A PLEA FOR THE SIMPLER DRAMA
ON A NOTEBOOK
ON UNKNOWN PEOPLE
ON A VAN TROMP
ON THRUPPENNY BITS
ON THE HOTEL AT PALMA AND A PROPOSED GUIDE-BOOK
THE DEATH OF WANDERING PETER
THE TREE OF KNOWLEDGE
A NORFOLK MAN
THE ODD PEOPLE
LETTER OF ADVICE AND APOLOGY TO A YOUNG BURGLAR
THE MONKEY QUESTION: AN APPEAL TO COMMON SENSE
THE EMPIRE BUILDER
A UNIT OF ENGLAND
A FORCE IN GAUL
A BLUE BOOK
PERIGEUX OF THE PERIGORD
THE WAY TO FAIRYLAND
THE PORTRAIT OF A CHILD
ON SACRAMENTAL THINGS
Of the various sketches in this book some appear for the first time, others are reprinted by courtesy of the Proprietors and Editors of The Westminster Gazette, The Clarion, The English Review, The Morning Post and The Manchester Guardian, in which papers they appeared.
A PLEA FOR THE SIMPLER DRAMA
It is with the drama as with plastic art and many other things: the plain man feels that he has a right to put in his word, but he is rather afraid that the art is beyond him, and he is frightened by technicalities.
After all, these things are made for the plain man; his applause, in the long run and duly tested by time, is the main reward of the dramatist as of the painter or the sculptor. But if he is sensible he knows that his immediate judgment will be crude. However, here goes.
The plain man sees that the drama of his time has gradually passed from one phase to another of complexity in thought coupled with simplicity of incident, and it occurs to him that just one further step is needed to make something final in British art. We seem to be just on the threshold of something which would give Englishmen in the twentieth century something of the fullness that characterized the Elizabethans: but somehow or other our dramatists hesitate to cross that threshold. It cannot be that their powers are lacking: it can only be some timidity or self-torture which it is the business of the plain man to exorcise.
If I may make a suggestion in this essay to the masters of the craft it is that the goal of the completely modern thing can best be reached by taking the very simplest themes of daily life—things within the experience of the ordinary citizen—and presenting them in the majestic traditional cadence of that peculiarly English medium, blank verse.
As to the themes taken from the everyday life of middle-class men and women like ourselves, it is true that the lives of the wealthy afford more incident, and that there is a sort of glamour about them which it is difficult to resist. But with a sufficient subtlety the whole poignancy of the lives led by those who suffer neither the tragedies of the poor nor the exaltation of the rich can be exactly etched. The life of the professional middle-class, of the business man, the dentist, the money-lender, the publisher, the spiritual pastor, nay of the playwright himself, might be put upon the stage—and what a vital change would be here! Here would be a kind of literary drama of which the interest would lie in the struggle, the pain, the danger, and the triumph which we all so intimately know, and next in the satisfaction (which we now do not have) of the mimetic sense—the satisfaction of seeing a mirror held up to a whole audience composed of the very class represented upon the stage.
I have seen men of wealth and position absorbed in plays concerning gambling, cruelty, cheating, drunkenness, and other sports, and so absorbed chiefly because they saw themselves depicted upon the stage; and I ask, Would not my fellows and myself largely remunerate a similar opportunity? For though the rich go repeatedly to the play, yet the middle-class are so much more numerous that the difference is amply compensated.
I think we may take it, then, that an experiment in the depicting of professional life would, even from the financial standpoint, be workable; and I would even go so far as to suggest that a play could be written in which there did not appear one single lord, general, Member of Parliament, baronet, professional beauty, usurer (upon a large scale at least) or Cabinet Minister.
The thing is possible: and I can modestly say that in the little effort appended as an example to these lines it has been done successfully; but here must be mentioned the second point in my thesis—I could never have achieved what I have here achieved in dramatic art had I not harked back to the great tradition of the English heroic decasyllable such as our Shakespeare has handled with so felicitous an effect.
The play—which I have called "The Crisis," and which I design to be the model of the school founded by these present advices—is specially designed for acting with the sumptuous accessories at the disposal of a great manager, such as Mr. (now Sir Henry) Beerbohm Tree, or for the narrower circumstances of the suburban drawing-room.
There is perhaps but one character which needs any long rehearsal, that of the dog Fido, and luckily this is one which can easily be supplied by mechanical means, as by the use of a toy dog of sufficient size which barks upon the pressure of a pneumatic attachment.
In connexion with this character I would have the student note that I have introduced into the dog's part just before the curtain a whole line of dactyls. I hope the hint will not be wasted. Such exceptions relieve the monotony of our English trochees. But, saving in this instance, I have confined myself throughout to the example of William Shakespeare, surely the best master for those who, as I fondly hope, will follow me in the regeneration of the British Stage.
PLACE: The Study at the Vicarage. TIME 9.15 p.m.
THE REV. ARCHIBALD HAVERTON: The Vicar.
MRS. HAVERTON: His Wife.
MISS GROSVENOR: A Governess.
MATILDA: A Maid.
FIDO: A Dog.
HERMIONE COBLEY: Daughter of a cottager who takes in washing.
MISS HARVEY: A guest, cousin to Mrs. Haverton, a Unitarian.
(The REV. ARCHIBALD HAVERTON is reading the "Standard" by a lamp with a green shade. MRS. HAVERTON is hemming a towel. FIDO is asleep on the rug. On the walls are three engravings from Landseer, a portrait of Her late Majesty Queen Victoria, a bookcase with books in it, and a looking-glass.)
MRS. HAVERTON: My dear—I hope I do not interrupt you— Helen has given notice.
REV. A. HAVERTON (looking up suddenly). Given notice? Who? Helen? Given notice? Bless my soul! (A pause.) I never thought that she would give us notice. (Ponders and frowns.)
MRS. HAVERTON: Well, but she has, and now the question is, What shall we do to find another cook? Servants are very difficult to get. (Sighs.) Especially to come into the country To such a place as this. (Sighs.) No wonder, either! Oh! Mercy! When one comes to think of it, One cannot blame them. (Sighs.) Heaven only knows I try to do my duty! (Sighs profoundly.)
REV. A. HAVERTON (uneasily): Well, my dear, I cannot make preferment.
(Front door-bell rings.)
FIDO: Bow! wow! wow!
REV. A. HAVERTON (patting him to soothe him): There, Fido, there!
FIDO: Wow! wow!
REV. A. HAVERTON: Good dog, there!
FIDO: Wow, Wow, wow!
REV. A. HAVERTON (very nervous): There!
FIDO: Wow! wow!
REV. A. HAVERTON (in an agony): Good dog!
FIDO: Bow! wow! wow! Wow, wow! Wow!! WOW!!!
MRS. HAVERTON (very excited): Oh, Lord, he'll wake the children!
REV. A. HAVERTON (exploding): How often have I told you, Dorothy, Not to exclaim "Good Lord!"... Apart from manners— Which have their own importance—blasphemy (And I regard the phrase as blasphemous) Cannot—
MRS. HAVERTON (uneasily): Oh, very well!... Oh, very well! (Exploding in her turn.) Upon my soul, you are intolerable! (She jumps up and makes for the door. Before she gets to it there is a knock and MATILDA enters.)
MATILDA: Please, m'm, it's only Mrs. Cobley's daughter To say the washing shall be sent to-morrow, And would you check the list again and see, Because she thinks she never had two collars Of what you sent, but only five, because You marked it seven; and Mrs. Cobley says There must be some mistake.
REV. A. HAVERTON (pompously): I will attend to it.
MRS. HAVERTON (whispering angrily): How can you, Archibald! You haven't got The ghost of an idea about the washing! Sit down. (He does so.) (To Matilda) Send the Girl in here.
MRS. HAVERTON sits down in a fume.
REV. A. HAVERTON: I think....
MRS. HAVERTON (snapping): I don't care what you think! (Groans.) Oh, dear! I'm nearly off my head!
Enter MISS COBLEY. (She bobs.)
Good evening, m'm.
MRS. HAVERTON (by way of reply): Now, then! What's all this fuss about the washing?
MISS COBLEY: Please, m'm, the seven collars, what you sent— I mean the seven what was marked—was wrong, And mother says as you'd have had the washing Only there weren't but five, and would you mind....
MRS. HAVERTON (sharply): I cannot understand a word you say. Go back and tell your mother there were seven. And if she sends home five she pays for two. So there! (Snorts.)
MISS COBLEY (sobbing): I'm sure I....
MRS. HAVERTON (savagely): Don't stand snuffling there! Go back and tell your mother what I say.... Impudent hussy!...
(Exit MISS COBLEY sobbing. A pause.)
REV. A. HAVERTON (with assumed authority): To return to Helen. Tell me concisely and without complaints, Why did she give you notice?
(A hand-bell rings in the passage.)
REV. A. HAVERTON (giving him a smart kick): Shurrup!
FIDO (howling). Pen-an'-ink! Pen-an'-ink Pen-an'-ink! Pen-an'-ink!
REV. A. HAVERTON (controlling himself, as well as he can, goes to the door and calls into the passage): Miss Grosvenor! (Louder) ... Miss Grosvenor!... Was that the bell for prayers? Was that the bell for prayers?... (Louder) Miss Grosvenor. (Louder) Miss Gros-ve-nor! (Tapping with his foot.) Oh!...
MISS GROSVENOR (sweetly and, far off): Is that Mr. Haverton?
REV. A. HAVERTON: Yes! yes! yes! yes!... Was that the bell for prayers?
MISS GROSVENOR (again): Yes? Is that Mr. Haverton? Oh! Yes! I think it is.... I'll see—I'll ask Matilda.
(A pause, during which the REV. A. HAVERTON is in a qualm.)
MISS GROSVENOR (rustling back): Matilda says it is the bell for prayers.
(They all come filing into the study and arranging the chairs. As they enter MISS HARVEY, the guest, treads heavily on MATILDA'S foot.)
MISS HARVEY: Matilda? Was that you? I beg your pardon.
MATILDA (limping): Granted, I'm sure, miss!
MRS. HAVERTON (whispering to the REV. A. HAVERTON): Do not read the Creed! Miss Harvey is a Unitarian. I should suggest some simple form of prayer, Some heartfelt word of charity and peace Common to every Christian.
REV. A. HAVERTON (in a deep voice): Let us pray.
ON A NOTEBOOK
A dear friend of mine (John Abdullah Capricorn, to give him his full name) was commandeered by a publisher last year to write a book for 10. The work was far advanced when an editor offered him 15 and his expenses to visit the more desperate parts of the Sahara Desert, to which spots he at once proceeded upon a roving commission. Whether he will return or no is now doubtful, though in March we had the best hopes. With the month of May life becomes hard for Europeans south of the Atlas, and when my poor dear friend was last heard of he was chancing his popularity with a tribe of Touaregs about two hundred miles south of Touggourt.
Under these circumstances I was asked to look through his notebook and see what could be done; and I confess to a pleased surprise.... It would have been a very entertaining book had it been published. It will be a very entertaining book if it is published.
Capricorn seems to have prepared a hotchpotch of information of human follies, of contrasts, and of blunt stupidities of which he intended to make a very entertaining series of pages. I have not his talent for bringing such things together, but it may amuse the reader if I merely put in their order one or two of the notes which most struck me.
I find first, cut out of a newspaper and pasted into the book (many of his notes are in this form), the following really jovial paragraph:
"Archdeacon Blunderbuss (Blunderbuss is not the real name; I suppress that lest Capricorn's widow should lose her two or three pounds, in case the poor fellow has really been eaten). Archdeacon Blunderbuss was more distinguished as a scholar than as a Divine. He was a very poor preacher and never managed to identify himself with any party. Nevertheless, in 1895 the Prime Minister appointed him to a stall in Shoreham Cathedral as a recognition of his great learning and good work at Durham. Two years later the rectory of St. Vacuums becoming vacant and it being within the gift of Archdeacon Blunderbuss, he excited general amazement and much scandal by presenting himself to the living."
There the paragraph ends. It came in an ordinary society paper. It bore no marks of ill-will. It came in the midst of a column of the usual silly adulation of everybody and everything; how it got there is of no importance. There it stood and the keen eye of Capricorn noted it and treasured it for years.
I will make no comment upon this paragraph. It may be read slowly or quickly, according to the taste of the reader; it is equally delicious either way.
The next excerpt I find in the notebook is as follows:
"More than 15,000,000 visits are paid annually to London pawnbrokers.
"Jupiter is 1387 times as big as the earth, but only 300 times as heavy.
"The world's coal mines yield 400,000,000 tons of coal a year.
"The value of the pictures in the National Gallery is about 1,250,000."
This tickled Capricorn—I don't know why. Perhaps he thought the style disjointed or perhaps he had got it into his head that when this information had been absorbed by the vulgar they would stand much where they stood before, and be no nearer the end of man nor the accomplishment of any Divine purpose in their creation. Anyhow he kept it, and I think he was wise to keep it. One cannot keep everything of that kind that is printed, so it is well to keep a specimen. Capricorn had, moreover, intended to perpetuate that specimen for ever in his immortal prose—pray Heaven he may return to do so!
I next find the following excerpt from an evening paper:
"No more gallant gentleman lives on the broad acres of his native England than Brigadier-General Sir Hammerthrust Honeybubble, who is one of the few survivors of the great charge at Tamulpuco, a feat of arms now half forgotten, but with which England rang during the Brazilian War. Brigadier-General, or, as he then was, plain Captain Hammerthrust Honeybubble, passed through five Brazilian batteries unharmed, and came back so terribly hacked that his head was almost severed from his body. Hardly able to keep his seat and continually wiping the blood from his left eye, he rode back to his troop at a walk, and, in spite of pursuit, finally completed his escape. Sir Hammerthrust, we are glad to learn, is still hale and hearty in his ninety-third year, and we hope he may see many more returns of the day upon his patrimonial estate in the Orkneys."
To this excerpt I find only one marginal note in Capricorn's delicate and beautiful handwriting: "What day?" But whether this referred to some appointment of his own I was unable to discover.
I next find a certain number of cuttings which I think cannot have been intended for the book at all, but must have been designed for poor Capricorn's "Oxford Anthology of Bad Verse," which, just before he left England, he was in process of preparing for the University Press. Capricorn had a very fine sense of bad taste in verse, and the authorities could have chosen no one better suited for the duty of editing such a volume. I must not give the reader too much of these lines, but the following quatrain deserves recognition and a permanent memory:
Napoleon hoped that all the world would fall beneath his sway. He failed in this ambition; and where is he to-day? Neither the nations of the East nor the nations of the West Have thought the thing Napoleon thought was to their interest.
This is enormous. As philosophy, as history, as rhetoric, as metre, as rhythm, as politics, it is positively enormous. The whole poem is a wonderful poem, and I wish I had space for it here. It is patriotic and it is written about as badly as a poem could conceivably be written. It is a mournful pleasure to think that my dear friend had his last days in the Old Country illuminated by such a treasure. It is but one of many, but I think it is the best.
Another extract which catches my eye is drawn from the works of one in a distant and foreign land. Yet it was worth preserving. This personage, Tindersturm by name, issued a pamphlet which fell under the regulations, the very strict regulations, of the Prussian Government, by which any one of its subjects who says or prints anything calculated to stir up religious or racial strife within the State is subject to severe penalties. Now those severe penalties had fallen upon Tindersturm and he had been imprisoned for some years according to the paragraph that followed the extract I am about to give. That the aforesaid Tindersturm did indeed tend to "stir up religious and racial strife," nay, went somewhat out of his way to do it, will be clear enough when you read the following lines from his little broadsheet:
"It is time for us to go for this caddish alien sect. If on your way home from the theatre you meet the blue-eyed, tow-haired, lolloping gang, whether they be youths or ladies, go right up to them and give them a smart smack, left and right, a blow in the eye; and lift your foot and give the tow-headed ones a kick. In this way must we begin the business. My Fatherland, wake up!"
To this extract poor Capricorn has added the word "Excellent," and the same comment he makes upon the following conclusion to a letter written to a religious paper and dealing with some politician or other who had done something which the correspondent did not like:
"That his eyes may be opened while he lives is the prayer of
"AN EARNEST MEMBER OF THE FOLD"
From such a series it is a recreation to turn to the little social paragraphs which gave Capricorn such acute and such continual joy; as, for instance, this:
"Mrs. Harry Bacon wishes it to be known that she has ceased to have any connection whatsoever with the Boudoir for Lost Dogs. Her address is still Hermione House, Bourton-on-the-Water Fenton Marsh, Worcester."
There is much more in the notebook with which I could while away the reader's time did space permit of it. I find among the very last entries, for instance, this:
"It was a strenuous and thrilling contest. Some terrible blows were exchanged. In the last round, however, Schmidt landed his opponent a very nasty one under the chin, stretching him out lifeless and breaking his elbow; whereupon the prize was awarded him."
To this joyous gem Capricorn has added a whole foison of annotations. He asks at the end: "Which was 'him'? Important." And he underlines in red ink the word "however," perhaps as mysterious a copulative as has ever appeared in British prose. I should add that Capricorn himself was an ardent sportsman and very rarely missed any of the first-class events of the ring, though personally he did not box, and on the few occasions when I have seen the exercise forced upon him in the public streets he showed the greatest distaste to this form of athletics.
Lastly, I find this note with which I must close: it is taken from the verbatim report of a great case in the courts, now half forgotten, but ten years ago the talk of London:
"The witness then said that he had been promised an independence for life if he could discover the defendant in the act of enclosing any part of the land, or any document or order of his involving such an enclosure. He therefore watched the defendant regularly from June, 1896, to the middle of July, 1900. He also watched the defendant's father and mother, three boys, married daughter, grandmother and grandfather, his two married sisters, his brother, his agent, and his agent's wife—but he had discovered nothing."
That such a sentence should have been printed in the English language and delivered by an English mouth in an English witness-box was enough for Capricorn. Give him that alone for intellectual food in his desert lodge and he was happy.
Shall I tempt Providence by any further extracts? ... It is difficult to tear oneself away from such a feast. So let me put in this very last, really the last, by way of savoury. There it is in black and white and no one can undo it: not all her piety, nor all her wit. It dates from the year 1904, when, Heaven knows, the internal combustion engine and its possibilities were not exactly new, and I give it word for word:
"The Duchess is, moreover, a pioneer in the use of the motor-car. She finds it an agreeable and speedy means of conveyance from her country seat to her town house, and also a very practical way of getting to see her friends at week-ends. She has been heard to complain, however, that a substitute for the pneumatic tyre less liable to puncture than it is would be a priceless boon."
There! There! May they all rest in peace! They have added to the gaiety of mankind.
ON UNKNOWN PEOPLE
You will often hear it said that it is astonishing such and such work should be present and enduring in the world, and yet the name of its author not known; but when one considers the variety of good work and the circumstances under which it is achieved, and the variety of taste also between different times and places, one begins to understand what is at first so astonishing.
There are writers who have ascribed this frequent ignorance of ours to all sorts of heroic moods, to the self-sacrifice or the humility of a whole epoch or of particular artists: that is the least satisfactory of the reasons one could find. All men desire, if not fame, at least the one poor inalienable right of authorship, and unless one can find very good reasons indeed why a painter or a writer or a sculptor should deliberately have hidden himself one must look for some other cause.
Among such causes the first two, I think, are the multiplicity of good work, and its chance character. Not that any one ever does very good work for once and then never again—at least, such an accident is extremely rare—but that many a man who has achieved some skill by long labour does now and then strike out a sort of spark quite individual and separate from the rest. Often you will find that a man who is remembered for but one picture or one poem is worth research. You will find that he did much more. It is to be remembered that for a long time Ronsard himself was thought to be a man of one poem.
The multiplicity of good work also and the way in which accident helps it is a cause. There are bits of architecture (and architecture is the most anonymous of all the arts) which depend for their effect to-day very largely upon situation and the process of time, and there are a thousand corners in Europe intended merely for some utility which happen almost without deliberate design to have proved perfect: this is especially true of bridges.
Then there is this element in the anonymity of good work, that a man very often has no idea how good the work is which he has done. The anecdotes (such as that famous one of Keats) which tell us of poets desiring to destroy their work, or, at any rate, casting it aside as of little value, are not all false. We still have the letter in which Burns enclosed "Scots wha' hae," and it is curious to note his misjudgment of the verse; and side by side with that kind of misjudgment we have men picking out for singular affection and with a full expectation of glory some piece of work of theirs to which posterity will have nothing to say. This is especially true of work recast by men in mature age. Writers and painters (sculptors luckily are restrained by the nature of their art—unless they deliberately go and break up their work with a hammer) retouch and change, in the years when they have become more critical and less creative, what they think to be the insufficient achievements of their youth: yet it is the vigour and the simplicity of their youthful work which other men often prefer to remember. On this account any number of good things remain anonymous, because the good writer or the good painter or the good sculptor was ashamed of them.
Then there is this reason for anonymity, that at times—for quite a short few years—a sort of universality of good work in one or more departments of art seems to fall upon the world or upon some district. Nowhere do you see this more strikingly than in the carvings of the first third of the sixteenth century in Northern and Central France and on the Flemish border.
Men seemed at that moment incapable of doing work that was not marvellous when they once began to express the human figure. Sometimes their mere name remains, more often it is doubtful, sometimes it is entirely lost. More curious still, you often have for this period a mixture of names. You come across some astonishing series of reliefs in a forgotten church of a small provincial town. You know at once that it is work of the moment when the flood of the Renaissance had at last reached the old country of the Gothic. You can swear that if it were not made in the time of Francis I or Henry II it was at least made by men who could remember or had seen those times. But when you turn to the names the names are nobodies.
By far the most famous of these famous things, or at any rate the most deserving of fame, is the miracle of Brou. It is a whole world. You would say that either one transcendent genius had modelled every face and figure of those thousands (so individual are they), or that a company of inspired men differing in their traditions and upbringing from all the commonalty of mankind had done such things. When you go to the names all you find is that Coulombe out of Touraine began the job, that there was some sort of quarrel between his head-man and the paymasters, that he was replaced in the most everyday manner conceivable by a Fleming, Van Boghem, and that this Fleming had to help him a better-known Swiss, one Meyt. It is the same story with nearly all this kind of work and its wonderful period. The wealth of detail at Louviers or Gisors is almost anonymous; that of the first named perhaps quite anonymous.
Who carved the wood in St. James's Church at Antwerp? I think the name is known for part of it, but no one did the whole or anything like the whole, and yet it is all one thing. Who carved the wood in St. Bertrand de Coraminges? We know who paid for it, and that is all we know. And as for the wood of Rouen, we must content ourselves with the vague phrase, "Probably Flemish artists."
Of the Gothic statues where they were conventional, however grand the work, one can understand that they should be anonymous, but it is curious to note the same silence where the work is strikingly and particularly individual. Among the kings at Rheims are two heads, one of St. Louis, one of his grandson. Had some one famous sculptor done these things and others, were his work known and sought after, these two heads would be as renowned as anything in Europe. As it is they are two among hundreds that the latter thirteenth and early fourteenth centuries scattered broadcast; each probably was the work of a different workman, and the author or authors of each remain equally unknown.
I know not whether there is more pathos or more humour or more consolation in considering this ignorance of ours with regard to the makers of good things.
It is full of parable. There is something of it in Nature. There are men who will walk all day through a June wood and come out atheists at the end of it, finding no signature thereupon; and there are others who, sailing over the sea, come back home after seeing so many things still puzzled as to their authorship. That is one parable.
Then there is this: the corrective of ambition. Since so much remains, the very names of whose authors have perished, what does it matter to you or to the world whether your name, so long as your work, survives? Who was it that carefully and cunningly fixed the sights on Gumber Corner so as to get upon a clear day his exact alignment with Pulborough and then the shoulder of Leith Hill, just to miss the two rivers and just to obtain the best going for a military road? He was some engineer or other among the thousands in the Imperial Service. He was at Chichester for some weeks and drew his pay, and then perhaps went on to London, and he was born in Africa or in Lombardy, or he was a Breton, or he was from Lusitania or from the Euphrates. He did that bit of work most certainly without any consideration of fame, for engineers (especially when they are soldiers) are singular among artists in this matter. But he did a very wonderful thing, and the Roman Road has run there for fifteen hundred years—his creation. Some one must have hit upon that precise line and the reason for it. It is exactly right, and the thing done was as great and is to-day as satisfying as that sculpture of Brou or the two boys Murillo painted, whom you may see in the Gallery at Dulwich. But he never thought of any one knowing his name, and no one knows it.
Then there is this last thing about anonymous work, which is also a parable and a sad one. It shows how there is no bridge between two human minds.
How often have I not come upon a corbel of stone carved into the shape of a face, and that face had upon it either horror or laughter or great sweetness or vision, and I have looked at it as I might have looked upon a living face, save that it was more wonderful than most living faces. It carried in it the soul and the mind of the man who made it. But he has been dead these hundreds of years. That corbel cannot be in communion with me, for it is of stone; it is dumb and will not speak to me, though it compels me continually to ask it questions. Its author also is dumb, for he has been dead so long, and I can know nothing about him whatsoever.
Now so it is with any two human minds, not only when they are separated by centuries and by silence, but when they have their being side by side under one roof and are companions all their years.
ON A VAN TROMP
Once there was a man who, having nothing else to do and being fond of that kind of thing, copied with a good deal of care on to a bit of wood the corner of a Dutch picture in one of the public galleries.
This man was not a good artist; indeed he was nothing but a humpbacked and very sensitive little squire with about 3000 a year of his own and great liking for intricate amusements. He was a pretty good mathematician and a tolerable fisherman. He knew an enormous amount about the Mohammedan conquest of Spain, and he is, I believe, writing a book upon that subject. I hope he will, for nearly all history wants to be rewritten. Anyhow, he, as I have just said, did copy a corner of one of the Dutch pictures in one of the galleries. It was a Dutch picture of the seventeenth century; and since the laws of this country are very complicated and the sanctions attached to them very terrible, I will not give the name of the original artist, but I will call him Van Tromp.
Van Tromps have always been recognized, and there was a moment about fifty years after the artist's death when they had a considerable vogue in the French Court. Monsieur, who was quite ignorant of such things, bought a couple, and there is a whole row of them in the little pavilion at Louveciennes. Van Tromp has something about him at once positive and elusive; he is full of planes and values, and he interprets and renders, and the rest of it. Nay, he transfers!
About thirty years ago Mr. Mayor (of Hildesheim and London) thought it his duty to impress upon the public how great Van Tromp was. This he did after taking thirteen Van Tromps in payment of a bad debt, and he succeeded. But the man I am writing about cared nothing for all this: he simply wanted to see how well he could imitate this corner of the picture, and he did it pretty well. He begrimed it and he rubbed at it, and then he tickled it up again with a knife, and then he smoked it, and then he put in some dirty whites which were vivid, and he played the fool with white of egg, and so forth, until he had the very tone and manner of the original; and as he had done it on an old bit of wood it was exactly right, and he was very proud of the result. He got an old frame from near Long Acre and stuck it in, and then he took the thing home. He had done several things of this kind, imitating miniatures, and even enamels. It amused him. When he got home he sat looking at it with great pleasure for an hour or two; he left the little thing on the table of his study and went to bed.
Here begins the story, and here, therefore, I must tell you what the subject of this corner of the picture was.
The subject of this corner of the picture which he had copied was a woman in a brown jacket and a red petticoat with big feet showing underneath, sitting on a tub and cutting up some vegetables. She had her hair bunched up like an onion, a fashion which, as we all know, appealed to the Dutch in the seventeenth century, or at any rate to the plebeian Dutch. I must also tell you the name of this squire before I go any further: his name was Hammer—Paul Hammer. He was unmarried.
He went to bed at eleven o'clock, and when he came down at eight o'clock he had his breakfast. He went into his study at nine o'clock, and was very much annoyed to find that some burglars had come in during the night and had taken away a number of small objects which were not without value; and among-them, what he most regretted, his little pastiche of the corner of the Van Tromp.
For some moments he stood filled with an acute anger and wishing that he knew who the burglars were and how to get at them; but the days passed, and though he asked everybody, and even gave some money to the police, he could not discover this. He put an advertisement into several newspapers, both London newspapers and local ones, saying that money would be given if the thing were restored, and pretty well hinting that no questions would be asked, but nothing came.
Meanwhile the burglars, whose names were Charles and Lothair Femeral, foreigners but English-speaking, had found some of their ill-acquired goods saleable, others unsaleable. They wanted a pound for the little picture in the frame, and this they could not get, and it was a bother haggling it about. Lothair Femeral thought of a good plan: he stopped at an inn on the third day of their peregrinations, had a good dinner with his brother, told the innkeeper that he could not pay the bill, and offered to leave the Old Master in exchange. When people do this it very often comes off, for the alternative is only the pleasure of seeing the man in gaol, whereas a picture is always a picture, and there is a gambler's chance of its turning up trumps. So the man grumbled and took the little thing. He hung it up in the best room of the inn, where he gave his richer customers food.
Thus it was that a young gentleman who had come down to ride in that neighbourhood, although he did not know any of the rich people round about, saw it one day, and on seeing it exclaimed loudly in an unknown tongue; but he very rapidly repressed his emotion and simply told the innkeeper that he had taken a fancy to the daub and would give him thirty shillings for it.
The innkeeper, who had read in the newspapers of how pictures of the utmost value are sold by fools for a few pence, said boldly that his price was twenty pounds; whereupon the young gentleman went out gloomily, and the innkeeper thought that he must have made a mistake, and was for three hours depressed. But in the fourth hour again he was elated, for the young gentleman came back with twenty pounds, not even in notes but in gold, paid it down, and took away the picture. Then again, in the fifth hour was the innkeeper a little depressed, but not as much as before, for it struck him that the young gentleman must have been very eager to act in such a fashion, and that perhaps he could have got as much as twenty-one pounds by holding out and calling it guineas.
The young gentleman telegraphed to his father (who lived in Wimbledon but who did business in Bond Street) saying that he had got hold of a Van Tromp which looked like a study for the big "Eversley" Van Tromp in the Gallery, and he wanted to know what his father would give for it. His father telegraphed back inviting him to spend one whole night under the family roof. This the young man did, and, though it wrung the old father's heart to have to do it, by the time he had seen the young gentleman's find (or trouvaille as he called it) he had given his offspring a cheque for five hundred pounds. Whereupon the young gentleman left and went back to do some more riding, an exercise of which he was passionately fond, and to which he had trained several quiet horses.
The father wrote to a certain lord of his acquaintance who was very fond of Van Tromps, and offered him this replica or study, in some ways finer than the original, but he said it must be a matter for private negotiation; so he asked for an appointment, and the lord, who was a tall, red-faced man with a bluff manner, made an appointment for nine o'clock next morning, which was rather early for Bond Street. But money talks, and they met. The lord was very well dressed, and when he talked he folded his hands (which had gloves on them) over the knob of his stick and pressed his stick firmly upon the ground. It was a way he had. But it did not frighten the old gentleman who did business in Bond Street, and the long and short of it was that the lord did not get the picture until he had paid three thousand guineas—not pounds, mind you. For this sum the picture was to be sent round to the lord's house, and so it was, and there it would have stayed but for a very curious accident. The lord had put the greater part of his money into a company which was developing the resources of the South Shetland Islands, and by some miscalculation or other the expense of this experiment proved larger than the revenues obtainable from it. His policy, as I need hardly tell you, was to hang on, and so he did, because in the long run the property must pay. And so it would if they could have gone on shelling out for ever, but they could not, and so the whole affair was wound up and the lord lost a great deal of money.
Under these circumstances he bethought him of the toiling millions who never see a good picture and who have no more vivid appetite than the hunger for good pictures. He therefore lent his collection of Van Tromps with the least possible delay to a public gallery, and for many years they hung there, while the lord lived in great anxiety, but with a sufficient income for his needs in the delightful scenery of the Pennines at some distance from a railway station, surrounded by his tenants. At last even these—the tenants, I mean—were not sufficient, and a gentleman in the Government who knew the value of Van Tromps proposed that these Van Tromps should be bought for the nation; but a lot of cranks made a frightful row, both in Parliament and out of it, so that the scheme would have fallen through had not one of the Van Tromps—to wit, that little copy of a corner which was obviously a replica of or a study for the best-known of the Van Tromps—been proclaimed false quite suddenly by a gentleman who doubted its authenticity; whereupon everybody said that it was not genuine except three people who really counted, and these included the gentleman who had recommended the purchase of the Van Tromps by the nation. So enormous was the row upon the matter that the picture reached the very pinnacle of fame, and an Australian then travelling in England was determined to get that Van Tromp for himself, and did.
This Australian was a very simple man, good and kind and childlike, and frightfully rich. When he had got the Van Tromp he carried it about with him, and at the country houses where he stopped he used to pull it out and show it to people. It happened that among other country houses he stopped once at the hunchback squire's, whose name, as you will remember, was Mr. Hammer, and he showed him the Van Tromp one day after dinner.
Now Mr. Hammer was by this time an old man, and he had ceased to care much for the things of this world. He had suffered greatly, and he had begun to think about religion; also he had made a good deal of money in Egyptians (for all this was before the slump). And he was pretty well ashamed of his pastiches; so, one way and another, the seeing of that picture did not have the effect upon him which you might have expected; for you, the reader, have read this story in five minutes (if you have had the patience to get so far), but he, Mr. Hammer, had been changing and changing for years, and I tell you he did not care a dump what happened to the wretched thing. Only when the Australian, who was good and simple and kind and hearty, showed him the picture and asked him proudly to guess what he had given for it, then Mr. Hammer looked at him with a look in his eyes full of that not mortal sadness which accompanies irremediable despair.
"I do not know," he answered gently and with a sob in his voice.
"I paid for that picture," said the Australian, in the accent and language of his native clime, "no less a sum than 7500 ... and I'd pay it again to-morrow!" Saying this, the Australian hit the table with the palm, of his hand in a manner so manly that an aged retainer who was putting coals upon the fire allowed the coal-scuttle to drop.
But Mr. Hammer, ruminating in his mind all the accidents and changes and adventures of human life, its complexity, its unfulfilled desires, its fading but not quite perishable ideals, well knowing how men are made happy and how unhappy, ventured on no reply. Two great tears gathered in his eyes, and he would have shed them, perhaps to be profusely followed by more—he was nearly breaking down—when he looked up and saw on the wall opposite him seven pastiches which he had made in the years gone by. There was a Titian and a George Morland, a Chardin, two cows after Cooper, and an impressionist picture after some Frenchman whose name he had forgotten.
"You like pictures?" he said to the Australian, the tears still standing in his eyes.
"I do!" said the Australian with conviction.
"Will you let me give you these?" said Mr. Hammer.
The Australian protested that such things could not be allowed, but he was a simple man, and at last he consented, for he was immensely pleased.
"It is an ungracious thing to make conditions," said Mr. Hammer, "and I won't make any, only I should be pleased if, in your island home...."
"I don't live on an island," said the Australian. Mr. Hammer remembered the map of Australia, with the water all round it, but he was too polite to argue.
"No, of course not," he said; "you live on the mainland; I forgot. But anyhow, I should be so pleased if you would promise me to hang them all together, these pictures with your Van Tromp, all in a line! I really should be so pleased!"
"Why, certainly," said the Australian, a little bewildered; "I will do so, Mr. Hammer, if it can give you any pleasure."
"The fact is," said Mr. Hammer, in a breaking voice, "I had that picture once, and I intended it to hang side by side with these."
It was in vain that the Australian, on hearing this, poured out self-reproaches, offered with an expansion of soul to restore it, and then more prudently attempted a negotiation. Mr. Hammer resolutely shook his head.
"I am an old man," he said, "and I have no heirs; it is not for me to take, but to give, and if you will do what an old man begs of you, and accept what I offer; if you will do more and of your courtesy keep all these things together which were once familiar to me, it will be enough reward."
The next day, therefore, the Australian sailed off to his distant continental home, carrying with him not only the Chardin, the Titian, the Cooper, the impressionist picture, and the rest, but also the Van Tromp. And three months after they all hung in a row in the great new copper room at Warra-Mugga. What happened to them later on, and how they were all sold together as "the Warra-Mugga Collection," I will tell you when I have the time and you the patience. Farewell.
A certain merchant in the City of London, having retired from business, purchased for himself a private house upon the heights of Hampstead and proposed to devote his remaining years to the education and the establishment in life of his only son.
When this youth (whose name was George) had arrived at the age of nineteen his father spoke to him after dinner upon his birthday with regard to the necessity of choosing a profession. He pointed out to him the advantages of a commercial career, and notably of that form of useful industry which is known as banking, showing how in that trade a profit was to be made by lending the money of one man to another, and often of a man's own money to himself, without engaging one's own savings or fortune.
George, to whom such matters were unfamiliar, listened attentively, and it seemed to him with every word that dropped from his father that a wider and wider horizon of material comfort and worldly grandeur was spreading out before him. He had hitherto had no idea that such great rewards were attached to services so slight in themselves, and certainly so valueless to the community. The career sketched out for him by his father appealed to him most strongly, and when that gentleman had completed his advice he assured him that he would follow it in every particular.
George's father was overjoyed to find his son so reasonable. He sat down at once to write the note which he had planned, to an old friend and connection by marriage, Mr. Repton, of Repton and Greening; he posted it that night and bade the lad prepare for the solemnity of a private interview with the head of the firm upon the morrow.
Before George left the house next morning his father laid before him, with the pomp which so great an occasion demanded, certain rules of conduct which should guide not only his entry into life but his whole conduct throughout its course. He emphasized the value of self-respect, of a decent carriage, of discretion, of continuous and tenacious habits of industry, of promptitude, and so forth; when, urged by I know not what demon whose pleasure it is ever to disturb the best plans of men, the old gentleman had the folly to add the following words as he rose to his feet and laid his hand heavily upon his son's shoulder:
"Above all things, George, tell the truth. I was young and now am old. I have seen many men fail, some few succeed; and the best advice I can give to my dear only son is that on all occasions he should fearlessly and manfully tell the truth without regard of consequence. Believe me, it is not only the whole root of character, but the best basis for a successful business career even today."
Having so spoken, the old man, more moved than he cared to show, went upstairs to read his newspaper, and George, beautifully dressed, went out by the front door towards the Tube, pondering very deeply the words his father had just used.
I cannot deny that the impression they produced upon him was extraordinary—far more vivid than men of mature years can easily conceive. It is often so in early youth when we listen to the voice of authority; some particular chance phrase will have an unmeasured effect upon one. A worn tag and platitude solemnly spoken, and at a critical moment, may change the whole of a career. And so it was with George, as you will shortly perceive. For as he rumbled along in the Tube his father's words became a veritable obsession within him: he saw their value ramifying in a multitude of directions, he perceived the strength and accuracy of them in a hundred aspects. He knew well that the interview he was approaching was one in which this virtue of truth might be severely tested, but he gloried in the opportunity, and he came out of the Tube into the fresh air within a step of Mr. Repton's office with set lips and his young temper braced for the ordeal.
When he got to the office there was Mr. Repton, a kindly old gentleman, wearing large spectacles, and in general appearance one of those genial types from which our caricaturists have constructed the national figure of John Bull. It was a pleasure to be in the presence of so honest a man, and in spite of George's extreme nervousness he felt a certain security in such company. Moreover, Mr. Repton smiled paternally at him before putting to him the few questions which the occasion demanded. He held George's father's letter between two fingers of his right hand, moving it gently in the air as he addressed the lad:
"I am very glad to see you, George," he said, "in this old office. I've seen you here before, Chrm! as you know, but not on such important business, Chrm!" He laughed genially. "So you want to come and learn your trade with us, do you? You're punctual I hope, Chrm?" he added, his honest eyes full of good nature and jest.
George looked at him in a rather gloomy manner, hesitated a moment, and then, under the influence of an obvious effort, said in a choking voice, "No, Mr. Repton, I'm not."
"Hey, what?" said Mr. Repton, puzzled and a little annoyed at the young man's manner.
"I was saying, Mr. Repton, that I am not punctual. I have dreamy fits which sometimes make me completely forget an appointment. And I have a silly habit of cutting things too fine, which makes me miss trains and things, I think I ought to tell you while I am about it, but I simply cannot get up early in the morning. There are days when I manage to do so under the excitement of a coming journey or for some other form of pleasure, but as a rule I postpone my rising until the very latest possible moment."
George having thus delivered himself closed his lips and was silent.
"Humph!" said Mr. Repton. It was not what the boy had said so much as the impression of oddness which affected that worthy man. He did not like it, and he was not quite sure of his ground. He was about to put another question, when George volunteered a further statement:
"I don't drink," he said, "and at my age it is not easy to understand what the vice of continual drunkenness may be, but I shouldn't wonder if that would be my temptation later on, and it is only fair to tell you that, young as I am, I have twice grossly exceeded in wine; on one occasion, not a year ago, the servants at a house where I was stopping carried me to bed."
"They did?" said Mr. Repton drily.
"Yes," said George, "they did." Then there was a silence for a space of at least three minutes.
"My dear young man," said Mr. Repton, rising, "do you feel any aptitude for a City career?"
"None," said George decisively.
"Pray," said Mr. Repton (who had grown-up children of his own and could not help speaking with a touch of sarcasm—he thought it good for boys in the lunatic stage), "pray," said he, looking quizzically down at the unhappy but firm-minded George as he sat there in his chair, "is there any form of work for which you do feel an aptitude?"
"Yes, certainly," said George confidently.
"And what is that?" said Mr. Repton, his smile beginning again.
"The drama," said George without hesitation, "the poetic drama. I ought to tell you that I have received no encouragement from those who are the best critics of this art, though I have submitted my work to many since I left school. Some have said that my work was commonplace, others that it was imitative; all have agreed that it was dull, and they have unanimously urged me to abandon every thought of such composition. Nevertheless I am convinced that I have the highest possible talents not only in this department of letters but in all."
"You believe yourself," said Mr. Repton, with a touch of severity, "to be an exceptional young man?"
George nodded. "I do," he said, "quite exceptional. I should have used a stronger term had I been speaking of the matter myself. I think I have genius, or, rather, I am sure I have; and, what is more, genius of a very high order."
"Well," said Mr. Repton, sighing, "I don't think we shall get any forrader. Have you been working much lately?" he asked anxiously— "examinations or anything?"
"No," said George quietly. "I always feel like this."
"Indeed!" said Mr. Repton, who was now convinced that the poor boy had intended no discourtesy. "Well, I wonder whether you would mind taking back a note to your father?"
"Not at all," said George courteously.
Mr. Repton in his turn wrote a short letter, in which he begged George's father not to take offence at an old friend's advice, recalled to his memory the long and faithful friendship between them, pointed out that outsiders could often see things which members of a family could not, and wound up by begging George's father to give George a good holiday. "Not alone," he concluded; "I don't think that would be quite safe, but in company with some really trustworthy man a little older than himself, who won't get on his nerves and yet will know how to look after him. He must get right away for some weeks," added the kind old man, "and after that I should advise you to keep him at home and let him have some gentle occupation. Don't encourage him in writing. I think he would take kindly to gardening. But I won't write any more: I will come and see you about it."
Bearing that missive back did George reach his home.... All this passed in the year 1895, and that is why George is to-day one of the best electrical engineers in the country, instead of being a banker; and that shows how good always comes, one way or another, of telling the truth.
ON THRUPPENNY BITS
Philip, King of Macedon, destroyer of the liberties of Greece, and father to Alexander who tamed the horse Bucephalus, called for the tutor of that lad, one Aristotle (surnamed the Teacher of the Human Race), to propound to him a question that had greatly troubled him; for in counting out his money (which was his habit upon a washing day, when the Queen's appetite for afternoon tea and honey had rid him of her presence) he discovered mixed with his treasure such an intolerable number of thruppenny bits as very nearly drove him to despair.
On this account King Philip of Macedon, destroyer of the liberties of Greece, sent for Aristotle, his hanger-on, as one capable of answering any question whatsoever, and said to him (when he had entered with a profound obeisance):
"Come, Aristotle, answer me straight; what is the use of a thruppenny bit?"
"Dread sire," said Aristotle, standing in his presence with respect, "the thruppenny bit is not to be despised. Men famous in no way for their style, nor even for their learning, have maintained life by inscribing within its narrow boundaries the Lord's Prayer, the Creed, and the Ten Commandments, while others have used it as a comparison in the classes of astronomy to illustrate the angle subtended by certain of the orbs of heaven. The moon, whose waxing and waning is doubtless familiar to Your Majesty, is indeed but just hidden by a thruppenny bit held between the finger and the thumb of the observer extended at the full length of any normal human arm."
"Go on," said King Philip, with some irritation; "go on; go on!"
"The thruppenny bit, Your Majesty, illustrates, as does no other coin, the wisdom and the aptness of the duodecimal system to which the Macedonians have so wisely clung (in common with the people of Scythia and of Thrace, and the dumb animals) while the too brilliant Hellenes ran wild in the false simplicity of the decimal system. The number twelve, Your Majesty...."
"Yes, yes, I know," said King Philip impatiently, "I have heard it a thousand times! It has already persuaded me to abandon the duodecimal method and to consign to the severest tortures any one who mentions it in my presence again. My ten fingers are good enough for me. Go on, go on!"
"Sovran Lord!" continued Aristotle, "the thruppenny bit has further been proved in a thousand ways an adjuvator and prime helper of the Gods. For many a man too niggardly to give sixpence, and too proud to give a copper, has dropped this coin among the offerings at the Temple, and it is related of a clergyman in Armagh (a town of which Your Majesty has perhaps never heard) that he would frequently address his congregation from the rails of the altar, pointing out the excessive number of thruppenny bits which had been offered for the sustenance of the hierarchy, threatening to summon before him known culprits, and to return to them the insufficient oblation. Again, the thruppenny bit most powerfully disciplines the soul of man, for it tries the temper as does no other coin, being small, thin, wayward, given to hiding, and very often useless when it is discovered. Learn also, King of Macedon, that the thruppenny bit is of value in ritual phrases, and particularly so in objurgations and the calling down of curses, and in the settlement of evil upon enemies, and in the final expression of contempt. For to compare some worthless thing to a farthing, to a penny, or to tuppence, has no vigour left in it, and it has long been thought ridiculous even among provincials; a threadbare, worn, and worthless sort of sneer; but the thruppenny bit has a sound about it very valuable to one who would insist upon his superiority. Thus were some rebel or some demagogue of Athens (for example) to venture upon the criticism of Your Majesty's excursions into philosophy, in order to bring those august theses into contempt, his argument would never find emphasis or value unless he were to terminate its last phrase by a snap of the fingers and the mention of a thruppenny bit.
"King Philip of Macedon, most prudent of men, learn further that a thruppenny bit, which to the foolish will often seem a mere expenditure of threepence, to the wise may represent a saving of that sum. For how many occasions are there not in which the inconsequent and lavish fool, the spendthrift, the young heir, the commander of cavalry, the empty, gilded boy, will give a sixpence to a messenger where a thruppenny bit would have done as well? For silver is the craving of the poor, not in its amount, but in its nature, for nature and number are indeed two things, the one on the one hand...."
"Oh, I know all about that," said King Philip; "I did not send for you to get you off upon those rails, which have nothing whatever to do with thruppenny bits. Be concrete, I pray you, good Aristotle," he continued, and yawned. "Stick to things as they are, and do not make me remind you how once you said that men had thirty-six, women only thirty-four, teeth. Do not wander in the void."
"Arbiter of Hellas," said Aristotle gravely, when the King had finished his tirade, "the thruppenny bit has not only all that character of usefulness which I have argued in it from the end it is designed to serve, but one may also perceive this virtue in it in another way, which is by observation. For you will remember how when we were all boys the fourpenny bit of accursed memory still lingered, and how as against it the thruppenny bit has conquered. Which is, indeed, a parable taken from nature, showing that whatever survives is destined to survive, for that is indeed in a way, as you may say, the end of survival."
"Precisely," said King Philip, frowning intellectually; "I follow you. I have heard many talk in this manner, but none talk as well as you do. Continue, good Aristotle, continue."
"Your Majesty, the matter needs but little exposition, though it contains the very marrow of truth," said the philosopher, holding up in a menacing way the five fingers of his left hand and ticking them off with the forefinger of his right. "For it is first useful, second beautiful, third valuable, fourth magnificent, and, fifthly, consonant to its nature."
"Quite true," said King Philip, following carefully every word that fell from the wise man's lips, for he could now easily understand.
"Very well then, sire," said Aristotle in a livelier tone, charmed to have captivated the attention of his Sovereign. "I was saying that which survives is proved worthy of survival, as of a man and a shark, or of Athens and Macedonia, or in many other ways. Now the thruppenny bit, having survived to our own time, has so proved itself in that test, and upon this all men of science are agreed.
"Then, also, King Philip, consider how the thruppenny bit in another and actual way, not of pure reason but, if I may say so, in a material manner, commends itself: for is it not true that whereas all other nations whatsoever, being by nature servile, will use a nickel piece or some other denomination for whatever is small but is not of bronze, the Macedonians, being designed by the Gods for the command of all the human race, have very tenaciously clung to the thruppenny bit through good and through evil repute, and have even under the sternest penalties enforced it upon their conquered subjects? For when Your Majesty discovered (if you will remember) that the people of Euboea, in manifest contempt of your Crown, paid back into Your Majesty's treasury all their taxes in the shape of thruppenny bits...."
At this moment King Philip gave a loud shout, uttering in Greek the word "Eureka," which signifies (to those who drop their aitches) "I've got it."
"Got what?" said the philosopher, startled into common diction by the unexpected interjection of the despot.
"Get out!" said King Philip. "Do you suppose that any rambling Don is going to take up my time when by a sheer accident his verbosity has started me on a true scent? Out, Aristotle, out! Or, stay, take this note with you to the Captain of the Guard"—and King Philip hastily scribbled upon a parchment an order for the immediate execution of the whole of the inhabitants of Euboea, saving such as could redeem themselves at the price of ten drachmae, the said sum upon no account whatsoever to be paid in coin containing so much as one thruppenny bit.
But the offended philosopher had departed, and being well wound up could not, any more than any other member of the academies, cease from spouting; so that King Philip was intolerably aggravated to hear him as he waddled down the Palace stairs still declaiming in a loud tone:
"And, sixteenthly, the thruppenny bit has about it this noble quality, that it represents an aliquot part of that sum which is paid to me daily from the Royal Treasury in silver, a metal upon which we have always insisted. And, seventeenthly...."
But King Philip banged the door.
ON THE HOTEL AT PALMA AND A PROPOSED GUIDE-BOOK
The hotel at Palma is like the Savoy, but the cooking is a great deal better. It is large and new; its decorations are in the modern style with twiddly lines. Its luxury is greater than that of its London competitor. It has an eager, willing porter and a delightful landlord. You do what you like in it and there are books to read. One of these books was an English guide-book. I read it. It was full of lies, so gross and palpable that I told my host how abominably it traduced his country, and advised him first to beat the book well and then to burn it over a slow fire. It said that the people were superstitious—it is false. They have no taboo about days; they play about on Sundays. They have no taboo about drinks; they drink what they feel inclined (which is wine) when they feel inclined (which is when they are thirsty). They have no taboo book, Bible or Koran, no damned psychical rubbish, no damned "folk-lore," no triply damned mumbo-jumbo of social ranks; kind, really good, simple-minded dukes would have a devil of a time in Palma. Avoid it, my dears, keep away. If anything, the people of Palma have not quite enough superstition. They play there for love, money, and amusement. No taboo (talking of love) about love.
The book said they were poor. Their populace is three or four times as rich as ours. They own their own excellent houses and their own land; no one but has all the meat and fruit and vegetables and wine he wants, and usually draught animals and musical instruments as well.
In fact, the book told the most frightful lies and was a worthy companion to other guidebooks. It moved me to plan a guide-book of my own in which the truth should be told about all the places I know. It should be called "Guide to Northumberland, Sussex, Chelsea, the French frontier, South Holland, the Solent, Lombardy, the North Sea, and Rome, with a chapter on part of Cheshire and some remarks on the United States of America."
In this book the fault would lie in its too great scrappiness, but the merit in its exactitude. Thus I would inform the reader that the best time to sleep in Siena is from nine in the morning till three in the afternoon, and that the best place to sleep is the north side of St. Domenic's ugly brick church there.
Again, I would tell him that the man who keeps the "Turk's Head" at Valogne, in Normandy, was only outwardly and professedly an Atheist, but really and inwardly a Papist.
I would tell him that it sometimes snowed in Lombardy in June, for I have seen it—and that any fool can cross the Alps blindfold, and that the sea is usually calm, not rough, and that the people of Dax are the most horrible in all France, and that Lourdes, contrary to the general opinion, does work miracles, for I have seen them.
I would also tell him of the place at Toulouse where the harper plays to you during dinner, and of the grubby little inn at Terneuzen on the Scheldt where they charge you just anything they please for anything; five shillings for a bit of bread, or half a crown for a napkin.
All these things, and hundreds of others of the same kind, would I put in my book, and at the end should be a list of all the hotels in Europe where, at the date of publication, the landlord was nice, for it is the character of the landlords which makes all the difference—and that changes as do all human things.
There you could see first, like a sort of Primate of Hotels, the Railway Hotel at York. Then the inn at La Bruyre in the Landes, then the "Swan" at Petworth with its mild ale, then the "White Hart" of Storrington, then the rest of them, all the six or seven hundred of them, from the "Elephant" of Chateau Thierry to the "Feathers" of Ludlow—a truly noble remainder of what once was England; the "Feathers" of Ludlow, where the beds are of honest wood with curtains to them, and where a man may drink half the night with the citizens to the success of their engines and the putting out of all fires. For there are in West England three little inns in three little towns, all in a line, and all beginning with an L— Ledbury, Ludlow, and Leominster, all with "Feathers," all with orchards round, and I cannot tell which is the best.
Then my guide-book will go on to talk about harbours; it will prove how almost every harbour was impossible to make in a little boat; but it would describe the difficulties of each so that a man in a little boat might possibly make them. It would describe the rush of the tide outside Margate and the still more dangerous rush outside Shoreham, and the absurd bar at Littlehampton that strikes out of the sea, and the place to lie at in Newhaven, and how not to stick upon the Platters outside Harwich; and the very tortuous entry to Poole, and the long channel into Christchurch past Hengistbury Head; and the enormous tides of South Wales; and why you often have to beach at Britonferry, and the terrible difficulty of mooring in Great Yarmouth; and the sad changes of Little Yarmouth, and the single black buoy at Calais which is much too far out to be of any use; and how to wait for the tide in the Swin. And also what no book has ever yet given, an exact direction of the way in which one may roll into Orford Haven, on the top of a spring tide if one has luck, and how if one has no luck one sticks on the gravel and is pounded to pieces.
Then my guide-book would go on to tell of the way in which to make men pleasant to you according to their climate and country; of how you must not hurry the people of Aragon, and how it is your duty to bargain with the people of Catalonia; and how it is impossible to eat at Daroca; and how careful one must be with gloomy men who keep inns at the very top of glens, especially if they are silent, under Cheviot. And how one must not talk religion when one has got over the Scotch border, with some remarks about Jedburgh, and the terrible things that happened to a man there who would talk religion though he had been plainly warned.
Then my guide-book would go on to tell how one should climb ordinary mountains, and why one should avoid feats; and how to lose a guide which is a very valuable art, for when you have lost your guide you need not pay him. My book will also have a note (for it is hardly worth a chapter) on the proper method of frightening sheep dogs when they attempt to kill you with their teeth upon the everlasting hills.
This my good and new guide-book (oh, how it blossoms in my head as I write!) would further describe what trains go to what places, and in what way the boredom of them can best be overcome, and which expresses really go fast; and I should have a footnote describing those lines of steamers on which one can travel for nothing if one puts a sufficiently bold face upon the matter.
My guide-book would have directions for the pacifying of Arabs, a trick which I learnt from a past master, a little way east of Batna in the year 1905—I will also explain how one can tell time by the stars and by the shadow of the sun; upon what sort of food one can last longest and how best to carry it, and what rites propitiate, if they are solemnized in a due order, the half-malicious fairies which haunt men when they are lost in lonely valleys, right up under the high peaks of the world. And my book should have a whole chapter devoted to Ulysses.
For you must know that one day I came into Narbonne where I had never been before, and I saw written up in large letters upon a big, ugly house:
Lodging for Man and Beast.
So I went in and saw the master, who had a round bullet head and cropped hair, and I said to him: "What! Are you landed, then, after all your journeys? And do I find you at last, you of whom I have read so much and seen so little?" But with an oath he refused me lodging.
This tale is true, as would be every other tale in my book.
What a fine book it will be!
THE DEATH OF WANDERING PETER
"I will confess and I will not deny," said Wandering Peter (of whom you have heard little but of whom in God's good time you shall hear more). "I will confess and I will not deny that the chief pleasure I know is the contemplation of my fellow beings."
He spoke thus in his bed in the inn of a village upon the River Yonne beyond Auxerre, in which bed he lay a-dying; but though he was dying he was full of words.
"What energy! What cunning! What desire! I have often been upon the edge of a steep place, such as a chalk pit or a cliff above a plain, and watched them down below, hurrying around, turning about, laying down, putting up, leading, making, organizing, driving, considering, directing, exceeding, and restraining; upon my soul I was proud to be one of them! I have said to myself," said Wandering Peter, "lift up your heart; you also are one of these! For though I am," he continued, "a wandering man and lonely, given to the hills and to empty places, yet I glory in the workers on the plain, as might a poor man in his noble lineage. From these I came; to these in my old age I would have returned."
At these words the people about his bed fell to sobbing when they thought how he would never wander more, but Peter Wanderwide continued with a high heart:
"How pleasant it is to see them plough! First they cunningly contrive an arrangement that throws the earth aside and tosses it to the air, and then, since they are too weak to pull the same, they use great beasts, oxen or horses or even elephants, and impose them with their will, so that they patiently haul this contrivance through the thick clods; they tear up and they put into furrows, and they transform the earth. Nothing can withstand them. Birds you will think could escape them by flying up into the air. It is an error. Upon birds also my people impose their view. They spread nets, food, bait, trap, and lime. They hail stones and shot and arrows at them. They cause some by a perpetual discipline to live near them, to lay eggs and to be killed at will; of this sort are hens, geese, turkeys, ducks, and guinea-fowls. Nothing eludes the careful planning of man.
"Moreover, they can build. They do not build this way or that, as a dull necessity forces them, not they! They build as they feel inclined. They hew down, they saw through (and how marvellous is a saw!), they trim timber, they mix lime and sand, they excavate the recesses of the hills. Oh! the fine fellows! They can at whim make your chambers or the Tower prison, or my aunt's new villa at Wimbledon (which is a joke of theirs), or St. Pancras Station, or the Crystal Palace, or Westminster Abbey, or St. Paul's, or Bon Secours. They are agreeable to every change in the wind that blows about the world. It blows Gothic, and they say 'By all means'— and there is your Gothic—a thing dreamt of and done! It suddenly veers south again and blows from the Mediterranean. The jolly little fellows are equal to the strain, and up goes Amboise, and Anet, and the Louvre, and all the Renaissance. It blows everyhow and at random as though in anger at seeing them so ready. They care not at all! They build the Eiffel Tower, the Queen Anne house, the Mary Jane house, the Modern-Style house, the Carlton, the Ritz, the Grand Palais, the Trocadero, Olympia, Euston, the Midhurst Sanatorium, and old Beit's Palace in Park Lane. They are not to be defeated, they have immortal certitudes.
"Have you considered their lines and their drawings and their cunning plans?" said Wandering Peter. "They are astonishing there! Put a bit of charcoal into my dog's mouth or my pet monkey's paw—would he copy the world? Not he! But men—my brothers—they take it in hand and make war against the unspeaking forces; the trees and the hills are of their own showing, and the places in which they dwell, by their own power, become full of their own spirit. Nature is made more by being their model, for in all they draw, paint, or chisel they are in touch with heaven and with hell.... They write (Lord! the intelligence of their men, and Lord! the beauty of their women). They write unimaginable things!
"They write epics, they write lyrics, they write riddles and marching songs and drinking songs and rhetoric, and chronicles, and elegies, and pathetic memories; and in everything that they write they reveal things greater than they know. They are capable," said Peter Wanderwide, in his dying enthusiasm, "of so writing that the thought enlarges upon the writing and becomes far more than what they have written. They write that sort of verse called 'Stop-Short,' which when it is written makes one think more violently than ever, as though it were an introduction to the realms of the soul. And then again they write things which gently mock themselves and are a consolation for themselves against the doom of death."
But when Peter Wanderwide said that word "death," the howling and the boo-hooing of the company assembled about his bed grew so loud that he could hardly hear himself think. For there was present the Mayor of the village, and the Priest of the village, and the Mayor's wife, and the Adjutant Mayor or Deputy Mayor, and the village Councillor, and the Road-mender, and the Schoolmaster, and the Cobbler, and all the notabilities, as many as could crush into the room, and none but the Doctor was missing.
And outside the house was a great crowd of the village folk, weeping bitterly and begging for news of him, and mourning that so great and so good a man should find his death in so small a place.
Peter Wanderwide was sinking very fast, and his life was going out with his breath, but his heart was still so high that he continued although his voice was failing:
"Look you, good people all, in your little passage through the daylight, get to see as many hills and buildings and rivers, fields, books, men, horses, ships, and precious stones as you can possibly manage to do. Or else stay in one village and marry in it and die there. For one of these two fates is the best fate for every man. Either to be what I have been, a wanderer with all the bitterness of it, or to stay at home and hear in one's garden the voice of God.
"For my part I have followed out my fate. And I propose in spite of my numerous iniquities, by the recollection of my many joys in the glories of this earth, as by corks, to float myself in the sea of nothingness until I reach the regions of the Blessed and the pure in heart.
"For I think when I am dead Almighty God will single me out on account of my accoutrement, my stirrup leathers, and the things that I shall be talking of concerning Ireland and the Perigord, and my boat upon the narrow seas; and I think He will ask St. Michael, who is the Clerk and Registrar of battling men, who it is that stands thus ready to speak (unless his eyes betray him) of so many things? Then St. Michael will forget my name although he will know my face; he will forget my name because I never stayed long enough in one place for him to remember it.
"But St. Peter, because he is my Patron Saint and because I have always had a special devotion to him, will answer for me and will have no argument, for he holds the keys. And he will open the door and I will come in. And when I am inside the door of Heaven I shall freely grow those wings, the pushing and nascence of which have bothered my shoulder blades with birth pains all my life long, and more especially since my thirtieth year. I say, friends and companions all, that I shall grow a very satisfying and supporting pair of wings, and once I am so furnished I shall be received among the Blessed, and I shall at once begin to tell them, as I told you on earth, all sorts of things, both false and true, with regard to the countries through which I carried forward my homeless feet, and in which I have been given such fulfilment for my eyes."
When Peter Wanderwide had delivered himself of these remarks, which he did with great dignity and fire for one in such extremity, he gasped a little, coughed, and died.
I need not tell you what solemnities attended his burial, nor with what fervour the people flocked to pray at his tomb; but it is worth knowing that the poet of that place, who was rival to the chief poet in Auxerre itself, gathered up the story of his death into a rhyme, written in the dialect of that valley, of which rhyme this is an English translation:
When Peter Wanderwide was young He wandered everywhere he would; And all that he approved was sung, And most of what he saw was good.
When Peter Wanderwide was thrown By Death himself beyond Auxerre, He chanted in heroic tone To Priest and people gathered there:
"If all that I have loved and seen Be with me on the Judgment Day, I shall be saved the crowd between From Satan and his foul array.
"Almighty God will surely cry 'St. Michael! Who is this that stands With Ireland in his dubious eye, And Perigord between his hands,
"'And on his arm the stirrup thongs, And in his gait the narrow seas, And in his mouth Burgundian songs, But in his heart the Pyrenees?'
"St. Michael then will answer right (But not without angelic shame): 'I seem to know his face by sight; I cannot recollect his name....'
"St. Peter will befriend me then, Because my name is Peter too; 'I know him for the best of men That ever wallopped barley brew.
"'And though I did not know him well, And though his soul were clogged with sin, I hold the keys of Heaven and Hell. Be welcome, noble Peterkin.'
"Then shall I spread my native wings And tread secure the heavenly floor, And tell the Blessed doubtful things Of Val d'Aran and Perigord."
* * * * *
This was the last and solemn jest Of weary Peter Wanderwide, He spoke it with a failing zest, And having spoken it, he died.
THE TREE OF KNOWLEDGE
The nation known to history as the Nephalo Ceclumenazenoi, or, more shortly, the Nepioi, inhabited a fruitful and prosperous district consisting in a portion of the mainland and certain islands situated in the Picrocholian Sea; and had there for countless centuries enjoyed a particular form of government which it is not difficult to describe, for it was religious and arranged upon the principle that no ancient custom might be changed.
Lest such changes should come about through the lapse of time or the evil passions of men, the citizens of the aforesaid nation had them very clearly engraved in a dead language and upon bronze tablets, which they fixed upon the doors of their principal temple, where it stood upon a hill outside the city, and it was their laudable custom to entrust the interpretation of them not to aged judges, but to little children, for they argued that we increase in wickedness with years, and that no one is safe from the aged, but that children are, alone of the articulately speaking race, truth-tellers. Therefore, upon the first day of the year (which falls in that country at the time of sowing) they would take one hundred boys of ten years of age chosen by lot, they would make these hundred, who had previously for one year received instruction in their sacred language, write each a translation of the simple code engraved upon the bronze tablets. It was invariably discovered that these artless compositions varied only according to the ability of the lads to construe, and that some considerable proportion of them did accurately show forth in the vernacular of the time the meaning of those ancestral laws. They had further a magistrate known as the Archon. whose business it was to administrate these customs and to punish those who broke them. And this Archon, when or if he proposed something contrary to custom in the opinion of not less than a hundred petitioners, was judged by a court of children.
In this fashion for thousands of years did the Nepioi proceed with their calm and ordinary lives, enjoying themselves like so many grigs, and utterly untroubled by those broils and imaginations of State which disturbed their neighbours.
There was a legend among them (upon which the whole of this Constitution was based) that a certain Hero, one Melek, being in stature twelve foot high and no less than 93 inches round the chest, had landed in their country 150,000 years previously, and finding them very barbarous, slaying one another and unacquainted with the use of letters, the precious metals, or the art of usury, had instructed them in civilization, endowed them with letters, a coinage, police, lawyers, instruments of torture, and all the other requisites of a great State, and had finally drawn up for them this code of law or custom, which they carefully preserved engraved upon the tablets of bronze, which were set upon the walls of their chief temple on the hill outside the city.
Within the temple itself its great shrine and, so to speak, its very cause of being was the Hero's tomb. He lay therein covered with plates of gold, and it was confidently asserted and strictly and unquestionably believed that at some unknown time in the future he would come out to rule them for ever in a millennial fashion—though heaven knows they were happy enough as it was.
Among their customs was this: that certain appointed officers would at every change in the moon proclaim the former existence and virtue of Melek, his residence in the tomb, and his claims to authority. To enter the tomb, indeed, was death, but there was proof of the whole story in documents which were carefully preserved in the temple, and which were from time to time consulted and verified. The whole structure of Nepioian society reposed upon the sanctity of this story, upon the presence of the Hero in his tomb, and of his continued authority, for with this was intertwined, or rather upon this was based, the further sanctity of their customs.
Things so proceeded without hurt or cloud until upon one most unfortunate day a certain man, bearing the vulgar name of Megalocrates, which signifies a person whose health requires the use of a wide head-gear, discovered that a certain herb which grew in great abundance in their territory and had hitherto been thought useless would serve almost every purpose of the table, sufficing, according to its preparation, for meat, bread, vegetables, and salt, and, if properly distilled, for a liquor that would make the Nepioi even more drunk than did their native spirits.
From this discovery ensued a great plenty throughout the land, the population very rapidly increased, the fortunes of the wealthy grew to double, treble, and four times those which had formerly been known, the middle classes adopted a novel accent in speech and a gait hitherto unusual, while great numbers of the poor acquired the power of living upon so small a proportion of foul air, dull light, stagnant water, and mangy crusts as would have astonished their nicer forefathers. Meanwhile this great period of progress could not but lead to further discoveries, and the Nepioi had soon produced whole colleges in which were studied the arts useful to mankind and constantly discovered a larger and a larger number of surprising and useful things. At last the Nepioi (though this, perhaps, will hardly be credited) were capable of travelling underground, flying through the air, conversing with men a thousand miles away in a moment of time, and committing suicide painlessly whenever there arose occasion for that exercise.
It may be imagined with what reverence the authors of all these boons, the members of the learned colleges, were regarded; and how their opinions had in the eyes and ears of the Nepioi an unanswerable character.
Now it so happened that in one of these colleges a professor of more than ordinary position emitted one day the opinion that Melek had lived only half as long ago as was commonly supposed. In proof of this he put forward the undoubted truth that if Melek had lived at the time he was supposed to have lived, then he would have lived twice as long ago as he, the professor, said that he had lived. The more old-fashioned and stupid of the Nepioi murmured against such opinions, and though they humbly confessed themselves unable to discover any flaw in the professor's logic, they were sure he was wrong somewhere and they were greatly disturbed. But the opinion gained ground, and, what is more, this fruitful and intelligent surmise upon the part of the professor bred a whole series of further theories upon Melek, each of which contradicted the last but one, and the latest of which was always of so limpid and so self-evident a truth as to be accepted by whatever was intelligent and energetic in the population, and especially by the young unmarried women of the wealthier classes. In this manner the epoch of Melek was reduced to five, to three, to two, to one thousand years. Then to five hundred, and at last to one hundred and fifty. But here was a trouble. The records of the State, which had been carefully kept for many centuries, showed no trace of Melek's coming during any part of the time, but always referred to him as a long-distant forerunner. There was not even any mention of a man twelve foot high, nor even of one a little over 93 inches round the chest. At last it was proposed by an individual of great courage that he might be allowed to open the tomb of Melek and afterwards, if they so pleased, suffer death. This privilege was readily granted to him by the Archon. The worthy reformer, therefore, prised open the sacred shrine and found within it absolutely nothing whatsoever.
Upon this there arose among the Nepioi all manner of schools and discussions, some saying this and some that, but none with the certitude of old. Their customs fell into disrepute, and even the very professors themselves were occasionally doubted when they laid down the law upon matters in which they alone were competent—as, for instance, when they asserted that the moon was made of a peculiarly delicious edible substance which increased in savour when it was preserved in the store-rooms of the housewives; or when they affirmed with every appearance of truth that no man did evil, and that wilful murder, arson, cruelty to the innocent and the weak, and deliberate fraud were of no more disadvantage to the general state, or to men single, than the drinking of a cup of cold water.
So things proceeded until one day, when all custom and authority had fallen into this really lamentable deliquescence, fleets were observed upon the sea, manned by men-at-arms, the admiral of which sent a short message to the Archon proposing that the people of the country should send to him and his one-half of their yearly wealth for ever, "or," so the message proceeded, "take the consequences." Upon the Archon communicating this to the people there arose at once an infinity of babble, some saying one thing and some another, some proposing to pay neighbouring savages to come in and fight the invaders, others saying it would be cheaper to compromise with a large sum, but the most part agreeing that the wisest thing would be for the Archon and his great-aunt to go out to the fleet in a little boat and persuade the enemy's admiral (as they could surely easily do) that while most human acts were of doubtful responsibility and not really wicked, yet the invasion, and, above all, the impoverishment of the Nepioi was so foul a wrong as would certainly call down upon its fiendish perpetrator the fires of heaven.
While the Archon and his great-aunt were rowing out in the little boat a few doddering old men and superstitious females slunk off to consult the bronze tablets, and there found under Schedule XII these words: "If an enemy threaten the State, you shall arm and repel him." In their superstition the poor old chaps, with their half-daft female devotees accompanying them, tottered back to the crowds to persuade them to some ridiculous fanaticism or other, based on no better authority than the non-existent Melek and his absurd and exploded authority.
Judge of their horror when, as they neared the city, they saw from the height whereon the temple stood that the invaders had landed, and, having put to the sword all the inhabitants without exception, were proceeding to make an inventory of the goods and to settle the place as conquerors. The admiral summoned this remnant of the nation, and hearing what they had to say treated them with the greatest courtesy and kindness and pensioned them off for their remaining years, during which period they so instructed him and his fighting men in the mysteries of their religion as quite to convert them, and in a sense to found the Nepioian State over again; but it should be mentioned that the admiral, by way of precaution, changed that part of the religion which related to the tomb of Melek and situated the shrine in the very centre of the crater of an active volcano in the neighbourhood, which by night and day, at every season of the year, belched forth molten rock so that none could approach it within fifteen miles.
A NORFOLK MAN
Among the delights of historical study which makes it so curiously similar to travel, and therefore so fatally attractive to men who cannot afford it, is the element of discovery and surprise: notably in little details.
When in travel one goes along a way one has never been before one often comes upon something odd, which one could not dream was there: for instance, once I was in a room in a little house in the south and thought there must be machinery somewhere from the noise I heard, until a man in the house quietly lifted up a trapdoor in the floor, and there, running under and through the house a long way below, was a river: the River Garonne.
It is the same way in historical study. You come upon the most extraordinary things: little things, but things whose unexpectedness is enormous. I had an example of this the other day, as I was looking up some last details to make certain of the affair of Valmy.
Most people have heard of the French Revolution, and many people have heard of the battle of Valmy, which decided the first fate of that movement, when it was first threatened by war. But very few people have read about Valmy, so it is necessary to give some idea of the action to understand the astonishing little thing attaching to it which I am about to describe.
The cannonade of Valmy was exchanged between a French Army with its back to a range of hills and a Prussian Army about a mile away over against them. It was as though the French Army had stretched from Leatherhead to Epsom and had engaged in a cannonade with a Prussian Army lying over against them in a position astraddle of the road to Kingston.
Through this range of hills at the back of the French Army lay a gap, just as there is a gap through the hills behind Leatherhead. Not only was that gap easily passable by an army—easily, at least, compared with the hill country on either side—but it had running through it the great road from Metz to Paris, so that advance along it was rapid and practicable.
It so happened that another force of the enemy besides that which was cannonading the French in front was advancing through this gap from behind, and it is evident that if this second force of the enemy had been able to get through the gap it would have been all up with the French. Dumouriez, who commanded the French, saw this well enough; he had ordered the gap to be strongly fortified and well gunned and a camp to be formed there, largely made up of Volunteers and Irregulars. On the proper conduct of that post depended everything: and here comes the fun. The commander of the post was not what you might expect, a Frenchman of any one of the French types with which the Revolution has made us familiar: contrariwise, he was an elderly private gentleman from the county of Norfolk.
His name was Money. The little that is known about him is entertaining to a degree. His own words prove him to be like the person in the song, "a very honest man," and luckily for us he has left in a book a record of the day (and subsequent actions) stamped vividly with his own character. John Money: called by his neighbours General John Money, not, as you might expect. General Money: a man devoted to the noble profession of arms and also eaten up with a passion for ballooning.
I find it difficult to believe that he was first in action at the age of nine years or that he held King George's commission as a Cornet at the age of ten. He does not tell us so himself nor do any of his friends. The surmise is that of our Universities, and it is worthy of them. Clap on ten years and you are nearer the mark. At any rate he was under fire in 1761, and he was a Cornet in 1762; a Cornet in the Inniskilling Dragoons with a commission dated on the 11th of March of that year. Then he transformed himself into a Linesman, got his company in the 9th Foot eight years later, and eight years later again, at the outbreak of the American War, he was a major. He was quarter-master-general under Burgoyne, he was taken prisoner—I think at Saratoga, but anyhow during that disastrous advance upon the Hudson Valley. He got his lieutenant-colonelcy towards the end of the war. He retired from the Army and never saw active service again. When the Low Countries revolted against Austria he offered his services to the insurgents and was accepted, but the truly entertaining chapter of his adventures begins when he suggested himself to the French Government as a very proper and likely man to command a brigade on the outbreak of the great war with the Empire and with Prussia.