So I feel that it is we of the older school who do most of the smoking. We smoke unconsciously while we are doing other things; THEY try, but not very successfully, to do other things while they are consciously smoking. No doubt they despise us, and tell themselves that we are not real smokers, but I fancy that they feel a little uneasy sometimes. For my young friends are always trying to persuade me to join their school, to become one of the white-spotted ones. I have no desire to be of their company, but I am prepared to make a suggestion to the founder of the school. It is that he should invent a pipe, white spot and all, which smokes itself. His pupils could hang it in the mouth as picturesquely as before, but the incidental bother of keeping it alight would no longer trouble them.
The Path to Glory
My friend Mr. Sidney Mandragon is getting on. He is now one of the great ones of the earth. He has just been referred to as "Among those present was Mr. Sidney Mandragon."
As everybody knows (or will know when they have read this article) the four stages along the road to literary fame are marked by the four different manners in which the traveller's presence at a public function is recorded in the Press. At the first stage the reporter glances at the list of guests, and says to himself, "Mr. George Meredith —never heard of him," and for all the world knows next morning, Mr. George Meredith might just as well have stayed at home. At the second stage (some years later) the reporter murmurs to his neighbour in a puzzled sort of way: "George Meredith? George Meredith? Now where have I come across that name lately? Wasn't he the man who pushed a wheelbarrow across America? Or was he the chap who gave evidence in that murder trial last week?" And, feeling that in either case his readers will be interested in the fellow, he says: "The guests included ... Mr. George Meredith and many others." At the third stage the reporter knows at last who Mr. George Meredith is. Having seen an advertisement of one of his books, and being pretty sure that the public has read none of them, he refers to him as "Mr. George Meredith, the well-known novelist." The fourth and final stage, beyond the reach of all but the favoured few, is arrived at when the reporter can leave the name to his public unticketed, and says again, "Among those present was Mr. George Meredith."
The third stage is easy to reach—indeed, too easy. The "well- known actresses" are not Ellen Terry, Irene Vanbrugh and Marie Tempest, but Miss Birdie Vavasour, who has discovered a new way of darkening the hair, and Miss Girlie de Tracy, who has been arrested for shop-lifting. In the same way, the more the Press insists that a writer is "well-known," the less hope will he have that the public has heard of him. Better far to remain at the second stage, and to flatter oneself that one has really arrived at the fourth.
But my friend Sidney Mandragon is, indeed, at the final stage now, for he had been "the well-known writer" for at least a dozen years previously. Of course, he has been helped by his name. Shakespeare may say what he likes, but a good name goes a long way in the writing profession. It was my business at one time to consider contributions for a certain paper, and there was one particular contributor whose work I approached with an awe begotten solely of his name. It was not exactly Milton, and not exactly Carlyle, and not exactly Charles Lamb, but it was a sort of mixture of all three and of many other famous names thrown in, so that, without having seen any of his work printed elsewhere, I felt that I could not take the risk of refusing it myself. "This is a good man," I would say before beginning his article; "this man obviously has style. And I shouldn't be surprised to hear that he was an authority on fishing." I wish I could remember his name now, and then you would see for yourself.
Well, take Mr. Hugh Walpole (if he will allow me). It is safe to say that, when Mr. Walpole's first book came out, the average reader felt vaguely that she had heard of him before. She hadn't actually read his famous Letters, but she had often wanted to, and—or was that his uncle? Anyway, she had often heard people talking about him. What a very talented family it was! In the same way Sidney Mandragon has had the great assistance of one of the two Christian names which carry weight in journalism. The other, of course, is Harold. If you are Sidney or Harold, the literary world is before you.
Another hall-mark by which we can tell whether a man has arrived or not is provided by the interview. If (say) a Lepidopterist is just beginning his career, nobody bothers about his opinions on anything. If he is moderately well-known in his profession, the papers will seek his help whenever his own particular subject comes up in the day's news. There is a suggestion, perhaps, in Parliament that butterflies should be muzzled, and "Our Representative" promptly calls upon "the well-known Lepidopterist" to ask what HE thinks about it. But if he be of an established reputation, then his professional opinion is no longer sought. What the world is eager for now is to be told his views on Sunday Games, the Decadence of the Theatre or Bands in the Parks.
The modern advertising provides a new scale of values. No doubt Mr. Pelman offers his celebrated hundred guineas' fee equally to all his victims, but we may be pretty sure that in his business- like brain he has each one of them nicely labelled, a Gallant Soldier being good for so much new business, a titled Man of Letters being good for slightly less; and that real Fame is best measured by the number of times that one's unbiased views on Pelmanism (or Tonics or Hair-Restorers) are considered to be worth reprinting. In this matter my friend Mandragon is doing nicely. For a suitable fee he is prepared to attribute his success to anything in reason, and his confession of faith can count upon a place in every full-page advertisement of the mixture, and frequently in the odd half-columns. I never quite understand why a tonic which has tightened up Mandragon's fibres, or a Mind-Training System which has brought General Blank's intellect to its present pitch, should be accepted more greedily by the man-in-the-street than a remedy which has only proved its value in the case of his undistinguished neighbour, but then I can never understand quite a number of things. However, that doesn't matter. All that matters at the moment is that Mr. Sidney Mandragon has now achieved glory. Probably the papers have already pigeon-holed his obituary notice. It is a pleasing thought.
A Problem in Ethics
Life is full of little problems, which arise suddenly and find one wholly unprepared with a solution. For instance, you travel down to Wimbledon on the District Railway—first-class, let us suppose, because it is your birthday. On your arrival you find that you have lost your ticket. Now, doubtless there is some sort of recognized business to be gone through which relieves you of the necessity of paying again. You produce an affidavit of a terribly affirmative nature, together with your card and a testimonial from a beneficed member of the Church of England. Or you conduct a genial correspondence with the traffic manager which spreads itself over six months. To save yourself this bother you simply tell the collector that you haven't a ticket and have come from Charing Cross. Is it necessary to add "first- class"?
Of course one has a strong feeling that one ought to, but I think a still stronger feeling that one isn't defrauding the railway company if one doesn't. (I will try not to get so many "ones" into my next sentence.) For you may argue fairly that you established your right to travel first-class when you stepped into the carriage with your ticket—and, it may be, had it examined therein by an inspector. All that you want to do now is to establish your right to leave the Wimbledon platform for the purer air of the common. And you can do this perfectly easily with a third-class ticket.
However, this is a problem which will only arise if you are careless with your property. But however careful you are, it may happen to you at any moment that you become suddenly the owner of a shilling with a hole in it.
I am such an owner. I entered into possession a week ago—Heaven knows who played the thing off on me. As soon as I made the discovery I went into a tobacconist's and bought a box of matches.
"This," he said, looking at me reproachfully, "is a shilling with a hole in it."
"I know," I said, "but it's all right, thanks. I don't want to wear it any longer. The fact is, Joanna has thrown me—However, I needn't go into that." He passed it back to me.
"I am afraid I can't take it," he said.
"Why not? I managed to."
However, I had to give him one without a hole before he would let me out of his shop. Next time I was more thoughtful. I handed three to the cashier at my restaurant in payment of lunch, and the ventilated one was in the middle. He saw the joke of it just as I was escaping down the stairs.
"Hi!" he said, "this shilling has a hole in it."
I went back and looked at it. Sure enough it had.
"Well, that's funny," I said. "Did you drop it, or what?"
He handed the keepsake back to me. He also had something of reproach in his eye.
"Thanks, very much," I said. "I wouldn't have lost it for worlds; Emily—But I mustn't bore you with the story. Good day to you." And I gave him a more solid coin and went.
Well, that's how we are at present. A more unscrupulous person than myself would have palmed it off long ago. He would have told himself with hateful casuistry that the coin was none the worse for the air-hole in it, and that, if everybody who came into possession of it pressed it on to the next man, nobody would be injured by its circulation. But I cannot argue like this. It pleases me to give my shilling a run with the others sometimes. I like to put it down on a counter with one or two more, preferably in the middle of them where the draught cannot blow through it; but I should indeed be surprised—I mean sorry—if it did not come back to me at once.
There is one thing, anyhow, that I will not do. I will not give it to a waiter or a taxi-driver or to anybody else as a tip. If you estimate the market value of a shilling with a hole in it at anything from ninepence to fourpence according to the owner's chances of getting rid of it, then it might be considered possibly a handsome, anyhow an adequate, tip for a driver; but somehow the idea does not appeal to me at all. For if the recipient did not see the hole, you would feel that you had been unnecessarily generous to him, and that one last effort to have got it off on to a shopkeeper would have been wiser; while if he did see it—well, we know what cabmen are. He couldn't legally object, it is a voluntary gift on your part, and even regarded as a contribution to his watch chain worthy of thanks, but—Well, I don't like it. I don't think it's sportsmanlike.
However, I have an idea at last. I know a small boy who owns some lead soldiers. I propose to borrow one of these—a corporal or perhaps a serjeant—and boil him down, and then fill up the hole in the shilling with lead. Shillings, you know, are not solid silver; oh no, they have alloy in them. This one will have a little more than usual perhaps. One cannot tie oneself down to an ounce or two.
We set out, I believe, to discuss the morals of the question. It is a most interesting subject.
The Happiest Half-Hours of Life
Yesterday I should have gone back to school, had I been a hundred years younger. My most frequent dream nowadays—or nowanights I suppose I should say—is that I am back at school, and trying to construe difficult passages from Greek authors unknown to me. That they are unknown is my own fault, as will be pointed out to me sternly in a moment. Meanwhile I stand up and gaze blankly at the text, wondering how it is that I can have forgotten to prepare it. "Er—him the—er—him the—the er many-wiled Odysseus—h'r'm—then, him addressing, the many-wiled Odysseus— er—addressed. Er—er —the er—" And then, sweet relief, I wake up. That is one of my dreams; and another is that I am trying to collect my books for the next school and that an algebra, or whatever you like, is missing. The bell has rung, as it seems hours ago, I am searching my shelves desperately, I am diving under my table, behind the chair ... I shall be late, I shall be late, late, late ...
No doubt I had these bad moments in real life a hundred years ago. Indeed I must have had them pretty often that they should come back to me so regularly now. But it is curious that I should never dream that I am going back to school, for the misery of going back must have left a deeper mark on my mind than all the little accidental troubles of life when there. I was very happy at school; but oh! the utter wretchedness of the last day of the holidays.
One began to be apprehensive on the Monday. Foolish visitors would say sometimes on the Monday, "When are you going back to school?" and make one long to kick them for their tactlessness. As well might they have said to a condemned criminal, "When are you going to be hanged?" or, "What kind of—er—knot do you think they'll use?" Througout Monday and Tuesday we played the usual games, amused ourselves in the usual way, but with heavy hearts. In the excitement of the moment we would forget and be happy, and then suddenly would come the thought, "We're going back on Wednesday."
And on Tuesday evening we would bring a moment's comfort to ourselves by imagining that we were not going back on the morrow. Our favourite dream was that the school was burnt down early on Wednesday morning, and that a telegram arrived at breakfast apologizing for the occurrence, and pointing out that it would be several months before even temporary accommodation could be erected. No Vandal destroyed historic buildings so light- heartedly as we. And on Tuesday night we prayed that, if the lightnings of Heaven failed us, at least a pestilence should be sent in aid. Somehow, SOMEHOW, let the school be uninhabitable!
But the telegram never came. We woke on Wednesday morning as wakes the murderer on his last day. We took a dog or two for a walk; we pretended to play a game of croquet. After lunch we donned the badges of our servitude. The comfortable, careless, dirty flannels were taken off, and the black coats and stiff white collars put on. At 3.30 an early tea was ready for us— something rather special, a last mockery of holiday. (Dressed crab, I remember, on one occasion, and I travelled with my back to the engine after it—a position I have never dared to assume since.) Then good-byes, tips, kisses, a last look, and—the 4.10 was puffing out of the station. And nothing, nothing had happened. I can remember thinking in the train how unfair it all was. Fifty-two weeks in the year, I said to myself, and only fifteen of them spent at home. A child snatched from his mother at nine, and never again given back to her for more than two months at a time. "Is this Russia?" I said; and, getting no answer, could only comfort myself with the thought, "This day twelve weeks!"
And once the incredible did happen. It was through no intervention of Providence; no, it was entirely our own doing. We got near some measles, and for a fortnight we were kept in quarantine. I can say truthfully that we never spent a duller two weeks. There seemed to be nothing to do at all. The idea that we were working had to be fostered by our remaining shut up in one room most of the day, and within the limits of that room we found very little in the way of amusement. We were bored extremely. And always we carried with us the thought of Smith or Robinson taking our place in the Junior House team and making hundreds of runs. ...
Because, of course, we were very happy at school really. The trouble was that we were so much happier in the holidays. I have had many glorious moments since I left school, but I have no doubt as to what have been the happiest half-hours in my life. They were the half-hours on the last day of term before we started home. We spent them on a lunch of our own ordering. It was the first decent meal we had had for weeks, and when it was over there were all the holidays before us. Life may have better half-hours than that to offer, but I have not met them.
It is when Parliament is not sitting that the papers are most interesting to read. I have found an item of news to-day which would never have been given publicity in the busy times, and it has moved me strangely. Here it is, backed by the authority of Dr. Chalmers Mitchell:—
"The caterpillar of the puss-moth, not satisfied with Nature's provisions for its safety, makes faces at young birds, and is said to alarm them considreably."
I like that "is said to." Probably the young bird would deny indignantly that he was alarmed, and would explain that he was only going away because he suddenly remembered that he had an engagement on the croquet lawn, or that he had forgotten his umbrella. But whether he alarms them or not, the fact remains that the caterpillar of the puss-moth does make faces at young birds; and we may be pretty sure that, even if he began the practice in self-defence, the habit is one that has grown on him. Indeed, I can see him actually looking out for a thrush's nest, and then climbing up to it, popping his head over the edge suddenly and making a face. Probably, too, the mother birds frighten their young ones by telling them that, if they aren't good, the puss-moth caterpillar will be after them; while the poor caterpillar himself, never having known a mother's care, has had no one to tell him that if he goes on making such awful faces he will be struck like that one day.
These delvings into natural history bring back my youth very vividly. I never kept a puss-moth, but I had a goat-moth which ate its way out of a match-box, and as far as I remember took all the matches with it. There were caterpillars, though, of a gentler nature who stayed with me, and of these some were obliging enough to turn into chrysalises. Not all by any means. A caterpillar is too modest to care about changing in public. To conduct his metamorphosis in some quiet corner—where he is not poked every morning to see if he is getting stiffer —is what your caterpillar really wants. Mine had no private life to mention. They were as much before the world as royalty or an actress. And even those who brought off the first event safely never emerged into the butterfly world. Something would always happen to them. "Have you seen my chrysalis?" we used to ask each other. "I left him in the bathroom yesterday."
But what I kept most successfully were minerals. One is or is not a successful mineralogist according as one is or is not allowed a geological hammer. I had a geological hammer. To scour the cliffs armed with a geological hammer and a bag for specimens is to be a king among boys. The only specimen I can remember taking with my hammer was a small piece of shin. That was enough, however, to end my career as a successful mineralogist. As an unsuccessful one I persevered for some months, and eventually had a collection of eighteen units. They were put out on the bed every evening in order of size, and ranged from a large lump of Iceland spar down to a small dead periwinkle. In those days I could have told you what granite was made of. In those days I had over my bed a map of the geological strata of the district—in different colours like a chocolate macaroon. And in those days I knew my way to the Geological Museum.
As a botanist I never really shone, but two of us joined an open- air course and used to be taken expeditions into Kew Gardens and such places, where our lecturer explained to his pupils—all grown-up save ourselves—the less recondite mysteries. There was one golden Saturday when we missed the rendezvous at Pinner and had a picnic by ourselves instead; and, after that, many other golden Saturdays when some unaccountable accident separated us from the party. I remember particularly a day in Highgate Woods— a good place for losing a botanical lecturer in; if you had been there, you would have seen two little boys very content, lying one each side of a large stone slab, racing caterpillars against each other.
But there was one episode in my career as a natural scientist—a career whose least details are brought back by the magic word, caterpillar— over which I still go hot with the sense of failure. This was an attempt to stuff a toad. I don't know to this day if toads can be stuffed, but when our toad died he had to be commemorated in some way, and, failing a marble statue, it seemed good to stuff him. It was when we had got the skin off him that we began to realize our difficulties. I don't know if you have had the skin of a fair-sized toad in your hand; if so, you will understand that our first feeling was one of surprise that a whole toad could ever have got into it. There seemed to be no shape about the thing at all. You could have carried it—no doubt we did, I have forgotten—in the back of a watch. But it had lost all likeness to a toad, and it was obvious that stuffing meant nothing to it.
Of course, little boys ought not to skin toads and carry geological hammers and deceive learned professors of botany; I know it is wrong. And of course caterpillars of the puss-moth variety oughtn't to make faces at timid young thrushes. But it is just these things which make such pleasant memories afterwards— when professors and toads are departed, when the hammers lie rusty in the coal cellar, and when the young thrushes are grown up to be quite big birds. There are fortunate mortals who can always comfort themselves with a clich. If any question arises as to the moral value of Racing, whether in war-time or in peace- time, they will murmur something about "improving the breed of horses," and sleep afterwards with an easy conscience. To one who considers how many millions of people are engaged upon this important work, it is surprising that nothing more notable in the way of a super-horse has as yet emerged; one would have expected at least by this time something which combined the flying-powers of the hawk with the diving-powers of the seal. No doubt this is what the followers of the Colonel's Late Wire are aiming at, and even if they have to borrow ten shillings from the till in the good cause, they feel that possibly by means of that very ten shillings Nature has approximated a little more closely to the desired animal. Supporters of Hunting, again, will tell you, speaking from inside knowledge, that "the fox likes it," and one is left breathless at the thought of the altruism of the human race, which will devote so much time and money to amusing a small, bushy-tailed four-legged friend who might otherwise be bored. And the third member of the Triple Alliance, which has made England what it is, is Beer, and in support of Beer there is also a clich ready. Talk to anybody about Intemperance, and he will tell you solemnly, as if this disposed of the trouble, that "one can just as easily be intemperate in other matters as in the matter of alcohol." After which, it seems almost a duty to a broad-minded man to go out and get drunk.
It is, of course, true that we can be intemperate in eating as well as in drinking, but the results of the intemperance would appear to be different. After a fifth help of rice-pudding one does not become over-familiar with strangers, nor does an extra slice of ham inspire a man to beat his wife. After five pints of beer (or fifteen, or fifty) a man will "go anywhere in reason, but he won't go home"; after five helps of rice-pudding, I imagine, home would seem to him the one- desired haven. The two intemperances may be equally blameworthy, but they are not equally offensive to the community. Yet for some reason over- eating is considered the mark of the beast, and over-drinking the mark of rather a fine fellow.
The poets and other gentlemen who have written so much romantic nonsense about "good red wine" and "good brown ale" are responsible for this. I admit that a glass of Burgundy is a more beautiful thing than a blancmange, but I do not think that it follows that a surfeit of one is more heroic than a surfeit of the other. There may be a divinity in the grape which excuses excess, but if so, one would expect it to be there even before the grape had been trodden on by somebody else. Yet no poet ever hymned the man who tucked into the dessert, or told him that he was by way of becoming a jolly good fellow. He is only by way of becoming a pig.
"It is the true, the blushful Hippocrene." To tell oneself this is to pardon everything. However unpleasant a drunken man may seem at first sight, as soon as one realizes that he has merely been putting away a blushful Hippocrene, one ceases to be angry with him. If Keats or somebody had said of a piece of underdone mutton, "It is the true, the blushful Canterbury," indigestion would carry a more romantic air, and at the third helping one could claim to be a bit of a devil. "The beaded bubbles winking at the brim"—this might also have been sung of a tapioca- pudding, in which case a couple of tapioca- puddings would certainly qualify the recipient as one of the boys. If only the poets had praised over-eating rather than over-drinking, how much pleasanter the streets would be on festival nights!
I suppose that I have already said enough to have written myself down a Temperance Fanatic, a Thin-Blooded Cocoa-Drinker, and a number of other things equally contemptible; which is all very embarrassing to a man who is composing at the moment on port, and who gets entangled in the skin of cocoa whenever he tries to approach it. But if anything could make me take kindly to cocoa, it would be the sentimental rubbish which is written about the "manliness" of drinking alcohol. It is no more manly to drink beer (not even if you call it good brown ale) than it is to drink beef-tea. It may be more healthy; I know nothing about that, nor, from the diversity of opinion expressed, do the doctors; it may be cheaper, more thirst-quenching, anything you like. But it is a thing the village idiot can do—and often does, without becoming thereby the spiritual comrade of Robin Hood, King Harry the Fifth, Drake, and all the other heroes who (if we are to believe the Swill School) have made old England great on beer.
But to doubt the spiritual virtues of alcohol is not to be a Prohibitionist. For my own sake I want neither England nor America dry. Whether I want them dry for the sake of England and America I cannot quite decide. But if I ever do come to a decision, it will not be influenced by that other clich, which is often trotted out complacently, as if it were something to thank Heaven for. "You can't make people moral by Act of Parliament." It is not a question of making them moral, but of keeping them from alcohol. It may be a pity to do this, but it is obviously possible, just as it is possible to keep them—that is to say, the overwhelming majority of them—from opium. Nor shall I be influenced by the argument that such prohibition is outside the authority of a Government. For if a Government can demand a man's life for reasons of foreign policy, it can surely demand his whisky for reasons of domestic policy; if it can call upon him to start fighting, it can call upon him to stop drinking.
But if opium and alcohol is prohibited, you say, why not tobacco? When tobacco is mentioned I feel like the village Socialist, who was quite ready to share two theoretical cows with his neighbour, but when asked if the theory applied also to pigs, answered indignantly, "What are you talking about—I've GOT two pigs!" I could bear an England which "went dry," but an England which "went out"—! So before assenting to the right of a Government to rob the working-man of his beer, I have to ask myself if I assent to its right to rob me of my pipe. Well, if it were agreed by a majority of the community (in spite of all my hymns to Nicotine) that England would be happier without tobacco, then I think I should agree also. But I might feel that I should be happier without England. Just a little way without—the Isle of Man, say.
Chess has this in common with making poetry, that the desire for it comes upon the amateur in gusts. It is very easy for him not to make poetry; sometimes he may go for months without writing a line of it. But when once he is delivered of an ode, then the desire to write another ode is strong upon him. A sudden passion for rhyme masters him, and must work itself out. It will be all right in a few weeks; he will go back to prose or bills-of- parcels or whatever is his natural method of expressing himself, none the worse for his adventure. But he will have gained this knowledge for his future guidance—that poems never come singly.
Every two or three years I discover the game of chess. In normal times when a man says to me, "Do you play chess?" I answer coldly, "Well, I know the moves." "Would you like a game?" he asks, and I say, "I don't think I will, thanks very much. I hardly ever play." And there the business ends. But once in two years, or it may be three, circumstances are too strong for me. I meet a man so keen or a situation so dull that politeness or boredom leads me to accept. The board is produced, I remind myself that the queen stands on a square of her own colour, and that the knight goes next to the castle; I push forward the king's pawn two squares, and we are off. Yes, we are off; but not for one game only. For a month at least I shall dream of chess at night and make excuses to play it in the day. For a month chess will be even more to me than golf or billiards—games which I adore because I am so bad at them. For a month, starting from yesterday when I was inveigled into a game, you must regard me, please, as a chess maniac.
Among small boys with no head for the game I should probably be described as a clever player. If my opponent only learnt yesterday, and is still a little doubtful as to what a knight can do, I know one or two rather good tricks for removing his queen. My subtlest stroke is to wait until Her Majesty is in front of the king, and then to place my castle in front of her, with a pawn in support. Sometimes I forget the pawn and he takes my castle, in which case I try to look as if the loss of my castle was the one necessary preliminary to my plan of campaign, and that now we were off. When he is busy on one side of the board, I work a knight up on the other, and threaten two of his pieces simultaneously. To the extreme novice I must seem rather resourceful.
But then I am an old hand at the game. My career dates from— well, years ago when I won my house championship at school. This championship may have carried a belt with it; I have forgotten. But there was certainly a prize—a prize of five solid shillings, supposing the treasurer had managed to collect the subscriptions. In the year when I won it I was also treasurer. I assure you that the quickness and skill necessary for winning the competition were as nothing to that necessary for collecting the money. If any pride remains to me over that affair, if my name is written in letters of fire in the annals of our house chess club, it is because I actually obtained the five shillings.
After this the game did not trouble me for some time. But there came a day when a friend and I lunched at a restaurant in which chess-boards formed as permanent a part the furniture of the dining tables as the salt and mustard. Partly in joke, because it seemed to be the etiquette of the building, we started a game. We stayed there two hours ... and the fever remained with me for two months. Another year or so of normal development followed. Then I caught influenza and spent dull days in bed. Nothing can be worse for an influenza victim than chess, but I suppose my warders did not realize how much I suffered under the game. Anyhow, I played it all day and dreamed of it all night—a riot of games in which all the people I knew moved diagonally and up and down, took each other, and became queens.
And now I have played again, and am once more an enthusiast. You will agree with me, will you not, that it is a splendid game? People mock at it. They say that it is not such good exercise as cricket or golf. How wrong they are. That it brings the same muscles into play as does cricket I do not claim for it. Each game develops a different set of sinews; but what chess-player who has sat with an extended forefinger on the head of his queen for five minutes, before observing the enemy's bishop in the distance and bringing back his piece to safety—what chess- player, I say, will deny that the muscles of the hand ridge up like lumps of iron after a month at the best of games? What chess-player who has stretched his arm out in order to open with the Ruy Lopez gambit, who has then withdrawn it as the possibilities of the Don Quixote occur to him, and who has finally, after another forward and backward movement, decided to rely upon the bishop's declined pawn—what chess-player, I ask, will not affirm that the biceps are elevated by this noblest of pastimes? And, finally, what chess-player, who in making too eagerly the crowning move, has upset with his elbow the victims of the preliminary skirmishing, so that they roll upon the floor- -what chess-player, who has to lean down and pick them up, will not be the better for the strain upon his diaphragm? No; say what you will against chess, but do not mock at it for its lack of exercise.
Yet there is this against it. The courtesies of the game are few. I think that this must be why the passion for it leaves me after a month. When at cricket you are bowled first ball, the wicketkeeper can comfort you by murmuring that the light is bad; when at tennis your opponent forces for the dedans and strikes you heavily under the eye, he can shout, "Sorry!" when at golf you reach a bunker in 4 and take 3 to get out, your partner can endear himself by saying, "Hard luck"; but at chess everything that the enemy does to you is deliberate. He cannot say, "Sorry!" as he takes your knight; he does not call it hard luck when your king is surrounded by vultures eager for his death; and though it would be kindly in him to attribute to the bad light the fact that you never noticed his castle leaning against your queen, yet it would be quite against the etiquette of the game.
Indeed, it is impossible to win gracefully at chess. No man yet has said "Mate!" in a voice which failed to sound to his opponent bitter, boastful, and malicious. It is the tone of that voice which, after a month, I find it impossible any longer to stand.
A Doubtful Character
I find it difficult to believe in Father Christmas. If he is the jolly old gentleman he is always said to be, why doesn't he behave as such? How is it that the presents go so often to the wrong people?
This is no personal complaint; I speak for the world. The rich people get the rich presents, and the poor people get the poor ones. That may not be the fault of Father Christmas; he may be under contract for a billion years to deliver all presents just as they are addressed; but how can he go on smiling? He must long to alter all that. There is Miss Priscilla A—— who gets five guineas worth of the best every year from Mr. Cyril B—— who hopes to be her heir. Mustn't that make Father Christmas mad? Yet he goes down the chimney with it just the same. When his contract is over, and he has a free hand, he'll arrange something about THAT, I'm sure. If he is the jolly old gentleman of the pictures his sense of humour must trouble him. He must be itching to have jokes with the parcels. "Only just this once," he would plead. "Let me give Mrs. Brown the safety-razor, and Mr. Brown the night-dress case; I swear I won't touch any of the others." Of course that wouldn't be a very subtle joke; but jolly old gentlemen with white beards aren't very subtle in their humour. They lean to the broader effects—the practical joke and the pun. I can imagine Father Christmas making his annual pun on the word "reindeer," and the eldest reindeer making a feeble attempt to smile. The younger ones wouldn't so much as try. Yet he would make it so gaily that you would love him even if you couldn't laugh.
Coming down chimneys is dangerous work for white beards, and if I believed in him I should ask myself how he manages to keep so clean. I suppose his sense of humour suggested the chimney to him in the first place, and for a year or two it was the greatest joke in the world. But now he must wish sometimes that he came in by the door or the window. Some chimneys are very dirty for white beards.
Have you noticed that children, who hang up their stockings, always get lots of presents, and that we grown-ups, who don't hang up our stockings, never get any? This makes me think that perhaps after all Father Christmas has some say in the distribution. When he sees an empty stocking he pops in a few things on his own account—with "from Aunt Emma" pinned on to them. Then you write to Aunt Emma to thank her for her delightful present, and she is so ashamed of herself for not having sent you one that she never lets on about it. But when Father Christmas doesn't see a stocking, he just leaves you the embroidered tobacco pouch from your sister and the postal order from your rich uncle, and is glad to get out of the house.
Of his attitude towards Christmas cards I cannot speak with certainty, but I fancy that he does not bring these down the chimney too; the truth being, probably, that it is he who composes the mottoes on them, and that with the customary modesty of the author he leaves the distribution of them to others. "The old, old wish—a merry Christmas and a happy New Year" he considers to be his masterpiece so far, but "A righte merrie Christemasse" runs it close. "May happy hours be yours" is another epigram in the same vein which has met with considerable success. You can understand how embarrassing it would be to an author if he had to cart round his own works, and practically to force them on people. This is why you so rarely find a Christmas card in your stocking.
There is one other thing at which Father Christmas draws the line; he will not deliver venison. The reindeer say it comes too near home to them. But, apart from this, he is never so happy as when dealing with hampers. He would put a plum-pudding into every stocking if he could, for like all jolly old gentlemen with nice white beards he loves to think of people enjoying their food. I am not sure that he holds much with chocolates, although he is entrusted with so many boxes that he has learnt to look on them with kindly tolerance. But the turkey idea, I imagine (though I cannot speak with authority), the turkey idea was entirely his own. Nothing like turkey for making the beard grow.
If I believed in Father Christmas I should ask myself what he does all the summer—all the year, indeed, after his one day is over. The reindeer, of course, are put out to grass. But where is Father Christmas? Does he sleep for fifty-one weeks? Does he shave, and mix with us mortals? Or does he—yes, that must be it- -does he spend the year in training, in keeping down his figure? Chimney work is terribly trying; the figure wants watching if one is to carry it through successfully. This is especially so in the case of jolly old gentlemen with white beards. I can see Father Christmas, as soon as his day is over, taking himself off to the Equator and running round and round it. By next December he is in splendid condition.
When his billion years are over, when his contract expires and he is allowed a free hand with the presents, I suppose I shall not be alive to take part in the distribution. But none the less I like to think of the things I should get. There are at least half a dozen things which I deserve, and Father Christmas knows it. In any equitable scheme of allotment I should come out well. "Half a minute," he would say, "I must just put these cigars aside for the gentleman who had the picture post card last year. What have you got there? The country cottage and the complete edition of Meredith? Ah yes, perhaps he'd better have those too."
That would be something like a Father Christmas.
Thoughts on Thermometers
Our thermometer went down to 11 deg. the other night. The excitement was intense. It was, of course, the first person down to breakfast who rushed into the garden and made the discovery, and as each of us appeared he was greeted with the news.
"I say, do you know there were twenty-one degrees of frost last night?"
"Really? By Jove!"
We were all very happy and talkative at breakfast—an event rare enough to be chronicled. It was not that we particularly wanted a frost, but that we felt that, if it was going to freeze, it might as well do it properly—so as to show other nations that England was still to be reckoned with. And there was also the feeling that if the thermometer could get down to 11 deg. it might some day get down to zero; and then perhaps the Thames would be frozen over again at Westminster, and the papers would be full of strange news, and—generally speaking—life would be a little different from the ordinary. In a word, there would be a chance of something "happening"— which, I take it, is why one buys a thermometer and watches it so carefully.
Of course, every nice thermometer has a device for registering the maximum and minimum temperatures, which can only be set with a magnet. This gives you an opportunity of using a magnet in ordinary life, an opportunity which occurs all too seldom. Indeed, I can think of no other occasion on which it plays any important part in one's affairs. It would be interesting to know if the sale of magnets exceeds the sale of thermometers, and if so, why?—and it would also be interesting to know why magnets are always painted red, as if they were dangerous, or belonged to the Government, or—but this is a question into which it is impossible to go now. My present theme is thermometers.
Our thermometer (which went down to 11 deg. the other night) is not one of your common mercury ones; it is filled with a pink fluid which I am told is alcohol, though I have never tried. It hangs in the kitchen garden. This gives you an excuse in summer for going into the kitchen garden and leaning against the fruit trees. "Let's go and look at the thermometer" you say to your guest from London, and just for the moment he thinks that the amusements of the country are not very dramatic. But after a day or two he learns that what you really mean is, "Let's go and see if any fruit has blown down in the night." And he takes care to lean against the right tree. An elaborate subterfuge, but necessary if your gardener is at all strict.
But whether your thermometer hangs in the kitchen garden or at the back of the shrubbery, you must recognize one thing about it, namely, that it is an open-air plant. There are people who keep thermometers shut up indoors, which is both cruel and unnecessary. When you complain that the library is a little chilly—as surely you are entitled to—they look at the thermometer nailed to the Henry Fielding shelf and say, "Oh no; I don't think so. It's sixty-five." As if anybody wanted a thermometer to know if a room were cold or not. These people insult thermometers and their guests further by placing one of the former in the bathroom soap-dish, in order that the latter may discover whether it is a hot or cold bath which they are having. All decent people know that a hot bath is one which you can just bear to get into, and that a cold bath is one which you cannot bear to think of getting into, but have to for honour's sake. They do riot want to be told how many degrees Fahrenheit it is.
The undersized temperature-taker which the doctor puts under your tongue before telling you to keep warm and take plenty of milk puddings is properly despised by every true thermometer- lover. Any record which it makes is too personal for a breakfast- table topic, and moreover it is a thermometer which affords no scope for the magnet. Altogether it is a contemptible thing. An occasional devotee will bite it in two before returning it to its owner, but this is rather a strong line to take. It is perhaps best to avoid it altogether by not being ill.
A thermometer must always be treated with care, for the mercury once spilt can only be replaced with great difficulty. It is considered to be one of the most awkward things to pick up after dinner, and only a very steady hand will be successful. Some people with a gift for handling mercury or alcohol make their own thermometers; but even when you have got the stuff into the tube, it is always a question where to put the little figures. So much depends upon them.
Now I must tell you the one hereditary failing of the thermometer. I had meant to hide it from you, but I see that you are determined to have it. It is this: you cannot go up to it and tap it. At least you can, but you don't get that feeling of satisfaction from it which the tapping of a barometer gives you. Of course you can always put a hot thumb on the bulb and watch the mercury run up; this is satisfying for a short time, but it is not the same thing as tapping. And I am wrong to say "always," for in some thermometers—indeed, in ours, alas!—the bulb is wired in, so that no falsifying thumb can get to work. However, this has its compensations, for if no hot thumb can make our thermometer untrue to itself, neither can any cold thumb. And so when I tell you again that our thermometer did go down to 11 deg. the other night, you have no excuse for not believing that our twenty-one degrees of frost was a genuine affair. In fact, you will appreciate our excitement at breakfast.
For a Wet Afternoon
Let us consider something seasonable; let us consider indoor games for a moment.
And by indoor games I do not mean anything so serious as bridge and billiards, nor anything so commercial as vingt-et-un with fish counters, nor anything so strenuous as "bumps." The games I mean are those jolly, sociable ones in which everybody in the house can join with an equal chance of distinction, those friendly games which are played with laughter round a fire what time the blizzards rattle against the window-pane.
These games may be divided broadly into two classes; namely, paper games and guessing games. The initial disadvantage of the paper game is that pencils have to be found for everybody; generally a difficult business. Once they are found, there is no further trouble until the game is over, when the pencils have to be collected from everybody; generally an impossible business. If you are a guest in the house, insist upon a paper game, for it gives you a chance of acquiring a pencil; if you are the host, consider carefully whether you would not rather play a guessing game.
But the guessing game has one great disadvantage too. It demands periodically that a member of the company should go out by himself into the hall and wait there patiently until his companions have "thought of something." (It may be supposed that he, too, is thinking of something in the cold hall, but perhaps not liking to say it.) However careful the players are, unpleasantness is bound to arise sometimes over this preliminary stage of the game. I knew of one case where the people in the room forgot all about the lady waiting in the hall and began to tell each other ghost stories. The lights were turned out, and sitting round the flickering fire the most imaginative members of the household thrilled their hearers with ghostly tales of the dead. Suddenly, in the middle of the story of Torfrida of the Towers—a lady who had strangled her children, and ever afterwards haunted the battlements, headless, and in a night- gown—the door opened softly, and Miss Robinson entered to ask how much longer they would be. Miss Robinson was wearing a white frock, and the effect of her entry was tremendous. I remember, too, another evening when we were playing "proverbs." William, who had gone outside, was noted for his skill at the game, and we were determined to give him something difficult; something which hadn't a camel or a glass house or a stable door in it. After some discussion a member of the company suggested a proverb from the Persian, as he alleged. It went something like this: "A wise man is kind to his dog, but a poor man riseth early in the morning." We took his word for it, and, feeling certain that William would never guess, called him to come in.
Unfortunately William, who is a trifle absentminded, had gone to bed.
To avoid accidents of this nature it is better to play "clumps," a guessing game in which the procedure is slightly varied. In "clumps" two people go into the hall and think of something, while the rest remain before the fire. Thus, however long the interval of waiting, all are happy; for the people inside can tell each other stories (or, as a last resort, play some other game) and the two outside are presumably amusing themselves in arranging something very difficult. Personally I adore clumps; not only for this reason, but because of its revelation of hidden talent. There may be a dozen persons in each clump, and in theory every one of the dozen is supposed to take a hand in the cross- examination, but in practice it is always one person who extracts the information required by a cataract of searching questions. Always one person and generally a girl. I love to see her coming out of her shell. She has excelled at none of the outdoor games perhaps; she has spoken hardly a word at meals. In our little company she has scarcely seemed to count. But suddenly she awakes into life. Clumps is the family game at home; she has been brought up on it. In a moment she discovers herself as our natural leader, a leader whom we follow humbly. And however we may spend the rest of our time together, the effect of her short hour's triumph will not wholly wear away. She is now established.
But the paper games will always be most popular, and once you are over the difficulty of the pencils you may play them for hours without wearying. But of course you must play the amusing ones and not the dull ones. The most common paper game of all, that of making small words out of a big one, has nothing to recommend it; for there can be no possible amusement in hearing somebody else read out "but," "bat," "bet," "bin," "ben," and so forth, riot even if you spend half an hour discussing whether "ben" is really a word. On the other hand your game, however amusing, ought to have some finality about it; a game is not really a game unless somebody can win it. For this reason I cannot wholly approve "telegrams." To concoct a telegram whose words begin with certain selected letters of the alphabet, say the first ten, is to amuse yourself anyhow and possibly your friends; whether you say, "Am bringing camel down early Friday. Got hump. Inform Jamrach"; or, "Afraid better cancel dinner engagement. Fred got horrid indigestion.—JANE." But it is impossible to declare yourself certainly the winner. Fortunately, however, there are games which combine amusement with a definite result; games in which the others can be funny while you can get the prize—or, if you prefer it, the other way about.
When I began to write this, the rain was streaming against the window-panes. It is now quite fine. This, you will notice, often happens when you decide to play indoor games on a wet afternoon. Just as you have found the pencils, the sun comes out.
Declined with Thanks
A paragraph in the papers of last week recorded the unusual action of a gentleman called Smith (or some such name) who had refused for reasons of conscience to be made a justice of the peace. Smith's case was that the commission was offered to him as a reward for political services, and that this was a method of selecting magistrates of which he did not approve. So he showed his contempt for the system by refusing an honour which most people covet, and earned by this such notoriety as the papers can give. "Portrait (on page 8) of a gentleman who has refused something!" He takes his place with Brittlebones in the gallery of freaks.
The subject for essay has frequently been given, "If a million pounds were left to you, how could you do most good with it?" Some say they would endow hospitals, some that they would establish almshouses; there may even be some who would go as far as to build half a Dreadnought. But there would be a more decisive way of doing good than any of these. You might refuse the million pounds. That would be a shock to the systems of the comfortable —a blow struck at the great Money God which would make it totter; a thrust in defence of pride and freedom such as had not been seen before. That would be a moral tonic more needed than all the draughts of your newly endowed hospitals. Will it ever be administered? Well, perhaps when the D.W.T. club has grown a little stronger.
Have you heard of the D.W.T.—the Declined- with-Thanks Club? There are no club rooms and not many members, but the balance sheet for the last twelve months is wonderful, showing that more than 11,000 was refused. The entrance fee is one hundred guineas and the annual subscription fifty guineas; that is to say, you must have refused a hundred guineas before you can be elected, and you are expected to refuse another fifty guineas a year while you retain membership. It is possible also to compound with a life refusal, but the sum is not fixed, and remains at the discretion of the committee.
Baines is a life member. He saved an old lady from being run over by a motor bus some years ago, and when she died she left him a legacy of 1000. Baines wrote to the executors and pointed out that he did not go about dragging persons from beneath motor buses as a profession; that, if she had offered him 1000 at the time, he would have refused it, not being in the habit of accepting money from strangers, still less from women; and that he did not see that the fact of the money being offered two years later in a will made the slightest difference. Baines was earning 300 a year at this time, and had a wife and four children, but he will not admit that he did anything at all out of the common.
The case of Sedley comes up for consideration at the next committee meeting. Sedley's rich uncle, a cantankerous old man, insulted him grossly; there was a quarrel; and the old man left, vowing to revenge himself by disinheriting his nephew and bequeathing his money to a cats' home. He died on his way to his solicitors, and Sedley was told of his good fortune in good legal English. He replied, "What on earth do you take me for? I wouldn't touch a penny. Give it to the cats' home or any blessed thing you like." Sedley, of course, will be elected as an ordinary member, but as there is a strong feeling on the committee that no decent man could have done anything else, his election as a life member is improbable.
Though there are one or two other members like Baines and Sedley, most of them are men who have refused professional openings rather than actual money. There are, for instance, half a dozen journalists and authors. Now a journalist, before he can be elected, must have a black-list of papers for which he will refuse to write. A concocted wireless message in the Daily Blank, which subsequent events proved to have been invented deliberately for the purpose of raking in ha'pennies, so infuriated Henderson (to take a case) that he has pledged himself never to write a line for any paper owned by the same proprietors. Curiously enough he was asked a day or two later to contribute a series to a most respectable magazine published by this firm. He refused in a letter which breathed hatred and utter contempt in every word. It was Henderson, too, who resigned his position as dramatic critic because the proprietor of his paper did rather a shady thing in private life. "I know the paper isn't mixed up in it at all," he said, "but he's my employer and he pays me. Well, I like to be loyal to my employers, and if I'm loyal to this man I can't go about telling everybody that he's a dirty cad. As I particularly want to."
Then there is the case of Bolus the author. He is only an honorary member, for he has not as yet had the opportunity of refusing money or work. But he has refused to be photographed and interviewed, and he has refused to contribute to symposia in the monthly magazines. He has declined with thanks, moreover, invitations to half a dozen houses sent to him by hostesses who only knew him by reputation. Myself, I think it is time that he was elected a full member; indirectly he must have been a financial loser by his action, and even if he is not actually assisting to topple over the Money God, he is at least striking a blow for the cause of independence. However, there he is, and with him goes a certain M.P. who contributed 20,000 to the party chest, and refused scornfully the peerage which was offered to him.
The Bar is represented by P. J. Brewster, who was elected for refusing to defend a suspected murderer until he had absolutely convinced himself of the man's innocence. It was suggested to him by his legal brothers that counsel did not pledge themselves to the innocence of their clients, but merely put the case for one side in a perfectly detached way, according to the best traditions of the Bar. Brewster replied that he was also quite capable of putting the case for Tariff Reform in a perfectly detached way according to the best traditions of The Morning Post, but as he was a Free Trader he thought he would refuse any such offer if it were made to him. He added, however, that he was not in the present case worrying about moral points of view; he was simply expressing his opinion that the luxury of not having little notes passed to him in court by a probable murderer, of not sharing a page in an illustrated paper with him, and of not having to shake hands with him if he were acquitted, was worth paying for. Later on, when as K.C., M.P., he refused the position of standing counsel to a paper which he was always attacking in the House, he became a life member of the club.
But it would be impossible to mention all the members of the D.W.T. by name. I have been led on to speaking about the club by the mention of that Mr. Smith (or whatever his name was) who refused to be made a justice of the peace. If Mr. Smith cared to put up as an honorary member, I have no doubt that he would be elected; for though it is against the Money God that the chief battle is waged, yet the spirit of refusal is the same. "Blessed are they who know how to refuse," runs the club's motto, "for they will have a chance to be clean."
On Going into a House
It is nineteen years since I lived in a house; nineteen years since I went upstairs to bed and came downstairs to breakfast. Of course I have done these things in other people's houses from time to time, but what we do in other people's houses does not count. We are holiday-making then. We play cricket and golf and croquet, and run up and down stairs, and amuse ourselves in a hundred difierent ways, but all this is no fixed part of our life. Now, however, for the first time for nineteen years, I am actually living in a house. I have (imagine my excitement) a staircase of my own.
Flats may be convenient (I thought so myself when I lived in one some days ago), but they have their disadvantages. One of the disadvantages is that you are never in complete possession of the flat. You may think that the drawing-room floor (to take a case) is your very own, but it isn't; you share it with a man below who uses it as a ceiling. If you want to dance a step-dance, you have to consider his plaster. I was always ready enough to accommodate myself in this matter to his prejudices, but I could not put up with his old-fashioned ideas about bathroom ceilings. It is very cramping to one's style in the bath to reflect that the slightest splash may call attention to itself on the ceiling of the gentleman below. This is to share a bathroom with a stranger—an intolerable position for a proud man. To-day I have a bathroom of my own for the first time in my life.
I can see already that living in a house is going to be extraordinarily healthy both for mind and body. At present I go upstairs to my bedroom (and downstairs again) about once in every half-hour; not simply from pride of ownership, to make sure that the bedroom is still there, and that the staircase is continuing to perform its functions, but in order to fetch something, a letter or a key, which as likely as not I have forgotten about again as soon as I have climbed to the top of the house. No such exercise as this was possible in a flat, and even after two or three days I feel the better for it. But obviously I cannot go on like this, if I am to have leisure for anything else. With practice I shall so train my mind that, when I leave my bedroom in the morning, I leave it with everything that I can possibly require until nightfall. This, I imagine, will not happen for some years yet; meanwhile physical training has precedence.
Getting up to breakfast means something different now; it means coming down to breakfast. To come down to breakfast brings one immediately in contact with the morning. The world flows past the window, that small and (as it seems to me) particularly select portion of the world which finds itself in our quiet street; I can see it as I drink my tea. When I lived in a flat (days and days ago) anything might have happened to London, and I should never have known it until the afternoon. Everybody else could have perished in the night, and I should settle down as complacently as ever to my essay on making the world safe for democracy. Not so now. As soon as I have reached the bottom of my delightful staircase I am one with the outside world.
Also one with the weather, which is rather convenient. On the third floor it is almost impossible to know what sort of weather they are having in London. A day which looks cold from a third- floor window may be very sultry down below, but by that time one is committed to an overcoat. How much better to live in a house, and to step from one's front door and inhale a sample of whatever day the gods have sent. Then one can step back again and dress accordingly.
But the best of a house is that it has an outside personality as well as an inside one. Nobody, not even himself, could admire a man's flat from the street; nobody could look up and say, "What very delightful people must live behind those third-floor windows." Here it is different. Any of you may find himself some day in our quiet street, and stop a moment to look at our house; at the blue door with its jolly knocker, at the little trees in their blue tubs standing within a ring of blue posts linked by chains, at the bright-coloured curtains. You may not like it, but we shall be watching you from one of the windows, and telling each other that you do. In any case, we have the pleasure of looking at it ourselves, and feeling that we are contributing something to London, whether for better or for worse. We are part of a street now, and can take pride in that street. Before, we were only part of a big unmanageable building. It is a solemn thought that I have got this house for (apparently) eighty-seven years. One never knows, and it may be that by the end of that time I shall be meditating an article on the advantages of living in a flat. A flat, I shall say, is so convenient.
The Ideal Author
Samuel Butler made a habit (and urged it upon every young writer) of carrying a notebook about with him. The most profitable ideas, he felt, do not come from much seeking, but rise unbidden in the mind, and if they are not put down at once on paper, they may be lost for ever. But with a notebook in the pocket you are safe; no thought is too fleeting to escape you. Thus, if an inspiration for a five-thousand word story comes suddenly to you during the dessert, you murmur an apology to your neighbour, whip out your pocket-book, and jot down a few rough notes. "Hero choked peach- stone eve marriage Lady Honoria. Pchtree planted by jltd frst love. Ironyofthings. Tragic." Next morning you extract your notebook from its white waistcoat, and prepare to develop your theme (if legible) a little more fully. Possibly it does not seem so brilliant in the cold light of morning as it did after that fourth glass of Bollinger. If this be so, you can then make another note—say, for a short article on "Disillusionment." One way or another a notebook and a pencil will keep you well supplied with material.
If I do not follow Butler's advice myself, it is not because I get no brilliant inspirations away from my inkpot, nor because, having had the inspirations, I am capable of retaining them until I get back to my inkpot again, but simply because I should never have the notebook and the pencil in the right pockets. But though I do not imitate him, I can admire his wisdom, even while making fun of it. Yet I am sure it was unwise of him to take the public into his confidence. The public prefers to think that an author does not require these earthly aids to composition. It will never quite reconcile itself to the fact that an author is following a profession— a profession by means of which he pays the rent and settles the weekly bills. No doubt the public wants its favourite writers to go on living, but not in the sordid way that its barrister and banker friends live. It would prefer to feel that manna dropped on them from Heaven, and that the ravens erected them a residence; but, having regretfully to reject this theory, it likes to keep up the pretence that the thousand pounds that an author received for his last story came as something of a surprise to him—being, in fact, really more of a coincidence than a reward.
The truth is that a layman will never take an author quite seriously. He regards authorship, not as a profession, but as something between au inspiration and a hobby. In as far as it is an inspiration, it is a gift from Heaven, and ought, therefore, to be shared with the rest of the world; in as far as it is a hobby, it is something which should be done not too expertly, but in a casual, amateur, haphazard fashion. For this reason a layman will never hesitate to ask of an author a free contribution for some local publication, on such slender grounds as that he and the author were educated at the same school or had both met Robinson. But the same man would be horrified at the idea of asking a Harley Street surgeon (perhaps even more closely connected with him) to remove his adenoids for nothing. To ask for this (he would feel) would be almost as bad as to ask a gift of ten guineas (or whatever the fee is), whereas to ask a writer for an article is like asking a friend to decant your port for you—a delicate compliment to his particular talent. But in truth the matter is otherwise; and it is the author who has the better right to resent such a request. For the supply of available adenoids is limited, and if the surgeon hesitates to occupy himself in removing one pair for nothing, it does not follow that in the time thus saved he can be certain of getting employment upon a ten-guinea pair. But when a Harley Street author has written an article, there are a dozen papers which will give him his own price for it, and if he sends it to his importunate schoolfellow for nothing, he is literally giving up, not only ten or twenty or a hundred guineas, but a publicity for his work which he may prize even more highly. Moreover, he has lost what can never be replaced— an idea; whereas the surgeon would have lost nothing.
Since, then, the author is not to be regarded as a professional, he must by no means adopt the professional notebook. He is to write by inspiration; which comes as regularly to him (it is to be presumed) as indigestion to a lesser-favoured mortal. He must know things by intuition; not by experience or as the result of reading. This, at least, is what one gathers from hearing some people talk about our novelists. The hero of Smith's new book goes to the Royal College of Science, and the public says scornfully: "Of course, he WOULD. Because Smith went to the Royal College himself, all his heroes have to go there. This isn't art, this is photography." In his next novel Smith sends his hero to Cambridge, and the public says indignantly, "What the deuce does SMITH know about Cambridge? Trying to pretend he is a 'Varsity man, when everybody knows that he went to the Royal College of Science! I suppose he's been mugging it up in a book." Perhaps Brown's young couple honeymoons in Switzerland. "So did Brown," sneer his acquaintances. Or they go to Central Africa. "How ridiculous," say his friends this time. "Why, he actually writes as though he'd been there! I suppose he's just spent a week-end with Sir Harry Johnston." Meredith has been blamed lately for being so secretive about his personal affairs, but he knew what he was doing. Happy is the writer who has no personal affairs; at any rate, he will avoid this sort of criticism.
Indeed, Isaiah was the ideal author. He intruded no private affairs upon the public. He took no money for his prophecies, and yet managed to live on it. He responded readily, I imagine, to any request for "something prophetic, you know," from acquaintances or even strangers. Above all, he kept to one style, and did not worry the public, when once it had got used to him, by tentative gropings after a new method. And Isaiah, we may be sure, did NOT carry a notebook.
End of Not That it Matters.