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And Even Now by Max Beerbohm

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This e-text was prepared by Tom Weiss (tom@iname.com)




I offer here some of the essays that I have written in the course of
the past ten years. While I was collecting them and (quite patiently)
reading them again, I found that a few of them were in direct
reference to the moments at which they were severally composed. It was
clear that these must have their dates affixed to them. And for sake
of uniformity I have dated all the others, and, doing so, have thought
I need not exclude all such topical remarks as in them too were
uttered, nor throw into a past tense such of those remarks as I have
retained. Perhaps a book of essays ought to seem as if it had been
written a few days before publication. On the other hand--but this is
a Note, not a Preface.
Rapallo, 1920.


A RELIC (1918)
NO. 2. THE PINES (1914)
`A CLERGYMAN' (1918)
THE CRIME (1920)


Yesterday I found in a cupboard an old, small, battered portmanteau
which, by the initials on it, I recognised as my own property. The
lock appeared to have been forced. I dimly remembered having forced it
myself, with a poker, in my hot youth, after some journey in which I
had lost the key; and this act of violence was probably the reason why
the trunk had so long ago ceased to travel. I unstrapped it, not
without dust; it exhaled the faint scent of its long closure; it
contained a tweed suit of Late Victorian pattern, some bills, some
letters, a collar-stud, and--something which, after I had wondered for
a moment or two what on earth it was, caused me suddenly to murmur,
`Down below, the sea rustled to and fro over the shingle.'

Strange that these words had, year after long year, been existing in
some obscure cell at the back of my brain!--forgotten but all the
while existing, like the trunk in that cupboard. What released them,
what threw open the cell door, was nothing but the fragment of a fan;
just the butt-end of an inexpensive fan. The sticks are of white bone,
clipped together with a semicircular ring that is not silver. They are
neatly oval at the base, but variously jagged at the other end. The
longest of them measures perhaps two inches. Ring and all, they have
no market value; for a farthing is the least coin in our currency. And
yet, though I had so long forgotten them, for me they are not
worthless. They touch a chord... Lest this confession raise false
hopes in the reader, I add that I did not know their owner.

I did once see her, and in Normandy, and by moonlight, and her name
was Ange'lique. She was graceful, she was even beautiful. I was but
nineteen years old. Yet even so I cannot say that she impressed me
favourably. I was seated at a table of a cafe' on the terrace of a
casino. I sat facing the sea, with my back to the casino. I sat
listening to the quiet sea, which I had crossed that morning. The hour
was late, there were few people about. I heard the swing-door behind
me flap open, and was aware of a sharp snapping and crackling sound as
a lady in white passed quickly by me. I stared at her erect thin back
and her agitated elbows. A short fat man passed in pursuit of her--an
elderly man in a black alpaca jacket that billowed. I saw that she had
left a trail of little white things on the asphalt. I watched the
efforts of the agonised short fat man to overtake her as she swept
wraith-like away to the distant end of the terrace. What was the
matter? What had made her so spectacularly angry with him? The three
or four waiters of the cafe' were exchanging cynical smiles and
shrugs, as waiters will. I tried to feel cynical, but was thrilled
with excitement, with wonder and curiosity. The woman out yonder had
doubled on her tracks. She had not slackened her furious speed, but
the man waddlingly contrived to keep pace with her now. With every
moment they became more distinct, and the prospect that they would
presently pass by me, back into the casino, gave me that physical
tension which one feels on a wayside platform at the imminent passing
of an express. In the rushingly enlarged vision I had of them, the
wrath on the woman's face was even more saliently the main thing than
I had supposed it would be. That very hard Parisian face must have
been as white as the powder that coated it. `Écoute, Ange'lique,'
gasped the perspiring bourgeois, `e'coute, je te supplie--' The swing-
door received them and was left swinging to and fro. I wanted to
follow, but had not paid for my bock. I beckoned my waiter. On his way
to me he stooped down and picked up something which, with a smile and
a shrug, he laid on my table: `Il semble que Mademoiselle ne s'en
servira plus.' This is the thing I now write of, and at sight of it I
understood why there had been that snapping and crackling, and what
the white fragments on the ground were.

I hurried through the rooms, hoping to see a continuation of that
drama--a scene of appeasement, perhaps, or of fury still implacable.
But the two oddly-assorted players were not performing there. My
waiter had told me he had not seen either of them before. I suppose
they had arrived that day. But I was not destined to see either of
them again. They went away, I suppose, next morning; jointly or
singly; singly, I imagine.

They made, however, a prolonged stay in my young memory, and would
have done so even had I not had that tangible memento of them. Who
were they, those two of whom that one strange glimpse had befallen me?
What, I wondered, was the previous history of each? What, in
particular, had all that tragic pother been about? Mlle. Ange'lique I
guessed to be thirty years old, her friend perhaps fifty-five. Each of
their faces was as clear to me as in the moment of actual vision--the
man's fat shiny bewildered face; the taut white face of the woman, the
hard red line of her mouth, the eyes that were not flashing, but
positively dull, with rage. I presumed that the fan had been a present
from him, and a recent present--bought perhaps that very day, after
their arrival in the town. But what, what had he done that she should
break it between her hands, scattering the splinters as who should sow
dragon's teeth? I could not believe he had done anything much amiss. I
imagined her grievance a trivial one. But this did not make the case
less engrossing. Again and again I would take the fan-stump from my
pocket, examining it on the palm of my hand, or between finger and
thumb, hoping to read the mystery it had been mixed up in, so that I
might reveal that mystery to the world. To the world, yes; nothing
less than that. I was determined to make a story of what I had seen--a
conte in the manner of great Guy de Maupassant. Now and again, in the
course of the past year or so, it had occurred to me that I might be a
writer. But I had not felt the impulse to sit down and write
something. I did feel that impulse now. It would indeed have been an
irresistible impulse if I had known just what to write.

I felt I might know at any moment, and had but to give my mind to it.
Maupassant was an impeccable artist, but I think the secret of the
hold he had on the young men of my day was not so much that we
discerned his cunning as that we delighted in the simplicity which his
cunning achieved. I had read a great number of his short stories, but
none that had made me feel as though I, if I were a writer, mightn't
have written it myself. Maupassant had an European reputation. It was
pleasing, it was soothing and gratifying, to feel that one could at
any time win an equal fame if one chose to set pen to paper. And now,
suddenly, the spring had been touched in me, the time was come. I was
grateful for the fluke by which I had witnessed on the terrace that
evocative scene. I looked forward to reading the MS. of `The Fan'--to-
morrow, at latest. I was not wildly ambitious. I was not inordinately
vain. I knew I couldn't ever, with the best will in the world, write
like Mr. George Meredith. Those wondrous works of his, seething with
wit, with poetry and philosophy and what not, never had beguiled me
with the sense that I might do something similar. I had full
consciousness of not being a philosopher, of not being a poet, and of
not being a wit. Well, Maupassant was none of these things. He was
just an observer, like me. Of course he was a good deal older than I,
and had observed a good deal more. But it seemed to me that he was not
my superior in knowledge of life. I knew all about life through him.

Dimly, the initial paragraph of my tale floated in my mind. I--not
exactly I myself, but rather that impersonal je familiar to me through
Maupassant--was to be sitting at that table, with a bock before me,
just as I had sat. Four or five short sentences would give the whole
scene. One of these I had quite definitely composed. You have already
heard it. `Down below, the sea rustled to and fro over the shingle.'

These words, which pleased me much, were to do double duty. They were
to recur. They were to be, by a fine stroke, the very last words of my
tale, their tranquillity striking a sharp ironic contrast with the
stress of what had just been narrated. I had, you see, advanced
further in the form of my tale than in the substance. But even the
form was as yet vague. What, exactly, was to happen after Mlle.
Ange'lique and M. Joumand (as I provisionally called him) had rushed
back past me into the casino? It was clear that I must hear the whole
inner history from the lips of one or the other of them. Which? Should
M. Joumand stagger out on to the terrace, sit down heavily at the
table next to mine, bury his head in his hands, and presently, in
broken words, blurt out to me all that might be of interest?... `"And
I tell you I gave up everything for her--everything." He stared at me
with his old hopeless eyes. "She is more than the fiend I have
described to you. Yet I swear to you, monsieur, that if I had anything
left to give, it should be hers."

`Down below, the sea rustled to and fro over the shingle.'

Or should the lady herself be my informant? For a while, I rather
leaned to this alternative. It was more exciting, it seemed to make
the writer more signally a man of the world. On the other hand, it was
less simple to manage. Wronged persons might be ever so communicative,
but I surmised that persons in the wrong were reticent. Mlle.
Ange'lique, therefore, would have to be modified by me in appearance
and behaviour, toned down, touched up; and poor M. Joumand must look
like a man of whom one could believe anything.... `She ceased
speaking. She gazed down at the fragments of her fan, and then, as
though finding in them an image of her own life, whispered, "To think
what I once was, monsieur!--what, but for him, I might be, even now!"
She buried her face in her hands, then stared out into the night.
Suddenly she uttered a short, harsh laugh.

`Down below, the sea rustled to and fro over the shingle.'

I decided that I must choose the first of these two ways. It was the
less chivalrous as well as the less lurid way, but clearly it was the
more artistic as well as the easier. The `chose vue,' the `tranche de
la vie'--this was the thing to aim at. Honesty was the best policy. I
must be nothing if not merciless. Maupassant was nothing if not
merciless. He would not have spared Mlle. Ange'lique. Besides, why
should I libel M. Joumand? Poor--no, not poor M. Joumand! I warned
myself against pitying him. One touch of `sentimentality,' and I
should be lost. M. Joumand was ridiculous. I must keep him so. But--
what was his position in life? Was he a lawyer perhaps?--or the
proprietor of a shop in the Rue de Rivoli? I toyed with the
possibility that he kept a fan shop--that the business had once been a
prosperous one, but had gone down, down, because of his infatuation
for this woman to whom he was always giving fans--which she always
smashed.... `"Ah monsieur, cruel and ungrateful to me though she is, I
swear to you that if I had anything left to give, it should be hers;
but," he stared at me with his old hopeless eyes, "the fan she broke
to-night was the last--the last, monsieur--of my stock." Down below,'-
-but I pulled myself together, and asked pardon of my Muse.

It may be that I had offended her by my fooling. Or it may be that she
had a sisterly desire to shield Mlle. Ange'lique from my mordant art.
Or it may be that she was bent on saving M. de Maupassant from a
dangerous rivalry. Anyway, she withheld from me the inspiration I had
so confidently solicited. I could not think what had led up to that
scene on the terrace. I tried hard and soberly. I turned the `chose
vue' over and over in my mind, day by day, and the fan-stump over and
over in my hand. But the `chose a` figurer'--what, oh what, was that?
Nightly I revisited the cafe', and sat there with an open mind--a mind
wide-open to catch the idea that should drop into it like a ripe
golden plum. The plum did not ripen. The mind remained wide-open for a
week or more, but nothing except that phrase about the sea rustled to
and fro in it.

A full quarter of a century has gone by. M. Joumand's death, so far
too fat was he all those years ago, may be presumed. A temper so
violent as Mlle. Ange'lique's must surely have brought its owner to
the grave, long since. But here, all unchanged, the stump of her fan
is; and once more I turn it over and over in my hand, not learning its
secret--no, nor even trying to, now. The chord this relic strikes in
me is not one of curiosity as to that old quarrel, but (if you will
forgive me) one of tenderness for my first effort to write, and for my
first hopes of excellence.


It would seem that I am one of those travellers for whom the railway
bookstall does not cater. Whenever I start on a journey, I find that
my choice lies between well-printed books which I have no wish to
read, and well-written books which I could not read without permanent
injury to my eyesight. The keeper of the bookstall, seeing me gaze
vaguely along his shelves, suggests that I should take `Fen Country
Fanny' or else `The Track of Blood' and have done with it. Not wishing
to hurt his feelings, I refuse these works on the plea that I have
read them. Whereon he, divining despite me that I am a superior
person, says `Here is a nice little handy edition of More's "Utopia"'
or `Carlyle's "French Revolution"' and again I make some excuse. What
pleasure could I get from trying to cope with a masterpiece printed in
diminutive grey-ish type on a semi-transparent little grey-ish page? I
relieve the bookstall of nothing but a newspaper or two.

The other day, however, my eye and fancy were caught by a book
entitled `How Shall I Word It?' and sub-entitled `A Complete Letter
Writer for Men and Women.' I had never read one of these manuals, but
had often heard that there was a great and constant `demand' for them.
So I demanded this one. It is no great fun in itself. The writer is no
fool. He has evidently a natural talent for writing letters. His style
is, for the most part, discreet and easy. If you were a young man
writing `to Father of Girl he wishes to Marry' or `thanking Fiance'e
for Present' or `reproaching Fiance'e for being a Flirt,' or if you
were a mother `asking Governess her Qualifications' or `replying to
Undesirable Invitation for her Child,' or indeed if you were in any
other one of the crises which this book is designed to alleviate, you
might copy out and post the specially-provided letter without making
yourself ridiculous in the eyes of its receiver--unless, of course, he
or she also possessed a copy of the book. But--well, can you conceive
any one copying out and posting one of these letters, or even taking
it as the basis for composition? You cannot. That shows how little you
know of your fellow-creatures. Not you nor I can plumb the abyss at
the bottom of which such humility is possible. Nevertheless, as we
know by that great and constant `demand,' there the abyss is, and
there multitudes are at the bottom of it. Let's peer down... No, all
is darkness. But faintly, if we listen hard, is borne up to us a sound
of the scratching of innumerable pens--pens whose wielders are all
trying, as the author of this handbook urges them, to `be original,
fresh, and interesting' by dint of more or less strict adherence to

Giddily you draw back from the edge of the abyss. Come!--here is a
thought to steady you. The mysterious great masses of helpless folk
for whom `How Shall I Word It' is written are sound at heart, delicate
in feeling, anxious to please, most loth to wound. For it must be
presumed that the author's style of letter-writing is informed as much
by a desire to give his public what it needs, and will pay for, as by
his own beautiful nature; and in the course of all the letters that he
dictates you will find not one harsh word, not one ignoble thought or
unkind insinuation. In all of them, though so many are for the use of
persons placed in the most trying circumstances, and some of them are
for persons writhing under a sense of intolerable injury, sweetness
and light do ever reign. Even `yours truly, Jacob Langton,' in his
`letter to his Daughter's Mercenary Fiance',' mitigates the sternness
of his tone by the remark that his `task is inexpressibly painful.'
And he, Mr. Langton, is the one writer who lets the post go out on his
wrath. When Horace Masterton, of Thorpe Road, Putney, receives from
Miss Jessica Weir, of Fir Villa, Blackheath, a letter `declaring her
Change of Feelings,' does he upbraid her? No; `it was honest and brave
of you to write to me so straightforwardly and at the back of my mind
I know you have done what is best.... I give you back your freedom
only at your desire. God bless you, dear.' Not less admirable is the
behaviour, in similar case, of Cecil Grant (14, Glover Street,
Streatham). Suddenly, as a bolt from the blue, comes a letter from
Miss Louie Hawke (Elm View, Deerhurst), breaking off her betrothal to
him. Haggard, he sits down to his desk; his pen traverses the
notepaper--calling down curses on Louie and on all her sex? No; `one
cannot say good-bye for ever without deep regret to days that have
been so full of happiness. I must thank you sincerely for all your
great kindness to me.... With every sincere wish for your future
happiness,' he bestows complete freedom on Miss Hawke. And do not
imagine that in the matter of self-control and sympathy, of power to
understand all and pardon all, the men are lagged behind by the women.
Miss Leila Johnson (The Manse, Carlyle) has observed in Leonard Wace
(Dover Street, Saltburn) a certain coldness of demeanour; yet `I do
not blame you; it is probably your nature'; and Leila in her sweet
forbearance is typical of all the other pained women in these pages:
she is but one of a crowd of heroines.

Face to face with all this perfection, the not perfect reader begins
to crave some little outburst of wrath, of hatred or malice, from one
of these imaginary ladies and gentlemen. He longs for--how shall he
word it?--a glimpse of some bad motive, of some little lapse from
dignity. Often, passing by a pillar-box, I have wished I could unlock
it and carry away its contents, to be studied at my leisure. I have
always thought such a haul would abound in things fascinating to a
student of human nature. One night, not long ago, I took a waxen
impression of the lock of the pillar-box nearest to my house, and had
a key made. This implement I have as yet lacked either the courage or
the opportunity to use. And now I think I shall throw it away.... No,
I shan't. I refuse, after all, to draw my inference that the bulk of
the British public writes always in the manner of this handbook. Even
if they all have beautiful natures they must sometimes be sent
slightly astray by inferior impulses, just as are you and I.

And, if err they must, surely it were well they should know how to do
it correctly and forcibly. I suggest to our author that he should
sprinkle his next edition with a few less righteous examples, thereby
both purging his book of its monotony and somewhat justifying its sub-
title. Like most people who are in the habit of writing things to be
printed, I have not the knack of writing really good letters. But let
me crudely indicate the sort of thing that our manual needs....


[The English law is particularly hard on what is called blackmail. It
is therefore essential that the applicant should write nothing that
might afterwards be twisted to incriminate him.--ED.]

To-day, as I was turning out a drawer in my attic, I came across a
letter which by a curious chance fell into my hands some years ago,
and which, in the stress of grave pecuniary embarrassment, had escaped
my memory. It is a letter written by yourself to a lady, and the date
shows it to have been written shortly after your marriage. It is of a
confidential nature, and might, I fear, if it fell into the wrong
hands, be cruelly misconstrued. I would wish you to have the
satisfaction of destroying it in person. At first I thought of sending
it on to you by post. But I know how happy you are in your domestic
life; and probably your wife and you, in your perfect mutual trust,
are in the habit of opening each other's letters. Therefore, to avoid
risk, I would prefer to hand the document to you personally. I will
not ask you to come to my attic, where I could not offer you such
hospitality as is due to a man of your wealth and position. You will
be so good as to meet me at 3.0 A.M. (sharp) to-morrow (Thursday)
beside the tenth lamp-post to the left on the Surrey side of Waterloo
Bridge; at which hour and place we shall not be disturbed.
I am, dear Sir,
Yours respectfully,


Mr. Eustace Davenant has received the half-servile, half-insolent
screed which Mr. Yardley has addressed to him. Let Mr. Yardley cease
from crawling on his knees and shaking his fist. Neither this posture
nor this gesture can wring one bent farthing from the pockets of Mr.
Davenant, who was a minor at the time when that series of ill-made
suits was supplied to him and will hereafter, as in the past, shout
(without prejudice) from the house-tops that of all the tailors in
London Mr. Yardley is at once the most grasping and the least


It was kind of you to think of sending me a copy of your new book. It
would have been kinder still to think again and abandon that project.
I am a man of gentle instincts, and do not like to tell you that `A
Flight into Arcady' (of which I have skimmed a few pages, thus wasting
two or three minutes of my not altogether worthless time) is trash. On
the other hand, I am determined that you shall not be able to go
around boasting to your friends, if you have any, that this work was
not condemned, derided, and dismissed by your sincere well-wisher,


Though I am myself an ardent Tory, I cannot but rejoice in the
crushing defeat you have just suffered in West Odgetown. There are
moments when political conviction is overborne by personal sentiment;
and this is one of them. Your loss of the seat that you held is the
more striking by reason of the splendid manner in which the northern
and eastern divisions of Odgetown have been wrested from the Liberal
Party. The great bulk of the newspaper-reading public will be puzzled
by your extinction in the midst of our party's triumph. But then, the
great mass of the newspaper-reading public has not met you. I have.
You will probably not remember me. You are the sort of man who would
not remember anybody who might not be of some definite use to him.
Such, at least, was one of the impressions you made on me when I met
you last summer at a dinner given by our friends the Pelhams. Among
the other things in you that struck me were the blatant pomposity of
your manner, your appalling flow of cheap platitudes, and your hoggish
lack of ideas. It is such men as you that lower the tone of public
life. And I am sure that in writing to you thus I am but expressing
what is felt, without distinction of party, by all who sat with you in
the late Parliament.

The one person in whose behalf I regret your withdrawal into private
life is your wife, whom I had the pleasure of taking in to the
aforesaid dinner. It was evident to me that she was a woman whose
spirit was well-nigh broken by her conjunction with you. Such remnants
of cheerfulness as were in her I attributed to the Parliamentary
duties which kept you out of her sight for so very many hours daily. I
do not like to think of the fate to which the free and independent
electors of West Odgetown have just condemned her. Only, remember
this: chattel of yours though she is, and timid and humble, she
despises you in her heart.
I am, dear Mr. Pobsby-Burford,
Yours very truly,


How awfully sweet of you to ask me to stay with you for a few days but
how can you think I may have forgotten you for of course I think of
you so very often and of the three ears I spent at your school because
it is such a joy not to be there any longer and if one is at all down
it bucks one up derectly to remember that thats all over atanyrate and
that one has enough food to nurrish one and not that awful monottany
of life and not the petty fogging daily tirrany you went in for and I
can imagin no greater thrill and luxury in a way than to come and see
the whole dismal grind still going on but without me being in it but
this would be rather beastly of me wouldnt it so please dear Miss
Price dont expect me and do excuse mistakes of English Composition and
Spelling and etcetra in your affectionate old pupil,

ps, I often rite to people telling them where I was edducated and
highly reckomending you.


Who gives quickly, says the old proverb, gives twice. For this reason
I have purposely delayed writing to you, lest I should appear to thank
you more than once for the small, cheap, hideous present you sent me
on the occasion of my recent wedding. Were you a poor woman, that
little bowl of ill-imitated Dresden china would convict you of
tastelessness merely; were you a blind woman, of nothing but an odious
parsimony. As you have normal eyesight and more than normal wealth,
your gift to me proclaims you at once a Philistine and a miser (or
rather did so proclaim you until, less than ten seconds after I had
unpacked it from its wrappings of tissue paper, I took it to the open
window and had the satisfaction of seeing it shattered to atoms on the
pavement). But stay! I perceive a possible flaw in my argument.
Perhaps you were guided in your choice by a definite wish to insult
me. I am sure, on reflection, that this was so. I shall not forget.
Yours, etc.,

PS. My husband asks me to tell you to warn Lord Amblesham to keep out
of his way or to assume some disguise so complete that he will not be
recognised by him and horsewhipped.

PPS. I am sending copies of this letter to the principal London and
provincial newspapers.


But enough! I never thought I should be so strong in this line. I had
not foreseen such copiousness and fatal fluency. Never again will I
tap these deep dark reservoirs in a character that had always seemed
to me, on the whole, so amiable.


Just as a memorial, just to perpetuate in one's mind the dead man in
whose image and honour it has been erected, this statue is better than
any that I have seen.... No, pedantic reader: I ought not to have said
`than any other that I have seen' Except in shrouded and distorted
outline, I have not seen this statue.

Not as an image, then, can it be extolled by me. And I am bound to say
that even as an honour it seems to me more than dubious. Commissioned
and designed and chiselled and set up in all reverence, it yet serves
very well the purpose of a guy. This does not surprise you. You are
familiar with a host of statues that are open to precisely that
objection. Westminster Abbey abounds in them. They confront you
throughout London and the provinces. They stud the Continent. Rare
indeed is the statue that can please the well-wishers of the person
portrayed. Nor in every case is the sculptor to blame. There is in the
art of sculpture itself a quality intractable to the aims of personal
portraiture. Sculpture, just as it cannot fitly record the gesture of
a moment, is discommoded by personal idiosyncrasies. The details that
go to compose this or that gentleman's appearance--such as the little
wrinkles around his eyes, and the way his hair grows, and the special
convolutions of his ears--all these, presentable on canvas, or
evocable by words, are not right matter for the chisel or for the
mould and furnace. Translated into terms of bronze or marble,
howsoever cunningly, these slight and trivial things cease to be
trivial and slight. They assume a ludicrous importance. No man is
worthy to be reproduced as bust or statue. And if sculpture is too
august to deal with what a man has received from his Maker, how much
less ought it to be bothered about what he has received from his
hosier and tailor! Sculpture's province is the soul. The most
concrete, it is also the most spiritual of the arts. The very
heaviness and stubbornness of its material, precluding it from happy
dalliance with us fleeting individual creatures, fit it to cope with
that which in mankind is permanent and universal. It can through the
symbol give us incomparably the type. Wise is that sculptor who, when
portray an individual he must, treats arbitrarily the mere actual
husk, and strives but to show the soul. Of course, he must first catch
that soul. What M. Rodin knew about the character and career of Mr.
George Wyndham, or about the character and career of Mr. Bernard Shaw,
was not, I hazard, worth knowing; and Mr. Shaw is handed down by him
to posterity as a sort of bearded lady, and Mr. Wyndham as a sort of
beardless one. But about Honore' de Balzac he knew much. Balzac he
understood. Balzac's work, Balzac's soul, in that great rugged figure
aspiring and indeflexible, he gave us with a finality that could have
been achieved through no other art than sculpture.

There is a close kinship between that statue of Balzac and this statue
of which I am to tell you. Both induce, above all, a profound sense of
unrest, of heroic will to overcome all obstacles. The will to compass
self-expression, the will to emerge from darkness to light, from
formlessness to form, from nothing to everything--this it is that I
find in either statue; and this it is in virtue of which the Balzac
has unbeknown a brother on the Italian seaboard.

Here stands--or rather struggles--on his pedestal this younger
brother, in strange contrast with the scenery about him. Mildly,
behind his back, the sea laps the shingle. Mildly, in front of him, on
the other side of the road, rise some of those mountains whereby the
Earth, before she settled down to cool, compassed--she, too--some sort
of self-expression. Mildly around his pedestal, among rusty anchors
strewn there on the grass between road and beach, sit the fishermen,
mending their nets or their sails, or whittling bits of wood. What
will you say of these fishermen when----but I outstrip my narrative.

I had no inkling of tragedy when first I came to the statue. I did not
even know it was a statue. I had made by night the short journey from
Genoa to this place beside the sea; and, driving along the coast-road
to the hotel that had been recommended, I passed what in the starlight
looked like nothing but an elderly woman mounted on a square pedestal
and gazing out seaward--a stout, elderly, lonely woman in a poke
bonnet, indescribable except by that old Victorian term `a party,' and
as unlike Balzac's younger brother as only Sarah Gamp's elder sister
could be. How, I wondered in my hotel, came the elder sister of Sarah
Gamp to be here in Liguria and in the twentieth century? How clomb
she, puffing and panting, on to that pedestal? For what argosy of gin
was she straining her old eyes seaward? I knew there would be no sleep
for me until I had solved these problems; and I went forth afoot along
the way I had come. The moon had risen; and presently I saw in the
starlight the `party' who so intrigued me. Eminent, amorphous,
mysterious, there she stood, immobile, voluminous, ghastly beneath the
moon. By a slight shoreward lift of crinoline, as against the seaward
protrusion of poke bonnet, a grotesque balance was given to the
unshapely shape of her. For all her uncanniness, I thought I had never
seen any one, male or female, old or young, look so hopelessly common.
I felt that by daylight a noble vulgarity might be hers. In the
watches of the night she was hopelessly, she was transcendently

Little by little, as I came nearer, she ceased to illude me, and I
began to think of her as `it.' What `it' was, however, I knew not
until I was at quite close quarters to the pedestal it rose from.
There, on the polished granite, was carved this legend:


And instinctively, as my eye travelled up, my hand leapt to the
salute; for I stood before the veiled image of a dead king, and had
been guilty of a misconception that dishonoured him.

Standing respectfully at one angle and another, I was able to form, by
the outlines of the grey sheeting that enveloped him, some rough
notion of his posture and his costume. Round what was evidently his
neck the sheeting was constricted by ropes; and the height and girth
of the bundle above--to half-closed eyes, even now, an averted poke-
bonnet--gave token of a tall helmet with a luxuriant shock of plumes
waving out behind. Immediately beneath the ropes, the breadth and
sharpness of the bundle hinted at epaulettes. And the protrusion that
had seemed to be that of a wind-blown crinoline was caused, I thought,
by the king having his left hand thrust well out to grasp the hilt of
his inclined sword. Altogether, I had soon builded a clear enough idea
of his aspect; and I promised myself a curious gratification in
comparing anon this idea with his aspect as it really was.

Yes, I took it for granted that the expectant statue was to be
unveiled within the next few days. I was glad to be in time--not
knowing in how terribly good time I was--for the ceremony. Not since
my early childhood had I seen the unveiling of a statue; and on that
occasion I had struck a discordant note by weeping bitterly. I dare
say you know that statue of William Harvey which stands on the Leas at
Folkestone. You say you were present at the unveiling? Well, I was the
child who cried. I had been told that William Harvey was a great and
good man who discovered the circulation of the blood; and my mind had
leapt, in all the swiftness of its immaturity, to the conclusion that
his statue would he a bright blood-red. Cruel was the thrill of dismay
I had when at length the cord was pulled and the sheeting slid down,
revealing so dull a sight...

Contemplating the veiled Umberto, I remembered that sight, remembered
those tears unworthy (as my nurse told me) of a little gentleman.
Years had passed. I was grown older and wiser. I had learnt to expect
less of life. There was no fear that I should disgrace myself in the
matter of Umberto.

I was not so old, though, nor so wise, as I am now. I expected more
than there is of Italian speed, and less than there is of Italian
subtlety. A whole year has passed since first I set eyes on veiled
Umberto. And Umberto is still veiled.

And veiled for more than a whole year, as I now know, had Umberto been
before my coming. Four years before that, the municipal council, it
seems, had voted the money for him. His father, of sensational memory,
was here already, in the middle of the main piazza, of course. And
Garibaldi was hard by; so was Mazzini; so was Cavour. Umberto was
still implicit in a block of marble, high upon one of the mountains of
Carrara. The task of educing him was given to a promising young
sculptor who lived here. Down came the block of marble, and was
transported to the studio of the promising young sculptor; and out,
briskly enough, mustachios and all, came Umberto. He looked very
regal, I am sure, as he stood glaring around with his prominent marble
eyeballs, and snuffing the good fresh air of the world as far as might
be into shallow marble nostrils. He looked very authoritative and
fierce and solemn, I am sure. He made, anyhow, a deep impression on
the mayor and councillors, and the only question was as to just where
he should be erected. The granite pedestal had already been hewn and
graven; but a worthy site was to seek. Outside the railway station? He
would obstruct the cabs. In the Giardino Pubblico? He would clash with
Garibaldi. Every councillor had a pet site, and every other one a pet
objection to it. That strip of waste ground where the fishermen sat
pottering? It was too humble, too far from the centre of things.
Meanwhile, Umberto stayed in the studio. Dust settled on his
epaulettes. A year went by. Spiders ventured to spin their webs from
his plumes to his mustachios. Another year went by. Whenever the
councillors had nothing else to talk about they talked about the site
for Umberto.

Presently they became aware that among the poorer classes of the town
had arisen a certain hostility to the statue. The councillors
suspected that the priesthood had been at work. The forces of reaction
against the forces of progress! Very well! The councillors hurriedly
decided that the best available site, on the whole, was that strip of
waste ground where the fishermen sat pottering. The pedestal was
promptly planted. Umberto was promptly wrapped up, put on a lorry,
wheeled to the place, and hoisted into position. The date of the
unveiling was fixed. The mayor I am told, had already composed his
speech, and was getting it by heart. Around the pedestal the fishermen
sat pottering. It was not observed that they received any visits from
the priests.

But priests are subtle; and it is a fact that three days before the
date of the unveiling the fishermen went, all in their black Sunday
clothes, and claimed audience of the mayor. He laid aside the MS. of
his speech, and received them affably. Old Agostino, their spokesman,
he whose face is so marvellously wrinkled, lifted his quavering voice.
He told the mayor, with great respect, that the rights of the
fishermen had been violated. That piece of ground had for hundreds of
years belonged to them. They had not been consulted about that statue.
They did not want it there. It was in the way, and must (said
Agostino) be removed. At first the mayor was inclined to treat the
deputation with a light good humour, and to resume the study of his
MS. But Agostino had a MS. of his own. This was a copy of a charter
whereby, before mayors and councillors were, the right to that piece
of land had been granted in perpetuity to the fisherfolk of the
district. The mayor, not committing himself to any opinion of the
validity of the document, said that he--but there, it is tedious to
report the speeches of mayors. Agostino told his mayor that a certain
great lawyer would be arriving from Genoa to-morrow. It were tedious
to report what passed between that great lawyer and the mayor and
councillors assembled. Suffice it that the councillors were
frightened, the date of the unveiling was postponed, and the whole
matter, referred to high authorities in Rome, went darkly drifting
into some form of litigation, and there abides.

Technically, then, neither side may claim that it has won. The statue
has not been unveiled. But the statue has not been displaced.
Practically, though, and morally, the palm is, so far, to the
fishermen. The pedestal does not really irk them at all. On the
contrary, it and the sheeting do cast for them in the heat a pleasant
shadow, of which (the influence of Fleet Street, once felt, never
shaken off, forces me to say) they are not slow to avail themselves.
And the cost of the litigation comes not, you may be sure, out of
their light old pockets, but out of the coffers of some pious rich
folk hereabouts. The Pope remains a prisoner in the Vatican? Well,
here is Umberto, a kind of hostage. Yet with what a difference! Here
is no spiritual king stripped of earthly kingship. Here is an earthly
king kept swaddled up day after day, to be publicly ridiculous. The
fishermen, as I have said, pay him no heed. The mayor, passing along
the road, looks straight in front of him, with an elaborate assumption
of unconcern. So do the councillors. But there are others who look
maliciously up at the hapless figure. Now and again there comes a monk
from the monastery on that hill yonder. He laughs into his beard as he
goes by. Two by two, in their grey cloaks and their blue mantillas,
the little orphan girls are sometimes marched past. There they go, as
I write. Not malice, but a vague horror, is in the eyes they turn.
Umberto, belike, is used as a means to frighten them when, or lest,
they offend. The nun in whose charge they arc crosses herself.

Yet it is recorded of Umberto that he was kind to little children.
This, indeed, is one of the few things recorded of him. Fierce though
he looked, he was, for the most part, it must be confessed, null. He
seldom asserted himself. There was so little of that for him to
assert. He had, therefore, no personal enemies. In a negative way, he
was popular, and was positively popular, for a while, after his
assassination. And this it is that makes him now the less able, poor
fellow, to understand and endure the shame he is put to. `Stat rex
indignatus.' He does try to assert himself now--does strive, by day
and by night, poor petrefact, to rip off these fell and clownish
integuments. Of his elder brother in Paris he has never heard; but he
knows that Lazarus arisen from the tomb did not live in grave-clothes.
He forgets that after all he is only a statue. To himself he is still
a king--or at least a man who was once a king and, having done no
wrong, ought not now to be insulted. If he had in his composition one
marble grain of humour, he might... but no, a joke against oneself is
always cryptic. Fat men are not always the best drivers of fat oxen;
and cryptic statues cannot be depended on to see cryptic jokes.

If Umberto could grasp the truth that no man is worthy to be
reproduced as a statue; if he could understand, once and for all, that
the unveiling of him were itself a notable disservice to him, then
might his wrath be turned to acquiescence, and his acquiescence to
gratitude, and he be quite happy hid. Is he, really, more ridiculous
now than he always was? If you be an extraordinary man, as was his
father, win a throne by all means: you will fill it. If your son be
another extraordinary man, he will fill it when his turn comes. But if
that son be, as, alas, he most probably will be, like Umberto, quite
ordinary, then let parental love triumph over pride of dynasty: advise
your boy to abdicate at the earliest possible moment. A great king--
what better? But it is ill that a throne be sat on by one whose legs
dangle uncertainly towards the dai"s, and ill that a crown settle down
over the tip of the nose. And the very fact that for quite inadequate
kings men's hands do leap to the salute, instinctively, does but make
us, on reflection, the more conscious of the whole absurdity. Even
than a great man on a throne we can, when we reflect, imagine
something--ah, not something better perhaps, but something more remote
from absurdity. Let us say that Umberto's father was great, as well as
extraordinary. He was accounted great enough to be the incarnation of
a great idea. `United Italy'--oh yes, a great idea, a charming idea:
in the 'sixties I should have been all for it. But how shall I or any
other impartial person write odes to the reality? What people in all
this exquisite peninsula are to-day the happier for the things done by
and through Vittorio Emmanuele Liberator?

The question is not merely rhetorical. There is the large class of
politicians, who would have had no scope in the old days. And there
are the many men who in other days would have been fishing or
ploughing, but now strut in this and that official uniform. There
passes between me and the sea, as I write--how opportunely people do
pass here!--a little man with a peaked cap and light blue breeches and
a sword. His prime duty is to see that none of his fellow peasants
shall carry home a bucket of sea-water. For there is salt in sea-
water; and heavily, because they must have it or sicken, salt is
taxed; and this passing sentinel is to prevent them from cheating the
Revenue by recourse to the sea which, though here it is, they must not
regard as theirs. What becomes of the tax-money? It goes towards the
building of battleships, cruisers, gunboats and so forth. What are
these for? Why, for Italy to be a Great European Power with, of
course. In the little blue bay behind Umberto, while I write, there
lies at anchor an Italian gunboat. Opportunely again? I can but assure
you that it really and truly is there. It has been there for two days.
It delights the fishermen. They say it is `bella e pulita com' un
fiore.' They stand shading their eyes towards it, smiling and proud,
heirs of all the ages, neglecting their sails and nets and spars of
wood. They can imagine nothing better than it. They see nothing at all
sinister or absurd about it, these simple fellows. And simple Umberto,
their captive, strives to wheel round on his pedestal and to tear but
a peep-hole in his sheeting. He would be glad could he feast but one
eye on this bit of national glory. But he remains helpless--helpless
as a Sultana made ready for the Bosphorus, helpless as a pig is in a
poke. It enrages him that he who was so eminently respectable in life
should be made so ludicrous on his eminence after death. He is bitter
at the inertia of the men who set him up. Were he an ornament of the
Church, not of the State that he served so conscientiously, how very
different would be the treatment of his plight! If he were a Saint,
occluded thus by the municipality, how many the prayers that would be
muttered, the candles promised, for his release! There would be
processions, too; and who knows but that there might even be a miracle
vouchsafed, a rending of the veil? The only procession that passes him
is that of the intimidated orphans. No heavenly power intervenes for
him--perhaps (he bitterly conjectures) for fear of offending the
Vatican. Sirocco, now and again, blows furiously at his back, but
never splits the sheeting. Rain often soaks it, never rots it. There
is no help for him. He stands a mock to the pious, a shame and incubus
to the emancipated; received, yet hushed up; exalted, yet made a fool
of; taken and left; a monument to Fate's malice.

>From under the hem of his weather-beaten domino, always, he just
displays, with a sort of tragic coquetry, the toe of a stout and
serviceable marble boot. And this, I have begun to believe, is all
that I shall ever see of him. Else might I not be writing about him;
for else had he not so haunted me. If I knew myself destined to see
him--to see him steadily and see him whole--no matter how many years
hence, I could forthwith think about other things. I had hoped that by
this essay I might rid my mind of him. He is inexcutible, confound
him! His pedestal draws me to itself with some such fascination as had
the altar of the unknown god for the wondering Greek. I try to
distract myself by thinking of other images--images that I have seen.
I think of Bartolommeo Colleoni riding greatly forth under the shadow
of the church of Saint John and Saint Paul. Of Mr. Peabody I think,
cosy in his armchair behind the Royal Exchange; of Nelson above the
sparrows, and of Perseus among the pigeons; of golden Albert, and of
Harvey the not red. Up looms Umberto, uncouthly casting them one and
all into the shade. I think of other statues that I have not seen--
statues suspected of holding something back from even the clearest-
eyed men who have stood beholding and soliciting them. But how
obvious, beside Umberto, the Sphinx would be! And Memnon, how tamely
he sits waiting for the dawn!

Matchless as a memorial, then, I say again, this statue is. And as a
work of art it has at least the advantage of being beyond criticism.
In my young days, I wrote a plea that all the statues in the streets
and squares of London should be extirpated and, according to their
materials, smashed or melted. From an aesthetic standpoint, I went a
trifle too far: London has a few good statues. From an humane
standpoint, my plea was all wrong. Let no violence be done to the
effigies of the dead. There is disrespect in setting up a dead man's
effigy and then not unveiling it . But there would be no disrespect,
and there would be no violence, if the bad statues familiar to London
were ceremoniously veiled, and their inscribed pedestals left just as
they are. That is a scheme which occurred to me soon after I saw the
veiled Umberto. Mr. Birrell has now stepped in and forestalled my
advocacy. Pereant qui--but no, who could wish that charming man to
perish? The realisation of that scheme is what matters.

Let an inventory be taken of those statues. Let it be submitted to
Lord Rosebery, and he be asked to tick off all those statesmen, poets,
philosophers and other personages about whom he would wish to orate.
Then let the list be passed on to other orators, until every statue on
it shall have its particular spokesman. Then let the dates for the
various veilings be appointed. If there be four or five veilings every
week, I conceive that the whole list will be exhausted in two years or
so. And my enjoyment of the reported speeches will not be the less
keen because I can so well imagine them.... In conclusion, Lord
Rosebery said that the keynote to the character of the man in whose
honour they were gathered together to-day was, first and last,
integrity. (Applause.) He did not say of him that he had been
infallible. Which of us was infallible? (Laughter.) But this he would
say, that the great man whose statue they were looking on for the last
time had been actuated throughout his career by no motive but the
desire to do that, and that only, which would conduce to the honour
and to the stability of the country that gave him birth. Of him it
might truly be said, as had been said of another, `That which he had
to give, he gave.' (Loud and prolonged applause.) His Lordship then
pulled the cord, and the sheeting rolled up into position...

Not, however, because those speeches will so edify and soothe me, nor
merely because those veiled statues will make less uncouth the city I
was born in, do I feverishly thrust on you my proposition. The wish in
me is that posterity shall be haunted by our dead heroes even as I am
by Umberto. Rather hard on posterity? Well, the prevision of its
plight would cheer me in mine immensely.


None of us who keep an eye on the heavens of European literature can
forget the emotion that we felt when, but a few years since, the red
star of Kolniyatsch swam into our ken. As nobody can prove that I
wasn't, I claim now that I was the first to gauge the magnitude of
this star and to predict the ascendant course which it has in fact
triumphantly taken. That was in the days when Kolniyatsch was still
alive. His recent death gives the cue for the boom. Out of that boom
I, for one, will not be left. I rush to scrawl my name, large, on the
tombstone of Kolniyatsch.

These foreign fellows always are especially to be commended. By the
mere mention of their names you evoke in reader or hearer a vague
sense of your superiority and his. Thank heaven, we are no longer
insular. I don't say we have no native talent. We have heaps of it,
pyramids of it, all around. But where, for the genuine thrill, would
England be but for her good fortune in being able to draw on a
seemingly inexhaustible supply of anguished souls from the Continent--
infantile wide-eyed Slavs, Titan Teutons, greatly blighted
Scandinavians, all of them different, but all of them raving in one
common darkness and with one common gesture plucking out their vitals
for exportation? There is no doubt that our continuous receipt of this
commodity has had a bracing effect on our national character. We used
to be rather phlegmatic, used we not? We have learnt to be vibrant.

Of Kolniyatsch, as of all authentic master-spirits in literature, it
is true that he must be judged rather by what he wrote than by what he
was. But the quality of his genius, albeit nothing if not national and
also universal, is at the same time so deeply personal that we cannot
afford to close our eyes on his life--a life happily not void of those
sensational details which are what we all really care about.

`If you have tears, prepare to shed them now.' Kolniyatsch was born,
last of a long line of rag-pickers, in 1886. At the age of nine he had
already acquired that passionate alcoholism which was to have so great
an influence in the moulding of his character and on the trend of his
thought. Otherwise he does not seem to have shown in childhood any
exceptional promise. It was not before his eighteenth birthday that he
murdered his grandmother and was sent to that asylum in which he wrote
the poems and plays belonging to what we now call his earlier manner.
In 1907 he escaped from his sanctum, or chuzketc (cell) as he
sardonically called it, and, having acquired some money by an act of
violence, gave, by sailing for America, early proof that his genius
was of the kind that crosses frontiers and seas. Unfortunately, it was
not of the kind that passes Ellis Island. America, to her lasting
shame, turned him back. Early in 1908 we find him once more in his old
quarters, working at those novels and confessions on which, in the
opinion of some, his fame will ultimately rest. Alas, we don't find
him there now. It will be a fortnight ago to-morrow that Luntic
Kolniyatsch passed peacefully away, in the twenty-eighth year of his
age. He would have been the last to wish us to indulge in any sickly
sentimentality. `Nothing is here for tears, nothing but well and fair,
and what may quiet us in a death so noble.'

Was Kolniyatsch mad? It depends on what we mean by that word. If we
mean, as the bureaucrats of Ellis Island and, to their lasting shame,
his friends and relations presumably meant, that he did not share our
own smug and timid philosophy of life, then indeed was Kolniyatsch not
sane. Granting for sake of argument that he was mad in a wider sense
than that, we do but oppose an insuperable stumbling-block to the
Eugenists . Imagine what Europe would be to-day, had Kolniyatsch not
been! As one of the critics avers, `It is hardly too much to say that
a time may be not far distant, and may indeed be nearer than many of
us suppose, when Luntic Kolniyatsch will, rightly or wrongly, be
reckoned by some of us as not the least of those writers who are
especially symptomatic of the early twentieth century and are possibly
"for all time" or for a more or less certainly not inconsiderable
period of time.' That is finely said. But I myself go somewhat
further. I say that Kolniyatsch's message has drowned all previous
messages and will drown any that may be uttered in the remotest
future. You ask me what, precisely, that message was? Well, it is too
elemental, too near to the very heart of naked Nature, for exact
definition. Can you describe the message of an angry python more
satisfactorily than as S-s-s-s? Or that of an infuriated bull better
than as Moo? That of Kolniyatsch lies somewhere between these two.
Indeed, at whatever point we take him, we find him hard to fit into
any single category. Was he a realist or a romantic? He was neither,
and he was both. By more than one critic he has been called a
pessimist, and it is true that a part of his achievement may be gauged
by the lengths to which he carried pessimism--railing and raging, not,
in the manner of his tame forerunners, merely at things in general, or
at women, or at himself, but lavishing an equally fierce scorn and
hatred on children, on trees and flowers and the moon, and indeed on
everything that the sentimentalists have endeavoured to force into
favour. On the other hand, his burning faith in a personal Devil, his
frank delight in earthquakes and pestilences, and his belief that
every one but himself will be brought back to life in time to be
frozen to death in the next glacial epoch, seem rather to stamp him as
an optimist. By birth and training a man of the people, he was yet an
aristocrat to the finger-tips, and Byron would have called him
brother, though one trembles to think what he would have called Byron.
First and last, he was an artist, and it is by reason of his technical
mastery that he most of all outstands. Whether in prose or in verse,
he compasses a broken rhythm that is as the very rhythm of life
itself, and a cadence that catches you by the throat, as a terrier
catches a rat, and wrings from you the last drop of pity and awe. His
skill in avoiding `the inevitable word' is simply miraculous. He is
the despair of the translator. Far be it from me to belittle the
devoted labours of Mr. and Mrs. Pegaway, whose monumental translation
of the Master's complete works is now drawing to its splendid close.
Their promised biography of the murdered grandmother is awaited
eagerly by all who take--and which of us does not take?--a breathless
interest in Kolniyatschiana. But Mr. and Mrs. Pegaway would be the
first to admit that their renderings of the prose and verse they love
so well are a wretched substitute for the real thing. I wanted to get
the job myself, but they nipped in and got it before me. Thank heaven,
they cannot deprive me of the power to read Kolniyatsch in the
original Gibrisch and to crow over you who can't.

Of the man himself--for on several occasions I had the privilege and
the permit to visit him--I have the pleasantest, most sacred memories.
His was a wonderfully vivid and intense personality. The head was
beautiful, perfectly conic in form. The eyes were like two revolving
lamps, set very close together. The smile was haunting. There was a
touch of old-world courtesy in the repression of the evident impulse
to spring at one's throat. The voice had notes that recalled M.
Mounet-Sully's in the later and more important passages of Oedipe Roi.
I remember that he always spoke with the greatest contempt of Mr. and
Mrs. Pegaway's translations. He likened them to--but enough! His boom
is not yet at the full. A few weeks hence I shall be able to command
an even higher price than I could now for my `Talks with Kolniyatsch.'


[Early in the year 1914 Mr. Edmund Gosse told me he was asking certain
of his friends to write for him a few words apiece in description of
Swinburne as they had known or seen him at one time or another; and he
was so good as to wish to include in this gathering a few words by
myself. Ifound it hard to be brief without seeming irreverent. I
failed in the attempt to make of my subject a snapshot that was not a
grotesque. So I took refuge in an ampler scope. I wrote a
reminiscential essay. From that essay I made an extract, which I gave
to Mr. Gosse. From that extract he made a quotation in his enchanting
biography. The words quoted by him reappear here in the midst of the
whole essay as I wrote it. I dare not hope they are unashamed of their
humble surroundings.--M. B.]

In my youth the suburbs were rather looked down on--I never quite knew
why. It was held anomalous, and a matter for merriment, that Swinburne
lived in one of them. For my part, had I known as a fact that Catullus
was still alive, I should have been as ready to imagine him living in
Putney as elsewhere. The marvel would have been merely that he lived.
And Swinburne's survival struck as surely as could his have struck in
me the chord of wonder.

Not, of course, that he had achieved a feat of longevity. He was far
from the Psalmist's limit. Nor was he one of those men whom one
associates with the era in which they happened to be young. Indeed, if
there was one man belonging less than any other to Mid-Victorian days,
Swinburne was that man. But by the calendar it was in those days that
he had blazed--blazed forth with so unexampled a suddenness of
splendour; and in the light of that conflagration all that he had
since done, much and magnificent though this was, paled. The essential
Swinburne was still the earliest. He was and would always be the
flammiferous boy of the dim past--a legendary creature, sole kin to
the phoenix. It had been impossible that he should ever surpass
himself in the artistry that was from the outset his; impossible that
he should bring forth rhythms lovelier and greater than those early
rhythms, or exercise over them a mastery more than--absolute. Also, it
had been impossible that the first wild ardour of spirit should abide
unsinkingly in him. Youth goes. And there was not in Swinburne that
basis on which a man may in his maturity so build as to make good, in
some degree, the loss of what is gone. He was not a thinker: his mind
rose ever away from reason to rhapsody; neither was he human. He was a
king crowned but not throned. He was a singing bird that could build
no nest. He was a youth who could not afford to age. Had he died
young, literature would have lost many glories; but none so great as
the glories he had already given, nor any such as we should fondly
imagine ourselves bereft of by his early death. A great part of Keats'
fame rests on our assumption of what he would have done. But--even
granting that Keats may have had in him more than had Swinburne of
stuff for development--I believe that had he lived on we should think
of him as author of the poems that in fact we know. Not philosophy,
after all, not humanity, just sheer joyous power of song, is the
primal thing in poetry. Ideas, and flesh and blood, are but reserves
to be brought up when the poet's youth is going. When the bird can no
longer sing in flight, let the nest be ready. After the king has
dazzled us with his crown, let him have something to sit down on. But
the session on throne or in nest is not the divine period. Had
Swinburne's genius been of the kind that solidifies, he would yet at
the close of the nineteenth century have been for us young men
virtually--though not so definitely as in fact he was--the writer of
`Atalanta in Calydon' and of `Poems and Ballads.'

Tennyson's death in '98 had not taken us at all by surprise. We had
been fully aware that he was alive. He had always been careful to keep
himself abreast of the times. Anything that came along--the Nebular
Hypothesis at one moment, the Imperial Institute at another--won
mention from his Muse. He had husbanded for his old age that which he
had long ago inherited: middle age. If in our mourning for him there
really was any tincture of surprise, this was due to merely the vague
sense that he had in the fullness of time died rather prematurely: his
middle-age might have been expected to go on flourishing for ever. But
assuredly Tennyson dead laid no such strain on our fancy as Swinburne

It is true that Swinburne did, from time to time, take public notice
of current affairs; but what notice he took did but seem to mark his
remoteness from them, from us. The Boers, I remember, were the theme
of a sonnet which embarrassed even their angriest enemies in our
midst. He likened them, if I remember rightly, to `hell-hounds foaming
at the jaws.' This was by some people taken as a sign that he had
fallen away from that high generosity of spirit which had once been
his. To me it meant merely that he thought of poor little England
writhing under the heel of an alien despotism, just as, in the days
when he really was interested in such matters, poor little Italy had
writhen. I suspect, too, that the first impulse to write about the
Boers came not from the Muse within, but from Theodore Watts-Dunton
without.... `Now, Algernon, we're at war, you know--at war with the
Boers. I don't want to bother you at all, but I do think, my dear old
friend, you oughtn't to let slip this opportunity of,' etc., etc.

Some such hortation is easily imaginable by any one who saw the two
old friends together. The first time I had this honour, this sight for
lasting and affectionate memory, must have been in the Spring of '99.
In those days Theodore Watts (he had but recently taken on the -
Dunton) was still something of a gad-about. I had met him here and
there, he had said in his stentorian tones pleasant things to me about
my writing, I sent him a new little book of mine, and in acknowledging
this he asked me to come down to Putney and `have luncheon and meet
Swinburne.' Meet Catullus!

On the day appointed `I came as one whose feet half linger.' It is but
a few steps from the railway-station in Putney High Street to No. 2.
The Pines. I had expected a greater distance to the sanctuary--a walk
in which to compose my mind and prepare myself for initiation. I laid
my hand irresolutely against the gate of the bleak trim front-garden,
I withdrew my hand, I went away. Out here were all the aspects of
common modern life. In there was Swinburne. A butcher-boy went by,
whistling. He was not going to see Swinburne. He could afford to
whistle. I pursued my dilatory course up the slope of Putney, but at
length it occurred to me that unpunctuality would after all be an
imperfect expression of reverence, and I retraced my footsteps.

No. 2--prosaic inscription! But as that front-door closed behind me I
had the instant sense of having slipped away from the harsh light of
the ordinary and contemporary into the dimness of an odd, august past.
Here, in this dark hall, the past was the present. Here loomed vivid
and vital on the walls those women of Rossetti whom I had known but as
shades. Familiar to me in small reproductions by photogravure, here
they themselves were, life-sized, `with curled-up lips and amorous
hair' done in the original warm crayon, all of them intently looking
down on me while I took off my overcoat--all wondering who was this
intruder from posterity. That they hung in the hall, evidently no more
than an overflow, was an earnest of packed plenitude within. The room
I was ushered into was a back-room, a dining-room, looking on to a
good garden. It was, in form and `fixtures,' an inalienably Mid-
Victorian room, and held its stolid own in the riot of Rossettis. Its
proportions, its window-sash bisecting the view of garden, its
folding-doors (through which I heard the voice of Watts-Dunton booming
mysteriously in the front room), its mantel-piece, its gas-brackets,
all proclaimed that nothing ever would seduce them from their
allegiance to Martin Tupper. `Nor me from mine,' said the sturdy
cruet-stand on the long expanse of table-cloth. The voice of Watts-
Dunton ceased suddenly, and a few moments later its owner appeared. He
had been dictating, he explained. `A great deal of work on hand just
now--a great deal of work.'... I remember that on my subsequent visits
he was always, at the moment of my arrival, dictating, and always
greeted me with that phrase, `A great deal of work on hand just now.'
I used to wonder what work it was, for he published little enough. But
I never ventured to inquire, and indeed rather cherished the mystery:
it was a part of the dear little old man; it went with the something
gnome-like about his swarthiness and chubbiness--went with the shaggy
hair that fell over the collar of his eternally crumpled frock-coat,
the shaggy eyebrows that overhung his bright little brown eyes, the
shaggy moustache that hid his small round chin. It was a mystery
inherent in the richly-laden atmosphere of The Pines....

While I stood talking to Watts-Dunton--talking as loudly as he, for he
was very deaf--I enjoyed the thrill of suspense in watching the door
through which would appear--Swinburne. I asked after Mr. Swinburne's
health. Watts-Dunton said it was very good: `He always goes out for
his long walk in the morning--wonderfully active. Active in mind, too.
But I'm afraid you won't be able to get into touch with him. He's
almost stone-deaf, poor fellow--almost stone-deaf now.' He changed the
subject, and I felt I must be careful not to seem interested in
Swinburne exclusively. I spoke of `Aylwin.' The parlourmaid brought in
the hot dishes. The great moment was at hand.

Nor was I disappointed. Swinburne's entry was for me a great moment.
Here, suddenly visible in the flesh, was the legendary being and
divine singer. Here he was, shutting the door behind him as might
anybody else, and advancing--a strange small figure in grey, having an
air at once noble and roguish, proud and skittish. My name was roared
to him. In shaking his hand, I bowed low, of course--a bow de coeur;
and he, in the old aristocratic manner, bowed equally low, but with
such swiftness that we narrowly escaped concussion. You do not usually
associate a man of genius, when you see one, with any social class;
and, Swinburne being of an aspect so unrelated as it was to any
species of human kind, I wondered the more that almost the first
impression he made on me, or would make on any one, was that of a very
great gentleman indeed. Not of an old gentleman, either. Sparse and
straggling though the grey hair was that fringed the immense pale dome
of his head, and venerably haloed though he was for me by his
greatness, there was yet about him something--boyish? girlish?
childish, rather; something of a beautifully well-bred child. But he
had the eyes of a god, and the smile of an elf. In figure, at first
glance, he seemed almost fat; but this was merely because of the way
he carried himself, with his long neck strained so tightly back that
he all receded from the waist upwards. I noticed afterwards that this
deportment made the back of his jacket hang quite far away from his
legs; and so small and sloping were his shoulders that the jacket
seemed ever so likely to slip right off. I became aware, too, that
when he bowed he did not unbend his back, but only his neck--the
length of the neck accounting for the depth of the bow. His hands were
tiny, even for his size, and they fluttered helplessly, touchingly,

Directly after my introduction, we sat down to the meal. Of course I
had never hoped to `get into touch with him' reciprocally. Quite apart
from his deafness, I was too modest to suppose he could be interested
in anything I might say. But--for I knew he had once been as high and
copious a singer in talk as in verse--I had hoped to hear utterances
from him. And it did not seem that my hope was to be fulfilled. Watts-
Dunton sat at the head of the table, with a huge and very Tupperesque
joint of roast mutton in front of him, Swinburne and myself close up
to him on either side. He talked only to me. This was the more
tantalising because Swinburne seemed as though he were bubbling over
with all sorts of notions. Not that he looked at either of us. He
smiled only to himself, and to his plateful of meat, and to the small
bottle of Bass's pale ale that stood before him--ultimate allowance of
one who had erst clashed cymbals in Naxos. This small bottle he eyed
often and with enthusiasm, seeming to waver between the rapture of
broaching it now and the grandeur of having it to look forward to. It
made me unhappy to see what trouble he had in managing his knife and
fork. Watts-Dunton told me on another occasion that this infirmity of
the hands had been lifelong--had begun before Eton days. The Swinburne
family had been alarmed by it and had consulted a specialist, who said
that it resulted from `an excess of electric vitality,' and that any
attempt to stop it would be harmful. So they had let it be. I have
known no man of genius who had not to pay, in some affliction or
defect either physical or spiritual, for what the gods had given him.
Here, in this fluttering of his tiny hands, was a part of the price
that Swinburne had to pay. No doubt he had grown accustomed to it many
lustres before I met him, and I need not have felt at all unhappy at
what I tried not to see. He, evidently, was quite gay, in his silence-
-and in the world that was for him silent. I had, however, the
maddening suspicion that he would have liked to talk. Why wouldn't
Watts-Dunton roar him an opportunity? I felt I had been right perhaps
in feeling that the lesser man was--no, not jealous of the greater
whom he had guarded so long and with such love, but anxious that he
himself should be as fully impressive to visitors as his fine gifts
warranted. Not, indeed, that he monopolised the talk. He seemed to
regard me as a source of information about all the latest `movements,'
and I had to shout banalities while he munched his mutton--banalities
whose one saving grace for me was that they were inaudible to
Swinburne. Had I met Swinburne's gaze, I should have faltered. Now and
again his shining light-grey eyes roved from the table, darting this
way and that--across the room, up at the ceiling, out of the window;
only never at us. Somehow this aloofness gave no hint of indifference.
It seemed to be, rather, a point in good manners--the good manners of
a child `sitting up to table,' not `staring,' not `asking questions,'
and reflecting great credit on its invaluable old nurse. The child sat
happy in the wealth of its inner life; the child was content not to
speak until it were spoken to; but, but, I felt it did want to he
spoken to. And, at length, it was.

So soon as the mutton had been replaced by the apple-pie, Watts-Dunton
leaned forward and `Well, Algernon,' he roared, `how was it on the
Heath to-day?' Swinburne, who had meekly inclined his ear to the
question, now threw back his head, uttering a sound that was like the
cooing of a dove, and forthwith, rapidly, ever so musically, he spoke
to us of his walk; spoke not in the strain of a man who had been
taking his daily exercise on Putney Heath, but rather in that of a
Peri who had at long last been suffered to pass through Paradise. And
rather than that he spoke would I say that he cooingly and flutingly
sang of his experience. The wonders of this morning's wind and sun and
clouds were expressed in a flow of words so right and sentences so
perfectly balanced that they would have seemed pedantic had they not
been clearly as spontaneous as the wordless notes of a bird in song.
The frail, sweet voice rose and fell, lingered, quickened, in all
manner of trills and roulades. That he himself could not hear it,
seemed to me the greatest loss his deafness inflicted on him. One
would have expected this disability to mar the music; but it didn't;
save that now and again a note would come out metallic and over-
shrill, the tones were under good control. The whole manner and method
had certainly a strong element of oddness; but no one incapable of
condemning as unmanly the song of a lark would have called it
affected. I had met young men of whose enunciation Swinburne's now
reminded me. In them the thing had always irritated me very much; and
I now became sure that it had been derived from people who had derived
it in old Balliol days from Swinburne himself. One of the points
familiar to me in such enunciation was the habit of stressing
extremely, and lackadaisically dwelling on, some particular syllable.
In Swinburne this trick was delightful--because it wasn't a trick, but
a need of his heart. Well do I remember his ecstasy of emphasis and
immensity of pause when he described how he had seen in a perambulator
on the Heath to-day `the most BEAUT--iful babbie ever beheld by mortal
eyes.' For babies, as some of his later volumes testify, he had a sort
of idolatry. After Mazzini had followed Landor to Elysium, and Victor
Hugo had followed Mazzini, babies were what among live creatures most
evoked Swinburne's genius for self-abasement. His rapture about this
especial `babbie' was such as to shake within me my hitherto firm
conviction that, whereas the young of the brute creation are already
beautiful at the age of five minutes, the human young never begin to
be so before the age of three years. I suspect Watts-Dunton of having
shared my lack of innate enthusiasm. But it was one of Swinburne's
charms, as I was to find, that he took for granted every one's delight
in what he himself so fervidly delighted in. He could as soon have
imagined a man not loving the very sea as not doting on the aspect of
babies and not reading at least one play by an Elizabethan or Jacobean
dramatist every day.

I forget whether it was at this my first meal or at another that he
described a storm in which, one night years ago, with Watts-Dunton, he
had crossed the Channel. The rhythm of his great phrases was as the
rhythm of those waves, and his head swayed in accordance to it like
the wave-rocked boat itself. He hymned in memory the surge and
darkness, the thunder and foam and phosphorescence--`You remember,
Theodore? You remember the PHOS--phorescence?'--all so beautifully and
vividly that I almost felt stormbound and in peril of my life. To
disentangle one from another of the several occasions on which I heard
him talk is difficult because the procedure was so invariable: Watts-
Dunton always dictating when I arrived, Swinburne always appearing at
the moment of the meal, always the same simple and substantial fare,
Swinburne never allowed to talk before the meal was half over. As to
this last point, I soon realised that I had been quite unjust in
suspecting Watts-Dunton of selfishness. It was simply a sign of the
care with which he watched over his friend's welfare. Had Swinburne
been admitted earlier to the talk, he would not have taken his proper
quantity of roast mutton. So soon, always, as he had taken that, the
embargo was removed, the chance was given him. And, swiftly though he
embraced the chance, and much though he made of it in the courses of
apple-pie and of cheese, he seemed touchingly ashamed of `holding
forth.' Often, before he had said his really full say on the theme
suggested by Watts-Dunton's loud interrogation, he would curb his
speech and try to eliminate himself, bowing his head over his plate;
and then, when he had promptly been brought in again, he would always
try to atone for his inhibiting deafness by much reference and
deference to all that we might otherwise have to say. `I hope,' he
would coo to me, `my friend Watts-Dunton, who'--and here he would turn
and make a little bow to Watts-Dunton--`is himself a scholar, will
bear me out when I say'--or `I hardly know,' he would flute to his old
friend, `whether Mr. Beerbohm'--here a bow to me--`will agree with me
in my opinion of' some delicate point in Greek prosody or some
incident in an old French romance I had never heard of.

On one occasion, just before the removal of the mutton, Watts-Dunton
had been asking me about an English translation that had been made of
M. Rostand's `Cyrano de Bergerac.' He then took my information as the
match to ignite the Swinburnian tinder. `Well, Algernon, it seems that
"Cyrano de Bergerac"'--but this first spark was enough: instantly
Swinburne was praising the works of Cyrano de Bergerac. Of M. Rostand
he may have heard, but him he forgot. Indeed I never heard Swinburne
mention a single contemporary writer. His mind ranged and revelled
always in the illustrious or obscure past. To him the writings of
Cyrano de Bergerac were as fresh as paint--as fresh as to me, alas,
was the news of their survival. Of course, of course, you have read
"L'Histoire Comique des États et des Empires de la Lune"?' I admitted,
by gesture and facial expression, that I had not. Whereupon he reeled
out curious extracts from that allegory--`almost as good as
"Gulliver"'--with a memorable instance of the way in which the
traveller to the moon was shocked by the conversation of the natives,
and the natives' sense of propriety was outraged by the conversation
of the traveller.

In life, as in (that for him more truly actual thing) literature, it
was always the preterit that enthralled him. Of any passing events, of
anything the newspapers were full of, never a word from him; and I
should have been sorry if there had been. But I did, through the
medium of Watts-Dunton, sometimes start him on topics that might have
led him to talk of Rossetti and other old comrades. For me the names
of those men breathed the magic of the past, just as it was breathed
for me by Swinburne's presence. For him, I suppose, they were but a
bit of the present, and the mere fact that they had dropped out of it
was not enough to hallow them. He never mentioned them. But I was glad
to see that he revelled as wistfully in the days just before his own
as I in the days just before mine. He recounted to us things he had
been told in his boyhood by an aged aunt, or great-aunt--`one of the
Ashburnhams'; how, for example, she had been taken by her mother to a
county ball, a distance of many miles, and, on the way home through
the frosty and snowy night, the family-coach had suddenly stopped:
there was a crowd of dark figures in the way...at which point
Swinburne stopped too, before saying, with an ineffable smile and in a
voice faint with appreciation, `They were burying a suicide at the

Vivid as this Hogarthian night-scene was to me, I saw beside it
another scene: a great panelled room, a grim old woman in a high-
backed chair, and, restless on a stool at her feet an extraordinary
little nephew with masses of auburn hair and with tiny hands clasped
in supplication--`Tell me more, Aunt Ashburnham, tell me more!'

And now, clearlier still, as I write in these after-years, do I see
that dining-room of The Pines; the long white stretch of table-cloth,
with Swinburne and Watts-Dunton and another at the extreme end of it;
Watts-Dunton between us, very low down over his plate, very cosy and
hirsute, and rather like the dormouse at that long tea-table which
Alice found in Wonderland. I see myself sitting there wide-eyed, as
Alice sat. And, had the hare been a great poet, and the hatter a great
gentleman, and neither of them mad but each only very odd and
vivacious, I might see Swinburne as a glorified blend of those two.

When the meal ended--for, alas! it was not, like that meal in
Wonderland, unending--Swinburne would dart round the table, proffer
his hand to me, bow deeply, bow to Watts-Dunton also, and disappear.
`He always walks in the morning, writes in the afternoon, and reads in
the evening,' Watts-Dunton would say with a touch of tutorial pride in
this regimen.

That parting bow of Swinburne to his old friend was characteristic of
his whole relation to him. Cronies though they were, these two, knit
together with bonds innumerable, the greater man was always aux petits
soins for the lesser, treating him as a newly-arrived young guest
might treat an elderly host. Some twenty years had passed since that
night when, ailing and broken--thought to be nearly dying, Watts-
Dunton told me--Swinburne was brought in a four-wheeler to The Pines.
Regular private nursing-homes either did not exist in those days or
were less in vogue than they are now. The Pines was to he a sort of
private nursing-home for Swinburne. It was a good one. He recovered.
He was most grateful to his friend and saviour. He made as though to
depart, was persuaded to stay a little longer, and then a little
longer than that. But I rather fancy that, to the last, he never did,
in the fullness of his modesty and good manners, consent to regard his
presence as a matter of course, or as anything but a terminable
intrusion and obligation. His bow seemed always to convey that.

Swinburne having gone from the room, in would come the parlourmaid.
The table was cleared, the fire was stirred, two leather arm-chairs
were pushed up to the hearth. Watts-Dunton wanted gossip of the
present. I wanted gossip of the great past. We settled down for a
long, comfortable afternoon together.

Only once was the ritual varied. Swinburne (I was told before
luncheon) had expressed a wish to show me his library. So after the
meal he did not bid us his usual adieu, but with much courtesy invited
us and led the way. Up the staircase he then literally bounded--three,
literally three, stairs at a time. I began to follow at the same rate,
but immediately slackened speed for fear that Watts-Dunton behind us
might be embittered at sight of so much youth and legerity. Swinburne
waited on the threshold to receive us, as it were, and pass us in.
Watts-Dunton went and ensconced himself snugly in a corner. The sun
had appeared after a grey morning, and it pleasantly flooded this big
living-room whose walls were entirely lined with the mellow backs of
books. Here, as host, among his treasures, Swinburne was more than
ever attractive. He was as happy as was any mote in the sunshine about
him; and the fluttering of his little hands, and feet too, was but as
a token of so much felicity. He looked older, it is true, in the
strong light. But these added years made only more notable his
youngness of heart. An illustrious bibliophile among his books? A
birthday child, rather, among his toys.

Proudly he explained to me the general system under which the volumes
were ranged in this or that division of shelves. Then he conducted me
to a chair near the window, left me there, flew away, flew up the
rungs of a mahogany ladder, plucked a small volume, and in a twinkling
was at my side: `This, I think, will please you! `It did. It had a
beautifully engraved title-page and a pleasing scent of old, old
leather. It was editio princeps of a play by some lesser Elizabethan
or Jacobean. `Of course you know it?' my host fluted.

How I wished I could say that I knew it and loved it well! I revealed
to him (for by speaking very loudly towards his inclined head I was
able to make him hear) that I had not read it. He envied any one who
had such pleasure in store. He darted to the ladder, and came back
thrusting gently into my hands another volume of like date: `Of course
you know this?'

Again I had to confess that I did not, and to shout my appreciation of
the fount of type, the margins, the binding. He beamed agreement, and
fetched another volume. Archly he indicated the title, cooing, `You
are a lover of this, I hope?' And again I was shamed by my

I did not pretend to know this particular play, but my tone implied
that I had always been meaning to read it and had always by some
mischance been prevented. For his sake as well as my own I did want to
acquit myself passably. I wanted for him the pleasure of seeing his
joys shared by a representative, however humble, of the common world.
I turned the leaves caressingly, looking from them to him, while he
dilated on the beauty of this and that scene in the play. Anon he
fetched another volume, and another, always with the same faith that
this was a favourite of mine. I quibbled, I evaded, I was very
enthusiastic and uncomfortable. It was with intense relief that I
beheld the title-page of yet another volume which (silently, this
time) he laid before me--The Country Wench. `This of course I have
read,' I heartily shouted.

Swinburne stepped back. `You have? You have read it? Where?' he cried,
in evident dismay.

Something was wrong. Had I not, I quickly wondered, read this play?
`Oh yes,' I shouted, `I have read it.'

`But when? Where?' entreated Swinburne, adding that he had supposed it
to be the sole copy extant.

I floundered. I wildly said I thought I must have read it years ago in
the Bodleian. `Theodore! Do you hear this? It seems that they have now
a copy of "The Country Wench" in the Bodleian! Mr. Beerbohm found one
there--oh when? in what year?' he appealed to me.

I said it might have been six, seven, eight years ago. Swinburne knew
for certain that no copy had been there twelve years ago, and was
surprised that he had not heard of the acquisition. `They might have
told me,' he wailed.

I sacrificed myself on the altar of sympathy. I admitted that I might
have been mistaken--must have been--must have confused this play with
some other. I dipped into the pages and `No,' I shouted, `this I have
never read.'

His equanimity was restored. He was up the ladder and down again,
showing me further treasures with all pride and ardour. At length,
Watts-Dunton, afraid that his old friend would tire himself, arose
from his corner, and presently he and I went downstairs to the dining-
room. It was in the course of our session together that there suddenly
flashed across my mind the existence of a play called `The Country
Wife,' by--wasn't it Wycherley? I had once read it--or read something
about it.... But this matter I kept to myself. I thought I had
appeared fool enough already.

I loved those sessions in that Tupperossettine dining-room, lair of
solid old comfort and fervid old romanticism. Its odd duality befitted
well its owner. The distinguished critic and poet, Rossetti's closest
friend and Swinburne's, had been, for a while, in the dark ages, a
solicitor; and one felt he had been a good one. His frock-coat, though
the Muses had crumpled it, inspired confidence in his judgment of
other things than verse. But let there be no mistake. He was no mere
bourgeois parnassien, as his enemies insinuated. No doubt he had been
very useful to men of genius, in virtue of qualities they lacked, but
the secret of his hold on them was in his own rich nature. He was not
only a born man of letters, he was a deeply emotional human being
whose appeal was as much to the heart as to the head. The romantic
Celtic mysticism of `Aylwin,' with its lack of fashionable Celtic
nebulosity, lends itself, if you will, to laughter, though personally
I saw nothing funny in it: it seemed to me, before I was in touch with
the author, a work of genuine expression from within; and that it
truly was so I presently knew. The mysticism of Watts-Dunton (who,
once comfortably settled at the fireside, knew no reserve) was in
contrast with the frock-coat and the practical abilities; but it was
essential, and they were of the surface. For humorous Rossetti, I
daresay, the very contrast made Theodore's company the more precious.
He himself had assuredly been, and the memory of him still was, the
master-fact in Watts-Dunton's life. `Algernon' was as an adopted
child, `Gabriel' as a long-lost only brother. As he was to the outer
world of his own day, so too to posterity Rossetti, the man, is
conjectural and mysterious. We know that he was in his prime the most
inspiring and splendid of companions. But we know this only by faith.
The evidence is as vague as it is emphatic. Of the style and substance
of not a few great talkers in the past we can piece together some more
or less vivid and probably erroneous notion. But about Rossetti
nothing has been recorded in such a way as to make him even faintly
emerge. I suppose he had in him what reviewers seem to find so often
in books a quality that defies analysis. Listening to Watts-Dunton, I
was always in hope that when next the long-lost turned up--for he was
continually doing so--in the talk, I should see him, hear him, and
share the rapture. But the revelation was not to be. You might think
that to hear him called `Gabriel' would have given me a sense of
propinquity. But I felt no nearer to him than you feel to the
Archangel who bears that name and no surname.

It was always when Watts-Dunton spoke carelessly, casually, of some to
me illustrious figure in the past, that I had the sense of being
wafted right into that past and plumped down in the very midst of it.
When he spoke with reverence of this and that great man whom he had
known, he did not thus waft and plump me; for I, too, revered those
names. But I had the magical transition whenever one of the immortals
was mentioned in the tone of those who knew him before he had put on
immortality. Browning, for example, was a name deeply honoured by me.
`Browning, yes,' said Watts-Dunton, in the course of an afternoon,
`Browning,' and he took a sip of the steaming whisky-toddy that was a
point in our day's ritual. `I was a great diner-out in the old times.
I used to dine out every night in the week. Browning was a great
diner-out, too. We were always meeting. What a pity he went on writing
all those plays! He hadn't any gift for drama--none. I never could
understand why he took to play-writing.' He wagged his head, gazing
regretfully into the fire, and added, `Such a clever fellow, too!'

Whistler, though alive and about, was already looked to as a hierarch
by the young. Not so had he been looked to by Rossetti. The thrill of
the past was always strong in me when Watts-Dunton mentioned--seldom
without a guffaw did he mention--`Jimmy Whistler.' I think he put in
the surname because `that fellow' had not behaved well to Swinburne.
But he could not omit the nickname, because it was impossible for him
to feel the right measure of resentment against `such a funny fellow.'
As heart-full of old hates as of old loves was Watts-Dunton, and I
take it as high testimony to the charm of Whistler's quaintness that
Watts-Dunton did not hate him. You may be aware that Swinburne, in
'88, wrote for one of the monthly reviews a criticism of the `Ten
O'Clock' lecture. He paid courtly compliments to Whistler as a
painter, but joined issue with his theories. Straightway there
appeared in the World a little letter from Whistler, deriding `one
Algernon Swinburne--outsider--Putney.' It was not in itself a very
pretty or amusing letter; and still less so did it seem in the light
of the facts which Watts-Dunton told me in some such words as these:
After he'd published that lecture of his, Jimmy Whistler had me to
dine with him at Kettner's or somewhere. He said "Now, Theodore, I
want you to do me a favour." He wanted to get me to get Swinburne to
write an article about his lecture. I said "No, Jimmy Whistler, I
can't ask Algernon to do that. He's got a great deal of work on hand
just now--a great deal of work. And besides, this sort of thing
wouldn't be at all in his line.' But Jimmy Whistler went on appealing
to me. He said it would do him no end of good if Swinburne wrote about
him. And--well, I half gave in: I said perhaps I would mention the
matter to Algernon. And next day I did. I could see Algernon didn't
want to do it at all. But--well, there, he said he'd do it to please
me. And he did it. And then Jimmy Whistler published that letter. A
very shabby trick--very shabby indeed.' Of course I do not vouch for
the exact words in which Watts-Dunton told me this tale; but this was
exactly the tale he told me. I expressed my astonishment. He added
that of course he `never wanted to see the fellow again after that,
and never did.' But presently, after a long gaze into the coals, he
emitted a chuckle, as for earlier memories of `such a funny fellow.'
One quite recent memory he had, too. `When I took on the name of
Dunton, I had a note from him. Just this, with his butterfly
signature: Theodore! What's Dunton? That was very good--very good....
But, of course,' he added gravely, `I took no notice.' And no doubt,
quite apart from the difficulty of finding an answer in the same vein,
he did well in not replying. Loyalty to Swinburne forbade. But I see a
certain pathos in the unanswered message. It was a message from the
hand of an old jester, but also, I think, from the heart of an old
man--a signal waved jauntily, but in truth wistfully, across the gulf
of years and estrangement; and one could wish it had not been ignored.

Some time after Whistler died I wrote for one of the magazines an
appreciation of his curious skill in the art of writing. Watts-Dunton
told me he had heard of this from Swinburne. `I myself,' he said,
`very seldom read the magazines. But Algernon always has a look at
them.' There was something to me very droll, and cheery too, in this
picture of the illustrious recluse snatching at the current issues of
our twaddle. And I was immensely pleased at hearing that my article
had `interested him very much.' I inwardly promised myself that as
soon as I reached home I would read the article, to see just how it
might have struck Swinburne. When in due course I did this, I
regretted the tone of the opening sentences, in which I declared
myself `no book-lover' and avowed a preference for `an uninterrupted
view of my fellow-creatures.' I felt that had I known my article would
meet the eye of Swinburne I should have cut out that overture. I dimly
remembered a fine passage in one of his books of criticism--something
(I preferred not to verify it) about `the dotage of duncedom which
cannot perceive, or the impudence of insignificance so presumptuous as
to doubt, that the elements of life and literature are indivisibly
mingled one in another, and that he to whom books are less real than
life will assuredly find in men and women as little reality as in his
accursed crassness he deserves to discover.' I quailed, I quailed. But
mine is a resilient nature, and I promptly reminded myself that
Swinburne's was a very impersonal one: he would not think the less
highly of me, for he never had thought about me in any way whatsoever.
All was well. I knew I could revisit The Pines, when next Watts-Dunton
should invite me, without misgiving. And to this day I am rather proud
of having been mentioned, though not by name, and not consciously, and
unfavourably, by Swinburne.

I wonder that I cannot recall more than I do recall of those hours at
The Pines. It is odd how little remains to a man of his own past--how
few minutes of even his memorable hours are not clean forgotten, and
how few seconds in any one of those minutes can be recaptured... I am
middle-aged, and have lived a vast number of seconds. Subtract one
third of these, for one mustn't count sleep as life. The residual
number is still enormous. Not a single one of those seconds was
unimportant to me in its passage. Many of them bored me, of course;
but even boredom is a positive state: one chafes at it and hates it;
strange that one should afterwards forget it! And stranger still that
of one's actual happinesses and unhappinesses so tiny and tattered a
remnant clings about one! Of those hours at The Pines, of that past
within a past, there was not a minute nor a second that I did not
spend with pleasure. Memory is a great artist, we are told; she
selects and rejects and shapes and so on. No doubt. Elderly persons
would be utterly intolerable if they remembered everything.
Everything, nevertheless, is just what they themselves would like to
remember, and just what they would like to tell to everybody. Be sure
that the Ancient Mariner, though he remembered quite as much as his
audience wanted to hear, and rather more, about the albatross and the
ghastly crew, was inwardly raging at the sketchiness of his own mind;
and believe me that his stopping only one of three was the merest
oversight. I should like to impose on the world many tomes about The

But, scant though my memories are of the moments there, very full and
warm in me is the whole fused memory of the two dear old men that
lived there. I wish I had Watts-Dunton's sure faith in meetings beyond
the grave. I am glad I do not disbelieve that people may so meet. I
like to think that some day in Elysium I shall--not without
diffidence--approach those two and reintroduce myself. I can see just
how courteously Swinburne will bow over my hand, not at all
remembering who I am. Watts-Dunton will remember me after a moment:
`Oh, to be sure, yes indeed! I've a great deal of work on hand just
now--a great deal of work, but' we shall sit down together on the
asphodel, and I cannot but think we shall have whisky-toddy even
there. He will not have changed. He will still be shaggy and old and
chubby, and will wear the same frock-coat, with the same creases in
it. Swinburne, on the other hand, will be quite, quite young, with a
full mane of flaming auburn locks, and no clothes to hinder him from
plunging back at any moment into the shining Elysian waters from which
he will have just emerged. I see him skim lightly away into that
element. On the strand is sitting a man of noble and furrowed brow. It
is Mazzini, still thinking of Liberty. And anon the tiny young English
amphibian comes ashore to fling himself dripping at the feet of the
patriot and to carol the Republican ode he has composed in the course
of his swim. `He's wonderfully active--active in mind and body,'
Watts-Dunton says to me. `I come to the shore now and then, just to
see how he's getting on. But I spend most of my time inland. I find
I've so much to talk over with Gabriel. Not that he's quite the fellow
he was. He always had rather a cult for Dante, you know, and now he's
more than ever under the Florentine influence. He lives in a sort of
monastery that Dante has here; and there he sits painting imaginary
portraits of Beatrice, and giving them all to Dante. But he still has
his great moments, and there's no one quite like him--no one. Algernon
won't ever come and see him, because that fellow Mazzini's as Anti-
Clerical as ever and makes a principle of having nothing to do with
Dante. Look!--there's Algernon going into the water again! He'll tire
himself out, he'll catch cold, he'll--' and here the old man rises and
hurries down to the sea's edge. `Now, Algernon,' he roars, `I don't
want to interfere with you, but I do think, my dear old friend,'--and
then, with a guffaw, he breaks off, remembering that his friend is not
deaf now nor old, and that here in Elysium, where no ills are, good
advice is not needed.


One morning lately I saw in my newspaper an announcement that enraged
me. It was made in the driest, most casual way, as though nobody would
care a rap; and this did but whet the wrath I had in knowing that Adam
Street, Adelphi, was to be undone. The Tivoli Music Hall, about to be
demolished and built anew, was to have a frontage of thirty feet, if
you please, in Adam Street. Why? Because the London County Council,
with its fixed idea that the happiness of mankind depends on the
widening of the Strand, had decreed that the Tivoli's new frontage
thereon should be thirty feet further back, and had granted as
consolation to the Tivoli the right to spread itself around the corner
and wreck the work of the Brothers Adam. Could not this outrage be
averted? There sprang from my lips that fiery formula which has sprung
from the lips of so many choleric old gentlemen in the course of the
past hundred years and more: `I shall write to The Times.'

If Adam Street were a thing apart I should have been stricken enough,
heaven knows, at thought of its beauty going, its dear tradition being
lost. But not as an unrelated masterpiece was Adam Street built by the
Brothers whose name it bears. An integral part it is in their noble
design of the Adelphi. It is the very key to the Adelphi, the well-
ordained initiation for us into that small, matchless quarter of
London, where peace and dignity do still reign--peace the more
beatific, and dignity the finer, by instant contrast with the chaos of
hideous sounds and sights hard by. What man so gross that, passing out
of the Strand into Adam Street, down the mild slope to the river, he
has not cursed the age he was born into--or blessed it because the
Adelphi cannot in earlier days have had for any one this fullness of
peculiar magic? Adam Street is not so beautiful as the serene Terrace
it goes down to, nor so curiously grand as crook-backed John Street.
But the Brothers did not mean it to be so. They meant it just as an
harmonious `lead' to those inner glories of their scheme. Ruin that
approach, and how much else do you ruin of a thing which--done
perfectly by masters, and done by them here as nowhere else could they
have done it--ought to be guarded by us very jealously! How to raise
on this irregular and `barbarous' ground a quarter that should be
`polite', congruous in tone with the smooth river beyond it--this was
the irresistible problem the Brothers set themselves and slowly,
coolly, perfectly solved. So long as the Adelphi remains to us, a
microcosm of the eighteenth century is ours. If there is any meaning
in the word sacrilege--

That, I remember, was the beginning of one of the sentences I composed
while I paced my room, thinking out my letter to The Times. I rejected
that sentence. I rejected scores of others. They were all too
vehement. Though my facility for indignation is not (I hope) less than
that of my fellows, I never had written to The Times. And now, though
I flattered myself I knew how the thing ought to be done, I was unsure
that I could do it. Was I beginning too late? Restraint was the prime
effect to be aimed at. If you are intemperate, you don't convince. I
wanted to convince the readers of The Times that the violation of the
Adelphi was a thing to be prevented at all costs. Soberness of
statement, a simple, direct, civic style, with only an underthrob of
personal emotion, were what I must at all costs achieve. Not too much
of mere aesthetics, either, nor of mere sentiment for the past. No
more than a brief eulogy of `those admirably proportioned streets so
familiar to all students of eighteenth century architecture,' and
perhaps a passing reference to `the shades of Dr. Johnson, Garrick,
Hannah More, Sir Joshua Reynolds. Topham Beauclerk, and how many
others!' The sooner my protest were put in terms of commerce, the
better for my cause. The more clearly I were to point out that such
antiquities as the Adelphi are as a magnet to the moneyed tourists of
America and Europe, the likelier would my readers be to shudder at `a
proposal which, if carried into effect, will bring discredit on all
concerned and will in some measure justify Napoleon's hitherto-
unjustified taunt that we are a nation of shopkeepers.--I am, Sir,
your obedient servant'--good! I sat down to a table and wrote out that
conclusion, and then I worked backwards, keeping well in view the idea
of ` restraint.' But that quality which is little sister to restraint,
and is yet far more repulsive to the public mind than vehemence,
emerged to misguide my pen. Irony, in fact, played the deuce. I found
myself writing that a nation which, in its ardour for beauty and its
reverence for great historic associations, has lately disbursed after
only a few months' hesitation ť250,000 to save the Crystal Palace,
where the bank holidays of millions of toilers have been spoilt by the
utter gloom and nullity of the place--a nullity and gloom that will,
however and of course, be dispelled so soon as the place is devoted to
permanent exhibitions of New Zealand pippins, Rhodesian tobacco,
Australian mutton, Canadian snow-shoes, and other glories of Empire--
might surely not be asked in vain to'--but I deleted that sentence,
and tried another in another vein. My desire to be straightforward did
but topple me into excess of statement. My sorrow for the Adelphi came
out as sentimentality, my anger against the authorities as vulgar
abuse. Only the urgency of my cause upheld me. I would get my letter
done somehow and post it. But there flitted through my mind that
horrid doubt which has flitted through the minds of so many choleric
old gentlemen in the course of the past hundred years and more: `Will
The Times put my letter in?'

If The Times wouldn't, what then? At least my conscience would be
clear: I should have done what I could to save my beloved quarter. But
the process of doing it was hard and tedious, and I was glad of the
little respite presented by the thought that I must, before stating my
case thoroughly, revisit Adam Street itself, to gauge precisely the
extent of the mischief threatened there. On my way to the Strand I met
an old friend, one of my links with whom is his love of the Adams'
work. He had not read the news, and I am sorry to say that I, in my
selfish agitation, did not break it to him gently. Rallying, he
accompanied me on my sombre quest.

I had forgotten there was a hosier's shop next to the Tivoli, at the
corner of the right-hand side of Adam Street. We turned past it, and
were both of us rather surprised that there were other shops down that
side. They ought never to have been allowed there; but there they
were; and of course, I felt, it was the old façades above them that
really counted. We gazed meanwhile at the façades on the left-hand
side, feasting our eyes on the proportions of the pilasters, the
windows; the old seemly elegance of it all; the greatness of the
manner with the sweet smallness of the scale it wrought on.

`Well,' I said, turning abruptly away, `to business! Thirty feet--how
much, about, is that? My friend moved to the exact corner of the
Strand, and then, steadily, methodically, with his eyes to the
pavement, walked thirty toe-to-heal paces down Adam Street.

`This,' he said, `is where the corner of the Tivoli would come'--not
`will come,' observe; I thanked him for that. He passed on, measuring
out the thirty additional feet. There was in his demeanour something
so finely official that I felt I should at least have the Government
on my side.

Thus it was with no sense of taking a farewell look, but rather to
survey a thing half-saved already, that I crossed over to the other
side of the road, and then, lifting my eyes, and looking to and fro,

I blankly indicated the thing to my friend. How long had it been
there, that horrible, long, high frontage of grey stone? It must
surely have been there before either of us was born. It seemed to be a
very perfect specimen of 1860--1870 architecture--perfect in its
pretentious and hateful smugness.

And neither of us had ever known it was there.

Neither of us, therefore, could afford to laugh at the other; nor did
either of us laugh at himself; we just went blankly away, and parted.
I daresay my friend found presently, as I did, balm in the knowledge
that the Tivoli's frontage wouldn't, because it couldn't, be so bad as
that which we had just, for the first time, seen.

For me there was another, a yet stronger, balm. And I went as though I
trod on air, my heart singing within me. For I had not, after all, to
resume my task of writing that letter to The Times.


They must, I suppose, be classed among biblia abiblia [Greek]. Ignored
in the catalogue of any library, not one of them lurking in any
uttermost cavern under the reading-room of the British Museum, none of
them ever printed even for private circulation, these books written by
this and that character in fiction are books only by courtesy and good

But how few, after all, the books that are books! Charles Lamb let his
kind heart master him when he made that too brief list of books that
aren't. Book is an honourable title, not to be conferred lightly. A
volume is not necessarily, as Lamb would have had us think, a book
because it can be read without difficulty. The test is, whether it was
worth reading. Had the author something to set forth? And had he the
specific gift for setting it forth in written words? And did he use
this rather rare gift conscientiously and to the full? And were his
words well and appropriately printed and bound? If you can say Yes to
these questions, then only, I submit, is the title of `book' deserved.
If Lamb were alive now, he certainly would draw the line closer than
he did. Published volumes were few in his day (though not, of course,
few enough). Even he, in all the plenitude of his indulgence, would
now have to demur that at least 90 per cent. of the volumes that the
publishers thrust on us, so hectically, every spring and autumn, are
abiblia [Greek].

What would he have to say of the novels, for example? These
commodities are all very well in their way, no doubt. But let us have
no illusions as to what their way is. The poulterer who sells strings
of sausages does not pretend that every individual sausage is in
itself remarkable. He does not assure us that `this is a sausage that
gives furiously to think,' or `this is a singularly beautiful and
human sausage,' or `this is undoubtedly the sausage of the year.' Why
are such distinctions drawn by the publisher? When he publishes, as he
sometimes does, a novel that is a book (or at any rate would be a book
if it were decently printed and bound) then by all means let him
proclaim its difference--even at the risk of scaring away the majority
of readers.

I admit that I myself might be found in that majority. I am shy of
masterpieces; nor is this merely because of the many times I have been
disappointed at not finding anything at all like what the publishers
expected me to find. As a matter of fact, those disappointments are
dim in my memory: it is long since I ceased to take publishers'
opinions as my guide. I trust now, for what I ought to read, to the
advice of a few highly literary friends. But so soon as I am told that
I `must' read this or that, and have replied that I instantly will, I
become strangely loth to do anything of the sort. And what I like
about books within books is that they never can prick my conscience.
It is extraordinarily comfortable that they don't exist.

And yet--for, even as Must implants distaste, so does Can't stir sweet
longings--how eagerly would I devour these books within books! What
fun, what a queer emotion, to fish out from a fourpenny-box, in a
FLOWERS, by ROSA BUNION! I suppose poor Rosa's muse, so fair and so
fervid in Rosa's day, would seem a trifle fatigued now; but what
allowances one would make! Lord Steyne said of WALTER LORRAINE that it
was `very clever and wicked.' I fancy we should apply neither epithet
now. Indeed, I have always suspected that Pen's maiden effort may have
been on a plane with `The Great Hoggarty Diamond.' Yet I vow would I
not skip a line of it.

WHO PUT BACK THE CLOCK? is another work which I especially covet. Poor
Gideon Forsyth! He was abominably treated, as Stevenson relates, in
the matter of that grand but grisly piano; and I have always hoped
that perhaps, in the end, as a sort of recompense, Fate ordained that
the novel he had anonymously written should be rescued from oblivion
and found by discerning critics to be not at all bad.

"He had never acknowledged it, or only to some intimate friends while
it was still in proof; after its appearance and alarming failure, the
modesty of the author had become more pressing, and the secret was now
likely to be better kept than that of the authorship of `Waverley.'"

Such an humiliation as Gideon's is the more poignant to me because it
is so rare in English fiction. In nine cases out of ten, a book within
a book is an immediate, an immense success.

On the whole, our novelists have always tended to optimism--especially
they who have written mainly to please their public. It pleases the
public to read about any sort of success. The greater, the more sudden
and violent the success, the more valuable is it as ingredient in a
novel. And since the average novelist lives always in a dream that one
of his works will somehow `catch on' as no other work ever has caught
on yet, it is very natural that he should fondly try meanwhile to get
this dream realised for him, vicariously, by this or that creature of
his fancy. True, he is usually too self-conscious to let this creature
achieve his sudden fame and endless fortune through a novel. Usually
it is a play that does the trick. In the Victorian time it was almost
always a book of poems. Oh for the spacious days of Tennyson and
Swinburne! In how many a three-volume novel is mentioned some `slim
octavo' which seems, from the account given, to have been as arresting
as `Poems and Ballads' without being less acceptable than `Idylls of
the King'! These verses were always the anonymous work of some very
young, very poor man, who supposed they had fallen still-born from the
press until, one day, a week or so after publication, as he walked
`moodily' and `in a brown study' along the Strand, having given up all
hope now that he would ever be in a position to ask Hilda to be his
wife, a friend accosted him--`Seen "The Thunderer" this morning? By
George, there's a column review of a new book of poems,' etc. In some
three-volume novel that I once read at a seaside place, having
borrowed it from the little circulating library, there was a young
poet whose sudden leap into the front rank has always laid a special
hold on my imagination. The name of the novel itself I cannot recall;
but I remember the name of the young poet--Aylmer Deane; and the
forever unforgettable title of his book of verse was POMENTS: BEING
POEMS OF THE MOOD AND THE MOMENT. What would I not give to possess a
copy of that work?

Though he had suffered, and though suffering is a sovereign
preparation for great work, I did not at the outset foresee that
Aylmer Deane was destined to wear the laurel. In real life I have
rather a flair for future eminence. In novels I am apt to be wise only
after the event. There the young men who do in due course take the
town by storm have seldom shown (to my dull eyes) promise. Their
spoken thoughts have seemed to me no more profound or pungent than my
own. All that is best in these authors goes into their work. But,
though I complain of them on this count, I admit that the thrill for

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