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Title: A London Mosaic
Author: George, Walter Lionel
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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      *      *      *      *      *      *



    (_American Title_: UNTIL THE DAY BREAK)
    (_American Title_: THE LITTLE BELOVED)


    (_American Title_: LITERARY CHAPTERS)

      *      *      *      *      *      *


        HYDE PARK]


Text by


Pictures by


New York
Frederick A. Stokes Company

Copyright, 1921

Manufactured in Great Britain


   CHAP.                                                            PAGE
     I.  PRELUDE                                                       1

    II.  PLAYGROUNDS                                                  13

   III.  THE FRIENDLY BOWL                                            35

    IV.  WANDERERS                                                    43

     V.  SOUPS AND STEWS                                              61

    VI.  IN SEARCH OF VICE                                            75

   VII.  THE POOR                                                     85

  VIII.  STONES                                                       99

    IX.  CAFÉ ROYAL                                                  119


  HYDE PARK                                               _Frontispiece_
                                                           _Facing page_
  THE REGENT CANAL AT MAIDA HILL                                       6

  CUMBERLAND HAY-MARKET                                                9

  THE PUB                                                             38

  FLOWER-GIRL                                                         48

  THE HEART OF THE CITY                                               56

  SOHO MARKET                                                         64

  THE SAVOY                                                           68

  SHOPPING                                                            72

  THE CHELSEA ARTS BALL                                               84

  SHEPHERD’S MARKET                                                   92

  THE TUBE, 9.30 A.M.                                                103

  AN ABSENT DESERT: THE CROMWELL ROAD                                109

  BEASTS AT THE ZOO                                                  113

  THE CAFÉ ROYAL                                                     122

  PRIVATE VIEW: THE A.A.A.                                           126

  THE GOOD INTENT, CHELSEA                                           131




The first thing that impresses me as I begin this short book on London
is the large number of subjects of which I will say nothing. There are
many reasons for this. One is that a title such as _A London Mosaic_
is as difficult to compose to as _Life_ or _Love_. (Two novels are
still on sale under these somewhat atlasian titles, but as an author
does not wish to be unkind in the first paragraphs of a book, they need
not be reviewed.) Another reason is that Mr E. V. Lucas, Mrs E. T.
Cook, John o’ London, Mr G. R. Sims, have compiled various volumes of
passionate Baedeker, and I hesitate to set my feet in their mighty
footprints. For so much of this London is unknown to me, and I have
learnt little of her, indeed, learned little except to love her. Thus,
in this book, you will find no lists of houses where famous people
lived. This may seem strange, but it wakes in me no thrill to see a
circular plate of debased wedgwood imposed by a maternal L.C.C. upon a
wall of innocent stucco coated with eternal dirt. To read that William
Hazlitt died here, or lived there, does not add much to the fact that
William Hazlitt lived. It may be interesting to know that Hazlitt chose
that sort of house, though it is likely that he did not choose it, but
accepted it; a house does not define a man of worth, for men of worth
are mostly poor, and their houses reflect them not. Many must have
hated them. Yet, I happen to know Huxley’s house in St John’s Wood,
and Carlyle’s house in Chelsea (there is no getting over that one when
friends arrive from America), but it is not exciting knowledge, and I
incline to rejoice with Kingsley that it is not the house one lives
in matters, but the house opposite. Unfortunately, the house opposite
is generally just as bad: the only thing that reconciles one to one’s
house is that the people opposite see most of it.

I shall not tell you anything of ‘quaint corners,’ or ‘picturesque
bits.’ I will not cut up and pickle London. Ever since the days of
Dickens (or is it since those of Dr Syntax?) people have ranged our
unfortunate town armed with a butterfly-net: swoop! caught Cloth Fair!
Another swoop! Staple Inn lies in the butterfly-net. Quick, into the
pickle-jar. Now for the cyanide. Here they are, London butterflies,
ready for delineation by Mr Hugh Thompson. No, I will pickle you no
living strips of London Town, and I promise that not once will I
portray a humorous bus-conductor. One reason is that there are no
humorous bus-conductors; there are only raucous brutes, working long
hours, and maintained in a state of pessimism because these long hours
separate them from the public-house. They do not, however, separate
them enough.

There will be no East in the West, nor West in the East. There will be
no list of statues, for nobody ever looks at statues. There is a statue
of George Stephenson at Euston, and one of William Pitt in Hanover
Square. That is very interesting, isn’t it? It is a terrible commentary
upon fame that when you erect a statue to a man he becomes invisible.
You pass a statue every day, but you never look at it, you pass it.
Nobody cares for statues, except the birds, who make them a venue for
love and war. Christopher Wren did say that if you required a monument
you should look about you; thus does the London population. Those who
have noticed Mr Peabody, miraculously encased in a frock coat several
sizes too small, Mr Huskisson stark naked, and one of the Georges on
his little horse, trotting to nowhere in particular, as was the way of
his dynasty, will agree that it is no wonder statues fail to arouse
even merriment.

No, there are no statues in this book. There are no pictures either.
I shall not tell you how to find the Madonna degli Ansidei in the
National Gallery, nor direct you to the Flaxmans of University College.
The catalogues can do that. That is, if you want to know, and are not
one of the ordinary beings who use the museums to get out of the rain
or for the innocent purposes of courtship. (I recommend the Geological;
chilly, but leads to concentration). Sometimes, in remorseful mood,
when the word ‘ought,’ which as a rule means little to me, suddenly
assumes material shape to the extent of a faint mist, I tell myself
that I am very uneducated, and regrettably unrepentant, that I ‘ought’
to care that Swift lived in Bury Street and Sir Isaac Newton in Jermyn
Street, and that I ‘ought’ to find desecration in the fact that where
the dog Diamond barked, the plates of Jules’s Balkan waiters clatter.
And I go to Jules’s to lunch and to meditate on gravitation. But Jules
can cook, and while eating his meats you do not meditate; and he is so
popular that as soon as you have finished those meats, you are driven
out by the eyes of some young couple, beaming with love and appetite.
Nor may you meditate opposite the houses of the great; it annoys the
police. So, after this faint attempt, the slender ‘ought’ evaporates.
Perhaps because of that I have not yet succeeded in visiting the Tower,
the Roman Bath, the Foundling, the Soane Museum, the Mint, and many
other places which doubtless would improve my mind.

I am not a student, but a lover of London; it amuses me much more to
notice that one man shouts: ‘Paw Maw! Exper! Paw Maw!’ while another
does it like this: ‘Per Mer! Gateshpozervenment!’ than to bask in the
knowledge that Johnson lived in Gough Square. This arises, I suppose,
from having taken London as I found her, and from not being a Londoner.
The first twenty years of my life having been spent in another country,
I did not treat London as a relation, but as some one whom I liked.
Everything of her was interesting, and there is to-day no mews where I
cannot hear the footsteps of her smutty nymphs. The entry into London
is such a romantic march; I say march because it is worth doing on
foot. But as I speak to Londoners, we had better do it by train, for
they would grow tired of her. When Londoners say ‘London,’ they mean
Piccadilly, Selfridges, Covent Garden, that sort of thing, and that is
not London. London is Tottenham and Chiswick, the ‘Paragon,’ Mile End,
Walker’s Court and what it sells, and the black doss places under the
railway arches. London is Houndsditch, where everybody looks bad, and
Cornwall Gardens where everybody looks good. London is a congress-house
of emotions.

When one looks at the map, particularly if it is on a large scale,
London looks like a splash, rather longer than it is broad, with
railway lines radiating in all directions, rather like a spider’s web,
the centre being tenanted by whoever you like. And one thinks of Dick
Whittington gaily treading in the spider’s web. But, in fact, one does
not come out of the everywhere into the here of London. One melts into
London, and one hardly knows how one comes to abandon the rest of the
world. There is a moment when the Essex or Kentish marsh ceases to lap
so uniformly against Medway or Thames. One has a sense of population,
of rather large houses set rather far apart, but not yet so far apart
as in the counties; of grounds less richly endowed with the high walls
crowned with broken glass which announce that respectable people live
inside. One reads names on the platforms: ‘Brentwood,’ or ‘Malling,’
and there is a sprinkling of villas, with plenty of white paint and
concrete, and red roofs and leaded panes. One glimpses cerise curtains,
and one knows with painful accuracy where to look for the back of the
swing mirror. Then, again, gaps, cows. It must have been a mistake, it
is not London after all! But there come more platforms and more villas,
then a row of shops, shops not branded with the names one would expect
to find, such as ‘Boots’ or ‘Home and Colonial,’ but brisk, individual
little shops belonging to Smith, and to Jones, yet strangely alike in
build, furnished by the same shopfitter, just as the owners will be
buried by the same undertaker. (He is quite ready, for he owns one of
the shops.) That is individualism, which, like the camomile plant, is
ever bruised and ever arises.

The train rumbles on, and the houses change. They are still detached,
but less detached: they are separated by privet hedges over which a
man can look, and so they have an air of fellowship. Suddenly, one
enters a little colony of houses; one sees a postman on foot instead
of on a bicycle, a horse omnibus and no carrier’s cart; one sees a
policeman too: the world is growing less respectable; it must be London
after all. But again come gaps and cows, except that now the gaps
are described as ‘desirable freehold sites’ with loudly advertised
frontages. The earth is already torn up, and excavations are turning
into roads; one observes a solitary gas-lamp, and on a board the
words ‘Macedonia Avenue.’ No avenue is built yet, but it is foredoomed
to Macedonia.


        AT MAIDA HILL]

All that is the overflow of London; it is the fugitive London which
has no love or understanding of the town. The movement of a Londoner
who rises in life seems to follow a definite curve; if he begins in
Whitechapel the wheel of fortune may take him to Streatham; after a
while he will dream of a place in the country and realise his dream
perhaps at Purley Oaks; by the time his son has come back from Oxford,
his wife will have been ambitious enough to remove him to South
Kensington; thence, the last step, to God’s quadrilateral between
Oxford Street and Piccadilly, Regent Street, and Park Lane. After the
bankruptcy the process is reversed. Outward, then inward, and outward
again. It is like the tide.

But the train goes on, and unexpectedly, we find age after youth,
Croydon, Sydenham, Edmonton, places where again the walls are high, the
oaks thick, where are deep lawns, heavy stucco fronts, little crowded
streets with spreading market places. We breathe the air of genteel
sleep. Genteel, perhaps, but restless sleep, for these are old villages
made into islands.

They seem vaguely annoyed among the trams; they blink at the sky-signs
and the objurgations of Bovril. But it is too late; round each little
group run fifty streets, each one comprising a hundred houses or so,
all complete, with Nottingham lace curtain and Virginia creeper. The
old house may call itself ‘The Lodge,’ but ‘Chatsworth’ and ‘Greville
Towers’ are round the corner. Indeed, we forget them as we go on, for
now, as the train roars over railway bridges, through cuttings, we look
down on the endless congestion of suburban roofs, each one separated
from its neighbour by what the builder regrettably calls a ‘worm.’

And yet it is not London. For London has yet to burst upon our eyes, in
the shape of strident Clapham Road, or Brixton Road, true London of the
black, greasy pavement and the orange peel of which Private Ortheris
babbled in his delirium. We have still to come to the giant warehouses
and their ambitious grayness, to the flat mass of gray, yellow, and
black, broken only by the washing that hangs to dry, and the narrow
gardens where droops the nasturtium. At last here is working London,
little, nestling, hard, grimy London, gritty, troglodyte London, London
of crowded shop and public-house, of tramway and clotted traffic, and
yelping children. That is London of many heads and, to me, all smiling.

It is only later, when at last we reach the river that is gray as a
cygnet, and see London rising in a hundred solemn spires, that we come
to understand London, to feel the use of that white, central pomp; as
well of that opulence as of the smiling cleanliness of the outer ring,
of the blackness of the inner ring. For all that is part of London’s
world, and it is well that she should, within herself, comprise all
ugliness and all beauty. For this makes her worth exploring.

The secret of a city’s exploration does not lie in the dutiful
following of itineraries, but rather in a lover-like submission to
its moods. One should eat in various places, not only within the
stereotyped square mile which, in London, in Paris, or in Petrograd, is
loudly labelled as the foreigner’s restaurant. One must seek culinary
adventure far afield, at Harrow, and at Tulse Hill, in Piccadilly
and Norton Folgate; and let me assure you that there exists a subtle
difference between the cooking at the Cheapside A.B.C. and its fellow
in the Brixton Road.

Also one should readily cede to the fancy that is bred by a beautiful
place name. It is true that, as a rule, the most attractive names
lead to the least attractive places, but on the way one touches
singularity often, and beauty sometimes. My Baedeker has always been
Kelly’s Directory; that is one of the books I should like to find in my
restricted library if I were wrecked on a desert island. For, sitting
under my bread-fruit tree, warm in my garment of yakskin, and smoking
an earthen pipe of dried I don’t know what leaf, Kelly’s Directory
would bring up dreams, dreams such as these: Seven Sisters’ Road,
Satchwell Rents, Beer Lane, and Whetstone Park. All those dreams have
come true, and thus a little of my fervour has been abated by their
materialisation; by the discovery of Seven Sisters’ Road as gray,
refuse-strewn, rich in Victorian goodness and in modern slum; of
Satchwell Rents as a dusty affluent into Bethnal Green Road, shuttered,
and locked, and suspicious. Whetstone Park, of course, is not at
Whetstone, but just off New Oxford Street, and there is no park there.
But still, those names, like Orme Square, that secludes itself from the
Bayswater Road behind its column and its defiant eagle, like Cumberland
Market, Hanoverian, naked, whose many iron posts await cattle that
never come, contain the seed of romance because they induce quest. And
so I will not be discouraged yet, but soon must discover what stones
have wrought Jedburgh Street and Parsifal Road.



Yet those streets, and roads, and squares that have their place in
Kelly are, after all, only the outer shell which the true lover must
break through. If he is a true lover, he will soon understand that
London lies behind the streets. He will realise that between two
streets there is often more than two rows of houses and of gardens or
yards. He will have discovered that in the core of those blocks of
masonry lives an inner London. Into that core there is but one way,
which I will call the slits. We all know slits, little spaces between
houses, that lead inwards, you know not whither. You pass them every
day, perhaps, and never turn aside, yet through those slits is the way
in. There is one, for instance, near Notting Hill Gate. They call it
Bulmer Place, though it is only six feet broad and is buried under an
archway. Enter; ten yards lead you to an old cottage settlement, where
no house exceeds two floors, where each has its garden, its creeper and
its cat, where washing floats undisturbed, and, on fine afternoons,
public beanoes take place. This is an old London village, caught
between the warehouses and shops, yet maintained by the magic law of
ancient lights.

There is another slit, less well known, quite near Kensington Square.
To the ordinary eye, Kensington Square is entirely civilised, and none
live there unless they have both money and good taste. In the far
south-west corner stands a convent, that stares forth blankly upon this
world. But walk south-east and turn to the right, and go on until,
past low, white cottages grown with sterile vine, you meet a brick
wall. On the way, small houses, well locked, that are quiet and green,
will have seen you pass without approval. If adventure is not for you,
you will turn back on seeing the brick wall; if, however, it is, you
will go on, and, on your right, find a slit so small that you may not
open your umbrella in it. This they call South End; if you persevere
you shall come to rustic cottages of plaster, and at last discover,
single-floored against the side of a great block of flats, the cottage
and garden where rot two old green, painted figure-heads. There live
Prunella, Mityl, Selysette, and their tribe. But go carefully to South
End, for the road is fugitive, and I cannot always find it myself. I
think I find it only on the days when I am not too impure in heart.

Wherever flows London stone the slits exist. A deep, dark archway out
of Surrey Street dives under the Norfolk Hotel; follow it, go down
Surrey Steps, and you shall come to a water-gate, on which you may
yet lean and smell the tar of Henry Fitz Alwyn’s barge. Another slit,
behind the Alexandra Hotel, will lead you through Old Barrack Yard
(I do not know what barrack) and past low, industrial cottages, to
the petrified splendours of Belgravia. I wish I knew them all, for I
discovered yet another last week, after overlooking it for over sixteen
years. It is called St James’s Market, and leads off the Haymarket,
towards the neat elegancies of Jermyn Street. That does not sound
promising; yet, lost among the backs of warehouses and restaurants,
there stands a long, low house coated with _green_ plaster; it is a
workshop, but some sense of fitness had bidden the workers relieve
its green walls with claret curtains. I choose to be sure that in
this house Axford tried to imprison Hannah Lightfoot, until the fair
Quakeress fled to her Georgian lover.

And follow the green spot on the map, on the borough map, that cares
so much for the borough, so little for the town. The borough map will
lead you to green fields where flourish the sardine tin and the wild
hyacinth. It will lead you to a churchyard, itself buried between
theatres and shops, behind St Ann’s, Soho, where King Theodore of
Corsica has laid his insurgent bones. It will lead you behind the
solemnities of South Paddington into the vast churchyard behind the
little Chapel of the Ascension. This is open to you all day; there you
will find sparse graves, vast lawns and, under the trees, friendly
seats where you may dream of death, or, if you prefer, of loves that
will companion you to that bourne.




It is strange that the theatre should matter in a nation such as
ours, which has gained a reputation for liberalism and tolerance,
being tolerant because it cared for nothing, and liberal because it
understood little. The vogue of the theatre reflects the character of
urban England, which is as frivolous as that of urban Italy is dour;
because it is the symbol of pleasure, easily attained and still more
easily digested, it can always find room in the newspaper, where the
affairs of the nation flicker and the claims of art are unmet. For let
there be no confusion: art and the theatre are not the same thing;
almost one might say that if a play possesses artistic quality it holds
a passport to eternity, with this difference, that many things lost in
eternity are remembered. A little more may be said of this further on.

London has always been a city of theatres, perhaps because we have, for
many centuries, laboured under the Puritan tradition: its bitterness
has attached to the theatre a glamour foreign to it in hotter lands.
When you open a book of memoirs by an Italian, a German, or a Russian,
you may be sure that it will consist in portraits of politicians,
biographies of cocottes, stories of riots and coronations, but if at
Hatchards you peer into any volume called _My Life_, or something like
that, you will almost invariably discover that the greater part of the
author’s life seems to have been employed in meeting Sir Henry Irving,
or waiting outside the Adelphi on first nights. The theatre, you see,
is wicked and winning; the most august of the augustine, Messrs Coutts
and Co., stamp upon their cheques their old sign: ‘At the “Three
Crowns” in the Strand, next door to the Globe Theatre, A.D. 1692.’ I
will wager those three crowns that no bank manager would ever think of
advertising on his cheques: ‘Next door to Westminster Abbey.’ Why this
should be is not entirely explained by the Puritan tradition, and it is
still less explained by the London theatres themselves, nearly all of
them, the meanest, dirtiest, dingiest, fustiest, frowstiest edifices
in the country. This is true, whether you pass from Drury Lane, that
cave of winds, to ‘behind,’ at the Kingsway, where the oldest rabbit
would get lost. Indeed, our theatres must have been influenced by the
Puritan tradition, for everything has been done to hide their addresses
in the papers, to make their doors invisible, their seating suitable
for a Christian martyr. There is not in London a pre-Boer War theatre
the pit of which is not summed up by Rutland Barrington’s song: ‘You
bark your shins, you bang your head, your knees are up to your nose in
bed ...’ and so on. They are so arranged that people delicately place
their feet in the small of your back, so that nobody can enter the
middle of a row without disturbing it, or leave it without infuriating
it; as for the rakes, in spite of the matinée hat, I suspect that they
have been planned to encourage expensive transfers. Of course, the
worst theatres are those which are known as the ‘good old’ ones. There
is no such thing as good old. There is nothing but bad old, and the
theatre is an example. It must have been that heathen god, Good Old,
invented Covent Garden. Good Old got it up in red and gold (Good Old
would); Good Old planned the slips, which on one side let you hear all
the strings and on the other all the brass. Good Old says it is cheap
for half a crown. Good Old planned Drury Lane and laid it down where
no buses pass. And, no doubt, Good Old handed over what was then Her
Majesty’s Theatre to Shakespeare as dramatised by Beerbohm Tree.

Some of the old London theatres, it is true, are a little less
repulsive because they are not quite so large. Thus, the Haymarket, the
Royalty, and in a queer, insidious way old Sadler’s Wells. Sadler’s
Wells has gone; there to-day upon the film cowboys race and rescue,
and negroid heroines register their emotions, but not long ago it was
one of the few pleasant places Good Old had bequeathed us, with its
hemicycle of plush-backed stalls, its little boxes lined with an inch
of lush and half an inch of dirt, its heavy red hangings, favourable to
lovers, its preposterous plays of love, gold, faith, patriotism, and
banana falls. You see, at Sadler’s Wells, Good Old dated back to about
1780, while at most of our theatres he has brought himself up to date,
say to 1860, and has grown respectable; it has not agreed with him.
When we consider the few new theatres that have been built, such as the
Scala, the Little Theatre, the Ambassadors, we are sure that the old
cannot be brought up to date. Like most old institutions, the English
theatre can be reformed only by dynamite.

As in many human things, architecture is at fault. The playhouse is
evolved from the Roman circus. But the circus offered a performance
without scenery, which could be seen from all sides. When scenery came,
it grew impossible to show the play except from one side, so as not to
give away the mystery; thus we obtained the semi-circular auditorium,
which would be quite satisfactory if it did not result in a perpetually
partial view for one half of the audience. The old play was mainly
pantomimic; when the play grew more articulate it became impossible to
hear the words very far, and as the theatre could not spread outwards
it spread upwards. Then chaos came, for rakes had to be so arranged as
to enable people to see, and yet packed close under another tier. The
result is sardines.

Indeed, when we consider what it labours against, it is remarkable
that the theatre should be so healthy. Every year, well over half the
plays that are put on enjoy less than six weeks’ run, and if it were
not notorious that bankruptcy is a profitable trade one would wonder
how managers live. The managers seem to have done everything to achieve
financial suicide. Especially during the last twenty years; notably
stimulated by Mr Charles Frohman and Mr George Edwardes, they have
indulged in an endless competition in expensive staging. It grew quite
common for a play to cost £5000 to stage, and much more was spent
sometimes. Now, that large sum was risked, not invested, and so the
unfortunate manager had to pay his backers a heavy toll. I am sure
he was entirely wrong, for audiences prefer plays to scenery, and Mr
Cochran, one of the few managers who remembers that once upon a time
he was a public, has proved this by staging a successful revue for
about £150. Do not believe that I am a highbrow; I do not suggest that
_A Little Bit of Fluff_ should be staged without scenery, but with
curtains (though there is a lot in curtains, if discreetly drawn), but
I do suggest that the more elaborate the scenery, the more the play is
overlooked. Perhaps that is what the managers desire, and judging from
the condition of modern drama, perhaps they are right. But I attribute
to the managers no such profundities of psychology. Rather would I say
that they know what the public wants, and one thing they know well: the
public wants certain actors and wants them passionately.

I shall never forget a certain performance of _King Henry V._ There
entered a man in silver armour, his visor down, and a gasping female
by my side said: ‘That’s Lewis Waller.’ And the worst of it is that
she was right, and that I knew she was right. Visor or no visor, I too
knew it was Lewis Waller; it was Lewis Waller, slamming and banging
British drama as none better could than he, by insisting, in his silver
armour, on being always Waller, never Henry V. They are all like that:
Mr Gerald du Maurier may dress himself up as a policeman, or swathe
his neck in a choker, or get into evening clothes and pretend to be a
burglar, but thick over those artifices lies always the charming du
Maurier trail. He is loved for that, just as Beerbohm Tree was loved
for the confectionery of his voice and the circular movement of his
hand, as Mr Hawtrey is loved for his sober cynicism, and Miss Doris
Keane for ... I don’t know exactly what. Whatever actors are loved for,
it is always for being themselves and never for being their parts;
whether, like Miss Lilian Braithwaite, they have cast themselves for
the lilies and languors of virtue, or, like Miss Dorothy Minto, for
the roses and raptures of vice, to those selections they must cleave,
or they shall be loved no more. But if they do cleave to these selves
of theirs, then shall they attain fame, and the public will not say:
‘Have you been to _Hamlet_?’ but ‘Have you seen Martin Harvey?’ And
this worship shapes yet another stone to hurl at the English theatre,
namely, fantastic salaries, varying between £100 and £300 a week. Call
me a Bolshevik if you like, but I say no man is worth £300 a week;
nobody knows this when the man is alive, but everybody does the day
after he is dead. This would not matter if it did not make the theatre
so expensive to run, therefore the prices of the seats so high that
only those who can afford it sit in them. The richer the staging, the
poorer the play; the dearer the seat, the greater its attraction to the
people who know ‘the price of everything and the value of nothing.’ For
long purses are made of sows’ ears.

I wonder if something could be done for the theatre. Supposing it
were built like the Scala, so that nobody sat at the sides, so that
everybody might see the play instead of hats, so that one might have
a fit in the stalls and be removed without causing too much trouble
(you see, I think of everything), so that the people at the top were
not seated so high as to observe mainly the actors’ upper skulls.
Supposing a theatre like the Munich Kammerspiele, which holds five
hundred, were to be built. Supposing, like that one, it had but one
balcony; supposing it were cheap to light; supposing, too, that it had
no programme sellers, but delivered programmes at the doors from a
penny-in-the-slot machine; supposing it had no cloak-room attendants,
but hooks with a number and a padlock; supposing it had no ... I forget
the name of the attendant, something like pew-opener, and that the
seats were not numbered from A.26 to M.34 in the stalls, not numbered
at all in the pit, and re-numbered again in the upper circle; supposing
the seats were just numbered 1, 2, 3, so that one could find them;
supposing we paid actors for rehearsals and engaged them for a certain
term; supposing all this, would the public be pleased? I wonder! I
wonder whether the public would like paying less for its seats. If
stalls did not cost 10s. 6d., would it trust the play? It certainly
does not trust the doctor who charges less than 10s. 6d. And yet, once
upon a time, the theatre was cheap. When, sixty years ago, Ben Webster
was producing at the Adelphi, a stall cost 5s., and Mr Webster offered
amphitheatre stalls ‘with elbows and cushions, secured the whole
evening’ for 1s.

Yes, a good deal might be done like this. A good deal might be done by
the Lord Chamberlain and the London County Council, if only they would
cease to devote all their thoughts to exits from the theatre. (On
consideration, this may be well advised.) They might allow smoking, and
best of all, they might allow everything, suspend all censorship, and
be assured that the plays which are called objectionable would not be
staged. I do not mean that there is no demand for objectionable plays;
there is; indeed, we nearly all of us like objectionable plays, but the
Puritans can trust our Puritan feeling, which makes it impossible for
us to enjoy objectionable plays because we dare not be seen enjoying
them by other people who are also enjoying them. Ah! if you could go to
the play masked it would be different.

What is wrong with the drama is that it does not hold an idea to the
square act; is it worth saving? For it may truly be said that the
only fault the public finds in a stupid play is that it is not stupid
enough. You do not believe me. Let us look at the list of plays in
to-day’s paper. To-day there are open thirty-six metropolitan theatres,
including some we can leave out, Maskelyne’s, Drury Lane (Opera), the
Philharmonic. Of the remaining thirty-three, musical comedy occupies
six stages. Say no more about that. If it were not for the lips that
sing, our attention would be concentrated on English music. Revue rages
at five theatres. This leaves twenty-two plays running. Among them are
two spy plays, two comic war plays, a mystical melodrama, four farces;
the rest consists in plays made by hands unassisted by heads, plays
that the next generation may make by machinery. The groans of old age
are heard as Sir Arthur Pinero rigs _The Freaks_ upon their legs, as Mr
Somerset Maugham presents _Love in a Cottage_. And _Dear Brutus_ is the
twinkling star that makes darker the Thalian night.

In hardly one of these plays is there a single moment of intellectual
distinction. I do not mean that I ask those twenty-two stages to make
up the night’s programme of _King Lear_, _Ghosts_, _Les Trois Filles
de Monsieur Dupont_, the _Sunken Bell_, _The Knight of the Burning
Pestle_, but I do think that their coalition might give us more than
_Dear Brutus_. There should be plenty of room for true comedy of the
type of _The Admirable Crichton_, _Mrs Gorringe’s Necklace_, _John
Bull’s Other Island_, _The Cassilis Engagement_, _Chains_, comedy with
ideas. There should be room for _The Shewing-up of Blanco Posnett_,
_The Playboy of the Western World_ and other solid plays. But one
condition is that we should pay for plays, not players. We do not. If
you want evidence consider the following advertisement of _When Knights
were Bold_ (a really amusing play):--


  BROMLEY     ‘Bromley Challenor has a personality and fun of his
  CHALLENOR     own.’--_Times._

              ‘An individual style of his own.’--_Daily Telegraph._

              ‘A manner quite his own.’--_The Queen._

              ‘Nothing funnier than the second act.’--_Daily Telegraph._

              ‘His fun is infectious.’--_Daily Graphic._

              ‘Keeps his audience in convulsions.’--_Star._

              ‘Had a triumphant reception.’--_Daily Chronicle._

              ‘Bromley Challenor extracts every spark of fun.’--J. T.
                GREIN, _Sunday Times_.

              ‘The play went more gloriously than ever.’--_Referee._

  MARJORIE    ‘Miss Marjorie Bellairs is a charming actress with a
  BELLAIRS      singularly sweet voice.’--_Era._

Ten press quotations. Two refer to the play; one may refer to play
or to actor; seven refer to the actor only. (The playwright is not
mentioned, but never mind). This does not mean that the newspapers
confined their notices to Mr Bromley Challenor, but it does mean that
the management selected for quotation only the phrases which refer to
the actor, because that is what the public wants, and what it gets for
the hastening of its mental decay.

What is wrong with the theatre is, to a certain extent, right with the
music-hall, and this for two reasons: we have to deal with a different
kind of playgoer, and the excessive valuation of the actor is sharply
limited by the worth of his songs. I have seen Ernie Mayne, Ella
Shields, and others rouse the house with one song and half-fail with
another. The theatre-goer, who, on the whole, is not a music-hall-goer,
is usually either in a smug condition, or over-conscious of his
digestive process. Nearly all the pit and upper circle, and the bulk of
the dress circle, feel that they are indulging in a respectable spree.
Leaving aside the one who, in the newspapers, signs his letters as ‘Old
Playgoer’ (generally an old fool), or ‘Old Firstnighter,’ probably an
old lunatic (because the first night is the worst night), the cheaper
seats in a theatre are tenanted mainly by people in a stupefied state
of admiration. They have escaped for a few hours from the dug-outs of
respectability; their families have not long emerged from the tradition
that the theatre is a place of evil repute; some even believe that they
are improving their minds, which is touching, whatever the condition
of their minds. They file their programmes. They loudly proclaim to
their friends that they ‘ought’ to go and see such and such a play.
Perhaps they go because they ought to. Perhaps they go to dream dreams;
no doubt nightmares do not disappoint them. The stalls are not in
search of virtue tempered with a little vice; most of their patrons
are confessedly in search of vice neat. They never get it. And if this
vice, invisible to anybody who is not a bishop or the editor of a
Sunday paper, is necessary to their health, it is because they visit
the theatre in a state of advanced repletion, because they are people
who manage to be replete in the middle of a European war; such is their
nature. No wonder, then, that the cold suet of the drama should have so
securely become wrapped in the wet dish-cloth of the playgoer. Thus, it
may be true to say that the playgoer gets the plays he deserves. The
music-hall-goer is different.

If it is true that many go to the theatre when they have eaten too
much, it is, to a certain extent, true that many go to the music-hall
when they have drunk too much, which, if I must choose, is less
repulsive. They are frankly out for a rag; they want to laugh,
and I had rather they guffawed than drowsed. You can’t drowse in a
music-hall: from the moment when the conductor, in his elaborately
luxurious and irremediably faulty dress suit, addresses his first and
infinitely disabused bow to the audience, to the time when he calls
upon the band to produce the smallest possible scrap of ‘God Save
the King,’ and hurries out loyalty on the wings of ragtime, there is
no flagging. It is not only that red-nosed comedian and eccentric
comedienne, American dancer, or sketch got up regardless, tread upon
each other’s heels; the main thing is the band, the harsh, rapid band,
that never stops, that plays anything, providing it is the thing of the
day, with all the regularity and indifference of the typewriter. From
it gush patriotism, comedy or sentiment, and all three burst forth with
their full headline value. There is no tickling of big drums; when the
drum is banged you know it; nor is there measure in the sigh of the
oboe, for the music-hall paints not in wash-greens and grays; scarlet,
black, white, and electric-blue are its gamut.

Nothing else would satisfy the audience that every music-hall comedian
must encounter every night. It is a mixed audience. There are old
stagers who sit in the same seat every Saturday night, without looking
at the programme, and this differentiates them from the playgoer: they
are bound for a playground. There are the discriminating who follow the
star, so long as the star’s songs refrain from appealing to what is
described as their better feelings; there are the very young in search
of excitement, and determined to get it; there are the slightly older,
who come in pairs, and do nothing to conceal the fact. (Of late years,
many of these have been lost to the music-halls and have taken to the
cinemas because they are darker.) But one thing unites them all: they
have come here to be amused, amused at once, amused all the time; they
are not ready to make allowances; if an old song is a good song, it is
a good song, but if it is not a good song the seasoned music-hall-goer
will know it at once. I have heard him turn to his neighbour and say:
‘It’s all up. She won’t get across.’ Getting across the footlights is
not, in a music-hall, the same thing as getting across in a theatre.
The music-hall performer has no scenery to help him, in this sense,
that the properties are well known to the audience. I have seen
at least twenty turns at the Shepherd’s Bush Empire in front of a
drop-curtain which I swear is Croydon High Street. The words of the
song are, as a rule, difficult to sing. Often, as in the case of George
Robey, the costume is stereotyped and never varies. Thus the music-hall
performer, having not the scenery of Harry Hope, or the knee-breeches
of Malvolio, can rely on nothing but himself. He comes naked into an
entirely cold world. His situation is ideally expressed by the old
cartoon of the impresario, his foot bound up to show that he has gout.
Before him stands the dingy figure of a little performer. This is their

    _Impresario_: ‘What’s your line?’

    _Performer_: ‘Comedian.’

    _Impresario_: ‘Well! get on with it! Make me laugh.’

If within one minute of his appearance the performer has not got his
laugh he will probably not get it at all. If he is famous, and if his
turn is not too bad, nothing worse will happen than the administration
of the frozen lemon. It is rather tragic, feeling the lemon come. You
feel the audience leap up towards the performer, for it is always ready
to give him his chance, even if he is unknown; then, in a minute or
so, you feel the audience drop away from him; you are aware that he
is not being listened to, for people begin to talk, to flutter with
their programmes, and perhaps some one may hum an irrelevant air. The
wretched performer knows it. If you are sitting in the first row of the
stalls you see anxiety come over his face. He begins to shout or to
dance rather wildly; he knows that he is not getting across; he tries
to attract attention as a cockatoo if he cannot do so as an eagle. Then
some one laughs derisively, and there is something hideous in that
laughter; it makes one think of the thumb-down attitude in the Roman
circus. The curtain drops in the middle of something that is half hum
and half silence. That is the lemon.

It is only in extreme cases that the audience manifests disapproval.
Indeed, it is an audience full of good-natured contempt, and if the
lemon is taken it willingly passes on to the next turn; as a rule,
the lemon is taken by the management, who ring down the curtain on
the first song and do not let the performer come on again. But if the
performer does come on again, and strives to recapture lost ground,
the audience will give him thirty seconds to do it; if he fails, the
hum grows angry as that of a swarm of bees. There is more derisive
laughter; a few yells come from the gallery; a general uproar develops
from the hum. You discern cries: ‘I want to go ’ome’.... ‘Take me back
to mother.’ ... Opponents reply as loudly: ‘Shut up! chuck him out!’
But the voices resume in more and more sepulchral tones: ‘I want to go
’ome,’ while others join the rag for the rag’s sake, and some stentor
high above roars: ‘Shut yer face, dear, I see yer Christmas dinner.’
And then everybody cries: ‘Chuck him out!’ while the performer sings
louder and louder, and the band makes still more desperate efforts to
drown his song. Then a large portion of the audience rise to their feet
and bellow enmity until the curtain goes down. That is the scarlet
bird, and I have not often seen it on the wing.

No, there is no mercy in the music-hall audience. For it is an honest
audience, and is, therefore, capable of every brutality. Also,
everybody has paid for his seat. Nobody there can afford to waste
that small payment. They must get their money’s worth. They know
exactly what they want; they have been wanting it ever since the
Middle Ages, and, on the whole, have been getting it. They want rough
and obvious jokes told in a subtle and intelligent way; they want to
see the performer break plates or sit on the butter, but he must do
it in a debonair style; they want songs of which they know the tune
by the time the second couplet is reached, favourite songs of which
they can bellow the choruses while the triumphant performer whispers
it; above all, they want their traditional jokes. Cheese, lodgers,
mothers-in-law, twins, meeting the missus at 3 a.m., alcoholic excess,
one or more of these must be introduced to make a successful song. It
does not matter who you are, whether the great McDermott, Dan Leno, or
R. G. Knowles, you must tie your little bark to the great ship of the
English music-hall tradition. No famous song has become famous unless
a portion of it at least dealt with one of these subjects: ‘Champagne
Charlie,’ ‘I’m following in father’s footsteps,’ ‘The Girl, the Woman,
and the Widow,’ are clear evidences of this. Perhaps that is why some
delicate artists, such as Maidie Scott and Wish Wynne, have never
quite ‘got there.’ Maidie Scott is the most finished product on the
music-halls of to-day. As soon as she comes on, her quick, schoolgirl
walk, her red hair, her _distrait_ eyes, and the voice which she knows
so amazingly how to keep down to a minor key, cut her right out of
the stage. When Maidie Scott sings ‘Amen,’ or ‘Father’s got the sack
from the water-works’ (all along of his cherry briar pipe, because
they were afraid he’d set the water-works on fire), and still more
when she sings, ‘I’m glad I took my mother’s advice,’ one has a sense
of extraordinary detachment. She is aloof, alone. She is so entirely
under restraint; knows so well how, at last, to let her voice swell and
underline her point; she knows so well how not to waste during a song
the power of her splendid blue eyes, but to reserve them for that final
point. Thus she should wield astonishing power, yet does not quite; she
lacks grossness; like Wish Wynne, her art is a little too delicate to
get across. The audience like her, they like Wish Wynne singing ‘Oo!
er!’ and miserably dragging her little tin trunk, but never for either
do they rise and roar as they do for Marie Lloyd.

It is true that Marie Lloyd takes us into another world, that of the
comfortable public-house, with plenty of lights and red plush; to the
publican’s dog-cart off to the Derby; to the large birthday party,
enlivened by plenty of sherry wine. In Marie Lloyd’s world everything
is fat, healthy, round, jolly, bouncing; when she keeps the old man’s
trousers to remember him by after he’s gone, she defines the human
quality of her sentiment: she can do nothing false and artificial, such
as pressing his nuptial buttonhole. Marie Lloyd is a woman before she
is an actress, and in this lies her strength. When she advises the
audience to ‘’Ave a little bit of what yer fancy (if you fancy it, if
you fancy it), ’Ave a little bit of what yer fancy, I say it does yer
good,’ Marie Lloyd is expressing the eternal claim of the flesh against
the spirit, which has been rediscovered a great many times since
Epicurus. She survives a great generation; there is nobody to-day fit
to wear her pleasantly-little shoes.

There is nobody, because the spirit of the music-hall is changing,
and women, who are more adaptable than men, are feeling it first. An
awful thing is happening to most of the young women on the halls; they
are becoming refined. Louie and Toots Pounds, Ella Retford, Clarice
Mayne, Ella Shields, have nothing of the Marie Lloyd tradition; they
are almost creatures of the drawing-room. Even Beattie and Babs, though
Babs does what she can with stockings that nothing will ever keep up,
never seem to experience the thick joy of being alive that Marie Lloyd
conveys in one slow, sidelong raising of her immortal eyelid. There is,
perhaps, a white hope, Daisy Wood, but one cannot be sure. They sing
well, these young women, they dance well; they do it too well; women
of the older tradition, such as Victoria Monks and Nellie Wallace are
still themselves: they do not do it so well, but they do it. These
are not trained, like the young women, but they have grown up and
discovered themselves; they do not _act_ joy or distress: they cut joy
or distress out of common life and lay it down on the bare planks. All
that is going, for the music-hall is growing refined.

Let me dispel a possible misunderstanding. When I say music-hall I do
not mean those sinks of virtue, the Coliseum, or the Palladium, the
Palace, and the Hippodrome. Those are royal theatres of varieties,
eminently suited for long skirts and acrobats, and large enough for
elephants. Two of them can safely be handed over to revue, and the
rest is silence. I have seen Mr George Robey, I forget whether it was
at the Palladium or the Coliseum, and the place was so broad, and so
deep, and so high, that his eyebrows looked normal: can I add anything
to the horror of this picture? The only comedian who ever seemed to me
a success in those barns was Little Tich, as little Miss Turpentine,
because they made him still smaller, which heightened his effect. But
those halls pay large salaries, and I suppose they will go on. Indeed,
I fear that they are gaining ground because we are daily sinking deeper
in the Joseph Lyons civilisation, where everything must be cheap,
gilt, and enormous. The old halls, the Holborn, the Metropolitan, the
Bedford, Collins’s, will not last long; already many halls have been
seized, the Tivoli and the Canterbury by cinemas, the Shepherd’s Bush,
I think the Paragon, Mile End, and certainly the Shoreditch Empire by
Sir Oswald Stoll. We have to count with Sir Oswald Stoll. Together with
Sir Joseph Lyons, he has done more to drive out Merrie England than
the dourest champion of methodism. You can go to his music-halls, or
to the Palladium, which is not a Stoll hall, but a stollomorphe, and
nothing will offend your good taste. During the last dozen years Sir
Oswald Stoll has been engaged in a continuous and painfully successful
campaign to raise the English music-hall; he has almost succeeded in
elevating it. True, in his halls appear all those men who carry on the
old tradition and glorify the flesh: George Robey, Sam Stern, Ernie
Mayne, Sam Mayo, who sing the crude joy of poor life, which is found in
drunken sprees and conjugal misunderstandings, but which yet is true
life. Little by little their songs grow less broad. Sam Mayo would
not, at a Stoll hall, sing the ditty which used to delight the old
Middlesex: ‘Ching Chang, wing wang, bing, bang, boo,’ nor would Dutch
Daly sing about the larks in May. Our old comedians are limiting their
humours, discolouring their noses, rolling their umbrellas. The young
ladies in the audience, and their young gentlemen, modern forms of the
donah and her bloke, would feel uncomfortable if too crudely reminded
that love is something more than kisses on Brighton Pier under a pale
pink sunshade. The old comedians are not yet dead, and Ernie Mayne can
still sing:--

 ‘Last night I wandered thro’ the park,
  I met a female after dark;
  And, feeling faint for want of food,
  I fell into her arms--how rude!
  Just then she murmured “Kiss me,
  George!” her face I chanced to see,
  The girl was black, with nigger lips;
  I shouted, “Not for me!”
  It’s my meatless day, my meatless day,
  I’m not going to eat any sort of meat.
  Meat, meat, meat, meat,
  I’m thin and pale, all I’ve put away
  Is two roly-polies, never left a crumb,
  Three currant puddings and a little bit of plum,
  And five apple-dumplings are rolling round my tum,
  ’Cos it’s my meatless day.’

Yes, Ernie Mayne may still sing his songs of Araby, but little by
little he is being borne down by the American raconteur, whose
impropriety is always in the best of taste, by the ragtime dancer, by
the wandering Italian fiddler, by the respectable eccentric at the
piano, by the juggler, by the refined soprano, who sings ‘God send you
back to me, over the mighty sea,’ or, ‘There’s a little mother always
yearning for the ones that long to roam.’ It’s all getting so clean, so
precious pure. The old comedian will not last long. He that was once a
bull in a china-shop will soon become a Stolled ox.

But the worst may yet have to come. A new demon is arising in the
shape of the cinema. It is as if Merrie England, that once lived at
the Surrey Theatre and the Globe, and was driven out when the middle
class began to frequent the theatre about 1870 and took refuge in the
caves of harmony, then doubled back into the Tivoli and the Oxford
(fortunately to provide what the late W. T. Stead called ‘drivel
for the dregs’), were being pursued. Wherever Merrie England goes,
it seems that, as Mark Sheridan used to put it, ‘the villain thtill
purthued her, purthued her, purthued her.’ When the music-hall has been
completely improved I wonder whether he will be glad to have ‘purthued
her’ to such good purpose. Certainly, in the cinemas, little is left of
the old spirit that arose as one drank one’s beer in the stalls at the
old Mogul, for the cinema, let police magistrates say what they like,
bears deep upon its brow the brand of Abel.

The cinema, like most new and virile things, has split opinion, and has
collected round itself more unwise friends and unthinking enemies than
any other form of entertainment. Few people like cinemas; they either
love them or loathe them, while a few, I suppose, fall into my section
of feeling and hate them for not being better than they are. For I
believe in the cinema; I do not think that the cinema will do away with
the theatre and the novel, but I do believe that it is destined to play
a still larger part in the amusement of the people. Also, I believe
that it is destined to play a cleaner, that is, a more artistic part.
How far it can be brought, I do not know, because I do not suppose that
I am the one chosen by nature to raise it high; but if we consider
films such as _The Birth of a Nation_, or _Intolerance_, where Mr
D. W. Griffith, a man of some slight culture, is not entirely devoid
of taste, and certainly bold in his conceptions, audacious in his
execution, we cannot wave the cinema away with a sneer at cowboy drama.

The cinema began with cowboy drama, with silly pursuits on horseback,
by motor-car and by train, but that was only because, for the first
time, movement could be reproduced. The reproduction of movement was
a new pleasure, and so the mob clamoured for it. Carry yourself back
to your first film and, be you as highbrowed as you like, you will
not deny that you enjoyed those febrile races, those people falling
out of windows, crashing through ceilings, the violent opening and
shutting of doors, the rush of flying crockery. Then you grew tired of
it and began to think it silly. Well, it was silly, and it is silly,
but we should remember that the pioneers of the cinema were Americans
of the travelling-showman type, men whose fathers had exhibited
the _camera obscura_ loved of our fathers; they had passed through
dissolving views, and that type of man could not be expected to like,
and therefore to put forward, a dramatic version of _Paradise Lost_.
Briefly, the cinema was put forward by the vulgar, for the vulgar,
but by degrees, as the mob grew weary of movement for movement’s sake,
as the profits increased, new men such as Pathé, Urban, Gaumont, came
in. They were commercial men, but not vulgar men, men who realised
that if there was a public for the novels of Mr E. F. Benson and the
plays of Mr Alfred Sutro, there must be a cinema public for something
less lurid than the early films. By degrees, the cinema improved; it
improved in conceptions when subjects such as _Quo Vadis?_, _The Walls
of Jericho_, _Bella Donna_, appeared on the film; yet more ambitious
things were done in the shape of _Hamlet_, _Julius Cæsar_, _Justice_,
_Intolerance_, and many more.

The film improved, too, in its actual execution. The earliest type of
film actor was scraped up from the East Side gutters of New York and
the graving-docks of Naples. For that early cinema you needed creatures
immensely unrestrained, yelling, dancing, dirty creatures, not at
all the people who could have impersonated what the old lady in the
pit called the ‘married life of the dear Queen.’ And as the subjects
changed the actors changed; many were taken from the stage; some,
to this day, preserve certain characteristics of the ordinary human
being. It is not quite their fault if they do not preserve them all;
the cinema has had time to make a tradition of its own, which is still
represented by the American posters we see upon the walls, where the
heroines have enormous eyes and more teeth than Lulu Dentifrice; where
the young men have straight backs to their heads, half a pound of white
meat on each cheek, a rugged brow, or an emetic grin, briefly, the
most brutal type of Chicago commercial rigged out in the dress clothes
of a suicide; where ladies whose clothing is too low for blouses and
too high for evening frocks, whose jewels flash beyond the dreams of
Gophir, quaff the sparkling champagne wine. Where the illustrator
manages to make Miss Irene Vanbrugh look vulgar. Where American
policemen (or admirals, you never know) arrest crooks in mid-air;
where all is six-shooters, bowie-knives, cinches, and snarks. Like
poster like player, is, to a certain extent, true, for the producer is
still a cross between Pimple and the sort of stockbroker whose silk
hat glitters in eight places. (Observe the band on his cigar.) But
that producer, like that poster, is the old tradition, and is giving
way before the ordinary business man who does not see the world in
terms of banana falls. That new man is not pressing his actors as the
old producer did. He still makes them register, but less intensely.
Register means to mark the emotions. When the hero is being filmed, and
the heroine enters, he smiles; if he does not smile beatifically enough
the producer will cry to him: ‘Register delight!’ You have all seen the
result. In the old days they were registering all the time; you could
see the heroine registering terror, while the hero registered nobility,
and the villain registered hate; meanwhile, the old mother dropped a
stitch and registered benevolence with extreme pertinacity, and, all
the time, servants in the background were registering national pride
and rectitude. One still has to do these things on the cinema because,
after all, the cinema picture has to be photographable. It has to be
seen rather plainly, but the cinema producer has begun to understand
that, to be effective, facial expression need not be recognisable a
mile away.

It is the excessive vigour of the cinema has endeared it to Londoners;
most of them are a rather lymphatic crowd, because they live in too
large a city, surrounded by too many interesting things, because they
eat rather bad food and not enough of it, and also because most of them
work in stuffy offices and factories. Thus they need strong stimuli
if they are to react, and no doubt that is why cinemas are being
established one by the side of the other, and run for ten hours a day.
Like the sensational stories in the magazines, like the newspapers
which consist in much headline and little text, they spur this tired
creature. The more he is spurred, the more tired he grows. The more
tired he grows, the more he needs spurring. So the cinema must prosper.
But I think it will prosper in a more moderate way; it will continue
to grow, to absorb theatres and music-halls; it has already absorbed
the Coronet, the Canterbury, Sadler’s Wells, the Tivoli, the Scala,
the London Opera House, and others; but I think it will more and more
tend to produce the historical film, films based on novels and plays
of some slight merit; that it will increasingly provide bearable music.
For a while it may not originate much, and therefore it will not easily
become a form of art. I am not sure that it can become a form of art,
though I do not know why: the ballet is a form of art, and people like
Nijinsky, Pavlova, Madame Rambert (let alone Taglioni and Genée) have
made a great deal of it. I do not say that it is impossible for the
cinema to produce a work of art, but this must be within the limits
of pantomime, which are close and narrow limits. Subtle emotions it
cannot express, for pantomime cannot figure that ‘she thought this,
because she thought that he thought that.’ (If a cinema company will
film _The Golden Bowl_, I will burn seven candles as an offering to the
Albert Memorial.) All that, the cinema must leave to the play and the
novel. It cannot risk wearying the audience by leaving it for half an
hour before the same scene; the theatre can do that because the voices
of the actors afford relief; the cinema, being unable to reproduce
footsteps, is compelled to reproduce flying feet. Because it cannot
speak, it must move, and so it is a different kind of thing.

That does not mean that it need always be the rather crude thing it is
to-day. As people of better taste come into the business, we are likely
to do away with a few of the continual changes of scene; we shall
reduce repetitions, such as the woman who endlessly rocks the baby’s
cradle between every tragic scene in _Intolerance_. Repetition is the
way in which a crude taste rams its point home; a fine taste will
select its points better, need to make them less obvious, know how to
vary them. The selective art of the novelist can thus be applied. Also,
the finer taste will not corrupt the actor as hitherto he has been
corrupted, by leading him into a wilderness of monkeys. The cinema will
learn restraint, that first need of all art. Some of the actors, such
as Norma Talmadge, Pauline Frederick, Mary Pickford, and especially
Charlie Chaplin, have already evolved a new form of acting, and not
a mean one. When Charlie Chaplin runs along a road, in that queer,
lolloping way which starts from the shoulders and animates his fingers
and his elbows, chasing a Rolls-Royce that is obviously travelling
at a hundred and twenty miles an hour, when thereupon he falls into
a ditch, and extricates himself with an air of incredulity, when he
then appears to realise, with a detachment that none but Plato could
have equalled, that he is not likely to catch that car, and decides to
go home, Charlie Chaplin does a wonderful thing: he turns his back on
the audience, and you know, from a little ripple in his back that he
is considering the situation. Then the head gives a jerk, one of the
shoulders goes up, the fingers give a twist, and long before Charlie
Chaplin turns round to face the audience, with his soft eyes laughing,
his animate body has told you what he meant: ‘It’s gone. Oh, well, I
don’t care.’ The popularity of others may wane, but Charlie Chaplin is
a monument. As in the case of the music-halls, a merciless audience has
formed, and its love has readily been given to the best.

                                                       THE FRIENDLY BOWL



Hard things are said of the London public-house. It is dirty; it
is dingy; there is nothing to sit on; there is nothing to read; it
possesses neither intellect nor domino set; it is not a place where a
man can take his wife and family; it should be improved, it should be
suppressed (subtle distinction), and so on. The curious side of these
assaults is that the people who rave at the public-house are not the
people one sees in it, and one wonders whether they passionately desire
public-houses after their own heart, and, presumably, for their own
use. I have visions of the public-house of their dreams, æsthetic and
antiseptic, furnished, according to persuasion, with Fabian tracts, or
tracts of greater orthodoxy. I imagine a staid crowd in that reformed
public-house, let us say, the Reverend Dr Horton and party, quaffing
the foaming cider-cup and discussing the principles of reconstruction;
Mr Sidney Webb and Mr Bernard Shaw passionately engaged at spillikins
... and the working man in the modest background.

The idea has little attraction, because, frankly, I like the London
public-house, just as I like the Paris café and the German beer-hall.
I do not see why we should make our public-houses into Parisian cafés,
for our needs differ from those of Parisians, and we do not, among
other things, visit public-houses to play dominoes or to read _The
Spectator_. Men go to public-houses to drink, either because they are
thirsty, or because they like drink. Notably, the working man goes
there to be rid of that wife and family of which he sees quite enough.
I know it is difficult for the well-to-do man, whose house contains ten
rooms, who has a private room at his office, and a sulking chair at
his club, to understand that the working man, who generally lives in
two rooms with several children and the scented memory of many meals,
should want to escape this felicitous atmosphere. It may also strike
him as strange that the working man should not, after a ten-hour day,
relish ‘a good, brisk walk.’ Also, he does not realise that ours is not
yet a kid-glove civilisation, and that most of our working people like
the sensual life. Being Anglo-Saxons, they are largely impervious to
art, and rather crude in love; so their sensuality finds an outlet in
drink. You may deplore this sensuality, but it is no use trying to stem
it by making distasteful the conditions under which it is indulged; the
way to stem it is to make a change in the creature, by treating it as a
man, by paying it as a citizen, and by granting it justice instead of
favour, education instead of teaching.

A new English people will make a new public-house; to-day, they have
the public-house they deserve, and it is not such an evil place as
some like to make out. Pellucid reader, have you ever visited The
Green Man? The Red Lion? or The Bedford Head? Do you know the brew of
The Warrington and The Horseshoe’s chop? I like their busy bars, so
cunningly stratified into public bar, private bar, and saloon. They
are a microcosm of English society, where everybody keeps himself to
himself, where every class is defiled by every other class because
the one beneath is ‘low,’ and the one above ‘stuck up.’ In England,
classes barely establish internal toleration. There are few equals
inside classes. One either looks up or looks down, and one never looks
at. But in public-houses a rude toleration does exist. They are not
unattractive, for rough friendship is included by every barmaid in the
‘gin and peach.’ One talks to people one does not know. If one stays,
one may hear the history of their life. Nor are all public-houses ugly;
there is a Dickensian, a Jacobean charm in the dazzle of their many
glasses, in their piling bottles, their ash-trays presented by the
brewer, their match-stands, a gift from the distiller, in the portraits
of horses and dogs that proclaim the virtues of Johnny Walker, and
Black and White. Æsthetically speaking, these articles are ugly, but
they have a certain joviality which is not disagreeable.


        THE PUB]

It is a mistake to think that public-houses are all alike. No two
places are alike; not even Lyons’s depots are all alike, for
the personality of the manageress reveals itself, say in strange
arrangements of salt-cellars. The casual visitor may not find much
difference between The Red Lion in the Harrow Road, The Hero of Maida,
Bricklayers’ Arms, or The Archway, and I will not stress it. But
it would need a more than casual observer to overlook the spacious
cleanliness of The Warrington, and its rather Victorian air of solid
comfort; should he go to Rule’s, or The Cheshire Cheese, he will
be obsessed by the domestic fustiness of places that have escaped
renovation for a century. Those old taverns reveal a London little
older than fifty years, when no Ritz-Carltons were open, when the young
man could join no club until he was a middle-aged one, and when he ate
his meals in his rooms in Bury Street off soiled mahogany. These old
places are traditional, and their ale is traditional. I suspect that it
is a secret blend of old ale and new ale, the new being poured into the
old casks, thus ever inheriting and ever bequeathing the virtues of the

And other inns have their temperament, which is that of their
customers. Thus, at the public-houses of London Wall, as also at
Coates’s Wine Bar, you never get away from the sense of business. These
places are friendly, but wary. Likewise, at The Cock, in Fleet Street,
there is more noise and less wariness, because here is an exchange
for news, and occasionally for facts; farther on, at Shirreff’s, the
attraction is sound wine under sound arches. Shirreff’s clientèle
numbers rather obese people who know how to treat a glass of port. Thus
should you treat a glass of port: let the glass be not quite full,
so that the holy wine may have space in which to unwind its lovely
surface; raise the glass, holding its stem so that the fingers may not
break the amber oval of its form; then raise it to the level of the
eyes, so that the pale light of the city may stream through that rich
amber, and emerge transfigured; draw closer; respectfully breathe in
the soft, insidious scent that rises to your nostrils like a prayer.
Then only, when the golden ghost has spoken to all senses save that of
taste, drink, and drink slowly, without haste, with respect, not as a
vulgar man, thirsty, but as a man without thirst, and risen over such
necessity. Thus only shall you be companions of Amarante, Miranda, and

If all drank with such elegance we might hear less of public-house
reform. Of late years, attempts have been made to humanise the
public-house; the first result has been to make it inhuman. I lead
no attack upon the Public-House Trust and the People’s Refreshment
House Association. They are excellent bodies, and once upon a time I
supported them, but as I grow older, I think I grow more depraved. I
know it is not pleasant to see people drunk, though some are still more
unpleasant when they are sober; I do not support the public-house in
selling last week’s sandwiches and last year’s cheddar, but still ...
ale that hath no sting ... and leadless glaze! Instinct wars with my
reason; I see the public-houses grow more civilised, and a faint regret
creeps over me that good intentions should get into beer.

It is true that at the other end of the scale luxury fights with good
intentions and produces, well, not the abomination of desolation, but
the greater abomination of delectation in the shape of the American
bar. Already a young civilisation has produced its first-fruits, such
as broncho busting, college yells, and cinema rides; already poets
quaff from the foaming soda-fountain in Hippocrene City, Pa. (or
possibly Minn.), and in the friendly bowl mix the cocktail. Magic
word, eloquent in form! I cannot express what I owe to the cocktail:
it provides half of what a dinner party needs, for it stimulates
conversation. The other half is provided by bridge, for it stops this
conversation. The power of the cocktail is not that of the pure in
heart; it is a complex, a modern; it is a congress of alcohols; nothing
is alien to it; nothing can hallow it; nothing can resist its repeated
assaults. With all drinks it has affinity. It carries the bar sinister
of all liqueurs. Bitters and curaçao, whisky and maraschino, brandy,
vermouth and cassis, Fernet Branca, gentle raspberry, all of these; and
crème de menthe, and gin, and absinthe, and apple-jack, these, too,
are of its fiery soul, and apricot brandy that is like a blush, sherry
like a burnt topaz, paprika to make you leap, and sly benedictine,
dancing anisette, and port like a minor canon, gins from Plymouth,
and Schiedam, virginal grenadine, all can join with all the fruits
the world has ever known, cherry, lemon, tangerine, olive, spray of
tarragon too. And thus one begins a cocktail. Let your basis be gin;
enlist vermouth; let bitter and maraschino creep in: behold Martini!
But expel the vermouth to substitute apricot brandy: then you have
Hungarian. But if for you gin has no fire, then let your mainstay be
rye whisky: its allies, bitter and vermouth, and Manhattan for you
appears. And others for you shall rise, soda cocktail and love tree,
or silver fizz, or blagden punch ... or hot apple toddy. Treat not the
cocktail rudely. Let all coalitions be gradual, and temper their fire
with ground ice; then cast the whole in the silver mixer and shake,
shake, shake. While you shake, meditate.

In English bars they neither shake nor meditate; they drink too
uncritically the expression of the brewer’s artistic temperament, and
give forth too little of their own. But, still, they are pleasant
enough, these bars, whether British, as the gloomily popular Leicester
Lounge, or foreign as the Monico. They have all the well-bred
indifference of the Englishman who asks you no questions because he
seeks no answers, who makes no comments because he has nothing to say.
You need, you pay, you are satisfied, you go. There is no revelry. For
true revelry, the glass that sparkles and the jug that foams, you must
go to some club at least a hundred years old, and in St James’s Street
or Pall Mall, where ‘old man’ and ‘old thing’ know each other’s record
and capacity, where, under an ancient roof, the prairie oyster revives
the spirits that flagged in the Row. Watch the bow windows of some
ancient club, and, while still holding that good wine needs no bush,
confess that good wine gets it.




Alphonse Daudet, when analysing Tartarin de Tarascon, found in him two
Tartarins, Tartarin Quixote and Tartarin Sancho. Tartarin Quixote liked
fighting, adventure, uncertainty, blood, knives, unscalable peaks,
tornadoes at sea. Tartarin Sancho liked flannel vests, long drinks
of lemonade on a hot day, chocolate in bed in the morning. No doubt,
Tartarin Quixote and Tartarin Sancho live in many of us, and certainly
I confess to desperate moods which, on the whole, I restrain, and to
self-indulgent moods which, on the whole, I encourage; but when we
consider men we know, it is curious how much more strongly Tartarin
Sancho or Tartarin Quixote is developed in them. Tartarin Sancho leads
the majority of mankind, that majority which is always looking for
a good billet, for a pension, for a nice little wife, a cat, and a
garden. Some, more ambitious, substitute for the nice little wife a
woman of title, for the cat a hunter, for the garden an estate, but
their desires, after all, are still those of Sancho, even though they
are those of Sancho become Governor of Barataria. Naturally they adopt
the wadded life. It is not a crime, and no doubt many of the Tartarin
Quixotes, who number among them tight-rope dancers, mining magnates,
card-sharpers, and cabinet ministers, often come to regret the bed
quilt of a blameless life. Only the bed quilt is not for them.

Somehow, I don’t know why, I cannot help feeling that Tartarin Sancho
is less normal than Tartarin Quixote. He does such strange things; he
enlists in a bank, grinds out his little span of life and dies; or he
becomes a barrister, pleads cases he believes in, and also others; or
Tartarin Sancho turns into a respectable stockbroker, that is to say,
he never speculates, but induces other people to gamble; or he becomes
a professional soldier, and passes the first half of his life hoping
there will be a war; if there is none, then he passes the other half in
the rather more decayed parts of Earl’s Court. These are queer trades,
for they do not seem to satisfy anything that man needs if he is to
feel complete. It is not enough that a man should, by the time he dies,
have manufactured, let us say, large quantities of office furniture,
have played golf, have gone to Eastbourne or Monte Carlo, have met the
one girl whom he wrongly imagined to be the only girl in the world,
ignoring the fact that there are thousands like her, have reproduced
the species and left them behind to do likewise. ‘Such is life,’ says
my old friend the housekeeper of Wellington Buildings, Bethnal Green;
she is right, but somehow this explanation does not satisfy me, and
I wonder whether all those respectable, clean-living people are not
really degenerates, in so far as they have lost the desire for colour
in life. It may be that Tartarin Quixote does not desire colour in
life, and that he would gladly exchange the pebbly bed of romance for
the eiderdown of the regular life; still, what a man does matters, as
well as what a man desires. It is all very well praising the mute,
inglorious Milton in the factory or the shop, but the Milton who
manages to break the silence is also important in the scheme. The idea
is greater than the fact, but to deny the fact would be to run Plato
too far.

Therein lies the charm of the queer people, in whom London is rich,
people who follow unexpected occupations, occupations that nobody
would naturally think of following. One can understand how Mrs Smith
comes to hear from one of her husband’s friends that they want an
apprentice in the printing shop; she sends little Tommy to the printing
shop, and he becomes a printer. But how does little Paolo become an
ice-cream man? There are lots of ice-cream men, and so we must believe
that some impulse directed young Paolo towards ice-cream. How did it
happen? Was it a vocation, this selling of ice-cream? Did he discover
an ice-cream opening? I don’t know; I once asked an ice-cream merchant
why he sold ice-cream. He told me that he did it because his father
did it. Then I asked him why his father sold ice-cream. He told me
that his father sold ice-cream because his grandfather sold ice-cream.
Then I saw that we might go on for a long time like this, and let him
alone, for the ice-cream merchant was growing suspicious. I am glad
that I do not know whether his grandfather sold ice-cream because
his great-grandfather sold ice-cream, for this leaves a little to my
imagination, and I am able to imagine that in the misty cinquecento,
some adventurous Florentine, some relative of Benvenuto Cellini, was
impelled to forsake a hospitable guild to push about the European
tracks the gay little carriage that to-day bears the Italian flag,
diplomatically intertwined with the flag of the country in which the
merchant happens to trade, the portrait of King Victor, and, on the
other side, some touching scene such as ‘Mother’s Last Kiss.’

The ice-cream man sets out every day on adventure. He may have a beat,
but I prefer to think that he follows in the wake of the sun, always
where it is hottest, caring little whether the street be mean or
opulent. I like to think of him as at the mercy of a cold snap that
ruins him, while it makes the fortune of his fellow merchant, the
hot-potato man. (What a beautiful poem Tennyson would have made of that
... the golden wheel turning, and raising high, now the ice-cream, then
the hot potato ... and always above a noble voice bidding them hope
and pray.) Of course, there are no hot-potato men now. I wonder what
happened to them. Indeed, that is what oppresses the curious when he
considers the wanderers: what becomes of them when they are no longer
strong enough to ply their strange trades and to range the world? Are
our workhouses full of crossing-sweepers who sweep no more? Perhaps it
is not so tragic, after all, to have been a crossing-sweeper and to end
in the workhouse; I cannot imagine a crossing-sweeper murmuring with
Mr Kipling: ‘Me that ’ave been what I’ve been!’ for he has never been
more than what Mr Tim Healy would call a movable fixture. He has just
sat and touched his cap, and been tipped, and has occasionally swept.
But he must have meditated. No man can sit for ten hours a day in the
same place without meditating; I say this without authority, for I have
known only one crossing-sweeper who meditated to any effect; he was a
pronounced optimist, and believed that the world was getting better
and better, this because, for forty years, he had been observing the
quality of people’s boots. As he put it, when he started in life some
of them wore no boots; later on, they began to wear other people’s
cast-off boots; now they were getting on to buy their own boots, and
what with that, and what with the skirts getting shorter and shorter,
and the stocking getting thinner and thinner, by gum, he was blowed if
he knew what was going to happen next.

No, crossing-sweepers are not wanderers. They are limpets. I should
not have thought of them if they were not street folk, for it is a
distinguishing trait of the wanderer that he is a street creature,
something that appears from the stones in the early morning, and at
night into the stones seems to vanish. The London wanderer may have
a home, but only in the sense of the London sparrow. Can you imagine
the flower-girl’s home? If the flower-girl were indeed the sort of
flower-girl of whom you see half a hundred portraits every year in
the Royal Academy, a sort of pure and peach-blossom girl, she would
have a home like Mélisande, very, very small and dainty (you know,
the Charbonnel and Walker-Marcus Stone style), with chairs covered
in flowered chintzes, and a white cat. At night she would lie in her
little white bed, over the head of which would hang a text about the
lilies of the field; her fair hair would ripple over the pillow; her
rosy lips would open in a sweet smile as she dreamed of the dear little
faded flowers which she had stood for the night in her tooth-glass.
(Tooth-glass! Nasty realist touch; I shall never do this sort of thing
properly.) Ah, if it were only like that! If she were not a big, fine
woman of about forty, tied up in three thick shawls, which imperfectly
conceal her tidal bodice; if only she did not so much love a quartern
of gin. It would be much more romantic, but I should regret her if she
were to turn into a picture post card, for she is such a jolly good,
saucy sort, as a rule, and I like her thick hand terminated by five
sausages, one of these sausages strangulated by a wedding ring, the
thickness of which places one beyond all cynicism as to the permanence
of the tie. You see her in many places, by the fountain at Piccadilly
Circus, until all the nobs have bought a bunch of violets for
somebody, now that they have given up the habit of buying a flower
for themselves; then you see her near restaurant entrances, cleverly
shaming men into buying flowers for women who are already wearing
some, and who do not know what to do with the offering because it is
invariably very wet; later on, outside theatres near the queues; she is
all enterprise, and during the war I even saw her trying to sell to an
unpromising margarine queue.



She grows old at her trade; it is a healthy one, and she has no home.
Some of her fellows are stranger and still more definably homeless.
Thus the muffin-man, killed, perhaps, by the war. It is a long time
since I heard his bell, and was thereby assured that Sunday was getting
on nicely, and would be over by-and-by. There is the travelling
accountant, a real wanderer, that one, who, every day and night,
goes from little shop to little factory, continually confronted with
new names, new deals, and, perhaps, new and complicated methods of
dishonesty. There are the queerest and most incomprehensible of all,
the guides. I do not know what turns a man into a guide, but if you
stand awhile near Charing Cross, and make a noise like a Jugo-Slav,
it is likely that a seedily, respectably dressed man, with a badly
rolled umbrella, will offer to show you the town. Once it is clear
that he does not want to exchange pocket-books with you to show his
confidence, he may lead you to Henry V.’s chapel, to Westminster
Abbey, to Carlyle’s house, and so on, reciting as he goes, something
like this: ‘The painted ’all was originally planned by King John the
same who signed that Magna Charta in the year 1215 but the plans being
lost in the Wash the project did not come to take form before the year
1533 when King Henry VIII. after his marriage with Anne Boleyn laid
the foundations on the plans of Sir ’Erbert ’Opkins who was also the
architect of the golden tower of Muswell ’Ill where Nell Gwynn ...’
and so on. That man is a gramophone; I once let him show me Saragossa,
but he shall never show me anything more. For one thing, I believe he
is respectable at heart, and there is no profit in his company. The
only good guide is the amateur guide. I met one in Brussels once, a
cab-driver, who stopped before the café where I was having a drink;
he so many times cried out to me, ‘Hi, Englishman! you’re a sportsman,
come along!’ that I fell a prey to his flattery. (Who told him that
every Englishman wants to be thought a sportsman?) He knew his Brussels
pretty well, but I will not tell you the rest of the story, for he also
knew his Englishman pretty well.

There are many more of these strange people. A strange one was a woman
who offered to give me a thousand guesses at her profession; I declined
the proposal and found out that she was a pearl-threader. Few of us
know that the silken thread, on which collars of pearls are strung,
wears out, and that, from time to time, pearls have to be re-strung.
All women do not care to send their pearls to the jeweller, for the art
of Tecla is profound. Nor do they care to re-thread them themselves,
for the holes are so small that the work is infinitely wearisome.
So my pearl-threader, who looked like the most respectable type of
retired maid, spent her life in Mayfair and Belgravia, where she sat
re-threading pearls while the owner read a novel. The pearl-threader
smiled as she told this: ‘One of them,’ she said, ‘read a newspaper
upside down all the time while I was doing her pearls. And there
is another, so unsuspicious; she turns her back on me and smokes a
cigarette, and stares into the looking-glass, dreamy-like.’

But that is a high walk of wanderer. There are others more tragic.
There used to be a terrible creature, the runner, who followed
four-wheelers laden with luggage, and arrived at the end of his long
run too blown to be red in the face, but lead white, his right hand
gripped to his heart, his left hand spasmodically touching the greasy
brim of his cap. I have seen no greater agony than the hungry desire
in those filmy eyes, half-obscured by the wet, dust-laden eyelids. I
used to stop the runners when I could; often they persisted, their open
mouth close to the wheel; they could not see me wave them away, or they
could not hear me call out, as if all the energy of their poor senses
had passed into those eternally running legs. One of them seized my
trunk as we arrived, before I could ransom myself, hating my opulence,
full of shame. It is fifteen years ago, but I remember him, a big body,
but little flesh; I remember his eyes like glass, and the awful stagger
of him as he bent under the weight of the trunk, as he tottered, and as
I leaped to seize it when it fell. Then the door opened, and the hotel
waiter came out with the air of black hostility which the house dog
has for the street dog. The runner looked at us without anger, without
misery, though he understood very well that the job was not for him;
he was like a Greek peasant patiently encountering fate. But, as he
turned away, clasping my shilling in his hand, and I saw the foot in
the broken boot fumble for the step, a wave of self-hatred rose in me.
I told myself: ‘You have crucified him.’

They are not so tragic, all of them, unaccountable people, or even
people who have adopted trades one thinks queer because one would
not have adopted them oneself. Some are merely disgusting, such as
the bus-conductor. I have met a civil bus-conductor; I have even met
an optimistic one, but nowadays, especially, he stands exposed by
comparison with the girl-conductor. Oh, it is natural enough that the
girl should have been friendly, civil, clean, obliging, for to her the
job was new, varied, faintly exciting, probably better paid than her
previous work. But still, she made the man terrible. He seems to be
nearly always a rather grimy, ill-shaven, misanthropic man; something
of the watch-dog and of the bureaucrat has crept into his constitution;
he cannot gently ask for fares; the demand must come with a snap and
a snarl, pitched on a high note that shall reach the recesses of the
omnibus and of the traveller’s consciousness. When he yelps: ‘Fares!’
I feel for my ticket as if I were guilty; when he looks at me, his
little, hard eye suggests that I am bilking the company, and then I
hate him so that, if I can, I do bilk the company, and get off four
hundred yards to the good, bursting with an unexpelled shout of ‘Yah!’
I hate him above all because, so often, he companions my journey with
a snarly chorus, addressed sometimes to the wretched nearest occupant.
One hears him run on: ‘Some people can’t learn where buses stop; seem
to think it’s the Lord Mayor’s coach; pulling the string themselves,
too; might as well be no conductor.’ Or it is something like this:
‘Chucking their half-crowns about; taking about four hours finding ’em,
too; come into the bus and expect to get change as if it was a blooming
bank; gave her twenty-four ha’pennies though, that’ll learn her.’ Or,
during a shower: ‘Plenty room on top. Drop o’ rain won’t ’urt yer. When
it’s fine they all want to get on top.’ And so on, a regular orgy of
grace and charm. Growl, grouse, snap, snarl, grumble, yap, and long,
dirty moustaches, filthy hands, and if it is not a grudging black hand
to help a white sleeve on to the bus, it is a hand that has to restrain
itself not to shove the white shoulder off. All that because the poor
brute is not happy. I know I ought to be sympathetic, for it must be
dreadful to travel all day from Camden Town to Brixton and back, to
sell so small a variety of goods, never to feel steady ground under
your feet when you look for change, to answer the same idiotic question
seventy times a day, to tread on feet, to have your feet trodden on.
The bus-conductor is a nasty man because he is an unhappy man, because
he has no prospect in life, save that of growing older and, for all I
know, retiring without a pension. Those monotonous occupations, such
as the hellish one of lift-man, ought not to be human occupations, and
they will not be such some day. Meanwhile, they rack by boredom people
to whom has not been given the free expanse of the pedlar. What a brute
Charon must have become by now!

Those people who range freely street and field are indeed of another
kind; there is in them less civilisation and more civility. They are
detached from their fellows; they lead lives of their own within the
beating life of the world. Many of the newspaper-sellers are pleasant,
ironic people, with a capacity for estimating character, with a quick
interest in the news they retail. Citizens of the world, they are
often so stimulated by their news that, as you buy, they must tell
you the contents of the stop-press. It is a hard trade. Before the
war they used to pay ninepence for twenty-seven halfpenny papers:
fourpence-halfpenny profit for selling twenty-seven papers! Still,
there is a nomadic satisfaction in their movable beat. They are not
locked up. They are in the midst of life, other people’s life, but yet

To quite another class belong the beggars, not the pseudo-beggars who
profess to sell laces or matches, or the blind, for these are inanimate
beggars and nobody knows what goes on behind their faces, but the
adventurous beggars, the old woman who follows you, shrilly asking
for the price of a cup of tea, or the well-known teacher of French,
who stops you in the street and asks you what chance he has of a
professorship at King’s College. Those adventurers are amusing because
they are coloured, because, if you stop, they will tell you where they
come from, the number and names of their children, the diseases from
which they suffer, and, indeed, recite you the shameless novel of their

Of the same kind, but more offensive, is the fern-seller who is nearly
always (or was before the war) a particularly burly brute, carrying a
couple of potted ferns under each arm. He haunts the quieter streets
of the West End, and when a woman alone meets him late at night, she
will do well to make for the nearest policeman, the proper method being
to ask the fern-seller to carry the ferns home for her: a policeman
will doubtless be encountered on the way. I remember a fern-seller,
who accosted me once in Portman Square. It was about six o’clock
in the evening; I told the man that I wanted no ferns; he followed
me, rumbling abuse which I could hardly hear. As it happened, I was
looking for lodgings, and stopped at a likely house in Portman Street.
As I had been walking rather fast, I thought that I had got rid of
him, but, seeing I was going into a house, he ran up behind me, and
once more began his pressure. While I was ordering him off the door
opened, and a fat little landlord, with a grubby little white beard and
choleric little blue eyes in a puffy little pink face, stood staring
in the doorway. ‘If you don’t go,’ I said to the man, ‘I’ll give you
in charge.’ But the man went on whining and growling and, being very
young, I was filled with awful confusion at this brawl on the step.
This was increased by the nasty little landlord, who said: ‘What do you

‘I want to see some rooms,’ I replied, and to the fern-seller: ‘Did you
hear what I said?’

‘I’ve got no rooms,’ snapped the landlord, ‘get out of it, both of you.’

‘What the devil do you mean by both of you?’ I said to the landlord,
being thoroughly enraged. Then I became paralysed at having to quarrel
on two different subjects simultaneously.

‘Mean by it!’ shouted the little landlord. ‘What do _you_ mean by
creating a disturbance on my doorstep? Let rooms to the likes of you!
You’re drunk!’

At that moment the fern-seller was breathing on me, and I saw that
the landlord’s words were well-founded, though ill-directed. Before I
could think of a reply, the little landlord slammed his door so as to
make the whole of Portman Street shake. And I remained alone with the
fern-seller, who still painstakingly and threateningly attempted to
make me buy ferns. He was the sort of man who speaks from under his
under lip. I was so ashamed that I did not say one word, but ran. Oh!
how good and free Oxford Street felt.

I have not been much annoyed or interested by the more desperate
wanderers one comes across. Only once did anything perilous come my
way, and that I will call ‘The Row in Homer Row.’ It was many years
ago. I had, one evening, made an acquaintanceship with the light
fallibility that will, I hope, always characterise youth. It did not at
once have results; some other business intervened, but I remember quite
well that I returned at nine o’clock to a little block of flats, that
were not exactly flats, but superior model dwellings. I remember the
hard, stone stairs and the iron banisters, you will soon see why. As I
left, later in the evening, I shut the door of the flat behind me, and
stood for a second in the entire blackness of the landing. Then I felt
a foot against my left ankle, and a hand grip my left arm. It was the
darkness saved me, for it is not easy accurately to seize an arm in the
dark, and the notorious ‘pull-over’ is not suited for cellar blackness.
I remember that I did not think, that I did not have time to be afraid.
I remember only the vast unchaining of a self-protective instinct,
that swung my right hand across to the left. I swear I did not will it.
And I still have unforgettably in my knuckles the sensation of crash
and give, in my ears the curious, fat sound, something like ‘kroch,’
that was made by some teeth giving way under the blow. And then there
was an immensely long pause, during which I had time to think; it may
have lasted a tenth of a second. There was a dull, muffled sound, that
of a head striking the iron banisters. That is all, except that I
remember the clatter of my feet on the stone stairs.

But to the man who wanders in London streets at night, and I am one of
these, stranger things happen. One of those cases was ‘The Poisoned
Girl of Grosvenor Square.’ It was about twelve o’clock at night. As
I turned out of Brook Street into the Square, I saw on my right two
people by the railings of an area. One was a woman dressed in black,
kneeling down and holding on to the railings by one hand. The other
was a man, who stood a few yards off, with statue-like immobility. I
remember thinking: ‘This is awkward. He has been knocking her about,
and I suppose I shall have to say something, and if he attacks me in
front no doubt she’ll attack me from behind.’ But still, there was
nothing to do but to say something. So I went up to them, and suddenly
realised that the two people had nothing to do with each other. She was
kneeling in that frozen attitude, and he was looking on. The girl was
young, very white, with masses of fair hair. She was neatly dressed in
black, and looked like a parlourmaid. Her eyes were closed, and she
seemed hardly to breathe. Two or three times I asked her what was the
matter, but she did not reply. Then only did I look at the man, who was
evidently of another class. A rather large, square man, the sort of man
whom you know to be bald, though he has his hat on, with a moustache
that was too thick, and cheeks that were too healthy, a phlegmatic,
staring man.

‘What’s the matter with her?’ I asked.

‘I don’t know,’ said the man.

As it was clear that he was the sort of man who wouldn’t know, I
turned to the girl and, taking her by the shoulder, tried to make her
stand up. I was surprised to find her limp instead of stiff, and she
fell back against my shoulder with a little groan.

‘Let me alone,’ she murmured.

‘What’s the matter?’ I asked again. ‘Are you in any trouble?’

‘Let me alone,’ she said again.

I felt irritated because she did not realise that I couldn’t let her
alone, that man’s code compelled me to torture her, and that nothing in
the world could allow me to let her alone.

‘Let me help you,’ I said, feeling that I behaved like a considerable
idiot. ‘What is it?’

She opened her eyes a little, and murmured: ‘I’ve taken something.’

‘Taken something?’ I repeated, vaguely thinking of theft. ‘What do you
mean? Taken something.’

‘Poison,’ she said. Then again: ‘Let me alone.’

I hear the shrillness of my voice as I cried out: ‘Poison!’; then I
found myself hurrying her along the pavement; ‘What is it?’ I said
to her, as we went. ‘Is it laudanum? You’ve got to walk, you know,’
and to the man: ‘Hurry up. Get a cab.’ There was no cab to be seen.
‘Come along!’ I shouted. ‘Run ahead and get a cab.’ After a moment’s
hesitation he waddled away, not much faster than we. And now the girl
was almost weeping, while I tortured her with questions, tried to make
her run, this one idea of laudanum in my mind. At last she answered:
‘Spirits of salt.’

It took us very long, I think, to get up North Audley Street, and I
felt rent by her youth and her prettiness, for the fair hair was coming
unbound on my shoulder. There was a tenderness in me as I lifted her at
last into the cab. I remember saying to the man, ‘You’ve been pretty
slow about it. I hope you haven’t killed her. What were you doing
staring at her instead of doing something?’

Then he said: ‘Oh, well, one doesn’t want to be mixed up.’



There is no end to this story. I took her to the Middlesex, and
they saved her by means of the stomach pump: to this day I cannot help
wishing that her salvation might have had a more romantic name. But
much more impressive is the man’s remark. I should not wonder if most
people go through life with a single end in view: not to be mixed up.
And one might as well be dead as not be mixed up. I have been much more
mixed up than I dare tell in this respectable volume. I stole a baby

That is the story of ‘The Stolen Baby of Pimlico.’ I was waiting
for an omnibus one night at the Chippenham. A young, dark girl was
also waiting for the omnibus, but as she was showing more signs of
impatience than are usual, namely, stamping, I could not help being
interested. At last, as she passed me and flung me a look of intense
malevolence, which I felt was rather unfair, I could not help smiling
and saying: ‘I wonder whether there are any more buses.’ (Now I come to
think of it, I might have said something more soothing.) This had the
unexpected result of arousing confidence. ‘There’s got to be another
bus,’ she said. ‘I’ve got to fetch my sister’s baby.’

‘Oh!’ I remarked.

We said no more for some time, and still no omnibus came. Then a taxi
crawled up to us, and I said: ‘Well, if there are no more buses we had
better take this taxi.’ The dark girl, who was young and very pretty,
put on an expression of increased malevolence, but as I stopped the
taxi, she said: ‘Oh, all right then, but I give the cabman the address,
and not you.’ As we sat down, I gathered from this that my wanderer
was no fledgling. But, after a few minutes, as she discovered that I
made no attempt to kiss her, she became confidential. She had run away
from an evil stepmother. She had £2 10s. She had just taken a furnished
flat at £3 10s. a week. She was nineteen. She was going on the stage.
Also, she wouldn’t have gone away if it hadn’t been for her father.
(Rather mixed, this.) As we drew nearer to Pimlico I became more and
more confused, for the baby was turning into her sister-in-law’s baby,
and I swear that he became a she. We stopped in a little black street
in Pimlico, in front of an enormous Victorian house which was still
blacker than the street. ‘I must ring,’ said the girl, and promptly
took from her little bag a key. Therefore she did not ring, but
disappeared into the house, the inside of which was blacker than the
outside, leaving the door wide open. After I had waited for a moment
she came out again: ‘I say,’ she said, ‘I can’t carry him down; he’s
too heavy.’

‘Oh,’ I thought, ‘now I’m in for it. But they can’t have laid much of
a trap for a young man picked up outside the Chippenham.’ So, true to
my principles, I went in. The house stank of solitude. It was the sort
of house that does not even creak. I felt my way up to the first floor,
and in a back room where there was very little besides a bed and a
couple of chairs, I found asleep a pretty boy aged about five. ‘Pick
him up,’ murmured the girl, ‘and don’t make a noise, I don’t want to
wake the woman so late.’ Obediently I picked him up, and carried him
down into the taxi. Just as the girl was about to follow me in, she
said: ‘Now I’d better pay the woman. Lend me two shillings.’ In a few
moments she came back, and some time later made me pull up the taxi at
the corner of a side street, off Elgin Avenue.

Only later did all these confusions, this mixture of sexes and
relationships, the silence in the silent house, lead me to theories.
Little by little they crystallised into this: I seem to have stolen a
baby I don’t know, belonging to somebody I don’t know, and taken it I
don’t know where, in the charge of I don’t know whom. It preyed on me
rather. I even worked up an alibi. Now I suppose it does not matter, as
the child may be a householder.

There are many other stories I should like to tell, that of ‘The
Watchmaker and the Four Pounds of Black-Lead,’ though, really, the
adventure of ‘The Two Girls from County Cork and the Lost Camisole,’
is much more remarkable, but these and others must appear in another
volume. There are many of these people, and one never discovers them
before ten o’clock or so. They live in the streets, where they have
their loves and their tragedies, and mainly in those places where
there is not too much light. They like the darkness because the light
of human understanding is not good for their peculiar affairs. We do
not think enough of the influence of light. When we stand on Primrose
Hill and, as Karl Baedeker would put it, behold before us the rich
expanse of a great and sleeping city, we do not individualise the
lights enough. When we look down upon Piccadilly Circus flaring from
every veranda, and, like the laburnum, dropping wells of fire, when in
these days we stand at the corner of Tottenham Court Road and watch
the electric signs: ‘Player’s Navy Mixture,’ ‘Meux’s London Original
Stout,’ ‘Y.M.C.A.,’ and ‘Tube,’ when we walk in all that brightness, we
do not realise that this is the spirit of our city, the rather crude,
commercial, and friendly spirit of London. Nor, in other cities at
night, say in Birmingham, where through the dirty glass falls dirty
yellow light, do we perceive in man unambitiousness. For mankind must
have light. Light alone opens the windows on life, and makes night

Only one creature likes the dark, and that is a wanderer, the cat. Have
you watched cats at night? If you try in the street to stroke cats when
the mood of night is on them, when they crouch under a bush, rolled
up into tight balls, their sharp heads sunk into the woolly folds of
their shoulders, when some are shadows in the shadow, spotted with two
points of fire, they will not shrink from you, nor approach you, but so
remain in static life. Or they will swiftly pass you, at that queer,
soft trot, making towards a secret direction with entire intentness.
Or, one upon the steps of a house, the other on a balustrade, they
will face each other with swishing tails, and so remain in immense
motion within the same spot, an infinity of provocation in every shiver
of their sleek flanks; you, human, shall not know whether they are
minded to love or war. If you interfere, you break the spell of their
communication, but there is no room for you in their compact. You
are the spectre of the commander, and they flee. But you shall feel
the hostility they have left behind them; it flows from the immense
cruelty of their cold eyes, that are lovely as emerald and topaz,
that can harbour no love, but only voluptuousness, calm, deep eyes
that calculate and fix only upon that which can serve them, eyes that
glimpse only things they fear and things they desire, not things for
which they may suffer. You shall stay awhile in that hostile ambiance,
while they have fled into the night, to adventures more secret and
profound than any that may be yours, even though you, too, be one of
Diana’s foresters, a gentleman of the shade, a minion of the moon.

                                                         SOUPS AND STEWS



In another chapter of this book the change that has come over London
feeding has already been indicated. The times when respectability
edicted that one should eat only within the family circle, when all
that could be obtained abroad was a stodgy meal of bread and cheese at
a coffee-house, or the lightest refreshment at Vauxhall or Cremorne,
are long gone by; to-day, almost as many meals are consumed at
restaurants as under homely roofs. It was a long battle the restaurants
waged under the early banners of Hatchett’s or the Café Royal and,
strange to say, the Grand Hotel. Yes, once upon a time the Grand Hotel,
that ancestor, was the latest thing; in the eighties it was ‘the thing’
to lunch or stay at the Grand Hotel. But, in those days, ‘the thing’
was rather a scandalous thing, and if one lunched or dined away from
home one felt dissipated; one had to choose one’s company when taking
a meal thus, for the worst was easily thought of one in 1880, while
to-day, the best is hoped for. (There is, perhaps, no great difference
between the two attitudes.)

In those days the home was a British institution; it figured in the
solemn list which numbered suet pudding, the royal family, bustles,
Tennyson, the evangelical attitude, and chenille decoration of
mantelpieces. The home had its rights; indeed, it had all rights;
it was the place where you ought to want to be, and far from which
you would naturally feel remorse; it was the thing you had to ‘keep
together,’ the thing you had to ‘make,’ to ‘save’; your self-abnegation
should have told you that you had no rights except to add the pillar
of your person to those of the porch. It has gone, this Victorian
rectitude; it has gone the way of Dundreary whiskers and of weepers
round the hat; I suspect that the restaurant habit, as it is called,
has turned some of the sods for its grave. There is something relaxing
in a restaurant, at least to a people such as ours, afflicted with a
considerable sense of private licence and of public dignity. Restaurant
dining outrages in us a sort of modesty, and, like most Puritans, we
rather enjoy having our modesty outraged; it is the revenge of the
flesh, and it pleases us godly men to discover in ourselves a streak of
the devil. We feel this rather more in the foreign restaurants than in
the British; in the British eating-houses, where there is no menu, but
only a bill of fare, where understandable things, such as mock-turtle
soup, boiled mutton with caper sauce, and roly-poly are offered us,
we know too well where we are; we eat, instead of giving way to
greediness; by avoiding that temptation we avoid one of the cardinal
sins, and more’s the pity. In foreign restaurants, however, where
neither the name of the dish nor the form it assumes is understandable,
we can develop a sense of sin; we can do this because our feet are set
on foreign ways, all of which lead to Babylon. Foreign waiters address
us, and there is no virtue in their eyes; they look like assassins,
and it is thrilling to think that they may be assassins, or nihilists,
or grand-dukes. Foreigners dine at the tables; their women are too
smart to be good; the yellow-backed novels they bring in must surely be
undesirable; they are poorly clad, which proves that they lead sinful
lives; they are richly dressed, which points to evil courses. They are
foreign. Is not the Drury Lane villain foreign?


        SOHO MARKET]

From this sense of sin arose in the beginning the popularity of the
Soho restaurants. I do not know when they began to be popular. Some,
such as the Restaurant d’Italie, the Monico, the Villa Villa, are old
stagers, but when I first came to town their customers were mostly
men; if couples came they generally included a man who did not care
to take his womenkind to such places, but did not mind taking other
people’s womenkind. (Thus it worked out just the same in the end.)
The growth of London, which compelled men to live farther and farther
out, favoured the restaurants, for distant dormitories drive men to
proximate refectories. The Soho restaurant grew in numbers, together
with the Cabins, the Lyons’s, the J.P.’s, and others, but at the
same time, because they provided pleasant fare at low prices, they
gained advertisement from the men who first frequented them. Thus
the women heard of them, and they liked them immensely, for the Soho
restaurant provides exactly the sort of meal that many women want:
next to nothing, pleasantly served. So, in the last dozen years, they
have prospered enormously; the early ones, such as Brice’s, Le Diner
Français, Au Petit Riche, found many rivals such as the Moulin d’Or,
the Mont Blanc, Chantecler, Maxim’s, the Rendezvous, etc. Their career
has been curiously uniform. Nearly all have been started by a chef, a
waiter who had saved up a small working capital or married well. Being
foreigners, the proprietors liked good cooking, and in the beginning
every Soho restaurant offered a good meal. To-day there are still
a few where the proprietor circulates among the tables, asking you
whether you are satisfied, and naïvely begs congratulation, but that
state of mind is rare. So long as the customers were mainly foreign,
the standard was kept up: small, important, subtle things were done,
such as steaming vegetables instead of boiling them, such as putting
in salt while the meat cooked. But the Englishmen who came to lunch,
having advertised their wonderful find, grew very proud of it, began to
bring their friends, their sisters, and, nowadays, even their aunts.
They came in increasing numbers, and the proprietors discovered three
things: that there were in London more Londoners than foreigners; that
the Londoners were willing to pay more than the foreigners; that they
either didn’t know what they ate, or that they didn’t care. As very few
of the proprietors were in business as artists; as, moreover, they grew
discouraged when they went round the tables and asked people whether
they had enjoyed the stuffed mushrooms and were asked: ‘Were they
stuffed?’ they ceased to take pains. They found out what the English
customer wanted: paper flowers on the tables, Japanese fans, and dishes
with incomprehensible names. So, one after the other, they began to
cater for a purely English clientèle; a good many have discovered that
the English customers expect made-up meats instead of, say, roast beef,
and are willing to take those meats on trust; so the wise proprietor,
in many cases, makes up his menu from the dishes left over from the
night before at the Carlton or the Ritz. After all, he gives them what
they want: a dissipated atmosphere. Not long ago, I watched four school
mistresses in a state of considerable dissipation. They sat in the
little restaurant, laughing rather more shrilly than they would have at
Simpson’s, as if excited by the rather excessive effect of prettiness,
the mauve walls, the blue and yellow curtains, the pretty fringed
shades. Oh, how one understood Sally Bishop! How the mellow spirit of
Mr Temple Thurston brooded with folded wings over the little place! The
school mistresses listened hungrily for French, which was being spoken
by the attendants, and they kept a wary eye upon their fellow lunchers:
sober couples drinking claret; young men and women, the latter
unpowdered, the former oppressed by sartorial self-righteousness. There
was nothing against the lunch; it was a nice, ordinary little lunch;
the sort of well-cooked little lunch that could be turned out by the
gross, out of a machine, all the year round, every little lunch alike,
for ever and ever. But my school mistresses were tasting dissipation
while avoiding vice.

In true cooking one does not avoid vice. One courts vice. One says:
‘Eating is a sensuality, and we shall satisfy our senses as much as we
can. We shall sing hymns to it; people have sung hymns to drinking, why
not to eating? We are not ashamed of “feasting” our eyes and our ears;
why not our palates?’ Some people understand this. Mr Anatole France
sums it up well when analysing a Castelnaudary stew:--

‘The Castelnaudary stew contains the preserved thighs of geese,
whitened beans, bacon, and a little sausage. To be good it must have
been cooked lengthily upon a gentle fire. Clemence’s stew has been
cooking for twenty years. She puts into the stew sometimes goose or
bacon, sometimes sausage or beans, but it is always the same stew. The
foundation endures; this ancient and precious foundation gives the stew
the quality that in the picture of old Venetian masters you find in the
women’s amber flesh.’

If you are a proper person you will call this disgusting; you will feel
that this is an indecent subject, and that an author who dares to head
his chapter ‘Soups and Stews’ ought in another world to be chained
for a thousand years to the ghost of Colonel Newnham Davis. That is
a legacy of the past; not more than twenty years ago it was indeed
indecent to discuss food, and if a vulgarian did so, the only thing the
lady of the house could reply was: ‘Oh, really!’ The war has altered
that, and I am inclined to hope that people who endlessly discussed the
difference between butter and margarine, the advantages to be found
in neck of mutton, will maintain these not ignoble preoccupations. I
believe they will, for they were moving that way; they had already
left far behind the Victorian lady with a wasp waist who ‘daintily
pecked at her dinner like a little bird.’ They may one day adopt
Brillat-Savarin’s dictum: ‘Let me cook your ministers’ dishes, and they
will give you good laws.’

But, leaving aside Soho, which is, after all, only the culinary
frontier, we find that the restaurant has spread over the whole
of London, carrying everywhere its gospel of satisfaction. This
gospel takes various forms, for restaurants fall into different
classes according to their locality and their prices. There are the
pompous, like the Carlton, the Savoy, the Popular Café; there are the
distinguished, such as Claridge’s, Jules’s, Dieudonné’s; there are the
fanciful, such as Pagani, Verrey’s, old Gambrinus, Bellomo’s, Gustave,
the Savoyard, the Chinese, the Japanese, the Greek; there is the
slab-of-meat class, such as Gatti’s, Simpson’s, to say nothing of the
Shepherd’s Bush Restaurant, and the Tulse Hill Hotel; above all there
is the restaurant of the Joseph Lyons civilisation, the Strand Palace
Hotel, the Regent Palace, the Strand Corner House.

They all deserve their little word, and it is difficult to say of
each of them just what should be said, because they have so much in
common, yet are so far apart, like brothers and sisters. There is a
flavour of Joseph Lyons at the Savoy, while Gatti has Reggiori for a
little relative. Yet, when one comes to know them well, they are all
so different. No one, for instance, could mistake the Carlton for
the Savoy; both have a broad spaciousness born of their size, of the
comparative expensiveness of their meats; both are lofty and white and
clean; their glass is pretty good, and their plate so-so. But while the
Carlton maintains a certain air of having selected from among the not
very select, the Savoy shows little sign of having tried that much.
To lunch at the Savoy makes one feel not so much that one is among
the rich as among the well-to-do on short leave. The Savoy is sober;
its luxury is quieter than that of the Joseph Lyons restaurant; in a
way, with its top lights, its flowers, it recalls the Joseph Lyons
civilisation; the flowers are real, but not much more so; the band
is more discreet, but it plays the same tunes. Its population, too,
is different; at the Savoy, you do not see the young clerk, but you
do see what some of the young clerks will become if they are lucky;
many foreigners in a state of gormandise and bejewelment; rather dowdy
people, too, the well-off dowdy, whose sideboards must be taken to
pieces before they can be got into country cottages. The business
element is strong. Somehow, one tells a business man fairly easily;
he wears good clothes that nearly fit him; his hair is well cut, his
cheek is well shaved, but a consciousness of the barber’s art hangs
about his head; his elegance is not a natural product, it is one of the
goods which he produces; he misses ‘the line’ which some sediment of
aristocracy or musical-comedy upstart achieves better than will ever
the business man’s solidities. There is too much meat upon his cheeks;
you feel that he is a little too rich, just as his eyes are a little
too bright; he is like a very new knife that has not yet learned to cut.


        THE SAVOY]

Others, too, Americans, who are happier in those big hotels than any
of the English, because hotel-life is, in many of them, an acquired
characteristic. They are interesting, those Savoy Americans, abundant
women, exquisite girls made of beautifully tinted steel-plate, those
men with the square shoulders, square chins, square heads, cubic
cheeks; you know, without being told, that they are connected with the
cinema trade, or that they are producing a play by Mr Montague Glass
or Mr Bayard Veiller, or that they are selling many motor-cars, or
something like that. (The American who comes to Europe for the purpose
of exporting art to Pittsburg is not found at the Savoy; he goes to
Chelsea and Fitzroy Square.) And yet it is not a disagreeable place;
its breadth, the airy width of plate-glass that looks out upon the
Thames, the cheapness and the adequacy of its food, all these are part
of the new restaurant of the new civilisation, which has replaced the
little taverns in the little corners of the town. It is no use being
sentimental over the little restaurant, or, indeed, over anything
little: there are too many of us for anything little to be much more
than a survival. If restaurants did not feed us a thousand at a time,
they would never manage to feed us all.

One thinks of that in the small restaurants that have survived, such as
Verrey’s. To many people it seems a queer thing to lunch at Verrey’s;
it seems rather out of date, and, indeed, when one approaches that
frontage, painted a sort of faded 1850 blue and provided with coloured
glass, one has a sense of antiquity. Inside antiquity is still more
striking, for the big, square room under the skylight manages at the
same time to be drab in colour and Moorish Gothic in architecture. It
still has the many mirrors of the ’fifties, an air of being comfortably
off enough to afford to be dowdy. Rakish and dowdy! Can anything better
translate the amusements of two generations ago? To-day, Verrey’s
gives you a fair lunch, and at its café tables, which are somehow more
substantial than the café tables of Paris, you understand what England
thought the Continent must be like in the days of the Grand Tour.

There are other places, fanciful as Verrey’s. There is Bellomo’s, in
Jermyn Street, a modest, pleasant little place, a long, narrow back
room filled with agreeable young couples. Bellomo’s is rather like a
young-old man, with its panelled wainscoting, its wallpaper of faded
gold, and its moulded, early Victorian frieze. There is something solid
about its dumb waiters; Bellomo’s is somehow benevolent.

But then Verrey’s and Bellomo’s are within limited flights of fancy.
The curious gastronome will, in London, easily find queerer places and
foods. At Pagani’s he can come to understand that risotto may well be
eaten in Valhalla; at Gambrinus’s, the Regent Street one, of course,
he could, before the war, when it was German, find unexpected delight
in liver-sausage sandwiches, with perfectly sour gherkins, and, heaven
of heavens, really cold beer. In those days it was decorated with
antlers, enormous fanciful jugs, out of which you enormously drank the
frozen gold of that beer. I think it has become Belgian since the war;
I am not quite sure, for I went there only once after the transfer.

But the truly curious go not to foreigners like Pagani or Gambrinus,
or even to Gustave, where the foods are truly French, or to the
Savoyard, where they are French and eatable under the eye of strange
pictures; the truly curious go not to the foreigner, but to the
professional foreigner, to restaurants such as the Greek, the Chinese,
or the Japanese. Of these the Chinese is the most attractive. I mean
the Cathay, next door to the Monico, not the Chinese restaurants
in Limehouse, where nothing is eatable, and nothing is tragic, and
nothing is coloured, let Mr Thomas Burke say what he likes. A lunch
at the Chinese restaurant is really an adventure, for nearly all the
dishes are made of the same things, and yet they all taste different.
There is an admirable dish, hang-yang-kai-ting, made of fried chicken
with almonds and bamboo shoots. That is a simple one, and the curious
will find more profit in a dish the name of which I have forgotten,
which contains fried sliced pork, celery, beans, sprouts, mushrooms,
bamboo shoots, and green chutney. Eat that, and it is a very large,
overflowing, savoury portion; flavour it well with chop-suey (which you
can call liquid salt if you are a foreign devil). Eat it immediately
after chicken liver soup, and if you do not forget before swallowing
the bamboo shoots to chew, and chew, and chew, then a true mellowness
will be known to you. Also, do not forget the great bowl of boiled
rice, pure, white rice, perfectly dried, not sticky rice _à la A.B.C._,
but rice where every grain remembers that it has a personality. Don’t
ask for chopsticks: the best people in China do not use chopsticks;
they use forks. (There used to be a Chinese restaurant where they
provided chopsticks for the English; it was great fun watching them
pour their food down their sleeves with that conscious air of duty
that seems to overwhelm the Englishman experiencing pleasure.) And
don’t forget dessert, ginger in syrup, fire in the midst of sweetness,
like a red-haired girl; and ly-chee, large, sweet, white nuts in an
opalescent syrup, extraordinarily good.

But, in a way, all those places, the very rich and the very odd, are
running on their own ticket, and do not express the times in which
we live. Our modern times are the Strand Corner House. I should not
wonder if many of my readers had never been into the Strand Corner
House; that is, if they are incurious of life. If they repent their
acceptance of things as they are, they will find an unexpectedly
large building decorated with heavily flowered stucco mouldings,
with plate-glass, with stained glass, with panels of crimson satin.
They will find light, co-operative luxury; superposed tiers, bearing
crowds of people lunching on the top of one another’s heads, and at
the bottom of a deep well, a band that can be heard above the clatter
of twelve hundred pairs of jaws. A thousand people at a time really
eat all together at the Strand Corner House, and, in a way, no wonder.
The place is quite clean, not offensive in its appurtenances, and can
supply three courses for less than two shillings; the music is the
ordinary dance or sentimental music, the sort that makes you feel
friendly or affectionate as required. The public of the Strand Corner
House is, therefore, the world. Its variety is much greater than that
of any other place. One might think that this public would consist
exclusively of flappers and their escorts, and, indeed, the flapper
is prevalent, though she comes in threes and fours quite as much
as more ostentatiously with a ‘boy.’ Also the suburbs, middle-aged
couples, when the wife has been shopping in St Paul’s Churchyard and
has strayed down the Strand; unexpectedly you see people with an air of
modish vanity, dashing people who smoke cigarettes and drink claret,
damning both the expense and the consequences. Though very few of the
frequenters could be mistaken for members of the classes, none are
members of the masses; they seem to be in a state of social suspension;
they are, especially the girls, of a rather crystalline type. I mean
that you realise their good looks at once instead of by degrees. If
you look about you, you will not fail to find half a dozen faces that
can give you the knock ... only, if you look round the other way, you
will probably see another half a dozen faces that can give you exactly
the same knock, and when one is an old Londoner and has been getting
the knock all one’s life, well, one unfortunately comes to stand it
rather well.

These great crowds of young people with a little money in their pocket
and much zest in their hearts tend to fall into uniform types. The men
nearly all buy their collars at the Regent Street branches of city
hosiers; the girls seem to skim the lighter froth of the big West End
stores, except that Marshall’s knows them not. This produces a uniform
quality: they have to overtake the fashions, and so become a little

Women, more readily than men, respond to the stratifications of
restaurants, because they are more adaptable. Their very clothes show
it; women are like cats, they have no bones, and easily suit themselves
to bell-mouthed skirt or hobble. The female form is infinitely
squashable and extensible; any fashion can transform it, and if a woman
has the wit to shun the becoming, she can always be in the fashion if
she dares. If she fails, it is because she does not dare to underline
her deficiency. If I were a woman and extraordinarily tall, I should
dress myself in vertical stripes; if I were very short and very
stout, I should insert the hoops of barrels under my skirt; I should
be hideous, but I should be It, for the essence of true fashion is
extremism. I said fashion, not elegance; that is quite another story,
but then, to be elegant you must be born as the greyhound, and if you
strive to elegance you are more likely to resemble the mouse. Fashion
is much easier.



Not only in her clothes, but in herself, does the metropolitan girl
define her city. She is always the creature of the day, who heavily
overlays the creature of all time. In soups and stews she has little
part, for a woman is a poor partner at the table. She eats and drinks,
as a rule, without much science or much intentness; she eats too
little, she bolts; she does not realise that she is doing something
important and artistic. Oh, it is not that she is lifted high
above material desires, for, indeed, certain articles of food, such
as chocolates, certain drinks, such as liqueurs, make her accept the
society of the dullest and the most dreary, but such trifles are
merely the preludes and the coronals of the true soup and the true
stew. Still, she is the decoration and the charm of the table; when Mr
Lauzerte said that where there are no women there is no true elegance,
he was speaking the truth. In matters of food they care very little
what it is and very much what it looks. Also, because few of them
neglect an advantage and prove the old adage that what woman most
desires is mastery over man, they never ignore what they look upon as a
gross means of seduction. It was a woman, I think, who told another to
‘feed the brute.’ What an illusion! If you have to deal with a brute,
indeed, you can keep him quiet by feeding him, just as you mollify
Cerberus with a sop, but to keep a man quiet ... how unnecessary in the
early days of marriage! and how disastrous after! It is unconsciously,
I think, that women strive to please the palate of men, that is they
are unconscious of the effects of such a course. Unless they are very
unhappy they do not want to soothe the sullen creature; they wish to
produce in him a light and airy grace, a not very promising ambition.
For some men, who are in possession of all their senses, will feel
true gratitude, which is akin to love, to the one who knows how so to
flatter them. One of them said to me not long ago: ‘It makes the day
easier to feel that I shall go back to-night to a perfectly cooked
meal, and a perfectly dressed wife.’ I am not quite sure whether he
said that, or whether it was ‘a perfectly dressed wife, and a perfectly
cooked meal,’ but anyhow, it does not matter, for in that man’s mind
the two delights had grown mixed. That is what every woman knows, and
perhaps she is wise as well as humble in hoping to mingle with the
_potage velouté_ some of the old philtres of love.

                                                       IN SEARCH OF VICE



When I first came to London I was twenty years old; I came from Paris,
and, being twenty, felt sure that there remained no sensations for
me to experience, no realms of passion to explore. I felt that I had
lived--well, lived; that I came from Babylon city, and was now entering
a Puritanic world, a place of dignities and parliaments, of clergymen
with white bibs, of ladies with prominent teeth and elastic-sided boots
who said ‘shocking’; I also felt that I was entering the country of
_le sport, le flirt_; I had also been told that the English were a
strange people, adepts in every depravity, of which the secret drinking
of methylated spirits was a minor example. I admired them thoroughly,
as I admired Westminster Abbey. Briefly, a land of virtue. This state
of mind was fairly well kept up for the first year, because it rained
nearly all the time, and there is nothing like a rainy summer to raise
the moral tone of the streets. I was interested by the life I saw round
me, bored by the life I led on thirty-eight shillings a week; I could
afford little in the way of theatres; whisky made me sick; so did Irish
stew and suet pudding; I did not see as much of my fellows as I wanted,
because, in those days, I often had to choose between a clean shirt
in the evening, and a cut from the joint at lunch. Also, my landlady
washed the collie in the bath, which annoyed me.

It is not surprising, then, that I did not at once enter London’s
‘gilded haunts of vice.’ It took me a little time to discover them,
and, to be truthful, I am still looking for them. Indeed, I can say
that I have employed a considerable portion of the last eighteen years
in search of vice, and it may be that I must blame a Parisian education
for my disappointment. I thought I had found vice the first time I saw
a couple publicly embrace, opposite Marble Arch, never having seen
anything so indecent in a Continental city; but this was an illusion,
just like another illusion when, for the first time, I heard a speaker
in the Park state his true opinion of the Royal Family: I thought
this was the beginning of the revolution, and could not understand why
the police looked so bored. I do now, for I suppose that meetings have
been going on for several generations. But when it came to vice, when
I explained to my new and fast English friends that I was looking for
vice, when they took me to the old Empire Promenade, when they bade
me be shocked at the condition of Regent Street, between Vigo Street
and Piccadilly Circus, when they took me to Earl’s Court to ogle and
to drink milk-coffee, when they drew my attention to the chorus girls
performing what they called orgies in the punts near Maidenhead, a
certain melancholy crept over me. English vice was overrated. Indeed,
to this day, I am sure that there is very little vice in England, that
the Londoner, particularly, is a flighty creature, who kills virtue
with his mouth, who tells unpleasant stories about the deeds of other
people, and paints the town red with the assistance of his fancy socks.
They are cowards, really, and most of them, when they slip at all, seem
to slip ignobly into the rare satisfaction of a purely animal instinct;
also, to do this, they need drink. Nero would not have understood them
at all.

Since those days much time has passed, and now and then, here and
there, I have come a little closer to those strange and secret
depravities of which, according to the Continent, London holds the
monopoly. The newspapers are helpful; for they have occasional fits
of virtue and begin to expose something, thus, at last, giving it an
advertisement; or the police intervene and shut up a restaurant, thus
focusing all eyes upon its proprietor and making him so famous that
when he opens another restaurant next door he is assured of custom. And
so I have known dreadful places, manicure shops where hands were held
longer than filing demands, tea shops where the depraved waitresses
call you ‘old dear,’ and demonstrate that in a chair when there is
room for one there is room for two. It is perfectly appalling. I have
been to the old Continental and to the old Globe Restaurant to spend
considerable sums on not very satisfactory meals, to see a number of
ladies manifest a little more clearly than is the custom the liberalism
of their mind. I don’t know why it strikes the Puritan faction as
so terrible that the women whom they call lost should congregate in
a particular place; it cannot be because thus they can be found, for
the Puritans must know that there is no street in central London, no
tube, no omnibus, which does not hold as much temptation and as much
opportunity as a small room in a quiet restaurant. I suppose it is the
openness of the thing shocks them, the fact that they cannot cover it
up and, therefore, pretend it is not there. But if that is vice, if
that is ‘the smirch on our fair escutcheon,’ then, indeed, must English
prudery be easily offended. It must be a sensitive prudery, for it
cried out against night-clubs, against the Cave of the Golden Calf,
where a few people did drink too much, against the excessive dancing at
poor Ciro’s, which for a time fell among Y.M.C.A.’s.

Also, during the war, a great fuss was raised in the newspapers over
the flappers in the Strand. I do not think anybody would have bothered
much about the flappers if, at that time, we had not had among us a
number of Anzacs who, as everybody knows, are the gentlest and most
guileless of men. These unfortunate young soldiers, finding themselves
lonely in a town such as ours, where no man needs go lonely along a
street if he has a little determination, lacking all the home comforts
which are implied in the possession of aunts, made their acquaintances
where they could. The flappers in the Strand who, to my knowledge,
have always been in the Strand, particularly on Saturday afternoon
and on Saturday night, when they descend upon Villiers Street and
the bandstand, coming from Aldgate and alighting at Charing Cross,
naturally welcomed them. Now, in the old days the flappers attached
themselves to any young man they met; sometimes he was a soldier in
a red coat, sometimes just a civilian, and nobody bothered, because
in those days it was not evident that anything unusual existed in the
association. Common sense revealed to all of us that these friendships
had been formed round the bandstand, but nobody was compelled to know
that they did not arise out of engagements of five years’ standing. On
the other hand, the Anzacs, with their beautiful bodies, their bronzed
faces and their squash hats, were noticeable; a Puritan, after having,
in the course of Saturday afternoon, seen several hundred Anzacs
accompanied by pretty girls, was compelled to realise that there could
not be so many Anzacs united by engagements of five years’ standing,
to the flappers in the Strand. The Puritan hates realising, because
when he realises he has to do something energetic, write to a paper, or
form a committee, or something. He does not mind writing to a paper or
forming a committee, but the whole thing upsets him; he cannot cover it
up, and he runs about with wild eyes, terrified because the thing which
is generally covered up has got loose.

It was that gave rise to the trouble, and the Puritans, determined that
the flappers should flap no more, had to manufacture a theoretical
Anzac, a young man from Melbourne (but born in the Bush, where no woman
had ever been before), a young man extraordinarily pure in spirit,
but liable to fall into temptation even if he had to cross the road
to do so, a young man imbued by his past education with a profound
reverence for womankind, whose feelings of reverence were daily being
outraged by shameless exhibitions into which he was reluctantly drawn.
It’s queer; this flapper question occupied the Press for months; now
and then the controversy died down, and then a Bishop or a special
article writer brought it up again; agents-general were called upon
to proclaim that our soldiers feared no foe in shining armour because
their heart was pure, while, in the same column, presidents of watch
committees gloomily acknowledged that something seemed to have happened
to the purity of those hearts. But all agreed that that purity must
at once be restored, that the Anzacs, which includes the Canadians,
the South Africans, and other moral weaklings, must be protected. To
this day we are protecting men of thirty against girls of fifteen: I
never heard anybody talk of protecting the flappers, for it was assumed
that, by the time they were fifteen, they had sunk too deep in iniquity
to deserve better protection than four walls in Holloway. And no one
seems to have asked himself whether these young men, cut away from old
habits, from their friends and their work, did not desperately want
feminine companionship; the members of watch committees did not ask
Colonials to stay with them for the weekend; for a long time they did
not even provide them with sufficient sleeping places, but seemed to
expect them to make merry all night in the ribald waiting-rooms of
Waterloo. Briefly, their virtue was to be its own reward, and certainly
we could not take from Nietzsche the aphorism that man is for war,
woman for the recreation of the warrior. Above all, we could not let
them alone.

Owing to this, my moral sense being aroused by an article in a Sunday
paper, I devoted a Saturday to a search for vice. Of course, I began
in the Strand, where I was told vice reigns. I saw a great number of
soldiers, doubtless viciously employed, but conducting their debauches
with singular restraint and dignity. Outside the Corner House stood
a number of boudoir ladies from the Government offices, who were
deplorably waiting for omnibuses; many of them may have been viciously
employed, but as their company was mostly confined to their own sex,
they were not sliding very fast down the butter-slide of perdition;
mostly, they were eating chocolates, and the fact that chocolates then
cost four shillings a pound may be sufficient evidence of undesirable
conduct, but this seems to me hardly enough to hang even a girl on.
I proceeded up the Strand where the East End was slowly beginning to
arrive, mostly in twos and threes. Often, indeed, I met the regrettable
flapper; certainly she was powdered and lip-salved, and I do not know
that this is exceptional, but right up to Temple Bar not a single
flapper made an effort to draw me from the straight path. (It is all
very well saying that I may not be the sort of person whom the flapper
would want to draw from the straight path, but surely vice has no
pride, and stoops to all men.) The most vicious thing I saw was two
soldiers and two girls walking rudely arm in arm.

I did my best. Indeed, I think I became a regular _agent provocateur_,
but I did not seem able to provoke anybody. So, desperately, I turned
back and crossed the river towards Waterloo Road. The reputation of
this gray and green commercial track was made by the street arab in
_Captain Brassbound’s Conversion_, who declared that if he did in
Morocco the things he did in Waterloo Road he would be hanged. But
nothing was happening in Waterloo Road; many people were drinking in
many public-houses; I entered a few public-houses, and though I tried
as hard as the two houses of convocation put together, I found nothing.
I will not weary you with details; it is enough to say that, still
guided by my Sunday newspaper, I proceeded on my footsore search. By
evening, I was lurking round Victoria, watching from the corner of my
eyes for the harpies who drug veteran members of the Band of Hope, and
after I had loafed about for a while, no doubt I must have conveyed a
harpy-like suggestion; I was seen in a picture palace, peering into
the dimness of the curtained boxes, which was easy, as they were not
dim. That night I was seen in many places, searching the blackness
of railway arches, furtively peering down the staircases of tubes,
hoping to discover the worst; I appeared in the deserted City; the back
streets of Theobald’s Road, the confidences of a hall porter in Gerrard
Street (expensive and uneventful), a long inspection of the first
floor fronts of Vauxhall Bridge Road, seen from the top of a tram,
all these grew familiar to me; and still nothing. As time went on, my
legs grew more and more woolly; my mind so obsessed and incoherent,
that I realised time would soon fit me for membership of the National
Vigilance Society. I even entered the Leicester Lounge, where there was
hardly anybody, as it was not Boat Race night; then I wondered whether
a visit to North Bank, St John’s Wood ... and awoke from my trance,
remembering that this would be thirty years late. There is no vice in
London; at least, there is nothing deliberate and artistic, just as
there is very little in Paris or Vienna that would justify a Welsh
elder in taking so long a journey. It is a pity that so fair a bubble
should be pricked.

This does not mean that London is a magnified Exeter Hall. There are,
in this town, about half a million bachelors, and that is enough to
lower the moral status of any city. There are also rather more married
men, which does not mend matters. Observe the bias of my mind: I have
forgotten to tell you the number, frequently quoted by indignant letter
writers to the Press, of women who hold forth temptation. For it may
be true that supply assists demand, but it is much more certain that
demand makes supply. During the war, for instance, there was great
agitation in the Upper House of Convocation, where the Bishop of London
revealed that in Cayeux and Havre undesirable houses were frequented
by British troops. Canon Burroughs went on to ask for purity patrols,
while the Bishop of Oxford presented a resolution designed to protect
our troops from molestation in London. This is all very well, and
deserves all sympathy, but the Bishop of London unfortunately read out
a protest addressed to the Mayor of the French town by its inhabitants,
and this protest referred to ‘crowds of English soldiers waiting
outside the houses.’ Does one, then, wait for temptation? Does not
temptation steal upon one as a thief in the night, or as a raging lion,
seeking whom it may devour? It is a picturesque idea this, of crowds
of innocent victims impatiently waiting for an opportunity to degrade
their eternal spirit.

Temptation is nonsense. I have spoken to many men about temptation;
they are seldom tempted, and this for very good reasons: men do not
fall, they dive. The women who ‘prey on them,’ fulfil a function
which will be necessary so long as society is as vilely constituted
as it is, so long as life is hard and insecure, so long as social
relations are false, so long as marriage is expensive and difficult of
dissolution, and, especially, so long as the hearts of men are brutish
and the hearts of women soft. The class which for centuries has been
hunted, has for centuries been maintained by the hunter, just as the
fox is bred and protected for the pleasure of the chase. Those women
do not seem to me to lead as easy lives as the men who profit by their
weakness; they look rather less well-fed, less well-clad; they wear
gold of a lesser carat; when they die their names do not appear in the
newspapers under the final advertisement: ‘To-day’s wills.’ Truly, the
wages of sin are low. Should we not conclude that if bread is so dear,
and flesh and blood cheap, there is no great inducement for the sale of
flesh and blood, except the cost of bread? Perhaps it is the easiest
way, but only for those to whom all ways would be easy.

There is no remedy for what the social campaigners call the condition
of our streets, except an alteration in the mind of the men who walk
in them; Christianity cannot help, for Christianity attempts to solve
this problem by purging sin, instead of realising misfortune. Thus too
many Christians justify Tacitus: ‘After the burning of Rome, suspicion
fell on the Emperor. In order to allay them, the Emperor embarked on
a series of persecutions; among those he persecuted was a sect that
called themselves Christians, who had incurred the animosity of the
populace owing to their sullen hatred of mankind.’

Tacitus was wrong, but then he was judging the Christians of his day
as agitators. The streets will alter when the houses along the streets
alter, when mankind has found love in the mind, when it is no longer
content with the love of the body. The majority of men seem to approach
life as pigs do the trough. Visit a West End restaurant, and you will
be sure. In that trough are not only curds and whey, and truffles, and
other suitable dainties; but excessive clothes and jewellery, honours,
false social values, irrelevant powers; so long as the Gadarene crowd
nuzzle and fight about that trough, so long will many of those, who are
not Gadarene in the spirit, be infected with envy and desire, so long
will they be driven to shrillness and self-advertisement, so long drawn
by popularity and repelled by fame. Meanwhile, it naturally follows
that what many call vice should endure, for vice is the satisfaction
that dulls the flesh when the spirit aches. Happy men have no vices;
it is only the unhappy, the hungry, fly to them. For my part, if I had
to make laws for a new society, I would make few. I should say rather
that we will build our new society so that all may be assured security
and justice, but no more. If we were to establish justice, we should
automatically do away with the curse of the world, which is wealth. It
might be a pity. It may be that Anatole France is right when he says:
‘The devil dead, good-bye sin. Maybe beauty, this ally of the devil,
will vanish with him. Maybe that we shall not again see the flowers
that intoxicate, and the eyes that slay.’ Still, one would like to see
it tried.



                                                                THE POOR



Not much more than a dozen years ago, Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman
startled England by stating that thirteen million of our people stood,
at all times, on the edge of starvation. He took as a basis the study
of the condition of the poor, made by Mr Charles Booth in a great
number of volumes, containing a great number of columns of figures, and
was alluding in general to the large class that existed on a family
income of twenty-three shillings a week. There was something terrible
about those figures, so terrible that even the press was shocked. But
there was something uninspired and inhuman about Mr Booth’s columns
of figures; it is all very well telling us that so many thousands of
people live five in a room, and so many thousands six in a room, and so
on, but it does not mean anything. The ordinary man finds it almost as
difficult to imagine that kind of life as to visualise a million; he
can see six people in a room, but his mind does not bring up the idea
of those six people in material attitudes, sleeping, eating, courting,
making merry; figures create no microcosm. I suspect that to understand
the poor, a little, you need to know very well the places where the
poor live. The house is a fairly clear indication of the inhabitant;
it is the house he chose, or the house to which he submitted. Then who
is this poor man? this poor man round whom so many essays have been
written? by the Fabian Society, judicial; by the Charity Organisation
Society, severe; by Mr John Galsworthy, understanding and tender? The
poor man is of the same genus as the rich man, but of a different
species. (I mean the born poor man as opposed to the born rich man.)
The rich man is no better than the poor man; the poor man is no better
than the rich man; they are different creatures, made such by different
conditions, just as a Spaniard and a Lancastrian are made different by
their various lives. Only, and there’s the political rub, Englishmen
have not to administer the affairs of Spaniards, while they do have to
administer the affairs of their own poor; thus it is important that
they should not blunder, because the poor are not good at improving
conditions; their attitude is to grin and bear, and then, one day, to
cease to bear.

To understand them at all one must take an imaginative leap; if you
find this difficult, Mr John Galsworthy has taken it admirably in _The
Freelands_. Listen to his description of a labourer’s life:--

‘He gets up summer and winter ... out of a bed that he cannot afford
time or money to keep too clean or warm, in a small room that probably
has not a large enough window; into clothes stiff with work, and
boots stiff with clay; makes something hot for himself, very likely
brings some of it to his wife and children; goes out, attending to
his digestion crudely and without comfort; works with his hands and
feet from half-past six or seven in the morning till past five at
night, except that twice he stops for an hour or so and eats simple
things that he would not altogether have chosen to eat, if he could
have had his will. He goes home to a tea that has been got ready for
him, and has a clean-up without assistance, smokes a pipe of shag,
reads a newspaper perhaps two days old, and goes out again to work for
his own good, in his vegetable patch, or to sit on a wooden bench in
an atmosphere of beer and “baccy.” And so, dead tired, but not from
directing other people, he drowses himself to early lying again in his
doubtful bed.’

One should read, as a contrast, Mr Galsworthy’s description of the rich
man he calls Malloring:--

‘Your Malloring is called with a cup of tea, at, say, seven o’clock,
out of a nice, clean, warm bed; he gets into a bath that has been got
ready for him; into clothes and boots that have been brushed for him;
and goes down to a room where there’s a fire burning already if it’s
a cold day, writes a few letters, perhaps, before eating a breakfast
of exactly what he likes, nicely prepared for him, and reading the
newspaper that best comforts his soul; when he has eaten and read,
he lights his cigar or his pipe, and attends to his digestion in the
most sanitary and comfortable fashion; then in his study he sits down
to the steady direction of other people, either by interview or by
writing letters, or what not. In this way, between directing people
and eating what he likes, he passes the whole day, except that for
two or three hours, sometimes indeed seven or eight hours, he attends
to his physique by riding, motoring, playing a game, or indulging
in a sport that he has chosen for himself. And, at the end of all
that, he probably has another bath that has been made ready for him,
puts on clean clothes that have been put out for him, goes down to a
good dinner that has been cooked for him, smokes, reads, learns, and
inwardly digests, or else plays cards, billiards, and acts host until
he is sleepy, and so to bed, in a clean, warm bed, in a clean, fresh

I challenge you to say that this is exaggerated. If you like, say you
don’t care; but don’t say it isn’t true. And I will not preach at you,
but suggest, to such as detect in me sentimentality, that if we belong
to a refined and gifted class into whose hands the world has been
given, if, indeed, we are refined and gifted people, a condition such
as that of the poor man should offend our æsthetic sense. I have known
a rather larger number of poor men than is usual in my class; I have
not known them very well, because the worst of the difference between
the rich and the poor is that the poor cannot trust the rich; they know
them too well. The poor know that the rich conduct against them the
class-war, and so they are defensive, inclined either to say the thing
that will procure a tip, or a post as office-boy for little Tommy, or
they will turn savagely on you to show you they are as good as you, and
tell you that though margarine is good enough for you, their inborn
good taste makes it impossible for them to consume anything but the
best butter. One does not get together, any more than that Spaniard and
that Lancastrian would get together, after five years of Ollendorff.
Still, if one passionately wants to understand, one sometimes, for a
moment, perceives the shadow of a hint of what another creature is. I
remember perceiving it, for the first time, in the midst of an alien
family in Widegate Street, just off Petticoat Lane; I had been sent by
the firm who employed me to make searching inquiries and to dispense
small bounties. My aliens were, I think, German Jews, who called
themselves Russian refugees because it sounded more appealing; they
were not a pleasant crowd; the man was a great, big, heavy, fat fellow,
with greasy, black hair, a rather surly brigand; there was a woman,
too, lying in a corner, dirtier than the man, presumably because she
had been lying there for some time; there were four little children,
exceedingly fat and well kept, the usual mystery of Jewish poverty;
there was an extraordinarily old woman who sat next to the woman on the
floor, and from the beginning to the end of the interview said not a
word and moved not a feature. But the horror of it came from the woman
on the floor, who also said not a word: there was no furniture in the
room, not a table, not a chair, not even a bed; the woman lay on a few
crumpled newspapers ... and had, the night before, given birth to a
child, who lay naked between her indescribably filthy bodice and her
breast. They were there, all together, in the midst of life, left and
abandoned, hungrily desirous of the moment when the great industrial
machine of London would be ready to consume them. Impostors, perhaps,
but if so, hard is the way of imposture and slender the wages thereof.

I remember thinking, after that, as I went along Petticoat Lane,
that is become Middlesex Street, how much the district resembled the
people. There is no Petticoat Lane now; Middlesex Street holds nothing
picturesque or national; even its open-air market on Sunday morning can
be paralleled by any Saturday afternoon scene in the little streets
of Edgware Road, or in Walker’s Court, Soho. It is a street mainly of
warehouses; Widegate Street and Sandys Row exhibit the oddity of narrow
crookedness and no more. Petticoat Lane, where the shops are paltry,
and the folk divide into too fat and too lean, is not even a mean
street. Its one charm is the prevalent, handsome young Jewess, aged
about fourteen, with high tasselled boots, and plenty of silk stocking,
containing plenty of leg. She is a fine girl; she haunts you all along
Whitechapel Road, and so to Mile End, with her rude air of wealth and
wealth-consciousness. I don’t know how she does it; with very little
money, some crude colour and some light furs, she suggests opulence.
There is something matronly about her, too; she looks so marriageable
... and when one looks into the humid softness of her brown eyes, one
finds a limitless rectitude of morals, which may arise from a limitless
power to resist temptation.

Her thick mouth is tight closed; her stays are tight; her mind is
tight. She is fair and square, and will give her husband value for his
money, but somehow one feels it a pity that all she will give him is

Those girls are part of a certain reckless gaiety that pervades
Whitechapel. I like Whitechapel Road; the streets that run off it are
indeed tragic with dirt and desolation, but the road itself, which is
the pleasure-house of the inhabitants, is full of vitality. At all
times it is thickly peopled, mostly with foreign Jews of all types,
many of them scrubby little men with beards, who gesticulate in groups
at street corners, and argue with their co-religionists. Some are in a
state of offensive prosperity. Those Jewish crowds are more alive than
the average London crowd; their eyes shine more, as if they were more
capable of conceiving desire. They are at their most intense before the
many open-air stalls, where you may buy boots and clothing, flowers,
toys, and books, and music, and furniture, and every food you know, and
some you do not; and teasers for ladies, and surprises for gents, and
penny boxes of tricks that will make you popular at a social evening,
and collections of jokes of ancient lineage. It is a wonderful show;
it is, in many ways, more wonderful than Williamson’s Bonanza in the
Brixton Road, because it is cheaper, because a penny goes farther, and
thus the penn’orth is more hotly desired. All that points to another
side of the poor, the side Mr Galsworthy never sees: their joys.

It is true that the joyous side of poverty is much less evident
than the unhappy side; this because the pleasures of the poor are
either localised within their own homes (instead of outcropping in
restaurants), or because they are confined every year to a limited
number of delirious days. Also, the places in which they live are
mostly so abominable that it is difficult for men of our sort to
understand that delight may dwell in a slum a little more easily, and a
little longer than love in a cottage.

The slums are so evident to our eyes; they are everywhere. For
instance, there is an unexpected little slum in the middle of Mayfair,
round Shepherd Market and Shepherd Street. I believe the whole place
is insanitary and should be pulled down (I have no love for the
picturesque). It is surprising to think that the inhabitants of Mayfair
must now and then go through the little, cramped market with the small,
dirty houses, yet fail to discover that here, between Curzon Street and
Piccadilly, stands a knot of public-houses at one of which, perhaps,
Sam Weller was asked to take part in a swarry of boiled mutton; the
hypothetical investigator from Grosvenor Square would be surprised
to find out that here one can buy a shirt for 3s. 6d., sweets by the
ounce, underclothes for 2s. 11d., and that for 2d. a hungry man can
purchase a meat pie. It is like that all over London, in Belgravia,
in Marylebone, just as in St Giles’s. They have not quite slain St
Giles’s, the street-improvers, and there still is charm in Seven Dials,
where once seven little public-houses stood at seven little corners,
and each public-house had a dial. You told the time by tossing up or
averaging. And now there is but one dial left, and it has lost its
hands. (Hush, my soul! Do not let the spirit of Mr E. V. Lucas invade



There is more truth in the frank slums over the river. I once enjoyed
the services of a supernumerary postman, who frequently came to
my house to make experiments on the garden, to put up shelves, to
interfere with the gas, or to drown kittens. In the end he went too
far, for he attempted to cure the ball-cock of some obscure disease,
and it responded to his treatment by flooding the kitchen three feet
deep. But before that tragic day (you should have seen my cat swim),
I visited him in Rotherhithe, because, among his many supernumerary
trades, he numbered that of vine grower. Against the back of his
house in West Lane he had, indeed, managed to grow a splendid,
muscular-looking vine, which produced great quantities of grapes; these
grapes, when eaten, reproduced what is probably the flavour of vitriol,
but he was very proud of them, and ate them, and he kept his vine in
condition by occasionally watering its roots with a bucket of bullock’s
blood. He received this free, because he kept the slaughterer’s books
in his spare time. But all this is by the way, and there are many
respectable old gentlemen who do all these things and are thought none
the worse of; as everybody knows, lunacy in the poor is originality
in the rich. What was interesting about the supernumerary’s home was
the breadth of West Lane, that is really a dingy square of bare earth
planted with trees whose every sooty leaf whispers: ‘Oh! had I the
wings of a dove!’ It is a square of crumbling Georgian frontages not
devoid of a certain splendour. That discovery is one of the keys to the
condition of the poor. You find this not only in Rotherhithe, but in
Clapham, in Brixton, in the New Kent Road; here and there, behind the
board of a photographer, where are exposed pictures of young men with
all their hair brushed off their foreheads, and of young girls with
all their hair brushed into their eyes, you see a beautiful old house
with a porch of the Adams type. Many of these streets, such as Old Kent
Road, such as Tooley Street, have become wholly commercial, have turned
into long lines of gray warehouses and decaying side streets, haunted
by many children; some, like Jamaica Road, and most of Bermondsey,
have entirely fallen into the hands of the grayest commerce, but here
and there you are bound to find a still splendid Georgian house,
looking rather like a distressed Irish lady, who does her best to
keep her transformation combed, and to maintain the traditions of the
Ballymullins of County Mayo. These houses are in the hands of the
poor, which means that, originally intended for prosperous people with
several servants, they have been cut up into tenements; this also means
that the stairs have not been mended since the days of William IV.;
that Queen Victoria came to the throne, and married and mourned, that
Disraeli passed reform bills while no bathrooms were put in; that the
tap went on running in the backyard, where Georgian wealth used to fill
the jugs; it means that the old house has lost most of its glass, and
is running with mice and stinking with beetles; that the drains have
been left by the local to a higher authority. Part of the tragedy of
the poor is that few houses have been built for them, and that they
have to adapt themselves to houses discarded by the rich, which are
not meant for them, which are not usable by them. The rooms are so
large that the poor cannot afford them unless they overcrowd them; or
they have tiny windows because they were limited by the old window
tax. There is only one thing to do for them, as is the case with most
institutions: blow them up.

Will the superman be bred by the L.C.C.? I do not know, but I am sure
that the superman will not be bred in any numbers in the middle of the
stench of the past. Evil and old are almost synonyms, and I confess
that I like better the vulgarity of the suburban street, with its
concrete that pretends to be stone, and its plaster beams that pretend
to be wood, its wooden pillars that pretend to be marble. I like it
better, with its bay windows, so built that no article of furniture
will fit it, with its awful ingle nooks, its sham gables and its sham
dormer windows, than the awful old Georgian houses near Lamb’s Conduit
Street, where, crowded together under a ceiling still flecked with
gold, on which naked cherubs sprawl, a dozen Russian furriers sit and
scratch. For the hideous modern house can at least be clean; it is
small; it is washable; a through draught can be arranged; a very little
it opens the window on life.

In the sense of housing we have never housed our poor; hardly anywhere,
up to 1900 or so, have we done anything but run up rude brick boxes
as shelters, or adapt the dwellings of the rich. Hence, I believe,
a stricken, scrofulous generation. Yes, I know there is a charm
about all this black filth, as if, indeed, flowers did sprout from
dunghills. It is the charm of contrast, it is singularity. You feel
it in every poor region. You feel it at the Elephant and Castle, for
instance, though why the Elephant should alone be famous, while at the
two opposite corners sit the Rockingham and Alfred’s Head, equally
great public-houses, I do not know; you feel it in the rowdiness of
London Road, and in a sort of ‘none-of-your-lip’ air that hangs over
Newington Causeway. You feel it still more in Deptford; indeed,
Deptford is a pitiful place, all gray stone and gray slate, but the
smell of the sea hangs about it, and as it lies along the docks, often
above these slate roofs, above the timber stacks of strange wood, you
see the tangled masts and cranes cut out against the sky, patterns
evidently designed by Nevinson. I remember once seeing on the shoulder
of an old woman who kept a stationer’s shop, a gorgeous parrot. It had
a yellow and blue body, scarlet feathers in its tail, a bill of ebony,
and eyes like molten gold. It sat on her shoulder, thinking of things
old as the willow pattern. The parrot looked out upon Deptford High
Street, through the flaming topaz of its eyes at the young men who
passed now and then, sun-burnt starvelings of the merchant service, in
blue jerseys; the sailors rolled and the parrot thought, and in the
heat the East breathed from the logs of mahogany and sandalwood. But
under all that, under all that theatrical charm was buried the same old
thing, the bad old house made to fit the bad new time.

Yet, the poor are not as unhappy as they look. They do not, in the
accepted sense, live a life of pleasure, but to say that they have no
pleasures, or can have none because they are poor, is a mistake. The
poor have cheap pleasures, pleasures which many of us do not care for,
and they take no part in what we choose to call pleasures. If I were
compelled to say something sweeping, I should say that the rich have
less pleasures than the poor; they are free from more pains, but that
is not the same thing. The pleasures of the poor reside much more than
do ours in animal comforts; whereas the rich take a good dinner and
its wines as a matter of course, the poor make a feast of a joint or a
gallon of beer. Things such as these, food, drink, warmth, second-class
travelling, arm-chairs, extra blankets, translate themselves, not into
the mere satisfaction of needs, but into recognisable pleasures. It is
so in the whole field of their amusements, the cinema, the music-hall,
the football and cricket fields, where many watch matches, and a few
play them; it is so in regard to bank holidays, to journeys to Southend
or Margate, to bathing, to visiting the Chamber of Horrors, to being
photographed. All these things matter more to the poor than they do
to the rich, and you will realise that this is true, if you recall
that you have never met an underpaid clerk or a working girl who did
not passionately look forward to holidays. On the other hand, you
are all familiar with the state of mind of a well-to-do family, who
solemnly discuss one May evening, ‘Where shall we go in August?’ When
the poor discuss where they shall go to in August, and most of them
mean on August Bank Holiday, they do not come together in the spirit of
profound misery and grim hostility that characterises the respectable
classes. They do not go away because they must go away in August, nor
must they go away in August because everybody goes away in August: it
costs them something to go away. The holiday is a treat, and is not a
part of the household budget estimated for in every income. I need not
stress this, but we all know that when estimates are prepared one must
put in rent, rates, taxes, doctor, dentist, chemist ... _holidays_.
That is not pleasure. But it is pleasure when Alf tells Ethel that he
has had a rise, and that they can this year rise to Cromer instead of
Ramsgate. The difference is still more remarkable if we recall the
‘thank-God-that’s-over’ attitude of the rich when, at last, their
holiday is done, and the beneficent train pants into Paddington or
Victoria. I have known many poor young men and women, and never met one
who had not enjoyed a perfect holiday. I have met some who had passed
seven days in a mackintosh, and even then had enjoyed a perfect holiday.

The poor have pleasures, because they draw more than we can from
pleasures; they anticipate more, because they are less spoilt by the
experience of pleasures, and have not yet found out that these have
mutable faces. To make their good fortune more complete, they are even
capable of anticipating pleasure without being disappointed when they
attain it. Their pleasures are keen, because they are rare. They are
keen, because they obtain very little pleasure without paying for it,
and as they have little money they must scheme, plan, save; so pleasure
becomes a thing to strive for, a true reward; they have to climb the
fig tree to secure the figs; they are not cursed with the ownership of
the fig tree, cannot lie under its boughs until a ripe fig drops into
their mouth.

We must not forget, too, that poverty has psychological reactions.
Mr Bernard Shaw says that poverty is a disgusting disease, and, on
the whole, he is right, but the sufferer has marvellous moments of
recovery. In those moments the poor man does what the rich man, by
long education, has been taught not to do: he lets himself go. He
can hold arms with half a dozen companions and proceed uproariously
along a pier, singing abominably an excellent music-hall tune, to the
inefficient accompaniment of a concertina or mouth-organ; he can reel
out of public-houses in a state of complete indifference to public
opinion, instead of being secreted by the club waiter and paternally
controlled by a taxi-driver; indeed, the poor man can derive much
vanity from his condition, and rise in the esteem of his fellows next
day, because he took part in such a spree. (In this country, if you
can’t be great, be drunk.) Above all, he can make love in public.
He can, unashamedly, sit upon a bench in the park, complicatedly
intertwined with his beloved, sometimes with two beloveds; nobody
minds, and the little god of love will, for a moment, blind the
policeman’s bull’s eye. He needs no Sussex down, nor footmen, nor
thermos flasks, to make a picnic; with the _Daily Mirror_ beneath the
bough, a flask of ginger beer, and her beside him singing, ‘Who were
you with Last Night?’ Battersea Park is Paradise enow.

Their social functions, too, are more social, and less functional.
They do not, in our sense, entertain, that is to say they do not, at
given intervals, go through their address book and say: ‘We can’t ask
Lady So-and-So, because she has refused our last two invitations, and
I suppose we must ask the Fitz-Thompsons. Or do you think we could get
out of it?’ No, they don’t entertain; they prefer to be entertained,
and so, on strictly scheduled occasions, namely, Christmas, birthdays,
wedding anniversaries, and engagements, _and on no others_, the whole
family and a few very old friends are asked to a spread. And it _is_ a
spread. It is not compulsory jellies from Gunter’s, or game pie from
the Café Royal, or, still worse, a dinner no better than every day’s
dinner, but merely a little longer; it is a real spread comprising
three times the food that is normally eaten, choice food, such as
tinned salmon, lobster, trifle with real brandy, stuffed loin of pork,
likely to be remembered. If there is wine it is port wine, the real
article. The real article and not the rotten routine. So the people
they bring together are not the frigid crowd we call acquaintances,
whom most of us ask because they have asked us, or because they
threaten to do so, people whom we do not know very well and whom we
don’t want to know very well, people, therefore, on whom our display
cannot make a great impression. The poor ask the people they know well,
people who know their exact income. Thus they attain a great human
pleasure: ostentation. The life of the poor is harsh, but their joys
are keen. I used to know a woman who called them the poor poor. What a
fool she was!




A critical foreigner, whose impressions of London I collected, (a
thing one does to foreigners because that at least is common ground),
gave words to the usual complaint of the Continental: London was a
mean-looking city; its bricks were dirty; it used so little stone;
lacked we stone? And the buildings were low. And some stuck out beyond
the common frontage, while some set back. And so on, the whole served
with the usual sauce made up mainly of respect for our practical spirit
and our commercial success, the things we are not proud of because,
indeed, they are ours.

Almost every foreigner has that impression of London, and he mistakes
the spirit of our city so much that, to restore him, one has to show
him typical American architecture such as Selfridge’s, Kingsway,
or older buildings of greater majesty, such as the Quadrant or the
terraces round Regent’s Park. Failing stone, we exhibit stucco, and the
intelligent foreigner discerns no irony in the epigram on Nash:--

 ‘Augustus, at Rome, was for building renowned,
  And of marble he left what of brick he had found;
  But is not our Nash, too, a very great master?
  He finds us all brick and he leaves us all plaster.’

Now stucco is an unfairly scorned material; it produces a pleasantly
smooth surface, which weathers to creamy-olive, and, indeed, its only
crime is that it conceals brick. Brick and tile are two of our most
delightful materials; people do wrong to sneer at them just because
poor cottages are so built. Red brick, when not too large, such as the
delightful little Tudor brick, is smiling and domestic. The progress of
building has, in this case, proved a retrogress for art. Nowadays, the
big red bricks are so angular, so perfectly cemented that most blocks
of flats approximate to workhouses, while the yellow brick now current
should be reserved for public buildings of special distinction, such as
national memorials and academies of painting. But the little red brick
that you could hold in your hand, the irregular lines of which bespoke
a temperament, which fitted tenderly into patchy cement, as an almond
of alabaster into the green velvet of its sheath, was quite another
kind of stone. Still, we must take our stones as we find them, and I
do not agree with the intelligent foreigner who thinks London a mean
city. Many of us find the fine Continental cities, such as new Paris,
new Barcelona, and new Frankfurt, as painful to live in as might be the
Agricultural Hall. The houses are too high, their flanks too white,
their alignment dull as a righteous life. When one considers towns like
New York, one wonders how the inhabitant finds his way home. By scent,
I suppose, for little can his eyes help him among those vast buildings,
all alike.

In London, few streets and not many squares are alike. The detestable
institution of the leasehold has had this good result, that few ground
landlords in central London have built the houses they own. They have
merely imposed upon the leaseholder the obligation to build a good
house worth so much. As a result, the leaseholder has built what he
fancied, and, therefore, London is not the result of the schemes of
some horrid central office, but of the oddities and taste of thousands
of men. That is why our sky-line is so broken, why, in Berkeley Square,
we find two charming little, narrow houses close to a tall block of
flats; that is why, in Oxford Street, tottering little shops, built
under William IV., hug the Tube Station and its monster hotel. Variety
is the salt of London life.


        THE TUBE, 9.30 A.M.]

Where London has, to a certain extent, abandoned variety, and that to
good purpose, is in the squares. London, more than any in the world,
is a city of squares; a feudal remnant has there set most of the
important houses, while those of the vassals were placed in the side
streets, and those of the churls in the mews. The squares imply social
classifications, and though many of them, such as Golden Square, Soho
Square, Regent Square, have fallen into the hands of the poor or of
commerce, they all began by being centres of polite society. To this
day there is something in a square that no other thoroughfare has;
a sort of measured enclosedness, a finished privacy. The garden in
the middle that none enter save lovers and cats, a garden sometimes
sooty, sometimes kept trim by a gardener born old, is cut off from
the rough movement of the city. Those who have been interested enough
to penetrate into the green part of Cavendish Square or Craven Hill
Gardens, will know that there one is as truly lost as in any lane
of West Anglia. Those green spots are almost untrodden, and, to all
visitors, are virginal. The impression of privacy extends also to the
houses; though these may differ they do not vastly do so. The contrasts
between them are those which appear among the members of a family. All
are, to a certain extent, traditional, and it is mainly in the squares
that you find remnants of Georgian London.

Most of Georgian London has fallen into the hands of the tenement
maker, because the people of the Georgian period built in districts
now populous, such as Clapham, Highbury, Soho, Chalk Farm, because the
leases were long and the houses good enough to make it unbusinesslike
to pull them down. Still, some Georgian London, and especially some
London of William IV., has preserved its old, flat face, sober and
dignified, yet has been modernised, internally, by anachronistic
organs such as the bathroom, the telephone, electric light. Those
houses are delightful, for the adventure of the present has purged
them of the sins of the past. Such houses as the one now tenanted
by Messrs Thornton Smith, in Soho Square, the small houses with the
Adams doorways that make up the Adelphi, the slim exquisiteness of
Westminster in Barton Street or North Street, all these, by their very
form, suggest that inside all is order and courtesy. Those houses were
built when land was cheap, when we did not need to pile Smith upon
Jones and call the result Cornucopia Court, or what not; in those
days they did not need to store coal in the pantry, and, for historic
reasons, they did not combine the bathroom with the kitchens. Still,
these are only survivals, and though the late William Willett did what
he could near Avenue Road to restore the Georges under an Edward, the
Georgian house is dead. It is too large; it leaves aside the servant
problem; its rooms are too square, difficult to light, difficult to
furnish in a period when furniture is small and tortured in design. It
is almost as dead as the Elizabethan house, which is only a curiosity.

People still talk of Cloth Fair, but if you go to Smithfield you will
find no Cloth Fair now, only a dirty little back street, not at all the
scenery which Sir Herbert Beerbohm Tree would have thought suitable
for the entry of Bolingbroke into London. If you are wise, you will
at once step back farther into the past and enter St Bartholomew’s,
where arches and pillars, broad and solid as those of hell, will
make you understand the Mosaic quality of the Christian faith. In
St Bartholomew’s, that is black and dispassionate, dwells no gentle
Redeemer, but the spirit of the Lord of Hosts.

True, there is Crosby Hall, though it is hard to shake off the
connection between Crosby Hall and chops, for I knew it best in the
days when, there, one ate chops (and sirloin, yes, sirloin). In those
days, in the City, Crosby Hall was really an Elizabethan place, a
mullioned old house, with sunken beams. For most of the day it held
people who ate a great deal, drank a great deal, and bellowed, and
played billiards, and flirted with the waitresses, and made bets, and
told undesirable stories. Yes, it was real Shakespeare, all the time.
But one day they pulled down Crosby Hall and re-erected it in Chelsea,
near the end of Oakley Street; the last time I went in they were
holding an exhibition of arts and crafts, which proved that leather
might be compelled to assume many forms it didn’t like. I never saw
it again. Then there is St Ethelburga, the little wooden church in
Bishopsgate, which takes, I believe, a special interest in seamen. A
pleasant little church, for there is something very human and pre-Fire
in its having let off its frontage to an optician. (I wonder whether
the optician and the incumbent both labour under the motto of Usebius.)

But if Georgian London has left so little, and Elizabethan London
hardly anything, it is not so of the Victorian period, which still
hangs over most of the city like the shadow of a great tree which will
not let the flowers grow. Nearly all the houses in central London are
Victorian; most are early Victorian, because the building rush in the
’eighties and ’nineties affected mainly the suburbs, where a ribald
æstheticism combined with the discovery of the quaint by Charles
Dickens. Now the Victorian period was neither picturesque nor quaint;
it looked upon that sort of thing as indecent. It liked a plain house
for a plain man, and the Victorian man got his house. In another fifty
years or so, when time has done with the houses of the ’sixties, on
their tombstone shall be inscribed: ‘Eight steps and a brass knocker,
such are the wages of virtue.’ Some think that too much evil is spoken
of the Victorian period, and that much that was solid, sound, truly
English came to fruition in those days. For my part, I think that the
Victorian period was nothing but a bad dream, that the English are
essentially the people who drank sack, and danced round the maypole,
just as now they drink beer and go to the cinema. The English are a
pleasure-loving people, an emotional, perhaps a hysterical people;
they are gay, improvident, thriftless, adventurous, reckless people;
there is little to pick between them and the Neapolitans. Yes, there
has been a lot of respectability and talk of carriage folk, and
heavy sideboards, and being shocked, and all that sort of thing; but
I submit that English history extends farther back than 1830, that
there were happy days before the English grew oppressed with their new
respectability, which arose slowly out of the sudden growth of wealth
among numbers of ill-educated people. Before the ’thirties there were
only two kinds of people: those who did what they were told, and those
who did what they liked. The factory had begun to take shape in 1770;
towards 1830 occurred the rise, all over the Midlands and North, of
small workshops that became mills. This turned some members of the
working class into capitalists. As the workshops grew, the working
class population grew round them and formed towns. To serve the needs
of these towns shops arose; these became prosperous, and produced
another fairly rich class, the shopkeeping class. From the ’sixties
onwards, the workshops, warehouses, and shops grew so much that those
who, once upon a time, were scriveners, became managers and agents.
This produced a third class of ill-educated people endowed with some

The result was soon felt: we had created the middle class, and as, in
those days, the middle class was still conscious of the upper class,
realised itself as lowly bred, it concluded that the only way of living
up to its new money was to be more moral and especially more refined
than either the upper class or the lower class. That is the origin of
the red damask curtains, of the English Sunday (which once upon a time
was debauched and delicious), of wax fruit, tall hats, black silk, jet,
and such like horrors.

But is that the end? No. Round about 1890, the middle class having
made still more money, having split itself up into upper middle class
and lower middle class, having sent its sons to the public schools and
universities, its daughters to Brussels or Dresden, began swiftly _to
slough off the old virtues which it no longer needed_. The daughters
went to dances under slender chaperonage; some of them became Fabians;
red paper was scraped off and replaced by brown; Jacobean furniture
came in; respectable people began to dine at hotels and, what was much
more fatal, to lunch at restaurants. Bridge came in ... cigarettes
crept in. I do not say the middle class is dead, but when you are
tempted to think that the Victorian period represented, in English
history, anything but an accident, anything but the formulation of
a class, then consider most of your young acquaintances, and ask
yourself, honestly, whether those very people, fifty years ago, would
not have gone to funerals with weepers tied round their hats. To-day,
there is a continuous impulse in the middle class to grow smart, fast,
intellectual, all that. Call this progress or call it decay, never
mind; I submit that it exhibits Victorian respectability as merely a
stage in the development of English people, and that we are tending
towards a time when the jolly 1780’s will live again with something
hectic and abandoned thrown in. The English people are a light people,
a gay people, and the famous period 1830–1880 was, after all, a short
period in the eight hundred years odd which separate us from the
Conqueror. It was a period of reconstruction, and the English emerged
from it as new English, not very different from the old English. We
have digested our money; of course, England was sleepy while she did
that; those who believe that that sleep was natural to her suffer from
illusion. Now she has begun to spend the resultant energy. Bustles,
daguerreotypes, Sunday rest, and whiskers, Pecksniff will find all that
in another region.

Pecksniff will also, at least I hope so, if he is to be happy, find
the Victorian house. It was not a bad house inside, in spite of its
vast, incoherent basement, the ell at the back of the drawing-room,
and the shameful servants’ bedrooms; it was a roomy house, but there
was too much in it for the cockroach and the mouse. Most of Bayswater,
Paddington, Kensington, and Marylebone, are Victorian; all depend upon
slave labour. Few of those houses can be managed properly on less than
three servants; some are still run by one servant assisted by the young
ladies, who do the dusting, but the importance of the point lies in
this: with one servant they are dirtily run; with two servants they
are barely run. They are full of corners, corridors, cupboards; they
collect dust, and eat up light. In days when flesh and blood was cheap,
when you could easily get young girls to wear the skin off their knees
on the steps, the edifice stood up pretty well. But those days are
gone; the servant problem is partly due to the Victorian house, which
became almost too much to bear when the servants developed enough to
understand that there were things they need not bear. What will replace
it, we do not yet know. It is too early to talk of a revolutionary
change into blocks of flats with common kitchens, common dining-rooms,
and common nurseries; all that will come, has come, is extending, but
it is not yet general. The first step is the break-up of the Victorian
house into maisonettes. You can see this going on all over central
London, where two families now share a house built for one. Others are
being absorbed by the boarding-house. Briefly, we are packing closer
into the old spaciousness, partly because we do not need it for the
purposes of ostentation, partly because we cannot afford it.

Still, there is much left of old, bleak London, Highbury Crescent,
Warwick Street (Pimlico), Mornington Crescent, and many others. There
is, about those places, what there is more proximately about Bayswater,
a sense of past comfort, dating back to the days when comfort meant red
paper in the hall, brown paint, thick stuff curtains, polished boards,
large and straight chairs with hard seats for the young, stuffed seats
for the old. Those houses were comfortable in a frowzy way; they were
houses in which one ate a great deal, slept a great deal, drank a
great deal, and thought within the limits of genteel taste. Little
by little people began to stay up later, so had less time to sleep;
then, their fathers having drunk too much, they found that their
inherited constitutions did not allow of similar excess, while the
intrusive foreigner brought in his curious dishes which taught us to
eat less, if more peculiarly. Picture galleries were opened on Sunday,
concerts were held upon that day; matinees, cinemas, other pleasures,
all these things making a continual call upon time and purse, have
stolen some of its privileges from the old home, until it ceased to be
home in the sacramental sense, a pleasure in itself, and turned into
a dormitory. The bleak old houses of London have responded to this
movement, by breaking up into maisonettes, converting themselves into
boarding-houses and lodgings; there are now few claimants to their
five floors; indeed, the five floors grow more and more disliked.
To-day, when you walk along a street such as Mornington Crescent,
whose gray face wears the inscription: ‘Joy forbidden,’ you are to a
certain extent, labouring under an illusion, for the life behind those
gray fronts is not gray. It is, more and more, the life of people
who have no roots, who have settled for a short time in rooms, whose
employment is precarious, whose fortunes are small, people who live
on small weekly wages, or even on social piracy, whose presence must
cause uneasiness among the portly Victorian ghosts. Inside those houses
live few families, because no families of wealth care to live in such
districts, while poor families cannot afford the servants to keep
such houses clean. So their dwellers are, many of them, adventurers,
semi-respectable people who have something to do with the stage, or who
are in a sort of way in the city. They never want the windows cleaned,
and when they sit down at the Victorian writing-desk with the waggly
legs, they care little if it is not dusted: they blow. That is the end
of those old houses; to-day, most of them are spinning out the last of
their long leases in a truly Victorian way: keeping up appearances, and
pretending to be as respectable as ever.



In South Kensington and Bayswater, the bleakness is less complete,
because those districts are dimly in the West End, with a little too
much End about it. They are ‘possible’ districts, as the phrase goes
among some of us; a ‘possible’ district is one the name of which
can be stamped upon one’s note-paper. The tenants of Bayswater and
South Kensington number many of the old-fashioned people who like
quiet places, comfortable homes, in some cases gardens, but many more
are making of those places a jumping-off ground. They pass through
Bayswater or South Kensington on the way to Mayfair, Belgravia, and
Marylebone; they are already well-to-do, and intend to be better-to-do;
in those places they associate with the people who, once upon a time,
were very well-to-do and are now less so; those districts are social
junctions. But everywhere the boarding-house is gaining ground, and
nowhere does one see this so well as in Cromwell Road. Cromwell Road is
a remarkable street; its length has, on a warm and hazy day, a quality
of eternity. It seems to have no beginning, no end; one might walk
for ever along its broad stretch, between those high walls; a prison
yard must be like that. This does not mean that I dislike Cromwell
Road; far from it; I visit it at least once a week, for purposes of
meditation. One can meditate in Cromwell Road, because nothing ever
seems to have happened there; it certainly looks as if nothing could
happen. It holds no tragedy, no comedy. You pass along the endless
series of houses, all of which have four and a half or five and a half
floors, the half being accounted for by the servants’ rooms, to which
the Victorian builder never accorded a complete floor; they are nearly
all alike, having five to nine steps, a porch on pillars, and a flat
face; the only difference between one house and another is the age of
their lease, the age being revealed by the condition of the paint: some
were repainted three years ago, some two years, some recently. White,
gray, black, such is their symphony. If you look in at the windows
of the dining-room you will generally see a large mahogany table: in
the middle of this stands a heavy brass pot; in the brass pot grows a
big green fern. Behind the green fern, and always facing the window,
stands a colossal sideboard, surmounted by a mirror against which
is outlined a tantalus and sometimes, which is very regrettable, a
cruet. (You do not see a bottle of salad-dressing in Cromwell Road,
but a little farther west you do.) Near the tantalus sometimes dwell a
silver cup or two. On one side of the room you discern a mantelpiece,
decorated with coloured pots, a large, black marble clock, suitably
representing a tomb. There may also be some brass ash-trays and bowls
of obviously Indian pattern. The carpet one cannot see, but I feel
sure that it is generally a red and blue Turkey. That is old Cromwell
Road, grandpapa’s old Cromwell Road, comfortable in its stifled sort
of way. Rail as I may at the Victorian period, I have a vague liking
for those old solidities, that mean pleasant, saddleback chairs, pipes
(not cigarettes), the _Spectator_, port, and evenings devoted to the
reading of travel books and memoirs (not novels). Dull, but solid, and
in Cromwell Road one is aware of a certain merit in solidity because it
finds itself at the point of flux between the old civilisation and the

The new civilisation has already set its teeth into Cromwell Road. The
houses are unchanged, but a great many have been bought up and joined
together, decorated with stained glass, re-named as hotels. These
have fancy pots instead of brass pots, ferns from strange bournes;
curtains of lesser conventionality; looking out from a window you no
longer see Mary Jane in a pink dress, but a sombre face, which may be
that of a musician or a poet; or of a Balkanic waiter stained with
political conspiracy. The inhabitants of those hotels are Americans,
provincials, people who have grown tired of housekeeping and like to
buy it ready-made; they number many widows who behave as if they were
conscious of a transitory condition, actors, unattached people of all
kinds. These are not the old Cromwell Road people; they are a new type,
which you might call the Cromwell light-Roadster, people who drive up
in taxis at all times, and even after eleven o’clock. Kensington means
nothing to them; not one of them will ever be an alderman. They are
breaking up the Cromwell Road, and many of those who read these lines
will see Cromwell Road without a private dwelling-house, except that
here and there a pair of very old maids, accompanied by some very fat
dogs, will stick to the old house. They will groan at the taxis which
stop at the Grand Imperial next door, send out an old retainer to warn
off the street band, and grumble at the electric underground, just as
they grumbled at the smoky steam underground. Then they will die, and
the Grand Imperial will extend its possessions.

The Grand Imperial is extending all over London. Not only have hotels,
undreamt of twenty years ago, sprung up at unexpected corners near
the Strand and over the tube stations, not only have they taken over
anything between two and six private houses at a time, but they are
buying up site after site: a big one in Piccadilly near Down Street,
also the St George’s Hospital site, perhaps. They are extending
everywhere, communising life. It is all very well saying that the hotel
is a sign of the decadent luxury of the day, but that is not true. In
the first place there is in hotels no such thing as decadent luxury;
all that the best offer are things such as plenty of light, air, space
to move in, electric light when you want it, hot water day and night,
a telephone by your bedside, a comfortable common room to write in, a
band to amuse you while you have your meals; such like simple, obvious
things which make up the ordinary comfort of life. The old-fashioned
people look upon this as luxury, but I submit that the facility of
having a hot bath when you want it is a natural thing, and one of the
first things that a developing civilisation should give us all. Some
people seem to think it morally wrong to be comfortable, and it shocks
one to think that so many of our best minds should, for so long, have
been working out ideas for pleasant and harmonious heating, lighting,
cooking, only to be told that they are pampering us. The whole object
of civilisation is to pamper us, to get rid of nature. Nature is all
very well in the summer numbers of the magazines; it looks very pink
and scented with hay, but real nature is rather cold, damp, earwiggy,
dark, always ill-drained, and much less healthy than London. The object
of civilisation is to reduce the struggle for life, and to make the
material side of it pleasant enough to be forgotten. If that is not
true, then let us back to the caveman forthwith.

The truth is that hotels are not luxurious and not dear. It sounds
dear to pay a pound a day for a bedroom and your board, which is what
one paid before the war, but if one reflects that for that pound one
also has the use of excellent common rooms, that one pays nothing
whatever for all sorts of racking things such as gas, electric light,
water rate, borough rate, inhabited house duty, house repairs, that
one owes nothing to the sweep, no tips to tradesmen, it is not dear.
One has the space one needs to live in, and that is the essence of the
old-fashioned opposition to hotel life: it does away with the large
number of rooms that people used to think they needed, rooms in which
they shut themselves up behind closed windows and drawn blinds. The
old-fashioned hate the simplification of life; they do not like to
think that people need no longer tie themselves down, define and label
themselves: hotels are meant for those who do not go to the Zoo.



Indeed, the Zoo is a tragic hint of the period we have just left
behind. It was founded in 1826, its object being, of course, ‘to
further the study of animal life,’ but it did not very long retain
that character. The only character it retained was a sort of brutal
insensibility, a capacity for not understanding what it means to
animals, accustomed to run forty miles a day, or to fly out of sight,
to find themselves boxed up in small cages. The treatment of animals
in the Victorian period was very like the treatment of children;
people meant well by their children, which did not prevent their
constraining them to immobility on Sundays, forcing them into careers
they disliked, or into marriages with people they detested. They were a
sentimental and brutal generation, mainly because they were stupid. So
the Zoo, which is now a vulgar gapery, remains as one of the ugly blots
inherited by our people; I hope to live long enough to see Parliament
pass an act for its suppression. It seems to me indecent that people
who do not know the difference between a leopard and a yak should, any
afternoon, for sixpence or a shilling, or on Sundays if they are the
friends or the servants of a Fellow, line up in hundreds outside cages
anything between six feet and thirty feet long, to see wretched animals
pace up and down, up and down eternally, or tragic birds hop from an
upper stick to a lower stick and then back again, not one of them with
the space for a full spring or a flight, sentenced to penal servitude
for life, a sentence which we inflict on no man except for murder. I
agree with Mr Galsworthy that the Zoo is one of the saddest and most
disgusting sights in the world. At least, I know that I never leave
the Zoo, which I seldom visit, because it hurts me, without feeling a
partner in a national crime. You can defend vivisection by saying that
it has valuable medical results. I know nothing about that, but you
cannot defend the Zoo by saying that you give some snivelling boy an
opportunity to know what the mandril looks like. What is the use (I put
it on the lowest ground, that of use) of knowing what a mandril looks
like? And if it is of any use, is that use not counterbalanced by the
poison poured into that boy, which is that he shall consent to the
life-long imprisonment of a helpless creature?

This Zoo question was discussed in the _Weekly Dispatch_ some years
ago; I think that one of the points, in defence, was that most of the
animals were born in the Zoo, and, knowing not liberty, could not be
unhappy. That may be, even if nothing in you answers when you look into
the eyes of the animals in those empty cages where there is nothing to
do, when all their nature, thousands of generations of it, is calling
in their blood to hunt and to fly. Is not the test this: would you be
satisfied if at birth your son were placed in a room eight feet by
four, and told to grow up in it? Do you really believe that he would be
content when he reached manhood? even if he had never known freedom.
The truth is represented by opinions such as that of the secretary of
the Zoo, Doctor Chalmers Mitchell, who summed up Mr Galsworthy’s attack
on the Zoo by saying: ‘Mr Galsworthy knows nothing about the subject.
His attack is rubbish, pure rubbish.’ It may be that, on second
thoughts, Doctor Chalmers Mitchell might find one or two more arguments
to put up against Mr Galsworthy, but this one, while not lacking in
force, somehow fails to convince. One is more impressed by the argument
of Mr J. D. Hamlyn, an animal trainer, who said: ‘After the war, the
business of importing animals will go on exactly as it did before. In
the first place, too much capital is at stake, too much money has been
expended to give up the trade altogether.’ The only comment I have to
make on this is that this argument was continually used, first in the
West Indies, and later in the southern states of America, when it was
suggested that we should do away with slavery.

Yes, the Zoo carries on to-day the old tradition of Victorian
brutality. But enough of the Zoo, and of its visitors, so like the
yokels at a fair, that guffaw with their heads through horse collars.
I would rather think that in a few of those Victorian places, sweet
old ladies in mauve silk and lace serve tea in Rockingham cups, which
they dust themselves for fear of Sarah Jane. One such place is Crescent
Grove. That is the sort of place one would like to live in, when one
feels rather older. It is near Clapham Common, and, of course, it
is a blind alley, so that no rude traffic may pass up and down when
the milkman has finished his melodious round. The houses are clean,
stuccoed, comfortable. The knockers are cleaned every day. The glass
is cleaned often, the curtains are changed, and I am sure that when
they go up, a whiff of lavender spreads. Crescent Grove is, perhaps,
a little too clean; in those rooms where everything has its place,
just as in the past every one had his place, there must be so much
order and regularity of life that, as Mirbeau said: ‘On doit rudement
s’embêter là-dedans.’ Still, at the very end of Crescent Grove, there
is one house that should be preserved as a monument of its period. Of
course, it is double-fronted; in front are planted evergreens, and
there is a drive. By the side runs a large garden beyond a wall; on the
other side of the wall one hears children at play. That is the house
to which father came back round about 1860, with his top hat and his
mutton-chop whiskers. If this description does not convince you, let
me give you the clinching fact: it is a private road. Yet Crescent
Grove stands very near to the suburbs. Not far are Streatham, Tooting,
the new streets of Clapham and Brixton. Imbedded among the new streets
are old houses with columns, plaster fronts, stucco mouldings, squares
surrounding a single column that bears a moulting golden eagle, but
the suburbs are overwhelming them. These are not the inner suburbs,
such as Brixton, where the feeling is, on the whole, one of poverty and
dirt. Those inner suburbs have a certain vigour of coarse life; thus,
the Brixton Road is a place of immense activity, notably round the
great, open-air ironmonger, Williamson’s Bonanza; there are shops and
shops, nearly all of the multiple type, Salmon and Gluckstein, Maypole
Dairies, Home and Colonials, the shops that Private Ortheris must
have raved of in his Indian delirium. Likewise, in Kilburn, where the
Kilburn Bon Marché and B. B. Evans struggle in zealous commercialism.
Those inner suburbs are hardly suburbs now, for the trams run through
them and bleed them of their population; tubes tap them; everywhere
the motor-buses stop. The true suburbs lie farther out. You have to
go well beyond the Brixton Bon Marché before you can find such a
place as Streatham, with its endless, well-kept, villa streets of
red brick houses, nearly all alike, creeper and grass plot complete.
Those suburbs outline a new social order; with a little experience
you can easily tell the thirty-five-pounds-a-year street from the
fifty-two-pounds-a-year street; you come with a feeling of familiarity
upon the corner house, where lives the doctor or the surgeon. It is a
new order, for all those houses are small, manageable, clean, modern,
in every way satisfactory, except that they are all alike, made for
people who may not be all alike, but tend so to become. For if one
buys one’s food, one’s clothes, one’s furniture at the same big, local
store, and if one takes one’s literature from the same bookstall, one
attains to a sort of nationality. But it is not the nationality of the
village, where local effort can develop into art, because it develops
slowly and creeps back upon itself. In the suburbs everything is
supplied on the model of central London, and is turned out in hundreds
of thousands by machines. Perhaps the houses are made by machines.
Maybe, one day the people will be made by machines. Near those streets,
all alike, generally survives an older quarter of poor streets where
live the ‘little women,’ the sweep, the turncock, the dependents of
the semi-poor; there, also, small shopkeepers live by undercutting the
big stores. They do this by selling the vegetables that are too stale
for the stores, by washing the linen which cannot be sent to the steam
laundry because it would fall to pieces, and especially by lowering
their own standard of living to the lowest possible level. They are the
last ramparts of suburban individualism, and they will not last long.
As time goes on, the bigger villa streets, many of whose houses have
pretensions, exemplified by their architecture of concrete and tile, by
their barbarous roofs which make evil, dusty corners in the rooms, by
the select flowers in their front gardens, will turn away from those
little shops and, more and more, deal with Whiteley’s and Harrod’s.

Thus, when one passes through London, from old Victorian street to
inner suburb, then to outer suburb, until one comes to the spreading
country of Tooting Bec Common, when one has seen the homes of the
rich, their marble solemnity, when one has seen those of the poor in
the grimy suburbs that cluster, and emerges at last into those clean
suburban streets, where in almost every window an aspidistra wilts in
its pot, one may grow a little doubtful of the social revolution. We
educate the poor, and sometimes we give them their chance: the next
step is the aspidistra. The aspidistra goes to the grammar school;
clever aspidistra wins a scholarship and goes to Oxford. Then a house
is taken, let us say, in Barkston Gardens; instead of the aspidistra
it is marguerites in the window boxes. The marguerite goes to Oxford as
a matter of course, and may give place to a lily in a green art-pot.
By that time it understands nothing. If it retains its money, the
marguerite goes on having marguerites potted in the window-boxes by the
nurseryman; if it loses its money, it goes back to the aspidistra. Upon
this gloomy botanical note I close this chapter.

                                                              CAFÉ ROYAL



Why did they call it Café Royal? It has nothing of the opulent white
and gold quality which naturally would go with such a name, nothing
expensive or elaborate. Here and there, in the only room I know,
namely, the café itself, is an escutcheon impressed with the letter N.
It makes one think of Napoleon, and the name Café Royal clashes still
more. But, after all, that matters very little, for who cares what the
Café Royal was? or under whose auspices it was founded. I suppose that
for antiquity it treads upon the heels of Verrey’s; it has a flavour
of 1870 rather than 1860; what matters much more is that the Café
Royal always savours of the day, that it concentrates within itself
more of the feeling of the day, as exemplified by current art, than
any other spot in this country. Thus, when calling this chapter Café
Royal, I do not mean to devote it to an anecdotic study of the famous
tavern, but rather to those things which it represents and contains,
to some slight impression of the arts as they develop, flourish, and
wilt in this city. The Café itself should never have been called Royal,
for an eternal opposition exists between the pomp of such a name and
the rebellious young arts; in no essential do they oppose the royal
suggestion, but they are remote therefrom, live in a world where the
values are different, not related to class or fortune, artificial,
perhaps, but created in virtue of a private political economy.
Thus, the Café Royal should have been called something dashing and
picturesque, such as ‘Café des Mille Colonnes,’ or ‘Café de la Pomme
Vermeille.’ How well it would have looked, sparsely decorated with
rubicund apples painted by Cézanne! As it is, the Café Royal is a very
large room in Regent Street. Its ceiling, a mass of gold scrollings
that embrace frescoes darkened by smoke and time into the colour of old
masters, is sustained by many columns with a golden base and a green
stem. Round that stem intertwine golden leaves from which hang golden
grapes. The effect of the Café is one of rather excessive gilding: the
walls are crowded with gilt figures and baskets of flowers that leave
space only for many mirrors; as if the wall had been hidden away at the
behest of some obscure modesty. Yet the effect is pleasant, for this
gold is old and tarnished. It has nothing blatant, and the whole effect
is one of comfortable decency, as if this excessive room had been
built by a parvenu, but had been lived in so long by his successors
as to lose the parvenu spirit. The furnishing, plain tables with
marble tops, long seats with red plush backs, also resolve themselves
into good-humoured comfort, while, at the end, a prince of bars with
something like ten score bottles, each one filled with something
individual, produces an impression of eclectic welcome.

The Café Royal may have been built to astound, but nowadays it is just
the comfortable background of people who like to drink a little, to
pay moderately, and to talk enormously. The conversations at the Café
Royal are not, probably, such as would make a good book of memoirs, but
its mixed public has, at one time or another, numbered everybody who
did something (whatever that may mean), so that many good things and
many spiteful ones are spoken every day under its golden roof. Before
the war, the violent young men and the much more violent young women
seemed to meet there every night, with an almost sacramental air, to
discuss, that is to scarify, reputations. That was good, for Renan was
right when he said that if a young man, aged twenty, had not always
ready a mouthful of insults for his predecessors, he would pronounce no
judgments fit to be heard when he attained the age of forty.



This does not mean that the Café Royal is a literary café, or an
artistic café. The literary, dramatic, and pictorial elements are
certainly stronger there than in any other London resort, but at any
time you may see there the strangest assembly: foreigners, a great
many; smart people who are seeing life; and very dull, ordinary, fat
men who stop on their way from business or shop to have a drink before
dinner. At dinner time the room is not itself, for half of it sees its
marble tables covered with cloths, which means that eating proceeds,
and eating does not, so well as drinking, favour turbulent debate.
It is just before dinner, and especially after dinner, that the Café
Royal enters upon its true function: to provide a pleasant, cheap
place, fairly noisy, fairly smoky, and fairly comfortable, where the
young arts may meet and joust. During the war it did not quite do this,
for many of the young men had joined the army, and it was strange
suddenly to recognise over a tunic, in a well-kept, well-brushed
head, the outlines of somebody whom once one knew with endless locks,
whiskers, or a beard. Even in khaki they did what they could. Military
discipline did not completely dominate those rebellious beings; their
moustaches were either a little more luxuriant or very much more hogged
than usual. The Café Royal platoon was still faintly noticeable.

Some, however, were not in khaki, for theirs was not a very fit
generation, and even now many a table throws back a memory to 1914.
In those days the frequent visitor to the Café Royal soon knew many
people by sight, and if he was of that world, or had somebody to guide
him, he soon could pick out those who were celebrated and those who
were notorious; with time, he even came to recognise those who were
extremely well known. I do not know if, nowadays, one often sees at
the Café Royal, Mr Jacob Epstein, but once it was difficult to detach
one’s eyes from the sleepy strength of his heavy profile. One wanted to
look into those eyes with the thick lids, in which strangely mingled
so much detachment and so much kinetic energy. He was seldom alone;
there was always a little Epstein group about his table. Indeed, it is
a characteristic of the Café Royal that few people sit alone. They form
groups. One I remember well. It always contained a tall young man with
very long, thin features, and hair grown low about the cheek; he had a
fancy for clothes faintly 1860 in feeling, notably, for stocks. There
was an extremely beautiful girl, thin, dark, and languid as some warm
Italian greyhound. There was a young man who wore a velvet coat, whose
fair hair fell in long wisps upon his collar, a strange young man, with
a peculiar grayish skin and an air of nervous excitement. Round these
moved other figures less definite, but all of them young: square men
in knickerbockers, with short pipes stuck precisely in the middle of
their faces; girls, outrageously florid or eloquently simple, round
whose long necks hung the flowered yokes of Chelsea, on whose hands
clustered many rings of turquoise and aquamarine, or whose hands were
virgin of all decoration save that of black finger-nails. The smart
people used to watch them steadily and feel that, at last, they were
really seeing life.

Sometimes they saw people whose names could serve as conversation at
the morrow’s lunch party. Sometimes they caught sight of Mr C. R. W.
Nevinson, and could describe his square figure, his rather blunt,
pleasant face with the bright, live, brown eyes. It does one good to
look at Mr Nevinson, though, nowadays, something oppressed has crept
into his expression; there is, in those rather thick features, a sense
of life and desire. With him sometimes goes his wife, slight, white and
rose, and bending a little under the heavy sunshine of her hair.

Until recently the Café Royal also often contained Mr Augustus John,
and one could sit for a long time, wondering what it was gave his
features that air of tautness. There is always about Mr John a feeling
that he is imprisoned within himself.... Equally with Mr Epstein he had
his court, young men in a state of extreme reverence, and other men
who preached to him in attitudes of hostility tinged with nervousness,
which is the ordinary approach to the successful painter of those who
are less successful. I think that, now and then, Mr Arthur Symons used
to draw them away, so as to procure for Mr John a greater peace. It
was as if he were trying to create about him an atmosphere of hush. At
the Café Royal this is not easily done. Notably, it was difficult to
create hush among the reverential young men, for I suspect that they
all wanted to know what Mr John thought of their work, that is meant
to tell him what he ought to think. The young women were more easily
managed, and it is interesting to note that they tended to approximate
in appearance to the John type. Nearly all were what the vulgar call
plain, in some cases because they were perfectly beautiful: that which
is perfectly beautiful is severe and separate; it does not arouse
desire, it arouses respect, and this most of humanity cannot forgive.
Those strange young women, apparently long-legged and long-armed, in
their simply-cut high frocks that hung straight from shoulder to ankle,
young women with hair plainly banded, rather long noses, strong chins,
thick, dark mouths, like open fruits. They seemed to come straight out
of some sketch in Donegal.

There were many others, too. Now and then one caught sight of Mr
Wyndham Lewis who, nowadays, is plump, but in those was tall and white
and rather slim, often silent and generally weary; it was an education
in negligence to watch the depressed droop of the cigarette stump
which generally hung from his underlip. There were others, too, a
woman with small, humorous eyes and a pleasant coppery complexion, who
wore turbans of purple silk and gold, who never thought or spoke an
evil thing of any creature alive. One saw Mr Gertler, very young and
seductive, perhaps a little conscious of it; Mr Gilbert Cannan, oozing
defiance from every sharp angle and confining his conversation to this
process. The other young writers came now and then: Mr Swinnerton
before he grew his beard, Mr Hugh Walpole, who always seemed slightly
out of place in so ill-regulated a spot. People less definable float
through my mind: a young girl who had been told that she looked like
a Russian, and thenceforth appeared attired in a red sarafan; a young
man with black locks massed upon his eyebrows, locks he often tossed
back to show the running water of his pale eyes. There was a young
woman who believed in asceticism; as she looked rather like a brick, I
was told that her beliefs had never been put to a rude test. There was
another young woman, too, who seriously informed any marble table that
she believed in reincarnation, and that within her breathed the soul
of Shelley. Nearly everybody painted, some wrote verse, a few ventured
on prose; the talk was of art and of sinners against art. Swiftly
they passed from studio scandal to the declarations, manifestoes,
proclamations which made the arts sound foolish in 1914, but actually
were evidences of their vigour. Indeed, the modern forms of art tend to
shock the Philistine: I am not with him; I like my paint wet.

The old arts are unkind to the young arts. Struck by a certain wilful
outrageousness which often overlays talent and in the beginning always
heralds it, the old arts make as much fun of the new arts, as the old
arts made of the older when they were young. Some of my readers may
remember Mr Epstein’s rather theoretical Venus, at whose feet reposed
a wheel. It was an abstract piece of sculpture, but, however abstract,
I think it was a little harsh of Mrs Aria to describe it as a sick
penguin sitting on a broken bicycle. The truth is that the modern
forms of art are not as wilful or as intentionally shocking as their
adepts choose to make out. It may be true that most schools, from the
impressionists onwards, have formed round one man who had something
original to say in an original way, and that most of the pupils, having
nothing original to say, found it necessary to say it in a violently
original way. That is true to a certain extent; truer, perhaps, is it
to say that ‘genius creates the taste with which it is enjoyed.’ Thus,
I think it quite as likely that people like Manet created the taste for
impressionism, just as Wagner created a taste for music in reaction
against, let us say, Rossini. Nature, after all, is only a thing which
one conceives, and not a thing which really exists; it varies with the
eye that beholds it, and if a man sincerely and violently feels that
trees are pink, then to him they are pink, and if he has art enough to
translate his temperament into those pink trees, then the people who
can understand him will learn to see trees like him, that is, pink. We
need not stress this, because it is an extreme case, but I submit that
the modern forms of art, during the last dozen years, have all of them
tended to express nature on the lines of certain conventions, and that
instead of taking up an attitude of contempt, it was easy to understand
these conventions, therefore, to understand the artist, therefore, to
collect from the canvas the impression he painted there. Here, I will
be told by the Philistine: ‘Why should I see that a face looks like
a cube?’ Well, nobody wants to force him to see a face as a cube if
he doesn’t want to, but one is entitled to point out to him that he
has already accepted many conventions. He is quite willing to look at
Gainsborough’s ‘Blue Boy,’ and to see it as a human figure, though
it has only surface and not volume. He is quite willing to look at
Venus of Milo and to accept it as a reproduction of a beautiful woman,
though it has no colour. He is quite willing to go to a play the action
of which extends over five years, and to see this action condensed into
two and a half hours. The public has to accept the arts conventionally
because the arts do not reproduce nature, they interpret it.


        THE A.A.A.]

It may, therefore, be suggested that our young post-impressionists,
futurists, and cubists were badly treated by the public, for the public
never tried to understand the new conventions on which they worked.
With all the power of my sincerity, and in the name of such honesty as
may be in me, I assure my readers that if they will take the trouble
to master the conventions the work can be interpreted. I possess an
excellent non-representational picture, by Mr Wadsworth, inspired by
the roofs of a Yorkshire village; it is entirely composed of black
and white planes. When, lately, this was shown to a friend, she asked
why she should be told to admire a set of decayed dominoes. But the
picture is not made up of decayed dominoes; it is a highly simplified
impression of walls and roofs, and when you have sympathetically sought
for what we may call the key plane, the picture becomes absolutely

But what if it were not obvious? Many of the modern men, such as Mr
Wadsworth, Mr McKnight Kauffer, Mr Wyndham Lewis, do not aspire to
represent anything at all. What they want to do is to sketch or paint
an interesting pattern. Mr Ezra Pound has put the attitude clearly
in his book, _Gaudier Brzeska_, where he says, more or less: ‘When
you hear a sonata played, you do not say, “Oh, what an eloquent
reproduction of the waves upon the shore!” or, “This is where the sheep
begin to baa.” What you do is to ask yourself whether this combination
of sounds is pleasant or moving. That is the freedom we wish to find
in painting or sculpture. We are not interested in painting the
Mayor of Leeds in such a way as to make it clear that he is a mayor,
possibly of Leeds, but we are interested in setting together lines and
coloured surfaces, irrespective of any meaning, and to be judged on
that, according to whether these lines and colours produce a pleasant

This position appears to me above attack. The technical improvements in
painting, which began in the seventeenth century, producing Rembrandt,
Raphael, Velasquez, and, in due course, Sir Edward Poynter, seem to
have set a heavy yoke upon the painter’s neck, for the painter grew
enthralled by technique, became more and more inclined to represent a
baby so life-like that everybody expected it to howl; he grew liable
to lose sight of the one thing that matters, namely, that to represent
a baby is nothing, and to represent the artist through the baby,
everything. (If I am wrong, consider a picture by Mr Clausen and a
photograph by Mr Park; Mr Clausen knows how to paint, but Mr Park will
far more exactly reproduce the sitter, do it quicker, and much more
cheaply.) The thesis of the modern artist, of which I am trying to give
an impression, therefore involves that while we bow to the undeniable
greatness of men such as Rembrandt, Botticelli, Leonardo, we wonder
whether a greater emancipation from their technique might not have
allowed them to soar higher into the abstract region where none save
an artist can breathe. The plea is that in a more abstract field they
might have been still greater.

Undeniably, the modern forms of art have emancipated themselves too
much from technical restrictions. It is dangerous to have too much
technique; it is dangerous to have too little, and I could not say who
suavely broods in the golden mean. Still, when we consider what a dead
and damnable thing technique alone can be, when we consider the annual
mortuary at Burlington House, when we stand awhile before a work of
Mr Frank Dicksee, and stare incredulously at Sir Luke Fildes’s ‘The
Doctor,’ or attempt to solve the Hon. John Collier’s psycho-pictorial
mysteries, we are indeed assured that though technique may exclude a
man both from heaven and from hell, it shall, for certain, land him in

I remember very well the first ‘advanced’ pictures I ever saw. They
were twelve impressions of a bridge over a brook by Claude Monet.
That must have been nearly twenty years ago, and I thought them very
beautiful. It is strange that nowadays they seem so tame. But it does
not matter to me that I thought them beautiful then, just as when I
first saw a Matisse I thought it interesting, that my first Gauguin,
with its queer brown figures stirred me; it matters to me that when the
futurists came to town, Mr Marinetti did not strike me as a marionette,
and that later all the others, cubists, boulists, imagists, vorticists,
were taken by me as honest men. You may call me a fool; you may even
think worse of me and say that I was so anxious to be in the movement
that I liked every movement; I prefer to say that I was always ready
to try to understand a new pictorial convention. When I cease to be
able to do that, when I cease to see in painting that Mr Wadsworth is
deeply interesting, in literature, that Mr James Joyce is strikingly
individual, when I am Philistine enough to hang a painter because I
won’t hang his picture, then, indeed, shall I be middle-aged and take
to meals.

The years between 1908 or so and 1914 were some of the most important
English art has passed through. In those six or seven years, for the
first time, London saw the post-impressionists, not only Matisse,
but also Cézanne and Picasso; she saw the futurists, the singular
pictures of views from a moving train which, faulty as they were,
were well worth painting, because from a moving train one does see
things, therefore material for art. She saw Severini’s ‘Pan-Pan Dance,’
where colour and surface dance rather than men and women; she saw the
coming of Mr Epstein, first in the statues outside the British Medical
Association, which were said to be indecent and became famous; she also
saw reproductions of Mr Epstein’s Oscar Wilde monument, which went
to Paris and was said to be indecent and became kilted. The cubists
came in the train of Mr Metzinger. The non-representational movement
extended, radiating round Mr Wyndham Lewis, impressing many men and
women, among whom, in those days, was found true ability. It was a
breathless and beautiful period, where everybody was under thirty and
many were under twenty, when people painted not for art’s sake, but
consciously for the expression of self. When that self was feeble, the
painting was feeble. But it was not always so. Many ridiculous things
were done; many ridiculous things were said in the Café Royal and out
of it, but, as Miss May Sinclair puts it very well, these young men had
not come to destroy the pictorial glories of the past; they had come
to destroy their imitators. Conscious of their period, they wanted to
express it.

Some have suggested that the modern forms of painting were merely
outbreaks of youth, that these movements had severed the continuity
which should exist between one period and another. Now the modern young
man is generally arrogant, and if you talked to him of continuity would
say, perhaps: ‘I don’t want any ancestors; I am an ancestor.’ But
he would be wrong. From Monet to Matisse, from Matisse to the early
Nevinson, from the early Nevinson to the modern Wyndham Lewis, the link
is close. No doubt a pen better versed than mine could link Monet with
Giotto. I cannot; for I find it difficult to think back further than
fifty years.



There have been reactions. One of the most notable is that of Mr
Nevinson, who is to-day the most popular of the young men, the one who
has been most completely recognised by a broad public. Certainly he has
become more recognisable, though I am not of those who think that his
work has thereby lost. A man may be great and esoteric, or he may be
great and lucid. It all depends on the way in which the dice fall. The
several exhibitions of Mr Nevinson’s work, during the war, have shown
him more and more gaining independence. He began by adopting one of
the cubist conventions; he is still able to do so when he wishes, but
he is also able to use other conventions, even the most stereotyped,
when his subject seems to demand it. He paints pattern, or subject, or
idea, but an interesting sidelight on his attitude is hatred of all
cliques. In the preface of his last exhibition, he bitterly assails
the people who seek ‘pure form through nothing but still life, endless
green apples, saucepans, and oranges, picasized and cezanned with a
ponderous and self-conscious sub-consciousness.’ He hates what he calls
the child-like antics and the gambolling of the elect of Bloomsbury.
He may not be quite fair, but when I remember the various cliques to
which I had occasional access, the Rhythm clique, for whom nobody
existed except Anne Estelle Rice, J. D. Fergusson, Jessie Dismorr, and
George Banks ... until the review changed its name, when most of these
people ceased to exist and nobody but Mr Albert Rutherston was granted
physical likelihood, when I reflect how Mr Nevinson used to cluster
with many others in a cosy cube, only to be driven out at last at the
point of a cone, when I reflect upon the sombre mystery that surrounds
the adepts of Mr Roger Fry (a mystery recently grown less sombre with
success), I am assured that cliques are the necessary breeding-ground
of talent because they fortify its members against the cackling
Philistine. But they are also the thing which keeps talent small and
parochial once they have helped it to grow. The clique is the nursery,
and the test of a man is whether he knows when he is grown up. The art
clique is like journalism, which can lead you anywhere provided you
forsake it.

Most of the cliques have their being in Chelsea, though Fitzroy Square
and the Garden City occasionally put forward claims, and Bedford Park
asserts itself. I suspect that the movement is nowadays away from
Chelsea. King’s Road grows every day more mercantile; nothing in it
recalls the arts except a slight excess of shops which sell artists’
materials. One does meet the Chelsea girl, no longer in a jibbah, but
more likely in an eloquent sweater, with her hair cut short and her
feet brogued, but then the Chelsea style has crept into many circles.
You can go into the Chenil Gallery, where you will always find works
by Mr Augustus John and Mr Gill; you can even go and have lunch at the
Good Intent, but somehow Chelsea will not seem to you very Chelsea-ish.
Indeed, there are rows and rows of studios near Glebe Place, Church
Street, Redcliffe Square, in all sorts of odd back-yards and shanties,
but the whole thing does not hold together. At the Good Intent, for
instance, you will find a small, quiet restaurant, decorated with old
furniture, pictures that may have been advanced once upon a time,
a jolly old pug, very fat and wheezing, its portraits on the wall,
grossly flattered, with a mauve ribbon round its neck; you will see
at the tables mainly women who live at local diggings, rather tired
and lonely looking, as women grow when they live in diggings and toast
muffins on the gas stove.

No, Chelsea is nowadays too successful to be a locality for artists.
Cheyne Walk has become too famous and too rich, for artists cannot live
together, unless it is in a sort of Alsatia where you must pay your
footing in such coin as the keeper thinks fit. Nowadays, the arts tend
to scatter. They can be found in Chalk Farm, even in Paddington, some
say in Bayswater, though this is not likely. They tend to live more
privately than they do in Paris, where half the day seems to be spent
at the Lilas. (Oh, how I hate the Lilas! The last time I went there,
there was an enormous crowd; a hairy Russian philosopher stood on my
right foot while he read bad French translations from the Sanskrit;
meanwhile, two young people stood on my left foot and made love.) In
London the arts meet at their communal places, in certain restaurants
which they discover and then forsake, at the Coq d’Or, at little
dancing clubs. If only the Philistine hated them more, they might cling

Still, the arts are not, in London, as absent and ignored as the
foreigner likes to think. It is true, as Mr Nevinson says, that owing
chiefly to our Press, to our loathsome, tradition-loving public schools
and our antiquity-stinking universities, the average Englishman is
not merely suspicious of the new in all intellectual and artistic
experiment, but he is mentally trained to be so unsportsmanlike as to
try to kill every new endeavour in embryo. It is true, but it does not
matter. The arts are vigorous, and in the end, those who came to kill
stay to buy. That will be seen as time goes on.

Is it, I wonder, a symptom of the English attitude to the arts, that
the chapter which concerns them should, in the words of Mr Henry
James, drag far in the dusty rear of this book? Perhaps, though London
of to-day is so vivid and so eloquent, so full of sharp colour and true
line that, when I consider her music, I am inclined to think that she
would not have attained her crisp and harmonious form if some creative
instinct within her humorous, pessimistic, and languid people had not
presided over her birth, and favoured her composite life.

      *      *      *      *      *      *

Transcriber’s note:

Punctuation, hyphenation, and spelling were made consistent when a
predominant preference was found in the original book; otherwise they
were not changed.

Simple typographical errors were corrected; unpaired quotation
marks were remedied when the change was obvious, and otherwise left

Except for the cover and Frontispiece, all of the original images
were shades of green. In other copies of the original book, those
images were black/gray. The Transcriber believes the green was due to
discoloration caused by ageing, so in this eBook, those images appear
in black/gray.

Page 20: “Somerset Maugham” was misprinted as “Somerset Maughan”;
corrected here.

Page 114: “s’embêter” was printed as “s’embèter”; corrected here.

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