Yes, a favourite flower must be a spring flower—there is no doubt about that. You have your choice, then, of the daffodil, the violet, the primrose, and the crocus. The bluebell comes too late, the cowslip is but an indifferent primrose; camelias and anemones and all the others which occur to you come into a different class. Well, then, will you choose the violet or the crocus? Or will you follow the legendary Disraeli and have primroses on your statue?
I write as one who spends most of his life in London, and for me the violet, the primrose, and the crocus are lacking in the same necessary quality—they pick badly. My favourite flower must adorn my house; to show itself off to the best advantage within doors it must have a long stalk. A crocus, least of all, is a flower to be plucked. I admit its charm as the first hint of spring that is vouchsafed to us in the parks, but I want it nearer home than that. You cannot pick a crocus and put it in water; nor can you be so cruel as to spoil the primrose and the violet by taking them from their natural setting; but the daffodil cries aloud to be picked. It is what it is waiting for.
"Long stalks, please." Who, being commanded by his lady to bring in flowers for the house, has not received this warning? And was there ever a stalk to equal the daffodil's for length and firmness and beauty? Other flowers must have foliage to set them off, but daffodils can stand by themselves in a bowl, and their green and yellow dress brings all spring into the room. A house with daffodils in it is a house lit up, whether or no the sun be shining outside. Daffodils in a green bowl—and let it snow if it will.
Wordsworth wrote a poem about daffodils. He wrote poems about most flowers. If a plant would be unique it must be one which had never inspired him to song. But he did not write about daffodils in a bowl. The daffodils which I celebrate are stationary; Wordsworth's lived on the banks of Ullswater, and fluttered and tossed their heads and danced in the breeze. He hints that in their company even he might have been jocose—a terrifying thought, which makes me happier to have mine safely indoors. When he first saw them there (so he says) he gazed and gazed and little thought what wealth the show to him had brought. Strictly speaking, it hadn't brought him in anything at the moment, but he must have known from his previous experiences with the daisy and the celandine that it was good for a certain amount.
A simple daffodil to him Was so much matter for a slim Volume at two and four.
You may say, of course, that I am in no better case, but then I have never reproached other people (as he did) for thinking of a primrose merely as a primrose.
But whether you prefer them my way or Wordsworth's—indoors or outdoors—will make no difference in this further matter to which finally I call your attention. Was there ever a more beautiful name in the world than daffodil? Say it over to yourself, and then say "agapanthus" or "chrysanthemum," or anything else you please, and tell me if the daffodils do not have it.
Pansies, lilies, kingcups, daisies, Let them live upon their praises; Long as there's a sun that sets, Primroses will have their glory; Long as there are violets They will have a place in story; But for flowers my bowls to fill, Give me just the daffodil.
As Wordsworth ought to have said.
A Household Book
Once on a time I discovered Samuel Butler; not the other two, but the one who wrote The Way of All Flesh, the second-best novel in the English language. I say the second-best, so that, if you remind me of Tom Jones or The Mayor of Casterbridge or any other that you fancy, I can say that, of course, that one is the best. Well, I discovered him, just as Voltaire discovered Habakkuk, or your little boy discovered Shakespeare the other day, and I committed my discovery to the world in two glowing articles. Not unnaturally the world remained unmoved. It knew all about Samuel Butler.
Last week I discovered a Frenchman, Claude Tillier, who wrote in the early part of last century a book called Mon Oncle Benjamin, which may be freely translated My Uncle Benjamin. (I read it in the translation.) Eager as I am to be lyrical about it, I shall refrain. I think that I am probably safer with Tillier than with Butler, but I dare not risk it. The thought of your scorn at my previous ignorance of the world-famous Tillier, your amused contempt because I have only just succeeded in borrowing the classic upon which you were brought up, this is too much for me. Let us say no more about it. Claude Tillier—who has not heard of Claude Tillier? Mon oncle Benjamin—who has not read it, in French or (as I did) in American? Let us pass on to another book.
For I am going to speak of another discovery; of a book which should be a classic, but is not; of a book of which nobody has heard unless through me. It was published some twelve years ago, the last-published book of a well-known writer. When I tell you his name you will say, "Oh yes! I LOVE his books!" and you will mention SO-AND-SO, and its equally famous sequel SUCH-AND-SUCH. But when I ask you if you have read MY book, you will profess surprise, and say that you have never heard of it. "Is it as good as SO-AND-SO and SUCH-AND-SUCH?" you will ask, hardly believing that this could be possible. "Much better," I shall reply—and there, if these things were arranged properly, would be another ten per cent, in my pocket. But, believe me, I shall be quite content with your gratitude. Well, the writer of my book is Kenneth Grahame. You have heard of him? Good, I thought so. The books you have read are The Golden Age. and Dream Days. Am I not right? Thank you. But the book you have not read— my book—is The Wind in the Willows. Am I not right again? Ah, I was afraid so.
The reason why I knew you had not read it is the reason why I call it "my" book. For the last ten or twelve years I have been recommending it. Usually I speak about it at my first meeting with a stranger. It is my opening remark, just as yours is something futile about the weather. If I don't get it in at the beginning, I squeeze it in at the end. The stranger has got to have it some time. Should I ever find myself in the dock, and one never knows, my answer to the question whether I had anything to say would be, "Well, my lord, if I might just recommend a book to the jury before leaving." Mr. Justice Darling would probably pretend that he had read it, but he wouldn't deceive me.
For one cannot recommend a book to all the hundreds of people whom one has met in ten years without discovering whether it is well known or not. It is the amazing truth that none of those hundreds had heard of The Wind in the Willows until I told them about it. Some of them had never heard of Kenneth Grahame; well, one did not have to meet them again, and it takes all sorts to make a world. But most of them were in your position—great admirers of the author and his two earlier famous books, but ignorant thereafter. I had their promise before they left me, and waited confidently for their gratitude. No doubt they also spread the good news in their turn, and it is just possible that it reached you in this way, but it was to me, none the less, that your thanks were due. For instance, you may have noticed a couple of casual references to it, as if it were a classic known to all, in a famous novel published last year. It was I who introduced that novelist to it six months before. Indeed, I feel sometimes that it was I who wrote The Wind in the Willows, and recommended it to Kenneth Grahame ... but perhaps I am wrong here, for I have not the pleasure of his acquaintance. Nor, as I have already lamented, am I financially interested in its sale, an explanation which suspicious strangers require from me sometimes.
I shall not describe the book, for no description would help it. But I shall just say this; that it is what I call a Household Book. By a Household Book I mean a book which everybody in the household loves and quotes continually ever afterwards; a book which is read aloud to every new guest, and is regarded as the touchstone of his worth. But it is a book which makes you feel that, though everybody in the house loves it, it is only you who really appreciate it at its true value, and that the others are scarcely worthy of it. It is obvious, you persuade yourself, that the author was thinking of you when he wrote it. "I hope this will please Jones," were his final words, as he laid down his pen.
Well, of course, you will order the book at once. But I must give you one word of warning. When you sit down to it, don't be so ridiculous as to suppose that you are sitting in judgment on my taste, still less on the genius of Kenneth Grahame. You are merely sitting in judgment on yourself. ... You may be worthy; I do not know. But it is you who are on trial.
Food is a subject of conversation more spiritually refreshing even than the weather, for the number of possible remarks about the weather is limited, whereas of food you can talk on and on and on. Moreover, no heat of controversy is induced by mention of the atmospheric conditions (seeing that we are all agreed as to what is a good day and what is a bad one), and where there can be no controversy there can be no intimacy in agreement. But tastes in food differ so sharply (as has been well said in Latin and, I believe, also in French) that a pronounced agreement in them is of all bonds of union the most intimate. Thus, if a man hates tapioca pudding he is a good fellow and my friend.
To each his favourite meal. But if I say that lunch is mine I do not mean that I should like lunch for breakfast, dinner, and tea; I do not mean that of the four meals (or five, counting supper) lunch is the one which I most enjoy—at which I do myself most complete justice. This is so far from being true that I frequently miss lunch altogether ... the exigencies of the journalistic profession. To-day, for instance, I shall probably miss it. No; what I mean is that lunch is the meal which in the abstract appeals to me most because of its catholicity.
We breakfast and dine at home, or at other people's homes, but we give ourselves up to London for lunch, and London has provided an amazing variety for us. We can have six courses and a bottle of champagne, with a view of the river, or one poached egg and a box of dominoes, with a view of the skylights; we can sit or we can stand, and without doubt we could, if we wished, recline in the Roman fashion; we can spend two hours or five minutes at it; we can have something different, every day of the week, or cling permanently (as I know one man to do) to a chop and chips—and what you do with the chips I have never discovered, for they combine so little of nourishment with so much of inconvenience that Nature can never have meant them for provender. Perhaps as counters. ... But I am wandering from my theme.
There is this of romance about lunch, that one can imagine great adventures with stockbrokers, actor-managers, publishers, and other demigods to have had their birth at the luncheon table. If it is a question of "bulling" margarine or "bearing" boot-polish, if the name for the new play is still unsettled, if there is some idea of an American edition—whatever the emergency, the final word on the subject is always the same, "Come and have lunch with me, and we'll talk it over"; and when the waiter has taken your hat and coat, and you have looked diffidently at the menu, and in reply to your host's question, "What will you drink?" have made the only possible reply, "Oh, anything that you're drinking" (thus showing him that you don't insist on a bottle to yourself)- -THEN you settle down to business, and the history of England is enlarged by who can say how many pages.
And not only does one inaugurate business matters at lunch, but one also renews old friendships. Who has not had said to him in the Strand, "Hallo, old fellow, I haven't seen you for ages; you must come and lunch with me one day"? And who has not answered, "Rather! I should love to," and passed on with a glow at the heart which has not died out until the next day, when the incident is forgotten? An invitation to dinner is formal, to tea unnecessary, to breakfast impossible, but there is a casualness, very friendly and pleasant, about invitations to lunch which make them complete in themselves, and in no way dependent on any lunch which may or may not follow.
Without having exhausted the subject of lunch in London (and I should like to say that it is now certain that I shall not have time to partake to-day), let us consider for a moment lunch in the country. I do not mean lunch in the open air, for it is obvious that there is no meal so heavenly as lunch thus eaten, and in a short article like this I have no time in which to dwell upon the obvious. I mean lunch at a country house. Now, the most pleasant feature of lunch at a country house is this—that you may sit next to whomsoever you please. At dinner she may be entrusted to quite the wrong man; at breakfast you are faced with the problem of being neither too early for her nor yet too late for a seat beside her; at tea people have a habit of taking your chair at the moment when a simple act of courtesy has drawn you from it in search of bread and butter; but at lunch you follow her in and there you are—fixed.
But there is a place, neither London nor the country, which brings out more than any other place all that is pleasant in lunch. It was really the recent experience of this which set me writing about lunch. Lunch in the train! It should be the "second meal"—about 1.30— because then you are really some distance from London and are hungry. The panorama flashes by outside, nearer and nearer comes the beautiful West; you cross rivers and hurry by little villages, you pass slowly and reverently through strange old towns ... and, inside, the waiter leaves the potatoes next to you and slips away.
Well, it is his own risk. Here goes. ... What I say is that, if a man really likes potatoes, he must be a pretty decent sort of fellow.
The Friend of Man
When swords went out of fashion, walking-sticks, I suppose, came into fashion. The present custom has its advantages. Even in his busiest day the hero's sword must have returned at times to its scabbard, and what would he do then with nothing in his right hand? But our walking-sticks have no scabbards. We grasp them always, ready at any moment to summon a cab, to point out a view, or to dig an enemy in the stomach. Meanwhile we slash the air in defiance of the world.
My first stick was a malacca, silver at the collar and polished horn as to the handle. For weeks it looked beseechingly at me from a shop window, until a lucky birthday tip sent me in after it. We went back to school together that afternoon, and if anything can lighten the cloud which hangs over the last day of holidays, it is the glory of some such stick as mine. Of course it was too beautiful to live long; yet its death became it. I had left many a parental umbrella in the train unhonoured and unsung. My malacca was mislaid in an hotel in Norway. And even now when the blinds are drawn and we pull up our chairs closer round the wood fire, what time travellers tell to awestruck stay-at-homes tales of adventure in distant lands, even now if by a lucky chance Norway is mentioned, I tap the logs carelessly with the poker and drawl, "I suppose you didn't happen to stay at Vossvangen? I left a malacca cane there once. Rather a good one too." So that there is an impression among my friends that there is hardly a town in Europe but has had its legacy from me. And this I owe to my stick.
My last is of ebony, ivory-topped. Even though I should spend another fortnight abroad I could not take this stick with me. It is not a stick for the country; its heart is in Piccadilly. Perhaps it might thrive in Paris if it could stand the sea voyage. But no, I cannot see it crossing the Channel; in a cap I am no companion for it. Could I step on to the boat in a silk hat and then retire below—but I am always unwell below, and that would not suit its dignity. It stands now in a corner of my room crying aloud to be taken to the opera. I used to dislike men who took canes to Covent Garden, but I see now how it must have been with them. An ebony stick topped with ivory has to be humoured. Already I am considering a silk-lined cape, and it is settled that my gloves are to have black stitchings.
Such is my last stick, for it was given to me this very morning. At my first sight of it I thought that it might replace the common one which I lost in an Easter train. That was silly of me. I must have a stick of less gentle birth which is not afraid to be seen with a soft hat. It must be a stick which I can drop, or on occasion kick; one with which I can slash dandelions; one for which, when ultimately I leave it in a train, conscience does not drag me to Scotland Yard. In short, a companionable stick for a day's journey; a country stick.
The ideal country stick will never be found. It must be thick enough to stand much rough usage of a sort which I will explain presently, and yet it must be thin so that it makes a pleasant whistling sound through the air. Its handle must be curved so that it can pull down the spray of blossom of which you are in need, or pull up the luncheon basket which you want even more badly, and yet it must be straight so that you can drive an old golf ball with it. It must be unadorned, so that it shall lack ostentation, and yet it must have a band, so that when you throw stones at it you can count two if you hit the silver. You begin to see how difficult it is to achieve the perfect stick.
Well, each one of us must let go those properties which his own stick can do best without. For myself I insist on this—my stick must be good for hitting and good to hit with. A stick, we are agreed, is something to have in the hand when walking. But there are times when we sit down; and if our journey shall have taken us to the beach, our stick must at once be propped in the sand while from a suitable distance we throw stones at it. However beautiful the sea, its beauty can only be appreciated properly in this fashion. Scenery must not be taken at a gulp; we must absorb it unconsciously. With the mind gently exercised as to whether we scored a two on the band or a one just below it, and with the muscles of the arm at stretch, we are in a state ideally receptive of beauty.
And, for my other essential of a country stick, it must be possible to grasp it by the wrong end and hit a ball with it. So it must have no ferrule, and the handle must be heavy and straight. In this way was golf born; its creator roamed the fields after his picnic lunch, knocking along the cork from his bottle. At first he took seventy-nine from the gate in one field to the oak tree in the next; afterwards fifty-four. Then suddenly he saw the game. We cannot say that he w;is no lover of Nature. The desire to knock a ball about, to play silly games with a stick, comes upon a man most keenly when he is happy; let it be ascribed that he is happy to the streams and the hedges and the sunlight through the trees. And so let my stick have a handle heavy and straight, and let there be no ferrule on the end. Be sure that I have an old golf ball in my pocket.
In London one is not so particular. Chiefly we want a stick for leaning on when we are talking to an acquaintance suddenly met. After the initial "Hulloa!" and the discovery that we have nothing else of importance to say, the situation is distinctly eased by the remembrance of our stick. It gives us a support moral and physical, such as is supplied in a drawing-room by a cigarette. For this purpose size and shape are immaterial. Yet this much is essential—it must not be too slippery, or in our nervousness we may drop it altogether. My ebony stick with the polished ivory top—
But I have already decided that my ebony stick is out of place with the everyday hat. It stands in its corner waiting for the opera season, I must get another stick for rough work.
The Diary Habit
A newspaper has been lamenting the decay of the diary-keeping habit, with the natural result that several correspondents have written to say that they have kept diaries all their lives. No doubt all these diaries now contain the entry, "Wrote to the Daily —— to deny the assertion that the diary-keeping habit is on the wane." Of such little things are diaries made.
I suppose this is the reason why diaries are so rarely kept nowadays—that nothing ever happens to anybody. A diary would be worth writing up if it could be written like this:—
MONDAY.—"Another exciting day. Shot a couple of hooligans on my way to business and was forced to give my card to the police. On arriving at the office was surprised to find the building on fire, but was just in time to rescue the confidential treaty between England and Switzerland. Had this been discovered by the public, war would infallibly have resulted. Went out to lunch and saw a runaway elephant in the Strand. Thought little of it at the time, but mentioned it to my wife in the evening. She agreed that it was worth recording."
TUESDAY.—"Letter from solicitor informing me that I have come into 1,000,000 through the will of an Australian gold-digger named Tomkins. On referring to my diary I find that I saved his life two years ago by plunging into the Serpentine. This is very gratifying. Was late at the office as I had to look in at the Palace on the way, in order to get knighted, but managed to get a good deal of work done before I was interrupted by a madman with a razor, who demanded 100. Shot him after a desperate struggle. Tea at an ABC, where I met the Duke of —-. Fell into the Thames on my way home, but swam ashore without difficulty."
Alas! we cannot do this. Our diaries are very prosaic, very dull indeed. They read like this:—
Monday.—"Felt inclined to stay in bed this morning and send an excuse to the office, but was all right after a bath and breakfast. Worked till 1.30 and had lunch. Afterwards worked till five, and had my hair cut on the way home. After dinner read A Man's Passion, by Theodora Popgood. Rotten. Went to bed at eleven."
Tuesday.—"Had a letter from Jane. Did some good work in the morning, and at lunch met Henry, who asked me to play golf with him on Saturday. Told him I was playing with Peter, but said I would like a game with him on the Saturday after. However, it turned out he was playing with William then, so we couldn't fix anything up. Bought a pair of shoes on my way home, but think they will be too tight. The man says, though, that they will stretch."
Wednesday.—"Played dominoes at lunch and won fivepence."
If this sort of diary is now falling into decay, the world is not losing much. But at least it is a harmless pleasure to some to enter up their day's doings each evening, and in years to come it may just possibly be of interest to the diarist to know that it was on Monday, 27th April, that he had his hair cut. Again, if in the future any question arose as to the exact date of Henry's decease, we should find in this diary proof that anyhow he was alive as late as Tuesday, 28th April. That might, though it probably won't, be of great importance. But there is another sort of diary which can never be of any importance at all. I make no apology for giving a third selection of extracts.
Monday.—"Rose at nine and came down to find a letter from Mary. How little we know our true friends! Beneath the mask of outward affection there may lurk unknown to us the serpent's tooth of jealousy. Mary writes that she can make nothing for my stall at the bazaar as she has her own stall to provide for. Ate my breakfast mechanically, my thoughts being far away. What, after all, is life? Meditated deeply on the inner cosmos till lunch- time. Afterwards I lay down for an hour and composed my mind. I was angry this morning with Mary. Ah, how petty! Shall I never be free from the bonds of my own nature? Is the better self within me never to rise to the sublime heights of selflessness of which it is capable? Rose at four and wrote to Mary, forgiving her. This has been a wonderful day for the spirit."
Yes; I suspect that a good many diaries record adventures of the mind and soul for lack of stirring adventures to the body. If they cannot say, "Attacked by a lion in Bond Street to-day," they can at least say, "Attacked by doubt in St. Paul's Cathedral." Most people will prefer, in the absence of the lion, to say nothing, or nothing more important than "Attacked by the hairdresser with a hard brush"; but there are others who must get pen to paper somehow, and who find that only in regard to their emotions have they anything unique to say.
But, of course, there is ever within the breasts of all diarists the hope that their diaries may some day be revealed to the world. They may be discovered by some future generation, amazed at the simple doings of the twentieth century, or their publication may be demanded by the next generation, eager to know the inner life of the great man just dead. Best of all, they may be made public by the writers themselves in their autobiographies.
Yes; the diarist must always have his eye on a possible autobiography. "I remember," he will write in that great work, having forgotten all about it, "I distinctly remember"—and here he will refer to his diary—"meeting X. at lunch one Sunday and saying to him ..."
What he said will not be of much importance, but it will show you what a wonderful memory the distinguished author retains in his old age.
There is magic in the woods on Midsummer Day—so people tell me. Titania conducts her revels. Let others attend her court; for myself I will beg to be excused. I have no heart for revelling on Midsummer Day. On any other festival I will be as jocund as you please, but on the longest day of the year I am overburdened by the thought that from this moment the evenings are beginning to draw in. We are on the way to winter.
It is on Midsummer Day, or thereabouts, that the cuckoo changes his tune, knowing well that the best days are over and that in a little while it will be time for him to fly away. I should like this to be a learned article on "The Habits of the Cuckoo," and yet, if it were, I doubt if I should love him at the end of it. It is best to know only the one thing of him, that he lays his eggs in another bird's nest—a friendly idea—and beyond that to take him as we find him. And we find that his only habit which matters is the delightful one of saying "Cuckoo."
The nightingale is the bird of melancholy, the thrush sings a disturbing song of the good times to come, the blackbird whistles a fine, cool note which goes best with a February morning, and the skylark trills his way to a heaven far out of the reach of men; and what the lesser white-throat says I have never rightly understood. But the cuckoo is the bird of present joys; he keeps us company on the lawns of summer, he sings under a summer sun in a wonderful new world of blue and green. I think only happy people hear him. He is always about when one is doing pleasant things. He never sings when the sun hides behind banks of clouds, or if he does, it is softly to himself so that he may not lose the note. Then "Cuckoo!" he says aloud, and you may be sure that everything is warm and bright again.
But now he is leaving us. Where he goes I know not, but I think of him vaguely as at Mozambique, a paradise for all good birds who like their days long. If geography were properly taught at schools, I should know where Mozambique was, and what sort of people live there. But it may be that, with all these cuckoos cuckooing and swallows swallowing from July to April, the country is so full of immigrants that there is no room for a stable population. It may also be, of course, that Mozambique is not the place I am thinking of; yet it has a birdish sound.
The year is arranged badly. If Mr. Willett were alive he would do something about it. Why should the days begin to get shorter at the moment when summer is fully arrived? Why should it be possible for the vicar to say that the evenings are drawing in, when one is still having strawberries for tea? Sometimes I think that if June were called August, and April June, these things would be easier to bear. The fact that in what is now called August we should be telling each other how wonderfully hot it was for October would help us to bear the slow approach of winter. On a Midsummer Day in such a calendar one would revel gladly, and there would be no midsummer madness.
Already the oak trees have taken on an autumn look. I am told that this is due to a local irruption of caterpillars, and not to the waning of the summer, but it has a suspicious air. Probably the caterpillars knew. It seems strange now to reflect that there was a time when I liked caterpillars; when I chased them up suburban streets, and took them home to fondle them; when I knew them all by their pretty names, assisted them to become chrysalises, and watched over them in that unprotected state as if I had been their mother. Ah, how dear were my little charges to me then! But now I class them with mosquitoes and blight and harvesters, the pests of the countryside. Why, I would let them crawl up my arm in those happy days of old, and now I cannot even endure to have them dropping gently into my hair. And I should not know what to say to a chrysalis.
There are great and good people who know all about solstices and zeniths, and they can tell you just why it is that 24th June is so much hotter and longer than 24th December—why it is so in England, I should say. For I believe (and they will correct me if I am wrong) that at the equator the days and nights are always of equal length. This must make calling almost an impossibility, for if one cannot say to one's hostess, "How quickly the days are lengthening (or drawing in)," one might as well remain at home. "How stationary the days are remaining" might pass on a first visit, but the old inhabitants would not like it rubbed into them. They feel, I am sure, that however saddening a Midsummer Day may be, an unchanging year is much more intolerable. One can imagine the superiority of a resident who lived a couple of miles off the equator, and took her visitors proudly to the end of the garden where the seasons were most mutable. There would be no bearing with her.
In these circumstances I refuse to be depressed. I console myself with the thought that if 25th June is the beginning of winter, at least there is a next summer to which I may look forward. Next summer anything may happen. I suppose a scientist would be considerably surprised if the sun refused to get up one morning, or, having got up, declined to go to bed again. It would not surprise ME. The amazing thing is that Nature goes on doing the same things in the same way year after year; any sudden little irrelevance on her part would be quite understandable. When the wise men tell us so confidently that there will be an eclipse of the sun in 1921, invisible at Greenwich, do they have no qualms of doubt as the day draws near? Do they glance up from their whitebait at the appointed hour, just in case it IS visible after all? Or if they have journeyed to Pernambuco, or wherever the best view is to be obtained, do they wonder ... perhaps ... and tell each other the night before that, of course, they were coming to Pernambuco anyhow, to see an aunt?
Perhaps they don't. But for myself I am not so certain, and I have hopes that, certainly next year, possibly even this year, the days will go on lengthening after midsummer is over.
At the Bookstall
I have often longed to be a grocer. To be surrounded by so many interesting things— sardines, bottled raspberries, biscuits with sugar on the top, preserved ginger, hams, brawn under glass, everything in fact that makes life worth living; at one moment to walk up a ladder in search of nutmeg, at the next to dive under a counter in pursuit of cinnamon; to serve little girls with a ha'porth of pear drops and lordly people like you and me with a pint of cherry gin —is not this to follow the king of trades? Some day I shall open a grocer's shop, and you will find me in my spare evenings aproned behind the counter. Look out for the currants in the window as you come in—I have an idea for something artistic in the way of patterns there; but, as you love me, do not offer to buy any. We grocers only put the currants out for show, and so that we may run our fingers through them luxuriously when business is slack. I have a good line in shortbreads, madam, if I can find the box, but no currants this evening, I beg you.
Yes, to be a grocer is to live well; but, after all, it is not to see life. A grocer, in as far as it is possible to a man who sells both scented soap and pilchards, would become narrow. We do not come into contact with the outside world much, save through the medium of potted lobster, and to sell a man potted lobster is not to have our fingers on his pulse. Potted lobster does not define a man. All customers are alike to the grocer, provided their money is good. I perceive now that I was over-hasty in deciding to become a grocer. That is rather for one's old age. While one is young, and interested in persons rather than in things, there is only one profession to follow—the profession of bookstall clerk.
To be behind a bookstall is indeed to see life. The fascination of it struck me suddenly as 1 stood in front of a station bookstall last Monday and wondered who bought the tie-clips. The answer came to me just as I got into my train— Ask the man behind the bookstall. He would know. Yes, and he would know who bought all his papers and books and pamphlets, and to know this is to know something about the people in the world. You cannot tell a man by the lobster he eats, but you can tell something about him by the literature he reads.
For instance, I once occupied a carriage on an eastern line with, among others, a middle-aged woman. As soon as we left Liverpool Street she produced a bag of shrimps, grasped each individual in turn firmly by the head and tail, and ate him. When she had finished, she emptied the ends out of the window, wiped her hands, and settled down comfortably to her paper. What paper? You'll never guess; I shall have to tell you—The Morning Post. Now doesn't that give you the woman? The shrimps alone, no; the paper alone, no; but the two to-gether. Conceive the holy joy of the bookstall clerk as she and her bag of shrimps— yes, he could have told at once they were shrimps—approached and asked for The Morning Post.
The day can never be dull to the bookstall clerk. I imagine him assigning in his mind the right paper to each customer. This man will ask for Golfing—wrong, he wants Cage Birds; that one over there wants The Motor—ah, well, The Auto-Car, that's near enough. Soon he would begin to know the different types; he would learn to distinguish between the patrons of The Dancing Times and of The Vote, The Era and The Athenaeum. Delightful surprises would overwhelm him at intervals; as when—a red-letter day in all the great stations—a gentleman in a check waistcoat makes the double purchase of Homer's Penny Stories and The Spectator. On those occasions, and they would be very rare, his faith in human nature would begin to ooze away, until all at once he would tell himself excitedly that the man was obviously an escaped criminal in disguise, rather overdoing the part. After which he would hand over The Winning Post and The Animals' Friend to the pursuing detective in a sort of holy awe. What a life!
But he has other things than papers to sell. He knows who buys those little sixpenny books of funny stories—a problem which has often puzzled us others; he understands by now the type of man who wants to read up a few good jokes to tell them down at old Robinson's, where he is going for the week-end. Our bookstall clerk doesn't wait to be asked. As soon as this gentleman approaches, he whips out the book, dusts it, and places it before the raconteur. He recognizes also at a glance the sort of silly ass who is always losing his indiarubber umbrella ring. Half-way across the station he can see him, and he hastens to get a new card out in readiness. ("Or we would let you have seven for sixpence, sir.") And even when one of those subtler characters draws near, about whom it is impossible to say immediately whether they require a fountain pen with case or the Life and Letters, reduced to 3s. 6d., of Major-General Clement Bulger, C.B., even then the man behind the bookstall is not found wanting. If he is wrong the first time, he never fails to recover with his second. "Bulger, sir. One of our greatest soldiers."
I thought of these things last Monday, and definitely renounced the idea of becoming a grocer; and as I wandered round the bookstall, thinking, I came across a little book, sixpence in cloth, a shilling in leather, called Proverbs and Maxims. It contained some thousands of the best thoughts in all languages, such as have guided men along the path of truth since the beginning of the world, from "What ho, she bumps!" to "Ich dien," and more. The thought occurred to me that an interesting article might be extracted from it, so I bought the book. Unfortunately enough I left it in the train before I had time to master it. I shall be at the bookstall next Monday and I shall have to buy another copy. That will be all right; you shan't miss it.
But I am wondering now what the bookstall clerk will make of me. A man who keeps on buying Proverbs and Maxims. Well, as I say, they see life.
I like my novels long. When I had read three pages of this one I glanced at the end, and found to my delight that there were two thousand seven hundred and twenty-five pages more to come. I returned with a sigh of pleasure to page 4. I was just at the place where Leslie Patrick Abercrombie wins the prize "for laying out Prestatyn," some local wrestler, presumably, who had challenged the crowd at a country fair. After laying him out, Abercrombie returns to his books and becomes editor of the Town Planning Review. A wonderfully drawn character.
The plot of this oddly named novel is too complicated to describe at length. It opens with the conferment of the C.M.G. on Kuli Khan Abbas in 1903, an incident of which the anonymous author might have made a good deal more, and closes with a brief description of the Rev. Samuel Marinus Zwemer's home in New York City; but much has happened in the meanwhile. Thousands of characters have made their brief appearance on the stage, and have been hustled off to make room for others, but so unerringly are they drawn that we feel that we are in the presence of living people. Take Colette Willy, for example, who comes in on page 2656 at a time when the denouement is clearly at hand. The author, who is working up to his great scene —the appointment of Dr. Norman Wilsmore to the International Commission for the Publication of Annual Tables of Physical and Chemical Constants— draws her for us in a few lightning touches. She is "authoress, actress." She has written two little books: Dialogue de Betes and La Retraite Sentimentale. That is all. But is it not enough? Has he not made Colette Willy live before us? A lesser writer might have plunged into elaborate details about her telephone number and her permanent address, but, like the true artist that he is, our author leaves all those things unsaid. For though he can be a realist when necessary (as in the case of Wallis Budge, to which I shall refer directly), he does not hesitate to trust to the impressionist sketch when the situation demands it.
Wallis Budge is apparently the hero of the taie; at any rate, the author devotes most space to him—some hundred and twenty lines or so. He does not appear until page 341, by which time we are on familiar terms with some two or three thousand of the less important characters. It is typical of the writer that, once he has described a character to us, has (so to speak) set him on his feet, he appears to lose interest in his creation, and it is only rarely that further reference is made to him. Alfred Budd, for instance, who became British Vice-Consul of San Sebastian in 1907, and resides, as the intelligent reader will have guessed, at the San Sebastian British Vice-Consulate, obtains the M.V.O. in 1908. Nothing is said, however, of the resultant effect on his character, nor is any adequate description given—either then or later—of the San Sebastian scenery. On the other hand, Bucy, who first appears on page 340, turns up again on page 644 as the Marquess de Bucy, a Grandee of Spain. I was half-expecting that the body would be discovered about this time, but the author is still busy over his protagonists, and only leaves the Marquess in order to introduce to us his three musketeers, de Bunsen, de Burgh, and de Butts.
But it is time that I returned to our hero, Dr. Wallis Budge. Although Budge is a golfer of world-wide experience, having "conducted excavations in Egypt, the Island of Meroe, Nineveh and Mesopotamia," it is upon his mental rather than his athletic abilities that the author dwells most lovingly. The fact that in 1886 he wrote a pamphlet upon The Coptic History of Elijah the Tishbite, and followed it up in 1888 with one on The Coptic Martyrdom of George of Cappadocia (which is, of course, in every drawing-room) may not seem at first to have much bearing upon the tremendous events which followed later. But the author is artistically right in drawing our attention to them; for it is probable that, had these popular works not been written, our hero would never have been encouraged to proceed with his Magical Texts of Za-Walda-Hawaryat, Tasfa Maryam, Sebhat-Le'ab, Gabra Shelase Tezasu, Aheta-Mikael, which had such a startling effect on the lives of all the other characters, and led indirectly to the finding of the blood-stain on the bath-mat. My own suspicions fell immediately upon Thomas Rooke, of whom we are told nothing more than "R.W.S.," which is obviously the cabbalistic sign of some secret society.
One of the author's weaknesses is a certain carelessness in the naming of his characters. For instance, no fewer than two hundred and forty-one of them are called Smith. True, he endeavours to distinguish between them by giving them such different Christian names as John, Henry, Charles, and so forth, but the result is bound to be confusing. Sometimes, indeed, he does not even bother to distinguish between their Christian names. Thus we have three Henry Smiths, who appear to have mixed themselves up even in the author's mind. He tells us that Colonel Henry's chief recreation is "the study of the things around him," but it sounds much more like that of the Reverend Henry, whose opportunities in the pulpit would be considerably greater. It is the same with the Thomsons, the Williamses and others. When once he hits upon one of these popular names, he is carried away for several pages, and insists on calling everybody Thomson. But occasionally he has an inspiration. Temistocle Zammit is a good name, though the humour of calling a famous musician Zimbalist is perhaps a little too obvious.
In conclusion, one can say that while our author's merits are many, his faults are of no great moment. Certainly he handles his love-scenes badly. Many of his characters are married but he tells us little of the early scenes of courtship, and says nothing of any previous engagements which were afterwards broken off. Also, he is apparently incapable of describing a child, unless it is the offspring of titled persons and will itself succeed to the title; even then he prefers to dismiss it in a parenthesis. But as a picture of the present-day Englishman his novel can hardly be surpassed. He is not a writer who is only at home with one class. He can describe the utterly unknown and unimportant with as much gusto as he describes the genius or the old nobility. True, he overcrowds his canvas, but one must recognize this as his method. It is so that he expresses himself best; just as one painter can express himself best in a rendering of the whole Town Council of Slappenham, while another only requires a single haddock on a plate.
His future will be watched with interest. He hints in his introduction that he has another volume in preparation, in which he will introduce to us several entirely new C.B.E.'s, besides carrying on the histories (in the familiar manner of our modern novelists) of many of those with whom we have already made friends. Who's Who, 1920, it is to be called, and I, for one, shall look out for it with the utmost eagerness.
A Day at Lord's
When one has been without a certain pleasure for a number of years, one is accustomed to find on returning to it that it is not quite so delightful as one had imagined. In the years of abstinence one had built up too glowing a picture, and the reality turns out to be something much more commonplace. Pleasant, yes; but, after all, nothing out of the ordinary. Most of us have made this discovery for ourselves in the last few months of peace. We have been doing the things which we had promised ourselves so often during the war, and though they have been jolly enough, they are not quite all that we dreamed in France and Flanders. As for the negative pleasures, the pleasure of not saluting or not attending medical boards, they soon lose their first freshness.
Yet I have had one pre-war pleasure this week which carried with it no sort of disappointment. It was as good as I had thought it would be. I went to Lord's and watched first-class cricket again.
There are people who want to "brighten cricket." They remind me of a certain manager to whom I once sent a play. He told me, more politely than truthfully, how much he had enjoyed reading it, and then pointed out what was wrong with the construction. "You have two brothers here," he said. "They oughtn't to have been brothers, they should have been strangers. Then one of them marries the heroine. That's wrong; the other one ought to have married her. Then there's Aunt Jane—she strikes me as a very colourless person. If she could have been arrested in the second act for bigamy—- And then I should leave out your third act altogether, and put the fourth act at Monte Carlo, and let the heroine be blackmailed by— what's the fellow's name? See what I mean?" I said that I saw. "You don't mind my criticizing your play?" he added carelessly. I said that he wasn't criticizing my play. He was writing another one—one which I hadn't the least wish to write myself.
And this is what the brighteners of cricket are doing. They are inventing a new game, a game which those of us who love cricket have not the least desire to watch. If anybody says that he finds Lord's or the Oval boring, I shall not be at all surprised; the only thing that would surprise me would be to hear that he found it more boring than I find Epsom or Newmarket. Cricket is not to everybody's taste; nor is racing. But those who like cricket like it for what it is, and they don't want it brightened by those who don't like it. Lord Lonsdale, I am sure, would hate me to brighten up Newmarket for him.
Lord's as it is, which is as it was five years ago, is good enough for me. I would not alter any of it. To hear the pavilion bell ring out again was to hear the most musical sound in the world. The best note is given at 11.20 in the morning; later on it lacks something of its early ecstasy. When people talk of the score of this or that opera I smile pityingly to myself. They have never heard the true music. The clink of ice against glass gives quite a good note on a suitable day, but it has not the magic of the Lord's bell.
As was my habit on these occasions five years ago, I bought a copy of The Daily Telegraph on entering the ground. In the ordinary way I do not take in this paper, but I have always had a warm admiration for it, holding it to have qualities which place it far above any other London journal of similar price. For the seats at Lord's are uncommonly hard, and a Daily Telegraph, folded twice and placed beneath one, brings something of the solace which good literature will always bring. My friends had noticed before the war, without being able to account for it, that my views became noticeably more orthodox as the summer advanced, only to fall away again with the approach of autumn. I must have been influenced subconsciously by the leading articles.
It rained, and play was stopped for an hour or two. Before the war I should have been annoyed about this, and I should have said bitterly that it was just my luck. But now I felt that I was indeed lucky thus to recapture in one day all the old sensations. It was delightful to herald again a break in the clouds, and to hear the crowd clapping hopefully as soon as ever the rain had ceased; to applaud the umpires, brave fellows, when they ventured forth at last to inspect the pitch; to realize from the sudden activity of the groundsmen that the decision was a favourable one; to see the umpires, this time in their white coats, come out again with the ball and the bails; and so to settle down once more to the business of the day.
Perhaps the cricket was slow from the point of view of the follower of league football, but I do not feel that this is any condemnation of it. An essay of Lamb's would be slow to a reader of William le Queux's works, who wanted a new body in each chapter. I shall not quarrel with anyone who holds that a day at Lord's is a dull day; if he thinks so, let him take his amusement elsewhere. But let him not quarrel with me, because I keep to my opinion, as firmly now as before the war, that a day at Lord's is a joyous day. If he will leave me the old Lord's, I will promise not to brighten his football for him.
By the Sea
It is very pleasant in August to recline in Fleet Street, or wherever stern business keeps one, and to think of the sea. I do not envy the millions at Margate and Blackpool, at Salcombe and Minehead, for I have persuaded myself that the sea is not what it was in my day. Then the pools were always full of starfish; crabs—really big crabs—stalked the deserted sands; and anemones waved their feelers at you from every rock.
Poets have talked of the unchanging sea (and they may be right as regards the actual water), but I fancy that the beach must be deteriorating. In the last ten years I don't suppose I have seen more than five starfishes, though I have walked often enough by the margin of the waves —and not only to look for lost golf balls. There have been occasional belated little crabs whom I have interrupted as they were scuttling home, but none of those dangerous monsters to whom in fearful excitement, and as a challenge to one's companion, one used to offer a forefinger. I refuse regretfully your explanation that it is my finger which is bigger; I should like to think that it were indeed so, and that the boys and girls of to-day find their crabs and starfishes in the size and quantity to which I was accustomed. But I am afraid we cannot hide it from ourselves that the supply is giving out. It is in fact obvious that one cannot keep on taking starfishes home and hanging them up in the hall as barometers without detriment to the coming race.
We had another amusement as children, in which I suppose the modern child is no longer able to indulge. We used to wait until the tide was just beginning to go down, and then start to climb round the foot of the cliffs from one sandy bay to another. The waves lapped the cliffs, a single false step would have plunged us into the sea, and we had all the excitement of being caught by the tide without any of the danger. We had the further excitement, if we were lucky, of seeing frantic people waving to us from the top of the cliff, people of inconceivable ignorance, who thought that the tide was coming up and that we were in desperate peril. But it was a very special day when that happened.
I have done a little serious climbing since those days, but not any which was more enjoyable. The sea was never more than a foot below us and never more than two feet deep, but the shock of falling into it would have been momentarily as great as that of falling down a precipice. You had therefore the two joys of climbing—the physical pleasure of the accomplished effort, and the glorious mental reaction when your heart returns from the middle of your throat to its normal place in your chest. And you had the additional advantages that you couldn't get killed, and that, if an insuperable difficulty presented itself, you were not driven back, but merely waited five minutes for the tide to lower itself and disclose a fresh foothold.
But, as I say, these are not joys for the modern child. The tide, I dare say, is not what it was —it does not, perhaps, go down so certainly. Or the cliffs are of a different and of an inferior shape. Or people are no longer so ignorant as to mistake the nature of your position. One way or another I expect I do better in Fleet Street. I shall stay and imagine myself by the sea; I shall not disappoint myself with the reality.
But I imagine myself away from bands and piers; for a band by a moonlit sea calls you to be very grown-up, and the beach and the crabs —such as are left—call you to be a child; and between the two you can very easily be miserable. I can see myself with a spade and bucket being extraordinarily happy. The other day I met a lucky little boy who had a pile of sand in his garden to play with, and I was fortunate enough to get an order for a tunnel. The tunnel which I constructed for him was a good one, but not so good that I couldn't see myself building a better one with practice. I came away with an ambition for architecture. If ever I go to the sea again I shall build a proper tunnel; and afterwards— well, we shall see. At the moment I feel in tremendous form. I feel that I could do a cathedral.
There is one joy of childhood, however, which one can never recapture, and that is the joy of getting wet in the sea. There is a statue not so far from Fleet Street of the man who introduced Sunday schools into England, but the man whom boys and girls would really like to commemorate in lasting stone is the doctor who first said that salt water couldn't give you a cold. Whether this was true or not I do not know, but it was a splendid and never-failing retort to anxious grown-ups, and added much to the joys of the seaside. But it is a joy no longer possible to one who is his own master. I, for instance, can get my feet wet in fresh water if I like; to get them wet in salt water is no special privilege.
Feeling as I do, writing as I have written, it is sad for me to know that if I really went to the sea this August it would not be with a spade and a bucket but with a bag of golf clubs; that even my evenings would be spent, not on the beach, but on a bicycle riding to the nearest town for a paper. Yet it is useless for you to say that I do not love the sea with my old love, that I am no longer pleased with the old childish things. I shall maintain that it is the sea which is not what it was, and that I am very happy in Fleet Street thinking of it as it used to be.
Of the fruits of the year I give my vote to the orange. In the first place it is a perennial—if not in actual fact, at least in the greengrocer's shop. On the days when dessert is a name given to a handful of chocolates and a little preserved ginger, when macdoine de fruits is the title bestowed on two prunes and a piece of rhubarb, then the orange, however sour, comes nobly to the rescue; and on those other days of plenty when cherries and strawberries and raspberries and gooseberries riot together upon the table, the orange, sweeter than ever, is still there to hold its own. Bread and butter, beef and mutton, eggs and bacon, are not more necessary to an ordered existence than the orange.
It is well that the commonest fruit should be also the best. Of the virtues of the orange I have not room fully to speak. It has properties of health-giving, as that it cures influenza and establishes the complexion. It is clean, for whoever handles it on its way to your table but handles its outer covering, its top coat, which is left in the hall. It is round, and forms an excellent substitute with the young for a cricket ball. The pips can be flicked at your enemies, and quite a small piece of peel makes a slide for an old gentleman.
But all this would count nothing had not the orange such delightful qualities of taste. I dare not let myself go upon this subject. I am a slave to its sweetness. I grudge every marriage in that it means a fresh supply of orange blossom, the promise of so much golden fruit cut short. However, the world must go on.
Next to the orange I place the cherry. The cherry is a companionable fruit. You can eat it while you are reading or talking, and you can go on and on, absent-mindedly as it were, though you must mind not to swallow the stone. The trouble of disengaging this from the fruit is just sufficient to make the fruit taste sweeter for the labour. The stalk keeps you from soiling your fingers; it enables you also to play bob cherry. Lastly, it is by means of cherries that one penetrates the great mysteries of life—when and whom you will marry, and whether she really loves you or is taking you for your worldly prospects. (I may add here that I know a girl who can tie a knot in the stalk of a cherry with her tongue. It is a tricky business, and I am doubtful whether to add it to the virtues of the cherry or not.)
There are only two ways of eating strawberries. One is neat in the strawberry bed, and the other is mashed on the plate. The first method generally requires us to take up a bent position under a net—in a hot sun very uncomfortable, and at any time fatal to the hair. The second method takes us into the privacy of the home, for it demands a dressing-gown and no spectators. For these reasons I think the strawberry an overrated fruit. Yet I must say that I like to see one floating in cider cup. It gives a note of richness to the affair, and excuses any shortcomings in the lunch itself.
Raspberries are a good fruit gone wrong. A raspberry by itself might indeed be the best fruit of all; but it is almost impossible to find it alone. I do not refer to its attachment to the red currant; rather to the attachment to it of so many of our dumb little friends. The instinct of the lower creatures for the best is well shown in the case of the raspberry. If it is to be eaten it must be picked by the hand, well shaken, and then taken.
When you engage a gardener the first thing to do is to come to a clear understanding with him about the peaches. The best way of settling the matter is to give him the carrots and the black currants and the rhubarb for himself, to allow him a free hand with the groundsel and the walnut trees, and to insist in return for this that you should pick the peaches when and how you like. If he is a gentleman he will consent. Supposing that some satisfactory arrangement were come to, and supposing also that you had a silver-bladed pocket-knife with which you could peel them in the open air, then peaches would come very high in the list of fruits. But the conditions are difficult.
Gooseberries burst at the wrong end and smother you; melons—as the nigger boy discovered—make your ears sticky; currants, when you have removed the skin and extracted the seeds, are unsatisfying; blackberries have the faults of raspberries without their virtues; plums are never ripe. Yet all these fruits are excellent in their season. Their faults are faults which we can forgive during a slight acquaintance, which indeed seem but pleasant little idiosyncrasies in the stranger. But we could not live with them.
Yet with the orange we do live year in and year out. That speaks well for the orange. The fact is that there is an honesty about the orange which appeals to all of us. If it is going to be bad— for even the best of us are bad sometimes —it begins to be bad from the outside, not from the inside. How many a pear which presents a blooming face to the world is rotten at the core. How many an innocent-looking apple is harbouring a worm in the bud. But the orange has no secret faults. Its outside is a mirror of its inside, and if you are quick you can tell the shopman so before he slips it into the bag.
Signs of Character
Wellington is said to have chosen his officers by their noses and chins. The standard for them in noses must have been rather high, to judge by the portraits of the Duke, but no doubt he made allowances. Anyhow, by this method he got the men he wanted. Some people, however, may think that he would have done better to have let the mouth be the deciding test. The lines of one's nose are more or less arranged for one at birth. A baby, born with a snub nose, would feel it hard that the decision that he would be no use to Wellington should be come to so early. And even if he arrived in the world with a Roman nose, he might smash it up in childhood, and with it his chances of military fame. This, I think you will agree with me, would be unfair.
Now the mouth is much more likely to be a true index of character. A man may clench his teeth firmly or smile disdainfully or sneer, or do a hundred things which will be reflected in his mouth rather than in his nose or chin. It is through the mouth and eyes that all emotions are expressed, and in the mouth and eyes therefore that one would expect the marks of such emotions to be left. I did read once of a man whose nose quivered with rage, but it is not usual; I never heard of anyone whose chin did anything. It would be absurd to expect it to.
But there arises now the objection that a man may conceal his mouth, and by that his character, with a moustache. There arises, too, the objection that a person whom you thought was a fool, because he always went about with his mouth open, may only have had a bad cold in the head. In fact the difficulties of telling anyone's character by his face seem more insuperable every moment. How, then, are we to tell whether we may safely trust a man with our daughter, or our favourite golf club, or whatever we hold most dear?
Fortunately a benefactor has stepped in at the right moment with an article on the cigar-manner. Our gentleman has made the discovery that you can tell a man's nature by the way he handles his cigar, and he gives a dozen illustrations to explain his theory. True, this leaves out of account the men who don't smoke cigars; although, of course, you might sum them all up, with a certain amount of justification, as foolish. But you do get, I am assured, a very important index to the characters of smokers— which is as much as to say of the people who really count.
I am not going to reveal all the clues to you now; partly because I might be infringing the copyright of another, partly because I have forgotten them. But the idea roughly is that if a man holds his cigar between his finger and thumb, he is courageous and kind to animals (or whatever it may be), and if he holds it between his first and second fingers he is impulsive but yet considerate to old ladies, and if he holds it upside down he is (besides being an ass) jealous and self-assertive, and if he sticks a knife into the stump so as to smoke it to the very end he is— yes, you have guessed this one—he is mean. You see what a useful thing a cigar may be.
I think now I am sorry that this theory has been given to the world. Yes; I blame myself for giving it further publicity. In the old days when we bought—or better, had presented to us—a cigar, a doubt as to whether it was a good one was all that troubled us. We bit one end and lit the other, and, the doubt having been solved, proceeded tranquilly to enjoy ourselves. But all this will be changed now. We shall be horribly self- conscious. When we take our cigars from our mouths we shall feel our neighbours' eyes rooted upon our hands, the while we try to remember which of all the possible manipulations is the one which represents virtue at its highest power. Speaking for myself, I hold my cigar in a dozen different ways during an evening (though never, of course, on the end of a knife), and I tremble to think of the diabolically composite nature which the modern Wellingtons of the table must attribute to me. In future I see that I must concentrate on one method. If only I could remember the one which shows me at my best!
But the tobacco test is not the only one. We may be told by the way we close our hands; the tilt of a walking-stick may unmask us. It is useless to model ourselves now on the strong, silent man of the novel whose face is a shutter to hide his emotions. This is a pity; yes, I am convinced now that it is a pity. If my secret fault is cheque-forging I do not want it to be revealed to the world by the angle of my hat; still less do I wish to discover it in a friend whom I like or whom I can beat at billiards.
How dull the world would be if we knew every acquaintance inside out as soon as we had offered him our cigar-case. Suppose—I put an extreme case to you—suppose a pleasant young bachelor who admired our bowling showed himself by his shoe laces to be a secret wife-beater. What could we do? Cut so unique a friend? Ah no. Let us pray to remain in ignorance of the faults of those we like. Let us pray it as sincerely as we pray that they shall remain in ignorance of ours.
A good many years ago I had a painful experience. I was discovered by my house-master reading in bed at the unauthorized hour of midnight. Smith minor in the next bed (we shared a candle) was also reading. We were both discovered. But the most annoying part of the business, as it seemed to me then, was that Smith minor was discovered reading Alton Locke, and that I was discovered reading Marooned Among Cannibals. If only our house- master had come in the night before! Then he would have found me reading Alton Locke. Just for a moment it occurred to me to tell him this, but after a little reflection I decided that it would be unwise. He might have misunderstood the bearings of the revelation.
There is hardly one of us who is proof against this sort of intellectual snobbery. A detective story may have been a very good friend to us, but we don't want to drag it into the conversation; we prefer a casual reference to The Egoist, with which we have perhaps only a bowing acquaintance; a reference which leaves the impression that we are inseparable companions, or at any rate inseparable until such day when we gather from our betters that there are heights even beyond The Egoist. Dead or alive, we would sooner be found with a copy of Marcus Aurelius than with a copy of Marie Corelli. I used to know a man who carried always with him a Russian novel in the original; not because he read Russian, but because a day might come when, as the result of some accident, the "pockets of the deceased" would be exposed in the public Press. As he said, you never know; but the only accident which happened to him was to be stranded for twelve hours one August at a wayside station in the Highlands. After this he maintained that the Russians were overrated.
I should like to pretend that I myself have grown out of these snobbish ways by this time, but I am doubtful if it would be true. It happened to me not so long ago to be travelling in company of which I was very much ashamed; and to be ashamed of one's company is to be a snob. At this period I was trying to amuse myself (and, if it might be so, other people) by writing a burlesque story in the manner of an imaginary collaboration by Sir Hall Caine and Mrs. Florence Barclay. In order to do this I had to study the works of these famous authors, and for many week-ends in succession I might have been seen travelling to, or returning from, the country with a couple of their books under my arm. To keep one book beneath the arm is comparatively easy; to keep two is much more difficult. Many was the time, while waiting for my train to come in, that one of those books slipped from me. Indeed, there is hardly a junction in the railway system of the southern counties at which I have not dropped on some Saturday or other a Caine or a Barclay; to have it restored to me a moment later by a courteous fellow-passenger—courteous, but with a smile of gentle pity in his eye as he glimpsed the author's name. "Thanks very much," I would stammer, blushing guiltily, and perhaps I would babble about a sick friend to whom I was taking them, or that I was running out of paper-weights. But he never believed me. He knew that he would have said something like that himself.
Nothing is easier than to assume that other people share one's weaknesses. No doubt Jack the Ripper excused himself on the ground that it was human nature; possibly, indeed, he wrote an essay like this, in which he speculated mildly as to the reasons which made stabbing so attractive to us all. So I realize that I may be doing you an injustice in suggesting that you who read may also have your little snobberies. But I confess that I should like to cross-examine you. If in conversation with you, on the subject (let us say) of heredity, a subject to which you had devoted a good deal of study, I took it for granted that you had read Ommany's Approximations, would you make it quite clear to me that you had not read it? Or would you let me carry on the discussion on the assumption that you knew it well; would you, even, in answer to a direct question, say shamefacedly that though you had not—er—actually read it, you—er—knew about it, of course, and had—er—read extracts from it? Somehow I think that I could lead you on to this; perhaps even make you say that you had actually ordered it from your library, before I told you the horrid truth that Ommany's Approximations was an invention of my own.
It is absurd that we (I say "we," for I include you now) should behave like this, for there is no book over which we need be ashamed, either to have read it or not to have read it. Let us, therefore, be frank. In order to remove the unfortunate impression of myself which I have given you, I will confess that I have only read three of Scott's novels, and begun, but never finished, two of Henry James'. I will also confess —and here I am by way of restoring that unfortunate impression—that I do quite well in Scottish and Jacobean circles on those five books. For, if a question arises as to which is Scott's masterpiece, it is easy for me to suggest one of my three, with the air of one who has chosen it, not over two others, but over twenty. Perhaps one of my three is the acknowledged masterpiece; I do not know. If it is, then, of course, all is well. But if it is not, then I must appear rather a clever fellow for having rejected the obvious. With regard to Henry James, my position is not quite so secure; but at least I have good reason for feeling that the two novels which I was unable to finish cannot be his best, and with a little tact I can appear to be defending this opinion hotly against some imaginary authority who has declared in favour of them. One might have read the collected works of both authors, yet make less of an impression.
Indeed, sometimes I feel that I have read their collected works, and Ommany's Approximations, and many other books with which you would be only too glad to assume familiarity. For in giving others the impression that I am on terms with these masterpieces, I have but handed on an impression which has gradually formed itself in my own mind. So I take no advantage of them; and if it appears afterwards that we have been deceived together, I shall be at least as surprised and indignant about it as they.
A Question of Form
The latest invention on the market is the wasp gun. In theory it is something like a letter clip; you pull the trigger and the upper and lower plates snap together with a suddenness which would surprise any insect in between. The trouble will be to get him in the right place before firing. But I can see that a lot of fun can be got out of a wasp drive. We shall stand on the edge of the marmalade while the beaters go through it, and, given sufficient guns, there will not be many insects to escape. A loader to clean the weapon at regular intervals will be a necessity.
Yet I am afraid that society will look down upon the wasp gun. Anything useful and handy is always barred by the best people. I can imagine a bounder being described as "the sort of person who uses a wasp gun instead of a teaspoon." As we all know, a hat- guard is the mark of a very low fellow. I suppose the idea is that you and I, being so dashed rich, do not much mind if our straw hat does blow off into the Serpentine; it is only the poor wretch of a clerk, unable to afford a new one every day, who must take precautions against losing his first. Yet how neat, how useful, is the hat-guard. With what pride its inventor must have given birth to it. Probably he expected a statue at the corner of Cromwell Road, fitting reward for a public benefactor. He did not understand that, since his invention was useful, it was probably bad form.
Consider, again, the Richard or "dicky." Could there be anything neater or more dressy, anything more thoroughly useful? Yet you and I scorn to wear one. I remember a terrible situation in a story by Mr. W. S. Jackson. The hero found himself in a foreign hotel without his luggage. To that hotel came, with her father, the girl whom he adored silently. An invitation was given him to dinner with them, and he had to borrow what clothes he could from friendly waiters. These, alas! included a dicky. Well, the dinner began well; our hero made an excellent impression; all was gaiety. Suddenly a candle was overturned and the flame caught the heroine's frock. The hero knew what the emergency demanded. He knew how heroes always whipped off their coats and wrapped them round burning heroines. He jumped up like a bullet (or whatever jumps up quickest) and —remembered.
He had a dicky on! Without his coat, he would discover the dicky to the one person of all from whom he wished to hide it. Yet if he kept his coat on, she might die. A truly horrible dilemma. I forget which horn he impaled himself upon, but I expect you and I would have kept the secret of the Richard at all costs. And what really is wrong with a false shirt-front? Nothing except that it betrays the poverty of the wearer. Laundry bills don't worry us, bless you, who have a new straw hat every day; but how terrible if it was suspected that they did.
Our gentlemanly objection to the made-up tie seems to rest on a different foundation; I am doubtful as to the psychology of that. Of course it is a deception, but a deception is only serious when it passes itself off as something which really matters. Nobody thinks that a self-tied tie matters; nobody is really proud of being able to make a cravat out of a length of silk. I suppose it is simply the fact that a made-up tie saves time which condemns it; the safety razor was nearly condemned for a like reason. We of the leisured classes can spend hours over our toilet; by all means let us despise those who cannot.
As far as dress goes, a man only knows the things which a man mustn't do. It would be interesting if women would tell us what no real lady ever does. I have heard a woman classified contemptuously as one who does her hair up with two hair-pins, and no doubt bad feminine form can be observed in other shocking directions. But again it seems to be that the semblance of poverty, whether of means or of leisure, is the one thing which must be avoided.
Why, then, should the wasp gun be considered bad form? I don't know, but I have an instinctive feeling that it will be. Perhaps a wasp gun indicates a lack of silver spoons suitable for lethal uses. Perhaps it shows too careful a consideration of the marmalade. A man of money drowns his wasp in the jar with his spoon, and carelessly calls for another pot to be opened. The poor man waits on the outskirts with his gun, and the marmalade, void of corpses, can still be passed round. Your gun proclaims your poverty; then let it be avoided.
All the same I think I shall have one. I have kept clear of hat- guards and Richards and made-up ties without quite knowing why, but honestly I have not felt the loss of them. The wasp gun is different; having seen it, I feel that I should be miserable without it. It is going to be excellent sport, wasp-shooting; a steady hand, a good eye, and a certain amount of courage will be called for. When the season opens I shall be there, good form or bad form. We shall shoot the apple-quince coverts first. "Hornet over!"
A Slice of Fiction
This is a jolly world, and delightful things go on in it. For instance, I had a picture post card only yesterday from William Benson, who is staying at Ilfracombe. He wrote to say that he had gone down to Ilfracombe for a short holiday, and had been much struck by the beauty of the place. On one of his walks he happened to notice that there was to be a sale of several plots of land occupying a quite unique position in front of the sea. He had immediately thought of me in connection with it. My readiness to consider a good investment had long been known to him, and in addition he had heard rumours that I might be coming down to Ilfracombe in order to recruit my health. If so, here was a chance which should be brought to my knowledge. Further particulars ... and so on. Which was extremely friendly of William Benson. In fact, my only complaint of William is that he has his letters lithographed—a nasty habit in a friend. But I have allowed myself to be carried away. It was not really of Mr. Benson that I was thinking when I said that delightful things go on in this world, but of a certain pair of lovers, the tragedy of whose story has been revealed to me in a two-line "agony" in a morning paper. When anything particularly attractive happens in real life, we express our appreciation by saying that it is the sort of thing which one reads about in books —perhaps the highest compliment we can pay to Nature. Well, the story underlying this advertisement reeks of the feuilleton and the stage.
"PAT, I was alone when you called. You heard me talking to the dog. PLEASE make appointment. —DAISY."
You will agree with me when you read this that it is almost too good to be true. There is a freshness and a naivet about it which is only to be found in American melodrama. Let us reconstruct the situation, and we shall see at once how delightfully true to fiction real life can be.
Pat was in love with Daisy—engaged to her we may say with confidence (for a reason which will appear in a moment). But even though she had plighted her troth to him, he was jealous, miserably jealous, of every male being who approached her. One day last week he called on her at the house in Netting Hill. The parlour-maid opened the door and smiled brightly at him. "Miss Daisy is upstairs in the drawing-room," she said. "Thank you," he replied, "I will announce myself." (Now you see how we know that they were engaged. He must have announced himself in order to have reached the situation implied in the "agony," and he would not have been allowed to do so if he had not had the standing of a fiance.)
For a moment before knocking Patrick stood outside the drawing- room door, and in that moment the tragedy occurred; he heard his lady's voice. "DARLING!" it said, "she SHALL kiss her sweetest, ownest, little pupsy-wupsy."
Patrick's brow grew black. His strong jaw clenched (just like the jaws of those people on the stage), and he staggered back from the door. "This is the end," he muttered. Then he strode down the stairs and out into the stifling streets. And up in the drawing- room of the house in Netting Hill Daisy and the toy pom sat and wondered why their lord and master was so late.
Now we come to the letter which Patrick wrote to Daisy, telling her that it was all over. He would explain to her how he had "accidentally"(he would dwell upon that) accidentally overheard her and her——(probably he was rather coarse here) exchanging terms of endearment; he would accuse her of betraying one whose only fault was that he loved her not wisely but too well; he would announce gloomily that he had lost his faith in women. All this is certain. But it would appear also that he made some such threat as this—most likely in a postscript: "It is no good your writing. There can be no explanation. Your letters will be destroyed unopened." It is a question, however, if even this would have prevented Daisy from trying an appeal by post, for though one may talk about destroying letters unopened, it is an extremely difficult thing to do. I feel, therefore, that Patrick's letter almost certainly contained a P.P.S. also—to this effect: "I cannot remain in London where we have spent so many happy hours together. I am probably leaving for the Rocky Mountains to-night. Letters will not be forwarded. Do not attempt to follow me."
And so Daisy was left with only the one means of communication and explanation—the agony columns of the morning newspapers. "I was alone when you called. You heard me talking to the dog. PLEASE make appointment." In the last sentence there is just a hint of irony which I find very attractive. It seems to me to say, "Don't for heaven's sake come rushing back to Notting Hill (all love and remorse) without warning, or you might hear me talking to the cat or the canary. Make an appointment, and I'll take care that there's NOTHING in the room when you come." We may tell ourselves, I think, that Daisy understands her Patrick. In fact, I am beginning to understand Patrick myself, and I see now that the real reason why Daisy chose the agony column as the medium of communication was that she knew Patrick would prefer it. Patrick is distinctly the sort of man who likes agony columns. I am sure it was the first thing he turned to on Wednesday morning.
It occurs to me to wonder if the honeymoon will be spent at Ilfracombe. Patrick must have received William Benson's picture post card too. We have all had one. Just fancy if he HAD gone to the Rocky Mountains; almost certainly Mr. Benson's letters would not have been forwarded.
On those rare occasions when I put on my best clothes and venture into society, I am always astonished at the number of people in it whom I do not know. I have stood in a crowded ball-room, or sat in a crowded restaurant, and reflected that, of all the hundreds of souls present, there was not one of whose existence I had previously had any suspicion. Yet they all live tremendously important lives, lives not only important to themselves but to numbers of friends and relations; every day they cross some sort of Rubicon; and to each one of them there comes a time when the whole of the rest of the world (including—confound it!—me) seems absolutely of no account whatever. That I had lived all these years in contented ignorance of their existence makes me a little ashamed.
To-day in my oldest clothes I have wandered through the index of The Times Literary Supplement, and I am now feeling a little ashamed of my ignorance of so many books. Of novels alone there seem to be about 900. To write even a thoroughly futile novel is, to my thinking, a work of extraordinary endurance; yet in, say, 600 houses this work has been going on, and I (and you, and all of us) have remained utterly unmoved. Well, I have been making up for my indifference this morning. I have been reading the titles of the books. That is not so good (or bad) as reading the books themselves, but it enables me to say that I have heard of such and such a novel, and in some cases it does give me a slight clue to what goes on inside.
I should imagine that the best part of writing a novel was the choosing a title. My idea of a title is that it should be something which reflects the spirit of your work and gives the hesitating purchaser some indication of what he is asked to buy. To call your book Ethnan Frame or Esther Grant or John Temple or John Merridew (I quote from the index) is to help the reader not at all. All it tells him is that one of the characters inside will be called John or Esther—a matter, probably, of indifference to him. Phyllis is a better title, because it does give a suggestion of the nature of the book. No novel with a tragic ending, no powerful realistic novel, would be called Phyllis. Without having read Phyllis I should say that it was a charming story of suburban life, told mostly in dialogue, and that Phyllis herself was a perfect dear—though a little cruel about that first box of chocolates he sent her. However, she married him in the end all right.
But if you don't call your book Phyllis or John Temple or Mrs. Elmsley, what—I hear you asking—are you to call it? Well, you might call it Kapak, as I see somebody has done. The beauty of Kapak as a title is that if you come into the shop by the back entrance, and so approach the book from the wrong end, it is still Kapak. A title which looks the same from either end is of immense advantage to an author. Besides, in this particular case there is a mystery about Kapak which one is burning to solve. Is it the bride's pet name for her father-in-law, the password into the magic castle, or that new stuff with which you polish brown boots? Or is it only a camera? Let us buy the book at once and find out.
Another mystery title is The Man with Thicker Beard, which probably means something. It is like Kapak in this, that it reads equally well backwards; but it is not so subtle. Still, we should probably be lured on to buy it. On the other hand, A Welsh Nightingale and a Would-be Suffragette is just the sort of book to which we would not be tempted by the title. It is bad enough to have to say to the shopman, "Have you A Welsh Nightingale and a Would-be Suffragette?" but if we forgot the title, as we probably should, and had to ask at random for a would-be nightingale and a Welsh suffragette, or a wood nightingale and a Welsh rabbit, or the Welsh suffragette's night in gaol, we should soon begin to wish that we had decided on some quite simple book such as Greed, Earth, or Jonah.
And this is why a French title is always such a mistake. Authors must remember that their readers have not only to order the book, in many cases, verbally, but also to recommend it to their friends. So I think Mr. Oliver Onions made a mistake when he called his collection of short stories Pot au Feu. It is a good title, but it is the sort of title to which the person to whom you are recommending the book always answers, "What?" And when people say "What?" in reply to your best Parisian accent, the only thing possible for you is to change the subject altogether. But it is quite time that we came to some sort of decision as to what makes the perfect title. Kapak will attract buyers, as I have said, though to some it may not seem quite fair. Excellent from a commercial point of view, it does not satisfy the conditions we laid down at first. The title, we agreed, must reflect the spirit of the book. In one sense Five Gallons of Gasolene does this, but of course nobody could ask for that in a book-shop.
Well, then, here is a perfect title, Their High Adventure. That explains itself just sufficiently. When a Man's Married, For Henri and Navarre, and The King Over the Water are a little more obvious, but they are still good. The Love Story of a Mormon makes no attempt to deceive the purchaser, but it can hardly be called a beautiful title. Melody in Silver, on the other hand, is beautiful, but for this reason makes one afraid to buy it, lest there should be disappointment within. In fact, as I look down the index, I am beginning to feel glad that there are so many hundreds of novels which I haven't read. In most of them there would be disappointment. And really one only reads books nowadays so as to be able to say to one's neighbour on one's rare appearances in society, "HAVE you read The Forged Coupon, and WHAT do you think of The Muck Rake?" And for this an index is quite enough.
I have been reading a little book called How to Write for the Press. Other books which have been published upon the same subject are How to Be an Author, How to Write a Play, How to Succeed as a Journalist, How to Write for the Magazines, and How to Earn 600 a Year with the Pen. Of these the last-named has, I think, the most pleasing title. Anybody can write a play; the trouble is to get it produced. Almost anybody can be an author; the business is to collect money and fame from this state of being. Writing for the magazines, again, sounds a delightful occupation, but literally it means nothing without the co- operation of the editors of the magazines, and it is this co- operation which is so difficult to secure. But to earn 600 a year with the pen is to do a definite thing; if the book could really tell the secret of that, it would have an enormous sale. I have not read it, so I cannot say what the secret is. Perhaps it was only a handbook on forgery.
How to Write for the Press disappointed me. It is concerned not with the literary journalist (as I believe he is called) but with the reporter (as he is never called, the proper title being "special representative"). It gives in tabular form a list of the facts you should ascertain at the different functions you attend; with this book in your pocket there would be no excuse if you neglected to find out at a wedding the names of the bride and bridegroom. It also gives—and I think this is very friendly of it—a list of useful synonyms for the principal subjects, animate and inanimate, of description. The danger of calling the protagonists at the court of Hymen (this one is not from the book; I thought of it myself just now)—the danger of calling them "the happy pair" more than once in a column is that your readers begin to suspect that you are a person of extremely limited mind, and when once they get this idea into their heads they are not in a proper state to appreciate the rest of your article. But if in your second paragraph you speak of "the joyful couple," and in your third of "the ecstatic brace," you give an impression of careless mystery of the language which can never be shed away.
Among the many interesting chapters is one dealing with contested elections. One of the questions to which the special representative was advised to find an answer was this: "What outside bodies are taking active part in the contest?" In the bad old days—now happily gone for ever—the outside bodies of dead cats used to take an active and important part in the contest, and as the same body would often be used twice the reporter in search of statistics was placed in a position of great responsibility. Nowadays, I suppose, he is only meant to concern himself with such bodies as the Coal Consumers' League and the Tariff Reform League, and there would be no doubt in the mind of anybody as to whether they were there or not.
I am afraid I should not be a success as "our special representative." I should never think of half the things which occur to the good reporter. You read in your local paper a sentence like this: "The bride's brother, who only arrived last week from Australia, where he held an important post under the Government, and is about to proceed on a tour through Canada with—curiously enough—a nephew of the bride-groom, gave her away." Well, what a mass of information has to be gleaned before that sentence can be written. Or this. "The hall was packed to suffocation, and beneath the glare of the electric light— specially installed for this occasion by Messrs. Ampre & Son of Pumpton, the building being at ordinary times strikingly deficient in the matter of artificial lighting in spite of the efforts of the more progressive members of the town council—the faces of not a few of the fairer sex could be observed." You know, I am afraid I should have forgotten all that. I should simply have obtained a copy of the principal speech, and prefaced it with the words," Mr. Dodberry then spoke as follows"; or, if my conscience would not allow of such a palpable misstatement, "Mr. Dodberry then rose with the intention of speaking as follows."
In the more human art of interviewing I should be equally at fault. The interview itself would be satisfactory, but I am afraid that its publication would lead people to believe that all the best things had been said by me. To remember what anybody else has said is easy; to remember, even five minutes after, what one has said oneself is almost impossible. For to recall YOUR remarks in our argument at the club last night is simply a matter of memory; to recall MINE, I have to forget all that I meant to have said, all that I ought to have said, and all that I have thought upon the subject since.
In fact, I begin to see that the successful reporter must eliminate his personality altogether, whereas the successful literary journalist depends for his success entirely upon his personality —which is what is meant by "style." I suppose it is for this reason that, when the literary journalist is sent as "our extra-special representative" to report a prize fight or a final cup tie or a political meeting, the result is always appalling. The "ego" bulges out of every line, obviously conscious that it is showing us no ordinary reporting, determined that it will not be overshadowed by the importance of the subject. And those who are more interested in the matter than in the manner regard him as an intruder, and the others regret that he is so greatly overtaxing his strength.
So each to his business, and his handbook to each—How to Write for the Press to the special representative, and How to Be an Author to the author. There is no book, I believe, called How to Be a Solicitor, or a doctor or an admiral or a brewer. That is a different matter altogether; but any fool can write for the papers.
Smoking as a Fine Art
My first introduction to Lady Nicotine was at the innocent age of eight, when, finding a small piece of somebody else's tobacco lying unclaimed on the ground, I decided to experiment with it. Numerous desert island stories had told me that the pangs of hunger could be allayed by chewing tobacco; it was thus that the hero staved off death before discovering the bread-fruit tree. Every right-minded boy of eight hopes to be shipwrecked one day, and it was proper that I should find out for myself whether my authorities could be trusted in this matter. So I chewed tobacco. In the sense that I certainly did not desire food for some time afterwards, my experience justified the authorities, but I felt at the time that it was not so much for staving off death as for reconciling oneself to it that tobacco-chewing was to be recommended. I have never practised it since.
At eighteen I went to Cambridge, and bought two pipes in a case. In those days Greek was compulsory, but not more so than two pipes in a case. One of the pipes had an amber stem and the other a vulcanite stem, and both of them had silver belts. That also was compulsory. Having bought them, one was free to smoke cigarettes. However, at the end of my first year I got to work seriously on a shilling briar, and I have smoked that, or something like it, ever since.
In the last four years there has grown up a new school of pipe- smokers, by which (I suspect) I am hardly regarded as a pipe- smoker at all. This school buys its pipes always at one particular shop; its pupils would as soon think of smoking a pipe without the white spot as of smoking brown paper. So far are they from smoking brown paper that each one of them has his tobacco specially blended according to the colour of his hair, his taste in revues, and the locality in which he lives. The first blend is naturally not the ideal one. It is only when he has been a confirmed smoker for at least three months, and knows the best and worst of all tobaccos, that his exact requirements can be satisfied.
However, it is the pipe rather than the tobacco which marks him as belonging to this particular school. He pins his faith, not so much to its labour-saving devices as to the white spot outside, the white spot of an otherwise aimless life. This tells the world that it is one of THE pipes. Never was an announcement more superfluous. From the moment, shortly after breakfast, when he strikes his first match to the moment, just before bed-time, when he strikes his hundredth, it is obviously THE pipe which he is smoking.
For whereas men of an older school, like myself, smoke for the pleasure of smoking, men of this school smoke for the pleasure of pipe-owning—of selecting which of their many white-spotted pipes they will fill with their specially-blended tobacco, of filling the one so chosen, of lighting it, of taking it from the mouth to gaze lovingly at the white spot and thus letting it go out, of lighting it again and letting it go out again, of polishing it up with their own special polisher and putting it to bed, and then the pleasure of beginning all over again with another white- spotted one. They are not so much pipe-smokers as pipe-keepers; and to have spoken as I did just now of their owning pipes was wrong, for it is they who are in bondage to the white spot. This school is founded firmly on four years of war. When at the age of eighteen you are suddenly given a cheque-book and called "Sir," you must do something by way of acknowledgment. A pipe in the mouth makes it clear that there has been no mistake—you are undoubtedly a man. But you may be excused for feeling after the first pipe that the joys of smoking have been rated too high, and for trying to extract your pleasure from the polish on the pipe's surface, the pride of possessing a special mixture of your own, and such-like matters, rather than from the actual inspiration and expiration of smoke. In the same way a man not fond of reading may find delight in a library of well-bound books. They are pleasant to handle, pleasant to talk about, pleasant to show to friends. But it is the man without the library of well-bound books who generally does most of the reading.