Part 1 out of 4
This etext was prepared by Les Bowler, St. Ives, Dorset from the
1899 Hurst and Blackett edition.
The Second Thoughts of an Idle Fellow
On the art of making up one's mind.
On the disadvantage of not getting what one wants.
On the exceptional merit attaching to the things we meant to do.
On the preparation and employment of love philtres.
On the delights and benefits of slavery.
On the care and management of women.
On the minding of other people's business.
On the time wasted in looking before one leaps.
On the nobility of ourselves.
On the motherliness of man.
On the inadvisability of following advice.
On the playing of marches at the funerals of marionettes.
ON THE ART OF MAKING UP ONE'S MIND
"Now, which would you advise, dear? You see, with the red I shan't
be able to wear my magenta hat."
"Well then, why not have the grey?"
"Yes--yes, I think the grey will be MORE useful."
"It's a good material."
"Yes, and it's a PRETTY grey. You know what I mean, dear; not a
COMMON grey. Of course grey is always an UNINTERESTING colour."
"And then again, what I feel about the red is that it is so
warm-looking. Red makes you FEEL warm even when you're NOT warm.
You know what I mean, dear!"
"Well then, why not have the red? It suits you--red."
"No; do you really think so?"
"Well, when you've got a colour, I mean, of course!"
"Yes, that is the drawback to red. No, I think, on the whole, the
grey is SAFER."
"Then you will take the grey, madam?"
"Yes, I think I'd better; don't you, dear?"
"I like it myself very much."
"And it is good wearing stuff. I shall have it trimmed with--Oh!
you haven't cut it off, have you?"
"I was just about to, madam."
"Well, don't for a moment. Just let me have another look at the
red. You see, dear, it has just occurred to me--that chinchilla
would look so well on the red!"
"So it would, dear!"
"And, you see, I've got the chinchilla."
"Then have the red. Why not?"
"Well, there is the hat I'm thinking of."
"You haven't anything else you could wear with that?"
"Nothing at all, and it would go so BEAUTIFULLY with the grey.--Yes,
I think I'll have the grey. It's always a safe colour--grey."
"Fourteen yards I think you said, madam?"
"Yes, fourteen yards will be enough; because I shall mix it with--
One minute. You see, dear, if I take the grey I shall have nothing
to wear with my black jacket."
"Won't it go with grey?"
"Not well--not so well as with red."
"I should have the red then. You evidently fancy it yourself."
"No, personally I prefer the grey. But then one must think of
EVERYTHING, and--Good gracious! that's surely not the right time?"
"No, madam, it's ten minutes slow. We always keep our clocks a
"And we were too have been at Madame Jannaway's at a quarter past
twelve. How long shopping does take I--Why, whatever time did we
"About eleven, wasn't it?"
"Half-past ten. I remember now; because, you know, we said we'd
start at half-past nine. We've been two hours already!"
"And we don't seem to have done much, do we?"
"Done literally nothing, and I meant to have done so much. I must
go to Madame Jannaway's. Have you got my purse, dear? Oh, it's all
right, I've got it."
"Well, now you haven't decided whether you're going to have the grey
or the red."
"I'm sure I don't know what I do want now. I had made up my mind a
minute ago, and now it's all gone again--oh yes, I remember, the
red. Yes, I'll have the red. No, I don't mean the red, I mean the
"You were talking about the red last time, if you remember, dear."
"Oh, so I was, you're quite right. That's the worst of shopping.
Do you know I get quite
"Then you will decide on the red, madam?"
"Yes--yes, I shan't do any better, shall I, dear? What do you
think? You haven't got any other shades of red, have you? This is
such an ugly red."
The shopman reminds her that she has seen all the other reds, and
that this is the particular shade she selected and admired.
"Oh, very well," she replies, with the air of one from whom all
earthly cares are falling, "I must take that then, I suppose. I
can't be worried about it any longer. I've wasted half the morning
Outside she recollects three insuperable objections to the red, and
four unanswerable arguments why she should have selected the grey.
She wonders would they change it, if she went back and asked to see
the shopwalker? Her friend, who wants her lunch, thinks not.
"That is what I hate about shopping," she says. "One never has time
to really THINK."
She says she shan't go to that shop again.
We laugh at her, but are we so very much better? Come, my superior
male friend, have you never stood, amid your wardrobe, undecided
whether, in her eyes, you would appear more imposing, clad in the
rough tweed suit that so admirably displays your broad shoulders; or
in the orthodox black frock, that, after all, is perhaps more
suitable to the figure of a man approaching--let us say, the
nine-and-twenties? Or, better still, why not riding costume? Did
we not hear her say how well Jones looked in his top-boots and
breeches, and, "hang it all," we have a better leg than Jones. What
a pity riding-breeches are made so baggy nowadays. Why is it that
male fashions tend more and more to hide the male leg? As women
have become less and less ashamed of theirs, we have become more and
more reticent of ours. Why are the silken hose, the tight-fitting
pantaloons, the neat kneebreeches of our forefathers impossible
to-day? Are we grown more modest--or has there come about a falling
off, rendering concealment advisable?
I can never understand, myself, why women love us. It must be our
honest worth, our sterling merit, that attracts them--certainly not
our appearance, in a pair of tweed "dittos," black angora coat and
vest, stand-up collar, and chimney-pot hat! No, it must be our
sheer force of character that compels their admiration.
What a good time our ancestors must have had was borne in upon me
when, on one occasion, I appeared in character at a fancy dress
ball. What I represented I am unable to say, and I don't
particularly care. I only know it was something military. I also
remember that the costume was two sizes too small for me in the
chest, and thereabouts; and three sizes too large for me in the hat.
I padded the hat, and dined in the middle of the day off a chop and
half a glass of soda-water. I have gained prizes as a boy for
mathematics, also for scripture history--not often, but I have done
it. A literary critic, now dead, once praised a book of mine. I
know there have been occasions when my conduct has won the
approbation of good men; but never--never in my whole life, have I
felt more proud, more satisfied with myself than on that evening
when, the last hook fastened, I gazed at my full-length Self in the
cheval glass. I was a dream. I say it who should not; but I am not
the only one who said it. I was a glittering dream. The groundwork
was red, trimmed with gold braid wherever there was room for gold
braid; and where there was no more possible room for gold braid
there hung gold cords, and tassels, and straps. Gold buttons and
buckles fastened me, gold embroidered belts and sashes caressed me,
white horse-hair plumes waved o'er me. I am not sure that
everything was in its proper place, but I managed to get everything
on somehow, and I looked well. It suited me. My success was a
revelation to me of female human nature. Girls who had hitherto
been cold and distant gathered round me, timidly solicitous of
notice. Girls on whom I smiled lost their heads and gave themselves
airs. Girls who were not introduced to me sulked and were rude to
girls that had been. For one poor child, with whom I sat out two
dances (at least she sat, while I stood gracefully beside her--I had
been advised, by the costumier, NOT to sit), I was sorry. He was a
worthy young fellow, the son of a cotton broker, and he would have
made her a good husband, I feel sure. But he was foolish to come as
Perhaps, after all, it is as well those old fashions have gone out.
A week in that suit might have impaired my natural modesty.
One wonders that fancy dress balls are not more popular in this grey
age of ours. The childish instinct to "dress up," to "make
believe," is with us all. We grow so tired of being always
ourselves. A tea-table discussion, at which I once assisted, fell
into this:- Would any one of us, when it came to the point, change
with anybody else, the poor man with the millionaire, the governess
with the princess--change not only outward circumstances and
surroundings, but health and temperament, heart, brain, and soul; so
that not one mental or physical particle of one's original self one
would retain, save only memory? The general opinion was that we
would not, but one lady maintained the affirmative.
"Oh no, you wouldn't really, dear," argued a friend; "you THINK you
"Yes, I would," persisted the first lady; "I am tired of myself.
I'd even be you, for a change."
In my youth, the question chiefly important to me was--What sort of
man shall I decide to be? At nineteen one asks oneself this
question; at thirty-nine we say, "I wish Fate hadn't made me this
sort of man."
In those days I was a reader of much well-meant advice to young men,
and I gathered that, whether I should become a Sir Lancelot, a Herr
Teufelsdrockh, or an Iago was a matter for my own individual choice.
Whether I should go through life gaily or gravely was a question the
pros and cons of which I carefully considered. For patterns I
turned to books. Byron was then still popular, and many of us made
up our minds to be gloomy, saturnine young men, weary with the
world, and prone to soliloquy. I determined to join them.
For a month I rarely smiled, or, when I did, it was with a weary,
bitter smile, concealing a broken heart--at least that was the
intention. Shallow-minded observers misunderstood.
"I know exactly how it feels," they would say, looking at me
sympathetically, "I often have it myself. It's the sudden change in
the weather, I think;" and they would press neat brandy upon me, and
Again, it is distressing to the young man, busy burying his secret
sorrow under a mound of silence, to be slapped on the back by
commonplace people and asked--"Well, how's 'the hump' this morning?"
and to hear his mood of dignified melancholy referred to, by those
who should know better, as "the sulks."
There are practical difficulties also in the way of him who would
play the Byronic young gentleman. He must be supernaturally
wicked--or rather must have been; only, alas! in the unliterary
grammar of life, where the future tense stands first, and the past
is formed, not from the indefinite, but from the present indicative,
"to have been" is "to be"; and to be wicked on a small income is
impossible. The ruin of even the simplest of maidens costs money.
In the Courts of Love one cannot sue in forma pauperis; nor would it
be the Byronic method.
"To drown remembrance in the cup" sounds well, but then the "cup,"
to be fitting, should be of some expensive brand. To drink deep of
old Tokay or Asti is poetical; but when one's purse necessitates
that the draught, if it is to be deep enough to drown anything,
should be of thin beer at five-and-nine the four and a half gallon
cask, or something similar in price, sin is robbed of its flavour.
Possibly also--let me think it--the conviction may have been within
me that Vice, even at its daintiest, is but an ugly, sordid thing,
repulsive in the sunlight; that though--as rags and dirt to art--it
may afford picturesque material to Literature, it is an
evil-smelling garment to the wearer; one that a good man, by reason
of poverty of will, may come down to, but one to be avoided with all
one's effort, discarded with returning mental prosperity.
Be this as it may, I grew weary of training for a saturnine young
man; and, in the midst of my doubt, I chanced upon a book the hero
of which was a debonnaire young buck, own cousin to Tom and Jerry.
He attended fights, both of cocks and men, flirted with actresses,
wrenched off door-knockers, extinguished street lamps, played many a
merry jest upon many an unappreciative night watch-man. For all the
which he was much beloved by the women of the book. Why should not
I flirt with actresses, put out street lamps, play pranks on
policemen, and be beloved? London life was changed since the days
of my hero, but much remained, and the heart of woman is eternal.
If no longer prizefighting was to be had, at least there were boxing
competitions, so called, in dingy back parlours out Whitechapel way.
Though cockfighting was a lost sport, were there not damp cellars
near the river where for twopence a gentleman might back mongrel
terriers to kill rats against time, and feel himself indeed a
sportsman? True, the atmosphere of reckless gaiety, always
surrounding my hero, I missed myself from these scenes, finding in
its place an atmosphere more suggestive of gin, stale tobacco, and
nervous apprehension of the police; but the essentials must have
been the same, and the next morning I could exclaim in the very
words of my prototype--"Odds crickets, but I feel as though the
devil himself were in my head. Peste take me for a fool."
But in this direction likewise my fatal lack of means opposed me.
(It affords much food to the philosophic mind, this influence of
income upon character.) Even fifth-rate "boxing competitions,"
organized by "friendly leads," and ratting contests in Rotherhithe
slums, become expensive, when you happen to be the only gentleman
present possessed of a collar, and are expected to do the honours of
your class in dog's-nose. True, climbing lamp-posts and putting out
the gas is fairly cheap, providing always you are not caught in the
act, but as a recreation it lacks variety. Nor is the modern London
lamp-post adapted to sport. Anything more difficult to
grip--anything with less "give" in it--I have rarely clasped. The
disgraceful amount of dirt allowed to accumulate upon it is another
drawback from the climber's point of view. By the time you have
swarmed up your third post a positive distaste for "gaiety" steals
over you. Your desire is towards arnica and a bath.
Nor in jokes at the expense of policemen is the fun entirely on your
side. Maybe I did not proceed with judgment. It occurs to me now,
looking back, that the neighbourhoods of Covent Garden and Great
Marlborough Street were ill-chosen for sport of this nature. To
bonnet a fat policeman is excellent fooling. While he is struggling
with his helmet you can ask him comic questions, and by the time he
has got his head free you are out of sight. But the game should be
played in a district where there is not an average of three
constables to every dozen square yards. When two other policemen,
who have had their eye on you for the past ten minutes, are watching
the proceedings from just round the next corner, you have little or
no leisure for due enjoyment of the situation. By the time you have
run the whole length of Great Titchfield Street and twice round
Oxford Market, you are of opinion that a joke should never be
prolonged beyond the point at which there is danger of its becoming
wearisome; and that the time has now arrived for home and friends.
The "Law," on the other hand, now raised by reinforcements to a
strength of six or seven men, is just beginning to enjoy the chase.
You picture to yourself, while doing Hanover Square, the scene in
Court the next morning. You will be accused of being drunk and
disorderly. It will be idle for you to explain to the magistrate
(or to your relations afterwards) that you were only trying to live
up to a man who did this sort of thing in a book and was admired for
it. You will be fined the usual forty shillings; and on the next
occasion of your calling at the Mayfields' the girls will be out,
and Mrs. Mayfield, an excellent lady, who has always taken a
motherly interest in you, will talk seriously to you and urge you to
sign the pledge.
Thanks to your youth and constitution you shake off the pursuit at
Notting Hill; and, to avoid any chance of unpleasant contretemps on
the return journey, walk home to Bloomsbury by way of Camden Town
I abandoned sportive tendencies as the result of a vow made by
myself to Providence, during the early hours of a certain Sunday
morning, while clinging to the waterspout of an unpretentious house
situate in a side street off Soho. I put it to Providence as man to
man. "Let me only get out of this," I think were the muttered words
I used, "and no more 'sport' for me." Providence closed on the
offer, and did let me get out of it. True, it was a complicated
"get out," involving a broken skylight and three gas globes, two
hours in a coal cellar, and a sovereign to a potman for the loan of
an ulster; and when at last, secure in my chamber, I took stock of
myself--what was left of me,--I could not but reflect that
Providence might have done the job neater. Yet I experienced no
desire to escape the terms of the covenant; my inclining for the
future was towards a life of simplicity.
Accordingly, I cast about for a new character, and found one to suit
me. The German professor was becoming popular as a hero about this
period. He wore his hair long and was otherwise untidy, but he had
"a heart of steel," occasionally of gold. The majority of folks in
the book, judging him from his exterior together with his
conversation--in broken English, dealing chiefly with his dead
mother and his little sister Lisa,--dubbed him uninteresting, but
then they did not know about the heart. His chief possession was a
lame dog which he had rescued from a brutal mob; and when he was not
talking broken English he was nursing this dog.
But his speciality was stopping runaway horses, thereby saving the
heroine's life. This, combined with the broken English and the dog,
rendered him irresistible.
He seemed a peaceful, amiable sort of creature, and I decided to try
him. I could not of course be a German professor, but I could, and
did, wear my hair long in spite of much public advice to the
contrary, voiced chiefly by small boys. I endeavoured to obtain
possession of a lame dog, but failed. A one-eyed dealer in Seven
Dials, to whom, as a last resource, I applied, offered to lame one
for me for an extra five shillings, but this suggestion I declined.
I came across an uncanny-looking mongrel late one night. He was not
lame, but he seemed pretty sick; and, feeling I was not robbing
anybody of anything very valuable, I lured him home and nursed him.
I fancy I must have over-nursed him. He got so healthy in the end,
there was no doing anything with him. He was an ill-conditioned
cur, and he was too old to be taught. He became the curse of the
neighbourhood. His idea of sport was killing chickens and sneaking
rabbits from outside poulterers' shops. For recreation he killed
cats and frightened small children by yelping round their legs.
There were times when I could have lamed him myself, if only I could
have got hold of him. I made nothing by running that dog--nothing
whatever. People, instead of admiring me for nursing him back to
life, called me a fool, and said that if I didn't drown the brute
they would. He spoilt my character utterly--I mean my character at
this period. It is difficult to pose as a young man with a heart of
gold, when discovered in the middle of the road throwing stones at
your own dog. And stones were the only things that would reach and
I was also hampered by a scarcity in runaway horses. The horse of
our suburb was not that type of horse. Once and only once did an
opportunity offer itself for practice. It was a good opportunity,
inasmuch as he was not running away very greatly. Indeed, I doubt
if he knew himself that he was running away. It transpired
afterwards that it was a habit of his, after waiting for his driver
outside the Rose and Crown for what he considered to be a reasonable
period, to trot home on his own account. He passed me going about
seven miles an hour, with the reins dragging conveniently beside
him. He was the very thing for a beginner, and I prepared myself.
At the critical moment, however, a couple of officious policemen
pushed me aside and did it themselves.
There was nothing for me to regret, as the matter turned out. I
should only have rescued a bald-headed commercial traveller, very
drunk, who swore horribly, and pelted the crowd with empty
From the window of a very high flat I once watched three men,
resolved to stop a runaway horse. Each man marched deliberately
into the middle of the road and took up his stand. My window was
too far away for me to see their faces, but their attitude suggested
heroism unto death. The first man, as the horse came charging
towards him, faced it with his arms spread out. He never flinched
until the horse was within about twenty yards of him. Then, as the
animal was evidently determined to continue its wild career, there
was nothing left for him to do but to retire again to the kerb,
where he stood looking after it with evident sorrow, as though
saying to himself--"Oh, well, if you are going to be headstrong I
have done with you."
The second man, on the catastrophe being thus left clear for him,
without a moment's hesitation, walked up a bye street and
disappeared. The third man stood his ground, and, as the horse
passed him, yelled at it. I could not hear what he said. I have
not the slightest doubt it was excellent advice, but the animal was
apparently too excited even to listen. The first and the third man
met afterwards, and discussed the matter sympathetically. I judged
they were regretting the pig-headedness of runaway horses in
general, and hoping that nobody had been hurt.
I forget the other characters I assumed about this period. One, I
know, that got me into a good deal of trouble was that of a
downright, honest, hearty, outspoken young man who always said what
I never knew but one man who made a real success of speaking his
mind. I have heard him slap the table with his open hand and
"You want me to flatter you--to stuff you up with a pack of lies.
That's not me, that's not Jim Compton. But if you care for my
honest opinion, all I can say is, that child is the most marvellous
performer on the piano I've ever heard. I don't say she is a
genius, but I have heard Liszt and Metzler and all the crack
players, and I prefer HER. That's my opinion. I speak my mind, and
I can't help it if you're offended."
"How refreshing," the parents would say, "to come across a man who
is not afraid to say what he really thinks. Why are we not all
The last character I attempted I thought would be easy to assume.
It was that of a much admired and beloved young man, whose great
charm lay in the fact that he was always just--himself. Other
people posed and acted. He never made any effort to be anything but
his own natural, simple self.
I thought I also would be my own natural, simple self. But then the
question arose--What was my own natural, simple self?
That was the preliminary problem I had to solve; I have not solved
it to this day. What am I? I am a great gentleman, walking through
the world with dauntless heart and head erect, scornful of all
meanness, impatient of all littleness. I am a mean-thinking,
little-daring man--the type of man that I of the dauntless heart and
the erect head despise greatly--crawling to a poor end by devious
ways, cringing to the strong, timid of all pain. I--but, dear
reader, I will not sadden your sensitive ears with details I could
give you, showing how contemptible a creature this wretched I
happens to be. Nor would you understand me. You would only be
astonished, discovering that such disreputable specimens of humanity
contrive to exist in this age. It is best, my dear sir, or madam,
you should remain ignorant of these evil persons. Let me not
trouble you with knowledge.
I am a philosopher, greeting alike the thunder and the sunshine with
frolic welcome. Only now and then, when all things do not fall
exactly as I wish them, when foolish, wicked people will persist in
doing foolish, wicked acts, affecting my comfort and happiness, I
rage and fret a goodish deal.
As Heine said of himself, I am knight, too, of the Holy Grail,
valiant for the Truth, reverent of all women, honouring all men,
eager to yield life to the service of my great Captain.
And next moment, I find myself in the enemy's lines, fighting under
the black banner. (It must be confusing to these opposing Generals,
all their soldiers being deserters from both armies.) What are
women but men's playthings! Shall there be no more cakes and ale
for me because thou art virtuous! What are men but hungry dogs,
contending each against each for a limited supply of bones! Do
others lest thou be done. What is the Truth but an unexploded lie!
I am a lover of all living things. You, my poor sister, struggling
with your heavy burden on your lonely way, I would kiss the tears
from your worn cheeks, lighten with my love the darkness around your
feet. You, my patient brother, breathing hard as round and round
you tramp the trodden path, like some poor half-blind gin-horse,
stripes your only encouragement, scanty store of dry chaff in your
manger! I would jog beside you, taking the strain a little from
your aching shoulders; and we would walk nodding, our heads side by
side, and you, remembering, should tell me of the fields where long
ago you played, of the gallant races that you ran and won. And you,
little pinched brats, with wondering eyes, looking from
dirt-encrusted faces, I would take you in my arms and tell you fairy
stories. Into the sweet land of make-believe we would wander,
leaving the sad old world behind us for a time, and you should be
Princes and Princesses, and know Love.
But again, a selfish, greedy man comes often, and sits in my
clothes. A man who frets away his life, planning how to get more
money--more food, more clothes, more pleasures for himself; a man so
busy thinking of the many things he needs he has no time to dwell
upon the needs of others. He deems himself the centre of the
universe. You would imagine, hearing him grumbling, that the world
had been created and got ready against the time when he should come
to take his pleasure in it. He would push and trample, heedless,
reaching towards these many desires of his; and when, grabbing, he
misses, he curses Heaven for its injustice, and men and women for
getting in his path. He is not a nice man, in any way. I wish, as
I say, he would not come so often and sit in my clothes. He
persists that he is I, and that I am only a sentimental fool,
spoiling his chances. Sometimes, for a while, I get rid of him, but
he always comes back; and then he gets rid of me and I become him.
It is very confusing. Sometimes I wonder if I really am myself.
ON THE DISADVANTAGE OF NOT GETTING WHAT ONE WANTS
Long, long ago, when you and I, dear Reader, were young, when the
fairies dwelt in the hearts of the roses, when the moonbeams bent
each night beneath the weight of angels' feet, there lived a good,
wise man. Or rather, I should say, there had lived, for at the time
of which I speak the poor old gentleman lay dying. Waiting each
moment the dread summons, he fell a-musing on the life that
stretched far back behind him. How full it seemed to him at that
moment of follies and mistakes, bringing bitter tears not to himself
alone but to others also. How much brighter a road might it have
been, had he been wiser, had he known!
"Ah, me!" said the good old gentleman, "if only I could live my life
again in the light of experience."
Now as he spoke these words he felt the drawing near to him of a
Presence, and thinking it was the One whom he expected, raising
himself a little from his bed, he feebly cried,
"I am ready."
But a hand forced him gently back, a voice saying, "Not yet; I bring
life, not death. Your wish shall be granted. You shall live your
life again, and the knowledge of the past shall be with you to guide
you. See you use it. I will come again."
Then a sleep fell upon the good man, and when he awoke, he was again
a little child, lying in his mother's arms; but, locked within his
brain was the knowledge of the life that he had lived already.
So once more he lived and loved and laboured. So a second time he
lay an old, worn man with life behind him. And the angel stood
again beside his bed; and the voice said,
"Well, are you content now?"
"I am well content," said the old gentleman. "Let Death come."
"And have you understood?" asked the angel.
"I think so," was the answer; "that experience is but as of the
memory of the pathways he has trod to a traveller journeying ever
onward into an unknown land. I have been wise only to reap the
reward of folly. Knowledge has ofttimes kept me from my good. I
have avoided my old mistakes only to fall into others that I knew
not of. I have reached the old errors by new roads. Where I have
escaped sorrow I have lost joy. Where I have grasped happiness I
have plucked pain also. Now let me go with Death that I may
Which was so like the angel of that period, the giving of a gift,
bringing to a man only more trouble. Maybe I am overrating my
coolness of judgment under somewhat startling circumstances, but I
am inclined to think that, had I lived in those days, and had a
fairy or an angel come to me, wanting to give me something--my
soul's desire, or the sum of my ambition, or any trifle of that kind
I should have been short with him.
"You pack up that precious bag of tricks of yours," I should have
said to him (it would have been rude, but that is how I should have
felt), "and get outside with it. I'm not taking anything in your
line to-day. I don't require any supernatural aid to get me into
trouble. All the worry I want I can get down here, so it's no good
your calling. You take that little joke of yours,--I don't know
what it is, but I know enough not to want to know,--and run it off
on some other idiot. I'm not priggish. I have no objection to an
innocent game of 'catch-questions' in the ordinary way, and when I
get a turn myself. But if I've got to pay every time, and the
stakes are to be my earthly happiness plus my future existence--why,
I don't play. There was the case of Midas; a nice, shabby trick you
fellows played off upon him! making pretence you did not understand
him, twisting round the poor old fellow's words, just for all the
world as though you were a pack of Old Bailey lawyers, trying to
trip up a witness; I'm ashamed of the lot of you, and I tell you so-
-coming down here, fooling poor unsuspecting mortals with your
nonsense, as though we had not enough to harry us as it was. Then
there was that other case of the poor old peasant couple to whom you
promised three wishes, the whole thing ending in a black pudding.
And they never got even that. You thought that funny, I suppose.
That was your fairy humour! A pity, I say, you have not, all of
you, something better to do with your time. As I said before, you
take that celestial 'Joe Miller' of yours and work it off on
somebody else. I have read my fairy lore, and I have read my
mythology, and I don't want any of your blessings. And what's more,
I'm not going to have them. When I want blessings I will put up
with the usual sort we are accustomed to down here. You know the
ones I mean, the disguised brand--the blessings that no human being
would think were blessings, if he were not told; the blessings that
don't look like blessings, that don't feel like blessings; that, as
a matter of fact, are not blessings, practically speaking; the
blessings that other people think are blessings for us and that we
don't. They've got their drawbacks, but they are better than yours,
at any rate, and they are sooner over. I don't want your blessings
at any price. If you leave one here I shall simply throw it out
I feel confident I should have answered in that strain, and I feel
it would have done good. Somebody ought to have spoken plainly,
because with fairies and angels of that sort fooling about, no one
was ever safe for a moment. Children could hardly have been allowed
outside the door. One never could have told what silly trick some
would-be funny fairy might be waiting to play off on them. The poor
child would not know, and would think it was getting something worth
having. The wonder to me is that some of those angels didn't get
tarred and feathered.
I am doubtful whether even Cinderella's luck was quite as satisfying
as we are led to believe. After the carpetless kitchen and the
black beetles, how beautiful the palace must have seemed--for the
first year, perhaps for the first two. And the Prince! how loving,
how gallant, how tender--for the first year, perhaps for the first
two. And after? You see he was a Prince, brought up in a Court,
the atmosphere of which is not conducive to the development of the
domestic virtues; and she--was Cinderella. And then the marriage
altogether was rather a hurried affair. Oh yes, she is a good,
loving little woman; but perhaps our Royal Highness-ship did act too
much on the impulse of the moment. It was her dear, dainty feet
that danced their way into our heart. How they flashed and
twinkled, eased in those fairy slippers. How like a lily among
tulips she moved that night amid the over-gorgeous Court dames. She
was so sweet, so fresh, so different to all the others whom we knew
so well. How happy she looked as she put her trembling little hand
in ours. What possibilities might lie behind those drooping lashes.
And we were in amorous mood that night, the music in our feet, the
flash and glitter in our eyes. And then, to pique us further, she
disappeared as suddenly and strangely as she had come. Who was she?
Whence came she? What was the mystery surrounding her? Was she
only a delicious dream, a haunting phantasy that we should never
look upon again, never clasp again within our longing arms? Was our
heart to be for ever hungry, haunted by the memory of--No, by
heavens, she is real, and a woman. Here is her dear slipper, made
surely to be kissed. Of a size too that a man may well wear within
the breast of his doublet. Had any woman--nay, fairy, angel, such
dear feet! Search the whole kingdom through, but find her, find
her. The gods have heard our prayers, and given us this clue.
"Suppose she be not all she seemed. Suppose she be not of birth fit
to mate with our noble house!" Out upon thee, for an earth-bound,
blind curmudgeon of a Lord High Chancellor. How could a woman, whom
such slipper fitted, be but of the noblest and the best, as far
above us, mere Princelet that we are, as the stars in heaven are
brighter than thy dull old eyes! Go, search the kingdom, we tell
thee, from east to west, from north to south, and see to it that
thou findest her, or it shall go hard with thee. By Venus, be she a
swineherd's daughter, she shall be our Queen--an she deign to accept
of us, and of our kingdom.
Ah well, of course, it was not a wise piece of business, that goes
without saying; but we were young, and Princes are only human. Poor
child, she could not help her education, or rather her lack of it.
Dear little thing, the wonder is that she has contrived to be no
more ignorant than she is, dragged up as she was, neglected and
overworked. Nor does life in a kitchen, amid the companionship of
peasants and menials, tend to foster the intellect. Who can blame
her for being shy and somewhat dull of thought? not we, generous-
minded, kind-hearted Prince that we are. And she is very
affectionate. The family are trying, certainly; father-in-law not a
bad sort, though a little prosy when upon the subject of his
domestic troubles, and a little too fond of his glass; mamma-in-law,
and those two ugly, ill-mannered sisters, decidedly a nuisance about
the palace. Yet what can we do? they are our relations now, and
they do not forget to let us know it. Well, well, we had to expect
that, and things might have been worse. Anyhow she is not jealous--
So the day comes when poor little Cinderella sits alone of a night
in the beautiful palace. The courtiers have gone home in their
carriages. The Lord High Chancellor has bowed himself out
backwards. The Gold-Stick-in-Waiting and the Grooms of the Chamber
have gone to their beds. The Maids of Honour have said "Good-
night," and drifted out of the door, laughing and whispering among
themselves. The clock strikes twelve--one--two, and still no
footstep creaks upon the stair. Once it followed swiftly upon the
"good-night" of the maids, who did not laugh or whisper then.
At last the door opens, and the Prince enters, none too pleased at
finding Cinderella still awake. "So sorry I'm late, my love--
detained on affairs of state. Foreign policy very complicated,
dear. Have only just this moment left the Council Chamber."
And little Cinderella, while the Prince sleeps, lies sobbing out her
poor sad heart into the beautiful royal pillow, embroidered with the
royal arms and edged with the royal monogram in lace. "Why did he
ever marry me? I should have been happier in the old kitchen. The
black beetles did frighten me a little, but there was always the
dear old cat; and sometimes, when mother and the girls were out,
papa would call softly down the kitchen stairs for me to come up,
and we would have such a merry evening together, and sup off
sausages: dear old dad, I hardly ever see him now. And then, when
my work was done, how pleasant it was to sit in front of the fire,
and dream of the wonderful things that would come to me some day. I
was always going to be a Princess, even in my dreams, and live in a
palace, but it was so different to this. Oh, how I hate it, this
beastly palace where everybody sneers at me--I know they do, though
they bow and scrape, and pretend to be so polite. And I'm not
clever and smart as they are. I hate them. I hate these bold-faced
women who are always here. That is the worst of a palace, everybody
can come in. Oh, I hate everybody and everything. Oh, god-mamma,
god-mamma, come and take me away. Take me back to my old kitchen.
Give me back my old poor frock. Let me dance again with the fire-
tongs for a partner, and be happy, dreaming."
Poor little Cinderella, perhaps it would have been better had god-
mamma been less ambitious for you, dear; had you married some good,
honest yeoman, who would never have known that you were not
brilliant, who would have loved you because you were just amiable
and pretty; had your kingdom been only a farmhouse, where your
knowledge of domestic economy, gained so hardly, would have been
useful; where you would have shone instead of being overshadowed;
where Papa would have dropped in of an evening to smoke his pipe and
escape from his domestic wrangles; where you would have been REAL
But then you know, dear, you would not have been content. Ah yes,
with your present experience--now you know that Queens as well as
little drudges have their troubles; but WITHOUT that experience?
You would have looked in the glass when you were alone; you would
have looked at your shapely hands and feet, and the shadows would
have crossed your pretty face. "Yes," you would have said to
yourself--"John is a dear, kind fellow, and I love him very much,
and all that, but--" and the old dreams, dreamt in the old low-
ceilinged kitchen before the dying fire, would have come back to
you, and you would have been discontented then as now, only in a
different way. Oh yes, you would, Cinderella, though you gravely
shake your gold-crowned head. And let me tell you why. It is
because you are a woman, and the fate of all us, men and women
alike, is to be for ever wanting what we have not, and to be
finding, when we have it, that it is not what we wanted. That is
the law of life, dear. Do you think as you lie upon the floor with
your head upon your arms, that you are the only woman whose tears
are soaking into the hearthrug at that moment? My dear Princess, if
you could creep unseen about your City, peeping at will through the
curtain-shielded windows, you would come to think that all the world
was little else than a big nursery full of crying children with none
to comfort them. The doll is broken: no longer it sweetly squeaks
in answer to our pressure, "I love you, kiss me." The drum lies
silent with the drumstick inside; no longer do we make a brave noise
in the nursery. The box of tea-things we have clumsily put our foot
upon; there will be no more merry parties around the three-legged
stool. The tin trumpet will not play the note we want to sound; the
wooden bricks keep falling down; the toy cannon has exploded and
burnt our fingers. Never mind, little man, little woman, we will
try and mend things tomorrow.
And after all, Cinderella dear, you do live in a fine palace, and
you have jewels and grand dresses and--No, no, do not be indignant
with ME. Did not you dream of these things AS WELL AS of love?
Come now, be honest. It was always a prince, was it not, or, at the
least, an exceedingly well-to-do party, that handsome young
gentleman who bowed to you so gallantly from the red embers? He was
never a virtuous young commercial traveller, or cultured clerk,
earning a salary of three pounds a week, was he, Cinderella? Yet
there are many charming commercial travellers, many delightful
clerks with limited incomes, quite sufficient, however, to a
sensible man and woman desiring but each other's love. Why was it
always a prince, Cinderella? Had the palace and the liveried
servants, and the carriages and horses, and the jewels and the
dresses, NOTHING to do with the dream?
No, Cinderella, you were human, that is all. The artist, shivering
in his conventional attic, dreaming of Fame!-do you think he is not
hoping she will come to his loving arms in the form Jove came to
Danae? Do you think he is not reckoning also upon the good dinners
and the big cigars, the fur coat and the diamond studs, that her
visits will enable him to purchase?
There is a certain picture very popular just now. You may see it,
Cinderella, in many of the shop-windows of the town. It is called
"The Dream of Love," and it represents a beautiful young girl,
sleeping in a very beautiful but somewhat disarranged bed. Indeed,
one hopes, for the sleeper's sake, that the night is warm, and that
the room is fairly free from draughts. A ladder of light streams
down from the sky into the room, and upon this ladder crowd and
jostle one another a small army of plump Cupids, each one laden with
some pledge of love. Two of the Imps are emptying a sack of jewels
upon the floor. Four others are bearing, well displayed, a
magnificent dress (a "confection," I believe, is the proper term)
cut somewhat low, but making up in train what is lacking elsewhere.
Others bear bonnet boxes from which peep stylish toques and
bewitching hoods. Some, representing evidently wholesale houses,
stagger under silks and satins in the piece. Cupids are there from
the shoemakers with the daintiest of bottines. Stockings, garters,
and even less mentionable articles, are not forgotten. Caskets,
mirrors, twelve-buttoned gloves, scent-bottles and handkerchiefs,
hair-pins, and the gayest of parasols, has the God of Love piled
into the arms of his messengers. Really a most practical, up-to-
date God of Love, moving with the times! One feels that the modern
Temple of Love must be a sort of Swan and Edgar's; the god himself a
kind of celestial shop-walker; while his mother, Venus, no doubt
superintends the costume department. Quite an Olympian Whiteley,
this latter-day Eros; he has forgotten nothing, for, at the back of
the picture, I notice one Cupid carrying a rather fat heart at the
end of a string.
You, Cinderella, could give good counsel to that sleeping child.
You would say to her--"Awake from such dreams. The contents of a
pawnbroker's store-room will not bring you happiness. Dream of love
if you will; that is a wise dream, even if it remain ever a dream.
But these coloured beads, these Manchester goods! are you then--you,
heiress of all the ages--still at heart only as some poor savage
maiden but little removed above the monkeys that share the primeval
forest with her? Will you sell your gold to the first trader that
brings you THIS barter? These things, child, will only dazzle your
eyes for a few days. Do you think the Burlington Arcade is the gate
Ah, yes, I too could talk like that--I, writer of books, to the
young lad, sick of his office stool, dreaming of a literary career
leading to fame and fortune. "And do you think, lad, that by that
road you will reach Happiness sooner than by another? Do you think
interviews with yourself in penny weeklies will bring you any
satisfaction after the first halfdozen? Do you think the gushing
female who has read all your books, and who wonders what it must
feel like to be so clever, will be welcome to you the tenth time you
meet her? Do you think press cuttings will always consist of
wondering admiration of your genius, of paragraphs about your
charming personal appearance under the heading, 'Our Celebrities'?
Have you thought of the Uncomplimentary criticisms, of the spiteful
paragraphs, of the everlasting fear of slipping a few inches down
the greasy pole called 'popular taste,' to which you are condemned
to cling for life, as some lesser criminal to his weary tread-mill,
struggling with no hope but not to fall! Make a home, lad, for the
woman who loves you; gather one or two friends about you; work,
think, and play, that will bring you happiness. Shun this roaring
gingerbread fair that calls itself, forsooth, the 'World of art and
letters.' Let its clowns and its contortionists fight among
themselves for the plaudits and the halfpence of the mob. Let it be
with its shouting and its surging, its blare and its cheap flare.
Come away, the summer's night is just the other side of the hedge,
with its silence and its stars."
You and I, Cinderella, are experienced people, and can therefore
offer good advice, but do you think we should be listened to?
"Ah, no, my Prince is not as yours. Mine will love me always, and I
am peculiarly fitted for the life of a palace. I have the instinct
and the ability for it. I am sure I was made for a princess. Thank
you, Cinderella, for your well-meant counsel, but there is much
difference between you and me."
That is the answer you would receive, Cinderella; and my young
friend would say to me, "Yes, I can understand YOUR finding
disappointment in the literary career; but then, you see, our cases
are not quite similar. _I_ am not likely to find much trouble in
keeping my position. _I_ shall not fear reading what the critics
say of ME. No doubt there are disadvantages, when you are among the
ruck, but there is always plenty of room at the top. So thank you,
Besides, Cinderella dear, we should not quite mean it--this
excellent advice. We have grown accustomed to these gew-gaws, and
we should miss them in spite of our knowledge of their trashiness:
you, your palace and your little gold crown; I, my mountebank's cap,
and the answering laugh that goes up from the crowd when I shake my
bells. We want everything. All the happiness that earth and heaven
are capable of bestowing. Creature comforts, and heart and soul
comforts also; and, proud-spirited beings that we are, we will not
be put off with a part. Give us only everything, and we will be
content. And, after all, Cinderella, you have had your day. Some
little dogs never get theirs. You must not be greedy. You have
KNOWN happiness. The palace was Paradise for those few months, and
the Prince's arms were about you, Cinderella, the Prince's kisses on
your lips; the gods themselves cannot take THAT from you.
The cake cannot last for ever if we will eat of it so greedily.
There must come the day when we have picked hungrily the last crumb-
-when we sit staring at the empty board, nothing left of the feast,
Cinderella, but the pain that comes of feasting.
It is a naive confession, poor Human Nature has made to itself, in
choosing, as it has, this story of Cinderella for its leading
moral:--Be good, little girl. Be meek under your many trials. Be
gentle and kind, in spite of your hard lot, and one day--you shall
marry a prince and ride in your own carriage. Be brave and true,
little boy. Work hard and wait with patience, and in the end, with
God's blessing, you shall earn riches enough to come back to London
town and marry your master's daughter.
You and I, gentle Reader, could teach these young folks a truer
lesson, an we would. We know, alas! that the road of all the
virtues does not lead to wealth, rather the contrary; else how
explain our limited incomes? But would it be well, think you, to
tell them bluntly the truth--that honesty is the most expensive
luxury a man can indulge in; that virtue, if persisted in, leads,
generally speaking, to a six-roomed house in an outlying suburb?
Maybe the world is wise: the fiction has its uses.
I am acquainted with a fairly intelligent young lady. She can read
and write, knows her tables up to six times, and can argue. I
regard her as representative of average Humanity in its attitude
towards Fate; and this is a dialogue I lately overheard between her
and an older lady who is good enough to occasionally impart to her
the wisdom of the world--
"I've been good this morning, haven't I?"
"Yes--oh yes, fairly good, for you."
"You think Papa WILL take me to the circus to-night? "
"Yes, if you keep good. If you don't get naughty this afternoon."
"I was good on Monday, you may remember, nurse."
"VERY good, you said, nurse."
"Well, yes, you weren't bad."
"And I was to have gone to the pantomime, and I didn't."
"Well, that was because your aunt came up suddenly, and your Papa
couldn't get another seat. Poor auntie wouldn't have gone at all if
she hadn't gone then."
"Oh, wouldn't she?"
"Do you think she'll come up suddenly to-day?"
"Oh no, I don't think so."
"No, I hope she doesn't. I want to go to the circus to-night.
Because, you see, nurse, if I don't it will discourage me."
So, perhaps the world is wise in promising us the circus. We
believe her at first. But after a while, I fear, we grow
ON THE EXCEPTIONAL MERIT ATTACHING TO THE THINGS WE MEANT TO DO
I can remember--but then I can remember a long time ago. You,
gentle Reader, just entering upon the prime of life, that age by
thoughtless youth called middle, I cannot, of course, expect to
follow me--when there was in great demand a certain periodical
ycleped The Amateur. Its aim was noble. It sought to teach the
beautiful lesson of independence, to inculcate the fine doctrine of
self-help. One chapter explained to a man how he might make
flower-pots out of Australian meat cans; another how he might turn
butter-tubs into music-stools; a third how he might utilize old
bonnet boxes for Venetian blinds: that was the principle of the
whole scheme, you made everything from something not intended for
it, and as ill-suited to the purpose as possible.
Two pages, I distinctly recollect, were devoted to the encouragement
of the manufacture of umbrella stands out of old gaspiping.
Anything less adapted to the receipt of hats and umbrellas than
gas-piping I cannot myself conceive: had there been, I feel sure the
author would have thought of it, and would have recommended it.
Picture-frames you fashioned out of gingerbeer corks. You saved
your ginger-beer corks, you found a picture--and the thing was
complete. How much ginger-beer it would be necessary to drink,
preparatory to the making of each frame; and the effect of it upon
the frame-maker's physical, mental and moral well-being, did not
concern The Amateur. I calculate that for a fair-sized picture
sixteen dozen bottles might suffice. Whether, after sixteen dozen
of ginger-beer, a man would take any interest in framing a picture--
whether he would retain any pride in the picture itself, is
doubtful. But this, of course, was not the point.
One young gentleman of my acquaintance--the son of the gardener of
my sister, as friend Ollendorff would have described him--did
succeed in getting through sufficient ginger-beer to frame his
grandfather, but the result was not encouraging. Indeed, the
gardener's wife herself was but ill satisfied.
"What's all them corks round father?" was her first question.
"Can't you see," was the somewhat indignant reply, "that's the
"Oh! but why corks?"
"Well, the book said corks."
Still the old lady remained unimpressed.
"Somehow it don't look like father now," she sighed.
Her eldest born grew irritable: none of us appreciate criticism!
"What does it look like, then?" he growled.
"Well, I dunno. Seems to me to look like nothing but corks."
The old lady's view was correct. Certain schools of art possibly
lend themselves to this method of framing. I myself have seen a
funeral card improved by it; but, generally speaking, the
consequence was a predominance of frame at the expense of the thing
framed. The more honest and tasteful of the framemakers would admit
as much themselves.
"Yes, it is ugly when you look at it," said one to me, as we stood
surveying it from the centre of the room. "But what one feels about
it is that one has done it oneself."
Which reflection, I have noticed, reconciles us to many other things
beside cork frames.
Another young gentleman friend of mine--for I am bound to admit it
was youth that profited most by the advice and counsel of The
Amateur: I suppose as one grows older one grows less daring, less
industrious--made a rocking-chair, according to the instructions of
this book, out of a couple of beer barrels. From every practical
point of view it was a bad rocking-chair. It rocked too much, and
it rocked in too many directions at one and the same time. I take
it, a man sitting on a rocking-chair does not want to be continually
rocking. There comes a time when he says to himself--"Now I have
rocked sufficiently for the present; now I will sit still for a
while, lest a worse thing befall me." But this was one of those
headstrong rocking-chairs that are a danger to humanity, and a
nuisance to themselves. Its notion was that it was made to rock,
and that when it was not rocking, it was wasting its time. Once
started nothing could stop it--nothing ever did stop it, until it
found itself topsy turvy on its own occupant. That was the only
thing that ever sobered it.
I had called, and had been shown into the empty drawing-room. The
rocking-chair nodded invitingly at me. I never guessed it was an
amateur rocking-chair. I was young in those days, with faith in
human nature, and I imagined that, whatever else a man might attempt
without knowledge or experience, no one would be fool enough to
experiment upon a rocking-chair.
I threw myself into it lightly and carelessly. I immediately
noticed the ceiling. I made an instinctive movement forward. The
window and a momentary glimpse of the wooded hills beyond shot
upwards and disappeared. The carpet flashed across my eyes, and I
caught sight of my own boots vanishing beneath me at the rate of
about two hundred miles an hour. I made a convulsive effort to
recover them. I suppose I over-did it. I saw the whole of the room
at once, the four walls, the ceiling, and the floor at the same
moment. It was a sort of vision. I saw the cottage piano upside
down, and I again saw my own boots flash past me, this time over my
head, soles uppermost. Never before had I been in a position where
my own boots had seemed so all-pervading. The next moment I lost my
boots, and stopped the carpet with my head just as it was rushing
past me. At the same instant something hit me violently in the
small of the back. Reason, when recovered, suggested that my
assailant must be the rocking-chair.
Investigation proved the surmise correct. Fortunately I was still
alone, and in consequence was able, a few minutes later, to meet my
hostess with calm and dignity. I said nothing about the
rocking-chair. As a matter of fact, I was hoping to have the
pleasure, before I went, of seeing some other guest arrive and
sample it: I had purposely replaced it in the most prominent and
convenient position. But though I felt capable of schooling myself
to silence, I found myself unable to agree with my hostess when she
called for my admiration of the thing. My recent experiences had
too deeply embittered me.
"Willie made it himself," explained the fond mother. "Don't you
think it was very clever of him?"
"Oh yes, it was clever," I replied, "I am willing to admit that."
"He made it out of some old beer barrels," she continued; she seemed
proud of it.
My resentment, though I tried to keep it under control, was mounting
"Oh! did he?" I said; "I should have thought he might have found
something better to do with them."
"What?" she asked.
"Oh! well, many things," I retorted. "He might have filled them
again with beer."
My hostess looked at me astonished. I felt some reason for my tone
"You see," I explained, "it is not a well-made chair. These rockers
are too short, and they are too curved, and one of them, if you
notice, is higher than the other and of a smaller radius; the back
is at too obtuse an angle. When it is occupied the centre of
My hostess interrupted me.
"You have been sitting on it," she said.
"Not for long," I assured her.
Her tone changed. She became apologetic.
"I am so sorry," she said. "It looks all right."
"It does," I agreed; "that is where the dear lad's cleverness
displays itself. Its appearance disarms suspicion. With judgment
that chair might be made to serve a really useful purpose. There
are mutual acquaintances of ours--I mention no names, you will know
them--pompous, self-satisfied, superior persons who would be
improved by that chair. If I were Willie I should disguise the
mechanism with some artistic drapery, bait the thing with a couple
of exceptionally inviting cushions, and employ it to inculcate
modesty and diffidence. I defy any human being to get out of that
chair, feeling as important as when he got into it. What the dear
boy has done has been to construct an automatic exponent of the
transitory nature of human greatness. As a moral agency that chair
should prove a blessing in disguise."
My hostess smiled feebly; more, I fear, from politeness than genuine
"I think you are too severe," she said. "When you remember that the
boy has never tried his hand at anything of the kind before, that he
has no knowledge and no experience, it really is not so bad."
Considering the matter from that point of view I was bound to
concur. I did not like to suggest to her that before entering upon
a difficult task it would be better for young men to ACQUIRE
knowledge and experience: that is so unpopular a theory.
But the thing that The Amateur put in the front and foremost of its
propaganda was the manufacture of household furniture out of
egg-boxes. Why egg-boxes I have never been able to understand, but
egg-boxes, according to the prescription of The Amateur, formed the
foundation of household existence. With a sufficient supply of
egg-boxes, and what The Amateur termed a "natural deftness," no
young couple need hesitate to face the furnishing problem. Three
egg-boxes made a writing-table; on another egg-box you sat to write;
your books were ranged in egg-boxes around you--and there was your
For the dining-room two egg-boxes made an overmantel; four egg-boxes
and a piece of looking-glass a sideboard; while six egg-boxes, with
some wadding and a yard or so of cretonne, constituted a so-called
"cosy corner." About the "corner" there could be no possible doubt.
You sat on a corner, you leant against a corner; whichever way you
moved you struck a fresh corner. The "cosiness," however, I deny.
Egg-boxes I admit can be made useful; I am even prepared to imagine
them ornamental; but "cosy," no. I have sampled egg-boxes in many
shapes. I speak of years ago, when the world and we were younger,
when our fortune was the Future; secure in which, we hesitated not
to set up house upon incomes folks with lesser expectations might
have deemed insufficient. Under such circumstances, the sole
alternative to the egg-box, or similar school of furniture, would
have been the strictly classical, consisting of a doorway joined to
I have from Saturday to Monday, as honoured guest, hung my clothes
I have sat on an egg-box at an egg-box to take my dish of tea. I
have made love on egg-boxes.--Aye, and to feel again the blood
running through my veins as then it ran, I would be content to sit
only on egg-boxes till the time should come when I could be buried
in an egg-box, with an egg-box reared above me as tombstone.--I have
spent many an evening on an egg-box; I have gone to bed in
egg-boxes. They have their points--I am intending no pun--but to
claim for them cosiness would be but to deceive.
How quaint they were, those home-made rooms! They rise out of the
shadows and shape themselves again before my eyes. I see the
knobbly sofa; the easy-chairs that might have been designed by the
Grand Inquisitor himself; the dented settle that was a bed by night;
the few blue plates, purchased in the slums off Wardour Street; the
enamelled stool to which one always stuck; the mirror framed in
silk; the two Japanese fans crossed beneath each cheap engraving;
the piano cloth embroidered in peacock's feathers by Annie's sister;
the tea-cloth worked by Cousin Jenny. We dreamt, sitting on those
egg-boxes--for we were young ladies and gentlemen with artistic
taste--of the days when we would eat in Chippendale dining-rooms;
sip our coffee in Louis Quatorze drawing-rooms; and be happy. Well,
we have got on, some of us, since then, as Mr. Bumpus used to say;
and I notice, when on visits, that some of us have contrived so that
we do sit on Chippendale chairs, at Sheraton dining-tables, and are
warmed from Adam's fireplaces; but, ah me, where are the dreams, the
hopes, the enthusiasms that clung like the scent of a March morning
about those gim-crack second floors? In the dustbin, I fear, with
the cretonne-covered egg-boxes and the penny fans. Fate is so
terribly even-handed. As she gives she ever takes away. She flung
us a few shillings and hope, where now she doles us out pounds and
fears. Why did not we know how happy we were, sitting crowned with
sweet conceit upon our egg-box thrones?
Yes, Dick, you have climbed well. You edit a great newspaper. You
spread abroad the message--well, the message that Sir Joseph
Goldbug, your proprietor, instructs you to spread abroad. You teach
mankind the lessons that Sir Joseph Goldbug wishes them to learn.
They say he is to have a peerage next year. I am sure he has earned
it; and perhaps there may be a knighthood for you, Dick.
Tom, you are getting on now. You have abandoned those unsaleable
allegories. What rich art patron cares to be told continually by
his own walls that Midas had ass's ears; that Lazarus sits ever at
the gate? You paint portraits now, and everybody tells me you are
the coming man. That "Impression" of old Lady Jezebel was really
wonderful. The woman looks quite handsome, and yet it is her
ladyship. Your touch is truly marvellous.
But into your success, Tom--Dick, old friend, do not there creep
moments when you would that we could fish up those old egg-boxes
from the past, refurnish with them the dingy rooms in Camden Town,
and find there our youth, our loves, and our beliefs?
An incident brought back to my mind, the other day, the thought of
all these things. I called for the first time upon a man, an actor,
who had asked me to come and see him in the little home where he
lives with his old father. To my astonishment--for the craze, I
believe, has long since died out--I found the house half furnished
out of packing cases, butter tubs, and egg-boxes. My friend earns
his twenty pounds a week, but it was the old father's hobby, so he
explained to me, the making of these monstrosities; and of them he
was as proud as though they were specimen furniture out of the South
He took me into the dining-room to show me the latest outrage--a new
book-case. A greater disfigurement to the room, which was otherwise
prettily furnished, could hardly be imagined. There was no need for
him to assure me, as he did, that it had been made out of nothing
but egg-boxes. One could see at a glance that it was made out of
egg-boxes, and badly constructed egg-boxes at that--egg-boxes that
were a disgrace to the firm that had turned them out; egg-boxes not
worthy the storage of "shop 'uns" at eighteen the shilling.
We went upstairs to my friend's bedroom. He opened the door as a
man might open the door of a museum of gems.
"The old boy," he said, as he stood with his hand upon the
door-knob, "made everything you see here, everything," and we
entered. He drew my attention to the wardrobe. "Now I will hold it
up," he said, "while you pull the door open; I think the floor must
be a bit uneven, it wobbles if you are not careful." It wobbled
notwithstanding, but by coaxing and humouring we succeeded without
mishap. I was surprised to notice a very small supply of clothes
within, although my friend is a dressy man.
"You see," he explained, "I dare not use it more than I can help. I
am a clumsy chap, and as likely as not, if I happened to be in a
hurry, I'd have the whole thing over:" which seemed probable.
I asked him how he contrived. "I dress in the bath-room as a rule,"
he replied; "I keep most of my things there. Of course the old boy
He showed me a chest of drawers. One drawer stood half open.
"I'm bound to leave that drawer open," he said; "I keep the things I
use in that. They don't shut quite easily, these drawers; or
rather, they shut all right, but then they won't open. It is the
weather, I think. They will open and shut all right in the summer,
I dare say." He is of a hopeful disposition.
But the pride of the room was the washstand.
"What do you think of this?" cried he enthusiastically, "real marble
He did not expatiate further. In his excitement he had laid his
hand upon the thing, with the natural result that it collapsed.
More by accident than design I caught the jug in my arms. I also
caught the water it contained. The basin rolled on its edge and
little damage was done, except to me and the soap-box.
I could not pump up much admiration for this washstand; I was
feeling too wet.
"What do you do when you want to wash?" I asked, as together we
reset the trap.
There fell upon him the manner of a conspirator revealing secrets.
He glanced guiltily round the room; then, creeping on tip-toe, he
opened a cupboard behind the bed. Within was a tin basin and a
"Don't tell the old boy," he said. "I keep these things here, and
wash on the floor."
That was the best thing I myself ever got out of egg-boxes--that
picture of a deceitful son stealthily washing himself upon the floor
behind the bed, trembling at every footstep lest it might be the
"old boy" coming to the door.
One wonders whether the Ten Commandments are so all-sufficient as we
good folk deem them--whether the eleventh is not worth the whole
pack of them: "that ye love one another" with just a common-place,
human, practical love. Could not the other ten be comfortably
stowed away into a corner of that! One is inclined, in one's
anarchic moments, to agree with Louis Stevenson, that to be amiable
and cheerful is a good religion for a work-a-day world. We are so
busy NOT killing, NOT stealing, NOT coveting our neighbour's wife,
we have not time to be even just to one another for the little while
we are together here. Need we be so cocksure that our present list
of virtues and vices is the only possibly correct and complete one?
Is the kind, unselfish man necessarily a villain because he does not
always succeed in suppressing his natural instincts? Is the
narrow-hearted, sour-souled man, incapable of a generous thought or
act, necessarily a saint because he has none? Have we not--we unco
guid--arrived at a wrong method of estimating our frailer brothers
and sisters? We judge them, as critics judge books, not by the good
that is in them, but by their faults. Poor King David! What would
the local Vigilance Society have had to say to him?
Noah, according to our plan, would be denounced from every teetotal
platform in the country, and Ham would head the Local Vestry poll as
a reward for having exposed him. And St. Peter! weak, frail St.
Peter, how lucky for him that his fellow-disciples and their Master
were not as strict in their notions of virtue as are we to-day.
Have we not forgotten the meaning of the word "virtue"? Once it
stood for the good that was in a man, irrespective of the evil that
might lie there also, as tares among the wheat. We have abolished
virtue, and for it substituted virtues. Not the hero--he was too
full of faults--but the blameless valet; not the man who does any
good, but the man who has not been found out in any evil, is our
modern ideal. The most virtuous thing in nature, according to this
new theory, should be the oyster. He is always at home, and always
sober. He is not noisy. He gives no trouble to the police. I
cannot think of a single one of the Ten Commandments that he ever
breaks. He never enjoys himself, and he never, so long as he lives,
gives a moment's pleasure to any other living thing.
I can imagine the oyster lecturing a lion on the subject of
"You never hear me," the oyster might say, "howling round camps and
villages, making night hideous, frightening quiet folk out of their
lives. Why don't you go to bed early, as I do? I never prowl round
the oyster-bed, fighting other gentlemen oysters, making love to
lady oysters already married. I never kill antelopes or
missionaries. Why can't you live as I do on salt water and germs,
or whatever it is that I do live on? Why don't you try to be more
An oyster has no evil passions, therefore we say he is a virtuous
fish. We never ask ourselves--"Has he any good passions?" A lion's
behaviour is often such as no just man could condone. Has he not
his good points also?
Will the fat, sleek, "virtuous" man be as Welcome at the gate of
heaven as he supposes?
"Well," St. Peter may say to him, opening the door a little way and
looking him up and down, "what is it now?"
"It's me," the virtuous man will reply, with an oily, self-satisfied
smile; "I should say, I--I've come."
"Yes, I see you have come; but what is your claim to admittance?
What have you done with your three score years and ten?"
"Done!" the virtuous man will answer, "I have done nothing, I assure
"Nothing; that is my strong point; that is why I am here. I have
never done any wrong."
"And what good have you done?"
"Aye, what good? Do not you even know the meaning of the word?
What human creature is the better for your having eaten and drunk
and slept these years? You have done no harm--no harm to yourself.
Perhaps, if you had you might have done some good with it; the two
are generally to be found together down below, I remember. What
good have you done that you should enter here? This is no mummy
chamber; this is the place of men and women who have lived, who have
wrought good--and evil also, alas!--for the sinners who fight for
the right, not the righteous who run with their souls from the
It was not, however, to speak of these things that I remembered The
Amateur and its lessons. My intention was but to lead up to the
story of a certain small boy, who in the doing of tasks not required
of him was exceedingly clever. I wish to tell you his story,
because, as do most true tales, it possesses a moral, and stories
without a moral I deem to be but foolish literature, resembling
roads that lead to nowhere, such as sick folk tramp for exercise.
I have known this little boy to take an expensive eight-day clock to
pieces, and make of it a toy steamboat. True, it was not, when
made, very much of a steamboat; but taking into consideration all
the difficulties--the inadaptability of eight-day clock machinery to
steamboat requirements, the necessity of getting the work
accomplished quickly, before conservatively-minded people with no
enthusiasm for science could interfere--a good enough steamboat.
With merely an ironing-board and a few dozen meat-skewers, he
would--provided the ironing-board was not missed in time--turn out
quite a practicable rabbit-hutch. He could make a gun out of an
umbrella and a gas-bracket, which, if not so accurate as a
Martini-Henry, was, at all events, more deadly. With half the
garden-hose, a copper scalding-pan out of the dairy, and a few
Dresden china ornaments off the drawing-room mantelpiece, he would
build a fountain for the garden. He could make bookshelves out of
kitchen tables, and crossbows out of crinolines. He could dam you a
stream so that all the water would flow over the croquet lawn. He
knew how to make red paint and oxygen gas, together with many other
suchlike commodities handy to have about a house. Among other
things he learned how to make fireworks, and after a few explosions
of an unimportant character, came to make them very well indeed.
The boy who can play a good game of cricket is liked. The boy who
can fight well is respected. The boy who can cheek a master is
loved. But the boy who can make fireworks is revered above all
others as a boy belonging to a superior order of beings. The fifth
of November was at hand, and with the consent of an indulgent
mother, he determined to give to the world a proof of his powers. A
large party of friends, relatives, and school-mates was invited, and
for a fortnight beforehand the scullery was converted into a
manufactory for fireworks. The female servants went about in hourly
terror of their lives, and the villa, did we judge exclusively by
smell, one might have imagined had been taken over by Satan, his
main premises being inconveniently crowded, as an annex. By the
evening of the fourth all was in readiness, and samples were tested
to make sure that no contretemps should occur the following night.
All was found to be perfect.
The rockets rushed heavenward and descended in stars, the Roman
candles tossed their fiery balls into the darkness, the Catherine
wheels sparkled and whirled, the crackers cracked, and the squibs
banged. That night he went to bed a proud and happy boy, and
dreamed of fame. He stood surrounded by blazing fireworks, and the
vast crowd cheered him. His relations, most of whom, he knew,
regarded him as the coming idiot of the family, were there to
witness his triumph; so too was Dickey Bowles, who laughed at him
because he could not throw straight. The girl at the bun-shop, she
also was there, and saw that he was clever.
The night of the festival arrived, and with it the guests. They
sat, wrapped up in shawls and cloaks, outside the hall door--uncles,
cousins, aunts, little boys and big boys, little girls and big
girls, with, as the theatre posters say, villagers and retainers,
some forty of them in all, and waited.
But the fireworks did not go off. Why they did not go off I cannot
explain; nobody ever COULD explain. The laws of nature seemed to be
suspended for that night only. The rockets fell down and died where
they stood. No human agency seemed able to ignite the squibs. The
crackers gave one bang and collapsed. The Roman candles might have
been English rushlights. The Catherine wheels became mere revolving
glow-worms. The fiery serpents could not collect among them the
spirit of a tortoise. The set piece, a ship at sea, showed one mast
and the captain, and then went out. One or two items did their
duty, but this only served to render the foolishness of the whole
more striking. The little girls giggled, the little boys chaffed,
the aunts and cousins said it was beautiful, the uncles inquired if
it was all over, and talked about supper and trains, the "villagers
and retainers" dispersed laughing, the indulgent mother said "never
mind," and explained how well everything had gone off yesterday; the
clever little boy crept upstairs to his room, and blubbered his
heart out in the dark.
Hours later, when the crowd had forgotten him, he stole out again
into the garden. He sat down amid the ruins of his hope, and
wondered what could have caused the fiasco. Still puzzled, he drew
from his pocket a box of matches, and, lighting one, he held it to
the seared end of a rocket he had tried in vain to light four hours
ago. It smouldered for an instant, then shot with a swish into the
air and broke into a hundred points of fire. He tried another and
another with the same result. He made a fresh attempt to fire the
set piece. Point by point the whole picture--minus the captain and
one mast--came out of the night, and stood revealed in all the
majesty of flame. Its sparks fell upon the piled-up heap of
candles, wheels, and rockets that a little while before had
obstinately refused to burn, and that, one after another, had been
thrown aside as useless. Now with the night frost upon them, they
leaped to light in one grand volcanic eruption. And in front of the
gorgeous spectacle he stood with only one consolation--his mother's
hand in his.
The whole thing was a mystery to him at the time, but, as he learned
to know life better, he came to understand that it was only one
example of a solid but inexplicable fact, ruling all human
affairs--YOUR FIREWORKS WON'T GO OFF WHILE THE CROWD IS AROUND.
Our brilliant repartees do not occur to us till the door is closed
upon us and we are alone in the street, or, as the French would say,
are coming down the stairs. Our after-dinner oratory, that sounded
so telling as we delivered it before the looking-glass, falls
strangely flat amidst the clinking of the glasses. The passionate
torrent of words we meant to pour into her ear becomes a halting
rigmarole, at which--small blame to her--she only laughs.
I would, gentle Reader, you could hear the stories that I meant to
tell you. You judge me, of course, by the stories of mine that you
have read--by this sort of thing, perhaps; but that is not just to
me. The stories I have not told you, that I am going to tell you
one day, I would that you judge me by those.
They are so beautiful; you will say so; over them, you will laugh
and cry with me.
They come into my brain unbidden, they clamour to be written, yet
when I take my pen in hand they are gone. It is as though they were
shy of publicity, as though they would say to me--"You alone, you
shall read us, but you must not write us; we are too real, too true.
We are like the thoughts you cannot speak. Perhaps a little later,
when you know more of life, then you shall tell us."
Next to these in merit I would place, were I writing a critical
essay on myself, the stories I have begun to write and that remain
unfinished, why I cannot explain to myself. They are good stories,
most of them; better far than the stories I have accomplished.
Another time, perhaps, if you care to listen, I will tell you the
beginning of one or two and you shall judge. Strangely enough, for
I have always regarded myself as a practical, commonsensed man, so
many of these still-born children of my mind I find, on looking
through the cupboard where their thin bodies lie, are ghost stories.
I suppose the hope of ghosts is with us all. The world grows
somewhat interesting to us heirs of all the ages. Year by year,
Science with broom and duster tears down the moth-worn tapestry,
forces the doors of the locked chambers, lets light into the secret
stairways, cleans out the dungeons, explores the hidden passages--
finding everywhere only dust. This echoing old castle, the world,
so full of mystery in the days when we were children, is losing
somewhat its charm for us as we grow older. The king sleeps no
longer in the hollow of the hills. We have tunnelled through his
mountain chamber. We have shivered his beard with our pick. We
have driven the gods from Olympus. No wanderer through the moonlit
groves now fears or hopes the sweet, death-giving gleam of
Aphrodite's face. Thor's hammer echoes not among the peaks--'tis
but the thunder of the excursion train. We have swept the woods of
the fairies. We have filtered the sea of its nymphs. Even the
ghosts are leaving us, chased by the Psychical Research Society.
Perhaps of all, they are the least, however, to be regretted. They
were dull old fellows, clanking their rusty chains and groaning and
sighing. Let them go.
And yet how interesting they might be, if only they would. The old
gentleman in the coat of mail, who lived in King John's reign, who
was murdered, so they say, on the outskirts of the very wood I can
see from my window as I write--stabbed in the back, poor gentleman,
as he was riding home, his body flung into the moat that to this day
is called Tor's tomb. Dry enough it is now, and the primroses love
its steep banks; but a gloomy enough place in those days, no doubt,
with its twenty feet of stagnant water. Why does he haunt the
forest paths at night, as they tell me he does, frightening the
children out of their wits, blanching the faces and stilling the
laughter of the peasant lads and lasses, slouching home from the
village dance? Instead, why does he not come up here and talk to
me? He should have my easy-chair and welcome, would he only be
cheerful and companionable.
What brave tales could he not tell me. He fought in the first
Crusade, heard the clarion voice of Peter, met the great Godfrey
face to face, stood, hand on sword-hilt, at Runny-mede, perhaps.
Better than a whole library of historical novels would an evening's
chat be with such a ghost. What has he done with his eight hundred
years of death? where has he been? what has he seen? Maybe he has
visited Mars; has spoken to the strange spirits who can live in the
liquid fires of Jupiter. What has he learned of the great secret?
Has he found the truth? or is he, even as I, a wanderer still
seeking the unknown?
You, poor, pale, grey nun--they tell me that of midnights one may
see your white face peering from the ruined belfry window, hear the
clash of sword and shield among the cedar-trees beneath.
It was very sad, I quite understand, my dear lady. Your lovers both
were killed, and you retired to a convent. Believe me, I am
sincerely sorry for you, but why waste every night renewing the
whole painful experience? Would it not be better forgotten? Good
Heavens, madam, suppose we living folk were to spend our lives
wailing and wringing our hands because of the wrongs done to us when
we were children? It is all over now. Had he lived, and had you
married him, you might not have been happy. I do not wish to say
anything unkind, but marriages founded upon the sincerest mutual
love have sometimes turned out unfortunately, as you must surely
Do take my advice. Talk the matter over with the young men
themselves. Persuade them to shake hands and be friends. Come in,
all of you, out of the cold, and let us have some reasonable talk.
Why seek you to trouble us, you poor pale ghosts? Are we not your
children? Be our wise friends. Tell me, how loved the young men in
your young days? how answered the maidens? Has the world changed
much, do you think? Had you not new women even then? girls who
hated the everlasting tapestry frame and spinning-wheel? Your
father's servants, were they so much worse off than the freemen who
live in our East-end slums and sew slippers for fourteen hours a day
at a wage of nine shillings a week? Do you think Society much
improved during the last thousand years? Is it worse? is it better?
or is it, on the whole, about the same, save that we call things by
other names? Tell me, what have YOU learned?
Yet might not familiarity breed contempt, even for ghosts.
One has had a tiring day's shooting. One is looking forward to
one's bed. As one opens the door, however, a ghostly laugh comes
from behind the bed-curtains, and one groans inwardly, knowing what
is in store for one: a two or three hours' talk with rowdy old Sir
Lanval--he of the lance. We know all his tales by heart, and he
will shout them. Suppose our aunt, from whom we have expectations,
and who sleeps in the next room, should wake and overhear! They
were fit and proper enough stories, no doubt, for the Round Table,
but we feel sure our aunt would not appreciate them:--that story
about Sir Agravain and the cooper's wife! and he always will tell
Or imagine the maid entering after dinner to say--
"Oh, if you please, sir, here is the veiled lady."
"What, again!" says your wife, looking up from her work.
"Yes, ma'am; shall I show her up into the bedroom?"
"You had better ask your master," is the reply. The tone is
suggestive of an unpleasant five minutes so soon as the girl shall
have withdrawn, but what are you to do?
"Yes, yes, show her up," you say, and the girl goes out, closing the
Your wife gathers her work together, and rises.
"Where are you going?" you ask.
"To sleep with the children," is the frigid answer.
"It will look so rude," you urge. "We must be civil to the poor
thing; and you see it really is her room, as one might say. She has
always haunted it. "
"It is very curious," returns the wife of your bosom, still more
icily, "that she never haunts it except when you are down here.
Where she goes when you are in town I'm sure I don't know."
This is unjust. You cannot restrain your indignation.
"What nonsense you talk, Elizabeth," you reply; "I am only barely
polite to her."
"Some men have such curious notions of politeness," returns
Elizabeth. "But pray do not let us quarrel. I am only anxious not
to disturb you. Two are company, you know. I don't choose to be
the third, that's all." With which she goes out.
And the veiled lady is still waiting for you up-stairs. You wonder
how long she will stop, also what will happen after she is gone.
I fear there is no room for you, ghosts, in this our world. You
remember how they came to Hiawatha--the ghosts of the departed loved
ones. He had prayed to them that they would come back to him to
comfort him, so one day they crept into his wigwam, sat in silence
round his fireside, chilled the air for Hiawatha, froze the smiles
of Laughing Water.
There is no room for you, oh you poor pale ghosts, in this our
world. Do not trouble us. Let us forget. You, stout elderly
matron, your thin locks turning grey, your eyes grown weak, your
chin more ample, your voice harsh with much scolding and
complaining, needful, alas! to household management, I pray you
leave me. I loved you while you lived. How sweet, how beautiful
you were. I see you now in your white frock among the
apple-blossom. But you are dead, and your ghost disturbs my dreams.
I would it haunted me not.
You, dull old fellow, looking out at me from the glass at which I
shave, why do you haunt me? You are the ghost of a bright lad I
once knew well. He might have done much, had he lived. I always
had faith in him. Why do you haunt me? I would rather think of him
as I remember him. I never imagined he would make such a poor
ON THE PREPARATION AND EMPLOYMENT OF LOVE PHILTRES
Occasionally a friend will ask me some such question as this, Do you
prefer dark women or fair? Another will say, Do you like tall women
or short? A third, Do you think light-hearted women, or serious,
the more agreeable company? I find myself in the position that,
once upon a time, overtook a certain charming young lady of taste
who was asked by an anxious parent, the years mounting, and the
family expenditure not decreasing, which of the numerous and
eligible young men, then paying court to her, she liked the best.
She replied, that was her difficulty. She could not make up her
mind which she liked the best. They were all so nice. She could
not possibly select one to the exclusion of all the others. What
she would have liked would have been to marry the lot, but that, she
presumed, was impracticable.
I feel I resemble that young lady, not so much, perhaps, in charm
and beauty as indecision of mind, when questions such as the above
are put to me. It is as if one were asked one's favourite food.
There are times when one fancies an egg with one's tea. On other
occasions one dreams of a kipper. Today one clamours for lobsters.
To-morrow one feels one never wishes to see a lobster again; one
determines to settle down, for a time, to a diet of bread and milk
and rice-pudding. Asked suddenly to say whether I preferred ices to
soup, or beefsteaks to caviare, I should be nonplussed.
I like tall women and short, dark women and fair, merry women and
Do not blame me, Ladies, the fault lies with you. Every
right-thinking man is an universal lover; how could it be otherwise?
You are so diverse, yet each so charming of your kind; and a man's
heart is large. You have no idea, fair Reader, how large a man's
heart is: that is his trouble--sometimes yours.
May I not admire the daring tulip, because I love also the modest
lily? May I not press a kiss upon the sweet violet, because the
scent of the queenly rose is precious to me?
"Certainly not," I hear the Rose reply. "If you can see anything in
her, you shall have nothing to do with me."
"If you care for that bold creature," says the Lily, trembling, "you
are not the man I took you for. Good-bye."
"Go to your baby-faced Violet," cries the Tulip, with a toss of her
haughty head. "You are just fitted for each other."
And when I return to the Lily, she tells me that she cannot trust
me. She has watched me with those others. She knows me for a
gad-about. Her gentle face is full of pain.
So I must live unloved merely because I love too much.
My wonder is that young men ever marry. The difficulty of selection
must be appalling. I walked the other evening in Hyde Park. The
band of the Life Guards played heart-lifting music, and the vast
crowd were basking in a sweet enjoyment such as rarely woos the
English toiler. I strolled among them, and my attention was chiefly
drawn towards the women. The great majority of them were, I
suppose, shop-girls, milliners, and others belonging to the lower
middle-class. They had put on their best frocks, their bonniest
hats, their newest gloves. They sat or walked in twos and threes,
chattering and preening, as happy as young sparrows on a clothes
line. And what a handsome crowd they made! I have seen German
crowds, I have seen French crowds, I have seen Italian crowds; but
nowhere do you find such a proportion of pretty women as among the
English middle-class. Three women out of every four were worth
looking at, every other woman was pretty, while every fourth, one
might say without exaggeration, was beautiful. As I passed to and
fro the idea occurred to me: suppose I were an unprejudiced young
bachelor, free from predilection, looking for a wife; and let me
suppose--it is only a fancy--that all these girls were ready and
willing to accept me. I have only to choose! I grew bewildered.
There were fair girls, to look at whom was fatal; dark girls that
set one's heart aflame; girls with red gold hair and grave grey
eyes, whom one would follow to the confines of the universe;
baby-faced girls that one longed to love and cherish; girls with
noble faces, whom a man might worship; laughing girls, with whom one
could dance through life gaily; serious girls, with whom life would
be sweet and good, domestic-looking girls--one felt such would make
delightful wives; they would cook, and sew, and make of home a
pleasant, peaceful place. Then wicked-looking girls came by, at the
stab of whose bold eyes all orthodox thoughts were put to a flight,
whose laughter turned the world into a mad carnival; girls one could
mould; girls from whom one could learn; sad girls one wanted to
comfort; merry girls who would cheer one; little girls, big girls,
queenly girls, fairy-like girls.
Suppose a young man had to select his wife in this fashion from some
twenty or thirty thousand; or that a girl were suddenly confronted
with eighteen thousand eligible young bachelors, and told to take
the one she wanted and be quick about it? Neither boy nor girl
would ever marry. Fate is kinder to us. She understands, and
assists us. In the hall of a Paris hotel I once overheard one lady
asking another to recommend her a milliner's shop.
"Go to the Maison Nouvelle," advised the questioned lady, with
enthusiasm. "They have the largest selection there of any place in
"I know they have," replied the first lady, "that is just why I
don't mean to go there. It confuses me. If I see six bonnets I can
tell the one I want in five minutes. If I see six hundred I come
away without any bonnet at all. Don't you know a little shop?"
Fate takes the young man or the young woman aside.
"Come into this village, my dear," says Fate; "into this by-street
of this salubrious suburb, into this social circle, into this
church, into this chapel. Now, my dear boy, out of these seventeen
young ladies, which will you have?--out of these thirteen young men,
which would you like for your very own, my dear?"
"No, miss, I am sorry, but I am not able to show you our up-stairs
department to-day, the lift is not working. But I am sure we shall
be able to find something in this room to suit you. Just look
round, my dear, perhaps you will see something."
"No, sir, I cannot show you the stock in the next room, we never
take that out except for our very special customers. We keep our
most expensive goods in that room. (Draw that curtain, Miss
Circumstance, please. I have told you of that before.) Now, sir,
wouldn't you like this one? This colour is quite the rage this
season; we are getting rid of quite a lot of these."
"NO, sir! Well, of course, it would not do for every one's taste to
be the same. Perhaps something dark would suit you better. Bring
out those two brunettes, Miss Circumstance. Charming girls both of
them, don't you think so, sir? I should say the taller one for you,
sir. Just one moment, sir, allow me. Now, what do you think of
that, sir? might have been made to fit you, I'm sure. You prefer
the shorter one. Certainly, sir, no difference to us at all. Both
are the same price. There's nothing like having one's own fancy, I
always say. NO, sir, I cannot put her aside for you, we never do
that. Indeed, there's rather a run on brunettes just at present. I
had a gentleman in only this morning, looking at this particular
one, and he is going to call again to-night. Indeed, I am not at
all sure--Oh, of course, sir, if you like to settle on this one now,
that ends the matter. (Put those others away, Miss Circumstance,
please, and mark this one sold.) I feel sure you'll like her, sir,
when you get her home. Thank YOU, sir. Good-morning!"
"Now, miss, have YOU seen anything you fancy? YES, miss, this is
all we have at anything near your price. (Shut those other
cupboards, Miss Circumstance; never show more stock than you are
obliged to, it only confuses customers. How often am I to tell you
that?) YES, miss, you are quite right, there IS a slight blemish.
They all have some slight flaw. The makers say they can't help it--
it's in the material. It's not once in a season we get a perfect
specimen; and when we do ladies don't seem to care for it. Most of
our customers prefer a little faultiness. They say it gives
character. Now, look at this, miss. This sort of thing wears very
well, warm and quiet. You'd like one with more colour in it?
Certainly. Miss Circumstance, reach me down the art patterns. NO,
miss, we don't guarantee any of them over the year, so much depends
on how you use them. OH YES, miss, they'll stand a fair amount of
wear. People do tell you the quieter patterns last longer; but my
experience is that one is much the same as another. There's really
no telling any of them until you come to try them. We never
recommend one more than another. There's a lot of chance about
these goods, it's in the nature of them. What I always say to
ladies is--'Please yourself, it's you who have got to wear it; and
it's no good having an article you start by not liking.' YES, miss,
it IS pretty and it looks well against you: it does indeed. Thank
you, miss. Put that one aside, Miss Circumstance, please. See that
it doesn't get mixed up with the unsold stock. "
It is a useful philtre, the juice of that small western flower, that
Oberon drops upon our eyelids as we sleep. It solves all
difficulties in a trice. Why of course Helena is the fairer.
Compare her with Hermia! Compare the raven with the dove! How
could we ever have doubted for a moment? Bottom is an angel, Bottom
is as wise as he is handsome. Oh, Oberon, we thank you for that
drug. Matilda Jane is a goddess; Matilda Jane is a queen; no woman
ever born of Eve was like Matilda Jane. The little pimple on her
nose--her little, sweet, tip-tilted nose--how beautiful it is. Her
bright eyes flash with temper now and then; how piquant is a temper
in a woman. William is a dear old stupid, how lovable stupid men
can be--especially when wise enough to love us. William does not
shine in conversation; how we hate a magpie of a man. William's
chin is what is called receding, just the sort of chin a beard looks
well on. Bless you, Oberon darling, for that drug; rub it on our
eyelids once again. Better let us have a bottle, Oberon, to keep by
Oberon, Oberon, what are you thinking of? You have given the bottle
to Puck. Take it away from him, quick. Lord help us all if that
Imp has the bottle. Lord save us from Puck while we sleep.
Or may we, fairy Oberon, regard your lotion as an eye-opener, rather
than as an eye-closer? You remember the story the storks told the
children, of the little girl who was a toad by day, only her sweet
dark eyes being left to her. But at night, when the Prince clasped
her close to his breast, lo! again she became the king's daughter,
fairest and fondest of women. There be many royal ladies in
Marshland, with bad complexion and thin straight hair, and the silly
princes sneer and ride away to woo some kitchen wench decked out in
queen's apparel. Lucky the prince upon whose eyelids Oberon has
dropped the magic philtre.
In the gallery of a minor Continental town I have forgotten, hangs a
picture that lives with me. The painting I cannot recall, whether
good or bad; artists must forgive me for remembering only the
subject. It shows a man, crucified by the roadside. No martyr he.
If ever a man deserved hanging it was this one. So much the artist
has made clear. The face, even under its mask of agony, is an evil,
treacherous face. A peasant girl clings to the cross; she stands
tip-toe upon a patient donkey, straining her face upward for the
half-dead man to stoop and kiss her lips.
Thief, coward, blackguard, they are stamped upon his face, but UNDER
the face, under the evil outside? Is there no remnant of manhood-
-nothing tender, nothing, true? A woman has crept to the cross to
kiss him: no evidence in his favour, my Lord? Love is blind-aye,
to our faults. Heaven help us all; Love's eyes would be sore indeed
if it were not so. But for the good that is in us her eyes are
keen. You, crucified blackguard, stand forth. A hundred witnesses
have given their evidence against you. Are there none to give
evidence for him? A woman, great Judge, who loved him. Let her
But I am wandering far from Hyde Park and its show of girls.
They passed and re-passed me, laughing, smiling, talking. Their
eyes were bright with merry thoughts; their voices soft and musical.
They were pleased, and they wanted to please. Some were married,
some had evidently reasonable expectations of being married; the
rest hoped to be. And we, myself, and some ten thousand other young
men. I repeat it--myself and some ten thousand other young men; for
who among us ever thinks of himself but as a young man? It is the
world that ages, not we. The children cease their playing and grow
grave, the lasses' eyes are dimmer. The hills are a little steeper,
the milestones, surely, further apart. The songs the young men sing
are less merry than the songs we used to sing. The days have grown
a little colder, the wind a little keener. The wine has lost its
flavour somewhat; the new humour is not like the old. The other
boys are becoming dull and prosy; but we are not changed. It is the
world that is growing old. Therefore, I brave your thoughtless
laughter, youthful Reader, and repeat that we, myself and some ten
thousand other young men, walked among these sweet girls; and, using
our boyish eyes, were fascinated, charmed, and captivated. How
delightful to spend our lives with them, to do little services for
them that would call up these bright smiles. How pleasant to jest
with them, and hear their flute-like laughter, to console them and
read their grateful eyes. Really life is a pleasant thing, and the
idea of marriage undoubtedly originated in the brain of a kindly
We smiled back at them, and we made way for them; we rose from our
chairs with a polite, "Allow me, miss," "Don't mention it, I prefer
standing." "It is a delightful evening, is it not?" And perhaps-
-for what harm was there?--we dropped into conversation with these
chance fellow-passengers upon the stream of life. There were those
among us--bold daring spirits--who even went to the length of mild
flirtation. Some of us knew some of them, and in such happy case
there followed interchange of pretty pleasantries. Your English
middle-class young man and woman are not adepts at the game of
flirtation. I will confess that our methods were, perhaps,
elephantine, that we may have grown a trifle noisy as the evening
wore on. But we meant no evil; we did but our best to enjoy
ourselves, to give enjoyment, to make the too brief time, pass