: what led
this harmless fellow to such fantasies, no man can know. Perhaps after
the sudden stroke of fortune sent his wits wandering he had been
mastered by some old thought, some half-forgotten protest against the
drab formlessness of labour in our day, against the absence of any marks
of distinction between men of one trade and men of another; he had
reverted to a more ordered clear-cut time, when every man was stamped
with the sign of one or other of the ancient industries. Only in some
such way, can one attempt to explain this strange masquerade of his. He
has his own vision of life, his own idea of that poetry which
transfigures the mechanism of blood and bone; and I trust that he will
be left to himself to go his own way, for when he is weary of a
shepherd’s life, there are still many time-old tradesmen, from tinker to
tailor, that he can personate. Nor will it be long before I see him
again, caring little whether he is still a shepherd or metamorphosed
into a fisherman or cobbler, so long as he is still with us, going his
own fantastic gait.



AUDACITY IN AUTHORSHIP


There is one certain characteristic of contemporary literature which
everyone must have remarked, but to which it is very difficult to give a
name. It is straining language to call it this or that quality; yet a
name it must have, and Audacity will do as well as another. At the
worst, it is more than audacity, it is downright impudence; at the best,
it becomes engaging sauciness, youth pirouetting to the breakfast-table,
or rises to magnificent unwisdom and shows us, once again, the bright
fool darting before the van of the angels. It must not, however, be
confused with stark originality, which presents us with the strange
shape of some creature new to this world, and which is far above mere
audacity. There are many ways in which a writer may approach his
audience: he may seem to let us overhear him, may seem to meditate
aloud, in the manner of Pater; he may take us into a corner and pour
out a stream of confessions and confidences, in the manner of Hazlitt;
or thrust us into the darkness and belabour us back again into the
light, in the manner of Carlyle; there are these and a score of other
ways, but the most of them are going out of fashion. It is all ‘Boot,
Saddle and Away!’ with so many of our writers now, and we, as
unoffending readers, are continually harassed by the sallies of these
wild horsemen. No longer are we to be soothed, cajoled, fascinated or
awed; unless we are shocked or irritated, the trick fails. We must be
surprised by one or two great blows, or goaded into admiration by a
thousand pinpricks. We must all play the part of poor, elderly,
disapproving relatives, while our authors strut about as wild young
nephews, who expect nothing from us but unwilling admiration and envious
side-glances. Never was there such bravery at the end of a pen.

What then, one asks, are the signs and marks of audacity in literature
by which it can be recognised in this place or that. They are countless.
The ramifications of this fantastic growth cannot be traced; it blossoms
so wantonly, drops such strange fruit, that a man has already seen it
everywhere, or almost everywhere, or is by nature blind to it, having
perhaps been nourished upon it, and knowing nothing else. It comes out
in so many different ways that only a few can be noticed here. When a
writer shows undisguised contempt for his readers, as so many writers
do, then audacity is degenerating into sheer impudence. This sort of
contempt is usually shown in two ways: firstly, by supreme carelessness
in matter, as if to suggest that the very dregs of our author’s mind are
good enough for his particular audience, and perhaps better than the
best of his fellow authors’ brains; secondly, by supreme carelessness in
manner, as if one were to receive callers in a greasy dressing-gown.
Persistently to attack the cherished illusions of the reading public or
to run athwart the accepted morals of the time, are tricks that will
bring their own rewards while audacity is in the ascendant; but they are
not lasting. A modern dramatist who has made much capital out of these
tricks must be puzzling his brains now to know what to do with a
generation that has no illusions left. Again, one of our novelists who
has played the naughty young man from Paris for some thirty-odd years,
now finds himself regarded as a respectable elderly man-of-letters. To
many, Bernard Shaw’s _Life-Force_ seems a sentimental crotchet, and
George Moore’s earlier works seem more fatuous than disreputable. If,
however, there are enough of the disillusioned to make an audience, a
writer who knows the value of audacity will not hesitate to swing back
the pendulum by defending the old prejudices with all the force at his
command. This may be the clue to the audacity of G. K. Chesterton, who
has spent his time declaiming against the only people who can understand
and enjoy him. Again, the characteristic may take other unwelcome forms
that bring it near to impudence, as for example in the work of men who
gain the ear of the public in one capacity, and then insist upon acting
in another, as when a good teller of tales turns without warning into a
philosopher or prophet: it is as if M. Pachmann were to ignore the piano
before him and treat his audience to a few fumbling conjuring tricks.
Moreover, to pronounce judgment on matters about which one knows nothing
is to carry audacity to doubtful lengths. Criticism offers, and has
always offered, a good field for the audacious, but a great many of us
now tend to abuse our freedom. Without knowing a word of Italian and
Portuguese, a man will undertake to write twenty essays proving that
Camoens was a better poet than Tasso. And of late it seems that audacity
of the baser sort has invaded the realm of verse; every day, our poets
are more startling, though not so startling as their friends and
critics.

Looking about then, with no unfriendly eye, we shall discover that
audacity, not of the worst kind, is to be found in much of the best
known work of to-day. It is not everywhere: there is little or no trace
of it in the work of Hardy, Bridges, Henry James, Conrad, W. H. Hudson,
Galsworthy, Maurice Hewlett, to name only a few. But elsewhere, though
mingled with other finer qualities, there is no lack of it. It takes
many strange shapes, and can be discovered lurking under many disguises.
It has proved itself no small part of Bernard Shaw’s stock-in-trade. It
roars lustily through the essays and ‘histories’ of Messrs. Belloc and
Chesterton, peeps slyly from Max Beerbohm’s essays, screams in the
devastating contributions of H. G. Wells, leers through George Moore’s
endless reminiscences. It drove Arnold Bennett to write essays, and is
now urging John Drinkwater to create dramas. After being long the
servant, it is now the master of Barrie. There is no end to it.
Fortunately, these are not gentlemen of one characteristic alone; they
do not content themselves with crying ‘ducdame,’ for they have still
something to say when the circle is formed. But there are others,
novelists, verse-writers, critics, and what editors call ‘publicists,’
who think to run their course with nothing to speed them but audacity
alone, which makes them doubly audacious, but nothing more. The drums
beat, the trumpets sound, the crowd is hushed, and then follows a cough
and a splutter--and then silence.

When did it begin? In its primary form, no doubt it is a characteristic
as old as literature itself. It is there, full-fledged, in Aristophanes.
The Hebrew chroniclers and prophets had audacity of a sublime kind.
Perhaps there were once wild young literary men in China, and no doubt
many an impudent papyrus in Babylon and Ancient Egypt. But in the more
questionable shape we know, audacity in literature is a thing only of
yesterday and to-day. Going back, we come first to Wilde, who was
nothing if not audacious, an impudent confidence-trick man-of-letters.
Then, Stevenson and Henley, not without a touch, surely, though more
audacious in the flesh perhaps than on paper. Again, Butler, a very
clever man, perhaps a great man, but still a shockingly bad precedent
for young men inclined to flippancy and petulance. There is Bagehot,
whose genuine originality is not unspeckled; and further back, we see
the young Disraeli, busy upon _Contarini Fleming_, and compounded of
velveteen, macassar oil and impudence. And now we come to Blackwood’s
young men, Christopher North and Company, beginning a career of literary
swashbuckling with the _Chaldee MS._, and culprits one and all,
triple-dyed in the fearful purple. And if a poetic criminal is wanted,
there is Byron, who, from the sheer impertinence of _English Bards and
Scotch Reviewers_ to the magnificent audacity of _Don Juan_, gives us
every form of impudence rhymed and rhythmed; who began the game of
making the bourgeois pay for being shocked, and continuously boiled his
pot with the heat of their disapproval. But can we stop here? The graves
stir, and a crowd of thin ghosts press forward, waving innumerable
ragged volumes. There is the lean spectre of Yorick, and, close by, the
author of _Jonathan Wild_, while a little way behind, one catches a
glimpse of Swift, and Defoe, and Buckingham, and a hundred more. But
their claims must be denied, for we must not fall into the error of
using our make-shift term ‘audacity’ in its widest sense, and thereby
running back to the Ptolemies in search of origins; we must save
something for ourselves in literature, and we have already confessed
that a certain audacious trick of writing belongs to our own age; so we
will take our stand upon Byron and Blackwood’s merry men, and go no
further.

There is one plain reason for the existence, or rather the success, of
the audacious in our letters. It is not so much that writers have
changed as that the audience has changed. When all that is written goes
the round of one small circle of readers, is pondered over by the same
leisurely few; when a writer’s style and manner are discussed by those
about him, and are matters of some moment, an ordinary man of letters
will imitate what seems to him the best manner of the time, and a
greater man will be simply himself, bringing something new into the
world; but among greater or less there will be little mere posturing. A
man addresses his equals jovially, carelessly, angrily, as the mood
takes him; it is only for pennies in the market-place or at the fair
ground that he continually makes faces and stands on his head. With a
small, critical audience, some fashions of writing are not in place,
being entirely unwelcome: we have not yet allowed the trombone and big
drum into our chamber music. But when the little circle of readers
begins to swell until it is enlarged beyond recognition by rush after
rush of newcomers; when journals and newspapers begin to thrive, and the
old groves and porticos take on the appearance of an auction mart, then
it is time to change the manner. The audience is huge, with half its
wits gone wandering, a great Saurian blinking at the mud, a thing to be
tickled with a ten-foot spike; it plays the part of a vast, drowsy
auctioneer lolling above a clamouring crowd of buyers, men-of-letters
trying to catch its eye; and what avail now are the level tones and the
sober argument when only a squeak or a roar or an insane gesture is
likely to attract attention. And now that over a century has passed
since the times began to change, since the literary man left his
armchair and took to eating fire and swallowing the sword, if we choose
to write we shall do well if we escape audacity, for it is woven madly
into the texture of our letters, the note of it is louder than the loud
bassoon. At the best, with a good will, we may abjure the more impudent
tricks, but unless we are towering geniuses we cannot escape the
characteristic itself: it is--alas!--the very marrow of this essay.



IN PRAISE OF THE HYPERBOLE


Few experiences are more distressing to me than being present when a
person is checked at the very climax of a tale because of some paltry
exaggeration that he or she has made in the heat of the moment. Husbands
and wives are always at such tricks, for it very often happens that a
genial, expansive, imaginative person is united to one who is somewhat
cold, literal-minded, devoid of fancy. A lady, finishing a tale and
warming to the task, will cry: ‘No sooner had I opened the door than
about fifteen people rushed out--.’ ‘No, my dear, you exaggerate,’ her
husband will interrupt, ‘there were only three people there; I counted
them.’ And if they are among friends, he will probably turn round and
add: ‘Mary will exaggerate, you know; it’s quite a habit of hers.’ The
tale then comes to a lame finish, and is indeed quite spoilt. We have
been led, as it were, to expect fifteen people; the whole progress of
the narrative demanded them; and then at the very moment that we are
gratified by their appearance on the scene, four-fifths of them are
whisked away and we have to be content with a paltry three merely to
satisfy some busybody’s illtimed demand for accuracy. Accuracy, exact
statements, hard facts, are very well; they have their uses in the
world; but a man must not allow his passion for them to carry him to
dangerous lengths, or he will not only give himself a creeping style but
will try to spoil every tale that comes his way; such a one will soon be
unfit for decent society and will have to take to writing to the
newspapers--a vile end. Such literal-minded fellows, without
imagination, without any sense of art, are the ruin of good talk; let
them do the world’s work in laboratories and counting-houses, but when
they are abroad let them keep quiet, or some of us will put them into
monstrously exaggerated, scandalous tales, which will be doubly
vexatious to them.

I say that these sticklers for the little facts have no sense of art.
They appear to think that we distort their trumpery figures or enlarge a
statement here and there, for no purpose whatever, but from sheer
carelessness, lack of memory, or a mischievous love of lying. They are
wrong and it is easy to see why. Such quibblers do not understand the
working of the imagination; they have yet to learn that good talk is a
form of art, and that exaggeration is one of art’s great devices, a
worthy part of its process of selection and emphasis, by which any
number of petty details are brought into unity and made to serve great
purposes. When we are surrounded by good listeners and in the heat of
narration, that swift creative power, the imagination, ransacking heaven
and earth for its own ends, takes the reins, and we find ourselves
changing the mere facts so that they will produce, at second-hand, the
very feelings we experienced at first-hand. Because we are only in talk
and make use of the device, clumsily maybe, it is called exaggeration
and sneered at by some few, and sometimes even gives rise to charges of
open lying; yet this very practice of making the outward show conform to
the inward and real truth consumes fully one half the time and energy of
every artist, or we are mightily deceived. We have Walter Pater on our
side, for did he not write very wisely, in the Essay on Style, of the
‘writer’s transcript of his sense of fact,’ and what is this practice
that pedants condemn but an attempt to reproduce ‘the sense of fact’?
Nor can it be urged that Pater was prejudiced, for he was the very
prince of your scraping, paring, meticulous fellows, and would have
scaled greater heights had he had a few pulls at the Falstaffian brew.
Why this ‘sense of fact’ should be approved as fine art in writing, and
yet solemnly condemned as a wanton meddling with the truth in
conversation, is a mystery. If a child catches sight of a very tall man,
about seven foot or so, and rushes home screaming that he has met a
giant at least four yards high, he will probably be spanked for letting
his idle fancies make such a commotion; yet he will be justified by all
the canons of good art and talk, for while seven feet sounds to be
nothing out of the way, only a few inches above the ordinary run of men,
a man actually seven foot tall does look four yards high, and it is only
some such figure that will reproduce something like the original
experience to persons who were not present.

Even when there is no interference with the fine flushed narration of
others, this cheeseparing habit in talk is detestable. There are some
men who will handle words and images in their talk as if they were
making miniature watches instead of re-creating a world. Give me a man
like Carlyle, who roared for the truth night and morning, and yet did
not hesitate to juggle with the universe, to cut and carve it and parcel
it out afresh, for his own good purposes. Where there is such divine
bounty, to cut the fashion of one’s speech like some pitiful little
tailor snipping his own cloth is the very height of meanness. It is base
ingratitude, an affront to the maker of the stars, which are themselves
numberless and born of a stupendous prodigality. Nature herself, the
mother of us all, has a most queenly and delectable passion for
hyperboles; the shadows of her monstrous exaggerations sprawl across the
world, trumpeting through the forest as the elephant and floundering in
the water as Leviathan. If it is Madame Nature who gives us the truth,
who sets up the standard by which our talk must be judged, then there is
hardly room in this universe for bold lying and no man should be accused
of it.

The great poets follow Nature as closely in this love of the hyperbole
as they do in other matters. It is your little poets, your timid
versifiers, who write in fear of the raised eyebrows of the pedant and
the guffaw of the unimaginative, and keep their images down to the level
of coffee-room gossip. It is true that a man may rant it and roar it
with the best, may try to scale Parnassus as the Titans did Olympus and
pile up gigantic image upon image, and yet be no poet; but it is equally
true to say that all great poets have shown the same love of amazing
hyperboles. Those extraordinary persons who hate a swelling image, a
genial exaggeration, who distrust the hyperbole, may read their
Shakespeare (though I doubt it) but they cannot read him with constant
pleasure. Most of his best things are either the most audacious yet
triumphant specimens of the hyperbole to be found in literature or they
are pieces of sheer nonsense. And with the poet’s own creatures we may
note differences in the manner of their talk that are significant, some
characters contenting themselves with merely taking hold of stubborn
fact, and others fashioning the whole world to suit their particular
moods. But all the great characters, the poet’s own darlings, whose
speech and gestures linger in the memory, are lovers of hyperbolism and
talk greatly. Dismissing Othello, Macbeth, Lear, Mercutio, Imogen,
Perdita, and a host of other fine figures, we have only to examine the
four that are considered his most perfect creations, Hamlet, Falstaff,
Cleopatra, and Iago, to discover the truth of this. Iago has the trait
in a less marked degree than the others; his talk keeps a closer hold
upon circumstance; but then he is a deep rogue and has to act an
unimaginative part. When he is left to himself and talking for his own
satisfaction, we soon discover what manner of man he is, for then his
fancy begins to boil and we hear muttered talk of Hell and Night, of
poppy and mandragora. As for Hamlet and Cleopatra, they often seem to
destroy the world and recreate it again in a single casual sentence;
only the most towering images are allowed to wait upon their gigantic
moods. And Falstaff--what of him? There are persons who disapprove of
Falstaff; probably they are the very same people who will not tolerate
any sort of exaggeration, who sniff at hyperboles, who dislike a
thousand other fine things. We who love the hyperbolical both in
literature and talk will take our stand on Falstaff, a sufficient
bulwark against legions of such sticklers and quibblers. Small pedants
thrive and statisticians creep on like an army of ants; the fiery
nimble spirits that can turn mere words into so many soaring coloured
balloons are departing from the world; if it were not for the poets, the
Sporting Press and Mrs. What’s-her-name’s publishers, the hyperbole
would be almost unknown to our generation. In a world of calipers,
ammeters, burettes, speedometers, calculating machines, card index
cabinets, and blue books, where the fact is everything and its
significance nothing, fortified by the great rampart of Falstaff, we
will see to it that the hyperbole does not perish. Standing in that vast
shadow, I for one am prepared to defend to the death even the story of
the eleven men in buckram.



ON CARTOMANCY


A short time ago, in a strange town, evil chance confined me in a dingy
room overlooking a dismal little street and then, having done this, left
me to my own devices, without company and with few books. A grey tide of
boredom and depression was already threatening and would have soon
engulfed me, had I not come across a little volume in a corner of the
bookshelf. It was--to set forth the full title--_Cartomancy, or Occult
Divination by Cards_. The identity of the writer was not revealed; he or
she was shrouded in true oracular fashion. I had heard of
fortune-telling by cards; indeed, I had vague memories of having my
destiny unfolded, in the dim past, by elderly ladies who tapped the
assembled cards impressively and talked of letters, journeys by land,
and dark ladies. But I had no idea such occult knowledge could be
gleaned from books. If I had thought about the matter at all (which is
doubtful), I had probably imagined that the art of Cartomancy was
preserved by oral tradition, handed down through generations of maiden
aunts; or that the clue to its mysteries was the inalienable property of
a League of Decayed Gentlewomen. But no, here it was in a trumpery
little volume, sold everywhere for a shilling. Truly, this is an age of
books.

So I lost no time in making myself acquainted with the art, and boredom
fled. Nor could I have found a better preceptor, for in this little book
all was revealed; with fitting gravity and wealth of detail, it set
forth the meaning of the cards and the various methods of laying them
out. Each card had a distinct meaning, which was modified by the
presence of other cards. All this was made clear, but the instructions
were delightfully free from pedantry: ‘If intuition leads you to give a
different meaning, do so’ was the advice it tendered--and what could be
better? There was good reason attached to the meaning of some few of the
cards, which had a very pretty symbolism. What else could the Queen of
Hearts be but a fair woman? What could be a better symbol of death than
the Ace of Spades reversed? Never again shall I see that innocent piece
of pasteboard without feeling a sudden chill. But the symbolism of most
of the cards was not so obvious. Why--it might be asked--should the
eight of diamonds represent a roadway journey, the nine of spades
disappointment and tears, the ace of clubs a letter of good news? These
are mysteries, and not to be lightly comprehended. All the cards,
however, are alike in this: they stand for the life that the centuries
leave unchanged, the eternal verities of human existence, the things
that are significant alike to the emperor and the clown; they do not
adapt themselves to any pale, half-hearted way of living, but are
downright and talk boldly of birth, death, and marriage, of jealousy,
love and anger, of quarrels, accidents, and sudden endings. As to the
various methods of shuffling, cutting and laying out the cards, the
little book dealt with all these matters with high seriousness and at
some length; and no sooner was I acquainted with one or two of the
methods than I began to put them into practice. ‘These coloured scraps
of pasteboard,’ I said to myself, as I ranged the cards, ‘shall be the
tiny windows through which I will stare at the past, and peer
wonderingly into the future. And I shall be as a god.’

As no other person was near, I decided to read my own fortunes, past,
present, and future. I learned from the book that this was a difficult
thing to do, and so I found it. True it is that through the medium of
the cards, ‘the gay triumph-assuring scarlets--the contrasting
deadly-killing sables’--as Lamb called them, my fortunes appeared to
take on richer hues, to run to more passionate extremes, than I had
imagined; and in the vague mass, both my past and future took on the
aspect of a riotous, crowded pageant of love and intrigue, of tremendous
sins and strange virtues. All this was heart-stirring enough, but there
were difficulties waiting upon any sort of direct interpretation. Though
I lived splendidly, and appeared to swagger through an existence crowded
with incident, the whole fifty-two, hearts and all, seemed to combine to
make me out a rascal, whose mind must have been corroded with the
‘motiveless malignity’ of an Iago. Why, for example, should I rejoice at
the death of a dark boy in a railway accident? Why should I hound a
white-haired old gentleman to his grave? And why--for there were
numerous other incidents of this kind foreshadowed--should my villainy
always take this vile form? Was I this kind of man, I asked myself and
the cards, after each new instance of my calculated knavery, and if not,
at what precise moment in the near future were all the forces of evil to
take command of my soul. So I abandoned the attempt to discover my own
fortunes, and, turning to the book, found that if one ‘thought strongly
of one’s absent friends’ it was possible to dip into their past and
future.

For some little time I shrank from this course. To pry into their past
was bad enough, but to attempt to look into their future, which even
Time has the decency to keep covered for a while, seemed positively
immoral, an action compared with which the publication of a man’s
love-letters was a mark of friendship. It was not long, however, before
I had stifled this feeling by some sophistry about warning them of
dangers and so forth; and so I proceeded to satisfy my curiosity. As I
shuffled and laid out the cards, I saw myself as the sinister magician
of lurid fiction, and relished the part. I had only to take up the cards
and the stage was set for great dramas, bravely tricked out in crimson
and sable for one secret spectator. If this is not puissance, then where
is it to be found among men? What were books when one could spell out
the narrative of the cards, and make each friend in turn the hero or
heroine of the pictured story. Or if books were to continue, what
magnificent plots could be evolved from these strange combinations of
coloured paste-board! But if, through the cards, my own existence had
assumed brave proportions, though everywhere smirched by villainy, that
of my friends was no less highly-coloured and crowded with incident. As
I ranged the cards, and spied into the secret life, past and future, of
one friend after another, I was dumbfounded, aghast at my former
ignorance. Men who had been hidden away, for the last twenty years, in
college rooms and lecture-halls, whose outward existence had appeared as
smooth and unruffled as the immemorial lawns outside their windows, now
seemed to be moving in a violent Elizabethan drama. They made love to
dark ladies, and were in turn adored by fair ones; they lost and gained
great sums of money, aroused the jealousy of dark men, wrecked
innumerable homes, and lived in a constant whirl of good and evil
tidings, sea-voyages, railway journeys, and strong passions. Here was a
set of men who had been living like this (and were to go on doing so)
for years, and yet I, who counted myself as one of their friends, had
been kept in ignorance. What consummate actors!--to present an unruffled
front to the world, and even to their friends, and yet all the while to
know, in secret, a life that resembled nothing so much as a
thunderstorm. Could such things be? In truth, I came, in the end, to
doubt the cards.

But though I have forsworn Cartomancy, and hold such occult practices in
abhorrence, I will say to every man who has suddenly found that life is
one long piece of boredom, dull grey in warp and weft: Go to the cards,
and see existence woven madly in black and crimson--The life they
present knows nothing of boredom, for no card in all the pack stands for
such a thing--Go read the cards! As for myself, I have but one
confession to make: I dare not play at cards now, for they are fraught
with such significance to me that I could not trifle with them in a mere
game. I cannot rid them of their meanings, and while others are thinking
of nothing but winning tricks, I see myself, and my unconscious
colleagues, playing havoc with the destinies of dark ladies and fair
men. I cannot trump an opponent’s Queen, but what I feel that I am
probably bringing misfortune upon some unknown innocent woman. If I
fling down the Ace of Spades upon the King, it is not unlikely that I am
consigning some dark man--a good fellow probably--to his grave. This
would be murder, and an odd trick is not worth it. So there is nothing
for it but to leave the cards alone.



ON BEING KIND TO THE OLD


England, it is said, is cruel to the young and kind to the old. The
remark usually takes on the tone of an accusation; we who hear it from a
critical foreigner find ourselves struggling against a sense of shame;
we are quick to denounce something or other, the House of Lords,
Sentimentality, Meat-eating, the Educational System, and we uproot and
demolish, and are clearly filled with a noble public spirit. If, then,
the remark is always construed as a criticism, and if it nearly always
succeeds in touching us on the raw, there must be something in it.
Apparently, being kind to the old is no excuse for being cruel to the
young. Perhaps this kindness itself is wrong. Let us be nice in our
ethics, and look a little more closely at the question.

The remark refers, of course, to our English habit of relying upon
experience or even mere weight of years. We are--or have been--so apt
to listen to a man only when he is tottering on the verge of senility.
In politics, the clean young enthusiast has been discouraged, and only
the old intriguers have been respected. We have begun to take an artist
seriously only when he was past his prime. Pantaloon is our national
hero. Even Mr. Bernard Shaw, who ought to know better, would have
politicians living for two or three hundred years to acquire wisdom, as
if there was not folly enough in the world to delude a man for thrice
three hundred years if he should choose to live and look for it. As for
the young, they have not been given a hearing amongst us. If one of
them, of more courage and energy than his fellows, pushed his way
forward and told us something we did not know, we murmured ‘Oh, it’s
only young So-and-So,’ and turned our backs upon him. We could afford to
wait until his ideals and enthusiasms were gone, his energy sapped, and
his body and mind shivering in their late autumn, before we listened to
him. Such is our English attitude, which you and I have loudly deplored
when we have met the sneers of men from newer countries. But actually
there is a good deal to be said for it. In the last resort it does us
credit.

But mark, this attitude of ours does not bring us any profit. We shall
not try to defend it as a useful thing. When we are kind to the old, and
put none but the aged and infirm in places of responsibility and trust,
we are not better served; and we know it. The young, whom we put aside,
would do the work much better. That, I fancy, is the ground of the
criticism against us; but we are regarding it as an ethical question,
and the very fact that our attitude works against our profit only makes
our ethics shine more brightly. In order that we may give to the old, we
have to deny the young some measure of power and substance, but whereas
we are certainly kind to the one, it does not follow that we are cruel
to the other.

We can afford to be hard upon the young, for youth itself is hard. The
young are not dependent in any way upon what we think of them, for they
are still convinced that the powers of the universe plotted amicably to
fill them with greatness, so that whether the lesser mortals that
encompass them think well or ill of them matters little. They are still
living in Eternity, and, unlike the old, do not understand the need of
claiming some measure of applause while there is yet time for it. Their
hours are spacious, golden, crammed with promise. If we should put a
young man into high office, it is unlikely that he would think any
better of us: he owes us nothing; he has received only his deserts; he
has got one office, but he might have had any one of a hundred others
that were shining before his path. The world appears to him so fruitful
of glorious opportunities that even to thrust him into a post of honour
is to do him an injury by limiting his choice. And as for the young who
scribble and paint and write music (and they are legion), what can be
done for them? They are all geniuses whose work is above the
understanding and taste of the age, and as such are beyond our
ministrations, for your misunderstood young genius is perhaps the only
completely independent, self-satisfied thing in the universe. What are
little paragraphs in the papers, invitations to dinner, and the like, to
him when he is the man for whom the century has been waiting to give it
voice. He can exist, as a young friend of mine did, on stale cake and
cocoa, and yet march about the world like an emperor, attended by the
glittering cohorts of his vain and heated fancy. If it were possible to
measure and tax youthful vanity; if young men could be imprisoned for
egotism; if it were a hanging matter to imagine oneself a genius; then
we might have a chance of being cruel to the young. Short of that, we
cannot reach them. In order to protect ourselves from their dreadful
efficiency, we may deny them place and profit, but what are our trumpery
rewards to the largess of a fond imagination. So our gifts go where they
are appreciated--to the old.

If our so-called cruelty is a myth, our kindness is yet real enough.
When we put an old man into power, and give praise to mere persistence
in living, our charity has taken no wrong turn. The very inefficiency,
helplessness, and wistful vanity of the old make them unequalled objects
of our Christian virtues. It would be easy enough to be cruel to them,
for, unlike the young, they are at our mercy. They have lost all that
goes to sustain youth, which could be careless of the world while it was
still dreaming dreams, making love, and able to shout and sing, while
life stepped out to the quick drumming of the blood. To the old,
Eternity is no longer about them, and the far horizons have vanished.
Their hours are remorselessly ticked away. There is no longer time to
do everything and be everything: he will be a fortunate man who has
rounded off even one little piece of work before the light goes. It is a
monstrously silly fable that the aged are indifferent to praise,
position and honour, that they have outgrown the little vanities of the
world. The fact that a few old men have retired from the world because
they were weary and infirm does not support the legend; and one has only
to listen to their talk to discover how far such ancients have got
beyond vanity. As for your active old men, they ceaselessly bestir
themselves in pursuit of notice and applause. And well they might. With
the dwindling of time and the shedding of illusions, their imagination
has ceased to minister to their vanity. They require some confirmation
from the world of their good opinion of themselves. Now that the far
horizons, infinitely beguiling in youth, have vanished, the world itself
shines more brightly against the steadily deepening background, and a
dedication, a respectful hearing, a salute here, some little notice
there, these become matters of some moment; they warm the heart when all
other fires are being heaped with pale ashes. Consider the position of
an old man. His lines are fixed and he cannot begin again; all his
argosies left the quayside long ago, and if some of them do not bring
him some return, he will find cold comfort now in his tales of their
setting out. Now that he is no longer a potential Shakespeare, Beethoven
or Lincoln, as he was in youth, your ageing man will try hard to become
Deputy-Mayor of Suddleton: he will have the cash in hand. Deny him that,
and he has nothing left.

This being so, what is there to be said against this habit of ours. We
are not cruel to the young, but we are certainly kind to the old.
Nothing could be better, for even supposing that a few youngsters here
and there suffer from our neglect, they have only to grow old to remedy
it, and if they have not persistence enough to keep on steadily
increasing their ages, they are not the men for us. The pity is, not
that we have such a habit, but that, having had it for centuries, we are
now letting it go at the bidding of mere popular prejudice. Our old
English habit of mind wants fortifying: we should push back the age at
which a man is entitled to public notice and let our youngsters do their
swaggering in private or among their brother fledglings. With some
little contriving, it ought to be possible to make this a land in which
every man under sixty has his future before him and no past to brood
over, every office and place of profit is filled with an elder, and the
cackling of gratified senile vanity is heard night and day. Make way for
Justice Shallow, and give an ear to Polonius, and be content, for your
Prince Hal can look after himself, and as for your Hamlets, their
maladies are past your doctoring and their felicity is beyond the
shouting of a mob or the solemn foolery of a committee.



THE DREAM


The afternoon sun, rather reproachfully, reillumined the page at which I
was vacantly staring. I sank a little lower into my armchair, raised the
book a trifle, and made a further pretence of reading. A few more words
filtered into my brain; then the warm sun, the drowsy air, the still
afternoon, drowned sense after sense....

I was hurrying along a dark side-street between two rows of houses,
tall, featureless buildings, close-shuttered and with no lights showing.
It was a vile night, of what season I could not tell, but seemingly
wintry, for there were frequent icy gusts of wind snatching at the
chimneys, and an occasional spatter of rain. I dashed forward, not
trying to pick my way through the pools and mud, but splashing along as
quickly as possible, a growing feeling of panic urging me on. I had no
idea what was afoot, or at least the rational part of me knew nothing
of the matter, but it was clear that some terror was behind. At last,
panting for breath, I reached what I knew to be the back gate of my own
house. It was open, and I had sufficient strength to press forward
through a kind of courtyard of no great size, gain the house-door, which
was also unbolted, and lock myself in the house. I found myself in a
great draughty kitchen, in which there was no fire but only the
cheerless flickering light of two candles. I knew it to be my own place;
everything seemed familiar, though actually, of course, it was all
strange. Behind the massive door, now securely bolted, I felt easier
than I had done outside in that ill-favoured street; but even yet the
fear of a hunted creature remained with me; I hardly dared to breathe,
made no movement, but only listened intently.

There was nothing to be heard above the wind. Yet I still felt that the
terror had not been evaded, that it was drawing nearer, though what form
it would take I could not guess, having been precipitated so suddenly
into the adventure. I was flying from something, of that there could be
no doubt, but whether my pursuers were wild beasts, men or devils, there
was no knowing. Whatever they were, it looked as if I had evaded them
in the darkness; and as I was hidden away in one out of many similar
houses, in a labyrinth of streets (for I knew somehow that I was in a
large town, though not a modern one), it looked very unlikely that I
should be discovered. I breathed more freely.

Then suddenly, to my horror, I heard above the wind the tramp of many
feet coming down the street I had just left. It was not the sound of
soldiers marching, nor yet the vague tumult of a moving crowd; but
something between the two, the noise of men going in some sort of
formation, men of set purpose. It was this then that I had been fearing,
for now I fell into a dreadful panic, and hastened to put out the two
candles, so that not even a tiny ray of light through the shutters
should draw attention to the house. The whole row was in darkness; there
was nothing apparently to mark off one house from another; I was safe
enough. Probably the men did not even know that I had turned down this
side street; they could not have seen me in such a black night. So I
reasoned with myself, but got little comfort out of it.

Meanwhile, the sound was drawing nearer, and the crowd, or whatever it
was, seemed to have fallen into a fairly regular step, as if assured of
its destination. A moment later, the men burst out into a kind of
marching song, which they voiced fiercely in a deep-throated unison. Two
lines of the chorus remain with me yet:

    ‘You shall know him by his jolly red mouth,
     And the bushy black beard on his chin.’

the last line being repeated with startling emphasis. It seems absurd
enough now, but at the time it was charged with menace, as if the very
sound of it called up all manner of dreadful associations. Having fallen
into such a swinging step, it appeared unlikely that the mob outside
would make a halt; but to my utter dismay, as soon as the sound passed
close to my window it stopped, there was a shuffling of feet, and then a
great voice, the very herald of doom, cried out: ‘This is the house!’ At
this, I crouched lower, and could do nothing else: there was a crawling
and heaving in the pit of my stomach. I heard the outer gate being
thrust open, then a stir in the courtyard, and a moment later, there
came a thundering knock at the door. ‘Open the door!’ cried that
terrifying voice. I could not move. Had I gone through the house,
escape might have been possible; but it appeared to be one of the rules
of this fearful game that I should not be able to move.

‘Open the door!’ came the cry again. Then there followed a medley of
sound, shouts and yells and the trampling of feet, after which there
came a series of terrific blows at the door. They were bursting it open.
For a few moments it resisted the attack, but the battering increased in
violence, and soon it was all over. One mighty effort, a yell of
triumph, and the door came splintering in.... But only to let in a flood
of yellow sunshine, the murmur of the flies, and the sight of my own
room. The windy night, the dark side street, the great draughty kitchen,
the besieging crowd, all had vanished, huddled away into the lumber-room
of such phantasmagoria; one twist of the brain’s kaleidoscope and the
strange tale was in progress, another twist and it was gone. I glanced
at my watch and found that I had only been asleep for some ten minutes;
I had only halted for a second near the Ivory Gate. Yet in that fraction
of time, the chapter of romance, well conceived and deftly executed, was
begun and ended, though the tale itself has neither beginning nor end.
Surely, of all things in life, these fantastic dramas, coming and going
between a few heart-beats, are the most personal and the most wonderful:
ourselves alone are the authors and actors; we sketch out the scenario,
fill in the dialogue, cast the parts and play them all ourselves; we it
is who design and execute the scenery, clear the stage, and set the
piece in motion; we it is who yawn in the stalls, shudder in the pit,
and cheer from the gallery; from first to last, it is our own affair,
and we alone can step forward briskly at the curtain to receive our own
plaudits. Life cannot show elsewhere such a fine egotistical matter as
this business of dreaming, and a dream, well done, makes even literature
seem little more than its attenuated, halting shadow.



ON FILLING IN FORMS


To the uneducated, filling in forms of any kind is a considerable task.
The curt official demands puzzle them; the various particulars they are
asked to give do not readily come to hand; and, not least, the actual
business of writing, unfamiliar as it is, seems very long and wearisome.
It is no wonder then that the uneducated detest printed forms, and even
extend their dislike to the official bodies that issue such things and
compel honest labouring men to scratch their heads over them. But it is
curious that this dislike is shared by many of us who are not entirely
without letters, who can write our names and addresses and what not with
tolerable facility and despatch. We have not the same reason for our
distaste as the man to whom the feel of a pen is strange; and with our
superior knowledge, such as it is, it would seem that we have less
excuse, for at least we can understand that such things as forms may be
necessary in a world given over to figures and tabulation. Our distaste
for the business, then, seems irrational and nothing more nor less than
a characteristically English prejudice. Where there are definite grounds
for our objection, such as a mistrust of the official motive in
collecting information, or a feeling that we are being compelled
unnecessarily to take trouble and so forth, it is not mere prejudice;
but with most of us, grounds or no grounds, the feeling remains; and
whether this filling in of forms appears to be urgent and necessary or
not, we approach it, according to our mood, with something like
irritation or depression. There are people, of course, who do not feel
in this way, people who take kindly to all the methods of the
bureaucrat, who revere an official form whether it is reasonable or not,
and love organisation and routine for their own sakes. When a person
comes to believe that humanity will yet be saved by double-entry and the
card-index system, the beauty and significance of an official form,
correctly filled in and neatly docketed, is put beyond question. We
imagine that to one of Mr. Sidney Webb’s admirers, the very sight of a
printed form with inviting blank spaces will call forth the genuine
aesthetic emotion; to such a one a form is not only desirable in itself
but also beautiful because it exists as a symbol of a whole vision of
life, namely, that ordered system, rigid with its hierarchy of officials
in which some minds find their earthly paradise. When a man holds such
doctrines he has become mystical and is past arguing with; our objection
to bureaucratic paraphernalia, its forms and dockets and what not, is
nothing to him but the grimacing and babbling of the half-witted. On
this question of the value of forms, there are plainly two parties that
can neither come to terms nor yet agree to ignore each other. We stand
on each side of a great gulf, staring across, and occasionally making
half-witted, menacing cries and gestures. Let us keep to our own side.

If our dislike of forms has little or nothing in common with that of the
uneducated, who merely hate the unfamiliar task of recording; and if it
seems to exist with sufficiently reasonable grounds, we must either
bring to light reasons yet hidden or confess ourselves the victims of a
stupid prejudice. It may be, of course, that we dislike forms for the
same reason that our opponents, the official-minded, adore them,
namely, because they can be taken as symbols of a certain kind of life
for which we, on our part, have no admiration. But this will not explain
our irritation at having to set down a few paltry particulars on demand:
the real reason cuts more deeply, for it is a personal matter,
unconnected with our social and political views. Unlike the lovers of
forms, who have arid minds and are devoid of fancy, we on our side are
for the most part full-minded, expansive, imaginative fellows, and in
this can be found the reason for our dislike. We are asked to give an
account of ourselves, but not a genuine account of ourselves, the kind
we deliver to an old friend over the last few pipes and the dying fire;
that kind of account we would give with pleasure at any seasonable hour
to any fairly sympathetic listening official. No, our names, ages,
occupations, and so forth, must be set down in various ruled columns on
pieces of blue paper (usually of poor quality), which shall hereafter
stand in our stead. But no piece of paper, blue, buff, or virgin white,
can stand in our stead. No mere handful of facts can represent our
unique and exquisite selves. If all the facts had to be given, we might
be able to do something with them; they might gradually take shape into
something like a personality; but to be compelled to give only a few,
and those not the most essential, so that the beggarly total shall be
sent abroad to represent us, this is to be subjected to a pitiless
process of abstraction. It is an affront to the spirit. And it is
useless to argue that the few facts demanded are sufficient for the
particular official purpose for which they are required. Purpose or no
purpose, we are human beings, and if we are to be made known to other
human beings, let us be visible in all our colour and light. John Smith,
Rosedene, Leicester Road, Cashier, 53 years of age, and the rest, is a
libellous travesty of old Jack Smith, who always smokes a cherry-wood
pipe and is the best amateur rose-grower in the East Midlands. Glancing
at such a colourless list of petty details as--Henry Robinson, Coal
Merchant’s Clerk, aged 27, Single, who would imagine it was meant to
represent young Robinson who is so often seen about with the fair-headed
girl from the Post Office, who has a temperament and is known to be the
author of the greatest blank-verse tragedy of the time, a work so far
above its age that no theatrical manager will look at it? Think
of--William Shakespeare, Stratford and London, age 35, Married, Three
Children, Occupation--Player; or William Wordsworth, Rydal Mount,
Distributor of Stamps, Married, Church of England, and so on; these
things are at once grotesque and pitiful. A man in prison is simply
known by a number, and it is said that this alone tends to make him lose
some of his self-respect. So, too, when we find ourselves subjected to
this bowelless process, when we are bending over the printed forms and
staring dully at their stupid demands, something of the same kind is
happening to us as we answer question after question; we feel our
personality evaporating as it were; the lines growing more angular and
the colours fading; until what is left is not even a caricature, not
even a flickering shadow of our real essential selves. And all the while
we know that we carry with us a personality, richly deft and
fantastically coloured, something as opulent as the Indies and as
mysterious as China. Hence the irritation, the depression, the half
instinctive revolt, the protest that does not even find words for
itself. And we shall do well as the forms come snowing down upon us, to
recognise the revolt and assert the protest, for it may be that when we
come to the end of filling in these things, we shall find ourselves to
be nothing better than the paltry details we have so often set down: we
shall have lost our souls.



THREE MEN


The first is (or was) a schoolmaster. When he was in his later teens,
long before I met him, he had worked for an Oxford scholarship, and he
had worked so hard that a few days before the examination he was found
at a late hour babbling incoherently over his books, a nervous wreck. He
never took the examination and never went to Oxford, but, when he
recovered, passed into a little day-school. Nevertheless, Oxford had
entered into his soul. To me, he was more like an Oxford man, or what an
Oxford man ought to be, than any other person I have ever met. He had
all the larger and more genial traits clearly marked, with just the
least delicious hint of pleasant caricature, like a good actor
presenting a character-study of a younger Don. There were little
peculiar traits too, as of some mythical college, of a ghostly Balliol
or an unsubstantial ‘House.’ It may have been the result of deliberate
cultivation, or it may have been the gift of one of the younger gods, a
compensation for that disastrous breakdown; I do not know, but it was
harmless enough, and delicate fooling for a spectator.

I have not seen him for years, but I can call him well to mind even now;
a little man with hair loosely parted in the centre and falling over his
temples, and eyeglasses insecurely perched halfway down a long nose. In
the small town in which he (and I too) lived at that time, there were in
all five working-men’s clubs. He was a member of all five. Why, I do not
know, except that beer was very much cheaper in these places than it was
elsewhere. But even that does not explain why he was a member of them
all. But so it was. Nightly into one or other of these working-men’s
clubs, he carried his insecure eyeglasses and his Oxford manner, and was
well received, with the respect due to ‘a character,’ rather than with
the hardly suppressed laughter that followed him elsewhere. There he
would take a friend, and over the beer (which was both cheap and
excellent) he would talk at length, letting the ball of conversation
roll easily down the long cadences of his speech. His favourite theme, I
remember, was the utter worthlessness of the middle-classes, to which
he belonged, and he was the first person of my acquaintance to speak of
them as ‘the bourgeois.’ It is years since I last saw him, but I trust
that some school still knows him, chalky and pedantic, day by day, and
that at least five working-men’s clubs still see him, magnificent over
his beer, night by night.

The second man was a spectacled smoky fellow, getting on in years, whom
I knew but slightly. His trade was the writing of boys’ stories, not for
expensive illustrated books but for penny dreadfuls. What else he had
done to earn his bread, when he was only an aspirant, I do not know, but
that was his trade when I knew him. Year after year, he chronicled the
adventures of Dick This or Jack the Other at School or among Pirates or
Red Indians; and his pay was one guinea for every thousand words, which
was not bad, for he could turn out a good many thousand words in a week
and could also fill up with Boom! Crash! Bang! a kind of writing that
boys like. Although the scenes of his tales were laid in all parts of
the world, there was no nonsense about him; he did not travel in search
of local colour, but used a gazetteer and trusted to his powers of
invention, which were well-tried and excellent. But his heart was not in
the work and he took no pride in it. At regular intervals he would
simply send off so many thousand words to the Boys’ Monster Tales
Publishing Company Limited, and his stories came out under many
different names, not one of which was his own. He had a wife but no
family, few friends, and belonged to no club or society. The thing he
lived for was a great work in metaphysics, at which he had been engaged
for many years, and which was to be called ‘The Mind of the Universe.’
All his spare time and energy were given to thinking out the problems
that he had set himself, and he would weary his few visitors with
interminable talk in a philosophical jargon of his own making. Years
before, he had read a little handbook on Spinoza, which had brought a
new set of problems into his world, and which had so intrigued him that
he had determined to devote the remainder of his life to metaphysics.
But he had also made up his mind not to study the philosophers, because
their theories might keep him from original thought: he meant to think
everything out for himself. When he had erected his system, the world
would recognise it for what it was, and forgive his preposterous
stories of ‘Jack Marraway and the Terror of the Prairie’ and the rest.
He was wrong. I am no metaphysician but I know that his stories were
better than his grand original system of metaphysics. For, after years
of labour, he had only succeeded in enunciating paradoxes that were
stale jokes in Ionia, in dragging out cumbersome creaking theories that
even the long extinct State University of Hochensteilschwarzburg would
have rejected at a glance; and all written in that terrible jargon of
his. Yet it was a manly thing to do, and though all his labour was worth
little, it was not in vain, for it gave him secret incommunicable
pleasure and he felt himself to be a man marked off from the common run
of men; which he was. For the rest, he smoked prodigious quantities of
‘Meadowsweet Flake’--a vile tobacco, grossly doctored and scented.

The other man I never knew personally, but I received many accounts of
him, and his reputation, the legend of him, has been very dear to me. He
was a shopkeeper and sold, at a considerable profit, optical
instruments, spectacles and whatnot. But what set him apart from other
men was that he had had more bad verse through his hands than any other
person in these islands. It was his one great hobby to collect bad verse
and publish it in anthologies. He must have known more poetasters than
any other man living or dead. On the death of a well-known politician,
or immediately after any great public event, he would set to work and
gather up all the offscourings of the ‘Poets’ Corners’ of obscure
country papers. Thus, he it was, and no other, who edited _The Best
Poetical Tributes to the late Joseph Chamberlain_, and many other
anthologies. His system was, I fancy, to compel every contributor to
become a subscriber and take several copies of the volume in hand, so
that it was ensured a sale. The verse was always bad, the very worst
conceivable, for no one who wrote good verse would have suffered him to
live. Why he did it--and he produced innumerable volumes--is a mystery,
for there could not have been much money in it, and the same energy and
impudence would have given him a fortune in the quack medicine business.
I have thought sometimes that he was a satirist of a particularly deep
kind, but I have been assured by those who knew him that he was entirely
serious and innocently proud of the good work he was doing. Nor did he
allow his literary service to interfere with his trade. In the centre
of his shop-window there was a coloured life-size bust of Shakespeare
with a pair of eyeglasses on its nose. The bust hinted delicately to all
passers-by that though our man was but a shopkeeper, he too had served
the Muse and was the editor of the Hundred Best, etc.; the eyeglasses,
through which one caught the mild glance of the poet, indicated the
nature of the shop. It was admirable! And though the man himself is
dead, the shop remains and with it the bust. I saw it only a short time
ago, and was gladdened; indeed, there seems something lacking now when I
see Shakespeare without his eyeglasses; but one cannot, of course, be
dogmatic about such matters of taste.

All three men lived in one town, where I too lived for a season. And
there were others, more wonderful still, whom I cannot describe in this
place, nor perhaps in any other, for I write to be believed.



THE BOGEY OF SPACE


When Lafcadio Hearn comes to the end of _The Romance of the Milky Way_,
he tells us, a little wistfully, that the lovely old Japanese legend,
which makes the heavens ‘seem very near and warm and human,’ has
sometimes enabled him ‘to forget the monstrous facts of science, and the
stupendous horror of Space.’ And elsewhere, he writes of the terror that
he felt, in common with his philosophic guide, Herbert Spencer, at the
notion of infinite Space--‘the mere vague idea of that everlasting Night
into which the blazing of millions of suns can bring neither light nor
warmth.’ Most of us, I think, have been kept from sleep, at some time or
other, by similar emotions. ‘Of the Kosmos in the last resort,’ wrote
Stevenson, ‘science reports many doubtful things and all of them
appalling.’ From time to time, astronomers, thinking of nothing but
their strange study, have brought us news of the macrocosm, bewildering
measurements, and ghastly phenomena, the full import of which, suddenly
realised in a quiet hour, has left us sick at heart. From these
monstrous data our imagination has dizzily fashioned a vision of the
universe compared with which the hells of the theologians seemed lively
and companionable.

At such times all existence begins to look like an unending nightmare.
We see the bright unnumbered throng of stars as so many specks of dust
on the dark mantle of old Chaos, most ancient of devils. And even they
appear remote and unfriendly. The fixed stars know nothing of us: the
old homely constellations have an alien look. In the scarred white face
of the moon we can read the destiny of our own beautiful planet, soon to
be a cold cinder. Good and evil alike are as nothing in the face of the
illimitable darkness that awaits us. Our most heroic endeavour cannot
lighten the gloom. The greatest of our prophets and poets cannot break
the silence for long; it has swallowed the shouts and songs of countless
generations. Man, with all his pleasant green places, is only the
tiniest accident, a slight tremor of a wheel, something that the next
stroke of the machine will put to rights, obliterating him and all his
works. But these shuddering negations, to which we have been led by a
few scientific data, do not disturb us long. A few hours’ sleep or a
brisk walk destroys the whole mournful fabric, and we step out lively as
before. A few misguided men, having much to do with these things, make
some sort of a creed of such folly, and angrily deny that man has an
immortal soul. In this they are wise according to their lights, for
believing themselves to be caged in such a universe their only hope lies
in a speedy extinction. The soul has no better place in their dreary
cosmos than a skylark would have in a Birmingham factory.

Blake was once at a friend’s house when the talk turned on the vastness
of Space. At last Blake, who was always irritated by this sort of talk,
broke in with, ‘It is false. I walked the other evening to the end of
the heath, and touched the sky with my finger.’ Those who are familiar
with Blake’s habit of mind, his way of using daring figures of speech as
if they were literal statements of fact, will not dismiss this remark as
the raving of a genial madman. To Blake, the artist, this perpetual
raising of scientific bogeys, this emphasising of the emptiness of the
universe, to the distress of our imagination, was nothing short of
criminal. He believed in the ‘determinate and bounding form’ of all
things, in ‘the bounding line and its infinite inflections and
movements.’ ‘Leave out this line,’ he wrote, ‘and you leave out life
itself; all is chaos again....’ And chaos is the arch-enemy of the
artist, who strives to fashion from the corrupt materials at hand the
enduring forms of his imagination. To Blake the sky appeared a most
excellent canopy, a majestical roof fretted with golden fire, as it did
to Hamlet or any other man. So, too, our earth appears a lovely,
fruitful dwelling-place. But, according to science, one is a nightmare
of space, the other a putrescent cinder. This may be the truth for
science, in which there are no nightmares, but it is not the truth for
us. Science, with all its data and phenomena, appeals only to one small
part of a man, but the ultimate truth must appeal to the whole man, to
the emotional, reasoning, moral, imaginative creature with an immortal
soul. It is poetry, in the widest sense of the term, that makes this
appeal, and poetry alone. The sky and the earth that we find in poetry
and that we have seen for ourselves, the blue canopy stretched over the
beautiful dwelling-place, are nearer the ultimate truth than anything
that science can tell us.

When we go to science for an account of the cosmos and recoil in horror
from the nightmarish thing that we find there, it does not mean that
science is necessarily wrong (though, for the most part, it is only
guessing), but that we have gone to it for something that it cannot
give, and does not pretend to give--an ultimate truth that will satisfy
every demand of our highly complex nature. We cannot take science out of
its own limited sphere of activity without being horror-struck at the
result. Thus, if we went to science, in one or other of its various
branches, for a minute description of a red rose, a glass of wine, a
wonderful sunset, or a lovely child, the result, in every instance,
would seem to be an outlandish thing of horror. So it is with the
universe; when we can apprehend it as we can a rose or a sunset, not
through science but through the poetry that saturates our being, we
shall see the universe in all its majesty and splendour, with all its
blazing multi-coloured suns, strange planets and wild moons, moving in
the endless dance.

Men like Hearn suffered because they would not keep science within its
natural limits. They allowed the bogey talk of the astronomers to
frighten them. Hearn never seemed to see that the old Japanese legend
which made the heavens seem very near and warm and human was probably
nearer the ultimate truth of things than the monstrous facts that he was
always trying to forget. He needed large doses of Blake as an antidote
to Herbert Spencer. As for the notion of infinite space and ‘that
everlasting night,’ of which the astronomical dabblers have made so
much, it is nothing but a bleak fiction. For my part, I have ceased to
be troubled by any horror of that space in which star-systems move like
specks of dust, for I have long held that the whole affair is in reality
an illusion, an elaborate jest of the gods. Even the scientists are less
confident than they were, for the new Einstein theory (which
mathematical friends have vainly tried to explain to me) seems to
emphasise the illusory aspect of space, making our old theories and
elaborate calculations look rather foolish. Meanwhile, the cosmos now
appears to be more of a joke than ever, but whatever conclusions the
scientists may arrive at, of one thing I am certain--it is a good joke.
Probably it is the ultimate, universal, everlasting joke, of which the
greatest of our jests are but distorted reflections and fleeting
shadows.



A ROAD TO ONESELF


Sometimes, on one of these sunny autumn mornings, when I turn my back on
the town and take to the highway, I seem to have the world to myself. I
walk forward, as it were, into a great sunlit emptiness. Once I am a
little way out of the town it is as if the world had been swept clean of
men. I pass a few young mothers, who are proudly ushering their
round-eyed solemn babes into the presence of the morning sun, a
lumbering cart or two, and maybe a knot of labourers, who look up from
their task with humorous resignation in their faces; these and others I
overtake and pass by, and then there is often an end of my fellows. I
alone keep a lounging tryst with the sun, himself, I fancy, a mighty,
genial idler and the father of all dreamers and idlers among men.

A light mist covers the neighbouring hills, which are almost
imperceptible, their shapes and colours showing but faintly, so that
they seem to stand aloof--things of dream. As I go further along the
shining road I seem to be lounging into a vast, empty room. There are
sights and sounds in plenty; cows looking over the walls with their
great, mournful eyes; here and there a thin blue column of smoke; the
cawing of rooks about the decaying woods; and, distantly sounding, the
creak of a cart, a casual shout or two, a vague hammering, and, more
distant still, the noise of the town, now the faint murmur of a hive.
Yet to me, coming from the crowded, tumultuous streets, it seems empty
because I meet no one by the way. The road, for all its thick drift of
leaves, deep gold and brown, at either side, seems to lie naked in the
sunshine, and I drink in this unexpected solitude as eagerly as a dusty
traveller takes his ale. For a time, it comes as a delectable and
quickening draught, and though outwardly a sober, meditative, almost
melancholy pedestrian, I hold high festival in the spirit, drink deep,
and revel with the younger gods.

One of the greatest dangers of living in large towns is that we have too
many neighbours and human fellowship is too cheap. We are apt to become
wearied of humanity; a solitary green tree sometimes seems dearer to us
than an odd thousand of our fellow-citizens. Unless we are hardened, the
millions of eyes begin to madden us; and for ever pushed and jostled by
crowds we begin to take more kindly to Malthus, and are even willing to
think better of Herod and other wholesale depopulators. We begin to hate
the sight of men who would appear as gods to us if we met them in
Turkestan or Patagonia. When we have become thoroughly crowd-sick, we
feel that the continued presence of these thousands of other men and
women will soon crush, stamp, or press our unique, miraculous
individuality into some vile pattern of the streets; we feel that the
spirit will perish for want of room to expand in: and we gasp for an air
untainted by crowded humanity.

Some such thoughts as these come to me, at first, in my curious little
glimpse of solitude. I am possessed by an ampler mood than men commonly
know, and feel that I can fashion the world about me to my changing
whims; my spirit overflows, and seems to fill the quiet drooping
countryside with sudden light and laughter; the empty road and vacant
fields, the golden atmosphere and blue spaces are my kingdoms, and I
can people them at will with my fancies. Beautiful snatches of poetry
come into my head, and I repeat a few words, or even only one word,
aloud and with passionate emphasis, as if to impress their significance
and beauty upon a listening host. Sometimes I break into violent little
gusts of laughter, for my own good pleasure. At other times I sing,
loudly and with abandon: to a petrified audience of one cow and three
trees I protest melodiously that Phyllis has such charming graces that I
could love her till I die, and I believe it, too, at the time. I brag to
myself, and applaud and flatter myself. I even indulge in one or two of
those swaggering day-dreams of boyhood in which one finds oneself
suddenly raised to some extraordinary eminence, the idol of millions, a
demi-god among men, from which height one looks down with kindly scorn
on those myopic persons who did not know true greatness when they saw
it, sarcastic schoolmasters and jeering relatives for the most part.

Only by such heightened images, seemingly more applicable to centuries
of riotous life than half an hour’s sauntering, can I suggest in
stubborn words the swelling mood that first comes to me with this
sudden, unexpected seclusion.

But as the morning wears away, the jubilation arising from this new
expansion of oneself dwindles and perishes; the spirit wearies of its
play. The road stretches out its vacant length, a few last leaves come
fluttering down, and the sun grows stronger, sharpening the outline of
the hills. The day is lovelier than ever. But I meet no one by the way,
and even the distant sounds of men’s travail and sport have died down.
After a time the empty road and silent valley become vaguely
disquieting, like a great room spread for a feast, blazing with lights,
opulent in crimson and gold, and yet all deserted and quiet as the
grave. I ask myself if all men have been mewed up in offices and
underground warehouses, by some ghastly edict, unknown to me, which has
come into force this very morning. Have I alone escaped? Or I wonder if
the Last Day has dawned, and been made plain to men not by sound of
trump, but by some sign in the sky that I have overlooked; a vast hand
may have beckoned to all men or the heavens may have opened while I was
busy lighting my pipe. Have all but one of the weary children of earth
been gathered to their long rest? I walk in loneliness.

Suddenly, I see a tiny moving figure on the road before me, and
immediately it focuses my attention. What are walls, fields, trees, and
cows compared with this miraculous thing, a fellow human being, played
upon by the same desires and passions, his head stuffed with the same
dreams and fluttering thoughts? In one of the world’s greatest romances
is not the most breathless moment concerned with the discovery of a
human footprint in the sand? Does not the world’s story begin with one
human being meeting another? As I keep my eyes fixed on the nearing
figure the last of my vague fancies and egotistical imaginings are blown
away; my mind is engrossed by the solidly romantic possibilities of the
encounter. Just as I was glad to escape from the sight and sound of men,
so I am eager now to break my solitude: the circle is complete. And as
we come up together, the stranger and I, I give him a loud greeting, and
he, a little startled, returns the salute; and so we pass on,
fellow-travellers and nameless companions in a great adventure, knowing
no more of each other than the brief sight of a face, the sound of a
voice can tell us. We only cry out a Hail and Farewell through the mist,
yet I think we go on our way a little heartened.



THE EDITOR


I have just learned from a little paragraph in a newspaper that another
old acquaintance of mine has gone--old Wimpenny-Brown, ‘for many years
editor of the _Wallerdale Herald_’--as the paragraph is careful to
inform me. But there is little need, for it was in his editorial days
that I met Wimpenny-Brown, and I can only think of him as an editor.
Apart from a few early years spent as a reporter on a lesser London
paper, all his time had been given to the _Wallerdale Herald_. It was an
obscure provincial sheet, Liberal-cum-Radical in tone, strongly
upholding Free Trade and much given to enunciating those few leading
principles ‘upon which the prosperity and happiness of this country must
inevitably depend.’ But in the days when I knew its editor, the _Herald_
was nothing more to me than a frame, the necessary boundaries of gilt
and moulding, that set off his personality. Thus framed, my old
acquaintance was a man to be sought out and gathered to oneself. To a
youngster in quest of the absurd, as I was at that time, he was meat and
drink. Even so long ago, he was considered one of the old school, and so
true to type that he seemed to have been specially created to verify the
comic novelists. He seemed to dwell in the great shadow of Mr. Potts, of
the _Eatanswill Gazette_, and to be closely related to that solemn
editorial host of Colonels and Majors dear to the American humorist.

A pipe and an occasional glass served Wimpenny-Brown as a tribute to the
bohemianism of his profession; as hostages to respectability he had a
pair of gold-rimmed eyeglasses at the end of a black ribbon, trim
whiskers, and a large umbrella; with his staff he was--I
believe--majestically paternal, but to his opponents he was a very
Jupiter; and for the rest--he had a manner. In his presence, it seemed
as if the _Essay on Liberty_ had just been published, as if dusty men of
letters were still delightedly wondering where Macaulay’s style came
from, as if radical masterpieces were still being issued in fortnightly
parts. Many men had his respect, even his homage, but as an editor--and
I never knew him as anything else--he would allow no man to dictate to
him; he served only the Public and ‘those few great principles.’ ‘An
editor,’ he would say, tapping a sheet of paper with his glasses, ‘is
the servant of the Public although his duty is to educate it.’ And his
innocent vanity would swell out into such monstrous proportions, would
bud and blossom into such foolish phrases, that his hearer would wonder
if he had suddenly strayed into the rigid world of the third-rate comic
novel. But all was sincerely spoken. Wimpenny-Brown meant all that he
said, and he strove hard to educate his public. He would not pander to
low tastes (he has said so many a time in my hearing); nor was he
prepared to tickle rather higher tastes with the bright confectionery of
fiction and verse and such things. No, it was by enunciating and
applying those great principles, giving solid bread, so to speak, that
he meant to educate his readers. ‘You must remember, sir’--he would
point the glasses--‘that this is a News-Paper, and not a magazine’--the
last with magnificent scorn. At ordinary times, his hand was hardly to
be traced in the paper; he remained hidden afar-off, brooding over the
great principles. But at a crisis, Wallerdale knew what it meant to have
a _Herald_ and a Wimpenny-Brown as its editor. On the eve of an
election, at the outbreak or at the conclusion of a war, at all times
like these, he could be counted upon; leaders would flow from his pen,
and the _Herald_ would look Monarch, Lords, Commons, in the face, would
address all Europe, and the two Americas if need be, re-assuring friends
and denouncing enemies here, there, and everywhere. Opinion would
perhaps differ as to when he was at his best, but I, for one, found most
to admire in his leaders on the death--say--of a political opponent: the
decent respect for the dead man’s private virtues, tempered by regret at
the waste of brilliant qualities in a bad cause, at the ‘late lamented
minister’s fatal inability to comprehend those great principles which
have ...’ and so forth. One saw the gold-rimmed glasses and the trim
whiskers poised over the foolscap; he was no longer a fellow-citizen but
the supreme arbiter, measuring out praise and blame while the organ
wails and the strange dust is borne away.

Well, he is gone now, long after he quitted the editorial chair and
declined from a servant of the public (and its educator) to an old
fellow mumbling in a corner of a club-room. And in thinking of what he
was, I may have done him little justice; probably the soft delicate
lights of character have faded out of my memory and left the crude lines
of a caricature. But still the little round figure (for he was little
and round) rises from the past; I see the unfathomably profound look, I
hear the solemn accents, and again his unconscious absurdity swells
monstrously, and again the farce is played out. He seems now as extinct
as the mastodon. Even his foolish dull little paper has disappeared;
Wallerdale has no _Herald_ now, but listens to the brazen voices from
London. Even those few great principles have sadly declined, and we hear
little of them now. He would, I suppose, be as helpless as a babe in the
office of a great modern newspaper. His solemn gestures, worn rhetorical
finery and great principles would not carry him in that tense
atmosphere. More sense of organisation, quick decisions, lightning
judgments, would be demanded from him--and, I think, in vain. A greater
knowledge of what can be done in a newspaper, of what catches the public
eye, in short, of the tricks of the trade, would certainly be necessary.
Yes, he would have to know more.

And yet, in a way, he would have to know less. Looking back at him, the
obscure editor of an obscure sheet, amazingly rigid with
self-importance, a little figure of fun, I realise that he was a better
man than most of his successors of to-day, those undeniably clever,
industrious journalists who put the great newspapers into the hands of
the million. He could not have done what they do, day by day, but would
he have tried? He, at least, would never have consented to become the
mouthpiece of the rich, no better--nay, worse--than their lackeys. His
talents were slender enough and monstrously exaggerated in his own mind,
but such as they were, they were genuinely at the service of his
readers. To him the public was not that million-eyed monster waiting to
be cajoled and tricked which it has since become. And though his
successors may be infinitely more clever, the worst of them can only run
their dubious course to-day because yesterday my old editor and his like
ran another and better course; the trickster of to-day is nothing but a
huge parasite battening on the good name that some honest men in his
trade left behind them. That lying sheet, the What’s-its-Name from
London, has, I believe, taken the place of the _Wallerdale Herald_, and
when a reader from those parts goes trustfully through its smudgy
columns of falsehood, perhaps he does it because he still imagines that
someone like Wimpenny-Brown is responsible for its utterance. Alas!--he
does not know that the Wimpenny-Browns, those Servants of the Public
with their few great principles, are dead and gone, and that something
more than innocent folly perished with them.



ON AN OLD BOOK OF NATURAL HISTORY


The observation that ‘Truth is stranger than fiction’ is looked upon, in
these days, rather as a platitude than a paradox; yet it does not
necessarily follow that we, in our heart of hearts, really accept this
smart saying. But everyone who has read in our old literature must admit
that it is true of our forefathers; their idea of truth and their
so-called facts are a thousand times stranger to us than their fiction.
The mediaeval romances are full of the marvellous, but they pale before
the grave books of instruction written by quite serious, learned old
gentlemen. Some of the latter merely set out to edify the young mind,
but the result of their labours often seems to us a very riot of the
imagination, and our schoolboys would consider themselves lucky if they
could meet with matter one-half so entertaining. The quaint, unconscious
humour of these solemn, old authors over-shadows even their historical
and antiquarian interest.

Some such thoughts as these were going through my head the other night
when I was gleefully devouring, in one of the Early English Text
Society’s wonderful reprints, some extracts from a very quaint old book:
‘The noble lyfe and natures of man, Of bestes, serpentys, fowles and
fisshes,’ by one Laurens Andrewe. The date of this volume is unknown,
but it was probably written and published early in the sixteenth
century. The Third Part of the book is particularly occupied with the
noble life and natures of fishes, and begins: ‘Here after followeth of
the natures of the fisshes of the See, whiche be right profitable to be
understande.’ Now I care little for Natural History at any time, and
fishes do not make a very lively subject for study, but in the hands of
Master Andrewe, Natural History becomes ‘all a wonder,’ and the sea, to
him, is certainly filled with creatures that are ‘rich and strange.’

When he is dealing with the commonest fishes, like the herring, our
author is fairly sure of his facts, and we get nothing very exciting,
but once he leaves the familiar types, there is no end to his
phantasies. The Ahuna, when in danger, withdraws his head into his
belly, and, as Laurens wisely notes: ‘He dothe ete (eat) a parte of
himselfe rather than the other fisshes sholde ete him whole.’ The most
interesting fact about the Balena, a creature resembling a whale, is
that in rough weather she puts her young ones in her mouth for safety.
But, according to our author, the Cetus ‘is the greatest whale fisshe of
all,’ and the manner of his capture is most extraordinary. Such is the
perfidious and cruel nature of mankind that the most gentle, lovable
trait of this great creature becomes his undoing. For, you must know,
the Cetus is very fond of music, and, in order to ensnare the
unsuspecting leviathan, men assemble a number of ships, and then, with
‘divers instruments of musike, they play with grete armonye.’ The
hapless creature, innocent of the nature of man, comes to the surface
and draws nearer and nearer, being ‘very gladde of this armonye,’ only
to find a terrible death awaiting him.

All of which our author shamelessly chronicles in great detail. For
accuracy combined with brevity, what could be better than his
description of the Conger, which is fashioned like an eel, but much
‘greter (greater) in quantyte?’ On being questioned as to the piscatory
view of bad weather, most of us would say offhand that all fishes would
be either indifferent to rain or glad of it, but this only shows the
danger of ignorance; it seems that the Coretz ‘hideth him in the deep of
the water when it raineth, for if he received any rain, he should waxe
blynde, and dye of it.’

In his account of the Dolphin, our author nearly achieves pathos. ‘It
hath no voice,’ he says, ‘yet it singeth like a man’; then he adds a
cautious, indirect statement, ‘Some say whan they be taken that they
wepe.’ Like the unfortunate Cetus, the Dolphin is musical, and ‘will
gladly listen to the playing of lutes, harpes and pypes.’ There was once
a king, who, after having captured a dolphin, was so moved by its
piteous weeping and lamenting, that he let it go again.

Some of the other fishes have only one arresting trait of character:
‘Focas, a sea bull, fighteth ever with his wife till she be dead; then
he casteth her out of his place, and seeketh another.’ Mulus is small of
body and ‘only a meat for ‘gentils’ (gentle-folk); of this fish there
are many kinds, but the best have two beards under the mouth.’ Nereydes
are ‘monsters all rough of body, and when any dyeth, then the other
weepeth.’ When the Pecten is moved or stirred, ‘he winketh,’ and the
Pike is ‘engendered with a westerne wynde.’

But the Sturgeon is our author’s masterpiece. This wretched creature
leads what Touchstone would call ‘a spare life’--it is the anchorite of
the finny tribes. The pleasures of the deep are not many, and surely
good victuals at regular hours, must be counted upon. Yet the poor
Sturgeon, according to our friend Laurens, has no mouth, and therefore
cannot eat at all. So it lives upon the winds, waxing fat on an east
wind, and sickening upon a northerly one.

Notwithstanding the large array of creatures that do at least bear some
resemblance to fishes at his command, Master Andrewe does not stop here.
Of him, it can be said truly that all is ‘fisshe’ that comes to his net.
We meet several old friends who are gravely described at some length.
There is Scylla, a monster in the sea between Italy and Sicily, which is
a great enemy to man. It is faced and handed like a gentlewoman, but
hath a wide mouth and fearful teeth. Like most of the other
sea-monsters, it is musical, and heareth singing gladly. Then there is
the Mermayde, bringing the same old wondrous story (and tail) with her.
She is a deadly beast that bringeth a man gladly to death, and she
singeth a sweet song, and therewith deceiveth many a good mariner; for
when they hear it they fall on sleep, and then she cometh and draweth
them out of the ship, and teareth them asunder.

And then there is a quaint story from Arabye of some serpentis called
sirens, and other delectable matter; but alas!--our learned friend must
return to the shades. So we will bid him Godspeed!--and, as one
naturally falls into Elia’s manner in praising an old author, I will
say: ‘Blessings on thee! Master Laurens Andrewe. I believe thou knowest
no more of fishes than I do, but what do we care for piscatory lore.
Thou hast devised most entertaining matter, and written a worthy book.
So may the earth press lightly on thy old bones!’



ON NOT MEETING AUTHORS


If you who read this have one or two favourite authors among the living,
take care that you do not meet them; above all, do not seek them out. If
you think Mr. Horace Tendency’s _Bones and Bottles_ the greatest novel
of the age, if you have concluded that Mr. Gadfly, essayist and critic,
has more wit and wisdom than any man now living, write and tell them so
if you like, but do not go any further. Be satisfied with exchanging a
letter of admiration for a badly executed autograph, or you will court
disaster. If you should want more, remember that we have a literary
press that makes a business of publishing photographs or paragraphs or
both. Do not imagine that you have heard the last of your favourites; I
know for a fact that Mr. Tendency has a novel in the press that is even
greater than _Bones and Bottles_, and I have heard that Mr. Gadfly has
just signed an agreement to combine wit and wisdom in a perfectly
astonishing manner.

There are several gentlemen now earning a fair living by feeding public
curiosity and battening on the fame of its darlings. They do it by
seeking out a celebrity and retailing his unconsidered trifles of talk
at a good market price. When they do it maliciously, as some do by
making merry with the great man’s moustache or sneering at his wife,
they are really doing the literary public a service, for they act as a
warning and, indeed, point a moral. They and their works say to the
enthusiast: If you would be happy, avoid the company of your favourite
authors or you will be speedily disillusioned, and either preserve a
cynical silence for the rest of your time or make capital out of your
misery by falling into our unsavoury practices. It is possible, of
course, to meet a few authors without wishing to do so. A good many of
them go out a great deal nowadays, and some move in very decent society,
so that there is no knowing when and where one may meet an author or
two. At any moment, one or other of us may be faced with what appears to
be a pair of overfed, pompous merchants or manufacturers, only to learn,
on being introduced, that while one of them, Mr. Dash of Dot & Dash,
Leadenhall Street, is the real thing, his companion is no other than Mr.
Blank, the mystical poet. But to encounter authors in this way is no
great matter; there is no need to reveal the fact that one knows
anything about them. If they happen to be men whose work is good, some
disappointment may attend the encounter, but it will only be slight, for
we can afford to be amused when the meeting is accidental and we have
not deliberately asked to be disillusioned. But if we are decoyed by a
naive enthusiasm into seeking out our men, it is almost certain that we
shall be grievously disappointed, and it is more than likely that our
admiration for their work will soon be on the wane. Knowing the men, we
may pretend to admire them more than ever; most of us do; but it hardly
deceives anybody, and certainly not ourselves, who are left with the
unpleasant thought that we have thus cut down our own pleasures.

But why, some innocent may ask, should there be any disillusionment;
surely a man must be better than his books? He may be in the sight of a
god, but not necessarily in the sight of a fellow mortal. A man--any
man, let alone an author--is not so tractable as a book; we are rarely
in a position to choose him so that he can minister to a mood; he will
not wait upon our convenience like our patient volumes. A book may be a
vain thing, but it knows nothing of that swelling vanity which belongs
to us alone, and to creators more than most. This apart, we must
discriminate between good and bad authors. A writer who has been
unsuccessful in his art, one who is not master of his craft, a bad
author in fact, may be, and very often is, better than his books. An
encounter with such a one will not be sought after, except by the wise
few, but it may very well bring surprise and delight in its train. It is
far otherwise with the great craftsmen, those fine fellows that you and
I admire and sometimes long to meet. A good author is his own worst
book. We go to him in the hope of catching again that rounded utterance
which moved us in this volume or persuaded us in the other; we go--to
put the matter shortly--expecting fine talk, and completely overlook the
fact that we have already had the best of the man to wait upon us. Our
hopes running so high, small wonder that we discover such a falling-off;
the best of our author’s talk is but a slovenly paraphrase of his most
successful things, or a rehash of his rejected manuscripts; and the
worst is probably far below what we have to endure in the smoke-room or
the railway carriage. Moreover, along with this decline in matter and
style, we have to put up with unexpected and totally unwelcome
mannerisms, irritating tricks of voice and gesture, and we know not what
fumbling and mouthing, all of them acquired during the making of books
but all kept outside the covers. And nowadays, very few writers
cultivate the picturesque in their appearance or try to look the part,
so that our favourites never resemble our private images of them, and
inevitably they always look worse, being dingier or shorter or fatter.
Can this squat, fussy nonentity be our great novelist, we cry, when we
see him for the first time. Probably all of us read and admire the
exquisite lyrics of W., who seems to live all his days among lovely
unsubstantial things, fleeting shadows and strangely significant
silences; but whereas you think of him as a tall, rather fragile man
with dreamy eyes and a silky beard, I who have actually met him can only
call up a very different image, that of a solid, blue-chinned fellow
with an arrogant, almost sinister profile, suggesting an unscrupulous
lawyer or money-lender rather than a singer of exquisite songs. Count
D’Orsay, you will remember, discovered Byron in a faded nankeen jacket
and green spectacles--a notable anti-climax!

We could perhaps overlook appearance and manners if only we got what we
principally looked for--fine talk. We are disappointed, of course, and
it is our own fault. Even if we had never reasoned the matter out, we
ought to have had the sense to put away such expectations, or take care
that they were never tested by reality. History shows us great writers
and great talkers, but we rarely find the two combined in one figure. It
is true that there was nobody more celebrated in his day as a talker
than Coleridge, but he did his best literary work before he had this
reputation, and the more he talked, the less he wrote. His contemporary,
Mackintosh, was a great talker, but who reads Mackintosh now! Do not let
us deceive ourselves by thinking that memoirs and biographies of
literary men will help us; do not let us imagine that reading them is
the same thing as actually meeting authors. Memoirs and biographies are
books, with all the virtues of books; they can be put aside, skipped, or
disbelieved, if necessary; they are art, and very good art too, some of
them. Johnson as he appears in Boswell is good enough for me, for there
I can enjoy that very unpleasantness which must have made an actual
encounter such a risky business. As for those enthusiasts who are always
telling us what they would give to spend an evening with this or the
other demi-god of letters, most of them do not realise what they are
saying. They would barter we know not what for one evening with
Shakespeare at the Mermaid, as if they expected to find him mouthing
over his liquor alternately in the manner of Hamlet and Falstaff. I, for
one, would not be surprised if all Shakespeare’s talk at the Mermaid was
not worth a rush; he probably never did more than exchange a few
commonplaces and listen smilingly to the others before he emptied his
flagon and went home. The epithets that contemporaries bestowed so
grudgingly upon him, ‘gentle’ and ‘civil’ and the like, suggest a quiet
man and good listener. I warrant that Jonson was the better talker. Even
with Lamb, who is usually the next to be singled out, an encounter might
not be entirely successful. Among his intimates, he could stammer out
some wonderful things, but he was apt to prove an odd, sometimes
unpleasant companion for others. The hapless Distributor of Stamps who
called on Wordsworth at Haydon’s, whom Lamb baited so unmercifully,
would be very unwilling to subscribe to the popular opinion of ‘gentle
Elia.’ As for Milton and Wordsworth, I have no doubt that they were
insufferable. And if any man argues the charm of Shelley’s society from
his verse, let him go into the first fanatical group he can find, single
out the young man who has the greatest number of half-digested notions
and talks incessantly in a high-pitched voice, and by listening to such
a one for a few hours, let him test the truth of his idea that a day
with Shelley would be unmixed delight. But enough--reason and experience
both tell us to avoid meeting good authors, though they say nothing of
bad ones. It only remains for us to decide which are good and which are
bad, and we cannot begin too soon.



THE ETERNAL CHEAP JACK


The war has not changed him. But then all the tumults and long wars of
centuries have not changed him. Like the pedant, the demagogue, or the
place-hunter, the cheap-jack is an ever-enduring figure. Boccaccio’s
Frate Cipolla and Chaucer’s Pardoner were his first cousins; from
Shakespeare to O. Henry (to adopt the popular termini), he has chaffered
and cozened his way through literature. And he is with us yet in the
flesh, for I saw him only last week. I was visiting the weekly fair in a
pleasant little town, and had joined the crowd of country folks drifting
about the stalls in the market square, when, suddenly, a mighty voice
burst forth from the centre of a group of persons huddled in a far
corner. In the country, where the long days are filled with the sight
and sound of the lower creatures, there is no resisting this eruptive
clamour of a human voice for an audience, and, along with others, I
hurried to join the thickening press of folk in the corner. There, after
many years, I found him, as of old.

There was the same indefinable air of something like bravado about his
whole figure. His hard face still bore that curious trace of the Jew,
mingled with something a great deal worse than the Jew. His clothes,
which were new and smart, still seemed to proclaim that they had been
made for someone else; and the various trinkets about his person still
confessed their inability to inspire confidence. In front was the same
old stall, laden with innumerable, mysterious packages, all thickly
wrapped in tissue paper; and by the side of the stall stood the
inevitable assistant, silent, dejected, unshaven, looking like a rough
and shabbier copy of his master, or perhaps a poor relation. Nothing had
changed. The great man still flourished the sign of his office, a wooden
mallet with a ponderous head, with which he hammered upon the stall from
time to time as a sort of dramatic punctuation.

Best of all, his voice, that one talent which removed him from common
men, was there in all its pristine fullness. He spoke in the manner of
his kind; in that accent which owns no shire, city, or clan, and yet is
heard in all the market places in the land. His very whispered
confidences were enough to stir the old bones in the neighbouring
churchyard. The crowd, trying to appear sophisticated, was held and
mastered by the voice that was trumpeting, cajoling, mocking, within the
space of one mighty breath, and yet still went sounding on, dropping
manna by the way. Unknowingly he was a passionate votary of the art that
has now nearly forsaken the pulpit and the council chamber. We, his
audience, stifled all doubts, and waited, promise-crammed.

There was little or no alteration in his methods. Whether they have been
designed, once for all, by some Master Psychologist of cheap-jacks, or
are the result of accumulated experience, a secret tradition passed from
generation to generation of genial tricksters, I cannot say; but these
methods, like the human nature on which they are based, do not change
much. As before, he had not come among us to make money. With passionate
emphasis, he declared that he was not a profiteer (a new note, this),
but had been sent down here by the well-known firm of Mumble-Mumble to
smash profiteering. He would teach us the meaning of the word
Lib-er-al-ity--that is how he mouthed it, with splendid significance.
And then he proceeded in the time-old fashion.

From some half-a-dozen persons nearest the stall, he borrowed a few
coppers, promising to return the loan with the addition of a ‘small
present.’ These people, becoming sharers in the business, naturally do
not care to go away, and thus, by this simple trick, whatever may happen
he has about him at least the nucleus of a crowd. Then, flourishing
several mysterious packages before our eyes, he asked us to bid for
them. ‘Any gentleman got the pluck,’ he demanded, with the dispassionate
earnestness of a god, ‘any gentleman got the courage to offer me a
Silver Shilling for this?’ Any gentleman showing the necessary public
spirit was given the article in question, and his money, his Silver
Shilling, was handed back to him. Nor did our friend spoil his acts of
munificence by the manner of giving; every package was divested of its
numerous wrappings before it was handed over to the lucky man; the
contents were exposed to the public view, and described in a style that
‘Ouida’ would have envied. Our minds reeled before this riotous
splendour of gold and jewels. Sometimes, in a frenzy of reckless
generosity, he would pile up a heap of articles, and, with a magnificent
sense of the dramatic, would cry: ‘Here’s number One! And here’s number
Two! And here’s another one, making number Three! And another one,
making number Four!’--working up to a climax that left us gasping. Then,
after being extraordinarily bountiful to one person, he would pretend to
answer a perfectly imaginary charge of confederacy from some member of
the crowd, looking all the while very sternly at no one in particular.
‘One of a click (_i.e._ clique) is ‘e?’ he would roar. ‘One of the
click! Do I know yer, Mister? Never seen yer before. I’ll show yer
whether ‘e’s one of the click! I’ll show yer!’ And being apparently
stung by this vile taunt, he would lash himself into a fury, and proceed
to squander his glittering wares even still more wildly. I left him with
the sweat running down his face, his hair all rumpled and his collar a
wreck; yet he was still undaunted, giving away gold watches with the
magnificent air of an Eastern Emperor.

I, for one, welcome the cheap-jack because his presence in our midst
proves that there is still a little poetry left in the race. For all his
machinations are based on a certain notion which the experience of this
world proves to be a fallacy, and which is yet as old as the hills and
as little to be despised. It is the fine old notion that it is possible,
somehow or other, to get something for nothing; and it was not born of
this world. When we have entirely forsaken the idea, then we are lost
indeed, for it comes from the depths of our primal innocence, and has
about it the last lingering scent of the Garden of Eden.



HOLIDAY NOTES FROM THE COAST OF BOHEMIA


A friend of mine, who is a great traveller, has just put into my hands a
letter that should be interesting to those who have not yet decided
where to go for their holidays and are looking for fresh fields. This
letter came from an old acquaintance of his, one Autolycus, an amusing
fellow, who boasts that he has been a courtier and in his time worn
‘three-pile’ velvet. As a correspondent he is not to be taken too
seriously, but the substance of his letter is engaging, and can be given
here. He says that he can remember the time when the coast of Bohemia,
his adopted land, was nothing but a desert country, but now, under the
genial sway of Prince Florizel and his lovely Perdita, all is changed:
the place is blossoming into a sea-bound garden; the sunlit woods and
sands, the sweet air, and the good company to be found there are
attracting visitors from countries near and far; and villas and hostels
are springing up everywhere to lodge the host of new residents and
guests. The coming season promises well, and our correspondent, himself
the owner now of a large hostel, admits that he is thriving, and well on
his way to ‘three-pile’ again.

Being an arrant gossip, Autolycus soon learns all the news of the place,
and any scraps that he misses his friend and barber, Figaro, can usually
supply to him. He makes it plain that there is no lack of good company,
for he mentions scores of familiar names, of which only a few can find a
place here. Some of the visitors who spent last winter there have now
left the district: a lively talkative couple from Padua, Benedick and
Beatrice, have departed for the country house of their friends Katherina
and Petruchio; a certain Major Pendennis has now returned to London,
where, we understand, he is a notable figure; Senor Gil Blas has gone to
relate his adventures elsewhere; and Master Touchstone, a friend of
Autolycus and a fellow of some wit, has now left for the Forest of
Arden, where he intends to pass an idle summer with his patrons, now Sir
Orlando and Lady Rosalind de Boys. Such visitors as these, with others
who have gone, will no doubt be missed, but the loss is more than made
up by the crowd of new arrivals.

Prince Florizel has now opened his new Summer Palace, and is
entertaining a great company. Almost the first group of guests to arrive
was a gay party from Illyria, including the Duke and his Duchess Viola,
Sebastian and Olivia, and that witty fellow Feste, whose strange songs
are now heard throughout the land. Sir Toby and his friend, Sir Andrew
Aguecheek, are not staying with the party at the palace, but are lodging
with Autolycus, where there are cakes and ale and catches in plenty. A
new tutor has been engaged for the Royal children, but little is known
of him; he is thought to be a Scotsman, and has been heard muttering
‘Prodeegious’ on his infrequent walks abroad. Next month there comes to
the palace a famous Spanish knight, who is said to have suffered
strangely from the persecutions of enchanters. Some will have it that
his squire, one Sancho Panza, is better worth a hearing than the knight
himself.

Here and there along the coast the sea has been steadily encroaching
upon the land, and the Prince has decided to fortify these places by the
building of embankments and other devices. The work has now begun,
under the direction of two experts, Captain Toby Shandy and the Baron of
Bradwardine. Another famous martial figure has been added to the list by
the arrival of Captain Dugald Dalgetty, who now commands the Bohemian
Marine Horse, in the place of Bobadil--lately cashiered.

There is certainly no lack of amusements now that the season has begun,
for there are dances and pageants in the open air and indoor
entertainments for the occasional rainy evenings. Next month will see
the opening of the new Royal Theatre, which will be under the management
of that renowned impresario Mr. Vincent Crummles. There, a professional
company--including, I believe, the ‘infant phenomenon’--will perform.
But this is not the only dramatic enterprise, for an Artisan’s Amateur
Dramatic Society has just been formed. The leading spirit in this
venture is a recent settler on these shores, one Bottom, a weaver, who
is said to have had long and valuable experience as an amateur
performer. Nor should it be hard to please those who prefer graver and
more edifying diversion. It appears that, only two weeks ago, a lecture
on the ‘Golden Cadence of Poesy’ was given by Holofernes, the
schoolmaster, and was well received. Unfortunately, according to report,
the audience was a very small one, there being only seven people
present, and that is including Master Slender, who fell asleep almost at
the beginning. Some contribution will certainly be made to solid
learning at the debate, upon some antiquarian question, between Jonathan
Oldbuck, Esquire, and Samuel Pickwick, Esquire, P.P.C. This takes place
early next month, and Justice Shallow will be in the chair. The prospect
of hearing this debate alone is surely enough to draw any right-minded
man, who is free to travel, across half the world.

There have been so many English visitors, of late, to this part of the
kingdom that special arrangements have been made for the benefit of
their bodies and souls; a small English church and a large English
tavern have been built within a short distance of the sea. This year
there are two pastors doing duty at the church, the Rev. Dr. Primrose
and Parson Adams, both of whom have been fervent in denouncing from the
pulpit the evils of the world; indeed, Dr. Primrose caused quite a stir
with his ‘Folly of Cosmogony.’ The tavern has been named the New Boar’s
Head, and the hostess is Mistress Quickly, late of Eastcheap, London.
Autolycus writes that it is a rowdy house, but this can be set down to
professional jealousy and his ignorance of the persons concerned. The
best room is now occupied by Sir John Falstaff, who is reported to be a
man of some substance; and the house is becoming renowned for good talk
and the drinking of ‘healths five fathoms deep.’

It is unfortunate that one of Sir John’s followers has got himself into
trouble with the constables. The latter were recently appointed by the
Prince to look after the watch, and are from Messina, where everyone
knows Dogberry and Verges. So far, they have only made one arrest, and
that was of Pistol, Sir John’s Ancient. It seems that he, Ancient
Pistol, being full of sack, encountered the constables and expressed
himself in Cambyses’ vein, calling Dogberry a ‘dung-hill cur,’ and
Verges ‘a recreant coward base.’ This led to his arrest and confinement,
where he will remain for the time being, unless the justices are willing
to accept Bardolph as security....

But I have dwelt long enough on the wonders of this delectable
unrivalled resort. If some of my statements above are disbelieved, or in
any way questioned, I can only refer to my original authority,
Autolycus, who said long ago, in answer to a similar charge: ‘Why should
I carry lies abroad?’



ON A MOUTH-ORGAN


FOR the past half hour, someone, probably a small boy, has been playing
a mouth-organ underneath my window. I know of no person under this roof
peculiarly susceptible to the sound of a mouth-organ, so that I cannot
think that the unknown musician is serenading. He is probably a small
boy who is simply hanging about, after the fashion of his mysterious
tribe, and whiling away the time with a little music. Why he should
choose a raw day like this on which to do nothing but slide his lips
over the cold metal of a mouth-organ must remain a mystery to me; but I
have long realised that unfathomable motives may be hidden away behind
the puckered face and uncouth gestures of small boyhood.

I have not been able to recognise any of the tunes, or the snatches of
tunes, which have come floating up to my window. Possibly they are all
unknown to me. But I think it is more likely that they are old
acquaintances, coming in such a questionable shape that my ear cannot
find any familiar cadence; they have been transmuted by the mouth-organ
into something rich and strange; for your mouth-organ is one of the
great alchemists among musical instruments and leaves no tune as it
finds it.

It has been pointed out that whatever material Dickens used, however
rich and varied it might be, it was always mysteriously transformed into
the Dickens substance, lengths of which he cut off and called Novels. It
seems to me that the mouth-organ, though a mechanical agent, has
something of this strange power of transformation; whatever is played
upon it seems to come out all of a piece; whatever might be the original
character of the tunes, gay, fantastical, meditative, stirring, as their
sounds are filtered through the little square holes of the instrument,
their character changes, and they all become more or less alike. ‘Rule,
Britannia!’ ‘Annie Laurie,’ and the latest ditty of the music-halls
somehow or other lose their individuality and flow into one endless
lament, one lugubrious strain, that might very well go on for ever.

For this reason, the sound of a mouth-organ has always succeeded in
depressing me. It must have been invented by an incorrigible pessimist,
who sought to create a musical instrument that would give to every tune,
no matter how lively, some touch of his own hopeless view of life; and
probably the only time that he laughed was when he realised that he
could leave this thing as a legacy to the world. I have never played a
mouth-organ, because I know that my own native optimism would not be
strong enough to resist the baneful influence of the music it makes. To
hear it now and again is more than enough for me.

To one who is filled with the joy of life--a small boy, for
example--such hopeless strains may prove only invigorating, may serve as
a wholesome check upon his ebullient spirits, like the skeleton at the
Egyptian feasts. But to most of us weaker brethren, frail in spirit,
music that is unillumined by even a glimmer of hope is intolerable.

For the past half hour, I have been trying to concentrate all my
attention upon some fairly cheerful matter, and I have failed. It has
been impossible to keep out the sound of this mouth-organ. Its formless,
unknown, unending tune, only fit for bewailing a ruined world, has
gradually invaded my room, penetrated through the ear into my brain, and
coloured or discoloured all the thoughts there. There is in it no trace
of that noble sadness which great music, like great poetry, so often
brings with it; the mouth-organ knows nothing of ‘divine despair.’ It
seems to whimper before ‘the heavy and the weary weight of all this
unintelligible world.’

‘Oh de-ar!’ I seem to hear it crying, ‘No hope for yo-ou and yo-ours;
Me-eser-able world! Oh de-ear!’ It has brought with it a fog of
depression; my spirits have been sinking lower and lower; and under the
influence of this evil mangler of good, heartening tunes I have begun to
think that life is not worth living.

Most music worthy of the name has such beauty that it will either raise
us to a kind of ecstasy or give us a feeling of vague sadness, which
some delicate persons prefer to wild joy. Sir Thomas Browne, you
remember, has something to say on this point, in a passage that can
never become hackneyed no matter how many times it is quoted: ‘Whosoever
is harmonically composed delights in harmony; which makes me much
distrust the symmetry of those heads which declaim against all church
music. For myself, not only from my obedience, but my particular genius,
I do embrace it; for even that vulgar and tavern-music, which makes one
man merry, another mad, strikes in me a deep fit of devotion, and a
profound contemplation of the first composer.’

But these mouth-organ strains will make a man neither mad nor merry, nor
yet strike in him a deep fit of devotion; but if his ear is like mine,
they will make him sink into depression and dye his world a ghastly
blue.

It is curious that certain other popular musical instruments seem to
have the same characteristics as the mouth-organ. The concertina and the
accordion, good friends of the sailor, the lonely Colonist, and rough,
kindly fellows the world over, seem to me to possess the same power of
transforming all the tunes played upon them into one long wail. I have
read about their ‘lively strains,’ but I have never heard them. The
sound of a concertina a quarter of a mile away is enough to shake my
optimism. An average accordion could turn the Sword Theme from
‘Siegfried’ into a plea for suicide. A flageolet or a tin-whistle has
not such a shattering effect; nevertheless, both of them can only give a
tune a certain subdued air, which is certainly preferable to the
depressing alchemy of the other instruments, but which certainly does
not make for liveliness.

The bagpipe, which has been so long the companion of the lonely folk of
northern moors and glens, can produce at times a certain rousing martial
strain, but, even then, a wailing air creeps into the music like a
Scotch mist. Its very reels and strathspeys, which ought to be jolly
enough, only sound to me like elaborate complaints against life; their
transitory snatches of gaiety are obviously forced. At all other times,
the bagpipe is frankly pessimistic, and laments its very existence.

There is probably some technical reason why these instruments produce
such doleful tones. Perhaps our sophisticated ears rebel against their
peculiar harmonies and discords. But it is certainly curious that
mouth-organs, concertinas, tin-whistles, and the rest, so beloved of
simple people, should be intolerable to so many of us. Is it that we
have no miseries to express in sound? Or is it that our optimism is so
brittle that we dare not submit it to the onslaught of this strange
music? I do not know.

All that I do know is that at the present moment I am sitting in my
armchair before a bright fire, depressed beyond belief by the sound
that floats through my window; while outside, in the cold, there stands
a small boy, holding a mouth-organ in his numbed hands and bravely
sliding his lips over the cold metallic edges of the thing; and by this
time he is probably as gay as I am miserable.



AN APOLOGY FOR BAD PIANISTS


Ignoring those musical labourers who are paid so much per hour, at
cinemas and dance-halls, to make some sort of rhythmical sound, all
pianists, I think, may be divided into four classes. There are, first,
the great soloists, the masters, Paderewski, Pachmann, and the rest, who
would seem to have conquered all difficulties. With them the piano, a
dead thing of wires and hammers, becomes a delicately responsive
organism; its hammers are extra muscles, and its strings added nerves,
running and leaping to obey every fleeting impulse; their playing is as
saturated with personality as their gait or speech. Not so with the
members of the second class, which is, to my mind, a dubious fraternity.
They may be called the serious amateurs. Very often they take expensive
lessons from some professor, who undertakes to ‘finish them off.’ But
they never are finished off. The sign and mark of the serious amateur
is that he practises assiduously some piece of music, maybe a Chopin
study or a Brahms sonata, until he has it by heart; after which he
assembles a number of friends (or, more often, new acquaintances),
squashes their attempts at conversation, and, amid a tense silence,
begins to play--or, as he would say, ‘interpret’--his laboured solo.
The fourth class consists of odd strummers, vampers and thumpers;
young ladies who play waltzes and old ladies who play hymns;
cigarette-in-mouth youths with a bang-and-rattle style of performance;
all inexorable, tormenting noise-makers, from those who persist in
riveting--rather than playing--Rachmaninoff’s C sharp minor Prelude to
those who buy Sunday newspapers in order that they may pick out with one
finger the tune of a comic song. All such are the enemies of peace and
harmony, and as they cannot be ignored in any other place, here they can
be quickly dismissed with all the more pleasure.

It remains now to say something of the third class of pianists, which,
if it were reduced to such straits, could count me among its members. To
write at some length of one’s own class after perfunctorily dismissing
others may seem to savour of egotism, but the truth is, we--I speak
fraternally--have been so much maligned and misunderstood up to now, we
have endured so many taunts in silence, that we have a right to be heard
before we are finally and irrevocably condemned.

It is only on the score of technique, the mere rule of thumb business,
that we stand below the serious amateurs; we belong to a higher order of
beings and have grander souls; in spirit we come nearer to the great
masters. The motives of the serious amateur are not above suspicion. In
his assiduous practice, his limited repertoire, his studied semi-public
style of performance, is there not a suggestion of vanity? Is his
conscious parade of skill, taken along with his fear of unknown works,
the mark of a selfless devotion to music, and music alone? I doubt it.

But our motives are certainly above suspicion. Music has no servants
more disinterested, for not only do we gather no garlands in her
service, but daily, for her sake, we risk making fools of ourselves,
than which there can be no greater test of pure devotion. We, too, are
the desperate venturers among pianists; every time that we seat
ourselves at the keyboard we are leading a forlorn hope; and, whether we
fall by the way or chance to come through unscathed, the only reward we
can hope for is a kindly glance from the goddess of harmony.

It is hardly necessary to dwell on the fact that our execution is
faulty, that we are humanly liable to make mistakes, seeing that our
weaknesses have been for years the butt of musical pedants and small
souls. In the dim past we received some sort of instruction, perhaps a
few years’ lessons, but being bright children with wills of our own we
saw no use in labouring at scales and arpeggios, at the tepid
compositions of Czerny, when there were balls to throw, stones to kick,
and penny dreadfuls to be devoured. An unlocked door or an open
window--and we escaped from the wretched drudgery, thus showing early
that eager zest of life which still marks our clan.

Now, it is enthusiasm alone that carries us through. Our performance of
any ‘piece of average difficulty’ (as the publishers say) is nothing
short of a series of miracles. As we peer at the music and urge our
fingers to scurry over the keys, horrid gulfs yawn before us, great
rocks come crashing down, the thick undergrowth is full of pitfalls and
mantraps, but we are not to be deterred. Though we do not know what
notes are coming next, or what fingers we shall use, if the music says
_presto_, then _presto_ it must be; the spirit of the tune must be set
free, however its flesh may be lacerated. So we swing up the dizzy
arpeggios as a hunted mountaineer might leap from crag to crag; we come
down a run of demi-semi-quavers with the blind confidence of men trying
to shoot the rapids of Niagara. Only the stout-hearted and great of soul
can undertake these perilous but magnificent ventures.

Unlike the serious amateurs, we do not pick and choose among pieces
until we have found one to which we can give the cold glitter of an
impeccable rendering. We attend concerts (for, above all, we are the
concert-goers and dreamers of dreams, as O’Shaughnessy might have said)
and come reeling out, intoxicated with sound; for days we are haunted by
a lovely theme or an amazing climax, until we can bear it no longer; we
rush off to the music-shops to see if it is possible to capture this new
lovely thing and keep it for ever; more often than not we return home in
triumph, hardly giving ourselves time to flatten out the music before
plunging into the opening bars. Nothing that has been arranged for the
piano or that can be played in some sort of fashion on the instrument
comes amiss if it has once aroused our enthusiasm; symphonies, operas,
tone-poems, string-quartets are all welcome. Nay, we often prefer the
arrangements of orchestral things, for we do not think of the piano
merely as a solo instrument; to us it is the shining ivory and ebony
gateway to the land of music. As our fingers wander over the keys our
great dream-orchestras waken to life.

I believe that at the very end, when the depths of our folly and
ignorance are fully revealed, when all our false notes have been cast up
into one awful total by the recording angel of music, it will be found
that we, the bad pianists, have been misjudged among men, that we, too,
have loved and laboured for the divine art. When we file into Elysium,
forlorn, scared, a shabby little band, and come within sight of
Beethoven, whom we have murdered so many times, I believe that a smile
will break through the thunder-cloud of his face. ‘Ach! Come you in,
children,’ he will roar, ‘bad players, eh?... I have heard.... Very bad
players.... But there have been worse among you.... The spirit was in
you, and you have listened well.... Come in.... I have composed one
hundred and fifty more symphonies and sonatas, and you shall hear them
all.’



A FATHER’S TRAGEDY


I have lately received a visit from an old acquaintance who floated in
my direction on such a sea of trouble that I have been in low spirits
ever since. Moreover, as it was a family affair, I could not interfere
in any way, and the knowledge of my own impotence has only increased my
depression. My only hope of keeping my thoughts from what is, after all,
no business of mine lies in passing on the tale--if such a mournful
recital of family dissensions can be called a tale--and thus making
others share the burden.

I cannot remember, for the moment, when and where I first met old Tom
Cribcrack, my late visitor, but we have been acquainted for a good many
years. He must be past fifty now (how the time goes on!), but being a
fine upstanding fellow, closely shaved and with his bristly hair always
cropped short, he looks considerably younger. His father, a dear old
man--I met him once--was in the coining business in its best days, but
such a sedentary occupation did not suit young Cribcrack, and he was
soon apprenticed to a successful burglar. In his own way, Tom was an
enthusiastic, clever lad, and it was not long before he became an expert
craftsman himself. He decided to devote his life to the profession, and
though, like other men, he has had his bad times, he has been on the
whole a very successful practitioner, respected by all workers in the
same field. He has had a good connection, mostly among the upper
middle-class, and has always preferred a rather slow but steady run of
business to a few brilliant coups; he has kept away from the showy work,
and has never had the slightest desire for publicity, which is probably
the reason why his name is not so well known to the general public as
that of many an inferior craftsman. ‘No fancy work for Tom Cribcrack,’
he has said more than once in my hearing. ‘Punctuality, neat
workmanship, despatch--that’s the motto for a man what wants to get on
in my line.’ In short, he was a good specimen of the modest self-made
Englishman, and is still, to this day, though now subdued in spirit by a
great disappointment, as you shall learn.

It was not until Cribcrack was thirty or so and had got on to his feet
that he did what most sensible men do sooner or later--he took a wife.
This was a Miss Judy Graggins, eldest daughter of ‘Basher’ Graggins, of
Cod’s Alley, a well-known character in his day. The result of this happy
union was a family of several daughters but only one son, greatly to the
disappointment of both parents. Looking back, as Cribcrack pointed out
the other day, one cannot help noticing how small things have often an
important bearing on the future; for whereas there had been no
difficulty about the girls’ names, when it came to naming the boy there
was for a time some difference between the doting parents. The father
wished to give the boy a plain, sturdy sort of name, Jem or Bill, such
as all the Cribcracks had borne; but, greatly to his surprise, his wife,
for no apparent reason, but from sheer feminine perversity, would have
none of these, and insisted on the child being called Ernest, a name
unknown to the Cribcrack family and one which the father himself
regarded with the greatest contempt. In the end, the mother’s whim
prevailed, and the boy was known henceforth as Ernest Cribcrack.

As might be expected, the advent of a son made a great difference to my
old acquaintance, who, like many other fathers, began to see a fresh
purpose in life. His enthusiasm for his professional work was unabated,
but his son came to share with it the first place in his thoughts, and
it was not long before his one aim was to bring together these two
all-absorbing, beloved things, his son and his work. Morning after
morning, after the nightly duties were at end, Cribcrack would sit
smoking by the fire, watching the sturdy infant at play and dreaming of
the time when he could teach the boy all he knew of the ancient craft,
and they could go out to work together. Then some day they would be
known as Cribcrack and Son to other members of the profession, and in
many a tavern some old hand would remark: ‘That was a fine piece of work
young Cribcrack pulled off the other night. Just like his father, he
is....’

For a time all went well. It was not long before Ernest, a sturdy little
boy, would hear of no other calling for his manhood but his father’s
profession. On his seventh or eighth birthday he was given the boy’s
burglary outfit, and he would play for hours on end with the little
jemmy and other implements, under the direction of his delighted parent.
At times the boy would seem to prefer piracy or even engine-driving,
but Tom knew that these were only the vagaries of childhood; the boy
would soon see the course before him. Like most fathers, however,
Cribcrack never opened out his heart to young Ernest, or Ern’, as he was
known to the family. He cherished his dream in secret, and waited for
the appointed time to speak, so that the lad might choose for himself.
But again, like most fathers, he never doubted that when the moment did
come the boy would choose the right course. As time went on, however,
Ernest became rather a puzzle. For example, contrary to his father’s
expectations, he did not show any particular aversion to ordinary
schooling; indeed, he seemed to become fond of it as he grew older. In
this, as in some other things, his father, a little uneasy, humoured
him, so that at the time when he should have begun his real
apprenticeship he was still spending his time with copy-books and
geography primers. After all, Tom reflected, the boy was a Cribcrack,
and would know where his duty lay.

But when the time came for the father to speak, the great blow fell.
Ernest steadfastly refused to follow his father’s profession, and swept
aside the career that Tom had marked out for him. Now vehement, now
sulky, sometimes tearful, at other times derisive--the boy would be
neither persuaded nor bullied into changing his mind. It was not that he
loathed the burglar’s ancient craft, but while the father had been
dreaming his dreams so, too, he had had his own vision--he would be a
clerk, and nothing else would do for him. On his way to school he had
seen clerks in their stiff white collars and shiny blue suits, crowding
out of their offices at the dinner hour; he had caught glimpses of them
as they bent over their ledgers beneath the shaded electric lights; his
boy’s heart had been thrilled, and he too had had his dream. It was
useless to argue that the Cribcracks had never descended to office
stools; that the glamour would soon fade and leave him face to face with
cold reality. Ernest had decided that he was meant to be a clerk, and a
clerk he would be, however difficult and dangerous the road he must
travel.

What more need be said. Cribcrack entreated, reproached, threatened, but
all in vain. His great dream was shattered, and, cursing the fateful
name of Ernest, he bundled the lad out of his house, and shortly
afterwards came, a broken man, to see me. Ernest, I believe, is now in
the office of the Origen Orange-Ale Company, and though he occasionally
pilfers a few stamps, there is little of the fine old Cribcrack spirit
about him.



ON GETTING OFF TO SLEEP


What a bundle of contradictions is a man! Surely, humour is the saving
grace of us, for without it we should die of vexation. With me, nothing
illustrates the contrariness of things better than the matter of sleep.
If, for example, my intention is to write an essay, and I have before me
ink and pens and several sheets of virgin paper, you may depend upon it
that before I have gone very far I feel an overpowering desire for
sleep, no matter what time of the day it is. I stare at the
reproachfully blank paper until sights and sounds become dim and
confused, and it is only by an effort of will that I can continue at
all. Even then, I proceed half-heartedly, in a kind of dream. But let me
be between the sheets at a late hour, and I can do anything but sleep.
Between chime and chime of the clock I can write essays by the score.
Fascinating subjects and noble ideas come pell-mell, each with its
appropriate imagery and expression. Nothing stands between me and
half-a-dozen imperishable masterpieces but pens, ink, and paper.

If it be true that our thoughts and mental images are perfectly tangible
things, like our books and pictures, to the inhabitants of the next
world, then I am making for myself a better reputation there than I am
in this place. Give me a restless hour or two in bed and I can solve, to
my own satisfaction, all the doubts of humanity. When I am in the humour
I can compose grand symphonies, and paint magnificent pictures. I am, at
once, Shakespeare, Beethoven, and Michael Angelo; yet it gives me no
satisfaction; for the one thing I cannot do is to go to sleep.

Once in bed, when it is time to close the five ports of knowledge, most
folks I know seem to find no difficulty in plunging their earthly parts
into oblivion. It is not so with me, to whom sleep is a coy mistress,
much given to a teasing inconstancy and for ever demanding to be
wooed--‘lest too light winning make the prize light.’ I used to read,
with wonder, those sycophantic stories of the warlike supermen, the
great troublers of the world’s peace, Cromwell, Napoleon, and the like,
who, thanks to their ‘iron wills,’ could lie down and plunge themselves
immediately into deep sleep, to wake up, refreshed, at a given time.
Taking these fables to heart, I would resolve to do likewise, and, going
to bed, would clench my teeth, look as determined as possible in the
darkness, and command the immediate presence of sleep. But alas! the
very act of concentration seemed to make me more wakeful than ever, and
I would pass hours in tormenting sleeplessness. I had overlooked the
necessity of having an ‘iron will,’ my own powers of will having little
or none of this peculiar metallic quality. But how uncomfortable it must
have been living with these iron-willed folks! Who would want to
remonstrate and argue with them? It would be worse than beating an anvil
with a sledge-hammer. I must confess that I always suspect the men who
boast that they unvaryingly fall asleep as soon as they get into
bed--those ‘as soon as my head touches the pillow’ fellows. To me, there
is something inhuman, something callous and almost bovine, in the
practice. I suspect their taste in higher matters. Iron wills apart,
there must be a lack of human sympathy or depth in a man who can thus
throw off, with his clothes, his waking feelings and thoughts, and
ignore completely those memories and fancies which

    “...will sometimes leap,
     From hiding-places ten years deep.”

To share a bed-room with one of these fellows is to lose one’s faith in
human nature, for, even after the most eventful day, there is no
comparing notes with them, no midnight confidence, no casting up the
balance of the day’s pleasure and pain. They sink, at once, into stupid,
heavy slumber, leaving you to your own mental devices. And they all
snore abominably!

The artificial ways of inducing sleep are legion, and are only alike in
their ineffectuality. In _Lavengro_ (or is it _Romany Rye_?) there is an
impossible character, a victim of insomnia, who finds that a volume of
Wordsworth’s poems is the only sure soporific; but that was Borrow’s
malice. The famous old plan of counting sheep jumping over a stile has
never served my turn. I have herded imaginary sheep until they insisted
on turning themselves into white bears or blue pigs, and I defy any
reasonable man to fall asleep while mustering a herd of cerulean swine.

Discussing the question, some time ago, with an old friend, she gave me
her never-failing remedy for sleeplessness, which was to imagine herself
performing some trivial action over and over again, until, her mind
becoming disgusted with the monotony of life, sleep drew the curtain.
Her favourite device was to imagine a picture not hanging quite plumb
upon the wall, and then to proceed to straighten it. This I
tried--though putting pictures straight is no habit of mine--but it was
of no avail. I imagined the picture on the wall without difficulty, and
gave it a few deft touches, but this set me thinking of pictures in
general, and then I remembered an art exhibition I had attended with my
friend T. and what he said, and what I said, and I wondered how T. was
faring these days, and whether his son was still at school. And so it
went on, until I found myself meditating on cheese, or spiritualism, or
the Rocky Mountains--but no sleep! Somewhere in that limbo which Earth
describes in _Prometheus Unbound_, that vague region filled with

    Dreams and the light imaginings of men,

is the dreary phantom of an unstraightened picture upon a ghostly wall.
And there it shall stay, for I have no further use for it.

But I have not yet given up all hope of finding some way of hastening
the approach of sleep. Even yet there is a glimmer, for re-reading (not
for the first, and, please Heaven! not the last time) Lamb’s letters, I
came upon the following, in a note to Southey; ‘But there is a man in my
office, a Mr. H., who proses it away from morning to night, and never
gets beyond corporal and material verities!... When I can’t sleep o’
nights, I imagine a dialogue with Mr. H., upon a given subject, and go
prosing on in fancy with him, till I either laugh or fall asleep. I have
literally found it answer.’ ... There is promise in this, and we all
have our Mr. H.’s, whose talk, bare of anything like fancy and wit, acts
upon us like a dose of laudanum. This very night I will dismiss such
trivial phantasies as jumping sheep and crooked pictures, and evoke the
phantom of a crushing, stupendous Bore.



ON TRAVEL BY TRAIN


Remove an Englishman from his hearth and home, his centre of corporal
life, and he becomes a very different creature, one capable of sudden
furies and roaring passions, a deep sea of strong emotions churning
beneath his frozen exterior. I can pass, at all times, for a quiet,
neighbourly fellow, yet I have sat, more than once, in a railway
carriage with black murder in my heart. At the mere sight of some
probably inoffensive fellow-passenger my whole being will be invaded by
a million devils of wrath, and I ‘could do such bitter business as the
day would quake to look on.’

There is one type of traveller that never fails to rouse my quick
hatred. She is a large, middle-aged woman, with a rasping voice and a
face of brass. Above all things, she loves to invade smoking
compartments that are already comfortably filled with a quiet company of
smokers; she will come bustling in, shouting over her shoulder at her
last victim, a prostrate porter, and, laden with packages of all
maddening shapes and sizes, she will glare defiantly about her until
some unfortunate has given up his seat. She is often accompanied by some
sort of contemptible, whining cur that is only one degree less offensive
than its mistress. From the moment that she has wedged herself in there
will be no more peace in the carriage, but simmering hatred, and
everywhere dark looks and muttered threats. But everyone knows her.
Courtesy and modesty perished in the world of travel on the day when she
took her first journey; but it will not be long before she is in hourly
danger of extinction, for there are strong men in our midst.

There are other types of railway travellers, not so offensive as the
above, which combines all the bad qualities, but still annoying in a
varying degree to most of us; and of these others I will enumerate one
or two of the commonest. First, there are those who, when they would go
on a journey, take all their odd chattels and household utensils and
parcel them up in brown paper, disdaining such things as boxes and
trunks; furthermore, when such eccentrics have loaded themselves up
with queer-shaped packages they will cast about for baskets of fruit and
bunches of flowers to add to their own and other people’s misery. Then
there are the simple folks who are for ever eating and drinking in
railway carriages. No sooner are they settled in their seats but they
are passing each other tattered sandwiches and mournful scraps of
pastry, and talking with their mouths full, and scattering crumbs over
the trousers of fastidious old gentlemen. Sometimes they will peel and
eat bananas with such rapidity that nervous onlookers are compelled to
seek another compartment.

Some children do not make good travelling companions, for they will do
nothing but whimper or howl throughout a journey, or they will spend all
their time daubing their faces with chocolate or trying to climb out of
the window. And the cranks are always with us; on the bleakest day, they
it is who insist on all the windows being open, but in the sultriest
season they go about in mortal fear of draughts, and will not allow a
window to be touched.

More to my taste are the innocents who always find themselves in the
wrong train. They have not the understanding necessary to fathom the
time-tables, nor will they ask the railway officials for advice, so
they climb into the first train that comes, and trust to luck. When they
are being hurtled towards Edinburgh, they will suddenly look round the
carriage and ask, with a mild touch of pathos, if they are in the right
train for Bristol. And then, puzzled and disillusioned, they have to be
bundled out at the next station, and we see them no more. I have often
wondered if these simple voyagers ever reach their destinations, for it
is not outside probability that they may be shot from station to
station, line to line, until there is nothing mortal left of them.

Above all other railway travellers, I envy the mighty sleepers,
descendants of the Seven of Ephesus. How often, on a long, uninteresting
journey, have I envied them their sweet oblivion. With Lethe at their
command, no dull, empty train journey, by day or night, has any terrors
for them. Knowing the length of time they have to spend in the train,
they compose themselves and are off to sleep in a moment, probably
enjoying the gorgeous adventures of dream while the rest of us are
looking blankly out of the window or counting our fingers. Two minutes
from their destination they stir, rub their eyes, stretch themselves,
collect their baggage, and, peering out of the window, murmur: ‘My
station, I think.’ A moment later they go out, alert and refreshed,
Lords of Travel, leaving us to our boredom.

Seafaring men make good companions on a railway journey. They are always
ready for a pipe and a crack with any man, and there is usually some
entertaining matter in their talk. But they are not often met with away
from the coast towns. Nor do we often come across the confidential
stranger in an English railway carriage, though his company is
inevitable on the Continent and, I believe, in America. When the
confidential stranger does make an appearance here, he is usually a very
dull dog, who compels us to yawn through the interminable story of his
life, and rides some wretched old hobby-horse to death.

There is one more type of traveller that must be mentioned here, if only
for the guidance of the young and simple. He is usually an elderly man,
neatly dressed, but a little tobacco-stained, always seated in a corner,
and he opens the conversation by pulling out a gold hunter and remarking
that the train is at least three minutes behind time. Then, with the
slightest encouragement, he will begin to talk, and his talk will be all
of trains. As some men discuss their acquaintances, or others speak of
violins or roses, so he talks of trains, their history, their quality,
their destiny. All his days and nights seem to have been passed in
railway carriages, all his reading seems to have been in time-tables. He
will tell you of the 12.35 from this place and the 3.49 from the other
place, and how the 10.18 ran from So-and-so to So-and-so in such a time,
and how the 8.26 was taken off and the 5.10 was put on; and the
greatness of his subject moves him to eloquence, and there is passion
and mastery in his voice, now wailing over a missed connection or a
departed hero of trains, now exultantly proclaiming the glories of a
non-stop express or a wonderful run to time. However dead you were to
the passion, the splendour, the pathos, in this matter of trains, before
he has done with you you will be ready to weep over the 7.37 and cry out
in ecstasy at the sight of the 2.52.

Beware of the elderly man who sits in the corner of the carriage and
says that the train is two minutes behind time, for he is the Ancient
Mariner of railway travellers, and will hold you with his glittering
eye.



THE PEEP


My friend Glindersby is a changed man, and, for my part, I think it a
change for the better. For the one thing that had always spoiled
Glindersby for the company of sane men was his ever-recurring praise of
the present age and its mechanical ingenuities. Though brought up to a
noble old profession, he was one of those who are for ever crying up the
marvels that we have of late brought into the world; he would subscribe
to such things as _Wonders of Modern Science_ or _Engineering Marvels of
the World_, and could be found gloating over vilely-coloured prints of
airships and electric lifts. Because there was a railway at Kamchatka or
a telephone at Tangiers, he could not understand why all men should not
be happy. In short, he was one of those latter-day fanatics who, in a
kind of ecstasy, are always crying out to each other, ‘Look at Radium
...!’ and ‘What will they do next!’ and other phrases from their dark
liturgy. This was Glindersby’s one failing, and it had, I knew, kept him
from much good company. Now, I say, he is changed, for he seems to have
lost his old damaging enthusiasm, and in the late hours of fireside
confessional he has now begun telling a certain trumpery tale, a piece
of hocus-pocus if there ever was one, to account for the change.

A short time ago, at the house of some friends, a cranky set, he was
introduced to a Hindoo who had just arrived in this country, and who
might be called Ram Dar Chubb. They said little to each other on that
first evening, but a few days later they met in the street, and the
Hindoo suggested that they should visit his rooms. Glindersby,
suspecting that the other was feeling lonely in this new world of white
faces and black streets, expressed his pleasure, and accompanied the
hospitable Ram Dar up three flights of stairs. He was soon making
himself comfortable in a sitting-room that seemed to contain nothing out
of the common, with the exception of a large graven metal bowl and some
Oriental knick-knacks on a small side-table. The two men quickly plunged
into talk, and Glindersby, beginning with the difference between the
Eastern and Western civilisations, was not long before he was
declaiming--almost breathlessly--upon his favourite themes. Here at last
he had found fit audience; Ram Dar was an ideal listener. And Glindersby
rose to the occasion; telephones, telegraphy, airships, turbine engines,
calculating machines, electric kettles, and a thousand other marvels
were all his concern. There was no end to his talk of valves, pressures,
and horse power. Very soon he had paraphrased the introduction and at
least half a dozen chapters of _Wonders of Modern Science_ and
_Engineering Marvels of the World_, and his monologue soon became as
highly coloured and altogether detestable as their monstrous prints.
Looking sturdily across at the immobile brown face, he expanded,
boasted, and bragged, until it might have appeared that he himself was
ready at any time to bridge the Channel and irrigate the Sahara Desert.

Throughout this untimely rhapsody Ram Dar sat motionless, his attitude
expressive of that eternal patience of the East which all Glindersby’s
hearers ought to have had.

‘Conquest of Nature’s just begun,’ cried Glindersby, who by this time
was almost dithyrambic, and talked in capital letters and dots as if he
were one of Mr. Wells’ characters. ‘You’ve been standing still for
thousands of years.... Stagnation!... Now we’re going forward.... Made
bigger advance in last hundred years than in all the thousands
before.... Wireless Telegraphy!... Aeroplanes!... Space annihilated....
Just beginning.’ And he leaned forward impressively: ‘What will it be in
one hundred years’ time?... Or three hundred?... Or seven hundred?...
Nature finally conquered.... All her forces harnessed..... Man....
Master of the World.... Stupendous buildings!... Marvellous
machinery!... Fleets of Airships!... What wouldn’t I give for a peep
into the Future!...’

‘You would look into the future?’ broke in his hearer, for the first
time.

Glindersby was somewhat taken aback by this unexpected interruption. ‘I
would give anything to see what we shall achieve,’ he cried, ‘only, of
course, it’s--er--impossible.’

There was a flash of white teeth opposite. ‘No, it can be done,’
murmured Ram Dar, ‘Past, Present, Future! It is all an illusion. We have
known these things a long time. You wish to look into the Future?...’
And he rose to his feet.

Still suspecting some pleasantry, the other forced a laugh, and
stammered out: ‘Above all things.... Pity no way of doing it.... Final
Conquest of Nature.’

By this time, the Hindoo had pulled forward the little side-table, on
which stood the great metal bowl. To Glindersby’s astonishment, the
latter was filled with a liquid blacker than ink, and had, fastened to
the edge, several little pans, into which Ram Dar quickly poured a
quantity of grey powder.

‘How far forward will you look, and at what place?’ asked Ram Dar as he
proceeded to set fire to the little heaps of powder.

Glindersby stared at the dense fumes that were encircling the great
bowl. Half mechanically, almost unwillingly, he gasped out: ‘Oh,
Coventry ... go-ahead place, I b’lieve ... eight hundred years hence.’
There was some muttering in a strange tongue, and then a dark hand waved
across the rolling, sickly-smelling fumes. ‘Come!’ cried the voice of
the Hindoo, who must have trafficked with the devil, whom he resembled
at that moment.

Hardly knowing what he was doing, Glindersby found himself in the midst
of the fumes, bending over the bowl and staring at the ebony surface of
the liquid within. ‘Near Coventry.... Your year, two thousand seven
hundred and thirty....’ The voice seemed to come from miles away. Next
moment, the fumes, the bowl, everything had vanished, and he seemed to
be looking, as from a great height, at a large meadow where a number of
sheep with their lambs were browsing. It seemed a bright morning in
early summer. There was no shadow of smoke; the air was perfectly clear.
In one corner of the meadow a boy was seated under a large elm. He was
bare-legged, sandalled and simply clad in a bright blue robe, and, all
the time, he appeared to be playing upon a little pipe. Near by was a
small shrine garlanded with red roses, and the grass around was strewn
with crimson petals scattered by the breeze. Cloud-shadows drifted
across the grass; the sheep moved steadily forward, with their lambs
capering about them; a few more crimson petals were shaken from the
shrine; the boy still fingered his little pipe in the shade of the
elm....

‘It is not what you expected to find,’ cried a voice in his ear; and
Glindersby looked up and saw the smiling face of Ram Dar Chubb above the
bowl over which they had both been bending.

I say that Glindersby is a changed man, and that I, for one, approve the
change in him. But I think that this story of his is full of lies; and
that as for Ram Dar Chubb, he is an obvious invention, and cheap at
that.



ON VULGAR ERRORS


I often feel sorry that so many quaint and pretty fancies, such as we
find gravely weighed by Sir Thomas Brown in his _Pseudodoxia Epidemica_,
have fluttered away from our knowing modern world like so many
butterflies. After all, there was little harm and often a great deal of
poetry or grotesque humour in these ‘vulgar errors,’ as Sir Thomas
called them. Now that the ordinary man has flung away these
gaily-coloured fancies, I do not know that he is any better off with
such dismal scraps of learning as are coming his way at the present
time. His ancestors were fanciful fellows with little exact knowledge;
his descendants may occupy themselves with a vast accumulated store of
learning; meanwhile, he himself, our contemporary, has relinquished his
old fancies and quaint dreams, and received little or nothing, as yet,
in return. Now, barren of belief, he stands waiting for the meagre
crumbs of science.

The Wandering Jew no longer creeps past our doors; we buried him long
ago, and there is the end of a grand old tale. No Salamanders live in
our fires. No more do ‘swans, a little before their death, sing most
sweetly’; another gleam of poetry has faded from the world. We meet with
the Unicorn and the Phœnix only in coats-of-arms and commercial
advertisements. The Basilisk, or Cockatrice, which came from a cock’s
egg, hatched under a toad or serpent, and which could kill at a distance
by the power of the eye, no longer haunts the world; perhaps we do not
regret him, yet the briefest glance at him, while he was looking some
other way, would have been an experience worth remembering. The mermaids
and mermen have long since ridden away from our coasts on their
water-horses, driving their water-bulls before them. The giants have
eaten the pigmies, and have themselves succumbed to indigestion. Our
acetylene lights have frightened away Jack-o’-Lanthorn himself, and
there is no green cheese in the moon, and very little cheese worth
eating on the earth.

Does the Glastonbury thorn still blossom at Christmastide? Certainly
the ass still bears the sign of the Cross on its back, and the haddock
still shows the black marks left by the finger and thumb of St. Peter.
Do our seamen still take cauls with them to guard against drowning? I am
afraid that barnacles, when broken off from the sides of a ship, no
longer turn into geese. Nor do mandrakes shriek out when they are
uprooted, these days. Do our country girls still put the Bible, with
sixpence between the pages of Ruth, under their pillows at night, in
order to dream of their future husbands? How many of us put bay leaves
under our pillows so that we may have true dreams?

Sneezing, in our time, does not call for a blessing. Nor do we bless the
moon when it is at the full, nor ask our ladies to drop it a curtsey at
the time of its rebirth. Omens trouble us no longer; it does not matter
how we put on our stockings and shoes, or, at least, we do not feel that
good or ill fortune is bound up with the order of our dressing. We do
not attempt to read our destiny in the leaping flames on the hearth, nor
look for purses and coffins in the coals that fly out from time to time.
On the rare occasions when we see a lighted candle, we do not expect to
find it presageful, and we are not likely to try divination from the
behaviour of the gas or electric light. A tingling ear, an itching nose,
a burning cheek, and other little pranks of the blood and nerves pass as
a jest among us. We allow no trafficking with amulets and charms, except
as the merest decoration, and we attempt to read the future only through
our pass-books. We leave Fate severely alone, not because we think that
it is of no importance, but because our lives do not seem of sufficient
consequence to be meddled with; wherein we are more modest than our
forefathers, but also, I think, more miserable.

All these quaint beliefs have gone in the wind, and it is well, for the
world cannot stand still. As I have said before, there was little harm
in them, and often a great deal of poetry; they have furnished some good
folk, high and low, with many a heartening tale for the chimney-corner;
their weft of phantasy has been woven into many a fine ballad or
romance. But, shrinking from the fierce light of Truth, these fanciful
notions left us long ago.

Yet we must not hasten to plume ourselves. Have we not our own over-ripe
crop of errors? Are we not for ever swallowing lies a thousand times
more hurtful than the old pleasing or idle fancies? We cannot weave
immortal romances out of the woof of falsehood that comes to us now; if
we want tales, we must hire some fellow to put his tongue in his cheek
and mechanically turn out volume after volume of ‘bright fiction.’ We
cannot believe in the Salamander, a poetical notion, but we are always
ready to take it on trust that Mr. Worldly Wiseman, who votes for us, is
a very great hero, and Mr. Greatheart, who keeps his own counsel, is a
very deep scoundrel.

The old fancies were sustained by the people’s sense of wonder; they
arose naturally and no one benefited by them, except an occasional
sorcerer. Our vulgar errors are not a natural growth, but are forced
upon us by the cunning and powerful members, who tell us what we are to
believe. We do not acknowledge the Basilisk, with his deadly stare, but
we have still a touching faith in Such-and-Such, the scientific
reformer, with his insufferable jargon. We do not put bayleaves under
our pillows to have true dreams, but we put the _Daily Dope_ on our
breakfast-tables so that we may have false ones. And we are too apt to
believe that (in the fine phrase of a modern novelist) ‘we are all very
fine people,’ which is a very vulgar error indeed, and more mischievous
than Jack-o’-Lanthorn and more deadly than the Cockatrice.



ON GOSSIP


Any and every kind of tittle-tattle goes by the name of gossip, no
matter whether the subject is the price of cauliflowers, or the foreign
policy of Chile, or--darkening to scandal--the weather. In this place, I
would limit gossip to that discussion of other people’s characters and
affairs which is so well known to us, and to every other society. And I
would call it scandal and have done with it, only scandal is a dog with
a very bad name, while gossip still capers and frisks, unchecked though
not encouraged. There is also this distinction: we--that is, you and
I--may condescend to gossip: it is the others who talk scandal.

Now this personal kind of gossip is everywhere condemned and is
everywhere an unfailing recreation. It began with the wild gestures and
uncouth jabbering of our remote ancestors, squatting in their caves;
perhaps it will end only when the last fire is quenched. Wise men,
priests, philosophers, and prophets have thundered against it, but their
very imprecations only floated about as flotsam and jetsam on the vast
ocean of gossip; their very names have come down to us only as a
whispered rumour. The stream of talk flows on, and as yet no
denunciations have dammed it up. Gossip is an endless game without
rules; a thing untouched by changing fashions and varying modes of
thought; one of the few everlasting diversions of humanity. Men, who
have had more say in public if less in private, have always been prompt
to accuse women of devoting too much of their time and energy to this
dubious sport. Gossip, they have declared, is woman’s greatest pastime.
But here at least our feminists, who have spluttered over so many
imaginary wrongs, have passed by one undoubted grievance, for the truth
is, men are as much given to gossiping as women. Man’s talk may sound
more important because it involves wider interests, yet a good deal of
it is nothing more nor less than gossip.

Now it seems to me that in this perpetual chatter about other people,
which we all hasten to denounce, but which gives all of us pleasure at
some time or other, our delight springs, broadly speaking, from two
main sources, one of which is good and the other bad. And according to
which predominates gossip may be described as profitable or hurtful to
those people concerned in it.

The good side of gossip arises out of that eager, seemingly insatiable
curiosity which distinguishes men from the brutes and civilised men from
savages. Much of our idlest chatter is secretly leavened by this
curiosity, which is in its purest form a noble thing. For what is the
pursuit of knowledge but the play of a splendid but entirely irrational
inquisitiveness? Most of the higher branches of knowledge, metaphysics,
pure mathematics, and so on, serve no practical purpose; sober
philosophers and studious mathematicians are in reality the wildest of
fellows, for ever pursuing a laborious quest into the absolute Unknown.
A great deal of this fine curiosity goes to the making of gossip, which
is something more than a casual exchange of news. When we talk over the
Smiths and the Browns, not only do we record events, but we examine
motives and estimate character, and in a roundabout way we exchange
ideas. The greatest historian can do little more; his subject is of more
importance, that is all. The difference between Mrs. Jones giving the
real reason why the Johnsons left the town so suddenly, and Professor
Jones, writing the _Life and Times of Cardinal Richelieu_, is one of
degree only; both are undertaking the same kind of work, and probably
both are stirred by the same motives. We are all historians without
knowing it.

Our gossip and scandal is a grub, which in a hundred years’ time, with
the advent of the historian, will become a chrysalis; and in four or
five hundred years’ time, the hard shell will be burst open, and there
will be seen the winged splendour of epic poetry or romantic drama. Have
not all the subjects of history and epic poetry once been nothing more
than eager talk in the court or the kitchen? ‘Have you heard the
latest?’--the cry went: then followed the pretty little scandal of
Helen, wife of Menelaus, and the Troy affair; or perhaps a full account
of that queer business of Prince Hamlet at the Court of Denmark; or the
whole story of those strange doings at Verona, in which Montague’s son,
young Romeo, cut such a figure. The names and stories that were
whispered in ante-rooms and bawled out in taverns, centuries ago, will
yet provoke future historians, fire poets and romancers yet unborn, and
will yet move unknown generations to wild laughter and tears, to anger
and pity. How many noble studies have arisen out of this eternal
curiosity of men! How many lovely things have flowered from this common
soil of Gossip!

The other source of our pleasure in this personal kind of gossip is less
innocent; indeed, it is--and ever has been--a great worker of mischief.
It proceeds, I believe, from the strain of the Pharisee that is in most
of us. When we discuss the weaknesses and misfortunes of others, we are
not solely prompted by that spirit of curiosity to which I have
referred. Nor is it, as a rule, direct enmity or mere malice that
prompts us, for the people we discuss may be almost unknown to us, or,
on the other hand, they may be old, well-tried friends. But when we are
indulging in this sort of talk, we suddenly feel a sense of our own
superiority, we glow with added self-respect. Thus, there are four or
five of us chattering, and someone mentions the absent Jones, who is a
common acquaintance. ‘Ah! Poor old Jones!’ we exclaim; and are quickly
in full cry after the quarry. ‘The trouble with old Jones, ...’ one
begins. ‘You know, he ought not to have, ...’ opens the next critic. ‘As
I’ve told Jones many a time, ...’ cries a third. So voice after voice
swells the chorus of criticism. The superficial show of concern and
sympathy is a mere formality and deceives nobody; everyone is eager to
contribute his or her scrap of censure; eyes are brightening, tongues
are loosened. That slight but distinctly uncomfortable sense of
inferiority which we may possibly have felt in the actual presence of
Jones is now compensated for by a marked sense of our own superiority
and a glow of self-satisfaction.

Unless we are on our guard, we are ready to sacrifice victim after
victim for the sake of this delectable but transitory feeling. Every
night, in countless drawing-rooms, knives are reddened and altars smoke
to propitiate this dark god of self-righteousness. And the victim of
this dreadful worship is too often young and open-hearted and
beautiful--and a woman.



A ROAD AND SOME MOODS


I have been living lately near a fine highway, which cuts across the
blurred edge of a town and makes straight for the open country. By this
road a man may quickly escape from the town and start upon almost any
journey. The road will take him some part of the way to Edinburgh, or
Moscow, or Bagdad, or the mountains of the moon. Or he may use it, as I
do, for a saunter in the morning sunshine.

The road rises as it leaves the town, and a little way beyond my windows
it climbs to a summit, so that, walking forward, one sees nothing in
front but the sharp, slightly curved edge of the road against the sky.
Though I have travelled this way so often, each time that I set eyes on
the clean cut of the road and the great emptiness beyond, something in
me is thrilled, faintly yet perceptibly, like taut wires troubled by a
gust of wind. I know well, none better, what lies at the other side of
the hill, the easy stretch of highway descending into a pleasant green
valley; yet the sight of the little summit still holds for me some vague
promise. But every hill in the world is brother to that ‘peak in
Darien.’ One day, maybe, I shall stand on the crest of this tiny hill,
and find that all beyond is changed. I shall look down, maybe, upon a
sea covered with strange ships, or into the thronged streets of a
magical city.

The other morning I left the house for the first time for several days,
and walked slowly up the road. There was a touch of autumn abroad. In
the mellow sunlight the trees were putting on their last splendid
livery. The air was still, and had in it a faint odour of burning
leaves.

In such a season, golden, spacious, but already whispering of the end,
there will often come to a man a certain solemn mood, a vein of not
unpleasing melancholy, and for a little while he will see all life
moving to a grave measure, an adagio for strings. But the mood that
encompassed me that morning was very different, and much less welcome.
As I walked forward I seemed to sink into depression:

    And fears and fancies thick upon me came;
    Dim sadness--and blind thoughts, I knew not, nor could name.

In a fair state of health and unassailed by bad fortune, I walked in
that genial sunshine--as a man will--the victim of self-torment or
inexplicable misery, the Old Man of the Sea heavy on my shoulders.

Now when I came to the summit of the road and looked down the other
side, my whole mood was changed in a flash. And for no other reason than
this: an inn stands there, a little way back from the road, and its
walls had been newly done a creamy white, so that they showed dazzlingly
against the foliage near by. That is all.

But the moment that my eyes fell upon these gleaming white walls my mood
was changed, and I saw another vision of life. At that moment, as when a
loved person enters a room, it seemed to me as if the footlights of the
world were suddenly turned up, and I could hear the strings and flutes
of the great orchestra of life. I saw the road before me dancing away to
the hills, and the hills themselves standing in silent jubilation. It
was one of those rare moments when the passion, the wonder, the mystery
of life smite through a man’s flesh and bone, and set his spirit
towering above good and evil fortune, fearless, exultant, eager for the
best and worst of human existence. Such moments come to us on a sudden
wave of exultation, and then leave us to be carried gently forward by
the customary easy flow of thoughts and emotions. What marks their
passage in a man’s life, what heroic promptings they bring, what
valorous decisions are born of their passing cannot be told, least of
all by the man himself. I know that I stayed for a few seconds on the
crest of the hill, and then continued my walk. The rare moment had come
and gone, sweeping away my former dull mood and leaving me in a pleasant
reverie. I walked along, thinking, maybe, of inns and the part they have
played in Romance, or of whitened walls and the time when even London
was a city of white buildings; or I thought about myself (as you do),
and what a fine fellow I should be if I were not a fool. It is no great
matter what I thought.

But mark how little of a man’s life he can explain, no matter how often
he opens the doors and searches the dusty lumber rooms of his mind.
There was no reason, in or out of nature, for my first mood of
depression. And, to me, there would seem as little reason for the sudden
change, the momentary exultation, and the pleasant aftermath. At times
the sight of a mountain of felicity will not raise a man’s spirits; at
other times, if his foot trips over a molehill, he will cry out in
ecstasy at the goodness of life. We never talk to less purpose than when
we say of a man who is almost a stranger: ‘He ought to be happy, for he
has this and that at his command.’ Knowing our man, and being aware of
what life is doing with him and what he is doing with life, we might
hazard a guess at his state of mind, but even then it is perilous. Mark
also how we realise the beauty and blessing of life itself only in rare,
inexplicable moments, and then most keenly. It comes to us then like a
sudden blare of trumpets in the wind. We are always ready to talk and
write about the wonder of human existence, but, unless we are something
more than common men, we do not pass the day and lie down at night
thrilled by the thought of our participation in this greatest of games.
We go our way as best we can, carried forward or swept back by the ebb
and flow of circumstance, and are by turn triumphant, masterful,
listless, fearful, despairing.

Perhaps to some of us the moments of revelation, the flashes of insight,
never come at all; to the best of us they come but rarely. Life has
seemed to us, for months or years maybe, an overcrowded, beggarly
repast, at which a man must snatch at morsels and crumbs of joy: now, in
one flash of time, it will seem a divine banquet, the high festival of
immortal creatures. The moment passes, but something has been left
behind.



ON A CERTAIN CONTEMPORARY ESSAYIST


IN the early thirties of the last century, readers of _Fraser’s
Magazine_ were puzzled, startled or irritated by a certain
‘Clothes-Philosophy,’ which was expounded to them month by month by an
almost unknown Scotch fire-eater, a lover of brand-new words and riotous
syntax. Such readers were privileged to witness the first great eruption
of the Carlyle volcano. Doubtless it took most of them nearly twenty
years to bring themselves to say that they had enjoyed the spectacle,
and even then they were probably lying; but still, it was a privilege.
But lest we should be too humble about our own day, I hasten to point
out that we too have our ‘Clothes-Philosophy,’ and that it is cast in a
simpler, more pleasing mould than the older one. It is, too, much more
of a true ‘Clothes-Philosophy’ and is no elaborate mystification, no
clumping Teutonic allegory, born in a study, but the real thing, coming
newly every week or month from the tailor’s counter. Although he has his
place here as a man of letters and may never have handled a needle or a
pair of scissors, Mr. H. Dennis Bradley, I am sure, will not object to
being called a tailor. It would be absurd of him to do so, for it is
this very trade of tailoring, hitherto somewhat slighted, that he is now
ennobling with his pen. But it would be equally absurd if we, on our
part, set down Mr. Bradley merely as an astute advertiser who simply
wants to make us buy his suits, one who is satisfied with clothing our
carcases and is ready to leave mind and soul untended.

If Mr. Dennis Bradley is not at heart a man of letters, then I do not
know the breed. From the very beginning, I divined the essential quality
in him. I see him, in my mind’s eye, turning from the bundles of spring
suitings, from the company of cloth merchants and cutters, into his
sanctum to be alone with his art, or rather, his second and greater art,
that of writing. There, I see him laboriously yet lovingly beating out
phrase after phrase until each little essay is worthy of his great
public. Lamb once said of a man that he would have been a tailor only
he lacked the spirit. But think of how Lamb would have praised Mr.
Bradley, who has the spirit to be not only an excellent tailor but a
writer as well; and not, mark you, merely a tailor playing at authorship
and trying to keep the needle and thread out of our sight, but an author
and tailor at one and the same time, giving us, as it were, the
literature and philosophy of shopkeeping and suit-making. This is to be
a man of note, an originator, a force in letters. I fancy I can hear the
unborn professors rustling their papers on ‘Bradley and His Age’ or ‘The
Old Bond Street Circle.’

Being an original, Mr. Dennis Bradley cannot be fitted into any of our
little pigeon-holes; he is not easily labelled; but as I have already
spoken of his essays, we will keep the term and call him an essayist.
His work, however, has had, and still has, so many phases that we shall
do well to discriminate a little. There has been, for example, a change
in his manner; and it has shown us, on the whole, a steady development,
that advance towards the perfection of the instrument which marks the
true artist. In his early work there was an irregularity, a wildness, a
careless profusion, which promised much but hinted that the artist was
not yet fully grown. He tried, if I remember rightly, to push his prose
as near to poetry as it would go; and it was only later, when the
thought became more weighty, that he turned to the quieter yet more
impressive manner, the chiselled form and the pregnant phrase. During
this early period, one of his favourite themes was Youth and Age; no new
thing, it is true, but one to which he gave new significance by his
characteristic treatment. When he exalted Youth and covered Age with
ridicule, was he not interpreting the spirit of the times? One can
discover, in that alone, the born man of letters. The times,
disillusioned, were all for Youth, and he, divining it, stepped forth as
our spokesman. Just because he happened to be also a tailor, just
because young men happen to spend more on clothes than old men do, is no
reason why Mr. Bradley should be robbed of his praise as a writer
sensitive to our subtle changes of feeling.

Although there are some persons, not unpretending in criticism, who
would have us believe that they prefer the earlier, wilder note, happily
they are few, and most of us, I imagine, pass with pleasure to the
later, more chastened form. Here we can remark his versatility, his
admirable method of appealing to one type of mind after another. Now, he
will give us a bright little philosophical treatise, and, sweeping away
the accumulation of trivialities, he will dig in a brisk sentence or two
to the roots of life, as in his essay on ‘The Three Essentials.’ Now, he
will frankly appeal to the hard-headed man of affairs, and will
annihilate half-a-dozen economic heresies in one paragraph. Sometimes it
is the social rather than the purely economic problem that engages him.
But his large sweep does not make for easy classification, and I, for
one, cannot attempt to discriminate between such things, say, as ‘A
Prophet on Profits,’ ‘Comparisons,’ and ‘Economy and Rubbish.’ Now and
again, it is true, he seems to lay himself open to the charge of
sacrificing everything to the topical appeal; but, after all, these are
critical times, when men are looking for light; and, at the worst, the
manner, unique in our letters, will remain to beguile us. Moreover,
there also will remain the personal note, for like all your true
essayists he does not hesitate to reveal his personality, to make the
reader his confidant.

But when all is said and done, the most remarkable thing about Mr.
Bradley, the thing that makes him unique, is his double rôle. One would
have thought that his author-self would have come to despise and ignore
his tailor-self. But no--their allegiance holds, and is, indeed,
stronger than ever. In the early days, there was not always a perfect
understanding between the two. The author would come forward and have
his say, without leaving any opening for the tailor, who had perforce to
push his way to the front and shout the louder. In short, the transition
from pure literature to commerce was not always well done: one was often
uncomfortably aware of a hiatus. But now--to be apt in metaphor--such
creases have been ironed out and the whole thing fits together and is
apparently seamless. We begin in the outside world, with all its
heart-breaking problems, its gloom and strife; we are driven hither and
thither, menaced with ruin; and yet when we come to the end, always we
find ourselves in the same solemn temple, our one place of refuge,
serene as demi-gods among the spring and autumn suitings. We never know
at first what terrible problem we shall be asked to face, but always we
have but to follow this new Ariel of ours to be led out of the world
into the sanctuary in Old Bond Street. There are times, indeed, when the
author, the victim of temperament, is so plunged into gloom that it is
the tailor alone who saves the situation, who arrives just when we seem
altogether lost, so that his inevitable final refrain of ‘Lounge Suits,
Dinner Suits, Dress Suits, and Overcoats’ comes to our ears like a
benediction.

Surely it is pleasant to reflect that one so unique in our letters is
able, week by week and month after month, to appeal to such a large
public, to dower his work with such lordly space and noble type, to have
his own illustrator, even though this last is somewhat out of key, being
a trifle too flippant and sybaritic for such solemn letterpress. I will
wager that this ‘Clothes-Philosophy’ of ours has made more friends, not
least among editors and others, than ever did the one our grandfathers
knew. Which is a fine feather for Mr. Bradley’s cap--if ever he should
take to wearing one.



ON LIFE AND LUCKY-BAGS


Reader, does your mind ever run back to the time when you were in
receipt of a regular allowance, when you could be described almost as a
‘person of independent means’? The other day I mused in this vein, and
fell to thinking of the day before yesterday, when I was a chubby,
pudding-fed lad, and the aforesaid allowance amounted to four shillings
and fourpence at the end of a year, but was delivered into my hands at
the rate of one penny per week. Saturday morning was the appointed time,
I believe. Of course, I often received other and larger sums; aunts and
uncles were usually good for half-a-crown, or even more, and
grandfathers in those days seemed to be literally made of silver coin.
But the Saturday penny differed from these occasional presents in that
it was my very own; there were no hints of money-boxes and savings-banks
and ‘rainy-days’; the penny was placed in my hand, and could be used
immediately as a sacrifice on the glittering altar of Juvenile Folly.
This was very much to my taste, for, like most healthy children, I
scorned those doubtful deities, Thrift and Prudence; even now I can
hardly bring myself to accord them the worship which is, from what I
hear, their due.

A number of my playmates received their weekly pennies at the same
time--almost at the same moment, I imagine--and it was our invariable
custom to retire in a body to a little shop near by. It was a tiny
fancy-goods and sweet shop, whose owner must have subsisted almost
entirely on the patronage of such small fry as ourselves. To us, as we
clustered round the window, it was a veritable land of Heart’s Delight,
for a penny was a potent talisman in those days, and we had the choice
of a bewildering array of entirely useless articles. (What do children
receive on Saturday mornings these times, I wonder; a ten shilling note
or a War Bond?). So, clutching our pennies in warm, moist little hands,
we would spend a delicious half-hour gazing through the shop window, a
round-eyed, shrill-voiced crowd of speculators, until, after much
discussion, our minds made up, we would clatter--one by one--into the
shop and come out triumphantly hugging our purchases. The rest was a
swift descent into prosaic life. The great moment had come and gone.

Now, sympathetic reader, I will discover to you the depths of my folly.
For you must know that some poetic rogue, some Autolycus of the
fancy-goods trade, had invented and placed upon the market the thing
called the lucky-bag. It was my bane, and the cause of my weekly
undoing. Never was there such a snare for an imaginative child! It was a
large, sealed paper-packet, bulging auspiciously; it contained articles
of great variety, and some, so ran the legend on the cover, were of
‘immense value.’ Here was wealth, touched with chance and mystery and
magic; here was El Dorado within sight. When I add that the price of
this marvel was exactly one penny, there is nothing more to be said.

At first we were all victims. But, alas!--nothing of ‘immense value’ was
forth-coming. The packets contained nothing of more importance than some
trivial little wooden article, and a few contemptible pink sweets--a
vile pennyworth! The bulging, which gave one the idea that the bag was
crammed with bulky toys, was caused, I regret to say, by a sheet of
stiff brown paper artfully disposed beneath the outer covering. So my
companions, worldly wise in their generation, laughed to scorn the wiles
of the lucky-bag merchant, and betook themselves to other and more solid
purchases--a top, a ball, or a pennyworth of bulls-eyes or toffee. Here
they receive a pennyworth for a penny and were satisfied.

It was otherwise with me. I wanted the land of Heart’s Delight for a
penny, and though I have never got it, there were moments when, holding
the newly-bought, unopened bag in my hand, I had glimpses of joys beyond
mere pennyworths of this and that. Week after week, month after month,
the lure of the magic packet held me in thrall. There were times when I
would resolve to break my bonds, and traffic no more with the cheater,
the mocker of sweet innocence, but it was all to no purpose; as soon as
I approached the fateful shop and caught sight of the bulging packets my
resolutions went like smoke, and once again my penny would be swept into
the till, and once more I would stand, with heart beating high, looking
into the mysterious bag.

And always the same hollow mockery; always the stiff brown paper
bringing my dreams to earth. My collection of little wooden egg-cups
and tables grew apace; often I nearly made myself sick by trying to find
some consolation in the abominable pink sweets. My elders laughed at me,
and I was the scorn of my youthful playmates. Yet I think those pennies
were well expended, for I moved, unknowingly, in great company--among
the happy simpletons on the one hand and the fantastic dreamers on the
other. Don Quixote, Parson Adams, Pickwick, and the rest at one elbow;
Lully, Paracelsus, and all the other seekers of Philosophers’ Stones,
Elixirs of Life, and Lands of Gold jostling me on the other side.

So I was in my innocence, and even now when I am ‘if a man speak truly,
little better than one of the wicked,’ I have not changed so much.
Though the pennies do not come so easily as of old, the dreams have not
yet faded, the magical lights have not yet been quite extinguished; the
solid pennyworths still fail to satisfy me, who have been on the very
frontiers of El Dorado. So, though the disappointments still come thick
and fast, I have my moments, perhaps you, too----?

But I fear my name will never head a subscription list or cause a
commotion in Lombard Street. I sometimes think I shall never even be
asked to open a bazaar.



GRIGSBY--A RECORD AND AN APPRECIATION

(_Being an attempt to capture an admired manner._)


It was, I think, Mr. S. P. B. Mais who told us that we live ‘in an age
of amazing geniuses.’ The observation is so profoundly true, and one
owes so much to this critic’s sane and luminous appreciations of
contemporary writers, that one cannot help feeling surprised that he
nowhere makes any mention of Grigsby. Certainly, in these fruitful
times, a man cannot criticise all his fellow-authors; there are other
omissions, notably D. S. Ballowby, Geoffrey Domsteen, Hilda Perkstone
(who wrote _Wherefore?_), and Anna Lummit; nevertheless, a lover of
contemporary letters can hardly forgive the critic’s strange neglect of
Grigsby. Therefore, although making no pretence of being specially
fitted for the task, I feel that my long admiration for the poet and my
several years’ acquaintance with the man himself, render it a duty on
my part to try and give a sketch, however slight, of his career,
personality, aims and achievements.

Harold Hopkins Grigsby, poet and littérateur, was born sometime in the
late seventies of the last century in the pleasant old town of
Channingford. Like many other famous men of letters, he came from a
family that showed no particular devotion to literature or the other
arts; his father, a not very prosperous corn-merchant, spent his leisure
hours breeding fox-terriers, while his mother was chiefly occupied with
domestic duties. Grigsby himself, troubled maybe by painful memories,
has said little of these early days, so little that I am unable to state
where it was he received his education, but tuition of some sort he
undoubtedly had. When we next see him, he is nearing the threshold of
manhood, and is far removed from Channingford, being at Wolverhampton,
apprenticed to an oil and colour merchant. There, in the oil and colour
shop, he was indeed a caged soul; even yet he cannot speak of those
Wolverhampton days without a trace of bitterness: ‘The oil did not make
my path more smooth; the colour did not make my world less drab,’ he has
said to me more than once. Then it was that his fancy began to take
wing; he turned to literature. Friendless, away from home, misunderstood
by those about him, he turned to the poets for consolation. ‘I owe more
than man can repay,’ he has frankly confessed to me, ‘to Snipper’s
fourpenny “Flowers of Poesie” series!’ He became an ardent student of
the poet’s craft, and it was not long before he himself began to write.
Several little things of his found their way into the Poets’ Corner of
the local journal, and shortly after his twenty-second birthday, there
appeared the first volume from his pen, _Blossoms of Sorrow_ (West
Midland Almanac and Railway Guide Publishing Co.). It was not a success,
being rather an immature production and quite unlike the poet’s later
work; indeed, for years, he was ashamed of the volume, and refused to
speak of it even to his intimate friends. Yet those of us who are
fortunate enough to possess a copy (it is very scarce now, and must
fetch a good price), can turn to _Blossoms of Sorrow_ and find, here and
there, the definite promise of what has since been so magnificently
achieved, can discover among so much immature writing more than a few
hints of what was to come, the occasional note of the real Grigsby.
Lines like these:

    ‘The withered flowers of an outworn passion
     Trodden under the feet of the dawn....’

Or

              ‘...You and I
    Are weary of life and enamoured of death,
    The end of the travail of blood, the labour of breath,’

are not without their significance now, when we know to what fulness of
meaning and felicity of phrase such things are leading us.

About this time came the darkest hour of Grigsby’s early struggles. The
volume, as I have said, was a failure; meanwhile, the poet’s father had
died, owing money; and there had been a quarrel with the oil and colour
merchant. Grigsby had now neither employment nor friends to whom he
could turn. But the good fortune that has attended some few of our poets
(notably Wordsworth) waited upon Grigsby when he had almost given up
hope. He learned to his surprise that an aunt, whom he had not seen for
years, had died leaving him a considerable sum of money, for the most
part safely invested in Imperial Mineral Waters Pref. He was now free to
devote all his time to the pursuit of letters, and it was not long
before he did what most young geniuses do sooner or later, he went up to
London. I have not space to chronicle his early years there, though a
full record would make a very fascinating chapter in the literary life
of the time; let it suffice to say that he moved as far as was possible
in the literary and artistic world, formed many valuable friendships,
yet never let a day pass without taking up his pen. Like many other
brilliant young literary men, he soon came under the influence of R. U.
Bortwith, the editor of the _Pale Review_ and the literary oracle of his
day. It was in the _Pale Review_ that Grigsby’s first narrative poem,
‘Palomides,’ appeared, along with occasional lyrics. He also edited _The
Apothecary in English Literature_ in the well-known series published by
Messrs. Downe & Cashe, wrote a monograph on Henry Kirke White, and
contributed some excellent criticisms and reviews to various
periodicals. All this time, though he was becoming known to a small but
influential group of critics and editors, no second volume of verse had
come from his pen.

His friendship with Bortwith, however, soon brought him into touch with
several other young poets, Robert Blorridge, Geoffrey Domsteen, Anna
Lummit, and others, and it was not long before the famous ‘No Verb’
group was formed, a group of which, I have reason to know, he was the
leading member. Whatever may be said to the contrary, there is no doubt
that it was Grigsby, and Grigsby alone, who kept the ‘No Verbs’
together. By this time, everyone knows the aims and achievements of this
enthusiastic little band of writers; how they triumphed in spite of a
storm of hostile criticism is now ancient history; and we are only
concerned with the movement so far as it affected Grigsby. To him most
of the credit is due, for the original idea was his: I have had the
story from his own lips. They were talking late one night at Domsteen’s,
some four or five young poets, and the subject was, as usual, their art.
It was agreed upon by all present that the old forms of verse were
outworn, and that if the fresh beauty of English poetry was to be
restored, there would have to be a change of form. It was then that
Grigsby, in a flash, saw a solution to the problem--the Verb!--English
verse must be shorn of its verbs to recover its beauty and arise
rejuvenated. The idea was quickly outlined, and all his hearers took it
up with enthusiasm. There and then, it was decided to eliminate the
verb, and the group dispersed to begin experiments with the new form.
Who can forget the battle that followed--the indignant letters, the
replies, the hisses of derision and disapproval from pedantic critics,
the answering battle-cry of ‘Down with the Verb!’? But we are not
concerned now with the movement itself, but with what was its finest
fruit--Grigsby’s second volume, _Nullity_, the book that made his
reputation. It was only to be expected that a volume by a writer so
original, and, moreover, written in the ‘No Verb’ manner, would be
ignored or derided by conservative critics; nevertheless, it met with a
warm welcome in some influential quarters. A review that appeared in THE
BELLMAN’S JOURNAL was particularly enthusiastic, and did credit to its
author, who, by a singular coincidence, chanced to be no less than
Grigsby’s cousin. All good judges would not hesitate now to agree with
the concluding remarks of the review: ‘By his sincerity, courage,
extraordinary wealth of imagery and happiness of phrase, force of
passion and depth of thought, Mr. Grigsby in _Nullity_ has shown himself
not only a writer to be reckoned with, but one who has gained for
himself, in one bound, a foremost place among contemporary poets.’ No
sooner does one recall the volume than countless wonderful lines leap
to the memory, passages of such sombre beauty as:

    ‘Faint press of worn etiolated feet
     Upon the dun mephitic street,
     Under a bulging reasty sky....’

or such well-remembered things as:

    ‘Spring!--the breezy spinster, sour-apple green,
     Acidulous virgin, lengthy and lean,
     And all our red-flannelled days at an end....’

or the familiar lines from ‘Decayed Trades,’ with all its quaint
symbolism:

    ‘Weary of butchers with hands as heavy as lead,
     And fruiterers, fulsome as their old wares;
     Weary of bakers, sweaty with paste, and seemingly dead
     To all higher things, to all nobler cares.’

Though opinions may differ as to the value of the ‘No Verb’ manner, none
can deny the beauty of the verse in _Nullity_. Indeed, the only just
complaint that can be urged against Grigsby in this volume concerns
itself with the note of pessimism that undoubtedly finds its way into
the majority of the poems. But this, I have reason to know, was not the
result of a foolish pose; Grigsby has always been too sincere an artist
for that; but he himself was journeying through the ‘valley of the
shadow’ at the time when the book was written, and the verses are the
genuine expression of his moods and thoughts. There is no trace of
pessimism or bitterness in his later work.

It was shortly after the appearance of _Nullity_, if my memory serves
me, that I met the poet for the first time. I had dropped into the habit
of looking in at Ivorstein’s studio, and it was on one of my visits
there that I found a group of artists and men of letters listening
intently to a tall, slim young man in their midst. He was declaiming, if
I remember rightly, against Miss Sylvia Sylcox, the popular poetess,
whose _Noughts and Kisses_ was then going through edition after edition.
The speaker was no other than Grigsby; and when afterwards I had the
fortune to make my way homewards in his company, I counted myself a
lucky man. Nor was I wrong, for after years of--what he has been good
enough to call--friendship, my admiration for the artist is only
equalled by my respect for the man. A brilliant conversationalist, witty
yet always kindly, with a fund of just comment upon authors living and
dead always to hand, I know no man of letters who makes such a genial,
wise companion. But this is by the way. A little later, the great
happiness of his life came to him, his marriage, which in itself did
not a little to widen his outlook and touch his work to even finer
issues. The lady of his choice, who has proved herself an invaluable
helpmate and a very charming hostess, was Miss Cecilia Snorks, daughter
of the late Canon Snorks, and herself the writer of two well-known
books, _Humble Hearts in Many Mansions_ and _The Heptameron Retold for
Children_. But we must pass lightly over the next few years, during
which time, however, Grigsby’s pen was not idle. He published two slim
volumes, _Palomides and Other Poems_ and _Buckingham: A Tragedy_, which
did not attract so much attention as _Nullity_, but yet commanded
respect and doubtless added to their author’s reputation. Also, as
before, he was engaged in periodical work, for the most part critical
essays and reviews, many of which he afterwards collected and published
in _A Poet--And Some Others_ (Downe and Cashe). Then, after a prolonged
retreat in South Lancashire, he produced the work his friends had long
been expecting, the work that many of us believe has given him--or will
give him--a high place in English literature. I refer, of course, to
_The Golden Garnering_, a volume of lyrics of no great size, but yet
packed with poetry of the highest order. Here, at last, we have the
true Grigsby, self-confident, matured, in full command of his powers.
All that had gone before, his childhood at Channingford, the early
struggles at Wolverhampton, the days and nights with his brilliant set
in London, the ripeness of later, quieter years, all lead to _The Golden
Garnering_; and not in vain, for it is one of the few enduring
contributions of this age to letters. In these lyrics of Grigsby’s, one
discovers all the best qualities of our older English verse, along with
a great deal that is new, being native to the poet. Over and above the
beautiful lyrical flow, the sharply etched phrase, the abundant fine
imagery, familiar to all lovers of our verse, there is a touch of
restless modernity, an increasing burden of thought, that mark the true
poet of our own time. Dropping the ‘No Verb’ manner and returning with
increased power to the older forms, Grigsby, in this volume, presents us
with an extraordinary variety of measures, alike only in their
marvellous fitness for each subject and mood. At times, he will move us
with exquisite cadences, perfectly wedded to the matter, as in--

    ‘Sleep, gentle sleep, I know not whence it comes,
     Sleep from the dusk of some immortal dream,
     Clouds to the eyes and hazes o’er the mind....’

At other times, we are roused and delighted by one startling yet just
image, as in--

    ‘Day, a white pack, chases the black fox, Night,
     And faster than horse and hound, the fled-away shades....’

Again, the poet will express himself with force and passion, yet seem to
be singing a carelessly beautiful song, as, for example, in the
oft-quoted ‘Hymn to the Clubmen’--

    ‘Men of wrath, your tongues are burning
       With the angry words unspoken;
     And all love and beauty spurning,
       Nature has for you no token....’

Or in the less lyrical but still more forceful and characteristic lines
beginning:

    ‘The dust of noonday shall be cursed
     To him: and he shall slake his thirst
     In many a public place....’

And, here and there, we see the poet using the full compass of his
instrument, as in the now famous ‘To the Ox,’ and particularly the
familiar fourth stanza, beginning:

    ‘Thou know’st naught of our bitterness, grave beast;
     No angry Pharisees can frown thee down;
     For thee, the hills have spread their dewy feast
     Of agelong green, outlasting road and town....’

But one could go on quoting until the volume was exhausted. There is,
however, something still to be said before leaving _The Golden
Garnering_. There is no doubt that Grigsby shows himself in this book as
one in the true tradition of our great English poets; he takes his place
in that magnificent procession which includes Shakespeare, Milton,
Wordsworth, Shelley and all the other masters of the craft; and his
verse has so clearly the same qualities as that of his great
predecessors that perhaps it is not surprising that some critics, of
more ill-will than knowledge or judgment, have gone so far as to accuse
Grigsby of plagiarism. The accusation is, of course, so unjust, nay, so
utterly absurd, that it merely recoils on the heads of those who have
been foolish enough to make it. But as some of the passages quoted above
have been actually cited as instances of the so-called plagiarism,
readers who have not already dismissed these charges have here an
opportunity of discovering what importance need be attached to them.
Those of us who know the poet have no fear of the result. And here, this
slight sketch of Grigsby’s life and work must end. He has much yet to
offer a public that is looking to him more and more for vision and hope;
there is, to my knowledge, at least one volume still in manuscript that
will surprise even the most ardent lovers of _The Golden Garnering_. We
may be sure that what follows from his pen will not fall below the very
high standard he has set himself. And pondering over the poet’s career,
still happily unfinished, though none of us can hope to claim such
genius, we may at least try to emulate the other virtues that, in this
rare instance among men of letters, go along with it, the patience and
perseverance, the unselfish, even temper, and, not least, that devotion
to a high ideal which is not so uncommon among men of our race as our
enemies would have us believe.



A PARAGON OF HOSTS


Mr. Max Beerbohm, in his delightful essay on _Hosts and Guests_,
declared that ‘In life or literature there has been no better host than
Old Wardle.’ It is an affirmation that does him credit, and I, for one,
would not readily tilt against this or any other judgment of his.
Nevertheless, I have just discovered a man who, considered simply as a
host, seems to me greater than even Old Wardle himself. Life has a knack
of over-reaching letters, and so it chances that my candidate is no mere
character of fiction, dispensing the vast but insubstantial hospitality
born of a novelist’s flow of fancy and ink, but one who was a real--a
very real--person in his day. And I account him the greatest of hosts
because he dedicated his life to the business, or rather to the noble
service, of hospitality: he seems to have had no other passion in life,
no other motive for living, apart from this desire to entertain his
friends as friends should be entertained; he aimed at perfection and
achieved it, and so remains the host unblemished, immaculate, a luminous
ideal. Once out of the brutish state, man is a hospitable creature; his
records are crowded with instances of unsparing bounty, of prodigal
feasts and fortunes squandered upon entertainment: the table groans
through the ages. But neither legend nor history shows us the fellow of
him whom I praise. Even in the most magnificent figures of hospitality
there is some flaw; emperor or oligarch, merchant-prince or baron, not
one but shows some motive outside pure benevolence, some speck of pride,
some touch of self-seeking. He alone is unspotted, hospitality
incarnate, the perfect host, whose story I have lately read in an old
volume that is a gallery of strange forgotten figures. There, it is
true, he appears only as a man of whims, an eccentric, an oddity in a
collection of oddities; but it takes time for a man to come into his
own. But though nearly two hundred years have gone over his grave, Mr.
Mathew of Thomastown, for such was his designation, shall take his true
place yet as the pattern of hosts and the idol of all who go out as
guests.

Mathew, whose Christian name has not come down to us, was an Irish
gentleman who inherited a large estate at Thomastown, in the county of
Tipperary, a patrimony that was worth some eight thousand a year. This
was a good income even in England at the beginning of the eighteenth
century. In Ireland, where things were cheaper, it was almost princely.
No sooner had Mathew taken over his estate than he determined to build a
large mansion, after a design of his own, for the special purpose of
entertaining, and to surround it with grounds, laid out in the newly
adopted mode of English gardening and comprising some 1500 acres of his
best land. This meant an enormous outlay, and so, in order to avoid
incurring any debt on the estate, he did what few other Irish gentlemen
of his or any other day have done--he deliberately cut down his own
expenditure. For seven years (how these significant numbers crop up!) he
retired to the Continent and lived on six hundred a year, while the
remainder of his income was used to carry out his great scheme, or, if
you like, to nurture his most glorious hobby-horse. Already, you see, he
plainly shows himself no ordinary man. His great plan, his long view,
his voluntary exile--these things mark him off from the common run of
men. He was a man with a purpose, with a vision that kept his feet
travelling along one straight road. Most men of this type, men with a
purpose, have looked to vastly different ends; their purpose has been to
gain as much power, to obtain as much of other people’s money, as
possible; on the other hand, the end that he proposed was the spending
of money on other people. Irish gentlemen of his day were, of course,
hospitable and generous to the point of eccentricity, but then they
differed from him in having no vision to which they shaped their
destiny. They were capable of spending all, and more than all, their
incomes on entertaining, but they were certainly not capable of doing
what Mathew did, of living for seven years on less than a twelfth part
of their incomes for the sake of future hospitality. It is clear that
Mathew had qualities that are rarely combined in one person; he could
not only dream, plan, and try to shape his destiny, he could also afford
to wait; and people who have ideas and can afford to wait are very
seldom found either in his day or since, particularly in the county of
Tipperary. He was a great man, and we cannot know too much about him.

At the end of his seven years’ exile he returned to Dublin and spent
some time there, probably to meet as many good fellows as he could
before settling in the country and beginning his noble career as host.
He must have had a good many adventures at home and abroad, but only one
has come down to us, and that happened during his stay in Dublin. The
story is worth telling because it shows him in another light. At that
time, towards the end of Queen Anne’s reign, party feeling was at its
height; Whigs and Tories had just been bitterly divided about the Peace,
and the question of who was to be Anne’s successor was widening the rift
between parties. As usual, Dublin was a storm-centre; blows were
following words more closely than ever, and gentlemen were calling each
other out every day. News of this delectable state of affairs in Dublin
reached the ears of two fighting men in London, Major Pack and Captain
Creed, who thought it a good opportunity to try their skill in fence
among the Irish, and so set out for Dublin in search of adventures.
Determined to go to the fountain-head of honour, they made inquiry in
the Dublin coffee-houses for the best swordsmen, and learned that a
gentleman lately arrived from France was accounted one of the best in
Europe. This was no other than our friend Mathew. Major Pack, who was
clearly no Bobadil, resolved to take the first opportunity of picking a
quarrel. Seeing Mathew carried along the street in his chair one day,
the fire-eating major, after the manner of his kind, deliberately
jostled the fore-chairman. Mathew, however, being a quiet fellow for all
his swordsmanship, gave the major the benefit of the doubt and took no
notice of the incident. But, unfortunately for himself, Pack boasted of
the affair in a public coffee-house, giving it out that Mathew had not
the spirit to ask for an explanation. A friend of Mathew’s, Macnamara by
name and one of the best fencers in Ireland, happened to be present, and
he promptly took up the quarrel, told the major that his friend Mathew
would certainly have chastised him had he observed the affront, and
promised, on his absent friend’s behalf, a speedy meeting if that was
what the major was wanting. The upshot of it was that within a few
hours’ time, in a private room in a tavern, four Christian gentlemen
were busily engaged in trying to let each other’s blood out.
Four--because the seconds, Macnamara and Captain Creed, could not allow
themselves to be mere spectators, and so fell to work with their
principals. The fight, which should cut some figure in the annals of the
duel, was long and bloody. But though the two English officers fought
with great obstinacy, they were clearly out-matched, and finally were so
exhausted from the wounds they had received that they were compelled to
admit defeat.

Here Mathew’s biographer, after describing the combat, tells us of a
singular circumstance, which is best related in his own words. ‘Upon
this occasion,’ he writes, ‘Mathew gave a remarkable proof of the
perfect composure of his mind during the action. Creed had fallen first,
on which Pack exclaimed: “Ah, poor Creed, are you gone?” “Yes,” replied
Mathew, with the utmost calmness, “and you shall instantly _pack_ after
him,” at the same time making a home thrust quite through his body,
which threw him to the ground. This was the more remarkable as he was
never known in his life, either before or after, to have aimed at a
pun.’ Bravo, Mathew! Had you never been the greatest of hosts, had you
never attained such skill with the sword, yet we could have made shift
to send you down to posterity as ‘Single-Pun Mathew.’ I am not sure,
however, that our chronicler is right when he gives us this as an
example of Mathew’s perfect composure of mind. Surely this solitary pun,
this lonely but splendid star, was due to the temporary absence of that
perfect composure of his mind; a momentary feeling of elation crashed
through his lifelong habit of avoiding puns, and out the thing flashed.
On this incident alone one could build up a very pretty defence of those
Shakespearian puns which appear to be the bane of so many worthy
persons’ admiration for the poet. But Major Pack and Captain Creed are
still bleeding on the tavern floor--we must return to them. The
surgeons, finding it impossible to have them moved, had beds brought
into the room, where the two officers lay for many weeks. At first their
lives were despaired of, but being stout fellows, they contrived to
astonish everybody by recovering. It is pleasant to relate that their
most constant visitors were Mathew and his friend Macnamara, that all
four were soon on the best of terms, and that Pack and Creed were
completely cured of their fire-eating propensities. We can safely leave
them to rejoin their regiments, and turn to Mathew in his greatest
_rôle_, Mathew as host.

He had stayed long enough in Dublin to gather about him a circle of
excellent friends, and so he determined to retire to his estate at
Thomastown and begin his great work. All his plans had been put into
execution, and everything was ready. And now you shall discover what
manner of host he was. But first let me ask you to consider, in strict
private, your own trials as a guest; think of the visits you have made
that you began in high hopes and cut short in utter weariness; remember
the tribulations that only the guest, modest, sanguine, wistful,
long-suffering, can know, those thorns thick-set about the rose of
hospitality; enumerate the things that have made you invent appointments
to get away and tell lies innumerable to avoid returning; consider what
might have made your stay in Jones’ house a pleasant memory and your
good friend Brown a better host; and when you have done all this, you
will be more apt to appraise Mathew at his true worth.

His house had accommodation for forty guests and their servants, and
each guest had every convenience to hand in his own suite of rooms. If
he wished, a guest could take his meals in his own apartment, ordering
what he wanted from the kitchen and, if he felt inclined, inviting other
guests to dine with him. If he wanted society, he could go to the
common dining-room, where a ‘daily ordinary’--as they called it
then--was kept. Here there was none of the customary ceremony; the host
took his place anywhere; all ideas of rank and precedence were laid
aside; they were all good fellows together. This dining-room must have
been like nothing that we have known in a private house; it comes nearer
to a restaurant, but a restaurant somewhere in the Happy Isles, a
restaurant of men’s dreams, where the company is select and small, the
fare choice, the waiters quick and obliging and innocent of tip-hunting,
and, not least, one where there is nothing to pay. This was the day of
the coffee-house, and Mathew had one of his largest rooms fitted up to
resemble one of these places, upon which contemporary civilisation
seemed to be dependent. It had all the features of the City
coffee-house, such as Will’s, the haunt of Dryden, or Button’s, beloved
of Addison; there were barmaids and waiters, ready to supply
refreshments at all hours of the day; and chess-boards, backgammon
tables, newspapers, pamphlets, and what not. But more wonderful still,
the mansion contained not only a coffee-house, but a tavern! Oh, noble
Mathew! One could, of course, take a glass in one’s own room or the
coffee-house, or split a bottle in the dining-room--there was no
restriction; still, for the sake of the jolly Pantagruelian fellows
among his guests, Mathew set up a tavern. There, attended by a ‘waiter
in a blue apron’ (then the fashion in taverns), they could give their
orders without restraint, and fuddle and roar it after supper without
fear of disturbing the more sedate members of the house-party.

There were plenty of games at Thomastown, but no gamesters, for the only
restriction we hear of in the place refers, wisely enough, to gambling.
It was the sportsman’s paradise. There were two billiard tables and a
bowling green; fishing-tackle of all kinds and various guns; a pack of
buckhounds, another of foxhounds, and yet another of harriers, and
twenty hunters in the stable for the use of those guests who had not
their own. We hear nothing of a library, but perhaps because it is taken
for granted. I hope so. Mathew, I am certain, was no Squire Western, but
a man given not to devouring books, but at least to delicate bouts of
reading; no student or ‘wit,’ but one, as the fashion then was, with a
gentlemanly taste for letters. I like to think that there was a
library, perhaps immediately above the coffee-house, where one could
range among the tall folios and now and then come upon a ‘kind-hearted
play-book,’ and also have the pleasure of taking down one or two things
strange to one, new books, something by Crébillon or Le Sage, Prior’s
poems or the brand-new work by Mr. Pope, _The Rape of the Lock_. Nor do
we hear anything of music, but this, too, we may surely take for
granted. In all this changing company of Irish gentlemen there must have
been more than a few musicians, and somewhere on the premises a
clavichord or spinet and a viol or two for them to play. One would like
to think that a select company, before adjourning to the ‘tavern’ after
supper, could listen to something in the strain of _Stay, Shepherd_ or
_Whither runneth my Sweetheart?_ a song by Dr. Blow or something from
one of Mr. Purcell’s operas, and perhaps even a sonata by Corelli or one
of Couperin’s suites, which had once set our host Mathew tapping his
feet when he was in France. These are perhaps idle fancies, but we are
not to be denied them, and they are not too idle to complete the
picture.

But Mathew’s great glory comes not so much from the lavishness of his
hospitality, in which, of course, he has been often surpassed, though
perhaps by none of equal means, as from the spirit in which that
hospitality was given, from his own conduct as host. When he showed each
new guest over the house, he always told him: ‘This is your castle; here
you are to command as absolutely as in your own house.’ We have all
heard some such words as these, but Mathew really meant what he said. As
we have seen, a guest could dine or sup where he pleased; there was no
ceremony at the table, and Mathew took his place anywhere. In fact, he
made a point of mixing with his guests as one of themselves, and neither
invited nor expected compliments and thanks. Without good organisation
his scheme would have ruined him in a very short time: but he had some
faithful stewards and had so contrived his system of domestic economy
that there was no possibility of the waste and thieving common in most
large establishments then and since. He himself, it seems, superintended
everything, even the daily accounts, and did it early in the morning
before his guests were afoot. The house was always full, but we are told
that there was never any confusion or disorder. Mathew himself sometimes
went away for several days at a time, but everything went smoothly in
his absence. He was fortunate enough, it appears, to have solved the
‘servant problem,’ which, if we may believe Swift and other contemporary
writers, was very pressing at that time, and it says something for his
luck or wisdom that the idle, drunken, lying rogues of servants, so
familiar to readers of contemporary memoirs and so on, were entirely
absent from the house at Thomastown. And this mention of servants brings
us to our hero’s master-stroke. ‘Mr. Mathew,’ our authority tells us,
‘was the first that put an end to the inhospitable custom of giving
_vales_ to servants, by making a suitable addition to their wages; at
the same time assuring them that if they took any afterwards they should
be discharged with disgrace; and to prevent the temptation, the guests
were informed that he would consider it as the highest affront if any
offer of that sort were made.’ After that, to dwell longer on his rare
virtues as a host would be to paint the lily. Who will dare now to
contest the claim I have made for him? Oh, peerless Mathew!

Of the excellent persons who enjoyed such famous hospitality we know
little, with the exception of two to be noticed hereafter. But they
seem to have been all of one sex. In the short sketch of Mathew’s career
that I have plundered so freely, I can find no record of any ladies
among the guests. Nor is there any mention of a Mrs. Mathew, which is
not surprising, for woman, who knits up the social fabric and keeps
civilisation intact, does not favour these noble experiments, these
staggering ideals, these gigantic whims; she puts the golden hobby-horse
between the shafts or at the end of a towing-line. As a husband and
family man Mathew would have been admirable and still the very soul of
hospitality, but, you may depend upon it, he would never have carried
out his astonishing scheme, never have had his coffee-house and tavern
and what not at Thomastown, never have come down to us as one of the
most delightful eccentrics of his age. As it was, the life at Thomastown
was a purely masculine affair, as remote from femininity as that of a
monastery or a college, and better than either, where men not
desperately in love could ‘fleet the time carelessly,’ away from their
ladies’ eyes.[A] It is fortunate that we do know the names of at least
two of those lucky gentlemen who stayed with Mathew, and that one of
them happens to be a great man, a man who might be called a ‘hard case’
so far as guests are concerned, a man with a capacity for being
displeased that had not its equal in Europe, whose enjoyment may
reasonably be taken as the very acid test of Mathew’s scheme--no other
than Dean Swift. Yes, we are told that the great Dean himself rode down
to Tipperary and spent some time at Thomastown. The fact is not
recorded, so far as I know, in any of his numerous biographies; I have
taken it on trust from the old volume that contains Mathew himself. Like
many other stories, if it is not true it ought to be. But I see no
reason to doubt it.

 [A] But I am assured by a gentleman bearing the same name, and
 presumably of the same family, as our hero, that actually Mathew was
 married twice; also that his Christian name was George--“Grand George”
 he was called.

Swift’s friend, Dr. Sheridan, had charge of Mathew’s nephew for a time,
and not unnaturally became one of the welcome guests at Thomastown.
Through him Swift heard a great deal about the place, and, after a time,
wanted to find out for himself how much truth there was in these reports
of marvels, which seemed to him a monstrous tissue of exaggeration.
Mathew, hearing of this through Sheridan, despatched a polite note to
Swift, requesting the honour of a visit, in company with Sheridan, when
the latter should have his next school vacation. Swift, though a little
dubious, accepted the invitation, and some little time afterwards set
out for Thomastown with Sheridan and a near relation of Mathew’s. The
three of them rode all day through miry lanes and at length reached one
of the wretched wayside hovels that passed then for inns in Ireland.
Here they were to spend the night. Swift, who was very fastidious (did
he not once complain of ‘dirty sheets’ and get in return a rebuke that
is--or should be--historic?), began already to regret the adventure. But
they had not been in the inn more than a few minutes when a magnificent
coach-and-six thundered up to the door. It had been sent by Mathew to
carry them the remainder of the journey to Thomastown, and contained a
delectable supply of food, wine, and other liquors. Swift, we are told,
‘was highly pleased with this uncommon mark of attention paid him, and
the coach proved particularly acceptable as he had been a good deal
fatigued with his day’s journey.’ And an entertaining ride it must have
been, too, with the Dean in good spirits, little Dr. Sheridan chuckling
over the impromptu supper, and one and all rolling through the night on
the road to Tipperary.

When they came within sight of the house, Swift was astonished at its
size, and cried: ‘What, in the name of heaven, can be the use of such a
vast building?’

‘Why, Mr. Dean,’ returned Mathew’s relative, ‘there are no less than
forty apartments for guests in that house, and all of them probably
occupied at this time, except what are reserved for us.’

Swift was down in the dumps in a moment. You could not expect the author
of _Gulliver_ to relish his fellow-humans in a lump. Sticking his head
out of the window, he called to the coachman and told him to drive back
to Dublin, as he could not think of mixing with such a crowd. Then,
luckily for himself, as it turned out, he saw that the affair had gone
too far to be thus lightly abandoned. ‘Well,’ he declared gloomily,
‘there is no remedy; I must submit; but I have lost a fortnight of my
life.’ He had not; but how many fortnights in that long unhappy life of
his might not he have lost and yet only gained thereby, perhaps won some
little touch of heart’s ease?

He was received at the door by Mathew, who conducted him to his room,
made the usual speech about the customs of the house, and then retired,
leaving Swift, still gloomily submissive and not a little incredulous,
to his dour meditations. Shortly afterwards, however, the cook appeared
with his bill of fare, and the butler with his wine list, ready to
receive orders. ‘And is all this really so?’ Swift demanded of his two
companions; ‘and may I command here as in my own house?’ Dr. Sheridan
and his friend assured him that he might, that the host desired all his
guests to suit their own inclinations without the least restraint. ‘Well
then,’ cried Swift, ‘I invite you and Dr. Sheridan to be my guests while
I stay, for I think I shall scarcely be tempted to mix with the mob
below.’

Now listen to our historian, for we hasten to the climax:

     Three days were passed in riding over the demesne, and viewing the
     various improvements, without ever seeing Mr. Mathew or any of the
     guests: nor were the company below much concerned at the dean’s
     absence, as his very name usually inspired those who did not know
     him with awe, and they were afraid that his presence would put an
     end to the ease and cheerfulness which reigned among them. On the
     fourth day Swift entered the room where the company were assembled
     before dinner, and addressed Mr. Mathew in a strain of the highest
     compliment, expatiating on all the beauties of his improvements,
     with the skill of an artist, and with the taste of a connoisseur.
     Such an address from a man of Swift’s character could not fail of
     being pleasing to the owner, who was, at the same time, the planner
     of these improvements; and so fine an eulogium from one who was
     supposed to deal more largely in satire than panegyric was likely
     to remove the prejudice entertained against his character, and
     prepossess the rest of the company in his favour. He concluded his
     speech by saying: ‘And now, gentlemen, I am come to live among you,
     and it shall be no fault of mine if we do not pass our time
     agreeably.’

There is something almost startling in the _naïveté_ of our historian’s
observation that ‘such an address ... could not fail of being pleasing.’
Pleasing indeed! Hearty praise in public from Jonathan Swift was worth
all that seven years’ sacrifice.

After that, we are told, all constraint vanished. Swift, as we know,
could be the very prince of good fellows in his best days and when the
mood was on; and now he entered readily into the life of the place,
devised all manner of jests, and kept Thomastown in a roar. Never, we
are told, were there such days and nights at Thomastown; and those of us
who have more than a superficial acquaintance with Swift can readily
believe it. Soon, all too soon, came the time when Sheridan had to
return to his school. But Swift was not allowed to depart with his
friend; the whole company entreated him to remain; even Mathew himself
for once broke through his rule of never soliciting a guest to stay; and
the upshot of it was that the great man stayed on, and finally, in place
of that wasted fortnight, spent four months, four happy months, as the
guest of Thomastown. Thus, though we know so little of Mathew’s guests,
at least we do know this: he sheltered beneath his roof for more than a
hundred nights one of the greatest intellects of his time; he was
enabled to give some little time of rest and forgetfulness, snatched, as
it were, before the coming of a dreadful darkness, to one of the
greatest and most unhappy spirits known to our literature. That, surely,
was no little thing. Nor did it lack recompense. I have said that
Mathew, this eccentric personage, this king of hosts, was not without
greatness, not yet suitably acknowledged. But I was wrong. For whatever
he did, if the tale holds true, the world repaid him in full, the thanks
of all guests to this greatest of hosts have long ago been given their
voice, and the debt is cleared. For was he not praised by Swift?

PRINTED IN GREAT BRITAIN BY ROBERT MACLEHOSE AND CO. LTD. THE UNIVERSITY
PRESS, GLASGOW.

       *       *       *       *       *

Typographical errors corrected by the etext transcriber:

yet did not hestitate to juggle=> yet did not hesitate to juggle {pg 46}





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