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Title: Paris Nights - And Other Impressions of Places and People
Author: Bennett, Arnold
Language: English
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PARIS NIGHTS

And Other Impressions of Places and People

By Arnold Bennett

Author Of The Old Wives’ Tale, Clayhanger Your United States, Etc., Etc.

With Illustrations By E. A. Rickards

George H. Doran Company, New York

MCMXIII


[Illustration: 0001]


[Illustration: 0010]


[Illustration: 0011]



PARIS NIGHTS--1910



I--ARTISTIC EVENING

The first invitation I ever received into a purely Parisian interior
might have been copied out of a novel by Paul Bourget. Its lure was thus
phrased: “_Un peu de musique et d’agréables femmes_.” It answered to my
inward vision of Paris. My experiences in London, which fifteen years
earlier I had entered with my mouth open as I might have entered some
city of Oriental romance, had, of course, done little to destroy my
illusions about Paris, for the ingenuousness of the artist is happily
indestructible. Hence, my inward vision of Paris was romantic, based on
the belief that Paris was essentially “different.” Nothing more banal in
London than a “little music,” or even “some agreeable women”! But what
a difference between a little music and _un peu de musique!_ What an
exciting difference between agreeable women and _agréables femmes!_
After all, this difference remains nearly intact to this day. Nobody
who has not lived intimately in and with Paris can appreciate the unique
savour of that word _femmes_. “Women” is a fine word, a word
which, breathed in a certain tone, will make all men--even bishops,
misogynists, and political propagandists--fall to dreaming! But _femmes_
is yet more potent. There cling to it the associations of a thousand
years of dalliance in a land where dalliance is passionately understood.

The usual Paris flat, high up, like the top drawer of a chest of
drawers! No passages, but multitudinous doors. In order to arrive at
any given room it is necessary to pass through all the others. I passed
through the dining-room, where a servant with a marked geometrical
gift had arranged a number of very small plates round the rim of a vast
circular table. In the drawing-room my host was seated at a grand piano
with a couple of candles in front of him and a couple of women behind
him. See the light glinting on bits of the ebon piano, and on his face,
and on their chins and jewels, and on the corner of a distant picture
frame; and all the rest of the room obscure! He wore a jacket,
negligently; the interest of his attire was dramatically centred in his
large, limp necktie; necktie such as none hut a hero could unfurl in
London. A man with a very intelligent face, eager, melancholy (with a
sadness acquired in the Divorce Court), wistful, appealing. An idealist!
He called himself a publicist. One of the women, a musical composer,
had a black skirt and a white blouse; she was ugly but provocative. The
other, all in white, was pretty and sprightly, but her charm lacked the
perverseness which is expected and usually found in Paris; she painted,
she versified, she recited. With the eye of a man who had sat for years
in the editorial chair of a ladies’ paper, I looked instinctively at the
hang of the skirts. It was not good. Those vague frocks were such as
had previously been something else, and would soon he transformed by
discreet modifications into something still else. Candlelight was best
for them. But what grace of demeanour, what naturalness, what candid
ease and appositeness of greeting, what absence of self-consciousness!
Paris is the self-unconscious.

I was presented as _le romancier anglais_. It sounded romantic. I
thought: “What a false impression they are getting, as of some vocation
exotic and delightful! If only they knew the prose of it!” I thought of
their conception of England, a mysterious isle. When Balzac desired
to make a woman exquisitely strange, he caused her to be born in
Lancashire.

My host begged permission to go on playing. In the intervals of being
a publicist, he composed music, and he was now deciphering a manuscript
freshly written. I bent over between the two women, and read the title:

“_Ygdrasil: reverie._”

*****

When there were a dozen or fifteen people in the room, and as
many candles irregularly disposed like lighthouses over a complex
archipelago, I formed one of, a group consisting of those two women and
another, a young dramatist who concealed his expressive hands in a pair
of bright yellow gloves, and a middle-aged man whose constitution was
obviously ruined. This last was librarian of some public library--I
forget which--and was stated to be monstrously erudite in all
literatures. I asked him whether he had of late encountered anything new
and good in English.

“I have read nothing later than Swinburne,” he replied in a thin,
pinched voice--like his features, like his wary and suffering eyes.
Speaking with an icy, glittering pessimism, he quoted Stendhal to the
effect that a man does not change after twenty-five. He supported the
theory bitterly and joyously, and seemed to taste the notion of his own
intellectual rigidity, of his perfect inability to receive new ideas
and sensations, as one tastes an olive. The young dramatist, in a
beautifully curved phrase, began to argue that certain emotional and
purely intellectual experiences did not come under the axiom, but the
librarian would have none of such a reservation. Then the women joined
in, and it was just as if they had all five learnt off by heart one of
Landor’s lighter imaginary conversations, and were performing it.
Well convinced that they were all five absurdly wrong, fanciful, and
sentimental either in optimism or pessimism, I nevertheless stood
silent and barbaric. Could I cut across that lacework of shapely elegant
sentences and apposite gestures with the jagged edge of what in England
passes for a remark? The librarian was serious in his eternal frost. The
dramatist had the air of being genuinely concerned about the matter; he
spoke with deference to the librarian, with chivalrous respect to the
women, and to me with glances of appeal for help; possibly the reason
was that he was himself approaching the dreadful limit of twenty-five.
But the women’s eyes were always contradicting the polite seriousness of
their tones. Their eyes seemed to be always mysteriously talking about
something else; to be always saying: “All this that you are discussing
is trivial, but I am brooding for ever on what alone is important.”
 This, while true of nearly all women, is disturbingly true of Parisians.
The ageing librarian, by dint of freezing harder, won the altercation:
it was as though he stabbed them one by one with a dagger of ice. And
presently he was lecturing them. The women were now admiring him.
There was something in his face worn by maladies, in his frail physical
unpleasantness, and in his frigid and total disgust with life, that
responded to their secret dream. Their gaze caressed him, and he felt
it falling on him like snow. That he intensely enjoyed his existence was
certain.

They began talking low among themselves, the women, and there was an
outburst of laughter; pretty giggling laughter. The two who had been
at the piano stood aside and whispered and laughed with a more intimate
intimacy, struggling to suppress the laughter, and yet every now and
then letting it escape from sheer naughtiness. They cried. It was the
_fou rire_. Impossible to believe that a moment before they had been
performing in one of Landor’s imaginary conversations, and that they
were passionately serious about art and life and so on. They might have
been schoolgirls.

“_Farceuses, toutes les deux!_” said the host, coming up, delightfully
indulgent, but shocked that women to whom he had just played _Ygdrasil_,
should be able so soon to throw off the spell of it.

The pretty and sprightly woman, all in white, despairing, whisked
impulsively out of the room, in order to recall to herself amid darkness
and cloaks and hats that she was not a giddy child, but an experienced
creature of thirty if she was a day. She came back demure, her eyes
liquid, brooding.

*****

“By the way,” said the young dramatist to the host, “Your People’s
Concert scheme--doesn’t it move?”

“By the way,” said the host, suddenly excited, “Shall we hold a meeting
of the committee now?”

He had a project for giving performances of the finest music to the
populace at a charge of five sous per head. It was the latest activity
of the publicist in him. The committee appeared to consist of everybody
who was standing near. He drew me into it, because, coming from London,
I was of course assumed to be a complete encyclopædia of London and
to be capable of furnishing detailed statistics about all
twopence-halfpenny enterprises in London for placing the finest music
before the people. The women, especially the late laughers, were touched
by the beauty of the idea underlying the enterprise, and their eyes
showed that at instants they were thinking sympathetically of the
far-off “people.” The librarian remained somewhat apart, as it were with
a rifle, and maintained a desolating fire of questions: “Was the scheme
meant to improve the people or to divert them? Would they come? Would
they like the finest music? Why five sous? Why not seven, or three? Was
the enterprise to be self-supporting?” The host, with his glance fixed
in appeal on me (it seemed to me that he was entreating me to accept him
as a serious publicist, warning me not to be misled by appearances)--the
host replied to all these questions with the sweetest, politest, wistful
patience, as well as he could. Certainly the people would like the
finest music! The people had a taste naturally distinguished and
correct. It was _we_ who were the degenerates. The enterprise must be
and would be self-supporting. No charity! No, he had learnt the folly of
charity! But naturally the artists would give their services. They would
be paid in terms of pleasure. The financial difficulty was that, whereas
he would not charge more than five sous a head for admission, he could
not hire a hall at a rent which worked out to less than a franc a head.
Such was the problem before the committee meeting! Dufayel, the great
shopkeeper, had offered to assist him.... The librarian frigidly exposed
the anti-social nature of Dufayel’s business methods, and the host
hurriedly made him a present of Dufayel. Dufayel’s help could not
be conscientiously accepted. The problem then remained!. . . London?
London, so practical? As an encyclopaedia of London I was not a success.
Politeness hid a general astonishment that, freshly arrived from London,
I could not suggest a solution, could not say what London would do in a
like quandary, nor even what London had done!

“We will adjourn it to our next meeting,” said the host, and named day,
hour, and place. And the committee smoothed business out of its brow
and dissolved itself, while at the host’s request a girl performed some
Japanese music on the Pleyel.

[Illustration: 0029]

When it was finished, the librarian, who had listened to Japanese music
at an embassy, said that this was not Japanese music. “And thou knowest
it well,” he added. The host admitted that it was not really Japanese
music, but he insisted with his plaintive smile that the whole subject
of Japanese music was very interesting and enigmatic.

Then the pretty sprightly woman, all in white, went and stood behind an
arm-chair and recited a poem, admirably, and with every sign of emotion.
Difficult to believe that she had ever laughed, that she did not exist
continually at these heights! She bowed modestly, a priestess of the
poet, and came out from behind the chair.

“By whom?” demanded the librarian.

And a voice answered, throbbing: “Henri de Régnier.”

“Indeed,” said the librarian with cold, careless approval, “it is pretty
enough.”

But I knew, from the tone alone of the answering voice, that the name
of Henri de Régnier was a sacred name, and that when it had been uttered
the proper thing was to bow the head mutely, as before a Botticelli.

“I have something here,” said the host, producing one of these
portfolios which hurried men of affairs carry under their arms in the
streets of Paris, and which are called _serviettes_; this one, however,
was of red morocco. The pretty, sprightly woman sprang forward blushing
to obstruct his purpose, but other hands led her gently away. The host,
using the back of the arm-chair for a lectern, read alternately poems
of hers and poems of his own. And he, too, spoke with every sign of
emotion. I had to conquer my instinctive British scorn for these people
because they would not at any rate pretend that they were ashamed of
the emotion of poetry. Their candour appeared to me, then, weak, if not
actually indecent. The librarian admitted occasionally that something
was pretty enough. The rest of the company maintained a steady fervency
of enthusiasm. The reader himself forgot all else in his increasing
ardour, and thus we heard about a score of poems--all, as we were told,
unpublished--together with the discussion of a score of poems.

*****

We all sat around the rim of an immense circle of white tablecloth. Each
on a little plate had a portion of pineapple ice and in a little glass a
draught of Asti. Far away, in the centre of the diaper desert, withdrawn
and beyond reach, lay a dish containing the remains of the ice. Except
fans and cigarette-cases, there was nothing else on the table whatever.
Some one across the table asked me what I had recently finished, and I
said a play. Everybody agreed that it must be translated into French.
The Paris theatres simply could not get good plays. In a few moments it
was as if the entire company was beseeching me to allow my comedy to be
translated and produced with dazzling success at one of the principal
theatres on the boulevard. But I would not. I said my play was
unsuitable for the French stage.

“Because?”

“Because it is too pure.”

I had meant to be mildly jocular. But this joke excited mirth that
surpassed mildness. “Thou hearest that? He says his play is too pure for
us!” My belief is that they had never heard one of these strange, naïve,
puzzling barbarians make a joke before, and that they regarded the thing
in its novelty as really too immensely and exotically funny, in some
manner which they could not explain to themselves. Beneath their
politeness I could detect them watching me, after that, in expectation
of another outbreak of insular humour. I might have been tempted to
commit follies, had not a new guest arrived.

[Illustration: 0035]

This was a tall, large-boned, ugly, coquettish woman, with a strong
physical attractiveness and a voice that caused vibrations in your soul.
She was in white, with a powerful leather waistband which suited her.
She was intimate with everybody except me, and by a natural gift
and force she held the attention of everybody from the moment of her
entrance. You could see she was used to that. The time was a quarter
to midnight, and she explained that she had been trying to arrive for
hours, but could not have succeeded a second sooner. She said she must
recount her _journée_, and she recounted her _journée_, which, after
being a vague prehistoric nebulosity up to midday seemed to begin
to take a definite shape about that hour. It was the _journée_ of a
Parisienne who is also an amateur actress and a dog-fancier. And
undoubtedly all her days were the same: battles waged against clocks
and destiny. She had no sense of order or of time. She had no exact
knowledge of anything; she had no purpose in life; she was perfectly
futile and useless. But she was acquainted with the secret nature of men
and women; she could judge them shrewdly; she was the very opposite
of the _ingénue_; and by her physical attractiveness, and that deep,
thrilling voice, and her distinction of gesture and tone, she created in
you the illusion that she was a capable and efficient woman, absorbed
in the most important ends. She sat down negligently behind the host,
waving away all ice and Asti, and busily fanning both him and herself.
She flattered him by laying her ringed and fluffy arm along the back of
his chair.

“Do you know,” she said, smiling at him mysteriously. “I have made a
strange discovery to-day. Paris gives more towards the saving of lost
dogs than towards the saving of lost women. Very curious, is it not?”

The host seemed to be thunderstruck by this piece of information. The
whole table was agitated by it, and a tremendous discussion was set
on foot. I then witnessed for the first time the spectacle of a fairly
large mixed company talking freely about scabrous facts. Then for the
first time was I eased from the strain of pretending in a mixed company
that things are not what they in fact are. To listen to those women, and
to watch them listening, was as staggering as it would have been to
see them pick up red-hot irons in their feverish, delicate hands. Their
admission that they knew everything, that no corner of existence was
dark enough to frighten them into speechlessness, was the chief of their
charms, then. It intensified their acute femininity. And while they were
thus gravely talking, ironical, sympathetic, amused, or indignant, they
even yet had the air of secretly thinking about something else.

Discussions of such subjects never formally end, for the talkers never
tire of them. This subject was discussed in knots all the way down six
flights of stairs by the light of tapers and matches. I left the last,
because I wanted to get some general information from my host about one
of his guests.

“She is divorcing her husband,” he said, with the simple sad pride of a
man who had been a petitioner in the matrimonial courts. “For the
rest, you never meet any but divorced women at my place. It saves
complications. So have no fear.”

We shook hands warmly.

“_Au revoir, mon ami._”

“_Au revoir, mon cher._”



II--THE VARIÉTIÉS

The filth and the paltry shabbiness of the entrance to the theatre
amounted to cynicism. Instead of uplifting by a foretaste of light and
magnificence, as the entrance to a theatre should, it depressed by its
neglected squalour. Twenty years earlier it might have cried urgently
for cleansing and redecoration, but now it was long past crying. It
had become vile. In the centre at the back sat a row of three or four
officials in evening dress, prosperous clubmen with glittering rakish
hats, at a distance of twenty feet, but changing as we approached them
to indigent, fustian-clad ticket-clerks penned in a rickety rostrum and
condemned like sandwich-men to be ridiculous in order to live. (Their
appearance recalled to my mind the fact that a “front-of-the-house”
 inspector at the principal music-hall in France and in Europe is paid
thirty sous a night.) They regarded our tickets with gestures of scorn,
weariness, and cupidity. None knew better than they that these coloured
scraps represented a large lovely gold coin, rare and yet plentiful,
reassuring and yet transient, the price of coals, boots, nectar, and
love.

We came to a very narrow, low, foul, semi-circular tunnel which was
occupied by hags and harpies with pink bows in their hair, and by
marauding men, and by hats and cloaks and overcoats, and by a double
odour of dirt and disinfectants. Along the convex side of the tunnel
were a number of little doors like the doors of cells. We bought a
programme from a man, yielded our wraps to two harpies, and were led
away by another man. All these beings looked hungrily apprehensive, like
dogs nosing along a gutter. The auditorium which was nearly full, had
the same characteristics as the porch and the _couloir_. It was
filthy, fetid, uncomfortable, and dangerous. It had the carpets of a
lodging-house of the ‘seventies, the seats of an old omnibus, the gilt
and the decorated sculpture of a circus at a fair. And it was dingy! It
was encrusted with dinginess!

Something seemed to be afoot on the stage: from the embittered
resignation of the audience and the perfunctory nonchalance of the
players, we knew that this could only be the curtain-raiser. The
hour was ten minutes past nine. The principal piece was advertised to
commence at nine o’clock. But the curtain-raiser was not yet finished,
and after it was finished there would be the _entr’acte_--one of the
renowned, interminable _entr’actes_ of the Théâtre des Variétés.

*****

The Variétés is still one of the most “truly Parisian” of theatres, and
has been so since long before Zola described it fully in _Nana_. The
young bloods of Buenos Ayres and St. Petersburg still have visions of
an evening at the Variétés as the superlative of intense living. Every
theatre with a reputation has its “note,” and the note of the Variétés
is to make a fool of its public. Its attitude to the public is that of
an English provincial hotel or an English bank: “Come, and he d----d to
you! Above all, do not imagine that I exist for your convenience. You
exist for mine.” At the Variétés had management is good management;
slackness is a virtuous _coquetterie_. It would never do, there, to be
prompt, clean, or honest. To make the theatre passably habitable
would be ruin. Its _chic_ would be lost if it ceased to be a Hades of
discomfort and a menace to health. There is a small troupe of notorious
artistes, some of whom show great talent when it occurs to them to show
it; the vogue of the rest is one of the innumerable mysteries which
abound in theatrical life. It is axiomatic that they are all witty, and
that whatever lines they enunciate thereby become witty. They are simply
side-splitting as Sydney Smith was simply side-splitting when he asked
for the potatoes to be passed. Also the manager of the theatre always
wears an old straw hat, summer and winter. He is the wearer of an
eternal battered straw hat, who incidentally manages a theatre. You go
along the boulevard, and you happen to see that straw hat emerging from
the theatre. And by the strange potency of the hat you will be obliged
to say to the next acquaintance you meet: “I’ve just seen Samuel in
his straw hat.” And the thought in your mind and in the mind of your
acquaintance will be that you are getting very near the heart of Paris.

Beyond question the troupe of favourites considers itself to be the real
centre of Paris, and, therefore, of civilisation. Practically the entire
Press, either by good nature, stupidity, snobbishness, or simple cash
transactions, takes part in the vast make-believe that the troupe is
conferring a favour on civilisation by consenting to be alive. And the
troupe of course behaves accordingly. It puts its back into the evening
when it thinks it will, and when it thinks it won’t, it doesn’t. “_Aux
Variétés on travaille quand on a le temps._” The rise of the curtain
awaits the caprice of a convivial green-room. “Don’t hurry--the public
is getting impatient.” Naturally, the underlings are not included in the
benefits of the make-believe. “At rehearsals we may wait two hours for
the principals,” a chorus-girl said to me. “But if _we_ are five minutes
late, one flings us a fine. A hundred francs a month I touch, and it
has happened to me to pay thirty in fines. Some one gets all that,
you know!” She went off into an impassioned description of scenes at
rehearsals of a ballet, how the ballet-master, after epical outbursts,
would always throw up his arms in inexpressible disgust and retire to
his room, and how the women would follow him and kiss and cajole and
hug him, and how then, after a majestic pause, his step could be heard
slowly descending the stairs, and at last the rehearsal would resume....

The human interest, no doubt!

The Variétés has another _rôle_ and justification. It is what the French
call a women’s theatre. When I asked a well-known actress why the
_entr’-actes_ at the Variétés were so long, she replied with her air of
finding even the most bizarre phenomena quite natural: “There are
several reasons. One is, so that the gentlemen may have time to write
notes and to receive answers.” I did not conceal my sense of the oddness
of this method of conducting a theatre, whereupon she reminded me that
it was the Variétés we were talking about. She said that little by
little I should understand all sorts of things.

*****

As the principal piece progressed--it was an _opérette_--the apathy of
the public grew more and more noticeable. They seemed to have forgotten
that they were in one of the most truly Parisian of theatres, watching
players whose names were household words and synonyms of wit and
allurement. There was no applause, save from a claque which had carried
discipline to the extreme. The favourites were evidently in one of their
moods of casualness. Either the piece had run too long or it was not
going to run long enough. It was a piece brightly and jinglingly vulgar,
ministering, of course, in the main, to the secret concupiscence which
drives humanity forward; titillating, like most stage-spectacles, all
that is base, inept, and gross in a crowd whose units are perhaps, not
quite odious. A few of the performers had moments of real brilliance.
But even these flashes did not stir the public, whose characteristic
was stolidity. A public which, having regard to the conditions of the
particular theatre, necessarily consisted of simple snobbish gulls whose
creed is whatever they read or hear, with an admixture of foreigners,
provincials, adventurers, and persons who, having no illusions, go
to the Variétés because they have been to everything else and must go
somewhere! The first half-dozen rows of the stalls were reserved for
males: a custom which at the Variétés has survived from a more barbaric
age, as the custom of the finger-bowl has survived in the repasts of
the polite. The self-satisfied and self-conscious occupants of these rows
seemed to summarise and illustrate all the various masculine stupidity
of a great and proud city. To counterbalance this preponderance of
the male, I could glimpse, behind the lath grilles of the cages
called _baignoires_, the forms of women (each guarded) who I hope were
incomparable. The sight of these grilles at once sent the mind to the
seraglio, and the House of Commons, and other fastnesses of Orientalism.

The evening was interminable, not for me alone, but obviously for the
majority of the audience. Impossible to describe the dull fortitude of
the audience without being accused of wilful exaggeration! Only in the
_entr’actes_, in the amplitude and dubious mystery of the _entr’actes_,
did the audience arouse itself into the semblance of vivacity. There was
but little complaining. Were we not at the Variétés? At the Variétés,
to suffer was part of the entertainment. The French public is a public
which accepts all in Christian meekness--all! It knows that it exists
for the convenience of the bureaucracy and the theatres. It covers
its cowardice under a mantle of philosophy and politeness. Its fierce
protest is a shrug. “_Que voulez-vous? C’est comme ça_.”

*****

At last, at nearly half after midnight, we came forth, bitterly
depressed, as usual, by the deep consciousness of futile waste. I could
see, in my preoccupation, the whole organism of the Variétés, which is
only the essence of the French theatre. A few artistes and a financier
or so at the core, wilful, corrupt, self-indulgent, spoiled, venal,
enormously unbusinesslike, incredibly cynical, luxurious in the midst of
a crowd of miserable parasites and menials; creating for themselves, out
of electric globes, and newspapers, and posters, and photographs, and
the inexhaustible simplicity and sexuality of the public, a legend of
artistic greatness. They make a frame, and hang a curtain in front of
it, and put footlights beneath; and lo! the capricious manouvres
of these mortals become the sacred, authoritative functioning of an
institution!

It was raining. The boulevard was a mirror. And along the reflecting
surface of this mirror cab after cab, hundreds of cabs, rolled swiftly.
Dozens and dozens were empty, and had no goal; but none would stop. They
all went ruthlessly by with offensive gestures of disdain. Strangers
cannot believe that when a Paris cabman without a fare refuses to stop
on a wet night, it is not because he is hoping for a client in richer
furs, or because he is going to the stables, or because he has earned
enough that night, or because he has an urgent appointment with
his enchantress--but simply from malice. Nevertheless this is a
psychological fact which any experienced Parisian will confirm. On a wet
night the cabman revenges himself upon the _bourgeoisie_ though the base
satisfaction may cost him money. As we waited, with many other princes
of the earth who could afford to throw away a whole louis for a few
hours’ relaxation, as we waited vainly in the wet for a cabman who would
condescend, I could savour only one sensation--that of exasperating
tedium completely achieved.



III--EVENING WITH EXILES

I lived up at the top of the house, absolutely alone. After eleven
o’clock in the morning, when my servant left, I was my own doorkeeper.
Like most solitaries in strange places, whenever I heard a ring I had
a feeling that perhaps after all it might be the ring of romance. This
time it was the telegraph-boy. I gave him a penny, because in France,
much more than in England, every one must live, and the notion still
survives that a telegram has sufficient unusualness to demand a tip; the
same with a registered letter. I read the telegram, and my evening lay
suddenly in fragments at my feet. The customary accident, the accident
dreaded by every solitary, had happened. “Sorry, prevented from coming
to-night,” etc. It was not yet six o’clock. I had in front of me a
wilderness of six hours to traverse. In my warm disgust I went at once
out in the streets. My flat had become mysteriously uninhabitable, and
my work repugnant. The streets of Paris, by reason of their hospitality,
are a refuge.

[Illustration: 0045]

The last sun of September was setting across the circular Place Blanche.
I sat down at the terrace of the smallest _café_ and drank tea. Exactly
opposite were the crimson wings of the Moulin Rouge, and to the right
was the establishment which then held first place among nocturnal
restaurants in Montmartre. It had the strange charm of a resort which is
never closed, night or day, and where money and time are squandered with
infantile fatuity. Somehow it inspired respect, if not awe. Its terrace
was seldom empty, and at that hour it was always full. Under the
striped and valanced awning sat perhaps a hundred people, all slowly and
deliberately administering to themselves poisons of various beautiful
colours. A crowd to give pause to the divination of even the most
conceited student of human nature, a crowd in which the simplest
bourgeois or artist or thief sat next to men and women exercising the
oldest and most disreputable professions--and it was impossible surely
to distinguish which from which!

[Illustration: 0051]

Out of the medley of trams, omnibuses, carts, automobiles, and cabs
that continually rattled over the cobbles, an open _fiacre_ would detach
itself every minute or so, and set down or take up in front of the
terrace. Among these was one carrying two young dandies, an elegantly
dressed girl, and another young girl in a servant’s cap and apron. They
were all laughing and talking together. The dandies and the elegancy got
out and took a vacant table amid the welcoming eager bows of a _maître
d’hotel, a chasseur,_ and a waiter. She was freshly and meticulously
and triumphantly got up, like an elaborate confection of starched linen
fresh from the laundress. Her lips were impeccably rouged. She delighted
the eye by her health and her youth and her pretty insolence. A single
touch would have soiled her, but she had not yet been touched. Her day
had just begun. Probably, her bed was not yet made. The black-robed,
scissored girls of the drapery store at the next angle of the _place_
were finishing their tenth hour of vigil over goods displayed on the
footpath. And next to that was a creamery where black-robed girls could
obtain a whole day’s sustenance for the price of one glass of poison.
Evidently the young creature had only just arrived at the dignity of a
fashionable dressmaker, and a servant of her own. Her ingenuous vanity
obliged her to show her servant to the _place_, and the ingenuous vanity
of the servant was content to be shown off; for the servant might have
a servant to-morrow--who could tell? The cabman and the servant began to
converse, and presently the cabman in his long fawn coat and white
hat descended and entered the vehicle and sat down by the servant, and
pulled out an illustrated comic paper, and they bent their heads over it
and giggled enormously in unison; he was piling up money at the rate of
at least a sou a minute. Occasionally the young mistress threw a loud
sisterly remark to the servant, who replied gaily. And the two young
dandies bore nobly the difficult _rôle_ of world-worn men who still
count not the cost of smiles. Say what you like, it was charming. It was
one of the reasons why Paris is the city which is always forgiven. Could
one reasonably expect that the bright face of the vapid little siren
should be solemnised by the thought: “To-day I am a day nearer forty
than I was yesterday”?

The wings of the Moulin Rouge, jewelled now with crimson lamps, began
to revolve slowly. The upper chambers of the restaurant showed lights
behind their mysteriously-curtained windows. The terrace was suddenly
bathed in the calm blue of electricity. No austere realism of the
philosopher could argue away the romance of the scene.

*****

I turned down the steep Rue Blanche, and at the foot of it passed by
the shadow of the Trinité, the great church of illicit assignations,
at whose clock scores of frightened and expectant hearts gaze anxiously
every afternoon; and through the Rue de la Chaussée d’Antin, where
corsets are masterpieces beyond price and flowers may be sold for a
sovereign apiece, and then into the full fever of the grand boulevard
with its maddening restlessness of illuminated signs. The shops and
_cafés_ were all on fire, making two embankments of fire, above which
rose high and mysterious _façades_ masked by trees that looked like the
impossible verdure of an opera. And between the summits of the trees a
ribbon of rich, dark, soothing purple--the sky! This was the city. This
was what the race had accomplished, after eighteen Louises and nearly as
many revolutions, and when all was said that could be said it remained
a prodigious and a comforting spectacle. Every doorway shone with
invitation; every satisfaction and delight was offered, on terms
ridiculously reasonable. And binding everything together were the
refined, neighbourly, and graceful cynical gestures of the race; so
different from the harsh and awkward timidity, the self-centred egotism
and artistocratic hypocrisy of Piccadilly. It seemed difficult to be
lonely amid multitudes that so candidly accepted human nature as human
nature is. It seemed a splendid and an uplifting thing to be there. I
continued southwards, down the narrow, swarming Rue Richelieu, past the
immeasurable National Library on the left and Jean Goujon’s sculptures
of the rivers of France on the right, and past the Theatre Français,
where nice plain people were waiting to see _L’Aventurière_, and across
the arcaded Rue de Rivoli. And then I was in the dark desert of the
Place du Carrousel, where the omnibuses are diminished to toy-omnibuses.
The town was shut off by the vast arms of the Louvre. The purple had
faded out the sky. The wind, heralding October, blew coldly across the
spaces. The artfully arranged vista of the Champs Elysées, rising in
flame against the silhouette of Cleopatra’s needle, struck me as
a meretricious device, designed to impress tourists and monarchs.
Everything was meretricious. I could not even strike a match without
being reminded that a contented and corrupt inefficiency was corroding
this race like a disease. I could not light my cigarette because
somebody, somewhere, had not done his job like an honest man. And thus
it was throughout.

I wanted to dine, and there were a thousand restaurants within a
mile; but they had all ceased to invite me. I was beaten down by the
overwhelming sadness of one who for the time being has no definite
arranged claim to any friendly attention in a huge city--crowded with
pre-occupied human beings. I might have been George Gissing. I re-wrote
all his novels for him in an instant. I persisted southwards. The tiny
walled river, reflecting with industrious precision all its lights, had
no attraction. The quays, where all the book shops were closed and all
the bookstalls locked down, and where there was never a _café_, were as
inhospitable and chill as Riga. Mist seemed to heave over the river, and
the pavements were oozing damp.

I went up an entry and rang a bell, thinking to myself: “If he isn’t
in, I am done for!” But at the same moment I caught the sound of a
violoncello, and I knew I was saved, and by a miracle Paris was herself
again.

*****

“Not engaged for dinner, are you?” I asked, as soon as I was in the
studio.

“No. I was just thinking of going out.”

“Well, let’s go, then.”

“I was scraping some bits of Gluck.”

The studio was fairly large, but it was bare, unkempt, dirty, and
comfortless. Except an old sofa, two hard imperfect chairs, and an
untrustworthy table, it had no furniture. Of course, it was littered
with the apparatus of painting. Its sole ornamentation was pictures, and
the pictures were very fine, for they were the painter’s own. He and
his pictures are well known among the painters of Europe and America.
Successful artistically, and with an adequate private income, he was a
full member of the Champ de Mars Salon, and he sold his pictures upon
occasion to Governments. Although a British subject, he had spent nearly
all his life in Paris; he knew the streets and resorts of Paris like a
Frenchman; he spoke French like a Frenchman. I never heard of him going
to England. I never heard him express a desire to go to England. His age
was perhaps fifty, and I dare say that he had lived in that studio for
a quarter of a century, with his violoncello. It was plain, as he stood
there, well dressed, and with a vivacious and yet dreamy eye, that the
zest of life had not waned in him. He was a man who, now as much
as ever, took his pleasure in seeing and painting beautiful, suave,
harmonious things. And yet he stood there unapologetic amid that ugly
and narrow discomfort, with the sheet of music pinned carelessly to an
easel, and lighted by a small ill-regulated lamp with a truncated, dirty
chimney--sole illumination of the chamber! His vivacious and dreamy eye
simply did not see all that, never had seen it, never saw anything that
it did not care to see. Nobody ever heard him multiply words about a bad
picture, for example,--he would ignore it.

With a gesture of habit that must have taken years to acquire he took a
common rose-coloured packet of caporal cigarettes from the table by the
lamp and offered it to me, pushing one of the cigarettes out beyond its
fellows from behind; you knew that he was always handling cigarettes.

“It’s not really arranged for ’cello,” he murmured, gazing at the
music, which was an air from _Alceste_, arranged for violin. “You see
it’s in the treble clef.”

“I wish you’d play it,” I said.

He sat down and played it, because he was interested in it. With his
greying hair and his fashionable grey suit, and his oldest friend, the
brown ’cello, gleaming between his knees, he was the centre of a small
region of light in the gloomy studio, and the sound of the ’cello
filled the studio. He had no home; but if he had had a home this would
have been his home, and this his home-life. As a private individual, as
distinguished from a public artist, this was what he had arrived at. He
had secured this refuge, and invented this relaxation, in the middle
of Paris. By their aid he could defy Paris. There was something wistful
about the scene, but it was also impressive, at any rate to me, who
am otherwise constituted. He was an exile in the city of exiles; a
characteristic item in it, though of a variety exceedingly rare. But
he would have been equally an exile in any other city. He had no
consciousness of being an exile, of being homeless. He was above
patriotisms and homes. Why, when he wanted even a book he only borrowed
it!

“Well, shall we go out and eat?” I suggested, after listening to several
lovely airs.

“Yes,” he said, “I was just going. I don’t think you’ve seen my last
etching. Care to?”

I did care to see it, but I also desired my dinner.

“This is a pretty good print, but I shall get better,” he said, holding
the sheet of paper under the lamp.

“How many shall you print?” I asked.

“Thirty.”

“You might put me down for one.”

“All right. I think it will give you pleasure,” he said with impartial
and dignified conviction.

After another ten minutes, we were put on the quay.

“Grand autumn night?” he said appreciatively. “Where shall we have the
_apéritif?_

“_Apéritif!_ It’s after eight o’clock, man!”

“I think we shall have time for an _apéritif_” he insisted, mildly
shocked.

Drawing-rooms have their ritual. His life, too, had its ritual.

*****

At nearly midnight we were sitting, three of us, in a _café_ of the
Montparnasse quarter, possibly the principal _café_ of the Montparnasse
quarter. Neither notorious nor secretly eccentric; but an honest _café_,
in the sense of “honest” applied to certain women. Being situated close
to a large railway terminus, it had a broad and an indulgent attitude
towards life. It would have received a frivolous _habitué_ of the Place
Blanche, or a nun, or a clergyman, with the same placidity. And although
the district was modified, and whole streets, indeed, de-Parisianised
by wandering cohorts of American and English art-amateurs of both sexes,
this _café_ remained, while accepting them, characteristically French.
The cohorts thought they were seeing French life when they entered it;
and they in fact were.

This _café_ was the chief club of the district, with a multitudinous and
regular _clientèle_ of billiard-players, card-players, draught-players,
newspapers readers, chatterers, and simple imbibers of bock. Its doors
were continually a-swing, and one or the other of the two high-enthroned
caissières was continually lifting her watchful head from the desk to
observe who entered. Its interior seemed to penetrate indefinitely
into the hinterland of the street, and the effect of unendingness was
intensified by means of mirrors, which reflected the shirt-sleeved arms
and the cues of a score of billiard-players. Everywhere the same
lively and expressive and never ungraceful gestures, between the marble
table-tops below and the light-studded ceiling above! Everywhere the
same murmur of confusing pleasant voices broken by the loud chant of
waiters intoning orders at the service-bar, and by the setting down of
heavy glass mugs and saucers upon marble! Over the _café_, unperceived,
unthought of, were the six storeys of a large house comprising perhaps
twenty-five separate and complete homes.

[Illustration: 0060]

The third man at our table was another exile, also a painter, but a
Scotchman. He had lived in Paris since everlasting, but before that
rumour said that he had lived for several years immovable at the little
inn of a Norman village. Now, he never left Paris, even in summer. He
exhibited, with marked discretion, only at the Indépendants. Beyond
these facts, and the obvious fact that he enjoyed independent means,
nobody knew anything about him save his opinions. Even his age was
exceedingly uncertain. He looked forty, but there were acquaintances
who said that he had looked forty for twenty years. He was one of those
extremely reserved men who talk freely. Of his hopes, ambitions, ideals,
disappointments, connections, he never said a word, but he did not
refuse his opinion upon any subject, and on every subject he had a
definite opinion which he would express very clearly, with a sort of
polite curtness. His tendency was to cynicism--too cynical to be bitter.
He did not complain of human nature, but he thoroughly believed the
worst of it. These two men, the ’cellist and the Scotchman, were fast
friends; or rather--as it might be argued in the strict sense neither
of them had a friend--they were very familiar acquaintances, each with a
profound respect for the other’s judgment and artistic probity. Further,
the Scotchman admired his companion for a genius, as everybody did.

They talked together for ever and ever, but not about politics. They
were impatient on politics. Both were apparently convinced that politics
are an artificiality imposed upon society by adventurers and interferes,
and that if such people could be exterminated politics would disappear.
Certainly neither had any interest in the organic aspect of society.
Their political desire was to be let alone. Nor did they often or for
long “talk bawdy”; after opinions had been given which no sensible man
ever confides to more than two reliable others at a time, the Scotchman
would sweep all that away as secondary. Nor did they talk of the events
of the day, unless it might be some titillating crime or mystery such as
will fill whole pages of the newspaper for a week together. They talked
of the arts, all the arts. And although they seemed to be always either
in that _café_, or in their studios, or in bed, they had the air of
being mysteriously but genuinely abreast of every manifestation of art.
And since all the arts are one, and in respect to art they had a real
attitude and real views, all that they said was valuable suggestively,
and their ideas could not by any prodigality be exhausted. As a patron
of the arts even the State interested them, and herein they showed
glimmerings of a social sense. In the intervals of this eternal and
absorbing “art,” they would discuss with admirable restrained gusto
the exacerbating ridiculousness of the cohorts of American and English
art-amateurs who infested and infected the quarter.

*****

Little bands of these came into the _café_ from time to time, and
drifting along the aisles of chairs would sit down where they could see
as much as possible with their candid eyes. The girls, inelegant and
blousy; the men, inept in their narrow shrewdness: both equally
naïve, conceited, uncorrupted, and incorruptible, they were absolutely
incapable of appreciating the refined and corrupt decadence, the
stylistic charm, the exquisite tradition of the civilisation at which
they foolishly stared, as at a peep-show. Not a thousand years would
teach them the human hourly art of life as it was subtly practised
by the people whose very language they disdained to learn. When loud
fragments of French phrases, massacred by Americans who had floated on
but not mingled with Paris for years, reached us from an Anglo-Saxon
table, my friends would seem to shudder secretly, ashamed of being
Anglo-Saxon. And if they were obliged to salute some uncouth Anglo-Saxon
acquaintance, and thus admit their own unlatin origin, their eyes would
say: “Why cannot these people be imprisoned at home? Why are not we
alone of Anglo-Saxons permitted to inhabit Paris?”

Occasionally a bore would complacently present himself for sufferance.
Among these the chief was certainly the man whose existence was an
endless shuttle-work between the various cities where art is or has been
practised, from Munich to Naples. He knew everything about painting, but
he ought to have been a bookmaker. He was notorious everywhere as the
friend of Strutt, Strutt being the very famous and wealthy English
portrait-painter of girls. All his remarks were _àpropos_ of Tommy
Strutt, Tommy Strutt--Tommy. He was invariably full of Tommy. And this
evening he was full of Tommy’s new German model, whose portrait had been
in that year’s Salon.. . . How Tommy had picked her up in the streets of
Berlin; how she was nineteen, and the rage of Berlin, and was asked to
lunch at the embassies, and had received five proposals in three months:
how she refused to sit for any one but Tommy, and even for him would
only sit two hours a day: how Tommy looked after her, and sent her to
bed at nine-thirty of a night, and hired a woman to play with her; and
how Tommy had once telegraphed to her that he was coming to Berlin, and
how she had hired a studio and got it painted and furnished exactly
to his fastidious taste all on her own, and met him at the station and
driven him to the studio, and tea was all ready, etc.; and how pretty
she was.. . .

“What’s her figure like?” the Scotchman inquired gruffly.

“The fact is,” said Tommy’s friend, dashed, “I haven’t seen her posing
for the nude. I’ve seen her posing to Tommy in a bathing-costume on the
seashore, but I haven’t yet seen her posing for the nude...” He became
reflective. “My boy, do you know what my old uncle used to say to me
down at the old place in Kildare, when I was a youngster? My old uncle
used to say to me--and he was dying--‘My boy, I’ve always made a rule of
making love to every pretty woman I met. It’s a sound rule. But let me
warn you--you mustn’t expect to get more than five per cent, on your
outlay!’”

“‘The old place in Kildare!’” murmured the Scotchman, in a peculiarly
significant tone, after Tommy Strutt’s friend had gone; and this was the
only comment on Tommy Strutt’s friend.

*****

The talk on art was resumed, the renowned Tommy Strutt being reduced to
his proper level of the third-rate and abruptly dismissed. One o’clock!
A quarter past one! The _café_ was now nearly empty. But these men
had no regard for time. Time did not exist for them, any more than the
structure of society. They were not bored, nor tired. They conversed
with ease, and with mild pleasure in their own irony and in the
disillusioned surety of their judgments. Then I noticed that the waiters
had dwindled to two, and that only one cashier was left enthroned behind
the bar; somewhat later, she too had actually gone! Both had at length
rejoined their families, if any. The idea was startling that these
prim and neat and mechanically smiling women were human, had private
relations, a private life, a bed, a wardrobe. All over Paris, all day,
every day, they sit and estimate the contents of trays, which waiters
present to their practised gaze for an instant only, and receive the
value of the drinks in bone discs, and write down columns of figures in
long ledgers. They never take exercise, nor see the sun; they even eat
in the _café_. Mystic careers!... A quarter to two. Now the chairs had
been brought in from the terrace, and there was only one waiter, and no
other customer that I could see. The waiter, his face nearly as pale
as his apron, eyed us with patient and bland resignation, sure from his
deep knowledge of human habits that sooner or later we should in fact
depart, and well inured to the great Parisian principle that a _café_
exists for the convenience of its _habitués_. I was uneasy: I was even
aware of guiltiness; but not my friends.

Then a face looked in at the doorway, as if reconnoitring, and
hesitated.

“By Jove!” said the violoncellist. “There’s the Mahatma back again! Oh!
He’s seen us!”

The peering face preceded a sloping body into the _café_, and I was
introduced to a man whose excellent poems I had read in a limited
edition. He was wearing a heavily jewelled red waistcoat, and the
largest ring I ever saw on a human hand. He sat down. The waiter took
his order and intoned it in front of the service-bar, proving that
another fellow-creature was hidden there awaiting our pleasure. When the
Mahatma’s glass was brought, the Scotchman suddenly demanded from the
waiter the total of our modest consumption, and paid it. The Mahatma
said that he had arrived that evening direct from the Himalayas, and
that he had been made or ordained a “khan” in the East. Without
any preface he began to talk supernaturally. As he had known Aubrey
Beardsley, I referred to the rumour that Beardsley had several times
been seen abroad in London after his alleged death.

“That’s nothing,” he said quickly. “I know a man who saw and spoke to
Oscar Wilde in the Pyrenees at the very time when Oscar was in prison in
England.”

“Who was the man?” I inquired.

He paused. “Myself,” he said, in a low tone.

“Shall we go?” The Scotchman, faintly smiling, embraced his friend and
me in the question.

We went, leaving the Mahatma bent in solitude over his glass. The waiter
was obviously saying to himself: “It was inevitable that they should
ultimately go, and they have gone.” We had sat for four hours.

Outside, cabs were still rolling to and fro. After cheerful casual
good-nights, we got indolently into three separate cabs, and went our
easy ways. I saw in my imagination the vista of the thousands of similar
nights which my friends had spent, and the vista of the thousands of
similar nights which they would yet spend. And the sight was majestic,
tremendous.



IV--BOURGEOIS

You could smell money long before you arrived at the double portals
of the flat on the second floor. The public staircase was heated; it
mounted broadly upwards and upwards in a very easy slope, and at each
spacious landing was the statue of some draped woman holding aloft a
lamp which threw light on an endless carpet, and on marble mosaics.
There was, indeed, a lift; but who could refuse the majestic invitation
of the staircase, deserted, silent, and mysterious? The bell would
give but one _ting_, and always the same _ting_; it was not an electric
device by which the temperament and mood of the intruder on the mat are
accurately and instantly signalled to the interior.

The door was opened by the Tante herself--perhaps she had been crossing
from one room to another--and I came into the large entrance-hall, which
even on the brightest summer day was as obscure as a crypt, and
which the architect had apparently meant to be appreciated only after
nightfall. A vast _armoire_ and a vast hat-and-coat stand were features
of it.

“My niece occupies herself with the children,” the Tante half-whispered,
as she took me into the drawing-room. And in her voice were mingled
pride, affection, and also a certain conspiratorial quality, as though
the mysteries of putting a little boy and a little girl to bed were at
once religious and delicious, and must not be disturbed by loud tones
even afar off.

She was a stout woman of seventy, dressed in black with a ruching of
white at the neck and the wrists; very erect and active; her hair not
yet entirely grey; an aquiline eye. The soft, fresh white frill at the
wrist made a charming contrast with the experienced and aged hand. She
had been a widow for very many years, and during all those years she had
matched herself against the world, her weapons being a considerable and
secure income, and a quite exceptional natural shrewdness. The result
had left her handsomely the victor. She had an immense but justifiable
confidence in her own judgment and sagacity; her interest in the
spectacle of existence was unabated, and a long and passionate study of
human nature had not embittered her. She was a realist, and a caustic
realist, but she could excuse; she could accept man as she knew him
in his turpitude. Her chief joys were to arrange and rearrange her
“reserves” of domestic goods, to discuss character, and to indicate to
a later generation, out of her terrific experience of Parisian life, the
best methods of defence against the average tradesman and the average
menial. So seldom did anybody get the better of her that, when the
unusual did occur, she could afford to admit the fact with a liberal
laugh: “_Il m’a roulée, celui-là! Il a roulé la vieille!_”

In a corner of the drawing-room she resumed the topic, always
interesting to her, of my adventures among charwomen, generously
instructing me the whole time in a hundred ways. And when the
conversation dropped she would sigh and go back to something previously
said, and repeat it. “So she polishes the door-knobs every day! Well,
that is a quality, at least.” Then my hostess (her niece-inlaw) came
blandly in: a woman of thirty-five, also in mourning, with a pale,
powdered face and golden hair; benevolent and calm, elegant, but with
the elegance of a confessed mother.

“_Ça y est?_” asked the Tante, meaning--were the infants at last
couched?

“_Ça y est_” said the mother, with triumph, with relief, and yet also
with a little regret.

There was a nurse, but in practice she was only an under-nurse; the
head-nurse was the mother.

“_Eh bien, mon petit Bennett_,” the mother began, in a new tone, as if
to indicate that she was no longer a mother, but a Parisienne, frivolous
and challenging, “what there that is new?”

“He is there,” said the Tante, interrupting.

We heard the noise of the front-door, and by a common instinct we all
rose and went into the hall.

*****

The master of the home arrived. He entered like a gust of wind, and
Marthe, the thin old parlourmaid, who had evidently been lying in wait
for him, started back in alarm, but alarm half-simulated. My host, about
the same age as his wife, was a doctor, specialising in the diseases of
women and children, and he had his cabinet on the ground-floor of the
same house. He was late, he was impatient to regain his hearth, he was
proud of his industry; and the simple, instinctive joy of life sparkled
in his eye.

“Marie,” he cried to his wife. “I love thee!” And kissed her furiously
on both cheeks.

“It is well,” she responded, calmly smiling, with a sort of flirtatious
condescension.

“I tell thee I love thee!” he insisted, with his hands on her shoulders.
“Tell me that thou lovest me!”

“I love thee,” she said calmly.

“It is very well!” he said, and swinging round to Marthe, giving her his
hat. “Marthe, I love you.” And he caught her a smack on the shoulder.

[Illustration: 0073]

“Monsieur hurts me,” the spinster protested.

“Go then! Go then!” said the Tante, as the beloved nephew directed his
assault upon her in turn. She was grimly proud of him. He flattered
her eye, for, even at his loosest, he had a professional distinction of
deportment which her long-deceased husband, a wholesale tradesman, had
probably lacked.

“Well, my old one,” the host grasped my hand once more, “you cannot
figure to yourself how it gives me pleasure to have you here!” His voice
was rich with emotion.

This man had the genius of friendship in a very high degree. His delight
in the society of his friends was so intense and so candid that only the
most inordinately conceited among them could have failed to be aware of
an uncomfortable grave sense of unworthiness, could have failed to say
to themselves fearfully: “He will find me out one day!”

*****

The dining-room was large, and massively furnished, and lighted by one
immense shaded lamp that hung low over the table. Among the heavily
framed pictures was a magnificent Jules Dupré, belonging to the Tante.
She had picked it up long ago at a sale for something like ten thousand
francs, apparently while the dealers were looking the other way. It
was a known picture, and one of the Tante’s satisfactions was that some
dealer or other was always trying to relieve her of it, without the
slightest success. She had a story, too, that on the day after the sale
a Duchesse who affected Duprés had sent her footman offering to take the
picture off her at a ten per cent, increase because it would make a
pair with another magnificent Dupré already owned by the Duchesse. “Eh,
well,” the widow of the tradesman had said to the footman, “you will
tell Madame la Duchesse that if she wants my picture she had better come
herself and inquire about it.” In the flat, the Dupré was one of the
great pictures of the world. Safer to sneeze at the Venus de Milo than
at that picture! Another favourite picture, also the property of Tante,
was one by a living and super-modern painter, an acquaintance of another
nephew of hers. I do not think she much cared for it, or that she cared
much for any pictures. She had bought it by a benevolent caprice. “What
would you? He had not the sou. _C’est un très gentil garçon_, of a great
talent, but he was eating all his money with women--with those birds
that you know. And one day it may be worth its price.”

What always interested me most in the furniture of that dining-room
was not the pictures, nor the ample plate, nor the edifices called
sideboards, etc., but the apron of Marthe, who served. A plain,
unstarched, white apron, without a bib--an apron that no English
parlourmaid would have deigned to wear; but of such fine linen, and
all the exactly geometric creases of its folding visible to the eye as
Marthe passed round and round our four chairs! Whenever I saw that apron
I could see linen-chests, and endless supplies of linen, and Tante and
Marthe fussing over them on quiet afternoons. And it went so well with
her dark-blue shiny frock! When Tante had joined her nephew’s household
she had brought with her Marthe, already old in her service. These two
women were devoted to each other, each in her own way. “Arrive then,
with that sauce, _vieille folle!_” Tante would command; and Marthe,
pursing her lips, would defend herself with a “_Mais madame--!_” There
was no high invisible wall between Marthe and her employers. One was
not worried, as one would have been in England, by the operation of
the detestable and barbaric theory that Marthe was an automaton,
inaccessible to human emotions. I remember seeing in the work-basket
of the wife of a wealthy English socialist a little manual of advice to
domestic servants upon their deportment, and I remember this: “Learn to
control your voice, and always speak in a low voice. Never show by your
demeanour that you have heard any remark which is not addressed to you.”
 I wonder what Marthe, who had never worn a cap, nor perhaps seen one,
would have thought of the manual, which possibly was written by a
distressed gentlewoman in order to earn a few shillings. Martha could
smile. She could even laugh and answer back--but within limits. We had
not to pretend that Marthe consisted merely of two ministering hands
animated by a brain, but without a soul. In France a servant works
longer and harder than in England, but she is permitted the constant use
of a soul.

A simple but an expensive dinner, for these people were the kind of
people that, desiring only the best, were in a position to see that they
had it, and accepted the cost as a matter of course. Moreover, they knew
what the best was, especially the Tante. They knew how to buy. The chief
dish was just steak. But what steak! What a thickness of steak and what
tenderness! A whole cow had lived under the most approved conditions,
and died a violent death, and the very essence of the excuse for it all
lay on a blue and white dish in front of the hostess. Cost according!
Steak; but better steak could not be had in the world! And the
consciousness of this fact was on the calm benignant face of the hostess
and on the vivacious ironic face of the Tante. So with the fruits of the
earth, so with the wine. And the simple, straightforward distribution of
the viands seemed to suit well their character. Into that flat there had
not yet penetrated the grand modern principle that the act of carving is
an obscene act, an act to be done shamefully in secret, behind the
backs of the delicate impressionable. No! The dish of steak was planted
directly in front of the hostess, under her very nose, and beyond the
dish a pile of four plates; and, brazenly brandishing her implements,
the Parisienne herself cut the titbits out of the tit-bit, and
deposited them on plate after plate, which either Marthe took or we
took ourselves, at hazard. Further, there was no embarrassment of
multitudinous assorted knives and forks and spoons. With each course the
diner received the tools necessary for that course. Between courses, if
he wanted a toy for his fingers, he had to be content with a crust.

During the meal the conversation constantly reverted with pleasure to
the question of food; it was diversified by expressions of the host’s
joy in his home, and the beings therein; and for the rest it did not
ascend higher than heterogeneous personal gossip,--“unstitched,” as the
French say.

*****

Instead of going into the drawing-room, we went through a bed-chamber,
into a small room at the back. By taking a circuitous service-passage,
and infringing on the kitchen, we might ultimately have arrived at
that room without passing through the bedchamber; but the proper, the
ceremonious way to it was through the bedchamber. This trifling detail
illuminates the methods of the French architect even when he is building
expensively--methods which persist to the present hour. Admirable at
façades, he is an execrable planner, wasteful and maladroit, as may be
seen even in the most important public buildings in Paris--such as the
Town Hall. In arranging the “disposition” of flats, he exhausts himself
on the principal apartments, and then, fatigued, lets the others
struggle as best they may for light and air and access in the odd
corners of space which remain. Of course, he is strong in the sympathy
of his clients. It is a wide question of manners, stretching from
the finest palaces of France down to the labyrinthine coverts of
industrialism. Up to twenty-five years ago, architects simply did not
consider the factors of either light or ventilation. I have myself lived
in a flat, in one of the best streets of central Paris, of which none
of the eight windows could possibly at any period of the year receive a
single direct gleam of sunlight. Up to twenty-five years ago, nobody had
discovered a reason why, in a domestic interior, a bedroom should not be
a highroad.. . .

Visualise the magnificent straight boulevard, full of the beautiful
horizontal glidings of trams and automobiles; the lofty and stylistic
frontages; the great carved doors of the house; the quasi-Oriental
entrance and courtyard, shut in from the fracas of the street; the
monumental staircase; the spacious and even splendid dining-room; and
then the bedroom opening directly off it; and then the still smaller
sitting-room opening directly off that; and us there--the ebullient
doctor, his elegant and calm wife, the Tante (on a small chair),
and myself--sitting round a lamp amid a miscellany of bookcases and
oddments. This was the room that the doctor preferred of an evening. He
would say, joyously: “_C’est le décor home!_”

*****

A cousin of the host was announced; and his relatives and I smiled
archly, with affectionate malice, before he came in; for it was
notorious that this cousin, an architect by profession, and a bachelor
of forty years standing, had a few days earlier solemnly and definitely
“broken” with his _petite amie_. I knew it. Everybody knew it within the
wide family-radius. It was one of those things that “knew themselves.”
 This call was itself a proof that the cousin had dragged his anchor.
Moreover, he embraced his aunt with a certain self-consciousness. He
was a tall, dark-bearded man, well dressed in a dark-grey suit--a good
specimen of French tailoring, but a French tailor cannot use an iron and
he cannot “roll” a collar. A rather melancholy and secretive and flaccid
man, but somewhat hardened and strengthened by the lifelong use of a
private fortune. They all had money--money of their own, independently
of earned money; the wife had money--and I do not think that it occurred
to any of them to live up to his or her income; their resources were
always increasing, and the reserves that the united family could have
brought up to face a calamity must have been formidable. None of them
had ever been worried about money, and by reason of their financial
ideals they were far more solid than a London family receiving, but
spending, thrice their income.

Marthe came with another coffee cup, and the cousin, when the hostess
had filled it, set it down to go cold, after the French manner.

“Well, my boy,” said Tante, whose ancient eyes were sparkling with
eagerness. “By what appears, thou art a widower since several days.”

“How a widower?”

“Yes,” said the host, “it appears that thou art a widower.” And added
enthusiastically: “I am pretty content to see thee, my old one.”

The hostess smiled at the widower with sympathetic indulgence.

“Who has told you?”

“What! Who has told us? All Paris knows it!”

“Well,” said the cousin, looking at the carpet and apparently communing
with himself--he always had an air of self-communing, “I suppose it’s
true!” He drank the tenth of a teaspoonful of coffee.

“Eh, well, my friend,” the Tante commented. “I do not know if thou hast
done well. That did not cost thee too dear, and she had a good-hearted
face.” Tante spoke with an air of special intimacy, because she and the
cousin had kept house together for some years at one period.

“Thou hast seen her, Tante?” the hostess asked, surprised a little out
of the calm in which she was crocheting.

“Have I seen her? I believe it well! I caught them together once when I
was driving in the Bois.”

“That was Antoinette,” said the cousin.

“It was not Antoinette,” said the Tante. “And thou hast no need to say
it. Thou quittedst Antoinette in ‘96, before I had begun to hire that
carriage. I recall it to myself perfectly.”

“I suppose now it will be the grand spree,” said the hostess, “during
several months.”

“The grand spree!” Tante broke in caustically. “Have no fear. The grand
spree--that is not his kind. It is not he who will scatter his money
with those birds. He is not so stupid as that.” She laughed drily.

“Is she _rosse_, the Tante, all the same!” the host, flowing over with
good nature, comforted his cousin.

Then Marthe entered again:

“The children demand monsieur.”

The host bounded up from his chair.

“What! The children demand monsieur!” he exploded. “At nine o’clock! It
is not possible that they are not asleep!”

“They say that monsieur promised to return to them after dinner.”

“It is true!” he admitted, with a gesture of discovery. “It is true!”

“I pray thee,” said the mother. “Go at once. And do not excite them.”

“I think I’ll go with you,” I said.

“My little Bennett,” the mother leaned towards me, “I supplicate you--at
this hour--”

“But naturally he will come with me!” the host cried obstreperously.

We went, down a long narrow passage. There they were in their beds, the
children, in a small bedroom divided into two by a low screen of ribbed
glass, the boy on one side and the girl on the other. The window gave
on to a small subsidiary courtyard. Through the half-drawn curtains the
lighted windows of rooms opposite could be discerned, rising, storey
after storey, up out of sight. A night-light burned on a table. The
nurse stood apart, at the door. The children were lively, but pale. They
had begun to go to school, and, except the journey to and from school,
they seemed to have almost no outdoor exercise. No garden was theirs.
The hall and the passages were their sole playground. And all the best
part of their lives was passed between walls in a habitation twenty-five
or thirty feet above ground, in the middle of Paris. Yet they were very
well. The doctor did not romp with them. No! He simply and candidly
caressed them, girl and boy, in turn, calling them passionately by the
most beautiful names, burying his head in the bedclothes, and fondling
their wild hair. He then entreated them, with genuine humility, to
compose themselves for sleep, and parted last from the girl.

“She is exquisite--exquisite!” he murmured to me ecstatically, as we
returned up the passage from this excursion.

She was.

*****

In the small sitting-room the cousin was offering to the Tante some
information of a political nature. The Tante kept a judicious eye on
everything in Paris. .

“What!” The host protested vociferously. “He is again in his politics!
Cousin, I supplicate thee--”

A good deal of supplication went on there. The host did succeed in
stopping politics. With all the weight of his vivacious good-nature he
bore politics down. The fact was, he had a real objection to politics,
having convinced himself that they were permanently unclean in France.
It was not the measures that he objected to, but the men--all of them
with scarcely an exception--as cynical adventurers. On this point he
was passionate. Politics were incurably futile, horribly _assommant_. He
would not willingly allow them to soil his hearth.

“What hast thou done lately?” he asked of the cousin, changing the
subject.

And the talk veered to public amusements. The cousin had been
“distracting himself” amid his sentimental misadventures, by much
theatre-going. They all, except the Tante, went very regularly to
the theatres and to the operas. And not only that, but to concerts,
exhibitions, picture-shows, services in the big churches, and every kind
of diversion frequented by people in easy circumstances and by artists.
There was little that they missed. They exhibited no special taste or
knowledge in any art, but leaned generally to the best among that which
was merely fashionable. They took seriously nearly every craftsman
who, while succeeding, kept his dignity and refrained from being a
mountebank. Thus, they were convinced that dramatists like Edmond
Rostand and Henri Lavedan, actors and actresses like Le Bargy and Cécile
Sorel, painters like Edouard Détaille and La Gandara, composers like
Massenet and Charpentier, critics like Adolphe Brisson and Francis
Chevassu, novelists like René Bazin and Daniel Lesueur, poets like Jean
Riche-pin and Abel Bonnard, were original and first-class, and genuinely
important in the history of their respective arts. On the other hand
their attitude towards the real innovators and shapers of the future
was timidly, but honestly, antipathetic. And they could not, despite any
theorising to the contrary, bring themselves to take quite seriously any
artist who had not been consecrated by public approval. With the most
charming grace they would submit to be teased about this, but it would
have been impossible to tease them out of it. And there was always
a slight uneasiness in the air when they and I came to grips in the
discussion of art. I could almost hear the shrewd Tante saying to
herself: “What a pity this otherwise sane and safe young man is an
artist!”

“Figure to yourself,” the host would answer me with an adorable,
affectionate mien of apology, when I asked his opinion of a new work by
Maurice Ravel, heard on a Sunday afternoon, “Figure to yourself that we
scarcely liked it.”

And with the same mien, of a very fashionable comedy in which Lavedan,
Le Bargy, and Julia Bartet had combined to create a terrific success at
the Théâtre Français:

“Figure to yourself, it was truly very nice, after all! Of course one
might say.. . .”

The truth was, it had carried them off their feet.

Upon my soul I think I liked them the better for it all. And, in talking
to them, I understood a little better the real and solid basis upon
which rests all that overwhelming, complex, expensive apparatus of
artistic diversions laid out for the public within a mile radius of the
Place de l’Opéra. There _is_ a public, a genuine public, which desires
ardently to be amused and which will handsomely put down the money for
its amusement. And it is never tired, never satiated. The artist, who
seldom pays, is apt to wonder if any considerable body of persons
pay, is apt to regard the commercial continuance of art as a sort of
inexplicable miracle. But these people paid. They always paid, and
richly. And there were whole streets of large houses full of other
people who shared their tastes and their habits, if not their extreme
attractiveness.

*****

I wondered where we should be without them, we artists, as I took leave
of them at something after midnight. My good friend, the melancholy
cousin, had departed. Tante had gone to bed, though she protested she
never slept. We had been drinking weak tea as we wandered about the
dining-room. And now I, obdurate against the host’s supplications not to
desert them so early, was departing too. At the door the hostess lighted
a little taper, and gave it to me. And when the door was opened they
moderated their caressing voices; for a dozen other domestic interiors,
each intricate and complete, gave on the resounding staircase. And with
my little taper I descended through the silence and the darkness of the
staircase. And at the bottom I halted in the black entrance way, and
summoned the concierge out of his sleep to release the catch of the
small door within the great portals. There was a responsive click
immediately, and in the blackness a sudden gleam from the boulevard.
The concierge and his wife, living for ever sunless in a room and a
half beneath all those other interiors, were throughout the night at the
mercy of a call, mine or another’s. “Curious existence!” I thought, as
my shutting of the door echoed about the building, and I stepped into
the illumination of the boulevard. “The concierge is necessary to them.
And without the equivalent of such as they, such as I could not possess
even a decent overcoat!” On the _façade_ of the house every outer
casement was shut. Not a sign of life in it.



V--CAUSE CÉLÈBRE

Quite early in the winter evening, before the light had died out of the
sky, central Paris was beginning to be pleasurably excited. The aspect
of the streets and of the _cafés_ showed that. One saw it and heard
it in the gestures and tones of the people; one had a proof of it in
oneself. The whole city was in a state of delightful anxiety; and it was
happy because the result of the night, whatever fate chose to decide,
could not fail to be amusing and even thrilling. All the thoroughfares
converging upon the small and crowded island which is the historical
kernel of Paris, were busier and livelier than usual. In particular,
automobiles thronged--the largest, glossiest, and most silent
automobiles, whose horns were orchestras--automobiles which vied with
motor-omnibuses for imposingness and moved forward with the smooth
majesty of trains.

[Illustration: 0091]

There came a point, near the twinkling bridges, where progress was
impossible, where an impalpable obstacle intervened, and vehicles
stood arrested in long treble files, and mysterious words were passed
backwards from driver to driver. But nobody seemed to mind; nobody
seemed impatient; for it was something to be thus definitely and
materially a part of the organised excitement. Hundreds of clever
resourceful persons had had the idea of avoiding the main avenues,
and creeping up unobserved to the centre of attraction by the little
streets. So that all these ancient, narrow, dark lanes that thread
between high and picturesque architectures were busy with automobiles
and carriages. And in the gloom one might see shooting round a corner
the brilliant interior of an automobile, with electric light and flowers
and a pet dog, and a couple of extremely fashionable young women in it,
their eyes sparkling with present joy and the confident expectation
of joy to come. And such young women, utterly correct, were doing the
utterly correct thing. But all these little streets led at last to the
same impalpable obstacle. So that from a high tower, for instance, the
Tour St. Jacques close by, one might have beheld the black masonry of
the centre of attraction as it were beleaguered on every side by the
attacking converging files that were held back by some powerful word;
while the minutes elapsed, and the incandescent signs of shops and
theatres increased in the sky, and the Seine, dividing to clasp
the island, darkened into a lamp-reflecting mirror along which tiny
half-discerned steamers restlessly plied.

*****

Despite the powerful word, the Palace of Justice, the centre of
attraction, was tremendously alive and gay with humanity. Traffic could
not be stopped, and was not stopped, and those who had sufficient energy
and perseverance could insinuate themselves into its precincts. The
great gold lamps that flank the staircase of honour gleamed upon a
crowd continually ascending and descending. The outer hall was full
of laughing chatter and of smoke. And barristers, both old and young,
walked to and fro in hieratic converse, waving their cigarettes in sober
curves, and on every one of their faces as they gazed negligently at the
public was the announcement that they could tell “an they would.” All
the interminable intersecting corridors were equally vivacious, with
their diminishing perspectives of stoves against which groups warmed
themselves. Groups of talkers made the circuit of the corridors as it
might have been the circuit of a town, passing a given spot regularly,
and repeating and repeating the same arguments. And the solemn arched
immensity of the Hall of Lost Footsteps was like a Bourse. Here, more
than anywhere else, one had the sense of audience-chambers concealed
behind doors, where fatal doings were afoot; one had the sense of
the terrific vastness and complexity of the Palace wherein scores of
separate ceremonious activities simultaneously proceeded in scores of
different halls. The general public knew only that somewhere within the
Palace, somewhere close at hand, at the end of some particular passage,
guarded doors hid the spectacle whose slightest episode was being
telegraphed to all the cities of the entire civilised world, and the
general public was content, even very content, to be near by.

The affair was in essence a trifle; merely the trial of a woman for the
murder of her husband. But this woman was a heroic woman; this woman
belonged by right of brain and individual force to the great race of
Thérèse Humbert. Years before, she had moved safely in the background of
a sensational tragedy involving the highest personages of the Republic.
And now in the background of her own tragedy there moved somebody so
high and so potent that no newspaper dared or cared to name his name.
All that was known was that this enigmatic and awful individual existed,
that he was involved, that had he been less sublime he would have had
to appear before the court, that he would not appear, and that justice
would suffer accordingly. In the ordeal of extremest publicity, the
woman had emerged a Titaness. Throughout all her altercations with
judge, advocates, witnesses, and journalists, she had held her own
grandly, displaying not only an astounding force of character, but a
superb appreciation of the theatrical quality of her _rôle_. She was of
a piece with yellow journalism, and the multitude that gapes for yellow
journalism. She was shameless. She was caught again and again in a net
of lies, and she always escaped. She admitted nearly everything: lyings,
adulteries, and manifold deceits; but she would not admit that she knew
anything about the murder of her husband. And even though it was obvious
that the knots by which she was bound when the murder was discovered
were not serious knots, even though she left a hundred incriminating
details unexplained, a doubt concerning her guilt would persist in the
minds of the impartial. She was indubitably a terrible creature, but she
was an enchantress, and she was also beyond question an exceedingly
able housekeeper and hostess. She might be terrible without being a
murderess.

And now the trial was closing. The verdict, it was stated, would be
rendered that night even if the court sat till midnight. It would be a
pity to keep an amiable public, already on the rack of impatience for
many days, waiting longer. The time was ripe. Further, the woman had had
enough. Her resources were exhausted, and to continue the fight would
mean an anti-climax. The woman had completely lost the respect of the
public--that was inevitable--but she had not lost its admiration. The
attitude of the public was cruel, with the ignoble cruelty which is
practised towards women in Latin countries alone; she had even been
sarcastically sketched in the most respectable illustrated paper in the
attitude of a famous madonna; but beneath the inconceivably base jeers,
there remained admiration; and there remained, too, gratitude--the
gratitude offered to a gladiator who has fought well and provided a
really first-class diversion.

*****

The supper-restaurants were visited earlier and were much more crowded
than usual on that night. It was as though the influence of the trial
had been aphrodisiacal. Or it may have been that the men and women of
pleasure wished to receive the verdict in circumstances worthy of its
importance in the annals of pleasure. Or it may have been that dinner
had been deranged by the excitations connected with the trial and that
people felt honestly hungry. I went into one of these restaurants, in
a square whose buildings are embroidered with inviting letters of fire
until dawn every morning throughout the year. A stern attendant took me
up in a lift, and instantly I had quitted the sternness of the lift I
was in another atmosphere. There was the bar, and there the illustrious
English barman, drunk. For in these regions the barman must always be
English and a little drunk. The barman knows everybody, and not to know
his Christian name and the feel of his hand is to be nobody. This
barman is a Parisian celebrity. But let an accident or a misadventure
disqualify him from his work, and he will be forgotten utterly in less
than a week. And in his martyred old age he will certainly recount to
charitable acquaintances, who find him ineffably tedious, how he was
barman at the unique Restaurant Lepic in the old days when fun was
really fun, and the most appalling iniquity was openly tolerated by the
police.

The bar and the barman and the cloak-room attendant (another man of
genius) are only the prelude to the great supper-hall, which is simply
and completely dazzling, with its profuse festoons of electric bulbs,
its innumerable naked shoulders, arms, and bosoms, its fancy costumes,
its bald heads, its music, clatter, and tinkle, and its desperate
gaiety. To go into it is like going into a furnace of sensuality. It can
be likened to nothing but an orange-lit scene of Roman debauch in a play
written and staged by Mr. Hall Caine. One feels that one has been unjust
in one’s attitude to Mr. Hall Caine’s claims as a realist.

Although the restaurant will positively not hold any more revellers,
more revellers insist on coming in, and fresh tables are produced by
conjuring and placed for them between other tables, until the whole mass
of wood and flesh is wedged tight together and waiters have to perform
prodigies of insinuation. The effect of these multitudinous wasters is
desolating, and even pathetic. It is the enormous stupidity of the mass
that is pathetic, and its secret tedium that is desolating. At their
wits’ end how to divert themselves, these bald heads pass the time in
capers more antique and fatuous than were ever employed at a village
wedding. Some of them find distraction in monstrous gorging--and
beefsteaks and fried potatoes and spicy sauces go down their throats
in a way to terrorise the arthritic beholder. Others merely drink.
Some quarrel, with the boneless persistency of intoxication. One falls
humorously under a table, and is humorously fished up by the red-coated
leader of the orchestra: it is a marked success of esteem. Many are
content to caress the bright odalisques with fond, monotonous vacuity. A
few of these odalisques, and the waiters, alone save the spectacle from
utter humiliation. The waiters are experts engaged in doing their job.
The industry of each night leaves them no energy for dissoluteness. They
are alert and determined. Their business is to make stupidity as
lavish as possible, and they succeed. To see them surveying with cold
statistical glances the field of their operations, to listen to their
indestructible politeness, to divine the depth of their concealed
scorn--this is a pleasure. And some of the odalisques are beautiful.
Fine women in the sight of heaven! They too are experts, with the hard
preoccupation of experts. They are at work; and this is the battle of
life. They inspire respect. It is--it is the dignity of labour.

[Illustration: 0099]

Suddenly it is announced that the jury at the Palace are about to
deliver their verdict. Nobody knows how the news has come, nor even who
first spoke it in the restaurant. But there it is. Humorous guffaws of
relief are vented. The fever of the place becomes acute, with a decided
influence on the consumption of champagne. The accused lady is toasted
again and again. Of course, she had been, throughout, the solid backbone
of the chatter; but now she was all the chatter. And everybody recounted
again to everybody else every suggestive rumour of her iniquity that had
appeared in any newspaper for months past. She was tried over again in
a moment, and condemned and insulted and defended, and consistently
honoured with libations. She had never been more truly heroic, more
legendary, than she was then.

The childlike company loudly demanded the verdict, with their tongues
and with their feet.

A beautiful young girl of about eighteen, the significant features
of whose attire were long black stockings and a necklace, said to a
gentleman who was helping her to eat a vast _entrecote_ and to drink
champagne:

“If it comes not soon, it will be too late.”

“The verdict?” said the fatuous swain. “How?--too late?”

“I shall be too drunk,” said the girl, apparently meaning that she would
be too drunk to savour the verdict and to get joy from it. She spoke
with mournful and slightly disgusted certainty, as though anticipating a
phenomenon which was absolutely regular and absolutely inevitable.

And then, on a table near the centre of the room, instead of plates and
glasses appeared a child-dancer who might have been Spanish or Creole,
but who probably had never been out of Montmartre. This child seemed to
be surrounded by her family seated at the table--by her mother and her
aunts and a cousin or so, all with simple and respectable faces, naïvely
proud of and pleased with the child. From their expressions, the
child might have been cutting bread and butter on the table instead of
dancing. The child danced exquisitely, but her performance could not
moderate the din. It was a lovely thing gloriously wasted. The one
feature of it that was not wasted on the intelligence of the company was
the titillating contrast between the little girl’s fresh infancy and the
advanced decomposition of her environment.

She ceased, and disappeared into her family. The applause began, but
it was mysteriously and swiftly cut short. Why did every one by a
simultaneous impulse glance eagerly in the direction of the door? Why
was the hush so dramatic? A voice--whose?--cried near the doorway:

“_Acquittée!_”

And all cried triumphantly: “_Acquittée! Acquittée! Acquittée!
Acquittée!_” Happy, boisterous Bedlam was created and let loose. Even
the waiters forgot themselves. The whole world stood up, stood on
chairs, or stood on tables; and shouted, shrieked, and whistled. But
the boneless drunkards were still quarrelling, and one bald head had
retained sufficient presence of mind to wear a large oyster-shell
facetiously for a hat. And then the orchestra, inspired, struck into
a popular refrain of the moment, perfectly apposite. And all sang with
right good-will:

“_Le lendemain elle était sonnante_.”



VI--RUSSIAN IMPERIAL BALLET AT THE OPERA

Sylvain’s is the only good restaurant in the centre of Paris where you
can dine in the open air, that is to say, in the street. Close by, the
dark, still mass of the Opéra rises hugely out of the dusk and out of
the flitting traffic at its base. Sylvain’s is full of diners who have
no eyes to see beyond the surfaces of things.

By virtue of a contract made between Sylvain’s and the city, the diners
are screened off from the street and from the twentieth century by a row
of high potted evergreens. Pass within the screen, and you leave behind
you the modern epoch. The Third Republic recedes; the Second Empire
recedes; Louis-Philippe has never been, nor even Napoleon; the
Revolution has not begun to announce itself. You are become suddenly
a _grand seigneur_. Every gesture and tone of every member of the
_personnel_ of Sylvain’s implores your excellency with one word:

“Deign!”

It is curious that while a modern shopkeeper who sells you a cigar or an
automobile or a quarter of lamb does not think it necessary to make you
a noble of the _ancien régime_ before commencing business, a shopkeeper
who sells you cooked food could not omit this preliminary without losing
his self-respect. And it is the more curious since all pre-democratic
books of travel are full of the cheek of these particular shopkeepers.
Such tales of old travellers could scarcely be credited, in spite
of their unison, were it not that the ancient tradition of rapacious
insolence still survives in wild and barbaric spots like the cathedral
cities of England.

Your excellency, attended by his gentlemen-in-waiting (who apparently
never eat, never want to eat), in the intervals of the ceremonious
collation will gaze with interest at the Opéra, final legacy of the
Empire to the Republic. A great nation owes it to itself to possess a
splendid opera-palace. Art must be fostered. The gracious amenities of
life must be maintained. And this is the State’s affair. The State has
seen to it. The most gorgeous building in Paris is not the legislative
chamber, nor the hall of the University, nor the clearing-house of
charity. It is the Opéra. The State has paid for it, and the State pays
every year for its maintenance. That is, the peasant chiefly pays. There
is not a peasant in the farthest corner of France who may not go to bed
at dark comforted by the thought that the Opéra in Paris is just
opening its cavalry-sentinelled doors, and lighting its fifteen thousand
electric candles, and that he is helping to support all that. Paris does
not pay; the _habitués_ of the Opéra do not pay; the yawning tourists
do not pay; the grandiose classes do not pay. It is the nation, as a
nation, that accepts the burden, because the encouragement of art is a
national duty. (Moreover, visiting monarchs have to be diverted.) Of one
sort or another, from the tenor to the vendor of programmes, there are
twelve hundred priests and priestesses of art in the superb building.
A few may be artists. But it is absolutely certain that all are
bureaucrats.

The Opéra is the Circumlocution Office. The Opéra is a State department.
More, it is probably the most characteristic of all the State
departments, and the most stubbornly reactionary. The nominal director,
instead of being omnipotent and godlike, is only a poor human being
whose actions are the resultant of ten thousand forces that do not fear
him. The Opéra is above all the theatre of secret influences. Every
mystery of its enormous and wasteful inefficiency can be explained
either by the operation of the secret influence or by the operation of
the bureaucratic mind. If the most tedious operas are played the most
often, if the stage is held by singers who cannot sing, if original
artists have no chance there, if the blight of a flaccid perfunctoriness
is upon nearly all the performances, if astute mothers can sell the
virginity of their dancing daughters to powerful purchasers in the
wings, the reason is a reason of State. The Opéra is the splendid
prey of the high officers of State. If such a one wants an evening’s
entertainment, or a mistress, or to get rid of a mistress, the Opéra is
there, at his disposition. The _foyer de la danse_ is the most wonderful
seraglio in the western world, and it is reserved to the Government and
to subscribers. Thus is art fostered, and for this does the peasant pay.

Nevertheless the Opéra is a beautiful and impressive sight in the late,
warm dusk of June. Against the deep purple sky the monument stands up
like a mountain; and through its innumerable windows--holes in the
floor of heaven--can be glimpsed yellow clusters of candelabra and
perspectives of marble pillars and frescoed walls. And at the foot of
the gigantic _façade_ little brightly coloured figures are running
up the steps and disappearing eagerly within: they are the world of
fashion, and they know that they are correct and that the Opéra is the
Opéra.

*****

I looked over the crimson plush edge of the box down into Egypt, where
Cleopatra was indulging her desires; into a civilisation so gorgeous,
primitive, and far-off that when compared to it the eighteenth and the
twentieth centuries seemed as like as two peas in their sophistication
and sobriety. Cleopatra had set eyes on a youth, and a whim for him had
taken her. By no matter what atrocious exercise of power and infliction
of suffering, that whim had to be satisfied on the instant. It was
satisfied. And a swift homicide left the Queen untrammelled by any
sentimental consequences. The whole affair was finished in a moment, and
the curtain falling on all that violent and gorgeous scene. In a moment
this Oriental episode, interpreted by semi-Oriental artists, had made
all the daring prurient suggestiveness of French comedy seem timid and
foolish. It was a revelation. A new standard was set, and there was not
a vaudevillist in the auditorium but knew that neither he nor his
interpreters could ever reach that standard. The simple and childlike
gestures of the slave-girls as with their bodies and their veils they
formed a circular tent to hide Cleopatra and her lover--these gestures
took away the breath of protest.

[Illustration: 0107]

The St. Petersburg and the Moscow troupes, united, of the Russian
Imperial Ballet, had been brought to Paris, at vast expense and
considerable loss, to present this astounding spectacle of mere
magnificent sanguinary lubricity to the cosmopolitan fashion of Paris.
There the audience actually was, rank after rank of crowded toilettes
rising to the dim ceiling, young women from the Avenue du Bois and young
women from Arizona, and their protective and possessive men. And nobody
blenched, nobody swooned. The audience was taken by assault. The West
End of Europe was just staggered into acceptance. As yet London has seen
only fragments of Russian ballet. But London may and probably will see
the whole. Let there be no qualms. London will accept also. London might
be horribly scared by one-quarter of the audacity shown in _Cleopatra_,
but it will not be scared by the whole of that audacity. An overdose of
a fatal drug is itself an antidote. The fact is, that the spectacle was
saved by a sort of moral nudity, and by a naïve assurance of its own
beauty. Oh! It was extremely beautiful. It was ineffably more beautiful
than any other ballet I had ever seen. An artist could feel at once
that an intelligence of really remarkable genius had presided over its
invention and execution. It was masterfully original from the beginning.
It continually furnished new ideals of beauty. It had drawn its
inspiration from some rich fountain unknown to us occidentals. Neither
in its scenery, nor in its grouping, nor in its pantomime was there any
clear trace of that Italian influence which still dominates the European
ballet. With a vengeance it was a return to nature and a recommencement.
It was brutally direct. It was beastlike; but the incomparable tiger is
a beast. It was not perverse. It was too fresh, zealous, and alive to be
perverse. Personally I was conscious of the most intense pleasure that
I had experienced in a theatre for years. And this was Russia! This
was the country that had made such a deadly and disgusting mess of the
Russo-Japanese War.

*****

The box was a stage-box. It consisted of a suite of two drawing-rooms,
softly upholstered, lit with electric light, and furnished with
easy-chairs and mirrors. A hostess might well have offered tea to a
score of guests therein. And as a fact there were a dozen people in it.
Its size indicated the dimensions of the auditorium, in which it was
a mere cell. The curious thing about it was the purely incidental
character of its relation to the stage. The front of it was a narrow
terrace, like the mouth of a bottle, which offered a magnificent
panorama of the auditorium, with a longitudinal slice of the stage
at one extremity. From the terrace one glanced vertically down at the
stage, as at a street-pavement from a first-storey window. Three persons
could be comfortable, and four could be uncomfortable, on the terrace.
One or two more, by leaning against chair-backs and coiffures, could see
half of the longitudinal slice of the stage. The remaining half-dozen
were at liberty to meditate in the luxurious twilight of the
drawing-room. The Republic, as operatic manager, sells every night some
scores, and on its brilliant nights some hundreds, of expensive seats
which it is perfectly well aware give no view whatever of the stage:
another illustration of the truth that the sensibility of the conscience
of corporations varies inversely with the size of the corporation.

[Illustration: 0111]

But this is nothing. The wonderful aspect of the transaction is that
purchasers never lack. They buy and suffer; they buy again and suffer
yet again; they live on and reproduce their kind. There was in the
hinterland of the box a dapper, vivacious man who might (if he had
wasted no time) have been grandfather to a man as old as I. He was
eighty-five years old, and he had sat in boxes of an evening for over
sixty years. He talked easily of the heroic age before the Revolution of
‘48, when, of course, every woman was an enchantress, and the farces at
the Palais Royal were _really_ amusing. He could pipe out whole pages
of farce. Except during the _entr’actes_ this man’s curiosity did not
extend beyond the shoulders of the young women on the terrace. For him
the spectacle might have been something going on round the corner of the
next street. He was in a spacious and discreet drawing-room; he had the
habit of talking; talking was an essential part of his nightly hygiene;
and he talked. Continually impinging, in a manner fourth-dimensional, on
my vision of Cleopatra’s violent afternoon, came the “_Je me rappelle_”
 of this ancient. Now he was in Rome, now he was in London, and now he
was in Florence. He went nightly to the Pergola Theatre when Florence
was the capital of Italy. He had tales of kings. He had one tale of
a king which, as I could judge from the hard perfection of its
phraseology, he had been repeating on every night-out for fifty years.
According to this narration he was promenading the inevitable pretty
woman in the Cascine at Florence, when a heavily moustached person _en
civil_ flashed by, driving a pair of superb bays, and he explained not
without pride to the pretty woman that she looked on a king.

“It is _that_, the king?” exclaimed the pretty _ingénue_ too loudly.

And with a grand bow (of which the present generation has lost the
secret) the moustaches, all flashing and driving, leaned from the
equipage and answered: “Yes, madame, it is _that_, the king.”

“_Et si vous avez vu la tête de la dame...!_”

In those days society existed.

[Illustration: 0115]

I should have heard many more such tales during the _entr’acte_, but I
had to visit the stage. Strictly, I did not desire to visit the stage,
but as I possessed the privilege of doing so, I felt bound in pride to
go. I saw myself at the great age of eighty-five recounting to somebody
else’s grandchildren the marvels that I had witnessed in the _coulisses_
of the Paris Opéra during the unforgettable season of the Russian
Imperial Ballet in the early years of the century, when society existed.

At an angle of a passage which connects the auditorium with the tray
(the stage is called the tray, and those who call the stage the stage at
the Opéra are simpletons and lack guile) were a table and a chair, and,
partly on the chair and partly on the table, a stout respectable man:
one of the twelve hundred. He looked like a town-councillor, and his
life-work on this planet was to distinguish between persons who had the
entry and persons who had not the entry. He doubted my genuineness at
once, and all the bureaucrat in him glowered from his eyes. Yes! My
card was all right, but it made no mention of madame. Therefore, I might
pass, but madame might not. Moreover, save in cases very exceptional,
ladies were not admitted to the tray. So it appeared! I was up against
an entire department of the State. Human nature is such that at that
moment, had some power offered me the choice between the ability to
write a novel as fine as _Crime and Punishment_ and the ability to
triumph instantly over the pestilent town-councillor, I would have
chosen the latter. I retired in good order. “You little suspect,
town-councillor,” I said to him within myself, “that I am the guest of
the management, that I am extremely intimate with the management, and
that, indeed, the management is my washpot!” At the next _entr’acte_ I
returned again with an omnipotent document which instructed the
whole twelve hundred to let both monsieur and madame pass anywhere,
everywhere. The town-councillor admitted that it was perfect, so far as
it went. But there was the question of my hat to be considered. I was
not wearing the right kind of hat! The town councillor planted both his
feet firmly on tradition, and defied imperial passports. “Can you have
any conception,” I cried to him within myself, “how much this hat cost
me at Henry Heath’s?” Useless! Nobody ever had passed, and nobody ever
would pass, from the auditorium to the tray in a hat like mine. It was
unthinkable. It would be an outrage on the Code Napoléon.... After all,
the man had his life-work to perform. At length he offered to keep
my hat for me till I came back. I yielded. I was beaten. I was put to
shame. But he had earned a night’s repose.

*****

The famous, the notorious _foyer de la danse_ was empty. Here was an
evening given exclusively to the ballet, and not one member of the
corps had had the idea of exhibiting herself in the showroom specially
provided by the State as a place or rendezvous for ladies and gentlemen.
The most precious quality of an annual subscription for a seat at the
Opéra is that it carries with it the entry to the _foyer de la danse_
(provided one’s hat is right); if it did not, the subscriptions to the
Opéra would assuredly diminish. And lo! the gigantic but tawdry mirror
which gives a factitious amplitude to a room that is really small, did
not reflect the limbs of a single dancer! The place had a mournful,
shabby-genteel look, as of a resort gradually losing fashion. It was
tarnished. It did not in the least correspond with a young man’s dreams
of it. Yawning tedium hung in it like a vapour, that tedium which is the
implacable secret enemy of dissoluteness. This, the _foyer de la danse_,
where the insipidly vicious heroines of Halévy’s ironic masterpiece
achieved, with a mother’s aid, their ducal conquests! It was as cruel
a disillusion as the first sight of Rome or Jerusalem. Its
meretriciousness would not have deceived even a visionary parlour-maid.
Nevertheless, the world of the Opéra was astounded at the neglect of its
hallowed _foyer_ by these young women from St. Petersburg and Moscow. I
was told, with emotion, that on only two occasions in the whole season
had a Russian girl wandered therein. The legend of the sobriety and
the chastity of these strange Russians was abroad in the Opéra like a
strange, uncanny tale. Frankly, Paris could not understand it. Because
all these creatures were young, and all of them conformed to some
standard or other of positive physical beauty! They could not be old,
for the reason that a ukase obliged them to retire after twenty years’
service at latest; that is, at about the age of thirty-six, a time of
woman’s life which on the Paris stage is regarded as infancy. Such
a ukase must surely have been promulgated by Ivan the Terrible or
Catherine!. . . No!

Paris never recovered from the wonder of the fact that when they were
not dancing these lovely girls were just honest misses, with apparently
no taste for bank-notes and spiced meats, even in the fever of an
unexampled artistic and fashionable success.

[Illustration: 0119]

Amid the turmoil of the stage, where the prodigiously original
peacock-green scenery of _Scheherazade_ was being set, a dancer could
be seen here and there in a corner, waiting, preoccupied, worried,
practising a step or a gesture. I was clumsy enough to encounter one of
the principals who did not want to be encountered; we could not escape
from each other. There was nothing for it but to shake hands. His face
assumed the weary, unwilling smile of conventional politeness. His
fingers were limp.

“It pleases you?”

“Enormously.”

I turned resolutely away at once, and with relief he lapsed back into
his preoccupation concerning the half-hour’s intense emotional and
physical labour that lay immediately in front of him. In a few moments
the curtain went up, and the terrific creative energy of the troupe
began to vent itself. And I began to understand a part of the secret of
the extreme brilliance of the Russian ballet.

*****

The brutality of _Scheherazade_ was shocking. It was the Arabian Nights
treated with imaginative realism. In perusing the Arabian Nights we
never try to picture to ourselves the manners of a real Bagdad; or we
never dare. We lean on the picturesque splendour and romantic poetry
of certain aspects of the existence portrayed, and we shirk the
basic facts: the crudity of the passions, and the superlative cruelty
informing the whole social system. For example, we should not dream of
dwelling on the more serious functions of the caliphian eunuchs.

In the surpassing fury and magnificence of the Russian ballet one saw
eunuchs actually at work, scimitar in hand. There was the frantic orgy,
and then there was the barbarous punishment, terrible and revolting;
certainly one of the most sanguinary sights ever seen on an occidental
stage. The eunuchs pursued the fragile and beautiful odalisques with
frenzy; in an instant the seraglio was strewn with murdered girls in
all the abandoned postures of death. And then silence, save for the hard
breathing of the executioners!... A thrill! It would seem incredible
that such a spectacle should give pleasure. Yet it unquestionably did,
and very exquisite pleasure. The artists, both the creative and the
interpretative, had discovered an artistic convention which was at once
grandiose and truthful. The passions displayed were primitive, but they
were ennobled in their illustration. The performance was regulated
to the least gesture; no detail was unstudied; and every moment was
beautiful; not a few were sublime.

[Illustration: 0125]

And all this a by-product of Russian politics! If the politics of France
are subtly corrupt; if anything can be done in France by nepotism and
influence, and nothing without; if the governing machine of France is
fatally vitiated by an excessive and unimaginative centralisation--the
same is far more shamefully true of Russia. The fantastic inefficiency
of all the great departments of State in Russia is notorious and
scandalous. But the Imperial ballet, where one might surely have
presumed an intensification of every defect (as in Paris), happens to be
far nearer perfection than any other enterprise of its kind, public or
private. It is genuinely dominated by artists of the first rank; it is
invigorated by a real discipline; and the results achieved approach the
miraculous. The pity is that the moujik can never learn that one, at any
rate, of the mysterious transactions which pass high up over his head,
and for which he is robbed, is in itself honest and excellent. An
alleviating thought for the moujik, if only it could be knocked into
his great thick head! For during the performance of the Russian Imperial
Ballet at the Paris Opéra, amid all the roods of toilettes and expensive
correctness, one thinks of the moujik; or one ought to think of him.
He is at the bottom of it. See him in Tchekoff’s masterly tale, _The
Moujiks_, in his dirt, squalor, drunkenness, lust, servitude, and
despair! Realise him well at the back of your mind as you watch the
ballet! Your delightful sensations before an unrivalled work of art are
among the things he has paid for.

*****

Walking home, I was attracted, within a few hundred yards of the Opéra,
by the new building of the Magasins du Printemps. Instead of being
lighted up and all its galleries busy with thousands of women in search
of adornment, it stood dark and deserted. But at one of the entrances
was a feeble ray. I could not forbear going into the porch and putting
my nose against the glass. The head-watchman was seated in the centre of
the ground-floor chatting with a colleague. With a lamp and chairs they
had constructed a little domesticity for themselves in the middle of
that acreage of silks and ribbons and feathers all covered now with pale
dust-sheets. They were the centre of a small sphere of illumination, and
in the surrounding gloom could be dimly discerned gallery after gallery
rising in a slender lacework of iron. The vision of Bagdad had been
inexpressibly romantic; but this vision also was inexpressibly romantic.
There was something touching in the humanity of those simple men amid
the vast nocturnal stillness of that organism--the most spectacular,
the most characteristic, the most spontaneous, and perhaps the most
beautiful symbol of an age which is just as full of romance as any other
age. The human machine and the scenic panorama of the big shop have
always attracted me, as in Paris so in London. And looking at this
particular, wonderful shop in its repose I could contemplate better the
significance of its activity. What singular ideals have the women who
passionately throng it in the eternal quest! I say “passionately,”
 because I have seen eyes glitter with fierce hope in front of a skunk
boa or the tints of a new stuff, translating instantly these material
things into terms of love and adoration. What cruelty is hourly
practised upon the other women who must serve and smile and stand on
their feet in the stuffiness of the heaped and turbulent galleries
eleven hours a day six full days a week; and upon the still other
women, unpresentable, who in their high garrets stitch together these
confections! And how fine and how inspiriting it all is, this fever, and
these delusive hopes, and this cruelty! The other women are asleep now,
repairing damage; but in a very few hours they will be converging here
in long hurried files from the four quarters of Paris, in their enforced
black, and tying their black aprons, and pinning on their breasts
the numbered discs which distinguish them from one another in the
judgment-books of the shop. They will be beginning again. The fact is
that Bagdad is nothing to this. Only people are so blind.



LIFE IN LONDON--1911



I--THE RESTAURANT

You have a certain complacency in entering it, because it is one of the
twenty monster restaurants of London. The name glitters in the public
mind. “Where shall we dine?” The name suggests itself; by the immense
force of its notoriety it comes unsought into the conversation like
a thing alive. “All right! Meet you in the Lounge at 7.45.” You
feel--whatever your superficial airs--that you are in the whirl of
correctness as you hurry (of course late) out of a taxi into the Lounge.
There is something about the word “Lounge”. . .! Space and freedom
in the Lounge, and a foretaste of luxury; and it is inhabited by the
haughty of the earth! You are not yet a prisoner, in the Lounge. Then an
official, with the metallic insignia of authority, takes you apart.

[Illustration: 0133]

He is very deferential--but with the intimidating deference of a limited
company that pays forty per cent. You can go upstairs--though he doubts
if there is immediately a table--or you can go downstairs. (Strange, how
in the West-End, when once you quit the street, you must always go up or
down; the planet’s surface is forbidden to you; you lose touch with it;
the ground-landlord has taken it and hidden it-) You go downstairs; you
are hypnotised into going downstairs; and you go down, and down, one of
a procession, until a man, entrenched in a recess furnished to look like
a ready-made tailor’s, accepts half your clothing and adds it to
his stock. He does not ask for it; he need not; you are hypnotised.
Stripped, you go further down and down. You are now part of the
tremendous organism; you have left behind not merely your clothing, but
your volition; your number is in your hand.

Suddenly, as you pass through a doorway, great irregular vistas of a
subterranean chamber discover themselves to you, limitless. You perceive
that this wondrous restaurant ramifies under all London, and that a
table on one verge is beneath St. Paul’s Cathedral, and a table on
the other verge beneath the Albert Memorial. All the tables--all the
thousands of tables--are occupied. An official comes to you, and,
putting his mouth to your ear (for the din is terrific), tells you that
he will have a table for you in three minutes. You wait, forlorn. It
reminds you of waiting at the barber’s for a shave, except that the
barber gives you an easy-chair and a newspaper. Here you must stand; and
you must gather your skirts about you and stand firm to resist the shock
of blind waiters. Others are in your case; others have been waiting
longer than you, and at every moment more arrive. You wait. The diners
see you waiting, and you wonder whether they are eating slowly on
purpose.... At length you are led away--far, far from the pit’s mouth
into a remote working of the mine. You watch a man whisk away foul
plates and glasses, and cover offence with a pure white cloth. You
sit. You are saved! And human nature is such that you feel positively
grateful to the limited company.. . .

*****

You begin to wait again, having been deserted by your saviours. And then
your wandering attention notices behind you, under all the other sounds,
a steady sound of sizzling. And there fat, greasy men, clothed and
capped in white, are throwing small fragments of animal carcases on to
a huge, red fire, and pulling them off in the nick of time, and flinging
them on to plates which are continually being snatched away by flying
hands. The grill, as advertised! And you wait, helpless, through a
period so long that if a live cow and a live sheep had been led into the
restaurant to satisfy the British passion for realism in eating, there
would have been time for both animals to be murdered, dismembered, and
fried before the gaze of a delighted audience. But fear not. The deity
of the organism, though unseen, is watching over you. You have not been
omitted from the divine plan. Presently a man approaches with a gigantic
menu, upon which are printed the names of hundreds of marvellous dishes,
and you can have any of them--and at most reasonable prices. Only,
you must choose at once. You must say instantly to the respectful but
inexorable official exactly what you will have. You are lost in the menu
as in a labyrinth, as in a jungle at nightfall.... Quick! For, as you
have waited, so are others waiting! Out with it! You drop the menu.
“Roast beef and Yorkshire pudding--Guinness.” The magic phrase releases
you. In the tenth of a second the official has vanished. A railway
truck laden with the gifts of Cuba and Sumatra and the monks of the
Chartreuse, sweeps majestically by, blotting out the horizon; and lo!
no sooner has it glided past than you see men hastening towards you with
plates and bottles. With an astounding celerity the beef and the stout
have, arrived--out of the unknown and the unknowable, out of some secret
place in the centre of the earth, where rows and rows of slices of beef
and bottles of stout wait enchanted for your word.

All the thousands of tables scintillate with linen and glass and silver,
and steel and ivory, and are bright with flowers; ten thousand blossoms
have been wrenched from their beds and marshalled here in captive
regiments to brighten the beef and stout on which your existence
depends. The carpet is a hot crimson bed of flowers. The whole of the
ceiling is carved and painted and gilded; not a square inch of repose
in the entire busy expanse of it; and from it thousands of blinding
electric bulbs hang down like stalactites. The walls are covered with
enormous mirrors, perversely studded with gold nails, and framed in gold
sculpture. And these mirrors fling everything remorselessly back at
you. So that the immensity and glow of the restaurant are multiplied
to infinity. The band is fighting for its life. An agonised violinist,
swaying and contorting in front of the band, squeezes the last drop
of juice out of his fiddle. The “selection” is “_Carmen_” But “Carmen”
 raised to the second power, with every _piano, forte, allegro, and
adagio_ exaggerated to the last limit; “_Carmen_” composed by Souza and
executed by super-Sicilians; a “_Carmen_” deafening and excruciating!
And amid all this light and sound, amid the music and the sizzling, and
the clatter of plates and glass, and the reverberation of the mirrors,
and the whirring of the ventilators, and the sheen of gold, and the
harsh glitter of white, and the dull hum of hundreds of strenuous
conversations, and the hoarse cries of the pale demons at the fire,
and the haste, and the crowdedness, and the people waiting for your
table--you eat. You practise the fine art of dining.

[Illustration: 0141]

In a paroxysm the music expires. The effect is as disconcerting as
though the mills of God had stopped. Applause, hearty and prolonged,
resounds in the bowels of the earth.. . . You learn that the organism
exists because people really like it.

*****

This is a fearful and a romantic place. Those artists who do not tingle
to the romance of it are dead and have forgotten to be buried. The
romance of it rises grandiosely storey beyond storey. For you must
know that while you are dining in the depths, the courtesans, and their
possessors are dining in the skies. And the most romantic and impressive
thing about it all is the invisible secret thoughts, beneath the
specious bravery, of the uncountable multitude gathered together under
the spell of the brains that invented the organism. Can you not look
through the transparent faces of the young men with fine waistcoats and
neglected boots, and of the young women with concocted hats and insecure
gay blouses, and of the waiters whose memories are full of Swiss
mountains and Italian lakes and German beer gardens, and of the
violinist who was proclaimed a Kubelik at the Conservatoire and who now
is carelessly pronounced “jolly good” by eaters of beefsteaks? Can you
not look through and see the wonderful secret pre-occupations? If so,
you can also pierce walls and floors, and see clearly into the souls of
the cooks and the sub-cooks, and the cellar-men, and the commissionaires
in the rain, and the washers-up. They are all there, including the human
beings with loves and ambitions who never do anything for ever, and ever
but wash up. These are wistful, but they are not more wistful than the
seraphim and cherubim of the upper floors. The place is grandiose and
imposing; it has the dazzle of extreme success; but when you have stared
it down it is wistful enough to make you cry.

[Illustration: 0137]

Accidentally your eye rests on the gorgeous frieze in front of you, and
after a few moments, among the complex scrollwork and interlaced Cupids,
you discern a monogram, not large, not glaring, not leaping out at you,
but concealed in fact rather modestly! You decipher the monogram. It
contains the initials of the limited company paying forty per cent, and
also of the very men whose brains invented the organism. They are men.
They may be great men: they probably are; but they are men.



II--BY THE RIVER

Every morning I get up early, and, going straight to the window, I see
half London from an eighth-storey. I see factory chimneys poetised, and
the sign of a great lion against the sky, and the dome of St. Paul’s
rising magically out of the mist, and pearl-coloured minarets round
about the horizon, and Waterloo Bridge suspended like a dream over the
majestic river-, and all that sort of thing. I am obliged, in spite of
myself, to see London through the medium of the artistic sentimentalism
of ages. I am obliged even to see it through the individual eyes of
Claude Monet, whose visions of it I nevertheless resent. I do not want
to see, for example, Waterloo Bridge suspended like a dream over the
majestic river. I much prefer to see it firmly planted in the plain
water. And I ultimately insist on so seeing it. The Victoria Embankment
has been, and still is, full of pitfalls for the sentimentalist in art
as in sociology; I would walk warily to avoid them. The river at dawn,
the river at sunset, the river at midnight (with its myriad lamps, of
course)!... Let me have the river at eleven a. m. for a change, or at
tea-time. And let me patrol its banks without indulging in an orgy of
melodramatic contrasts.

I will not be carried away by the fact that the grand hotels, with their
rosy saloons and fair women (not invariably or even generally fair!),
look directly down upon the homeless wretches huddled on the Embankment
benches. Such a juxtaposition is accidental and falsifying. Nor will I
be imposed upon by the light burning high in the tower of St. Stephen’s
to indicate that the legislators are watching over Israel. I think of
the House of Commons at question-time, and I hear the rustling as two
hundred schoolboyish human beings (not legislators nor fathers of their
country) simultaneously turn over a leaf of two hundred question-papers,
and I observe the self-consciousness of honourable members as they walk
in and out, and the naïve pleasure of the Labour member in his enormous
grey wideawake, and the flower in the buttonhole of the white-haired and
simple ferocious veteran of democracy, and the hobnobbing over stewed
tea and sultana on the draughty terrace.

Nor, when I look at the finely symbolic architecture of New Scotland
Yard, will I be obsessed by the horrors of the police system and of the
prison system and by the wrongness of the world. I regard with fraternal
interest the policeman in his shirt-sleeves lolling at a fourth-floor
window. Thirty, twenty, years ago people used to be staggered by the
sudden discovery that, in the old Hebraic sense of the word, there
was no God. It winded them, and some of them have never got over it.
Nowadays people are being staggered by the sudden discovery that there
is something fundamentally wrong with the structure of society. This
discovery induces a nervous disease which runs through whole thoughtful
multitudes. I suffer from it myself. Nevertheless, just as it is certain
that there is a God, of some kind, so it is certain that there is
nothing fundamentally wrong with the structure of society. There is
something wrong--but it is not fundamental. There always has been and
always will be something wrong. Do you suppose, O reformer, that when
land-values are taxed, and war and poverty and slavery and overwork
and underfeeding and disease and cruelty have disappeared, that the
structure of society will seem a whit the less wrong? Never! A moderate
sense of its wrongness is precisely what most makes life worth living.

*****

[Illustration: 0147]

Between my lofty dwelling and the river is a large and beautiful garden,
ornamented with statues of heroes. It occupies ground whose annual value
is probably quite ten thousand pounds--that is to say, the interest on a
quarter of a million. It is tended by several County Council gardeners,
who spend comfortable lives in it, and doubtless thereby support their
families in dignity. Its lawns are wondrous; its parterres are full of
flowers, and its statues are cleansed perhaps more thoroughly than the
children of the poor. This garden is, as a rule, almost empty. I use it
a great deal, and sometimes I am the only person in it. Its principal
occupants are well-dressed men of affairs, who apparently employ it, as
I do, as a ground for reflection. Nursemaids bring into it the children
of the rich. The children of the poor are not to be seen in it--they
might impair the lawns, or even commit the horrible sin of picking the
blossoms. During the only hours when the poor could frequent it, it
is thoughtfully closed. The poor pay, and the rich enjoy. If I paid my
proper share of the cost of that garden, each of my visits would run me
into something like half-a-sovereign. My pleasure is being paid for up
all manner of side-streets. This is wrong; it is scandalous. I would,
and I will, support any measure that promises to rectify the wrongness.
But in the meantime I intend to have my fill of that garden, and to
savour the great sensations thereof. I will not be obsessed by one
aspect of it.

The great sensations are not perhaps what one would have expected to
be the great sensations. Neither domes, nor towers, nor pinnacles, nor
spectacular contrasts, nor atmospheric effects, nor the Wordsworthian
“mighty heart”! It is the County Council tram, as copied from Glasgow
and Manchester, that appeals more constantly and more profoundly than
anything else of human creation to my romantic sensibility “Yes,” I am
told, “the tram-cars look splendid at night!” I do not mean specially
at night. I mean in the day. And further, I have no desire to call them
ships, or to call them aught but tram-cars. For me they resemble just
tram-cars, though I admit that when forty or fifty of them are crowded
together, they remind me somewhat of a herd of elephants. They are
enormous and beautiful; they are admirably designed, and they function
perfectly; they are picturesque, inexplicable, and uncanny. They pome to
rest with the gentleness of doves, and they hurtle through the air
like shells. Their motion--smooth, delicate and horizontal--is always
delightful. They are absolutely modern, new, and original. There was
never anything like them before, and only when something different and
better supersedes them will their extraordinary gliding picturesqueness
be appreciated. They never cease. They roll along day and night without
a pause; in the middle of the night you can see them glittering away to
the ends of the county. At six o’clock in the morning they roll up over
the horizon of Westminster Bridge in hundreds incessantly, and swing
downwards and round sharply away from the Parliament which for decades
refused them access to their natural gathering-place. They are a
thrilling sight. And see the pigmy in the forefront of each one, rather
like a mahout on the neck of an elephant, doing as he likes with the
obedient monster! And see the scores of pigmies inside, each of them,
black dots that jump out like fleas and disappear like fleas! The loaded
tram stops, and in a moment it is empty, and of the contents there is
no trace. The contents are dissolved in London.. . . And then see London
precipitate the contents again; and watch the leviathans, gorged,
glide off in endless procession to spill immortal souls in the evening
suburbs!

*****

But the greatest sensation offered by the garden, though it happens
to be a mechanical contrivance, is entirely independent of the County
Council. It is--not the river--but the movement of the tide. Imagination
is required in order to conceive the magnitude, the irresistibility,
and the consequences of this tremendous shuttle-work, which is regulated
from the skies, rules the existence of tens of thousands of people,
and casually displaces incalculable masses of physical matter. And the
curious human thing is that it fails to rouse the imagination of the
town. It cleaves through the town, and yet is utterly foreign to it,
having been estranged from it by the slow evolutionary process. All
those tram-cars roll up over the horizon of Westminster Bridge, and
cross the flood and run for a mile on its bank, and not one man in every
tenth tram-car gives the faintest attention to the state of the river.
A few may carelessly notice that the tide is “in” or “out,” but how
many realise the implications? For all they feel, the river might be a
painted stream! Yo wonder that the touts crying “Steamboat! Steamboat!”
 have a mournful gesture, and the “music on board” sounds thin, like a
hallucination, as the shabby paddle-wheels pound the water! The cause
of the failure of municipal steamers is more recondite than the yellow
motor-cars of the journals which took pride in having ruined them.

And the one satisfactory inference from the failure is that human nature
is far less dependent on nonhuman nature than vague detractors of the
former and devotees of the latter would admit. It is, after all, rather
fine to have succeeded in ignoring the Thames!



III--THE CLUB

It was founded for an ideal. Its scope is national, and its object
to regenerate the race, to remedy injustice, and to proclaim the
brotherhood of mankind. It is for the poor against the plutocrat, and
for the slave against the tyrant, and for democracy against feudalism.
It is, in a word, of the kingdom of heaven. It was born amid immense
collisions, and in the holy war it is the official headquarters of those
who are on the side of the angels. In its gigantic shadow the weak and
the oppressed sell newspapers and touch their hats to the warriors as
they pass in and pass out.

The place is as superb as its ideal. No half measures were taken when it
was conceived and constructed. Its situation is among the most expensive
and beautiful in the world of cities. Its architecture is grandiose, its
square columned hall and its vast staircase (hewn from Carrara) are two
of the sights of London. It is like a town, but a town of Paradise.
When the warrior enters its portals he is confronted by instruments
and documents which inform him with silent precision of the time,
the temperature, the barometric pressure, the catalogue of nocturnal
amusements, and the colour of the government that happens to be in
power. The last word spoken in Parliament, the last quotation on the
Stock Exchange, the last wager at Newmarket, the last run scored
at cricket, the result of the last race, the last scandal, the last
disaster--all these things are specially printed for him hour by hour,
and pinned up unavoidably before his eyes. If he wants to bet, he has
only to put his name on a card entitled “Derby Sweepstake.” Valets take
his hat and stick; others (working seventy hours a week) shave him;
others polish his hoots.

*****

The staircase being not for use, but merely to immortalise the memory of
the architect, he is wafted upwards by a lift into a Titanic apartment
studded with a thousand easy-chairs, and furnished with newspapers,
cigars, cigarettes, implements of play, and all the possibilities of
light refection. He lapses into a chair, and lo! a hell is under his
hand. Ting! And a uniformed and initialled being stands at attention
in front of him, not speaking till he speaks, and receiving his command
with the formalities of deference. He wishes to write a letter--a table
is at his side, with all imaginable stationery; a machine offers him
a stamp, another licks the stamp, and an Imperial letter-box is within
reach of his arm,--it is not considered sufficient that there should
be a post-office, with young girls who have passed examinations, in the
building itself. He then chats, while sipping and smoking, or nibbling a
cake, with other reclining warriors; and the hum of their clatter
rises steadily from the groups of chairs, inspiring the uniformed
and initialled beings who must not speak till spoken to with hopes
of triumphant democracy and the millennium. For when they are not
discussing more pacific and less heavenly matters, the warriors really
do discuss the war, and how they fought yesterday, and how they will
fight to-morrow. If at one moment the warrior is talking about “a
perfectly pure Chianti that I have brought from Italy in a cask,” at the
next he is planning to close public-houses on election days.

[Illustration: 0157]

When he has had enough of such amiable gossip he quits the easy chair,
in order to occupy another one in another room where he is surrounded
by all the periodical literature of the entire world, and by the hushed
murmur of intellectual conversation and the discreet stirring of spoons
in tea-cups. Here he acquaints himself with the progress of the war and
the fluctuations of his investments and the price of slaves. And when
even the solemnity of this chamber begins to offend his earnestness,
he glides into the speechless glamour of an enormous library, where
the tidings of the day are repeated a third time, and, amid the
companionship of a hundred thousand volumes and all the complex
apparatus of research, he slumbers, utterly alone.

Late at night, when he has eaten and drunk, and played cards and
billiards and dominoes and draughts and chess, he finds himself once
more in the smoking-room--somehow more intimate now--with a few cronies,
including one or two who out in the world are disguised as the enemy.
The atmosphere of the place has put him and them into a sort of
exquisite coma. Their physical desires are assuaged, and they know by
proof that they are in control of the most perfectly organised mechanism
of comfort that was ever devised. Naught is forgotten, from the famous
wines cooling a long age in the sub-basement, to the inanimate chauffeur
in the dark, windy street, waiting and waiting till a curt whistle shall
start him into assiduous life. They know that never an Oriental despot
was better served than they. Here alone, and in the mansions of the
enemy, has the true tradition of service been conserved. In comparison,
the most select hotels and restaurants are a hurly-burly of crude
socialism. The bell is under the hand, and the labelled menial stands
with everlasting patience near; and home and women are far away. And the
world is not.

Forgetting the platitudes of the war, they talk of things as they are.
All the goodness of them comes to the surface, and all the weakness.
They state their real ambitions and their real preferences. They narrate
without reserve their secret grievances and disappointments. They
are naked and unashamed. They demand sympathy, and they render it,
in generous quantities. And while thus dissipating their energy,
they honestly imagine that they are renewing it. The sense of reality
gradually goes, and illusion reigns--the illusion that, after all, God
is geometrically just, and that strength will be vouchsafed to them
according to their need, and that they will receive the reward of
perfect virtue.

And their illusive satisfaction is chastened and beautified by the
consciousness that the sublime institution of the club is scarcely what
it was,--is in fact decadent; and that if it were not vitalised by
a splendid ideal, even _their_ club might wilt under the sirocco of
modernity. And then the echoing voice of an attendant warns them, with
deep respect, that the clock moves. But they will not listen, cannot
listen. And the voice of the attendant echoes again, and half the lights
shockingly expire. But still they do not listen; they cannot credit.
And then, suddenly, they are in utter darkness, and by the glimmer of a
match are stumbling against easy-chairs and tables, real easy-chairs and
real tables. The spell of illusion is broken. And in a moment they are
thrust out, by the wisdom of their own orders, into Pall Mall, into
actuality, into the world of two sexes once more.

*****

And yet the sublime institution of the club is not a bit anæmic. Within
a quarter of a mile is the monumental proof that the institution has
been rejuvenated and ensanguined and empowered. Colossal, victorious,
expensive, counting its adherents in thousands upon thousands, this
monument scorns even the pretence of any ancient ideal, and adopts no
new one. The aim of the club used ostensibly to be peace, idealism, a
retreat, a refuge. The new aim is pandemonium, and it is achieved.
The new aim is to let in the world, and it is achieved. The new aim
is muscular, and it is achieved. Arms, natation, racquets--anything to
subdue the soul and stifle thought! And in the reading-room, dummy hooks
and dummy book-cases! And a dining-room full of bright women; and such a
mad competition for meals that glasses and carafes will scarce go round,
and strangers must sit together at the same small table without protest!
And, to crown the hullaballoo, an orchestra of red-coated Tziganes
swaying and yearning and ogling in order to soothe your digestion and to
prevent you from meditating.

[Illustration: 0161]

This club marks the point to which the evolution of the sublime
institution has attained. It has come from the shore of Lake Michigan;
it is the club of the future, and the forerunner of its kind. Stand on
its pavement, and watch ‘its entering heterogeneous crowds, and then
throw the glance no more than the length of a cricket-pitch, and watch
the brilliantly surviving representatives of feudalism itself ascending
and descending the steps of the most exclusive club in England; and you
will comprehend that even when the House of Lords goes, something will
go--something unconsciously cocksure, and perfectly creased, and urbane,
and dazzlingly stupid--that was valuable and beautiful. And you will
comprehend politics better, and the profound truth that it takes all
sorts to make a world.



IV--THE CIRCUS

The flowers heaped about the bronze fountain are for them. And so that
they may have flowers all day long, older and fatter and shabbier women
make their home round the fountain (modelled by a genius to the memory
of one whose dream was to abolish the hardships of poverty), with a
sugar-box for a drawing-room suite and a sack for a curtain; these
needy ones live there, to the noise of water, with a secret society
of newspaper-sellers, knowing intimately all the capacities of the
sugar-box and sack; and on hot days they revolve round the fountain with
the sun, for their only sunshade is the shadow of the dolphins. On every
side of their habituated tranquillity the odours of petrol swirl. The
great gaudy-coloured autobuses, brilliant as the flowers, swing and
swerve and grind and sink and recover, and in the forehead of each is a
blackened demon, tremendously preoccupied, and so small and withdrawn
as to be often unnoticed; and this demon rushes forward all day with his
life in his hand and scores of other lives in his hand, for two pounds a
week. When he stops by the fountain, he glances at the flowers unseeing,
out of the depths of his absorption. He is piloting cargoes of the
bright beings for whom the flowers are heaped.

Stand on the steps of the fountain, and look between the autobuses and
over the roofs of taxis and the shoulders of policemen, and you will see
at every hand a proof that the whole glowing place, with its flags gaily
waving and its hubbub of rich hues, exists first and last for those same
bright beings. If there is a cigar shop, if there is a necktie shop like
Joseph’s coat, it is to enable the male to cut a dash with those beings.
And the life insurance office--would it continue if there were no bright
beings to be provided for? And the restaurants I And the I chemists! And
the music-hall! The sandwich-men are walking round and round with the
names of the most beauteous lifted high on their shoulders. The leather
shop is crammed with dressing-cases and hat-boxes for them. The jeweller
is offering solid gold slave-bangles (because they like the feel of the
shackle) at six pound ten.

And above all there is the great establishment on the corner! An
establishment raised by tradition and advertisement and sheer skill
to the rank of a national institution, famous from Calgary to the
Himalayas, far more famous and beloved than even the greatest poets and
philanthropists. An institution established on one of the seven supreme
sites of the world! And it is all theirs, all for them! Coloured
shoes, coloured frocks, coloured necklaces, coloured parasols, coloured
stockings, jabots, scents, hats, and all manner of flimsy stuffs whose
names--such as Shantung--summon up in an instant the deep orientalism
of the Occident: the innumerable windows are a perfect riot of
these delicious affairs! Who could pass them by? This is a wondrous
institution. Of a morning, before the heat of the day, you can see
coming out of its private half-hidden portals (not the ceremonious
glazed doors) black-robed young girls, with their hair down their backs,
and the free gestures learnt at school and not yet forgotten, skipping
off on I know, not what important errands, earning part of a livelihood
already in the service of those others. And at its upper windows appear
at times more black-robed girls, and disappear, like charming prisoners
in a castle.

*****

The beings for whom the place exists come down all the curved vistas
towards it, on foot or on wheel, all day in radiant droves. They are
obliged at any rate to pass through it, for the Circus is their Clap-ham
Junction, and the very gate of finery. Impossible to miss it! It leads
to all coquetry, and all delights and dangers. And not only down the
vistas are they coming, but they are shot along subterranean tubes, and
hurried through endless passages, and flung up at last by lifts from the
depths into the open air. And when you look at them you are completely
baffled. Because they are English, and the most mysterious women on
earth, save the Scandinavians. You cannot get at their secret; it
consists in an impenetrable ideal. With the Latin you do come in the
end to the solid marble of Latin practicalness; the Latin is perfectly
unromantic. But the romanticism of these English is something so
recondite that no research and no analysis can approach it. Ibsen could
never have made a play out of a Latin woman; but I tell you that, for
me, every woman stepping off an autobus and exposing her ankles and her
character as she dodges across the Circus, has the look in her face of
an Ibsen heroine; she emanates romance and enigma; she is the potential
mainspring of a late-Ibsen drama, the kind whose import no critic is
ever quite sure of. This it is to be Anglo-Saxon, and herein is one of
the grand major qualities of the streets of London.

[Illustration: 0167]

They are in this matter, I do believe, all alike, these creatures. You
may encounter one so ugly and mannish and grotesque that none but an
Englishman could take her to his arms, and even she has the ineffable
romantic gaze. All the countless middle-aged women who support
circulating libraries have it; the hair of a woman of fifty blows about
her face romantically. All the nice, youngish married women have it,
those who think they know a thing or two. And as for the girls, the
young girls, they show a romantic naïveté which transcends belief; they
are so fresh and so virginal and so loose-limbed and so obsessed by a
mysterious ideal, that really (you think) the street is too perilous a
place for them. And yet they go confidently about, either alone or in
couples, or with young men at bottom as simple as themselves, and naught
happens to them; they must be protected by their idealism. And now
and then you will see a woman who is strictly and truly _chic_, in the
extreme French sense--an amazing spectacle in our city of sloppy women
who, while dreaming of dress for ten hours a day, cannot even make their
blouses fasten decently--and this _chic_ Parisianised creature herself
will have kept her idealistic gaze! They all keep it. They die with
it at seventy-five. Whatever adventure occurs to an Englishwoman, she
remains spiritually innocent and naïve. The Circus is bathed in the mood
of these qualities.

*****

Towards dark it alters and is still the same. See it after the
performances on a matinée day, surging with heroines. See it at eight
o’clock at night, a packed mass of taxis and automobiles, each the
casket of a romantic creature, hurrying in pursuit of that ideal without
a name. Later, the place is becalmed, and scarcely an Englishwoman is
to be seen in it until after the theatres, when once again it is
nationalised and feminised to an intense degree. The shops are black,
and the flower-sellers are gone; but the electric sky-signs are in
violent activity, and there is light enough to see those baffling faces
as they flash or wander by. And the trains are now bearing the creatures
away in the deep-laid tubes.

And then there comes an hour when the hidden trains have ceased, and
the autobuses have nearly ceased, and the bright beings have withdrawn
themselves until the morrow; and now, on all the footpaths of the
Circus, move crowded processions of men young and old, slowly, as though
in the performance of a rite. It leads to nothing, this tramping; it
serves no end; it is merely idiotic, in a peculiarly Anglo-Saxon way.
But only heavy rain can interfere with it. It persists obstinately. And
the reason of it is that the Circus is the Circus. And after all, though
idiotic, it has the merit and significance of being instinctive. The
Circus symbolises the secret force which drives forward the social
organism through succeeding stages of evolution. The origin of every
effort can be seen at some time of day emerging from a crimson autobus
in the Circus, or speeding across the Circus in a green taxi. The answer
to the singular conundrum of the City is to be found early or late in
the Circus. The imponderable spirit of the basic fact of society broods
in the Circus forever. Despite all changes, there is no change. I say no
change. You may gaze into the jeweller’s shop at the gold slave-bangles,
which cannot be dear at six pound ten, since they express the secret
attitude of an entire sex. And then you may turn and gaze at the face of
a Suffragette, with her poster and her armful of papers, and her
quiet voice and her mien of pride. And you may think you see a change
fundamental and terrific. Look again.

[Illustration: 0171]



V--THE BANQUET

In every large London restaurant, and in many small ones, there is
a spacious hall (or several) curtained away from the public, in which
every night strange secret things go on. Few suspect, and still fewer
realise, the strangeness of these secret things.

[Illustration: 0175]

In the richly decorated interior (sometimes marked with mystic signs),
at a table which in space reaches from everlasting to everlasting, and
has the form of a grill or a currycomb or the end of a rake--at such
a table sit fifty or five hundred males. They are all dressed exactly
alike, in black and white; but occasionally they display a coloured
flower, and each man bears exactly the same species and tint and size
of flower, so that you think of regiments of flowers trained throughout
their lives in barracks to the end of shining for a night in unison on
the black and white bosoms of these males. Although there is not even a
buffet in the great room, and no sign of the apparatus of a restaurant,
all these males are eating a dinner, and it is the same dinner. They do
not wish to choose; they accept, reading the menu like a decree of fate.
They do not inquire upon the machinery; a slave, unglanced at, places a
certain quantity of a dish in front of them--and lo! the same quantity
of the same dish is in front of all of them; they do not ask whence nor
how it came; they eat, with industry, knowing that at a given moment,
whether they have finished or not, a hand will steal round from behind
them, and the plate will vanish into limbo. Thus the repast continues,
ruthlessly, under the aquiline gaze of a slave who is also a
commander-in-chief, manoeuvring his men silently, manoeuvring them with
naught but a glance. With one glance he causes to disappear five hundred
salad-plates, and with another he conjures from behind a screen five
hundred ices, each duly below zero, and each calculated to impede the
digesting of a salad. The service of the dinner is a miracle, but the
diners, absorbed in the expectancy of rites to come, reck not; they
assume the service as they assume the rising of the sun. Only a few
remember the old, old days, in the ’eighties (before a cabal of
international Jews had put their heads together and inaugurated a
new age of miracles), when these solemn repasts were a scramble and a
guerilla, after which one half of the combatants went home starving, and
the other half went home glutted and drenched. Nowadays these repasts
are the most perfectly democratic in England; and anybody who has ever
assisted at one knows by a morsel of experience what life would be if
the imaginative Tory’s nightmare of Socialism were to become a reality.
But each person has enough, and has it promptly.

*****

The ceremonial begins with a meal, because it would be impossible on an
empty stomach. Its object is ostensibly either to celebrate the memory
of some deed or some dead man, or to signalise the triumph of some
living contemporary. Clubs and societies exist throughout London in
hundreds expressly for the execution of these purposes, and each! of
them is a remunerative client of a large restaurant. Societies even
exist solely in order to watch for the triumphs of contemporaries, and
to gather in the triumphant to a repast and inform them positively that
they are great. So much so that it is difficult to accomplish anything
unusual, such as the discovery of one pole or another, or the successful
defence of a libel action, without submitting to the ordeal of these
societies one after the other in a chain, and emerging therefrom
with modesty ruined and the brazen conceit of a star actor. But the
ostensible object is merely a cover for the real object, the unadmitted
and often unsuspected object: which is, to indulge in a debauch of
universal mutual admiration. When the physical appetite is assuaged,
then the appetite for praise and sentimentality is whetted, and the
design of the mighty institution of the banquet is to minister, in a
manner majestic and unexceptionable, to this base appetite, whose one
excuse is its _naïveté_.

A pleasurable and even voluptuous thrill of anticipation runs through
the assemblage when the chairman rises to open the orgy. Everybody
screws himself up, as a fiddler screwing the pegs of a fiddle, to what
he deems the correct pitch of appreciativeness; and almost the breath
is held. And the chairman says: “Whatever differences may divide us
upon other subjects, I am absolutely convinced, and I do not hesitate
to state my conviction in the clearest possible way, that we are
enthusiastically and completely agreed upon one point,” the point being
that such and such a person or such and such a work is the greatest
person or the greatest work of the kind in the whole history of the
human race. And although the point is one utterly inadmissible upon an
empty stomach, although it is indeed a glaring falsity, everybody at
once feverishly endorses it, either with shrill articulate cries, or
with deep inarticulate booming, or with noises produced by the shock
of flesh on flesh, or ivory on wood, or steel on crystal. The uproar is
enormous. The chairman grows into a sacramental priest, or a philosopher
of amazing insight and courage. And everybody says to himself: “I had
not screwed myself up quite high enough,” and proceeds to a further
screwing. And in every heart is the thought: “This is grand! This is
worth living for! This alone is the true reward of endeavour!” And the
corporate soul muses ecstatically: “This work, or this man, is ours, by
reason of our appreciation and our enthusiasm. And he, or it, is ours
exclusively.” And, since the soul and the body are locked together in
the closest sympathetic intimacy, all those cautious dyspeptic ones who
have hitherto shirked danger, immediately put on courage like a splendid
garment, and order the strongest drinks and the longest cigars that the
establishment can offer. The real world fades into unreality; the morrow
is lost in eternity; the moment and the illusion alone are real.

*****

The key of the mood is to be sought less in the speeches as they succeed
each other than in the applause. For the applauders are not influenced
by a sense of responsibility, or made self-conscious by publicity.
They can be natural, and they are. What fear can prevent them from
translating instantly their emotions into sound? By the applause, if
you are a slave and non-participator, you may correct your too kindly
estimate of men in the mass. Note how the most outrageous exaggeration,
the grossest flattery, the most banal platitude, the most fatuous
optimism, gain the loudest approval. Note how any reservation produces
a fall of temperature. Note how the smallest jokes are seized on
ravenously, as a worm by a young bird. And note always the girlish
sentimentality, ever gushing forth, of these strong, hard-headed males
whose habit is to proverbialise the sentimentality of women.

[Illustration: 0179]

The emotional crisis arrives. Feeling transcends the vehicle of speech,
and escapes in song. And one guest, honoured either; for some special
deed of his own or because his name has been “coupled” with some
historic deed or movement, remains sitting, in the most exquisite
self-consciousness that human ingenuity ever brought about, while all
the rest fling hoarsely at him the fifteen sacred words of a refrain
which in its incredible vulgarity surpasses even the National Anthem.

The reaction is now not far off. But owing to several reasons it is
postponed yet awhile. The honoured guest’s response is one of the
chief attractions of the night. Very many diners have been drawn to the
banquet by the desire to inspect the honoured guest at their leisure, to
see his antics, to divine his human weaknesses and his ridiculous side.
And, moreover, the honoured guest must give praise for praise, and lie
for lie. He is bound by the strictest conventions of social intercourse
to say in so many words: “Gentlemen, you are the most enlightened body
of men that I ever had the good fortune to meet; and your hospitality
is the greatest compliment that I have ever had, or ever shall have, or
could conceive. Each of you is a prince of the earth. And I am a worm.”
 And then there are the minor speeches, finishing off in detail the vast
embroidery of laudation which was begun by the Chairman. Everybody is
more or less enfolded in that immense mantle. And everybody is satisfied
and sated, save those who have sat through the night awaiting the sweet
mention of their own names, and who have been disappointed. At every
banquet there are such. And it is they who, by their impatience,
definitely cause the reaction at last. The speakers who terminate the
affair fight against the reaction in vain. The applause at the close is
perfunctory--how different from the fever of the commencement and the
hysteria of the middle! The illusion is over. The emotional debauch
is finished. The adult and bearded boys have played the delicious
make-believe of being truly great, and the game is at an end; and each
boy, looking within, perceives without too much surprise that he is
after all only himself. A cohort “of the best,” foregathered in the
cloakroom, say to each other, “Delightful evening! Splendid! Ripping!”
 And then one says, ironically leering, in a low voice, and a tone heavy
with realistic disesteem: “Well, what do you think of--?” Naming the
lion of the night.



VI--ONE OF THE CROWD

He comes out of the office, which is a pretty large one, with a series
of nods--condescending, curt, indifferent, friendly, and deferential. He
has detestations and preferences, even cronies; and if he has superiors,
he has also inferiors. But whereas his fate depends on the esteem of a
superior, the fate of no inferior depends on his esteem. When he nods
deferentially he is bowing to an august power before which all others
are in essence equal; the least of his inferiors knows that. And the
least of his inferiors will light, on the stairs, a cigarette with the
same gesture, and of perhaps the same brand, as his own--to signalise
the moment of freedom, of emergence from the machine into human
citizenship. Presently he is walking down the crammed street with one or
two preferences or indifferences, and they are communicating with each
other in slang, across the shoulders of jostling interrupters, and amid
the shouts of newsboys and the immense roaring of the roadway. And at
the back of his mind, while he talks and smiles, or frowns, is a clear
vision of a terminus and a clock and a train. Just as the water-side
man, wherever he may be, is aware, night and day, of the exact state of
the tide, so this man carries in his brain a time-table of a particular
series of trains, and subconsciously he is always aware whether he
can catch a particular train, and if so, whether he must hurry or may
loiter. His case, is not peculiar. He is just an indistinguishable man
on the crowded footpaths, and all the men on the footpaths, like him,
are secretly obsessed by the vision of a train just moving out of a
station.

[Illustration: 0185]

He arrives at the terminus with only one companion; the rest, with nods,
have vanished away at one street corner or another. Gradually he is
sorting himself out. Both he and his companion know that there are
a hundred and twenty seconds to spare. The companion relates a new
humorous story of something unprintable, alleged to have happened
between a man and a woman. The receiver of the story laughs with honest
glee, and is grateful, and the companion has the air of a benefactor;
which indeed he is, for these stories are the ready-money of social
intercourse. The companion strides off, with a nod. The other remains
solitary. He has sorted himself out, but only for a minute. In a
minute he is an indistinguishable unit again, with nine others, in the
compartment of a moving train. He reads an evening newspaper, which
seems to have come into his hand of its own agency, for he catches it
every night with a purely mechanical grasp as it flies in the street.
He reads of deeds and misdeeds, and glances aside uneasily from the
disturbing tides of restless men who will not let the social order
alone. Suddenly, after the train has stopped several times, he folds
up the newspaper as it is stopping again, and gets blindly out. As he
surges up into the street on a torrent of his brothers, he seems less
sorted than ever. The street into which he comes is broad and busy,
and the same newspapers are flying in it. Nevertheless, the street
is different from the streets of the centre. It has a reddish or a
yellowish quality of colour, and there is not the same haste in it. He
walks more quickly now. He walks a long way up another broad street,
in which rare autobuses and tradesmen’s carts rattle and thunder. The
street gets imperceptibly quieter, and more verdurous. He passes a
dozen side-streets, and at last he turns into a side-street. And this
side-street is full of trees and tranquillity. It is so silent that to
reach it he might have travelled seventy miles instead of seven. There
are glimpses of yellow and red houses behind thick summer verdure. His
pace still quickens. He smiles to himself at the story, and wonders to
whom he can present it on the morrow. And then he halts and pushes open
a gate upon which is painted a name. And he is in a small garden, with
a vista of a larger garden behind. And down the vista is a young girl,
with the innocence and grace and awkwardness and knowingness of her
years--sixteen; a little shabby, or perhaps careless, in her attire, but
enchanting. She starts forward, smiling, and exclaims: “Father!”

Now he is definitely sorted out.

[Illustration: 0189]

*****

Though this man is one of the crowd, though nobody would look twice at
him in Cannon Street, yet it is to the successful and felicitous crowd
that he belongs. There are tens of thousands of his grade; but he has
the right to fancy himself a bit. He can do certain difficult things
very well--else how, in the fierce and gigantic struggle for money,
should he contrive to get hold of five hundred pounds a year?

He is a lord in his demesne; nay, even a sort of eternal father. Two
servants go in fear of him, because his wife uses him as a bogey to
intimidate them. His son, the schoolboy, a mighty one at school, knows
there is no appeal from him, and quite sincerely has an idea that his
pockets are inexhaustible. Whenever his son has seen him called upon to
pay he has always paid, and money has always been left in his pocket.
His daughter adores and exasperates him. His wife, with her private
system of visits, and her suffragetting, and her independences,
recognises ultimately in every conflict that the resultant of forces is
against her and for him. When he is very benevolent he joins her in the
game of pretending that they are equals. He is the distributor of joy.
When he laughs, all laugh, and word shoots through the demesne that
father is in a good humour.

He laughs to-night. The weather is superb; it is the best time of the
year in the suburbs. Twilight is endless; the silver will not die out
of the sky. He wanders in the garden, the others with him. He works
potteringly. He shows himself more powerful than his son, both
physically and mentally. He spoils his daughter, who is daily growing
more mysterious. He administers flattery to his wife. He throws scraps
of kindness to the servants. It is his wife who at last insists on the
children going to bed. Lights show at the upper windows. The kitchen is
dark and silent. His wife calls to him from upstairs. He strolls round
to the front patch of garden, stares down the side-road, sees an autobus
slide past the end of it, shuts and secures the gate, comes into the
house, bolts the front door, bolts the back door, inspects the windows,
glances at the kitchen; finally, he extinguishes the gas in the hall.
Then he leaves the ground floor to its solitude, and on the first-floor
peeps in at his snoring son, and admonishes his daughter through a door
ajar not to read in bed. He goes to the chief bedroom, and locks himself
therein with his wife; and yawns. The night has come. He has made his
dispositions for the night. And now he must trust himself, and all that
is his, to the night. A vague, faint anxiety penetrates him. He can feel
the weight of five human beings depending on him; their faith in him
lies heavy.

In the middle of the night he wakes up, and is reminded of such-and-such
a dish of which he partook. He remembers what his wife said: “There’s no
doing anything with that girl”--the daughter--“I don’t know what’s come
over her.” And he thinks of all his son’s faults and stupidities, and
of what it will be to have two children adult. It is true--there _is_
no doing anything with either one or the other. Their characters are
unchangeable--to be taken or left. This is one lesson he has learnt
in the last ten years. And his wife. . . ! The whole organism of the
demesne presents itself to him, lying awake, as most extraordinarily
complicated. The garden alone, the rose-trees alone,--what a constant
cause of solicitude! The friction of the servants,--was one of them a
thief or was she not? The landlord must be bullied about the roof. Then,
new wall-papers! A hinge! His clothes! His boots! His wife’s clothes,
and her occasional strange disconcerting apathy! The children’s clothes!
Rent! Taxes! Rates! Season-ticket! Subscriptions! Negligence of the
newsvendor! Bills! Seaside holiday! Erratic striking of the drawing-room
clock! The pain in his daughter’s back! The singular pain in his own
groin--nothing, and yet. . . ! Insurance premium! And above all, the
office! Who knew, who could tell, what might happen? There was no margin
of safety, not fifty pounds margin of safety. He walked in success and
happiness on a thin brittle crust! Crack! And where would they all
be? Where would be the illusion of his son and daughter that he was an
impregnable and unshakable rock? What would his son think if he knew
that his father often calculated to half-a-crown, and economised in
cigarettes and a great deal in lunches?. . .

He asks, “Why did I bring all this on myself? Where do I come in, after
all?”. . . The dawn, very early; and he goes to sleep once more!

*****

The next morning, factitiously bright after his bath, he is eating his
breakfast, reading his newspaper, and looking at his watch. The night
is over; the complicated organism is in full work again, with its air
of absolute security. His newspaper, inspired by a millionaire to gain
a millionaire’s ends by appealing to the ingenuousness of this
clever struggler, is uneasy with accounts of attacks meditated on the
established order. His mind is made up. The established order may not
be perfect, but he is in favour of it. He has arrived at an equilibrium,
unstable possibly, but an equilibrium. One push, and he would be over!
Therefore, no push! He hardens his heart against the complaint of the
unjustly treated. He has his own folk to think about.

The station is now drawing him like a magnet. He sees in his mind’s eye
every yard of the way between the side-street and the office, and in
imagination he can hear the clock striking at the other end. He must go;
he must go! Several persons help him to go, and at the garden-gate
he stoops and kisses that mysterious daughter. He strides down the
side-street. Only a moment ago, it seems, he was striding up it! He
turns into the long road. It is a grinding walk in the already hot sun.
He reaches the station and descends into it, and is diminished from an
eternal father to a mere unit of a throng. But on the platform he meets
a jolly acquaintance. His face relaxes as they salute. “I say,” he says
after an instant, bursting with a good thing, “Have you heard the tale
about the--?”



ITALY--1910



I--NIGHT AND MORNING IN FLORENCE

Amid the infantile fluttering confusion caused by the arrival of the
Milan express at Florence railway station, the thoughts of the artist as
he falls sheer out of the compartment upon the soft bodies of hold-alls
and struggling women, are not solely on the platform. This moment has
grandeur. This city was the home of the supreme ones--Dante, Leonardo,
Michael Angelo, and Brunelleschi. You have entered it.. . . Awe? I have
never been aware of sentiments of awe towards any artists, save Charles
Baudelaire. My secret attitude to them has always been that I would
like to shake their hands and tell them briefly in their private slang,
whatever their private slang was, that they had given immense pleasure
to another artist. I have excepted Charles Baudelaire ever since I read
his correspondence, in which he is eternally trying to borrow ten francs
from some one, and if they cannot make it ten--then five. There is
something so excessively poignant, and to me so humiliating, in the
spectacle of the grand author of La Charogne going about among his
acquaintance in search of a dollar, that I would only think about it
when I wished to inflict on myself a penance. It is a spectacle
unique. Like the King of Thule song in Berlioz’s Damnation of Faust, it
resembles nothing else of its kind. If the artist does not stand in awe
before that monumental enigma of human pride which called itself Charles
Baudelaire, how shall the artist’s posture be described?

No, I will tell you what occupied the withdrawn and undefiled spaces
of my mind as I entered Florence, drifting on the stream of labelled
menials and determined ladies with their teeth hard-set: Was it more
interesting for an artist to be born into a great age of art, where he
was beloved and appreciated, if not wholly comprehended, by relatively
large masses of people; where his senses were on every hand indulged and
pampered by the caress of the obviously beautiful; where he lived among
equals, and saw himself continually surrounded by innumerable acts
creative of beauty; and where he could feel in the very air a divine
palpitation--or, on the other hand, was it more spiritually voluptuous
for the artist to be born into a stone age, an age deaf and dumb, an age
insensible to the sublime, ignorantly rejecting beauty, and occupying
itself with the most damnable and offensive futilities that the soul of
an artist can conceive? For I was going, in my fancy, out of the one
age into the other. And I decided, upon reflection, that I would just
as soon be in the age in which I in fact was; I said that I would
not change places even with the most fortunate and miraculous of
men--Leonardo da Vinci. There is an agreeable bitterness, an exquisite
_tang_, in the thought of the loneliness of artists in an age whose
greatness and whose epic quality are quite divorced from art. And when
I think of the artist in this age, I think of the Invisible Man of H.
G. Wells, in the first pride of his invisibility (when he was not yet
hunted), walking unseen and unseeing amid multitudes, and it is long
before? anybody in the multitudes even notices the phenomenon of
mysterious footmarks that cannot be accounted for! I like to be that
man. I like to think that my fellows are few, and that even I, not
having eyes to see most of them, must now and then be disconcerted by
the appearance of unaccountable footmarks. There is something beyond
happiness, and that is, to know intensely and painfully that you are
what you are. The great Florentines of course had that knowledge, but
their circumstances were; not so favourable as mine to its cultivation
in an artist. Therein lay their disadvantage and lies my advantage.

[Illustration: 0199]

Besides, you do not suppose that I would wish to alter this age by a
single iota of its ugliness and its preposterousness! You do not suppose
I do not love it! You do not suppose I do not wallow in the trough of it
with delight! There is not one stockbroker, not one musical comedy star,
not one philanthropic giver of free libraries, not one noble brewer, not
one pander, not one titled musician, not one fashionable bishop, not
one pro-consul, that I would wish away. Where should my pride bitterly
exercise itself if not in proving that my age, exactly as it exists now,
contains nothing that is not the raw material of beauty? If I wished
to do so, I would force some among you to see that even the hotel-tout
within the portals of the city of Giotto is beautiful.

*****

At dinner I am waited upon by a young and beautiful girl who, having
almost certainly never heard of Gabriele d’Annunzio, yet speaks his
language and none other. But she wears the apron and the cap of the
English parlour-maid, in plenary correctness, and, knowing exactly how
I should be served in England, she humours me; and above us is a vaulted
ceiling. Such is the terrible might of England. I am surrounded by
ladies; the room is crammed with ladies. By the perfection of their
virtuosity in the nice conduct of forks alone is demonstrated their
ladyship. (And I who, like a savage, cannot eat pudding without a
spoon!) There is a middle-aged gentleman, whose eyeglasses are wandering
down his fine nose, lost in a bosky dell of women at the other end of
the room; and there is myself; and there is a boy, obviously in Hades.
And there are some fifty dames. Their voices, high, and with the sublime
unconscious arrogance of the English, fight quietly and steadily among
each other up in the vaulting. “Of course, I used to play cricket with
my brothers. But, will you believe me, I’ve never seen a football match
in my life!”

“No, we haven’t seen the new rector yet, but they say he’s frightfully
nice.”

“Benozzo Gozzoli--ye-es.” It is impossible not to believe, listening to
these astounding conversations, that nature, tired of imitating Balzac
any longer, has now taken to imitating the novels of Mrs. Humphry Ward.

The drawing-room is an English drawing-room--yes, with the _Queen_ and
“the authoress of _Elizabeth and her German Garden_” and a Bechstein
grand. There are forty-five chairs and easy chairs in it, and fifty
ladies; the odd five ladies sit low upon hassocks or recline on each
other in attitudes of intense affection. And at the other end is a male,
neither the man with the pincenez nor the boy in Hades, but a third who
has mysteriously come out of nothing into existence. I have entered,
and I am held, as by a spell, in the doorway, the electric light raining
upon me, a San Sebastian for the fatal arrows of the fifty, who fix on
me their ingenuous eyes--

                   And dart delicious danger thence

(to cull an incomparable phrase from one of the secular poems of Dr.
Isaac Watts). And now there are more ladies behind me, filling the
doorway with hushed expectation. For in the appalling silence, a young
sad-orbed creature is lifting a violin delicately from its case on
the Bechstein, at which waits a sister-spirit. “Do tell me,” says
an American voice, intrepidly breasting the silence, “what was that
perfectly heavenly thing you played last night--was it Debussy? We
thought it must be Debussy.” And the violinist answers: “No; I expect
you mean the Goltermann. It _is_ pretty, isn’t it?” And as she holds
up the violin, interrogating its strings with an anxious and a critical
ear, I observe that beneath the strings lies a layer of rosin-dust.
Thirty years ago, in the fastnesses of the Five Towns, amateurs used to
deem it necessary to keep their violins dirty in order to play with the
soulfulness of a Norman Neruda. I would have been ready to affirm that
observation of the cleanliness of the instruments of professionals had
killed the superstition long since; but lo, I have tunnelled the Simplon
to meet it again!

I go. Somehow, I depart, beaten off as it were with great loss. I plunge
out into dark Florence, walking under the wide projecting eaves
of Florence to avoid the rain. And in my mind I can still see the
drawing-room, a great cube of light, with its crowded frocks whose
folds merge one into the next, and the Bechstein, and the strains of
Goltermann, and the attentive polite faces, and that sole man in the
corner like a fly on a pin. I have run away from it. But I know that I
shall go back to it, and that my curiosity will drink it to the dregs.
For that drawing-room is to the working artist in me the most impressive
and the most interesting thing in Florence. And when I reflect that
there are dozens and dozens of it in Florence, I say that this age is
the most romantic age that ever was.

*****

I know where I am going, for my first business in entering a town,
whether Florence, Hull, or Constantine, is always to examine the
communicative posters on its walls and to glance through its newspapers.
There is a performance of Spontini’s _La Vestale_ at the Teatro Verdi.
Nothing, hardly, could have kept me away from that performance, which in
every word of its announcement seems to me overpoweringly romantic. The
name of Verdi alone.... I heard Verdi late in my life, and in Italy,
long after I knew by rote all the themes in _Tristan_ and _Die
Meistersinger_, after _Pelleas et Mêlisande_ had ceased to be a novelty
at the Paris Opéra Comique, after even the British discovery of Richard
Strauss, and I shall never forget the ravishing effect on me of the
first act of _La Traviata_; no, nor the tedium of the other acts. I
would go to any theatre named Verdi. Then Spontini! What is Spontini but
a name? Was it possible that I was about to hear an actual opera by this
antique mediocrity whose music Berlioz loved beyond its deserts? Had
anybody ever heard an opera by Spontini?

The shabbiness of the _façade_ and of the box-office, and of the suits
of the disillusioned but genial men within the box-office--men who
knew the full meaning of existence. A seat in the _parterre_ for two
lire--say one and sevenpence halfpenny--it is making a gift of
the spectacle! The men take my two lire with an indulgent gesture,
exclaiming softly with their eyes and hands: “What are two lire more or
less in the vast abyss of our deficit? Throw them down!” Then I observe
that my ticket is marked _posto distinto_--prominent seat, distinguished
seat. Useless to tell me that it means nothing! It means much to me:
another example of Italian politeness, at once exquisite and futile.

Would the earl in the gate at Covent Garden, even for thirty-two lire on
a Melba night, offer me a distinguished seat?.. . Long stone corridors,
steps up, steps down, turnings, directive cries echoing amid arches; and
then I am in the auditorium, vast.

It is as big as Covent Garden, and nearly as big as La Scala. It has
six galleries, about a hundred boxes, and four varieties of seats on the
ground floor. My distinguished seat is without the first quality of a
seat--yieldingness. It does not acquiesce. It is as hard as seasoned
wood can be, though roomy and well situated. And in a corner, lying
against the high rampart of a box for ten people, I see negligently
piled a great pyramid of ancient red cushions, scores and scores of
them. And a little old ragged attendant comes and whispers alluringly,
delicately in my ear: “_Cuscina_.” Two sous would hire it and a smile
thrown in. But no, I won’t have it. I am too English to have that
cushion.. . . The immense theatre, faced all in white marble, with
traces here and there in a box of crimson upholstery, is as dim as a
church. There are hundreds of electric bulbs, but unlighted: the sole
illumination comes from a row of perfectly mediæval gas-burners along
the first gallery. After all, economy must obtain somewhere. I count an
orchestra of over seventy living players; the most numerous body in
the place: somehow they must support life. Over the acreage of the
_parterre_ are sprinkled a few dozens of audience. There is a serried
ring of faces lining the fifth gallery, to which admittance is tenpence,
and another lining the sixth gallery, to which admittance is sixpence.
The rest is not even paper.

Yet a spruce and elegant conductor rises and the overture begins, and
the orchestra proves that its instruments are real; and I hear Spontini,
and for a little while enjoy his faded embroideries. And the curtain
goes up on “a public place in Rome,” upon a scale as spacious as Rome
itself. Everything is genuine. There are two leading sopranos, one of
whom is young and attractive, and they both have powerful and trained
voices, and sing like the very dickens. No amateurishness about them!
They know their business; they are accomplished and experienced artists.
No hesitations, no timidities, no askings for indulgence because really
I have only paid two lire! Their fine voices fill the theatre with ease,
and would easily fill Covent Garden to the back row of the half-crown
gallery. The same with the tenor, the same with the bass. Spontini
surges onward in an excellent concourse of multitudinous sound, and I
wonder what it is all about. I have a book of the words, but owing to
the unfortunate absence of Welsbach mantles I cannot read it. I know it
must be all about a vestal who objected to being a vestal, on account of
a military uniform, and I content myself with this grand central fact.
Then the stage brightens, and choruses begin to march on; one after
another; at least a dozen: soldiers, wrestlers, populace, dancers,
children. Yes, the show is complete even to ragamuffins larking about in
the public place in Rome. I count a hundred people on the stage. And
all the properties are complete. It is a complete production and an
expensive production--except probably in the detail of wages. For
in Italy _prime donne_ with a _répertoire_ of a dozen or fifteen
first-class rôles seem to go about the streets dressed like shop-girls.
I have seen it. All this is just as exciting to me as the Church of S.
Croce, even as explained by John Ruskin with a schoolmaster’s cane in
his lily-hand.

Interval I I go to the refreshment _foyer_ to see life. And now I can
perceive that quite a crowd of people has been hidden somewhere in
the nooks of the tremendous theatre. The large _caffé_ is crammed. Of
course, it is vaulted, like everything in Florence. The furniture of the
caffé is strangely pathetic in its forlornness: marble-topped mahogany
tables, and mahogany chairs in faded and frayed crimson rep. Furniture
that ought to have been dead and buried long ago! The marble is
yellow with extreme age and use. These tables and chairs are a most
extraordinary survival; in a kind of Italian Loins Philippe style,
debased First Empire; or it might be likened to earliest Victorian. Once
they were new; once they were the latest thing. For fifty years perhaps
the management has been meaning to refurnish the _caffé_ as soon as it
could afford. The name of the theatre has been changed, but not those
chairs nor that marble. And conceivably the sole waiter, gliding swiftly
to and fro with indestructible politeness, is their contemporary. The
customers are the equivalent of a music-hall audience in these isles.
They smoke, drink, and expectorate with the casualness of men who are
taking a rest after Little Tich. They do not go to the opera with prayer
and fasting and the score. They just stroll into the opera. Nor does the
conductor, nor do the players, have the air of high priests of art who
have brought miracles to pass. And I know what those two sopranos are
talking about upstairs. Here opera is in the bones of the rabble. It
is a tradition: a tradition in a very bad way of decayed splendour, but
alive yet.

For the second act the auditorium is brighter, and fuller, though the
total receipts would not pay for five minutes of Caruso alone. The place
looks half full and is perhaps a third full. Behind me a whole series
of first-tier boxes are occupied by a nice, cheerful, chattering
shop-keeping class of persons, simple folk that I like. A few soldiers
are near. Also there is a man next but one to me who cannot any longer
deprive himself of a cigarette. He bows his head and furtively strikes
a match, right in the middle of the theatre, and for every puff he bows
his head, and then looks up with an innocent air, as though repudiating
any connection with the wisp of smoke that is floating aloft. Nobody
minds. The curtain rises on the interior of the Temple, a beautiful and
solid architectural scene, much superior to anything in the first act,
whose effect was rich and complex without being harmonious. The vestal
is attending to the fire. When the military uniform unostentatiously
enters, I feel that during an impassioned dialogue she will go and let
that fire out. And she does. Such is the second act., I did not see
the third. I shall never see it. I convinced myself that two acts of
Spontini were enough for me. It was astonishing that even in Florence
Spontini had not been interred. But clearly, from the efficiency,
assurance, and completeness of its production, _La Vestale_ must have
been in the Florentine _répertoire_ perhaps ever, since its composition,
and a management selling seats at two lire finds it so much easier to
keep an old opera in the _répertoire_ than to kick it out and bring in
a new one. I had savoured the theatre, and I went, satisfied; also much
preoccupied with the financial enigma of the enterprise, where indeed
the real poetry of this age resides. Whence came the money to pay the
wages of at least a couple of hundred skilled persons, and the lighting
and the heating and the rent, and the advertisement, and the thousand
minor expenses of such an affair?

When I reached the abode of the ladies it was all dark and silent. I
rang, intimidated. And one of those young and beautiful girls (no, not
so young and not so beautiful, but still--) in her exotic English attire
opened the door. And with her sleepy eyes she looked at me as if saying:
“Once in a way this sort of thing is all very well, but please don’t
let it occur too often. I suffer.” A shame! And I crept contrite up the
stairs, and along passages between hidden rows of sleeping ladies. And
there was my Baedeker lying on the night-table, and not a word in it
about Florentine opera and the romance thereof.

*****

Rain still! Florentine rain, the next morning, steady and implacable!
They come down to breakfast, those fifty ladies; not in a cohort, but in
ones and twos and threes, appearing and disappearing, so that there are
never more than half a dozen hovering together over the white and almost
naked tables. They glance momentarily at the high windows and glance
away, crushing by a heroic effort of self-control, impossible to any but
women of the north, the impulse to criticise the order of the universe.
Calm, angular, ungainly, long-suffering, and morose, Cimabue might have
painted them; not Giotto. Their garb is austere, flannel above the zone
and stuff below; no ornament, no fluffiness, no enticement; but passably
neat, save for the untidy, irregular buttoning of the bodice down the
spine. And note that they are fully and finally dressed to be seen
of men; all the chill rites have been performed; they have not leapt
straight from the couch into a peignoir, after the manner of Latin
women--those odalisques at heart! They are astoundingly gentle with each
other, cooing sympathetic inquiries, emitting kind altruistic hopes,
leaning intimately towards each other, fondling each other, and even
sweetly kissing. They know by experience that strict observance of a
strict code is the price of peace. In that voluntary mutual captivity,
so full of enforced, familiar contacts, the error of a moment might
produce a thousand hours of purgatory.... A fresh young girl comes
swinging in, and with a gesture of which in a few years she will be
incapable, caresses the chin of her desiccated mamma. And the contrast
between the two figures, the thought of what lies behind the one
and what lies before the other, inured so soon to this existence--is
poignant. The girl perceptibly droops in that atmosphere; flourish in
it she cannot. And the smiles and the sweetness continue in profusion.
Nevertheless I feel that I am amid loose nitro-glycerine: one jar, and
the whole affair might be blown to atoms, and the papers would be
full of “mysterious fatal explosion in a _pension_ at Florence.” The
danger-points are the jampots and the honey-pots and the marmalade-pots,
of which each lady apparently has her own. And when one of them says to
the maid (all in white at this hour, as is meet): “This is not my jam--I
had more,” I quake at the conception of the superhuman force which
restrains the awful bitterness in her voice. A matter of an instant; but
in that instant, in that fraction of an instant, the tigress has snarled
at the bars of the cage and been dragged back. It is marvellous. It is
terrifying.

We talk. We talk to prove our virtuosity in the nice conduct of the
early meal. I learn that they have been here for months, and that they
will be here for months. And that next year it may be Rome, or more
possibly Florence again. Florence is inexhaustible, inexhaustible.

I mention the opera. I assert that there is such a thing as an opera.

“Really!” Politeness masking indifference.

I say that I went to the opera last night.

“Really!” Politeness masking a puzzled, an even slightly alarmed
surprise.

I say that the opera was most diverting.

“Really!” Politeness masking boredom.

The opera is not appraised in the guide-books. The opera is no part of
the official museum. Florence is a museum, and nothing but a museum.
Beyond the museum they do not admit that anything exists; hence nothing
exists beyond it. They do not scorn the rest of Florence. The rest of
Florence simply has not occurred to them. Pride of the Medicis, bow
before this pride, sublime in its absolute unconsciousness!

*****

That morning I made my way in the rain to the Strozzi Palace, which
palace is for me the great characteristic building of Florence. When I
think of Florence, I do not expire in ecstasy on the syllables of Duomo,
Baptistery, or Palazzo Vecchio, or even Bargello. The Strozzi Palace is
in my mind. Possibly I merely prefer it to the Riccardi Palace because I
cannot by paying fivepence invade it and add it up. The Strozzi Palace
still holds out against the northern hordes. Filippo Strozzi, as to whom
my ignorance is immaculate, must have united in a remarkable degree the
qualities of savagery, austere arrogance, and fine taste; otherwise he
would never have approved Maiano’s plans for this residence and castle.
The dimensions of it remind you of the Comédie Humaine, and it carries
rectangularity and uncompromising sharpness of corners to the last
limit. In form it is simply a colossal cube, of which you can only
appreciate the height by standing immediately beneath the unfinished
roof-cornice, the latter so vast in its beautiful enlargement of a Roman
model that nobody during five hundred years has had the pluck to set
about and finish it. Then you can see that in size the Strozzi ranks
with cathedrals, and that the residential part of it, up in the air,
only begins where three-story houses end.

To appreciate its beauty and its moral you must get away from it,
opposite one of its corners, so as to have two _façades_ in perspective.
The small arched windows of the first and second storeys are all that it
shows of a curve. Rather finicking these windows, the elegant trifling
of a spirit essentially grim; some are bricked up, some show a gleam of
white-painted interior woodwork, and others have the old iron-studded
shutters. The lower windows are monstrously netted in iron to resist the
human storm. The upper windows may each be ten feet high, but they are
mere details of the _façades_, and the lower windows might be square
port-holes. See the two perspectives sloping away from you under the
tremendous eaves, a state-entrance in the middle of each! See the three
rows of torch or banner holders and the marvellous iron lanterns at the
corners! Imagine the place lit up with flame on some night of the early
sixteenth century, human beings swarming about its base as at the foot
of precipices. Imagine the lights out, and the dawn, and the day-gloom
of those ill-lighted and splendid apartments. Imagine the traditional
enemies of the Medicis trying to keep themselves warm therein during a
windy Florentine winter! Imagine, from the Strozzi Palace, the ferocious
altercations, and the artistic connoisseurship, and the continuous
ruthless sweating of the common people, which made up the lives of the
masters of Florence--and you will formulate a better idea of what life
was than from any church! This palace is a supreme monument of grim
force tempered by an exquisite sense of beauty. With the exception of
an intervening cornice which has had a piece knocked out of it, and the
damaged plinth, it stands now as it did at the commencement. Time has
not accepted the challenge of its sharp corners. It might have been
constructed ten years ago by Foster and Dicksee.

I go up to one of the state entrances and peep in, shamefacedly. For it
is a private house. At the far end of the archway is a magnificent iron
grille, and I can see a delicately arched courtyard, utterly different
in style from the exterior, fruit of another brain; and beyond the
courtyard, a glimpse of a fresco and the vista of the state entrance
in the opposite _façade_. At each corner of the courtyard the rain is
splashing down, evidently from high open spouts, splashing with a loud,
careless, insolent noise, and the middle of the courtyard is a pool
continuously pricked by thousands of raindrops. The glass of the large
lamp swinging in the draught of the archway is broken. A huge lackey
in uniform strolls in front of the grille and lolls there. I move
instinctively away, for if anybody recoils before a lackey it is your
socialist.

Then I see a lady hurrying across the square enveloped in a great cloak
and sheltered beneath an umbrella. She makes straight for the state
entrance, and passes me, dripping up the archway. I say to myself:

“She belongs to the house. Now I am going to see the gates yield. The
lackey was expecting her.” And I had quite a thrill at sight of this
living inhabitant of the Strozzi Palace.

But not She went right up to the grille, as though the lackey was in
prison and she visiting him, and stopped there and stared silently into
the courtyard. The lackey, dumbfounded and craven, moved off. She had
only come to look. This was her manner of coming to look. I ought to
have divined by the solidity of her heels that she was one of ours; not
one of my particular band at breakfast, but in Florence there are dozens
upon dozens of such breakfasts every morning, and from some Anglican
breakfast she had risen.

*****

Our breakfast took place in a palace. Not the Strozzi, not nearly so
large nor so fine as the Strozzi, but a real Florentine palazzo. It
has been transformed within to suit the needs and the caprices of those
stern ladies. They have come, and they have come again, and they have
calmly insisted, and they have had their will. Hygienic appliances
authentically signed by the great English artists in this _genre!_
Radiators in each room! Electric bulbs over the bed and in the ceiling!
Iron beds! The inconvenient height of the windows from the floor
lessened by a little wooden platform on which are a little chair and
a little table and a little piece of needlework and a little vase of
flowers!... Steadily they are occupying the palaces, each lady in her
nook, and the slow force of their will moulds even the granite to the
desired uses.

[Illustration: 0221]

Why do they come? It cannot be out of passion for the great art of the
world. Nobody who had a glimmering of the real sense of beauty could
dress as they dress, move as they move, buy what they buy, or talk
as they talk. They mingle in their heads Goltermann with Debussy, and
Botticelli with Maude Goodman. Their drawing-room is full of Maude
Goodman in her rich first period.. .. It cannot be out of a love of
history, for they never unseal their lips in a spot where history has
been made without demonstrating in the most painful manner an entire
lack of historical imagination. They nibble daintily at crumbs of art
and of archæology in special booklets which some of themselves have
written and others of themselves have illustrated, and which make the
coarse male turn with an almost animal satisfaction to Carl Baedeker or
even the Reverend Herbert H.

Jeaffreson, M. A. It is impossible that these excellent creatures, whose
only real defect has to do with the hooks and eyes down their spines,
can ever comprehend the beauty and the significance of that by which
they are surrounded. They have not the temperament. Temperamentally,
they would be much more at home in Riga. Also it is impossible to
believe that they are happy in Florence. They do not wear the look of
joy. Their gestures are not those of happiness. Nevertheless they can
only be in Florence because they have discovered that they are less
unhappy here than at home. What deep malady of society is it that drives
them out of their natural frame--the frame in which they are comely
and even delectable, the frame which best sets off their finer
qualities--into unnatural exile and the poor despised companionship of
their own sex?

And what must be the force of that malady which drives them I The long
levers that ultimately exert their power on the palaces of Florence
are worked from England. Behind each of these solitary ladies, in the
English background, there must be a mysterious male--relative, friend,
lawyer, stockbroker--advising, controlling, forwarding cheques and
cheques and cheques, always. These ladies, economically, are dolls of
a financial system. Or you may call them the waste products of an
arthritic civilisation. What a force is behind them, that they should
possess themselves of another age and genius, and live in it as
conquerors, modifying manners, architecture, and even perhaps language!
The cloaked lady in front of the grille shall, if you choose, fairly be
likened to a barbarian on the threshold of a philosopher’s dead court;
hut as regards mere force, one may say that in her the Strozzis are up
against an equal.



II--THE SEVENTH OF MAY, 1910

It was an exquisitely beautiful Italian morning, promising heat that
a mild and constant breeze would temper. The East was one glitter.
Harmless clouds were loitering across the pale sky, and across the
Piazza children were taking the longest way to early school, as I passed
from the clear sunshine into the soft transparent gloom of one of the
great pantheons of Italy--a vast thirteenth-century Franciscan church,
the largest church ever built by any mendicant Order--carved and
decorated and painted by Donatello, Giotto, Andrea della Robbia,
Rossellino, Maiano, Taddeo Gaddi, Verrocchio, the incomparable Mino da
Fiesole, Vasari, Canova.

Already the whole place had been cleansed and swept, but at one of the
remotest altars a charwoman was dusting. Little by little I descried
other visitors in the distance, moving quietly under the intimidation of
that calm, afraid to be the first to break the morning stillness. There
was the red gleam of a Baedeker. At a nearer altar a widow in black was
kneeling in one of those attitudes of impassioned surrender and appeal
that strike you so curiously, when for instance, you go out of Harrods’
Stores suddenly into the Brompton Oratory. From an unseen chapel came
the sound of chanting, perfunctory, a part of the silence; and last
of all, at still another altar, I made out a richly coloured priest
genuflecting, all alone, save for a black acolyte. In a corner two
guides were talking business, and by the doors the beggars were talking
business in ordinary tones before the official whining of the day should
commence. The immense interior had spaciousness for innumerable separate
and diverse activities, each undisturbed by the others. And all around
me were the tombs and cenotaphs of great or notorious men, who had made
the glory and the destiny of Italy; Dante, Galileo, Michael Angelo,
Donatello, Machiavelli; and Alfieri, Rossini, Aretino, Cherubini,
Alberti; and even St. Louis, and a famous fourteenth century English
Bishop, and a couple of Bonapartes; many ages, races, climes.

*****

I sat down and opened the damp newspaper which I had just bought outside
at the foot of the steps leading up to the dazzling marble façade. And
when I had been staring at the newspaper some time I became aware that
the widow at the altar in the middle distance had risen and was leaving
the church, and then I saw to my surprise that she was an Irish lady
staying in my hotel. She passed near me. Should I stop her, or should I
not? I wanted to stop her, from the naïve pride which one feels in being
able to communicate a startling piece of news of the first magnitude.
But on the other hand, I really was nervous about telling her. To tell
her seemed brutal, seemed like knocking her down. This was my feeling.
She decided the question for me by deviating from her path to greet me.

[Illustration: 0227]

“What a lovely morning!” she said.

“Have you heard about the King?” I asked her gruffly, well knowing that
she had not.

“No,” she answered smiling. And then, as she looked at me, her smile
faded.

“Well,” I said, “he’s dead!”

“What! _Our_ King?”

“Yes. He died at midnight. Here it is.” And I showed her the
“_Recentissime_” or Latest News page of the newspaper, two lines in
leaded type: “_Londra, 7, ore 2:30 (Urgenza). Re Edoardo è morto a
mezzanotte_.” She knew enough Italian to comprehend that.

“This last midnight?” She was breathless.

“Yes.”

“But--but--no one even knew anything about him being ill?” she
protested.

“Yesterday evening’s Italian papers had columns about the illness--it
was bronchitis,” I said grimly.

“Oh!” she said, “I never see the Italian papers.”

Yet the name of Edward the Seventh had been on every newspaper placard
in the land on Friday night. But in Italy these British have literally
no sight for anything later than the sixteenth century.

Tears stood in her eyes. On my part it would have been just as kindly to
knock her down.

“Just think of that little fellow at Osborne--he’s got to be Prince of
Wales now, and I suppose they’ll take him away from there,” she murmured
brokenly, as she went off, aghast.

*****

I sat down again. It seemed to me, as I reflected among these tombs and
cenotaphs, that a woman’s eyes, on such an occasion, were a good test of
the genuineness of popular affection.

I then noticed that, while the Irish lady and I had been whispering,
another acquaintance of mine had mysteriously entered the church without
my cognizance and had set up his tent in the south transept. This was a
young man who, having gained a prominent place in a certain competition
at the Royal College of Art, had been sent off with money in his pocket,
at the expense of the British nation, to study art and to paint in
Italy. He possessed what is called a travelling scholarship, and the
treasures of Italy were at his feet as at the feet of a conqueror.
Already he had visited me at my hotel, and filled my room with the odour
of his fresh oil-sketches. There were only two things in his head--the
art of painting, and the prospect of an immediate visit to Venice.
He had lodged his easel on a memorial-stone among the flags of the
pavement, and was painting a vista of tombs ending in a bright light
of stained glass. His habit was to paint before the museums opened and
after they closed. I went and accosted him. Again I was conscious of
the naïve pride of a bringer of tragic tidings. He was young and strong,
with fire in his eye. I need not be afraid of knocking him down, at any
rate.

“The King’s dead,” I said.

He lifted his brush.

“Not--?”

I nodded.

He burst out with a tremendous, “By Jove!” that broke that fresh morning
stillness once for all, and faintly echoed into silence among those
tombs. “By Jove!”

His imagination had at once risen to the solemn grandeur of the event,
as an event; but the sharp significance of death did not penetrate the
armour of that enthusiastic youthfulness. “What a pity!” he exclaimed
nicely; but he could not get the iridescent vision of Venice out of his
head, nor the problems of his canvas. He continued painting--what else
could he do?--and then, after a few moments, he said eagerly, “I wish I
was in London!”

“Me too!” I said.

Probably most of the thousands of Englishmen in Italy had the same wish.

*****

I departed from the church. The chanting had ceased; the guides were
still talking business, but the beggars had begun to whine.

In the dining-room of the hotel there was absolute silence. A lady near
the door, with an Italian newspaper over her coffee-cup, who had never
spoken to me before, and would probably never speak to me again, said:

“I suppose you’ve heard about--”

“Yes,” I said.

Everybody in the room knew. Everybody was

English. And nobody spoke. As the guests came down by ones and twos
to breakfast, the lady near the door stopped each of them: “I suppose
you’ve heard--” But none of them had. I was her sole failure. At length
a retired military officer came down, already informed. “Where does
this news come from?” he demanded of the room, impatiently, cautiously,
half-incredulously, as one who would hesitate to trust any information
that he had not seen in a London daily. With a single inflection of his
commanding voice he wiped out the whole Press of Italy--that country of
excellent newspapers. He got little answer. We all sat silent.



III--MORE ITALIAN OPERA

Geographical considerations made it impossible for me to be present at
the performance of _La Traviata_, which opened the Covent Garden season.
I solaced myself by going to hear, on that very night, another and
better opera of Verdi’s, _Aida_, in a theatre certainly more capacious
than Covent Garden, namely, the Politeamo Fiorentino, at Florence.
Florence is a city of huge theatres, which seem to be generally empty,
even during performances, and often on sale. In the majority of them the
weather is little by little getting the better of the ceiling; and the
multifarious attendants, young and old, go about their casual vague
business of letting cushions or selling cigars in raiment that has the
rich, storied interest of antiquity. But on this particular occasion
prosperity attended a Florentine theatrical enterprise. I was one of
three thousand or so excited and crowded beings, most of whom had paid a
fair price for admission to hear the brassiest opera ever composed.

Once I used to condescend to Verdi. That was in the early nineties,
when, at an impressionable and violent age, I got caught in the first
genuine Wagner craze that attacked this country. We used to go to the
special German seasons at Drury Lane, as it were to High Mass. And
although Max Alvary and Frau Klafsky would be singing in _Tristan_, you
might comfortably have put all the occupants of the upper circle into a
Pullman car. Once a cat walked across the stage during a solemn moment
in the career of Isolde, and nearly everybody laughed; a few tittered,
which was even more odious. Only a handful, of such as myself, scowled
angrily--not at the cat, which was really rather fine in the garden,
completing it--but at the infantile unseriousness of these sniggering
so-called Wagnerians. I felt that laughter would have been very well at
a Verdi performance, might even have enhanced it. Meanwhile, over the
way at Convent Garden, Verdi performances were being given to the usual
full houses. It never occurred to me to attend them. Verdi was vulgar.
I cannot explain my conviction that Verdi was vulgar, because I had not
heard a single opera of Verdi’s, save his Wagnerian imitations. No doubt
it arose out of the deep human instinct to intensify the pleasure of
admiring one thing by simultaneously disparaging another thing.

Then, a long time afterwards, in the comparatively calm interval between
the first and the second Wagner crazes, I heard the real Verdi. It was
_La Traviata_, in a little town in Italy, and it was the first operatic
performance I had attended in Italy. I adored it, when I was not
privately laughing at it; and there are one or two airs in it, which
I would sit through the whole opera to hear, if I could not hear them
otherwise. (Happily they occur in the first act.) Yes, Verdi’s name
does not begin with W; but it very nearly does. I stuck him up at once
a little lower than the angels, and I have never pulled him down. It is
certain, however, that _La Traviata_ at any rate cannot live, unless as
a comic opera. I personally did not laugh aloud, because the English are
seldom cruel in a theatre; but the tragical parts are undoubtedly very
funny indeed, funnier even than the tragical parts of the exquisitely
absurd play, _La Dame aux Camélias_, upon which the opera is founded.
When _La Traviata_ was first produced, about fifty-five years ago, in
Venice, its unconscious humour brought about an absolute, a disastrous
failure. The performance ended amid roars of laughter. Unhappily the
enormous proportions of Signora Donatelli, who sang Violetta, aided
the fiasco. When the doctor announced that this lady was in an advanced
stage of consumption and had but a few hours to live, Harry Lauder
himself could not have had a greater success of hilarity with the mob.
Italians are like that. They may be devoted to music--though there are
reasons for doubting it--but as opera-goers and concert-goers they are
a godless crew. An Englishman would have laughed at Violetta’s
unconsumptive waist, but he would have laughed in the street, or the
next morning. The English have reverence, and when they go to the opera,
they go to hear the opera.

*****

When Italians go to the opera, they are apparently out for a lark, and
they have some of the qualities of the Roman multitude enjoying wild
beasts in the amphitheatre. I think I have never been to an operatic
performance in Italy without acutely noticing this. When I went to hear
_Aida_, the colossal interior of the Politeamo Fiorentino had the very
look of an amphitheatre, with its row of heads and hats stretching away
smaller and smaller into a haze. There were notices about appealing to
the gentleness of the public not to smoke. But do you suppose the public
did not smoke? Especially considering that the management thoughtfully
offered cigars, cigarettes, and matches for sale! In a very large
assemblage of tightly-packed people, unauthorised noises are bound to
occur from time to time. Now, an Italian audience will never leave
an unauthorised noise alone. If a chair creaks, or a glass on the bar
tinkles, an Italian audience will hiss savagely and loudly for several
seconds--which seem like several minutes. Not in the hope of stopping
the noise, for the noise has stopped! Not because it wishes not to miss
a note of the music, for it misses about twenty-five per cent, of
the notes through its own fugal hissing! But from simple, truculent
savagery! It cares naught for the susceptibilities of the artists.
Whether a singer is in the midst of a tender pianissimo, or the band
is blaring its best, if an Italian audience hears a noise, however
innocent, it will multiply that noise by a hundred. Yet the individual
politeness of the Italian people is perfectly delightful.

Further: In the middle of the performance a shabby gentleman came on
to the stage and begged indulgence for an artist who was “gravely
indisposed.” The audience received him with cynical laughter; he made
a gesture of cynical resignation and departed. The artist received no
indulgence. The artist was silly enough to hold on powerfully to a high
note at the end of a long solo; and that solo had to be given again--and
let there be no mistake about it!--despite the protests of a minority
against such insistence. The Latin temperament! If you sing in opera in
Italy, your career may be unremunerative, but it will be exciting.
You may be deified, or you may be half-killed. But be assured that the
audience is sincere, as sincere as a tiger.

*****

Composers also must beware. When Pasini’s new opera, _Don Quixote_,
was produced lately, it had a glorious run of two performances. It was,
indeed, received with execration. After the second night the leading
newspaper appeared with a few brief, barbed remarks: “The season of
the Teatro Verdi is ended. It would have been better if it had never
started.. . . The maestro Pasini has written an opera which may be very
pleasing--to deaf mutes.” Yet _Don Quixote_ was not worse than many
other operas which people pay to see. Imagine these manners in unmusical
England.

France is less crude, but not always very much less crude. The most
musical city in France is Toulouse. An extraordinary number of singers,
composers, and poets seem to be born in Toulouse.

But the _debuts_ of an operatic artist at the Toulouse municipal opera
are among the most dangerous and terrible experiences that can fall to a
singer. The audience is merciless, and recks not of youth nor sex. If
it is not satisfied, it expresses its opinion frankly, and for the more
frank and effective expression of its opinion it goes to the performance
suitably provided with decayed vegetables. And I am told that Marseilles
candour is carried even further. As for Naples--.

Perhaps, after all, our admirable politeness and the solemnity of
our attitude towards the whole subject of opera merely prove that
Continental nations are right in regarding us as fundamentally
unmusical. With us opera is a cultivated exotic. In Italy, what does it
matter if you ruin a composer’s career, or even kill a young soprano
who has not reached your standard! There are quantities of composers and
sopranos all over Italy. You can see them active in the very streets.
You can’t keep them down. We say Miss -----------, the English soprano,
in startled accents of pride. Italians don’t say Signorina ----------‘,
the Italian soprano. In Italy you get a new opera about once a
month. The last English grand opera that held the English stage was
_Artaxeræes_, and it is so long ago that not one person in a hundred who
reads these lines will be able to give the name of the composer. Can any
nation be musical which does not listen chiefly to its own music?



THE RIVIERA--1907



I--THE HÔTEL TRISTE

Because I am a light and uneasy sleeper I can hear, at a quarter to six
every morning, the distant subterranean sound of a peculiarly energetic
bell. It rings for about one minute, and it is a signal at which They
quit their drowsy beds. And all along the Riviera coast, from Toulon to
San Remo, in the misty and chill dawn, They are doing the same thing,
beginning the great daily conspiracy to persuade me, and those like me,
that we are really the Sultan, and that our previous life has been a
dream. I sink back into slumber and hear the monotonous roar of the
tideless Mediterranean in my sleep. The Mediterranean, too, is in the
conspiracy. It is extremely inconvenient and annoying to have to go
running about after a sea which wanders across half a mile of beach
twice a day; appreciating this, and knowing the violent objection of
sultans to any sort of trouble, the Mediterranean dispenses with a tide;
at any hour it may be found tirelessly washing the same stone. After
an interval of time, during which a quarter to six in the morning has
receded to the middle of the night, I wake up wide, and instantly, in
Whitman’s phrase,

                   I know I am august.

I put my hand through the mosquito curtains and touch an electrical
contrivance placed there for my benefit, and immediately there appears
before me a woman neatly clothed to delight my eye, and I gaze out at
her through my mosquito curtains. She wishes me “Good morning” in my own
language, in order to save the trouble of unnecessary comprehension, and
if I had happened to be Italian, French, or German she could still greet
me in my own language, because she has been taught to do so in order
to save me trouble. She takes my commands for the morning, and then
I notice that the sun has thoughtfully got round to my window and is
casting a respectful beam or two on my hyacinthine locks. In the
vast palace the sultans are arising, and I catch the rumour thereof.
Presently, with various and intricate aid, I have laved the imperial
limbs and assumed the robes of state. The window is opened for me, and I
pass out on to the balcony and languidly applaud the Mediterranean, like
a king diverting himself for half an hour at the opera. It is a
great sight, me applauding the Mediterranean as I drink a cup of tea;
stockbrokers clapping the dinner-band at the Trocadero would be nothing
to it. After this I do an unmonarchical act, an act of which I ought to
be ashamed, and which I keep a profound secret from the other sultans in
the vast palace--I earn my living by sheer hard labour.

Then I descend to the banqueting-hall, and no sooner do I appear than I
am surrounded by minions in black, an extraordinary race of persons. At
different hours I see these mysterious minions in black, and sometimes I
observe them surreptitiously. They have no names. They never eat,
never drink, never smile, never love, never do anything except offer me
prepared meats with respectful complacency. Their god is my stomach,
and they have made up their minds that it must be appeased with frequent
burnt sacrifices and libations. They watch my glance as mariners the
sky, and the slightest hint sends them flying. At the conclusion of the
ceremony they usher me out of the hall with obeisances into other halls
and other deferential silences.

*****

And when the entire rite has been repeated twice we recline on sofas, I
and the other sultans, and spend the final hours of the imperial day in
being sad and silent together. We are sad because we are sultans. It is
in the nature of things that sultans should be sad; it is not the cares
of state which make us sad, but merely a high imperial instinct for the
correct. Silence is, of course, a necessity to sultans, and for this
reason the activity of the immense palace is conducted solely in hushed
tones. The minions in black never raise their dulcet voices more than
half an inch or so. Late at night, as I pass on my solitary, sad way to
the chamber of sleep, I see them, those mysterious minions with no names
and no passions and no heed for food, still hovering expectant, still
bowing, still silent. And lastly I retire. I find my couch beautifully
laid out, I cautiously place myself upon it, I savour the soundless calm
of the palace, and I sleep again; and my closing thought is the thought
that I am august, and that all the other sultans, in this and all the
other palaces from Toulon to San Remo, are august.

*****

Strange things happen. Once a week a very-strange thing happens. I find
an envelope lying about. It is never given to me openly. I may discover
it propped up against the teapot on my tea-tray, or on my writing-desk,
or sandwiched in my “post,” between a love-letter and a picture post
card. But I invariably do find it; measures are taken that I shall
succeed promptly in finding it. All the minions pretend that this
envelope is a matter of no importance whatever; I also pretend the same.
Now, the fact is that I simply hate this envelope; I hate the sight of
it; I hate to open it; I dread its contents. Every week it shocks me. I
carry it about with me in my imperial pocket for several hours, fighting
against the inevitable. Then at length I dismally yield to a compulsion.
And I wander, by accident on purpose, in the direction of a little
glass-partitioned room, where a malevolent man sits like a spider sits
in its web. We both pretend I am there by chance, but since I am in fact
there, I may as well--a pure formality! And a keen listener might hear
a golden chink or the rustle of paper. And then I feel feeble but
relieved, as if I had come out of the dentist’s. And I am aware that I
am not so excessively august after all, and that I am in the middle of
the Riviera season, when one must expect, etc., etc., and that even the
scenery was scientifically reduced to figures in that envelope, and that
anyhow the Hôtel Triste is the Hôtel Triste. (Triste is not its real
name; one of my fellow sultans, who also does the shameful act in
secret, so baptised it in a ribald moment.)

[Illustration: 0245]

*****

The strangest thing of all occurred one night. I was walking moodily
along the convenient marge of the Mediterranean when I saw a man,
a human being, dressed in a check suit and a howler hat, talking to
another human being dressed in a blouse and a skirt. I passed them. The
man was smiling, and chattering loudly and rapidly and even passionately
to the soul within the blouse. Soon they parted, with proofs of
affection, and the man strode away and overtook and left me behind. You
could have knocked me down with a feather when I perceived he was one of
the mysterious nameless minions who I thought always wore mourning and
never ate, drank, smiled, or loved. “Fellow wanderer in the Infinite,”
 I addressed his back as soon as I had recovered, “What are your opinions
upon life and death and love, and the advisability of being august?”



II--WAR!

We were in the billiard-room--English men and women collected from
various parts of the earth, and enjoying that state of intimacy which
is somehow produced by the comfortable click of billiard balls. It
is extraordinary what pretty things the balls say of a night in the
billiard-room of a good hotel. They say: “You are very good-natured and
jolly people. Click. Women spoil the play, but it’s nice to have them
here. Click. And so well-dressed and smiling and feminine I Click.
Click. Cigars are good and digestion is good. Click. How correct and
refined and broad-minded you all are! All’s right with the world.
Click.” A stockbroker sat near me by the fire. My previous experience
of stockbrokers had led me to suppose that all stockbrokers were pursy,
middle-aged, hard-breathers, thick-fingered, with a sure taste in wines,
steaks, and musical comedies. But this one was very different--except
perhaps on the point of musical comedies. He was quite young, quite
thin, quite simple. In fact, he was what is known as an English
gentleman. He frankly enjoyed showing young ladies aged twenty-three
how to make a loser off the red, and talking about waltzes, travel, and
sport. He never said anything original, and so never surprised one nor
made one feel uncomfortable. He was extremely amiable, and we all liked
him. The sole fact about the Stock Exchange which I gleamed from him
was that the Stock Exchange comprised many bounders, and “you had to be
civil to ‘em, too.”

*****

“You’ve heard the news?” I said to him. “About Japan?” he asked. No, he
had not heard. It took the English papers two days to reach us, and, of
course, for the English there are no newspapers but English newspapers.
There was a first-class local daily; with a complete service of foreign
news, and a hundred thousand readers; but I do not believe that one
English person in ten even knew of its existence. So I took the local
daily out of my pocket, and translated to him the Russian note informing
the Powers that ambassadors were packing up. “Looks rather had!” he
murmured. I could have jumped up and slain him on the spot with the
jigger, for every English person in that hotel every night for three
weeks past had exclaimed on glancing at the “Times”: “Looks bad!” And
here this amiable young stockbroker, with war practically broken out,
was saying it again! I am perfectly convinced that everyone said
this, and this only, because no one had any ideas beyond it. There
had appeared some masterly articles in the “Times” on the Manchurian
question. But nobody read them: I am sure of that. No one had even
a passable notion of Far Eastern geography, and no one could have
explained, lucidly or otherwise, the origin of the gigantic altercation.
How strange it is that the causes of war never excite interest! (What
was the cause of the Franco-German war, you who are omniscient?)

In response to another question, the young stockbroker said that his
particular market would be seriously affected. “I should like to be
there,” [on the Exchange], he remarked, and added dreamily: “It would be
rather fun.” Then we began a four-handed game, a game whose stupidities
were atoned for by the charming gestures of women. And the stockbroker
found himself in enormous form. The stone of the Russian Note had sunk
into the placid lake and not a ripple was left. Nothing but billiards
had existed since the beginning of the world, or ever would exist.
Nothing, I reflected, will rouse the average sensible man to an
imaginative conception of what a war is, not even the descriptions of a
Stephen Crane. Nay, not even income tax at fifteen pence in the pound!

*****

The next morning I went out for a solitary walk by the coast road. And
I had not gone a mile before I came to an unkempt building, with a few
officials lounging in front of it. “French Custom House” was painted
across its pale face. Then the road began to climb up among the outlying
spurs of the Maritime Alps. It went higher and higher till it was cut
out of the solid rock. Half a mile further, and there was another French
Custom House. Still further, where the rock became crags, and the crags
beetled above and beetled below, there occurred a profound gorge, and
from the stone bridge which spanned it one could see, and faintly hear,
a thin torrent rushing to the sea perhaps a couple of hundred feet
below. Immediately to the west of this bridge the surface of the crags
had been chiselled smooth, and on the expanse had been pictured a large
black triangle with a white border--about twelve feet across. And under
the triangle was a common little milestone arrangement, smaller than
many English milestones, and on one side of the milestone was painted
“France” and on the other “Italia.” This was the division between the
two greatest Latin countries; across this imaginary line had been waged
the bloodless but disastrous tariff war of ten years ago. I was in
France; a step, and I was in Italy! And it is on account of similar
imaginary, artificial, and unconvincing lines, one here, one there--they
straggle over the whole earth’s crust--that most wars, military, naval,
and financial, take place.

*****

Across the gorge was a high, brown tenement, and towards the tenement
strutted an Italian soldier in the full, impossible panoply of war. He
carried two rifles, a mile or so of braid, gilt enough to gild the dome
of St. Paul’s and Heaven knows what contrivances besides. And he was
smoking a cigarette out of a long holder. Two young girls, aged perhaps
six or eight, bounded out of the slatternly tenement, and began to
chatter to him in a high infantile treble. The formidable warrior smiled
affectionately, and bending down, offered them a few paternal words;
they were evidently spoiled little things. Close by a vendor of picture
post cards had set up shop on a stone wall. Far below, the Mediterranean
was stretched out like a blue cloth without a crease in it, and a brig
in full sail was crawling across the offing. The sun shone brilliantly.
Roses in perfect bloom had escaped from gardens and hung free over
hedges. Everything was steeped in a tremendous and impressive calm--a
calm at once pastoral and marine, and the calm of obdurate mountains
that no plough would ever conquer. And breaking against this mighty calm
was the high, thin chatter of the little girls, with their quick and
beautiful movements of childhood.

And as I watched the ragged little girls, and followed the brig on
the flat and peaceful sea, and sniffed the wonderful air, and was
impregnated by the spirit of the incomparable coast and the morning
hour, something overcame me, some new perception of the universality of
humanity. (It was the little girls that did it.) And I thought
intensely how absurd, how artificial, how grotesque, how accidental,
how inessential, was all that rigmarole of boundaries and limits and
frontiers. It seemed to me incredible, then, that people could go to war
about such matters. The peace, the natural universal peace, seemed so
profound and so inherent in the secret essence of things, that it could
not be broken. And at the very moment, though I knew it not, while
the brig was slipping by, and the little girls were imposing upon the
good-nature of their terrible father, and the hawker was arranging his
trumpery, pathetic post cards, they were killing each other--Russia and
Japan were--in a row about “spheres of influence.”



III-“MONTE”

Monte Carlo--the initiated call it merely “Monte”--has often been
described, in fiction and out of it, but the frank confession of a
ruined gambler is a rare thing; partly because the ruined gambler can’t
often write well enough to express himself accurately, partly because
he isn’t in the mood for literary composition, and partly because he is
sometimes dead. So, since I am not dead, and since it is only by
means of literary composition that I can hope to restore my shattered
fortunes, I will give you the frank confession of a ruined gambler.
Before I went to Monte Carlo I had all the usual ideas of the average
sensible man about gambling in general, and about Monte Carlo in
particular. “Where does all the exterior brilliance of Monte Carlo come
from?” I asked sagely. And I said further: “The Casino administration
does not disguise the fact that it makes a profit of about 50,000 francs
a day. Where does that profit come from?” And I answered my own question
with wonderful wisdom: “Out of the pockets of the foolish gamblers.” I
specially despised the gambler who gambles “on a system”; I despised him
as a creature of superstition. For the “system” gambler will argue that
if I toss a penny up six times and it falls “tail” every time, there is
a strong probability that it will fall “head” the seventh time. “Now,”
 I said, “can any rational creature be so foolish as to suppose that the
six previous and done-with spins can possibly affect the seventh spin?
What connection is there between them?” And I replied: “No rational
creature can be so foolish. And there is no connection.” In this spirit,
superior, omniscient, I went to Monte Carlo.

[Illustration: 0255]

Of course, I went to study human nature and find material. The sole
advantage of being a novelist is that when you are discovered in a place
where, as a serious person, you would prefer not to be discovered, you
can always aver that you are studying human nature and seeking material.
I was much impressed by the fact of my being in Monte Carlo. I said to
myself: “I am actually in Monte Carlo!” I was proud. And when I got into
the gorgeous gaming saloons, amid that throng at once glittering and
shabby, I said: “I am actually in the gaming saloons!” And the thought
at the back of my mind was: “Henceforth I shall be able to say that I
have been in the gaming saloons at Monte Carlo.” After studying human
nature at large, I began to study it at a roulette table. I had gambled
before--notably with impassive Arab chiefs in that singular oasis of
the Sahara desert, Biskra--but only a little, and always at _petits
chevaux_, But I understood roulette, and I knew several “systems.” I
found the human nature very interesting; also the roulette. The sight of
real gold, silver, and notes flung about in heaps warmed my imagination.
At this point I felt a solitary five-franc piece in my pocket. And
then the red turned up three times running, and I remembered a simple
“system” that began after a sequence of three.

*****

I don’t know how it was, but long before I had formally decided to
gamble I knew by instinct that I should stake that five-franc piece.
I fought against the idea, but I couldn’t take my hand empty out of
my pocket. Then at last (the whole experience occupying perhaps ten
seconds) I drew forth the five-franc piece and bashfully put it on
black. I thought that all the fifty or sixty persons crowded round
the table were staring at me and thinking to themselves: “There’s
a beginner!” However, black won, and the croupier pushed another
five-franc piece alongside of mine, and I picked them both up very
smartly, remembering all the tales I had ever heard of thieves leaning
over you at Monte Carlo and snatching your ill-gotten gains. I then
thought: “This is a bit of all right. Just for fun I’ll continue the
system.” I did so. In an hour I had made fifty francs, without breaking
into gold. Once a croupier made a slip and was raking in red stakes
when red had won, and people hesitated (because croupiers never make
mistakes, you know, and you have to be careful how you quarrel with the
table at Monte Carlo), and I was the first to give vent to a protest,
and the croupier looked at me and smiled and apologised, and the winners
looked at me gratefully, and I began to think myself the deuce and all
of a Monte Carlo habitué.

Having made fifty francs, I decided that I would prove my self-control
by ceasing to play. So I did prove it, and went to have tea in the
Casino _café_. In those moments fifty francs seemed to me to be a really
enormous sum. I was as happy as though I had shot a reviewer without
being found out. I gradually began to perceive, too, that though
no rational creature could suppose that a spin could be affected by
previous spins, nevertheless, it undoubtedly was so affected. I began to
scorn a little the average sensible man who scorned the gambler. “There
is more in roulette than is dreamt of in your philosophy, my conceited
friend,” I murmured. I was like a woman--I couldn’t argue, but I knew
infallibly. Then it suddenly occurred to me that if I had gambled with
louis instead of five-franc pieces I should have made 200 francs--200
francs in rather over an hour! Oh, luxury! Oh, being-in-the-swim! Oh,
smartness! Oh, gilded and delicious sin!

*****

Five days afterwards I went to Monte Carlo again, to lunch with some
brother authors. In the meantime, though I had been chained to my desk
by unalterable engagements, I had thought constantly upon the art and
craft of gambling. One of these authors knew Monte Carlo, and all that
therein is, as I know Fleet Street. And to my equal astonishment and
pleasure he said, when I explained my system to him: “Couldn’t have a
better!” And he proceeded to remark positively that the man who had a
decent system and the nerve to stick to it through all crises, would
infallibly win from the tables--not a lot, but an average of several
louis per sitting of two hours. “Gambling,” he said, “is a matter
of character. You have the right character,” he added. You may guess
whether I did not glow with joyous pride. “The tables make their money
from the plunging fools,” I said, privately, “and I am not a fool.”
 A man was pointed out to me who extracted a regular income from
the tables. “But why don’t the authorities forbid him the rooms?” I
demanded, “Because he’s such a good advertisement. Can’t you see?” I
saw.

We went to the Casino late after lunch. I cut myself adrift from the
rest of the party and began instantly to play. In forty-five minutes,
with my “system,” I had made forty-five francs. And then the rest of the
party reappeared and talked about tea, and trains, and dinner. “Tea!” I
murmured disgusted (yet I have a profound passion for tea), “when I am
netting a franc a minute!” However, I yielded, and we went and had tea
at the Restaurant de Paris across the way. And over the white-and-silver
of the tea-table, in the falling twilight, with the incomparable
mountain landscape in front of us, and the most _chic_ and decadent
Parisianism around us, we talked roulette. Then the Russian Grand Duke
who had won several thousand pounds in a few minutes a week or two
before, came veritably and ducally in, and sat at the next table. There
was no mistaking his likeness to the Tsar. It is most extraordinary how
the propinquity of a Grand Duke, experienced for the first time, affects
even the proverbial phlegm of a British novelist. I seemed to be moving
in a perfect atmosphere of Grand Dukes! And I, too, had won! The art of
literature seemed a very little thing.

*****

After I had made fifty and forty-five francs at two sittings, I
developed suddenly, without visiting the tables again, into a complete
and thorough gambler. I picked up all the technical terms like picking
up marbles--the greater martingale, the lesser martingale, “en plein,”
 “à cheval,” “the horses of seventeen,” “last square,” and so on, and so
on--and I had my own original theories about the alleged superiority of
red-or-black to odd-or-even in betting on the even chances. In short,
for many hours I lived roulette. I ate roulette for dinner, drank it
in my Vichy, and smoked it in my cigar. At first I pretended that I was
only pretending to be interested in gambling as a means of earning
a livelihood (call it honest or dishonest, as you please). Then the
average sensible man in me began to have rather a bad time, really. I
frankly acknowledged to myself that I was veritably keen on the thing. I
said: “Of course, ordinary people believe that the tables must win,
but we who are initiated know better. All you want in order to win is
a prudent system and great force of character.” And I decided that it
would be idle, that it would be falsely modest, that it would be inane,
to deny that I had exceptional force of character. And beautiful schemes
formed themselves in my mind: how I would gain a certain sum, and then
increase my “units” from five-franc pieces to louis, and so quadruple
the winnings, and how I would get a friend to practise the same system,
and so double them again, and how generally we would have a quietly
merry time at the expense of the tables during the next month.

And I was so calm, cool, collected, impassive. There was no hurry. I
would not go to Monte Carlo the next day, but perhaps the day after.
However, the next day proved to be very wet, and I was alone and idle,
my friends being otherwise engaged, and hence I was simply obliged to
go to Monte Carlo. I didn’t wish to go, but what could one do? Before
starting, I reflected: “Well, there’s just a _chance_--such things have
been known,” and I took a substantial part of my financial resources out
of my pocket-book, and locked that reserve up in a drawer. After this,
who will dare to say that I was not cool and sagacious? The journey to
Monte Carlo seemed very long. Just as I was entering the ornate portals
I met some friends who had seen me there the previous day. The thought
flashed through my mind: “These people will think I have got caught in
the meshes of the vice just like ordinary idiots, whereas, of course my
case is not ordinary at all.” So I quickly explained to them that it was
very wet (as if they couldn’t see), and that my other friends had
left me, and that I had come to Monte Carlo merely to kill time. They
appeared to regard this explanation as unnecessary.

*****

I had a fancy for the table where I had previously played and won.
I went to it, and by extraordinary good fortune secured a chair--a
difficult thing to get in the afternoons. Behold me seated next door to
a croupier, side by side with regular frequenters, regular practisers
of systems, and doubtless envied by the outer ring of players and
spectators! I was annoyed to find that every other occupant of a chair
had a little printed card in black and red on which he marked
the winning numbers. I had neglected to provide myself with this
contrivance, and I felt conspicuous; I felt that I was not correct.
However, I changed some gold for silver with the croupier, and laid the
noble pieces in little piles in front of me, and looked as knowing and
as initiated as I could. And at the first opening offered by the play I
began the operation of my system, backing red, after black had won three
times. Black won the fourth time, and I had lost five francs.... Black
won the sixth time and I had lost thirty-five francs. Black won
the seventh time, and I had lost seventy-five francs. “Steady, cool
customer!” I addressed myself. I put down four louis (and kindly
remember that in these hard times four louis is four louis--three
English pounds and four English shillings), and, incredible to relate,
black won the eighth time, and I had lost a hundred and fifty-five
francs. The time occupied was a mere nine minutes. It was at this point
that the “nerve” and the “force of character” were required, for it was
an essential part of my system to “cut the loss” at the eighth turn.
I said: “Hadn’t I better put down eight louis and win all back again,
_just this once?_ Red’s absolutely certain to win next time.” But my
confounded force of character came in, and forced me to cut the loss,
and stick strictly to the system. And at the ninth spin red did win. If
I had only put down that eight louis I should have been all right. I
was extremely annoyed, especially when I realised that, even with decent
luck, it would take me the best part of three hours to regain that
hundred and fifty-five francs.

*****

I was shaken. I was like a pugilist who had been knocked down in a prize
fight, and hasn’t quite made up his mind whether, on the whole, he won’t
be more comfortable, in the long run, where he is. I was like a soldier
under a heavy fire, arguing with himself rapidly whether he prefers
to be a Balaclava hero with death or the workhouse, or just a plain,
ordinary, prudent Tommy. I was struck amidships. Then an American person
behind my chair, just a casual foolish plunger, of the class out of
which the Casino makes its profits, put a thousand franc note on the odd
numbers, and thirty-three turned up. “A thousand for a thousand,” said
the croupier mechanically and nonchalantly, and handed to the foolish
plunger the equivalent of eighty pounds sterling. And about two minutes
afterwards the same foolish plunger made a hundred and sixty pounds
at another single stroke. It was odious; I tell you positively it was
odious. I collected the shattered bits of my character out of my boots,
and recommenced my system; made a bit; felt better; and then zero turned
up twice--most unsettling, even when zero means only that your stake
is “held over.” Then two old and fussy ladies came and gambled very
seriously over my head, and deranged my hair with the end of the rake
in raking up their miserable winnings.... At five o’clock I had lost
a hundred and ninety-five francs. I don’t mind working hard, at great
nervous tension, in a vitiated atmosphere, if I can reckon on netting
a franc a minute; but I have a sort of objection to three laborious
sittings such as I endured that week when the grand result is a dead
loss of four pounds. I somehow failed to see the point. I departed in
disgust, and ordered tea at the Café de Paris, not the Restaurant de
Paris (I was in no mood for Grand Dukes). And while I imbibed the tea,
a heated altercation went on inside me between the average sensible man
and the man who knew that money could be made out of the tables and
that gambling was a question of nerves, etc. It was a pretty show, that
altercation. In about ten rounds the average sensible man had knocked
his opponent right out of the ring. I breathed a long breath, and seemed
to wake up out of a nightmare. Did I regret the episode? I regretted the
ruin, not the episode. For had I not all the time been studying human
nature and getting material? Besides that, as I grow older I grow too
wise. Says Montaigne: “_Wisdome hath hir excesses, and no leise need of
moderation, then follie._” (The italics are Montaigne’s)... And there’s
a good deal in my system after all.



IV--A DIVERSION AT SAN REMO

The Royal Hotel, San Remo, has the reputation of being the best hotel,
and the most expensive, on the Italian Riviera. It is the abode of
correctness and wealth, and if a stray novelist or so is discovered
there, that is only an accident. It provides distractions of all kinds
for its guests: bands of music, conjuring shows, dances; and that week
it provided quite a new thing in the way of distraction, namely, an
address from Prebendary Carlile, head of the Church Army, which was
quite truthfully described as a “national antidote to indiscriminate
charity.” We looked forward to that address; it was a novelty. And if we
of the Royal Hotel had a fault, our fault was a tendency, after we had
paid our hotel bills, to indiscriminate charity. Indiscriminate charity
salves the conscience just as well as the other kind, and though it
costs as much in money, it costs less in trouble. However, we liked to
be castigated for our sins, and, in the absence of Father Vaughan, we
anticipated with pleasure Mr. Carlile. We did not all go. None of
the representatives of ten different Continental aristocracies and
plutocracies went. Nor did any young and beautiful persons of any nation
go. As a fact, it was a lovely afternoon.

To atone for these defections, the solid respectability of all San Remo
swarmed into the hotel. (A notice had been posted that it might order
its carriages for 3.30.) We made an unprepossessing assemblage. I am far
removed from the first blush of youth; but I believe I was almost the
youngest person present, save a boy who had been meanly “pressed” by
his white-haired father. We were chiefly old, stout, plain, and of
dissatisfied visage. Many of us had never been married, and never would
be. We were prepared to be very grave. But the mischief was that Mr.
Carlile would not be grave.

Mr. Carlile looked like a retired colonel who had dressed by mistake in
clerical raiment. His hue was ruddy, his eye clear, and his moustache
martial. He is of a naturally cheerful disposition. It is impossible
not to like him, not to admire him, not to respect him. It really
requires considerable selfrestraint, after he has been speaking for a
few minutes, not to pelt him with sovereigns for the prosecution of his
work. Still, appreciation of humour was scarcely our strong point. We
could not laugh without severe effort. We were unaccustomed to laugh.
It is no use pretending that we were not a serious conclave (we were not
basking in the sun, nor dashing across the country in our Fiat cars; we
had the interests of the Empire at heart). Therefore, though we took the
Prebendary’s humorous denunciation of our indiscriminate charity with
fairly good grace, we should have preferred it with a little less
facetiousness. People burdened as we were with the responsibilities of
Empire ought not to be expected to laugh. As protectionists, we were
not, if the truth is to be told, in a mood for gaiety. Hence we did not
laugh; we hardly smiled. We just listened soberly to the Prebendary,
who, after he had told us what we ought not to do, told us what we ought
to do.

*****

“What we try to do,” he said, “is to bridge the gulf--to bridge the gulf
between the East End and the West End. We don’t want your money, we want
your help, we want each of you to take up one person and look after him.
_That_ is the only way to bridge the gulf.” He kept on emphasising the
phrase “bridge the gulf”; and to illustrate it, he mentioned a Christmas
pudding that was sent from a Royal palace to his “Pudding Sunday” orgy
labelled for “the poorest and loneliest widow.”

“We soon found her,” he said. “She worked from 8.30 A.M. to 6:30 p.m.
and again two hours at night, sewing buttons, and in a good week she
earned six shillings. Her right hand was all distorted by rheumatism,
so that to sew gave her great pain. We found her, and we pushed
her upstairs, with great difficulty--because she was so bad with
bronchitis--and she had her pudding. Someone insisted on giving her 1s.
a week for life, and someone else insisted on giving her 2s. a week for
life, so now she’s a blooming millionaire. Give us money, if you like,
but please don’t give us any more money for her....”

“There’s another class of women,” continued the Prebendary, “the
drunkards. Drunkenness is growing among women owing to the evil of
grocers’ licences. We should like some of you to take up a drunken woman
apiece and look after her. We can easily find you a nice, gentle
creature, to whom getting drunk is no more than getting cross is to us.
Very nice women are drunkards, and they can be reclaimed by bridging the
gulf. Then there’s the hooligans--you have them on the Riviera, too.
I’ve had a good deal of experience of them myself. I was once picked up
for dead near the Army and Navy Stores after meeting a hooligan. Only
the other day a man put his fist in my face and said: ‘You’ve ruined our
trade.’ ‘What trade? The begging trade?’ I said, ‘I wish I had.’ And
then the discharged prisoners. We offer five months’ work to any
discharged prisoner who cares to take it; there are 200,000 every year.
I was talking to a prison official the other day, who told me that 90
per cent, of his ‘cases’ he sent to us. We reclaim about half of these.
The other half break our hearts. One broke all our windows not long
since. ..”

And the Prebendary said also: “My greatest pleasure is a day, a whole
day, in a thoroughly bad slum. I went down to Wigan for such a day, and
at a meeting, when I asked whether anyone would come forward and speak
up for beer, not for Christ, a man came along and threw three pence
at my feet--remains of pawning his waistcoat--and then fell down dead
drunk. We picked him up, and I charged a helper with 6d., so that he
could be filled up with tea or coffee beyond his capacity to drink any
more beer at all. I don’t know whether it was the beer or the tea, but
he joined us. All due to emotion, or excitement, perhaps! Yes, but
the next morning I was going out to the 7.30 prayer-meeting and I came
across a Wigan collier dead drunk in the road. I tried to pick
_him_, up. I had my surplice on: I always wear my surplice, for the
advertisement, and because people like to see it. And I couldn’t pick
him up. I was carrying my trombone in one hand. Then another man came
along, and we couldn’t get that drunkard up between us. And then who
should come along but my reclaimed drunkard of the night before! He
managed it.”

And the Prebendary further said: “Come some day and have lunch with me.
It will take you two hours. You ought to chop ten bundles of firewood,
but I’ll let you off that. Or come and have tea. That will take four
hours. There’s a Starvation Supper to end it at 8.30, and something
going on all the time. We have a brass band, thirty players, all very
bad. I’m the worst, with my trombone. We also have a women’s concertina
band. It’s terrible. But it goes down. As one man said, ‘It mykes me
’ead ache, but it do do me ’eart good.’”

*****

Then Lord Dundonald proposed a vote of thanks to everybody who deserved
to be thanked. He indicated that we ought to help Mr. Carlile, just
to show our repentance for having allowed the people free access
to public-houses for several centuries. (Faint applause.) Unless we
prevented the people from getting at beer and unless we prevented aliens
from entering England--(Loud applause)--Mr. Carlile’s efforts would
not succeed. If we stopped the supply of beer and of aliens then the
principal steps [towards Utopia?] would have been accomplished. This
simple and comprehensible method of straightening out the social system
appealed to us very strongly. I think we preferred it to “bridging
the gulf.” At the back of our minds was the idea that if we lent
our motor-cars or our husbands’ or brothers’ motor-cars to the right
candidates at election time we should be doing all that was necessary to
ensure the millennium. Upon this we departed. In the glow of the meeting
the scheme of attaching ourselves each to a nice, gentle drunken woman
seemed attractive; but really, on reflection...! There was a plate at
the door. However, Mr. Carlile had himself said, “I don’t depend much on
the plate at the door.”



FONTAINEBLEAU--1904-1909



I--FIRST JOURNEY INTO THE FOREST

Just to show how strange, mysterious, and romantic life is, I will
relate to you in a faithful narrative a few of my experiences the other
day--it was a common Saturday. Some people may say that my experiences
were after all quite ordinary experiences. After _all_, they were not. I
was staying in a little house, unfamiliar to me, and beyond a radius of
a few hundred yards I knew nothing of my surroundings, for I had arrived
by train, and slept in the train. I felt that if I wandered far from
that little house I should step into the unknown and the surprising.
Even _in_ the house I had to speak a foreign tongue; the bells rang in
French. During the morning I walked about alone, not daring to go beyond
the influence of the little house; I might have been a fly wandering
within the small circle of lamplight on a tablecloth; all about me lay
vast undiscovered spaces. Then after lunch a curious machine came by
itself up to the door of the little house. I daresay you have seen these
machines. You sit over something mysterious, with something still more
mysterious in front of you. A singular liquid is poured into a tank;
one drop explodes at a spark, and the explosion pushes the machine
infinitesimally forward, another drop explodes and pushes the machine
infinitesimally forward, and so on, and so on, and quicker and quicker,
till you can outstrip trains. Such is the explanation given to me.
I have a difficulty in believing it, but it seems to find general
acceptance. However, the machine came up to the door of the little
house, and took us off, four of us, all by itself; and after twisting
about several lanes for a couple of minutes it ran us into a forest. I
had somehow known all the time that that little house was on the edge of
a great forest.

*****

Without being informed, I knew that it was a great forest, because
against the first trees there was a large board which said “General
Instructions for reading the signposts in the forest,” and then a lot
of details. No forest that was not a great forest, a mazy forest, and
a dangerous forest to get lost in, would have had a notice board like
that. As a matter of fact the forest was fifty miles in circumference.
We plunged into it, further and further, exploding our way at the rate
of twenty or thirty miles an hour, along a superb road which had a
beginning and no end. Sometimes we saw a solitary horseman caracoling
by the roadside; sometimes we passed a team of horses slowly dragging
a dead tree; sometimes we heard the sound of the woodman’s saw in the
distance. Once or twice we detected a cloud of dust on the horizon of
the road, and it came nearer and nearer, and proved to be a machine
like ours, speeding on some mysterious errand in the forest. And as we
progressed we looked at each other, and noticed that we were getting
whiter and whiter--not merely our faces, but even our clothes. And for
an extraordinary time we saw nothing but the road running away from
under our wheels, and on either side trees, trees, trees--the beech, the
oak, the hornbeam, the birch, the pine--interminable and impenetrable
millions of them, prodigious in size, and holding strange glooms in the
net of their leafless branches. And at intervals we passed cross-roads,
disclosing glimpses, come and gone in a second, of other immense avenues
of the same trees. And then, quite startlingly, quite without notice,
we were out of the forest; it was just as if we were in a train and had
come out of a tunnel.

And we had fallen into the midst of a very little village, sleeping on
the edge of the forest, and watched over by a very large cathedral. Most
of the cathedral had ceased to exist, including one side of the dizzy
tower, but enough was left to instil awe. A butcher came with great keys
(why a butcher, if the world is so commonplace as people make out?),
and we entered the cathedral; and though outside the sun was hot, the
interior of the vast fane was ice-cold, chilling the bones. And the
cathedral was full of realistic statues of the Virgin, such as could
only have been allowed to survive in an ice-cold cathedral on the edge
of a magic forest. And then we climbed a dark corkscrew staircase for
about an hour, and came out (as startlingly as we had come out of the
forest) on the brink of a precipice two hundred feet deep. There was
no rail. One little step, and that night our ghosts would have begun to
haunt the remoter glades of the forest. The butcher laughed, and leaned
over; perhaps he could do this with impunity because he was dressed in
blue; I don’t know.

*****

Soon afterwards the curious untiring machine had swept us into the
forest again. And now the forest became more and more sinister, and
beautiful with a dreadful beauty. Great processions of mighty
and tremendous rocks straggled over hillocks, and made chasms and
promontories, and lairs for tigers--tigers that burn bright in the
night. But the road was always smooth, and it seemed nonchalant towards
all these wonders. And presently it took us safely out of the forest
once again. And this time we were in a town, a town that by some mistake
of chronology had got into the wrong century; the mistake was a very
gross one indeed. For this town had a fort with dungeons and things, and
a moat all round it, and the quaintest streets and bridges and roofs and
river and craft. And processions in charge of nuns were walking to and
fro in the grass grown streets. And not only were the houses and shops
quaint in the highest degree, but the shopkeepers also were all quaint.
A greyheaded tailor dressed in black stood at the door of his shop, and
his figure offered such a quaint spectacle that one of my friends and
myself exclaimed at the same instant: “How Balzacian!” And we began
to talk about Balzac’s great novel “Ursule Mirouët.” It was as if
that novel had come into actuality, and we were in the middle of it.
Everything was Balzacian; those who have read Balzac’s provincial
stories will realise what that means. Yet we were able to buy modern
cakes at a confectioner’s. And we ordered tea, and sat at a table on the
pavement in front of an antique inn. And close by us the landlady sat on
a chair, and sewed, and watched us. I ventured into the great Balzacian
kitchen of the inn, all rafters and copper pans, and found a pretty girl
boiling water for our tea in one pan and milk for our tea in another
pan. I told her it was wrong to boil the milk, but I could see she did
not believe me. We were on the edge of the forest.

*****

And then the machine had carried us back into the forest. And this time
we could see that it meant business. For it had chosen a road mightier
than the others, and a road more determined to penetrate the very heart
of the forest. We travelled many miles with scarcely a curve, until
there were more trees behind us than a thousand men, could count in
a thousand years. And then--you know what happened next. At least you
ought to be able to guess. We came to a castle. In the centre of all
forests there is an enchanted castle, and there was an enchanted castle
in the centre of this forest. And as the forest was vast, so was
the castle vast. And as the forest was beautiful, so was the castle
beautiful. It was a sleeping castle; the night of history had overtaken
it. We entered its portals by a magnificent double staircase, and there
was one watchman there, like a lizard, under the great doorway. He
showed us the wonders of the castle, conducting us through an endless
series of noble and splendid interiors, furnished to the last detail of
luxury, but silent, unpeopled, and forlorn. Only the clocks were alive.
“There are sixty-eight clocks in the castle.” (And ever since I have
thought of those sixty-eight clocks ticking away there, with ten miles
of trees on every side of them.) And the interiors grew still more
imposing. And at length we arrived at an immense apartment whose
gorgeous and yet restrained magnificence drew from us audible murmurs
of admiration. Prominent among the furniture was a great bed, hung with
green and gold, and a glittering cradle; at the head of the cradle
was poised a gold angel bearing a crown. Said the sleepy watchman:
“Bed-chamber of Napoleon, with cradle of the King of Rome.” This was the
secret of the forest.

[Illustration: 0279]



II--SECOND JOURNEY INTO THE FOREST

We glided swiftly into the forest as into a tunnel. But after a while
could be seen a silvered lane of stars overhead, a ceiling to the
invisible double wall of trees. There were these stars, the rush of
tonic wind in our faces, and the glare of the low-hung lanterns on the
road that raced to meet us. The car swerved twice in its flight, the
second time violently. We understood that there had been danger. As the
engine stopped, a great cross loomed up above us, intercepting certain
rays; it stood in the middle of the road, which, dividing, enveloped
its base, as the current of a river strokes an island. The doctor leaned
over from the driving-seat and peered behind. In avoiding the cross he
had mistaken for part of the macadam an expanse of dust which rain and
wind had caked; and on this treachery the wheels had skidded. “Ça aurait
pu être une sale histoire!” he said briefly and drily. In the pause we
pictured ourselves flung against the cross, dead or dying. I noticed
that other roads joined ours at the cross, and that a large grassy
space, circular, separated us from the trees. As soon as we had
recovered a little from the disconcerting glimpse of the next world,
the doctor got down and restarted the engine, and our road began to race
forward to us again, under the narrow ceiling of stars. After monotonous
miles, during which I pondered upon eternity, nature, the meaning of
life, the precariousness of my earthly situation, and the incipient
hole in my boot-sole--all the common night-thoughts--we passed by a
high obelisk (the primitive phallic symbol succeeding to the other),
and turning to the right, followed an obscure gas-lit street of
walls relieved by sculptured porticoes. Then came the vast and sombre
courtyard of a vague palace, screened from us by a grille; we overtook
a tram-car, a long, glazed box of electric light; and then we were
suddenly in a bright and living town. We descended upon the terrace of
a calm _café_, in front of which were ranged twin red-blossomed trees in
green tubs, and a waiter in a large white apron and a tiny black jacket.

[Illustration: 0279]

*****

The lights of the town lit the earth to an elevation of about fifteen
feet; above that was the primeval and mysterious darkness, hiding even
the housetops. Within the planes of radiance people moved to and fro,
appearing and disappearing on their secret errands; and glittering
tramcars continually threaded the Square, attended by blue sparks. A
monumental bull occupied a pedestal in the centre of the Square; parts
of its body were lustrous, others intensely black, according to the
incidence of the lights. My friends said it was the bull of Rosa
Bonheur, the Amazon. Pointing to a dark void beyond the flanks of the
bull, they said, too, that the palace was there, and spoke of the
Council-Chamber of Napoleon, the cradle of the King of Rome, the boudoir
of Marie Antoinette. I had to summon my faith in order to realise that I
was in Fontainebleau, which hitherto had been to me chiefly a romantic
name. In the deep and half-fearful pleasure of realisation---“This also
has happened to me!”--I was aware of the thrill which has shaken me on
many similar occasions, each however unique: as when I first stepped on
a foreign shore; when I first saw the Alps, the Pyrenees; when I first
strolled on the grand boulevards; when I first staked a coin at Monte
Carlo; when I walked over the French frontier and read on a thing like a
mile-post the sacred name “Italia”; and, most marvellous, when I stood
alone in the Sahara and saw the vermilions and ochres of the Aurès
Mountains. This thrill, ever returning, is the reward of a perfect
ingenuousness.

[Illustration: 0287]

*****

I was shown a map, and as I studied it, the strangeness of the town’s
situation seduced me more than the thought of its history. For the town,
with its lights, cars, cafés, shops, halls, palaces, theatres, hotels,
and sponging-houses, was lost in the midst of the great forest.
Impossible to enter it, or to leave it, without winding through those
dark woods! On the map I could trace all the roads, a dozen like ours,
converging on the town. I had a vision of them, palely stretching
through the interminable and sinister labyrinth of unquiet trees, and
gradually reaching the humanity of the town. And I had a vision of the
recesses of the forest, where the deer wandered or couched. All around,
on the rim of the forest, were significant names: the Moret and the
Grez and the Franchard of Stevenson; Barbizon; the Nemours of Balzac;
Larchant. Nor did I forget the forest scene of George Moore’s “Mildred
Lawson.”

After we had sat half an hour in front of glasses, we rushed back
through the forest to the house on its confines whence we had come. The
fascination of the town did not cease to draw me until, years later, I
yielded and went definitely to live in it.



III--THE CASTLE GARDENS

On the night of the Feast of Saint Louis the gardens of the palace are
not locked as on other nights. The gardens are within the park, and the
park is within the forest. I walked on that hot, clear night amid the
parterres of flowers; and across shining water, over the regular tops of
clipped trees, I saw the long façades and the courts of the palace: pale
walls of stone surmounted by steep slated roofs, and high red chimneys
cut out against the glittering sky. An architecture whose character is
set by the exaggerated slope of its immense roofs, which dwarf the walls
they should only protect! All the interest of the style is in these
eventful roofs, chequered continually by the facings of upright
dormers, pierced by little ovals, and continually interrupted by the
perpendicularity of huge chimneys. The palace seems to live chiefly in
its roof, and to be top-heavy.

[Illustration: 0293]

It is a forest of brick chimneys growing out of stone. Millions upon
millions of red bricks had been raised and piled in elegant forms solely
that the smoke of fires below might escape above the roof ridge: fires
which in theory heated rooms, but which had never heated aught but
their own chimneys: inefficient and beautiful chimneys of picturesque,
ineffectual hearths! Tin pipes and cowls, such as sprout thickly on the
roofs of Paris and London, would have been cheaper and better. (It is
always thus to practical matters that my mind runs.) In these monstrous
and innumerable chimneys one saw eccentricity causing an absurd expense
of means for a trifling end: sure mask of a debased style!

*****

With malicious sadness I reflected that in most of those chimneys smoke
would never ascend again. I thought of the hundreds of rooms, designed
before architects understood the art of planning, crowded with gilt
and mahogany furniture, smothered in hangings, tapestries, and carpets,
sparkling with crystal whose cold gaiety is reflected in the polish of
oak floors! And not a room but conjures up the splendour of the monarchs
and the misery of the people of France! Not an object that is associated
with the real welfare of the folk, the makers of the country! A museum
now--the palace, the gardens, and the fountained vistas of lake and
canal--or shall I not say a mausoleum?--whose title to fame, in the
esteem of the open-mouthed, is that here Napoleon, the supreme scourge
of families and costly spreader of ruin,-wrote an illegible abdication.
The document of abdication, which is, after all, only a facsimile, and
the greedy carp in the lake--these two phenomena divide the eyes of the
open-mouthed.

And not all the starers that come from the quarters of the world are
more than sufficient to dot very sparsely the interminable polished
floors and the great spaces of the gardens. The fantastic monument is
preserved ostensibly as one of the glories of France! (_Gloire_, thou
art French! Fontainebleau, Pasteur, the Eiffel Tower, Victor Hugo, the
Paris-Lyons-Mediterranean Railway--each has been termed a _gloire_ of
France!) But the true reason of the monument’s preservation is that it
is too big to destroy. The later age has not the force nor the courage
to raze it and parcel it and sell it, and give to the poor. It is a
defiance to the later age of the age departed. Like a gigantic idol, it
is kept gilded and tidy at terrific expense by a cult which tempers fear
with disdain.



IV--AN ITINERARY

I have lived for years in the forest of Fontainebleau, the largest
forest in France, and one of the classic forests--I suppose--of the
world. Not in a charcoal-burner’s hut, nor in a cave, but in a town; for
the united towns of Avon and Fontainebleau happen to be in the forest
itself, and you cannot either enter or quit them without passing through
the forest; thus it happens that, while inhabiting the recesses of a
forest you can enjoy all the graces and conveniences of an imperial city
(Fontainebleau is nothing if not Napoleonic), even to _cafés chantants_,
cinematograph theatres, and expensive fruiterers. I tramp daily, and
often twice daily, in this forest, seldom reaching its edge, unless I do
my tramping on a bicycle, and it is probably this familiarity with its
fastnesses and this unfamiliarity with its periphery as a continuous
whole that has given me what I believe to be a new idea for a tramping
excursion: namely, a circuit of the forest of Fontainebleau. It is
an enterprise which might take two days or two months. I may never
accomplish it myself, but it ought to be accomplished by somebody, and
I can guarantee its exceeding diversity and interest. The forest is
surrounded by a ring of towns, townships, and villages of the most
varied character. I think I know every one of them, having arrived
somehow at each of them by following radii from the centre. I propose to
put down some un-Baedekerish but practical notes on each place, for the
use and benefit of the tramp er who has the wisdom to pursue my
suggestion.

*****

One must begin with Moret. Moret is the show-place on the edge of
the forest, and perhaps the oldest. I assisted some years ago at the
celebration of its thousandth anniversary. It is only forty-three miles
from Paris, on the main line of the Paris-Lyons-Mediterranean railway,
an important junction; two hundred and fifty trains a day pass through
the station. And yet it is one of the deadest places I ever had tea
in. It lies low, on the banks of the Loing, about a mile above the
confluence of the Seine and the Loing. It is dirty, not very healthy,
and exceedingly picturesque. Its bridge, church, gates and donjon have
been painted and sketched by millions of artists, professional and
amateur. It appears several times in each year’s Salon. This is its
curse--the same curse as that of Bruges: it is overrun by amateur
artists. I am an amateur artist myself; in summer I am not to be seen
abroad without a sketching-stool, a portfolio, and a water-bottle in
my hip pocket. But I hate, loathe and despise other amateur artists.
Nothing would induce me to make one of the group of earnest dabbers
and scratchers by the bridge at Moret. When I attack Nature, I must
be alone, or, if another artist is to be there, he must be a certified
professional. I have nothing else to say against Moret. There are
several hotels, all mediocre.

A more amusing and bracing place than Moret is its suburb St. Mammès,
the port at the afore-mentioned confluence, magnificently situated, and
always brightened by the traffic of barges, tugs, and other craft. There
is an hotel and a _pension_. The Seine is a great and noble stream here,
and absolutely unused by pleasure-craft. I do not know why. I once made
a canoe and navigated the Amazonian flood, but the contrivance was too
frail. Tugs would come rushing down, causing waves twelve inches high at
least, and I was afraid, especially as I had had the temerity to put a
sail to the canoe.

*****

The tramper should cross the Seine here, and go through Champagne,
a horrible town erected by the Creusot Steel Company--called, quite
seriously, a “garden city.” He then crosses the river again to
Thomery--the grape town. The finest table grapes in France are grown
at Thomery. Vines flourish in public on both sides of most streets,
and public opinion is so powerful (on this one point) that the fruit is
never stolen. Thomery’s lesser neighbour, By, is equally vinous.
These large villages offer very interesting studies in the results of
specialisation. Hotels and _pensions_ exist.

From Thomery, going in a general direction north by west, it is
necessary to penetrate a little into the forest, as the Seine is its
boundary here, and there is no practical towing-path on the forest
side of the river. You come down to the river at Yalvins Bridge,
and, following the left bank, you arrive at the little village of Les
Plâtreries, which consists of about six houses and an hotel where the
food is excellent and whose garden rises steeply straight into the
forest. A mile farther on is the large village of Samois, also on the
Seine. Lower Samois is too pretty---as pretty as a Christmas card. It
is much frequented in summer; its hotel accommodation is inferior and
expensive, and its reputation for strictly conventional propriety is
scarcely excessive. ‘However, a picturesque spot! Climb the very
abrupt stony high street, and you come to Upper Samois, which is less
sophisticated.

From Samois (unless you choose to ferry across to Féricy and reach
Melun by Fontaine-le-Port) you must cut through an arm of the forest
to Bois-le-Roi. You are now getting toward the northern and less
interesting extremity of the forest. Bois-le-Roi looks a perfect dream
of a place from the station. But it is no such thing. It is residential.
It is even respectably residential. All trains except the big expresses
stop at Bois-le-Roi, which fact is a proof that the residents exert
secret influences upon the railway directors, and that therefore
they are the kind of resident whose notion of architecture is merely
distressing. You can stay at Bois-le-Roi and live therein comfortably,
but there is no reason why you should.

The next place is Melun, which lies just to the north of the forest. It
is the county town. It is noted for its brewery. It is well situated on
a curve of the Seine, and it is more provincial (in the stodgy sense)
and more ineffably tedious even than Moret. It possesses neither
monuments nor charm. Yet the distant view of it--say from the height
above Fontaine-le-Port, is ravishing at morn.

[Illustration: 0301]

From Melun you face about and strike due south, again cutting through a
bit of the forest, to Chailly-en-Bière. (All the villages about here are
“_en bière_”) Chailly is just a nice plain average forest-edge village,
and that is why I like it. I doubt if you could sleep there with
advantage. But if you travel with your own tea, you might have excellent
tea there.

The next village is Barbizon, the most renowned place in all the
Fontainebleau region; a name full of romantic associations. It is
utterly vulgarised, like Stratford-on-Avon. “Les Charmettes” has become
a fashionable hotel with a private theatre and an orchestra during
dinner. What would Rousseau, Daubigny and Millet say if they could see
it now? Curiosity shops, art exhibitions, and a very large _café_! An
appalling light railway, and all over everything the sticky slime of
sophistication! Walking about the lanes you have glimpses of superb
studio interiors, furnished doubtless by Waring or Lazard. Indeed
Barbizon has now become naught but a target for the staring eyes of
tourists from Arizona, and a place of abode for persons whose mentality
leads them to believe that the atmosphere of this village is favourable
to high-class painting.

All the country round about here is exquisite. I have seen purple
mornings in the fields nearly as good as any that Millet ever painted.
A lane westward should be followed so that other nice average villages,
St. Martin-en-Bière and Fleury-en-Bière can be seen. At Fleury there
is a glorious castle, partly falling to ruin, and partly in process of
restoration. Thence, south-easterly, to Arbonne.

*****

Arbonne is only a few miles from Barbizon, and I fancy that it resembles
what Barbizon used to be before Barbizon was discovered by London and
New York. It is a long, straggling place, with one impossible and one
quite possible hotel. As a field of action for the tramping painter I
should say that it is unsurpassed in the department. From Arbonne you
must cross another arm of the forest, and pass from the department of
Seine-et-Marne to that of Seine-et-Oise, to the market town of Milly.
From Milly onwards the human interest is less than the landscape
interest until you come to Chapelle-la-Reine; from there you are soon
at Larchant, whose ruined cathedral is one of the leading attractions of
the forest edge.

You are now within the sphere of Nemours. From Larchant to Nemours the
only agreeable method of locomotion is by aeroplane. The high road is
straight and level, and, owing to heavy traffic caused by quarries,
atrociously bad. It reaches the acme of boredom. Its one merit is its
brevity, about five miles. Nemours is a fine Balzacian town, on the
Loing, with a picturesque canal in the heart of it, a frowning castle, a
goodish church and bridge, a good hotel and delightful suburbs.

*****

At Nemours, cross the river, and keep to the high road which follows the
Loing canal through Episy back to Moret. Or, in the alternative, refrain
from crossing the river, and take the Paris high road, leaving it to
the left at Bourron, and so reach Moret through Marlotte and Montigny.
Marlotte and Montigny are Parisian villages in July, August, and
September, new, artistic, snobbish; in winter they are quite tolerable.
Montigny is “picturesquely situated” on the Loing, and Marlotte has a
huge hotel. The road thence on the rim of the forest back to Moret is
delightful.

I do not know how many miles you will have done--anything from sixty to
a hundred and twenty probably--when you arrive for the second time in
Moret. But you must find strength to struggle onwards from Moret to
Fontainebleau itself, about seven miles off in the forest. Fontainebleau
contains one of the dearest hotels in the world. Ask for it, and go
somewhere else.

[Illustration: 0305]



SWITZERLAND--1909-1911



I--THE HOTEL ON THE LANDSCAPE

I do not mean the picturesque and gabled construction which on our own
country-side has been restored to prosperity, though not to efficiency,
by Americans travelling with money and motor-cars. I mean the
uncompromising grand hotel--Majestic, Palace, Métropole, Royal,
Splendide, Victoria, Belle Vue, Ritz, Savoy, Windsor, Continental, and
supereminently Grand--which was perhaps first invented and compiled in
Northumberland Avenue, and has now spread with its thousand windows and
balconies over the entire world. I mean the hotel which is invariably
referred to in daily newspapers as a “huge modern caravanserai.” This
hotel cannot be judged in a town. In a town, unless it possesses a
river-front or a sea-esplanade, the eye never gets higher than its
second storey, and as a spectacle the hotel resolves itself usually into
a row of shops (for the sale of uselessness), with a large square hole
in the middle manned by laced officials who die after a career devoted
exclusively to the opening and shutting of glazed double-doors.

To be fairly judged, the grand hotel must be seen alone on a landscape
as vast as itself. The best country in which to see it is therefore
Switzerland. True, the Riviera is regularly fringed with grand hotels
from Toulon to the other side of San Remo; but there they are so closely
packed as to interfere with each other’s impressiveness, and as a
rule they are at too low an altitude. In Switzerland they occur in all
conceivable and inconceivable situations. The official guide of the
Swiss Society of Hotel Keepers gives us photographs of over eight
hundred grand hotels, and it is by no means complete; in fact, some of
the grandest consider themselves too grand to be in it, pictorially.
Just as Germany is the land of pundits and aniline dyes, France of
revolutions, England of beautiful women, and Scotland of sixpences, so
is Switzerland the land of huge modern caravanserais.

You may put Snowdon on the top of Ben Nevis and climb up the height
of the total by the aid of railways, funiculars, racks and pinions,
diligences and sledges; and when nothing but your own feet will take you
any farther, you will see, in Switzerland, a grand hotel, magically and
incredibly raised aloft in the mountains; solitary--no town, no houses,
nothing but this hotel hemmed in on all sides by snowy crags, and made
impregnable by precipices and treacherous snow and ice. I always imagine
that at the next great re-drawing of the map of Europe, when the lesser
nationalities are to disappear, the Switzers will take armed refuge in
their farthest grand hotels, and there defy the mandates of the Concert.
For the hotel, no matter how remote it be, lacks nothing that is
mentioned in the dictionary of comfort. Beyond its walls your life is
not worth twelve hours’ purchase. You would not die of hunger, because
you would perish of cold. At best you might hit on some peasant’s
cottage in which the standards of existence had not changed for a
century. But once pass within the portals of the grand hotel, and you
become the spoiled darling of an intricate organisation that laughts
at mountains, avalanches, and frost. You are surrounded by luxuries
surpassing even the luxuries off ered by the huge modern caravanserais
of London. (For example, I believe that no London caravanserai was,
until quite lately, steam-heated throughout.) You have the temperature
of the South, or of the North, by turning a handle, and the light
of suns at midnight. You have the restaurants of Piccadilly and the
tea-rooms of St. James’s Street. You eat to the music of wild artistes
in red uniforms. You are amused by conjurers, bridge-drives, and
cotillons. You can read the periodical literature of the world while
reclining on upholstery from the most expensive houses in
Tottenham Court Road and Oxford Street. You have a post-office, a
telegraph-office, and a telephone; pianos, pianolas, and musical-boxes.
You go up to bed in a lift, and come down again to lunch in one. You
need only ring a bell, and a specially trained man in clothes more
glittering than yours will answer you softly in any language you please,
and do anything you want except carry you bodily.. . . And on the other
side of a pane of glass is the white peak, the virgin glacier, twenty
degrees of frost, starvation, death--and Nature as obdurate as she
was ten thousand years ago. Within the grand hotel civilisation is so
powerful that it governs the very colour of your necktie of an evening.
Without it, cut off from it, in those mountains you would be fighting
your fellows for existence according to the codes of primitive humanity.
Put your nose against the dark window, after dinner, while the band is
soothing your digestion with a waltz, and in the distance you may see a
greenish light. It is a star. And a little below it you may see a yellow
light glimmering. It is another grand hotel, by day generally invisible,
another eyrie _de luxe_.

You go home and calmly say that you have been staying at the Grand Hotel
Blank. But does it ever occur to you to wonder how it was all done?
Does it ever occur to you that orchestras, lampshades, fresh eggs,
fresh fish, vanilla ices, champagne, and cut flowers do not grow on
snow-wreathed crags? You have not been staying in a hotel, but in a
miracle of seven storeys. In the sub-basement lie the wines. In the
basement women are for ever washing linen and men for ever cooking. On
the ground-floor all is eating and drinking and rhythm. Then come
five storeys of slumber; and above that the attics where the tips are
divided.

In judging the hotel on the landscape, you must thus imaginatively
realise what it is and what it means.

*****

The eye needs to be trained before it can look seeingly at a grand hotel
and disengage its beauty from the mists and distortions which prejudice
has created. This age (like any other age, for the matter of that)
has so little confidence in itself that it cannot believe that it
has created anything beautiful. It is incapable of conceiving that an
insurance office may be beautiful. It is convinced, with the late Sir
William Harcourt, that New Scotland Yard is a monstrosity. It talks
of the cost, not of the beauty, of the Piccadilly Hotel. No doubt the
Romans, who were nevertheless a sound artistic race of the second rank,
talked of the cost (in slaves) of their aqueducts, and would have been
puzzled could they have seen us staring at the imperfect remains of the
said aqueducts as interesting works of art. The notion that a hotel,
even the most comfortable, is anything but a blot on the landscape,
has probably never yet occurred to a single one of the thousands of
dilettanti who wander restlessly over the face of Europe admiring
architecture and scenery. Hotels as visual objects are condemned
offhand, without leave to appeal, unheard, or rather unseen--I mean
really _unseen_.

For several weeks, once, I passed daily in the vicinity of a huge modern
caravanserai, which stood by itself on a mountain side in Switzerland;
and my attitude towards that hotel was as abusive and violent as
Ruskin’s towards railways. And then one evening, early, in the middle
dusk, I came across it unexpectedly, when I was not prepared for it: it
took me unawares and suddenly conquered me. I saw it in the mass,
rising in an immense, irregular rectangle out of a floor of snow and a
background of pines and firs. Its details had vanished. What
I saw was not a series of parts, but the whole hotel, as one organism
and entity. Only its eight floors were indicated by illuminated windows,
and behind those windows I seemed to have a mysterious sense of
its lifts continually ascending and descending. The apparition was
impressive, poetic, almost overwhelming. It was of a piece with the
mountains. It had simplicity, severity, grandeur. It was indubitably and
movingly ground of pines and firs. Its details had vanished. What I saw
was not a series of parts, but the whole hotel, as one organism and
entity. Only its eight floors were indicated by illuminated windows, and
behind those windows I seemed to have a mysterious sense of its lifts
continually ascending and descending. The apparition was impressive,
poetic, almost overwhelming. It was of a piece with the mountains. It
had simplicity, severity, grandeur. It was indubitably and movingly
beautiful. My eye had been opened; the training had been begun.

I expected, naturally, that the next morning I should see the hotel
again in its original ugliness. But no! My view of it had been
permanently altered. I had glimpsed the secret of the true manner of
seeing a grand hotel. A grand hotel must be seen grandiosely--that is to
say, it must be seen with a large sweep of the eye, and from a distance,
and while the eye is upon its form the brain must appreciate its moral
significance; for the one explains the other. You do not examine Mont
Blanc or an oil painting by Turner with a microscope, and you must
not look at a grand hotel as you would look at a marble fountain or a
miniature.

Since the crepuscular hour above described, I have learnt to observe
sympathetically the physiognomy of grand hotels, and I have discovered
a new source of æsthetic pleasure. I remember on a morning in autumn,
standing on a suspension bridge over the Dordogne and gazing at a feudal
castle perched on a pre-feudal crag. I could not decide whether the
feudal castle or the suspension bridge was the more romantic fact (for I
am so constituted as to see the phenomena of the nineteenth century
with the vision of the twenty-third), but the feudal castle, silhouetted
against the flank of a great hill that shimmered in the sunshine, had
an extraordinary beauty--moral as well as physical, possibly more moral
than physical. As architecture it could not compare with the Parthenon
or New Scotland Yard. But it was far from ugly, and it had an exquisite
rightness in the landscape. I understood that it had been put precisely
there because that was the unique place for it. And I understood
that its turrets and windows and roofs and walls had been constructed
precisely as they were constructed because a whole series of complicated
ends had to be attained which could have been attained in no other
way. Here was a simple result of an unaffected human activity which had
endeavoured to achieve an honest utilitarian end, and, while succeeding,
had succeeded also in producing a work of art that gave pleasure to a
mind entirely unfeudal. A feudal castle on a crag as impossible to
climb as to descend is, and always was, exotic, artificial, and
against nature--like every effort of man!--but it does, and always did,
contribute to the happiness of peoples.

Similarly I remember, on a morning in winter, standing on a wild
country, road, gazing at another castle perched on a pre-feudal crag.
But this castle was about fifteen times as big as the former one, and
the crag had its earthy foot in a lake about a mile below. The scale
of everything was terrifically larger. Still, the two castles, seen at
proportionate distances, bore a strange, disconcerting, resemblance the
one to the other. The architecture of the second, as of the first, would
not compare with the Parthenon or New Scotland Yard. But it was not
ugly. And assuredly it had an exquisite rightness in the landscape. I
understood, far better than in the former instance, that it had been put
precisely where it was, because no other spot would have been so suited
to its purposes; its geographical relation to the sun and the lake and
the mountains had been perfectly adjusted. I understood profoundly the
meaning of all those rows of windows and all those balconies facing the
south and southeast. I understood profoundly the intention of the great
glazed box at the base of the castle. I could read the words that the
wreath of smoke from behind the turreted roof was writing on the slate
of the sky, and those words were “_Chauffage central_” From the façades
I could construct the plan and arrangement of the interior of the
castle. I could instantly decide which of its two hundred chambers were
the costliest, and which would be the last to be occupied and the first
to be left. I could feel the valves of its heart rising and falling.
Here was the simple result of an unaffected human activity, which had
endeavoured to achieve an honest utilitarian end, and, while succeeding,
had succeeded also in giving pleasure to a mind representative of the
twenty-third century. A grand hotel on a crag as impossible to climb
as to descend is, and always will be, exotic, artificial, and against
nature--like every effort of man! Why should a man want to leave that
pancake, England, and reside for weeks at a time in dizzy altitudes
in order to stare at mountains and propel himself over snow and ice
by means of skis, skates, sledges, and other unnatural dodges? No one
knows. But the ultimate sequel, gathered up and symbolised in the grand
hotel, contributes to the happiness of peoples and gives joy to the eye
that is not afflicted with moral cataract.

And I am under no compulsion to confine myself to Switzerland. I do not
object to go to the other extreme and flit to the Sahara. Who that from
afar off in the Algerian desert has seen the white tower of the Royal
Hotel at Biskra, oasis of a hundred thousand palm-trees and twenty
grand hotels, will deny either its moral or its physical beauty in that
tremendously beautiful landscape?

Conceivably, the judgment against hotel architecture was fatally biassed
in its origin by the horrible libels pictured on hotel notepapers.

*****

In estimating the architecture of hotels, it must be borne in mind that
they constitute the sole genuine contribution made by the modern epoch
to the real history of architecture. The last previous contribution took
the shape of railway stations, which, until the erection of the Lyons
and the Orleans stations in Paris--about seventy years after the birth
of stations--were almost without exception desolate failures. It will
not be seriously argued, I suppose, that the first twenty years of grand
hotels have added as much ugliness to the world’s stock of ugliness
as the first twenty years of railway stations. If there exists a
grand hotel as direfully squalid as King’s Cross Station (palace of an
undertaking with a capital of over sixty millions sterling) I should
like to see it. Hotel architecture is the outcome of a new feature in
the activity of society, and this fact must be taken into account. When
a new grand hotel takes a page of a daily paper to announce itself as
the “last word” of hotels--what it means is, roughly, the “first word,”
 as distinguished from inarticulate babbling.

Of course it is based on strictly utilitarian principles--and rightly.
Even when the grand hotel blossoms into rich ornamentation, the aim is
not beauty, but the attracting of clients. And the practical conditions,
the shackles of utility, in which the architecture of hotels has to
evolve, are extremely severe and galling. In the end this will probably
lead to a finer form of beauty than would otherwise have been achieved.
In the first place a grand hotel, especially when it is situated “on the
landscape,” can have only one authentic face, and to this face the
other three must be sacrificed. Already many hotels advertise that every
bedroom without exception looks south, or at any rate looks direct at
whatever prospect the visitors have come to look at. This means that
the hotel must have length without depth--that it must be a sort of vast
wall pierced with windows. Further, the democratic quality of the social
microcosm of a hotel necessitates an external monotony of detail.
In general, all the rooms on each floor must resemble each other,
possessing the same advantages. If one has a balcony, all must have
balconies. There must be no sacrificing of the amenities of a room here
and there to demands of variety or balance in the elevation. Again, the
hotel must be relatively lofty--not because of lack of space, but to
facilitate a complex service. The kitchens of Buckingham Palace may be
a quarter of a mile from the dining-room, and people will say, “How
wonderful!” But if a pot of tea had to be carried a quarter of a mile
in a grand hotel, from the kitchen to a bedroom, people would say, “How
absurd!” or, “How stewed!” The “layer” system of architecture is from
all points of view indispensable to the grand hotel, and its scenic
disadvantages must be met by the exercise of ingenuity. There are
other problems confronting the hotel architecture, such as the fitting
together of very large public rooms with very small private rooms, and
the obligation to minimise externally a whole vital department of the
hotel (the kitchens, etc.); and I conceive that these problems are
perhaps not the least exasperating.

From the utilitarian standpoint the architect of hotels has
unquestionably succeeded. The latest hotels are admirably planned; and
a good plan cannot result in an elevation entirely bad. One might say,
indeed, that a good plan implies an elevation good in, at any rate,
elementals. Save that bedrooms are seldom sound-proof, and that they are
nearly always too long for their breadth (the reason is obvious), not
much fault can be found with the practical features of the newest hotel
architecture. In essential matters hotel architecture is good. You may
dissolve in ecstasy before the façade of the Chateau de Chambord; but
it is certainly the whited sepulchre of sacrificed comfort, health, and
practicability. There also, but from a different and a less defensible
cause, and to a different and not a better end, the importance of the
main front rides roughly over numerous other considerations. In skilful
planning no architecture of any period equals ours; and ours is the
architecture of grand hotels.

The beholder, before abruptly condemning that uniformity of feature
which is the chief characteristic of the hotel on the landscape, must
reflect that this is the natural outer expression of the spirit
and needs of the hotel, and that it neither can be nor ought to be
disguised. It is of the very essence of the building. It may be very
slightly relieved by the employment of certain devices of grouping--as
some architects in the United States have shown--but it must remain
patent and paramount; and the ultimate beauty of more advanced styles
will undoubtedly spring from it and, in a minor degree, from the other
inner conditions to which I have referred. And even when the ultimate
beauty has been accomplished the same thing will come to pass as has
always come to pass in the gradual progress of schools of architecture.
The pendulum will swing too far, and the best critics of those future
days will point to the primitive erections of the early twentieth
century and affirm that there has been a decadence since then, and that
if the virtue of architecture is to be maintained inspiration must be
sought by returning to the first models, when men did not consciously
think of beauty, but produced beauty unawares!

It was ever thus.

The salvation of hotel architecture, up to this present, is that the
grand hotel on the landscape, in nineteen cases out of twenty, is
remuneratively occupied only during some three or four months in the
year. Which means that the annual interest on capital expenditure must
be earned in that brief period. Which in turn means that architects
have no money to squander on ornament in an age notorious for its bad
ornament. If the architect of the grand hotel were as little disturbed
by the question of dividends as Francis the First was in creating his
Chambord and other marvels, the consequences might have been offensive
even to the sympathetic eye.

Meanwhile, in Switzerland, the hotel architect may flatter himself that
he has suddenly given architecture to a country which had none. This
is a highly curious phenomenon. “Next door” to the grand hotel which
so surprised me in the twilight is another human habitation, fairly
representative of all the non-hotel architecture on the Swiss
countryside. It is quaint, and it would not hurt a fly. But surely
the grand hotel is man’s more fitting answer to the challenge of the
mountains?



II--THE EGOIST

A little boy, aged about eight, with nearly all his front teeth gone,
came down early for breakfast this morning while I was having mine. He
asked me where the waiters were, and rang. When one arrived, the little
boy discovered that he could speak no French. However, the waiter said
“Café?” and he said “One”; but he told me that he also wanted buns.
While breakfasting, he said to me that he had got up early because
he was going down into the town that morning by the Funicular, as his
mother was to buy him his Christmas present, a silver lever watch. He
said: “I hate to be hurried for anything. Now, at home, I have to go to
school, and I get up early so that I shan’t be hurried, but my breakfast
is _always_ late; so I have too much time before breakfast, and nothing
to do, and too little time after breakfast when I’ve a lot to do.” In
answer to my question, he said gravely that he was going into the Navy.
He knew the exam, was very stiff, and that if you failed at a certain
age you were barred out altogether; and he asked me whether I thought it
was better to try the exam, early with only a little preparation, or to
leave it late with a long preparation. He thought the first course was
the best, because you could go in again if you failed. I asked him if he
didn’t want some jam. He said no, because the butter was so good, and
if he had jam he wouldn’t be able to taste the butter. He then rang the
bell for more milk, and explained to me that he couldn’t drink coffee
strong, and the consequence was that he had a whole lot of coffee left
and no milk to drink it with.. . . He said he lived in London, and that
some shops down in the town were better than London shops. By this time
a German had descended. He and I both laughed. But the child stuck to
his point. We asked him: “What shops?” He said that jerseys and watches
were nicer in the town than in London. In this he was right, and we had
to admit it. As a complete résumé, he said that there were fewer things
in the town than in London, but some of the things were nicer. Then
he explained to the German his early rising, and added an alternative
explanation, namely, that he had been sent to bed at 6.45, whereas 7.15
was his legal time.

Later in the day I asked him if he would come down early again to-morrow
and have breakfast with me. He said: “I don’t know. I shall see.”
 There was no pose in this. Simply a perfect preoccupation with his
own interests and welfare. I should say he is absolutely egotistic. He
always employs natural, direct methods to get what he wants and to avoid
what lie doesn’t want.

I met him again a few afternoons later on the luge-track. He was very
solemn. He said he had decided not to go in for the single-luge race,
as it all depended on weight. I said: “Put stones in your pocket. Eat
stones for breakfast.”

He laughed slightly and uncertainly. “You can’t eat stones for
breakfast,” he said. “I’m getting on fine at skating. I can turn round
on one leg.”

“Do you still fall?” (He was notorious for his tumbles.)

“Yes.”

“How often?”

He reflected. Then: “About twelve times an hour.... If I skated all day
and all night I should fall twelve twelves--144, isn’t it?”

I said it would be twenty-four twelves.

“Oh! I see----”

“Two hundred and----”

“Eighty-eight,” he overtook me quickly. “But I didn’t mean that. I meant
all day and all _night_, you know--‘evening. People don’t generally
skate all _through_ the night, do they?” Pause. “Six from 144--138,
isn’t it? I’ll say 138, because you’d have to take half an hour off for
dinner, wouldn’t you?”

He became silent, discussing seriously within himself whether half an
hour would suffice for dinner, without undue hurrying.



III--THE BLAND WANDERER

In the drawing-room to-night an old and solitary, but blandly cheerful,
female wanderer recounted numerous accidents at St. Moritz: legs broken
in two places, shoulders broken, spines injured; also deaths. Further,
the danger of catching infectious diseases at St. Moritz. “One _very_
large hotel, where _everybody_ had influenza,” etc. These recitals
seemed to give her calm and serious pleasure.

“Do you think this place is good for nerves?” she broke out suddenly at
me. I told her that in my opinion a hot bath and a day in bed would make
any place good for nerves. “I mean the nerves of the _body_,” she
said inscrutably. Then she deviated into a long set description of the
historic attack of Russian influenza which she had had several years
ago, and which had kept her in bed for three months, since when she had’
never been the same woman. And she seemed to savour with placid joy the
fact that she had never since been the same woman.

Then she flew back to St. Moritz and the prices thereof. She said you
could get pretty reasonable terms, even there, “provided you didn’t mind
going high up.” Upon my saying that I actually preferred being high up,
she exclaimed: “I don’t. I’m so afraid of fire. I’m always afraid of
fire.” She said that she had had two nephews at Cambridge. The second
one took rooms at the top of the highest house in Cambridge, and the
landlord was a drunkard. “My sister didn’t seem to care, but I
didn’t know _what_ to do! What _could_ I do? Well, I bought him a.
non-inflammable rope.” She smiled blandly.

This allusion to death and inebriety prompted a sprightly young
Yorkshirewoman, with the country gift for yarn-spinning, to tell a
tale of something that had happened to her cousin, who gave lessons in
domestic economy at a London Board School. A little girl, absent for two
days, was questioned as to the reason.

“I couldn’t come.”

“But why not?”

“I was kept.. . Please ‘m, my mother’s dead.”

“Well, wouldn’t you be better here at school? When did she die?”

“Yesterday. I must go back, please. I only came to tell you.”

“But why?”

“Well, ma’am. She’s lying on the table and I have to watch her.”

“Watch her?”

“Yes. Because when father comes home drunk, he knocks her off, and I
have to put her on again.”

This narration startled even the bridge-players, and there were protests
of horror. But the philosophic wanderer, who had never been the same
woman since Russian influenza, smiled placidly.

“I knew something really much more awful than that,” she said. “A young
woman, well-known to me, had charge of a crèche of thirty infants, and
one day she took it into her head to amuse herself by changing all their
clothes, so that at night they could not be identified; and many of them
never _were_ identified! She was _such_ a merry girl! I knew all her
brothers and sisters too! She wanted to go into a sisterhood, and she
did, for a month. But the only thing she did there--well, one day she
went down into the laundry and taught all the laundry-maids to polka.
She was such a merry girl!”

She smiled with extraordinary simplicity.

“In the end,” the bland wanderer continued, after a little pause, “she
went to America. America is such an odd place! Once I got into a car
at Philadelphia that had come from New York. The conductor showed me my
berth. The bed was warm. I partly undressed and got into it, and drew
the curtain. I was half asleep, when I felt a hand feeling me over
through the curtain. I called out, and a man’s voice said: ‘It’s all
right. I’m only looking for my stick. I think I must have left it in the
berth’! Another time a lot of student girls were in the same car
with me. They all got into their beds--or berths or whatever you call
it--about eight o’clock, wearing fancy jackets, and they sat up and
ate candy. I was walking up and down, and every time I passed they
_implored_ me to have candy, and then they implored each other to try
to persuade me. They were mostly named Sadie. At one in the morning they
ordered iced drinks ‘round. I was obliged to drink with them. They tired
me out, and then made me drink. I don’t know what happened just after
that, but I know that, at five in the morning, they were all sitting up
and eating candy. I’ve travelled a good deal in America and it’s _such_
an odd place! It was just the place for that young woman to go to.”



IV--ON A MOUNTAIN

Last week I did a thing which you may call hackneyed or unhackneyed,
according to your way of life. To some people an excursion to Hampstead
Heath is a unique adventure: to others, a walk around the summit of
Popocatapetl is all in the year’s work. I went to Switzerland and spent
Easter on the top of a mountain. At any rate, the mountain was less
hackneyed at that season than Rome or Seville, where the price of beds
rises in proportion as religious emotion falls. It was Marcus Aurelius
Antoninus who sent me to the mountain. To mention Marcus Aurelius is
almost as clear a sign of priggish affectation and tenth-rate preciosity
as to quote Omar Khayyam; and I may interject defensively that I prefer
Epictetus, the slave, to Marcus Aurelius, the neurotic emperor. Still,
it was Marcus Aurelius who sent me to the mountain. He advised me, in
certain circumstances, to climb high and then look down at human nature.

I did so. My luggage alone cost me four francs excess in the Funicular.

*****

I had before me what I have been told--by others than the hotel
proprietor--is one of the finest panoramas in Europe. Across a
Calvinistic lake, whose renown is familiar to the profane chiefly
because Byron wrote a mediocre poem about a castle on its shores, rose
the five-fanged Dent du Midi, twenty-five miles off, and ten thousand
feet towards the sky; other mountains, worthy companions of the
illustrious Tooth, made a tremendous snowy semicircle right and left;
and I on my mountain fronted this semi-circle. The weather was perfect.

Down below me, on the edge of the lake, was a continuous chain of towns,
all full and crammed with the final products of civilisation, miles of
them. There was everything in those towns that a nation whose destiny
it is to satisfy the caprices of the English thought the English could
possibly desire. Such things as baths, lifts, fish-knives, two-steps
and rag-times, casinos, theatres, rackets, skates, hot-water bottles,
whisky, beef-steaks, churches, chapels, cameras, puttees, jig-saws,
bridge-markers, clubs, China tea, phonographs, concert-halls,
charitable societies, money-changers, hygiene, picture post cards,
even books---just cheap ones! It was dizzying to think of the refined
complexity of existence down there. It was impressive to think of the
slow centuries of effort, struggle, discovery and invention that had
gone to the production of that wondrous civilisation. It was perfectly
distracting to think of the innumerable activities that were proceeding
in all parts of the earth (for you could have coral from India’s
coral strand in those towns, and furs from Labrador, and skates from
Birmingham) to keep the vast organism in working order.

And behind the chain of towns ran the railwayline, along which flew
the expresses with dining-cars and fresh flowers on the tables of
the dining-cars, and living drivers on the footplates of the
engines, whirling the salt of the earth to and fro, threading like
torpedo-shuttles between far-distant centres of refinement. And behind
the railway line spread the cultivated fields of these Swiss, who,
after all, in the intervals of passing dishes to stately guests in
hotel-refectories, have a national life of their own; who indeed have
shown more skill and commonsense in the organisation of posts, hotels,
and military conscription, than any other nation; so much so, that one
gazes and wonders how on earth a race so thick-headed and tedious could
ever have done it.

*****

I knew that I had all that before me, because I had been among it all,
and had ascended and descended in the lifts, lolled in the casinos and
the trains, and drunk the China tea. But I could not see it from the top
of my mountain. All that I could see from the top of my mountain was
a scattering of dolls’ houses, and that scattering constituted three
towns; with here and there a white cube overtopping the rest by half an
inch, and that white cube was a grand hotel; and out of the upper face
of the cube a wisp of vapour, and that wisp of vapour was the smoke of
a furnace that sent hot-water through miles of plumbing and heated 400
radiators in 400 elegant apartments; and little stretches of ribbon, and
these ribbons were boulevards bordered with great trees; and a puff
of steam crawling along a fine wire, and that crawling puff was an
international express; and rectangular spaces like handkerchiefs fresh
from a bad laundry, and those handkerchiefs were immense fields of
vine; and a water-beetle on the still surface of the lake, and that
water-beetle was a steamer licensed to carry 850 persons. And there was
silence. The towns were feverishly living in ten thousand fashions,
and made not a sound. Even the express breathed softly, like a child in
another room.

The mountains remained impassive; they were too indifferent to be even
contemptuous. Humanity had only soiled their ankles: I could see all
around that with all his jumping man had not found a perch higher than
their ankles. It seemed to me painfully inept that humanity, having
spent seven years in worming a hole through one of those mountains,
should have filled the newspapers with the marvels of its hole, and
should have fallen into the habit of calling its hole “the Simplon.”
 The Simplon--that hole! It seemed to me that the excellence of Swiss
conscription was merely ridiculous in its exquisite unimportance. It
seemed to me that I must have been absolutely mad to get myself excited
about the January elections in a trifling isle called Britain, writing
articles and pamphlets and rude letters, and estranging friends and
thinking myself an earnest warrior in the van of progress. Land taxes! I
could not look down, or up, and see land taxes as aught but an infantile
invention of comic opera. Two Chambers or one! Veto first or Budget
first! Mr. F. E. Smith or Mr. Steel-Maitland! Ah! The tea-cup and the
storm!

The prescription of Marcus Aurelius Antoninus had “acted.”

*****

It is an exceedingly harmful prescription if employed long or often. Go
to the top of a mountain by all means, but hurry down again quickly.
The top of a mountain, instead of correcting your perspective, as is
generally supported by philosophers for whom human existence is not good
enough, falsifies it. Because it induces self-aggrandisement. You draw
illusive bigness from the mountain. You imagine that you are august,
but you are not. If the man below was informed by telephone that a being
august was gazing on him from above he would probably squint his eyes
upwards in the sunshine and assert with calmness that he couldn’t even
see a living speck on the mountain-crest. You who have gone up had
better come down. You couldn’t remain up twenty-four hours without the
aid of the ant-like evolutions below, which you grandiosely despise. You
couldn’t have got up at all if a procession of those miserable conceited
ants had not been up there before you.

The detached philosophic mountain view of the littleness of things is a
delightful and diverting amusement, and there is perhaps no harm in it
so long as you don’t really act on it. If you begin really to act on it
you at once become ridiculous, and especially ridiculous in the sight of
mountains.

You commit the fatuity of despising the corporate toil which has made
you what you are, and you prove nothing except that you have found a
rather specious and glittering excuse for idleness, for cowardice, and
for having permitted the stuffing to be knocked out of you.

When I hear a man say, when I hear myself say: “I’m sick of politics,”
 I always think: “What you want is six months in prison, or in a slum, or
in a mine, or in a bakehouse, or in the skin of a woman. After that,
we should see if you were sick of politics.” And when I hear a lot of
people together say that they are sick of politics, then I am quite sure
that politics are more than ever urgently in need of attention. It is at
such moments that a man has an excellent opportunity of showing that he
is a man.



ENGLAND AGAIN--1907



I--THE GATE OF THE EMPIRE

When one comes back to it, after long absence, one sees exactly the
same staring, cold white cliffs under the same stars. Ministries
may have fallen; the salaries of music-hall artistes may have risen;
Christmas boxes may have become a crime; war balloons may be in the air;
the strange notion may have sprouted that school children must be fed
before they are taught: but all these things are as nothing compared to
the changeless fact of the island itself. You in the island are apt to
forget that the sea is eternally beating round about all the political
fuss you make; you are apt to forget that your 40-h.p. cars are rushing
to and fro on a mere whale’s back insecurely anchored in the Atlantic.
You may call the Atlantic by soft, reassuring names, such as Irish Sea,
North Sea, and silver streak; it remains the Atlantic, very careless of
social progress, very rude.

The ship under the stars swirls shaking over the starlit waves, and then
bumps up against granite and wood, and amid cries ropes are thrown out,
and so one is lashed to the island. Scarcely any reasonable harbours in
this island! The inhabitants are obliged to throw stones into the sea
till they emerge like a geometrical reef, and vessels cling hard to the
reef. One climbs on to it from the steamer; it is very long and thin,
like a sword, and between shouting wind and water one precariously
balances oneself on it. After some eighty years of steam, nothing more
comfortable than the reef has yet been achieved. But far out on the
water a black line may be discerned, with the silhouettes of cranes and
terrific engines. Denied a natural harbour, the island has at length
determined to have an unnatural harbour at this bleak and perilous
spot. In another ten years or so the peaceful invader will no longer be
compelled to fight with a real train for standing room on a storm-swept
reef.

*****

And that train! Electric light, corridors, lavatories, and general
brilliance! Luxuries inconceivable in the past! But, just to prove a
robust conservatism, hot-water bottles remain as the sole protection
against being frozen to death.

“Can I get you a seat, sir?”

It is the guard’s tone that is the very essence of England. You may say
he descries a shilling on the horizon. I don’t care. That tone cannot
be heard outside England. It is an honest tone, cheerful, kindly, the
welling-up of a fundamental good nature. It is a tone which says: “I
am a decent fellow, so are you; let us do the best for ourselves
under difficulties.” It is far more English than a beefsteak or a
ground-landlord. It touches the returned exile profoundly, especially at
the dreadful hour of four a. m. And in replying, “Yes, please. Second.
Not a smoker,” one is saying, “Hail! Fellow-islander. You have appalling
faults, but for sheer straightness you cannot be matched elsewhere.”

One comes to an oblong aperture on the reef, something resembling the
aperture of a Punch and Judy show, and not much larger. In this aperture
are a man, many thick cups, several urns, and some chunks of bread. One
struggles up to the man.

“Tea or coffee, sir?”

“Hot milk,” one says.

“Hot milk!” he repeats. You have shocked his Toryism. You have
dragged him out of the rut of tea and coffee, and he does not like it.
However--brave, resourceful fellow!--he pulls himself together for an
immense effort, and gives you hot milk, and you stand there, in front of
the aperture, under the stars and over the sea and in the blast, trying
to keep the cup upright in a mêlée of elbows.

This is the gate, and this the hospitality, of the greatest empire that,
etc.

“Can I take this cup to the train?”

“Certainly, sir!” says the Punch and Judy man genially, as who should
say: “God bless my soul! Aren’t you in the country where anyone can
choose the portmanteau that suits him out of a luggage van?”

Now that is England! In France, Germany, Italy, there would have been a
spacious golden _café_ and all the drinks on earth, but one could
never have got that cup out of the _café_ without at least a stamped
declaration signed by two commissioners of police and countersigned by
a Consul. One makes a line of milk along the reef, and sits blowing and
sipping what is left of the milk in the train. And when the train is
ready to depart one demands of a porter:

“What am I to do with this cup?”

“Give it to me, sir.”

And he planks it down on the platform next a pillar, and leaves it.
And off one goes. The adventures of that thick mug are a beautiful
demonstration that the new England contains a lot of the old. It will
ultimately reach the Punch and Judy show once more (not broken--perhaps
cracked); not, however, by rules and regulations; but higgledy-piggledy,
by mutual aid and good nature and good will. He tranquil; it will regain
its counter.

*****

The fringe of villas, each primly asleep in its starlit garden, which
borders the island and divides the hopfields from the Atlantic, is much
wider than it used to be. But in the fields time has stood still.. . .
Now, one has left the sea and the storm and the reef, and already one is
forgetting that the island is an island.. . . Warmth gradually creeps up
from the hot-water bottles to one’s heart and eyes, and sleep comes as
the train scurries into the empire.... A loud reverberation, and one
wakes up in a vast cavern, dimly lit, and sparsely peopled by a few
brass-buttoned beings that have the air of dwarfs under its high,
invisible roof. They give it a name, and call it Charing Cross, and one
remembers that, since one last saw it, it fell down and demolished a
theatre. Everything is shuttered in the cavern. Nothing to eat or to
drink, or to read, but shutters. And shutters are so cold, and caverns
so draughty.

“Where can I get something to eat?” one demands.

“Eat, sir?” A staggered pause, and the porter looks at one as if one
were Oliver Twist. “There’s the hotels, sir,” he says, finally.

Yet one has not come by a special, unique train, unexpected and
startling. No! That train knocks at the inner door of the empire every
morning in every month in every year at the same hour, and it is
always met by shutters. And the empire, by the fact of its accredited
representatives in brass buttons and socialistic ties, is always taken
aback by the desire of the peaceful invader to eat.

*****

One wanders out into the frozen silence. Gas lamps patiently burning
over acres of beautiful creosoted wood! A dead cab or so! A policeman!
Shutters everywhere: Nothing else. No change here.

This is the changeless, ineffable Strand at Charing Cross, sacred as the
Ganges. One cannot see a single new building. Yet they say London has
been rebuilt.

The door of the hotel is locked. And the night watchman opens with the
same air of astonishment as the Punch and Judy man when one asked for
milk, and the railway porter when one asked for food. Every morning
at that hour the train stops within fifty yards of the hotel door, and
pitches out into London persons who have been up all night; and London
blandly continues to be amazed at their arrival. A good English fellow,
the watchman--almost certainly the elder brother of the train-guard.

“I want a room and some breakfast.”

He cautiously relocks the door.

“Yes, sir, as soon as the waiters are down. In about an hour, sir. I can
take you to the lavatory now, sir, if that will do.”

Who said there was a new England?

One sits overlooking the Strand, and tragically waiting. And presently,
in the beginnings of the dawn, that pathetic, wistful object the first
omnibus of the day rolls along--all by itself--no horses in front of it!
And, after hours, a waiter descends as bright as a pin from his attic,
and asks with a strong German accent whether one will have tea or
coffee. The empire is waking up, and one is in the heart of it.



II--AN ESTABLISHMENT

When I returned to England I came across a terrific establishment.
As it may be more or less novel to you I will attempt to describe it,
though the really right words for describing it do not exist in the
English language. In the first place, it is a restaurant, where meals
are served at almost any hour--and not meals such as you get in ordinary
restaurants, but sane meals, spread amid flowers and diaper. Then it
is also a crèche, where babies are tended upon scientific principles;
nothing that a baby needs is neglected. Older, children are also looked
after, and the whole question of education is deeply studied, and advice
given. Also young men and women of sixteen or so are started in the
world, and every information concerning careers is collected and freely
given out.

Another branch of the establishment is devoted to inexpensive but
effective dressmaking, and still another to hats; here you will find the
periodical literature of fashion, and all hints as to shopping. There
is, further, a very efficient department of mending, highly curious
and ingenious, which embraces men’s clothing. I discovered, too, a
horticultural department for the encouragement of flowers, serving
secondarily as a branch of the crèche and nursery. There is a fine art
department, where reproductions of the great masters are to be seen and
meditated upon, and an applied art department, full of antiques. It must
mention the library, where the latest and the most ancient literatures
fraternise on the same shelves; also the chamber-music department.

Lastly, a portion of the establishment is simply nothing but an uncommon
lodging-house for travellers, where electric light, hot water bottles,
and hot baths are not extras. I scarcely expect you to believe what I
say; nevertheless I have exaggerated in nothing. You would never guess
where I encountered this extraordinary, this incredible establishment.
It was No. 137 (the final number) in a perfectly ordinary long street
in a residential suburb of a large town. When I expressed my surprise
to the manager of the place, he looked at me as if I had come from
Timbuctoo. “Why!” he exclaimed, “there are a hundred and thirty-six
establishments much like mine in this very street!” He was right; for
what I had stumbled into was just the average cultivated Englishman’s
home.

*****

You must look at it as I looked at it in order to perceive what an
organisation the thing is. The Englishman may totter continually on the
edge of his income, but he does get value for his money. I do not mean
the poor man, for he is too unskilled, and too hampered by lack of
capital, to get value even for what money he has. Nor do I mean the
wealthy man, who usually spends about five-sixths of his income in
acquiring worries and nuisances. I mean the nice, usual professional or
business islander, who by means of a small oblong piece of paper, marked
£30 or so, once a month, attempts and accomplishes more than a native
of the mainland would dream of on £30 a week. The immense pyramid which
that man and his wife build, wrong side up, on the blowsy head of one
domestic servant is a truly astonishing phenomenon, and its frequency
does not impair its extraordinariness.

The mere machinery is tremendously complex. You lie awake at 6-30 in the
uncommon lodging-house department, and you hear distant noises. It is
the inverted apex of the pyramid starting into life. You might imagine
that she would be intensely preoccupied by the complexity of her duties,
and by her responsibility. Not a bit. Open her head, and you would find
nothing in it but the vision of a grocer’s assistant and a new frock.
You then hear weird bumps and gurgling noises. It is the hot water
running up behind walls to meet you half-way from the kitchen. You catch
the early vivacity of the crèche. A row overhead means that a young man
who has already studied the comparative anatomy of cigars is embarking
on life. A tinkling of cymbals below--it is a young woman preparing to
be attractive to some undiscovered young man in another street.

*****

The Englishman’s home is assuredly the most elaborate organisation for
sustaining and reproducing life in the world--or at any rate, east
of Sandy Hook. It becomes more and more elaborate, luxurious, and
efficient. For example, illumination is not the most important of its
activities. Yet, you will generally find in it four different methods
of illumination--electricity, gas, a few oil lamps in case of necessity,
and candles stuck about. Only yesterday, as it seems, human fancy had
not got beyond candles. Much the same with cookery. Even at a simple
refection like afternoon tea you may well have jam boiled over gas, cake
baked in the range, and tea kept hot by alcohol or electricity.

I am not old, but I have known housewives who would neither eat nor
offer to a guest, bread which they had not baked. They drew water from
their own wells. And the idea of a public laundry would have horrified
them. And before that generation there existed a generation which
spun and wove at home. To-day the English household is dependent on
cooperative methods for light, heat, much food, and several sorts
of cleanliness. True (though it has abandoned baking), the idea of
cooperative cookery horrifies it! However, another generation is coming!
And that generation, while expending no more energy than ourselves,
will live in homes more complicatedly luxurious than ours. When it
is house-hunting it will turn in scorn from an abode which has not a
service of hot and cold water in every bedroom and a steam device for
“washing up” without human fingers. And it will as soon think of keeping
a private orchestra as of keeping a private cook--with her loves and her
thirst.

*****

Leave England and come hack, and you cannot fail to see that this
generation is already knocking at the door. When it once gets inside the
door it will probably be more “house-proud,” more inclined to regard the
dwelling as its toy, with which it can never tire of playing, than even
the present generation. Such is a salient characteristic which strikes
the returned traveller, and which the foreigner goes back to his
own country and talks about--namely, the tremendous and intense
pre-occupation of the English home with “comfort”--with every branch and
sub-branch of comfort.

“_Le comfort anglais_” is a phrase which has passed into the French
language. On spiritual and intellectual matters the Englishman may be
the most sweetly reasonable of creatures--always ready to compromise,
and loathing discussion. But catch him compromising about his hot-water
apparatus, the texture of a beefsteak, or the flushing of a cistern!



III--AMUSEMENTS

It is when one comes to survey with a fresh eye the amusements of the
English race that one realises the incomprehensibility of existence.
Here is the most serious people on earth--the only people, assuredly,
with a genuine grasp of the principles of political wisdom--amusing
itself untiringly with a play-ball. The ball may be large and soft, as
in football, or small and hard, as in golf, or small and very hard, as
in billiards, or neither one thing nor the other, as in cricket--it is
always a ball.. Abolish the sphere, and the flower of English manhood
would perish from ennui.

The fact is, speaking broadly, there is only one amusement worth
mentioning in England. Football dwarfs all the others. It has outrun
cricket. This is a hard saying, but a true one. Football arouses more
interest, passion, heat; it attracts far vaster crowds; it sheds more
blood. Having beheld England, after absence, in the North and in the
South, I seem to see my native country as an immense football ground,
with a net across the Isle of Wight and another in the neighbourhood of
John o’ Groat’s, and the entire population stamping their feet on the
cold, cold ground and hoarsely roaring at the bounces of a gigantic
football. It is a great game, but watching it is a mysterious and
peculiar amusement, full of contradictions. The physical conditions of
getting into a football ground, of keeping life in one’s veins while
there, and of getting away from it, appear at first sight to preclude
the possibility of amusement. They remind one of the Crimean War or the
passage of the Beresina. A man will freeze to within half a degree of
death on a football ground, and the same man will haughtily refuse
to sit on anything less soft than plush at a music-hall. Such is the
inexplicable virtue of football.

*****

Further, a man will safely carry his sense of fair play past the gate
of a cricket field, but he will leave it outside the turnstiles of a
football ground. I refer to the relentless refusal of the man amusing
himself at a football match to see any virtue in the other side. I refer
to the howl of execration which can only be heard on a football ground.
English public life is a series of pretences. And the greatest pretence
of all is that football matches are eleven a side. Football matches are
usually a battle between eleven men and ten thousand and eleven; that is
why the home team so seldom loses.

The football crowd is religious, stern, grim, terrible, magnificent. It
is prepared to sacrifice everything to an ideal. And even when its ideal
gets tumbled out of the First League into the Second, it will not part
with a single illusion. There are greater things than justice (which,
after all, is a human invention, and unknown to nature), and this
ferocious idealism is greater than justice. The explanation is that
football is the oldest English game--far older than cricket, and it
“throws back” to the true, deep sources of the English character. It
is a weekly return to the beneficent and heroic simplicity of nature’s
methods.

Another phenomenon of the chief English amusement goes to show the
religious sentiment that underlies it. A leading Spanish toreador will
earn twenty thousand pounds a year. A leading English jockey will make
as much. A music-hall star can lay hands on several hundreds a week. A
good tea-taster receives a thousand a year, and a cloakroom attendant at
a fashionable hotel can always retire at the age of forty. Now, on
the same scale, a great half-back, or a miraculous goalkeeper with the
indispensable gift of being in two places at once, ought to earn about
half a million a year. He is the idol of innumerable multitudes of
enthusiasts; he can rouse them into heavenly ecstasy, or render them
homicidal, with a turn of his foot. He is the theme of hundreds of
newspapers. One town will cheerfully pay another a thousand pounds for
the mere privilege of his citizenship. But his total personal income
would not keep a stockbroker’s wife in hats! His uniform is the
shabbiest uniform ever donned by a military genius, and he is taught
to look forward to the tenancy of a tied public-house as an ultimate
paradise!

To the unimpassioned observer, nothing in English national life seems
more anomalous than this. It can be explained solely by stern religious
sentiment. Call it pagan if you will, but even pagan religions were
religious. The truth is that so foul a thing as money does not enter
into the question. A footballer is treated like a sort of priest. “You
have this rare and incommunicable gift,” says the public to him in
effect. “You can, for instance, do things with your head that the
profane cannot do with their hands. It is no credit to you. You were
born so. Yet a few years, and the gift will leave you I Then we shall
cast you aside and forget you. But, in the meantime, you are like unto a
precious vase. Keep yourself, therefore, holy and uncracked. There is no
money in the career, no luxury, no soft cushions, nothing but sprained
ankles, broken legs, abstinence, suspensions, and a pittance, followed
by ingratitude and neglect. But you have the rare and incommunicable
gift I And that is your exceeding reward.”

In view of such an attitude, to offer the salary of a County Court judge
to a footballer would be an insult.

*****

After indulging in the spectacle and the vocal gymnastics of a football
match, the British public goes home to its wife, hurries her out, and
they stand in the open street at a closed door for an hour, or it may be
two hours, stolidly, grimly, fiercely, with obstinate chins, on pleasure
bent. They are determined to see that door open, no matter what the
weather. Let it rain, let it freeze, they will stand there till the door
opens. At last it does open, and they are so superbly eager to see what
they shall see that they tumble over each other in order to arrive
at the seats of delight. That which they long to witness with such an
ardent longing is usually a scene of destruction. Let an artiste come
forward and simply guarantee to smash a thousand plates in a quarter of
an hour, and he will fill with enraptured souls the largest music-hall
in England. Next to splendid destruction the British public is most
amused by knockabout comedians, so called because they knock each other
about in a manner which would be fatally tragic to any ordinary persons.

Though this freshly-obtained impression of the amusements of the folk
is perfectly sincere and fair, it is fair also to assert that the folk
shine far more brightly at work and at propaganda than at play.
The island folk, being utterly serious, have not yet given adequate
attention to the amusement of the better part of themselves. But far
up in the empyrean, where culture floats, the directors of the Stage
Society and Miss Horniman are devoting their lives to the question.



IV--MANCHESTER

Over thirty years ago I first used to go to Manchester on Tuesdays,
in charge of people who could remember Waterloo, and I was taken into a
vast and intricate palace, where we bought quantities of things without
paying for them--a method of acquisition strictly forbidden in our shop.
This palace was called “Rylands.” I knew not what “Rylands” was, but
from the accents of awe in which the name was uttered I gathered that
its importance in the universe was supreme. My sole impression of
Manchester was an impression of extreme noise.

Without shouting you could not make yourself heard in the streets. Ten
years later, London-road Station had somehow become for me the gate of
Paradise, and I was wont to escape into Manchester as a prisoner escapes
into the open country.

After twenty years’ absence in London and Paris I began to revisit
Manchester. My earliest impression will be my last. Still the same
prodigious racket; the same gigantic altercation between irresistible
iron and immovable paving stones! With the addition of the growling
thunder of cars that seem to be continually bumping each other as
if they were college eights! Lunch in a fashionable grill-room at
Manchester constitutes an auditory experience that could not be matched
outside New York. In the great saloon there is no carpet on the polished
planks of the floor, and the walls consist of highly resonant tiles,
for Manchester would not willingly smother the slightest murmur of
its immense reverberations. The tables are set close together, so that
everybody can hear everybody; the waiters (exactly the same waiters
that one meets at Monte Carlo or in the Champs Elysées) understand all
languages save English, so that the Britisher must shout at them. Doors
are for ever swinging, and people rush to and fro without surcease. It
is Babel. In the background, a vague somewhere, an orchestra is beating;
one catches the bass notes marking the measure, and occasionally a high
squeak in the upper register. And superimposed on this, the lusty voice
of a man of herculean physique passionately chanting that “a-hunting we
will go.”

*****

One looks through the window and, astonished, observes one of those
electric cars flying hugely past without a sound. The thunder within has
challenged and annihilated the heaviest thunder without. The experience
is unique. One rushes forth in search of silence. Where can silence
dwell in Manchester? The end of every street is a mystery of white fog,
a possible home of silence. But no! Be sure that if one plucks out the
heart of the mystery one will find a lorry preceded by at least eight
iron hoofs. The Art Gallery! One passes in. Clack! Clack! Clack! It is
the turnstile. And all afternoon the advent of each student of the
fine arts, of each cultivated dilettante, is announced by Clack! Clack!
Clack! Two young men come in. Clack! Clack! Clack! Turner’s “Decline
of Carthage” naturally arrests them. “By Jove!” says one, “that was
something to tackle!” Clack! Clack! Clack! Out again, in search of
silence. But over nearly every portal curves the legend: “Music all
day.” And outside the music-halls hired bawlers are bawling to the
people to come in. At last, near the Infirmary, one sees a stationary
cab, and across the window of this cab is printed, in letters of gold,
the extraordinary, the magic, the wonderful, the amazing word:

“Noiseless.”

Ah! The traditional, sublime humour of cabmen!

But if my impression has remained, and even waxed, that Manchester
would be an ideal metropolis for a nation of deaf mutes, my other early
impression, of its artistic and intellectual primacy, is sharply renewed
and intensified. Of late, not only by contact with Manchester men,
but by the subtle physiognomy of Manchester streets and the revealing
gestures of the common intelligent person, I have been more than
ever convinced that there is no place which can match its union of
intellectual vigour, artistic perceptiveness, and political sagacity.

*****

Long and close intercourse with capitals has not in the slightest degree
modified my youthful conception of Manchester, my admiration for its
institutions, and my deep respect for its opinion. London may patronise
Manchester as it chooses, but you can catch in London’s tone a secret
awe, an inward conviction of essential inferiority. I have noticed this
again and again. I know well that my view is shared by the fine
flower of Fleet-street, and no dread of disagreeable insinuations or
accusations shall prevent me from expressing my sentiments with my
customary directness. There is no department of artistic, intellectual,
social, or political activity in which Manchester has not corporately
surpassed London. And there have been very few occasions on which, when
they have differed in opinion, Manchester has been as wrong as London.

It is, of course, notorious that London is still agitated by more than
one controversy which was definitely settled by Manchester twenty
years ago in the way in which London will settle it twenty years hence.
Manchester is too proud to proclaim its fundamental supremacy in the
island (though unalterably convinced of it), and no other city would
be such a fool as to proclaim it; hence it is not proclaimed. But it
exists, and the general knowledge of it exists.

The explanation of Manchester is twofold. First, its geographical
situation, midway between the corrupting languor of the south and
the too bleak hardness of the north. And, second, that it enjoys the
advantages of a population as vast as that of London, without the
disadvantages of either an exaggerated centralisation or of a capital.
London suffers from elephantiasis, a rush of blue blood to the head,
vertigo, imperfect circulation, and other maladies. Bureaucratic and
caste influences must always vitiate the existence of a capital, and I
do not suppose that any great capital in Europe is the real source of
its country’s life and energy. Not Rome, but Milan! Not Madrid, but
Barcelona! Not St. Petersburg, but Moscow! Not Berlin, but Hamburg
and Munich! Not Paris, but the rest of France! Not London, but the
Manchester area!



V--LONDON

There are probably other streets as ugly, as utterly bereft of the
romantic, as Lots-road, Chelsea, but certainly nothing more desolating
can exist in London. It was ten years since I had seen it, and now I
saw it at its worst moment of the week, about ten o’clock of a Sunday
morning. Some time before I reached it I heard a humming vibration
which grew louder and more impressive as I approached. I passed (really)
sixty-eight seagulls sitting in two straight rows on the railings of a
deserted County Council pier, and on a rusty lantern at the head of the
pier was a sixty-ninth seagull, no doubt the secretary of their trade
union.

A mist lay over the river and over a man reading the “Referee” on an
anchored barge, and nobody at all seemed to be taking any notice of
the growing menace of this humming vibration. Then I came to a gigantic
building, quite new to me--I had not suspected that such a thing was--a
building which must be among the largest in London, a red brick building
with a grandiose architectural effect, an overpowering affair, one of
those affairs that man creates in order to show how small and puny
he himself is. You could pile all the houses of a dozen neighbouring
streets under the colossal roof, of that erection and leave room for a
church or so. Extraordinary that a returned exile, interested in London,
could have walked about London for days without even getting a glimpse
of such hugeness.

It was shut up, closed in, mysterious, inviolable. The gates of its
yards were bolted. It bore no legend of its name and owner; there was no
sign of human life in it. And the humming vibration came out of it, and
was visibly cracking walls and windows in the doll’s-houses of Lots-road
that shook at its feet. Lots-road got up to that thunder, went to bed to
that thunder, ate bacon to it, and generally transacted its daily
life. I gazed baffled at the building. No clue anywhere to the
mystery! Nothing but a proof of the determined tendency on the part of
civilisation to imitate the romances of H. G. Wells!

A milkman in a striped apron was ringing and ringing angrily at the
grille of a locked public-house. I hate to question people in the
street, but curiosity concerning a marvel is like love, stronger than
hate.

“That?” said the milkman peevishly. “That’s the generating stytion for
the electric rilewys.”

“Which railways?” I asked.

“All of ‘em,” said he. “There’s bin above sixty men killed there
already.”

*****

Who would have supposed, a few years ago, that romance would visit
unromantic Lots-road in this strange and terrible manner, cracking it,
smashing it, deafening it, making the vases rattle on its mantelpieces,
and robbing it of sleep? Lots-road is now the true romantic centre of
London. (It would probably prefer to be something else, but it is.) It
holds the true symbol of the development of London’s corporate life.

You come to an unusual hole in the street, and enter it, and find
yourself on a large floor surrounded by advertisements of whisky and art
furniture. The whole floor suddenly sinks with you towards the centre of
the earth, far below sewers. You emerge into a system of tunnels, and,
guided by painted white hands, you traverse these tunnels till you
arrive at a precipice. Then a suite of drawing-rooms, four or six,
glides along the front of the precipice. Each saloon is lighted by
scores of electric lamps, and the steel doors of each are magically
thrown wide open. An attendant urges you to come in and sit down. You
do so, and instantly the suite of rooms glides glittering away with you,
curving through an endless subterranean passage, and stopping now and
then for two seconds at a precipice. At last you get out, and hurry
through more tunnels, and another flying floor wafts you up out of the
earth again, and you stagger into daylight and a strange street, and
when your eyes have recovered themselves you perceive that the strange
street is merely Holborn.. . . And all this because of the roaring
necromancers’ castle in Lots-road! All this impossible without the
roaring necromancers’ castle!

People ejaculate, “The new Tubes!” and think they have described these
astounding phenomena. But they have not.

*****

The fact that strikes the traveller beyond all other facts of the new
London is the immensity of the penalty which the Metropolis is now
paying for its size. Tubes, electrified “Districts,” petrol omnibuses,
electric cars and cabs, and automobiles; these are only the more
theatrical aspects of an activity which permeates and exhausts the life
of the community. Locomotion has become an obsession in London; it has
become a perfect nightmare. The city gets larger and larger, but the
centre remains the centre and everybody must get to it.

See the motor cars speeding over Barnes Common to plunge into
London. One after another, treading on each other’s heels, scurrying,
preoccupied, and malodorous, they fly past in an interminable procession
for hours, to give a melodramatic interest to the streets of London.
See the attack on the omnibuses by a coldly-determined mob of workers
outside Putney Station, and the stream that ceaselessly descends into
Putney Station. Follow the omnibuses as they rush across the bridge into
Fulham-road. See the girls on the top at 8 a. m. in the frosty fog. They
are glad to be anywhere, even on the top.

See the acrobatic young men who, all along the route, jump on to the
step and drop off disappointed because there are already sixteen inside
and eighteen out. Notice the fight at every stopping-place. Watch
the gradual growth of the traffic, until the driver, from being a
charioteer, is transformed into a solver of Chinese puzzles. And
remember that Fulham-road is one great highway out of fifty. Bend your
head, and gaze through London clay into the tunnels full of gliding
drawing-rooms and the drawing-rooms jammed with people. Think of the
five hundred railway stations of all sorts in London, all at the same
business of transporting people to the centre! Then put yourself in
front of one station, the type-terminus, Liver-pool-street, and see the
incredible thick, surging, bursting torrent that it vomits (there is no
other word) from long before dawn till ten o’clock. And, finally, see
the silent, sanguinary battles on bridges for common tram-cars and
’buses.

Not clubs, not hotels, not cathedrals, not halls of song, not emporia,
not mansions; but this is London, now; this necessary, passionate,
complex locomotion! All other phenomena are insignificant beside it.



VI--INDUSTRY

My native heath, thanks to the enterprise of London newspapers and the
indestructibility of picturesque lies, has the reputation of being quite
unlike the rest of England, but when I set foot in it after absence, it
seems to me the most English piece of England that I ever came across.
With extraordinary clearness I see it as absurdly, ridiculously,
splendidly English. All the English characteristics are, quite
remarkably, exaggerated in the Potteries. (That is perhaps why it is a
butt for the organs of London civilisation.) This intensifying of a type
is due no doubt to a certain isolation, caused partly by geography and
partly by the inspired genius of the gentleman who, in planning what is
now the London and North-Western Railway, carefully diverted it from a
populous district and sent it through a hamlet six miles away. On the 28
miles between Stafford and Crewe of the four-track way of the greatest
line in England, not a town! And a solid population of a quarter of
a million within gunshot! English methods! That is to say, the
preposterous side of English methods.

We practise in the Potteries the fine old English plan of not calling
things by their names. We are one town, one unseparated mass of streets.
We are, in fact, the twelfth largest town in the United Kingdom (though
you would never guess it). And the chief of our retail commerce and of
our amusements are congregated in the centre of our town, as the custom
is. But do not imagine that we will consent to call ourselves one town.
* No! We pretend that we are six towns, and to carry out the pretence
we have six town halls, six Mayors or chief bailiffs, six sanitary
inspectors, six everything, including six jealousies. We find it so
much more economical, convenient, and dignified, in dealing with public
health, education, and railway, canal, and tramway companies to act by
means of six mutually jealous authorities.

* Since this was written a very modified form of federation has been
introduced into the Potteries.

*****

We make your cups and saucers--and other earthen utensils. We have been
making them for over a thousand years. And, since we are English, we
want to make them now as we made them a thousand years ago. We flatter
ourselves that we! are a particularly hard-headed race, and we are.
Steel drills would not get a new idea into our hard heads. We have a
characteristic shrewd look, a sort of looking askance and suspicious.
We are looking askance and suspicious at the insidious approaches of
science and scientific organisation. At the present moment the twelfth
largest town is proposing to find a sum of £250 (less than it spends
on amusement in a single day) towards the cost of a central school
of pottery. Mind, only proposing! Up to three years ago (as has been
publicly stated by a master-potter) we carped at scientific methods.
“Carp” is an amiable word. We hated and loathed innovation. We do still.
Only a scientific, adventurous, un-English manufacturer who has dared to
innovate knows the depth and height, the terrific inertia, of that hate
and that loathing.

Oh, yes, we are fully aware of Germany! Yesterday a successful
manufacturer said to me--and these are his exact words, which I wrote
down and read over to him: “Owing to superior technical knowledge, the
general body of German manufacturers are able to produce certain
effects in china and in earthenware, which the general body of English
manufacturers are incapable of producing.” However, we have already
established two outlying minor technical schools, and we are proposing
to find £250 privately towards a grand and imposing central technical
college. Do not smile, you who read this. You are not archangels,
either. Besides, when we like, we can produce the finest earthenware
in the world. We are only just a tiny bit more English than you--that’s
all. And the Potteries is English industry in little--a glass for
English manufacture to see itself in.

*****

For the rest, we are the typical industrial community, presenting the
typical phenomena of new England. We have made municipal parks out of
wildernesses, and hired brass bands of music to play in them. We have
quite six parks in our town. The character of our annual carnivals has
improved out of recognition within living memory. Electricity no longer
astounds us. We have public baths everywhere (though I have never heard
that they rival our gasworks in contributing to the rates). Our public
libraries are better and more numerous, though their chief function
is still to fleet the idle hours of our daughters. Our roads are less
awful. Our slums are decreasing. Our building regulations are
stricter. Our sanitation is vastly improved; and in spite of asthma,
lead-poisoning, and infant mortality our death-rate is midway between
those of Manchester and Liverpool.

We grow steadily less drunken. Yet drunkenness remains our worst
vice, and in the social hierarchy none stands higher than the brewer,
precisely as in the rest of England. We grow steadily less drunken, but
even the intellectuals still think it odd and cranky to meet without
drinking fluids admittedly harmful; and as for the workingman’s beer...
Knock the glass out of his hand and see! We grow steadily less
drunken, but we possess some 750 licensed houses and not a single proper
bookshop. No man could make a hundred pounds a year by selling books in
the Potteries. We really do know a lot, and we have as many bathrooms
per thousand as any industrial hive in this island, and as many
advertisements of incomparable soaps. We are in the way of perfection,
and when we have conquered drunkenness, ignorance, and dirt we
shall have arrived there, with the rest of England. Dirt--a public
slatternliness, a public and shameless flouting of the virtues of
cleanliness and tidiness--is the most spectacular of our sins.

We are the supreme land of picturesque contrasts. On one day last week
I saw a Town Clerk who had never heard of H. G. Wells; I walked five
hundred yards and assisted at a performance of chamber-music by Bach
and a discussion of the French slang of Huysmans; walked only another
hundred yards and was, literally, stuck in an unprotected bog and
extricated therefrom by the kindness of two girls who were rooting in a
shawd-ruck for bits of coal.

Lastly, with other industrial communities, we share the finest of all
qualities--the power and the will to work. We do work. All of us
work. We have no use for idlers. Climb a hill and survey our combined
endeavour, and you will admit it to be magnificent.



THE MIDLANDS--1910-1911



I--THE HANBRIDGE EMPIRE

When I came into the palace, out of the streets where black human
silhouettes moved on seemingly mysterious errands in the haze of
high-hung electric globes, I was met at the inner portal by the word
“Welcome” in large gold letters. This greeting, I saw, was part of the
elaborate mechanics of the place. It reiterated its message monotonously
to perhaps fifteen thousand visitors a week; nevertheless, it had a
certain effectiveness, since it showed that the Hanbridge Theatres
Company Limited was striving after the right attitude towards the weekly
fifteen thousand. At some pit doors the seekers after pleasure are
received and herded as if they were criminals, or beggars. I entered
with curiosity, for, though it is the business of my life to keep an eye
on the enthralling social phenomena of Hanbridge, I had never been in
its Empire. When I formed part of Hanbridge there was no Empire; nothing
but sing-songs conducted by convivial chairmen with rapping hammers
in public-houses whose blinds were drawn and whose posters were in
manuscript. Not that I have ever assisted at one of those extinct
sing-songs. They were as forbidden to me as a High Church service. The
only convivial rapping chairman I ever beheld was at Gatti’s, under
Charing Cross Station, twenty-two years ago.

Now I saw an immense carved and gilded interior, not as large as the
Paris Opéra, but assuredly capable of seating as many persons. My
first thought was: “Why, it’s just like a real music-hall!” I was so
accustomed to regard Hanbridge as a place where the great visible people
went in to work at seven a.m. and emerged out of public-houses at eleven
P.M., or stood movelessly mournful in packed tramcars, or bitterly
partisan on chill football grounds, that I could scarcely credit their
presence here, lolling on velvet amid gold Cupids and Hercules, and
smoking at ease, with plentiful ash-trays to encourage them. I glanced
round to find acquaintances, and the first I saw was the human being who
from nine to seven was my tailor’s assistant; not now an automaton wound
up with deferential replies to any conceivable question that a dandy
could put, but a living soul with a calabash between his teeth, as fine
as anybody. Indeed, finer than most! He, like me, reclined aristocratic
in the grand circle (a bob). He, like me, was offered chocolates and
what not at reasonable prices by a boy whose dress indicated that his
education was proceeding at Eton. I was glad to see him. I should have
gone and spoken to him, only I feared that by so doing I might balefully
kill a man and create a deferential automaton. And I was glad to see
the vast gallery with human twopences. In nearly all public places of
pleasure, the pleasure is poisoned for me by the obsession that I owe
it, at last, to the underpaid labour of people who aren’t there and
can’t be there; by the growing, deepening obsession that the whole
structure of what a respectable person means, when he says with
patriotic warmth “England,” is reared on a stupendous and shocking
injustice. I did not feel this at the Hanbridge Empire. Even the
newspaper-lad and the match-girl might go to the Hanbridge Empire and,
sitting together, drink the milk of paradise. Wonderful discoverers,
these new music-hall directors all up and down the United Kingdom! They
have discovered the folk.

*****

The performance was timed as carefully as a prize-fight. Ting! and the
curtain went unfailingly up. Ting! and it came unfailingly down. Ting!
and something started. Ting! and it stopped. Everybody concerned in
the show knew what he and everybody else had to do. The illuminated
number-signs on either side of the proscenium changed themselves with
the implacable accuracy of astronomical phenomena. It was as though some
deity of ten thousand syndicated halls was controlling the show from
some throne studded with electric switches in Shaftesbury Avenue. Only
the uniformed shepherd of the twopences aloft seemed free to use his
own discretion. His “Now then, order, _please_,” a masterly union of
entreaty and intimidation, was the sole feature of the entertainment not
regulated to the fifth of a second by that recurrent ting.

But what the entertainment gained in efficient exactitude by this
ruthless ordering, it seemed to lose in zest, in capriciousness, in rude
joy. It was watched almost dully, and certainly there was nothing in it
that could rouse the wayward animal that is in all of us. It was marked
by an impeccable propriety. In the classic halls of London you can still
hear skittish grandmothers, stars of a past age unreformed, prattling
(with an amazing imitation of youthfulness) of champagne suppers. But
not in the Hanbridge Empire. At the Hanbridge Empire the curtain never
rises on any disclosure of the carnal core of things. Even when a young
woman in a short skirt chanted of being clasped in his arms again, the
tepid primness of her manner indicated that the embrace would be that
of a tailor’s dummy and a pretty head-and-shoulders in a hairdresser’s
window. The pulse never asserted itself. Only in the unconscious but
overpowering temperament of a couple of acrobatic mulatto women was
there the least trace of bodily fever. Male acrobats of the highest
class, whose feats were a continual creation of sheer animal beauty,
roused no adequate enthusiasm.

“When do the Yorkshire Songsters come on?” I asked an attendant at the
interval. In the bar, a handful of pleasure-seekers were dispassionately
drinking, without a rollicking word to mar the flow of their secret
reflections.

“Second item in the second part,” said the attendant, and added
heartily: “And very good they are, too, sir!”

He meant it. He would not have said as much of a man whom in the lounge
of a London hotel I saw playing the fiddle and the piano simultaneously.
He was an attendant of mature and difficult judgment, not to be carried
away by clowning or grotesquerie. With him good meant good. And they
were very good. And they were what they pretended to be. There were
about twenty of them; the women were dressed in white, and the men wore
scarlet hunting coats. The conductor, a little shrewd man, was disguised
in a sort of _levée_ dress, with knee-breeches and silk stockings. But
he could not disguise himself from me. I had seen him, and hundreds of
him, in the streets of Halifax, Wakefield, and Batley. I had seen him
all over Yorkshire, Lancashire, and Staffordshire. He was a Midland
type: infernally well satisfied with himself under a crust of quiet
modesty; a nice man to chat with on the way to Blackpool, a man who
could take a pot of beer respectably and then stop, who could argue
ingeniously without heat, and who would stick a shaft into you as he
left you, just to let you know that he was not quite so ordinary as he
made out to be. They were all like that, in a less degree; women too;
those women could cook a Welsh rarebit with any woman, and they wouldn’t
say all they thought all at once, either.

And there they were ranged in a flattened semicircle on a music-hall
stage. Perhaps they appeared on forty music-hall stages in a year. It
had come to that: another case of specialisation. Doubtless they had
begun in small choirs, or in the parlours of home, singing for the
pleasure of singing, and then acquiring some local renown; and then
the little shrewd conductor had had the grand idea of organised
professionalism. God bless my soul! The thing was an epic, or ought to
be! They really could sing. They really had voices. And they would
not “demean” themselves to cheapness. All their eyes said: “This is
no music-hall foolery. This is uncompromisingly high-class, and if
you don’t like it you ought to be ashamed of yourselves!” They sang
part-song music, from “Sweet and Low” to a “Lohengrin” chorus. And with
a will, with finesse, with a pianissimo over which the endless drone
of the electric fan could be clearly distinguished, and a fine, free
fortissimo that would have enchanted Wagner! They brought the house down
every time. They might have rendered encores till midnight, but for my
deity in Shaftesbury Avenue. It was the “folk” themselves giving back to
the folk in the form of art the very life of the folk.

*****

[Illustration: 0377]

But the most touching instances of this giving-back was furnished by the
lady clog-dancer. Hanridge used to be the centre of a land of clogs.
Hundreds of times I have wakened in winter darkness to the sound of
clogs on slushy pavements. And when I think of clogs I think of the
knocker-up, and hurried fire-lighting, and tea and thick bread, and the
icy draught from the opened front door, and the factory gates, and the
terrible timekeeper therein, and his clock: all the military harshness
of industrialism grimly accepted. Few are the clogs now in Hanbridge.
The girls wear paper boots, for their health’s sake, and I don’t know
what the men wear. Clogs have nearly gone out of life. But at the
Hanbridge Empire they had reappeared in an art highly conventionalised.
The old clog-dancing, begun in public-houses, was realistic, and was done
by people who the next morning would clatter to work in clogs. But this
pretty, simpering girl had never worn a clog seriously. She had never
regarded a clog as a cheap and lasting protection against wind and rain,
but as a contrivance that you had to dance in. I daresay she rose at
eleven a.m. She had a Cockney accent. She would not let her clogs make
a noise. She minced in clogs. It was no part of her scheme to lose her
breath. And yet I doubt not that she constituted a romantic ideal for
the young male twopences, with her clogs that had reached her natty feet
from the original hack streets of, say, Stockport. As I lumbered home in
the electric car, besieged by printed requests from the tram company
not on any account to spit, I could not help thinking and thinking, in a
very trite way, that art is a wonderful thing.



II--THE MYSTERIOUS PEOPLE

According to Whitaker’s Almanac, there are something under a million of
them actually at work, which means probably that the whole race numbers
something over two millions. And, speaking broadly, no one knows
anything about them. The most modern parents, anxious to be parental in
a scientific manner, will explain to their children on the hearth the
chemistry of the fire, showing how the coal releases again the carbon
which was absorbed by the plant in a past age, and so on, to the end
that the children may learn to understand the order of the universe.

This I have seen. But I have never seen parents explaining to their
children on the hearth the effect of coal-getting on the family life of
the collier, to the end that the children might learn to understand the
price of coal in sweat, blood, and tears. The householder is interested
only in the other insignificant part of the price of coal. And this
is odd, for the majority of householders are certainly not monsters
of selfish and miserly indifference to the human factor in economics.
Nor--I have convinced myself, though with difficulty--are the members of
the House of Lords. Yet among all the speeches against the Miners’ Eight
Hours Bill in this Chamber where beats the warm, generous heart of Lord
Halsbury, I do not remember one which mentioned the real price of coal.
Even the members of the sublime Coal Consumers’ League, though phantoms,
cannot be phantoms without bowels. But has the League ever issued one
leaflet dealing with the psychology of the collier’s wife as affected by
notions of fire-damp? I doubt it.

*****

Even artists have remained unstirred by the provocative mystery of this
subterranean race, which perspires with a pick, not only beneath our
cellars, but far beneath the caves of the sea itself. A working miner,
Joseph Skipsey, had to write the one verse about this race which has had
vigour enough to struggle into the anthologies. The only novel handling
in the grand manner this tremendous and bizarre theme is Emile Zola’s
“Germinal.” And, though it is a fine novel, though it is honest and
really impressive, there are shallows in the mighty stream of its
narrative, and its climax is marred by a false sentimentality, which is
none the less sentimentality for being sensual. Not a great novel, but
nearly great; as the child’s ring was “nearly gold.” And in English
fiction what is there but “Miss Grace of All Souls,” a wistful and
painstaking book, with pages which extort respect, but which no power
can save from oblivion? And in the fine arts, is there anything but
pretty coloured sentimentalities of hopeless dawns at pit-heads? Well,
there is! Happily there are Constantin Meunier’s sculptures of miners at
work--compositions over which oblivion will have no power. But I think
this is all.

Journalistic reporting of great tragic events is certainly much better
than it used to be, when the phraseology of the reporter was as rigidly
fixed by convention as poetic phraseology in the eighteenth century. The
special correspondent is now much more of an artist, because he is
much more free. But he is handicapped by the fact that when he does his
special work really well, he is set to doing special work always, and
lives largely among abnormal and affrighting phenomena, and so his
sensibility is dulled. Moreover, there are valuable effects and
impressions which the greatest genius on earth could not accomplish in a
telegraph office. But did you ever see the lives or the swift deaths of
the mysterious people treated, descriptively by an imaginative writer
in a monthly review? I noted recently with pleasure that the American
magazines, characteristically alert, have awakened to the possibilities
of the mysterious people as material for serious work in the more
leisurely journalism. The last tremendous accident in the United States
produced at any rate one careful and fairly adequate study of the
psychology of the principal figures in it, and of the drama which a
bundle of burning hay originated.

Even if I did not share the general incurious apathy towards the
mysterious people, I should not blame that apathy, for it is so
widespread that there must be some human explanation of it; my object
is merely to point it out. But I share it. I lived half my life among
coalpits. I never got up in the morning without seeing the double wheels
at a neighbouring pit-head spin silently in opposite directions for a
time, and then stop, and then begin again. I was accustomed to see coal
and ironstone, not in tons, but in thousands of tons. I have been close
to colliery disasters so enormous that the ambitious local paper would
make special reporters of the whole of its staff, and give up to the
affair the whole of its space, save a corner for the betting news. My
district lives half by earthenware and half by mining. I have often
philandered with pot-workers, but I have never felt a genuine, active
curiosity about the mysterious people. I have never been down a coalpit,
though the galleries are now white-washed and lighted by electricity. It
has never occurred to me to try to write a novel about the real price of
coal.

*****

And yet how powerfully suggestive the glimpses I have had! Down there,
on my heath, covered with a shuttle-work of trams, you may get on to
a car about four o’clock in the afternoon to pay a visit, and you
may observe a handful of silent, formidable men in the car, a
greyish-yellowish-black from head to foot. Like Eugene Stratton, they
are black everywhere, except the whites of their eyes. You ask yourself
what these begrimed creatures that touch nothing without soiling it are
doing abroad at four o’clock in the afternoon, seeing that men are not
usually unyoked till six.

They have an uncanny air, especially when you reflect that there is not
one arm among them that could not stretch you out with one blow. Then
you remember that they have been buried in geological strata probably
since five o’clock that morning, and that the sky must look strange to
them.

Or you may be walking in the appalling outskirts, miles from town halls
and free libraries, but miles also from flowers, and you may see a whole
procession of these silent men, encrusted with carbon and perspiration,
a perfect pilgrimage of them, winding its way over a down where the
sparse grass is sooty and the trees are withered. And then you feel
that you yourself are the exotic stranger in those regions. But the
procession absolutely ignores you. You might not exist. It goes on,
absorbed, ruthless, and sinister. Your feeling is that if you got in its
path it would tramp right over you. And it passes out of sight.

Around, dotting the moors, are the mining villages, withdrawn,
self-centred, where the entire existence of the community is regulated
by a single steam-siren, where good fortune and ill-fortune are common,
and where the disaster of one is the disaster of all. Little is known
of the life of these villages and townlets--known, that is, by people
capable of imaginative external sympathetic comprehension. And herein is
probably a reason why the mysterious people remain so mysterious. They
live physically separated. A large proportion of them never mingle
with the general mass. They are not sufficiently seen of surface-men to
maintain curiosity concerning them. They keep themselves to themselves,
and circumstances so keep them. Only at elections do they seem to
impinge in powerful silence on the destinies of the nation.

I have visited some of these villages. I have walked over the moors to
them with local preachers, and heard them challenge God. I have talked
to doctors and magistrates about them, and acquired the certainty,
vague and yet vivid, that in religion, love, work, and debauch they are
equally violent and splendid. It needs no insight to perceive that they
live nearer even than sailors to that central tract of emotion where
life and death meet. But I have never sympathetically got near them. And
I don’t think I ever shall.

Once I was talking to a man whose father, not himself a miner, had been
the moral chieftain of one of these large villages, the individuality
to which everyone turned in doubt or need. And I was getting this man to
untap the memories of his childhood. “Eh!” he said, “I remember how th’
women used to come to my mother sometimes of a night, and beg, ‘Mrs. B.,
an’ ye got any old white shirts to spare? They’re bringing ’em up, and
we mun lay ’em out!’ And I remember--” But just then he had to leave
me, and I obtained no more. But what a glimpse!



III--FIRST VOYAGE TO THE ISLE OF MAN

It seemed solid enough. I leaned for an instant over the rail on the
quarter away from the landing-stage, and there, at the foot of the
high precipice formed by the side of the vessel, was the wavy water.
A self-important, self-confident man standing near me lighted a black
cigar of unseemly proportions, and threw the match into the water. The
match was lost at once in the waves, which far below beat up futilely
against the absolutely unmoved precipice. I had never been on such a
large steamer before. I said to myself: “This is all right.”

However, that was not the moment to go into ecstasies over the solidity
of the steamer. I had to secure a place for myself. Hundreds of people
on the illimitable deck were securing places for themselves. And many
of them were being aided by porters or mariners. The number of people
seemed to exceed the number of seats; it certainly exceeded the number
of nice sheltered corners. I picked up my portmanteau with one hand
and my bag and my sticks and my rug with the other. Then I dropped
the portmanteau. A portmanteau has the peculiar property of possessing
different weights. You pick it up in your bedroom, and it seems a
feather. You say to yourself: “I can carry that easily--save tips to
porters.” But in a public place its weight changes for the worse with
every yard you walk. At twenty yards it weighs half a ton. At forty
yards no steam-crane could support it. You drop it. Besides, the
carrying of it robs your movements of all grace and style. Well, I
had carried that bag myself from the cab to the steamer, across the
landing-stage, and up the gangway. Economy! I had spent a shilling on a
useless magazine, and I grudged three pence to a porter with a wife and
family! I was wearing a necktie whose price represented the upkeep of
the porter and his wife and family for a full twenty-four hours, and yet
I wouldn’t employ the porter to the tune of threepence. Economy! These
thoughts flashed through my head with the rapidity of lightning.

You see, I could not skip about for a deck-chair with that portmanteau
in my hand. But if I left it lying on the deck, which was like a street...
well, thieves, professional thieves, thieves who specialise in
departing steamers! They nip off with your things while you are looking
for a chair; the steamer bell sounds; and there you are! Nevertheless, I
accepted the horrid risk and left all my belongings in the middle of the
street.

*****

Not a free chair, not a red deck-chair, not a corner! There were seats
by the rail at one extremity of the boat, and at the other extremity
of the boat, but no chair to be had. Thousands of persons reclining
in chairs, and thousands of others occupied by bags, fugs, and
bonnet-boxes, but no empty chair.

“Want a deck-chair, governor?” a bearded mariner accosted me.

[Illustration: 0389]

Impossible to conceal from him that I did. But, being perhaps the ship’s
carpenter, was he going to manufacture a chair for me on the spot? I
knew not how he did it, but in about thirty seconds he produced a chair
out of the entrails of the ship, and fixed it for me in a beautiful
situation, just forward of the funnel, and close to a charming young
woman, and a little deck-house in front for protection! It was exactly
what I wanted; the most stationary part of the entire vessel.

Sixpence! Economy! Still, I couldn’t give him less. Moreover, I only had
two pence in coppers.

“What will the voyage be like?” I asked him with false jollity, as he
touched his cap.

“Grand, sir!” he replied enthusiastically.

Yes, and if I had given him a shilling the voyage would have been the
most magnificent and utterly perfect voyage that ship ever made.

No sooner was I comfortably installed in that almost horizontal
deck-chair than I was aware of a desire to roam about, watch the
casting-off and the behaviour of the poor stay-at-home crowd on the
landing-stage; a very keen desire. But I would not risk the portmanteau
again. Nothing should part us till the gangways were withdrawn. Absurd,
of course! Human nature is absurd.... I caught the charming young
woman’s eye about a dozen times. The ship got fuller and fuller. With
mean and paltry joy I perceived other passengers seeking for chairs and
not finding them, and I gazed at them with haughty superiority. Then a
fiendish, an incredible, an appalling screech over my head made me
jump in a silly way quite unworthy of a man who is reclining next to
a charming young woman, and apt to prejudice him in her eyes. It was
merely the steamer announcing that we were off. I. sprang up, trying to
make the spring seem part of the original jump. I looked. And lo! The
whole landing-stage with all the people and horses and cabs was moving
backwards, floating clean away; while the enormous ship stood quite
still! A most singular effect!

*****

In a minute we were in the middle of the river, and my portmanteau was
safe. I left it in possession of the chair.

The next strange phenomenon of my mental condition was an extraordinary
curiosity in regard to the ship. I had to explore it. I had to learn all
about it. I began counting the people on the deck, but soon after I had
come to the man with the unseemly black cigar I lost count. Then I went
downstairs. There seemed to be staircases all over the place. You could
scarcely move without falling down a staircase. And I came to another
deck also full of people and bags, and fitted with other staircases
that led still lower. And on the sloping ceiling of one of these lower
staircases I saw the Board of Trade certificate of the ship. A most
interesting document. It gave the tonnage as 2,000, and the legal
number of passengers as about the same; and it said there were over two
thousand life-belts on board, and room on the eight boats for I don’t
remember how many shipwrecked voyagers. It even gave the captain’s
Christian name. You might think that this would slake my curiosity. But,
no! It urged me on. Lower down--somewhere near the caverns at the bottom
of the sea, I came across marble halls, upholstered in velvet, where at
snowy tables people were unconcernedly eating steaks and drinking tea. I
said to myself “At such and such an hour I will come down here and have
tea. It will break the monotony of the voyage.” Looking through the
little round windows of the restaurant I saw strips of flying green.

Then I thought: “The engines!” And somehow the word “reciprocating” came
into my mind. I really must go and see the engines reciprocate. I had
never seen anything reciprocate, except possibly my Aunt Hilda at the
New Year, when she answered my letter of good wishes. I discovered that
many other persons had been drawn down towards the engine-room by the
attraction of the spectacle of reciprocity. And as a spectacle it was
assuredly majestic, overwhelming, and odorous. I must learn the exact
number of times those engines reciprocated in a minute, and I took out
my watch for the purpose. Other gazers at once did the same. It seemed
to be a matter of the highest importance that we should know the precise
speed of those engines. Then I espied a large brass plate which appeared
to have been affixed to the engine room in order to inform the engineers
that the ship was built by Messrs. Macconochie and Sons, of Dumbarton.
Why Dumbarton? Why not Halifax? And why must this precious information
always be staring the engineers in the face? I wondered whether “Sons”
 were married, and, if so, what the relations were between Sons’ wives
and old Mrs. Macconochie. Then, far down, impossibly far down, furlongs
beneath those gesticulating steely arms, I saw a coalpit on fire and
demons therein with shovels. And all of a sudden it occurred to me that
I might as well climb up again to my own special deck.

*****

I did so. The wind blew my hat off, my hat ran half-way up the street
before I could catch it. I caught it and clung to the rail. We were
just passing a lightship; the land was vague behind; in front there was
nothing but wisps of smoke here and there. Then I saw a fishing-smack,
tossing like anything; its bows went down into the sea and then jerked
themselves fairly out of the sea, and this process went on and on
and on. And although I was not aboard the smack, it disconcerted me.
However, I said to myself, “How glad I am to be on a nice firm steamer,
instead of on that smack!” I looked at my watch again. We seemed to
have been away from England about seven days, but it was barely
three-quarters of an hour. The offensive man with the cigar went
swaggering by. And then a steward came up out of the depths of the sea
with a tray full of glasses of beer, and a group of men lolling in deck
chairs started to drink this beer. I cared not for the sight. I said
to myself, “I will go and sit down.” And as I stepped forward the deck
seemed to sink away ever so slightly. A trifle! Perhaps a delusion on
my part! Surely nothing so solid as that high road of a deck could
sink away! Having removed my portmanteau from my chair, I sat down. The
charming girl was very pale, with eyes closed. Possibly asleep I Many
people had the air of being asleep. Every chair was now occupied. Still,
dozens of boastful persons were walking to and fro, pretending to have
the easy sea-legs of Lord Charles Beresford. The man with the atrocious
cigar (that is, another atrocious cigar) swung by. Hateful individual!
“You wait a bit!” I said to him (in my mind). “You’ll see!”

I, too, shut my eyes, keeping very still. A grand voyage! Certainly, a
grand voyage! Then I woke up. I had been asleep. It was tea-time. But
I would not have descended to that marble restaurant for ten thousand
pounds. For the first time I was indifferent to tea in the afternoon.
However, after another quarter of an hour, I had an access of courage.
I rose. I walked to the rail. The horizon was behaving improperly. I
saw that I had made a mistake. But I dared not move. To move would have
been death. I clung to the rail. There was my chair five yards off, but
as inaccessible as if it had been five miles off. Years passed. Pale I
must have been, but I retained my dignity. More years rolled by. Then,
by accident, I saw what resembled a little cloud on the horizon.

It was the island! The mere sight of the island gave me hope and
strength, and cheek.

In half an hour--you will never guess it--I was lighting a cigarette,
partly for the benefit of the charming young woman, and partly to show
that offensive man with the cigars that he was not the Shah of Persia.
He had not suffered. Confound him!



IV--THE ISLAND BOARDING-HOUSE

When you first take up your brief residence in the private hotel, as
they term it--though I believe it is still called boarding-house in
the plain-spoken island--your attitude towards your fellow-guests is
perfectly clear; I mean your secret attitude, of course. Your secret
attitude is that you have got among a queer and an unsympathetic set of
people. At the first meal--especially if it be breakfast--you glance at
them all one by one out of the corners of your eyes, and in that shrewd
way of yours you add them up (being a more than average experienced
judge of human nature), and you come to the conclusion that you have
seldom, if ever, encountered such a series of stupid and harsh faces.
The men seem heavy, if not greedy, and sunk in mental sloth. And,
really, the women might have striven a little harder to avoid resembling
guys. After all, it is the duty of educated people not to offend the
gaze of their fellow-creatures. And as for eating, do these men, in
fact, live for naught but eating? Here are perhaps fifty or sixty
immortal souls, and their unique concern, their united concern, seems to
be the gross satisfaction of the body. Perhaps they do not have enough
to eat at home, you reflect ironically. And you also reflect that some
people, when they have contracted for bed and full board at so much per
day, become absolutely lost to all sense of scruple, all sense of what
is nice, and would, if they could, eat the unfortunate landlord
right into the bankruptcy court. Look at that man there, near the
window--doubtless, he obtained his excellent place near the window
by the simple, colonizing method of grabbing it--well, he has already
apportioned to himself four Manx herrings, and now, with his mouth full,
he is mumbling about eggs and flesh meat.

[Illustration: 0397]

And then their conversation! How dull!--how lacking in point, in
originality! These unhappy people appear to have in their heads no ideas
that are not either trivial, tedious, or merely absurd. They do not
appear to be interested in any matters that could interest a reasonable
man. They babble, saying over and over again the same things. Or if they
do not babble they giggle, or they may do both, which is worse;
and, indeed, the uproarious way in which some of them laugh, upon no
sufficient provocation, is disagreeable, especially in a woman. Or, if
they neither babble, giggle, nor deafen the room with their outrageous
mirth, they sit glum, speaking not a word, glowering upon humanity. How
English that is--and how rude!

Commonplace--‘that is what these people are! It is not their fault, but
it is nevertheless a pity; and you resent it. Indubitably you are not in
a sympathetic environment; you are not among kindred spirits. You grow
haughty, within. When two late comers enter breezily and take seats near
to you, and one of them begins at once by remarking that he is going
to Port Erin for the day, and asks you if you know Port Erin, you reply
“No”; the fact being that you have visited Port Erin, but the fact also
being that you shirk the prospect of a sustained conversation with any
of these too commonplace, uncomprehending strangers.

[Illustration: 0401]

You rise and depart from the table, and you endeavour to make your exit
as majestic as possible; but there is a suspicion in your mind that your
exit is only sheepish.

You meet someone on the stairs, a woman less like a guy than those you
have seen, and still youthful. As you are going upstairs and she is
coming down, and the two of you are staying in the same house,
you wonder whether it would not be well to greet her. A simple
“Good-morning.” You argue about this in your head for some ten years--it
is only in reality three seconds, but it seems eternal. You feel it
would be nice to say good-morning to her. But at the critical point, at
the psychological moment, a hard feeling comes into your heart, and a
glazed blind look into your eyes, and you glance away. You perceive
that she is staring straight in front of her; you perceive that she is
deliberately cutting you. And so the two of you pass like ships in the
night, and yet not quite like ships in the night, because ships do not
hate, detest, and despise.

You go out into the sunshine (if sunshine there happens to be), between
the plash of the waves and the call of the boatman on the right hand,
and the front doors of all the other boarding-houses on the left,
and you see that the other boarding-houses are frequented by a
much superior, smarter, more intelligent, better-mannered set of
pleasure-seekers than yours. You feel by a sure premonition that you are
in for a dull time.

*****

Nothing occurs for about forty-eight terrible hours, during which time,
with the most strict propriety, you behave as though the other people in
the boarding-house did not exist. On several occasions you have meant to
exchange a few words with this individual or that, but this individual
or that has not been encouraging, has made no advance. And you are the
last person to risk a rebuff. You are sensitive, like all fine minds, to
a degree which this coarse clay in the boarding-house cannot conceive.

Then one afternoon something occurs. It usually does occur in the
afternoon. You are in the tram-car. About ten others are in the
tram-car. And among them you notice the man who put a pistol to your
head at the first meal and asked you if you knew Port Erin; also the
young woman who so arrogantly pretended that she did not see you on the
stairs. They are together. You had an idea they were together in the
boarding-house; but you were not sure, because they seldom arrived in
the dining-room together, or left it together, and both of them did a
great deal of talking to other people. Of course, you might have
asked, but the matter did not interest you; besides, you hate to seem
inquisitive. He is considerably older than she is; a hale, jolly,
red-faced, grey bearded man, who probably finds it easier to catch sight
of his watch-chain than of his toes. She is slim, and a little arch. If
she is his wife the difference between their ages is really excessive.

The car in its passage gradually empties until there is nobody in it
save you and the conductor on the platform and these two inside. And
a minute before it reaches the end of its journey the man opens his
cigar-case, and preparing a cigar for the sacrificial burning, strolls
along the car to the platform.

“We’re the last on the car,” he says, between two puffs, and not very
articulately.

“Yes,” you say. It is indubitable that you are the last on the car.
You needed nobody to tell you that. Still, the information gives you
pleasure, and the fellow is rather jolly. So you add, amiably, “I
suppose it’s these electric motors that are giving the tram-cars beans.”

He laughs. He evidently thinks you have expressed yourself in an amusing
manner.

And inspecting the scarlet end of his cigar, he says in a low voice:
“I hope you’re right. I’ve just bought a packet of shares in that motor
company.”

“Really!” you exclaim. So he is a shareholder, a member of the investing
public! You are impressed. Instantly you imagine him as a very wealthy
man who knows how to look after his money, and who has a hawk’s eye for
“a good thing.” You wish you had loose money that would enable you to
pick up a casual “packet of shares” here and there.

The car stops. The lady gets out. You raise your hat; it is the least
you can do. Instead of pretending that you are empty air, she smiles on
you charmingly, almost anxiously polite (perhaps she wants to make up
for having cut you on the stairs), and offers you some remark about the
weather, a banal remark, but so prettily enveloped in tissue paper and
tied with pink ribbon, that you treasure it.

Your common home is only fifty yards off. Obviously you must reach it in
company.

“My daughter here--” the grey-bearded man begins a remark.

So she is his daughter. Rather interesting. You talk freely, exposing
all the most agreeable and polite side of your disposition.

*****

While preparing for dinner you reflect with satisfaction and joy that
at last you are on friendly terms with somebody in the house. You
anticipate the dinner with eagerness. You regard the father and daughter
somewhat as palm trees in the desert. During dinner you talk to them
a great deal, and insensibly you find yourself exchanging remarks with
other guests.

They are not so bad as they seemed, perhaps. Anyhow, one ought to make
the best of things.

*****

A whisky that night with the father! In the course of the whisky
you contrive to let him gather that you, too, keep an eye on the
share-market, and that you have travelled a great deal. In another
twenty-four hours you are perfectly at home in the boarding-house,
greeting people all over the place, and even stopping on the stairs to
converse. Rather a jolly house! Really, some very decent people here,
indeed! Of course there are also some with whom the ice is never broken.
To the end you and they glaringly and fiercely pretend to be blind when
you meet. You reconcile yourself to this; you harden yourself. As
for new-comers, you wish they would not be so stiff and so absurdly
aristocratic. You take pity on them, poor things!

But father and daughter remain your chief stand-by. They overstay you
(certainly unlimited wealth), and they actually have the delightful idea
of seeing you off at the station. You part on terms that are effusive.
You feel you have made friends for life--and first-class friends. You
are to meet them again; you have sworn it.

By the time you get home you have forgotten all about them.



V--TEN HOURS AT BLACKPOOL

Manchester is a right place to start from. And the vastness of Victoria
Station--more like London than any other phenomenon in Manchester--with
its score of platforms, and its subways romantically lighted by red
lamps and beckoning pale hands, and its crowds eternally surging up
and down granitic flights of stairs---the vastness of this roaring spot
prepares you better than anything else could for the dimensions and
the loudness of your destination. The Blackpool excursionists fill
the twelfth platform from end to end, waiting with bags and baskets: a
multitude of well-marked types, some of the men rather violently smart
as to their socks and neckties, but for the most part showing that
defiant disregard of appearances which is perhaps the worst trait of
the Midland character. The women seem particularly unattractive in their
mack-intoshed blousiness--so much so that the mere continuance of the
race is a proof that they must possess secret qualities which render
them irresistible; they evidently consult their oculists to the neglect
of their dentists: which is singular, and would be dangerous to the
social success of any other type of woman.

“I never _did_ see such a coal-cellar, not in all my days!” exclaims one
lady, apparently outraged by sights seen in house-hunting.

And a middle-aged tradesman (or possibly he was an insurance agent)
remarks: “What I say is--the man who doesn’t appreciate sterling
generosity--is no man!”

Such fragments of conversation illustrate the fine out-and-out
idiosyncrasy of the Midlands.

The train comes forward like a victim, and in an instant is captured,
and in another instant is gone, leaving an empty platform. These people
ruthlessly know what they want. And for miles and many miles the train
skims over canals, and tram-cars, and yards, and back-streets, and at
intervals you glimpse a young woman with her hair in pins kneeling in
sack-cloth to wash a grimy doorstep. And you feel convinced that in
an hour or two, when she has “done,” that young woman, too, will be in
Blackpool; or, if not she, at any rate her sister. *****

The station of arrival is enormous; and it is as though all the
passenger rolling-stock of the entire country had had an important
rendezvous there. And there are about three cabs. This is not the town
of cabs. On every horizon you see floating terrific tramcars which seat
ninety people and which ought to be baptised Lusitania and Baltic.
You wander with your fellow men down a long street of cookshops with
calligraphic and undecipherable menus, and at every shopdoor is a
loud-tongued man to persuade you that his is the gate of paradise and
the entrance to the finest shilling dinner in Blackpool. But you have
not the courage of his convictions; though you would like to partake of
the finest shilling dinner, you dare not, with your southern stomach in
rebellion against you. You slip miserably into the Hotel Majestic,
and glide through many Lincrusta-Walton passages to an immense, empty
smoking-room, where there is one barmaid and one waiter. You dare not
even face the bar.... In the end the waiter chooses your _apéritif_ for
you, and you might be in London. The waiter, agreeably embittered by
existence, tells you all about everything.

“This hotel used to be smaller,” he says. “A hundred and twenty. A nice
select party, you know. Now it’s all changed. Our better-class clients
have taken houses at St. Anne’s.. . . Jews! I should say so! Two hundred
and fifty out of three hundred in August. Some of ‘em all right, of
course, but they try to own the place. They come in for tea, or it may
be a small ginger with plenty of lemon and ice, and when they’ve had
that they’ve had their principal drink for the day.. . . The lift is
altered from hydraulic to electricity. . . years ago. . .”

Meanwhile a client who obviously knows his way about has taken
possession of the bar and the barmaid.

“I’ve changed my frock, you see,” says she.

“Changed it down here?” he demands.

“Yes. Well, I’ve been ironing. . . Oh! You monkey!”

In a mirror you catch her delicately chucking him under the chin. And,
feeling that this kind of thing is not special to Blackpool, that it
in fact might happen anywhere, you decide that it is time to lunch and
leave the oasis of the Majestic and confront Blackpool once more.

*****

The Fair Ground is several miles off, and on the way are three piers,
loaded with toothless young women flirting, and with middle-aged
women diligently crocheting or knitting. Millions of stitches must
be accomplished to every waltz that the bands play; and perhaps every
second a sock is finished. But you may not linger on any pier. There
is the longest sea-promenade in Europe to be stepped. As you leave the
shopping quarter and undertake the vista of ten thousand boarding-house
windows (in each of which is a white table full of knives and forks and
sauce-bottles) you are enheartened by a banneret curving in the breeze
with these words: “Flor de Higginbotham. The cigar that you come back
for. 2d.” You know that you will, indeed, come back for it.. . . At
last, footsore, amid a maze of gliding trams, your vision dizzy with the
passing and re-passing of trams, you arrive at the Fair Ground. And the
first thing you see is a woman knitting on a campstool as she guards
the booth of a spiritualistic medium. The next is a procession of people
each carrying a doormat and climbing up the central staircase of a huge
lighthouse, and another procession of people, each sitting on a doormat
and sliding down a corkscrew shoot that encircles the lighthouse. Why
a lighthouse? A gigantic simulation of a bottle of Bass would have been
better.

The scenic railway and the switchback surpass all previous dimensions in
their kind. Some other method of locomotion is described as “half a mile
of jolly fun.” And the bowl-slide is “a riot of joy.”

“Joy” is the key-word of the Fair Ground. You travel on planks over
loose, unkempt sand, and under tethered circling Maxim aeroplanes, from
one joy to the next. In the House of Nonsense, “joy reigns supreme.”
 Giggling also reigns supreme. The “human spider,” with a young woman’s
face, is a source of joy, and guaranteed by a stentorian sailor to be
alive. Another genuine source of joy is “‘Dante’s Inferno’ up to date.”
 Another enormous booth, made mysterious, is announced as “the home of
superior enjoyments.” Near by is the abode of the two-headed giant, as
to whom it is shouted upon oath that “he had a brother which lived
to the height of twelve foot seven.” Then you come to the destructive
section, offering joy still more vivid. Here by kicking a football
you may destroy images of your fellow men. Or--exquisitely democratic
invention--you can throw deadly missiles at life-sized dolls that fly
round and round in life-sized motor-cars: genius is, in fact, abroad on
the Fair Ground.

All this is nothing compared to the joy-wheel, certainly the sublimest
device for getting money and giving value for it that a student of human
nature ever hit upon. You pay threepence for admittance into the booth
of the joy-wheel, and upon entering you are specially informed that you
need not practise the joy-wheel unless you like; it is your privilege to
sit and watch. Having sat down, there is no reason why you should ever
get up again, so diverting is the spectacle of a crowd of young men and
boys clinging to each other on a large revolving floor and endeavouring
to defy the centrifugal force. Every time a youth is flung against the
cushions at the side you grin, and if a thousand youths were thrown off,
your thousandth grin would be as hearty as the first. The secret thought
of every spectator is that a mixture of men and maidens would be even
more amusing. A bell rings, and the floor is cleared, and you anticipate
hopefully, but the word is for children only, and you are somewhat
dashed, though still inordinately amused. Then another bell, and you
hope again, and the word is for ladies only. The ladies rush on to
the floor with a fearful alacrity, and are flung rudely off it by an
unrespecting centrifugal force (which alone the attendant, acrobatic
and stately, can dominate); they slide away in all postures, head over
heels, shrieking, but the angel of decency seems to watch over their
skirts.. . . And at length the word is for ladies and gentlemen
together, and the onslaught is frantic. The ladies and gentlemen, to
the number of a score or so, clutch at each other, making a bouquet
of trousers and petticoats in the centre of the floor. The revolutions
commence, and gain in rapidity, and couple after couple is shot off,
yelling, to the periphery. They enjoy it. Oh! They enjoy it! The ladies,
abandoning themselves to dynamic law, slither away with closed eyes and
muscles relaxed in a voluptuous languor. And then the attendant, braving
the peril of the wheel, leaps to the middle, and taking a lady in his
arms, exhibits to the swains how it is possible to keep oneself in the
centre and keep one’s damsel there too. And then, with a bow, he hands
the lady back to her lawful possessor. Nothing could be more English, or
more agreeable, than the curious contradiction of frank abandonment and
chaste simplicity which characterises this extraordinary exhibition.
It is a perfect revelation of the Anglo-Saxon temperament, and would
absolutely baffle any one of Latin race.. . . You leave here because you
must; you tear yourself away and return to the limitless beach, where
the sea is going nonchalantly about its business just as if human
progress had not got as far as the joy-wheel.

*****

After you have gone back for the cigar, and faced the question of the
man on the kerb, “Who says Blackpool rock?” and eaten high tea in a
restaurant more gilded than the Trocadero, and visited the menagerie,
and ascended to the top of the Tower in order to be badgered by rather
nice girl-touts with a living to make and a powerful determination to
make it, and seen the blue turn to deep purple over the sea, you reach
at length the dancing-halls, which are the justification of Blackpool’s
existence. Blackpool is an ugly town, mean in its vastness, but its
dancing-halls present a beautiful spectacle. You push your way up
crowded stairs into crowded galleries, where the attendants are
persuasive as with children--“_Please_ don’t smoke here”--and you see
the throng from Victoria Station and a thousand other stations in
its evening glory of drooping millinery and fragile blouses, though
toothless as ever. You see it in a palatial and enormous setting of
crystal and gold under a ceiling like the firmament. And you struggle to
the edge and look over, and see, beneath, the glittering floor covered
with couples in a strange array of straw hats and caps, and knickers,
and tennis shoes, and scarcely a glove among the five hundred of them.
Only the serio-comic M.C., with a delicately waved wand, conforms to the
fashion of London. He has his hands full, has that M.C., as he trips
to and fro, calling, with a curious stress and pause: “One--more couple
please! One--more couple please!” And then the music pulsates--does
really pulsate--and releases the multitude.. . . It is a sight to
stir emotion. The waltz is even better. And then beings perched in the
loftiest corners of the roof shoot coloured rays upon the floor, and
paper snow begins to fall, and confetti to fly about, and eyes to soften
and allure.. . .

And all around are subsidiary halls, equally resplendent, where people
are drinking, or lounging, or flirting, or gloating over acrobats,
monkeys and ballerinas. The tiger roars, the fountain tinkles, the corks
go pop, the air is alive with music and giggling, the photographer cries
his invitation, and everywhere there is the patter of animated feet and
the contagion of a barbaric and honest gaiety.

Brains and imagination are behind this colossal phenomenon. For sixpence
you can form part of it; for sixpence you can have delight, if you are
young and simple and lusty enough. This is the huge flower that
springs from the horrid bed of the factory system. Human creatures are
half-timers for this; they are knocked up at 5.30 a.m. in winter for
this; they go on strike for this; they endure for eleven months and
three weeks for this. They all earn their living by hard and repulsive
work, and here they are in splendour! They will work hard at joy till
they drop from exhaustion. You can see men and women fast asleep on the
plush, supporting each other’s heads in the attitudes of affection. The
railway stations and the night-trains are waiting for these.



THE BRITISH HOME--1908



I--AN EVENING AT THE SMITHS’

Mr. Smith returns to his home of an evening at 6:30. Mr. Smith’s home
is in a fairly long street, containing some dozens of homes exactly
like Mr. Smith’s. It has a drawing-room and a dining-room, two or three
bedrooms, and one or two attics, also a narrow hall (with stained glass
in the front door), a kitchen, a bathroom, a front garden, and a back
garden. It has a service of gas and of water, and excellent drains. The
kitchen range incidentally heats the water for the bathroom, so that
the bath water is hottest at about noon on Sundays, when nobody, wants
it, and coldest first thing in the morning, and last thing at night,
when everybody wants it. (This is a detail. The fact remains that when
hot water is really required it can always be had by cooking a joint of
beef.)

The house and its two gardens are absolutely private. The front garden
is made private by iron rails; its sole purposes are to withdraw the
house a little from the road and to enable the servant to fill up
her spare time by washing tiles. The back garden is made private
by match-boarding. The house itself is made private by a mysterious
substance unsurpassed as a conductor of sound.

Mr. Smith’s home is adequately furnished. There may be two beds in a
room, but each person has a bed. Carpets are everywhere; easy chairs and
a sofa do not lack; linen is sufficient; crockery is plenteous. As for
cutlery, Mr. Smith belongs to the only race in the world which allows
itself a fresh knife and fork to each course of a meal. The drawing-room
is the best apartment and the least used. It has a piano, but, as
the drawingroom fire is not a constant phenomenon, pianists can
only practise with regularity and comfort during four months of the
year--hence, perhaps, a certain mediocrity of performance.

Mr. Smith sits down to tea in the dining-room. According to fashionable
newspapers, tea as a square meal has quite expired in England. On six
days a week, however, tea still constitutes the chief repast in about
99 per cent, of English homes. At the table are Mrs. Smith and three
children--John, aged 25; Mary, aged 22; and Harry, aged 15. For I must
inform you that Mr. Smith is 50, and his wife is very near 50. Mr. Smith
gazes round at his home, his wife, and his children. He has been at work
in the world for 34 years, and this spectacle is what he has to show
for his labour. It is his reward. It is the supreme result. He hurries
through his breakfast, and spends seven industrious hours at the works
in order that he may have tea nicely with his own family in his own home
of a night.

Well, the food is wholesome and sufficient, and they are all neat and
honest, and healthy--except Mrs. Smith, whose health is not what it
ought to be. Mr. Smith conceals his pride in his children, but the pride
is there. Impossible that he should not be proud! He has the right to be
proud. John is a personable young man, earning more and more every year.
Mary is charming in her pleasant blouse, and Harry is getting enormous,
and will soon be leaving school.

*****

This tea, which is the daily blossoming-time of the home that Mr. Smith
and his wife have constructed with 26 years’ continual effort, ought
to be a very agreeable affair. Surely the materials for pleasure are
present! But it does not seem to be a very agreeable meal. There is no
regular conversation. Everybody has the air of being preoccupied with
his own affairs. A long stretch of silence; then some chaffing or
sardonic remark by one child to another; then another silence; then a
monosyllable from Mr. Smith; then another silence.

No subject of wide interest is ever seriously argued at that table. No
discussion is ever undertaken for the sake of discussion. It has never
occurred to anyone named Smith that conversation in general is an art
and may be a diverting pastime, and that conversation at table is a
duty. Besides, conversation is nourished on books, and books are rarer
than teaspoons in that home. Further, at back of the excellent, honest,
and clean mind of every Smith is the notion that politeness is something
that one owes only to strangers.

When tea is over--and it is soon over--young John Smith silently departs
to another home, very like his own, in the next street but one. In that
other home is a girl whom John sincerely considers to be the pearl of
womanhood. In a few months John, inspired and aided by this pearl, will
embark in business for himself as constructor of a home.

Mary Smith wanders silently and inconspicuously into the drawing-room
(it being, as you know summer) and caresses the piano in an expectant
manner. John’s views as to the identity of the pearl of womanhood are
not shared by another young man who lives not very far off. This other
young man has no doubt whatever that the pearl of womanhood is precisely
Mary Smith (an idea which had never entered John’s head); and he comes
to see Mary every night, with the permission of her parents. The pair
are, in fact, engaged. Probably Mary opens the door for him, in which
case they go straight to the drawing-room. (One is glad to think that,
after all, the drawingroom is turning out useful.) Young Henry has
disappeared from human ken.

*****

Mr. Smith and wife remain in the dining-room, separated from each
other by a newspaper, which Mr. Smith is ostensibly reading. I say
“ostensibly,” for what Mr. Smith is really reading on the page of the
newspaper is this: “I shall have to give something to John, something
pretty handsome. Of course, there’s no question of a dowry with Mary,
but I shall have to give something handsome to her, too. And weddings
cost money. And I have no savings, except my insurance.” He keeps on
reading this in every column. It is true. He is still worried about
money, as he was 26 years ago. He has lived hard and honourably, ever
at strain, and never had a moment’s true peace of mind: once it was the
fear of losing his situation; now it is the fear of his business going
wrong; always it has been the tendency of expenditure to increase. The
fruit of his ancient immense desire to have Mrs. Smith is now ripe for
falling. The home which he and she have built is finished now, and is to
be disintegrated. And John and Mary are about to begin again what their
parents once began. I can almost hear Mr. Smith plaintively asking the
newspaper, as he thinks over the achieved enterprise of his home: Has it
been a success? Is it a success?



II--THE GREAT MANNERS QUESTION

Let us forget that it is a home. Let us conceive it as a small
collection of people living in the same house. They are together by
accident rather than by design, and they remain together rather
by inertia than by the fitness of things. Supposing that the adult
occupants of the average house had to begin domestic life again (I do
not speak of husbands and wives), and were effective^ free to choose
their companions, it is highly improbable that they would choose the
particular crew of; which they form part; it is practically certain
that they would not choose it in its entirety. However, there they are,
together, every day, every night, on a space of ground not perhaps more
than twenty feet by twenty feet--often less. To find room to separate a
little they live in layers, and it is the servant who is nearest heaven.
That is how you must look at them.

Now it is, broadly speaking, a universal characteristic of this strange
community that the members of it can depend upon each other in a crisis.
They are what is called “loyal” to an extraordinary degree. Let one of
them fall ill, and he can absolutely rely on tireless nursing.

Again, let one of them get into trouble, and his companions will stand
by him, and if they cannot, or will not, help him materially, they will,
at any rate, make sympathetic excuses for not doing so. Or let one
of them sutler a loss, and he will instantly be surrounded by all the
consolations that kindness can invent. Or let one of them be ill-spoken
of, and every individual of the community will defend him, usually with
heat, always with conviction.

*****

But I have drawn only the foul-weather picture. We come to the
fine-weather picture. Imagine a stranger from the moon, to whom I had
quite truthfully described the great qualities of this strange community
presided over by Mr. Smith--imagine him invisibly introduced into the
said community!

You can fancy the lunatic’s astonishment! Instead of heaven he would
decidedly consider that he had strayed into an armed camp, or into a
cage of porcupines. He would conclude, being a lunatic, that the members
of the community either hated each other, or at best suffered the sight
of each other only as a supreme act of toleration. He would hear surly
voices, curt demands, impolite answers; and if he did not hear amazing
silences it would be because you cannot physically hear a silence.

He would no doubt think that the truth was not in me. He would
remonstrate: “But you told me--”

Then I should justify myself: “In a crisis,’ I said, my dear gentleman
from the moon. I said nothing about ordinary daily life. Now you see
this well-favoured girl who has been nagging at her brother all through
tea because of some omission or commission--I can assure you that if,
for instance, her brother had typhoid fever that girl would nurse him
with the devotion of a saint. Similarly, if she lost her sweetheart
by death or breach of promise, he would envelope her in brotherly
affection.”

“How often does he have typhoid fever?” the lunatic might ask. “Once a
month?”

“Well,” I should answer, “he hasn’t had it yet. But if he had it--you
see!”

“And does she frequently get thrown over?”

“Oh, no! Her young man worships her. She is to be married next spring.
But if--”

“And so, while waiting for crises and disasters, they go on--like this?”

“Yes,” I should defend my fellow-terrestrials. “But you must not jump to
the conclusion that they are always like this. They can be just as nice
as anybody. They are perfectly charming, really.”

“Well, then,” he might inquire, “how do they justify this behaviour to
one another?”

“By the hazard of birth,” I should reply, “or by the equally great
hazard of marriage. With us, when you happen to have the same father and
mother, or even the same uncle, or when you happen to be married, it is
generally considered that you may abandon the forms of politeness and
the expressions of sympathy, and that you have an unlimited right of
criticism.”

“I should have thought precisely the contrary,” he would probably say,
being a lunatic.

The lunatic having been allowed to depart, I should like to ask the
Smiths--middle-aged Mr. Smith and Mrs. Smith--a question somewhat in
these terms: “What is the uppermost, the most frequent feeling in your
minds about this community which you call ‘home’? You needn’t tell me
that you love it, that it is the dearest place on earth, that no other
place could ever have quite the same, etc., etc. I know all about that.
I admit it. Is not your uppermost, commonest feeling a feeling that it
is rather a tedious, tiresome place, and that the human components of
it are excellent persons, but. . . and that really you have had a great
deal to put up with?”

In reply, do not be sentimental, be honest.. . .

Such being your impression of home (not your deepest, but your most
obvious impression), can it fairly be stated that the home of the Smiths
is a success?

*****

There are two traits which have prevented the home of the Smiths from
being a complete success, from being that success which both Mr. and
Mrs. Smith fully intended to achieve when they started, and which young
John and young Mary fully intend to achieve when they at length start
without having decided precisely _how_ they will do better than their
elders. The first is British independence of action, which causes the
owner of a British temperament to seek to combine the advantages of
anarchical solitude with the advantages of a community: impossible
feat! In the home of the Smiths each room is a separate Norman fortress,
sheltering an individuality that will be untrammelled or perish.

And the second is the unchangeable conviction at the bottom of every
Briton’s heart that formal politeness in intimacy is insincere. This is
especially true of the Midlands and the North. When I left the Midlands
and went South, I truly thought, for several days, that Southerners
were a hypocritical lot, just because they said, “If you wouldn’t mind
moving,” instead of “Now, then, out of it!” Gruffness and the malicious
satisfaction of candid gratuitous criticism are the root of the evil in
the home of the Smiths. And the consequences of them are very much more
serious than the Smiths in their gruffness imagine.



III--SPENDING-AND GETTING VALUE

I now allude to those financial harassments which have been a marked
feature of the home founded and managed by Mr. Smith, who has been
eternally worried about money. The children have grown up in this
atmosphere of fiscal anxiety, accustomed to the everlasting question
whether ends will meet; accustomed to the everlasting debate whether
a certain thing can be afforded. And nearly every house in the street
where the Smiths live is in the same case.

Why is this? Is it that incomes are lower and commodities and taxes
higher in England than in other large European countries? No; the
contrary is the fact. In no large European country will money go so far
as in England. Is it that the English race is deficient in financial
skill? England is the only large European country which genuinely
balances its national budget every year and regularly liquidates its
debts.

I wish to hint to Mr. Smith that he differs in one very important
respect from the Mr. Smith of France, and the Mr. Smith of Germany, his
only serious rivals. In the matter of money, he always asks himself,
not how little he can spend, but how much he can spend. At the end of a
lifetime the result is apparent. Or when he has a daughter to marry off,
the result is apparent. In England economy is a virtue. In France, for
example, it is merely a habit.

******

Mr. Smith is extravagant. He has an extravagant way of looking at life.
On his own plane Mr. Smith is a haughty nobleman of old days; he is
royal; he is a born hangman of expense.

“What?” cries Mr. Smith, furiousi. “Me extravagant! Why, I have always
been most careful! I have had to be, with my income!”

He may protest. But I am right. The very tone with which he says: “With
my income!” gives Mr. Smith away. What is the matter with Mr. Smith’s
income? Has it been less than the average? Not at all. The only thing
that is the matter with Mr. Smith’s income is that he has never accepted
it as a hard, prosaic fact. He has always pretended that it was a magic
income, with which miracles could be performed. He has always been
trying to pour two pints and a gill out of a quart pot. He has always
hoped that luck would befall him. On a hundred and fifty a year he ever
endeavoured to live as though he had two hundred. And so on, as his
income increased.

When he married he began by taking the highest-rented house that he
could possibly afford, instead of the cheapest that he could possibly do
with, and he has been going on ever since in the same style--creating an
effect, cutting a figure.

This system of living, the English system, has indubitable advantages.
It encourages enterprise and prevents fossilisation. It gives dramatic
interest to existence. And, after all, though at the age of 50 Mr.
Smith possesses little beside a houseful of furniture and his insurance
policy, he can say that he has had something for his money every year
and every day of the year. He can truthfully say, when charged with
having “eaten his cake,” that a cake is a futile thing till it is eaten.

The French system has disadvantages. The French Mr. Smith does not try
to make money, he tries merely to save it. He shrinks from the perils
of enterprise. He does not want to create. He frequently becomes
parsimonious, and he may postpone the attempt to get some fun out of
life until he is past the capacity for fun.

On the other hand, the financial independence with which his habits
endow him is a very precious thing. One finds it everywhere in France;
it is instinctive in the attitude of the average man. That chronic
tightness has often led Mr. Smith to make unpleasing compromises with
his dignity; such compromises are rarer in France. Take a person into
your employ in France, even the humblest, and you will soon find out how
the habit of a margin affects the demeanour of the employed. Personally,
I have often been inconvenienced by this in France. But I have liked
it. After all, one prefers to be dealing with people who can call their
souls their own.

Mr. Smith need not go to the extremes of the extremists in France,
but he might advantageously go a long way towards them. Pie ought
to reconcile himself definitely to his income. He ought to cease his
constant attempt to perform miracles with his income. It is really
not pleasant for him to be fixed as he is at the age of fifty, worried
because he has to provide wedding presents for his son and his daughter.
And how can he preach thrift to his son John? John knows his father.

There is another, and an even more ticklish, point. It being notorious
that Mr. Smith spends too much money, let us ask whether Mr. Smith gets
value for the money he spends. I must again compare with France, whose
homes I know. Now, as regards solid, standing comfort, there is no
comparison between Mr. Smith’s home and the home of the French Mr.
Smith. Our Mr. Smith wins. His standard is higher. He has more room,
more rooms, more hygiene, and more general facilities for putting
himself at his ease.

*****

But these contrivances, once acquired, do not involve a regular outlay,
except so far as they affect rent. And in the household budget rent is
a less important item than food and cleansing. Now, the raw materials
of the stuff necessary to keep a household healthily alive cost more in
France than in England. And the French Mr. Smith’s income is a little
less than our Mr. Smith’s. Yet the French Mr. Smith, while sitting on a
less comfortable chair in a smaller room, most decidedly consumes better
meals than our Mr. Smith. In other words, he lives better.

I have often asked myself, in observing the family life of Monsieur
and Madame Smith: “How on earth do they do it?” Only one explanation
is possible. They understand better how to run a house economically in
France than we do in England.

Now Mrs. Smith in her turn cries: “Me extravagant?”

Yes, relatively, extravagant! It is a hard saying, but, I believe, a
true one. Extravagance is in the air of England. A person always in a
room where there is a slight escape of gas does not smell the gas--until
he has been out for a walk and returned. So it is with us.

As for you, Mrs. Smith, I would not presume to say in what you are
extravagant. But I guarantee that Madame Smith would “do it on less.”

The enormous periodical literature now devoted largely to hints on
household management shows that we, perhaps unconsciously, realise a
defect. You don’t find this literature in France. They don’t seem to
need it.



IV--THE PARENTS

Let us look at Mr. and Mrs. Smith one evening when they are by
themselves, leaving the children entirely out of account. For in
addition to being father and mother, they are husband and wife. Not that
I wish to examine the whole institution of marriage--people who dare to
do so deserve the Victoria Cross! My concern is simply with the effects
of the organisation of the home--on marriage and other things.

Well, you see them together. Mr. Smith has done earning money for the
day, and Mrs. Smith has done spending it. They are at leisure to enjoy
this home of theirs. This is what Mr. Smith passes seven hours a day at
business for. This is what he got married for. This is what he wanted
when he decided to take Mrs. Smith, if he could get her. These hours
ought to be the flower of their joint life. How are these hours affected
by the organisation of the home?

I will tell you how Mrs. Smith is affected. Mrs. Smith is worried by
it. And in addition she is conscious that her efforts are imperfectly
appreciated, and her difficulties unrealised. As regards the directing
and daily recreation of the home, Mr. Smith’s attitude on this evening
by the domestic hearth is at best one of armed neutrality. His criticism
is seldom other than destructive. Mr. Smith is a strange man. If he went
to a lot of trouble to get a small holding under the Small Holdings
Act, and then left the cultivation of the ground to another person
not scientifically trained to agriculture he would be looked upon as a
ninny. When a man takes up a hobby, he ought surely to be terrifically
interested in it. What is Mr. Smith’s home but his hobby?

*****

He has put Mrs. Smith in to manage it. He himself, once a quarter,
discharges the complicated and delicate function of paying the rent.
All the rest, the little matters, such as victualling and
brightening--trifles, nothings!--he leaves to Mrs. Smith. He is not
satisfied with Mrs. Smith’s activities, and he does not disguise the
fact. He is convinced that Mrs. Smith spends too much, and that she is
not businesslike. He is convinced that running a house is child’s
play compared to what _he_ has to do. Now, as to Mrs. Smith being
unbusinesslike, is Mr. Smith himself businesslike? If he is, he greatly
differs from his companions in the second-class smoker. The average
office and the average works are emphatically not run on business lines,
except in theory. Daily experience proves this. The businesslikeness of
the average business man is a vast and hollow pretence.

Besides, who could expect Mrs. Smith to be businesslike? She was never
taught to be businesslike. Mr. Smith was apprenticed, or indentured, to
his vocation. But Mrs. Smith wasn’t. Mrs. Smith has to feed a family,
and doesn’t know the principles of diet. She has to keep children in
health, and couldn’t describe their organs to save her life. She has
to make herself and the home agreeable to the eye, and knows nothing
artistic about colour or form.

I am an ardent advocate of Mrs. Smith. The marvel is not that Mrs.
Smith does so badly, but that she does so well. If women were not more
conscientious than men in their duties Mr. Smith’s home would be more
amateurish than it is, and Mr. Smith’s “moods” more frequent than they
are. For Mrs. Smith is amateurish. Example: Mrs. Smith is bothered to
death by the daily question, What can we have for dinner? She splits
her head in two in order to avoid monotony. Mrs. Smith’s _répertoire_
probably consists of about 50 dishes, and if she could recall them all
to her mind at once her task would be much simplified. But she can’t
think of them when she wants to think of them. Supposing that in Mrs.
Smith’s kitchen hung a card containing a list of all her dishes, she
could run her eyes over it and choose instantly what dishes would suit
that day’s larder. Did you ever see such a list in Mrs. Smith’s kitchen?
No. The idea has not occurred to Mrs. Smith!

I say also that to spend money efficiently is quite as difficult as to
earn it efficiently. Any fool can, somehow, earn a sovereign, but to
get value for a sovereign in small purchases means skill and immense
knowledge. Mr. Smith has never had experience of the difficulty of
spending money efficiently. Most of Mr. Smith’s payments are fixed and
mechanical. Mrs. Smith is the spender. Mr. Smith chiefly exercises his
skill as a spender in his clothes and in tobacco. Look at the result.
Any showy necktie shop and furiously-advertised tobacco is capable of
hood-winking Mr. Smith.

*****

In further comparison of their respective “jobs” it has to be noted that
Mrs. Smith’s is rendered doubly difficult by the fact that she is always
at close quarters with the caprices of human nature. Mrs. Smith is
continually bumping up against human nature in various manifestations.
The human butcher-boy may arrive late owing to marbles, and so the
dinner must either be late or the meat undercooked; or Mr. Smith,
through too much smoking, may have lost his appetite, and veal out
of Paradise wouldn’t please him! Mrs. Smith’s job is transcendently
delicate.

In fine, though Mrs. Smith’s job is perhaps not quite so difficult as
she fancies it to be, it is much more difficult than Mr. Smith fancies
it to be. And if it is not as well done as she thinks, it is much better
done than Mr. Smith thinks. But she will never persuade Mr. Smith that
he is wrong until Mr. Smith condescends to know what he is talking about
in the discussion of household matters. Mr. Smith’s opportunities of
criticism are far too ample; or, at any rate, he makes use of them
unfairly, and not as a man of honour. Supposing that Mrs. Smith finished
all her work at four o’clock, and was free to stroll into Mr. Smith’s
place of business and criticise there everything that did not please
her! (It is true that she wouldn’t know what she was talking about; but
neither does Mr. Smith at home; at home Mr. Smith finds pride in not
knowing what he is talking about.) Mr. Smith would have a bit of a
“time” between four and six.

Mr. and Mrs. Smith are united by a genuine affection. But their secret
attitudes on the subject of home management cause that affection, by a
constant slight friction, to wear thin. It must be so. And it will be
so until (a) Mr. Smith deigns to learn the business of his home; (b) Mr.
Smith ceases to expect Mrs. Smith to perform miracles; (c) Mrs. Smith
ceases to be an amateur in domestic economy--i. e., until domestic
economy becomes the principal subject in the upper forms of the average
girls’ school.

At present the organisation of the home is an agency against the triumph
of marriage as an institution.



V--HAMIT’S POINT OF VIEW

You may have forgotten young Harry Smith, whom I casually mentioned in
my first section, the schoolboy of fifteen. I should not be surprised
to hear that you had forgotten him. He is often forgotten in the home of
the Smiths., Compared with Mr. Smith, the creator of the home, or with
the lordly eldest son John, who earns his own living and is nearly
engaged, or with Mary, who actually is engaged, young Harry is
unimportant. Still, his case is very interesting, and his own personal
impression of the home of the Smiths must be of value. .

Is Harry Smith happy in the home? Of course, one would not expect him
to be perfectly happy. But is he as happy as circumstances in themselves
allow? My firm answer is that he is not. I am entirely certain that on
the whole Harry Smith regards home as a fag, a grind, and a bore. Mr.
Smith, on reading these lines, is furious, and Mrs. Smith is hurt.
What! Our dear Harry experiences tedium and disappointment with his dear
parents? Nonsense!

The fact is, no parents will believe that their children are avoidably
unhappy. It is universally agreed nowadays, that children in the
eighteenth century, and in the first half of the nineteenth, had a
pretty bad time under the sway of their elders. But the parent of those
epochs would have been indignant at any accusation of ill-treatment. He
would have called his sway beneficent and his affection doting. The same
with Mr. and Mrs. Smith! Now, I do not mean, Mr. and Mrs. Smith, that
you crudely ill-treat your son, tying him to posts, depriving him of
sleep, or pulling chestnuts out of the fire with his fingers. (See
reports of S.P.C.C.) A thousand times, no! You are softhearted. Mrs.
Smith is occasionally somewhat too soft-hearted. Still, I maintain that
you ill-treat Harry in a very subtle, moral way, by being fundamentally
unjust to him in your own minds.

Just look at your Harry, my excellent and conscientious Mr. Smith. He
is all alive there, a real human being, not a mechanical doll; he
has feelings just like yours, only, perhaps, more sensitive. He finds
himself in a world which--well, of which the less said the better. _You_
know what the world is, Mr. Smith, and you have often said what you
know. He is in this world, and he can’t get out of it. You have started
him on the dubious adventure, and he has got to go through with it. And
what is the reason of his being here? Did you start him out of a desire
to raise citizens for the greatest of empires? Did you imagine he would
enjoy it hugely? Did you act from a sense of duty to the universe?
None of these things, Mr. Smith! Your Harry is merely here because you
thought that Mrs. Smith was somehow charmingly different from other
girls. He is a consequence of your egotistic desire to enlarge your
borders, of your determination to have what you wanted. Every time
you cast eyes on him he ought to remind you what a self-seeking and
consequence-scorning person you are, Mr. Smith. And not only is he from
no choice or wish of his own in a world as to which the most powerful
intellects are still arguing whether it is tragic or ridiculous; but he
is unarmed for the perils of the business. He is very ignorant and
very inexperienced, and he is continually passing through disconcerting
modifications.

These are the facts, my dear sir. You cannot deny that you, for your
own satisfaction, have got Harry into a rather fearful mess. Do you
constantly make the effort to be sympathetic to this helpless victim
of your egotism? You do not. And what is worse, to quiet your own
consciences, both you and Mrs. Smith are for ever pouring into his ear a
shocking--I won’t call it “lie”--perversion of the truth. You are always
absurdly trying to persuade him that the obligation is on his side. Not
a day wears to night but Mrs. Smith expresses to Harry her conviction
that by good behaviour he ought to prove his _gratitude_ to you for
being such a kind father.

And you talk to him in the same strain of Mrs. Smith. The sum of your
teaching is an insinuation--often more than an insinuation--that you
have conferred a favour on Harry, Supposing that some one pitched you
into the Ship Canal--one of the salubrious reaches near Warrington, Mr.
Smith--and then clumsily dragged you half-way out, and punctured his
efforts by a reiterated statement that gratitude to him ought to fill
your breast, how would you feel?

*****

Things are better than they were, but the general attitude of the parent
to the child is still fundamentally insincere, and it mars the success
of the home, for it engenders in the child a sense of injustice. Do
you fancy that Harry is for an instant deceived by the rhetoric of his
parents? Not he! Children are very difficult to deceive, and they are
horribly frank to themselves. It is quite bad enough for Harry to be
compelled to go to school. Harry, however, has enough sense to perceive
that he must go to school. But when his parents begin to yarn that
he ought to be _glad_ to go to school, that he ought to _enjoy_ the
privilege of solving quadratic equations and learning the specific
gravities of elements, he is quite naturally alienated.

He does not fail to observe that in a hundred things the actions of his
parents contradict their precepts. When, being a boy, he behaves like a
hoy, and his parents affect astonishment and disgust, he knows it is an
affectation. When his father, irritated by a superabundance of noise,
frowns and instructs Harry to get away for he is tired of the sight of
him, Harry is excusably affronted in his secret pride.

These are illustrations of the imperfect success of the Smiths’ home as
an organisation for making Harry happy. Useless for Mr. Smith to argue
that it is “all for Harry’s own good.” He would simply be aggravating
his offence. Discipline, the enforcement of regulations, is necessary
for Harry. I strongly favour discipline. But discipline can be practised
with sympathy or without sympathy; with or without the accompaniment
of hypocritical remarks that deceive no one; with or without odious
assumptions of superiority and philanthropy.

I trust that young John and young Mary will take note, and that their
attitude to _their_ Harrys will be, not: “You ought to be glad you’re
alive,” but: “We thoroughly sympathise with your difficulties. We quite
agree that these rules and prohibitions and injunctions are a nuisance
for you, but they will save you trouble later, and we will be as
un-cast-iron as we can.” Honesty is the best policy.



VI--THE FUTURE

The cry is that the institution of the home is being undermined, and
that, therefore, society is in the way of perishing. It is stated that
the home is insidiously attacked, at one end of the scale, by the hotel
and restaurant habit, and, at the other, by such innovations as the
feeding-of-school-children habit. We are asked to contemplate the
crowded and glittering dining-rooms of the Midland, the Carlton, the
Adelphi, on, for instance, Christmas Night, when, of all nights, people
ought! to be on their own hearths, and we are told: “It has come to
this. This! is the result of the craze for pleasure! Where is the home
now?”

To which my reply would be that the home remains just about where it
was. The spectacular existence of a few great hotels has never mirrored
the national life. Is the home of the Smiths, for example, being
gradually overthrown by the restaurant habit? The restaurant habit will
only strengthen the institution of the home. The most restaurant-loving
people on the face of the earth are the French, and the French home is a
far more powerful, more closely-knit organisation than our own. Why! Up
to last year a Frenchman of sixty could not marry without the consent
of his parents, if they happened to be alive. I wonder what the Smiths
would say to that as an example of the disintegration of the home by the
restaurant habit!

Most assuredly the modest, medium, average home founded by Mr. Smith
has not been in the slightest degree affected either by the increase of
luxury and leisure, or by any alleged meddlesomeness on the part of the
State. The home founded by Mr. Smith, with all its faults--and I have
not spared them--is too convenient, too economical, too efficient, and,
above all, too natural, to be overthrown, or even shaken, by either
luxury or grandmotherliness. To change the metaphor and call it a ship,
it remains absolutely right and tight. It is true that Mr. and Mrs.
Smith assert sadly that young John and young Mary have much more liberty
than _they_ ever had, but Mr. and Mrs. Smith’s parents asserted exactly
the same thing of Mr. and Mrs. Smith, and their grandparents of their
parents, and so on backwards doubtless up to Noah. That is only part of
a process, a beneficent process.

*****

Nevertheless, the home of the Smiths has a very real enemy, and that
enemy is not outside, but inside. That enemy is Matilda. I have not
hitherto discussed Matilda. She sleeps in the attic, and earns £18 a
year, rising to £20. She doesn’t count, and yet she is the factor which,
more than any other, will modify the home of the Smiths.

Let me say no word against Matilda. She is a respectable and a passably
industrious, and a passably obedient girl. I know her. She usually
opens the door for me, and we converse “like anything”! “Good evening,
Matilda,” I say to her. “Good evening, sir,” says she. And in her tone
and mine is an implicit recognition of the fact that I have been very
good-natured and sympathetic in greeting her as a human being. “Mr.
Smith in?” I ask, smiling. “Yes, sir. Will you come this way?” says she.
Then I forget her. A nice, pleasant girl! And she has a good place, too.
The hygienic conditions are superior to those of a mill, and the labour
less fatiguing. And both Mrs. Smith and Miss Mary, help her enormously
in “little ways.” She eats better food than she would eat at home, and
she has a bedroom all to herself. You might say she was on velvet.

And yet, in the middle of one of those jolly, unaffected evenings that I
occasionally spend with the Smiths, when the piano has been going, and I
have helped Mrs. Smith to cheat herself at patience, and given Mr.
Smith the impression that he can teach me a thing or two, and discussed
cigarettes with John, and songs with Mary, and the sense of intimate
fellowship and mutual comprehension is in the air, in comes Matilda
suddenly with a tray of coffee--and makes me think furiously! She goes
out as rapidly as she came in, for she is bound by an iron law not to
stop an instant, and if she happened to remark in a friendly, human way:
“You seem to be having a good time here!”

All the Smiths, and I too, would probably drop down dead from pained
shock.

But though she is gone I continue to think furiously. Where had she been
all the jolly evening? Where has she returned to? Well, to her beautiful
hygienic kitchen, where she sits or works all by herself, on velvet. My
thoughts follow her existence through the day, and I remember that from
morn till onerous eve she must not, save on business, speak unless she
is spoken to. Then I give up thinking about Matilda’s case, because
it annoys me. I recall a phrase of young John’s; he is youthfully
interested in social problems, and he wants a latch-key vote. Said John
to me once, when another Matilda had left: “Of course, if one thought
too much about Matilda’s case, one wouldn’t be able to sleep at nights.”

*****

When you visit the Smiths the home seems always to be in smooth working
order. But ask Mrs. Smith! Ask Mary! Get beneath the surface. And you
will glimpse the terrible trouble that lies concealed. Mrs. Smith began
with Matilda the First. Are you aware that this is Matilda the Fortieth,
and that between Matilda the Fortieth and Matilda the Forty-first there
will probably be an interregnum? Mrs. Smith simply cannot get Matildas.
And when by happy chance she does get a Matilda, the misguided girl
won’t see the velvet with which the kitchen and the attic are carpeted.

Mrs. Smith says the time will come when the race of Matildas will have
disappeared. And Mrs. Smith is right. The “general servant” is bound to
disappear utterly. In North America she has already almost disappeared.
Think of that! Instead of her, in many parts of the American continent,
there is an independent stranger who, if she came to the Smiths, would
have the ineffable impudence to eat at the same table as the Smiths,
just as though she was of the same clay, and who, when told to do
something, would be quite equal to snapping out: “Do it yourself.”

But you say that the inconvenience brought about by the disappearance of
Matilda would be too awful to contemplate. I venture to predict that the
disappearance of Matilda will not exhaust the resources of civilisation.
The home will continue. But mechanical invention will have to be
quickened in order to replace Matilda’s red hands. And there will be
those suburban restaurants! And I have a pleasing vision of young John,
in the home which _he_ builds, cleaning his own boots. Inconvenient, but
it is coming!



STREETS ROADS AND TRAINS--1907-1909



I--IN WATLING STREET

Upon an evening in early autumn, I, who had never owned an orchard
before, stood in my orchard; behind me were a phalanx of some sixty
trees bearing (miraculously, to my simplicity) a fine crop of apples and
plums--my apples and plums, and a mead of some two acres, my mead, upon
which I discerned possibilities of football and cricket; behind these
was a double greenhouse containing three hundred pendent bunches of
grapes of the dark and aristocratic variety which I thought I had seen
in Piccadilly ticketed at four shillings a pound--my grapes; still
further behind uprose the chimneys of a country-house, uncompromisingly
plain and to some eyes perhaps ugly, but my country-house, the lease
of which, stamped, was in my pocket. Immediately in front of me was a
luxuriant hedge which, long unclipped, had attained a height of at
least fifteen feet. Beyond the hedge the ground fell away sharply into
a draining ditch, and on the other side of the ditch, through the
interstices of the hedge, I perceived glimpses of a very straight and
very white highway.

This highway was Watling Street, built of the Romans, and even now
surviving as the most famous road in England. I had “learnt” it at
school, and knew that it once ran from Dover to London, from London
to Chester and from Chester to York. Just recently I had tracked it
diligently on a series of county maps, and discovered that, though only
vague fragments of it remained in Kent, Surrey, Shropshire, Cheshire,
and Yorkshire, it still flourished and abounded exceedingly in
my particular neighbourhood as a right line, austere, renowned,
indispensable, clothed in its own immortal dust. I could see but patches
of it in the twilight, but I was aware that it stretched fifteen miles
southeast of me, and unnumbered miles northwest of me, with scarcely a
curve to break the splendid inexorable monotony of its career. To me it
was a wonderful road--more wonderful than the Great North Road, or the
military road from Moscow to Vladivostock. And the most wonderful thing
about it was that I lived on it. After all, few people can stamp the top
of their notepaper, “Watling Street, England.” It is not a residential
thoroughfare.

Only persons of imagination can enter into my feelings at that moment. I
had spent two-thirds of my life in a town (squalid, industrial) and the
remaining third in Town. I thought I knew every creosoted block in Fleet
Street, every bookstall in Shoreditch, every hosier’s in Piccadilly.
I certainly did know the order of stations on the Inner Circle, the
various frowns of publishers, the strange hysteric, silly atmosphere
of theatrical first-nights, and stars of the Empire and Alhambra (by
sight), and the vicious odours of a thousand and one restaurants. And
lo! burdened with all this accumulated knowledge, shackled by all these
habits, associations, entrancements, I was yet moved by some mysterious
and far-off atavism to pack up, harness the oxen, “trek,” and go and
live in “the country.”

Of course I soon discovered that there is no such thing as “the
country,” just as there is no such thing as Herbert Spencer’s “state.”

“The country” is an entity which exists only in the brains of an urban
population, whose members ridiculously regard the terrene surface as a
concatenation of towns surrounded by earthy space. There is England, and
there are spots on England called towns: that is all. But at that time I
too had the illusion of “the country,” a district where one saw “trees,”
 “flowers,” and “birds.” For me, a tree was not an oak or an ash or an
elm or a birch or a chestnut; it was just a “tree.” For me there were
robins, sparrows, and crows; the rest of the winged fauna was merely
“birds.” I recognised roses, daisies, dandelions, forget-me-nots,
chrysanthemums, and one or two more blossoms; all else was “flowers.”
 Remember that all this happened before the advent of the nature-book and
the sublime invention of week-ending, and conceive me plunging into this
unknown, inscrutable, and recondite “country,” as I might have plunged
fully clothed and unable to swim into the sea. It was a prodigious
adventure! When my friends asked me, with furtive glances at each other
as in the presence of a lunatic, why I was going to live in the country,
I could only reply: “Because I want to. I want to see what it’s like.” I
might have attributed my action to the dearness of season-tickets on
the Underground, to the slowness of omnibuses or the danger of cabs: my
friends would have been just as wise, and I just as foolish, in
their esteem. I admit that their attitude of benevolent contempt, of
far-seeing sagacity, gave me to think. And although I was obstinate,
it was with a pang of misgiving that I posted the notice of quitting
my suburban residence; and the pang was more acute when I signed the
contract for the removal of my furniture. I called on my friends before
the sinister day of exodus.

“Good-bye,” I said.

“Au revoir,” they replied, with calm vaticinatory assurance, “we shall
see you back again in a year.”

*****

Thus, outwardly braggart, inwardly quaking, I departed. The quaking had
not ceased as I stood, in the autumn twilight, in my beautiful orchard,
in front of my country-house. Toiling up the slope from the southward,
I saw an enormous van with three horses: the last instalment of my
chattels. As it turned lumberingly at right angles into my private road
or boreen, I said aloud:

“I’ve done it.”

I had. I felt like a statesman who has handed an ultimatum to a king’s
messenger. No withdrawal was now possible. From the reverie natural
to this melancholy occasion I was aroused by a disconcerting sound of
collision, the rattle of chains, and the oaths customary to drivers in a
difficulty. I ran towards the house and down the weedy drive bordered
by trees which a learned gardener had told me were of the variety,
_cupressus lawsoniana_. In essaying the perilous manoeuvre of twisting
round three horses and a long van on a space about twenty feet square,
the driver had overset the brick pier upon which swung my garden-gate.
The unicorn horse of the team was nosing at the cupressus lawsoniana
and the van was scotched in the gateway. I thought, “This is an omen.” I
was, however, reassured by the sight of two butchers and two bakers each
asseverating that nothing could afford him greater pleasure than to
call every day for orders. A minute later the postman, in his own lordly
equipage, arrived with my newspapers and his respects. I tore open a
paper and read news of London. I convinced myself that London actually
existed, though I were never to see it again. The smashing of the pier
dwindled from a catastrophe to an episode.

*****

The next morning very early I was in Watling Street. Since then

               Full many a glorious morning have I seen

               Flatter the mountain tops with sovereign eye,

but this was the first in the sequence of those Shaksperean mornings,
and it was also, subjectively, the finest. I shall not describe it,
since, objectively and in the quietude of hard fact, I now perceive that
it could not have been in the least remarkable. The sun rose over
the southward range which Bunyan took for the model of his Delectable
Mountains, and forty or fifty square miles of diversified land was
spread out in front of me. The road cut down for a couple of miles like
a geometrician’s rule, and disappeared in a slight S curve, the work
of a modern generation afraid of gradients, on to the other side of the
Delectable Mountains. I thought: “How magnificent were those Romans
in their disregard of everything except direction!” And being a
professional novelist I naturally began at once to consider the
possibilities of exploiting Watling Street in fiction. Then I climbed
to the brow of my own hill, whence, at the foot of the long northerly
slope, I could descry the outposts of my village, a mile away; there
was no habitation of mankind nearer to me than this picturesque and
venerable hamlet, which seemed to lie inconsiderable on the great road
like a piece of paper. The seventy-four telegraph wires which border the
great road run above the roofs of Winghurst as if they were unaware
of its existence. “And Winghurst,” I reflected, “is henceforth
my metropolis.” No office! No memorising of time-tables! No daily
struggle-for-lunch! Winghurst, with three hundred inhabitants, the
centre of excitement, the fount of external life!

The course of these ordinary but inevitable thoughts was interrupted by
my consciousness of a presence near me. A man coughed. He had approached
me, in almost soleless boots, on the grassy footpath. For a brief second
I regarded him with that peculiar fellow-feeling which a man who has
risen extremely early is wont to exhibit towards another man who
has risen extremely early. But finding no answering vanity in his
undistinguished features I quickly put on an appearance of usualness, to
indicate that I might be found on that spot at that hour every morning.
The man looked shabby, and that Sherlock Holmes who lies concealed in
each one of us decided for me that he must be a tailor out-of-work.

“Good morning, sir,” he said.

“Good morning,” I said.

“Do you want to buy a good recipe for a horse, sir?” he asked.

“A horse?” I repeated, wondering whether he was a lunatic, or a genius
who had discovered a way to manufacture horses.

“Yes, sir,” he said, “They often fall sick, sir, you know. The saying
is, as I daresay you’ve heard, ‘Never trust a woman’s word or a horse’s
health.’”

I corrected his quotation.

“I’ve got one or two real good recipes,” he resumed.

“But I’ve got no horse,” I replied, and that seemed to finish the
interview.

“No offence, I hope, sir,” he said, and passed on towards the Delectable
Mountains.

He was a mystery; his speech disclosed no marked local accent; he had
certainly had some education; and he was hawking horse-remedies in
Watling Street at sunrise. Here was the germ of my first lesson in
rusticity. Except in towns, the “horsey” man does not necessarily
look horsey. That particular man resembled a tailor, and by a curious
coincidence the man most fearfully and wonderfully learned in equine lore
that I have yet known is a tailor.

But horses! Six miles away to the West I could see the steam of
expresses on the London and North Western Main line; four miles to the
East I could see the steam of expresses on the Midland. And here was
an individual offering stable-recipes as simply as though they had been
muffins! I reflected on my empty stable, harness-room, coachhouse. I
began to suspect that I was in a land where horses entered in the daily
and hourly existence of the people. I had known for weeks that I must
buy a horse; the nearest town and the nearest railway station were
three miles off. But now, with apprehension, I saw that mysterious and
dangerous mercantile operation to be dreadfully imminent: me, _coram
publico_, buying a horse, me the dupe of copers, me a butt for the
covert sarcasm of a village omniscient about horses and intolerant of
ignorance on such a subject!

*****

Down in the village, that early morning, I saw a pony and an evidently
precarious trap standing in front of the principal shop. I had read
about the “village-shop” in novels; I had even ventured to describe it
in fiction of my own; and I was equally surprised and delighted to find
that the villageshop of fiction was also the village-shop of fact. It
was the mere truth that one could buy everything in this diminutive
emporium, that the multifariousness of its odours excelled that of
the odours of Cologne, and that the proprietor, who had never seen me
before, instantly knew me and all about me. Soon I, was in a fair way to
know something of the proprietor. He was informing me that he had five
little children, when one of the five, snuffling and in a critical mood,
tumbled into the shop out of an obscure Beyond.

“And what’s your name?” I enquired of the girl, with that fatuous, false
blandness of tone which the inexpert always adopt toward children. I
thought of the five maidens whose names were five sweet symphonies, and
moreover I deemed it politic to establish friendly relations with my
monopolist.

“She’s a little shy,” I remarked.

“It’s a boy, sir,” said the monopolist.

It occurred to me that Nature was singularly uninventive in devising new
quandaries for the foolish.

“Tell the gentleman your name.”’

Thus admonished, the boy emitted one monosyllable: “Guy.”

“We called him Guy because he was horn on the fifth of November,” the
monopolist was good enough to explain.

As I left the shop a man driving a pony drew up at the door with an
immense and sudden flourish calculated to impress the simple. I noticed
that the pony was the same animal which I had previously seen standing
there.

“Want to buy a pony, sir?” The question was thrown at me like a missile
that narrowly escaped my head; launched in a voice which must once have
been extremely powerful, but which now, whether by abuse of shouting in
the open air or by the deteriorating effect of gin on the vocal chords,
was only a loud, passionate whisper: so that, though the man obviously
bawled with all his might, the drum of one’s ear was not shattered. I
judged, partly from the cut of his coat and the size of the buttons on
it, and partly from the creaminess of the shaggy, long-tailed pony, that
my questioner was or had been connected with circuses. His very hand was
against him; the turned-back podgy thumb showed acquisitiveness, and the
enormous Gophir diamonds in brass rings argued a certain lack of really
fine taste. His face had literally the brazen look, and that absolutely
hard, impudent, glaring impassivity acquired only by those who earn more
than enough to drink by continually bouncing the public.

“The finest pony in the county, sir.” (It was an animal organism
gingerly supported on four crooked legs; a quadruped and nothing more.)
“The finest pony in the county!” he screamed, “Finest pony in England,
sir! Not another like him! I took him to the Rothschild horse-show,
but they wouldn’t have him. Said I’d come too late to enter him for the
first-clawss. They were afraid--afferaid! There was the water-jump.
‘Stand aside, you blighters,’ I said, ‘and he’ll jump that, the d----d
gig and all,’ But they were afferaid!”

I asked if the animal was quiet to drive.

“Quiet to drive, sir, did you say? I should _say_ so. I says _Away_,
and _off_ he goes.” Here the thin scream became a screech. “Then I says
_Pull up, you blighter_, and he stops dead. A child could drive him. He
don’t want no driving. You could drive him with a silken thread.” His
voice melted, and with an exquisite tender cadence he repeated: “With a
silk-en therredd!”

“Well,” I said. “How much?”

“How much, did you say, sir? How much?” He made it appear that this
question came upon him as an extraordinary surprise. I nodded.

He meditated on the startling problem, and then yelled: “Thirty guineas.
It’s giving him away.”

“Make it shillings,” I said. I was ingenuously satisfied with my retort,
but the man somehow failed to appreciate it.

“Come here,” he said, in a tone of intimate confidence. “Come here.
Listen. I’ve had that pony’s picture painted. Finest artist in England,
sir. And frame! You never see such a frame! At thirty guineas I’ll throw
the picture in. Look ye! That picture cost me two quid, and here’s the
receipt.” He pulled forth a grimy paper, and I accepted it from his
villainous fingers. It proved, however, to be a receipt for four pounds,
and for the portrait, not of a pony, but of a man.

“This is a receipt for your own portrait,” I said.

“Now wasn’t that a coorious mistake for me to make?” he asked, as if
demanding information. “Wasn’t that a coorious mistake?”

I was obliged to give him the answer he desired, and then he produced
the correct receipt.

“Now,” he said wooingly, “There! Is it a trade? I’ll bring you the
picture to-night. Finest frame you ever saw! What? No? Look here, buy
him at thirty guineas--say pounds--and I’ll chuck you both the blighted
pictures in!”

“_Away!_” he screamed a minute later, and the cream pony, galvanised
into frantic activity by that sound, and surely not controllable by a
silken thread, scurried off towards the Delectable Mountains.

This was my first insight into horse dealing.



II--STREET TALKING

Few forms of amusement are more amusing and few forms of amusement cost
less than to walk slowly along the crowded central thoroughfares of
a great capital--London, Paris, or Timbuctoo--with ears open to catch
fragments of conversation not specially intended for your personal
consumption. It, perhaps, resembles slightly the justly blamed habit
of listening at keyholes and the universally practised habit of reading
other people’s postcards; it is possibly not quite “nice.” But, like
both these habits, it is within the law, and the chances of it doing
any one any harm are exceedingly remote. Moreover, it has in an amazing
degree the excellent quality of taking you out of yourself--and putting
you into some one else. Detectives employ it, and if it were forbidden
where would novelists be? Where, for example, would Mr. Pett Ridge be?
Once yielded to, it grows on you; it takes hold of you in its fell,
insidious clutch, as does the habit of whisky, and becomes incurable.
You then treat it seriously; you make of it a passkey to the seventy and
seven riddles of the universe, with wards for each department of life.
You judge national characteristics by it; by it alone you compare rival
civilisations. And, incidentally, you somewhat increase your social
value as a diner-out.

*****

For a long time I practised it in the streets of Paris, the city of
efficient chatter, the city in which wayfarers talk with more exuberance
and more grammar than anywhere else. Here are a few phrases, fair
samples from lists of hundreds, which I have gathered and stored, on
the boulevards and in quieter streets, such as the Rue Blanche, where
conversation grows intimate on mild nights:--

She is mad.

She lived on the fourth floor last year.

Yes, she is not bad, after all.

Thou knowest, my old one, that my wife is a little bizarre.

He has left her.

They say she is very jealous.

Anything except oysters.

Thou annoyest me terribly, my dear.

It is a question solely of the cache-corset.

With those feet!

He is a beau garçon, but--

He is the fourth in three years.

My big wolf!

Do not say that, my small rabbit.

She doesn’t look it.

It is open to any one to assert that such phrases have no significance,
or that, if they have significance, their significance must necessarily
be hidden from the casual observer. But to me they are like the finest
lines in the tragedies of John Ford.

Marlow was at his best in the pentameter, but Ford usually got his
thrill in a chipped line of about three words--three words which, while
they mean nothing, mean everything. All depends on what you “read into”
 them. And the true impassioned student of human nature will read into
the overheard exclamations of the street a whole revealing philosophy.
What! Two temperaments are separately born, by the agency of chance
or the equally puzzling agency of design, they one day collide, become
intimate, and run parallel for a space. You perceive them darkly afar
off; they approach you; you are in utter ignorance of them; and then in
the instant of passing you receive a blinding flash of illumination, and
the next instant they are eternally hidden from you again. That blinding
flash of illumination may consist of “My big wolf!” or it may consist of
“It is solely a question of the cache-corset.” But in any case it is and
must be profoundly significant. In any case it is a gleam of light on
a mysterious place. Even the matter of the height of the floor on which
she lived is charged with an overwhelming effect for one who loves his
fellow-man. And lives there the being stupid or audacious enough to
maintain that the French national character does not emerge charmingly
and with a curious coherence from the fragments of soul-communication
which I have set down?

*****

On New Year’s Eve I was watching the phenomena of the universal scheme
of things in Putney High-street. A man and a girl came down the footpath
locked in the most intimate conversation. I could see that they were
perfectly absorbed in each other. And I heard the man say:--

“Yes, Charlie is a very good judge of beer--Charlie is!”

And then they were out of hearing, vanished from the realm of my senses
for ever more. And yet people complain that the suburbs are dull! As for
me, when I grasped the fact that Charlie was a good judge of beer I
knew for certain that I was back in England, the foundation of whose
greatness we all know. I walked on a little farther and overtook two
men, silently smoking pipes. The companionship seemed to be a taciturn
communion of spirits, such as Carlyle and Tennyson are said to have
enjoyed on a certain historic evening. But I was destined to hear
strange messages that night. As I forged ahead of them, one murmured:--

“I done him down a fair treat!”

No more! I loitered to steal the other’s answer. But there was no
answer. Two intelligences that exist from everlasting to everlasting had
momentarily joined the path of my intelligence, and the unique message
was that some one had been done down a fair treat. They disappeared into
the unknown of Werter-road, and I was left meditating upon the queer
coincidence of the word “beer” preceding the word “treat.” A
disturbing coincidence, a caprice of hazard! And my mind flew back to a
smoking-concert of my later youth, in which “Beer, beer, glorious beer”
 was followed, on the programme, by Handel’s Largo.

*****

In the early brightness of yesterday morning fate led me to
Downing-street, which is assuredly the oddest street in the world
(except Bow-street). Everything in Downing-street is significant, save
the official residence of the Prime Minister, which, with its three
electric bells and its absurdly inadequate area steps, is merely comic.
The way in which the vast pile of the Home Office frowns down upon that
devoted comic house is symbolic of the empire of the permanent official
over the elected of the people. It might be thought that from his
second-floor window the Prime Minister would keep a stern eye on the
trembling permanent official. But experienced haunters of Downing-street
know that the Hessian boot is on the other leg. Why does that dark
and grim tunnel run from the side of No. 10, Downing-street, into the
spacious trackless freedom of the Horse Guards Parade, if it is not to
facilitate the escape of Prime Ministers fleeing from the chicane of
conspiracies? And how is it that if you slip out of No. 10 in your
slippers of a morning, and toddle across to the foot of the steps
leading to St. James’s Park, you have instantly a view (a) of Carlton
House Terrace and (b) of the sinister inviting water of St. James’s Park
pond? I say that the mute significance of things is unsettling, in the
highest degree. That morning a motor-brougham was seeking repose in
Downing-street. By the motorbrougham stood a chauffeur, and by the
chauffeur stood a girl under a feathered hat. They were exchanging
confidences, these two. I strolled nonchalantly past. The girl was
saying:--

“Look at this skirt as I’ve got on now. Me and her went ’alves in it.
She was to have it one Sunday, and me the other. But do you suppose as
I could get it when it come to my turn? Not me! Whenever I called for it
she was always--” I heard no more. I could not decently wait. But I was
glad the wearer had ultimately got the skirt. The fact was immensely
significant.



III--ON THE ROAD

The reader may remember a contrivance called a bicycle on which people
used to move from one place to another. The thing is still employed by
postmen in remote parts. We discovered a couple in the stable, had them
polished with the electroplate powder and went off on them. It seemed a
strange freak. Equally strange was the freak of quitting Fontainebleau,
even for three days. I had thought that no one ever willingly left
Fontainebleau.

[Illustration: 0469]

Everybody knows what the roads of France are. Smooth and straight
perfection, bordered by double rows of trees. They were assuredly
constructed with a prevision of automobiles. They run in an absolutely
straight line for about five miles, then there is a slight bend and you
are faced with another straight line of five miles. It is magnificent
on a motor-car at a mile a minute. On a bicycle it is tedious; you never
get anywhere, and the one fact you learn is that France consists of ten
thousand million plane trees and a dust-cloud. We left the main road at
the very first turn. As a rule, the bye-roads of France are as well kept
as the main roads, often better, and they are far more amusing. But
we soon got lost in a labyrinth of bad roads. We went back to the main
roads, despite their lack of humour, and they were just as bad. All the
roads of the department which we had invaded were criminal--as criminal
as anything in industrial Yorkshire. A person who had travelled only on
the roads of the Loiret would certainly say that French roads were
the worst in Europe. This shows the folly of generalising. We held an
inquisition as to these roads when we halted for lunch.

“What would you?” replied the landlady. “It is like that!” She was a
stoic philosopher. She said the state of the roads was due to the heavy
loads of beetroot that pass over them, the beetroot being used for
sugar. This seemed to us a feeble excuse. She also said we should find
that the roads got worse. She then proved that in addition to being a
great philosopher she was a great tactician. We implored lunch, and it
was only 11:15. She said, with the most charming politeness, that her
regular clients--_ces messieurs_--arrived at twelve, and not before, but
that as we were “pressed” she would prepare us a special lunch (founded
on an omelette) instantly. Meanwhile we could inspect her fowls, rabbits
and guinea-pigs. Well, we inspected her fowls, rabbits and guinea-pigs
till exactly five minutes past twelve, when _ces messieurs_ began to
arrive. The adorable creature had never had the least intention of
serving us with a special lunch. Her one desire was not to hurt our
sensitive, high-strung natures. The lunch consisted of mackerel, ham,
cutlets, _fromage à la crème_, fruits and wine. I have been eating at
French inns for years, and have not yet ceased to be astonished at the
refined excellence of the repast which is offered in any little poky
hole for a florin.

*****

She was right about the roads. Emphatically they got worse. But we did
not mind, for we had a strong wind at our hacks. The secret of happiness
in such an excursion as ours is in the wind and in naught else. We
bumped through some dozen villages, all exactly alike--it was a rolling
pasture country--and then came to our first town, Puiseaux, whose church
with its twisted spire must have been destined from its beginning to go
on to a picture post card. And having taught the leading business house
of Puiseaux how to brew tea, we took to the wind again, and were soon in
England; that is to say, we might have been in England, judging by the
hedges and ditches and the capriciousness of the road’s direction, and
the little occasional orchards, bridges and streams. This was not
the hedgeless, severe landscape of Gaul--not a bit! Only the ancient
farmhouses and the châteaux guarded by double pairs of round towers
reminded us that we were not in Shropshire. The wind blew us in no
time to within sight of the distant lofty spire of the great church of
Pithiviers, and after staring at it during six kilomètres, we ran down
into a green hollow and up into the masonry of Pithiviers, where the
first spectacle we saw was a dog racing towards the church with a
huge rat in his mouth. Pithiviers is one of the important towns of the
department. It demands and receives respect. It has six cafés in its
picturesque market square, and it specialises in lark patties. What on
earth led Pithiviers to specialise in lark patties I cannot imagine.
But it does. It is revered for its lark patties, which are on view
everywhere. We are probably the only persons who have spent a night in
Pithiviers without partaking of lark patties. We went into the hotel
and at the end of the hall saw three maids sewing in the linen-room--a
pleasing French sight--and, in a glass case, specimens of lark patties.
We steadily and consistently refused lark patties. Still we did not
starve. Not to mention lark patties, our two-and-tenpenny dinner
comprised soup, boiled beef, carrots, turnips, _gnocchi_, fowl, beans,
leg of mutton, cherries, strawberries and minor details. During this
eternal meal, a man with a bag came vociferously into the _salle à
manger_. He was selling the next day’s morning paper! Chicago could not
surpass that!

Largely owing to the propinquity and obstinacy of the striking clock of
the great church I arose at 6 a. m. The market was already in progress.
I spoke with! an official about the clock, but I could not make him see
that I had got up in the middle of the night. In spite of my estimate
of his clock, he good-naturedly promised me much better roads. And the
promise was fulfilled. But we did not mind. For now the strong wind
was against us. This altered all our relations with the universe, and
transformed us into impolite, nagging pessimists; previously we had been
truly delightful people.

All that day till tea-time we grumbled over a good road that wound its
way through a gigantic wheat-field. True that sometimes the wheat was
oats, or even a pine plantation; but, broadly speaking, the wheat was
all wheat, and the vast heaving sea of it rolled up to the very sides of
the road under our laggard wheels. And it was all right, and it was all
being cut with two-horse McCormick reapers. We actually saw hundreds of
McCormick reapers. Near and far, on all the horizons, we could detect
the slow-revolving paddle of the McCormick reaper. And at least we
reached Chateau Landon, against the walls of which huge waves of wheat
were breaking. Chateau Landon was our destination. We meant to discover
it and we did.

*****

[Illustration: 0475]

Château Landon is one of the most picturesque towns in France; but, as
the landlady of the Red Hat said to us, “no one has yet known how
to make come _messieurs_, the tourists.” I should say that (except
Carcassone, of course) Vezelay, in the Avalonnais, is perhaps _the_ most
picturesque town in all France. Chateau Landon comes near it, and is
much easier to get at. On one side it rises straight up in a tremendous
sheer escarpment out of the little river Fusain, in which the entire
town washes its clothes. The view of the city from the wooded and
murmurous valley is genuinely remarkable, and the most striking
feature of the view is the feudal castle which soars with its terrific
buttresses out of a thick mass of trees. Few more perfect relics of
feudalism than this formidable building can exist anywhere. It will soon
celebrate its thousandth birthday. In putting it to the uses of a home
for the poor (Asile de St. Severin) the townsmen cannot be said to have
dishonoured its old age. You climb up out of the river by granite steps
cut into the escarpment and find yourself all of a sudden in the market
square, which looks over a precipice. Everybody is waiting to relate to
you the annals of the town since the beginning of history: how it had
its own mint, and how the palace of the Mint still stands; how many an
early Louis lived in the town, making laws and dispensing justice;
how Louis le Gros put himself to the trouble of being buried in the
cathedral there; and how the middlemen come from Fontainebleau to buy
game at the market. We sought the tomb in the cathedral, but found
nothing of interest there save a stout and merry priest instructing a
class of young girls in the aisle. However, we did buy a pair of fowls
in the market for 4s. and carried them at our saddles, all the way back
to Fontainebleau. The landlady of the Red Hat asked us whether her city
was not wondrous? We said it was. She asked us whether we should come
again? We said we should. She asked us whether we could do anything to
spread the fame of her wondrous town? We said we would do what we could.

To reach Fontainebleau it was necessary to pass through another ancient
town which we have long loved, largely on account of Balzac, to wit,
Nemours. After Chateau Landon, Nemours did not seem to be quite the
exquisite survival that we had thought. It had almost a modern look.
Thus on the afternoon of the third day we came to Fontainebleau again.
And there was no wind at all. We had covered a prodigious number of
miles, about as many as a fair automobile would swallow, up in two
hours; in fact, eighty.

[Illustration: 0479]



IV--A TRAIN

At the present moment probably the dearest bed of its size in the world
is that to be obtained on the Calais-Mediterranean express, which leaves
Calais at 1.05 every afternoon and gets to Monte Carlo at 9.39 the
next morning. This bed costs you between £4 and £5 if you take it from
Calais, and between £3 and £4 if you take it from Paris (as I did), in
addition to the first-class fare (no bagatelle that, either!), and, of
course, in addition to your food. Why people should make such a terrific
fuss about this train I don’t know. It isn’t the fastest train between
Paris and Marseilles, because, though it beats almost every other train
by nearly an hour, there is, in February, just one train that beats
_it_--by one minute. * And after Marseilles it is slow. And as for
comfort, well, Americans aver that it “don’t cut much ice, anyway” (this
is the sort of elegant diction you hear on it), seeing that it doesn’t
even comprise a drawingroom! car. Except when you are eating, you must
remain boxed up in a compartment decidedly not as roomy as a plain,
common, ordinary, decent Anglo-Saxon first-class compartment between
Manchester and Liverpool.

* In 1904.

However, it is the train of trains, outside the Siberian express,
and the Chicago and Empire City Vestibule Flyer, Limited, and
if decorations, silver, rare woods, plush, silk, satin, springs,
cut-flowers, and white-gloved attendants will make a crack train, the
International Sleeping Car Company (that bumptious but still useful
association for the aggrandisement of railway directors) has made one.
You enter this train with awe, for you know that in entering you enrol
yourself once and for ever among the élite. You know that nobody in
Europe can go one better. For just as the whole of the Riviera coast has
been finally specials ised into a winter playground for the rich idlers,
dilettanti, hypochondriacs, and invalids of two or three continents, and
into a field of manouvres for the always-accompanying gilded riff-raff
and odalisques, so that train is a final instance of the specialisation
of transit to suit the needs of the aforesaid plutocrats and
adventurers. And whether you count yourself a plutocrat or an
adventurer, you are correct, doing the correct thing, and proving every
minute that money is no object, and thus realising the ideal of the age.

[Illustration: 0483]

*****

French railway platforms are so low that in the vast and resounding Gare
de Lyon when the machine rolled magnificently in I was obliged to look
up to it, whether I wanted to or not; and so I looked up reverently. The
first human being that descended from it was an African; not a negro,
but something nobler. He was a very big man, with a distinguished mien,
and he wore the uniform, including the white gloves, of the dining-car
staff. Now, I had learnt from previous excursions in this gipsy-van of
the élite that the proper thing to do aboard! it is to display a keen
interest in your stomach. So I approached the African and demanded the
hour of dinner. He enveloped me in a glance of courteous but cold and
distant disdain, and for quite five seconds, as he gazed silently down
at me (I am 5ft.-8 3/4in.), he must have been saying to himself: “Here’s
another of ’em.” I felt inclined to explain to him, as the reporter
explained to the revivalist who inquired about his soul, that I was on
the Press, and therefore not to be confused with the general élite. But
I said nothing. I decided that if I told him that I worked as hard as
he did he would probably take me for a liar as well as a plutocratic
nincompoop.

Then the train went off, carrying its cargo of human parcels all wrapped
up in pretty cloths and securely tied with tapes and things, and plunged
with its glitter and meretricious flash down through the dark central
quietudes of France. I must say that as I wandered about its shaking
corridors, looking at faces and observing the deleterious effects of
idleness, money, seasickness, lack of imagination, and other influences,
I was impressed, nevertheless, by the bright gaudiness of the train’s
whole entity. It isn’t called a train _de luxe_; it is called a train
_de grand luxe_; and though the artistic taste displayed throughout is
uniformly deplorable, still it deserves the full epithet. As an example
of ostentation, of an end aimed at and achieved, it will pass muster.
And, lost in one of those profound meditations upon life and death and
luxury which even the worst novelists must from time to time indulge
in, I forgot everything save the idea of the significance of the
train rushing, so complete and so self-contained, through unknown and
uncared-for darkness. For me the train might have been whizzing at large
through the world as the earth whizzes at large through space. Then that
African came along and asserted with frigid politeness that dinner was
ready.

*****

And in the highly-decorated dining-car, where vines grew all up the
walls, and the table-lamps were electric bulbs enshrined in the metallic
curves of the _art nouveau_, and the fine cut flowers had probably
been brought up from Grasse that morning, it happened that the African
himself handed me the menu and waited on me. And when he arrived
balancing the elaborate silver “contraption” containing ninety-nine
varieties of _hors-d’oeuvres_, but not the particular variety I wanted,
I determined that I would enter the lists with him. And, catching his
eye, I said with frigid politeness: ‘_N’y a-t-il pas de sardines?_’

He restrained himself for his usual five seconds, and then he replied,
with a politeness compared to which mine was sultry:

“_Non, monsieur_.”

And he went on to say (without speaking, but with his eyes, arms, legs,
forehead, and spinal column): “Miserable European, parcel, poltroon,
idler, degenerate, here I offer you ninety-and-nine _hors d’ouvres_,
and you want the hundredth! You, living your unnatural and despicable
existence! If I cared sufficiently I could kill every man on the train,
but I don’t care sufficiently! Have the goodness not to misinterpret my
politeness, and take this Lyons sausage, and let me hear no more about
sardines.”

Hence I took the sausage and obediently ate it. I gave him best. Among
the few men that I respected on that train were the engine-driver, out
there in the nocturnal cold, with our lives in his pocket, and that
African. He really could have killed any of us. I may never see him
again. His circle of eternal energy just touched mine at the point where
a tin of sardines ought to have been but was not. He was emphatically a
man. He had the gestures and carriage of a monarch. Perhaps he was one,
_de jure_, somewhere in the neighbourhood of Timbuctoo. For practical
European, Riviera, plutocratic purposes he was a coloured waiter in the
service of the International Sleeping Car Company.



V--ANOTHER TRAIN

After six hours’ continuous sleep, I felt full of energy and joy. There
were no servants to sadden by their incompetence; so I got up and made
the tea and prepared the baths, and did many simple domestic things,
the doing of which personally is the beginning of “the solution of the
servant problem,” so much talked about. Shall we catch the 9.25 fast or
the 9.50 slow? Only my watch was going among all the clocks and watches
in the flat. I looked at it from time to time, fighting against the
instinct to hurry, the instinct to beat that one tiny watch in its
struggle against me. Just when I was quite ready, I had to button a
corsage with ten thousand buttons--toy buttons like sago, that must be
persuaded into invisible nooses of thread. I turned off the gas at the
meter and the electricity at the meter, and glanced ’round finally at
the little museum of furniture, pictures, and prints that was nearly
all I had to show in the way of spoils after forty years of living and
twenty-five years of sharpshooting. I picked up the valise, and we went
out on the staircase. I locked and double locked the door. (Instinct of
property.) At the concierge’s lodge a head stuck itself out and offered
the “Mercure de France,” which had just come. Strange how my pleasure in
receiving new numbers never wanes! I shoved it into my left-hand pocket;
in my right-hand pocket a new book was already reposing.

*****

Out into the street, and though we had been up for an hour and a half,
we were now for the first time in the light of day! Mist! It would
probably be called “pearly” by some novelists; but it was like blue
mousseline--diaphanous as a dancer’s skirt. The damp air had the
astringent, nipping quality that is so marked in November--like
a friendly dog pretending to bite you. Pavements drying. The coal
merchant’s opposite was not yet open. The sight of his closed shutters
pleased me; I owed him forty francs, and my pride might have forced me
to pay him on the spot had I caught his eye. We met a cab instantly. The
driver, a middle-aged parent, was in that state of waking up in
which ideas have to push themselves into the brain. “Where?” he asked
mechanically, after I had directed him, but before I could repeat the
direction the idea had reached his brain, and he nodded. This driver
was no ordinary man, for instead of taking the narrow, blocked streets,
which form the shortest route, like the absurd 99 per cent. of drivers,
he aimed straight for the grand boulevard, and was not delayed once by
traffic in the whole journey. More pleasure in driving through the city
as it woke! It was ugly, dirty--look at the dirty shirt of the waiter
rubbing the door handles of the fashionable restaurant!--but it
was refreshed. And the friendly dog kept on biting. Scarcely any
motor-cars--all the chauffeurs were yet asleep--but the tram-cars were
gliding in curves over the muddy wood, and the three horses in each
omnibus had their early magnificent willingness of action, and the
vegetable hawkers, old men and women, were earnestly pushing their
barrows along in financial anxiety; their heads, as they pushed, were
always much in advance of their feet. They moved forward with heedless
fatalism; if we collided with them and spilled cauliflowers, so much the
worse!

We reached the station, whose blue mousseline had evaporated as we
approached it, half an hour too soon. A good horse, no stoppages, and
the record had been lowered, and the driver had earned two francs in
twenty-five minutes! Before the Revolution he would have had to pay
a franc and a half of it in assorted taxes. Thirty minutes in a vast
station, and nothing to do. We examined the platform signs. There was
a train for Marseilles and Monte Carlo at 9.00 and another train for
Marseilles at 9.15. Then ours at 9.25. Sometimes I go south by the “Cote
d’Azur,” so this morning I must inspect it, owning it. Very few people;
a short, trying-to-be-proud train. The cook was busy in the kitchen of
the restaurant-car--what filth and smell! Separated from him only by
a partition were the flower-adorned white tables. On the platform the
officials of the train, some in new uniforms, strolled and conversed.
A young Frenchman dressed in the height of English fashion, with a
fine-bred pink-under-white fox terrier, attracted my notice. He guessed
it; became self-conscious, bridled, and called sportsmannishly to the
dog. His recognition of his own vital existence had forced him into some
action. He knew I was English, and that, therefore, I knew all about
dogs. He made the dog jump into the car, but the animal hadn’t enough
sense to jump in without impatient and violent help from behind.

I never cared to have my dogs too well-bred, lest they should be as
handsome and as silly as the scions of ancient families. This dog’s
master was really a beautiful example of perfect masculine dressing.
His cap, the length of his trousers, the “roll” of the collar of his
jacket--perfect! Yes, it is agreeable to see a faultless achievement.
Not a woman on the train to compare to _him!_ It is a fact that men are
always at their sartorial best when travelling; they then put on gay
colours, and give themselves a certain licence.. . . The train seemed
to go off while no one was looking; no whistle, no waving of flags. It
crept out. But to the minute.. . .

*****

It is astounding the lively joy I find in staring at a railway
bookstall. Men came up, threw down a sou, snatched a paper, and
departed; scores of them; but I remained, staring, like a ploughman,
vaguely.. . .

I was a quarter of an hour in buying the “Figaro.” What decided me was
the Saturday literary supplement. We mounted into our train before its
toilette was finished. It smelt nice and damp. We had a compartment to
ourselves. X. had one seat, I another, the “Mercure de France” a third,
the “Figaro” a fourth, and the valise a fifth. Male travellers passed
along the corridor and examined us with secret interest, but externally
ferocious and damnatory. Outside were two little Frenchmen of employés,
palefaces, with short, straggly beards. One yawned suddenly, and then
said something that the other smiled at. What diverts me is to detect
the domestic man everywhere beneath the official, beneath the mere unit.
I never see a porter without giving him a hearth and home, and worries,
and a hasty breakfast. Then the train went, without warning, like the
other, silently. I did not pick up my newspaper nor my magazine at
once, nor take the new book out of my pocket. I felt so well, so full of
potential energy.. . . and the friendly dog was still biting... I
wanted to bathe deep in my consciousness of being alive. . . Then I read
unpublished letters of de Maupassant, and a story by Matilde Serao and
memoirs of Ernest Blum, and my new book. What pleasure! After all what
joy I had in life! Is it not remarkable that so simple a mechanism as
print, for the transmission of thought, can work so successfully!

At Melun there were teams of oxen, with the yoke on their foreheads, in
the shunting-yard. Quaint, piquant, collusion of different centuries!
And Melun, what a charming provincial town--to look at and pass on! I
would not think of its hard narrowness, nor of its brewery.. . .

The landscape shed its mousseline, and day really began. Brilliant
sunshine. We arrived. Suddenly I felt tired. I wished to sleep. I no
longer tingled with the joy of life. I only remembered, rather sadly,
that half an hour ago I had been a glorious and proud being.





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