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  • 1892
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and pastimes as he inherits land and trees. Say that the stud is a useless luxury: but then, what about the daubs for which plutocrats pay thousands of guineas? A picture costs, let us say, 2,000 guineas; it is the slovenly work of a hurried master, and the guineas are paid for a name; it is stuck away in a private gallery, and, if its owner looks at it so often as once a week, it costs him L2 per peep–reckoning only the interest on the money sunk. Is that useless luxury? The fact is that we are living in a sort of guarded hothouse; our barbarian propensities cannot have an easy outlet; and luxury of all sorts tends to lull our barbarian energy. If we blame one man for indulging a costly hobby, we must blame almost every man and woman who belongs to the grades above the lower middle-class. A rich trader who spends L5,000 a year on orchid-houses cannot very well afford to reprove a man who pays 50s. per week for each of a dozen horses in training. Rich folk, whose wealth has been fostered during the long security of England, will indulge in superfluities, and no one can stop them. A country gentleman who succeeds to a deer park cannot slaughter all the useless, pretty creatures merely because they _are_ useless: he is bound by a thousand traditions, and he cannot suddenly break away. A nobleman inherits a colossal income, of which he cannot very well rid himself: he follows the traditions of his family or his class, and employs part of his profuse surplus riches in maintaining a racing stud; how can any one find fault with him? Such a man as Lord Hartington would never dream of betting except in a languid, off-hand way. He (and his like) are fond of watching the superb rush of the glossy horses; they want the freedom, the swift excitement of the breezy heath; our society encourages them to amuse themselves, and they do so with a will. That is all. It may be wrong for A and B and C to own superfluous wealth, but then the fact is there–that they have got it, and the community agree that they may expend the superfluity as they choose. The rich man’s stud gives wholesome employment to myriads of decent folks in various stations of life–farmers, saddlers, blacksmiths, builders, corn dealers, road-makers, hedgers, farriers, grooms, and half a score other sorts of toilers derive their living from feeding, harnessing, and tending the horses, and the withdrawal of such a sportsman as Mr. “Abington” from Newmarket would inflict a terrible blow on hundreds of industrious persons who lead perfectly useful and harmless lives. My point is, that racing (as racing) is in no way noxious; it is the most pleasant of all excitements, and it gives bread to many praiseworthy citizens. I have seen 5,000 given for a Latin hymn-book, and, when I pondered on the ghastly, imbecile selfishness of that purchase, I thought that I should not have mourned very much if the money had been laid out on a dozen smart colts and fillies, for, at least, the horses would have ultimately been of some use, even if they all had been put to cab-work. We must allow that when racing is a hobby, it is quite respectable–as hobbies go. One good friend of mine, whose fortune has been made by shrewd judgment and constant work, always keeps five or six racers in training. He goes from meeting to meeting with all the eagerness of a boy; his friends sturdily maintain that his stud is composed of “hair trunks,” and the animals certainly have an impressively uniform habit of coming in last But the good owner has his pleasure; his hobby satisfies him; and, when he goes out in the morning to watch his yearlings frolicking, he certainly never dreams that he is fostering an immoral institution. Could we only have racing–and none of the hideous adjuncts–I should be glad, in spite of all the moralists who associate horse-flesh with original sin.

As to the bookmakers, I shall have much to say further on. At present I am content with observing that the quiet, respectable bookmaker is as honourable and trustworthy as any trafficker in stocks and shares, and his business is almost identical with that of the stockjobber in many respects. No class of men adhere more rigidly to the point of honour than bookmakers of the better sort, and a mere nod from one of them is as binding to him as the most elaborate of parchments. They are simply shrewd, audacious tradesmen, who know that most people are fools, and make their profit out of that knowledge. It is painful to hear an ignorant man abusing a bookmaker who does no more than use his opportunities skilfully. Why not abuse the gentry who buy copper to catch the rise of the market? Why not abuse the whole of the thousands of men who make the City lively for six days of the week? Is there any rational man breathing who would scruple to accept profit from the rise of a stock or share? If I, practically, back South-Eastern Railway shares to rise, who blames me if I sell when my property has increased in value by one-eighth? My good counsellor, Mr. Ruskin, who is the most virulent enemy of usury, is nevertheless very glad that his father bought Bank of England shares, which have now been converted into Stock, and stand at over 300; Ruskin senior was a shrewd speculator, who backed his fancy; and a bookmaker does the same in a safer way. Bookmaking is a business which is carried out in its higher branches with perfect sobriety, discretion, mid probity; the gambling element does not come in on the bookmaker’s side, but he deals with gamblers in a fair way. They know that he will lay them the shortest odds he can; they know that they put their wits against his, and they also know that he will pay them with punctilious accuracy if they happen to beat him in the encounter of brains. Three or four of the leading betting men “turn over” on the average about half a million each per annum; one firm who bet on commission receive an average of five thousand pounds per day to invest, and the vouchers of all these speculators and agents are as good as bank notes. Mark that I grant the certainty of the bookmakers winning; they can remain idle in their mansions for months in the year, and the great gambling public supply the means; but I do not find fault with the bookmakers because they use their opportunities, or else I might rave about the iniquity of a godly man who earns in a week 100,000 from a “corner” in tin, or I might reprobate the quack who makes no less than 7000 per cent on every box of pills that he sells. A good man once chatted with me for a whole evening, and all his talk ran on his own luck in “spotting” shares that were likely to move upward. Certainly his luck as a gambler had been phenomenal. I turned the conversation to the Turf case of Wood _v_. Cox, and the torrent of eloquence which met me was enough to drown my intellect in its whirl and rush. My friend was great on the iniquity of gaming and racing, and I rather fancy that he proposed to play on the Betting Ring with a mitrailleuse if ever he had the power. I know he was most sanguinary–and I smiled. He never for an instant seemed to think that he was exactly like a backer of horses, and I have no doubt but that his density is shared by a few odd millions here and there. The stockbroker is a kind of bookmaker, and the men and women who patronise both and make their wealth are fools who all may be lumped under the same heading. I knew of one outside-broker–a mere bucket-shop keeper–who keeps 600 clerks constantly employed. That seems to point out rather an extensive gambling business.

And now I have tried to clear the ground on one hand a little, and my last and uttermost good word has been said for the Turf. With sorrow I say that, after all excuses are made, the cool observer must own that it is indeed a vast engine of national demoralization, and the subtle venom which it injects into the veins of the Nation creeps along through channels of which Lord Beaconsfield never dreamed. I might call the Turf a canker, but a canker is only a local ailment, whereas the evils of betting have now become constitutional so far as the State is concerned. If we cut out the whole tribe of bookmakers and betting-agents, and applied such cautery as would prevent any similar growth from arising in the place wherefrom we excised them, we should do very little good; for the life-blood of Britain is tainted, and no superficial remedy can cure her now. I shut my eyes on the bookmakers, and I only spare attention for the myriads who make the bookmakers’ existence possible–who would evolve new bookmakers from their midst if we exterminated the present tribe to-morrow. It is not the professional bettors who cause the existence of fools; it is the insensate fools who cause the existence of professional bettors.

Gambling used to be mainly confined to the upper classes; it is now a raging disease among that lower middle-class which used to form the main element of our national strength, and the tradesman whose cart comes to your area in the morning gambles with all the reckless abandonment that used to be shown by the Hon. A. Deuceace or Lady Betty when George the Third was King. Your clerk, shopman, butcher, baker, barber–especially the barber–ask their companions, “What have you done on the Lincoln?” or “How do you stand for the Two Thousand?” just as ordinary folks ask after each other’s health. Tradesmen step out of their shops in the morning and telegraph to their bookmaker just as they might to one of their wholesale houses; there is not a town in broad England which has not its flourishing betting men, and some very small towns can maintain two or three. The bookmakers are usually publicans, barbers, or tobacconists; but whatever they are they invariably drive a capital trade. In the corner of a smoking-room you may see a quiet, impassive man sitting daily in a contemplative manner; he does not drink much; he smokes little, and he appears to have nothing in particular to worry him. If he knows you well, he will scarcely mind your presence; men (and boys) greet him, and little, gentle colloquies take place from time to time; the smartest man could detect nothing, and yet the noiseless, placid gentleman of the smoking-room registers thirty or forty bets in a day. That is one type which I have watched for hours, days, months. There are dozens of other types, but I need not attempt to sketch them; it is sufficient to say that the poison has taken hard hold on us, and that I see every symptom of a national decadence.

Some one may say, “But you excused the Turf and the betting men.” Exactly. I said that racing is a delightful pastime to those who go to watch good horses gallop; the miserable thing to me is seeing the wretches who do not care for racing at all, but only care for gambling on names and numbers. Let Lord Hartington, Lord Randolph Churchill, Mr. Chaplin, Mr. Corlett, Mr. Rothschild, Lord Rosebery, and the rest, go and see the lovely horses shooting over the turf; by all means let them watch their own colts and fillies come flying home. But the poor creatures who muddle away brains, energy, and money on what _they_ are pleased to term sport, do not know a horse from a mule; they gamble, as I have said, on names; the splendid racers give them no enjoyment such as the true sportsman derives, for they would not know Ormonde from a Clydesdale. To these forlorn beings only the ignoble side of racing is known; it is sacrilege to call them sportsmen; they are rotting their very souls and destroying the remnants of their manhood over a game which they play blindfold. It is pitiful–most pitiful. No good-natured man will begrudge occasional holiday-makers their chance of seeing a good race. Rural and industrial Yorkshire are represented by thousands at Doncaster, on the St. Ledger day, and the tourists get no particular harm; they are horsey to the backbone, and they come to see the running. They criticize the animals and gain topics for months of conversation, and, if they bet an odd half-crown and never go beyond it, perhaps no one is much the worse. When the Duke of Portland allowed his tenantry to see St. Simon gallop five years ago at Newcastle, the pitmen and artisans thronged to look at the horse. There was no betting whatever, because no conceivable odds could have measured the difference between St. Simon and his opponent, yet when Archer let the multitude see how fast a horse _could_ travel, and the great thoroughbred swept along like a flash, the excitement and enthusiasm rose to fever-pitch. Those men had an unaffected pleasure in observing the beauty and symmetry and speed of a noble creature, and they were unharmed by the little treat which the good-natured magnate provided for them. It is quite otherwise with the mob of stay-at-home gamblers; they do not care a rush for the horses; they long, with all the crazy greed of true dupes, to gain money without working for it, and that is where the mischief comes in. Cupidity, mean anxieties, unwholesome excitements, gradually sap the morality of really sturdy fellows–the last shred of manliness is torn away, and the ordinary human intelligence is replaced by repulsive vulpine cunning. If you can look at a little group of the stay-at-homes while they are discussing the prospects of a race, you will see something that Hogarth would have enjoyed in his large, lusty fashion. The fair human soul no longer shines through those shifty, deceitful eyes; the men have, somehow, sunk from the level of their race, and they make you think that Swift may-have been right after all. From long experience I am certain that if a cultured gentleman, accustomed to high thinking, were suddenly compelled to live among these dismal beings, he would be attacked by a species of intellectual paralysis. The affairs of the country are nothing to them; poetry, art, and all beautiful things are contemptible in their eyes; they dwell in an obscure twilight of the mind, and their relaxation, when the serious business of betting is put aside for awhile, mostly lies in the direction of sheer bawdry and abomination. It is curious to see the oblique effect which general degradation has upon the vocabulary of these people; quiet words, or words that express a plain meaning, are repugnant to them; even the old-fashioned full-mouthed oaths of our fathers are tame to their fancy, for they must have something strongly spiced, and thus they have by degrees fitted themselves up with a loathly dialect of their own which transcends the comparatively harmless efforts of the Black Country potter. Foul is not the word for this ultra-filthy mode of talk–it passes into depths below foulness. I may digress for a little to emphasize this point. The latter-day hanger-on of the Turf has introduced a new horror to existence. Go into the Silver Ring at a suburban meeting, and listen while two or three of the fellows work themselves into an ecstasy of vile excitement, then you will hear something which cannot be described or defined in any terms known to humanity. Why it should be so I cannot tell, but the portentous symptom of putridity is always in evidence. As is the man of the Ring, so are the stay-at-homes. The disease of their minds is made manifest by their manner of speech; they throw out verbal pustules which tell of the rank corruption which has overtaken their nature, and you need some seasoning before you can remain coolly among them without feeling symptoms of nausea. There is one peer of this realm–a hereditary legislator and a patron of many Church livings–who is famous for his skill in the use of certain kinds of vocables. This man is a living exemplar of the mysterious effect which low dodging and low distractions have on the soul. In five minutes he can make you feel as if you had tumbled into one of Swedenborg’s loathsome hells; he can make the most eloquent of turf thieves feel, envious, and he can make you awe-stricken as you see how far and long God bears with man. The disease from which this pleasing pillar of the State suffers has spread, with more or less virulence, to the furthermost recesses of our towns, and you must know the fringe of the Turf world before you can so much as guess what the symptoms are like.

Here is a queer kind of a world which has suddenly arisen! Faith and trust are banished; real honesty is unknown; purity is less than a name; manliness means no more than a certain readiness to use the fists. Most of the dwellers in this atmosphere are punctilious about money payments because they durst not be otherwise, but the fine flower of real probity does not flourish in the mephitic air. To lie, to dodge, to take mean advantages–these are the accomplishments which an ugly percentage of middle-class youths cultivate, and all the mischief arises from the fact that they persist in trying to ape the manners of the most unworthy members of an order to which they do not belong. It is bad enough when a rich and idle man is bitten with the taste for betting, but when he is imitated by the tailor’s assistant who carries his clothes home, then we have a still more unpleasant phenomenon to consider. For it is fatal to a nation when any large and influential section of the populace once begin to be confused in their notions of right and wrong. Not long ago I was struck by noticing a significant instance of this moral dry rot. An old racing man died, and all the sporting papers had something to say about him and his career. Now the best of the sporting journalists are clever and cultured gentlemen, who give refinement, to every subject that they touch. But a certain kind of writing is done by pariahs, who are not much of a credit to our society, and I was interested by the style in which these scribbling vermin spoke of the dead man. Their gush was a trifle nauseating; their mean worship of money gave one a shiver, and the relish with which they described their hero’s exploits would have been comic were it not for the before-mentioned nausea.

It seemed that the departed turfite had been–to use blunt English–a very skilful and successful swindler. He would buy a horse which took his fancy, and he would run the animal again and again, until people got tired of seeing such a useless brute taken down to the starting-point. The handicappers finally let our schemer’s horse in at a trifling weight, and then he prepared for business. He had trustworthy agents at Manchester, Nottingham, and Newcastle, and these men contrived, without rousing suspicion, to “dribble” money into the market in a stealthy way, until the whole of their commission was worked on very advantageous terms. The arch-plotter did not show prominently in the transaction, and he contrived once or twice to throw dust in the eyes of the very cleverest men. One or two neatly arranged strokes secured our acute gentleman a handsome fortune. He missed L70,000 once, by a short head, but this was the only instance in which his plans seriously failed; and he was looked up to as an epitome of all the virtues which are most acceptable in racing circles. Well, had this dodger exhibited the heroism of Gordon, the benevolence of Lord Shaftesbury, the probity of Henry Fawcett, he could not have been more bepraised and bewailed by the small fry of sporting literature. All he had done in life was to deceive people by making them fancy that certain good horses were bad ones: strictly speaking, he made money by false pretences, and yet, such is the twist given by association with genuine gamblers, that educated men wrote of him as if he had been a saint of the most admirable order. This disposition is seen all through the piece: successful roguery is glorified, and our young men admire “the Colonel,” or “the Captain,” or Jack This and Tom That, merely because the Captain and the Colonel and Jack and Tom are acute rascals who have managed to make money. Decidedly, our national ideals are in a queer way. Just think of a little transaction which occurred in 1887. A noble lord ordered a miserable jockey boy to pull a horse, so that the animal might lose a race: the exalted guide of youth was found out, and deservedly packed off the Turf; but it was only by an accident that the Stewards were able to catch him. That legislator had funny notions of the duty which he owed to boyhood: he asked his poor little satellite to play the scoundrel, and he only did what scores do who are _not_ found out.

A haze hangs about the Turf, and all the principles which should guide human nature are blurred and distorted; the high-minded, honourable racing men can do nothing or next to nothing, and the scum work their will in only too many instances. Every one knows that the ground is palpitating with corruption, but our national mental disease has so gained ground that some regard corruption in a lazy way as being inevitable, while others–including the stay-at-home horse-racers–reckon it as absolutely admirable.

Some years ago, a pretty little mare was winning the St. Leger easily, when a big horse cut into her heels and knocked her over. About two months afterwards, the same wiry little mare was running in an important race at Newmarket, and at the Bushes she was hauling her jockey out of the saddle. There were not many spectators about, and only a few noticed that, while the mare was fighting for her head, she was suddenly pulled until she reared up, lost her place, and reached the post about seventh in a large field. The jockey who rode the mare, and who made her exhibit circus gambols, received a thousand pounds from the owner of the winning horse. Now, there was no disguise about this transaction–nay, it was rather advertised than otherwise, and a good many of the sporting prints took it quite as a matter of course. Why? Simply because no prominent racing man raked up the matter judicially, and because the ordinary Turf scramblers accept suspicious proceedings as part of their environment. Mr. Carlyle mourned over the deadly virus of lying which was emitted by Loyola and his crew; he might mourn now over the deadly virus of cheating which is emitted from the central ganglia of the Turf. The upright men who love horses and love racing are nearly powerless; the thieves leaven the country, and they have reduced what was once the finest middle-class in the world to a condition of stark putridity.

Before we can rightly understand the degradation which has befallen us by reason of the Turf, we must examine the position of jockeys in the community. Lord Beaconsfield, in one of his most wicked sentences, said that the jockey is our Western substitute for the eunuch; a noble duke, who ought to know something about the matter, lately informed the world through the medium of a court of law with an oath that “jockeys are thieves.” Now, I know one jockey whose character is not embraced by the duke’s definition, and I have heard that there are two, but I am not acquainted with the second man. The wonder is, considering the harebrained, slavering folly of the public, that any of the riding manikins are half as honest as they are; the wonder is that their poor little horsey brains are not led astray in such fashion as to make every race a farce. They certainly do try their best on occasion, and I believe that there are many races which are _not_ arranged before the start; but you cannot persuade the picked men of the rascals’ corps that any race is run fairly. When Melton and Paradox ran their tremendous race home in the Derby, I heard quite a number of intelligent gentry saying that Paradox should have won but for the adjectived and participled propensities of his jockey. Nevertheless, although most devout turfites agree with the emphatic duke, they do not idolize their diminutive fetishes a whit the less; they worship the manikin with a touching and droll devotion, and, when they know him to be a confirmed scamp, they admire his cleverness, and try to find out which way the little rogue’s interest lies, so that they may follow him. So it comes about that we have amidst us a school of skinny dwarfs whose leaders are paid better than the greatest statesmen in Europe. The commonest jockey-boy in this company of manikins can usually earn more than the average scholar or professional man, and the whole set receive a good deal more of adulation than has been bestowed on any soldier, sailor, explorer, or scientific man of our generation. And what is the life-history of the jockey? A tiny boy is bound apprentice, and submitted to the discipline of a training stable; he goes through the long routine of morning gallops, trials, and so forth, and when he begins to show signs of aptitude he is put up to ride for his master in public. If he is a born horseman, like Archer or Robinson, he may make his mark long before his indentures are returned to him, and he is at once surrounded by a horde of flatterers who do their best to spoil him. There is no cult so distinguished by slavishness, by gush, by lavishness, as jockey-worship, and a boy needs to have a strong head and sound, careful advisers, if he is to escape becoming positively insufferable. When the lad Robinson won the St. Leger, after his horse had been left at the post, he was made recipient of the most frantic and silly toadyism that the mind can conceive; the clever trainer to whom he was apprenticed received L1,500 for transferring the little fellow’s services, and he is now a celebrity who probably earns a great deal more than Professor Owen or Mr. Walter Besant. The tiny boy who won the Cesarevitch on Don Juan received L1,000 after the race, and it must be remembered that this child had not left school. Mr. Herbert Spencer has not earned L1,000 by the works that have altered the course of modern thought; the child Martin picked up the amount in a lump, after he had scurried for less than five minutes on the back of a feather-weighted thoroughbred. As the jockey grows older and is freed from his apprenticeship he becomes a more and more important personage; if his weight keeps well within limits he can ride four or five races every day during the season; he draws five guineas for a win, and three for the mount, and he picks up an infinite number of unconsidered trifles in the way of presents, since the turfite, bad or good, is invariably a cheerful giver. The popular jockey soon has his carriages, his horses, his valet, and his sumptuous house; noblemen, millionaires, great dames, and men and women of all degrees conspire to pamper him: for jockey-worship, when it is once started, increases in intensity by a sort of geometrical progression. A shrewd man of the world may smile grimly when he hears that a popular rider was actually received with royal honours and installed in the royal box when he went to the theatre during his honeymoon, but there are the facts. It was so, and the best people of the fine town in which this deplorable piece of toadyism was perpetrated were tolerably angry at the time. If the sporting journalists perform their work of puffery with skill and care, the worship of the jockey reaches a pitch that borders on insanity. If General Gordon had returned and visited such a place as Liverpool or Doncaster during a race-meeting, he would not have been noticed by the discriminating crowd if Archer had passed along the street. If the Prime Minister were to visit any place of public resort while Watts or Webb happened to be there, it is probable that his lordship would learn something useful concerning the relative importance of Her Majesty’s subjects. I know for a fact that a cleverly executed cartoon of Archer, Fordham, Wood, or Barrett will have at least six times as many buyers as a similar portrait of Professor Tyndall, Mr. James Payn, M. Pasteur, Lord Salisbury, Mr. Chamberlain, or any one in Britain excepting Mr. Gladstone. I do not know how many times the _Vanity Fair_ cartoon of Archer has been reprinted, but I learn on good authority that, for years, not a single day has been known to pass on which the caricature was not asked for. And now let us bring to mind the plain truth that these jockeys are only uneducated and promoted stable-boys after all. Is it not a wonder that we can pick out a single honest man from their midst? Vast sums depend on their exertions, and they are surrounded by a huge crowd of moneyed men who will stand at nothing if they can gain their ends; their unbalanced, sharp little minds are always open to temptation; they see their brethren amassing great fortunes, and they naturally fall into line and proceed, when their turn comes, to grab as much money as they can. Not long ago the inland revenue officials, after minute investigation, assessed the gains of one wee creature at L9,000 per year. This pigmy is now twenty-six years of age, and he earned as much as the Lord Chancellor, and more than any other judge, until a jury decided his fate by giving him what the Lord Chief Justice called “a contemptuous verdict.” Another jockey paid income-tax on L10,000 a year, and a thousand pounds is not at all an uncommon sum to be paid merely as a retainer. Forty or fifty years ago a jockey would not have dreamed of facing his employer otherwise than cap in hand, but the value of stable-boys has gone up in the market, and Lear’s fool might now say, “Handy-Dandy! Who is your jockey now and who is your master?” The little men gradually gather a kind of veneer of good manners, and some of them can behave very much like pocket editions of gentlemen, but the scent of the stable remains, and, whether the jockey is a rogue or passably honest, he remains a stable-boy to the end. Half the mischief on the Turf arises from the way in which these overpaid, spoilt menials can be bribed, and, certes, there are plenty of bribers ready. Racing men do not seem able to shake off the rule of their stunted tyrants. When the gentleman who paid income-tax on nine thousand a year brought the action which secured him the contemptuous verdict, the official handicapper to the Jockey Club declared on oath that the jockey’s character was “as bad as bad can be.” The starter and a score of other witnesses followed in the same groove, and yet this man was freely employed. Why? We may perhaps explain by inference presently.

With this cynically corrupt corps of jockeys and their hangers-on, it may easily be seen that the plutocrats who manipulate the Turf wires have an admirable time of it, while the great gaping mob of zanies who go to races, and zanies who stay at home, are readily bled by the fellows who have the money and the “information” and the power. The rule of the Turf is easily formulated:–“Get the better of your neighbour. Play the game outwardly according to fair rules. Pay like a man if your calculations prove faulty, but take care that they shall be as seldom faulty as possible. Never mind what you pay for information if it gives you a point the better of other men. Keep your agents honest if you can, but, if they happen to be dishonest under pressure of circumstances, take care at any rate that you are not found out.” In short, the Ring is mainly made up of men who pay with scrupulous honesty when they lose, but who take uncommonly good care to reduce the chances of losing to a minimum. Are they in the wrong? It depends. I shall not, at the present moment, go into details; I prefer to pause and ask what can be expected to result from the wolfish scheme of Turf morality which I have indicated. I do not compare it with the rules which guide our host of commercial middlemen, because, if I did, I should say that the betting men have rather the best of the comparison: I keep to the Turf, and I want to know what broad consequences must emanate from a body which organizes plans for plunder and veils them under the forms of honesty. An old hand–the Odysseus of racing–once said to me: “No man on earth would ever be allowed to take a hundred thousand pounds out of the Ring: they wouldn’t allow it, they wouldn’t That young fool must drop all he’s got.” We were speaking about a youthful madman who was just then being plucked to the last feather, and I knew that the old turfite was right. The Ring is a close body, and I have only known about four men who ever managed to beat the confederacy in the long run. There is one astute, taciturn, inscrutable organizer whom the bookmakers dread a little, because he happens to use their own methods; he will scheme for a year or two if necessary until he succeeds in placing a horse advantageously, and he usually brings off his _coup_ just at the time when the Ring least like it. “They don’t yell like that when one of mine rolls home,” he once said, while the bookmakers were clamouring with delight over the downfall of a favourite; and indeed this wily master of deceptions has very often made the pencillers draw long faces. But the case of the Turf Odysseus is not by any means typical; the man stands almost alone, and his like will not be seen again for many a day. The rule is that the backer must come to grief in the long run, for every resource of chicanery, bribery, and resolute keenness is against him. He is there to be plundered; it is his mission in life to lose, or how could the bookmakers maintain their mansions and carriages? It matters little what the backer’s capital may be at starting, he will lose it all if he is idiot enough to go on to the end, for he is fighting against unscrupulous legions. One well-known bookmaker coolly announced in 1888 that he had written off three hundred thousand pounds of bad debts. Consider what a man’s genuine business must be like when he can jauntily allude to three hundred thousands as a bagatelle by the way. That same man has means of obtaining “information” sufficient to discomfit any poor gambler who steps into the Ring and expects to beat the bookmakers by downright above-board dealing. As soon as he begins to lay heavily against a horse the animal is regarded as doomed to lose by all save the imbeciles who persist in hoping against hope. In 1889 this betting man made a dead set at the favourite for the Two Thousand Guineas. The colt was known to be the best of his year; he was trained in a stable which has the best of reputations; his exercise was uninterrupted, and mere amateurs fancied they had only to lay heavy odds _on_ him in order to put down three pounds and pick up four. Yet the inexorable bookmaker kept on steadily taking the odds; the more he betted, the more money was piled on to the unbeaten horse, and yet few took warning, although they must have seen that the audacious financier was taking on himself an appalling risk. Well, the peerless colt was pulled out, and, on his way to the starting post, he began to shake blood and matter from his jaws; he could hardly move in the race, and when he was taken to his quarters a surgeon let out yet another pint of pus from the poor beast’s jaw. Observe that the shrewdest trainer in England, a crowd of stable-boys, the horse’s special attendant, the horse-watchers at Kingsclere, and the casual strangers who saw the favourite gallop–all these knew nothing apparently about that monstrous abscess, and no one suspected that the colt’s jaw had been splintered. But “information”–always information–evidently reached one quarter, and the host of outsiders lost their money. Soon afterwards a beautiful colt that had won the Derby was persistently backed for the City and Suburban Handicap. On paper it seemed as if the race might be regarded as over, for only the last year’s Derby winner appeared to have a chance; but our prescient penciller cared nothing about paper. Once more he did not trouble himself about betting to figures; he must have laid his book five times over before the flag fell. Then the nincompoops who refused to attend to danger-signals saw that the beautiful colt which had spun over the same course like a greyhound only ten months before was unable to gallop at all. The unhappy brute tried for a time, and was then mercifully eased; the bookmaker would have lost L100,000 if his “information” had not been accurate, but that is just the crux–it _was_. So admirably do the bookmakers organize their intelligence department that I hardly know more than three instances in which they have blundered after they really began to lay fiercely against a horse. They contrive to buy jockeys, stablemen, veterinary surgeons–indeed, who can tell whom they do _not_ subsidize? When Belladrum came striding from the fateful hollow in front of Pretender, there was one “leviathan” bookmaker who turned green and began to gasp, for he stood to lose L50,000; but the “leviathan” was spared the trouble of fainting, for the hill choked the splendid Stockwell horse, and “information” was once more vindicated, while Belladrum’s backers paid copious tribute. Just two years before the leviathan had occasion to turn green our Turf Odysseus really did manage to deceive the great betting corporation with consummate skill. The whole business throws such a clear light on Turf ethics that I may repeat it for the benefit of those who know little about our great national sport–the Sport of Kings. It was rumoured that Hermit had broken a blood-vessel, and the animal was stopped for a little in his work. Then Odysseus and his chief confederate proceeded to seize their chance. The horse started at 1000 to 15, and it seemed like a million to one against him, for his rough coat had been left on him, and he looked a ragged equine invalid. The invalid won, however, by a neck, the Marquis of Hastings was ruined, and the confederates won about L150,000.

As we go over these stories of plot and counterplot, it is hardly possible to avoid thinking what a singularly high-souled set of gentry we have got amongst. What ambitions! To trick money out of somebody’s pocket! To wager when you know that you have made winning certain! The outcome of it all is that, in the unequal battle between the men who back and the men who lay, the latter must win; they _will_ win, even if they have to cog the dice on a pinch; and, moreover, they will not be found out officially, even though their “secret” is as open as if it were written across the sky. A strange, hard, pitiless crew are these same bookmakers. Personally, strange to say, they are, in private life, among the most kindly and generous of men; their wild life, with its excitement and hurry, and keen encounters of wits, never seems to make them anything but thoughtful and liberal when distress has to be aided; but the man who will go far out of his way to perform a charitable action will take your very skin from you if you engage him in that enclosure which is his battle-ground, and he will not be very particular as to whether he wins your skin by fair means or foul.

About two years ago, an exasperating, soft-headed boy brought a colossal fortune into the Ring. I never pitied him much; I only longed to see him placed in the hands of a good schoolmaster who knew how to use a birch. This piteous wretch, with his fatuous airs of sharpness, was exactly the kind of game that the bookmakers cared to fly at; he was cajoled and stimulated; he was trapped at every turn; the vultures flapped round him; and there was no strong, wise man to give the booby counsel or to drag him by main force from his fate. There was no pity for the boy’s youth; he was a mark for every obscene bird of prey that haunts the Turf; respectable betting men gave him fair play, though they exacted their pound of flesh; the birds of Night gave him no fair play at all. In a few short months he had poured a quarter of a million into the bursting pockets of the Ring, and he was at last “posted” for the paltry sum of L1,400. This tragic farce was not enacted in a corner; a hundred journals printed every act as it was played; the victim never received that one hearty flogging which might have saved him, and the curtain was at last rung down on a smug, grinning group of bookmakers, a deservedly ruined spendthrift, and a mob of indifferent lookers-on. So minutely circumstantial were the newspapers, that we may say that all England saw a gigantic robbery being committed, and no man, on the Turf or off, interfered by so much as a sign. Decidedly, the Ethics of the Turf offer an odd study for the moralist; and, in passing, I may say that the national ethics are also a little queer. We ruin a tradesman who lets two men play a game at billiards for sixpence on licensed premises, and we allow a silly boy to be rooked of a quarter of a million in nine months, although the robbery is as well-known as if it were advertised over the whole front page of _The Times_ day by day.

In sum, then, we have an inner circle of bookmakers who take care either to bet on figures alone, or on perfectly accurate and secret information; we have another circle of sharp owners and backers, who, by means of modified (or unmodified) false pretences, succeed at times in beating the bookmakers; we have then an outer circle, composed partly of stainless gentlemen who do not bet and who want no man’s money, partly of perfectly honest fellows who have no judgment, no real knowledge, and no self-restraint, and who serve as prey on which the bookmakers batten.

And then we have circle on circle showing every shade of vice, baseness, cupidity, and blank folly. First, I may glance–and only glance–at the unredeemed, hopeless villains who are the immediate hangers-on of the Turf. People hardly believe that there are thousands of sturdy, able-bodied men scattered among our great towns and cities who have never worked, and who never mean to work. In their hoggish way they feed well and lie warm–the phrase is their own favourite–and they subsist like odious reptiles, fed from mysterious sources. Go to any suburban race meeting (I don’t care which you pick) and you will fancy that Hell’s tatterdemalions have got holiday. Whatsoever things are vile, whatsoever things are roguish, bestial, abominable, belong to the racecourse loafers. To call them thieves is to flatter them, for their impudent knavery transcends mere thieving; they have not a virtue; they are more than dangerous, and, if ever there comes a great social convulsion, they will let us know of their presence in an awkward fashion, for they are trained to riot, fraud, bestiality, and theft, on the fringe of the racecourse.

Then comes the next line of predatory animals who suck the blood of the dupes. If you look at one of the daily sporting papers you will see, on the most important page, a number of flaming announcements, which will make very comic reading for you if you have any sense of humour at all. Gentlemen, who usually take the names of well-known jockeys or trainers, offer to make your fortune on the most ridiculously easy terms. You forward a guinea or half-a-guinea, and an obliging prophet will show you how to ruin the bookmakers. Old Tom Tompkins has a “glorious success” every week; Joe, and Bill, and Harry, and a good score more, are always ready to prove that they named the winner of any given race; one of these fellows advertises under at least a dozen different names, and he is able to live in great style and keep a couple of secretaries, although he cannot write a letter or compose a circular. The _Sporting Times_ will not allow one of these vermin to advertise in its columns, and it has exposed all their dodges in the most conclusive and trenchant set of articles that I ever saw; but other journals admit the advertisements at prices which seem well-nigh prohibitive, and they are content to draw from L15 to L20 per day by blazoning forth false pretences. I have had much fun out of these “tipsters,” for they are deliciously impudent blackguards. A fellow will send you the names of six horses–all losers; in two days he will advertise–“I beg to congratulate all my patrons. This week I was in great form on the whole, and on Thursday I sent all six winners. A thousand pounds will be paid to any one who can disprove this statement.” Considering that the sage sent you six losers on the Thursday, you naturally feel a little surprised at his tempestuously confident challenge. All the seers are alike; they pick names at haphazard from the columns of the newspapers, and then they pretend to be in possession of the darkest stable secrets. If they are wrong, and they usually are, they advertise their own infallibility all the more brazenly. I do not exactly know what getting money under false pretences may be if the proceedings which I have described do not come under that heading, and I wonder what the police think of the business. They very soon catch a poor Rommany wench who tells fortunes, and she goes to gaol for three months. But I suppose that the Rommany rawnee does not contribute to the support of influential newspapers. A sharp detective ought to secure clear cases against at least a dozen of these parasites in a single fortnight, for they are really stupid in essentials. One of the brotherhood always sets forth his infallible prophecies from a dark little public-house bar near Fountain Court. I have seen him, when I came off a journey, trying to steady his hand at seven in the morning; his twisted, tortured fingers could hardly hold the pencil, and he was fit for nothing but to sit in the stinking dusk and soak whisky; but no doubt many of his dupes imagined that he sat in a palatial office and received myriads of messages from his ubiquitous corps of spies. He was a poor, diseased, cunning rogue; I found him amusing, but I do not think that his patrons always saw the fun of him.

And last there comes the broad outer circle, whereof the thought makes me sad. On that circle are scattered the men who should be England’s backbone, but they are all suffering by reason of the evil germs wafted from the centre of contagion. Mr. Matthew Arnold often gave me a good deal of advice; I wish I could sometimes have given him a little. I should have told him that all his dainty jeers about middle-class denseness were beside the mark; all the complacent mockery concerning the deceased wife’s sister and the rest, was of no use. If you see a man walking right into a deadly quicksand, you do not content yourself with informing him that a bit of fluff has stuck to his coat. Mr. Arnold should have gone among the lower middle-class a trifle more instead of trusting to his superfine imagination, and then he might have got to know whither our poor, stupid folks are tending. I have just ended an unpleasantly long spell which I passed among various centres where middle-class leisure is spent, and I would not care to repeat the experience for any money. Any given town will suit a competent observer, for I found scarcely any vital differences in passing from place to place. It is tragical and disheartening to see scores of fine lads and men, full of excellent faculties and latent goodness–and all under the spell of the dreary Circe of the Turf. I have been for a year, on and off, among a large circle of fellows whom I really liked; and what was their staple talk? Nothing but betting. The paralysis at once of intellect and of the sense of humour which attacks the man who begins flirting with the gambling Enchantress struck me with a sense of helplessness. I like to see a race when it is possible, and I can always keep a kind of picture of a horse in my eye. Well, I have known a very enthusiastic gentleman say, “The Bard, sir, The Bard; the big horse, the mighty _bay_. He’ll smother ’em all.” I modestly said, “Do you think he is big enough?” “Big enough! a giant, sir! Mark my words, sir, you’ll see Bob Peck’s colours in triumph on the bay.” I mildly said: “I thought The Bard was a very little one when I saw him, and he didn’t seem bay. He was rather like the colour you might get by shaking a flour-dredger over a mulberry. Have you had a look at him?” As usual, I found that my learned friend had never seen that horse nor any other; he was neglecting his business, loafing with wastrels, and trying, in a small way, to imitate the fine strategy of the Colonel and the Captain and Odysseus. Amongst these bewitched unfortunates, the life of the soul seems to die away. Once I said to a nice lad, “Do none of your set ever read anything?” and he made answer, “I don’t think any of them read very much except the _Sportsman_.” That was true–very true and rather shocking. The _Sportsman_ is bright enough and good enough in its way, and I read it constantly; but to limit your literature to the _Sportsman_ alone–well, it must be cramping. But that is what our fine young men are mostly doing nowadays; the eager, intellectual life of young Scotchmen and of the better sort of Englishmen is unknown: you may wait for a year and you will never hear a word of talk which is essentially above the intelligence of a hog; and a man of whom you are fond, purely because of his kindliness, may bore you in the deadliest manner by drawling on by the hour about names and weights, the shifting of the odds, and the changes of luck. The country fairly swarms with clubs where betting goes on all day, and sometimes all night: the despicable dupes are drawn in one after another, and they fall into manifold varieties of mischief; agonized parents pray for help; employers chafe at the carelessness and pre-occupation of their servants; the dupes sink to ruin unpitied, and still the crowd steps onward to the gulf of doom. To think that by merely setting certain noble creatures to exhibit their speed and staunchness, we should have ended by establishing in our midst a veritable Inferno! Our faith, our honour, our manhood, our future as a nation, are being sacrificed, and all because Circe has read her spell over our best and most promising souls. And our legislators amuse themselves with recriminations! We foster a horde of bloodsuckers who rear their strength on our weakness and our vices. Why should a drink-seller be kept in check by his having to pay for a license, while the ruin-seller needs no license, and is not even required to pay income tax. If licenses to bet were issued at very heavy prices, and if a crushing fine were inflicted on any man who made a book without holding a license, we might stamp out the villainous small fry who work in corners at all events. But Authority is supreme; the peer and the plutocrat go on unharmed, while the poor men who copy follies which do not hurt the rich go right on to the death of the soul.

_April, 1889._


Of the ancestor generally assigned to us by gentlemen who must be right–because they say so–we have very few records save the odd scratches found on bones and stones, and the remnants of extremely frugal meals eaten ages ago. We gather that the revered ancestor hunted large game with an audacity which must have pleased the Rider Haggard of ancient days; at any rate, some simple soul certainly scratched the record of a famous mammoth-fight on a tusk, and we can now see a furious beast charging upon a pigmy who awaits the onset with a coolness quite superior to Mr. Quatermain’s heroics. That Siberian hunter evidently went out and tried to make a bag for his own hand, and I have no doubt that he carried out the principle of individualism until his last mammoth reduced him to pulp. There is no indication of organization, and, although the men of the great deltas were able to indulge in oysters with a freedom which almost makes me regret the advance of civilization and the decay of Whitstable, yet I cannot trace one record of an orderly supper-party. This shows how the heathen in his blindness neglects his natural advantages. Long after the savage of the tundras passed away we find vestiges of the family; and thenceforward discipline advances steadily, though with occasional relapses toward anarchy, until we see the ordered perfection which enables us to have West-end riots and all-night sittings of the House of Commons without any trouble whatever. I do not care much to deal with the times when the members of the families elected each other promiscuously according to the success with which they managed to club their neighbours–in fact, I wish to come as soon as possible to the period when discipline, as understood by us, was gradually allowed to sway the lives of men, and when the sections of the race recognized tacitly the law of the strongest by appointing their best man as chief. At present we in England are passing through a dangerous and critical transition stage; a very strong party inclines to abolish discipline of all sorts, the views of the Continental anarchists are slowly filtering into our great towns, and, as soon as such a move is safe, we shall have a large number of people who will not scruple to cry out for free land, no taxation, free everything. We have heard so much about rights lately that some of us are beginning to question within ourselves as to what rights really are. If a gentleman, no matter how bookish or eloquent he may be, desires to do away with discipline altogether, I will give him credit for all the tongue-power which he happens to possess; but I must ask leave to think for myself in old-fashioned grooves just a little longer. After all, a system which–for civilized countries–has been growing gradually for more thousands of years than we dare compute cannot be entirely bad, no matter what chance faults we may see. The generations that have flown into the night may not have possessed complete wisdom, but they adapted their social systems step by step to the needs of each new generation, and it requires very little logic to tell that they would not be likely always to cast out the good. The noisy orator who gets up and addresses a London crowd at midnight, yelling “Down with everything!” can hardly know what he means to destroy. We have come a long way since the man of the swamps hunted the hairy elephant and burrowed in caves; that very structure in which the anarchists have taken to meeting represents sixty thousand years of slow progression from savagery towards seemliness and refinement and wisdom; and therefore, bitterly as we may feel the suffering of the poor orator, we say to him, “Wait a little, and talk to us. I do not touch politics–I loathe place-hunters and talkers as much as you do; but you are speaking about reversing the course of the ages, and you cannot quite manage that. Let us forget the windy war of the place-hunters, and speak reasonably and in a broad human way.”

I do not by any means hold with those very robust literary characters who want to see the principle of stern Drill carried into the most minute branchings of our complex society. (By-the-way, these robust gentry always put a capital “D” to the word “Drill,” as though they would have their precious principle enthroned as an object of reverence, or even of worship.) And I am inclined to think that not a few of them must have experienced a severe attack of wrath when they found Carlyle suggesting that King Friedrich Wilhelm would have laid a stick across the shoulders of literary men had he been able to have his own way. The unfeeling old king used to go about thumping people in the streets with a big cudgel; and Carlyle rather implies that the world would not have been much the worse off if a stray literary man here and there could have been bludgeoned. The king flogged apple-women who did not knit and loafers who were unable to find work; and our historian apparently fancies that the dignity of kingship would have been rather enhanced than otherwise had his hero broken the head of a poet or essayist. This is a clear case of a disciplinarian suffering from temporary derangement. I really cannot quite stomach such heroic and sweeping work. Carlyle, who was a Scotch peasant by birth, raised himself until he was deservedly regarded as the greatest man of his day, and he did this by means of literature; yet he coolly sets an ignorant, cruel, crowned drill-serjeant high above the men of the literary calling. It is a little too much! Suppose that Carlyle had been flogged back to the plough-tail by some potentate when he first went to the University; should we not have heard a good deal of noise about the business sooner or later? Again, we find Mr. Froude writing somewhat placidly when he tells us about the men who were cut to pieces slowly in order that their agony might be prolonged. The description of the dismemberment of Ballard and the rest, as given in the “Curiosities of Literature,” is too gratuitously horrible to be read a second time; but Mr. Froude is convinced that the whole affair was no more than a smart and salutary lesson given to some obtrusive Papists, and he commends the measures adopted by Elizabeth’s ministers to secure proper discipline. Similarly the wholesale massacre of the people in the English northern counties is not at all condemned by the judicious Mr. Freeman. The Conqueror left a desert where goodly homesteads and farms had flourished; but we are not any the less to regard him as a great statesman. I grow angry for a time with these bold writers, but I always end by smiling, for there is something very feminine about such shrill expressions of admiration for force. I like to figure to myself the troubles which would have ensued had Carlyle lived under the sway of his precious Friedrich. It was all very well to sit in a comfortable house in pleasant Chelsea, and enlarge upon the beauties of drill and discipline; but, had the sage been cast into one of the noisome old German prisons, and kept there till he was dying, merely because the kingly disciplinarian objected to a phrase in a pamphlet, we should have heard a very curious tune from our great humourist. A man who groaned if his bed was ill-made or his bacon ill-fried would not quite have seen the beauty of being disciplined in a foul cellar among swarming vermin.

The methods of certain other rulers may no doubt appear very fine to our robust scribblers, but I must always enter my own slight protest. Ivan the Terrible was a really thorough-paced martinet who preserved discipline by marvellously powerful methods. He did not mind killing a few thousands of men at a time; and he was answerable for several pyramids of skulls which remained long after his manly spirit had passed away. He occasionally had prisoners flayed alive or impaled merely by way of instituting a change; and I think that some graphic British historian should at once give us a good life of this remarkable and royal man. The massacre of the revolted peasants would afford a fine opening to a stern rhetorician; he might lead off thus–“Dost thou think that this king cared for noble sentiment? Thou poor creature who canst not look on a man without turning green with feminine terror, this writer begs to inform you and all creatures of your sort that law is law and discipline is discipline, and the divine origin of both is undeniable even in an age of advertised soap and interminable spouting. Ivan had no parliamentary eloquence under his control, but he had cold steel and whips and racks and wheels, and he employed them all with vigour for the repression of undisciplined scoundrels. He butchered some thousands of innocent men! Ah, my sentimental friend, an anarchic mob cannot be ruled by sprinkling rose-water; the lash and the rope and the stern steel are needed to bring them to order! When my Noble One, with a glare in his lion eyes, watched the rebels being skinned alive, he was performing a truly beneficent function and preparing the way for that vast, noble, and expansive Russia which we see to-day. The poor long-eared mortals who were being skinned did not quite perceive the beneficence at the time. How should they, unhappy long-eared creatures that they were? Oh, Dryasdust, does any long-eared mortal who is being skinned by a true King–a Canning, Koeniglich, Able Man–does the long-eared one amid his wriggles ever recognize the scope and transcendent significance of Kingship? Answer me that, Dryasdust, or shut your eloquent mouth and go home to dinner.”

That is quite a proper style for a disciplinarian, but I have not got into the way of using it yet. For, to my limited intelligence, it appears that, if you once begin praising Friedrichs and Charlemagnes and Ivans at the rate of a volume or so per massacre, you may as well go on to Cetewayo and Timour and Attila–not to mention Sulla and Koffee Kalkalli. I abhor the floggers and stranglers and butchers; and when I speak of discipline, I leave them out of count. My business is a little more practical, and I have no time to refute at length the vociferations of persons who tell us that a man proves his capacity of kingship by commanding the extinction or torture of vast numbers of human creatures. My thoughts are not bent on the bad deeds–the deeds of blood–wrought out in bitterness and anguish either long ago or lately; I am thinking of the immense European fabric which looks so solid outwardly, but which is being permeated by the subtle forces of decay and disease. Discipline is being outwardly preserved, but the destroying forces are creeping into every weak place, and the men of our time may see strange things. Gradually a certain resolute body of men are teaching weaker people that even self-discipline is unnecessary, and that self-reverence, self-knowledge, self-control are only phrases used by interested people who want to hold others in slavery. In our England it is plainer every day that the character of the people is changing. Individual men are obedient, brave to the death, self-sacrificing, just as they always were even in our darkest times; but, none the less, it is too plain that authority ordained by law is dying, and that authority which rests on vague and fluctuating sentiment gains power with steady swiftness. The judges sit and retain all their old confidence; the magistrates sentence daily their batches of submissive culprits; the policeman rules supreme over the streets–he scares the flower-girl, and warns the pensive burglar with the staccato thunder of his monarchical foot. All seems very firm and orderly; and our largest crowds maintain their attitude of harmless good-humour when no inflammatory talkers are there. But the hand has written, and true discipline cannot survive very much longer unless we rouse ourselves for a dead-lift effort. Take Parliament at the crown of the social structure, and the School–the elementary school–at the foundation, and we cannot feel reassured. All between the highest and the lowest is moderately sound; the best of the middle-classes are decent, law-abiding, and steady; the young men are good fellows in a way; the girls and young women are charming and virtuous. But the extremities are rotten, and sentiment has rotted them both. Parliament has become a hissing and a scorn. No man of any party in all broad England could be found to deny this, and many would say more. The sentimentalist has said that loutishness shall not be curbed, that a bawling ruffian who is silenced is martyred, that every man shall talk as he likes, and the veto of the Polish Assembly which enabled any one man to ruin the work of a session is revived in sober, solid England. So it is that all has gone to wreck; and an assembly once the noblest on earth is treated with unhidden contempt by the labourer in his field and the mechanic at his bench. And all this has arisen from lack of discipline.

In the School–the lower-class school–things are much worse. The lowest of the low–the beings who should be kept in order by sharp, firm kindness and justice–have been taught to mock at order and justice and to treat kindness as a sign of weakness. The lads will all soon be ready to aid in governing the country. May the good powers defend us! What a set of governors! The son of the aristocrat is easily held in order, because he knows that any infraction of discipline will be surely punished; the son and daughter of the decent artizan cause little trouble to any teacher, because they know that their parents are on the side of order, and, even if the children are inclined to be rebellious, they dare not defy the united authority of parents and teacher. But the child of the thief, the costermonger, the racecourse swindler, the thriftless labourer, is now practically emancipated through the action of sentimental persons. He may go to school or not, as he likes; and, while the decent and orderly poor are harried by School Board regulations, the rough of the slum snaps his fingers without fear at all regulations. If one of the bad boys from the “rookeries” does go to school, he soon learns that he may take his own way. If he is foul-mouthed, thievish, indecent, or insolent, and is promptly punished, he drags his teacher into a police-court, and the sentimentalists secure a conviction. No one can tell the kind of anarchy that reigns in some parts of England excepting men who dwell amidst it; and, to make matters worse, a set of men who may perhaps be charitably reckoned as insane have framed a Parliamentary measure which may render any teacher who controls a young rough liable at once to one hundred pounds fine or six months’ imprisonment. This is no flight of inventive humour on our part; it is plain fact which may probably be seen in action as law before twelve months are over.

Tyranny I abhor, cruelty I abhor–above all, cruelty to children. But we are threatened at one pole of the State-world with a tyranny of factioneers who cultivate rudeness and rowdyism as a science, while at the other pole we are threatened with the uncontrolled tyranny of the “residuum.” We must return to our common sense; the middle-classes must make themselves heard, and we must teach the wild spirits who aim at wrecking all order that safety depends upon the submission of all to the expressed will of the majority. Debate is free enough–too free–and no man is ever neglected ultimately if he has anything rational to say, so that a minority has great power; but, when once a law is made, it must be obeyed. England is mainly sound; our movement is chiefly to the good; but this senseless pampering of loutishness in high and low places is a bad symptom which tends to such consequences as can be understood only by those who have learned to know the secret places. If it is not checked–if anarchists, young and old, are not taught that they must obey or suffer–there is nothing ahead but tumult, heart-burning, and wreck.

_March, 1889._


There has been much talk about the insensate youth who boasted that he had squandered half-a-million on the Turf in a year. The marvellous journalists who frequent betting resorts printed hundreds of paragraphs every week explaining the wretched boy’s extravagances–how he lost ten thousand pounds in one evening at cards; how he lost five thousand on one pigeon-shooting match; how he kept fifty racehorses in training; how he made little presents of jewelry to all and sundry of his friends; how he gaily lost fifteen thousand on a single race, though he might have saved himself had he chosen; how he never would wear the same shirt twice. Dear boy! Every day those whose duty compels them to read newspapers were forced to see such nauseous stuff, so that a lad’s private business became public property, and no secret was made of matters which were a subject for grief and scorn. Hundreds of grown men stood by and saw that boy lose a fortune in two hours, and some forty paragraphs might have been collected in which the transaction was described in various terms as a gross swindle. A good shot was killing pigeons–gallant sport–and the wealthy schoolboy was betting. When a sign was given by a bookmaker the shooting-man obeyed, and won or lost according to orders; and every man in the assembly knew what foul work was being carried on. Did one man warn the victim? The next day the whole country knew what had happened, and the names of the thieves were given in almost every sporting print; but the mischief was done, and the lookers-on contented themselves with cheap wrath. A few brief months flew by, and every day saw the usual flock of tributes to the mad boy’s vanity; and now the end has come–a colossal fortune, amassed by half a century’s toil, has gone into the pockets of all sorts of knaves, and the fatal _Gazette_ showed the end. The princely fortune that might have done so much good in the world has gone to fatten the foulest flock of predatory birds that ever cumbered the earth. Where are the glib parasites who came to fawn on the poor dolt? Where are the swarms of begging dandies who clustered around him? Where are the persons who sold him useless horses? Any one who has eyes can see that they point their fingers and shrug. Another victim gone–that is all.

And now our daily moralizers declare that bad company alone brought our unhappy subject down. Yes, bad company! The boy might have grown up into beneficent manhood; he might have helped to spread comfort and culture and solid happiness among the people; but he fell into bad company, and he is now pitied and scorned by the most despicable of the human race; and I observe that one of his humorous Press patrons advises him to drive a cab. Think of Gordon nobly spending his pittance among the poor mudlarks; think of the good Lord Shaftesbury ekeing out his scanty means among the poor; think of all the gallant souls that made the most of poverty; and then think of that precious half-million gone to light fresh fuel under the hotbeds of vice and villainy! Should I be wrong if I said that the contrast rouses me to indignation and even horror? And now let us consider what bad company means. Paradoxical as it may seem, I do not by any means think that bad company is necessarily made up of bad men. I say that any company is bad for a man if it does not tempt him to exert his higher faculties. It is as certain as death that a bodily member which is left unused shrinks and becomes aborted. If one arm is hung for a long time in a sling, the muscles gradually fade until the skin clings closely round the bone. The wing of the huge penguin still exists, but it is no bigger than that of a wren, and it is hidden away under the skin. The instances might be multiplied a thousandfold. In the same way then any mental faculty becomes atrophied if it is unused. Bad company is that which produces this atrophy of the finer powers; and it is strange to see how soon the deadly process of shrinkage sets in. The awful thing to think of is that the cramp may insensibly be set in action by a company which, as I have said, is composed of rather estimable people. Who can forget Lydgate in “Middlemarch”? There is a type drawn by a woman of transcendent genius; and the type represents only too many human wrecks. Lydgate was thrown into a respectable provincial society; he was mastered by high ambition, he possessed great powers, and he felt as though he could move the mocking solidities of the world. Watch the evolution of his long history; to me it is truly awful in spite of its gleams of brightness. The powerful young doctor, equipped in frock-coat and modern hat, plays a part in a tragedy which is as moving as any ever imagined by a brooding, sombre Greek. As you read the book and watch the steady, inexorable decline of the strong man, you feel minded to cry out for some one to save him–he is alive to you, and you want to call out and warn him. When the bitter end comes, you cannot sneer as Lydgate does–you can hardly keep back the tears. And what is it all about? It simply comes to this, that a good strong man falls into the bad company of a number of fairly good but dull people, and the result is a tragedy. Rosamund Vincy is a pattern of propriety; Mrs. Vincy is a fat, kindly soul; Mr. Vincy is a blustering good-natured middle-class man. There is no particular harm among the whole set, yet they contrive to ruin a great man; they lower him from a great career, and convert him into a mere prosperous gout-doctor. Every high aspiration of the man dies away. His wife is essentially a commonplace pretty being, and she cannot understand the great heart and brain that are sacrificed to her; so the genius is forced to break his heart about furniture and carpets and respectability, while the prim pretty young woman who causes the ghastly death of a soul goes on fancying herself a model of good sense and virtue and all the rest. “Of course I should like you to make discoveries,” she says; but she only shudders at the microscopic work. When the financial catastrophe comes, she has the great soul at her mercy, and she stabs him–stabs him through and through–while he is too noble and tender to make reply. Ah, it is pitiful! Lydgate is like too many others who are stifling in the mud of respectable dullness. The fate of those men proves what we have asserted, that bad company is that which does not permit the healthful and fruitful development of a soul. Take the case of a brilliant young man who leaves the University and dives into the great whirlpool of London. Perhaps he goes to the Bar, and earns money meantime by writing for the Press. The young fellows who swarm in the London centres–that is, the higher centres–are gentlemen, polished in manner and strict as to the code of honour, save perhaps as regards tradesmen’s bills; no coarse word or accent escapes them, and there is something attractive about their merry stoicism. But they make bad company for a young and high-souled man, and you may see your young enthusiast, after a year of town-life, converted into a cynic who tries to make game of everything. He talks lightly of women, because that is considered as showing a spirit of superiority; he is humorous regarding the state of his head on the morning after a late supper; he can give you slangy little details about any one and every one whom you may meet at a theatre or any other public place; he is somewhat proud when some bellowing, foul-mouthed bookmaker smiles suavely and inquires, “Doing anything to-day, sir?” Mark you, he is still a charming young fellow; but the bloom has gone from his character. He has been in bad company.

Let it be remembered that bad company may be pleasant at first; and I can easily give the reason for that, although the process of thinking out the problem is a little complicated. The natural tendency of our lower nature is toward idleness; our higher nature drives us to work. But no man ever attained the habit of work without an effort. If once that effort is slackened, then the lower nature gains sway by degrees and idleness creeps in. Idleness is the beginning of almost every form of ill, and the idlest man dashes down the steep to ruin either of body or soul, perhaps of both. Now the best of us–until our habits are formed–find something seductive in the notion of idleness; and it is most marvellous to observe how strongly we are apt to be drawn by a fascinating idle man. By-the-way, no one would accuse the resident Cambridge professors of being slothful, yet one brilliant idle man of genius said, “When I go to Cambridge, I affect them all with a murrain of idleness. I should paralyze the work of the place if I were resident.” To return–it appears that the best of men, especially of youthful men, feel the subtle charm of an invitation to laziness. The man who says, “It’s a sin to be indoors to-day; let us row up to the backwater and try a smoke among the willows;” or the one who says, “Never mind mathematics to-night; come and have a talk with me,” is much more pleasing than the stern moralist. Well, it happens that the most dangerous species of bad company is the species Idler. Look round over the ranks of the hurtful creatures who spoil the State, corrupt and sap the better nature of young men, and disgrace the name of our race. What are they all but idlers pure and simple? Idleness, idleness, the tap-root of misery, sin, villainy! Note the gambler at Monte Carlo, watching with tense but impassive face as the red and the black take the advantage by turns–he is an idler. The roaring bookmaker who contaminates the air with his cries, and who grows wealthy on the spoil of fools–he is an idler. The silly beings who crowd into the betting-shops and lounge till morning in the hot air; the stout florid person who passes from bar to bar in a commercial town; the greasy scoundrel who congregates with his mates at street corners; the unspeakable dogs who prowl at night in London and snatch their prey in lonely thoroughfares; the “jolly” gangs of young men who play cards till dawn in provincial club-rooms; even the slouching poacher who passes his afternoons in humorous converse at the ale-house–they are all idlers, and they all form bad company for anybody who comes within range of their influences. We are nearing the point of our demonstration. The youth is at first attracted by the charm of mere laziness, but he does not quite know it. Look at the case of the lad who goes fresh from school to the city, and starts life at seventeen years of age. We will say that he lives in a suburb of some great town. At first he returns home at night full of quite admirable resolves; he intends to improve himself and advance himself in the world. But on one fine evening a companion suggests a stroll, and it happens that billiards are suggested. Away goes the youngster into that flash atmosphere through which sharp, prematurely-aged features loom so curiously; he hears the low hum, he sees the intense eagerness and suspense of the strikers, and he learns to like the place. After a while he is found there nightly; his general style is low, his talk is that of the music-hall–the ineffable flash air has taken the place of his natural repose. He ought to be studying as many languages as possible, he ought to be watching the markets abroad, or he should be reading the latest science if he is engaged in practical work. But no–he is in bad company, and we find him at eight-and-twenty a disappointed, semi-competent man who grumbles very much about the Germans.

If we go to the lower classes, we observe the same set of phenomena. A young workman is chatting with his friends in a public-house on Saturday night; he rises to go at half-past nine, but his comrades pull him down. “Make it eleven o’clock,” they say. He drinks fast in the last hour, and is then so exhilarated that he probably conveys a supply of beer home. On Sunday morning he feels muddled, heavy, a little troubled with nausea; his mates hail him joyously, and then the company wait with anxiety until the public-houses are open; then the dry throats are eased and the low spirits raised, and the game goes on till three. In the afternoon the young workman sleeps, and when he wakes up he is so depressed that he goes out and meets his mates again. Once more he is persuaded to exceed, but he reckons on having a good long sleep. With aching head and fevered hands he makes a wild rush next morning, and arrives at the shop only to find himself shut out. He is horrified and doleful, when up come a few of his friends. They laugh the matter off. “It’s only a quarter lost! There’s time for a pint before we go in.” So the drinking is begun again, and the men have none of the delicacy and steadiness of hand that are needed. Is it not an old story? The loss of “quarters,” half-days, and days goes on; then Saint Monday comes to be observed; then the spoiled young man and his merry crew begin to draw very short wages on Saturdays; then the foreman begins to look askance as the blinking uneasy laggard enters; and last comes the fatal quiet speech, “You won’t be required on Monday.” Bad company! As for the heartbreaking cases of young men who go up to the Universities full of bright hope and equipped at all points splendidly, they are almost too pitiful. Very often the lads who have done so well that subscriptions are raised for them are the ones who go wrong soonest. A smart student wins a scholarship or two, and his parents or relatives make a dead-lift effort to scrape money so that the clever fellow may go well through his course. At the end of a year the youth fails to present any trophies of distinction; he comes home as a lounger; this is “slow” and the other is “slow,” and the old folk are treated with easy contempt. Still there is hope–so very brilliant a young gentleman must succeed in the end. But the brilliant one has taken up with rich young cads who affect bull-terriers and boxing-gloves; he is not averse from a street-brawl in the foggy November days; he can take his part in questionable choruses; he yells on the tow-path or in the pit of the theatre, and he is often shaky in the morning after a dose of very bad wine. All the idleness and rowdyism do not matter to Brown and Tomkins and the rest of the raffish company, for they only read for the pass degree or take the poll; but the fortunes–almost the lives–of many folk depend on our young hopeful’s securing his Class, and yet he fritters away time among bad talk, bad habits, bad drink, and bad tobacco. Then come rumours of bills, then the crash, and the brilliant youth goes down, while Brown and Tomkins and all the rowdies say, “What a fool he was to try going our pace!” Bad company!

I should therefore say to any youth–“Always be doing something–bad company never do anything; and thus, if you are resolved to be always doing something useful, it follows that you will not be among the bad company.” This seems to me to be conclusive; and many a broken heart and broken life might have been kept sound if inexperienced youths were only taught thus much continually.

_October, 1888._


Let it be understood that I do not intend to speak very much about the excellent people who are kind enough to label themselves as “Society,” for I have had quite enough experience of them at one time and another, and my impressions are not of a peculiarly reverential kind. “Company” among the set who regard themselves as the cream of England’s–and consequently of the world’s–population is something so laborious, so useless, so exhausting that I cannot imagine any really rational person attending a “function” (that is the proper name) if Providence had left open the remotest chance of running away; at any rate, the rational person would not endure more than one experience. For, when the clear-seeing outsider looks into “Society,” and studies the members who make up the little clique, he is smitten with thoughts that lie too deep for tears–or laughter. A perfectly fresh mind, when brought to bear on the “Society” phenomenon, asks, “What are these people? What have they done? What are they particularly fitted for? Is there anything noble about them? Is their conversation at all charming? Are any of them really happy?” And to all of these queries the most disappointing answers must be returned. Take the men. Here is a marquis who is a Knight of the Garter. He has held offices in several Cabinets; he can control the votes spread over a very large slice of a county, and his income amounts to some trifle like one hundred and eighty thousand pounds per year. We may surely expect something of the superb aristocratic grace here, and surely a chance word of wit may drop from a man who has been in the most influential of European assemblies! Alas! The potentate crosses his hand over his comfortable stomach, and his contributions to the entertainment of the evening amount to occasional ejaculations of “Ugh! Ugh!” “Hah!” “Hey!” “Exactly!” “Ugh! Ugh!” In the higher spheres of intellect and breeding I have no doubt but that “Ugh! Ugh!” “Hah!” “Hey!” may have some profound significance; but, to say the least, it is not obviously weighty. The marchioness is sweet in manner, grave, reposeful, and with a flash of wit at disposal–not too obvious wit–that would offend against the canon which ordains restraint; but she might, one thinks, become tiresome in an hour. No one could say that her manners were anything but absolutely simple, yet the very simplicity is so obviously maintained as a sort of gymnastic effort that it tires us only to study it. Then here is a viscount, graceful, well-set, easy in his pose, talking with a deep voice, and lisping to the faintest degree. He has owned some horses, caused some scandals, waltzed some waltzes, and eaten a very large number of good dinners: he has been admired by many, hated by many, threatened by many, and he would not be admitted to any refined middle-class home; yet here he is in his element, and no one would think of questioning his presence. He never uttered a really wise or helpful word in his life, he never did anything save pamper himself–his precious self–and yet he is in “Society,” and reckoned as rather an authority too! These are only types, but, if you run through them all, you must discover that only the sweet and splendid girls who have not had time to be spoilt and soured are worth thinking about. If there is dancing, it is of course carried out with perfect grace and composure; if there is merely an assembly, every one looks as well as possible, and every one stares at every one else with an air as indifferent as possible. But the child of nature asks in wild bewilderment, “Where on earth does the human companionship come in?” Young girls are nowadays beginning to expect bright talk from their partners, and the ladies have a singularly pretty way of saying the most biting things in a smooth and unconcerned fashion when they find a dunce beginning to talk platitudes or to patronize his partner; but the middle generation are unspeakably inane; and the worst is that they regard their inanity as a decided sign of distinction. A grave man who adds a sense of humour to his gravity may find a sort of melancholy entertainment if he listens to a pair of thorough-paced “Society” gentry. He will learn that you do not go to a “function” to please others or to be pleased yourself; you must not be witty–that is bad form; you must not be quietly in earnest–that is left to literary people; you must not speak plain, direct truth even in the most restrained fashion–that is to render yourself liable to be classified as a savage. No. You go to a “function” in order, firstly, to see who else is there; secondly, to let others see you; thirdly, to be able to say to absentees that you saw they were not there; fourthly, to say, with a liquid roll on the “ll,” “She’s looking remarkably wellll.” These are the great and glorious duties of the Society person. A little funny creature was once talking to a writer of some distinction. The little funny man would have been like a footman if he had been eight inches taller, for his manners savoured of the pantry. As it was, he succeeded in resembling a somewhat diminutive valet who had learnt his style and accent from a cook. The writer, out of common politeness, spoke of some ordinary topic, and the valet observed with honest pride, “_We_ don’t talk about that sort of thing.” The writer smiled grimly from under his jutting brows, and he repeated that valet’s terrific repartee for many days. The actual talk which goes on runs in this way, “Quite charming weather!” “Yes, very.” “I didn’t see you at Lady Blank’s on Tuesday?” “No; we could hardly arrange to suit times at all.” “She was looking uncommonly well. The new North-Country girl has come out.” “So I’ve heard.” “Going to Goodwood?” “Yes. We take Brighton this time with the Sendalls.” And so on. It dribbles for the regulation time, and, after a sufficient period of mortal endurance, the crowd disperse, and proceed to scandalize each other or to carry news elsewhere about the ladies who were looking “remarkably well-l-l.”

As for the dreadful crushes, what can one say? The absurd rooms where six hundred people try to move about in a space meant for three hundred; the staircase a Black-Hole tempered by flowers; the tired smile of the hostess; the set simper of long-recked shaven young men; the patient, tortured hypocrisy of hustled and heated ladies; the babble of scrappy nothings; the envy, hatred, malice, and all uncharitableness; the magnificence turned into meanness; the lack of all feeling of home, and the discontented dispersal of ungrateful people–are these the things to occupy life? Are these the things to interest any manly man who is free to act for himself? Hardly.

But our “company” refers to the meeting of human souls and hearts, and not to the meeting of a fortuitous concourse of male and female evening-dresses. I have now before me a very brilliant published account of a reception at George Eliot’s house. Those assemblies were company, and company of the finest kind. The exaggerated fuss made by the sibyl’s husband in order to secure silence while she was speaking sometimes became a little embarrassing when men of a humorous turn were there; but nevertheless the best in England met in that drawing-room, and all that was highest in literature, science, and art was talked over in graceful fashion. The sniffing drawl of Society and the impudent affectation of cynicism were not to be found; and grave men and women–some of them mournful enough, it may be–agreed to make the useful hours fleet to some profit. No man or woman in England–or in Europe for that matter–was unwilling to enter that modest but brilliant assemblage, and I wish some one could have taken minute notes, though that of course would have been too entirely shocking. When I think of that little deep-voiced lady gathering the choicest spirits of her day together, and keeping so many notes in tuneful chime, I hardly know whether to use superlatives of admiration about her or superlatives of contempt about the fribbles who crush each other on staircases and babble like parrots in an aviary. If we cast back a little, we have another example of an almost perfect company. People have talked of Johnson, Burke, Boswell, Beauclerc, and Goldsmith until the subject is growing a thought stale; but, unless a reader takes Boswell and reads the book attentively after he has come to maturity, he can hardly imagine how fine was that admirable company. They were men of high aims and strong sense; they talked at their very best, and they talked because they wished to attain clear views of life and fate. The old gladiator sometimes argued for victory, but that was only in moments of whim, and he was always ready to acknowledge when he was in error. Those men may sometimes have drunk too much wine; they may have spoken platitudes on occasion; but they were good company for each other, and the hearty, manly friendship which all but poor Goldsmith and Boswell felt for every one else was certainly excellent. Assemblies like the Club are impossible nowadays; but surely we might find some modification suited even to our gigantic intellects and our exaggerated cleverness! I have defined bad company; I may define good company as that social intercourse which tends to bring out all that is best in man. I have said my bitter word about the artificial society of the capital; but I never forget the lovely quiet circles which meet in places far away from the blare of the city. In especial I may refer to the beautiful family assemblies which are almost self-centred. The girls are all at home, but the boys are scattered. Harry writes from India, with all sorts of gossip from Simla, and many longings for home; a neighbour calls, and the Indian letter gives matter for pleasant half-melancholy chat. Then the quiet evening passes with books and placid casual talk; the nerves from the family stretch perhaps all over the world, but all the threads converge on one centre. This life is led in many places, and the folk who so live are good company among themselves, and good company for all who meet them.

The very thought of the men who are usually described in set slang phrases is enough to arouse a shudder. The loud wit who cracks his prepared witticisms either at the head of a tavern-table or in private society is a mere horror. The tavern men of the commercial traveller class are very bad, for their mirth is prepared; their jokes have run the length and breadth of the United Kingdom, and they are not always prepared to sacrifice the privilege of being coarse which used to be regarded as the joker’s prerogative. In moving about the world I have always found that the society of the great commercial room set up for being jolly, but I could never exactly perceive where the jollity entered. Noise, sham gentility, the cackle of false laughter were there; but the strong, sincere cheerfulness of friendly men–never! Yet the tavern humourist, or even the club joker, is as nothing compared with the true professional wit. Who can remember that story about Theodore Hook and the orange? Hook wrote a note to the hostess, saying, “Ask me at dinner if I will venture on an orange.” The lady did so, and then the brilliant wit promptly made answer, “I’m afraid I should tumble off.” A whole volume of biography is implied in that one gruesome and vulgar anecdote. In truth, the professional wit is no company at all; he has the effect of a performing monkey suddenly planted on the table, and his efforts are usually quite on a level with the monkey’s.

Among the higher Bohemian sets–Bohemian they call themselves, as if there ever was a Bohemian with five hundred a year!–good company is common. I may say, with fear and much trembling, that the man of letters, the man who can name you all the Restoration comedies or tell you the styles of the contemporaries of Alan Chartier is a most terrible being, and I should risk sharks rather than remain with him on a desolate island; but a mixed set of artists, musicians, verse-makers, novelists, critics–yea, even critics–contrive usually to make an unusually pleasant company. They are all so clever that the professional wit dares not raise his voice lest some wielder of the bludgeon should smite him; no long-winded talk is allowed, and, though a bore may once be admitted to the company, he certainly will never be admitted more than once. The talk ranges loosely from point to point, and yet a certain sequence is always observed; the men are freed from conventions; they like each other and know each other’s measure pretty well; so the hours fly in merry fashion, and the brethren who carried on the symposium go away well pleased with themselves and with each other. There can be no good company where the capacity for general agreement is carried too far in any quarter. Unity of aim, difference of opinion–those are the elements that make men’s conversations valuable. Last of all, I must declare that there can be no good company unless women are present. The artists and authors and the rest are all very well in their way, but the dexterous unseen touch of the lady is needed; and no man can reckon himself fit to converse at all unless he has been taught by women’s care, and gently reproved by women’s impalpable skill. Young men of our day are beginning to think it childish or tedious to mix much in women’s society; the consequence is that, though many of them go a long way toward being gentlemen, too many are the merest cubs that ever exhibited pure loutishness in conversation. The subtle blending, the light give-and-take of chat between men and women is the true training which makes men graceful of tongue, kindly in the use of phrases, and, I believe, pure in heart.

_October, 1888._


One of the most pestilent of all social nuisances is the athlete who must be eternally performing “feats,” and then talking about them. He goes to the Alps, and, instead of looking at the riot of sunset colour or the immortal calm of the slumbering peaks, he attempts performances which might be amusing in a circus of unlimited size, but which are not in the least interesting when brought off on the mighty declivities of the great hills. One of these gentlemen takes up a quarter of a volume in telling us how he first of all climbed up a terrible peak, then fell backwards and slid down a slope of eight hundred feet, cutting his head to the bone, and losing enough blood to make him feel faint The same gentleman had seen two of his companions fly into eternity down the grim sides of the same mountain; but he must needs climb to the top, not in order to serve any scientific purpose, or even to secure a striking view, but merely to say he had been there. After an hour on the summit of the enormous mass of stone, he came down; and I should have liked to ask him what he reckoned to be the net profit accruing to him for his little exploit. Wise men do not want to clamber up immense and dangerous Alps; there is a kind of heroic lunacy about the business, but it is not useful, and it certainly is not inviting. If a thoughtful man goes even in winter among the mountains, their vast repose sinks on his soul; his love of them never slackens, and he returns again and again to his haunts until time has stiffened his joints and dulled his eyes, and he prepares to go down into the dust of death. But the wise man has a salutary dislike of break-neck situations; he cannot let his sweet or melancholy fancies free while he is hanging on for dear life to some inhospitable crag, so he prefers a little moderate exercise of the muscles, and a good deal of placid gazing on scenes that ennoble his thoughts and make his imagination more lofty. One of the mountain-climbing enthusiasts could not contrive to break his neck in Europe, so, with a gallantry worthy of a better cause, he went to South America and scaled Chimborazo. He could not quite break his neck even in the Andes, but he no doubt turned many athletic friends yellow with envy. Yet another went to the Caucasus, and found so many charming and almost deadly perils there that he wants numbers of people to go out and share his raptures.

The same barren competitive spirit breaks out in other directions. Men will run across the North Sea in a five-ton boat, though there are scores of big and comfortable steamers to carry them: they are cramped in their tiny craft; they can get no exercise; their limbs are pained; they undergo a few days of cruel privation–and all in order that they may tell how they bore a drenching in a cockboat. On the roads in our own England we see the same disposition made manifest. The bicyclist tears along with his head low and his eyes fixed just ahead of the tyre of his front wheel; he does not enjoy the lovely panorama that flits past him, he has no definite thought, he only wants to cover so many miles before dark; save for the fresh air that will whistle past him, thrilling his blood, he might as well be rolling round on a cinder track in some running-ground. But the walker–the long-distance walker–is the most trying of all to the average leisurely and meditative citizen. He fits himself out with elaborate boots and ribbed stockings; he carries resin and other medicaments for use in case his feet should give way; his knapsack is unspeakably stylish, and he posts off like a spirited thoroughbred running a trial. His one thought is of distances; he gloats over a milestone which informs him that he is going well up to five and a half miles per hour, and he fills up his evening by giving spirited but somewhat trying accounts of the pace at which he did each stage of his pilgrimage. In the early morning he is astir, not because he likes to see the diamond dew on the lovely trees or hear the chant of the birds as they sing of love and thanksgiving–he wants to make a good start, so that he may devour even more of the way than he did the day before. In any one lane that he passes through there are scores of sights that offer a harvest to the quiet eye; but our insatiable athlete does not want to see anything in particular until the sight of his evening steak fills him with rapture. If the most patient and urbane of men were shut up with one of these tremendous fellows during a storm of rain, he would pray for deliverance before a couple of hours went by; for the competitive athlete’s intelligence seems to settle in his calves, and he refers to his legs for all topics which he kindly conceives to possess human interest. Of course the swift walker may become a useful citizen should we ever have war; he will display the same qualities that were shown by the sturdy Bavarians and Brandenburgers who bore those terrible marches in 1870 and swept MacMahon into a deadly trap by sheer endurance and speed of foot; but he is not the ideal companion.

Persons who are wise proceed on a different plan; they wish to make the most of every moment, and, while they value exercise, they like to make the quickened currents of their blood feed a receptive and perhaps somewhat epicurean brain. To the judicious man our lovely country affords a veritable harvest of delights–and the delights can be gained with very little trouble. I let the swift muscular men hurry away to the Tyrol or the Caucasus or the Rocky Mountains, or whithersoever else they care to go, and I turn to our own windy seashore or quiet lanes or flushed purple moorlands. I do not much care for the babble of talk at my elbow; but one good companion who has cultivated the art of keeping silent is a boon. Suppose that you follow me on a roundabout journey. Say we run northward in the train and resolve to work to the south on foot; we start by the sea, and foot it on some fine gaudy morning over the springy links where the grass grows gaily and the steel-coloured bent-grass gleams like the bayonets of some vast host. The fresh wind sings from the sea and flies through the lungs and into the pores with an exhilarating effect like that of wine; the waves dance shoreward, glittering as if diamonds were being pelted down from the blue arch above; the sea-swallows sweep over the bubbling crests like flights of silver arrows. It is very joyous. You have set off early, of course, and the rabbits have not yet turned into their holes for their day-long snooze. Watch quietly, and you may perhaps see how they make their fairy rings on the grass. One frolicsome brown rogue whisks up his white tail, and begins careering round and round; another is fired by emulation and joins; another and another follow, and soon there is a flying ring of merry little creatures who seem quite demented with the very pleasure of living. One bounds into the air with a comic curvet, and comes down with a thud; the others copy him, and there is a wild maze of coiling bodies and gleaming white tails. But let the treacherous wind carry the scent of you down on the little rascals and you will see a change. An old fellow sits up like a kangaroo for an instant, looking extremely wise and vigilant; he drops and kicks the ground with a sharp thud that can be heard a long way off; the terror of man asserts itself in the midst of that pure, peaceful beauty, and the whole flock dart off in agitated fashion till they reach their holes; then they seem to look round with a sarcastic air, for they know that you could not even raise a gun to your shoulder in time to catch one of them before he made his lightning dive into the darksome depths of the sand-hill. How strange it is that meditative men like to watch the ways of wild things! White of Selborne did not care much for killing anything in particular; he enjoyed himself in a beautiful way for years, merely because he had learned to love the pretty creatures of fen and meadow and woodland. Mr. Russell Lowell can spend a happy day in watching through his glass the habits of the birds that haunt his great garden; he does not want a gun; he only cares to observe the instincts which God has implanted in the harmless children of the air. On our walking tour we have hundreds of chances to see the mystic mode of life pursued by the creatures that swarm even in our crowded England; and if we use our eyes we may see a score of genuine miracles every day.

On the pleasant “links” there is always something new to draw the eye. Out on the flashing sea a ship rolls bravely away to north or south; her sails are snowy in certain lights, and then in an instant she stands up in raiment of sooty black. You may make up a story about her if you are fanciful. Perhaps she is trailing her way into the deep quiet harbour which you have just left, and the women are waiting until the rough bearded fellows come lumbering up the quay. Perhaps she was careering over the rushing mountain waves to the southward of the desolate Horn only a few weeks ago, and the men were counting the days wearily, while the lasses and wives at home sighed as the wind scourged the sea in the dreary night and set all the rocks thundering with the charges of mad surges. A little indulgence of the fancy does you no harm even though you may be all wrong; very likely the skipper of the glad-looking vessel is tipsy, maybe he has just been rope’s-ending his cabin-boy or engaging in some equally unpoetic pursuit; still no one is harmed by idealizing a little, and so, by your leave, we will not alter our crude romance of the sailor-men. Meantime, as you go on framing poetic fancies, there is a school of other poets up above you, and they are composing their fantasies at a pretty rate. The modest brown lark sits quietly amid the sheltering grass, and will hardly stir, no matter how near her you may go; but her mate, the glorious singer, is far away up toward the sun, and he shouts in his joyous ecstasy until the heaven is full of his exquisite joyance. Imagine how he puts his heart into his carol! He is at least a mile above you, and you can hear him over a radius of half a mile, measured from the place where he will drop. The little poets chant one against the other, and yet there is no discord, for the magic of distance seems to harmonize song with song, and the tumult soothes instead of exciting you. Who is the poet who talks of “drawing a thread of honey through your heart”? It is a quaint, conceited phrase, and yet somehow it gives with absurd felicity some idea of the lark’s song. They massacre these innocents of the holy choir by thousands, and put them in puddings for Cockneys to eat. The mere memory of one of those beatified mornings makes you want to take the blood of the first poulterer whom you find exposing a piteous string of the exquisite darlings. But we must not think of blood, or taxes, or German bands, or political speeches, or any other abomination, for our walk takes us through flowery regions of peace.

Your muscles tighten rarely as you stump on over the elastic herbage; two miles an hour is quite enough for your modest desires, especially as you know you can quicken to four or five whenever you choose. As the day wears on, the glorious open-air confusion takes possession of your senses, your pulses beat with spirit, and you pass amid floating visions of keen colour, soft greenery, comforting shades. The corn rustles on the margin where the sandy soil ceases; the sleepy farmhouses seem to ‘give you a lazy greeting, and the figures of the labourers are like natural features of the landscape. Everything appears friendly; it may be that the feeling of kindness and security arises from your physical well-being, but it is there all the same, and what can you do more than enjoy? Perhaps in the midst of your confused happiness your mind begins acting on its own account, and quite disregards its humble companion, the body. Xavier de Maistre’s mind always did so, and left what Xavier called the poor _bete_ of a carcass to take care of itself; and all of us have to experience this double existence at times. Then you find the advantages of knowing a great deal of poetry. I would not give a rush for a man who merely pores over his poets in order to make notes or comments on them; you ought to have them as beloved companions to be near you night and day, to take up the parable when your own independent thought is hazy with delight or even with sorrow. As you tramp along the whistling stretches amid the blaze of the ragworts and the tender passing glances of the wild veronica, you can take in all their loveliness with the eye, while the brain goes on adding to your pleasure by recalling the music of the poets. Perhaps you fall into step with the quiver and beat of our British Homer’s rushing rhymes, and Marmion thunders over the brown hills of the Border, or Clara lingers where mingles war’s rattle with groans of the dying. Perhaps the wilful brain persists in crooning over the “Belle Dame Sans Merci;” your mood flutters and changes with every minute, and you derive equal satisfaction from the organ-roll of Milton or the silvery flageolet tones of Thomas Moore. If culture consists in learning the grammar an etymologies of a poet’s song, then no cultured man will ever get any pleasure from poetry while he is on a walking tour; but, if you absorb your poets into your being, you have spells of rare and unexpected delight.

The halt is always pleasant. On our sand-hills the brackens grow to an immense height, and, if you lie down among them, you are surrounded by a pale green gleam, as if you had dived beneath some lucent sun-smitten water. The ground-lark sways on a frond above you; the stonechat lights for an instant, utters his cracking cry, and is off with a whisk; you have fair, quiet, and sweet rest, and you start up ready to jog along again. You come to a slow clear stream that winds seaward, lilting to itself in low whispered cadences. Over some broad shallow pool paven with brown stones the little trout fly hither and thither, making a weft and woof of dark streaks as they travel; the minnows poise themselves, and shiver and dart convulsively; the leisurely eel undulates along, and perhaps gives you a glint of his wicked eye; you begin to understand the angler’s fascination, for the most restive of men might be lulled by the light moan of that wimpling current. Cruel? Alas, yes!

That quaint old cruel coxcomb in his gullet Should have a hook, with a small trout to pull it.

That was the little punishment which Byron devised for Izaak Walton. But of course, if you once begin to be supersensitive about cruelty, you find your way blocked at every cross-road of life, and existence ceases to be worth having.

On, as the sun slopes, and his beams fall slant over solemn mounds of cool gray hue and woody fields all pranked in gold. Look to the north, and you see the far-away hills in their sunset livery of white and purple and rose. On the clear summits the snow sometimes lies; and, as the royal orb sinks, you will see the snow blush for a minute with throbbing carnation tints that shift and faint off slowly into cold pallid green. The heart is too full of ecstasy to allow even of thought. You live–that is all! You may continue your wanderings among all the mystic sounds and sights of the night, but it is better to rest long and well when you can. Let the village innkeeper put down for you the coarsest fare that can be conceived, and you will be content; for, as a matter of fact, any food and drink appeal gratefully to the palate of a man who has been inhaling the raciest air at every pore for eight or ten hours. If the fare does not happen to be coarse–if, for example, the landlord has a dish of trout–so much the better; you do not envy any crowned personage in Christendom or elsewhere. And how much does your day of Paradise cost you? At the utmost, half-a-crown. Had you been away on the Rhine or in Switzerland or in some German home of brigands, you would have been bleeding at the purse all day, while in our own matchless land you have had merriment, wild nature, air that is like the essence of life–and all for thirty pence. When night falls heavily, you pass your last hour in listening to the under-song of the sea and the whisper of the roaming winds among the grass. Then, if you are wise and grateful, you thank the Giver of all, and go to sleep.

In the jolly greenwoods of the Midlands you may have enjoyment of another kind. Some men prefer the sleepy settled villages, the sweeping fens with their bickering windmills, the hush and placidity of old market-towns that brood under the looming majesty of the castle. The truth is that you cannot go anywhere in England outside of the blighted hideous manufacturing districts without finding beauty and peace. In the first instance you seek health and physical well-being–that goes without saying; but the walking epicure must also have dainty thoughts, full banquets of the mind, quiet hours wherein resolutions may be framed in solitude and left in the soul to ripen. When the epicure returns to the din of towns, he has a safeguard in his own breast which tends to keep him alike from folly and melancholy. Furthermore, as he passes the reeking dens where human beings crowd who never see flower or tree, he feels all churlishness depart from him, and he is ready to pity and help his less happy brethren. After he has settled to labour again, his hours of rest are made calmly contented by the chance visions that come to him and show him the blown sea, the rustling whiteness of fretted surges, the painted meadows, and the solemn colours of the dying day. And all this talk we have got only through letting our minds go wandering away on the subject of going a-walking. I have always said that the sweetest pleasures are almost costless. The placid “look of the bay mare” took all the silliness out of Walt Whitman; and there is more in his queer phrase than meets the eye. One word. When you go a-walking, do not try to be obtrusively merry. Meet a group of tramping gentlemen who have been beer-drinking at noon; they are surprisingly vivacious until the gaze of the sun becomes importunate; they even sing as they go, and their hearty laughter resounds far and near. See them in the afternoon, and ask where the merriment is; their eyes are glazed, their nerves crave slumber, their steps are by no mean sprightly, and they probably form a doleful company, ready to quarrel or think pessimistic thoughts. Be calm, placid, even; do not expect too much, and your reward will be rich.

_June, 1888._


Simple folk fancy that “sport” must be a joyous pursuit, and that a sportsman is a jovial, light-hearted, and rather innocent person. It may be useful to many parents, and perhaps to some young people, if I let them know what “sport” really means nowadays. Those who have their imaginations filled with pictures of merry red-coated riders, or of sturdy gaitered squires tramping through stubble behind their dogs, are quite welcome to their agreeable visions. The hounds of course meet in hundreds of places in winter-time, and the bold riders charge gaily across meadows and over fences. It is a splendid, exhilarating sight; and no one can find much fault with the pursuit, for it gives health to thousands. The foxes may perhaps object a little; but, if a philosopher could explain to them that, if they were not preserved for hunting purposes, they would soon be exterminated, we have no doubt that they would choose the alternative which gives them a chance. Shooting is engaged in with more enthusiasm now than ever it was before; and doubtless the gentlemen who sit in snug corners and knock down tame pheasants derive benefit–physical and moral–from the lively exercise. But the word “sport” in England does not now refer to hunting and shooting; it has a wide application, and it describes in a generic way a number of pursuits which are, to say the least, not improving to those who engage in them.

The royal sport is of course horse-racing; and about that amusement–in its present aspect–I may have something profitable to say. The advocates of racing inform us that the noble sport improves the breed of horses, and affords wholesome relaxation to men; they grow quite indignant with the narrow Puritans who talk “stuff” about demoralization, and they have numerous fine phrases referring to old England and the spirit of our fathers. All the talk concerning the improving influence of the Turf on horses and men is pernicious nonsense, and there is an end of the matter. The English thoroughbred is a beautiful creature, and it is pleasant enough to see him make his splendid rush from start to finish; amusing also is it to watch the skill of the wiry manikins who ride; the jockeys measure every second and every yard, and their cleverness in extracting the last ounce of strength from their horses is quite curious. The merest novice may enjoy the sight of the gay colours, and he cannot help feeling a thrill of excitement when the thud, thud of the hoofs sounds near him as the exquisite slender animals fly past. But the persons who take most interest in races are those who hardly know a horse from a mule. They may make a chance visit to a racecourse, but the speed and beauty of the animals do not interest them in any way; they cannot judge the skill of a rider; they have no eye for anything but money. To them a horse is merely a name; and, so far from their racing pursuits bringing them health, they prefer staying in a low club or lower public-house, where they may gamble without being obliged to trouble themselves about the nobler animals on which they bet.

The crowd on a racecourse is always a hideous spectacle. The class of men who swarm there are amongst the worst specimens of the human race, and, when a stranger has wandered among them for an hour or so, he feels as though he had been gazing at one huge, gross, distorted face. Their language is many degrees below vulgarity; in fact, their coarseness can be understood only by people who have been forced to go much amongst them–and that perhaps is fortunate. The quiet stoical aristocrats in the special enclosures are in all ways inoffensive; they gamble and gossip, but their betting is carried on with still self-restraint, and their gossip is the ordinary polished triviality of the country-house and drawing-room. But what can be said of the beings who crowd the betting-ring? They are indeed awful types of humanity, fitted to make sensitive men shudder. Their yells, their profanity, their low cunning, their noisy eagerness to pounce upon a simpleton, their infamous obscenity, all combine to make them the most loathsome collection of human beings to be found on the face of the broad earth.

Observe that all of this betting crew appear to be what is called rolling in money. They never do a stroke of useful work; they merely howl and make bets–that is their contribution to the prosperity of the State. Yet they are dressed with vulgar richness, they fare sumptuously, and they would not condescend to taste any wine save the finest vintages; they have servants and good horses, and in all ways they resemble some rank luxurious growth that has sprung from a putrid soil. Mark that these bookmakers, as they are called, are not gentlemen in any sense of the word; some of them are publicans, some look like prize-fighters, some like promoted costermongers, some like common thieves. There is not a man in the company who speaks with a decently refined accent–in short, to use plain terms, they are the scum of the earth. Whence then comes the money which enables them to live in riotous profusion? The explanation is a sad one, and I trust that these words may warn many young people in time. Here is the point to be weighed upon–these foul-mouthed persons in the betting-ring are able to travel about all spring, summer, and autumn, staying in the best hotels and lacking nothing; in winter they can loll away their time in billiard-rooms. Once more, who supplies the means? It is the senseless outside public who imagine they know something about “sport.”

Every town in England contains some centre–generally a public-house or a barber’s shop–where men meet to make wagers; the evil influence of the Turf is almost everywhere apparent, for it is probable that at least two millions of men are interested in betting. London swarms with vile clubs which are merely gambling saloons; professional men, tradesmen, clerks, and even artizans crowd into these horrid holes, and do business with the professional gamblers. In London alone there are some half-dozen papers published daily which are entirely devoted to “sport,” and these journals are of course bought by the gudgeons who seek destruction in the betting-rooms. In the provinces there are several towns which easily support a daily sporting journal; and no ordinary paper in the North of England could possibly survive unless at least one-eighth of its space were devoted to racing matters of various sorts. There are hundreds of thousands of our population who read absolutely nothing save lists of weights and entries, quotations which give the odds against horses, and reports of races. Not 5 per cent, of these individuals ever see a horse from year’s end to year’s end, yet they talk of nothing else but horses, horses, horses, and every effort of their intellects is devoted to the task of picking out winners. Incredible as it may seem, these poor souls call themselves sportsmen, and they undoubtedly think that their grubbing about in malodorous tap-rooms is a form of “sport”; it is their hopeless folly and greed that fill the pockets of the loud-mouthed tenants of the Ring. Some one must supply the bookmakers’ wealth, and the “some one” is the senseless amateur who takes his ideas from newspapers. The amateur of the tap-room or the club looks down a list of horses and chooses one which he fancies; perhaps he has received private advice from one of the beings who haunt the training-grounds and watch the thoroughbreds at exercise; perhaps he is influenced by some enthusiast who bids him risk all he has on certain private information. The fly enters the den and asks the spider, “What price Flora?”–that means, “What odds are you prepared to lay against the mare named Flora?” The spider answers–say seven to one; the fly hands one pound to the spider, and the bet is made. The peculiarity of this transaction is that one of the parties to it is always careful to arrange so that he cannot lose. Supposing that there are seven horses entered in a race, it is certain that six must be losers. The bookmaker so makes his wagers that no matter which of the seven wins he at least loses nothing; the miserable amateur has only one chance. He may possibly be lucky; but the chances in the long run are dead against him, for he is quite at the mercy of the sharp capitalist who bets with him. The money which the rowdies of the Ring spend so lavishly all comes from the pockets of dupes who persist in pursuing a kind of _ignis fatuus_ which too often leads them into a bog of ruin.

This deplorable business of wagering has become universal. We talk of the Italians as a gambling nation, but they are not to be compared with the English for recklessness and purblind persistence. I know almost every town in England, and I say without fear that the main topic of conversation in every place of entertainment where the traveller stays is betting. A tourist must of course make for hotel after hotel where the natives of each place congregate; and, if he keeps his ears open, he will find the gambling venom has tainted the life-blood of the people in every town from Berwick to Hastings. It may be asked, “How do these silly creatures who bet manage to obtain any idea of a horse?” They have not the faintest notion of what any given horse is like, but they usually follow the advice of some sharper who pretends to know what is going to win. There are some hundreds of persons who carry on a kind of secret trade in information, and these persons profess their ability to enable any one to win a fortune. The dupes write for advice, enclosing a fee, and they receive the name of a horse; then they risk their money, and so the shocking game goes on.

I receive only too many letters from wives, mothers, and sisters whose loved ones are being drawn into the vortex of destruction. Let me give some rough colloquial advice to the gamblers–“You bet on horses according to the advice of men who watch them. Observe how foolish you are! The horse A is trained in Yorkshire; the horse B at Newmarket. The man who watches A thinks that the animal can gallop very fast, and you risk your money according to his report. But what means has he of knowing the speed of B? If two horses gallop towards the winning-post locked together, it often happens that one wins by about six inches. There is no real difference in their speed, but the winner happens to have a neck slightly longer than the other. Observe that one race-horse–Buccaneer–has been known to cover a mile at the rate of fifty-four feet per second; it is therefore pretty certain that at his very highest speed he could move at sixty feet per second. Very good; it happens then that a horse which wins a race by one foot is about one-sixtieth of a second faster, than the beaten animal. What a dolt you must be to imagine that any man in the world could possibly tell you which of those two brutes was likely to be the winner! It is the merest guess-work; you have all the chances against you and you might as well bet on the tossing of halfpence. The bookmaker does not need to care, for he is safe whatever may win; but you are defying all the laws of chance; and, although you may make one lucky hit, you must fare ill in the end.” But no commonsensical talk seems to have any effect on the insensate fellows who are the betting-man’s prey, and thus this precious sport has become a source of idleness, theft, and vast misery. One wretch goes under, but the stock of human folly is unlimited, and the shoal of gudgeons moves steadily into the bookmaker’s net. One betting-agent in France receives some five thousand letters and telegrams per day, and all this huge correspondence comes from persons who never take the trouble to see a race, but who are bitten with the gambler’s fever. No warning suffices–man after man goes headlong to ruin, and still the doomed host musters in club and tavern. They lose all semblance of gentle humanity; they become mere blockheads–for cupidity and stupidity are usually allied–and they form a demoralizing leaven that is permeating the nation and sapping our manhood.

We have only to consider the position of the various dwarfs who bestride the racehorses in order to see how hard a hold this iniquity has on us. A jockey is merely a stable-boy after all; yet a successful jockey receives more adulation than does the greatest of statesmen. A theatrical manager has been known to prepare the royal box for the reception of one of these celebrities; some of the manikins earn five thousand a year, one of them has been known to make twenty thousand pounds in a year; and that same youth received three thousand pounds for riding in one race. As to the flattery–the detestable flattery–which the mob bestows on good horsemen, it cannot be mentioned with patience. In sum, then, a form of insanity has attacked England, and we shall pay bitterly for the fit. The idle host who gather on the racecourse add nothing to the nation’s wealth; they are poisonous parasites whose influence destroys industry, honesty, and common manliness. And yet the whole hapless crew, winners and losers, call themselves “sportsmen.” I have said plainly enough that every villainous human being seems to take naturally to the Turf; but unfortunately the fools follow on the same track as that trodden by the villains, and thus the honest gentlemen who still support a vile institution have all their work set out in order to prevent the hawks from making a meal of the pigeons. One of the honest guardians of racing morality resigned in bitter despair some time ago, giving as his reason the assertion that he could trust nobody. Nobody! The man was a great lord, he was totally disinterested and utterly generous, he never betted a penny, and he only preferred to see the superb thoroughbreds gallop. Lavish he was to all about him–and he could trust nobody. It seems that this despairful nobleman had tolerably good reasons for his hasty departure, for we have had such a crop of villainies to reap this year as never was gathered before in the same time, and it appears plain that no animal will be allowed to win any prize unless the foul crew of betting-men accord their kind approval, and refrain from poisoning the brute.

I address myself directly, and with all the earnestness of which I am capable, to those young simpletons who think that it is a fine and knowing thing to stake money on a horse. Some poor silly creatures cannot be taught that they are not even backing a good chance; they will not learn that the success or failure of horses in important races is regulated by a clique of rapscallions whose existence sullies the very light of day. Even if the simpleton chooses the very best horse in a race, it by no means follows that the creature will win–nay, the very excellence of an animal is all against its chances of success. The Ring–which is largely composed of well-to-do black-legs–will not let any man win too much. What earthly chance can a clerk or shopman or tradesman in Manchester or Derby have of knowing what passes in the hotels of Newmarket, the homes of trainers, the London betting-clubs? The information supplied so copiously by the sporting journals is as good as money can buy, but the writers on those papers are just as easily deceived as other people. Men are out every morning watching the horses take their exercise, and an animal cannot sneeze without the fact being telegraphed to the remotest corners of the country; but all this vigilance is useless when roguery comes into the field. Observe that for the moment I am not speaking about the morality of betting at all. I have my own opinion as to the mental tone of a man who is continually eyeing his neighbour’s pocket and wondering what he can abstract therefrom. There is, and can be, no friendship save bottle friendship among the animals of prey who spend their time and energy on betting; and I know how callously they let a victim sink to ruin after they have sucked his substance to the last drop. The very face of a betting-man is enough to let you know what his soul is like; it is a face such as can be seen nowhere but on the racecourse or in the betting-club: the last trace of high thought has vanished, and, though the men may laugh and indulge in verbal horse-play, there is always something carnivorous about their aspect. They are sharp in a certain line, but true intelligence is rarely found among them. Strange to say, they are often generous with money if their sentimental side is fairly touched, but their very generosity is the lavishness of ostentation, and they seem to have no true kindness in them, nor do they appear capable of even shamming to possess the genuine helpful nature. Eternally on the watch for prey, they assume the essential nature of predatory animals; their notion of cleverness is to get the better of somebody, and their idea of intellectual effort is to lay cunning traps for fools to enter. Yes; the betting-ring is a bad school of morality, and the man who goes there as a fool and a victim too, often blossoms into a rogue and a plunderer.

With all this in my mind, I press my readers to understand that I leave the ethics of wagering alone for the present, and confine my attention strictly to the question of expediency. What is the use of wearing out nerve and brain on pondering an infinite maze of uncertainties? The rogues who command jockeys and even trainers on occasion can act with certainty, for they have their eye on the very tap-root of the Turf upas-tree. The noodles who read sporting prints and try to look knowing can only fumble about among uncertainties; they and their pitiful money help to swell the triumphs and the purses of rascals, and they fritter