Part 4 out of 4
it, it isn't there. All the rest is a great illus--"
And with this he dozed off again into silence.
"Our poor Angell is asleep again," said The Lady Pacifist.
Mr. Bryan shook his head.
"He's been that way ever since the war began--sleeps all
the time, and keeps muttering that there isn't any war,
that people only imagine it, in fact that it is all an
illusion. But I fear we are interrupting you," he added,
turning to The Philanthropist.
"I was just saying," continued that gentleman, "that you
can do anything with money. You can stop a war with it
if you have enough of it, in ten minutes. I don't care
what kind of war it is, or what the people are fighting
for, whether they are fighting for conquest or fighting
for their homes and their children. I can stop it, stop
it absolutely by my grip on money, without firing a shot
or incurring the slightest personal danger."
The Philanthropist spoke with the greatest emphasis,
reaching out his hand and clutching his fingers in the
"Yes, gentlemen," he went on, "I am speaking here not of
theories but of facts. This is what I am doing and what
I mean to do. You've no idea how amenable people are,
especially poor people, struggling people, those with
ties and responsibilities, to the grip of money. I went
the other day to a man I know, the head of a bank, where
I keep a little money--just a fraction of what I make,
gentlemen, a mere nothing to me but everything to this
man because he is still not rich and is only fighting
his way up. 'Now,' I said to him, 'you are English, are
you not?' 'Yes, sir,' he answered. 'And I understand you
mean to help along the loan to England with all the power
of your bank.' 'Yes,' he said, 'I mean it and I'll do
it.' 'Then I'll tell you what,' I said, 'you lend one
penny, or help to lend one penny, to the people of England
or the people of France, and I'll break you, I'll grind
you into poverty--you and your wife and children and all
that belongs to you.'"
The Philanthropist had spoken with so great an intensity
that there was a deep stillness over the assembled company.
The Negro President had straightened up in his seat, and
as he looked at the speaker there was something in his
erect back and his stern face and the set of his faded
uniform that somehow turned him, African though he was,
into a soldier.
"Sir," he said, with his eye riveted on the speaker's
face, "what happened to that banker man?"
"The fool!" said The Philanthropist. "He wouldn't hear
--he defied me--he said that there wasn't money enough
in all my business to buy the soul of a single Englishman.
I had his directors turn him from his bank that day, and
he's enlisted, the scoundrel, and is gone to the war.
But his wife and family are left behind; they shall learn
what the grip of the money power is--learn it in misery
"My good sir," said the Negro President slowly and
impressively, "do you know why your plan of stopping war
wouldn't work in Haiti?"
"No," said The Philanthropist.
"Because our black people there would kill you. Whichever
side they were on, whatever they thought of the war, they
would take a man like you and lead you out into the town
square, and stand you up against the side of an adobe
house, and they'd shoot you. Come down to Haiti, if you
doubt my words, and try it."
"Thank you," said The Philanthropist, resuming his
customary manner of undisturbed gentleness, "I don't
think I will. I don't think somehow that I could do
business in Haiti."
The passage at arms between the Negro President and The
Philanthropist had thrown a certain confusion into the
hitherto agreeable gathering. Even The Eminent Divine
was seen to be slowly shaking his head from side to side,
an extreme mark of excitement which he never permitted
himself except under stress of passion. The two humble
guests at the foot of the table were visibly perturbed.
"Say, I don't like that about the banker," squeaked one
of them. "That ain't right, eh what? I don't like it."
Mr. Bryan was aware that the meeting was in danger of
serious disorder. He rapped loudly on the table for
attention. When he had at last obtained silence, he
"I have kept my own views to the last," he said, "because
I cannot but feel that they possess a peculiar importance.
There is, my dear friends, every prospect that within a
measurable distance of time I shall be able to put them
into practice. I am glad to be able to announce to you
the practical certainty that four years from now I shall
be President of the United States."
At this announcement the entire company broke into
spontaneous and heartfelt applause. It had long been felt
by all present that Mr. Bryan was certain to be President
of the United States if only he ran for the office often
enough, but that the glad moment had actually arrived
seemed almost too good for belief.
"Yes, my friends," continued the genial host, "I have
just had a communication from my dear friend Wilson, in
which he tells me that he, himself, will never contest
the office again. The Presidency, he says, interfered
too much with his private life. In fact, I am authorised
to state in confidence that his wife forbids him to run."
"But, my dear Jennings," interposed Dr. Jordan thoughtfully,
"what about Mr. Hughes and Colonel Roosevelt?"
"In that quarter my certainty in the matter is absolute.
I have calculated it out mathematically that I am bound
to obtain, in view of my known principles, the entire
German vote--which carries with it all the great breweries
of the country--the whole Austrian vote, all the Hungarians
of the sugar refineries, the Turks; in fact, my friends,
I am positive that Roosevelt, if he dares to run, will
carry nothing but the American vote!"
Loud applause greeted this announcement.
"And now let me explain my plan, which I believe is shared
by a great number of sane, and other, pacifists in the
country. All the great nations of the world will be
invited to form a single international force consisting
of a fleet so powerful and so well equipped that no single
nation will dare to bid it defiance."
Mr. Bryan looked about him with a glance of something
like triumph. The whole company, and especially the Negro
President, were now evidently interested. "Say," whispered
The General Public to his companion, "this sounds like
the real thing? Eh, what? Isn't he a peach of a thinker?"
"What flag will your fleet fly?" asked the Negro President.
"The flags of all nations," said Mr. Bryan.
"Where will you get your sailors?"
"From all the nations," said Mr. Bryan, "but the uniform
will be all the same, a plain white blouse with blue
insertions, and white duck trousers with the word PEACE
stamped across the back of them in big letters. This will
help to impress the sailors with the almost sacred
character of their functions."
"But what will the fleet's functions be?" asked the
"Whenever a quarrel arises," explained Mr. Bryan, "it
will be submitted to a Board. Who will be on this Board,
in addition to myself, I cannot as yet say. But it's of
no consequence. Whenever a case is submitted to the
Board it will think it over for three years. It will then
announce its decision--if any. After that, if any one
nation refuses to submit, its ports will be bombarded by
the Peace Fleet."
Rapturous expressions of approval greeted Mr. Bryan's
"But I don't understand," said the Negro President,
turning his puzzled face to Mr. Bryan. "Would some of
these ships be British ships?"
"Oh, certainly. In view of the dominant size of the
British Navy about one-quarter of all the ships would be
"And the sailors British sailors?"
"Oh, yes," said Mr. Bryan, "except that they would be
wearing international breeches--a most important point."
"And if the Board, made up of all sorts of people, were
to give a decision against England, then these
ships--British ships with British sailors--would be sent
to bombard England itself."
"Exactly," said Mr. Bryan. "Isn't it beautifully simple?
And to guarantee its working properly," he continued,
"just in case we have to use the fleet against England,
we're going to ask Admiral Jellicoe himself to take
The Negro President slowly shook his head.
"Marse Bryan," he said, "you notice what I say. I know
Marse Jellicoe. I done seen him lots of times when he
was just a lieutenant, down in the harbour of Port au
Prince. If youse folks put up this proposition to Marse
Jellicoe, he'll just tell the whole lot of you to go
But the close of the sentence was lost by a sudden
interruption. A servant entered with a folded telegram
in his hand.
"For me?" said Mr. Bryan, with a winning smile.
"For the President of Haiti, sir," said the man.
The President took the telegram and opened it clumsily
with his finger and thumb amid a general silence. Then
he took from his pocket and adjusted a huge pair of
spectacles with a horn rim and began to read.
"Well, I 'clare to goodness!" he said.
"Who is it from ?" said Mr. Bryan. "Is it anything about
The Negro President shook his head.
"It's from Haiti," he said, "from my military secretary."
"Read it, read it," cried the company.
"_Come back home right away,_" read out the Negro President,
word by word. "_Everything is all right again. Joint
British and American Naval Squadron came into harbour
yesterday, landed fifty bluejackets and one midshipman.
Perfect order. Banks open. Bars open. Mule cars all
running again. Things fine. Going to have big dance at
your palace. Come right back._"
The Negro President paused.
"Gentlemen," he said, in a voice of great and deep relief,
"this lets me out. I guess I won't stay for the rest of
the discussion. I'll start for Haiti. I reckon there's
something in this Armed Force business after all."
XV. The White House from Without In
Being Extracts from the Diary of a President of the United
MONDAY. Rose early. Swept out the White House. Cooked
breakfast. Prayers. Sat in the garden reading my book
on Congressional Government. What a wonderful thing it
is! Why doesn't Congress live up to it? Certainly a lovely
morning. Sat for some time thinking how beautiful the
world is. I defy anyone to make a better. Afterwards
determined to utter this defiance publicly and fearlessly.
Shall put in list of fearless defiances for July speeches.
Shall probably use it in Oklahoma.
9.30 a.m. Bad news. British ship _Torpid_ torpedoed by
a torpedo. Tense atmosphere all over Washington. Retreated
instantly to the pigeon-house and shut the door. I must
_think_. At all costs. And no one shall hurry me.
10 a.m. Have thought. Came out of pigeon-house. It is
all right. I wonder I didn't think of it sooner. The
point is perfectly simple. If Admiral Tirpitz torpedoed
the _Torpid_ with a torpedo, Where's the torpedo Admiral
Tirpitz torped? In other words, how do they know it's a
torpedo? The idea seems absolutely overwhelming. Wrote
notes at once to England and to Germany.
11 a.m. Gave out my idea to the Ass Press. Tense feeling
at Washington vanished instantly and utterly. Feeling
now loose. In fact everything splendid. Money became
easy at once. Marks rose. Exports jumped. Gold reserve
3 p.m. Slightly bad news. Appears there is trouble in
the Island of Piccolo Domingo. Looked it up on map. Is
one of the smaller West Indies. We don't own it. I imagine
Roosevelt must have overlooked it. An American has been
in trouble there: was refused a drink after closing time
and burnt down saloon. Is now in jail. Shall send at once
our latest battleship--the _Woodrow_--new design, both
ends alike, escorted by double-ended coal barges the
_Wilson_, the _President_, the _Professor_ and the
_Thinker_. Shall take firm stand on American rights.
Piccolo Domingo must either surrender the American alive,
or give him to us dead.
TUESDAY. A lovely day. Rose early. Put flowers in all
the vases. Laid a wreath of early japonica beside my
egg-cup on the breakfast table. Cabinet to morning prayers
and breakfast. Prayed for better guidance.
9 a.m. Trouble, bad trouble. First of all Roosevelt has
an interview in the morning papers in which he asks why
I don't treat Germany as I treat Piccolo Domingo. Now,
what a fool question! Can't he _see_ why? Roosevelt never
could see reason. Bryan also has an interview: wants to
know why I don't treat Piccolo Domingo as I treat Germany?
Doesn't he _know_ why?
Result: strained feeling in Washington. Morning mail bad.
10 a.m. British Admiralty communication. To the pigeon-house
at once. They offer to send piece of torpedo, fragment
of ship and selected portions of dead American citizens.
Have come out of pigeon-house. Have cabled back: How do
they know it is a torpedo, how do they know it is a
fragment, how do they know he was an American who said
he was dead?
My answer has helped. Feeling in Washington easier at
once. General buoyancy. Loans and discounts doubled.
As I expected--a note from Germany. Chancellor very
explicit. Says not only did they not torpedo the _Torpid_,
but that on the day (whenever it was) that the steamer
was torpedoed they had no submarines at sea, no torpedoes
in their submarines, and nothing really explosive in
their torpedoes. Offers, very kindly, to fill in the date
of sworn statement as soon as we furnish accurate date
of incident. Adds that his own theory is that the _Torpid_
was sunk by somebody throwing rocks at it from the shore.
Wish, somehow, that he had not added this argument.
More bad news: Further trouble in Mexico. Appears General
Villa is not dead. He has again crossed the border, shot
up a saloon and retreated to the mountains of
Huahuapaxtapetl. Have issued instructions to have the
place looked up on the map and send the whole army to
it, but without in any way violating the neutrality of
Late cables from England. Two more ships torpedoed.
American passenger lost. Name of Roosevelt. Christian
name not Theodore but William. Cabled expression of
WEDNESDAY. Rose sad at heart. Did not work in garden.
Tried to weed a little grass along the paths but simply
couldn't. This is a cruel job. How was it that Roosevelt
grew stout on it? His nature must be different from mine.
What a miserable nature he must have.
Received delegations. From Kansas, on the prospect of
the corn crop: they said the number of hogs in Kansas
will double. Congratulated them. From Idaho, on the
blight on the root crop: they say there will soon not be
a hog left in Idaho. Expressed my sorrow. From Michigan,
beet sugar growers urging a higher percentage of sugar
in beets. Took firm stand: said I stand where I stood
and I stood where I stand. They went away dazzled,
Mail and telegrams. British Admiralty. _Torpid_ Incident.
Send further samples. Fragment of valise, parts of cow-hide
trunk (dead passenger's luggage) which, they say, could
not have been made except in Nevada.
Cabled that the incident is closed and that I stand where
I stood and that I am what I am. Situation in Washington
relieved at once. General feeling that I shall not make
Second Cable from England. The Two New Cases. Claim both
ships torpedoed. Offer proofs. Situation very grave.
Feeling in Washington very tense. Roosevelt out with a
signed statement, _What will the President Do?_ Surely
he knows what I will do.
Cables from Germany. Chancellor now positive as to
_Torpid_. Sworn evidence that she was sunk by some one
throwing a rock. Sample of rock to follow. Communication
also from Germany regarding the New Cases. Draws attention
to fact that all of the crews who were not drowned were
saved. An important point. Assures this government that
everything ascertainable will be ascertained, but that
pending juridical verification any imperial exemplification
must be held categorically allegorical. How well these
THURSDAY. A dull morning. Up early and read Congressional
Government. Breakfast. Prayers. We prayed for the United
States, for the citizens, for the Congress (both houses,
especially the Senate), and for the Cabinet. Is there
any one else?
Trouble. Accident to naval flotilla _en route_ to Piccolo
Domingo. The new battleship the _Woodrow_ has broken
down. Fault in structure. Tried to go with both ends
first. Appeared impossible. Went sideways a little and
is sinking. Wireless from the barges the _Wilson_, the
_Thinker_ and others. They are standing by. They wire
that they will continue to stand by. Why on earth do they
do that? Shall cable them to act.
Feeling in Washington gloomy.
FRIDAY. Rose early and tried to sweep out the White House.
Had little heart for it. The dust gathers in the corners.
How did Roosevelt manage to keep it so clean? An idea!
I must get a vacuum cleaner! But where can I get a vacuum?
Took my head in my hands and thought: problem solved.
Can get the vacuum all right.
Good news. Villa dead again. Feeling in Washington
Trouble. Ship torpedoed. News just came from the French
Government. Full-rigged ship, the _Ping-Yan_, sailing
out of Ping Pong, French Cochin China, and cleared for
Hoo-Ra, Indo-Arabia. No American citizens on board, but
one American citizen with ticket left behind on wharf at
Ping Pong. Claims damages. Complicated case. Feeling in
Washington much disturbed. Sterling exchange fell and
wouldn't get up. French Admiralty urge treaty of 1778.
German Chancellor admits torpedoing ship but denies that
it was full-rigged. Captain of submarine drew picture of
ship as it sank. His picture unlike any known ship of
SATURDAY. A day of trouble. Villa came to life and crossed
the border. Our army looking for him in Mexico: inquiry
by wire, are they authorised to come back? General Carranza
asks leave to invade Canada. Piccolo Domingo expedition
has failed. The _Woodrow_ is still sinking. The President
and the _Thinker_ cable that they are still standing by
and will continue to stand where they have stood. British
Admiralty sending shipload of fragments. German Admiralty
sending shipload of affidavits. Feeling in Washington
depressed to the lowest depths. Sterling sinking. Marks
falling. Exports dwindling.
An idea: Is this job worth while? I wonder if Billy Sunday
would take it?
Spent the evening watering the crocuses. Whoever is here
a year from now is welcome to them. They tell me that
Hughes hates crocuses. Watered them very carefully.
SUNDAY. Good news! Just heard from Princeton University.
I am to come back, and everything will be forgiven and
Timid Thoughts on Timely Topics
XVI. Are the Rich Happy?
Let me admit at the outset that I write this essay without
adequate material. I have never known, I have never seen,
any rich people. Very often I have thought that I had
found them. But it turned out that it was not so. They
were not rich at all. They were quite poor. They were
hard up. They were pushed for money. They didn't know
where to turn for ten thousand dollars.
In all the cases that I have examined this same error
has crept in. I had often imagined, from the fact of
people keeping fifteen servants, that they were rich. I
had supposed that because a woman rode down town in a
limousine to buy a fifty-dollar hat, she must be well to
do. Not at all. All these people turn out on examination
to be not rich. They are cramped. They say it themselves.
Pinched, I think, is the word they use. When I see a
glittering group of eight people in a stage box at the
opera, I know that they are all pinched. The fact that
they ride home in a limousine has nothing to do with it.
A friend of mine who has ten thousand dollars a year told
me the other day with a sigh that he found it quite
impossible to keep up with the rich. On his income he
couldn't do it. A family that I know who have twenty
thousand a year have told me the same thing. They can't
keep up with the rich. There is no use trying. A man that
I respect very much who has an income of fifty thousand
dollars a year from his law practice has told me with
the greatest frankness that he finds it absolutely
impossible to keep up with the rich. He says it is better
to face the brutal fact of being poor. He says he can
only give me a plain meal, what he calls a home dinner
--it takes three men and two women to serve it--and he
begs me to put up with it.
As far as I remember, I have never met Mr. Carnegie. But
I know that if I did he would tell me that he found it
quite impossible to keep up with Mr. Rockefeller. No
doubt Mr. Rockefeller has the same feeling.
On the other hand there are, and there must be rich
people, somewhere. I run across traces of them all the
time. The janitor in the building where I work has told
me that he has a rich cousin in England who is in the
South-Western Railway and gets ten pounds a week. He says
the railway wouldn't know what to do without him. In the
same way the lady who washes at my house has a rich uncle.
He lives in Winnipeg and owns his own house, clear, and
has two girls at the high school.
But these are only reported cases of richness. I cannot
vouch for them myself.
When I speak therefore of rich people and discuss whether
they are happy, it is understood that I am merely drawing
my conclusions from the people whom I see and know.
My judgment is that the rich undergo cruel trials and
bitter tragedies of which the poor know nothing.
In the first place I find that the rich suffer perpetually
from money troubles. The poor sit snugly at home while
sterling exchange falls ten points in a day. Do they
care? Not a bit. An adverse balance of trade washes over
the nation like a flood. Who have to mop it up? The
rich. Call money rushes up to a hundred per cent, and
the poor can still sit and laugh at a ten cent moving
picture show and forget it.
But the rich are troubled by money all the time.
I know a man, for example--his name is Spugg--whose
private bank account was overdrawn last month twenty
thousand dollars. He told me so at dinner at his club,
with apologies for feeling out of sorts. He said it was
bothering him. He said he thought it rather unfair of
his bank to have called his attention to it. I could
sympathise, in a sort of way, with his feelings. My own
account was overdrawn twenty cents at the time. I knew
that if the bank began calling in overdrafts it might be
my turn next. Spugg said he supposed he'd have to telephone
his secretary in the morning to sell some bonds and cover
it. It seemed an awful thing to have to do. Poor people
are never driven to this sort of thing. I have known
cases of their having to sell a little furniture, perhaps,
but imagine having to sell the very bonds out of one's
desk. There's a bitterness about it that the poor man
can never know.
With this same man, Mr. Spugg, I have often talked of
the problem of wealth. He is a self-made man and he has
told me again and again that the wealth he has accumulated
is a mere burden to him. He says that he was much happier
when he had only the plain, simple things of life. Often
as I sit at dinner with him over a meal of nine courses,
he tells me how much he would prefer a plain bit of boiled
pork with a little mashed turnip. He says that if he had
his way he would make his dinner out of a couple of
sausages, fried with a bit of bread. I forgot what it is
that stands in his way. I have seen Spugg put aside his
glass of champagne--or his glass after he had drunk his
champagne--with an expression of something like contempt.
He says that he remembers a running creek at the back of
his father's farm where he used to lie at full length
upon the grass and drink his fill. Champagne, he says,
never tasted like that. I have suggested that he should
lie on his stomach on the floor of the club and drink a
saucerful of soda water. But he won't.
I know well that my friend Spugg would be glad to be rid
of his wealth altogether, if such a thing were possible.
Till I understood about these things, I always imagined
that wealth could be given away. It appears that it
cannot. It is a burden that one must carry. Wealth, if
one has enough of it, becomes a form of social service.
One regards it as a means of doing good to the world, of
helping to brighten the lives of others--in a word, a
solemn trust. Spugg has often talked with me so long and
so late on this topic--the duty of brightening the lives
of others--that the waiter who held blue flames for his
cigarettes fell asleep against a door post, and the
chauffeur outside froze to the seat of his motor.
Spugg's wealth, I say, he regards as a solemn trust. I
have often asked him why he didn't give it, for example,
to a college. But he tells me that unfortunately he is
not a college man. I have called his attention to the
need of further pensions for college professors; after
all that Mr. Carnegie and others have done, there are
still thousands and thousands of old professors of
thirty-five and even forty, working away day after day
and getting nothing but what they earn themselves, and
with no provision beyond the age of eighty-five. But Mr.
Spugg says that these men are the nation's heroes. Their
work is its own reward.
But, after all, Mr. Spugg's troubles--for he is a single
man with no ties--are in a sense selfish. It is perhaps
in the homes, or more properly in the residences, of the
rich that the great silent tragedies are being enacted
every day--tragedies of which the fortunate poor know
and can know nothing.
I saw such a case only a few nights ago at the house of
the Ashcroft-Fowlers, where I was dining. As we went in
to dinner, Mrs. Ashcroft-Fowler said in a quiet aside to
her husband, "Has Meadows spoken?" He shook his head
rather gloomily and answered, "No, he has said nothing
yet." I saw them exchange a glance of quiet sympathy and
mutual help, like people in trouble, who love one another.
They were old friends and my heart beat for them. All
through the dinner as Meadows--he was their butler--poured
out the wine with each course, I could feel that some
great trouble was impending over my friends.
After Mrs. Ashcroft-Fowler had risen and left us, and we
were alone over our port wine, I drew my chair near to
Fowler's and I said, "My dear Fowler, I'm an old friend
and you'll excuse me if I seem to be taking a liberty.
But I can see that you and your wife are in trouble."
"Yes," he said very sadly and quietly, "we are."
"Excuse me," I said. "Tell me--for it makes a thing easier
if one talks about it--is it anything about Meadows?"
"Yes," he said, "it is about Meadows."
There was silence for a moment, but I knew already what
Fowler was going to say. I could feel it coming.
"Meadows," he said presently, constraining himself to
speak with as little emotion as possible, "is leaving
"Poor old chap!" I said, taking his hand.
"It's hard, isn't it?" he said. "Franklin left last
winter--no fault of ours; we did everything we could
--and now Meadows."
There was almost a sob in his voice.
"He hasn't spoken definitely as yet," Fowler went on,
"but we know there's hardly any chance of his staying."
"Does he give any reason?" I asked.
"Nothing specific," said Fowler. "It's just a sheer case
of incompatibility. Meadows doesn't like us."
He put his hand over his face and was silent.
I left very quietly a little later, without going up to
the drawing-room. A few days afterwards I heard that
Meadows had gone. The Ashcroft-Fowlers, I am told, are
giving up in despair. They are going to take a little
suite of ten rooms and four baths in the Grand Palaver
Hotel, and rough it there for the winter.
Yet one must not draw a picture of the rich in colours
altogether gloomy. There are cases among them of genuine,
I have observed this is especially the case among those
of the rich who have the good fortune to get ruined,
absolutely and completely ruined. They may do this on
the Stock Exchange or by banking or in a dozen other
ways. The business side of getting ruined is not difficult.
Once the rich are ruined, they are, as far as my observation
goes, all right. They can then have anything they want.
I saw this point illustrated again just recently. I was
walking with a friend of mine and a motor passed bearing
a neatly dressed young man, chatting gaily with a pretty
woman. My friend raised his hat and gave it a jaunty and
cheery swing in the air as if to wave goodwill and
"Poor old Edward Overjoy!" he said, as the motor moved
out of sight.
"What's wrong with him?" I asked.
"Hadn't you heard?" said my friend. "He's ruined--absolutely
cleaned out--not a cent left."
"Dear me!" I said. "That's awfully hard. I suppose he'll
have to sell that beautiful motor?"
My friend shook his head.
"Oh, no," he said. "He'll hardly do that. I don't think
his wife would care to sell that."
My friend was right. The Overjoys have not sold their
motor. Neither have they sold their magnificent sandstone
residence. They are too much attached to it, I believe,
to sell it. Some people thought they would have given up
their box at the opera. But it appears not. They are too
musical to care to do that. Meantime it is a matter of
general notoriety that the Overjoys are absolutely ruined;
in fact, they haven't a single cent. You could buy
Overjoy--so I am informed--for ten dollars.
But I observe that he still wears a seal-lined coat worth
at least five hundred.
XVII. Humour as I See It
It is only fair that at the back of this book I should
be allowed a few pages to myself to put down some things
that I really think.
Until two weeks ago I might have taken my pen in hand to
write about humour with the confident air of an acknowledged
But that time is past. Such claim as I had has been taken
from me. In fact I stand unmasked. An English reviewer
writing in a literary journal, the very name of which is
enough to put contradiction to sleep, has said of my
writing, "What is there, after all, in Professor Leacock's
humour but a rather ingenious mixture of hyperbole and
The man was right. How he stumbled upon this trade secret
I do not know. But I am willing to admit, since the truth
is out, that it has long been my custom in preparing an
article of a humorous nature to go down to the cellar
and mix up half a gallon of myosis with a pint of hyperbole.
If I want to give the article a decidedly literary
character, I find it well to put in about half a pint of
paresis. The whole thing is amazingly simple.
But I only mention this by way of introduction and to
dispel any idea that I am conceited enough to write about
humour, with the professional authority of Ella Wheeler
Wilcox writing about love, or Eva Tanguay talking about
All that I dare claim is that I have as much sense of
humour as other people. And, oddly enough, I notice that
everybody else makes this same claim. Any man will admit,
if need be, that his sight is not good, or that he cannot
swim, or shoots badly with a rifle, but to touch upon
his sense of humour is to give him a mortal affront.
"No," said a friend of mine the other day, "I never go
to Grand Opera," and then he added with an air of pride,
"You see, I have absolutely no ear for music."
"You don't say so!" I exclaimed.
"None!" he went on. "I can't tell one tune from another.
I don't know _Home, Sweet Home_ from _God Save the King_.
I can't tell whether a man is tuning a violin or playing
He seemed to get prouder and prouder over each item of
his own deficiency. He ended by saying that he had a dog
at his house that had a far better ear for music than he
had. As soon as his wife or any visitor started to play
the piano the dog always began to howl--plaintively, he
said--as if it were hurt. He himself never did this.
When he had finished I made what I thought a harmless
"I suppose," I said, "that you find your sense of humour
deficient in the same way: the two generally go together."
My friend was livid with rage in a moment.
"Sense of humour!" he said. "My sense of humour! Me
without a sense of humour! Why, I suppose I've a keener
sense of humour than any man, or any two men, in this
From that he turned to bitter personal attack. He said
that _my_ sense of humour seemed to have withered
He left me, still quivering with indignation.
Personally, however, I do not mind making the admission,
however damaging it may be, that there are certain forms
of so-called humour, or, at least, fun, which I am quite
unable to appreciate. Chief among these is that ancient
thing called the Practical Joke.
"You never knew McGann, did you?" a friend of mine asked
me the other day.
When I said I had never known McGann, he shook his head
with a sigh, and said:
"Ah, you should have known McGann. He had the greatest
sense of humour of any man I ever knew--always full of
jokes. I remember one night at the boarding-house where
we were, he stretched a string across the passage-way
and then rang the dinner bell. One of the boarders broke
his leg. We nearly died laughing."
"Dear me!" I said. "What a humorist! Did he often do
things like that?"
"Oh, yes, he was at them all the time. He used to put
tar in the tomato soup, and beeswax and tin-tacks on the
chairs. He was full of ideas. They seemed to come to him
without any trouble."
McGann, I understand, is dead. I am not sorry for it.
Indeed, I think that for most of us the time has gone by
when we can see the fun of putting tacks on chairs, or
thistles in beds, or live snakes in people's boots.
To me it has always seemed that the very essence of good
humour is that it must be without harm and without malice.
I admit that there is in all of us a certain vein of the
old original demoniacal humour or joy in the misfortune
of another which sticks to us like our original sin. It
ought not to be funny to see a man, especially a fat and
pompous man, slip suddenly on a banana skin. But it is.
When a skater on a pond who is describing graceful circles,
and showing off before the crowd, breaks through the ice
and gets a ducking, everybody shouts with joy. To the
original savage, the cream of the joke in such cases was
found if the man who slipped broke his neck, or the man
who went through the ice never came up again. I can
imagine a group of prehistoric men standing round the
ice-hole where he had disappeared and laughing till their
sides split. If there had been such a thing as a prehistoric
newspaper, the affair would have headed up: "_Amusing
Incident. Unknown Gentleman Breaks Through Ice and Is
But our sense of humour under civilisation has been
weakened. Much of the fun of this sort of thing has been
lost on us.
Children, however, still retain a large share of this
primitive sense of enjoyment.
I remember once watching two little boys making snow-balls
at the side of the street and getting ready a little
store of them to use. As they worked, there came along
an old man wearing a silk hat, and belonging by appearance
to the class of "jolly old gentlemen." When he saw the
boys his gold spectacles gleamed with kindly enjoyment.
He began waving his arms and calling, "Now, then, boys,
free shot at me! free shot!" In his gaiety he had, without
noticing it, edged himself over the sidewalk on to the
street. An express cart collided with him and knocked
him over on his back in a heap of snow. He lay there
gasping and trying to get the snow off his face and
spectacles. The boys gathered up their snow-balls and
took a run toward him. "Free shot!" they yelled. "Soak
him! Soak him!"
I repeat, however, that for me, as I suppose for most of
us, it is a prime condition of humour that it must be
without harm or malice, nor should it convey incidentally
any real picture of sorrow or suffering or death. There
is a great deal in the humour of Scotland (I admit its
general merit) which seems to me not being a Scotchman,
to sin in this respect. Take this familiar story (I quote
it as something already known and not for the sake of
A Scotchman had a sister-in-law--his wife's sister--with
whom he could never agree. He always objected to going
anywhere with her, and in spite of his wife's entreaties
always refused to do so. The wife was taken mortally ill
and as she lay dying, she whispered, "John, ye'll drive
Janet with you to the funeral, will ye no?" The Scotchman,
after an internal struggle, answered, "Margaret, I'll do
it for ye, but it'll spoil my day."
Whatever humour there may be in this is lost for me by
the actual and vivid picture that it conjures up--the
dying wife, the darkened room and the last whispered
No doubt the Scotch see things differently. That wonderful
people--whom personally I cannot too much admire--always
seem to me to prefer adversity to sunshine, to welcome
the prospect of a pretty general damnation, and to live
with grim cheerfulness within the very shadow of death.
Alone among the nations they have converted the devil
--under such names as Old Horny--into a familiar
acquaintance not without a certain grim charm of his own.
No doubt also there enters into their humour something
of the original barbaric attitude towards things. For a
primitive people who saw death often and at first hand,
and for whom the future world was a vivid reality that
could be _felt_, as it were, in the midnight forest and
heard in the roaring storm, it was no doubt natural to
turn the flank of terror by forcing a merry and jovial
acquaintance with the unseen world. Such a practice as
a wake, and the merry-making about the corpse, carry us
back to the twilight of the world, with the poor savage
in his bewildered misery, pretending that his dead still
lived. Our funeral with its black trappings and its
elaborate ceremonies is the lineal descendant of a
merry-making. Our undertaker is, by evolution, a genial
master of ceremonies, keeping things lively at the
death-dance. Thus have the ceremonies and the trappings
of death been transformed in the course of ages till the
forced gaiety is gone, and the black hearse and the gloomy
mutes betoken the cold dignity of our despair.
But I fear this article is getting serious. I must
I was about to say, when I wandered from the point, that
there is another form of humour which I am also quite
unable to appreciate. This is that particular form of
story which may be called, _par excellence_, the English
Anecdote. It always deals with persons of rank and birth,
and, except for the exalted nature of the subject itself,
is, as far as I can see, absolutely pointless.
This is the kind of thing that I mean.
"His Grace the Fourth Duke of Marlborough was noted for
the open-handed hospitality which reigned at Blenheim,
the family seat, during his regime. One day on going in
to luncheon it was discovered that there were thirty
guests present, whereas the table only held covers for
twenty-one. 'Oh, well,' said the Duke, not a whit abashed,
'some of us will have to eat standing up.' Everybody, of
course, roared with laughter."
My only wonder is that they didn't kill themselves with
it. A mere roar doesn't seem enough to do justice to such
a story as this.
The Duke of Wellington has been made the storm-centre of
three generations of wit of this sort. In fact the typical
Duke of Wellington story has been reduced to a thin
skeleton such as this:
"A young subaltern once met the Duke of Wellington coming
out of Westminster Abbey. 'Good morning, your Grace,' he
said, 'rather a wet morning.' 'Yes' said the Duke, with
a very rigid bow, 'but it was a damn sight wetter, sir,
on the morning of Waterloo.' The young subaltern, rightly
rebuked, hung his head."
Nor is it only the English who sin in regard to anecdotes.
One can indeed make the sweeping assertion that the
telling of stories as a mode of amusing others ought to
be kept within strict limits. Few people realise how
extremely difficult it is to tell a story so as to
reproduce the real fun of it--to "get it over" as the
actors say. The mere "facts" of a story seldom make it
funny. It needs the right words, with every word in its
proper place. Here and there, perhaps once in a hundred
times, a story turns up which needs no telling. The humour
of it turns so completely on a sudden twist or incongruity
in the _denouement_ of it that no narrator, however
clumsy, can altogether fumble it.
Take, for example, this well-known instance--a story
which, in one form or other, everybody has heard.
"George Grossmith, the famous comedian, was once badly
run down and went to consult a doctor. It happened that
the doctor, though, like everybody else, he had often
seen Grossmith on the stage, had never seen him without
his make-up and did not know him by sight. He examined
his patient, looked at his tongue, felt his pulse and
tapped his lungs. Then he shook his head. 'There's nothing
wrong with you, sir,' he said, 'except that you're run
down from overwork and worry. You need rest and amusement.
Take a night off and go and see George Grossmith at the
Savoy.' 'Thank you,' said the patient, 'I _am_ George
Let the reader please observe that I have purposely told
this story all wrongly, just as wrongly as could be, and
yet there is something left of it. Will the reader kindly
look back to the beginning of it and see for himself just
how it ought to be narrated and what obvious error has
been made? If he has any particle of the artist in his
make-up, he will see at once that the story ought to
"One day a very haggard and nervous-looking patient called
at the house of a fashionable doctor, etc. etc."
In other words, the chief point of the joke lies in
keeping it concealed till the moment when the patient
says, "Thank you, I am George Grossmith." But the story
is such a good one that it cannot be completely spoiled
even when told wrongly. This particular anecdote has been
variously told of George Grossmith, Coquelin, Joe Jefferson,
John Hare, Cyril Maude, and about sixty others. And I
have noticed that there is a certain type of man who, on
hearing this story about Grossmith, immediately tells it
all back again, putting in the name of somebody else,
and goes into new fits of laughter over it, as if the
change of name made it brand new.
But few people, I repeat, realise the difficulty of
reproducing a humorous or comic effect in its original
"I saw Harry Lauder last night," said Griggs, a Stock
Exchange friend of mine, as we walked up town together
the other day. "He came on to the stage in kilts" (here
Grigg started to chuckle) "and he had a slate under his
arm" (here Griggs began to laugh quite heartily), "and
he said, 'I always like to carry a slate with me' (of
course he said it in Scotch but I can't do the Scotch
the way he does it) 'just in case there might be any
figures I'd be wanting to put down'" (by this time,
Griggs was almost suffocated with laughter)--"and he took
a little bit-of chalk out of his pocket, and he said"
(Griggs was now almost hysterical), "'I like to carry a
wee bit chalk along because I find the slate is'" (Griggs
was now faint with laughter) "'the slate is--is--not
much good without the chalk.'"
Griggs had to stop, with his hand to his side, and lean
against a lamp-post. "I can't, of course, do the Scotch
the way Harry Lauder does it," he repeated.
Exactly. He couldn't do the Scotch and he couldn't do
the rich mellow voice of Mr. Lauder and the face beaming
with merriment, and the spectacles glittering with
amusement, and he couldn't do the slate, nor the "wee
bit chalk"--in fact he couldn't do any of it. He ought
merely to have said, "Harry Lauder," and leaned up against
a post and laughed till he had got over it.
Yet in spite of everything, people insist on spoiling
conversation by telling stories. I know nothing more
dreadful at a dinner table than one of these amateur
raconteurs--except perhaps, two of them. After about
three stories have been told, there falls on the dinner
table an uncomfortable silence, in which everybody is
aware that everybody else is trying hard to think of
another story, and is failing to find it. There is no
peace in the gathering again till some man of firm and
quiet mind turns to his neighbour and says, "But after
all there is no doubt that whether we like it or not
prohibition is coming." Then everybody in his heart says,
"Thank heaven!" and the whole tableful are happy and
contented again, till one of the story-tellers "thinks
of another," and breaks loose.
Worst of all perhaps is the modest story-teller who is
haunted by the idea that one has heard this story before.
He attacks you after this fashion:
"I heard a very good story the other day on the steamer
going to Bermuda"--then he pauses with a certain doubt
in his face--"but perhaps you've heard this?"
"No, no, I've never been to Bermuda. Go ahead."
"Well, this is a story that they tell about a man who
went down to Bermuda one winter to get cured of rheumatism
--but you've heard this?"
"Well he had rheumatism pretty bad and he went to Bermuda
to get cured of it. And so when he went into the hotel
he said to the clerk at the desk--but, perhaps you know
"No, no, go right ahead."
"Well, he said to the clerk, 'I want a room that looks
out over the sea'--but perhaps--"
Now the sensible thing to do is to stop the narrator
right at this point. Say to him quietly and firmly, "Yes,
I have heard that story. I always liked it ever since it
came out in _Tit Bits_ in 1878, and I read it every time
I see it. Go on and tell it to me and I'll sit back with
my eyes closed and enjoy it."
No doubt the story-telling habit owes much to the fact
that ordinary people, quite unconsciously, rate humour
very low: I mean, they underestimate the difficulty of
"making humour." It would never occur to them that the
thing is hard, meritorious and dignified. Because the
result is gay and light, they think the process must be.
Few people would realise that it is much harder to write
one of Owen Seaman's "funny" poems in _Punch_ than to
write one of the Archbishop of Canterbury's sermons. Mark
Twain's _Huckleberry Finn_ is a greater work than Kant's
_Critique of Pure Reason_, and Charles Dickens's creation
of Mr. Pickwick did more for the elevation of the human
race--I say it in all seriousness--than Cardinal Newman's
_Lead, Kindly Light, Amid the Encircling Gloom_. Newman
only cried out for light in the gloom of a sad world.
Dickens gave it.
But the deep background that lies behind and beyond what
we call humour is revealed only to the few who, by instinct
or by effort, have given thought to it. The world's
humour, in its best and greatest sense, is perhaps the
highest product of our civilisation. One thinks here not
of the mere spasmodic effects of the comic artist or the
blackface expert of the vaudeville show, but of the really
great humour which, once or twice in a generation at
best, illuminates and elevates our literature. It is no
longer dependent upon the mere trick and quibble of words,
or the odd and meaningless incongruities in things that
strike us as "funny." Its basis lies in the deeper
contrasts offered by life itself: the strange incongruity
between our aspiration and our achievement, the eager
and fretful anxieties of to-day that fade into nothingness
to-morrow, the burning pain and the sharp sorrow that
are softened in the gentle retrospect of time, till as
we look back upon the course that has been traversed we
pass in view the panorama of our lives, as people in old
age may recall, with mingled tears and smiles, the angry
quarrels of their childhood. And here, in its larger
aspect, humour is blended with pathos till the two are
one, and represent, as they have in every age, the mingled
heritage of tears and laughter that is our lot on earth.