Confessions of a Young Man
George Moore

Part 4 out of 4

I have had the rarest, the finest friends. I have loved my friends; the
rarest wits of my generation were my boon companions; everything
conspired to enable me to gratify my body and my brain; and do you think
this would have been so if I had been a good man? If you do you are a
fool, good intentions and bald greed go to the wall, but subtle
selfishness with a dash of unscrupulousness pulls more plums out of
life's pie than the seven deadly virtues.[4] If you are a good man you
want a bad one to convert; if you are a bad man you want a bad one to
go out on the spree with. And you, my dear, my exquisite reader, place
your hand upon your heart, tell the truth, remember this is a magical
_tête-à-tête_ which will happen never again in your life, admit that you
feel just a little interested in my wickedness,[5] admit that if you
ever thought you would like to know me that it is because I know a good
deal that you probably don't; admit that your mouth waters when you
think of rich and various pleasures that fell to my share in happy
Paris; admit that if this book had been an account of the pious books I
had read, the churches I had been to, and the good works I had done,
that you would not have bought it or borrowed it. Hypocritical reader,
think, had you had courage, health and money to lead a fast life, would
you not have done so? You don't know, no more do I; I have done so, and
I regret nothing except that some infernal farmers and miners will not
pay me what they owe me and enable me to continue the life that was once
mine, and of which I was so bright an ornament. How I hate this
atrocious Strand lodging-house, how I long for my apartment in _Rue de
la Tour des Dames_, with all its charming adjuncts, palms and pastels,
my cat, my python, my friends, blond hair and dark.

The daily article soon grows monotonous, even when you know it will be
printed, and this I did not know; my prose was very faulty, and my ideas
were unsettled, I could not go to the tap and draw them off, the liquor
was still fermenting; and partly because my articles were not very
easily disposed of, and partly because I was weary of writing on
different subjects, I turned my attention to short stories. I wrote a
dozen. Some were printed in weekly newspapers, some were returned to me.

There was a publisher in the neighbourhood of the Strand, who used to
frequent a certain bar, and this worthy man conducted his business as he
dressed himself, sloppily; a dear kind soul, quite witless and quite
_h_-less. From long habit he would make a feeble attempt to drive a
bargain, but he was duped generally. If a fashionable author asked two
hundred pounds for a book out of which he would be certain to make
three, it was ten to one that he would allow the chance to drift away
from him; but after having refused a dozen times the work of a Strand
loafer whom he was in the habit of "treating," he would say, "Send it
in, my boy, send it in, I'll see what can be done with it." There was a
long counter, and the way to be published by Mr B. was to straddle on
the counter and play with a black cat. There was an Irishman behind this
counter who, for three pounds a week, edited the magazine, read the MS.,
looked after the printer and binder, kept the accounts and entertained
the visitors. I did not trouble Messrs Macmillan and Messrs Longman with
polite requests to look at my MS., I straddled, played with the cat,
joked with the Irishman, drank with Mr. B., and in the natural order of
things my stories went into the magazine and were paid for. Strange were
the ways of this office; Shakespeare might have sent in prose and
poetry, but he would have gone into the wastepaper basket had he not
previously straddled. For those who were in the "know" this was a matter
of congratulation; straddling, we would cry, "We want no blooming
outsiders coming along interfering with our magazine. And you, Smith,
you devil, you had a twenty-page story in last month and cut me out.
O'Flanagan, do you mind if I send you in a couple of poems as well as
my regular stuff, that will make it all square?" "I'll try to manage it;
here's the governor." And looking exactly like the unfortunate Mr
Sedley, Mr B. used to slouch in; he would fall into his leather
armchair, the one in which he wrote the cheques--the last time I saw
that chair it was standing in the street in the hands of the brokers.

But conservative though we were in matters concerning "copy," though all
means were taken to protect ourselves against interlopers, one who had
not passed the preliminary stage of straddling would occasionally slip
through our defences. One hot summer's day, we were all on the counter,
our legs swinging, when an enormous young man entered. He must have been
six feet three in height. He was shown into Mr B.'s room, he asked him
to read a MS., and he fled, looking very frightened. "Wastepaper basket,
wastepaper basket," we shouted. "What an odd-looking fish he is--like a
pike!" said O'Flanagan; "I wonder what his MS. is like." "Very like a
pike," we cried. But O'Flanagan took the MS. home to read, and returned
next morning convinced he had discovered an embryo Dickens. The young
man was asked to call, his book was accepted, and we adjourned to the

This young man took rooms in the house next to me on the ground floor.
He had been to Oxford, and to Heidelberg, he drank beer and smoked long
pipes, he talked of nothing but tobacco. Soon, very soon, I began to see
that he thought me a simpleton; he pooh-poohed my belief in Naturalism
and declined to discuss the symbolist question. He curled his long legs
upon the rickety sofa and spoke of the British public as the "B.P.," and
of the magazine as the "mag," and in the office which I had marked down
as my own I saw him installed as a genius. He brought a little man about
five feet three to live with him, and when the two, the long and the
short, went out together, it was like Don Quixote and Sancho Panza
setting forth in quest of adventures in the land of Strand. The short
man indulged in none of the loud, rasping affectation of humour that was
so maddening in the long; he was dry, hard, and sterile, and when he did
join in the conversation it was like an empty nut between the
teeth--dusty and bitter. He kept a pocket-book, in which he held an
account of his reading. Holding the pocket-book between finger and
thumb, he would say, "Last year I read ten plays by Nash, twelve by
Peele, six by Greene, fifteen by Beaumont and Fletcher, and eleven
anonymous plays,--fifty-four in all."


[Footnote 2: The use of the word sinful here seems liable to
misinterpretation. The phrase should run: "Of a virtuous life, for
remember that my virtues are your vices."]

[Footnote 3: This should run: "Forgot your hypocrisy."]

[Footnote 4: Vices, surely? See Footnote 2 above.]

[Footnote 5: Virtue?]


Fortunately for my life and my sanity, my interests were, about this
time, attracted into other ways--ways that led into London life, and
were suitable for me to tread. In a restaurant where low-necked dresses
and evening clothes crushed with loud exclamations, where there was ever
an odour of cigarette and brandy and soda, I was introduced to a Jew of
whom I had heard much, a man who had newspapers and racehorses. The
bright witty glances of his brown eyes at once prejudiced me in his
favour, and it was not long before I knew that I had found another
friend. His house was what was wanted, for it was so trenchant in
character, so different from all I knew of, that I was forced to accept
it, without likening it to any French memory and thereby weakening the
impression. It was a house of champagne, late hours, and evening
clothes, of literature and art, of passionate discussions. So this house
was not so alien to me as all else I had seen in London; and perhaps the
cosmopolitanism of this charming Jew, his Hellenism, in fact, was a sort
of plank whereon I might pass and enter again into English life. I
found in Curzon Street another "Nouvelle Athènes," a Bohemianism of
titles that went back to the Conquest, a Bohemianism of the ten
sovereigns always jingling in the trousers pocket, of scrupulous
cleanliness, of hansom cabs, of ladies' pet names; of triumphant
champagne, of debts, gaslight, supper-parties, morning light, coaching;
a fabulous Bohemianism; a Bohemianism of eternal hard-upishness and
eternal squandering of money,--money that rose at no discoverable
well-head and flowed into a sea of boudoirs and restaurants, a sort of
whirlpool of sovereigns in which we were caught, and sent eddying
through music halls, bright shoulders, tresses of hair, and slang; and I
joined in the adorable game of Bohemianism that was played round and
about Piccadilly Circus, with Curzon Street for a magnificent rallying

After dinner a general "clear" was made in the direction of halls and
theatres, a few friends would drop in about twelve, and continue their
drinking till three or four; but Saturday night was gala night--at
half-past eleven the lords drove up in their hansoms, then a genius or
two would arrive, and supper and singing went merrily until the chimney
sweeps began to go by. Then we took chairs and bottles into the street
and entered into discussion with the policeman. Twelve hours later we
struggled out of our beds, and to the sound of church bells we commenced
writing. The paper appeared on Tuesday. Our host sat in a small room off
the dining-room from which he occasionally emerged to stimulate our
lagging pens.

But I could not learn to see life paragraphically. I longed to give a
personal shape to something, and personal shape could not be achieved in
a paragraph nor in an article. True it is that I longed for art, but I
longed also for fame, or was it notoriety? Both. I longed for fame,
brutal and glaring.

Out with you, liars that you are, tell the truth, say you would sell the
souls you don't believe in, or do believe in, for notoriety. I have
known you attend funerals for the sake of seeing your miserable names in
the paper! You, hypocritical reader, who are now turning up your eyes
and murmuring "dreadful young man"--examine your weakly heart, and see
what divides us; I am not ashamed of my appetites, I proclaim them, what
is more I gratify them; you're silent, you refrain, and you dress up
natural sins in hideous garments of shame, you would sell your wretched
soul for what I would not give the parings of my finger-nails
for--paragraphs in a society paper. I am ashamed of nothing I have done,
especially my sins, and I boldly confess that I then desired notoriety.

"Am I going to fail again as I have failed before?" I asked myself.
"Will my novel prove as abortive as my paintings, my poetry, my
journalism?" We all want notoriety, our desire for notoriety is ugly,
but it is less hideous when it is proclaimed from a brazen tongue than
when it lisps the cant of humanitarianism. Self, and after self a
friend; the rest may go to the devil; and be sure that when any man is
more stupidly vain and outrageously egotistic than his fellows, he will
hide his hideousness in humanitarianism. Victor Hugo was the innermost
stench of the humanitarianism, and Mr Swinburne holds his nose with one
hand while he waves the censer with the other. Men of inferior genius,
Victor Hugo and Mr Gladstone, take refuge in humanitarianism.
Humanitarianism is a pigsty, where liars, hypocrites, and the obscene in
spirit congregate; it has been so since the great Jew conceived it, and
it will be so till the end. Far better the blithe modern pagan in his
white tie and evening clothes, and his facile philosophy. He says, "I
don't care how the poor live; my only regret is that they live at all;"
and he gives the beggar a shilling.

We all want notoriety; our desires on this point, as upon others, are
not noble, but the human is very despicable vermin and only tolerable
when it tends to the brute, and away from the evangelical. I will tell
you an anecdote which is in itself an admirable illustration of my
craving for notoriety; and my anecdote will serve a double purpose,--it
will bring me some of the notoriety of which I am so desirous, for you,
dear, exquisitely hypocritical reader, will at once cry, "Shame! Could a
man be so wicked as to attempt to force on a duel, so that he might make
himself known through the medium of a legal murder?" You will tell your
friends of this horribly unprincipled young man, and they will, of
course, instantly want to know more about him.

It was a gala night in Curzon Street, the lords were driving up in
hansoms; some seated on the roofs with their legs swinging inside; the
comics had arrived from the halls; there were ladies, many ladies;
choruses were going merrily in the drawing-room; one man was attempting
to kick the chandelier, another stood on his head on the sofa. There was
a beautiful young lord there, that sort of figure that no woman can
resist. There was a delightful youth who seemed inclined to empty the
mustard-pot down my neck; him I could keep in order, but the beautiful
lord was attempting to make a butt of me. With his impertinences I did
not for a moment intend to put up; I did not know him, he was not then,
as he is now, if he will allow me to say so, a friend. The ladies
retired about then, and the festivities continued. We had passed through
various stages of jubilation, no one was drunk, but we had been jocose
and rowdy, we had told stories of all kinds. The young lord and I did
not "pull well together," but nothing decidedly unpleasant occurred
until someone proposed to drink to the downfall of Gladstone. The
beautiful lord got on his legs and began a speech. Politically it was
sound enough, but much of it was plainly intended to turn me into
ridicule. I answered sharply, working gradually up crescendo, until at
last, to bring matters to a head, I said,

"I don't agree with you; the Land Act of '81 was a necessity."

"Anyone who thinks so must be a fool."

"Very possibly, but I don't allow people to address such language to me,
and you must be aware that to call anyone a fool, sitting with you at
table in the house of a friend, is the act of a cad."

There was a lull, then a moment after he said,

"I only meant politically."

"And I only meant socially."

He advanced a step or two and struck me across the face with his finger
tips; I took up a champagne bottle, and struck him across the head and
shoulders. Different parties of revellers kept us apart, and we walked
up and down on either side of the table swearing at each other. Although
I was very wroth, I had had a certain consciousness from the first that
if I played my cards well I might come very well out of the quarrel; and
as I walked down the street I determined to make every effort to force
on a meeting. If the quarrel had been with one of the music-hall singers
I should have backed out of it, but I had everything to gain by
pressing it. I grasped the situation at once. All the Liberal press
would be on my side, the Conservative press would have nothing to say
against me, no woman in it and a duel with a lord would be nuts and
apples for the journalists.

I did not go to bed at once, but sat in the armchair thinking,
calculating my chances. A cab came rattling up to the door, and one of
the revellers came upstairs. He told me that everything had been
arranged; I told him that I was not in the habit of allowing others to
arrange my affairs for me, and went to bed.

Among my old friends I could think of some half-dozen that would suit me
perfectly, but where were they? Ten years' absence scatters friends as
October scatters swallows.

The first one said, "it was about one or two in the morning?"

"Later than that, it was about seven."

"He struck you, and not very hard, I should imagine; you hit him with a
champagne bottle, and now you want to have him out."

"I did not come here to listen to moral reflections; if you don't like
to act for me, say so."

I telegraphed to Warwickshire to an old friend:--"Can I count on you to
act for me in an affair of honour?" Two or three hours after the reply
came. "Come down here and stay with me for a few days, we'll talk it
over." English people, I said, will have nothing to do with serious
duelling. I must telegraph to Marshall. "Of all importance. Come over at
once and act for me in an affair of honour. Bring the Count with you;
leave him at Boulogne; he knows the colonel of the ----." The next day I
received the following. "Am burying my father; as soon as he is
underground will come." Was there ever such ill-luck?... He won't be
here before the end of the week. These things demand the utmost
promptitude. Three or four days afterwards Emma told me a gentleman was
upstairs taking a bath. "Hollo, Marshall, how are you? Had a good
crossing? The poor old gentleman went off quite suddenly, I suppose?"

"Yes; found dead in his bed. He must have known he was dying, for he lay
quite straight as the dead lie, his hands by his side...wonderful
presence of mind."

"He left no money?"

"Not a penny; but I could manage it all right. Since my success at the
Salon, I have been able to sell my things. I am only beginning to find
out now what a success that picture was. _Je t'assure, je fais

"_Tu crois ça...on fait l'ècole après vingt ans de travail_."

When we were excited Marshall and I always dropped into French.

"And now tell me," he said, "about this duel."

No sooner had I begun to tell the story than it dawned upon me that it
was impossible to tell it seriously, for it was fundamentally an absurd
story; and I lacked courage to tell Marshall that I only wished to go
through with the duel in order to become notorious. No one will admit
such a thing as that to his friend, and if I had admitted it Marshall
would not have consented. I suddenly began to get interested in other
things. There was Marshall's painting to talk about. After the theatre
we went home and æstheticised till three in the morning. The duel became
the least important event and Marshall's new picture the greatest. At
breakfast next day the duel seemed more tiresome than ever, but the
gentlemen were coming to meet Marshall. He showed his usual tact in
arranging my affair of honour; a letter was drawn up in which my friend
withdrew the blow of his hand, I withdrew the blow of the bottle,
etc.--really now I lack energy to explain it any further.


Hypocritical reader, you draw your purity garments round you, you say,
"How very base"; but I say unto you remember how often you have longed,
if you are a soldier in Her Majesty's army, for war,--war that would
bring every form of sorrow to a million fellow-creatures, and you longed
for all this to happen, because it might bring your name into the
_Gazette_. Hypocritical reader, think not too hardly of me; hypocritical
reader, think what you like of me, your hypocrisy will alter nothing; in
telling you of my vices I am only telling you of your own; hypocritical
reader, in showing you my soul I am showing you your own; hypocritical
reader, exquisitely hypocritical reader, you are my brother, I salute

Day passed over day, and my novel seemed an impossible task--defeat
glared at me from every corner of the room. My English was so bad, so
thin,--stupid colloquialisms out of joint with French idiom. I learnt
unusual words and stuck them up here and there; they did not mend the
style. Self-reliance had been lost in past failures; I was weighed down
on every side, but I struggled to bring the book somehow to a close.
Nothing mattered to me, but this one thing. To put an end to the
landlady's cheating, and to bind myself to remain at home, I entered
into an arrangement with her that she was to supply me with board and
lodgings for three pounds a week, and henceforth resisting all Curzon
Street temptations, I trudged home to eat a chop. I studied the servant
as one might an insect under a microscope. "What an admirable book she
would make, but what will the end be? if I only knew the end!"

I saw poor Miss L. nightly, on the stairs, and I never wearied of
talking to her of her hopes and ambitions, of the young man she admired,
and she used to ask me about my novel.

When my troubles lay too heavily upon me, I let her go up to her garret
without a word, and remained at the window wondering if I should ever
escape from Cecil Street, if I should ever be a light in that London,
long, low, misshapen, that dark monumented stream flowing through the
lean bridges. What if I were a light in this umber-coloured mass?
Happiness abides only in the natural affections--in a home and a sweet
wife. Would she whom I saw to-night marry me? How sweet she was in her
simple naturalness, the joys she has known have been slight and pure,
not violent and complex as mine. Ah, she is not for me, I am not fit for
her, I am too sullied for her lips. Were I to win her could I be
dutiful, true?...


"Young men, young men whom I love, dear ones who have rejoiced with me,
not the least of our pleasures is the virtuous woman; after excesses
there is reaction, all things are good in nature, and they are foolish
young men who think that sin alone should be sought for. The feast is
over for me, I have eaten and drunk; I yield my place, do you eat and
drink as I have; do you be young as I was. I have written it! The word
is not worth erasure, if it is not true to-day it will be in two years
hence; farewell! I yield my place, do you be young as I was, do you love
youth as I did; remember you are the most interesting beings under
heaven, for you all sacrifices will be made, you will be fêted and
adored upon the condition of remaining young men. The feast is over for
me, I yield my place, but I will not make this leavetaking more
sorrowful than it is already by afflicting you with advice and
instruction how to obtain what I have obtained. I have spoken bitterly
against education, I will not strive to educate you, you will educate
yourselves. Dear ones, dear ones, the world is your pleasure, you can
use it at your will. Dear ones, I see you all about me still, I yield my
place; but one more glass I will drink with you; and while drinking I
would say my last word--were it possible I would be remembered by you as
a young man: but I know too well that the young never realise that the
old were not born old. Farewell."

I shivered; the cold air of morning blew in my face, I closed the
window, and sitting at the table, haggard and overworn, I continued my



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