Part 1 out of 7
William Fishburne, Charles Aldarondo, and the Online Distributed
BY I. ZANGWILL
Author Of "The Master," "Children Of The Ghetto" Etc., Etc.
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* * * * *
_This book is a selection, slightly revised, from my miscellaneous work
during the last four or five years, and the title is that under which the
bulk of it has appeared, month by month, in the "Pall Mall Magazine." In
selecting, I have omitted those pieces which hang upon other people's
books, plays, or pictures--a process of exclusion which, while giving
unity to a possible collection of my critical writings in another volume,
leaves the first selection exclusively egoistic._
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GOSSIPS AND FANTASIES
I. A VISION OF THE BURDEN OF MAN: WHICH MAY SERVE TO INTRODUCE THE
II. TUNING UP
III. ART IN ENGLAND
IV. BOHEMIA AND VERLAINE
V. THE INDESTRUCTIBLES
VI. CONCERNING GENERAL ELECTIONS
VII. THE REALISTIC NOVEL
VIII. IN DEFENCE OF GAMBLING
IX. TRULY RURAL
X. OPINIONS OF THE YOUNG FOGEY
XI. CRITICS AND PEOPLE
XIII. THE ABOLITION OF MONEY
XIV. MODERN MYTH-MAKING
XV. THE PHILOSOPHY OF TOPSY-TURVYDOM
XVII. A THEORY OF TABLE-TURNING
XVIII. SOCIETIES TO FOUND
XIX. INDECENCY ON THE ENGLISH STAGE
XX. LOVE IN LIFE AND LITERATURE
XXI. DEATH AND MARRIAGE
XXII. THE CHOICE OF PARENTS
XXIII. PATER AND PROSE
XXIV. THE INFLUENCE OF NAMES
XXV. AUTHORS AND PUBLISHERS
XXVI. THE PENALTIES OF FAME
XXVII. ON FINISHING A BOOK
HERE, THERE, AND SOMEWHERE ELSE: Philosophic Excursions
III. BROADSTAIRS AND RAMSGATE
VII. FIESOLE AND FLORENCE
XL SLAPTON SANDS
XIV. SOMEWHERE ELSE
AFTERTHOUGHTS: A Bundle of Brevities
THE SMALL BOY
A DAY IN TOWN
THE PROFESSION OF CHARITY
THE PRIVILEGES OF POVERTY
SALVATION FOR THE SERAPHIM
TRUTH--LOCAL AND TEMPORAL
THE CREED OF DESPAIR
THE LONDON SEASON
PORTRAITS OF GENTLEMEN
PHOTOGRAPHY AND REALISM
THE GREAT UNHUNG
THE ABOLITION OF CATALOGUES
THE ARTISTIC TEMPERAMENT
Q. E. D. NOVELS
THE MOUSE WHO DIED
THE PROP OF LETTERS
THE LATTER-DAY POET
AN ATTACK OF ALLITERATION
THE DISCOUNT FARCE
THE FRANCHISE FARCE
THE MODERN WAR FARCE
VIVE LA MORT!
MEN AND BOOKMEN
JAMES I. ON TOBACCO
A COUNTERBLAST TO JAMES I.
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GOSSIPS AND FANTASIES
A VISION OF THE BURDEN OF MAN
And it came to pass that my soul was vexed with the problems of life, so
that I could not sleep. So I opened a book by a lady novelist, and fell
to reading therein. And of a sudden I looked up, and lo! a great host of
women filled the chamber, which had become as the Albert Hall for
magnitude--women of all complexions, countries, times, ages, and sexes.
Some were bewitching and beautiful, some wan and flat-breasted, some
elegant and stately, some ugly and squat, some plain and whitewashed, and
some painted and decorated; women in silk gowns, and women in divided
skirts, and women in widows' weeds, and women in knickerbockers, and
women in ulsters, and women in furs, and women in crinolines, and women
in tights, and women in rags; but every woman of them all in tears. The
great chamber was full of a mighty babel; shouts and ululations, groans
and moans, weeping and wailing and gnashing of false and genuine teeth,
and tearing of hair both artificial and natural; and therewith the
flutter of a myriad fans, and the rustle of a million powder-puffs. And
the air reeked with a thousand indescribable scents--patchouli and attar
of roses and cherry blossom, and the heavy odours of hair-oil and dyes
and cosmetics and patent medicines innumerable.
Now when the women perceived me on my reading-chair in their midst, the
shrill babel swelled to a savage thunder of menace, so that I deemed they
were wroth with me for intruding upon them in mine own house; but as mine
ear grew accustomed to the babel of tongues, I became aware of the true
import of their ejaculations.
"O son of man!" they cried, in various voices: "thy cruel reign is over,
thy long tyranny is done; thou hast glutted thyself with victims, thou
hast got drunken on our hearts' blood, we have made sport for thee in our
blindness. But the Light is come at last, the slow night has budded into
the rose of dawn, the masculine monster is in his death-throes, the
kingdom of justice is at hand, the Doll's House has been condemned by the
I strove to deprecate their wrath, but my voice was as the twitter of a
sparrow in a hurricane. At length I ruffled my long hair to a leonine
mane, and seated myself at the piano. And lo! straightway there fell a
deep silence--you could have heard a hairpin drop.
"What would you have me do, O daughters of Eve?" I cried. "What is my
sin? what my iniquity?" Then the clamour recommenced with tenfold
violence, disappointment at the loss of a free performance augmenting
"Give me a husband," shrieked one.
"Give me a profession," shrieked another.
"Give me a divorce," shrieked a third.
"Give me free union," shrieked a fourth.
"Give me an income," shrieked a fifth.
"Give me my deceased sister's husband," shrieked a sixth.
"Give me my divorced husband's children," shrieked a seventh.
"Give me the right to paint from the nude in the Academy schools,"
shrieked an eighth.
"Give me an Oxford degree," shrieked a ninth.
"Give me a cigar," shrieked a tenth.
"Give me a vote," shrieked an eleventh.
"Give me a pair of trousers," shrieked a twelfth.
"Give me a seat in the House," shrieked a thirteenth.
"Daughters of the horse-leech," I made answer, taking advantage of a
momentary lull, "I am not in a position to give away any of these things.
You had better ask at the Stores." But the tempest out-thundered me.
"I want to ride bareback in the Row in tights and spangles at 1 p. m. on
Sundays," shrieked a soberly clad suburban lady, who sported a
wedding-ring. "I want to move the world with my pen or the point of my
toe; I want to write, dance, sing, act, paint, sculpt, fence, row, ride,
swim, hunt, shoot, fish, love all men from young rustic farmers to old
town _rou�s_, lead the Commons, keep a salon, a restaurant, and a
zoological garden, row a boat in boy's costume, with a tenor by moonlight
alone, and deluge Europe and Asia with blood shed for my intoxicating
beauty. I am primeval, savage, unlicensed, unchartered, unfathomable,
unpetticoated, tumultuous, inexpressible, irrepressible, overpowering,
crude, mordant, pugnacious, polyandrous, sensual, fiery, chaste, modest,
married, and misunderstood."
"But, madam," I remarked--for in her excitement she approached within
earshot of me--"I understand thee quite well, and I really am not
responsible for thy emotions." Her literary style beguiled me into the
responsive archaicism of the second person singular.
"Coward!" she snapped. "Coward and satyr! For centuries thou hast
trampled upon my sisters, and desecrated womanhood."
"I beg thy pardon," I rejoined mildly.
"Thou dost not deserve it," she interrupted.
"Thou art substituting hysteria for history," I went on. "I was not born
yesterday, but I have only scored a few years more than a quarter of one
century, and seeing that my own mother was a woman, I must refuse to be
held accountable for the position of the sex."
"Sophist!" she shrieked. "It is thy apathy and selfishness that
perpetuate the evil."
Then I bethought me of my long vigils of work and thought, the slow,
bitter years in which I "ate my bread with tears, and sat weeping on my
bed," and I remembered that some of those tears were for the sorrows of
that very sex which was now accusing me of organised injustice. But I
replied gently: "I am no tyrant; I am a simple, peaceful citizen, and it
is as much as I can do to earn my bread and the bread of some of thy sex.
Life is hard enough for both sexes, without setting one against the
other. We are both the outcome of the same great forces, and both of us
have our special selfishnesses, advantages, and drawbacks. If there is
any cruelty, it is Nature's handiwork, not man's. So far from trampling
on womanhood, we have let a woman reign over us for more than half a
century. We worship womanhood, we have celebrated woman in song, picture,
and poem, and half civilisation has adored the Madonna. Let us have
woman's point of view and the truth about her psychology, by all means.
But beware lest she provoke us too far. The _Ewigweibliche_ has become
too literal a fact, and in our reaction against this everlasting woman
question we shall develop in unexpected directions. Her cry for equal
purity will but end in the formal institution of the polygamy of the
As I spoke the figure before me appeared to be undergoing a
transformation, and, ere I had finished, I perceived I was talking to an
angry, seedy man in a red muffler.
"Thee keeps down the proletariat," he interrupted venomously. "Thee lives
on the sweat of his brow, while thee fattens at ease. Thee plants thy
foot on his neck."
"Do I?" I exclaimed, lifting up my foot involuntarily.
Mistaking the motion, he disappeared, and in his stead I saw a withered
old pauper with the Victoria Cross on his breast. "I went to the mouth of
hell for thee," he said, with large reproachful eyes; "and thou leavest
me to rot in the workhouse."
"I am awfully sorry!" I said. "I never heard of thee. It is the nation--"
"The nation!" he cried scornfully. "_Thou_ art the nation; the nation is
only a collection of individuals. Thou art responsible. Thou art the
"Thou art the man," echoed a thousand voices: "Society is only an
abstraction." And, looking round, I saw, to my horror, that the women had
quite disappeared, and their places were filled by men of all
complexions, countries, times, ages, and sexes.
"I died in the streets," shouted an old cripple in the background--"round
the corner from thy house, in thy wealthy parish--I died of starvation in
this nineteenth century of the Christian era, and a generation after
Dickens's 'Christmas Carol.'"
"If I had only known!" I murmured, while my eyes grew moist. "Why didst
thou not come to me?"
"I was too proud to beg," he answered. "The really poor never beg."
"Then how am I responsible?" I retorted.
"How art thou responsible?" cried the voices indignantly; and one
dominating the rest added: "I want work and can't get it. Dost thou call
"Civilised?" echoed a weedy young man scornfully. "I am a genius, yet I
have had nothing to eat all day. Thy congeners killed Keats and
Chatterton, and when I am dead thou wilt be sorry for what thou hast not
"But hast thou published anything?" I asked.
"How could I publish?" he replied, indignantly.
"Then how could I be aware of thee?" I inquired.
"But my great-grandfather _did_ publish," said another. "Thou goest into
ecstacies over him, and his books have sold by tens of thousands; but me
thou leavest pensionless, to earn my living as a cooper. Bah!"
"And thou didst put _my_ father in prison," said another, "for publishing
the works of a Continental novelist; but when the novelist himself comes
here, thou puttest him in the place of honour."
I was fast growing overwhelmed with shame.
"Where is thy patriotism! Thou art letting some of the most unique
British birds become extinct!" "Yes, and thou lettest Christmas cards be
made in Germany, and thou deridest Whistler, and refusest to read Dod
Grile, and thou lettest books be published with the sheets pinned instead
of sewn. And the way thou neglectest Coleridge's grave----"
"Coleridge's grave?" interrupted a sad-eyed enthusiast. "Why, thou hast
put no stone at all to mark where James Thomson lies!"
"Thou Hun, thou Vandal!" shrieked a fresh contingent of voices in
defiance of the late Professor Freeman. "Thou hast allowed the Emanuel
Hospital to be knocked down, thou hast whitewashed the oaken ceiling of
King Charles's room at Dartmouth, and threatened to destroy the view from
Richmond Hill. Thou hast smashed cathedral windows, or scratched thy name
on them, hast pulled down Roman walls, and allowed commons to be
inclosed. Thou coverest the Lake District with advertisements of pills,
and the blue heaven itself with sky-signs; and in thy passion for cheap
and nasty pictorial journalism thou art allowing the art of
wood-engraving to die out, even as thou acceptest photogravures instead
I cowered before their wrath, while renewed cries of "Thou art
responsible! Thou! Thou!" resounded from all sides.
"A pretty Christian _thou_ art!" exclaimed another voice in unthinking
vituperation. "Thou decimatest savage tribes with rum and Maxim guns,
thou makest money by corrupting the East with opium. Thou allowest the
Armenians to be done to death, and thou wilt not put a stop to
child-marriages in India."
"But for thee I should have been alive to-day," broke in a venerable
spirit hovering near the ceiling. "If thou hadst refused to sell poison
except in specially shaped bottles----"
"What canst thou expect of a man who allows anybody to carry firearms?"
interrupted another voice.
"Or who fills his newspaper with divorce cases?"
"Is it any wonder the rising generation is cynical, and the young maiden
of fifteen has ceased to be bashful?"
"Shame on thee!" hissed the chorus, and advanced upon me so threateningly
that I seized my hat and rushed from the room. But a burly being with a
Blue Book blocked my way.
"Where didst thou get that hat?" he cried. "Doubtless from some sweating
establishment. And those clothes; didst thou investigate where they were
made? didst thou inquire how much thy tailor paid his hands? didst thou
engage an accountant to examine his books?"
"I--I am so busy," I stammered feebly.
"Shuffler! How knowest thou thou art not spreading to the world the germs
of scarlet fever and typhoid picked up in the sweaters' dens?"
"What cares _he_?" cried a tall, thin man, with a slight stoop and gold
spectacles. "Does he not poison the air every day with the smoke of his
"Pison the air!" repeated a battered, blear-eyed reprobate. "He pisoned
my soul. He ruined me with promiskus charity. Whenever I was stoney-broke
'e give me doles in aid, 'e did. 'E wos werry bad to me, 'e wos. 'E
destroyed my self-respeck, druv me to drink, broke up my home, and druv
my darters on the streets."
"This is what comes of undisciplined compassion," observed the
gold-spectacled gentleman, glowering at me. "The integrity and virtue of
a whole family sacrificed to the gratification of thy altruistic
"Stand out of the way!" I cried to the burly man; "I wish to leave my own
"And carry thy rudeness abroad?" he retorted indignantly. "Perchance thou
wouldst like to go to the Continent, and swagger through Europe clad in
thy loud-patterned checks and thine insular self-sufficiency."
I tried to move him out of the way by brute force, and we wrestled, and
he threw me. I heard myself strike the floor with a thud.
Rubbing my eyes, instead of my back, I discovered that I was safe in my
reading-chair, and that it was the lady novelist's novel that had made
the noise. I picked it up, but I still seemed to see the reproachful eyes
of a thousand tormentors, and hear their objurgations. Yet I had none of
the emotions of Scrooge, no prickings of conscience, no ferment of good
resolutions. Instead, I felt a wave of bitterness and indignation
flooding my soul.
"I will _not_ be responsible for the universe!" I cried to the ceiling.
"I am sick of the woman question, and the problem of man makes my gorge
rise. Is there one question in the world that can really be settled? No,
not one, except by superficial thinkers. Just as the comprehensive
explanation of 'the flower in the crannied wall' is the explanation of
the whole universe, so every question is but a thin layer of ice over
infinite depths. You may touch it lightly, you may skate over it; but
press it at all, and you sink into bottomless abysses. The simplest
interrogation is a doorway to chaos, to endless perspectives of winding
paths perpetually turning upon themselves in a blind maze. Suppose one is
besought to sign a petition against capital punishment. A really
conscientious and logical person, pursuing truth after the manner
recommended by Descartes, and professed by Huxley, could not settle this
question for himself without going into the endless question of Free-will
_versus_ Necessity, and studying the various systems of philosophy and
ethics. Murder may be due to insane impulse: Insanity must therefore be
studied. Moreover, ought not hanging to be abolished in cases of murder
and reserved for more noxious crimes, such as those of fraudulent
directors? This opens up new perspectives and new lines of study. The
whole theory of Punishment would also have to be gone into: should it be
restrictive, or revengeful, or reformative? (See Aristotle, Bentham,
Owen, etc.) Incidentally great tracts of the science of Psychology are
involved. And what right have we to interfere with our fellow-creatures
at all? This opens up the vast domains of Law and Government, and
requires the perusal of Montesquieu, Bodin, Rousseau, Mill, etc., etc.
Sociology would also be called in to determine the beneficent or
maleficent influence of the death-punishment upon the popular mind; and
statistics would be required to trace the operation of the systems of
punishment in various countries. History would be consulted to the same
effect. The sanctity of human life being a religious dogma, the religions
of the world would have to be studied, to see under what conditions it
has been thought permissible to destroy life. One ought not to rely on
translations: Confucius should be read in Chinese, the Koran in Arabic,
and the few years spent in the acquisition of Persian would be rewarded
by a first-hand familiarity with the Zend Avesta. The Old Testament
enjoins capital punishment. On what grounds, then, if one is leaning the
other way, may a text be set aside that seems to settle the matter
positively? Here comes in the vast army of Bible commentators and
theologians. But perhaps the text is of late origin, interpolated. The
Dutch and German savants rise in their might, with their ingenious
theories and microscopic scholarship. But there are other scientists who
bid us not heed the Bible at all, because it contradicts the latest
editions of their primers. Is, then, science strictly accurate? To answer
this you must have a thorough acquaintance with biology, geology,
astronomy, besides deciding for yourself between the conflicting views at
nearly every point. By the time you have made up your mind as to whether
capital punishment should be abolished, it has passed out of the
statute-book, and you are dead, or mad, or murdered.
"But were this the only question a man has to settle in his short span of
years, he might cheerfully engage in its solution. But life bristles with
a hundred questions equally capital, and with a thousand-and-one minor
problems on which he is expected to have an opinion, and about which he
is asked at one time or other, if only at dinner."
At this moment the Poet who shares my chambers came in--later than he
should have done--and interrupted my soliloquy. But I was still hot, and
enlisted his interest in my vision and my apologia, and began drawing up
a list of the questions, in which after a while he became so interested
that he started adding to it. Hours flew like minutes, and only the
splitting headache we both brought upon ourselves drove us to desist.
Here is our first rough list of the questions that confront the modern
man--a disorderly, deficient, and tautological list, no doubt, to which
any reader can add many hundred more.
Queen Mary and Bothwell. Shakespeare and Bacon. Correct
transliteration of Greek; pronunciation of Latin. Sunday opening of
museums; of theatres. The English Sunday; Bank Holiday. Darwinism. Is
there spontaneous creation? or spontaneous combustion? The germ
theory; Pasteur's cures; Mattei's cures; Virchow's cell theory. Unity
of Homer; of the Bible. Dickens v. Thackeray. Shall we ever fly? or
steer balloons? The credit system; the discount system.
Impressionism, decadence, Japanese art, the _plein air_ school.
Realism _v._ romance; Gothic _v._ Greek art. Russian fiction, Dutch,
Bulgarian, Norwegian, American, etc., etc.: opinion of every novel
ever written, of every school, in every language (you must read them
in the original); ditto of every opera and piece of music, with
supplementary opinions about every vocalist and performer; ditto of
every play, with supplementary opinions about every actor, dancer,
etc.; ditto of every poem; ditto of every picture ever painted, with
estimates of every artist in every one of his manners at every stage
of his development and decisions as to which pictures are not
genuine; also of every critic of literature, drama, art, and music
(in all of which departments certain names are equal to an appalling
plexus of questions--Wagner, Ibsen, Meredith, Browning, Comte,
Goethe, Shakespeare, Dante, Degas, Rousseau, Tolsto�, Maeterlinck,
Strindberg, Zola, Whistler, Leopardi, Emerson, Carlyle, Swedenborg,
Rabelais). Socialism, its various schools, its past and its future;
Anarchism: bombs. Labour questions: the Eight Hours' Day, the
Unemployed, the Living Wage, etc., etc. Mr. Gladstone's career. Shall
members of Parliament be paid? Chamberlain's position; ditto for
every statesman in every country, to-day and in all past ages. South
Africa, Rhodes, Captain Jim. The English girl _v._ the French or the
American. Invidious comparisons of every people from every point of
view, physical, moral, intellectual, and aesthetic. Vizetelly.
Vivisection. First love _v._ later love; French marriage system _v._
the English. The corrupt choruses in the Greek dramas (also in modern
burlesque--with the question of the Church and Stage Guild, Zaeo's
back, the County Council, etc.). How to make London beautiful. Fogs.
Bi-metallism. Secondary Education. Volunteer or conscript? Anonymity
in journalism. Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, and Mohammedanism:
their mutual superiorities, their past and their future. Plato,
Spinoza, Kant, Hegel, and all philosophers and philosophies. The
Independent Theatre. The origin of language, Where do the Aryans come
from? Was Mrs. Maybrick guilty? Same question for every great
murderer. The Tichborne case, and every other _cause c�l�bre_,
including divorce cases. Crime and punishment. Music-hall songs.
Heredity: are acquired qualities inherited? Is tobacco a mistake? Is
drink? Is marriage? Is the high hat? Polygamy; the social evil. Are
the planets inhabited? Is the English concert pitch too high? The
divided skirt. The antiquity of man. Geology: is the story of the
rocks short, or long, or true? Geology _v._ Genesis; Genesis _v._
Kuenen. Was Pope a poet? Was Whitman? Was Poe a drunkard, or Griswold
a liar? Was Hamlet mad? Was Blake? Is waltzing immoral? Is humour
declining? Is there a modern British drama? Corporal punishment in
schools. Compulsory vaccination. What shall we do with our daughters?
or our sons? or our criminals? or our paupers? or ourselves? Female
franchise. Republicanism. Which is the best soap? or tooth-powder? Is
Morris's printing really good? Is the race progressing? Is our navy
fit? Should dynamite be used in war? or in peace? What persons should
be buried in Westminster Abbey? Origin of every fairy-tale. Who made
our proverbs and ballads? Cold baths _v._ hot or Turkish. Home Rule.
Should the Royal Academy be abolished? and who should be the next
R.A.? Should there be an Academy of Literature? or a Channel Tunnel?
Was De Lesseps to blame? Should we not patronise English
watering-places? Should there be pianos in board schools? or
theology? Authors and publishers; artists and authors. Is literature
a trade? Should pauper aliens be admitted? or pauper couples
separated? Bank Holiday. Irving _v._ Tree. The world's politics,
present, future, and even past--retrospective questions being
constantly re-agitated: as, Should the American slaves have been
emancipated? or Was the French Revolution a Folly? _Apropos_, which
is the best history of it? Who is the rightful Queen of England? Is
cycling injurious to the cyclist? or the public? Who was the Man in
the Iron Mask? Is the Stock Exchange immoral? What is influenza?
Ought we to give cabmen more than their fare? Tips generally. Should
dogs be muzzled? Have we a right to extend our empire? or to keep it?
Should we federate it? Are there ghosts? Is spiritualism a fraud? Is
theosophy? Was Madame Blavatsky? Was Jezebel a wretch, or a
Hellenist? The abuse of the quarantine. Should ladies ride astride?
Amateurs _v_. professionals in sports. Is prize-fighting beneficial?
Is trial by jury played out? The cost of law: Chancery. Abuses of the
Universities. The Cambridge Spinning House. Compulsory Greek. The
endowment of research. A teaching university in London. Is there a
sea-serpent? Servants _v._ mistresses. Shall the Jews have Palestine?
Classical _v._ modern side in schools. Should we abolish the
censorship of plays? or fees? or found a dramatic academy? or a State
theatre? Should gambling be legal? Should potatoes be boiled in their
skins? should dynamiters? Should newspapers publish racing tips? or
divorce cases? or comment? The New Journalism. What is the best ninth
move in the Evans gambit? Would Morphy have been a first-class
chess-player to-day? Is the Steinitz gambit sound? Do plants dream?
Ought we to fill up income-tax papers accurately? Shelley and Harriet
and Mary. Swift and Vanessa and Stella. Lord and Lady Byron. Did Mrs.
Carlyle deserve it? The limits of biography; of photography in
painting; of the spot-stroke in billiards. Did Shakespeare hold
horses? Should girls be brought up like boys, or boys like girls, or
both like one another? Are animals automata? Have they reason? or do
they live without reason? Will Brighton A's fall? or Peruvians rise?
Is it cruel to cage birds and animals? What is the best breed of
horses? Did Wellington say "Up, Guards, and at 'em"? Cremation _v._
Burial. Should immoral men be allowed to retain office? Is suicide
immoral? Opinion of the character of Elizabeth, Parnell, Catherine,
Cleopatra, Rousseau, Jack the Ripper, Semiramis, Lucrezia Borgia,
etc., etc. The present state of the Libel Law; and of the Game Laws.
Is vegetarianism higher? or healthier? Do actors feel their parts?
Should German type be abolished? or book-edges cut? or editions
artificially limited? or organ-grinders? How about
church-and-muffin-bells? Peasant proprietorship. Deer or Highlanders?
Were our ancestors taller than we? Is fruit or market-gardening or
cattle-farming more profitable? Dutch _v._ Italian gardening. What is
an etching? Do dreams come true? Is freemasonry a fraud? or
champagne? are Havanas? Best brand of whiskey? Ought Building and
Friendly Societies to be supervised? Smoking in theatres. Should
gentlemen pay ladies' cab-fares? Genius and insanity. Are cigarettes
poisonous? Is luxury a boon? Thirteen at table, and all other
superstitions--are they foolish? Why young men don't marry. Shall we
ever reach the Pole? How soon will England and the States be at war?
The real sites and people in Thackeray's novels. A universal penny
post? Cheap telegrams and telephones? Is the Bank of England safe?
Are the planets inhabited? Should girls have more liberty? Should
they propose? or wear crinolines? Why not have an unlimited paper
currency? or a decimal system and coinage? or a one-pound note?
Should we abolish the Lords? or preserve the Commons? Why not
euthanasia? Should dramatic critics write plays? Who built the
Pyramids? Are the English the Lost Ten Tribes? Should we send
missions to the heathen? How long will our coal hold out? Who
executed Charles I.? Are the tablets of Tel-el-Amarna trustworthy?
are hieroglyphic readers? Will war ever die? or people live to a
hundred? The best moustache-forcer, bicycle, typewriter, and system
of shorthand or of teaching the blind? Was Sam Weller possible? Who
was the original of Becky Sharp? Of Dodo? Does tea hurt? Do
gutta-percha shoes? or cork soles? Shall we disestablish the church?
or tolerate a reredos in St. Paul's? Is Euclid played out? Is there a
fourth dimension of space? Which is the real old Curiosity Shop? Is
the Continental man better educated than the Briton? Why can't we
square the circle? or solve equations to the _n_th degree? or
colour-print in England? What is the use of South Kensington? Is
paraffin good for baldness? or eucalyptus for influenza? How many
elements are there? Should cousins marry? or the House be adjourned
on Derby Day? Do water-colours fade? Will the ether theory live? or
Stanley's reputation? Is Free Trade fair? Is a Free Press? Is
fox-hunting cruel? or pigeon-shooting? How about the Queen's
staghounds? Should not each railway station bear its name in big
letters? and have better refreshments? Should we permit sky-signs?
Limits of advertisement. Preservation of historic buildings and
beautiful views _v_. utilitarianism. Is the coinage ugly? Should we
not get letters on Sunday? Who really wrote the "Marseillaise"? Are
examinations any real test? Promotion in the Army or the Civil
Service. Is logic or mathematics the primal science? and what is the
best system of symbolic logic? Should curates be paid more and
archbishops less? Should postmen knock? or combine? Are they under
military r�gime? or underpaid? Should Board School children be taught
religion? The future of China and Japan. Is Anglo-Indian society
immoral? Style or matter? Have we one personality or many?--with a
hundred other questions of psychology and ethics. A graduated income
tax--with a hundred other questions of political economy. Asphalt for
horses. Will the French republic endure? Will America have an
aristocracy? Shall Welsh perish? Is Platonic love possible? Did
Shakespeare write "Coriolanus"? Is there a skull in Holbein's
"Ambassadors"? What is the meaning of Dryden's line, "He was and is
the Captain of the Test"? or of the horny projection under the left
wing of the sub-parasite of the third leg of a black-beetle? Was Orme
poisoned? Are there fresh-water jelly-fishes? Is physiognomy true? or
phrenology? or graphology? or cheiromancy? If so, what are their
laws? Opinions on Guelphs and Ghibellines, fasting displays,
infanticide, the genealogy of the peerage, the origin of public-house
signs, Siberia, the author of Junius, of the Sibylline Books,
werewolves, dyeing one's hair, coffin-ships, standing armies, the
mediaeval monasteries, Church Brotherhoods, state insurance of the
poor, promiscuous almsgiving, the rights of animals, the C. D. Acts,
the Kernoozer Club, emigration, book-plates, the Psychical Society,
Kindergarten, Henry George, Positivism, Chevalier's Coster,
colour-blindness, Total Abstinence, Arbitration, the best hundred
books, Local Option, Women's Rights, the Wandering Jew, the Flying
Dutchman, the Neanderthal skull, the Early Closing movement, the
Prince of Wales, and the Tonic Sol-fa notation. Is there an English
hexameter? Is a perfect translation impossible? Will the coloured
races conquer? Is consumption curable? Is celibacy possible? Can
novels be really dramatised? Is the French school of acting superior
to ours? Should literary men be offered peerages? or refuse them?
Should quack-doctors be prosecuted? Should critics practise without a
license? Are the poor happier or unhappier than the rich? or is Paley
right? Did Paley steal his celebrated watch? Did Milton steal from
Vondel? Is the Salon dead in England? Should duelling be revived?
What is the right thing in dados, hall-lamps, dressing-gowns, etc.?
Should ladies smoke? Is there a Ghetto in England? Anti-Semitism. Why
should London wait? or German waiters? Mr. Stead's revival of
pilgrimages. Is Grimm's Law universal? The abuses of the Civil
Service; of the Pension List. Dr. Barnardo. Grievances of
match-girls; of elementary teachers. Are our police reliable? Is
Stevenson's Scotch accurate? Is our lifeboat service efficient? The
Eastern Question. What is an English fairy-tale? What are the spots
on the sun? Have they anything to do with commercial crises? Should
we spoil the Court if we spared the Black Rod? or the City if we
spared the Lord Mayor? Is chloroforming dangerous? Should armorial
bearings be taxed? or a tradesman's holiday use of his cart? Should
classical texts be Bowdlerised for school-boys? Is the confessional
of value? Is red the best colour for a soldier's uniform or for a
target? Will it rain to-morrow? Ought any one to carry firearms? Do
we permit the cancan on the English stage? or a�rial flights without
nets? Where are the lost Tales of Miletus? Should lawyers wear their
own hair? Was the Silent System so bad? Should a novel have a
purpose? Was the _Victoria_ Fund rightly distributed? What is the
origin of Egyptian civilisation? Is it allowable to say, "It's me"?
Every other doubtful point of grammar and--worse still--of
pronunciation; also of etymology. May we say "Give an ovation"? Is
the German Emperor a genius, or a fool? Should bachelors be taxed?
Will the family be abolished? Ensilage. Why was Ovid banished from
Rome? Is the soul immortal? Is our art-pottery bad? Is the Revised
Version of the Bible superior to the Old? Who stole Gainsborough's
picture? Which are the rarest coins and stamps? Is there any sugar in
the blood? Blondes or brunettes? Do monkeys talk? What should you
lead at whist? Should directors of insolvent companies be prosecuted?
Or classics be annotated? Was Boswell a fool? Do I exist? Does
anybody else exist? Is England declining? Shall the costers stand in
Farringdon Street? Do green wall-papers contain arsenic? Shall we
adopt phonetic spelling? Is life worth living?
The last question at least I thought I could answer, as I bore to bed
with me that headache which you have doubtless acquired if you have been
foolish enough to read the list. If only one were a journalist, one would
have definite opinions on all these points.
And to these questions every day brings a fresh quota. You are expected
to have read the latest paragraph in the latest paper, and the newest
novel, and not to have missed such and such an article in such and such a
quarterly. And all the while you are fulfilling the duties of, and
solving the problems of, son, brother, cousin, husband, father, friend,
parishioner, citizen, patriot, all complicated by specific religious and
social relations, and earning your living by some business that has its
own hosts of special problems, and you are answering letters from
everybody about everything, and deciding as to the genuineness of begging
appeals, and wrestling with some form or forms of disease, pain, and
"Truly, we are imperfect instruments for determining truth," I said to
the Poet. "The sane person acts from impulse, and only pretends to give a
reason. Reason is only called in to justify the verdict of prejudice.
Sometimes the impulse is sentiment--which is prejudice touched with
emotion. We cannot judge anything on pure, abstract grounds, because the
balance is biassed. A human being is born a bundle of prejudices, a group
of instincts and intuitions and emotions that precede judgment.
Patriotism is prejudice touched with pride, and politics is prejudice
touched with spite. Philosophy is prejudice put into propositions, and
art is prejudice put into paint or sound, and religion is a pious
opinion. Every man is born a Platonist or an Aristotelian, a Romanticist,
or a Realist, or an Impressionist, and usually erects his own limitations
into a creed. Every country, town, district, family, individual, has a
special set of prejudices along the lines of which it moves, and which it
mistakes for exclusive truths or reasoned conclusions. Touch human
society anywhere, it is rotten, it crumbles into a myriad notes of
interrogation; the acid of analysis dissolves every ideal. Humanity only
keeps alive and sound by going on in faith and hope,--_solvitur
ambulando_,--if it sat down to ask questions, it would freeze like the
traveller in the Polar regions. The world is saved by bad logic."
"And by good feeling," added my friend the Poet.
"And in the face of all these questions," I cried, surveying the list
ruefully again, "we go on accumulating researches and multiplying books
without end, vituperating the benefactors who destroyed the library of
Alexandria, and exhuming the civilisations that the earthquakes of Time
have swallowed under. The Hamlet of centuries, 'sicklied o'er with the
pale cast of thought,' the nineteenth of that ilk mouches along,
soliloquising about more things in heaven and earth than were dreamt of
in any of its predecessors' philosophies. Ah me! Analysis is paralysis
and introspection is vivisection and culture drives one mad. What will be
the end of it all?"
"The end will be," answered the Poet, "that the overstrung nerves of the
century will give way, and that we shall fall into the simple old faith
of Omar Khayy�m:
"A Book of Verses underneath the Bough,
A Jug of Wine, a Loaf of Bread, and Thou
Beside me singing in the Wilderness--
O Wilderness were Paradise enow."
"Yes," said I, "the only wisdom is to live. Action is substance and
thought shadow." And so--paradoxically enough--I began to think out
A WORKING PHILOSOPHY
The solar system turns without thine aid.
Live, die! The universe is not afraid.
What is is right! If aught seems wrong below,
Then wrong it is--of thee to leave it so.
Then wrong it first becomes for human thought,
Which else would die of dieting on naught.
Tied down by race and sex and creed and station,
Go, learn to find thy strength in limitation,
To do the little good that comes to hand,
Content to love and not to understand;
Faithful to friends and country, work and dreams,
Knowing the Real is the thing that seems.
While reverencing every nobleness,
In whatsoever tongue or shape or dress,
Speak out the word that to _thy_ soul seems right,
Strike out thy path by individual light:
'Tis contradictory rays that give the White.
"The ideas are good. But what a pity you are not a poet!" said my friend
But, though I recognise that prejudice in the deepest sense supplies the
matter of judgment, while logic is only regulative of the form, yet in
the more work-a-day sense of the word in which prejudice is taken to mean
an opinion formed without reasoning and maintained in despite of it, I
claim to write absolutely without prejudice. The syllogism is my lord and
king. A kind-hearted lady said I had a cruel face. It is true. I am
absolutely remorseless in tracking down a _non sequitur_, pitiless in
forcing data to yield up their implicit conclusions. "Logic! Logic!"
snorted my friend the Poet. "Life is not logical. We cannot be logical."
"Of course not," said I; "I should not dream of asking men to live
logically: all I ask is that they should argue logically."
But to be unprejudiced does not mean to have no convictions. The
superficial confuse definiteness with prejudice, forgetting that definite
opinions may be the result of careful judgment. Post-judiced I trust I
am. But prejudiced? Heaven forfend! Why, 'tis because I do not wish to
bind myself to anything that I may say in them that I mark these personal
communications "Without Prejudice"! For I do not at all mind
contradicting myself. If it were some one of reverend years or superior
talents I might hesitate, but between equals----! Contradiction is the
privilege of _camaraderie_ and the essence of _causerie_. We agree to
differ--I and myself. I am none of your dogmatic fellows with
pigeon-holes for minds, and whatever I say I do not stick to. And I will
tell you why. There is hardly a pretty woman of my acquaintance who has
not asked for my hand. Owing to this passion for palmistry in polite
circles, I have discovered that I possess as many characters as there are
palmists. Do you wonder, therefore, if, with such a posse of
personalities to pick from, I am never alike two days running? With so
varied a psychological wardrobe at command, it would be mere self-denial
to be faithful to one's self. I leave that to the one-I'd who can see
only one side of a question. Said Tennyson to a friend (who printed it):
"'In Memoriam' is more optimistic than I am"; and there is more of the
real man in that little remark than in all the biographies. The published
prophet has to live up to his public halo. So have I seen an actress on
tour slip from a third-class railway carriage into a brougham. Tennyson
was not mealy-mouthed, but then he did not bargain for an audience of
phonographs. Nowadays it is difficult to distinguish your friends from
your biographers. The worst of it is that the land is thick with fools
who think nothing of a great man the moment they discover he was a man.
Tennyson was all the greater for his honest doubt. The cocksure centuries
are passed for ever. In these hard times we have to work for our
opinions; we cannot rely on inheriting them from our fathers.
I write with a capital I at the risk of being accused of egotism.
Apparently it is more modest to be conceited in the third person, like
the child who says "Tommy is a good boy," or in the first person plural,
like the leader-writer of "The Times," who bids the Continent tremble at
his frown. By a singular fallacy, which ought scarcely to deceive
children, it is forgotten that everything that has ever been written
since the world began has been written by some one person, by an "I,"
though that "I" might have been omitted from the composition or replaced
by the journalistic "we." To some extent the journalist does sink his
personality in that imaginary personality of his paper, a personality
built up, like the human personality, by its past; and the result is a
pompous, colourless, lifeless simulacrum. But in every other department
of letters the trail of the "I" is over every page and every sentence.
The most impersonal essays and poems are all in a sense egoistic.
Everything should really be between inverted commas with an introductory
_Thus say I_. But as these are omitted, as being understood, they come at
last to be _mis_understood.
In the days ere writing was invented, this elementary error was not
possible. The words were heard issuing from the lips of a single man;
every opinion, every law of conduct, must have been at first formulated
through the lips of some one man. And to this day, in spite of the
wilderness of tradition and authority by which we are overgrown, the
voice of the one man is still our only living source of inspiration and
help. Every new thought must pass through the brain, every moral ideal
through the conscience, of an individual. Voices, voices, we want--not
echoes. Better the mistaken voice of honest individuality than the
soulless bleat of the flock. There are too many of Kipling's Tomlinsons
in the world, whose consciences are wholly compact of _on dits_, on whom
the devil himself, sinned they never so sadly, would refuse to waste his
good pit-coal. "Bad taste"--that opprobrious phrase which, worse than the
accusation of a crime, cannot be refuted, for it is the king of the
question-beggars,--"bad taste" is responsible for half the reticence that
marks current writing, for the failure to prick the bladders of every
species that bloat themselves all around us. "Good taste" is the
staunchest ally of hypocrisy, and corruption is the obverse side of
civilisation. I do not believe in these general truths that rule the
market. What is "true for all" is false for each. It is the business of
every man to speak out, to be himself, to contribute his own thought to
the world's thinking--to be egoistic. To be egoistic is not to be
egotistic. Egoism should be distinguished from egotism. The egoist thinks
for himself, the egotist about himself. Mr. Meredith's Sir Willoughby
should not have been styled the _Egoist_. The egoist offers his thought
to his fellow-men, the egotist thinks it is the only thought worth their
acceptance. These papers of mine joyously plead guilty to egoism, but not
to egotism. If they, for instance, pretend to appraise the powers of my
contemporaries, they do not pretend to be more than an individual
appraisal. Whoever wants another opinion can go somewhere else. There is
no lack of practitioners in criticism, more or less skilful. There must
be a struggle for existence among opinions, as among all other things,
and the egoist is content to send the children of his thought into the
thick of the fray, confident that the fittest will survive. Only he is
not so childish as to make-believe that an impersonal dignified
something-not-himself that makes for the ink-pot is speaking--and not he
himself, he "with his little I." The affectation of modesty is perhaps
the most ludicrous of all human shams. I am reminded of the two Jews who
quarrelled in synagogue, during the procession of palm-branches, because
each wanted to be last, as befitted the humblest man in Israel, which
each claimed to be. This is indeed "the pride that apes humility." There
is a good deal of this sort of pride in the careful and conscientious
suppression of the egoistic in books and speeches. I have nothing of this
modesty to be proud of. I know that I am cleverer than the man in the
street, though I take no credit to myself for it, as it is a mere
accident of birth, and on the whole a regrettable one. It was this
absence of modesty from my composition that recently enabled me to
propose the toast of literature coupled with the name of Mr. Zangwill. I
said that I could wish that some one more competent and distinguished
than myself had been chosen to do justice to such a toast and to such a
distinguished man of letters, but I did my best to pay him the tribute he
deserved ere I sat down amid universal applause. When I rose amid renewed
cheers to reply, I began by saying that I could wish that some one more
competent and distinguished than myself had been chosen to respond to so
important a toast--the last speaker had considerably overrated my humble
achievements in the fields of literature. So that you see I could easily
master the modest manner, if I took any pains or set any store by it. But
in my articles of faith the "I" is just what I would accentuate most, the
"I" through which for each of us the universe flows, by which any truth
must be perceived in order to be true, and which is not to be replaced by
that false abstraction, the communal mind. Here are a laughing
philosopher's definitions of some cardinal things:
Philosophy--All my I.
Art--All my Eye.
Religion--All my Ay.
Also at the outset let it be distinctly understood that I write without
any prejudice in favour of grammar. The fear of the critics is the
beginning of pedantry. I detest your scholiast whose footnotes would take
Thackeray to task for his "and whiches," and your professor who disdains
the voice of the people, which is the voice of the god of grammar. I know
all the scholiast has to say (surely he is the silly [Greek:
scholastikos] of Greek anecdote), and indeed I owe all my own notions of
diction to a work on "Style" written by him. It was from the style of
this work that I learnt what to avoid. The book reminded me of my old
schoolmaster, who grew very angry with me for using the word "ain't," and
vociferated "Ain't! How often am I to tell you ain't ain't a word?" I
suppose one may take it for granted that the greater the writer the worse
the grammar. "Fools follow rules. Wise men precede them." (Query: this
being a quotation from myself, was I bound to put the inverted commas?)
Shakespeare has violated every rule of the schoolroom, and the more
self-conscious stylist of our own day--Stevenson--would be caned for
composition. I find him writing "They are not us," which is almost as
blasphemous as "It's me." His reputation has closed the critics' eyes to
such sentences as these in his essay on "Some Portraits by Raeburn":
"Each of his portraits are not only a piece of history ..."; "Neither of
the portraits of Sir Walter Scott were very agreeable to look upon."
Stevenson is a master, but not a schoolmaster, of English. Of course bad
grammar does not make a genius, any more than bad morals. (Note how much
this sentence would lose in crispness if I made it grammatical by tacking
on "do.") My friend the musician complained to me that when he studied
harmony and form he was told he must not do this, that and the other;
whereas, when he came to look into the works of the great composers he
found they made a practice of all the three. "Am I a genius?" he queried
pathetically. "If so, I could do as I please. I wish I knew." Every
author who can read and write is in the same predicament: on the one hand
his own instinct for a phrase or a sentence, on the other the contempt of
every honest critic. The guardians of the laws of English have a stock of
taboos; but unlike the guardians of the laws of England they credit every
disregard of them to ignorance. They cannot conceive of malice
aforethought. We are forbidden, for example, to use the word "phenomenal"
in the sense of "extraordinary." But, with Mr. Crummles's Infant
Phenomenon in everybody's mind, can we expect the adjective to shake off
the old associations of its parent noun?
Last year I culled an amusing sentence from a "Standard" criticism of a
tale of adventure: "The story is a well-told, and in spite of the word
'unreliable,' a well-written one." Now just as many foolish persons
object to "a ... one" as to "unreliable." As for the first phrase, I am
sure so great a writer as Tom Hood would have pronounced it A1, while
"unreliable" is defended with unusual warmth by Webster's Dictionary. The
contention that "reliable" should be "reli-on-able," is ridiculous, and
Webster's argument is "laughable," which should obviously be
"laugh-at-able." These remarks are made quite without prejudice, for
personally I have little to complain of. (By the way, this sentence is as
open to blame as that of the professor who told his pupils "You must not
use a preposition to end a sentence with.") Though I have sat under an
army of critics, I have but once been accused of inelegant English, and
then it was only by a lady who wrote that my slipshod style "aggravated"
Finally it will be remarked that by dispensing with illustrations I
preserve intact my egoism and the dignity of a rival art. Nothing can be
more absurd than the conventional illustration which merely attempts to
picture over again what the writer has already pictured in words. Not
only is the effort superfluous, a waste of force, but the artist's
picture is too often in flat contradiction of the text. Whom are you to
believe, the author or the artist? the man who tells you that the heroine
is ethereal, or the man who plainly demonstrates that she is podgy? How
often, too, do the people dress differently in the words and in the
picture, not to speak of the shifting backgrounds! Dickens had so much
difficulty with his illustrations because he saw his characters so much
more clearly than any other novelist; the sight of his inner eye was so
good. And one can understand, too, how Cruikshank came to fancy he had
created Oliver Twist, much as an actor imagines he "creates" a character.
The true collaboration between author and artist requires that the work
should be divided between them, not reduplicated. Those parts of the
story which need the intervention of words should be allotted to the
writer, while to the artist should be entrusted the parts better told by
pencil. Neither need trench on the other's province. Description--which
so many readers skip already--would be abolished. Even incidents--such as
murder--could be caught by the artist in the act. And after the artist
had killed a character, the author could preach over his corpse. Thus
there would be an agreeable reversion to picture-language, the earliest
way of writing, and the latest. The ends of the ages would meet in a
romance written on these lines:--
"Sick at heart we watched till the grey dawn stole in through the
diamond-paned casements of the Grange, and then, at last, when we had
given up all hope, we saw coming up the gravel pathway----"
After which the author proceeds: "Fascinated by the blood that dripped
from the edges of the eight umbrellas, we stood silent; then, throwing
off our coats, we----
"So that was how I won the sweetest little bride I ever wedded. But if I
live to wed a hundred, I shall never forget that terrible night in
[* Transcriber's note: So in original. These are _not_ placeholders for
actual illustrations in the book.]
My friend the artist once collaborated with me in an experiment of this
sort, but we did not pursue it, discovering how feeble an advance ours
would be after all; for there were points at which both of us felt we
ought to give way to the tone-poet. When the emotions became too
intangible for intellectual expression I asked my friend the musician to
insert paragraphs in a minor key. The love-scenes I was particularly
anxious to have written in musical phrases. But he shrank from so
unconventional a form, not being sure he was a genius. I was also
disheartened by the disappointing behaviour of the diverse scents with
which I had expressed myself on certain blank pages. They would not
remain in their places.
They were "tuning up" in a wooden hall, stupidly built on the pier to
shut off the sea and the night (a penny to pay for the privation), and in
that strange cacophony of desolate violin strings, tuneless trombones,
and doleful double basses, in that homeless wail of forlorn brass and
lost catgut, I found a music sweeter than a Beethoven symphony; for
memory's tricksy finger touched of a sudden the source of tears, and
flashed before the inner eye a rainbow-lit panorama of the early joys of
the theatre--the joys that are no more. Was it even at a theatre--was it
even more than an interlude in a diorama?--that divine singing of "The
Last Rose of Summer" by a lady in evening dress, whose bust is, perhaps
for me alone in all the world, still youthful? Was it from this hall of
the siren, or was it from some later enchantment, that I, an infant
Ulysses, struggled home by night along a sea road, athwart a gale that
well-nigh blew me out to sea? How fierce that salt wind blew, a-yearn to
drive me to the shore's edge and whirl me over! How fresh and tameless it
beats against me yet, blowing the cobwebs from my brain as that real
breeze outside the pier could never do! When my monitory friends gabble
of change of air I inhale that wind and am strong. For the child is of
the elements, elemental, and the man of the complexities, complex. And so
that good salt wind blows across my childhood still, though it cannot
sweep away the mist that hovers thereover.
For who shall say whether 't was I or my sister who was borne shrieking
with fear from the theatre when the black man, "Othello," appeared on the
boards! The first clear memory of things dramatic is of an amateur
performance--alas! I have seen few others. 'T was a farce--when was an
amateur performance other? There was much play of snuff-boxes passed
punctiliously 'twixt irascible old gentlemen with coloured handkerchiefs.
Also there was dinner beforehand--my first experience of chicken and
champagne. And then there is a great break till the real theatre rises
stately and splendid, like Britannia ruling the waves--nay, Britannia
herself, or, as they call it lovingly down Shoreditch way, "the Brit."
When to my fashionable friends I have held forth on the glories and the
humours of "the Brit.," they have taken it for granted, and I have lacked
the courage or the energy to undeceive them, that my visits to this
temple of the people were expeditions of Haroun Al Raschid in the back
streets of Bagdad or adventures of Prince Florizel in Rupert Street; but
of a truth I have climbed the gallery stairs in sober boyish earnestness,
elbowed of the gods, and elbowing, and if I did not yield to the
seductions of "ginger-beer and Banbury" that filled up clamantly the
entr'actes, 't was that I had not the coppers. "Guy Fawkes" was my first
piece, in the days when the drama's "fireworks" were not epigrams, and so
the smell of the sulphur still purifies the air. All the long series of
"London successes," with their array of genius and furniture, have faded
like insubstantial pageants, but the rude vault piled with flour-barrels
for the desperado's torch is fixed as by chemic process. Consider the
preparation of the brain for that memory. What! I should actually go to a
play--that far-off wonder! "The Miller and his Men" cut in cardboard
should no longer stave off my longing for the living passion of the
theatre. 'T was a very elongated young man who took me, a young
cigar-maker fond of reciting, spouting Shakespeare from a sixpenny
edition, playing Hamlet mentally as he rolled the tobacco-leaf. There was
a halo about his head, for he was on speaking terms with the low comedian
of the "Brit.," and, I understood, was permitted upon occasion to pay for
a pint of half-and-half. Alas! all this did not avail to save him from an
early tomb. Poor worshipper of the green room, perchance thy ghost still
walks there. Or is there room in some other world for thy baffled
In such clouds of glory did the drama first come to me, sulphurously
splendid. In the "Brit." I made my first acquaintance with the limelit
humanity that, magnificent in its crimes and in its virtues, sins or
suffers in false eyebrows or white muslin to the sound of soft music.
Here I met that strange creation, the villain--a being as mythic,
meseems, as the centaur, and, like it, more beast than man. The "Brit."
was a hot place for villains, the gallery accepting none but the highest
principles of speech and conduct, and ginger-beer were not too weighty a
form of expressing detestation of the more comprehensive breaches of the
decalogue. Hisses the villain never escaped, and I was puzzled to know
how the poor actor could discriminate betwixt the hiss ethical and the
hiss aesthetic. But perhaps no player ever received the latter; the house
was very loyal to its favourites, all of whom had their well-defined
r�les in every play, which spared the playwrights the task of indicating
character. Before the heroine had come on we knew that she was young and
virtuous--had she not been so for the last five and twenty years?--the
comic man had not to open his mouth for us to begin to laugh; a latent
sibilance foreran the villain. Least mutable of all, the hero swaggered
on, virtuous without mawkishness, pugnacious without brutality. How
sublime a destiny, to stand for morals and muscle to the generations of
Hoxton, to incarnate the copy-book crossed with the "Sporting Times!"
Were they bearable in private life, these monsters of virtue?
J. B. Howe was long this paragon of men--affectionately curtailed to
Jabey. Once, when the villain was about to club him, "Look out, Jabey!"
cried an agonised female voice. It followed from the happy understanding
on both sides of the curtain that--give ear, O envious lessees!--no play
ever failed. How could it? It was always the same play.
Of like kidney was the Grecian Theatre, where one went out between the
acts to dance, or to see the dancing, upon a great illuminated platform.
'T was the drama brought back to its primitive origins in the Bacchic
dances--the Grecian Theatre, in good sooth! How they footed it under the
stars, those regiments of romping couples, giggling, flirting, munching!
Alas! _Fuit Troja!_ The Grecian is "saved." Its dancing days are over, it
is become the Headquarters of Salvation. But it is still gay with music,
virtue triumphs on, and vice grovels at the penitent form. In such quaint
wise hath the "Eagle" renewed its youth, for the Grecian began life as
the Eagle, and was Satan's deadliest lure to the 'prentices of
Clerkenwell and their lasses:
Up and down the City Road,
In and out the Eagle;
That's the way the money goes!
Pop goes the weasel.
Concerning which immortal lines one of your grammatical pedants has
observed, "There ain't no rhyme to City Road, there ain't no rhyme to
Eagle." Great pantomimes have I seen at the Grecian--a happy gallery boy
at three pence--pantomimes compact of fun and fantasy, far surpassing,
even to the man's eye, the gilded dullnesses of Drury Lane. The
pantomimes of the Pavilion, too, were frolicsome and wondrous, marred
only by the fact that I knew one of the fairies in real life, a
good-natured girl who sewed carpet-slippers for a living. The Pavilion,
by the way, is in the Whitechapel Road, not a mile from the People's
Palace, in the region where, according to the late Mr. Walter Besant,
nobody ever laughs. The Pavilion, like the "Brit.," had its stock
company, and when the leading lady appeared for her Benefit as "Portia,"
she was not the less applauded for being drunk. The quality of mercy is
_not_ strained. And what more natural than that one should celebrate
one's benefit by getting drunk? Sufficient that "Shylock" was sober!
In Music-Halls, the East-End was as rich as the West,--was it not the
same talent that appeared at both, like Sir Boyle Roche's bird, winging
its way from one to t' other in cabs? Those were the days of the great
Macdermott, who gave Jingoism to English history, of the great Vance, of
the lion comiques, in impeccable shirt-fronts and crush hats. There was
still a chairman with a hammer, who accepted champagne from favoured
mortals, stout gentlemen with gold chains, who might even aspire to
conversation with the comiques themselves. _Sic itur ad astra_. Now there
is only a chairman of directors who may, perhaps, scorn to be seen in a
music-hall: a grave and potent seignior whose relations with the
footlights may be purely financial. There were still improvisatori who
would turn you topical verses on any subject, and who, on the very
evening of Derby-day, could rhyme the winner when unexpectedly asked by
the audience to do so. A verse of Fred Coyne's--let me recall the name
from the early oblivion which gathers over the graves of those who live
amid the shouts of worshippers--still lingers in my memory, bearing in
itself its own chronology:
And though we could wish, some beneficent fairy
Had preserved the life of the Prince so dear,
Yet we WON'T lay the blame on Lieutenant Carey;
And these are the latest events of the year.
With what an answering pandemonium we refused to hold the lieutenant
accountable for the death of the victim of the African assegais! And the
ladies! How ravishingly they flashed upon the boards, in frocks that,
like Charles Lamb at the India Office, made up for beginning late by
finishing early! How I used to agree with the bewitching creature who
sang that lovely lyric strangely omitted from the Anthologies:
What a nice place to be in!
What a nice place, I 'm sure!
Such a very jolly place,
I've never seen before.
It gives me, oh! such pleasure,
And it fills my heart with bliss,
I could stay here for ever:
What a nice place is this!
Such eyes she made at me--at whom else?--aloft in the balcony; and oh,
what arch smiles, what a play of white teeth! If we could only have met!
Yester-year at a provincial town some one offered to introduce her to me.
She was still playing principal boy in the pantomime--a gay, gallant
Prince, in plumed cap and tights. But I declined. Another of the great
comic singers of my childhood--a man--I met on a Margate steamboat. He
told me of the lost glories of the ancient days _quorum pars magna fuit_,
and of the after-histories of his great rivals. One, I recollect, had
retired with a fortune, opened a magnificent Temperance Hotel at the
seaside, and then broken his neck by falling down his own splendid
staircase, drunk. "Ah," said the veteran, sighing at an overcrowded
profession, "there were only two or three comic singers in those days."
"There are only two or three now," quoth I. And the old man beamed.
Another ancient hero of the halls, long since translated to the theatres,
whom I first saw at a music-hall in St. Giles', buttonholed me the other
night in St. James', in the halls of a Duchess: a curious meeting. That I
should have ever reverenced him seemed as strange as that there should be
still people to reverence the coronet of the Duchess. Yes, it is very far
off, that magic time when the world was full of splendid things and
splendid men and women, a great Fair, and I, like the child in Henley's
poem, wandered about, enjoying, desiring, possessing. Now I know there is
nothing worth wanting, and nothing but poor flesh and blood, despite all
the costumes and accessories. For there is no sense in which I have not
been "behind the scenes." And as for the literal theatric sense, I have
flirted with the goddesses at the wings till they have missed their cues,
I have supped at the Garrick Club of a Saturday night, when all the stars
come out, I have toured with a travelling company, I have had words of my
own spoken by dainty lips,--nay, I have even played myself, _en amateur_,
the irascible old gentleman with the snuff-box and the coloured
handkerchief. And what is there to say of the human spectacle, but that
perhaps the pains and the crimes are necessary to the show, and that
without a blood-and-thunder plot human life would not run, drying up of
its own dullness? "All the world's a stage," and we are all cast for
stock r�les. Some of us have the luck to be heroes, the complacent centre
of eternal plaudits, some are born for villainy and the brickbat. And
while others have had to play goodness knows what--mediaeval Italian
princesses, Cockney cabmen, old Greek hetairae, German cuirassiers,
American presidents, burglars, South Sea Islanders--I find myself--for
the first time on any stage--in the applauded r�le of man of letters, if
with little option of throwing up the part. They have an optimistic
phrase, those happy-go-lucky creatures of the footlights, when, on the
very day of production, nobody knows his words or his business, the scene
will not shape itself, and chaos is lord. "It will be all right at
night," they say. And we, who play our parts gropingly on this confused
and noisy scene, wondering what is the plot, and where is the manager,
and straining our ears for the prompter's whisper, can but echo with
another significance their cheery hope: "It will be all right at night."
Perhaps, when the long day's work has drawn to its end, and the curtain,
has fallen upon the plaudits and the hisses, we shall all sit down to
supper after the play, complimented by the Author, smiling at the
seriousness with which we took our r�les of hero or villain, and glad to
be done with, the make-up and the paint. And in the music that shall
hover about our table, we may perhaps find a celestial restfulness,
compared to which the most exquisite orchestras of this earth shall sound
but as "tuning up."
ART IN ENGLAND
My friend the Apostle was in hot haste, and would not stay to be
contradicted. "Not going to-night!" he cried, in horror-struck accents.
"Why, to-night is the turning-point in the history of the British drama!
To-night is the test-battle of the old and the new; it is the shock of
schools, the clash of nature against convention. This play will decide
the fate of our drama for the rest of the century. Here you have a play
by a leader of the old school produced at a leading theatre. If it
succeeds, the old drama may linger on for a year or two more; but if it
fails, it will be the death-blow of the old gang. They may pack up!" The
Apostle was at the other end of the street ere I had taken in the full
import of these brave words. What! there was a crisis in the drama, and
I, living in the heart of art, had heard nothing about it! Fortunately it
was not too late. I could still make amends for my ignorance. It was
still open to me to assist at this historic contest, for the arena was to
be the Haymarket, where I am a _persona gratis_. Visions of the great
first night of "Hernani" thronged tumultuously before me; my blood pulsed
with something of its ancient youthful ardour as I girded my loins with
black trousers for the fray, and adjusted my white tie with faltering
fingers. I had half a mind to don a _gilet rouge_, but the reflection
that my wardrobe did not boast of coloured waistcoats gave the victory to
the other half. I dashed up to the theatre. All was placid. The stalls
were packed with a brilliant audience in correct and unemotional costume.
There were classic faces, and romantic faces, and faces that were
realistic, but each and all blank of the consciousness of a crisis. The
talk was of everything save art and literature. The critics did not even
sharpen their pencils. They looked bored to a man. In vain my eye roved
the arm-chairs in search of a fighting figure. I could not even see the
musical iconoclast who had carried his pepper-and-salt suit into the holy
of holies of the Italian opera. My heart sank within me. When the
orchestra ceased I gave one last despairing glance all round the theatre
in search of my friend the Apostle. _He was not there!_
The play was "The Charlatan,"--the work of that other apostle, whose
outspoken Epistles to the English chronically relieve the dull decorum of
London journalism; the man of whom Tennyson came near writing--
Buchanan to right of him,
Buchanan to left of him,
Buchanan in front of him,
Volleyed and thundered.
But that night it was the audience that volleyed and thundered, in
unanimous applause. Hisses or party-cries were not. During the intense
episodes, when the house was wrapt in silence, and you could have heard a
programme drop, no opposition partisan as much as laughed. The author was
called at curtain-fall, and retired uninjured. Next morning the critics
were scrupulously suave, with no sign of the battle they had been
through. Most wonderful to relate, Mr. William Archer, the risen hope of
the stern and unbending Radicals, launched into unwonted praise, and gave
an airing to some of the eulogistic adjectives that had been mouldering
in his dictionary; nor did he even appear to be aware that he had gone
over to the enemy!
For one thing, Bard Buchanan had given us neither old school nor new, but
a blend of both--nay, a blend of all forms of both--a structure at once
modern and mediaeval, with a Norwegian wing. It combined the common-sense
of England with the glamour of the East, the physiology of the hypnotist
with the psychology of Ibsen. More! It was an epitome of all the
Haymarket plays, a _r�sum�_ of all Mr. Tree's successes. The heroine was
a mixture of Ophelia and hysteria, the hero was a combination of Captain
Swift, Hamlet, and the Tempter; the paradoxical pessimist was a reminder
of Mr. Wilde's comedies, the bishop and scientist were in the manner of
Mr. Jones. How clever! Social satire _� la Savoy_, s�ance _� la salle
Egyptienne_, sleep-walking _� la Bellini_, moonlight poetry _� la
Christabel_, a touch of spice _� la Fran�aise_, and copious confession _�
la Norv�gienne_, all baked into one pie. How characteristic! And
characteristic, mark you, not only of Mr. Buchanan's chaotic cleverness,
but of Mr. Tree's experimental eclecticism. Did I say an epitome of the
Haymarket plays? This is but another way of saying an abstract and brief
chronicle of the time, to whose age and body Mr. Tree so shrewdly holds
up the mirror. For this dying century of ours is all things to all men.
We are living in the most picturesque confusion of the old and new known
to history--in a cross-road of chronology where all the ages meet. 'T is
a confusion of tongues outbabbling Babel, a simultaneous chattering of
the centuries. And, more troubled than the Tower-builders, we understand,
one another better than we understand ourselves; again, like "The
Charlatan," half odic force, half fraud, who is never so honest as when
he confesses himself charlatan.
But this is not what I set out to say. There was a moral to the tale of
my friend the absentee Apostle who was so cocksure about the crisis. This
moral is that he has Continental blood in his veins. To these foreign
corpuscles he owes the floridness of his outlook, his conception of the
excited Englishman. The Englishman takes his authors placidly; he is
never in a ferment or a frenzy about anything save politics, religion, or
sport: these are the poles and the axis of his life's pivot; he is not an
artistic person. Art has never yet taken the centre of the stage in his
consciousness; it has never even been accepted as a serious factor of
life. All the pother about plays, poems and pictures is made by small
circles. Our art has never been national art: I cannot imagine our making
the fuss about a great writer that is made about a second-rate journalist
in Paris. It is Grace the cricketer for whom the hundred thousand
subscribe their shilling: fancy a writer thus rewarded, even after
scoring his century of popular novels. The winning of the Derby gives a
new fillip to the monarchy itself. A Victor Hugo in London is a thought
_� faire rire_. A Goethe at the court of Victoria, or directing Drury
Lane Theatre, is of a comic-opera incongruity. Our neighbours across the
border have a national celebration of Burns' birthday--they think as much
of him as of the Battle of Bannockburn. We English, who have produced the
man whom the whole world acknowledges its greatest poet, have not even a
Shakespeare Day. Surely Shakespeare Sunday would do as much good to the
nation as Hospital Saturday or Shrove Tuesday! Charles Lamb wanted to say
grace before reading Shakespeare, but the Puritans who make England so
great and so dull are only thankful for stomachic mercies.
I cannot easily conceive our working ourselves up to such enthusiasm as
the Hungarians lately displayed over the jubilee of Joka�, an enthusiasm
that resounded even unto this country, and shook the _lacunar aureum_ of
the Holborn Restaurant with shouts of "Eljen."
The peculiarity of the Hungarian temperament does not, however, entirely
explain their joy in Joka�. He is so much more than a mere novelist, poet
and dramatist, with three or four hundred volumes (one need not be
particular to a hundred with this modern Lope de Vega) to his credit. He
is also a soldier and a politician, skilful with the sword as well as the
pen, and with the tongue as well as the sword. He has drawn blood with
each and all of these weapons, and though nowadays he often votes in the
House without inquiring what he is voting for till he has recorded his
vote, this does not diminish his claims to practical wisdom. He married
the leading actress of Hungary, who, without waiting for an introduction,
rushed forward from the audience to present him with a bunch of flowers
when a play of his made a hit. Fancy Ellen Terry rushing forward to
present Pinero with a bunch of flowers at the conclusion of "The Second
Mrs. Tanqueray"! No, the thing is as impossible in England as the
combination of r�les in Joka� himself. The idea of letting a man be at
once man of letters and man of action! Why, we scarcely allow that a man
of letters may occupy more than one pigeonhole! If he is a poet, we will
not admit he can write prose--forgetting that is just what most poets do.
If he is a novelist, he cannot write plays,--the truth being, of course,
that it is the playwrights who cannot write plays. If he is a humourist
he can never be taken seriously, and if he is accepted seriously he must
be careful to conceal his sense of the humour of the position. Not only
so, but we insist on the sub-sub-specialisation which Adam Smith showed
to be so profitable in the making of pins, and which, passing from the
factory to the laboratory, now threatens to pass from science into
literature. Having analysed away the infinitely great, we are now
devoting ourselves to the apotheosis of the infinitely little.
_A priori_, one would think action the salvation of the literary man, the
corrective of "the fallacies of the den," the provider of that experience
which is the raw material of literature, and prevents it from being spun
out of the emptiness of one's own entrails. But the practical Briton
knows better. He has never forgiven John Morley for going into politics
(though I doubt not "honest John" would now find much to revise in his
essay on "Compromise"); and he finds Socialism ever so much more Utopian
since William Morris went into it. Can you imagine a true-born Briton
following the flag of Swinburne, or throwing up a barricade with George
Meredith? To the last Beaconsfield was suspected of persiflage because he
wrote novels and was witty. America makes her authors ministers and
envoys, but England insists that brains are a disqualification for
practical life. "Authors are so unpractical: we don't want them to
act--we only want them to teach us how to act." A chemist or an
astronomer must needs isolate himself from the world to supply the pure
theory on which the practical arts are founded, and so the _litt�rateur_,
too, is expected to live out of the world in order to teach it how to
live. But the analogy is false.
You can work out your mathematical calculations by the week, and hand
over the results to the navigator. But the navigation of the stream of
time is another matter. There is no abstract theory of life that can be
studied without living oneself. Life is always concrete; it is built up
of emotions, and you cannot have the emotions brought into your study, as
you can order in your hydrochloric acid or your frog's leg. As well
expect anchorites to set the tune for men in the thick of the fight! They
will chant Masses when they should be shouting Marseillaises. In despair
our men of letters leave the country, and become politicians in little
savage islands; or they leave the town and become invisible behind their
haloes; or they take to golf in small Scotch cities, and pretend that
this satisfies their thirst for activity. Sometimes they turn
market-gardeners and fob off the interviewer with remarks about
caterpillars. Browning was reduced to dining out. It may be contended
that the writer must sequester himself to cultivate the Beautiful. But
the Beautiful that has not its roots in the True is not the Good. Or it
maybe urged that active life would limit the writer's output. Exactly:
that is one of the reasons that make active life so advisable. Every
writer would write less and feel more. The crop of literature should only
be grown in alternate years. As it is, a writer is a barrel-organ who
comes to the end of his tunes, clicks, and starts afresh, just as a
scholar is a revolving bookcase. Consider, too, how a holiday of action
would disenthral the writer from the pettiness of cliques and coteries,
with their pedantic atmosphere and false perspectives. I would have every
University don work in the docks six months a year (six months' idleness
is surely quite enough for any man); every platonic essayist should
attend a course of music-halls; and if I could afford it I would set up
all the superfine critics in nice little grocers' shops, with the cosiest
of back parlours. Why, bless my soul! it is your man of culture, your
author, your leader of thought, who is parochial, suburban, _born�_, and
the rest of it! It is a commonplace that the Londoner is the most
provincial of all Englishmen, living in sublime ignorance of what is
thought and done in the rest of the kingdom; and in similar wise, when a
man sneers at the _bourgeoisie_, I never think of looking up his pedigree
in Debrett. It is, no doubt, extremely exasperating that the world was
not created for the convenience and to the taste of artistic persons, but
unfortunately the thing had to be turned out before their advice could be
That young England--bless its stupid healthy soul--is more interested in
life and football than in literature and art, was amply proved by the
lethargy about the Laureateship. On the Continent the claims of the
rivals would have set the students brawling and the journalists duelling;
here it barely caused a ripple in the five o'clock teacup. My friend the
Apostle was not wholly wrong; there is a development of native drama
ahead of us; only it will come about peaceably,--we shall not hear the
noise of the captains and the shouting. And the old conventions have a
long run yet before them. They cling even to the skirts of "The Second
Mrs. Tanqueray." Indeed, the new school can scarcely be said to have
appeared. The literary quality of our plays has improved, thanks to Jones
and Pinero, and not forgetting Grundy. And that is all. The old school is
as vigorous as ever. In the person of "Charley's Aunt" it is alive and
kicking up its petticoats, and the audience rolls in helpless laughter at
Mr. Penley's slightest movement. Talk of literature, indeed! Why, the
fortunate comedian assured me that if he chose he could spin out
"Charley's Aunt" from a two-hours' play to a four-hours' play, merely by
eking out his own "business." Think of this, aspiring Sheridans, ye who
polish the dialogue with midnight oil; realise the true inwardness of the
drama, and go burn me your epigrams!
In literature, where the clash of new and old is more audible, it is
still the same story. On the conservative side, the real fighting is done
by Messrs. Smith, who refuse to sell the too daring publication. The
radicals are crippled by the timidity of editors, and cajoled by the
fatness of their purses. A gifted young story-teller has been lecturing
on the Revolt of the Authors. But it seems to me our literature has
already as wide a charter as is desirable. The two bulwarks of the
British library are Shakespeare and the Bible, and both treat human life
comprehensively, not with the onesidedness of self-styled Realism. I
would advise my young literary friends to emblazon on their banner
"Shakespeare and the Bible." Real Realism is what English literature
needs. The one undoubted development in recent English literature is the
short story. But this is less due to any advance in artistic aspiration
than to the fact that there is a good serial market for short stories,
and the turnover is quicker for the trader than if he turned out long
novels. Small stories, quick returns! In verity, this much-vaunted
efflorescence of the _conte_ is due to the _compte_. It is quite
characteristic of our nation to arrive at a new art-form through this
practical channel. But if you want a proof of the half-heartedness of our
literary battles, turn to the "Fogey's" article on "The Young Men" in a
recent _Contemporary Review_. What a chance for a much-needed onslaught
on our minor prophets! It might have been "English bards and Scotch
reviewers" over again. But no! the Scotch reviewer's weapon is merely a
rose-water squirt. The only thing that perturbates him (as Mr. Francis
Thompson would say) is my assertion that a ray of hopefulness is stealing
again into English poetry. Since the days of Jeffrey we have only had one
really "first-class fighting man" (Henley); but even with him there is no
real party fighting, for he is catholic in his antipathies, and those
whom he chastises love him, and swear that his is the least jaded Pegasus
of the day. You see, therefore, how well-balanced we are in this "happy
isle, set in a silver sea." The Fogeys are respectful to the young men,
and the young men actually admire the Fogeys. That the young men admire
one another goes without saying. Here surely is "the atmosphere of
praise" of Mr. Pinero's hortation.
And while I do not believe that art is best nourished in this "atmosphere
of praise," preferring to read instead "an atmosphere of appraisal," I
believe that of this appraisal the more important element is "praise."
Criticism with the praise left out savours of the counsel for the
prosecution rather than of the judge,--and indeed some critics assume
that every author is guilty till he is proved good: if he is popular the
presumption of his guilt is almost irresistible. A Henley young man once
explained to me that the function of the critic was to guard the gates of
literature, keeping at bay the bulk of print, for it would surely not be
literature. This last is true enough; yet the watch-dog attitude
generates a delight to bark and bite, and turns critic literally into
cynic. Should not the true critic be an interpreter? For bad work let him
award the damnation of silence. "It is better to fight for the good than
to rail at the ill."
It is a great privilege to praise. It is a great joy to give an artist
the joy of being understood. Not every artist arrives at the divine
standpoint: "And God saw all that He made, and behold it was very good."
The human creator is not always content with the rapture of creation. He
sits lonely amid his worlds. Neglect may be the nurse of strength, but as
often it is the handmaid of idleness. The artist without an audience will
smoke the enchanted cigarettes of Balzac. The rough labour of execution
is largely the labour of conveying to others what the artist already
feels and sees. Why should he toil thanklessly? It is sweeter to dream.
Even the money that art produces may be a valuable incentive. Not, of
course, if the artist aims at the money; but art wrought for love may
bring in money, like a woman married for love. In so far as the lover has
his eye on the dowry, in so far his love is vitiated; and in so far as
the artist has his eye on the profits, in so far is he untrue to a
mistress who demands undivided allegiance. Natheless, the _auri sacra
fames_ may be his salvation. What subtle sympathy connects _fama_ with
_fames_? The butcher's bill may drive him from the dreamland of luxurious
meditation to the practical embodiment of his dreams. Only, while he is
at work, the laws of art alone must be his masters; he must not alter or
abate a jot by way of concession to the great cash question. When he has
completed his work, then indeed he may sell it in the best market. But
the least preliminary paltering with the spirit of commerce is a
degradation. Does this seem an ideal demand? Let us remember, then,
ideals are goads and goals, counsels of perfection. No one expects people
to come quite up to them, but it is better for human nature that they
should be there. For there is something in hero-worship, despite
Carlyle's grandiosities, provided you choose your hero wisely. We do, in
this valley of doubt and confusion, touched with false sparkles, follow
men who speak from their souls sincerely, who work from their hearts.
Instinctively we feel it degrading and disillusionising that inspiration
shall be paid in hard cash, and genius entered on the credit side of a
ledger. Does a man plead that he has to support his wife and children?
Well, in the first place, he need not have got them. In the second, one
may be admirable as a man, but as an artist abominable. Still it is
better that a man should write Adelphi dramas than that his starving
family should qualify for scenes in them. All honour to the artist who
lives on bread and water in a garret rather than prostitute his art! but
less honour to the man who lives on _my_ bread, and adds somebody else's
whisky to his water, rather than earn an honest living by dishonest books
and plays. This was the question that split up the Bohemians of Murger.
While the majority did odd jobs for the Philistines, to have the time for
real art, the very poet consenting to write Alexandrines for a dentist at
fifteen sous a dozen--vastly cheaper than oysters--there was an inner
band of the faithful who preferred starvation to the desecration of their
genius for the unsaleable. Even so among the vegetarians there is a
holier circle that eats only nuts and fruits. The sensible artist will
compromise. There is in political economy a region called "the margin of
subsistence." It is a sort of purgatory. Above it, we enter the heaven of
superfluities; below it, lies the dread Hades of hunger. It is here that
the impecunious artist--with a family (and, alas! the artist is nearly
always impecunious--with a family) should pitch his tent. He may be
allowed to prostitute himself, if need be, sufficiently to pay the
ground-rent. He must not be driven lower down by his devotion to the
Muses: an artist who dies of starvation is simply a dead donkey. Rather
than play a false note, he stops his music for ever. It is sublime--but
silly. He had better black boots. There is no reason on earth why a
shoeblack should not read Schiller, or moralise as he does in Bret
Harte's parody of Bulwer Lytton. A bachelor artist might do worse than
get locked up for some simple offence, and thus throw himself upon the
nation. Remember what Sir Walter Raleigh did in prison. The poet can rise
superior to the sordidness of skilly. Only he must be careful to preserve
his seclusion. Leigh Hunt made his cell the artistic centre of London,
but I doubt if he got through much work; and more recently, when Joka�
was in gaol, he was compelled to insist on two hours' privacy and
confinement per day. To be a "first-class misdemeanant" seems to me the
height of happiness for a literary man.
Unfortunately there are few honest opportunities for going to gaol. The
most honest way of all would be to write the truth about men and things;
but this editors will not print. So one has to live at one's own expense.
Nevertheless, the Hotel of the Black Maria remains an ideal.
BOHEMIA AND VERLAINE
It is one of the pleasures of my life that I never saw Tennyson. Hence I
am still able to think of him as a poet, for even his photograph is not
disillusionising, and he dressed for the part almost as well as Beerbohm
Tree would have done. Why one's idea of a poet is a fine frenzied being,
I do not quite know. One seems to pick it up in the very nursery, and
even the London _gamin_ knows a poet when he doesn't see one. Probably it
rests upon the ancient tradition of oracles and sibyls, foaming at the
mouth like champagne bottles. Inspiration meant originally demoniac
possession, and to "modern thought" prophecy and poetry are both
epileptic. "Genius is a degenerative psychosis of the epileptoid order."
A large experience of poets has convinced me as little of this as of the
old view summed up in _genus irritabile vatum_. Poets seem to me the
homeliest and most hardworking of mankind--'t is a man in possession, not
a _daimon_ nor a disease. Of course they have their mad moods, but they
don't write in them. Writing demands serenity, steadiness, patience; and
of all kinds of writing, poetry demands the steadiest pen. Complex metres
and curious rhyme-schemes are not to be achieved without pain and
patience. Prose is a path, but poetry is a tight-rope, and to walk on it
demands the nicest dexterity. You may scribble off prose in the fieriest
frenzy--who so fiery and frenzied as your journalist with the printer's
devil at his elbow?--but if you would aspire to Parnassus, you must go
slow and steady. Fancy inditing a sonnet with the compositors waiting for
"copy"! Pegasus were more truly figured as a drayhorse than a steed with
wings; he jogs along trot-trot, and occasionally he stands at an
obstinate pause. The splendid and passionate lyrics of Swinburne, with
their structural involutions and complicacies, must have been "a dem'd
grind." The English language does not easily lend itself to so much
"linked sweetness long drawn out." Even the manuscript of Pope's easy
meandering verse is disfigured by ceaseless corrections. As he himself
True ease in writing comes from art, not chance,
As those move easiest who have learn'd to dance.
Probably these very lines run in the original manuscript somewhat as
[Illustration: Handwriting sample]
Shelley is the ideal of a poet, a soul of white fire, fed by bread and
raisins; yet Shelley's last manuscripts are full of lacunae and erasures,
some of which have had to be reproduced perforce in the printed editions.
Clothed with the ... as with light,
And the shadows of the night,
Like ... next, Hypocrisy,
On a crocodile rode by.
It reads like a puzzle set by a Competition Editor. Here is another one,
which begins as beautifully as Hedda Gabler could desire, and ends in
Within the surface of the fleeting river
The wrinkled image of the city lay,
Immovably unquiet, and for ever
It trembles, but it never fades away;
Go to the [ ]
You, being changed, will find it then as now.
The fact is, of course, that inspiration is no guarantee of perfection.
The limitations of inspiration vary with the limitations of the writer--a
proposition that may be commended to the theologians. Genius can no more
safeguard a man against his own ignorance than it can find a rhyme to
"silver." Inspiration could not save Keats from his Cockney rhymes nor
Mrs. Browning from her rhymeless rhymes. I met a poet in a London
suburb--it seemed odd to see one out of Fleet Street--but after a few
bewildered instants I recognised him. There was on his brow the burden of
a brooding sorrow. I sought delicately to probe the cause of his grief,
and he confessed at last that in a much-praised poem just published he
had made a monosyllable dissyllabic. He had never got over a youthful
mispronunciation, and in an unguarded moment of inspiration it had
This prosaic view of poetry is distasteful to many, who like to think
that "Paradise Lost" came out in a jet. But all these grandiose
conceptions belong to the obscurantist view of human life, which is
popular with all who hate, in Matthew Arnold's phrase, "to think clear
and see straight." People fancy that the dignity of human life demands
that artists at least should be Ouidaesque, but the true dignity of the
artist is to be sublimely simple rather than simply sublime. The finest
art--be it literature, music, or painting--is, after all that inspiration
can do has been done, a matter of painful pegging away; and the finest
artists will be found quietly occupying themselves with their art without
pose or fuss. That side of the business is largely monopolised by the
little men. But even the big men sometimes fall victims to the popular
conception, as when a Byron stagily takes the centre of the universe, and
looms lurid like the spirit of the Brocken. We do not need biographical
scandal-mongers to tell us what "the real Lord Byron" was like. He was
like "Don Juan," his own poem; shrewd, cynical, worldly, with flashes of
exquisite feeling. The poem which is cut out of young ladies' editions of
Byron is the one that represents him most truly in his blend of
sensualism and idealism, whereas the Brocken figure is but Byron as he
appeared to himself in his stormiest and gloomiest moments, and even that
phantasm artistically draped and limelit by a poet's imagination. If
people realised how much Byron wrote in his pitiable span of thirty-six
years, how much hard labour went to make those cleverly-rhymed stanzas of
"Childe Harold" or "Don Juan," despite Swinburne's accusation of
botchery, they would see that he really had very little time to be
wicked. They would understand that art--even the most decadent--is based
on strenuous labour.
Radiant, adorned outside; a hidden ground
Of thought and of austerity within.
Even in poetically declaring himself a decadent, the artist must take as
many pains as fall to the prosiest bourgeois. This is the paradox of the
position. Just as the pyrrhonist in maintaining that there is no truth
asserts one, so the literary pessimist partly contradicts his contention
of the futility of existence by his anxiety to express himself elegantly.
Leopardi's Italian and Schopenhauer's German are far superior to those of
the optimistic philosophers; and one of the most polished poems of our
day is poor Thomson's "City of Dreadful Night." So, too, the poet who
declares himself an idler and a vagabond gives the lie to his pretensions
by the labour he takes to clothe them in unimpeachable verse. The other
morning I looked out of my study window after breakfast and discovered
that the weather was heavenly. I had lingered over the meal, reading the
beautiful political speeches, from which I gathered there was a Crisis at
hand. I knew that Crisis. I had heard about it ever since I learnt to
hear. Nevertheless, the newspapers were still devoting as much space to
it as if it were brand-new, and beguiling me to take interest in it. I
felt quite annoyed when I looked at the blue sky after breakfast and took
deep breaths of ambrosial air, and thought how I had wasted my time.
Thrilled by the sunshine, a cosmic rapture seized me, and I wondered that
men should fritter away their time in politics and other serious
occupations. The inspiration grew and grew, and I felt that my lips had
been touched by the sacred fire, and that I had been called to preach a
great moral lesson to mankind. So I took up my pen and wrote:
Bright the sun this lovely May-day;
Youth and love should have their heyday;
Every day should be a play-day.
Yet mankind will work and worry,
Over trifles fuss and flurry,
Getting hot as Indian curry.
Orators, in such a season,
How unreasonable is reason!
'Gainst the sunshine't is a treason.
What care I for Gladstone's glories?
Hang the Radicals and Tories!
Give me hammocks, pipes and stories!
What's the use of all this wrangling,
Grammar and emotions mangling?
Up the river let's go angling.
Sweet are walks and swimming nice is,
Bring me lemon-squash and ices,
Bother that eternal Crisis!
I was called away to lunch in the middle of the attack of inspiration.
Inspiration is of course very useful, but it has a way of suggesting
words that won't rhyme, and luring you off into all sorts of false
tracks. Moreover, it affords no help whatever in polishing. After lunch I
set to work with renewed zeal, licking the lines into their present
perfection. At last they were finished, and as I lit the gas to enable me
to see to make a fair copy, I realised that the beautiful blue day was
Yes, the busy bee is a fraud by the side of the irresponsible artistic
Sims Reeves tells an amusing anecdote of Mario the singer. Being brought
one Thursday night by an eminent composer to sing at a big fashionable
party, he found so great a line of carriages in front of his own that it
was past midnight ere he arrived at the door. The thought that it was
already Friday, and that he was about to sing in a new house, whose
hostess he did not even know, had already dismayed the superstitious
singer. But when he saw the number on the door was 13, no power on earth
and no amount of argument could induce him to enter. "Ah, yes," said the
hostess, smiling pleasantly, when the composer explained, "a very
ingenious excuse, for which Mario ought to be grateful to you. Of course
he was intoxicated, and after a long argumentation you at last persuaded
him to go home."
Poe was doubtless occasionally drunk; but think of the years of sober
labour, of stooping over desks, that must have gone to make those
wonderful tales! Which is the true Poe, the hard drinker or the hard
worker? That the artist must get drunk is, indeed, the belief of certain
schools of young men even to-day; but is it not based on the old eternal
false-logic, that because some artists have got drunk, therefore to get
drunk is to be artistic? It was Murger who invented the Bohemian artist,
poor and gay and of an easy morality. "Musette and Mimi!" says Sarcey.
"The image of those ideal beings shone on every man who was twenty-one
about 1848. 'La Vie de Boh�me' was youth's breviary--fifty years ago."
The great dramatic critic goes on to complain of the onslaught made upon
him because he wrote against this "idleness of disposition, this
heedlessness for the morrow, this inclination to look for the day's
tobacco and the quarter's rent from loans and debts rather than from
honest work, this witty contempt for current morality." But this is
scarcely the teaching of the ever delightful book, which catches the
spirit of youth and gaiety and irresponsibility wedded to artistic ardour
as no other book has done before or since, and for which one might put in
the plea that Charles Lamb made for the dramatists of the Restoration.
Its world is only a pleasing fiction, and the ordinary rules of morality
do not carry over into it. It is the East of Suez of literature, "where
there ain't no Ten Commandments, and a man may raise a thirst." The real
Bohemia, as Jules Valdes showed in "R�fractaires," is a world of misery
and discontent. Still more sordid is the English Bohemia expounded by Mr.
Gissing in "New Grub Street." Mr. Robert Buchanan indeed writes as if
there had been a Murgerian Bohemia in England in his young days. "_Et ego
fui in Bohemi�_. There were inky fellows and bouncing girls, _then_;
_now_ there are only fine ladies, and respectable God-fearing men of
letters." Really! Surely there are plenty of bouncing girls and inky
fellows still, just as there were respectable God-fearing men of letters
and fine ladies even in the roaring forties. I doubt if Bohemia was ever
so amusing as Mr. Buchanan imagines now, and I suspect the bouncing girls
were "gey ill to live with." What is true in the immortal Bohemian myth,
what appeals to the universal human instinct, is the eternal contrast
between the dreams and aspirations of youth and the sobrieties of success
and middle age. As Jeffery Prowse sang:
I dwelt in a city enchanted,
And lonely, indeed, was my lot;
Two guineas a week, all I wanted,
Was certainly all that I got.
Well, somehow I found it was plenty,
Perhaps you may find it the same,
If--_if_ you are just five-and-twenty,
With industry, hope, and an aim;
Though the latitude's rather uncertain,
And the longitude also is vague,
The persons I pity who know not the City,
The beautiful City of Prague!
This Bohemia will never disappear, because every generation of youth
reconstructs it afresh, to migrate from it into the world of
respectability above or the world of shame below. "Qu'on est bien � vingt
ans!" will always be a cry to fill the breast of portly respectability
with tender regret. As Thackeray put it in that delightful poem, which is
almost an improvement on B�ranger:
With pensive eyes the little room I view,
Where, in my youth, I weathered it so long;
With a wild mistress, a staunch friend or two,
And a light heart still breaking into song;
Making a mock of life and all its cares,
Rich in the glory of my rising sun,
Lightly I vaulted up four pair of stairs
In the brave days when I was twenty-one.
What a pity that life is so stern and severe, that for the light morality
of Bohemia somebody must pay, some life be wrecked! Nature fills us with
youth and romance, but for her own purposes only. She is the great
matrimonial agent, and heavy is the penalty she exacts from those who
would escape her books, and extract from life more poetry than it holds.
And so the beautiful roselight of Bohemia veils many a tragedy, many a
treachery. Yet will the _grisette_ be ever a gracious memory, and
literature will always embalm the "Mimi Pinson" of De Musset.
She is dead now, _la grisette_, even in Paris, and "hic jacet" may be
written over the bonnet she threw _pardessus les moulins_.
Ah, Clemence! When I saw thee last
Trip down the rue de Seine,
And turning, when thy form had pass'd,
I said, "We meet again,"
I dreamed not in that idle glance
Thy latest image came,
And only left to Memory's trance
A shadow and a name.
That is how she affected even the Puritan Oliver Wendell Holmes. Yes,
there is something in the Bohemian tradition that touches the sternest of
us--not the roystering, dissolute, dishonourable, shady Bohemia that is
always with us, bounded by the greenroom, the racecourse, the gambling
club, and the Bankruptcy Court, but the Bohemia that is as unreal as
Shakespeare's "desert country near the sea," the land of light purses and
light loves, set against the spiritual blight that sometimes follows on
pecuniary and connubial blessedness. For, after all, morality is larger
than a single virtue, and Charles Surface is always more agreeable than
Joseph or Tom Jones than Blifil, even when Joseph or Blifil is as proper
as he pretends. And if Tom or Charles is a poet to boot, what can we not
forgive him? The poet must have his experiences--be sure that nine tenths
of them are purely of the imagination. For the other tenth--well, if
Burns had been strictly temperate, "the world had wanted many an idle
song," and we should not have celebrated his centenary so
enthusiastically. The poet expresses the joy and sorrow of the race whose
silent emotions become vocal in him, and it is necessary that he should
have a full and varied life, from which "nihil humanum" is alien. Mr.
Barry Pain once wrote a subtle story, which only three persons
understood, to show that a great poet might be an elegant egotist, of
unruffled life and linen. If so, I should say that such a poet's genius
would largely consist of hereditary experience; he would, in language
that is not so unscientific as it sounds, be a reincarnation of a soul
that had "sinned and suffered." But as a rule the poet does his own
sinning and suffering, and catches for himself that haunting sense of the
glory and futility of life which is the undertone of the modern poet's
song, and which finds such magical expression in Heine's verses:
I have loved, oh, many a maiden kind,
And many a right good fellow,--
Where are they all? So pipes the wind,
So foams and wanders the billow.
But the poet's morals are maligned. The fierce light which beats upon the
throne of song reveals the nooks and crannies of the singers' lives,
which for the rest they themselves expose rather than conceal. I should
say that the average morality of the poet is much superior to the average
morality of the man of the world who sins in well-bred silence. The poet
gloats over his sins--is musically remorseful or swingingly defiant; he
hints or exaggerates or invents. That is where the poet's imagination
comes in--to give to airy nothings a local habitation and a name. The
poet's imagination is often far more licentious than his life; the
"poet's licence" is rightly understood to be limited to his language. To
have written erotic verses is almost a certificate of respectability: the
energy that might have been expended in action has run to rhyme. _Qui
ose tout dire arrive � tout faire_, say the French. Arrives _at_,
perhaps, though even this is doubtful, but certainly does not start from
that platform. Much less questionable were it to say: _Qui ose tout faire
arrive � ne rien dire._
The late M. Verlaine will be cited as a substantiation of the popular
idea of the vagabond poet. The Verlaine legend has now been consecrated
by his death; and for all time, I suppose, Verlaine will rank with Villon
as an impossible person. He may have been all that is said, all that is
hinted, even in Mr. George Moore's famous description of him. "I once saw
Verlaine. I shall not forget the bald prominent forehead (_une t�te
glabre_), the cavernous eyes, the macabre expression of burnt-out lust
smouldering upon his face."
But there is another side to him, and it is perhaps because I do not go
about the world with Mr. Moore's "macabresque" eye, which to-day happily
sees things in a soberer colouring, that I saw this other side of
Verlaine when, like Mr. George Moore, I hunted him up on his native
heath. For one thing, I was not prepared to see anything very lurid and
_diabolique_: life is really not so picturesque as all that. I knew
besides that he had been a schoolmaster in England; and can you imagine
anything more tedious and toilsome than to be the "French master," the
poor, despised, "frog-eating Mounseer Jacques" of boys' stories, the butt
of all their facetious brutality? If ever anything was calculated to make
a man _diabolique_! I trust biographers will not forget to place all this
depressing drudgery to our "vagabond's" credit. Think of it! The first
poet of France correcting French exercises! The poet of the passions
conjugating the verb _aimer_ in its hideous grammatical reality!
Rien faire est doux.
So might Verlaine write, though contradicting himself by doing something
in so doing; but in the absurd actual he had to earn his bread and
butter, and man cannot live by poetry alone, unless one sings the joys
and sorrows of the middle classes. It was rather late at night before,
having vainly hunted for him in his favourite restaurants, I found the
narrow, poverty-stricken _rue_ in which Verlaine was living a year or so
ago. Passing through a dark courtyard, I had to mount interminable stone
stairs, lighting foul French matches as I went, to relieve the blackness.
At last I arrived outside his door, very near the sky. I knocked. A voice
called out, "I've gone to bed." I explained my lateness and said I would
"No, no! _Attendez!_" I heard him jump out of bed, stumble and grope
about, and then strike a match; and in another instant the door opened,
and in the interstice appeared a homely nightcapped _bourgeois_ pulling
on his trousers. There flashed on me incongruously the thought of our
English laureate's stately home by the sea, in which, jealously guarded
by hedges and flunkeys, the poet chiselled his calm stanzas; and all the
vagabond in me leapt out to meet the unpretentious child of Paris. He
greeted me with simple cordiality; and, ugly and coarse though his face
was, it was lit up throughout by a pleasant smile. His notorious leg was
bandaged, but not repulsively. No, "homely" is the only impression I
shall ever have of Verlaine, the man. Even in that much maligned
"macabresque" head of his, there was more of the _bonhomme_ than of the
poet or the satyr. The little garret was his all in all; a bed took up
half the space. On the table stood the remains of supper. A few shelves
of books, a sketch or two, and a bird-cage with a canary were the only
attempts at ornament.
Such was Verlaine at the climax of his fame, when he had won a sure
immortality; simple and childlike, and with a child's unshamed acceptance
of any money one might leave behind on the mantelpiece. He seems to have
made very little by his verses. He spoke English quite well, having