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Without Prejudice by Israel Zangwill

Part 7 out of 7

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Everybody paints the portrait of nobody. Imagine a great writer being
called upon to produce a black-and-white picture of a man of no
importance: Let us imagine, say Meredith, being offered a thousand pounds
for a pen-and-ink portrait of a provincial mayor--being asked to devote
his graphic art, his felicitous choice of words, his gifts of insight and
sympathy, his genius, in a word, to the portrayal of a real live
mayor--the same to be published in book-form, asked for at the libraries,
and discussed at dinner-tables and in the reviews as a specimen of the
season's art. Of course Meredith would tell the man to go and be hanged
(in the Academy); but if he consented, see what would take place. The
literary portrait involves, of course, both mind and body, and
practically the work would have to take the shape of a biography. For
some weeks the man would come to Meredith's study and give him talkings.
At the first talking Meredith would also make a sketch of the outside
appearance of his subject. Here the resources of language far exceed
those of colour. The happy euphemism of language permits a squint to be
described as an ambidexterity of vision; it is even quite possible to
omit an ill-regulated feature altogether. Suppose an artist paints a man
without a nose--the defect _sauterait aux yeux_: it would be as plain as
the nose not upon his face. But it is quite possible for the literary
artist to omit a man's nose without attracting any attention. The
reader's imagination supplies the nose, without even being conscious of
its purveyorship. As for the psychological portion of the portrait, the
author would be entirely dependent on the information given by the
subject, so that provincial mayors would develop unsuspected virtues.
Where the difficulty would come in would be in the absence of darker
qualities, which would make literary chiaroscuro impossible. It is quite
likely, though, that as a result of the talkings the subject would
unwittingly present the novelist with a real character who would appear
in his next work of fiction, and be entirely unrecognized either by the
reader of the biography or its subject.

[Sidenote: Photography and Realism]

No artist of the brush can afford to dispense with models; when he draws
from his inner consciousness the composition is tame and the
draughtsmanship wild. The novelist, though his object is not portraiture,
but creation, can as little afford to keep aloof from real men and women.
When George Eliot ceased to draw from models and fell back on intuition
and her library, she produced "Daniel Deronda." But I would demur
altogether to the use of "photography" in literary criticism as
synonymous with realism. The photograph is an utter misrepresentation of
life, and this not merely because of its false shades and its lack of
colour, but because the photographer is not content with literalness. He
aspires to art. So far from being a realist, he is the greatest idealist
of all. He not only puts you into poses you would never fall into
naturally, he not only arranges you so as to hide your characteristic
uglinesses, and bids you call up an expression you never use, but he
touches up and tones down after you are gone, and treats his pictures,
indeed, as though they were actors and he the dresser. And as each
photographer has his own style, no two portraits are ever alike. My
portraits of Annabel pass as a collection of pretty actresses. Still, if
they are not like one another, they resemble one another in being unlike
her. The only good photographs I have ever seen of myself were done by an
amateur--most of the others might just as well have been taken in my
absence. And there is always a painful neatness about photographs: my
humble study was once photographed, and it looked like a princely
library. Bags come out with artistic interstices, fustian gleams like
satin. It is the true Platonic touch, glorifying and gilding everything.
Filth itself would come out like roses. No, no, let us hear no more about
Zola's "photography."

[Sidenote: The Great Unhung]

What becomes of all the old pins is a problem that worries many simple
souls. What becomes of all the rejected pictures is a question that seems
to trouble nobody. And yet at every exhibition the massacre of innocents
is appalling. The Royal Academy of London, which is the most hospitable
institution in the world toward "wet paint," still turns away very many
more canvases than it admits. Their departure is like the retreat of the
Ten Thousand. Into the Salon one year six thousand eager frames crowded,
but when the public came to see, only thirteen hundred were left to tell
the tale--

All that was left of them,
Left of six thousand.

More ruthless still was the slaughter in the New Salon, the Salon of the
Champs de Mars, where the pictures were decimated. Out of two thousand
seven hundred works sent in by outsiders, only three hundred survived. It
is impossible to believe that ideal justice was done, especially when we
consider that the jury took only one day to consider the outcome of so
many aspirations, such manifold toil. The pictures were wheeled past them
on gigantic easels, an interminable panorama. Even supposing that the
gentlemen of the jury took a full working day of eight hours, with no
allowance for déjeuner, the average time for examining a picture works
out at something like ten seconds. In each minute of that fateful day the
destiny of half a dozen pictures was decided. Verily, our
picture-connoisseur seems to have elevated criticism into an instinct--he
is the smoothest human mechanism on record. One wonders if the critic
will ever be replaced by an automaton, something analogous to the camera
that has replaced the artist. Meantime, the point is--what becomes of the
refused, those unwelcome revenants that return to lower the artist in the
eyes of landladies and concierges? Sometimes, we know, the stone which
the builders rejected becomes the corner-stone of the temple, and the
proscribed painter lives to despise publicly the judges in the gate. But
these revenges are rare, and for the poor bulk of mankind the whirligig
of time revolves but emptily. The average artist rejected of one
exhibition turns him to another, and the leavings of the Salon beat at
the doors of Antwerp and Munich, where the annual of art blooms a little
later in the spring.

Pitiful it is to follow a picture from refusal to refusal; one imagines
the painter sublime amid the litter of secretarial notifications,
gathering, Antaeus-like, fresh strength from every fall, and coming to a
grim and gradual knowledge of the great cosmopolitan conspiracy. One year
the rejected of the Academy were hung in London by an enterprising
financier. It was the greatest lift-up the Academy had ever had. Even its
enemies were silenced temporarily. But the rejected may console
themselves. The accepted have scant advantage over them. To sell a
picture is becoming rarer and rarer, and the dealer is no more respectful
to the canvas that has achieved the honor of the catalogue than to that
which has preserved the sequestration of the studio. Sometimes the unhung
picture becomes the medium upon which another is painted (for a picture
is always worth the canvas it is painted on), sometimes (if it is large)
it is cut up and sold in bits, sometimes it adorns the family
dining-room, or decorates the hall of a good-natured friend, and
sometimes, after a variety of pecuniary adventures, it becomes the proud
possession of a millionaire.

[Sidenote: The Abolition of Catalogues.]

The average Englishman takes his religion on Sundays and his Art in the
spring. Influences that should permeate life are collected in chunks at
particular seasons. This is sufficient to prove how little they are
really felt or understood. The Academy headache is the due penalty of
hypocrisy. It is the catalogue that is the greatest coadjutor of cant. If
pictures, besides being hung, were treated like convicts in becoming
merely numbers, without names either of painters or subjects, what a
delightful confusion of critical tongues would ensue! But conceding that
a picture should have the painter's name, for the sake of the artist (or
his enemies), I would propose that everything else be abolished. It is
not unfair to subject pictures to this severe test, because, of all forms
of art, painting is the one whose appeal is instantaneous, simple and
self-complete. If a picture cannot speak for itself, no amount of
advocacy will save it. If it tells a story (which no good picture
should), let it at least do so without invoking the aid of the rival art
of literature. Literature does not ask the assistance of pictures to make
its meaning clear. Nor, too, is anything gained by calling colours
harmonies or symphonies. Let such pictures strike their own chords and
blow their own trumpets. Catalogues of all kinds are but props to
artistic inefficiency. If dumb-show plays did not rely on "books of the
words," pantomime would have to become a finer art. If ballets had no
thread of narrative attached to them, their constructors would be driven
to achieve greater intelligibility, or to give up trying for it--which
were the more gratifying alternative. So with the descriptions of
symphonies we find in our programmes. Why should good music be translated
into bad literature? Surely each art should be self-sufficient;
developing its effects according to its own laws! A melody does not need
to be painted, nor a picture to be set to music. The graceful evolutions
of the dance are their own justification. The only case in which I would
allow a title to a picture is when it is a portrait. That is an obvious
necessity. Portrait-painting is a branch of art which demands

[Sidenote: The Artistic Temperament]

There are two aspects of the artistic temperament--the active or creative
side, and the passive or receptive side. It is impossible to possess the
power of creation without possessing also the power of appreciation; but
it is quite possible to be very susceptible to artistic influences while
dowered with little or no faculty of origination. On the one hand is the
artist--poet, musician, or painter; on the other, the artistic person to
whom the artist appeals. Between the two, in some arts, stands the
artistic interpreter--the actor who embodies the aery conceptions of the
poet, the violinist or pianist who makes audible the inspirations of the
musician. But in so far as this artistic interpreter rises to greatness
in his field, in so far he will be found soaring above the middle ground,
away from the artistic person, and into the realm of the artist or
creator. Joachim and De Reszké, Paderewski and Irving, put something of
themselves into their work; apart from the fact that they could all do
(in some cases have done) creative work on their own account. So that
when the interpreter is worth considering at all, he may be considered in
the creative category. Limiting ourselves, then, to these two main
varieties of the artistic temperament, the active and the passive, I
should say that the latter is an unmixed blessing, and the former a mixed

What, indeed, can be more delightful than to possess good aesthetic
faculties--to be able to enjoy books, music, pictures, plays! This
artistic sensibility is the one undoubted advantage of man over other
animals, the extra octave in the gamut of life. Most enviable of mankind
is the appreciative person, without a scrap of originality? who has every
temptation to enjoy, and none to create. He is the idle heir to treasures
greater than India's mines can yield; the bee that sucks at every flower,
and is not even asked to make honey. For him poets sing, and painters
paint, and composers write. "_O fortunates nimium_," who not seldom yearn
for the fatal gift of genius! For _this_ artistic temperament is a
curse--a curse that lights on the noblest and best of mankind! From the
day of Prometheus to the days of his English laureate it has been a curse

To vary from the kindly race of men,

and the eagles have not ceased to peck at the liver of men's benefactors.
All great and high art is purchased by suffering--it is not the
mechanical product of dexterous craftsmanship. This is one part of the
meaning of that mysterious "Master Builder" of Ibsen's. "Then I saw
plainly why God had taken my little children from me. It was that I
should have nothing else to attach myself to. No such thing as love and
happiness, you understand. I was to be only a master builder--nothing
else." And the tense strings that give the highest and sweetest notes are
most in danger of being overstrung.

But there are compensations. The creative artist is higher in the scale
of existence than the man, as the man is higher than the beatified oyster
for whose condition, as Aristotle pointed out, few would be tempted to
barter the misery of human existence. The animal has consciousness, man
self-consciousness, and the artist over-consciousness. Over-consciousness
may be a curse, but, like the primitive curse--labour--there are many who
would welcome it!

[Sidenote: Professional Ethics]

There's no knowing where the artistic temperament may break out. "I don't
think that a person ought to come to the binder and just say to him,
'Bind that book for so much money.' I think the binder ought to say, 'Is
the book worth binding?' and that if it were not he ought to refuse." The
applications of this remarkable principle, enunciated by a bookbinder,
are obvious. Applied universally it would reform the race. The tailor,
when a man came to be measured, would say, "Yes, but are you worth
measuring?" and if he was out of drawing would refuse to dress him, thus
extruding deformity from the world and restoring the Olympian gods. The
charwoman, inspired by George Herbert, would not only "sweep a room as by
God's laws," but would inquire whether it was worth sweeping; the wine
merchant would refuse wine to rich customers who did not deserve to drink
it; and the doctors would certainly not devote their best energies to
keeping gouty old noblemen alive.

[Sidenote: Lay Confessors]

We writers, as Beaeonsfield said to his sovereign, are a good substitute
for the confessional; we like to be allowed peeps into the secret
chambers of the heart. The most miserable sinners may be as sure of our
secrecy as of our absolution. The more terrible the crime the better we
are pleased. So come and ease your labouring consciences, and pour your
sorrows into our sympathetic shorthand books, and we will work you up the
bare material of your lives so artistically that you are the veriest
Philistines if you shall not be rather glad to have sinned and suffered.
For deep down in our hearts lurks the belief that, as Jerome wittily puts
it, "God created the world to give the literary man something to write

[Sidenote: Q. E. D. Novels]

A novel, like a metaphor, proves nothing: 't is merely a vivid pictorial
presentation of a single case. I have just read one novel aspiring to
prove that a couple who skip the marriage ceremony cannot be happy ever
after, and another aspiring to prove that marriage is the one drawback to
a happy union. In reality both novels prove the same thing--that the
author is a fool. There is nothing I would not undertake to "prove" in a
novel. You have only to take an exceptional case and treat it as if it
were normal. Aesop's fables could easily be rewritten to prove exactly
the opposite morals, just as there is no popular apothegm whose antidote
may not be found in the same treasury of folk-wisdom: "Never put off till
to-morrow what you can do to-day," and "Sufficient for the day is the
evil thereof"; "Penny wise, pound foolish!" "Look after the pence and the
pounds will take care of themselves."

In sooth I suffer from an inability to see the morals of stories--like
the auditor who blunts the point of the drollest anecdote by inquiring
"And what happened then?" Even the beautiful allegory of the three rings
in "Nathan der Weise," always seems to me to throw considerable discredit
on the father who set his sons wrangling over the imitation rings. And,
inversely, nothing seems easier to me than to invent fables to prove
wrong morals: _e.g._

[Sidenote: The Mouse Who Died]

A pretty gray mouse was in the habit of sauntering from its hole every
evening to pick up the Crumbs in the Dining Boom. "What a pretty Mouse!"
said the Householder, and made more crumbs for Mousie to eat. So great a
banquet was thus spread that the Noble-hearted little Mouse cheeped the
news to its Sisters and its Cousins and its Aunts, and they all came
every evening in the Train of its Tail to regale themselves on the
remains of the Repast. "Dear, dear!" cried the Householder in despair,
"the house is overrun with a plague of Vermin." And he mixed poison with
the crumbs, and the poor little pioneer Mouse perished in contortions of
agony. Moral: Don't.

[Sidenote: Theologic Novels]

Usually the speculations that first reach the great public through the
medium of the novel have been familiar _ad nauseam_ to the reading
classes for scores of years. Conceive Noah, aroused by the grating of the
Ark upon the summit of Mount Ararat, looking out of the window and
exclaiming, "Why, it's been raining!" Then imagine Mrs. Noah, catching an
odd syllable of her husband's remark, writing a love story to prove that
the barometer portended showers. Finally, picture the world looking in
alarm for its umbrella, and you have an image of the inception and effect
of the modern Mrs. Noah's theologic novel.


Ten lines make one page;
Ten pages make one point;
Two points make one chapter;
Five chapters make one episode;
Two episodes make one volume:
Three volumes make one tired.

[Sidenote: The Prop of Letters]

Is it a bright or a black day for an author when he gets so popular that
the big advertisers insist on having him in any organ in which they place
their advertisements? There can be no question but that it will be a
black day for letters when the advertiser becomes the arbiter of
literature, as this newest development forebodes. Where is this leprosy
of advertisement to stop? Already it covers almost our whole
civilisation. Already the advertiser is a main prop of the press.


Give me Hornihand's Pure Mustard;
Give me Apple's Soap, with the negress laving the cherub;
Give me Bentley's Brimstone Tablets, and Ploughman's
Pills--those of the Little Liver.
(O get me ads., you agent with the frock-coat and the fountain pen,
You with the large commissions
And the further discount on cash,
Get me ads., _camarado_!
Full pages preferred, though little ones not scorning,
For I scorn nothing, my brother.)
Give me the Alphabetical Snuff;
Give me Electric Batteries and False Teeth; also the Tooth-powders;
Give me all the Soft Soaps and the Soothing Syrups;
Give me all the Cocoas and Cough Lozenges and Corsets;
Give me Infants' Food--yea, the diet of babes and sucklings;
Give me the Nibs and the Beef Essences, and do not forget the
(Forget nothing, _camarado_, for I, the poet, never forget
Give me of the Fat of your agency, and of the Anti-Fat thereof!
And I will build you magazines, high-class and well illustrated;
Or pictureless _à volonté_, the latter with heavier articles.
Also newspapers, daily and weekly, with posters flamboyant,
That shall move the state and its pillars,
That shall preach the loftiest morals, elevating the masses,
By the strength of advertisements,
By the mighty strength of advertisements!

It has been suggested that flypapers should be so sprinkled as to produce
an aesthetic design in dead flies, so as to introduce beauty into the
homes of the poor. It would be more in harmony with the age to lay out
our public gardens with floral injunctions to use B's hair-dye and C's
corn-plaster. Brag and display are the road to riches, and the trail of
vulgarity is over it all. I take credit to myself for having been among
the first to cry in the wilderness; but the critics--bless them!--say it
is all empty paradox.

[Sidenote: The Latter-day Poet]

The one exception to the hunger for advertisement is the modern bard. He
achieves his vogue by limited editions, and takes pains to prevent
himself being an influence. He acquires a factitious fame and an
artificial value by printing only a few copies, thus making his paper and
print sought after rather than his matter. It is all very well for a book
to become rare by the vicissitudes of literary fortune, but this
machine-made rarity can only be prized by people who value their
possessions merely because other people haven't got them. The old minor
poet was frenzied and unbought; the new is calm and "collected." At this
rate the greatest poets would be those of whose works only one copy is
extant--in MS.

Bend, bend the knee, and bow the head
To reverence the great unread,
The great unread and much-reviewed,
Whose lines are treasured like the lewd,
His first editions prizes reckoned
Because there never was a second.
Obscurely famous in his rut,
Unknown, unpopular, "uncut,"
Where Byron thrilled a continent,
To thrill an auction-room content,
He struggles through oblivion's bogs,
To gain a place in--catalogues!
And falls asleep and joins the dust
In simple hope and modest trust
That, though Posterity neglect
His bones, his books it will collect,
And these will grow--O prospect fair!--
From year to year more "scarce" and "rare."

[Sidenote: An Attack of Alliteration]

Have you noticed the Renaissance of alliteration in the new journalism?
The early English Poets made alliteration the chief element of their
poetry, and in modern times Swinburne has paid more attention to it (and
to rhyme) than to meaning, with the result that there has arisen a school
of poets who don't mean anything--and say it. In the olden days, a bride
was bonny, and was requested to busk herself in consequence; all of which
was intelligible. Nowadays, the poet would call a basilisk bonny rather
than miss his alliteration. Is it because the new journalism is so
imaginative and emotional that it throws off alliterative phrases as
naturally and unconsciously as Whittier confesses he did in writing "The
Wreck of Rivermouth"? It is sometimes difficult to believe that
providence is not on the side of the evening bills. When Balmaceda died
he committed Suicide by Shooting himself in Santiago--of all places in
the world. Boulanger, if from a local point of view he died less
satisfactorily, was yet careful to employ a Bullet. It is for the sake of
the phrase-makers that Burglars good-naturedly prefer Bermondsey, and
that Tigers do not escape from their cages to play in Tragedies till the
show arrives at Tewkesbury. The Baboon is already so largely alliterative
in himself that it was an excess of generosity that made one recently
attack an infant under such circumstances as to allow the report to be
headed, "Baby Bitten by a Baboon in a Backyard at Bow." Alliteration has
become a mighty factor in politics: it is fast replacing epigram, while
its effects on moral character are tremendous. That "hardened criminal,"
Mr. Balfour, might have been a good man instead of a "base brutal bully,"
if his name had only commenced with an X. He is a noteworthy martyr to
the mania of the times. I am convinced that the Death of the Duke of
Devonshire was accelerated by anxiety to please the sub-editors, and it
is a source of real regret to me to reflect that my own death can afford
them no supplementary gratification of this nature.

[Sidenote: The Humorous]

To start anything exclusively funny is a serious mistake. This was why
poor Henry J. Byron's "Mirth" was so short-lived. It died of laughing. A
friend of mine, with a hopeless passion for psychological analysis, says
that the reason people do not laugh over comic papers is that the element
of the unexpected is wanting. This, he claims, is the essence of the
comic. You laugh over a humorous remark in the middle of a serious essay,
over a witty epigram flashed upon a grave conversation, over the slipping
into the gutter of a ponderous gentleman--it is the shock of contrast,
the flash of surprise, that tickles. Now this explanation of why people
do not laugh over comic papers is obviously wrong, because you are
surprised when you see a joke in a comic paper; at the same time, it
contains an element of truth. The books which gain a reputation for
brilliance are those which are witty at wide intervals; the writer who
scintillates steadily stands in his own light.

[Sidenote: The Discount Farce]

Having started your magazine, you will begin humorously enough by
affixing a mock price to it. What a strange world of make-believe it is!
We are so habituated to shams that we cannot help shamming even where
there is nothing to be gained by it. Why is music published at four
shillings when you can buy it for one and four, or at most one and eight?
Why are novels published at thirty-one and six and the magazines at a
shilling? "Shilling shockers" are sold at ninepence, which is as comical
as selling "tenpenny nails" at sixpence. The same principle rules in
other trades. It almost seems as if there is an ineradicable instinct in
humanity for getting things below their price, even if at more than their
value. Hence the marked popularity of "sales" and "reductions." The idea
of getting things cheap reconciles one to getting things one doesn't
want. The craze for cheap things leads one into frightful extravagance.
In some shops the weakness of humanity is pandered to without disguise,
and every article is ticketed with a little card, from which the first
price is carefully ruled out, and even on the second price you get a
discount for cash. This same discount for cash is at least intelligible,
but business men are painfully familiar with another wonderful deduction.
After you wait months for your money, you get a cheque less "discount on
payment." This seems to involve an exasperating Hibernicism. "On
payment," forsooth! So long as it remains unpaid, the debt due to you is,
say, one hundred pounds. But the moment you really get it, it shrinks to
ninety-five. Why not call it ninety-five at the start and be done with
it? But, no! men will not give up the subtle pleasure of discounts,
ineffably childish though it be. The rather deaf lady who being asked six
shillings a yard for stuff replied "Sixteen shillings a yard! I'll give
you eleven," and who, when her mistake was pointed out, said "I couldn't
think of paying more than four and sixpence" was a genuine type of the
population of these islands.

[Sidenote: The Franchise Farce]

One American defense of bribery is as clever as it is cynical. It amounts
to this: that universal suffrage is such a peril to the commonweal that
having been given prematurely, it must insidiously be nullified in
practice, even at the cost of universal corruption; in short, if the old
society is to be preserved, universal franchise must be transformed into
universal corruption. What an ironic commentary on the constitution that
was founded by George Washington, who couldn't tell a lie! The honour of
America, it appears, "rooted in dishonour" stands, and "faith unfaithful"
makes its politicians falsely true. When one remembers some of the other
gigantic evils of the society thus conserved by corruption, when one
thinks of the great immoral capitalists, playing their game regardless of
whom they ruin or whom they enrich, when one thinks of the squalid slums
of the great cities, one wonders whether the society which these things
shadow were not better damned. It were cleaner, at any rate, to abolish
universal franchise than to flaunt this farce in the eyes of Europe. If
universal suffrage was a mistake, if indeed the gift of the franchise
does not develop a man's conscience and education--and certainly bribery
is not the way to give him a chance of such development--then why not
honestly admit that America has made this mistake, that the ideals of the
Pilgrim Fathers were inferior to Tammany Hall's, and that even the negro
is not a man and a brother?

Does our American reply that it is impossible now to take back the
franchise? But on his own showing the electors merely regard it as an
opportunity for extracting "boodle." All that would be impossible, then,
is to take away this ancient concession without compensation. The
electors must be bought out at the full market-value of their votes, with
a few cents and corpse-revivers thrown in for their loss of amusement. At
every election dollars and drinks for the ex-electors would be
circulating freely under the direction of the Treasury. And, _ex
hypothesi_, the bulk, or a number of electors sufficient to annul the
danger to society, will accept the liquidation, and thus the dishonest
will be honestly weeded out of the electorate. But if the cynics were
wrong, and there remained among the poorer electorate men sufficiently
honest to retain their votes, and sufficiently numerous to swamp the old
society--why, then the devil take the old society! The object of
government is only the good of the majority, and these men, being the
majority, have every right to select their own form of good. If they were
mistaken, nature would soon convince them of their mistake, and the next
generation would profit by the object-lesson. Demos would go on, a sadder
and a wiser man.

The solution of the question is that the people must not only govern: it
must be fit to govern. To corrupt it with dollars, to drowse it with
drink, is only to put off the inevitable day. It were far wiser to help
it to educate itself for its functions. For, if the revolutionary
economic ideas that are in the air are false, they will destroy
themselves. And if they are true, they have got to be realised, and will
get themselves realised. No amount of corruption will save society in the
long run. Meantime, either let universal suffrage operate honestly, or
let it be suspended or abolished. Let even those States which have
enfranchised the black man, and which now, in accordance with the deep
Machiavellian principle, brazenly revealed by our American, dishonestly
render his vote nugatory by a reliable inaccuracy in the counting,
withdraw their spurious Christianity. A double standard of morals subtly
infects the whole core of the nation. Corruption cannot be localised; it
creeps and spreads through all departments of thought and action. To give
with the right hand, and take away with the left in exchange for a few
dollars, is a manoeuvre unworthy of a great nation. The transaction is
fair; let it be above board, let it be lifted into the plane of ethics.
To found society upon a farce is to lower those ideals by which, as much
as by bread, a nation lives.

[Sidenote: The Modern War Farce]

The horrors of war seem to have reached the vanishing point in our latest
African campaign. The smallness of the English losses is appalling. I do
not see the fun of fighting (_i.e._, of paying taxes) if all the spice
and relish is to be taken out of the results. I want more blood for my
money--hecatombs of corpses. Two men killed in a whole battle?
Ridiculous! If I cannot have my war at my own doors, and hear the bands
and the cannon I have paid for, I must at least have sensational
battle-fields--Actiums and Waterloos and Marengos. What is the use of war
if it does not even serve to reduce our surplus population? Soldiering
was never so healthy an occupation as to-day; one fights only a few days
a year at the utmost, and if the pay is poor, so is that of the scavenger
and the engine-driver and the miner, and everybody else who does the
dirty work of civilisation, and does it, too, without pomp and
circumstance and brass bands and laureates.

[Sidenote: Fireworks]

If people cannot do without sulphur and noise, there are always
fireworks. It is difficult to imagine festivity without them, and yet
there must have been a time when rockets did not rise or Catherine wheels
go round. You cannot have fireworks without gunpowder, and every
school-boy knows that gunpowder was only invented in--I haven't got a
dictionary of dates handy. Surely we ought to let off fireworks on Roger
Bacon's birthday. "They let off fireworks when he was born," say the
French in a slyly witty proverb, which is a circumlocutory way of saying
that a man won't set the Thames on fire. For "he has not invented
gunpowder" is the French equivalent for this idiom of ours, and it is
obvious to the meanest intellect that a man whose birth was celebrated by
fireworks could not have been the inventor of gunpowder. And yet there
were fireworks of a kind from the earliest times, from the first
appearance of stars in the firmament with their wandering habits and
shooting expeditions. And, indeed, did not humanity long regard the
heavens as a firework show for its amusement, a set piece entirely for
its delectation? Mankind has always been fond of playing with fire--ever
since Prometheus stole it from heaven and burnt his fingers. I am
convinced the ancients only used bonfires for messages so as to enjoy the
flare-up on the mountains. Who would not fight when summoned by a tongue
of flame?

And the red glare on Skiddaw roused the burghers of Carlisle.

Roman candles were unknown to the Romans, but they enjoyed themselves
with torches, and these were the fireworks at wedding fêtes. The golden
rain in which Jupiter wooed Danaë was another sort of hymeneal fireworks.
There were fireworks at the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. The love
of fireworks is a natural passion. Does not nature amuse herself with
fireworks, especially on tropical summer nights? She loves to flash her
lightnings (which are not to be put out by the rain), and to crash her
thunder (which, as everybody knows, is only the report of the meeting of
two electric clouds). And who does not admire her grand pyrotechnic
display--twice daily--at sunrise and at sunset, or her celebrated local
effect, the Aurora Borealis?

I have loved fireworks from boyhood, and would rather have had dry bread
and fireworks than cake with jam. In manhood often I have listened to the
long-drawn ecstatic "aw" of the Crystal Palace crowd. I have even written
a poem on fireworks. Here it is:--

A dazzling fiery show of sphery rainbows,
Whereof each wonder, monarch of a moment,
Yields up its glory to the next one's splendour,
And sadly sinks into the arms of darkness.

Is it not a true simile of the favour of the fickle crowd? The most
brilliant phenomena are forgotten after a moment. Life and Time are full
of such fireworks--religions, philosophies, fashions, dynasties. And
overhead the sure stars shine on. In literature fireworks rarely last.
They are too clever to live. A humble rushlight lasts longer. "All
fireworks are unsound," says Steinitz. He is talking of chess, and chess
is very much like life. Whistler has painted fireworks--I mean
literally--in his blue and silver nocturne of old Battersea Bridge.
Tennyson has painted them in his "Welcome to Alexandra" and elsewhere.

Flash, ye cities, in rivers of fire!
Rush to the roof, sudden rocket, and higher,
Melt into stars for the land's desire!

"Sudden rocket." How good the adjective is! A poet I know spent hall a
day in finding the correct epithet for rockets, and was equally pleased
and annoyed to discover subsequently that he had chosen the same
adjective as the Master.

[Sidenote: Time's Forelock.]

Nowadays we let off all our fireworks a day before the fair and tug Time
by his forelock. A magazine coming out in January must be dated February
at the very earliest. We "go ahead" in an Irish-American sense, and
cannot endure not to be in advance of our age. We live entirely in the
future, and are too busy to live just at present. Christmas falls late in
October and extends to the end of November, the period being marked by
heavy showers of Christmas numbers. The Jews begin all their festivals
the day before, and Christmas is by far the most Jewish of our holidays.
Our evening papers come out in the morning, though this will right itself
in time, for they are getting earlier and earlier, and will ultimately
come out the evening before. Dr. Johnson's line about Shakespeare, "And
panting Time toils after him in vain," is truer of the man of to-day.
What's that you say? All this has been said before? Naturally.

[Sidenote: Diaries.]

Who is the most marvellous man? He who keepeth a diary. And by keeping a
diary I mean keeping it for the whole year, from January 1st to December
31st--keeping it, moreover, by daily entry. Only one year in my life did
I succeed in filling up every department of the three hundred and
sixty-five, and even then I was often in arrears. Diaries are for those
who lead cloistral lives and pure, so that the task is trivial, and
whatsoever record of their own leap to light they shall not be shamed.
Diaries are not for those whose existence is a whirlpool; for such the
blank page is an added perturbation, a haunting whiteness beseeching the
blackness of diurnal autobiography, an I O U that calls for instant
satisfcation. To the spontaneous vexings of conscience has been added an
artificial pricking at the neglect of a supererogatory duty. How have I
blonched to see day adding itself to day, unrecorded, time flying without
being "kodak'd" on the wing; and each new neglect retarding the day of
reckoning even while it aggravated it! Then have I felt myself sinking
beneath the self-imposed

Yoke, intolerable, not to be borne
Of the too vast orb of my fate,

yearning for a smaller circumference and a shorter biography. At the
outset one begins a diary, as one practises a new virtue, or plays with a
new toy--enthusiastically. For the first few days of January the entries
are rich in psychological and episodical matter. Then gradually the
interest trails off; to the fertile plains of narrative and analysis
succeeds a barren desert, relieved only by a few dates of appointments.
With Mark Twain it will be remembered the entries were reduced to "Got
up, washed, went to bed." The keeping of a diary is generally the first
New Year resolution to be broken. How eloquent these old diaries filled
up for a month or two--and the rest silence!

On second thoughts there is a more marvellous than the most marvellous
man. It is he who keepeth a pecuniary diary. I know one such. He has kept
a perfect and absolutely complete record of every farthing he has laid
out since the days when farthings were his standard of currency. Which of
us would dare do this, or, doing, would dare cast a backward glance on
the financial past? There is a crude, relentless actuality about items of
expenditure, not to be softened by euphemistic phrasing. Surely a truer
proverb than any of its species would be: "Tell me what you buy, and I'll
tell you what you be." And to think, in reviewing your pecuniary
biography, that, though you owe no man a farthing, you have still to pay
the bill; that many things you have bought have yet to be paid for "over
and over again," as the Master Builder said, "over and over again."

[Sidenote: "Looking Backward"]

Looking backward is a luxury which should be indulged in only
moderation--say once in fifty years. The preachers will tell you
differently. But life is so restless and feverish nowadays that there is
no time for obeying the preachers. It is as much as we can do to find
time to listen to them. Goethe says, "He who looks forward sees only one
way to pursue, but he who looks backward sees many." This is the last
word on the subject. It speaks volumes. But as you cannot walk through
any of those backways, what is the use of bothering to look for them?
True, your own experience enables you to give advice to others. But
advice is a drug in the market. What am I saying? A drug! No, no! Even a
drug is taken sometimes. Advice never is. We learn only from our own
mistakes, and when it is too late to profit by them. No; there is not
much profit in looking backwards. Often it tends to make you pessimistic,
to sap your energy, to petrify you, as it did Lot's wife. At other times,
contrariwise, it makes you expel such salt as is already in you,
dissolved in tears--

So sweet, so sad, the days that are no more.

Yet what is this but another form of Buskin's "Pathetic fallacy"? Those
divinely sweet, sad days were in reality just as commonplace as to-day.

Life is a chaos of comic confusion,
Past things alone take a halo harmonious;
So from illusion we wake to illusion,
Each as the rest just as true and erroneous.

A familiar form of the new illusion we wake to is seen in the exclamation
that so often follows retrospection: "Oh, what a fool I was!" As a rule,
nothing can be more conceited than this use of the past tense. A few
people, perhaps, can look back complacently upon "a well-spent life"
(wherein all the years have been laid out to advantage, and every hour
has been made to go as far as seventy-five minutes, and every odd second
has been worth a row of pins at least); but I should not care to meet
them. For the bulk of us it is best to press on, doing what our hand
findeth to do, and letting the dead past bury its dead. It is quite
enough to know we cannot escape paying the funeral bills. One of my
friends found himself let in for the discharge of a number of extra
bills, owing to his retrospective proclivities. He was just beginning to
overcome the adverse financial fates when, taking a complacent survey of
his past, he was horrified to find it bristling with forgotten debts.
Looking backward nearly ruined that man. Another of my friends lost his
life entirely through it. He was an old man and a celebrity, and a
publisher offered him £2000 for his memoirs. Unfortunately my friend had
a very bad memory and no diaries, and, like my other friend, he was
conscientious. The publisher's offer tantalized him terribly. He did not
know what to do. At last, in despair, he determined to drown himself. On
the moment before his death all his past life would come back to him and
pass before his mental vision. Of course I was to rescue him the instant
he lost consciousness, have him rubbed with hot towels and the rest of
it. We went out bathing together, and everything came off as arranged,
all except his resurrection. He was too old for such experiments.

A cynical Frenchman has defined life as the collection of recollections
for the time when you shall have no memory. It is, at any rate, true (and
the preachers are welcome to the moral) that the keenest joys of the
senses leave a scant deposit in the memory, and that if sensual pleasures
are doubled in anticipation, it is the spiritual that are doubled in
looking backward.

[Sidenote: Long Lives]

Just as there are many persons of whose existence you are unaware till
you read their obituaries, so there are many of whose celebrity you are
ignorant till you see the advertisement of their biographies. On all
sides we are flooded with big books about little people. What is this new
disease that has come upon us? Life is short but a "Life" is long. Can
there be any one man in this great procession of the suns who deserves
the two royal octavo volumes, which is the least monument that the pious
biographer builds? The perspective is all wrong. Bossuet got the history
of the world into a fifth of the space. How keen must be the struggle for
life amid these shoals of "Lives." How futile and vain this aspiration
for a "Life" beyond the grave! Vainer still the bid for immortality, when
one's own hand raises the mendacious memorial. It is an open question
whether even Marie Bashkirtseff's self-hewn shrine will stand--she, who
sacrificed her life to her "Life." If it does, it will not be by virtue
of its veracity. I would not trust George Washington himself to write a
perfectly accurate record of a prior day. As for the average biography,
it is but the "In Memoriam" of memory. A friend of mine has written some
excellent fiction and some entertaining reminiscences; only he has
mis-labelled his books, and called his fiction "reminiscences," and his
reminiscences "fiction."


Wherefore do the critics rage?
'T is the Biographic Age.
Every dolt who duly died
In a book is glorified
Uniformly with his betters;
All his unimportant letters
Edited by writers gifted,
Every scrap of MS. sifted,
Classified by dates and ages,
Pages multiplied on pages,
Till the man is--for their pains--
Buried 'neath his own Remains.
Every day the craze grows stronger,
Art is long, but "lives" are longer.
Those who were the most in view
Block the stage _post mortem_ too.
Hark the tongues of either sex--
Reminiscences of X!
Of his juvenile affections
Hundreds write their Recollections,
(None will recollect their writings)
Telling of his love for whitings
Fried in butter, or his fancy
For bananas, buns, and Nancy.
Thank the gracious gods on high,
Every day some "Life" must die:
Death alone is our salvation.
Though'tisdubious consolation
That of all these countless "Lives"
Only the unfit survives.

[Sidenote: Men and Bookmen]

The literary market is inundated with people who have no right to a
stall. Aristocrats are badgered for books merely because they have the
titles; and to have achieved success in any other profession than
literature is the surest recommendation to the favour of the publishers.
If I had to start my literary career over again, I should commence by
hopping on one leg through the Pyrenees, or figuring in a big divorce
case; anything short of assassination, which makes one's success too
posthumous. It is most unfair, this doubling of the parts of doing and
writing. Our modern heroes and heroines are quite too self-conscious;
amid all their deeds of derring-do they have their eye on Mudie's. The
old way was better. Even before the Pyramids were reared, when books were
pictures and letters were cuneiform, heroes had their poets and kings
their laureates. You can no more imagine Agamemnon, after the fall of
Troy, rushing off to write an account of it for "Bentley's," than you can
imagine Helen certifying that she found Pears' soap matchless for the
complexion. It was better for the heroes as well as for the writers.
Aeneas would never have dared to draw such constant attention to his
"piety" as Virgil does; and even Louis Quatorze would have hesitated to
describe the taking of Namur in the language of Boileau--

Et vous, vents, faites silence:
Je vais parler de Louis.

The true hero nowadays is the man who conquers himself and does not write

[Sidenote: James I. on Tobacco]

But even ancient kings did write sometimes, as witness this of James I: I
hold it aye to be a Kings part to the Body-Politicke of all euils &
excesses, & would fain demonstrate afresh to my dear Countrey-men how
abhorrent to Heauen is this stinking incense that ascendeth day & night;
but amid the heat & burden of the day I cannot find an hour to examine
into this matter _de nouo_, & must needs be content with commending to
the readers of "Without Prejudice" my booklet, "A Counterblaste to
Tobacco," imprinted _Anno_ 1604, wherein they will find the abuses of
this foreign custome duly set forth at length. But, on second thoughts,
perchance these moderns read nothing but what is under their noses, so I
will shortly recapitulate my main positions, merely adding that my
objections to Smoak are to-day even stronger than when I wrote. (1) It is
a fallacie of the vulgar that _because_ the braines of men are colde &
wet, therefore _Tobacco_ Smoak, being hote and dry, is good for them; a
conclusion which no more followeth on the Premiss than the Ratiocination
of one who should apply a cake of cold lead to his stomacke, because the
Liver, being the fountaine of blood, is always hote. Moreover, the Smoak
hath also a venomous qualitee. (2) It is a vulgar fallacie that the
affection of mankind for the Practise is a proof that it is good for
them; inasmuch as men are ledd astray by a mode, & furthermore, the
affectation & conceit of the patient persuadeth him he is benefited; yet
how shall one drug cure of all diseases men of all complexions? (3) Men
are by this custom disabled in their goods, spending many pounds a year
upon this precious stinke, and are no better than drunkards. (4) It is a
great iniquitee & against all humanity that the husband shall not bee
ashamed to reduce thereby his delicate, wholesome and cleane complexioned
wife to that extremitee that either shee must also corrupt her sweete
breath therewith, or else resolve to live in a perpetual stinking
torment. In short, tis a custome lothsome to the eye, hateful to the
Nose, harmefull to the braine, dangerous to the Lungs, & in the blacke
stinking fume thereof neerest resembling the horrible Stigian smoke of
the pit that is bottomeless.

[Sidenote: A Counterblaste to James I.]

So please your Majestie, I would beg leave in all loyaltie & service to
cry you mercy on behalf of the foreign weed, _Tobacco_, which stands for
all time condemned by the potent _Counterblaste_ of a monarch, the
maruelle of _Christendom_, whose brow hath borne at once the bays of
Apollo, the laurels of Mars, & the crownes of Scotia & Anglia. And
_imprimis_ I would venture humbly to obserue that your Majesties
arguments are to the last Degree asinine. Euen the title--which, as is
customarie with great personages, is the best part of your Majesties
book--is marred by an unseemlie concession to paronomasia. That your
Majesties manifold abuses of the Logicks may be better espied, I will
take them _seriatim_. (1) The ground founded upon the Theoricke of a
deceiuable apparence of Reason--your Majestie is mistaken in thinking
that I hold it a sure aphorisme in the Physickes. For the braines are
neuer colde & wet saue when there is water on them; & those who do not
Smoak haue no braines for _Tobacco_ to benefit. (2) Your Majesties
argumentation proueth how zealously your Majestie striueth to liue up to
the nickname of the _British Solomon_. And, of a veritie, I could not
myself run atilt more cunningly at this popular fallacie; though I might
back up your Majestie with a most transparent illustration--to wit, that
the affection of Mankind for monarchs is no proof that they are good for
them. (3) I denie that _Tobacco_ wastes ones substance, & I would refer
your Majestie to my demonstration of the Extrauagance of not smoaking.
(4) And is it not an advantage that it resembleth to the Stigian smoak of
the pit? The more we accustom ourselves thereto, the lesse we shall
suffer when we join your Majestie. Will your Majestie kindlie recommend a
Brande? Nor can I conclude without a word as to the ill-taste of that
supplement to your Majesties booklet--a tax of Six Shillings &
Eighte-Pence uppon euery Pounde-Waighte of _Tobacco_, ouer & aboue the
Custome of Two Pence uppon the Pound-Waighte usuallye paide heretofore.
Did your Majestie hope to effect so little by Reason that your Majestie
must needs fall back on Reuenue? Hauing challenged this habit by the
Kings pen, how unmannerly to resort to the coastguards cutlass & fight
the custome at the Custome House. Was it, perhaps, that your Majestie was
wishful to promote English Agriculture or was getting up a cornere in

Howsoever, Smoak hath suruiued the _Stuarts_. May I offer your Majestie a

[Sidenote: Valedictory]

And now, gentle reader, the hour has come for parting. You have kept me
company a long time; tolerant of all my whimsies and vagaries, and not
too restive when I became serious and heavy. I have written for you in
many places and in many moods, and I cannot hope to have escaped the mood
of dulness.

Up! up! my Friend, and quit your books;
Or surely you'll grow double;
Up! up! my Friend, and clear your looks:
Why all this toil and trouble?

Ah, dear Wordsworth, 't is easy enough to answer your question. Still, at
last the pen falls from my tired fingers.

Books! 't is a dull and endless strife:
Come, hear the woodland linnet!
How sweet his music! On my life,
There's more of wisdom in it.

Yes, I will go down and hear the woodland linnet, there is one in the
bird-shop round the corner. Ah me! he will not pipe--his is the wisdom of
silence. Never mind; the pavements are flooded with sunshine, and the
folk are walking gaily, and the omnibuses roll along top-heavy, and there
is a blue strip of sky over the Strand. Yes, Spring is here, and the
violets are blooming in the old women's baskets. How happy everybody
seems! Even the sandwich-men have lost their doleful air. The sap is
stirring in their boards. They are dreaming of their ancient springtides,
when they edited magazines or played "Hamlet." And so, having taken up my
pen again to tell you how I dropped it, let me not lay it down without
bidding you a fond and last farewell--without prejudice.

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