Alone by Norman Douglas

This page contains affiliate links. As Amazon Associates we earn from qualifying purchases.
Buy it on Amazon FREE Audible 30 days

Tonya Allen, Eric Eldred, Charles Franks, and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team

















VIAREGGIO (February)










What ages ago it seems, that “Great War”!

And what enthusiasts we were! What visionaries, to imagine that in such an hour of emergency a man might discover himself to be fitted for some work of national utility without that preliminary wire-pulling which was essential in humdrum times of peace! How we lingered in long queues, and stamped up and down, and sat about crowded, stuffy halls, waiting, only waiting, to be asked to do something for our country by any little guttersnipe who happened to have been jockeyed into the requisite position of authority! What innocents….

I have memories of several afternoons spent at a pleasant place near St. James’s Park station, whither I went in search of patriotic employment. It was called, I think, Board of Trade Labour Emergency Bureau (or something equally lucid and concise), and professed to find work for everybody. Here, in a fixed number of rooms, sat an uncertain number of chubby young gentlemen, all of whom seemed to be of military age, or possibly below it; the Emergency Bureau was then plainly–for it may have changed later on–a hastily improvised shelter for privileged sucklings, a kind of nursery on advanced Montessori methods. Well, that was not my concern. One must trust the Government to know its own business.

During my second or third visit to this hygienic and well-lighted establishment I was introduced, most fortunately, into the sanctuary of Mr. R—-, whose name was familiar to me. Was he not his brother’s brother? He was. A real stroke of luck!

Mr. R—-, a pink little thing, laid down the pen he had snatched up as I entered the room, and began gazing at me quizzically through enormous tortoise-shell-rimmed goggles, after the fashion of a precocious infant who tries to look like daddy. What might he do for me?

I explained.

We had a short talk, during which various forms were conscientiously filled up as to my qualifications, such as they were. Of course, there was nothing doing just then; but one never knows, does one? Would I mind calling again?

Would I mind? I should think not. I should like nothing better. It did one good to be in contact with this youthful optimist and listen to his blithe and pleasing prattle; he was so hopeful, so philosophic, so cheery; his whole nature seemed to exhale the golden words: “Never say die.” And no wonder. He ought to have been at the front, but some guardian angel in the haute finance had dumped him into this soft and safe job: it was enough to make anybody cheerful. One should be cautious, none the less, how one criticises the action of the authorities. May be they kept him at the Emergency Bureau for the express purpose of infusing confidence, by his bright manner, into the minds of despondent patriots like myself, and of keeping the flag flying in a general way–a task for which he, a German Jew, was pre-eminently fitted.

Be that as it may, his consolatory tactics certainly succeeded in my case, and I went home quite infected with his rosy cheeks and words. Yet, on the occasion of my next visit a week or two later, there was still nothing doing–not just then, though one never knows, does one?

“Tried the War Office?” he added airily.

I had.

Who hadn’t?

The War Office was a nightmare in those early days. It resembled Liverpool Street station on the evening of a rainless Bank Holiday. The only clear memory I carried away–and even this may have been due to some hallucination–was that of a voice shouting at me through the rabble: “Can you fly?” Such was my confusion that I believe I answered in the negative, thereby losing, probably, a lucrative billet as Chaplain to the Forces or veterinary surgeon in the Church Lads’ Brigade. Things might have been different had my distinguished cousin still been on the spot; I, too, might have been accommodated with a big desk and small work after the manner of the genial Mr. R—-. He died in harness, unfortunately, soon after the outbreak of war.

I said to my young friend:

“Everybody tells one to try the War Office–I don’t know why. Of course I tried it. I wish I had a shilling for every hour I wasted in that lunatic asylum.”

“Ah!” he replied. “I feel sure a good many men would like to be paid at that rate. Anyhow, trust me. We’ll fix you up, sooner or later. (He kept his word.) Why not have a whack at the F.O., meanwhile?”

“Because I have already had a whack at it.”

I then possessed, indeed, in reply to an application on my part, a holograph of twelve pages in the elegant calligraphy of H.M. Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, the same gentleman who was viciously attacked by the Pankhurst section for his supposed pro-Germanism. It conveyed no grain of hope. Other Government Departments, he opined, might well be depleted at this moment; the Foreign Office was in exactly the reverse position. It overflowed with diplomatic and consular officials returned, perforce, from belligerent countries, and now in search of occupation. Was it not natural, was it not right, to give the preference to them? One was really at a loss to know what to do with all those people. He had tried, hitherto in vain, to find some kind of job for his own brother.

A straightforward, convincing statement. Acting on the hint, I visited the Education Office, notoriously overstaffed since Tudor days; it might now be emptier; clerical work might be obtained there in substitution of some youngster who had been induced to join the colours. I poked my nose into countless recesses, and finally unearthed my man.

They were full up, said Mr. F—-.

Full up?

Full up.

Then, after some further conversation as to my capacities, he thought he might find me employment as teacher of science in the country, to replace somebody or other.

The notion was distasteful to me. I am not averse to learning from the young; I only once tried to teach them–at a ragged school, long since pulled down, near Ladbroke Grove, where I soon discovered that my little pupils knew a great deal more than I did, more, indeed, than was good for body or soul. Still, this was a tangible, definite offer of unremunerative but at the same time semi-pseudo-patriotic work, not to be sneezed at. An idea occurred to me.

“Supposing I stick it out and give satisfaction, shall I be able to interchange later into this department? I am more fitted for office duties. In fact, I have had a certain experience of them.”

“No chance of that,” he replied. “It is the German system. Their schoolmasters are sometimes taken to do administrative work at head-quarters, and vice versa. Our English rule is: Once a teacher, always a teacher.”

Here was a deadlock. For in such matters as teaching, a man may put a strain on himself for a certain length of time; he may even be a success, up to a point. But if he lacks the temperamental gift of holding classes, the results in the long run will not be fair to the children, to say nothing of himself. With reluctance I rose to depart, Mr. F—- adding, by way of letting me down gently:

“Tried the War Office?”

I had.

If the War Office was too lively, this place was too slumberous by half. A cobwebby, Rip-van-Winkle-ish atmosphere brooded about those passages and chambers. One could not help thinking that a little “German system” might work wonders here. And this is merely one of several similar sites I explored, and endeavoured to exploit, for patriotic purposes; I am here only jotting down a few of the more important of those that occur to me.

And, oh! for the brush of a Hogarth to depict the gallery of faces with which I came in contact as I went along. They were all different, yet all alike; different in their degrees of beefiness, stolidity, and self-sufficiency, but plainly of the same parentage–British to the backbone; British of the wrong kind, with a sprinkling of Welshmen, Irishmen, and Jews. Not a Scotsman discoverable in that whole mob of complacent office-jacks. My countrymen were conspicuous by their absence; they were otherwise engaged, in the field, the colonies, the engine-room. I can only remember one single exception to this rule, this type; it was the head of the Censorship Department.

For of course I offered my services there, climbing up that decent red-carpeted stairway, and glad to find myself among respectable surroundings after all the unseemly holes I had lately wallowed in. I sent up a card which, to my surprise, caused me to be ushered forthwith into the presence of the Chief, who may have heard of my existence from some mutual friend. Here, at all events, was a man with a face worth looking at, a man who had done notable things in his day. What a relief, moreover, to be able to talk to a gentleman for a change! I wished I could have had him to myself for five minutes; there were one or two things one would have liked to learn from him. Unfortunately he was surrounded, as such people are, by half a dozen of the characteristic masks. For the rest, His ex-Excellency seemed to be ineffably bored with his new functions.

“What on earth brings you here?” he began in a fascinatingly absent-minded style, as if he had known me all my life, and with an inimitable nasal drawl. “This is a rotten job, my dear sir. Rotten! I cannot recommend it. Not your style at all, I should say.”

“But, my dear Sir F—-, I am not applying for your job. Something subordinate, I mean. Anything, anything.”

“What? Down there, cutting up newspapers at twenty-two shillings a week? No, no. Let’s have your address, and we will communicate with you when we find something worth your while. By the way, have you tried the War Office?”

I had.

And it stands to reason that I tried the Munitions more than once.

It was my rare good fortune–luck pursued me on these patriotic expeditions–to come face to face, at the Munitions, with the fons et origo; the deputy fountain-head, that is to say; a very peculiar private-secretary-in-chief for that department. He was a perpendicular, iron-grey personality, if I remember rightly, who smelt of some indifferent hair-wash and lost no time in giving you to understand that he was preternaturally busy.

Did I know anything about machinery?

Nothing to speak of, I replied. As co-manager and proprietor of some cotton mills employing several hundred hands for spinning and weaving, I naturally learnt how to handle a fair number of machines–sufficiently well, at all events, to start and stop them and tell the girls how to avoid being scalped or having their arms torn out whenever I happened to be passing that way. This life also gave me some experience, useful perhaps at the Munitions, in dealing with factory-hands—-

That was not the kind of machinery he meant. Did I know anything about banking?

Nothing at all.

“You are like everybody else,” he replied with a weary sigh, as much as to say: How am I going to run the British Empire with a collection of imbeciles like this? “We have several thousands of applicants like yourself,” he went on. “But I will put your name down. Come again.”

“You are very kind.”

“Do call again,” he added, in his best private-secretary manner.

I called again a couple of weeks later. It struck me, namely, that they might have acquired a sufficient stock of bankers and mechanics by this time, and be able possibly to discover a vacancy for a public-school man with a fairish knowledge of the world and some other things–one who, moreover, had himself served in a cranky and fussy Government Department and, though working in another sphere, had been thanked officially for certain labours–once by the Admiralty, twice by the Board of Trade; and anyway, hang it! one was not so infernally venerable as all that, was one?

“I called about a fortnight ago. You have my name down.”

“Oh, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes. We have such thousands of applicants. I remember you! A mechanic, aren’t you?”

“No. And you asked me if I understood banking, and I said I didn’t.”

“What a pity. Now if you knew about banking—-”

Nothing, evidently, had been done about my application, nor, for that matter, about those thousands of others. We were being played with. I began to feel grumpy. It was a lovely afternoon, and I remembered, with regret, that I had thrown over an engagement to go for a walk with a friend at Wimbledon. About this hour, I calculated, we should be strolling along Beverley Brook or through the glades of Coombe Woods with sunshine filtering through the birches overhead; it would have been more pleasant, and far more instructive, than wasting my time with a hatchet-faced automaton like this. That comes, I thought, of being patriotic. I observed:

“Your department seems to require only bankers and mechanics. Would it not be well to advertise the fact and save trouble and time to those thousands of applicants who, you say, are in the same predicament as myself? I came here to do national work of some general kind.”

“So I gather. And if you understood banking—-”

“If I did, I should be a banker at my time of life–don’t you see?–and lending money to you people, and giving you good advice, instead of asking you for employment. Isn’t that fairly obvious? As a matter of fact, my acquaintance with banking is limited to a knowledge of how to draw cheques, and even that useful accomplishment is fast fading from my memory, under the stress of the times.”

Being a Welshman–so I presume, from his name–he condescended to smile faintly, but not for long; his salary was too high. As for myself, I refrained from saying a few harsher things I was minded to say; indeed, I made myself so vastly agreeable, after my own private recipe, that he was quite touched. He remarked:

“I think I had better put your name down, although we have thousands of applicants, you know. Call again, won’t you?”

For which I humbly thanked him, instead of saying, as I ought to have done:

“You go to blazes. The public is a pack of idiots to run after people who merely keep them loitering about while they feather their own nests. We are out to lick the Germans, and yours is not the way to do it.”

Did I understand banking? The full ineptitude of this conundrum only dawned upon me by degrees. Manifestly, if I understood banking, I might do some specialised kind of work for the Government. But in that case I would not apply to the Munitions. Granted they wanted bankers. Well, there was my friend M—-, renowned in the City as a genius for banking; he could have saved them untold thousands of pounds. They would have none of him. They sent him into the trenches, where he was duly shot.

How easy it is for a disappointed place-seeker to jibe and rail against the powers that be, especially when he is not in full possession of the data! For all I know, they may have discovered my friend M—- to be a dangerous character, and have been only too glad to remove him out of society without unnecessary fuss, in an outwardly honourable fashion, with a view to saving his poor but respectable parents the humiliating experience of a criminal trial and possible execution in the family.

If I understood banking … why did they want bankers at this institution? Ah, it was not my business to probe into such mysteries of administration. To my limited intelligence it would seem that the mere fact of a man applying at the Munitions was prima facie evidence that banking was not one of his accomplishments. It seemed to me, furthermore, that there was no end to such “ifs”–patriotic or otherwise. If I were a woman, for instance, I would promptly aid the cause by jumping into a nurse’s outfit, telling improper stories to the Tommies, and getting myself photographed for the Press every morning. But I am only a man. If I were a high-class trumpeter, I could qualify for a job in one of the Allied Armies or, failing that, on Judgment Day. But I can only strum the piano. And if the moon were made of green cheese, we might all try to get hold of a slice of it, mightn’t we?…

Such was my pigheadedness, my boyish zeal, my belief in human nature or perverse sense of duty, that I actually broke my vow and returned to that ridiculous establishment. Yes, I “called again,” flattering myself with the conjecture that, even if they had not yet obtained a requisite amount of bankers and mechanics, and even if persons of my particular aptitudes were still a drug in the market, there might nevertheless be room, amid the ramifications and interstices of so great a department, for a man or two who could help to count up or pack munitions, or, if that proposal were hopelessly wide of the mark, for the services of something even more recondite and exotic–an intelligent corpse-washer, for instance, or half a dozen astrologers. I felt I could distinguish myself, at a national crisis like this, in either capacity. Anyhow, it was only one more afternoon wasted–one out of how many!

This time I saw Mr. W—-. Though I had never met him in the flesh, I once enjoyed the privilege of perusing a manuscript from his pen–a story about a girl in Kew Gardens. A nice-looking young Hebrew was Mr. W—-. He had made himself indispensable, somehow or other, to the Minister, and would doubtless by this time have been pitchforked into some permanent and prominent job, but for that unfortunate name of his, with its strong Teutonic flavour.

This, by the way, was about the eighth official of his tribe, and of his age, I had come across in the course of my recent peregrinations. How did they get there? Tell me, who can. Far be it from me to disparage the race of Israel. I have gained the conviction–firm-fixed, now, as the Polar Star–that the Hebrew is as good a man as the Christian. Yet one would like to know their method, their technique, in this instance. How was the thing done? How did they manage it, these young Jews, all healthy-looking and of military age–how did they contrive to keep out of the Army? Was there some secret society which protected them? Or were they all so preposterously clever that the Old Country would straightway evaporate into thin air unless they sat in some comfortable office, while our own youngsters were being blown to pieces out yonder?

Mr. W—-, I regret to say, was not a good Oriental. He lacked the Semite’s pliability. He was graceful, but not gracious. A consequence, doubtless, of having inhaled for some time past the rarefied atmosphere of the Chief, and swallowed a few pokers during the process, his manner towards me was freezingly non-committal–worthy of the best Anglo-Saxon traditions.

Had I come a little earlier, he avowed, he might perhaps have been able to squeeze me into one of his departments–thus spake this infant: “One of my departments.” As it was, he feared there was nothing doing; nothing whatsoever; not just then. Tried the War Office?

I had.

I even visited, though only twice, an offshoot of that establishment in Victoria Street near the Army and Navy Stores, where candidates for the position of translator–quasi-confidential work and passable pay, five pounds a week–were interviewed. On the second occasion, after waiting in an ante-room full of bearded and be-spectacled monsters such as haunt the British Museum Library, I was summoned before a board of reverend elders, who put me through a catechism, drowsy but prolonged, as to my qualifications and antecedents. It was a systematic affair. Could I decipher German manuscripts? Let them show me their toughest one, I said. No! It was merely a pro forma question; they had enough German translators on the staff. So the interrogation went on. They were going to make sure of their man, in whom, I must say, they took little interest save when they learnt that he had passed a Civil Service examination in Russian and another in International Law. At that moment–though I may be mistaken–they seemed to prick up their ears. Not long afterwards I was allowed to depart, with the assurance that I might hear further.

Their inquiries into my attainments and references must have given satisfaction, for in the fulness of time a missive arrived to the effect that, assuming me to be a competent Turkish scholar, they would be glad to see me again with a view to a certain vacancy.

Turkish–a language I had not mentioned to them, a language of which I never possessed more than fifty words, every one of them forgotten long years ago.

“How very War Office,” I thought.

These good people were mixing up Turkish and Russian–a natural error, when one comes to think of it, for, though the respective tongues might not be absolutely identical, yet the countries themselves were sufficiently close together to account for a little slip like this.

Was it a slip? Who knows? It is so easy to criticise when one is not fully informed about things. They may have suggested my acting as Turkish translator for reasons of their own–reasons which I cannot fathom, but which need not therefore be bad ones. Chagrined office-hunters like myself are prone to be bitter. In an emergency of this magnitude a citizen should hesitate before he finds fault with the wisdom of those whom the nation has chosen to steer it through troubled waters. No carping! You only hamper the Government. The general public should learn to keep a civil tongue in its head. Theirs but to do and die.

None the less, it was about this time that I began to experience certain moments of despondency, and occasionally let a whole day slip by without endeavouring to be of use to The Cause–moments when, instead of asking myself, “What have I done for my country?” I asked, “What has my country done for me?”–moments when I envied the hotel night-porters, taxi-drivers, and red-nosed old women selling flowers in Piccadilly Circus who had something more sensible to do than to bother their heads about trying to be patriotic, and getting snubbed for their pains. Yet, with characteristic infatuation for hopeless ventures, I persevered. Another “whack” at the F.O. leading to another holograph, two more whacks at the Censorship, interpreter jobs, hospital jobs, God knows what–I persevered, and might for the next three years have been kicking my heels, like any other patriot, in the corridor of some dingy Government office at the mercy of a pack of tuppenny counter-jumpers, but for a God-sent little accident, the result of sheer boredom, which counselled a trip to the sunny Mediterranean.

Fortune was nearer to me, at that supreme moment, than she had ever yet been. For on the day prior to my departure I received a communication from the Board of Trade Labour, etc., etc., whose methods of work, it was now apparent, were as expeditious as its own name was brief. That hopeful Mr. R—-, that bubbling young optimist who had so conscientiously written down a number of my qualifications, such as they were–he was keeping his promise after months, and months, and months. Never say die. The dear little fellow! What job had he captured for me?

An offer to work in a factory at Gretna Green, wages to commence at 17s. 6d. per week.


The remuneration was not on a princely scale, but I like to think that it included the free use of the lavatory, if there happened to be one on the premises.

So luck pursued me to the end, though it never quite caught me up. For bags were packed, and tickets taken. And therefore:

“What did you do in the Great War, grandpapa?”

“I loafed, my boy.”

“That was naughty, grandpapa.”

“Naughty, but nice….”



Italiam petimus….

Discovered, in a local library–a genuine old maid’s library: full of the trashiest novels–those two volumes of sketches by J. A. Symonds, and forthwith set to comparing the Mentone of his day with that of ours. What a transformation! The efforts of Dr. James Henry Bennet and friends, aided and abetted by the railway, have converted the idyllic fishing village into–something different. So vanishes another fair spot from earth. And I knew it. Yet some demon has deposited me on these shores, where life is spent in a round of trivialities.

One fact suffices. Symonds, driving over from Nice, at last found himself at the door of “the inn.” The inn…. Are there any inns left at Mentone?

A propos of inns, here is a suggestive state of affairs. At the present moment, twenty-two of the principal hotels and pensions of Mentone are closed, because owned or controlled or managed by Germans. Does not this speak rather loudly in favour of Teuton enterprise? Where, in a German town of 18,000 inhabitants, will you find twenty-two such establishments in the hands of Frenchmen?

The statistical mood is upon me. I wander either among the tombs of that cemetery overhead, studying sepulchral inscriptions and drawing deductions, from what is therein stated regarding the age, nationality and other circumstances of the deceased, as to the relative number of consumptives here interred. Sixty per cent, shall we say? Or else, in the streets of the town, I catch myself endeavouring–hitherto without success–to count up the number of grocers’ shops. They are far in excess of what is needful. Now, why? Well, your tailor or hatter or hosier–he makes a certain fixed profit on each article he sells, and he does not sell them at every moment of the day. The other, quite apart from small advantages to be gained owing to the ever-shifting prices of his wares, is ceaselessly engaged in dispensing trifles, on each of which he makes a small gain. The grocery business commends itself warmly to the French genius for garnering halfpennies. Nowhere on earth, I fancy, will you see butter more meticulously weighed than here. Buy a ton of it, and they will replace on their counter a fragment of the weight and size of a postage stamp, rather than let the balance descend on your side.

And so the days, the weeks, have passed. Will one ever again escape from Mentone? It may well be colder in Italy, but anything is preferable to this inane Riviera existence….

I am not prone to recommend restaurants, or to discommend them, for the simple reason that, if they have proved bad, I smile to think of other men being poisoned and robbed as well as myself; as to the good ones–why, only a fool would reveal their whereabouts. Since, however, I hope so to order my remaining days of life as never to be obliged to return to these gimcrack regions, there is no inducement for withholding the name of the Merle Blanc at Monte Carlo, a quite unpretentious place of entertainment that well deserves its name–white blackbirds being rather scarcer here than elsewhere. The food is excellent–it has a cachet of its own; the wine more than merely good. And this is surprising, for the local mixtures (either Italian stuff which is dumped down in shiploads at Nice, Marseille, Cette, etc., or else the poor though sometimes aromatic product of the Var) are not gratifying to the palate. One imbibes them, none the less, in preference to anything else, as it is a peculiarity of what goes under the name of wine hereabouts that the more you pay for it, the worse it tastes. If you adventure into the Olympic spheres of Chateau Lafite and so forth, you may put your trust in God, or in a blue pill. Chateau Cassis would be a good name for these finer vintages, seeing that the harmless black currant enters largely into their composition, though not in sufficient quantity to render them wholly innocuous. Which suggests a little problem for the oenophilist. What difference of soil or exposure or climate or treatment can explain the fact that Mentone is utterly deficient in anything drinkable of native origin, whereas Ventimiglia, a stone’s throw eastwards, can boast of its San Biagio, Rossese, Latte, Dolceacqua and other noble growths, the like of which are not to be found along the whole length of the French Riviera?

Having pastured the inner man, to his complete satisfaction, at the hospitable Merle Blanc, our traveller will do well to pasture his eyes on the plants in the Casino gardens. Whoever wants to see flowers and trees on their best behaviour, must come to Monte Carlo, where the spick-and-span Riviera note is at its highest development. Not a leaf is out of place; they have evidently been groomed and tubbed and manicured from the hour of their birth. And yet–is it possible? Lurking among all this modern splendour of vegetation, as though ashamed to show their faces, may be discerned a few lowly olive trees. Well may they skulk! For these are the Todas and Veddahs, the aboriginals of Monte Carlo, who peopled its sunny slopes in long-forgotten days of rustic life–once lords of the soil, now pariahs. What are they doing here? And how comes it that the eyesore has not yet been detected and uprooted by those keen-sighted authorities that perform such wonders in making the visitor feel at home, and hush up with miraculous dexterity everything in the nature of a public scandal?

In exemplification whereof, let me tell a trivial Riviera tale. There was an Englishwoman here, one of those indestructible modern ladies who breakfast off an ether cocktail and half a dozen aspirins and feel all the better for it, and who, one day, found herself losing rather heavily at the tables. “Another aspirin is going to turn my luck,” she thought, and therewith swallowed surreptitiously her last tabloid of the panacea. Not unobserved, however; for straightway two elegant gentlemen–they might have been Russian princes–pounced upon her and led her to that underground operating-room where a kindly physician is in perennial attendance. He brushed aside her explanations.

“It would be a thousand pities for so charming a lady to poison herself. But since you wish to take that step, why choose the Casino which has a reputation to keep up? Are there not hotels—-”

“I tell you it was only aspirin.”

“Alas, we are sufficiently familiar with that tale! Now, Madam, let us not lose a moment! It is a question of life and death.”

“Aspirin, I tell you—-”

“Kindly submit, or the three of us will be obliged to employ force.”

The stomach-pump was produced.

It is the drawback of all sea-side places that half the landscape is unavailable for purposes of human locomotion, being covered by useless water. Mentone is more unfortunate than most of them, for its Hinterland is so cloven and contorted that unless you keep on the main roads, or content yourself with short but pleasant strolls, you will soon find all progress barred by some natural obstruction. And one really cannot walk along the esplanade all day long, though it is worth while, once in a lifetime, continuing that promenade as far as Cap Martin, if only in memory of the inspiration which Symonds drew therefrom. Who, he asks–who can resist the influence of Greek ideas at the Cape St. Martin? Anybody can, nowadays. The place is encrusted with smug villas of parvenus (wherein we include the Empress Eugenie), to say nothing of that preposterous hotel at the very point, which disfigures the country for leagues around.

On other occasions you may find your way towards evening up to Gorbio and stay for supper, provided you do not mind being cheated. Or wander further afield, over Sospel to Breil by the old path–note the lavender: they make a passable perfume of it–or else to Moulinet (famous for bad food and a mastodontic breed of mosquitoes) and thence along the stream–note the bushes of wild box–and over a wooded ridge to the breezy heights of Peira Cava, there to dream away the daylight under the pines. These are summer rambles. At present the snow lies deep.

One of my favourite excursions has been up the so-called Berceau, the cradle-shaped hill which dominates Mentone on the east. I was there to-day for a solitary luncheon, resting awhile in the timbered saddle between the peaks. The summit is only about five minutes’ walk from this delectable grove, but its view inland is partially intercepted by a higher ridge. From here, if you are in the mood, you may descend eastward over the Italian frontier, crossing the stream which is spanned lower down by the bridge of St. Louis, and find yourself at Mortola Superiore (try the wine) and then at Mortola proper (try the wine). Somewhere in this gulley was killed the last wolf of these regions; so a grey-haired local Nimrod told me. He had wrought much mischief in his time. That is to say, he was not killed, but accidentally drowned–drowned in one of those artificial reservoirs which are periodically filled and drawn off for irrigating the gardens lower down; an ignoble death, for a wolf! A goat lay drowned beside him. The event, he reckoned, must have taken place half a century ago. Since then, the wolf has never been seen.

This afternoon, however, I preferred to repose in that shady dell, while a flock of goldcrests were investigating the branches overhead and two buzzards cruised, in dreamy spirals, about the sunny sky of midday; to repose; to indulge my genius and review the situation; to profit, in short, by that sense of aloofness peculiar to such aerial spots, which tempts the mind to set its house in order. What are we doing, in these empty regions? Why not wander hence? That cursed traveller’s gift of sitting still; of remaining stationary, no matter where, until one is actually pushed away! And yet, how enjoyable this land might be, were it inhabited by any race save one whose thousand little meannesses, public and private, are calculated to drain away a man’s last ounce of self-respect! Not many are the glad memories I shall carry from Mentone. I can think of no more than two.

There is my landlady, to begin with, who spies out every detail of my daily life; of decent birth and richer than Croesus, but inflamed with a peevish penuriousness which no amount of plain speaking on my part will correct. Never a day passes that she does not permit herself some jocular observation anent my spendthrift habits. The following is an example of our matutinal converse:

“I fear, Monsieur, you omitted to put out the light in a certain place last night. It was burning when I returned home.”

“Certainly not, Madame. I have been nicely brought up. I never visit places at night. You ought to be familiar with my habits after all this time.”

“True. Then it must have been some one else. Ah, these electricians’ bills!”

Or this:

“Monsieur, Monsieur! The English Consul called yesterday with his little dog at about five o’clock. He waited in your room, but you never came back.”

“Five o’clock? I was at the baths.”

“I have heard of that establishment. What do they charge for a hot bath?”

“Three francs—-”

“Bon Dieu!”

“–if you take an abonnement. Otherwise, it may well be more.”

“And so you go there. Why then–why must you also wash in the morning and splash water on my floor? It may have to be polished after your departure. Would you mind asking the Consul, by the way, not to sit on the bed? It weakens the springs.”

Or this:

“Might I beg you, Monsieur, to tread more lightly on the carpet in your room? I bought it only nine years ago, and it already shows signs of wear.”

“Nine years–that old rag? It must have survived by a miracle.”

“I do not ask you to avoid using it. I only beg you will tread as lightly as possible.”

“Carpets are meant to be worn out.”

“You would express yourself less forcibly, if you had to pay for them.”

“Let us say then: carpets are meant to be trodden on.”


“I am not a fairy, Madame.”

“I wish you were, Monsieur.”

Thrice already, in a burst of confidence, has she told me the story of an egg–an egg which rankles in the memory. Some years ago, it seems, she went to a certain shop (naming it)–a shop she has avoided ever since–to buy an egg; and paid the full price–yes, the full price–of a fresh egg. That particular egg was not fresh. So far from fresh was it, that she experienced considerable difficulty in swallowing it.

A memorable episode occurred about a fortnight ago. I was greeted towards 8 a.m. with moanings in the passage, where Madame tottered around, her entire head swathed in a bundle of nondescript woollen wraps, out of which there peered one steely, vulturesque eye. She looked more than ever like an animated fungus.

Her teeth–her teeth! The pain was past enduring. The whole jaw, rather; all the teeth at one and the same time; they were unaccountably loose and felt, moreover, three inches longer than they ought to feel. Never had she suffered such agony–never in all her life. What could it be?

It was easy to diagnose periostitis, and prescribe tincture of iodine.

“That will cost about a franc,” she observed.

“Very likely.”

“I think I’ll wait.”

Next day the pain was worse instead of better. She would give anything to obtain relief–anything!

“Anything?” I inquired. “Then you had better have a morphia injection. I have had numbers of them, for the same trouble. The pain will vanish like magic. There is my friend Dr. Theophile Fornari—-”

“I know all about him. He demands five francs a visit, even from poor people like myself.”

“You really cannot expect a busy practitioner to come here and climb your seventy-two stairs for much less than five francs.”

“I think I’ll wait. Anyhow, I am not wasting money on food just now, and that is a consolation.”

Now periostitis can hardly be called an amusing complaint, and I would have purchased a franc’s worth of iodine for almost anybody on earth. Not then. On the contrary, I grew positively low-spirited when, after three more days, the lamentations began to diminish in volume. They were sweet music to my ears, at the time. They are sweeter by far, in retrospect. If only one could extract the same amount of innocent and durable pleasure out of all other landladies!…

My second joyful memory centres round another thing of beauty–a spiky agave (miscalled aloe) of monstrous dimensions which may be seen in the garden of a certain hill-side hotel. Many are the growths of this kind which I have admired in various lands; none can vaunt as proud and harmonious a development as this one. You would say it had been cast in some dull blue metal. The glaucous wonder stands by itself, a prodigy of good style, more pleasing to the eye than all that painfully generated tropicality of Mr. Hanbury’s Mortola paradise. It is flawless. Vainly have I teased my fancy, endeavouring to discover the slightest defect in shape or hue. Firm-seated on the turf, in exultant pose, with a pallid virginal bloom upon those mighty writhing leaves, this plant has drawn me like a magnet, day after day, to drink deep draughts of contentment from its exquisite lines.

For the rest, the whole agave family thrives at Mentone; the ferox is particularly well represented; one misses, among others, that delightful medio-picta variety, of which I have noticed only a few indifferent specimens. [1] It is the same with the yuccas; they flourish here, though one kind, again, is conspicuous by its absence– the Atkinsi (some such name, for it is long since I planted my last yucca) with drooping leaves of golden-purple. You will be surprised at the number of agaves in flower here. The reason is, that they are liable to be moved about for ornamental purposes when they want to be at rest; the plant, more sensitive and fastidious than it looks, is outraged by this forceful perambulation and, in an access of premature senility, or suicidal mania, or sheer despair, gives birth to its only flower–herald of death. The fatal climax could be delayed if gardeners, in transplanting, would at least take the trouble to set them in their old accustomed exposure so far as the cardinal points are concerned. But your professional gardener knows everything; it is useless for an amateur to offer him advice; worse than useless, of course, to ask him for it. Indeed, the flowers, even the wild ones, might almost reconcile one to a life on the Riviera. Almost…. I recall a comely plant, for instance, seven feet high at the end of June, though now slumbering underground, in the Chemin de Saint Jacques–there, where the steps begin—-


And here my afternoon musings, up yonder, took on a more acrid complexion. I remembered a recent talk with one of the teachers at the local college who lamented that his pupils displayed a singular dullness in their essays; never, in his long career at different schools, had he met with boys more destitute of originality. What could be expected, we both agreed? Mentone was of recent growth–the old settlement, Mentone of Symonds, proclaims its existence only by a ceaseless and infernal clanging of bells, rivalling Malta–no history, no character, no tradition–a mushroom town inhabited by shopkeepers and hoteliers who are there for the sole purpose of plucking foreigners: how should a youngster’s imagination be nurtured in this atmosphere of savourless modernism? Then I asked myself: who comes to these regions, now that invalids have learnt the drawbacks of their climate? Decayed Muscovites, Englishmen such as you will vainly seek in England, and their painted women-folk with stony, Medusa-like gambling eyes, a Turk or two, Jews and cosmopolitan sharks and sharpers, flamboyant Americans, Brazilian, Peruvian, Chilian, Bolivian rastaqueros with names that read like a nightmare (see “List of Arrivals” in New York Herald)–the whole exotic riff-raff enlivened and perfumed by a copious sprinkling of horizontales.

And I let my glance wander along that ancient Roman road which led from Italy to Arles and can still be traced, here and there; I took in the section from Genoa to Marseille, an enormous stretch of country, and wondered: what has this coast ever produced in the way of thought or action, of great men or great women? There is Doria at Genoa, and Gaby Deslys at Marseille; that may well exhaust the list. Ah, and half-way through, a couple of generals, born at Nice. It is really an instructive phenomenon, and one that should appeal to students of Buckle–this relative dearth of every form of human genius in one of the most favoured regions of the globe. Here, for unexplained reasons, the Italian loses his better qualities; so does the Frenchman. Are the natives descended from those mysterious Ligurians? Their reputation was none of the best; they were more prompt, says Crinagoras, in devising evil than good. That Mentone man, to be sure, whose remains you may study at Monaco and elsewhere, was a fine fellow, without a doubt. He lived rather long ago. Even he, by the way, was a tourist on these shores. And were the air of Mentone not unpropitious to the composition of anything save a kind of literary omelette soufflee, one might like to expatiate on Sergi’s remarkable book, and devise thereto an incongruous footnote dealing with the African origin of sundry Greek gods, and another one referring to the extinction of these splendid races of men; how they came to perish so utterly, and what might be said in favour of that novel theory of the influence of an ice-age on the germplasm producing mutations–new races which breed true … enough! Let us remain at the Riviera level.

In the little museum under those cliffs by the sea, where the Grimaldi caves are, I found myself lately together with a young French couple, newly married. The little bride was vastly interested in the attendant’s explanations of the habits of those remote folk, but, as I could plainly see, growing more and more distrustful of his statements as to what happened all those hundreds of thousands of years ago.

“And this, Messieurs, is the jaw-bone of a cave-bear–the competitor, one might say, in the matter of lodging-houses, with the gentleman whose anatomy we have just inspected. Here are bones of hippopotamus, and rhinoceros, which he hunted with the weapons you saw. And the object on which your arm is reposing, Madame, is the tooth of an elephant. Our ancestor must have been pretty costaud to kill an elephant with a stone.”

“Elephants?” she queried. “Did elephants scramble about these precipices and ravines? I should like to have seen that.”

“Pardon me, Madame. He probably killed them down there,” and his arm swept over the blue Mediterranean, lying at our feet. “Do you mean to say that elephants paddled across from Algiers in order to be assassinated by your old skeleton? I should like to have seen that.”

“Pardon me, Madame. The Mediterranean did not exist in those days.”

The suggestion that this boundless sea should ever have been dry land, and in the time of her own ancestors, was too much for the young lady. She smiled politely, and soon I heard her whispering to her husband:

“I had him there, eh? Quel farceur!”

“Yes. You caught him nicely, I must say. But one must not be too hard on these poor devils. They have got to earn their bread somehow.”

This will never do.

Italiam petimus….


I have loafed into Levanto, on the recommendation of an Irish friend who, it would seem, had reasons of his own for sending me there.

“Try Levanto,” he said. “A little place below Genoa. Nice, kindly people. And sunshine all the time. Hotel Nazionale. Yes, yes! The food is all right. Quite all right. Now please do not let us start that subject—-”

We started it none the less, and at the end of the discussion he added:

“You must go and see Mitchell there. I often stayed with him. Such a good fellow! And very popular in the place. He built an aqueduct for the peasants–that kind of man. Mind you look him up. He will be bitterly disappointed if you don’t call. So make a note of it, won’t you? By the way, he’s dead. Died last year. I quite forgot.”

“Dead, is he? What a pity.”

“Yes; and what a nuisance. I promised to send him down some things by the next man I came across. You would have been that man. I know you do not carry much luggage, but you could have taken one or two trifles at least. He wanted a respectable English telescope, I remember, to see the stars with–a bit of an astronomer, you know. Chutney, too–devilish fond of chutney, the old boy was; quite a gastro-maniac. What a nuisance! Now he will be thinking I forgot all about it. And he needed a clothes-press; I was on no account to forget that clothes-press. Rather fussy about his trousers, he was. And a type-writer; just an ordinary one. But I doubt whether you could have managed a type-writer.”

“Easily. And a bee-hive or two. You know how I like carrying little parcels about for other people’s friends. What a nuisance! Now I shall have to travel with my bags half empty.”

“Don’t blame me, my dear fellow. I did not tell him to die, did I?”….

It must have been about midnight as the train steamed into Levanto station. Snow was falling; you could hear the moan of the sea hard by; an icy wind blew down from the mountains.

Sunshine all the time!

Everybody scurried off the platform. A venerable porter, after looking in dubious fashion at my two handbags, declared he would return in a few moments to transport them to the hotel, and therewith vanished round the corner. The train moved on. Lamps were extinguished. Time passed. I strode up and down in the semi-darkness, trying to keep warm and determined, whatever happened, not to carry those wretched bags myself, when suddenly a figure rose out of the gloom–a military figure of youthful aspect and diminutive size, armed to the teeth.

“A cold night,” I ventured.

“Do you know, Sir, that you are in the war-zone–the zona di difesa?”

He began to fumble at his rifle in ominous fashion.

Nice, kindly people!

I said:

“It is hard to die so young. And I particularly dislike the looks of that bayonet, which is half a yard longer than it need be. But if you want to shoot me, go ahead. Do it now. It is too cold to argue.”

“Your papers! Ha, a foreigner. Hotel Nazionale? Very good. To-morrow morning you will report yourself to the captain of the carbineers. After that, to the municipality. Thereupon you will take the afternoon train to Spezia. When you have been examined by the police inspector at the station you will be accompanied, if he sees fit, to head-quarters in order that your passport may be investigated. From there you will proceed to the Prefecture for certain other formalities which will be explained to you. Perhaps–who knows?–they will allow you to return to Levanto.”

“How can you expect me to remember all that?” Then I added: “You are a Sicilian, I take it. And from Catania.”

He was rather surprised. Sicilians, because they learn good Italian at their schools, think themselves indistinguishable from other men.

Yes; he explained. He was from a certain place in the Catania part of the country, on the slopes of Etna.

I happened to know a good deal of that place from an old she-cook of mine who was born there and never wearied of telling me about it. To his still greater surprise, therefore, I proceeded to discourse learnedly about that region, extolling its natural beauties and healthy climate, reminding him that it was the birthplace of a man celebrated in antiquity (was it Diodorus Siculus?) and hinting, none too vaguely, that he would doubtless live up to the traditions of so celebrated a spot.

Straightway his manner changed. There is nothing these folks love more than to hear from foreign lips some praise of their native town or village. He waxed communicative and even friendly; his eyes began to sparkle with animation, and there we might have stood conversing till sunrise had I not felt that glacial wind searching my garments, chilling my humanity and arresting all generous impulses. Rather abruptly I bade farewell to the cheery little reptile and snatched up my bags to go to the hotel, which he said was only five minutes’ walk from there.

Things turned out exactly as he had predicted. Arrived at Spezia, however, I found an unpleasant surprise awaiting me. The officer in command, who was as civil as the majority of such be-medalled jackasses, suggested that one single day would be quite sufficient for me to see the sights of Levanto; I could then proceed to Pisa or anywhere else outside his priceless “zone of defence.” I pleaded vigorously for more time. After all, we were allies, were we not? Finally, a sojourn of seven days was granted for reasons of health. Only seven days: how tiresome! From the paper which gave me this authorisation and contained a full account of my personal appearance I learnt, among other less flattering details, that my complexion was held to be “natural.” It was a drop of sweetness in the bitter cup.

No butter for breakfast.

The landlord, on being summoned, avowed that to serve crude butter on his premises involved a flagrant breach of war-time regulations. The condiment could not be used save for kitchen purposes, and then only on certain days of the week; he was liable to heavy penalties if it became known that one of his guests…. However, since he assumed me to be a prudent person, he would undertake to supply a due allowance to-morrow and thenceforward, though never in the public dining-room; never, never in the dining-room!

That is the charm of Italy, I said to myself. These folks are reasonable and gifted with imagination. They make laws to shadow forth an ideal state of things and to display their good intentions towards the community at large; laws which have no sting for the exceptional type of man who can evade them–the sage, the millionaire, and the “friend of the family.” Never in the dining-room. Why, of course not. Catch me breakfasting in any dining-room.

Was it possible? There, at luncheon in the dining-room, while devouring those miserable macaroni made with war-time flour, I beheld an over-tall young Florentine lieutenant shamelessly engulfing huge slices of what looked uncommonly like genuine butter, a miniature mountain of which stood on a platter before him, and overtopped all the other viands. I could hardly believe my eyes. How about those regulations? Pointing to this golden hillock, I inquired softly:

“From the cow?”

“From the cow.”

“Whom does one bribe?”

He enjoyed a special dispensation, he declared–he need not bribe. Returned from Albania with shattered health, he had been sent hither to recuperate. He required not only butter, but meat on meatless days, as well as a great deal of rest; he was badly run down…. And eggs, raw eggs, drinking eggs; ten a day, he vows, is his minimum. Enviable convalescent!

The afternoon being clear and balmy, he took me for a walk, smoking cigarettes innumerable. We wandered up to that old convent picturesquely perched against the slope of the hill and down again, across the rivulet, to the inevitable castle-ruin overhanging the sea. Like all places along this shore, Levanto lies in a kind of amphitheatre, at a spot where one or more streams, descending from the mountains, discharge themselves into the sea. Many of these watercourses may in former times have been larger and even navigable up to a point. Their flow is now obstructed, their volume diminished. I daresay they have driven the sea further out, with silt swept down from the uplands. The same thing has struck me in England–at Lyme Regis, for instance, whose river was also once navigable to small craft and at Seaton, about a mile up whose stream stands that village–I forget its name–which was evidently the old port of the district in pre-Seaton days. Local antiquarians will have attacked these problems long ago. The sea may have receded.

A glance from this castle-height at the panorama bathed in that mellow sunshine made me regret more than ever the enforced brevity of my stay at Levanto. Seven days, for reasons of health: only seven days! Those mysterious glades opening into the hill-sides, the green patches of culture interspersed with cypresses and pines, dainty villas nestling in gardens, snow-covered mountains and blue sea–above all, the presence of running water, dear to those who have lived in waterless lands–why, one could spend a life-time in a place like this!

The lieutenant spoke of Florence, his native city. He would be there again before long, in order to present himself to the medical authorities and be weighed and pounded for the hundredth time. He hoped they would then let him stay there. He was tired to death of Levanto and its solitude. How pleasant to bid farewell to this “melancholy” sea which was supposed to be good for his complaints. He asked:

“Do you know why Florentines, coming home from abroad, always rejoice to see that wonderful dome of theirs rising up from the plain?”


“Can’t you guess?”

“Let me see. It is sure to be something not quite proper. H’m…. The tower of Giotto, for example, has certain asperities, angularities, anfractuosities—-”

“You are no Englishman whatever!” he laughed. “Now try that joke on the next Florentine you meet…. There was a German here,” he went on, “who loved Levanto. The hotel people have told me all about him. He began writing a book to prove that there was a different walk to be taken in this neighbourhood for every single day of the year.”

“How German. And then?”

“The war came. He cleared out. The natives were sorry. This whole coast seems to be saturated with Teutons–of a respectable class, apparently. They made themselves popular, they bought houses, drank wine, and joked with the countrymen.”

“What do you make of them?” I inquired.

“I am a Tuscan,” he began (meaning: I am above race-prejudices; I can view these things with olympic detachment). “I think the German says to himself: we want a world-empire, like those damned English. How did they get it? By piracy. Two can play at that game, though it may be a little more difficult now than formerly. Of course,” he added, “we have a certain sprinkling of humanitarians even here; the kind of man, I mean, who stands aside in fervent prayer while his daughter is being ravished by the Bulgars, and then comes forward with some amateurish attempt at First Aid, and probably makes a mess of it. But Italians as a whole–well, we are lovers of violent and disreputable methods; it is our heritage from mediaeval times. The only thing that annoys the ordinary native of the country is, if his own son happens to get killed.”

“I know. That makes him very angry.”

“It makes him angry not with the Germans who are responsible for the war, but with his own government which is responsible for conscripting the boys. Ah, what a stupid subject of conversation! And how God would laugh, if he had any sense of humour! Suppose we go down to the beach and lie on the sand. I need rest: I am very dilapidated.”

“You look thin, I must say.”

“Typhoid, and malaria, and pleurisy–it is a respectable combination. Thin? I am the merest framework, and so transparent that you can see clean through my stomach. Perhaps you would rather not try? Count my ribs, then.”

“Count your ribs? That, my dear Lieutenant, is an occupation for a rainy afternoon. Judging by your length, there must be a good many of them….”

“We should be kind to our young soldiers,” said the Major to whom I was relating, after dinner, the story of our afternoon promenade. A burly personage is the Major, with hooked nose and black moustache and twinkling eyes–retired, now, from a service in the course of which he has seen many parts of the world; a fluent raconteur, moreover, who keeps us in fits of laughter with naughty stories and imitations of local dialects. “We must be nice with them, and always offer them cigarettes. What say you, Mr. Lieutenant?”

“Yes, sir. Offer them cigarettes and everything else you possess. The dear fellows! They seldom have the heart to refuse.”

“Seldom,” echoes the judge.

That is our party; the judge, major, lieutenant and myself. We dine together and afterwards sit in that side room while the fat little host bustles about, doing nearly all the work of the war-diminished establishment himself. Presently the first two rise and indulge in a lively game of cards, amid vigorous thumpings of the table and cursings at the ways of Providence which always contrives to ruin the best hands. I order another litre of wine. The lieutenant, to keep me company, engulfs half a dozen eggs. He tells me about Albanian women. I tell him about Indian women. We thrash the matter out, pursuing this or that aspect into its remotest ramifications, and finally come to the conclusion that I, at the earliest opportunity, must emigrate to Albania, and he to India.

As for the judge, he was born under the pale rays of Saturn. He has attached himself to my heart. Never did I think to care so much about a magistrate, and he a Genoese.

There are some men, a few men, very few, about whom one craves to be precise. Viewed through the mist of months, I behold a corpulent and almost grotesque figure of thirty-five or thereabouts; blue-eyed, fair-haired but nearly bald, clean-shaven, bespectacled. So purblind has he grown with poring over contracts and precedents that his movements are pathologically awkward–embryonic, one might say; his unwieldy gestures and contortions remind one of a seal on shore. The eyes being of small use, he must touch with his hands. Those hands are the most distinctive feature of his person; they are full of expression; tenderly groping hands, that hesitate and fumble in wistful fashion like the feelers of some sensitive creature of night. There is trouble, too, in that obese and sluggish body; trouble to which the unhealthy complexion testifies. He may drink only milk, because wine, which he dearly loves–“and such good wine, here at Levanto”–it always deranges the action of some vital organ inside.

The face is not unlike that of Thackeray.

A man of keen understanding who can argue the legs off a cow when duly roused, he seems far too good for a small place like this, where, by the way, he is a newcomer. Maybe his infinite myopia condemns him to relative seclusion and obscurity. He has a European grip of things; of politics and literature and finance. Needless to say, I have discovered his cloven hoof; I make it my business to discover such things; one may (or may not) respect people for their virtues, one loves them only for their faults. It is a singular tinge of mysticism and credulity which runs through his nature. Can it be the commercial Genoese, the gambling instinct? For he is an authority on stocks and shares, and a passionate card-player into the bargain. Gambling and religion go hand-in-hand –they are but two forms of the same speculative spirit. Think of the Poles, an entire nation of pious roulette-lovers! I have yet to meet a full-blown agnostic who relished these hazards. The unbeliever is not adventurous on such lines; he knows the odds against backing a winner in heaven or earth.

Often, listening to this lawyer’s acute talk and watching his uncouth but sympathetic face, I ask myself a question, a very obvious question hereabouts: How could you cause him to swerve from the path of duty? How predispose him in your favour? Sacks of gold would be unavailing: that is certain. He would wave them aside, not in righteous Anglo-Saxon indignation, but with a smile of tolerance at human weakness. To simulate clerical leanings? He is too sharp; he would probably be vexed, not at your attempt to deceive, but at the implication that you took him for a fool. A good tip on the stock exchange? It might go a little way, if artfully tendered. Perhaps an apt and unexpected quotation from the pages of some obsolete jurist–the intellectual method of approach; for there is a kinship, a kind of freemasonry, between all persons of intelligence, however antagonistic their moral outlook. In any case, it would be a desperate venture to override the conscience of such a man. May I never have to try!

His stern principles must often cause him suffering, needless suffering. He is for ever at the mercy of some categorical imperative. This may be the reason why I feel drawn to him. Such persons exercise a strange attraction upon those who, convinced of the eternal fluidity of all mundane affairs, and how that our most sacred institutions are merely conventionalities of time and place, conform to only one rule of life–to be guided by no principles whatever. They miss so much, those others. They miss it so pathetically. One sees them staggering gravewards under a load of self-imposed burdens. A lamentable spectacle, when one thinks of it. Why bear a cross? Is it pleasant? Is it pretty?

He also has taken me for walks, but they are too slow and too short for my taste. Every twenty yards or so he must stand still to “admire the view”–that is, to puff and pant.

“What it is,” he then exclaims, “to be an old man in youth, through no fault of one’s own. How many are healthy, and yet vicious to the core!”

I inquire:

“Are you suggesting that there may be a connection between sound health and what society, in its latest fit of peevish self-maceration, is pleased to call viciousness?”

“That is a captious question,” he replies. “A man of my constitution, unfit for pleasures of the body, is prone to judge severely. Let me try to be fair. I will go so far as to say that to certain natures self-indulgence appears to be necessary as–as sunshine to flowers.”

Self-indulgence, I thought. Heavily-fraught is that word; weighted with meaning. The history of two thousand years of spiritual dyspepsia lies embedded in its four syllables. Self-indulgence–it is what the ancients blithely called “indulging one’s genius.” Self-indulgence! How debased an expression, nowadays. What a text for a sermon on the mishaps of good words and good things. How all the glad warmth and innocence have faded out of the phrase. What a change has crept over us….

Glancing through a glass window not far from the hotel, I was fortunate enough to espy a young girl seated in a sewing shop. She is decidedly pretty and not altogether unaware of the fact, though still a child. We have entered upon an elaborate, classical flirtation. With all the artfulness of her years she is using me to practise on, as a dummy, for future occasions when she shall have grown a little bigger and more admired; she has already picked up one or two good notions. I pretend to be unaware of this fact. I treat her as if she were grown up, and profess to feel that she has really cast a charm–a state of affairs which, if true, would greatly amuse her. And so she has, up to a point. Impossible not to sense the joy which radiates from her smile and person. That is all, so far. It is an orthodox entertainment, merely a joke. God knows what might happen, under given circumstances. Some of a man’s most terrible experiences–volcanic cataclysms that ravaged the landscape and left a trail of bitter ashes in their rear–were begun as a joke. You can say so many things in a joking way, you can do so many things in a joking way–especially in Northern countries, where it is easy to joke unseen.

Meanwhile, with Ninetta, I discourse sweet nothings in my choicest idiom which has grown rather rusty in England.

Italian is a flowery language whose rhetorical turns and phrases require constant exercise to keep them in smooth working order. No; that is not correct. It is not the vocabulary which deteriorates. Words are ever at command. What one learns to forget in England is the simplicity to use them; to utter, with an air of deep conviction, a string of what we should call the merest platitudes. It sometimes takes your breath away–the things you have to say because these folks are so enamoured of rhetoric and will not be happy without it.

An English girl of her social standing–I lay stress upon the standing, for it prescribes the conduct–an English girl would never listen to such outpourings with this obvious air of approbation; maybe she would ask where you had been drinking; in every case, your chances would be seriously diminished. She prefers an impromptu frontal attack, a system which is fatal to success in this country. The affair, here, must be a siege. It must move onward by those gradual and inevitable steps ordained of old in the unwritten code of love; no lingering by the wayside, no premature haste. It must march to its end with the measured stateliness of a quadrille. Passion, well-restrained passion, should be written on every line of your countenance. Otherwise you are liable to be dubbed a savage. I know what it is to be called a “Scotch bear,” and only because I trembled too much, or too little–I forget which–on a certain occasion.

I have heard those skilled in amatory matters say that the novice will do well to confine his attentions to young girls, avoiding married women or widows. They, the older ones, are a bad school–too prone to pardon infractions of the code, too indulgent towards foreigners and males in general. The girls are not so easily pleased; in fact (entre nous) they are often the devil to propitiate. There is something remorseless about them. They put you on your mettle. They keep you dangling. Quick-witted and accustomed to all the niceties of love-badinage, they listen to every word you have to say, pondering its possibly veiled signification. Thus far and no further, they seem to imply. Yet each hour brings you nearer the goal, if–if you obey the code. Weigh well your conduct during the preliminary stage; remember you are dealing with a professional in the finer shades of meaning. Presumption, awkwardness, imprudence; these are the three cardinal sins, and the greatest of these is imprudence. Be humble; be prepared.

Her best time for conversation, Ninetta tells me, is after luncheon, when she is generally alone for a little while. At that hour therefore I appear with a shirt or something that requires a button–would she mind? The hotel people are so dreadfully understaffed just now–this war!–and one really cannot live without shirts, can one? Would she mind very much? Or perhaps in the evening … is she more free in the evening?

Alas, no; never in the evenings; never for a single moment; never save on religious festivals, one of which, she suddenly remembers, will take place in a week or so.

This is innocent coquetry and perhaps said to test my self-restraint, which is equal to the occasion. An impatient admirer might exclaim—-

“Ah, let us meet, then!”

–language which would be permissible after four meetings, and appropriate after six; not after two. With submissive delicacy I reply hoping that the may shine brightly, that she may have all the joy she deserves and give her friends all the pleasure they desire. One of them, assuredly, would be pained in his heart not to see her on that evening. Could she guess who it is? Let her try to discover him tonight, when she is just closing her eyes to sleep, all alone, and thinking about things—-

There I leave it, for the present. Unless a miracle occurs, I fear I will have quitted Levanto before that festival comes round. True, they have played the fool with me–how often! Yet, such is my interest in religious ceremonies, that I am frankly annoyed at the prospect of missing that evening.

One would like to be able to stroll about the beach with her, or up to the old castle, instead of sitting in that formal little shop. Such enterprises are impossible. To be seen together for five minutes in any public place might injure her reputation. It is the drawback of her sex, in this country. I am sorry. For though she hides it as best she can, striving to impress me with the immensity of her worldly experiences, there is an unsophisticated freshness in her outlook. The surface has not been scored over.

So it is, with the young. From them you may learn what their elders, having forgotten it, can nevermore teach you. New horizons unroll themselves; you are treading untrodden ground. Talk to a simple creature, farmer or fisherman–well, there is always that touch of common humanity, that sense of eternal needs, to fashion a link of conversation. From a professional–lawyer, doctor, engineer–you may pick up some pungent trifle which yields food for thought; it is never amiss to hearken to a specialist. But the ordinary man of the street, the ordinary man or woman of society, of the world–what can they tell you about art or music or life or religion, about tailors and golf and exhaust-pipes and furniture–what on earth can they tell you that you have not heard already? A mere grinding-out of commonplaces! How often one has covered the same field! They cannot even put their knowledge, such as it is, into an attractive shape or play variations on the theme; it is patter; they have said the same thing, in the same language, for years and years; you have listened to the same thing from other lips, in the same language, for years and years. How one knows it all beforehand–every note in that barrel-organ of echoes! One leaves them feeling like an old, old man, vowing one will never again submit to such a process of demoralization, and understanding, better than ever, the justification of monarchies and tyrannies: these creatures are born to act and think and believe as others tell them. You may be drawn to one or the other, detecting an unusual kindliness of nature or some endearing trick; for the most part, one studies them with a kind of medical interest. How comes it that this man, respectably equipped by birth, has grown so warped and atrophied, an animated bundle of deficiencies?

Life is the cause–life, the onward march of years. It has a cramping effect; it closes the pores, intensifying one line of activity at the expense of all the others; often enough it encrusts the individual with a kind of shell, a veneer of something akin to hypocrisy. Your ordinary adult is an egoist in matters of the affections; a specialist in his own insignificant pursuit; a dull dog. Dimly aware of these defects, he confines himself to generalities or, grown confidential, tells you of his little fads, his little love-affairs–such ordinary ones! Like those millions of his fellows, he has been transformed into a screw, a bolt, a nut, in the machine. He is standardised.

A man who has tried to remain a mere citizen of the world and refused to squeeze himself into the narrow methods and aspirations of any epoch or country, will discover that children correspond unconsciously to his multifarious interests. They are not standardised. They are more generous in their appreciations, more sensitive to pure ideas, more impersonal. Their curiosity is disinterested. The stock may be rudimentary, but the outlook is spacious; it is the passionless outlook of the sage. A child is ready to embrace the universe. And, unlike adults, he is never afraid to face his own limitations. How refreshing to converse with folks who have no bile to vent, no axe to grind, no prejudices to air; who are pagans to the core; who, uninitiated into the false value of externals, never fail to size you up from a more spiritual point of view than do their elders; who are not oozing politics and sexuality, nor afflicted with some stupid ailment or other which prevents them doing this and that. To be in contact with physical health–it would alone suffice to render their society a dear delight, quite apart from the fact that if you are wise and humble you may tiptoe yourself, by inches, into fairyland.

That scarlet sash of hers set me thinking–thinking of the comparative rarity of the colour red as an ingredient of the Italian panorama. The natives seem to avoid it in their clothing, save among certain costumes of the centre and south. You see little red in the internal decorations of the houses–in their wallpapers, the coloured tiles underfoot, the tapestries, table-services and carpets, though a certain fondness for pink is manifest, and not only in Levanto. There is a gulf between pink and red.

It is essentially a land of blue and its derivatives–cool, intellectual tints. The azure sea follows you far inland with its gleams. Look landwards from the water–purple Apennines are ever in sight. And up yonder, among the hills, you will rarely escape from celestial hues.

Speaking of these mountains in a general way, they are bare masses whose coloration trembles between misty blue and mauve according to distance, light, and hour of day. As building-stone, the rock imparts a grey-blue tint to the walls. The very flowers are blue; it is a peculiarity of limestone formation, hitherto unexplained, to foster blooms of this colour. Those olive-coloured slopes are of a glaucous tone.

Or wander through the streets of any town and examine the pottery whether ancient or modern–sure index of national taste. Greens galore, and blues and bilious yellows; seldom will you see warmer shades. And if you do, it is probably Oriental or Siculo-Arabic work, or their imitations.

One does not ask for wash-hand basins of sang-de-boeuf. One wonders, merely, whether this avoidance of sanguine tints in the works of man be an instinctive paraphrase of surrounding nature, or due to some cause lying deep down in the roots of Italian temperament. I am aware that the materials for producing crimson are not common in the peninsula. If they liked the colour, the materials would be forthcoming.

The Spaniards, a different race, sombre and sensuous, are not averse to red. Nor are the Greeks. Russians have a veritable cult of it; their word for “beautiful” means red. It is therefore not a matter of climate.

In Italy, those rare splashes of scarlet–the flaming horse-cloths of Florence, a ruddy sail that flecks the sea, some procession of ruby-tinted priests–they come as a shock, a shock of delight. Cross the Mediterranean, and you will find emotional hues predominating; the land is aglow with red, the very shadows suffused with it. Or go further east….

Meanwhile, Attilio hovers discreetly near the hotel-entrance, ready to convey me to Jericho. He is a small mason-boy to whom I contrived to be useful in the matter of an armful of obstreperous bricks which refused to remain balanced on his shoulder. Forthwith, learning that I was a stranger unfamiliar with Levanto, he conceived the project of abandoning his regular work and becoming my guide, philosopher and friend.

“Drop your job for the sake of a few days?” I inquired. “You’ll get the sack, my boy.”

Not so, he thought. He was far too serviceable to those people. They would welcome him with open arms whenever–if ever–he cared to return to them. Was not the mason-in-chief a cousin of his? Everything could be arranged, without a doubt.

And so it was.

He knows the country; every nook of the hills and sea-shore. A pleasanter companion could not be found; observant and tranquil, tinged with a gravity beyond his years–a gravity due to certain family troubles–and with uncommon sweetness of disposition. He has evidently been brought up with sisters.

We went one day up the valley to a village, I forget its name, that sits on a hill-top above the spot where two streams unite; the last part of the way is a steep climb under olives. Here we suddenly took leave of spring and encountered a bank of wintry snow. It forced us to take refuge in the shop of a tobacconist who provided some liquid and other refreshment. Would I might meet him again, that genial person: I never shall! We conversed in English, a language he had acquired in the course of many peregrinations about the globe (he used to be a seaman), and great was Attilio’s astonishment on hearing a man whom he knew from infancy now talking to me in words absolutely incomprehensible. He asked:

“You two–do you really understand each other?”

On our homeward march he pointed to some spot, barely discernible among the hills on our left. That was where he lived. His mother would be honoured to see me. We might walk on to Monterosso afterwards. Couldn’t I manage it?

To be sure I could. And the very next day. But the place seemed a long way off and the country absolutely wild. I said:

“You will have to carry a basket of food.”

“Better than bricks which grow heavier every minute. Your basket, I daresay, will be pretty light towards evening.”

The name of his natal village, a mere hamlet, has slipped my memory. I only know that we moved at daybreak up the valley behind Levanto and presently turned to our right past a small mill of some kind; olives, then chestnuts, accompanied the path which grew steeper every moment, and was soon ankle-deep in slush from the melted snow. This was his daily walk, he explained. An hour and a half down, in the chill twilight of dawn; two hours’ trudge home, always up hill, dead tired, through mud and mire, in pitch darkness, often with snow and rain.

“Do you wonder,” he added, “at my preferring to be with you?”

“I wonder at my fortune, which gave me such a charming friend. I am not always so lucky.”

“Luck–it is the devil. We have had no news from my father in America for two years. No remittances ever come from him. He may be dead, for all we know. Our land lies half untilled; we cannot pay for the hire of day labourers. We live from hand to mouth; my mother is not strong; I earn what I can; one of my sisters is obliged to work at Levanto. Think what that means, for us! Perhaps that is why you call me thoughtful. I am the oldest male in the family; I must conduct myself accordingly. Everything depends on me. It is enough to make anyone thoughtful. My mother will tell you about it.”

She doubtless did, though I gleaned not so much as the drift of her speech. The mortal has yet to be born who can master all the dialects of Italy; this one seemed to bear the same relation to the Tuscan tongue which that of the Basses-Pyrenees bears to French–it was practically another language. Listening to her, I caught glimpses, now and then, of familiar Mediterranean sounds; like lamps shining through a fog, they were quickly swallowed up in the murk. Unlike her offspring, she had never been to school. That accounted for it. A gentle woman, frail in health and manifestly wise; the look of the house, of the children, bore witness to her sagacity. Understanding me as little as I understood her, our conversation finally lapsed into a series of smiles, which Attilio interpreted as best he could. She insisted upon producing some apples and a bottle of wine, and I was interested to notice that she poured out to her various male offspring, down to the tiniest tot, but drank not a drop herself, nor gave any to her big daughters.

“She is sorry they will not let you stay at Levanto.”

“Carrara lies just beyond the war-zone. I want to visit the marble-mines when the weather grows a little warmer, and perhaps write something about them. Ask her whether you can join me there for a week or so, if I send the money. Make her say yes.”

She said yes.

With a companion like this, to reflect my moods and act as buffer between myself and the world, I felt I could do anything. Already I saw myself exploring those regions, interviewing directors as to methods of work and output, poking my nose into municipal archives and libraries to learn the history of those various quarries of marble, plain and coloured; tracking the footsteps of Michael Angelo at Seravezza and Pietrasanta and re-discovering that old road of his and the inscription he left on the rock; speculating why the Romans, who ransacked the furthermost corners of the earth for tinted stones, knew so little of the treasures here buried; why the Florentines were long content to use that grey bigio, when the lordly black portovenere, [2] with its golden streaks, was lying at their very doors….

The gods willed otherwise.

Then, leaving that hospitable dame, we strolled forth along a winding road–a good road, once more–ever upwards, under the bare chestnuts. At last the watershed was reached and we began a zigzag descent towards the harbour of Monterosso, meeting not a soul by the way. Snow lay on these uplands; it began to fall softly. As the luncheon hour had arrived we took refuge in a small hut of stone and there opened the heavy basket which gave forth all that heart could desire–among other things, a large fiasco of strong white wine which we drank to the dregs. It made us both delightfully tipsy. So passed an hour of glad confidences in that abandoned shelter with the snowflakes drifting in upon us–one of those hours that sweeten life and compensate for months of dreary harassment.

A long descent, past some church or convent famous as a place of pilgrimage, led to the strand of Monterosso where the waves were sparkling in tepid sunshine. Then up again, by a steep incline, to a signal station perched high above the sea. Attilio wished to salute a soldier-relative working here. I remained discreetly in the background; it would never do for a foreigner to be seen prying into Marconi establishments in this confounded “zone of defense.” Another hour by meandering woodland paths brought us to where, from the summit of a hill, we looked down upon Levanto, smiling merrily in its conch-shaped basin….

All this cloudless afternoon we conversed in a flowery dell under the pine trees, with the blue sea at our feet. It was a different climate from yesterday; so warm, so balmy. Impossible to conceive of snow! I thought I had definitely bidden farewell to winter.

Trains, an endless succession of trains, were rumbling through the bowels of the mountain underneath, many of them filled with French soldiers bound for Salonika. They have been going southward ever since my arrival at Levanto.

Attilio was more pensive than usual; the prospect of returning to his bricks was plainly irksome. Why not join for a change, I suggested, one of yonder timber-felling parties? He knew all about it. The pay is too poor. They are cutting the pines all along this coast and dragging them to the water, where they are sawn into planks and despatched to the battle-front. It seemed a pity to Attilio; at this rate, he thought, there would soon be none left, and how then would we be able to linger in the shade and take our pleasure on some future day?

“Have no fear of that,” I said. “And yet–would you believe it? Many years ago these hills, as far as you can see to right and left and behind, were bare like the inside of your hand. Then somebody looked at the landscape and said: ‘What a shame to make so little use of these hundreds of miles of waste soil. Let us try an experiment with a new kind of pine tree which I think will prosper among the rocks. One of these days people may be glad of them.'”


“You see what has happened. Right up to Genoa, and down below Levanto–nothing but pines. You Italians ought to be grateful to that man. The value of the timber which is now being felled along this stretch of coast cannot be less than a thousand francs an hour. That is what you would have to pay, if you wanted to buy it. Twelve thousand francs a day; perhaps twice as much.”

“Twelve thousand francs a day!”

“And do you know who planted the trees? It was a Scotsman.”

“A Scozzese. What kind of animal is that?”

“A person who thinks ahead.”

“Then my mother is a Scotsman.”

I glanced from the sea into his face; there was something of the same calm depth in both, the same sunny composure. What is it, this limpid state of the mind? What do we call this alloy of profundity and frankness? We call it intelligence. I would like to meet that man or woman who can make Attilio say something foolish. He does not know what it is to feel shy. Serenely objective, he discards those subterfuges which are the usual safeguard of youth or inexperience–the evasions, reservations and prevarications that defend the shallow, the weak, the self-conscious. His candour rises above them. He feels instinctively that these things are pitfalls.

“Have you no sweetheart, Attilio?”

“Certainly I have. But it is not a man’s affair. We are only children, you understand–siamo ancora piccoli.”

“Did you ever give her a kiss?”

“Never. Not a single one.”

I relight my pipe, and then inquire:

“Why not give her a kiss?”

“People would call me a disrespectful boy.”

“Nobody, surely, need be any the wiser?”

“She is not like you and me.”

A pause….

“Not like us? How so?”

“She would tell her sister.”

“What of it?”

“The sister would tell her mother, who would say unpleasant things to mine. And perhaps to other folks. Then the fat would be in the fire. And that is why.”

Another pause….

“What would your mother say to you?”

“She would say: ‘You are the oldest male; you should conduct yourself accordingly. What is this lack of judgment I hear about?'”

“I begin to understand.”


Driven from the Paradise of Levanto, I landed not on earth but–with one jump–in Hell. The Turks figure forth a Hell of ice and snow; this is my present abode; its name is Siena. Every one knows that this town lies on a hill, on three hills; the inference that it would be cold in January was fairly obvious; how cold, nobody could have guessed. The sun is invisible. Streets are deep in snow. Icicles hang from the windows. Worst of all, the hotels are unheated. Those English, you know,–they refuse to supply us with coal….

Could this be the city where I was once nearly roasted to death? It is an effort to recall that glistening month of the Palio festival, a month I spent at a genuine pension for a set purpose, namely, to write a study on the habits of “The Pension-cats of Europe”–those legions of elderly English spinsters who lead crepuscular lives in continental boarding-houses. I tore it up, I remember; it was unfair. These ladies have a perfect right to do as they please and, for that matter, are not nearly as ridiculous as many married couples that live outside boarding-houses. But when Siena grew intolerable–a stark, ill-provisioned place; you will look in vain for a respectable grocer or butcher; the wine leaves much to be desired; indeed, it has all the drawbacks of Florence and none of its advantages–why, then we fled into Mr. Edward Hutton’s Unknown Tuscany. There, at Abbadia San Salvatore (though the summit of Mount Amiata did not come up to expectation) we at last felt cool again, wandering amid venerable chestnuts and wondrously tinted volcanic blocks, mountain-fragments, full of miniature glens and moisture and fernery–a green twilight, a landscape made for fairies….

Was this the same Siena from which we once escaped to get cool? Muffled up to the ears, with three waistcoats on, I move in and out of doors, endeavouring to discover whether there be any appreciable difference in temperature between the external air and that of my bedroom. There cannot be much to choose between them. They say I am the only foreigner now in Siena. That, at least, is a distinction, a record. Furthermore, no matches, not even of the sulphur variety, were procurable in any of the shops for the space of three days; that also, I imagine, cannot yet have occurred within the memory of living man.

While stamping round the great Square yesterday to keep my feet warm, a Florentine addressed me; a commercial gentleman, it would seem. He disapproved of this square–it was not regular in shape, it was not even level. What a piazza! Such was his patriotism that he actually went on to say unfriendly things about the tower. Who ever thought of building a tower at the bottom of a hill? It was good enough, he dared say, for Siena. Oh, yes; doubtless it satisfied their artistic notions, such as they were.

This tower being one of my favourites, I felt called upon to undertake its defence. Recollecting all I had ever heard or read to its credit, citing authorities neither of us had ever dreamt of–improvising lustily, in short, as I warmed to my work–I concluded by proving it to be one of the seven wonders of the world. He said:

“Now really! One would think you had been born in this miserable hole. You know what we Florentines say:

Di tre cose e piena:
Torri, campane,
E figli di putane.”

“I admit that Siena is deficient in certain points,” I replied. “That wonderful dome of yours, for example–there is nothing like it here.”

“No, indeed. Ah, that cupola! Ah, Brunelleschi–che genio!”

“I perceive you are a true Florentine. Could you perhaps tell me why Florentines, coming home from abroad, always rejoice to see it rising out of the plain?”

“Some enemy has been talking to you….”

A little red-haired boy from Lucca, carrying for sale a trayful of those detestable plaster-casts, then accosted me.

Who bought such abominations, I inquired?

Nobody. Business was bad.

Bad? I could well believe it. Having for the first time in my life nothing better to do, I did my duty. I purchased the entire collection of these horrors, on the understanding that he should forthwith convey them in my presence to the desolate public garden, where they were set up, one after the other, on the edge of a bench and shattered to fragments with our snow-balls. Thus perished, not without laughter and in a good cause, three archangels, two Dantes, a nondescript lady with brocade garments and a delectable amorino whose counterpart, the sole survivor, was reserved for a better fate–being carried home and presented as a gift to my chambermaid.

She was polite enough to call it a beautiful work of art.

I was polite enough not to contradict her.

Both of us know better….

This young girl has no illusions (few Tuscans have) and yet a great charm. Her lover is at the front. There is little for her to do, the hotel being practically empty. There is nothing whatever for me to do, in these Arctic latitudes. Bored to death, both of us, we confabulate together huddled in shawls and greatcoats, each holding a charcoal pan to keep the fingers from being frostbitten. I say to myself: “You will never find a maidservant of this type in Rome, so sprightly of tongue, distinguished in manner and spotless in person–never!”

The same with her words. The phrases trip out of her mouth, immaculate, each in full dress. Seldom does she make an original remark, but she says ordinary things in a tone of intense conviction and invests them with an appetizing savour. Wherein lies that peculiar salt of Tuscan speech? In its emphasis, its air of finality. They are emphatic, rather than profound. Their deepest utterances, if you look below the surface, are generally found to be variants of one of those ancestral saws or proverbs wherewith the country is saturated. Theirs is a crusted charm. A hard and glittering sanity, a kind of ageless enamel, is what confronts us in their temperament. There are not many deviations from this Tuscan standard. Close by, in Umbria, you will find a softer type.

One can be passably warm in bed. Here I lie for long, long hours, endeavouring to generate the spark of energy which will propel me from this inhospitable mountain. Here I lie and study an old travel-book. I mean to press it to the last drop.

One seldom presses books out, nowadays. The mania for scraps of one kind or another, the general cheapening of printed matter, seem to have dulled that faculty and given us a scattered state of mind. We browse dispersedly, in goatish fashion, instead of nibbling down to the root like that more conscientious quadruped whose name, if I mentioned it, would degrade the metaphor. Devouring so much, so hastily, so irreverentially, how shall a man establish close contact with the mind of him who writes, and impregnate himself with his peculiar outlook to such an extent as to be able to take on, if only momentarily, a colouring different from his own? It is a task requiring submissiveness and leisure.

And yet, what could be more interesting than really to observe things and men from the angle of another individual, to install oneself within his mentality and make it one’s habitation? To sit in his bones–what glimpses of unexplored regions! Were a man to know what his fellow truly thinks; could he feel in his own body those impulses which drive the other to his idiomatic acts and words–what an insight he would gain! Morally, it might well amount to “tout comprendre, c’est ne rien pardonner”; but who troubles about pardoning or condemning? Intellectually, it would be a feast. Thus immersed into an alien personality, a man would feel as though he lived two lives, and possessed two characters at the same time. One’s own life, prolonged to an age, could never afford such unexpected revelations.

The thing can be done, up to a point, with patient humility; for everybody writes himself down more or less, though not everybody is worth the trouble of deciphering.

I purpose to apply this method; to squeeze the juice, the life-blood, out of what some would call a rather dry Scotch traveller. I read his book in England for the first time two years ago, and have brought it here with a view to further dissection. Would I had known of its existence five years earlier! Strange to say, despite my deplorable bookishness (vide Press) this was not the case; I could never ascertain either the author’s name or the title of his volume, though I had heard about him, rather vaguely, long before that time. It was Dr. Dohrn of the Naples Aquarium who said to me in those days:

“Going to the South? Whatever you do, don’t forget to read that book by an old Scotch clergyman. He ran all over the country with a top-hat and an umbrella, copying inscriptions. He was just your style: perfectly crazy.”

Flattered at the notion of being likened to a Scottish divine, I made all kinds of inquiries–in vain. I abandoned hope of unearthing the top-hatted antiquarian and had indeed concluded him to be a myth, when a friend supplied me with what may be absurdly familiar to less bookish people: “The Nooks and By-ways of Italy.” By Craufurd Tait Ramage, LL.D. Liverpool, 1868.

A glance sufficed to prove that this Ramage belonged to the brotherhood of David Urquhart, Mure of Caldwell, and the rest of them. Where are they gone, those candid inquirers, so full of gentlemanly curiosity, so informative and yet shrewdly human; so practical–think of Urquhart’s Turkish Baths–though stuffed with whimsicality and abstractions? Where is the spirit that gave them birth?

One grows attached to these “Nooks and By-ways.” An honest book, richly thoughtful, and abounding in kindly twinkles.

Now, regarding the top-hat. I find no mention of it in these letters. For letters they are; letters extracted from a diary which was written on his return from Italy in 1828 from “very full notes made from day to day during my journey.” 1828: that date is important. It was in 1828, therefore, when the events occurred which he relates, and he allowed an interval of forty years to elapse ere making them public.

The umbrella on the other hand is always cropping up. It pervades the volume like a Leitmotif. It is “a most invaluable article” for protecting the head against the sun’s rays; so constantly is it used that after a single month’s wear we find it already in “a sad state of dilapidation.” Still, he clings to it. As a defence against brigands it might prove useful, and on one occasion, indeed, he seizes it in his hand “prepared to show fight.” This happened, be it remembered, in 1828. Vainly one conjectures what the mountain folk of South Italy thought of such a phenomenon. Even now, if they saw you carrying an umbrella about in the sunshine, they would cross themselves and perhaps pray for your recovery–perhaps not. Yet Ramage was not mad at all. He was only more individualistic and centrifugal than many people. Having formed by bitter experience a sensible theory–to wit, that sunstroke is unpleasant and can be avoided by the use of an umbrella–he is not above putting it into practice. Let others think and do as they please!

For the rest, his general appearance was quite in keeping. How delightful he must have looked! Why have we no such types nowadays? Wearing a “white merino frock-coat, nankeen trowsers, a large-brimmed straw hat, and white shoes,” he must have been a fairly conspicuous object in the landscape. That hat alone will have alarmed the peasantry who to this day and hour wear nothing but felt on their heads. And note the predominance of the colour white in his attire; it was popular, at that period, with English travellers. Such men, however, were unknown in most of the regions which Ramage explored. The colour must have inspired feelings akin to awe in the minds of the natives, for white is their bete noire. They have a rooted aversion to it and never employ it in their clothing, because it suggests to their fancy the idea of bloodlessness–of anaemia and death. If you want to make one of them ill over his dinner, wear a white waistcoat.

Accordingly, it is not surprising that he sometimes finds himself “an object of curiosity.” An English Vice-Consul, at one place, was “quite alarmed at my appearance.” Elsewhere he meets a band of peasant-women who “took fright at my appearance and scampered off in the utmost confusion.” And what happened at Taranto? By the time of his arrival in that town his clothes were already in such a state that “they would scarcely fit an Irish beggar.” Umbrella in hand–he is careful to apprise us of this detail–and soaked moreover from head to foot after an immersion in the river Tara, he entered the public square, which was full of inhabitants, and soon found himself the centre of a large crowd. Looking, he says, like a drowned rat, his appearance caused “great amazement.”

“What is the matter? Who is he?” they asked.

The muleteer explained that he was an Englishman, and “that immediately seemed to satisfy them.”

Of course it did. People in those times were prepared for anything on the part of an Englishman, who was a far more self-assertive and self-confident creature than nowadays.