The Ethics of Drink and Other Social Questions
James Runciman

Part 2 out of 5

there is only one pony to carry the two Englishmen. Beresford calls,
"Jump up behind me!" but the friend answers, "No; save yourself! I can
die, and I won't risk your life." Then the undignified but decidedly
gallant Beresford observes, "If you don't come, I'll punch your head!"
The pony canters heavily off; one stumble would mean death, but the
dauntless fighting man brings in his friend safely, though only by the
skin of his teeth. It is absolutely necessary for the saving of our
moral health that we should turn away from the dreary flippancy of an
effete society to such scenes as those. If we regarded only the pampered
classes, then we might well think that true human fellowship had
perished, and a starless darkness--worse almost than Atheism--would fall
on the soul. But we are not all corrupt, and the strong brave heart of
our people still beats true. Young men cherish manly affection for
friends, and are not ashamed to show it; sweet girls form friendships
that hold until the maidens become matrons and till the shining locks
have turned to silver white. Wherever men are massed together the
struggle for existence grows keen, and selfishness and cynicism thrust
up their rank growths. "Pleasure" blunts the moral sense and converts
the natural man into a noxious being; but happily our people are sound
at the core, and it will be long ere cynicism and corruption are
universal. The great healthy middle-class is made up of folk who would
regard a writer of spiteful memoirs as a mere bravo; they have not
perhaps the sweetness and light which Mr. Arnold wished to bestow on
them, but at any rate they have a certain rough generosity, and they
have also a share of that self-forgetfulness which alone forms the basis
of friendship. Having that, they can do without Carlyle's learning and
Wilberforce's polish, and they can certainly do without the sour malice
of the historian and the prelate.

_July, 1887._


During last year the register of slaughter on the ocean was worse than
any ever before seen since the _Royal Charter_ took her crew to
destruction; and it seems as though matters were growing worse and
worse. One dismal old story is being repeated week in, week out. In
thick weather or clear weather--it does not seem to matter which--two
vessels approach each other, and the presiding officers on board of each
are quite satisfied and calm; then, on a sudden, one vessel shifts her
course, there are a few hurried and maddened ejaculations, and then
comes a crash. After that, the ugly tale may be continued in the same
terms over and over again; the boats cannot be cleared away, the vessels
drift apart, and both founder, or one is left crippled. I shall have
something to say about the actual effects of a collision presently, but
I may first go on to name some other kinds of disaster. A heavy sea is
rolling, and occasionally breaking, and a vessel is lumbering along from
crest to hollow of the rushing seas; a big wall of water looms over her
for a second, and then comes crashing down; the deck gives way--there
are no water-tight compartments--and the ship becomes suddenly as
unmanageable as a mere cask in a seaway. Again, a plate is wrenched, and
some villainously-made rivets jump out of their places like buttons from
an over-tight bodice; in ten minutes the vessel is wallowing, ready for
her last plunge; and very likely the crew have not even the forlorn
chance of taking to the boats. Once more--on a clear night in the
tropics an emigrant ship is stealing softly through the water; the merry
crowd on deck has broken up, the women, poor creatures, are all locked
up in their quarters, and only a few men remain to lounge and gossip.
The great stars hang like lamps from the solemn dome of the sky, and the
ripples are painted with exquisite serpentine streaks; the wind hums
softly from the courses of the sails, and some of the men like to let
the cool breeze blow over them. Everything seems so delightfully placid
and clear that the thought of danger vanishes; no one would imagine that
even a sea-bird could come up unobserved over that starlit expanse of
water. But the ocean is treacherous in light and shade. The loungers
tell their little stories and laugh merrily; the officer of the watch
carelessly stumps forward from abreast of the wheel, looks knowingly
aloft, twirls round like a teetotum, and stumps back again; and the
sweet night passes in splendour, until all save one or two home-sick
lingerers are happy. It never occurs to any of these passengers to
glance forward and see whether a streak of green fire seems to strike
out from the starboard--the right-hand side of the vessel--or whether a
shaft of red shoots from the other side. As a matter of fact, the vessel
is going on like a dark cloud over the flying furrows of the sea; but
there is very little of the cloud about her great hull, for she would
knock a house down if she hit it when travelling at her present rate.
The captain is a thrifty man, and the owners are thrifty persons; they
consider the cost of oil; and thus, as it is a nice clear night, the
side-lights are not lit, and the judgment of the tramping look-out man
on the forecastle-head is trusted. Parenthetically I may say that,
without being in any way disposed to harbour exaggerated sentiment, I
feel almost inclined to advocate death for any sailor who runs in
mid-ocean without carrying his proper lights out. I once saw a big iron
barque go grinding right from the bulge of the bow to the stern of an
ocean steamer--and that wretched barque had no lights. Half a yard's
difference, and both vessels would have sunk. Three hundred and fifty
people were sleeping peacefully on board the steamer, and the majority
of them must have gone down, while those who were saved would have had a
hard time in the boats. Strange to say, that very same steamer was
crossed by another vessel which carried no lights: but this time the
result was bad, for the steamer went clean through the other ship and
sank her instantly.

To return to the emigrant vessel. The officer continues his tramp like
one of the caged animals of a menagerie; the spare man of the watch
leans against the rail and hums--

We'll go no more by the light of the moon;
The song is done, and we've lost the tune,
So I'll go no more a-roving with you, fair maid--
A-roving, A-roving, &c.

--the pipes glow in the clear air, and the flying water bubbles and
moans. Oh, yes, all is well--beautifully well--and we need no lights
whatever! Then the look-out man whistles "Hist!"--which is quite an
unusual mode of signalling; the officer ceases his monotonous tramp and
runs forward. "Luff a little!" "He's still bearing up. Why doesn't he
keep away?" "Luff a little more! Stand by your lee-braces. Oh, he'll go
clear!" So the low clear talk goes, till at last with a savage yell of
rage a voice comes from the other vessel--"Where you coming to?" "Hard
down with it!" "He's into us!" "Clear away your boats!" Then there is a
sound like "smack." Then comes a long scraunch, and a thunderous rattle
of blocks; a sail goes with a report like a gun; the vessels bump a few
times, and then one draws away, leaving the other with bows staved in. A
wild clamour surges up from below, but there is no time to heed that;
the men toil like Titans, and the hideous music of prayers and curses
disturbs the night. Then the vessel that was hit amidships rolls a
little, and there is a gurgle like that of an enormous, weir: a mast
goes with a sharp report; a man's figure appears on the taffrail and
bounds far into the sea--it is an experienced hand who wants to escape
the down-draught; the hull shudders, grows steady, and then with one
lurch the ship swashes down and the bellowing vortex throws up huge
spirts of boiling spray. A few stray swimmers are picked up, but the
rest of the company will be seen nevermore. Fancy those women in that
darkened steerage! Think of it, and then say what should be done to an
owner who stints his officers in the matter of lamp-oil; or to a captain
who does not use what the owner provides! The huddled victims wake from
confused slumbers; some scream--some become insane on the instant; the
children add their shrill clamour to the mad rout; and the water roars
in. Then the darkness grows thick, and the agonized crowd tear and
throttle each other in fierce terror; and then approaches the
slowly-coming end. Oh, how often--how wearily often--have such scenes
been enacted on the face of this fair world! And all to save a little

Yet again--a great vessel plunges away to sea bearing a precious freight
of some one thousand souls. Perhaps the owners reckon the cargo in the
hold as being worth more than the human burden; but of course opinions
differ. The wild rush from one border of the ocean to the other goes on
for a few days and nights, and the tremendous structure of steel cleaves
the hugest waves as though they were but clouds. Down below the
luxurious passengers live in their fine hotel, and the luckier ones are
quite happy and ineffably comfortable. If a sunny day breaks, then the
pallid battalions in the steerage come up to the air, and the ship's
deck is like a long animated street. A thousand souls, we said? True!
Now let some quiet observant man of the sailorly sort go round at night
and count the boats. Twelve, and the gig aft makes thirteen! Allowing a
tremendously large average, this set of boats might actually carry six
hundred persons; but the six hundred would need to sit very carefully
even in smooth water, and a rush might capsize any one boat.

The vast floating hotel spins on at twenty miles an hour--a speed that
might possibly shame some of the railways that run from London
suburbs--and the officers want to save every yard. No care is omitted;
three men are on the bridge at night, there is a starboard look-out, a
port look-out, and the quartermaster patrols amidships and sees that the
masthead light is all right The officer and the look-out men pass the
word every half-hour, and nothing escapes notice. If some unlucky
steerage passenger happens to strike a light forward, he stands a very
good chance of being put in irons; and, if there is a patient in the
deck-house, the windows must be darkened with thick cloths. Each
officer, on hazy nights, improvises a sort of hood for himself; and he
peers forward as if life depended on his eyesight--as indeed it does.
But there comes a bright evening, and the monster liner's journey is all
but over; three hours more of steaming and she will be safe. A little
schooner comes skimming up on the port side--and the schooner is to the
liner as a chip is to a tree-trunk. The schooner holds on her course,
for she is not bound to give way at all; but the officer on the bridge
of the steamer thinks, "I shall lose a quarter of an hour if I edge away
to starboard and let him fall astern of us. I shall keep right on and
shave his bows." The liner is going at nineteen knots, the schooner is
romping along at eight--yet the liner cannot clear the little vessel.
There comes a fresh gust of wind; the sailing vessel lies over to it,
and just touches the floating hotel amidships--but the touch is enough
to open a breach big enough for a coach and four to go through. The
steamer's head is laid for the land and every ounce of steam is put on,
but she settles and settles more and more. And now what about the
thirteen boats for a thousand people? There is a wild scuffling, wild
outcry. Women bite their lips and-try, with divine patience, to crush
down all appearance of fear, and to keep their limbs from trembling;
some unruly fellows are kept in check only by terror of the revolver;
and the officers remember that their fair name and their hope of earthly
redemption are at stake. In one case of this sort it took three mortal
hours to ferry the passengers and crew over smooth water to the
rescuing vessel; and those rescued folk may think themselves the most
fortunate of all created souls, for, if the liner had been hit with an
impetus of a few more tons, very few on board of her would have lived to
tell the tale. Unless passengers, at the risk of being snubbed and
threatened, criticise the boat accommodation of great steamers, there
will be such a disaster one day as will make the world shudder.

The pitiful thing is to know how easily all this might be prevented.
Until one has been on board a small vessel which has every spar, bolt,
iron, and plank sound, one can have no idea how perfectly safe a
perfectly-built ship is in any sort of weather. A schooner of one
hundred and fifty tons was caught in a hurricane which was so powerful
that the men had to hang on where they could, even before the flattened
foaming sea rose from its level rush and began to come on board. All
round were vessels in distress; the scare caused many of the seamen to
forget their lights, and the ships lumbered on, first to collision, and
then to that crashing plunge which takes all hands down. The little
schooner was actually obliged to offer assistance to a big
mail-steamer--and yet she might have been rather easily carried by that
same steamer. But the little vessel's lights were watched with sedulous
care; the blasts might tear at her scanty canvas, but there was not a
rag or a rope that would give way; and, although the awful rush of the
gale carried her within eight miles of a rocky lee-shore, her captain
had sufficient confidence in the goodness of his gear to begin sailing
his ship instead of keeping her hove to. One rope faulty, one light
wrong, one hand out of his place at the critical time, and the bones of
a pleasant ship's company would have been strewn on a bleak shore: but
everything was right, and the tiny craft drew away like a seagull when
she was made to sail. Of course the sea ran clean over her, but she
forged quietly on until she was thirty miles clear of those foaming
breakers that roared on the cliffs. During that night more good seamen
were drowned than one would like to number; ships worth a king's ransom
were utterly lost. And why? Simply because they had not the perfect gear
which saved the little schooner. Even had the little craft been sent
over until she refused to rise again to the sea, the boats were ready,
and everybody on board had a good chance. Care first of all is needed,
and then fear may be banished. The smart agent reads his report glibly
to the directors of a steamboat company--and yet I have seen such smart
agents superintending the departure of vessels whereof the appearance
was enough to make a good judge quake for the safety of crew and cargo.

What do I advise? Well, in the first place, I must remind shoregoing
folk that a sound well-found vessel will live through anything. Let
passengers beware of lines which pay a large dividend and show nothing
on their balance-sheets to allow for depreciation. In the next place, if
any passenger on a long voyage should see that the proper lights are not
shown, he ought to wake up his fellow passengers at any hour of the
night, and go with his friends to threaten the captain. Never mind
bluster or oaths--merely say, "If your lights are not shown, you may
regard your certificate as gone." If that does not bring the gentleman
to his senses, nothing will. Again, take care in any case that no raw
foreign seamen are allowed to go on the look-out in any vessel, for a
misunderstood shout at a critical moment may bring sudden doom on
hundreds of unsuspecting fellow-creatures. Above all, see that the
water-casks in every boat are kept full. In this way the sea tragedies
may be a little lessened in their hateful number.

_March, 1889._


There came into my life a time of strenuous effort, and I drank all the
joys of labour to the lees. When the rich dark midnights of summer
drooped over the earth, I could hardly bear to think of the hours of
oblivion which must pass ere I felt the delight of work once more. And
the world seemed very beautiful; and, when I looked up to the solemn
sky, so sweetly sown with stars, I could see stirring words like "Fame"
and "Gladness" and "Triumph" written dimly across the vault; so that my
heart was full of rejoicing, and all the world promised fair. In those
immortal midnights the sea spoke wonderful things to me, and the long
rollers glittering under the high moon bore health and bright promise as
they hastened to the shore. And, when the ships stole--oh, so
silently!--out of the shadows and moved over the diamond track of the
moon's light, I sent my heart out to the lonely seamen and prayed that
they might be joyous like me. Then the ringing of the song of
multitudinous birds sounded in the hours of dawn, and the tawny-throated
king of songsters made my pulses tremble with his wild ecstasy; and the
blackbird poured forth mellow defiance, and the thrush shrilled in his
lovely fashion concerning the joy of existence.

Pass, dreams! The long beams are drawn from the bosom of dawn. The gray
of the quiet sea quickens into rose, and soon the glittering serpentine
streaks of colour quiver into a blaze; the brown sands glow, and the
little waves run inward, showing milky curves under the gay light; the
shoregoing boats come home, and their sails--those coarse tanned
sails--are like flowers that wake with the daisies and the peonies to
feast on the sun. Happy holiday-makers who are wise enough to watch the
fishers come in! The booted thickly-clad fellows plunge into the shallow
water; and then the bare-footed women come down, and the harvest of the
night is carried up the cliffs before the most of the holiday-folk have
fairly awakened. The proud day broadens to its height, and the sands are
blackened by the growing crowd; for the beach near a fashionable
watering-place is like a section cut from a turbulent city street, save
that the folk on the sands think of aught but business. I have never
been able to sympathize with those who can perceive only vulgarity in a
seaside crowd. It is well to care for deserted shores and dark moaning
forests in the far North; but the average British holiday-maker is a
sociable creature; he likes to feel the sense of companionship, and his
spirits rise in proportion to the density of the crowd amid which he
disports himself. To me, the life, the concentrated enjoyment, the ways
of the children who are set free from the trammels of town life, are all
like so much poetry. I learned early to rejoice in silent sympathy with
the rejoicing of God's creatures. Only to watch the languid pose of some
steady toiler from the City is enough to give discontented people a
goodly lesson. The man has been ground in the mill for a year; his
modest life has left him no time for enjoyment, and his ideas of all
pleasure are crude. Watch him as he remains passively in an ecstasy of
rest. The cries of children, the confused jargon of the crowd, fall but
faintly on his nerves; he likes the sensation of being in company; he
has a dim notion of the beauty of the vast sky with its shining
snowy-bosomed clouds, and he lets the light breeze blow over him. I like
to look on that good citizen and contrast the dull round of his
wayfarings on many streets with the ease and satisfaction of his
attitude on the sands. Then the night comes. The dancers are busy, the
commonplace music is made refined by distance, and the murmur of the sea
gathers power over all other sounds, until the noon of night arrives and
the last merry voices are heard no more. Poor harmless revellers, so
condemned by men whose round of life is a search for pleasure! Many of
you do not understand or care for quiet refinements of dress and
demeanour; you lack restraint; but I have felt much gladness while
demurely watching your abandonment. I could draw rest for my soul from
the magnetic night long after you were aweary and asleep; but much of my
pleasure came as a reflection from yours.

As my memories of sweetness--yes, and of purifying sadness--gather more
thickly, I am minded to wonder that so much has been vouchsafed me
rather than to mourn over shadowy might-have-beens. The summer day by
the deep lovely lake--the lake within sound of the sea! All round the
steep walls that shut in the dark glossy water there hung rank festoons
and bosses of brilliant green, and the clear reflections of the weeds
and flowers hung so far down in the mysterious deeps that the height of
the rocky wall seemed stupendous. Far over in one tremendously deep
pool the lazy great fish wallowed and lunged; they would not show their
speckled sides very much until the evening; but they kept sleepily
moving all day, and sometimes a mighty back would show like a log for an
instant. In the morning the modest ground-larks cheeped softly among the
rough grasses on the low hills, while the proud heaven-scaler--the
lordly kinsman of the ground-lark--filled the sky with his lovely
clamour. Sometimes a water-rail would come out from the sedges and walk
on the surface of the lake as a tiny ostrich might on the shifting sand;
pretty creatures of all sorts seemed to find their homes near the deep
wonderful water, and the whole morning might be passed in silently
watching the birds and beasts that came around. The gay sun made streams
of silver fire shoot from the polished brackens and sorrel, the purple
geraniums gleamed like scattered jewels, and the birds seemed to be
joyful in presence of that manifold beauty--joyful as the quiet human
being who watched them all. And the little fishes in the shallows would
have their fun as well. They darted hither and thither; the spiny
creatures which the schoolboy loves built their queer nests among the
waterweeds; and sometimes a silly adventurer--alarmed by the majestic
approach of a large fish--would rush on to the loamy bank at the shallow
end of the lake and wriggle piteously in hopeless failure. The
afternoons were divinely restful by the varied shores of the limpid
lake. Sometimes as the sun sloped there might come hollow blasts of wind
that had careered for a brief space over the woods; but the brooding
heat, the mastering silence, the feeling that multifarious quiescent
living things were ready to start into action, all took the senses with
somnolence. That drowsy joy, that soothing silence which seemed only
intensified by the murmur of bees and the faint gurgle of water, were
like medicine to the soul; and it seemed that the conception of Nirvana
became easily understood as the delicious open-air reverie grew more and
more involved and vague. Then the last look of the sun, the creeping
shadows that made the sea gray and turned the little lake to an inky
hue, and then the slow fall of the quiet-coloured evening, and, last,
the fall of the mystic night!

Poor little birds, moving uneasily in the darkness, threw down tiny
fragments from the rocks, and each fragment fell with a sound like the
clink of a delicate silver bell; softly the sea moaned, softly the
night-wind blew, and softly--so softly!--came whispering the spirits of
the dead. Joyous faces could be seen by that lake long, long ago. In
summer, when the lower rim was all blazing with red and yellow flowers,
young lovers came to whisper and gaze. They are dead and gone. In
winter, when the tarn was covered with jetty glossy ice, there were
jovial scenes whereof the jollity was shared by a happy few. Round and
round on the glossy surface the skaters flew and passed like gliding
ghosts under the gloom of the rocks; the hiss of the iron sounded
musically, and the steep wall flung back sharp echoes of harmless
laughter. Each volume of sound was magically magnified, and the gay
company carried on their pleasant outing far into the chili winter
night. They are all gone! One was there oftenest in spring and summer,
and the last sun-rays often made her golden hair shine in splendour as
she stood gazing wistfully over the solemn lake. She saw wonders there
that coarser spirits could not know; and all her gentle musings passed
into poetry--poetry that was seldom spoken. Those who loved her never
cared to break her sacred stillness as she pondered by the side of the
beloved tarn; her language was not known to common folk, for she held
high converse with the great of old time; and, when she chanced to speak
with me, I understood but dimly, though I had all the sense of beauty
and mystery. A shipwrecked sailor said she looked as if she belonged to
God. Her Master claimed her early. Dear, your yellow hair will shine no
more in the sun that you loved; you have long given over your
day-dreams--and you are now dreamless. Or perhaps you dwell amid the
silent glory of one last long dream of those you loved. The gorse on the
moor moans by your grave, the brackens grow green and tall and wither
into dead gold year by year, the lake gleams gloomily in fitful flashes
amid its borders of splendour; and you rest softly while the sea calls
your lullaby nightly. Far off, far off, my soul, by quiet seas where the
lamps of the Southern Cross hang in the magnificence of the purple sky,
there is one who remembers the lake, and the glassy ice, and the blaze
of pompous summer, and the shining of that yellow hair. Peace--oh,
peace! The sorrow has passed into quiet pensive regret that is nigh akin
to gladness.

How many other ineffable days and nights have I known? All who can feel
the thrilling of sea-winds, all who can have even one day amid grass and
fair trees, grasp the time of delight, enjoy all beauties, do not pass
in coarseness one single minute; and then, when the Guide comes to point
your road through the strange gates, you may be like me--you may repine
at nothing, for you will have much good to remember and scanty evil. It
is good for me now to think of the thundering rush of the yacht as, with
the great mainsail drawing heavily, she roared through the field of foam
made by her own splendid speed, while the inky waves on the dim horizon
moaned and the dark summer midnight brooded warmly over the dark sea. It
is good to think of the strange days when the vessel was buried in
wreaths of dark cloud, and the rush of the wind only drove the haze
screaming among the shrouds. The vast dim mountains might not be
pleasant to the eye of either seaman or landsman; but, when they poured
their thundering deluge on a strong safe deck, we did not mind them.
Happy hearts were there even in stormy warring afternoons; and men
watched quite placidly as the long grim hills came gliding on. Then in
the evenings there were chance hours when the dim forecastle was a
pleasant place in bad weather. The bow of the vessel swayed wildly; the
pitching seemed as if it might end in one immense supreme dive to the
gulf, and the mad storming of the wind forced us to utter our simple
talk in loudest tones. Gruff kindly phrases, without much wit or point,
were good enough for us; perhaps even the appalling dignitary--yes, even
the mate--would crawl in; and we listened to lengthy disjointed stories.
And all the while the tremendous howl of the storm went on, and the
merry lads who went out on duty had to rush wildly so as to reach the
alley when a very heavy sea came over. The sense of strength was
supreme; the crash of the gale was nothing; and we rather hugged
ourselves on the notion that the fierce screaming meant us no harm. The
curls of smoke flitted softly amid the blurred yellow beams from the
lamp, and our chat went on while the monstrous billows grew blacker and
blacker and the spray shone like corpse-candles on the mystic and mighty
hills. And then the hours of the terrible darkness! To leave the swept
deck while every vein tingled with the ecstasy of the gale! The dull
warmth below was exquisite; the sly creatures which crept from their,
dens and let the lamplight shine on their weird eyes--even the gamesome
rats--had something merrily diabolic about them. Their thuds on the
floor, their sordid swarming, their inexplicable daring--all gave a kind
of minor current of _diablerie_ to the rush and hurry of the stormy
night; for they seemed to speak--and the creatures which on shore are
odious appeared to be quite in place in the soaring groaning vessel. Ah,
my brave forecastle lads, my merry tan-faced favourites, I shall no more
see your quaint squalor, I shall no more see your battle with wind and
savage waves and elemental turmoil! Some of you have passed to the
shadows before me; some of you have only the ooze for your graves; and
the others cannot ever hear my greeting again on the sweet mornings when
the waves are all gay with lily-hued blossoms of foam.

Pale beyond porch and portal,
Crowned with dark flowers she stands,
Who gathers all things mortal
With cold immortal hands.

Gathers! And Proserpina will strew the flowers of foam that I may never
see more--and then she will gather me.

All was good in the time of delight--all is good now that only a memory
clings lovingly to the heart. Take my counsel. Rejoice in your day, and
the night shall carry no dread for you.

_June, 1889._


I fully recognize the fact which the Frenchman flippantly stated--that
no human beings really believe that death is inevitable until the last
clasp of the stone-cold king numbs their pulses. Perhaps this
insensibility is a merciful gift; at any rate, it is a fact. If belief
came home with violence to our minds, we should suffer from a sort of
vertigo; but the merciful dullness which the Frenchman perceived and
mocked in his epigram saves us all the miseries of apprehension. This is
very curiously seen among soldiers when they know that they must soon go
into action. The soldiers chat together on the night before the attack;
they know that some of them must go down; they actually go so far as to
exchange messages thus--"If anything happens to me, you know, Bill, I
want you to take that to the old people. You give me a note or anything
else you have; and, if we get out of the shindy, we can hand the things
back again." After confidences of this sort, the men chat on; and I
never yet knew or heard of one who did not speak of his own safe return
as a matter of course. When a brigade charges, there may be a little
anxiety at first; but the whistle of the first bullet ends all
misgivings, and the fellows grow quite merry, though it may be that half
of them are certain to be down on the ground before the day is over. A
man who is struck may know well that he will pass away: but he will
rise up feebly to cheer on his comrades--nay, he will ask questions, as
the charging troops pass him, as to the fate of Bill or Joe, or the
probable action of the Heavies, or similar trifles.

In the fight of life we all behave much as the soldiers do in the crash
and hurry of battle. If we reason the matter out with a semblance of
logic, we all know that we must move toward the shadows; but, even after
we are mortally stricken by disease or age, we persist in acting and
thinking as if there were no end. In youth we go almost further; we are
too apt to live as though we were immortal, and as though there were
absolutely nothing to result from human action or human inaction. To the
young man and the young woman the future is not a blind lane with a
grave at the end; it is a spacious plain reaching away towards a far-off
horizon; and that horizon recedes and recedes as they move forward,
leaving magnificent expanses to be crossed in joyous freedom. A pretty
delusion! The youth harks onward, singing merrily and rejoicing in
sympathy with the mystic song of the birds; there is so much space
around him--the very breath of life is a joy--and he is content to taste
in glorious idleness the ecstasy of living. The evening closes in, and
then the horizon seems to be narrowing; like the walls of the deadly
chamber in the home of the Inquisition, the skies shrink inward--and the
youth has misgivings. The next day finds his plain shrunken a little in
expanse, and his horizon has not so superb a sweep. Nevertheless he goes
gaily on, and once more he raises his voice joyously, and tries to think
that the plain and the horizon can contract no more. Thus in foolish
hopefulness he passes his days until the glorious plain of his dreams
has been traversed, and, lo, under his very feet is the great gulf
fixed, and far below the tide--the tide of Eternity--laps sullenly
against the walls of the deadly chasm. If the youth knew that the gulf
and the rolling river were so near--if he not only knew, but could
absolutely picture his doom--would he be so merry? Ah, no!

I repeat that, if men could be so disciplined as to believe in their
souls that death must come, then there would be no lost days. Is there
one of us who can say that he never lost a day amid this too brief, too
joyous, too entrancing term of existence? Not one. The aged Roman--who,
by-the-way, was somewhat of a prig--used to go about moaning, "I have
lost a day," if he thought he had not performed some good action or
learned something in the twenty-four hours. Most of us have no such
qualms; we waste the time freely; and we never know that it is wasted
until with a dull shock we comprehend that all must be left and that the
squandered hours can never be retrieved. The men who are strongest and
greatest and best suffer the acutest remorse for the lost days; they
know their own powers, and that very knowledge makes them suffer all the
more bitterly when they reckon up what they might have done and compare
it with the sum of their actual achievement.

In a certain German town a little cell is shown on the walls of which a
famous name is marked many times. It appears that in his turbulent youth
Prince Bismarck was often a prisoner in this cell; and his various
appearances are registered under eleven different dates. Moreover, I
observe from the same rude register that he fought twenty-eight duels.
Lost days--lost days! He tells us how he drank in the usual insane
fashion prevalent among the students. He "cannot tell how much Burgundy
he could really drink." Lost days--lost days! And now the great old man,
with Europe at his feet and the world awaiting his lightest word with
eagerness, turns regretfully sometimes to think of the days thrown away.
A haze seems to hang before the eyes of such as he; and it is a haze
that makes the future seem dim and vast, even while it obscures all the
sharp outlines of things. The child is not capable of reasoning
coherently, and therefore its disposition to fritter away time must be
regarded as only the result of defective organization; but the young man
and young woman can reason, and yet we find them perpetually making
excuses for eluding time and eternity. Look at the young fellows who are
preparing for the hard duties of life by studying at a University. Here
is one who seems to have recognized the facts of existence; his hours
are arranged as methodically as his heart beats; he knows the exact
balance between physical and intellectual strength, and he overtaxes
neither, but body and mind are worked up to the highest attainable
pressure. No pleasures of the destructive sort call this youngster
aside; he has learned already what it is to reap the harvest of a quiet
eye, and his joys are of the sober kind. He rises early, and he has got
far through his work ere noon; his quiet afternoon is devoted to
harmless merriment in the cricket-field or on the friendly country
roads, and his evening is spent without any vain gossip in the happy
companionship of his books. That young man loses no day; but unhappily
he represents a type which is but too rare. The steady man, economic of
time, is a rarity; but the wild youth who is always going to do
something to-morrow is one of a class that numbers only too many on its
rolls. To-morrow! The young fellow passes to-day on the river, or spends
it in lounging or in active dissipation. He feels that he is doing
wrong; but the gaunt spectres raised by conscience are always exorcised
by the bright vision of to-morrow. To-morrow the truant will go to his
books; he will bend himself for that concentrated effort which alone
secures success, and his time of carelessness and sloth shall be far
left behind. But the sinister influence of to-day saps his will and
renders him infirm; each new to-day is wasted amid thoughts of visionary
to-morrows which take all the power from his soul; and, when he is
nerveless, powerless, tired, discontented with the very sight of the
sun, he finds suddenly that his feet are on the edge of the gulf, and he
knows that there will be no more to-morrows.

I am not entering a plea for hard, petrifying work. If a man is a
hand-worker or brain-worker, his fate is inevitable if he regards work
as the only end of life. The loss of which I speak is that incurred by
engaging in pursuits which do not give mental strength or resource or
bodily health. The hard-worked business-man who gallops twenty miles
after hounds before he settles to his long stretch of toil is not losing
his day; the empty young dandy whose life for five months in the year is
given up to galloping across grass country or lounging around stables is
decidedly a spendthrift so far as time is concerned.

I wish--if it be not impious so to wish--that every young man could
have one glimpse into the future. Supposing some good genius could say,
"If you proceed as you are now doing, your position in your fortieth
year will be this!" what a horror would strike through many among us,
and how desperately each would strive to take advantage of that kindly
"If." But there is no uplifting of the veil; and we must all be guided
by the experience of the past and not by knowledge of the future. I
observe that those who score the greatest number of lost days on the
world's calendar always do so under the impression that they are
enjoying pleasure. An acute observer whose soul is not vitiated by
cynicism may find a kind of melancholy pastime in observing the hopeless
attempts of these poor son's to persuade themselves that they are making
the best of existence. I would not for worlds seem for a moment to
disparage pleasure, because I hold that a human being who lives without
joy must either become bad, mad, or wretched. But I speak of those who
cheat themselves into thinking that every hour which passes swiftly to
eternity is wisely spent. Observe the parties of young men who play at
cards even in the railway-train morning after morning and evening after
evening. The time of the journey might be spent in useful and happy
thought; it is passed in rapid and feverish speculation. There is no
question of reviving the brain; it is not recreation that is gained, but
distraction, and the brain, instead of being ready to concentrate its
power upon work, is enfeebled and rendered vague and flighty. Supposing
a youth spends but one hour per day in handling pieces of pasteboard and
trying to win his neighbour's money, then in four weeks he has wasted
twenty-four hours, and in one year he wastes thirteen days. Is there
any gain--mental, muscular, or nervous--from this unhappy pursuit? Not
one jot or tittle. Supposing that a weary man of science leaves his
laboratory in the evening, and wends his way homeward, the very thought
of the game of whist which awaits him is a kind of recuperative agency.
Whist is the true recreation of the man of science; and the astronomer
or mathematician or biologist goes calmly to rest with his mind at ease
after he has enjoyed his rubber. The most industrious of living
novelists and the most prolific of all modern writers was asked--so he
tells us in his autobiography--"How is it that your thirtieth book is
fresher than your first?" He made answer, "I eat very well, keep regular
hours, sleep ten hours a day, and never miss my three hours a day at
whist." These men of great brain derive benefit from their harmless
contests; the young men in the railway-carriages only waste brain-tissue
which they do nothing-to repair. A very beautiful writer who was an
extremely lazy man pictures his own lost days as arising before him and
saying, "I am thy Self; say, what didst thou to me?" That question may
well be asked by all the host of murdered days, but especially may it be
asked of those foolish beings who try to gain distinction by recklessly
losing money on the Turf or in gambling-saloons. A heart of stone might
be moved by seeing the precious time that is hurled to the limbo of lost
days in the vulgar pandemonium by the racecourse. A nice lad comes out
into the world after attaining his majority, and plunges into that
vortex of Hades. Reckon up the good he gets there. Does he gain health?
Alas, think of the crowd, the rank odours, the straining heart-beats!
Does he hear any wisdom? Listen to the hideous badinage, the wild bursts
of foul language from the betting-men, the mean, cunning drivel of the
gamblers, the shrill laughter of the horsey and unsexed women? Does the
youth make friends? Ah, yes! He makes friends who will cheat him at
betting, cheat him at horse-dealing, cheat him at gambling when the
orgies of the course are over, borrow money as long as he will lend, and
throw him over when he has parted with his last penny and his last rag
of self-respect. Those who can carry their minds back for twenty years
must remember the foolish young nobleman who sold a splendid estate to
pay the yelling vulgarians of the betting-ring. They cheered him when he
all but beggared himself; they hissed him when he failed once to pay.
With lost health, lost patrimony, lost hopes, lost self-respect, he sank
amid the rough billows of life's sea, and only one human creature was
there to aid him when the great last wave swept over him. Lost
days--lost days! Youths who are going to ruin now amid the plaudits of
those who live upon them might surely take warning: but they do not, and
their bones will soon bleach on the mound whereon those of all other
wasters of days have been thrown. When I think of the lost days and the
lost lives of which I have cognizance, then it seems as though I were
gazing on some vast charnel-house, some ghoul-haunted place of skulls.
Memories of those who trifled with life come to me, and their very faces
flash past with looks of tragic significance. By their own fault they
were ruined; they were shut out of the garden of their gifts; their city
of hope was ploughed and salted. The past cannot be retrieved, let
canting optimists talk as they choose; what has been has been, and the
effects will last and spread until the earth shall pass away. Our acts
our angels are, or good or ill; our fatal shadows that walk by us still.
The thing done lasts for eternity; the lightest act of man or woman has
incalculably vast results. So it is madness to say that the lost days
can be retrieved. They cannot! But by timely wisdom we may save the days
and make them beneficent and fruitful in the future. Watch those wild
lads who are sowing in wine what they reap in headache and degradation.
Night after night they laugh with senseless glee, night after night
inanities which pass for wit are poured forth; and daily the nerve and
strength of each carouser grow weaker. Can you retrieve those nights?
Never! But you may take the most shattered of the crew and assure him
that all is not irretrievably lost; his weakened nerve may be steadied,
his deranged gastric functions may gradually grow more healthy, his
distorted views of life may pass away. So far, so good; but never try to
persuade any one that the past may be repaired, for that delusion is the
very source and spring of the foul stream of lost days. Once impress
upon any teachable creature the stern fact that a lost day is lost for
ever, once make that belief part of his being, and then he will strive
to cheat death. Perhaps it may be thought that I take sombre views of
life. No; I see that the world may be made a place of pleasure, but only
by learning and obeying the inexorable laws which govern all things,
from the fall of a seed of grass to the moving of the miraculous brain
of man.

_April, 1888._


Soon, with pomp of golden days and silver nights, the dying Summer will
wave the world farewell; but the precious time is still with us, and we
cherish the glad moments gleefully. When the dawn swirls up in the
splendid sky, it is as though one gladsome procession of hours had begun
to move. The breeze sighs cool and low, the trees rustle with vast
whisperings, and the conquering sun shoots his level volleys from rim to
rim of the world. The birds are very, very busy, and they take no
thought of the grim time coming, when the iron ground will be swept by
chill winds and the sad trees will quiver mournfully in the biting air.
A riot of life is in progress, and it seems as if the sense of pure joy
banished the very thought of pain and foreboding from all living things.
The sleepy afternoons glide away, the sun droops, and the quiet,
coloured evening falls solemnly. Then comes the hush of the huge and
thoughtful night; the wan stars wash the dust with silver, and the brave
day is over. Alas, for those who are pent in populous cities throughout
this glorious time! We who are out in the free air may cast a kindly
thought on the fate of those to whom "holiday" must be as a word in an
unknown tongue. Some of us are happy amid the shade of mighty hills:
some of us fare toward the Land of the Midnight Sun, where the golden
light steeps all the air by night as well as day; some of us rest beside
the sea, where the loud wind, large and free, blows the long surges out
in sounding bars and thrills us with fresh fierce pleasure; some of us
are able to wander in glowing lanes where the tender roses star the
hedges and the murmur of innumerable bees falls softly on the senses.
Let us thankfully take the good that is vouchsafed to us, and let those
of us who can lend a helping hand do something towards giving the poor
and needy a brief taste of the happiness that we freely enjoy.

I do not want to dwell on ugly thoughts; and yet it seems selfish to
refrain from speaking of the fate of the poor who are packed in crowded
quarters during this bright holiday season. For them the midsummer days
and midsummer nights are a term of tribulation. The hot street reeks
with pungent odours, the faint airs that wander in the scorching alleys
at noonday strike on the fevered face like wafts from some furnace, and
the cruel nights are hard to endure save when a cool shower has fallen.
If you wander in London byways, you find that the people are fairly
driven from their houses after a blistering summer day, and they sit in
the streets till early morning. They are not at all depressed; on the
contrary, the dark hours are passed in reckless merriment, and I have
often known the men to rest quite contentedly on the pavement till the
dawn came and the time of departure for labour was near. Even the young
children remain out of doors, and their shrill treble mingles with the
coarse rattle of noisy choruses. Some of those cheery youngsters have
an outing in the hopping season, and they come back bronzed and healthy;
but most of them have to be satisfied with one day at the most amid the
fields and trees. I have spoken of London; but the case of those who
dwell in the black manufacturing cities is even worse. What is Oldham
like on a blistering midsummer day? What are Hanley and St. Helen's and
the lower parts of Manchester like? The air is charged with dust, and
the acrid, rasping fumes from the chimneys seem to acquire a malignant
power over men and brain. Toil goes steadily on, and the working-folk
certainly have the advantage of starting in the bright morning hours,
before the air has become befouled; but, as the sun gains strength, and
the close air of the unlovely streets is heated, then the torment to be
endured is severe. In Oldham and many other Lancashire towns a most
admirable custom prevails. Large numbers of people club their money
during the year and establish a holiday-fund; they migrate wholesale in
the summertime, and have a merry holiday far away from the crush of the
pavements and the dreary lines of ugly houses. A wise and beneficent
custom is this, and the man who first devised it deserves a monument. I
congratulate the troops of toilers who share my own pleasure; but, alas,
how many honest folk in those awful Midland places will pant and sweat
and suffer amid grime and heat while the glad months are passing! Good
men who might be happy even in the free spaces of the Far West, fair
women who need only rest and pure air to enable them to bloom in beauty,
little children who peak and pine, are all crammed within the odious
precincts of the towns which Cobbett hated; and the merry stretches of
the sea, the billowy roll of the downs, the peace of soft days, are not
for them. Only last year I looked on a stretch of interminable brown
sand, hard and smooth and broad, with the ocean perpetually rolling in
upon it with slow-measured sweep, with rustle and hiss and foam, and
many a thump as of low bass drums. There before me was Whitman's very
vision, and in the keen mystic joy of the moment I could not help
thinking sadly of one dreadful alley where lately I had been. It seemed
so sad that the folk of the alley could not share my pleasure; and the
murmur of vain regrets came to the soul even amid the triumphant clamour
of the free wind. Poor cramped townsfolk, hard is your fate! It is hard;
but I can see no good in repining over their fortune if we aid them as
far as we can; rather let us speak of the bright time that comes for the
toilers who are able to escape from the burning streets.

The mathematicians and such-like dry personages confine midsummer to one
day in June; but we who are untrammelled by science know a great deal
better. For us midsummer lasts till August is half over, and we utterly
refuse to trouble ourselves about equinoxes and solstices and
trivialities of that kind. For us it is midsummer while the sun is warm,
while the trees hold their green, while the dancing waves fling their
blossoms of foam under the darting rays that dazzle us, while the sacred
night is soft and warm and the cool airs are wafted like sounds of
blessings spoken in the scented darkness. For us the solstice is
abolished, and we sturdily refuse to give up our midsummer till the
first gleam of yellow comes on the leaves. We are not all lucky enough
to see the leagues upon leagues of overpowering colour as the sun comes
up on the Alps; we cannot all rest in the glittering seclusion of
Norwegian fiords; but most of us, in our modest way, can enjoy our
extravagantly prolonged midsummer beside the shore of our British
waters. Spring is the time for hope; our midsummer is the time for
ripened joy, for healthful rest; and we are satisfied with the beaches
and cliffs that are hallowed by many memories--we are satisfied with
simple copses and level fields. They say that spring is the poet's
season; but we know better. Spring is all very well for those who have
constant leisure; it is good to watch the gradual bursting of early
buds; it is good to hear the thrush chant his even-song of love; it is
good to rest the eye on the glorious clouds of bloom that seem to float
in the orchards. But the midsummer, the gallant midsummer, pranked in
manifold splendours, is the true season of poetry for the toilers. The
birds of passage who are now crowding out of the towns have had little
pleasure in the spring, and their blissful days are only now beginning.
What is it to them that the seaside landlady crouches awaiting her prey?
What is it to them that 'Arry is preparing to make night hideous? They
are bound for their rest, and the surcease of toil is the only thing
that suggests poetry to them. Spring the season for poets! We wipe away
that treasonable suggestion just as we have wiped out the solstice. We
holiday makers are not going to be tyrannized over by literary and
scientific persons, and we insist on taking our own way. Our blood beats
fully only at this season, and not even the extortioners' bills can
daunt us. Let us break into poetry and flout the maudlin enthusiasts who
prate of spring.

With a ripple of leaves and a twinkle of streams
The full world rolls in a rhythm of praise,
And the winds are one with the clouds and beams--
Midsummer days! Midsummer days!
The dusks grow vast in a purple haze,
While the West from a rapture of sunset rights,
Faint stars their exquisite lamps upraise--
Midsummer nights! O Midsummer nights!

* * * * *

The wood's green heart is a nest of dreams,
The lush grass thickens and springs and sways,
The rathe wheat rustles, the landscape gleams--
Midsummer days! Midsummer days!
In the stilly fields, in the stilly way,
All secret shadows and mystic lights,
Late lovers, murmurous, linger and gaze--
Midsummer nights! O Midsummer nights!

* * * * *

There's a swagger of bells from the trampling teams,
Wild skylarks hover, the gorses blaze,
The rich ripe rose as with incense steams--
Midsummer days! Midsummer days!
A soul from the honeysuckle strays,
And the nightingale, as from prophet heights,
Speaks to the Earth of her million Mays--
Midsummer nights! O Midsummer nights!

And it's oh for my Dear and the charm that stays--
Midsummer days! Midsummer days!
And it's oh for my Love and the dark that plights--
Midsummer nights! O Midsummer nights!

There is a burst for you! And we will let the poets of spring, with
their lambkins and their catkins and the rest, match this poem of
William Henley's if they can. The royal months are ours, and we love the
reign of the rose.

When the burnished tints of bronze shine on the brackens, and the
night-wind blows with a chilly moan from the fields of darkness, we
shall have precious days to remember, and, ah, when the nights are long,
and the churlish Winter lays his fell finger on stream and grass and
tree, we shall be haunted by jolly memories! Will the memories be wholly
pleasant? Perchance, when the curtains are drawn and the lamp burns
softly, we may read of bright and beautiful things. Out of doors the war
of the winter fills the roaring darkness. It may be that

Hoarsely across the iron ground
The icy wind goes roaring past,
The powdery wreaths go whirling round
Dancing a measure to the blast.

The hideous sky droops darkly down
In brooding swathes of misty gloom,
And seems to wrap the fated town
In shadows of remorseless doom.

Then some of us may find a magic phrase of Keats's, or Thomas Hardy's,
or Black's, or Dickens's, that recalls the lovely past from the dead.
Many times I have had that experience. Once, after spending the long and
glorious summer amid the weird subdued beauty of a wide heath, I
returned to the great city. It had been a pleasant sojourn, though I had
had no company save a collie and one or two terriers. At evening the
dogs liked their ramble, and we all loved to stay out until the pouring
light of the moon shone on billowy mists and heath-clad knolls. The
faint rustling of the heath grew to a wide murmur, the little bells
seemed to chime with notes heard only by the innermost spirit, and the
gliding dogs were like strange creatures from some shadowy underworld.
At times a pheasant would rise and whirl like a rocket from hillock to
hollow, and about midnight a rapturous concert began. On one line of
trees a colony of nightingales had established themselves near the heart
of the waste. First came the low inquiry from the leader; then two or
three low twittering answers; then the one long note that lays hold of
the nerves and makes the whole being quiver; and then--ah, the passion,
the pain, the unutterable delight of the heavenly jargoning when the
whole of the little choir begin their magnificent rivalry! The thought
of death is gone, the wild and poignant issues of life are softened, and
the pulses beat thickly amid the blinding sweetness of the music. He who
has not heard the nightingale has not lived. Far off the sea called low
through the mist, and the long path of the moon ran toward the bright
horizon; the ships stole in shadow and shine over the glossy ripples,
and swung away to north and south till they faded in wreaths of delicate
darkness. Dominating the whole scene of beauty, there was the vast and
subtle mystery of the heath that awed the soul even when the rapture was
at its keenest. Time passed away, and on one savage night I read Thomas
Hardy's unparalleled description of the majestic waste in "The Return of
the Native." That superb piece of English is above praise--indeed
praise, as applied to it, is half an impertinence; it is great as
Shakespeare, great almost as Nature--one of the finest poems in our
language. As I read with awe the quiet inevitable sentences, the vision
of my own heath rose, and the memory filled me with a sudden joy.

I know that the hour of darkness ever dogs our delight, and the shadow
of approaching darkness and toil might affront me even now, if I were
ungrateful; but I live for the present only. Let grave persons talk
about the grand achievements and discoveries that have made this age or
that age illustrious; I hold that holidays are the noblest invention of
the human mind, and, if any philosopher wants to argue the matter, I
flee from his presence, and luxuriate on the yellow sands or amid the
keen kisses of the salty waves. I own that Newton's discoveries were
meritorious, and I willingly applaud Mr. George Stephenson, through
whose ingenuity we are now whisked to our places of rest with the
swiftness of an eagle's flight. Nevertheless I contend that holidays are
the crowning device of modern thought, and I hold that no thesis can be
so easily proven as mine. How did our grandfathers take holiday? Alas,
the luxury was reserved for the great lords who scoured over the
Continent, and for the pursy cits who crawled down to Brighthelmstone!
The ordinary Londoner was obliged to endure agonies on board a stuffy
Margate hoy, while the people in Northern towns never thought of taking
a holiday at all. The marvellous cures wrought by Doctor Ozone were not
then known, and the science of holiday-making was in its infancy. The
wisdom of our ancestors was decidedly at fault in this matter, and the
gout and dyspepsia from which they suffered served them right. Read
volumes of old memoirs, and you will find that our forefathers, who are
supposed to have been so merry and healthy, suffered from all the ills
which grumblers ascribe to struggling civilization. They did not know
how to extract pleasure from their midsummer days and midsummer nights;
we do, and we are all the better for the grand modern discovery.

Seriously, it is a good thing that we have learned the value of leisure,
and, for my own part, I regard the rushing yearly exodus from London,
Liverpool, Birmingham, with serene satisfaction. It is a pity that so
many English folk persist in leaving their own most lovely land when our
scenery and climate are at their best. In too many cases they wear
themselves with miserable and harassing journeys when they might be
placidly rejoicing in the sweet midsummer days at home. Snarling
aesthetes may say what they choose, but England is not half explored
yet, and anybody who takes the trouble may find out languorous nooks
where life seems always dreamy, and where the tired nerves and brain are
unhurt by a single disturbing influence. There are tiny villages dotted
here and there on the coast where the flaunting tourist never intrudes,
and where the British cad cares not to show his unlovable face. Still,
if people like the stuffy Continental hotel and the unspeakable devices
of the wily Swiss, they must take their choice. I prefer beloved
England; but I wish all joy to those who go far afield.

_June, 1886._


Perhaps there is no individual of all our race who is quite insensible
to the pleasures of what children call "dressing-up." Even the cynic,
the man who defiantly wears old and queer clothes, is merely suffering
from a perversion of that animal instinct which causes the peacock to
swagger in the sun and flaunt the splendour of his train, the instinct
that makes the tiger-moth show the magnificence of his damask wing, and
also makes the lion erect the horrors of his cloudy mane and paw proudly
before his tawny mate. We are all alike in essentials, and Diogenes with
his dirty clouts was only a perverted brother of Prince Florizel with
his peach-coloured coat and snowy ruffles. I intend to handle the
subject of dandies and their nature from a deeply philosophic
starting-point, for, like Carlyle, I recognize the vast significance of
the questions involved in the philosophy of clothes. Let no flippant
individual venture on a jeer, for I am in dead earnest. A mocking critic
may point to the Bond Street lounger and ask, "What are the net use and
purport of that being's existence? Look at his suffering frame! His
linen stock almost decapitates him, his boots appear to hail from the
chambers of the Inquisition, every garment tends to confine his muscles
and dwarf his bodily powers; yet he chooses to smile in his torments
and pretends to luxuriate in life. Again, what are the net use and
purport of his existence?" I can only deprecate our critic's wrath by
going gravely to first principles. O savage and critical one, that
suffering youth of Bond Street is but exhibiting in flaunting action a
law that has influenced the breed of men since our forefathers dwelt in
caves or trees! Observe the conduct of the innocent and primitive beings
who dwell in sunny archipelagos far away to the South; they suffer in
the cause of fashion as the youth of the city promenade suffers. The
chief longing of the judicious savage is to shave, but the paucity of
metals and sharp instruments prevents him from indulging his longing
very frequently. When the joyous chance does come, the son of the forest
promptly rises to the occasion. No elderly gentleman whose feet are
studded with corns could bear the agony of patent leather boots in a
heated ballroom with grander stoicism than that exhibited by our savage
when he compasses the means of indulging in a thorough uncompromising
shave. The elderly man of the ballroom sees the rosy-fingered dawn
touching the sky into golden fretwork; he thinks of his cool white bed,
and then, by contrast, he thinks of his hot throbbing feet. Shooting
fires dart through his unhappy extremities, yet he smiles on and bears
his pain for his daughters' sake. But the elderly hero cannot be
compared with the ambitious exquisite of the Southern Seas, and we shall
prove this hypothesis. The careless voyager throws a beer-bottle
overboard, and that bottle drifts to the glad shore of a glittering
isle; the overjoyed savage bounds on the prize, and proceeds to announce
his good fortune to his bosom friend. Then the pleased cronies decide
that they will have a good, wholesome, thorough shave, and they will
turn all rivals green with unavailing envy. Solemnly those children of
nature go to a quiet place, and savage number one lies down while his
friend sits on his head; then with a shred of the broken bottle the
operator proceeds to rasp away. It is a great and grave function, and no
savage worthy the name of warrior would fulfil it in a slovenly way.
When the last scrape is given, and the stubbly irregular crop of
bristles stands up from a field of gore, then the operating brave lies
down, and his scarified friend sits on _his_ head. These sweet and
satisfying idyllic scenes are enacted whenever a bottle comes ashore,
and the broken pieces of the receptacles that lately held foaming Bass
or glistening Hochheimer are used until their edge gives way, to the
great contentment of true untutored dandies. The Bond Street man is at
one end of the scale, the uncompromising heathen barber at the other;
but the same principles actuate both.

The Maori is even more courageous in his attempts to secure a true
decorative exterior, for he carves the surface of his manly frame into
deep meandering channels until he resembles a walking advertisement of
crochet-patterns for ladies. Dire is his suffering, long is the time of
healing; but, when he can appear among his friends with a staring blue
serpent coiled round his body from the neck to the ankle, when the rude
figure of the bounding wallaby ornaments his noble chest, he feels that
all his pain was worth enduring and that life is indeed worth living.
The primitive dandy of Central Africa submits himself to the magician of
the tribe, and has his front teeth knocked out with joy; the Ashantee
or the Masai has his teeth filed to sharp points--and each painful
process enables the victim to pose as a leader of fashion in the tribe.
As the race rises higher, the refinements of dandyism become more and
more complex, but the ruling motive remains the same, and the Macaroni,
the Corinthian, the Incroyable, the swell, the dude--nay, even the
common toff--are all mysteriously stirred by the same instinct which
prompts the festive Papuan to bore holes in his innocent nose. Who then
shall sneer at the dandy? Does he not fulfil a law of our nature? Let us
rather regard him with toleration, or even with some slight modicum of
reverence. Solemn historians affect to smile at the gaudy knights of the
second Richard's Court, who wore the points of their shoes tied round
their waists; they even ridicule the tight, choking, padded coats worn
by George IV., that pattern father of his people; but I see in the
stumbling courtier and the half-asphyxiated wearer of the padded
Petersham coat two beings who act under the demands of inexorable law.

Our great modern sage brooded in loneliness for some six years over the
moving problem of dandyism, and we have the results of his meditations
in "Sartor Resartus." We have an uneasy sense that he may be making fun
of us--in fact, we are almost sure that he is; for, if you look at his
summary of the doctrines put forth in "Pelham," you can hardly fail to
detect a kind of sub-acid sneer. Instead of being impressed by the
dainty musings of the learned Bulwer, that grim vulturine sage chose to
curl his fierce lips and turn the whole thing to a laughing-stock. We
must at once get to that summary of what the great Thomas calls
"Dandiacal doctrine," and then just thinkers may draw their own

Articles of Faith.--1. Coats should have nothing of the triangle about
them; at the same time wrinkles behind should be carefully avoided. 2.
The collar is a very important point; it should be low behind, and
slightly rolled. 3. No license of fashion can allow a man of delicate
taste to adopt the posterial luxuriance of a Hottentot. 4. There is
safety in a swallowtail. 5. The good sense of a gentleman is nowhere
more finely developed than in his rings. 6. It is permitted to mankind,
under certain restrictions, to wear white waistcoats. 7. The trousers
must be exceedingly tight across the hips.

Then the sage observes, "All which propositions I for the present
content myself with modestly, but peremptorily and irrevocably,
denying." Wicked Scotchman, rugged chip of the Hartz rock, your seven
articles of the Whole Duty of the Dandy are evidently solemn fooling!
You despised Lytton in your heart, and you thought that because you wore
a ragged duffel coat in gay Hyde Park you had a right to despise the
human ephemera who appeared in inspiriting splendour. I have often
laughed at your solemn enumeration of childish maxims, but I am not
quite sure that you were altogether right in sneering.

So far for the heroic vein. The Clothes Philosopher whose huge burst of
literary horse-laughter was levelled at the dandy does not always
confine himself to indirect scoffing; here is a plain statement--"First,
touching dandies, let us consider with some scientific strictness what a
dandy specially is. A dandy is a clothes-wearing man, a man whose trade
office, and existence consist in the wearing of clothes. Every faculty
of his soul, spirit, purse, and person is heroically consecrated to this
one object--the wearing of clothes wisely and well; so that, as others
dress to live, he lives to dress. The all-importance of clothes has
sprung upon the intellect of the dandy without effort, like an instinct
of genius; he is inspired with cloth--a poet of cloth. Like a generous
creative enthusiast, he fearlessly makes his idea an action--shows
himself in peculiar guise to mankind, walks forth a witness and living
martyr to the eternal worth of clothes. We called him a poet; is not his
body the (stuffed) parchment-skin whereon he writes, with cunning
Huddersfield dyes, a sonnet to his mistress's eyebrow?"

This is very witty and very trenchant in allusion, but I am obliged to
say seriously that Carlyle by no means reached the root of the matter.
The mere tailor's dummy is deplorable, despicable, detestable, but a
real man is none the worse if he gives way to the imperious human desire
for adornment, and some of the men who have made permanent marks on the
world's face have been of the tribe whom our Scotchman satirised. I have
known sensible young men turned into perfectly objectionable slovens by
reading Carlyle; they thought they rendered a tribute to their master's
genius by making themselves look disreputable, and they found allies to
applaud them. One youth of a poetic turn saw that the sage let his hair
fall over his forehead in a tangled mass. Now this young man had very
nice wavy hair, which naturally fell back in a sweep, but he devoted
himself with an industry worthy of a much better cause to the task of
making his hair fall in unkempt style over his brow. When he succeeded,
he looked partly like a Shetland pony, partly like a street-arab; but
his own impression was that his wild and ferocious appearance acted as a
living rebuke to young men of weaker natures. If I had to express a
blunt opinion, I should say he was a dreadful simpleton. Every man likes
to be attractive in some way in the springtime and hey-day of life; when
the blood flushes the veins gaily and the brain is sensitive to joy,
then a man glories in looking well. Why blame him? The young officer
likes to show himself with his troop in gay trappings; the athlete likes
to wear garments that set off his frame to advantage; and it is good
that this desire for distinction exists, else we should have but a grey
and sorry world to live in. When the pulses beat quietly and life moves
on the downward slope, a man relies on more sober attractions, and he
ceases to care for that physical adornment which every young and healthy
living creature on earth appreciates. So long as our young men are
genuinely manly, good, strong, and courageous, I am not inclined to find
fault with them, even if they happen to trip and fall into slight
extravagances in the matter of costume. The creature who lives to dress
I abhor, the sane and sound man who fulfils his life-duties gallantly
and who is not above pleasing himself and others by means of reasonable
adornments I like and even respect warmly. The philosophers may growl as
they chose, but I contend that the sight of a superb young Englishman
with his clean clear face, his springy limbs, his faultless habiliments
is about as pleasant as anything can be to a discerning man. Moreover,
it is by no means true that the dandy is necessarily incompetent when he
comes to engage in the severe work of life. Our hero, our Nelson, kept
his nautical dandyism until he was middle-aged. Who ever accused him of
incompetence? Think of his going at Trafalgar into that pouring Inferno
of lead and iron with all his decorations blazing on him! "In honour I
won them and in honour I will wear them," said this unconscionable
dandy; and he did wear them until he had broken our terrible enemy's
power, saved London from sack, and worse, and yielded up his gallant
soul to his Maker. Rather an impressive kind of dandy was that wizened
little animal. "There'll be wigs on the green, boys--the dandies are
coming!" So Marlborough's soldiers used to cry when the regiment of
exquisites charged. At home the fierce Englishmen strutted around in
their merry haunts and showed off their brave finery as though their one
task in life were to wear gaudy garments gracefully; but, when the
trumpet rang for the charge, the silken dandies showed that they had the
stuff of men in them. The philosopher is a trifle too apt to say,
"Anybody who does not choose to do as I like is, on the face of it, an
inferior member of the human race." I utterly refuse to have any such
doctrine thrust down my throat. No sage would venture to declare that
the handsome, gorgeous John Churchill was a fool or a failure. He beat
England's enemies, he made no blunder in his life, and he survived the
most vile calumnies that ever assailed a struggling man; yet, if he was
not a dandy, then I never saw or heard of one. All our fine fellows who
stray with the British flag over the whole earth belong more or less
distinctly to the dandy division. The velvet glove conceals the iron
hand; the pleasing modulated voice can rise at short notice to tones of
command; the apparent languor will on occasion start with electric
suddenness into martial vigour. The lounging dandies who were in India
when the red storm of the Mutiny burst from a clear sky suddenly became
heroes who toiled, fought, lavished their strength and their blood,
performed glorious prodigies of unselfish action, and snatched an empire
from the fires of ruin.

Even if a young fellow cannot afford fine clothes, he can be neat, and I
always welcome the slightest sign of fastidiousness, because it
indicates self-respect. The awful beings who wear felt hats swung on one
side, glaring ties, obtrusive checks, and carry vulgar little sticks,
are so abhorrent that I should journey a dozen miles to escape meeting
one of them. The cheap, nasty, gaudy garments are an index to a vast
vulgarity of mind and soul; the cheap "swell" is a sham, and, as a sham,
he is immoral and repulsive. But the modest youth need not copy the wild
unrestraint of the gentleman known as "'Arry"; he can contrive to make
himself attractive without sullying his appearance by a trace of cheap
and nasty adornment, and every attempt which he makes to look seemly and
pleasing tends subtly to raise his own character. Once or twice I have
said that you cannot really love any one wholly unless you can sometimes
laugh at him. Now I cannot laugh at the invertebrate haunter of flashy
bars and theatre-stalls, because he has not the lovable element in him
which invites kindly laughter; but I do smile--not unadmiringly--at our
dandy, and forgive him his little eccentricities because I know that
what the Americans term the "hard pan" of his nature is sound. It is all
very well for unhandsome philosophers in duffel to snarl at our
butterfly youth. The dry dull person who devours blue-books and figures
may mock at their fribbles; but persons who are tolerant take large and
gentle views, and they indulge the dandy, and let him strut for his day
unmolested, until the pressing hints given by the years cause him to
modify his splendours and sink into unassuming sobriety of demeanour and

_June, 1888._


A very lengthy biography of Percy Bysshe Shelley appeared recently, and
the biographer thought it his duty to give the most minute and peculiar
details concerning the poet's private life. In consequence, the book is
a deplorable one in many respects, and no plain-minded person can read
it without feeling sorry that our sweet singer should be presented to us
in the guise of a weak-minded hypocrite. One critic wrote a great many
pages in which he bemoans the dreary and sordid family-life of the man
who wrote the "Ode to the West Wind." I can hardly help sympathizing
with the critic, for indeed Shelley's proceedings rather test the
patience of ordinary mortals, who do not think that poetic--or rather
artistic--ability licenses its possessor to behave like a scoundrel.
Shelley wrote the most lovely verse in praise of purity; but he tempted
a poor child to marry him, deserted her, insulted her, and finally left
her to drown herself when brutal neglect and injury had driven her
crazy. Poor Harriet Westbrook! She did not behave very discreetly after
her precious husband left her; but she was young, and thrown on a hard
world without any strength but her own to protect her. While she was
drifting into misery the airy poet was talking sentiment and ventilating
his theories of the universe to Mary Godwin. Harriet was too "shallow"
for the rhymester, and the penalty she paid for her shallowness was to
be deceived, enticed into a rash marriage, brutally insulted, and left
to fare as well as she might in a world that is bitterly cruel to
helpless girls. The maker of rhymes goes off gaily to the Continent to
enjoy himself heartily and write bewitching poems; Harriet stays at home
and lives as best she can on her pittance until the time comes for her
despairing plunge into the Serpentine. It is true that the poet invited
the poor creature to come and stay with him; but what a piece of
unparalleled insolence toward a wronged lady! The admirers of the rhymer
say, "Ah, but Harriet's society was not congenial to the poet."
Congenial! How many brave men make their bargain in youth and stand to
it gallantly unto the end? A simple soul of this sort thinks to himself,
"Well, I find that my wife and I are not in sympathy; but perhaps I may
be in fault. At any rate, she has trusted her life to me, and I must try
to make her days as happy as possible." It seems that supreme poets are
to be exempt from all laws of manliness and honour, and a simple woman
who cannot babble to them about their ideals and so forth is to be
pitched aside like a soiled glove! Honest men who cannot jingle words
are content with faith and honour and rectitude, but the poet is to be
applauded if he behaves like a base fellow on finding that some unhappy
loving creature cannot talk in his particular fashion. We may all be
very low Philistines if we are not prepared to accept rhymers for
chartered villains; but some of us still have a glimmering of belief in
the old standards of nobility and constancy. Can any one fancy Walter
Scott cheating a miserable little girl of sixteen into marriage, and
then leaving her, only to many a female philosopher? How that noble soul
would have spurned the maundering sentimentalist who talked of truth and
beauty, and music and moonlight and feeling, and behaved as a mean and
bad man! Scott is more to my fancy than is Shelley.

Again, this poet, this exquisite weaver of verbal harmonies, is
represented to us by his worshippers as having a passion for truth;
whereas it happens that he was one of the most remarkable fibbers that
ever lived. He would come home with amazing tales about assassins who
had waylaid him, and try to give himself importance by such blustering
inventions. "Imagination!" says the enthusiast; but among commonplace
persons another word is used. "Your lordship knows what kleptomania is?"
said a counsel who was defending a thief. Justice Byles replied, "Oh,
yes! I come here to cure it." Some critical justice might say the same
of Shelley's imagination. We are also told that Shelley's excessive
nobility of nature prevented him from agreeing with his commonplace
father; and truly the poet was a bad and an ungrateful son. But, if a
pretty verse-maker is privileged to be an undutiful son, what becomes of
all our old notions? I think once more of the great Sir Walter, and I
remember his unquestioning obedience to his parents. Then we may also
remember Gibbon, who was quite as able and useful a man as Shelley. The
historian loved a young French lady, but his father refused consent to
their marriage, and Gibbon quietly obeyed and accepted his hard fate.
The passion sanctified his whole life, and, as he says, made him more
dear to himself; he settled his colossal work, and remained unmarried
for life. He may have been foolish: but I prefer his behaviour to that
of a man who treats his father with contumely and ingratitude even while
he is living upon him. We hear much of Shelley's unselfishness, but it
does not appear that he ever denied himself the indulgence of a whim.
The "Ode to the West Wind," the "Ode Written in Dejection near Naples,"
and "The Skylark" are unsurpassed and unsurpassable; but I can hardly
pardon a man for cruelty and turpitude merely because he produces a few
masterpieces of art.

A confident and serene critic attacks Mr. Arnold very severely because
the latter writer thinks that poets should be amenable to fair and
honest social laws. If I understand the critic aright, we must all be so
thankful for beautiful literary works that we must be ready to let the
producers of such works play any pranks they please under high heaven.
They are the children of genius, and we are to spoil them; "Childe
Harold" and "Manfred" are such wondrous productions that we need never
think of the author's orgies at Venice and the Abbey; "Epipsychidion" is
lovely, so we should not think of poor Harriet Westbrook casting herself
into the Serpentine. This is marvellous doctrine, and one hardly knows
whither it might lead us if we carried it into thorough practice.
Suppose that, in addition to indulging the spoiled children of genius,
we were to approve all the proceedings of the clever children in any
household. I fancy that the dwellers therein would have an unpleasant
time. Noble charity towards human weakness is one thing; but blind
adulation of clever and immoral men is another. We have great need to
pity the poor souls who are the prey of their passions, but we need not
worship them. A large and lofty charity will forgive the shortcomings of
Robert Burns; we may even love that wild and misguided but essentially
noble man. That is well; yet we must not put Burns forward and offer our
adulation in such a way as to set him up for a model to young men. A man
may read--

The pale moon is setting beyont the white wave,
And Time is setting with me, oh!

The pathos will wring his heart; but he should not ask any youth to
imitate the conduct of the great poet. Carlyle said very profoundly that
new morality must be made before we can judge Mirabeau; but Carlyle
never put his hero's excesses in the foreground of his history, nor did
he try to apologize for them; he only said, "Here is a man whose stormy
passions overcame him and drove him down the steep to ruin! Think of him
at his best, pardon him, and imitate, in your weak human fashion, the
infinite Divine Mercy." That is good; and it is certainly very different
from the behaviour of writers who ask us to regard their heroes'
evil-doing as not only pardonable, but as being almost admirable.

This Shelley controversy raises several weighty issues. We forgive Burns
because he again and again offers us examples of splendid self-sacrifice
in the course of his broken life, and we are able to do so because the
balance is greatly on the good side; but we do not refrain from saying,
"In some respects Burns was a scamp." The fact is that the claims of
weak-headed adorers who worship men of genius would lead to endless
mischief if they were allowed. Men who were skilled in poetry and music
and art have often behaved like scoundrels; but their scoundrelism
should be reprobated, and not excused. And my reason for this contention
is very simple--once allow that a man of genius may override all
salutary conventions, and the same conventions will be overridden by
vain and foolish mediocrities. Take, for example, the conventions which
guide us in the matter of dress. Most people grant that in many respects
our modern dress is ugly in shape, ugly in material, and calculated to
promote ill-health. The hard hat which makes the brow ache must affect
the wearer's health, and therefore, when we see the greatest living poet
going about in a comfortable soft felt, we call him a sensible man.
Carlyle used to hobble about with soft shoes and soft slouch-hat, and he
was right But it is possible to be as comfortable as Lord Tennyson or
Carlyle without flying very outrageously in the face of modern
conventions; and many everyday folk contrive to keep their bodies at
ease without trying any fool's device. Charles Kingsley used to roam
about in his guernsey--most comfortable of all dresses--when he was in
the country; but when he visited the town he managed to dress easily and
elegantly in the style of an average gentleman.

But some foolish creatures say in their hearts, "Men of genius wear
strange clothing--Tennyson wears a vast Inverness cape, Carlyle wore a
duffel jacket, Bismarck wears a flat white cap, Mortimer Collins wore a
big Panama; artists in general like velvet and neckties of various gaudy
hues. Let us adopt something startling in the way of costume, and we
may be taken for men of genius." Thus it happened that very lately
London was invested by a set of simpletons of small ability in art and
letters; they let their hair grow down their backs; they drove about in
the guise of Venetian senators of the fifteenth century; they appeared
in slashed doublets and slouched hats; and one of them astonished the
public--and the cabmen--by marching down a fashionable thoroughfare on a
broiling day with a fur ulster on his back and a huge flower in his
hand. Observe my point--these social nuisances obtained for themselves a
certain contemptible notoriety by caricaturing the ways of able men. I
can forgive young Disraeli's gaudy waistcoats and pink-lined coats, but
I have no patience with his silly imitators. This is why I object to the
praise which is bestowed on men of genius for qualities which do not
deserve praise. The reckless literary admirer of Shelley or Byron goes
into ecstasies and cries, "Perish the slave who would think of these
great men's vices!"--whereupon raw and conceited youngsters say, "Vice
and eccentricity are signs of genius. We will be vicious and eccentric;"
and then they go and convert themselves into public nuisances.

That vice and folly are not always associated with genius scarcely needs
demonstrating. I allow that many great men have been sensual fools, but
we can by no means allow that folly and sensuality are inseparable from
greatness. My point is to prove that littleness must be conquered before
a man can be great or good. Macaulay lived a life of perfect and
exemplary purity; he was good in all the relations of life; those
nearest to him loved him most dearly, and his days were passed in
thinking of the happiness of others. Perhaps he was vain--certainly he
had something to be vain of--but, though he had such masterful talent,
he never thought himself licensed, and he wore the white flower of a
blameless life until his happy spirit passed easily away. Wordsworth was
a poet who will be placed on a level with Byron when an estimate of our
century's great men comes to be made. But Wordsworth lived his sweet and
pious life without in any way offending against the moral law. We must
have done with all talk about the privileges of irregular genius; a
clever man must be made to see that, while he may be as independent as
he likes, he cannot be left free to offend either the sense or the
sensibility of his neighbours. The genius must learn to conduct himself
in accordance with rational and seemly custom, or he must be brought to
his senses. When a great man's ways are merely innocently different from
those of ordinary people, by all means let him alone. For instance,
Leonardo da Vinci used often to buy caged wild-birds from their captors
and let them go free. What a lovely and lovable action! He hurt no one;
he restored the joy of life to innocent creatures, and no one could find
fault with his sweet fancy. In the same way, when Samuel Johnson chose
to stalk ponderously along the streets, stepping on the edges of the
paving-stones, or even when he happened to roar a little loudly in
conversation, who could censure him seriously? His heart was as a little
child's: his deeds were saintly; and we perhaps love him all the more
for his droll little ways. But, when Shelley outrages decency and the
healthy sense of manliness by his peculiar escapades, it is not easy to
pardon him; the image of that drowned child rises before us, and we are
apt to forget the pretty verses. Calm folk remember that many peculiarly
wicked and selfish gentry have been able to make nice rhymes and paint
charming pictures. The old poet Francois Villon, who has made men weep
and sympathize for so many years, was a burglar, a murderer, and
something baser, if possible, than either murderer or burglar. A more
despicable being probably never existed; and yet he warbles with angelic
sweetness, and his piercing sadness thrills us after the lapse of four
centuries. Young men of unrestrained appetites and negative morality are
often able to talk most charmingly, but the meanest and most unworthy
persons whom I have met have been the wild and lofty-minded poets who
perpetually express contempt of Philistines and cast the shaft of their
scorn at what they call "dross." So far as money goes, I fancy that the
oratorical, and grandiose poet is often the most greedy of individuals;
and, when, in his infinite conceit, he sets himself up above common
decency and morality, I find it difficult to confine myself to moderate
language. A man of genius may very well be chaste, modest, unselfish,
and retiring. Byron was at his worst when he was producing the works
which made him immortal; I prefer to think of him as he was when he cast
his baser self away, and nobly took up the cause of Greece. When once
his matchless common sense asserted itself, and he ceased to contemplate
his own woes and his own wrongs, he became a far greater man than he had
ever been before. I should be delighted to know that the cant about the
lowering restrictions imposed by stupidity on genius had been silenced
for ever. A man of transcendent ability must never forget that he is a
member of a community, and that he has no more right wantonly to offend
the feelings or prejudices of that community than he has to go about
buffeting individual members with a club. As soon as he offends the
common feelings of his fellows he must take the consequences; and
hard-headed persons should turn a deaf ear when any eloquent and
sentimental person chooses to whine about his hero's wrongs.

_March, 1888._


Has any one ever yet considered the spiritual significance of slang? The
dictionaries inform us that "slang is a conversational irregularity of a
more or less vulgar type;" but that is not all. The prim definition
refers merely to words, but I am rather more interested in considering
the mental attitude which is indicated by the distortion and loose
employment of words, and by the fresh coinages which seem to spring up
every hour. I know of no age or nation that has been without its slang,
and the study is amongst the most curious that a scholar can take up;
but our own age, after all, must be reckoned as the palmy time of slang,
for we have gone beyond mere words, and our vulgarizations of language
are significant of degradation of soul. The Romans of the decadence had
a hideous cant language which fairly matched the grossness of the
people, and the Gauls, with their descendants, fairly matched the old
conquerors. The frightful old Paris of Francois Villon, with all its
bleak show of famine and death, had its constant changes of slang.
"_Tousjours vieil synge est desplaisant,"_ says the burglar-poet, and he
means that the old buffoon is tiresome; the young man with the newest
phases of city slang at his tongue's end is most acceptable in merry
company. Very few people can read Villon's longer poems at all, for they
are almost entirely written in cant language, and the glossary must be
in constant requisition. The rascal is a really great writer in his
abominable way, but his dialect was that of the lowest resorts, and he
lets us see that the copious _argot_ which now puzzles the stranger by
its kaleidoscopic changes was just as vivid and changeable in the
miserable days of the eleventh Louis. In the Paris of our day the slang
varies from hour to hour; every one seems able to follow it, and no one
knows who invents the constant new changes. The slang of the
boarding-house in Balzac's "Pere Goriot" is quite different from that of
the novels done by the Goncourt brothers; and, though I have not yet
mustered courage to finish one of M. Zola's outrages, I can see that the
vulgarisms which he has learned are not at all like any that have been
used in bygone days. The corruption of Paris seems to breed verbal
distortions rather freely, and the ordinary babble of the city workman
is as hard to any Englishman as are the colloquialisms of Burns to the
average Cockney.

In England our slang has undergone one transformation after another ever
since the time of Chaucer. Shakespeare certainly gives us plenty; then
we have the slang of the Great War, and then the unutterable horrors of
the Restoration--even the highly proper Mr. Joseph Addison does not
disdain to talk of an "old put," and his wags are given to "smoking"
strangers. The eighteenth century--the century of the gallows--gave us a
whole crop of queer terms which were first used in thieves' cellars, and
gradually filtered from the racecourse and the cockpit till they took
their place in the vulgar tongue. The sweet idyll of "Life in London" is
a perfect garden of slang; Tom the Corinthian and Bob Logic lard their
phrases with the idiom of the prize-ring, and the author obligingly
italicises the knowing words so that one has no chance of missing them.
But nowadays we have passed beyond all that, and every social clique,
every school of art and literature, every trade--nay, almost every
religion--has its peculiar slang; and the results as regards morals,
manners, and even conduct in general are too remarkable to be passed
over by any one who desires to understand the complex society of our
era. The mere patter of thieves or racing-men--the terms are nearly
synonymous--counts for nothing. Those who know the byways of life know
that there are two kinds of dark language used by our nomad classes and
by our human predatory animals. A London thief can talk a dialect which
no outsider can possibly understand; for, by common agreement, arbitrary
names are applied to every object which the robbers at any time handle,
and to every sort of underhand business which they transact. But this
gibberish is not exactly an outcome of any moral obliquity; it is
employed as a means of securing safety. The gipsy cant is the remnant of
a pure and ancient language; we all occasionally use terms taken from
this remarkable tongue, and, when we speak of a "cad," or "making a
mull," or "bosh," or "shindy," or "cadger" or "bamboozling," or "mug,"
or "duffer," or "tool," or "queer," or "maunder," or "loafer," or
"bung," we are using pure gipsy. No distinct mental process, no process
of corruption, is made manifest by the use of these terms; we simply
have picked them up unconsciously, and we continue to utter them in the
course of familiar conversation.

I am concerned with a degradation of language which is of an importance
far beyond the trifling corruption caused by the introduction of terms
from the gipsy's caravan, the betting ring, or the thieves' kitchen; one
cannot help being made angry and sad by observing a tendency to belittle
all things that are great, to mock all earnestness, to vulgarize all
beauty. There is not a quarter where the subtle taint has not crept in,
and under its malign influence poetry has all but expired, good
conversation has utterly ceased to exist, art is no longer serious, and
the intercourse of men is not straightforward. The Englishman will
always be emotional in spite of the rigid reserve which he imposes upon
himself; he is an enthusiast, and he does truly love earnestness,
veracity, and healthy vigour. Take him away from a corrupt and petty
society and give him free scope, and he at once lets fall the film of
shams from off him like a cast garment, and comes out as a reality. Shut
the same Englishman up in an artificial, frivolous, unreal society, and
he at once becomes afraid of himself; he fears to exhibit enthusiasm
about anything, and he hides his genuine nature behind a cloud of slang.
He belittles everything he touches, he is afraid to utter a word from
his inner heart, and his talk becomes a mere dropping shower of verbal
counters which ring hollow. The superlative degree is abhorrent to him
unless he can misuse it for comic purposes; and, like the ridiculous
dummy lord in "Nicholas Nickleby," he is quite capable of calling
Shakespeare a "very clayver man." I have heard of the attitude taken by
two flowers of our society in presence of Joachim. Think of it! The
unmatched violinist had achieved one of those triumphs which seem to
permeate the innermost being of a worthy listener; the soul is
entranced, and the magician takes us into a fair world where there is
nothing but loveliness and exalted feeling. "Vewy good fellow, that
fiddle fellow," observed the British aristocrat. "Ya-as," answered his
faithful friend. Let any man who is given to speaking words with a view
of presenting the truth begin to speak in our faint, super-refined,
orthodox society; he will be looked at as if he were some queer object
brought from a museum of curiosities and pulled out for exhibition. The
shallowest and most impudent being that ever talked fooleries will
assume superior airs and treat the man of intellect as an amusing but
inferior creature. More than that--earnestness and reality are classed
together under the head of "bad form," the vital word grates on the
emasculate brain of the society man, and he compensates himself for his
inward consciousness of inferiority by assuming easy airs of insolence.
A very brilliant man was once talking in a company which included
several of the superfine division; he was witty, vivid, genial, full of
knowledge and tact; but he had one dreadful habit--he always said what
he thought. The brilliant man left the company, and one sham-languid
person said to a sham-aristocratic person, "Who is that?" "Ah, he's a
species of over-educated savage!" Now the gentleman who propounded this
pleasant piece of criticism was, according to trustworthy history, the
meanest, most useless, and most despicable man of his set; yet he could
venture to assume haughty airs towards a man whose shoes he was not fit
to black, and he could assume those airs on the strength of his slangy
impassivity--his "good form." When we remember that this same fictitious
indifference characterized the typical _grand seigneur_ of old France,
and when we also remember that indifference may be rapidly transformed
into insolence, and insolence into cruelty, we may well look grave at
the symptoms which we can watch around us. The dreary _ennui_ of the
heart, _ennui_ that revolts at truth, that is nauseated by earnestness,
expresses itself in what we call slang, and slang is the sign of mental

I have no fault to find with the broad, racy, slap-dash language of the
American frontier, with its picturesque perversions and its droll
exaggeration. The inspired person who chose to call a coffin an
"eternity box" and whisky "blue ruin" was too innocent to sneer. The
slang of Mark Twain's Mr. Scott when he goes to make arrangements for
the funeral of the lamented Buck Fanshawe is excruciatingly funny and
totally inoffensive. Then the story of Jim Baker and the jays in "A
Tramp Abroad" is told almost entirely in frontier slang, yet it is one
of the most exquisite, tender, lovable pieces of work ever set down in
our tongue. The grace and fun of the story, the odd effects produced by
bad grammar, the gentle humour, all combine to make this decidedly
slangy chapter a literary masterpiece. A miner or rancheman will talk to
you for an hour and delight you, because his slang somehow fits his
peculiar thought accurately; an English sailor will tell a story, and he
will use one slang word in every three that come out of his mouth, yet
he is delightful, for the simple reason that his distorted dialect
enables him to express and not to suppress truth. But the poison that
has crept through the minds of our finer folk paralyses their utterance
so far as truth is concerned; and society may be fairly caricatured by a
figure of the Father of Lies blinking through an immense eyeglass upon
God's universe.

Mr. George Meredith, with his usual magic insight, saw long ago whither
our over-refined gentry were tending; and in one of his finest books he
shows how a little dexterous slang may dwarf a noble deed. Nevil
Beauchamp was under a tremendous fire with his men: he wanted to carry a
wounded soldier out of action, but the soldier wished his adored officer
to be saved. At the finish the two men arrived safely in their own lines
amid the cheers of English, French, and even of the Russian enemy. This
is how the votary of slang transfigures the episode; he wishes to make a
little fun out of the hero, and he manages it by employing the tongue
which it is good form to use. "A long-shanked trooper bearing the name
of John Thomas Drew was crawling along under fire of the batteries. Out
pops old Nevil, tries to get the man on his back. It won't do. Nevil
insists that it's exactly one of the cases that ought to be, and they
remain arguing about it like a pair of nine-pins while the Moscovites
are at work with the bowls. Very well. Let me tell you my story. It's
perfectly true, I give you my word. So Nevil tries to horse Drew, and
Drew proposes to horse Nevil, as at school. Then Drew offers a
compromise. He would much rather have crawled on, you know, and allowed
the shot to pass over his head; but he's a Briton--old Nevil's the same;
but old Nevil's peculiarity is that, as you are aware, he hates a
compromise--won't have it--_retro Sathanas!_--and Drew's proposal to
take his arm instead of being carried pick-a-or piggy-back--I am
ignorant how Nevil spells it--disgusts old Nevil. Still it won't do to
stop where they are, like the cocoanut and pincushion of our friends
the gipsies on the downs; so they take arms and commence the journey
home, resembling the best friends on the evening of a holiday in our
native clime--two steps to the right, half a dozen to the left, &c. They
were knocked down by the wind of a ball near the battery. 'Confound it!'
cries Nevil. 'It's because I consented to a compromise!'"

Most people know that this passage refers to Rear-Admiral Maxse, yet,
well as we may know our man, we have him presented like an awkward,
silly, comic puppet from a show. The professor of slang could degrade
the conduct of the soldiers on board the _Birkenhead_; he could make the
choruses from _Samson Agonistes_ seem like the Cockney puerilities of a
comic news-sheet. It is this high-sniffing, supercilious slang that I
attack, for I can see that it is the impudent language of a people to
whom nothing is great, nothing beautiful, nothing pure, and nothing
worthy of faith.

The slang of the "London season" is terrible and painful. A gloriously
beautiful lady is a "rather good-looking woman--looks fairly well
to-night;" a great entertainment is a "function;" a splendid ball is a
"nice little dance;" high-bred, refined, and exclusive ladies and
gentlemen are "smart people;" a tasteful dress is a "swagger frock;" a
new craze is "the swagger thing to do." Imbecile, useless, contemptible
beings, male and female, use all these verbal monstrosities under the
impression that they make themselves look distinguished. A
microcephalous youth whose chief intellectual relaxation consists in
sucking the head of a stick thinks that his conversational style is
brilliant when he calls a man a "Johnnie," a battle "a blooming slog,"
his lodgings his "show," a hero "a game sort of a chappie," and so on.
Girls catch the infection of slang; and thus, while sweet young ladies
are leading beautiful lives at Girton and Newnham, their sisters of
society are learning to use a language which is a frail copy of the
robust language of the drinking-bar and the racecourse. Under this
blight lofty thought perishes, noble language also dies away, real wit
is cankered and withered into a mere ghastly crackle of wordplay, humour
is regarded as the sign of the savage, and generous emotion, manly love,
womanly tenderness are reckoned as the folly of people whom the smart
young lady of the period would describe as "Jugginses."

As to the slang of the juniors of the middle class, it is well-nigh past
description and past bearing. The dog-collared, tight-coated, horsey
youth learns all the cant phrases from cheap sporting prints, and he has
an idea that to call a man a "bally bounder" is quite a ducal thing to
do. His hideous cackle sounds in railway-carriages, or on breezy piers
by the pure sea, or in suburban roads. From the time when he gabbles
over his game of Nap in the train until his last villainous howl
pollutes the night, he lives, moves, and has his being in slang; and he
is incapable of understanding truth, beauty, grandeur, or refinement. He
is apt to label any one who does not wear a dog-collar and stableman's
trousers as a cad; but, ah, what a cad he himself is! In what a vast
profound gulf of vulgarity his being wallows; and his tongue, his slang,
is enough to make the spirits of the pure and just return to earth and
smite him! Better by far the cunning gipsy with his glib chatter, the
rough tramp with his incoherent hoarseness! All who wish to save our
grand language from deterioration, all who wish to retain some savour of
sincerity and manhood among us, should set themselves resolutely to talk
on all occasions, great or trivial, in simple, direct, refined English.
There is no need to be bookish; there is much need for being natural and
sincere--and nature and sincerity are assassinated by slang.

_September, 1888._


That enterprising savage who first domesticated the pig has a good deal
to answer for. I do not say that the moral training of the pig was a
distinct evil, for it undoubtedly saved many aged and respectable
persons from serious inconvenience. The more practical members of the
primitive tribes were wont to club the patriarchs whom they regarded as
having lived long enough; and an exaggerated spirit of economy led the
sons of the forest to eat their venerable relatives. The domestication
of the noble animal which is the symbol of Irish prosperity caused a
remarkable change in primitive public opinion. The gratified savage,
conscious of possessing pigs, no longer cast the anxious eye of the
epicure upon his grandmother. Thus a disagreeable habit and a
disagreeable tradition were abolished, and one more step was made in the
direction of universal kindliness. But, while we are in some measure
grateful to the first pig-tamer, we do not feel quite so sure about the
first person who inveigled the cat into captivity. Mark that I do not
speak of the "slavery" of the cat--for who ever knew a cat to do
anything against its will? If you whistle for a dog, he comes with
servile gestures, and almost overdoes his obedience; but, if a cat has
got into a comfortable place, you may whistle for that cat until you are
spent, and it will go on regarding you with a lordly blink of
independence. No; decidedly the cat is not a slave. Of course I must be
logical, and therefore I allow, under reasonable reservations, that a
boot-jack, used as a projectile, will make a cat stir; and I have known
a large garden-syringe cause a most picturesque exodus in the case of
some eloquent and thoughtful cats that were holding a conference in a
garden at midnight. Still I must carefully point out the fact that the
boot-jack will not induce the cat to travel in any given direction for
your convenience; you throw the missile, and you must wait in suspense
until you know whether your cat will vanish with a wild plunge through
the roof of your conservatory or bound with unwonted smartness into your
favourite William pear tree. The syringe is scarcely more trustworthy in
its action than the boot-jack; the parting remarks of six drenched cats
are spirited and harmonious; but the animals depart to different
quarters of the universe, and your hydraulic measure, so far from
bringing order out of chaos, merely evokes a wailing chaos out of
comparative order. These discursive observations aim at showing that a
cat has a haughty spirit of independence which centuries of partial
submission to the suzerainty of man have not eradicated. I do not want
to censure the ancient personage who made friends with the creature
which is a thing of beauty and a joy for ever to many estimable
people--I reserve my judgment. Some otherwise calm and moral men regard
the cat in such a light that they would go and jump on the tomb of the
primeval tamer; others would erect monuments to him; so perhaps it is
better that we do not know whose memory we should revere--or
anathematise--the processes are reversible, according to our
dispositions. Man is the paragon of animals; the cat is the paradox of
animals. You cannot reason about the creature; you can only make sure
that it has every quality likely to secure success in the struggle for
existence; and it is well to be careful how you state your opinions in
promiscuous company, for the fanatic cat-lover is only a little less
wildly ferocious than the fanatical cat-hater.

Cats and pigs appear to have been the first creatures to earn the
protective affection of man; but, ah, what a cohort of brutes and birds
have followed! The dog is an excellent, noble, lovable animal; but the
pet-dog! Alas! I seem to hear one vast sigh of genuine anguish as this
Essay travels round the earth from China to Peru. I can understand the
artfulness of that wily savage who first persuaded the wolf-like animal
of the Asiatic plains to help him in the chase; I understand the
statesmanship of the Thibetan shepherd who first made a wolf turn
traitor to the lupine race. But who first invented the pet-dog? This
impassioned question I ask with thoughts that are a very great deal too
deep for tears. Consider what the existence of the pet-dog means. You
visit an estimable lady, and you are greeted, almost in the hall, by a
poodle, who waltzes around your legs and makes an oration like an
obstructionist when the Irish Estimates are before the House. You feel
that you are pale, but you summon up all your reserves of base hypocrisy
and remark, "Poor fellow! Poo-poo-poo-ole fellow!" You really mean, "I
should like to tomahawk you, and scalp you afterwards!"--but this
sentiment you ignobly retain in your own bosom. You lift one leg in an
apologetic way, and poodle instantly dashes at you with all the
vehemence of a charge of his compatriots the Cuirassiers. You shut your
eyes and wait for the shedding of blood; but the torturer has all the
malignant subtlety of an Apache Indian, and he tantalizes you. Presently
the lady of the house appears, and, finding that you are beleaguered by
an ubiquitous foe, she says sweetly, "Pray do not mind Moumou; his fun
gets the better of him. Go away, naughty Moumou! Did Mr. Blank frighten
him then--the darling?" Fun! A pleasing sort of fun! If the rescuer had
seen that dog's sanguinary rushes, she would not talk about fun. When
you reach the drawing-room, there is a pug seated on an ottoman. He
looks like a peculiarly truculent bull-dog that has been brought up on a
lowering diet of gin-and-water, and you gain an exaggerated idea of his
savagery as he uplifts his sooty muzzle. He barks with indignation, as
if he thought you had come for his mistress's will, and intended to cut
him off with a Spratt's biscuit. Of course he comes to smell round your
ankles, and equally of course you put on a sickly smile, and take up an
attitude as though you had sat down on the wrong side of a harrow. Your
conversation is strained and feeble; you fail to demonstrate your
affection; and, when a fussy King Charles comes up and fairly shrieks
injurious remarks at you, the sense of humiliation and desertion is too
severe, and you depart. Of course your hostess never attempts to control
her satellites--they are quiet with her; and, even if one of them
sampled the leg of a guest with a view to further business, she would be
secretly pleased at such a proof of exclusive affection. We suppose that
people must have something to be fond of; but why should any one be
fond of a pug that is too unwieldy to move faster than a hedgehog? His
face is, to say the least, not celestial--whatever his nose may be; he
cannot catch a rat; he cannot swim; he cannot retrieve; he can do
nothing, and his insolence to strangers eclipses the best performances
of the finest and tallest Belgravian flunkeys. He is alive, and in his
youth he may doubtless have been comic and engaging; but in his obese,
waddling, ill-conditioned old age he is such an atrocity that one wishes
a wandering Chinaman might pick him up and use him instantly after the
sensible thrifty fashion of the great nation.

I love the St. Bernard; he is a noble creature, and his beautiful
life-saving instinct is such that I have seen a huge member of the breed
jump off a high bridge to save a puppy which he considered to be
drowning. The St. Bernard will allow a little child to lead him and to
smite him on the nose without his uttering so much as a whine by way of
remonstrance. If another dog attacks him, he will not retaliate by
biting--that would be undignified, and like a mere bull-dog; he lies
down on his antagonist and waits a little; then that other dog gets up
when it has recovered breath, and, after thinking the matter over, it
concludes that it must have attacked a sort of hairy traction-engine.
All these traits of the St. Bernard are very sweet and engaging, and I
must, moreover, congratulate him on his scientific method of treating
burglars; but I do object with all the pathos at my disposal to the St.
Bernard considered as a pet. His master will bring him into rooms. Now,
when he is bounding about on glaciers, or infringing the Licensing Act
by giving travellers brandy without scrutinizing their return-tickets,
or acting as pony for frozen little boys, or doing duty as special
constable when burglars pay an evening call, he is admirable; but, when
he enters a room, he has all the general effects of an earthquake
without any picturesque accessories. His beauty is of course praised,
and, like any other big lumbering male, he is flattered; his vast tail
makes a sweep like the blade of a screw-propeller, and away goes a vase.
A maid brings in tea, and the St. Bernard is pleased to approve the
expression of Mary's countenance; with one colossal spring he places his
paws on her shoulders, and she has visions of immediate execution. Not
being equal to the part of an early martyr, she observes, "Ow!" The St.
Bernard regards this brief statement as a compliment, and, in an ecstasy
of self-approval, he sends poor Mary staggering. Of course, when he is
sent out, after causing this little excitement, he proceeds to eat
anything that happens to be handy; and, as the cook does not wish to be
eaten herself, she bears her bitter wrong in silence, only hoping that
the two pounds of butter which the animal took as dessert may make him
excessively unwell.

Now I ask any man and brother, or lady and sister, is a St. Bernard a
legitimate pet in the proper sense of the word? As to the bull-dog, I
say little. He at least is a good water-dog, and, when he is taught, he
will retrieve birds through the heaviest sea as long as his master cares
to shoot. But his appearance is sardonic, to say the least of it; he
puts me in mind of a prize-fighter coming up for the tenth round when he
has got matters all his own way. Happily he is not often kept as a pet;
he is usually taken out by fast young men in riverside places, for his
company is believed to give an air of dash and fashion to his master;
and he waddles along apparently engaged in thinking out some scheme of
reform for sporting circles in general. In a drawing-room he looks
unnatural, and his imperturbable good humour fails to secure him favour.
Dr. Jessopp tells a story of a clergyman's wife who usually kept from
fifteen to twenty brindled bull-dogs; but this lady was an original
character, and her mode of using a red-hot iron bar when any of her pets
had an argument was marked by punctuality and despatch.

The genuine collie is an ideal pet, but the cross-grained fleecy brutes
bred for the show-bench are good neither for one thing nor another. The
real, homely, ugly collie never snaps at friends; the mongrel brute with
the cross of Gordon setter is not safe for an hour at a time. The real
collie takes to sheep-driving by instinct; he will run three miles out
and three miles in, and secure his master's property accurately after
very little teaching; the present champion of all the collies would run
away from a sheep as if he had seen a troop of lions. In any case, even
when a collie is a genuine affectionate pet, his place is not in the
house. Let him have all the open air possible, and he will remain
healthy, delightful in his manners, and preternaturally intelligent. The
dog of the day is the fox-terrier, and a charming little fellow he is.
Unfortunately it happens that most smart youths who possess fox-terriers
have an exalted idea of their friends' pugilistic powers, and hence the
sweet little black, white, and tan beauty too often has life concerted
into a battle and a march. Still no one who understands the fox-terrier
can help respecting and admiring him. If I might hint a fault, it is
that the fox-terrier lacks balance of character. The ejaculation
"Cats!" causes him to behave in a way which is devoid of well-bred
repose, and his conduct when in presence of rabbits is enough to make a
meditative lurcher or retriever grieve. When a lurcher sees a rabbit in
the daytime, he leers at him from his villainous oblique eye, and seems
to say, "Shan't follow you just now--may have the pleasure of looking
you up this evening." But the fox-terrier converts himself into a kind
of hurricane in fur, and he gives tongue like a stump-orator in full
cry. I may say that, when once the fox-terrier becomes a drawing-room
pet, he loses all character--he might just as well be a pug at once. The
Bedlington is perhaps the best of all terriers, but his disreputable
aspect renders him rather out of place in a refined room. It is only
when his deep sagacious eyes are seen that he looks attractive. He can
run, swim, dive, catch rabbits, retrieve, or do anything. I grieve to
say that he is a dog of an intriguing disposition; and no prudent lady
would introduce him among dogs who have not learned mischief. The
Bedlington seems to have the power of command, and he takes a fiendish
delight in ordering young dogs to play pranks. He will whisper to a
young collie, and in an instant you will see that collie chasing sheep
or hens, or hunting among flower-beds, or baiting a cow, or something
equally outrageous. Decidedly the Bedlington does not shine as a pet;
and he should be kept only where there are plenty of things to be
murdered daily--then he lives with placid joy, varied by sublime
Berserker rage.

As to feathered pets, who has not suffered from parrots? You buy a grey
one at the docks, and pay four pounds for him on account of his manifold
accomplishments. When he is taken home and presented to a prim lady, he
of course gives her samples of the language used by the sailors on the
voyage home; and, even when his morals are cured and his language is
purified by discipline, he is a terrible creature. The imp lurks in his
eye, and his beak--his abominable beak--is like a malicious vice. But I
allow that Polly, when well behaved, gives a charming appearance to a
room, and her ways are very quaint. Lonely women have amused themselves
for many and many a weary hour with the antics of the pretty tropical
bird; and I shall say nothing against Poll for the world.

I started with the intention of merely skirting the subject; but I find
I am involved in considerations deep as society--deep as the origins of
the human race. In their proper place I like all pets, with the
exception of snakes. The aggressive pug is bad enough, but the snake is
a thousand times worse. When possible, all boys and girls should have
pets, and they should be made to tend their charges without any adult
help whatever. No indirect discipline has such a humanizing effect. The
unregenerate boy deprived of pets will tie kettles to dogs' tails, he
will shoot at cats with catapults, he is merciless to small birds, and
no one can convince him that frogs or young nestlings can feel. When he
has pets, his mental horizon is widened and his kindlier instincts
awaken. A boy or girl without a pet is maimed in sympathy.

Let me plead for discrimination in choice of pets. A gentleman--like the
celebrated Mary--had a little lamb which he loved; but the little lamb
developed into a very big and vicious ram which the owner could not
find heart to kill. When this gentleman's friends were holding sweet and
improving converse with him, that sheep would draw up behind his
master's companion; then he would shoot out like a stone from a sling,
and you would see a disconcerted guest propelled through space in a
manner destructive alike to dignity and trousers. That sheep comes and
butts at the front-door if he thinks his master is making too long a
call; it is of no use to go and apologize for he will not take any
denial, and, moreover, he will as soon ram you with his granite skull as
look at you. Let the door be shut again, and the sheep seems to say, "If
I don't send a panel in, you may call me a low, common goat!" and then
he butts away with an enthusiasm which arouses the street. A pet of that
sort is quite embarrassing, and I must respectfully beg leave to draw
the line at rams. A ram is too exciting a personage for the owner's

Every sign that tells of the growing love for dumb animals is grateful
to my mind; for any one who has a true, kindly love for pets cannot be
wholly bad. While I gently ridicule the people who keep useless brutes
to annoy their neighbours, I would rather see even the hideous, useless
pug kept to wheeze and snarl in his old age than see no pets at all.
Good luck to all good folk who love animals, and may the reign of
kindness spread!

_March, 1888._


When Lord Beaconsfield called the Turf a vast engine of national
demoralization, he uttered a broad general truth; but, unfortunately, he
did not go into particulars, and his vague grandiloquence has inspired a
large number of ferocious imitators, who know as little about the
essentials of the matter as Lord Beaconsfield did. These imitators abuse
the wrong things and the wrong people; they mix up causes and effects;
they are acrid where they should be tolerant; they know nothing about
the real evils; and they do no good, for the simple reason that racing
blackguards never read anything, while cultured gentlemen who happen to
go racing smile quietly at the blundering of amateur moralists. Sir
Wilfrid Lawson is a good man and a clever man; but to see the kind of
display he makes when he gets up to talk about the Turf is very
saddening. He can give you an accurate statement concerning the evils of
drink, but as soon as he touches racing his innocence becomes woefully
apparent, and the biggest scoundrel that ever entered the Ring can
afford to make game of the harmless, well-meaning critic. The subject is
an intricate one, and you cannot settle it right off by talking of
"pampered nobles who pander to the worst vices of the multitude;" and
you go equally wrong if you begin to shriek whenever that inevitable
larcenous shopboy whimpers in the dock about the temptations of betting.
We are poisoned by generalities; our reformers, who use press and
platform to enlighten us, resemble a doctor who should stop by a
patient's bedside and deliver an oration on bad health in the abstract
when he ought to be finding out his man's particular ailment. Let us
clear the ground a little bit, until we can see something definite. I am
going to talk plainly about things that I know, and I want to put all
sentimental rubbish out of the road.

In the first place, then, horse-racing, in itself, is neither degrading
nor anything else that is bad; a race is a beautiful and exhilarating
spectacle, and quiet men, who never bet, are taken out of themselves in
a delightful fashion when the exquisite thoroughbreds thunder past. No
sensible man supposes for a moment that owners and trainers have any
deliberate intention of improving the breed of horses, but,
nevertheless, these splendid tests of speed and endurance undoubtedly
tend indirectly to produce a fine breed, and that is worth taking into
account. The Survival of the Fittest is the law that governs racing
studs; the thought and observation of clever men are constantly
exercised with a view to preserving excellence and eliminating defects,
so that, little by little, we have contrived, in the course of a
century, to approach equine perfection. If a twelve-stone man were put
up on Bendigo, that magnificent animal could give half a mile start to
any Arab steed that ever was foaled, and run away from the Arab at the
finish of a four-mile course. Weight need not be considered, for if the
Eastern-bred horse only carried a postage-stamp the result would be much
about the same. Minting could carry fourteen stone across a country,
while, if we come to mere speed, there is really no knowing what horses
like Ormonde, Energy, Prince Charlie, and others might have done had
they been pressed. If the Emir of Hail were to bring over fifty of his
best mares, the Newmarket trainers could pick out fifty fillies from
among their second-rate animals, and the worst of the fillies could
distance the best of the Arabs on any terms; while, if fifty heats were
run off, over any courses from half a mile to four miles, the English
horses would not lose one. The champion Arab of the world was matched
against one of the worst thoroughbreds in training; the English "plater"
carried about five stone more than the pride of the East, and won by a
quarter of a mile.

Unconsciously, the breeders of racers have been evolving for us the
swiftest, strongest, and most courageous horse known to the world, and
we cannot afford to neglect that consideration, for people will not
strive after perfection unless perfection brings profit.

Again, we hear occasionally a good deal of outcry about the great
noblemen and gentlemen who keep up expensive studs, and the assumption
is that racehorses and immorality go together; but what would the
critics have the racing nobleman do? He is born into a strange
artificial society; his fate is ready-made for him; he inherits luxuries


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