Part 1 out of 3
This etext was prepared by David Price, email email@example.com
from the 1908 Hurst and Blackett edition.
THE ANGEL AND THE AUTHOR--AND OTHERS
by Jerome K. Jerome
I had a vexing dream one night, not long ago: it was about a
fortnight after Christmas. I dreamt I flew out of the window in my
nightshirt. I went up and up. I was glad that I was going up.
"They have been noticing me," I thought to myself. "If anything, I
have been a bit too good. A little less virtue and I might have
lived longer. But one cannot have everything." The world grew
smaller and smaller. The last I saw of London was the long line of
electric lamps bordering the Embankment; later nothing remained but a
faint luminosity buried beneath darkness. It was at this point of my
journey that I heard behind me the slow, throbbing sound of wings.
I turned my head. It was the Recording Angel. He had a weary look;
I judged him to be tired.
"Yes," he acknowledged, "it is a trying period for me, your Christmas
"I am sure it must be," I returned; "the wonder to me is how you get
through it all. You see at Christmas time," I went on, "all we men
and women become generous, quite suddenly. It is really a delightful
"You are to be envied," he agreed.
"It is the first Christmas number that starts me off," I told him;
"those beautiful pictures--the sweet child looking so pretty in her
furs, giving Bovril with her own dear little hands to the shivering
street arab; the good old red-faced squire shovelling out plum
pudding to the crowd of grateful villagers. It makes me yearn to
borrow a collecting box and go round doing good myself.
"And it is not only me--I should say I," I continued; "I don't want
you to run away with the idea that I am the only good man in the
world. That's what I like about Christmas, it makes everybody good.
The lovely sentiments we go about repeating! the noble deeds we do!
from a little before Christmas up to, say, the end of January! why
noting them down must be a comfort to you."
"Yes," he admitted, "noble deeds are always a great joy to me."
"They are to all of us," I said; "I love to think of all the good
deeds I myself have done. I have often thought of keeping a diary--
jotting them down each day. It would be so nice for one's children."
He agreed there was an idea in this.
"That book of yours," I said, "I suppose, now, it contains all the
good actions that we men and women have been doing during the last
six weeks?" It was a bulky looking volume.
Yes, he answered, they were all recorded in the book.
[The Author tells of his Good Deeds.]
It was more for the sake of talking of his than anything else that I
kept up with him. I did not really doubt his care and
conscientiousness, but it is always pleasant to chat about one's
self. "My five shillings subscription to the Daily Telegraph's
Sixpenny Fund for the Unemployed--got that down all right?" I asked
Yes, he replied, it was entered.
"As a matter of fact, now I come to think of it," I added, "it was
ten shillings altogether. They spelt my name wrong the first time."
Both subscriptions had been entered, he told me.
"Then I have been to four charity dinners," I reminded him; "I forget
what the particular charity was about. I know I suffered the next
morning. Champagne never does agree with me. But, then, if you
don't order it people think you can't afford it. Not that I don't
like it. It's my liver, if you understand. If I take more--"
He interrupted me with the assurance that my attendance had been
"Last week I sent a dozen photographs of myself, signed, to a charity
He said he remembered my doing so.
"Then let me see," I continued, "I have been to two ordinary balls.
I don't care much about dancing, but a few of us generally play a
little bridge; and to one fancy dress affair. I went as Sir Walter
Raleigh. Some men cannot afford to show their leg. What I say is,
if a man can, why not? It isn't often that one gets the opportunity
of really looking one's best."
He told me all three balls had been duly entered: and commented
"And, of course, you remember my performance of Talbot Champneys in
Our Boys the week before last, in aid of the Fund for Poor Curates,"
I went on. "I don't know whether you saw the notice in the Morning
He again interrupted me to remark that what the Morning Post man said
would be entered, one way or the other, to the critic of the Morning
Post, and had nothing to do with me. "Of course not," I agreed; "and
between ourselves, I don't think the charity got very much.
Expenses, when you come to add refreshments and one thing and
another, mount up. But I fancy they rather liked my Talbot
He replied that he had been present at the performance, and had made
his own report.
I also reminded him of the four balcony seats I had taken for the
monster show at His Majesty's in aid of the Fund for the Destitute
British in Johannesburg. Not all the celebrated actors and actresses
announced on the posters had appeared, but all had sent letters full
of kindly wishes; and the others--all the celebrities one had never
heard of--had turned up to a man. Still, on the whole, the show was
well worth the money. There was nothing to grumble at.
There were other noble deeds of mine. I could not remember them at
the time in their entirety. I seemed to have done a good many. But
I did remember the rummage sale to which I sent all my old clothes,
including a coat that had got mixed up with them by accident, and
that I believe I could have worn again.
And also the raffle I had joined for a motor-car.
The Angel said I really need not be alarmed, that everything had been
noted, together with other matters I, may be, had forgotten.
[The Angel appears to have made a slight Mistake.]
I felt a certain curiosity. We had been getting on very well
together--so it had seemed to me. I asked him if he would mind my
seeing the book. He said there could be no objection. He opened it
at the page devoted to myself, and I flew a little higher, and looked
down over his shoulder. I can hardly believe it, even now--that I
could have dreamt anything so foolish:
He had got it all down wrong!
Instead of to the credit side of my account he had put the whole bag
of tricks to my debit. He had mixed them up with my sins--with my
acts of hypocrisy, vanity, self-indulgence. Under the head of
Charity he had but one item to my credit for the past six months: my
giving up my seat inside a tramcar, late one wet night, to a dismal-
looking old woman, who had not had even the politeness to say "thank
you," she seemed just half asleep. According to this idiot, all the
time and money I had spent responding to these charitable appeals had
I was not angry with him, at first. I was willing to regard what he
had done as merely a clerical error.
"You have got the items down all right," I said (I spoke quite
friendly), "but you have made a slight mistake--we all do now and
again; you have put them down on the wrong side of the book. I only
hope this sort of thing doesn't occur often."
What irritated me as much as anything was the grave, passionless face
the Angel turned upon me.
"There is no mistake," he answered.
"No mistake!" I cried. "Why, you blundering--"
He closed the book with a weary sigh.
I felt so mad with him, I went to snatch it out of his hand. He did
not do anything that I was aware of, but at once I began falling.
The faint luminosity beneath me grew, and then the lights of London
seemed shooting up to meet me. I was coming down on the clock tower
at Westminster. I gave myself a convulsive twist, hoping to escape
it, and fell into the river.
And then I awoke.
But it stays with me: the weary sadness of the Angel's face. I
cannot shake remembrance from me. Would I have done better, had I
taken the money I had spent upon these fooleries, gone down with it
among the poor myself, asking nothing in return. Is this fraction of
our superfluity, flung without further thought or care into the
collection box, likely to satisfy the Impracticable Idealist, who
actually suggested--one shrugs one's shoulders when one thinks of it-
-that one should sell all one had and give to the poor?
[The Author is troubled concerning his Investments.]
Or is our charity but a salve to conscience--an insurance, at
decidedly moderate premium, in case, after all, there should happen
to be another world? Is Charity lending to the Lord something we can
so easily do without?
I remember a lady tidying up her house, clearing it of rubbish. She
called it "Giving to the Fresh Air Fund." Into the heap of lumber
one of her daughters flung a pair of crutches that for years had been
knocking about the house. The lady picked them out again.
"We won't give those away," she said, "they might come in useful
again. One never knows."
Another lady, I remember coming downstairs one evening dressed for a
fancy ball. I forget the title of the charity, but I remember that
every lady who sold more than ten tickets received an autograph
letter of thanks from the Duchess who was the president. The tickets
were twelve and sixpence each and included light refreshments and a
very substantial supper. One presumes the odd sixpence reached the
poor--or at least the noisier portion of them.
"A little decolletee, isn't it, my dear?" suggested a lady friend, as
the charitable dancer entered the drawing-room.
"Perhaps it is--a little," she admitted, "but we all of us ought to
do all we can for the Cause. Don't you think so, dear?"
Really, seeing the amount we give in charity, the wonder is there are
any poor left. It is a comfort that there are. What should we do
without them? Our fur-clad little girls! our jolly, red-faced
squires! we should never know how good they were, but for the poor?
Without the poor how could we be virtuous? We should have to go
about giving to each other. And friends expect such expensive
presents, while a shilling here and there among the poor brings to us
all the sensations of a good Samaritan. Providence has been very
thoughtful in providing us with poor.
Dear Lady Bountiful! does it not ever occur to you to thank God for
the poor? The clean, grateful poor, who bob their heads and curtsey
and assure you that heaven is going to repay you a thousandfold. One
does hope you will not be disappointed.
An East-End curate once told me, with a twinkle in his eye, of a
smart lady who called upon him in her carriage, and insisted on his
going round with her to show her where the poor hid themselves. They
went down many streets, and the lady distributed her parcels. Then
they came to one of the worst, a very narrow street. The coachman
gave it one glance.
"Sorry, my lady," said the coachman, "but the carriage won't go
The lady sighed.
"I am afraid we shall have to leave it," she said.
So the gallant greys dashed past.
Where the real poor creep I fear there is no room for Lady
Bountiful's fine coach. The ways are very narrow--wide enough only
for little Sister Pity, stealing softly.
I put it to my friend, the curate:
"But if all this charity is, as you say, so useless; if it touches
but the fringe; if it makes the evil worse, what would you do?"
[And questions a Man of Thought]
"I would substitute Justice," he answered; "there would be no need
"But it is so delightful to give," I answered.
"Yes," he agreed. "It is better to give than to receive. I was
thinking of the receiver. And my ideal is a long way off. We shall
have to work towards it slowly."
[Philosophy and the Daemon]
Philosophy, it has been said, is the art of bearing other people's
troubles. The truest philosopher I ever heard of was a woman. She
was brought into the London Hospital suffering from a poisoned leg.
The house surgeon made a hurried examination. He was a man of blunt
"It will have to come off," he told her.
"What, not all of it?"
"The whole of it, I am sorry to say," growled the house surgeon.
"Nothing else for it?"
"No other chance for you whatever," explained the house surgeon.
"Ah, well, thank Gawd it's not my 'ead," observed the lady.
The poor have a great advantage over us better-off folk. Providence
provides them with many opportunities for the practice of philosophy.
I was present at a "high tea" given last winter by charitable folk to
a party of char-women. After the tables were cleared we sought to
amuse them. One young lady, who was proud of herself as a palmist,
set out to study their "lines." At sight of the first toil-worn hand
she took hold of her sympathetic face grew sad.
"There is a great trouble coming to you," she informed the ancient
The placid-featured dame looked up and smiled:
"What, only one, my dear?"
"Yes, only one," asserted the kind fortune-teller, much pleased,
"after that all goes smoothly."
"Ah," murmured the old dame, quite cheerfully, "we was all of us a
Our skins harden to the blows of Fate. I was lunching one Wednesday
with a friend in the country. His son and heir, aged twelve, entered
and took his seat at the table.
"Well," said his father, "and how did we get on at school today?"
"Oh, all right," answered the youngster, settling himself down to his
dinner with evident appetite.
"Nobody caned?" demanded his father, with--as I noticed--a sly
twinkle in his eye.
"No," replied young hopeful, after reflection; "no, I don't think
so," adding as an afterthought, as he tucked into beef and potatoes,
"'cepting, o' course, me."
[When the Daemon will not work]
It is a simple science, philosophy. The idea is that it never
matters what happens to you provided you don't mind it. The weak
point in the argument is that nine times out of ten you can't help
"No misfortune can harm me," says Marcus Aurelius, "without the
consent of the daemon within me."
The trouble is our daemon cannot always be relied upon. So often he
does not seem up to his work.
"You've been a naughty boy, and I'm going to whip you," said nurse to
a four-year-old criminal.
"You tant," retorted the young ruffian, gripping with both hands the
chair that he was occupying, "I'se sittin' on it."
His daemon was, no doubt, resolved that misfortune, as personified by
nurse, should not hurt him. The misfortune, alas! proved stronger
than the daemon, and misfortune, he found did hurt him.
The toothache cannot hurt us so long as the daemon within us (that is
to say, our will power) holds on to the chair and says it can't.
But, sooner or later, the daemon lets go, and then we howl. One sees
the idea: in theory it is excellent. One makes believe. Your bank
has suddenly stopped payment. You say to yourself.
"This does not really matter."
Your butcher and your baker say it does, and insist on making a row
in the passage.
You fill yourself up with gooseberry wine. You tell yourself it is
seasoned champagne. Your liver next morning says it is not.
The daemon within us means well, but forgets it is not the only thing
there. A man I knew was an enthusiast on vegetarianism. He argued
that if the poor would adopt a vegetarian diet the problem of
existence would be simpler for them, and maybe he was right. So one
day he assembled some twenty poor lads for the purpose of introducing
to them a vegetarian lunch. He begged them to believe that lentil
beans were steaks, that cauliflowers were chops. As a third course
he placed before them a mixture of carrots and savoury herbs, and
urged them to imagine they were eating saveloys.
"Now, you all like saveloys," he said, addressing them, "and the
palate is but the creature of the imagination. Say to yourselves, 'I
am eating saveloys,' and for all practical purposes these things will
Some of the lads professed to have done it, but one disappointed-
looking youth confessed to failure.
"But how can you be sure it was not a saveloy?" the host persisted.
"Because," explained the boy, "I haven't got the stomach-ache."
It appeared that saveloys, although a dish of which he was fond,
invariably and immediately disagreed with him. If only we were all
daemon and nothing else philosophy would be easier. Unfortunately,
there is more of us.
Another argument much approved by philosophy is that nothing matters,
because a hundred years hence, say, at the outside, we shall be dead.
What we really want is a philosophy that will enable us to get along
while we are still alive. I am not worrying about my centenary; I am
worrying about next quarter-day. I feel that if other people would
only go away, and leave me--income-tax collectors, critics, men who
come round about the gas, all those sort of people--I could be a
philosopher myself. I am willing enough to make believe that nothing
matters, but they are not. They say it is going to be cut off, and
talk about judgment summonses. I tell them it won't trouble any of
us a hundred years hence. They answer they are not talking of a
hundred years hence, but of this thing that was due last April
twelvemonth. They won't listen to my daemon. He does not interest
them. Nor, to be candid, does it comfort myself very much, this
philosophical reflection that a hundred years later on I'll be sure
to be dead--that is, with ordinary luck. What bucks me up much more
is the hope that they will be dead. Besides, in a hundred years
things may have improved. I may not want to be dead. If I were sure
of being dead next morning, before their threat of cutting off that
water or that gas could by any possibility be carried out, before
that judgment summons they are bragging about could be made
returnable, I might--I don't say I should--be amused, thinking how I
was going to dish them. The wife of a very wicked man visited him
one evening in prison, and found him enjoying a supper of toasted
"How foolish of you, Edward," argued the fond lady, "to be eating
toasted cheese for supper. You know it always affects your liver.
All day long to-morrow you will be complaining."
"No, I shan't," interrupted Edward; "not so foolish as you think me.
They are going to hang me to-morrow--early."
There is a passage in Marcus Aurelius that used to puzzle me until I
hit upon the solution. A foot-note says the meaning is obscure.
Myself, I had gathered this before I read the foot-note. What it is
all about I defy any human being to explain. It might mean anything;
it might mean nothing. The majority of students incline to the
latter theory, though a minority maintain there is a meaning, if only
it could be discovered. My own conviction is that once in his life
Marcus Aurelius had a real good time. He came home feeling pleased
with himself without knowing quite why.
"I will write it down," he said to himself, "now, while it is fresh
in my mind."
It seemed to him the most wonderful thing that anybody had ever said.
Maybe he shed a tear or two, thinking of all the good he was doing,
and later on went suddenly to sleep. In the morning he had forgotten
all about it, and by accident it got mixed up with the rest of the
book. That is the only explanation that seems to me possible, and it
We are none of us philosophers all the time.
Philosophy is the science of suffering the inevitable, which most of
us contrive to accomplish without the aid of philosophy. Marcus
Aurelius was an Emperor of Rome, and Diogenes was a bachelor living
rent free. I want the philosophy of the bank clerk married on thirty
shillings a week, of the farm labourer bringing up a family of eight
on a precarious wage of twelve shillings. The troubles of Marcus
Aurelius were chiefly those of other people.
"Taxes will have to go up, I am afraid," no doubt he often sighed.
"But, after all, what are taxes? A thing in conformity with the
nature of man--a little thing that Zeus approves of, one feels sure.
The daemon within me says taxes don't really matter."
Maybe the paterfamilias of the period, who did the paying, worried
about new sandals for the children, his wife insisting she hadn't a
frock fit to be seen in at the amphitheatre; that, if there was one
thing in the world she fancied, it was seeing a Christian eaten by a
lion, but now she supposed the children would have to go without her,
found that philosophy came to his aid less readily.
"Bother these barbarians," Marcus Aurelius may have been tempted, in
an unphilosophical moment, to exclaim; "I do wish they would not burn
these poor people's houses over their heads, toss the babies about on
spears, and carry off the older children into slavery. Why don't
they behave themselves?"
But philosophy in Marcus Aurelius would eventually triumph over
"But how foolish of me to be angry with them," he would argue with
himself. "One is not vexed with the fig-tree for yielding figs, with
the cucumber for being bitter! One must expect barbarians to behave
Marcus Aurelius would proceed to slaughter the barbarians, and then
forgive them. We can most of us forgive our brother his
transgressions, having once got even with him. In a tiny Swiss
village, behind the angle of the school-house wall, I came across a
maiden crying bitterly, her head resting on her arm. I asked her
what had happened. Between her sobs she explained that a school
companion, a little lad about her own age, having snatched her hat
from her head, was at that moment playing football with it the other
side of the wall. I attempted to console her with philosophy. I
pointed out to her that boys would be boys--that to expect from them
at that age reverence for feminine headgear was to seek what was not
conformable with the nature of boy. But she appeared to have no
philosophy in her. She said he was a horrid boy, and that she hated
him. It transpired it was a hat she rather fancied herself in. He
peeped round the corner while we were talking, the hat in his hand.
He held it out to her, but she took no notice of him. I gathered the
incident was closed, and went my way, but turned a few steps further
on, curious to witness the end. Step by step he approached nearer,
looking a little ashamed of himself; but still she wept, her face
hidden in her arm.
He was not expecting it: to all seeming she stood there the
personification of the grief that is not to be comforted, oblivious
to all surroundings. Incautiously he took another step. In an
instant she had "landed" him over the head with a long narrow wooden
box containing, one supposes, pencils and pens. He must have been a
hard-headed youngster, the sound of the compact echoed through the
valley. I met her again on my way back.
"Hat much damaged?" I inquired.
"Oh, no," she answered, smiling; "besides, it was only an old hat.
I've got a better one for Sundays."
I often feel philosophical myself; generally over a good cigar after
a satisfactory dinner. At such times I open my Marcus Aurelius, my
pocket Epicurus, my translation of Plato's "Republic." At such times
I agree with them. Man troubles himself too much about the
unessential. Let us cultivate serenity. Nothing can happen to us
that we have not been constituted by Nature to sustain. That foolish
farm labourer, on his precarious wage of twelve shillings a week:
let him dwell rather on the mercies he enjoys. Is he not spared all
anxiety concerning safe investment of capital yielding four per
cent.? Is not the sunrise and the sunset for him also? Many of us
never see the sunrise. So many of our so-termed poorer brethen are
privileged rarely to miss that early morning festival. Let the
daemon within them rejoice. Why should he fret when the children cry
for bread? Is it not in the nature of things that the children of
the poor should cry for bread? The gods in their wisdom have
arranged it thus. Let the daemon within him reflect upon the
advantage to the community of cheap labour. Let the farm labourer
contemplate the universal good.
[Literature and the Middle Classes.]
I am sorry to be compelled to cast a slur upon the Literary
profession, but observation shows me that it still contains within
its ranks writers born and bred in, and moving amidst--if, without
offence, one may put it bluntly--a purely middle-class environment:
men and women to whom Park Lane will never be anything than the
shortest route between Notting Hill and the Strand; to whom Debrett's
Peerage --gilt-edged and bound in red, a tasteful-looking volume--
ever has been and ever will remain a drawing-room ornament and not a
social necessity. Now what is to become of these writers--of us, if
for the moment I may be allowed to speak as representative of this
rapidly-diminishing yet nevertheless still numerous section of the
world of Art and Letters? Formerly, provided we were masters of
style, possessed imagination and insight, understood human nature,
had sympathy with and knowledge of life, and could express ourselves
with humour and distinction, our pathway was, comparatively speaking,
free from obstacle. We drew from the middle-class life around us,
passed it through our own middle-class individuality, and presented
it to a public composed of middle-class readers.
But the middle-class public, for purposes of Art, has practically
disappeared. The social strata from which George Eliot and Dickens
drew their characters no longer interests the great B. P. Hetty
Sorrell, Little Em'ly, would be pronounced "provincial;" a Deronda or
a Wilfer Family ignored as "suburban."
I confess that personally the terms "provincial" and "suburban," as
epithets of reproach, have always puzzled me. I never met anyone
more severe on what she termed the "suburban note" in literature than
a thin lady who lived in a semi-detached villa in a by-street of
Hammersmith. Is Art merely a question of geography, and if so what
is the exact limit? Is it the four-mile cab radius from Charing
Cross? Is the cheesemonger of Tottenham Court Road of necessity a
man of taste, and the Oxford professor of necessity a Philistine? I
want to understand this thing. I once hazarded the direct question
to a critical friend:
"You say a book is suburban," I put it to him, "and there is an end
to the matter. But what do you mean by suburban?"
"Well," he replied, "I mean it is the sort of book likely to appeal
to the class that inhabits the suburbs." He lived himself in
[May a man of intelligence live, say, in Surbiton?]
"But there is Jones, the editor of The Evening Gentleman," I argued;
"he lives at Surbiton. It is just twelve miles from Waterloo. He
comes up every morning by the eight-fifteen and returns again by the
five-ten. Would you say that a book is bound to be bad because it
appeals to Jones? Then again, take Tomlinson: he lives, as you are
well aware, at Forest Gate which is Epping way, and entertains you on
Kakemonos whenever you call upon him. You know what I mean, of
course. I think 'Kakemono' is right. They are long things; they
look like coloured hieroglyphics printed on brown paper. He gets
behind them and holds them up above his head on the end of a stick so
that you can see the whole of them at once; and he tells you the name
of the Japanese artist who painted them in the year 1500 B.C., and
what it is all about. He shows them to you by the hour and forgets
to give you dinner. There isn't an easy chair in the house. To put
it vulgarly, what is wrong with Tomlinson from a high art point of
"There's a man I know who lives in Birmingham: you must have heard
of him. He is the great collector of Eighteenth Century caricatures,
the Rowlandson and Gilray school of things. I don't call them
artistic myself; they make me ill to look at them; but people who
understand Art rave about them. Why can't a man be artistic who has
got a cottage in the country?"
"You don't understand me," retorted my critical friend, a little
irritably, as I thought.
"I admit it," I returned. "It is what I am trying to do."
"Of course artistic people live in the suburbs," he admitted. "But
they are not of the suburbs."
"Though they may dwell in Wimbledon or Hornsey," I suggested, "they
sing with the Scotch bard: 'My heart is in the South-West postal
district. My heart is not here.'"
"You can put it that way if you like," he growled.
"I will, if you have no objection," I agreed. "It makes life easier
for those of us with limited incomes."
The modern novel takes care, however, to avoid all doubt upon the
subject. Its personages, one and all, reside within the half-mile
square lying between Bond Street and the Park--a neighbourhood that
would appear to be somewhat densely populated. True, a year or two
ago there appeared a fairly successful novel the heroine of which
resided in Onslow Gardens. An eminent critic observed of it that:
"It fell short only by a little way of being a serious contribution
to English literature." Consultation with the keeper of the cabman's
shelter at Hyde Park Corner suggested to me that the "little way" the
critic had in mind measures exactly eleven hundred yards. When the
nobility and gentry of the modern novel do leave London they do not
go into the provinces: to do that would be vulgar. They make
straight for "Barchester Towers," or what the Duke calls "his little
place up north"--localities, one presumes, suspended somewhere in
In every social circle exist great souls with yearnings towards
higher things. Even among the labouring classes one meets with
naturally refined natures, gentlemanly persons to whom the loom and
the plough will always appear low, whose natural desire is towards
the dignities and graces of the servants' hall. So in Grub Street we
can always reckon upon the superior writer whose temperament will
prompt him to make respectful study of his betters. A reasonable
supply of high-class novels might always have been depended upon; the
trouble is that the public now demands that all stories must be of
the upper ten thousand. Auld Robin Grey must be Sir Robert Grey,
South African millionaire; and Jamie, the youngest son of the old
Earl, otherwise a cultured public can take no interest in the ballad.
A modern nursery rhymester to succeed would have to write of Little
Lord Jack and Lady Jill ascending one of the many beautiful eminences
belonging to the ancestral estates of their parents, bearing between
them, on a silver rod, an exquisitely painted Sevres vase filled with
ottar of roses.
I take up my fourpenny-halfpenny magazine. The heroine is a youthful
Duchess; her husband gambles with thousand-pound notes, with the
result that they are reduced to living on the first floor of the
Carlton Hotel. The villain is a Russian Prince. The Baronet of a
simpler age has been unable, poor fellow, to keep pace with the
times. What self-respecting heroine would abandon her husband and
children for sin and a paltry five thousand a year? To the heroine
of the past--to the clergyman's daughter or the lady artist--he was
dangerous. The modern heroine misbehaves herself with nothing below
I turn to something less pretentious, a weekly periodical that my
wife tells me is the best authority she has come across on blouses.
I find in it what once upon a time would have been called a farce.
It is now a "drawing-room comedietta. All rights reserved." The
dramatis personae consist of the Earl of Danbury, the Marquis of
Rottenborough (with a past), and an American heiress--a character
that nowadays takes with lovers of the simple the place formerly
occupied by "Rose, the miller's daughter."
I sometimes wonder, is it such teaching as that of Carlyle and
Tennyson that is responsible for this present tendency of literature?
Carlyle impressed upon us that the only history worth consideration
was the life of great men and women, and Tennyson that we "needs must
love the highest." So literature, striving ever upward, ignores
plain Romola for the Lady Ponsonby de Tompkins; the provincialisms of
a Charlotte Bronte for what a certain critic, born before his time,
would have called the "doin's of the hupper succles."
The British Drama has advanced by even greater bounds. It takes
place now exclusively within castle walls, and--what Messrs. Lumley &
Co.'s circular would describe as--"desirable town mansions, suitable
for gentlemen of means." A living dramatist, who should know, tells
us that drama does not occur in the back parlour. Dramatists have,
it has been argued, occasionally found it there, but such may have
been dramatists with eyes capable of seeing through clothes.
I once wrote a play which I read to a distinguished Manager. He said
it was a most interesting play: they always say that. I waited,
wondering to what other manager he would recommend me to take it. To
my surprise he told me he would like it for himself--but with
"The whole thing wants lifting up," was his opinion. "Your hero is a
barrister: my public take no interest in plain barristers. Make him
the Solicitor General."
"But he's got to be amusing," I argued. "A Solicitor General is
My Manager pondered for a moment. "Let him be Solicitor General for
Ireland," he suggested.
I made a note of it.
"Your heroine," he continued, "is the daughter of a seaside lodging-
house keeper. My public do not recognize seaside lodgings. Why not
the daughter of an hotel proprietor? Even that will be risky, but we
might venture it." An inspiration came to him. "Or better still,
let the old man be the Managing Director of an hotel Trust: that
would account for her clothes."
Unfortunately I put the thing aside for a few months, and when I was
ready again the public taste had still further advanced. The doors
of the British Drama were closed for the time being on all but
members of the aristocracy, and I did not see my comic old man as a
Marquis, which was the lowest title that just then one dared to offer
to a low comedian.
Now how are we middle-class novelists and dramatists to continue to
live? I am aware of the obvious retort, but to us it absolutely is
necessary. We know only parlours: we call them drawing-rooms. At
the bottom of our middle-class hearts we regard them fondly: the
folding-doors thrown back, they make rather a fine apartment. The
only drama that we know takes place in such rooms: the hero sitting
in the gentleman's easy chair, of green repp: the heroine in the
lady's ditto, without arms--the chair, I mean. The scornful glances,
the bitter words of our middle-class world are hurled across these
three-legged loo-tables, the wedding-cake ornament under its glass
case playing the part of white ghost.
In these days, when "Imperial cement" is at a premium, who would dare
suggest that the emotions of a parlour can by any possibility be the
same as those exhibited in a salon furnished in the style of Louis
Quatorze; that the tears of Bayswater can possibly be compared for
saltness with the lachrymal fluid distilled from South Audley Street
glands; that the laughter of Clapham can be as catching as the
cultured cackle of Curzon Street? But we, whose best clothes are
exhibited only in parlours, what are we to do? How can we lay bare
the souls of Duchesses, explain the heart-throbs of peers of the
realm? Some of my friends who, being Conservative, attend Primrose
"tourneys" (or is it "Courts of love"? I speak as an outsider.
Something mediaeval, I know it is) do, it is true, occasionally
converse with titled ladies. But the period for conversation is
always limited owing to the impatience of the man behind; and I doubt
if the interview is ever of much practical use to them, as conveying
knowledge of the workings of the aristocratic mind. Those of us who
are not Primrose Knights miss even this poor glimpse into the world
above us. We know nothing, simply nothing, concerning the deeper
feelings of the upper ten. Personally, I once received a letter from
an Earl, but that was in connection with a dairy company of which his
lordship was chairman, and spoke only of his lordship's views
concerning milk and the advantages of the cash system. Of what I
really wished to know--his lordship's passions, yearnings and general
attitude to life--the circular said nothing.
Year by year I find myself more and more in a minority. One by one
my literary friends enter into this charmed aristocratic circle;
after which one hears no more from them regarding the middle-classes.
At once they set to work to describe the mental sufferings of Grooms
of the Bed-chamber, the hidden emotions of Ladies in their own right,
the religious doubts of Marquises. I want to know how they do it--
"how the devil they get there." They refuse to tell me.
Meanwhile, I see nothing before me but the workhouse. Year by year
the public grows more impatient of literature dealing merely with the
middle-classes. I know nothing about any other class. What am I to
Commonplace people--friends of mine without conscience, counsel me in
flippant phrase to "have a shot at it."
"I expect, old fellow, you know just as much about it as these other
Johnnies do." (I am not defending their conversation either as
regards style or matter: I am merely quoting.) "And even if you
don't, what does it matter? The average reader knows less. How is
he to find you out?"
But, as I explain to them, it is the law of literature never to write
except about what you really know. I want to mix with the
aristocracy, study them, understand them; so that I may earn my
living in the only way a literary man nowadays can earn his living,
namely, by writing about the upper circles.
I want to know how to get there.
[Man and his Master.]
There is one thing that the Anglo-Saxon does better than the "French,
or Turk, or Rooshian," to which add the German or the Belgian. When
the Anglo-Saxon appoints an official, he appoints a servant: when
the others put a man in uniform, they add to their long list of
masters. If among your acquaintances you can discover an American,
or Englishman, unfamiliar with the continental official, it is worth
your while to accompany him, the first time he goes out to post a
letter, say. He advances towards the post-office a breezy, self-
confident gentleman, borne up by pride of race. While mounting the
steps he talks airily of "just getting this letter off his mind, and
then picking up Jobson and going on to Durand's for lunch."
He talks as if he had the whole day before him. At the top of the
steps he attempts to push open the door. It will not move. He looks
about him, and discovers that is the door of egress, not of ingress.
It does not seem to him worth while redescending the twenty steps and
climbing another twenty. So far as he is concerned he is willing to
pull the door, instead of pushing it. But a stern official bars his
way, and haughtily indicates the proper entrance. "Oh, bother," he
says, and down he trots again, and up the other flight.
"I shall not be a minute," he remarks over his shoulder. "You can
wait for me outside."
But if you know your way about, you follow him in. There are seats
within, and you have a newspaper in your pocket: the time will pass
more pleasantly. Inside he looks round, bewildered. The German
post-office, generally speaking, is about the size of the Bank of
England. Some twenty different windows confront your troubled
friend, each one bearing its own particular legend. Starting with
number one, he sets to work to spell them out. It appears to him
that the posting of letters is not a thing that the German post-
office desires to encourage. Would he not like a dog licence
instead? is what one window suggests to him. "Oh, never mind that
letter of yours; come and talk about bicycles," pleads another. At
last he thinks he has found the right hole: the word "Registration"
he distinctly recognizes. He taps at the glass.
Nobody takes any notice of him. The foreign official is a man whose
life is saddened by a public always wanting something. You read it
in his face wherever you go. The man who sells you tickets for the
theatre! He is eating sandwiches when you knock at his window. He
turns to his companion:
"Good Lord!" you can see him say, "here's another of 'em. If there
has been one man worrying me this morning there have been a hundred.
Always the same story: all of 'em want to come and see the play.
You listen now; bet you anything he's going to bother me for tickets.
Really, it gets on my nerves sometimes."
At the railway station it is just the same.
"Another man who wants to go to Antwerp! Don't seem to care for
rest, these people: flying here, flying there, what's the sense of
it?" It is this absurd craze on the part of the public for letter-
writing that is spoiling the temper of the continental post-office
official. He does his best to discourage it.
"Look at them," he says to his assistant--the thoughtful German
Government is careful to provide every official with another official
for company, lest by sheer force of ennui he might be reduced to
taking interest in his work--"twenty of 'em, all in a row! Some of
'em been there for the last quarter of an hour.''
"Let 'em wait another quarter of an hour," advises the assistant;
"perhaps they'll go away."
"My dear fellow," he answers, "do you think I haven't tried that?
There's simply no getting rid of 'em. And it's always the same cry:
'Stamps! stamps! stamps!' 'Pon my word, I think they live on stamps,
some of 'em."
"Well let 'em have their stamps?" suggests the assistant, with a
burst of inspiration; "perhaps it will get rid of 'em."
[Why the Man in Uniform has, generally, sad Eyes.]
"What's the use?" wearily replies the older man. "There will only
come a fresh crowd when those are gone."
"Oh, well," argues the other, "that will be a change, anyhow. I'm
tired of looking at this lot."
I put it to a German post-office clerk once--a man I had been boring
for months. I said:
"You think I write these letters--these short stories, these three-
act plays--on purpose to annoy you. Do let me try to get the idea
out of your head. Personally, I hate work--hate it as much as you
do. This is a pleasant little town of yours: given a free choice, I
could spend the whole day mooning round it, never putting pen to
paper. But what am I to do? I have a wife and children. You know
what it is yourself: they clamour for food, boots--all sorts of
things. I have to prepare these little packets for sale and bring
them to you to send off. You see, you are here. If you were not
here--if there were no post-office in this town, maybe I'd have to
train pigeons, or cork the thing up in a bottle, fling it into the
river, and trust to luck and the Gulf Stream. But, you being here,
and calling yourself a post-office--well, it's a temptation to a
I think it did good. Anyhow, after that he used to grin when I
opened the door, instead of greeting me as formerly with a face the
picture of despair. But to return to our inexperienced friend.
At last the wicket is suddenly opened. A peremptory official demands
of him "name and address." Not expecting the question, he is a
little doubtful of his address, and has to correct himself once or
twice. The official eyes him suspiciously.
"Name of mother?" continues the official.
"Name of what?"
"Mother!" repeats the official. "Had a mother of some sort, I
He is a man who loved his mother sincerely while she lived, but she
has been dead these twenty years, and, for the life of him he cannot
recollect her name. He thinks it was Margaret Henrietta, but is not
at all sure. Besides, what on earth has his mother got to do with
this registered letter that he wants to send to his partner in New
"When did it die?" asks the official.
"When did what die? Mother?"
"No, no, the child."
"What child?" The indignation of the official is almost picturesque.
"All I want to do," explains your friend, "is to register a letter."
"This letter, I want--"
The window is slammed in his face. When, ten minutes later he does
reach the right wicket--the bureau for the registration of letters,
and not the bureau for the registration of infantile deaths--it is
pointed out to him that the letter either is sealed or that it is not
I have never been able yet to solve this problem. If your letter is
sealed, it then appears that it ought not to have been sealed.
If, on the other hand, you have omitted to seal it, that is your
fault. In any case, the letter cannot go as it is. The continental
official brings up the public on the principle of the nurse who sent
the eldest girl to see what Tommy was doing and tell him he mustn't.
Your friend, having wasted half an hour and mislaid his temper for
the day, decides to leave this thing over and talk to the hotel
porter about it. Next to the Burgomeister, the hotel porter is the
most influential man in the continental town: maybe because he can
swear in seven different languages. But even he is not omnipotent.
[The Traveller's one Friend.]
Three of us, on the point of starting for a walking tour through the
Tyrol, once sent on our luggage by post from Constance to Innsbruck.
Our idea was that, reaching Innsbruck in the height of the season,
after a week's tramp on two flannel shirts and a change of socks, we
should be glad to get into fresh clothes before showing ourselves in
civilized society. Our bags were waiting for us in the post-office:
we could see them through the grating. But some informality--I have
never been able to understand what it was--had occurred at Constance.
The suspicion of the Swiss postal authorities had been aroused, and
special instructions had been sent that the bags were to be delivered
up only to their rightful owners.
It sounds sensible enough. Nobody wants his bag delivered up to
anyone else. But it had not been explained to the authorities at
Innsbruck how they were to know the proper owners. Three wretched-
looking creatures crawled into the post-office and said they wanted
those three bags--"those bags, there in the corner"--which happened
to be nice, clean, respectable-looking bags, the sort of bags that
anyone might want. One of them produced a bit of paper, it is true,
which he said had been given to him as a receipt by the post-office
people at Constance. But in the lonely passes of the Tyrol one man,
set upon by three, might easily be robbed of his papers, and his body
thrown over a precipice. The chief clerk shook his head. He would
like us to return accompanied by someone who could identify us. The
hotel porter occurred to us, as a matter of course. Keeping to the
back streets, we returned to the hotel and fished him out of his box.
"I am Mr. J.," I said: "this is my friend Mr. B. and this is Mr. S."
The porter bowed and said he was delighted.
"I want you to come with us to the post-office," I explained, "and
The hotel porter is always a practical man: his calling robs him of
all sympathy with the hide-bound formality of his compatriots. He
put on his cap and accompanied us back to the office. He did his
best: no one could say he did not. He told them who we were: they
asked him how he knew. For reply he asked them how they thought he
knew his mother: he just knew us: it was second nature with him.
He implied that the question was a silly one, and suggested that, as
his time was valuable, they should hand us over the three bags and
have done with their nonsense.
They asked him how long he had known us. He threw up his hands with
an eloquent gesture: memory refused to travel back such distance.
It appeared there was never a time when he had not known us. We had
been boys together.
Did he know anybody else who knew us? The question appeared to him
almost insulting. Everybody in Innsbruck knew us, honoured us,
respected us--everybody, that is, except a few post-office officials,
people quite out of society.
Would he kindly bring along, say; one undoubtedly respectable citizen
who could vouch for our identity? The request caused him to forget
us and our troubles. The argument became a personal quarrel between
the porter and the clerk. If he, the porter, was not a respectable
citizen of Innsbruck, where was such an one to be found?
[The disadvantage of being an unknown Person.]
Both gentlemen became excited, and the discussion passed beyond my
understanding. But I gathered dimly from what the clerk said, that
ill-natured remarks relative to the porter's grandfather and a
missing cow had never yet been satisfactorily replied to: and, from
observations made by the porter, that stories were in circulation
about the clerk's aunt and a sergeant of artillery that should
suggest to a discreet nephew of the lady the inadvisability of
talking about other people's grandfathers.
Our sympathies were naturally with the porter: he was our man, but
he did not seem to be advancing our cause much. We left them
quarrelling, and persuaded the head waiter that evening to turn out
the gas at our end of the table d'hote.
The next morning we returned to the post-office by ourselves. The
clerk proved a reasonable man when treated in a friendly spirit. He
was a bit of a climber himself. He admitted the possibility of our
being the rightful owners. His instructions were only not to DELIVER
UP the bags, and he himself suggested a way out of the difficulty.
We might come each day and dress in the post-office, behind the
screen. It was an awkward arrangement, even although the clerk
allowed us the use of the back door. And occasionally, in spite of
the utmost care, bits of us would show outside the screen. But for a
couple of days, until the British Consul returned from Salzburg, the
post-office had to be our dressing room. The continental official, I
am inclined to think, errs on the side of prudence.
[If only we had not lost our Tails!]
A friend of mine thinks it a pity that we have lost our tails. He
argues it would be so helpful if, like the dog, we possessed a tail
that wagged when we were pleased, that stuck out straight when we
were feeling mad.
"Now, do come and see us again soon," says our hostess; "don't wait
to be asked. Drop in whenever you are passing."
We take her at her word. The servant who answers our knocking says
she "will see." There is a scuffling of feet, a murmur of hushed
voices, a swift opening and closing of doors. We are shown into the
drawing-room, the maid, breathless from her search, one supposes,
having discovered that her mistress IS at home. We stand upon the
hearthrug, clinging to our hat and stick as to things friendly and
sympathetic: the suggestion forcing itself upon us is that of a
visit to the dentist.
Our hostess enters wreathed in smiles. Is she really pleased to see
us, or is she saying to herself, "Drat the man! Why must he choose
the very morning I had intended to fix up the clean curtains?"
But she has to pretend to be delighted, and ask us to stay to lunch.
It would save us hours of anxiety could we look beyond her smiling
face to her tail peeping out saucily from a placket-hole. Is it
wagging, or is it standing out rigid at right angles from her skirt?
But I fear by this time we should have taught our tails polite
behaviour. We should have schooled them to wag enthusiastically the
while we were growling savagely to ourselves. Man put on insincerity
to hide his mind when he made himself a garment of fig-leaves to hide
One sometimes wonders whether he has gained so very much. A small
acquaintance of mine is being brought up on strange principles.
Whether his parents are mad or not is a matter of opinion. Their
ideas are certainly peculiar. They encourage him rather than
otherwise to tell the truth on all occasions. I am watching the
experiment with interest. If you ask him what he thinks of you, he
tells you. Some people don't ask him a second time. They say:
"What a very rude little boy you are!"
"But you insisted upon it," he explains; "I told you I'd rather not
It does not comfort them in the least. Yet the result is, he is
already an influence. People who have braved the ordeal, and emerged
successfully, go about with swelled head.
[And little Boys would always tell the Truth!]
Politeness would seem to have been invented for the comfort of the
undeserving. We let fall our rain of compliments upon the unjust and
the just without distinction. Every hostess has provided us with the
most charming evening of our life. Every guest has conferred a like
blessing upon us by accepting our invitation. I remember a dear good
lady in a small south German town organizing for one winter's day a
sleighing party to the woods. A sleighing party differs from a
picnic. The people who want each other cannot go off together and
lose themselves, leaving the bores to find only each other. You are
in close company from early morn till late at night. We were to
drive twenty miles, six in a sledge, dine together in a lonely
Wirtschaft, dance and sing songs, and afterwards drive home by
moonlight. Success depends on every member of the company fitting
into his place and assisting in the general harmony. Our
chieftainess was fixing the final arrangements the evening before in
the drawing-room of the pension. One place was still to spare.
Two voices uttered the name simultaneously; three others immediately
took up the refrain. Tompkins was our man--the cheeriest, merriest
companion imaginable. Tompkins alone could be trusted to make the
affair a success. Tompkins, who had only arrived that afternoon, was
pointed out to our chieftainess. We could hear his good-tempered
laugh from where we sat, grouped together at the other end of the
room. Our chieftainess rose, and made for him direct.
Alas! she was a short-sighted lady--we had not thought of that. She
returned in triumph, followed by a dismal-looking man I had met the
year before in the Black Forest, and had hoped never to meet again.
I drew her aside.
"Whatever you do," I said, "don't ask -- " (I forget his name. One
of these days I'll forget him altogether, and be happier. I will
call him Johnson.) "He would turn the whole thing into a funeral
before we were half-way there. I climbed a mountain with him once.
He makes you forget all your other troubles; that is the only thing
he is good for."
"But who is Johnson?" she demanded. "Why, that's Johnson," I
explained--"the thing you've brought over. Why on earth didn't you
leave it alone? Where's your woman's instinct?"
"Great heavens!" she cried, "I thought it was Tompkins. I've invited
him, and he's accepted."
She was a stickler for politeness, and would not hear of his being
told that he had been mistaken for an agreeable man, but that the
error, most fortunately, had been discovered in time. He started a
row with the driver of the sledge, and devoted the journey outwards
to an argument on the fiscal question. He told the proprietor of the
hotel what he thought of German cooking, and insisted on having the
windows open. One of our party--a German student--sang,
"Deutschland, Deutschland uber alles,"--which led to a heated
discussion on the proper place of sentiment in literature, and a
general denunciation by Johnson of Teutonic characteristics in
general. We did not dance. Johnson said that, of course, he spoke
only for himself, but the sight of middle-aged ladies and gentlemen
catching hold of each other round the middle and jigging about like
children was to him rather a saddening spectacle, but to the young
such gambolling was natural. Let the young ones indulge themselves.
Only four of our party could claim to be under thirty with any hope
of success. They were kind enough not to impress the fact upon us.
Johnson enlivened the journey back by a searching analysis of
enjoyment: Of what did it really consist?
Yet, on wishing him "Good-night," our chieftainess thanked him for
his company in precisely the same terms she would have applied to
Tompkins, who, by unflagging good humour and tact, would have made
the day worth remembering to us all for all time.
[And everyone obtained his just Deserts!]
We pay dearly for our want of sincerity. We are denied the payment
of praise: it has ceased to have any value. People shake me warmly
by the hand and tell me that they like my books. It only bores me.
Not that I am superior to compliment--nobody is--but because I cannot
be sure that they mean it. They would say just the same had they
never read a line I had written. If I visit a house and find a book
of mine open face downwards on the window-seat, it sends no thrill of
pride through my suspicious mind. As likely as not, I tell myself,
the following is the conversation that has taken place between my
host and hostess the day before my arrival:
"Don't forget that man J-- is coming down tomorrow."
"To-morrow! I wish you would tell me of these things a little
"I did tell you--told you last week. Your memory gets worse every
"You certainly never told me, or I should have remembered it. Is he
"Oh, no; writes books."
"What sort of books?--I mean, is he quite respectable?"
"Of course, or I should not have invited him. These sort of people
go everywhere nowadays. By the by, have we got any of his books
about the house?"
"I don't think so. I'll look and see. If you had let me know in
time I could have ordered one from Mudie's."
"Well, I've got to go to town; I'll make sure of it, and buy one."
"Seems a pity to waste money. Won't you be going anywhere near
"Looks more appreciative to have bought a copy. It will do for a
birthday present for someone."
On the other hand, the conversation may have been very different. My
hostess may have said:
"Oh, I AM glad he's coming. I have been longing to meet him for
She may have bought my book on the day of publication, and be reading
it through for the second time. She may, by pure accident, have left
it on her favourite seat beneath the window. The knowledge that
insincerity is our universal garment has reduced all compliment to
meaningless formula. A lady one evening at a party drew me aside.
The chief guest--a famous writer--had just arrived.
"Tell me," she said, "I have so little time for reading, what has he
I was on the point of replying when an inveterate wag, who had
overheard her, interposed between us.
"'The Cloister and the Hearth,'" he told her, "and 'Adam Bede.'"
He happened to know the lady well. She has a good heart, but was
ever muddle-headed. She thanked that wag with a smile, and I heard
her later in the evening boring most evidently that literary lion
with elongated praise of the "Cloister and the Hearth" and "Adam
Bede." They were among the few books she had ever read, and talking
about them came easily to her. She told me afterwards that she had
found that literary lion a charming man, but -
"Well," she laughed, "he has got a good opinion of himself. He told
me he considered both books among the finest in the English
It is as well always to make a note of the author's name. Some
people never do--more particularly playgoers. A well-known dramatic
author told me he once took a couple of colonial friends to a play of
his own. It was after a little dinner at Kettner's; they suggested
the theatre, and he thought he would give them a treat. He did not
mention to them that he was the author, and they never looked at the
programme. Their faces as the play proceeded lengthened; it did not
seem to be their school of comedy. At the end of the first act they
sprang to their feet.
"Let's chuck this rot," suggested one.
"Let's go to the Empire," suggested the other. The well-known
dramatist followed them out. He thinks the fault must have been with
A young friend of mine--a man of good family--contracted a
mesalliance: that is, he married the daughter of a Canadian farmer,
a frank, amiable girl, bewitchingly pretty, with more character in
her little finger than some girls possess in their whole body. I met
him one day, some three months after his return to London.
[And only people would do Parlour Tricks who do them well!]
"Well," I asked him, "how is it shaping?"
"She is the dearest girl in the world," he answered. "She has only
got one fault; she believes what people say."
"She will get over that," I suggested.
"I hope she does," he replied; "it's awkward at present."
"I can see it leading her into difficulty," I agreed.
"She is not accomplished," he continued. He seemed to wish to talk
about it to a sympathetic listener. "She never pretended to be
accomplished. I did not marry her for her accomplishments. But now
she is beginning to think she must have been accomplished all the
time, without knowing it. She plays the piano like a schoolgirl on a
parents' visiting-day. She told them she did not play--not worth
listening to--at least, she began by telling them so. They insisted
that she did, that they had heard about her playing, and were
thirsting to enjoy it. She is good nature itself. She would stand
on her head if she thought it would give real joy to anyone. She
took it they really wanted to hear her, and so let 'em have it. They
tell her that her touch is something quite out of the common--which
is the truth, if only she could understand it--why did she never
think of taking up music as a profession? By this time she is
wondering herself that she never did. They are not satisfied with
hearing her once. They ask for more, and they get it. The other
evening I had to keep quiet on my chair while she thumped through
four pieces one after the other, including the Beethoven Sonata. We
knew it was the Beethoven Sonata. She told us before she started it
was going to be the Beethoven Sonata, otherwise, for all any of us
could have guessed, it might have been the 'Battle of Prague.' We
all sat round with wooden faces, staring at our boots. Afterwards
those of them that couldn't get near enough to her to make a fool of
her crowded round me. Wanted to know why I had never told them I had
discovered a musical prodigy. I'll lose my temper one day and pull
somebody's nose, I feel I shall. She's got a recitation; whether
intended to be serious or comic I had never been able to make up my
mind. The way she gives it confers upon it all the disadvantages of
both. It is chiefly concerned with an angel and a child. But a dog
comes into it about the middle, and from that point onward it is
impossible to tell who is talking--sometimes you think it is the
angel, and then it sounds more like the dog. The child is the
easiest to follow: it talks all the time through its nose. If I
have heard that recitation once I have heard it fifty times; and now
she is busy learning an encore.
[And all the World had Sense!]
"What hurts me most," he went on, "is having to watch her making
herself ridiculous. Yet what am I to do? If I explain things to her
she will be miserable and ashamed of herself; added to which her
frankness--perhaps her greatest charm--will be murdered. The trouble
runs through everything. She won't take my advice about her frocks.
She laughs, and repeats to me--well, the lies that other women tell a
girl who is spoiling herself by dressing absurdly; especially when
she is a pretty girl and they are anxious she should go on spoiling
herself. She bought a hat last week, one day when I was not with
her. It only wants the candles to look like a Christmas tree. They
insist on her taking it off so they may examine it more closely, with
the idea of having one built like it for themselves; and she sits by
delighted, and explains to them the secret of the thing. We get to
parties half an hour before the opening time; she is afraid of being
a minute late. They have told her that the party can't begin without
her--isn't worth calling a party till she's there. We are always the
last to go. The other people don't matter, but if she goes they will
feel the whole thing has been a failure. She is dead for want of
sleep, and they are sick and tired of us; but if I look at my watch
they talk as if their hearts were breaking, and she thinks me a brute
for wanting to leave friends so passionately attached to us.
"Why do we all play this silly game; what is the sense of it?" he
wanted to know.
I could not tell him.
[Fire and the Foreigner.]
They are odd folk, these foreigners. There are moments of despair
when I almost give them up--feel I don't care what becomes of them--
feel as if I could let them muddle on in their own way--wash my hands
of them, so to speak, and attend exclusively to my own business: we
all have our days of feebleness. They will sit outside a cafe on a
freezing night, with an east wind blowing, and play dominoes. They
will stand outside a tramcar, rushing through the icy air at fifteen
miles an hour, and refuse to go inside, even to oblige a lady. Yet
in railway carriages, in which you could grill a bloater by the
simple process of laying it underneath the seat, they will insist on
the window being closed, light cigars to keep their noses warm, and
sit with the collars of their fur coats buttoned up around their
In their houses they keep the double windows hermetically sealed for
three or four months at a time: and the hot air quivering about the
stoves scorches your face if you venture nearer to it than a yard.
Travel can broaden the mind. It can also suggest to the Britisher
that in some respects his countrymen are nothing near so silly as
they are supposed to be. There was a time when I used to sit with my
legs stretched out before the English coal fire and listen with
respectful attention while people who I thought knew all about it
explained to me how wicked and how wasteful were our methods.
All the heat from that fire, they told me, was going up the chimney.
I did not like to answer them that notwithstanding I felt warm and
cosy. I feared it might be merely British stupidity that kept me
warm and cosy, not the fire at all. How could it be the fire? The
heat from the fire was going up the chimney. It was the glow of
ignorance that was making my toes tingle. Besides, if by sitting
close in front of the fire and looking hard at it, I did contrive, by
hypnotic suggestion, maybe, to fancy myself warm, what should I feel
like at the other end of the room?
It seemed like begging the question to reply that I had no particular
use for the other end of the room, that generally speaking there was
room enough about the fire for all the people I really cared for,
that sitting altogether round the fire seemed quite as sensible as
sulking by one's self in a corner the other end of the room, that the
fire made a cheerful and convenient focus for family and friends.
They pointed out to me how a stove, blocking up the centre of the
room, with a dingy looking fluepipe wandering round the ceiling,
would enable us to sit ranged round the walls, like patients in a
hospital waiting-room, and use up coke and potato-peelings.
Since then I have had practical experience of the scientific stove.
I want the old-fashioned, unsanitary, wasteful, illogical, open
fireplace. I want the heat to go up the chimney, instead of stopping
in the room and giving me a headache, and making everything go round.
When I come in out of the snow I want to see a fire--something that
says to me with a cheerful crackle, "Hallo, old man, cold outside,
isn't it? Come and sit down. Come quite close and warm your hands.
That's right, put your foot under him and persuade him to move a yard
or two. That's all he's been doing for the last hour, lying there
roasting himself, lazy little devil. He'll get softening of the
spine, that's what will happen to him. Put your toes on the fender.
The tea will be here in a minute."
[My British Stupidity.]
I want something that I can toast my back against, while standing
with coat tails tucked up and my hands in my pockets, explaining
things to people. I don't want a comfortless, staring, white thing,
in a corner of the room, behind the sofa--a thing that looks and
smells like a family tomb. It may be hygienic, and it may be hot,
but it does not seem to do me any good. It has its advantages: it
contains a cupboard into which you can put things to dry. You can
also forget them, and leave them there. Then people complain of a
smell of burning, and hope the house is not on fire, and you ease
their mind by explaining to them that it is probably only your boots.
Complicated internal arrangements are worked by a key. If you put on
too much fuel, and do not work this key properly, the thing explodes.
And if you do not put on any coal at all and the fire goes out
suddenly, then likewise it explodes. That is the only way it knows
of calling attention to itself. On the Continent you know when the
fire wants seeing to merely by listening:
"Sounded like the dining-room, that last explosion," somebody
"I think not," observes another, "I distinctly felt the shock behind
me--my bedroom, I expect."
Bits of ceiling begin to fall, and you notice that the mirror over
the sideboard is slowly coming towards you.
"Why it must be this stove," you say; "curious how difficult it is to
You snatch up the children and hurry out of the room. After a while,
when things have settled down, you venture to look in again. Maybe
it was only a mild explosion. A ten-pound note and a couple of
plumbers in the house for a week will put things right again. They
tell me they are economical, these German stoves, but you have got to
understand them. I think I have learnt the trick of them at last:
and I don't suppose, all told, it has cost me more than fifty pounds.
And now I am trying to teach the rest of the family. What I complain
about the family is that they do not seem anxious to learn.
"You do it," they say, pressing the coal scoop into my hand: "it
makes us nervous."
It is a pretty, patriarchal idea: I stand between the trusting,
admiring family and these explosive stoves that are the terror of
their lives. They gather round me in a group and watch me, the
capable, all-knowing Head who fears no foreign stove. But there are
days when I get tired of going round making up fires.
Nor is it sufficient to understand only one particular stove. The
practical foreigner prides himself upon having various stoves,
adapted to various work. Hitherto I have been speaking only of the
stove supposed to be best suited to reception rooms and bedrooms.
The hall is provided with another sort of stove altogether: an iron
stove this, that turns up its nose at coke and potato-peelings. If
you give it anything else but the best coal it explodes. It is like
living surrounded by peppery old colonels, trying to pass a peaceful
winter among these passionate stoves. There is a stove in the
kitchen to be used only for roasting: this one will not look at
anything else but wood. Give it a bit of coal, meaning to be kind,
and before you are out of the room it has exploded.
Then there is a trick stove specially popular in Belgium. It has a
little door at the top and another little door at the bottom, and
looks like a pepper-caster. Whether it is happy or not depends upon
those two little doors. There are times when it feels it wants the
bottom door shut and the top door open, or vice versa, or both open
at the same time, or both shut--it is a fussy little stove.
Ordinary intelligence does not help you much with this stove. You
want to be bred in the country. It is a question of instinct: you
have to have Belgian blood in your veins to get on comfortably with
it. On the whole, it is a mild little stove, this Belgian pet. It
does not often explode: it only gets angry, and throws its cover
into the air, and flings hot coals about the room. It lives,
generally speaking, inside an iron cupboard with two doors. When you
want it, you open these doors, and pull it out into the room. It
works on a swivel. And when you don't want it you try to push it
back again, and then the whole thing tumbles over, and the girl
throws her hands up to Heaven and says, "Mon Dieu!" and screams for
the cook and the femme journee, and they all three say "Mon Dieu!"
and fall upon it with buckets of water. By the time everything has
been extinguished you have made up your mind to substitute for it
just the ordinary explosive stove to which you are accustomed.
[I am considered Cold and Mad.]
In your own house you can, of course, open the windows, and thus
defeat the foreign stove. The rest of the street thinks you mad, but
then the Englishman is considered by all foreigners to be always mad.
It is his privilege to be mad. The street thinks no worse of you
than it did before, and you can breathe in comfort. But in the
railway carriage they don't allow you to be mad. In Europe, unless
you are prepared to draw at sight upon the other passengers, throw
the conductor out of the window, and take the train in by yourself,
it is useless arguing the question of fresh air. The rule abroad is
that if any one man objects to the window being open, the window
remains closed. He does not quarrel with you: he rings the bell,
and points out to the conductor that the temperature of the carriage
has sunk to little more than ninety degrees, Fahrenheit. He thinks a
window must be open.
The conductor is generally an old soldier: he understands being
shot, he understands being thrown out of window, but not the laws of
sanitation. If, as I have explained, you shoot him, or throw him out
on the permanent way, that convinces him. He leaves you to discuss
the matter with the second conductor, who, by your action, has now,
of course, become the first conductor. As there are generally half a
dozen of these conductors scattered about the train, the process of
educating them becomes monotonous. You generally end by submitting
to the law.
Unless you happen to be an American woman. Never did my heart go out
more gladly to America as a nation than one spring day travelling
from Berne to Vevey. We had been sitting for an hour in an
atmosphere that would have rendered a Dante disinclined to notice
things. Dante, after ten minutes in that atmosphere, would have lost
all interest in the show. He would not have asked questions. He
would have whispered to Virgil:
"Get me out of this, old man, there's a good fellow!"
[Sometimes I wish I were an American Woman.]
The carriage was crowded, chiefly with Germans. Every window was
closed, every ventilator shut. The hot air quivered round our feet
Seventeen men and four women were smoking, two children were sucking
peppermints, and an old married couple were eating their lunch,
consisting chiefly of garlic. At a junction, the door was thrown
open. The foreigner opens the door a little way, glides in, and
closes it behind him. This was not a foreigner, but an American
lady, en voyage, accompanied by five other American ladies. They
marched in carrying packages. They could not find six seats
together, so they scattered up and down the carriage. The first
thing that each woman did, the moment she could get her hands free,
was to dash for the nearest window and haul it down.
"Astonishes me," said the first woman, "that somebody is not dead in
Their idea, I think, was that through asphyxiation we had become
comatose, and, but for their entrance, would have died unconscious.
"It is a current of air that is wanted," said another of the ladies.
So they opened the door at the front of the carriage and four of them
stood outside on the platform, chatting pleasantly and admiring the
scenery, while two of them opened the door at the other end, and took
photographs of the Lake of Geneva. The carriage rose and cursed them
in six languages. Bells were rung: conductors came flying in. It
was all of no use. Those American ladies were cheerful but firm.
They argued with volubility: they argued standing in the open
doorway. The conductors, familiar, no doubt, with the American lady
and her ways, shrugged their shoulders and retired. The other
passengers undid their bags and bundles, and wrapped themselves up in
shawls and Jaeger nightshirts.
I met the ladies afterwards in Lausanne. They told me they had been
condemned to a fine of forty francs apiece. They also explained to
me that they had not the slightest intention of paying it.
[Too much Postcard.]
The postcard craze is dying out in Germany--the land of its birth--I
am told. In Germany they do things thoroughly, or not at all. The
German when he took to sending postcards abandoned almost every other
pursuit in life. The German tourist never knew where he had been
until on reaching home again he asked some friend or relation to
allow him to look over the postcards he had sent. Then it was he
began to enjoy his trip.
"What a charming old town!" the German tourist would exclaim. "I
wish I could have found time while I was there to have gone outside
the hotel and have had a look round. Still, it is pleasant to think
one has been there."
"I suppose you did not have much time?" his friend would suggest.
"We did not get there till the evening," the tourist would explain.
"We were busy till dark buying postcards, and then in the morning
there was the writing and addressing to be done, and when that was
over, and we had had our breakfast, it was time to leave again."
He would take up another card showing the panorama from a mountain
"Sublime! colossal!" he would cry enraptured. "If I had known it was
anything like that, I'd have stopped another day and had a look at
It was always worth seeing, the arrival of a party of German tourists
in a Schwartzwald village. Leaping from the coach they would surge
round the solitary gendarme.
"Where is the postcard shop?" "Tell us--we have only two hours--
where do we get postcards?"
The gendarme, scenting Trinkgeld, would head them at the double-
quick: stout old gentlemen unaccustomed to the double-quick, stouter
Frauen gathering up their skirts with utter disregard to all
propriety, slim Fraulein clinging to their beloved would run after
him. Nervous pedestrians would fly for safety into doorways,
careless loiterers would be swept into the gutter.
In the narrow doorway of the postcard shop trouble would begin. The
cries of suffocated women and trampled children, the curses of strong
men, would rend the air. The German is a peaceful, law-abiding
citizen, but in the hunt for postcards he was a beast. A woman would
pounce on a tray of cards, commence selecting, suddenly the tray
would be snatched from her. She would burst into tears, and hit the
person nearest to her with her umbrella. The cunning and the strong
would secure the best cards. The weak and courteous be left with
pictures of post offices and railway stations. Torn and dishevelled,
the crowd would rush back to the hotel, sweep crockery from the
table, and--sucking stumpy pencils--write feverishly. A hurried meal
would follow. Then the horses would be put to again, the German
tourists would climb back to their places and be driven away, asking
of the coachman what the name of the place they had just left might
happen to be.
[The Postcard as a Family Curse.]
One presumes that even to the patient German the thing grew tiresome.
In the Fliegende Blatter two young clerks were represented discussing
the question of summer holidays.
"Where are you going?" asks A of B.
"Nowhere," answers B.
"Can't you afford it?" asks the sympathetic A.
"Only been able to save up enough for the postcards," answers B,
gloomily; "no money left for the trip."
Men and women carried bulky volumes containing the names and
addresses of the people to whom they had promised to send cards.
Everywhere, through winding forest glade, by silver sea, on mountain
pathway, one met with prematurely aged looking tourists muttering as
"Did I send Aunt Gretchen a postcard from that last village that we
stopped at, or did I address two to Cousin Lisa?"
Then, again, maybe, the picture postcard led to disappointment.
Uninteresting towns clamoured, as ill-favoured spinsters in a
photographic studio, to be made beautiful.
"I want," says the lady, "a photograph my friends will really like.
Some of these second-rate photographers make one look quite plain. I
don't want you to flatter me, if you understand, I merely want
The obliging photographer does his best. The nose is carefully toned
down, the wart becomes a dimple, her own husband doesn't know her.
The postcard artist has ended by imagining everything as it might
"If it were not for the houses," says the postcard artist to himself,
"this might have been a picturesque old High street of mediaeval
So he draws a picture of the High street as it might have been. The
lover of quaint architecture travels out of his way to see it, and
when he finds it and contrasts it with the picture postcard he gets
mad. I bought a postcard myself once representing the market place
of a certain French town. It seemed to me, looking at the postcard,
that I hadn't really seen France--not yet. I travelled nearly a
hundred miles to see that market place. I was careful to arrive on
market day and to get there at the right time. I reached the market
square and looked at it. Then I asked a gendarme where it was.
He said it was there--that I was in it.
I said, "I don't mean this one, I want the other one, the picturesque
He said it was the only market square they had. I took the postcard
from my pocket.
"Where are all the girls?" I asked him.
"What girls?" he demanded.
[The Artist's Dream.]
"Why, these girls;" I showed him the postcard, there ought to have
been about a hundred of them. There was not a plain one among the
lot. Many of them I should have called beautiful. They were selling
flowers and fruit, all kinds of fruit--cherries, strawberries, rosy-
cheeked apples, luscious grapes--all freshly picked and sparkling
with dew. The gendarme said he had never seen any girls--not in this
particular square. Referring casually to the blood of saints and
martyrs, he said he would like to see a few girls in that town worth
looking at. In the square itself sat six motherly old souls round a
lamp-post. One of them had a moustache, and was smoking a pipe, but
in other respects, I have no doubt, was all a woman should be. Two
of them were selling fish. That is they would have sold fish, no
doubt, had anyone been there to buy fish. The gaily clad thousands
of eager purchasers pictured in the postcard were represented by two
workmen in blue blouses talking at a corner, mostly with their
fingers; a small boy walking backwards, with the idea apparently of
not missing anything behind him, and a yellow dog that sat on the
kerb, and had given up all hope--judging from his expression--of
anything ever happening again. With the gendarme and myself, these
four were the only living creatures in the square. The rest of the
market consisted of eggs and a few emaciated fowls hanging from a
sort of broom handle.
"And where's the cathedral?" I asked the gendarme. It was a Gothic
structure in the postcard of evident antiquity. He said there had
once been a cathedral. It was now a brewery; he pointed it out to
me. He said he thought some portion of the original south wall had
been retained. He thought the manager of the brewery might be
willing to show it to me.
"And the fountain?" I demanded, "and all these doves!"
He said there had been talk of a fountain. He believed the design
had already been prepared.
I took the next train back. I do not now travel much out of my way
to see the original of the picture postcard. Maybe others have had
like experience and the picture postcard as a guide to the Continent
has lost its value.
The dealer has fallen back upon the eternal feminine. The postcard
collector is confined to girls. Through the kindness of
correspondents I possess myself some fifty to a hundred girls, or
perhaps it would be more correct to say one girl in fifty to a
hundred different hats. I have her in big hats, I have her in small
hats, I have her in no hat at all. I have her smiling, and I have
her looking as if she had lost her last sixpence. I have her
overdressed, I have her decidedly underdressed, but she is much the
same girl. Very young men cannot have too many of her, but myself I
am getting tired of her. I suppose it is the result of growing old.
[Why not the Eternal Male for a change?]
Girls of my acquaintance are also beginning to grumble at her. I
often think it hard on girls that the artist so neglects the eternal
male. Why should there not be portraits of young men in different
hats; young men in big hats, young men in little hats, young men
smiling archly, young men looking noble. Girls don't want to
decorate their rooms with pictures of other girls, they want rows of
young men beaming down upon them.
But possibly I am sinning my mercies. A father hears what young men
don't. The girl in real life is feeling it keenly: the impossible
standard set for her by the popular artist.
"Real skirts don't hang like that," she grumbles, "it's not in the
nature of skirts. You can't have feet that size. It isn't our
fault, they are not made. Look at those waists! There would be no
room to put anything?"
"Nature, in fashioning woman, has not yet crept up to the artistic
ideal. The young man studies the picture on the postcard; on the
coloured almanack given away at Christmas by the local grocer; on the
advertisement of Jones' soap, and thinks with discontent of Polly
Perkins, who in a natural way is as pretty a girl as can be looked
for in this imperfect world. Thus it is that woman has had to take
to shorthand and typewriting. Modern woman is being ruined by the
[How Women are ruined by Art.]
Mr. Anstey tells a story of a young barber who fell in love with his
own wax model. All day he dreamed of the impossible. She--the young
lady of wax-like complexion, with her everlasting expression of
dignity combined with amiability. No girl of his acquaintance could
compete with her. If I remember rightly he died a bachelor, still
dreaming of wax-like perfection. Perhaps it is as well we men are
not handicapped to the same extent. If every hoarding, if every
picture shop window, if every illustrated journal teemed with
illustrations of the ideal young man in perfect fitting trousers that
never bagged at the knees! Maybe it would result in our cooking our
own breakfasts and making our own beds to the end of our lives.
The novelist and playwright, as it is, have made things difficult
enough for us. In books and plays the young man makes love with a
flow of language, a wealth of imagery, that must have taken him years
to acquire. What does the novel-reading girl think, I wonder, when
the real young man proposes to her! He has not called her anything
in particular. Possibly he has got as far as suggesting she is a
duck or a daisy, or hinting shyly that she is his bee or his
honeysuckle: in his excitement he is not quite sure which. In the
novel she has been reading the hero has likened the heroine to half
the vegetable kingdom. Elementary astronomy has been exhausted in
his attempt to describe to her the impression her appearance leaves
on him. Bond Street has been sacked in his endeavour to get it
clearly home to her what different parts of her are like--her eyes,
her teeth, her heart, her hair, her ears. Delicacy alone prevents
his extending the catalogue. A Fiji Island lover might possibly go
further. We have not yet had the Fiji Island novel. By the time he
is through with it she must have a somewhat confused notion of
herself--a vague conviction that she is a sort of condensed South
[Difficulty of living up to the Poster.]
Poor Angelina must feel dissatisfied with the Edwin of real life. I
am not sure that art and fiction have not made life more difficult
for us than even it was intended to be. The view from the mountain
top is less extensive than represented by the picture postcard. The
play, I fear me, does not always come up to the poster. Polly
Perkins is pretty enough as girls go; but oh for the young lady of
the grocer's almanack! Poor dear John is very nice and loves us--so
he tells us, in his stupid, halting way; but how can we respond when
we remember how the man loved in the play! The "artist has fashioned
his dream of delight," and the workaday world by comparison seems
tame to us.
[The Lady and the Problem.]
She is a good woman, the Heroine of the Problem Play, but accidents
will happen, and other people were to blame.
Perhaps that is really the Problem: who was responsible for the
heroine's past? Was it her father? She does not say so--not in so
many words. That is not her way. It is not for her, the silently-
suffering victim of complicated antecedent incidents, to purchase
justice for herself by pointing the finger of accusation against him
who, whatever his faults may be, was once, at all events, her father.
That one fact in his favour she can never forget. Indeed she would
not if she could. That one asset, for whatever it may be worth by
the time the Day of Judgment arrives, he shall retain. It shall not
be taken from him. "After all he was my father." She admits it,
with the accent on the "was." That he is so no longer, he has only
himself to blame. His subsequent behaviour has apparently rendered
it necessary for her to sever the relationship.
"I love you," she has probably said to him, paraphrasing Othello's
speech to Cassio; "it is my duty, and--as by this time you must be
aware--it is my keen if occasionally somewhat involved, sense of duty
that is the cause of almost all our troubles in this play. You will
always remain the object of what I cannot help feeling is misplaced
affection on my part, mingled with contempt. But never more be
relative of mine."
Certain it is that but for her father she would never have had a
past. Failing anyone else on whom to lay the blame for whatever the
lady may have done, we can generally fall back upon the father. He
becomes our sheet-anchor, so to speak. There are plays in which at
first sight it would almost appear there was nobody to blame--nobody,
except the heroine herself. It all seems to happen just because she
is no better than she ought to be: clearly, the father's fault! for
ever having had a daughter no better than she ought to be. As the
Heroine of a certain Problem Play once put it neatly and succinctly
to the old man himself: "It is you parents that make us children
what we are." She had him there. He had not a word to answer for
himself, but went off centre, leaving his hat behind him.
Sometimes, however, the father is merely a "Scientist"--which in
Stageland is another term for helpless imbecile. In Stageland, if a
gentleman has not got to have much brain and you do not know what
else to make of him, you let him be a scientist--and then, of course,
he is only to blame in a minor degree. If he had not been a
scientist--thinking more of his silly old stars or beetles than of
his intricate daughter, he might have done something. The heroine
does not say precisely what: perhaps have taken her up stairs now
and again, while she was still young and susceptible of improvement,
and have spanked some sense into her.
[The Stage Hero who, for once, had Justice done to him.]
I remember witnessing long ago, in a country barn, a highly moral
play. It was a Problem Play, now I come to think of it. At least,
that is, it would have been a Problem Play but that the party with
the past happened in this case to be merely a male thing. Stage life
presents no problems to the man. The hero of the Problem Play has
not got to wonder what to do; he has got to wonder only what the
heroine will do next. The hero--he was not exactly the hero; he
would have been the hero had he not been hanged in the last act. But
for that he was rather a nice young man, full of sentiment and not
ashamed of it. From the scaffold he pleaded for leave to embrace his
mother just once more before he died. It was a pretty idea. The
hangman himself was touched. The necessary leave was granted him.
He descended the steps and flung his arms round the sobbing old lady,
and--bit off her nose. After that he told her why he had bitten off
her nose. It appeared that when he was a boy, he had returned home
one evening with a rabbit in his pocket. Instead of putting him
across her knee, and working into him the eighth commandment, she had
said nothing; but that it seemed to be a fairly useful sort of
rabbit, and had sent him out into the garden to pick onions. If she
had done her duty by him then, he would not have been now in his
present most unsatisfactory position, and she would still have had
her nose. The fathers and mothers in the audience applauded, but the
children, scenting addition to precedent, looked glum.
Maybe it is something of this kind the heroine is hinting at.
Perhaps the Problem has nothing to do with the heroine herself, but
with the heroine's parents: what is the best way of bringing up a
daughter who shows the slightest sign of developing a tendency
towards a Past? Can it be done by kindness? And, if not, how much?
Occasionally the parents attempt to solve the Problem, so far as they
are concerned, by dying young--shortly after the heroine's birth. No
doubt they argue to themselves this is their only chance of avoiding
future blame. But they do not get out of it so easily.
"Ah, if I had only had a mother--or even a father!" cries the
heroine: one feels how mean it was of them to slip away as they did.
The fact remains, however, that they are dead. One despises them for
dying, but beyond that it is difficult to hold them personally
responsible for the heroine's subsequent misdeeds. The argument
takes to itself new shape. Is it Fate that is to blame? The lady
herself would seem to favour this suggestion. It has always been her
fate, she explains, to bring suffering and misery upon those she
loves. At first, according to her own account, she rebelled against
this cruel Fate--possibly instigated thereto by the people
unfortunate enough to he loved by her. But of late she has come to
accept this strange destiny of hers with touching resignation. It
grieves her, when she thinks of it, that she is unable to imbue those
she loves with her own patient spirit. They seem to be a fretful
Considered as a scapegoat, Fate, as compared with the father, has
this advantage: it is always about: it cannot slip away and die
before the real trouble begins: it cannot even plead a scientific
head; it is there all the time. With care one can blame it for most
everything. The vexing thing about it is, that it does not mind
being blamed. One cannot make Fate feel small and mean. It affords
no relief to our harrowed feelings to cry out indignantly to Fate:
"look here, what you have done. Look at this sweet and well-
proportioned lady, compelled to travel first-class, accompanied by an
amount of luggage that must be a perpetual nightmare to her maid,
from one fashionable European resort to another; forced to exist on a
well-secured income of, apparently, five thousand a year, most of
which has to go in clothes; beloved by only the best people in the
play; talked about by everybody incessantly to the exclusion of
everybody else--all the neighbours interested in her and in nobody
else much; all the women envying her; all the men tumbling over one
another after her--looks, in spite of all her worries, not a day
older than twenty-three; and has discovered a dressmaker never yet
known to have been an hour behind her promise! And all your fault,
yours, Fate. Will nothing move you to shame?"