Part 1 out of 3
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A PLEA FOR THE SIMPLER DRAMA
ON A NOTEBOOK
ON UNKNOWN PEOPLE
ON A VAN TROMP
ON THRUPPENNY BITS
ON THE HOTEL AT PALMA AND A PROPOSED GUIDE-BOOK
THE DEATH OF WANDERING PETER
THE TREE OF KNOWLEDGE
A NORFOLK MAN
THE ODD PEOPLE
LETTER OF ADVICE AND APOLOGY TO A YOUNG BURGLAR
THE MONKEY QUESTION: AN APPEAL TO COMMON SENSE
THE EMPIRE BUILDER
A UNIT OF ENGLAND
A FORCE IN GAUL
A BLUE BOOK
PERIGEUX OF THE PERIGORD
THE WAY TO FAIRYLAND
THE PORTRAIT OF A CHILD
ON SACRAMENTAL THINGS
Of the various sketches in this book some appear for the first time,
others are reprinted by courtesy of the Proprietors and Editors of _The
Westminster Gazette_, _The Clarion_, _The English Review_, _The Morning
Post_ and _The Manchester Guardian_, in which papers they appeared.
A PLEA FOR THE SIMPLER DRAMA
It is with the drama as with plastic art and many other things: the plain
man feels that he has a right to put in his word, but he is rather afraid
that the art is beyond him, and he is frightened by technicalities.
After all, these things are made for the plain man; his applause, in the
long run and duly tested by time, is the main reward of the dramatist as
of the painter or the sculptor. But if he is sensible he knows that his
immediate judgment will be crude. However, here goes.
The plain man sees that the drama of his time has gradually passed from
one phase to another of complexity in thought coupled with simplicity of
incident, and it occurs to him that just one further step is needed to
make something final in British art. We seem to be just on the threshold
of something which would give Englishmen in the twentieth century
something of the fullness that characterized the Elizabethans: but somehow
or other our dramatists hesitate to cross that threshold. It cannot be
that their powers are lacking: it can only be some timidity or self-torture
which it is the business of the plain man to exorcise.
If I may make a suggestion in this essay to the masters of the craft it is
that the goal of the completely modern thing can best be reached by taking
the very simplest themes of daily life--things within the experience of
the ordinary citizen--and presenting them in the majestic traditional
cadence of that peculiarly English medium, blank verse.
As to the themes taken from the everyday life of middle-class men and
women like ourselves, it is true that the lives of the wealthy afford
more incident, and that there is a sort of glamour about them which it is
difficult to resist. But with a sufficient subtlety the whole poignancy
of the lives led by those who suffer neither the tragedies of the poor
nor the exaltation of the rich can be exactly etched. The life of
the professional middle-class, of the business man, the dentist, the
money-lender, the publisher, the spiritual pastor, nay of the playwright
himself, might be put upon the stage--and what a vital change would be
here! Here would be a kind of literary drama of which the interest would
lie in the struggle, the pain, the danger, and the triumph which we all so
intimately know, and next in the satisfaction (which we now do not have)
of the mimetic sense--the satisfaction of seeing a mirror held up to a
whole audience composed of the very class represented upon the stage.
I have seen men of wealth and position absorbed in plays concerning
gambling, cruelty, cheating, drunkenness, and other sports, and so
absorbed chiefly because they saw _themselves_ depicted upon the
stage; and I ask, Would not my fellows and myself largely remunerate a
similar opportunity? For though the rich go repeatedly to the play, yet
the middle-class are so much more numerous that the difference is amply
I think we may take it, then, that an experiment in the depicting of
professional life would, even from the financial standpoint, be workable;
and I would even go so far as to suggest that a play could be written in
which there did not appear one single lord, general, Member of Parliament,
baronet, professional beauty, usurer (upon a large scale at least) or
The thing is possible: and I can modestly say that in the little effort
appended as an example to these lines it has been done successfully; but
here must be mentioned the second point in my thesis--I could never have
achieved what I have here achieved in dramatic art had I not harked back
to the great tradition of the English heroic decasyllable such as our
Shakespeare has handled with so felicitous an effect.
The play--which I have called "The Crisis," and which I design to be
the model of the school founded by these present advices--is specially
designed for acting with the sumptuous accessories at the disposal of
a great manager, such as Mr. (now Sir Henry) Beerbohm Tree, or for the
narrower circumstances of the suburban drawing-room.
There is perhaps but one character which needs any long rehearsal, that
of the dog Fido, and luckily this is one which can easily be supplied by
mechanical means, as by the use of a toy dog of sufficient size which
barks upon the pressure of a pneumatic attachment.
In connexion with this character I would have the student note that I
have introduced into the dog's part just before the curtain a whole line
of _dactyls_. I hope the hint will not be wasted. Such exceptions
relieve the monotony of our English _trochees_. But, saving in this
instance, I have confined myself throughout to the example of William
Shakespeare, surely the best master for those who, as I fondly hope, will
follow me in the regeneration of the British Stage.
PLACE: _The Study at the Vicarage_. TIME 9.15 _p.m._
THE REV. ARCHIBALD HAVERTON: The Vicar.
MRS. HAVERTON: His Wife.
MISS GROSVENOR: A Governess.
MATILDA: A Maid.
FIDO: A Dog.
HERMIONE COBLEY: Daughter of a cottager who takes in washing.
MISS HARVEY: A guest, cousin to Mrs. Haverton, a Unitarian.
(_The_ REV. ARCHIBALD HAVERTON _is reading the "Standard" by a lamp
with a green shade_. MRS. HAVERTON _is hemming a towel_. FIDO
_is asleep on the rug. On the walls are three engravings from Landseer,
a portrait of Her late Majesty Queen Victoria, a bookcase with books in
it, and a looking-glass_.)
MRS. HAVERTON: My dear--I hope I do not interrupt you--
Helen has given notice.
REV. A. HAVERTON (_looking up suddenly_).
Who? Helen? Given notice? Bless my soul!
I never thought that she would give us notice.
(_Ponders and frowns._)
MRS. HAVERTON: Well, but she has, and now the question is,
What shall we do to find another cook?
Servants are very difficult to get. (_Sighs._)
Especially to come into the country
To such a place as this. (_Sighs._) No wonder, either!
Oh! Mercy! When one comes to think of it,
One cannot blame them. (_Sighs._) Heaven only knows
I try to do my duty! (_Sighs profoundly._)
REV. A. HAVERTON (_uneasily_): Well, my dear,
I cannot _make_ preferment.
(_Front door-bell rings._)
FIDO: Bow! wow! wow!
REV. A. HAVERTON (_patting him to soothe him_):
There, Fido, there!
FIDO: Wow! wow!
REV. A. HAVERTON: Good dog, there!
REV. A. HAVERTON (_very nervous_): There!
FIDO: Wow! wow!
REV. A. HAVERTON (_in an agony_): Good dog!
FIDO: Bow! wow! wow!
Wow, wow! Wow!! WOW!!!
MRS. HAVERTON (_very excited_): Oh, Lord, he'll
wake the children!
REV. A. HAVERTON (_exploding_): How often have
I told you, Dorothy,
Not to exclaim "Good Lord!"... Apart from manners--
Which have their own importance--blasphemy
(And I regard the phrase as blasphemous)
MRS. HAVERTON (_uneasily_): Oh, very well!...
Oh, very well!
(_Exploding in her turn_.)
Upon my soul, you are intolerable!
(_She jumps up and makes for the door. Before she gets to
it there is a knock and_ MATILDA _enters_.)
MATILDA: Please, m'm, it's only Mrs. Cobley's daughter
To say the washing shall be sent to-morrow,
And would you check the list again and see,
Because she thinks she never had two collars
Of what you sent, but only five, because
You marked it seven; and Mrs. Cobley says
There must be some mistake.
REV. A. HAVERTON (_pompously_): I will attend to it.
MRS. HAVERTON (_whispering angrily_): How can
you, Archibald! You haven't got
The ghost of an idea about the washing!
Sit down. (_He does so_.) (_To Matilda_) Send the
Girl in here.
MRS. HAVERTON _sits down in a fume_.
REV. A. HAVERTON: I think....
MRS. HAVERTON (_snapping_): I don't care what you think!
(_Groans_.) Oh, dear!
I'm nearly off my head!
_Enter_ MISS COBLEY. (_She bobs_.)
Good evening, m'm.
MRS. HAVERTON (_by way of reply_):
Now, then! What's all this fuss about the washing?
MISS COBLEY: Please, m'm, the seven collars, what you sent--
I mean the seven what was marked--was wrong,
And mother says as you'd have had the washing
Only there weren't but five, and would you mind....
MRS. HAVERTON (_sharply_): I cannot understand a word you say.
Go back and tell your mother there were _seven_.
And if she sends home _five_ she pays for _two_.
So there! (_Snorts_.)
MISS COBLEY (_sobbing_): I'm sure I....
MRS. HAVERTON (_savagely_): Don't stand snuffling there!
Go back and tell your mother what I say....
(_Exit_ MISS COBLEY _sobbing. A pause._)
REV. A. HAVERTON (_with assumed authority_): To return to Helen.
Tell me concisely and without complaints,
Why did she give you notice?
(_A hand-bell rings in the passage_.)
REV. A. HAVERTON (_giving him a smart kick_): Shurrup!
FIDO (_howling_). Pen-an'-ink! Pen-an'-ink
REV. A. HAVERTON (_controlling himself, as well as he can, goes to
the door and calls into the passage_): Miss Grosvenor!
(_Louder_) ... Miss Grosvenor!... Was that the bell for prayers?
Was that the bell for prayers?... (_Louder_) Miss Grosvenor.
(_Louder_) Miss Gros-ve-nor! (_Tapping with his foot_.)
MISS GROSVENOR (_sweetly and, far off_): Is that Mr. Haverton?
REV. A. HAVERTON: Yes! yes! yes! yes!...
Was that the bell for prayers?
MISS GROSVENOR (_again_): Yes? Is that Mr. Haverton? Oh! Yes!
I think it is.... I'll see--I'll ask Matilda.
(_A pause, during which the_ REV. A. HAVERTON
_is in a qualm_.)
MISS GROSVENOR (_rustling back_): Matilda says it
_is_ the bell for prayers.
(_They all come filing into the study and arranging the chairs.
As they enter_ MISS HARVEY, _the guest, treads heavily on
MISS HARVEY: Matilda? Was that you? I _beg_ your pardon.
MATILDA (_limping_): Granted, I'm sure, miss!
MRS. HAVERTON (_whispering to the_ REV. A. HAVERTON): Do not read
Miss Harvey is a Unitarian.
I should suggest some simple form of prayer,
Some heartfelt word of charity and peace
Common to every Christian.
REV. A. HAVERTON (_in a deep voice_): Let us pray.
ON A NOTEBOOK
A dear friend of mine (John Abdullah Capricorn, to give him his full
name) was commandeered by a publisher last year to write a book for L10.
The work was far advanced when an editor offered him L15 and his expenses
to visit the more desperate parts of the Sahara Desert, to which spots he
at once proceeded upon a roving commission. Whether he will return or no
is now doubtful, though in March we had the best hopes. With the month of
May life becomes hard for Europeans south of the Atlas, and when my poor
dear friend was last heard of he was chancing his popularity with a tribe
of Touaregs about two hundred miles south of Touggourt.
Under these circumstances I was asked to look through his notebook and see
what could be done; and I confess to a pleased surprise.... It would have
been a very entertaining book had it been published. It will be a very
entertaining book if it is published.
Capricorn seems to have prepared a hotchpotch of information of human
follies, of contrasts, and of blunt stupidities of which he intended
to make a very entertaining series of pages. I have not his talent for
bringing such things together, but it may amuse the reader if I merely
put in their order one or two of the notes which most struck me.
I find first, cut out of a newspaper and pasted into the book (many of
his notes are in this form), the following really jovial paragraph:
"Archdeacon Blunderbuss (Blunderbuss is not the real name; I suppress
that lest Capricorn's widow should lose her two or three pounds, in case
the poor fellow has really been eaten). Archdeacon Blunderbuss was more
distinguished as a scholar than as a Divine. He was a very poor preacher
and never managed to identify himself with any party. Nevertheless, in
1895 the Prime Minister appointed him to a stall in Shoreham Cathedral as
a recognition of his great learning and good work at Durham. Two years
later the rectory of St. Vacuums becoming vacant and it being within the
gift of Archdeacon Blunderbuss, he excited general amazement and much
scandal by presenting himself to the living."
There the paragraph ends. It came in an ordinary society paper. It bore
no marks of ill-will. It came in the midst of a column of the usual
silly adulation of everybody and everything; how it got there is of no
importance. There it stood and the keen eye of Capricorn noted it and
treasured it for years.
I will make no comment upon this paragraph. It may be read slowly or
quickly, according to the taste of the reader; it is equally delicious
The next excerpt I find in the notebook is as follows:
"More than 15,000,000 visits are paid annually to London pawnbrokers.
"Jupiter is 1387 times as big as the earth, but only 300 times as heavy.
"The world's coal mines yield 400,000,000 tons of coal a year.
"The value of the pictures in the National Gallery is about L1,250,000."
This tickled Capricorn--I don't know why. Perhaps he thought the style
disjointed or perhaps he had got it into his head that when this
information had been absorbed by the vulgar they would stand much where
they stood before, and be no nearer the end of man nor the accomplishment
of any Divine purpose in their creation. Anyhow he kept it, and I think
he was wise to keep it. One cannot keep everything of that kind that
is printed, so it is well to keep a specimen. Capricorn had, moreover,
intended to perpetuate that specimen for ever in his immortal prose--pray
Heaven he may return to do so!
I next find the following excerpt from an evening paper:
"No more gallant gentleman lives on the broad acres of his native England
than Brigadier-General Sir Hammerthrust Honeybubble, who is one of the
few survivors of the great charge at Tamulpuco, a feat of arms now
half forgotten, but with which England rang during the Brazilian War.
Brigadier-General, or, as he then was, plain Captain Hammerthrust
Honeybubble, passed through five Brazilian batteries unharmed, and came
back so terribly hacked that his head was almost severed from his body.
Hardly able to keep his seat and continually wiping the blood from his
left eye, he rode back to his troop at a walk, and, in spite of pursuit,
finally completed his escape. Sir Hammerthrust, we are glad to learn, is
still hale and hearty in his ninety-third year, and we hope he may see
many more returns of the day upon his patrimonial estate in the Orkneys."
To this excerpt I find only one marginal note in Capricorn's delicate
and beautiful handwriting: "What day?" But whether this referred to some
appointment of his own I was unable to discover.
I next find a certain number of cuttings which I think cannot have been
intended for the book at all, but must have been designed for poor
Capricorn's "Oxford Anthology of Bad Verse," which, just before he
left England, he was in process of preparing for the University Press.
Capricorn had a very fine sense of bad taste in verse, and the authorities
could have chosen no one better suited for the duty of editing such a
volume. I must not give the reader too much of these lines, but the
following quatrain deserves recognition and a permanent memory:
Napoleon hoped that all the world would fall beneath his sway. He failed
in this ambition; and where is he to-day? Neither the nations of the East
nor the nations of the West Have thought the thing Napoleon thought was to
This is enormous. As philosophy, as history, as rhetoric, as metre, as
rhythm, as politics, it is positively enormous. The whole poem is a
wonderful poem, and I wish I had space for it here. It is patriotic and it
is written about as badly as a poem could conceivably be written. It is a
mournful pleasure to think that my dear friend had his last days in the
Old Country illuminated by such a treasure. It is but one of many, but I
think it is the best.
Another extract which catches my eye is drawn from the works of one in a
distant and foreign land. Yet it was worth preserving. This personage,
Tindersturm by name, issued a pamphlet which fell under the regulations,
the very strict regulations, of the Prussian Government, by which any
one of its subjects who says or prints anything calculated to stir
up religious or racial strife within the State is subject to severe
penalties. Now those severe penalties had fallen upon Tindersturm and
he had been imprisoned for some years according to the paragraph that
followed the extract I am about to give. That the aforesaid Tindersturm
did indeed tend to "stir up religious and racial strife," nay, went
somewhat out of his way to do it, will be clear enough when you read the
following lines from his little broadsheet:
"It is time for us to go for this caddish alien sect. If on your way home
from the theatre you meet the blue-eyed, tow-haired, lolloping gang,
whether they be youths or ladies, go right up to them and give them a
smart smack, left and right, a blow in the eye; and lift your foot and
give the tow-headed ones a kick. In this way must we begin the business.
My Fatherland, wake up!"
To this extract poor Capricorn has added the word "Excellent," and the
same comment he makes upon the following conclusion to a letter written
to a religious paper and dealing with some politician or other who had
done something which the correspondent did not like:
"That his eyes may be opened _while he lives_ is the prayer of
"AN EARNEST MEMBER OF THE FOLD"
From such a series it is a recreation to turn to the little social
paragraphs which gave Capricorn such acute and such continual joy; as, for
"Mrs. Harry Bacon wishes it to be known that she has ceased to have any
connection whatsoever with the Boudoir for Lost Dogs. Her address is still
Hermione House, Bourton-on-the-Water Fenton Marsh, Worcester."
There is much more in the notebook with which I could while away the
reader's time did space permit of it. I find among the very last entries,
for instance, this:
"It was a strenuous and thrilling contest. Some terrible blows were
exchanged. In the last round, however, Schmidt landed his opponent a very
nasty one under the chin, stretching him out lifeless and breaking his
elbow; whereupon the prize was awarded him."
To this joyous gem Capricorn has added a whole foison of annotations. He
asks at the end: "Which was 'him'? Important." And he underlines in red
ink the word "however," perhaps as mysterious a copulative as has ever
appeared in British prose. I should add that Capricorn himself was an
ardent sportsman and very rarely missed any of the first-class events of
the ring, though personally he did not box, and on the few occasions when
I have seen the exercise forced upon him in the public streets he showed
the greatest distaste to this form of athletics.
Lastly, I find this note with which I must close: it is taken from the
verbatim report of a great case in the courts, now half forgotten, but ten
years ago the talk of London:
"The witness then said that he had been promised an independence for life
if he could discover the defendant in the act of enclosing any part of
the land, or any document or order of his involving such an enclosure. He
therefore watched the defendant regularly from June, 1896, to the middle
of July, 1900. He also watched the defendant's father and mother, three
boys, married daughter, grandmother and grandfather, his two married
sisters, his brother, his agent, and his agent's wife--but he had
That such a sentence should have been printed in the English language and
delivered by an English mouth in an English witness-box was enough for
Capricorn. Give him that alone for intellectual food in his desert lodge
and he was happy.
Shall I tempt Providence by any further extracts? ... It is difficult to
tear oneself away from such a feast. So let me put in this very last,
really the last, by way of savoury. There it is in black and white and no
one can undo it: not all her piety, nor all her wit. It dates from the
year 1904, when, Heaven knows, the internal combustion engine and its
possibilities were not exactly new, and I give it word for word:
"The Duchess is, moreover, a pioneer in the use of the motor-car. She
finds it an agreeable and speedy means of conveyance from her country seat
to her town house, and also a very practical way of getting to see her
friends at week-ends. She has been heard to complain, however, that a
substitute for the pneumatic tyre less liable to puncture than it is would
be a priceless boon."
There! There! May they all rest in peace! They have added to the gaiety of
ON UNKNOWN PEOPLE
You will often hear it said that it is astonishing such and such work
should be present and enduring in the world, and yet the name of its
author not known; but when one considers the variety of good work and the
circumstances under which it is achieved, and the variety of taste also
between different times and places, one begins to understand what is at
first so astonishing.
There are writers who have ascribed this frequent ignorance of ours to all
sorts of heroic moods, to the self-sacrifice or the humility of a whole
epoch or of particular artists: that is the least satisfactory of the
reasons one could find. All men desire, if not fame, at least the one poor
inalienable right of authorship, and unless one can find very good reasons
indeed why a painter or a writer or a sculptor should deliberately have
hidden himself one must look for some other cause.
Among such causes the first two, I think, are the multiplicity of good
work, and its chance character. Not that any one ever does very good work
for once and then never again--at least, such an accident is extremely
rare--but that many a man who has achieved some skill by long labour does
now and then strike out a sort of spark quite individual and separate from
the rest. Often you will find that a man who is remembered for but one
picture or one poem is worth research. You will find that he did much
more. It is to be remembered that for a long time Ronsard himself was
thought to be a man of one poem.
The multiplicity of good work also and the way in which accident helps it
is a cause. There are bits of architecture (and architecture is the most
anonymous of all the arts) which depend for their effect to-day very
largely upon situation and the process of time, and there are a thousand
corners in Europe intended merely for some utility which happen almost
without deliberate design to have proved perfect: this is especially true
Then there is this element in the anonymity of good work, that a man very
often has no idea how good the work is which he has done. The anecdotes
(such as that famous one of Keats) which tell us of poets desiring to
destroy their work, or, at any rate, casting it aside as of little value,
are not all false. We still have the letter in which Burns enclosed "Scots
wha' hae," and it is curious to note his misjudgment of the verse; and
side by side with that kind of misjudgment we have men picking out for
singular affection and with a full expectation of glory some piece of
work of theirs to which posterity will have nothing to say. This is
especially true of work recast by men in mature age. Writers and painters
(sculptors luckily are restrained by the nature of their art--unless they
deliberately go and break up their work with a hammer) retouch and change,
in the years when they have become more critical and less creative, what
they think to be the insufficient achievements of their youth: yet it is
the vigour and the simplicity of their youthful work which other men often
prefer to remember. On this account any number of good things remain
anonymous, because the good writer or the good painter or the good
sculptor was ashamed of them.
Then there is this reason for anonymity, that at times--for quite a short
few years--a sort of universality of good work in one or more departments
of art seems to fall upon the world or upon some district. Nowhere do
you see this more strikingly than in the carvings of the first third of
the sixteenth century in Northern and Central France and on the Flemish
Men seemed at that moment incapable of doing work that was not marvellous
when they once began to express the human figure. Sometimes their mere
name remains, more often it is doubtful, sometimes it is entirely lost.
More curious still, you often have for this period a mixture of names. You
come across some astonishing series of reliefs in a forgotten church of a
small provincial town. You know at once that it is work of the moment when
the flood of the Renaissance had at last reached the old country of the
Gothic. You can swear that if it were not made in the time of Francis I or
Henry II it was at least made by men who could remember or had seen those
times. But when you turn to the names the names are nobodies.
By far the most famous of these famous things, or at any rate the most
deserving of fame, is the miracle of Brou. It is a whole world. You would
say that either one transcendent genius had modelled every face and figure
of those thousands (so individual are they), or that a company of inspired
men differing in their traditions and upbringing from all the commonalty
of mankind had done such things. When you go to the names all you find is
that Coulombe out of Touraine began the job, that there was some sort of
quarrel between his head-man and the paymasters, that he was replaced in
the most everyday manner conceivable by a Fleming, Van Boghem, and that
this Fleming had to help him a better-known Swiss, one Meyt. It is the
same story with nearly all this kind of work and its wonderful period. The
wealth of detail at Louviers or Gisors is almost anonymous; that of the
first named perhaps quite anonymous.
Who carved the wood in St. James's Church at Antwerp? I think the name
is known for part of it, but no one did the whole or anything like the
whole, and yet it is all one thing. Who carved the wood in St. Bertrand
de Coraminges? We know who paid for it, and that is all we know. And as
for the wood of Rouen, we must content ourselves with the vague phrase,
"Probably Flemish artists."
Of the Gothic statues where they were conventional, however grand the
work, one can understand that they should be anonymous, but it is curious
to note the same silence where the work is strikingly and particularly
individual. Among the kings at Rheims are two heads, one of St. Louis,
one of his grandson. Had some one famous sculptor done these things and
others, were his work known and sought after, these two heads would be as
renowned as anything in Europe. As it is they are two among hundreds that
the latter thirteenth and early fourteenth centuries scattered broadcast;
each probably was the work of a different workman, and the author or
authors of each remain equally unknown.
I know not whether there is more pathos or more humour or more consolation
in considering this ignorance of ours with regard to the makers of good
It is full of parable. There is something of it in Nature. There are men
who will walk all day through a June wood and come out atheists at the end
of it, finding no signature thereupon; and there are others who, sailing
over the sea, come back home after seeing so many things still puzzled as
to their authorship. That is one parable.
Then there is this: the corrective of ambition. Since so much remains, the
very names of whose authors have perished, what does it matter to you or
to the world whether your name, so long as your work, survives? Who was
it that carefully and cunningly fixed the sights on Gumber Corner so as
to get upon a clear day his exact alignment with Pulborough and then the
shoulder of Leith Hill, just to miss the two rivers and just to obtain the
best going for a military road? He was some engineer or other among the
thousands in the Imperial Service. He was at Chichester for some weeks
and drew his pay, and then perhaps went on to London, and he was born in
Africa or in Lombardy, or he was a Breton, or he was from Lusitania or
from the Euphrates. He did that bit of work most certainly without any
consideration of fame, for engineers (especially when they are soldiers)
are singular among artists in this matter. But he did a very wonderful
thing, and the Roman Road has run there for fifteen hundred years--his
creation. Some one must have hit upon that precise line and the reason for
it. It is exactly right, and the thing done was as great and is to-day as
satisfying as that sculpture of Brou or the two boys Murillo painted, whom
you may see in the Gallery at Dulwich. But he never thought of any one
knowing his name, and no one knows it.
Then there is this last thing about anonymous work, which is also a
parable and a sad one. It shows how there is no bridge between two human
How often have I not come upon a corbel of stone carved into the shape
of a face, and that face had upon it either horror or laughter or great
sweetness or vision, and I have looked at it as I might have looked upon
a living face, save that it was more wonderful than most living faces. It
carried in it the soul and the mind of the man who made it. But he has
been dead these hundreds of years. That corbel cannot be in communion with
me, for it is of stone; it is dumb and will not speak to me, though it
compels me continually to ask it questions. Its author also is dumb, for
he has been dead so long, and I can know nothing about him whatsoever.
Now so it is with any two human minds, not only when they are separated by
centuries and by silence, but when they have their being side by side
under one roof and are companions all their years.
ON A VAN TROMP
Once there was a man who, having nothing else to do and being fond of
that kind of thing, copied with a good deal of care on to a bit of wood
the corner of a Dutch picture in one of the public galleries.
This man was not a good artist; indeed he was nothing but a humpbacked
and very sensitive little squire with about L3000 a year of his own and
great liking for intricate amusements. He was a pretty good mathematician
and a tolerable fisherman. He knew an enormous amount about the Mohammedan
conquest of Spain, and he is, I believe, writing a book upon that subject.
I hope he will, for nearly all history wants to be rewritten. Anyhow, he,
as I have just said, did copy a corner of one of the Dutch pictures in one
of the galleries. It was a Dutch picture of the seventeenth century; and
since the laws of this country are very complicated and the sanctions
attached to them very terrible, I will not give the name of the original
artist, but I will call him Van Tromp.
Van Tromps have always been recognized, and there was a moment about fifty
years after the artist's death when they had a considerable vogue in the
French Court. Monsieur, who was quite ignorant of such things, bought
a couple, and there is a whole row of them in the little pavilion at
Louveciennes. Van Tromp has something about him at once positive and
elusive; he is full of planes and values, and he interprets and renders,
and the rest of it. Nay, he transfers!
About thirty years ago Mr. Mayor (of Hildesheim and London) thought it his
duty to impress upon the public how great Van Tromp was. This he did after
taking thirteen Van Tromps in payment of a bad debt, and he succeeded. But
the man I am writing about cared nothing for all this: he simply wanted to
see how well he could imitate this corner of the picture, and he did it
pretty well. He begrimed it and he rubbed at it, and then he tickled it up
again with a knife, and then he smoked it, and then he put in some dirty
whites which were vivid, and he played the fool with white of egg, and so
forth, until he had the very tone and manner of the original; and as he
had done it on an old bit of wood it was exactly right, and he was very
proud of the result. He got an old frame from near Long Acre and stuck it
in, and then he took the thing home. He had done several things of this
kind, imitating miniatures, and even enamels. It amused him. When he got
home he sat looking at it with great pleasure for an hour or two; he left
the little thing on the table of his study and went to bed.
Here begins the story, and here, therefore, I must tell you what the
subject of this corner of the picture was.
The subject of this corner of the picture which he had copied was a woman
in a brown jacket and a red petticoat with big feet showing underneath,
sitting on a tub and cutting up some vegetables. She had her hair bunched
up like an onion, a fashion which, as we all know, appealed to the Dutch
in the seventeenth century, or at any rate to the plebeian Dutch. I must
also tell you the name of this squire before I go any further: his name
was Hammer--Paul Hammer. He was unmarried.
He went to bed at eleven o'clock, and when he came down at eight o'clock
he had his breakfast. He went into his study at nine o'clock, and was very
much annoyed to find that some burglars had come in during the night and
had taken away a number of small objects which were not without value; and
among-them, what he most regretted, his little pastiche of the corner of
the Van Tromp.
For some moments he stood filled with an acute anger and wishing that he
knew who the burglars were and how to get at them; but the days passed,
and though he asked everybody, and even gave some money to the police, he
could not discover this. He put an advertisement into several newspapers,
both London newspapers and local ones, saying that money would be given if
the thing were restored, and pretty well hinting that no questions would
be asked, but nothing came.
Meanwhile the burglars, whose names were Charles and Lothair Femeral,
foreigners but English-speaking, had found some of their ill-acquired
goods saleable, others unsaleable. They wanted a pound for the little
picture in the frame, and this they could not get, and it was a bother
haggling it about. Lothair Femeral thought of a good plan: he stopped at
an inn on the third day of their peregrinations, had a good dinner with
his brother, told the innkeeper that he could not pay the bill, and
offered to leave the Old Master in exchange. When people do this it very
often comes off, for the alternative is only the pleasure of seeing
the man in gaol, whereas a picture is always a picture, and there is a
gambler's chance of its turning up trumps. So the man grumbled and took
the little thing. He hung it up in the best room of the inn, where he gave
his richer customers food.
Thus it was that a young gentleman who had come down to ride in that
neighbourhood, although he did not know any of the rich people round
about, saw it one day, and on seeing it exclaimed loudly in an unknown
tongue; but he very rapidly repressed his emotion and simply told the
innkeeper that he had taken a fancy to the daub and would give him thirty
shillings for it.
The innkeeper, who had read in the newspapers of how pictures of the
utmost value are sold by fools for a few pence, said boldly that his price
was twenty pounds; whereupon the young gentleman went out gloomily, and
the innkeeper thought that he must have made a mistake, and was for three
hours depressed. But in the fourth hour again he was elated, for the young
gentleman came back with twenty pounds, not even in notes but in gold,
paid it down, and took away the picture. Then again, in the fifth hour was
the innkeeper a little depressed, but not as much as before, for it struck
him that the young gentleman must have been very eager to act in such a
fashion, and that perhaps he could have got as much as twenty-one pounds
by holding out and calling it guineas.
The young gentleman telegraphed to his father (who lived in Wimbledon but
who did business in Bond Street) saying that he had got hold of a Van
Tromp which looked like a study for the big "Eversley" Van Tromp in the
Gallery, and he wanted to know what his father would give for it. His
father telegraphed back inviting him to spend one whole night under the
family roof. This the young man did, and, though it wrung the old father's
heart to have to do it, by the time he had seen the young gentleman's find
(or _trouvaille_ as he called it) he had given his offspring a cheque
for five hundred pounds. Whereupon the young gentleman left and went back
to do some more riding, an exercise of which he was passionately fond, and
to which he had trained several quiet horses.
The father wrote to a certain lord of his acquaintance who was very
fond of Van Tromps, and offered him this replica or study, in some ways
finer than the original, but he said it must be a matter for private
negotiation; so he asked for an appointment, and the lord, who was a tall,
red-faced man with a bluff manner, made an appointment for nine o'clock
next morning, which was rather early for Bond Street. But money talks, and
they met. The lord was very well dressed, and when he talked he folded his
hands (which had gloves on them) over the knob of his stick and pressed
his stick firmly upon the ground. It was a way he had. But it did not
frighten the old gentleman who did business in Bond Street, and the
long and short of it was that the lord did not get the picture until he
had paid three thousand guineas--not pounds, mind you. For this sum the
picture was to be sent round to the lord's house, and so it was, and there
it would have stayed but for a very curious accident. The lord had put
the greater part of his money into a company which was developing the
resources of the South Shetland Islands, and by some miscalculation or
other the expense of this experiment proved larger than the revenues
obtainable from it. His policy, as I need hardly tell you, was to hang on,
and so he did, because in the long run the property must pay. And so it
would if they could have gone on shelling out for ever, but they could
not, and so the whole affair was wound up and the lord lost a great deal
Under these circumstances he bethought him of the toiling millions who
never see a good picture and who have no more vivid appetite than the
hunger for good pictures. He therefore lent his collection of Van Tromps
with the least possible delay to a public gallery, and for many years they
hung there, while the lord lived in great anxiety, but with a sufficient
income for his needs in the delightful scenery of the Pennines at some
distance from a railway station, surrounded by his tenants. At last even
these--the tenants, I mean--were not sufficient, and a gentleman in the
Government who knew the value of Van Tromps proposed that these Van Tromps
should be bought for the nation; but a lot of cranks made a frightful row,
both in Parliament and out of it, so that the scheme would have fallen
through had not one of the Van Tromps--to wit, that little copy of a
corner which was obviously a replica of or a study for the best-known of
the Van Tromps--been proclaimed false quite suddenly by a gentleman who
doubted its authenticity; whereupon everybody said that it was not genuine
except three people who really counted, and these included the gentleman
who had recommended the purchase of the Van Tromps by the nation. So
enormous was the row upon the matter that the picture reached the very
pinnacle of fame, and an Australian then travelling in England was
determined to get that Van Tromp for himself, and did.
This Australian was a very simple man, good and kind and childlike, and
frightfully rich. When he had got the Van Tromp he carried it about with
him, and at the country houses where he stopped he used to pull it out and
show it to people. It happened that among other country houses he stopped
once at the hunchback squire's, whose name, as you will remember, was Mr.
Hammer, and he showed him the Van Tromp one day after dinner.
Now Mr. Hammer was by this time an old man, and he had ceased to care much
for the things of this world. He had suffered greatly, and he had begun to
think about religion; also he had made a good deal of money in Egyptians
(for all this was before the slump). And he was pretty well ashamed of
his pastiches; so, one way and another, the seeing of that picture did
not have the effect upon him which you might have expected; for you, the
reader, have read this story in five minutes (if you have had the patience
to get so far), but he, Mr. Hammer, had been changing and changing for
years, and I tell you he did not care a dump what happened to the wretched
thing. Only when the Australian, who was good and simple and kind and
hearty, showed him the picture and asked him proudly to guess what he had
given for it, then Mr. Hammer looked at him with a look in his eyes full
of that not mortal sadness which accompanies irremediable despair.
"I do not know," he answered gently and with a sob in his voice.
"I paid for that picture," said the Australian, in the accent and language
of his native clime, "no less a sum than L7500 ... and I'd pay it again
to-morrow!" Saying this, the Australian hit the table with the palm, of
his hand in a manner so manly that an aged retainer who was putting coals
upon the fire allowed the coal-scuttle to drop.
But Mr. Hammer, ruminating in his mind all the accidents and changes and
adventures of human life, its complexity, its unfulfilled desires, its
fading but not quite perishable ideals, well knowing how men are made
happy and how unhappy, ventured on no reply. Two great tears gathered in
his eyes, and he would have shed them, perhaps to be profusely followed by
more--he was nearly breaking down--when he looked up and saw on the wall
opposite him seven pastiches which he had made in the years gone by. There
was a Titian and a George Morland, a Chardin, two cows after Cooper, and
an impressionist picture after some Frenchman whose name he had forgotten.
"You like pictures?" he said to the Australian, the tears still standing
in his eyes.
"I do!" said the Australian with conviction.
"Will you let me give you these?" said Mr. Hammer.
The Australian protested that such things could not be allowed, but he was
a simple man, and at last he consented, for he was immensely pleased.
"It is an ungracious thing to make conditions," said Mr. Hammer, "and I
won't make any, only I should be pleased if, in your island home...."
"I don't live on an island," said the Australian. Mr. Hammer remembered
the map of Australia, with the water all round it, but he was too polite
"No, of course not," he said; "you live on the mainland; I forgot. But
anyhow, I _should_ be so pleased if you would promise me to hang them
all together, these pictures with your Van Tromp, all in a line! I really
should be so pleased!"
"Why, certainly," said the Australian, a little bewildered; "I will do so,
Mr. Hammer, if it can give you any pleasure."
"The fact is," said Mr. Hammer, in a breaking voice, "I had that picture
once, and I intended it to hang side by side with these."
It was in vain that the Australian, on hearing this, poured out
self-reproaches, offered with an expansion of soul to restore it, and then
more prudently attempted a negotiation. Mr. Hammer resolutely shook his
"I am an old man," he said, "and I have no heirs; it is not for me to
take, but to give, and if you will do what an old man begs of you, and
accept what I offer; if you will do more and of your courtesy keep all
these things together which were once familiar to me, it will be enough
The next day, therefore, the Australian sailed off to his distant
continental home, carrying with him not only the Chardin, the Titian, the
Cooper, the impressionist picture, and the rest, but also the Van Tromp.
And three months after they all hung in a row in the great new copper room
at Warra-Mugga. What happened to them later on, and how they were all sold
together as "the Warra-Mugga Collection," I will tell you when I have the
time and you the patience. Farewell.
A certain merchant in the City of London, having retired from business,
purchased for himself a private house upon the heights of Hampstead and
proposed to devote his remaining years to the education and the
establishment in life of his only son.
When this youth (whose name was George) had arrived at the age of nineteen
his father spoke to him after dinner upon his birthday with regard to the
necessity of choosing a profession. He pointed out to him the advantages
of a commercial career, and notably of that form of useful industry which
is known as banking, showing how in that trade a profit was to be made by
lending the money of one man to another, and often of a man's own money to
himself, without engaging one's own savings or fortune.
George, to whom such matters were unfamiliar, listened attentively, and it
seemed to him with every word that dropped from his father that a wider
and wider horizon of material comfort and worldly grandeur was spreading
out before him. He had hitherto had no idea that such great rewards were
attached to services so slight in themselves, and certainly so valueless
to the community. The career sketched out for him by his father appealed
to him most strongly, and when that gentleman had completed his advice he
assured him that he would follow it in every particular.
George's father was overjoyed to find his son so reasonable. He sat down
at once to write the note which he had planned, to an old friend and
connection by marriage, Mr. Repton, of Repton and Greening; he posted it
that night and bade the lad prepare for the solemnity of a private
interview with the head of the firm upon the morrow.
Before George left the house next morning his father laid before him, with
the pomp which so great an occasion demanded, certain rules of conduct
which should guide not only his entry into life but his whole conduct
throughout its course. He emphasized the value of self-respect, of a
decent carriage, of discretion, of continuous and tenacious habits of
industry, of promptitude, and so forth; when, urged by I know not what
demon whose pleasure it is ever to disturb the best plans of men, the old
gentleman had the folly to add the following words as he rose to his feet
and laid his hand heavily upon his son's shoulder:
"Above all things, George, tell the truth. I was young and now am old. I
have seen many men fail, some few succeed; and the best advice I can give
to my dear only son is that on all occasions he should fearlessly and
manfully tell the truth without regard of consequence. Believe me, it is
not only the whole root of character, but the best basis for a successful
business career even today."
Having so spoken, the old man, more moved than he cared to show, went
upstairs to read his newspaper, and George, beautifully dressed, went out
by the front door towards the Tube, pondering very deeply the words his
father had just used.
I cannot deny that the impression they produced upon him was
extraordinary--far more vivid than men of mature years can easily
conceive. It is often so in early youth when we listen to the voice of
authority; some particular chance phrase will have an unmeasured effect
upon one. A worn tag and platitude solemnly spoken, and at a critical
moment, may change the whole of a career. And so it was with George,
as you will shortly perceive. For as he rumbled along in the Tube his
father's words became a veritable obsession within him: he saw their value
ramifying in a multitude of directions, he perceived the strength and
accuracy of them in a hundred aspects. He knew well that the interview he
was approaching was one in which this virtue of truth might be severely
tested, but he gloried in the opportunity, and he came out of the Tube
into the fresh air within a step of Mr. Repton's office with set lips and
his young temper braced for the ordeal.
When he got to the office there was Mr. Repton, a kindly old gentleman,
wearing large spectacles, and in general appearance one of those genial
types from which our caricaturists have constructed the national figure of
John Bull. It was a pleasure to be in the presence of so honest a man, and
in spite of George's extreme nervousness he felt a certain security in
such company. Moreover, Mr. Repton smiled paternally at him before putting
to him the few questions which the occasion demanded. He held George's
father's letter between two fingers of his right hand, moving it gently in
the air as he addressed the lad:
"I am very glad to see you, George," he said, "in this old office. I've
seen you here before, Chrm! as you know, but not on such important
business, Chrm!" He laughed genially. "So you want to come and learn your
trade with us, do you? You're punctual I hope, Chrm?" he added, his honest
eyes full of good nature and jest.
George looked at him in a rather gloomy manner, hesitated a moment, and
then, under the influence of an obvious effort, said in a choking voice,
"No, Mr. Repton, I'm not."
"Hey, what?" said Mr. Repton, puzzled and a little annoyed at the young
"I was saying, Mr. Repton, that I am not punctual. I have dreamy fits
which sometimes make me completely forget an appointment. And I have a
silly habit of cutting things too fine, which makes me miss trains and
things, I think I ought to tell you while I am about it, but I simply
cannot get up early in the morning. There are days when I manage to do
so under the excitement of a coming journey or for some other form of
pleasure, but as a rule I postpone my rising until the very latest
George having thus delivered himself closed his lips and was silent.
"Humph!" said Mr. Repton. It was not what the boy had said so much as the
impression of oddness which affected that worthy man. He did not like it,
and he was not quite sure of his ground. He was about to put another
question, when George volunteered a further statement:
"I don't drink," he said, "and at my age it is not easy to understand
what the vice of continual drunkenness may be, but I shouldn't wonder
if that would be my temptation later on, and it is only fair to tell
you that, young as I am, I have twice grossly exceeded in wine; on one
occasion, not a year ago, the servants at a house where I was stopping
carried me to bed."
"They did?" said Mr. Repton drily.
"Yes," said George, "they did." Then there was a silence for a space of
at least three minutes.
"My dear young man," said Mr. Repton, rising, "do you feel any aptitude
for a City career?"
"None," said George decisively.
"Pray," said Mr. Repton (who had grown-up children of his own and could
not help speaking with a touch of sarcasm--he thought it good for boys
in the lunatic stage), "pray," said he, looking quizzically down at the
unhappy but firm-minded George as he sat there in his chair, "is there
any form of work for which you do feel an aptitude?"
"Yes, certainly," said George confidently.
"And what is that?" said Mr. Repton, his smile beginning again.
"The drama," said George without hesitation, "the poetic drama. I ought to
tell you that I have received no encouragement from those who are the best
critics of this art, though I have submitted my work to many since I left
school. Some have said that my work was commonplace, others that it was
imitative; all have agreed that it was dull, and they have unanimously
urged me to abandon every thought of such composition. Nevertheless I
am convinced that I have the highest possible talents not only in this
department of letters but in all."
"You believe yourself," said Mr. Repton, with a touch of severity, "to be
an exceptional young man?"
George nodded. "I do," he said, "quite exceptional. I should have used a
stronger term had I been speaking of the matter myself. I think I have
genius, or, rather, I am sure I have; and, what is more, genius of a very
"Well," said Mr. Repton, sighing, "I don't think we shall get any
forrader. Have you been working much lately?" he asked anxiously--
"examinations or anything?"
"No," said George quietly. "I always feel like this."
"Indeed!" said Mr. Repton, who was now convinced that the poor boy had
intended no discourtesy. "Well, I wonder whether you would mind taking
back a note to your father?"
"Not at all," said George courteously.
Mr. Repton in his turn wrote a short letter, in which he begged George's
father not to take offence at an old friend's advice, recalled to his
memory the long and faithful friendship between them, pointed out that
outsiders could often see things which members of a family could not, and
wound up by begging George's father to give George a good holiday. "Not
alone," he concluded; "I don't think that would be quite safe, but in
company with some really trustworthy man a little older than himself, who
won't get on his nerves and yet will know how to look after him. He must
get right away for some weeks," added the kind old man, "and after that
I should advise you to keep him at home and let him have some gentle
occupation. Don't encourage him in writing. I think he would take kindly
to _gardening_. But I won't write any more: I will come and see you
Bearing that missive back did George reach his home.... All this passed in
the year 1895, and that is why George is to-day one of the best electrical
engineers in the country, instead of being a banker; and that shows how
good always comes, one way or another, of telling the truth.
ON THRUPPENNY BITS
Philip, King of Macedon, destroyer of the liberties of Greece, and father
to Alexander who tamed the horse Bucephalus, called for the tutor of that
lad, one Aristotle (surnamed the Teacher of the Human Race), to propound
to him a question that had greatly troubled him; for in counting out his
money (which was his habit upon a washing day, when the Queen's appetite
for afternoon tea and honey had rid him of her presence) he discovered
mixed with his treasure such an intolerable number of thruppenny bits as
very nearly drove him to despair.
On this account King Philip of Macedon, destroyer of the liberties of
Greece, sent for Aristotle, his hanger-on, as one capable of answering any
question whatsoever, and said to him (when he had entered with a profound
"Come, Aristotle, answer me straight; what is the use of a thruppenny bit?"
"Dread sire," said Aristotle, standing in his presence with respect, "the
thruppenny bit is not to be despised. Men famous in no way for their
style, nor even for their learning, have maintained life by inscribing
within its narrow boundaries the Lord's Prayer, the Creed, and the Ten
Commandments, while others have used it as a comparison in the classes
of astronomy to illustrate the angle subtended by certain of the orbs of
heaven. The moon, whose waxing and waning is doubtless familiar to Your
Majesty, is indeed but just hidden by a thruppenny bit held between the
finger and the thumb of the observer extended at the full length of any
normal human arm."
"Go on," said King Philip, with some irritation; "go on; go on!"
"The thruppenny bit, Your Majesty, illustrates, as does no other coin, the
wisdom and the aptness of the duodecimal system to which the Macedonians
have so wisely clung (in common with the people of Scythia and of Thrace,
and the dumb animals) while the too brilliant Hellenes ran wild in the
false simplicity of the decimal system. The number twelve, Your
"Yes, yes, I know," said King Philip impatiently, "I have heard it a
thousand times! It has already persuaded me to abandon the duodecimal
method and to consign to the severest tortures any one who mentions it in
my presence again. My ten fingers are good enough for me. Go on, go on!"
"Sovran Lord!" continued Aristotle, "the thruppenny bit has further been
proved in a thousand ways an adjuvator and prime helper of the Gods. For
many a man too niggardly to give sixpence, and too proud to give a copper,
has dropped this coin among the offerings at the Temple, and it is related
of a clergyman in Armagh (a town of which Your Majesty has perhaps never
heard) that he would frequently address his congregation from the rails
of the altar, pointing out the excessive number of thruppenny bits which
had been offered for the sustenance of the hierarchy, threatening to
summon before him known culprits, and to return to them the insufficient
oblation. Again, the thruppenny bit most powerfully disciplines the soul
of man, for it tries the temper as does no other coin, being small, thin,
wayward, given to hiding, and very often useless when it is discovered.
Learn also, King of Macedon, that the thruppenny bit is of value in ritual
phrases, and particularly so in objurgations and the calling down of
curses, and in the settlement of evil upon enemies, and in the final
expression of contempt. For to compare some worthless thing to a farthing,
to a penny, or to tuppence, has no vigour left in it, and it has long
been thought ridiculous even among provincials; a threadbare, worn, and
worthless sort of sneer; but the thruppenny bit has a sound about it
very valuable to one who would insist upon his superiority. Thus were
some rebel or some demagogue of Athens (for example) to venture upon the
criticism of Your Majesty's excursions into philosophy, in order to bring
those august theses into contempt, his argument would never find emphasis
or value unless he were to terminate its last phrase by a snap of the
fingers and the mention of a thruppenny bit.
"King Philip of Macedon, most prudent of men, learn further that a
thruppenny bit, which to the foolish will often seem a mere expenditure of
threepence, to the wise may represent a saving of that sum. For how many
occasions are there not in which the inconsequent and lavish fool, the
spendthrift, the young heir, the commander of cavalry, the empty, gilded
boy, will give a sixpence to a messenger where a thruppenny bit would have
done as well? For silver is the craving of the poor, not in its amount,
but in its nature, for nature and number are indeed two things, the one on
the one hand...."
"Oh, I know all about that," said King Philip; "I did not send for you
to get you off upon those rails, which have nothing whatever to do with
thruppenny bits. Be concrete, I pray you, good Aristotle," he continued,
and yawned. "Stick to things as they are, and do not make me remind you
how once you said that men had thirty-six, women only thirty-four, teeth.
Do not wander in the void."
"Arbiter of Hellas," said Aristotle gravely, when the King had finished
his tirade, "the thruppenny bit has not only all that character of
usefulness which I have argued in it from the end it is designed to serve,
but one may also perceive this virtue in it in another way, which is by
observation. For you will remember how when we were all boys the fourpenny
bit of accursed memory still lingered, and how as against it the
thruppenny bit has conquered. Which is, indeed, a parable taken from
nature, showing that whatever survives is destined to survive, for that
is indeed in a way, as you may say, the end of survival."
"Precisely," said King Philip, frowning intellectually; "I follow you.
I have heard many talk in this manner, but none talk as well as you do.
Continue, good Aristotle, continue."
"Your Majesty, the matter needs but little exposition, though it contains
the very marrow of truth," said the philosopher, holding up in a menacing
way the five fingers of his left hand and ticking them off with the
forefinger of his right. "For it is first useful, second beautiful, third
valuable, fourth magnificent, and, fifthly, consonant to its nature."
"Quite true," said King Philip, following carefully every word that fell
from the wise man's lips, for he could now easily understand.
"Very well then, sire," said Aristotle in a livelier tone, charmed to
have captivated the attention of his Sovereign. "I was saying that which
survives is proved worthy of survival, as of a man and a shark, or of
Athens and Macedonia, or in many other ways. Now the thruppenny bit,
having survived to our own time, has so proved itself in that test, and
upon this all men of science are agreed.
"Then, also, King Philip, consider how the thruppenny bit in another and
actual way, not of pure reason but, if I may say so, in a material manner,
commends itself: for is it not true that whereas all other nations
whatsoever, being by nature servile, will use a nickel piece or some other
denomination for whatever is small but is not of bronze, the Macedonians,
being designed by the Gods for the command of all the human race, have
very tenaciously clung to the thruppenny bit through good and through
evil repute, and have even under the sternest penalties enforced it upon
their conquered subjects? For when Your Majesty discovered (if you will
remember) that the people of Euboea, in manifest contempt of your Crown,
paid back into Your Majesty's treasury all their taxes in the shape of
At this moment King Philip gave a loud shout, uttering in Greek the word
"Eureka," which signifies (to those who drop their aitches) "I've got it."
"Got what?" said the philosopher, startled into common diction by the
unexpected interjection of the despot.
"Get out!" said King Philip. "Do you suppose that any rambling Don is
going to take up my time when by a sheer accident his verbosity has
started me on a true scent? Out, Aristotle, out! Or, stay, take this note
with you to the Captain of the Guard"--and King Philip hastily scribbled
upon a parchment an order for the immediate execution of the whole of the
inhabitants of Euboea, saving such as could redeem themselves at the price
of ten drachmae, the said sum upon no account whatsoever to be paid in
coin containing so much as one thruppenny bit.
But the offended philosopher had departed, and being well wound up could
not, any more than any other member of the academies, cease from spouting;
so that King Philip was intolerably aggravated to hear him as he waddled
down the Palace stairs still declaiming in a loud tone:
"And, sixteenthly, the thruppenny bit has about it this noble quality,
that it represents an aliquot part of that sum which is paid to me daily
from the Royal Treasury in silver, a metal upon which we have always
insisted. And, seventeenthly...."
But King Philip banged the door.
ON THE HOTEL AT PALMA AND A PROPOSED GUIDE-BOOK
The hotel at Palma is like the Savoy, but the cooking is a great deal
better. It is large and new; its decorations are in the modern style with
twiddly lines. Its luxury is greater than that of its London competitor.
It has an eager, willing porter and a delightful landlord. You do what you
like in it and there are books to read. One of these books was an English
guide-book. I read it. It was full of lies, so gross and palpable that I
told my host how abominably it traduced his country, and advised him first
to beat the book well and then to burn it over a slow fire. It said that
the people were superstitious--it is false. They have no taboo about days;
they play about on Sundays. They have no taboo about drinks; they drink
what they feel inclined (which is wine) when they feel inclined (which is
when they are thirsty). They have no taboo book, Bible or Koran, no damned
psychical rubbish, no damned "folk-lore," no triply damned mumbo-jumbo of
social ranks; kind, really good, simple-minded dukes would have a devil of
a time in Palma. Avoid it, my dears, keep away. If anything, the people of
Palma have not quite enough superstition. They play there for love, money,
and amusement. No taboo (talking of love) about love.
The book said they were poor. Their populace is three or four times as
rich as ours. They own their own excellent houses and their own land; no
one but has all the meat and fruit and vegetables and wine he wants, and
usually draught animals and musical instruments as well.
In fact, the book told the most frightful lies and was a worthy companion
to other guidebooks. It moved me to plan a guide-book of my own in which
the truth should be told about all the places I know. It should be called
"Guide to Northumberland, Sussex, Chelsea, the French frontier, South
Holland, the Solent, Lombardy, the North Sea, and Rome, with a chapter on
part of Cheshire and some remarks on the United States of America."
In this book the fault would lie in its too great scrappiness, but the
merit in its exactitude. Thus I would inform the reader that the best time
to sleep in Siena is from nine in the morning till three in the afternoon,
and that the best place to sleep is the north side of St. Domenic's ugly
brick church there.
Again, I would tell him that the man who keeps the "Turk's Head" at
Valogne, in Normandy, was only outwardly and professedly an Atheist, but
really and inwardly a Papist.
I would tell him that it sometimes snowed in Lombardy in June, for I have
seen it--and that any fool can cross the Alps blindfold, and that the
sea is usually calm, not rough, and that the people of Dax are the most
horrible in all France, and that Lourdes, contrary to the general opinion,
does work miracles, for I have seen them.
I would also tell him of the place at Toulouse where the harper plays
to you during dinner, and of the grubby little inn at Terneuzen on the
Scheldt where they charge you just anything they please for anything;
five shillings for a bit of bread, or half a crown for a napkin.
All these things, and hundreds of others of the same kind, would I put
in my book, and at the end should be a list of all the hotels in Europe
where, at the date of publication, the landlord was nice, for it is the
character of the landlords which makes all the difference--and that
changes as do all human things.
There you could see first, like a sort of Primate of Hotels, the Railway
Hotel at York. Then the inn at La Bruyere in the Landes, then the "Swan"
at Petworth with its mild ale, then the "White Hart" of Storrington,
then the rest of them, all the six or seven hundred of them, from the
"Elephant" of Chateau Thierry to the "Feathers" of Ludlow--a truly noble
remainder of what once was England; the "Feathers" of Ludlow, where the
beds are of honest wood with curtains to them, and where a man may drink
half the night with the citizens to the success of their engines and the
putting out of all fires. For there are in West England three little inns
in three little towns, all in a line, and all beginning with an L--
Ledbury, Ludlow, and Leominster, all with "Feathers," all with orchards
round, and I cannot tell which is the best.
Then my guide-book will go on to talk about harbours; it will prove how
almost every harbour was impossible to make in a little boat; but it would
describe the difficulties of each so that a man in a little boat might
possibly make them. It would describe the rush of the tide outside Margate
and the still more dangerous rush outside Shoreham, and the absurd bar
at Littlehampton that strikes out of the sea, and the place to lie at in
Newhaven, and how not to stick upon the Platters outside Harwich; and the
very tortuous entry to Poole, and the long channel into Christchurch past
Hengistbury Head; and the enormous tides of South Wales; and why you often
have to beach at Britonferry, and the terrible difficulty of mooring in
Great Yarmouth; and the sad changes of Little Yarmouth, and the single
black buoy at Calais which is much too far out to be of any use; and how
to wait for the tide in the Swin. And also what no book has ever yet
given, an exact direction of the way in which one may roll into Orford
Haven, on the top of a spring tide if one has luck, and how if one has no
luck one sticks on the gravel and is pounded to pieces.
Then my guide-book would go on to tell of the way in which to make men
pleasant to you according to their climate and country; of how you must
not hurry the people of Aragon, and how it is your duty to bargain with
the people of Catalonia; and how it is impossible to eat at Daroca; and
how careful one must be with gloomy men who keep inns at the very top of
glens, especially if they are silent, under Cheviot. And how one must not
talk religion when one has got over the Scotch border, with some remarks
about Jedburgh, and the terrible things that happened to a man there who
would talk religion though he had been plainly warned.
Then my guide-book would go on to tell how one should climb ordinary
mountains, and why one should avoid feats; and how to lose a guide which
is a very valuable art, for when you have lost your guide you need not pay
him. My book will also have a note (for it is hardly worth a chapter) on
the proper method of frightening sheep dogs when they attempt to kill you
with their teeth upon the everlasting hills.
This my good and new guide-book (oh, how it blossoms in my head as I
write!) would further describe what trains go to what places, and in what
way the boredom of them can best be overcome, and which expresses really
go fast; and I should have a footnote describing those lines of steamers
on which one can travel for nothing if one puts a sufficiently bold face
upon the matter.
My guide-book would have directions for the pacifying of Arabs, a trick
which I learnt from a past master, a little way east of Batna in the year
1905--I will also explain how one can tell time by the stars and by the
shadow of the sun; upon what sort of food one can last longest and how
best to carry it, and what rites propitiate, if they are solemnized in a
due order, the half-malicious fairies which haunt men when they are lost
in lonely valleys, right up under the high peaks of the world. And my book
should have a whole chapter devoted to Ulysses.
For you must know that one day I came into Narbonne where I had never been
before, and I saw written up in large letters upon a big, ugly house:
Lodging for Man and Beast.
So I went in and saw the master, who had a round bullet head and cropped
hair, and I said to him: "What! Are you landed, then, after all your
journeys? And do I find you at last, you of whom I have read so much and
seen so little?" But with an oath he refused me lodging.
This tale is true, as would be every other tale in my book.
What a fine book it will be!
THE DEATH OF WANDERING PETER
"I will confess and I will not deny," said Wandering Peter (of whom you
have heard little but of whom in God's good time you shall hear more). "I
will confess and I will not deny that the chief pleasure I know is the
contemplation of my fellow beings."
He spoke thus in his bed in the inn of a village upon the River Yonne
beyond Auxerre, in which bed he lay a-dying; but though he was dying he
was full of words.
"What energy! What cunning! What desire! I have often been upon the edge
of a steep place, such as a chalk pit or a cliff above a plain, and
watched them down below, hurrying around, turning about, laying down,
putting up, leading, making, organizing, driving, considering, directing,
exceeding, and restraining; upon my soul I was proud to be one of them! I
have said to myself," said Wandering Peter, "lift up your heart; you also
are one of these! For though I am," he continued, "a wandering man and
lonely, given to the hills and to empty places, yet I glory in the workers
on the plain, as might a poor man in his noble lineage. From these I came;
to these in my old age I would have returned."
At these words the people about his bed fell to sobbing when they thought
how he would never wander more, but Peter Wanderwide continued with a high
"How pleasant it is to see them plough! First they cunningly contrive an
arrangement that throws the earth aside and tosses it to the air, and
then, since they are too weak to pull the same, they use great beasts,
oxen or horses or even elephants, and impose them with their will, so that
they patiently haul this contrivance through the thick clods; they tear
up and they put into furrows, and they transform the earth. Nothing can
withstand them. Birds you will think could escape them by flying up into
the air. It is an error. Upon birds also my people impose their view. They
spread nets, food, bait, trap, and lime. They hail stones and shot and
arrows at them. They cause some by a perpetual discipline to live near
them, to lay eggs and to be killed at will; of this sort are hens, geese,
turkeys, ducks, and guinea-fowls. Nothing eludes the careful planning of
"Moreover, they can build. They do not build this way or that, as a dull
necessity forces them, not they! They build as they feel inclined. They
hew down, they saw through (and how marvellous is a saw!), they trim
timber, they mix lime and sand, they excavate the recesses of the hills.
Oh! the fine fellows! They can at whim make your chambers or the Tower
prison, or my aunt's new villa at Wimbledon (which is a joke of theirs),
or St. Pancras Station, or the Crystal Palace, or Westminster Abbey, or
St. Paul's, or Bon Secours. They are agreeable to every change in the wind
that blows about the world. It blows Gothic, and they say 'By all means'--
and there is your Gothic--a thing dreamt of and done! It suddenly veers
south again and blows from the Mediterranean. The jolly little fellows are
equal to the strain, and up goes Amboise, and Anet, and the Louvre, and
all the Renaissance. It blows everyhow and at random as though in anger at
seeing them so ready. They care not at all! They build the Eiffel Tower,
the Queen Anne house, the Mary Jane house, the Modern-Style house, the
Carlton, the Ritz, the Grand Palais, the Trocadero, Olympia, Euston, the
Midhurst Sanatorium, and old Beit's Palace in Park Lane. They are not to
be defeated, they have immortal certitudes.
"Have you considered their lines and their drawings and their cunning
plans?" said Wandering Peter. "They are astonishing there! Put a bit of
charcoal into my dog's mouth or my pet monkey's paw--would he copy the
world? Not he! But men--my brothers--_they_ take it in hand and make
war against the unspeaking forces; the trees and the hills are of their
own showing, and the places in which they dwell, by their own power,
become full of their own spirit. Nature is made more by being their model,
for in all they draw, paint, or chisel they are in touch with heaven and
with hell.... They write (Lord! the intelligence of their men, and Lord!
the beauty of their women). They write unimaginable things!
"They write epics, they write lyrics, they write riddles and marching
songs and drinking songs and rhetoric, and chronicles, and elegies, and
pathetic memories; and in everything that they write they reveal things
greater than they know. They are capable," said Peter Wanderwide, in
his dying enthusiasm, "of so writing that the thought enlarges upon the
writing and becomes far more than what they have written. They write that
sort of verse called 'Stop-Short,' which when it is written makes one
think more violently than ever, as though it were an introduction to the
realms of the soul. And then again they write things which gently mock
themselves and are a consolation for themselves against the doom of
But when Peter Wanderwide said that word "death," the howling and the
boo-hooing of the company assembled about his bed grew so loud that he
could hardly hear himself think. For there was present the Mayor of
the village, and the Priest of the village, and the Mayor's wife, and
the Adjutant Mayor or Deputy Mayor, and the village Councillor, and
the Road-mender, and the Schoolmaster, and the Cobbler, and all the
notabilities, as many as could crush into the room, and none but the
Doctor was missing.
And outside the house was a great crowd of the village folk, weeping
bitterly and begging for news of him, and mourning that so great and so
good a man should find his death in so small a place.
Peter Wanderwide was sinking very fast, and his life was going out with
his breath, but his heart was still so high that he continued although his
voice was failing:
"Look you, good people all, in your little passage through the daylight,
get to see as many hills and buildings and rivers, fields, books, men,
horses, ships, and precious stones as you can possibly manage to do. Or
else stay in one village and marry in it and die there. For one of these
two fates is the best fate for every man. Either to be what I have been, a
wanderer with all the bitterness of it, or to stay at home and hear in
one's garden the voice of God.
"For my part I have followed out my fate. And I propose in spite of my
numerous iniquities, by the recollection of my many joys in the glories of
this earth, as by corks, to float myself in the sea of nothingness until I
reach the regions of the Blessed and the pure in heart.
"For I think when I am dead Almighty God will single me out on account
of my accoutrement, my stirrup leathers, and the things that I shall be
talking of concerning Ireland and the Perigord, and my boat upon the
narrow seas; and I think He will ask St. Michael, who is the Clerk and
Registrar of battling men, who it is that stands thus ready to speak
(unless his eyes betray him) of so many things? Then St. Michael will
forget my name although he will know my face; he will forget my name
because I never stayed long enough in one place for him to remember it.
"But St. Peter, because he is my Patron Saint and because I have always
had a special devotion to him, will answer for me and will have no
argument, for he holds the keys. And he will open the door and I will come
in. And when I am inside the door of Heaven I shall freely grow those
wings, the pushing and nascence of which have bothered my shoulder blades
with birth pains all my life long, and more especially since my thirtieth
year. I say, friends and companions all, that I shall grow a very
satisfying and supporting pair of wings, and once I am so furnished I
shall be received among the Blessed, and I shall at once begin to tell
them, as I told you on earth, all sorts of things, both false and true,
with regard to the countries through which I carried forward my homeless
feet, and in which I have been given such fulfilment for my eyes."
When Peter Wanderwide had delivered himself of these remarks, which he did
with great dignity and fire for one in such extremity, he gasped a little,
coughed, and died.
I need not tell you what solemnities attended his burial, nor with what
fervour the people flocked to pray at his tomb; but it is worth knowing
that the poet of that place, who was rival to the chief poet in Auxerre
itself, gathered up the story of his death into a rhyme, written in the
dialect of that valley, of which rhyme this is an English translation:
When Peter Wanderwide was young
He wandered everywhere he would;
And all that he approved was sung,
And most of what he saw was good.
When Peter Wanderwide was thrown
By Death himself beyond Auxerre,
He chanted in heroic tone
To Priest and people gathered there:
"If all that I have loved and seen
Be with me on the Judgment Day,
I shall be saved the crowd between
From Satan and his foul array.
"Almighty God will surely cry
'St. Michael! Who is this that stands
With Ireland in his dubious eye,
And Perigord between his hands,
"'And on his arm the stirrup thongs,
And in his gait the narrow seas,
And in his mouth Burgundian songs,
But in his heart the Pyrenees?'
"St. Michael then will answer right
(But not without angelic shame):
'I seem to know his face by sight;
I cannot recollect his name....'
"St. Peter will befriend me then,
Because my name is Peter too;
'I know him for the best of men
That ever wallopped barley brew.
"'And though I did not know him well,
And though his soul were clogged with sin,
_I_ hold the keys of Heaven and Hell.
Be welcome, noble Peterkin.'
"Then shall I spread my native wings
And tread secure the heavenly floor,
And tell the Blessed doubtful things
Of Val d'Aran and Perigord."
* * * * *
This was the last and solemn jest
Of weary Peter Wanderwide,
He spoke it with a failing zest,
And having spoken it, he died.
THE TREE OF KNOWLEDGE
The nation known to history as the Nephalo Ceclumenazenoi, or, more
shortly, the Nepioi, inhabited a fruitful and prosperous district
consisting in a portion of the mainland and certain islands situated in
the Picrocholian Sea; and had there for countless centuries enjoyed a
particular form of government which it is not difficult to describe, for
it was religious and arranged upon the principle that no ancient custom
might be changed.
Lest such changes should come about through the lapse of time or the
evil passions of men, the citizens of the aforesaid nation had them very
clearly engraved in a dead language and upon bronze tablets, which they
fixed upon the doors of their principal temple, where it stood upon a
hill outside the city, and it was their laudable custom to entrust the
interpretation of them not to aged judges, but to little children, for
they argued that we increase in wickedness with years, and that no one
is safe from the aged, but that children are, alone of the articulately
speaking race, truth-tellers. Therefore, upon the first day of the year
(which falls in that country at the time of sowing) they would take one
hundred boys of ten years of age chosen by lot, they would make these
hundred, who had previously for one year received instruction in their
sacred language, write each a translation of the simple code engraved
upon the bronze tablets. It was invariably discovered that these artless
compositions varied only according to the ability of the lads to construe,
and that some considerable proportion of them did accurately show forth
in the vernacular of the time the meaning of those ancestral laws. They
had further a magistrate known as the Archon. whose business it was to
administrate these customs and to punish those who broke them. And this
Archon, when or if he proposed something contrary to custom in the opinion
of not less than a hundred petitioners, was judged by a court of children.
In this fashion for thousands of years did the Nepioi proceed with their
calm and ordinary lives, enjoying themselves like so many grigs, and
utterly untroubled by those broils and imaginations of State which
disturbed their neighbours.
There was a legend among them (upon which the whole of this Constitution
was based) that a certain Hero, one Melek, being in stature twelve foot
high and no less than 93 inches round the chest, had landed in their
country 150,000 years previously, and finding them very barbarous, slaying
one another and unacquainted with the use of letters, the precious metals,
or the art of usury, had instructed them in civilization, endowed them
with letters, a coinage, police, lawyers, instruments of torture, and all
the other requisites of a great State, and had finally drawn up for them
this code of law or custom, which they carefully preserved engraved upon
the tablets of bronze, which were set upon the walls of their chief temple
on the hill outside the city.
Within the temple itself its great shrine and, so to speak, its very cause
of being was the Hero's tomb. He lay therein covered with plates of gold,
and it was confidently asserted and strictly and unquestionably believed
that at some unknown time in the future he would come out to rule them for
ever in a millennial fashion--though heaven knows they were happy enough
as it was.
Among their customs was this: that certain appointed officers
would at every change in the moon proclaim the former existence and virtue
of Melek, his residence in the tomb, and his claims to authority. To enter
the tomb, indeed, was death, but there was proof of the whole story in
documents which were carefully preserved in the temple, and which were
from time to time consulted and verified. The whole structure of Nepioian
society reposed upon the sanctity of this story, upon the presence of the
Hero in his tomb, and of his continued authority, for with this was
intertwined, or rather upon this was based, the further sanctity of their
Things so proceeded without hurt or cloud until upon one most unfortunate
day a certain man, bearing the vulgar name of Megalocrates, which
signifies a person whose health requires the use of a wide head-gear,
discovered that a certain herb which grew in great abundance in their
territory and had hitherto been thought useless would serve almost every
purpose of the table, sufficing, according to its preparation, for meat,
bread, vegetables, and salt, and, if properly distilled, for a liquor that
would make the Nepioi even more drunk than did their native spirits.
From this discovery ensued a great plenty throughout the land, the
population very rapidly increased, the fortunes of the wealthy grew to
double, treble, and four times those which had formerly been known, the
middle classes adopted a novel accent in speech and a gait hitherto
unusual, while great numbers of the poor acquired the power of living upon
so small a proportion of foul air, dull light, stagnant water, and mangy
crusts as would have astonished their nicer forefathers. Meanwhile this
great period of progress could not but lead to further discoveries, and
the Nepioi had soon produced whole colleges in which were studied the arts
useful to mankind and constantly discovered a larger and a larger number
of surprising and useful things. At last the Nepioi (though this, perhaps,
will hardly be credited) were capable of travelling underground, flying
through the air, conversing with men a thousand miles away in a moment of
time, and committing suicide painlessly whenever there arose occasion for
It may be imagined with what reverence the authors of all these boons, the
members of the learned colleges, were regarded; and how their opinions had
in the eyes and ears of the Nepioi an unanswerable character.
Now it so happened that in one of these colleges a professor of more than
ordinary position emitted one day the opinion that Melek had lived only
half as long ago as was commonly supposed. In proof of this he put forward
the undoubted truth that if Melek had lived at the time he was supposed
to have lived, then he would have lived twice as long ago as he, the
professor, said that he had lived. The more old-fashioned and stupid
of the Nepioi murmured against such opinions, and though they humbly
confessed themselves unable to discover any flaw in the professor's logic,
they were sure he was wrong somewhere and they were greatly disturbed.
But the opinion gained ground, and, what is more, this fruitful and
intelligent surmise upon the part of the professor bred a whole series of
further theories upon Melek, each of which contradicted the last but one,
and the latest of which was always of so limpid and so self-evident a
truth as to be accepted by whatever was intelligent and energetic in the
population, and especially by the young unmarried women of the wealthier
classes. In this manner the epoch of Melek was reduced to five, to three,
to two, to one thousand years. Then to five hundred, and at last to one
hundred and fifty. But here was a trouble. The records of the State, which
had been carefully kept for many centuries, showed no trace of Melek's
coming during any part of the time, but always referred to him as a
long-distant forerunner. There was not even any mention of a man twelve
foot high, nor even of one a little over 93 inches round the chest. At last
it was proposed by an individual of great courage that he might be allowed
to open the tomb of Melek and afterwards, if they so pleased, suffer death.
This privilege was readily granted to him by the Archon. The worthy
reformer, therefore, prised open the sacred shrine and found within it
absolutely nothing whatsoever.
Upon this there arose among the Nepioi all manner of schools and
discussions, some saying this and some that, but none with the certitude
of old. Their customs fell into disrepute, and even the very professors
themselves were occasionally doubted when they laid down the law upon
matters in which they alone were competent--as, for instance, when they
asserted that the moon was made of a peculiarly delicious edible substance
which increased in savour when it was preserved in the store-rooms of the
housewives; or when they affirmed with every appearance of truth that no
man did evil, and that wilful murder, arson, cruelty to the innocent and
the weak, and deliberate fraud were of no more disadvantage to the general
state, or to men single, than the drinking of a cup of cold water.
So things proceeded until one day, when all custom and authority had
fallen into this really lamentable deliquescence, fleets were observed
upon the sea, manned by men-at-arms, the admiral of which sent a short
message to the Archon proposing that the people of the country should send
to him and his one-half of their yearly wealth for ever, "or," so the
message proceeded, "take the consequences." Upon the Archon communicating
this to the people there arose at once an infinity of babble, some saying
one thing and some another, some proposing to pay neighbouring savages
to come in and fight the invaders, others saying it would be cheaper to
compromise with a large sum, but the most part agreeing that the wisest
thing would be for the Archon and his great-aunt to go out to the fleet
in a little boat and persuade the enemy's admiral (as they could surely
easily do) that while most human acts were of doubtful responsibility and
not really wicked, yet the invasion, and, above all, the impoverishment
of the Nepioi was so foul a wrong as would certainly call down upon its
fiendish perpetrator the fires of heaven.
While the Archon and his great-aunt were rowing out in the little boat
a few doddering old men and superstitious females slunk off to consult
the bronze tablets, and there found under Schedule XII these words: "If
an enemy threaten the State, you shall arm and repel him." In their
superstition the poor old chaps, with their half-daft female devotees
accompanying them, tottered back to the crowds to persuade them to some
ridiculous fanaticism or other, based on no better authority than the
non-existent Melek and his absurd and exploded authority.
Judge of their horror when, as they neared the city, they saw from the
height whereon the temple stood that the invaders had landed, and, having
put to the sword all the inhabitants without exception, were proceeding to
make an inventory of the goods and to settle the place as conquerors. The
admiral summoned this remnant of the nation, and hearing what they had to
say treated them with the greatest courtesy and kindness and pensioned
them off for their remaining years, during which period they so instructed
him and his fighting men in the mysteries of their religion as quite to
convert them, and in a sense to found the Nepioian State over again; but
it should be mentioned that the admiral, by way of precaution, changed
that part of the religion which related to the tomb of Melek and situated
the shrine in the very centre of the crater of an active volcano in the
neighbourhood, which by night and day, at every season of the year,
belched forth molten rock so that none could approach it within fifteen
A NORFOLK MAN
Among the delights of historical study which makes it so curiously
similar to travel, and therefore so fatally attractive to men who cannot
afford it, is the element of discovery and surprise: notably in little
When in travel one goes along a way one has never been before one often
comes upon something odd, which one could not dream was there: for
instance, once I was in a room in a little house in the south and thought
there must be machinery somewhere from the noise I heard, until a man in
the house quietly lifted up a trapdoor in the floor, and there, running
under and through the house a long way below, was a river: the River
It is the same way in historical study. You come upon the most
extraordinary things: little things, but things whose unexpectedness is
enormous. I had an example of this the other day, as I was looking up some
last details to make certain of the affair of Valmy.
Most people have heard of the French Revolution, and many people have
heard of the battle of Valmy, which decided the first fate of that
movement, when it was first threatened by war. But very few people have
read about Valmy, so it is necessary to give some idea of the action to
understand the astonishing little thing attaching to it which I am about
The cannonade of Valmy was exchanged between a French Army with its back
to a range of hills and a Prussian Army about a mile away over against
them. It was as though the French Army had stretched from Leatherhead
to Epsom and had engaged in a cannonade with a Prussian Army lying over
against them in a position astraddle of the road to Kingston.
Through this range of hills at the back of the French Army lay a gap, just
as there is a gap through the hills behind Leatherhead. Not only was that
gap easily passable by an army--easily, at least, compared with the hill
country on either side--but it had running through it the great road from
Metz to Paris, so that advance along it was rapid and practicable.
It so happened that another force of the enemy besides that which was
cannonading the French in front was advancing through this gap from
behind, and it is evident that if this second force of the enemy had been
able to get through the gap it would have been all up with the French.
Dumouriez, who commanded the French, saw this well enough; he had ordered
the gap to be strongly fortified and well gunned and a camp to be formed
there, largely made up of Volunteers and Irregulars. On the proper conduct
of that post depended everything: and here comes the fun. The commander
of the post was not what you might expect, a Frenchman of any one of the
French types with which the Revolution has made us familiar: contrariwise,
he was an elderly private gentleman from the county of Norfolk.
His name was Money. The little that is known about him is entertaining to
a degree. His own words prove him to be like the person in the song, "a
very honest man," and luckily for us he has left in a book a record of the
day (and subsequent actions) stamped vividly with his own character. John
Money: called by his neighbours General John Money, not, as you might
expect. General Money: a man devoted to the noble profession of arms and
also eaten up with a passion for ballooning.
I find it difficult to believe that he was first in action at the age of
nine years or that he held King George's commission as a Cornet at the
age of ten. He does not tell us so himself nor do any of his friends. The
surmise is that of our Universities, and it is worthy of them. Clap on ten
years and you are nearer the mark. At any rate he was under fire in 1761,
and he was a Cornet in 1762; a Cornet in the Inniskilling Dragoons with a
commission dated on the 11th of March of that year. Then he transformed
himself into a Linesman, got his company in the 9th Foot eight years
later, and eight years later again, at the outbreak of the American War,
he was a major. He was quarter-master-general under Burgoyne, he was taken
prisoner--I think at Saratoga, but anyhow during that disastrous advance
upon the Hudson Valley. He got his lieutenant-colonelcy towards the end of
the war. He retired from the Army and never saw active service again. When
the Low Countries revolted against Austria he offered his services to the
insurgents and was accepted, but the truly entertaining chapter of his
adventures begins when he suggested himself to the French Government as
a very proper and likely man to command a brigade on the outbreak of the
great war with the Empire and with Prussia.
Very beautifully does he tell us in his preface what moved him to that act.
"Colonel Money," he says, in the quiet third person of a self-respecting
Norfolk gentleman, "does not mean to assign any other reason for serving
the armies of France than that he loves his profession and went there
merely to improve himself in it." Spoken like Othello!
He dedicates the book, by the way, to the Marquis Townshend, and carefully
adds that he has not got permission to dedicate it to that exalted
nobleman, nay, that he fears that he would not get permission if he asked
for it. But Lord Townshend is such a rattling good soldier that Colonel
Money is quite sure he will want to hear all about the war. On which
account he has this book so dedicated and printed by E. Harlow, bookseller
to Her Majesty, in Pall Mall.
Before beginning his narrative the excellent fellow pathetically says,
that as there was no war a little time before, nor apparently any
likelihood of one, "Colonel Money once intended to serve the Turks"; from
this horrid fate a Christian Providence delivered him, and sent him to the
defence of Gaul.
His commission was dated on the 19th of July, 1792; Marshal of the Camps,
that is, virtually, brigadier-general. He is very proud of it, and he
gives it in full. It ends up "Given in the year of Grace 1792 of our Reign
the 19th and Liberty the 4th. Louis." The phrase, in accompaniment with
the signature and the date, is not without irony.
Colonel Money could never stomach certain traits in the French people.
Before he left Paris for his command on the frontier he was witness to
the fighting when the Palace was stormed by the populace, and he is
our authority for the fact that the 5th Battalion of Paris Volunteers
stationed in the Champs Elysees helped to massacre the Swiss Guard.
"The lieutenant-colonel of this battalion," writes honest John Money,
"who was under my command during part of the campaign, related to me the
circumstances of this murder, and apparently with pleasure. He said: 'That
the unhappy men implored mercy, but,' added he, 'we did not regard this.
We put them all to death, and our men cut off most of their heads and
fixed them on their bayonets.'"
Colonel or, as he then was, General Money disapproves of this.
He also disapproves of the officer in command of the Marseillese, and says
he was a "Tyger." It seems that the "Tyger" was dining with Theroigne de
Mericourt and three English gentlemen in the very hotel where Money was
stopping, and it occurs to him that they might have broken in from their
drunken revels next door and treated him unfriendly.
Then he goes to the frontier, and after a good deal of complaint that he
has not been given his proper command he finds himself at the head of that
very important post which was the saving of the Army of Valmy.
Dumouriez, who always talked to him in English (for English was more
widely known abroad then than it is now, at least among gentlemen), had
a very great opinion of Money; but he deplores the fact that Money's
address to his soldiery was couched "in a jargon which they could not even
begin to understand." Money does not tell us that in his account of the
fighting, but he does tell us some very interesting things, which reveal
him as a man at once energetic and exceedingly simple. He left the guns
to Galbaud, remarking that no one but a gunner could attend to that sort
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