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Yet Again by Max Beerbohm

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Autolycine style. It was a style of the maddest motley, but of motley
so deftly cut and fitted to the figure, and worn with such an air, as
to become a gracious harmony for all beholders.

After all, what matters is not so much the vocabulary as the manner in
which the vocabulary is used. Whistler never failed to find right
words, and the right cadence for a dignified meaning, when dignity was
his aim. `And when the evening mist clothes the riverside with poetry,
as with a veil, and the poor buildings lose themselves in the dim sky,
and the tall chimneys become campanili, and the warehouses are palaces
in the night, and the whole city hangs in the heavens, and fairyland
is before us...' That is as perfect, in its dim and delicate beauty,
as any of his painted `nocturnes.' But his aim was more often to pour
ridicule and contempt. And herein the weirdness of his natural
vocabulary and the patchiness of his reading were of very real value
to him. Take the opening words of his letter to Tom Taylor: `Dead for
a ducat, dead! my dear Tom: and the rattle has reached me by post.
Sans rancune, say you? Bah! you scream unkind threats and die
badly...' And another letter to the same unfortunate man: `Why, my
dear old Tom, I never was serious with you, even when you were among
us. Indeed, I killed you quite, as who should say, without
seriousness, "A rat! A rat!" you know, rather cursorily...' There the
very lack of coherence in the style, as of a man gasping and choking
with laughter, drives the insults home with a horrible precision.
Notice the technical skill in the placing of `you know, rather
cursorily' at the end of the sentence. Whistler was full of such
tricks--tricks that could never have been played by him, could never
have occurred to him, had he acquired the professional touch And not a
letter in the book but has some such little sharp felicity of cadence
or construction.

The letters, of course, are the best thing in the book, and the best
of the letters are the briefest. An exquisite talent like Whistler's,
whether in painting or in writing, is always at its best on a small
scale. On a large scale it strays and is distressed. Thus the `Ten
o'Clock,' from which I took that passage about the evening mist and
the riverside, does not leave me with a sense of artistic
satisfaction. It lacks structure. It is not a roundly conceived whole:
it is but a row of fragments. Were it otherwise, Whistler could never
have written so perfectly the little letters. For no man who can
finely grasp a big theme can play exquisitely round a little one.

Nor can any man who excels in scoffing at his fellows excel also in
taking abstract subjects seriously. Certainly, the little letters are
Whistler's passport among the elect of literature. Luckily, I can
judge them without prejudice. Whether in this or that case Whistler
was in the right or in the wrong is not a question which troubles me
at all. I read the letters simply from the literary standpoint. As
controversial essays, certainly, they were often in very bad taste. An
urchin scribbling insults upon somebody's garden-wall would not go
further than Whistler often went. Whistler's mode of controversy
reminds me, in another sense, of the writing on the wall. They who
were so foolish as to oppose him really did have their souls required
of them. After an encounter with him they never again were quite the
same men in the eyes of their fellows. Whistler's insults always
stuck--stuck and spread round the insulted, who found themselves at
length encased in them, like flies in amber.

You may shed a tear over the flies, if you will. For myself, I am
content to laud the amber.


It is not cast from any obvious mould of sentiment. It is not a
memorial urn, nor a ruined tower, nor any of those things which he who
runs may weep over. Though not less really deplorable than they, it
needs, I am well aware, some sort of explanation to enable my reader
to mourn with me. For it is merely a hat-box.

It is nothing but that--an ordinary affair of pig-skin, with a brass
lock. As I write, it stands on a table near me. It is of the kind that
accommodates two hats, one above the other. It has had many tenants,
and is sun-tanned, rain-soiled, scarred and dented by collision with
trucks and what not other accessories to the moving scenes through
which it has been bandied. Yes! it has known the stress of many
journeys; yet has it never (you would say, seeing it) received its
baptism of paste: it has not one label on it. And there, indeed, is
the tragedy that I shall unfold.

For many years this hat-box had been my travelling companion, and was,
but a few days since, a dear record of all the big and little journeys
I had made. It was much more to me than a mere receptacle for hats. It
was my one collection, my collection of labels. Well! last week its
lock was broken. I sent it to the trunk-makers, telling them to take
the greatest care of it. It came back yesterday. The idiots, the
accursed idots! had carefully removed every label from its surface. I
wrote to them--it matters not what I said. My fury has burnt itself
out. I have reached the stage of craving general sympathy. So I have
sat down to write, in the shadow of a tower which stands bleak, bare,
prosaic, all the ivy of its years stripped from it; in the shadow of
an urn commemorating nothing.

I think that every one who is or ever has been a collector will pity
me in this dark hour of mine. In other words, I think that nearly
every one will pity me. For few are they who have not, at some time,
come under the spell of the collecting spirit and known the joy of
accumulating specimens of something or other. The instinct has its
corner, surely, in every breast. Of course, hobby-horses are of many
different breeds; but all their riders belong to one great cavalcade,
and when they know that one of their company has had his steed shot
under him, they will not ride on without a backward glance of
sympathy. Lest my fall be unnoted by them, I write this essay. I want
that glance.

Do not, reader, suspect that because I am choosing my words nicely,
and playing with metaphor, and putting my commas in their proper
places, my sorrow is not really and truly poignant. I write
elaborately, for that is my habit, and habits are less easily broken
than hearts. I could no more `dash off' this my cri de coeur than I
could an elegy on a broomstick I had never seen. Therefore, reader,
bear with me, despite my sable plumes and purple; and weep with me,
though my prose be, like those verses which Mr. Beamish wrote over
Chloe"'s grave, `of a character to cool emotion.' For indeed my
anguish is very real. The collection I had amassed so carefully,
during so many years, the collection I loved and revelled in, has been
obliterated, swept away, destroyed utterly by a pair of ruthless,
impious, well-meaning, idiotic, unseen hands. It cannot be restored to
me. Nothing can compensate me for it gone. It was part and parcel of
my life.

Orchids, jade, majolica, wines, mezzotints, old silver, first
editions, harps, copes, hookahs, cameos, enamels, black-letter folios,
scarabaei--such things are beautiful and fascinating in themselves.
Railway-labels are not, I admit. For the most part, they are crudely
coloured, crudely printed, without sense of margin or spacing; in
fact, quite worthless as designs. No one would be a connoisseur in
them. No one could be tempted to make a general collection of them. My
own collection of them was strictly personal: I wanted none that was
not a symbol of some journey made by myself, even as the hunter of big
game cares not to possess the tusks, and the hunter of women covets
not the photographs, of other people's victims. My collection was one
of those which result from man's tendency to preserve some obvious
record of his pleasures--the points he has scored in the game. To
Nimrod, his tusks; to Lothario, his photographs; to me (who cut no
dash in either of those veneries, and am not greedy enough to preserve
menus nor silly enough to preserve press-cuttings, but do delight in
travelling from place to place), my railway-labels. Had nomady been my
business, had I been a commercial traveller or a King's Messenger,
such labels would have held for me no charming significance. But I am
only by instinct a nomad. I have a tether, known as the four-mile
radius. To slip it is for me always an event, an excitement. To come
to a new place, to awaken in a strange bed, to be among strangers! To
have dispelled, as by sudden magic, the old environment! It is on the
scoring of such points as these that I preen myself, and my memory is
always ringing the `changes' I have had, complacently, as a man
jingles silver in his pocket. The noise of a great terminus is no jar
to me. It is music. I prick up my ears to it, and paw the platform.
Dear to me as the bugle-note to any war-horse, as the first twittering
of the birds in the hedgerows to the light-sleeping vagabond, that cry
of `Take your seats please!' or--better still--`En voiture!' or
`Partenza!' Had I the knack of rhyme, I would write a sonnet-sequence
of the journey to Newhaven or Dover--a sonnet for every station one
does not stop at. I await that poet who shall worthily celebrate the
iron road. There is one who describes, with accuracy and gusto, the
insides of engines; but he will not do at all. I look for another, who
shall show us the heart of the passenger, the exhilaration of
travelling by day, the exhilaration and romance and self-importance of
travelling by night.

`Paris!' How it thrills me when, on a night in spring, in the hustle
and glare of Victoria, that label is slapped upon my hat-box! Here,
standing in the very heart of London, I am by one sweep of a paste-
brush transported instantly into that white-grey city across the sea.
To all intents and purposes I am in Paris already. Strange, that the
porter does not say, `V'la`, M'sieu'!' Strange, that the evening
papers I buy at the bookstall are printed in the English language.
Strange, that London still holds my body, when a corduroyed magician
has whisked my soul verily into Paris. The engine is hissing as I
hurry my body along the platform, eager to reunite it with my soul...
Over the windy quay the stars are shining as I pass down the gangway,
hat-box in hand. They twinkle brightly over the deck I am now pacing--
amused, may be, at my excitement. The machinery grunts and creaks. The
little boat quakes in the excruciating throes of its departure. At
last!... One by one, the stars take their last look at me, and the sky
grows pale, and the sea blanches mysteriously with it. Through the
delicate cold air of the dawn, across the grey waves of the sea, the
outlines of Dieppe grow and grow. The quay is lined with its blue-
bloused throng. These porters are as excited by us as though they were
the aborigines of some unknown island. (And yet, are they not here, at
this hour, in these circumstances, every day of their lives?) These
gestures! These voices, hoarse with passion! The dear music of French,
rippling up clear for me through all this hoarse confusion of its
utterance, and making me happy!... I drink my cup of steaming coffee--
true coffee!--and devour more than one roll. At the tables around me,
pale and dishevelled from the night, sit the people whom I saw--years
ago!--at Charing Cross. How they have changed! The coffee sends a glow
throughout my body. I am fulfilled with a sense of material well-
being. The queer ethereal exaltation of the dawn has vanished. I climb
up into the train, and dispose myself in the dun-cushioned coupe'.
`Chemins de Fer de l'Ouest' is perforated on the white antimacassars.
Familiar and strange inscription! I murmur its impressive iambs over
and over again. They become the refrain to which the train vibrates on
its way. I smoke cigarettes, a little drowsily gazing out of the
window at the undulating French scenery that flies past me, at the
silver poplars. Row after slanted row of these incomparably gracious
trees flies past me, their foliage shimmering in the unawoken
landscape Soon I shall be rattling over the cobbles of unawoken Paris,
through the wide white-grey streets with their unopened jalousies. And
when, later, I awake in the unnatural little bedroom of walnut-wood
and crimson velvet, in the bed whose curtains are white with that
whiteness which Paris alone can give to linen, a Parisian sun will be
glittering for me in a Parisian sky.

Yes! In my whole collection the Paris specimens were dearest to me,
meant most to me, I think. But there was none that had not some
tendrils on sentiment. All of them I prized, more or less. Of the
Aberdeen specimens I was immensely fond. Who can resist the thought of
that express by which, night after night, England is torn up its
centre? I love well that cab-drive in the chill autumnal night through
the desert of Bloomsbury, the dead leaves rustling round the horse's
hoofs as we gallop through the Squares. Ah, I shall be across the
Border before these doorsteps are cleaned, before the coming of the
milk-carts. Anon, I descry the cavernous open jaws of Euston. The
monster swallows me, and soon I am being digested into Scotland. I sit
ensconced in a corner of a compartment. The collar of my ulster is
above my ears, my cap is pulled over my eyes, my feet are on a hot-
water tin, and my rug snugly envelops most of me. Sleeping-cars are
for the strange beings who love not the act of travelling. Them I
should spurn even if I could not sleep a wink in an ordinary
compartment. I would liefer forfeit sleep than the consciousness of
travelling. But it happens that I, in an ordinary compartment, am
blest both with the sleep and with the consciousness, all through the
long night. To be asleep and to know that you are sleeping, and to
know, too, that even as you sleep you are being borne away through
darkness into distance--that, surely, is to go two better than
Endymion. Surely, nothing is more mysteriously delightful than this
joint consciousness of sleep and movement. Pitiable they to whom it is
denied. All through the night the vibration of the train keeps one-
third of me awake, while the other two parts of me profoundly slumber.
Whenever the train stops, and the vibration ceases, then the one-third
of me falls asleep, and the other two parts stir. I am awake just
enough to hear the hollow-echoing cry of `Crewe' or `York,' and to
blink up at the green-hooded lamp in the ceiling. May be, I raise a
corner of the blind, and see through the steam-dim window the
mysterious, empty station. A solitary porter shuffles along the
platform. Yonder, those are the lights of the refreshment room, where,
all night long, a barmaid is keeping her lonely vigil over the beer-
handles and the Bath-buns in glass cases. I see long rows of
glimmering milk-cans, and wonder drowsily whether they contain forty
modern thieves. The engine snorts angrily in the benighted silence.
Far away is the faint, familiar sound--clink-clank, clink-clank--of
the man who tests the couplings. Nearer and nearer the sound comes. It
passes, recedes It is rather melancholy.... A whistle, a jerk, and the
two waking parts of me are asleep again, while the third wakes up to
mount guard over them, and keeps me deliciously aware of the rhythmic
dream they are dreaming about the hot bath and the clean linen, and
the lovely breakfast that I am to have at Aberdeen; and of the Scotch
air, crisp and keen, that is to escort me, later along the Deeside.

Little journeys, as along the Deeside, have a charm of their own.
Little journeys from London to places up the river, or to places on
the coast of Kent--journeys so brief that you lunch at one end and
have tea at the other--I love them all, and loved the labels that
recalled them to me. But the labels of long journeys, of course, took
precedence in my heart. Here and there on my hat-box were labels that
recalled to me long journeys in which frontiers were crossed at dead
of night--dim memories of small, crazy stations where I shivered half-
awake, and was sleepily conscious of a strange tongue and strange
uniforms, of my jingling bunch of keys, of ruthless arms diving into
the nethermost recesses of my trunks, of suspicious grunts and
glances, and of grudging hieroglyphics chalked on the slammed lids.
These were things more or less painful and resented in the moment of
experience, yet even then fraught with a delicious glamour. I
suffered, but gladly. In the night, when all things are mysteriously
magnified, I have never crossed a frontier without feeling some of the
pride of conquest. And, indeed, were these conquests mere illusions?
Was I not actually extending the frontiers of my mind, adding new
territories to it? Every crossed frontier, every crossed sea, meant
for me a definite success--an expansion and enrichment of my soul.
When, after seven days and nights of sea traversed, I caught my first
glimpse of Sandy Hook, was there no comparison between Columbus and
myself? To see what one has not seen before, is not that almost as
good as to see what no one has ever seen?

Romance, exhilaration, self-importance these are what my labels
symbolised and recalled to me. That lost collection was a running
record of all my happiest hours; a focus, a monument, a diary. It was
my humble Odyssey, wrought in coloured paper on pig-skin, and the one
work I never, never was weary of. If the distinguished Ithacan had
travelled with a hat-box, how finely and minutely Homer would have
described it--its depth and girth, its cunningly fashioned lock and
fair lining withal! And in how interminable a torrent of hexameters
would he have catalogued all the labels on it, including those
attractive views of the Ho^tel Circe, the Ho^tel Calypso, and other
high-class resorts. Yet no! Had such a hat-box existed and had it been
preserved in his day, Homer would have seen in it a sufficient record,
a better record than even he could make, of Odysseus' wanderings. We
should have had nothing from him but the Iliad. I, certainly never
felt any need of commemorating my journeys till my labels were lost to
me. And I am conscious how poor and chill is the substitute.

My collection like most collections, began imperceptibly. A man does
not say to himself, `I am going to collect' this thing or that. True,
the schoolboy says so; but his are not, in the true sense of the word,
collections. He seeks no set autobiographic symbols, for boys never
look back--there is too little to look back on, too much in front. Nor
have the objects of his collection any intrinsic charm for him. He
starts a collection merely that he may have a plausible excuse for
doing something he ought not to do. He goes in for birds' eggs merely
that he may be allowed to risk his bones and tear his clothes in
climbing; for butterflies, that he may be encouraged to poison and
impale; for stamps...really, I do not know why he, why any sane
creature goes in for stamps. It follows that he has no real love of
his collection and soon abandons it for something else. The sincere
collector, how different! His hobby has a solid basis of personal
preference. Some one gives him (say) a piece of jade. He admires it.
He sees another piece in a shop, and buys it; later, he buys another.
He does not regard these pieces of jade as distinct from the rest of
his possessions; he has no idea of collecting jade. It is not till he
has acquired several other pieces that he ceases to regard them as
mere items in the decoration of his room, and gives them a little
table, or a tray of a cabinet, all to themselves. How well they look
there! How they intensify one another! He really must get some one to
give him that little pedestalled Cupid which he saw yesterday in
Wardour Street. Thus awakes in him, quite gradually, the spirit of the
collector. Or take the case of one whose collection is not of
beautiful things, but of autobiographic symbols: take the case of the
glutton. He will have pocketed many menus before it occurs to him to
arrange them in an album. Even so, it was not until a fair number of
labels had been pasted on my hat-box that I saw them as souvenirs, and
determined that in future my hat-box should always travel with me and
so commemorate my every darling escape.

In the path of every collector are strewn obstacles of one kind or
another; which, to overleap, is part of the fun. As a collector of
labels I had my pleasant difficulties. On any much-belabelled piece of
baggage the porter always pastes the new label over that which looks
most recent; else the thing might miss its destination. Now, paste
dries before the end of the briefest journey; and one of my canons was
that, though two labels might overlap, none must efface the
inscription of another. On the other hand, I did not wish to lose my
hat-box, for this would have entailed inquiries, and descriptions, and
telegraphing up the line, and all manner of agitation. What, then, was
I to do? I might have taken my hat-box with me in the carriage? That,
indeed, is what I always did. But, unless a thing is to go in the van,
it receives no label at all. So I had to use a mild stratagem. `Yes,'
I would say, `everything in the van!' The labels would be duly
affixed. `Oh,' I would cry, seizing the hat-box quickly, `I forgot. I
want this with me in the carriage.' (I learned to seize it quickly,
because some porters are such martinets that they will whisk the label
off and confiscate it.) Then, when the man was not looking, I would
remove the label from the place he had chosen for it and press it on
some unoccupied part of the surface. You cannot think how much I
enjoyed these manoeuvres. There was the moral pleasure of having both
outwitted a railway company and secured another specimen for my
collection; and there was the physical pleasure of making a limp slip
of paper stick to a hard substance--that simple pleasure which appeals
to all of us and is, perhaps, the missing explanation of philately.
Pressed for time, I could not, of course, have played my trick. Nor
could I have done so--it would have seemed heartless--if any one had
come to see me off and be agitated at parting. Therefore, I was always
very careful to arrive in good time for my train, and to insist that
all farewells should be made on my own doorstep.

Only in one case did I break the rule that no label must be
obliterated by another. It is a long story; but I propose to tell it.
You must know that I loved my labels not only for the meanings they
conveyed to me, but also, more than a little, for the effect they
produced on other people. Travelling in a compartment, with my hat-box
beside me, I enjoyed the silent interest which my labels aroused in my
fellow-passengers. If the compartment was so full that my hat-box had
to be relegated to the rack, I would always, in the course of the
journey, take it down and unlock it, and pretend to be looking for
something I had put into it. It pleased me to see from beneath my
eyelids the respectful wonder and envy evoked by it. Of course, there
was no suspicion that the labels were a carefully formed collection;
they were taken as the wild-flowers of an exquisite restlessness, of
an unrestricted range in life. Many of them signified beautiful or
famous places. There was one point at which Oxford, Newmarket, and
Assisi converged, and I was always careful to shift my hat-box round
in such a way that this purple patch should be lost on none of my
fellow-passengers. The many other labels, English or alien, they, too,
gave their hints of a life spent in fastidious freedom, hints that I
had seen and was seeing all that is best to be seen of men and cities
and country-houses. I was respected, accordingly, and envied. And I
had keen delight in this ill-gotten homage. A despicable delight, you
say? But is not yours, too, a fallen nature? The love of impressing
strangers falsely, is it not implanted in all of us? To be sure, it is
an inevitable outcome of the conditions in which we exist. It is a
result of the struggle for life. Happiness, as you know, is our aim in
life; we are all struggling to be happy. And, alas! for every one of
us, it is the things he does not possess which seem to him most
desirable, most conducive to happiness. For instance, the poor
nobleman covets wealth, because wealth would bring him comfort,
whereas the nouveau riche covets a pedigree, because a pedigree would
make him of what he is merely in. The rich nobleman who is an invalid
covets health, on the assumption that health would enable him to enjoy
his wealth and position. The rich, robust nobleman hankers after an
intellect. The rich, robust, intellectual nobleman is (be sure of it)
as discontented, somehow, as the rest of them. No man possesses all he
wants. No man is ever quite happy. But, by producing an impression
that he has what he wants--in fact, by `bluffing'--a man can gain some
of the advantages that he would gain by really having it. Thus, the
poor nobleman can, by concealing his `balance' and keeping up
appearances, coax more or less unlimited credit from his tradesman.
The nouveau riche, by concealing his origin and trafficking with the
College of Heralds, can intercept some of the homage paid to high
birth. And (though the rich nobleman who is an invalid can make no
tangible gain by pretending to be robust, since robustness is an
advantage only from within) the rich, robust nobleman can, by
employing a clever private secretary to write public speeches and
magazine articles for him, intercept some of the homage which is paid
to intellect.

These are but a few typical cases, taken at random from a small area.
But consider the human race at large, and you will find that
`bluffing' is indeed one of the natural functions of the human animal.
Every man pretends to have what (not having it) he covets, in order
that he may gain some of the advantages of having it. And thus it
comes that he makes his pretence, also, by force of habit, when there
is nothing tangible to be gained by it. The poor nobleman wishes to be
thought rich even by people who will not benefit him in their
delusion; and the nouveau riche likes to be thought well-born even by
people who set no store on good birth; and so forth. But pretences,
whether they be an end or a means, cannot be made successfully among
our intimate friends. These wretches know all about us--have seen
through us long ago. With them we are, accordingly, quite natural.
That is why we find their company so restful. Among acquaintances the
pretence is worth making. But those who know anything at all about us
are apt to find us out. That is why we find acquaintances such a
nuisance. Among perfect strangers, who know nothing at all about us,
we start with a clean slate. If our pretence do not come off, we have
only ourselves to blame. And so we `bluff' these strangers, blithely,
for all we are worth, whether there be anything to gain or nothing. We
all do it. Let us despise ourselves for doing it, but not one another.
By which I mean, reader, do not be hard on me for making a show of my
labels in railway-carriages. After all, the question is whether a man
`bluff' well or ill. If he brag vulgarly before his strangers, away
with him! by all means. He does not know how to play the game. He is a
failure. But, if he convey subtly (and, therefore, successfully) the
fine impression he wishes to convey, then you should stifle your
wrath, and try to pick up a few hints. When I saw my fellow-passengers
eyeing my hat-box, I did not, of course, say aloud to them, `Yes, mine
is a delightful life! Any amount of money, any amount of leisure! And,
what's more, I know how to make the best use of them both!' Had I done
so, they would have immediately seen through me as an impostor. But I
did nothing of the sort. I let my labels proclaim distinction for me,
quietly, in their own way. And they made their proclamation with
immense success. But there came among them, in course of time, one
label that would not harmonise with them. Came, at length, one label
that did me actual discredit. I happened to have had influenza, and my
doctor had ordered me to make my convalescence in a place which,
according to him, was better than any other for my particular
condition. He had ordered me to Ramsgate, and to Ramsgate I had gone.
A label on my hat-box duly testified to my obedience. At the time, I
had thought nothing of it. But, in subsequent journeys, I noticed that
my hat-box did not make its old effect, somehow. My fellow-passengers
looked at it, were interested in it; but I had a subtle sense that
they were not reverencing me as of yore. Something was the matter. I
was not long in tracing what it was. The discord struck by Ramsgate
was the more disastrous because, in my heedlessness, I had placed that
ignoble label within an inch of my point d'appui--the trinity of
Oxford, Newmarket and Assisi. What was I to do? I could not explain to
my fellow-passengers, as I have explained to you, my reason for
Ramsgate. So long as the label was there, I had to rest under the
hideous suspicion of having gone there for pleasure, gone of my own
free will. I did rest under it during the next two or three journeys.
But the injustice of my position maddened me. At length, a too obvious
sneer on the face of a fellow-passenger steeled me to a resolve that I
would, for once, break my rule against obliteration. On the return
journey, I obliterated Ramsgate with the new label, leaving visible
merely the final TE, which could hardly compromise me.

Steterunt those two letters because I was loth to destroy what was,
primarily, a symbol for myself: I wished to remember Ramsgate, even
though I had to keep it secret. Only in a secondary, accidental way
was my collection meant for the public eye. Else, I should not have
hesitated to deck the hat-box with procured symbols of Seville, Simla,
St. Petersburg and other places which I had not (and would have liked
to be supposed to have) visited. But my collection was, first of all,
a private autobiography, a record of my scores of Fate; and thus
positively to falsify it would have been for me as impossible as
cheating at `Patience.' From that to which I would not add I hated to
subtract anything--even Ramsgate. After all, Ramsgate was not London;
to have been in it was a kind of score. Besides, it had restored me to
health. I had no right to rase it utterly.

But such tendresse was not my sole reason for sparing those two
letters. Already I was reaching that stage where the collector loves
his specimens not for their single sakes, but as units in the sum-
total. To every collector comes, at last, a time when he does but
value his collection--how shall I say?--collectively. He who goes in
for beautiful things begins, at last, to value his every acquisition
not for its beauty, but because it enhances the worth of the rest.
Likewise, he who goes in for autobiographic symbols begins, at last,
to care not for the symbolism of another event in his life, but for
the addition to the objects already there. He begins to value every
event less for its own sake than because it swells his collection.
Thus there came for me a time when I looked forward to a journey less
because it meant movement and change for myself than because it meant
another label for my hat-box. A strange state to fall into? Yes,
collecting is a mania, a form of madness. And it is the most pleasant
form of madness in the whole world. It can bring us nearer to real
happiness than can any form of sanity. The normal, eclectic man is
never happy, because he is always craving something of another kind
than what he has got. The collector, in his mad concentration, wants
only more and more of what he has got already; and what he has got
already he cherishes with a passionate joy. I cherished my gallimaufry
of rainbow-coloured labels almost as passionately as the miser his
hoard of gold. Why do we call the collector of current coin a miser?
Wretched? He? True, he denies himself all the reputed pleasures of
life; but does he not do so of his own accord, gladly? He sacrifices
everything to his mania; but that merely proves how intense his mania
is. In that the nature of his collection cuts him off from all else,
he is the perfect type of the collector. He is above all other
collectors. And he is the truly happiest of them all. It is only when,
by some merciless stroke of Fate, he is robbed of his hoard, that he
becomes wretched. Then, certainly, he suffers. He suffers
proportionately to his joy. He is smitten with sorrow more awful than
any sorrow to be conceived by the sane. I whose rainbow-coloured hoard
has been swept from me, seem to taste the full savour of his anguish.

I sit here thinking of the misers who, in life or in fiction, have
been despoiled. Three only do I remember: Melanippus of Sicyon, Pierre
Baudouin of Limoux, Silas Marner. Melanippus died of a broken heart.
Pierre Baudouin hanged himself. The case of Silas Marner is more
cheerful. He, coming into his cottage one night, saw by the dim light
of the hearth, that which seemed to be his gold restored, but was
really nothing but the golden curls of a little child, whom he was
destined to rear under his own roof, finding in her more than solace
for his bereavement. But then, he was a character in fiction: the
other two really existed. What happened to him will not happen to me.
Even if little children with rainbow-coloured hair were so common that
one of them might possibly be left on my hearth-rug, I know well that
I should not feel recompensed by it, even if it grew up to be as
fascinating a paragon as Eppie herself. Had Silas Marner really
existed (nay! even had George Eliot created him in her maturity)
neither would he have felt recompensed. Far likelier, he would have
been turned to stone, in the first instance, as was poor Niobe when
the divine arrows destroyed that unique collection on which she had
lavished so many years. Or, may be, had he been a very strong man, he
would have found a bitter joy in saving up for a new hoard. Like
Carlyle, when the MS. of his masterpiece was burned by the housemaid
of John Stuart Mill, he might have begun all over again, and builded a
still nobler monument on the tragic ashes.

That is a fine, heartening example! I will be strong enough to follow
it. I will forget all else. I will begin all over again. There stands
my hat-box! Its glory is departed, but I vow that a greater glory
awaits it. Bleak, bare and prosaic it is now, but--ten years hence!
Its career, like that of the Imperial statesman in the moment of his
downfall, `is only just beginning.'

There is a true Anglo-Saxon ring in this conclusion. May it appease
whomever my tears have been making angry.


I admire detachment. I commend a serene indifference to hubbub. I like
Archimedes, Leonardo da Vinci, Goethe, Balzac, Darwin, and other
sages, for having been so concentrated on this or that eternal verity
in art or science or philosophy, that they paid no heed to alarums and
excursions which were sweeping all other folk off their feet. It is
with some shame that I haunt the tape-machine whenever a General
Election is going on.

Of politics I know nothing. My mind is quite open on the subject of
fiscal reform, and quite empty; and the void is not an aching one: I
have no desire to fill it. The idea of the British Empire leaves me
quite cold. If this or that subject race threw off our yoke, I should
feel less vexation than if one comma were misplaced in the printing of
this essay. The only feeling that our Colonies inspire in me is a
determination not to visit them. Socialism neither affrights nor
attracts me--or, rather, it has both these effects equally. When I
think of poverty and misery crushing the greater part of humanity, and
most of all when I hear of some specific case of distress, I become a
socialist indeed. But I am not less an artist than a human being, and
when I think of Demos, that chin-bearded god, flushed with victory,
crowned with leaflets of the Social Democratic League, quaffing
temperance beverages in a world all drab; when I think of model
lodging-houses in St. James's Park, and trams running round and round
St. James's Square--the mighty fallen, and the lowly swollen, and, in
Elysium, the shade of Matthew Arnold shedding tears on the shoulder of
a shade so different as George Brummell's--tears, idle tears, at sight
of the Barbarians, whom he had mocked and loved, now annihilated by
those others whom he had mocked and hated; when such previsions as
these come surging up in me, I do deem myself well content with the
present state of things, dishonourable though it is. As to socialism,
then, you see, my mind is evenly divided. It is with no political bias
that I go and hover around the tape-machine. My interest in General
Elections is a merely `sporting' interest. I do not mean that I lay
bets. A bad fairy decreed over my cradle that I should lose every bet
that I might make; and, in course of time, I abandoned a practice
which took away from coming events the pleasing element of
uncertainty. `A merely dramatic interest' is less equivocal, and more

`This,' you say, `is rank incivism.' I assume readily that you are an
ardent believer in one political party or another, and that, having
studied thoroughly all the questions at issue, you could give cogent
reasons for all the burning faith that is in you. But how about your
friends and acquaintances? How many of them can cope with you in
discussion? How many of them show even a desire to cope with you?
Travel, I beg you, on the Underground Railway, or in a Tube. Such
places are supposed to engender in their passengers a taste for
political controversy. Yet how very elementary are such arguments as
you will hear there! It is obvious that these gentlemen know and care
very little about `burning questions.' What they do know and care
about is the purely personal side of politics. They have their likes
and their dislikes for a few picturesque and outstanding figures.
These they will attack or defend with fervour. But you will be lucky
if you overhear any serious discussion of policy. Emerge from the
nether world. Range over the whole community--from the costermonger
who says `Good Old Winston!' to the fashionable woman who says `I do
think Mr. Balfour is rather wonderful!'--and you will find the same
plentiful lack of interest in the impersonal side of polities. You
will find that almost every one is interested in politics only as a
personal conflict between certain interesting men--as a drama, in
fact. Frown not, then, on me alone.

Whenever a General Election occurs, the conflict becomes sharper and
more obvious--the play more exciting--the audience more tense. The
stage is crowded with supernumeraries, not interesting in themselves,
but adding a new interest to the merely personal interest. There is
the stronger `side,' here the weaker, ranged against each other. Which
will be vanquished? It rests with the audience to decide. And, as
human nature is human nature, of course the audience decides that the
weaker side shall be victorious. That is what politicians call `the
swing of the pendulum.' They believe that the country is alienated by
the blunders of the Government, and is disappointed by the
unfulfilment of promises, and is anxious for other methods of policy.
Bless them! the country hardly noticed their blunders, has quite
forgotten their promises, and cannot distinguish between one set of
methods and another. When the man in the street sees two other men in
the street fighting, he doesn't care to know the cause of the combat:
he simply wants the smaller man to punish the bigger, and to punish
him with all possible severity. When a party with a large majority
appeals to the country, its appeal falls, necessarily, on deaf ears.
Some years ago there happened an exception to this rule. But then the
circumstances were exceptional. A small nation was fighting a big
nation, and, as the big nation happened to be yourselves, your
sympathy was transferred to the big nation. As the little party was
suspected of favouring the little nation, your sympathy was
transferred likewise to the big party. Barring `khaki,' sympathy takes
its usual course in General Elections. The bigger the initial
majority, the bigger the collapse. It is not enough that Goliath shall
fall: he must bite the dust, and bite plenty of it. It is not enough
that David shall have done what he set out to do: a throne must be
found for this young man. Away with the giant's body! Hail, King

I should like to think that chivalry was the sole motive of our zeal.
I am afraid that the mere craving for excitement has something to do
with it. Pelion has never been piled on Ossa; and no really useful
purpose could be served by the superimposition. But we should like to
see the thing done. It would appeal to our sense of the grandiose--our
hankering after the unlimited. When the man of science shows us a drop
of water in a test-tube, and tells us that this tiny drop contains
more than fifteen billions of infusoria, we are subtly gratified, and
cherish a secret hope that the number of infusoria is very much more
than fifteen billions. In the same way, we hope that the number of
seats gained by the winning party will be even greater to-morrow than
it is to-day. `We are sweeping the country,' exclaims (say) the
professed Liberal; and at the word `sweeping' there is in his eyes a
gleam that no mere party feeling could have lit there. It is a gleam
that comes from the very depths of his soul--a reflection of the
innate human passion for breaking records, or seeing them broken, no
matter how or why. `Yes,' says the professed Tory, `you certainly are
sweeping the country.' He tries to put a note of despondency into his
voice; but hark how he rolls the word `sweeping' over his tongue! He,
too, though he may not admit it, is longing to creep into the smoking-
room of the National Liberal Club and feast his eyes on the blazing
galaxy of red seals affixed to the announcements of the polling. He
turns to his evening paper, and reads again the list of ex-Cabinet
ministers who have been unseated. He feels, in his heart of hearts,
what fun it would be if they had all been unseated. He grudges the
exceptions. For political bias is one thing; human nature another.


The club-room looked very like the auditorium of a music-hall. Indeed,
that is what it must once have been. But now there were tiers of
benches on the stage; and on these was packed a quarter or so of the
members and their friends. The other three-quarters or so were packed
opposite the proscenium and down either side of the hall. And in the
middle of this human oblong was a raised platform, roped around.
Therefrom, just as I was ushered to my place, a stout man in evening
dress was making some announcement. I did not catch its import; but it
was loudly applauded. The stout man--most of the audience indeed,
seemed to have put on flesh--bowed himself off, and disappeared from
my ken in the clouds of tobacco-smoke that hung about the hall. Almost
immediately, two young people, nimbly insinuating themselves through
the rope fence, leapt upon the platform. One was a man of about twenty
years of age; the other, a girl of about seventeen. She was very
pretty; he was very handsome; both were becomingly dressed, with
evident aim at attractiveness. They proceeded to opposite corners of
the platform. At a signal from some one, they advanced to the middle;
and each made a hideous grimace at the other. The grimace, strange in
itself, was stranger still in the light of what followed. For the
young man began to make passionate protestations of love, to which the
girl responded with equal ardour. The young man fell to his knees; the
girl raised him, and clung to his breast. His language became more and
more lyrical, his eyes more and more ecstatic. Suddenly in the middle
of a pretty sentence, wherein his love was likened to a flight of
doves, a bell rang; whereat, not less abruptly, the couple separated,
retiring to the aforesaid corners of the platform and sinking back on
their chairs with every manifestation of fatigue. Their friends or
attendants, however, rallied round them, counselling them, cooling
them with fans, heartening them to fresh endeavour; and when, at the
end of a minute, the signal was sounded for a second tryst, the two
young people seemed fresher and more eager than ever. This time, most
of the love-making was done by the girl; the young man joyously
drinking in her words, and now and then interpolating a few of his
own. There were four trysts in all, with three intervals for
recuperation. At the fourth sound of the bell, the lovers, stepping
asunder, repeated their hideous mutual grimace, and disappeared from
the platform as suddenly as they had come. Their place was soon taken
by another, a more mature, and heavier, but not less personable,
couple, who proceeded to make love in their own somewhat different
way. The lyrical notes seemed to be missing in them. But maturity,
though it had stripped away magic, had not blunted their passion--had,
rather, sharpened the edge of it, and made it a stronger and more
formidable instrument. Throughout the evening, indeed, in the long
succession that there was of amorous encounters, it seemed to be the
encounters of mature couples that excited in the smoke-laden audience
the keenest interest. It was evidently not etiquette to interrupt the
lovers while they were talking; but, whenever the bell sounded, there
was a frantic outburst of sympathy, straight from the heart; and
sometimes, even while a love-scene was proceeding, this or that stout
gentleman would snatch the cigar from his lips and emit a heart-cry.
Now and again, it seemed to be thought that the lovers were
insufficiently fervid--were but dallying with passion; and then there
were stentorian grunts of disapproval and hortation. I did not gather
that the audience itself was composed mainly of active lovers. I
guessed that the greater number consisted of men who do but take an
active interest in other people's love affairs--men who, vigilant from
a detached position, have developed in themselves an extraordinarily
sound critical knowledge of what is due to Venus. `Plaisir d'amour ne
dure qu'un moment,' I murmured; `chagrin d'amour dure toute la vie.
And wise are ye who, immune from all love's sorrow, win incessant joy
in surveying Cythara through telescopes. Suave mari magno,' I
murmured. And this second tag caused me to awake from my dream

A strange dream? Yet a precisely parallel reality had inspired it. I
had been taken over-night--my first visit--to the National Sporting

The instinct to fight, like the instinct to love, is a quite natural
instinct. To fight and to love are the primary instincts of primitive
man. I know that people with strongly amorous natures are not trained
and paid to make love ceremoniously, in accordance to certain rules
laid down for them by certain authorities, and for the delectation of
highly critical audiences. But, if this custom prevailed, it would not
seem to me stranger than the custom of training and paying pugnacious
people to hit one another on the face and breast, with the greatest
possible skill and violence, for the delectation of highly critical
audiences. I do not say that a glove-fight is in itself a visually
disgusting exhibition. I saw no blood spilt, the other night, and no
bruises expressed, by either the `light-weights' or the `heavy-
weights.' I dare say, too, that the fighters enjoy their profession,
on the whole. But I contend that it is a very lamentable profession,
in that it depends on the calculated prostitution of good natural
energies. A declaration of love prefaced by a grimace, such as I saw
in my dream, seems to me not one whit more monstrous than a violent
onslaught prefaced by a hand-shake. If two men are angry with each
other, let them fight it out (provided I be not one of them) in the
good old English fashion, by all means. But prize-fighting is to be
deplored as an offence against the soul of man. And this offence is
committed, not by the fighters themselves, but by us soft and
sedentary gentlemen who set them on to fight. Looking back at ancient
Rome, no one blames the poor gladiators in the arena. Every one
reserves his pious horror for the citizens in the amphitheatre. Yet
how are we superior to them? Are we not even as they--suspended at
exactly their point between barbarism and civilisation. In course of
time, doubtless, `the ring'will die out. For either we shall become so
civilised that we shall not rejoice in the sight of painful violence,
or we shall relapse into barbarism and go into the mauling business on
our own account. Our present stage--the stage of our transition--is
not pretty, I think.


Not long ago a prospectus was issued by some more or less aesthetic
ladies and gentlemen who, deeming modern life not so cheerful as it
should be, had laid their cheerless heads together and decided that
they would meet once every month and dance old-fashioned dances in a
hall hired for the purpose. Thus would they achieve a renascence--I am
sure they called it a renascence--of `Merrie England.' I know not
whether subscriptions came pouring in. I know not even whether the
society ever met. If it ever did meet, I conceive that its meetings
must have been singularly dismal. If you are depressed by modern life,
you are unlikely to find an anodyne in the self-appointed task of
cutting certain capers which your ancestors used to cut because they,
in their day, were happy. If you think modern life so pleasant a thing
that you involuntarily prance, rather than walk, down the street, I
dare say your prancing will intensify your joy. Though I happen never
to have met him out-of-doors, I am sure my friend Mr. Gilbert
Chesterton always prances thus--prances in some wild way symbolical of
joy in modern life. His steps, and the movements of his arms and body,
may seem to you crude, casual, and disconnected at first sight; but
that is merely because they are spontaneous. If you studied them
carefully, you would begin to discern a certain rhythm, a certain
harmony. You would at length be able to compose from them a specific
dance--a dance not quite like any other--a dance formally expressive
of new English optimism. If you are not optimistic, don't hope to
become so by practising the steps. But practise them assiduously if
you are; and get your fellow-optimists to practise them with you. You
will grow all the happier through ceremonious expression of a light
heart. And your children and your children's children will dance `The
Chesterton' when you are no more. May be, a few of them will still be
dancing it now and then, on this or that devious green, even when
optimism shall have withered for ever from the land. Nor will any man
mock at the survival. The dance will have lost nothing of its old
grace, and will have gathered that quality of pathos which makes even
unlovely relics dear to us--that piteousness which Time gives ever to
things robbed of their meaning and their use. Spectators will love it
for its melancholy not less than for its beauty. And I hope no mere
spectator will be so foolish as to say, `Let us do it' with a view to
reviving cheerfulness at large. I hope it will be held sacred to those
in whom it will be a tradition--a familiar thing handed down from
father to son. None but they will be worthy of it. Others would ruin
it. Be sure I trod no measure with the Morris-dancers whom I saw last

It was in the wide street of a tiny village near Oxford that I saw
them. Fantastic--high-fantastical--figures they did cut in their
finery. But in demeanour they were quite simple, quite serious, these
eight English peasants. They had trudged hither from the neighbouring
village that was their home. And they danced quite simply, quite
seriously. One of them, I learned, was a cobbler, another a baker, and
the rest were farm-labourers. And their fathers and their fathers'
fathers had danced here before them, even so, every May-day morning.
They were as deeply rooted in antiquity as the elm outside the inn.
They were here always in their season as surely as the elm put forth
its buds. And the elm, knowing them, approving them, let its green-
flecked branches dance in unison with them.

The first dance was in full swing when I approached. Only six of the
men were dancers. Of the others, one was the `minstrel,' the other the
`dysard.' The minstrel was playing a flute; and the dysard I knew by
the wand and leathern bladder which he brandished as he walked around,
keeping a space for the dancers, and chasing and buffeting merrily any
man or child who ventured too near. He, like the others, wore a white
smock decked with sundry ribands, and a top-hat that must have
belonged to his grandfather. Its antiquity of form and texture
contrasted strangely with the freshness of the garland of paper roses
that wreathed it. I was told that the wife or sweetheart of every
Morris-dancer takes special pains to deck her man out more gaily than
his fellows. But this pious endeavour had defeated its own end. So
bewildering was the amount of brand-new bunting attached to all these
eight men that no matron or maiden could for the life of her have
determined which was the most splendid of them all. Besides his
adventitious finery, every dancer, of course, had in his hands the
scarves which are as necessary to his performance of the Morris as are
the bells strapped about the calves of his legs. Waving these scarves
and jangling these bells with a stolid rhythm, the six peasants danced
facing one another, three on either side, while the minstrel fluted
and the dysard strutted around. That minstrel's tune runs in my head
even now--a queer little stolid tune that recalls vividly to me the
aspect of the dance. It is the sort of tune Bottom the Weaver must
often have danced to in his youth. I wish I could hum it for you on
paper. I wish I could set down for you on paper the sight that it
conjures up. But what writer that ever lived has been able to write
adequately about a dance? Even a slow, simple dance, such as these
peasants were performing, is a thing that not the cunningest writer
could fix in words. Did not Flaubert say that if he could describe a
valse he would die happy? I am sure he would have said this if it had
occurred to him.

Unable to make you see the Morris, how can I make you feel as I felt
in seeing it? I cannot explain even to myself the effect it had on me.
My critics have often complained of me that I lack `heart'--presumably
the sort of heart that is pronounced with a rolling of the r; and I
suppose they are right. I remember having read the death of Little
Nell on more than one occasion without floods of tears. How can I
explain to myself the tears that came into my eyes at sight of the
Morris? They are not within the rubric of the tears drawn by mere
contemplation of visual beauty. The Morris, as I saw it, was curious,
antique, racy, what you will: not beautiful. Nor was there any obvious
pathos in it. Often, in London, passing through some slum where a tune
was being ground from an organ, I have paused to watch the little
girls dancing. In the swaying dances of these wan, dishevelled, dim
little girls I have discerned authentic beauty, and have wondered
where they had learned the grace of their movements, and where the
certainty with which they did such strange and complicated steps.
Surely, I have thought, this is no trick of to-day or yesterday: here,
surely, is the remainder of some old tradition; here, may be, is
Merrie England, run to seed. There is an obvious pathos in the dances
of these children of the gutter--an obvious symbolism of sadness, of a
wistful longing for freedom and fearlessness, for wind and sunshine.
No wonder that at sight of it even so heartless a person as the
present writer is a little touched. But why at sight of those
rubicund, full-grown, eupeptic Morris-dancers on the vernal highroad?
No obvious pathos was diffusing itself from them. They were Merrie
England in full flower. In part, I suppose, my tears were tears of joy
for the very joyousness of these men; in part, of envy for their fine
simplicity; in part, of sorrow in the thought that they were a
survival of the past, not types of the present, and that their knell
would soon be tolled, and the old elm see their like no more.

After they had drunk some ale, they formed up for the second dance--a
circular dance. And anon, above the notes of the flute and the
jangling of the bells and the stamping of the boots, I seemed to hear
the knell actually tolling, Hoot! Hoot! Hoot! A motor came fussing and
fuming in itscloud of dust. Hoot! Hoot! The dysard ran to meet it,
brandishing his wand of office. He had to stand aside. Hoot! The
dancers had just time to get out of the way. The scowling motorists
vanished. Dancers and dysard, presently visible through the subsiding
dust, looked rather foolish and crestfallen. And all the branches of
the conservative old elm above them seemed to be quivering with

In a sense this elm was a mere parvenu as compared with its beloved
dancers. True, it had been no mere sapling in the reign of the seventh
Henry, and so could remember distinctly the first Morris danced here.
But the first Morris danced on English soil was not, by a long chalk,
the first Morris. Scarves such as these were waved, and bells such as
these were jangled, and some such measure as this was trodden, in the
mists of a very remote antiquity. Spanish buccaneers, long before the
dawn of the fifteenth century, had seen the Moors dancing somewhat
thus to the glory of Allah. Home-coming, they had imitated that
strange and savage dance, expressive, for them, of the joy of being on
firm native land again. The `Morisco' they called it; and it was much
admired; and the fashion of it spread throughout Spain--scaled the
very Pyrenees, and invaded France. To the `Maurisce' succumbed `tout
Paris' as quickly as in recent years it succumbed to the cake-walk. A
troupe of French dancers braved the terrors of the sea, and, with
their scarves and their bells, danced for the delectation of the
English court. `The Kynge,' it seems, `was pleased by the bels and
sweet dauncing.' Certain of his courtiers `did presentlie daunce so in
open playces.' No one with any knowledge of the English nature will be
surprised to hear that the cits soon copied the courtiers. But `the
Morrice was not for longe practysed in the cittie. It went to countrie
playces.' London, apparently, even in those days, did not breed joy in
life. The Morris sought and found its proper home in the fields and by
the wayside. Happy carles danced it to the glory of God, even as it
had erst been danced to the glory of Allah.

It was no longer, of course, an explicitly religious dance. But
neither can its origin have been explicitly religious. Every dance,
however formal it become later, begins as a mere ebullition of high
spirits. The Dionysiac dances began in the same way as `the
Chesterton.' Some Thessalian vintner, say, suddenly danced for sheer
joy that the earth was so bounteous; and his fellow vintners, sharing
his joy, danced with him; and ere their breath was spent they
remembered who it was that had given them such cause for merry-making,
and they caught leaves from the vine and twined them in their hair,
and from the fig-tree and the fir-tree they snatched branches, and
waved them this way and that, as they danced, in honour of him who was
lord of these trees and of this wondrous vine. Thereafter this dance
of joy became a custom, ever to be observed at certain periods of the
year. It took on, beneath its joyousness, a formal solemnity. It was
danced slowly around an altar of stone, whereon wood and salt were
burning--burning with little flames that were pale in the sunlight.
Formal hymns were chanted around this altar. And some youth, clad in
leopard's skin and wreathed with ivy, masqueraded as the god himself,
and spoke words appropriate to that august character. It was from
these beginnings that sprang the art-form of drama. The Greeks never
hid the origin of this their plaything. Always in the centre of the
theatre was the altar to Dionysus; and the chorus, circling around it,
were true progeny of those old agrestic singers; and the mimes had
never been but for that masquerading youth. It is hard to realise, yet
it is true, that we owe to the worship of Dionysus so dreary a thing
as the modern British drama. Strange that through him who gave us the
juice of the grape, `fiery, venerable, divine,' came this gift too!
Yet I dare say the chorus of a musical comedy would not be awestruck--
would, indeed, `bridle'--if one unrolled to them their illustrious

The history of the Dionysiac dance has a fairly exact parallel in that
of the `Morisco.' Each dance has travelled far, and survives, shorn of
its explicitly religious character, and in many other ways `diablement
change' en route.' The `Morisco,' of course, has changed the less of
the two. Besides the scarves and the bells, it seemed to me last May-
day that the very steps danced and figures formed were very like to
those of which I had read, and which I had seen illustrated in old
English and French engravings. Above all, the dancers seemed to
retain, despite their seriousness, something of the joy in which the
dance originated. They frowned as they footed it, but they were
evidently happy. Their frowns did but betoken determination to do well
and rightly a thing that they loved doing--were proud of doing. The
smiles of the chorus in a musical comedy seem but to express
depreciation of a rather tedious and ridiculous exercise. The
coryphe'es are quite evidently bored and ashamed. But these eight be-
ribanded sons of the soil were hardly less glad in dancing than was
that antique Moor who, having slain beneath the stars some long-feared
and long-hated enemy, danced wildly on the desert sand, and, to make
music, tore strips of bells from his horse's saddle and waved them in
either hand while he danced, and made so great a noise in the night
air that other Moors came riding to see what had happened, and
marvelled at the sight and sound of the dance, and, praising Allah,
leapt down and tore strips of bells from their own saddles, and danced
as nearly as they could in mimicry of that glad conqueror, to Allah's

As this scene is mobled in the aforesaid mists of antiquity, I cannot
vouch for the details. Nor can I say just when the Moors found that
they could make a finer and more rhythmic jangle by attaching the
bells to their legs than by swinging them in their hands. Nor can I
fix the day when they tore strips from their turbans for their idle
hands to wave. I cannot say how long the rite's mode had been set when
first the adventurers from Spain beheld it with their keen wondering
eyes and fixed it for ever in their memories.

In Spain, and then in France, and then in London, the dance was
secular. But perhaps I ought not to have said that it was `not
explicitly religious' in the English countryside. The cult for Robin
Hood was veritably a religion throughout the Midland Counties. Rites
in his honour were performed on certain days of the year with a not
less hearty reverence, a not less quaint elaboration, than was infused
into the rustic Greek rites for Dionysus. The English carles danced,
not indeed around an altar, but around a bunt pole crowned with such
flowers as were in season; and one of them, like the youth who in the
Dionysiac dance masqueraded as the god, was decked out duly as Robin
Hood--`with a magpye's plume to hys capp,' we are told, and sometimes
`a russat bearde compos'd of horses hair.' The most famous of the
dances for Robin Hood was the `pageant.' Herein appeared, besides the
hero himself and various tabours and pipers, a `dysard' or fool, and
Friar Tuck, and Maid Marian--`in a white kyrtele and her hair all
unbrayded, but with blossoms thereyn.' This `pageant' was performed at
Whitsun, at Easter, on New-Year's day, and on May-day. The Morris,
when it had become known in the villages, was very soon incorporated
in the `pageant.' The Morris scarves and bells, the Morris steps and
figures, were all pressed into the worship of Robin Hood. In most
villages the properties for the `pageant' had always rested in the
custody of the church-wardens. The properties for the Morris were now
kept with them. In the Kingston accounts for 1537-8 are enumerated `a
fryers cote of russat, and a kyrtele weltyd with red cloth, a Mowrens
cote of buckram, and four morres daunsars cotes of white fustian
spangelid, and two gryne saten cotes, and disarddes cote of cotton,
and six payre of garters with belles.' The `pageant' itself fell,
little by little, into disuse; the Morris, which had been affiliated
to it, superseded it. Of the `pageant' nothing remained but the
minstrel and the dysard and an occasional Maid Marian. In the original
Morris there had been no music save that of the bells. But now there
was always a flute or tabor. The dysard, with his rod and leathern
bladder, was promoted to a sort of leadership. He did not dance, but
gave the signal for the dance, and distributed praise or blame among
the performers, and had power to degrade from the troupe any man who
did not dance with enough skill or enough heartiness. Often there were
in one village two rival troupes of dancers, and a prize was awarded
to whichever acquitted itself the more admirably. But not only the
`ensemble' was considered. A sort of `star system' seems to have crept
in. Often a prize would be awarded to some one dancer who had excelled
his fellows. There were, I suppose, `born' Morris-dancers. Now and
again, one of them, flushed with triumph, would secern himself from
his troupe, and would `star' round the country for his livelihood.

Such a one was Mr. William Kemp, who, at the age of seventeen, and in
the reign of Queen Elizabeth, danced from his native village to
London, where he educated himself and became an actor. Perhaps he was
not a good actor, for he presently reverted to the Morris. He danced
all the way from London to Norwich, and wrote a pamphlet about it--
`Kemp's Nine Dajes' Wonder, performed in a daunce from London to
Norwich. Containing the pleasures, paines, and kind entertainment of
William Kemp betweene London and that Citty, in his late Morrice.' He
seems to have encountered more pleasures than `paines.' Gentle and
simple, all the way, were very cordial. The gentle entertained him in
their mansions by night. The simple danced with him by day. In Sudbury
`there came a lusty tall fellow, a butcher by his profession, that
would in a Morice keepe me company to Bury. I gave him thankes, and
forward wee did set; but ere ever wee had measur'd halfe a mile of our
way, he gave me over in the plain field, protesting he would not hold
out with me; for, indeed, my pace in dauncing is not ordinary. As he
and I were parting, a lusty country lasse being among the people,
cal'd him faint-hearted lout, saying, "If I had begun to daunce, I
would have held out one myle, though it had cost my life." At which
words many laughed. "Nay," saith she, "if the dauncer will lend me a
leash of his belles, I'le venter to treade one myle with him myself."
I lookt upon her, saw mirth in her eies, heard boldness in her words,
and beheld her ready to tucke up her russat petticoate; and I fitted
her with bels, which she merrily taking garnisht her thicke short
legs, and with a smooth brow bad the tabur begin. The drum strucke;
forward marcht I with my merry Mayde Marian, who shook her stout
sides, and footed it merrily to Melford, being a long myle. There
parting with her (besides her skinfull of drinke), and English crowne
to buy more drinke; for, good wench, she was in a pittious heate; my
kindness she requited with dropping a dozen good courtsies, and
bidding God blesse the dauncer. I bade her adieu; and, to give her her
due, she had a good eare, daunst truly, and wee parted friends.' Kemp,
you perceive, wrote as well as he danced. I wish he had danced less
and written more. It seems that he never wrote anything but this one
delightful pamphlet. He died three years later, in the thirtieth year
of his age--died dancing, with his bells on his legs, in the village
of Ockley.

John Thorndrake, another professional Morris-dancer, was not so
brilliant a personage as poor Kemp; but was of tougher fibre, it would
seem. He died in his native town, Canterbury, at the age of seventy-
eight; and had danced--never less than a mile, seldom less than five
miles--every day, except Sunday, for sixty years. But even his record
pales beside the account of a Morris that was danced by eight men, in
Hereford, one May-day in the reign of James I. The united ages of
these dancers, according to a contemporary pamphleteer, exceeded eight
hundred years. The youngest of them was seventy-nine, and the ages of
the rest ranged between ninety-five and a hundred and nine. `And they
daunced right well.' Of the hold that the Morris had on England, could
there be stronger proof than in the feat of these indomitable dotards?
The Morris ceased not even during the Civil Wars. Some of King
Charles's men (according to Groby, the Puritan) danced thus on the eve
of Naseby. Not even the Protectorate could stamp the Morris out,
though we are told that Groby and other preachers throughout the land
inveighed against it as `lewde' and `ungodlie.' The Restoration was in
many places celebrated by special Morrises. The perihelion of this
dance seems, indeed, to have been in the reign of Charles II. Georgian
writers treated it somewhat as a survival, and were not always even
tender to it. Says a writer in Bladud's Courier, describing a `soire'e
de beaute'' given by Lady Jersey, `Mrs. -- (la belle) looked as silly
and gaudy, I do vow, as one of the old Morris Dancers.' And many other
writers--from Horace Walpole to Captain Harver--have their sneer at
the Morris. Its rusticity did not appeal to the polite Georgian mind;
and its Moorishness, which would have appealed strongly, was
overlooked. Still, the Morris managed to survive urban disdain--was
still dear to the carles whose fathers had taught it them.

And long may it linger!


A grave and beautiful place, the Palace of Westminster. I sometimes go
to that little chamber of it wherein the Commons sit sprawling or
stand spouting. I am a constant reader of the `graphic reports' of
what goes on in the House of Commons; and the writers of these things
always strive to give one the impression that nowhere is the human
comedy so fast and furious, nowhere played with such skill and brio,
as at St. Stephen's; and I am rather easily influenced by anything
that appears in daily print, for I have a burning faith in the
sagacity and uprightness of sub-editors; and so, when the memory of my
last visit to the House has lost its edge, and when there is a crucial
debate in prospect, to the House I go, full of hope that this time I
really shall be edified or entertained. With an open mind I go,
reeking naught of the pro's and con's of the subject of the debate. I
go as to a gladiatorial show, eager to applaud any man who shall wield
his sword brilliantly. If a `stranger' indulge in applause, he is
tapped on the shoulder by one of those courteous, magpie-like
officials, and conducted beyond the precincts of the Palace of
Westminster. I speak from hearsay. I do not think I have ever seen a
`stranger' applauding. My own hands, certainly, never have offended.

Years ago, when to be a member of the House of Commons was to be (or
to deem oneself) a personage of great importance, the debates were
conducted with a keen eye to effect. Members who had a sense of beauty
made their speeches beautiful, and even those to whom it was denied
did their best. Grace of ample gesture was cultivated, and sonorous
elocution, and lucid ordering of ideas, and noble language. In fact,
there was a school of oratory. This is no mere superstition, bred of
man's innate tendency to exalt the past above the present. It is a
fact that can easily be verified through contemporary records. It is a
fact which I myself have verified in the House with my own eyes and
ears. More than once, I heard there--and it was a pleasure and
privilege to hear--a speech made by Sir William Harcourt. And from his
speeches I was able to deduce the manner of his coevals and his
forerunners. Long past his prime he was, and bearing up with very
visible effort against his years. An almost extinct volcano! But
sufficient to imagination these glimpses of the glow that had been,
and the sight of these last poor rivulets of the old lava. An almost
extinct volcano, but majestic among mole-hills! Assuredly, the old
school was a fine one. It had its faults, of course--floridness,
pomposity, too much histrionism. It was, indeed, very like the old
school of acting, in its defects as in its qualities. With all his
defects, what a relief it is to see one of the old actors among a cast
of new ones! How he takes the stage, making himself felt--and heard!
How surely he achieves his effects in the grand manner! Robustious?
Yes. But it is better to exaggerate a style than to have no style at
all. That is what is the matter with these others--these quiet,
shifty, shamefaced others they have no style at all. And as is the
difference between the old actor and them, so, precisely was the
difference between Sir William Harcourt and the modern members.

I do not desire the new actors to model themselves on the old, whose
manner is quite incongruous with the character of modern drama. All I
would have them do is to achieve the manner for which they are darkly
fumbling. Even so, I do not demand oratory of the modern senators.
Oratory I love, but I admit that the time for it is bygone. It
belonged to the age of port. On plenty of port the orator spoke, and
on plenty of port his audience listened to him. A diet-bound
generation can hardly produce an orator; and if, by some mysterious
throw-back, an orator actually is produced, he falls very flat. There
was in my college at Oxford a little `Essay Society,' to which I found
myself belonging. We used to meet every Thursday evening in the room
of this or that member; and, when coffee had been handed round, one of
us read an essay--a calm little mild essay on one of those vast themes
that no undergraduate can resist. After this, we had a calm little
mild discussion `It seems to me that the reader of the paper has
hardly laid enough stress on...' One of these evenings I can recall
most distinctly. A certain freshman had been elected. The man who was
to have read an essay had fallen ill, and the freshman had been asked
to step into the breach. This he did, with an essay on `The Ideals of
Mazzini,' and with strange and terrific effect. During the exordium we
raised our eyebrows. Presently we were staring open-mouthed. Where
were we? In what wild dream were we drifting? To this day I can recite
the peroration. Mazzini is dead. But his spirit lives, and can never
be crushed. And his motto--the motto that he planted on the gallant
banner of the Italian Republic, and sealed with his life's blood,
remains, and shall remain, till, through the eternal ages, the
universal air re-echoes to the inspired shout--`GOD AND THE PEOPLE!'

The freshman had begun to read his essay in a loud, declamatory style;
but gradually, knowing with an orator's instinct, I suppose, that his
audience was not `with' him, he had quieted down, and become rather
nervous--too nervous to skip, as I am sure he wished to skip, the
especially conflagrant passages. But, as the end hove in sight, his
confidence was renewed. A wave of emotion rose to sweep him ashore
upon its crest. He gave the peroration for all it was worth. Mazzini
is dead. I can hear now the hushed tone in which he spoke those words;
the pause that followed them; and the gradual rising of his voice to a
culmination at the words `inspired shout'; and then another pause
before that husky whisper `GOD AND THE PEOPLE.' There was no
discussion. We were petrified. We sat like stones; and presently, like
shadows, we drifted out into the evening air. The little society met
once or twice again; but any activity it still had was but the faint
convulsion of a murdered thing. Old wine had been poured into a new
bottle, with the usual result. Broken even so, belike, would be the
glass roof of the Commons if a member spouted up to it such words as
we heard that evening in Oxford. At any rate, the member would be
howled down. So strong is the modern distaste for oratory. The day for
oratory, as for toping, is past beyond redemption. `Debating' is the
best that can be done and appreciated by so abstemious a generation as
ours. You will find a very decent level of `debating' in the Oxford
Union, in the Balham Ethical Society, in the Pimlico Parliament, and
elsewhere. But not, I regret to say, in the House of Commons.

No one supposes that in a congeries of--how many?--six hundred and
seventy men, chosen by the British public, there will be a very high
average of mental capacity. If any one were so sanguine, a glance at
the faces of our Conscript Fathers along the benches would soon bleed
him. (I have no doubt that the custom of wearing hats in the House
originated in the members' unwillingness to let strangers spy down on
the shapes of their heads.) But it is not unreasonable to expect that
the more active of these gentlemen will, through constant practice,
not only in the senate, but also at elections and public dinners and
so forth, have acquired a rough-and-ready professionalism in the art
of speaking. It is not unreasonable to expect that they will be fairly
fluent--fairly capable of arranging in logical sequence such ideas as
they may have formed, and of reeling out words more or less expressive
of these ideas. Well! certain of the Irishmen, certain of the
Welshmen, proceed easily enough. But oh! those Saxon others! Look at
them, hark at them, poor dears! See them clutching at their coats, and
shuffling from foot to foot in travail, while their ideas--ridiculous
mice, for the most part--get jerked painfully out somehow and anyhow.
`It seems to me that the Right--the honourable member for--er--er (the
speaker dives to be prompted)--yes, of course--South Clapham--er--
(temporising) the Southern division of Clapham--(long pause; his lips
form the words `Where was I?')--oh yes, the honourable gentleman the
member for South Clapham seems to me to me--to be--in the position of
one who, whilst the facts on which his propo--supposition are based--
er-- may or may not be in themselves acc--correct (gasps)--yet
inasmuch--because--nevertheless...I should say rather--er--what it
comes to is this: the honourable member for North--South Clapham seems
to be labouring under a total, an entire, a complete (emphatic
gesture, which throws him off his tack)--a contire--a complete disill-
-misunderstanding of the things which he himself relies on as--as--as
a backing-up of the things that he would have us take or--er--accept
and receive as the right sort of reduction--deduction from the facts
of...in fact, from the facts of the case.' Then the poor dear heaves a
deep sigh of relief, which is drowned by other members in a hideous
cachinnation meant to express mirth.

And the odd thing is that the mirth is quite sincere and quite
friendly. The speaker has just scored a point, though you mightn't
think it. He has just scored a point in the true House of Commons
manner. Possibly you have never been to the House of Commons, and
suspect that I have caricatured its manner. Not at all. Indeed, to
save space in these pages, I have rather improved it. If a phonograph
were kept in the house, you would learn from it that the average
sentence of the average speaker is an even more grotesque abortion
than I have adumbrated. Happily for the prestige of the House,
phonographs are excluded. Certain skilled writers--modestly dubbing
themselves `reporters'--are admitted, and by them cosmos is conjured
out of chaos. `The member for South Clapham appeared to be labouring
under a misapprehension of the nature of the facts on which his
argument was based (Laughter).' That is the finished article that your
morning paper offers to you. And you, enjoying the delicious epigram
over your tea and toast, are as unconscious of the toil that went to
make it, and of the crises through which it passed, as you are of
those poor sowers and reapers, planters and sailors and colliers, but
for whom there would be no fragrant tea and toast for you.

The English are a naturally silent race. The most popular type of
national hero is the `strong silent man.' And most of the members of
the House of Commons are, at any rate, silent members. Mercifully
silent. Seeing the level attained by such members as have an impulse
to speak, I shudder to conceive an oration by one of those unimpelled
members... Perhaps I am too nervous. Surely I am too nervous. Surely
the House of Commons manner cannot be a natural growth. Such perfect
virtuosity in dufferdom can be acquired only by constant practice. But
how comes it to be practised? I can only repeat that the English are a
naturally silent race. They are apt to mistrust fluency. `Glibness'
they call it, and scent behind it the adventurer, the player of the
confidence trick or the three-card trick, the robber of the widow and
the orphan. Be smooth-tongued, and the Englishman will withdraw from
you as quickly as may be, walking sideways like a crab, and looking
askance at you with panic in his eyes. But stammer and blurt to him,
and he will fall straight under the spell of your transparent honesty.
A silly superstition; but there it is, ineradicable; and through it,
undoubtedly, has come the house of Commons manner. Sometimes, through
sheer nervousness, a new member achieves something like that manner;
insomuch that his maiden speech is adjudged rich in promise, and `the
ear of the House' is assured to him when next he rises. Then is the
dangerous time for him. He has conquered his nervousness now, but has
not yet acquired that complex and delicate technique whereby a man can
produce the illusion that he is striving hopelessly to utter something
which, really, he could say with perfect ease. Thus he forfeits the
sympathy of the House. Members stroll listlessly out. There is a buzz
of conversation along the benches--perhaps the horrific refrain
`'Vide, 'Vide, 'Vide.' But the time will come when they shall hear
him. Years hence--a beacon to show the heights that can be sealed by
perseverance--he shall stand fumbling and floundering in a rapt

Well! I take off my hat to virtuosity in any form. I admire
Demosthenes, for whom pebbles in the mouth were a means to the end of
oratory. I admire the Demosthenes de nos jours, for whom oratory is a
means to the end of pebbles in the mouth. But I desire that the
intelligent foreigner and the intelligent country cousin be not
disappointed when they visit the House of Commons. Hitherto, strangers
have expected to find there an exhibition of the art of speaking. That
is the fault partly of those reporters to whom I have paid a well-
deserved tribute. But it is more especially the fault of those other
`graphic' reporters, who write their lurid impressions of the debates.
These gentlemen are most wildly misleading. I don't think they mislead
you intentionally. If a man criticises one kind of ill-done thing
exclusively, he cannot but, in course of time, lower his standard.
Seeing nothing good, he will gradually forget what goodness is; and
will accept as good that which is least bad. So it is with the graphic
reporter in Parliament. He really does imagine that Hob `raked the
Treasury Bench with a merciless fire of raillery,' and that Nob `went,
as is his way, straight to the root of the subject,' and that
Chittabob `struck a deep note of pathos that will linger long in the
memory of all who heard him.' If Hob, Nob, and Chittabob happen to be
in opposition to the politics of the newspaper which he adorns, he
will perhaps tell the truth about their respective performances. But
he will tell it without believing it. All his geese are swans--bless
him!--even when he won't admit it. The moral is that no man should be
employed as graphic reporter for more than one session. Then the
public would begin to learn the truth about St. Stephen's. Nor need
the editors flinch from such a consummation. They used to entertain a
theory that it was safest to have the productions at every theatre
praised, in case any manager should withdraw his advertisements. But
there need be no such fear in regard to St. Stephen's. That
establishment does not advertise itself in the press as a place of
amusement. Why should the press advertise it gratuitously?

For utility's sake, as well as for truth's, I would have the public
enlightened. Exposed to ruthless criticism, our Commons might be
shamed into an attempt at proficiency in the art of speaking. Then the
sessions would be comparatively brief. After all, it is on the nation
itself that falls the cost of lighting, warming, and ventilating St.
Stephen's during the session. All the aforesaid dufferdom, therefore,
increases the burden of the taxpayer. All those hum's and ha's mean so
many pence from the pockets of you, reader, and me.


`The Rebuilding of London' proceeds ruthlessly apace. The humble old
houses that dare not scrape the sky are being duly punished for their
timidity. Down they come; and in their place are shot up new
tenements, quick and high as rockets. And the little old streets, so
narrow and exclusive, so shy and crooked--we are making an example of
them, too. We lose our way in them, do we?--we whose time is money.
Our omnibuses can't trundle through them, can't they? Very well, then.
Down with them! We have no use for them. This is the age of `noble

`The Rebuilding of London' is a source of much pride and pleasure to
most of London's citizens, especially to them who are county
councillors, builders, contractors, navvies, glaziers, decorators, and
so forth. There is but a tiny residue of persons who do not swell and
sparkle. And of these glum bystanders at the carnival I am one. Our
aloofness is mainly irrational, I suppose. It is due mainly to
temperamental Toryism. We say `The old is better.' This we say to
ourselves, every one of us feeling himself thereby justified in his
attitude. But we are quite aware that such a postulate would not be
accepted by time majority. For the majority, then, let us make some
show of ratiocination. Let us argue that, forasmuch as London is an
historic city, with many phases and periods behind her, and forasmuch
as many of these phases and periods are enshrined in the aspect of her
buildings, the constant rasure of these buildings is a disservice to
the historian not less than to the mere sentimentalist, and that it
will moreover (this is a more telling argument) filch from Englishmen
the pleasant power of crowing over Americans, and from Americans the
unpleasant necessity of balancing their pity for our present with envy
of our past. After all, our past is our point d'appui. Our present is
merely a bad imitation of what the Americans can do much better.

Ignoring as mere scurrility this criticism of London's present, but
touched by my appeal to his pride in its history, the average citizen
will reply, reasonably enough, to this effect: `By all means let us
have architectural evidence of our epochs--Caroline, Georgian,
Victorian, what you will. But why should the Edvardian be ruled out?
London is packed full of architecture already. Only by rasing much of
its present architecture can we find room for commemorating duly the
glorious epoch which we have just entered. To this reply there are two
rejoinders: (1) let special suburbs be founded for Edvardian
buildings; (2) there are no really Edvardian buildings, and there
won't be any. Long before the close of the Victorian Era our
architects had ceased to be creative. They could not express in their
work the spirit of their time. They could but evolve a medley of old
styles, some foreign, some native, all inappropriate. Take the case of
Mayfair. Mayfair has for some years been in a state of transition. The
old Mayfair, grim and sombre, with its air of selfish privacy and
hauteur and leisure, its plain bricked fa‡ades, so disdainful of show-
-was it not redolent of the century in which it came to being? Its
wide pavements and narrow roads between--could not one see in them the
time when by day gentlemen and ladies went out afoot, needing no
vehicle to whisk them to a destination, and walked to and fro amply,
needing elbow-room for their dignity and their finery, and by night
were borne in chairs, singly? And those queer little places of
worship, those stucco chapels, with their very secular little columns,
their ample pews, and their negligible altars over which one saw the
Lion and the Unicorn fighting, as who should say, for the Cross--did
they not breathe all the inimitable Erastianism of their period? In
qua te qaero proseucha, my Lady Powderbox? Alas! every one of your
tabernacles is dust now--dust turned to mud by the tears of the ghost
of the Rev. Charles Honeyman, and by my own tears.... I have strayed
again into sentiment. Back to the point--which is that the new houses
and streets in Mayfair mean nothing. Let me show you Mount Street. Let
me show you that airy stretch of sham antiquity, and defy you to say
that it symbolises, how remotely soever, the spirit of its time. Mount
Street is typical of the new Mayfair. And the new Mayfair is typical
of the new London. In the height of these new houses, in the width of
these new roads, future students will find, doubtless, something
characteristic of this pressing and bustling age. But from the style
of the houses he will learn nothing at all. The style might mean
anything; and means, therefore, nothing. Original architecture is a
lost art in England; and an art that is once lost is never found
again. The Edvardian Era cannot be commemorated in its architecture.

Erection of new buildings robs us of the past and gives us in exchange
nothing of the present. Consequently, the excuse put by me into the
gaping mouth of the average Londoner cannot be accepted. I had no idea
that my case was such a good one. Having now vindicated on grounds of
patriotic utility that which I took to be a mere sentimental
prejudice, I may be pardoned for dragging `beauty' into the question.
The new buildings are not only uninteresting through lack of temporal
and local significance: they are also hideous. With all his learned
eclecticism, the new architect seems unable to evolve a fake that
shall be pleasing to the eye. Not at all pleasing is a mad hotch-potch
of early Victorian hospital, Jacobean manor-house, Venetian palace,
and bride-cake in Gunter's best manner. Yet that, apparently, is the
modern English architect's pet ideal. Even when he confines himself to
one manner, the result (even if it be in itself decent) is made
horrible by vicinity to the work of a rival who has been dabbling in
some other manner. Every street in London is being converted into a
battlefield of styles, all shrieking at one another, all murdering one
another. The tumult may be exciting, especially to the architects, but
it is not beautiful. It is not good to live in.

However, I am no propagandist. I am not sanguine enough to suppose
that I could do anything to stop either the adulteration or the
demolition of old streets. I do not wish to infect the public with my
own misgivings. On the contrary, my motive for this essay is to
inoculate the public with my own placid indifference in a certain
matter which seems always to cause them painful anxiety. Whenever a
new highway is about to be opened, the newspapers are filled with
letters suggesting that it ought to be called by this or that
beautiful name, or by the name of this or that national hero. Well, in
point of fact, a name cannot (in the long-run) make any shadow of
difference in our sentiment for the street that bears it, for our
sentiment is solely according to the character of the street itself;
and, further, a street does nothing at all to keep green the memory of
one whose name is given to it.

For a street one name is as good as another. To prove this
proposition, let us proceed by analogy of the names borne by human
beings. Surnames and Christian names may alike be divided into two
classes: (1) those which, being identical with words in the
dictionary, connote some definite thing; (2) those which, connoting
nothing, may or may not suggest something by their sound. Instances of
Christian names in the first class are Rose, Faith; of surnames,
Lavender, Badger; of Christian names in the second class, Celia, Mary;
of surnames, Jones, Vavasour. Let us consider the surnames in the
first class. You will say, off-hand, that Lavender sounds pretty, and
that Badger sounds ugly. Very well. Now, suppose that Christian names
connoting unpleasant things were sometimes conferred at baptisms.
Imagine two sisters named Nettle and Envy. Off-hand, you will say that
these names sound ugly, whilst Rose and Faith sound pretty. Yet,
believe me, there is not, in point of actual sound, one pin to choose
either between Badger and Lavender, or between Rose and Nettle, or
between Faith and Envy. There is no such thing as a singly euphonious
or a singly cacophonous name. There is no word which, by itself,
sounds ill or well. In combination, names or words may be made to
sound ill or well. A sentence can be musical or unmusical. But in
detachment words are no more preferable one to another in their sound
than are single notes of music. What you take to be beauty or ugliness
of sound is indeed nothing but beauty or ugliness of meaning. You are
pleased by the sound of such words as gondola, vestments, chancel,
ermine, manor-house. They seem to be fraught with a subtle
onomatopoeia, severally suggesting by their sounds the grace or
sanctity or solid comfort of the things which they connote. You murmur
them luxuriously, dreamily. Prepare for a slight shock. Scrofula,
investments, cancer, vermin, warehouse. Horrible words, are they not?
But say gondola--scrofula, vestments--investments, and so on; and then
lay your hand on your heart, and declare that the words in the first
list are in mere sound nicer than the words in the second. Of course
they are not. If gondola were a disease, and if a scrofula were a
beautiful boat peculiar to a beautiful city, the effect of each word
would be exactly the reverse of what it is. This rule may be applied
to all the other words in the two lists. And these lists might, of
course, be extended to infinity. The appropriately beautiful or ugly
sound of any word is an illusion wrought on us by what the word
connotes. Beauty sounds as ugly as ugliness sounds beautiful. Neither
of them has by itself any quality in sound.

It follows, then, that the Christian names and surnames in my first
class sound beautiful or ugly according to what they connote. The
sound of those in the second class depends on the extent to which it
suggests any known word more than another. Of course, there might be a
name hideous in itself. There might, for example, be a Mr.
Griggsbiggmiggs. But there is not. And the fact that I, after
prolonged study of a Postal Directory, have been obliged to use my
imagination as factory for a name that connotes nothing and is ugly in
itself may be taken as proof that such names do not exist actually.
You cannot stump me by citing Mr. Matthew Arnold's citation of the
words `Ragg is in custody,' and his comment that `there was no Ragg by
the Ilyssus.' `Ragg' has not an ugly sound in itself. Mr. Arnold was
jarred merely by its suggestion of something ugly, a rag, and by the
cold brutality of the police-court reporter in withholding the prefix
`Miss' from a poor girl who had got into trouble. If `Ragg' had been
brought to his notice as the name of some illustrious old family, Mr.
Arnold would never have dragged in the Ilyssus. The name would have
had for him a savour of quaint distinction. The suggestion of a rag
would never have struck him. For it is a fact that whatever thing may
be connoted or suggested by a name is utterly overshadowed by the
name's bearer (unless, as in the case of poor `Ragg,' there is seen to
be some connexion between the bearer and the thing implied by the
name). Roughly, it may be said that all names connote their bearers,
and them only.

To have a `beautiful' name is no advantage. To have an `ugly' name is
no drawback. I am aware that this is a heresy. In a famous passage,
Bulwer Lytton propounded through one of his characters a theory that
`it is not only the effect that the sound of a name has on others
which is to be thoughtfully considered; the effect that his name
produces on the man himself is perhaps still more important. Some
names stimulate and encourage the owner, others deject and paralyse

Bulwer himself, I doubt not, believed that there was something in this
theory. It is natural that a novelist should. He is always at great
pains to select for his every puppet a name that suggests to himself
the character which he has ordained for that puppet. In real life a
baby gets its surname by blind heredity, its other names by the blind
whim of its parents, who know not at all what sort of a person it will
eventually become. And yet, when these babies grow up, their names
seem every whit as appropriate as do the names of the romantic
puppets. `Obviously,' thinks the novelist, `these human beings must
"grow to" their names; or else, we must be viewing them in the light
of their names.' And the quiet ordinary people, who do not write
novels, incline to his conjectures. How else can they explain the fact
that every name seems to fit its bearer so exactly, to sum him or her
up in a flash? The true explanation, missed by them, is that a name
derives its whole quality from its bearer, even as does a word from
its meaning. The late Sir Redvers Buller, taure^don hupoblepsas
[spelled in Greek, from Plato's Phaedo 117b], was thought to be
peculiarly well fitted with his name. Yet had it belonged not to him,
but to (say) some gentle and thoughtful ecclesiastic, it would have
seemed quite as inevitable. `Gore' is quite as taurine as `Buller,'
and yet does it not seem to us the right name for the author of Lux
Mundi? In connection with him, who is struck by its taurinity? What
hint of ovinity would there have been for us if Sir Redvers' surname
had happened to be that of him who wrote the Essays of Elia?
Conversely, `Charles Buller' seems to us now an impossible nom de vie
for Elia; yet it would have done just as well, really. Even `Redvers
Buller' would have done just as well. `Walter Pater' means for us--how
perfectly!--the author of Marius the Epicurean, whilst the author of
All Sorts and Conditions of Men was summed up for us, not less
absolutely, in `Walter Besant.' And yet, if the surnames of these two
opposite Walters had been changed at birth, what difference would have
been made? `Walter Besant' would have signified a prose style sensuous
in its severity, an exquisitely patient scholarship, an exquisitely
sympathetic way of criticism. `Walter Pater' would have signified no
style, but an unslakable thirst for information, and a bustling human
sympathy, and power of carrying things through. Or take two names
often found in conjunction--Johnson and Boswell. Had the dear great
oracle been named Boswell, and had the sitter-at-his-feet been named
Johnson, would the two names seem to us less appropriate than they do?
Should we suffer any greater loss than if Salmon were Gluckstein, and
Gluckstein Salmon? Finally, take a case in which the same name was
borne by two very different characters. What name could seem more
descriptive of a certain illustrious Archbishop of Westminster than
`Manning'? It seems the very epitome of saintly astuteness. But for
`Cardinal' substitute `Mrs.' as its prefix, and, presto! it is equally
descriptive of that dreadful medio-Victorian murderess who in the dock
of the Old Bailey wore a black satin gown, and thereby created against
black satin a prejudice which has but lately died. In itself black
satin is a beautiful thing. Yet for many years, by force of
association, it was accounted loathsome. Conversely, one knows that
many quite hideous fashions in costume have been set by beautiful
women. Such instances of the subtle power of association will make
clear to you how very easily a name (being neither beautiful nor
hideous in itself) can be made hideous or beautiful by its bearer--how
inevitably it becomes for us a symbol of its bearer's most salient
qualities or defects, be they physical, moral, or intellectual.

Streets are not less characteristic than human beings. `Look!' cried a
friend of mine, whom lately I found studying a map of London, `isn't
it appalling? All these streets--thousands of them--in this tiny
compass! Think of the miles and miles of drab monotony this map
contains! I pointed out to him (it is a thinker's penalty to be always
pointing things out to people) that his words were nonsense. I told
him that the streets on this map were no more monotonous than the
rivers on the map of England. Just as there were no two rivers alike,
every one of them having its own speed, its own windings, depths, and
shallows, its own way with the reeds and grasses, so had every street
its own claim to an especial nymph, forasmuch as no two streets had
exactly the same proportions, the same habitual traffic, the same type
of shops or houses, the same inhabitants. In some cases, of course,
the difference between the `atmosphere' of two streets is a subtle
difference. But it is always there, not less definite to any one who
searches for it than the difference between (say) Hill Street and Pont
Street, High Street Kensington and High Street Notting Hill, Fleet
Street and the Strand. I have here purposely opposed to each other
streets that have obvious points of likeness. But what a yawning gulf
of difference is between each couple! Hill Street, with its staid
distinction, and Pont Street, with its eager, pushful `smartness,' its
air de petit parvenu, its obvious delight in having been `taken up';
High Street Notting Hill, down-at-heels and unashamed, with a placid
smile on its broad ugly face, and High Street Kensington, with its
traces of former beauty, and its air of neatness and self-respect, as
befits one who in her day has been caressed by royalty; Fleet Street,
that seething channel of business, and the Strand, that swollen river
of business, on whose surface float so many aimless and unsightly
objects. In every one of these thoroughfares my mood and my manner are
differently affected. In Hill Street, instinctively, I walk very
slowly--sometimes, even with a slight limp, as one recovering from an
accident in the hunting-field. I feel very well-bred there, and,
though not clever, very proud, and quick to resent any familiarity
from those whom elsewhere I should regard as my equals. In Pont Street
my demeanour is not so calm and measured. I feel less sure of myself,
and adopt a slight swagger. In High Street, Kensington, I find myself
dapper and respectable, with a timid leaning to the fine arts. In High
Street, Notting Hill, I become frankly common. Fleet Street fills me
with a conviction that if I don't make haste I shall be jeopardising
the national welfare. The Strand utterly unmans me, leaving me with
only two sensations: (1) a regret that I have made such a mess of my
life; (2) a craving for alcohol. These are but a few instances. If I
had time, I could show you that every street known to me in London has
a definite effect on me, and that no two streets have exactly the same
effect. For the most part, these effects differ in kind according only
to the different districts and their different modes of life; but they
differ in detail according to such specific little differences as
exist between such cognate streets as Bruton Street and Curzon Street,
Doughty Street and Great Russell Street. Every one of my readers,
doubtless, realises that he, too, is thus affected by the character of
streets. And I doubt not that for him, as for me, the mere sound or
sight of a street's name conjures up the sensation he feels when he
passes through that street. For him, probably, the name of every
street has hitherto seemed to be also its exact, inevitable symbol, a
perfect suggestion of its character. He has believed that the grand or
beautiful streets have grand or beautiful names, the mean or ugly
streets mean or ugly names. Let me assure him that this is a delusion.
The name of a street, as of a human being, derives its whole quality
from its bearer.

`Oxford Street' sounds harsh and ugly. `Manchester Street' sounds
rather charming. Yet `Oxford' sounds beautiful, and `Manchester'
sounds odious. `Oxford' turns our thoughts to that `adorable dreamer,
whispering from her spires the last enchantments of the Middle Age.'
An uproarious monster, belching from its factory-chimneys the latest
exhalations of Hell--that is the image evoked by `Manchester.' But
neither in `Manchester Street' is there for us any hint of that
monster, nor in `Oxford Street' of that dreamer. The names have become
part and parcel of the streets. You see, then, that it matters not
whether the name given to a new street be one which in itself suggests
beauty, or one which suggests ugliness. In point of fact, it is
generally the most pitiable little holes and corners that bear the
most ambitiously beautiful names. To any one who has studied London,
such a title as `Paradise Court' conjures up a dark fetid alley, with
untidy fat women gossiping in it, untidy thin women quarrelling across
it, a host of haggard and shapeless children sprawling in its mud, and
one or two drunken men propped against its walls. Thus, were there an
official nomenclator of streets, he might be tempted to reject such
names as in themselves signify anything beautiful. But his main
principle would be to bestow whatever name first occurred to him, in
order that he might save time for thinking about something that really

I have yet to fulfil the second part of my promise: show the futility
of trying to commemorate a hero by making a street his namesake. By
implication I have done this already. But, for the benefit of the less
nimble among my readers, let me be explicit. Who, passing through the
Cromwell Road, ever thinks of Cromwell, except by accident? What
journalist ever thinks of Wellington in Wellington Street? In
Marlborough Street, what policeman remembers Marlborough? In St.
James's Street, has any one ever fancied he saw the ghost of a pilgrim
wrapped in a cloak, leaning on a staff? Other ghosts are there in
plenty. The phantom chariot of Lord Petersham dashes down the slope
nightly. Nightly Mr. Ball Hughes appears in the bow-window of White's.
At cock-crow Charles James Fox still emerges from Brooks's. Such men
as these were indigenous to the street. Nothing will ever lay their
ghosts there. But the ghost of St. James--what should it do in that
galley?... Of all the streets that have been named after famous men, I
know but one whose namesake is suggested by it. In Regent Street you
do sometimes think of the Regent; and that is not because the street
is named after him, but because it was conceived by him, and was
designed and built under his auspices, and is redolent of his
character and his time. When a national hero is to be commemorated by
a street, he must be allowed to design the street himself. The mere
plastering-up of his name is no mnemonic.


My florist has standing orders to deliver early on the morning of this
day a chaplet of laurel. With it in my hand, I reach by a step-ladder
the nobly arched embrasure that is above my central book-case, and
crown there the marble brow of him whose name is the especial glory of
our literature--of all literature. The greater part of the morning is
spent by me in contemplation of that brow, and in silent meditation.
And, year by year, always there intrudes itself into this meditation
the hope that Shakespeare's name will, one day, be swept into

I am not--you will have perceived that I certainly am not--a
`Baconian.' So far as I have examined the evidence in the controversy,
I do not feel myself tempted to secede from the side on which
(rightly, inasmuch as it is the obviously authoritative side) every
ignorant person ranges himself. Even the hottest Baconian, filled with
the stubbornest conviction, will, I fancy, admit in confidence that
the utmost thing that could, at present, be said for his conclusions
by a judicial investigator is that they are `not proven.' To be
convinced of a thing without being able to establish it is the surest
recipe for making oneself ridiculous. The Baconians have thus made
themselves very ridiculous; and that alone is reason enough for not
wishing to join them. And yet my heart is with them, and my voice
urges them to carry on the fight. It is a good fight, in my opinion,
and I hope they will win it.

I do not at all understand the furious resentment they rouse in the
bosoms of the majority. Mistaken they may be; but why yell them down
as knavish blasphemers? Our reverence, after all, is given not to an
Elizabethan named William Shakespeare, who was born at Stratford, and
married, and migrated to London, and became a second-rate actor, and
afterwards returned to Stratford, and made a will, and composed a few
lines of doggerel for the tombstone under which he was buried. Our
reverence is given to the writer of certain plays and sonnets. To that
second-rate actor, because we believe he wrote those plays and
sonnets, we give that reverence. But our belief is not such as we give
to the proposition that one and two make three. It is a belief that
has to be upheld by argument when it is assailed. When a man says to
us that one and two make four, we smile and are silent. But when he
argues, point by point, that in Bacon's life and writings there is
nothing to show that Bacon might not have written the plays and
sonnets, and that there is much to show that he did write them, and
that in what we know about Shakespeare there is little evidence that
Shakespeare wrote those works, and much evidence that he did not write
them, then we pull ourselves together, marshalling all our facts and
all out literary discernment, so as to convince our interlocutor of
his error. But why should we not do our task urbanely? The cyphers,
certainly, are stupid and tedious things, deserving no patience. But
the more intelligent Baconians spurn them as airily as do you or I.
Our case is not so strong that the arguments of these gentlemen can be
ignored; and naughty temper does but hamper us in the task of
demolition. If Bacon were proved to have written Shakespeare's plays
and sonnets, would mankind be robbed of one of those illusions which
are necessary to its happiness and welfare? If so, we have a good
excuse for browbeating the poor Baconians. But it isn't so, really and

Suppose that one fine morning, Mr. Blank, an ardent Baconian, stumbled
across some long-sought document which proved irrefragably that Bacon
was the poet, and Shakespeare an impostor. What would be our
sentiments? For the second-rate actor we should have not a moment's
sneaking kindness or pity. On the other hand, should we not experience
an everlasting thrill of pride and gladness in the thought that he who
had been the mightiest of our philosophers had been also, by some
unimaginable grace of heaven, the mightiest of our poets? Our pleasure
in the plays and sonnets would be, of course, not one whit greater
than it is now. But the pleasure of hero-worship for their author
would be more than reduplicated. The Greeks revelled in reverence of
Heracles by reason of his twelve labours. They would have been
disappointed had it been proved to them that six of those labours had
been performed by some quite obscure person. The divided reverence
would have seemed tame. Conversely, it is pleasant to revere Bacon, as
we do now, and to revere Shakespeare, as we do now; but a wildest
ecstasy of worship were ours could we concentrate on one of those two
demigods all that reverence which now we apportion to each apart.

It is for this reason, mainly, that I wish success to the Baconians.
But there is another reason, less elevated perhaps, but not less
strong for me. I should like to watch the multifarious comedies which
would spring from the downfall of an idol to which for three centuries
a whole world had been kneeling. Glad fancy makes for me a few
extracts from the issue of a morning paper dated a week after the
publication of Mr. Blank's discovery. This from a column of Literary

>From Baiham, Sydenham, Lewisham, Clapham, Herne Hill and Peckham comes
news that the local Shakespeare Societies have severally met and
decided to dissolve. Other suburbs are expected to follow.

This from the same column:

Mr. Sidney Lee is now busily engaged on a revised edition of his
monumental biography of Shakespeare. Yesterday His Majesty the King
graciously visited Mr. Lee's library in order to personally inspect
the progress of the work, which, in its complete form, is awaited with
the deepest interest in all quarters.

And this, a leaderette:

Yesterday at a meeting of the Parks Committee of the London County
Council it was unanimously resolved to recommend at the next meeting
of the Council that the statue of Shakespeare in Leicester Square
should be removed. This decision was arrived at in view of the fact
that during the past few days the well-known effigy has been the
centre of repeated disturbances, and is already considerably damaged.
We are surprised to learn that there are in our midst persons capable
of doing violence to a noble work of art merely because its subject is
distasteful to them. But even the most civilised communities have
their fits of vandalism. `'Tis true, 'tis pity, and pity 'tis 'tis

And this from a page of advertisements:

To be let or sold. A commodious and desirable Mansion at Stratford-on-
Avon. Delightful flower and kitchen gardens. Hot and cold water on
every floor. Within easy drive of station. Hitherto home of Miss Marie

And this, again from the Literary Notes:

Mr. Hall Caine is in town. Yesterday, at the Authors' Club, he passed
almost unrecognised by his many friends, for he has shaved his beard
and moustache, and has had his hair cropped quite closely to the head.
This measure he has taken, he says, owing to the unusually hot weather

A sonnet, too, printed in large type on the middle page, entitled `To
Shakespeare,' signed by the latest fashionable poet, and beginning

O undetected during so long years,
O irrepleviably infamous,
Stand forth!

A cable, too, from `Our Own Correspondent' in New York:

This afternoon the Carmania came into harbour. Among the passengers
was Mr. J. Pierpont Morgan, who had come over in personal charge of
Anne Hathaway's Cottage, his purchase of which for ś2,000,000 excited
so much attention on your side a few weeks ago. Mr. Blank's
sensational revelations not having been published to the world till
two days after the Carmania left Liverpool, the millionaire collector
had, of course, no cognisance of the same. On disembarking he
proceeded straight to the Customs Office and inquired how much duty
was to be imposed on the cottage. On being courteously informed that
the article would be passed into the country free of charge, he
evinced considerable surprise. I then ventured to approach Mr. Morgan
and to hand him a journal containing the cabled summary of Mr. Blank's
disclosures, which he proceeded to peruse. His comments I must reserve
for the next mail, the cable clerks here demurring to their

Only a dream? But a sweet one. Bustle about, Baconians, and bring it
true. Don't listen to my florist.


Belike, returning from a long pilgrimage, in which you have seen many
strange men and strange cities, and have had your imagination stirred
by marvellous experiences, you have never, at the very end of your
journey, almost in sight of your home, felt suddenly that all you had
been seeing and learning was as naught--a pack of negligible
illusions, faint and forgotten. From me, however, this queer sensation
has not been withheld. It befell me a few days ago; in a cold grey
dawn, and in the Buffet of Dover Harbour.

I had spent two months far away, wandering and wondering; and now I
had just fulfilled two thirds of the little tripartite journey from
Paris to London. I was sleepy, as one always is after that brief and
twice broken slumber. I was chilly, for is not the dawn always bleak
at Dover, and perforated always with a bleak and drizzling rain? I was
sad, for I had watched from the deck the white cliffs of Albion coming
nearer and nearer to me, towering over me, and in the familiar drizzle
looking to me more than ever ghastly for that I had been so long and
so far away from them. Often though that harsh, chalky coast had thus
borne down on me, I had never yet felt so exactly and lamentably like
a criminal arrested on an extradition warrant.

In its sleepy, chilly shell my soul was still shuddering and
whimpering. Piteously it conjured me not to take it back into this
cruel hum-drum. It rose up and fawned on me. `Down, Sir, down!' said I
sternly. I pointed out to it that needs must when the devil drives,
and that it ought to think itself a very lucky soul for having had two
happy, sunny months of fresh and curious adventure. `A sorrow's crown
of sorrow,' it murmured, `is remembering happier things.' I declared
the sentiment to be as untrue as was the quotation trite, and told my
soul that I looked keenly forward to the pleasure of writing, in
collaboration with it, that book of travel for which I had been so
sedulously amassing notes and photographs by the way.

This colloquy was held at a table in the Buffet. I was sorry, for my
soul's sake, to be sitting there. Britannia owns nothing more crudely
and inalienably Britannic than her Buffets. The barmaids are but
incarnations of her own self, thinly disguised. The stale buns and the
stale sponge-cakes must have been baked, one fancies, by her own heavy
hand. Of her everything is redolent. She it is that has cut the thick
stale sandwiches, bottled the bitter beer, brewed the unpalatable
coffee. Cold and hungry though I was, one sip of this coffee was one
sip too much for me. I would not mortify my body by drinking more of
it, although I had to mortify my soul by lingering over it till one of
the harassed waiters would pause to be paid for it. I was somewhat
comforted by the aspect of my fellow-travellers at the surrounding
tables. Dank, dishevelled, dismal, they seemed to be resenting as much
as I the return to the dear home-land. I suppose it was the contrast
between them and him that made me stare so hard at the large young man
who was standing on the threshold and surveying the scene.

He looked, as himself would undoubtedly have said, `fit as a fiddle,'
or `right as rain.' His cheeks were rosy, his eyes sparkling. He had
his arms akimbo, and his feet planted wide apart. His grey bowler
rested on the back of his head, to display a sleek coating of hair
plastered down over his brow. In his white satin tie shone a dubious
but large diamond, and there was the counter-attraction of geraniums
and maidenhair fern in his button-hole. So fresh was the nosegay that
he must have kept it in water during the passage! Or perhaps these
vegetables had absorbed by mere contact with his tweeds, the subtle
secret of his own immarcescibility. I remembered now that I had seen
him, without realising him, on the platform of the Gare du Nord. `Gay
Paree' was still written all over him. But evidently he was no

Unaccountable though he was, I had no suspicion of what he was about
to do. I think you will hardly believe me when I tell you what he did.
`A traveller's tale' you will say, with a shrug. Yet I swear to you
that it is the plain and solemn truth. If you still doubt me, you have
the excuse that I myself hardly believed the evidence of my eyes. In
the Buffet of Dover Harbour, in the cold grey dawn, in the brief
interval between boat and train, the large young man, shooting his
cuffs, strode forward, struck a confidential attitude across the
counter, and began to flirt with the barmaid.

Open-mouthed, fascinated, appalled, I watched this monstrous and
unimaginable procedure. I was not near enough to overhear what was
said. But I knew by the respective attitudes that the time-honoured
ritual was being observed strictly by both parties. I could see the
ice of haughty indifference thawing, little by little, under the fire
of gallant raillery. I could fix the exact moment when `Indeed?'
became `I daresay,' and when `Well, I must say' gave place to `Go
along,' and when `Oh, I don't mind you--not particularly' was
succeeded by `Who gave you them flowers?'... All in the cold grey

The cry of `Take your places, please!' startled me into realisation
that all the other passengers had vanished. I hurried away, leaving
the young man still in the traditional attitude which he had assumed
from the first--one elbow sprawling on the counter, one foot cocked
over the other. My porter had put my things into a compartment exactly
opposite the door of the Buffet. I clambered in.

Just as the guard blew his whistle, the young man or monster came
hurrying out. He winked at me. I did not return his wink.

I suppose I ought really to have raised my hat to him. Pre-eminently,
he was one of those who have made England what it is. But they are the
very men whom one does not care to meet just after long truancy in
preferable lands. He was the backbone of the nation. But ought
backbones to be exposed?

Though I would rather not have seen him then and there, I did realise,
nevertheless, the overwhelming interest of him. I knew him to be a
stranger sight, a more memorable and instructive, than any of the fair
sights I had been seeing. He made them all seem nebulous and unreal to
me. Beside me lay my despatch-box. I unlocked it, drew from it all the
notes and all the photographs I had brought back with me. These, one
by one, methodically, I tore up, throwing their fragments out of the
window, not grudging them to the wind.


--`commonly called "Longshanks" on account of his great height he was
the first king crowned in the Abbey as it now appears and was interred
with great pomp on St. Simon's and St. Jude's Day October 28th 1307 in
1774 the tomb was opened when the king's body was found almost entire
in the right hand was a richly embossed sceptre and in the left'--

So much I gather as I pass one of the tombs on my way to the Chapel of
Abbot Islip. Anon the verger will have stepped briskly forward,
drawing a deep breath, with his flock well to heel, and will be
telling the secrets of the next tomb on his tragic beat.

To be a verger in Westminster Abbey--what life could be more
unutterably tragic? We are, all of us, more or less enslaved to
sameness; but not all of us are saying, every day, hour after hour,
exactly the same thing, in exactly the same place, in exactly the same
tone of voice, to people who hear it for the first time and receive it
with a gasp of respectful interest. In the name of humanity, I suggest
to the Dean and Chapter that they should relieve these sad-faced men
of their intolerable mission, and purchase parrots. On every tomb, by
every bust or statue, under every memorial window, let a parrot be
chained by the ankle to a comfortable perch, therefrom to enlighten
the rustic and the foreigner. There can be no objection on the ground
of expense; for parrots live long. Vergers do not, I am sure.

It is only the rustic and the foreigner who go to Westminster Abbey
for general enlightenment. If you pause beside any one of the verger-
led groups, and analyse the murmur emitted whenever the verger has
said his say, you will find the constituent parts of the sound to be
such phrases as `Lor!' `Ach so!' `Deary me!' `Tiens!' and `My!' `My!'

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