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Yet Again by Max Beerbohm

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Yet Again

by Max Beerbohm

Till I gave myself the task of making a little selection from what I
had written since last I formed a book of essays, I had no notion that
I had put, as it were, my eggs into so many baskets--The Saturday
Review, The New Quarterly, The New Liberal Review, Vanity Fair, The
Daily Mail, Literature, The Traveller, The Pall Mall Magazine, The May
Book, The Souvenir Book of Charing Cross Hospital Bazaar, The Cornhill
Magazine, Harper's Magazine, and The Anglo-Saxon Review...Ouf! But the
sigh of relief that I heave at the end of the list is accompanied by a
smile of thanks to the various authorities for letting me use here
what they were so good as to require.

M. B.






If I were `seeing over' a house, and found in every room an iron cage
let into the wall, and were told by the caretaker that these cages
were for me to keep lions in, I think I should open my eyes rather
wide. Yet nothing seems to me more natural than a fire in the grate.

Doubtless, when I began to walk, one of my first excursions was to the
fender, that I might gaze more nearly at the live thing roaring and
raging behind it; and I dare say I dimly wondered by what blessed
dispensation this creature was allowed in a domain so peaceful as my
nursery. I do not think I ever needed to be warned against scaling the
fender. I knew by instinct that the creature within it was dangerous--
fiercer still than the cat which had once strayed into the room and
scratched me for my advances. As I grew older, I ceased to wonder at
the creature's presence and learned to call it `the fire,' quite
lightly. There are so many queer things in the world that we have no
time to go on wondering at the queerness of the things we see
habitually. It is not that these things are in themselves less queer
than they at first seemed to us. It is that our vision of them has
been dimmed. We are lucky when by some chance we see again, for a
fleeting moment, this thing or that as we saw it when it first came
within our ken. We are in the habit of saying that `first impressions
are best,' and that we must approach every question `with an open
mind'; but we shirk the logical conclusion that we were wiser in our
infancy than we are now. `Make yourself even as a little child' we
often say, but recommending the process on moral rather than on
intellectual grounds, and inwardly preening ourselves all the while on
having `put away childish things,' as though clarity of vision were
not one of them.

I look around the room I am writing in--a pleasant room, and my own,
yet how irresponsive, how smug and lifeless! The pattern of the
wallpaper blamelessly repeats itself from wainscote to cornice; and
the pictures are immobile and changeless within their glazed frames--
faint, flat mimicries of life. The chairs and tables are just as their
carpenter fashioned them, and stand with stiff obedience just where
they have been posted. On one side of the room, encased in coverings
of cloth and leather, are myriads of words, which to some people, but
not to me, are a fair substitute for human company. All around me, in
fact, are the products of modern civilisation. But in the whole room
there are but three things living: myself, my dog, and the fire in my
grate. And of these lives the third is very much the most intensely
vivid. My dog is descended, doubtless, from prehistoric wolves; but
you could hardly decipher his pedigree on his mild, domesticated face.
My dog is as tame as his master (in whose veins flows the blood of the
old cavemen). But time has not tamed fire. Fire is as wild a thing as
when Prometheus snatched it from the empyrean. Fire in my grate is as
fierce and terrible a thing as when it was lit by my ancestors, night
after night, at the mouths of their caves, to scare away the ancestors
of my dog. And my dog regards it with the old wonder and misgiving.
Even in his sleep he opens ever and again one eye to see that we are
in no danger. And the fire glowers and roars through its bars at him
with the scorn that a wild beast must needs have for a tame one. `You
are free,' it rages, `and yet you do not spring at that man's throat
and tear him limb from limb and make a meal of him! `and, gazing at
me, it licks its red lips; and I, laughing good-humouredly, rise and
give the monster a shovelful of its proper food, which it leaps at and
noisily devours.

Fire is the only one of the elements that inspires awe. We breathe
air, tread earth, bathe in water. Fire alone we approach with
deference. And it is the only one of the elements that is always
alert, always good to watch. We do not see the air we breathe--except
sometimes in London, and who shall say that the sight is pleasant? We
do not see the earth revolving; and the trees and other vegetables
that are put forth by it come up so slowly that there is no fun in
watching them. One is apt to lose patience with the good earth, and to
hanker after a sight of those multitudinous fires whereover it is,
after all, but a thin and comparatively recent crust. Water, when we
get it in the form of a river, is pleasant to watch for a minute or
so, after which period the regularity of its movement becomes as
tedious as stagnation. It is only a whole seaful of water that can
rival fire in variety and in loveliness. But even the spectacle of sea
at its very best--say in an Atlantic storm--is less thrilling than the
spectacle of one building ablaze. And for the rest, the sea has its
hours of dulness and monotony, even when it is not wholly calm.
Whereas in the grate even a quite little fire never ceases to be
amusing and inspiring until you let it out. As much fire as would
correspond with a handful of earth or a tumblerful of water is yet a
joy to the eyes, and a lively suggestion of grandeur. The other
elements, even as presented in huge samples, impress us as less august
than fire. Fire alone, according to the legend, was brought down from
Heaven: the rest were here from the dim outset. When we call a thing
earthy we impute cloddishness; by `watery' we imply insipidness;
`airy' is for something trivial. `Fiery' has always a noble
significance. It denotes such things as faith, courage, genius. Earth
lies heavy, and air is void, and water flows down; but flames aspire,
flying back towards the heaven they came from. They typify for us the
spirit of man, as apart from aught that is gross in him. They are the
symbol of purity, of triumph over corruption. Water, air, earth, can
all harbour corruption; but where flames are, or have been, there is
innocence. Our love of fire comes partly, doubtless, from our natural
love of destruction for destruction's sake. Fire is savage, and so,
even after all these centuries, are we, at heart. Our civilisation is
but as the aforesaid crust that encloses the old planetary flames. To
destroy is still the strongest instinct of our nature. Nature is still
`red in tooth and claw,' though she has begun to make fine flourishes
with tooth-brush and nail-scissors. Even the mild dog on my hearth-rug
has been known to behave like a wolf to his own species. Scratch his
master and you will find the caveman. But the scratch must be a sharp
one: I am thickly veneered. Outwardly, I am as gentle as you, gentle
reader. And one reason for our delight in fire is that there is no
humbug about flames: they are frankly, primaevally savage. But this is
not, I am glad to say, the sole reason. We have a sense of good and
evil. I do not pretend that it carries us very far. It is but the
tooth-brush and nail-scissors that we flourish. Our innate instincts,
not this acquired sense, are what the world really hinges on. But this
acquired sense is an integral part of our minds. And we revere fire
because we have come to regard it as especially the foe of evil--as a
means for destroying weeds, not flowers; a destroyer of wicked cities,
not of good ones.

The idea of hell, as inculcated in the books given to me when I was a
child, never really frightened me at all. I conceived the possibility
of a hell in which were eternal flames to destroy every one who had
not been good. But a hell whose flames were eternally impotent to
destroy these people, a hell where evil was to go on writhing yet
thriving for ever and ever, seemed to me, even at that age, too
patently absurd to be appalling. Nor indeed do I think that to the
more credulous children in England can the idea of eternal burning
have ever been quite so forbidding as their nurses meant it to be.
Credulity is but a form of incaution. I, as I have said, never had any
wish to play with fire; but most English children are strongly
attracted, and are much less afraid of fire than of the dark. Eternal
darkness, with a biting east-wind, were to the English fancy a far
more fearful prospect than eternal flames. The notion of these flames
arose in Italy, where heat is no luxury, and shadows are lurked in,
and breezes prayed for. In England the sun, even at its strongest, is
a weak vessel. True, we grumble whenever its radiance is a trifle less
watery than usual. But that is precisely because we are a people whose
nature the sun has not mellowed--a dour people, like all northerners,
ever ready to make the worst of things. Inwardly, we love the sun, and
long for it to come nearer to us, and to come more often. And it is
partly because this craving is unsatisfied that we cower so fondly
over our open hearths. Our fires are makeshifts for sunshine. Autumn
after autumn, `we see the swallows gathering in the sky, and in the
osier-isle we hear their noise,' and our hearts sink. Happy, selfish
little birds, gathering so lightly to fly whither we cannot follow
you, will you not, this once, forgo the lands of your desire? `Shall
not the grief of the old time follow?' Do winter with us, this once!
We will strew all England, every morning, with bread-crumbs for you,
will you but stay and help us to play at summer! But the delicate
cruel rogues pay no heed to us, skimming sharplier than ever in
pursuit of gnats, as the hour draws near for their long flight over
gnatless seas.

Only one swallow have I ever known to relent. It had built its nest
under the eaves of a cottage that belonged to a friend of mine, a man
who loved birds. He had a power of making birds trust him. They would
come at his call, circling round him, perching on his shoulders,
eating from his hand. One of the swallows would come too, from his
nest under the eaves. As the summer wore on, he grew quite tame. And
when summer waned, and the other swallows flew away, this one
lingered, day after day, fluttering dubiously over the threshold of
the cottage. Presently, as the air grew chilly, he built a new nest
for himself, under the mantelpiece in my friend's study. And every
morning, so soon as the fire burned brightly, he would flutter down to
perch on the fender and bask in the light and warmth of the coals. But
after a few weeks he began to ail; possibly because the study was a
small one, and he could not get in it the exercise that he needed;
more probably because of the draughts. My friend's wife, who was very
clever with her needle, made for the swallow a little jacket of red
flannel, and sought to divert his mind by teaching him to perform a
few simple tricks. For a while he seemed to regain his spirits. But
presently he moped more than ever, crouching nearer than ever to the
fire, and, sidelong, blinking dim weak reproaches at his disappointed
master and mistress. One swallow, as the adage truly says, does not
make a summer. So this one's mistress hurriedly made for him a little
overcoat of sealskin, wearing which, in a muffled cage, he was
personally conducted by his master straight through to Sicily. There
he was nursed back to health, and liberated on a sunny plain. He never
returned to his English home; but the nest he built under the
mantelpiece is still preserved in case he should come at last.

When the sun's rays slant down upon your grate, then the fire blanches
and blenches, cowers, crumbles, and collapses. It cannot compete with
its archetype. It cannot suffice a sun-steeped swallow, or ripen a
plum, or parch the carpet. Yet, in its modest way, it is to your room
what the sun is to the world; and where, during the greater part of
the year, would you be without it? I do not wonder that the poor, when
they have to choose between fuel and food, choose fuel. Food nourishes
the body; but fuel, warming the body, warms the soul too. I do not
wonder that the hearth has been regarded from time immemorial as the
centre, and used as the symbol, of the home. I like the social
tradition that we must not poke a fire in a friend's drawing-room
unless our friendship dates back full seven years. It rests evidently,
this tradition, on the sentiment that a fire is a thing sacred to the
members of the household in which it burns. I dare say the fender has
a meaning, as well as a use, and is as the rail round an altar. In
`The New Utopia' these hearths will all have been rased, of course, as
demoralising relics of an age when people went in for privacy and were
not always thinking exclusively about the State. Such heat as may be
needed to prevent us from catching colds (whereby our vitality would
be lowered, and our usefulness to the State impaired) will be supplied
through hot-water pipes (white-enamelled), the supply being strictly
regulated from the municipal water-works. Or has Mr. Wells arranged
that the sun shall always be shining on us? I have mislaid my copy of
the book. Anyhow, fires and hearths will have to go. Let us make the
most of them while we may.

Personally, though I appreciate the radiance of a family fire, I give
preference to a fire that burns for myself alone. And dearest of all
to me is a fire that burns thus in the house of another. I find an
inalienable magic in my bedroom fire when I am staying with friends;
and it is at bedtime that the spell is strongest. `Good night,' says
my host, shaking my hand warmly on the threshold; you've everything
you want?' `Everything,' I assure him; `good night.' `Good night.'
`Good night,' and I close my door, close my eyes, heave a long sigh,
open my eyes, set down the candle, draw the armchair close to the fire
(my fire), sink down, and am at peace, with nothing to mar my
happiness except the feeling that it is too good to be true.

At such moments I never see in my fire any likeness to a wild beast.
It roars me as gently as a sucking dove, and is as kind and cordial as
my host and hostess and the other people in the house. And yet I do
not have to say anything to it, I do not have to make myself agreeable
to it. It lavishes its warmth on me, asking nothing in return. For
fifteen mortal hours or so, with few and brief intervals, I have been
making myself agreeable, saying the right thing, asking the apt
question, exhibiting the proper shade of mild or acute surprise,
smiling the appropriate smile or laughing just so long and just so
loud as the occasion seemed to demand. If I were naturally a brilliant
and copious talker, I suppose that to stay in another's house would be
no strain on me. I should be able to impose myself on my host and
hostess and their guests without any effort, and at the end of the day
retire quite unfatigued, pleasantly flushed with the effect of my own
magnetism. Alas, there is no question of my imposing myself. I can
repay hospitality only by strict attention to the humble, arduous
process of making myself agreeable. When I go up to dress for dinner,
I have always a strong impulse to go to bed and sleep off my fatigue;
and it is only by exerting all my will-power that I can array myself
for the final labours: to wit, making myself agreeable to some man or
woman for a minute or two before dinner, to two women during dinner,
to men after dinner, then again to women in the drawing-room, and then
once more to men in the smoking-room. It is a dog's life. But one has
to have suffered before one gets the full savour out of joy. And I do
not grumble at the price I have to pay for the sensation of basking,
at length, in solitude and the glow of my own fireside.

Too tired to undress, too tired to think, I am more than content to
watch the noble and ever-changing pageant of the fire. The finest part
of this spectacle is surely when the flames sink, and gradually the
red-gold caverns are revealed, gorgeous, mysterious, with inmost
recesses of white heat. It is often thus that my fire welcomes me when
the long day's task is done. After I have gazed long into its depths,
I close my eyes to rest them, opening them again, with a start,
whenever a coal shifts its place, or some belated little tongue of
flame spurts forth with a hiss.... Vaguely I liken myself to the
watchman one sees by night in London, wherever a road is up, huddled
half-awake in his tiny cabin of wood, with a cresset of live coal
before him.... I have come down in the world, and am a night-watchman,
and I find the life as pleasant as I had always thought it must be,
except when I let the fire out, and awake shivering.... Shivering I
awake, in the twilight of dawn. Ashes, white and grey, some rusty
cinders, a crag or so of coal, are all that is left over from last
night's splendour. Grey is the lawn beneath my window, and little
ghosts of rabbits are nibbling and hobbling there. But anon the east
will be red, and, ere I wake, the sky will be blue, and the grass
quite green again, and my fire will have arisen from its ashes, a
cackling and comfortable phoenix.


I am not good at it. To do it well seems to me one of the most
difficult things in the world, and probably seems so to you, too.

To see a friend off from Waterloo to Vauxhall were easy enough. But we
are never called on to perform that small feat. It is only when a
friend is going on a longish journey, and will be absent for a longish
time, that we turn up at the railway station. The dearer the friend,
and the longer the journey, and the longer the likely absence, the
earlier do we turn up, and the more lamentably do we fail. Our failure
is in exact ratio to the seriousness of the occasion, and to the depth
of our feeling.

In a room, or even on a door-step, we can make the farewell quite
worthily. We can express in our faces the genuine sorrow we feel. Nor
do words fail us. There is no awkwardness, no restraint, on either
side. The thread of our intimacy has not been snapped. The leave-
taking is an ideal one. Why not, then, leave the leave-taking at that?
Always, departing friends implore us not to bother to come to the
railway station next morning. Always, we are deaf to these entreaties,
knowing them to be not quite sincere. The departing friends would
think it very odd of us if we took them at their word. Besides, they
really do want to see us again. And that wish is heartily
reciprocated. We duly turn up. And then, oh then, what a gulf yawns!
We stretch our arms vainly across it. We have utterly lost touch. We
have nothing at all to say. We gaze at each other as dumb animals gaze
at human beings. We `make conversation'--and such conversation! We
know that these are the friends from whom we parted overnight. They
know that we have not altered. Yet, on the surface, everything is
different; and the tension is such that we only long for the guard to
blow his whistle and put an end to the farce.

On a cold grey morning of last week I duly turned up at Euston, to see
off an old friend who was starting for America.

Overnight, we had given him a farewell dinner, in which sadness was
well mingled with festivity. Years probably would elapse before his
return. Some of us might never see him again. Not ignoring the shadow
of the future, we gaily celebrated the past. We were as thankful to
have known our guest as we were grieved to lose him; and both these
emotions were made evident. It was a perfect farewell.

And now, here we were, stiff and self-conscious on the platform; and,
framed in the window of the railway-carriage, was the face of our
friend; but it was as the face of a stranger--a stranger anxious to
please, an appealing stranger, an awkward stranger. `Have you got
everything?' asked one of us, breaking a silence. `Yes, everything,'
said our friend, with a pleasant nod. `Everything,' he repeated, with
the emphasis of an empty brain. `You'll be able to lunch on the
train,' said I, though this prophecy had already been made more than
once. `Oh yes,' he said with conviction. He added that the train went
straight through to Liverpool. This fact seemed to strike us as rather
odd. We exchanged glances. `Doesn't it stop at Crewe?' asked one of
us. `No,' said our friend, briefly. He seemed almost disagreeable.
There was a long pause. One of us, with a nod and a forced smile at
the traveller, said `Well!' The nod, the smile, and the unmeaning
monosyllable, were returned conscientiously. Another pause was broken
by one of us with a fit of coughing. It was an obviously assumed fit,
but it served to pass the time. The bustle of the platform was
unabated. There was no sign of the train's departure. Release--ours,
and our friend's--was not yet.

My wandering eye alighted on a rather portly middle-aged man who was
talking earnestly from the platform to a young lady at the next window
but one to ours. His fine profile was vaguely familiar to me. The
young lady was evidently American, and he was evidently English;
otherwise I should have guessed from his impressive air that he was
her father. I wished I could hear what he was saying. I was sure he
was giving the very best advice; and the strong tenderness of his gaze
was really beautiful. He seemed magnetic, as he poured out his final
injunctions. I could feel something of his magnetism even where I
stood. And the magnetism, like the profile, was vaguely familiar to
me. Where had I experienced it?

In a flash I remembered. The man was Hubert le Ros. But how changed
since last I saw him! That was seven or eight years ago, in the
Strand. He was then (as usual) out of an engagement, and borrowed
half-a-crown. It seemed a privilege to lend anything to him. He was
always magnetic. And why his magnetism had never made him successful
on the London stage was always a mystery to me. He was an excellent
actor, and a man of sober habit. But, like many others of his kind,
Hubert le Ros (I do not, of course, give the actual name by which he
was known) drifted seedily away into the provinces; and I, like every
one else, ceased to remember him.

It was strange to see him, after all these years, here on the platform
of Euston, looking so prosperous and solid. It was not only the flesh
that he had put on, but also the clothes, that made him hard to
recognise. In the old days, an imitation fur coat had seemed to be as
integral a part of him as were his ill-shorn lantern jaws. But now his
costume was a model of rich and sombre moderation, drawing, not
calling, attention to itself. He looked like a banker. Any one would
have been proud to be seen off by him.

`Stand back, please.' The train was about to start, and I waved
farewell to my friend. Le Ros did not stand back. He stood clasping in
both hands the hands of the young American. `Stand back, sir, please!'
He obeyed, but quickly darted forward again to whisper some final
word. I think there were tears in her eyes. There certainly were tears
in his when, at length, having watched the train out of sight, he
turned round. He seemed, nevertheless, delighted to see me. He asked
me where I had been hiding all these years; and simultaneously repaid
me the half-crown as though it had been borrowed yesterday. He linked
his arm in mine, and walked me slowly along the platform, saying with
what pleasure he read my dramatic criticisms every Saturday.

I told him, in return, how much he was missed on the stage. `Ah, yes,'
he said, `I never act on the stage nowadays.' He laid some emphasis on
the word `stage,' and I asked him where, then, he did act. `On the
platform,' he answered. `You mean,' said I, `that you recite at
concerts?' He smiled. `This,' he whispered, striking his stick on the
ground, `is the platform I mean.' Had his mysterious prosperity
unhinged him? He looked quite sane. I begged him to be more explicit.

`I suppose,' he said presently, giving me a light for the cigar which
he had offered me, `you have been seeing a friend off?' I assented. He
asked me what I supposed he had been doing. I said that I had watched
him doing the same thing. `No,' he said gravely. `That lady was not a
friend of mine. I met her for the first time this morning, less than
half an hour ago, here,' and again he struck the platform with his

I confessed that I was bewildered. He smiled. `You may,' he said,
`have heard of the Anglo-American Social Bureau?' I had not. He
explained to me that of the thousands of Americans who annually pass
through England there are many hundreds who have no English friends.
In the old days they used to bring letters of introduction. But the
English are so inhospitable that these letters are hardly worth the
paper they are written on. `Thus,' said Le Ros, `the A.A.S.B. supplies
a long-felt want. Americans are a sociable people, and most of them
have plenty of money to spend. The A.A.S.B. supplies them with English
friends. Fifty per cent. of the fees is paid over to the friends. The
other fifty is retained by the A.A.S.B. I am not, alas, a director. If
I were, I should be a very rich man indeed. I am only an employe'. But
even so I do very well. I am one of the seers-off.'

Again I asked for enlightenment. `Many Americans,' he said, `cannot
afford to keep friends in England. But they can all afford to be seen
off. The fee is only five pounds (twenty-five dollars) for a single
traveller; and eight pounds (forty dollars) for a party of two or
more. They send that in to the Bureau, giving the date of their
departure, and a description by which the seer-off can identify them
on the platform. And then--well, then they are seen off.'

`But is it worth it?' I exclaimed. `Of course it is worth it,' said Le
Ros. `It prevents them from feeling "out of it." It earns them the
respect of the guard. It saves them from being despised by their
fellow-passengers--the people who are going to be on the boat. It
gives them a footing for the whole voyage. Besides, it is a great
pleasure in itself. You saw me seeing that young lady off. Didn't you
think I did it beautifully?' `Beautifully,' I admitted. `I envied you.
There was I--' `Yes, I can imagine. There were you, shuffling from
foot to foot, staring blankly at your friend, trying to make
conversation. I know. That's how I used to be myself, before I
studied, and went into the thing professionally. I don't say I'm
perfect yet. I'm still a martyr to platform fright. A railway station
is the most difficult of all places to act in, as you have discovered
for yourself.' `But,' I said with resentment, `I wasn't trying to act.
I really felt.' `So did I, my boy,' said Le Ros. `You can't act
without feeling. What's his name, the Frenchman--Diderot, yes--said
you could; but what did he know about it? Didn't you see those tears
in my eyes when the train started? I hadn't forced them. I tell you I
was moved. So were you, I dare say. But you couldn't have pumped up a
tear to prove it. You can't express your feelings. In other words, you
can't act. At any rate,' he added kindly, `not in a railway station.'
`Teach me!' I cried. He looked thoughtfully at me. `Well,' he said at
length, `the seeing-off season is practically over. Yes, I'll give you
a course. I have a good many pupils on hand already; but yes,' he
said, consulting an ornate note-book, `I could give you an hour on
Tuesdays and Fridays.'

His terms, I confess, are rather high. But I don't grudge the


Often I have presentiments of evil; but, never having had one of them
fulfilled, I am beginning to ignore them. I find that I have always
walked straight, serenely imprescient, into whatever trap Fate has
laid for me. When I think of any horrible thing that has befallen me,
the horror is intensified by recollection of its suddenness. `But a
moment before, I had been quite happy, quite secure. A moment later--'
I shudder. Why be thus at Fate's mercy always, when with a little
ordinary second sight...Yet no! That is the worst of a presentiment:
it never averts evil, it does but unnerve the victim. Best, after all,
to have only false presentiments like mine. Bolts that cannot be
dodged strike us kindliest from the blue.

And so let me be thankful that my sole emotion as I entered an empty
compartment at Holyhead was that craving for sleep which, after
midnight, overwhelms every traveller--especially the Saxon traveller
from tumultuous and quick-witted little Dublin. Mechanically,
comfortably, as I sank into a corner, I rolled my rug round me, laid
my feet against the opposite cushions, twitched up my coat collar
above my ears, twitched down my cap over my eyes.

It was not the jerk of the starting train that half awoke me, but the
consciousness that some one had flung himself into the compartment
when the train was already in motion. I saw a small man putting
something in the rack--a large black hand-bag. Through the haze of my
sleep I saw him, vaguely resented him. He had no business to have
slammed the door like that, no business to have jumped into a moving
train, no business to put that huge hand-bag into a rack which was
`for light baggage only,' and no business to be wearing, at this hour
and in this place, a top-hat. These four peevish objections floated
sleepily together round my brain. It was not till the man turned
round, and I met his eye, that I awoke fully--awoke to danger. I had
never seen a murderer, but I knew that the man who was so steadfastly
peering at me now...I shut my eyes. I tried to think. Could I be
dreaming? In books I had read of people pinching themselves to see
whether they were really awake. But in actual life there never was any
doubt on that score. The great thing was that I should keep all my
wits about me. Everything might depend on presence of mind. Perhaps
this murderer was mad. If you fix a lunatic with your eye...

Screwing up my courage, I fixed the man with my eye. I had never seen
such a horrible little eye as his. It was a sane eye, too. It radiated
a cold and ruthless sanity. It belonged not to a man who would kill
you wantonly, but to one who would not scruple to kill you for a
purpose, and who would do the job quickly and neatly, and not be found
out. Was he physically strong? Though he looked very wiry, he was
little and narrow, like his eyes. He could not overpower me by force,
I thought (and instinctively I squared my shoulders against the
cushions, that he might realise the impossibility of overpowering me),
but I felt he had enough `science' to make me less than a match for
him. I tried to look cunning and determined. I longed for a moustache
like his, to hide my somewhat amiable mouth. I was thankful I could
not see his mouth--could not know the worst of the face that was
staring at me in the lamplight. And yet what could be worse than his
eyes, gleaming from the deep shadow cast by the brim of his top-hat?
What deadlier than that square jaw, with the bone so sharply
delineated under the taut skin?

The train rushed on, noisily swaying through the silence of the night.
I thought of the unseen series of placid landscapes that we were
passing through, of the unconscious cottagers snoring there in their
beds, of the safe people in the next compartment to mine--to his. Not
moving a muscle, we sat there, we two, watching each other, like two
hostile cats. Or rather, I thought, he watched me as a snake watches a
rabbit, and I, like a rabbit, could not look away. I seemed to hear my
heart beating time to the train. Suddenly my heart was at a
standstill, and the double beat of the train receded faintly. The man
was pointing upwards...I shook my head. He had asked me in a low
voice, whether he should pull the hood across the lamp.

He was standing now with his back turned towards me, pulling his hand-
bag out of the rack. He had a furtive back--the back of a man who, in
his day, had borne many an alias. To this day I am ashamed that I did
not spring up and pinion him, there and then. Had I possessed one
ounce of physical courage, I should have done so. A coward, I let slip
the opportunity. I thought of the communication-cord, but how could I
move to it? He would be too quick for me. He would be very angry with
me. I would sit quite still and wait. Every moment was a long reprieve
to me now. Something might intervene to save me. There might be a
collision on the line. Perhaps he was a quite harmless man...I caught
his eyes, and shuddered...

His bag was open on his knees. His right hand was groping in it.
(Thank Heaven he had not pulled the hood over the lamp!) I saw him
pull out something--a limp thing, made of black cloth, not unlike the
thing which a dentist places over your mouth when laughing-gas is to
be administered. `Laughing-gas, no laughing matter'--the irrelevant
and idiotic embryo of a pun dangled itself for an instant in my brain.
What other horrible thing would come out of the bag? Perhaps some
gleaming instrument?... He closed the bag with a snap, laid it beside
him. He took off his top-hat, laid that beside him. I was surprised (I
know not why) to see that he was bald. There was a gleaming high light
on his bald, round head. The limp, black thing was a cap, which he
slowly adjusted with both hands, drawing it down over the brow and
behind the ears. It seemed to me as though he were, after all, hooding
the lamp; in my feverish fancy the compartment grew darker when the
orb of his head was hidden. The shadow of another simile for his
action came surging up... He had put on the cap so gravely, so
judicially. Yes, that was it: he had assumed the black cap, that
decent symbol which indemnifies the taker of a life; and might the
Lord have mercy on my soul... Already he was addressing me... What had
he said? I asked him to repeat it. My voice sounded even further away
than his. He repeated that he thought we had met before. I heard my
voice saying politely, somewhere in the distance, that I thought not.
He suggested that I had been staying at some hotel in Colchester six
years ago. My voice, drawing a little nearer to me, explained that I
had never in my life been at Colchester. He begged my pardon and hoped
no offence would be taken where none had been meant. My voice, coming
right back to its own quarters, reassured him that of course I had
taken no offence at all, adding that I myself very often mistook one
face for another. He replied, rather inconsequently, that the world
was a small place.

Evidently he must have prepared this remark to follow my expected
admission that I had been at that hotel in Colchester six years ago,
and have thought it too striking a remark to be thrown away. A
guileless creature evidently, and not a criminal at all. Then I
reflected that most of the successful criminals succeed rather through
the incomparable guilelessness of the police than through any devilish
cunning in themselves. Besides, this man looked the very incarnation
of ruthless cunning. Surely, he must but have dissembled. My
suspicions of him resurged. But somehow, I was no longer afraid of
him. Whatever crimes he might have been committing, and be going to
commit, I felt that he meant no harm to me. After all, why should I
have imagined myself to be in danger? Meanwhile, I would try to draw
the man out, pitting my wits against his.

I proceeded to do so. He was very voluble in a quiet way. Before long
I was in possession of all the materials for an exhaustive biography
of him. And the strange thing was that I could not, with the best will
in the world, believe that he was lying to me. I had never heard a man
telling so obviously the truth. And the truth about any one, however
commonplace, must always be interesting. Indeed, it is the commonplace
truth--the truth of widest application--that is the most interesting
of all truths.

I do not now remember many details of this man's story; I remember
merely that he was `travelling in lace,' that he had been born at
Boulogne (this was the one strange feature of the narrative), that
somebody had once left him 100 in a will, and that he had a little
daughter who was `as pretty as a pink.' But at the time I was
enthralled. Besides, I liked the man immensely. He was a kind and
simple soul, utterly belying his appearance. I wondered how I ever
could have feared him and hated him. Doubtless, the reaction from my
previous state intensified the kindliness of my feelings. Anyhow, my
heart went out to him. I felt that we had known each other for many
years. While he poured out his recollections I felt that he was an old
crony, talking over old days which were mine as well as his. Little by
little, however, the slumber which he had scared from me came hovering
back. My eyelids drooped; my comments on his stories became few and
muffled. `There!' he said, `you're sleepy. I ought to have thought of
that.' I protested feebly. He insisted kindly. `You go to sleep,' he
said, rising and drawing the hood over the lamp. It was dawn when I
awoke. Some one in a top-hat was standing over me and saying `Euston.'
`Euston?' I repeated. `Yes, this is Euston. Good day to you.' `Good
day to you,' I repeated mechanically, in the grey dawn.

Not till I was driving through the cold empty streets did I remember
the episode of the night, and who it was that had awoken me. I wished
I could see my friend again. It was horrible to think that perhaps I
should never see him again. I had liked him so much, and he had seemed
to like me. I should not have said that he was a happy man. There was
something melancholy about him. I hoped he would prosper. I had a
foreboding that some great calamity was in store for him, and wished I
could avert it. I thought of his little daughter who was `as pretty as
a pink.' Perhaps Fate was going to strike him through her. Perhaps
when he got home he would find that she was dead. There were tears in
my eyes when I alighted on my doorstep.

Thus, within a little space of time, did I experience two deep
emotions, for neither of which was there any real justification. I
experienced terror, though there was nothing to be afraid of, and I
experienced sorrow, though there was nothing at all to be sorry about.
And both my terror and my sorrow were, at the time, overwhelming.

You have no patience with me? Examine yourselves. Examine one another.
In every one of us the deepest emotions are constantly caused by some
absurdly trivial thing, or by nothing at all. Conversely, the great
things in our lives--the true occasions for wrath, anguish, rapture,
what not--very often leave us quite calm. We never can depend on any
right adjustment of emotion to circumstance. That is one of many
reasons which prevent the philosopher from taking himself and his
fellow-beings quite so seriously as he would wish.


By graceful custom, every newcomer to a throne in Europe pays a round
of visits to his neighbours. When King Edward came back from seeing
the Tsar at Reval, his subjects seemed to think that he had fulfilled
the last demand on his civility. That was in the days of Abdul Hamid.
None of us wished the King to visit Turkey. Turkey is not
internationally powerful, nor had Abdul any Guelph blood in him; and
so we were able to assert, by ignoring her and him, our
humanitarianism and passion for liberty, quite safely, quite politely.
Now that Abdul is deposed from `his infernal throne,' it is taken as a
matter of course that the King will visit his successor. Well, let His
Majesty betake himself and his tact and a full cargo of Victorian
Orders to Constantinople, by all means. But, on the way, nestling in
the very heart of Europe, perfectly civilised and strifeless, jewelled
all over with freedom, is another country which he has not visited
since his accession--a country which, oddly enough, none but I seems
to expect him to visit. Why, I ask, should Switzerland be cold-

I admit she does not appeal to the romantic imagination. She never
has, as a nation, counted for anything. Physically soaring out of
sight, morally and intellectually she has lain low and said nothing.
Not one idea, not one deed, has she to her credit. All that is worth
knowing of her history can be set forth without compression in a few
lines of a guide-book. Her one and only hero--William Tell--never, as
we now know, existed. He has been proved to be a myth. Also, he is the
one and only myth that Switzerland has managed to create. He exhausted
her poor little stock of imagination. Living as pigmies among the
blind excesses of Nature, living on sufferance there, animalculae, her
sons have been overwhelmed from the outset, have had no chance
whatsoever of development. Even if they had a language of their own,
they would have no literature. Not one painter, not one musician, have
they produced; only couriers, guides, waiters, and other parasites. A
smug, tame, sly, dull, mercenary little race of men, they exist by and
for the alien tripper. They are the fine flower of commercial
civilisation, the shining symbol of international comity, and have
never done anybody any harm. I cannot imagine why the King should not
give them the incomparable advertisement of a visit.

Not that they are badly in need of advertisement over here. Every year
the British trippers to Switzerland vastly outnumber the British
trippers to any other land--a fact which shows how little the romantic
imagination tells as against cheapness and comfort of hotels and the
notion that a heart strained by climbing is good for the health. And
this fact does but make our Sovereign's abstention the more
remarkable. Switzerland is not `smart,' but a King is not the figure-
head merely of his entourage: he is the whole nation's figure-head.
Switzerland, alone among nations, is a British institution, and King
Edward ought not to snub her. That we expect him to do so without
protest from us, seems to me a rather grave symptom of flunkeyism.

Fiercely resenting that imputation, you proceed to raise difficulties.
`Who,' you ask, `would there be to receive the King in the name of the
Swiss nation?' I promptly answer, `The President of the Swiss
Republic.' You did not expect that. You had quite forgotten, if indeed
you had ever heard, that there was any such person. For the life of
you, you could not tell me his name. Well, his name is not very widely
known even in Switzerland. A friend of mine, who was there lately,
tells me that he asked one Swiss after another what was the name of
the President, and that they all sought refuge in polite astonishment
at such ignorance, and, when pressed for the name, could only screw up
their eyes, snap their fingers, and feverishly declare that they had
it on the tips of their tongues. This is just as it should be. In an
ideal republic there should be no one whose name might not at any
moment slip the memory of his fellows. Some sort of foreman there must
be, for the State's convenience; but the more obscure he be, and the
more automatic, the better for the ideal of equality. In the Republics
of France and of America the President is of an extrusive kind. His
office has been fashioned on the monarchic model, and his whole
position is anomalous. He has to try to be ornamental as well as
useful, a symbol as well as a pivot. Obviously, it is absurd to single
out one man as a symbol of the equality of all men. And not less
unreasonable is it to expect him to be inspiring as a patriotic
symbol, an incarnation of his country. Only an anointed king, whose
forefathers were kings too, can be that. In France, where kings have
been, no one can get up the slightest pretence of emotion for the
President. If the President is modest and unassuming, and doesn't, as
did the late M. Faure, make an ass of himself by behaving in a kingly
manner, he is safe from ridicule: the amused smiles that follow him
are not unkind. But in no case is any one proud of him. Never does any
one see France in him. In America, where no kings have been, they are
able to make a pretence of enthusiasm for a President. But no real
chord of national sentiment is touched by this eminent gentleman who
has no past or future eminence, who has been shoved forward for a
space and will anon be sent packing in favour of some other upstart.
Let some princeling of a foreign State set foot in America, and lo!
all the inhabitants are tumbling over one another in their desire for
a glimpse of him--a desire which is the natural and pathetic outcome
of their unsatisfied inner craving for a dynasty of their own. Human
nature being what it is, a monarchy is the best expedient, all the
world over. But, given a republic, let the thing be done thoroughly,
let the appearance be well kept up, as in Switzerland. Let the
President be, as there, a furtive creature and insignificant, not
merely coming no man knows whence, nor merely passing no man knows
whither, but existing no man knows where; and existing not even as a
name--except on the tip of the tongue. National dignity, as well as
the republican ideal, is served better thus. Besides, it is less
trying for the President.

And yet, stronger than all my sense of what is right and proper is the
desire in me that the President of the Swiss Republic should, just for
once, be dragged forth, blinking, from his burrow in Berne (Berne is
the capital of Switzerland), into the glare of European publicity, and
be driven in a landau to the railway station, there to await the King
of England and kiss him on either cheek when he dismounts from the
train, while the massed orchestras of all the principal hotels play
our national anthem--and also a Swiss national anthem, hastily
composed for the occasion. I want him to entertain the King, that
evening, at a great banquet, whereat His Majesty will have the
President's wife on his right hand, and will make a brief but graceful
speech in the Swiss language (English, French, German, and Italian,
consecutively) referring to the glorious and never-to-be-forgotten
name of William Tell (embarrassed silence), and to the vast number of
his subjects who annually visit Switzerland (loud and prolonged
cheers). Next morning, let there be a review of twenty thousand
waiters from all parts of the country, all the head-waiters receiving
a modest grade of the Victorian Order. Later in the day, let the King
visit the National Gallery--a hall filled with picture post-cards of
the most picturesque spots in Switzerland; and thence let him be
conducted to the principal factory of cuckoo-clocks, and, after some
of the clocks have been made to strike, be heard remarking to the
President, with a hearty laugh, that the sound is like that of the
cuckoo. How the second day of the visit would be filled up, I do not
know; I leave that to the President's discretion. Before his departure
to the frontier, the King will of course be made honorary manager of
one of the principal hotels.

I hope to be present in Berne during these great days in the
President's life. But, if anything happen to keep me here, I shall
content myself with the prospect of his visit to London. I long to see
him and his wife driving past, with the proper escort of Life Guards,
under a vista of quadrilingual mottoes, bowing acknowledgments to us.
I wonder what he is like. I picture him as a small spare man, with a
slightly grizzled beard, and pleasant though shifty eyes behind a
pince-nez. I picture him frock-coated, bowler-hatted, and evidently
nervous. His wife I cannot at all imagine.


An antique ruin has its privileges. The longer the period of its
crumbling, the more do the owls build their nests in it, the more do
the excursionists munch in it their sandwiches. Thus, year by year,
its fame increases, till it looks back with contempt on the days when
it was a mere upright waterproof. Local guide-books pander more and
more slavishly to its pride; leader-writers in need of a pathetic
metaphor are more and more frequently supplied by it. If there be any
sordid question of clearing it away to make room for something else,
the public outcry is positively deafening.

Not that we are still under the sway of that peculiar cult which beset
us in the earlier part of the nineteenth century. A bad poet or
painter can no longer reap the reward of genius merely by turning his
attention to ruins under moonlight. Nor does any one cause to be built
in his garden a broken turret, for the evocation of sensibility in
himself and his guests. There used to be one such turret near the
summit of Campden Hill; but that familiar imposture was rased a year
or two ago, no one protesting. Fuit the frantic factitious
sentimentalism for ruins. On the other hand, the sentiment for them is
as strong as ever it was. Decrepit Carisbrooke and its rivals annually
tighten their hold on Britannia's heart.

I do not grudge them their success. But the very fact that they are so
successful inclines me to reserve my own personal sentiment rather for
those unwept, unsung ruins which so often confront me, here and there,
in the streets of this aggressive metropolis. The ruins made, not by
Time, but by the ruthless skill of Labour, the ruins of houses not old
enough to be sacrosanct nor new enough to keep pace with the demands
of a gasping and plethoric community--these are the ruins that move me
to tears. No owls flutter in them. No trippers lunch in them. In no
guide-book or leading-article will you find them mentioned. Their
pathetic interiors gape to the sky and to the street, but nor gods nor
men hold out a hand to save them. The patterns of bedroom wall-papers,
(chosen with what care, after how long discussion! only a few short
years or months ago) stare out their obvious, piteous appeal to us for
mercy. And their dumb agony is echoed dumbly by the places where doors
have been--doors that lately were tapped at by respectful knuckles; or
the places where staircases have been--staircases down whose banisters
lately slid little children, laughing. Exposed, humiliated, doomed,
the home throws out a hundred pleas to us. And the Pharisaic community
passes by on the other side of the way, in fear of a falling brick.
Down come the walls of the home, as quickly as pickaxes can send them.
Down they crumble, piecemeal, into the foundations, and are carted
away. Soon other walls will be rising--red-brick `residential' walls,
more in harmony with the Zeitgeist. None but I pays any heed to the
ruins. I am their only friend. Me they attract so irresistibly that I
haunt the door of the hoarding that encloses them, and am frequently
mistaken for the foreman.

A few summers ago, I was watching, with more than usual emotion, the
rasure of a great edifice at a corner of Hanover Square. There were
two reasons why this rasure especially affected me. I had known the
edifice so well, by sight, ever since I was a small boy, and I had
always admired it as a fine example of that kind of architecture which
is the most suitable to London's atmosphere. Though I must have passed
it thousands of times, I had never passed without an upward smile of
approval that gaunt and sombre faade, with its long straight windows,
its well-spaced columns, its long straight coping against the London
sky. My eyes deplored that these noble and familiar things must
perish. For sake of what they had sheltered, my heart deplored that
they must perish. The falling edifice had not been exactly a home. It
had been even more than that. It had been a refuge from many homes. It
had been a club.

Certainly it had not been a particularly distinguished club. Its
demolition could not have been stayed on the plea that Charles James
Fox had squandered his substance in its card-room, or that Lord
Melbourne had loved to doze on the bench in its hall. Nothing sublime
had happened in it. No sublime person had belonged to it. Persons
without the vaguest pretensions to sublimity had always, I believe,
found quick and easy entrance into it. It had been a large nondescript
affair. But (to adapt Byron) a club's a club tho' every one's in it.
The ceremony of election gives it a cachet which not even the smartest
hotel has. And then there is the note-paper, and there are the news-
papers, and the cigars at wholesale prices, and the not-to-be-tipped
waiters, and other blessings for mankind. If the members of this club
had but migrated to some other building, taking their effects and
their constitution with them, the ruin would have been pathetic
enough. But alas! the outward wreck was a symbol, a result, of inner
dissolution. Through the door of the hoarding the two pillars of the
front door told a sorry tale. Pasted on either of them was a dingy
bill, bearing the sinister imprimatur of an auctioneer, and offering
(in capitals of various sizes) Bedroom Suites (Walnut and Mahogany),
Turkey, Indian and Wilton Pile Carpets, Two Full-sized Billiard-
Tables, a Remington Type-writer, a Double Door (Fire-Proof), and other
objects not less useful and delightful. The club, then, had gone to
smash. The members had been disbanded, driven out of this Eden by the
fiery sword of the Law, driven back to their homes. Sighing over the
marcescibility of human happiness, I peered between the pillars into
the excavated and chaotic hall. The porter's hatch was still there, in
the wall. There it was, wondering why no inquiries were made through
it now, or, may be, why it had not been sold into bondage with the
double-door and the rest of the fixtures. A melancholy relic of past
glories! I crossed over to the other side of the road, and passed my
eye over the whole ruin. The roof, the ceilings, most of the inner
walls, had already fallen. Little remained but the grim, familiar
faade--a thin husk. I noted (that which I had never noted before) two
iron grills in the masonry. Miserable travesties of usefulness,
ventilating the open air! Through the gaping windows, against the wall
of the next building, I saw in mid-air the greenish Lincrusta Walton
of what I guessed to have been the billiard-room--the billiard-room
that had boasted two full-sized tables. Above it ran a frieze of white
and gold. It was interspersed with flat Corinthian columns. The
gilding of the capitals was very fresh, and glittered gaily under the
summer sunbeams.

And hardly a day of the next autumn and winter passed but I was drawn
back to the ruin by a kind of lugubrious magnetism. The strangest
thing was that the ruin seemed to remain in practically the same state
as when first I had come upon it: the faade still stood high. This
might have been due to the proverbial laziness of British workmen, but
I did not think it could be. The workmen were always plying their
pick-axes, with apparent gusto and assiduity, along the top of the
building; bricks and plaster were always crashing down into the depths
and sending up clouds of dust. I preferred to think the building
renewed itself, by some magical process, every night. I preferred to
think it was prepared thus to resist its aggressors for so long a time
that in the end there would be an intervention from other powers.
Perhaps from this site no `residential' affair was destined to scrape
the sky? Perhaps that saint to whom the club had dedicated itself
would reappear, at length, glorious equestrian, to slay the dragons
who had infested and desecrated his premises? I wondered whether he
would then restore the ruins, reinstating the club, and setting it for
ever on a sound commercial basis, or would leave them just as they
were, a fixed signal to sensibility.

But, when first I saw the poor faade being pick-axed, I did not
`give' it more than a fortnight. I had no feeling but of hopeless awe
and pity. The workmen on the coping seemed to me ministers of
inexorable Olympus, executing an Olympian decree. And the building
seemed to me a live victim, a scapegoat suffering sullenly for sins it
had not committed. To me it seemed to be flinching under every
rhythmic blow of those well-wielded weapons, praying for the hour when
sunset should bring it surcease from that daily ordeal. I caught
myself nodding to it--a nod of sympathy, of hortation to endurance.
Immediately, I was ashamed of my lapse into anthropomorphism. I told
myself that my pity ought to be kept for the real men who had been
frequenters of the building, who now were waifs. I reviewed the
gaping, glassless windows through which they had been wont to watch
the human comedy. There they had stood, puffing their smoke and
cracking their jests, and tearing women's reputations to shreds.

Not that I, personally, have ever heard a woman's reputation torn to
shreds in a club window. A constant reader of lady-novelists, I have
always been hoping for this excitement, but somehow it has never come
my way. I am beginning to suspect that it never will, and am inclined
to regard it as a figment. Such conversation as I have heard in clubs
has been always of a very mild, perfunctory kind. A social club (even
though it be a club with a definite social character) is a collection
of heterogeneous creatures, and its aim is perfect harmony and good-
fellowship. Thus any definite expression of opinion by any member is
regarded as dangerous. The ideal clubman is he who looks genial and
says nothing at all. Most Englishmen find little difficulty in
conforming with this ideal. They belong to a silent race. Social clubs
flourish, therefore, in England. Intelligent foreigners, seeing them,
recognise their charm, and envy us them, and try to reproduce them at
home. But the Continent is too loquacious. On it social clubs quickly
degenerate into bear-gardens, and the basic ideal of good-fellowship
goes by the board. In Paris, Petersburg, Vienna, the only social clubs
that prosper are those which are devoted to games of chance--those
which induce silence by artificial means. Were I a foreign visitor,
taking cursory glances, I should doubtless be delighted with the clubs
of London. Had I the honour to be an Englishman, I should doubtless
love them. But being a foreign resident, I am somewhat oppressed by
them. I crave in them a little freedom of speech, even though such
freedom were their ruin. I long for their silence to be broken here
and there, even though such breakage broke them with it. It is not
enough for me to hear a hushed exchange of mild jokes about the
weather, or of comparisons between what the Times says and what the
Standard says. I pine for a little vivacity, a little boldness, a
little variety, a few gestures. A London club, as it is conducted,
seems to me very like a catacomb. It is tolerable so long as you do
not actually belong to it. But when you do belong to it, when you have
outlived the fleeting gratification at having been elected, when
you...but I ought not to have fallen into the second person plural.
You, readers, are free-born Englishmen. These clubs `come natural' to
you. You love them. To them you slip eagerly from your homes. As for
me, poor alien, had I been a member of the club whose demolition has
been my theme, I should have grieved for it not one whit the more
bitterly. Indeed, my tears would have been a trifle less salt. It was
my detachment that enabled me to be so prodigal of pity.

The poor waifs! Long did I stand, in the sunshine of that day when
first I saw the ruin, wondering and distressed, ruthful, indignant
that such things should be. I forgot on what errand I had come out. I
recalled it. Once or twice I walked away, bent on its fulfilment. But
I could not proceed further than a few yards. I halted, looked over my
shoulder, was drawn back to the spot, drawn by the crude, insistent
anthem of the pick-axes. The sun slanted towards Notting Hill. Still I
loitered, spellbound... I was aware of some one at my side, some one
asking me a question. `I beg your pardon?' I said. The stranger was a
tall man, bronzed and bearded. He repeated his question. In answer, I
pointed silently to the ruin. `That?' he gasped. He stared vacantly. I
saw that his face had become pale under its sunburn. He looked from
the ruin to me. `You're not joking with me?' he said thickly. I
assured him that I was not. I assured him that this was indeed the
club to which he had asked to be directed. `But,' he stammered, `but--
but--' `You were a member?' I suggested. `I am a member,' he cried.
`And what's more, I'm going to write to the Committee.' I suggested
that there was one fatal objection to such a course. I spoke to him
calmly, soothed him with words of reason, elicited from him, little by
little, his sad story. It appeared that he had been a member of the
club for ten years, but had never (except once, as a guest) been
inside it. He had been elected on the very day on which (by compulsion
of his father) he set sail for Australia. He was a mere boy at the
time. Bitterly he hated leaving old England; nor did he ever find the
life of a squatter congenial. The one thing which enabled him to
endure those ten years of unpleasant exile was the knowledge that he
was a member of a London club. Year by year, it was a keen pleasure to
him to send his annual subscription. It kept him in touch with
civilisation, in touch with Home. He loved to know that when, at
length, he found himself once again in the city of his birth he would
have a firm foothold on sociability. The friends of his youth might
die, or might forget him. But, as member of a club, he would find
substitutes for them in less than no time. Herding bullocks, all day
long, on the arid plains of Central Australia, he used to keep up his
spirits by thinking of that first whisky-and-soda which he would order
from a respectful waiter as he entered his club. All night long,
wrapped in his blanket beneath the stars, he used to dream of that
drink to come, that first symbol of an unlost grip on civilisation...
He had arrived in London this very afternoon. Depositing his luggage
at an hotel, he had come straight to his club. `And now...' He filled
up his aposiopesis with an uncouth gesture, signifying `I may as well
get back to Australia.'

I was on the point of offering to take him to my own club and give him
his first whisky-and-soda therein. But I refrained. The sight of an
extant club might have maddened the man. It certainly was very hard
for him, to have belonged to a club for ten years, to have loved it so
passionately from such a distance, and then to find himself destined
never to cross its threshold. Why, after all, should he not cross its
threshold? I asked him if he would like to. `What,' he growled, `would
be the good?' I appealed, not in vain, to the imaginative side of his
nature. I went to the door of the hoarding, and explained matters to
the foreman; and presently, nodding to me solemnly, he passed with the
foreman through the gap between the doorposts. I saw him crossing the
excavated hall, crossing it along a plank, slowly and cautiously. His
attitude was very like Blondin's, but it had a certain tragic dignity
which Blondin's lacked. And that was the last I saw of him. I hailed a
cab and drove away. What became of the poor fellow I do not know.
Often as I returned to the ruin, and long as I loitered by it, him I
never saw again. Perhaps he really did go straight back to Australia.
Or perhaps he induced the workmen to bury him alive in the
foundations. His fate, whatever it was, haunts me.


This is an age of prescriptions. Morning after morning, from the back-
page of your newspaper, quick and uncostly cures for every human ill
thrust themselves wildly on you. The age of miracles is not past. But
I would raise no false hopes of myself. I am no thaumaturgist. Do
you awake with a sinking sensation in the stomach? Have you lost the
power of assimilating food? Are you oppressed with an indescribable
lassitude? Can you no longer follow the simplest train of thought? Are
you troubled throughout the night with a hacking cough? Are you--in
fine, are you but a tissue of all the most painful symptoms of all the
most malignant maladies ancient and modern? If so, skip this essay,
and try Somebody's Elixir. The cure that I offer is but a cure for
overwrought nerves--a substitute for the ordinary `rest-cure.' Nor is
it absurdly cheap. Nor is it instant. It will take a week or so of
your time. But then, the `rest-cure' takes at least a month. The scale
of payment for board and lodging may be, per diem, hardly lower than
in the `rest-cure'; but you will save all but a pound or so of the
very heavy fees that you would have to pay to your doctor and your
nurse (or nurses). And certainly, my cure is the more pleasant of the
two. My patient does not have to cease from life. He is not undressed
and tucked into bed and forbidden to stir hand or foot during his
whole term. He is not forbidden to receive letters, or to read books,
or to look on any face but his nurse's (or nurses'). Nor, above all,
is he condemned to the loathsome necessity of eating so much food as
to make him dread the sight of food. Doubtless, the grim, inexorable
process of the `rest-cure' is very good for him who is strong enough
and brave enough to bear it, and rich enough to pay for it. I address
myself to the frailer, cowardlier, needier man. Instead of ceasing
from life, and entering purgatory, he need but essay a variation in
life. He need but go and stay by himself in one of those vast modern
hotels which abound along the South and East coasts.

You are disappointed? All simple ideas are disappointing. And all good
cures spring from simple ideas.

The right method of treating overwrought nerves is to get the patient
away from himself--to make a new man of him; and this trick can be
done only by switching him off from his usual environment, his usual
habits. The ordinary rest-cure, by its very harshness, intensifies a
man's personality at first, drives him miserably within himself; and
only by its long duration does it gradually wear him down and build
him up anew. There is no harshness in the vast hotels which I have
recommended. You may eat there as little as you like, especially if
you are en pension. Letters may be forwarded to you there; though,
unless your case is a very mild one, I would advise you not to leave
your address at home. There are reading-rooms where you can see all
the newspapers; though I advise you to ignore them. You suffer under
no sense of tyranny. And yet, no sooner have you signed your name in
the visitors' book, and had your bedroom allotted to you, than you
feel that you have surrendered yourself irrepleviably. It is not
necessary to this illusion that you should pass under an assumed name,
unless you happen to be a very eminent actor, or cricketer, or other
idol of the nation, whose presence would flutter the young persons at
the bureau. If your nervous breakdown be (as it more likely is) due to
merely intellectual distinction, these young persons will mete out to
you no more than the bright callous civility which they mete out
impartially to all (but those few) who come before them. To them you
will be a number, and to yourself you will have suddenly become a
number--the number graven on the huge brass label that depends
clanking from the key put into the hand of the summoned chambermaid.
You are merely (let us say) 273.

Up you go in the lift, realising, as for the first time, your
insignificance in infinity, and rather proud to be even a number. You
recognise your double on the door that has been unlocked for you. No
prisoner, clapped into his cell, could feel less personal, less
important. A notice on the wall, politely requesting you to leave your
key at the bureau (as though you were strong enough or capacious
enough to carry it about with you) comes as a pleasant reminder of
your freedom. You remember joyously that you are even free from
yourself. You have begun a new life, have forgotten the old. This
mantelpiece, so strangely and brightly bare of photographs or
`knickknacks,' is meaning in its meaninglessness. And these blank,
fresh walls, that you have never seen, and that never were seen by any
one whom you know...their pattern is of poppies and mandragora,
surely. Poppies and mandragora are woven, too, on the brand-new
Axminster beneath your elastic step. `Come in!' A porter bears in your
trunk, deposits it on a trestle at the foot of the bed, unstraps it,
leaves you alone with it. It seems to be trying to remind you of some-
thing or other. You do not listen. You laugh as you open it. You know
that if you examined these shirts you would find them marked `273.'
Before dressing for dinner, you take a hot bath. There are patent
taps, some for fresh water, others for sea water. You hesitate. Yet
you know that whichever you touch will effuse but the water of Lethe,
after all. You dress before your fire. The coals have burnt now to a
lovely glow. Once and again, you eye them suspiciously. But no, there
are no faces in them. All's well.

Sleek and fresh, you sit down to dinner in the `Grande Salle a`
Manger.' Graven on your wine-glasses, emblazoned on your soup-plate,
are the armorial bearings of the company that shelters you. The
College of Arms might sneer at them, be down on them, but to you they
are a joy, in their grand lack of links with history. They are a
sympathetic symbol of your own newness, your own impersonality. You
glance down the endless menu. It has been composed for a community.
None of your favourite dishes (you once had favourite dishes) appears
in it, thank heaven! You will work your way through it, steadily,
unquestioningly, gladly, with a communal palate. And the wine? All
wines are alike here, surely. You scour the list vaguely, and order a
pint of 273. Your eye roves over the adjacent tables.

You behold a galaxy of folk evidently born, like yourself, anew. Some,
like yourself, are solitary. Others are with wives, with children--but
with new wives, new children. The associations of home have been
forgotten, even though home's actual appendages be here. The members
of the little domestic circles are using company manners. They are
actually making conversation, `breaking the ice.' They are new here to
one another. They are new to themselves. How much newer to you! You
cannot `place' them. That paterfamilias with the red moustache--is he
a soldier, a solicitor, a stockbroker, what? You play vaguely, vainly,
at the game of attributions, while the little orchestra in yonder
bower of artificial palm-trees plays new, or seemingly new, cake-
walks. Who are they, these minstrels in the shadow? They seem not to
be the Red Hungarians, nor the Blue, nor the Hungarians of any other
colour of the spectrum. You set them down as the Colourless
Hungarians, and resume your study of the tables. They fascinate you,
these your fellow-diners. You fascinate them, doubtless. They,
doubtless, are cudgelling their brains to `spot' your state in life--
your past, which now has escaped you. Next day, some of them are gone;
and you miss them, almost bitterly. But others succeed them, not less
detached and enigmatic than they. You must never speak to one of them.
You must never lapse into those casual acquaintances of the `lounge'
or the smoking-room. Nor is it hard to avoid them. No Englishman, how
gregarious and garrulous soever, will dare address another Englishman
in whose eye is no spark of invitation. There must be no such spark in
yours. Silence is part of the cure for you, and a very important part.
It is mainly through unaccustomed silence that your nerves are made
trim again. Usually, you are giving out in talk all that you receive
through your senses of perception. Keep silence now. Its gold will
accumulate in you at compound interest. You will realise the joy of
being full of reflections and ideas. You will begin to hoard them
proudly, like a miser. You will gloat over your own cleverness--you,
who but a few days since, were feeling so stupid. Solitude in a crowd,
silence among chatterboxes--these are the best ministers to a mind
diseased. And with the restoration of the mind, the body will be
restored too. You, who were physically so limp and pallid, will be a
ruddy Hercules now. And when, at the moment of departure, you pass
through the hall, shyly distributing to the servants that largesse
which is so slight in comparison with what your doctor and nurse (or
nurses) would have levied on you, you will feel that you are more than
fit to resume that burden of personality whereunder you had sunk. You
will be victoriously yourself again.

Yet I think you will look back a little wistfully on the period of
your obliteration. People--for people are very nice, really, most of
them--will tell you that they have missed you. You will reply that you
did not miss yourself. And you will go the more strenuously to your
work and pleasure, so as to have the sooner an excuse for a good


Riderless the horse was, and with none to hold his bridle. But he
waited patiently, submissively, there where I saw him, at the shabby
corner of a certain shabby little street in Chelsea. `My beautiful, my
beautiful, thou standest meekly by,' sang Mrs. Norton of her Arab
steed, `with thy proudly-arched and glossy neck, thy dark and fiery
eye.' Catching the eye of this other horse, I saw that such fire as
might once have blazed there had long smouldered away. Chestnut though
he was, he had no mettle. His chestnut coat was all dull and rough,
unkempt as that of an inferior cab-horse. Of his once luxuriant mane
there were but a few poor tufts now. His saddle was torn and weather-
stained. The one stirrup that dangled therefrom was red with rust.

I never saw in any creature a look of such unutterable dejection.
Dejection, in the most literal sense of the word, indeed was his. He
had been cast down. He had fallen from higher and happier things. With
his `arched neck,' and with other points which not neglect nor ill-
usage could rob of their old grace, he had kept something of his
fallen day about him. In the window of the little shop outside which
he stood were things that seemed to match him--things appealing to the
sense that he appealed to. A tarnished French mirror, a strip of faded
carpet, some rows of battered, tattered books, a few cups and saucers
that had erst been riveted and erst been dusted--all these, in a
gallimaufry of other languid odds and ends, seen through this mud-
splashed window, silently echoed the silent misery of the horse. They
were remembering Zion. They had been beautiful once, and expensive,
and well cared for, and admired, and coveted. And now...

They had, at least, the consolation of being indoors. Public laughing-
stock though they were, they had a barrier of glass between themselves
and the irreverent world. To be warm and dry, too, was something.
Piteous, they could yet afford to pity the horse. He was more
ludicrously, more painfully, misplaced than they. A real blood-horse
that has done his work is rightly left in the open air--turned out
into some sweet meadow or paddock. It would be cruel to make him spend
his declining years inside a house, where no grass is. Is it less
cruel that a fine old rocking-horse should be thrust from the nursery
out into the open air, upon the pavement?

Perhaps some child had just given the horse a contemptuous shove in
passing. For he was rocking gently when I chanced to see him. Nor did
he cease to rock, with a slight creak upon the pavement, so long as I
watched him. A particularly black and bitter north wind was blowing
round the corner of the street. Perhaps it was this that kept the
horse in motion. Boreas himself, invisible to my mortal eyes, may have
been astride the saddle, lashing the tired old horse to this futile
activity. But no, I think rather that the poor thing was rocking of
his own accord, rocking to attract my attention. He saw in me a
possible purchaser. He wanted to show me that he was still sound in
wind and limb. Had I a small son at home? If so, here was the very
mount for him. None of your frisky, showy, first-hand young brutes, on
which no fond parent ought to risk his offspring's bones; but a sound,
steady-going, well-mannered old hack with never a spark of vice in
him! Such was the message that I read in the glassy eye fixed on me.
The nostril of faded scarlet seemed for a moment to dilate and quiver.
At last, at last, was some one going to inquire his price?

Once upon a time, in a far-off fashionable toy-shop, his price had
been prohibitive; and he, the central attraction behind the gleaming
shop-window, had plumed himself on his expensiveness. He had been in
no hurry to be bought. It had seemed to him a good thing to stand
there motionless, majestic, day after day, far beyond the reach of
average purses, and having in his mien something of the frigid
nobility of the horses on the Parthenon frieze, with nothing at all of
their unreality. A coat of real chestnut hair, glossy, glorious! From
end to end of the Parthenon frieze not one of the horses had that.
>From end to end of the toy-shop that exhibited him not one of the
horses was thus graced. Their flanks were mere wood, painted white,
with arbitrary blotches of grey here and there. Miserable creatures!
It was difficult to believe that they had souls. No wonder they were
cheap, and `went off,' as the shopman said, so quickly, whilst he
stayed grandly on, cynosure of eyes that dared not hope for him. Into
bondage they went off, those others, and would be worked to death,
doubtless, by brutal little boys.

When, one fine day, a lady was actually not shocked by the price
demanded for him, his pride was hurt. And when, that evening, he was
packed in brown paper and hoisted to the roof of a four-wheeler, he
faced the future fiercely. Who was this lady that her child should
dare bestride him? With a biblical `ha, ha,' he vowed that the child
should not stay long in saddle: he must be thrown--badly--even though
it was his seventh birthday. But this wicked intention vanished while
the child danced around him in joy and wonder. Never yet had so many
compliments been showered on him. Here, surely, was more the manner of
a slave than of a master. And how lightly the child rode him, with
never a tug or a kick! And oh, how splendid it was to be flying thus
through the air! Horses were made to be ridden; and he had never
before savoured the true joy of life, for he had never known his own
strength and fleetness. Forward! Backward! Faster, faster! To floor!
To ceiling! Regiments of leaden soldiers watched his wild career.
Noah's quiet sedentary beasts gaped up at him in wonderment--as tiny
to him as the gaping cows in the fields are to you when you pass by in
an express train. This was life indeed! He remembered Katafalto--
remembered Eclipse and the rest nowhere. Aye, thought he, and even
thus must Black Bess have rejoiced along the road to York. And
Bucephalus, skimming under Alexander the plains of Asia, must have had
just this glorious sense of freedom. Only less so! Not Pegasus himself
can have flown more swiftly. Pegasus, at last, became a constellation
in the sky. `Some day,' reflected the rocking-horse, when the ride was
over, `I, too, shall die; and five stars will appear on the nursery

Alas for the vanity of equine ambition! I wonder by what stages this
poor beast came down in the world. Did the little boy's father go
bankrupt, leaving it to be sold in a `lot' with the other toys? Or was
it merely given away, when the little boy grew up, to a poor but
procreative relation, who anon became poorer? I should like to think
that it had been mourned. But I fear that whatever mourning there may
have been for it must have been long ago discarded. The creature did
not look as if it had been ridden in any recent decade. It looked as
if it had almost abandoned the hope of ever being ridden again. It was
but hoping against hope now, as it stood rocking there in the bleak
twilight. Bright warm nurseries were for younger, happier horses.
Still it went on rocking, to show me that it could rock.

The more sentimental a man is, the less is he helpful; the more loth
is he to cancel the cause of his emotion. I did not buy the horse.

A few days later, passing that way, I wished to renew my emotion; but
lo! the horse was gone. Had some finer person than I bought it?--towed
it to the haven where it would be? Likelier, it had but been relegated
to some mirky recess of the shop... I hope it has room to rock there.


Lord Rosebery once annoyed the Press by declaring that his ideal
newspaper was one which should give its news without comment.
Doubtless he was thinking of the commonweal. Yet a plea for no
comments might be made, with equal force, in behalf of the
commentators themselves. Occupations that are injurious to the persons
engaged in them ought not to be encouraged. The writing of `leaders'
and `notes' is one of these occupations. The practice of it, more than
of any other, depends on, and fosters hypocrisy, worst of vices. In a
sense, every kind of writing is hypocritical. It has to be done with
an air of gusto, though no one ever yet enjoyed the act of writing.
Even a man with a specific gift for writing, with much to express,
with perfect freedom in choice of subject and manner of expression,
with indefinite leisure, does not write with real gusto. But in him
the pretence is justified: he has enjoyed thinking out his subject, he
will delight in his work when it is done. Very different is the
pretence of one who writes at top-speed, on a set subject, what he
thinks the editor thinks the proprietor thinks the public thinks nice.
If he happen to have a talent for writing, his work will be but the
more painful, and his hypocrisy the greater. The chances are, though,
that the talent has already been sucked out of him by Journalism, that
vampire. To her, too, he will have forfeited any fervour he may have
had, any learning, any gaiety. How can he, the jaded interpreter, hold
any opinion, feel any enthusiasm?--without leisure, keep his mind in
cultivation?--be sprightly to order, at unearthly hours in a whir-r-
ring office? To order! Yes, sprightliness is compulsory there; so are
weightiness, and fervour, and erudition. He must seem to abound in
these advantages, or another man will take his place. He must disguise
himself at all costs. But disguises are not easy to make; they require
time and care, which he cannot afford. So he must snatch up ready-made
disguises--unhook them, rather. He must know all the cant-phrases, the
cant-references. There are very, very many of them, and belike it is
hard to keep them all at one's finger-tips. But, at least, there is no
difficulty in collecting them. Plod through the `leaders' and `notes'
in half-a-dozen of the daily papers, and you will bag whole coveys of

Most of the morning papers still devote much space to the old-
fashioned kind of `leader,' in which the pretence is of weightiness,
rather than of fervour, sprightliness, or erudition. The effect of
weightiness is obtained simply by a stupendous disproportion of
language to sense. The longest and most emphatic words are used for
the simplest and most trivial statements, and they are always so
elaborately qualified as to leave the reader with a vague impression
that a very difficult matter, which he himself cannot make head or
tail of, has been dealt with in a very judicial and exemplary manner.

A leader-writer would not, for instance, say--

Lord Rosebery has made a paradox.

He would say:--

Lord Rosebery

whether intentionally or otherwise, we leave our readers to decide,
or, with seeming conviction,
or, doubtless giving rein to the playful humour which is
characteristic of him,


expressed a sentiment,
or, taken on himself to enunciate a theory,
or, made himself responsible for a dictum,


we venture to assert,
or, we have little hesitation in declaring,
or, we may be pardoned for thinking,
or, we may say without fear of contradiction,


nearly akin to
or, not very far removed from

the paradoxical.

But I will not examine further the trick of weightiness--it takes up
too much of my space. Besides, these long `leaders' are a mere
survival, and will soon disappear altogether. The `notes' are the
characteristic feature of the modern newspaper, and it is in them that
the modern journalist displays his fervour, sprightliness, and
erudition. `Note'-writing, like chess, has certain recognised
openings, e.g.:--

There is no new thing under the sun.
It is always the unexpected that happens.
Nature, as we know, abhors a vacuum.
The late Lord Coleridge once electrified his court by inquiring `Who
is Connie Gilchrist?'

And here are some favourite methods of conclusion:--

A mad world, my masters!
'Tis true 'tis pity, and pity 'tis 'tis true.
There is much virtue in that `if.'
But that, as Mr. Kipling would say, is another story.
Si non e` vero, etc.

or (lighter style)

We fancy we recognise here the hand of Mr. Benjamin Trovato.

Not less inevitable are such parallelisms as:--

Like Topsy, perhaps it `growed.'
Like the late Lord Beaconsfield on a famous occasion, `on the side of
the angels.'
Like Brer Rabbit, `To lie low and say nuffin.'
Like Oliver Twist, `To ask for more.'
Like Sam Weller's knowledge of London, `extensive and peculiar.'
Like Napoleon, a believer in `the big battalions.'

Nor let us forget Pyrrhic victory, Parthian dart, and Homeric
laughter; quos deus vult and nil de mortuis; Sturm und Drang; masterly
inactivity, unctuous rectitude, mute inglorious Miltons, and damned
good-natured friends; the sword of Damocles, the thin edge of the
wedge, the long arm of coincidence, and the soul of goodness in things
evil; Hobson's choice, Frankenstein's monster, Macaulay's schoolboy,
Lord Burleigh's nod, Sir Boyle Roche's bird, Mahomed's coffin, and
Davy Jones's locker.

A melancholy catalogue, is it not? But it is less melancholy for you
who read it here, than for them whose existence depends on it, who
draw from it a desperate means of seeming to accomplish what is
impossible. And yet these are the men who shrank in horror from Lord
Rosebery's merciful idea. They ought to be saved despite themselves.
Might not a short Act of Parliament be passed, making all comment in
daily newspapers illegal? In a way, of course, it would be hard on the
commentators. Having lost the power of independent thought, having
sunk into a state of chronic dulness, apathy and insincerity, they
could hardly, be expected to succeed in any of the ordinary ways of
life. They could not compete with their fellow-creatures; no door but
would be bolted if they knocked on it. What would become of them?
Probably they would have to perish in what they would call `what the
late Lord Goschen would have called "splendid isolation."' But such an
end were sweeter, I suggest to them, than the life they are leading.


Have you read The Young Lady's Book? You have had plenty of time to do
so, for it was published in 1829. It was described by the two
anonymous Gentlewomen who compiled it as `A Manual for Elegant
Recreations, Exercises, and Pursuits.' You wonder they had nothing
better to think of? You suspect them of having been triflers? They
were not, believe me. They were careful to explain, at the outset,
that the Virtues of Character were what a young lady should most
assiduously cultivate. They, in their day, labouring under the shadow
of the eighteenth century, had somehow in themselves that high moral
fervour which marks the opening of the twentieth century, and is said
to have come in with Mr. George Bernard Shaw. But, unlike us, they
were not concerned wholly with the inward and spiritual side of life.
They cared for the material surface, too. They were learned in the
frills and furbelows of things. They gave, indeed, a whole chapter to
`Embroidery.' Another they gave to `Archery,' another to `The Aviary,'
another to `The Escrutoire.' Young ladies do not now keep birds, nor
shoot with bow and arrow; but they do still, in some measure, write
letters; and so, for sake of historical comparison, let me give you a
glance at `The Escrutoire.' It is not light reading.

`For careless scrawls ye boast of no pretence;
Fair Russell wrote, as well as spoke, with sense.'

Thus is the chapter headed, with a delightful little wood engraving of
`Fair Russell,' looking pre-eminently sensible, at her desk, to
prepare the reader for the imminent welter of rules for `decorous
composition.' Not that pedantry is approved. `Ease and simplicity, an
even flow of unlaboured diction, and an artless arrangement of obvious
sentiments' is the ideal to be striven for. `A metaphor may be used
with advantage' by any young lady, but only `if it occur naturally.'
And `allusions are elegant,' but only `when introduced with ease, and
when they are well understood by those to whom they are addressed.'
`An antithesis renders a passage piquant'; but the dire results of a
too-frequent indulgence in it are relentlessly set forth. Pages and
pages are devoted to a minute survey of the pit-falls of punctuation.
But when the young lady of that period had skirted all these, and had
observed all the manifold rules of caligraphy that were here laid down
for her, she was not, even then, out of the wood. Very special stress
was laid on `the use of the seal.' Bitter scorn was poured on young
ladies who misused the seal. `It is a habit of some to thrust the wax
into the flame of the candle, and the moment a morsel of it is melted,
to daub it on the paper; and when an unsightly mass is gathered
together, to pass the seal over the tongue with ridiculous haste--
press it with all the strength which the sealing party possesses--and
the result is, an impression which raises a blush on her cheek.'

Well! The young ladies of that day were ever expected to exhibit
sensibility, and used to blush, just as they wept or fainted, for very
slight causes. Their tears and their swoons did not necessarily
betoken much grief or agitation; nor did a rush of colour to the cheek
mean necessarily that they were overwhelmed with shame. To exhibit
various emotions in the drawing-room was one of the Elegant Exercises
in which these young ladies were drilled thoroughly. And their habit
of simulation was so rooted in sense of duty that it merged into
sincerity. If a young lady did not swoon at the breakfast-table when
her Papa read aloud from The Times that the Duke of Wellington was
suffering from a slight chill, the chances were that she would swoon
quite unaffectedly when she realised her omission. Even so, we may be
sure that a young lady whose cheek burned not at sight of the letter
she had sealed untidily--`unworthily' the Manual calls it--would anon
be blushing for her shamelessness. Such a thing as the blurring of the
family crest, or as the pollution of the profile of Pallas Athene with
the smoke of the taper, was hardly, indeed, one of those `very slight
causes' to which I have referred. The Georgian young lady was imbued
through and through with the sense that it was her duty to be
gracefully efficient in whatsoever she set her hand to. To the young
lady of to-day, belike, she will seem accordingly ridiculous--seem
poor-spirited, and a pettifogger. True, she set her hand to no
grandiose tasks. She was not allowed to become a hospital nurse, for
example, or an actress. The young lady of to-day, when she hears in
herself a `vocation' for tending the sick, would willingly, without an
instant's preparation, assume responsibility for the lives of a whole
ward at St. Thomas's. This responsibility is not, however, thrust on
her. She has to submit to a long and tedious course of training before
she may do so much as smooth a pillow. The boards of the theatre are
less jealously hedged in than those of the hospital. If our young lady
have a wealthy father, and retain her schoolroom faculty for learning
poetry by heart, there is no power on earth to prevent her from making
her de'but, somewhere, as Juliet--if she be so inclined; and such is
usually her inclination. That her voice is untrained, that she cannot
scan blank-verse, that she cannot gesticulate with grace and
propriety, nor move with propriety and grace across the stage, matters
not a little bit--to our young lady. `Feeling,' she will say, `is
everything'; and, of course, she, at the age of eighteen, has more
feeling than Juliet, that `flapper,' could have had. All those other
things--those little technical tricks--`can be picked up,' or `will
come.' But no; I misrepresent our young lady. If she be conscious that
there are such tricks to be played, she despises them. When, later,
she finds the need to learn them, she still despises them. It seems to
her ridiculous that one should not speak and comport oneself as
artlessly on the stage as one does off it. The notion of speaking or
comporting oneself with conscious art in real life would seem to her
quite monstrous. It would puzzle her as much as her grandmother would
have been puzzled by the contrary notion.

Personally, I range myself on the grandmother's side. I take my stand
shoulder to shoulder with the Graces. On the banner that I wave is
embroidered a device of prunes and prisms.

I am no blind fanatic, however. I admit that artlessness is a charming
idea. I admit that it is sometimes charming as a reality. I applaud it
(all the more heartily because it is rare) in children. But then,
children, like the young of all animals whatsoever, have a natural
grace. As a rule, they begin to show it in their third year, and to
lose it in their ninth. Within that span of six years they can be
charming without intention; and their so frequent failure in charm is
due to their voluntary or enforced imitation of the ways of their
elders. In Georgian and Early Victorian days the imitation was always
enforced. Grown-up people had good manners, and wished to see them
reflected in the young. Nowadays, the imitation is always voluntary.
Grown-up people have no manners at all; whereas they certainly have a
very keen taste for the intrinsic charm of children. They wish
children to be perfectly natural. That is (aesthetically at least) an
admirable wish. My complaint against these grown-up people is, that
they themselves, whom time has robbed of their natural grace as surely
as it robs the other animals, are content to be perfectly natural.
This contentment I deplore, and am keen to disturb.

I except from my indictment any young lady who may read these words. I
will assume that she differs from the rest of the human race, and has
not, never had, anything to learn in the art of conversing prettily,
of entering or leaving a room or a vehicle gracefully, of writing
appropriate letters, et patati et patata. I will assume that all these
accomplishments came naturally to her. She will now be in a mood to
accept my proposition that of her contemporaries none seems to have
been so lucky as herself. She will agree with me that other girls need
training. She will not deny that grace in the little affairs of life
is a thing which has to be learned. Some girls have a far greater
aptitude for learning it than others; but, with one exception, no
girls have it in them from the outset. It is a not less complicated
thing than is the art of acting, or of nursing the sick, and needs for
the acquirement of it a not less laborious preparation.

Is it worth the trouble? Certainly the trouble is not taken. The
`finishing school,' wherein young ladies were taught to be graceful,
is a thing of the past. It must have been a dismal place; but the
dismalness of it--the strain of it--was the measure of its
indispensability. There I beg the question. Is grace itself
indispensable? Certainly, it has been dispensed with. It isn't
reckoned with. To sit perfectly mute `in company,' or to chatter on at
the top of one's voice; to shriek with laughter; to fling oneself into
a room and dash oneself out of it; to collapse on chairs or sofas; to
sprawl across tables; to slam doors; to write, without punctuation,
notes that only an expert in handwriting could read, and only an
expert in mis-spelling could understand; to hustle, to bounce, to go
straight ahead--to be, let us say, perfectly natural in the midst of
an artificial civilisation, is an ideal which the young ladies of to-
day are neither publicly nor privately discouraged from cherishing.
The word `cherishing' implies a softness of which they are not guilty.
I hasten to substitute `pursuing.' If these young ladies were not in
the aforesaid midst of an artificial civilisation, I should be the
last to discourage their pursuit. If they were Amazons, for example,
spending their lives beneath the sky, in tilth of stubborn fields, and
in armed conflict with fierce men, it would be unreasonable to expect
of them any sacrifice to the Graces. But they are exposed to no such
hardships. They have a really very comfortable sort of life. They are
not expected to be useful. (I am writing all the time, of course,
about the young ladies in the affluent classes.) And it seems to me
that they, in payment of their debt to Fate, ought to occupy the time
that is on their hands by becoming ornamental, and increasing the
world's store of beauty. In a sense, certainly, they are ornamental.
It is a strange fact, and an ironic, that they spend quite five times
the annual amount that was spent by their grandmothers on personal
adornment. If they can afford it, well and good: let us have no
sumptuary law. But plenty of pretty dresses will not suffice. Pretty
manners are needed with them, and are prettier than they.

I had forgotten men. Every defect that I had noted in the modern young
woman is not less notable in the modern young man. Briefly, he is a
boor. If it is true that `manners makyth man,' one doubts whether the
British race can be perpetuated. The young Englishman of to-day is
inferior to savages and to beasts of the field in that they are eager
to show themselves in an agreeable and seductive light to the females
of their kind, whilst he regards any such effort as beneath his
dignity. Not that he cultivates dignity in demeanour. He merely
slouches. Unlike his feminine counterpart, he lets his raiment match
his manners. Observe him any afternoon, as he passes down Piccadilly,
sullenly, with his shoulders humped, and his hat clapped to the back
of his head, and his cigarette dangling almost vertically from his
lips. It seems only appropriate that his hat is a billy-cock, and his
shirt a flannel one, and that his boots are brown ones. Thus attired,
he is on his way to pay a visit of ceremony to some house at which he
has recently dined. No; that is the sort of visit he never pays. (I
must confess I don't myself.) But one remembers the time when no self-
respecting youth would have shown himself in Piccadilly without the
vesture appropriate to that august highway. Nowadays there is no care
for appearances. Comfort is the one aim. Any care for appearances is
regarded rather as a sign of effeminacy. Yet never, in any other age
of the world's history, has it been regarded so. Indeed, elaborate
dressing used to be deemed by philosophers an outcome of the sex-
instinct. It was supposed that men dressed themselves finely in order
to attract the admiration of women, just as peacocks spread their
plumage with a similar purpose. Nor do I jettison the old theory. The
declension of masculine attire in England began soon after the time
when statistics were beginning to show the great numerical
preponderance of women over men; and is it fanciful to trace the one
fact to the other? Surely not. I do not say that either sex is
attracted to the other by elaborate attire. But I believe that each
sex, consciously or unconsciously, uses this elaboration for this very
purpose. Thus the over-dressed girl of to-day and the ill-dressed
youth are but symbols of the balance of our population. The one is
pleading, the other scorning. `Take me!' is the message borne by the
furs and the pearls and the old lace. `I'll see about that when I've
had a look round!' is the not pretty answer conveyed by the billy-cock
and the flannel shirt.

I dare say that fine manners, like fine clothes, are one of the
stratagems of sex. This theory squares at once with the modern young
man's lack of manners. But how about the modern young woman's not less
obvious lack? Well, the theory will square with that, too. The modern
young woman's gracelessness may be due to her conviction that men like
a girl to be thoroughly natural. She knows that they have a very high
opinion of themselves; and what, thinks she, more natural than that
they should esteem her in proportion to her power of reproducing the
qualities that are most salient in themselves? Men, she perceives, are
clumsy, and talk loud, and have no drawing-room accomplishments, and
are rude; and she proceeds to model herself on them. Let us not blame
her. Let us blame rather her parents or guardians, who, though they
well know that a masculine girl attracts no man, leave her to the
devices of her own inexperience. Girls ought not to be allowed, as
they are, to run wild. So soon as they have lost the natural grace of
childhood, they should be initiated into that course of artificial
training through which their grandmothers passed before them, and in
virtue of which their grandmothers were pleasing. This will not, of
course, ensure husbands for them all; but it will certainly tend to
increase the number of marriages. Nor is it primarily for that
sociological reason that I plead for a return to the old system of
education. I plead for it, first and last, on aesthetic grounds. Let
the Graces be cultivated for their own sweet sake.

The difficulty is how to begin. The mothers of the rising generation
were brought up in the unregenerate way. Their scraps of oral
tradition will need to be supplemented by much research. I advise them
to start their quest by reading The Young Lady's Book. Exactly the
right spirit is therein enshrined, though of the substance there is
much that could not be well applied to our own day. That chapter on
`The Escrutoire,' for example, belongs to a day that cannot be
recalled. We can get rid of bad manners, but we cannot substitute the
Sedan-chair for the motor-car; and the penny post, with telephones and
telegrams, has, in our own beautiful phrase, `come to stay,' and has
elbowed the art of letter-writing irrevocably from among us. But notes
are still written; and there is no reason why they should not be
written well. Has the mantle of those anonymous gentlewomen who wrote
The Young Lady's Book fallen on no one? Will no one revise that
`Manual of Elegant Recreations, Exercises, and Pursuits,' adapting it
to present needs?... A few hints as to Deportment in the Motor-Car;
the exact Angle whereat to hold the Receiver of a Telephone, and the
exact Key wherein to pitch the Voice; the Conduct of a Cigarette... I
see a wide and golden vista.


No book-lover, I. Give me an uninterrupted view of my fellow-
creatures. The most tedious of them pleases me better than the best
book. You see, I admit that some of them are tedious. I do not deem
alien from myself nothing that is human: I discriminate my fellow-
creatures according to their contents. And in that respect I am not
more different in my way from the true humanitarian than from the true
bibliophile in his. To him the content of a book matters not at all.
He loves books because they are books, and discriminates them only by
the irrelevant standard of their rarity. A rare book is not less dear
to him because it is unreadable, even as to the snob a dull duke is as
good as a bright one. Indeed, why should he bother about readableness?
He doesn't want to read. `Uncut edges' for him, when he can get them;
and, even when he can't, the notion of reading a rare edition would
seem to him quite uncouth and preposterous The aforesaid snob would as
soon question His Grace about the state of His Grace's soul. I, on the
other hand, whenever human company is denied me, have often a desire
to read. Reading, I prefer cut edges, because a paper-knife is one of
the things that have the gift of invisibility whenever they are
wanted; and because one's thumb, in prising open the pages, so often
affects the text. Many volumes have I thus mutilated, and I hope that
in the sale-rooms of a sentimental posterity they may fetch higher
prices than their duly uncut duplicates. So long as my thumb tatters
merely the margin, I am quite equanimous. If I were reading a First
Folio Shakespeare by my fireside, and if the matchbox were ever so
little beyond my reach, I vow I would light my cigarette with a spill
made from the margin of whatever page I were reading. I am neat,
scrupulously neat, in regard to the things I care about; but a book,
as a book, is not one of these things.

Of course, a book may happen to be in itself a beautiful object. Such
a book I treat tenderly, as one would a flower. And such a book is, in
its brown-papered boards, whereon gleam little gilt italics and a
little gilt butterfly, Whistler's Gentle Art of Making Enemies. It
happens to be also a book which I have read again and again--a book
that has often travelled with me. Yet its cover is as fresh as when
first, some twelve years since, it came into my possession. A flower
freshly plucked, one would say--a brown-and-yellow flower, with a
little gilt butterfly fluttering over it. And its inner petals, its
delicately proportioned pages, are as white and undishevelled as
though they never had been opened. The book lies open before me, as I
write. I must be careful of my pen's transit from inkpot to MS.

Yet, I know, many worthy folk would like the book blotted out of
existence. These are they who understand and love the art of painting,
but neither love nor understand writing as an art. For them The Gentle
Art of Making Enemies is but something unworthy of a great man.
Certainly, it is a thing incongruous with a great hero. And for most
people it is painful not to regard a great man as also a great hero;
hence all the efforts to explain away the moral characteristics
deducible from The Gentle Art of Making Enemies, and to prove that
Whistler, beneath a prickly surface, was saturated through and through
with the quintessence of the Sermon on the Mount.

Well! hero-worship is a very good thing. It is a wholesome exercise
which we ought all to take, now and again. Only, let us not strain
ourselves by overdoing it. Let us not indulge in it too constantly.
Let hero-worship be reserved for heroes. And there was nothing heroic
about Whistler, except his unfaltering devotion to his own ideals in
art. No saint was he, and none would have been more annoyed than he by
canonisation; would he were here to play, as he would have played
incomparably, the devil's advocate! So far as he possessed the
Christian virtues, his faith was in himself, his hope was for the
immortality of his own works, and his charity was for the defects in
those works. He is known to have been an affectionate son, an
affectionate husband; but, for the rest, all the tenderness in him
seems to have been absorbed into his love for such things in nature as
were expressible through terms of his own art. As a man in relation to
his fellow-men, he cannot, from any purely Christian standpoint, be
applauded. He was inordinately vain and cantankerous. Enemies, as he
has wittily implied, were a necessity to his nature; and he seems to
have valued friendship (a thing never really valuable, in itself, to a
really vain man) as just the needful foundation for future enmity.
Quarrelling and picking quarrels, he went his way through life
blithely. Most of these quarrels were quite trivial and tedious. In
the ordinary way, they would have been forgotten long ago, as the
trivial and tedious details in the lives of other great men are
forgotten. But Whistler was great not merely in painting, not merely
as a wit and dandy in social life. He had, also, an extraordinary
talent for writing. He was a born writer. He wrote, in his way,
perfectly; and his way was his own, and the secret of it has died with
him. Thus, conducting them through the Post Office, he has conducted
his squabbles to immortality.

Immortality is a big word. I do not mean by it that so long as this
globe shall endure, the majority of the crawlers round it will spend
the greater part of their time in reading The Gentle Art of Making
Enemies. Even the pre-eminently immortal works of Shakespeare are read
very little. The average of time devoted to them by Englishmen cannot
(even though one assess Mr. Frank Harris at eight hours per diem, and
Mr. Sidney Lee at twenty-four) tot up to more than a small fraction of
a second in a lifetime reckoned by the Psalmist's limit. When I dub
Whistler an immortal writer, I do but mean that so long as there are a
few people interested in the subtler ramifications of English prose as
an art-form, so long will there be a few constantly-recurring readers
of The Gentle Art.

There are in England, at this moment, a few people to whom prose
appeals as an art; but none of them, I think, has yet done justice to
Whistler's prose. None has taken it with the seriousness it deserves.
I am not surprised. When a man can express himself through two media,
people tend to take him lightly in his use of the medium to which he
devotes the lesser time and energy, even though he use that medium not
less admirably than the other, and even though they themselves care
about it more than they care about the other. Perhaps this very
preference in them creates a prejudice against the man who does not
share it, and so makes them sceptical of his power. Anyhow, if
Disraeli had been unable to express himself through the medium of
political life, Disraeli's novels would long ago have had the due
which the expert is just beginning to give them. Had Rossetti not been
primarily a poet, the expert in painting would have acquired long ago
his present penetration into the peculiar value of Rossetti's
painting. Likewise, if Whistler had never painted a picture, and, even
so, had written no more than he actually did write, this essay in
appreciation would have been forestalled again and again. As it is, I
am a sort of herald. And, however loudly I shall blow my trumpet, not
many people will believe my message. For many years to come, it will
be the fashion among literary critics to pooh-pooh Whistler, the
writer, as an amateur. For Whistler was primarily a painter--not less
than was Rossetti primarily a poet, and Disraeli a statesman. And he
will not live down quicklier than they the taunt of amateurishness in
his secondary art. Nevertheless, I will, for my own pleasure, blow the

I grant you, Whistler was an amateur. But you do not dispose of a man
by proving him to be an amateur. On the contrary, an amateur with real
innate talent may do, must do, more exquisite work than he could do if
he were a professional. His very ignorance and tentativeness may be,
must be, a means of especial grace. Not knowing `how to do things,'
having no ready-made and ready-working apparatus, and being in
constant fear of failure, he has to grope always in the recesses of
his own soul for the best way to express his soul's meaning. He has to
shift for himself, and to do his very best. Consequently, his work has
a more personal and fresher quality, and a more exquisite `finish,'
than that of a professional, howsoever finely endowed. All of the much
that we admire in Walter Pater's prose comes of the lucky chance that
he was an amateur, and never knew his business. Had Fate thrown him
out of Oxford upon the world, the world would have been the richer for
the prose of another John Addington Symonds, and would have forfeited
Walter Pater's prose. In other words, we should have lost a half-crown
and found a shilling. Had Fate withdrawn from Whistler his vision for
form and colour, leaving him only his taste for words and phrases and
cadences, Whistler would have settled solidly down to the art of
writing, and would have mastered it, and, mastering it, have lost that
especial quality which the Muse grants only to them who approach her
timidly, bashfully, as suitors.

Perhaps I am wrong. Perhaps Whistler would never, in any case, have
acquired the professional touch in writing. For we know that he never
acquired it in the art to which he dedicated all but the surplus of
his energy. Compare him with the other painters of his day. He was a
child in comparison with them. They, with sure science, solved roughly
and readily problems of modelling and drawing and what not that he
never dared to meddle with. It has often been said that his art was an
art of evasion. But the reason of the evasion was reverence. He kept
himself reverently at a distance. He knew how much he could not do,
nor was he ever confident even of the things that he could do; and
these things, therefore, he did superlatively well, having to grope
for the means in the recesses of his soul. The particular quality of
exquisiteness and freshness that gives to all his work, whether on
canvas or on stone or on copper, a distinction from and above any
contemporary work, and makes it dearer to our eyes and hearts, is a
quality that came to him because he was an amateur, and that abided
with him because he never ceased to be an amateur. He was a master
through his lack of mastery. In the art of writing, too, he was a
master through his lack of mastery. There is an almost exact parallel
between the two sides of his genius. Nothing could be more absurd than
the general view of him as a masterly professional on the one side and
a trifling amateur on the other. He was, certainly, a painter who
wrote; but, by the slightest movement of Fate's little finger, he
might have been a writer who painted, and this essay have been written
not by me from my standpoint, but by some painter, eager to suggest
that Whistler's painting was a quite serious thing.

Yes, that painting and that writing are marvellously akin; and such
differences as you will see in them are superficial merely. I spoke of
Whistler's vanity in life, and I spoke of his timidity and reverence
in art. That contradiction is itself merely superficial. Bob Acres was
timid, but he was also vain. His swagger was not an empty assumption
to cloak his fears; he really did regard himself as a masterful and
dare-devil fellow, except when he was actually fighting. Similarly,
except when he was at his work, Whistler, doubtless, really did think
of himself as a brilliant effortless butterfly. The pose was,
doubtless a quite sincere one, a necessary reaction of feeling. Well,
in his writing he displays to us his vanity; whilst in his Painting we
discern only his reverence. In his writing, too, he displays his
harshness--swoops hither and thither a butterfly equipped with sharp
little beak and talons; whereas in his painting we are conscious only
of his caressing sense of beauty. But look from the writer, as shown
by himself, to the means by which himself is shown. You will find that
for words as for colour-tones he has the same reverent care, and for
phrases as for forms the same caressing sense of beauty.
Fastidiousness--`daintiness,' as he would have said--dandyishness, as
we might well say: by just that which marks him as a painter is he
marked as a writer too. His meaning was ever ferocious; but his
method, how delicate and tender! The portrait of his mother, whom he
loved, was not wrought with a more loving hand than were his portraits
of Mr. Harry Quilter for The World.

His style never falters. The silhouette of no sentence is ever
blurred. Every sentence is ringing with a clear vocal cadence. There,
after all, in that vocal quality, is the chief test of good writing.
Writing, as a means of expression, has to compete with talking. The
talker need not rely wholly on what he says. He has the help of his
mobile face and hands, and of his voice, with its various inflexions
and its variable pace, whereby he may insinuate fine shades of
meaning, qualifying or strengthening at will, and clothing naked words
with colour, and making dead words live. But the writer? He can
express a certain amount through his handwriting, if he write in a
properly elastic way. But his writing is not printed in facsimile. It
is printed in cold, mechanical, monotonous type. For his every effect
he must rely wholly on the words that he chooses, and on the order in
which he ranges them, and on his choice among the few hard-and-fast
symbols of punctuation. He must so use those slender means that they
shall express all that he himself can express through his voice and
face and hands, or all that he would thus express if he were a good
talker. Usually, the good talker is a dead failure when he tries to
express himself in writing. For that matter, so is the bad talker. But
the bad talker has the better chance of success, inasmuch as the
inexpressiveness of his voice and face and hands will have sharpened
his scent for words and phrases that shall in themselves convey such
meanings as he has to express. Whistler was that rare phenomenon, the
good talker who could write as well as he talked. Read any page of The
Gentle Art of Making Enemies, and you will hear a voice in it, and see
a face in it, and see gestures in it. And none of these is quite like
any other known to you. It matters not that you never knew Whistler,
never even set eyes on him. You see him and know him here. The voice
drawls slowly, quickening to a kind of snap at the end of every
sentence, and sometimes rising to a sudden screech of laughter; and,
all the while, the fine fierce eyes of the talker are flashing out at
you, and his long nervous fingers are tracing extravagant arabesques
in the air. No! you need never have seen Whistler to know what he was
like. He projected through printed words the clean-cut image and
clear-ringing echo of himself. He was a born writer, achieving
perfection through pains which must have been infinite for that we see
at first sight no trace of them at all.

Like himself, necessarily, his style was cosmopolitan and eccentric.
It comprised Americanisms and Cockneyisms and Parisian argot, with
constant reminiscences of the authorised version of the Old Testament,
and with chips off Molie`re, and with shreds and tags of what-not
snatched from a hundred-and-one queer corners. It was, in fact, an

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