Having decided to write on Easter, I took out a volume of The Encyclopdia Britannica in order to make up the subject of eggs, and the first entry under "Egg" that met my eye was:
"EGG, AUGUSTUS LEOPOLD (1816-1863), English painter, was born on the 2nd of May, 1816, in London, where his father carried on business as a gun-maker."
I wish I had known about Augustus five years ago. I should like to have celebrated the centenary of an egg somewhere else than in a London tea-shop. Augustus Leopold Egg seems to have spent a life in keeping with his name. He was taught drawing by Mr Sass, and in later years was a devotee of amateur theatricals, making a memorable appearance, as we should expect of an Egg, in a play called Not so Bad as We Seem. He also appears to have devoted a great part of his life to painting bad eggs, if we may judge by the titles of his most famous pictures—Buckingham Rebuffed, Queen Elizabeth discovers she is no longer young, Peter the Great sees Catherine for the First Time, and Past and Present, a Triple Picture of a Faithless Wife. She was a lady, no doubt, who could not submit to the marriage yolk. Anyhow, she had a great fall, and Augustus did his best to put her together again. "Egg," the Encyclopdia tells us finally, "was rather below the middle height, with dark hair and a handsome, well-formed face." He seems to have been a man, take him for all in all: we shall not look upon his like again.
Even so, Augustus was not the only Egg. He was certainly not the egg in search of which I opened the Encyclopdia. The egg I was looking for was the Easter egg, and it seemed to be the only egg that was not mentioned. There were birds' eggs, and reptiles' eggs, and fishes' eggs, and molluscs' eggs, and crustaceans' eggs, and insects' eggs, and frogs' eggs, and Augustus Egg, and the eggs of the duck-billed platypus, which is the only mammal (except the spiny ant-eater) whose eggs are "provided with a large store of yolk, enclosed within a shell, and extruded to undergo development apart from the maternal tissues." I do not know whether it is evidence of the irrelevance of the workings of the human mind or of our implacable greed of knowledge, but within five minutes I was deep in the subject of eggs in general, and had forgotten all about the Easter variety. I found myself fascinated especially by the eggs of fishes. There are so many of them that one was impressed as one is on being told the population of London. "It has been calculated," says the writer of the article, "that the number laid by the salmon is roughly about 1000 to every pound weight of the fish, a 15-lb. salmon laying 15,000 eggs. The sturgeon lays about 7,000,000; the herring 50,000; the turbot 14,311,000; the sole 134,000; the perch 280,000." This is the sort of sentence I always read over to myself several times. And when I come to "the turbot, 14,311,000," I pause, and try to picture to myself the man who counted them. How does one count 14,311,000? How long does it take? If one lay awake all night, trying to put oneself to sleep by counting turbots' eggs instead of sheep, one would hardly have done more than make a fair start by the time the maid came in to draw the curtains and let in the sun on one's exhausted temples. A person like myself, ignorant of mathematics, could not easily count more that 10,000 in an hour. This would mean that, even if one lay in bed for ten hours, which one never does except on one's birthday, one would have counted only 100,000 out of the 14,311,000 eggs by the time one had to get up for breakfast. That would leave 14,211,000 still to be counted At this point, most of us, I think, would give it up in despair. After one horrible night's experience, we would jump into a hot bath muttering: "Never again! Never again!" like a statesman who can't think of anything to say, and send out for a quinine-and-iron tonic. Our friends meeting us later in the day would say with concern: "Hullo! you're looking rather cheap. What have you been doing?"; and when we answered bitterly: "Counting turbots' eggs," they would hurry off with an apprehensive look on their faces. The naturalist, it is clear, must be capable of a persistence that is beyond the reach of most of us. I calculate that, if he were able to work for 14 hours a day, counting at the rate of 10,000 an hour, even then it would take him 122-214 days to count the eggs of a single turbot. After that, it would take a chartered accountant at least 122-214 days to check his figures. One can gather from this some idea of the enormous industry of men of science. For myself, I could more easily paint the Sistine Madonna or compose a Tenth Symphony than be content to loose myself into this universe of numbers. Pythagoras, I believe, discovered a sort of philosophy in numbers, but even he did not count beyond seven.
After the fishes, the reptiles seem fairly modest creatures. The ordinary snake does not lay more than twenty or thirty eggs, and even the python is content to stop at a hundred. The crocodile, though a wicked animal, lays only twenty or thirty; the tortoise as few as two or four; and the turtle does not exceed two hundred. But I am not really interested in eggs—not, at least, in any eggs but birds' eggs—or should not have been, if I had not read The Encyclopdia Britannica. The sight of a fly's egg—if the fly lays an egg—fills me with disgust—and frogs' eggs attract me only with the fascination of repulsion. What one likes about the birds is that they lay such pretty eggs. Even the duck lays a pretty egg The duck is a plain bird, rather like a char-woman, but it lays an egg which is (or can be) as lovely as an opal. The flavour, I agree, is not Christian, but, like other eggs of which this can be said, it does for cooking. Hens' eggs are less attractive in colour, but more varied. I have always thought it one of the chief miseries of being a man that, when boiled eggs are put on the table, one does not get first choice, and that all the little brown eggs are taken by women and children before one's own turn comes round. There is one sort of egg with a beautiful sunburnt look that always reminds me of the seaside, and that I have not tasted in a private house for above twenty years. To begin the day with such an egg would put one in a good temper for a couple of hours. But always one is fobbed off with a large white egg of demonstrative uncomeliness. It may taste all right, but it does not look all right. Food should appeal to the eye as well as to the palate, as everyone recognises when the blancmange that has not set is brought to the table. At the same time, there is one sort of white egg that is quite delightful to look at. I do not know its parent, but I think it is a black hen of the breed called Spanish. Not everything white in Nature is beautiful. One dislikes instinctively white calves, white horses, white elephants and white waistcoats. But the particular egg of which I speak is one of the beautiful white things—like snow, or a breaking wave, or teeth. So certain am I, however, that neither it nor the little brown one will ever come my way, while there is a woman or a child or a guest to prevent it, that when I am asked how I like the eggs to be done I make it a point to say "poached" or "fried." It gives me at least a chance of getting one of the sort of eggs I like by accident. As for poached eggs, I agree. There are nine ways of poaching eggs, and each of them is worse than the other. Still, there is one good thing about poached eggs: one is never disappointed. One accepts a poached egg like fate. There is no sitting on tenterhooks, watching and waiting and wondering, as there is in regard to boiled eggs. I admit that most of the difficulties associated with boiled eggs could be got over by the use of egg-cosies—appurtenances of the breakfast table that stirred me to the very depths of delight when I first set eyes on them as a child. It was at a mothers' meeting, where I was the only male present. Thousands of women sat round me, sewing and knitting things for a church bazaar. Much might be written about egg-cosies. Much might be said for and much against. They would be effective, however only if it were regarded as a point of honour not to look under the cosy before choosing the egg. And the sense of honour, they say, is a purely masculine attribute. Children never had it, and women have lost it. I do not know a single woman whom I would trust not to look under an egg cosy—not, at least, unless she were forbidden eggs by the doctor. In that case, any egg would seem delicious, and she would seize the nearest, irrespective of class or colour.
This may not explain the connection between eggs and Easter. But then neither does The Encyclopdia Britannica. I have looked up both the article on eggs and the article on Easter, and in neither of them can I find anything more relevant than such remarks as that "the eggs of the lizard are always white or yellowish, and generally soft-shelled; but the geckos and the green lizards lay hard-shelled eggs" or "Gregory of Tours relates that in 577 there was a doubt about Easter." In order to learn something about Easter eggs one has to turn to some such work as The Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, which tells us that "the practice of presenting eggs to our friends at Easter is Magian or Persian, and bears allusion to the mundane egg, for which Ormuzd and Ahriman were to contend till the consummation of all things." The advantage of reading Tit-Bits is that one gets to know hundreds of things like that. The advantage of not reading Tit-Bits is that one is so ignorant of them that a piece of information of this sort is as fresh and unexpected as the morning's news every Easter Monday. Next Easter, I feel sure, I shall look it up again. I shall have forgotten all about the mundane egg, even if Ormuzd and Ahriman have not. I shall be thinking more about my breakfast egg. What a piece of work is a man! And yet many profound things might be said about eggs, mundane or otherwise. I wish I could have thought of them.
ENTER THE SPRING
One would imagine from the way in which some people are talking that this is an early spring. I do not think it is. The daffodils certainly came before the swallows dared, but they came reluctantly and in less generous profusion than usual—at least, in one county. As for the swallow, it may have arrived by Saturday, but it has not arrived on the day on which I am writing. "About the middle of March," says Mr Coward, "the first swallows arrive," but I have met no one who has seen one even in the first week in April. The sky seems empty without them. This is, no doubt, an illusion. There are plenty of rooks and pigeons, and there are always starlings desperately hustling from the chimney-pot across to the plum-tree and back again. But the starling is most interesting, not when he is in the air, but when he is at rest—making queer noises in his effulgent, tight-fitting clothes, sometimes like a baby in a cradle, sometimes like a girl trying to whistle, always experimenting with sound rather than singing. One looks forward to the swallows and martins and swifts because they really do live the life of the air. The sky is their domain, and no roof or tree or even telegraph wire. Till they arrive the air is an all but stagnant pool. They transform it into a scene of whirlpools. They do for the air what the hum of insects does for the garden. They banish the stillness of winter and lead the year in the movements of a remembered dance. Spring, however, awakens gradually, and does not plunge precipitately into an orgy. First, the home birds sing, or rather redouble their singing, for the wren and the robin hardly ever left off. This, I think, must be an exceptional year for the chorus of wrens. Last year the lane that leads to the station was at this time a lane of chaffinches: this year it is a lane of wrens. Last year the garden was a garden of thrushes: this year it is a garden of wrens. That is possibly an exaggeration, but this little Tetrazzini among the birds has never seemed to me to trill so dominantly and over so wide a rule. As for the thrushes, I do not know what has happened to them. I heard plenty of them on the outskirts of London in February, but here, fifty miles from London, it is as though they were an exterminated race. Whether gardeners or cats or some other epidemic is to blame, the trees are silent of them. Even the blackbird is not too common here this year, but then a country gardener regards a blackbird as a Turk regards an Armenian. I wish thrushes and blackbirds could read, so that one could put up a notice offering them sanctuary even at the expense of one's gooseberries and strawberries. Strange that a strawberry should appear more delightful to anyone than the song of a blackbird! I know, I may say, the feeling of helpless rage that wells up in the human breast at the sight of a blackbird stealing one's strawberries. Thank God, I am not impervious to moral indignation. If shouting "Stop thief!" could save the strawberries, my voice would be for saving them. But I do not believe in capital punishment for petty theft, and, anyhow, if I must lose either a song or a strawberry, I had rather lose the strawberry.
The larks luckily take to the fields and do not trust themselves near either cats or gardeners. They do not always escape even in the fields, and the dead bodies of some of them are served in a pudding in a Fleet Street restaurant. But, on the whole, considering what a dangerous neighbour man is, they escape fairly lightly. There is a sort of "live and let live" truce between them and the human race. The chaffinches, too—the greatest bird multitude there is, perhaps, after the house-sparrows—are free enough to sing. They have been, during the past week, sailing out on short voyages from the tops of trees, like flycatchers, dancing in the air after their victims and then returning to the spray. The green-finch—that beautiful-winged Mrs Gummidge among birds—is also abundant, and slips down nervously every now and then among the groundsel in the unweeded garden. I confess the greenfinch has all my sympathy, but it rather bores me. What the deuce is it worrying about? There is no poetry in its lamentation—only a sort of habitual formula of a poor, lorn woman. If birds could read, I think I should add to the notices I put up a little board containing the words:
"No bottles. No hawkers, No greenfinches."
I should feel really sorry if they took any notice of my notice, but it might convey a hint to them that it would be good policy on their part to cheer up for at least five minutes in the day and that, in any case, there is no need to say the same thing over and over again. Every bird, it is true, says the same thing over and over again—at any rate, more or less the same thing. Birds such as the robin and the thrush vary their song as the chaffinch and the willow-wren do not. But even the robin and the thrush have a recognisable pattern. Fortunately, they are not always, like the greenfinch, thinking of the old 'un and thinking out loud.
The goldfinches have begun to fly about the garden again with their little sequins of song, as someone has delightfully described their music. They have their eyes, I hope, on the pear-tree—now as white as an Alp—where they built and brought up a large family last year. The cornflowers in the flower border are already in bud, and I am told that this is the temptation to which goldfinches most easily yield. I hope so, at any rate. I should have a garden blue with cornflowers, if I were sure that this would entice the seven colours of the goldfinch to make their home in it. Last Saturday, two lesser spotted woodpeckers invaded the garden. One always imagines a woodpecker as a bird of more substantial size, and it is surprising to see this little creature, patterned on the back like something made in the Omega workshop, no bigger than a sparrow, as it hastily visits apple and fig tree and even wygelia. As it climbed the wygelia, indeed, a sparrow stooped down from an upper branch to study it, and then advanced in the direction of the woodpecker. The woodpecker lay back from the trunk of the tree—lying on its back in the air, as it were, and fluttering its wings while holding on with its claws—and seemed to invite the sparrow to come on. I don't think the sparrow had ever seen a woodpecker before. Its curiosity rather than its wrath was aroused by the strange spectacle. It did not want to hurt the foreigner, but only to look at him. After having looked its fill, it moved off to a safer tree. Then the woodpecker, whose heart had no doubt been in its boots for the past five minutes, also loosed its hold on the bark and made off over the gate for a less exciting garden.
Outside the garden the spring began on Good Friday. It came in with the chiffchaff. For three years in succession I have heard the first chiffchaff in exactly the same place—a clump of nut-trees on the top of a high bank. At this time of year, too, before the leaves are out, it is easy to see it. And there are few more charming birds to watch. With its little beak as slender as a grass-seed, and its body moving among the branches like a tiny shadow rather than flesh and bones, it pauses again and again in the midst of its eating to take an upward glance and utter its mite of music—as monotonous as a Thibetan's praying wheel. Still lovelier is the willow-wren that follows it. It is as though the chiffchaff were the first sketch of a willow-wren. The willow-wren is the perfected work of art, with little shades of green added and a voice that, small though its range is, is perhaps the most exquisite that will fill the air till the nightingale arrives. When I went out on Sunday morning, I prophesied that I would hear the first willow-wren, and, though I heard only one in a hill-side copse where the cowslips are just getting their bells ready, the prophecy came true. Not that I am much of a prophet. I don't know how often I have prophesied the arrival of the swallow. And, indeed, it is the surprises in nature, rather than the things that one foresees, that are the pleasantest—especially if one is easily surprised, as I am. Whoever ceases to be surprised, for instance, by the sight of a goldcrested wren? I heard its tiny pinpoint of voice last Sunday afternoon when I was walking past a plantation where the bullace was in flower, and, on looking into the trees, saw the little thimble-sized creature making free with invisible insects—his beak is hardly big enough to eat a visible one—and performing acrobatics like a tit. One of the charms of the goldcrest is that he does not look on a human being as a wild beast. The blackbird regards a man as a policeman; the greenfinch bolts for it if you so much as look at him, but the goldcrest feels as secure in your presence as if you were behind bars in a cage in the Zoological Gardens. One could probably make him jump if one went up to him and shouted suddenly into his ear, or even by making a violent gesture. But his first instinct is not to run. That, for a bird, is a considerable compliment. There can be nothing more distressing to a man of strictly honourable intentions than to have to creep about hedges furtively like a criminal in order to get a good look at a bird. Why he should want to look at birds at all it is difficult to explain. I suppose it is a sort of disease, like going to the "movies" or doing exercises. All I know is that, if you get it, you get it very badly. You would stop Shakespeare himself, if he were reciting a new sonnet to you, and bid him be quiet and look half-way up the elm where the nuthatch was beating away—up and down, like a blacksmith—at a nut or something in a knob of the tree. St Paul might be reading out to you the first draft of his Epistle to the Romans; you would quite unscrupulously interrupt him with a "Hush, man! There's a tree-creeper somewhere about. Listen, there he is! If you keep quiet, perhaps we'll be able to see him." I assure you, it is as bad as that. As for a man who takes out a noisy dog, or who whacks at loose stones with his stick on the road, you would regard him as a misbehaved and riotous person and would not call him your friend. Everything has to be subordinated to the hope of catching sight of a hypothetical bird—which you have probably seen dozens of times already. Truly, there is no accounting for human vices. There is, however, at least this to be said in favour of bird-watching, that it is the pleasantest of the vices, that it is cheaper than golf, and does not harden the arteries like tea-drinking. And after all, if one is going to get excited at all, one may as well get excited about the colours and songs of birds as about most things.
THE DAREDEVIL BARBER
To roll over Niagara Falls in a barrel is an odd way of courting death, but it seems that death must be courted somehow. Danger is more attractive to many men than drink. They prefer gambling with their lives to gambling with their money. They have the gambler's faith in their lucky star. They are preoccupied with the vision of victory to the exclusion of all timid thoughts. They have a dramatic sense that sets them anticipatorily on a stage, bowing to the applause of the multitude. It is the applause, I fancy, rather than the peril itself, that entices them. The average boy who performs a deed of derring-do performs it before his admiring fellows. Even in so small a thing as ringing a bell and running away he likes to have spectators. Few boys ring bells out of mischief when they are alone. Poor Mr Charles Stephens, the "Daredevil Barber" of Bristol, who lost his life at Niagara Falls in his six-foot barrel the other Sunday, made sure that there would be plenty of witnesses of his adventure. Not only had he a party of sightseers in motors along the road following the cask on its perilous voyage but he had a cinematograph photographer ready to immortalise the affair on a film. Two other persons, it is said, had already accomplished a similar feat. One of them, a woman, "was just about gone," according to a witness, "when we got her out of the barrel." The other "was a used-up man for several weeks." This however, did not deter the daredevil barber. Had he not already on one occasion put his head into a lion's mouth? Had he not boxed in a lion's den? Had he not stood up to men with rifles who shot lumps of sugar from his head? It may seem an extraordinary way to behave in a world in which there are so many reasonable opportunities for heroism, but men are extraordinary creatures. There is no adventure so wild that they will not embark on it. There are men who, if they took it into their heads that there was one chance in a hundred of reaching the moon by being precipitated into space in some kind of torpedo, would volunteer for the adventure. They do these mad things alike for trivial and noble ends. They love a stunt even (or especially) at the risk of their lives. Half the aeroplane accidents are due to the fact that many men prefer risk to safety. To do some things that other people cannot do seems to them the only way of justifying their existence. It is an initiation into aristocracy. Every man is the rival of all other men, and he is not satisfied till he has beaten them. If he is a great cricketer, or a great poet, or a Cabinet Minister, or wins the Derby, his ambition as a rule is fulfilled and he does not feel the need of jumping down Etna or hanging by his toes from the Eiffel Tower in order to create a sensation. But if a man is no use at either poetry or football, he must do something. Blondin became a world-famous figure simply by walking along a tight-rope along which neither Shakespeare nor Shelley could have walked. It may be that they would have had no desire to walk along it, but in any case Blondin was able to feel that he could beat the greatest of men in at least one game. In his own business he stood above the Apostle Paul and Michelangelo and Napoleon. He was a king and, even if you did not envy him his trade, you had to envy him his throne. He was a man you would have liked to meet at dinner, not for the sake of his conversation, but for the sake of his uniqueness. One remembers how one stood with heart in mouth as he set out with his balancing-pole in his hand on his journey across the rope blindfolded and pretending to stumble every ten yards. A single false step and he would have fallen from the height of a tower to certain death, for there was no net to catch him. Strange that one should have cared whether he fell or not! But ninety-nine out of a hundred did care. We watched him as breathlessly as though he were carrying the future of the world in his hands. He knew that he was interesting us, engrossing us, and that was his reward. It was a reward, no doubt, that could be measured in gold. But it is more than greed of gold that sets men courting death in such ways. The joy of being unique is at least as great as the joy of being rich. And the surest way of becoming unique is to trail one's coat in the presence of Death and challenge him to tread on the tail of it.
Not that even the most daring seeker after uniqueness fails to take numerous precautions for his safety. No man is mad enough to set out along a tight-rope in hobnailed boots with out previous practice. No woman who has not learned to swim has ever tried to swim the English Channel from Dover to Cape Grisnez. Even the daredevil barber of Bristol insured himself, so far as he could, against the perils of his adventure. He had an oxygen tank in the barrel which would have kept him alive for a time if the barrel had not been swept under the Falls, and he had friends patrolling the waters to recover the barrel. Like the schoolboy who takes risks, he did not feel that he was going to get caught. "I have the greatest confidence," he said, "that I shall come through all right." His previous escapes must have given him the assurance that he was not born to die of danger. Not only had he served through the war, but he had once plucked a woman from the railway line when the express was so near that it tore her skirt. He must have felt that one man at least could live in perfect safety in the kingdom of danger. He was probably less nervous as he crept into his barrel than a schoolgirl would be in getting into the boat on the chute. He had we may be sure, his thrill, but was it the thrill of being in peril or the thrill of being conspicuous? Some men, of course, there are who love danger for danger's sake, and who would run risks in an empty world. Men of this kind make good spies, and, in their youth, good burglars. Theirs is the desire of the moth for the star—or at any rate of the moth that feels it is different from every other moth and can successfully dare the candle flame. To play with fire and not to be consumed is a universal pleasure. The child passes its finger through the gas-flame and glories in the sensation. It is like playing a game of touch with danger. The triumph of escape gives one a delicious moment. That is why many men invent dangers for themselves. It is simply for the pleasure of escaping them. There are boys who enjoy wrenching knockers off doors, not because knockers are an interesting kind of bric—brac, but because there is just a chance of being caught in the act by the police. I once knew a youth who had a drawer filled with knockers. He felt as proud of them as a young Indian would have been of an equal number of the scalps of his enemies. They proved that he was a brave. Every man would like to be a brave, though every man dare not. I confess I never had much ambition to wrench knockers, but that may have been because I was perfectly content with the world as it is without making it any more dangerous. I often think that people who put their heads into lions' mouths do not realise what a dangerous place the planet is without any artificial stimulus.
Did the daredevil barber of Bristol ever realise, I wonder, the danger he was in every time he raised a fork with a piece of roast beef to his lips? Either the beef might have choked him or it might have given him ptomaine poisoning, or, if it failed of either of these, there are at least half-a-dozen fatal diseases which vegetarians say are caused by eating it. Even if we take for granted that there is little danger in plain beef, are there not curries and sausages and pork-pies on which a lover of risks may exercise his daring in the restaurants? I know people who are afraid to eat fish on a Monday lest it may have gone bad over the week-end. Others live in terror of mackerel and herrings. I myself have always admired the gallantry of Londoners who go into a chance restaurant and order lobster or curried prawns. Then there are all the tinned foods, a spoil for heroes. I have known a V.C. who was frightened of tinned salmon. And a man's food is not more beset with perils than his drink. Even if he confines himself to water, he is in danger at every sip. If the water is too hard, it may deposit destruction in his arteries. If it is too soft, it may give his child rickets. Or it may be populous with germs and give him typhoid fever. If, on the other hand, he is dissatisfied with the drink of the beasts and takes to beverages the use of which distinguishes men from oxen, what a nightmare procession of potential ills lies in wait for him! You may read an account of them in any temperance tract. The very enumeration of them would drive a weak man to water, if water itself were not suspect. But, alas, even to breathe is to put oneself in danger. There are more germs in a bus than there are stars in the firmament, and one cannot walk along the Strand without all sorts of bacilli shooting their little arrows at one at every breath. If men realised these things—truly realised them—they would see that there is no need to go to the North Pole in order to live dangerously. A walk from Charing Cross to St Paul's would then be seen to be as rich in hairbreadth escapes as a voyage to an island of head-hunters. The man who lives the most thrilling life I know is a man who rarely stirs beyond his garden. Every time he is pricked by a thorn or gets a little earth in his finger-nail, he rushes into the house to bathe his hands in lysol and, for days afterwards, he keeps feeling his jaw to see whether it is stiffening with the first signs of tetanus. He lives in a condition of recurrent alarm. He gets more frights in a week than an ordinary traveller could get in a year. I have often advised him to give up gardening, seeing that he finds it so exciting. I have come to the conclusion, however, that he enjoys those half-hourly rushes to the lysol-bottle—the desperate game of hide-and-seek with lockjaw. He needs no barrel to roll him over Niagara in order to gaze into "the bright eyes of danger." He finds all the danger he wants at the root of the meanest brussels sprout that blows.
WEEDS: AN APPRECIATION
A weed, says the dictionary, is "any plant that is useless, troublesome, noxious or grows where it is not wanted." The dictionary also adds: "colloq., a cigar." We may omit for our present purpose the harmless colloquialism, but the rest of the definition deserves to be closely examined. Socrates, I imagine, could have found a number of pointed questions to put to the dictionary maker. He might have begun with two of the commonest weeds, the nettle and the dandelion. Having got his opponent—and the opponents of Socrates were all of the same mental build as Sherlock Holmes's Dr Watson—eagerly to admit that the nettle was a weed, he would at once put the definition to the test. "The story goes," he would say, quoting Mrs. Clark Nuttall's admirable work, Wild Flowers as They Grow, "that the Roman soldiers brought the most venomous of the stinging nettles to England to flagellate themselves with when they were benumbed with the cold of this—to them—terribly inclement isle. It is certain," he would add from the same source, "that physicians at one time employed nettles to sting paralysed limbs into vigour again, also to cure rheumatism. In view of all this," he would ask, "does it not follow either that the nettle is not a weed or that your definition of a weed is mistaken?" And his opponent would be certain to answer: "It does follow, O Socrates." A second opponent, however, would rashly take up the argument. He would point out that even if the Romans had a mistaken notion that nettle-stings were useful as a preventive of cold feet, and if our superstitious ancestors made use of them to cure rheumatism, as our superstitious contemporaries resort to bee-stings for the same purpose, the nettle was at all times probably useless and is certainly useless to-day. Socrates would turn to him with a quiet smile and ask: "When we say that a plant is useless, do we mean merely that we as a matter of fact make no use of it, or that it would be of no use even if we did make use of it?" And the reply would leap out: "Undoubtedly the latter, O Socrates." Socrates would then remember his Mrs. Nuttall again, and refer to an old herbal which claimed that "excessive corpulency may be reduced" by taking a few nettle-seeds daily. He would admit that he had never made a trial of this cure, as he had no desire to get rid of the corpulency with which the gods had seen fit to endow him. He would claim, however, that the usefulness of the nettle had been proved as an article of diet, that it was once a favourite vegetable in Scotland, that it had helped to keep people alive at the time of the Irish famine, and that even during the recent war it had been recommended as an excellent substitute for spinach. "May we not put it in this way," he would ask, "that you call a nettle useless merely because you yourself do not make use of it?" "It seems that you are right, O Socrates." "And would you call an aeroplane useless, merely because you yourself have never made use of an aeroplane? Or a pig useless, merely because you yourself do not eat pork?" There would be a great wagging of heads among the opponents, after which a third would pluck up courage to say: "But, surely, Socrates, nettles as we know them to-day are simply noxious plants that fulfil no function but to sting our children?" Socrates would say, after a moment's pause: "That certainly is an argument that deserves serious consideration. A weed, then, is to be condemned, you think, not for its uselessness, but for its noxiousness?" This would be agreed to. "Then," he would pursue his questions, "you would probably call monkshood a weed, seeing that it has been the cause not merely of pain but even of death itself to many children." His opponent would grow angry at this, and exclaim: "Why, I cultivate monkshood in my own garden. It is one of the most beautiful of the flowers." Then there would be some wrangling as to whether ugliness was the test of weeds, till Socrates would make it clear that this would involve omitting speedwell and the scarlet pimpernel from the list. Someone else would contend that the essence of a weed was its troublesomeness, but Socrates would counter this by asking them whether horseradish was not a far more troublesome thing in a garden than foxgloves. "Oh," one of the disputants would cry in desperation, "let us simply say that a weed is any plant that is not wanted in the place where it is growing." "You would call groundsel a weed in the garden of a man who does not keep a canary, but not a weed in the garden of a man who does?" "I would." Socrates would burst out laughing at this, and say: "It seems to me that a weed is more difficult to define even than justice. I think we had better change the subject and talk about the immortality of the soul." The only part of the definition of a weed, indeed, that bears a moment's investigation is contained in the three words: "colloq., a cigar."
In my opinion, the safest course is to include among weeds all plants that grow wild. It is also important to get rid of the notion that weeds are necessarily evil things that should be exterminated like rats. I remember some years ago seeing an appalling suggestion that farmers should be compelled by law to clear their land of weeds. The writer, if I remember correctly, even looked forward to the day when a farmer would be fined if a daisy were found growing in one of his fields. Utilitarianism of this kind terrifies the imagination. There are some people who are aghast at the prospect of a world of simplified spelling. But a world of simplified spelling would be Arcadia itself compared to a world without wild flowers. According to certain writers in The Times, however, we are faced with the possibility of a world without wild flowers, even if the Board of Agriculture takes no hand in the business. These writers tell us that the reckless plucking of wild flowers has already led to a great diminution in their numbers. Daffodils grow wild in many parts of England, but, as soon as they appear, hordes of holiday-makers rush to the scene and gather them in such numbers as to injure the life of the plants. I am not enough of a botanist to know whether it is possible in this way to discourage flowers that grow from bulbs. If it is, it seems likely enough that, with the increasing popularity of country walks, there will after a time be no daffodils or orchises left in England. If one were sure of it, one would never pluck a bee-orchis again. One does not know why one plucks it, except that the bee-shaped flower is one of the most exquisite of Nature's toys, and one is greedy of possessing it. Children try to catch butterflies for the same reason. If it were possible to catch a sunset or a blue sea, no doubt we should take them home with us, too. It may be that art is only the transmuted instinct to seize and make our own all the beautiful things we see. The collector of birds' eggs and the painter are both collectors of a beauty that can be known only in hints and fragments. Still, the painter is justified by the fact that his borrowings actually add to the number of beautiful things. If the collector of eggs and the gatherer of flowers can be shown to be actually anti-social in their greed, we cannot be so enthusiastic about them. I confess that on these matters I have an open mind. For all I know, the discussion on wild flowers in The Times may be merely a scare. At the same time, it seems reasonable to believe that if flowers that propagate themselves from seed were all gathered as soon as they appeared, there would before long be no flowers left. I notice that one suggestion has been made to the effect that flower-lovers should provide themselves with seeds and should scatter these in "likely places" during their country walks. I do not like this plotting on Nature's behalf. Besides, it might lead to some rather difficult situations. If this general seed-sowing became a matter of principle, for instance, I should probably sow daisies on my neighbour's tennis lawn, poppies and fumitory in his cornfield, and dandelions in his meadow. It is not that I am devoted to the dandelion as a flower, though it has been praised for its beauty, but at a later stage a meadow of a million dandelion-clocks seems to me to be one of the most beautiful of spectacles. But I would go further than this. I should never see a hill-side cultivated without going out at night and sowing it with the seeds of gorse and thistle. Not that I should bear any ill-will to the farmer, but it is said that the diminution of waste land, with its abundance of gorse and thistles, has led to a great diminution in the number of linnets and goldfinches. The farmer, perhaps, can do without linnets and goldfinches, but we who make our living in other ways cannot. I should sow tares among his wheat, if necessary, if I believed that tares would tempt a bearded tit or a golden oriole.
Still, I cannot easily persuade myself that a Society for the Protection of Weeds is even now necessary. I have great faith in weeds. If they are given a fair chance, I should back them against any cultivated flower or vegetable I know. Anyone who has ever had a garden knows that, while it is necessary to work hard to keep the shepherd's purse and the chickweed and the dandelion and the wartwort and the hawkweed and the valerian from growing, one has to take no such pains in order to keep the lettuces and the potatoes from growing. For myself, I should, in the vulgar phrase, back the shepherd's purse against the lettuces every time. If the weeds in the garden fail to make us radiantly happy, it is not because they are weeds, but because they are the wrong weeds. Why not the ground-ivy instead of the shepherd's purse, that lank intruder that not only is a weed but looks like one? Why not bee-orchises for wartwort, and gentians for chickweed? I have no fault to find with the foxgloves under the apple-tree or with the ivy-leaved toad-flax that hangs with its elfin flowers from every cranny in the wall. But I protest against the dandelions and the superfluity of groundsel. I undertake that, if rest-harrow and scabious and corn-cockle invade the garden, I shall never use a hoe on them. More than this, if only the right weeds settled in the garden, I should grow no other flowers. But shepherd's purse! Compared with it, a cabbage is a posy for a bridesmaid, and sprouting broccoli a bouquet for a prima donna. After all, one ought to be allowed to choose the weeds for one's own garden. But then when one chooses them, one no longer calls them weeds. The periwinkle, the primrose and the mallow—we spare them with our tongue as with our hoe. This, perhaps, suggests the only definition of a weed that is possible. A weed is a plant we hoe up or, rather, that we try to hoe up. A flower or a vegetable is a plant that the hoe deliberately misses. But, in spite of the hoe, the weeds have it. They survive and multiply like a subject race.... Well, perhaps better a weed than a geranium.
A JUROR IN WAITING
The train was crowded with jurymen. Every one of them was saying something like "It's a disgrace," "It's a perfect scandal," "No other nation would put up with it," and "Here we all are grumbling; and what are we going to do about it? Nothing. That's the British way." They were not complaining of any act of injustice perpetrated against a prisoner. They were complaining of their own treatment. Fifty or sixty of them had been summoned from the four ends of the county, and kept packed away all day under a gallery at the back of the court, where there was not even room for all of them to sit down, and where there was certainly not room for all of them to breathe. It would have been an easy thing for the Clerk of the Court to choose a dozen jurymen in the first ten minutes of the day, and to dismiss the rest on their business. He might, if necessary, have also picked a reserve jury, and selected the jury for the next day's cases. The law revels in expense, however and so a great number of middle-aged men were taken away for two whole days from their businesses and compelled to sit in filthy air and on benches that would not be endured in the gallery of a theatre, with nothing to do but watch the backs of the heads of a continuous procession of barristers and bigamists.
Few jurors would have complained, I think if there had been any rational excuse for detaining them. What they objected to so bitterly was the fact that no use was made of them, and that they were kept there for two days, though it must have been obvious to everyone that the majority of them might as well he at home. It may be, however, that there is some great purpose underlying the present system of calling together a crowd of unnecessary jurymen. Perhaps it is a form of compulsory education for middle-aged men. It shows them the machine of the law in action, and enables them to some extent to say from their own observation whether it is being worked in a fair and humane or in a harsh and vindictive spirit. One cannot sit through one criminal case after another at the Assizes without gaining a considerable amount of material for forming a judgment on this matter. The juror in waiting, as he sees a pregnant woman swooning in the dock or a man with a high, pumpkin-shaped back to his head led off down the dark stairs to five years' penal servitude, becomes a keen critic of the British justice that may have been to him until then merely a phrase. How does British justice emerge from the test? Well, it may be that this judge was a particularly kind judge and that the policemen of this county are particularly kindly policemen, but I confess that, much as I detest other people's boasting, I came away with the impression that the boast about British justice is justified. I do not believe that it is by any means always justified in the mouths of statesmen who use it as an excuse for their own injustice, and I would not trust every judge or every jury to give a verdict free from political bias in a case that involved political issues. But in the ordinary case—"as between," in the words of the oath, "our sovereign lord the King and the prisoner at the bar"—it seems to me, if my two days' experience can be taken as typical, that British justice is not only just but merciful.
The evidence is, perhaps, insufficient, as, in most cases, the sentences were deferred. But what pleased one was the general lack of vindictiveness in the prosecution or in the police evidence. Hardly a bigamist climbed into the dock—and there was an apparently endless stream of them—to whom the local police did not give a glowing certificate of character. The chief constable of the county went into the witness-box to testify that one bigamist was "reliable," "a, good worker," etc. "His general conduct," a policeman would say of another, "as regards both the women, was good." The barristers, as was natural, dwelt on the Army record of most of the men, and, even when a client had pleaded guilty, would appeal to the judge to remember that he had before him a man with a stainless past. "But wait, wait," the judge would interrupt; "you know bigamy is a very serious offence." "I quite agree with your lordship," counsel would reply nervously, "but I beg of you to take into consideration that the prisoner was carried away by his love for this woman—" This was where the judge always grew indignant. He was a little man with big eyebrows, a big nose, a big mouth, and white whiskers. His whiskers made him appear a little like Matthew Arnold in a wig and scarlet, save that he did not look as if he were sitting above the battle. "You tell me," he declared warmly, "that he loved this woman, while he admits that he deceived her into marrying him and falsely described himself in the marriage certificate as a bachelor." Counsel would again nervously agree with his lordship that his client had done wrong in deceiving the woman, but in three sentences he would have found another way round to the portraiture of the prisoner as all but a model for the young. Certainly, the great increase in the offence of bigamy proves at least the hollowness of all the talk about the growing indifference to the marriage tie. Whatever we may think of bigamists—and there are black sheep in every flock—the bigamist is manifestly a much-married man. He is a person, I should say, with the bump of domesticity excessively developed. The merely immoral man, as most of us know him, does not ask for the sanction of the law for his immorality. He does not feel the want of "a home from home," as the bigamist does. The increase in bigamy, it seems clear enough, is largely due to the war, which not only gave men opportunities for travel such as they had never had before, but enabled them to travel in a uniform which was itself a passport to many an impressionable female heart. Men had never been so much admired before. Never had they had so wide a choice of female acquaintances. "I am amazed," said Clive on a famous occasion, "at my own moderation." Many a bigamist, as he stands in the dock in these days of the cool fit, could conscientiously put forward the same plea. But the most that any of them can say is that they thought the first wife was dead or that she wanted to bring up the children Roman Catholics.
The first wife in one of the bigamy cases went into the witness-box, and I saw what to me was an incredible sight—an Englishwoman of thirty who could neither read nor write. Red-haired, tearful, weary, she did not even know the months of the year. She said a telegram had been sent to her husband saying she was dangerously ill in February. "Was that this year or last year?" asked counsel. "I don't know, sir," she said. "Come, come," said the judge, "you must know whether you were suffering from a dangerous illness this year or last." "No, sir," she replied shakily; "you see, sir, not bein' a scholar, I couldn't 'ardly tell, sir." Then a bright idea struck her. "My hospital papers could tell the date, sir." She produced from her pocket a paper saying that she had undergone an operation in a hospital in September 1919. That was all that could be got out of her. The counsel on the other side rose to cross-examine her about the dates. "You had an operation in September, you say. Were you laid up at any other time during the past two years?" "No, sir." "But you have sworn that you were ill in February, when a telegram was sent to your husband?" "Yes, sir." "And now you say that you weren't ill at any other time except in September?" "No, sir." "So you weren't ill in February?" "Oh yes, sir; I had the 'flu, sir." She was as obstinate about it all as the child in We are Seven. But she kept assuring us that she was no scholar. Her husband said that he had received a letter saying she was dead, and, though he had lost it, he quoted it at length "as far as he could remember it." It was a beautiful letter, expressing regret that he had not been at the side of the deathbed, where, the writer was sure, whatever faults had been on either side would have been forgiven. "You never were dead?" the judge asked the woman. "No sir," she replied in the same tone of We are Seven seriousness.
A girl was put in the dock, charged with having stolen a Post Office savings bank book. A policeman, giving evidence, said: "Until the 6th of December she was in the Wacks." "You say," said the judge, rather bewildered by the good appearance of the girl, "that she was in the workhouse!" "In the Wacks, my lord." "I think he means the Royal Air Force," prosecuting counsel helped the judge out of his perplexity. And the word "Wraf" went from mouth to mouth round the court. The girl was guilty, but the judge told her that he was not going to send her to prison. "I don't think it would do you any good, and I don't think the interests of society call for it," he said. "What I'm going to do is to bind you over to come up for judgment if called upon. Now, go away home, and be a good girl, and, if you are, you won't hear anything more about it. You have done a very disgraceful thing, but you can live it down by good conduct in the future." There was another thief, a boy of eighteen, who had been deserted by his mother at the age of three, and whom the judge also told, though not in those words, to go and sin no more. There was also a boy who had forged his father's consent to his marriage, and he and his girl wife were lectured like children and sent home to do better in future. As the judge said to the boy: "This is not a thing you are likely to do again." His wife, who was expecting a baby, had to be carried fainting from the dock. Counsel could not bring himself to say that she was expecting a baby. He said that she was "in a certain condition." The modesty of the law is marvellous. One of the most interesting of the prisoners was a little sleek-headed man accused of fraud, who kept moving his head about like a tortoise's out of its shell. His head was black and shining where it was not bald and shining. He had gold-rimmed spectacles and a sallow face. He glided his hands over the knobs on the front of the dock with a reptilian smoothness. He had persuaded a number of tradesmen and hotel-keepers that he was an English peer. He had even complained to one shopkeeper of the smallness of a wallet, as he needed something larger to hold the title-deeds relating to the peerage. In another case, a young man, staying in a house, had stolen, along with other things, his hostess's false teeth, her best dress and a great quantity of underclothing. A parcel of clothing had been recovered from a second-hand shop and was shown to the lady when in the witness-box. She took up one of the garments and fingered it. "Well," said the prosecuting counsel, encouragingly, "is that your best dress?" "Naoh," she said melancholily, "that's me ypron." Then there was a young man who stole a motor-bicycle by presenting a revolver at the head of the owner. He denied that he had stolen it, and maintained that, after he had apologised to the owner "for having treated him so abruptly," they had become friendly and he had been told to take the bicycle away and pay for it later. Alas! there is a limit to human credulity. Besides, the young man had a crooked mouth. After two days in court, one begins to believe that one can tell an honest man from a liar by looking at him. Probably one is over-confident.
THE THREE-HALFPENNY BIT
As a rule, there is nothing that offends us more than a new kind of money. We felt humiliated in the early days of the war when we were no longer paid in heavy little discs of gold, and had to accept paper pounds and ten-shillingses. We even sneered at the design. We always sneer at the design of new money or a new stamp. But we hated the paper even more than the design. We could not believe it had any value. We spent it as though it were paper. One would as soon have thought of collecting old newspapers as of playing the miser with it. That is probably the true secret of the fall in the value of money. Economists explain it in other ways. But it seems likeliest that paper money lost its value because we did not value it. Shopkeepers took advantage of our foolish innocence, and the tailor demanded sums in paper that he would never have dared to ask in gold. I doubt if the habit of thrift will ever be restored till the gold currency comes back. Gold is the only metal for which human beings have any lasting respect. No one but a child would save up pennies. There is something in gold—the colour, perhaps, reminding us of the sun, the god of our ancestors—that puts us into the mood of worshippers. The children of Israel found it impossible not to worship the golden calf. They have gone on worshipping it ever since. Had the calf been of paper, they would, I feel confident, have remained good Christians.
The influence of hatred on the expenditure of money is seen in our attitude to threepenny bits. Nine out of ten people feel sincerely indignant when a threepenny bit is given to them in their change. The shopkeeper who gives you two threepenny bits instead of a sixpence knows this and, as he hands you the money, says apologetically: "Do you mind?" You say: "Not at all," but you do. You know that they will be a constant misery to you till you get rid of them. You know that if you give one of them to a bus conductor, even if he is able to restrain himself, he will feel like throwing you off the top of the bus. When at length you spend one of them in a post office—one never has the same scruples about Government institutions—you hurry out with a guilty air, not having dared to look the lady at the counter in the eye. In the nineteenth century, when people went to church, they used to get rid of their threepenny bits at the collection. They at once relieved themselves of a nuisance, and enjoyed the luxury of flinging the gleam of silver on to the plate. Many a good Baptist has trusted to his threepenny bit's being mistaken for a sixpence, by the neighbours, at least—perhaps even by Heaven. He has a notion that the widow's mite was a threepenny bit, and feels that his gift is in a great tradition.
The popular hatred of certain coins, however, goes back to a far earlier date than the invention of the threepenny bit. Even gold, when it was first introduced into the English coinage, was met with such a storm of denunciation that it had to be withdrawn. This was in the time of Henry III., who issued a golden penny to take the place of the silver penny that had hitherto been the chief English coin. It was only in the reign of Edward III. that gold coins became established in England They may have helped to recommend themselves to the nation by their intensely anti-French character. They bore the French arms, and announced that King Edward was King of England and France. France is a country lying close to the shores of England, and is of great strategic importance to her. I do not know whether the copper coins which first came into England in the time of Charles II. raised any clamour of public protest. The nation, I fancy, was so relieved to get back to cakes and ale that it was not inclined to be censorious about the new halfpennies and farthings. In the old days, people had made their own halfpennies and farthings by the simple process of cutting pennies into halves and quarters. They also issued private coins on the same principle on which we nowadays write cheques. Municipalities and shopkeepers alike issued these tokens, or promises to pay, and without them there would not have been sufficient currency for the transaction of business. The copper coins of Charles II. were intended to put a stop to this unofficial sort of money, but towards the end of the eighteenth century there was such a scarcity of copper currency that local shopkeepers and bankers defied the law and again began to issue their own coins. I have in my possession what looks like a George III. shilling, with the King's head on one side and, on the other, inside a wreath of shamrocks, the inscription: "Bank Token, 10 Pence Irish, 1813." It was turned up by the plough on a Staffordshire farm a few years ago. Speaking of this reminds me that a separate Irish coinage continued even after the Union of 1800. It was not till 1817 that English gold and silver became current in Ireland, and Irish pennies and halfpennies were struck as late as the reign of George IV. The Scottish coins came to an end more than a century earlier. The name of one of them, however, the "bawbee," has survived in popular humour. Some people say that the name is merely a corruption of "baby," referring to the portrait of Queen Mary as an infant. It seems to me as unlikely a derivation as could be imagined.
Of all the English coins, the first appearance of which occasioned popular anger, none had a worse reception than the two-shilling piece which appeared in 1849. "This piece," says Miss G.B. Rawlings in Coins and How to Know Them, a book rich in information, "was unfavourably received, owing to the omission of 'Dei Gratia' after the Queen's name, and was stigmatised as the godless or graceless florin." The florin, however, so called after a Florentine coin, had come to stay, but since 1851 it has been as godly in inscription as any of the other money in one's pocket. The coin has survived, but hardly the name. One can with an effort call a spade a spade, but who would think of calling a florin a florin? The coin itself for a time bore the inscription: "One Florin, Two Shillings," as though the name called for translation. Since the introduction of the florin, there have been many coins that aroused popular hatred. The four-shilling piece, especially, that was struck in the year of Queen Victoria's Jubilee, was received with a howl of execration. Men went about in constant dread of argument with shopkeepers as to whether they had given them a four-shilling or a five-shilling piece. In the interests of the national good temper the coin ceased to be struck after 1890 Englishmen, however, disliked the entire Jubilee coinage. They disliked the Queen's portrait, and they disliked especially a sixpence which could be easily gilded to look like a half-sovereign. The sixpences were hurriedly withdrawn, but schoolboys continued to treasure them in the belief that they were worth fabulous sums. Like groats, the delight of one's childhood, they began to be desirable as soon as they ceased to be common. When King Edward VII. came to the throne, there was another outburst of hatred of new money. The chief objection to it was that the King's effigy had been designed by a German and had not even been designed well. It was at this time, perhaps, when people began to hate the money in their pockets, that the reign of modern extravagance began. To get rid of a sovereign bearing a design by Herr Fuchs seemed a patriotic duty. Thrift and pro-Germanism were indistinguishable.
Much as men detest new sorts of money in their own country, however, many of us take a childish pleasure on our first arrival in France in handling strange and unfamiliar coins. One of the great pleasures of travel is changing one's money. There is a certain lavishness about the coinage of the Continent that appeals to our curiosity. Even in getting a five-franc piece we never know whether it will bear the emblem of a republic, a kingdom or an empire. Coins of Greece and Italy jingle in our pocket with those of the impostor, Louis Napoleon, and those of the wicked Leopold, King of the Belgians. In Switzerland I remember even getting a Cretan coin, which I was humiliated by being unable to pass at a post office. The postal official took down a huge diagram containing pictures of all the European coins he was allowed to accept. He studied Greek coins and, for all I know, Jugo-Slav coins, but nowhere could he find the image of the coin I had proffered him. Crete for him did not exist. He shook his head solemnly and handed the coin back. Is there any situation in which a man feels guiltier than when his money is thrust back on him as of no value? This happens oftener, perhaps, in France than in any other country. France has the reputation of being the country of bad money. The reputation is, I believe, exaggerated, though I have known a Boulogne tram conductor to refuse even a 50-centime piece as bad. I remember vividly a warning given to me on this subject during my first visit to France. I was sitting with a friend in an estaminet in a small village in the north of France, when an English chauffeur insinuated himself into the conversation. He was eager to give us advice about France and the French. "I like the French," he said, "but you can't trust them. Look out for bad money. They're terrors for bad money. I'd have been done oftener myself, only that luckily I married a Frenchwoman. She's in the ticket office at the Maison des Delits—you probably know the name—it's a dancing-hall in Montmartre. Any time I get a bad 5 franc piece, I pass it on to her, and she gets rid of it in the change to some Froggie. My God, they are dishonest! I wouldn't say a word against the French, but just that one thing. They're dishonest—damned dishonest." He sat back on the bench, a figure of insular rectitude but of cosmopolitan broadmindedness. Is it not the perfect compromise?
THE MORALS OF BEANS
"Nine bean-rows will I have there," cries Mr Yeats in describing his Utopia in The Lake Isle of Innisfree. I have only two. They run east to west between the second-early potatoes and the red-currant bushes. They are broad beans. They are in flower just now, and every flower is a little black-and-white butterfly. That, however, is the good side of the account. If you look closer at them, you will see that each of them appears as if its head had been dipped into coal-dust. There is a congregation of the blackest of all insects hiding in horrid congestion among the leaves and flowers at the top. Compared to them, the green-fly on the roses has almost charm. There is something slummy and unwashed-looking about the black blight. These insects are as foul as a stagnant pond. Though they have wings, they seem incapable of flight. They are microbes of a larger growth—a disease and a desecration. On the other hand, there is one good point about them: they are very stupid. Instead of spreading themselves out along the entire extent of the bean and so lessening their peril, they mass themselves in hordes in the very tops of the plants as though they had all some passionate taste for rocking in the wind like the baby on the tree-top. This is what gives the gardener his opportunity. He has but to walk along the rows, pinching off the top of each plant, and filling his flat little basket (called, I believe, a trug) with them, and lo, the beans are safe, and produce all the finer and fuller pods as a result of their having been stunted.
At this point the moral thrusts out its head. There are those who believe that beans have no morals. To call a man "Old bean" gives him, it is said, a pleasant feeling that he is something of a dog. Gilbert, again, in Patience has a reference to "a not-too-French French bean" that suggests a ribald estimate of this family of plants. The broad bean, on the other hand, seems to me to exude morality—not least, when it parts with its head to save its life. There is no better preacher in the vegetable garden. It is the very Chrysostom of the gospel of frustration—the gospel that a great loss may be a great gain—the gospel that through their repressions men may all the more successfully achieve their ends.
Nor is this gospel confined to the sect of the beans (which are by a happy paradox both broad and evangelical). The apple-trees bear the same message in their unpruned branches—unpruned owing to a long absence from home during the winter. It is an amazing fact—I speak as an amateur—but it is an amazing fact, if it is a fact, that an apple-tree, if it is left to itself, will not grow apples. It has an entirely selfish purpose in life. Its aim is to be a tree, living to itself, producing a multitude of shoots and leaves. It succeeds in living a rich and fruitful life only when the gardener has come with the abhorred shears and lopped its branches till it must feel like a frustrate thing. The fruit is the fruit of frustration. Were it not for this frustration, it would ultimately return to a state of wildness, and would become a crabbed and barren weed, fit only to be a perch for birds.
Thus, it seems to me, the broad bean and the apple-tree are persuasive defenders of civilisation and of those concomitants of civilisation morality and the arts. Heretics frequently arise, both in ethics and in the arts, who say: "No more restraints! Give the bean its head." There are psycho-analysts who appear to regard frustration as the one serious evil in life, and the apostles of vers libre denounce metre and rhyme because these merely serve to frustrate the natural impulses of the imagination. As a matter of fact, it is this very frustration that gives poetry much of its depth and vehemence. Great genius expresses itself, not in the freedom of formlessness, but in the limitations of form. Shakespeare's passion turned instinctively to the most frustrative of all poetic forms—that of the sonnet—in order to express itself in perfection. It is, as a rule, those who have nothing to say who wish to say it without the terrible frustrations of form. Obviously, there is a golden mean in the arts as in all things, and there comes a point at which form passes into formalism. Genius requires just enough frustration to increase its vehemence, and so to transmute nature into art. It is possible that some frustration of a comparable kind is needed in order to transmute nature into morality, and that the man who would, in Milton's phrase, make of his life a poem must submit to commandments as difficult as those of metre or rhyme. It is not merely the Christians and the Stoics who have maintained this; Epicurus himself was a believer in virtue as a means to happiness. This, indeed, is a commonplace written all over the face of nature. There is no great happiness without opposition except for children. The climber struggles with the hill, the rower with the water, the digger with the earth. They are all men who live on the understanding that the pleasures of difficulty are greater even than the pleasures of ease.
The biographies of famous men are prolific of examples that support the theory of frustration. Homer, they say, was blind, and the legend seems to suggest that his blindness, far from injuring, abetted his genius. Tyrtus, being physically unable to fight, became the poet of fighting, and achieved more with his words than did most men with their weapons. Demosthenes, again, was an orator frustrated by many defects. Everyone knows the story of his wretched articulation and how he shut himself up and practised speaking with pebbles in his mouth in order to overcome it. Few of the great orators, indeed, seem to have succeeded in oratory without difficulty. Neither Cicero nor Burke spoke with the natural ease of many a young man in a Y.M.C.A. debating society. And the great writers, like the great orators, have been, in many instances, men doomed in some important respect to lead frustrated lives. Mr Beerbohm recently said that he has never known a man of genius whose life was not marred by some obvious defect. People have talked for two thousand years of the desirability of mens sana in corpore sano, but if everybody possessed this—possessed it from birth and without effort—there would probably soon be a shortage of genius. The sanity of genius is not the sanity of the healthy minded athlete: it is the sanity of the human spirit struggling against forces that threaten to frustrate it. The greatest love-poetry has not been written by men who have found easy happiness in love. Donne's poems are the poems of a frustrated lover. Keats's greatest poetry was the fruit of unfulfilled love. Thus genius turns poverty into riches. Few men of genius are enviable save in their genius. Beethoven, a frustrate lover and ultimately a deaf musician, is a type of genius at its most sublime.
Charles Lamb, as we read the Essays, seems at times to be one of the most enviable of men, but that is only because he is supremely lovable. Who knows how much we owe to the defects of his life? Even the impediment in his speech seems to have been one of the conditions of his genius. He tells us that, if he had not stammered, he would probably have been a clergyman, and, if he had been a clergyman, he would hardly have been Elia. His life, too, was that of a tragic bachelor—he whose writings breathe the finest spirit of fireside comedy. There could be no better example of the truth that genius is, as a rule, a response to apparently hostile limitations.
On the whole, then, the common-sense attitude to life is, not to deplore one's limitations, but to make the best of them. No man need envy another his good fortune too bitterly. Good fortune has wasted as many men as it has assisted. George Wyndham was one of the most fortunate men of his time—strong, handsome, an athlete, an orator, a statesman, a writer with a sense of style, popular, rich, and with nine out of ten of the attributes that we envy most. Had achievement come less easily to him, he might have been a greater man. There have been ugly men who have been more enviable. There have been weedy men who were more enviable. There have been poor men who were more enviable. But the truth is, one does not know whom to envy. It is probably wise to envy nobody.
It would be foolish, however, to pretend that frustration is a desirable thing in itself, apart from all other considerations. The beans nod their heads to no such gospel. Frustration may easily reach the point of destruction. One might frustrate one's broad beans excessively by pulling them up by the roots or cutting them down to within an inch of the ground. There must still be room left for the life of the plant to find a new outlet. The beans do not preach a sermon against liberty, but only against lawlessness. But, for all I know, they may preach different gospels to different amateur gardeners. Each of us finds in nature what he wishes to find. I confess I myself am prejudiced in favour of sermons of a consoling kind. It is consoling to think that, in a world of defects, a defect often carries with it its own compensation—that strength, as the preachers say, may be made perfect in weakness. But, when one looks round and enumerates the miseries of human beings, one wonders how far this is, after all, true except for men whose gifts are naturally greater than hog, dog or devil can imperil.
ON SEEING A JOKE
Almost any man can make a joke, but it sometimes requires a clever man to see one. It is said that a Scotsman "jokes wi' deeficulty." What we really mean is that it is often difficult to see a Scotsman's jokes or even to know whether he is joking or being serious. As a matter of fact, the Scots are an unusually humorous race. They make jokes, however, with the long faces of undertakers, and one is sometimes afraid to laugh for fear of appearing frivolous on a solemn occasion. I have in mind one brilliant Scottish professor who, whether he is jocular or serious, invariably monologises in the tones of a man condoling with a widow. He half-shuts his eyes and folds his hands, and, for the first minute or two, takes an evil delight in leaving you in doubt whether he is launching into a tragic narrative or whether he will suddenly look up through his spectacles and expect to see you laughing. His English friends are in a constant state of embarrassment because they know that he is a humorist of genius, but his humour is so subtle that they do not trust themselves to see the point when it comes and laugh at the right place. Now, there are only two things that can make the professor look sterner than he looks while giving birth to a joke. One is, if you laugh too early: the other is, if the great moment comes and you don't laugh at all. He makes no complaint, but he sits back in his chair, looking like an embittered owl. And everybody else in the room has a sense of ghastly failure—his own failure, not the professor's. To miss seeing a joke is, in some circumstances, far worse than to miss making the point of a joke visible. If one were in the position of a Queen Victoria, one might, of course, quench the professor by merely saying: "We are not amused." But even Queen Victoria, when she said this, did not mean that she had not seen the joke but that she had seen it and didn't like it. It is not only the subtle and Scottish jokes, however, that are at times difficult to see with the naked eye. There is also the joke that hits you in the eye like a blow and blinds you. Captain Wedgwood Benn referred to a joke of this kind in the House of Commons on the authority of Mr Stephen Gwynn. A judge of the Irish High Court, he related, was recently travelling on a tram which was held up by Black-and-Tans. The Black-and-Tans, who, like the Most High, are no respecters of persons, called on the judge to descend, using the quaint colloquial formula: "Come down, you Irish bastard; put up your hands." Captain Wedgwood Benn does not unfortunately possess a twentieth-century sense of humour, and he did not see this particular joke. The comedy of a judge's being addressed as an Irish bastard did not strike him. I doubt if half-a-dozen members of the House of Commons realised the beauty of the joke till Sir Hamar Greenwood got up and explained it. "I happen to know the judge," said the twinkling Chief Secretary. "He told the story himself with great glee, and here it is. Mr Justice Wylie, the last, and one of the best judges appointed in Ireland, was riding on a tramcar to a hunting meet. When he got to the end of his ride, there were some policemen on duty, and they did use a word which, I trust, no hon. Member of this House will ever use in calling him down from the tram. They did him no harm. He treated it as a joke, and he would be the man most surprised to find it quoted in the House and in the Observer as an example of the decadence of the Irish police." I agree with Sir Hamar. A joke is a joke, and many Irishmen, unlike Mr Justice Wylie, are unduly thin-skinned. The only criticism I would make on Sir Hamar Greenwood's idea of a joke is that he appears to suggest that it would have been less funny if the Black-and-Tans had done the judge some harm. I should have expected him rather to dilate on the attractions of life in the Irish police force for men with a sense of humour. Suppose the judge had been robbed of his watch, or had had his front teeth broken with the muzzle of a revolver like the University Professor at Cork, would not that have made the incident still funnier? Suppose he had been carried round as a hostage on a motor-lorry, or shot with a bucket over his head, as has happened to other innocent men, would it not have been a theme for Aristophanes, who got so much fun out of the idea of one person's being beaten in mistake for another?
I am confident that distinguished Englishmen will behave in the spirit of Mr Justice Wylie, when there is an outbreak of humour among the English police. Mr Justice Darling will, no doubt, enjoy himself hugely on the day on which an armed policeman first holds up his motor-car, and addresses him: "'Ullo, you blasted old Bolshevik, come off the perch, and quick about it, and put up the 'Idden 'And!" There are some judges who would complain to the Home Office, if such a thing happened to them. Mr Justice Darling, however, has a keen sense of humour. I feel certain that on arriving in Court after his experiences he would tell the story with great glee. He would turn up his face sideways, as he does when he is amused, and say to the jury: "A most amusing thing happened to me this morning, by the way ..." There is no end, indeed, to the directions in which a police force saturated with the Greenwoodian sense of fun might add to the gaiety of nations. They might arm themselves with squirts, and laughing Cabinet ministers would have to duck as they passed down Whitehall in order to avoid a drenching. Pluffing peas at the bishops on their way to the House of Lords would also be good sport, so long as they did not really hurt any of them. To bash the Lord Chancellor's hat over his eyes would be going too far, as it involves a money loss, but a harmless blow on the crown with a bladder would be rather amusing. It would also be amusing if a number of policemen were told off to greet Mr Lloyd George with cries of "Welsh attorney," and to chaff him with genial scurrilities on his arrival at the House. If these things happened, there are killjoys, I know, who would immediately set up a clamour for the restoration of discipline in the police force. Mr Lloyd George, however, has always been a man who can not only make a joke but take one, and I am sure that he at least would defend the democratic right of the policeman to a bit of chaff.
Nor would I confine the right of chaff to the police force. I would make it universal. I should like to see it introduced into the Church itself. Even the dullest sermon would become entertaining if the verger had the right and the habit of interpolating such remarks as: "Cheese it, Pussyfoot!" or "Ring off, you bleedin' old bore, ring off!" There has been too little of this sort of popular raillery in recent years. The bus-drivers used to be past masters at it, poking their quiet fun impartially at their fellow-drivers and ordinary citizens. Whether it is that the drivers of motor-buses realise that no joke could be heard above the din, or whether it is that they feel as ill-tempered as they look, their arrival has made fatal inroads on the geniality of London. An artist with uncut hair can still awaken a spark of the old wit if he goes down a back street, and women and children will revive for his benefit the venerable witticism: "Get your hair cut!" But, generally speaking, there has been a notable decline in the humours of insult within living memory. The Germans, always fond of a joke, made an effort to revive it during the war. It was a common thing for them, we are told, on capturing a prisoner, to address him as "Schweinhund" or "Verdammte Englnder," or by some other good-humoured phrase of the same kind. I regret to say that some Englishmen were so deficient in the sense of humour that, instead of taking this in the spirit in which it was offered, they bitterly resented it. I cannot, indeed, recall a single instance of an Englishman who properly appreciated the joke of being called a "Schweinhund" by a man he had never seen before. You will seek in vain through the literature of prisoners of war for a returned soldier who tells the story of the names he was called with the glee that it deserves. And yet, no doubt, the Germans enjoyed the joke thoroughly, and would have been surprised to find it quoted in the Observer as an example of the decadence of the German Army.
Perhaps, however, the "Schweinhund" joke does not afford an entirely fair comparison. It is a simple joke, whereas in the Greenwood joke there are two elements. There is the element of insult, and there is the element of mistaken identity. It is not merely that somebody or other was called "You Irish bastard," but that the wrong person was called "You Irish bastard." Thus, if a policeman addressed a woman in Oxford Street in the words: "'Op it, you old bitch," it would be only mildly funny, if the woman were a poor woman. But it would be immensely funny if she turned out to be a marchioness. The marchioness, no doubt, would be enchanted, and would tell the story with great glee. If she were a sentimentalist, she might say to herself:
"Is this really the way in which ordinary human beings are treated by the police? This is a hideous state of affairs in which bullies in uniform are allowed to address foul insults to whom they please. Thank heaven, it has happened to someone like me. Now, I can tell the Home Secretary, and he will put an end to the whole system."
One never knows what a modern Home Secretary might do, but I doubt if one could be found who would reply to the marchioness: "Well, he did you no harm. You know, to me it all seems rather funny." And yet most things have their funny side if you look on them in the right spirit. It would have been a funny thing if the hangman had executed the wrong prisoner instead of Crippen. The hanged man would not have seen the joke, but impartial onlookers would have seen it, and Crippen would have seen it. Similarly, if a drunken man threw a brick at his wife and hit the missionary by mistake, who could help laughing? Even the wife, if she had a sense of humour, would have to join in. Over-sensitive souls, such as Shelley was might view the incident with pain and mourn over a world in which human beings treated each other in such a way. But life is a hard school, and it is not well to be over-sensitive. After all, if we all became angels, there would be no jokes left. We should have no clowns in the music-halls—no comic boxing-turns with glorious thumpings on unexpecting noses. Heaven is a place without laughter because there is no cruelty in it—no insults and no accidents. As for us, we are children of earth, and may as well enjoy the advantages of our position. So let us laugh, "Ha, ha!"—let us laugh, "Ho, ho!"
The world is so full of a number of things, I'm sure we should all be as happy as kings.
And never was it so full of a number of things as since a Coalition Government came into power—queer, delightful things, for instance, like policemen who call judges "bastard," as who should say: "Cheerio, old thing!" Our grandfathers would not have seen that joke. That is one of the things that convince me of the reality of progress.
GOING TO THE DERBY
"Do they have as much fun at the Derby as they used to?" I heard an old gentleman in a white hat, canary gloves, and buttoned boots asking a fellow-passenger in a London train. Fun? No; one would hardly call it that. Looking back on it after forty years one will no doubt call it fun. But it is certainly not fun while it lasts.
The two most important features of the Derby are getting there and getting away again. Getting there is harder work than bricklaying or journalism. You may ride in a motor-car, but your motor will be as useless to you as a submarine in a swimming bath. From Sutton to Epsom and from Epsom to the Downs a long procession of motor-cars, buses, waggonettes, greengrocers' carts, lorries, school carts, drays, and human beings stretches like a serpent of infinite length—a serpent that is apparently too sick to move. One thinks of it as an old serpent that has made itself very ill by swallowing machinery.
Every few minutes it gives the machinery in its inward parts a shake, and makes one more effort to crawl. A queer rattle, shiver, and groan run through it from tip to tail. But the effort is too much for it. It immediately subsides on a lame and impotent stomach, and hour after hour passes with no other diversion except the antics of an occasional nervous horse that rises on his hind legs and waves his forefeet in the back of your neck over the hood of the motor.
There is a common belief that the crowd that goes to the Derby is a cheerful crowd—that it sings and plays concertinas and changes hats. There could not be a greater delusion. It is as quiet and determined as a procession of men and women going to hear Dr Horton preaching at Hampstead. Not a song—well, one song. Not a joke—well, one joke, when a fat man saw a poor brown lop-eared ass in a field of daisies, and called out: "There's the winner o' the Durby!" He apparently felt it was a very good joke, for he repeated it to parties on the tops of buses and parties on greengrocers' carts and parties in furniture vans.
The sun, however, was unpropitious for jokes. Even the East Ender, who had worked an edging of red and white wool into his pony's mane and hung rosettes of red, white, and blue at its ears, was too busy perspiring and hating his hundred thousand neighbours to smile. He was also busy weighing his chances of getting to Epsom Downs before Judgment Day. I admired his spirit in waving a whip with a knot of coloured ribbons. There was little other colour to be seen. We were a procession of victims—red as beef, steaming like the window of a fried-fish shop, dusty, swollen-veined—and we could only sink back helpless and gasping in the grip of the monstrous procession of wheeled things that advanced more slowly than any snail that was ever known on this side of the Ural Mountains.
I doubt if that procession ever reached Epsom Downs. I did so only because I got out and walked; and even then the first two races were over. Half England seemed already to have arrived on the hills, and to have pitched its wigwams there. The other half was blocking up the road for ten miles back, and could not possibly arrive in time for the Derby; but the half who had arrived had already set up a city of booths and flags on hill after hill as far as the eye could see.
There may have been encampments of this vastness in the days of Xerxes, but surely never since. It was oppressive, overwhelming. There were so many people there that there was no room for anybody. There was no room, so far as I could see, for the man who plays the three-card trick on the top of an open umbrella, or for the man with the tape and pencil, and even the beggars who prayed by the roadside for your success were few. There was simply a crush—an enormous, sweltering, and appallingly silent crush. Even the bookmakers seemed to be awed by it. They stood on their stands beside blackboards full of horses' names and mystical figures, but they did not yell at you hoarsely, bullyingly, as bookmakers ought to do. If, having looked at the elephantine portrait advertisement of one of them, you wished to bet with him, he would consent in a listless way, and say wearily to his clerk: "Nine-nine-one, seventy shillings to a dollar Polumetis," as he handed you a blue, red, and green card.
I do not blame him for not being enthusiastic. I am myself no longer enthusiastic about Polumetis. Still, one wished for a little violence besides the violence of the sun and of the man who tried to sell you a shilling's worth of sausage and who said he was "the only firm, the only firm in the place." Camden Town on a Saturday night could give points to Derby Day for colour and uproar. Derby Day is so big, perhaps, that it is frightened of itself. But I forgot. There was one violent man. He was fat, hatless, and sweating, and he was hoarse with shouting superlatives about his tips to a circle of poor old men, "dunchers" in caps, small boys in jerseys, and tired-looking country girls.
"If only I could tell you where I got my information," he declared, "you'd—you'd be s'prised. If any of you has got twenty-five pahnd abaht him—if you've got even a tenner—why, you've only got ten bob—well, you can't exactly have a gamble for ten bob, but you can 'ave a bit o' fun, anyway. If you take my advice—it's 'ere on this bit o' paper—you can 'ave it for a bob—I can give you three 'orses that'll turn your ten bob into a tenner see? Some people tell you Tetratema's going to win."
He made a face of disgust, popularly known as giving Tetratema the raspberry, "Don't you believe it. Didn't I tell you Tagrag? Didn't I tell you Arion? 'Ere, take my tip, and you'll dance all the w'y 'ome with joy tonight. Dance? Why, you'll go 'ome jazzin' all the w'y."
And he spread out his fat hands and threw out his fat stomach, and danced on the grass, just to show one how one ought to behave if one backed a Derby winner.
Meanwhile, his partner, dressed as a red and white jockey, in a peaked cap and incongruous puttees, moved round the circle thrusting his slips of tips almost angrily on us. "Go on," he ordered us. "What's a bob to a gambler? You people read the papers and believe what you see in 'em. The papers! I tell you stryte—the worst pack of rogues and bookmakers in England." A simple old man of ninety, who had lost his teeth, beckoned to him and paid him a shilling for his tip. The jockey took him aside and whispered impressively into his ear. Then he said, in a loud voice: "Are you satisfied, sir?" "Quite satisfied," quavered the old man. I wish I could have stayed near him. I should like to have seen him jazzing later in the evening.
Sausages, lemonade, fried fish, chewing gum, bets, ladies standing on the roofs of taxis, a try-your-strength machine, extemporised conveniences of civilisation, with youths standing by them and yelling "Commodytion!" hills of humanity in all attitudes of dazedness and despair, the thunder and the shouting of the distant bookmakers under the stands, the quiet of the ten thousand free-lance bookmakers who were, I suppose, breaking the law in the open spaces; the dust, the sun, the smell, faces smeary with fruit, the cunning tinker in an old khaki hat with striped ribbon, who was selling some twopenny instrument that was supposed to imitate either the bark of a dog or the song of a nightingale—one could not tell which from the noise he made with it; stand after stand packed to the sky with what are called serried ranks of human beings, who looked like immense banks of many-coloured shingle, and who, as they raised a million pairs of field-glasses to two million eyes, scintillated in the distance like a bank of shingle after a wave has broken on it on a tropical noon—it was certainly an amazing medley of spectacle and odour.
It is said that an important horse-race took place. It is even said that Polumetis ran in it. I looked for him everywhere—over people's heads, under people's heads, through motor-buses, round the corners of refreshment tents, in the sky above, and on the earth beneath. But no Polumetis was to be seen anywhere—except on my race-card, where I read about his lilac-coloured jockey. A jockey in lilac—how beautiful, how Japanese! And, indeed, all the jockeys as they paraded down the field before the race seemed to have robbed a rainbow.
They brought meaning and beauty into an otherwise bald and unconvincing mob. I assure you I love horse-racing—if I could see it. But of all the people who congregated the little crooked hills of Epsom, I doubt if ten people in a hundred saw it. You knew that the horses had started only because, as you lay dreaming, the million people on the stands suddenly made you jump with a loud, sharp, and terrifying bark, which said: "They're off!" in one syllable.
Then there was deep silence, and somebody near me said: "The favourite can't be leading, or they would be shouting." Then from the stands came a murmur like bees, a muttering as of a man talking in his sleep, a growling as of wind in a cave. This only served to intensify the silence of a defeated people. One knew that something awful must be happening. Perhaps even Polumetis was winning.
Above the heads of the crowd the heads of jockeys began to be visible. A fool cried out: "The favourite wins." Another: "Allenby has it." Then one had a glimpse of three horses close—well, fairly close—on each other's tails, and none of them the grey Tetratema. I noticed that on one of them crouched a jockey in exquisite grass-green. He passed like a fine phrase out of a poem of which one does not know the rest. But I did not really know who had won till the numbers were put up on the board. Then a badly shaven man in a bowler cried: "Spion Kop has won! Bravo!" and clapped his friend on the back. The rest of us looked at him with contempt. The tinker-nosed man who played the instrument that sang like a dog or barked like a nightingale began to squeak it into people's ears.
The crowd began pouring itself through itself, and the dust from its feet rose like a cloud till it was difficult to see across the course.
And the motor-car broke down on the way home.
And Polumetis didn't win.
And I'm as tired as a dog....
And so say all of us.
THIS BLASTED WORLD
Everything has begun to have a blasted look till the sun shines. The ferns have been beaten down by the wind and the rain, and lie withered and broken-backed among the brambles, waiting till some poor man thinks it worth his while to go off with a load of them on his back for bedding. The brambles, too, all hoops and arches, have the air of dying things, though white blossoms still continue to appear, and the fruit is not yet all ripened and many of the leaves are as red and bright as flowers. The edges of most of the leaves have began to crumple: they are victims of a creeping sickness that eats into them and dirties them, and makes bramble and fern together an inextricable wilderness of refuse.
This, however, is only if one looks too closely. The hill that loses itself among the rocks on the sea-shore is capped and patched with just such refuse as this, but how happily the rust-colour of dying things is broken by the grey of the loose stone walls—"hedges," they call them in Cornwall—that seem to totter up the hill like old men! The mist of rain that leaves each individual plant bedraggled seems to make the red and green and grey pattern of the patched hill only more beautiful and mysterious. The truth is, winter speaks with two voices even in these early days. She has one voice that sends cold shivers down our backs. She has another voice that is refreshment like water from a spring. She speaks with the first voice in the crooked trees. In the summer they were cloaked and glorious. Now, when their cloaks seem so much more necessary, they are left naked, poor creatures, their backs to the sea-wind, with the air of runaways unable to escape. They seem bent and poised for flight, but when a blast of wind comes and tugs at them they are as the stump of a tooth that will not move, and the leaves (such of them as are left), which in summer made a music as pleasant as that of windbells, rattle in their branches like the laughter of a skeleton. The oak and the thorn-bush could scarcely writhe more if they were crippled by rheumatism. Every leaf on the sycamore is spotted as if with some foul black acid.
Here, too, however, as soon as the leaves have fallen, the world is restored to cheerfulness. The withering tree seems a sufferer. The fallen leaf is an imp, an adventurer. As the wind sweeps round a bend in the road, leaf after leaf is up and performing cart-wheels down the road as if Christmas Day had come. Thousands of them, borne along in a dance of this kind, advance with the beflustered, orderly air of a procession of starlings. The world ceases to be a universal grave. It is at the very least a dance and a dust-storm.