Part 1 out of 3
This etext was produced from the 1905 Hurst and Blackett edition by
David Price, email email@example.com
IDLE IDEAS IN 1905
by Jerome K. Jerome
Are We As Interesting As We Think We Are?
Should Women Be Beautiful?
When Is The Best Time To Be Merry?
Do We Lie A-Bed Too Late?
Should Married Men Play Golf?
Are Early Marriages A Mistake?
Do Writers Write Too Much?
Should Soldiers Be Polite?
Ought Stories To Be True?
Creatures That One Day Shall Be Men
How To Be Happy Though Little
Should We Say What We Think, Or Think What We Say?
Is The American Husband Made Entirely Of Stained Glass
Does The Young Man Know Everything Worth Knowing?
How Many Charms Hath Music, Would You Say?
The white man's burden! Need it be so heavy?
Why Didn't He Marry The Girl?
What Mrs. Wilkins thought about it
Shall We Be Ruined By Chinese Cheap Labour?
How To Solve The Servant Problem
Why We Hate The Foreigner
ARE WE AS INTERESTING AS WE THINK WE ARE?
"Charmed. Very hot weather we've been having of late--I mean cold.
Let me see, I did not quite catch your name just now. Thank you so
much. Yes, it is a bit close." And a silence falls, neither of us
being able to think what next to say.
What has happened is this: My host has met me in the doorway, and
shaken me heartily by the hand.
"So glad you were able to come," he has said. "Some friends of mine
here, very anxious to meet you." He has bustled me across the room.
"Delightful people. You'll like them--have read all your books."
He has brought me up to a stately lady, and has presented me. We
have exchanged the customary commonplaces, and she, I feel, is
waiting for me to say something clever, original and tactful. And I
don't know whether she is Presbyterian or Mormon; a Protectionist or
a Free Trader; whether she is engaged to be married or has lately
A friend of mine adopts the sensible plan of always providing you
with a short history of the person to whom he is about to lead you.
"I want to introduce you to a Mrs. Jones," he whispers. "Clever
woman. Wrote a book two years ago. Forget the name of it.
Something about twins. Keep away from sausages. Father ran a pork
shop in the Borough. Husband on the Stock Exchange. Keep off coke.
Unpleasantness about a company. You'll get on best by sticking to
the book. Lot in it about platonic friendship. Don't seem to be
looking too closely at her. Has a slight squint she tries to hide."
By this time we have reached the lady, and he introduces me as a
friend of his who is simply dying to know her.
"Wants to talk about your book," he explains. "Disagrees with you
entirely on the subject of platonic friendship. Sure you'll be able
to convince him."
It saves us both a deal of trouble. I start at once on platonic
friendship, and ask her questions about twins, avoiding sausages and
coke. She thinks me an unusually interesting man, and I am less
bored than otherwise I might be.
I have sometimes thought it would be a serviceable device if, in
Society, we all of us wore a neat card--pinned, say, upon our back--
setting forth such information as was necessary; our name legibly
written, and how to be pronounced; our age (not necessarily in good
faith, but for purposes of conversation. Once I seriously hurt a
German lady by demanding of her information about the Franco-German
war. She looked to me as if she could not object to being taken for
forty. It turned out she was thirty-seven. Had I not been an
Englishman I might have had to fight a duel); our religious and
political beliefs; together with a list of the subjects we were most
at home upon; and a few facts concerning our career--sufficient to
save the stranger from, what is vulgarly termed "putting his foot in
it." Before making jokes about "Dumping," or discussing the question
of Chinese Cheap Labour, one would glance behind and note whether
one's companion was ticketed "Whole-hogger," or "Pro-Boer." Guests
desirous of agreeable partners--an "agreeable person," according to
the late Lord Beaconsfield's definition, being "a person who agrees
with you"--could make their own selection.
"Excuse me. Would you mind turning round a minute? Ah, 'Wagnerian
Crank!' I am afraid we should not get on together. I prefer the
Or, "How delightful. I see you don't believe in vaccination. May I
take you into supper?"
Those, on the other hand, fond of argument would choose a suitable
opponent. A master of ceremonies might be provided who would stand
in the centre of the room and call for partners: "Lady with strong
views in favour of female franchise wishes to meet gentleman holding
the opinions of St. Paul. With view to argument."
An American lady, a year or two ago, wrote me a letter that did me
real good: she appreciated my work with so much understanding,
criticised it with such sympathetic interest. She added that, when
in England the summer before, she had been on the point of accepting
an invitation to meet me; but at the last moment she had changed her
mind; she felt so sure--she put it pleasantly, but this is what it
came to--that in my own proper person I should fall short of her
expectations. For my own sake I felt sorry she had cried off; it
would have been worth something to have met so sensible a woman. An
author introduced to people who have read--or who say that they have
read--his books, feels always like a man taken for the first time to
be shown to his future wife's relations. They are very pleasant.
They try to put him at his ease. But he knows instinctively they are
disappointed with him. I remember, when a very young man, attending
a party at which a famous American humorist was the chief guest. I
was standing close behind a lady who was talking to her husband.
"He doesn't look a bit funny," said the lady.
"Great Scott!" answered her husband. "How did you expect him to
look? Did you think he would have a red nose and a patch over one
"Oh, well, he might look funnier than that, anyhow," retorted the
lady, highly dissatisfied. "It isn't worth coming for."
We all know the story of the hostess who, leaning across the table
during the dessert, requested of the funny man that he would kindly
say something amusing soon, because the dear children were waiting to
go to bed. Children, I suppose, have no use for funny people who
don't choose to be funny. I once invited a friend down to my house
for a Saturday to Monday. He is an entertaining man, and before he
came I dilated on his powers of humour--somewhat foolishly perhaps--
in the presence of a certain youthful person who resides with me, and
who listens when she oughtn't to, and never when she ought. He
happened not to be in a humorous mood that evening. My young
relation, after dinner, climbed upon my knee. For quite five minutes
she sat silent. Then she whispered:
"Has he said anything funny?"
"Hush. No, not yet; don't be silly."
Five minutes later: "Was that funny?"
"No, of course not."
"Because--can't you hear? We are talking about Old Age Pensions."
"Oh, it's--oh, never mind now. It isn't a subject on which one can
"Then what's he want to talk about it for?"
She waited for another quarter of an hour. Then, evidently bored,
and much to my relief, suggested herself that she might as well go to
bed. She ran to me the next morning in the garden with an air of
"He said something so funny last night," she told me.
"Oh, what was it?" I inquired. It seemed to me I must have missed
"Well, I can't exactly 'member it," she explained, "not just at the
moment. But it was so funny. I dreamed it, you know."
For folks not Lions, but closely related to Lions, introductions must
be trying ordeals. You tell them that for years you have been
yearning to meet them. You assure them, in a voice trembling with
emotion, that this is indeed a privilege. You go on to add that when
a boy -
At this point they have to interrupt you to explain that they are not
the Mr. So-and-So, but only his cousin or his grandfather; and all
you can think of to say is: "Oh, I'm so sorry."
I had a nephew who was once the amateur long-distance bicycle
champion. I have him still, but he is stouter and has come down to a
motor car. In sporting circles I was always introduced as
"Shorland's Uncle." Close-cropped young men would gaze at me with
rapture; and then inquire: "And do you do anything yourself, Mr.
But my case was not so bad as that of a friend of mine, a doctor. He
married a leading actress, and was known ever afterwards as "Miss B-
At public dinners, where one takes one's seat for the evening next to
someone that one possibly has never met before, and is never likely
to meet again, conversation is difficult and dangerous. I remember
talking to a lady at a Vagabond Club dinner. She asked me during the
entree--with a light laugh, as I afterwards recalled--what I thought,
candidly, of the last book of a certain celebrated authoress. I told
her, and a coldness sprang up between us. She happened to be the
certain celebrated authoress; she had changed her place at the last
moment so as to avoid sitting next to another lady novelist, whom she
One has to shift oneself, sometimes, on these occasions. A newspaper
man came up to me last Ninth of November at the Mansion House.
"Would you mind changing seats with me?" he asked. "It's a bit
awkward. They've put me next to my first wife."
I had a troubled evening myself once long ago. I accompanied a young
widow lady to a musical At Home, given by a lady who had more
acquaintances than she knew. We met the butler at the top of the
stairs. My friend spoke first:
"Say Mrs. Dash and--"
The butler did not wait for more--he was a youngish man--but shouted
"Mr. and Mrs. Dash."
"My dear! how very quiet you have kept!" cried our hostess delighted.
"Do let me congratulate you."
The crush was too great and our hostess too distracted at the moment
for any explanations. We were swept away, and both of us spent the
remainder of the evening feebly protesting our singleness.
If it had happened on the stage it would have taken us the whole play
to get out of it. Stage people are not allowed to put things right
when mistakes are made with their identity. If the light comedian is
expecting a plumber, the first man that comes into the drawing-room
has got to be a plumber. He is not allowed to point out that he
never was a plumber; that he doesn't look like a plumber; that no one
not an idiot would mistake him for a plumber. He has got to be shut
up in the bath-room and have water poured over him, just as if he
were a plumber--a stage plumber, that is. Not till right away at the
end of the last act is he permitted to remark that he happens to be
the new curate.
I sat out a play once at which most people laughed. It made me sad.
A dear old lady entered towards the end of the first act. We knew
she was the aunt. Nobody can possibly mistake the stage aunt--except
the people on the stage. They, of course, mistook her for a circus
rider, and shut her up in a cupboard. It is what cupboards seem to
be reserved for on the stage. Nothing is ever put in them excepting
the hero's relations. When she wasn't in the cupboard she was in a
clothes basket, or tied up in a curtain. All she need have done was
to hold on to something while remarking to the hero:
"If you'll stop shouting and jumping about for just ten seconds, and
give me a chance to observe that I am your maiden aunt from
Devonshire, all this tomfoolery can be avoided."
That would have ended it. As a matter of fact that did end it five
minutes past eleven. It hadn't occurred to her to say it before.
In real life I never knew but of one case where a man suffered in
silence unpleasantness he could have ended with a word; and that was
the case of the late Corney Grain. He had been engaged to give his
entertainment at a country house. The lady was a nouvelle riche of
snobbish instincts. She left instructions that Corney Grain when he
arrived was to dine with the servants. The butler, who knew better,
apologised; but Corney was a man not easily disconcerted. He dined
well, and after dinner rose and addressed the assembled company.
"Well, now, my good friends," said Corney, "if we have all finished,
and if you are all agreeable, I shall be pleased to present to you my
The servants cheered. The piano was dispensed with. Corney
contrived to amuse his audience very well for half-an-hour without
it. At ten o'clock came down a message: Would Mr. Corney Grain come
up into the drawing-room. Corney went. The company in the drawing-
room were waiting, seated.
"We are ready, Mr. Grain," remarked the hostess.
"Ready for what?" demanded Corney.
"For your entertainment," answered the hostess.
"But I have given it already," explained Corney; "and my engagement
was for one performance only."
"Given it! Where? When?"
"An hour ago, downstairs."
"But this is nonsense," exclaimed the hostess.
"It seemed to me somewhat unusual," Corney replied; "but it has
always been my privilege to dine with the company I am asked to
entertain. I took it you had arranged a little treat for the
And Corney left to catch his train.
Another entertainer told me the following story, although a joke
against himself. He and Corney Grain were sharing a cottage on the
river. A man called early one morning to discuss affairs, and was
talking to Corney in the parlour, which was on the ground floor. The
window was open. The other entertainer--the man who told me the
story--was dressing in the room above. Thinking he recognised the
voice of the visitor below, he leant out of his bedroom window to
hear better. He leant too far, and dived head foremost into a bed of
flowers, his bare legs--and only his bare legs--showing through the
open window of the parlour.
"Good gracious!" exclaimed the visitor, turning at the moment and
seeing a pair of wriggling legs above the window sill; "who's that?"
Corney fixed his eyeglass and strolled to the window.
"Oh, it's only What's-his-name," he explained. "Wonderful spirits.
Can be funny in the morning."
SHOULD WOMEN BE BEAUTIFUL?
Pretty women are going to have a hard time of it later on. Hitherto,
they have had things far too much their own way. In the future there
are going to be no pretty girls, for the simple reason there will be
no plain girls against which to contrast them. Of late I have done
some systematic reading of ladies' papers. The plain girl submits to
a course of "treatment." In eighteen months she bursts upon Society
an acknowledged beauty. And it is all done by kindness. One girl
"Only a little while ago I used to look at myself in the glass and
cry. Now I look at myself and laugh."
The letter is accompanied by two photographs of the young lady. I
should have cried myself had I seen her as she was at first. She was
a stumpy, flat-headed, squat-nosed, cross-eyed thing. She did not
even look good. One virtue she appears to have had, however. It was
faith. She believed what the label said, she did what the label told
her. She is now a tall, ravishing young person, her only trouble
being, I should say, to know what to do with her hair--it reaches to
her knees and must be a nuisance to her. She would do better to give
some of it away. Taking this young lady as a text, it means that the
girl who declines to be a dream of loveliness does so out of
obstinacy. What the raw material may be does not appear to matter.
Provided no feature is absolutely missing, the result is one and the
Arrived at years of discretion, the maiden proceeds to choose the
style of beauty she prefers. Will she be a Juno, a Venus, or a
Helen? Will she have a Grecian nose, or one tip-tilted like the
petal of a rose? Let her try the tip-tilted style first. The
professor has an idea it is going to be fashionable. If afterwards
she does not like it, there will be time to try the Grecian. It is
difficult to decide these points without experiment.
Would the lady like a high or a low forehead? Some ladies like to
look intelligent. It is purely a matter of taste. With the Grecian
nose, the low broad forehead perhaps goes better. It is more
according to precedent. On the other hand, the high brainy forehead
would be more original. It is for the lady herself to select.
We come to the question of eyes. The lady fancies a delicate blue,
not too pronounced a colour--one of those useful shades that go with
almost everything. At the same time there should be depth and
passion. The professor understands exactly the sort of eye the lady
means. But it will be expensive. There is a cheap quality; the
professor does not recommend it. True that it passes muster by
gaslight, but the sunlight shows it up. It lacks tenderness, and at
the price you can hardly expect it to contain much hidden meaning.
The professor advises the melting, Oh-George-take-me-in-your-arms-
and-still-my-foolish-fears brand. It costs a little more, but it
pays for itself in the end.
Perhaps it will be best, now the eye has been fixed upon, to discuss
the question of the hair. The professor opens his book of patterns.
Maybe the lady is of a wilful disposition. She loves to run laughing
through the woods during exceptionally rainy weather; or to gallop
across the downs without a hat, her fair ringlets streaming in the
wind, the old family coachman panting and expostulating in the rear.
If one may trust the popular novel, extremely satisfactory husbands
have often been secured in this way. You naturally look at a girl
who is walking through a wood, laughing heartily apparently for no
other reason than because it is raining--who rides at stretch gallop
without a hat. If you have nothing else to do, you follow her. It
is always on the cards that such a girl may do something really
amusing before she gets home. Thus things begin.
To a girl of this kind, naturally curly hair is essential. It must
be the sort of hair that looks better when it is soaking wet. The
bottle of stuff that makes this particular hair to grow may be
considered dear, if you think merely of the price. But that is not
the way to look at it. "What is it going to do for me?" That is
what the girl has got to ask herself. It does not do to spoil the
ship for a ha'porth of tar, as the saying is. If you are going to be
a dashing, wilful beauty, you must have the hair for it, or the whole
scheme falls to the ground.
Eyebrows and eyelashes, the professor assumes, the lady would like to
match the hair. Too much eccentricity the professor does not agree
with. Nature, after all, is the best guide; neatness combined with
taste, that is the ideal to be aimed at. The eyebrows should be
almost straight, the professor thinks; the eyelashes long and silky,
with just the suspicion of a curl. The professor would also suggest
a little less cheekbone. Cheekbones are being worn low this season.
Will the lady have a dimpled chin, or does she fancy the square-cut
jaw? Maybe the square-cut jaw and the firm, sweet mouth are more
suitable for the married woman. They go well enough with the baby
and the tea-urn, and the strong, proud man in the background. For
the unmarried girl the dimpled chin and the rosebud mouth are,
perhaps, on the whole safer. Some gentlemen are so nervous of that
firm, square jaw. For the present, at all events, let us keep to the
rosebud and the dimple.
Complexion! Well, there is only one complexion worth considering--a
creamy white, relieved by delicate peach pink. It goes with
everything, and is always effective. Rich olives, striking pallors--
yes, you hear of these things doing well. The professor's
experience, however, is that for all-round work you will never
improve upon the plain white and pink. It is less liable to get out
of order, and is the easiest at all times to renew.
For the figure, the professor recommends something lithe and supple.
Five foot four is a good height, but that is a point that should be
discussed first with the dressmaker. For trains, five foot six is,
perhaps, preferable. But for the sporting girl, who has to wear
short frocks, that height would, of course, be impossible.
The bust and the waist are also points on which the dressmaker should
be consulted. Nothing should be done in a hurry. What is the
fashion going to be for the next two or three seasons? There are
styles demanding that beginning at the neck you should curve out,
like a pouter pigeon. There is apparently no difficulty whatever in
obtaining this result. But if crinolines, for instance, are likely
to come in again! The lady has only to imagine it for herself: the
effect might be grotesque, suggestive of a walking hour-glass. So,
too, with the waist. For some fashions it is better to have it just
a foot from the neck. At other times it is more useful lower down.
The lady will kindly think over these details and let the professor
know. While one is about it, one may as well make a sound job.
It is all so simple, and, when you come to think of it, really not
expensive. Age, apparently, makes no difference. A woman is as old
as she looks. In future, I take it, there will be no ladies over
five-and-twenty. Wrinkles! Why any lady should still persist in
wearing them is a mystery to me. With a moderate amount of care any
middle-class woman could save enough out of the housekeeping money in
a month to get rid of every one of them. Grey hair! Well, of
course, if you cling to grey hair, there is no more to be said. But
to ladies who would just as soon have rich wavy-brown or a delicate
shade of gold, I would point out that there are one hundred and
forty-seven inexpensive lotions on the market, any one of which,
rubbed gently into the head with a tooth-brush (not too hard) just
before going to bed will, to use a colloquialism, do the trick.
Are you too stout, or are you too thin? All you have to do is to say
which, and enclose stamps. But do not make a mistake and send for
the wrong recipe. If you are already too thin, you might in
consequence suddenly disappear before you found out your mistake.
One very stout lady I knew worked at herself for eighteen months and
got stouter every day. This discouraged her so much that she gave up
trying. No doubt she had made a muddle and had sent for the wrong
bottle, but she would not listen to further advice. She said she was
tired of the whole thing.
In future years there will be no need for a young man to look about
him for a wife; he will take the nearest girl, tell her his ideal,
and, if she really care for him, she will go to the shop and have
herself fixed up to his pattern. In certain Eastern countries, I
believe, something of this kind is done. A gentleman desirous of
adding to his family sends round the neighbourhood the weight and
size of his favourite wife, hinting that if another can be found of
the same proportions, there is room for her. Fathers walk round
among their daughters, choose the most likely specimen, and have her
fattened up. That is their brutal Eastern way. Out West we shall be
more delicate. Match-making mothers will probably revive the old
confession book. Eligible bachelors will be invited to fill in a
page: "Your favourite height in women," "Your favourite measurement
round the waist," "Do you like brunettes or blondes?"
The choice will be left to the girls.
"I do think Henry William just too sweet for words," the maiden of
the future will murmur to herself. Gently, coyly, she will draw from
him his ideal of what a woman should be. In from six months to a
year she will burst upon him, the perfect She; height, size, weight,
right to a T. He will clasp her in his arms.
"At last," he will cry, "I have found her, the woman of my dreams."
And if he does not change his mind, and the bottles do not begin to
lose their effect, there will be every chance that they will be happy
Might not Science go even further? Why rest satisfied with making a
world of merely beautiful women? Cannot Science, while she is about
it, make them all good at the same time. I do not apologise for the
suggestion. I used to think all women beautiful and good. It is
their own papers that have disillusioned me. I used to look at this
lady or at that--shyly, when nobody seemed to be noticing me--and
think how fair she was, how stately. Now I only wonder who is her
They used to tell me, when I was a little boy, that girls were made
of sugar and spice. I know better now. I have read the recipes in
the Answers to Correspondents.
When I was quite a young man I used to sit in dark corners and
listen, with swelling heart, while people at the piano told me where
little girl babies got their wonderful eyes from, of the things they
did to them in heaven that gave them dimples. Ah me! I wish now I
had never come across those ladies' papers. I know the stuff that
causes those bewitching eyes. I know the shop where they make those
dimples; I have passed it and looked in. I thought they were
produced by angels' kisses, but there was not an angel about the
place, that I could see. Perhaps I have also been deceived as
regards their goodness. Maybe all women are not so perfect as in the
popular short story they appear to be. That is why I suggest that
Science should proceed still further, and make them all as beautiful
in mind as she is now able to make them in body. May we not live to
see in the advertisement columns of the ladies' paper of the future
the portrait of a young girl sulking in a corner--"Before taking the
lotion!" The same girl dancing among her little brothers and
sisters, shedding sunlight through the home--"After the three first
bottles!" May we not have the Caudle Mixture: One tablespoonful at
bed-time guaranteed to make the lady murmur, "Good-night, dear; hope
you'll sleep well," and at once to fall asleep, her lips parted in a
smile? Maybe some specialist of the future will advertise Mind
Massage: "Warranted to remove from the most obstinate subject all
traces of hatred, envy, and malice."
And, when Science has done everything possible for women, there might
be no harm in her turning her attention to us men. Her idea at
present seems to be that we men are too beautiful, physically and
morally, to need improvement. Personally, there are one or two
points about which I should like to consult her.
WHEN IS THE BEST TIME TO BE MERRY?
There is so much I could do to improve things generally in and about
Europe, if only I had a free hand. I should not propose any great
fundamental changes. These poor people have got used to their own
ways; it would be unwise to reform them all at once. But there are
many little odds and ends that I could do for them, so many of their
mistakes I could correct for them. They do not know this. If they
only knew there was a man living in their midst willing to take them
in hand and arrange things for them, how glad they would be. But the
story is always the same. One reads it in the advertisements of the
"A lady, young, said to be good-looking"--she herself is not sure on
the point; she feels that possibly she may be prejudiced; she puts
before you merely the current gossip of the neighbourhood; people say
she is beautiful; they may be right, they may be wrong: it is not
for her to decide--"well-educated, of affectionate disposition,
possessed of means, desires to meet gentleman with a view to
Immediately underneath one reads of a gentleman of twenty-eight,
"tall, fair, considered agreeable." Really the modesty of the
matrimonial advertiser teaches to us ordinary mortals quite a
beautiful lesson. I know instinctively that were anybody to ask me
"Do you call yourself an agreeable man?" I should answer promptly:
"An agreeable man! Of course I'm an agreeable man. What silly
questions you do ask!" If he persisted in arguing the matter,
"But there are people who do not consider you an agreeable man." I
should get angry with him.
"Oh, they think that, do they?" I should say. "Well, you tell them
from me, with my compliments, that they are a set of blithering
idiots. Not agreeable! You show me the man who says I'm not
agreeable. I'll soon let him know whether I'm agreeable or not."
These young men seeking a wife are silent on the subject of their own
virtues. Such are for others to discover. The matrimonial
advertiser confines himself to a simple statement of fact: he is
He is domestically inclined, and in receipt of a good income. He is
desirous of meeting a lady of serious disposition, with view to
matrimony. If possessed of means--well, it is a trifle hardly worth
considering one way or the other. He does not insist upon it; on the
other hand he does not exclude ladies of means; the main idea is
It is sad to reflect upon a young lady, said to be good-looking (let
us say good-looking and be done with it: a neighbourhood does not
rise up and declare a girl good-looking if she is not good-looking,
that is only her modest way of putting it), let us say a young lady,
good-looking, well-educated, of affectionate disposition--it is
undeniably sad to reflect that such an one, matrimonially inclined,
should be compelled to have recourse to the columns of a matrimonial
journal. What are the young men in the neighbourhood thinking of?
What more do they want? Is it Venus come to life again with ten
thousand a year that they are waiting for! It makes me angry with my
own sex reading these advertisements. And when one thinks of the
girls that do get married!
But life is a mystery. The fact remains: here is the ideal wife
seeking in vain for a husband. And here, immediately underneath--I
will not say the ideal husband, he may have faults; none of us are
perfect, but as men go a decided acquisition to any domestic hearth,
an agreeable gentleman, fond of home life, none of your gad-abouts--
calls aloud to the four winds for a wife--any sort of a wife,
provided she be of a serious disposition. In his despair, he has
grown indifferent to all other considerations. "Is there in this
world," he has said to himself, "one unmarried woman, willing to
marry me, an agreeable man, in receipt of a good income." Possibly
enough this twain have passed one another in the street, have sat
side by side in the same tram-car, never guessing, each one, that the
other was the very article of which they were in want to make life
Mistresses in search of a servant, not so much with the idea of
getting work out of her, rather with the object of making her happy,
advertise on one page. On the opposite page, domestic treasures--
disciples of Carlyle, apparently, with a passionate love of work for
its own sake--are seeking situations, not so much with the desire of
gain as with the hope of finding openings where they may enjoy the
luxury of feeling they are leading useful lives. These philanthropic
mistresses, these toil-loving hand-maidens, have lived side by side
in the same town for years, never knowing one another.
So it is with these poor European peoples. They pass me in the
street. They do not guess that I am ready and willing to take them
under my care, to teach them common sense with a smattering of
intelligence--to be, as one might say, a father to them. They look
at me. There is nothing about me to tell them that I know what is
good for them better than they do themselves. In the fairy tales the
wise man wore a conical hat and a long robe with twiddly things all
round the edge. You knew he was a clever man. It avoided the
necessity of explanation. Unfortunately, the fashion has gone out.
We wise men have to wear just ordinary clothes. Nobody knows we are
wise men. Even when we tell them so, they don't believe it. This it
is that makes our task the more difficult.
One of the first things I should take in hand, were European affairs
handed over to my control, would be the rearrangement of the
Carnival. As matters are, the Carnival takes place all over Europe
in February. At Nice, in Spain, or in Italy, it may be occasionally
possible to feel you want to dance about the streets in thin costume
during February. But in more northern countries during Carnival time
I have seen only one sensible masker; he was a man who had got
himself up as a diver. It was in Antwerp. The rain was pouring down
in torrents; a cheery, boisterous John Bull sort of an east wind was
blustering through the streets at the rate of fifteen miles an hour.
Pierrots, with frozen hands, were blowing blue noses. An elderly
Cupid had borrowed an umbrella from a cafe and was waiting for a
tram. A very little devil was crying with the cold, and wiping his
eyes with the end of his own tail. Every doorway was crowded with
shivering maskers. The diver alone walked erect, the water streaming
February is not the month for open air masquerading. The "confetti,"
which has come to be nothing but coloured paper cut into small discs,
is a sodden mass. When a lump of it strikes you in the eye, your
instinct is not to laugh gaily, but to find out the man who threw it
and to hit him back. This is not the true spirit of Carnival. The
marvel is that, in spite of the almost invariably adverse weather,
these Carnivals still continue. In Belgium, where Romanism still
remains the dominant religion, Carnival maintains itself stronger
than elsewhere in Northern Europe.
At one small town, Binche, near the French border, it holds
uninterrupted sway for three days and two nights, during which time
the whole of the population, swelled by visitors from twenty miles
round, shouts, romps, eats and drinks and dances. After which the
visitors are packed like sardines into railway trains. They pin
their tickets to their coats and promptly go to sleep. At every
station the railway officials stumble up and down the trains with
lanterns. The last feeble effort of the more wakeful reveller,
before he adds himself to the heap of snoring humanity on the floor
of the railway carriage, is to change the tickets of a couple of his
unconscious companions. In this way gentlemen for the east are
dragged out by the legs at junctions, and packed into trains going
west; while southern fathers are shot out in the chill dawn at lonely
northern stations, to find themselves greeted with enthusiasm by
other people's families.
At Binche, they say--I have not counted them myself--that thirty
thousand maskers can be seen dancing at the same time. When they are
not dancing they are throwing oranges at one another. The houses
board up their windows. The restaurants take down their mirrors and
hide away the glasses. If I went masquerading at Binche I should go
as a man in armour, period Henry the Seventh.
"Doesn't it hurt," I asked a lady who had been there, "having oranges
thrown at you? Which sort do they use, speaking generally, those
fine juicy ones--Javas I think you call them--or the little hard
brand with skins like a nutmeg-grater? And if both sorts are used
indiscriminately, which do you personally prefer?"
"The smart people," she answered, "they are the same everywhere--they
must be extravagant--they use the Java orange. If it hits you in the
back I prefer the Java orange. It is more messy than the other, but
it does not leave you with that curious sensation of having been
temporarily stunned. Most people, of course, make use of the small
hard orange. If you duck in time, and so catch it on the top of your
head, it does not hurt so much as you would think. If, however, it
hits you on a tender place--well, myself, I always find that a little
sal volatile, with old cognac--half and half, you understand--is
about the best thing. But it only happens once a year," she added.
Nearly every town gives prizes for the best group of maskers. In
some cases the first prize amounts to as much as two hundred pounds.
The butchers, the bakers, the candlestick makers, join together and
compete. They arrive in wagons, each group with its band. Free
trade is encouraged. Each neighbouring town and village "dumps" its
load of picturesque merry-makers.
It is in these smaller towns that the spirit of King Carnival finds
happiest expression. Almost every third inhabitant takes part in the
fun. In Brussels and the larger towns the thing appears ridiculous.
A few hundred maskers force their way with difficulty through
thousands of dull-clad spectators, looking like a Spanish river in
the summer time, a feeble stream, dribbling through acres of muddy
bank. At Charleroi, the centre of the Belgian Black Country, the
chief feature of the Carnival is the dancing of the children. A
space is specially roped off for them.
If by chance the sun is kind enough to shine, the sight is a pretty
one. How they love the dressing up and the acting, these small
mites! One young hussy--she could hardly have been more than ten--
was gotten up as a haughty young lady. Maybe some elder sister had
served as a model. She wore a tremendous wig of flaxen hair, a hat
that I guarantee would have made its mark even at Ascot on the Cup
Day, a skirt that trailed two yards behind her, a pair of what had
once been white kid gloves, and a blue silk parasol. Dignity! I
have seen the offended barmaid, I have met the chorus girl--not by
appointment, please don't misunderstand me, merely as a spectator--up
the river on Sunday. But never have I witnessed in any human being
so much hauteur to the pound avoir-dupois as was carried through the
streets of Charleroi by that small brat. Companions of other days,
mere vulgar boys and girls, claimed acquaintance with her. She
passed them with a stare of such utter disdain that it sent them
tumbling over one another backwards. By the time they had recovered
themselves sufficiently to think of an old tin kettle lying handy in
the gutter she had turned the corner.
Two miserably clad urchins, unable to scrape together the few sous
necessary for the hire of a rag or two, had nevertheless determined
not to be altogether out of it. They had managed to borrow a couple
of white blouses--not what you would understand by a white blouse,
dear Madame, a dainty thing of frills and laces, but the coarse white
sack the street sweeper wears over his clothes. They had also
borrowed a couple of brooms. Ridiculous little objects they looked,
the tiny head of each showing above the great white shroud as gravely
they walked, the one behind the other, sweeping the mud into the
gutter. They also were of the Carnival, playing at being scavengers.
Another quaint sight I witnessed. The "serpentin" is a feature of
the Belgian Carnival. It is a strip of coloured paper, some dozen
yards long, perhaps. You fling it as you would a lassoo, entangling
the head of some passer-by. Naturally, the object most aimed at by
the Belgian youth is the Belgian maiden. And, naturally also, the
maiden who finds herself most entangled is the maiden who--to use
again the language of the matrimonial advertiser--"is considered
good-looking." The serpentin about her head is the "feather in her
cap" of the Belgian maiden on Carnival Day. Coming suddenly round
the corner I almost ran into a girl. Her back was towards me. It
was a quiet street. She had half a dozen of these serpentins.
Hurriedly, with trembling hands, she was twisting them round and
round her own head. I looked at her as I passed. She flushed
scarlet. Poor little snub-nosed pasty-faced woman! I wish she had
not seen me. I could have bought sixpenny-worth, followed her, and
tormented her with them; while she would have pretended indignation--
sought, discreetly, to escape from me.
Down South, where the blood flows quicker, King Carnival is, indeed,
a jolly old soul. In Munich he reigns for six weeks, the end coming
with a mad two days revel in the streets. During the whole of the
period, folks in ordinary, every-day costume are regarded as
curiosities; people wonder what they are up to. From the Grafin to
the Dienstmadchen, from the Herr Professor to the "Piccolo," as they
term the small artist that answers to our page boy, the business of
Munich is dancing, somewhere, somehow, in a fancy costume. Every
theatre clears away the stage, every cafe crowds its chairs and
tables into corners, the very streets are cleared for dancing.
Munich goes mad.
Munich is always a little mad. The maddest ball I ever danced at was
in Munich. I went there with a Harvard University professor. He had
been told what these balls were like. Ever seeking knowledge of all
things, he determined to take the matter up for himself and examine
it. The writer also must ever be learning. I agreed to accompany
him. We had not intended to dance. Our idea was that we could be
indulgent spectators, regarding from some coign of vantage the antics
of the foolish crowd. The professor was clad as became a professor.
Myself, I wore a simply-cut frock-coat, with trousering in French
grey. The doorkeeper explained to us that this was a costume ball;
he was sorry, but gentlemen could only be admitted in evening dress
or in masquerade.
It was half past one in the morning. We had sat up late on purpose;
we had gone without our dinner; we had walked two miles. The
professor suggested pinning up the tails of his clerically-cut coat
and turning in his waistcoat. The doorkeeper feared it would not be
quite the same thing. Besides, my French grey trousers refused to
adapt themselves. The doorkeeper proposed our hiring a costume--a
little speculation of his own; gentlemen found it simpler sometimes,
especially married gentlemen, to hire a costume in this manner,
changing back into sober garments before returning home. It reduced
the volume of necessary explanation.
"Have you anything, my good man," said the professor, "anything that
would effect a complete disguise?"
The doorkeeper had the very thing--a Chinese arrangement, with
combined mask and wig. It fitted neatly over the head, and was
provided with a simple but ingenious piece of mechanism by means of
which much could be done with the pigtail. Myself the doorkeeper hid
from view under the cowl of a Carmelite monk.
"I do hope nobody recognises us," whispered my friend the professor
as we entered.
I can only hope sincerely that they did not. I do not wish to talk
about myself. That would be egotism. But the mystery of the
professor troubles me to this day. A grave, earnest gentleman, the
father of a family, I saw him with my own eyes put that ridiculous
pasteboard mask over his head. Later on--a good deal later on--I
found myself walking again with him through silent star-lit streets.
Where he had been in the interval, and who then was the strange
creature under the Chinaman's mask, will always remain to me an
DO WE LIE A-BED TOO LATE?
It was in Paris, many years ago, that I fell by chance into this
habit of early rising. My night--by reasons that I need not enter
into--had been a troubled one. Tired of the hot bed that gave no
sleep, I rose and dressed myself, crept down the creaking stairs,
experiencing the sensations of a burglar new to his profession,
unbolted the great door of the hotel, and passed out into an unknown,
silent city, bathed in a mysterious soft light. Since then, this
strange sweet city of the dawn has never ceased to call to me. It
may be in London, in Paris again, in Brussels, Berlin, Vienna, that I
have gone to sleep, but if perchance I wake before the returning tide
of human life has dimmed its glories with the mists and vapours of
the noisy day, I know that beyond my window blind the fairy city, as
I saw it first so many years ago--this city that knows no tears, no
sorrow, through which there creeps no evil thing; this city of quiet
vistas, fading into hope; this city of far-off voices whispering
peace; this city of the dawn that still is young--invites me to talk
with it awhile before the waking hours drive it before them, and with
a sigh it passes whence it came.
It is the great city's one hour of purity, of dignity. The very rag-
picker, groping with her filthy hands among the ashes, instead of an
object of contempt, moves from door to door an accusing Figure, her
thin soiled garments, her bent body, her scarred face, hideous with
the wounds of poverty, an eloquent indictment of smug Injustice,
sleeping behind its deaf shutters. Yet even into her dim brain has
sunk the peace that fills for this brief hour the city. This, too,
shall have its end, my sister! Men and women were not born to live
on the husks that fill the pails outside the rich man's door.
Courage a little while longer, you and yours. Your rheumy eyes once
were bright, your thin locks once soft and wavy, your poor bent back
once straight; and maybe, as they tell you in their gilded churches,
this bulging sack shall be lifted from your weary shoulders, your
misshapen limbs be straight again. You pass not altogether unheeded
through these empty streets. Not all the eyes of the universe are
The little seamstress, hurrying to her early work! A little later
she will be one of the foolish crowd, joining in the foolish
laughter, in the coarse jests of the work-room: but as yet the hot
day has not claimed her. The work-room is far beyond, the home of
mean cares and sordid struggles far behind. To her, also, in this
moment are the sweet thoughts of womanhood. She puts down her bag,
rests herself upon a seat. If all the day were dawn, this city of
the morning always with us! A neighbouring clock chimes forth the
hour. She starts up from her dream and hurries on--to the noisy
A pair of lovers cross the park, holding each other's hands. They
will return later in the day, but there will be another expression in
their eyes, another meaning in the pressure of their hands. Now the
purity of the morning is with them.
Some fat, middle-aged clerk comes puffing into view: his ridiculous
little figure very podgy. He stops to take off his hat and mop his
bald head with his handkerchief: even to him the morning lends
romance. His fleshy face changes almost as one looks at him. One
sees again the lad with his vague hopes, his absurd ambitions.
There is a statue of Aphrodite in one of the smaller Paris parks.
Twice in the same week, without particularly meaning it, I found
myself early in the morning standing in front of this statue gazing
listlessly at it, as one does when in dreamy mood; and on both
occasions, turning to go, I encountered the same man, also gazing at
it with, apparently, listless eyes. He was an uninteresting looking
man--possibly he thought the same of me. From his dress he might
have been a well-to-do tradesman, a minor Government official,
doctor, or lawyer. Quite ten years later I paid my third visit to
the same statue at about the same hour. This time he was there
before me. I was hidden from him by some bushes. He glanced round
but did not see me; and then he did a curious thing. Placing his
hands on the top of the pedestal, which may have been some seven feet
in height, he drew himself up, and kissed very gently, almost
reverentially, the foot of the statue, begrimed though it was with
the city's dirt. Had he been some long-haired student of the Latin
Quarter one would not have been so astonished. But he was such a
very commonplace, quite respectable looking man. Afterwards he drew
a pipe from his pocket, carefully filled and lighted it, took his
umbrella from the seat where it had been lying, and walked away.
Had it been their meeting-place long ago? Had he been wont to tell
her, gazing at her with lover's eyes, how like she was to the statue?
The French sculptor has not to consider Mrs. Grundy. Maybe, the
lady, raising her eyes, had been confused; perhaps for a moment
angry--some little milliner or governess, one supposes. In France
the jeune fille of good family does not meet her lover unattended.
What had happened? Or was it but the vagrant fancy of a middle-aged
bourgeois seeking in imagination the romance that reality so rarely
gives us, weaving his love dream round his changeless statue?
In one of Ibsen's bitter comedies the lovers agree to part while they
are still young, never to see each other in the flesh again. Into
the future each will bear away the image of the other, godlike,
radiant with the glory of youth and love; each will cherish the
memory of a loved one who shall be beautiful always. That their
parting may not appear such wild nonsense as at first it strikes us,
Ibsen shows us other lovers who have married in the orthodox fashion.
She was all that a mistress should be. They speak of her as they
first knew her fifteen years ago, when every man was at her feet. He
then was a young student, burning with fine ideals, with enthusiasm
for all the humanities.
What did you expect? Fifteen years have passed--fifteen years of
struggle with the grim realities. He is fat and bald. Eleven
children have to be provided for. High ideals will not even pay the
bootmaker. To exist you have to fight for mean ends with mean
weapons. And the sweet girl heroine! Now the worried mother of
eleven brats! One rings down the curtain amid Satanic laughter.
That is why, for one reason among so many, I love this mystic morning
light. It has a strange power of revealing the beauty that is hidden
from us by the coarser beams of the full day. These worn men and
women, grown so foolish looking, so unromantic; these artisans and
petty clerks plodding to their monotonous day's work; these dull-eyed
women of the people on their way to market to haggle over sous, to
argue and contend over paltry handfuls of food. In this magic
morning light the disguising body becomes transparent. They have
grown beautiful, not ugly, with the years of toil and hardship; these
lives, lived so patiently, are consecrated to the service of the
world. Joy, hope, pleasure--they have done with all such, life for
them is over. Yet they labour, ceaselessly, uncomplainingly. It is
for the children.
One morning, near Brussels, I encountered a cart of faggots, drawn by
a hound so lean that stroking him might have hurt a dainty hand. I
was shocked--angry, till I noticed his fellow beast of burden pushing
the cart from behind. Such a scarecrow of an old woman! There was
little to choose between them. I walked with them a little way. She
lived near Waterloo. All day she gathered wood in the great forest,
and starting at three o'clock each morning, the two lean creatures
between them dragged the cart nine miles to Brussels, returning when
they had sold their load. With luck she might reckon on a couple of
francs. I asked her if she could not find something else to do.
Yes, it was possible, but for the little one, her grandchild. Folks
will not employ old women burdened with grandchildren.
You fair, dainty ladies, who would never know it was morning if
somebody did not enter to pull up the blind and tell you so! You do
well not to venture out in this magic morning light. You would look
so plain--almost ugly, by the side of these beautiful women.
It is curious the attraction the Church has always possessed for the
marketing classes. Christ drove them from the Temple, but still, in
every continental city, they cluster round its outer walls. It makes
a charming picture on a sunny morning, the great cathedral with its
massive shadow forming the background; splashed about its feet, like
a parterre of gay flowers around the trunk of some old tree, the
women, young girls in their many coloured costumes, sitting before
their piled-up baskets of green vegetables, of shining fruits.
In Brussels the chief market is held on the Grande Place. The great
gilded houses have looked down upon much the same scene every morning
these four hundred years. In summer time it commences about half-
past four; by five o'clock it is a roaring hive, the great city round
about still sleeping.
Here comes the thrifty housewife of the poor, to whom the difference
of a tenth of a penny in the price of a cabbage is all-important, and
the much harassed keeper of the petty pension. There are houses in
Brussels where they will feed you, light you, sleep you, wait on you,
for two francs a day. Withered old ladies, ancient governesses, who
will teach you for forty centimes an hour, gather round these
ricketty tables, wolf up the thin soup, grumble at the watery coffee,
help themselves with unladylike greediness to the potato pie. It
must need careful housewifery to keep these poor creatures on two
francs a day and make a profit for yourself. So "Madame," the much-
grumbled-at, who has gone to bed about twelve, rises a little before
five, makes her way down with her basket. Thus a few sous may be
saved upon the day's economies.
Sometimes it is a mere child who is the little housekeeper. One
thinks that perhaps this early training in the art of haggling may
not be good for her. Already there is a hard expression in the
childish eyes, mean lines about the little mouth. The finer
qualities of humanity are expensive luxuries, not to be afforded by
They overwork their patient dogs, and underfeed them. During the two
hours' market the poor beasts, still fastened to their little
"chariots," rest in the open space about the neighbouring Bourse.
They snatch at what you throw them; they do not even thank you with a
wag of the tail. Gratitude! Politeness! What mean you? We have
not heard of such. We only work. Some of them amid all the din lie
sleeping between their shafts. Some are licking one another's sores.
One would they were better treated; alas! their owners, likewise, are
overworked and underfed, housed in kennels no better. But if the
majority in every society were not overworked and underfed and meanly
housed, why, then the minority could not be underworked and overfed
and housed luxuriously. But this is talk to which no respectable
reader can be expected to listen.
They are one babel of bargaining, these markets. The purchaser
selects a cauliflower. Fortunately, cauliflowers have no feelings,
or probably it would burst into tears at the expression with which it
is regarded. It is impossible that any lady should desire such a
cauliflower. Still, out of mere curiosity, she would know the price-
-that is, if the owner of the cauliflower is not too much ashamed of
it to name a price.
The owner of the cauliflower suggests six sous. The thing is too
ridiculous for argument. The purchaser breaks into a laugh.
The owner of the cauliflower is stung. She points out the beauties
of that cauliflower. Apparently it is the cauliflower out of all her
stock she loves the best; a better cauliflower never lived; if there
were more cauliflowers in the world like this particular cauliflower
things might be different. She gives a sketch of the cauliflower's
career, from its youth upwards. Hard enough it will be for her when
the hour for parting from it comes. If the other lady has not
sufficient knowledge of cauliflowers to appreciate it, will she
kindly not paw it about, but put it down and go away, and never let
the owner of the cauliflower see her again.
The other lady, more as a friend than as a purchaser, points out the
cauliflower's defects. She wishes well to the owner of the
cauliflower, and would like to teach her something about her
business. A lady who thinks such a cauliflower worth six sous can
never hope to succeed as a cauliflower vendor. Has she really taken
the trouble to examine the cauliflower for herself, or has love made
her blind to its shortcomings?
The owner of the cauliflower is too indignant to reply. She snatches
it away, appears to be comforting it, replaces it in the basket. The
other lady is grieved at human obstinacy and stupidity in general.
If the owner of the cauliflower had had any sense she would have
asked four sous. Eventually business is done at five.
It is the custom everywhere abroad--asking the price of a thing is
simply opening conversation. A lady told me that, the first day she
began housekeeping in Florence, she handed over to a poulterer for a
chicken the price he had demanded--with protestations that he was
losing on the transaction, but wanted, for family reasons,
apparently, to get rid of the chicken. He stood for half a minute
staring at her, and then, being an honest sort of man, threw in a
Foreign housekeepers starting business in London appear hurt when our
tradesmen decline to accept half-a-crown for articles marked three-
"Then why mark it only three-and-sixpence?" is the foreign
SHOULD MARRIED MEN PLAY GOLF?
That we Englishmen attach too much importance to sport goes without
saying--or, rather, it has been said so often as to have become a
commonplace. One of these days some reforming English novelist will
write a book, showing the evil effects of over-indulgence in sport:
the neglected business, the ruined home, the slow but sure sapping of
the brain--what there may have been of it in the beginning--leading
to semi-imbecility and yearly increasing obesity.
A young couple, I once heard of, went for their honeymoon to
Scotland. The poor girl did not know he was a golfer (he had wooed
and won her during a period of idleness enforced by a sprained
shoulder), or maybe she would have avoided Scotland. The idea they
started with was that of a tour. The second day the man went out for
a stroll by himself. At dinner-time he observed, with a far-away
look in his eyes, that it seemed a pretty spot they had struck, and
suggested their staying there another day. The next morning after
breakfast he borrowed a club from the hotel porter, and remarked that
he would take a walk while she finished doing her hair. He said it
amused him, swinging a club while he walked. He returned in time for
lunch and seemed moody all the afternoon. He said the air suited
him, and urged that they should linger yet another day.
She was young and inexperienced, and thought, maybe, it was liver.
She had heard much about liver from her father. The next morning he
borrowed more clubs, and went out, this time before breakfast,
returning to a late and not over sociable dinner. That was the end
of their honeymoon so far as she was concerned. He meant well, but
the thing had gone too far. The vice had entered into his blood, and
the smell of the links drove out all other considerations.
We are most of us familiar, I take it, with the story of the golfing
parson, who could not keep from swearing when the balls went wrong.
"Golf and the ministry don't seem to go together," his friend told
him. "Take my advice before it's too late, and give it up, Tammas."
A few months later Tammas met his friend again.
"You were right, Jamie," cried the parson cheerily, "they didna run
well in harness; golf and the meenistry, I hae followed your advice:
I hae gi'en it oop."
"Then what are ye doing with that sack of clubs?" inquired Jamie.
"What am I doing with them?" repeated the puzzled Tammas. "Why I am
going to play golf with them." A light broke upon him. "Great
Heavens, man!" he continued, "ye didna' think 'twas the golf I'd
The Englishman does not understand play. He makes a life-long labour
of his sport, and to it sacrifices mind and body. The health resorts
of Europe--to paraphrase a famous saying that nobody appears to have
said--draw half their profits from the playing fields of Eton and
elsewhere. In Swiss and German kurhausen enormously fat men bear
down upon you and explain to you that once they were the champion
sprinters or the high-jump representatives of their university--men
who now hold on to the bannisters and groan as they haul themselves
upstairs. Consumptive men, between paroxysms of coughing, tell you
of the goals they scored when they were half-backs or forwards of
extraordinary ability. Ex-light-weight amateur pugilists, with the
figure now of an American roll-top desk, butt you into a corner of
the billiard-room, and, surprised they cannot get as near you as they
would desire, whisper to you the secret of avoiding the undercut by
the swiftness of the backward leap. Broken-down tennis players, one-
legged skaters, dropsical gentlemen-riders, are to be met with
hobbling on crutches along every highway of the Engadine.
They are pitiable objects. Never having learnt to read anything but
the sporting papers, books are of no use to them. They never wasted
much of their youth on thought, and, apparently, have lost the knack
of it. They don't care for art, and Nature only suggests to them the
things they can no longer do. The snow-clad mountain reminds them
that once they were daring tobogannists; the undulating common makes
them sad because they can no longer handle a golf-club; by the
riverside they sit down and tell you of the salmon they caught before
they caught rheumatic fever; birds only make them long for guns;
music raises visions of the local cricket-match of long ago,
enlivened by the local band; a picturesque estaminet, with little
tables spread out under the vines, recalls bitter memories of ping-
pong. One is sorry for them, but their conversation is not
exhilarating. The man who has other interests in life beyond sport
is apt to find their reminiscences monotonous; while to one another
they do not care to talk. One gathers that they do not altogether
believe one another.
The foreigner is taking kindly to our sports; one hopes he will be
forewarned by our example and not overdo the thing. At present, one
is bound to admit, he shows no sign of taking sport too seriously.
Football is gaining favour more and more throughout Europe. But yet
the Frenchman has not got it out of his head that the coup to
practise is kicking the ball high into the air and catching it upon
his head. He would rather catch the ball upon his head than score a
goal. If he can manoeuvre the ball away into a corner, kick it up
into the air twice running, and each time catch it on his head, he
does not seem to care what happens after that. Anybody can have the
ball; he has had his game and is happy.
They talk of introducing cricket into Belgium; I shall certainly try
to be present at the opening game. I am afraid that, until he learns
from experience, the Belgian fielder will stop cricket balls with his
head. That the head is the proper thing with which to play ball
appears to be in his blood. My head is round, he argues, and hard,
just like the ball itself; what part of the human frame more fit and
proper with which to meet and stop a ball.
Golf has not yet caught on, but tennis is firmly established from St.
Petersburg to Bordeaux. The German, with the thoroughness
characteristic of him, is working hard. University professors, stout
majors, rising early in the morning, hire boys and practise back-
handers and half-volleys. But to the Frenchman, as yet, it is a
game. He plays it in a happy, merry fashion, that is shocking to
Your partner's service rather astonishes you. An occasional yard or
so beyond the line happens to anyone, but this man's object appears
to be to break windows. You feel you really must remonstrate, when
the joyous laughter and tumultuous applause of the spectators explain
the puzzle to you. He has not been trying to serve; he has been
trying to hit a man in the next court who is stooping down to tie up
his shoe-lace. With his last ball he has succeeded. He has hit the
man in the small of the back, and has bowled him over. The unanimous
opinion of the surrounding critics is that the ball could not
possibly have been better placed. A Doherty has never won greater
applause from the crowd. Even the man who has been hit appears
pleased; it shows what a Frenchman can do when he does take up a
But French honour demands revenge. He forgets his shoe, he forgets
his game. He gathers together all the balls that he can find; his
balls, your balls, anybody's balls that happen to be handy. And then
commences the return match. At this point it is best to crouch down
under shelter of the net. Most of the players round about adopt this
plan; the more timid make for the club-house, and, finding themselves
there, order coffee and light up cigarettes. After a while both
players appear to be satisfied. The other players then gather round
to claim their balls. This makes a good game by itself. The object
is to get as many balls as you can, your own and other people's--for
preference other people's--and run off with them round the courts,
followed by whooping claimants.
In the course of half-an-hour or so, when everybody is dead beat, the
game--the original game--is resumed. You demand the score; your
partner promptly says it is "forty-fifteen." Both your opponents
rush up to the net, and apparently there is going to be a duel. It
is only a friendly altercation; they very much doubt its being
"forty-fifteen." "Fifteen-forty" they could believe; they suggest it
as a compromise. The discussion is concluded by calling it deuce.
As it is rare for a game to proceed without some such incident
occurring in the middle of it, the score generally is deuce. This
avoids heart-burning; nobody wins a set and nobody loses. The one
game generally suffices for the afternoon.
To the earnest player, it is also confusing to miss your partner
occasionally--to turn round and find that he is talking to a man.
Nobody but yourself takes the slightest objection to his absence.
The other side appear to regard it as a good opportunity to score.
Five minutes later he resumes the game. His friend comes with him,
also the dog of his friend. The dog is welcomed with enthusiasm; all
balls are returned to the dog. Until the dog is tired you do not get
a look in. But all this will no doubt soon be changed. There are
some excellent French and Belgian players; from them their
compatriots will gradually learn higher ideals. The Frenchman is
young in the game. As the right conception of the game grows upon
him, he will also learn to keep the balls lower.
I suppose it is the continental sky. It is so blue, so beautiful; it
naturally attracts one. Anyhow, the fact remains that most tennis
players on the Continent, whether English or foreign, have a tendency
to aim the ball direct at Heaven. At an English club in Switzerland
there existed in my days a young Englishman who was really a
wonderful player. To get the ball past him was almost an
impossibility. It was his return that was weak. He only had one
stroke; the ball went a hundred feet or so into the air and descended
in his opponent's court. The other man would stand watching it, a
little speck in the Heavens, growing gradually bigger and bigger as
it neared the earth. Newcomers would chatter to him, thinking he had
detected a balloon or an eagle. He would wave them aside, explain to
them that he would talk to them later, after the arrival of the ball.
It would fall with a thud at his feet, rise another twenty yards or
so and again descend. When it was at the proper height he would hit
it back over the net, and the next moment it would be mounting the
sky again. At tournaments I have seen that young man, with tears in
his eyes, pleading to be given an umpire. Every umpire had fled.
They hid behind trees, borrowed silk hats and umbrellas and pretended
they were visitors--any device, however mean, to avoid the task of
umpiring for that young man. Provided his opponent did not go to
sleep or get cramp, one game might last all day. Anyone could return
his balls; but, as I have said, to get a ball past him was almost an
impossibility. He invariably won; the other man, after an hour or
so, would get mad and try to lose. It was his only chance of dinner.
It is a pretty sight, generally speaking, a tennis ground abroad.
The women pay more attention to their costumes than do our lady
players. The men are usually in spotless white. The ground is often
charmingly situated, the club-house picturesque; there is always
laughter and merriment. The play may not be so good to watch, but
the picture is delightful. I accompanied a man a little while ago to
his club on the outskirts of Brussels. The ground was bordered by a
wood on one side, and surrounded on the other three by petites
fermes--allotments, as we should call them in England, worked by the
It was a glorious spring afternoon. The courts were crowded. The
red earth and the green grass formed a background against which the
women, in their new Parisian toilets, under their bright parasols,
stood out like wondrous bouquets of moving flowers. The whole
atmosphere was a delightful mingling of idle gaiety, flirtation, and
graceful sensuousness. A modern Watteau would have seized upon the
scene with avidity.
Just beyond--separated by the almost invisible wire fencing--a group
of peasants were working in the field. An old woman and a young
girl, with ropes about their shoulders, were drawing a harrow, guided
by a withered old scarecrow of a man. They paused for a moment at
the wire fencing, and looked through. It was an odd contrast; the
two worlds divided by that wire fencing--so slight, almost invisible.
The girl swept the sweat from her face with her hand; the woman
pushed back her grey locks underneath the handkerchief knotted about
her head; the old man straightened himself with some difficulty. So
they stood, for perhaps a minute, gazing with quiet, passionless
faces through that slight fencing, that a push from their work-
hardened hands might have levelled.
Was there any thought, I wonder, passing through their brains? The
young girl--she was a handsome creature in spite of her disfiguring
garments. The woman--it was a wonderfully fine face: clear, calm
eyes, deep-set under a square broad brow. The withered old
scarecrow--ever sowing the seed in the spring of the fruit that
others shall eat.
The old man bent again over the guiding ropes: gave the word. The
team moved forward up the hill. It is Anatole France, I think, who
says: Society is based upon the patience of the poor.
ARE EARLY MARRIAGES A MISTAKE?
I am chary nowadays of offering counsel in connection with subjects
concerning which I am not and cannot be an authority. Long ago I
once took upon myself to write a paper about babies. It did not aim
to be a textbook on the subject. It did not even claim to exhaust
the topic. I was willing that others, coming after me, should
continue the argument--that is if, upon reflection, they were still
of opinion there was anything more to be said. I was pleased with
the article. I went out of my way to obtain an early copy of the
magazine in which it appeared, on purpose to show it to a lady friend
of mine. She was the possessor of one or two babies of her own,
specimens in no way remarkable, though she herself, as was natural
enough, did her best to boom them. I thought it might be helpful to
her: the views and observations, not of a rival fancier, who would
be prejudiced, but of an intelligent amateur. I put the magazine
into her hands, opened at the proper place.
"Read it through carefully and quietly," I said; "don't let anything
distract you. Have a pencil and a bit of paper ready at your side,
and note down any points upon which you would like further
information. If there is anything you think I have missed out let me
know. It may be that here and there you will be disagreeing with me.
If so, do not hesitate to mention it, I shall not be angry. If a
demand arises I shall very likely issue an enlarged and improved
edition of this paper in the form of a pamphlet, in which case hints
and suggestions that to you may appear almost impertinent will be of
distinct help to me."
"I haven't got a pencil," she said; "what's it all about?"
"It's about babies," I explained, and I lent her a pencil.
That is another thing I have learnt. Never lend a pencil to a woman
if you ever want to see it again. She has three answers to your
request for its return. The first, that she gave it back to you and
that you put it in your pocket, and that it's there now, and that if
it isn't it ought to be. The second, that you never lent it to her.
The third, that she wishes people would not lend her pencils and then
clamour for them back, just when she has something else far more
important to think about.
"What do you know about babies?" she demanded.
"If you will read the paper," I replied, "you will see for yourself.
It's all there."
She flicked over the pages contemptuously.
"There doesn't seem much of it?" she retorted.
"It is condensed," I pointed out to her.
"I am glad it is short. All right, I'll read it," she agreed.
I thought my presence might disturb her, so went out into the garden.
I wanted her to get the full benefit of it. I crept back now and
again to peep through the open window. She did not seem to be making
many notes. But I heard her making little noises to herself. When I
saw she had reached the last page, I re-entered the room.
"Well?" I said.
"Is it meant to be funny," she demanded, "or is it intended to be
"There may be flashes of humour here and there--"
She did not wait for me to finish.
"Because if it's meant to be funny," she said, "I don't think it is
at all funny. And if it is intended to be serious, there's one thing
very clear, and that is that you are not a mother."
With the unerring instinct of the born critic she had divined my one
weak point. Other objections raised against me I could have met.
But that one stinging reproach was unanswerable. It has made me, as
I have explained, chary of tendering advice on matters outside my own
department of life. Otherwise, every year, about Valentine's day,
there is much that I should like to say to my good friends the birds.
I want to put it to them seriously. Is not the month of February
just a little too early? Of course, their answer would be the same
as in the case of my motherly friend.
"Oh, what do you know about it? you are not a bird."
I know I am not a bird, but that is the very reason why they should
listen to me. I bring a fresh mind to bear upon the subject. I am
not tied down by bird convention. February, my dear friends--in
these northern climes of ours at all events--is much too early. You
have to build in a high wind, and nothing, believe me, tries a lady's
temper more than being blown about. Nature is nature, and womenfolk,
my dear sirs, are the same all the world over, whether they be birds
or whether they be human. I am an older person than most of you, and
I speak with the weight of experience.
If I were going to build a house with my wife, I should not choose a
season of the year when the bricks and planks and things were liable
to be torn out of her hand, her skirts blown over her head, and she
left clinging for dear life to a scaffolding pole. I know the
feminine biped and, you take it from me, that is not her notion of a
honeymoon. In April or May, the sun shining, the air balmy--when,
after carrying up to her a load or two of bricks, and a hod or two of
mortar, we could knock off work for a few minutes without fear of the
whole house being swept away into the next street--could sit side by
side on the top of a wall, our legs dangling down, and peck and
morsel together; after which I could whistle a bit to her--then
housebuilding might be a pleasure.
The swallows are wisest; June is their idea, and a very good idea,
too. In a mountain village in the Tyrol, early one summer, I had the
opportunity of watching very closely the building of a swallow's
nest. After coffee, the first morning, I stepped out from the great,
cool, dark passage of the wirtschaft into the blazing sunlight, and,
for no particular reason, pulled-to the massive door behind me.
While filling my pipe, a swallow almost brushed by me, then wheeled
round again, and took up a position on the fence only a few yards
from me. He was carrying what to him was an exceptionally large and
heavy brick. He put it down beside him on the fence, and called out
something which I could not understand. I did not move. He got
quite excited and said some more. It was undoubtable he was
addressing me--nobody else was by. I judged from his tone that he
was getting cross with me. At this point my travelling companion,
his toilet unfinished, put his head out of the window just above me.
"Such an odd thing," he called down to me. "I never noticed it last
night. A pair of swallows are building a nest here in the hall.
You've got to be careful you don't mistake it for a hat-peg. The old
lady says they have built there regularly for the last three years."
Then it came to me what it was the gentleman had been saying to me:
"I say, sir, you with the bit of wood in your mouth, you have been
and shut the door and I can't get in."
Now, with the key in my possession, it was so clear and
understandable, I really forgot for the moment he was only a bird.
"I beg your pardon," I replied, "I had no idea. Such an
extraordinary place to build a nest."
I opened the door for him, and, taking up his brick again, he
entered, and I followed him in. There was a deal of talk.
"He shut the door," I heard him say, "Chap there, sucking the bit of
wood. Thought I was never going to get in."
"I know," was the answer; "it has been so dark in here, if you'll
believe me, I've hardly been able to see what I've been doing."
"Fine brick, isn't it? Where will you have it?"
Observing me sitting there, they lowered their voices. Evidently she
wanted him to put the brick down and leave her to think. She was not
quite sure where she would have it. He, on the other hand, was sure
he had found the right place for it. He pointed it out to her and
explained his views. Other birds quarrel a good deal during nest
building, but swallows are the gentlest of little people. She let
him put it where he wanted to, and he kissed her and ran out. She
cocked her eye after him, watched till he was out of sight, then
deftly and quickly slipped it out and fixed it the other side of the
"Poor dears" (I could see it in the toss of her head); "they will
think they know best; it is just as well not to argue with them."
Every summer I suffer much from indignation. I love to watch the
swallows building. They build beneath the eaves outside my study
window. Such cheerful little chatter-boxes they are. Long after
sunset, when all the other birds are sleeping, the swallows still are
chattering softly. It sounds as if they were telling one another
some pretty story, and often I am sure there must be humour in it,
for every now and then one hears a little twittering laugh. I
delight in having them there, so close to me. The fancy comes to me
that one day, when my brain has grown more cunning, I, too, listening
in the twilight, shall hear the stories that they tell.
One or two phrases already I have come to understand: "Once upon a
time"--"Long, long ago"--"In a strange, far-off land." I hear these
words so constantly, I am sure I have them right. I call it "Swallow
Street," this row of six or seven nests. Two or three, like villas
in their own grounds, stand alone, and others are semi-detached. It
makes me angry that the sparrows will come and steal them. The
sparrows will hang about deliberately waiting for a pair of swallows
to finish their nest, and then, with a brutal laugh that makes my
blood boil, drive the swallows away and take possession of it. And
the swallows are so wonderfully patient.
"Never mind, old girl," says Tommy Swallow, after the first big cry
is over, to Jenny Swallow, "let's try again."
And half an hour later, full of fresh plans, they are choosing
another likely site, chattering cheerfully once more. I watched the
building of a particular nest for nearly a fortnight one year; and
when, after two or three days' absence, I returned and found a pair
of sparrows comfortably encsonced therein, I just felt mad. I saw
Mrs. Sparrow looking out. Maybe my anger was working upon my
imagination, but it seemed to me that she nodded to me:
"Nice little house, ain't it? What I call well built."
Mr. Sparrow then flew up with a gaudy feather, dyed blue, which
belonged to me. I recognised it. It had come out of the brush with
which the girl breaks the china ornaments in our drawing-room. At
any other time I should have been glad to see him flying off with the
whole thing, handle included. But now I felt the theft of that one
feather as an added injury. Mrs. Sparrow chirped with delight at
sight of the gaudy monstrosity. Having got the house cheap, they
were going to spend their small amount of energy upon internal
decoration. That was their idea clearly, a "Liberty interior." She
looked more like a Cockney sparrow than a country one--had been born
and bred in Regent Street, no doubt.
"There is not much justice in this world," said I to myself; "but
there's going to be some introduced into this business--that is, if I
can find a ladder."
I did find a ladder, and fortunately it was long enough. Mr. and
Mrs. Sparrow were out when I arrived, possibly on the hunt for cheap
photo frames and Japanese fans. I did not want to make a mess. I
removed the house neatly into a dust-pan, and wiped the street clear
of every trace of it. I had just put back the ladder when Mrs.
Sparrow returned with a piece of pink cotton-wool in her mouth. That
was her idea of a colour scheme: apple-blossom pink and Reckitt's
blue side by side. She dropped her wool and sat on the waterspout,
and tried to understand things.
"Number one, number two, number four; where the blazes"--sparrows are
essentially common, and the women are as bad as the men--"is number
Mr. Sparrow came up from behind, over the roof. He was carrying a
piece of yellow-fluff, part of a lamp-shade, as far as I could judge.
"Move yourself," he said, "what's the sense of sitting there in the
"I went out just for a moment," replied Mrs. Sparrow; "I could not
have been gone, no, not a couple of minutes. When I came back--"
"Oh, get indoors," said Mr. Sparrow, "talk about it there."
"It's what I'm telling you," continued Mrs. Sparrow, "if you would
only listen. There isn't any door, there isn't any house--"
"Isn't any--" Mr. Sparrow, holding on to the rim of the spout, turned
himself topsy-turvy and surveyed the street. From where I was
standing behind the laurel bushes I could see nothing but his back.
He stood up again, looking angry and flushed.
"What have you done with the house? Can't I turn my back a minute--"
"I ain't done nothing with it. As I keep on telling you, I had only
"Oh, bother where you had gone. Where's the darned house gone?
that's what I want to know."
They looked at one another. If ever astonishment was expressed in
the attitude of a bird it was told by the tails of those two
sparrows. They whispered wickedly together. The idea occurred to
them that by force or cunning they might perhaps obtain possession of
one of the other nests. But all the other nests were occupied, and
even gentle Jenny Swallow, once in her own home with the children
round about her, is not to be trifled with. Mr. Sparrow called at
number two, put his head in at the door, and then returned to the
"Lady says we don't live there," he explained to Mrs. Sparrow. There
was silence for a while.
"Not what I call a classy street," commented Mrs. Sparrow.
"If it were not for that terrible tired feeling of mine," said Mr.
Sparrow, "blame if I wouldn't build a house of my own."
"Perhaps," said Mrs. Sparrow, "--I have heard it said that a little
bit of work, now and then, does you good."
"All sorts of wild ideas about in the air nowadays," said Mr.
Sparrow, "it don't do to listen to everybody."
"And it don't do to sit still and do nothing neither," snapped Mrs.
Sparrow. "I don't want to have to forget I'm a lady, but--well, any
man who was a man would see things for himself."
"Why did I every marry?" retorted Mr. Sparrow.
They flew away together, quarrelling.
DO WRITERS WRITE TOO MUCH?
On a newspaper placard, the other day, I saw announced a new novel by
a celebrated author. I bought a copy of the paper, and turned
eagerly to the last page. I was disappointed to find that I had
missed the first six chapters. The story had commenced the previous
Saturday; this was Friday. I say I was disappointed and so I was, at
first. But my disappointment did not last long. The bright and
intelligent sub-editor, according to the custom now in vogue, had
provided me with a short synopsis of those first six chapters, so
that without the trouble of reading them I knew what they were all
"The first instalment," I learned, "introduces the reader to a
brilliant and distinguished company, assembled in the drawing-room of
Lady Mary's maisonette in Park Street. Much smart talk is indulged
I know that "smart talk" so well. Had I not been lucky enough to
miss that first chapter I should have had to listen to it once again.
Possibly, here and there, it might have been new to me, but it would
have read, I know, so very like the old. A dear, sweet white-haired
lady of my acquaintance is never surprised at anything that happens.
"Something very much of the same kind occurred," she will remember,
"one winter when we were staying in Brighton. Only on that occasion
the man's name, I think, was Robinson."
We do not live new stories--nor write them either. The man's name in
the old story was Robinson, we alter it to Jones. It happened, in
the old forgotten tale, at Brighton, in the winter time; we change it
to Eastbourne, in the spring. It is new and original--to those who
have not heard "something very like it" once before.
"Much smart talk is indulged in," so the sub-editor has explained.
There is absolutely no need to ask for more than that. There is a
Duchess who says improper things. Once she used to shock me. But I
know her now. She is really a nice woman; she doesn't mean them.
And when the heroine is in trouble, towards the middle of the book,
she is just as amusing on the side of virtue. Then there is a
younger lady whose speciality is proverbs. Apparently whenever she
hears a proverb she writes it down and studies it with the idea of
seeing into how many different forms it can be twisted. It looks
clever; as a matter of fact, it is extremely easy.
Be virtuous and you will be happy.
She jots down all the possible variations: Be virtuous and you will
"Too simple that one," she tells herself. Be virtuous and your
friends will be happy if you are not.
"Better, but not wicked enough. Let us think again. Be happy and
people will jump to the conclusion that you are virtuous.
"That's good, I'll try that one at to-morrow's party."
She is a painstaking lady. One feels that, better advised, she might
have been of use in the world.
There is likewise a disgraceful old Peer who tells naughty stories,
but who is good at heart; and one person so very rude that the wonder
is who invited him.
Occasionally a slangy girl is included, and a clergyman, who takes
the heroine aside and talks sense to her, flavoured with epigram.
All these people chatter a mixture of Lord Chesterfield and Oliver
Wendell Holmes, of Heine, Voltaire, Madame de Stael, and the late
lamented H. J. Byron. "How they do it beats me," as I once overheard
at a music hall a stout lady confess to her friend while witnessing
the performance of a clever troup, styling themselves "The Boneless
Wonders of the Universe."
The synopsis added that: "Ursula Bart, a charming and
unsophisticated young American girl possessed of an elusive
expression makes her first acquaintance with London society."
Here you have a week's unnecessary work on the part of the author
boiled down to its essentials. She was young. One hardly expects an
elderly heroine. The "young" might have been dispensed with,
especially seeing it is told us that she was a girl. But maybe this
is carping. There are young girls and old girls. Perhaps it is as
well to have it in black and white; she was young. She was an
American young girl. There is but one American young girl in English
fiction. We know by heart the unconventional things that she will
do, the startlingly original things that she will say, the fresh
illuminating thoughts that will come to her as, clad in a loose robe
of some soft clinging stuff, she sits before the fire, in the
solitude of her own room.
To complete her she had an "elusive expression." The days when we
used to catalogue the heroine's "points" are past. Formerly it was
possible. A man wrote perhaps some half-a-dozen novels during the
whole course of his career. He could have a dark girl for the first,
a light girl for the second, sketch a merry little wench for the
third, and draw you something stately for the fourth. For the
remaining two he could go abroad. Nowadays, when a man turns out a
novel and six short stories once a year, description has to be
dispensed with. It is not the writer's fault. There is not
sufficient variety in the sex. We used to introduce her thus:
"Imagine to yourself, dear reader, an exquisite and gracious creature
of five feet three. Her golden hair of that peculiar shade"--here
would follow directions enabling the reader to work it out for
himself. He was to pour some particular wine into some particular
sort of glass, and wave it about before some particular sort of a
light. Or he was to get up at five o'clock on a March morning and go
into a wood. In this way he could satisfy himself as to the
particular shade of gold the heroine's hair might happen to be. If
he were a careless or lazy reader he could save himself time and
trouble by taking the author's word for it. Many of them did.
"Her eyes!" They were invariably deep and liquid. They had to be
pretty deep to hold all the odds and ends that were hidden in them;
sunlight and shadow, mischief, unsuspected possibilities, assorted
emotions, strange wild yearnings. Anything we didn't know where else
to put we said was hidden in her eyes.
"Her nose!" You could have made it for yourself out of a pen'orth of
putty after reading our description of it.
"Her forehead!" It was always "low and broad." I don't know why it
was always low. Maybe because the intellectual heroine was not then
popular. For the matter of that I doubt if she be really popular
now. The brainless doll, one fears, will continue for many years to
come to be man's ideal woman--and woman's ideal of herself for
precisely the same period, one may be sure.
"Her chin!" A less degree of variety was permissible in her chin.
It had to be at an angle suggestive of piquancy, and it had to
contain at least the suspicion of a dimple.
To properly understand her complexion you were expected to provide
yourself with a collection of assorted fruits and flowers. There are
seasons in the year when it must have been difficult for the
conscientious reader to have made sure of her complexion. Possibly
it was for this purpose that wax flowers and fruit, carefully kept
from the dust under glass cases, were common objects in former times
upon the tables of the cultured.
Nowadays we content ourselves--and our readers also, I am inclined to
think--with dashing her off in a few bold strokes. We say that
whenever she entered a room there came to one dreams of an old world
garden, the sound of far-off bells. Or that her presence brought
with it the scent of hollyhocks and thyme. As a matter of fact I
don't think hollyhocks do smell. It is a small point; about such we
do not trouble ourselves. In the case of the homely type of girl I
don't see why we should not borrow Mr. Pickwick's expression, and
define her by saying that in some subtle way she always contrived to
suggest an odour of chops and tomato sauce.
If we desire to be exact we mention, as this particular author seems
to have done, that she had an "elusive expression," or a penetrating
fragrance. Or we say that she moved, the centre of an indefinable
But it is not policy to bind oneself too closely to detail. A wise
friend of mine, who knows his business, describes his hero invariably
in the vaguest terms. He will not even tell you whether the man is
tall or short, clean shaven or bearded.
"Make the fellow nice," is his advice. "Let every woman reader
picture him to herself as her particular man. Then everything he
says and does becomes of importance to her. She is careful not to
miss a word."
For the same reason he sees to it that his heroine has a bit of every
girl in her. Generally speaking, she is a cross between Romola and
Dora Copperfield. His novels command enormous sales. The women say
he draws a man to the life, but does not seem to know much about
women. The men like his women, but think his men stupid.
Of another famous author no woman of my acquaintance is able to speak
too highly. They tell me his knowledge of their sex is simply
marvellous, his insight, his understanding of them almost uncanny.
Thinking it might prove useful, I made an exhaustive study of his
books. I noticed that his women were without exception brilliant
charming creatures possessed of the wit of a Lady Wortlay Montagu,
combined with the wisdom of a George Eliot. They were not all of
them good women, but all of them were clever and all of them were
fascinating. I came to the conclusion that his lady critics were
correct: he did understand women. But to return to our synopsis.
The second chapter, it appeared, transported us to Yorkshire where:
"Basil Longleat, a typical young Englishman, lately home from
college, resides with his widowed mother and two sisters. They are a
What a world of trouble to both writer and to reader is here saved.
"A typical young Englishman!" The author probably wrote five pages,
elaborating. The five words of the sub-editor present him to me more
vividly. I see him positively glistening from the effects of soap
and water. I see his clear blue eye; his fair crisp locks, the
natural curliness of which annoys him personally, though alluring to
everybody else; his frank winning smile. He is "lately home from
college." That tells me that he is a first-class cricketer; a first-
class oar; that as a half-back he is incomparable; that he swims like
Captain Webb; is in the first rank of tennis players; that his half-
volley at ping-pong has never been stopped. It doesn't tell me much
about his brain power. The description of him as a "typical young
Englishman" suggests more information on this particular point. One
assumes that the American girl with the elusive expression is going
to have sufficient for both.
"They are a delightful family." The sub-editor does not say so, but
I imagine the two sisters are likewise typical young Englishwomen.
They ride and shoot and cook and make their own dresses, have common
sense and love a joke.
The third chapter is "taken up with the humours of a local cricket
Thank you, Mr. Sub-editor. I feel I owe you gratitude.
In the fourth, Ursula Bart (I was beginning to get anxious about her)
turns up again. She is staying at the useful Lady Mary's place in
Yorkshire. She meets Basil by accident one morning while riding
alone. That is the advantage of having an American girl for your
heroine. Like the British army: it goes anywhere and does anything.
In chapter five Basil and Ursula meet again; this time at a picnic.
The sub-editor does not wish to repeat himself, otherwise he possibly
would have summed up chapter five by saying it was "taken up with the
humours of the usual picnic."
In chapter six something happens:
"Basil, returning home in the twilight, comes across Ursula Bart, in
a lonely point of the moor, talking earnestly to a rough-looking
stranger. His approach over the soft turf being unnoticed, he cannot
help overhearing Ursula's parting words to the forbidding-looking
stranger: 'I must see you again! To-morrow night at half-past nine!
In the gateway of the ruined abbey!' Who is he? And why must Ursula
see him again at such an hour, in such a spot?"
So here, at cost of reading twenty lines, I am landed, so to speak,
at the beginning of the seventh chapter. Why don't I set to work to
read it? The sub-editor has spoiled me.
"You read it," I want to say to him. "Tell me to-morrow morning what
it is all about. Who was this bounder? Why should Ursula want to
see him again? Why choose a draughty place? Why half-past nine
o'clock at night, which must have been an awkward time for both of
them--likely to lead to talk? Why should I wade though this seventh
chapter of three columns and a half? It's your work. What are you
My fear is lest this sort of thing shall lead to a demand on the part
of the public for condensed novels. What busy man is going to spend
a week of evenings reading a book when a nice kind sub-editor is
prepared in five minutes to tell him what it is all about!
Then there will come a day--I feel it--when the business-like Editor
will say to himself: "What in thunder is the sense of my paying one
man to write a story of sixty thousand words and another man to read
it and tell it again in sixteen hundred!"
We shall be expected to write our novels in chapters not exceeding
twenty words. Our short stories will be reduced to the formula:
"Little boy. Pair of skates. Broken ice, Heaven's gates." Formerly
an author, commissioned to supply a child's tragedy of this genre for
a Christmas number, would have spun it out into five thousand words.
Personally, I should have commenced the previous spring--given the
reader the summer and autumn to get accustomed to the boy. He would
have been a good boy; the sort of boy that makes a bee-line for the
thinnest ice. He would have lived in a cottage. I could have spread
that cottage over two pages; the things that grew in the garden, the
view from the front door. You would have known that boy before I had
done with him--felt you had known him all your life. His quaint
sayings, his childish thoughts, his great longings would have been
impressed upon you. The father might have had a dash of humour in
him, the mother's early girlhood would have lent itself to pretty
writing. For the ice we would have had a mysterious lake in the
wood, said to be haunted. The boy would have loved o' twilights to
stand upon its margin. He would have heard strange voices calling to
him. You would have felt the thing was coming.
So much might have been done. When I think of that plot wasted in
nine words it makes me positively angry.
And what is to become of us writers if this is to be the new fashion
in literature? We are paid by the length of our manuscript at rates
from half-a-crown a thousand words, and upwards. In the case of
fellows like Doyle and Kipling I am told it runs into pounds. How
are we to live on novels the serial rights of which to most of us
will work out at four and nine-pence.
It can't be done. It is no good telling me you can see no reason why
we should live. That is no answer. I'm talking plain business.
And what about book-rights? Who is going to buy novels of three
pages? They will have to be printed as leaflets and sold at a penny
a dozen. Marie Corelli and Hall Caine--if all I hear about them is
true--will possibly make their ten or twelve shillings a week. But
what about the rest of us? This thing is worrying me.
SHOULD SOLDIERS BE POLITE?
My desire was once to pass a peaceful and pleasant winter in
Brussels, attending to my work, improving my mind. Brussels is a
bright and cheerful town, and I think I could have succeeded had it
not been for the Belgian Army. The Belgian Army would follow me
about and worry me. Judging of it from my own experience, I should
say it was a good army. Napoleon laid it down as an axiom that your
enemy never ought to be permitted to get away from you--never ought
to be allowed to feel, even for a moment, that he had shaken you off.
What tactics the Belgian Army might adopt under other conditions I am
unable to say, but against me personally that was the plan of
campaign it determined upon and carried out with a success that was
astonishing, even to myself.
I found it utterly impossible to escape from the Belgian Army. I
made a point of choosing the quietest and most unlikely streets, I
chose all hours--early in the morning, in the afternoon, late in the
evening. There were moments of wild exaltation when I imagined I had
given it the slip. I could not see it anywhere, I could not hear it.
"Now," said I to myself, "now for five minutes' peace and quiet."
I had been doing it injustice: it had been working round me.
Approaching the next corner, I would hear the tattoo of its drum.
Before I had gone another quarter of a mile it would be in full
pursuit of me. I would jump upon a tram, and travel for miles.
Then, thinking I had shaken it off, I would alight and proceed upon
my walk. Five minutes later another detachment would be upon my
heels. I would slink home, the Belgian Army pursuing me with its
exultant tattoo. Vanquished, shamed, my insular pride for ever
vanished, I would creep up into my room and close the door. The
victorious Belgian Army would then march back to barracks.
If only it had followed me with a band: I like a band. I can loaf
against a post, listening to a band with anyone. I should not have
minded so much had it come after me with a band. But the Belgian
Army, apparently, doesn't run to a band. It has nothing but this
drum. It has not even a real drum--not what I call a drum. It is a
little boy's drum, the sort of thing I used to play myself at one
time, until people took it away from me, and threatened that if they
heard it once again that day they would break it over my own head.
It is cowardly going up and down, playing a drum of this sort, when
there is nobody to stop you. The man would not dare to do it if his
mother was about. He does not even play it. He walks along tapping
it with a little stick. There's no tune, there's no sense in it. He
does not even keep time. I used to think at first, hearing it in the
distance, that it was the work of some young gamin who ought to be at
school, or making himself useful taking the baby out in the