The Angel and the Author - and others
Jerome K. Jerome
Part 2 out of 3
[She has a way of mislaying her Husband.]
It brings no satisfaction with it, speaking out one's mind to Fate.
We want to see him before us, the thing of flesh and blood that has
brought all this upon her. Was it that early husband--or rather the
gentleman she thought was her husband. As a matter of fact, he was a
husband. Only he did not happen to be hers. That naturally confused
her. "Then who is my husband?" she seems to have said to herself; "I
had a husband: I remember it distinctly."
"Difficult to know them apart from one another," says the lady with
the past, "the way they dress them all alike nowadays. I suppose it
does not really matter. They are much the same as one another when
you get them home. Doesn't do to be too fussy."
She is a careless woman. She is always mislaying that early husband.
And she has an unfortunate knack of finding him at the wrong moment.
Perhaps that is the Problem: What is a lady to do with a husband for
whom she has no further use? If she gives him away he is sure to
come back, like the clever dog that is sent in a hamper to the other
end of the kingdom, and three days afterwards is found gasping on the
doorstep. If she leaves him in the middle of South Africa, with most
of the heavy baggage and all the debts, she may reckon it a certainty
that on her return from her next honeymoon he will be the first to
Her surprise at meeting him again is a little unreasonable. She
seems to be under the impression that because she has forgotten him,
he is for all practical purposes dead.
"Why I forgot all about him," she seems to be arguing to herself,
"seven years ago at least. According to the laws of Nature there
ought to be nothing left of him but just his bones."
She is indignant at finding he is still alive, and lets him know it--
tells him he is a beast for turning up at his sister's party, and
pleads to him for one last favour: that he will go away where
neither she nor anybody else of any importance will ever see him or
hear of him again. That's all she asks of him. If he make a point
of it she will--though her costume is ill adapted to the exercise--go
down upon her knees to ask it of him.
He brutally retorts that he doesn't know where to "get." The lady
travels round a good deal and seems to be in most places. She
accepts week-end invitations to the houses of his nearest relatives.
She has married his first cousin, and is now getting up a bazaar with
the help of his present wife. How he is to avoid her he does not
Perhaps, by the by, that is really the Problem: where is the early
husband to disappear to? Even if every time he saw her coming he
were to duck under the table, somebody would be sure to notice it and
make remarks. Ought he to take himself out one dark night, tie a
brick round his neck, and throw himself into a pond?
[What is a Lady to do with a Husband when she has finished with him?]
But men are so selfish. The idea does not even occur to him; and the
lady herself is too generous to do more than just hint at it.
Maybe it is Society that is to blame. There comes a luminous moment
when it is suddenly revealed to the Heroine of the Problem Play that
it is Society that is at the bottom of this thing. She has felt all
along there was something the matter. Why has she never thought of
it before? Here all these years has she been going about blaming her
poor old father; her mother for dying too soon; the remarkable
circumstances attending her girlhood; that dear old stupid husband
she thought was hers; and all the while the really culpable party has
been existing unsuspected under her very nose. She clears away the
furniture a bit, and tells Society exactly what she thinks of it--she
is always good at that, telling people what she thinks of them.
Other people's failings do not escape her, not for long. If Society
would only step out for a moment, and look at itself with her eyes,
something might be done. If Society, now that the thing has been
pointed out to it, has still any lingering desire to live, let it
look at her. This, that she is, Society has made her! Let Society
have a walk round her, and then go home and reflect.
[Could she--herself--have been to blame?]
It lifts a load from us, fixing the blame on Society. There were
periods in the play when we hardly knew what to think. The
scientific father, the dead mother, the early husband! it was
difficult to grasp the fact that they alone were to blame. One felt
there was something to be said for even them. Ugly thoughts would
cross our mind that perhaps the Heroine herself was not altogether
irreproachable--that possibly there would have been less Problem, if,
thinking a little less about her clothes, yearning a little less to
do nothing all day long and be perfectly happy, she had pulled
herself together, told herself that the world was not built
exclusively for her, and settled down to the existence of an ordinary
Looking at the thing all round, that is perhaps the best solution of
the Problem: it is Society that is to blame. We had better keep to
[Civilization and the Unemployed.]
Where Civilization fails is in not providing men and women with
sufficient work. In the Stone Age man was, one imagines, kept busy.
When he was not looking for his dinner, or eating his dinner, or
sleeping off the effects of his dinner, he was hard at work with a
club, clearing the neighbourhood of what one doubts not he would have
described as aliens. The healthy Palaeolithic man would have had a
contempt for Cobden rivalling that of Mr. Chamberlain himself. He
did not take the incursion of the foreigner "lying down." One
pictures him in the mind's eye: unscientific, perhaps, but active to
a degree difficult to conceive in these degenerate days. Now up a
tree hurling cocoa-nuts, the next moment on the ground flinging roots
and rocks. Both having tolerably hard heads, the argument would of
necessity be long and heated. Phrases that have since come to be
meaningless had, in those days, a real significance.
When a Palaeolithic politician claimed to have "crushed his critic,"
he meant that he had succeeded in dropping a tree or a ton of earth
upon him. When it was said that one bright and intelligent member of
that early sociology had "annihilated his opponent," that opponent's
friends and relations took no further interest in him. It meant that
he was actually annihilated. Bits of him might be found, but the
most of him would be hopelessly scattered. When the adherents of any
particular Cave Dweller remarked that their man was wiping the floor
with his rival, it did not mean that he was talking himself red in
the face to a bored audience of sixteen friends and a reporter. It
meant that he was dragging that rival by the legs round the enclosure
and making the place damp and untidy with him.
[Early instances of "Dumping."]
Maybe the Cave Dweller, finding nuts in his own neighbourhood growing
scarce, would emigrate himself: for even in that age the politician
was not always logical. Thus roles became reversed. The defender of
his country became the alien, dumping himself where he was not
wanted. The charm of those early political arguments lay in their
simplicity. A child could have followed every point. There could
never have been a moment's doubt, even among his own followers, as to
what a Palaeolithic statesman really meant to convey. At the close
of the contest the party who considered it had won the moral victory
would be cleared away, or buried neatly on the spot, according to
taste: and the discussion, until the arrival of the next generation,
was voted closed.
All this must have been harassing, but it did serve to pass away the
time. Civilization has brought into being a section of the community
with little else to do but to amuse itself. For youth to play is
natural; the young barbarian plays, the kitten plays, the colt
gambols, the lamb skips. But man is the only animal that gambols and
jumps and skips after it has reached maturity. Were we to meet an
elderly bearded goat, springing about in the air and behaving,
generally speaking, like a kid, we should say it had gone mad. Yet
we throng in our thousands to watch elderly ladies and gentlemen
jumping about after a ball, twisting themselves into strange shapes,
rushing, racing, falling over one another; and present them with
silver-backed hair-brushes and gold-handled umbrellas as a reward to
them for doing so.
Imagine some scientific inhabitant of one of the larger fixed stars
examining us through a magnifying-glass as we examine ants. Our
amusements would puzzle him. The ball of all sorts and sizes, from
the marble to the pushball, would lead to endless scientific
"What is it? Why are these men and women always knocking it about,
seizing it wherever and whenever they find it and worrying it?"
The observer from that fixed star would argue that the Ball must be
some malignant creature of fiendish power, the great enemy of the
human race. Watching our cricket-fields, our tennis-courts, our golf
links, he would conclude that a certain section of mankind had been
told off to do battle with the "Ball" on behalf of mankind in
"As a rule," so he would report, "it is a superior class of insect to
which this special duty has been assigned. They are a friskier,
gaudier species than their fellows.
[Cricket, as viewed from the fixed Stars.]
"For this one purpose they appear to be kept and fed. They do no
other work, so far as I have been able to ascertain. Carefully
selected and trained, their mission is to go about the world looking
for Balls. Whenever they find a Ball they set to work to kill it.
But the vitality of these Balls is extraordinary. There is a medium-
sized, reddish species that, on an average, takes three days to kill.
When one of these is discovered, specially trained champions are
summoned from every corner of the country. They arrive in hot haste,
eager for the battle, which takes place in the presence of the entire
neighbourhood. The number of champions for some reason or another is
limited to twenty-two. Each one seizing in turn a large piece of
wood, rushes at the Ball as it flies along the ground, or through the
air, and strikes at it with all his force. When, exhausted, he can
strike no longer, he throws down his weapon and retires into a tent,
where he is restored to strength by copious draughts of a drug the
nature of which I have been unable to discover. Meanwhile, another
has picked up the fallen weapon, and the contest is continued without
a moment's interruption. The Ball makes frantic efforts to escape
from its tormentors, but every time it is captured and flung back.
So far as can be observed, it makes no attempt at retaliation, its
only object being to get away; though, occasionally--whether by
design or accident--it succeeds in inflicting injury upon one or
other of its executioners, or more often upon one of the spectators,
striking him either on the head or about the region of the waist,
which, judging by results, would appear, from the Ball's point of
view, to be the better selection. These small reddish Balls are
quickened into life evidently by the heat of the sun; in the cold
season they disappear, and their place is taken by a much larger
Ball. This Ball the champions kill by striking it with their feet
and with their heads. But sometimes they will attempt to suffocate
it by falling on it, some dozen of them at a time.
"Another of these seemingly harmless enemies of the human race is a
small white Ball of great cunning and resource. It frequents sandy
districts by the sea coast and open spaces near the large towns. It
is pursued with extraordinary animosity by a florid-faced insect of
fierce aspect and rotundity of figure. The weapon he employs is a
long stick loaded with metal. With one blow he will send the
creature through the air sometimes to a distance of nearly a quarter
of a mile; yet so vigorous is the constitution of these Balls that it
will fall to earth apparently but little damaged. It is followed by
the rotund man accompanied by a smaller insect carrying spare clubs.
Though hampered by the prominent whiteness of its skin, the extreme
smallness of this Ball often enables it to defy re-discovery, and at
such times the fury of the little round man is terrible to
contemplate. He dances round the spot where the ball has
disappeared, making frenzied passes at the surrounding vegetation
with his club, uttering the while the most savage and bloodcurdling
growls. Occasionally striking at the small creature in fury, he will
miss it altogether, and, having struck merely the air, will sit down
heavily upon the ground, or, striking the solid earth, will shatter
his own club. Then a curious thing takes place: all the other
insects standing round place their right hand before their mouth,
and, turning away their faces, shake their bodies to and fro,
emitting a strange crackling sound. Whether this is to be regarded
as a mere expression of their grief that the blow of their comrade
should have miscarried, or whether one may assume it to be a
ceremonious appeal to their gods for better luck next time, I have
not as yet made up my mind. The striker, meanwhile, raises both
arms, the hands tightly clenched, towards the heavens, and utters
what is probably a prayer, prepared expressly for the occasion.
[The Heir of all Ages. His Inheritance.]
In similar manner he, the Celestial Observer, proceeds to describe
our billiard matches, our tennis tournaments, our croquet parties.
Maybe it never occurs to him that a large section of our race
surrounded by Eternity, would devote its entire span of life to sheer
killing of time. A middle-aged friend of mine, a cultured gentleman,
a M.A. of Cambridge, assured me the other day that, notwithstanding
all his experiences of life, the thing that still gave him the
greatest satisfaction was the accomplishment of a successful drive to
leg. Rather a quaint commentary on our civilization, is it not?
"The singers have sung, and the builders have builded. The artists
have fashioned their dreams of delight." The martyrs for thought and
freedom have died their death; knowledge has sprung from the bones of
ignorance; civilization for ten thousand years has battled with
brutality to this result--that a specimen gentleman of the Twentieth
Century, the heir of all the ages, finds his greatest joy in life the
striking of a ball with a chunk of wood!
Human energy, human suffering, has been wasted. Such crown of
happiness for a man might surely have been obtained earlier and at
less cost. Was it intended? Are we on the right track? The child's
play is wiser. The battered doll is a princess. Within the sand
castle dwells an ogre. It is with imagination that he plays. His
games have some relation to life. It is the man only who is content
with this everlasting knocking about of a ball. The majority of
mankind is doomed to labour so constant, so exhausting, that no
opportunity is given it to cultivate its brain. Civilization has
arranged that a small privileged minority shall alone enjoy that
leisure necessary to the development of thought. And what is the
answer of this leisured class? It is:
"We will do nothing for the world that feeds us, clothes us, keeps us
in luxury. We will spend our whole existence knocking balls about,
watching other people knocking balls about, arguing with one another
as to the best means of knocking balls about."
[Is it "Playing the Game?"]
Is it--to use their own jargon--"playing the game?"
And the queer thing is this over-worked world, that stints itself to
keep them in idleness, approves of the answer. "The flannelled
fool," "The muddied oaf," is the pet of the people; their hero, their
But maybe all this is mere jealousy. Myself, I have never been
clever at knocking balls about.
[Patience and the Waiter.]
The slowest waiter I know is the British railway refreshment-room
His very breathing--regular, harmonious, penetrating, instinct as it
is with all the better attributes of a well-preserved grandfather's
clock--conveys suggestion of dignity and peace. He is a huge,
impressive person. There emanates from him an atmosphere of
Lotusland. The otherwise unattractive refreshment-room becomes an
oasis of repose amid the turmoil of a fretful world. All things
conspire to aid him: the ancient joints, ranged side by side like
corpses in a morgue, each one decently hidden under its white muslin
shroud, whispering of death and decay; the dish of dead flies,
thoughtfully placed in the centre of the table; the framed
advertisements extolling the virtues of heavy beers and stouts, of
weird champagnes, emanating from haunted-looking chateaux, situate--
if one may judge from the illustration--in the midst of desert lands;
the sleep-inviting buzz of the bluebottles.
The spirit of the place steals over you. On entering, with a quarter
of an hour to spare, your idea was a cutlet and a glass of claret.
In the face of the refreshment-room waiter, the notion appears
frivolous, not to say un-English. You order cold beef and pickles,
with a pint of bitter in a tankard. To win the British waiter's
approval, you must always order beer in a tankard. The British
waiter, in his ideals, is mediaeval. There is a Shakespearean touch
about a tankard. A soapy potato will, of course, be added.
Afterwards a ton of cheese and a basin of rabbit's food floating in
water (the British salad) will be placed before you. You will work
steadily through the whole, anticipating the somnolence that will
subsequently fall upon you with a certain amount of satisfaction. It
will serve to dispel the last lingering regret at the reflection that
you will miss your appointment, and suffer thereby serious
inconvenience if not positive loss. These things are of the world--
the noisy, tiresome world you have left without.
To the English traveller, the foreign waiter in the earlier stages of
his career is a burden and a trial. When he is complete--when he
really can talk English I rejoice in him. When I object to him is
when his English is worse than my French or German, and when he will,
for his own educational purposes, insist, nevertheless, that the
conversation shall be entirely in English. I would he came to me
some other time. I would so much rather make it after dinner or,
say, the next morning. I hate giving lessons during meal times.
Besides, to a man with feeble digestion, this sort of thing can lead
to trouble. One waiter I met at an hotel in Dijon knew very little
English--about as much as a poll parrot. The moment I entered the
salle-a-manger he started to his feet.
"Ah! You English!" he cried.
"Well, what about us?" I answered. It was during the period of the
Boer War. I took it he was about to denounce the English nation
generally. I was looking for something to throw at him.
"You English--you Englishman, yes," he repeated.
And then I understood he had merely intended a question. I owned up
that I was, and accused him in turn of being a Frenchman. He
admitted it. Introductions, as it were, thus over, I thought I would
order dinner. I ordered it in French. I am not bragging of my
French, I never wanted to learn French. Even as a boy, it was more
the idea of others than of myself. I learnt as little as possible.
But I have learnt enough to live in places where they can't, or
won't, speak anything else. Left to myself, I could have enjoyed a
very satisfactory dinner. I was tired with a long day's journey, and
hungry. They cook well at this hotel. I had been looking forward to
my dinner for hours and hours. I had sat down in my imagination to a
consomme bisque, sole au gratin, a poulet saute, and an omelette au
[Waiterkind in the making.]
It is wrong to let one's mind dwell upon carnal delights; I see that
now. At the time I was mad about it. The fool would not even listen
to me. He had got it into his garlic-sodden brain that all
Englishmen live on beef, and nothing but beef. He swept aside all my
suggestions as though they had been the prattlings of a foolish
"You haf nice biftek. Not at all done. Yes?"
"No, I don't," I answered. "I don't want what the cook of a French
provincial hotel calls a biftek. I want something to eat. I want--"
Apparently, he understood neither English nor French.
"Yes, yes," he interrupted cheerfully, "with pottitoes."
"With what?" I asked. I thought for the moment he was suggesting
potted pigs' feet in the nearest English he could get to it.
"Pottito," he repeated; "boil pottito. Yes? And pell hell."
I felt like telling him to go there; I suppose he meant "pale ale."
It took me about five minutes to get that beefsteak out of his head.
By the time I had done it, I did not care what I had for dinner. I
took pot-du-jour and veal. He added, on his own initiative, a thing
that looked like a poultice. I did not try the taste of it. He
explained it was "plum poodeen." I fancy he had made it himself.
This fellow is typical; you meet him everywhere abroad. He
translates your bill into English for you, calls ten centimes a
penny, calculates twelve francs to the pound, and presses a handful
of sous affectionately upon you as change for a napoleon.
The cheating waiter is common to all countries, though in Italy and
Belgium he flourishes, perhaps, more than elsewhere. But the British
waiter, when detected, becomes surly--does not take it nicely. The
foreign waiter is amiable about it--bears no malice. He is grieved,
maybe, at your language, but that is because he is thinking of you--
the possible effect of it upon your future. To try and stop you, he
offers you another four sous. The story is told of a Frenchman who,
not knowing the legal fare, adopted the plan of doling out pennies to
a London cabman one at a time, continuing until the man looked
satisfied. Myself, I doubt the story. From what I know of the
London cabman, I can see him leaning down still, with out-stretched
hand, the horse between the shafts long since dead, the cab chockfull
of coppers, and yet no expression of satiety upon his face.
But the story would appear to have crossed the Channel, and to have
commended itself to the foreign waiter--especially to the railway
refreshment-room waiter. He doles out sous to the traveller, one at
a time, with the air of a man who is giving away the savings of a
lifetime. If, after five minutes or so, you still appear
discontented he goes away quite suddenly. You think he has gone to
open another chest of half-pence, but when a quarter of an hour has
passed and he does not reappear, you inquire about him amongst the
A gloom at once falls upon them. You have spoken of the very thing
that has been troubling them. He used to be a waiter here once--one
might almost say until quite recently. As to what has become of him-
-ah! there you have them. If in the course of their chequered career
they ever come across him, they will mention to him that you are
waiting for him. Meanwhile a stentorian-voiced official is shouting
that your train is on the point of leaving. You console yourself
with the reflection that it might have been more. It always might
have been more; sometimes it is.
[His Little Mistakes.]
A waiter at the Gare du Nord, in Brussels, on one occasion pressed
upon me a five-franc piece, a small Turkish coin the value of which
was unknown to me, and remains so to this day, a distinctly bad two
francs, and from a quarter of a pound to six ounces of centimes, as
change for a twenty-franc note, after deducting the price of a cup of
coffee. He put it down with the air of one subscribing to a charity.
We looked at one another. I suppose I must have conveyed to him the
impression of being discontented. He drew a purse from his pocket.
The action suggested that, for the purpose of satisfying my
inordinate demands, he would be compelled to draw upon his private
resources; but it did not move me. Abstracting reluctantly a fifty-
centime piece, he added it to the heap upon the table.
I suggested his taking a seat, as at this rate it seemed likely we
should be doing business together for some time. I think he gathered
I was not a fool. Hitherto he had been judging, I suppose, purely
from appearances. But he was not in the least offended.
"Ah!" he cried, with a cheery laugh, "Monsieur comprend!" He swept
the whole nonsense back into his bag and gave me the right change. I
slipped my arm through his and insisted upon the pleasure of his
society, until I had examined each and every coin. He went away
chuckling, and told another waiter all about it. They both of them
bowed to me as I went out, and wished me a pleasant journey. I left
them still chuckling. A British waiter would have been sulky all the
The waiter who insists upon mistaking you for the heir of all the
Rothschilds used to cost me dear when I was younger. I find the best
plan is to take him in hand at the beginning and disillusion him;
sweep aside his talk of '84 Perrier Jouet, followed by a '79 Chateau
Lafite, and ask him, as man to man, if he can conscientiously
recommend the Saint Julien at two-and-six. After that he settles
down to his work and talks sense.
The fatherly waiter is sometimes a comfort. You feel that he knows
best. Your instinct is to address him as "Uncle." But you remember
yourself in time. When you are dining a lady, however, and wish to
appear important, he is apt to be in the way. It seems, somehow, to
be his dinner. You have a sense almost of being de trop.
The greatest insult you can offer a waiter is to mistake him for your
waiter. You think he is your waiter--there is the bald head, the
black side-whiskers, the Roman nose. But your waiter had blue eyes,
this man soft hazel. You had forgotten to notice the eyes. You bar
his progress and ask him for the red pepper. The haughty contempt
with which he regards you is painful to bear. It is as if you had
insulted a lady. He appears to be saying the same thing:
"I think you have made a mistake. You are possibly confusing me with
somebody else; I have not the honour of your acquaintance."
[How to insult him.]
I do not wish it to be understood that I am in the habit of insulting
ladies, but occasionally I have made an innocent mistake, and have
met with some such response. The wrong waiter conveys to me
precisely the same feeling of humiliation.
"I will send your waiter to you," he answers. His tone implies that
there are waiters and waiters; some may not mind what class of person
they serve: others, though poor, have their self-respect. It is
clear to you now why your waiter is keeping away from you; the man is
ashamed of being your waiter. He is watching, probably, for an
opportunity to approach you when nobody is looking. The other waiter
finds him for you. He was hiding behind a screen.
"Table forty-two wants you," the other tells him. The tone of voice
"If you like to encourage this class of customer that is your
business; but don't ask me to have anything to do with him."
Even the waiter has his feelings.
[The everlasting Newness of Woman.]
An Oriental visitor was returning from our shores to his native land.
"Well," asked the youthful diplomatist who had been told off to show
him round, as on the deck of the steamer they shook hands, "what do
you now think of England?"
"Too much woman," answered the grave Orientalist, and descended to
The young diplomatist returned to the shore thoughtful, and later in
the day a few of us discussed the matter in a far-off, dimly-lighted
corner of the club smoking-room.
Has the pendulum swung too far the other way? Could there be truth
in our Oriental friend's terse commentary? The eternal feminine!
The Western world has been handed over to her. The stranger from
Mars or Jupiter would describe us as a hive of women, the sober-clad
male being retained apparently on condition of its doing all the hard
work and making itself generally useful. Formerly it was the man who
wore the fine clothes who went to the shows. To-day it is the woman
gorgeously clad for whom the shows are organized. The man dressed in
a serviceable and unostentatious, not to say depressing, suit of
black accompanies her for the purpose of carrying her cloak and
calling her carriage. Among the working classes life, of necessity,
remains primitive; the law of the cave is still, with slight
modification, the law of the slum. But in upper and middle-class
circles the man is now the woman's servant.
I remember being present while a mother of my acquaintance was
instilling into the mind of her little son the advantages of being
born a man. A little girl cousin was about to spend a week with him.
It was impressed upon him that if she showed a liking for any of his
toys, he was at once to give them up to her.
"But why, mamma?" he demanded, evidently surprised.
"Because, my dear, you are a little man."
Should she break them, he was not to smack her head or kick her--as
his instinct might prompt him to do. He was just to say:
"Oh, it is of no consequence at all," and to look as if he meant it.
[Doctor says she is not to be bothered.]
She was always to choose the game--to have the biggest apple. There
was much more of a similar nature. It was all because he was a
little man and she was a little woman. At the end he looked up,
"But don't she do anything, 'cos she's a little girl?"
It was explained to him that she didn't. By right of being born a
little girl she was exempt from all duty.
Woman nowadays is not taking any duty. She objects to housekeeping;
she calls it domestic slavery, and feels she was intended for higher
things. What higher things she does not condescend to explain. One
or two wives of my acquaintance have persuaded their husbands that
these higher things are all-important. The home has been given up.
In company with other strivers after higher things, they live now in
dismal barracks differing but little from a glorified Bloomsbury
lodging-house. But they call them "Mansions" or "Courts," and seem
proud of the address. They are not bothered with servants--with
housekeeping. The idea of the modern woman is that she is not to be
bothered with anything. I remember the words with which one of these
ladies announced her departure from her bothering home.
"Oh, well, I'm tired of trouble," she confided to another lady, "so
I've made up my mind not to have any more of it."
Artemus Ward tells us of a man who had been in prison for twenty
years. Suddenly a bright idea occurred to him; he opened the window
and got out. Here have we poor, foolish mortals been imprisoned in
this troublesome world for Lord knows how many millions of years. We
have got so used to trouble we thought there was no help for it. We
have told ourselves that "Man is born to trouble as the sparks fly
upwards." We imagined the only thing to be done was to bear it
philosophically. Why did not this bright young creature come along
before--show us the way out. All we had to do was to give up the
bothering home and the bothering servants, and go into a "Mansion" or
It seems that you leave trouble outside--in charge of the hall-
porter, one supposes. He ties it up for you as the Commissionaire of
the Army and Navy Stores ties up your dog. If you want it again, you
ask for it as you come out. Small wonder that the "Court" and
"Mansion" are growing in popularity every day.
[That "Higher Life."]
They have nothing to do now all day long, these soaring wives of whom
I am speaking. They would scorn to sew on a shirt-button even. Are
there not other women--of an inferior breed--specially fashioned by
Providence for the doing of such slavish tasks? They have no more
bothers of any kind. They are free to lead the higher life. What I
am waiting for is a glimpse of the higher life. One of them, it is
true, has taken up the violin. Another of them is devoting her
emancipation to poker work. A third is learning skirt-dancing. Are
these the "higher things" for which women are claiming freedom from
all duty? And, if so, is there not danger that the closing of our
homes may lead to the crowding up of the world with too much higher
May there not, by the time all bothers have been removed from woman's
path, be too many amateur violinists in the world, too many skirt-
dancers, too much poker work? If not, what are they? these "higher
things," for which so many women are demanding twenty-four hours a
day leisure. I want to know.
One lady of my acquaintance is a Poor Law Guardian and secretary to a
labour bureau. But then she runs a house with two servants, four
children, and a husband, and appears to be so used to bothers that
she would feel herself lost without them. You can do this kind of
work apparently even when you are bothered with a home. It is the
skirt-dancing and the poker work that cannot brook rivalry. The
modern woman has begun to find children a nuisance; they interfere
with her development. The mere man, who has written his poems,
painted his pictures, composed his melodies, fashioned his
philosophies, in the midst of life's troubles and bothers, grows
nervous thinking what this new woman must be whose mind is so
tremendous that the whole world must be shut up, so to speak, sent to
do its business out of her sight and hearing, lest her attention
should be distracted.
An optimistic friend of mine tells me not to worry myself; tells me
that it is going to come out all right in the end. Woman just now,
he contends, is passing through her college period. The school life
of strict surveillance is for ever done with. She is now the young
Freshwoman. The bothering lessons are over, the bothering
schoolmaster she has said good-bye to. She has her latchkey and is
"on her own." There are still some bothering rules about being in at
twelve o'clock, and so many attendances each term at chapel. She is
indignant. This interferes with her idea that life is to be one long
orgie of self-indulgence, of pleasure. The college period will pass-
-is passing. Woman will go out into the world, take her place there,
discover that bothers were not left behind in the old schoolhouse,
will learn that life has duties, responsibilities, will take up her
burden side by side with man, will accomplish her destiny.
[Is there anything left for her to learn?]
Meanwhile, however, she is having a good time--some people think too
good a time. She wants the best of both. She demands the joys of
independence together with freedom from all work--slavery she calls
it. The servants are not to be allowed to bother her, the children
are not to be allowed to bother her, her husband is not to be allowed
to bother her. She is to be free to lead the higher life. My dear
lady, we all want to lead the higher life. I don't want to write
these articles. I want somebody else to bother about my rates and
taxes, my children's boots, while I sit in an easy-chair and dream
about the wonderful books I am going to write, if only a stupid
public would let me. Tommy Smith of Brixton feels that he was
intended for higher things. He does not want to be wasting his time
in an office from nine to six adding up figures. His proper place in
life is that of Prime Minister or Field Marshal: he feels it. Do
you think the man has no yearning for higher things? Do you think we
like the office, the shop, the factory? We ought to be writing
poetry, painting pictures, the whole world admiring us. You seem to
imagine your man goes off every morning to a sort of City picnic, has
eight hours' fun--which he calls work--and then comes home to annoy
you with chatter about dinner.
It is the old fable reversed; man said woman had nothing to do all
day but to enjoy herself. Making a potato pie! What sort of work
was that? Making a potato pie was a lark; anybody could make a
So the woman said, "Try it," and took the man's spade and went out
into the field, and left him at home to make that pie.
The man discovered that potato pies took a bit more making than he
had reckoned--found that running the house and looking after the
children was not quite the merry pastime he had argued. Man was a
Now it is the woman who talks without thinking. How did she like
hoeing the potato patch? Hard work, was it not, my dear lady? Made
your back ache? It came on to rain and you got wet.
I don't see that it very much matters which of you hoes the potato
patch, which of you makes the potato pie. Maybe the hoeing of the
patch demands more muscle--is more suited to the man. Maybe the
making of the pie may be more in your department. But, as I have
said, I cannot see that this matter is of importance. The patch has
to be hoed, the pie to be cooked; the one cannot do the both. Settle
it between you, and, having settled it, agree to do each your own
work free from this everlasting nagging.
I know, personally, three ladies who have exchanged the woman's work
for the man's. One was deserted by her husband, and left with two
young children. She hired a capable woman to look after the house,
and joined a ladies' orchestra as pianist at two pounds a week. She
now earns four, and works twelve hours a day. The husband of the
second fell ill. She set him to write letters and run errands, which
was light work that he could do, and started a dressmaker's business.
The third was left a widow without means. She sent her three
children to boarding-school, and opened a tea-room. I don't know how
they talked before, but I know that they do not talk now as though
earning the income was a sort of round game.
[When they have tried it the other way round.]
On the Continent they have gone deliberately to work, one would
imagine, to reverse matters. Abroad woman is always where man ought
to be, and man where most ladies would prefer to meet with women.
The ladies garde-robe is superintended by a superannuated sergeant of
artillery. When I want to curl my moustache, say, I have to make
application to a superb golden-haired creature, who stands by and
watches me with an interested smile. I would be much happier waited
on by the superannuated sergeant, and my wife tells me she could very
well spare him. But it is the law of the land. I remember the first
time I travelled with my daughter on the Continent. In the morning I
was awakened by a piercing scream from her room. I struggled into my
pyjamas, and rushed to her assistance. I could not see her. I could
see nothing but a muscular-looking man in a blue blouse with a can of
hot water in one hand and a pair of boots in the other. He appeared
to be equally bewildered with myself at the sight of the empty bed.
From a cupboard in the corner came a wail of distress:
"Oh, do send that horrid man away. What's he doing in my room?"
I explained to her afterwards that the chambermaid abroad is always
an active and willing young man. The foreign girl fills in her time
bricklaying and grooming down the horses. It is a young and charming
lady who serves you when you enter the tobacconist's. She doesn't
understand tobacco, is unsympathetic; with Mr. Frederic Harrison,
regards smoking as a degrading and unclean habit; cannot see,
herself, any difference between shag and Mayblossom, seeing that they
are both the same price; thinks you fussy. The corset shop is run by
a most presentable young man in a Vandyck beard. The wife runs the
restaurant; the man does the cooking, and yet the woman has not
reached freedom from bother.
[A brutal suggestion]
It sounds brutal, but perhaps woman was not intended to live free
from all bothers. Perhaps even the higher life--the skirt-dancing
and the poker work--has its bothers. Perhaps woman was intended to
take her share of the world's work--of the world's bothers.
[Why I hate Heroes]
When I was younger, reading the popular novel used to make me sad. I
find it vexes others also. I was talking to a bright young girl upon
the subject not so very long ago.
"I just hate the girl in the novel," she confessed. "She makes me
feel real bad. If I don't think of her I feel pleased with myself,
and good; but when I read about her--well, I'm crazy. I would not
mind her being smart, sometimes. We can all of us say the right
thing, now and then. This girl says them straight away, all the
time. She don't have to dig for them even; they come crowding out of
her. There never happens a time when she stands there feeling like a
fool and knowing that she looks it. As for her hair: 'pon my word,
there are days when I believe it is a wig. I'd like to get behind
her and give it just one pull. It curls of its own accord. She
don't seem to have any trouble with it. Look at this mop of mine.
I've been working at it for three-quarters of an hour this morning;
and now I would not laugh, not if you were to tell me the funniest
thing, you'd ever heard, for fear it would come down again. As for
her clothes, they make me tired. She don't possess a frock that does
not fit her to perfection; she doesn't have to think about them. You
would imagine she went into the garden and picked them off a tree.
She just slips it on and comes down, and then--my stars! All the
other women in the room may just as well go to bed and get a good
night's rest for all the chance they've got. It isn't that she's
beautiful. From what they tell you about her, you might fancy her a
freak. Looks don't appear to matter to her; she gets there anyhow.
I tell you she just makes me boil."
Allowing for the difference between the masculine and feminine
outlook, this is precisely how I used to feel when reading of the
hero. He was not always good; sometimes he hit the villain harder
than he had intended, and then he was sorry--when it was too late,
blamed himself severely, and subscribed towards the wreath. Like the
rest of us, he made mistakes; occasionally married the wrong girl.
But how well he did everything!--does still for the matter of that, I
believe. Take it that he condescends to play cricket! He never
scores less than a hundred--does not know how to score less than a
hundred, wonders how it could be done, supposing, for example, you
had an appointment and wanted to catch an early train. I used to
play cricket myself, but I could always stop at ten or twenty. There
have been times when I have stopped at even less.
It is the same with everything he puts his hand to. Either he does
not care for boating at all, or, as a matter of course, he pulls
stroke in the University Boat-race; and then takes the train on to
Henley and wins the Diamond Sculls so easily that it hardly seems
worth while for the other fellow to have started. Were I living in
Novel-land, and had I entered for the Diamond Sculls, I should put it
to my opponent before the word was given to us to go.
"One minute!" I should have called out to him. "Are you the hero of
this novel, or, like myself, only one of the minor characters?
Because, if you are the hero you go on; don't you wait for me. I
shall just pull as far as the boathouse and get myself a cup of tea."
[Because it always seems to be his Day.]
There is no sense of happy medium about the hero of the popular
novel. He cannot get astride a horse without its going off and
winning a steeplechase against the favourite. The crowd in Novel-
land appears to have no power of observation. It worries itself
about the odds, discusses records, reads the nonsense published by
the sporting papers. Were I to find myself on a racecourse in Novel-
land I should not trouble about the unessential; I should go up to
the bookie who looked as if he had the most money, and should say to
"Don't shout so loud; you are making yourself hoarse. Just listen to
me. Who's the hero of this novel? Oh, that's he, is it? The heavy-
looking man on the little brown horse that keeps coughing and is
suffering apparently from bone spavin? Well, what are the odds
against his winning by ten lengths? A thousand to one! Very well!
Have you got a bag?--Good. Here's twenty-seven pounds in gold and
eighteen shillings in silver. Coat and waistcoat, say another ten
shillings. Shirt and trousers--it's all right, I've got my pyjamas
on underneath--say seven and six. Boots--we won't quarrel--make it
five bob. That's twenty-nine pounds and sixpence, isn't it? In
addition here's a mortgage on the family estate, which I've had made
out in blank, an I O U for fourteen pounds which has been owing to me
now for some time, and this bundle of securities which, strictly
speaking, belong to my Aunt Jane. You keep that little lot till
after the race, and we will call it in round figures, five hundred
That single afternoon would thus bring me in five hundred thousand
pounds--provided the bookie did not blow his brains out.
Backers in Novel-land do not seem to me to know their way about. If
the hero of the popular novel swims at all, it is not like an
ordinary human being that he does it. You never meet him in a
swimming-bath; he never pays ninepence, like the rest of us, for a
machine. He goes out at uncanny hours, generally accompanied by a
lady friend, with whom the while swimming he talks poetry and cracks
jokes. Some of us, when we try to talk in the sea, fill ourselves up
with salt water. This chap lies on his back and carols, and the wild
waves, seeing him, go round the other way. At billiards he can give
the average sharper forty in a hundred. He does not really want to
play; he does it to teach these bad men a lesson. He has not handled
a cue for years. He picked up the game when a young man in
Australia, and it seems to have lingered with him.
He does not have to get up early and worry dumb-bells in his
nightshirt; he just lies on a sofa in an elegant attitude and muscle
comes to him. If his horse declines to jump a hedge, he slips down
off the animal's back and throws the poor thing over; it saves
argument. If he gets cross and puts his shoulder to the massive
oaken door, we know there is going to be work next morning for the
carpenter. Maybe he is a party belonging to the Middle Ages. Then
when he reluctantly challenges the crack fencer of Europe to a duel,
our instinct is to call out and warn his opponent.
"You silly fool," one feels one wants to say; "why, it is the hero of
the novel! You take a friend's advice while you are still alive, and
get out of it anyway--anyhow. Apologize--hire a horse and cart, do
something. You're not going to fight a duel, you're going to commit
If the hero is a modern young man, and has not got a father, or has
only something not worth calling a father, then he comes across a
library--anybody's library does for him. He passes Sir Walter Scott
and the "Arabian Nights," and makes a bee-line for Plato; it seems to
be an instinct with him. By help of a dictionary he worries it out
in the original Greek. This gives him a passion for Greek.
When he has romped through the Greek classics he plays about among
the Latins. He spends most of his spare time in that library, and
forgets to go to tea.
[Because he always "gets there," without any trouble.]
That is the sort of boy he is. How I used to hate him! If he has a
proper sort of father, then he goes to college. He does no work:
there is no need for him to work: everything seems to come to him.
That was another grievance of mine against him. I always had to work
a good deal, and very little came of it. He fools around doing
things that other men would be sent down for; but in his case the
professors love him for it all the more. He is the sort of man who
can't do wrong. A fortnight before the examination he ties a wet
towel round his head. That is all we hear about it. It seems to be
the towel that does it. Maybe, if the towel is not quite up to its
work, he will help things on by drinking gallons of strong tea. The
tea and the towel combined are irresistible: the result is always
the senior wranglership.
I used to believe in that wet towel and that strong tea. Lord! the
things I used to believe when I was young. They would make an
Encyclopaedia of Useless Knowledge. I wonder if the author of the
popular novel has ever tried working with a wet towel round his or
her head: I have. It is difficult enough to move a yard, balancing
a dry towel. A heathen Turk may have it in his blood to do so: the
ordinary Christian has not got the trick of it. To carry about a wet
towel twisted round one's head needs a trained acrobat. Every few
minutes the wretched thing works loose. In darkness and in misery,
you struggle to get your head out of a clammy towel that clings to
you almost with passion. Brain power is wasted in inventing names
for that towel--names expressive of your feelings with regard to it.
Further time is taken up before the glass, fixing the thing afresh.
You return to your books in the wrong temper, the water trickles down
your nose, runs in rivulets down your back. Until you have finally
flung the towel out of the window and rubbed yourself dry, work is
impossible. The strong tea always gave me indigestion, and made me
sleepy. Until I had got over the effects of the tea, attempts at
study were useless.
[Because he's so damned clever.]
But the thing that still irritates me most against the hero of the
popular novel is the ease with which he learns a modern foreign
language. Were he a German waiter, a Swiss barber, or a Polish
photographer, I would not envy him; these people do not have to learn
a language. My idea is that they boil down a dictionary, and take
two table-spoonsful each night before going to bed. By the time the
bottle is finished they have the language well into their system.
But he is not. He is just an ordinary Anglo-Saxon, and I don't
believe in him. I walk about for years with dictionaries in my
pocket. Weird-looking ladies and gentlemen gesticulate and rave at
me for months. I hide myself in lonely places, repeating idioms to
myself out loud, in the hope that by this means they will come
readily to me if ever I want them, which I never do. And, after all
this, I don't seem to know very much. This irritating ass, who has
never left his native suburb, suddenly makes up his mind to travel on
the Continent. I find him in the next chapter engaged in complicated
psychological argument with French or German savants. It appears--
the author had forgotten to mention it before--that one summer a
French, or German, or Italian refugee, as the case may happen to be,
came to live in the hero's street: thus it is that the hero is able
to talk fluently in the native language of that unhappy refugee.
I remember a melodrama visiting a country town where I was staying.
The heroine and child were sleeping peacefully in the customary
attic. For some reason not quite clear to me, the villain had set
fire to the house. He had been complaining through the three
preceding acts of the heroine's coldness; maybe it was with some idea
of warming her. Escape by way of the staircase was impossible. Each
time the poor girl opened the door a flame came in and nearly burned
her hair off. It seemed to have been waiting for her.
"Thank God!" said the lady, hastily wrapping the child in a sheet,
"that I was brought up a wire walker."
Without a moment's hesitation she opened the attic window and took
the nearest telegraph wire to the opposite side of the street.
In the same way, apparently, the hero of the popular novel, finding
himself stranded in a foreign land, suddenly recollects that once
upon a time he met a refugee, and at once begins to talk. I have met
refugees myself. The only thing they have ever taught me is not to
leave my brandy flask about.
[And, finally, because I don't believe he's true.]
I don't believe in these heroes and heroines that cannot keep quiet
in a foreign language they have taught themselves in an old-world
library. My fixed idea is that they muddle along like the rest of
us, surprised that so few people understand them, begging everyone
they meet not to talk so quickly. These brilliant conversations with
foreign philosophers! These passionate interviews with foreign
countesses! They fancy they have had them.
I crossed once with an English lady from Boulogne to Folkestone. At
Folkestone a little French girl--anxious about her train--asked us a
simple question. My companion replied to it with an ease that
astonished herself. The little French girl vanished; my companion
"It's so odd," said my companion, "but I seem to know quite a lot of
French the moment I get back to England."
[How to be Healthy and Unhappy.]
"They do say," remarked Mrs. Wilkins, as she took the cover off the
dish and gave a finishing polish to my plate with the cleanest corner
of her apron, "that 'addicks, leastways in May, ain't, strictly
speaking, the safest of food. But then, if you listen to all they
say, it seems to me, we'd have to give up victuals altogether."
"The haddock, Mrs. Wilkins," I replied, "is a savoury and nourishing
dish, the 'poor man's steak' I believe it is commonly called. When I
was younger, Mrs. Wilkins, they were cheaper. For twopence one could
secure a small specimen, for fourpence one of generous proportions.
In the halcyon days of youth, when one's lexicon contained not the
word failure (it has crept into later editions, Mrs. Wilkins, the
word it was found was occasionally needful), the haddock was of much
comfort and support to me, a very present help in time of trouble.
In those days a kind friend, without intending it, nearly brought
about my death by slow starvation. I had left my umbrella in an
omnibus, and the season was rainy. The kind rich friend gave me a
new umbrella; it was a rich man's umbrella; we made an ill-assorted
pair. Its handle was of ivory, imposing in appearance, ornamented
with a golden snake.
[The unsympathetic Umbrella.]
"Following my own judgment I should have pawned that umbrella,
purchased one more suited to my state in life, and 'blued' the
difference. But I was fearful of offending my one respectable
acquaintance, and for weeks struggled on, hampered by this
plutocratic appendage. The humble haddock was denied to me. Tied to
this imposing umbrella, how could I haggle with fishmongers for
haddocks. At first sight of me--or, rather, of my umbrella--they
flew to icy cellars, brought up for my inspection soles at
eighteenpence a pound, recommended me prime parts of salmon, which my
landlady would have fried in a pan reeking with the mixed remains of
pork chops, rashers of bacon and cheese. It was closed to me, the
humble coffee shop, where for threepence I could have strengthened my
soul with half a pint of cocoa and four "doorsteps"--satisfactory
slices of bread smeared with a yellow grease that before the days of
County Council inspectors they called butter. You know of them, Mrs.
Wilkins? At sight of such nowadays I should turn up my jaded nose.
But those were the days of my youth, Mrs. Wilkins. The scent of a
thousand hopes was in my nostrils: so they smelt good to me. The
fourpenny beefsteak pie, satisfying to the verge of repletion; the
succulent saveloy, were not for the owner of the ivory-handled
umbrella. On Mondays and Tuesdays, perhaps, I could enjoy life at
the rate of five hundred a year--clean serviette a penny extra, and
twopence to the waiter, whose income must have been at least four
times my own. But from Wednesday to Saturday I had to wander in the
wilderness of back streets and silent squares dinnerless, where there
were not even to be found locusts and wild honey.
"It was, as I have said, a rainy season, and an umbrella of some sort
was a necessity. Fortunately--or I might not be sitting here, Mrs.
Wilkins, talking to you now--my one respectable acquaintance was
called away to foreign lands, and that umbrella I promptly put 'up
the spout.' You understand me?"
Mrs. Wilkins admitted she did, but was of opinion that twenty-five
per cent., to say nothing of the halfpenny for the ticket every time,
was a wicked imposition.
"It did not trouble me, Mrs. Wilkins," I replied, "in this particular
instance. It was my determination never to see that umbrella again.
The young man behind the counter seemed suspicious, and asked where I
got it from. I told him that a friend had given it to me."
"'Did he know that he had given it to you?" demanded the young man.
"Upon which I gave him a piece of my mind concerning the character of
those who think evil of others, and he gave me five and six, and said
he should know me again; and I purchased an umbrella suited to my
rank and station, and as fine a haddock as I have ever tasted with
the balance, which was sevenpence, for I was feeling hungry.
"The haddock is an excellent fish, Mrs. Wilkins," I said, "and if, as
you observe, we listened to all that was said we'd be hungrier at
forty, with a balance to our credit at the bank, than ever we were at
twenty, with 'no effects' beyond a sound digestion."
[A Martyr to Health.]
"There was a gent in Middle Temple Lane," said Mrs. Wilkins, "as I
used to do for. It's my belief as 'e killed 'imself worrying twenty-
four hours a day over what 'e called 'is 'ygiene. Leastways 'e's
dead and buried now, which must be a comfort to 'imself, feeling as
at last 'e's out of danger. All 'is time 'e spent taking care of
'imself--didn't seem to 'ave a leisure moment in which to live. For
'alf an hour every morning 'e'd lie on 'is back on the floor, which
is a draughty place, I always 'old, at the best of times, with
nothing on but 'is pyjamas, waving 'is arms and legs about, and
twisting 'imself into shapes unnatural to a Christian. Then 'e found
out that everything 'e'd been doing on 'is back was just all wrong,
so 'e turned over and did tricks on 'is stomach--begging your pardon
for using the word--that you'd 'ave thought more fit and proper to a
worm than to a man. Then all that was discovered to be a mistake.
There don't seem nothing certain in these matters. That's the
awkward part of it, so it seems to me. 'E got 'imself a machine, by
means of which 'e'd 'ang 'imself up to the wall, and behave for all
the world like a beetle with a pin stuck through 'im, poor thing. It
used to give me the shudders to catch sight of 'im through the 'alf-
open door. For that was part of the game: you 'ad to 'ave a current
of air through the room, the result of which was that for six months
out of the year 'e'd be coughing and blowing 'is nose from morning to
night. It was the new treatment, so 'e'd explain to me. You got
yourself accustomed to draughts so that they didn't 'urt you, and if
you died in the process that only proved that you never ought to 'ave
"Then there came in this new Japanese business, and 'e'd 'ire a
little smiling 'eathen to chuck 'im about 'is room for 'alf an hour
every morning after breakfast. It got on my nerves after a while
'earing 'im being bumped on the floor every minute, or flung with 'is
'ead into the fire-place. But 'e always said it was doing 'im good.
'E'd argue that it freshened up 'is liver. It was 'is liver that 'e
seemed to live for--didn't appear to 'ave any other interest in life.
It was the same with 'is food. One year it would be nothing but
meat, and next door to raw at that. One of them medical papers 'ad
suddenly discovered that we were intended to be a sort of wild beast.
The wonder to me is that 'e didn't go out 'unting chickens with a
club, and bring 'em 'ome and eat 'em on the mat without any further
fuss. For drink it would be boiling water that burnt my fingers
merely 'andling the glass. Then some other crank came out with the
information that every other crank was wrong--which, taken by itself,
sounds natural enough--that meat was fatal to the 'uman system. Upon
that 'e becomes all at once a raging, tearing vegetarian, and trouble
enough I 'ad learning twenty different ways of cooking beans, which
didn't make, so far as I could ever see, the slightest difference--
beans they were, and beans they tasted like, whether you called them
ragout a la maison, or cutlets a la Pompadour. But it seemed to
[He was never pig-headed.]
"Then vegetarianism turned out to be the mistake of our lives. It
seemed we made an error giving up monkeys' food. That was our
natural victuals; nuts with occasional bananas. As I used to tell
'im, if that was so, then for all we 'ad got out of it we might just
as well have stopped up a tree--saved rent and shoe leather. But 'e
was one of that sort that don't seem able to 'elp believing
everything they read in print. If one of those papers 'ad told 'im
to live on the shells and throw away the nuts, 'e'd have made a
conscientious endeavour to do so, contending that 'is failure to
digest them was merely the result of vicious training--didn't seem to
'ave any likes or dislikes of 'is own. You might 'ave thought 'e was
just a bit of public property made to be experimented upon.
"One of the daily papers interviewed an old gent, as said 'e was a
'undred, and I will say from 'is picture as any'ow 'e looked it. 'E
said it was all the result of never 'aving swallowed anything 'ot,
upon which my gentleman for a week lives on cold porridge, if you'll
believe me; although myself I'd rather 'ave died at fifty and got it
over. Then another paper dug up from somewhere a sort of animated
corpse that said was a 'undred and two, and attributed the
unfortunate fact to 'is always 'aving 'ad 'is food as 'ot as 'e could
swallow it. A bit of sense did begin to dawn upon 'im then, but too
late in the day, I take it. 'E'd played about with 'imself too long.
'E died at thirty-two, looking to all appearance sixty, and you can't
say as 'ow it was the result of not taking advice."
[Only just in time.]
"On this subject of health we are much too ready to follow advice," I
agreed. "A cousin of mine, Mrs. Wilkins, had a wife who suffered
occasionally from headache. No medicine relieved her of them--not
altogether. And one day by chance she met a friend who said: 'Come
straight with me to Dr. Blank,' who happened to be a specialist
famous for having invented a new disease that nobody until the year
before had ever heard of. She accompanied her friend to Dr. Blank,
and in less than ten minutes he had persuaded her that she had got
this new disease, and got it badly; and that her only chance was to
let him cut her open and have it out. She was a tolerably healthy
woman, with the exception of these occasional headaches, but from
what that specialist said it was doubtful whether she would get home
alive, unless she let him operate on her then and there, and her
friend, who appeared delighted, urged her not to commit suicide, as
it were, by missing her turn.
"The result was she consented, and afterwards went home in a four-
wheeled cab, and put herself to bed. Her husband, when he returned
in the evening and was told, was furious. He said it was all humbug,
and by this time she was ready to agree with him. He put on his hat,
and started to give that specialist a bit of his mind. The
specialist was out, and he had to bottle up his rage until the
morning. By then, his wife now really ill for the first time in her
life, his indignation had reached boiling point. He was at that
specialist's door at half-past nine o clock. At half-past eleven he
came back, also in a four-wheeled cab, and day and night nurses for
both of them were wired for. He also, it appeared, had arrived at
that specialist's door only just in time.
"There's this appendy--whatever they call it," commented Mrs.
Wilkins, "why a dozen years ago one poor creature out of ten thousand
may possibly 'ave 'ad something wrong with 'is innards. To-day you
ain't 'ardly considered respectable unless you've got it, or 'ave 'ad
it. I 'ave no patience with their talk. To listen to some of them
you'd think as Nature 'adn't made a man--not yet: would never
understand the principle of the thing till some of these young chaps
'ad shown 'er 'ow to do it."
[How to avoid Everything.]
"They have now discovered, Mrs. Wilkins," I said, "the germ of old
age. They are going to inoculate us for it in early youth, with the
result that the only chance of ever getting rid of our friends will
be to give them a motor-car. And maybe it will not do to trust to
that for long. They will discover that some men's tendency towards
getting themselves into trouble is due to some sort of a germ. The
man of the future, Mrs. Wilkins, will be inoculated against all
chance of gas explosions, storms at sea, bad oysters, and thin ice.
Science may eventually discover the germ prompting to ill-assorted
marriages, proneness to invest in the wrong stock, uncontrollable
desire to recite poetry at evening parties. Religion, politics,
education--all these things are so much wasted energy. To live happy
and good for ever and ever, all we have to do is to hunt out these
various germs and wring their necks for them--or whatever the proper
treatment may be. Heaven, I gather from medical science, is merely a
place that is free from germs."
"We talk a lot about it," thought Mrs. Wilkins, "but it does not seem
to me that we are very much better off than before we took to
worrying ourselves for twenty-four 'ours a day about 'ow we are going
to live. Lord! to read the advertisements in the papers you would
think as 'ow flesh and blood was never intended to 'ave any natural
ills. 'Do you ever 'ave a pain in your back?' because, if so,
there's a picture of a kind gent who's willing for one and sixpence
halfpenny to take it quite away from you--make you look forward to
scrubbing floors, and standing over the wash-tub six 'ours at a
stretch like to a beanfeast. 'Do you ever feel as though you don't
want to get out of bed in the morning?' that's all to be cured by a
bottle of their stuff--or two at the outside. Four children to keep,
and a sick 'usband on your 'ands used to get me over it when I was
younger. I used to fancy it was just because I was tired.
[The one Cure-All.]
"There's some of them seem to think," continued Mrs. Wilkins, "that
if you don't get all you want out of this world, and ain't so 'appy
as you've persuaded yourself you ought to be, that it's all because
you ain't taking the right medicine. Appears to me there's only one
doctor as can do for you, all the others talk as though they could,
and 'e only comes to each of us once, and then 'e makes no charge."
[Europe and the bright American Girl.]
"How does she do it?"
That is what the European girl wants to know. The American girl!
She comes over here, and, as a British matron, reduced to slang by
force of indignation, once exclaimed to me: "You'd think the whole
blessed show belonged to her." The European girl is hampered by her
relatives. She has to account for her father: to explain away, if
possible, her grandfather. The American girl sweeps them aside:
"Don't you worry about them," she says to the Lord Chamberlain.
"It's awfully good of you, but don't you fuss yourself. I'm looking
after my old people. That's my department. What I want you to do is
just to listen to what I am saying and then hustle around. I can
fill up your time all right by myself."
Her father may be a soap-boiler, her grandmother may have gone out
"That's all right," she says to her Ambassador: "They're not coming.
You just take my card and tell the King that when he's got a few
minutes to spare I'll be pleased to see him."
And the extraordinary thing is that, a day or two afterwards, the
A modern writer has said that "I'm Murrican" is the Civis Romanus sum
of the present-day woman's world. The late King of Saxony, did, I
believe, on one occasion make a feeble protest at being asked to
receive the daughter of a retail bootmaker. The young lady,
nonplussed for the moment, telegraphed to her father in Detroit. The
answer came back next morning: "Can't call it selling--practically
giving them away. See Advertisement." The lady was presented as the
daughter of an eminent philanthropist.
It is due to her to admit that, taking her as a class, the American
girl is a distinct gain to European Society. Her influence is
against convention and in favour of simplicity. One of her greatest
charms, in the eyes of the European man, is that she listens to him.
I cannot say whether it does her any good. Maybe she does not
remember it all, but while you are talking she does give you her
attention. The English woman does not always. She greets you
"I've so often wanted to meet you," she says, "must you really go?"
It strikes you as sudden: you had no intention of going for hours.
But the hint is too plain to be ignored. You are preparing to agree
that you really must when, looking round, you gather that the last
remark was not addressed to you, but to another gentleman who is
shaking hands with her:
"Now, perhaps we shall be able to talk for five minutes," she says.
"I've so often wanted to say that I shall never forgive you. You
have been simply horrid."
Again you are confused, until you jump to the conclusion that the
latter portion of the speech is probably intended for quite another
party with whom, at the moment, her back towards you, she is engaged
in a whispered conversation. When he is gone she turns again to you.
But the varied expressions that pass across her face while you are
discussing with her the disadvantages of Protection, bewilder you.
When, explaining your own difficulty in arriving at a conclusion, you
remark that Great Britain is an island, she roguishly shakes her
head. It is not that she has forgotten her geography, it is that she
is conducting a conversation by signs with a lady at the other end of
the room. When you observe that the working classes must be fed, she
smiles archly while murmuring:
"Oh, do you really think so?"
You are about to say something strong on the subject of dumping.
Apparently she has disappeared. You find that she is reaching round
behind you to tap a new arrival with her fan.
[She has the Art of Listening.]
Now, the American girl looks at you, and just listens to you with her
eyes fixed on you all the time. You gather that, as far as she is
concerned, the rest of the company are passing shadows. She wants to
hear what you have to say about Bi-metallism: her trouble is lest
she may miss a word of it. From a talk with an American girl one
comes away with the conviction that one is a brilliant
conversationalist, who can hold a charming woman spell-bound. This
may not be good for one: but while it lasts, the sensation is
Even the American girl cannot, on all occasions, sweep from her path
the cobwebs of old-world etiquette. Two American ladies told me a
sad tale of things that had happened to them not long ago in Dresden.
An officer of rank and standing invited them to breakfast with him on
the ice. Dames and nobles of the plus haut ton would be there. It
is a social function that occurs every Sunday morning in Dresden
during the skating season. The great lake in the Grosser Garten is
covered with all sorts and conditions of people. Prince and commoner
circle and recircle round one another. But they do not mix. The
girls were pleased. They secured the services of an elderly lady,
the widow of an analytical chemist: unfortunately, she could not
skate. They wrapped her up and put her in a sledge. While they were
in the garde robe putting on their skates, a German gentleman came up
and bowed to them.
He was a nice young man of prepossessing appearance and amiable
manners. They could not call to mind his name, but remembered having
met him, somewhere, and on more than one occasion. The American girl
is always sociable: they bowed and smiled, and said it was a fine
day. He replied with volubility, and helped them down on to the ice.
He was really most attentive. They saw their friend, the officer of
noble family, and, with the assistance of the German gentleman,
skated towards him. He glided past them. They thought that maybe he
did not know enough to stop, so they turned and skated after him.
They chased him three times round the pond and then, feeling tired,
eased up and took counsel together.
"I'm sure he must have seen us," said the younger girl. "What does
he mean by it?"
"Well, I have not come down here to play forfeits," said the other,
"added to which I want my breakfast. You wait here a minute, I'll go
and have it out with him."
He was standing only a dozen yards away. Alone, though not a good
performer on the ice, she contrived to cover half the distance
dividing them. The officer, perceiving her, came to her assistance
and greeted her with effusion.
[The Republican Idea in practice.]
"Oh," said the lady, who was feeling indignant, "I thought maybe you
had left your glasses at home."
"I am sorry," said the officer, "but it is impossible."
"What's impossible?" demanded the lady.
"That I can be seen speaking to you," declared the officer, "while
you are in company with that--that person."
"What person?" She thought maybe he was alluding to the lady in the
sledge. The chaperon was not showy, but, what is better, she was
good. And, anyhow, it was the best the girls had been able to do.
So far as they were concerned, they had no use for a chaperon. The
idea had been a thoughtful concession to European prejudice.
"The person in knickerbockers," explained the officer.
"Oh, THAT," exclaimed the lady, relieved: "he just came up and made
himself agreeable while we were putting on our skates. We have met
him somewhere, but I can't exactly fix him for the moment."
"You have met him possibly at Wiesman's, in the Pragerstrasse: he is
one of the attendants there," said the officer.
The American girl is Republican in her ideas, but she draws the line
at hairdressers. In theory it is absurd: the hairdresser is a man
and a brother: but we are none of us logical all the way. It made
her mad, the thought that she had been seen by all Dresden Society
skating with a hairdresser.
"Well," she said, "I do call that impudence. Why, they wouldn't do
that even in Chicago."
And she returned to where the hairdresser was illustrating to her
friend the Dutch roll, determined to explain to him, as politely as
possible, that although the free and enlightened Westerner has
abolished social distinctions, he has not yet abolished them to that
Had he been a commonplace German hairdresser he would have understood
English, and all might have been easy. But to the "classy" German
hairdresser, English is not so necessary, and the American ladies had
reached, as regards their German, only the "improving" stage. In her
excitement she confused the subjunctive and the imperative, and told
him that he "might" go. He had no wish to go; he assured them--so
they gathered--that his intention was to devote the morning to their
service. He must have been a stupid man, but it is a type
occasionally encountered. Two pretty women had greeted his advances
with apparent delight. They were Americans, and the American girl
was notoriously unconventional. He knew himself to be a good-looking
young fellow. It did not occur to him that in expressing willingness
to dispense with his attendance they could be in earnest.
There was nothing for it, so it seemed to the girls, but to request
the assistance of the officer, who continued to skate round and round
them at a distance of about ten yards. So again the elder young
lady, seizing her opportunity, made appeal.
[What the Soldier dared not do.]
"I cannot," persisted the officer, who, having been looking forward
to a morning with two of the prettiest girls in Dresden, was also
feeling mad. "I dare not be seen speaking to a hairdresser. You
must get rid of him."
"But we can't," said the girl. "We do not know enough German, and he
can't, or he won't, understand us. For goodness sake come and help
us. We'll be spending the whole morning with him if you don't."
The German officer said he was desolate. Steps would be taken--later
in the week--the result of which would probably be to render that
young hairdresser prematurely bald. But, meanwhile, beyond skating
round and round them, for which they did not even feel they wanted to
thank him, the German officer could do nothing for them. They tried
being rude to the hairdresser: he mistook it for American chic.
They tried joining hands and running away from him, but they were not
good skaters, and he thought they were trying to show him the cake
walk. They both fell down and hurt themselves, and it is difficult
to be angry with a man, even a hairdresser, when he is doing his best
to pick you up and comfort you.
The chaperon was worse than useless. She was very old. She had been
promised her breakfast, but saw no signs of it. She could not speak
German; and remembered somewhat late in the day that two young ladies
had no business to accept breakfast at the hands of German officers:
and, if they did, at least they might see that they got it. She
appeared to be willing to talk about decadence of modern manners to
almost any extent, but the subject of the hairdresser, and how to get
rid of him, only bored her.
Their first stroke of luck occurred when the hairdresser, showing
them the "dropped three," fell down and temporarily stunned himself.
It was not kind of them, but they were desperate. They flew for the
bank just anyhow, and, scrambling over the grass, gained the
restaurant. The officer, overtaking them at the door, led them to
the table that had been reserved for them, then hastened back to hunt
for the chaperon. The girls thought their trouble was over. Had
they glanced behind them their joy would have been shorter-lived than
even was the case. The hairdresser had recovered consciousness in
time to see them waddling over the grass. He thought they were
running to fetch him brandy. When the officer returned with the
chaperon he found the hairdresser sitting opposite to them,
explaining that he really was not hurt, and suggesting that, as they
were there, perhaps they would like something to eat and drink.
The girls made one last frantic appeal to the man of buckram and
pipeclay, but the etiquette of the Saxon Army was inexorable. It
transpired that he might kill the hairdresser, but nothing else: he
must not speak to him--not even explain to the poor devil why it was
that he was being killed.
[Her path of Usefulness.]
It did not seem quite worth it. They had some sandwiches and coffee
at the hairdresser's expense, and went home in a cab: while the
chaperon had breakfast with the officer of noble family.
The American girl has succeeded in freeing European social
intercourse from many of its hide-bound conventions. There is still
much work for her to do. But I have faith in her.
[Music and the Savage.]
I never visit a music-hall without reflecting concerning the great
future there must be before the human race.
How young we are, how very young! And think of all we have done!
Man is still a mere boy. He has only just within the last half-
century been put into trousers. Two thousand years ago he wore long
clothes--the Grecian robe, the Roman toga. Then followed the Little
Lord Fauntleroy period, when he went about dressed in a velvet suit
with lace collar and cuffs, and had his hair curled for him. The
late lamented Queen Victoria put him into trousers. What a wonderful
little man he will be when he is grown up!
A clergyman friend of mine told me of a German Kurhaus to which he
was sent for his sins and his health. It was a resort, for some
reason, specially patronized by the more elderly section of the
higher English middle class. Bishops were there, suffering from
fatty degeneration of the heart caused by too close application to
study; ancient spinsters of good family subject to spasms; gouty
retired generals. Can anybody tell me how many men in the British
Army go to a general? Somebody once assured me it was five thousand,
but that is absurd, on the face of it. The British Army, in that
case, would have to be counted by millions. There are a goodish few
American colonels still knocking about. The American colonel is
still to be met with here and there by the curious traveller, but
compared with the retired British general he is an extinct species.
In Cheltenham and Brighton and other favoured towns there are streets
of nothing but retired British generals--squares of retired British
generals--whole crescents of British generals. Abroad there are
pensions with a special scale of charges for British generals. In
Switzerland there has even been talk of reserving railway
compartments "For British Generals Only." In Germany, when you do
not say distinctly and emphatically on being introduced that you are
not a British general, you are assumed, as a matter of course, to be
a British general. During the Boer War, when I was residing in a
small garrison town on the Rhine, German military men would draw me
aside and ask of me my own private personal views as to the conduct
of the campaign. I would give them my views freely, explain to them
how I would finish the whole thing in a week.
"But how in the face of the enemy's tactics--" one of them would
"Bother the enemy's tactics," I would reply. "Who cares for
"But surely a British general--" they would persist. "Who's a
British general?" I would retort, "I am talking to you merely as a
plain commonsense man, with a head on my shoulders."
They would apologize for their mistake. But this is leading me away
from that German Kurhaus.
[Recreation for the Higher clergy.]
My clergyman friend found life there dull. The generals and the
spinsters left to themselves might have played cards, but they
thought of the poor bishops who would have had to look on envious.
The bishops and the spinsters might have sung ballads, but the
British general after dinner does not care for ballads, and had
mentioned it. The bishops and the generals might have told each
other stories, but could not before the ladies. My clergyman friend
stood the awful solemnity of three evenings, then cautiously felt his
way towards revelry. He started with an intellectual game called
"Quotations." You write down quotations on a piece of paper, and the
players have to add the author's name. It roped in four old ladies,
and the youngest bishop. One or two generals tried a round, but not
being familiar with quotations voted the game slow.
The next night my friend tried "Consequences." "Saucy Miss A. met
the gay General B. in"--most unlikely places. "He said." Really it
was fortunate that General B. remained too engrossed in the day
before yesterday's Standard to overhear, or Miss A. could never have
again faced him. "And she replied." The suppressed giggles excited
the curiosity of the non-players. Most of the bishops and half the
generals asked to be allowed to join. The giggles grew into roars.
Those standing out found that they could not read their papers in
From "Consequences" the descent was easy. The tables and chairs were
pushed against the walls, the bishops and the spinsters and the
generals would sit in a ring upon the floor playing hunt the slipper.
Musical chairs made the two hours between bed and dinner the time of
the day they all looked forward to: the steady trot with every nerve
alert, the ear listening for the sudden stoppage of the music, the
eye seeking with artfulness the likeliest chair, the volcanic
silence, the mad scramble.
The generals felt themselves fighting their battles over again, the
spinsters blushed and preened themselves, the bishops took interest
in proving that even the Church could be prompt of decision and swift
of movement. Before the week was out they were playing Puss-in-the-
corner; ladies feeling young again were archly beckoning to stout
deans, to whom were returning all the sensations of a curate. The
swiftness with which the gouty generals found they could still hobble
surprised even themselves.
[Why are we so young?]
But it is in the music-hall, as I have said, that I am most impressed
with the youthfulness of man. How delighted we are when the long man
in the little boy's hat, having asked his short brother a riddle, and
before he can find time to answer it, hits him over the stomach with
an umbrella! How we clap our hands and shout with glee! It isn't
really his stomach: it is a bolster tied round his waist--we know
that; but seeing the long man whack at that bolster with an umbrella
gives us almost as much joy as if the bolster were not there.
I laugh at the knockabout brothers, I confess, so long as they are on
the stage; but they do not convince me. Reflecting on the
performance afterwards, my dramatic sense revolts against the "plot."
I cannot accept the theory of their being brothers. The difference
in size alone is a strain upon my imagination. It is not probable
that of two children of the same parents one should measure six foot
six, and the other five foot four. Even allowing for a freak of
nature, and accepting the fact that they might be brothers, I do not
believe they would remain so inseparable. The short brother would
have succeeded before now in losing the long brother. Those
continual bangings over the head and stomach would have weakened
whatever affection the short brother might originally have felt
towards his long relation. At least, he would insist upon the
umbrella being left at home.
"I will go for a walk with you," he might say, "I will stand stock
still with you in Trafalgar Square in the midst of the traffic while
you ask me silly riddles, but not if you persist in bringing with you
that absurd umbrella. You are too handy with it. Put it back in the
rack before we start, or go out by yourself."
Besides, my sense of justice is outraged. Why should the short
brother be banged and thumped without reason? The Greek dramatist
would have explained to us that the shorter brother had committed a
crime against the gods. Aristophanes would have made the longer
brother the instrument of the Furies. The riddles he asked would
have had bearing upon the shorter brother's sin. In this way the
spectator would have enjoyed amusement combined with the satisfactory
sense that Nemesis is ever present in human affairs. I present the
idea, for what it may be worth, to the concoctors of knockabout
[Where Brotherly (and Sisterly) Love reigns supreme]
The family tie is always strong on the music-hall stage. The
acrobatic troupe is always a "Family": Pa, Ma, eight brothers and
sisters, and the baby. A more affectionate family one rarely sees.
Pa and Ma are a trifle stout, but still active. Baby, dear little
fellow, is full of humour. Ladies do not care to go on the music-
hall stage unless they can take their sister with them. I have seen
a performance given by eleven sisters, all the same size and
apparently all the same age. She must have been a wonderful woman--
the mother. They all had golden hair, and all wore precisely similar
frocks--a charming but decolletee arrangement--in claret-coloured
velvet over blue silk stockings. So far as I could gather, they all
had the same young man. No doubt he found it difficult amongst them
to make up his mind.
"Arrange it among yourselves," he no doubt had said, "it is quite
immaterial to me. You are so much alike, it is impossible that a
fellow loving one should not love the lot of you. So long as I marry
into the family I really don't care."
When a performer appears alone on the music-hall stage it is easy to
understand why. His or her domestic life has been a failure. I
listened one evening to six songs in succession. The first two were
sung by a gentleman. He entered with his clothes hanging upon him in
shreds. He explained that he had just come from an argument with his
wife. He showed us the brick with which she had hit him, and the
bump at the back of his head that had resulted. The funny man's
marriage is never a success. But really this seems to be his own
fault. "She was such a lovely girl," he tells us, "with a face--
well, you'd hardly call it a face, it was more like a gas explosion.
Then she had those wonderful sort of eyes that you can see two ways
at once with, one of them looks down the street, while the other one
is watching round the corner. Can see you coming any way. And her
It appears that if she stands anywhere near the curb and smiles,
careless people mistake her for a pillar-box, and drop letters into
"And such a voice!" We are told it is a perfect imitation of a
motor-car. When she laughs people spring into doorways to escape
being run over.
If he will marry that sort of woman, what can he expect? The man is
asking for it.
The lady who followed him also told us a sad story of misplaced
trust. She also was comic--so the programme assured us. The
humorist appears to have no luck. She had lent her lover money to
buy the ring, and the licence, and to furnish the flat. He did buy
the ring, and he furnished the flat, but it was for another lady.
The audience roared. I have heard it so often asked, "What is
humour?" From observation, I should describe it as other people's
A male performer followed her. He came on dressed in a night-shirt,
carrying a baby. His wife, it seemed, had gone out for the evening
with the lodger. That was his joke. It was the most successful song
of the whole six.
[The one sure Joke.]
A philosopher has put it on record that he always felt sad when he
reflected on the sorrows of humanity. But when he reflected on its
amusements he felt sadder still.
Why was it so funny that the baby had the lodger's nose? We laughed
for a full minute by the clock.
Why do I love to see a flabby-faced man go behind curtains, and,
emerging in a wig and a false beard, say that he is now Bismarck or
Mr. Chamberlain? I have felt resentment against the Lightning
Impersonator ever since the days of Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee.
During that summer every Lightning Impersonator ended his show by
shouting, while the band played the National Anthem, "Queen
Victoria!" He was not a bit like Queen Victoria. He did not even,
to my thinking, look a lady; but at once I had to stand up in my
place and sing "God save the Queen." It was a time of enthusiastic
loyalty; if you did not spring up quickly some patriotic old fool
from the back would reach across and hit you over the head with the
first thing he could lay his hands upon.
Other music-hall performers caught at the idea. By ending up with
"God save the Queen" any performer, however poor, could retire in a
whirlwind of applause. Niggers, having bored us with tiresome songs
about coons and honeys and Swanee Rivers, would, as a last resource,
strike up "God save the Queen" on the banjo. The whole house would
have to rise and cheer. Elderly Sisters Trippet, having failed to
arouse our enthusiasm by allowing us a brief glimpse of an ankle,
would put aside all frivolity, and tell us of a hero lover named
George, who had fought somebody somewhere for his Queen and country.
"He fell!"--bang from the big drum and blue limelight. In a
recumbent position he appears to have immediately started singing
"God save the Queen."
[How Anarchists are made.]
Sleepy members of the audience would be hastily awakened by their
friends. We would stagger to our feet. The Sisters Trippet, with
eyes fixed on the chandelier, would lead us: to the best of our
ability we would sing "God save the Queen."
There have been evenings when I have sung "God save the Queen" six
times. Another season of it, and I should have become a Republican.
The singer of patriotic songs is generally a stout and puffy man.
The perspiration pours from his face as the result of the violent
gesticulations with which he tells us how he stormed the fort. He
must have reached it very hot.
"There were ten to one agin us, boys." We feel that this was a
miscalculation on the enemy's part. Ten to one "agin" such wildly
gesticulating Britishers was inviting defeat.
It seems to have been a terrible battle notwithstanding. He shows us
with a real sword how it was done. Nothing could have lived within a
dozen yards of that sword. The conductor of the orchestra looks
nervous. Our fear is lest he will end by cutting off his own head.
His recollections are carrying him away. Then follows "Victory!"
The gas men and the programme sellers cheer wildly. We conclude with
the inevitable "God save the King."
[The Ghost and the Blind Children.]
Ghosts are in the air. It is difficult at this moment to avoid
talking of ghosts. The first question you are asked on being
introduced this season is:
"Do you believe in ghosts?"
I would be so glad to believe in ghosts. This world is much too
small for me. Up to a century or two ago the intellectual young man
found it sufficient for his purposes. It still contained the
unknown--the possible--within its boundaries. New continents were
still to be discovered: we dreamt of giants, Liliputians, desert-
fenced Utopias. We set our sail, and Wonderland lay ever just beyond
our horizon. To-day the world is small, the light railway runs
through the desert, the coasting steamer calls at the Islands of the
Blessed, the last mystery has been unveiled, the fairies are dead,
the talking birds are silent. Our baffled curiosity turns for relief
outwards. We call upon the dead to rescue us from our monotony. The
first authentic ghost will be welcomed as the saviour of humanity.
But he must be a living ghost--a ghost we can respect, a ghost we can
listen to. The poor spiritless addle-headed ghost that has hitherto
haunted our blue chambers is of no use to us. I remember a
thoughtful man once remarking during argument that if he believed in
ghosts--the silly, childish spooks about which we had been telling
anecdotes--death would possess for him an added fear: the idea that
his next dwelling-place would be among such a pack of dismal idiots
would sadden his departing hours. What was he to talk to them about?
Apparently their only interest lay in recalling their earthly
troubles. The ghost of the lady unhappily married who had been
poisoned, or had her throat cut, who every night for the last five
hundred years had visited the chamber where it happened for no other
purpose than to scream about it! what a tiresome person she would be
to meet! All her conversation during the long days would be around
her earthly wrongs. The other ghosts, in all probability, would have
heard about that husband of hers, what he said, and what he did, till
they were sick of the subject. A newcomer would be seized upon with
A lady of repute writes to a magazine that she once occupied for a
season a wainscotted room in an old manor house. On several
occasions she awoke in the night: each time to witness the same
ghostly performance. Four gentlemen sat round a table playing cards.
Suddenly one of them sprang to his feet and plunged a dagger into the
back of his partner. The lady does not say so: one presumes it was
his partner. I have, myself, when playing bridge, seen an expression
on my partner's face that said quite plainly:
"I would like to murder you."
I have not the memory for bridge. I forget who it was that, last
trick but seven, played the two of clubs. I thought it was he, my
partner. I thought it meant that I was to take an early opportunity
of forcing trumps. I don't know why I thought so, I try to explain
why I thought so. It sounds a silly argument even to myself; I feel
I have not got it quite right. Added to which it was not my partner
who played the two of clubs, it was Dummy. If I had only remembered
this, and had concluded from it--as I ought to have done--that my
partner had the ace of diamonds--as otherwise why did he pass my
knave?--we might have saved the odd trick. I have not the head for
bridge. It is only an ordinary head--mine. I have no business to
[Why not, occasionally, a cheerful Ghost.]
But to return to our ghosts. These four gentlemen must now and
again, during their earthly existence, have sat down to a merry game
of cards. There must have been evenings when nobody was stabbed.
Why choose an unpleasant occasion to harp exclusively upon it? Why
do ghosts never give a cheerful show? The lady who was poisoned!
there must have been other evenings in her life. Why does she not
show us "The first meeting": when he gave her the violets and said
they were like her eyes? He wasn't always poisoning her. There must
have been a period before he ever thought of poisoning her. Cannot
these ghosts do something occasionally in what is termed "the lighter
vein"? If they haunt a forest glade, it is to perform a duel to the
death, or an assassination. Why cannot they, for a change, give us
an old-time picnic, or "The hawking party," which, in Elizabethan
costume, should make a pretty picture? Ghostland would appear to be
obsessed by the spirit of the Scandinavian drama: murders, suicides,
ruined fortunes, and broken hearts are the only material made use of.
Why is not a dead humorist allowed now and then to write the sketch?
There must be plenty of dead comic lovers; why are they never allowed
to give a performance?
[Where are the dead Humorists?]
A cheerful person contemplates death with alarm. What is he to do in
this land of ghosts? there is no place for him. Imagine the
commonplace liver of a humdrum existence being received into
ghostland. He enters nervous, shy, feeling again the new boy at
school. The old ghosts gather round him.
"How do you come here--murdered?"
"No, at least, I don't think so."
"No--can't remember the name of it now. Began with a chill on the
liver, I think."
The ghosts are disappointed. But a happy suggestion is made.
Perhaps he was the murderer; that would be even better. Let him
think carefully; can he recollect ever having committed a murder? He
racks his brains in vain, not a single murder comes to his
recollection. He never forged a will. Doesn't even know where
anything is hid. Of what use will he be in ghostland? One pictures
him passing the centuries among a moody crowd of uninteresting
mediocrities, brooding perpetually over their wasted lives. Only the
ghosts of ladies and gentlemen mixed up in crime have any "show" in
[The Spirit does not shine as a Conversationalist.]
I feel an equal dissatisfaction with the spirits who are supposed to
return to us and communicate with us through the medium of three-
legged tables. I do not deny the possibility that spirits exist. I
am even willing to allow them their three-legged tables. It must be
confessed it is a clumsy method. One cannot help regretting that
during all the ages they have not evolved a more dignified system.
One feels that the three-legged table must hamper them. One can
imagine an impatient spirit getting tired of spelling out a lengthy
story on a three-legged table. But, as I have said, I am willing to
assume that, for some spiritual reason unfathomable to my mere human
intelligence, that three-legged table is essential. I am willing
also to accept the human medium. She is generally an unprepossessing
lady running somewhat to bulk. If a gentleman, he so often has dirty
finger-nails, and smells of stale beer. I think myself it would be
so much simpler if the spirit would talk to me direct; we could get
on quicker. But there is that about the medium, I am told, which
appeals to a spirit. Well, it is his affair, not mine, and I waive
the argument. My real stumbling-block is the spirit himself--the
sort of conversation that, when he does talk, he indulges in. I
cannot help feeling that his conversation is not worth the
paraphernalia. I can talk better than that myself.
The late Professor Huxley, who took some trouble over this matter,
attended some half-dozen seances, and then determined to attend no
"I have," he said, "for my sins to submit occasionally to the society
of live bores. I refuse to go out of my way to spend an evening in
the dark with dead bores."
The spiritualists themselves admit that their table-rapping spooks
are precious dull dogs; it would be difficult, in face of the
communications recorded, for them to deny it. They explain to us
that they have not yet achieved communication with the higher
spiritual Intelligences. The more intelligent spirits--for some
reason that the spiritualists themselves are unable to explain--do
not want to talk to them, appear to have something else to do. At
present--so I am told, and can believe--it is only the spirits of
lower intelligence that care to turn up on these evenings. The
spiritualists argue that, by continuing, the higher-class spirits
will later on be induced to "come in." I fail to follow the
argument. It seems to me that we are frightening them away. Anyhow,
myself I shall wait awhile.
When the spirit comes along that can talk sense, that can tell me
something I don't know, I shall be glad to meet him. The class of
spirit that we are getting just at present does not appeal to me.
The thought of him--the reflection that I shall die and spend the
rest of eternity in his company--does not comfort me.
[She is now a Believer.]
A lady of my acquaintance tells me it is marvellous how much these
spirits seem to know. On her very first visit, the spirit, through
the voice of the medium--an elderly gentleman residing obscurely in
Clerkenwell--informed her without a moment's hesitation that she
possessed a relative with the Christian name of George. (I am not
making this up--it is real.) This gave her at first the idea that
spiritualism was a fraud. She had no relative named George--at
least, so she thought. But a morning or two later her husband
received a letter from Australia. "By Jove!" he exclaimed, as he
glanced at the last page, "I had forgotten all about the poor old
"Whom is it from?" she asked.
"Oh, nobody you know--haven't seen him myself for twenty years--a
third or fourth cousin of mine--George--"
She never heard the surname, she was too excited. The spirit had
been right from the beginning; she HAD a relative named George. Her
faith in spiritualism is now as a rock.
There are thousands of folk who believe in Old Moore's Almanac. My
difficulty would be not to believe in the old gentleman. I see that
for the month of January last he foretold us that the Government
would meet with determined and persistent opposition. He warned us
that there would be much sickness about, and that rheumatism would
discover its old victims. How does he know these things? Is it that
the stars really do communicate with him, or does he "feel it in his
bones," as the saying is up North?
During February, he mentioned, the weather would be unsettled. He
"The word Taxation will have a terrible significance for both
Government and people this month."
Really, it is quite uncanny. In March:
"Theatres will do badly during the month."
There seems to be no keeping anything from Old Moore. In April "much
dissatisfaction will be expressed among Post Office employees." That
sounds probable, on the face of it. In any event, I will answer for
our local postman.
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