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Title: Dog and Duck
Author: Arthur Machen
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Language:  English
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Title: Dog and Duck
Author: Arthur Machen

Dog and Duck

A London Calendar et Ctera


Arthur Machen


Dog And Duck

Why New Year?

On Valentines And Other Things

On Simnel Cakes

'April Fool!'

The Merry Month Of May

A Midsummer Night's Dream

July Sport: With Some Remarks On Young Mr. Blueface

'A Thorough Change'

Roast Goose: With A Dissertation On Apple Sauce And Sage And Onions

Where Are The Fogs Of Yesteryears?


Christmas Mumming

A Talk For Twelfth Night

Some February Stars

March And A Moral

St. George And The Dragon

The Poor Victorians

Stuff--and Science

On Holidays

Six Dozen Of Port

The Custom Of The Manor

The Vice Of Collecting


How To Spend Christmas

Adelphi: Farewell!

The Art Of Unbelief



Not long ago, I remember reading that a Stool Ball match had been played
at Lord's Cricket Ground. I said to a man I know, a person learned in

'What is Stool Ball? Is it the same thing as Knurr and Spell?'

He rebuked my ignorance. He explained the two games. He explained
further that even to hit the ball at Knurr and Spell a man must be
northern born. He said it was one of the most difficult games that had
ever been invented.

But this is merely by the way; it is an illustration of the fact that
many of the old English games linger on, half-forgotten, played
vehemently perhaps; but only by a few initiates.

So I dare say that many of my readers will not even have heard of the
game of Dog and Duck. Yet, within ten minutes' walk of Lord's, the
faithful few know where to find the headquarters of the M.D.D.C.--the
historic Alley of the Marylebone Dog and Duck Club.

At first sight, entering the alley, one would say that here was a quiet
London garden, of the old-fashioned kind, with an old-fashioned house at
the back of it. Roughly, the extent of the alley--which includes, as I
shall presently explain, the 'Grounds' and the 'Greens'--is twenty yards
by ten. It is overhung by old trees and ivy-covered walls, and seems the
very place for an old-world game. Bowls, once the favourite game of the
clergy and of dignified and elderly persons generally, used to be played
in just such surroundings. And Dog and Duck, like Bowls, is a game for
the leisurely, a game of amenities.

I said the alley was like a garden. Well, imagine a lawn, shaped
somewhat like a capital D. About it goes what we may call the garden
path, this is the actual alley. On the right hand are flower beds--the
'grounds'--and to right and left the path is separated from grounds and
greens by tiles: these are the 'walls.'

Note one point. You entered by a door, which may be imagined to be in
the middle of the top of the D. Here the alley widens to right and left,
making a sort of bay in front of the door. This space, marked off by a
white line, is called 'Bocardo,' in humorous allusion to a mode of the
Fourth Figure in Scholastic Logic. If you got into this figure, you had
considerable difficulty in getting out again, in getting back into the
more natural first figure. There used to be a prison at Oxford called
Bocardo. Facing Bocardo, the lawn, or greens, is marked off by three
posts. These are the three 'chaces,' or scoring marks.

Now, suppose you are standing in the middle of the green, watching a
match at Dog and Duck. The first man to play--'first troller' as he is
called--stands in the alley on a slightly raised platform, two feet
square, at the right-hand bottom corner of the D. The right foot must be
on the platform--'the trap'; the left foot on the alley behind. He takes
the ball, which is a hollow india-rubber ball of two inches diameter,
and begins the 'bump': a bump is the delivery of five balls in
succession. His object is to bowl, or serve, the ball on the alley as
far as possible round the top of the D. If the ball rests between chaces
one and two, he scores five. If it rests between the second and third
chace, he scores ten. If it turns the corner and rests in the return
alley, the trailer's score is twenty. If it passes the Duck which marks
the fourth chace, the player scores forty.

But there are penalties and difficulties. The ball must not leave the
alley. It may, indeed, skim on the edge of the tiles, or walls; but if
it touches the earth on the right, or the lawn at the left, for a
moment, the umpire, standing in the middle of the lawn, calls out
'grounds' or 'greens,' and the scorer deducts five from the player's
total: 'lack five.'

Then, there is Bocardo. The ball that stays within the white line which
marks Bocardo fails to score.

Here then, are the two great difficulties of the game. The tyro, a
cricketer, possibly, possibly a distinguished amateur of bowls, smiles
in a superior way as he takes his stand on the trap. He is to bowl a
child's ball round a garden path. Very good! and then, to his
astonishment, the ball has jumped 'walls,' and is revelling in
'grounds,' or more rarely is disporting itself on the lawn.

The fact is that a ball, with sufficient force behind it to round the
left-hand corner of the D and score twenty, is apt, save in the hands of
the most skilful players, to 'break alley,' to 'go to earth,' as that
famous old professional, Harry Gunter, used to put it. It takes the best
part of a lifetime to learn how to impart that peculiar swirling motion
to the ball which will carry it down the alley, cause it to impinge on
the right wall at exactly the right angle, and then 'bring it low,' make
it come round the D close to the top wall, and at last swing it
triumphantly round the corner, perhaps to Chace IV, the Duck, and a
score of forty.

The supercilious beginner comes to grief over walls; Bocardo is the
terror of the experienced player. Old James Henry Messiter, who invented
the 'railway service,' used to groan and say that 'Bocardo beats all.' A
ball may be well held, well placed, well played, well bungled, and yet
some infinitesimal error at the last moment may spoil everything. It may
be only the variation of a hundredth of an inch in the ball's position
as it leaves the player's fingers. But look, it swings down the alley, a
free, a gallant ball; it impinges on the wall low down at the exact spot
which the player has marked for it; and then, instead of coming down low
it rolls up and abides placidly in Bocardo, and, as Dickens says of
another game, the player's score is as blank as his face.

Bocardo lies in wait for every good player, no matter what his service
may be. I have seen it bring low the hopes of a distinguished Prebendary
of the Church who had studied Dog and Duck under Messiter; and I have
seen it foil a well-known actor, who fancied himself extremely, as the
sole possessor of the secret of Jack Toplady's 'straight slows.'

Toplady, by the way, was the only player who was ever able to score
consistently with the 'white ball.' This, it may be explained, is the
ball which never touches 'walls' at all, to left or right, but wheels
round the curve of the D in a perfect orbit. Old players who have seen
Toplady at work, have assured me that these white balls of his looked as
if they were running in tapes.

The game of Dog and Duck--sometimes, in earlier days, known as Chase
Mallard--makes its rare appearances in our literature. So far as I know,
there has been no scientific treatise on the sport; but there are some
odd allusions to it scattered up and down in old half-forgotten books.
Thus, in modernized English, the mediaeval poet, traditionally known as
Nicholas Scrope--his identity is uncertain--in his _House of Mirth_:

When men in their dalliance
Would have of mirth some pastance,
Then go they to a fair ground,
With the green tree well get around,
And green grass in abundance
To a place that is a gay pleasaunce.
And there is a pathway measured well,
This is their alley, as they tell.
And so with ball in place of bow,
They chase the mallard that may not go
One jot or whit from his station,
But abideth still in his fashion.
But though alway his stand be stable,
Yet is that ball most variable,
And departeth sudden from his right way
And all gates ever will stray;
Till men cry out, 'Benedicite,
Ye foul ball, whither will ye flee?'

And then, the seventeenth-century moralist, some 'seraphical' divine of
King Charles II days, speaking of the vanity of human pursuits and

So have I seen the sun break forth from the cloudy dungeons of the night
and climb high in the heavens, giving gladness to the hearts of men and
gently unfolding the blossom of a rose, and affording light for all our
toils and salutary labours and exemplary endeavours, that we be
justified, if it be but a little, before the evening cometh, and the
dull curtain of darkness shut in all our scene, and it is time for a
reckoning and strict account of all that we have performed. And yet
within this brief allotted space of salvation which may be the last
accorded to anyone, his life concluding with the day, and sinking into
the gloomy retirements of the grave; yet have I seen men go forth in
their madness and unthriftiness, and waste the hours of grace and of the
sun, rendering to idleness and wantonness and vain sport and pleasure
the sum of all they owe to God and to man. For such proceed to the
places of their fond diversion, and chase a painted bird with a painted
ball, till the sun vanishes under the cloud of the night, and darkness
encompasses all things and the game is ended, and they have their pains
for their labours, and the remorse of runagates for their choicest
cogitations, and the babble of fools in their ears in place of the
comfortable whisper of the angels as they lay them down to rest and to
that sleep which is the quotidian prophecy of the tomb.

And so, at about the same period, Davenant doggerelizes over the game in
a different spirit:

But Husband grey now comes to stall,
For Prentice notch'd he strait does call;
Where's Dame, quoth he--quoth son of shop,
She's gone her cake in milk to sop:
Ho! Ho! to Islington; enough!
Fetch Job my son and hearty stuff.
For there in sport we'll shout for luck,
And cry hay duck, there Dog, hay Duck.

And in the old song-books of ninety and a hundred years ago you may
still occasionally come across--


  Trowl the ball slowly,
  So it pass wholly
The mark where the Duck would catch 'em;
  Thus shall it go
  Both sure and slow,
And that's the way to match 'em.

And finally, Dog and Duck makes an odd casual appearance in one of the
most remarkable trials of the eighteenth century, the famous case in
which Anthony Mullins, citizen and haberdasher, was accused of the
wilful murder of Thomas Jenkyns, a retired merchant, living at Enfield
Wash. The body of Thomas Jenkyns was found in a pool of blood in a
lonely field near Highbury; his throat being cut from ear to ear and, as
one of the men who found the body declared: 'We were hard put to it to
know what to do, for it seemed as if the poor man's head was almost cut
away from his body, and I said to my friend, Richard Staple, who was
with me: "Why, Dick," said I, "this is a villainous to-do; for if we
make shift to raise the body 'tis a great chance that the man's head
will fall apart, and I cannot abide the thought of it." "Why, Tom," says
he, "I am much of your mind in the business. What if we leave ill work
as it lies and go peaceably home by another way?" But I would not have
that neither, lest, as I said, we should both be nabbed for the fact and
come to Deadly Nevergreen (Tyburn) at last. And so we made shift to
raise the dead man tenderly, I holding his head to his shoulders and
trembling a great deal, and in this way brought him as far as Islington
without any misadventure, it being late of a dark night without a moon
and scarce anyone abroad.'

This murder, naturally enough, became the town talk of the day, the
murdered man having many good friends in the city, and being both
wealthy and hospitable. It may be mentioned by the way that the business
of Mr. Thomas Brown and Mr. Richard Staple, the two men who found the
body on that dark moonless night, was more than dubious, and it was
conjectured that if the author of _Tom Jones_ had been still alive, he
could have furnished some interesting particulars as to their
antecedents. However, no one suspected them of the actual murder, since
the dead man's watch was on his body and ten guineas were found in his
purse, and that was a good defence, so far as Tom and Dick were
concerned. But there was a great buzz of rumour everywhere, and more
especially in the northern parts of London, and all the taverns were
full of strange talk and whispers of those who could tell strange tales,
and at last, at the end of the week, Anthony Mullins was arrested and
charged with the murder, on the evidence of three persons who swore that
they had seen Mullins and the murdered man together on the afternoon of
the day on which the crime was committed.

The three witnesses were: Simon Murchison, a Scot, who kept a snuffshop
in Norton Folgate; William Frost, a brassfounder, of Clerkenwell; and
Abraham Lewis, a clockmaker of Devizes. These three persons, it
appeared, met at the Bowl and Sword tavern in Islington, not having been
previously acquainted with one another, and, warming over their cups,
struck up an acquaintance, and spoke, as they declared, of ill trade and
the decay of good old customs and the insolence of apprentices--they
were all men in late middle age.

'We all grew to be pretty dismal over the bad times,' said Abraham Lewis
in his evidence, 'till at last I said: "Why, neighbours, this will never
end it or mend it. Come! let us go and bump it at Dog and Duck, and I
will be surety for the first bowl of punch, the lowest score of the
three to be debtor for the second." And so we went out into the alley
behind the tavern, and Mr. Murchison ordered pipes and a plate of
tobacco, and Mr. Frost bade the drawer bring brandy to hearten the bowl,
and so we set to. Mr. Frost played the game very well and crossed the
Duck three times and won the match, and I was second, so it fell to Mr.
Murchison to call for the second bowl. And while we were in the arbour
at the side of the alley, drinking our punch and smoking tobacco, and
talking of the game, two men came out of the back door of the tavern and
sat on a bench by the wall, speaking together very seriously, but not as
we could hear what they said. They called for liquor, and drank two
glasses apiece, and so went out, and we saw no more of them.'

And the witness swore that of these two men one was Mullins, the
prisoner at the bar, and the other Jenkyns, the murdered man.

'I know him,' said Lewis, pointing to Mullins, 'by his great beaked
nose, and the dead man I could swear to any day, for as he lifted his
glass I saw that his little finger, was crooked back, as if it had been
broken; and I saw the body, and the little finger was crooked as I saw
it on the live man.'

Lewis's evidence was corroborated in all essential details by his two
tavern acquaintances. Murchison had noted that the prisoner had coughed,
'in a soft sort of fashion,' three or four times in the middle of his
talk, and everybody in court had observed this peculiarity in Mullins as
he stood in the dock. Frost described how he had seen the prisoner read
a paper which the dead man had given him, and how Mullins had drawn out
a very rich gold and tortoise-shell spectacle-case from his pocket, and
had put on his spectacles to read the paper, and just such a
spectacle-case, of an uncommon pattern, was found on Mullins, when he
was arrested. And then Nancy Wilcox, who was making merry with some gay
friends on ale and cheese-cakes at one of the Islington taverns on the
way to Highbury Fields, feeling, as she said, a little heavy and stifled
with the heat of the place and the number of the company, went out to
take the air and stood by the tavern door. And Nancy swore that she saw
the prisoner pass close beside her, walking with another man towards
Highbury, but she would not swear that the other man was Jenkyns, though
she vowed he was much like him.

Those in the court, barristers and spectators alike, were confident that
the noose was already tight about Mullins' neck, when the great surprise
of the trial startled them all. The prisoner's two clerks, Osborne and
Nichols, swore that their master had been with them the whole afternoon,
from three o'clock till eight in the evening. And as the evidence of the
three men who played Dog and Duck and drank punch, showed that they were
at the 'Crown and Bowl' tavern between three and five, while Nancy
Wilcox fixed her coming out to take the air as 'just a little after the
clock had struck four; for I said out loud, "There goes the stroke of
four, and there go four cups of ale too many,"' it became of the utmost
importance to the Crown to shake the evidence of Osborne and Nichols.

Osborne, it was explained, sat at a high desk directly facing Mr.
Mullins' private counting-house, where he sat apart, in a place glazed
in. Nichols' desk was under a window, and looked the other way, towards
the door.

'I was busy with a great account,' said Osborne in court, 'but ever and
again I looked up from my book, and there sat my master as he was always
accustomed, but very still.'

COUNSEL. 'Was he not used, then, to sitting still in the

OSBORNE. 'Why, not so. He would rise now and again commonly and
walk a littll to and fro, and so sit down again. And twice or thrice in
an hour he would come out and speak with us about the occasions of the

COUNSEL. 'And did he not stir at all on this afternoon?'

OSBORNE. 'He sat still at his desk and never moved till it was
past eight in the evening.'

COUNSEL. 'And what did he then?'

OSBORNE. 'Why, he came forth with a very slow step as if he
were weary, and stood awhile in the midst of the counting-house gazing
about him. And so, looking about him, he saw that Nichols' place was
empty, and he spoke to me in a very sunken voice, little louder than a
whisper, and said to me: "Where, then, is thy fellow?" Now the truth was
that Mr. Nichols had come softly to me where I sat with a candle on my
desk, for it began to grow dark, and he said to me, speaking low: "Alas!
my heart is very heavy. I know not what it may be, but I am sadly
oppressed." I perceived that he shook a great deal as he spoke, and his
face was of a pale colour, he being a ruddy man of his habit. So to
cheer him, I spoke hearty, but not loud, and said, "Why, Jack, what's
this? Never be downhearted. Go you softly to the 'Mitre' and drink a cup
of ale and so defy the devil and the dumps." Whereon he looked fearfully
to the place where Mr. Mullins sat, with no candle by him, and so crept
out. Then, a little while after, when my master came forth and spoke as
I have told it, I gave him the truth, that Jack had the black dog on his
shoulders and I had counselled him to go out to the "Mitre" and drink
some ale to warm his stomach and raise his spirits. "Alas!" said Mr.
Mullins, "poor child! He might do worse than drink a cup of ale." And
then came Nichols, and we two went away.'

COUNSEL. 'Did not the prisoner at the bar speak more with
either of you?'

OSBORNE. 'No word more, but nodded his head as we went out.'

COUNSEL. 'And what did you then?'

OSBORNE. 'Why, I made such haste as I could away, for I was
appointed to meet with one at Marylebone Gardens to view the fireworks,
and it was very late.'

COUNSEL. 'Did you then part from Nichols?'

OSBORNE. 'Aye, for he told me that there was a supper of tripe
waiting for him at his lodging by Pedlar's Acre an hour agone, and he
feared lest all should be undone. "And so," quoth he, "since I won a
wager of half a guinea but yesterday over the man that reads in the
dark,[1] I'll e'en take water and begone with all speed." And so he fell
to running very fast, and I saw him no more that night.'

[Footnote 1: This must have been Jacob Courland, or Crowland, a
foreigner. He had lost one eye in childhood, but possessed, as he
declared, the power of seeing and reading in pitch darkness as well as
in the brightest light. When in London he gave exhibitions of this
singular faculty in a darkened room at the 'Sir Hugh Myddelton' tavern,
Sadler's Wells, and afterwards at Salters' Hall.]

All this was amply corroborated by Nichols. He was quite sure that
Mullins had been in the counting-house all the afternoon, for, said he,
'My place was by the door, and I could not have failed to see him pass,
if he had gone forth.' And then Counsel for the Crown, already hopeless
of hanging the prisoner in the face of such evidence, asked him at
hazard, what had been amiss with him on the afternoon of the murder.
'Are such fits common with you?' asked the Serjeant. 'You have the
countenance of a hearty man.'

'Why, please you, so I am,' answered Nichols; 'and Hockley-in-the-Hole
can answer for it. But on this afternoon there came quite suddenly a
great trembling upon me, and a dread on my heart and a sickness in my
stomach, and I did not know what ailed me, and I feared very much. And
so I looked round on my stool, to see if my fellow, Osborne, was in his
place, and looking down on the floor of the counting-house, I could have
sworn that there was a great pool of blood there, with bubbles of blood
in it, and I had almost swooned away for fear.'

Serjeant Munsey asked the witness no more questions, thinking him an
idiot most likely, and the jury presently returned a verdict of 'not
guilty,' and the prisoner, Mullins, was discharged.

There were rumours of an old and very bitter enmity between the murdered
man and Mullins; but in face of the evidence of the two clerks that was
nothing to the purpose. The murder of Thomas Jenkyns remains to this day
as profound a mystery as the Campden Wonder--and that, after all, may be
one of the inventions of Daniel Defoe.

Of late years, it is true, our occultists have been investigating the
case from their peculiar viewpoint, and are satisfied, as far as I can
make out, that Anthony Mullins was in two places at once. While the
natural body of Anthony was engaged in committing murder at Highbury,
his 'astral body'--whatever that may be--sat, or appeared to sit, in the
accustomed chair in the counting-house. Possibly; but my own opinion is
that the two clerks, Osborne and Nichols, perjured themselves to save
their master, to whom, it afterwards appeared, they were much attached.


When I was a boy, which is a good many years ago, there was a very queer
celebration on New Year's Day in the little Monmouthshire town where I
was born, Caerleon-on-Usk. The town children--village children would be
nearer the mark since the population of the place amounted to a thousand
souls or thereabouts--got the biggest and bravest and gayest apple they
could find in the loft, deep in the dry bracken. They put bits of gold
leaf upon it. They stuck raisins into it. They inserted into the apple
little sprigs of box, and then they delicately slit the ends of hazel
nuts, and so worked that the nuts appeared to grow from the ends of the
box-leaves, to be the disproportionate fruit of these small trees. At
last, three bits of stick were fixed into the base of the apple,
tripod-wise; and so it was borne round from house to house; and the
children got cakes and sweets, and--those were wild days,
remember--small cups of ale. And nobody knew what it was all about.

And here is the strangeness of it. Caerleon means the fort of the
legions, and for about three hundred years the Second Augustan Legion
was quartered there, and made a tiny Rome of the place, with
amphitheatre, baths, temples, and everything necessary for the comfort
of a Roman-Briton. And the Legion brought over the custom of the
_strena_ (French, _trennes_) the New Year's gift of good omen. The
apple, with its gold leaf, raisins and nuts, meant: 'good crops and
wealth in the New Year.' It is the Latin poet, Martial, I think, who
alludes to the custom. He was an ungrateful fellow; somebody sent him a
gold cup as a New Year's gift, and he said that the gold of the cup was
so thin that it would have done very well to put on the festive apple of
the day.

Well, I suppose the Second Augustan was recalled somewhere about
A.D. 400. The Saxon came to Caerleon, and after him the Dane,
and then the Norman, and then the modern spirit, the worst enemy of all,
and still, up to fifty years ago, the Caerleon children kept New Year's
Day, as if the Legionaries were yet in garrison. And I suppose that
Caerleon was the only place south of the Tweed where people took any
festal notice at all of the first day in the year. For it is not an old
English festival at all. It is distinctly Latin in origin. The Latin
peoples have always feasted the day; socially, it ranks far above
Christmas in France. Where then do we get it? The answer is that we get
it from the country where the whisky comes from. It is a Scottish feast.
The Scots call it Hogmanay--a word that comes from an old song with the
Latin burden, _hoc in anno_, 'in this year'--and the Scots who dwell
amongst us have so popularized the celebration that it flourishes in
England, so that we fancy it an old English custom. And the reason why
the Scots keep New Year's Eve and New Year's Day with all the
solemnities of whisky and good resolutions and elbow-joining and
Auld-lang-syneing is that for many hundred years Scotland maintained the
closest relations with France. Even to this day, I suppose, there are
many Scots who would speak of table-linen as 'napery,' a cup as a
'tassie,' a leg of mutton as a 'gigot,' and a wild cherry as a 'gean.'
In France, the _guigne_ is a fruit half-way between the ordinary cherry
and the morella, neither as sweet as the one nor as 'dry' as the other.
France, indeed, has left all manner of trace on Scottish life. A small
country town in Scotland reminds the travelled Englishman strangely of
many a dull little town which he has visited in France; the sort of town
which the French themselves call '_un petit trou de province_.' The
small Scots town is not a bit like the small English town; it lacks
utterly the smugness, the warm, red brick, comfortable appearance that
one finds in such places as Amersham, in Buckinghamshire, Brandon, in
Norfolk--or Suffolk?--and Marlborough, in Wiltshire. The county town of
Scotland is French, with a certain northern grim ness about it, and if
there is an old castle anywhere near, it will have the French
_tourelles_, or 'pepperpot' turrets. And the cakes in the confectioner's
shop might be matched in France, but hardly in Bond Street, for their
choice elaboration, their appeal, not only to the palate, but the eye.
And then the cooking: your lodging may be of the humblest, but your
landlady will serve you such dishes in the way of Scots Broth and
Collops as you may pray for vainly all England over. And after you have
finished your broth, the meat which made it will appear on the table,
garnished with its attendant herbs and vegetables; just as in France, in
many country houses, the _bouilli_, the beef that made the soup, is
served after the soup plates have been taken away.

Scotland, then, is largely a land of French custom, and thus,
ultimately, of Roman custom. The Scots Law is largely Roman Law. They
have no coroner in Scotland. The Procurator Fiscal 'precognoses' the
case as the Procureur de la Rpublique makes his 'instruction,' his
preliminary inquiry in France. And so, Scotland has given us her
Latin-French festival of New Year's Day. And it has 'caught on'
wonderfully. Not, I think, quite in the true spirit of its native lands,
Rome and France and Scotland. I spoke of 'good resolutions' as part of
the New Year ritual; but that, perhaps, is our grave English
contribution to the feast. We speak of a 'Merry Christmas and a Happy
New Year,' and I believe that no Englishman is quite all mirth as the
clock begins to strike midnight on December 31st. He may wish to be
purely jolly; but somehow a tinge of solemnity will break in on his
jollity. There will never be quite the abandonment of Christmas in our
New Year's mirth. We may be as worldly as we will; but in the last five
minutes before the bell of twelve, I believe that a little of the Watch
Night spirit of the Methodists finds its way into the cups and strikes a
silence about the board.


It is a theory of mine that one very rarely sees the last of anything.
In a sense, of course, we have seen the last of the horsed omnibuses of
London; we know that we shall never more behold them lumbering along the
streets; those vehicles that would look almost like toys to us now, but
then seemed great and gay. The last one that I saw at all was quiescent,
and not in motion. There is a wharf by the canal somewhere in Camden
Town. It looks as if somebody had thought of pulling it down or of
turning it into something else, and had then despaired of his endeavour.
On this wharf I noted, a few years ago, an old omnibus standing
desolate. It is possible that the owner of the wharf had a notion that
it would make a good barge: but this fancy also went the way of his
other dreams. We have seen the last of the horse-omnibuses in one sense,
but who can come forward and declare that he was a passenger in or on
the last journey made by the last horse-omnibus in London? The old
machine endured, I think, into the war. I tried to keep my eye on one
that plied from Somerset House to Waterloo and back; but it faded
imperceptibly and was gone. So with the Valentine. Who bought the last
Valentine, and when? I can remember very well indeed the days in which
the fourteenth of the month of February came with a flutter of
excitement to the breakfast-table. There was no knowing what the post
might or might not bring in the way of sentiment or comedy. There were
the fine and scented Valentines in cardboard boxes, puffy with
cotton-wool and the tenderest feelings; things of silk and satin,
delicately scented, painted with flowers. And then there was satire of
the milder kind, pictures of absurd young men holding crutchsticks and
chewing toothpicks and looking foolish. These mortified the more
sensitive recipients; and there was always the anxiety of wondering
whose hand had sped the dart. The writing on the envelope was of course
disguised, or written by some person whose script was unknown to the
receiver of the Valentine. Hence the question: was it only that fool
Bill; or, alas! was it from the fair adored Hermione?

But there was a third class of Valentine; the kind which the butcher's
boy sent to the cook, which the housemaid dispatched to the young
greengrocer whose suit she scorned. No 'nice' stationer kept these
Valentines. They were to be sought in back streets, near the
rag-and-bone shop, close at hand to the broken-down furniture warehouse.
They stood in rows in the windows of mean shops; things made of the
thinnest paper, about five inches broad by eighteen long. They bore
hideous libels on the human form, outlined in black with liberal
splashes of coarse red paint, usually determining to the nose. On these
things cook, who in real life was a pleasant, comfortable body, would
find herself depicted as bloated beyond recognition. Beside her a bottle
of brandy, half finished, might stand, and a horrid verse below would

You always find the kitchen dripping handy:
You know the way to turn it into brandy.

Thus insinuating against the poor woman the vice, not only of
dishonesty, but inebriety. So the young greengrocer would be counselled
to keep his carrots for his own consumption, instead of wasting them on
his ass:

To say the least,
If he's a four-legged, you're a two-legged beast.

And so on, and so on. The satire was somewhat ponderous, perhaps; but
those were hearty days. The butcher boy, in particular, was an
irresistible and an easy mark. Here was the opportunity for the red
pigment, and plenty of it. The poor lad was depicted as gnawing a huge
and bloody bone with loathsome appetite and hideous grimaces, and
underneath would run the legend:

You starved so long at home
You went abroad to gnaw a bone.

And all these fine, brave things are gone! It is years upon years since
I have seen them hung up in the small shops in the back streets. I
think, somehow, that the last of all must have been on view in the
purlieus of Hoxton; Hoxton the home of lost causes; the last place to
have a genuine theatrical stock company, the last place, I fear, which
will make the toy theatre, the delight of so many childhoods that have
since turned to dismal old age. And I am wondering whether any
collector, wise in time, felt by instinct that the day of the vulgar
Valentines was almost done, and so collected them forthwith. Probably
such a man arose in the nick of time; a man who specialized in this one
subject, and could tell you the very year of the first Valentine
depicting that bloated cook and that sanguineous butcher boy, of the
firm which had the monopoly of their production. If you know this man he
will show you his portfolio of back-street Valentines, and point out the
rarer specimens, even the unique Undertaker Valentine, a lachrymose and
drunken fellow, shedding hypocritical tears, and illustrating the

You swab your eyes, but not with grief,
You want more gin for your relief.

There must be some such collection, I am sure, and if it is but given
time to age, it will become valuable. For here is one of the most
curious things in that complex which we call human nature; age will give
merit to anything, or almost anything. The vulgarest abuse scrawled on
the walls of Pompeii has a huge interest to us; and the time will come
when those old pasquinades of the London slums of twenty, thirty, fifty
years ago may give more delight than grave books full of science. For,
if one thinks it over, it will appear that science, which has always
assumed such great airs, is one of the most fleeting and evanescent of
things. It does not last; it becomes perilously near nothing at all.
Take a chemistry book of twenty-five years ago, with its dogmas of the
intransmutable elements, and the atom as the ultimate of matter. The
elements, or some of them, have been transmuted; the atom is a universe
of electrons: the chemistry of 1895 is but an idle tale. But old fellows
will still chuckle as they draw their bald old heads together in the
club window and recall the remark made by the driver of the 'John Bull'
to the conductor of the yellow 'Tilling' in 1895, one fine summer

I think some substitute should be found for the vanished Valentine and
its observances. Suppose we made February 14 a day on which we could do
what we liked--of course without malice or injury to our neighbours.
Suppose we made a regular wild day of it, and insisted on buying
chocolate creams--and why not bullseyes?--at 8.15 p.m.; on having
another glass of small beer after ten, on buying cigarettes openly at

Why not--to use a vulgar old expression--go the whole hog on St.
Valentine's Day, and make believe we are Englishmen again, not inmates
of a Home of Care and Restraint for the Feeble-minded?


'Mothering Sunday,' we may take it, falls, in ninety-nine cases out of a
hundred, in the month of March. I should not like to be too precise,
since the calculation of the date of Easter is a very knotty matter, and
the oldest difference to divide Christendom into two camps. Moreover, I
have not got the Dominical Letter, the Golden Number and the Epact by
me; and you must have all these handy if you would talk about Easter and
the dates dependent on it. But, on the whole, I think we may say safely
that Mothering Sunday--called also Mi-Carme, Mid-Lent, and Refreshment
Sunday--falls in March. We will not go into the question of the origin
of the name 'Mothering'--a very pleasant, friendly and homely title.
There are certain words in the Epistle for the day which may account for
it; at all events, this Sunday has always been celebrated as a feast in
the midst of a fast. And I have a very vivid recollection of the manner
in which the festival was observed in the west country about fifty years
ago. I was not very old then; and the ritual appealed to me highly. I
can well remember the aspect of the country town on the Saturday, the
market day, before Mothering Sunday. Or, I should say, the aspect of the
confectioners' shops in the narrow high street. For they were more
gorgeous on this day than on the market day before Christmas. They were
full of cakes, cakes for every purse, wonderfully adorned with icing,
white and pink; a truly delicious spectacle. For the custom of the
country was that on the day following, Mothering Sunday, every child
should present his mother with a cake. I believe that farm-servants, in
especial, made a great point of this observance. Out of slender
savings--five or six or seven pounds a year were their wages in those
days--they would buy a cake and beg leave of absence from the farmer on
the Sunday, tramping, some of them, ten miles over the hills to the
maternal cottage, there to make their offering, and warm their hands at
the old hearth before setting out again for the farm by deep lanes and
black March woods. A friendly, kindly custom; one of the good
observances that smoothed the rough places of life in the old days.

Now these kind cakes were, of course, Simnel cakes, though I do not
recollect whether they were prepared according to the usual recipe which
so pleasantly puts a layer of almond-paste not only outside the cake but
in its very vitals. And, that everything should be pleasant about this
mid-Lent festivity, some ingenious person was at the pains to invent an
etymology for the word Simnel, which is matchless in its absurdity.
Simnel was just mediaeval English for a cake. It comes from the Latin,
_Simila_, which means the finest wheaten flour. Originally, I suppose,
the English word was 'simmel,' this became 'simnel' as 'pantomime'
becomes--on some lips--'pantomine.' But about eighty or a hundred years
ago, the ingenious person got to work on simnel. I conjecture that he
had settled that Charing was, really, _chre reine_; a touching allusion
to Queen Eleanor. He had shrunk from the vulgarity of Rotten Row and had
demonstrated that it was a corruption _Route du Roi_. He had made
Birdcage Walk into Bocage Walk, and had explained how energetic
apprentices sometimes set the _tems,_ or sieve, on fire. Refreshed by
these labours he turned his eye on simnel--and produced his masterpiece.

Once on a time, it appears, there was an old couple, Sim and Nell by
name. They were dear old people, with the best hearts in the world, but
after many long years of happy married life, they had retained their
several individualities. And so, when it came to a question of their
having a cake, there was something of a dispute. One--I forget
which--wanted it baked; the other would have a cake that was boiled. So,
one regrets to say it, they differed and even quarrelled as to this
cake; the debate rose to such a pitch that Nell rushed at Sim with the
broom. In her violence, she broke some eggs that lay on the table, and
this catastrophe brought these nice old people to their senses. They saw
that they had been silly. They agreed that, to please both parties, the
famous cake should be part baked, part boiled. And to round off all, and
to smooth everything over, literally and metaphorically, the smashed
eggs should be used to glaze the cake. And so, from this quarrel and
reconciliation between Sim and Nell, the cake was naturally called

There; that is the etymology; and in the words of my favourite classic,
'Get Rich Quick Wallingford': 'Can Limburger smell worse?' But I confess
to being curious as to the identity of the inventor of this ridiculous
and imbecile fable. Was he one with the inventor of the other
etymologies which I have mentioned, or was he 'a little syndicate,'
operating in false derivations?--I forgot, by the way, one of the
noblest efforts in this kind: the account of how the tavern sign of 'The
Goat and Compasses' arose from the piety of Puritan days, when the Sour
Saints drank their ale under the proclamation, 'God Encompasseth Us.'
But, as I say, the mental process of the individual, or individuals, who
invented the simnel nonsense, and all the other like nonsenses,
interests me. Was he a leg-puller, who deliberately made up idiotic
tales, chuckling as he reflected that there was no limit to human folly?
Or was he merely a solemn ignoramus, with a misdirected zeal for
piercing to the root of things, who sat down, as it were, before any
word or phrase that he did not understand, and set his weak brains
working until they evolved a feeble fable? It will ever be a mystery. In
all probability, the person who invented these outrageous tales was a
Rationalist, a man with the scientific mind. He perceived that it was
all nonsense to talk of setting the Thames on fire; the thing couldn't
be done. He didn't know that every nation has the proverb, the name of
the river being varied. So he made up his ingenious story of the
energetic apprentice and his sieve, or whatever the _tems_ may be. And
so again; never having heard of _simila_, fine, sifted flour, he made up
the tragi-comedy of Sim and Nell.


Does the rite of the April fool still survive amongst us? Or has it gone
the way of the February Valentine and of the ceremony of the oak-apple
on the twenty-ninth of May? I am afraid that if it has not gone it is
going fast, like most of the light-hearted observances which our fathers

I can remember the time when on the first of April men ordinarily grave
and sedate enough would invent mad errands for the simple. Boys would be
sent to the chemist's for a pint of pigeon's milk or to the cobbler's
for a certain quantity of 'strap oil'; these April jests were mostly
jokes of much the same quality as the actor's trick of sending the
beginner to borrow an 'ibid,' a mysterious prop, which had its origin
in the list of characters and their costumes at the beginning of the old
play books. Thus, the Duke of Otranto--let us say--was to wear a black
velvet mantle, black hose and shoes, and a cap with a black plume in the
first act. Then, for the second act, he would be set down 'ibid'; that
is, _ibidem_; stage Latin for 'same costume.' The young actor would go
forth on his search for the ibid, and be sent from the vaults underneath
the stage to the flies, and climb many stairs and peer into many strange
dens before he became convinced that he might as well look for an ibis
as an ibid; and such was the spirit of the ceremony and quest of the
April fool. The whole principle of the business was that you were to
send somebody to look for something that didn't exist and moreover
wasn't there! Thus, it would be very graceful April Foolery if I were to
have a number of cards printed reading like this:

                          HAMPTON COURT


                Requests the honour of your company

                      AT THE FEEDING OF THE

                  April 1st.
                    Eleven o'clock precisely.
              _Morning dress_

And as I write this nonsense, the conviction seizes me that every
hundred such cards sent out would find at least five April fools, and
very likely more. The older I grow, the more firmly I am convinced that
there is no proposition, tale or statement so monstrous that it will not
find some true believers. I feel certain that if I announced an
Exhibition of Two-Sided Triangles, I should have numerous inquiries; and
I think I could find modern artists who would paint them for me. No
proposition is too absurd for belief; I knew hard-headed men of business
who grew cross and heated if you hinted some doubt as to those tens of
thousands of Russian soldiers who had passed through Ealing Broadway
'last Sunday morning, between ten and eleven; my brother saw them, I
tell you.' Why, it is only a few weeks since I saw an odd-looking
picture on the back page of a newspaper. It was, like the rest of the
pictures on the page, a reproduction of a photograph. Most of it was
ordinary enough; it showed a girl standing against a background of
leafage. But close to the girl's head there was something not so
ordinary; a little winged figure, perhaps six inches long, clothed in
some gauzy stuff, appearing to float in the air, in the manner of a
butterfly. That little winged figure was a fairy!

This 'fairy' is believed in and commented on by grave men, men of
undoubted culture, men of undoubted intelligence--in other matters, at
all events. Nay, serious scientific language is brought in to explain
these _in camera_ fairies: they are invisible to most mortal eyes, it
appears, but the ultra-violet rays perceive them and fix them on the
photographic plate. And their intelligence is measured by the experts;
it is equal to that of the average Newfoundland dog, or perhaps a little
lower. And their business? Skilled and scientific, they build up the
molecules which compose the flowers.

There you are! I believe I should have a mob waiting to see the Hampton
Court Dragons fed--if I placed my cards with a certain discretion.

And another instance. A dozen years ago or so, an old friend of mine, a
musician, was in the artists' room of a provincial concert hall. A
concert was going on, and my friend's attention was attracted by the
sound of a certain showy but indifferent piece of modern violin music
from the platform.

'What are they playing that thing for?' he asked somewhat contemptuously
of another artist, a lady who was standing by him.

'Oh, didn't you hear,' she replied, in a sort of reverent church
whisper; 'the Holy Grail ordered it to be played.'

The monstrous April Fool story on which this remark hung is much too
long to be told here in its full significance. But briefly: somebody a
few years ago picked up in a French curiosity-shop a queer saucer-like
vessel of blue glass. Somebody else, seeing the thing, remarked: 'I
always think the Holy Grail must have been like that'; and so, by
certain elaborate stages, the saucer--a modern imitation of antique
glass, said the antiquaries--became the Holy Grail, gave oracles,
diffused blessedness, and meddled with concert programmes.

'This way for the Dragons, ladies and gentlemen!'

And now, as the preacher says, for the application. It seems pretty
clear, I think, from these examples, that some of us are April Fools all
the year round. There is no tale too outrageous for us to swallow, no
quest too absurd for us to undertake. Pigeons' milk, indeed! We are
ready to fetch quarts of it, gallons. And it is possible that the wise
men of old, from whom all good customs and strange ceremonies proceed,
perceived this abounding folly of the human heart, and devised the rite
of the April fool, that thereby we might be purged of absurd credulity
by 'pity and terror,' as Aristotle has it. 'Let there be an orgie of
folly on one day in the year,' these sages may have said, 'so that
thereby it may exhaust itself, and learn its own mad excess, and refrain
itself for the remaining three hundred and sixty-four days.' There is,
of course, another explanation, known to a few. According to these
people, the April Fool business is, like many other popular customs,
games, and ceremonies, the remnant of a rite or mystery of the most
profound antiquity. This rite, as it is declared, instructed those who
had 'passed the doors' that most of the business of the world,
especially that business commonly regarded as most weighty, important,
grave and serious, is a crazy quest, a search for what doesn't exist and
isn't there. So, say these authorities, the initiated were instructed
that most of the reputed great, serious, portentous and weighty men of
this world, on arriving in the other world, will be received with
undying shouts of mirth and by a voice pealing in an unknown tongue a
pretty close equivalent to 'April Fool!'


I have been reading about the customs of May Day; of the rising up early
and going into the fields and to the borders of the woods, of the
gathering of the white blossoming boughs and the bearing of them home
again. And of the Maypole also; of the tall tree all bedecked and
garlanded and gay; and the men and women dancing round it, in sheer
lightness of heart, in sheer delight that the sun is warm once more, and
that the earth once more has grown green. I wonder and admire and am
quite sure that the age which performed all these happy observances was,
so far, infinitely more civilized than ours, which, I believe, observes
May Day, so far as it observes the feast at all, by holding
demonstrations of a scarlet colour and holloing of Bolshevist anthems.
Without going deeply into politics, one can say quite definitely that it
is more civilized to bear branches of flowering thorn than to bear the
Red Flag. But, having freely admitted this much, I would urge my strong
objection to the attempted revival of May Day customs--or of any old
customs for the matter of that. What is the use of tying grapes on
thorns or figs on thistles? You may make a ghastly and unconvincing
imitation of a vine, and a fig, but the fruits will rot and the thorn
will remain a thorn, and the thistle a thistle. It is without the
slightest enthusiasm that I read of the revival of Morris dancing and
the teaching of it; it is as if one taught laughter in the Council
Schools. Little pamphlets and magazine articles would be written showing
how our old English literature is full of allusions to mirth and
laughter, how once upon a time everybody laughed, how an old man had
been found in an out-of-the-way hamlet who still laughed, how many
eminent physiologists were inclined to think that laughter, in some
mysterious manner, promoted digestion. You can imagine the scene: the
schoolroom smelling of damp deal boards and inkpots, its walls hung
round with maps and charts, the mistress--certificated in Laughter--at
her desk.

'Now, children,' she begins, 'I have explained to you how once upon a
time everybody laughed a great deal. We don't quite know why they did
so. Some learned men think that laughter was an imitation of a
thunderstorm, and that people laughed to bring the thunder and rain and
do good to the crops, just as sailors used to whistle when they wanted
the wind to blow and make their ship go through the water. You heard all
about that the other day in Miss Skimpton's lecture on the Mimetic and
Cultural Origin of the Arts. But, whatever the reason for people
laughing, it is thought that it was good for them and that it would be
good for us too.

'Now, children, imitate me--'

THE MISTRESS--_sadly_--'Ha, ha, ha!'

THE CHILDREN--_gloomily_--'Ha, ha, ha!'

THE MISTRESS--_miserably_--'He, he, he!'

THE CHILDREN--_despairingly_--'He, he, he!'

Well, it may come to that, if the world goes on as it goes now, and
laughter may become a lost art. But it will be of no use to try to
'revive' it. It will be idle to put it into a syllabus and teach it in
the schools. And so it is idle and useless to try to revive Morris
dancing or May games or Maypoles or any of the ancient customs of our
fathers. For these things are effects, symptoms; not causes. You cannot
get scarlet fever by painting yourself with red spots; you cannot get a
light and happy heart by dancing a Morris or dancing round the Maypole
or bringing in the May. The German baron in the story was found jumping
over his chairs and tables. He was asked what he meant by it, and he
replied: 'Sh'apprens t'tre fif--by which he intended to say: 'I am
learning to be lively.' But it is quite certain that he remained as
heavy as ever. And it is quite certain that we have lost that quality
which lay behind all these old merry customs of the May, which was the
cause and source of them all. I have called that quality
light-heartedness, but I am not sure but that joy is not the real name.
It is already becoming something of a mystery to us, as the origin and
cause and meaning of laughter had become to our imaginary County Council
mistress. It was not a thing that depended upon external good fortune or
ill; people had hard times and bad luck in plenty in the Middle Ages,
and bad luck of a very ill kind: we may be sure of that. But, as a race,
we always had joy, and that in an eminent degree, as is expressed by the
phrase, 'Merry England.' We must not confuse this sense of mirth or joy
or light-heartedness--whatever it may be called--with the sense of
humour. _That_, I think, we have in a superior degree; all of us, that
is, who can relish Dickens and W. W. Jacobs. The medival notion of a
joke was primitive and practical; there are certain tales in Chaucer
which are assuredly funny, but in a rough and ready way, and without the
subtler flavours which we have learned to relish and appreciate. But
humour has nothing much to do with a light heart; its savour is not far
removed from sadness. Humour, we may almost say, is a strange and
beautiful and exquisite by-product of a world which is seen to be all
wrong; a recognition that its incoherences and even its tragedies have
something wildly funny about them. Let us review Mr. Micawber's career
as it appeared to the eyes of the world and Mrs. Micawber's family; it
was, seriously, rather shocking, disastrous, and not over honest. I
don't think the Middle Ages would have seen anything funny in Micawber:
they would probably have whippd him. But Dickens, by a happy and
marvellous magic, distilled Micawber's shabby disgraces into an elixir
of rare humour.

But that quality which we have been speaking of, that quality which made
Morris dances and May mirth, which caused grave lawyers to dance
solemnly round an imaginary fireplace in Middle Temple Hall as late as
the beginning of the eighteenth century--that quality was due to a
conviction that in spite of the Black Death and the Hangman and the
King's Counsellors the times were on the whole in joint, and not out of
joint. Dante wrote of horrors terrible enough, and many of them eternal
horrors; yet, surveying the universe, he could call his book, the
'Divine Comedy.' He could afford to be light-hearted. Not only the end,
but the whole purpose and scheme, as he saw it, were happy. I think that
this joy, this mirth, had departed from the world, or were fast
departing from it, when Shakespeare wrote. His outlook on the universe
was, I believe, on the whole, a sad one. It was thus that he was able to
create Falstaff, that supreme work of humour out of the villainies and
cowardices and shameful shifts of one of the most disgraceful old
rascals who ever breathed in imaginative literature. To Chaucer,
Falstaff would have been merely a 'recreant knight' and 'foul caitiff':
but Shakespeare saw him as a fountain bubbling with laughter.


It was in April, if I remember, that I said something about fairies. I
am afraid I was talking about April fools, and more or less maintaining
that they flourished not only in April but all the year round. And one
example was the case of the Yorkshire Fairies, as we may conveniently
call them. Or, if you like, we will be good journalists and call them
the 'alleged' fairies. You know the story. Two young ladies of
Yorkshire--one of them, I think, has had some practical and professional
experience in the art of photography--were in the habit of taking
country rambles and snapshots together. When the plates were developed,
strange to say, besides the portrait and the leafage and the flowers
there appeared certain forms which were easily recognizable as
fairies--as the fairies of a somewhat third-rate artistic conception.
Scaling the little figure against the girl's face, I should give the
tiny being some nine or ten inches of height. It was draped. It had the
familiar wings of the fairies in all the pictures in all the children's
fairy-tale books. If you were producing a fairy play for Christmas you
would dress your chorus exactly as the photographic fairy is dressed;
and the 'principals' would wear a similar, though richer, habit and have
like wings, more brilliantly spangled. In a word, the fairy of the
photographs is the conventional fairy and nothing else. And that is why
I cannot believe in that fairy. For I cannot suppose that the modern
inventions of nineteenth-century storytellers, artists and stage
managers can have projected themselves into nature; and no such fairies
as these deal in have any place in ancient tradition. It is June; the
month of the fairies, of the Midsummer Night's Dream; let us occupy
ourselves a little with the fair people.

To begin with the conventional fairy, the fairy of the photograph, the
fairy that we have been discussing. I trace this little creature back to
Shakespeare and Herrick. Queen Mab in Mercutio's speech rode abroad in
an empty hazel nut; Herrick's Oberon drinks his wine from a daisy, and
his loaf is a grain of wheat. Here are minute entities, indeed. Queen
Mab is to be conceived as of about the size of a housefly; Oberon may be
almost as huge as a harvest mouse. Hans Andersen, who dealt more in
fancy than in folk-lore, has such fairies in some of his tales; fairies
that he concealed in tulips. But, so far as I know, this minute fairy is
a purely literary invention. It is first met in Elizabethan literature;
it puts on a few inches in the fairy tales of the nineteenth century,
chiefly, I suppose, because a fairy queen no bigger than a fly is too
small to be handled, either by writer or artist. The children's
fairy-tale fairy becomes about the size of the Yorkshire photographic
fairy; anything between six inches and a foot high. But, as I say,
neither the minute Mab, the tiny Oberon of Herrick, nor the picture-book
sprite of modern times has any original in true popular tradition. The
fairies were, indeed, the 'Little People,' and hence, perhaps, the
poets, exaggerating, thought of Mab small enough to ride in a hazel nut.
But the older conception is also illustrated by Shakespeare. The sham
fairies who plague Falstaff in 'The Merry Wives of Windsor' are
impersonated by Windsor children. They are imagined, then, to be beings
from three to four feet high; and such was the traditional height of the
'Little People.' Such is the figure of the Irish Leprechaun--the fairy
cobbler with the pot of gold.

There is a very tempting theory which now comes in our way. It has been
held that the tradition of the fairies is, in fact, the tradition
preserved amongst the Celts of the small, dark race which they
supplanted. There is a good deal to be said for this. It is only a few
years ago that a certain hill in Ireland was excavated. This hill had
been known from time immemorial and was still known as a Fairy Rath. The
Little People dwelt within it; the light of their fires had been seen
shining from it of dark nights. And the queer thing is that this was
perfectly true. Or rather, it had been true--a thousand years ago. For
the exploration of the hill showed that the primitive pre-Celtic race
had dwelt within it, till the Danes broke into their hiding-place
somewhere in the tenth century. And the fairy lights? The blocked-up
chimney shaft of the hidden house in the hill was disclosed. No doubt,
when the Little People made great fires the flames shot up and flickered
on the hill-top; and were seen by some trembling wandering man astray in
the wilds and the darkness. What a tale that man told when he found his
way at last to friendlier fires; with the door set fast! And the stories
of the fair children taken away to live in the hollow hill by the Little
People, of the dark, wizened babes, the changelings, left in their
place? Likely enough these things happened.

It is probable, then, that the pre-Celtic inhabitants of these islands
may account for a great deal of fairy tradition; but not, I think, for
all. The fairies are also gods and goddesses of the old time now
diminished in dignity but still potent; and, be it remarked, always, or
almost always, evil. About forty years ago I was talking of old ways
with an elderly Monmouthshire farmer, and he told me that in his youth
people used to put the May blossom on the doorsteps of their houses--to
keep the fairies out. So, when I was driving eight years ago in the
country near Belfast, my friend, a hard-headed Presbyterian man of
business, showed me the mountain-ash trees planted by every house--to
keep the fairies out. We have come a long way from the fancies of
Shakespeare and Herrick, a long way indeed from the benevolent little
beings of the children's books. In true popular tradition the fairies
are always dreaded; partly, perhaps, because they were old gods and
goddesses, accursed by the Christian Faith, partly, because they were
the little dark people who lived in the hills and stole away the fair
Celtic children from the Christian hearth. There, I think, you have the
main strands in fairy tradition. But there are others. A fairy is
sometimes an 'elemental,' a spirit of one of the four elements,
according to the ancient theory of elements; air, fire, earth, water.
The Sylphs were of the air, the Salamanders of the fire, the Gnomes of
the earth, the Undines of the water; and I am sorry to say I do not know
how far Paracelsus, who made this classification, was deriving from
tradition and how far he was inventing or drawing on his reading in
queer, forbidden manuscripts. And I am not clear as to the character of
these spirits of the elements. Some servants' 'characters' are obscure,
and so it is here. But I do not remember to have heard any particular
good of Salamanders, considered, that is, as spirits of flame, and
insinuating nothing against a harmless lizard of that name or against a
cooking utensil which might be used more than it is. But on the
elementals, read 'Le Comte de Gabalis,' a singular treatise of the
seventeenth century.

Again, you have another kind of fairy; the Robin Goodfellow,
Lob-lie-by-the-fire, the Lubber fiend; who would work hard for you at
nights and thresh out your corn if you set a great bowl of cream for his
refreshment. And last of all there is the Fairy Queen whom mortals
sometimes visit, who, as in Walter Map's tale, makes three hundred years
seem but the passing of a single night. Such was the lady to whom Thomas
of Ercildoune returned at last. I am not sure whether she is the lady
whom Tannhauser knew; the lady Venus; but I am certain that she has
nothing to do with the Yorkshire fairy on the photographic plate.


One July picture always remains clear in my mind. A heavy, sweltering
heat, a dark sky with darker clouds moving across it, a promise of heavy
rain--usually fulfilled--in the still air, a river flowing down from an
ancient grey bridge between rich meadows, lawns and gardens and
overhanging trees, vanishing beyond a wooded point beneath high leafy
hills. Altogether, a beautiful English landscape, improved to my mind by
the temple in eighteenth-century classic, which, if I remember, stands
among the trees down stream; it is the Thames at Henley.

All the foreground of the river, on the town side, is full of boats, and
the boats are full of pretty girls in pretty summery frocks talking to
young men in blazers of every device with the arms of all colleges
embroidered upon them. And the boats are gay with cushions of all
colours, and queer entertainers wearing pink mortar-boards and blue
coats and yellow trousers and black faces move up and down the river
twanging the banjo and singing; altogether a very lively scene. Then, a
gun is heard in the distance by the point, and up come the boats. The
men row for their lives--and it is not their fault that in these days of
the motor they cannot give the notion of tremendous speed--and the race
is decided somewhere opposite to the boats full of pretty girls and

Now, it has once or twice been my business to be on a stand just at this
point, and I have therefore had the opportunity of observing what
happens to the crews when the race is over. They do not look happy. Some
of them fall backward. Some of them lurch forward, their heads between
their knees. Some of them have open mouths, and they gasp for breath
after the fashion of fish out of the water. Some of their faces are
blue. And there can be no doubt that some of them will suffer from the
effects of that boat race for the rest of their lives. And the puzzle of
it is that all this is done for fun. They row because they like it; it
is not one of the 'extraordinary punishments' which the
seventeenth-century Puritans accused the Star Chamber of inflicting; it
is no cruel sentence of an arbitrary and oppressive court that has
condemned these young men to so many minutes of bodily torture. And let
it be remembered that there has been a long period of chronic
unpleasantness before the acute agony of the race. All these men have
kept a kind of athletic Ramadan. They have gone into training. Their
meats and their drinks have been regulated for them, their stomachs have
been handed over to the trainer, every muscle of their bodies has been
under strict inspection, they have had to rise at abominably early hours
and go to sleep soon after the children are put to bed--and, worst of
all, their tobacco has been cut off. In fact, these men in the boat have
gladly consented to a rule sterner than that of a Benedictine monastery,
all for the sake of this final ten minutes of long-pumping,
heart-wracking, muscle-burning torment, called a boat race.

There it is; and all done voluntarily, nay, eagerly, for the pleasure,
the delight of the thing. It may be said that these rowing men endure
what they endure and suffer what they suffer in order that they may win.
And, very likely, the men themselves think so; but they are mistaken.
The winning of the race, which is, formally and in theory, the object
and the reason of the whole thing, is in reality an afterthought, a
cunning excuse. Excuse for what?

The priests of Baal, it may be remembered, cut themselves with knives
after their manner. They pretended that they behaved in this odd way
because they wanted Baal to hear them, just as our young white-robed
priests of the Holy Boat pretend they go through all the torments that
have been described because they want to have absurd objects called
Diamond Sculls and Golden Goblets in their nominal possession for the
twelve ensuing months. Both sets of priests lie, as Dr. Johnson would
say, or, as we should say, are mistaken. The priests of Baal cut
themselves with knives because they liked cutting themselves with
knives, and the priests of Henley subject themselves to almost
intolerable distress because they enjoy doing so. And it won't do to say
that they turn blue and gasp because of the honour and renown, because
the pretty girls in the summery frocks love him that gaspeth, whose face
is even of the colour of lead. Watch the after career of one of these
men. Likely enough, you may see him in a photograph, a year or two
later. The scene is an awful one. All about are hideous desolations of
ice and snow. There are black gulfs as horrible as if they were prepared
for Titans' graves. There are sheer depths that terrify even in a
picture; precipices that your soul will remember in those dreams from
which men awake sweating and shrieking. And high over these unutterable
frozen wastes, high above four thousand feet of nothingness, a rock juts
out precipitous. It is a smooth wall, and it leans, as it were, towards
you as you look at the picture. On this sloping rock, stretched out like
a spatch-cocked fowl, is young Blueface, late of Henley. He is holding
on by teeth and feet and nails to fragments of uncertain stability; the
failure of a quarter of an inch will send him plunging through those
four thousand feet of empty air to destruction. If he is lucky, he will
get to the top of that unpleasant rock and see a frightful landscape,
not unlike the horrid lakes and mountains of the moon. He will then
turn, and face the equal perils of the descent. And he does all this
because he likes it; likes it even better than the induced suffocation
and heart-disease at Henley.

And, this time, let it be noted, young Blueface has no admiring
audience. There are no pretty, summery girls to be melted. There are no
harmless drudges of the Press peering from their stand over the abyss,
ready to record his achievement in double-leaded longprimer. There may
be a paragraph in the 'Alpinist'--only seen by fellow-fakirs--mentioning
briefly Mr. Blueface's successful climb of the Dummerkopf; or another
sort of paragraph headed 'Alpine Fatality.' Blueface himself will never
speak of the affair willingly. If you apply strong pressure to him you
may squeeze out a sort of half-admission that 'the last lap of the old
mound was a bit tricky'; and then he will change the subject and ask you
if you have heard anything about Bolter and what you fancy for the
Cantershire. Again; there it is. The terrors and the horrible dangers
and the frightful bodily and mental strain of Alpine climbing are faced
freely and voluntarily because they are enjoyed. Nay, take Mr. Blueface
in his leisure moments, when he is resting from his acuter pleasures. It
is a hot, a very hot afternoon. The thermometer mounts to 87. Existence
is just bearable if you keep perfectly still. The logical understanding
suggests a hammock or a deck chair in the deepest shade, a curiously
compounded drink with ice, in a very long glass, and a placid pipe. What
does young Blueface do? He finds another like unto him, and they get
into the full blaze of the sun with a net between them, and proceed to
hit a ball with a racket in the most violent manner, and to rush to and
fro with tremendous speed for the next three hours, till they are as
like burning coals as human beings may be.

Long ago a French book was written called _A quoi tient la Supriorit
des Anglo-Saxones? What is the Secret of Anglo-Saxon Supremacy_? So far
as I remember, the work in question offered no very helpful solution of
the mystery; perhaps, we may venture to say that we owe a great deal to
the fact that we have invented an odd ritual, called sport, which gives
one of the most deep-seated instincts of humanity an opportunity of


Two happy, musty tags of quotation occur to me as I contemplate this
month of August. One is the classic adage which informs you in a grave
and ancient manner that you may fork out nature as many times as you
like; but back she will come, again and again. The other tag is from the
French: Change and change and change again; still the same it will
remain. And putting the two together, you have the solution of the
problem of the Londoner's holiday. Why is it that when he goes away for
a change he looks out for some place that is as like London as possible?

You see? Expel nature with a fork; tell Mr. Londoner that what he wants
is a thorough change, that he must be off to the sea-breezes and the
sea-bathing of the peaceful little fishing village of Brighthelmstone,
on the Sussex coast. In a very few years the Thrales have heard of it,
and Jack Wilkes has heard of it, and the Prince has heard of it; and the
peaceful little village of Brighthelmstone has become Brighton, a
fashionable place, a place with smart shops and smart hotels, in a word,
as good an imitation of London as can be knocked up on the bit of coast
under the Downs. You can certainly bathe if you like, and you cannot
help breathing the good salt air; but the point is that Brighton is the
Londoner's home from home. And so, to refer back to the second tag, the
more he is ordered change, the more he makes it the same thing, so far
as it can be made the same thing.

And this by the way: I often wonder what the Brighton man does when he
wants a change. If he be the wealthier sort, the case is, of course,
easy enough. He moves from a smart hotel on or near the Brighton front
to a smart hotel in or near Piccadilly. And he again is perfectly at
home; at Brighton-on-the-Park. But some of us, alas! are not smart,
whatever our habitat, and I wonder whether the people who keep lodgings
in the back blocks, the up-and-beyond of Brighton, know where to go when
they are ordered a complete change. I can tell them. There is a region
in London little known. It was once called Spa Fields; now it has no
name, or none that I have ever heard. It is to be approached by going up
the Gray's Inn Road some way north of Gray's Inn and then turning to the
right. It has its Squares and its Crescents and its Places on the side
of a steep hill; it has its dusty little by-streets going off these more
important avenues; it has its colonies of small shops, its queer
reminiscences and parodies on a small scale of old-fashioned
architectural modes; just as in Brighton you come upon the most amusing
reproductions of the Pavilion in little. And here is the odd thing. In
the back parts of Brighton and of other old-fashioned seaside places, it
is only by a strong exercise of the imagination that you can believe
that you are near the sea at all. You can't see it--though your landlady
may have advertised that her apartments enjoy a fine view of it. You
can't see it, and nothing around you looks like it. Everything is
gritty, urban, suburban, in its aspect. It is only faith, confidence in
the scheme of the Universe, and an assurance that the L.B. & S.C.R.
would not play a silly trick on you and go round and round London and
call Kentish Town Preston Park; it is only a sure faith that prevents
you saying: 'Why, this is Camden Town!' So, by an odd reversal; it is
only faith of the same sort, the knowledge that life is real and life is
earnest, as Longfellow said, and not an Arabian Night, that prevents you
from looking out for a glimpse of the sea from that London region of
which I have been speaking. You don't expect to see much of it; you know
that you are not in the best quarters of the town, where the first floor
may run to anything; but you can't help feeling that there must be a
glimpse of the ocean visible from the top windows of that house in
Rougemont Square. Actually, I am afraid, you would only have a prospect
of St. Pancras Railway Station; still, the impression remains. And hence
I say: let the people at the back of Brighton who want a real change,
take lodgings up in this east-by-north of Gray's Inn quarter. They will
find it most refreshing; it is so much the same thing.

And, lest I be accused of cheap superiority, let me say that I believe
most of these good people, who change to remain the same, are perfectly
right. I don't think that the majority of us are prepared for the real
and tremendous changes; I don't believe that such things would do us any
good. I feel no hankerings after St. Helena; I do not wish to take a
holiday on the Plains of Alberta, Canada. It is true that most of us are
the better for a change; but it must usually be a slight change to be
beneficial, and, often, a very slight change indeed. I have been
thinking of Guernsey this August, but I shall not go there; for, if I
did, I should stay there, which would be out of the question. Guernsey
would be a thorough change; and I am not thinking so much of the
beautiful old town of St. Peter Port, where you mount a flight of stone
steps to get from one street to another, nor of the lovely coast, nor of
the sweet airs of the sea. For once I am a political man; I am thinking
of the Guernsey Constitution. It seems perfect. The King was there last
month, we know, and the royal visit led, naturally, to meditations on
Guernsey on the part of the English papers. All of them spoke of the
feudal ceremonies that were observed, of the seigneurs who put their
hands between the hands of the Duke of Normandy--he also happens to be
King of England--and swore to be his liegemen of life and limb, ready to
defend him against all manner of folk. And then there was the matter of
the lords who had to come through the water to greet their Duke, and of
the lord who had to present two mallards, or wild ducks, with gilded
bills, on a silver dish; and so with a number of beautiful old rites.
But what I heeded was a short leading article in that fairest of papers,
the _Manchester Guardian_. The _Guardian_ was frankly puzzled with
Guernsey. The _Guardian_ represents the old school of Liberalism: the
school of Bright and Cobden--the school that at its worst was Gradgrind
and Bounderby. And here, said the _Guardian_, was an island, boys and
girls--just a little in the M'Choakumchild manner--which is happy,
prosperous, loyal, contented. And yet the government of this island is
in the hands of a High Bailiff, of the Jurats, elected for life, of the
island parsons, and of a few officials. If the High Bailiff objects to a
proposed measure, he vetoes it at once, and it is no more heard of. And,
what the devil, boys and girls, the _Guardian_ seemed to ask, if it
could have used such language, does that island mean by being happy,
loyal, prosperous, and contented under such an entirely preposterous
Constitution? Now, as it happened, I was talking about the Guernsey
Constitution and the _Manchester Guardian_ article to a highly
distinguished American. He is not obsolete, he was not born in a hot-bed
of aristocratic prejudices. I think I may say he is a live wire. And he
said: 'I only wish we had the Guernsey Constitution in my country. We
set out--and we meant well--to have a democracy. What we've got is a
kakistocracy--a government by the worst men in the country.'

The American spoke on--he was eloquent like many of his countrymen--and
showed, correctly, as I think, that politics and constitutions are a
means, not an end, that the good and content and happiness of the people
at large are the supreme end and law and reason of all governments; that
the constitution of Guernsey was, therefore and evidently, perfect. Very
likely he was right; and therefore I shall not take my holiday in
Guernsey. I do not hold with violent changes, as I have said.


The war, I believe, is over. At all events, I will assume this to be the
case, in order that I may speak of Michaelmas goose, and confess that,
in common with most Englishmen, I have certain Teutonic tastes. In 1918,
it was dangerous to admit a liking for Bach or Beethoven; now, I think,
things are a little calmer, and I may venture to say that I like apple
sauce with roast goose. As a matter of fact, I do not think that the
goose, a very favourite dish in Germany, is served with apple sauce in
that country; but the combination is purely Teutonic. In France, where
dwells the True Church of cookery, they would shudder at the notion;
ust as they shudder at lamb and mint sauce and red-currant jelly with
saddle of mutton and jugged hare. I know that these things are wrong;
but I like them all the same; and they are all German in feeling. In
Germany, as I have read, they serve raspberry jam with roast veal, and
English travellers have been known to denounce the absurdity of the
combination, not seeing that it is on all fours with their own saddle of
mutton and currant jelly. I say again that these things are wickedness,
but I like them very well, and all peoples who have any Teutonic blood
in them love such mixtures. There is the 'Mostarda Soffrafina' of
northern Italy; it is fruit--small pears, if I remember--pickled in a
hot sweet sauce. This they eat in Lombardy with their boiled beef; and
from this circumstance, if all the history books in the world had
perished, we might infer that the Lombards were of Teutonic stock. So, I
say, I am for apple sauce with the Michaelmas goose; and, let it be
added, for the stuffing of sage and onions, which, so far as I know, is
a purely English and a most happy thought. Here, again, we must differ
from our masters in cookery, the French. Walking once in Touraine with a
French friend, I saw a bush of sage growing by the roadside. I told the
Frenchman the use to which it was put in England, in relation to the
goose, the duck, and the pig. He nibbled a leaf, and then looked at me
with a glance which I had met before in French company.

I had met it once from M. le Cur, on his learning from me that in
England we pronounce 'Credo in unum Deum,' 'Creedo in yunum Deeum,'
instead of 'Craydo in oonoom Dayoom.' I met it again from a small
farmer. We were talking in his vineyard, and as it happened, a great
elderbush, laden with purple berries, grew at the corner of it. 'In
England,' said I, 'we make those berries there into wine.' He glanced at
me, and underlined his glance by spitting on the ground. And all three
Frenchmen intimated by this glance that they had always heard that the
English were fools, and that now they were sure of it. Well, true
friends can still be friends, in spite of differences; even if those
differences are as vital and deep-reaching as the question raised by
apple sauce and sage and onions with roast goose. And, since we are on
the matter of stuffing, let us consider the traditional thyme and
parsley stuffing which we in England dedicate to the fowl, the turkey,
and to roast veal. We eat it because we like it, but science has
discovered within the last few years that 'thymol' is a substance of
high value. It is a powerful disinfectant, it is of great service to the
digestive process, it is the very thing to give to the mucous membrane;
and so we have been scientific without knowing it in eating thyme with
our fowl. And so, no doubt, science will presently discover that
Salvine--which is the name that science will give to sage--is just as
good for us as thymol. And this opens a question which has always struck
me as of curious interest; the question of traditional wisdom in meat,
drink, and medicine. Long ago, before chemistry in the modern sense can
be said to have existed, old women used to treat goitre by rubbing a
certain seaweed on the affected part. The treatment was successful; and
a few hundred years afterwards science found that this seaweed contained
iodine, which is just the thing for goitre. So with quinine. How did the
savages of South America find out that the bark of one tree out of the
thousands in their forests was good for malaria? They did so; just as
our forefathers combined malt and hops into that admirable beverage,
beer, without understanding in the least that they were concocting a
perfectly balanced drink, which united the most valuable nutritive and
tonic constituents.

It is the process by which these results were arrived at that puzzles
me. Take the quinine, for example. There is, I imagine, a vast choice of
trees and of plants in a South American forest. Are we to imagine the
Indian of past ages threading his way through this waste of wood,
tasting bits of trees, one after another, till he found the cinchona and
found that it eased his pains? And our old Englishwomen, with their
seaweed for goitre: how on earth did they come to think of it? And the
leaf that makes tea, and the berry that gives us coffee, and the plant
that affords cocoa--the only end of which is chocolate--I how are we to
account for the discovery of their virtues? For with these, it is to be
noted, the I process is a complicated one. Not much satisfaction, one
imagines, could be obtained by chewing the green leaves of the tea
shrub; nor would the grinding of raw coffee berries between the teeth be
of great service to body or mind. It must have been sheer intuition
which told some wise man of thousands of years ago that the leaves of
the tea plant must be dried, and that then boiling water must be poured
upon them, and that the resultant liquor was good to drink. And so with
tobacco; how did the poor Indian know that this was stuff to be smoked
in a pipe? For all we can see, the Indians of Hindustan might well have
smoked their tea leaves, and the Indians of America poured boiling water
on their tobacco leaves. I remember, indeed, that Amundsen, the Arctic
explorer, told me how he and his companions found that the tobacco had
been forgotten at one of their 'dumps'; so they smoked tea in its place;
but he did not speak well of the experiment. And I doubt whether tobacco
tea would please a delicate palate. One must conceive primitive man,
then, as engaged in endless dietetic and medicinal experiments; one must
conceive him also as frequently feeling very unwell indeed; one must
conceive him as occasionally dead. The man who wondered whether deadly
nightshade would cure toothache, and made the experiment, fell a victim
to the spirit of inquiry. And so, perhaps, there were anxious faces
round the board when the first goose stuffed with sage and onions was
eaten. It was a bold idea, all might be well; and, on the other hand,
all might be very far from well.

All was well; and now, as I say, it only remains for science to prove
that Salvine is the one preparation necessary to the happy digestion of
the Michaelmas Goose.


This is a degenerate age. All our comforts have either gone or are fast
going. I have said so again and again. Nobody heeds me, or if I am
heeded I am told to think of the telephone, the aeroplane, and tubular
boilers. But what idle trifling is this? Whoever heard of a jolly party
drinking punch as they sat about the sparkling, dancing telephone? Is
there any true history of a party, weather-bound in an aeroplane,
getting down at a cloud-tavern and telling stories to each other till
they had compiled a _Household Words_ or _All the Tear Round_ Christmas
Number, only leaving the introduction, or framework, to be written by
Mr. Dickens? Has a tubular boiler ever aided in the production of what
John Browdie called something 'warm and varry coomfortable' to be taken
after supper? Of course not; so what is the use of urging these idle
conventions against my contention of the age's degeneracy?

All our comforts, I say, are passing from us. For here am I, writing in
September and looking forward to October. Once on a time there would
have been something to look forward to. For, with decent luck, and
allowing for the eccentricities of our climate, the Londoner of
twenty-five years ago had every reason to expect in October that rare
treat, the first fog of the season. I must allow that the October fog
was rarely, if ever, a perfect specimen of its kind. It was tender, it
was, if you like, immature. It had not the richness of the right
November growth. I do not think that I have ever heard of a man going
past his own doorstep in a fog of October. The Great Fog Legend of the
omnibus which somehow wandered into Clare Market--where is that market
now?--was seen to vanish under an archway and was never seen more,
belongs to November and Lord Mayor's Day. I admit, then, readily, that
the amateur of fogs did not expect the great growths in October; but
still there was a peculiar relish in the misty gifts of the month. A
little thin, perhaps, in substance, a little lacking in the true
sulphurous bouquet of later fogs; comparable, if you will, to the
earliest duckling, to the August pear, but still, how relishable in
their young and tender bloom! Wise men have held that a green goose
eaten at Petertide has a delicacy of flavour that is wanting to the
fatted bird of Michaelmas; and so there was a fleeting, sylph-like charm
about the firstling fogs of October. The night before, perhaps, it had
been warm and stuffy, and you began by casting off the second blanket on
your bed. But somewhere in the small, mysterious hours, a chill came
into the air and you half awoke, shivering slightly, and drew that
rejected blanket back into its place and nestled gratefully under its
genial warmth, and so fell asleep again and into happy dreams. And when
the morning summons came, the light filtered dim and uncertain through
the window, and, looking out, you saw not a street, but a white and
fleecy cloud, through which rose the fantastic pinnacles of a fairy
castle--otherwise, the chimney-pots of the houses over the way. And the
noises of awakening London and the rattle of the rousing streets were
hushed and muffled, as the whorls and eddies and wreaths of mist floated
past your window. It had frozen in the night; and there was the
exquisite result, the first fog of the year. And note the subtle
relishes and aromas of this delicacy of the season. It was delightful in
itself; for what can there be more delightful or of finer magic than an
agency which turns Bloomsbury or Brixton into the appearance of a cloud
and the architecture thereof into a thing of unearthly beauty? But
beyond the actual enjoyment that your first fog afforded, how rare was
it in its prophecy and promise of what was to come! You looked forward
to the great fogs of November, December, January; to the masterpieces of
foggery, when all London should pass into the mighty cloud, when noon
should be as midnight, when the raw cold should pierce to the very bone,
when an errand to the shop round the corner should be as desperate and
doubtful as an errand to the Pole, almost an occasion for doorstep
farewells; when huge blocks of ice should grind together in the
invisible Thames, when the curtain of thick Egyptian darkness, if it
were lifted for a moment, should show vast caverns and antres of tawny,
fiery light, as it were the glow of a dying furnace. Such were the happy
anticipations of that October morning of the past.

But, as I said once or twice before, our comforts and our simple
pleasures are taken from us one by one. There are no real fogs in London
now; the dimness of October gives no promise of November darkness. The
last real fog was 'presented' on or about December 23, 1904. It was not
a fog of the first class, for it was pure white and rigorists might
maintain that it was merely a thick river mist. But the hansom cabmen
were leading their horses, lamps went before the crawling omnibuses, and
some guests, bidden to a wedding feast, went past one of the biggest
London hotels without seeing it. Call it a mist if you will; but when
shall we have such a mist again? And, just as I was going to write--for
the third or fourth time--that life and London have few comforts left in
them, it suddenly strikes me that there may be people who will declare
that the London fogs of olden time were not comforts at all, but gross
discomforts and miseries; that, in short, we are all the better and more
comfortable without them. Well, I love a good paradox, but this is a
little too much, even for me. The proposition that would deny the
curious pleasures of a London fog is not a paradox; it is not even an
oxymoron; it is a piece of rank absurdity. Surely this is obvious. I
remember once talking to a great Arctic explorer. It was a day of
piercing cold--what we in London call piercing cold--and there was a
glorious and tremendous fire on the hearth. Before this fire the great
man stood displayed, as I think the heralds say, in his enjoyment of the
light, of the glow, of the crackling coals, and the genial heat. His
face beamed like the blaze behind it, brightened like the light of the
flames that danced on the dull walls. 'You know,' said he, 'that nobody
who has not been up to his waist in the freezing slush of the Arctic can
enjoy a fire like this.' Of course not; I saw his point at once. The
argument surely needs not to be laboured; it is clear enough that the
comforts of life cannot be enjoyed without the apposition of their
contraries. You do not hear of the people of Aden or Bagdad or
Bassorah--I prefer the old spelling--gathering about a glowing, roaring
fire, drinking hot punch, and thanking Heaven for these delights. And
since man is evidently meant to sit at flaming hearths and to drink hot
punch, it is clear that if circumstances forbid his enjoyment of these
pursuits he is so far a maimed and imperfect creature, deprived of the
comforts in which he was intended to take his pleasure. Should we not
then all become Arctic explorers?

That, no doubt, were the right and manly course; but there are
difficulties in the way, and one can conceive objections being raised to
the population of London spending the season round the North and South
Poles. It would interfere with the films and with many social fixtures.
In the old days there was a happy middle course. We had the fogs of
which I have been speaking; with what a relish we drew back the curtains
and saw the air grow dark without as the fire blazed bright within. The
bitterer the chill of the air, the more grateful the warmth; the deeper
the gloom without, the happier the hearts within. Decidedly, a London
fog was one of the choicest of comforts.

But now, as Mr. Micawber said, when he was released from prison,
everything is gone from us.


In the infancy of photography, the artist with the camera was accustomed
to say to his patients: 'Smile, please.' In those days one had to assume
rigidity for a considerable time before the releasing 'Thank you' was
uttered; and so it was no wonder that these frozen and prolonged smiles
came out in a somewhat ghastly manner, and render many an old family
album a terror and a wonder to this day. But this is beside the point. I
merely recall the photographer of 1869-70, because I am reversing his
favourite injunction. I do not say 'Smile, please.' I say: 'Be so kind
as to look grave.' For we are to have a little theology.

It comes about like this. Somebody--I forget his name and the name of
his book--has just written an amusing work about the eminent men of our
age. He 'takes them off,' I gather, with a pretty wit, and dealing with
Mr. G. K. Chesterton, gives a pleasant version of the Chestertonian
doctrine; that no one without a bottle of Bass in each hand can enter
the Kingdom of Heaven. And the curious thing is that he is evidently
under the impression that he has uttered an extravagant paroody of G. K.
C., that he has reduced his position to an absurdity. Well, I cannot
answer for Mr. Chesterton, but if I were he, I should accept the
intended sarcasm as an admirable statement of my case; condensed, no
doubt, and familiar, in its illustration, but all the better for that.
Of course a man cannot enter the Kingdom of Heaven without a bottle of
Bass in each hand. Advanced theologians, Modernists, Universalists and
all that lot may hold that one bottle in one hand may just scrape a man
past the gates, but I have never had much sympathy with what is called
Liberal theology. But, surely, the supposed absurd and damaging
overstatement is merely the most obvious and the soundest common sense.
For, sinking the technical expression of the doctrine--I am afraid pure
theology is apt now and then to degenerate into asperity, and I must not
get cross in these calm pages--what reason is there to suppose that a
good man is one who is devoid of a palate and devoid of a stomach;
devoid, in fact, of senses of any kind? It having pleased Heaven to give
its creatures these faculties of sense, why should we think that Heaven
will be highly gratified by our behaving as if we had no such faculties?
A man who blandly but firmly declined to admit that the sun was bright
or the sky was blue, on the ground \ that good men never saw anything,
would run the risk of being certified. Why whould a man, who pretends
that he can't taste anything be \ thought to be a being of a superior
caste? For, be it noted, I am not pressing the pro-alcohol side of the
argument. 'Bass,' as I take it, means something good to drink, without
reference to the fact that if you drink too much of that agreeable
beverage you may be led to commit indiscretions. For the moment, I am
willing to substitute for 'a bottle of Bass in each hand,' 'an
exquisitely made cup of chocolate in each hand,' and that beverage
reminds me of the story told by the great French gourmet, Brillat
Savarin. That most sensible man, reviewing the Revolution from his
special point of view, deplored the ruin that it brought to the
monasteries and the convents. These, he said, speaking from experience,
were the great schools of the last refinements in cookery, and he quotes
the dictum of an Abbess of his acquaintance on this very subject of
chocolate. 'If you would have chocolate in perfection, my dear sir,'
said the religious lady, 'if you would taste its most exquisite aromas,
you must make it overnight and warm it up again the next morning; and I
am sure that the good God, in whom reside all perfections, will not
grudge us this little refinement.' The Abbess was in the right of it. It
is, of course, true that a really good man does not suffer his liking
for a bottle of Bass or a cup of chocolate to make him neglect his
mother, starve his wife, or send his children to the workhouse. If a
good man has to choose between making the chocolate overnight and
suffering the wife of his bosom to experience the pangs of want, he
will, almost always, say: 'By all means make it in the morning; I can
bear it.' But this is true of all delights of the senses; a really nice
man will not suffer his family to come to grief in order that he may
indulge his propensity for looking at sunsets.

I said that we would waive the more or less alcoholic side of the
question as involved in the symbol, 'Bass,' selected by Mr. Chesterton's
critic. I said so because I think that good drink merely represents the
first line of the cause which the bad people are attacking. It is my
opinion that these bad people are only in the first stage or movement of
a much more general attack. Tobacco will be the next line, the next
engagement will centre round the meditative pipe, the gay cigarette, the
magnificent Corona. Already that battle is preparing in America; soon,
in powerful circles, a pipe will be inconsistent with piety. Nor will
matters stop there. The Vegetarians have long been aware that what is
the matter with the world is Meat. They have their feelings, like the
anti-Burgundy and anti-Bass people and the anti-Tobacco people. They are
quite convinced, with Mr. Bumble in _Oliver Twist_, that Meat is the
root of all evil.

'It's not Madness, ma'am,' replied Mr. Bumble ... 'it's Meat.'

These persons then, sharing the opinion and the intelligence of Mr.
Bumble, will engage on an anti-meat campaign. If they win, they will
divide into two parties. One set will allow us to cook our vegetables;
the other side will insist that if you are to boil your green peas, you
may as well dine off rumpsteak at once. And, of course, sham science
will come to their aid. There are plenty of doctors already who are
quite prepared to demonstrate by unanswerable arguments that if you cook
anything you destroy all its value. Before long there will be letters in
_The Times over_ signatures furnished with the most appalling array of
degrees and qualifications showing that the way out of all our
difficulties is to put out the kitchen fire.[1] But it would be a great
mistake to suppose that the campaign will stop here, with our palates
and stomachs and general comfort and well-being. All the arts will next
be the object of attack; tobacco, beer, beef and boiled beans having
fallen, painting, sculpture, music, literature will be suspected,
examined, denounced, prohibited. This is no fantasy; for this has
happened before. It happened in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries,
and is generally known as Puritanism. The movement was then allied with
certain theological views. It began by smashing and destroying all the
beautiful things that were then to be found in churches. It blotted out
of the world a mass of beauty in a manner which is really awful to
contemplate. Macaulay, not by any means the acutest of critics in a
general way, got to the heart of the matter in his account of the
Puritan objection to bear-baiting. They disliked bear-baiting, he said,
not because it gave pain to the bear, but because it gave pleasure to
the spectators. So with their objection to sports and games of all
sorts. They began by saying--and, no doubt, believing--that games were
wicked when played on Sunday. They ended by banning games and sports of
all kinds on any day. They shut up the theatres: they gave pleasure, and
the Puritan hates pleasure because it is a good thing.

[Footnote 1: I was a true prophet. The above was written in 1921. Now,
in 1923,1 have just been reading the report of a lecture by Dr. Leonard
Williams, a well-known Harley Street specialist. Dr. Williams declares
that the kitchen range is the worst enemy of man, and that we ought to
live on raw roots and things, and very little of them. Compare with this
the system of another distinguished specialist, Mr. Squeers, of
Dotheboys Hall, Yorkshire. 'When a boy gets weak and ill and don't
relish his meals we give him a change of diet--turn him out for an hour
or so every day into a neighbour's turnip-field, or sometimes, if it's a
delicate case, a turnip-field and a piece of carrots alternately.']

Now at the end of this grave sermon, I will give my text, reserving it,
contrary to the usual practice of sound divines, to the last. This is
the month of November, and on the eleventh of November is the feast of
St. Martin, that good soldier-saint who gave half his cloak to the
shivering beggar. And in the old days they used to say:

On the feast of Martinmas
Cups of ale shall freely pass.

They knew in those days that the saint and his charity and good ale were
all good together, each in its several degree. They knew that all three
were 'congruous.' They knew that a man cannot enter the Kingdom of
Heaven unless he carries a bottle of Bass in each hand.


I have often been tempted to put a certain question to the Vicar: to any
vicar. Does he in his heart think that anything has much changed in the
last four or five thousand years--that is in the known course of
history? Are we any better; are we any worse? On the whole, if the said
vicar had a parish in Babylon, would the general conduct of his
parishioners have been much different from that of his parishioners in
his parish in Marylebone? Or supposing him to be a country vicar;
wouldn't he be glad on the whole if his young people were as decent in
their ways as Daphnis and Chloe?

It is a large question, and I have had grave doubts on the matter; but,
lately looking up this business of Christmas, I am inclined to think
that we really have got on a little. But, first, it is necessary to go
into the origin of Christmas. The old story was that it was a peculiarly
northern festival; that all its mirth and jollity and ringing carols and
sumptuous meats and drinks had no reference to any Christian joy. All
our Christmas mirth, these wise men told us, we had inherited from our
Scandinavian ancestors, who had noted that the tide of winter began to
turn for the better somewhere about our Christmastide. The shortest day
was past, the hours of light steadily began to lengthen, the spring was
already prophesied. And so the Northern people literally made a song and
dance about it; they made merry because the worst of the winter was
over, and better things were coming. It is all very ingenious; but I
think I see flaws. Did these people who rejoiced at Christmas tear their
hair on Midsummer Day because the longest day was over and winter would
soon be upon them? I have never heard that they did anything of the
kind. And, again, it may be objected that the worst of the winter is,
demonstrably, not over at Christmas. In nine cases out of ten the worst
is to come. They must have been simple souls, indeed, those
Scandinavians, if they rejoiced for winter past in December; with the
terrors of January, February, and, often, of March to come. As a matter
of fact, of course, they made merry as we make merry at this season, so
far as our mirth is seasonal at all, precisely for the opposite reason.
'It is very cold, indeed: the snow is falling fast, the wind comes
piercing from the North, all appearances of summer are long over: and
the best of it is, there is greater cold to come.' That is the real
sentiment of the season, and De Quincey; expresses it admirably. Thus he
writes, indicating the season and the circumstances of felicity:

'Let it, however, not be spring, nor summer, nor autumn--but winter in
his sternest shape. This is a most important point in the science of
happiness. And I am surprised to see people overlook it, and think it
matter of congratulation that winter is going, or if coming, is not
likely to be a severe one.... Indeed, so much of an epicure am I in this
matter, that I cannot relish a winter night fully if it be much past St.
Thomas's day, and have degenerated into disgusting tendencies to vernal
appearances; no, it must be divided by a thick wall of dark nights from
all return of light and sunshine.'

And that, no doubt, is the truth of the matter, expressed as only that
wonderful, profound and eloquent De Quincey could express it. But there
is another point to be noted: they kept up Christmas tremendously in
pagan Rome, though they did not call it by that name. Now, winter has no
frightful terrors in Italy, and yet, it is odd enough, the Christmas of
Rome fell, within a day or two, just at our Christmastide. They called
it the Saturnalia. The _Classical Dictionary_ tells me that it was a
feast of immemorial antiquity, founded to commemorate the golden, happy
age of Saturn. 'All animosity ceased, schools were shut, war was never
declared, but all was mirth, riot and debauchery.' The last phrase is a
little severe, but I think we may take it as meaning that the ancient
Romans had a thoroughly good time at this season of the year. All social
inequalities were annulled while the feast lasted; and as in old
Virginia, in the slavery days, the black people claimed the right of
taking the inside places in the coaches at Christmas while their masters
rode outside, so in Rome, the slave told his master what he thought of
him. 'Come,' says Horace to his man, 'use your December liberty, say
what you like.' The man used it, freely enough; he told his master what
he thought of him; that nobody would have been unhappier than he if he
had suddenly found himself in the good old times that he was always
praising, and so forth. Davus, in fact, told his master home truths, and
it is in this point that, I claim, we have advanced over ancient morals.
For, be it observed, we use our December liberty in quite another sense.
Christmastide is exactly the season when we keep what are called home
truths in the background. We hold back all the nasty things that are at
the tip of our tongues, we begin to find that there is a good deal to be
said for 'that scoundrel Brown,' we discover that M'Caw's cold and
studied insolence is 'only manner,' and that Mulligan's noisy and
tiresome vulgarity is pure heartiness and high spirits. We find out, in
short, that we are all jolly good fellows. Even a man who considers
himself deeply injured thinks it all over at Christmas, and sees that
there is something to be said on the other side. And thus we transcend
and surpass the pagan conception of Christmas--or Saturnalian--jollity.
The Romans told each other 'home truths'; we tell each other _the_
truth. For, of course, we _are_, all of us, jolly good fellows.
Consider, if we speak of literature; what is the truth about it? Surely,
that is to be sought in Shakespeare, and Keats, not in the commercial
drama of the West End, nor in the feeble imbecilities of the minor
poets. If we are to speak of painting, we mean Turner, we neglect the
existence of German oleographs and all the multitude of pink
sentimentalities in pigment. Architecture means Westminster Abbey, not a
tin meeting house. It is the good things and the splendid things and the
perfect things that come to the account; not the failures or
make-believes. So, with ourselves and the rest of us: at Christmas we
see humanity as it ought to be: genial, full of charity, brimming over
with mirth and good will. We are mummers, if you please; we dress up, if
you like: but we know that these gay, cheerful and resplendent vestments
are the clothes that we should always wear, if things were right, if
'the letters of the Name were made known.' It is true that one cannot go
by the Underground into the City in parti-coloured jester's robes, or in
the silver armour of St. George: but so much the worse for the
Underground and the City.

At Queen's College, Oxford, they bring in the Boar's Head with surpliced
songmen and choristers and a noble old carol at Christmas. Everybody
knows in his heart that this is the way in which we should always dine,
if the world were properly managed. In the rush of business, it would be
slightly inconvenient if the chops and steaks and cuts from the joint
were brought in by chanting waiters: still, the old Oxford Christmas
custom shows how the thing should be done.

The boar's head in hand bear I
  Bedecked with bays and rosemary.
And I pray you, my masters, be merry
  _Qui estis in convivio_
_Caput apri defero_
  _Reddens laudes Domino_.


We have been talking a lot of one Will Shakespeare lately. Miss Clemence
Dane wrote not long ago a play about him. Mr. Arthur Whitby,[1] one of
the actors in it, an old Bensonian of ripe and large experience, and as
well-graced a player as any we have in these days, told me that never
had he been called upon to deliver such beautiful lines upon the
stage--save when he had to speak the verse written by Shakespeare
himself. And all kinds of fine things have been spoken of the piece, and
yet it did not run--principally, I think, because the critics took it
into their heads on the first night that Shakespeare was represented as
Marlowe's murderer. Now, I never saw 'Will Shakespeare,' so I must say
nothing of its presentation, or of the stage management which allowed
this tavern scuffle between the two dramatists to be dubious and
obscure: but I am a little entertained at the--implied--horror in the
criticisms. Supposing Miss Clemence Dane had really made Shakespeare get
into a rage with his rival, Marlowe, and draw that little dagger which
hung by every man's side in those days and stab Marlowe to the heart:
what about it? Should we have any reason to be shocked or surprised or
alarmed or disgusted if such had been the fact, not merely in the
twentieth-century play, but in sixteenth-century real life? Didn't Ben
Jonson kill his man? Does anybody suppose that Shakespeare, the social
being of his age, was any better than Ben Jonson, any better than the
average Elizabethan playwright? Really it is time that we cleared our
minds of this cant about Shakespeare; it is worse than the Scottish cant
about Burns, a noble poet and a capital fellow in many ways, but--in
actual life--not always in the Cotter's Saturday Night frame of mind.

[Footnote 1: Since dead, alas!]

Now, be patient. Examine yourself, and, speaking by custom of
confession, avow that you hold Shakespeare to have been all good and all
knowing and all wise; the genius being taken for granted. In spite of
Ben Jonson's fervent but most truthful eulogy you insist that he had all
the science of the age at his command. It has been quite in vain that
the good Ben insisted that Will's education was a mere
smattering--'small Latin and less Greek'--you will have it that the
creator of Falstaff must have been to some Dotheboys Hall of the period,
where he was 'instructed in all languages living and dead, mathematics,
orthography, geometry, the use of the globes, algebra, single-stick (if
required), writing, arithmetic, fortification, and every other branch of
classical literature.' Now, this was not the case. I have just been
turning up his January play, 'Twelfth Night.' I look over the cast. The
scene is laid in Illyria, which is now Jugo-Slovakia. Most of the names
are Italian, which passes very well: but what about 'Sir Toby Belch,
uncle to Olivia,' and his friend, 'Sir Andrew Aguecheek'? Are Belch and
Aguecheek names often found on the Illyrian seaboard? Most certainly not
in the year 1600; possibly now, if the Gloucestershire Belches and the
Westmorland Aguecheeks have small fixed incomes and are able to take
advantage of the extremely favourable rate of exchange in Jugo-Slovakia.
This is a small instance. But it does illustrate, and prove, the
position that the true Shakespeare was not the creature of the
intellectual and moral tea-party that we imagine. He laughs at all the
schoolmasters. I dare say he knew that people on the Illyrian seaboard
had, as a rule, Italian sounding names. What did he care? When he wanted
broad comic effects from his characters he gave them gross and
ridiculous English names--because he knew that these names would incline
the pit to mirth. The 'high brow,' the 'intellectual,' the
'intelligentsia' would rather perish than use such a device: but
Shakespeare--or 'Shagsper,' if you like--was not of that world. I have
often thought that one of the finest pieces of Shakespearean criticism
that I have ever heard came from my old friend, Jerome K. Jerome. I was
talking to him about the libraries, especially the German libraries,
that had been written on Shakespearean psychology.

'Shakespeare,' said Jerome, 'was not like that. When he had got all
those people dead in the last scene in "Hamlet," he struck a flourish
with his pen, and said to himself: "There! that ought to bring 'em in!"

And there no doubt you have a great deal of the root of the matter.
Shakespeare was not, consciously, a moralist, a philosopher, a thinker.
He was a Warwickshire lad, with a small scholastic grounding and a
universal curiosity, who came up to town and, somehow, fell into the
theatre business first as actor, then as playhouse author, then as
speculator--he was a member of the little syndicate that took up the
land in Southwark on which the Globe was built. In addition, he happened
to be a man of the supremest genius. But the chief passion of his life
was Stratford-on-Avon. He never forgot it. Amid all the wild whirl of
that London life--and it was a wild whirl then, a foaming torrent of
such passions, political, sensual, emotional, intellectual, that our
poor attempts at being alive in London now are pretty much as the green
stuff on a duck-pond is to Niagara--he thought of the friendly fires and
the good taverns and the solid, stolid, worthy people and the beloved
fields. 'Romeo and Juliet,' 'Hamlet,' 'Othello,'--so many steps nearer
to the haven where he would be, to the true, secure life that he loved.
We think our London a tremendous centre of excitement; we, who are
impressed when somebody takes hold of a revue which is a failure and
turns it into a revue which is a success! Rubbish! William Shakespeare
lived in a London which was impressed when it saw live men disembowelled
at Tyburn, and heads of traitor nobles spiked on London Bridge. He lived
in a red-hot world; a world of terrific beauty, horror, cruelty,
disgust, revelry; our tea-party people and commentating Dons do not
begin to have the elementary data--as they would say--for the
understanding of Shakespeare. I do not believe that many of them have
read Ben Jonson's description of a voyage down Fleet Ditch; they had
better not; it would make them unwell. But it is, no doubt, this
imbecile notion of what Shakespeare ought to have been--a Don who
condescended to write plays--that has led to the more imbecile notion
that he could not have been the son of a Stratford shopkeeper who
prospered none too well, and did not keep the roadway in front of his
shop any too clean. To the horrible people who are best distinguished as
Dons, whose idea of heaven is an everlasting examination, it is
repulsive that this young wastrel, with a possible Grammar School
smattering, should have written the finest things in the world. 'The
Warwickshire yokel,' says one of them, in high contempt. Clearly
impossible that such a person should have written plays which we
annotate with innumerable 'cf.'s' and infinitely tiresome and irrelevant
information, plays which we conduct examinations on, concerning which we
write infinite dissertations. This author could have been no Stratford
vagabond, no miserable player; he must have been one of us. And so has
arisen the most marvellous folly of the world; the Baconian hypothesis.
Grave men, being first assured that shabby, 'Bohemian' fellows do not
write immortalities, have committed themselves to all the wonderful
lunacies of the bi-literal cypher, have gone a little farther, and have
at last found that Bacon wrote, not only all Shakespeare, but all the
literature of the age, not only English, but foreign, including
Montaigne's _Essays_, and Cervantes' _Don Quixote_. The last book which
I read on the subject showed that _Don Quixote_ should be read 'd'un qui
s'te'--concerning one who hides himself--Bacon, of course. Indeed, the
writer proved that the alleged author, Cervantes, had an illegitimate
child and was very poor.

Which is evidence, of course, that he could not write masterpieces. The
masterpieces notoriously are all written by moral men with large banking

May this January, this Twelfth Night, bring us better sense, as we sit
about our sea-coal fire.


The other day a sad case came before the courts; one of those cases in
which 'the home' has been broken up owing to differences, disagreements,
subjects of variance and quarrel. Such affairs are not uncommon, though
they are not quite so common as the members of the Society for the
Instant Abolition of the Family pretend; but in the case of which I am
speaking there were highly uncommon elements. Husband and wife had
parted, not on account of the fabled lodger, or for any such simple
cause. It was astrology that had driven them apart; it was astrology
that sent the wife to dwell in the workhouse. I think that it was the
lady who began it. I believe that she and her mother had dealt deeply in
the Twelve Houses of the Heavens, in Rising Signs, in Lords of the
Ascendant, in Trine and Sextile. At any rate, during the war, a
communication came from astrological or other occult regions to the
effect that the wife would be killed by an explosion. The husband, who
had evidently become a fervent believer, met this threat with a scheme
of his own. He caused his wife to sleep in the kitchen, and, as it were,
bid the stars come on. Here, you may say, is one of the oddest instances
of the mad irrationalities which infest the human mind. The husband
believed in the stars and their doom, and he thought that this august
fate, written in the heavens, this sentence issuing, we will suppose,
from Mars ill-aspected with the Sun, could be turned aside and
annulled--by a thin basement ceiling! Absurd enough, certainly; and yet
no more absurd than the conduct of the father and mother of Oedipus in
the Greek play. They were informed by the oracle that the child born to
them would murder his father and marry his mother; and so--believing in
the Oracle with all their hearts--they exposed the infant on a desolate
mountain. It didn't do; you could not get round Greek Oracles that way,
though you may play fast and loose with English horoscopes.

But to return to our modern family. The evidence as reported seems to
become vague; all that was clear was that husband and wife, through
roaming too freely in the starry plains, drifted apart on the earthly
ones; and so the process of the courts drops a dull curtain on a curious
scene. But the interest of all this to me was the survival of the belief
in astrology; in that system which declares, sometimes in extreme terms,
sometimes in moderate phrases, that human life is ruled by the planets;
that things in Park Lane and Peckham, Brixton and Belgravia, Aldgate and
Mayfair, all depend upon the march of Sun and Moon, Mars, Mercury,
Venus, and the rest of them. It is an astounding theory. Here, we will
say, is a little boy with a racking cough and an anxious mother bending
over him; Saturn is 'afflicting the Native.' At the same time, Smith
takes to his breast Beauty and Half-a-Million; Mercury and the Moon have
fulfilled their promise to him. And Uranus, aided by Mercury, now in a
very different humour, shuts up the small grocer's shop in Norwood and
sends the grocer--poor man--off to the Bankruptcy Court.

There, in the rough, is the system. The broad lines of your life are all
settled at the moment of your birth; success or failure, happiness or
misery, riches or poverty, early death or length of days; all these are
patent to the astrologer's eye. Give him but the moment of birth; his
predictions will extend to the day of death. And the odd thing is: that
while the astrologer's art has been known to the world certainly six
thousand years, probably for a much longer time--they had horoscopes and
bearer-cheques and bills-of-sale, all in bricks, in Babylon--yet mankind
has never yet been able to make up its mind definitely whether there is
anything in it, or whether it is all stuff and nonsense.

Not really to make up its mind. Certainly, the eighteenth century
pooh-poohed the whole business, just as it pooh-poohed Alchemy. But that
was more an impatient gesture than a reasoned conviction. The eighteenth
century pooh-poohed Gothic Architecture in a similar manner. Gothic has
long come to its own again; and they tell me that there are great
commercial possibilities before Alchemy--or 'Synthetic Gold'--in
Germany. At any rate, the principle of alchemy, the artificial
transmutation of metals, has long been recognized by modern science.
And, then, coming to my own experience: I once knew an astrologer. He
predicted nothing so far as I was concerned. But one day, in the midst
of casual conversation, he remarked, quietly enough:

'You have received two interesting letters in the course of the week,
since I last saw you. One dealt with the discomforts of theatrical
travelling. The other was about a particular article in the _Classical
Dictionary_. And last Sunday you were talking to some people about the
fooleries of your occult friends.'

There it was. It was all true. How did he do it? I don't know. He said
it was astrological A B C. It struck me that a very rough-and-ready test
might be to my hand in the February Calendar, in the list of the great
born during that month. For, if the general principles of astrology were
true, it would probably follow that each month would have its own type.
There would be the Februarian man, the Martian man, the Augustan man,
and so forth. I did not, somehow, expect to find much confirmation in
the February Calendar. But I found it.

The three most eminent names of those born in February are Charles
Dickens, Henry Irving, and Ellen Terry. The most distinguished actor and
actress of the last age; and the great Dickens, whose passion for the
stage was almost a disease! I am sure that it was only the immense
common sense of Dickens, the servant of his genius--as it often is--that
prevented him from joining Crummles early in life. And he was an
enthusiastic amateur all his days; his theatrical exploits make but
tiresome reading. But there you are: it really looks as if the February
aspects of the heavens inclined strongly to the theatre. Yet, for my
part, I do not believe a word of it. Astrology cannot be true: for, if
it were true, life would be impossible. Human nature, as we know it,
would perish away and blacken as a piece of tissue paper in a candle
flame. We could not live, if we knew what our life was to be. We could
form no plans if their futility were plain from the start. And how about
racing? I know racing men pretend that they deal in 'certs,' even in
'dead certs.' I have listened to them conferring together and proving
beyond a shadow of doubt that the arrival of Bolter at the winning-post
in advance of all others is as sure a thing as the arrival of the sun
over the horizon in the morning. Well, the race is run and Bolter is
nowhere in particular; but in a week's time the same group will be
talking in the same terms of Wolter or Polter or Nolter. They only deal
in 'certs.'

But, of course, in their hearts they must be quite well aware that their
'certs' are really 'uncerts.' If it were otherwise betting would be dead
in a day. You can't wager your money on the number of days in the week
or the number of weeks in the year or on the multiplication table. There
must be some sort of a chance, or there can be no bet. But if astrology
were true, it would be A B C, I suppose, for the skilled astrologer to
forecast every race by the immutable laws of the heavens. Whereupon, the
Turf and all that it implies would instantly cease to exist. And I
submit that, as Britons, we know that this would be absurd.

Therefore, Astrology is all stuff and nonsense!


I was going to write some fierce and eloquent things about March
weather: about the days that grow longer and yet drearier, about the
leaden heavens, the villainous wind from the north-east which comes from
far, unhappy Siberian plains and searches to the very marrow of the
bones, and about the March dust which swirls about the pavements,
afflicting the eyes, choking mouth and nostrils. Our light-hearted
ancestors used to say that a peck of this March dust was worth a king's
ransom; but they lived on the land and measured life, largely, by the
land. They knew nothing of what that dust can do in Piccadilly and the
Strand. In fine, I was going to be savage with March and with Charles
Kingsley, who was perverse enough to write a poem in praise of that
horrible northeast wind, which sent him at last to his grave. And then,
calling up memories of bygone March weather, I changed my mind. The sort
of article which I had in mind would look silly, read in a deck-chair
placed securely in garden shade, while the young people played lawn
tennis in the full blaze and glow of the sun, and mopped their brows,
calling for more ice in the cup. Yet that might well happen. Exactly
forty years ago, I remember that there was just such weather in March;
almost a week of it. A cloudless blue sky morning after morning, a
delicious warmth in the sunlight, and that brilliance in the air which
we do not often seem London--or in England either for the matter of
that--that brilliance which reminds me always of Touraine and Provence,
in which everything seen is clearly and sharply defined, in which every
object seems to sparkle, as if it were not only in the light but was
itself a form of light: all these signs were to be seen in those days of
March, 1882. All the shops put out their awnings, people sauntered
happily in this happy summer air, and lawn tennis--a youngish game
then--flourished in that wonderful March weather. We all took the
snowstorm which ended the spell as an outrage.

So again in '93, the year of the King's marriage--there were real
music-halls in London in those days, and Charles Godfrey was singing two
songs, 'After the Ball' and a loyal chant about 'Georgy-Porgy, Duke of
Yorky'--in the year 1893 summer began in March and continued without a
break till autumn. Then, again, only two years ago March in London was
like July in Penzance; warm, still air and a constant dropping of fine
warm rain; the sort of weather which gardeners like for budding-roses
and taking cuttings. My pear tree--_the_ pear tree--was a white cloud of
shining glory that year on St. Patrick's Day; and my fern--_the_
fern--had sent up its young growth with the fronds curved like a
bishop's crozier five or six inches above ground. So, on the whole, it
is best to leave March well alone; to say nothing about that vile
north-easter, those bitter and grievous skies, the abominable scourge of
the blinding, stinging dust. March may be anything or everything: it is
only constant in its inconstancy--like the remaining eleven months of
our blessed English year.

And hence the interest which we take in our weather. Foolish and proud
people often reproach us with talking overmuch about the weather. 'A
fine day, isn't it, for March?' 'Gorgeous June weather!' 'A very
seasonable Christmas': these remarks, and many others like them, are
supposed to indicate the depths of banality and stupidity on the part of
the speakers. 'They can talk about nothing except the weather,' say the
proud and foolish ones. These would like us to talk about Mrs. Humphry
Ward, _The Story of an African Farm,_ Nietzsche, Bergson,
Psycho-Analysis, Relativity. They do not realize that it is they
themselves who are the frivolous chatterers, occupied with the passing,
the transient, the radically unimportant. What price--if I may be
familiar for a moment--_Robert Elsmere_ to-day? How many people in a
hundred can tell me what happened at that African Farm? And as to the
_lan vital_, now? And where do you think Psycho-Analysis will be in
1932? With crinolines and gigot sleeves--and _Robert Elsmere_. But we
shall still be talking about the weather. And rightly: for our English
weather is a matter of perennial interest. This, be it noted, is by no
means the case with all weather. Don't tell a Southern Spaniard in
August what a sunny day it is; he would invoke his saints against you.
It is unwise to greet an Anglo-Indian on the plains at breakfast with,
'Another splendid day!' for if you do his liver will burn with angry
bile, as Horace says of another matter, and he will hate you. I do not
know what an Eskimo would say if you remarked to him: 'Snowy, isn't it?'
in December. But he would not be interested. Note the distinction. In
the Arctic region and on the Indian plain, weather talk is banal, empty
and ridiculous. Here the sun never fails to blaze and scorch, there the
snow surely falls. There is nothing to be said. To comment on the
weather in such lands is as if one remarked: 'The sun rose this
morning,' or 'The angles at the base of an isosceles triangle are
equal.' But in England the case is altogether different. The Englishman
may justly note that it is a fine day for March and that it is gorgeous
June weather and so forth--just because there is no possibility of his
encountering the answer: 'Of course it is.' It is never, of course. It
froze in the southern counties in August a year and a half ago; and I
must confess that the blaze of sunlight and the figures of the
thermometer last October frightened me. There was something almost
Apocalyptic about such weather. I remember especially noting the
incongruity between the position of the sun in the sky with its heat and
brilliance. Morning and evening it was low in the heavens, for such is
the place of the sun in October; and yet its heat was vehement and its
light blazed in the eyes as if we had been in the high dog-days. And on
the other hand, there is the old tale of the Derby, run, not in a
snowstorm, but--as I am assured--between two flurries of snow. Hence the
perpetual interest of the English weather. It abounds in differences, in
the unexpected; and it is only such things which are truly interesting,
significant and beautiful. All the relish of life, or almost all of it,
is to be sought in the element of surprise.

And this, let it be observed, is one of the few universal axioms that
apply to everything; to nature, to man, to art. Let us consider, for
example, the case of Jones, of London Wall and Surbiton, and the case of
the starry heavens. Take Jones. We avoid him when we can. We let him
choose his own carriage in the 9.30; and then get into another. The
reason is that Jones never fails to say the expected thing. His
conversation can be foretold with a degree of accuracy that the
Meteorological Department of the Air Service has never attained in
dealing with the weather. You always know exactly what he will say on
any possible subject. A good man is Jones in every relation of life, and
his pink peonies are the pride of Surbiton, Hampton, Molesey and the
Dittons; but avoid him, since he lacks the element of surprise; in
Bacon's words, there is no 'strangeness in the proportion' of Jones. He
lacks that quality which the man who didn't write Shakespeare's works
saw was essential to true beauty--or, we may add, to true significance
and interest. And then, with this rule and measure of things still in
our hands, let us contemplate the midnight sky of a clear, frosty night.
An awful spectacle indeed, as Carlyle is supposed to have observed; but
a spectacle awful in its wonder and its beauty--in its infinite
diversity of form. Consider how the heavens would appear if the stars
had been arranged in a definite and formal pattern of geometrical
design, with everything matching and corresponding. _That_ would be an
awful spectacle in another sense; a spectacle as awful as a model prison
or the corridors of a modern hotel. We could not have borne to look upon
it. Indeed, there are modern streets that we can hardly bear to look
upon, long, straight streets that go off from main roads in the far east
of London, almost vanishing in perspective. They are terrible, these
streets, because they consist of one house repeated, as it seems, to
infinity. From end to end there is no variety, no element of surprise,
in these dreary ways; hence, if we can, we avoid them as we avoid Jones
of London Wall and Surbiton.

Hence, on the other hand, the charm and delight of things made by hand
as contrasted with things made mechanically. Mark the difference between
a bit of ironwork that has been hammered out by a craftsman, and another
bit of ironwork that has been cast from the same design. In the latter
case, absolute uniformity of execution, twirl and twist and curve
corresponding with twirl and twist and curve to the tenth of an inch. In
the former, infinite difference, endless though slight variety; no two
twirls or twists exactly or absolutely alike. And you will find, if you
care to examine the matter closely, that an oak tree is constructed on
the same principle as the craftsman's ironwork. No two leaves on that
tree are exactly alike, though there is a close general resemblance
between all the leaves on the broad tree. And here I am reminded that
with all the goodwill in the world, one must not write about our English
weather and omit to have a dig at it. So, be it observed, the difference
between the leaves on the oak tree and the curly-wurlies on the iron
gates are slight differences. The pattern in the ironwork 'matches,'
though not absolutely; the leaves of the oak are very like one another,
though not the same. I should not like to see fronds of a tree-fern
sprouting from the boughs of our stout native oak.

So--it may be hinted--our English climate sometimes overdoes its passion
for the unexpected. Eighty-four in the shade in October, five degrees of
frost in August; a little violent, a thought Futurist?


On the twenty-third of this month of April, we keep the feast-day of our
Patron Saint--St. George for Merry England. Some of us are inclined to
grumble about St. George. In the most respectable Church quarters the
opinion has been expressed that it is a pity that the Patron of England
is at the best misty, and at the worst mythological. Putting on one side
Gibbon's slander, that the St. George of fact was a profiteering if not
a swindling contractor to the Roman army--and really there seems every
reason to suppose that this was only Gibbon's mischief--nothing remains
about St. George but the Dragon. And when it comes to dragons, you
know--to put the matter in the manner of Mr. George Sampson--really, you
know, upon your life you mustn't. Dragons won't do. And you take away
the dragon-killing, really there is nothing left. The compilers of the
Roman Breviary did not live in what is called a critical age. They were
certainly not men to scan the acts and legends of the saints with a
glance of sour incredulity and suspicion; but they can make nothing, or
next to nothing, of St. George. The Collect speaks of him as a Martyr
without any specific detail, the verses and responses are from the
'Common of Martyrs'--such as are used for all martyrs. There is no
legend; no hint that there was a dragon in the case.

Well, that being so, the Roman Breviary evidently knowing nothing
whatever about St. George, we may conclude that there is nothing to be
known. Our Patron Saint is a shadowy figure. And yet he is vitally
interesting--to me at all events. For though the martyr of the third
century did not kill any dragons, somebody did kill dragons at that
vaguer date known as once upon a time. We know nothing about St. George;
but the popular tradition that he was a dragon-killer proves that a very
long time ago there were dragons and that there were men who encountered
them and killed them. For tradition is always true. It rather
understates than exaggerates. In this specific case, for example; go to
your cabinet of rarities and curiosities, press the hidden pin, cause
the secret drawers in which the rarest things lie to fly open; and take
out a golden sovereign. Look at the figure of the dragon which the Saint
is riding down and destroying. A horrid-looking brute, certainly; but a
pet lamb, a positive kitten compared with the dragon as it really was.
As it really was? Certainly; only the scientific people call dragons
pterodactyls. As Kingsley observes, very pleasantly, in _The Water
Babies_, the learned men had been scoffing at the mere notion of dragons
for long years. Then they found their bones, and instead of owning up
like decent fellows, and acknowledging that the simple old tale was a
true tale, that there really had been dragons on the earth, they made up
a Greek word and spoke of pterodactyls, or 'winged fingers'--a stupid
term and not nearly so expressive as dragons. And, what is more, we know
exactly what these terrific beasts--fifty feet long or more--looked
like; not by the learned reconstructions of their frames, but in a much
more vivid way. There remains to this day an exact model, on a huge
scale, of the dragon of the slime. Not as he appeared in the soaring of
his awful flight, beating the air with his 'winged fingers,' but as he
lay torpid, reposing on the earth. This model is to be seen in Wales.
The Peninsula of Gower, Glamorgan, runs out into the Bristol Channel. I
have often looked at it, across the water, from the south Pembrokeshire
coast. Carrying the eye from the horrid factory chimneys of Llanelly and
Burry Port, you see an undulating range of hills running out south by
west. The skyline of these hills swells upwards into a kind of gentle
hump at about the middle of the range, and then curving down, ends in an
insignificant point, low on the water. A singular shape this point; to
the eye it seems curiously flattened: and its name is The Worm's Head.
It is not a bit like the head of the worm that the gardener slices with
his spade; but 'worm' was old English for dragon; and these swelling
hills, ending in a small promontory, must form an exact picture of the
horrible pterodactyl, half reptile, half bird, huge in body, ridiculous
in head, as it lay at length on the ground. Here, in hill and rock, you
have a picture--it is rather an awful thought--of the image in the mind
and eye of a prehistoric ancestor who may have lived 400,000 years ago.
He had looked into the place of dragons, and had noted the likeness of
the monsters to that line of hills running out into the sea; and,
somehow, his thought has come down through the tremendous ages; even to
our day.

Tradition is always in the right, And, still occupying ourselves with
the St. George legend, another proof can be gathered of the accuracy of
the age-long memory of man. There is a picture of St. George and the
Dragon, I think by a master of the Venetian school, in which the monster
has quite a different aspect from the 'worm' or pterodactyl which gave
its name to the Worm's Head. In this picture, the dragon is a horrible
bloated beast with a swollen, misshapen body. The painter could never
have had a model; but he painted an excellent likeness of an iguanodon,
another of those huge monsters that roamed the earth before the earth
had boiled and flooded and dried and frozen into the shape that it now
bears. Somehow, it seems clear, the word was passed on from age to age
across all the gulfs and chasms of time. Where the seas are now, then
was dry land; vast Atlantis, the island continent, had not sunken under
the waves; there were terrors on the earth indeed--but not the terror of
the Channel Passage, since men walked dryfoot from the points known to
us as Dover and Calais. The earth heaved, as I say, and boiled; islands
rose out of the sea, ships now sail over primval mountain tops; Europe
became a sheet of ice; yet the word was passed on, so that the Pembroke
countryman and the Venetian painter knew what dragons were like; both
the long breed and the thick breed.

By the way, I wonder whether the members of the Prehistoric Ladies' Toy
Dragon Club got on well together? But the consideration of this deep and
obscure problem must be postponed for the present.

The memory of man, then, is boundless, reaching back to inconceivable
antiquity. It is no marvel, therefore, if it has retained events and
circumstances of historic and measurable times. A thousand years, two
thousand years are trifling periods indeed when we compare them with the
huge, unimaginable chaos of time; still, I remember being amazed when an
Oxfordshire farm labourer, who had never been to school and could
neither read nor write, said casually to me:

'Ay, Chalgrove Field, that's where they killed Muster Hampden. _They do
say it was down in oats at the time_.'

Down in oats at the time! I could almost hear the brushing and rushing
of the Cavaliers' chargers, as they trampled down that field of oats in
their hot onset.

'And then,' old Harmon went on, 'Squire Scoop down at Wormsley there; he
got hanged when it was all over.'

The name was not quite accurate. He was speaking of the Roundhead
Colonel, Adrian Scrope, who was one of the few persons excepted by the
merciful Charles II from the Act of Indemnity. To the old countryman it
was all actual, gossip of the neighbouring countryside. To be sure, it
was only two hundred and fifty years or so since it happened.

And then, I remember reading--I think in _The Guardian_--an interesting
article on Tewkesbury and its Minster. The writer described a visit he
had paid to the place thirty years before. He was shown over the church
by a verger who ran over the associations of the place, after the manner
of most vergers. But presently the visitor became aware that the old
fellow was talking quite differently from most vergers. He was speaking
of the battle of Tewkesbury; and he talked as if he had been there! He
told of little things which do not get into the history books, he
described the upper room in a house in the town where certain princes
were murdered, and he ended up with a ghastly description of how the
dead were brought from the battlefield and brought into the church,
'till the bodies reached up to the top of those pillars.' It was the
vivid picture of an onlooker. The visitor made his inquiries, and found
that the old man came of a family who had supplied sacristans, clerks,
vergers to Tewkesbury Minster from the fifteenth century onward. The
verger was telling the tale that his father had told him. And there are
odd stories from Scotland and Ireland. In Scotland the simple country
people had a silly tale of a knight all in silver armour who was buried
under a certain mound on a hillside. Everybody laughed; till some one
passing by the mound--eighty or perhaps a hundred years ago--noticed
that the ground had been recently disturbed. The antiquaries took the
matter in hand. But they were too late. A wisely credulous villager had
been before them. Only the knight's bones and one or two lamin of the
wonderful silver armour remained. It was all true; the armour was
Danish, dating back to the year 900 or so; the Hamlet period. The
tradition had lasted among the unlearned for nine hundred years. And in
Ireland the tale was of a fairy rath or castle; a rounded hill from
which, said the peasants, flames could be seen issuing of nights. Again
tradition was right; flames could have been seen issuing at night from
the top of that queer hill; could have been seen, that is, if you
happened to have been strolling that way somewhere about A.D
850. Investigation showed that this place had been a retreat of the
aboriginal inhabitants of Ireland, the dark 'little people,' and had
been sacked by Danes sometime in the ninth century. And as to the
flames; the flue to carry off the smoke from the fairy fire was duly

It is wonderful, all this; but it is all over. I doubt whether old
Harmon's children know anything about the culture of Chalgrove Field
where Hampden fell; they went to school, the place where ignorance of
everything that matters is so carefully imparted. And so with the story
of Tewkesbury; the writer of the article visited the place a second
time and found a strange verger. _This_ man had never seen the stricken
field of Tewkesbury, or the blood running in the upper room, or the dead
men piled capital-high in the church. He told the story as it was
printed in the Guide. The old folk-memory is dead; we have killed it
with our silly schools and our rubbishy books.


We all know what the poor Victorians were like. We have heard all about
them over and over again. To begin with, they were prim. They were
proper. They always went to bed early. Their only form of revelry
consisted in tea-parties. The laws of their lives were dictated to them
by maiden ladies and the vicar's wife. When the maiden ladies and the
vicar's wife said that so-and-so was 'not quite nice,' or 'not at all
the kind of thing that we expect to meet with in Dulchester,' there was
an end of it, whatever 'it' was. Profligacy--displayed, let us say, by
smoking a cigar in the High Street--was reproved, and genius, if it had
said anything contrary to the maiden standard of Dulchester, thenceforth
held its peace. So much for life; as for the arts in the Victorian era;
they could not properly be said to exist. Here, too, the ladies of
Dulchester were all mighty. Nobody spoke out; nobody dared to be
'daring.' No picture was painted that went beyond the vision of the
Young Person. No poem that the Curate might possibly dislike was ever
written. If you were at heart a gay dog you must keep your gaiety dark;
else the County would reject you. If you were a moral sort of fellow and
had an inclination to rebuke vice, you had to hold your tongue equally;
since vice and immorality and all that sort of thing were not so much as
to be mentioned. You were not to know that such things existed; since
the existence of such things was not recognized at Miss Pinkerton's
Academy for Young Ladies, and what those young ladies did not know,
nobody was supposed to know. As to love; the word was, beware! Above all
there must be no faintest hint of the vital things, of any sort of
realities. You might be weakly sentimental, but you must never be
fervid. You must not have 'ideas.' You must never stray for one moment
from the pink-and-white drawing-room carpet. The convention was laid
strictly down for you and no Victorian ever thought of departing from
it. And then, all questions of morality and passion apart, the Victorian
author was strictly required to keep his pages free of everything
'disagreeable' or 'unpleasant.' After all, the great rule applied here
as everywhere else; he was not to write anything that he would hesitate
to utter in the Vicarage drawing-room full of maiden ladies and curates
and Young Persons. One did not in this sacred place talk about
disagreeable things; equally one must not write about them. And so on,
and so on; the general conclusion being that the Victorians couldn't
write, couldn't paint, couldn't think, and couldn't properly be said to
be alive at all. They lived and moved in a world of prim, feeble,
old-maidish, curatical, school-girlish pretences, their chief object
being to avoid telling or hearing the truth about any subject whatever.

There you are, with your accepted and recognized picture of the
Victorian Age. And is it not enough to make one despair of all history?
If this nonsense can be written and believed of a period close to our
own of a time which many of us remember perfectly well, of an age which
has left a great body of documents behind it; if this mendacious
rubbish, I say, can pass current as fact; what _is_ the good of trying
to find out what life was like in the seventeenth century, or in the
seventh century? If the near is so hopelessly misrepresented, how will
it fare with the remote? For, to come to the documents; this is the
manner in which one of the mild Victorian poets wrote of the passion of

O Love, Love, Love! O withering might!
O sun that from thy noonday height
Shudderest when I strain my sight,
Throbbing thro' all thy heat and light.
  Lo, falling from my constant mind,
  Lo, parch'd and wither'd, deaf and blind,
  I whirl like leaves in roaring wind.
Last night, when some one spoke his name,
From my swift blood that went and came
A thousand little shafts of flame
Were shiver'd in my narrow frame.
  O Love, O fire! once he drew
  With one long kiss my whole soul thro'
  My lips, as sunlight drinketh dew.

Thus wrote Victorian Tennyson. It does not remind me of Miss Pinkerton's
Academy or the Vicarage drawing-room.

A little solemn, do you think? Well, let us try

Lazy, laughing, languid Jenny
Fond of a kiss and fond of a guinea.
 ... Poor shameful Jenny, full of grace
Thus with your head upon my knee:
Whose person or whose purse may be
The lodestar of your reverie?

Pretty well, in the way of frankness, it seems to me. The lines are the
work of an eminent mid-Victorian, Dante Gabriel Rossetti. And anybody
who is not satisfied may be referred to the first series of _Poems and
Ballads_ by another eminent mid-Victorian, Algernon Charles Swinburne.
And then, as to that other well-known Victorian rule, that you must
never mention anything that is not quite nice: listen to this. A
well-known character in a novel of this prim age was sent to request the
loan of a knife and fork.

'Captain Hopkins lent me the knife and fork, with his compliments to Mr.
Micawber. There was a very dirty lady in his little room, and two wan
girls, his daughters, with shock heads of hair. I thought it was better
to borrow Captain Hopkins' knife and fork, than Captain Hopkins' comb.'

That is not nice, but it was written by Charles Dickens. And do you know
the same author's description of the birth of Little Dorrit? The midwife
is speaking.

'The flies trouble you, don't they, my dear?' said Mrs. Bangham. 'But
p'raps they'll take your mind off it, and do you good. What between the
buryin' ground, the grocers, the wagon-stables, and the paunch trade,
the Marshalsea flies gets very large. P'raps they're sent as a
consolation, if we only know'd it. How are you now, my dear? No better?
No, my dear, it ain't to be expected; you'll be worse before you're
better, and you know it, don't you? Yes.'

Really, you know, this account of a confinement in a gaol, with all its
nauseous circumstances, is by no means prim, curatical, or old-maidish.
It does not at all fit in with the picture of the pink-and-white
drawing-room in which the souls and bodies of the Victorians are
supposed, in popular belief, to have dwelt.

And the Victorians all went to bed early after a cup of weak tea? Did
they! I have just turned up a mid-Victorian magazine, _The Welcome
Guest_, published in 1858. I open it at a picture: 'Midnight: Supper
Rooms in the Haymarket.' It illustrates George Augustus Sala's 'Twice
Round the Clock,' and the text tells how the playgoers pour out of the
theatres and pour into the Haymarket to eat expensive French dishes, to
drink Clos Vougeot, Lafitte and 'Chambertin with yellow seal'; to eat
chops, steaks, kidneys, sausages or Welsh rabbit 'washed down by the
homely British brown stout, and followed, perchance, by the soothing
cigar and the jorum of hot anything and water'; but above all to eat
oysters. Why, in our mad daring days the mere cigar purchased at
midnight is a criminal offence; and as to Burgundy, stout and 'something
hot,' all _that_ is a Star Chamber matter.

And be it remembered, these Haymarket supper-rooms were the early places
for people who wanted to get home in good time. For the real amateurs of
supper there was Evans', and one o'clock was the time to go to Evans',
if you would sup like a man. You took a few oysters at the Haymarket,
but that as a mere whet to the appetite. Great people have always had
strong stomachs, says Sala--in italics--and forthwith he tells us how
men supped in the mid-Victorian age; he described the mountains of
kidneys, chops, sausages, the pints of stout, the creaming Scotch ale,
the mighty measures of punch and grog; and all this beginning at one
o'clock in the morning.

So it was in prim 1858; and we, we mad Georgian revellers, we may not
buy so much as a cigarette after eight o'clock at night.

The truth is, of course, that the Victorian age, more especially the
early and mid-Victorian ages, were times of jollity, and times of
liberty, both in life and in letters. Those people who took a dozen
oysters in the Haymarket at midnight and strolled off to Covent Garden
to eat great suppers at Evans' would not have believed that their
grandsons would submit to be smacked and sent to bed early like naughty
children. And as in life, so in letters. What the mid-Victorians wrote,
whether it were well or ill, was written with a relish. We have lost all
that. For Evans' and his 'jolly suppers, his brown stout and his hot
grog to follow' at one, two, three in the morning; what have we? The
subterranean night-club, mean, debauched, futile, bloodless, the places
where adulterated whisky is called 'ginger ale,' and drunk in coffee
cups with an air of tremendous devilry, where the guests are spectres of
the gutter, dissolute reptiles destitute utterly of all mirth, all
gaiety and all jollity, where silly flappers get their 'snow,' and set
the first scene of their squalid little tragedies. Jolly? Why, a
mortuary is a gay scene by comparison.

And so with art and letters. Cubism, Vorticism, Post-Impressionism;
verse that doesn't scan and doesn't rhyme; novels that make one think of
a stupid post-mortem or a dull dissection; this is what we have in place
of Tennyson, Swinburne, Rossetti, Dickens, Thackeray, the
Pre-Raphaelites, and the great illustrators of the despised age, the
wood-engravers whose work has become to us miraculous.

Those poor Victorians!


The two most extravagant and improbable books in the world are Euclid
and the _Arabian Nights_; but of the two by far the more improbable and
extravagant is Euclid. Nay, it is flattery to say that Euclid is
improbable; it is impossible.

For, consider; it is highly improbable, no doubt, that by rubbing a lamp
you can summon a spirit, or jinn, who will build you a palace of
incredible splendour in a night. This is most unlikely, I confess, but I
cannot say that it is impossible, simply because neither I nor any one
else can pretend to know all the laws of the universe. We are entitled
to say that we have never come across the lamp, the genie or the palace;
and that we have no intention of believing in the story till it be
supported by strong evidence. We can say that, but we are really not
entitled to say any more. We mustn't even say 'nonsense!' or 'rubbish!'
that is if we are cautious people. For--how long ago is it; twenty
years, thirty years?--the state of a gentleman's mind was once in some
doubt. His relations were afraid that he was going mad, so they took out
what Mr. Sampson Brass called a pretty little commission _de lunatico_.
And a mental expert who gave evidence said that in his opinion Mr. X was
mad, as mad as a hatter. The doctor had had a cosy little chat with Mr.
X, and that gentleman had declared his belief in the possibility of
dirigible flight. That was quite enough for the doctor. I don't know
whether the poor man was shut up. Possibly he is alive and in a madhouse
to this day. He must find it highly amusing to watch the airplanes and
airships soaring high above the asylum walls. Then the X-rays. I
remember telling a friend about them in the 'nineties; how some queer
light had been found which would pierce through the solid walls of flesh
and show, as in a photograph, every bone in your body. My friend
laughed. He said that he did not believe _everything_ that he saw in the
papers. And then, you know, 'wireless': what would people have said to
_that_? And wireless telephony: before long, they tell me, words uttered
in London will be plainly audible in New York. Think of it, the human
voice heard clearly across the Atlantic Ocean, as clearly and as easily
as if the two speakers were talking to one another across the duck-pond
in the farm-yard. It was utterly impossible according to all our notions
and all our experience; but it has happened or soon will happen. So it
doesn't do to say that the highly improbable thing is therefore the
impossible thing; Aladdin's Lamp and the Genie and the Palace may yet
come into experience.

Yet, as I say, I am willing to allow that the story of Aladdin and the
Wonderful Lamp is, on the face of it, highly extravagant and improbable.
But Euclid cannot be let down so easily as that. I remember little of
that author, I am glad to say, but I shall never forget the astounding
statements with which he opens his work. A point, he begins, with the
calmness of the finished and shameless liar, has neither parts nor
magnitude, but only position. A line, he goes on, is length without
breadth. And a plane surface, so he declares, has length and breadth but
no thickness. On such foundations does Euclid raise his system of
Geometry. Let us consider a little. Euclid is not a theologian. He is
not a metaphysician. He is not a spiritualist. He is not dealing with
the world of mind, soul or spirit. He is occupied with the visible world
that we know, the world of time, space, solidity and matter. And he
declares that in this material world there is something existing called
a point which has no size at all and no parts: a material thing without
materiality. So with his line; it has length without breadth. Who has
seen such a thing? Who can imagine the possibility of such a thing? And
who can conceive a surface without depth? Aladdin is improbable; but
Euclid is, in the strictest sense of the word, impossible. His
definitions are contradictions. A man once asked me if I couldn't think
of the Euclidean surface as I thought of the surface of a perfectly
still pool of water. Certainly I can; but I cannot think of water
without depth; and that is the surface which Euclid propounds for our

So, you see, geometry, a branch of pure mathematics, the most abstract
of the sciences, the science which is supposed to convey necessary
truth, which no discoveries can affect, which no experience can render
invalid; this branch of science turns out to be founded on a series of
absurdities and contradictions in terms. And arithmetic, again, another
branch of pure mathematics; lucky is it for our poor little boys and
girls as they get through the multiplication table, and advance by
painful degrees to vulgar fractions; lucky is it for them that they do
not dream of the nightmare country into which these studies inevitably
lead. The Snark was a Boojum! There are worse Boojums than the Snark, as
witness that notorious affair of the contest between Achilles and the
Tortoise. It is well known that Achilles was the swiftest of all men;
_the_ champion sprinter, in fact. It is equally well known that the
tortoise is one of the slowest of animals. So, oddly enough, their
Managements met and arranged that the two should race each other.
Naturally, it was a case for handicapping, and to make things simple it
was agreed that Achilles ran a hundred times as quickly as the Tortoise,
and therefore that Achilles must be scratch, and the animal have a
hundred yards' start. Very good. The race takes place. The swift-footed
hero flies like light over the hundred yards which separate him from the
Tortoise. But in that little space of time the Tortoise, a hundred times
slower, has run a yard, and is still ahead. Achilles passes that yard,
but the Tortoise has raced a hundredth of a yard and is still ahead.
Then the thousandth part of a yard separates them; but the Tortoise by
that much is still ahead--and will be ahead throughout all ages, if
there be any truth in the science of arithmetic and in its doctrine of
fractions. _Solvitur ambulando_: a practical experiment solves _that_
puzzle, a philosopher said long ago; but as De Quincey notes, he was a
foolish fellow, since the essence of the puzzle lies in the opposition
between the known facts of the case and the teaching of science. We know
that Achilles would pass the Tortoise in a flash; science tells us that
the man must lag behind the reptile for ever.

Now then; to come to the practical application of all this. We have seen
that science, in its most abstract mood; in those branches of it which
are supposed to deal with necessary and unchanging truth, is founded on
rank and preposterous absurdities. With its lines that are all length
and no breadth, with its fraction dogmas that lead to the ridiculous; it
is clearly nonsense. Very good; _then do not let the doctor interfere
with your dinner_.

For, note the difference between pure science and applied science. A
line is always a line in all climates and all ages. Supposing there is
such a thing at all, it is the same in Paris as in London, in Pekin as
in Cape Town. If two and two make four, they have always made four, and
make four as much for Smith as for Robinson. But with applied science
the case is very different. Here you enter into a region of infinite
doubts, difficulties, differences; differences of body, differences of
mind, differences of climate, differences of custom, differences of
disposition, differences of inheritance. To put it in a nutshell; I
would as soon go to an astrologer as to a doctor, if I wanted an answer
to the question: 'Is beef bad for me?' It is monstrous indeed that
science, shown to be mad in the abstract, should presume to dictate to
us in the concrete. Yet it does. Look at the solemn diets that are
prescribed. I have known people who live--or think they live, for they
are not alive--on nuts, carrots, bread and dates; with a little cheese
as a perilous and doubtful indulgence, and with a glass of milk, if they
are resolved to be dogs and devils. This diet, which is supposed to be a
cure for rheumatism, forbids all wine, beer, spirits, all coffee,
chocolate, cocoa, tea, all peas and beans, all meat, fish and eggs. If
you wish to tread the narrow way you drink no milk and eat no cheese. I
do not know whether it cures rheumatism, I do not know whether a wise
man would not prefer to be rheumatic. But the worst of it is that the
people who live in this ridiculous way, who follow the Vague Treatment,
as it is called, affect airs of superiority. They look down on the
people who eat chops and steaks and thank God for them. They watch each
other. One of them records how, at afternoon tea, she occasionally takes
half a cup to save trouble; and she complains mildly that through the
Vague sect the rumour wildly runs: 'Oh, Mrs. Blank has given up The
Diet; _she drinks tea!_' Then, there is the Bague diet. In this you eat
no meat, of course not; but, furthermore, you must not have anything
cooked. You may have peas and beans, but they must be raw; you revel on
carrots and turnips, as they come from the field, save that they are
finely shredded. Cooking, it appears, blasts the vitamines, it destroys
the invaluable potassium salts; cooking is the cause of most of the
deadly and awful diseases that waste the world. Can there be any more
putrid silliness than this? Here is modern science advising us to go
back to the wretched apish savages who were our remote ancestors, who
grubbed for roots and climbed for nuts and devoured raw worms because
they had not found out the secret of fire. Even supposing these pompous
imbeciles are right--there is not the slightest reason to believe that
they are right--is it not better to live like a man for fifty years on
beefsteaks and vol-au-vents than to mop and mow for a hundred years like
a monkey on chopped carrots? And then there is the milder but still
abhorrent folly of the physician, the 'well-known physician' of the
newspaper interview, who tells people that they eat far too much; the
sort of man who advises, in print, a small portion of porridge for
breakfast, a tomato and a bit of cheese for lunch, and half a sole and
one slice of mutton for dinner. This fellow is everywhere; and I need
scarcely say that he regards all the alcohols as deadly poison. He
represents the almost universal concession to cant. Politicians, who
love nothing better than a sound bottle of champagne opened at two
o'clock in the morning, tell us that the State will rush down to ruin if
we drink a glass of beer after ten p.m. So doctors, who can relish good
meat and good drink with any man, tell the world through the newspaper
that it ought to live in a manner that would make a riot in a monastery.

But the _reductio ad absurdum_--I remember that much Euclid--is quite
delightful. For the last sixty or seventy years, this great bully,
science, a sort of Gradgrind and Bounderby rolled into one, has been
bragging and blustering and pretending to know everything and telling
its grandmother how to suck eggs, and coming the most tremendous howlers
on every possible subject. It has announced with a grin that would make
an Earlswood idiot envious that it has been into the dissecting-room and
hasn't found the soul there. It tried a little Scripture History and
announced, with a decision that the most dogmatic popes have been unable
to command, that there are grave flaws in the story of Abraham, because
writing is mentioned, and writing was unknown in the period at which
Abraham is supposed to have lived. And this magnificent proclamation was
made about a fortnight before certain inscribed tablets were found at
Tel-el-Amarna; the characters having been formed 2,000 years at least
before Abraham was born. Then a little profane history, for a change.
You know about Homer and the Siege of Troy. Science laughed. There never
was any Homer, there wasn't any Troy, there wasn't any Siege. The whole
tale was a sun-myth. It was an account, in allegorical language, of the
course of the sun over the heavens, from its rising to its setting. Then
came Schliemann. He found Troy standing, what remained of it, in the
place in which Homer said it stood. And, moreover, he found that it had
been sacked, and that it had been burned, as Homer said it had been
burnt. So sun-myths and sun-heroes went out of fashion, and in their
place we have culture-gods and culture-heroes and culture-myths, and
science is as happy as ever and as pleased as Punch, because it is quite
sure that the Holy Grail was a saucepan used for cooking spring
cabbage--as sure on this point as it was on the other point; that
Achilles was the sun.

Very well, I have no objection. Fools must be fed with folly, and it
seems the province of science to give fools their meat in due season.
But I say to science: hands off my bill-of-fare! Conclude, if you like,
that monkeys and anthropoid apes were the only people who knew how to
order dinner. Discover, if you will, that the jackass is the supreme
authority on diet, and that there is nothing like thistles. But let
science keep its conclusions and discoveries to itself. I am going to
have my dinner at the Caf Royal.


It may sound unpatriotic, even now, almost four years since the ending
of the war, but I cannot help it: there is a certain German with whom I
am in the most cordial sympathy. I am sure that he and I would have got
on very well indeed, on one point at all events.

He is not an actual German. He lives in a book, _The Caravaners_, by the
Countess Russell, the author of _Elizabeth and her German Garden_. And I
do not deny that there was a great deal to be said against the Baron von
Ottringel, of Storchwerder in Prussia. He was a bore of the deadliest
kind. He was a snob of the purest water. His selfishness stuck out of
him in lumps. He was, as one of the characters in the book declares, 'a
very grievous bounder.' He was utterly deficient in all the decent
amenities of life. He was a mean cad. But I like him all the same. _For
he would not pretend that caravaning was a pleasant holiday_. It fell
out like this. Some of the Baron's friends near Storchwerder had English
connections, and were making up a caravaning party for the summer
holidays. They told the Baron how cheap a plan it was: how a caravan
could be hired for fourteen pounds a month, how there would be no hotel
bills to pay, no waiters to tip, no railway tickets to be taken. The
Baron was a saving man; he was tempted; he became a caravaner. And he
disliked it thoroughly. He didn't like helping to get doubtful dinners
which took so long to prepare that they had to be eaten by lantern light
'in a gusty place, vainly endeavouring to hold our wraps about us, our
feet in wet grass and our heads in a stormy darkness. The fitful flicker
of the lanterns played over rapidly cooling eggs.... This was not a
holiday; this was privation combined with exposure.' And then the poor
man had to help to wash up in a rainstorm; and he didn't like that

And in spite of the many differences that have separated England and
Prussia, I cordially shake hands with the Baron von Ottringel. It is not
in the least amusing to anybody but a fool to eat a bad dinner on wet
grass in the dark and then to undertake a job for which you have had no
training in circumstances of the extremest discomfort. For there is a
right way and a wrong way of doing the most trifling tasks, and the
right way has to be learned. Even in washing up there are mysteries, as
any man can find out for himself if he care to enter his own well-found
back-kitchen, with a special washing-up geyser to help him; let him try
the experiment on a blasted heath in the dark, with water half warmed
over doubtful oil lamps and the heavens emptying themselves upon his
head. The Baron was perfectly right; all this is beastly discomfort, and
to pretend that it is a pleasant holiday is merely one of the many forms
of cant. Of course the only way to enjoy caravaning would be to do in
the caravan as the real caravaners do; that is to make oneself into a
gipsy. The gipsies, no doubt, get on well enough; they lay no elaborate
tables; they have their own modes of cooking suited to the life and the
circumstances; they have no passion for spotless plates or for polished
knives and forks. They know nothing of the many refinements, delicacies,
niceties that have been invented, wisely or unwisely, by people who have
had the habit of living in houses for hundreds--or thousands--of years.
It is like enough that Mr. Petulengro would be as unhappy at a London
hotel as was the Baron von Ottringel in the caravan. But Mr. Petulengro
is too sensible a Romany to try to live like a gipsy in a London hotel;
he would not attempt to bake a hedgehog in a clay oven on his bedroom
floor. It is only the foolish gentile who is capable of playing the
impossible part of drawing-room gipsy. Again and again the Baron was
right--on the matter of caravaning, at all events.

Yet, though the practice is absurd, the theory is sound. For I suppose
that the root of this uncomfortable caravaning business is the desire to
take a holiday that shall be as great a change as possible; and this, no
doubt, is the real end and benefit of holiday-making. It is not chiefly
change of air that we want; change of everything else is much more
important. From the mere physical point of view, the London air is good
enough for anybody; and our great city, monstrous as it is with its
infinite wilderness of houses, is one of the healthiest places in
England. It is not our air that we require to change as the summer draws
on, but the whole habit of mind and body, of the mind rather than of the
body. And, no doubt, a farmer living somewhere Careg y Wastad (Rock of
the Wilderness) way, near St. David's (which is sixteen miles from a
railway), should take his holiday at Charing Cross. An analysis of the
air blowing over Careg y Wastad from the Atlantic Ocean might show it to
be purer than the air of the Strand; but the change would set up Mr.
Caradoc Owen Morgan, of Llangadwaladyr Fach, for the rest of the year.
And here we have the justification of the practice of 'going abroad' for
a holiday. We are often told that it is a pity to go to France before we
have exhausted the many and exquisite beauties of our own country; that
we should explore our own mountains and lakes and moors before we roam
in Touraine and Gascony and Provence. And, indeed, it is quite true that
there are beauties and delights enough in England, Scotland and Wales to
last and outlast the holidays of most lives; and yet there is a great
deal to be said for the Continental holiday. Things may not be better
nor more beautiful across the Channel; but they are so utterly
different. The whole aspect is changed; even a tree on a French hilltop
is a different object from a tree on an English hilltop. In our driest,
hottest weather the world is presented to our eyes through faint veiling
mists; in France the outlines of visible things are shown clearly in an
air which is so luminous that the objects seen appear to be illuminated.
And then there are the differences of architecture, the strange shock of
finding that even small children seem able to speak French quite
fluently, the sound of a strange tongue all the while in our ears, the
novel aspect of the cafes with the people on the _terrasse_ drinking
their beer and their coffee in the open air, the queerness of a lunch
that has garlic sausage, _omelette fines herbes_ and _pieds de porcs
grills_ in it instead of roast mutton, mashed, and Cheddar; all these
things and many more combine to make a French holiday a very admirable
holiday. You have been for a while in another world, you are immensely
refreshed and delighted--unless you are like the gentleman I once saw at
the Hotel de France at Bordeaux. It was the hour of djeuner, and all
the company were beginning the _hors d'[oe]uvres_ save this true Briton.
He was pouring out tea from a Britannia-metal teapot, and ham and eggs
were on the plate before him. But I believe this sturdy fellow to have
been at Bordeaux on business, not pleasure; anyhow, his was not the way
to enjoy the chief benefits of a holiday; change and new experiences.
And that brings me to the puzzle of the average Londoner's holiday. I
have just been saying that when Mr. Caradoc Owen Morgan, of
Llangadwaladyr Fach, Careg y Wastad, Pembroke, feels that he wants a
holiday his best course is to spend a week or two in the heart of
London; and clearly the reverse treatment should apply to the City man
who is feeling 'fed up' with the City. But somehow it doesn't. He ought
to take his holiday at Careg y Wastad; but in fact he very rarely does
anything of the kind. He seeks no solitudes, no wild places. He goes to
Penzance, Brighton, Eastbourne, Folkestone, Margate, Southend, Cromer,
according to his pocket or his tastes, almost always to some place where
he will be in the company of crowds of people, where the life of London
will be reproduced as nearly as possible, with fresh sea air thrown in.

This is queer; but so it is; and I am afraid the explanation is that the
true Londoner hates the true country. It says nothing to him; he is
bored by it, he is more than bored by it. I believe that he is
frightened of it; that a deep, dark lane at night is almost as terrible
to him as is the dark passage to the little child at bedtime. It is a
repetition of history. They were just like that in the Augustan age of
Rome. The authorities were alarmed. They couldn't prevent the country
people from flocking into the great city, and once there, they never
went back to the fields. Horace and Virgil, at the high desire of the
Emperor, wrote beautiful poems about the delights of farming, and the
joys of a country life in summer and winter, of piling the logs on the
flame when the snow lay deep on Soracte, of the cool shade by the well
of Bandusia in the heats of summer, of the good old days when the Romans
loved the land. They wrote these delightful things, but I don't think
that they troubled the country much themselves, or Virgil would never
have told farmers that the way to get a swarm of bees was to kill a calf
and bury it, and Horace would not read so absolutely as a finished man
about town. And the country people still swarmed up to the city; and
stayed there. So with our Londoners; they agree profoundly with that
great Londoner who said a long time ago that he who is tired of London
is tired of Life. Perhaps, indeed, like the children, we feel that we
are all in the dark and love to keep together and make a noise to raise
our spirits; and will not, even for a month or a bare fortnight, leave
the cheer of the friendly lamps and the noisy, crowded streets.


Many good people must have been sadly shocked to read of a certain
recent bequest which has been recorded in the papers. The testator, a
wealthy solicitor, directed his executors to buy six dozen of the best
vintage port for the benefit of 'his good friend and partner,' Mr.
Blank, in the hope that in drinking it Mr. Blank would be reminded of
the cordial relations that had existed between them for many years.

I can imagine, as I say, that horror of varying degrees of intensity
will be aroused by these dispositions. There are all the people who hate
life, who have many names and styles and titles. They call themselves
intellectuals, or, sometimes, the _intelligentsia_; I suppose because
they have no intelligent understanding or perception of anything
whatever. When you talk to them about literature they will be cross with
you if you suggest that the thing exists or has ever existed outside
Russia--always excepting, of course, one or two honoured and
'conscientious' English names. If you talk to them about education, they
will laugh anything except physical science out of court, reserving
always psycho-analysis, which turns the whole world of waking and
dreaming into a peculiarly putrid and silly form of nightmare nastiness.
But the real mark of this sect is their hatred of life. That is a large
order, you will say. So it is. But a lady of my acquaintance put the
matter very clearly once before one of the most distinguished members of
the sect, a gentleman who never touches good meat or good drink and
thinks the habit of smoking a disgusting vice. The lady had been
listening to the Intellectual for some time, and then she turned and
said: 'I tell you what, George, what would do you good would be to be
brought to bed with twins; then you might know something about life!'
The lady was proceeding _per impossible,_ of course; but I think one
sees her point. The sect in question argues most acutely against this,
and that, and the other, and argues so well that you are confounded by
the strength of its position--till you perceive that what they object to
is not this, or that, or the other, but life itself, and, indeed, life
is full of objectionable incidents, but it is all the life we know
anything about.

Need I say that to the intellectuals, this bequest of six dozen of the
very best port will be highly offensive? They are not all teetotallers,
perhaps, but they would be agreed to holding port to be at best a very
trivial thing. I remember one of them being highly irritated by one of
the most savoury volumes of modern times, Professor Saintsbury's _Notes
from a Cellar Book_, to read which is almost--but not quite--as rare a
treat as the drinking of the choice and curious delicacies in wine that
it describes. 'A record of a state of things which has fortunately quite
passed away'; in these words, or in words to that effect, did the
Intellectual describe the golden volume of one who is learned, it is
true, in wine, but learned also in the literatures of the world, a true
Professor of the humaner letters. These people, with certain exceptions,
always speak with scorn of the Classics. If we get beaten in a foreign
market, if the current goes wrong on 'the Met.,' if anything happens
that ought not to happen, they say that it is because our educational
system is all wrong, since we teach our boys Latin and Greek instead of
physical science. Consequently, as despisers of what the Irish hedge
schoolmaster called 'the haythen mythology,' these people know nothing
about the story of Dionysos, the Wine God; how he went all over the
world, civilizing the nations by teaching them the culture of the vine,
and they have not heard the moral fable of King Pentheus, who resisted
the civilizing mission of Dionysos, tried to keep the vine out of his
kingdom, and, as a natural consequence, went mad and came to a dreadful
end; being, in fact, torn to pieces. This sounds nonsense, doesn't it?
But it has just been happening in our own day. Russia went dry--and then
Russia went mad and Bolshevist; and even our advanced 'thinkers' are
coming to the conclusion that Bolshevism is a very dreadful end indeed.
Russia has been torn to pieces. As for the United States of America, a
distinguished American statesman has declared recently that the increase
of crime in the States since the coming of Prohibition has been terrific
and terrifying.

And, by the way, I have been reading lately about two recent enactments
of the Legislature of the Sovereign Commonwealths of Kentucky and
Georgia. Kentucky has declared that Evolution is contrary to the laws of
the State: Georgia enacts that the man who goes out fishing without his
wife's leave is a felon, and that the punishment of his crime shall be a
sentence of five years' penal servitude. As I was saying, Pentheus was
very odd in his manner towards the end.

But, as I say, the Intellectual is by no means always a teetotaller. His
position is rather that meat and drink are matters of no importance,
that they are unworthy the consideration of a sage, and that a man who
thinks much of his dinner and his glass of vintage port is an inferior
person who thinks of meat and drink because he has no mind to think of
anything higher. That is why the _intelligentsia_ dislike Dickens, who
loves nothing better than to describe a feast and the joys of good
eating and good drinking. 'This is an inferior mind,' they say. 'If you
would see true greatness read Luntic Kolnyatsch in the original
Gibrisch'--with Mr. Max Beerbohm's leave. '_He_ specializes in
skin-disease, vermin and suicide; subjects fit for the genius of the
modern world.' All I can say is that it strikes me as a very strange
frame of mind. You have something like it in the seventeenth-century
Puritans, who hated a great number of noble and beautiful and goodly
things; you have, perhaps, the original of it all in the fifth-century
Manichees, who founded their faith on a logical basis, at all events.
They were persuaded that the world with all that therein is was made by
the devil, and therefore that everything in the world was very evil. A
really thoroughgoing Manichee could not break a crust of bread without
uttering a long apology for doing so, which was his grace before meat.
This was all very well and consistent; but the _intelligentsia_ have no
very fervid belief in the devil; so why do they either hate, or, at
least, despise old vintage port and, in general, all the good things of
life? Remember the _Kreutzer Sonata_, by Tolstoi, the ancestor of the
whole family of Kolnyatsch. Here you have a book which strikes not at
this detail or that; not at the bottle of old port, or the good cigar,
or the roast partridge, but at the very source of all life. It is
thoroughgoing, certainly, for if the _Kreutzer Sonata_ doctrine were
carried out we should be delivered from all our troubles, since there
would soon be none of us left. Tolstoi held, as it seems, that no
children should be born into the world; presumably, therefore, he held
that existence in itself is an evil, thus approximating to the doctrine
of Buddhism. Well, Buddhism is of India, and Manes, the founder of the
Manichees, was a Persian: the East has always been inclined to
teetotalism; that is to the denial of the joy of life.

You will remember, of course, that highly popular best seller
_Rasselas_, by the late Samuel Johnson, LL.D. Rasselas, Prince of
Abyssinia, is speaking:

     'By what means,' said the Prince, 'are the Europeans thus powerful;
     or why, since they can so easily visit Asia and Africa for trade
     and conquest, cannot the Asiaticks and Africans invade their
     coasts, plant colonies in their ports, and give laws to their
     natural princes? The same wind that carries them back would bring
     us thither.'

The puzzle is addressed to the sage, Imlac, the prince's philosophic
counsellor. Imlac, with some circumlocution, gives it up, and Johnson
himself, commenting on the passage many years after, did the same. He
said that he could see no real explanation of the remarkable facts.

The explanation is, of course, easy enough. The East, as I said, has
always been inclined to teetotalism, with all that is implied in that

Let us be warned in time. Woe to us if we take to despising good drink
while the myriads of millions of China take to strong ale and vintage
port. Our day will be done. 'Mene, Mene' will be written on the wall.
Let us rather honour the memory and imitate the example of the good man
of Gray's Inn, who left six dozen bottles of the finest port to his old
friend. I am sure that he was a good man. If a man talks to me of the
sacred cause of Humanity, I lock up my few silver spoons. If he speaks
of Liberty I know that he has a Bill in his pocket by which it will be
made penal to be out of bed after ten p.m. But he who speaks well of
port is, as the Greeks said of their best men, beautiful and good.


They have been abolishing things again. Lord Birkenhead's Law of
Property Bill--now, I suppose, an Act--puts an end, as 'A Barrister' in
the newspaper informs me, to the whole of the Feudal System. A great
link has been broken, a link that joined us, in a way, with the men of
1066, with all the life of our forefathers from that far-off time to

Well, I think it is a pity. I believe that I am not known generally as a
politician. My views as to the lodger franchise, the borough as distinct
from the county franchise, the several Reform Bills from the 'thirties
of the last century onward that were always going to make us happy, as
to Redistribution on a logical basis, as to many other things of the
same sort, are generally understood to be vague. They are. Extremes
meet--few people understand the depths of wisdom contained in apparently
obvious proverbs--and Trotsky and Lenin and I have an equal contempt for
votes and all that appertains to votes. _I_ am thoroughly with the
Parson. My suffragette friend was telling him that 'the Vote' was the
breath of life to her, that it would make everything that was wrong
right. 'The Vote,' it seemed, was a sort of Tree of Life, the leaves of
which were appointed for the healing of the nations. The Parson listened
kindly; and made a liberal offer.

'Well,' said he, 'I've got _three_ votes, and you're welcome to the lot
for half-a-crown.'

Those are my sentiments. I have no interest in votes or in the people
who deal in them. But once upon a time I was an ardent politician. The
great victory of Gladstone in 1880 warmed my heart. I was an earnest
young Liberal. I remember reading in the _Daily News_ a short leading
article on the Unreformed Corporations. These, it appeared, were certain
small bodies ruling small towns up and down England, which had somehow
slipped through the sweeping nets of the 'thirties, and now those also
were to go. Lord Rosebery, another earnest young Liberal of somewhat
greater eminence than myself, had taken the Bill through the Lords and
one more relic of the bad old times was over. I was profoundly glad to
hear it. And I must make a parenthesis. Why on earth should I be glad?
To put the question quite distinctly: What the devil did it matter to me
whether corporations were reformed or unreformed? 'Keep your breath to
cool your ain parritch,' Lord Lauderdale might well have said to me:
'Ye'll find it het eneuch.' It is indeed a mystery that I should have
concerned myself with such stuff. But I have been investigating these
matters somewhat keenly of late, and have come to certain conclusions.
More than a year ago I wrote on the mystery of young Blueface, who rows
himself into incipient heart-disease at Henley, and later in life finds
his chief joy in spread-eagling himself on the face of dreadful Alpine
heights, at the imminent risk of his life. I have found out why he does
these things. The truth is that the actualities of life are so repulsive
that we have been forced to invent all sorts of ways of escaping from
them. The Blueface way is one way; the playing of a dozen games of chess
all at once blindfolded, is another way; drinking methylated, spirit is
yet another way; and I suppose politics is another of these grim sports.
If you feel a genial glow at the thought that the Unreformed
Corporations are no more; then you are less likely to worry over the
fact that you have not had any dinner to-day, and are likely to have a
smaller dinner to-morrow.

Well, I glowed as I read this blessed news in the London street. But, a
year or two later, being in my own country down in the West, I read in
the local paper that the last Portreeve of Usk, accompanied by his two
Bailiffs, had unveiled a window in the parish church, commemorating the
ending of this old song. That Unreformed Corporations Act had got to
work; and something that had endured for a thousand years or more was
ended. I knew then, suddenly, that I was no longer an earnest young
Liberal. I knew that I hated the notion of destroying old things, just
because they were old; and that, I believe, is not a Liberal frame of
mind. But to abolish the Portreeve of Usk! Why, the Chief Magistrate of
the City of London was the Portreeve of London before Mayors, much less
Lord Mayors, were born or thought of. And I don't believe that Usk is
any the happier for having a Local Government Board instead of a
Portreeve and two Bailiffs.

Let it be understood clearly; I am by no means in favour of retaining
horrible abuses, just because they are old. If the Portreeve of Usk had
been enabled, by a Charter of King John, to burn alive in Porthycarne
Street any persons to whose opinions he objected, I should be all in
favour of a Limiting Clause: earnest Young Liberals, Unbending Young
Conservatives, and a few other people being alone excepted from its
benefits. But I think it is a pity to smash links just for the sake of
smashing them. Thus with the measure of that ardent and devoted Tory,
Lord Birkenhead. It abolishes the heriot; the fine of the 'best beast'
levied by the lord of the manor on the successor of a dead copyholder. I
confess that if I were the new copyholder I should dislike having to
give up my five-hundred guinea hunter to the lord as the fee of
succession. But why abolish the ancient goodly custom of the heriot?
There is no difficulty. The term 'the best beast' should be retained,
with an explanatory clause declaring that the said beast shall not
exceed in value a groat, or at the most vj pence. Now, according to the
Laws of Howel Dda, and allowing for the exchange, this beast should be a
kitten before it has caught its first mouse; and I would insist on the
kitten. I would put the copyholder who refused his heriot of a kitten in
the stocks for five minutes, and if I knew the correct medival English
for a custom which is, doubtless, ancient, I should stipulate that this
false varlet should stand drinks all round to the Court Baron of the

And then, again; this wretched enactment sweeps away 'Borough English,'
the custom which in certain manors ordains that, not the eldest, but the
youngest son is heir. Now, this is fairly tearing things up by the
roots. Here is a custom which, I suspect, goes far beyond Norman, far
beyond Saxon, far beyond that far, far time when the Celts invaded this
island and found a little, dark people dwelling here, a people that
lived in caves and in houses, hollowed out in the heart of domed hills.
These small people, aborigines so far as we know, are considered on a
plausible theory to have furnished the source of all the stories about
the Little People--the wise name for the fairies. No doubt the custom of
Borough English--under a name and in a tongue which would sound
unearthly to modern Europe, save perhaps to Basques and Laps--was the
custom of the dark little people of the hills; and so it is, naturally
enough, that in the fairy tales the hero is often the youngest son. Has
Lord Birkenhead ever heard of Hop-o'-my-Thumb? In framing his measure
did he consider the leading case of Beauty and the Beast, which shows
that the principle of Borough English applied even to female descent? It
would seem not. And yet, how simple it would have been to retain this
relic of pre-history, without annoying anybody. Suppose the case of John
Smith, copyholder of Mudford, being and situate in the Manor of
Muckindyke-le-Marsh. John Smith is making his will; he likes his son
Perivale and wishes to cut off his youngest, Mulciber, with a shilling.
Very good; let him do so. Mudford goes to Perivale, and Mulciber gets
nothing--save the right to entitle himself for the rest of his days
'Heir of Mudford,' after the Scottish precedents of 'Master of
Dun-blather' and 'Younger of Haddaneuk.' And thus the ancient custom of
Borough English would be preserved.

And gavelkind goes too. Gavelkind provided that the estate should be
shared out equally between all the surviving sons of the copyholder.
This custom, I think, is not of the vast antiquity of Borough English;
still it is old and bore witness to the highly interesting fact that in
early times the share-and-share-alike principle had its strong
supporters, anticipating the modern French laws of inheritance by many
hundreds of years. Why abolish it, when it would have been easy to get
round it? Why not have arranged that the estate of Blenkinsop should be
devised entirely according to the copyholder's fancy, but that all sons
should be known as Commoners of Blenkinsop, with the right of digging up
one cabbage in the kitchen garden once a year at midnight on the Eve of
the Derby?

Why didn't the Lord Chancellor arrange for the digging up of that
cabbage? Instead of which he goes about rooting up the past.


This year I spent my holiday with a party of collectors, as, in point of
fact, I always do spend it. They are not people of mature years, their
ages ranging from five to fifteen. They do not collect First Folios or
Conrads or Masefields or _incunabula_--a pleasing word, which means in
English very early printed books. They collect shells. Every day, this
dozen of children, members of four or five families, comes down to the
beach as if for enjoyment. They might bathe in the genial sea, well
warmed by the Gulf Stream. They might play games on the mile-long
stretch of firm sand. They might get up parties of hide-and-seek among
the grassy dunes, up hills and down dales purple with wild thyme, golden
with Ladies' Slipper, starred with burnet-roses. The older ones might
play golf on the natural links, a wonderful sporting course as I am
assured. They might even follow my example and do nothing at all, the
best of all sports. Instead of which, they collect shells. As each party
arrives, it scatters abroad. Some make for Giltar Head, some for Tenby
town, some for the rocks, some for the smooth verge of the sea. In a few
minutes the happy party has dissolved itself into melancholy
individuals, who walk very slowly to and fro, their bodies bent double,
their eyes glued to the sand. Land and sea and sky, craggy rocks and the
golden sweep of the bay are all lost for them, blotted out; they see
nothing but shells. They gather these shells every day for three weeks.
When the night falls they sort them out. Finally, they mount them on
sheets of cardboard. And then, the day before the end of the
holidays--they throw them away. I believe that the landladies' garden
paths consist of the accumulated collections of the last ten years. But
commoner sorts gathered with less pains would make as good paths or
better. You want about a bushel of pectens to make a foot of good, dry

I write, it will be observed, with some degree of venom. But I have
always been the enemy of collectors or collections, whether on the large
scale or on the small. I love the shell on the seashore, glittering from
the water, gleaming and pearly in the sun. That very shell, dry and
desiccated, gummed on to a cardboard square, seems to me dull,
insignificant, uninteresting. And so with the hedgerows, with the deep,
shaded banks where flowers of all kinds flourish and grow luxuriant and
great and green, with the eyebright and the pink centaury and the
enchanting Ladies' Tresses--an exquisite little orchid--on the dunes;
with the singular growth of the water plants at the edge of the great
marsh; with that patch of luminous blue at the edge of the deep wood
where you would say that summer sky had fallen, if you did not know that
the forget-me-not blossomed there every year; with the blue rounds of
the chicory, the strangely mingled colours of the viper's bugloss, the
dwale or deadly nightshade growing sinister, in stony places; with all
these beauties and wonders I am enchanted, and on them in their natural
places I cannot gaze long enough. But pick them, dry them, press them to
death, bury their poor dead bodies in a folio book and call your crime a
_Hortus Siccus_: then for me all the enchantment is over. These dismal
things are not flowers, but the corpses of flowers. You may take your
_Hortus Siccus_, your 'Dry Garden,' to the rubbish heap, for all I care.
I don't like corpses. And so with other collections. Years ago a very
young man was trying to impart to me the art of sucking eggs with a
perseverance and an energy worthy of a better cause. He 'put me through
it' smartly, he poured his precious balms of art, literature, culture on
my head, he rebuked me in his righteous indignation. Well do I remember
his stinging tones as he said to me one day: 'You talk sometimes as if
you cared for beautiful things, and yet you never go near the South
Kensington Museum!' I hung my head and had not a word to say. The fact
was that I had paid a visit to the South Kensington Museum in the year
1880; and this visit had lasted me till 1910. I changed the subject
hastily; and soon after my young friend gave me up as a hopeless case. I
spent a few more happy years in keeping away from South Kensington
Museum; and then one fine day I had to make a second visit, whether I
would or no. I shall never forget the horror of that afternoon. Here was
another 'Dry Garden'; a collection of beautiful things of all sorts torn
from their natural places, their natural purposes, their natural and fit
surroundings. The rare and costly plate that should have shone on the
cupboard of some high lord was in a case, the chasuble that should have
been on a priest's back was in a case, the Persian carpet that should
have been on the floor was in a case. In short, everything was out of
its place and in a case--except one object, the most melancholy ruin of
all. This was, in itself, an exquisite piece of work. It had been an
outer winding stairway. It was of carved oak, unpainted and untreated in
any way. It was a beautiful piece of fifteenth-century workmanship, and
it had been torn from its place, which was, I think, an old house in
Rouen. Once, no doubt, these richly balustraded stairs had led up to a
doorway as rich, to a goodly house of equal craft and beauty; now they
took you to a blank wall and to empty space in the room at South
Kensington Museum. I had never thought that there could be such a thing
as the corpse of a staircase; but there it was before me; a staircase
torn up by the roots, rent from the soil whence it had sprung, deprived
of all its fit meaning and significance; truly a ghastly and repulsive

I shall be asked, of course, whether I hold that the Rouen staircase
should not have been preserved. Certainly I hold that it should be
preserved, and preserved in a Museum, for the instruction of technical
students, architects, wood carvers, and all such persons. But the
general public should not be admitted. It is highly necessary that human
bodies should be dissected, that human skeletons should be preserved;
for the instruction of students of medicine, surgery, anatomy. But the
general sightseer is not admitted to the Dissecting Room or to the
Museum of Anatomy. We do not make a general and public show of a charnel
house. Then there is another and very virulent form of this crime of
collecting; that is the collecting of books. Take a notorious instance;
the First Folio of Shakespeare. What on earth does anybody want with a
copy of the First Folio? It is a thoroughly ugly book, vilely printed
from a very poor fount on indifferent paper. It is quite difficult to
read the text, which is choked with printer's errors. Its size makes it
thoroughly unhandy. If you possess a copy you must keep it guarded like
a royal treasure, for fear of expert thieves. You hardly dare to turn a
page for fear of its 'condition' deteriorating. Practically you have to
treat the thing as a magpie treats a bit of glass or a ring; that is,
bury it; and which, I wonder, is the more sensible, the collector or the
magpie? The only person to whom a first folio can do any real good is
that happy man, the convinced and enthusiastic Baconian. For him the
printer's errors and blunders are a goldmine. Nothing like the First
Folio for those who work the various cyphers. No limit to the gorgeous
secrets that can be extracted by this method; the hidden history of the
Court of Queen Elizabeth, the true parentage of Bacon, the fact that he
wrote the whole literature of the age, English and foreign; that he left
ground plans and elevations from which Sir Christopher Wren rebuilt St.
Paul's Cathedral, Hampton Court and the City churches a little later,
that he designed the watermarks (containing great mysteries) for the
paper-makers of his time, that he was the founder of the Society of the
Rosy Cross, that he knew all about the Sons of the Widow; all these
marvels and many more are to be discovered in the First Folio by the
true Baconian. I wish there were enough First Folios to go round these
enlightened men; I would shut them and their copies up together.

And then there are the collectors of modern books. They are almost as
bad. The other day I was speaking of the habit to an author whose books
are just beginning to be collected. 'Of course,' he said, 'I'm glad in a
way, because in the long run it means money for me. But what rot it all
is! You know those little books of mine, _Waite and Waite_ and _Hedger
and Mixer?_ Well, people are giving a couple of quid for first editions,
when they can get infinitely better editions for a bob a time. What do
they do it for?' I could not put my author wise--to use an idiom to
which he is addicted--and I don't believe anybody can. Why don't people
leave the shells on the shore, the flowers in the hedgerows, and the
first editions in the booksellers' shops? It is all a mystery. But then
life is full of mysteries and, after all, it is mystery which gives life
its delight, its joy and its savour.


I am going to do a very naughty thing. It is dreadful to be bad, but
sometimes it is a relief to the feelings. And it does a man good to be a
regular devil now and then; always provided that he does not let it get
into a hobby. But, I confess, the particular form of naughtiness which I
am contemplating is very bad indeed. It is called in the nursery
'answering back.' Bed without any supper is the usual penalty for this
offence; and sometimes mummy comes and cries over the cot afterwards,
and won't go away till there is a firm understanding that Johnnie is
going to be a better boy for the future. And Johnnie, being sleepy,
readily undertakes to be a saint for the rest of his days. Well, I hope
I shall not catch it quite as badly as that--I rather like supper with
something devilled in it--but I confess that I mean to break out. It is
not merely answering back, but answering back a reviewer, and a reviewer
is more important even than Nana. Still, who cares? I don't believe that
Don't Care was eaten by lions. Here goes.

The facts, are these. Some few weeks ago I published a little book. It
was about most sorts of things, and amongst these things it contained a
comparison between the general aspect of London as I remember it more
than forty years ago, and the London of to-day. There was a particular
contrast drawn between the Row of the 'eighties and early 'nineties and
the Row of to-day. It is like this:

     'Now the old equipages were undeniably the last word of smartness;
     in themselves they were enough to tell the stranger that he had
     come to the very centre of the earth, of its riches and its
     splendours. There were the high-bred, high-spirited, high-stepping
     horses, in the first place, groomed to the last extreme of shiny,
     satiny perfection, tossing their heads proudly and champing their
     bits and doing the most wonderful things with their legs.'

And so forth and so forth; with a very unflattering comparison between
these splendid arrays and the modern style--'now there are some
"Snorting Billies" that choke and snarl and splutter as they dodge
furtively and meanly in and out of the Park like mechanical rabbits,
bolting for their burrows.' And I dwelt more particularly on the
splendid liveries that were still to be seen in those old days,
disassociating myself from the people who despise a servant's job, and
laugh at him for being gorgeously dressed. 'The man who found "Blazes"
ridiculous,' I observe, 'would probably find the King in his Coronation
robes equally ridiculous,' objecting not so much to splendour on a
footman's back, but to splendour in itself.

Now, as to all this, Mr. Maurice Hewlett, in a very amiable review of
the book in question, takes a strong exception. He agrees with me, he
says, in thinking that the old turn-outs were splendid, and that the
modern motor-car is not splendid. Where he differs from me is in being
quite sure that all splendour is a bad thing.

'I fear,' says Mr. Hewlett, 'that I share what he calls "that vile
Liberal objection" to splendour as splendour.' He does find the King in
his Coronation robes ridiculous. 'We are all so ridiculous essentially
that none of us can afford to dress up.' Now, is Mr. Hewlett right?
Waiving for a moment the point about 'Blazes' and His Majesty's
Coronation robes, and dressing-up in general: is splendour as splendour
a bad thing? Is meanness, the opposite, I take it, of splendour, the one
thing that we ought to cultivate? It may be so; but if it be so, we have
a tough job before us. We shall have to remake the earth; and the
expense will be enormous. For if we are to be honest, and I take it that
all good Liberals are honest, we cannot deny that there are many
splendours in the material universe. There are the stars at night, for
instance, they are splendid; you may call them showy if you like; but
still, there they are. There are a great many of them; and some of them
are excessively bright. Occasionally, they fall; and we perceive that
they are, in fact, great ugly lumps of a metallic nature which science
can analyse, if I may say so, in a brace of shakes. Then, why do they
shine and put ideas into the heads of poets--'patens of bright gold' and
that sort of thing--and lovers? We know that they are really ferrous
compounds and not patens of bright gold. Then what do they mean by it?
And what are we going to do about it? And how are we to deal with the
notorious outrage of harvest moons? I saw one, last September, coming up
through the mists of the sea, a red and smouldering fire, a splendour of
the night, an adorable beauty. It is all very well to object to
splendour as splendour. But will the harvest moon take any notice of our
objections? I doubt it. I know it is disloyal; but I doubt it.

And then there is another case; a very bad one. Early this year I bought
a bulb for three and six. It was rather an ugly, shapeless-looking
thing; not nearly so symmetrical as an onion. I placed it in a wooden
tub full of leaf mould, and watered it at intervals and gave it certain
doses of superphosphate of lime from week to week. What was the result?
Two slender green stems came up out of the leaf mould and grew taller
and taller and at last produced little green buds. These swelled and
grew great and at last opened. And now there is a great crown of
splendour: flowers of creamy loveliness, striped with gold, starred with
crimson, radiant with orange-coloured stamens, exhaling rich odours.
Truly the _Lilium Auratum_ is splendour and glorious splendour, arrayed
more nobly than Solomon or any other king. It may be urged, of course,
that this lily comes from Japan, an autocratically-governed country, and
that, therefore, the _Lilium Auratum_ knows no better; but I hardly
think that this will do. Why, even in our own country, where every one
who wants the vote can have it, forget-me-nots are still very blue, and,
in spite of the abolition of Christmas by the sturdy Puritans, holly
berries have remained of a bright shade of red. So I am rather in a
difficulty. Like many of the people in Miss Wilkins' beautiful New
England tales: 'I wanter know.' Nature, from the stars in the sky to the
forget-me-nots on the ground, seems given to splendour. Why should we,
who are, I suppose, a part of nature, stand out, as it were, and resolve
to be as mean and ugly as we possibly can? Is this really Liberalism? I
cannot think it. I hope, for the sake of Liberalism, that it isn't. For
if it were, Liberalism would be like the law according to Mr. Bumble, 'a
ass.' For, if Mr. Hewlett will think it over, he will see that he has
committed himself to the 'Program' of abolishing all the arts. Turner is
splendid, Bach is splendid; they must go. Mr. Hewlett, he says, objects
to splendour as splendour. Then Lincoln Cathedral, Durham Cathedral, St.
Paul's Cathedral, Westminster Abbey; all these must come down, and be
beaten into shapeless ruins and rubble. All beautiful furniture must be
smashed, all curious pottery and porcelain of the ages must be broken to
mend the roads; nothing splendid, nothing beautiful must be preserved.
Mr. Hewlett objects to splendour as splendour.

And then, more particularly, as to men, as to human beings. 'We are all
so ridiculous essentially that none of us can afford to dress up.' Is
that so? If so, we are in a very bad way indeed. Are we really to insist
that every woman shall go about in a long robe of cinder grey, or in
dark green corduroy coat and breeches? Is lace to be a penal offence?
Are pretty shoes to spell a month's hard? Are fanciful and charming hats
to be a matter for the magistrate? Nay, is a man with a well-cut suit
and tie and socks and hat to correspond to be liable to be frog-marched
on sight to the nearest police station? But all this is 'dressing up.'
Anything, as that wisest of men, Dr. Johnson said, beyond a bull's-hide
suit, is dressing up. And what about changing from grey to oddly cut
black after seven o'clock every evening: what is this but dressing up?
Is Mr. Hewlett too ridiculous essentially to put on evening-dress when
he goes out to dinner? And again; since we are all so essentially
ridiculous, as he says, what can be more ridiculous than serving that
meal of dinner on snowy white napery of choice and costly make, with the
ritual of curiously cut glasses, of fine silver, of exquisite flowers,
in a room richly furnished, adorned with admirable paintings? The
ridiculous creature man is to shovel food into his ridiculous belly that
he may prolong his ridiculous existence: cannot he do this without the
ridiculous splendour of cut glass, fair linen, Queen Anne silver, costly
flowers, while he wears in honour of the evening the sort of coat that
his grandfather wore in the morning, and the kind of tie that clergymen
wore fifty years ago?

The fact is, of course, that when Mr. Hewlett declares that he dislikes
splendour as splendour he is really declaring his dislike of the
universe in general and of human nature in particular. The world from
the flowers to the stars is a splendid spectacle, and the love of
splendour is deeply set in the heart of man. The wretchedest savage with
a few poor pots and gourds for all his belongings will yet scratch or
cut some kind of decorative pattern on them. Poor work, rude work
enough, but it is the best that he can do; the only splendour that he is
capable of fashioning. And let us remember this: that it is the love of
splendour, the splendid robe, the splendid word, the splendid tune, the
splendid picture, which constitutes the vital distinction between man
and brute. Many beasts have reason, the faculty of using means for a
certain end. But only man has Art, which is the love of splendour and
the desire to create it.


It seems paradoxical, but I am strongly inclined to think that the more
comfortable we become, the less we know of comfort. As I may have
remarked before in this work, there is no reason to suppose that the
Anglo-Indians of the Plains really appreciate the glorious sunshine of
the dry season. It would take a new-comer from the Hebrides to enjoy the
golden blaze.

You will remember that I once saw a man enjoy a noble fire as it ought
to be enjoyed. It was a bitter day of fog and frost in London, and the
fire was indeed a gorgeous one, with radiant depths of glowing coal at
the heart of it, and great boulders from which jets of burning gas came
shooting with a hissing, rushing noise, and flames that roared up the
chimney. The man laughed as he came into the room and saw this mighty

'Ah!' he said as he drew his chair up to the heat, 'you don't really
appreciate a good fire till you've been where I've been.'

Then Amundsen began to talk to me about the Polar places where he had
been, of the remorseless cold, of wading up to the waist through
boundless plains of freezing slush. And he looked at the fire as though
he loved it. Now, he was no doubt right in holding that if a man would
really taste all the full savours of a blazing hearth, he must go to the
North Pole; to the utter, bitter darkness of the world. But the recipe
is a severe one, and the journey long, and one cannot afford to be all
that time away from business. Still, in the old days, people contrived
to relish their firesides without taking the extreme measure of Polar
Exploration. There is an old coaching print of which I am very fond. It
shows the coach overturned in a wild, snowy landscape. The passengers
are picking their way heavily, clumsily through the drift, one going on
before with a lantern. 'What miserable discomfort!' you will say. Not a
bit of it. I know, and they know, that after half an hour or so of our
English substitute for the North Pole, they will come to the noblest
roadside inn. The glow of it will gush out into the wild night through
red-curtained windows; as the door opens the genial heat will conquer in
an instant all winter weather; and within, a fire that would melt the
frozen Pole itself, and tempting armchairs, and firelight and
candlelight flickering and glittering on right Spanish mahogany. The
coach passengers will laugh just as Amundsen laughed as they come into
the room, and the guard--the man with the lamp--will say: 'Make
yourselves comfortable, gentlemen; we shan't be able to get on for
another couple of hours, or maybe three,' and there will most certainly
be punch, and probably some jolly stories. My belief is that when the
coach was announced, and the passengers were packed in the straw and
muffled up to the eyes in their shawls, they all declared that they had
seldom passed a pleasanter evening, and fell asleep for the rest of the
journey five minutes afterwards.

In these days one cannot do that kind of thing. Suppose the express is
hung up for a while in a snowdrift. The steam heat is on, certainly; but
there is nothing jolly about steam heat. As to punch: it is past ten
o'clock and punch after ten is felony. Besides, most of the passengers
have been instructed by 'A Physician' in their morning paper that there
is nothing more chilling in its effects on the human frame than hot
spirits. So there you are. The coach incident was, undeniably, something
of a lark. There is nothing of a lark in sitting still in an express for
an hour or two, waiting for the snow ploughs. And putting these
incidents of travel on one side, I believe we are losing our sense of
the joy of a blazing fire. We are getting to be rationalists on this
subject; and it is always a bad thing to be a rationalist on any
subject. I remember one night in my own house some guests of mine began
to fall out about the heat of the room. Some said it was too hot, others
that it was not hot enough. Whereupon an American gentleman in company,
raised in the tradition of central heating, said sourly:

'What's the good of talking about the temperature of this room? There
are probably ten distinct temperatures in this room.'

Of course there were; and that's just the fun of it. You can only relish
the joy of warmth properly when cold is, as it were, at your elbow.

The central-heating and steam-pipe people argue, no doubt, that fires
are merely means to give heat, and that since the modern systems
distribute heat more evenly and more effectually, they are quite
evidently superior to open fires. Now, this sounds reasonable; but as a
matter of fact it is nonsense. Nay, but it is so. Offer a _fin gourmet_
the rarest of Bordeaux, the noblest Burgundy that you like to imagine,
in a teacup, and watch his face. And be quick about it; for he will
certainly kill you, and the verdict will be 'Justifiable Homicide.'
Rationally, the wine is as good in old Betty's teacup as in the thinnest
and most curious glass: but--we know better. It isn't. Science would
assure us that Chteau Un Tel or Clos Chose cannot possibly be affected
in any way by being poured into porcelain or earthenware instead of
glass; and as usual where science is concerned we are forced to answer:
'You are perfectly right: but you lie for all that.' How does this
matter of the wine and the teacup--one _could_ drink Chteau vintages
out of a teapot, for the matter of that--relate to that other matter of
pipe-heating _versus_ a roaring fire? Why, each example illustrates the
singular but undeniable principle that, even in matters of the senses,
there is much more involved than the senses; rather, perhaps, more than
the particular sense which is to be gratified. The old hearth, if one
comes to think of it, is a species of sacrament, symbolizing a whole
world of dear and friendly and sacred and happy things. That leaping
flame on the wild winter's night is much more than a means of securing
that the temperature of the room shall not fall below 60 Fahrenheit.
They understood this so well in old Rome that there were gods of the
hearth, the Lares and Penates, and it was in their honour that the flame
on the hearth blazed and glowed. And we have something of that ancient
feeling still with us; we talk of fighting for our hearths and homes.
Has anybody ever talked of fighting for our cellular 'Thermidor'
improved reverberating radiators? But the 'Thermidor,' no doubt,
distributes heat in a much more even manner than any open fire of coal
or logs. And yet again, it doesn't. If we were sheep and goats 'that
nourish a blind life within the brain' and felt the cold, then the
radiator would be our proper apparatus of heat; but being men, we
require, odd as it may seem, to have our souls warmed as well as our
bodies; and so we choose, if we are wise, the flame of the sacred
hearth, and if we are lucky and have a good store of well-seasoned oak
logs, it is of them that we build the fire, and add to our joys the
exquisite aroma, the incense of burning wood.

And so, of course, with the parallel case of good wine and the way to
drink it. We drink wine for its rare savours and for the genial warmth
of body and mind that it produces. But we do not drink it as we drink
quinine. I have never heard of a quinine or castor oil gourmet who
insisted on quaffing these beverages from a particular kind of glass--I
suppose it would be a graduated medicine glass with the beautiful
figures for drachms and scruples duly inscribed on its surface. But
wine, somehow, we desire to receive after a different fashion. It must
be brought to us, either ancient in its encrusted bottle with the dust
and cobwebs of its deep, dark cellar thick upon it, or else decanted, in
a vessel of cut glass; and the actual glass from which we drink it must
be as fine as may be, a pleasure to the eye, a pleasure to the lip on
which it rests. Here, again, we are unscientific. The flavour of our
Bordeaux or Burgundy or old Port would be just as good if the wine were
brought to table in a beer-jug and poured out in a coarse mug with blue
band and a brown, blobby tree for its decoration; and, once more, how
blest are they who ne'er consent by the ill advice of science to walk!
It is a very odd thing--the world is simply chock full of very odd
things--but the effect of consenting to walk by the advice of science
would be to reduce humanity pretty well to the rank of beasts and
barbarians. A pig is not particular as to the design of its trough, and
a savage who drinks doesn't care in the least about the shape of the
bottle which contains the firewater. This, as I say, is really odd,
considering that science is supposed to be the guiding star of the very
latest civilization. Science is triumphantly new, modern, progressive;
and yet, as we have seen, its practical tendency would appear to be
reactionary--though, after all, pigs are very nice animals, and there is
a good deal to be said for the Red Man. And thus we come back to the
paradox with which we started: the more comfortable we become, the less
we know of comfort. We follow scientific principles, close up the hearth
and take to the radiator, the error being that man is considered simply
as a physiological surface, capable of certain impressions of cold and
heat. He is that, but he is quite a number of other things, which are
often more important to the sum of his well-being. Why, I dare say that
science would be inclined to agree with Mr. Uriah Heep. He, being in
gaol, thought that it would be better for everybody if they could be
'took up and brought here.' And as far as I can make out from reading
that infernal 'Physician' in the daily paper, those are exactly the
conclusions of the latest science. We all eat too much. In gaol our
bill-of-fare would be expressed in ounces, and not many of them. Some of
us drink 'alcohol'--to think that there are scoundrels so shameless as
to call a fine Corton 'alcohol'! In gaol there is no 'alcohol.' Some of
us are given to inhaling the dubious or more than dubious alkaloids
generally known as tobacco. In gaol no smoking is allowed. Outside, we
are often lazy. Inside, scientific authority would see that each got the
exact amount of work and exercise proper to his case and constitution.
Outside, all sorts of temptations, every kind of vice; nothing of the
kind in a prison cell. Outside, houses are often damp and in defective
repair--I have had a loose slate on my roof for weeks--inside,
everything of this kind is in perfect condition.

In short, we should all be much better off if we were to spend this
Christmas in gaol. Clearly: on scientific principles. It is undeniable;
and it is also, as usual with scientific principles, the Devil's own


'He and I walked away together; we stopped a little while by the rails
of the Adelphi, looking on the Thames, and I said to him with some
emotion that I was now thinking of two friends we had lost, who had once
lived in the buildings behind us, Beauclerk and Garrick. "Ay, sir (said
he tenderly), and two such friends as cannot be supplied."'

'He and I were Johnson and Boswell. And yet I understand that they are
going to pull down the Adelphi.

Nay, 'he and I' were just coming away from poor Davy's house, Number 5,
where his widow had entertained them elegantly. Mrs. Garrick had talked
of her husband with complacency, and when she cast her eyes on his
portrait, which hung over the chimney-piece, said that 'death was now
the most agreeable object to her.'

Now, this should be sufficient. The place where this amazing remark was
uttered to a festive assembled party, presumably with the object of
cheering everybody up, and promoting a flow of genial spirits, such a
place as this should be a sacred relic, a house to be preserved for

And yet they are going to pull down the Adelphi. Nay, more. After this
gay beginning, there was a large company in the drawing-room. Hannah
More and Sir Joshua and Dr. Burney were present at dinner; later came
the Bishop of Killaloe--did he often visit his Cathedral Church?--Dr.
Percy of the Reliques, and several others. Johnson, talking of 'a very
respectable authour'--modern English, 'a distinguished man of
letters'--told the company a curious circumstance of his life, which was
that he had married a printer's devil.

'And,' added the Doctor, 'she did not disgrace him; the woman had a
bottom of good sense.' Now, the Doctor was here talking the English of
his youth. If he had said this in 1730 nobody would have laughed. To
this day we don't see anything funny when we speak of a blind street or
alley as a _cul-de-sac_\ I am sure no self-respecting French cook of a
very few years ago would have seen the slightest impropriety in
murmuring in the ears of Madame la Duchesse, as he presented his
new-found and exquisite dish to Her Grace: 'Les culs d'Artichauts  la
Marjolaine.' But times change and phrases, and when the great Doctor
brought out this sentence at Mrs. Garrick's reception, on Friday, April
20th, 1781: 'most of us could not forbear tittering and laughing.' So
Boswell records, though, remembering the honour of the Church, he
declares that the Bishop of Killaloe kept his face with perfect
steadiness. And Hannah More, who might be considered the Church's
Maiden-Aunt-in-chief, slyly hid her face behind a lady's back. This was
a tremendous occasion. Johnson would not bear that a phrase of his,
meant to be perfectly straightforward common-sense English, should be
regarded as funny. And so he glared sternly round and said: 'Where's the
merriment?' And then he 'looked aweful,' and slowly pronounced: 'I say
the woman was _fundamentally_ sensible.' I think that it shows the power
of this great man that the company, which had tittered, did not now howl
with mirth. But they did not. They 'sat composed as at a funeral.'

And all this in the Adelphi. And yet they are going to pull down the

And, coming to a later, though still a most noble age, and to
imagination in place of fact, do you remember where it was that Mr.
Wardle rubbed his hands and said:

'Let us have some of your best wine to-day, waiter.'

And the waiter replied:

'You shall have some of the very best, sir.'

Now, I declare that that wine, the very best wine of an old-fashioned
London hotel in 1830, has afforded me more choice pleasures than any
wine I have ever drunk in fact. I revel in it. I do not seek to know
exactly what wine it was. But I have every confidence in it. 'Some of
the very best!' It was more than wine; it was dreams and chimes and
music. The oldest and the rarest of it had been binned very deep down in
dark cellars near the flow of the river, almost from the time of the
Brothers Adam. I incline to surmise, though I will not be obstinate,
that the dessert wine was Malmsey Madeira, older perhaps than the place
where it was drunk; a vintage, let us say, of 1740.

And this wine was administered at Osborne's Hotel in the Adelphi. Is
this a place to pull down?

But I am afraid it will be pulled down, and that the game of our dear
old London is definitely up. In the last twenty years the change has
been great; in the next twenty years it will probably be much greater.
The world changes and the Strand must change with it. I suppose so; but
I am sorry. Of course it all began just a hundred years ago. Many people
have been accustomed to regard our late King George IV as a typical
Tory. Some people said he was a pig-headed despot. Leigh Hunt, a
Radical, was sent to gaol for abusing him. But I am afraid he was not of
the true Tory faith. In his youth, let it be remembered, he had
associated with the Whigs--I fear that they left their mark on him.
Anyhow, it was in his reign that they began to knock about the Strand;
the West Strand, by Trafalgar Square. David Copperfield remembered the
old West Strand.

     'I remember two pudding-shops, between which I was divided,
     according to my finances. One was in a court close to St. Martin's
     Church--at the back of the church--which is now removed altogether.
     The pudding at that shop was made of currants, and was rather a
     special pudding, but was dear, twopennyworth not being larger than
     a pennyworth of more ordinary pudding. A good shop for the latter
     was in the Strand--somewhere in that part which has been rebuilt
     since. It was a stout, pale pudding, heavy and flabby, and with
     great flat raisins in it, stuck in whole at wide distances apart.'

And I remember that stout, pale pudding too. In my day, it was to be
seen sweltering in pans in the window of a shop on the north side of the
Strand, over against St. Mary's.

Thus David's recollections of his sparse meals. I do not suppose that
he--or Dickens--was aware that the court which sold the superior pudding
was a relic of a cookshop rookery of the early seventeenth century. The
quarter was sometimes called Porridge Island, sometimes the Bermudas,
sometimes the Caribbee Islands. In Ben Jonson's day the place was noted
for 'bottle ale' and tobacco. In 1753 a periodical essayist mentions the
'fine gentleman whose dinner is served up under cover of a pewter plate,
from the Cook's shop in Porridge Island.' Men had eaten and drunk
roughly in this maze of courts and alleys for more than two hundred
years; poor little David Copperfield comes last and gets his slice of
pudding there; and then George IV sweeps it all away. I wish he hadn't.
Then there was peace for a long time. Now and then a fine old house was
pulled down, and an ugly modern house took its place, but the aspect of
things in the Strand and about it remained pretty much as they were in
1830. When I first saw the Strand in 1880 it was still intact, and so it
remained till late in the 'nineties. And then the crash came. Beautiful
old Clement's Inn was, I think, the first to fall.

'I was once of Clement's Inn,' says Shallow, 'where I think they will
talk of mad Shallow yet.'

As you went up by the narrow way from the Strand, you passed the fine
hall of the Society, built in 1715, and within there were green gardens
and closes, and a delicious eighteenth-century house standing in the
middle of a lawn; what a choice retreat in the very heart of London;
peace and greenness within a minute of the roaring Strand! Down came St.
Clement's Inn; and up went the big red flats. Soon after came the great
scheme. Holywell Street and Wych Street with their sixteenth-century
gables were swept away; New Inn disappeared; queer mazes of mouldering
streets about Clare Market banished for ever; the old Globe, the old
Olympic became as Babylon, things fallen and abolished. Australia House,
mighty business buildings, as magnificent as anything in Berlin, stand
in their stead.

And now the Adelphi also is to become a memory!


I have just been reading a very odd article in a Sunday paper. It is a
series of extracts from a book called _Lord Kitchener's Lives_. It tells
you exactly how it all happened. It was dictated by Lord Kitchener's
ghost to an otherwise unknown person called 'Ala Mana.' The story begins
with the great soldier's embarkation on the _Hampshire_. It relates the
odd behaviour of a cabin-boy:

     'I was attracted to a cabin-boy who darted out of a shadow, and as
     he did so, glanced at me sharply, an expression of peculiar guilt
     in his eyes.'

The tale goes on to describe the apparition of Lord Kitchener's mother
and her warning; the alarm of the submarine; Lord Kitchener's exit from
his cabin and return to it, when he finds that his papers have been
disturbed; his hearing the click of the lock and finding that he is
locked into the cabin; the shock of the fatal torpedo; and, when Lord
Kitchener had pounded through the panels of the cabin door, the
discovery of the cabin-boy, with a bullet in his brain and a revolver in
his hand. Then comes death by drowning, the assumption of an 'astral
body' and remarkable encounters in the world of spirits.

Now, let it be noted that the Sunday paper describes the work as
'mediumistic balderdash.' But it prints four columns of extracts. Why?
This is a side issue of the main argument--we shall come to that before
long--but the point is curious. The paper prints all these extracts
because it realizes that there is a Kitchener Myth, and that many of its
readers will be highly interested in anything which bears on it. Strange
though it may seem, even in these later days when folk-lore and
folk-songs are almost forgotten by the folk whose fathers made them;
when the real folk memory is either gone or on the point of going; when
all the old tales which were told of winter nights about the fire have
become 'subjects' to be dissected and examined and theorized over by
learned men; when students in far Western American Universities now gain
degrees by writing learned theses on stories that once gladdened or
terrified smock-frocked alehouse company by lonely English lanes; when
the old myth-making faculty was, one would have said, a thing utterly
ended; still, in these days the folk have made a myth about Kitchener.
It was not so strange that the Ireland of a generation ago refused to
believe that Parnell was dead. There were men in the Ireland of the
'nineties of the last century--perhaps there are still--who were living
in the world of a thousand years ago; and so the Men of the Hills, as
Parnell himself called them, believed that the story of their leader's
death in a Brighton lodging-house was all a lie, a lie concocted by the
Saxon and Tim Healy, most likely. Parnell was gone into some strange
region to rest and be restored and healed of his grievous wounds--I
don't think the Men of the Hills had heard of Avalon, and probably they
had the United States of America in their minds--but he would come again
and rule once more, and as the old man in the Irish workhouse told Lady
Gregory: 'there would be no police at all, and every poet should have
twenty pounds a year.'

I was saying that there are Irishmen to-day who are living in the world
of a thousand years ago. I have just quoted an instance. The old man in
the workhouse had no notion, I am sure, that he was repeating a Welsh
prophecy of the twelfth century with slight variations of phrase. The
Welsh writer was speaking of the golden age that was to be when
Cadwaladyr Vendigeid should return: 'then,' he said, 'Saxons shall be
eradicated and Bards shall flourish.'

It was not wonderful then, that the men of Kerry and Connemara made a
myth of the return of Parnell; and for all I know there may be old men
and women of the hills who still look for it, in spite of Sinn Fein and
the Free State. But we of England, we of London with our morning papers
and our evening papers and our Sunday papers and our wireless and our
broadcasting and all the rest of it--progress, I think, it is called--it
is marvellous that we too still possess the old faculty. We must know in
our hearts, you would think, that the _Hampshire_ was blown out of the
water and that Kitchener was drowned; but we will not have it so. I
remember that in my very own house, one night about two years ago, I was
saying innocently: 'They tell me that there are really people who
believe that Kitchener is still alive: is it possible that there are
such people?' Whereupon a young gentleman in company lifted up his hand
and with an expression of fervid belief said boldly: 'Here's one of
them.' It struck me as wonderful; and all the more when I found that the
Survival of Kitchener was only one article in a queer sort of _Credo_,
as to the details of which I have become somewhat vague. I think that
you were bound to believe that the failure--if it were a failure--of the
British Fleet at Jutland was planned by the British Admiralty, and with
that went a confession of the iniquity of 'Salome,' and faith in a
mysterious volume, possessed by Germany, in which all our names were
written. It was the oddest confusion of a creed that ever was, I verily
believe. For a few days it turned the calmness and the decency of a
British Court of Justice into a scandalous disorder and produced a most
ridiculous verdict; and then all the nonsense was forgotten, or so I
thought. But, evidently, it was not so. The popular Sunday paper still
finds it profitable to quote stuff which it confesses to be
'balderdash,' because the said stuff is related to the Kitchener
mythology. Note that mysterious cabin-boy, who behaves in the manner of
what the stage calls the heavy man: he is in the famous vein of the

But this by the way. I read on; I read how after a severe struggle,
after the ghost of Lord Kitchener had the mortification of seeing the
fishes tear his dead body as it sank through the waves; I read how the
ghost went up and was received by 'guides' who led it to its high
appointed place. The ghost was immediately placed under a professor, who
offers a choice of studies and the choicest company.

'He said: "My brother is here too. He was once a man of distinguished
rank." He paused. "To-night we go to the banquet. Queen Mary of Scots,
King Edward the Seventh and Queen Victoria will be present, also several
other notables of the physical world. They are all doing their work

'I asked: "What are Queen Mary and Queen Victoria doing?"

'He smiled. "Queen Mary is teaching young souls who are very tender and
very spiritual. Each one has a message." He paused. "Queen Victoria is
doing some literary, medical, and also scientific work. She is a
brilliant student. She will teach the higher souls in a class in medical
science. Also, through her interest in the earth, she will be the means
of inspiring many great souls there."

'We had by this time come to a very tall building. As we entered, the
professor said, "We will go up now in the lightning elevator,"'

There is plenty more of the like sort: Queen Elizabeth, Tolstoi, Louis
XVI are all encountered. But my point is this: by what faculty are we
enabled to declare the whole farrago to be, as the paper rightly names
it, balderdash; rubbish of the most hideous kind? For--let us be quite
clear as to this point--we know nothing whatever as to the ghostly
world. There may be people who think that they are quite certain that
there is no such world, who think they are quite certain that when a man
dies physically he dies utterly and for ever. I say 'people who _think_
that they are certain' as to this and that advisedly; because it is
certain that they are not certain: they know nothing whatever about it,
and no human being can know anything about it. But, excluding these
folks, and taking the rest of us, who are willing to admit that the
human personality may persist after death in some manner which we cannot
distinctly conceive, how, I ask, are we enabled to say decisively and
finally that all this stuff that I have quoted about Kitchener and Queen
Victoria and her literary and scientific studies and the rest of it is a

For, as I say, we know nothing about the other world. For all we know it
may be a world of balderdash; or, to go deeper still, this account of
the studies and occupations of Queen Victoria and Mary Queen of Scots
may not be balderdash at all. Let us remember: Dr. Johnson, a very great
man and a very acute man, was quite sure that Milton's 'Lycidas' was
balderdash or something perilously near it. And Voltaire, a very great
man and a very acute man, of quite a different sort from Dr. Johnson,
would have put Dante into a lunatic asylum. Now, of course, we are quite
sure that both these great men were monstrously wrong: but how about the
verdict of two hundred years hence? Then there was poor John Keats and
his little book of verses, published about a hundred years ago. The
reviewers in _Blackwood's Magazine_ and the _Quarterly Review_, men of
literary education and of accredited taste in literature, were quite
certain that Keats' verse was balderdash. 'Go back to your gallipots,
Master John': that, I think, was the polite advice of the Blackwood's
authority. Yet, we have since come to the conclusion that Master John
wrote some of the most exquisite poetry that has ever been written in
English; I think we may be bold enough to say in any earthly tongue. So,
dare we be confident as to what constitutes balderdash? Perhaps Queen
Victoria is really making progress in her literary, scientific and
medical studies. Of course it may be said that the whole tale is very
unlikely. It is. But such unlikely things do happen sometimes. Suppose a
prophet coming to those obscure solicitor people, the Buonapartes of
Corsica, and telling them what the young Napoleon was to do in history.
They would have said that the prophet's story was a very unlikely one.
And if you had told Robespierre, as he was resigning his judicial post,
because it was against his conscience to sentence a criminal to death;
if you had told him of the seas of innocent blood he was to spill; how
indignant that mild young legal gentleman with his mild young verses
would have been! And on the face of it, is there anything much more
unlikely than the transmutation of a bloated caterpillar into the airy,
exquisite butterfly?

Well, then, perhaps Mary Queen of Scots did exclaim to Lord Kitchener as
in the printed story:

'Oh, you should see King Edward's work! He paints marvellously. Queen
Victoria helps him in his training, and she is very clever in painting
the eyes.'

And yet, we, we--I will put it brutally--who have any sense in our
heads, know that all this and all other tales like to it are a farrago
of ghastly imbecility, lying, fraud, delusion; these elements being
mixed in varying proportions in various cases. We are perfectly certain
that this is so: that nobody told the ghost of Kitchener that the ghost
of King Edward VII is being helped to put in the eyes by the ghost of
Queen Victoria. We are sure of all this: but how? Frankly, I do not
know. Logically, as I think I have shown, we have no right to come to
any conclusions whatever on the matter; we know nothing at all about it
or of the final constitution of the universe.

Yet, we are sure, and when we cease to be sure, why, Heaven help us! And
let it be remembered that there is this corollary: if we are justified
in disbelieving certain tales, though we have no logical grounds for our
disbelief, so also we are justified in believing certain other tales,
though we have no logical grounds for our belief.


All these essays and chronicles, with the exception of the last, 'The
Art of Unbelief,' appeared in _The Lyons Mail_. The first article, 'Dog
and Duck,' has been revised and considerably enlarged since its original
appearance in print.

'The Art of Unbelief was returned to me by the Editor of _The Lyons
Mail_, with a few trenchant criticisms:

'I cannot deal with the enclosed ... I am afraid my readers would not
understand it ... a mass of dissertation, some of which I would not ask
our linotype operators to translate.'

Such are the amenities of that highway which Sir Philip Gibbs has so
delightfully called 'The Street of Adventure.'

There are adventures and adventures, and some adventures are ... muddy.

A. M.

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