The Ethics of Drink and Other Social Questions
James Runciman

Part 3 out of 5

and pastimes as he inherits land and trees. Say that the stud is a
useless luxury: but then, what about the daubs for which plutocrats pay
thousands of guineas? A picture costs, let us say, 2,000 guineas; it is
the slovenly work of a hurried master, and the guineas are paid for a
name; it is stuck away in a private gallery, and, if its owner looks at
it so often as once a week, it costs him L2 per peep--reckoning only the
interest on the money sunk. Is that useless luxury? The fact is that we
are living in a sort of guarded hothouse; our barbarian propensities
cannot have an easy outlet; and luxury of all sorts tends to lull our
barbarian energy. If we blame one man for indulging a costly hobby, we
must blame almost every man and woman who belongs to the grades above
the lower middle-class. A rich trader who spends L5,000 a year on
orchid-houses cannot very well afford to reprove a man who pays 50s. per
week for each of a dozen horses in training. Rich folk, whose wealth has
been fostered during the long security of England, will indulge in
superfluities, and no one can stop them. A country gentleman who
succeeds to a deer park cannot slaughter all the useless, pretty
creatures merely because they _are_ useless: he is bound by a thousand
traditions, and he cannot suddenly break away. A nobleman inherits a
colossal income, of which he cannot very well rid himself: he follows
the traditions of his family or his class, and employs part of his
profuse surplus riches in maintaining a racing stud; how can any one
find fault with him? Such a man as Lord Hartington would never dream of
betting except in a languid, off-hand way. He (and his like) are fond of
watching the superb rush of the glossy horses; they want the freedom,
the swift excitement of the breezy heath; our society encourages them to
amuse themselves, and they do so with a will. That is all. It may be
wrong for A and B and C to own superfluous wealth, but then the fact is
there--that they have got it, and the community agree that they may
expend the superfluity as they choose. The rich man's stud gives
wholesome employment to myriads of decent folks in various stations of
life--farmers, saddlers, blacksmiths, builders, corn dealers,
road-makers, hedgers, farriers, grooms, and half a score other sorts of
toilers derive their living from feeding, harnessing, and tending the
horses, and the withdrawal of such a sportsman as Mr. "Abington" from
Newmarket would inflict a terrible blow on hundreds of industrious
persons who lead perfectly useful and harmless lives. My point is, that
racing (as racing) is in no way noxious; it is the most pleasant of all
excitements, and it gives bread to many praiseworthy citizens. I have
seen 5,000 given for a Latin hymn-book, and, when I pondered on the
ghastly, imbecile selfishness of that purchase, I thought that I should
not have mourned very much if the money had been laid out on a dozen
smart colts and fillies, for, at least, the horses would have ultimately
been of some use, even if they all had been put to cab-work. We must
allow that when racing is a hobby, it is quite respectable--as hobbies
go. One good friend of mine, whose fortune has been made by shrewd
judgment and constant work, always keeps five or six racers in training.
He goes from meeting to meeting with all the eagerness of a boy; his
friends sturdily maintain that his stud is composed of "hair trunks,"
and the animals certainly have an impressively uniform habit of coming
in last But the good owner has his pleasure; his hobby satisfies him;
and, when he goes out in the morning to watch his yearlings frolicking,
he certainly never dreams that he is fostering an immoral institution.
Could we only have racing--and none of the hideous adjuncts--I should
be glad, in spite of all the moralists who associate horse-flesh with
original sin.

As to the bookmakers, I shall have much to say further on. At present I
am content with observing that the quiet, respectable bookmaker is as
honourable and trustworthy as any trafficker in stocks and shares, and
his business is almost identical with that of the stockjobber in many
respects. No class of men adhere more rigidly to the point of honour
than bookmakers of the better sort, and a mere nod from one of them is
as binding to him as the most elaborate of parchments. They are simply
shrewd, audacious tradesmen, who know that most people are fools, and
make their profit out of that knowledge. It is painful to hear an
ignorant man abusing a bookmaker who does no more than use his
opportunities skilfully. Why not abuse the gentry who buy copper to
catch the rise of the market? Why not abuse the whole of the thousands
of men who make the City lively for six days of the week? Is there any
rational man breathing who would scruple to accept profit from the rise
of a stock or share? If I, practically, back South-Eastern Railway
shares to rise, who blames me if I sell when my property has increased
in value by one-eighth? My good counsellor, Mr. Ruskin, who is the most
virulent enemy of usury, is nevertheless very glad that his father
bought Bank of England shares, which have now been converted into Stock,
and stand at over 300; Ruskin senior was a shrewd speculator, who backed
his fancy; and a bookmaker does the same in a safer way. Bookmaking is a
business which is carried out in its higher branches with perfect
sobriety, discretion, mid probity; the gambling element does not come
in on the bookmaker's side, but he deals with gamblers in a fair way.
They know that he will lay them the shortest odds he can; they know that
they put their wits against his, and they also know that he will pay
them with punctilious accuracy if they happen to beat him in the
encounter of brains. Three or four of the leading betting men "turn
over" on the average about half a million each per annum; one firm who
bet on commission receive an average of five thousand pounds per day to
invest, and the vouchers of all these speculators and agents are as good
as bank notes. Mark that I grant the certainty of the bookmakers
winning; they can remain idle in their mansions for months in the year,
and the great gambling public supply the means; but I do not find fault
with the bookmakers because they use their opportunities, or else I
might rave about the iniquity of a godly man who earns in a week 100,000
from a "corner" in tin, or I might reprobate the quack who makes no less
than 7000 per cent on every box of pills that he sells. A good man once
chatted with me for a whole evening, and all his talk ran on his own
luck in "spotting" shares that were likely to move upward. Certainly his
luck as a gambler had been phenomenal. I turned the conversation to the
Turf case of Wood _v_. Cox, and the torrent of eloquence which met me
was enough to drown my intellect in its whirl and rush. My friend was
great on the iniquity of gaming and racing, and I rather fancy that he
proposed to play on the Betting Ring with a mitrailleuse if ever he had
the power. I know he was most sanguinary--and I smiled. He never for an
instant seemed to think that he was exactly like a backer of horses,
and I have no doubt but that his density is shared by a few odd millions
here and there. The stockbroker is a kind of bookmaker, and the men and
women who patronise both and make their wealth are fools who all may be
lumped under the same heading. I knew of one outside-broker--a mere
bucket-shop keeper--who keeps 600 clerks constantly employed. That seems
to point out rather an extensive gambling business.

And now I have tried to clear the ground on one hand a little, and my
last and uttermost good word has been said for the Turf. With sorrow I
say that, after all excuses are made, the cool observer must own that it
is indeed a vast engine of national demoralization, and the subtle venom
which it injects into the veins of the Nation creeps along through
channels of which Lord Beaconsfield never dreamed. I might call the Turf
a canker, but a canker is only a local ailment, whereas the evils of
betting have now become constitutional so far as the State is concerned.
If we cut out the whole tribe of bookmakers and betting-agents, and
applied such cautery as would prevent any similar growth from arising in
the place wherefrom we excised them, we should do very little good; for
the life-blood of Britain is tainted, and no superficial remedy can cure
her now. I shut my eyes on the bookmakers, and I only spare attention
for the myriads who make the bookmakers' existence possible--who would
evolve new bookmakers from their midst if we exterminated the present
tribe to-morrow. It is not the professional bettors who cause the
existence of fools; it is the insensate fools who cause the existence of
professional bettors.

Gambling used to be mainly confined to the upper classes; it is now a
raging disease among that lower middle-class which used to form the main
element of our national strength, and the tradesman whose cart comes to
your area in the morning gambles with all the reckless abandonment that
used to be shown by the Hon. A. Deuceace or Lady Betty when George the
Third was King. Your clerk, shopman, butcher, baker, barber--especially
the barber--ask their companions, "What have you done on the Lincoln?"
or "How do you stand for the Two Thousand?" just as ordinary folks ask
after each other's health. Tradesmen step out of their shops in the
morning and telegraph to their bookmaker just as they might to one of
their wholesale houses; there is not a town in broad England which has
not its flourishing betting men, and some very small towns can maintain
two or three. The bookmakers are usually publicans, barbers, or
tobacconists; but whatever they are they invariably drive a capital
trade. In the corner of a smoking-room you may see a quiet, impassive
man sitting daily in a contemplative manner; he does not drink much; he
smokes little, and he appears to have nothing in particular to worry
him. If he knows you well, he will scarcely mind your presence; men (and
boys) greet him, and little, gentle colloquies take place from time to
time; the smartest man could detect nothing, and yet the noiseless,
placid gentleman of the smoking-room registers thirty or forty bets in a
day. That is one type which I have watched for hours, days, months.
There are dozens of other types, but I need not attempt to sketch them;
it is sufficient to say that the poison has taken hard hold on us, and
that I see every symptom of a national decadence.

Some one may say, "But you excused the Turf and the betting men."
Exactly. I said that racing is a delightful pastime to those who go to
watch good horses gallop; the miserable thing to me is seeing the
wretches who do not care for racing at all, but only care for gambling
on names and numbers. Let Lord Hartington, Lord Randolph Churchill, Mr.
Chaplin, Mr. Corlett, Mr. Rothschild, Lord Rosebery, and the rest, go
and see the lovely horses shooting over the turf; by all means let them
watch their own colts and fillies come flying home. But the poor
creatures who muddle away brains, energy, and money on what _they_ are
pleased to term sport, do not know a horse from a mule; they gamble, as
I have said, on names; the splendid racers give them no enjoyment such
as the true sportsman derives, for they would not know Ormonde from a
Clydesdale. To these forlorn beings only the ignoble side of racing is
known; it is sacrilege to call them sportsmen; they are rotting their
very souls and destroying the remnants of their manhood over a game
which they play blindfold. It is pitiful--most pitiful. No good-natured
man will begrudge occasional holiday-makers their chance of seeing a
good race. Rural and industrial Yorkshire are represented by thousands
at Doncaster, on the St. Ledger day, and the tourists get no particular
harm; they are horsey to the backbone, and they come to see the running.
They criticize the animals and gain topics for months of conversation,
and, if they bet an odd half-crown and never go beyond it, perhaps no
one is much the worse. When the Duke of Portland allowed his tenantry to
see St. Simon gallop five years ago at Newcastle, the pitmen and
artisans thronged to look at the horse. There was no betting whatever,
because no conceivable odds could have measured the difference between
St. Simon and his opponent, yet when Archer let the multitude see how
fast a horse _could_ travel, and the great thoroughbred swept along like
a flash, the excitement and enthusiasm rose to fever-pitch. Those men
had an unaffected pleasure in observing the beauty and symmetry and
speed of a noble creature, and they were unharmed by the little treat
which the good-natured magnate provided for them. It is quite otherwise
with the mob of stay-at-home gamblers; they do not care a rush for the
horses; they long, with all the crazy greed of true dupes, to gain money
without working for it, and that is where the mischief comes in.
Cupidity, mean anxieties, unwholesome excitements, gradually sap the
morality of really sturdy fellows--the last shred of manliness is torn
away, and the ordinary human intelligence is replaced by repulsive
vulpine cunning. If you can look at a little group of the stay-at-homes
while they are discussing the prospects of a race, you will see
something that Hogarth would have enjoyed in his large, lusty fashion.
The fair human soul no longer shines through those shifty, deceitful
eyes; the men have, somehow, sunk from the level of their race, and they
make you think that Swift may-have been right after all. From long
experience I am certain that if a cultured gentleman, accustomed to high
thinking, were suddenly compelled to live among these dismal beings, he
would be attacked by a species of intellectual paralysis. The affairs of
the country are nothing to them; poetry, art, and all beautiful things
are contemptible in their eyes; they dwell in an obscure twilight of the
mind, and their relaxation, when the serious business of betting is put
aside for awhile, mostly lies in the direction of sheer bawdry and
abomination. It is curious to see the oblique effect which general
degradation has upon the vocabulary of these people; quiet words, or
words that express a plain meaning, are repugnant to them; even the
old-fashioned full-mouthed oaths of our fathers are tame to their fancy,
for they must have something strongly spiced, and thus they have by
degrees fitted themselves up with a loathly dialect of their own which
transcends the comparatively harmless efforts of the Black Country
potter. Foul is not the word for this ultra-filthy mode of talk--it
passes into depths below foulness. I may digress for a little to
emphasize this point. The latter-day hanger-on of the Turf has
introduced a new horror to existence. Go into the Silver Ring at a
suburban meeting, and listen while two or three of the fellows work
themselves into an ecstasy of vile excitement, then you will hear
something which cannot be described or defined in any terms known to
humanity. Why it should be so I cannot tell, but the portentous symptom
of putridity is always in evidence. As is the man of the Ring, so are
the stay-at-homes. The disease of their minds is made manifest by their
manner of speech; they throw out verbal pustules which tell of the rank
corruption which has overtaken their nature, and you need some seasoning
before you can remain coolly among them without feeling symptoms of
nausea. There is one peer of this realm--a hereditary legislator and a
patron of many Church livings--who is famous for his skill in the use of
certain kinds of vocables. This man is a living exemplar of the
mysterious effect which low dodging and low distractions have on the
soul. In five minutes he can make you feel as if you had tumbled into
one of Swedenborg's loathsome hells; he can make the most eloquent of
turf thieves feel, envious, and he can make you awe-stricken as you see
how far and long God bears with man. The disease from which this
pleasing pillar of the State suffers has spread, with more or less
virulence, to the furthermost recesses of our towns, and you must know
the fringe of the Turf world before you can so much as guess what the
symptoms are like.

Here is a queer kind of a world which has suddenly arisen! Faith and
trust are banished; real honesty is unknown; purity is less than a name;
manliness means no more than a certain readiness to use the fists. Most
of the dwellers in this atmosphere are punctilious about money payments
because they durst not be otherwise, but the fine flower of real probity
does not flourish in the mephitic air. To lie, to dodge, to take mean
advantages--these are the accomplishments which an ugly percentage of
middle-class youths cultivate, and all the mischief arises from the fact
that they persist in trying to ape the manners of the most unworthy
members of an order to which they do not belong. It is bad enough when a
rich and idle man is bitten with the taste for betting, but when he is
imitated by the tailor's assistant who carries his clothes home, then we
have a still more unpleasant phenomenon to consider. For it is fatal to
a nation when any large and influential section of the populace once
begin to be confused in their notions of right and wrong. Not long ago I
was struck by noticing a significant instance of this moral dry rot. An
old racing man died, and all the sporting papers had something to say
about him and his career. Now the best of the sporting journalists are
clever and cultured gentlemen, who give refinement, to every subject
that they touch. But a certain kind of writing is done by pariahs, who
are not much of a credit to our society, and I was interested by the
style in which these scribbling vermin spoke of the dead man. Their gush
was a trifle nauseating; their mean worship of money gave one a shiver,
and the relish with which they described their hero's exploits would
have been comic were it not for the before-mentioned nausea.

It seemed that the departed turfite had been--to use blunt English--a
very skilful and successful swindler. He would buy a horse which took
his fancy, and he would run the animal again and again, until people got
tired of seeing such a useless brute taken down to the starting-point.
The handicappers finally let our schemer's horse in at a trifling
weight, and then he prepared for business. He had trustworthy agents at
Manchester, Nottingham, and Newcastle, and these men contrived, without
rousing suspicion, to "dribble" money into the market in a stealthy way,
until the whole of their commission was worked on very advantageous
terms. The arch-plotter did not show prominently in the transaction, and
he contrived once or twice to throw dust in the eyes of the very
cleverest men. One or two neatly arranged strokes secured our acute
gentleman a handsome fortune. He missed L70,000 once, by a short head,
but this was the only instance in which his plans seriously failed; and
he was looked up to as an epitome of all the virtues which are most
acceptable in racing circles. Well, had this dodger exhibited the
heroism of Gordon, the benevolence of Lord Shaftesbury, the probity of
Henry Fawcett, he could not have been more bepraised and bewailed by the
small fry of sporting literature. All he had done in life was to deceive
people by making them fancy that certain good horses were bad ones:
strictly speaking, he made money by false pretences, and yet, such is
the twist given by association with genuine gamblers, that educated men
wrote of him as if he had been a saint of the most admirable order. This
disposition is seen all through the piece: successful roguery is
glorified, and our young men admire "the Colonel," or "the Captain," or
Jack This and Tom That, merely because the Captain and the Colonel and
Jack and Tom are acute rascals who have managed to make money.
Decidedly, our national ideals are in a queer way. Just think of a
little transaction which occurred in 1887. A noble lord ordered a
miserable jockey boy to pull a horse, so that the animal might lose a
race: the exalted guide of youth was found out, and deservedly packed
off the Turf; but it was only by an accident that the Stewards were able
to catch him. That legislator had funny notions of the duty which he
owed to boyhood: he asked his poor little satellite to play the
scoundrel, and he only did what scores do who are _not_ found out.

A haze hangs about the Turf, and all the principles which should guide
human nature are blurred and distorted; the high-minded, honourable
racing men can do nothing or next to nothing, and the scum work their
will in only too many instances. Every one knows that the ground is
palpitating with corruption, but our national mental disease has so
gained ground that some regard corruption in a lazy way as
being inevitable, while others--including the stay-at-home
horse-racers--reckon it as absolutely admirable.

Some years ago, a pretty little mare was winning the St. Leger easily,
when a big horse cut into her heels and knocked her over. About two
months afterwards, the same wiry little mare was running in an important
race at Newmarket, and at the Bushes she was hauling her jockey out of
the saddle. There were not many spectators about, and only a few noticed
that, while the mare was fighting for her head, she was suddenly pulled
until she reared up, lost her place, and reached the post about seventh
in a large field. The jockey who rode the mare, and who made her exhibit
circus gambols, received a thousand pounds from the owner of the winning
horse. Now, there was no disguise about this transaction--nay, it was
rather advertised than otherwise, and a good many of the sporting prints
took it quite as a matter of course. Why? Simply because no prominent
racing man raked up the matter judicially, and because the ordinary Turf
scramblers accept suspicious proceedings as part of their environment.
Mr. Carlyle mourned over the deadly virus of lying which was emitted by
Loyola and his crew; he might mourn now over the deadly virus of
cheating which is emitted from the central ganglia of the Turf. The
upright men who love horses and love racing are nearly powerless; the
thieves leaven the country, and they have reduced what was once the
finest middle-class in the world to a condition of stark putridity.

Before we can rightly understand the degradation which has befallen us
by reason of the Turf, we must examine the position of jockeys in the
community. Lord Beaconsfield, in one of his most wicked sentences, said
that the jockey is our Western substitute for the eunuch; a noble duke,
who ought to know something about the matter, lately informed the world
through the medium of a court of law with an oath that "jockeys are
thieves." Now, I know one jockey whose character is not embraced by the
duke's definition, and I have heard that there are two, but I am not
acquainted with the second man. The wonder is, considering the
harebrained, slavering folly of the public, that any of the riding
manikins are half as honest as they are; the wonder is that their poor
little horsey brains are not led astray in such fashion as to make every
race a farce. They certainly do try their best on occasion, and I
believe that there are many races which are _not_ arranged before the
start; but you cannot persuade the picked men of the rascals' corps that
any race is run fairly. When Melton and Paradox ran their tremendous
race home in the Derby, I heard quite a number of intelligent gentry
saying that Paradox should have won but for the adjectived and
participled propensities of his jockey. Nevertheless, although most
devout turfites agree with the emphatic duke, they do not idolize their
diminutive fetishes a whit the less; they worship the manikin with a
touching and droll devotion, and, when they know him to be a confirmed
scamp, they admire his cleverness, and try to find out which way the
little rogue's interest lies, so that they may follow him. So it comes
about that we have amidst us a school of skinny dwarfs whose leaders are
paid better than the greatest statesmen in Europe. The commonest
jockey-boy in this company of manikins can usually earn more than the
average scholar or professional man, and the whole set receive a good
deal more of adulation than has been bestowed on any soldier, sailor,
explorer, or scientific man of our generation. And what is the
life-history of the jockey? A tiny boy is bound apprentice, and
submitted to the discipline of a training stable; he goes through the
long routine of morning gallops, trials, and so forth, and when he
begins to show signs of aptitude he is put up to ride for his master in
public. If he is a born horseman, like Archer or Robinson, he may make
his mark long before his indentures are returned to him, and he is at
once surrounded by a horde of flatterers who do their best to spoil him.
There is no cult so distinguished by slavishness, by gush, by
lavishness, as jockey-worship, and a boy needs to have a strong head and
sound, careful advisers, if he is to escape becoming positively
insufferable. When the lad Robinson won the St. Leger, after his horse
had been left at the post, he was made recipient of the most frantic and
silly toadyism that the mind can conceive; the clever trainer to whom he
was apprenticed received L1,500 for transferring the little fellow's
services, and he is now a celebrity who probably earns a great deal more
than Professor Owen or Mr. Walter Besant. The tiny boy who won the
Cesarevitch on Don Juan received L1,000 after the race, and it must be
remembered that this child had not left school. Mr. Herbert Spencer has
not earned L1,000 by the works that have altered the course of modern
thought; the child Martin picked up the amount in a lump, after he had
scurried for less than five minutes on the back of a feather-weighted
thoroughbred. As the jockey grows older and is freed from his
apprenticeship he becomes a more and more important personage; if his
weight keeps well within limits he can ride four or five races every day
during the season; he draws five guineas for a win, and three for the
mount, and he picks up an infinite number of unconsidered trifles in the
way of presents, since the turfite, bad or good, is invariably a
cheerful giver. The popular jockey soon has his carriages, his horses,
his valet, and his sumptuous house; noblemen, millionaires, great dames,
and men and women of all degrees conspire to pamper him: for
jockey-worship, when it is once started, increases in intensity by a
sort of geometrical progression. A shrewd man of the world may smile
grimly when he hears that a popular rider was actually received with
royal honours and installed in the royal box when he went to the theatre
during his honeymoon, but there are the facts. It was so, and the best
people of the fine town in which this deplorable piece of toadyism was
perpetrated were tolerably angry at the time. If the sporting
journalists perform their work of puffery with skill and care, the
worship of the jockey reaches a pitch that borders on insanity. If
General Gordon had returned and visited such a place as Liverpool or
Doncaster during a race-meeting, he would not have been noticed by the
discriminating crowd if Archer had passed along the street. If the Prime
Minister were to visit any place of public resort while Watts or Webb
happened to be there, it is probable that his lordship would learn
something useful concerning the relative importance of Her Majesty's
subjects. I know for a fact that a cleverly executed cartoon of Archer,
Fordham, Wood, or Barrett will have at least six times as many buyers as
a similar portrait of Professor Tyndall, Mr. James Payn, M. Pasteur,
Lord Salisbury, Mr. Chamberlain, or any one in Britain excepting Mr.
Gladstone. I do not know how many times the _Vanity Fair_ cartoon of
Archer has been reprinted, but I learn on good authority that, for
years, not a single day has been known to pass on which the caricature
was not asked for. And now let us bring to mind the plain truth that
these jockeys are only uneducated and promoted stable-boys after all. Is
it not a wonder that we can pick out a single honest man from their
midst? Vast sums depend on their exertions, and they are surrounded by a
huge crowd of moneyed men who will stand at nothing if they can gain
their ends; their unbalanced, sharp little minds are always open to
temptation; they see their brethren amassing great fortunes, and they
naturally fall into line and proceed, when their turn comes, to grab as
much money as they can. Not long ago the inland revenue officials, after
minute investigation, assessed the gains of one wee creature at L9,000
per year. This pigmy is now twenty-six years of age, and he earned as
much as the Lord Chancellor, and more than any other judge, until a jury
decided his fate by giving him what the Lord Chief Justice called "a
contemptuous verdict." Another jockey paid income-tax on L10,000 a year,
and a thousand pounds is not at all an uncommon sum to be paid merely as
a retainer. Forty or fifty years ago a jockey would not have dreamed of
facing his employer otherwise than cap in hand, but the value of
stable-boys has gone up in the market, and Lear's fool might now say,
"Handy-Dandy! Who is your jockey now and who is your master?" The little
men gradually gather a kind of veneer of good manners, and some of them
can behave very much like pocket editions of gentlemen, but the scent of
the stable remains, and, whether the jockey is a rogue or passably
honest, he remains a stable-boy to the end. Half the mischief on the
Turf arises from the way in which these overpaid, spoilt menials can be
bribed, and, certes, there are plenty of bribers ready. Racing men do
not seem able to shake off the rule of their stunted tyrants. When the
gentleman who paid income-tax on nine thousand a year brought the action
which secured him the contemptuous verdict, the official handicapper to
the Jockey Club declared on oath that the jockey's character was "as bad
as bad can be." The starter and a score of other witnesses followed in
the same groove, and yet this man was freely employed. Why? We may
perhaps explain by inference presently.

With this cynically corrupt corps of jockeys and their hangers-on, it
may easily be seen that the plutocrats who manipulate the Turf wires
have an admirable time of it, while the great gaping mob of zanies who
go to races, and zanies who stay at home, are readily bled by the
fellows who have the money and the "information" and the power. The rule
of the Turf is easily formulated:--"Get the better of your neighbour.
Play the game outwardly according to fair rules. Pay like a man if your
calculations prove faulty, but take care that they shall be as seldom
faulty as possible. Never mind what you pay for information if it gives
you a point the better of other men. Keep your agents honest if you can,
but, if they happen to be dishonest under pressure of circumstances,
take care at any rate that you are not found out." In short, the Ring is
mainly made up of men who pay with scrupulous honesty when they lose,
but who take uncommonly good care to reduce the chances of losing to a
minimum. Are they in the wrong? It depends. I shall not, at the present
moment, go into details; I prefer to pause and ask what can be expected
to result from the wolfish scheme of Turf morality which I have
indicated. I do not compare it with the rules which guide our host of
commercial middlemen, because, if I did, I should say that the betting
men have rather the best of the comparison: I keep to the Turf, and I
want to know what broad consequences must emanate from a body which
organizes plans for plunder and veils them under the forms of honesty.
An old hand--the Odysseus of racing--once said to me: "No man on earth
would ever be allowed to take a hundred thousand pounds out of the Ring:
they wouldn't allow it, they wouldn't That young fool must drop all he's
got." We were speaking about a youthful madman who was just then being
plucked to the last feather, and I knew that the old turfite was right.
The Ring is a close body, and I have only known about four men who ever
managed to beat the confederacy in the long run. There is one astute,
taciturn, inscrutable organizer whom the bookmakers dread a little,
because he happens to use their own methods; he will scheme for a year
or two if necessary until he succeeds in placing a horse advantageously,
and he usually brings off his _coup_ just at the time when the Ring
least like it. "They don't yell like that when one of mine rolls home,"
he once said, while the bookmakers were clamouring with delight over the
downfall of a favourite; and indeed this wily master of deceptions has
very often made the pencillers draw long faces. But the case of the Turf
Odysseus is not by any means typical; the man stands almost alone, and
his like will not be seen again for many a day. The rule is that the
backer must come to grief in the long run, for every resource of
chicanery, bribery, and resolute keenness is against him. He is there to
be plundered; it is his mission in life to lose, or how could the
bookmakers maintain their mansions and carriages? It matters little what
the backer's capital may be at starting, he will lose it all if he is
idiot enough to go on to the end, for he is fighting against
unscrupulous legions. One well-known bookmaker coolly announced in 1888
that he had written off three hundred thousand pounds of bad debts.
Consider what a man's genuine business must be like when he can jauntily
allude to three hundred thousands as a bagatelle by the way. That same
man has means of obtaining "information" sufficient to discomfit any
poor gambler who steps into the Ring and expects to beat the bookmakers
by downright above-board dealing. As soon as he begins to lay heavily
against a horse the animal is regarded as doomed to lose by all save the
imbeciles who persist in hoping against hope. In 1889 this betting man
made a dead set at the favourite for the Two Thousand Guineas. The colt
was known to be the best of his year; he was trained in a stable which
has the best of reputations; his exercise was uninterrupted, and mere
amateurs fancied they had only to lay heavy odds _on_ him in order to
put down three pounds and pick up four. Yet the inexorable bookmaker
kept on steadily taking the odds; the more he betted, the more money was
piled on to the unbeaten horse, and yet few took warning, although they
must have seen that the audacious financier was taking on himself an
appalling risk. Well, the peerless colt was pulled out, and, on his way
to the starting post, he began to shake blood and matter from his jaws;
he could hardly move in the race, and when he was taken to his quarters
a surgeon let out yet another pint of pus from the poor beast's jaw.
Observe that the shrewdest trainer in England, a crowd of stable-boys,
the horse's special attendant, the horse-watchers at Kingsclere, and the
casual strangers who saw the favourite gallop--all these knew nothing
apparently about that monstrous abscess, and no one suspected that the
colt's jaw had been splintered. But "information"--always
information--evidently reached one quarter, and the host of outsiders
lost their money. Soon afterwards a beautiful colt that had won the
Derby was persistently backed for the City and Suburban Handicap. On
paper it seemed as if the race might be regarded as over, for only the
last year's Derby winner appeared to have a chance; but our prescient
penciller cared nothing about paper. Once more he did not trouble
himself about betting to figures; he must have laid his book five times
over before the flag fell. Then the nincompoops who refused to attend to
danger-signals saw that the beautiful colt which had spun over the same
course like a greyhound only ten months before was unable to gallop at
all. The unhappy brute tried for a time, and was then mercifully eased;
the bookmaker would have lost L100,000 if his "information" had not been
accurate, but that is just the crux--it _was_. So admirably do the
bookmakers organize their intelligence department that I hardly know
more than three instances in which they have blundered after they really
began to lay fiercely against a horse. They contrive to buy jockeys,
stablemen, veterinary surgeons--indeed, who can tell whom they do _not_
subsidize? When Belladrum came striding from the fateful hollow in front
of Pretender, there was one "leviathan" bookmaker who turned green and
began to gasp, for he stood to lose L50,000; but the "leviathan" was
spared the trouble of fainting, for the hill choked the splendid
Stockwell horse, and "information" was once more vindicated, while
Belladrum's backers paid copious tribute. Just two years before the
leviathan had occasion to turn green our Turf Odysseus really did manage
to deceive the great betting corporation with consummate skill. The
whole business throws such a clear light on Turf ethics that I may
repeat it for the benefit of those who know little about our great
national sport--the Sport of Kings. It was rumoured that Hermit had
broken a blood-vessel, and the animal was stopped for a little in his
work. Then Odysseus and his chief confederate proceeded to seize their
chance. The horse started at 1000 to 15, and it seemed like a million to
one against him, for his rough coat had been left on him, and he looked
a ragged equine invalid. The invalid won, however, by a neck, the
Marquis of Hastings was ruined, and the confederates won about L150,000.

As we go over these stories of plot and counterplot, it is hardly
possible to avoid thinking what a singularly high-souled set of gentry
we have got amongst. What ambitions! To trick money out of somebody's
pocket! To wager when you know that you have made winning certain! The
outcome of it all is that, in the unequal battle between the men who
back and the men who lay, the latter must win; they _will_ win, even if
they have to cog the dice on a pinch; and, moreover, they will not be
found out officially, even though their "secret" is as open as if it
were written across the sky. A strange, hard, pitiless crew are these
same bookmakers. Personally, strange to say, they are, in private life,
among the most kindly and generous of men; their wild life, with its
excitement and hurry, and keen encounters of wits, never seems to make
them anything but thoughtful and liberal when distress has to be aided;
but the man who will go far out of his way to perform a charitable
action will take your very skin from you if you engage him in that
enclosure which is his battle-ground, and he will not be very particular
as to whether he wins your skin by fair means or foul.

About two years ago, an exasperating, soft-headed boy brought a colossal
fortune into the Ring. I never pitied him much; I only longed to see him
placed in the hands of a good schoolmaster who knew how to use a birch.
This piteous wretch, with his fatuous airs of sharpness, was exactly the
kind of game that the bookmakers cared to fly at; he was cajoled and
stimulated; he was trapped at every turn; the vultures flapped round
him; and there was no strong, wise man to give the booby counsel or to
drag him by main force from his fate. There was no pity for the boy's
youth; he was a mark for every obscene bird of prey that haunts the
Turf; respectable betting men gave him fair play, though they exacted
their pound of flesh; the birds of Night gave him no fair play at all.
In a few short months he had poured a quarter of a million into the
bursting pockets of the Ring, and he was at last "posted" for the paltry
sum of L1,400. This tragic farce was not enacted in a corner; a hundred
journals printed every act as it was played; the victim never received
that one hearty flogging which might have saved him, and the curtain was
at last rung down on a smug, grinning group of bookmakers, a deservedly
ruined spendthrift, and a mob of indifferent lookers-on. So minutely
circumstantial were the newspapers, that we may say that all England saw
a gigantic robbery being committed, and no man, on the Turf or off,
interfered by so much as a sign. Decidedly, the Ethics of the Turf offer
an odd study for the moralist; and, in passing, I may say that the
national ethics are also a little queer. We ruin a tradesman who lets
two men play a game at billiards for sixpence on licensed premises, and
we allow a silly boy to be rooked of a quarter of a million in nine
months, although the robbery is as well-known as if it were advertised
over the whole front page of _The Times_ day by day.

In sum, then, we have an inner circle of bookmakers who take care either
to bet on figures alone, or on perfectly accurate and secret
information; we have another circle of sharp owners and backers, who, by
means of modified (or unmodified) false pretences, succeed at times in
beating the bookmakers; we have then an outer circle, composed partly of
stainless gentlemen who do not bet and who want no man's money, partly
of perfectly honest fellows who have no judgment, no real knowledge, and
no self-restraint, and who serve as prey on which the bookmakers batten.

And then we have circle on circle showing every shade of vice, baseness,
cupidity, and blank folly. First, I may glance--and only glance--at the
unredeemed, hopeless villains who are the immediate hangers-on of the
Turf. People hardly believe that there are thousands of sturdy,
able-bodied men scattered among our great towns and cities who have
never worked, and who never mean to work. In their hoggish way they feed
well and lie warm--the phrase is their own favourite--and they subsist
like odious reptiles, fed from mysterious sources. Go to any suburban
race meeting (I don't care which you pick) and you will fancy that
Hell's tatterdemalions have got holiday. Whatsoever things are vile,
whatsoever things are roguish, bestial, abominable, belong to the
racecourse loafers. To call them thieves is to flatter them, for their
impudent knavery transcends mere thieving; they have not a virtue; they
are more than dangerous, and, if ever there comes a great social
convulsion, they will let us know of their presence in an awkward
fashion, for they are trained to riot, fraud, bestiality, and theft, on
the fringe of the racecourse.

Then comes the next line of predatory animals who suck the blood of the
dupes. If you look at one of the daily sporting papers you will see, on
the most important page, a number of flaming announcements, which will
make very comic reading for you if you have any sense of humour at all.
Gentlemen, who usually take the names of well-known jockeys or trainers,
offer to make your fortune on the most ridiculously easy terms. You
forward a guinea or half-a-guinea, and an obliging prophet will show you
how to ruin the bookmakers. Old Tom Tompkins has a "glorious success"
every week; Joe, and Bill, and Harry, and a good score more, are always
ready to prove that they named the winner of any given race; one of
these fellows advertises under at least a dozen different names, and he
is able to live in great style and keep a couple of secretaries,
although he cannot write a letter or compose a circular. The _Sporting
Times_ will not allow one of these vermin to advertise in its columns,
and it has exposed all their dodges in the most conclusive and trenchant
set of articles that I ever saw; but other journals admit the
advertisements at prices which seem well-nigh prohibitive, and they are
content to draw from L15 to L20 per day by blazoning forth false
pretences. I have had much fun out of these "tipsters," for they are
deliciously impudent blackguards. A fellow will send you the names of
six horses--all losers; in two days he will advertise--"I beg to
congratulate all my patrons. This week I was in great form on the whole,
and on Thursday I sent all six winners. A thousand pounds will be paid
to any one who can disprove this statement." Considering that the sage
sent you six losers on the Thursday, you naturally feel a little
surprised at his tempestuously confident challenge. All the seers are
alike; they pick names at haphazard from the columns of the newspapers,
and then they pretend to be in possession of the darkest stable secrets.
If they are wrong, and they usually are, they advertise their own
infallibility all the more brazenly. I do not exactly know what getting
money under false pretences may be if the proceedings which I have
described do not come under that heading, and I wonder what the police
think of the business. They very soon catch a poor Rommany wench who
tells fortunes, and she goes to gaol for three months. But I suppose
that the Rommany rawnee does not contribute to the support of
influential newspapers. A sharp detective ought to secure clear cases
against at least a dozen of these parasites in a single fortnight, for
they are really stupid in essentials. One of the brotherhood always sets
forth his infallible prophecies from a dark little public-house bar near
Fountain Court. I have seen him, when I came off a journey, trying to
steady his hand at seven in the morning; his twisted, tortured fingers
could hardly hold the pencil, and he was fit for nothing but to sit in
the stinking dusk and soak whisky; but no doubt many of his dupes
imagined that he sat in a palatial office and received myriads of
messages from his ubiquitous corps of spies. He was a poor, diseased,
cunning rogue; I found him amusing, but I do not think that his patrons
always saw the fun of him.

And last there comes the broad outer circle, whereof the thought makes
me sad. On that circle are scattered the men who should be England's
backbone, but they are all suffering by reason of the evil germs wafted
from the centre of contagion. Mr. Matthew Arnold often gave me a good
deal of advice; I wish I could sometimes have given him a little. I
should have told him that all his dainty jeers about middle-class
denseness were beside the mark; all the complacent mockery concerning
the deceased wife's sister and the rest, was of no use. If you see a man
walking right into a deadly quicksand, you do not content yourself with
informing him that a bit of fluff has stuck to his coat. Mr. Arnold
should have gone among the lower middle-class a trifle more instead of
trusting to his superfine imagination, and then he might have got to
know whither our poor, stupid folks are tending. I have just ended an
unpleasantly long spell which I passed among various centres where
middle-class leisure is spent, and I would not care to repeat the
experience for any money. Any given town will suit a competent observer,
for I found scarcely any vital differences in passing from place to
place. It is tragical and disheartening to see scores of fine lads and
men, full of excellent faculties and latent goodness--and all under the
spell of the dreary Circe of the Turf. I have been for a year, on and
off, among a large circle of fellows whom I really liked; and what was
their staple talk? Nothing but betting. The paralysis at once of
intellect and of the sense of humour which attacks the man who begins
flirting with the gambling Enchantress struck me with a sense of
helplessness. I like to see a race when it is possible, and I can always
keep a kind of picture of a horse in my eye. Well, I have known a very
enthusiastic gentleman say, "The Bard, sir, The Bard; the big horse, the
mighty _bay_. He'll smother 'em all." I modestly said, "Do you think he
is big enough?" "Big enough! a giant, sir! Mark my words, sir, you'll
see Bob Peck's colours in triumph on the bay." I mildly said: "I thought
The Bard was a very little one when I saw him, and he didn't seem bay.
He was rather like the colour you might get by shaking a flour-dredger
over a mulberry. Have you had a look at him?" As usual, I found that my
learned friend had never seen that horse nor any other; he was
neglecting his business, loafing with wastrels, and trying, in a small
way, to imitate the fine strategy of the Colonel and the Captain and
Odysseus. Amongst these bewitched unfortunates, the life of the soul
seems to die away. Once I said to a nice lad, "Do none of your set ever
read anything?" and he made answer, "I don't think any of them read
very much except the _Sportsman_." That was true--very true and rather
shocking. The _Sportsman_ is bright enough and good enough in its way,
and I read it constantly; but to limit your literature to the
_Sportsman_ alone--well, it must be cramping. But that is what our fine
young men are mostly doing nowadays; the eager, intellectual life of
young Scotchmen and of the better sort of Englishmen is unknown: you may
wait for a year and you will never hear a word of talk which is
essentially above the intelligence of a hog; and a man of whom you are
fond, purely because of his kindliness, may bore you in the deadliest
manner by drawling on by the hour about names and weights, the shifting
of the odds, and the changes of luck. The country fairly swarms with
clubs where betting goes on all day, and sometimes all night: the
despicable dupes are drawn in one after another, and they fall into
manifold varieties of mischief; agonized parents pray for help;
employers chafe at the carelessness and pre-occupation of their
servants; the dupes sink to ruin unpitied, and still the crowd steps
onward to the gulf of doom. To think that by merely setting certain
noble creatures to exhibit their speed and staunchness, we should have
ended by establishing in our midst a veritable Inferno! Our faith, our
honour, our manhood, our future as a nation, are being sacrificed, and
all because Circe has read her spell over our best and most promising
souls. And our legislators amuse themselves with recriminations! We
foster a horde of bloodsuckers who rear their strength on our weakness
and our vices. Why should a drink-seller be kept in check by his having
to pay for a license, while the ruin-seller needs no license, and is
not even required to pay income tax. If licenses to bet were issued at
very heavy prices, and if a crushing fine were inflicted on any man who
made a book without holding a license, we might stamp out the villainous
small fry who work in corners at all events. But Authority is supreme;
the peer and the plutocrat go on unharmed, while the poor men who copy
follies which do not hurt the rich go right on to the death of the soul.

_April, 1889._


Of the ancestor generally assigned to us by gentlemen who must be
right--because they say so--we have very few records save the odd
scratches found on bones and stones, and the remnants of extremely
frugal meals eaten ages ago. We gather that the revered ancestor hunted
large game with an audacity which must have pleased the Rider Haggard of
ancient days; at any rate, some simple soul certainly scratched the
record of a famous mammoth-fight on a tusk, and we can now see a furious
beast charging upon a pigmy who awaits the onset with a coolness quite
superior to Mr. Quatermain's heroics. That Siberian hunter evidently
went out and tried to make a bag for his own hand, and I have no doubt
that he carried out the principle of individualism until his last
mammoth reduced him to pulp. There is no indication of organization,
and, although the men of the great deltas were able to indulge in
oysters with a freedom which almost makes me regret the advance of
civilization and the decay of Whitstable, yet I cannot trace one record
of an orderly supper-party. This shows how the heathen in his blindness
neglects his natural advantages. Long after the savage of the tundras
passed away we find vestiges of the family; and thenceforward discipline
advances steadily, though with occasional relapses toward anarchy, until
we see the ordered perfection which enables us to have West-end riots
and all-night sittings of the House of Commons without any trouble
whatever. I do not care much to deal with the times when the members of
the families elected each other promiscuously according to the success
with which they managed to club their neighbours--in fact, I wish to
come as soon as possible to the period when discipline, as understood by
us, was gradually allowed to sway the lives of men, and when the
sections of the race recognized tacitly the law of the strongest by
appointing their best man as chief. At present we in England are passing
through a dangerous and critical transition stage; a very strong party
inclines to abolish discipline of all sorts, the views of the
Continental anarchists are slowly filtering into our great towns, and,
as soon as such a move is safe, we shall have a large number of people
who will not scruple to cry out for free land, no taxation, free
everything. We have heard so much about rights lately that some of us
are beginning to question within ourselves as to what rights really are.
If a gentleman, no matter how bookish or eloquent he may be, desires to
do away with discipline altogether, I will give him credit for all the
tongue-power which he happens to possess; but I must ask leave to think
for myself in old-fashioned grooves just a little longer. After all, a
system which--for civilized countries--has been growing gradually for
more thousands of years than we dare compute cannot be entirely bad, no
matter what chance faults we may see. The generations that have flown
into the night may not have possessed complete wisdom, but they adapted
their social systems step by step to the needs of each new generation,
and it requires very little logic to tell that they would not be likely
always to cast out the good. The noisy orator who gets up and addresses
a London crowd at midnight, yelling "Down with everything!" can hardly
know what he means to destroy. We have come a long way since the man of
the swamps hunted the hairy elephant and burrowed in caves; that very
structure in which the anarchists have taken to meeting represents sixty
thousand years of slow progression from savagery towards seemliness and
refinement and wisdom; and therefore, bitterly as we may feel the
suffering of the poor orator, we say to him, "Wait a little, and talk to
us. I do not touch politics--I loathe place-hunters and talkers as much
as you do; but you are speaking about reversing the course of the ages,
and you cannot quite manage that. Let us forget the windy war of the
place-hunters, and speak reasonably and in a broad human way."

I do not by any means hold with those very robust literary characters
who want to see the principle of stern Drill carried into the most
minute branchings of our complex society. (By-the-way, these robust
gentry always put a capital "D" to the word "Drill," as though they
would have their precious principle enthroned as an object of reverence,
or even of worship.) And I am inclined to think that not a few of them
must have experienced a severe attack of wrath when they found Carlyle
suggesting that King Friedrich Wilhelm would have laid a stick across
the shoulders of literary men had he been able to have his own way. The
unfeeling old king used to go about thumping people in the streets with
a big cudgel; and Carlyle rather implies that the world would not have
been much the worse off if a stray literary man here and there could
have been bludgeoned. The king flogged apple-women who did not knit and
loafers who were unable to find work; and our historian apparently
fancies that the dignity of kingship would have been rather enhanced
than otherwise had his hero broken the head of a poet or essayist. This
is a clear case of a disciplinarian suffering from temporary
derangement. I really cannot quite stomach such heroic and sweeping
work. Carlyle, who was a Scotch peasant by birth, raised himself until
he was deservedly regarded as the greatest man of his day, and he did
this by means of literature; yet he coolly sets an ignorant, cruel,
crowned drill-serjeant high above the men of the literary calling. It is
a little too much! Suppose that Carlyle had been flogged back to the
plough-tail by some potentate when he first went to the University;
should we not have heard a good deal of noise about the business sooner
or later? Again, we find Mr. Froude writing somewhat placidly when he
tells us about the men who were cut to pieces slowly in order that their
agony might be prolonged. The description of the dismemberment of
Ballard and the rest, as given in the "Curiosities of Literature," is
too gratuitously horrible to be read a second time; but Mr. Froude is
convinced that the whole affair was no more than a smart and salutary
lesson given to some obtrusive Papists, and he commends the measures
adopted by Elizabeth's ministers to secure proper discipline. Similarly
the wholesale massacre of the people in the English northern counties is
not at all condemned by the judicious Mr. Freeman. The Conqueror left a
desert where goodly homesteads and farms had flourished; but we are not
any the less to regard him as a great statesman. I grow angry for a
time with these bold writers, but I always end by smiling, for there is
something very feminine about such shrill expressions of admiration for
force. I like to figure to myself the troubles which would have ensued
had Carlyle lived under the sway of his precious Friedrich. It was all
very well to sit in a comfortable house in pleasant Chelsea, and enlarge
upon the beauties of drill and discipline; but, had the sage been cast
into one of the noisome old German prisons, and kept there till he was
dying, merely because the kingly disciplinarian objected to a phrase in
a pamphlet, we should have heard a very curious tune from our great
humourist. A man who groaned if his bed was ill-made or his bacon
ill-fried would not quite have seen the beauty of being disciplined in a
foul cellar among swarming vermin.

The methods of certain other rulers may no doubt appear very fine to our
robust scribblers, but I must always enter my own slight protest. Ivan
the Terrible was a really thorough-paced martinet who preserved
discipline by marvellously powerful methods. He did not mind killing a
few thousands of men at a time; and he was answerable for several
pyramids of skulls which remained long after his manly spirit had passed
away. He occasionally had prisoners flayed alive or impaled merely by
way of instituting a change; and I think that some graphic British
historian should at once give us a good life of this remarkable and
royal man. The massacre of the revolted peasants would afford a fine
opening to a stern rhetorician; he might lead off thus--"Dost thou think
that this king cared for noble sentiment? Thou poor creature who canst
not look on a man without turning green with feminine terror, this
writer begs to inform you and all creatures of your sort that law is law
and discipline is discipline, and the divine origin of both is
undeniable even in an age of advertised soap and interminable spouting.
Ivan had no parliamentary eloquence under his control, but he had cold
steel and whips and racks and wheels, and he employed them all with
vigour for the repression of undisciplined scoundrels. He butchered some
thousands of innocent men! Ah, my sentimental friend, an anarchic mob
cannot be ruled by sprinkling rose-water; the lash and the rope and the
stern steel are needed to bring them to order! When my Noble One, with a
glare in his lion eyes, watched the rebels being skinned alive, he was
performing a truly beneficent function and preparing the way for that
vast, noble, and expansive Russia which we see to-day. The poor
long-eared mortals who were being skinned did not quite perceive the
beneficence at the time. How should they, unhappy long-eared creatures
that they were? Oh, Dryasdust, does any long-eared mortal who is being
skinned by a true King--a Canning, Koeniglich, Able Man--does the
long-eared one amid his wriggles ever recognize the scope and
transcendent significance of Kingship? Answer me that, Dryasdust, or
shut your eloquent mouth and go home to dinner."

That is quite a proper style for a disciplinarian, but I have not got
into the way of using it yet. For, to my limited intelligence, it
appears that, if you once begin praising Friedrichs and Charlemagnes and
Ivans at the rate of a volume or so per massacre, you may as well go on
to Cetewayo and Timour and Attila--not to mention Sulla and Koffee
Kalkalli. I abhor the floggers and stranglers and butchers; and when I
speak of discipline, I leave them out of count. My business is a little
more practical, and I have no time to refute at length the vociferations
of persons who tell us that a man proves his capacity of kingship by
commanding the extinction or torture of vast numbers of human creatures.
My thoughts are not bent on the bad deeds--the deeds of blood--wrought
out in bitterness and anguish either long ago or lately; I am thinking
of the immense European fabric which looks so solid outwardly, but which
is being permeated by the subtle forces of decay and disease. Discipline
is being outwardly preserved, but the destroying forces are creeping
into every weak place, and the men of our time may see strange things.
Gradually a certain resolute body of men are teaching weaker people that
even self-discipline is unnecessary, and that self-reverence,
self-knowledge, self-control are only phrases used by interested people
who want to hold others in slavery. In our England it is plainer every
day that the character of the people is changing. Individual men are
obedient, brave to the death, self-sacrificing, just as they always were
even in our darkest times; but, none the less, it is too plain that
authority ordained by law is dying, and that authority which rests on
vague and fluctuating sentiment gains power with steady swiftness. The
judges sit and retain all their old confidence; the magistrates sentence
daily their batches of submissive culprits; the policeman rules supreme
over the streets--he scares the flower-girl, and warns the pensive
burglar with the staccato thunder of his monarchical foot. All seems
very firm and orderly; and our largest crowds maintain their attitude of
harmless good-humour when no inflammatory talkers are there. But the
hand has written, and true discipline cannot survive very much longer
unless we rouse ourselves for a dead-lift effort. Take Parliament at the
crown of the social structure, and the School--the elementary school--at
the foundation, and we cannot feel reassured. All between the highest
and the lowest is moderately sound; the best of the middle-classes are
decent, law-abiding, and steady; the young men are good fellows in a
way; the girls and young women are charming and virtuous. But the
extremities are rotten, and sentiment has rotted them both. Parliament
has become a hissing and a scorn. No man of any party in all broad
England could be found to deny this, and many would say more. The
sentimentalist has said that loutishness shall not be curbed, that a
bawling ruffian who is silenced is martyred, that every man shall talk
as he likes, and the veto of the Polish Assembly which enabled any one
man to ruin the work of a session is revived in sober, solid England. So
it is that all has gone to wreck; and an assembly once the noblest on
earth is treated with unhidden contempt by the labourer in his field and
the mechanic at his bench. And all this has arisen from lack of

In the School--the lower-class school--things are much worse. The lowest
of the low--the beings who should be kept in order by sharp, firm
kindness and justice--have been taught to mock at order and justice and
to treat kindness as a sign of weakness. The lads will all soon be ready
to aid in governing the country. May the good powers defend us! What a
set of governors! The son of the aristocrat is easily held in order,
because he knows that any infraction of discipline will be surely
punished; the son and daughter of the decent artizan cause little
trouble to any teacher, because they know that their parents are on the
side of order, and, even if the children are inclined to be rebellious,
they dare not defy the united authority of parents and teacher. But the
child of the thief, the costermonger, the racecourse swindler, the
thriftless labourer, is now practically emancipated through the action
of sentimental persons. He may go to school or not, as he likes; and,
while the decent and orderly poor are harried by School Board
regulations, the rough of the slum snaps his fingers without fear at all
regulations. If one of the bad boys from the "rookeries" does go to
school, he soon learns that he may take his own way. If he is
foul-mouthed, thievish, indecent, or insolent, and is promptly punished,
he drags his teacher into a police-court, and the sentimentalists secure
a conviction. No one can tell the kind of anarchy that reigns in some
parts of England excepting men who dwell amidst it; and, to make matters
worse, a set of men who may perhaps be charitably reckoned as insane
have framed a Parliamentary measure which may render any teacher who
controls a young rough liable at once to one hundred pounds fine or six
months' imprisonment. This is no flight of inventive humour on our part;
it is plain fact which may probably be seen in action as law before
twelve months are over.

Tyranny I abhor, cruelty I abhor--above all, cruelty to children. But we
are threatened at one pole of the State-world with a tyranny of
factioneers who cultivate rudeness and rowdyism as a science, while at
the other pole we are threatened with the uncontrolled tyranny of the
"residuum." We must return to our common sense; the middle-classes must
make themselves heard, and we must teach the wild spirits who aim at
wrecking all order that safety depends upon the submission of all to the
expressed will of the majority. Debate is free enough--too free--and no
man is ever neglected ultimately if he has anything rational to say, so
that a minority has great power; but, when once a law is made, it must
be obeyed. England is mainly sound; our movement is chiefly to the good;
but this senseless pampering of loutishness in high and low places is a
bad symptom which tends to such consequences as can be understood only
by those who have learned to know the secret places. If it is not
checked--if anarchists, young and old, are not taught that they must
obey or suffer--there is nothing ahead but tumult, heart-burning, and

_March, 1889._


There has been much talk about the insensate youth who boasted that he
had squandered half-a-million on the Turf in a year. The marvellous
journalists who frequent betting resorts printed hundreds of paragraphs
every week explaining the wretched boy's extravagances--how he lost ten
thousand pounds in one evening at cards; how he lost five thousand on
one pigeon-shooting match; how he kept fifty racehorses in training; how
he made little presents of jewelry to all and sundry of his friends; how
he gaily lost fifteen thousand on a single race, though he might have
saved himself had he chosen; how he never would wear the same shirt
twice. Dear boy! Every day those whose duty compels them to read
newspapers were forced to see such nauseous stuff, so that a lad's
private business became public property, and no secret was made of
matters which were a subject for grief and scorn. Hundreds of grown men
stood by and saw that boy lose a fortune in two hours, and some forty
paragraphs might have been collected in which the transaction was
described in various terms as a gross swindle. A good shot was killing
pigeons--gallant sport--and the wealthy schoolboy was betting. When a
sign was given by a bookmaker the shooting-man obeyed, and won or lost
according to orders; and every man in the assembly knew what foul work
was being carried on. Did one man warn the victim? The next day the
whole country knew what had happened, and the names of the thieves were
given in almost every sporting print; but the mischief was done, and the
lookers-on contented themselves with cheap wrath. A few brief months
flew by, and every day saw the usual flock of tributes to the mad boy's
vanity; and now the end has come--a colossal fortune, amassed by half a
century's toil, has gone into the pockets of all sorts of knaves, and
the fatal _Gazette_ showed the end. The princely fortune that might have
done so much good in the world has gone to fatten the foulest flock of
predatory birds that ever cumbered the earth. Where are the glib
parasites who came to fawn on the poor dolt? Where are the swarms of
begging dandies who clustered around him? Where are the persons who sold
him useless horses? Any one who has eyes can see that they point their
fingers and shrug. Another victim gone--that is all.

And now our daily moralizers declare that bad company alone brought our
unhappy subject down. Yes, bad company! The boy might have grown up into
beneficent manhood; he might have helped to spread comfort and culture
and solid happiness among the people; but he fell into bad company, and
he is now pitied and scorned by the most despicable of the human race;
and I observe that one of his humorous Press patrons advises him to
drive a cab. Think of Gordon nobly spending his pittance among the poor
mudlarks; think of the good Lord Shaftesbury ekeing out his scanty means
among the poor; think of all the gallant souls that made the most of
poverty; and then think of that precious half-million gone to light
fresh fuel under the hotbeds of vice and villainy! Should I be wrong if
I said that the contrast rouses me to indignation and even horror? And
now let us consider what bad company means. Paradoxical as it may seem,
I do not by any means think that bad company is necessarily made up of
bad men. I say that any company is bad for a man if it does not tempt
him to exert his higher faculties. It is as certain as death that a
bodily member which is left unused shrinks and becomes aborted. If one
arm is hung for a long time in a sling, the muscles gradually fade until
the skin clings closely round the bone. The wing of the huge penguin
still exists, but it is no bigger than that of a wren, and it is hidden
away under the skin. The instances might be multiplied a thousandfold.
In the same way then any mental faculty becomes atrophied if it is
unused. Bad company is that which produces this atrophy of the finer
powers; and it is strange to see how soon the deadly process of
shrinkage sets in. The awful thing to think of is that the cramp may
insensibly be set in action by a company which, as I have said, is
composed of rather estimable people. Who can forget Lydgate in
"Middlemarch"? There is a type drawn by a woman of transcendent genius;
and the type represents only too many human wrecks. Lydgate was thrown
into a respectable provincial society; he was mastered by high ambition,
he possessed great powers, and he felt as though he could move the
mocking solidities of the world. Watch the evolution of his long
history; to me it is truly awful in spite of its gleams of brightness.
The powerful young doctor, equipped in frock-coat and modern hat, plays
a part in a tragedy which is as moving as any ever imagined by a
brooding, sombre Greek. As you read the book and watch the steady,
inexorable decline of the strong man, you feel minded to cry out for
some one to save him--he is alive to you, and you want to call out and
warn him. When the bitter end comes, you cannot sneer as Lydgate
does--you can hardly keep back the tears. And what is it all about? It
simply comes to this, that a good strong man falls into the bad company
of a number of fairly good but dull people, and the result is a tragedy.
Rosamund Vincy is a pattern of propriety; Mrs. Vincy is a fat, kindly
soul; Mr. Vincy is a blustering good-natured middle-class man. There is
no particular harm among the whole set, yet they contrive to ruin a
great man; they lower him from a great career, and convert him into a
mere prosperous gout-doctor. Every high aspiration of the man dies away.
His wife is essentially a commonplace pretty being, and she cannot
understand the great heart and brain that are sacrificed to her; so the
genius is forced to break his heart about furniture and carpets and
respectability, while the prim pretty young woman who causes the ghastly
death of a soul goes on fancying herself a model of good sense and
virtue and all the rest. "Of course I should like you to make
discoveries," she says; but she only shudders at the microscopic work.
When the financial catastrophe comes, she has the great soul at her
mercy, and she stabs him--stabs him through and through--while he is too
noble and tender to make reply. Ah, it is pitiful! Lydgate is like too
many others who are stifling in the mud of respectable dullness. The
fate of those men proves what we have asserted, that bad company is that
which does not permit the healthful and fruitful development of a soul.
Take the case of a brilliant young man who leaves the University and
dives into the great whirlpool of London. Perhaps he goes to the Bar,
and earns money meantime by writing for the Press. The young fellows who
swarm in the London centres--that is, the higher centres--are gentlemen,
polished in manner and strict as to the code of honour, save perhaps as
regards tradesmen's bills; no coarse word or accent escapes them, and
there is something attractive about their merry stoicism. But they make
bad company for a young and high-souled man, and you may see your young
enthusiast, after a year of town-life, converted into a cynic who tries
to make game of everything. He talks lightly of women, because that is
considered as showing a spirit of superiority; he is humorous regarding
the state of his head on the morning after a late supper; he can give
you slangy little details about any one and every one whom you may meet
at a theatre or any other public place; he is somewhat proud when some
bellowing, foul-mouthed bookmaker smiles suavely and inquires, "Doing
anything to-day, sir?" Mark you, he is still a charming young fellow;
but the bloom has gone from his character. He has been in bad company.

Let it be remembered that bad company may be pleasant at first; and I
can easily give the reason for that, although the process of thinking
out the problem is a little complicated. The natural tendency of our
lower nature is toward idleness; our higher nature drives us to work.
But no man ever attained the habit of work without an effort. If once
that effort is slackened, then the lower nature gains sway by degrees
and idleness creeps in. Idleness is the beginning of almost every form
of ill, and the idlest man dashes down the steep to ruin either of body
or soul, perhaps of both. Now the best of us--until our habits are
formed--find something seductive in the notion of idleness; and it is
most marvellous to observe how strongly we are apt to be drawn by a
fascinating idle man. By-the-way, no one would accuse the resident
Cambridge professors of being slothful, yet one brilliant idle man of
genius said, "When I go to Cambridge, I affect them all with a murrain
of idleness. I should paralyze the work of the place if I were
resident." To return--it appears that the best of men, especially of
youthful men, feel the subtle charm of an invitation to laziness. The
man who says, "It's a sin to be indoors to-day; let us row up to the
backwater and try a smoke among the willows;" or the one who says,
"Never mind mathematics to-night; come and have a talk with me," is much
more pleasing than the stern moralist. Well, it happens that the most
dangerous species of bad company is the species Idler. Look round over
the ranks of the hurtful creatures who spoil the State, corrupt and sap
the better nature of young men, and disgrace the name of our race. What
are they all but idlers pure and simple? Idleness, idleness, the
tap-root of misery, sin, villainy! Note the gambler at Monte Carlo,
watching with tense but impassive face as the red and the black take the
advantage by turns--he is an idler. The roaring bookmaker who
contaminates the air with his cries, and who grows wealthy on the spoil
of fools--he is an idler. The silly beings who crowd into the
betting-shops and lounge till morning in the hot air; the stout florid
person who passes from bar to bar in a commercial town; the greasy
scoundrel who congregates with his mates at street corners; the
unspeakable dogs who prowl at night in London and snatch their prey in
lonely thoroughfares; the "jolly" gangs of young men who play cards till
dawn in provincial club-rooms; even the slouching poacher who passes his
afternoons in humorous converse at the ale-house--they are all idlers,
and they all form bad company for anybody who comes within range of
their influences. We are nearing the point of our demonstration. The
youth is at first attracted by the charm of mere laziness, but he does
not quite know it. Look at the case of the lad who goes fresh from
school to the city, and starts life at seventeen years of age. We will
say that he lives in a suburb of some great town. At first he returns
home at night full of quite admirable resolves; he intends to improve
himself and advance himself in the world. But on one fine evening a
companion suggests a stroll, and it happens that billiards are
suggested. Away goes the youngster into that flash atmosphere through
which sharp, prematurely-aged features loom so curiously; he hears the
low hum, he sees the intense eagerness and suspense of the strikers, and
he learns to like the place. After a while he is found there nightly;
his general style is low, his talk is that of the music-hall--the
ineffable flash air has taken the place of his natural repose. He ought
to be studying as many languages as possible, he ought to be watching
the markets abroad, or he should be reading the latest science if he is
engaged in practical work. But no--he is in bad company, and we find him
at eight-and-twenty a disappointed, semi-competent man who grumbles
very much about the Germans.

If we go to the lower classes, we observe the same set of phenomena. A
young workman is chatting with his friends in a public-house on Saturday
night; he rises to go at half-past nine, but his comrades pull him down.
"Make it eleven o'clock," they say. He drinks fast in the last hour, and
is then so exhilarated that he probably conveys a supply of beer home.
On Sunday morning he feels muddled, heavy, a little troubled with
nausea; his mates hail him joyously, and then the company wait with
anxiety until the public-houses are open; then the dry throats are eased
and the low spirits raised, and the game goes on till three. In the
afternoon the young workman sleeps, and when he wakes up he is so
depressed that he goes out and meets his mates again. Once more he is
persuaded to exceed, but he reckons on having a good long sleep. With
aching head and fevered hands he makes a wild rush next morning, and
arrives at the shop only to find himself shut out. He is horrified and
doleful, when up come a few of his friends. They laugh the matter off.
"It's only a quarter lost! There's time for a pint before we go in." So
the drinking is begun again, and the men have none of the delicacy and
steadiness of hand that are needed. Is it not an old story? The loss of
"quarters," half-days, and days goes on; then Saint Monday comes to be
observed; then the spoiled young man and his merry crew begin to draw
very short wages on Saturdays; then the foreman begins to look askance
as the blinking uneasy laggard enters; and last comes the fatal quiet
speech, "You won't be required on Monday." Bad company! As for the
heartbreaking cases of young men who go up to the Universities full of
bright hope and equipped at all points splendidly, they are almost too
pitiful. Very often the lads who have done so well that subscriptions
are raised for them are the ones who go wrong soonest. A smart student
wins a scholarship or two, and his parents or relatives make a dead-lift
effort to scrape money so that the clever fellow may go well through his
course. At the end of a year the youth fails to present any trophies of
distinction; he comes home as a lounger; this is "slow" and the other is
"slow," and the old folk are treated with easy contempt. Still there is
hope--so very brilliant a young gentleman must succeed in the end. But
the brilliant one has taken up with rich young cads who affect
bull-terriers and boxing-gloves; he is not averse from a street-brawl in
the foggy November days; he can take his part in questionable choruses;
he yells on the tow-path or in the pit of the theatre, and he is often
shaky in the morning after a dose of very bad wine. All the idleness and
rowdyism do not matter to Brown and Tomkins and the rest of the raffish
company, for they only read for the pass degree or take the poll; but
the fortunes--almost the lives--of many folk depend on our young
hopeful's securing his Class, and yet he fritters away time among bad
talk, bad habits, bad drink, and bad tobacco. Then come rumours of
bills, then the crash, and the brilliant youth goes down, while Brown
and Tomkins and all the rowdies say, "What a fool he was to try going
our pace!" Bad company!

I should therefore say to any youth--"Always be doing something--bad
company never do anything; and thus, if you are resolved to be always
doing something useful, it follows that you will not be among the bad
company." This seems to me to be conclusive; and many a broken heart and
broken life might have been kept sound if inexperienced youths were only
taught thus much continually.

_October, 1888._


Let it be understood that I do not intend to speak very much about the
excellent people who are kind enough to label themselves as "Society,"
for I have had quite enough experience of them at one time and another,
and my impressions are not of a peculiarly reverential kind. "Company"
among the set who regard themselves as the cream of England's--and
consequently of the world's--population is something so laborious, so
useless, so exhausting that I cannot imagine any really rational person
attending a "function" (that is the proper name) if Providence had left
open the remotest chance of running away; at any rate, the rational
person would not endure more than one experience. For, when the
clear-seeing outsider looks into "Society," and studies the members who
make up the little clique, he is smitten with thoughts that lie too deep
for tears--or laughter. A perfectly fresh mind, when brought to bear on
the "Society" phenomenon, asks, "What are these people? What have they
done? What are they particularly fitted for? Is there anything noble
about them? Is their conversation at all charming? Are any of them
really happy?" And to all of these queries the most disappointing
answers must be returned. Take the men. Here is a marquis who is a
Knight of the Garter. He has held offices in several Cabinets; he can
control the votes spread over a very large slice of a county, and his
income amounts to some trifle like one hundred and eighty thousand
pounds per year. We may surely expect something of the superb
aristocratic grace here, and surely a chance word of wit may drop from a
man who has been in the most influential of European assemblies! Alas!
The potentate crosses his hand over his comfortable stomach, and his
contributions to the entertainment of the evening amount to occasional
ejaculations of "Ugh! Ugh!" "Hah!" "Hey!" "Exactly!" "Ugh! Ugh!" In the
higher spheres of intellect and breeding I have no doubt but that "Ugh!
Ugh!" "Hah!" "Hey!" may have some profound significance; but, to say the
least, it is not obviously weighty. The marchioness is sweet in manner,
grave, reposeful, and with a flash of wit at disposal--not too obvious
wit--that would offend against the canon which ordains restraint; but
she might, one thinks, become tiresome in an hour. No one could say that
her manners were anything but absolutely simple, yet the very simplicity
is so obviously maintained as a sort of gymnastic effort that it tires
us only to study it. Then here is a viscount, graceful, well-set, easy
in his pose, talking with a deep voice, and lisping to the faintest
degree. He has owned some horses, caused some scandals, waltzed some
waltzes, and eaten a very large number of good dinners: he has been
admired by many, hated by many, threatened by many, and he would not be
admitted to any refined middle-class home; yet here he is in his
element, and no one would think of questioning his presence. He never
uttered a really wise or helpful word in his life, he never did anything
save pamper himself--his precious self--and yet he is in "Society," and
reckoned as rather an authority too! These are only types, but, if you
run through them all, you must discover that only the sweet and splendid
girls who have not had time to be spoilt and soured are worth thinking
about. If there is dancing, it is of course carried out with perfect
grace and composure; if there is merely an assembly, every one looks as
well as possible, and every one stares at every one else with an air as
indifferent as possible. But the child of nature asks in wild
bewilderment, "Where on earth does the human companionship come in?"
Young girls are nowadays beginning to expect bright talk from their
partners, and the ladies have a singularly pretty way of saying the most
biting things in a smooth and unconcerned fashion when they find a dunce
beginning to talk platitudes or to patronize his partner; but the middle
generation are unspeakably inane; and the worst is that they regard
their inanity as a decided sign of distinction. A grave man who adds a
sense of humour to his gravity may find a sort of melancholy
entertainment if he listens to a pair of thorough-paced "Society"
gentry. He will learn that you do not go to a "function" to please
others or to be pleased yourself; you must not be witty--that is bad
form; you must not be quietly in earnest--that is left to literary
people; you must not speak plain, direct truth even in the most
restrained fashion--that is to render yourself liable to be classified
as a savage. No. You go to a "function" in order, firstly, to see who
else is there; secondly, to let others see you; thirdly, to be able to
say to absentees that you saw they were not there; fourthly, to say,
with a liquid roll on the "ll," "She's looking remarkably wellll."
These are the great and glorious duties of the Society person. A little
funny creature was once talking to a writer of some distinction. The
little funny man would have been like a footman if he had been eight
inches taller, for his manners savoured of the pantry. As it was, he
succeeded in resembling a somewhat diminutive valet who had learnt his
style and accent from a cook. The writer, out of common politeness,
spoke of some ordinary topic, and the valet observed with honest pride,
"_We_ don't talk about that sort of thing." The writer smiled grimly
from under his jutting brows, and he repeated that valet's terrific
repartee for many days. The actual talk which goes on runs in this way,
"Quite charming weather!" "Yes, very." "I didn't see you at Lady Blank's
on Tuesday?" "No; we could hardly arrange to suit times at all." "She
was looking uncommonly well. The new North-Country girl has come out."
"So I've heard." "Going to Goodwood?" "Yes. We take Brighton this time
with the Sendalls." And so on. It dribbles for the regulation time, and,
after a sufficient period of mortal endurance, the crowd disperse, and
proceed to scandalize each other or to carry news elsewhere about the
ladies who were looking "remarkably well-l-l."

As for the dreadful crushes, what can one say? The absurd rooms where
six hundred people try to move about in a space meant for three hundred;
the staircase a Black-Hole tempered by flowers; the tired smile of the
hostess; the set simper of long-recked shaven young men; the patient,
tortured hypocrisy of hustled and heated ladies; the babble of scrappy
nothings; the envy, hatred, malice, and all uncharitableness; the
magnificence turned into meanness; the lack of all feeling of home, and
the discontented dispersal of ungrateful people--are these the things to
occupy life? Are these the things to interest any manly man who is free
to act for himself? Hardly.

But our "company" refers to the meeting of human souls and hearts, and
not to the meeting of a fortuitous concourse of male and female
evening-dresses. I have now before me a very brilliant published account
of a reception at George Eliot's house. Those assemblies were company,
and company of the finest kind. The exaggerated fuss made by the sibyl's
husband in order to secure silence while she was speaking sometimes
became a little embarrassing when men of a humorous turn were there; but
nevertheless the best in England met in that drawing-room, and all that
was highest in literature, science, and art was talked over in graceful
fashion. The sniffing drawl of Society and the impudent affectation of
cynicism were not to be found; and grave men and women--some of them
mournful enough, it may be--agreed to make the useful hours fleet to
some profit. No man or woman in England--or in Europe for that
matter--was unwilling to enter that modest but brilliant assemblage, and
I wish some one could have taken minute notes, though that of course
would have been too entirely shocking. When I think of that little
deep-voiced lady gathering the choicest spirits of her day together, and
keeping so many notes in tuneful chime, I hardly know whether to use
superlatives of admiration about her or superlatives of contempt about
the fribbles who crush each other on staircases and babble like parrots
in an aviary. If we cast back a little, we have another example of an
almost perfect company. People have talked of Johnson, Burke, Boswell,
Beauclerc, and Goldsmith until the subject is growing a thought stale;
but, unless a reader takes Boswell and reads the book attentively after
he has come to maturity, he can hardly imagine how fine was that
admirable company. They were men of high aims and strong sense; they
talked at their very best, and they talked because they wished to attain
clear views of life and fate. The old gladiator sometimes argued for
victory, but that was only in moments of whim, and he was always ready
to acknowledge when he was in error. Those men may sometimes have drunk
too much wine; they may have spoken platitudes on occasion; but they
were good company for each other, and the hearty, manly friendship which
all but poor Goldsmith and Boswell felt for every one else was certainly
excellent. Assemblies like the Club are impossible nowadays; but surely
we might find some modification suited even to our gigantic intellects
and our exaggerated cleverness! I have defined bad company; I may define
good company as that social intercourse which tends to bring out all
that is best in man. I have said my bitter word about the artificial
society of the capital; but I never forget the lovely quiet circles
which meet in places far away from the blare of the city. In especial I
may refer to the beautiful family assemblies which are almost
self-centred. The girls are all at home, but the boys are scattered.
Harry writes from India, with all sorts of gossip from Simla, and many
longings for home; a neighbour calls, and the Indian letter gives matter
for pleasant half-melancholy chat. Then the quiet evening passes with
books and placid casual talk; the nerves from the family stretch perhaps
all over the world, but all the threads converge on one centre. This
life is led in many places, and the folk who so live are good company
among themselves, and good company for all who meet them.

The very thought of the men who are usually described in set slang
phrases is enough to arouse a shudder. The loud wit who cracks his
prepared witticisms either at the head of a tavern-table or in private
society is a mere horror. The tavern men of the commercial traveller
class are very bad, for their mirth is prepared; their jokes have run
the length and breadth of the United Kingdom, and they are not always
prepared to sacrifice the privilege of being coarse which used to be
regarded as the joker's prerogative. In moving about the world I have
always found that the society of the great commercial room set up for
being jolly, but I could never exactly perceive where the jollity
entered. Noise, sham gentility, the cackle of false laughter were there;
but the strong, sincere cheerfulness of friendly men--never! Yet the
tavern humourist, or even the club joker, is as nothing compared with
the true professional wit. Who can remember that story about Theodore
Hook and the orange? Hook wrote a note to the hostess, saying, "Ask me
at dinner if I will venture on an orange." The lady did so, and then the
brilliant wit promptly made answer, "I'm afraid I should tumble off." A
whole volume of biography is implied in that one gruesome and vulgar
anecdote. In truth, the professional wit is no company at all; he has
the effect of a performing monkey suddenly planted on the table, and
his efforts are usually quite on a level with the monkey's.

Among the higher Bohemian sets--Bohemian they call themselves, as if
there ever was a Bohemian with five hundred a year!--good company is
common. I may say, with fear and much trembling, that the man of
letters, the man who can name you all the Restoration comedies or tell
you the styles of the contemporaries of Alan Chartier is a most terrible
being, and I should risk sharks rather than remain with him on a
desolate island; but a mixed set of artists, musicians, verse-makers,
novelists, critics--yea, even critics--contrive usually to make an
unusually pleasant company. They are all so clever that the professional
wit dares not raise his voice lest some wielder of the bludgeon should
smite him; no long-winded talk is allowed, and, though a bore may once
be admitted to the company, he certainly will never be admitted more
than once. The talk ranges loosely from point to point, and yet a
certain sequence is always observed; the men are freed from conventions;
they like each other and know each other's measure pretty well; so the
hours fly in merry fashion, and the brethren who carried on the
symposium go away well pleased with themselves and with each other.
There can be no good company where the capacity for general agreement is
carried too far in any quarter. Unity of aim, difference of
opinion--those are the elements that make men's conversations valuable.
Last of all, I must declare that there can be no good company unless
women are present. The artists and authors and the rest are all very
well in their way, but the dexterous unseen touch of the lady is
needed; and no man can reckon himself fit to converse at all unless he
has been taught by women's care, and gently reproved by women's
impalpable skill. Young men of our day are beginning to think it
childish or tedious to mix much in women's society; the consequence is
that, though many of them go a long way toward being gentlemen, too many
are the merest cubs that ever exhibited pure loutishness in
conversation. The subtle blending, the light give-and-take of chat
between men and women is the true training which makes men graceful of
tongue, kindly in the use of phrases, and, I believe, pure in heart.

_October, 1888._


One of the most pestilent of all social nuisances is the athlete who
must be eternally performing "feats," and then talking about them. He
goes to the Alps, and, instead of looking at the riot of sunset colour
or the immortal calm of the slumbering peaks, he attempts performances
which might be amusing in a circus of unlimited size, but which are not
in the least interesting when brought off on the mighty declivities of
the great hills. One of these gentlemen takes up a quarter of a volume
in telling us how he first of all climbed up a terrible peak, then fell
backwards and slid down a slope of eight hundred feet, cutting his head
to the bone, and losing enough blood to make him feel faint The same
gentleman had seen two of his companions fly into eternity down the grim
sides of the same mountain; but he must needs climb to the top, not in
order to serve any scientific purpose, or even to secure a striking
view, but merely to say he had been there. After an hour on the summit
of the enormous mass of stone, he came down; and I should have liked to
ask him what he reckoned to be the net profit accruing to him for his
little exploit. Wise men do not want to clamber up immense and dangerous
Alps; there is a kind of heroic lunacy about the business, but it is not
useful, and it certainly is not inviting. If a thoughtful man goes even
in winter among the mountains, their vast repose sinks on his soul; his
love of them never slackens, and he returns again and again to his
haunts until time has stiffened his joints and dulled his eyes, and he
prepares to go down into the dust of death. But the wise man has a
salutary dislike of break-neck situations; he cannot let his sweet or
melancholy fancies free while he is hanging on for dear life to some
inhospitable crag, so he prefers a little moderate exercise of the
muscles, and a good deal of placid gazing on scenes that ennoble his
thoughts and make his imagination more lofty. One of the
mountain-climbing enthusiasts could not contrive to break his neck in
Europe, so, with a gallantry worthy of a better cause, he went to South
America and scaled Chimborazo. He could not quite break his neck even in
the Andes, but he no doubt turned many athletic friends yellow with
envy. Yet another went to the Caucasus, and found so many charming and
almost deadly perils there that he wants numbers of people to go out and
share his raptures.

The same barren competitive spirit breaks out in other directions. Men
will run across the North Sea in a five-ton boat, though there are
scores of big and comfortable steamers to carry them: they are cramped
in their tiny craft; they can get no exercise; their limbs are pained;
they undergo a few days of cruel privation--and all in order that they
may tell how they bore a drenching in a cockboat. On the roads in our
own England we see the same disposition made manifest. The bicyclist
tears along with his head low and his eyes fixed just ahead of the tyre
of his front wheel; he does not enjoy the lovely panorama that flits
past him, he has no definite thought, he only wants to cover so many
miles before dark; save for the fresh air that will whistle past him,
thrilling his blood, he might as well be rolling round on a cinder track
in some running-ground. But the walker--the long-distance walker--is the
most trying of all to the average leisurely and meditative citizen. He
fits himself out with elaborate boots and ribbed stockings; he carries
resin and other medicaments for use in case his feet should give way;
his knapsack is unspeakably stylish, and he posts off like a spirited
thoroughbred running a trial. His one thought is of distances; he gloats
over a milestone which informs him that he is going well up to five and
a half miles per hour, and he fills up his evening by giving spirited
but somewhat trying accounts of the pace at which he did each stage of
his pilgrimage. In the early morning he is astir, not because he likes
to see the diamond dew on the lovely trees or hear the chant of the
birds as they sing of love and thanksgiving--he wants to make a good
start, so that he may devour even more of the way than he did the day
before. In any one lane that he passes through there are scores of
sights that offer a harvest to the quiet eye; but our insatiable athlete
does not want to see anything in particular until the sight of his
evening steak fills him with rapture. If the most patient and urbane of
men were shut up with one of these tremendous fellows during a storm of
rain, he would pray for deliverance before a couple of hours went by;
for the competitive athlete's intelligence seems to settle in his
calves, and he refers to his legs for all topics which he kindly
conceives to possess human interest. Of course the swift walker may
become a useful citizen should we ever have war; he will display the
same qualities that were shown by the sturdy Bavarians and
Brandenburgers who bore those terrible marches in 1870 and swept
MacMahon into a deadly trap by sheer endurance and speed of foot; but he
is not the ideal companion.

Persons who are wise proceed on a different plan; they wish to make the
most of every moment, and, while they value exercise, they like to make
the quickened currents of their blood feed a receptive and perhaps
somewhat epicurean brain. To the judicious man our lovely country
affords a veritable harvest of delights--and the delights can be gained
with very little trouble. I let the swift muscular men hurry away to the
Tyrol or the Caucasus or the Rocky Mountains, or whithersoever else they
care to go, and I turn to our own windy seashore or quiet lanes or
flushed purple moorlands. I do not much care for the babble of talk at
my elbow; but one good companion who has cultivated the art of keeping
silent is a boon. Suppose that you follow me on a roundabout journey.
Say we run northward in the train and resolve to work to the south on
foot; we start by the sea, and foot it on some fine gaudy morning over
the springy links where the grass grows gaily and the steel-coloured
bent-grass gleams like the bayonets of some vast host. The fresh wind
sings from the sea and flies through the lungs and into the pores with
an exhilarating effect like that of wine; the waves dance shoreward,
glittering as if diamonds were being pelted down from the blue arch
above; the sea-swallows sweep over the bubbling crests like flights of
silver arrows. It is very joyous. You have set off early, of course, and
the rabbits have not yet turned into their holes for their day-long
snooze. Watch quietly, and you may perhaps see how they make their fairy
rings on the grass. One frolicsome brown rogue whisks up his white tail,
and begins careering round and round; another is fired by emulation and
joins; another and another follow, and soon there is a flying ring of
merry little creatures who seem quite demented with the very pleasure of
living. One bounds into the air with a comic curvet, and comes down with
a thud; the others copy him, and there is a wild maze of coiling bodies
and gleaming white tails. But let the treacherous wind carry the scent
of you down on the little rascals and you will see a change. An old
fellow sits up like a kangaroo for an instant, looking extremely wise
and vigilant; he drops and kicks the ground with a sharp thud that can
be heard a long way off; the terror of man asserts itself in the midst
of that pure, peaceful beauty, and the whole flock dart off in agitated
fashion till they reach their holes; then they seem to look round with a
sarcastic air, for they know that you could not even raise a gun to your
shoulder in time to catch one of them before he made his lightning dive
into the darksome depths of the sand-hill. How strange it is that
meditative men like to watch the ways of wild things! White of Selborne
did not care much for killing anything in particular; he enjoyed himself
in a beautiful way for years, merely because he had learned to love the
pretty creatures of fen and meadow and woodland. Mr. Russell Lowell can
spend a happy day in watching through his glass the habits of the birds
that haunt his great garden; he does not want a gun; he only cares to
observe the instincts which God has implanted in the harmless children
of the air. On our walking tour we have hundreds of chances to see the
mystic mode of life pursued by the creatures that swarm even in our
crowded England; and if we use our eyes we may see a score of genuine
miracles every day.

On the pleasant "links" there is always something new to draw the eye.
Out on the flashing sea a ship rolls bravely away to north or south; her
sails are snowy in certain lights, and then in an instant she stands up
in raiment of sooty black. You may make up a story about her if you are
fanciful. Perhaps she is trailing her way into the deep quiet harbour
which you have just left, and the women are waiting until the rough
bearded fellows come lumbering up the quay. Perhaps she was careering
over the rushing mountain waves to the southward of the desolate Horn
only a few weeks ago, and the men were counting the days wearily, while
the lasses and wives at home sighed as the wind scourged the sea in the
dreary night and set all the rocks thundering with the charges of mad
surges. A little indulgence of the fancy does you no harm even though
you may be all wrong; very likely the skipper of the glad-looking vessel
is tipsy, maybe he has just been rope's-ending his cabin-boy or engaging
in some equally unpoetic pursuit; still no one is harmed by idealizing a
little, and so, by your leave, we will not alter our crude romance of
the sailor-men. Meantime, as you go on framing poetic fancies, there is
a school of other poets up above you, and they are composing their
fantasies at a pretty rate. The modest brown lark sits quietly amid the
sheltering grass, and will hardly stir, no matter how near her you may
go; but her mate, the glorious singer, is far away up toward the sun,
and he shouts in his joyous ecstasy until the heaven is full of his
exquisite joyance. Imagine how he puts his heart into his carol! He is
at least a mile above you, and you can hear him over a radius of half a
mile, measured from the place where he will drop. The little poets chant
one against the other, and yet there is no discord, for the magic of
distance seems to harmonize song with song, and the tumult soothes
instead of exciting you. Who is the poet who talks of "drawing a thread
of honey through your heart"? It is a quaint, conceited phrase, and yet
somehow it gives with absurd felicity some idea of the lark's song. They
massacre these innocents of the holy choir by thousands, and put them in
puddings for Cockneys to eat. The mere memory of one of those beatified
mornings makes you want to take the blood of the first poulterer whom
you find exposing a piteous string of the exquisite darlings. But we
must not think of blood, or taxes, or German bands, or political
speeches, or any other abomination, for our walk takes us through
flowery regions of peace.

Your muscles tighten rarely as you stump on over the elastic herbage;
two miles an hour is quite enough for your modest desires, especially as
you know you can quicken to four or five whenever you choose. As the day
wears on, the glorious open-air confusion takes possession of your
senses, your pulses beat with spirit, and you pass amid floating visions
of keen colour, soft greenery, comforting shades. The corn rustles on
the margin where the sandy soil ceases; the sleepy farmhouses seem to
'give you a lazy greeting, and the figures of the labourers are like
natural features of the landscape. Everything appears friendly; it may
be that the feeling of kindness and security arises from your physical
well-being, but it is there all the same, and what can you do more than
enjoy? Perhaps in the midst of your confused happiness your mind begins
acting on its own account, and quite disregards its humble companion,
the body. Xavier de Maistre's mind always did so, and left what Xavier
called the poor _bete_ of a carcass to take care of itself; and all of
us have to experience this double existence at times. Then you find the
advantages of knowing a great deal of poetry. I would not give a rush
for a man who merely pores over his poets in order to make notes or
comments on them; you ought to have them as beloved companions to be
near you night and day, to take up the parable when your own independent
thought is hazy with delight or even with sorrow. As you tramp along the
whistling stretches amid the blaze of the ragworts and the tender
passing glances of the wild veronica, you can take in all their
loveliness with the eye, while the brain goes on adding to your pleasure
by recalling the music of the poets. Perhaps you fall into step with the
quiver and beat of our British Homer's rushing rhymes, and Marmion
thunders over the brown hills of the Border, or Clara lingers where
mingles war's rattle with groans of the dying. Perhaps the wilful brain
persists in crooning over the "Belle Dame Sans Merci;" your mood
flutters and changes with every minute, and you derive equal
satisfaction from the organ-roll of Milton or the silvery flageolet
tones of Thomas Moore. If culture consists in learning the grammar an
etymologies of a poet's song, then no cultured man will ever get any
pleasure from poetry while he is on a walking tour; but, if you absorb
your poets into your being, you have spells of rare and unexpected

The halt is always pleasant. On our sand-hills the brackens grow to an
immense height, and, if you lie down among them, you are surrounded by a
pale green gleam, as if you had dived beneath some lucent sun-smitten
water. The ground-lark sways on a frond above you; the stonechat lights
for an instant, utters his cracking cry, and is off with a whisk; you
have fair, quiet, and sweet rest, and you start up ready to jog along
again. You come to a slow clear stream that winds seaward, lilting to
itself in low whispered cadences. Over some broad shallow pool paven
with brown stones the little trout fly hither and thither, making a weft
and woof of dark streaks as they travel; the minnows poise themselves,
and shiver and dart convulsively; the leisurely eel undulates along, and
perhaps gives you a glint of his wicked eye; you begin to understand the
angler's fascination, for the most restive of men might be lulled by the
light moan of that wimpling current. Cruel? Alas, yes!

That quaint old cruel coxcomb in his gullet
Should have a hook, with a small trout to pull it.

That was the little punishment which Byron devised for Izaak Walton. But
of course, if you once begin to be supersensitive about cruelty, you
find your way blocked at every cross-road of life, and existence ceases
to be worth having.

On, as the sun slopes, and his beams fall slant over solemn mounds of
cool gray hue and woody fields all pranked in gold. Look to the north,
and you see the far-away hills in their sunset livery of white and
purple and rose. On the clear summits the snow sometimes lies; and, as
the royal orb sinks, you will see the snow blush for a minute with
throbbing carnation tints that shift and faint off slowly into cold
pallid green. The heart is too full of ecstasy to allow even of thought.
You live--that is all! You may continue your wanderings among all the
mystic sounds and sights of the night, but it is better to rest long and
well when you can. Let the village innkeeper put down for you the
coarsest fare that can be conceived, and you will be content; for, as a
matter of fact, any food and drink appeal gratefully to the palate of a
man who has been inhaling the raciest air at every pore for eight or ten
hours. If the fare does not happen to be coarse--if, for example, the
landlord has a dish of trout--so much the better; you do not envy any
crowned personage in Christendom or elsewhere. And how much does your
day of Paradise cost you? At the utmost, half-a-crown. Had you been away
on the Rhine or in Switzerland or in some German home of brigands, you
would have been bleeding at the purse all day, while in our own
matchless land you have had merriment, wild nature, air that is like the
essence of life--and all for thirty pence. When night falls heavily, you
pass your last hour in listening to the under-song of the sea and the
whisper of the roaming winds among the grass. Then, if you are wise and
grateful, you thank the Giver of all, and go to sleep.

In the jolly greenwoods of the Midlands you may have enjoyment of
another kind. Some men prefer the sleepy settled villages, the sweeping
fens with their bickering windmills, the hush and placidity of old
market-towns that brood under the looming majesty of the castle. The
truth is that you cannot go anywhere in England outside of the blighted
hideous manufacturing districts without finding beauty and peace. In the
first instance you seek health and physical well-being--that goes
without saying; but the walking epicure must also have dainty thoughts,
full banquets of the mind, quiet hours wherein resolutions may be framed
in solitude and left in the soul to ripen. When the epicure returns to
the din of towns, he has a safeguard in his own breast which tends to
keep him alike from folly and melancholy. Furthermore, as he passes the
reeking dens where human beings crowd who never see flower or tree, he
feels all churlishness depart from him, and he is ready to pity and help
his less happy brethren. After he has settled to labour again, his hours
of rest are made calmly contented by the chance visions that come to him
and show him the blown sea, the rustling whiteness of fretted surges,
the painted meadows, and the solemn colours of the dying day. And all
this talk we have got only through letting our minds go wandering away
on the subject of going a-walking. I have always said that the sweetest
pleasures are almost costless. The placid "look of the bay mare" took
all the silliness out of Walt Whitman; and there is more in his queer
phrase than meets the eye. One word. When you go a-walking, do not try
to be obtrusively merry. Meet a group of tramping gentlemen who have
been beer-drinking at noon; they are surprisingly vivacious until the
gaze of the sun becomes importunate; they even sing as they go, and
their hearty laughter resounds far and near. See them in the afternoon,
and ask where the merriment is; their eyes are glazed, their nerves
crave slumber, their steps are by no mean sprightly, and they probably
form a doleful company, ready to quarrel or think pessimistic thoughts.
Be calm, placid, even; do not expect too much, and your reward will be

_June, 1888._


Simple folk fancy that "sport" must be a joyous pursuit, and that a
sportsman is a jovial, light-hearted, and rather innocent person. It may
be useful to many parents, and perhaps to some young people, if I let
them know what "sport" really means nowadays. Those who have their
imaginations filled with pictures of merry red-coated riders, or of
sturdy gaitered squires tramping through stubble behind their dogs, are
quite welcome to their agreeable visions. The hounds of course meet in
hundreds of places in winter-time, and the bold riders charge gaily
across meadows and over fences. It is a splendid, exhilarating sight;
and no one can find much fault with the pursuit, for it gives health to
thousands. The foxes may perhaps object a little; but, if a philosopher
could explain to them that, if they were not preserved for hunting
purposes, they would soon be exterminated, we have no doubt that they
would choose the alternative which gives them a chance. Shooting is
engaged in with more enthusiasm now than ever it was before; and
doubtless the gentlemen who sit in snug corners and knock down tame
pheasants derive benefit--physical and moral--from the lively exercise.
But the word "sport" in England does not now refer to hunting and
shooting; it has a wide application, and it describes in a generic way
a number of pursuits which are, to say the least, not improving to those
who engage in them.

The royal sport is of course horse-racing; and about that amusement--in
its present aspect--I may have something profitable to say. The
advocates of racing inform us that the noble sport improves the breed of
horses, and affords wholesome relaxation to men; they grow quite
indignant with the narrow Puritans who talk "stuff" about
demoralization, and they have numerous fine phrases referring to old
England and the spirit of our fathers. All the talk concerning the
improving influence of the Turf on horses and men is pernicious
nonsense, and there is an end of the matter. The English thoroughbred is
a beautiful creature, and it is pleasant enough to see him make his
splendid rush from start to finish; amusing also is it to watch the
skill of the wiry manikins who ride; the jockeys measure every second
and every yard, and their cleverness in extracting the last ounce of
strength from their horses is quite curious. The merest novice may enjoy
the sight of the gay colours, and he cannot help feeling a thrill of
excitement when the thud, thud of the hoofs sounds near him as the
exquisite slender animals fly past. But the persons who take most
interest in races are those who hardly know a horse from a mule. They
may make a chance visit to a racecourse, but the speed and beauty of the
animals do not interest them in any way; they cannot judge the skill of
a rider; they have no eye for anything but money. To them a horse is
merely a name; and, so far from their racing pursuits bringing them
health, they prefer staying in a low club or lower public-house, where
they may gamble without being obliged to trouble themselves about the
nobler animals on which they bet.

The crowd on a racecourse is always a hideous spectacle. The class of
men who swarm there are amongst the worst specimens of the human race,
and, when a stranger has wandered among them for an hour or so, he feels
as though he had been gazing at one huge, gross, distorted face. Their
language is many degrees below vulgarity; in fact, their coarseness can
be understood only by people who have been forced to go much amongst
them--and that perhaps is fortunate. The quiet stoical aristocrats in
the special enclosures are in all ways inoffensive; they gamble and
gossip, but their betting is carried on with still self-restraint, and
their gossip is the ordinary polished triviality of the country-house
and drawing-room. But what can be said of the beings who crowd the
betting-ring? They are indeed awful types of humanity, fitted to make
sensitive men shudder. Their yells, their profanity, their low cunning,
their noisy eagerness to pounce upon a simpleton, their infamous
obscenity, all combine to make them the most loathsome collection of
human beings to be found on the face of the broad earth.

Observe that all of this betting crew appear to be what is called
rolling in money. They never do a stroke of useful work; they merely
howl and make bets--that is their contribution to the prosperity of the
State. Yet they are dressed with vulgar richness, they fare sumptuously,
and they would not condescend to taste any wine save the finest
vintages; they have servants and good horses, and in all ways they
resemble some rank luxurious growth that has sprung from a putrid soil.
Mark that these bookmakers, as they are called, are not gentlemen in
any sense of the word; some of them are publicans, some look like
prize-fighters, some like promoted costermongers, some like common
thieves. There is not a man in the company who speaks with a decently
refined accent--in short, to use plain terms, they are the scum of the
earth. Whence then comes the money which enables them to live in riotous
profusion? The explanation is a sad one, and I trust that these words
may warn many young people in time. Here is the point to be weighed
upon--these foul-mouthed persons in the betting-ring are able to travel
about all spring, summer, and autumn, staying in the best hotels and
lacking nothing; in winter they can loll away their time in
billiard-rooms. Once more, who supplies the means? It is the senseless
outside public who imagine they know something about "sport."

Every town in England contains some centre--generally a public-house or
a barber's shop--where men meet to make wagers; the evil influence of
the Turf is almost everywhere apparent, for it is probable that at least
two millions of men are interested in betting. London swarms with vile
clubs which are merely gambling saloons; professional men, tradesmen,
clerks, and even artizans crowd into these horrid holes, and do business
with the professional gamblers. In London alone there are some
half-dozen papers published daily which are entirely devoted to "sport,"
and these journals are of course bought by the gudgeons who seek
destruction in the betting-rooms. In the provinces there are several
towns which easily support a daily sporting journal; and no ordinary
paper in the North of England could possibly survive unless at least
one-eighth of its space were devoted to racing matters of various sorts.
There are hundreds of thousands of our population who read absolutely
nothing save lists of weights and entries, quotations which give the
odds against horses, and reports of races. Not 5 per cent, of these
individuals ever see a horse from year's end to year's end, yet they
talk of nothing else but horses, horses, horses, and every effort of
their intellects is devoted to the task of picking out winners.
Incredible as it may seem, these poor souls call themselves sportsmen,
and they undoubtedly think that their grubbing about in malodorous
tap-rooms is a form of "sport"; it is their hopeless folly and greed
that fill the pockets of the loud-mouthed tenants of the Ring. Some one
must supply the bookmakers' wealth, and the "some one" is the senseless
amateur who takes his ideas from newspapers. The amateur of the tap-room
or the club looks down a list of horses and chooses one which he
fancies; perhaps he has received private advice from one of the beings
who haunt the training-grounds and watch the thoroughbreds at exercise;
perhaps he is influenced by some enthusiast who bids him risk all he has
on certain private information. The fly enters the den and asks the
spider, "What price Flora?"--that means, "What odds are you prepared to
lay against the mare named Flora?" The spider answers--say seven to one;
the fly hands one pound to the spider, and the bet is made. The
peculiarity of this transaction is that one of the parties to it is
always careful to arrange so that he cannot lose. Supposing that there
are seven horses entered in a race, it is certain that six must be
losers. The bookmaker so makes his wagers that no matter which of the
seven wins he at least loses nothing; the miserable amateur has only one
chance. He may possibly be lucky; but the chances in the long run are
dead against him, for he is quite at the mercy of the sharp capitalist
who bets with him. The money which the rowdies of the Ring spend so
lavishly all comes from the pockets of dupes who persist in pursuing a
kind of _ignis fatuus_ which too often leads them into a bog of ruin.

This deplorable business of wagering has become universal. We talk of
the Italians as a gambling nation, but they are not to be compared with
the English for recklessness and purblind persistence. I know almost
every town in England, and I say without fear that the main topic of
conversation in every place of entertainment where the traveller stays
is betting. A tourist must of course make for hotel after hotel where
the natives of each place congregate; and, if he keeps his ears open, he
will find the gambling venom has tainted the life-blood of the people in
every town from Berwick to Hastings. It may be asked, "How do these
silly creatures who bet manage to obtain any idea of a horse?" They have
not the faintest notion of what any given horse is like, but they
usually follow the advice of some sharper who pretends to know what is
going to win. There are some hundreds of persons who carry on a kind of
secret trade in information, and these persons profess their ability to
enable any one to win a fortune. The dupes write for advice, enclosing a
fee, and they receive the name of a horse; then they risk their money,
and so the shocking game goes on.

I receive only too many letters from wives, mothers, and sisters whose
loved ones are being drawn into the vortex of destruction. Let me give
some rough colloquial advice to the gamblers--"You bet on horses
according to the advice of men who watch them. Observe how foolish you
are! The horse A is trained in Yorkshire; the horse B at Newmarket. The
man who watches A thinks that the animal can gallop very fast, and you
risk your money according to his report. But what means has he of
knowing the speed of B? If two horses gallop towards the winning-post
locked together, it often happens that one wins by about six inches.
There is no real difference in their speed, but the winner happens to
have a neck slightly longer than the other. Observe that one
race-horse--Buccaneer--has been known to cover a mile at the rate of
fifty-four feet per second; it is therefore pretty certain that at his
very highest speed he could move at sixty feet per second. Very good; it
happens then that a horse which wins a race by one foot is about
one-sixtieth of a second faster, than the beaten animal. What a dolt you
must be to imagine that any man in the world could possibly tell you
which of those two brutes was likely to be the winner! It is the merest
guess-work; you have all the chances against you and you might as well
bet on the tossing of halfpence. The bookmaker does not need to care,
for he is safe whatever may win; but you are defying all the laws of
chance; and, although you may make one lucky hit, you must fare ill in
the end." But no commonsensical talk seems to have any effect on the
insensate fellows who are the betting-man's prey, and thus this precious
sport has become a source of idleness, theft, and vast misery. One
wretch goes under, but the stock of human folly is unlimited, and the
shoal of gudgeons moves steadily into the bookmaker's net. One
betting-agent in France receives some five thousand letters and
telegrams per day, and all this huge correspondence comes from persons
who never take the trouble to see a race, but who are bitten with the
gambler's fever. No warning suffices--man after man goes headlong to
ruin, and still the doomed host musters in club and tavern. They lose
all semblance of gentle humanity; they become mere blockheads--for
cupidity and stupidity are usually allied--and they form a demoralizing
leaven that is permeating the nation and sapping our manhood.

We have only to consider the position of the various dwarfs who bestride
the racehorses in order to see how hard a hold this iniquity has on us.
A jockey is merely a stable-boy after all; yet a successful jockey
receives more adulation than does the greatest of statesmen. A
theatrical manager has been known to prepare the royal box for the
reception of one of these celebrities; some of the manikins earn five
thousand a year, one of them has been known to make twenty thousand
pounds in a year; and that same youth received three thousand pounds for
riding in one race. As to the flattery--the detestable flattery--which
the mob bestows on good horsemen, it cannot be mentioned with patience.
In sum, then, a form of insanity has attacked England, and we shall pay
bitterly for the fit. The idle host who gather on the racecourse add
nothing to the nation's wealth; they are poisonous parasites whose
influence destroys industry, honesty, and common manliness. And yet the
whole hapless crew, winners and losers, call themselves "sportsmen." I
have said plainly enough that every villainous human being seems to take
naturally to the Turf; but unfortunately the fools follow on the same
track as that trodden by the villains, and thus the honest gentlemen who
still support a vile institution have all their work set out in order to
prevent the hawks from making a meal of the pigeons. One of the honest
guardians of racing morality resigned in bitter despair some time ago,
giving as his reason the assertion that he could trust nobody. Nobody!
The man was a great lord, he was totally disinterested and utterly
generous, he never betted a penny, and he only preferred to see the
superb thoroughbreds gallop. Lavish he was to all about him--and he
could trust nobody. It seems that this despairful nobleman had tolerably
good reasons for his hasty departure, for we have had such a crop of
villainies to reap this year as never was gathered before in the same
time, and it appears plain that no animal will be allowed to win any
prize unless the foul crew of betting-men accord their kind approval,
and refrain from poisoning the brute.

I address myself directly, and with all the earnestness of which I am
capable, to those young simpletons who think that it is a fine and
knowing thing to stake money on a horse. Some poor silly creatures
cannot be taught that they are not even backing a good chance; they will
not learn that the success or failure of horses in important races is
regulated by a clique of rapscallions whose existence sullies the very
light of day. Even if the simpleton chooses the very best horse in a
race, it by no means follows that the creature will win--nay, the very
excellence of an animal is all against its chances of success. The
Ring--which is largely composed of well-to-do black-legs--will not let
any man win too much. What earthly chance can a clerk or shopman or
tradesman in Manchester or Derby have of knowing what passes in the
hotels of Newmarket, the homes of trainers, the London betting-clubs?
The information supplied so copiously by the sporting journals is as
good as money can buy, but the writers on those papers are just as
easily deceived as other people. Men are out every morning watching the
horses take their exercise, and an animal cannot sneeze without the fact
being telegraphed to the remotest corners of the country; but all this
vigilance is useless when roguery comes into the field. Observe that for
the moment I am not speaking about the morality of betting at all. I
have my own opinion as to the mental tone of a man who is continually
eyeing his neighbour's pocket and wondering what he can abstract
therefrom. There is, and can be, no friendship save bottle friendship
among the animals of prey who spend their time and energy on betting;
and I know how callously they let a victim sink to ruin after they have
sucked his substance to the last drop. The very face of a betting-man is
enough to let you know what his soul is like; it is a face such as can
be seen nowhere but on the racecourse or in the betting-club: the last
trace of high thought has vanished, and, though the men may laugh and
indulge in verbal horse-play, there is always something carnivorous
about their aspect. They are sharp in a certain line, but true
intelligence is rarely found among them. Strange to say, they are often
generous with money if their sentimental side is fairly touched, but
their very generosity is the lavishness of ostentation, and they seem to
have no true kindness in them, nor do they appear capable of even
shamming to possess the genuine helpful nature. Eternally on the watch
for prey, they assume the essential nature of predatory animals; their
notion of cleverness is to get the better of somebody, and their idea of
intellectual effort is to lay cunning traps for fools to enter. Yes; the
betting-ring is a bad school of morality, and the man who goes there as
a fool and a victim too, often blossoms into a rogue and a plunderer.

With all this in my mind, I press my readers to understand that I leave
the ethics of wagering alone for the present, and confine my attention
strictly to the question of expediency. What is the use of wearing out
nerve and brain on pondering an infinite maze of uncertainties? The
rogues who command jockeys and even trainers on occasion can act with
certainty, for they have their eye on the very tap-root of the Turf
upas-tree. The noodles who read sporting prints and try to look knowing
can only fumble about among uncertainties; they and their pitiful money
help to swell the triumphs and the purses of rascals, and they fritter


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