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Title:      Experiments (1925)
Author:     Norman Douglas
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A Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook

Title:      Experiments (1925)
Author:     Norman Douglas





CONTENTS

ARABIA DESERTA
THE CORRECT THING
BLIND GUIDES
AT THE FORGE
EDGAR ALLAN POE
BELLADONNA
NOCTURNE
INTELLECTUAL NOMADISM
THE LAST WORD
A MAD ENGLISHMAN
QUEER!
ANACREONTIC
POSTSCRIPT: A PLEA FOR BETTER MANNERS




ARABIA DESERTA

[_Arabia Deserta_ By Charles M. Doughty. With an introduction by T. E.
Lawrence. New Edition.]

Not long ago there was sent me a recently-published French book about
Morocco--_Marrakech_, by the brothers Tharaud, then already in its
twenty-fifth edition. What did I think of it? And why could we not
write such things in English?

Well, I thought it good, despite that unseasonable military
atmosphere--decidedly good of its kind; the story grows livelier and
impressive towards the end. Moreover, thank Heaven, it exhales but
faintly the familiar odour of Parisian patchouli; there are some
luminous and suggestive metaphors and a moment of real tragedy. For
the rest: head-work, self-conscious glitter, a virtuosity bordering on
the precious. One detects only the frailest link of human sympathy
between the authors and the scenes they describe. A wealth of
outlandish customs and figures has been noted down by the pen of a
scrupulous journalist and then distilled into elaborately-tinted
phrases. It is almost wearisome, all this material, where so much is
seen, so little felt. I recall, for instance, that suffocating chapter
"La Place Folle." "Qu'il est donc malaisé," say the authors in one
place, "de peindre avec justesse le charme de l'Orient! A inventorier
ces beautés ... on a l'air d'un pédagogue." Exactly! An artist should
never "inventorier." Why therefore this endless cataloguing in
_Marrakech_? Why?  Because the authors, as Frenchmen, were unable to
do what they should have done--unable to make their readers really
feel the life they depict. Your Gaul is a centripetal fellow, a bad
nomad. His affinities with foreign folk are only skin-deep--aesthetic
rather than constitutional. One suspects that, while gadding abroad,
he is pretty frequently homesick. One knows it. He will tell you so
himself.

As to writing such things in English, the feat is not impossible. We
must try, first and foremost, to be more logical, to rid ourselves of
that lamentable haziness, of those iridescent flashes of thought and
feeling that can be struck out of a single word; we must learn, in
short, to content ourselves with a vocabulary such as our neighbours
possess. Cut down to a quarter of its size that preposterous
dictionary of ours, throw on the scrap-heap all those mellow verbal
forms, and consign the residue into the hands of a conscience-stricken
Academy that shall stereotype the meaning and prescribe the proper
usage of every item--the thing is done. There will be no more
half-tones, no more interplay of shades. We shall step from twilight
into sunshine. For what is the chief secret of French precision? Lack
of words. To be sure, their writers are mostly professionals--_gens du
métier_; they know how to handle those few words.

That is why, generally speaking, they produce such mediocre travel
books.

The _homme de lettres_, of whatever nationality, is handicapped in
this department; he can never more attain to a jovial heedlessness of
expression.  His schooling militates against it; he knows for whom he
writes; he has learnt to play to the gallery.  The personal note (an
impersonal travel-book is a horror) becomes him ill; there is apt to
be something spectacular and meretricious in the work. This applies
particularly to Frenchmen. Having an old-established literary
tradition of what is good and bad--how to compass the one and avoid
the other--they shine at objective narrative. When they write, as they
sometimes do, in the first person, they often fail to ring true; art
decays into artifice; it is as if, accustomed to producing fictional
characters in their tales and romances, they would now read fictitious
characters into themselves. Or else, as in _Marrakech_, they leave a
mere blur so far as personality is concerned. The ideal author of
travel-books is the inspired, or at least enthusiastic, amateur. One
would not take it amiss, furthermore, were he obsessed by some hobby
or grievance, by idiosyncrasies and prejudices not common to the rest
of us. And it goes without saying that he must be gloriously
indifferent to the opinions of his fellow-creatures. Can professionals
ever fulfil these conditions? No! They should therefore never attempt
to write travel-books.  They have lost their innocence.

It was at a friend's house near a green English village, in the heart
of a green English summer long ago--years before the abridged edition
of _Arabia Deserta_ appeared--that I became acquainted with the
original Doughty. And these, you may instantly divine, are the
conditions most favourable to an appreciation of his merits. That
gaunt Odyssey reads mighty well in comfortable England.  Amid verdant
fields and streamlets, and opulence for the body, and a sense of
immemorial tranquillity, how pleasant it is to conjure up visions of
the traveller's marches under the flaming sky and of all his other
hazards in a land of hunger and blood and desolation! I opened the
first volume not quite at the commencement, and remember taking some
little credit to myself (one was younger, in the middle 'nineties) for
persisting to read to the last word of the second.

A tough, elemental, masculine performance.  _Man muss sich
hineinlesen_, as the Germans say.  The author himself calls his book
"not milk for babes." Far from it! Stuff to be humbly and patiently
masticated--an unwelcome occupation to our democratic age which, among
other symptoms of senility, has lost the use of its teeth and now
draws sustenance, ready chewed and half digested, pepsinised, out of
the daily Press. Open _Arabia Deserta_ where you please, and you find
yourself stumbling among thought-laden periods that might have been
hacked out of Chaos by some demoniac craftsman in the youth of the
world. Strange, none the less, how that sense of anfracuosity
evaporates.  The theme, by subtle alchemy, justifies the style.  Those
harsh particles of language--so it seemed to me--were wondrously
adapted to mirror the crudeness of Arabian landscape and character.

Be that as it may, I felt, on closing the book, as one who has been
forcefully led through all the harassments of a dream--a weary,
lingering dream; one of those that refuse to relax their hold upon the
imagination, haunting our daylight moments with a vague presentiment
of danger and disquietude.  Here is no glint of mirth, no mockery; a
spirit of sombre truthfulness broods over the scene. The book is
oppressive by weight of thought and length of text. That might well be
appropriate from an artistic point of view. Nothing short of eleven
hundred pages could do justice to this toilsome, nightmarish epic. "I
passed this one good day in Arabia; and all the others were evil
because of the people's fanaticism." One good day in two years!  Nor
is it a featureless monster, like Pallas' Russian travels. A
well-jointed monster, on the contrary, of spiky carapace and
deliberate gait--pensively alert, harmonious.

Of one thing I was soon convinced: Doughty's outlook was not mine.
Never could I have attained to his infinite capacity of suffering
fools gladly.  My days would have been short among those empty and
elvish creatures whose only inducement (as often as not) to offer
their far-famed hospitality is that they count on you to feed them
another day--which would be almost impossible if they had obeyed their
consciences and cut your throat.  Dangers of rock or ice or desert may
well be tempting, but such fuddled fanaticism grows insupportable. Can
there be a greater torture of mind than to travel month after month
among peevishly ferocious bigots, repressing an altogether
praiseworthy inclination to laugh at them or hit them on the head? In
default of being murdered I should have succumbed to cerebral
congestion. Doughty's feat calls for quite a peculiar temper:

The mad sherif had the knife again in his hand! and his old gall
rising, "Show me all thou hast," cries he, "and leave nothing; or now
will I kill thee."--Where was Maabûb? whom I had not seen since
yester-evening; in him was the faintness and ineptitude of Arab
friends.--"Remember the bread and salt which we have eaten together,
Salem!"--"Show it all to me, or now by Ullah I will slay thee with
this knife." More bystanders gathered from the shadowing places: some
of them cried out, "Let us hack him in morsels, the cursed one! what
hindcrs?--fellows, let us hack him in morsels!"--"Have patience a
moment, and send these away." Salem, lifting his knife, cried, "Except
thou show me all at the instant, I will slay thee!"....

Charming people!

Endeavouring at this distance of time to recall my first impression of
_Arabia Deserta_--to delve, that is, through multiple layers of
experience which have accumulated since those green summer days of
long ago--I remember being vastly pleased with the motives which
allured Doughty into these stricken regions. He went not in search of
disused emerald mines or to open up commercial markets; he took with
him no commission from the home authorities, no theories to air, no
gospel to preach.  His purport is refreshingly anti-utilitarian. What
drove him, besides a Homeric love of adventure, to undergo these
hardships was pure intellectual curiosity, the longings of a brain
that feeds on disinterested thought. "Other men," said the Arabs to
him, "jeopardy somewhat in hope of winning, but thou wilt adventure
all, having no need." He hoped, he now tells us, "to add something to
the common fund of Western knowledge." A certain Mahmud, describing
the rock-hewn sculptures of Medain Salih, "was the father of my
painful travels in Arabia." All thanks to Mahmud!  Burckhardt's
discovery of Petra may have helped to ignite the train; and also the
Bible, full as it is of lore and legends of those more reasonable
Semites who lived here in olden times, who revered letters and song,
and planted the vine, an'd built cities of stone, before the blight of
Islam fell upon the land.  That mysterious and romantic background of
the past cannot but appeal to the imagination.  Doughty's book, so
dispassionately worded, is a truthful indictment of Mahomed turning
his country into a wilderness. What a creed can do! So Borrow's
account of Spanish savagery reflects the achievement of those
inquisitors who, in the name of a kindly God, brought to
withering-point the kindliness of nature and of man.

And I likewise remember saying to myself, "_Haec olim meminisse_ . . .
who would not envy this man his memories?"

Ideas such as these will have flitted through the minds of all the
early admirers of Doughty. They must have realized that his volumes do
provoke thought in no common degree. Here is not only information;
here is character, a human document.  The image of the poet-traveller
is no blur.  Doughty has etched his lonely figure against this
desolation of sand and lava-crag, and we are glad to see how the thing
has been accomplished; it does one good to be in contact with a
companion full of natural resources and listen to his tale; one leaves
him with regret, as one bids farewell to some friend of robust and
well-stored mind, perceiving that, all unconsciously, his words have
been of use in revealing us to ourselves. They have helped us to
rectify and clarify our own perspective. (Can anything be called a
book unless it forces the reader by one method or another, by contrast
or sympathy, to discover himself?) So _Arabia Deserta_ is the
antithesis of the purely pictorial _Marrakech_, inasmuch as therein we
enjoy that feeling of intimacy for which every sensitive person must
crave, while wandering with his author through strange places.  It
seems to me that the reader of a good travel-book is entitled not only
to an exterior voyage, to descriptions of scenery and so forth, but to
an interior, a sentimental or temperamental voyage, which takes place
side by side with that outer one; and that the ideal book of this kind
offers us, indeed, a triple opportunity of exploration--abroad, into
the author's brain, and into our own. The writer should therefore
possess a brain worth exploring; some philosophy of life--not
necessarily, though by preference, of his own forging--and the courage
to proclaim it and put it to the test; he must be naïf and profound,
both child and sage. Who is either the one or the other in these days,
when the whole trend of existence makes for the superficial and
commonplace, when a man writes with one eye on his publisher and the
other on his public?

This may account for the insipid taste of many travel-books printed
just now: lack of personality on the part of their authors. It is not
enough to depict, in however glowing hues, the landscape and customs
of distant regions, to smother us in folklore and statistics and
history, and besprinkle the "pages with imaginary conversations or
foreign idioms by way of generating local colour." It is not enough.
We want to take our share in that interior voyage and watch how these
alien sights and sounds affect the writer. If he lacks that compulsion
of the spirit which is called character, or lets his mind linger on
contingencies hostile to frank utterance, he will be unable to supply
that want and leave us dissatisfied. Doughty is rich in character,
self-consistent, never otherwise than himself. Press him to the last
drop, it has the same taste as the first; whereas Palgrave, for
instance, who traversed some of these same regions, is by no means
always Palgrave; and Burton--what of Burton? A driving-force void of
savour or distinction; drabness in excelsls; a glorified Blue Book. A
man who could write at one and the same time ten (was it ten?)
different volumes on as many different subjects. . . .  [Footnote: I
am far from suggesting that all moderns are drab.  There is, for
instance, the _Haji Abdullah Mansur_--Mr. Wyman Bury--of Aden. Why are
those first two volumes of his so short, especially the second one?
What exigencies of time or space or cost or officialdom were at the
back of this mischievous curtailment? One does not encounter every day
a Haji so brilliant and multi-faceted.]

The modern author of travel-literature one suspects to be a greyish
little person, uncommonly wide awake, perky and plausible, but
somewhat deficient in humanity--a kind of reporter, in fact, ready to
adopt anybody's philosophy or nobody's in particular. Those earlier
ones were not of this sort.  They derived, to begin with, from another
stock, for voyages used to be costly undertakings; they were
gentleman-scholars who saw things from their own individual angle.
Their leisurely aristocratic flavour, their wholesome discussions
about this or that, their waywardness and all that mercurial touch of
a bygone generation--where is it now? How went it? An enquiry which,
rightly solved, might explain the rarity of types like Doughty.

That mercurial touch disappears naturally when the conditions which
gave it birth are at an end.  We have ceased to be what we were, that
is all.  Year by year our hard-won domestic privileges have been
gnawed or lopped away; the recent history of the English citizen is
one long wail of liberties forfeited; we are being continentalised,
standardised--a process which cannot but reflect itself in life and
literature. It blunts our peculiar edges. Singularity, the hall-mark
of that older Anglo-Saxon, is hardly perceptible in our modern bearing
or writing. We have ceased to be "mad "; none but a flatterer would
still call us eccentric. All kinds of other factors have contributed
to this result, such as improved world-communications.  Dr. Arnold,
again, that merciless pruner of youthful individualism, has wrought a
miracle of destruction so far as originality is concerned, for his
energies hit hardest the very class from whom those sturdy and
idiomatic, and sometimes outrageous, opinions used to come.

Doughty seems to have escaped the contagion; he goes so far as to call
the Universities "shambles of good wits." His edges are intact. He
sees clearly, and feels deeply, and warily chooses his words. There is
a morning freshness in that gift of investing the ordinary phenomena
of life with an extraordinary interest--a kind of bloom, I should call
it.

No matins here of birds; not a rock partridge-cock, calling with
blithesome chuckle over the extreme waterless desolation. Grave is
that giddy heat upon the crown of the head; the ears tingle with a
flickering shrillness, a subtle crepitation it seems, in the
glassiness of this sun-stricken nature: the hot sand-blink is in the
eyes, and there is little refreshment to find in the tents' shelter;
the worsted booths leak to this fiery rain of sunny light.  Mountains
looming like dry bones through the thin air, stand far around about
us: the savage flank of Ybba Moghrair, the high spire and ruinous
stacks of el-Jebal, Chebàd, the coast of Helwàn! Herds of weak nomad
camels waver dispersedly, seeking pasture in the midst of this hollow
fainting country, where but lately the swarming locusts have fretted
every green thing. This silent air burning about us, we endure
breathless till the assr: when the dozing Arabs in the tents revive
after their heavy hours. The lingering day draws down to the
sun-setting; the herdsmen, weary of the sun, come again with the
cattle, to taste in their menzils the first sweetness of mirth and
repose. . . .

Now what do Frenchmen think of such language? And why cannot they
convey these shades of meaning in their own?

Well, even Fromentin will give you a taste of that dumb ache which
rends and racks the human frame under a sun-drenched sky. But one has
only to name him--and that is precisely and solely why I am referring
to these folk--in order to appraise Doughty at his right worth. Or
glance into another of them: Loti's _Désert_. What of it? A cloying
and tinkling performance; as voiceless, almost as voiceless, as a
picture on a wall. Where, you ask, where is the shrewd wit, the
insight, the humanity of Montaigne? And that other one about
Constantinople, or about Morocco: how prettily constructed, how
unconvincing! Yet Loti is a writer of renown; there is no gainsaying
those exquisite gifts. What militates against his, and his.
countrymen's, veracity in a personal relation like _Le Désert_ is
professionalism--and one or two other little things. Lack of humility,
for instance; or call it simple imperviousness to foreign languages
and ideals. They are curiously incurious, again, as to matters
non-human; even the Goncourt's _Journal_ is full of queer blunders of
observation; they seem to have inherited somewhat from those old
Troubadours to whom the human element was everything, and who would
now utilise nature as a mere scenic decoration against which to
display their emotions, their "sensations d'Orient" or whatever it
might be.  French schooling, too, does not encourage the seeing eye.
Their children are saturated with Racine and other full-mouthed
rhetoricians; the taint clings to them in later years, vitiating their
outlook and making them unduly concerned about stage-effect--a
preoccupation which ruins the intimate note essential to every good
travel-book.

To carry off that intimate note demands independence; what we call
cussedness. Think of the cussedness of Doughty in doing what he did
among those stark, God-struck zealots; note the cussedness in every
word he writes. Such a man, strong in reserves, can afford to be
veracious, and himself. His charm resides in sincerity, and you feel
that, however much he gives, he is withholding still more.  [Foonnote:
One would like to know, for example, something about the features of
those with whom he came iti contact; there are all too few
descriptions of physiognomy in the book. We could also have been given
glimpses into certain secret things, certain customs of profound
significance in Oriental life and of interest to European students.
Doughty, with a kind of maidenly modesty, barely hints at their
existence. Well! A travel-book is not an encyclopaedia.]

Latin authors of the subjective variety seldom produce that sense of
reserve. Their personalities are less marked, their mutual
divergencies fewer, and their reserves, if they have any, are apt to
be blown into stylistic fireworks.

Their personalities are less marked: here lies, maybe, the core of the
matter. The Anglo-Saxon has a laxer literary discipline, commendable
distrust of authority, a language that lends itself gaily to the
unburdening of extremest individualism; and not only that. His
educational system (despite the efforts of that old disciplinarian and
prayer-monger) and the very laws of his country induce him to break
away from the parent-stock. He is centrifugal.  Without abdicating an
ounce of self-respect he can merge himself into anything and
assimilate what you please. He makes a good nomad. His sympathies with
alien races are broad and deep; there is, at times, something
intuitional or prophetic about them. Could any foreigner have written
_Haji Baba_? Which of them has looked clean through the Spaniard like
Mr. Havelock Ellis, or through the Neapolitan as did Charles Grant in
his Stories of the Camorra? And there occurs to me, at this moment, a
volume by Mr. Lowes Dickinson--I forget its title; quite an
unpretentious little thing; notes, I fancy, from a travelling diary.
Unpretentious, but symptomatic; one questions whether anybody but an
Anglo-Saxon could have achieved such a point of view. It is to the
credit of our race that, knowing itself to be the Salt of the Earth,
it can yet survey strange people in so benign and intelligent a
fashion. Doughty is another example of this artlessly sublime
detachment.  Will a French Doughty ever appear?

The phenomenon is not inconceivable. Borne on the wings of opium, or
tossed over the sea by some black fury of despair, a certain one of
them may presently unveil for us the throbbing heart of the Far East.
There, among those steamy forests and many-hued native folk, he may
cut the cable that binds him to the boulevards; there he may learn to
squeeze new and glamorous colour-effects out of that old
mother-tongue, provided--provided he forgets the solemn Academy
everlastingly engaged upon its blithe topiarian tactics. Must
language, a child of necessity, be clipped and groomed like a box
hedge? Must a living organism be at the mercy of a pack of dismal
gentlemen in frock coats? Why not let it grow freely under the sun and
stars, to thrive or suffer with the rest of them, throwing out buds
and blossoms, bending to the winds, and discarding outworn members
with painless ease?

Then appeared the abridged version of _Arabia Deserta_, of which I
promptly bought a copy, anticipating what actually happened--that
another would soon be called for, and wondering, at the same time, how
many of those to whom this book was a revelation took the trouble to
thank Mr. Edward Garnett for performing so well his odiously
uncongenial task of dismemberment.

And here is the new full edition.

Moving once more among those sinewy articulations of speech to revisit
familiar scenes, I become aware of a change. Something has happened.
That worldly-calm mood of the 'nineties is fled.  One has travelled in
the interval, no doubt, and suffered, and learnt to see with other
eyes. It may be the inevitable passage of years; that, and our recent
European shattering which affects each of us in diverse fashion,
according to his peculiar mentality.

Whatever the cause, I now go through these pages with a more hearty
sympathy for the bedouins that "merry crew of squalid wretches,
iniquitous, fallacious, fanatical"--and a feeling of resentment
(others, it appears, are conscious of something similar) against our
Occidental institutions; a distrust of those white people who can make
such an exhibition of themselves as they have done of late. And now
they are multiplying indiscriminately once more, springing out of the
earth like the dragon-brood of Cadmus and invading all its fair
places, ready to begin again. The world is growing too narrow;
congested, and crammed with unpleasantness and deified "masses"; we
gasp for fresh air; more deserts, fewer men. For deserts have their
uses. Had Arabia been anything but a bleak kind of country, where
would our Doughty be? And is he not worth a legion of those others?

>From this sense of revolt and dislocation I take refuge in passages
like the following:

I had nearly outworn the spite of fortune at Kheybar; and might now
spend the sunny hours, without fear, sitting by the spring
Ayn-er-Reyih, a pleasant place little without the palms, and where
only the eye has any comfort in all the blackness of Kheybar. Oh, what
bliss to the thirsty soul is in that sweet light water, welling soft
and warm as milk from the rock! And I heard the subtle harmony of
Nature, which the profane cannot hear, in that happy stillness and
solitude. Small bright dragonflies, azure, dun and vermilion, sported
over the cistern water ruffled by a morning breath from the figgera,
and hemmed in the solemn lava rock. The silver fishes glance beneath,
and white shells lie at the bottom of this water world. I have watched
there the young of the thob shining like scaly glass and speckled:
this fairest of saurians lay sunning, at the brink, upon a stone; and
oft-times moving upon them and shooting out the tongue he snatched his
prey of flies without ever missing.

I re-peruse the opening lines: straightway that exacerbation is
stilled.

To hear the "subtle harmony" and respond to the gentle promptings of
the _genius loci_, the unseen presence, is what Doughty found to be a
talisman.  So might others find; but never will, among the unseemly
and restless conditions of modern life.  Industrialism has been raised
to a bad eminence.  We do well to take note of certain venerable
strains in our being that call for a different environment; our
teachers should recognise the inspirational value of self-communion in
lonely places. There is in most of us a lyric germ or nucleus which
deserves respect; it bids a man ponder, or create; and in this dim
corner of himself he can take refuge and find consolations which the
society of his fellow-creatures does not provide. The obscure
anti-social or disruptive instinct to be alone, which haunts us
chiefly in youth, should not be thwarted as it is; for solitude has a
refining and tonic influence; there we wrestle with our thoughts and
set them in order; there we nurture the imagination and sow the seeds
of character. A person who hears nothing of that "subtle harmony"
because his ears are belaboured day and night by the clash of other
men's voices will never attain to any remarkable depth or insight. Now
those places where the spirit loves to dwell are made to minister to
the wants of an ever-increasing humanity, the nymphs are driven from
the woodlands, and deserts irrigated, and everything scientifically
explored and exploited.

There was an awful rainbow once in Heaven--We know her woof, her
texture; she is given in the dull catalogue of common things..,.

The drying-up of the fountains of mythopoesis, the elimination of
mystery, might well sadden and sterilise a poetic soul. And one hears
it said at times that this would be a matter of small moment, since
these inspirers of olden days have degenerated into a purely
ornamental adjunct to life and lost their authority and significance.
Is there no prosperity other than material? It is surely time to have
done with this utilitarian nonsense; to reverse the proposition and
argue, if need be, in favour of the value of _mere illusions_. An
argument of sufficient force when one realises, for instance, that
much of what is best in our literary tradition--that heritage of
beauty to which a man will cling when he has learnt to forsake and
deride all his other natal gods--has its roots in dreams, in
nature-worship, the communion between man and wild things; and could
never have come into being but for that subtle harmony "which the
profane cannot hear." There may well be fewer listeners now than
formerly; the din of commercialism is overwhelming; we fail to sense
those mild and genial stimulations from otherwhere. Hence our
complacency. Hence, too--and this is ominous from another point of
view--a considerable shallowness of judgment in practical matters.
Thoughts such as these will have occurred to every reader of Doughty.
But the subject is not easily exhausted. . . .

I recall my first view of the Chott country, that sterile salt
depression in Tunisia, and my feeling of relief at the idea that this
little speck of the globe, at least, was irreclaimable for all time;
never to be converted into arable land or even pasture; safe from the
intrusion of potato-planters or what not: the despair of the
politician, the delight of any dreamer who might care to people its
melancholy surface with phantoms, mere illusions, of his own.  And
to-day one reads that an immense tract of South Africa is
sinking--yes, sinking into unproductive desert, even as Australia has
already sunk. It seems that the rivers out there are not behaving as
Providence obviously meant them to behave; they are flowing all askew;
in fact, the situation calls for prompt and costly measures if the
national exchequer is not to suffer. Long may it sink! May it be
utterly unexploitable and uninhabitable to the crack of doom! Then
perhaps Africa will come into her own again, and grow to be fertile
mother of monsters. _Ex Africa semper aliquid novi_. And then will
start afresh the now interrupted reign of those joyous liars who, from
Herodotus onward, have gladdened men's hearts with their tales. How
many healthy and well-conducted colonists, think you, could I be
bribed to accept in exchange for a single Sir John Mandeville? Good
news, too, comes from Arabia.  We learn, not from Doughty but from
another "reliable source," that the so-called _Empty Quarter_, the
Great Red Desert, has not yet been seen by Western eyes. Long may it
remain invisible, a solace for future generations! Deserts have their
uses, and the _Empty Quarter_, let us hope, will sooner or later
demonstrate its _raison d'être_ by stirring that first intrepid
beholder, as he gazes down upon its trackless ocean of billowing
dunes, into some rare utterance--a paragraph or two, a sonnet, or some
poignant little epigram: an epigram that shall justify the existence
of a myriad leagues of useless sand, and the non-existence of several
myriad useful cultivators.

Let us be thankful, in the meantime, for visions such as this:

Descending in the steep passage we encountered a gaunt desert man
riding upward on a tall thelûl and leading a mare: he bore upon his
shoulder the wavering horseman's shelfa, Maatuk [his companion] shrank
timidly in the saddle; that witch-like armed man was a startling
figure, and might be an Aûfy. Roughly he challenged us, and the rocks
resounded the magnanimous utterance of his leathern gullet: he seemed
a manly soul who had fasted out his life in that place of torment
which is the Hejâz between the Harameyn, so that nothing remained of
him but the terrific voice!--wonderfully stern and beetle-browed was
his dark visage. He espied a booty in my bags; and he beheld a
stranger. "Tell me," he cries, "what men ye be?"--Maatuk made answer
meekly, "Heteymy I, and thou?"--"I Harby, and ugh!" cries the perilous
anatomy, "who he with thee?" "A Shâmy trading among the Aarab."--"Aye
well, and I see him to be a Shâmy, by the guise of his clothing." He
drew his mare to him, and in that I laid hand to the pistol in my
bosom, lest this Death-on-a-horse should have lifted his long spear
against us. Maatuk reined aside; but the Harby struck his dromedary
and passed forth.

A fearsome apparition; nowise contemptible.  For this desert man
cherishes a sense we are in danger of losing; he feels the need of
liberty. See him riding grimly forth, a law unto himself, while we sit
here in hushed adoration of _orderliness_: fetich dear to withered,
unimaginative folk. Here we sit, huddled together like cattle in a
pen, each one duly labelled as to his potential worth to the
community, and controlled by a horde of guardians so increasingly
large that the shepherds will presently outnumber the sheep. Blissful
sight!  What is everybody doing? A person who has tangled himself into
so ignoble a knot as to think our present state of affairs a
desirable, or respectable, or endurable one, who feels thoroughly at
home among the malodorous crowd and bows the head to all its
humiliating extortions and conventions--what shall be done to such a
product of civilisation? Pitch him into the _Empty Quarter_! Deserts
have their uses. The desert may yet make a man of him.

Meanwhile I watch with envious eye that Harby, that perilous anatomy,
that manly soul and Death-on-a-horse, stalking solitary into the
waste, and ask myself whether a few drops of his wild blood transfused
into ours might medicine our sickness.  Would they heal that
valetudinarian itch for being nursed and supervised, and drive out the
incubus of duties to be performed towards neighbours undeserving, of
sacrifices to be made for causes perverse? Or are we doomed to an
imbecile herd-life till the very word "freedom" sound exotic and
bedouish to our ears? Britons never shall be slaves. . . . What else
are we?

These be the thoughts, somewhat incongruous, engendered by my latest
reading of _Arabia Deserta_.





THE CORRECT THING

NOBODY dreamt that Alberique would ever marry. He was too old, too
selfish, too delicate--far too delicate.

Yet now, at the end of two years, his friends were obliged to confess
that the union was as much of a success as could have been expected in
view of the different ages and characters of the parties concerned.
She was almost a child--a child to treasure. For in his selection of a
wife he had displayed his usual penetration and knowledge of the fair
sex. Silvia, with all those charms to which no one had been more
susceptible than her husband, could have done with him whatever she
pleased--dissipated his means, turned him to ridicule, converted him
into ten times the vicious old devil he already was. She did none of
these things: which proved that he had not read amiss the signs of
good breeding in her features.

Who was Alberique? Nobody, so far as mere wealth was concerned. Yet
not altogether a useless person. While serving under the Colonial
Office he distinguished himself by brilliant administrative talents:
as Governor of Upper Somnolia, more especially, he had developed a
disquieting energy that convulsed the Permanent Staff who still spoke
in an awed whisper of that Reign of Terror. All that was long ago!
Since his retirement he had devoted himself to certain historical
studies, and his writings were appreciated by a select few who could
sympathise with his passion for _chroniques scandaleuses_ in high
places--a passion the origin of which may be traced to a justifiable
pride in the many romantic vicissitudes that his own race had
undergone. It was one of those families renowned of old for intrigues
and escapades and adventures in which, as a rule, the eternal feminine
played no inconspicuous part. He ought to have been born in the
gallant days of the Restoration. There was nothing in common between
himself and the musty ideals of his contemporaries.

For the rest, he had glided through life unobserved by the many.
Feebleness of constitution, a hereditary disposition to amorous
excesses, were counterbalanced by other qualities envied of most men
who can only acquire by patience or bitter experience what he likewise
inherited from that long line of ancestors--tact, insight, taste.  He
was quick to judge of a man's worth as of a woman's beauty. His tact
was equal to the most embarrassing situations. Alberique could always
be relied upon to do the right thing at the right moment.
Self-centred? Doubtless: but courteous at the same time and generous
to all mankind, particularly to pretty women. Ill-health unhappily had
somewhat soured his temper of late, and drawn more frequent lines
about his smooth-shaven, once handsome features. His hair was of the
thin texture of one who has lived too well.

They had just returned from a winter in Egypt.  The pale, ungenerous
rays of an early spring afternoon penetrated through the curtains of
their London drawing-room. Silvia, standing at the window, drew them
aside to let in more light. She had never found England so gloomy
before. She was still dazzled with the remembrance of the glowing
sunsets, the desert, the monstrous carvings, and all those other
experiences of the last months, for she was none too old to feel
wonder, nor too affected to profess indifference. She had been brought
up unacquainted with the world, its marvels, its realities. Like some
hot-house flower she had hitherto breathed the tepid atmosphere of
English society, knowing nothing of the storms of life, nothing of its
intenser joys. Impulsive and ambitious by nature, she had early
accustomed herself to demure ways.

The recollection of that wonderland of Egypt had aroused new interests
in her: vague yearnings, hitherto unfelt, for another existence.

She ventured to open the window, after casting a look to assure
herself that Alberique was well protected from the air. Moist warmth
poured in, and with it came wafted all the seductive lassitude of
spring, the hopes, the fears, the tender longings that penetrate on
such days to the soul of man, even through the smoky shell of a great
city. A passive life! She had expected more of marriage.  She wondered
what ailed her. Looking around, she saw contentment everywhere save in
her own heart. Outside, the street passengers passed one another
briskly before her eyes, each intent upon his own particular duty. The
cars, emerging with cheerful din from the bluish haze, splashed
through the river of gold at her feet and vanished again like streaks
of light. Some children were playing on the glittering wet asphalt.
She listened awhile to their merry young laughter, and then closed the
window sadly. At such moments Silvia had an intuition of what life
might have been. There was a void somewhere, a great void, in her
existence.  If she were at least allowed to continue her music. . . .

Alberique's voice, frail, high-pitched, but of peculiar charm, broke
in upon her meditations.

"You will require cheering up in this melancholy place. You must take
to your yiolin again, Silvia."

"How can I?" she replied regretfully. "You know the noise--"

"Allow me, dearest, to apologise for my mistake and my unkindness.
There is no reason whatever why your pleasure should be thwarted
because I happen to have no sense of music. Sheer selfishness! But you
must bear with me, and pardon the unamiable caprice of an invalid. You
don't know what it is to be an old wreck like myself." And he
sighed--a very sincere sigh.  "Now take to your violin again, do! I
only wish ... I wish . . ."

Silvia did not always fathom his wishes. Just then he may have been
wishing for youth, or better health.

Upon that score Alberique allowed himself to cherish no illusions. He
was approaching the ninth climacteric beyond which he could hardly
hope to pass. Certain fainting fits had warned him of serious organic
trouble, and the weakness had become more apparent since his marriage.
For alas, the union, though a happy one, had been in other respects a
grievous miscalculation. Alberique had drooped and faded away like
some tender flower in that glorious sunshine. He had hoped to enter
upon a second youth, an infusion of new life. It came contrariwise. He
gave all, receiving nothing in return. The lovely vampire, innocent of
intent, drained away his life. Egypt, he already felt, had done him no
good.

Presently he renewed the subject.

"I suppose, after this long break in your studies, you will require a
teacher again--at least at first?"

No answer. Silvia was thinking of her former teacher, Lennox, a young
Scotsman of more than common talent. Looking back upon the past days
of their intercourse, she felt that he had gained more influence over
her than she cared to admit.

Indeed the Scotch Paganini, as they called him, exerted a strange
power over all who could appraise the high aims of his life. Born of a
good family, he had chosen the art of the violin as a profession and
pursued his studies stubbornly, with that craving after perfection,
that determination to excel, without which genius is an empty name.
His infrequent appearances on the concert platform were the signal for
unwonted outpourings on the part of the Scottish press. The critics,
with patriotic fervour, compared him to some youthful high priest,
pale with the scourge of study, about to initiate an unbelieving world
into the mysteries of which he was the chosen interpreter. . . .
Silvia was wondering what had become of Lennox. No doubt he had
already forgotten his former pupil among the interests of an active
professional life.

"Why not Lennox?"

She started at the sound of his name. But Alberique was smiling an
enigmatical smile. It was really as if he had mentioned Lennox on
purpose; as if he had led her thoughts up to this point for some
object of his own. What that object might be she could not even guess.
She remained silent, but her husband insisted--"What if you wrote to
Lennox?"

He was looking at her now in a manner that almost scared her. There
was mingled defiance and regret in his eyes. Was it love? Some
composite emotion no doubt, that he could not, or would not,
formulate.

Why speak of Lennox at all? Why speak of him, the unfolder of her
talents, to whom she had looked up with childlike veneration, whose
name conjured up the forbidden fairyland of art, whose remembrance she
had erased from her young mind not without a sigh? To be permitted to
take up music again was almost too good to be true. But why Lennox?

Alberique persisted:

"I have blamed myself all this time for discouraging your love of
music. No, don't thank me! I am only doing what I ought to have done
ages ago. Forgive me, rather, for having been so miserably selfish. I
met him once or twice--Lennox, I mean. Seems a gentleman. You were his
favourite pupil, they tell me, and if so, I feel sure you will become
his favourite pupil again.  You can go on with him, you know, where
you left off. He looks as if he could appreciate favourite pupils of
your style." Here he laughed, and soon added: "Write to him at once,
dear, and make an appointment."

This speech confused her considerably.  Alberique had a way of making
allusions to her person that were ambiguous, incomprehensible.  She
tried to puzzle out his meaning. He seemed to be expecting her to say
something.

"Really?" she faltered at last. And then, more resolutely, "Why
Lennox?"

"Why not?"

Now Silvia, instead of rejoicing, grew sad.  She beheld, advancing
towards her, some ill denned phantom that threatened her future peace
and happiness.


II

Since her marriage she had never seen the Scotch Paganini. She only
knew that at the time of this event he, had unaccountably broken off
all his English engagements and left London for the Continent in order
to perfect his already highly chastened style (so the newspapers
announced) under a certain master in the Belgian capital.

This was true enough. There, locked in his room, violin in hand, he
wrestled with his old opponent, struggled with the brute material of
string and bow; purged away, through sheer physical exhaustion, every
other remembrance of life. Here was an adversary worthy of himself,
endowed with more than human obstinacy, one who gave no advantages:
all the yielding must be on _his_ side. . . .

THE CORRECT THING	37

But Silvia did not know--how could she know?--that Lennox now lived
like one who, gazing long in the sun, yet sees its spectral image
burning wherever his glance may stray; that amid the mazes of Tartini
and Saint-Saëns there mingled and floated and glowed persistently,
before his mental eye, the picture of her own smile, the golden
witchery of her hair.

For his character was primitive as Alberique's was complex. He was one
of those men of natural purity who, oppressed with disappointment and
temptation, are not led away by the allurements of _Venus vulgivaga_,
but cling to their first ideal and exalt it with all the devotion of
their simple nature. And in the interval of those two years he had
experienced in his own person a singular phenomenon. In proportion as
he schooled his judgment and delved deeper into the mysteries of
musical art, the image of Silvia likewise became clearer and more
lovely. His taste, refined and exclusive, enabled him now to discover
charms in her person which had hitherto escaped his appreciation. He
could detect no discordant note in that roseate symphony. One might
have said that day by day, as the artist grew more discerning, Silvia
on her part shook off the attributes of common mortality and resolved
herself into the incarnation of all harmony and proportion. From being
beautiful, she had become flawless.

And after these visions--the Reality!

Lennox, who used to have faith in his Star and believe in the ultimate
adjustment of Fate, was growing sadly despondent. But when, on the eve
of his departure for England, he emerged from the long fray emaciated
as with monkish self-chastisement, when he had deposited his violin
for the last time in its case and asked himself wearily, _what
next_?--his eye, roving round the room in a farewell glance, happened
to fall upon a letter that lay at his elbow.

It must have arrived that very evening. . . .

If in a moment of self-delusion Lennox imagined that he owed his
introduction into Alberique's household to some machinations on the
part of Silvia, he was soon undeceived by her demeanour which rebuked
such an assumption.  To whom, then, was he indebted for the pleasure?
He took to observing Alberique closely. But Alberique wore a mask; he
had met his advances with dignified ease, and professed to take the
greatest pleasure in bringing Silvia and himself together. Was
Alberique then, the far-seeing, grown blind? To their bluets he often
listened with well-simulated interest; at other times he leaned back
on a couch, book in hand, and seeme'd to doze.  Perhaps he marched in
imagination with the scarred veterans of Pizarro upon some incredible
expedition across the Peruvian sierras, or saw himself gliding
pliantly, obsequiously, among the gilded pageantry of Versailles.
Perhaps--who knows?--he was watching Silvia all the time out of the
corner of his eye and extracting a kind of subtle relish from the
spectacle of her resistance to his attacks--a malicious amusement, but
characteristic of his complex nature. Or was it all generosity on
Alberique's part? Generosity to himself? A perverse form of
generosity, and a risky one.

But Lennox soon, very soon, desisted from attempting to solve the
enigma of Alberique and confined himself to Silvia. He thanked God for
this opportunity of seeing her, whoever its immediate author might be,
and made the most of it. He was no lover of the sugar-water type.
Lennox, the dreamer in Brussels, had changed considerably since his
arrival. All the energy stored up during those two years was released
at the sight of his ideal. He never attempted to conceal from Silvia
the state of his heart; he grew bold, impetuous, reckless.

She was ill at ease. She could not help inwardly blaming her husband
for exposing her to this temptation. But whatever her thoughts may
have been, her conduct remained irreproachable, although at times she
felt her powers of resistance giving way before the passionate desire
of the other one.  What rendered her defence doubly difficult was his
assumption that she had loved him from the first--him, and him only;
and that she loved him still.  How disprove what she almost confessed
to be true? To this embarrassment was added her own susceptibility to
an art of which the exponent and personification alike was Lennox,
whose genius she revered, whose single-hearted devotion to herself she
could not but recognise with respect. Her acute sensibility to music
unstrung her reserve and opened vistas to the spiritual eye at which
she trembled deliciously. There came upon her, under that spell,
visions that she would have bidden linger for ever, visions of a
celestial dawn, of the blossoming, as it were, of some proximate,
unspeakable bliss.

Looking up in such moments she would find his eyes fixed upon her in a
steadfast gaze. He had guessed the truth! And their thoughts thus
coinciding, their lips unmoved would say:

"Our joy: our hope--how shall we conceal it from him?"

Conceal it?

Alberique knew everything. He knew of their growing infatuation and
its inevitable consequence.  But he thought Silvia would keep the
Scotsman within bounds so long as he lived, at least; and if they went
too far--why, he could easily recall them to their senses with one of
his proverbially tactful remarks. Alberique never made a mistake in
such matters. He could rely upon himself to do the correct thing under
any emergency. Soon enough he would be dead, and then they might do
what they liked. Another year or two, and then--the odious change. In
the contemplation of that change he recoiled; his worldly yet
sensitive mind, that had dwelt long upon the theme of horror,
shuddered at the thought of his own body becoming a masterless,
meaningless heap: a clod, to be handled irreverently by common persons
and thrust at last into a coffin--the end of all things or rather not
the end, but only the beginning of a yet more hideous transformation
beyond. How inconceivably hateful was the prospect! Alberique was
loath to part with life: he had never despised the pleasures of the
world; he only deplored his inability, his hopeless inability, to
enjoy them as heretofore. Those fainting fits. . . .  To console
himself, therefore, he now invented a pastime intelligible only to
self-indulgent, hyper-sensuous natures like his own. The temptation
had been too strong to resist. The spectacle of those two lovers ready
to swoon within one another's arms, a spectacle that would have driven
to desperation most men in his position, afforded him a voluptuous
relish, a new zest in life. He had arranged it specially for himself.
Alberique was no spendthrift, no drunkard. At a race-meeting, at Monte
Carlo, he could afford to laugh at the weaknesses of his
fellow-creatures. Transport him to a desert island, and he would have
shared his last crust with some shipwrecked sailor. But to anticipate
in the person of Lennox certain joys that he himself could no longer
taste; to watch, with vicariously sensual interest, a faltering
rehearsal of the drama which would be played immediately after his
death--this was an amusement after his own heart.

And he enjoyed the jest prodigiously; its bitter after-taste only
served to tickle his appetite. It possessed, besides, the requisite
spice of wrongness, of perversity, without which Alberique's pleasures
had long ago become insipid. For some time past he had been engaged
upon a careful study of their characters. He often looked from one to
the other and pictured to himself how they would act--their words,
their caresses. Thus, and thus (he would say), thus, and nowise
differently. Then he would take note of their present exasperation. It
was like perfume to his senses, and almost compensated for his regret
at leaving the world.

Yet occasionally he grew tired of his comedy and told himself the
truth. He envied their health, their youth. He was afraid of death.
And his pleasant little smile would then crystallise into a hard grin
of defiance that distorted those still attractive features.



III

It was a remarkably dull tune they were playing.  Or rather, no tune
at all. Bach, very likely. . . .

Upon an ottoman under a stately drooping palm, his head upon one hand,
his feet crossed, he reclined in a calm and languid attitude which had
something of the rigid grace of the leaves that shadowed him. Little
could be seen of him save the sinuous outlines of his figure.

But he lost nothing of what was going on, and his eyes were fixed upon
Silvia when she stood, violin in hand, beside an immense lamp whose
rosy shade tinged her white shoulders with a warmer glow. They
followed the vigorous motion of her arm glancing in the light, and
rested, occasionally, upon her scarlet lips parted in emotion. He
surveyed her as a connoisseur might survey some masterpiece of
statuary, from her well-poised head refulgent in golden glory down to
the 'dainty feet encased, at that moment, in slippers of a peculiarly
appetising description. She was throbbing with young life. The pose,
he thought, was absolutely perfect. As for her colouring . . . She had
all the loveliness of a Naiad, and nothing of her chill.  Oh, yes!
There was no denying her beauty, damn it, and if he were only twenty
years younger, or even ten. . . . She had actually improved, he
thought, since her marriage.

And his glance wandered in the direction of the Scotsman who, under
some pretext, had laid aside his instrument and contrived to take up,
at the piano, a position convenient for eyeing Silvia. He played a
listless accompaniment, accentuating a phrase here and there.
Alberique, while admiring the young man's adroitness, began to feel
almost sorry for his continued repulses at the hand of Silvia. In his
present cheerless mood he needed some kind of distraction; more
movement in the play; a little incident that might have called forth
one of his withering observations and allowed him to exult over their
subsequent discomfiture. They were such correct lovers. He felt tired,
just then, of their correctness.

Lennox, far from being animated, had become grave. He was marvelling
at Silvia's music, for she certainly played that evening as she never
played before. It was an artistic problem that absorbed him. He had
lost sight of the woman and saw only the performer. And as she
proceeded, his astonishment at her mastery over the instrument grew
apace. He was surprised at her technique and control of expression;
amazed at the loftiness of her interpretation. Seldom had he heard
Bach unriddled after this fashion. The heated London room, with its
atmosphere of weary refinement, was invaded by Silvia's music as with
a breath of clean spring air.

Then, gazing into her face, he saw that it was irradiated with
joy--transfigured by the magic of love. Her heart came out upon those
strains.

The older man had not been slow to detect the alteration in her
features and how the dull melody swelled into a paean of life. His
sensitive mind guessed the import of the change. Silvia was breaking
down her reserve, casting aside her veil of demureness and assumed
indifference, taking the lead and encouraging her lover. Here was a
contingency for which he had not provided. How would it end?

He knew her nature too well to think that, once roused, she would rest
content with half measures.  And what then? As Silvia's husband he had
been amused by her secret love for the other; as her master he was
irritated by this confession of it. He began to dislike the parade of
her beauty; and this parade of her sentiments, under the disguise of
music, was yet more obnoxious to him. With a sudden revulsion of
feeling he told himself that the joke had gone far enough--too far. He
saw his mistake. How amend it? He would gladly have spoken and put an
end to the tension. How set about it? Silvia played on, regardless of
his menacing look.

And then that thought, upon which he had often dwelt with a kind of
insane pleasure, thrust itself upon him in its most offensive aspect.

"I shall be dead soon, dead--the food of worms. Ah, the sinister
transformation! And they? Thus and thus. ... Ah, curse! Curse their
folly and my own!"

The blood was leaving his face, upon which a malignant look had
settled. His breath came rapidly, and he leaned forwards, grasping in
his long fingers a wisp of silken hair. He still endeavoured to
control his agitation, knowing its pernicious effect upon his health.

Silvia played on, unaware, in her exaltation, of his existence.

When at last she laid down her instrument, it seemed to Lennox as
though a curtain were drawn aside: the artist had melted away from
before his eyes and he beheld again the woman whom he loved, radiant
and adorable. And he knew the truth. This was her answer to his
pleading, an answer altogether plain. Love given and returned: what
was lacking? Nothing was lacking save--the occasion. But for the
faded, frivolous form crouching yonder. . . .

Meanwhile a profound silence lay upon them all. Neither of the men
seemed inclined to speak.  Then Lennox remarked:

"A superb rendering."

How hollow the words sounded! How trivial, tactless, almost
impertinent--false. False indeed; he should have said _surrendering_.
For Silvia knew that she would now yield at the first touch of her
lover's hand. Distance of space alone kept her upright. And Lennox was
also aware how unworthy his speech had been of the dignity of the
moment, but he was determined to break the spell, for in that silence
he heard the beating of his heart, and felt himself drawn towards her
person by some power stronger than his own will.

Silvia made no answer.

There was another long pause. Alberique said never a word. So far as
she could see, he was grinning from ear to ear in a cynical and
meaningless fashion.

The strain became intense, intolerable.

Then she observed with dismay that Lennox was rising to his feet and
taking a step in her direction. He came still nearer, trembling with
passion. He was now almost at arm's length.  Heavens! Had he lost all
control over himself?

With a supreme effort she shook off the fascination and remembered
Alberique. She quickly faced about and turned to her husband for
comfort and support. Gladly enough, in that moment, would she have
thrown her arms about Alberique and cried beseechingly in his ear:

"Save me! Take me from him! Save me before it is too late! Once in his
arms I am lost to you--lost for evermore. Are you blind? Why sit there
and say nothing? Oh, Alberique--one word!"

Surely, she thought, Alberique would redeem the situation. He was
notorious for his consummate tact. Alberique could always be relied
upon to do the right thing at the right moment.

What had he now done?

Alberique had fainted away. . . .





BLIND GUIDES

BLIND guides are those that cannot see whither they conduct us, those
who--perhaps with the best intentions--are apt to lead us astray. And
I ask myself whether the youngsters for whom a recently published Life
of Nelson seems to be primarily intended are not likely to be misled
by a remark concerning our hero to the effect that "during the
exercise of his duty as High Commissioner for King Ferdinand he hanged
a double-dyed traitorous villain called Caracciolo, and this with a
promptitude that Jarvie might have envied." [Footnote: I cannot
remember the title of this book or the author's name. It was published
in the spring of 1913.] Surely Caracciolo's life and character have
been thrashed out by this time! A double-dyed traitorous villain.... 
Are all the investigations of the past hundred years to end in a
palpable misstatement of this kind?

It is nonsense, of course; and might have been dismissed as such, had
it stood alone. But it does not stand alone; it recurs in one or two
other modern biographies of the hero; it is symptomatic nonsense.
Symptomatic nonsense is always interesting, even when it only shows,
as in this case, how easily historical writers can allow their
judgment to be infected with that gutter-patriotism which ought to be
confined to the mob.

If that be not a correct explanation, one would be glad to learn the
reason for this modern change of view in regard to the Naples episode.
For we all remember the old-fashioned condemnatory judgments of
Southey, Palmerston, and their contemporaries; we all know what Foote
meant when he wrote: "Be assured, dear sir, that the less is said
about Lord Nelson's conduct in the Bay of Naples, the better." Has
anything been brought to light in the meantime which might cause us to
revise those opinions? On the contrary, minute and painstaking
researches by scholars of various nationalities now enable us to
approach the subject from fresh sides; and from whatever side we
approach it, we are repelled. The local Neapolitan records, as
recently disclosed in the writings of Sansone, Spinazzola, Croce, and
the rest of them--not forgetting Mr. Badham--read like a nightmare.
It was a tyranny, says Lomonaco, "the like of which has not existed
within the memory of man."

And this Bourbon tyranny, this unique fabric of vice and incapacity,
is what Mr. Gutteridge, another modern encomiast of Nelson, calls
"simplicity itself." Mr. Gutteridge has a pretty facetiousness.
Briefly stated, the simplicity consisted in this: Thirty thousand
citizens, the majority innocent of any criminal _intent_, languished
in the prisons of Naples alone; the executions were so frequent that
the authorities contracted with the hangman for a monthly salary
instead of paying for each execution separately; without Nelson's
active co-operation, none of these massacres could have taken place.
These are incontrovertible facts. Though some points still remain to
be cleared up--certain documents seem to have been deliberately
destroyed or abstracted--yet the archives are there; they cannot be
distorted; they may be consulted by all who so desire. We no longer
live in an age of oral tradition.

This is fortunate for those who care to ascertain data. For oral
tradition alone can create demi-gods--hence their mysterious
disappearance in these latter days of memoirs and newspapers. Were it
otherwise, our British mythopceic faculty might by this time have
elaborated out of Nelson and Caracciolo a saint and a devil
respectively. But _scripta manent_. We are moderns. And yet there is a
smack of the dim heroic ages in the labours of some well-wishers of
Nelson, though their efforts are not directed to such useful ends as
those of Hercules when he whitewashed certain other stables of yore,
nor have they his prospects of success. Why not take a bolder course
and treat Caracciolo as a solar myth? He was contemporary of Napoleon,
and the thing might be contrived on the lines of Feres' "Grand
Erratum," that amazing _jeu d'esprit_ which proved the Man of St.
Helena never to have existed.

This would simplify matters--in the same fashion, it is true, as the
Bourbons, simplified the art of government.

Admiral Mahan treats the episode with seriousness, but has managed to
involve his hero in a cloud of rhetoric out of which, so far as I can
see, two plain statements emerge. Speaking of the execution, he says:
"Commander Jeaffreson Miles, of the British Navy, writing in 1843, was
one of the first, if not the very first, to clear effectually Nelson's
reputation from the stigma of treachery, and of submission to unworthy
influences, at this time." And a little later on: "The abrupt
execution of Caracciolo was an explosion of fierce animosity long
cherished, pardonable perhaps in a Neapolitan royalist; but not in a
foreign officer only indirectly interested in the issues at stake...."

Nelson's reputation is cleared; and yet the act is unpardonable.

_Cui bono_? Who was to profit by the death of Caracciolo? The King and
Queen. They hated him. Writes her Majesty: "The only one among the
guilty scoundrels whom I do not wish to go to France is the unworthy
Caracciolo," etc.  And Ferdinand's characteristic echo a day later:
"... To spare those savage vipers, and especially Caracciolo, who
knows every inlet of our coast-line, might inflict the greatest damage
on us." But they could not injure him, they could not touch him,
without Nelson's help. They got this help, and Caracciolo was hanged.
A submission to worthy influences, this?

Mr. Gutteridge, more reckless, speaks of the "generosity towards his
opponents which was one of Nelson's most conspicuous virtues." This
language will never do when applied to the Caracciolo case, which was
the murder of an honest man committed with indecent haste--_a
promptitude that Jarvie might have envied_--and amid other
circumstances of needless ferocity. To put it at the mildest, it was
an ungenerous and unsportsmanlike proceeding.

The question of Nelson's authority for this and other arbitrary acts
rests upon a quibble hardly worth discussing. Though Admiral Mahan
considers the commission under which he acted "regrettably uncertain,"
we may all be quite ready to concede that, from the side of the
Bourbons, he was invested with plenary authority; that with the fleet
to enforce his wishes if required, and their sentiments so admirably
agreeing as to render this step unnecessary, he received "oral
instructions" from that panic-stricken crew to hang, draw, and quarter
the whole kingdom if he saw fit in the interests of "law and order."
But we must still decide whether he was duly commissioned by his own
Government. In fact, we are confronted by a variety of questions, such
as: Can a British officer accept similar "instructions" from a foreign
Sovereign? Or this: Under what conditions, if any, can the British
Government confer authority upon one of its subjects to interfere by
force in the internal affairs of a State of peace with itself? Or
this: When may an English warship be made the scene of a court-martial
upon a foreign officer tried by foreign judges? Also this conundrum,
which arises out of Ruffo's simultaneous existence as High
Commissioner: Can Ferdinand of Naples, or any other human being, have
more than one _alter ego_ at the same time? And likewise this one:
When is a treaty not a treaty?  [Footnote: The answer is obvious: when
it can be broken with impunity. It needs little penetration to see
that the words of Ferdinand blaming Rufio for treating with rebels
"contrary to his orders" are an _ex post facto_ inspiration of
Caroline. Rufio's position at the time when he concluded the treaty is
clearly laid down in the first part of the letter from Acton to
Hamilton of June 25th. The displacement of Ruffo by Nelson is due to
the fact that the two ladies expected to find the latter less
scrupulous in furthering their designs (nor were they disappointed);
and in this connection I would echo the surprise of a reviewer (Arch.
Stor. Nap. xxix, p. 122) that it should have been reserved for him,
the Italian, to discover documents in the British Museum dealing with
this case which have escaped the eye of Mr. Gutteridge.]

These and similar questions will be asked.  Meanwhile we may ponder
upon this: the blackest of the thousand iniquities of Ferdinand, that
of breaking faith with his own people, was committed, and could only
have been committed, by the aid of the British fleet. For Nelson was
love-blinded from the first moment. On his arrival at Naples, says a
contemporary, "the cries of joy were such that one could not refrain
from tears, thinking of the consolation." [Footnote: MS. in San
Martine Library, Naples.]

But how quickly he undeceived those oppressed citizens, of whom he
naively writes that they welcomed him as "our liberator"!  Micheroux,
though he perjured himself for the worthless Méjean, had at least a
certain tolerance; Ruffo, though he had little tolerance, could at
least respect a treaty; these and other men were bound to the Bourbon
cause by sentiments of loyalty and the hope of preferment, and yet
Nelson the outsider, who was not paid for his services nor nursed in
traditions of Continental Court-slavery, surpassed them all in
obsequiousness, even to the extent of becoming chief executioner. That
_Ewig-Weibliche_!  True, he had his material reward, unasked but not
undeserved.

I spoke of Caracciolo as an honest man. Let us have no
misunderstandings or word-entanglements on this point. If honour
means, any thing, then rebels such as he were honourable men, inasmuch
as they identified themselves with a movement which has triumphed and
gained the approval of posterity.  What are rebels? They are, says
Adam Smith, "those unlucky persons who, when things have come to a
certain degree of violence, have the misfortune to be of the weaker
party." It is therefore odd to think that Caracciolo would never have
been a "rebel" at all but for Nelson's interference in Neapolitan
affairs--since the Bourbons were already muzzled when this saviour of
theirs appeared on the scene. Or, for the sake of perfect clearness, I
will put it axiomatically: to thwart the cause of a monster like
Ferdinand is the duty of an honest man. Thus Caracciolo, who deserted
what was wrong to follow what was right (and the rupture of sundry old
associations involved in this step caused him no small grief of mind),
was simply an honest man.

Nelson reports the execution in a postscript: casually, as it were.
One dislikes this postscript: It is either disingenuous or
illustrative of that brutality which characterized much of his
behaviour at that time: witness the joke as to _tria juncta in uno_,
or "See that some proper heads are taken off," or "Your news of the
hanging of the thirteen Jacobins gave us great pleasure, and the three
priests, I hope, return in the Aurora to dangle on the tree best
adapted to their weight of sins." All this has a profound
significance. The _bête humaine_ emerging under the erotic stimulus of
Emma Hamilton's charms, certain unlovely concomitants of the older
(military) class of virtues make their appearance, such as the
savagery displayed in the above passages, the ridiculous vanity which
at Naples and Palermo led him to act like some pampered _prima donna_,
and, interpenetrating everything, the flamboyant piety of his
sentiments.  In this last respect he resembles many of the great land
and sea pirates who have made the political map of the world. Impelled
by that blind selective force which makes for efficiency and of which
they are the tangible expression, these race-instruments are apt to be
genuinely convinced of the Deity's approval of their actions. They do
not hesitate, like ordinary mortals, as to what is best--they _know_;
the "best" is what their instincts prompt them to do, and it is a
quite natural anthropomorphism that they should identify this "best"
with the wishes of some superior being.  Nevertheless, a few of the
mightiest conquerors of mankind have cherished no illusions on the
score of God Almighty, and it is to be observed that this kind of
phraseology, which sounds well enough in the mouth of a Mahomet, and
was wondrously to the taste of Nelson, has become rather rare in the
despatches of modern admirals.

"Down, down with the damned Frenchmen" is perfectly intelligible when
one bears in mind that during those momentous years England lived in a
state of frenzy bordering on insanity. Our agents in the Mediterranean
doubtless failed to realise that, though we must crush the French,
there were nations to whom French rule was nevertheless beneficial:
nations who, as an Englishman then wrote, would have welcomed "Satan
himself as deliverer" from Bourbon despotism. Excess of patriotic zeal
may well have led Nelson to execute Caracciolo, or Sidney Smith to
give to the scoundrel chosen by Caroline for the assassination of King
Joseph a written order enjoining on all British commanders by land and
sea to respect and protect his person.  [Footnote: See p. 66 of _Le
Trame del Reazionarii_, Naples, 1861.] Which only proves that excesses
should be avoided.

How far the oppression of Napoleon necessitated the oppression of
humane aspirations developing outside the immediate sphere of our
warlike activity, might form the subject of erudite disquisitions;
certain it is that we have changed our minds since then. Our poets
were right and our politicians wrong--as politicians ever will be,
when they put back the hands of the clock. We no longer disparage
Italians for committing acts upon which we, as Englishmen, have always
prided ourselves; we cheerfully admit that in this extinction of
national liberalism our Government played the part of the wicked fairy
in the tale. It does one good to realise that Nelson was the last, the
very last, of his race to be taken in by the Bourbons, and that God
Almighty Himself grew to be favourably disposed towards those "rebels"
and their perverse strivings. Subsequent events, at least, point to
that conclusion.

That being so, why do we seek to round off the anfractuosities of an
historical figure like his as if it were designed for some special
purpose of fiction?  For two reasons, I think. In the first place, we
have woven a mystic net of feeling around him and ourselves; he is the
symbol of our courage, our patriotism; and if we hear him accused of
anything of which we consider ourselves incapable, such as the
Caraccioli murder, we resent it as an imputation upon our own
characters and exculpate him with all the shifts and subterfuges which
we would employ in such a case. And then--his virtues and vices are
those of the old military caste. The moral delinquencies of a great
man like Bacon leave us cool, because he was a thinker whose traits
correspond to a more recent development of our neural organisation.
Bacon was a mere civilian. But the bellicose disposition of Nelson is
a venerable specific quality, deeply engrained. Hence the detachment
which is easily accomplished in order to review the case of a
philosopher only succeeds, in that of a warrior, after something of a
struggle.  The roots of feeling, superficial in our sense of civic
honour, lie far down and are hard to disengage where military honour
is concerned.

None the less, were we not so incurably romantic, we might profitably
set up a time-limit for the deification of heroes. It may still be
odious to speak the truth concerning the lamented General Gordon, who
brought destruction on himself and other brave men through
disobedience and incapacity; but Trafalgar is a long way off and,
after all, what a relatively small matter it was, this Naples episode!

It may be said that I am "going for" Nelson even as Sir H. Johnston
lately "went for" Drake.  Nothing of the kind. I care not a fig about
Nelson.  I am only entering a humble protest against the principle of
"useful mendacity." My contention is that as a nation we are quite
sentimental enough and quite sufficiently tainted with Mafeking-night
neurasthenia to enable us to dispense with such questionable methods
of education as are exemplified in the sentence which was quoted at
the outset. Boys are naturally prone to hero-worship; the reverence
for sheer truth wherever it may lead is what they ought to learn at
college.  Nor am I doubting the writer's good intentions, which are
self-evident; he is making for the best by the light of inner
ratiocination; to instil patriotism is, _a priori_, a laudable motive.
But I question the utility of falsehood of Jesuitical
misrepresentation under any conditions. The end does not justify the
means; and this particular fable about Caracciolo will be exploded by
every lad who becomes interested in our hero and cares to look up the
subject for himself--with what consequence?  He will learn to distrust
and possibly despise an otherwise excellent teaching system. He will
say what most of us have said: Those masters of ours--what frauds they
were!

Altogether, the time has come when the task of artificially cleansing
the makers of history from their natural imperfections--the task of
dividing what cannot be divided, an in-dividuality--be it undertaken
in never so charitable a spirit, is one which no self-respecting man
will assume. _De mortuis nil nisi verum_. We have learnt to condemn
the teaching of many hopeless irrationalities, and the life of an
English admiral is not to be written after the fashion of the
forty--or is it fifty?--biographies of Saint Patrick. Panegyric stands
on the level of the pious fraud. Shall evil be done that good may come
of it; has anything ever been gained by denying a well-established
fact? Surely the lesson of all history is that the propagation of
non-truths is unprofitable to humanity.

That nameless protean evil, which refuses to see _things as they are_,
sometimes takes the shape of patriotic emotionalism, and then produces
an acute and contagious disorder that can nowise be tolerated in
polite society. It calls for instant isolation. Fortunately a specific
is at hand nowadays in the shape of that modern spirit of veracity
from which none of us can wholly withdraw ourselves--no, not even the
ambiguous Mr. Gladstone. So it is worth while comparing his attitude
towards the Bourbons with that of Nelson. Patriots both, they stand at
opposite poles of thought, and it is quite impossible to conceive
Gladstone writing (another Nelsonian postscript): "I must beg leave to
warn you to be careful how you mention the characters of such
excellent Sovereigns as the King and Queen of Naples"; he spoke, if I
remember rightly, of the "negation of God erected into a system." Some
persons, to be sure, are to be considered as atavisms. Thus, after
reading Gladstone's just and tremendous _j'accuse_, it is well to
peruse the apologists _Gondon et confrères_. No cause so vile, that
some human being will not be found to defend it.

It has been said that the morality of great men cannot be judged by
ordinary standards. They create the types; it remains for posterity,
that sees them in their true perspective, to select what is good, to
approve or condemn. I conjecture that the shade of Nelson is now
wandering in meads of asphodel beyond Lethe, utterly indifferent to
our opinions. I conjecture, moreover, that in condoning his errors we
do not honour him, but merely dishonour ourselves; that the only thing
which discredits neither party is to seek the truth, and to speak it,
without passion or prejudice. In so doing, it behoves us to remember
that the Nelson of Aboukir and of Naples is one and the same person;
he cannot be taken to pieces and separately appraised; he is not a
kind of corralline growth, the minutest portion of which is but a
sample of the whole. The older class of historians will explain that
there are two Nelsons, and therewith dismiss the subject; as for
ourselves, we grant that he is one and indivisible, but shrug our
shoulders at the hopeless task of reconciling his actions. In other
words, we are like those mediaeval schoolmen who co-ordinated facts
instead of subordinating them. When we have ceased to isolate two
incidents in a man's life as if there were no organic connection
between them--when we can demonstrate Nelson's peculiar mentality to
have been such that without Neapolitan abominations Trafalgar could
not have been won--then at last history may be entitled to its claim
to be called a science.

But our biographers are altogether in an anomalous position. They are
better-class ballad-mongers, who sagaciously dispute the fable of
Romulus, but have yet to learn that certain new theories of conduct
have grown up since they were at school. A few take pleasure in
glacial objectivity, in chaste pen-and-ink sketches, and are safe; as
for the rest, we read them less for what they write than for what they
are. Their moral apparatus--how dim, how far away! If future
historians intend to give us canvasses glowing with all the hues of
subjective culture and feeling, they should seek out dyes that cannot
fade; since that old theocratic system of morality has lost its
colour, its many-tinted woof has been bleached into a worthless rag in
the dry light of to-day. They must take into their service a new and
rational body of ethics; sounder ideas of what is right and wrong, and
why it is right and wrong. Unprovided with this, they will remain what
they are--anachronisms, museum specimens. They may still succeed in
stimulating thought, as does the writer who has led me into this
disquisition, but only as warning examples.

This will apply, above all, to the historians of men like Nelson. A
large part of the crazy ethics that infect our literature is due to
introspection which, instead of purifying, confuses us, and produces a
hypocritical state of mind that amazes other nations. For it is an
open secret that though our English morality, while spontaneous, is of
the highest order, it becomes rapidly vitiated by introspection. And
thus we get a curious phenomenon, which I should call the lesson of
this whole Naples business--to wit, that it is not Nelson or
contemporary English politicians who are deserving of blame; they
fought for a great cause, and what they did amiss was done in the heat
of the fray. Nelson, the unconscious race-instrument, went ahead
without much thought and, despite Caracciolo blunders, ultimately made
for the best from our English point of view. But these blind guides,
his modern panegyrists, in striving to make for the best by the light
of conscious ratiocination, make for the worst. He led us to victory;
they lead us into the ditch.

For the rest, is it not an astonishing fact that races, in making for
this "best," often fall below the standard of the average tradesman?
Events long subsequent to 1799 prove that civilised nations are
capable of actions towards each other that would be reprobated in a
society of Todas. The ethics of modern state-craft: to what hairy
anthropoid must we go back in order to find a justification for them?
Judged by the outlook of the coster-monger, the violation of
contracts, the massacre of the helpless and innocent, are unworthy
proceedings. Carried out by brave fleets and with the smiling approval
of Almighty God, such deeds are straightway stamped with the hall-mark
of national virtue. The fact is, no race has yet been so rich that it
could afford to exhibit the ideal of goodness which is frequently
observed in the individual. The aggregate community lags far behind
its nobler elements.

Yet it moves. New race-qualities arise. We all of us dismiss, as
unfit for the job, a nursery-maid who sees ghosts. But not long ago
mail-clad warriors and princes of the Church believed in a living
devil and other bogies, their minds swaying between insane terror and
insaner hopes; existence was little more than a round of litanies and
assassinations, its monotony enlivened only by the buffoonery of
knight-errantry and occasional visitations of the plague. The
mail-shirts doffed, there arose a brood of melodramatic ruffians whose
very garments reflect their lack of sobriety; a prey to every
impostor, yet hungering, themselves, for every villainy. Let us be
done with this nonsense concerning modern effeminacy, with this
maudlin cult of mediaeval filth and roguery!

Our mental texture, like that of our bodies, is grown both saner and
more stable. The callousness of our ancestors is reprehensible in a
man of to-day.  We find it hard to believe that a few years back our
aristocratic ladies were wont to flock in shoals to see criminals
executed or to jeer at lunatics in Bedlam--these were the same stout
dames who would shriek and swoon away on the appearance of a mouse.
Such hysterical brutality may be picturesque, but it is not the stuff
to breed from.  We demand a nicer sense of measure and decency.  And
as to the degree of sensitiveness required nowadays, what shall be the
test? THIS: A man who can read the details of the Neapolitan massacres
of 1799--even in a short _précis_ like that of Madame
Giglioli--without a feeling of shuddering abhorrence for their
authors, shall be considered to lack the nervous organisation
requisite for modern needs.

An orgy which, but for Nelson's infatuation for an illiterate harlot,
could never have taken place.  . . . This is the truth---an ugly
truth, and one that will bear repetition, for to be of use it must, in
vulgar parlance, be _well rubbed in_; its good effect depends, like
that of certain ointments, upon the pertinacity with which the
operation of inunction is performed. Or if we prefer to take it in the
shape of a pill, why then, in God's name, let us swallow it without
further grimaces and endeavour to assimilate it into our system,
convinced that it will beneficially counteract the virus of crooked
thinking with which some pseudo-historians are trying to inoculate us.

"The list of victims," says Fortunato, writing not in 1800 but in
1900, "is still incomplete--" Enough. We may leave the Market Square
with its engine of horror, merely noting, as we pass, that to dub
these martyrs "Jacobins," after the playful manner of Mr. Gutteridge,
does not alter the fact that no men ever perished in a worthier cause.

What a jovial company they were, meanwhile, at the palace! A little
_mixed_, I fear; but what of that, so long as they were happy?
Caroline, the Hamiltons, Nelson, Spéciale, the adventurer Acton, "my
friend and general" Mammone, the drinker of human blood--kings,
prostitutes, priests, bric-à-brac dealers, queens, cut-throats,
hangmen, heroes--all a jolly family, carousing, hunting, whoring,
murdering, lying, praying all day long and half the night: how the
immortal gods must have laughed at the fun!

Fun for the gods, no doubt. But, humanly considered, a 'detestable
business from beginning to end. . . .





AT THE FORGE

I

THE sun was rising.  Despite his sixty odd years, old Alf was already
afoot; he stood at his doorway, sniffing the air and examining the
weather-signs. A cloudless July morning. It had been fine for weeks:
it would be fine for ever, apparently. The days were slipping by, one
like another, without incident.

"Holding out well," he concluded. There was no fear of a drought in
the district, for countless rivulets descended from the woodland
heights to refresh the fields and orchards at their foot. One of them
ran not far distant through a marshy tract of Alf's ground; a fraction
of its waters had been diverted into a pond where ducks were playing
about.  His eye rested awhile on their movements, and then fell upon a
man who was passing along the road.

"Hullo, Henry!" he called out. "What on earth are you doing down here
at this hour of the morning?"

"Walking," the other replied, as though that explained everything.
"Are you coming up to-day?"

"Maybe--maybe; in the afternoon. Brothers all right?"

Henry was one of three orphan brothers who lived up yonder, on a
green, cultivated patch among the beeches, at the Forge.

"Same as usual," he said. "We'll expect you later on, then. Nice lot
of ducks, old man." And he slouched away.

What was he up to?

Some mischief, no doubt. The farmer could not conceive Henry otherwise
than up to mischief--he had been the same from boyhood. But these
escapades had grown with his growth, and Henry's name had latterly
become a byword among respectable folks. A great borrower of money,
too; probably a thief; but an engaging rascal for all that.
Fortunately he was seldom in the country. He used to arrive like a
comet from San Francisco or God knows where and, after recruiting his
health at his brothers' expense and getting rid of a "sort of homesick
feeling" which, he declared, haunted him even in the gayest capitals,
vanish as suddenly as he had come.

Perhaps his elder brother's behaviour had something to do with these
departures. For after the preliminary outbursts of fraternal love had
calmed down, they used to quarrel like fiends, and Henry, who prided
himself on being a man of the world, was apt to experience some
difficulty in restraining his naturally violent temper. Mathew, the
senior, had an offensively straightforward fashion of alluding to
financial and other delicate matters, especially when he was drunk.

The farmer often found his way up to the Forge, either on foot or on
his old grey pony. It was a long walk, and all up hill. He had a
sentimental attachment to the place and an interest in the three
"boys," as he still called them, since their mother had come from his
village and been his playmate in olden days. He never understood why
the pretty Joan, who could have had her pick of all the youths of the
place, had married that wild man of the Forge, their father. Women do
strange things sometimes.  Well, they were both dead now, the parents.

Yes, he would walk up that afternoon.

They still called it "the Forge," for such had been its purpose in
former times. Now everything was changed. The penurious peasants had
at last built a good road that skirted the foot of the hills and
defied with stout bridges the floods in springtime, and the old
winding path which climbed upwards into the forest between each
settlement and then descended again, was now frequented only by summer
lovers wandering hand in hand under its tangled network of interlacing
boughs, or, in winter, by woodcutters who brought down ponderous
beechen logs on their sledges amid the cracking of whips and cheery
tinkling of bells. No carts ever passed that way now; it was grown
into a narrow green track, invaded by tall weeds, forgotten. And the
occupation of the Forge was quite gone--its very name had become
unfamiliar to the rising generation.

It was an old-fashioned cottage near one of the many streams that
carved themselves a channel down the steep woodlands; a bright garden
and a few fields stood around it. And within, everything had remained
unchanged for years--its smoky wooden wainscoting and air of mellow
prosperity were always the same.

A veritable abode of peace it seemed: so calm and green--so remote
from worldly strife. And there was a horseshoe nailed over the porch;
Alf noticed it each time he entered the door, and wondered how much
longer the fortunes of the house would stand. For they were nearly
always on bad terms, the two elder brothers. He was inclined to blame
Henry, since the other, whatever his failings, was at least
straightforward and honest. Without Mathew's frugal administration,
their patrimony would long ago have crumbled to pieces.

Mathew was a close-fisted, bearded fellow of the
conscientious-melancholy type, with frequent relapses into boisterous
savagery, during which he drank fiercely. He drank not from any love
of good comradeship, but from a kind of solitary, ancestral necessity;
his father, his grandfather--they had all been drunkards in a
respectable, rustic fashion.

Likely enough this primitive trait was what exasperated Henry, who was
a convivial and altogether modern creature: frail of body, with
burning eyes; easy-going in money matters and temperate in food and
drink.

None of the three brothers felt the poetic charm of the Forge like
Henry. He could watch for hours the light-effects upon the vast plain
below and listen to elfish forest-notes all around. It was a rare
change after his feverishly varied experiences of ocean and town-life:
he seemed to come back to his mother's arms and to be an
impressionable child once more.

For the Forge was wonderful at all hours and at all seasons; wonderful
from its sylvan witchery and aerial aloofness from the works of man;
never so full of wonder as on those early summer mornings when the
hush of dawn, the hush of things to be, still lingered among the
dew-drenched beeches, and the plain below, swathed in mists, called up
suggestions of a boundless mere surging in amethystine wavelets. Then,
from behind the hills, a swift ray of gold would issue, unweaving the
mock billows that rolled upwards distractedly, to cling among wet
clefts; while all tender things of night trooped away to seek refuge
under leaves and stones from the eye, the pitiless eye of flame, that
peered down through the green canopy overhead.

This is what Henry would call the "morning mood"; a mood he seldom
saw, being a man of fashion and accustomed--save on certain urgent
occasions--to rise late.

To Henry the sun was a spectacle--a mere spectacle.

Mathew held it to be a divinely-appointed contrivance for ripening the
crops.

And Baby never seemed to see the sun.

Baby was the youngest of the three.

In the exuberance of her joy at the birth of a third infant after so
many years, his mother had given him some strange-sounding name,
Theodosius or what not, which none of the country-folk could pronounce
or remember. So the old one clung to him; and it suited him well
enough, with his cherub-face and ever-ready smile.

Their affection for this boy was the only common bond between the two
elder brothers.

But, nowadays, the sun never shone for Baby.

Something was wrong with him. The school-master had sent word to say
that he was useless at his books. He was changing in appearance, too;
his eyebrows waxed thick, and into the blue eyes came a strange light.
He still smiled, but it was no longer the smile of lively, ingenuous
boyhood; of a doll, rather, or some unfeeling idol. He would have
looked well enough no doubt standing bare-armed at the forge, like
some young Cyclops, smiting the iron amid a shower of incandescent
sparks, for his strength was terrific; but those days were over. The
old anvil sat all awry in a jungle of docks and darnels on its mouldy
stump, and the few implements that had not been sold were rusting,
forgotten, in the shed. Baby meanwhile roamed about aimlessly, and
spoke little. And he had developed singular, bloodthirsty tastes which
Henry, who had been absent for nearly three years, viewed with
considerable disfavour.

"I tell you I don't like it at all," he said to Mathew. "Did you see
how he tortured that fowl yesterday? Seemed to enjoy doing it. He's
going all wrong, that youngster. I know a thing or two--one doesn't
knock about the world for nothing.  He's what you call a--"

"We're none of us perfect."

"You're a great man for commonplaces, brother Mathew."

"And you're a damned fool."

It stands to reason that Henry--sailor, mechanic, waiter,
school-teacher, and professor of various other polite
accomplishments--should know something of the world. But the elder had
noticed the change long ago, though he feigned ignorance. He would not
allow others to find fault with his charge, regarding Baby's education
as his exclusive domain.

Nevertheless, even Alf had observed the same thing. The affectionate
child that used to clamber about his knees and fetch him flowers and
play merrily among the ducks by the waterside whenever his mother
brought him down to the village, had become tainted with a curious
dullness. And he used to be so like Joan, formerly, in looks and
manner--so pretty, so trim and tidy in his little ways. "He'll keep
the house in order," she had once said, "when I'm gone. You should see
how neatly he folds up his clothes every night, all by himself. He's
my favourite, I can tell you."

No wonder; because Mathew at this time was already grown into a
cantankerous youth, dutiful enough and hard-working, but obstinate as
a mule, while the other was at sea somewhere--a hopeless vagabond.

It was lucky, Alf thought, that Joan never lived to see this sinister
blossoming. Whence had it come?

For there was no doubt about it; the fair boy was growing monstrous;
some alien drop had crept into his blood, churning it all
contrariwise. Alf was old: he remembered three generations at the
Forge, each worse than the last. "Like the rill," he argued, in his
peasant-sagacity. "Clear atop--ends in a bog."

And his eye wandered from the contented ducks in their pond to where,
all wreathed in the ascending mists of morning, the Forge stood.

Yes; he would certainly walk up that afternoon.



II

"You clear out!" Mathew was saying. "I'll have no dirty thief about
here."

Drunk, as usual.

It was his pet theme on such occasions--he always preached, in
liquor--and when he attached himself to an idea there was no shaking
it out of him.  Henry, who was gifted with the rogue's blameless
conscience and a goodnatured view of life, was growing tired of this
eternal moralising. It got on his nerves. And now, when he felt more
than usually cheerful and well-disposed after his midday meal, here
was this gloomy grumbler harping on his old string. He tried to turn
the conversation.

"I saw Alf this morning. He's coming up later on."

"A fine thing, that brain of yours," the other continued, grimly, "but
what's the use of it, if it can't help you to live? Always prowling
about after other men's money or their wives. You clear out!  And
you're spoiling Baby, too. He's all changed, damn you."

"There you're wrong, for once. I like the youngster too well. Who
built his forge, I should like to know? You're jealous."

It was quite true. Ever since Henry, in an idle moment, had erected
beside the stream a miniature water-wheel that worked in connection
with a ceaselessly-palpitating wooden hammer, the boy's awed respect
for this vagrant brother had melted into warm love and admiration.
Mathew, he felt, could never have built such a wonder.

It was a grand plaything which, for some obscure reason, he called his
"Forge." So the name of the old Forge, that once useful establishment,
was still surviving in ominous degeneration--futile movement, with
some little noise.

"Anyhow," Mathew pursued, "you clear out! I can't stand a dirty thief.
Get back to Saint Louis."

"That's no place for an honest man."

Mathew never understood his brother's jokes.

The other, meanwhile, was thinking. There was some sense in the
suggestion--the very same idea had been in his own mind lately. He was
once more growing tired of the Forge; not tired exactly, for he loved
green trees and fields better than the smoke of cities, and a life of
contemplation had ever been his ideal; but the place had its
drawbacks.  Mathew alone was enough to drive anyone mad with his
moodiness. And he looked round the room: it was cheerful enough with
all its old ornaments, unchanged for years, shining brightly and
testifying to Baby's conscientious care, and yet--always the same
thing. Henry yearned, in the intervals between his bucolic moments,
for some of his old pleasures; he was rather too young to bury himself
in this fashion. But, alas! he was a pauper, and they disliked paupers
over there. Here was a chance.

"Buy me out," he said. "Then I'll go for good."

The proposal had an unexpected effect upon Mathew. His glum
countenance expanded into a smile, and presently the man was convulsed
with merriment--he laughed long and loud, rocking himself to and fro.
It was so heartfelt, so infectious, that Henry caught himself smiling
against his will.

"Buy me out," he urged again. "I'm speaking fair."

"Buy you out?" Mathew roared at last. "No!  but I'll tell you what
I'll do. I'll--I'll--ha! ha!  ha!"

He seemed unable to find words. One of his saturnine laughing fits,
Henry concluded.

"Well?" he began.

"Buy you out? No. But I'll--I'll kick you out: there!"

"You'll _what_?" Henry had kept his "beastly temper" well under
control so far. He knew his beastly temper; it had brought him into
trouble more than once. The other, still chuckling hugely,
condescended to explain:

"Break your head: see? Can't stand a dirty thief--"

The refrain seemed to please him.

"Dirty thief," the other growled. He was sick of that phrase. "And
you? Just a drunken swine."

A hairy arm came at him and smote him a stunning blow on the forehead,
between the eyes.  That was Mathew's brotherly answer.

Drunker than usual, in truth; for never till now had he raised his
hand against Henry. There was a silence, while the younger, dazed with
pain and rage, felt a beast within him, struggling to break its
fetters. Then Mathew quietly remarked:

"I've had about enough of you "--as if this simple statement were
intended to close the incident.  He rose unsteadily, and moved towards
the door.

The words had roused the other out of a trance: the beast had emerged.
Distrustful of his own muscles, he looked around for some means of
retaliation. And a shining chisel, hitherto unrevealed, limned itself
out before his eyes. It lay upon the table at arm's length, bright and
comely; a very handy thing. Henry's fingers closed upon it
automatically.

"Not quite enough of me, old man," he replied as, raising himself
forwards, he dealt his brother a mad, downward blow that embedded the
blade below the skull--there, where head joins neck.  Under that
impact the firm flesh yielded like water.  Mathew collapsed as though
his bones had gone from within him; he dropped on his knees, then,
slightly swaying, rolled sideways. And there he lay, all huddled up,
like the fool he was; with a chisel in his back.

Dead, without a doubt. Dead as a doornail.  How easy, how absurdly
easy, it had been.

Henry drew nearer and looked at him. There was nothing perturbing in
the sight; he had seen dozens of them and they were all alike, more or
less, in their stupid way. "You never know what a fool a man can
look," a philosophical transatlantic friend had once observed--"never!
Not till you see him dead." How true! He remembered the occasion of
that remark--the place, the hour; he remembered----

But, by God, this was not your ordinary kind of fool. It was Mathew.
The veil was lifting, and Henry's nimble mind began to work under the
control of will once more. Those last two minutes were disentangling
themselves: out of shapeless sensations they crystallised with
scientific precision, like the ice-flowers on a December window-pane,
into the hideous fabric of his crime. He had killed his brother. It
was a plain affair, though, for aught he could discover as his own
responsibility in the transaction, the whole thing might have been an
idle dream. How had it come about?

"Get my head clear," he muttered, as he walked to the casement and
looked out upon the landscape.

Light: light everywhere--a flood of meridian glory that poured into
the world's innermost recesses.  Mankind was astir among the fields
below, and the chant of ordered life, of things that are, floated
upwards from the teeming plain whose variegated crops, sharply defined
as the countries on a map, trended away towards a dusky line on the
horizon, a belt of forest dimly discernible, where flowed the great
river. The land was outspread in a crazy patchwork of green--greens in
squares and diamond-patterns--greens lusty and frail; the pride of
man, shimmering all velvety under the passionless sun.

The old, old prospect, noonday type of illumination; pleasant enough,
but somewhat trite. He had been desiring a change, he
recollected--well, he was like to get it now. A fine day, none the
less.  And a fine day to-morrow. . . .

Suddenly the instinct of self-preservation, heritage of all sane
creatures, rushed in upon him, devouring every other feeling.

"I'm the fool, and no mistake! Now for a plan.  Think--think!"

He sat down by the table, and thought.

Projects flew through his head, clustering wildly for approval; all
the old tricks he had heard or read of; flight, burnings of bodies,
buryings, hidings--one more preposterous than another. A complicated
business, after all. Baby: that was the trouble.  If Baby were to
appear at that moment, it would ruin everything; there was no thinking
with that boy in the room. And how explain things to him?

He meditated furiously.

A scheme must be elaborated at once and definitely adopted. It was
there, the revelation, if he could but seize it; he felt it hovering
near at hand, a will-o'-the-wisp, eluding capture. "There's a way out
of every mess," another sensible friend of his had once declared, "and
a good way, mark you--if they'll give you time to think it out."

Time! there you have it.

And Baby might be standing at the door even now.

"This won't do!" He bored his fists into his temples and his pulses
ached with the fiery work of concentration.

Was it gone for ever, that wavering inspiration?

A fine thing, that brain of yours, but if it can't help you to live. .
. . Why must the phrase occur to him just then?

And all the while his eyes remained fixed upon the handle of the door,
lest it should turn.

What if it turned?

Now he drew a deep breath of contentment, for an immense effort had
lured the apparition nearer.  It approached shyly,
reluctantly--arrayed in all the grace of an angelic vision, herald of
salvation. For the merest twinkling it stood erect and eyed him
serenely, perfect in loveliness. Yet when he sought to fix the shape
upon his mind, those outlines', erewhile convincing, disdained to
re-clothe themselves in due habiliments. They were hesitating,
elusive.

The main thing, however, was clear.

"Baby," he reflected. "Yes; that's it."

Baby must be implicated; Baby must be transformed into the murderer.
That was the glimpse, the celestial revelation.

But how?

Stare as he might, those luminous contours never coalesced again. On
the contrary, they were forever melting into new combinations; flowing
hither and thither like coloured rills before his eyes, meeting and
dispersing in restless bewilderment.  He began to feel rather dizzy.
Objects flitted aimlessly, reeled and shifted and swam about.
Everything moved; there were noises, too. Then the whole room began to
sway--it was decidedly sickening.

Faint and gasping, he clutched the edge of the table.

The door-handle was turning, like all the rest



III

Baby entered, inanely seraphic.

He had been gardening. One arm was laden with freshly-gathered
lettuces, while the other wiped the glittering drops of perspiration
off his smooth and convex forehead. Perennially moist, this poor tumid
brow; summer and winter Baby was too hot, as if, by some flaw in
construction, a, furnace too ardent had been set within his body. No
one guessed what he suffered at night under his blanket.  Had he known
the bliss of sleeping unclothed on the cool woodland earth like any
other wild creature, with the wind playing about his matted curls and
chilly dew gathering in the hollow places of his back and shoulders,
no power on earth could now have kept him indoors after dark. But his
mother had tamed him young; those were joys unknown, undreamed of.

All engrossed with one idea, he made a methodical heap of lettuces on
the table. Only then did he turn round and espy his brother near the
window and the prostrate form of Mathew lying on the floor. Mathew
looked unhappy.

A cloud fell on his face.

"Oh. Hurt himself!" he cried, perceiving the weapon. Baby was
acquainted with the chisel's idiosyncrasy; "the chisel could cut; the
chisel could cut badly."

The other took no heed whatever. He was thinking--thinking. He had
regained his composure, and was trying to piece together certain
tantalising contours, when Baby's voice briskly broke in upon his
meditations:

"Out with it! Here you are. Oh.  Blood. . . ."

It was exasperating to be interrupted like this.

There was a pause, and Henry began his labour once more. It was
scared, the vision, but the man wooed it fiercely. Now----

"More blood . . . always blood."

Henry pricked up his ears, for the words were followed by low and
bestial purring sounds that caused his hair to stand on end. They
proceeded from Baby's throat. The sight of that oozing mass had struck
a horrid chord in the boy's nature, and all his frame hummed in
unison. There was something in the noise that paralysed Henry's
initiative: hope sank within him. Turning round, he saw Baby on his
knees, bent over the corpse; fascinated, a-tremble.

"Look at him!" he said, addressing some imaginary intellectual
sympathiser. "Look at him!  How the hell is a man to think seriously
with that unholy snarling beast in the room?"

And though Baby's gestures and chatterings, as he continued to gaze
upon that scarlet spot, grew more unpropitious every minute, yet Henry
failed to read the import of the change; he was merely annoyed at the
sight of a human being gloating over a pool of blood. For Henry was
temperamentally nice; his sense of propriety was easily outraged, and
this behaviour was unquestionably not correct.  What was the boy
doing?

Baby was staring himself into ghoulish madness.

Infernally awkward, anyhow.

Devising plans under such conditions was impossible for a man of
Henry's sensitive nerves.  The strain became unendurable--would he
never stop? It was indecent, this jackal business.

"Get up, you young beast!" he said, giving Baby a vicious kick.

The other rose from the ground. But he was ignited--in man-eating
mood, and he took his brother gently by the wrists. Then the snarling
began again. At that sound Henry's blood froze in his veins, and all
his joints were numbed.

"No, Baby," he muttered, lamely.

The pale terror fled as swiftly as it had come, and he realised the
situation. This idiot meant mischief; he must fight for it.

With a wild jerk he freed his right arm, preparatory to dealing a
desperate blow. But Baby was left-handed, and that hand, guided by
some primordial impulse of destruction, forthwith sped to his
brother's throat. It alighted like a caress, in flowery softness; and
there grew fast.

The man's blows rained on air; some thirsty vampire, it seemed, was
clinging to him and flapping black wings of damnation in his face.
Through a confused mist he beheld the lad's smooth features creased
into a mask--the very nightmare of a face; all the while, too, there
played a joyful melody upon his ears, like the ripple of many waters.
Slowly a sombre curtain closed about him. The paean grew hushed, and
he felt himself lifted from earth and borne aloft in the clutches of a
fiend.

They had fallen together.

Baby was uppermost, and as he watched how life, the mystery, tripped
away under the touch of his fingers, a thrilling sensation, a blissful
dream dimly remembered, crept over him. It grew to ecstasy, as though
normal passions hitherto sealed up and folded in the wintry texture of
his mind were at last, under some exotic stimulus, bursting into
flower. All the loves and aspirations denied to his degraded
adolescence converged in that awakening, and he would fain have dwelt
for ever in its glorious sunshine.

Soon the frenzy melted to a faint languor and dissolved away. Baby's
tormented lines relaxed into their wonted bland imbecility; he became
himself again and smilingly disposed towards the universe; almost
lovable. Still he lingered on the Scene.

They were both hurt now; hurt and unhappy looking, and dreadfully
untidy. He wondered what it meant. Then, gradually, the sight of those
two brothers, who never spoke and never stirred, began to disquiet
him. He sprang out of doors, and straightway forgot them. For an
irresistible magnet drew him along the garden path where sunflowers
beamed benignly; it drew him across a dank meadow, and through the
fence to the water side. He sat down on the old, accustomed log.

There it stood, the miracle, the joy.

Shrunk to a summer ribbon of silver, the docile stream was teased
through a mazy dance of pipes and passages towards an artificial
cataract whereunder, attached to a water-wheel, a hammer was beating a
restlessly cheerful measure amid the splashing of angry little waves.
That hammer!  There was nothing like it on earth. Other delights
swarmed about the building; other wheels, and a palisade by the shore,
and pointed stakes to impale storm-tossed leaves and grasses, and a
microscopic window through which you could look down upon the deluded
current gliding to its fall--but this was the chiefest of them. It was
a never-ending marvel: the beating heart of the Forge.  Ceaselessly,
night and day, that pleasurable din resounded; come when he might, at
sunrise, noon or evening, the wheel never tired of its playful
somersaults, nor the sprightly water of licking those smooth round
sides.

Of the original structure hardly a trace was now visible; the boy's
successive embellishments had transformed it into a symbol of his own
mind--an agglomeration of scraps of wood and iron, encrusted with
nails, and submerged under a wilderness of wheels that fulfilled the
inscrutable purposes of his architectural phantasy. There were
ornaments everywhere but never, never enough. The problem where to
affix them was one on which his brothers were always consulted, and
nothing pleased him better than when Mathew sagaciously shook his head
and bent down to correct some error, while Henry approved in lazy and
jocular fashion; or when Alf would slap his back and say:

"That's right, boy! Now for another wheel."

For Alf was his friend from earliest childhood, and took a keen
interest in the masterpiece; he noted everything.

Baby looked up and there, sure enough, was the kindly, grizzled face
of the old farmer peering upon him over the palings.

"Hallo, Baby!" he said. "Let's have a look at the machine."

He entered and examined the works critically.

"Who moved that post?" he inquired, pointing to some innovation.

"Mathew," said Baby.

"Where's Mathew?"

"Inside. Hurt himself."

"Hurt himself? What d'you mean, boy?"

That was the extent of Baby's information.

Alarmed by these words, the farmer walked to the house-door and
entered. The level beams of the sun poured into the chamber and fell
upon certain glistening patches on the floor. And he saw the tragedy.
The two brothers lay side by side; so Baby had willed, like a tidy
boy. Things lying about should always be tidied. But their eyes were
staring and their mouths agape, for a contingency so remote had not
been anticipated in his mother's scheme of education.

Alf stood aghast. Then, by an effort of will, he broke the spell of
horror and, tottering from that tainted room, sat down on the bench
beside the porch. The sight of that transfiguration had made him sick
at stomach.

A long while passed, and still he could not collect his thoughts.
Despite the fearful picture engraved upon his vision, he failed to
acquiesce in the full truth. "Hurt himself. ..." A lie, of course.
There was a practical side to the matter, then. It dawned upon him in
furious intensity.  He must act without delay.

Baby was watching from afar. Then he approached and again halted, for
he could read trouble and displeasure in his friend's face. He came a
few steps nearer, like some diffident animal, and waited once more.
The farmer looked into his eyes.

He remembered Joan, and olden days.

"Oh, Baby!" he said. "They'll hang you for this."

After these words he was stricken dumb.  Another wave of feeling was
passing over him, a wave of shuddering hatred, the loathing of the
pure for what is impure. All the traditions of his race, all the
uprightness of ages of decent law-abiding culture, surged up within
him against this pestilence, this savage, this ravisher of a fair
human life. He would tell the news in the village; men must bring down
the bodies and arrest the brute. He rose from his seat and strode down
the path.

The other could not believe his eyes. He stood leaning against the
sunny paling, one hand outstretched to bid farewell, petrified with
amazement. The farmer walked away without so much as looking round.
Never before had his friend behaved after this manner. Something was
wrong, very wrong, with the world. And now he was gone, actually gone.

The old man had not proceeded far under the trees before other
counsels prevailed. His simple heart, all puzzled and distraught, yet
found the right formula. "After all," he thought, "he's only a
half-witted child. They'll never hang him. And he'll follow me like a
dog."

He returned anon and said authoritatively: "You come back with me.
Now." Baby seemed to ponder the meaning of these words. Then his
glance strayed in the direction of the stream and rested on a
well-known spot.

He shook his head. How could he leave the Forge?

Alf divined his thoughts. He entered the shed, and presently came
forth again, bearing a large sack.

"Look here," he said. "We'll pack your machine into this, every bit of
it, and you shall carry it down and set it up in my water. . . ."

The other listened and understood. His Forge was to be taken away--a
world of unhappiness!  Cowed by the man's firm demeanour, he said
nothing, but his eyes glittered dangerously and he refused to stir
from his place.

"Where the ducks are, you know." Even that did not move him. Sullen
and defiant, he looked on as the wheels and ever-industrious hammer,
the pipes and boards, all of them, one by one, were torn down from
their old places and stowed away, in darkness and confusion, within
the sack. All too soon nothing remained to show where the miracle had
stood; nothing save four mighty piles, firm-planted by the shore,
among the stones.

The little brook, leaping to its forgotten channel in a passionate
eddy of joy, bore off the muddy stains of human interference and sped
away gleaming.

"Come along, Baby; and carry the sack. It's getting late."

And they turned their backs upon the old Forge and crossed the
familiar bridge, the first of many on that winding woodland path.
Neither spoke a word.

The hush of evening, of things that have been, was already nestling
among those dreamy upland beeches. But through the gaps of their
far-spreading foliage they beheld, down below, another and almost
fabulous world, a world of liquid gold, that still throbbed with life.
For the sun was sinking in a radiance that drowned the colour-mosaics
of noonday, and at their feet the plain, interwoven like some
praying-carpet with arabesque delineations of roads and hedges and
waterways, lay weltering in hazy leagues of orange-tawny splendour.
Then a calm fell from on high, an apostolic peace; it streamed
earthwards in showers of dewy benignance, and now nothing told of
mortal man save where some window, smitten by a lingering beam,
flashed into the twilight its fugitive, crimson conflagration.

The evening phase. . . .

And still neither spoke. The farmer trudged along, weighed down by a
load of perplexities to which his long life's experience could suggest
no solution. Since that morning, when he had stood at his doorstep and
glanced up at the Forge all veiled in ascending mists--what an
eternity had passed! And the days, of late, had been slipping by; one
like another, without incident.

He thought of Mathew, whose moral worth had always appealed to him; a
drunkard but a, right-minded fellow; that was past gainsaying. As for
the other--the use and beauty of Henry's perverse intellectual gifts
had ever been a puzzle to the old man who viewed human affairs from a
fixed point, as he viewed the stars; an enigma, a blot in the world's
contriving. Yet in the recollection of those, poor distorted remains
he grew more charitable; the ways of God are dark indeed, and--who
knows?--without men of Henry's stamp there would perhaps be no honest
folk. And then the third, with his attractive face. . . . Baby, a
murderer!  The evil mood returned.

His companion, bent under a heavy material burden, was stepping
blithely forward. Maybe he had visions of a consoling kind--visions of
another Forge-installation, of a sandy beach where amiable fowls
disported themselves on quaintly-fashioned feet or paddled
sententiously about the water. It never struck him that his miracle
would be mute and motionless in that stagnation: its foolish little
heart at rest. And still they marched in silence.  Once or twice the
old man stopped short as though to say something, but he evidently
thought better of it.

Darkness meanwhile came on apace. The blue woodflowers waned to pallid
spectres under its touch; chill breaths of wind were creeping down the
gullies. Their path grew ever narrower in branch-charmed mystery, and
when at last they emerged under the purple dome of Heaven, the lights
of the village had begun to twinkle.





EDGAR ALLAN POE

MUCH has been written of late concerning Poe, but his personality
splits up so much more easily than that of other authors into
separable fractions, that it is still difficult to estimate him as a
harmonious whole, an individual. There is the Poe of French writers,
the Poe of Griswold, the Poe sane or insane (to adopt the
classification of Mr. Willis), Poe the critic, the husband, the
drunkard, the martyr and so forth.  Professor Woodberry has
disentangled and rearranged certain of these aspects with patient but
chill discrimination. To present them in such a manner that their
coherence is seen to be inevitable is the task of a literary
biographer; but before the fabric can be erected, each part must be
considered and appraised in its relation to the whole. Poe's views,
for example, upon domestic architecture and furniture are pronounced;
they form a minute but integral portion of himself. Until they have
been judged in their relation to the other portions, and traced to
their sources in his reading, his age and his heredity, how shall the
picture be complete?  Nor can his literary personality be regarded
otherwise--at this time of the day--than as an expression of bodily
organisation. Enough and to spare has been written upon certain
aspects of his moral life. We all know that he drank. But not all
critics are yet equipped with a knowledge of the pathology of mind
sufficient to enable them to pass judgment upon the sombre, lovable
and mysterious being, as he is depicted by those who sympathised with
him in the closing years when he was tossed on an ocean of vain hopes
and vain regrets. Who is not moved by Mrs. Weiss's account of that
visit to the Hermitage? Some of Poe's epistolary effusions, on the
other hand, leave a bad taste in the mouth. His last years both as a
man and a writer are full of jarring notes, of conflicting elements
which must be separately analysed before they can be welded into a
homogeneous whole. Not every critic possesses the requisite
sensitiveness, veracity and sheer learning for this work of
reconstruction.

The "good woman," unfortunately, has a knack of coming too late upon
the scene, and when at last she does appear, she is apt to eke out
lack of sense with superfluity of feeling. Such was not invariably the
case with the tender ladies whose names are associated with Poe's
later life, yet they certainly failed to understand the case of Edgar
Poe as a whole: how else shall we explain the posthumous publication
of his miserable outpourings to them?  Such an act savours little of
wisdom or womanly modesty. To brandish aloft the scalp of a conquered
enemy may suit the humour of a redskin, but not of a civilised lady
who has been honoured with the confidences of a distraught and dying
genius.

There is Poe the American, whose patriotic labours have perhaps not
been sufficiently appreciated by his countrymen. It is not easy,
nowadays, to realise the low position which American letters then
occupied in the world's opinion, and the slavish adulation with which
every product from the European literary market was greeted in the
United States; not easy, therefore, to estimate the extent of Poe's
labours--how he encouraged American writers of every stamp, coaxed
them, drove them, pushed them the way they should go. Some talk of his
"regrettable scarification" of the New York _literati_. They must have
been a thin-skinned generation, these _literati_!

"'Is there no honour--no chivalry left in the land? Are our most
deserving writers to be forever sneered down, or hooted down, or
damned down with faint praise?"

That does not sound like scarification. Taking his criticisms one by
one, it will be found that the proportion of favourable, indifferent
and unfavourable is, approximately, as 3: 2: 1--showing that for each
unfavourable review there were five not unfavourable. Surely this is a
high allowance, considering the quality of the material before him.
An equal number of similarly incapable British scribblers would not
have been let off so easily.

One author is surprised that none of his critiques is "unreservedly
laudatory." This simply means that they are conscientiously written.

Essentially, however, Poe was both non-American and non-English. The
promptings of his blood were Celtic and Latin. He had a classic sense
of analysis, form and measure. For this _justesse_ he has been held in
high repute by French writers and it is certainly not without a
feeling of propriety that he has given French names and extractions to
the heroes of his tales of ratiocination (Dupin, Le Grand). Truth
_versus_ Goodness is the keynote of his intellectual strivings. He had
a bald love of truth which puzzled and pained many good folk. Lowell
observed that he "seemed wanting in the faculty of perceiving the
profounder ethics of art"--in other words, that scientific criticism,
as Poe conceived it, is in a manner un-moral. Lowell, to be sure,
wrote in 1845. But Mr. Stoddard has also remarked of some of Poe's
tales that "the power of such writing is certain: its good, its
sanity, are not so certain."

Are we never to grow out of this doctrine? A healthy person, who
refuses to be hampered with preconceived notions of wrongness or
ugliness, will find that Poe's ghoulish tales, like many "unhealthy"
writings, deal with interesting subjects in an interesting manner.
What more shall be expected of an author? Doctors tell us that
hypersensitiveness in the matter of what is morbid or immoral is far
from being always a good sign. And it has ever been the misfortune of
writers possessing mathematical consciousness of purpose that they are
exposed to the criticism of others who, in their anxiety to save their
souls from hell-fire, have not acquired the mental outfit necessary
for grasping their initial proposition.

A consideration of Poe's tales would be a good occasion for discussing
the question of local colour in fiction. Where precision in data is
required, no one is more precise than Poe. But it seems to me
indisputable that, for the subjects generally chosen by him, his own
indefinite atmosphere is the most suitable. To-day this is a matter of
sentiment, but the reader of the future, approaching these questions
with increasingly scientific canons of taste, will be enabled to draw
increasingly truthful conclusions from them.

There is a more general agreement that Poe was right as regards the
length of his tales. The English public alone continues to think
somewhat strangely upon this subject, for a generation fed upon the
gross fare of the Victorian epoch has naturally acquired a palate too
vitiated to savour the delicacy of simple tales. To them such
_entremets_, which none save a real chef can prepare, are things of
air--things French, dilettantish. And yet, as if to convince them of
their error, the English language boasts of some of the finest
specimens of that ideal microcosm, the short story. Its proper length
is suggested by the organic laws of our own body--one hour's
continuous careful reading. The author must be allowed time to
engross, by means of his intellect, that of the reader; for a short
story is a self-consistent entity, with head, body and tail all
complete, and not a mere "taste of your quality"; yet if it be too
long, the reader's attentive faculty is strained beyond the capacity
of aesthetic appreciation. In this form of composition, the author
will exercise a judicial sense of measure; in the more personal prose
poem, which conveys rather certain fleeting dispositions or emotions,
he may allow free rein to his fancy, his humour, his erudition, his
spleen--so long as he attains his end: the awakening, in the reader,
of a particular mental mood. If these rules are correct, it will be
seen with what unerring instinct Poe conformed to them in both these
classes of composition.

His women have been described as imponderable.  Yet they are not, like
many women in fiction, evanescent. Ligeia is a phantom, but a phantom
that has come to stay. I confess that it needs a robust imagination to
conceive Berenice smoking cigarettes and eating strawberries at a
picnic.  Morella was not much of a flirt. They are hopelessly unfit
for the ordinary routine of life, for charity bazaars and the
bringing-up of children; they have nothing of that air of probability
which distinguishes our flesh-and-blood acquaintances. Perhaps for
that reason they have ceased to be nonentities. A few more such
shadows might profitably be acquired in exchange for a herd of our
amazingly _lifelike_ heroines of fiction.

It is not to be supposed that Poe ever came in touch with the East,
but his artistic feeling suggested to him both its uses and its
limitations as a subsidiary ornament. He lacked the broad human
sympathy requisite for writing Oriental tales; he never attempts to
smother us in harems and such-like paraphernalia. Like the flakes of
gold in the chinks of some faded masterpiece, the Orientalism of Poe
is so sparingly dispersed--an almost imperceptible touch, here and
there--that none save a connoisseur is able to feel what the loss
would have been, if that touch had not been given. Note, likewise, his
parsimonious but judicious use of the Gothic: "Some large, old,
decaying city near the Rhine"; or "The pomps and pageantries of a
stately Court, and the mad clangor of arms ... oh, bright was the
seraph Ermengarde!" What an instantaneous disposition of mind is
awakened by this artifice!  Yet it is a singular fact that Poe was
deficient in all sense of the peculiar lustre of Gothic and Saxon
words; his prose is redundant in Latinisms which weaken its effect
incalculably, though the formal solemnity of some of his compositions
is thereby enhanced. Strange to think that, in a matter of this kind,
Herbert Spencer ("The Philosophy of Style") should have a truer
insight than Poe the artist.

Monsieur Hennequin has insisted upon the originality of Poe. He _is_
original--he is always Poe, although some of his tales, like
"Hop-frog," "William Wilson" and possibly "The Landscape Garden,"
[Footnote: A. J. Downing. A Treatise on the Theory and Practice of
Landscape Gardening, Adapted to North America, with a View to the
Improvement of Country Residences. 8vo, 1841. I have not seen this
work, but I understand it has little in common with Poe's story. Yet
the title may have given him the idea.  Pueckler-Muskau, Lenue and
others had made the subject popular.] can be traced to earlier
sources. From the first to the last of his writings is revealed little
change in the texture of his mind.  "Eureka" is embedded in "El
Araaf," "Eleonora" in "Tamerlane." In "Landor's Cottage," one of the
last of his studies, will be found reminiscences of at least six
previous tales. Poe was prodigious in intellectual versatility--in
variety of material, singularly poor. But this organic poverty must
not be confounded with artificial simplicity, with the deliberate
repetition of set words and images whereby the haunting charm of his
verse and tales is often contrived.  Perhaps, under the influence of
stimulants, there arises a tendency to reproduce identical modes of
thought; even as a dream, interrupted, may be resumed when the
conditions which gave it birth are repeated.  It is probable that some
of his best writings are the direct result of alcohol.

The "Assignation" ("The Visionary"), an early and relatively poor
performance, is in this respect perhaps the most characteristic of his
tales.  It reeks of alcohol; it displays alike the power and the
weakness of the delirious imagination which flows from the bottle. The
reader is oppressed with I know not what sense of distortion and
dislocation.  There is a restless, flicker of fantastic metaphors and
inconsequential interjections. Sometimes the imagery glows in steadier
blazes, as in the fine passage beginning "The eye wandered from object
to object, and rested upon none," which is further interesting as
exemplifying Poe's dearth of material--the _carvings of Egypt_
recurring in "Ligeia," _convolute censers_ and _trembling draperies_
likewise; _crimson-tinted glass_ in "The House of Usher" and in the
"Philosophy of Furniture," _carpets of gold_ in the last-named and in
"Ligeia "--and so forth. An unusually good "alcoholism" occurs in
"Monos and Una": "Issuing from the flame of each lamp (for there were
many) there flowed unbrokenly into my ears a strain of melodious
monotone." Future physiologists may investigate what condition of the
cerebral structure is requisite to produce an image of this kind.

What is Poe's life-work? His influence upon literature as a civilising
and purifying agency.  Poe is a great anti-vulgarian. As such, he has
discarded the ethical moment, and in doing so, he has followed the
footsteps of the masters of all ages. Why is it that didacticism in
poetry was so offensive to him? Because it constitutes an intrusion of
ethics into art, an intrusion which arouses, even in ordinary minds, a
sense of incongruity and impropriety.

This whole question of morality in art is neither too difficult nor
too delicate to be probed to the bottom. Philosophers may grow grey in
theorising upon the growth, the laws and limitations, of the moral
sense of mankind; but there is, and there can be, nothing new about
morality in the ordinary acceptation of that term: the whole body of
it is reducible to a single word--charity--and that word is plain to
an infant's understanding. To burden dainty verses with a load of
maxims regarding the inadvisability of coveting one's neighbour's wife
and other matters that we babbled on our nurses' knees is as
incongruous as serving tripe and sausages (healthy fare, no doubt)
upon a platter of Benvenuto Cellini. There is no _poiesis_ in a
didactic work of art, and whoever eliminates the moral moment will
discover often that he is eliminating, simultaneously, the vulgar
moment.  For morality is the property of the crowd; it bears an
inscription that damns it for all purposes of art: _connu_! The
minutest hint of a moral lesson is a generalisation: generalisations
cannot awaken emotions like single images, and therefore morality
should not intrude where the awakening of emotion is the primary
object.

Without professing to any special knowledge I should say that Poe's
influence upon the development of American letters is somewhat
underestimated, not as a direct model for prose or poetry, but in a
general way for the principles of truth and honesty laid down by him
that are naturally difficult to trace to their source, seeing that
they have become so thoroughly assimilated by the national literary
mind that it forgets whence it drew them. They have indeed become part
of the mental atmosphere necessary to every decent writer.

But he has had a number of direct imitators.  "Hans Pfaal" has
inspired Jules Verne, and the Sherlock Holmes series could not have
arisen but for Poe. The author of that series has thought so highly of
him that he has embodied the spirit, or spiritualised the body, of
another of Poe's tales ("The Cask of Amontillado") under the title
of "The New Catacomb," in the collection known as _The Green Flag_.

Some authors, Mr. Andrew Lang among them, have suggested the question
whether Poe was not born at an inopportune moment; meaning,
presumably, that under other circumstances of time and place he would
have met with a more sympathetic reception. Likely enough. He
exemplified, in more ways than one, the irruption of an older type
into an immature stock, and suffered accordingly. For at that period
of national growth there was little tolerance of anti-social habits in
the cultured society of the States; the phenomenon known as the New
England Conscience seems to have been, geographically speaking, less
localised than at present. But this ill-treatment of Poe by his
contemporaries has been absurdly exaggerated.  It would be nearer the
truth to say that he was surrounded by firm friends of both sexes who
helped him whenever they could, and who defended his memory with
quixotic ardour after death, though his peculiarities while living
must often have repelled and exasperated them. It is frequently said
that the time is not ripe for this or that man of genius.  If one
cares to pursue this line of argument at all, it may pertinently be
asked, where is the time or country that needed Poe as badly as the
America of 1830?

Mr. Briggs once made a remark which seems to express a still current
opinion, to the effect that Poe had "an inconceivably extravagant idea
of his capacities as a humorist." I cannot but think that this whole
aspect of Poe's literary career has been wrongly interpreted. Poe, to
whom pecuniary assistance in moments of direst distress was galling,
probably simulated this opinion of himself in order to hide the true
state of affairs, even as he is known to have assumed relative
affluence to dissimulate his poverty. It is hardly conceivable that he
should have been mistaken in his self-analysis--he knew better than
most authors his own strength and weaknesses. And among his
deficiencies is certainly to be reckoned a total lack of humour.

Like many individuals of flawed brain-structure, he took himself _au
grand sérieux_, and could not unbend to laughter. He never passed out
of the "misunderstood" stage:

  From childhood's hour I have not been
  As others were--I have not seen
  As others saw--I could not bring
  My passions from a common spring.

Thus sang the boy, and felt the man. But it is unlikely, I think, that
a writer of his exquisite sensibility could have written these
"humorous" sketches with any other feeling than repugnance; he must
have writhed while prostituting his pen for this drivel. Yet it was
paid for, as we know, at the same rate as his best work; and
starvation was the alternative. The sad multiplicity of these tales of
humour would proclaim his frequent and extreme destitution, did we not
know it from other sources. "We have now got four dollars and a half
left. To-morrow I am going to try and borrow three dollars, so that I
may have a fortnight to go upon."

Though the world, alas! has seen other cases of a strain of humour
appearing under a strain of hunger, it is not easy to discover more
piteous documents than these particular tales of Edgar Poe.
Baudelaire, who was joined to him by elective affinity, or, as Poe
himself would have expressed it, by "sympathies of a scarcely
intelligible nature," has hit upon a happy phrase for this unhappy
state--_les stérilités des écrivains nerveux_. And how aptly De
Quincey, himself of this class, has described that agony of paralysis,
that anguished suspension of all the powers of thought:

Suppose the case of a man who has helpless dependents of this class
upon himself, summoned to face some sudden failure of his resources:
how shattering to the power of exertion, and, above all, of exertion
by an organ so delicate as the creative intellect, dealing with
subjects so coy as those of imaginative sensibility, to know that
instant ruin attends his failure.

Might he not have had Poe in his mind's eye during one of those
moments when the poet stood, helpless and distracted, beside his wife,
who lay dying upon a straw mattress with not even a blanket to protect
her from the wintry frost? Under such conditions, that lasted for
months, let any man of feeling endeavour to write the "Rationale of
Verse."

In judging of Poe's sufferings, his own nature, that intensified them
a thousandfold, must not be left out of account. The stupendous
Beethoven is the most awful example of such a fate--awful from the
contrast between the sublimity of his mind and the meanness of his
daily cares. But Beethoven had lighted his torch at no earthly altar;
he was no mortal, but a Titan, smiling with Promethean composure upon
the vultures that devoured his heart. Poe was only a neurasthenic
_litterateur_, tortured by a lamentable craving for alcohol and by a
craving for beauty and refinement which, considering the circumstances
wherein Fate ordained he should live, was hardly less lamentable.  His
life and his life's work have been widely, though not universally,
misunderstood. Time will give the unhappy writer his deserts. An
eminent critic has remarked that the literary case of Poe must be
periodically re-judged. The same applies to his moral case.

And each time, let us hope, we shall attain a nearer approximation to
verity.

[1909]




BELLADONNA

Miss Dorothy Melville to her Mother

MY dearest Mother,--I am quite well and I hope you are the same. When
are you coming back? Please come as soon as you can because you have
already stayed away so long. It has been raining hard for the last two
days and I am nearly always indoors.

Aunt has just been here and has read this letter I am writing. And she
says she would gladly take me to you if you would allow her. But she
also said that I am no trouble to her and that she will keep me here
as long as you like and that she will write to you in a day of two.
But I do so want to be with you.

And she also says I am to write and tell you exactly about the two
Fortescue children, although it will take me an awfully long time to
do so and I think I shall never do it. But she says that you will wish
to hear all about it as you know their mother well who has always been
so unkind to them, and Aunt says I ought indeed to be thankful to have
a mother who is not like theirs. So I met Bertie Fortescue on Friday
morning. And you know he is only a little younger than I am and ever
so nice and I have been playing with him and his sister Daisy almost
every day since you left. But I never liked Daisy so much as him
because she often spoke so naughtily although she is only five. And
then Bertie told me "Let's go for a run to Oakley Woods" because you
know he and Daisy are nearly always alone and their mother does not
mind a bit what they do or where they go to and their nurse has her
holiday. So I said yes and we went, but when Daisy saw us go she
shouted so much that we had to take her too. And when we got there
Daisy found a beautiful little cherry-tree with black cherries growing
all over it which I never saw before, and she said they were
wood-cherries and that because she had found them she was going to eat
them all by herself. But I told her she was greedy, which indeed she
always was. And then Bertie said: "I say. I know. Let's have them for
tea all three of us this afternoon and let's invite mother as well,
and let's pretend and send her a real invitation as if it were a real
party." And so Daisy thought a bit and said:

"All right. Let's pretend."

And she got all the cherries, lots of them, and filled them into
Bertie's sailor hat and got her hands ever so messy with them. And we
carried them home to their room and never let her eat a single one of
them, and hid them in their old doll's house.

And then they asked me to write a real invitation, because I was the
eldest, for them to leave on their mother's dressing-table. So I wrote
it out just like this:

"Mr. and Miss Fortescue desire the presence of Mrs. Fortescue at tea
this day in the old Nursery.  There will be cherries."

Then Daisy went and pinned it on to her mother's dressing-table where
she knew she would find it soonest when she came home. I could have
written it much better for them, but I had no time as I had to run
back to Aunt for luncheon. But at luncheon Aunt told me that I could
not go to tea with them because she had promised to take me to see old
Mrs. Helyar that yery afternoon. So I ran and told them about it.

And then they told me their mother had also said she would be away the
whole afternoon and could not come to their party and that they were
to mind and be good children and that her maid would take them for a
short walk at half-past two and that afterwards they could have their
tea alone and do what they liked. But Daisy said she thought it nasty
of her mother always to leave them alone or to send them out walking
with her nasty maid. So Bertie got quite angry with her and said "What
will Dorothy think if you go on talking like that, you know you
mustn't, Daisy." But I believe he thought so too.

At last they said they would arrange the party just as if I and their
mother were coming all the same and pretend we were there all the
time.

And when Aunt and I drove home from Mrs.  Helyar's it was nearly
seven. But Aunt allowed me to stop a moment at the Fortescues' house,
because I had told Bertie I would try to come and see them when they
were alone again after their party. So I ran along the drive and up
the steps and into the house, but did not see either Mrs. Fortescue or
anyone else in the house, although I heard the servants below. And
then I went up to the old nursery and saw that they had eaten all the
cherries from an empty plate on the table. But Daisy was lying on the
floor with her hair all over her face and never spoke a word to me.
And Bertie sat still in a corner of the room. Then I thought they were
only playing some game and pretending, you know. So I went up close to
him, but he looked quite white and his face was so unhappy that I got
afraid and ran downstairs to Aunt. Then she went up to the nursery and
came down again and sent some of the servants for Mrs. Fortescue and
drove herself and fetched Doctor Symonds in our carriage and sent me
away home alone on foot. So I wondered what was the matter. And when
Aunt came home she told me that the Fortescue children were both quite
dead and that I must never see either of them again. And Doctor
Symonds came later in the evening and asked me a lot about those
cherries. He says they were not at all real cherries, but he thinks
they must have been planted by the wind from the seed of some plant
which Major Arbuthnot brought from abroad long ago into his garden.
You know he is the man who looks so like poor father.

And Aunt says it is funny that a man who looks so like poor father
should so nearly have been the cause of my death, as if father already
wished me to live in Heaven with him. And she says it is a blessing I
was spared, and a mercy and a providential escape and a warning.

So now I have told you all and you cannot think how much I cried.
Because I do so long to be with you again. And the Fortescue children
are to be buried in the churchyard to-morrow both together, but I am
not to go. Aunt took me to see the grave this afternoon. It is full of
rain-water and very deep and near the wall where I found the robin's
nest with you last spring. So now good-bye.  Please, dearest mother,
write soon to me and come.  Your affectionate daughter,

DOROTHY.

P.S. I heard old Mrs. Helyar say to Aunt that Captain Beaumont is
staying at the very same hotel as you are. If you ever see him, please
say I have nearly done the pocket handkerchief I am doing for him.





NOCTURNE

(In Memory of Edgar Toe)

I OPENED the casement and looked into the night.

All was still.

Then slowly there grew upon my ears a confusion of faint moans. Every
town, every hamlet, every cottage gave forth sounds. They were voices
of children, of strong men and weak, of righteous and unrighteous; and
all cried out in pain--cries of fear and agony and blasphemous
despair. And the voices grew louder until I could understand not a few
spoken words. They lamented dismally among themselves in many tongues:

"How I suffer! What have I done to deserve this? Not a day of
health--not a ray of hope!  Save me! Oh, the pain of it! I languish in
chains!  Is this my reward? None so wretched as I! Ah, why was I born?
I have prayed in vain! Doomed to long years of suffering--to a painful
death!  Spare me! Kill me! Be merciful and kill me!  Kill!"

Said I to myself:

"This is the plaint of poor humanity, a plaint such as might melt the
Fiend to compassion."

And the voices grew yet louder and more piteous, a wail of bitterness,
a discord of hideous shrieks that rang into the stillness,
ear-piercing, heart-rending.

And I marvelled, and said:

"How comes it that I have hitherto been deaf to these distressful
tones?"

Now, as I continued to hearken, a change crept over the universal
plaint. For the howls and groans, the prayers and curses, ceased to
sound in their separate manifestations, and the discords mingled like
the strains of an Aeolian harp to form a symphony of tremendous
chords, shrill and deep, that filled the air. As when the south wind,
in furious gusts, breathes through the open reeds of some mighty organ
till all is drowned in a seething ocean of melody: even so this
torrent of suffering poured out upon the night--it swelled, sank low
and swelled again, and never wholly ceased.

Passing wonderful! For lo! It was the old familiar song that had sung
in my ears since the day of my birth, and into whose origin it had
never been given me to enquire. And now, as my ear grew conscious and
once more accustomed to the throbbing harmonies, I found them, in
truth, not altogether unpleasant.

Then I understood.

And I said:

"Doubtless there is some Lover of Vocal Music overhead; some Being who
takes pleasure in this chant and has contrived it for his own
delectation."





INTELLECTUAL NOMADISM

I

EVERY now and then the torrents that seam the plateau regions of inner
Algeria swell to a river and pour down from the mountains in a
seething wave of destruction. So it happened in October 1904, when
part of the French settlement of Aïn Sefra was overwhelmed by a flood
of this kind.

One of the wrecked buildings was inhabited at that moment by Isabelle
Eberhardt, a young lady journalist, Russian by race, Mohammedan by
religion; and among its ruins were found certain of her manuscript
notes which now form a considerable part of a posthumous volume
entitled _Dans I'Ombre Chaude de l'Islam_. They were unearthed during
the excavations which were undertaken with great care by Lieutenant
Paris, and found to be disconnected and very much damaged from having
lain for several weeks in the mud. In order to attach the pieces
Monsieur Barrucand, her friend, and editor of an Algerian newspaper,
was obliged to string them together by reflections borrowed from her
correspondence, from her papers and travel notes. This was the sole
method of reconstruction, he says, whereby he could save from definite
interment these fragments of Saharan life which had reached his hands.

It was a labour of love and well worth performing. A critic has called
Isabelle "the most virile and sincere writer of Algeria," and if the
reader wants still more diversified and still more vividly flashing
pictures of North-African life than are contained in this and its
sister volume, _Notes de Route_, it is hard to say where he will find
them.

In her early years, under the charge of an old grand-uncle at Geneva,
she had been brought up "absolutely as a boy." And now on horseback,
alone and disguised as an Arab youth, she traversed the inner parts of
Algeria and Tunisia from the borders of Morocco to those of Tripoli.
These volumes are records of her journeyings, impressions of scenery
interspersed with tales of native life and her own reflections; they
unfold a vast and varied panorama--crumbling cities through whose
narrow streets you stumble in the twilight amid piles of foul refuse,
calm Arab convent retreats where white-robed marabouts glide about
like ghosts, the busy life of green oasis gardens; anon you are riding
under a fiery sun through some gorge of scintillating rock or reposing
a while with the eternal wanderers in their black tents perched on a
weltering desolation of sand dunes; every aspect of native life flits
past your eye--the soldiery, merchants, womenfolk and humble
labourers; they all disclose their joys and hopes and sufferings; you
feel, after reading these pages, as if you had been gazing upon one of
those glowing Oriental tapestries full of bold tints that yet
harmonise in a miraculous fashion and suggest, rather than reveal,
some simple underlying design.

What is it--this sense of fundamental simplicity pervading the whole?
It is the character of Isabelle Eberhardt herself.

She possesses the first requisite of a writer: she is
non-derivative--true to her nature. And her nature being essentially
Russian, she can sympathise to an exceptional degree with the nomadic
Arabs.  For your Russian, unbeknown to himself, has still much of the
nomad in him.

Where is a country vast as his with so few local dialects? Despite the
inland passport system which has striven to fix the people to the
glebe, the roving tendency of the masses has triumphed over severe
winters, uninhabitable tracts, immense rivers; over those marshy
wastes impracticable in spring and autumn. Some idea of the difficulty
of internal communication may be gained from the fact that before a
good road can be built a railway must first be laid down (on wood) for
the transport of the necessary stones, in which a great part of Russia
is deficient. Peasants leave their homes on a pilgrimage to some
distant shrine, and so great is their love of wandering that they
continue to roam across country from one sanctuary to another,
forgetful of their old life, and are often found dead by the roadside.
Whole villages migrate about those endless steppes. The wealthier
classes think nothing of going from Petrograd to Moscow on the pretext
of buying a hat or a pair of gloves. The Government has taken
advantage of these erratic habits and, by the introduction of zone
tariffs, secures large profits. Russian railways are paying concerns.

Note their luggage. For a journey of a few hours they must carry
cooking apparatus, samovars, pillows, towels, and a mass of household
paraphernalia that might advantageously have been left at home.
Railway stations resemble gipsy encampments; second-class inns are
Oriental caravanserais. Hotel proprietors, aware of this propensity
and knowing that the common folk insist upon using bedding, etc., to
which they have been accustomed from childhood and which never leaves
them, fail to provide many articles considered necessary elsewhere.
The officials at the frontier stations have the greatest difficulty in
dealing with all the heterogeneous encumbrances which poorer
travellers insist upon taking with them, even for a week's visit, to
some friend across the boundary.

In the streets you will see all but the upper classes walking in the
centre of the roadway, heedless of the furious driving; they still
feel themselves on the wild steppe, and are oblivious of the fact that
a city, with its pavement for foot-passengers, has grown up around
them. The town houses, many of them, are not yet numbered on the
European principle; they are called by the names of their actual or
former proprietors "the house of So-and-So"--suggesting the old
patriarchal abode.  Within, they do not look as if they were ever
intended to be permanently occupied. Nothing has been, or will be,
long in its place; clocks are not going, doors are not shut--an
instinctive recollection of a former breezy tent-life; there is a
surprising lack of furniture, especially of the kind which the
Anglo-Saxon requires for storing away clothes and "settling down."
Russians never settle down. They have all something in common with
that old prince in one of their novels; rooms are put to new uses,
beds moved from this room to that, out of sheer restlessness and love
of change.  They will live for weeks in a chaotic confusion that could
be remedied by half an hour's work, but are buoyed up by a dim
conviction that soon the encampment must be broken up and the family
moved elsewhere.

The truth is that, in their heart of hearts, Russians hate all
occupations that tie them down to a particular spot. Landed
proprietors easily transfer their affections from one place to
another, buying and selling estates in different corners of the
country, without regard or remembrance of that which gave them birth.
They lack the feeling for home as a fixed and old-established
topographical point. We think of a particular house or village where
we were born and where we spent our impressionable days of childhood;
these regard horns purely as a social centre--they are at home
everywhere, so long as their family is about them.  So you will find
them at Continental watering-places, never alone, like the Englishman,
but moving about in tribes and batches. Nomads!  They have a fairly
rich language, yet it contains no equivalent for our word "home."

One might go on for ever with these examples.  One might refer to the
samovar, which is not only a queer machine for making tea, but a
symbol as well--the pivot of their social life and the tangible
justification of the nomadic family principle. For the Russian
paterfamilias is not like ours. He is Governor _par excellence_ of his
family, the sheik of his clan; its members belong to him body and
soul.  Great families have little ones dependent on them, exactly as
among the Arabs, and the humblest householder possesses this authority
by common consent. One might also recall the Russian's frank
hospitality and its resemblance to that of the nomad Bedouin, his
extraordinary disregard for the feeling of privacy in domestic life,
another relic of the wanderers' open tents. . . .

This does not mean that Isabelle Eberhardt, for example, was gadding,
across country all day long with a Gladstone bag slung over her
shoulders.  But it means that the nomad's definite but indefinable
states of yearning and exaltation, the nostalgic note, are prominent
in these volumes.  She has what she calls the "goût de l'espace"--the
"volupté profonde de la vie errante."

Which reminds me that the old adage about "let us eat and drink, for
to-morrow, etc." applies particularly to nomadic people. Their every
joy of life is uncertain, for at any moment the settlement may be
dispersed and the delights, which to-day offers, indefinitely
postponed. So the Russian, like the nomadic Magyar or Arab, imposes
little restraint upon himself in the matter of "wine, women and song";
he seizes upon the joys of life with zest and almost theatrical
exaggeration, and this, again, is reflected in his literature. But it
may be said--it has been said--that this lack of restraint is rather
the result of a harsh climate; that it is a protest on the part of
humanity against the inclemency of physical surroundings; that
mankind, to counteract sombre conditions of nature, will tend towards
spiritual excesses. There may be some truth in the general argument.
No doubt the hysterical Scandinavian lore bears traces of such violent
changes of summer and winter, light and darkness, as are unknown
"under the roof of blue Ionian weather." But the influence of
environment has become a kind of _deus ex machina_ that explains away
all difficulties. In the present instance the relative immoderation of
the Russians contrasts significantly with the steadiness to which a
longer social stability has accustomed the equally boreal Finlanders;
the idiosyncrasies of the dreamy and restless Arab are altogether
absent in the plodding Berber peasant, although he has dwelt far
longer in this glowing and fateful land of Africa.

No, it is a matter of race and not of soil; and so much for Isabelle's
nomadism.

As to her intellectuality: open these volumes where you will and the
fact thrusts itself upon you.

This is the way she sees things:

"Les passants sont rares.

"Parfois un fellah, poussant devant lui un petit âne disparaissant
sous une charge de palmes qui frôlent les murs avec un bruissement
métallique.  L'homme marche, l'oeil vague, le bâton sur l'épaule, tenu
très droit, d'un geste hiératique comme on en voit aux personnages des
bas-reliefs égyptiens.  Il chante, pour lui tout seul, doucement, une
vieille mélopée berbère; il échange quelques salam distraits avec les
fantômes blancs immobiles le long des murs. Une vieille paraît,
courbée sous une outre pesante. Assis ou à demi couchés sur les bancs
de terre, les ksouriens berbères blancs, ou les kharatine, autochtones
noirs, parlent sans hâte, se grisant d'ombre et d'immobilité longue."

And thus she feels them:

"II fait bon s'endormir ainsi, n'importe où, à belle étoile, en
sachant qu'on s'en ira le lendemain et qu'on ne reviendra sans doute
jamais, que tout ce qui est ne durera pas . . . tandis que chantent
les Bédouins, tandis que pleurent les djouak, [Footnote: The pastoral
reed of the Bedouins.] tandis que s'évapore et s'éteint, comme une
flamme inutile, la pensée . . ."

Many of her sketches, such as "Meriema," the tale of the old woman who
lost her wits through the death of her son, or the mysterious figure
of the young flute-player among the mouldering palaces of Tunis, the
"Pleurs d'Amandier" and at least twenty others, are original in the
good sense of the word; they are both new and truthful. And they will
bear close scrutiny. Take that little one on "Lézards," for instance;
or, in the other volume, the bizarre "Joies Noires." Here is not only
fine observation, but a pronounced personal cachet sustained by
scholarship and love of letters; these things are more than, clever
studies thrown off in a happy moment; they are--in a small way, of
course,--the product of an independent mind which has gauged the
resources of language, mastering its intricacies, discriminating its
beauties, and realising its limitations.

The translator may well despair of preserving their voluptuous aroma;
it evaporates in his crucible.



II

"J'ai toujours été simple," says Isabelle, "et dans cette simplicité
j'ai trouvé des jouissances fortes." Nothing is more true if by simple
she means limpid, homogeneous. Unlike that Russian stone, the
Alexandrite, she shines with the same steady glow, view her in what
light you will; there may be flaws, but they are not the flaws of
other people; a welcome quality in an age which produces so many human
creatures, and so many books, which are merely reflections. And her
opinions have been formed in the only way in which opinions that are
worth anything can be formed: by copious reading--not to learn but, as
the English sage has put it, "to weigh and consider "--and by contact
with actualities, with the shifting world of men and the wild places
of nature. She has drawn deep breaths of life; she has suffered and
pondered and pined in solitude:

"C'est la plus déshéritée de ce monde, une exilée sans foyer et sans
patrie, une orpheline dénuée de tout, qui écrit ces lignes. Elles sont
sincères et vraies."

And elsewhere:

"J'en arrive a cette conclusion, qu'il ne faut jamais chercher le
bonheur. Il passe sur la route, mais toujours en sens inverse. . . .

"Quand mon coeur souffrait, il commençait à vivre."

These gropings and strivings of mind have given poignancy to her
language and a touch of mellow humanity, the antithesis of that hard
machine-made glitter, that supercilious juggling with the obvious,
which is praised as "profundity" in some writers of her sex.

It will never do to underestimate her arduous journalistic training
when, locked in her little room, she wrestled with her thoughts and
words, for it was thus that she learnt to avoid the pitfalls that
beset the writers of her own race more than those of any
other--diffuseness, lack of concentrative grasp.  Russians will tell
you that the sight of hedges, so familiar to lovers of our landscape,
is irksome to their notions of liberty. They like to survey an
unimpeded vista; to revel in that all-pervading sense of spaciousness
which haunts one like a melody and exhales from countries devoid of
landmarks--from those dim plains over which the eye roams, vainly
seeking some point of repose, some steeple-crowned hillock or a range
of distant mountains.  Dwellers in narrow and secluded villages are
prone to think that the whole world is contained within the mountains
that encircle them, whence the _smugness_ of the Swiss. Conversely,
those whose ancestors have been accustomed to wander over limitless
spaces may be supposed to have acquired a wider vision, a more
restless temperament. This is reflected in the conversation of
Russians, for nothing is more difficult than to keep them from
"wandering from the point," their thoughts flit airily from one
subject to another with inexhaustible wealth of ideas. That is their
social charm. It is reflected in their fiction with its note of
experimentation and unconventionality, its joy of roving--Gorki: the
typical nomad--in unexplored domains of the mind; and in their
characteristic failing as historians or philosophers. They like a wide
grasp of their subject; they reach out too far, and yet must perforce
include it all. So one of my acquaintances, who has been engaged for a
number of years on a history of his country's rule in Central Asia,
has at last, he tells me, reached the period of--Cyrus. Many writers
must have been lost to Russia through this recoil from the imagined
dimensions of their task.  It is not wilful prolixity so much as an
irresistible hereditary straining after spaciousness and wide
horizons.

There is none of this straining in Isabelle; she never sees too much
at a time; she knows her own limitations and those of her theme. That
journalistic schooling taught her to think rapidly and surely, to
eliminate the trivial; she deletes remorselessly, as can be seen by a
glance at the _Notes de Route_ where some of the old variants are
printed below the new text. She is forever dissatisfied and a believer
in conscientious labour rather than in inspiration; a born writer, for
the rest, and "irresistibly drawn towards the career of letters." "I
write," she says, "because I like the process of literary creation; I
write, as I love, because such is probably my destiny. And it is my
sole true consolation."

Now whoever looks in these pages for photographic reproduction of
desert life will be disappointed. There is mirage hanging about them;
like all artists, she detects colours and shapes invisible to the
common eye; or, again, she is deliberately blind; her pictures of this
"Holy land of Africa" are distortions in the sense of Turner's
landscapes: distortions, that is, till we have risen to her point of
view and learned to know better. She well knows the uses of that
focussing or intensifying faculty which constitutes much of the charm
of writers as different as Balzac and George Borrow. In this land of
"menacing monotony" the artistic mind dwells lovingly upon the
minutias of human affairs, the result being a magnified visualisation.
The Arabs of Isabelle are so vital and palpitating that your ordinary
ones melt away like phantoms. Elsewhere we are reminded of the aerial
butterfly-touch of Hearn; of Maeterlinck's love of pictured metaphor:

"Que j'aime la verdure exubérante et les troncs vivants, plissés d'une
peau d'éléphant, de ces figuiers gonflés de lait amer, autour desquels
bourdonnent des essaims de mouches dorées!"

And those abysmal desert silences, those spaces of tawny desolation
over which the eye roams and vainly seeks, a point of repose, often
turned her thoughts inwards and invested her, as they do the Arabs,
with their dream states.

"Oh! la bienheureuse annihilation du moi, dans cette vie contemplative
du désert! ...  Parfois cependant il est encore de ces heures
troublées où l'esprit et la conscience, je ne sais pourquoi, se
réveillent de leur longue somnolence et nous torturent. . . .

"Combien de fois n'ai-je pas senti mon coeur se serrer en songeant à
ma vocation d'écrire et de penser, à mon ancien amour de l'étude et
des livres, à mes curiosités intellectuelles de jadis. . . .  Heures
de remords, d'angoisse et de deuil. Mais ces sentiments n'ont presque
jamais d'action sur la volonté qui reste inerte et n'agit point."

Herein lies the justification of that subjective method which she
handles so craftily.

An interesting phenomenon in literature, this modern taste for
personalities, fostered, as it may well have been, by the interviewer
who has accustomed us to pry into the most intimate details of our
neighbours' private lives. Certain it is that the position of a
descriptive writer towards his public has undergone a change of late;
readers have become anthropomorphous, connoisseurs of sensations; they
commune with an author not only for what he writes, but for what he
is; they endeavour to spy into the windows of his soul and to overhear
him chronicling his most casual moods and impressions. They want to
learn how things affect him. And there is a contagion in wisely
premeditated indiscretions and _asides_ on the part of an author, for
we are all creatures of impulse, liable to unguarded moments, and from
sharing his feelings we may be led to adopt his views; to gain, that
is, some definite acquisition of knowledge.  But whoever is not
constitutionally honest had better remain impersonal. In other words,
the chronicling of moods depends upon whose moods they are. Those of
Isabelle Eberhardt are sincere and interesting.

Apart from that catholicity of hers which transports us with equal
ease through such varied phases of African existence, one point must
strike every careful reader: her sense of propriety in regard to the
length of these sketches. That there are picturesque vignettes in the
scenery of life which look best in the microscopic setting of a sonnet
or even an epigram; that fleeting emotions will befit the prose poem,
compact entities the short tale, while whoever wishes to delineate the
teeming markets of mankind and mountains and meandering streams and
all the orographical and hydrographical complexities of continents
must call for the Gargantuan canvas of _Anna Karenina_: these are
surely obvious rules. But how often are they violated, even by writers
of reputation! Her pieces, however, have frames suitable to their
size; some, like the "Petit Monde de Femmes," are the veriest
miniatures, while the mournful "Fellah" trails its sad length along, a
monotone of "misery, falling drop by drop"; a kind of literary
bas-relief. Short or long, they read so uncommonly easily that their
technique will repay study as illustrating the remark of Sheridan to a
lady: "Easy reading, Madam, is damned hard writing." And throughout it
all we are never without an exhilarating sense of motion; the camels
are groaning, the tents must be struck.  This is what takes away from
these sketches the air of a set purpose and invests them with an
impromptu charm.

This is far from saying that her pages contain the final word of such
literature, since what fulfils the needs of to-day is sure to be found
inadequate for the morrow. So it is with this feeling for the desert.
The Sahara used to exist only in its terrifying aspects of desolation
and heat and thirst.  Then came a generation of men who discovered for
us its manifold beauties; this, we said, was the truth and the whole
truth, at last: the desert as a mode of art! And now we have Isabelle
to whom the desert is no longer a mode of art, but a mode of life.
(The Alps have passed through the same three stages.)

She is merged into these sand-wastes and their rude activities not by
aesthetic intuition, but by identity of temperament Unity of race,
religion and language is a powerful national bond, but the peculiarity
of the Russians as a people is that of the Arabs; it lies in a
sentiment of brotherhood, a kind of apostolic spirit, that binds
together the highest and lowest in the land and has its roots in their
patriarchal institutions. You will notice in many of their writers a
full-blooded, _warming element_ in which those of industrial
countries--America, for instance--are wholly deficient. Isabelle,
Arab and Russian, has broad fraternal feeling--"We are all poor
devils," she says, "and they who refuse to understand us are poorer
than ourselves." She knows a test for revealing the virtue that lurks
in the breast of the meanest human creature, the test of her own
worthlessness; she would even find it possible to say a good word for
those savages of Albion who vulgarise desert life by establishing
decent roads and communications whereby emotional travellers, prancing
over the wilderness in sumptuous seed-pearl embroidered
dressing-gowns, may jot down its beauties for readers of the _Figaro_
without having their throats cut. Like Loti, by the way, she has
grasped the peculiar colour-value of harsh scientific or commercial
words. How, in a flow of purely literary speech, they hold the
eye--these crude importations from an alien realm of thought! They
seem to complete the picture; they are the poppies in a field of
wheat.

But what will strike the reader as her dominant note, besides a
non-derivative outlook, is that sense of measure, the more to be
admired in a young woman who knew so much of her subject, who felt so
keenly and could wield so fluent a pen.  Remembering that these
sketches were written for a provincial newspaper, one appreciates
still more highly her conscientious work.

Nevertheless, a man who should profess to be able to imagine nothing
better than these descriptions of Isabelle's would only prove that he
had reached the limit of his powers of assimilation. So it is.  We
grow tired of the strain of novelty--for it is a strain; we sometimes
even cast off as too exhausting our most recent author friends and
revert to those of our youth in whom we affect to discover beauties
hitherto unrevealed, thus making a virtue of a physiological
necessity, weariness. Her work is of the kind that can only be done
once satisfactorily; the perusal of her imitators or disciples, of
whom there are three or four on the French literary market just now,
illustrates sufficiently the difference between reality and its
shadow. It is difficult, indeed, to conceive another writer emerging
upon the scene with the unusual equipment she possessed: to be both
man and woman, Asiatic and European, a scholar and a savage of the
waste, a visionary hashish devotee and fin-de-siecle journalist; a
Mohammedan, Christian and agnostic.

Yes; another generation may well find her too personal (for we shall
soon be outgrowing the anthropomorphous stage once more) and perhaps
ajso too flutteringly restless. Carlyle somewhere says that the nomad
lacks the "tendency to persevere." Very true: they only sow who care
to wait for the harvest. There is Oudjda, for instance, that sombre
city of putrefaction and death which grows fair only after sunset
when, as in a dream, one hears the Aissouyiahs praying "dans la
sérénité pudique de la nuit, voilant la pourriture des choses, la
souffrance et l'abjection des êtres:" how one longs, after reading
those few pages, to know more about such a place as this, to live
oneself into it! But--no. With the swiftness of doom the scenery is
shifted and "_c'est la fin. Le somptueux rideau vert et argent des
oliviers s'est renfermé sur toutes ces courtes visions_."

For the rest, it is always easy to discover defects in our favourites,
once we have grown tired of them.

A new edition might profitably give translations of the many Arabic
words which bristle in this one: what does the ordinary European know
of _souafa, guira, djemaa, hamada, harair, djellaba, ihram, mhlahfa,
taleb, sehan, zeriba, cagna, houma, targui, toubib_ and the rest of
them? This is rather an ultra-virile method of introducing local
colour.



III

"_J'ai toujours été simple_. . . ."

That was likewise the conviction of Marie Bashkirtseff who, despite
her different fortune, resembles Isabelle in her aspirations: to
escape from a world of sordid trivialities, to leave a mark.  And
highly must we rate these children of the North who found unaided the
true remedy for those brooding states that clog the mind and warp the
character in--activities. Marie, one remembers, was everlastingly "in
a fever to study."

True, they possessed the advantage of belonging to a race which has
not undergone the schooling of the rest of Europe, which knows nothing
of Reformation or Renaissance, which has not obfuscated its mind with
metaphysics, classical ideals and "_Sturm-und-Drang_"; which is
enabled, therefore, to graft the latest fruits of modern knowledge
upon a sound barbarian stock. All this has its drawbacks, no doubt.
Ignorant and even scornful of Hellenic traditions, their mundane art
lacks the element of repose and concentrative thought; Russian Church
art languishes in ancient conventional grooves and displays nothing of
that persistent and active regard for beauty which has culminated in
the dome of St. Peter or the Madonnas of Raphael. But in literature
and speculative thought the profit is largely on their side, for they
have not been told during long centuries what to see on earth and how
to see it.  They are not loaded down with traditions and precedents
which are no longer mentors but simply milestones along the road of
learning, milestones that we non-Russians ought to leave respectfully
behind us, instead of taking them up on our shoulders and staggering
along while they sit there like the Old Man of the Sea. Only think:
never to have vexed one's soul with Plato and Cimabue and Categorical
Imperatives and the thousand other "essentials" of Western
culture--what would one not give to feel really Russian for half an
hour!  Then, and only then, might one grasp the full charm of the
_anti-parochial_ spirit that pervades all Russian life and literature;
a spirit such as you will vainly seek, for instance, in France which,
for all its civilisation, is the most parochial country on earth. This
anti-parochialism is a feature in the writings of both Marie and
Isabelle; it gives to both of them an elevating, aristocratic note.

Yet Isabelle, like many artists of natural nobility, is a democrat:

"On m'a souvent reproché de me plaire avec les gens du peuple. Mais où
donc est la vie, sinon dans le peuple? Partout ailleurs le monde me
semble étroit. ... A vrai dire, je ne souffre pas trop des pauvretés
et des naïvetés, pas même des grossièretés. Je n'en souffre pas
profondément."

For purposes of insight into a race like the Arabs the advantages of
being a woman are twofold; she has not only access into their veiled
and intimate life, but also is less disposed to theorise, to read
wrong meanings into what she sees, less prone to err in interpreting
primordial traits of feeling--less introspective, in short. A man can
rarely immerse himself in the life of a savage race with the naïf
abandonment of a woman. And if he can, he is a savage himself, unable
to communicate his experiences to others; there is not enough of the
child and barbarian left in him; he is no longer permeable, having
donned too many garments of culture in the past. As a writer and
observer he may do something better in his way, but the spirit of
freemasonry with an alien stock which comes naturally to a woman like
Laurence Hope would argue, in a man, a quite exceptional detachment.
"J'ai voulu posséder ce pays," says Isabelle, "et ce pays m'a
possédée."

"Ce pays m'a possédée:" there you have it.

This elective affinity of some women for wild and destructive races of
mankind--is it that their development has been arrested at the
emotional stage when, as children, we were wont to delight in pirate
adventures and redskin-scalpings, or because, seriously reflecting,
they think to discover in this return to barbarism a remedy for the
self-questionings and the social complexities of modern days? Whatever
be the reason, a man will not so often have these "puissances
fortes"--a term under which we are to understand a throbbing sympathy
with everything, good or bad, that the country or its people offers.

Isabelle's philosophy, like that of Marie Bashkirtseff, is summed up
in a determination to keep every pore open, and it is worth remarking
that both of them stand ethically, as they do geographically, midway
between East and West. They are Occidental in their enjoyment of
novelty and strenuous labour, but sufficiently Buddhistic to despise
the delirious bustle and herd-spirit of our civilisation; to detest
every form of Western hypocrisy.

In matters pertaining to the sexes Isabelle has the cynicism of the
Oriental. These volumes of hers contain some pages not exactly fitted
for the young person but, on the whole, they are pervaded by a
refreshing sanity.

She says, for example:

"L'amour le plus décevant et le plus pernicieux me semble être surtout
la tendance occidentale vers l'âme-soeur. . . . Gloire à ceux qui vont
seuls dans la vie! Si malheureux qu'ils soient, ce sont les forts et
les saints, les seuls êtres. Les autres ne sont que des moitiés
d'âme."

Was ever a truth, a fine Crim-Tartary truth, more plainly enunciated?

It may be asked what reflections such as this have to do with a
description of the Tunisian desert?

Simply this: they are the outcome of a mood created by local
conditions, and in so far help us to understand them. Here, face to
face with, infinities, man disencumbers himself; he casts off outworn
weeds of thought and feeling; he stands alone; he must act; he cannot
be bothered with a sister-soul; the caravan is waiting to begin the
march, and at night, after a meagre repast, he will drop from sheer
physical fatigue into a dreamless sleep. An anodyne for many ills....

In their revolt against every form of crooked emotionalism these
Russian girls have struck a new note, and the right one. There is a
charming chapter in the "Ombre de l'Islam" where Isabelle describes
supper-time at the Mellah, the Jew quarter; its stench, its vulgarity,
its "bonheur facile."

"Je connais très bien leur âme: elle monte dans les vapeurs de la
marmite. ... Je les envie d'être ainsi. Ils sont la critique de mon
romanticisme et de cet incurable malaise que j'ai apporté du Nord et
de l'Orient mystique avec le sang de ceux qui ont vagabondé avant moi
dans la steppe. . . .

"Loin de moi les tâtonnements de mon adolescence maladive! ... Toute
mon éducation morale est à refaire."

In the face of such self-criticism, how absurd to call her "neurotic":
as if it were not a symptom of uncommon healthfulness to be able to
review oneself in this objective fashion. It would be more correct to
say that Isabelle has taken the gold of the romantic movement and
discarded its dross--the slobbering cant, the sentimentality. Her
sound barbaric ethics are untainted by the virus of prurience; her
whole region resumes itself into a rather spasmodic, sisterly
hankering after an honest God, a kind of blandly-beaming bon vieux
such as Lucretius had in mind.

Marie Bashkirtseff was an anti-sentimentalist of the same type--her
attitude towards the male sex was one of playful sanity. The good
Mathilde Blind used to regret that Marie had not lived long enough to
meet her "ideal." The fact seems to be that these Russian girls are
seldom on the lookout for ideals. And it is rather instructive to
observe that they often find something less vaporous, something that
wears better. How does it come about?  Can it be that, although they
are in one sense "New Women," they nevertheless belong to a variety
different from the odd compound of childishness and ferocity which
goes by that name--to a class of female with whom a man discovers
rational companionship to be not altogether out of the question?

Isabelle tried the experiment and found it a success. In the year
1900, at the age of twenty-three, she married according to the
Mohammedan rites a native officer, naturalised Frenchman, to whom she
was much attached (like many of her sex, she always had a weakness for
the soldiery).

And there occurred next year an unpleasant episode. While near Eloued
she was attacked by a religious fanatic who belonged to a
confraternity hostile to hers and so severely wounded that she lay for
a month in the military hospital of that town.  This was followed by
an order for her expulsion from Algerian territory for "political
reasons"--an order only applicable as against non-Frenchmen (she was
still an alien, the authorities having forbidden the pair to make
their religious union valid by a civil marriage). Vainly she applied
to the Russian Consulate to learn the reason of this step. She had
been accused ere this of anti-French propaganda, a charge she
vehemently denied; they had even gone so far as to suspect her of
being an English Methodist in disguise. Isabelle Eberhardt a
Methodist! Truly a wondrous juxtaposition of ideas. But the French are
a wondrous nation; their pathological suspiciousness of the outsider
reminds one of those old Athenians. By no effort of will-power or
imagination can they put themselves into the mental condition of
another race; it is an odd little weakness of theirs; impossible to
believe the depths of credulity to which this _idée fixe_ sometimes
leads them. Foreigners suffer, for there are moments when the most
innocuous of them objects to living in the publicity of Le Roi Soleil;
when those concierge reports, those genteel but persistent
questionings, that police dossier which dogs his footsteps, be he in
African deserts or in the heart of Paris, make him wish that this
great modern nation were not quite so small-minded.  [Footnote:
Georges Clarétie relates how he once accompanied the Contrôlleur of
Tozeur on a delicate official pursuit after English lady Methodists
who, disguised as natives, had been making a dangerous anti-French
propaganda among the Arabs. They found nothing; the desert, he says,
"kept its secret."]

In exile at Marseilles, separated from husband, without money and
still suffering from the effects of her wound, a hard life began; such
was her necessity that she was obliged to work with Italian dock-hands
of the port; instead of cigarettes she smoked sycamore leaves. But
presently the husband contrived to exchange into another regiment
which brought him to Marseilles; here they were remarried according to
French law, and Isabelle, now following the domicile of her husband,
became a French citizen and returned to Algeria in spite of her
proscription.

They seem to have established their headquarters at the little
cantonment of Aïn Sefra which she has so well described, and to have
lived there happily till the day when the house was invaded by
cataracts of slime brought down in that flood of October 1904.

It cost Isabelle her life.

"I can swim," she told him. "I will hold you up."

She was trying to patch together some kind of raft when the masonry
suddenly yielded to the pressure of the waters and fell upon her, the
husband escaping by a miracle. They recovered her body two days later
and entombed it in the native cemetery on the bleak hillside, near
some crumbling maraboutic shrine. There she lies in the desert sand,
and her head is turned towards the East.

Twenty-seven years. It was a short life, but she pressed the grape to
the last drop.

>From where these lines have been written, at Nefta on the borders of
the Sahara, the eye can follow the track which leads across the
burning salt waste of the Chott to Eloued, her elected home. It gives
a pungency to these pages of hers, and one shapes in fancy some
picture of the tall Arab youth, with the childlike smile, riding
yonder on that much-beloved white Soufi stallion.

"_Je ne me suis pas composée un ideal; fat marché à la découverte_."
That is the key-note of her life.

And one remembers that other intellectual nomad Marie Bashkirtseff,
who died yet younger; who also found a "frisson intérieur_" necessary
to her "_hygiène morale_"; who was likewise for ever learning and
marching to the discovery of new horizons. For a mental state such as
theirs, appetency rather than instability is the right word.  Their
writings are neither of the kind to which we go for information, nor
of the purely aesthetic species; they belong to the category of
confessions or mirrors of the soul; human documents, to use Mallock's
happy phrase, that disclose the rainbow-tinted world as it filters
through the medium of a single candid intelligence. To call them
creative artists would be a mistake. They are women of keen and yet
disciplined impressionability, accessible to every generous impulse
and, in so far, a delectable offshoot from the common trend of
feminism.





THE LAST WORD

(In memory of Maupassant)

IT was in the depth of winter, many long years ago. We were sitting
up, a party of four, round an immense fire at the country-house of my
brother-in-law Edmond in Central France.  The new arrival of that
morning was the then Minister of Justice, Monsieur Henri de B----, a
connection of our host and a pleasant man of undoubted ability, whose
independent action in the notorious and complicated Trémont case has
been deservedly praised. I had never met him before; indeed, it was
the first time he ever visited the district. A prodigious wolf-hunt
was already organised for the next day--weather permitting--in honour
of his coming.

The conversation turned upon the catastrophe of the Tay Bridge in
Scotland, a lamentable disaster that will be fresh, no doubt, in the
memory of the older generation.

"Horrible, horrible," said our host, my brother-in-law. "It is
difficult to conceive any form of death more harrowing."

The Minister remarked:

"I can conceive more distressful accidents."

"Doubly horrible," added our other guest, a retired army surgeon,
"occurring, as it did, in the pitch-black night, in that howling
tempest--"

"On the contrary, monsieur, I venture to think we must regard that as
an alleviating circumstance."

Our host said:

"I believe you are right, Henri. I was once eye-witness of an accident
that seemed to me far more horrible on that very account. I happened
to be walking one cloudless afternoon along the path that runs at the
edge of the Rhinefall at Schaffhausen. Imagine my surprise on seeing,
not far away, a boat containing a party of ladies and gentlemen,
visitors at my hotel, and with whom I had already exchanged a few
words of civility. I called to warn them of the evident danger, but
although they must surely have heard me, they seemed to be entirely
occupied with their rowing.  Then the truth dawned upon me. They were
already caught in the terrific current, and the men strained every
nerve to row up stream again. It was too late. Too late! Ah, my dear
Henri, what a sickening spectacle! Those two or three minutes were
prolonged to an eternity. As the boat approached the fatal edge it was
drawn forward with inconceivable rapidity. Then the men suddenly
dropped their oars, and a scream came from that boat--a scream such as
I hope never to hear again. It leapt like lightning over the edge, and
I saw nothing but a confused mass of brightly-coloured dresses
mingling with the rainbows and mists that rose up to meet them from
the steaming abyss. Not a particle of them was ever found; they must
have been torn to shreds. A horrible death! When one thinks of those
happy young people within a stone's throw of land, the glorious sun
shining overhead. . . ."

"Horrible, yes," replied the Minister. "Your illustration is, from the
point of view of the horrible, doubtless an improvement in various
ways upon the Scotch catastrophe. But there are yet worse deaths.
There are ignoble deaths. Let me explain myself.  I use that word as
opposed to noble. Ignoble deaths are always horrible, and sometimes
more.  This was a horrible death; it was not an ignoble one."

"A fine distinction," said the doctor. "Besides," he added, "it was
merciful, inasmuch as it was sudden. These poisonings by prussic acid,
these fallings into vats of melted sugar or agricultural machines are
all quick deaths. What are two or three minutes? On the other hand a
lingering fatal disease is too long--the sufferer enjoys a respite, an
interval of forgetfulness, of hope."

"You are an ogre," I said.

"A harmless one," added my brother-in-law, "like all military men."

"I agree with you, monsieur," said the Minister.

"A particle of hope, a momentary release from pain, destroys what one
might call the artistic effect."

We all laughed. It was characteristic of the man to throw his whole
soul into a subject--into any subject that happened to crop up. I
observed:

"Your Excellency is not easily satisfied. Let me suggest, as the
high-water mark of ignoble deaths, the possibility of being buried
alive.  Would you not call it the Last Word? For in this instance, you
will admit, we pass a sufficiently disagreeable quarter of an hour, an
uninterrupted agony of body and mind, a sensation of utter
hopelessness--"

"Well, yes--perhaps," mused the Minister.  "Yet I think the agony
might, under circumstances, be protracted still further. It is such an
important element, you see, that duration of time. In a coffin the air
would soon be exhausted, I suppose.  Let me see: how many square feet.
. . ." It was interesting to note what fine points he raised while
dilating upon the gruesome theme. "And then, sir--since we appear to
have settled down to discuss this unpleasant subject--I think that a
premature burial is not, for another reason, entirely satisfactory.
It does not exhaust the full capabilities of suffering.  Why? For the
simple reason that there is something worse than this sheer
hopelessness of which you speak. There is something incomparably
worse. I fancy there must be cases on record in which the victim,
while realising the hopelessness of his position, is tormented in
addition by the knowledge that friends are close at hand, eager to
help if they but knew of his plight. Would you not regard that as an
aggravation, an aesthetic refinement?"

"Certainly. It is a point of view which has never struck me before.
And I think I could cite a case in illustration. I lately read of a
shoemaker--one of a large party--who accidentally slipped into the
crater of Mount Vesuvius and was suspended head downwards at a great
depth by his coat, which had miraculously caught on a projecting rock.
He hung over the awful cauldron not daring to move or even call out,
for fear of shaking himself free, besides dreading every minute to
lose consciousness in the sulphur fumes and drop down. His friends on
the height shouted to him, but he dared not answer. At last they went
away.  Perhaps they thought him dead. Imagine his feelings."

"Nevertheless," he objected, "he may have been buoyed up by some
shadow of hope, however faint. And that would impair the perfect
harmony."

"He was saved in the end, after hanging there for two or three days."

"He was saved!" He said it in a tone of bitter disappointment. "That
ruins the situation.  Besides--an agony of three days! That is too
long. I consider twelve hours a substantial measure."

"You reason like a Grand Inquisitor." The doctor added with
enthusiasm: "His Excellency speaks like a true artist and
connoisseur."

The doctor resumed the subject: "Allow me to subject to Your
Excellency's consideration the following example, which I trust may
meet with your approval. Some fifteen years ago I was invited, at
Saint Etienne, to view unprofessionally the remains of a stoker who
had met with an unusual fate. It seems that the poor wretch had
climbed, presumably for the sake of coolness--it was in the heat of
summer--into some part of an immense unfinished furnace. He fell
asleep there, and during this interval the entrance was bricked up and
the fire lighted. It was only next day that his absence was remarked
and the furnace opened--an expensive piece of work--at the suggestion
of one of his companions, who remembered having seen the unhappy man
creep in. The workmen all agreed in stating that they had heard
unnatural roarings in the furnace, which died away as the fire grew
hotter."

"I congratulate you, my friend," I said. "That last stroke,
especially, was masterful."

"You have brought us a good step forward, monsieur," remarked the
Minister. "And I am particularly thankful to you for this
illustration, as it supports my previous contention. For this is
decidedly a more ignoble form of death than a premature burial, in so
far as it is even less natural and less decorous; and, in addition, I
cannot but think that the agony was prolonged to more than that bad
quarter of an hour of which we spoke.  Only imagine--a large, roomy
furnace as opposed to a narrow coffin! And then, that delicate
embellishment: the proximity of friends! Only a foot of brick and
mortar between life and death.  . . . Yes, we are narrowing the
sphere. And yet, from an artistic point of view, this case leaves much
to be desired. It is by no means the Last Word on the subject of the
ignoble. It suffers, in my opinion, from a radical defect."

"A defect?" we all asked.

He replied:

"The ignoble surely becomes intensifiée! in proportion as it afflicts
those who are not ignoble.  What is a shoemaker? A stoker? Ignoble
personages. The quality must be brought into sharper relief; to the
bodily suffering there must be superadded a mental and moral agony
such as we cannot suppose ignoble persons to appreciate.  For, let us
freely confess, they are like men of another nation in this, that
their torments and griefs do not appeal to us as keenly as do those of
our own social class."

"The impalement of ten thousand Chinamen leaves me cool," interjected
the doctor.

"Very true, monsieur. But I was referring exclusively to accidental
deaths, for to the ignoble ones devised by man against man there is,
I, fear, no imaginable limit. And I was saying that the sufferings of
vulgar people are rarely interesting.  The great dramatists of all
ages knew why they selected well-born personages to suffer a tragic or
noble fate, and a certain Teutonic thinker has correctly explained the
matter when he says that they fall from a greater height than the
common herd. The same applies to ignoble fates. Tragic deaths move our
tears, ignoble ones our disgust; and I presume the extreme of either
is reserved for the aristocracy. Now it is precisely the extreme of
the ignoble--in this particular department--which we are seeking to
attain; that point beyond which there is nothing more ignoble.
Therefore I say that, for the ignoblest death, the subject must be of
noblest race and noblest mind. He cannot be too carefully chosen!"

"I mark and appreciate Your Excellency's qualification," observed the
doctor. "I should suggest further, as regards the age of the subject,
that he should be young. That seems appropriate."

"There is doubtless something more outrageous, something more
revolting to our sense of fitness and of beauty, in the death of a
young person than in that of one who has already taken his fill of
years.  Yet I venture to disagree with you. To my way of thinking,
youth is invariably deficient in dignity and repose, two
qualities--perhaps only extrinsic ones--that figure in our conception
of what is truly noble. The full-blooded generosity of youth may shine
in tragical situations, but it does not offer such an antithesis to
the _ignoble_ as the calm and almost sacred dignity of age, the
violation of which is ignoble in a peculiar degree. No! I am disposed
to think that the subject should be well stricken in years."

"Let me add another restriction," I added.  "It should be a woman.
There is a pathos in the relative weakness and refinement of the
sex--"

"By all means, sir. It should be a woman.  We are now approaching the
climax, for it only remains to decide upon the agency of her death,
and the manner. It should above all things be as unnatural, as
degrading, as possible, for the essence of the ignoble is that which
debases the dignity of man, even as the tragic exalts it. ... Our host
is thoughtful. Well, Edmond, you have not uttered a syllable for some
time past. Are you about to make a suggestion?"

"Strangely enough," said my brother-in-law, "I could relate from my
own experience a case that fulfils, I think, every one of the various
conditions of the ignoble which you have deduced, one after the other,
with so much logic and sagacity, and by the help of such edifying
examples. In fact, if I may say so, it goes beyond your ideal; it
improves upon it. I should call it positively the Last Word."

"The Last Word!"

"Ah!"

"It concerns an old lady who lived, when I was still a little boy, in
a two-roomed cottage on this very estate. She was popularly known as
the Duchess from the great airs she gave herself, but my mother told
me her correct name was la Marnière, or something like that. She was
of noble blood but poor; poor as a rat, and a chronic sufferer from
rheumatism.  She lived alone with an enormous family of cats, ten or
fifteen of them, in whose company she seemed to take the greatest
pleasure, perhaps because they were the only remaining friends who
would deign to share her lot and not make poverty a subject of
reproach.  As to her character, everybody was agreed that she was
gracious and full of charm, and that she bore her bitter fate with
composure. My mother, I know, took sincere delight in her company. She
made pitiable efforts to disguise her destitution; nothing, I imagine,
can be more irksome than poverty to a fastidious female mind, nothing
more calculated to undermine the sense of dignity."

"Very true," we agreed.

"I have no doubt that, while my sainted parent yet lived, she
continued in passably good circumstances, for her pride never
disdained to accept help from a friend of her own sex and whom she
considered as of her own standing. I well remember those periodical
visits to the cottage and the impression of penury they made upon me
as a child. Everything was cramped and mean; doubly so, when I heard
her discoursing in an affected language, and of matters I did not
understand. To revenge myself, I used to tease her cats. They sat
about the room, sleek and mysterious, occupied with their own
thoughts. Poor as she was, she used to deny herself food in order to
keep them alive, and gave to each one of them the name of some royal
or exalted personage. That struck me, I remember, as peculiarly
laughable."

"Such cases are not rare," observed the doctor.

"Common enough, I daresay. My mother told me never to laugh at her,
but to respect her age and poverty. Sometimes she added that the old
lady was a distant connection of our own family whose pride prevented
her from appearing as such. I imagined at first that this was only
said to heighten my reverence, but my mother assured me it was neither
more nor less than the truth, and if so--why then, my dear Henri,"
turning to the Minister, "she may have been a connection of yours as
well!  Meanwhile it made me laugh yet more; it struck me as a very
ludicrous idea. And I am sorry to say that after my mother's sudden
death the affairs of our poor relation went from bad to worse. She
fell into the direst want--such want as we can scarcely believe to
exist. Often she had nothing but a crust of bread for dinner. She was
clothed in rags, and suffered terrible hardships, the cats, of course,
suffering proportionately. And, in addition to her poverty, the
torments of rheumatism increased to such an extent that she spent long
periods, on her wretched couch, unable to move. I need hardly say that
I discovered all this only when it was too late. For soon after my
bereavement I left for Paris and thence, as you know, for the East. I
wrote from Paris to the Charity Sisters and to several other ladies,
interesting them on her behalf.  But her unreasoning pride did not
simplify matters.  For the rest, these excellent persons seem to have
forgotten my recommendations very quickly. I am told that one of her
latest fancies was that she professed to be afraid of being robbed and
murdered on account of her diamonds; she would lock herself in her
room for weeks at a time. Laughable, and yet sad. When I returned from
my voyage, she was no longer living. A neighbour had broken into the
cottage and found her dead. There was not much to bury, from all
accounts."

"How so?"

"What do you mean, Edmond?"

"The cats, you understand. Maddened, I suppose, by hunger and thirst,
they devoured her as she lay there helpless to move a finger; devoured
her alive. An inconceivably hideous death, and all too slow into the
bargain! Now tell me: would you not call that the Last Word?"

We were silent for a few moments, each of us doubtless endeavouring to
conjure up in his own mind some picture of that appalling final scene.
Then the doctor began judicially:

"The Last Word? I am not certain. Let us suppose that, instead of one,
there had been two of these poor old ladies, each equally crippled and
suffering within sight of the other. The ignoble effect would clearly
have been heightened. Therefore, alas! it is not the Last Word.
Suppose there had been three, or four, or a. hundred--"

"Insatiable monster!"

The Minister replied:

"I think, sir, that, from the point of view of the ignoble, the effect
would not have been heightened." Then he added, with that cold
intellectual discrimination which he had displayed throughout the
evening: "It seems to me that wherever we encounter intelligent
spectators, even though they be fellow-sufferers, the tragic element
intervenes.  And where it intervenes, it dominates. For my part," he
concluded, "I consider that we have well-nigh exhausted the subject."

Then, having said these words, he stood up from his chair and suddenly
raised his hand to his brow, as though he had remembered something. I
glanced at him. He looked unaccountably perturbed, and soon began
striding up and down the room harassed, as it seemed, by some
troublesome thought.

"Yes," I agreed. "I think we have nearly reached the climax."

"Nearly," echoed the doctor in a somewhat dissatisfied tone. He was
apparently still waiting for the Last Word.

The Last Word was soon to come.

Meanwhile our host summed up the discussion.

"Evidently," he said, "there is in human nature an uncharitable
ingredient which takes pleasure in contemplating, or at least
discoursing upon, the sufferings of our fellow-creatures. It is
useless to deny this fact. The tiger-ancestry, maybe. Any ordinary
person, listening to our conversation to-night, would have said we
were a pack of bloodthirsty vampires; whereas, in point of fact, we
are four quite exemplary and decent-minded citizens, are we not? . . .
Let us go on to the balcony and examine the sky."

We rose at his suggestion and stepped out. It was bitterly cold. The
thermometer had fallen to many degrees below freezing-point. The air
was exhilarating and pure, and we walked up and down for a while in
silence. Another spirit had fallen upon us. His Excellency alone
seemed agitated in a remarkable degree. ("My God!" I heard him say to
himself.) I wondered what he had found to disquiet his mind so
suddenly and so intensely.

The doctor remarked to me:

"In the plenitude of life, how glibly one talks of death! The sights
that I have seen! The words that I, unwillingly, have heard! I was
present, my friend, on the field of Solferino."

But the Minister, now trembling with emotion, turned to my
brother-in-law and asked in a low voice:

"The old lady of whom you spoke, the so-called Duchess--was it by
chance a Mademoiselle Hélène de la Marlinière?"

"How odd that you should know better than I do! Yes; that was her
correct name. I remember it perfectly now."

"She left Paris in the late thirties?"

"So I understand. She left it in order to escape the persecutions of
her relatives; she hid herself so well down here, in the provinces,
that they never discovered her whereabouts, and this little triumph
gave her pleasure. They had treated her as little short of a disgrace
to the family. It is infamous."

"Ah! Because she refused to marry a rich old banker called Vilbort?"

"I have heard something to that effect. I see, my dear Henri, that you
are acquainted with the matter. Perhaps in your official capacity--"

"My God! She was the only sister of my mother. . . ."

We looked into the night. The Park, with its solemn avenues, lay at
our feet embedded in snow.  Beyond, stretched a vast expanse of
undulating forest country. The young moon had already gone to rest,
but the snow, between sombre patches of shadow, glittered tremulously
with the reflected scintillations of a myriad stars. There was a
stillness in the atmosphere, a boreal calm, that promised good sport
for next morning.





A MAD ENGLISHMAN

I HAVE been learning about the Ass Wouralia; likewise about the
Rumpless Fowl and its absurd and unnatural objection to laying fertile
eggs; about the Vulture's Nose, and Apple Trees, and Cannibalism and
Dry Rot; about Tight Shoes, Tight Stays, and Tight Cravats. In other
words, needless to say, I have been reading Charles Waterton's Essays
on Natural History--magnificent stuff! Or rather, re-reading them. For
a close inspection of the dusty volumes has revealed an inscription to
the effect that they were purchased by myself in the summer of 1882;
and the pages, furthermore, are enriched with holograph annotations of
that year, setting forth very candidly my opinion of the author and
his work. It has given me mixed feelings to peruse this running
commentary, testifying, as it does, to a dreadfully deficient sense of
humanity, to considerable love of natural history coupled with a
certain elvish facetiousness which may well have passed, in those
unregenerate days, for humour. How odd they are--these glimpses into
one's own vanished self!  Of course we all know Waterton's
_Wanderings_--that astounding book .wherein, by the help of copious
tags from Horace and Cervantes, the _courteous reader_ is beguiled
from his comfortable fireside into the wilds of Guiana, there to
undergo nerve-shattering encounters with Labari snakes and other
improbable monsters, to devour monkey-flesh and ride on crocodiles.
Let me at once say that I firmly believe this crocodile business.
Nobody, you will argue, has ever ridden on a cayman. Exactly!  Nobody
but Waterton would have dreamt of doing any of the things he did.
Nobody, for example, would dream of riding on a crocodile. That
settles it. Waterton rode on a crocodile.

One would think that a naturalist penetrates into these tropical
jungles in order to study their wonderful life or to collect birds and
insects.  But such is not his style: not a bit of it. He goes there to
find the Wourali poison, being convinced--for some cryptic reasons
which I despair of elucidating--that it might prove a cure for
hydrophobia. And why should a non-professional trouble his head about
the treatment of hydrophobia? Ah, that is Waterton's secret and his
charm! Why, indeed--why any of the funny things he did?

It is a pity that we possess no photograph of this prince of
eccentrics. He objected to being taken in any position save from the
rear--a rather inadequate method of portraiture; the bust of him,
fashioned in old age, strikes, me as chill and unsympathetic, but the
frontispiece to the third volume of the Essays may give some idea of
his whimsical and kindly nature. Not that he could not fight. He
fought his zoological contemporaries and enjoyed many a lusty bout
with Audubon and "Master Swainson" and Macgillivray; he fought the
Treasury, he fought his neighbours. He fought above all things that
Protestantism which had despoiled his grandfathers of their worldly
goods in the days of "Saint Harry the Eighth, our Royal Goat." While
praying for unbelievers--

 "I pray for those who now have got
 A creed infected with the rot,
 And wickedly have set at nought
 That which our ancestors had taught. . .  .

 Again, for those I often pray,
 Who tread in Luther's crooked way;
 Or Calvin trust, or seek salvation
 In Mrs. Southcote's proclamation--"

he invented, simultaneously, a truly Watertonian device of giving vent
to his bellicose feelings by projecting all Lutheran misdeeds, past,
present, and to come, into the corpus vile of an insignificant
quadruped--to wit, the brown or "Hanoverian" rat.  This miserable
rodent, because it was presumably introduced by "Dutch William,"
became for him the embodiment of non-Catholic propensities and was
persecuted with the ardour of a Torquemada.  For the rest, he was a
man of peace; an autochthonous gentleman of the north country--the
finest flower of generations of crusted, fox-hunting Tories.  A man of
merits, too; a pioneer of taxidermy, and a tireless observer. But,
chiefest of all, a perambulating repository of fads and perversities.

Those Essays of his are a kind of intellectual backwater. They seem to
have been written on another planet. And yet, somehow or other, they
are intensely human; so unsystematic; so very English in their
glorious irrelevancies. He ambles through a hundred pages of a
"History of the Monkey Family"--stranger history was never written;
discourses amiably of this and that; argues whether monkeys throw
missiles or not; relates his friendship with a caged lady-chimpanzee
and how, on departing, he implanted a soft kiss on her maidenly cheek;
and concludes with the startling proposition that monkeys are arboreal
animals.  He can be as pompously platitudinous as you like:

"Inhabitants of Scarbro--I love to pass my leisure hours amongst you.
May you ever prosper.  But, observe! although old Ocean rolls his
favours on you, your Mother Earth has not been quite so bountiful: for
you cannot boast a river. . . ."

"Who can look without rapture on the beautiful proportions of the
horse? His mane hanging down a well-formed neck seems a counterbalance
to his long, flowing tail as he moves along; and we are all of us
aware of what amazing advantage this last-mentioned appendage is to
this noble beast, when a host of flies are ready to devour him. ..."

But though all of these Essays arc saturated with the author's rich
idiosyncrasies, the most poignant revelation of his incongruous nature
is that autobiography which runs alongside. There is a smack of the
Grand Tour lingering in this record of a leisurely progress through
the regions of continental Europe; a smack, too, of a decidedly queer
outlook upon things in general:

"At Rimini, now celebrated for its miraculous picture of the blessed
Virgin, we could see the larger and smaller species of bats, on wing,
as the night set in. Here, again, large turkeys and common fowls were
most numerous. . . . Fleas were vigorously skipping about, but we
neither saw nor felt a bug."

One can imagine the impression created by such a man at a civilised
foreign town like Aix-la-Chapelle. He never drank wine or beer; he
never slept in bed; he never wore a hat or boots; he spoke and dressed
oddly; he got up every morning at 3.30 and spent his time dissecting
crayfish or anything else that came handy. What did the hotel servants
and visitors think of him?

I know perfectly well what they thought.

_Der verruckte Englander_!

He is, he must be, a specimen of that "mad Englishman" whose tradition
still lingers here and there. Only think what he did in Rome. To begin
with, the road happening to be in bad repair, he arrived at the
Eternal City with his feet in such a condition that he was laid up for
two months on a sofa (he was always doing foolish things with his bare
feet, and always suffering for them). Hardly is he well again before
he climbs up the angel that surmounts the castle of Sant' Angelo and
takes his stand, on one foot, on its head--a position that would have
made any self-respecting chamois seasick. All Rome rings with the
exploit: even the Pope becomes interested in the mad son of Albion.
Now Waterton, a devout Catholic, would dearly have liked an audience
of His Holiness, and the thing might have been managed if--if the
Squire could have been induced to put on some English (Protestant)
uniform for the occasion. But no.  The Hanoverian rat!  [Footnote: As
to donning the ceremonious black evening clothes, it was utterly out
of the question, since he detested that colour and could not bring
himself to wear it. He rested his head at night, by the way, on a
hollowed block of wood, his cheek reposing on the outward soles of his
shoes "which were furnished with a profusion of strong nails." This
proves (among other things) that he did not always go barefoot.]

To console himself, he watches the pig-killing operations at the
slaughter-house, compiles a careful catalogue of the birds that are
exposed for sale in the market, haggles with small boys about rock
thrushes' eggs, and spends fabulous sums in the purchase of sham
masterpieces of art. At last all is ready for departure: eighty birds
have been preserved, as well as a porcupine, a badger, some shellfish
and a dozen land tortoises.

He departs; but not alone. With him go, in a roomy cage, a dozen
living owls. And thereby hangs a tale. For these owls, squeezed
through the Genoa customs-house by hook or by crook, suffer a serious
mishap on reaching Aix-la-Chapelle.  The fact is, their plumage had
become soiled from the long journey, even as Waterton himself was
somewhat inconvenienced by its effects; somewhat dirty, to put it
frankly. Warm water is plainly desirable, and it stands to reason that
what is good for the Squire is also good for the owls.  Waterton
orders a hot bath for himself, and another one for the owls. They get
it. "Five of them," he records, "died of cold the same night."

I would give my ears to see the procession winding up the drive of
Walton Hall after one of these Continental raids and pilgrimages. Even
on ordinary occasions the domain must have been a sight for the gods.
For if the Squire as a human being was full of irresponsible fancies,
here the whole region oozed eccentricity. Freaks stared you in the
face. The park contained an agglomeration of weird contrivances for
catching this and killing that; the mansion, beginning at the very
door-knocker, was a nightmare of monstrosities and playfully-ghoulish
surprises. Your head swam; you were bewildered, dazed by freaks.

And the arch-freak was the owner himself.

On his fourth trip to South America (1824) he traversed a portion of
the United States--drawn thither, largely, by the descriptions he had
read in Wilson's _Ornithology_. He was hugely pleased with the _gentle
and civil people_, and more particularly by the ladies, to whose
attractions he reverts again and again: "Nothing can surpass the
appearance of the American ladies when they take their morning walk,
from twelve to three, in Broadway. The stranger will at once see that
they have rejected the extravagant superfluities which appear in the
London and Parisian fashions,"--here follows a characteristic
disquisition on women's hats--"They seem to have an abhorrence (and a
very just one) of wearing caps. . . . How would Canova's Venus look in
a mob cap?" He talks of the "immense number of highly polished females
who go in the stages to visit the different places of amusement,"
adding that "words can hardly do justice to their unaffected ease and
elegance."

At New York, "all charges included, you do not pay more than two
dollars a day. Little enough, when you consider the capital
accommodation, and the abundance of food." Buffalo, too, possesses a
_fine and commodious inn_. Here, in stepping out of the stage coach,
the Squire had the misfortune to sprain his foot, an accident which he
recorded, in one of those polite verse-effusions to which he was
subject, in some lines beginning:

 "He sprained his foot and hurt his toe,
 On the rough road near Buffalo,
 It quite distresses him to stagger a-
 Long the sharp rocks of famed Niagara."

Now, to spray an inflamed joint with cold water is clearly the correct
treatment. But everything in America being on a grand scale, the
traveller's ideas become enlarged as he journeys through the country,
and he soon discovers that the watering-can or village pump, which
might have ministered to an injured limb in England, are hopelessly
out of place; bigger forces must be requisitioned; nothing in fact
will serve the occasion save to hobble painfully down and suspend the
swollen ankle under the cataract of Niagara. This is Waterton all
over. After that he goes to Canada, and "in all the way from Buffalo
to Quebec I only met with one bug; and I cannot even swear that it
belonged to the United States." It was a half-grown, ill-conditioned
beast, and instead of being treated after the manner of its kind it
was "quietly chucked among some baggage that was close by, and
recommended to get ashore by the first opportunity." Who but Waterton
would have recorded such an incident? While thinking himself quite a
natural person, he was temperamentally incapable of behaving like
anybody else.

Gilbert White, no doubt, was his intellectual ancestor. But White had
an industry and full-blooded zeal which the other lacked; he was
discriminating, purposeful, constructive; altogether, a luminous
creature and of relatively modern texture. Waterton is more readable
than naturalists like Jesse on account of his all-pervading personal
note; but, taken all round, he still remains chiefly conspicuous for
his negative qualities, for his splendid limitations. He had no
spacious view of life--no view at all, save through a certain narrow
telescope that restricted the field of vision, intensifying one tract
at the expense of all the others. What the world presented to his eyes
was an assemblage of disconnected facts which it was his business not
to co-ordinate or explain, but only to record. Tobacco-smoking is a
beastly habit; to wear an amulet against sudden death is an excellent
idea; man does not kill his fellows, because there is a law written in
his heart forbidding him to do so--and the widgeon eats grass. Such is
"Dame Nature's" _pre-ordained decree_. She knows what is good for
everything and everybody; and if she sometimes makes a mistake or
exceeds her _mandate_--why, there is always God overhead, to put
things to rights again.

So he lived, this mellow country gentleman; at once a warning and an
exemplar, like the rest of us. He had a birdlike habit of pecking at
all sorts of mental pabulum, and allowing it to pass out of his system
half-digested. His worldly experiences never resolved themselves into
a truthful whole, for Stonyhurst, if it fortified his moral sense, had
warped and atrophied his mind, rendering him permanently
unsynthetic--fragmentary in every point save one: his crankiness. In
that he was superb. If a man took thought for a lifetime he could
never figure forth a more harmonious and lovable freak. As grotesque
as that old fowl of Mauritius, he is nowadays, alas! almost as rare.
For phcenixes are all very well, but we do need an occasional dodo to
diversify the landscape.

Darwin may quote from the original and accurate observations of the
Yorkshire squire, but what does Waterton care for the portentous
movement of his later life--what, indeed, does he know of any of those
landmarks like Homer or Dante or Goethe?  He had been fed on orthodox
pap, on Virgil, Dryden, and other _safe_ writers; and it is a
suggestive commentary on our social state that this mighty personage,
the twenty-seventh Lord of Walton, should be disqualified by his creed
from attaining that elementary knowledge of the world which was at the
disposal of the poorest peasant-boy on his estate, To chronicle the
matrimonial irregularities of the barnacle gander; to feed your
unsuspecting guests on a dish of carrion crows and chuckle inwardly at
their mistaking them for pigeons; to jump at the age of seventy-nine
over a formidable wire fence; to rush with furious growls from under
the hall table at your visitors' legs, pretending (at the age of
eighty) to be house-dog--these were his aims and diversions.

It was one of his jocular habits to give names to the more prominent
animals and trees in his park.

Among the birds there was a malformed wild duck, deprived of the web
between its toes, which Waterton had received as a gift "in an ecstasy
of delight"--seeing that everything in the nature of a "sport" struck
a chord of elective affinity, an echo in his own eccentric nature, and
warmed the cockles of his heart. This bird was forthwith christened
"Doctor Hobson."

Its human original, a physician of Leeds, was himself something of an
ornithologist who became acquainted with Waterton during the latter
part of his life, and took charge of his health--as best he could. In
after years he wrote an account of the "Home, Habits and Handicraft"
of his friend which is truly refreshing--a kind of showerbath--in
these oppressive days of psycho-analysis and sex-problems. Doctor
Hobson revered the Squire and all his little failings; he assimilated
his curiously tangled and wayward style of writing; he has entered
into the very bones of his hero. And not all of us, be it noted, are
heroes to our medical advisers. This biography is a fine monument of
friendship; even as the friendship itself says much for the characters
of both of them, since Waterton's peculiarities might well have
repelled other men of science. I suspect that the unswerving
uprightness of the Squire won the doctor's affection; that little
incident at Leeds, too, when Waterton with incredible nerve and
steadiness of hand removed twenty-eight rattlesnakes from one box into
another, may well have impressed a medicine-man, conscious of the
ever-present risk of death.

Be that as it may, our naturalist has found a Boswell after his own
heart; the enthusiastic reporter of all his anfractuosities and
gentlemanly pranks; one who has given to the more intimate "Squire"
that congenial and efficient interpretation which Sydney Smith gave to
the public Waterton of the _Wanderings_. The Table of Contents alone
of this remarkable book is a joy for ever. It contains items like
this: An Ox-Eye Titmouse builds her Nest in the Trunk of a Tree
prepared for Owls, but declines occupying it in future years because a
Squirrel had used it. Or this: Discriminating Courage of the Squire
with an Ourang-Outang from Borneo, in the Zoological Gardens--followed
by: The Ape Searching the Squire's head reminds him of a Cambridge
anecdote. Or take these stimulating entries: An Allusion to a stench
from a dead herring near the Grotto induces the Squire to relate an
incident regarding dead letters. . . .  Mr. Waterton faces a snowstorm
without his Hat, and throws his Slippers over his head when
approaching his eightieth year. . . . Mr. Waterton distressed because
his Bahia toad was called an "Ugly Brute!"

The volume is full of stupendous things of this kind; it reproduces
also some of the Squire's letters, which illustrate the childlike
texture of his mind:

"I don't care who holds the helm of our crazy vessel, so long as
'Mummery John' does not get hold of it. You did not arrive according
to promise.  We hope to be more fortunate on Palm Sunday after you
have requested your spiritual adviser to keep a blessed palm for you,
when he delivers the sprigs to the assembled multitude from his altar.
Stop, I ought to say table. Many thanks for your communication. I hope
that you will pursue the investigation. It is somewhat singular that I
have never yet found the large bone in the wings of water-fowl full of
marrow. . . ." [Footnote: Some charming letters are preserved in Dr.
Norman Moore's edition of the _Essays_.]

There is another entry to this effect: The Squire remonstrated with by
the Author against too frequently "tapping the Claret." This excessive
"tapping the Claret "--bleeding himself--was one of the few traits of
which the physician-biographer disapproved. Whatever happened to
Waterton--whether he ate too much, or tumbled off a mule, or had an
accident with his gun, or caught a chill--out with the lancet! Even in
his eightieth year he did not hesitate to bleed himself to the tune of
twenty to twenty-four ounces at a time; he must have lost a barrelful
of the precious liquid in the course of his long life. His horses were
bled with the same recklessness--what was good for the Squire being
obviously good for them. In the jungle he tried to induce the
vampire-bat to bleed him; many a night, he says, "have I slept with my
foot out of the hammock to tempt this winged surgeon"--in vain! He was
dry as a stick, and the sagacious vespertilian sought its dinner
elsewhere.

And of course his ultra-Catholic tendencies were not quite to the
taste of Hobson who, however, deals gently with such infirmities,
merely suggesting that he "had an inordinate amount of credulity in
his composition." Indeed he had. He was a Catholic _comme il faut_.
Reared in the unrelenting-machinery of Stonyhurst, he was cut into its
cleanest pattern, and preserved throughout life its edges intact, its
surface untarnished. No imposture was too fantastic for him to
swallow. He travelled expressly to the Tyrol to see an ecstatic female
in a convent, and convinced himself of her divine state by feeling the
stigma on one of her hands. Nothing in his whole life, he says, struck
him so forcibly as the liquefaction, at Naples, of the mixture which
he devoutly held to be the blood of Saint Januarius.  He speaks with
reverent awe of Benedict Labre--that half-witted vagabond, who never
washed or took off his clothes, and was cohered from head to foot with
vermin which he refused to exterminate.  And although a belief in the
miraculous transportation of the House of the Blessed Virgin is
optional to his co-religionists, yet he writes that there are
authentic proofs of the aerial voyage of this mansion over lands and
seas and that, for his part, he believes in the miracle.

Doctor Hobson's chief concern was to mitigate the severity of those
periodical abstinences from food which the Squire's stern Catholicism
imposed upon him. As for the House of Loreto and the like--he had too
much tolerance to disquiet himself about such discrepancies. Birds are
birds and men are men; all of them liable to variations and each of
these variations ordained for dark providential reasons. A sparrow
hops and a wagtail runs: shall all human beings think and behave
alike? And if inclined, at times, to regret his friend's "ardent
attachment to the priests," he amply compensated himself by praising
his sincere love of nature, his rectitude and guileless purity of
heart and--last, not least--those flexible lower extremities which
enabled him, as a hoary patriarch, to scratch the back part of his
head with the big toe of his right foot or to clamber aloft, with the
agility of an adolescent gorilla, into the breezy summit of an oak.

And here we may leave this _par nobile fratrum_: Aesculapius on earth,
fondly admiring but--prudent; his ever-youthful octogenarian comrade
perched in the verdurous foliage overhead, reading Ovid's
_Metamorphoses_ and glancing occasionally through a spy-glass to see
whether the Rumpless Fowl, that preposterous and unmatronly bird, has
at last thought fit to hatch her own offspring in accordance with Dame
Nature's pre-ordained decree.





QUEER!

THEY sat there in the sunshine, discussing many things that had
happened to themselves during the long three years' interval since
their last meeting, and occasionally glancing up to admire some pretty
face or to greet an acquaintance in the coloured throng that moved
ceaselessly to and fro before their eyes.

Presently there was a lull, a sudden break, in the conversation. It
lasted some little time. Then one of the two, speaking rather slowly,
made a commonplace remark. He observed:

"It has only this instant struck me how odd it was that we should have
run up against each other in this fashion." He said not another word.
He seemed to be thinking hard.

"Hyde Park," replied his friend, "on a fine morning in May, is quite a
likely place for two people to meet, isn't it? Why odd? I don't see
anything odd about it."

"I do. More than odd, because I understood you were still in East
Africa and because--"

"I told you I came back a month ago."

"And because I happened to be thinking about you, I don't know why, at
the very moment when you sprang out of the earth in front of me. There
you were! Now why were you there? Just tell me what you were doing
there? Damn it all," he suddenly broke in, "you aren't another ghost,
by any chance? You aren't still in Dar-es-Salam, are you? Let's have a
good look at you."

"Try one of these," said the other. "They're uncommonly mild. That
ought to convince you.  Ghosts don't carry Turkish cigarettes about,
do they?"

"I'm not sure about that; not at all sure," replied the first speaker,
as though weighing the pros and cons of such a possibility with
judicial deliberation. Then he went on, more gravely than before: "It
would take more than a cigarette to convince me one way or the other.
You don't believe in ghosts?"

"Ghosts? My dear fellow, since when are you interested in ghosts? I
don't know anything about them. I'm supposed to be dreadfully
matter-of-fact. I never yet saw one."

"Nor did I; not of the intangible kind; the kind that struts about at
night frightening people out of their wits. I can't say I ever saw a
ghost of that variety. But I have seen something worse than that
within a few hundred yards of where we are now sitting, and less than
a year ago. That is why I'm not altogether certain even now
whether--well, whether you aren't out of England after all. Don't
suppose I'm joking. I may as well tell you that I've had a pretty bad
jar since last we met.  Something infinitely worse," he added in a low
voice.

"Infinitely worse," echoed his friend incredulously. "Look here,
oughtn't you perhaps to see a doctor?"

"This one, you see, came in daylight. My thoughts seemed to conjure it
up. There it was!  It sprang out of the earth and accosted me, just as
you did ten minutes ago. And that's what made me wonder. . . . Let's
have another look at you.  . . . No," he went on, in a calmer tone, "I
don't fancy such things are allowed to happen to a man more than once
in his lifetime. I hope not. I don't suppose you are anywhere but in
the Park at present. Yet the ghost I saw was as tangible as you are. I
touched it; I talked to it. I dined with it! Believe me or not, I
smoked some of its cigars--"

"My dear fellow--"

"Two of them. And I can't say that it actually frightened me. Not at
the time, anyhow. But I got a good scare later on; a thundering scare.
You have heard me speak of O'Beirne?"

"Your agricultural expert?" queried his friend.

"Expert? Well, not exactly an expert. An enthusiast, you might call
him; a burly, kind-hearted faddist; a maniac with streaks of
commonsense here and there. And so good-natured! He never can 'do
enough for you. I know it well, because I often stayed with him in
County ----. It's all bog, you know, that place of his; nothing but
bog; a desolation of black bog. That is precisely what gave him his
chance as an agriculturist. He meant to show those people what you
could do in the way of getting your money's worth out of a bog; model
farmhouses and that kind of thing. He built a decent bridge or two and
laid down roads and started drainage-works and imported incubators and
outlandish seeds and sanitary pig-sties and God knows what. I suspect
it made him rather unpopular over there; the Irish don't take kindly
to these fantastic Anglo-Saxon notions; besides, trust me, they know
their bog! But nothing could stop him. At last he caught the beetroot
craze. He was going to produce sugar on a respectable scale; and he
crossed over to Germany or Belgium to get up the subject, and came
back all glowing with optimism. I told him before he left that you
could hardly expect beets to grow in a bog that might be a hundred or
a thousand feet deep. He said he had thought it all over years and
years ago and that nothing I could put forward would alter his plans;
that the Irish only needed a little encouragement on the part of
well-to-do people like himself; that his beets might possibly suffer
at first, but could not help acclimatising themselves in the long run.
They might develop into a slightly different race, a bog-loving race:
why not? There was no reason to anticipate that the sugary qualities
of the root would suffer in consequence of the change of environment;
on the contrary, they might even be improved by the peculiar soil; the
Irish potato, for instance, an alien to the country--wasn't it now the
finest in the world?"

"Sheer madness," commented his friend.

"Of course it was. Sheer madness; a generous form of madness; any
sensible Irishman could have told him--Well, that was the last time I
saw O'Beirne. But I often thought of him. I was thinking of him more
particularly one evening last August as I walked along Piccadilly on
my way to dinner at the Club. Last August; the twenty-first.  Now what
made me stay on so late in town? Was it just laziness? Very likely. Or
perhaps I may have been a bit run down as well; I believe I was.
Anyhow, there I happened to be, and you know how insufferable London
is at that season, with clusters of loathsome creatures lying about
the parks, and a sickly haze hanging over everything, as if streets
and houses and even the sky itself needed a thorough spring-cleaning.
What a hateful place!  You perspire all day and sink into the
half-melted asphalt as you walk along, and fill your lungs with bad
air and toss about your bed at night and wake up with a headache every
morning--that peculiar London headache; you know it? I thought: why
not clear out of this noisome, rowdy hole? And I began to wonder how
O'Beirne was getting on with his beetroots and to wish I were with him
in County----, as I was the August before.

"Now I know you don't like Ireland. A good many people don't seem to
like Ireland. No doubt one can say bad things about it, any amount of
them, but this you must admit: there is a unique quality in the
scenery of those boggy parts, especially in autumn. It's a sort of
yearning charm. If you want something different from this London life,
something completely different, don't go to Switzerland or Africa or
China; go to O'Beirne's place.  You can discover sensations there that
I defy you to discover anywhere else. Something infinitely poor and
primeval, I mean, with those sluggish waters and lowering skies all
drowned in a mournful, mysterious twilight. Something unchanging too,
quite unlike this country; you gain a conviction of immemorial
sameness--not an inch of those weary boreal outlines has altered since
the day of creation or ever will alter; unchanging and at the same
time so simple, so featureless, so monotonous, that God must obviously
have forgotten to insert the main ingredients of the landscape: gone
off in a doze, I should say, before putting in His usual final
touches. Hence its dissimilarity to other countries.  At least, that
is my impression of the place; an impression of fabulous remoteness
from the ordinary resorts of men. I feel as if I had been left
stranded in some drowsy, neglected nook at the outer rim of the world,
on the borderland of emptiness; some faint and pale region made for
Shadows and not human beings to inhabit. And then, the strangely
wonderful scent of peat-burning which haunts you like a melody! And
those utter silences--how different from all the senseless noise and
bustle and stench of London!

"Well, I was thinking of this dreamland of O'Beirne's as I walked
along Piccadilly that evening; thinking so longingly that I got into a
kind of mazy dream myself, a dream that made me positively homesick
for him and his bogs and beet-roots; so homesick that, for once in the
way, I had a sudden and brilliant inspiration. I thought:

"I've half a mind--By Jove! what's to prevent me from running over to
Kingston to-morrow?  He is sure to be delighted to see me; he always
is."

"And you went?" enquired his friend.

"I would have gone. I didn't have to go because, at that very moment,
I ran up against O'Beirne himself; in fact, we ran into each other."

"What a surprise, eh?"

"'This is a rare piece of luck,' he began at once. 'Delighted to see
you again! It's ages since we met, and I was just wondering what had
happened to you. I only came over two days ago to look at a mare of
Carborough's, but she is not up to my weight. What do you say to
dining somewhere?  And tell me your news as we go along. Or are you
engaged?'

"I looked at him. He was a little older, of course, but otherwise
unchanged except that his hair had turned nearly grey and that,
contrary to his usual habit, he was wearing a terribly flashy suit
with a flamboyant neck-tie. It struck me as far too vulgar for a man
of his style. I said:

"'I was just on the way to a solitary dinner at my Club. Come along
with me. You used to like the port, I remember, and they've generally
got a decent joint--'

"'An English club? Thanks. I'd rather not, if you don't mind. I think
I know a better place.'

"'Have it your way.'

"We entered a restaurant at the back of Regent Street, the 'Parisian'; 
not cheap and nasty but--well, full of foreigners, which amounts to
practically the same thing for me. The only Englishman I saw there was
Frankie Sumner, the Academician, sitting gloomily at a table by
himself. You know Frankie?  Solemn old fool, isn't he? That is his
notion, you know, of being an authentic cosmopolitan, a Bohemian of
the first water; to eat his chop, all alone, in a frowsy foreign
restaurant. I exchanged a few words with him and we passed on.

"'You're wearing a tasty suit this evening,' I began, as soon as we
had taken our seats. I couldn't get over that outfit, you observe. It
was too loud for anything.

"'Damn my clothes,' he said. 'I'll tell you something that will
interest you much more. I've married Lucy.'

"'Your housekeeper? Congratulations! But isn't she--' a little old and
not quite your class, I was going to add. Luckily I pulled up short.
He may have guessed my thoughts all the same.

"'A person of my age marries whom he pleases.  And if he waited for a
week of Sundays he couldn't do better than select such a perfect
specimen of his race. I've lost all interest in other women. Waiter!
Just bring me a cutlet that's fit for man's consumption, and be sharp
about it.'

"It had already struck me as we walked along that we did not seem to
be hitting it off quite as well as usual. He was different, somehow,
from the jovial and smiling O'Beirne I used to know. What can have
come over him, I wondered?

"'Lost your interest in women?' I began again. 'Bad luck! But you
have lost something else as well, something even more precious,
something you ought to have kept at all costs: your lovely Irish
brogue. What wouldn't I give to have it!'

"'No, I haven't lost that. I have only put it in cold storage. I
reserve my brogue for Ireland nowadays. Waiter! Did you hear what I
said?'

"The waiter was at the other end of the room just then, and well out
of ear-shot.

"I made another attempt.

"'How are the beetroots doing?'

"'Beetroots? Ah, yes; I remember. They were doing splendidly. I
thought they would!  You never saw such a crop. But I have had them
pulled up, every jack one of them. And I am now thinking of burning
the whole house down as well.  It's our only hope. Waiter!'

"'Yessir?'

"'Go to Hell.'

"'My dear boy,' I said, 'you've been drinking.'

"'Half a pint of bad Médoc for luncheon and nothing since then, if you
call that drinking. I've not been drinking. I've been thinking. Now do
have some more of this Camembert.' And he broke off again. Distinctly
bizarre he was, that evening; not to say snappy.

"'Thanks. I will.' I said nothing else because I really didn't know
how to take him. He said nothing either.

"There we sat.

"'Thinking about what?' I enquired at last.  He burst out:

"'Not a day of decent government since they set foot in the place!
It's our only hope. Blow everything to pieces. Get the country into
such a filthy mess that the bullying brutes don't want it any more--'

"Don't imagine I am going to repeat all the incoherent swashbuckling
nonsense he poured out later, over the coffee; I could never remember
it if I tried. Only note this: it was not the talk of a blustering
Irish patriot. It was the talk of a down-right lunatic. And he got
worse and worse and more and more excited and dictatorial; almost
offensive, I should call it. I wished I had never sat down to dine
with him. People began staring at us till I felt ashamed of being seen
in his company.  He banged the table and roared at the waiters and
made such an exhibition of himself that old Frankie, a few days
afterwards, asked me who my eccentric friend had been and whether I
got home quite safe that night. And while he was raving along like
this I kept on asking myself what on earth could be the matter with
him. He had changed amazingly in the interval since our last meeting.
Or was anything the matter with me? Could I be really awake? Because
all the time--yes, all the time--I was aware of a singular feeling, a
dreamy sense of oppression and dislocation; a sense of unreality. I
seemed to be addressing not himself but some nightmarish distortion of
his old, lovable personality.  And then his eyes--they gradually
developed a ravenous and unsteady look; something infernally
unpleasant. What was it? Hanged if I knew!  Whatever it was, you may
be sure our dinner was a failure, a dismal failure; as rotten a dinner
as I can remember. At the end of it he left his chair rather abruptly
and cleared out; said he had an appointment with a man about some
patent fuses. Of course he never asked me to stay in County ----; not
he! And thank God for that. I should certainly have made an excuse,
for I had meanwhile registered a vow to drop his acquaintance and give
him a wide berth in future. One really can't be seen about with a
bounder like that, even in the bogs of ----; can one?"

And here the speaker paused, as if undecided how to continue his
narrative.

His friend said:

"That was certainly a strange meeting. And you never saw him again?"

"Him? Whom?"

"Why, O'Beirne, of course."

"O'Beirne? I never saw him at all. What I met in Piccadilly last
August was something else."

"You don't mean to say--"

"I saw my friend, the real O'Beirne, about five weeks later. He is
just the same as he always was, not grey-haired and not married to
this day; in fact as different as can be from the meaningless and
unlovely caricature of himself that I had dined with.  Needless to
add, he was simply dumbfounded when I told him the story. What do you
say to that?"

"Queer. Queer. Decidedly queer."

"Yes. And at the time of our presumable meeting he was in charge of
some Red Cross work in the Dolomites. Altogether, the most odious and
ghastly experience I've ever had; I don't suppose I shall get over it
as long as I live. Can you explain it?"

The other thought a while and then said:

"I cannot explain it at all. There must be some hanky-panky somewhere.
If it weren't for the fact that Sumner was an eye-witness--"

"Exactly! You'd say I had been suffering from some kind of
hallucination, wouldn't you? But Frankie was there, and you know what
a precise old Bohemian he is; you can see it in his pictures. Ask him
about the incident any day you like! He remembers it perfectly. He was
chaffing me only last week again about my obstreperous foreign friend,
and whether I really got home that night without having my head bashed
in. Something so insane and impertinent about the whole business.... 
What did the devilish affair come for?  What did it want with me?
What was it doing in Piccadilly, to begin with? Made me look like a
regular fool, damn it, before all those people. Can you make anything
out of it, eh?"

"Nothing. I've already told you that; and when I can't explain a
thing, I leave it alone. Look here, why not go for a stroll?"

"Nothing? Is that all you have to say?  Nothing? This is very
unsatisfactory. I thought you might be able to help me somehow, or to
suggest a solution. Can't you? You know it's been a beastly jar to
me."

"I can well believe it, and perhaps you had better see a doctor after
all. That sort of thing would be enough to make anyone feel
uncomfortable, though I doubt whether I should still be taking it as
seriously as you do. Now please don't think me unsympathetic because I
happen to be rather matter-of-fact and incurious, not to say
sceptical. All these so-called mysteries, every one of them, are
cleared up scientifically sooner or later, aren't they? Therefore, if
you could just bring yourself to wait another two or three hundred
years, or even less--"

"Very unsatisfactory."

"So it is; so it is. I only wish I could help you! Now let's take a
stroll."

"Because, you understand, if this were an isolated case, if you could
swear to me that such a thing can never occur again, I should be happy
as a king. Will you swear it? Of course you won't.  Then how do I know
that there are not more such miserable horrors fluttering around,
dozens, hundreds of them, masquerading in flesh and blood and playing
their foul tricks on one or the other of us; how am I to be
certain--dead certain, I mean--that you, for example--"

"Look here, my dear fellow. You may take me for a ghost if it suits
your convenience, though I don't consider it very polite of you.
Anyhow, ghost or no ghost, I'm tired of sitting down. I want to
stretch my legs. I must stretch my legs. Suppose we toddle up to the
Serpentine?"

"As you please. But this is very, very unsatisfactory. If it hadn't
been for old Frankie ... Oh, and I asked O'Beirne about those
beetroots. He told me they were not doing quite as well as he hoped;
all rather ailing and flabby; in fact, not yet properly acclimatised.
A thin crop, he called it. Of course it was merely a question of time.
Meanwhile the dear old boy is as keen as ever, and says he thinks of
trying some experiments with maize or hemp, or cotton." "Why not
bananas?"





ANACREONTIC

(Cowley-Fashion)

 Nimble wagtail, wherefore run
 In the fiery noonday sun?
 Sprightly fowl, in livery gray,
 Why not shun the scorching ray,
 Why not rest a while content
 Till Apollo's rage relent?
 I, secure in rosy bowers,
 Dream away the flaming hours--
 Dream away in slumberous ease
 Fears that harass, doubts that tease;
 Dream, and with prophetic eye
 Jove's exalted aims espy.
 His arrangement wisely bends
 All his works to various ends:
 Sparrows hop and lizards creep,
 Wagtails run and sages sleep.
 Jove for things of every kind
 Happiness contrives to find,
 Into every element
 Some inhabitant he's sent.

 In the _earth's_ recesses bleak
 Sightless moles their substance seek,
 In the _air_ the gnats meander,
 In the _fire_ the salamander
 Broods upon the crimson flame.
 Wagtail, you your tastes proclaim
 By the _water_ cool and clear
 Of the silver-margined mere.
 Sober one! I envy not
 Such an unconvivial lot.
 Watery fashions I disdain.
 Give me wine! All else is vain.
 Some with hoarded gold are blest--
 Give me wine! And take the rest.
 Hark'ee, wagtail: Mend your ways;
 Life is brief, Anacreon says,
 Brief its joys, its ventures toilsome;
 Wine befriends them--water spoils 'em.
 Who's for water? Wagtail, you?
 Give me wine! I'll drink for two.





POSTSCRIPT

Postscript

A Plea for Better Manners

SOME kind person, with belated thoughtfulness, has just sent me a
short article from the London _Outlook_ of ist November, wherein I
find myself mentioned in connection with those recently published
_Memoirs of a Private in the Foreign Legion_ to which D. H. Lawrence
has supplied an Introduction. The writer of the article opines that
the "N. D." depicted by Lawrence must be myself.

Is it?

Why, of course it is. There is no mistaking that "wicked red face,"
those shabby clothes coupled with the bluff, grandiose manner of what
may once have been a gentleman. I should recognise myself at a mile's
distance, especially knowing, as I do, friend Lawrence's
idiosyncrasies in the matter of portraiture; what he contrives to see
and what he fails to see; or rather, what he makes a point of seeing,
and what he makes a point of not seeing. For he is not congenitally
blind; he is only blind when it suits his convenience. He sees, for
instance, that after a certain dinner I ask the waiter to weigh the
remaining wine and take its price off the bill--which makes me look a
little mean (quite a gentlemanly trait, nowadays); he fails to see
that in restaurants of this class wine is invariably sold by weight,
and that the man who does not act as I did is held to be weak in the
head.  He also sees that I don't believe in opening windows on
November evenings--in other words, that I am a nitrogen-maniac; he
does not see that nitrogen is an antidote to sleeplessness, that a
healthy man gets quite enough fresh air out of doors without cramming
his house full of the stuff, and that, in fact, this whole oxygen-cult
is nothing but humbug, and, in the winter months, downright lunacy.

I have no fault to find with this travesty of myself; no fault
whatever; it is perfectly legitimate fooling, and my young friend
might have presented me in far less engaging fashion, since I gave him
permission to "put me in as you please." He might have--well, there is
no knowing what he might not have done or what he may not yet do, if
the impish mood is upon him. Altogether: capital reading, Lawrence's
Introduction, although in places not only incorrect but woefully
wrong-headed; indeed, a masterpiece of unconscious misrepresentation.
I hope it will help to sell the book; I, hope that I, who am entitled
to half the proceeds, will in due course receive something on account.
But he has not been fair to Maurice Magnus, the Private whose Memoirs
are here published; and I am inclined to agree with the writer of the
_Outlook_ article who on the strength of some information
received--both the writer and his informant are unknown to me--says
that far from being a "scamp and a treacherous little devil," as
described by Lawrence, Magnus was "not only a brave man, but one who
was witty and amusing and most likeable." . . .

All this is awkward. One hates thrusting oneself forward in a matter
of this kind; it smacks of bad form, and life is already too full of
unnecessary personalities. But I am dragged into the business by name,
and there seems to be no way out of it, especially as, being Maurice's
literary executor, I have received letters from several people asking
what I am going to do about it. You knew him well, they say. Was he
really as much of a "bounder" as Lawrence makes out? Can't you tell us
the truth?

I wish I could. I suffer under a double drawback. In the first place,
I like to taste my friends but not to eat them; in other words, I hold
the old-fashioned view that all interrogation, all social curiosity,
is vulgar and therefore to be avoided; the consequence being that, in
the present case, I know practically nothing about his past, having
never asked anything. Next, I have been unable to obtain access to
those papers which he left me at his death and which might allow me to
write some kind of a sketch of his feverishly restless existence. I
have seen these papers, a suit-case full of them: they consist of
family documents and diaries; literary material of many kinds; letters
from important persons in every walk of life--musical and theatrical
celebrities beginning with Paderewski, Sarah Bernhardt, Duse; American
millionaires, Russian Grand Dukes, a crowned head or two (only
Balkans, I fear), etc., etc. I have seen them. That is all.

Now, at the risk of being long-winded, I will try to straighten this
affair out definitely. On learning of his suicide, I applied for these
papers, including the Foreign Legion Memoirs, to the gentleman in
Malta whom Lawrence calls Mr.  Mazzaiba in whose possession they then
were and presumably still are; with negative results.  [Footnote:
There has been no reply to a recent application on my part.]

And this in spite of a memorandum written by Magnus shortly before his
death (quoted by Lawrence on p. 83) which contains words to this
effect: "My literary executor Norman Douglas (address). . . .  All
manuscripts and books for Norman Douglas.  ... I leave my literary
property to Norman Douglas to whom half of the results are to
accrue--the other half my debts are to be paid with." That strikes me
as plain speaking. Magnus being an American citizen, I next applied to
his Consul in Malta on December 22nd, 1920. I wrote: "Regarding the
literary materials of Mr. Magnus, I suppose they had better be sent
here (to Mentone).

"I may be able to dispose of some of his manuscripts and would hand
over the proceeds towards the settlement of his accounts." The Consul
thought my suggestion "very reasonable and, under ordinary
circumstances, the obvious thing to do." There were difficulties,
however--difficulties I shall not enter upon here, since my only
desire is to draw attention to what were Magnus' clear wishes on the
subject of these papers. And that this memorandum was not a sudden
afterthought on his part is proved by a letter to me, dated 4th May,
1920, in which he says: "I leave all my manuscripts and papers to
you--and their proceeds." He also once gave me the following document,
imploring me to keep it in some safe place:

"ROME, Nov. 26th, 1919.

"In case of my death all my literary material and letters, at present
in N. C.'s studio in 33 Via . . . Rome, shall go to Norman Douglas
without any reservation.

"MAURICE MAGNUS."

Now I can understand his poor little personal effects--his silver card
case, 3 razors, i soft felt hat, i frying pan, i rubber bath and so
forth: the whole of them inventoried officially and valued at
seventy-five dollars--I can understand these things being retained in
Malta with a view to paying his debts.  But literary property
classified as "one old leather suit-case containing manuscripts and a
carton envelope containing photographs" hardly comes under the same
category.

Are the wishes of this dead man ever going to be respected?

It was in Capri that I first spoke to Magnus.  I happen to know the
exact date--Sunday, 22nd August, 1909. I know it because I had fixed
to leave, and did leave, that same evening for the mountains of the
Abruzzi. Somewhere about midday a slender--yes, he was slender at that
time--and immaculately dressed young man came up to me and, after
introducing himself, began politely, very politely, to ask for a small
loan of money. There was something childlike and forlorn about him.
His manner was ingratiating but not cringing; an unaffected, offhand
manner, as if he spoke about the weather or the latest scandal.

"My dear sir," I said, "you have just come to the right person for a
loan. And who is the damned idiot that recommended you to apply to
me?"

Nobody, he vowed. He did not know any one in the island. That was just
it! If he only had some friend in the place, he would probably not
have ventured. . . . But he had noticed me once or twice in the
street, and I looked so "kind" that ... oh, quite a small matter, only
a few francs, sufficient to enable him to run over to the mainland
where he was expecting remittances which must have arrived from New
York by this time. He would cash them in Naples (there was no bank on
Capri in those days) in order to return here and settle up his affairs
before leaving for America.  Couldn't I manage it?

I said:

"I wish the devil I didn't look so kind.  Anyhow, you won't get me to
lend you money; I never do. It makes enemies."

"Dear, dear--"

"But I have been known to give, on occasion.  Let me see--" pulling
out my pocket-book grumblingly and counting up all I could
spare--"would thirty-seven francs meet the case?"

It was enough, he declared. Nearly one pound ten; it was more than
enough! Then, after some further protestations:

"Can you really spare it?"

"Of course I can't. But I suppose I shall have to."

"I'll never forget your kindness," he said.

In the same month of August once more, the August of 1917, we met
again. He had meanwhile faded out of my memory. The same fastidiously
dressed personage stopped me in the Corso in Rome, re-introduced
himself and reminded me of those miserable thirty-seven francs,
adding: "And now you must let me do something for you in return, if I
can; you really must."

He was pretty flush just then, and I on my beam ends and altogether
run down. He installed me in his apartment, cleared out of his own
bedroom and gave it to me, bought me a new outfit and fed me like a
prince. There I stayed, putting on flesh again; and I have only to add
that from that 'day onwards till his death there was nothing he would
not do for me; he seemed to delight in anticipating my smallest
wishes. If this be what Lawrence calls an ungrateful nature, it is the
kind of ingratitu'de I can still put up with. I observe my young
friend is inclined to poke fun at Maurice's continued devotion to me
in the year 1919; how he ran my errands, "indulged and spoilt me in
every way" and so forth. Let him. I think it creditable to myself.
Lucky the man, I say, who can inspire such a deep and lasting
affection. Then he proceeds to say that I _despised_ him. This is
going too far; in fact, it is sheer bunkum--the novelist's touch,
about which I may have something to say later on. One does not consort
with people whom one despises; one does not despise people who show
one a thousand kindnesses. In a book called _Alone_ (p. 134) I already
spoke of him as "that most charming of persons," and I never had
occasion to change that opinion. Several of my letters to him were
returned to me by the Malta post-office after his death; I find I
wrote to him, unaware that this had already occurred, on the 6th, 8th,
14th and 15th of November, 1920. Catch me keeping up such a
correspondence with a person whom I despise!

And so much for this little absurdity.

At this time he had just begun writing the Memoirs of the Foreign
Legion which have led me into this disquisition. I never saw these
Memoirs in their subsequent shape--in proof or even in typescript:
they were then growing up slowly in manuscript, and the title he had
chosen was _Dregs_, a most appropriate one which recurs in the text
itself and which has been changed for reasons I cannot fathom. He used
to work yery hard both then and at subsequent periods of his life. It
was his peculiar and insane habit to get up every morning at about
4.30; he then had a bath and a shave, made his own tea and dressed
himself in that costume like "a little pontiff" which Lawrence has so
admirably described (I commend this short paragraph to those
simpletons who say that friend Lawrence cannot write; it is a perfect
etching--not a stroke too much or too little; there he is, "M. M." in
matutinal garb, once and for ever). That done, he sat down at his
writing-table and got through an ordinary man's daily task while most
of us were still in our beds. His zest for worlc was terrifie,
non-European; it proved him to be what he was, an American; moreover,
he gave you the impression of really liking it--a state of affairs
which has always been unintelligible to me, who never did a stroke
save under the lash of what I considered to be necessity.

At eleven or thereabouts he rose from the table which was now strewn
with fresh manuscripts and letters to correspondents in every corner
of the world, twenty or thirty of them done every morning. By this
time he was rather tired and played out, rather "yellowish under the
eyes" as Lawrence picturesquely puts it, and ready--no wonder!--for a
pick-me-up in the shape of a drop of whisky. He fancied, I regret to
say, a potent American brand whose name has escaped me. Being partial,
myself, to the Scotch or Irish varieties, I used to taunt him with
this perverse form of patriotism in the hope of bringing him round to
my view and getting whisky more to my own taste; he was adamant;
nothing would induce him to abate his national fervour in this
respect, and therefore, as I did not want him to be everlastingly
buying special bottles for me, I finally grew reconciled to the
transatlantic stuff and learned to like it almost as well as he did.
The sacrifices one makes for one's friends!

Sometimes, again, he interrupted his work in order to attend early
Mass, since he felt utterly wretched without such periodical doses of
anthropomorphism. Then he would return home, beaming all over, and
say:

"I prayed ten minutes for your happiness just now,"

"Very thoughtful of you, my dear boy. Though I can't say I feel any
the better for it."

"You will, you will!"

"Possibly. But I always prefer to take these things in ready cash.
Then you know where you are."

"You can't imagine how it hurts me, when you talk like that."

I could imagine it perfectly well. But it did him good to be reminded
that not everybody was a R.C. convert; that not everybody could endure
reading the Lives of the Saints and the sickly Thomas à Kempis of whom
he was so fond. Often I recommended Nietzsche as a counter-irritant.
That gospel would have worked wonders on his assimilative mind. He
would not touch the book; perhaps it is on the Index, where I think it
ought to be.

Now Lawrence, in the paragraph I have mentioned and in others, speaks
of his cut-glass bottles and silver-studded suit-cases and pomades and
powders and all the rest of it. This is quite correct.  He was finicky
and fussy and fastidious to a degree, especially about his wearing
apparel; he neyer used any save the finest cambric handkerchiefs, and
once presented me with a dozen of them, urging me not to send them to
a laundry but to wash them myself, as he did. He made a fine art,
almost a religion, of the folding-up and general conversation of
clothes, with the consequence that during the first days I passed in
his place I had prodigious fun with him. He used to bring breakfast to
my bedside at a reasonable hour--say, 7.30--on a wonderful little
tray, and then look round despondingly and remark:

"Rather a mess in here. I'd like to tidy the room a bit, if you don't
mind, before the man comes in. Where are all your clothes?"

"They must be somewhere."

"Good gracious! Here's your shirt on the window-sill. And your
trousers hanging to the top of the wardrobe. Don't you know that
trousers ought to be folded up every evening? Why have you turned them
inside out?"

"I suppose they came off easier that way."

"Where are your socks?"

"You might look under the bed."

"They're not there. Just try to think what you did with them. Do try."

"I know. I left them on the hall table."

"What on earth made you put them there?"

"Can't think. Perhaps I began undressing outside."

"Dear, dear. This is awful. Were you never taught to arrange your
clothes before going to bed?"

"I wasn't brought up so fussily."

"And there's only one boot. Where's the other one?"

"I haven't the faintest idea. Please don't bother about the damned
thing. You're putting me off my breakfast."

"I mean to find that boot."

Then he would disappear for a while, and come back in despair.

"Half my morning wasted! And your boot is nowhere to be found."

"I remember now. In the medicine-chest . . ."

I imagine that his refinements in the matter of toilette, and also of
cookery, were due to the fact that he was an only son, brought up by
an adoring mother and almost continually in her company to the day of
her death (she died of cancer)--that is, up to his own _thirty-sixth_
year. I wish I could relate something about this mother who in his
eyes was a kind of sacred creature--his "great stunt," Lawrence calls
her--but a regrettable incuriosity of mine has prevented me from
learning anything of importance save that she was an illegitimate
daughter of old William of Prussia (hence the inscription on her
tombstone in Rome: _Filia regis_). It is true that he began to talk
about her once or twice, but his voice at once took on such
tremulously tender accents that I lost no time in changing the
conversation. I gathered, however, that there was a bond of more than
common affection between the two, that they were everything to each
other, and that her death was the tragedy of his life. He told me she
had never been able to deny him anything. It may well be true; and
herein I detect the seeds of that habit of reckless expenditure which
proved to be his undoing. Certainly her death must have given him a
twist that never passed off; a twist reflected in his very face which,
in unguarded moments, took on as sad an expression as I have seen on
any human countenance; a twist that threw him into the arms of the
Roman Catholic Church and accounted for sundry other dichotomies in
his nature. So Lawrence notes his brusque and offhand manner,
interpreting it into commonness. It was not commonness; it was a
sensitive man's mask, his armour, his defence against the world. He
was, without a doubt, far too fastidious in many ways, though
naturally, like all persons of sound health, not inaccessible to
coarser impulses at times.  And thank God for that; else--whisky or no
whisky--I should soon have dropped his acquaintance.

_Dregs_, then, was being written during the autumn of 1917 and I
collaborated as best I could, and would have gone on collaborating to
the end but for the fact that in October, just before the Italian
defeat of Caporetto, I had to hop over the frontier. The text was
different from what it now is; it contained many allusions, expunged
later on, to certain ultra-masculine peculiarities of legionary life
upon which I shall not expatiate here. Me they amused, these little
incidents; they struck me as a natural result of local conditions; but
their bestial promiscuity and utter lack of idealism horrified the
fastidious Magnus more than any of his other unpleasant experiences
out there; they made him sick--sick not in the American and Biblical,
but in the English sense of the word: ready to vomit. Yet he put it
all down with names and dates and places. Often I told him he would
never get any one to print this stuff, interesting as it was from a
sociological point of view; and, as a matter of fact, he showed the
manuscript later in that crude state to a well-known London publisher
who, after his death, remembered having seen it and wrote to me: "If
you, as his literary executor, would allow the book to be expurgated,
it might come out," and again nearly a year later (26th January, 1922)
"How are you going to make it printable? When you have taken out the
unprintable stuff there won't be a great deal left except the exciting
escape from France."

Well, it has been expurgated thoroughly now--too thoroughly for my
taste; a hint or two might have been left in for the guidance of the
initiated.  Strange, on the face of it, that Magnus should have been
so averse to expunging this obnoxious material; the reason was that he
had suffered so much in the Legion, and detested it so intensely, that
he meant to show it up in all its crudity. I had to return to the
attack over and over again; the last time on the very day when I left
for France.

"I've given chapter and verse," he then replied, as usual. "I've just
tried to tell the truth."

"You have succeeded. But truth is like that whisky of yours: not to be
taken neat without disastrous consequences. You want to sell the book,
don't you? No publisher would touch it with tongs as it stands. Water
your truth! The reader likes to think that the legionaries, for all
their roughness, are brave men ready to die for their country, and not
a cosmopolitan pack of cut-throats and sharpers and sodomites."

He reflected a while and then said regretfully, as he had often said
before:

"All right. I suppose I shall have to tone it down. And when I find a
publisher?"

"Sell him the copyright if you can get a reasonable price for it. That
will save you endless trouble."

The following May, while at St. Malo, I was surprised to receive this
official letter from him:

"ROME, May 12th, 1918.  

"DEAR NORMAN DOUGLAS,

"In accordance with our conversation I herewith confirm that I am
willing to dispose of the copyright of _Dregs_ for £150 (one hundred
and fifty pounds) for America--and £150 (one hundred and fifty pounds)
for Great Britain and Ireland and Colonies--in all £300 (three hundred
pounds). It is understood that half the money for each country is to
be paid to me at the signing of the contract and the other half to be
at your entire disposal.

"Yours faithfully,

"MAURICE MAGNUS."

I wrote to ask what he meant by sending me a letter of this kind. He
replied "You just keep it" or words to that effect; I therefore kept
it.

It stands to reason that while writing _Dregs_ he also wrote dozens of
other things, as befitted that portentous American vitality of his,
although the _Roman Review_, which he was editing up to that time, had
unfortunately expired in consequence of the war.  [Footnote: The first
number of this "Weekly Review of Italian Politics, Finance,
Literature, Drama, Art and Archaeology," appeared on June and, 1914,
and the thing proceeded regularly for twenty numbers till October
I4th, 1914. I cannot say whether it continued after that date.] It was
characteristic of Maurice that in order to be able to work at it
without distractions, he had set up its offices in the pillage of
Monte Celio, a horrible little hill-top place near the Rome-Tivoli
line where they still remember him with affection (ask the
tobacconist). Monte Celio, by the way, gave him the idea for his
book-plate which represents the scattered houses and old ruined castle
of that place enclosed in an oval (ogival, rather) frame with the
Benedictine motto: _Laborare est orare: Maurice Magnus_. This _Roman
Review_ was one of several such undertakings; in Berlin, for instance,
he set up a "European Literary Bureau" which seems to have done well
so long as he was personally in charge of it.' He wrote with great
ease, but though the subjects he chose were always suggestive, his
style was bald and undistinguished; and therefore, in my opinion,
singularly adapted for a narrative like these Foreign Legion Memoirs,
where every kind of literary artifice would have been out of place. To
the very end he continued to bombard editors and agencies on both
sides of the Atlantic with these things.  [Footnote: He wrote for _The
Bellman_ articles on the "Position of the Vatican in Relation to the
War," on "Present Conditions in Italy," and "The American Spirit and
Italian Propaganda." There may be more of them.] Where are they now?.
I possess nothing of his save "The Future Social Order of Western
Civilisation" and three long chapters of what was going to be an
important book entitled _Memoirs of Golden Russia_. Those I have deal
with St. Petersburg, the Crimea and the "Heart of Russia "; another,
on the Caucasus, which I have never seen, was also finished; others
which he had in preparation described Poland, Finland, and "Three
years after." I shall be glad to hand my three to any editor who cares
to print them. Few foreigners knew Russia as well as he did; he spoke
the language fairly well, and whenever he had occasion to write me a
postcard he always spelt the English words in Russian characters.

Altogether he was a far more civilised and multifacetted person than
the reader of Lawrence's Introduction might be led to expect. He made
researches at the Goethe-Archiv in Weimar on several occasions. I also
remember once asking him to write down for me what was worth seeing in
Florence besides those monuments and galleries which the unfortunate
tourist cannot help seeing.  He happened to dislike Florence, but, for
all that, had made it his business to do the place thoroughly, and at
once sat down to indite a formidable list of convents, out-of-the-way
palaces and private houses where this or that could be seen--many of
which I have not heard of to this day, and hope to live long enough
never to inspect.

The last things he wrote were "Vignettes of Malta ": he was engaged on
them at the time of his suicide. I should like to see these Vignettes;
they are probably deposited in that _one old leather suitcase_
above-mentioned. During this final and sad period he was straining
every nerve to get out of debt; in his last letter to me--a letter
which bears the Malta postmark of the 4th November, the very day of
his death--he wrote: "How can one continue to live like this? I have
sixty manuscripts out (including translations), at least half of them
accepted, and not one paid. This is irrespective of the stuff I am
doing now." Surely a pathetic state of affairs! And here I must quote
a few words from p. 92 of Lawrence's Introduction, if only to show how
biography ought not to be written. Says Lawrence:

"Now would you believe it, that little scamp M---- spent over a
hundred pounds of borrowed money during his four months in Malta, when
his expenses, he boasted to me, need not have been more than a pound a
week, once he got into the little house at Notabile. That is, he spent
at least seventy pounds too much. Heaven knows what he did with it,
apart from 'guzzling.' . . ."

The truth is that he did not spend over a hundred pounds of borrowed
money; he never borrowed a hundred; apart from what he got from
Lawrence, who must surely by now have recouped himself many times over
by the sale of these Memoirs, he borrowed fifty-five: neither more nor
less. There lies before me an official statement of account drawn up
by his Consul and entitled "Debts of the Estate of the late M.
Magnus." From this document it appears that the total of his debts was
£77 16s. 11 3/4d.; this total includes not only those fifty-five and
all his outstanding tradesmen's bills, but also the sum of £7 19s. 4d.
which was due to the Consul for expenses in connection with Maurice's
_funeral_. As to spending seventy pounds too much, presumably on
"guzzling"--he wrote me himself that the typing of his innumerable
articles cost him more than did his food, which consisted for the most
part of "rice and eggs, bread and tea." I have also a letter from the
gentleman whom Lawrence calls Mr. Mazzaiba, who was in daily contact
with Maurice and, as his creditor for the fifty-five pounds, hardly
disposed to say flattering things about him, since he never expected
to get his money back. Well, this gentleman wrote me one month after
the suicide (4th December, 1920) that Maurice had "lived here in a
very retired and economical way." _Great is the power of
misrepresentation_, as even the sweet-natured Darwin once complained.
But of course the whole thing is sheer bunkum: the novelist's touch.

There reaches me at this moment a copy of the London _Spectator_ of
13th December. It contains the following letter on which I shall make
no comment beyond saying that it appears the writer of it had not read
Lawrence's Introduction but only a review of it; that there seems to
be something wrong with the last sentence, and that I hope to be
forgiven for reprinting without permission.

"SIR,

"From England, six thousand miles away, the _Spectator_ (always
welcome) of October i8th has just arrived. In the 'Literary Suppt.'
there is a commentary on M. M.'s _Memoirs of the Foreign Legion_,
edited by Mr. D. H. Lawrence, headed 'The Little Gentleman Enlists.'
While either I or my husband live, M. M. is not without a friend in
this world to put in a good word for him; and I hope this necessarily
belated word may find space in your paper. M. M. was a dear friend of
mine, and, as I knew him in Italy, 'a very parfyt gentil knight';
generous, super-sensitive--not very practical. His friends I did not
meet. If Mr. Lawrence is a specimen he was unfortunate in them.
Cannot that superior person, so anxious to cast stones of old grudges
at his unresisting dead friend, so willing to enhance his own literary
reputation, and damn his friend's, by turning sarcastic phrases at his
expense, imagine what a man of M. M.'s temperament suffered in those
three months? He described them to me as 'Hell.' Many whose military
record stands deservedly high, who may even wear decorations, did not,
I'll wager, endure a tithe of the agony and humiliation which he
endured; some might not have been able to.

"M. M. lived for beauty, harmony, peace. An American citizen, he never
felt at home in the hustling Republic. Italy was the land of his
adoption, of his heart, of his religion. He had been brought up mainly
by women, to his disadvantage; and perhaps only a woman could fully
understand, and so forgive, the seeming lack of courage on which we
are apt to be hardest. He repudiated with passion his German blood.
Long before the war, the Slav in him (Polish, I think) shuddered away
from the coarseness, and what he called the lack of civilisation in
the German mentality. He was writing on this very theme when the war
caught him unawares.  [Footnote: I have received from an unexpected
quarter a mass of literary material of his, and it has given me a
melancholy satisfaction to go through the proofs of his activities in
many departments of thought. Among these remains is the typescript of
a short but almost finished book which, according to the Table of
Contents, was to consist of twenty-three chapters. Twenty-one of them
are here written. It is entitled "The Unspeakable Prussian--Personal
Experiences before the War--by an American Resident," and dedicated to
_all my fellow-sufferers who have come into contact, with Prussian
officialdom and thereby suffered indignities and outrage_.  This is
doubtless the book above referred to.]

Domestic tragedy arising out of the war led him to make the ghastly
mistake of enlisting in the Foreign Legion. No one who knew him could
imagine that he could 'stick' that particular ordeal, for which life
had in no way prepared him. Yet he faced it, for a quarrel not his
own, with a like chivalry that enabled him to nurse an invalid mother
for years as tenderly as any daughter. That he failed is surely rather
matter for 'pity and terror' than for cheap gibes.

"If he left 'victims' whom he had 'defrauded' I refuse to believe
he defaulted willingly. Indeed, he wrote to us in anguish about the
struggle he was making to meet his liabilities. He thought he had
found an asylum in Malta where he could take breath and retrieve his
losses. But it seems not.  At the last, as he told an American friend,
he 'could not face an Italian prison.' Poor M. M. 'What (he) aspired
to be, and was not, comforts me.' For him 'the high' indeed 'proved
too high'; 'the heroic for earth too hard,' but these he was 'worth
to God,' and to his sorrowing, remembering, understanding friends, one
of whom I am proud to subscribe myself.

"I am, Sir, etc.

"IRENE M. ASHBY MACFADYEN.

"KING WILLIAM'S TOWN,

"CAPE PROVINCE, SOUTH AFRICA."

I spoke just now of the novelist's touch in biography. What is this
touch? It consists, I should say, in a failure to realise the
profundities and complexities of the ordinary human mind; it selects
for literary purposes two or three facets of a man or woman, generally
the most spectacular and therefore "useful" ingredients of their
character, and disregards all the others. Whatever fails to fit in
with these specially chosen traits is eliminated; must be eliminated,
for otherwise the description would not hold water. Such and such are
the data; everything incompatible with those data has to go by the
board. It follows that the novelist's touch argues, often logically,
from a wrong premise; it takes what it likes and leaves the rest. The
facts may be correct so far as they go, but there are too few of them;
what the author says may be true, and yet by no means the truth. That
is the novelist's touch. It falsifies life.

In Lawrence's Introduction, for example, I am described as a
blustering railer of the old school; it would plainly never bent such
a personage to feel anything but contempt for an "effeminate little
bounder" as Magnus is described; I am therefore made to _despise_ him.
I have already explained what the truth of this matter was. Again,
Magnus most unfortunately borrowed money from Lawrence (and the
reader, by the way, will not be long in discovering that this
financial transaction imparts a peculiarly acrid flavour to his
Introduction). Now let us try to be fair to my young friend; it is so
easy to be unfair! No doubt it hurts to part with money to a person
whom one does not care for and who will presumably never pay it
back--especially when one has none to spare oneself; it is enough to
enrage anyone--especially friend Lawrence who (page 24) upholds the
fine middle-class tradition to "keep a few pounds between himself and
the world." Yes; no doubt it hurts, and no doubt Maurice was a sponger
on that occasion. I should not have taken it amiss, accordingly, if
Lawrence had vented his wrath more viciously than he does over this
particular business, since it would only prove what a sage person said
to me long ago: "There are some people from whom it is unsafe to
borrow money." Our friend, however, is not satisfied with voicing his
personal grievance; those borrowed pounds have caused him to give to
posterity an entirely false portrait of Magnus as a whole; he passes
from the particular to the general and so furnishes an admirable
illustration of the novelist's touch. On page 82 you will find him
writing, as if he had known Magnus all his life, that he _traded on
the tenderness of others_; that il God knows how much warm kindness,
generosity, was showered on him during the course of his forty-odd
years. And selfish little scamp, he took it as a greedy boy takes
cakes off a dish, etc." [Footnote: Since the publication of this
pamphlet a good many letters have reached rne from friends of Magnus;
all of them testify to his generous instincts. I will give only two
extracts. An Italian gentleman, unknown to myself, writes in English
from Rapallo (7th February, 1925): "... It is not a question of
sympathy, friendship, and affection for Maurice Magnus, nor of my
sorrow for his sad end. Magnus really has no need of my defence, as
all who knew him thoroughly--and they are many--will not, even for a
moment, believe that Mr. Lawrence can have seen a moral and spiritual
side of Magnus that was unknown to them; because they know that,
notwithstanding his rather nervous, snappish manner at times, he was a
true _signore_, a gentleman, with a most refined taste, a love of art
and literature, and a strange touch of ecclesiastic nobility, like an
old-time Knight of Malta. He was an earnest, honest worker; generous,
almost prodigal. . . ."And an American gentleman, unknown to myself,
writes from New York (8th May, 1925):"...! was acquainted with Maurice
Magnus during my student clays, way back in 1910 (possibly 1911, I do
not quite remember). When I first read Mr. Lawrence's lengthy
Introduction to _The Memoirs of the Foreign Legion_, it never occurred
to me that "M. M." was that splendid young gentleman whose
pleasurable and interesting acquaintance I enjoyed for about a year;
and many a pleasant evening I enjoyed in his two wonderfully appointed
rooms in Gramercy Park. During the ten months or so that I had the
pleasure of his acquaintance I learned that I was in the company of a
gentleman not of the ordinary type; always solicitous for the comfort
and welfare of others; always giving rather than accepting.]

Rubbish. I wish Lawrence could have met him during one of his many
rich moments; he would have had another tale to unfold. And I wish the
Recording Angel could be induced to flutter down for five minutes or
so and open that note-book of his and tell us exactly how often
Maurice sponged on his friends, and how often they sponged on him....

Poor biographers, these romance-writers; and poor psychologists. That
is because they work on the _Leitmotif_ system, which gives fallacious
results when applied to a delicate structure like the human mind. A
little intuition would have convinced anybody but a novelist-creditor
that Magnus was too generous for this world; that his giving
capacities far surpassed his borrowing ones; that if he was sometimes
without means it was only because he had spent them on friends and
strangers and not on himself, as a relatively poor man ought to have
done; that he was one of those people who are never happy, never quite
happy, unless they are obliging others--for which, of course, they get
the devil's thanks. Thomas à Kempis, or some other neurotic, had given
him a firm belief in the comfortable but preposterous fiction of the
perfectibility of mankind; he therefore went out of his way, over and
over again, to return good for evil and, do what I would, I never
succeeded in causing him to excrete this particular virus. Now I will
not go so far as to say that a certain proportion of our
fellow-creatures mav not be amenable to such kind treatment; but their
numbers are so inconsiderable, so lamentably small that I, for my
part, have long ceased looking for them. Not so Magnus. He looked for
them.  He was determined to do good whenever possible.

There is in Florence a certain tavern known as the "Café délie C----e"
which at night-time becomes, or became, a sinister place--the haunt of
pimps and every other kind of _louche_ and dubious character. Thither
we used to resort after dinner, to study types; and one evening, I
remember, Maurice was attracted by an ancient man at the other end of
the room, poorly dressed and sipping his coffee with trembling hands.
He could not take his eyes off him.

"You see him?" he asked. "Looks as if he had been through Hell,
doesn't he? And at least seventy years old, I should say. He won't
last much longer. Poor old boy, I'll bet he only came in here for the
sake of the warmth."

"Very likely."

After a while he began again:

"I just can't stand that unhappy face. I'm going to give him every
cent I have in this pocket; it's only eight or nine francs--" and he
got up from the table. I pulled him back.

"Not in here," I said. "We shall be taken for millionaires and waylaid
on the road before we get home. You must do it outside."

There we waited. Our coffee-drinker never moved; he was enjoying the
warmth. And time went by. I grew sleepy and grumpy, yearning to go to
bed, and did my best to make Maurice change his mind. He refused to
budge. At last, after about two hours, the place was closed and we
were all driven out including our man, who went off in a direction
different from our own. We followed him for twenty paces or so and
then Maurice, with a single word "Permettete," slipped the money into
his hand and turned back before the old fellow had time to recover
from his surprise. How many of my readers would have acted thus? Would
friend Lawrence have done so? And this is the man of whom he writes
that he had "no bowels of deep compassion or kindliness."

In this case the money may have been well spent; in others he
certainly erred on the side of generosity. We knew a vile creature in
Rome whom Magnus one day insisted upon inviting to luncheon, for no
reason whatever. Why not, he said?

"That slimy abortion?" I asked. "Don't invite him to luncheon. Stamp
on him."

"Ah," he said, "but one must be kind to these people. If you only knew
what he's been through--"

"And richly deserved it; with that face of his.  Stamp on him. He'll
do you a bad turn whenever he gets a chance."

Prophetic utterance. ... It was precisely this reptile who through the
indiscreet confidences of a friend was enabled to put the Italian
police on his tracks, first at the monastery mentioned by Lawrence,
and then in Malta; and so led to his suicide. It is to be hoped that
somebody has stamped on him by this time. He ought to be pounded into
such a jelly that his own mother would have difficulty in recognising
the remains.

Now what, one may ask--what made the loathsome creature act as he did?
Nothing but malice; natural malice; an excess of biliary secretion
indirectly due, I fancy, to that pestilential system of repression
which of late has invaded every department of life. I can find no
other explanation for the deplorable fact that so many people seem
nowadays to live in a chronic state of envy, hatred, malice, and all
uncharitableness. Be my theory of its origin correct or not, this
exacerbation is indubitably a recent phenomenon; and not an attractive
one. "The modern temper," writes a lady, "cannot respect, cannot
appreciate, cannot love (cannot laugh, she might have added), but it
can hate!" True! And how hateful is this hate!

It is astonishing that Lawrence never noticed this streak of
unworldliness in Magnus; it would be astonishing, that is, but for the
fact that he happens to belong to that literary class which refuses to
see more than two or three aspects of their fellow-creatures. He had
made up his mind that Maurice was to be classed as a sponger; the
quality of unworldliness being inconsistent with such a character must
therefore be wiped out of the portrait.  And out it goes. . . .

What children, what innocents are these writing gentlemen beside the
family doctor or solicitor who lack their petty pictorial sense and
the obligation to tickle a certain class of fool-readers; who make it
their business to see mankind as a whole and therefore possess more
psychology and penetration in their little finger than your average
novelist in his whole inflated organism! Go to those others for
amusement if you like, and if you think you can find it there; not for
knowledge of human nature.

I have heard the late Joseph Conrad called a great psychologist, and
that is a good example for my purpose. Well, Conrad was first and
foremost a Pole and, like many Poles, a politician and a moralist
_malgré lui_. These are his fundamentals.  He was also a great writer
with hardly an ounce of psychology in his composition. His genius is
the reverse of the psychologist's; it consists in driving you along by
main force; in making characters work out their salvation according to
the approved principles not of psychology but of British morality, of
the "right thing to do." Such was his implicit teaching: the "right
thing to do." Everything that deviated from this precarious standard
was anathema to him; so much anathema that even the harmless failing
of his friend Stephen Crane is politely slurred over. He seldom
explored the human heart, that wonderful tangle of motives pure and
impure (as they are called)--which was a pity, for he might have
picked up some humour as he went along; he never so much as glanced
into its depths lest he should discover, down in those muddy recesses,
something rotten, something which had no right to be there. Can a man
who lacks sympathy with erring humanity give us a convincing picture
of it? He can give us no more than what Conrad gave: a convincing
proof of how much may be accomplished without psychology.

And if this be true of an imposing figure like his, how about the
smaller fry? I pick up an ordinary novel now and then, and ask myself
whether we shall go on reading this flatulent balderdash much longer.
I hope not. For what is the ordinary novel but a string of foregone
conclusions; a barrel-organ wound up to play one particular tune? Any
hall porter, any genuine _homo sapiens_ with all his little caprices
and contradictions, blundering by chance into the entrails of this
pitiful mechanism, forthwith puts the whole machine out of order. Life
would indeed be a bore, if constructed on the lines of the ordinary
novel. And biography, the record of life, would become a despicable
farce if enlivened or rather infected, as in this case, with that
pernicious novelist's touch which menaces the living, wrongs the dead,
and degrades a decent literary calling to the level of the chatter at
an old maids' tea-party.

It menaces the living. It adds a new terror to life; to the lives, at
least, of those who are not blest with the hide of a rhinoceros. Here
is friend Lawrence, in an earlier book, dragging me in again together
with a number of my friends--and really, are we as interesting as all
that? Can modern writers describe only people they know? Are they too
lazy or too stupid to create a character of their own?--me, under the
transparent disguise of Jimmie McTaggart or something equally Scotch
(I have not the book here) with the same _Leitmotif_ as in this
Introduction but not so cleverly done; the same high-handed old
swaggerer, rather unsteady on his legs, and giving utterance to
opinions which are quite in harmony with this romantic figure but
which, as a matter of fact, have never yet entered my head. And here I
must delay a moment, to draw attention to what seems an urgent
question of literary etiquette. If Lawrence had caused me to discuss
William Shakespeare or Mr. Gladstone he might have let me say what he
pleased; my imaginary views on these subjects, however fantastic,
could have done no possible harm to anybody. But he has pictured me as
commenting on certain living personal friends of mine who also appear
in the book, and has put into my mouth some uncomplimentary and
spiteful observations about them which--consistent as they may be with
his portrait of me--I never dreamt of uttering and which, as he cannot
but have foreseen, have given a little pain, to the persons concerned.
Is this fair? I think not. I call it something more than the
novelist's touch; it is hitting below the belt, and a damnably vulgar
proceeding. There was no reason why he should annoy people who, while
he was in the place, fed him to bursting-point and went out of their
way to show him every civility in their power. Such, alas, is friend
Lawrence who is fond of introducing familiars in this playful fashion
(with results which are sometimes pecuniarily disastrous to himself)
and whose behaviour, for the rest, is symptomatic; he has only caught
the tone of the times, seeing that an entire school has grown up which
lives, and thrives, on writing up other people in books and
newspapers.

Now this personality-mongering is a nuisance which has increased, is
increasing, and ought to be diminished. It is not only bad literature
but bad breeding. You can hardly pick up any volume by a member of
this school without finding therein caricatures of some
acquaintance--all unfavourably drawn and derided not with frank wit or
invective or mockery or Rabelaisian laughter, but with that squeaky
suburban chuckle which is characteristic of an age of eunuchs. And if
they are momentarily at a loss for friends to distort, they indulge in
airing their own private sensations--a mild form of
exhibitionism--with a shamelessness that reminds one of nothing so
much as a female dog. Questionable taste! It seems to me that even
such a writing man should have some manners, some reserve, though his
mentality be of the non-human order and his ethos immeasurably
inferior to that of the butcher or grocer; that if he cannot respect
his neighbours, he ought at least to respect himself.  But he 'has
forgotten what self-respect means; everything is grist to his
mill--including himself, and it is no use appealing to his better
nature, since he has no nature at all.

The ridiculous compilation known as Who's _Who_ has done a good deal
towards fostering this unhealthy interest in the affairs of other
people.  That Sir Edmund Gosse happens to write good books is no
reason why the public should be informed how much he pays his
scullery-maid; and what on earth does it matter to anyone, save
himself and his friends, what his favourite indoor amusements
are--whether he prefers bridge to baccarat, or ping-pong to dominoes?
Vastly offensive, this prying and rapacious meddlesomeness. But I fear
we shall never have a revulsion of feeling against such snobbishly
genteel hankerings.  They are part of that universal levelling-down
process for which the
education-of-people-who-ought-never-to-be-educated is responsible.

I received not long ago a copy of a well-known Jewish monthly from
America wherein, to my surprise, I discovered an "Imaginary
Conversation" between myself and the author, a young Jewish friend of
mine, on the subject of "Judaism and Paganism ": he supporting the
Jewish point of view and I the other. Now it strikes me that a man who
has written "Far be it from me to disparage the tribe of Israel. I
have gained the conviction--firm-fixed, now, as the Polar Star--that
the Hebrew is as good a man as the Christian--" it strikes me that
such a man can hardly be put forward as a representative Jew-baiter.
Could he not ha£e found somebody more qualified for the post; Mr.
Belloc, for instance? He might with some plausibility have introduced
me as anti-Christian.  . . . But I shall not wrangle over the
religious aspects of the matter; they are not worth wrangling about,
since Christians are only an anaemic variety of Jews. It is the
principle involved which concerns me. There ought to be a limit to
this kind of thing; the limit being that a writer, before displaying
you in a wholly fictitious character and putting into your mouth
arguments which, whether sound or not, have never yet occurred to you,
should at least be good enough to ask your permission first.  Only a
little fun, of course. My young friend meant no harm; he probably
thought that in proclaiming me across the length and breadth of a
continent as an anti-Semite and himself as a Semite he was _giving the
old dodderer a lift-up_--and himself another one. Well, we may all be
vainer than we think and still ready to dispense with this form of
advertisement. Not that I am annoyed personally, having long ago
convinced myself of the truth of the saying that no man was ever
written down except by himself, but there is this to be considered:
like others, I have excellent Jewish friends over there; Jews are more
sensitive than they look, and one or the other of them, if he comes
across this article, may think that it throws a new light on my
sentiments towards his race, and be justifiably sore about it. No
matter. _Il faut avaler son crapaud_, as Zola used to say.

This was just a friendly joke; it is otherwise with many of the things
I have lately read which yerge, and often trespass, on the
libellous--if one could bring oneself to take their authors at their
own valuation. Certainly it is an anomalous state of affairs that
respectable folk should be at the mercy of a band of dirt-throwers who
are coining money at their expense; it suggests that in such matters
of literary ethics we might do worse than return to the more
gentlemanlike standard of the Victorians, though we shall obviously
never have real manners, either in literature or in society, until
duelling becomes popular again. Duelling would soon put an end to
these caddish arts and to several other inconveniences as well; there
would be no more low-class allusions to living people in novels or
newspapers or memoirs if their authors realised that by next morning
they might have half a yard of cold steel in their gizzards.

Meanwhile it is not an exhilarating spectacle: this confraternity of
cats--among whom many people, I fear, will include friend Lawrence, if
not on account of this performance, then on account of
others--industriously scribbling down, with more or less
untruthfulness, the imperfections of their fellow-creatures; and the
literary historian of the future, dipping into these outpourings and
casting about for a word that shall summarise the flabby activities of
the whole tribe, may well find himself at fault. I think he will end
in calling it the school of cerebral hermaphrodites. Sexlessness is
its basic note. How one yearns for a Pope to laugh their monkey-tricks
out of existence, or for a Byron to disembowel these epicene babblers
and wipe the floor with what is left of them! Byron, needless to say,
is out of fashion in those virginal circles. He happened to be a man.
. . .

Maybe friend Lawrence, should he read what has gone before, will think
it is pointed straight at himself, whereas he is only the _causa
causans_.  That cannot be helped. He has undoubtedly made a spleenful
hash of Maurice Magnus, but we can none of us transcend the boundaries
of our own natures; he is an impulsive, elvish mortal who writes
whatever comes into his head, and hates being pestered for money by
bounders. Once we have grasped these initial facts, we know our
position; we are prepared for the worst.

We get it. On p. 85, for instance, he achieves as fine a specimen of
malicious rhetoric as you may come across in a week of Sundays; mere
rant, in fact, when one considers the circumstances which were just
these: Maurice Magnus, like others, caught the war-fever. After
applying vainly for all kinds of jobs (see p. 101; and these
applications were authentic, for I have read them and the replies to
them) he committed the nightmarish blunder of enlisting in the Foreign
Legion where a natural refinement in habits and manners and language
intensified his sufferings a thousandfold. What he thought of this
Legion is set down in the few temperate pages constituting Chapters 6
and 17 which bear the hall-mark of veracity, and which I warmly
commend to my readers together with the •words, so full of restraint,
at the bottom of p. 240: "For I knew there was a limit to how long I
could keep sane, etc." And as if one could expect a
German-American-Jew or, for that matter, any other sensible person, to
feel strongly on the subject of nationality! One may dislike
individuals; to dislike an entire nation is a feat of which only fools
are capable. Now Maurice, whatever his failings, was no fool. He wrote
me himself: "I agree with Tim Edwards that some people have no
nationality. I am sure I have not." Though his opinion of German
culture was fairly pronounced (see p. 245) he was no more anti-German
than anti-Chinese; he detested oppression in every shape or form. That
is why he loathed German brutality and insolence; why he sympathised
with French soldiers huddled together like cattle in a train; why it
made his "blood boil" to see how poor Arabs were treated by the
officials. . . .

Such was Maurice who could not bear cruel dealing between man and man,
and was therefore not long in discovering that the Foreign Legion did
not suit his temperament. To escape out of that Hell was an
undertaking full of danger; one single false step would have been his
ruin; it called for a rare alloy of cunning and grit--grit of an
uncommon kind. Finally, after mature preparation, he burnt all his
papers and walked out of the trap as unconcernedly as Napoleon walked
out of the fortress of Ham; with this difference, that the
consequences of re-capture would have certainly been more serious for
Maurice. He strolled into Italy, and was safe.

On a later occasion, but still in troubled times, he strolled into
France again.

One morning at Mentone, just as I was finishing my breakfast, he
turned up unexpectedly, more spick and span than ever, informed me
that he had no passport or papers of any kind, but, having just
received a biggish cheque, could not resist the temptation of trying
his luck at Monte Carlo again after all those years. Knowing how
conscientiously the frontier was guarded, I asked how he had done the
trick and how he now proposed to manage at Mentone with that
pathologically suspicious _commissaire de police_, whom I knew only
too well.

He had stayed a day or two at Ventimiglia, he explained; made friends
with a fisherman and finally induced him to row him over at dead of
night and deposit him with his bag on the Mentone beach.  There he had
waited under a boulder till dawn came, then gone as usual to the most
expensive hotel and enjoyed a bath, shave, change of apparel and
breakfast. He must, he simply must, have a flutter at the tables--just
a little one. And as he could 'not stay three hours at an hotel
without producing a _carte d'identité_, would I persuade my landlord
to give him a room somewhere near my quarters? I did; but it cost some
trouble.

Luck was against him at the Casino.

"Never mind," he said. "I know the whole history of Monaco and Monte
Carlo. I'll write an article about the place to recoup myself. I've
bought the photographs already."

He wrote that article (I typing it) in one day and sent it to some
monthly in the Middle West; with what results I cannot tell. But this
ought to be noted: a man who can write three articles a week and have
two or even one of them accepted is not making a bad income. It was
different, however, during that particular period when nobody wanted
such literature, and this accounts to a large extent for the
difficulties in which he latterly found himself.

Meanwhile my landlord had grown so restive about this possible spy in
his house that Maurice decided Mentone was no longer the place for
him.  He wrote to his fisherman at Ventimiglia.

"I've told him," he said, "to fetch me next Tuesday on the esplanade
at half-past one in the morning. He's sure to turn up! But we must be
sitting there a good deal earlier, so as not to attract attention."

We were on our bench by midnight. It was pitch-dark and rather windy,
and I thought that for once he had miscalculated his man, for at 1.15
no boat was yet in sight. Suddenly it appeared with four oarsmen
moving not along the shore but from straight out at sea; he jumped on
board before it touched land; I threw his bag after him; the operation
took half a minute.

"Hi! Your cane!" I called out. I found I was still holding it in my
hand, to allow him to jump in more easily.

"Damn my cane!"

They were already out of reach.

This little trip to Mentone, I should imagine, was an epitome of
Maurice's whole life.

Finally he went over to Malta and worked like a nigger to straighten
out his affairs again. While so doing, that foul creature in Rome whom
I have mentioned set the Italian police on his tracks with a view to
having him extradited for a certain debt incurred in Italy. If only he
had told me the complete truth! But he was always shy about disclosing
his troubles to me; he had a strange reluctance to give me any kind of
pain or even preoccupation. I knew he was hard up; had I known of this
particular Italian embarrassment, I should have recommended him to go
not to Malta but to Corfu, where he could have worked to his heart's
content without fear of being interrupted by bailiffs and detectives.
So useful it is to know a smattering of the laws of the countries you
inhabit; so much more ' useful than knowing their languages. . . .

Anyhow, they pounced on him at Malta, and, in a moment of supreme
weakness, he killed himself rather than fall into their hands. That he
was able to face the horrors of life among the unspeakable riff-raff
of the Legion, and yet unable to face the slight inconvenience of
appearing in an Italian court on a charge of fraud and perhaps doing a
month or two, is to me an almost inexplicable phenomenon. I suppose he
had a queer sense of honour packed away somewhere, whatever his
enemies may say. And, besides that, he must have been utterly run down
in stamina and health; else where was his grit gone? I am not in the
habit of making debts; I lack the resourceful vitality necessary for
evading creditors, and prefer to spend what energies I have in the
pursuit of other objects; but had I been in Maurice's place on that
occasion,

I should have acted differently. Fancy poisoning yourself because you
owe a little money to a brigand--a notorious brigand, too--of a
continental hotel-keeper! Maurice ought to have faced the music, and
then blackmailed him for the rest of his life.

Previously to this, however, he had borrowed fifty-five pounds from
his Maltese friend Mr.  Mazzaiba, and this financial transaction gives
Lawrence an opportunity for a grand pyrotechnical display of sympathy
for the poor deluded victim, Mr. Mazzaiba. Poor Mr. Mazzaiba! Now why
is Lawrence so terribly vexed because a certain bounder owes money to
a third party and has the impudence to kill himself before paying it
back?  There is more than meets the eye here. A little overdone, this
pity for Mr. Mazzaiba; it does not ring quite true. Is it perhaps a
vicarious, unconfessed pity for himself? That is probably where the
shoe pinches. Not that I would be construed as saying he is guilty of
deliberate simulation here; so far as I have observed, he never
simulates; his method is to work himself up to a state of wrong
feeling and then let fly in a needlessly shrill tone of voice. This
whole Introduction is an example of the process. It is wrong feeling
nearly all the way through; wrongly bitter; a touch of Maurice's
humanity would do our friend no harm--which reminds me that the writer
of the _Outlook_ article, from whom I quoted at the beginning, seems
to have made a mistake when he says he is assured that Lawrence has
"contrived to exalt himself at the expense of the dead Maurice
Magnus." At least, that is not how I should put it. I think a careful
study of this Introduction will convince most readers that my young
friend has not exalted himself to any great extent; that on the
contrary, in exposing the frailties of Maurice Magnus he has
contrived, like a true Boswell, to expose his own.

Be that as it may, it is worth noting that Mr.  Mazzaiba himself, the
long-suffering creditor for those fifty-five pounds, must have taken
another and most singular view of this "Judas treachery," as Lawrence
calls it. Despite his grievance against Maurice, he went to the
expense of having his remains moved from the public grave at Malta and
interred in his own burial-place; which says a good deal for both of
them, and proves, among other things, that some people can still be
trusted to behave like gentlemen.

And there he now lies, the poor devil; unconcerned about bailiffs--and
biographers.  _Requiescat_. Lawrence calls him an outsider: it is the
mildest of some fifteen pretty names he bestows on him. An outsider.
So be it. I wish we had a few more such outsiders on earth.

[SYRACUSE
December, 1924]



THE END




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