Select Conversations with an Uncle
by H. G. Wells
THE MAYFAIR SET
WITH AN UNCLE
[Illustration: Title page]
SELECT CONVERSATIONS WITH AN UNCLE
and two other reminiscences by
H. G. WELLS
THE MERRIAM COMPANY
Copyrighted in the United States.
All rights reserved.
AND BEST FRIEND
R. A. C.
He was, I remember, short, but by no means conspicuously short, and
of a bright, almost juvenile, complexion, very active in his movements
and garrulousor at least very talkative. His judgments were copious
and frequent in the old days, and some at least I found entertaining.
At times his fluency was really remarkable. He had a low opinion of
eminent peoplea thing I have been careful to suppress, and his
dissertations had ever an irresponsible gaiety of manner that may have
blinded me to their true want of merit. That, I say, was in the old
days, before his abrupt extinction, before the cares of this world
suddenly sprang upon, and choked him. I would listen to him,
cheerfully, and afterwards I would go away and make articles out of him
for the Pall Mall Gazette, so adding a certain material
advantage to my mental and moral benefit. But all that has gone now, to
my infinite regret; and sorrowing, I have arranged this unworthy little
tribute to his memory, this poor dozen of casual monologues that were
so preserved. The merits of the monument are his entirely; its faults
entirely my own.
OF CONVERSATION AND THE ANATOMY OF FASHION
THE THEORY OF THE PERPETUAL DISCOMFORT OF HUMANITY
THE USE OF IDEALS
THE ART OF BEING PHOTOGRAPHED
BAGSHOT'S MURAL DECORATIONS
ON SOCIAL MUSIC
THE JOYS OF BEING ENGAGED
LA BELLE DAME SANS MERCI
ON A TRICYCLE
AN UNSUSPECTED MASTERPIECE
THE GREAT CHANGE
THE PAINS OF MARRIAGE
A MISUNDERSTOOD ARTIST
THE MAN WITH A NOSE
OF CONVERSATION AND THE ANATOMY OF
This uncle of mine, you must understand, having attainedby the
purest accidentsome trifles of distinction and a certain affluence in
South Africa, came over at the earliest opportunity to London to be
photographed and lionised. He took to fame easily, as one who had long
prepared in secret. He lurked in my chambers for a week while the new
dress suit was a-makinghis old one I really had to remonstrate
againstand then we went out to be admired. During the week's
retirement he secreted quite a wealth of things to sayappropriate
remarks on edibles, on music, on popular books, on conversation,
off-hand little things, jotting them down in a note-book as they came
into his mind, for he had a high conception of social intercourse, and
the public expectation. He was ever a methodical little gentleman, and
all these accumulations that he could not get into his talk, he
proposed to put away for the big volume of Reminiscences that was to
round off his life. At last he was a mere conversational firework,
crammed with latent wit and jollity, and ready to blaze and sparkle in
fizzing style as soon as the light of social intercourse should touch
But after we had circulated for a week or so, my uncle began to
manifest symptoms of distress. He had not had a chance. People did not
seem to talk at all in his style. Where do the literary people meet
together, George? I am afraid you have chosen your friends ill. Surely
those long-haired serious people who sat round my joke like old cats
round a beetlewhat is it?were not the modern representatives of a
salon. Those abominable wig-makers' eccentricities who talked
journalistic 'shop,' and posed all over that preposterous room with the
draperies! Those hectic young men who have done nothing except run down
everybody! Don't tell me that is the literary society of London,
George. Where do they let off wit now, George? Where do they sparkle? I
want to sparkle. Badly. I shall burst, George, if I don't.
Now really, you know, there are no salons nowI suppose we turn all
our conversation into copyor the higher education has eliminated
the witty womanand my uncle became more and more distressed. He said
a lot of his good things to me, which was sheer waste. I became afraid.
I got him all the introductions I could, pushed him into every lion's
den I had access to. But there was no relief.
I see what it is, George, said my uncle, these literary people
write themselves out. They say nothing for private use. Their brains
are weary when they come into company. They get up in the morning fresh
and bright, and write, write, write. Then, when they are jaded, they
condescend to social intercourse. It is their way of resting. But why
don't they go to bed? No more clever people for me, George. Let us try
the smart. Perhaps among them we shall find smart talking still
surviving. Allons, George!
That is how my uncle came into collision with fashion, how I came to
take him to the Fitz-Brilliants.
Of course you have heard of the Fitz-Brilliants? If you have not, it
is not their fault. They are the smartest people in London. Always hard
at work, keeping up to date, are the Fitz-Brilliants. But my uncle did
not appreciate them. Worse! They did not appreciate my uncle. He came
to me again, more pent up than ever, and the thing I had feared
happened. He began to discourse to me. It was about Fashion, with a
decided reference to the Fitz-Brilliants, and some reflections upon the
alleys of literary ability and genius I had taken him through.
George, said my uncle, this Fashion is just brand-new
vulgarity. It is merely the regal side of the medal. The Highly
Fashionable and the Absolutely Vulgar are but two faces of the common
coin of humanity, struck millions at a time. Spin the thing in the
light of wealth, and I defy you, as it whizzes from the illumination of
riches to the shadow of poverty, to distinguish the one stamp from the
other. You cannot say, here the mode ends, and there the
unspeakable thing, its counterpart, has its beginning. Their
distinction of mere position has vanished, and they are in seeming as
in substance one and indivisible.
My uncle was now fairly under way.
The fashionable is the foam on the ocean of vulgarity, George, cast
up by the waves of that ocean, and caught by the light of the sun. It
is the vulgarblossoming. The flower it is of that earthly plant,
destined hereafter to run to seed, and to beget new groves and
thickets, new jungles, of vulgar things.
Note, George, how true this is of that common property of the
vulgar and fashionableslang. The apt phrase falls and applause
follows, and then down it goes. The essential feature of slang is words
misapplied; the essential distinction of a coarse mind from one
refined, an inability to appreciate fine distinctions and minor
discords; the essential of the vulgar, good example misused. First the
fashionable get the apt phrase, and bandy it about in inapt connections
until even the novelty of its discordance has ceased to charm, and
thereafter it sinks down, down. Fin de siècle and cliché
have, for instance, passed downward from the courts of the fashionable
among journalists into the unspeakable depths below. Soon, if not
already, fin de siècle gin and onions and haddocks will be for
sale in the Whitechapel-road, and Harriet will be calling Billy a
cliché faced swine. Even so do ostrich feathers begin a career of
glory at the Drawing-Room and the fashionable photographer's, and,
after endless re-dyeing, come to their last pose before a Hampstead
camera on a bright Bank Holiday.
The fashionable and vulgar are after all but the expression of
man's gregarious instinct. Every poor mortal is torn by the conflicting
dreads of being 'common-place,' and of being 'eccentric.' He, and more
particularly she, is continually imitating and avoiding imitation,
trying to be singular and yet like other people. In the exquisitely
fashionable and in the entirely vulgar the sheep-like longing is
triumphant, and the revolting individual has disappeared. The former is
a mechanical vehicle upon which the new 'correct thing' rides forth, to
extort the astonishment of men; the latter a lifeless bier bearing its
corrupt and unrecognisable remains away to final oblivion, amidst
It is curious to notice, George, that there has of late been a
fashion in 'originality.' The commonplace has turned, as it were, upon
itself, and vehemently denied its identity. So that people who were not
eccentric have become rare, and genius, so far as it is a style of
hairdressing, and originality, so far as it is a matter of etiquette or
morals, have become the habitual garments of the commonplace. The
introduction of the word 'bourgeois' as a comminatory epithet into the
English language, by bourgeois writers writing for the bourgeois, will
remain a memorial for ever, for the philological humourist to chuckle
over. If good resolutions could change the natures of men, opinion has
lately set so decidedly against the fashionable and the vulgar that
their continued existence in this world would be very doubtful. But the
leopard cannot change his spots so easily. While the stars go on in
their courses, until the cooling of the earth puts an end to the career
of life, and the last trace of his ancestral tendency to imitation
disappears as the last man becomes an angel, depend upon it, George,
the fashionable will ever pursue this chimæra of distinguished
correctness, and trail the inseparable howling vulgar in its wakefor
ever chased, like a dog with a tin can attached, by the horror of its
Thus my uncle. He had said a few of his things. It is possible his
trick of talking like a disarticulated essay had something to do with
his social discomfort. But anyhow he seemed all the better for the
Talking of tails, George, he said, reminds me. I noticed the men
at the Fitz-Brilliants' had their coats cutwell, I should say, just a
half inch shorter here than this of mine. Your man is not up to date. I
must get the thing altered to-morrow.
THE THEORY OF THE PERPETUAL
DISCOMFORT OF HUMANITY
He had been sitting with his feet upon the left jamb of my mantel,
admiring the tips of his shoes in silence for some time.
George, he said, dropping his cigar-ash thoughtfully into my
inkstand, in order, I imagine, to save my carpet, have you ever done
pioneer work for Humanity?
Never, I said. How do you get that sort of work?
I don't know. I met a man and a woman, though, the other night, who
said they were engaged in that kind of thing. It seems to me to be
exhausting work, and it makes the hair very untidy. They do it chiefly
with their heads. It consists, so I understand, of writing stuff in a
hurry, rushing about in cabs, wearing your hair in some unpleasant
manner, and holding disorderly meetings.
Who are these people?
Never heard of them before, though they told me they were quite
well known. The lady asked me if I had been to Chicago.
I chuckled. I could imagine no more hideous insult to my uncle.
I told her that I had been to most places south-eastward and
eastward, but never across the Atlantic. She informed me that I ought
to have gone to Chicago, and that America was a great country, and I
remarked that I had always thought it was so great that one could best
appreciate it at a distance. Then she asked me what I thought of the
condition of the lower classes, and I told her I was persuaded, from
various things I had noticed, that a lot of them were frightfully hard
up. And with that she started off to show whose fault it was, by the
A little. I did not get all my answers right. For instance, when
she asked, 'Who sends the members of Parliament to Westminster?' I
answered her, 'The governors of the young ones and the wives of the
others.' And when she said that was wrongI don't remember Socrates
ever saying bluntly that an answer was wrongI said I supposed she
referred to the Evil One. It was very dull of me, of course, and it
obliged her to dictate the right solution.
Afterwards she threw over teaching me anything, and explained to me
all about her Movements. At least, I got really interested in her
Movements. One thing she said struck me very much, though it could
hardly be called novel. It was that the fads of one age were the
fashions of the next; that while the majority of people were engaged in
their little present-day chores, persons like herself are making the
laws and preparing the customs for the generation to follow.
Poor generations to follow! I said.
Yes, but there is a lot of truth in it; and do you know there
flashed upon me all at once a great theory, the Theory of the Perpetual
Discomfort of Humanity. Just let me explain it to you, George, he
said, bringing himself round so that his legs hung over the arm of his
chair. I think you will see I have made a very great discovery, gone
to the root of the whole of this bother of reform movement, advancement
of humanity, and the rest of it. He sucked his cigar for a moment.
Each age, he said, has its own ideals of what constitutes human
A very profound observation, said I.
Looking down the vista of history, one may generalise and say that
we see human beings continually troubled by the conditions under which
they live. I can think of no time in the world when there was not some
Question or other getting fussed about: at one time episcopal celibacy,
at another time the Pict and Scot problem, and so on. Always a crumpled
rose-leaf. Hence reform movements. Now, reforms move slowly, and by the
time these reforms come about, the people whom they would have made
happy, and who fussed and encountered dislike and satire and snubbing,
and burning and boiling in oil, and suchlike discouragements, for the
sake of them, were dead and buried and mere sanitary problems. The new
people had new and quite different needs, and the reforms for which
their fathers fought and died more or less uncomfortably, and got into
debt with the printers, so soon as there were printers to get into debt
with, were about as welcome as belated dinner guests. You take me?
Ireland, when Home Rule comes home to it, will simply howl with
indignation. And we are living in the embodied discontent of the
eighteenth century. Adam Smith, Tom Paine, and Priestley would have
looked upon this age and seen that it was gooddevilish good; and as
you know, George, to us it iswell, a bit of a nuisance anyhow.
However, most people are like myself, and try to be as comfortable as
they can, and no doubt the next generation might do very well with it.
And then the pioneer people begin legislating, agitating, and ordering
things differently. As you know, George, I am inclined to conservatism.
Constitutionally, I tend to adapt myself to my circumstances. It seems
to me so much easier to fit the man to the age than to fit the age to
the man. Let us, I say, settle down. We shall never be able to settle
down while they keep altering things. It may not be a perfect world,
but then I am not a perfect man: Some of the imperfections are, at
least, very convenient. So my theory is this: the people whom the age
suits fairly well don't botherI don't bother; the others do.
It is these confounded glaring and unshorn anachronisms that upset
everything. They go about flapping their ideals at you, and writing
novels with a motive, and starting movements and societies, and
generally poking one's epoch to rags, until at last it is worn out and
you have to start a new one. My conception of the progress of humanity
is something after the Wandering Jew pattern. Your average humanity I
figure as a comfortable person like myself, always trying to sit down
and put its legs somewhere out of the way, and being continually
stirred up by women in felt hats and short skirts, and haggard men with
those beastly, long, insufficient beards, and soulful eyes, and
trumpet-headed creatures, and bogles with spectacles and bald heads,
and nephews who look at watches. What are you looking at your watch
for, George? I'm very happy as I am.
Has it ever occurred to you, George, that one of the most
uncomfortable things in the world must be to outlive your age? To have
all the reforms of your boyish liberalism coming home to roost, just as
you are settling down to the old order....
Six o'clock, by Jove! We shall keep them waiting if we don't mind.
THE USE OF IDEALS
Ideals! said my uncle; certainly Ideals. Of course one must have
ideals, else life would be bare materialism. Bare fact alone, naked
necessity, is impossible barren rock for a soul to root upon. Life,
indeed, is an unfurnished house, an empty glass in a thirsty landgood
and necessary for foundation, but insufficient for any satisfaction
unless we have ideals. Or, again, ideals are the flesh upon the
skeleton of reality, and it cannot live without them.
It always appears to me, said my uncle, that the comparison of
ideals to furniture is particularly appropriate. They are the draperies
of the mind, and they hide the nakedness of truth. Your fireplace is
ugly, your mere necessary shelves and seats but planks and crudity, all
your surroundings so much office furniture, until the skilful hand and
the draperies come in. Then a few cunning loopings and foldings, and
behold softness and delicacy, crudity gone, and life well worth the
living. So that you cannot value ideals too highly.
Yet at the same time My uncle became meditative.
I would not have a man the slave of his ideals. Hangings
make the room comfortable, but, after all, hangings are
hangings. Perhaps, now and thenof course, I would not suggest
continual inconstancya slight change, a little rearrangement, even a
partial replacement, might brighten up the dear old dwelling-place. An
ideal may be clung to too fondly. When the moth gets into it, or the
dustdid not Carlyle warn us against this, lest they 'accumulate and
at last produce suffocation'? I am exactly at one with him there.
And that, as any Cabinet Minister explains every time he opens a
public library, is why we have literature. Good books are the
warehouses of ideals. Does it strike you your furniture is sombre, a
bit Calvinistic and severetry a statuette by Pope, or a classical
piece out of Heine. Too much white and gold for every-day
purposesthen the Reverend Laurence Sterne will oblige. Urban tone may
be corrected by Hardy, and Lowell will give you urbanity. And, however
well you match and balance them, remember there is a time for ideals,
and a time when they are better out of the way.
The Philistine of Victorian literature, is a person without ideals,
the practical man. But just now the fashion is all for the things.
Ruskin and Carlyle set it going, and to-day the demand for ideals
exceeds the supply. And as a result, we meet with innumerable people
anxious to have the correct thing, but a little unsympathetic or
inexpert, and those unavoidable people who do not like the things but
feel compelled to get them. Ideals are not the easiest possessions to
have and manage, and they may even rise to the level of serious
inconveniences. So that I sometimes wonder these Extension people have
not taken up the subject of their management and use.
Note, for instance, the folly of bringing ideals too much into the
daily life; it is childish, like a baby insisting on its new toy at
meal times, and taking it to bed. Never use an ideal as a standard, and
avoid any that reflect upon your conduct. The extremest decorative
people refrain from enamelling their kettles, and my cook though a
'born lady' does not wear her silk dress in the kitchen. Ideals are the
full dress of the soul. A business man, for instance, who let visions
of reverend Venetian and Genoese seigniors interfere with his agile
City movementswho, to carry out our comparison, draped his mind with
these thingswould be uncommonly like a bowler in a dressing-gown.
Then an ideal, we are also told, is an elevating influence in life;
but unless one is very careful one may get hoist with one's own petard
to a pitifully transitory soar above common humanity. The soar itself
is not unpleasant, but the sequel is sometimes disagreeable.
To show how an ideal may trip up an inexpert mortal, take that man
Javvers and his wife. She also had an ideal husband, which was, indeed,
a kind of bigamy, and her constant references to this creation of hers
used to drive poor old Javvers frantic. It became as objectionable as
if she had been its sorrowing widow, and ultimately it wrecked the
happiness of their little home very completely.
The seat of ideals, then, in one's mind, should be, as it were, a
lounge, over which these hangings may drape and flap harmlessly; but it
may easily become as the bed of Procrustes. To turn ideals to idols,
and to command your whole world to bow down to them, savours of the
folly of Nebuchadnezzar the king. Let your ideal world be far away from
reality, fit it with rococo furniture, angels and birds-of-paradise,
Minnesinger flowers and views of the Delectable Mountains: and go there
occasionally and restto return without illusions, without
encumbrance, but with renewed zest, to the sordid world of the actual,
the world of every day. Herein is the real use of the ideal; all other
is fanaticism and folly.
THE ART OF BEING PHOTOGRAPHED
An album, said my uncle, as he sat and turned over my collection
of physiognomy, is, I think, the best reading in the world. You get
such sidelights on the owner's heredity, George; distant cousins
caricature his features and point the moral of his nose, and ancestral
faces prophesy his fate. His friends, moreover, figure the secret of
his soul. But what a lot we have to learn yet in the art of being
photographed, what grotesque and awkward blunders your common sitters
make! Why, for instance, do men brush their hair so excessively when
they go before the lens? Your cousin here looks like a cheap chess pawn
about the head, whereas as I know him his head is a thing like a
worn-out paint-brush. Where but in a photograph would you see a parting
so straight as this? It is unnatural. You flatten down all a man's
character; for nothing shows that more than the feathers and drakes'
tails, the artful artlessness, or revolutionary tumult of his hair.
Mind you, I am not one of those who would prohibit a man wearing what
he conceives to be his best clothes to the photographer's. I like to
see the little vanity peeping outthe last moment's folly of a foolish
tie, nailed up for a lifetime. Yet all the same, people should
understand that the camera takes no note of newness, but much of the
cut and fit. And a man should certainly not go and alter his outline
into a feminine softness, by pouring oil on his troubled mane and
plastering it down with a brush and comb. It is not tidiness, but
We have indeed very much to learn in this matter. It is a thing
that needs teaching, like deportment or dancing. Plenty of men I have
noticed, who would never do it in real life, commit the sin of being
over-gentlemanly in an album. Their clothes are even indecently
immaculate. They become, not portraits, but fashion-plates. I hate a
man who is not rumpled and creased a little, as much as I do a brand
new pipe. And, as a sad example of sin on the other hand, on the side
of carelessness, I have seen renderings of a very august personage
indeed, in a hata hat! It was tilted, and to add to the
atrocity, he was holding a cigar. This I regard as horrible. Think!
your photograph may go into boudoirs. Imagine Gladys opening the album
to Ænone; 'Now I will show you him.' And there you sit, leering
at their radiant sweetness, hat on, and a cigar reeking between your
No, George, a man should go very softly to a photographer's, and he
should sit before the camera with reverence in his heart and in his
attitude, as if he were in the presence of the woman he loved.
He turned to Mrs Harborough's portrait, looked at it, hesitated,
looked again, and passed on.
I often think we do not take this business of photography in a
sufficiently serious spirit. Issuing a photograph is like marriage: you
can only undo the mischief with infinite woe. I know of one man who has
an error of youth of this kind on his minda fancy-dress costume
affair, Crusader or Templarof which he is more ashamed than many men
would be of the meanest sins. For sometimes the camera has its mordant
moods, and amazes you by its saturnine estimate of your merits. This
man was perhaps a little out of harmony with the garments of chivalry,
and a trifle complacent and vain at the time. But the photograph of him
is so cynical and contemptuous, so merciless in its exposure of his
element of foolishness, that we may almost fancy the spook of Carlyle
had got mixed up with the chemicals upon the film. Yet it never really
dawned upon him until he had distributed this advertisement of his
little weakness far and wide, that the camera had called him a fool to
his face. I believe he would be glad now to buy them all back at five
pounds a copy.
This of Minnie Hobson is a work of art. Bless me, the girl must be
thirty-seven or thirty-eight now, and just look at her! These
photographers have got a trick now, if your face is one of the long
kind, of raising the camera, bending your head forward, and firing down
at you. So our Minnie becomes quite chubby again. Then, this thing has
been retouched. My uncle peered into the photograph. It seems to me
it is pretty nearly all retouching. For instance, if you look at the
eye, that high light is not perfectly even; that was touched in on the
negative with a pencil. Then about the neck of our Minnie I have
observed certain bones, just the slightest indication of her
collar-bone, George, but that has disappeared under the retoucher's
pencil. Then the infantile smoothness of her cheek, and the
beautifully-rounded outline, is produced by the retoucher carefully
scraping off the surface of the film where the cheekbone projected with
a sharp knife. There are also in real life little lines between the
corner of our Minnie's mouth and her nostril. And again, Minnie is one
of those people whose dresses never seem to fit, but this fits like a
glove. These retouchers are like Midas, and they turn all that comes to
their hands to gold; or, like Spring, the flowers come back at their
approach. They reverse the work of Ithuriel, and restore brightness to
the fallen. They sit at their little desks, and scratch, scratch,
scratch with those delicate pencils of theirs, scratching away age,
scratching away care, making the crooked straight, and the rough
smooth. They are the fairies of photography, and fill our albums with
winsome changelings. Their ministry anticipates in a little way the
angels who will take us when we die, releasing us from the worn and
haggard body of this death, and showing something of the eternal life
and youth that glows within. Or one might say that the spirit of the
retoucher is the spirit of Love. It makes plain women beautiful, and
common men heroic. Her regal fingers touch for the evil of
ungainliness, and, behold, we are restored. Her pencil is like the
Queen's sword, and it makes knights out of common men.
When I have my photograph taken, said my uncle, I always like to
think of the retoucher. I idealise her; I fancy her with the sweetest
eyes I have ever seen, and an expression infinitely soft and tender.
And she looks closely into my face, and her little pencil goes gently
and lovingly over my features. Tickle, tickle. In that way, George, I
get a really very nice expression indeed. My uncle turned to his own
presentment, and mused pleasantly for a space. Then he looked again at
Mrs Harborough as if inadvertently, and asked her name.
I like this newer way of taking your photograph, against a mere
grey background; just the head of you. One should always beware of the
property furniture of the photographer. In the seventies they were
great at such aidsa pedestal, a cork rustic stile, wide landscape in
the distance, but I think that we are at least getting beyond that now.
People in those days must have been afraid to be left alone before a
camera, or they wanted it to seem that they were taken unawares, quite
against their modestydid not know what the camera was, and were just
looking at it. A very favourite pose for girls was a graceful droop
over a sofa, chin on elegant hand. When I was at DribblebridgeI was a
bright young fellow thenI collected a number of local photographs,
ladies chiefly, and the thing was very noticeable when I put them in a
row over my mantleshelf. The local 'artist' was intensely fond of that
pose. But fancy the local leader finding her cook drooping over the
same sofa as herself! Nowadays, I see, you get merely the heads of your
girls, with their hair flossed up, intense light from above, and faces
in shadow. I think it is infinitely better.
What horrible things hands become in a photograph! I wonder how it
is that the hand in a photograph is always four shades darker than the
arm. Every girl who goes to be photographed in evening dress should be
solemnly warned to keep her hands out of the picture. They will look as
though she has been enamelling the grate, or toying with a bucket of
pitch. There is something that sins against my conception of womanly
purity in those dark hands.
My uncle shut the album. Yes, it is a neglected field of education,
an important branch of deportment altogether forgotten. Our well-bred
ease fails us before the camera; we are lucky if we merely look stiff
and self-conscious. I should fancy there would be an opening for some
clever woman to teach people how to dress for the occasion and how to
sit, what to avoid and how to avoid it. As it is, we go in a state of
nervous agitation, obsequiously costumed; our last vestige of
self-assertion vanishes before the unwinking Cyclops eye of the
instrument, and we cower at the mercy of the thing and its attendant.
They make what they will of us, and the retoucher simply edits the
review with an eye to the market. So history is falsified before our
faces, and we prepare a lie for our grandchildren. We fail to stamp our
individualities upon our photographs, and are mere 'dumb-driven cattle'
in the matter. We sin against ourselves in this neglect, and act
against the spirit of the age. Sooner or later this haphazard treatment
of posterity must come to an end. He meditated for a moment. Then, as
if pursuing a train of thought, That Mrs Harborough is a very pretty
woman, George. Where did you happen to meet her?
BAGSHOT'S MURAL DECORATIONS
Bagshot was rather proud of his new quarters until my uncle called
upon him. Up to then he felt assured he was doing right; had, indeed,
not the faintest doubt in the matter until my uncle unsettled him.
Nice carpet, Bagshot, said my uncle, nice and soft. This chair
certainly very comfortable. But what the mischief do you meanyou,
with your pretence to cultureby hanging your dwelling with all those
framed and glazed photograph and autograph dittoes? I should have
thought you at least would have known better. Love and Life, and Love
and Death, the Daphnephoria, Rembrandt's portraitWild Havoc, man!
What were you thinking of?
Bagshot seemed staggered. He ventured to intimate feebly his
persuasion that the things were rather good.
Good they certainly are, and well reproduced, but only the Bible
and Shakspeare could stand this incessant reiteration, and not all
Shakspeare. These things are in shop windows, mandrawing-rooms,
offices, everywhere. They afflict me like popular songslike popular
quotations. They are good enoughas a matter of fact they are too
good. Only, don't you know Willis has Love and Life and Love and Death?
And so has Smith, and Bays has Rembrandt's portrait in his office, and
my niece Euphemia has the Daphnephoria in her drawing-room. I can't
understand, George, why you let it stay there. It is possible to have
too much of a good thing. There is no getting away from these all too
popular triumphs. They cover up the walls everywhere. They consume all
other art. I shall write a schedule some day of the Fifty Correct
Pictures of the British People. And to find you, Bagshot, among
I thought they showed rather an improvement in the general taste,
said Bagshot. There is no reason why a thing should not be common, and
yet very beautiful. Primroses, for instance
That is true enough, but pictures are not primroses, said my
uncle. Besides, I think we like primroses all the better because they
must soon be over; but these are perennial blossoms, like the
everlasting flowers and dried grass of a lodging house. They may still
be beautiful, but by this time, Bagshot, they are awfully dry and
dusty. Who looks at them? I notice our eyes avoid them even while we
talk about them. We have all noticed everything there is to be noticed,
and said all the possible things that are to be said about them long
ago. Surely a picture must be a little fresh to please. Else we shall
come at last to the perfect picture, and art will have an end. Don't
you see the mere popularity of these things of the pavement is enough
to condemn them in the estimation of every right-minded person?
I don't see it, said Bagshot, making head against the torrent. I
cannot afford to go to these swells and get original work of
What do you want with 'these swells' and their original work?
interrupted my uncle fiercely. Haven't they used up all their
originality ages ago? Is it not open to such men as yourself to
discover new men? There are men pining in garrets now for you, Bagshot.
Fancy the delight of having pictures that are unfamiliar, pictures that
catch the eye and are actually to be looked at, pictures that suggest
new remarks, pictures by a name that the stray visitor has never heard
of and which therefore puzzle him dreadfully because he hasn't the
faintest idea whether to praise or blame them! Isn't it worth hunting
studios for, and even, maybe, going to the Academy? Besides, suppose
your struggling artist comes to the front. What price the five-guinea
specimen of his early style then? Your artistic virtue is indeed its
own reward, and, besides, you can boast about finding him. The poor man
of culture and the struggling artist live for one another, or at least
they ought tothough I am afraid it is not much of a living for the
struggling artist. He paused abruptly. I suppose that autotype cost
thirty shillings, and this carpet about five pounds?
Bagshot assumed an elegant attitude against his bureau. He had
discovered his reply. You know you are bitten by the fashion for
originality. Why should I make my room hideous with the work of
third-rate mediocrity, or of men who are still learning to paint,
simply in order to be unlike my neighbour?
Why, returned my uncle, should you hang up things less
interesting than your wall paper, in mere imitation of your neighbours?
For this on your walls, Bagshot, deny it though you may, is not art but
fashion. I tell you, you do not care a rap for art. You think pictures
are a part of virtue, like a silk hator evening dress at dinner. And
in your choice of pictures you follow after your kind. I never met a
true-born Briton yet who dared to buy a picture on his own
accordunless he was a dealer. And then usually he was not really a
true-born Briton. He waits to see what is being hung. He has these
things now because he thinks they are right, not because they are
beautiful, just as he used to have the Stag at Bay and the Boastful
Hound. It is Leighton now; it was Landseer then. Really I believe that
very soon the ladies' papers will devote a column to pictures.
Something in this style. 'Smart people are taking down their Rossetti's
Annunciations now, and are hanging Gambler Bolton's new Hippopotamus in
the place of it. This Hippopotamus is to be the correct thing in
pictures this year, and no woman with any claim to be considered smart
will fail to have it over her piano. Marcus Stone's new engraving will
also be rather chic. Watts's Hope is now considered a little dowdy.'
And so forth. This gregarious admiration is the very antithesis of
artistic appreciation, which I tell you, simply must be individual.
Go on, said Bagshot, go on.
And that, said my uncle, with the glow of discovery in his face,
that is where the vulgar critic goes wrong. He conceives an orthodoxy.
He tries to explain why Velasquez is better than Raphael and Raphael
better than Gerard Dow. As well say why a cirrus cloud is better than a
sycamore and a sycamore better than a scarlet hat. Every painter,
unless he is a mere operative, must have his peculiar public. It is
incredible that any painter can really satisfy the æsthetic needs of
such a public as these reproductions indicate. True art is always
sectarian. Why were Landseer and Sidney Cooper popular a few years ago,
and why does every tea-table sneer at them now? There must be something
admirable in them, or they would never have been admired. Then why has
my niece Annie dropped admiring Poynter, and why does she pretendand
a very thin pretence it isto admire Whistler?
You are wandering from my pictures, said Bagshot.
I want to, said my uncle. But why do you try and hide your taste
under these mere formalities in frames? Why do you always say 'I pass'
in the game of decoration? Better a mess of green amateurs and love
therewith, than the richest autotypes and dull complacency. Have what
you like. There is no such thing as absolute beauty. That is the Magna
Charta of the world of art. What is beautiful to me is not beautiful to
another man, in art as in women. But take care to get the art that fits
you. Frankly, that 'Love and Death' suits you, Bagshot, about as much
as a purple toga would. Orchardson is in your style. I tell you that
the greengrocer who buys an original oil painting for sixteen shillings
with frame complete is far nearer artistic salvation than the patron of
the popular autotype. Surely you will wake up presently, Bagshot, and
wonder what you have been about.
Half-past four, by Jove! I must be getting on. Well, Bagshot,
ta-ta. One must talk, you know. I really hope you will be comfortable
in your new rooms.
And so good-bye to Bagshot, staring in a puzzled way at his reviled
and desecrated walls.
ON SOCIAL MUSIC
My poor uncle came to me the other evening in a most distressful
state, broken down to common blasphemy. His ample front was rumpled
with sorrow and his tie disorderly aslant. His hair had gone rough with
his troubles. The time I have had, George! he panted. Give me
something to drink in the name of Holy Charity.
Since the Pall Mall Gazette took to reporting his little
sayings about photographs and ornaments, ideals and fashions, he has
been setting up as a conversationalist. He thinks he was designed by
Providence to that end, and aids his destiny as much as he can by
elaborately preparing remarks.
Yet this thing had happened. They put, said my uncle, a little
chap at the piano, and me at a very nice girl indeed as she looked; and
the little chap began, and so did I. I said a prelude thing of mine,
brand new and rather pretty.
He stopped. He turned to nerve himself with whisky.
Well, I said, when the pause seemed sufficient; what did she
My uncle looked unspeakable things. Then in a whisper, bending
He repeated it that I might grasp its full enormity, Sssh!so!
What is music, said my uncle, after a moody silence, that
reasonable people should listen to it? I had to listen to it
myself, and it struck me. It was just a tune this little chap was
trying to remember, and now he would come at it this way and now that.
He never got it quite right, though he fumbled about it for ten minutes
or a quarter of an hour. And then two girls went, and one punished the
piano while the other, with a wrist rather than an ear for music,
drowned its cries with a violin. So it went on all the evening, and
when I moved they all looked at me; I had been put on a nervous wicker
chair, and I knew my shoes squeaked like a carnival of swine, and so I
could not get away. And all the things that kept coming into my head,
George, the neat remarks and graceful sayings!
You see, I look at it in this light. Music is merely background,
and ought to be kept in its place. I am no enemy of music, George. The
air in a room should be melodious, for the same reason that it should
be faintly pleasing to the olfactory sense, and neither hot nor stuffy.
Just as the walls should be delightfully coloured and softly lit, and
the refreshments pleasant and at the moment of need. But surely we meet
for human intercourse. When I go to see people I go to see the
peoplenot to hear a hired boy play the piano. But these people plant
a chevaux de frise of singers and performers upon instruments of
music between themselves and me. They gag me with a few pennyworths of
second-hand opera. There I was bursting to talk, and nice,
intelligent-looking girls to talk to, and whenever I began to say
something they said 'Sssh!' Tantalus in a drawing-room it
wasthe very Hades of hospitality.
Surely some day we shall learn refinement in our entertaining. Your
modern hostess issues her invitations and seems overcome with
consternation at her gathering. 'What shall I do with all these
people?' she seems to ask. So she dabs cakes upon them, piles coffee
cups over them: 'Eat,' she says, 'and shut up!' and stifles their
protests with a clamorous woman and a painful piano.
No, of course I don't object to having music. But it is an
accessory, not an object, in life. It is, after all, a physical
comfort, a pleasant vibration in one's ears. To make an object of it is
sensuality. It is on all-fours with worshipping the wallpaper. Some
wall-papers are very beautiful things nowadays, harmonious in form and
colour, skilful in invention; but people do not expect you to sit down
and admire wall-paper, or promise you 'wallpaper at eight.' Neither do
they put an extinguisher over any girl who does not go with the
wall-paper, or expect you to dress in neutral tint on account of it,
and they are not hurt if you go away without seeming to see it.
Gustatory harmony, too, is very delicious. Yet there is no hush during
dinner; they do not insist upon a persistent gnawing in honour of the
feast. But these musical people! their god is their piano. They set up
an idol in their salon, and command all the world to bow down to it.
They found a priestcraft of pianists, and an Inquisition of fiddlers.
When I came away they were all crowded round a violin, the women
especially. They could not have fussed more if it had been a baby. They
stroked it and admired its figure. It had rather a fashionable
figure, but the neck was too long....
I began to suspect the cause of this bitterness.
Yes. She was there. And while some of this piano was going on she
looked at the ear of the man who was playing with a dreamy, tender
look.... No. I couldn't get a word with her the whole evening.
THE JOYS OF BEING ENGAGED
As I was passing the London University the other day I saw my uncle
emerge from the branch of the Bank of England opposite, and proceed in
the direction of the Burlington Arcade. He was elaborately disguised as
a young man, even to the youthful flower, and I was incontinently
smitten with curiosity respecting the dark purpose he might veil in
this way. There is, to me, a peculiar and possibly rather a childish
fascination in watching my more intimate friends unobserved, and,
curiously enough, I had never before studied the avuncular back view. I
found something singularly entertaining in the study of the graceful
contour of his new frock coat, and in the cheerful carriage of his
cane. He paraded, a dignified procession of one, some way down the
Arcade, hesitated for a moment outside a jeweller's shop, and then
entered it. I strolled on as far as Piccadilly, returned to the shop,
and so fell upon him suddenly in the midst of his buying.
Hullo, George! he said hastily, facing me so as to hide as much of
the counter as possible. How's Euphemia?
I looked him fairly in the eye. You are buying a ring, I
said in a firm, decided voice.
He turned to the counter with an air of surprise. By Jove, so I
A lady's ring, I said. He was, I could see, hastily collecting his
sufficiently nimble powers of subterfuge. One must buy something, you
know, George, sometimes, he said feebly.
He had selected some dozen or so already, the most palpable
engagement rings I think I ever saw. One of them had visible on its
inner curvature the four letters MIZP. He looked at them, saw the
posy, and then, glancing at me, laughed affably. I meant to tell you
yesterday, GeorgeI will take these, to the shopman. And we emerged
with a superficial amiability; the case of rings in my uncle's pocket.
The thing was rather a shock to me, coming so suddenly and
unexpectedly. I had anticipated some innocent purchase of the jewellery
he reviles so much, but certainly not significant rings, golden fetters
for others to wear and enslave him; and we were past the flowershop
towards Hyde Park before either of us spoke. It seemed so dreadful to
me that the cheerful, talkative man beside me, my own father's little
brother, a traveller in distant countries, and a most innocent man, and
with all the inveterate habits of thirty years' honourable bachelorhood
and all the mellowness of life upon him, should, without consulting me,
have taken the first irrevocable step towards becoming a ratepayer, a
pew tenant, paterfamilias, a fighter with schoolmasters, and the serf
of a butler, that I scarcely knew what to say adequate to the occasion.
Well, said I at last, with an involuntary sigh, I suppose I must
Don't look at it in that light, George, said my uncle; and he
added in a more cheerful tone, I am only going to get engaged, you
You can scarcely imagine, George, he proceeded, how I have longed
to be engaged. All my life it has been my hope and goal. It is, I
think, the ideal state of man. There was a chap with me when I was at
Kimberley who first put the idea into my head. His ways were animated
and cheerful even for a diamond field, where you know animation and
cheerfulness are, so to speak, de rigueur. Whisky he affected,
and jesting of the kind that paints cities scarlet. And he used every
night, before festivities began, to write a long letter to some girl in
England, and say, within limits, how bad he had been and how he longed
to reform and be with her, and never, never do anything wrong any more.
He poured all the higher and better parts of his nature into the
letter, and folded it up and sealed it very carefully. And then he came
to us in a singularly relieved frame of mind, and would be the life and
soul of as merry a game of follow-your-leader as one can well imagine.
Pleasant reminiscences occupied him for a moment. Every man should
be engaged, I think, to at least one woman. It is the homage we owe to
womankind, and a duty to our souls. His fiancée is indeed the
Madonna of a true-hearted man; the thought of her is a shrine at the
wayside of one's meditations, and her presence a temple wherein we
cleanse our souls. She is mysterious, worshipful, and inaccessible,
something perhaps of the woman, possibly even propitious and helpful,
and yet something of the Holy Grail as well. You have no rights with
her, nor she with you; you owe her no definite duties, and yet she is
singularly yours. A smile is a favour, a touch of her fingers, a faint
pressure of your hand, is an infinite privilege. You cannot demand the
slightest help or concern of her, so you ask it with diffident grace
and there is an overflowing stream of gratitude from small occasions.
Whatever you give her is a gift too, while a husband is just property,
a mere draught-camel for her service. All your functions are
decorative, you hang her shrine with flowers and precious stones. You
treat her to art and literature, and as for vulgar necessitiessome
one else sees to that.
Until you are married, began I.
I am speaking of being engaged. Marriage is altogether a different
thing. The essence of a proper engagement is reverence, distance, and
mystery; the essence of marriage is familiarity. A fiancée is a
living eidolon; a wife, from my point of view at least, should be a
confidential companion, a fellow-conspirator, an accessory after the
fact, at least, to one's little errors; should take some share of the
burthen and heat of the day with one, and have the humour to bear with
a mood of vexation or a fit of the blues. I doubt, do you know, if the
same kind of girl is suitable for engagements as for marriage. For an
engagement give me something very innocent, a little awe-inspiring on
that account, absolutely and tenderly worshipful, yet given to moods of
caressing affection, and altogether graceful and beautiful. A man, I
think, ought to be incapable of smoking or lounging in front of the
girl he professes to love, so reverent ought his love to be. But for
marriage let me have humour and some community of taste, a woman who
can climb stiles and stand tobacco smoke, and who knows a good cook by
her fruits.... It is a complicated business, this marrying.
The familiarity of the marriage state, if it does not breed
positive contempt on the part of the angel, engenders at times, I
think, a considerable craving for change on the side of both parties.
We men are poor creatures at the bestI always pity your Euphemia.
Married people, for instance, always get too much of each other's
conversation. They do not have sufficient opportunity to recuperate
their topics from original sources. They get interested in outside
people, merely from a perfectly legitimate desire to get some amusing
novel ideas for each other, and then comes jealousy. I sometimes think
that if Adam and Eve had been merely engaged, she would not have talked
with the serpent; and the world had been saved an infinity of misery.
No, George: engagements for me. It is the state we were made for. I
have delayed this matter all too long. But, thank heaven, I am engaged
at lastI hope for all the rest of my life. Now, will you not
It may be very nice as you put it, but engagements end as well as
begin, I insisted. You cannot be a law unto yourself in these
matters. When will you get married?
Good Heavens! exclaimed my uncle. Get married and end this
delightful state! You don't think she will want me to marry her, do
you? Besides, she told me some time ago that she did not intend to
marry again. It was only that encouraged me to suggest an engagement to
her. Though she is a wonderful woman, Georgea wonderful woman. Still,
I think she looks at things very much as I do.
He paused thoughtfully. Then added with fervour, At least I hope
LA BELLE DAME SANS MERCI
I found him in his own apartments, and strangely disordered. He went
to and fro, ravingbeginning so soon as I entered the room. I noticed
a book half out of its cover, flung carelessly into the corner of the
I am enchanted of an impalpable woman, George, he said, I am in
bonds to a spirit of the air. I can neither think nor work nor eat nor
sleep because of her. Sometimes I go out suddenly, tramping through
seething streets, through fog and drizzle or dry east wind, mourning
for her sake. My life is rapidly becoming one colourless melancholy
through her spells and twining sorceries. I sometimes wish that I were
Yet I have never seen her. Often, indeed, I imagine her, anon as of
this shape, and anon of that. I know her only by her victims, those she
slays daily, and daily revives to slay. They come to me with their
complaints, mutilated, pathetic, terrible. I try to shut my ears to
them in vain. I have tried wool, but it made little or no difference.
The business always begins with the slamming of a door and a
healthy footfall across the room. The piano is opened. Then some
occasional noisesthe falling of a piece of music behind the piano,
perhaps, and its extraction by means of the tongsI know it is tongs
she uses by the clang. Then the music-stool creaks, and La Belle Dame
is ready to play. She puts both her hands upon the key-board, and the
treble shrieks apprehensively, and the bass roars like a city in
revolt. After that this hush. Just this interval.
Yet I sometimes think this hush is really the worst of it all. It
is a voluminous apprehension, a towering impendency. You don't
understand, George. You can't. The poor devil in Poe's 'Pit and the
Pendulum' must have had a taste of my sensations. A first victim is
being chosen. I have a vision of the spirits of composers small and
greatstanding up like suspects awaiting identification, while her eye
ranges over them. Chopin tries to edge behind Wagner, a difficult and
forbidding person, and Gounod seeks eclipse of Mendelssohn, who
suddenly drops and crawls on all fours between Gounod's legs; Sullivan
cowers, and even Piccolomini's iron-framed nerves desert him. She
extends her hand. There is a frantic rush to escape. Have you ever seen
a little boy picking dormice out of a cage? I always see this same
nightmare during that dreadful pause, a vision of a writhing heap of
kicking, struggling, maddened composers, and of a ghoulish piano
grinning expectant, jaw raisedlid I meanand showing all its black
and yellow keys. ... A melancholy shriek. Do you hear, George? Tito
Mattel is captured. A song.
'PumSo long the wayPumso dark the dayPumDEAR HEART!
before you come.' So Tito Mattel comes pumming through the wall into my
presence. I don't pity him. Indeed it is a positive relief that it is
only Tito Mattel. The man's no deity at the best, and a little pulling
out, and pulling crooked, and general patching together of limbs in the
wrong place scarcely matters so far as he and my taste are concerned.
Yet I always leave my work, George, when that begins, and walk about
the room. I try to persuade myself that I need fresh air, but the
autumnal day, the damp shiny street, has all the uninviting harshness
of truthI admit I do not. Tito flops about, is riddled with dropped
notes and racked with hesitations, and presently becomes still. The
murder is over.
What next? That Study of Chopin's! This time the thing is more
inspiring. Once upon a time it was a favourite of mine. Now it is a
favourite of the unseen lady's. She plays it with spirit, and conjures
up strange fancies in my brain. The noises that come through the wall
now, quicker, thicker, louder, are full of a tale of weltering
confusion, marine disaster, a ship in sore labour; there is a steady
beating like the sound of pumps, and a trickle of treble notes. There
are black silences, like thunderclouds, that burst into flashes of
music. Now the poor melody swings up into the airthen comes one of
those terrible pauses, and now down into the abyss. A crash, an
ineffectual beating, a spasmodic rush. I seem to hear the pumps again,
distant, remote, ineffectual. But that is not so; the struggle is over.
Chopin's Study has been battered to pieces; only disarticulated
fragments toss amidst the froth. High up the confusion of the stormy
sky she drives in a sieve dropping notesthe witch of the storm. La
Belle Dame Sans Merci.
But the third piece in her repertory has begunRubinstein. This,
at any rate, is familiar. She plays with the confidence born of long
unpunished misdoing. That Rubinstein must indeed be sorry, and unless
their elysium is like the library of the Linnæan Society, and fitted
with double windows, all the great departed musicians must be sorry
too, that he ever wrote a Melody in F. Daily from the altars of a
thousand, of ten thousand, school pianos that melody cries to heaven.
From the empire of the music master, upon which the sun never sets, day
and night, week in week out, from year to year, Rubinstein's Melody in
F streams up for ever. These school pieces are like the Latin ritual
before the Reformation, they link all Christendom by a common use. As
the earth spins, and the sunlight sweeps ever westward, that melody
passes with the day. Now it is tinkling in a grey Moravian school, now
it dawns upon the Adige and begins in Alsace, now it has reached
Madrid, Paris, London. Then a devotee in some Connemara Establishment
for Young Ladies sets to. Presently tall ships upon the silent main
resound with it, and they are at it in the Azores and in Iceland, and
thenone solitary tinkling, doubling, reduplicating, manifolding into
an innumerable multitudeNew York takes up the wondrous tale. On then
with the dawn to desolate cattle ranches, the tablelands of Mexico, the
level plains of Illinois and Michigan. So the great tide that started
in Rubinstein's cranium proceeds upon its destiny. Always somewhere
between the hours of eleven and two it comes back to me here, poor
hunted composition, running its eternal world gauntlet, pursuing its
Wandering Jew pilgrimage, and I curse and pity it as it goes by.... It
has gone. The 'Maiden's Prayer' is next usually. Then one of the
'Lieder ohne Worte,' then the 'Dead March'all of them but the meagre
and mutilated skeletons of themselves; things of gaps and tatters, like
gibbet trophies. They are as knocked about as a fleet coming out of
action, they are as twisted and garbled as a Chinese war telegram; it
is like an hospital for congenitally diseased compositions taking the
air. And they have to hobble along sharply too; there is a certain
cruel decision in the way the notes are struck, a Nurse Gillespie touch
about this Invisible Lady. Or it may be the callousness of old habit, a
certain sense of a duty overdone, a certain impatience at the long
delay. You will hear.
Listen!Tum Tum Ti-ti-tumNo!tum. Slight pause.
Tum tum twiddlevigorous crescendoTUM. This is unusual! A
stranger? A new piece for La Belle Dame Sans Merci? Her wonted reckless
dash deserts her. She is, as it were, exploring a new region, and
advances with mischievous coyness, with an affectation of a faltering
heart, with hesitating steps. My imagination is stimulated by these
dripping notes. I see her, as it were, on an uneven pavement; here the
flags are set on end, there fungi have tilted them, a sharp turning of
the page may reveal heaven knows what horrors; presently comes a black
gap with a vault of dusty silence below. A pause, an incoherency, a
repetition! She has encountered some difficulty, some slumbering coil
of sharps and flats, and it raises its bristling front in her way....
She has fled back to the opening again. I begin to wonder what unhappy
musician lies hidden in this new ruin, behind the bars of this
melancholy confusion. There is something familiar but elusive, like a
face that one has known and loved and lost and met again after the
cruel changes of intervening years. It conjures up oddly enough a
vision of a long room in the twilight, and an acacia in silhouette
against the pale gold of the western sky. Ah! now I know!
That of all pieces!
I must have my walk, George. I cannot bear to hear that
old-familiar music so evilly entreated. But, all the same, the memory
it has touched will vibrate and smart; to-day and to-morrow, and I know
not for how many days, it will re-echo in my brain. All the old cloudy
remorse that has subsided will be set astir again. I shall hear again a
light touch upon the keys, see again the shadowy face against the
sunset, try to recall the sound of a voice.... What evil spirit has put
this mockery into the head of La Belle Dame? Surely without this
He made a dive at the folding doors and presently reappeared in his
coat. It was the only intimation I ever had that my dear little uncle
had such a thing as a Past.
ON A TRICYCLE
I sat on the parapet of the bridge, and swung my feet over the water
that frothed and fretted at the central pier below. Above the bridge
the stream broadened into a cress-bespangled pool, over which the
sapphire dragon-flies hovered, and its earlier course was hidden by the
big oak trees that bent towards each other from either bank. Through
their speckled tracery of green one saw the hazy blue depths of the
further forest. I was watching the proceedings of some quick-moving
brown bird amid the rushes and marsh marigolds of the opposite bank.
Pleasant, said a voice beside me.
I turned, and saw my uncle. He was disguised in a costume of
reddish-brown cloth. Golf here? said I, and then I noticed the
tricycle. A vagrom man on wheels!
Both the suit and the machine became him very well. The machine was
low, and singularly broad between the wheels, and altogether equal to
him, and it had chubby pneumatic tires and a broad and even imposing
Yes, said he, following my eye. It is a handsome machine, a full
dress concern with all its plating and brown leather, and in use it is
as willing and quiet as any tricycle could be, a most urbane and
gentlemanly affairif you will pardon the adjective. I am glad these
things have not come too late for me. Frankly, the bicycle is
altogether too flippant for a man of my age, and the tricycle hitherto,
with its two larger wheels behind and a smaller one in front, has been
so indecently suggestive of a perambulator that really, George, I could
not bring myself to it. But a Bishop might ride that thing.
He swung himself up upon the parapet beside me and lit a cigar.
The bicycle for boys, Georgeor fools. The things will not keep up
for a moment without you work at them, they need constant attention; I
would as soon ride a treadmill. You cannot loaf with them, and the only
true pleasure of cycling is to loaf. Yet only this morning did I meet
an elderly gentleman with a beard fit for Abraham, his face all crimson
and deliquescent with heat, and all distorted with the fury of his
haste, toiling up a hill on one of these unstable instruments. When he
saw me coming down in all my ease and dignity he damned at me with his
bell. Now, I do not like to see a bicycle wobble under a load of years,
and steer into the irascible. As years increase tempers shorten, and
bicycles, even the best of bicycles, are seductively irritating.
Besides, the devil of the Wandering Jew has power over all such as
go upon two wheels. 'Onward,' he says, 'onward! Faster, thou man! This
green and breezy earth is no abiding place for you!' And
hard-breathing, crook-shaped, whirling, bell-banging lunatics try and
race you. They whiz by, thinking indignities of your dignified
progress, and sometimes saying them. Not one cyclist in a dozen,
George, and seemingly not a solitary bicyclist, seems to think of
anything but getting to the end of his pleasure. I meet these servants
of the wheel at the inns, and they tell short stories and sketches
about their pace, and show each other their shoes and saddles, and
compare maps and roads; some even try to trade machines. They talk most
indecently of the makes and prices. I would as soon ask a man who was
his tailor or where he got his hair cut and how much he paid. One man I
met was not so much a man as a hoarding, blatant about the Gaspipe
Machine Company. For them no flowers exist, no wild birds, no trees, no
landscapes, no historical memorials, and no geological associations,
nothing but the roads they traverse and the bicycles they ride. Those
that have other interests have them in the form of cheap portable
cameras, malignant things that can find no beauty in earth or heaven.
George, said my uncle, suddenly, and I knew he had come upon a
great discovery; real human beings are scarce in this world.
You speak bitterly, said I. I know what has happened. You are hot
from an inn full of the viler type of cyclist, and I presume that,
after their custom, they mocked at your machinery. But don't blacken a
popular exercise on that account.
But these men are so aggressive! I tell you, George, it requires
moral courage to ride a tricycle about at a moderate pace, as a man of
discretion should. They want to make a sport of it; they are
race-struck, incapable of understanding a man who rides at seven miles
an hour when he might ride at fifteen. Read their special papers. They
mock and sneer at everything but pace; they worship the makes of '94 in
the interests of their advertising columns; touring simply means
hotel-touting to them, and landscape, deals in cameras; in the end they
will kill cyclingindeed, they are killing it. It is not nice to be
mocked at even when you are in the right; a blatant cad is like a
rhinoceros, and admits of no parleying, only since you must not kill
him you are obliged to keep out of his way. The common cyclist has
already driven ladies off the roads by forcing the pace, the honeymoon
tandem returns with its feelings hurt at his jesting, and now he is
driving off all quiet men.
All this, said I, because they said something disrespectful about
your machine at the last inn... You don't, I see, approve of the
My uncle did his best to be calm and judicial.
A woman in a hurry is one of the most painful sights in the world,
for exertion does not become a woman as it does a man. Let us avoid all
prejudice in this matter, George, and discuss it with open minds. She
has, in the first place, a considerable length of hair, and she does it
up into rich and beautiful shapes with things called hairpins and with
curling irons. Very few people have hair that curls naturally, George.
You are young, but you are married, and I see nothing improper in
telling you these things. Well, when a woman rides about, exerting
herself violently to keep a bicycle going, her hair gets damp and the
pleasing curls lose their curliness and become wet, straggling bands of
hair plastered over her venous forehead. And a tragic anxiety is
manifest, an expression painful for a man to meet. Also her hairpins
come out and fall on the road to wait for pneumatic tires, and her hair
is no longer rich and beautiful in form. Then she gets dirty, horribly
dirty, as though she had been used to sweep the roads with. And her
skirts have to be weirdly altered, even to the divided skirt, so that
when she rides she looks like a short, squat little man. She not only
loses her beauty but her dignity. Now, for my own part, I think a man
wants a woman to worshipit is a man's point of view, of course, but I
can't help my sexand the worshipping of these zouaves is incredible.
She is nothing more than a shorter, fuller, and feebler man. Heaven
help her! For the woman on the tricycle there are ampler excuses as
well as ampler skirts, the exertion is not too violent for grace and
coolness, and the offensive bulging above one narrow wheel is avoided.
But women will never sacrifice so much for so little; worshipfulness,
beauty, repose, and comfort for a paltry two or three miles more an
hour of pace. They know too well the graces of delay. To do things
slowly, George, is part of the art of living. Our sex learns that when
its youthful fervour is over and all the things are done. But women are
By the bye, said I, how is Mrs Harborough?
Very well, thanks. How is Euphemia? Your bit of view, George, is
pretty, but I think I will have some heather now. There is a common
three miles ahead. This indeed is the true merit of cycling. For a
view, a panorama; for one picture, a gallery. Your true artist in
cycling sits by the roadside, and rides only by way of an interlude. As
for the worship of the machine, I would as soon worship a
He dropped off the bridge and mounted his machine, and was presently
pursuing his smooth and noiseless way. As he vanished round the corner
he sounded his gong. It was really a most potent, grave, and reverend
gong, with a certain note of philosophical melancholy in its tone, as
different from the vulgar tang of your common cycle as one can well
imagine. It asked you, at your convenience, sir (or madam), to get out
of the way, to stand aside and see a most worthy and dignified
spectacle roll by, if so be you had the mind for it. As for any
scolding insistence, any threat of imminent collision, there was none
of it. It was the bell of a man who loved margins, who was at his ease,
and would have all the world at its ease. More than anything else, it
reminded me of the boom of some ivy-clad church tower, warning the
world without unseemly haste that another hour had, with leisurely
completeness, accomplished itself.
And so he passed out of my sight and was gone.
AN UNSUSPECTED MASTERPIECE
He pushed it away from him.
I felt as though I had disturbed the graves of the long departed,
he said with a grimace, and then addressing the egg: Forgive me the
sacrilege: they sold you to me as new laid, a mere thing of yesterday.
I had no idea I was opening the immemorial past. De mortuis nihil
nisi bonumto you at least the quotation will be novel. Or I might
call you bad, you poor mummy.
Unhappy, pent-up, ineffectual thing! he said, waving his jilted
bread and butter, and addressing the discarded inedible. Poor old maid
among eggs! And so it has come to this absolute failure with you. Why
were you ever laid? Surely, since you were once alive, some lurking
aspiration, some lowly, and yet not lowly, but most divine, striving
towards the Higher and the Better, hath stirred within you. The warm
sunlight shone through your translucent shell, the sweet air stirred
the sweet hay of the nest, and life called you from your dreaming to
awake, and join it in its interplay. And now! You might have beenwhat
might you not have been? A prize hen, fountain of a broadening stream
of hens, chicks, dozens of chicks, hundreds of chicks, a surging ocean
of chickens. Had you been hatched among the early Victorian chickens
that were, I presume, your contemporaries, by now you might have been a
million fowl, and the delight and support of hundreds of thousands of
homes. You might have been worth thousands of pounds and have eaten
corn by the ton. They might have written articles about you in
half-crown reviews and devoted poultry farms to your sole support. And
instead you have been narrowed down to this sordid back-street tragedy,
a mere offence, tempting a struggling tradesman to risk the honour of
my patronage of his books, for a paltry fraction of a pennyworth of
profit. Why, I ask you, were you not hatched? Was it lack of courage? a
fear of the unknown dangers that lie outside the shell?
An indescribable pity wells up in me for this lost egg, this dead
end in the tree of life, George. One thinks of the humble but deserving
amoeba, the primordial metazöon, the first fish, the remote reptile
ancestor, the countless generations of forefathers that, so far as this
egg went, have lived and learnt and suffered in vain. The torrent of
life had split and rushed by on either side of it. And you might,
cried he, turning to the egg again, have been a Variety, a novelty,
and an improvement in chickens. No chick now will ever be exactly
the chick you might have been. Only an Olive Schreiner could do full
justice to your failure, you poor nun, you futile eremite, you absolute
and hopeless impasse. Was it, I ask again, a lack of courage?
Perhaps a lack of opportunity? It may be you stirred and hoped in
the distant past, and the warmth to quicken you never came. Ambition
may have fretted you. Indeed, now I think of it, there is something in
the flavour of you, singularly suggestive of disappointed ambition. In
literature, and more particularly in criticism, I can assure you I have
met the very fellow of your quality, from literary rotten eggs whose
opening came too late. They are like the genii in the 'Arabian Nights'
whom Solomon, the son of David, sealed in the pot. At first he promised
infinite delights to his discovererand his discoverer lagged. In the
end he was filled with unreasonable hatred against all the feeble free,
and emerged as a malignant fume, eager to wreak himself upon the world.
A sudden thought, George! I see my egg in a new light, and all my
pity changes to respect. Surely it is a most potent egg, a gallinaceous
Swift. After all, anything but pointless and childless, since it has
this strange quality of being offensive and engendering thought. Food
for the mind if not food for the bodydidactic if not delightfula
bit of modern literature, earnest and fundamentally real. I must try
and understand you, Ibsen Ovarum. Possibly it is a profound parable I
have stumbled upon. Though I scarcely reckoned on a parable with my
bread and butter. Frankly, I must confess I bought it for the eating.
Now that my uncle had at last begun to grasp the true greatness of
his egg, he apparently considered it becoming to drop the tone of
half-patronising pity he had previously adopted. Come, said he,
smiling, with a dash of raillery, over his coffee-cup; admit you are a
humbug, you whitened sepulchre of an anticipated chick! Until you found
a congenial soul and overwhelmed me with your confidence, what a career
of deceptionnot mean, of course, but cynicalironicalyou have been
leading. What a jest it must have been to you to be sold as new laid!
How you laughed in your quiet way at the mockery of life. Surely it was
a worthy pair to Swift in cassock and bands conducting a marriage
service. I can well fancy your silent scorn of the hand that put you in
the bag. New laid! But now I have the full humour of you. You must
pardon my dulness of apprehension. I grasp your meaning now; your quiet
insistent teaching that all life is decay and all decay is life. No
forcing the accent, no crudity, but a pervading persuasion. A noble
He paused impressively, placed the egg respectfully upon his bureau,
and presently went off at a tangent to something else.
Shall I throw this away? said the girl.
Good heavens! Throw it away? Certainly not. Put it in the library.
(The library used to be the corner of the room by the window.)
She stared at me with a certain attempt at confidence. She is a
callous, impertinent kind of girl, and I fear inclined to be bold. It
do smell, sir, she said to him.
That's the merit of it. It's irony. Go and put it on the fourth
shelf near the window. There are some yellow-covered books there, and
Swift, some comedies by a gentleman named Ibsen, and a couple of novels
by two gentlemen named George . But there! you don't know one
book from another! The fourth shelf from the top on the right-hand
As the girl did so she looked over her hand at me, and lifted her
eyebrows very slightly.
THE GREAT CHANGE
My uncle had been hectic all day. I knew and dreaded what was
coming, and said nothing that by any chance could lead up to it.
He absent-mindedly tipped the emu sixpence. Then we came to the wart
A bachelor, he said, meditatively, scratching the brute's back.
I hastily felt for a saving topic in the apprehensive darkness of my
mind, and could find none.
I expect I shall be married in October, said my uncle. Then,
sighing: The idyll of my engagement was short-lived.
It was out. Now, the daymy last idle day with my poor unclewas a
hideous wreck. All the topics he had fluttered round vanished, and,
cold and awful, there loomed over us the one great topic.
What do you think of marriage, George? said my uncle, after
a pause, prodding the wart hog suddenly.
That's your privilege, said I. Married men don't dare to think of
Privilege! Is it such a headlong wreck of one's ideals as they
say? said my uncle. Is that dreamland furniture really so unstable in
Of course, said I, it's different from what one expects. But it
seems to be worse for the other party. At least to judge from the
novels they engender in their agony.
So far as I can see, he proceeded, what happens is very similar
to a thing a scientific chap was explaining to me the other day. There
are some little beasts in the sea called ascidians, and they begin life
as cheerful little tadpole things, with waggling tails and big
expressive eyes. They move freely about hither and thither, and often
travel vast distances in an adventurous way. Then what he called
metamorphosis begins. The little tadpole waggles his way to a rock and
fixes himself head downward. Then he undergoes the oddest changes,
becomes indeed a mere vegetative excrescence on the stone, secretes a
lot of tough muck round himself, and is altogether lost to free oceanic
society. He loses the cheerful tail, loses most of his brain, loses his
bright expressive eye.
The bother of it, said I, is that very often the wandering
expressive eye is not lost in the human metamorphosis.
Putting it in another way, one might say that the kind of story
that Ovid is so fond of describing, the affairs of Daphne and Io, for
instance, are fables of the same thing: an interlude of sentiment and
then a change into something new and domesticated, rooted, fixed, and
It is certainly always a settling down, said I.
I don't like this idea of settling down, George. He shuddered. It
must be a dreadful thing to go about always with a house on your mind.
You get used to it. And, besides, you don't go about so much.
He gave the bachelor wart hog a parting dig, and we walked slowly
and silently through the zebra-house towards the elephants. Of course
we do not intend to settle down, he said presently, with a clumsy
effort to render his previous remarks impersonal.
A marriage invalidates all promises, I explained. The law
recognises this in the case of wills.
That's a new view, he said, evidently uncomfortable about
It follows from your doctrine of metamorphosis. A marries B. Then
the great change begins. A gradually alters into a new fixed form, C,
while B flattens and broadens out as D. It is a different couple, and
they cannot reasonably be held responsible for the vagaries of A and
That ought to be better understood.
It would perhaps be as well. Before marriage Edwin vows to devote
his life to Angelina, and Angelina vows she will devote her life to
Edwin. After marriage this leads to confusion if they continue to
believe such promises. Marriage certainly has that odd effect on the
memory. You remember Angelina's promises and forget your own, and
There is no apparition more distressing than the ghost of a dead
promise, said my uncle. Especially when it is raised in the house of
We passed through the elephant house in silence.
I wonder what kind of man I shall be after the change, George. It's
all a toss-up, he continued, after an interval. I have seen some men
improved by it. You, for instance. You were a mere useless, indecent
aspirant to genius before the thing came upon you. Now you are a
respectable journalist and gracefully anxious to give satisfaction to
your editor. But my own impression is that a man has to be a bit of an
ass before he can be improved by marriage. Most men get so mercenary,
they simply work and do nothing a rational creature should. They are
like the male ants that shed their wings after the nuptial flight. And
their wives go round talking fashion articles, and calling them dear
old stupids, and flirting over teacups with the unmarried men, or
writing novelettes about the child-man, and living their own lives.
I've been an unmarried man and I know all about it. Every intelligent
woman now seems to want to live her own life when she is not engaged in
taking the child-man out into polite society, and trying to wean him
from alcohol and tobacco. However, this scarcely applies to me.
Not now, I said. And he winced.
I wonder how it feels. Most men go into this without knowing of the
change that hangs over them. But I am older. It would not be nice for a
caterpillar if he knew he was going to rip up all along his back in a
minute or so. Yet I could sympathise with such a caterpillar now.
Anyhow, George, I hope the change will be complete. I would not like to
undergo only a partial metamorphosis, and become a queer speckled
monster all spotted with bachelor habits. Yet I sometimes think I am
beyond the adolescent stage, and my habits rather deeply rooted.
Hitherto, I have always damned a little at braces and collars and
things like that. I wish I knew where one could pick up a few
admissible expletives. And I loaf about London all day sometimes
without any very clear idea of what I am after, telling chaps in
studios how to paint, and talking to leisurely barristers, and all that
kind of thing.
She, I said, will probably help you to conquer habits of
Yes, I dare say she will, said my uncle. I forgot that for the
THE PAINS OF MARRIAGE
My uncle came to a stop outside a stationer's shop in Oxford-street.
When I saw what had caught his attention I reproached myself for my
Come, said I, tell me what you think ofof representative
It's no good, George. You did the same thing at the cake shop. Do
you think I never saw the cake shop? Since this affair was settled I
think every shop I pass reminds me of iteven the gunsmith's. I never
suspected before how entirely retail trade turned on marriageexcept,
perhaps, the second-hand book shops. The whole world seems a-marrying.
It's queer, said he, that a little while ago the thing that
worried me to the exclusion of everything else was the idea of being
married, and now it is so near it's entirely the getting married that
upsets me. I have forgotten the horrid consequences in the horror of
It's much the same, said I, at an execution.
Look at those cards. He waved his hand towards a neat array of
silver and white pasteboard. 'Jemima Smith,' with an arrow through the
Smith, and 'Podger' written above it, and on the opposite side 'Mr and
Mrs John Podger.' That is where it has me, George.
We went on past a display of electroplate with a card about presents
in the window, past a window full of white flowers, past a
carriage-builder's and a glove shop. It's like death, said my uncle;
it turns up everywhere and is just the same for everybody. In that
cake shop there were piles and piles of cakes, from little cakes ten
inches across up to cakes of three hundredweight or so; all just the
same rich, uneatable, greasy stuff, and with just the same white sugar
on the top of them. I suppose every day they pack off scores. It makes
one think of marrying in swarms, like the gnats. I catch myself
wondering sometimes if the run of people really are separate
individuals, or only a kind of replicas, without any tastes of their
own. There are people who would rather not marry than marry without one
of those cakes, George. To me it seems to be almost the most asinine
position a couple of adults can be in, to have to buy a stone or so of
that concentrated biliousness and cut it up, or procure other people to
cut it up, and send it round to other adults who would almost as soon
eat arsenic. And why cakeinfantile cake? Why not biscuits, or
cigarettes, or chocolate? It seems to me to be playing the fool with a
You see, it is the custom to have cake.
Well, anyhow, I intend to break the custom.
So did I, but I had it all the same.
My uncle looked at me.
You see, said I, when a woman says you must do this or thatmust
have cake at a wedding, for instanceyou must do it. It is not a case
for argument. It is a kind of privilege they havethe categorical
imperative. You will soon learn that.
Evidently the question was open. But why do they say you
Other women tell them to. They would despise any one dreadfully who
did not have a really big cakefrom that shop.
My dear uncle, said I, you are going into matrimony. You do not
show a proper spirit.
The cake, said my uncle, is only a type. There is this trousseau
business again. Why should a woman who is going to marry require a
complete outfit of that sort? It seems to suggestwell, pre-nuptial
rags at least, George. Then the costume. Why should a sane healthy
woman be covered up in white gauze like the confectionery in a shop
window when the flies are about? And why?
He was going on in quite an aggressive tone. There isn't a why, I said, for any of it. This sort of talk always irritates a married
man because it revives his own troubles. It's just the rule. Surely,
if a wife is worth having she is worth being ridiculous for? You ought
to be jolly glad you don't have to wear a fool's cap and paint your
nose red. 'More precious than rubies'
Don't, he said.
It must be these tradesmen, he began bitterly after an interval.
Some one must be responsible, and it's just their way. Do you know,
George, I sometimes fancy that they have hypnotised womankind into the
belief that all these uncomfortable things are absolutely necessary to
a valid marriagejust as they have persuaded the landlady class that
no house is complete without a big mirror over the fireplace and a
bulgy sideboard. There is a very strong flavour of mesmeric suggestion
about a woman's attitude towards these matters, considered in the light
of her customary common sense. Do you know, George, I really believe
there is a secret society of tradesmen, a kind of priesthood, who get
hold of our womenkind and muddle them up with all these fancies. It's a
sort of white magic. Have you ever been in a draper's shop, George?
Never, I said: I always wait outsideamong the dogs.
Have you ever read a ladies' newspaper?
I didn't know, said I, that there was any part to read. It's all
advertisements; all the articles are advertisements, all the
paragraphs, the stories, the answers to correspondentseverything.
That's exactly what makes me think the tradesmen have hypnotised
the sex. It may be they do it in those drapers' dens. A man spots that
kind of thing at once and drops the paper. Women go on year after year,
simply worshipping a paper hoarding of that kind, and doing patiently
everything they are told to do therein. Anyhow, it is only in this way
that I can account for all these expensive miseries of matrimony. I
can't understand a woman in full possession of her faculties
deliberately exasperating the man she has to live withI suppose all
men submit to it under protestfor these stale and stereotyped antics.
She must be magnetised.
They are not stale to her, I said.
Mrs Harborough he began.
Of course, a widow!I forgot, I said. But she seems so young,
And putting aside the details, said my uncle, with a transient
dash of cheerfulness at my mistake; I object to the publicity of the
whole thing. It's not nice. To bring the street arab into the affair,
to subject yourself to the impertinent congratulations and presents of
every aspirant to your intimacy, to be patted on the back in the local
newspapers as though you were going to do something clever. Confound
them! It's not their affair. And I'm too old to be a blushing
bridegroom. Then think, what am I to do, George, if that cad Hagshot
sends me a present?
It would be like him if he did, I said. I fancy he will.
I can't go and kick him, said my uncle.
Declined with thanks, I suggested, owing to pressure of other
You are getting shoppy, George, said my uncle, in as near an
approach to a querulous tone as I have heard from him.
You are getting married, I replied, with the complacency of one
whose troubles are over. But it's a horrible nuisance, anyhow. Still,
the world grows wiser, and the burden is not quite so bad as it used to
be. A hundred years hence
I'd be willing enough to wait, said my uncle; but I'm not the
only party in this affair.
He was willing enough to wait, perhaps, but time was inexorable.
Save for one hurried interview, I did not see him again for a week, and
then it was before the altar. His garrulity had fallen from him like a
garment. He was preoccupied and a trifle bashful. He fumbled with the
ring. I felt almost as though he was my younger brother.
I stood by him to the end, and at last came the hour of parting. I
grasped his hand in silence: silently he mastered a becoming emotion.
And in silence he went from me unto the New Life.
A MISUNDERSTOOD ARTIST
The gentleman with the Jovian coiffure began to speak as the train
moved. 'Tis the utmost degradation of art, he said. He had apparently
fallen into conversation with his companion upon the platform.
I don't see it, said this companion, a prosperous-looking
gentleman with a gold watch-chain. This art for art's sakeI don't
believe in it, I tell you. Art should have an aim. If it don't do you
good, if it ain't moral, I'd as soon not have it. What good is it? I
believe in Ruskin. I tell you
Bah! said the gentleman in the corner, with almost
explosive violence. He fired it like a big gun across the path of the
incipient argument, and slew the prosperous-looking gentleman at once.
He met our eyes, as we turned to him, with a complacent smile on his
large white, clean-shaven face. He was a corpulent person, dressed in
black, and with something of the quality of a second-hand bishop in his
appearance. The demolished owner of the watch-chain made some
beginnings of a posthumous speech.
Bah! said the gentleman in the corner, with even more force
than before, and so finished him.
These people will never understand, he said, after a momentary
pause, addressing the gentleman with the Jovian coiffure, and
indicating the remains of the prosperous gentleman by a wave of a large
white hand. Why do you argue? Art is ever for the few.
I did not argue, said the gentleman with the hair. I was
The owner of the watch-chain, who had been sitting struggling with
his breath, now began to sob out his indignation. What do you mean, sir? Saying Bah! sir, when I am talking
The gentleman with the large face held up a soothing hand. Peace,
peace, he said. I did not interrupt you. I annihilated you. Why did
you presume to talk to artists about art? Go away, or I shall have to
say Bah! again. Go and have a fit. Leave ustwo rare souls who may not
meet againto our talking.
Did you ever see such abominable rudeness, sir? said the
gentleman with the watch-chain, appealing to me. There were tears in
his eyes. At the same time the young man with the aureole made some
remark to the corpulent gentleman that I failed to catch.
These artists, said I, are unaccountable, irresponsible. You
Take it from whence it comes, said the insulted one, very loudly,
and bitterly glaring at his opponent. But the two artists were
conversing serenely. I felt the undignified quality of our
conversation. Have you seen Punch? said I, thrusting it into
He looked at the paper for a moment in a puzzled way; then
understood, thanked me, and began to read with a thunderous scowl,
every now and then shooting murderous glances at his antagonist in the
opposite corner, or coughing in an aggressive manner.
You do your best, the gentleman with the long hair was saying;
and they say, 'What is it for?' 'It is for itself,' you say. Like the
But these people, said the stout gentleman, think the stars were
made to set their clocks by. They lack the magnanimity to drop the
personal reference. A friend, a confrère, saw a party of these
horrible Extension people at Rome before that exquisite Venus of
Titian. 'And now, Mr Something-or-other,' said one of the young ladies,
addressing the pedagogue in command, 'what is this to teach
I have had the same experience, said the young gentleman with the
hair. A man sent to me only a week ago to ask what my sonnet 'The
Scarlet Thread' meant?
The stout person shook his head as though such things passed all
Gur-r-r-r, said the gentleman with Punch, and scraped with
his foot on the floor of the carriage.
I gave him answer, said the poet, 'Twas a sonnet; not a symbol.
Precisely, said the stout gentleman.
'Tis the fate of all art to be misunderstood. I am always grossly
misunderstoodby every one. They call me fantastic, whereas I am but
inevitably new; indecent, because I am unfettered by mere trivial
personal restrictions; unwholesome.
It is what they say to me. They are always trying to pull me to
earth. 'Is it wholesome?' they say; 'nutritious?' I say to them, 'I do
not know. I am an artist. I do not care. It is beautiful.'
You rhyme? said the poet.
No. My work ismore plastic. I cook.
For a moment, perhaps, the poet was disconcerted. A noble art, he
The noblest, said the cook. But sorely misunderstood; degraded to
utilitarian ends; tested by impossible standards. I have been seriously
asked to render oily food palatable to a delicate patient. Seriously!
He said, 'Bah!' Bah! to me! mumbled the defunct gentleman
with Punch, apparently addressing the cartoon. A cook! Good
I resigned. 'Cookery,' I said, 'is an art. I am not a fattener of
human cattle. Think: Is it Art to write a book with an object, to paint
a picture for strategy?' 'Are we,' I said, 'in the sixties or the
nineties? Here, in your kitchen, I am inspired with beautiful dinners,
and I produce them. It is your place to gather together, from this
place one, and from that, one, the few precious souls who can
appreciate that rare and wonderful thing, a dinner, graceful,
harmonious, exquisite, perfect.' And he argued I must study his
No artist is of any worth, said the poet, who primarily studies
what the public needs.
As I told him. But the next man was worsehygienic. While with
this creature I read Poe for the first time, and I was singularly
fascinated by some of his grotesques. I triedit was an altogether new
development, I believe, in culinary artthe Bizarre. I made some
curious arrangements in pork and strawberries, with a sauce containing
beer. Quite by accident I mentioned my design to him on the evening of
the festival. All the Philistine was aroused in him. 'It will ruin my
digestion.' 'My friend,' I said, 'I am not your doctor; I have nothing
to do with your digestion. Only here is a beautiful Japanese thing, a
quaint, queer, almost eerie dinner, that is in my humble opinion worth
many digestions. You may take it or leave it, but 'tis the last dinner
I cook for you.' ... I knew I was wasted upon him.
Then I produced some Nocturnes in imitation of Mr Whistler, with
mushrooms, truffles, grilled meat, pickled walnuts, black pudding,
French plums, portera dinner in soft velvety black, eaten in a
starlight of small scattered candles. That, too, led to a resignation:
Art will ever demand its martyrs.
The poet made sympathetic noises.
Always. The awful many will never understand. Their conception of
my skill is altogether on a level with their conceptions of music, of
literature, of painting. For wall decorations they love autotypes; for
literature, harmless volumes of twaddle that leave no vivid impressions
on the mind; for dinners, harmless dishes that are forgotten as they
are eaten. My dinners stick in the memory. I cannot study these
peoplemy genius is all too imperative. If I needed a flavour of
almonds and had nothing else to hand, I would use prussic acid. Do
right, I say, as your art instinct commands, and take no heed of the
consequences. Our function is to make the beautiful gastronomic thing,
not to pander to gluttony, not to be the Jesuits of hygiene. My friend,
you should see some of my compositions. At home I have books and books
in manuscript, Symphonies, Picnics, Fantasies, Etudes...
The train was now entering Clapham Junction. The gentleman with the
gold watch-chain returned my Punch. A cook, he said in a
whisper; just a common cook! He lifted his eyebrows and shook his
head at me, and proceeded to extricate himself and his umbrella from
the carriage. Out of a situation too! he saida little louderas I
prepared to follow him.
Mere dripping! said the artist in cookery, with a regal wave of
Had I felt sure I was included, I should of course have resented the
THE MAN WITH A NOSE
I never see thy face but I think upon hell-fire, and Dives that
lived in purple, for there he is in his robes, burning, burning.
My nose has been the curse of my life.
The other man started.
They had not spoken before. They were sitting, one at either end, on
that seat on the stony summit of Primrose Hill which looks towards
Regent's Park. It was night. The paths on the slope below were dotted
out by yellow lamps; the Albert-road was a line of faintly luminous
pale greenthe tint of gaslight seen among trees; beyond, the park lay
black and mysterious, and still further, a yellow mist beneath and a
coppery hue in the sky above marked the blaze of the Marylebone
thoroughfares. The nearer houses in the Albert-terrace loomed large and
black, their blackness pierced irregularly by luminous windows. Above,
Both men had been silent, lost apparently in their own thoughts,
mere dim black figures to each other, until one had seen fit to become
a voice also, with this confidence.
Yes, he said, after an interval, my nose has always stood in my
The second man had scarcely seemed to notice the first remark, but
now he peered through the night at his interlocutor. It was a little
man he saw, with face turned towards him.
I see nothing wrong with your nose.
If it were luminous you might, said the first speaker. However, I
will illuminate it.
He fumbled with something in his pocket, then held this object in
his hand. There was a scratch, a streak of greenish phosphorescent
light, and then all the world beyond became black, as a fusee vesta
There was silence for the space of a minute. An impressive pause.
Well? said the man with the nose, putting his heel on the light.
I have seen worse, said the second man.
I doubt it, said the man with the nose; and even so, it is poor
comfort. Did you notice the shape? the size? the colour? Like Snowdon,
it has a steep side and a gentle slope. The size is preposterous: my
face is like a hen-house built behind a portico. And the tints!
It is not all red, said the second man, anyhow.
No, there is purple, and blue, 'lapis lazuli, blue as a vein
over the Madonna's breast,' and in one place a greyish mole. Bah! the
thing is not a nose at all, but a bit of primordial chaos clapped on to
my face. But, being where the nose should be, it gets the credit of its
position from unthinking people. There is a gap in the order of the
universe in front of my face, a lump of unwrought material left over.
In that my true nose is hidden, as a statue is hidden in a lump of
marble, until the appointed time for the revelation shall come. At the
resurrection But one must not anticipate. Well, well. I do not
often talk about my nose, my friend, but you sat with a sympathetic
pose, it seemed to me, and to-night my heart is full of it. This cursed
nose! But do I weary you, thrusting my nose into your meditations?
If, said the second man, his voice a little unsteady, as though he
was moved, if it eases your mind to talk of your nose, pray talk.
This nose, I say then, makes me think of the false noses of
Carnival times. Your dullest man has but to stick one on, and lo!
mirth, wit, and jollity. They are enough to make anything funny. I
doubt if even an Anglican bishop could wear one with impunity. Put an
angel in one. How would you like one popped on to you now? Think
of going love-making, or addressing a public meeting, or dying
gloriously, in a nose like mine! Angelina laughs in your face, the
public laughs, the executioner at your martyrdom can hardly light the
faggots for laughing. By heaven! it is no joke. Often and often I have
rebelled, and said, 'I will not have this nose!'
But what can one do?
It is destiny. The bitter tragedy of it is that it is so comic.
Only, God knows, how glad I shall be when the Carnival is over, and I
may take the thing off and put it aside. The worst has been this
business of love. My mind is not unrefined, my body is healthy. I know
what tenderness is. But what woman could overlook a nose like mine? How
could she shut out her visions of it, and look her love into my eyes,
glaring at her over its immensity? I should have to make love through
an Inquisitor's hood, with its holes cut for the eyesand even then
the shape would show. I have read, I have been told, I can imagine what
a lover's face is likea sweet woman's face radiant with love. But
this Millbank penitentiary of flesh chills their dear hearts.
He broke off suddenly, with loud ferocious curses. A young man who
had been sitting very close to a young woman on an adjacent seat,
started up and said Ssh!.
He whom the man with the nose had addressed now spoke. I have
certainly never thought before of a red nose as a sorrowful thing, but
as you put it....
I thought you would understand. I have had this nose all my life.
The outline was done, even though the colour was wanting, in my school
days. They called me 'Nosey,' 'Ovid,' 'Cicero,' 'Rhino,' and the
'Excrescence.' It has ripened with the slow years, as fate deepens in
the progress of a tragedy. Love, the business of life, is a sealed book
to me. To be alone! I would thank heaven.... But no! a blind woman
could feel the shape of it.
Besides love, interrupted the young man thoughtfully, there are
other things worth living forduty. An unattractive nose would not
interfere with that. Some people think it is rather more important than
love. I admit your loss, of course.
That only carries out the evidence of your voice, and tells me you
are young. My dear young fellow, duty is a very fine thing indeed, but
believe me, it is too colourless as a motive. There is no delight in
duty. You will know that at my age. And besides, I have an infinite
capacity for love and sympathy, an infinite bitterness in this solitude
of my soul. I infer that you would moralise on my discontent, but I
know I have seen a little of men and things from behind this
ambuscadeonly a truly artistic man would fall into the sympathetic
attitude that attracted me. My life has had even too much of
observation in it, and to the systematic anthropologist, nothing tells
a man's character more than his pose after dark, when nobody seems
watching. As you sit, the black outline of you is clear against the
sky. Ah! now you are sitting stiffer. But you are no Calvinist.
My friend, the best of life is its delights, and the best of delights
is loving and being loved. And for thatthis nose! Well, there are
plenty of second-best things. After dark I can forget the monster a
little. Spring is delightful, air on the Downs is delightful; it is
fine to see the stars circling in the sky, while lying among the
heather. Even this London sky is soothing at night, though the edge is
all inflamed. The shadow of my nose is darkest by day. But to-night I
am bitter, because of to-morrow.
Why, to-morrow? said the younger man.
I have to meet some new people to-morrow, said the man with the
nose. There is an odd look, a mingling of amusement and pity, I am
only too familiar with. My cousin, who is a gifted hostess, promises
people my nose as a treat.
Yes, that must be bad for you, said the young man.
And then the silence healed again, and presently the man with the
nose got up and passed into the dimness upon the slope of the hill. The
young man watched him vanish, wondering vainly how it would be possible
to console a soul under such a burthen.